Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Brief Reflection on Potential

L. Dwight Turner

It seems that the word “potential” carries negative connotations in some circles these days. Some experts seem to think labeling a person with having potential is unfair and places undue and excessive expectations on a person. I suspect these pundits have reasons for saying such things, but I, for one, feel they are a bit off base with all of this.

You see, I think that everyone has potential and not only that, it is a God-given and God-designed potential. Granted, singling out an individual and continually lamenting over how they fail to live up to their potential can be a negative thing. Sometimes this course of action ends up just frustrating the targeted individual more and makes them even less likely to seize their potential and move forward to a more productive life. I have found that rather than repeatedly pointing out where a person has failed to live up to their potential, it is more beneficial to assist the individual to find out what motivates them to make a firm and lasting commitment to becoming the best that they can be.

Finding what internal mechanism will turn the key of motivation for an individual is not always an easy task and, when you get right down to it, only that person can actually discover his or her personal motivator. If I am working as a coach with a person, what I normally do is ask the individual to spend quiet time with the Creator, seeking answers and direction. I have found without fail that this works, not always overnight, but with amazing consistency. This stems from the reality that it was God who placed this potential inside of the person, equipped that person with all they ever need to realize that potential, and is more than willing to provide motivation and direction in pursuit of that potential.

In my own case I have discovered that my “motivators” have changed over the years and sometimes change with amazing regularity. I have also found that this tends to keep me fresh in terms of my outlook and my overall approach to life. For example, a year or so back it dawned on me that whenever we fail to realize our God-given potential, we are not only hurting ourselves, and not only the world at large, but future generations as well. I had never thought of these issues from that angle before and, as I looked at my then three-year-old daughter I gained not only a new insight into the importance of realizing my potential, but a deeper sense of commitment and motivation.

A few weeks later, as is often the case, I was reading Dr. Myles Munroe’s excellent book, Releasing Your Potential, and discovered several passages that spoke directly to the issues of potential and future generations. These words by Dr. Munroe only served to strengthen my commitment to being the optimal version of myself for the sake of others, especially future generations. Here’s what Myles Munroe shared:

It is the awesome realization that if your potential is not released, it will affect this generation and all the generations of man yet to live. Even creation will testify against you. If you abort your potential, you will be robbing the world of the treasure you came to this planet to deliver. The fact that you were born is evidence that God knew earth needed the potential you are pregnant with. It is, therefore, imperative that you refuse to leave this planet without giving birth to those dreams, ideas, visions, and inventions you carry in the womb of your faith right now.

What lies behind you is history and what lies before you is future, but these are both tiny matters compared to what lies within you. You may not be able to change your past, and your future is yet unlived, but the present provides you with opportunities to maximize your life and the ability that lives within you. You must take responsibility for your ability….Are you living a stillbirth? Are you aborting your entire purpose for living? I encourage you to take responsibility right now for your ability. Determine to activate, release, and maximize your potential for the sake of the next generation. Leave your footprints in the sands of the history of your country. Live fully so you can die effectively. Let your life write the speech of your death and give your potential to the family of man for the glory of God. Remember “well done” is much better than “well said.” Don’t just talk about your potential dreams, visions, and ideas. Step out now and determine to do them. Dare to believe that you have already accomplished is but a minute percentage of what you can do.

In closing, let me encourage you to spend time reflecting on the issue of your personal potential and take your reflections, your thoughts, and especially your questions to God in prayer and mediation. Discuss these themes with a trusted spiritual friend and/or mentor. And don’t forget to especially focus on what motivates you to get moving into proactive pursuit of your God-given potential.

All in all, it will be time well spent.

© L. Dwight Turner 2009/ All Rights Reserved

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Reflections on Faith, Hope, and the Christian Journey

L. Dwight Turner

“Faith” is one of those terms that get thrown around quite often in spiritual circles, especially Christian circles. The fact that faith gets talked about so much points to something extremely critical: whatever it is, faith is at the core of the Christian spiritual journey. We can see the centrality of faith in many ways, not the least of which is the fact that the whole undertaking of living as a Christian is often called a walk of faith.

The problem is, there seems to be a great deal of confusion out there about what faith is and what faith is not. Some see faith as synonymous with hope, while others see faith as pretty much the same thing as belief. Yet others, especially those of the Word of Faith movement, see faith as a physical substance, a kind of energy which can be molded and directed to respond to our wishes and desires. With all of these options out there, it is easy to see how Christians in general and new believers in particular can come up gasping for air whenever they get caught in the whirlpool of a discussion on faith.

I have found, however, that discussions of faith do not have to be so perplexing and, whenever I find a writer who puts forward teachings about “faith” in a straightforward and understandable manner, I feel obliged to share those teachings. Erwin Raphael McManus is one such writer. Recently, while noting several key passages in his book Wide Awake I reread some of his ideas of faith in general and the connection between faith, hope, and positive expectation in particular. As these three concepts are part of such a tightly interwoven pattern, I want to share with you in some detail a few of his passages on these critical themes, starting with:

A life of faith is a life of expectation. The book of Hebrews gives us snapshots of individuals who lived a life of expectation, internalized optimism, and refused to give up. We are called to emulate the lives of women and men who kept leaning into their future. Through their stories, we are given clues about how we can begin to expect more and live bigger than ourselves…..

McManus describes the Faith Hall of Fame from the 11th Chapter of Hebrews as folks who:

Lived lives of expectation

Possessed an internalized optimism

Refused to give up (tenacity)

Without elaborating too much on this from a personal perspective, suffice to say that I have found that this trio of character traits are essential to an effective Christian life. As Christians we have every right to be radically optimistic, based on the scriptural revelation of the God we serve. This optimism is more than fleeting, but instead, is internalized and forms part of the bedrock of our Christian worldview. It is this internalized worldview that forms the matrix through which we filter and interpret the events in our lives.

What I am saying here is this: we serve a God of integrity who has made promises to us that he cannot break. Further, he has demonstrated to us that he intends our greatest good to unfold and, from this, we can be both radically optimistic and expect good things to happen in our lives. When bad things happen, we can still remain optimistic and expect the best, because, again, God has promised this and will not lie to us. In fact he cannot lie to us. Thus, we can be very tenacious in pursuit of godly goals because we know deep in our hearts that:

.... God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose

At its core and depth, the Christian life is about living for something much greater than ourselves. It is not only about self-transcendence, although that is part of it, it is more about the death of self and rebirth into a much larger story than the petty dramas in which we lived before. We see this in the stories of the heroes of faith that we meet in Hebrews 11. The vital background of their lives is encapsulated in these words of scripture:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what was seen was not made out of what was visible.

Speaking of the ancient faith of these biblical figures, McManus goes on to say:

A life of expectation is the result of living in the dynamic tension that exists between faith and hope. When you begin to live a life that integrates faith and hope, you begin to internalize optimism. Faith, we are told, is the substance of things hoped for. There is an interconnection between faith and hope.

As stated earlier, faith seems to be a somewhat nebulous commodity when it comes to definition. Yet it is this very faith that God has placed at the center of his plans of salvation, reconnection, resurrection, and restoration. According to scripture, faith is the dynamic catalyst for conversion, salvation, and even sanctification. Paul understood this clearly, as did most of the early church fathers, and most certainly Martin Luther and the reformers of the 16th Century.

Why is it that we have grown so confused about the centerpiece of God’s plans to restore this world to its proper alignment with his will and purpose? I think one reason for this is that more than a few teachers try to make “faith” fit their own agenda. They should know better and to tell you the truth, most of them do know better. Perhaps these “teachers and prophets” have yet to die to their own schemes and get on board God’s plan. Thus, we are bombarded in the Christian media and from the pulpit with concepts of faith that miss the mark. McManus continues:

We find that faith is different from what we oftentimes thought. Faith isn’t so much about having a big idea. Faith isn’t about how much belief you can muster up. Faith isn’t like spiritual childbirth, where you experience the pain of labor. It is not about trying to create the future by believing it will be so. Faith is not the Christian version of a wish. It is not about speaking something into reality. Faith is different. Faith is about substance. It’s about knowing what has not happened will certainly happen. Not because you will make it happen but because God has promised it will be so. It is a conviction about things unseen. It is the promise of a better world, a better future – a better you.

As you can see, the concept of faith espoused here by McManus is far different that much of what we see and hear today. Faith is not so much dependent upon who we are, but who God is. Faith is not so much concerned with what we say, or believe, or speak….it is more about what God has said and done. I firmly believe that God has already provided all that we can ever need to live the kind of holy, godly life to which we are called. I firmly believe that I can do exactly what God say I can do – again – not so much because of who I am, but because of who He is.
It is for these reasons that I can trust God and begin to lean into the future with confidence and even boldness, knowing that God has provided for my journey in ways both great and small. Returning to McManus:

Faith is about conviction, while hope is about confidence. Faith grounds us in the certainty of God’s faithfulness, and hope pulls us into the mystery of God’s future.

Think about it.

© L.D. Turner 2009/All Rights Reserved