In a world that seems to be falling apart, we need reliable truth to hold onto. We need instructions on how to live with hope and confidence, whatever the day's headlines. We need a reminder that when we live out God's principles, we can know God's peace.
Strengthening Your Grip is a highly practical book about living well in every area of our lives. With inspirational stories and biblical wisdom, pastor Charles Swindoll helps us make decisions with integrity, revitalize our prayer life, understand the importance of rest, and strengthen our grip on God's truth every day.
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Strengthening Your Grip
How to be Grounded in a Chaotic World
By Charles R. Swindoll
Worthy Publishing GroupCopyright © 2015 Charles R. Swindoll, Inc.
All rights reserved.
STRENGTHENING YOUR GRIP ON PRIORITIES
The Tyranny of the Urgent is a small booklet with a big fist. Its message is uncomplicated and direct. Actually, it's a warning to all of us. There are times when its penetrating blow punches my lights out! Like a guided missile, it assaults and destroys all excuses I may use.
Here, in one sentence, is the warning: Don't let the urgent take the place of the important in your life. Oh, the urgent will really fight, claw, and scream for attention. It will plead for our time and even make us think we've done the right thing by calming its nerves. But the tragedy of it all is this: While you and I were putting out the fires of the urgent (an everyday affair), the important was again left in a holding pattern. And interestingly, the important is neither noisy nor demanding. Unlike the urgent, it patiently and quietly waits for us to realize its significance.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU?
Forgetting the urgent for a few minutes, ask yourself what is really important to you. What do you consider "top priority" in your life? That is a big question, maybe one you need some time to think about. I began to think about it years ago when I was a minister in a sizable church where I faced a busy schedule week after week. I decided to think seriously about my priorities and the priorities of our growing ministry. It helped. What I discovered is worth passing on to others. Who knows? It may be just what you need to hear today.
Let me give you a little background. In some ways, people and organizations are alike. Both tend to lose vitality rather than gain it as time passes. Both also tend to give greater attention to what they were rather than what they are becoming. It's easier to look back and smile on yesterday's accomplishments than it is to look ahead and think about tomorrow's possibilities.
I realized my own tendency to do that when the church I pastored in Fullerton, California, moved into brand-new facilities on nearly twelve acres of choice land in a Los Angeles suburb. Five new, lovely, spacious, efficient structures housed our church family. The answer to years of praying and sacrificial giving. A dream come true. God had again done wonders among us.
It soon became apparent, however, that if we weren't alert and careful, we would slump into a continuous focus on where we had been rather than on where we were going ... what we were in the process of becoming. God's people are not museum pieces, placed and anchored on a shelf to collect dust. We are alive, moving, and active people called by Him to make an impact on a world that isn't quite sure which end is up. But to do that, we need to determine our priorities.
As I opened my Bible and began to search for direction, I came across the second chapter of 1 Thessalonians, a letter Paul wrote centuries ago to a growing group of Christians. He began this chapter by saying: "For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain" (v. 1).
Although he certainly had not stayed there among them very long, his coming was no wasted effort. It may have been brief and, on occasion, discouraging, but it wasn't in vain.
FOUR PRIORITIES FOR LIVING
After declaring this fact, Paul then pinpoints the characteristics of his life and ministry in Thessalonica. In doing so he sets forth four essential priorities for every church in any era—or, for that matter, any life.
Looking back over the weeks they were together, he recalls his initial impressions.
But after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition. For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men but God, who examines our hearts. (vv. 2–4)
I'm confident that there was a constant barrage of urgent needs pounding away on Paul's mind, but he made sure that his life and ministry were firmly fixed on the important—the Scriptures.
Did you catch these thoughts as you read those verses?
When he spoke amidst the strong current of public opposition, it was "the gospel of God" he shared (v. 2).
The very foundation of his being was not "error" or "impurity" or "deceit," but rather the truth of the Scriptures (v. 3).
Furthermore, he considered the Word of God as something "entrusted" to him. And it gave him such security and confidence that he didn't feel the need to compromise and become a "people pleaser" (v. 4).
Even though it may sound old-fashioned, the first and most significant priority we can cultivate is to make the Scriptures a part of our lives. A biblical mentality is the secret to surviving the aimlessness of our day.
We must daily soak ourselves in the Scriptures. We must not just study, as through a microscope, the linguistic minutiae of a few verses, but take our telescope and scan the wide expanses of God's Word, assimilating its grand theme of divine sovereignty in the redemption of mankind. "It is blessed," wrote C. H. Spurgeon, "to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, you come to talk in scriptural language, and your spirit is flavoured with the words of the Lord, so that your flood is Bibline and the very essence of the Bible flows from you."
I find it interesting that being committed to a biblical mentality and lifestyle is so old it's new! For sure, it's rare. It also leads to a good deal of self-examination. Did you observe this at the end of verse 4? As we begin to soak up the truths of God's Book, He goes to work on us! "The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Heb. 4:12–13, NIV1984).
Descriptive, isn't it? The principles and precepts of Scripture touch what no surgeon's scalpel can touch—the soul, the spirit, thoughts, attitudes, the very essence of our being. And God uses His truths to help shape us and clean us up and mature us in our walk with Him.
Let's take this to heart. Let's determine that we are not going to allow the tyranny of the urgent to steal from us those vitally important moments with our God in His Word. First and foremost, let's become people who are thoroughly committed to biblical thinking and action.
I find a second priority in this same part of 1 Thessalonians.
Listen to the way Paul talks about himself. For a moment he shifts the emphasis from the message to the messenger. "For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness—nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority" (1 Thess. 2:5–6).
The man was real. He was so secure he peeled off all masks, all cover-ups, and stood vulnerably before God and others. It's beautiful! Even though he was an apostle—a genuine first-century bigwig—he did not push for the limelight. He consciously resisted being a power abuser.
Ronald Enroth, author and professor of sociology at Westmont College, is correct in his analysis of a leader's use of power.
Bible scholars point out that the New Testament concept of authority as expressed in the Greek word exousia does not have the connotation of jurisdiction over the lives of others. Rather, it is the authority of truth, the authority of wisdom and experience which can be evidenced in a leader who is held up as a special example, who can commend himself "to every man's conscience in the sight of God." (2 Cor. 4:2)
Paul was that kind of leader. He did not take unfair advantage of his role as an apostle. Of top priority to him, right alongside being a strong believer in the Scriptures, was being authentic.
Webster's dictionary defines the term authentic by suggesting three things "authentic" is not: It is not imaginary, it is not false, it is not an imitation. Today we would say that being authentic means not being phony ... free of the standard hype that often accompanies public gatherings.
Let's make this a priority! Surrounded by numerous religious types to whom everything is "fantastic," "super," and "incredible," let's work hard at being real. This means we are free to question, to admit failure or weakness, to confess wrong, to declare the truth. When a person is authentic, he or she does not have to win or always be in the top ten or make a big impression or look super-duper pious.
A man I deeply appreciate—a fine student and teacher of the Bible—admitted in a public meeting that the more he studied prophecy the less he knew about it! I smiled with understanding and admiration.
Robert Wise, founding pastor of Our Lord's Community Church in Oklahoma City, helped take some of the tension out of my own tendency to compete and continually achieve, always fearing failure. In his intriguing book Your Churning Place, he mentions an experience that encouraged him to be real.
I had a friend who used to call me on the phone on Monday mornings. I'd pick up the phone and this minister would say, "Hello, this is God. I have a gift for you today. I want to give you the gift of failing. Today you do not have to succeed. I grant that to you." Then he would hang up. I would sit there for 10 minutes, staring at the wall.
The first time I couldn't believe it. It was really the gospel. God's love means it's even OK to fail. You don't have to be the greatest thing in the world. You can just be you.
Authentic people usually enjoy life more than most. They don't take themselves so seriously. They actually laugh and cry and think more freely because they have nothing to prove—no big image to protect, no role to play. They have no fear of being found out, because they're not hiding anything. Let's make the Bible our foundation. And as we apply its insights and guidelines, let's also cultivate a style that is authentic. In doing so we'll need to watch our attitude—our next priority.
Paul deals with this third priority in 1 Thessalonians 2:7–11 where he writes of the value of being gracious.
But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children.
What a gracious, tolerant spirit! The man was both approachable and tender. Did you notice the word pictures? He cared for others "as a nursing mother" (v. 7) and dealt with them in their needs "as a father" (v. 11). He had compassion. Of high priority to this capable, brilliant man of God was a gracious, compassionate attitude.
He admits that he was interested in doing more than dumping a truckload of theological and doctrinal data on them ... he wanted to share not only the gospel, but his life.
If there is one specific criticism we hear against our evangelical "camp" more than any other, it is this: We lack compassion. We are more abrasive and judgmental than thoughtful, tactful, compassionate, and tolerant. If we're not careful, we tend to use people rather than love them, don't we? We try to change them and later help them, rather than accept them as they are.
A greatly needed priority is an attitude or disposition that is characterized by grace. Do you recall Peter's final bit of counsel? "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen" (2 Pet. 3:18).
Am I saying there is no place for conviction or a firm commitment to truth? Of course not.
All I plead for are threads of grace woven through the garment of truth. If I live to be one hundred fifty, I will never buy the idea that it is an either/or matter. Our world of hungry, hurting humanity longs for and deserves the message of truth presented in attractive, gentle, gracious wrappings. Don't forget: "As a mother ... as a father." There is positive affirmation implied rather than negative nitpicking.
Charlie Shedd illustrates this so perfectly as he tells of an experience he had with Philip, one of his sons. The story revolved around a bale of binder twine that had made the move with them from Nebraska to Oklahoma.
I had used it there to tie sacks of feed and miscellaneous items. It cost something like $1.15. So I said, "Now, Philip, you see this binder twine? I want you to leave it alone." But it held a strange fascination for him and he began to use it anytime he wanted ...
That went on for six or eight months. Then one day I came home tired. There was the garage, looking like a no-man's land with binder twine across, back and forth, up and down. I had to cut my way through to get the car in. And was I provoked! I ground my teeth as I slashed at that binder twine. Suddenly, when I was halfway through the maze, a light dawned. I asked myself, "Why do you want this binder twine? What if Philip does use it?"
So when I went in to supper that night, Philip was there and I began, "Say, about that binder twine!" He hung his head and mumbled, "Yes, Daddy." Then I said, "Philip, I've changed my mind. You can use that old binder twine anytime you want. What's more, all those tools out in the garage I've labeled 'No'—you go ahead and use them. I can buy new tools, but I can't buy new boys." There never was a sunrise like that smile. "Thanks, Daddy," he beamed. And guess what, Peter. He hasn't touched that binder twine since!
That's the way it works in a gracious, accepting climate. People become far more important than rigid rules and demanding expectations.
Thus far we've deposited into our memory banks three vital priorities: those of being biblical, authentic, and gracious. In 1 Thessalonians 2:12–13 Paul deals with yet another priority. "So that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God's message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe."
There is a direct link here between talk and walk. Paul's message always has a relevant ring to it. Even though the truth of the Scriptures is ancient, when it is received, it goes to work today; it is up to date and continually at "work in you who believe" (v. 13).
If we are hoping to reach our generation, we must make relevance a high priority. That is exactly what Jesus Christ did. He met people as they were, not as they "ought to have been." Angry young men, blind beggars, proud politicians, loose-living streetwalkers, dirty and naked victims of demonism, and grieving parents got equal time. They all hung on His every word. Even though He could have blown them away with His knowledge and authority, He purposely stayed on their level. Jesus was the epitome of relevance. And still is.
It is we who have hauled His cross out of sight. It is we who have left the impression that it belongs only in the sophisticated, cloistered halls of a seminary or beautifully beneath the soft shadows of stained glass and cold marble statues. I applaud George MacLeod, who put it this way:
I simply argue that the Cross be raised again at the center of the market place as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on a town garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek ... at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where He died, and that is what He died about. And that is where Christ's men ought to be, and what church people ought to be about.
REVIEW AND WRAP UP
The tyranny of the urgent will always outshout the essential nature of the important ... if we let it. We have determined not to let that happen. The secret is establishing personal priorities. I have suggested four:
Set a firm foundation—be biblical.
Apply the truth of the Scriptures—be authentic.
Develop a compassionate attitude—be gracious.
Stay current, always up to date—be relevant.
Excerpted from Strengthening Your Grip by Charles R. Swindoll. Copyright © 2015 Charles R. Swindoll, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Worthy Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. Strengthening Your Grip on Priorities,
2. Strengthening Your Grip on Involvement,
3. Strengthening Your Grip on Encouragement,
4. Strengthening Your Grip on Purity,
5. Strengthening Your Grip on Money,
6. Strengthening Your Grip on Integrity,
7. Strengthening Your Grip on Discipleship,
8. Strengthening Your Grip on Aging,
9. Strengthening Your Grip on Prayer,
10. Strengthening Your Grip on Leisure,
11. Strengthening Your Grip on Missions,
12. Strengthening Your Grip on Godliness,
13. Strengthening Your Grip on Attitudes,
14. Strengthening Your Grip on Evangelism,
15. Strengthening Your Grip on Authority,
16. Strengthening Your Grip on the Family,