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By Jane Jarrell
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2005 Jane Jarrell
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Chapter OneClean Plate Club
God has a history of using the insignificant to accomplish the impossible. —Richard Exley
Women play multiple roles in life, from caregiver to coach, often with no time to assess our personal heart desires. Can we simply have too much on our plates? Some people's lives remind me of the paper plate commercial in which a flimsy paper plate is piled full of entrées. In an attempt to satisfy, more and more is piled on the plate. But before reaching the table, the plate collapses under the pressure of oversized servings. The same is true for our lives: with a flimsy foundation, we fold under the pressures, obligations, and commitments. Chinet to the rescue! This strong paper plate provides a solid foundation for the food and doesn't collapse when overloaded. Likewise, God provides a strong foundation for our lives. He encourages us to lighten our load, and He supports us as we try to focus on eternal heart issues while providing strength for our overbooked lives.
To accomplish all we find on our plates, we must tap into the resources available only through supernatural power. Are you still using a flimsy plate, pulling on your limited personal resources, or have you found the strong plate by relying on God's strength to meet the challenges?
In this chapter we are going to examine our deepest inner life. I've always liked interior design! We'll do a little spring-cleaning and maybe some polishing as we seek to become God's best.
What does this have to do with hospitality? Plenty. We can't give love, share empathy, or offer intimacy to another if we are carrying the weight of the world on our plates. If we're overloaded, we're not equipped to offer heartfelt hospitality to those we care about. If we're too wound up in our own issues, hurdles, and obligations, we have no space to focus on the needs of the world around us. To avoid this dilemma we must work from the inside out. Are you ready to belong to the clean plate club?
As wives and mothers, we're often told, "You have to take care of yourself first!" But we all know that usually doesn't happen. We spend most of our time staying on top of the needs of our families. Yet there is truth in that advice! To provide a loving environment at home and to be a role model for loving others through hospitality, we must start with our own hearts. We can't afford to let ourselves get out of shape, spiritually speaking.
Every now and then I find myself with some "heart" problems no beta blocker can touch. I may be so stressed out that I can't find time for prayer or personal worship and study. My overwhelming responsibilities might create resentment. Difficult circumstances in my family can lead to loss of hope. We all know that life annoyances like these can stack up like bricks and weigh heavily on our lives. Getting through these situations often takes an all-out attack—a heart attack!
How does one launch an all-out heart attack? Here's my four-step, straight-A plan for dealing with those issues of the heart that can rob the joy from our lives, squelch our effectiveness, and keep us from sharing love with others.
HOW TO LAUNCH AN ALL-OUT HEART ATTACK
ASSESS ADDRESS ANTICIPATE ABIDE
First, evaluate your current heart condition. Are your arteries clogged up? In other words, is there too much "stuff" in your life, keeping you from functioning most effectively? If so, it may be time for a priority check.
You will need a notepad, some scheduled time alone, and your Bible. Begin by asking yourself, what's most important to me? Then ask, how do I spend my time? Making the effort to reflect on how your actions match up with your stated priorities is often enlightening. However, I don't want this to become a guilt trip for you! This exercise is just a way of discovering the areas of your life that could be tweaked a bit to bring you closer to living your priorities. Make a list of the areas that seem to be working well and areas that feel out of control. The goal is to assess yourself, beginning with the good and ending with the opportunity for change.
In John 15:1–2, Jesus says, "I am the true vine; my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that does not produce fruit" (NCV). This is God's assessing. What works, stays. What doesn't work is cut off. Is there anything in your life that needs to be "cut off" so you are able to produce more?
This self-assessment can become a habit—a system of checks and balances for your life. Using this thought process allows you to stay focused on what works and to identify when something isn't working so you can change course.
Once you have assessed, you have clarity for conquering your situation. Clarity gives us the ability to deal with what's in front of us. Without it, our vision is limited. In John 15:2, Jesus says, "He trims and cleans every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit." Addressing your issues allows for a clean heart and the opportunity for more fruit production. What fruit can God produce through a cleaned-up you?
Julia, a mother of three, found herself constantly bombarded with family problems that were a daily drain on her emotional energy. After living this way for years, she came to the realization that she needed to take action. She took out a yellow legal pad and began writing all the negative situations she had to endure. She also wrote down the positive things in her life—activities that, while worthy, also took up time. Then she realistically looked at her options, asking the question, what can be removed? She set about preparing a plan to live more according to her priorities. It took time. It also took some negotiating with family members and others to whom she'd made commitments. But in time, she found her life running more smoothly, and she found a new sense of peace. Did her problems go away? No. But assessing and addressing the issues gave her the opportunity to see, for the first time, exactly what changes were needed.
When I feel my life is spinning out of control, I sit down with my personal "housecleaning" verses: "God, examine me and know my heart; test me and know my nervous thoughts. See if there is any bad thing in me. Lead me on the road to everlasting life" (Psalm 139:23–24 NCV). To become all God has created me to be, I need to approach my life with a clean conscience (or plate). I start by confessing the known sins in my life and by forgiving others I feel have wronged me. I find that staying spiritually "clean" is similar to housework: if I don't stay on top of the "mess" daily, I find myself buried under the bundle of burdens! Once I "address the mess" through confession, I'm ready to begin working with God to trim the branches of my life so that I'm refreshed and my fruit will be pleasing to Him. When we are spiritually fresh, we have the God-given ability to refresh others; thus, the first seeds are planted for sowing hospitality into our hearts and into the hearts of others.
When you're starting to make changes in your life, you can anticipate challenges. Whether God is testing you on your resolve or Satan is throwing down roadblocks to keep you from being your most effective self, if you anticipate certain issues you will not be as disappointed in the midst of change. This keeps you on your toes and ready to push toward your resolve.
What are some challenges you might anticipate? You might expect the protests of family members who are used to you doing things a certain way. If you decide to step down from a leadership or volunteer position, you may face the disappointment or disapproval of people you respect. Most of all, you may find yourself confronted with your own guilt or sense of failure for not being superwoman. I urge you not to back down in the face of these roadblocks but to pray continually about your decisions and stick to them, as long as you have peace that they're the right choices. The obstacles will be easier to deal with if you have anticipated them.
How do we know what to anticipate? Review your history and the patterns you fol10 low when dealing with change. Consider who will be affected by the changes you'll be making, and what their responses are likely to be. Keep in mind that, often, the reality is not as bad as your imagination! Yet the road is generally easier if we've anticipated the roadblocks.
Through all the assessing, addressing, and anticipating, we abide. Abiding in Christ is like being in a quiet, candlelit room, tucked into a cozy, overstuffed bed in the middle of a raging storm. Christ is the down comforter wrapped all around you, shielding you from the elements. In John 15:4, Jesus tells us, "Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch cannot produce fruit alone but must remain in the vine. In the same way, you cannot produce fruit alone but must remain in me" (NCV). We cannot accurately assess, address, or anticipate unless we remain in Christ.
When He is on the throne of our hearts, we are more likely to make the right decisions, clearing our schedules and opening our hearts to be ready to reach out to others.
As we go through the process of assessing and addressing, we must identify our priorities. Living our priorities is critical to controlling the stress level in our lives. When we get in touch with the things that are truly important, our priorities become the compass by which we chart our lives.
But how do we set our priorities? In his excellent book Freedom from Tyranny of the Urgent, Charles Hummel tells us, "There is no blueprint for all Christians in the use of their time, any more than there is for spending their money. God has given us widely differing abilities, amounts of energy, opportunities, responsibilities and personal needs. In that light, instead of comparing yourself to someone else, realistically consider the basic components of what for you is a productive Christian life. Ask God, 'What are Your priorities for me right now?' You can then prayerfully set appropriate personal goals."
For our heart rhythms to stay in sync, we must focus. As a busy mother, I find focusing to be difficult. (My theory is that brain cells are reduced during the delivery of a baby!) Focus is one of the most challenging aspects of my daily life. I might carefully plan my day, but it spins into orbit at the onset of my child's ear infection or an unexpected need at the school. How do I stay on track? I find that to focus well means I must first know what to focus on—and that brings us back to priorities.
I need to regularly revisit my priorities. Not only do I need reminders, but my priorities also tend to change over time. To determine my priorities, I use the following simple yet thought-provoking exercise. It can be an eyeopener. Try this prayerfully and see how God speaks to you.
On a sheet of paper, make four columns, using each of the following questions as a column heading:
1. What do I want to do?
2. What do I want to be?
3. What do I want to have?
4. Whom do I want to help?
Write your answers beneath each heading. Dig deep and see what you find. Then narrow your answers to four words that sum up your columns. When you have four words, select one that represents you. While obviously your existence is not this simple, this exercise is a good way to mirror your heart. As I completed this exercise, my four words were heart, compassion, home, and hospitality. My one word was share. As I go through my days, when I feel like I'm getting too scattered, I go back to these words, and they help me focus on the important things in my life.
Adjusting priorities is a daily decision—a decision that should involve placing your focus on God instead of the circumstances at hand. Life happens, and when it does, our priorities can spin out of control. Plates that are too full or hearts that are too heavy can bring an onset of priority paralysis. When I begin to feel like the little ball batted around in a pinball machine, hitting off one corner and slamming into another one, I know God is not in control. As the bells and whistles begin to ring, I realize I am following my will and not God's. This is when critical assessment is in order—restructuring what is truly important and renewing my focus toward eternity.
When I suffer from priority paralysis, I stop, quickly review what is important, and rearrange the thought processes that are fogging the issue. A powerful prayer, a focus on obedience, and a heart choice can slow the spin and calm our spirits. These are quick and easy steps to clarify our thinking.
THREE STEPS TO CLARIFY OUR THINKING
A POWERFUL PRAYER A FOCUS ON OBEDIENCE A HEART CHOICE
Hospitality starts in our hearts. We are better able to see a need and reach a person when we know where we are coming from and whom we serve. This is a crucial starting point, doing some inside work so we are equipped to make a difference in the outside world.
The thing you should want most is God's kingdom and doing what God wants. Then all these other things you need will be given to you. —Matthew 6:33 NCV
1. Find your satisfaction in Christ instead of in the barrenness of being busy.
2. Create a checks-and-balances system for keeping your plate clean. Keep what is working, and remove those obligations that are driven by guilt or unhealthy assumptions.
3. When reviewing what piles are on your plate, talk with a trusted friend and consider her input as valuable insight. Our friends often see our circumstances more clearly than we can.
4. Choose to dwell on what is good in your life while you are working on your interior design.
5. Strive to look at life through an eternal lens with the goal of making all your choices glorifying to God.
6. Consistently ask God, "What are Your priorities for me today?"
7. Take time to offer yourself spiritual hospitality—abide and decide how God can use you today.
Chapter TwoThe Simple Truth
Kindness can conquer the most trying of situations.
Hospitality is kindness extended in myriad ways: A burning porch light. A table full of food. A hug. A get-together for children. A clean house. Coffee brewing in the kitchen. Gracious hospitality offers comfort, encouragement, and forgiveness in a generous fashion. It is allowing the spirit of God to flow through you by putting others before yourself.
You may not feel you're gifted or talented in the area of hospitality. It doesn't matter! We have no idea how God will use us if we just show up. It is as simple as that! We view things with a human perspective, but God sees our sphere of influence, our purpose for being on the planet, and what He can accomplish through us. He has the ability to take the ordinary and make it extraordinary. The smallest gesture of reaching out toward another person can have the most astonishing results. What design does God have on your life? How does He want to use you to reach others?
I believe God does want to use you—but He doesn't require you to change who you are. He can work through you to reach others in small ways, if simplicity is your style.
In this chapter, I have taken the word hospitality and made it into an acrostic to help us remember how simple it can be. When we take the focus off our circumstances and turn our hearts toward God and others, it's amazing how much easier hospitality looks. Look at this as a road map for sharing yourself with others.
H—HOSPITAL FOR THE SOUL
Why does one go to the hospital? To visit, perhaps, or to welcome a new baby. But oftentimes it's because our bodies are broken. Broken by disease, accident, or age. A hospital is a place to be repaired and healed.
The word hospitable is derived from the word hospital, which means a charitable institution, a repair shop, a hospice, or a shelter. Hospitality is a shelter for the soul, a healing for the spirit. Ultimately, this is what we offer when we open our home in the true spirit of hospitality or when we bring our gifts of hospitality outside of our homes to reach others.
Just yesterday I joined three special friends for lunch in one of their homes. At one time or another during our college years, we had all been roommates. We were in the same sorority, we were in each other's weddings, and we laughed at the same type of things—a lot. After several months of heightened concern over the health of one of my family members, this retreat was like a fresh breeze on a warm day. The four of us had a heart connection nurtured through the years, a mutual respect and love for each other, and conversations compelling enough that we could have continued all day.
Excerpted from simple hospitality by Jane Jarrell Copyright © 2005 by Jane Jarrell. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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