Falling amongst weeds

falling-amongst-weeds

“And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” (Luke 8:14 ESV)

As long as I have been a Christian I have feared this part of the parable of the sower, anxious that this is the most likely way in which I’d become entangled by the cares of this world and lose my passion for serving God.

While young, single, self-righteous, with a stable income and no responsibilities, I watched others get married, buy houses, enter mortgage enslavement and become focused on providing for their new families. Friends with seemingly boundless energy for church ministry seemed to have that sapped out of them by settling into middle-class expectations. For some a previously ‘clear’ call from God appeared to be suffocated by the cares of life.

Eventually my turn came around, within a year of getting married we had a baby, mortgage and house. The previously stable employment degenerated into a series of short contracts, forcing me to obsess over finding the next job, a more stable job. My naïve arrogance was shattered by responsibilities, working extra hours to pay the bills and the sleep deprivation that goes with babies.

Weeds were growing not only on our back lawn but in my soul, and fruitfulness withered.

Sometime in the decade since then, a pinch of maturity crept into my life. With the wisdom of experience and simply plodding along, variously straying from and returning to Christ, fresh buds grew on the twisted limbs of my life. The first fruits were small, meagre offerings but after some pruning even this is increasing in yield.

Being pruned hurts, trees like to grow towards warmth, sunshine and water, away from wind and cold. A good gardener knows which branches need to be trimmed to straighten things up and keep the limbs open to increase their yield. If disease is setting in a severe prune back may be needed to prevent it infecting the whole tree. It feels painful to have an external force lop off a rapidly growing, leafy bough that seems full of promise – even if the gardener says he knows what he is doing.

Under God’s hand life can shape us and draw forth fruit.

All of us make mistakes, wrong turns, get stuck in ruts at various times through our lives. From one perspective this is due to our own doing and allows weeds and cares to grow up to choke out gospel fruit. Yet apparently there are olive trees near Jerusalem that were in the garden when Jesus cried out for strength and blood ran from his brow. That is over two thousand years of bearing fruit. That must be a lot of olives! If a Christian consistently walks in Christ even through the cares, stresses and worries of this life, that person will bear fruit.

As you bear fruit through many seasons of life, the overall yield will be much more than you can currently see or even imagine.

The self-ordering heap

self-ordering-heap

I want to introduce you to the best ‘productivity hack’ I have ever come across. This system works with your brain rather than against it as most productivity systems do. There is literally nothing to learn or remember, no software to install, no special equipment necessary. You can begin using this system right now, no setup or installation required!

Sound too good to be true? Wondering how much such an all-encompassing productivity suite will cost? Will you believe me when I say $0, as in FREE!?

The truth is, God has already done the hard work on this one. You have behind your eyes and between your ears the most advanced ordering and cataloging software ever devised, yet most people use it less the more elevated they climb in the professional world.

After 20 years of testing the system I am about to explain, I have found it to be robust, adaptable, platform agnostic and technology independent. No other organisational system I have tried comes even close to the reliability of the self-ordering heap. The principle was taught to be by my boss in 1989, he had truly perfected the system and several others in our department were also experts in its use.

The hard copy system

The idea is very simple. In the eighties offices were primarily paper based so I will explain the implementation in that environment before discussing how it works electronically. Imagine your desk with a clear area where you work. Surrounding this area is a semi circular heap of paper, like the rim of a crater. As you work away in the centre of this circle the current document is in the middle and if something more important or urgent comes in you plonk it on the heap. It doesn’t matter where, it will simply be on top somewhere.

You carry on working on the currently most urgent document. Then a phone call comes in asking about something you did yesterday so you shuffle through the pile and find that piece of paper, bringing it to the clear centre. On finishing the phone call you either toss the relevant bit of paper back on the heap, chuck it in the rubbish if it is no longer needed, file it if desired for future reference or mail it to the appropriate person. Find what you need to work on next from the pile and carry on.

Occasionally as you riffle through paper on the desk, something will fall off the edge. This attracts your attention so it is retrieved and quickly scanned to see if it is important. In some cases you realise it is extremely important and should have been delivered yesterday so you drop everything and attend to it. Most times it is still important but not yet urgent so back on the heap it goes. Other times you discover that it is way past it’s due date and thereby now useless, so it goes in the rubbish. This is how the heap becomes ‘self-ordering’.

The beauty of this system is it’s absolute simplicity, you don’t need to do any organising at all, just respond to the triggers as they arise and you know that everything you need to do today’s work is right there somewhere in the heap. This is the complete opposite of the “GTD” methodology or any of the other supposedly sophisticated task management systems. The heap requires no specific upkeep and builds itself. It utilises the natural power of your own mind to make discrete, immediately actionable decisions, giving a sense of achievement while also keeping a clear view of the work to be done.

The heap is so incredibly easy to use and implement because it rests upon a fundamental law of physics; entropy. All systems move towards a state of maximum entropy (disorder), to maintain any system in a state of ‘order’ requires the input of energy. Why waste valuable energy and time maintaining order in a system which has the sole purpose of making you ‘efficient’? This is not efficiency, it is directing energy and time away from the work you should be doing plus adding distraction and stress each time your precious productivity system is nudged yet again back towards it’s preferred state of chaos. Go with the flow man, use the self-ordering heap.

Harness the laws of physics to enable you to focus upon the important work rather than on maintaining a productivity system.

On your computer

As I mentioned, the heap works completely independent of technology. You could try it using a notebook but unfortunately the lines and pages of a notebook do act as constraints upon the heap’s self-ordering tendency. Computers, however, are a fantastic facilitator of the heap. Consider your computer desktop (and why such a metaphor is so apt for that space!) or email inbox as examples.

The natural tendency is for a large folder of computer files to become increasingly messy as more stuff is added. Do not fight this. Instead harness the power of your brain, the heap and your computer together to allow the heap to work for you.

The only thing you need to do is put everything in one big folder (well, and to resist sorting it!). Due to software constraints it may be necessary to have several heaps on your computer, such as an email inbox and desktop folder. Most computer stuff is happy in one of these two places. Then simply let the heap work for you – you know exactly where to look for anything, desktop or inbox. For the desktop folder it may be worth making the folder view sort by date modified rather than by name, and now just focus on the recent stuff and let others remind you of anything else.

Occasionally you may want to scroll down a bit and allow serendipity to draw your attention to some old document that has gathered gamma rays. If it is still useful then use it, if not use the trash can – it is there for a reason.

If you can’t find something, the computer has a search function, and by keeping everything in one place it is even more efficient, only one folder to search!

But what about the ‘falling off the edge of the desk’ function? For a similar mechanism on the computer wait until you begin to run out of hard disc capacity then go the the bottom of the list when sorted by ‘last modified’ and start deleting. If anything important is there you will see it and have an “Oh my God!” moment. Epiphanies are good, savour them.

So I say “phooey” to Inbox Zero, Getting Things Done and the Pomodoro Technique. Entropy all the way for me!

(By the way, this is what is commonly called a piss-take, but there is truth in here too.)


Update (September 2015): A somewhat related concept that I stumbled across well after writing this post: Time Sort (Noguchi) Filing System.

Keep going back to Christ

A couple of comments from the internet resonated with me this week:

The first is a good reminder that being ordinary and of no great talent is normal in God’s Kingdom and cannot be used as an excuse for not being fully obedient to Christ:

The truth is…people who live all out for God were not made more special.  They just tasted something good and kept going back for it. (Lisa WhittleIf We Only Knew)

When I look at myself and despair of ever being useful to God it is a correct response – of myself I am nothing. Only in Christ do I have anything to give of value. This is not humility; consider how many truly talented or gifted people you know. Such people stand out in our minds because they are unusual, most of us are pretty average, generally selfish, and struggling to keep our own lives in order.

Occasionally, however, an average, struggling person gives of their life for others in preference to a life of selfishness. It is a rare thing, most times such people are followers of Christ who appear happy to forsake worldly pursuits in order to do His work rather than their own. To meet these people can at times be disappointing, no profound difference from you or I, they feel anxiety about having enough money to pay the bills, they become tired and exhausted, even wondering if what they do in the name of Jesus is in vain. The primary attribute that distinguishes these servants of Christ is a persistent, dogged conviction that no cost is too great to know God.

I freely admit to not being such a person yet. So I gain encouragement from the idea that being a great person is not required, even having great faith is not necessary. All I need to small faith in our great God, faith which is persistent and keeps coming back to Jesus regardless of how often or how far I may drift from Him.

In this I found another helpful snippet on the web:

 … I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy. (Psalm 43:4)

God promises to be your exceeding joy, not because of what He gives, but because of who He is.  When we behold and worship Him we have infinitely more joy than we have in anything else. (Steve FullerFive Promises to Help Your Times With God)

Joy in God is not instant but grows as I return to Him again and again and again, seeking Him in preference to the multitude of other distractions in life.

My greedy heart

Mountain Dawn

While on holiday in Wanaka recently, the abundance of overt wealth and expensive SUVs being driven around got me wondering how some folks can end up with so much money?

A well paying job obviously helps, I recently searched on the internet to see how my own salary compared to what is possible and came away rather demoralised! Yet salary alone is not the way to make lots of money. Business acumen, avoiding debt, high return investments, and the real estate market are all proven paths to riches.

So my envious heart jumped to wondering how I could enjoy part of the pie being so lavishly consumed by the wealthy. How could I generate a better income?

Most of the really high paying jobs are beyond my reach, even those on oil rigs or mines (no doubt to my wife’s great relief!). We have no spare cash to invest, and with my erratic shift roster a part-time job is not practical. After a few days greedily dreaming of get-rich-quick schemes the practical realities of life bit back, deflating my hunger for riches somewhat.

In this slightly covetous, mildly envious and dejected state of mind I read Deuteronomy 8:11-20 in which God warns the Israelites against comparing themselves with the nations around them. This passage has always helped me plot a course through life and is a timely corrective to my recent straying in heart from what is of true importance:

Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.
(Deuteronomy 8:17-19 ESV)

All I have is due to God’s blessing. My financial debts are the result of my own poor choices at various times. Yet even the ability to do my job and earn an income of adequate proportions to sustain my family comes directly from God, regardless of how hard the work may seem to me. Even more importantly, these verses recalibrate my thinking to see that not only is God the source of my material blessings, He is the only source of ultimate meaning or satisfaction.

As Paul points out to a young pastor:

godliness with contentment is great gain,
(1 Timothy 6:6 ESV)

In fact, Paul’s exhortation in verses 7-12 of 1 Timothy chapter 6 sum up well why I was never destined to be a rich man once I began taking the Bible seriously! It is good advice and fleeing the love of money to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness and to fight the good fight of faith is the best way I could invest my life (and the best way you could invest yours).

Death and the Victorian child

I found this interesting little quote in the journal Pediatrics, Volume 76, Number 3, September 1985, page 370:

Death and the Victorian child (1869)

Today’s children, at least in this country, are shielded from death and most are never exposed to a dead body. The quotation below taken from The Fairchild Family by Mrs. Sherwood (1775-1851), a widely-read book written for English children offered them a graphic and repulsive view of a decaying corpse.1

When they came to the door, they perceived a kind of disagreeable smell, such as they never had smelt before: this was the smell of the corpse, which having been dead now nearly two days, had begun to corrupt: and as the children went higher up the stairs, they perceived this smell more disagreeably. The body of the old man was laid out on the bed… The face of the corpse was quite yellow, there was no colour in the lips, the nose looked sharp and long, and the eyes were closed, and sunk under the brow; the limbs of the corpse, stretched out upon the bed and covered with a sheet, looked longer than is natural: and the appearance of the body was more ghastly and horrible than the children had expected… At last Mrs. Fairchild said, “My dear children, you now see what death is; this poor body is going fast to corruption. The soul I trust is in God; but such is the taint and corruption of the flesh, by reason of sin, that it must pass through the grave and crumble to dust…“

Reference

1. Temple N: Seen and Not Heard. New York, Dial Press, 1970, p 217.

Death and the Victorian child

I found this interesting little quote in the journal Pediatrics, Volume 76, Number 3, September 1985, page 370:

Death and the Victorian child (1869)

Today’s children, at least in this country, are shielded from death and most are never exposed to a dead body. The quotation below taken from The Fairchild Family by Mrs Sherwood (1775-1851), a widely-read book written for English children offered them a graphic and repulsive view of a decaying corpse.1

When they came to the door, they perceived a kind of disagreeable smell, such as they never had smelt before: this was the smell of the corpse, which having been dead now nearly two days, had begun to corrupt: and as the children went higher up the stairs, they perceived this smell more disagreeably. The body of the old man was laid out on the bed… The face of the corpse was quite yellow, there was no colour in the lips, the nose looked sharp and long, and the eyes were closed, and sunk under the brow; the limbs of the corpse, stretched out upon the bed and covered with a sheet, looked longer than is natural: and the appearance of the body was more ghastly and horrible than the children had expected… At last Mrs. Fairchild said, “My dear children, you now see what death is; this poor body is going fast to corruption. The soul I trust is in God; but such is the taint and corruption of the flesh, by reason of sin, that it must pass through the grave and crumble to dust…“

Reference

1. Temple N: Seen and Not Heard. New York, Dial Press, 1970, p 217.

From gravel rash to gems

Looking at the gritty mess of life, do I have the determination to keep striding towards the destiny held out to me in Christ or will I shrink back because it all seems to hard or painful?

Wow, another week gone and it is 5 minute Friday again.

The task – write for 5 minutes based on the prompt grit:

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.
(Luke 9:51 ESV)

Grit, immediately makes me think of gravel and the gravel rash from falling off my bike going fast down a hill. That pain and stinging of grit in an open wound, then the additional pain of having all that grit removed so the wound can heal.

The muck which gets into our open wounds from the bumps and scrapes of life does need to be removed so we can heal rather than letting it fester and rot.

But grit can be put to work also – as sandpaper for smoothing wood, in polishing stones to make beautiful gems. Starting with course grit and progressively using finer and finer grit until a sparkling polish results. The abrasiveness that destroys skin can be used to make beauty.

Then there is the other meaning of grit – to be resolute. As Jesus resolutely set His face toward Jerusalem – to meet the awful destiny awaiting Him. He did not shrink back, if He had we would all perish.

So, in the gritty mess and woundedness of life today, I need to resolutely set my face towards God, get back on my bike and pedal fast to meet the destiny God has for me.

Other posts related to this topic:

Image of graze on leg: iStock

Only thanks

God appears to be ordering events such that I am being kept from completing any blog posts at this time. With that in mind this one will be simple – my continuing list of thanksgiving to God.

The mountains rose, the valleys sank down
to the place that you appointed for them.

(Psalm 104:8 ESV)

I am in a season of evaluating the relative importance that should be given to various elements in my life, seeking out the places God has appointed for me.

Gifts I have noticed this week (#513 – #538):

513) Eating toast and reading the Bible at midnight.
514)  John 6:47
515) Serving others by filling up the water filter.
516) A broken egg for the dog to lick up.
517) Little boy sound asleep with toy trucks in his bed.
518) Left over chocolate fondue made by my girls.
519) Opportunity to walk to work.
520) Four layers of merino keeping me warm on a cold day.
521) Little reminders of where I am failing to serve those I love.
522) 30 minutes in a quiet house with a Bible.
523) Being able to help just one child suffering in poverty.
524) A cold morning cutting firewood with friends.
525) A weekend snowstorm.
526) Remembering to update computer anti-virus software.
527) Too many good blogs to have time to read.
528) Reminders that ordinary life counts for a lot.
529) Friends making it home safely.
530) Choosing to walk to work through snow and ice rather than taking the car and potentially crashing it.
531) Snow for the kids to play in.
532) Rain washing the snow away.
533) A spare sermon already written.
534) Asking my wife how I can help her feel more secure that I will never leaver her.
535) Her honest answer.
536) The tingle I feel when she kisses me (merino + synthetic fleece = electricity between us!)
537) A job which occupies my mind and my time.
538) Seeing again who I am and what I love.

 

Other posts related to this topic:

holy experience