with Bob Condly
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preparation

Pivot

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Back when I worked as an assistant in the singles ministry at The Church on the Way in California, we hosted a retreat at Arrowhead Springs. A combination of rustic and luxurious, the conference center was a beautiful setting for what promised to be a pleasant weekend.

One of my duties was to serve as MC for the service before lunch. Our main speaker began with an uplifting message but got bogged down in a discourse on persecution and suffering. I’m sure he meant well, but you could tell that his words didn’t jibe with the expectations of the audience.

When the preacher concluded, he turned the mic over to me so I could make some announcements. Right after a message about suffering, I had to stand there and tell people that following lunch, we’d host a square dance!

Suffering and square dancing, what a combination!

What do you say in a tough spot like that? If I canceled the event, I’d get in trouble with the ministry leadership. If I corrected the speaker, I’d embarrass him. A no win situation!

So I did the only thing I could do. Pausing to gather my thoughts and stabilize my spirit, I pivoted.

The word “pivot” doesn’t occur much in the Bible. In fact, I can find only six references in four verses.

“And two doors of cypress wood; the two leaves of the one door turned on pivots, and the two leaves of the other door turned on pivots.” – 1 Kings 6:34 (NASB)

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.” – Isaiah 6:4 (NRSV)

“When they moved, they went in any of the four directions, without pivoting as they moved.” – Ezekiel 1:17 (HCSB)

“When they moved, they would go in any of the four directions, without pivoting as they moved. But wherever the head faced, they would go in that direction, without pivoting as they went.” – Ezekiel 10:11 (HCSB)

The first two verses refer to door hinges in the temple; the second two describe the movement of angelic beings observed by the prophet Ezekiel.

Both meanings deal with changing direction.

I began by reinforcing what our speaker had said about suffering. It was an inescapable dimension of discipleship. But I added that the God who calls us to follow Jesus in spite of rejection and pain also provides blessings for our enjoyment. I explained that we’d scheduled a square dance that afternoon, and invited anyone who was interested to join us.

To grasp this principle of pivoting, take sports as an example.

If you watch the NBA, you’ll see basketball players pivot. I used to love seeing Hakeem Olajuwon, the former center of the Houston Rockets, play because his footwork was magical. He could fake people almost out of their shoes!

According to Larry Alton, “a pivot is nothing more than keeping one foot in contact with the ground and using your other foot to move around in order to find a new angle or gain an advantage over your defender.”

You’re stuck, but you have enough freedom to maneuver yourself to shoot or pass the ball.

Alton adds that “in a pivot, you aren’t totally abandoning your current situation. Instead, you’re looking for new options that may arise out of your current state.”

That’s what I attempted at the retreat. Rather than fight the situation, I accepted it but I looked for a way to move in a new direction. By the grace of God, I was ready for two reasons.

Preparation

Basketball players practice. They shoot free throws, rehearse set plays, and plan how they’re going to handle various situations. They isolate aspects of a typical game and run through them in advance so they don’t lose their heads in actual competition.

As a follower of Christ, you’re aware of the many of the joys and trials that await you. Through disciplines such as prayer and Bible reading, you prepare your soul to handle whatever life may bring you.

But you can prepare indirectly, too. Olajuwon grew up in Nigeria playing soccer. He wasn’t thinking about basketball as a child, but soccer trained his footwork which served him well when he switched sports. (It’s helped out other NBA players, as this article points out.)

God uses your experiences to form your character for His purposes. You may not know what you’re going to encounter in the days ahead, but you don’t have to worry about it. The best way to prepare for tomorrow is to walk with Jesus today.

Years before my retreat experience, I’d researched material on the persecuted church. I’d read Tortured for Christ, the autobiography of Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian pastor who was persecuted by the Nazis and the Communists for 14 years. (You can get a free copy of the book here.) I’d also worked through Tortured for the Faith by Bulgarian pastor Haralan Popov. He endured Communist oppression for 13 years. (The Kindle version of his book is only 99¢.)

So when I took the mic, I’d already accumulated years of reflection on the subject of suffering. As a result, I had something to fall back on. I pivoted by acknowledging the seriousness of the topic without descending into sullenness. People could count the cost and also enjoy the day.

How do you prepare for surprises? You can anticipate the future, but you can also savor where you’re at with the Lord right now. Playing soccer today might help you win at basketball tomorrow!

Empathy

The other factor was that I put myself in the position of the audience. That wasn’t too hard; they were single adult Christians and so was I!

What were the guests seeking, imagining, and hoping for? Why did they sign up for the retreat and what did they want to get out of it? What did God want for them and how could I express that?

I didn’t have to ponder these questions as I stood on the stage. Since I identified with the singles, I knew where they were coming from. Compassion creates communication.

Do you care about people? Can you put yourself in their shoes? Loving others like Jesus loved you enables you to serve them like Christ served you.

Empathize with others.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” – Romans 12:15 (NASB).

When you pivot, you recognize the limitations of your position, but you don’t stop there. With your eyes open and your body in motion, you scout out new avenues and undetected resources. And with the Lord’s help, you advance toward victory.

Pivot.

It works in basketball and it works in the spiritual life.

Turning 18

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(For Michael)

In the eyes of the law, you’re now an adult. Some cultures celebrate with elaborate rituals this transition from childhood to adulthood. Americans, not so much. About the closest we have to a rite of passage is high school graduation.

You spent more than two-thirds of your life in schools getting ready for–what? Where do you go from here? What’s next? How do you decide?

Listen to God’s advice:

“Prepare your work outside and make it ready for yourself in the field; afterwards, then, build your house.” – Proverb 24:27

“Prepare”

You’re at the beginning of adulthood; it will take time for you to get to where you need to be. Before going on this trip, pack well. Take with you whatever will help you travel, and keep your eyes open all through the journey. The world hasn’t changed, but you have; so the world’s different. Bring with you the familiar to ease you into the unknown.

“Your”

This adventure can feel selfish, but God wants you to contemplate yourself. He rejoices when you discover who He has made you to be. Don’t hide from your desires and interests; they’re your friends.

“Work”

School is like work–you have assignments, duties, responsibilities, and evaluations. But too much of childhood education is imposed; you have little choice about when, what, and even how you learn.

Now, you can determine where to invest your time, talents, and treasures. Intimidating? Yes, but God has made you strong, so devote your energy to what accords best with who you are in Christ. In the words of Frederick Buechner, “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”

“Outside”

To detect the problems society faces, look around you. Find out for yourself what people deal with and investigate how your skills and talents can provide solutions. Remember that the Lord has put something special inside you for the benefit of others. Don’t keep it locked away.

“And”

God repeats Himself because we’re slower to absorb what He’s telling us than we’d like to admit. We need to hear it twice but that’s okay! There’s biblical precedent:

“Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.” – Philippians 3:1

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” – Philippians 4:4

“Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking.” – 2 Peter 3:1

“This will be my third visit to you. ‘Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’” – 2 Corinthians 13:1

“Make”

Preparing your work is going to require, well, work! It takes effort. There will be days when demands seem light and you handle everything easily. Other days, the labor will weigh on you and you’ll feel like giving up. Stay consistent in your work; doing a little bit each day adds up, so persevere. As James Clear recommends, fall in love with boredom. It’s the secret to success.

“It”

What are you sinking your time into? A college major? A business venture? An invention? Whatever it is, it’s not fixed. It’ll morph as you develop your idea and learn your craft. But you’ll also discover that God’s Spirit has been giving you direction all along; you’re not wasting your time.

“Ready”

“Patience,” as Joyce Meyer puts it, “is not simply the ability to wait–it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.” You won’t earn your degree in 10 minutes, so you’ll have to develop patience. But do more than endure; enjoy the process. Thrive as you prepare your future and you’ll find even greater delight when it arrives.

“For”

Your life has to have a purpose. You can live an unexamined life for so long before the deeper issues emerge from your heart and demand a hearing. Simon Sinek suggests that you “start with why.” This does more than keep you from wasting time. According to Jason Burnham, “Your purpose should ignite your passions and inspire you to be the best you that you can possibly be. It should utilize your skills and past experiences, while stimulating personal growth and future opportunity.”

“Yourself”

The greatest gift you can give someone is yourself. Jesus says as much:

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – John 15:13

But He also demonstrates it:

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” – 1 John 3:16

Do you have a self to give? Do you know who you are? When you do, you have something wonderful to offer to God and to the world.

“In the field”

If “what do you do” is the most repeated question at get-togethers, “where do you work” may run a close second. At this stage of your life, you don’t have to answer those. Yet!

But you’ll encounter similar ones: “what’s your major” and “where do you go to school?” The world’s messy; we like to organize it and categorizing people is one such trick.

Don’t feel hemmed in by such talk. View these conversations as invitations to focus and clarify. God will guide you, but He may not spell out every last detail. That’s because a field is broad; you have plenty of room to run around and explore. So take advantage of the opportunities He’s giving you.

“Afterwards, then”

Work isn’t everything; school shouldn’t swallow your soul. You want to share what you’re learning, what you’re becoming. To use a different analogy, the path you take will cause you to meet up with like-minded travelers. Your friendships will be deep because the Lord is enriching your heart.

“Build your house”

When you’ve chosen your vocation and prepared your work, you’re in the right circumstances to start a family. You’re settled in your spirit and established in what you do. You’ll attract others who complement you and you’ll seek out those whom you admire.

“Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” – 2 Timothy 2:22

In those friendships, one will stand out. This is love! Not self-possessed, amateur infatuation. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery describes it, “Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”

Start looking now.

Happy birthday. I love you!

 

with Bob Condly

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