Category Archives: Personal Growth

Passing on Wisdom: The Art of Mentoring

 

Throughout history, training in the areas of marital life, childbearing, mothering and homemaking have always been lessons best passed on through one-on-one relationships.  Generation to generation, the most important of life’s skills have been passed on informally in the context of community.  “True wisdom” has continued down a chain linking older to younger and more experienced to less experienced for millennia. The term given to this life-driven kind of guidance is mentoring. 

      

           What is a Mentor?

 

 

The English word “mentor” has ancient origins; it is derived from Homer’s Odyssey.  In this Greek classic, Odysseus goes off to war and turns the guidance of his son, Telemachus, over to his friend, Mentor.  With his father gone, the boy is “mentored” by Mentor in the paths of life.  In the Bible, we see mentoring as the major means of educating women. Naomi takes on the guidance of her daughter-in-law, Ruth, Mordecai is a voice into the life of Esther and Elizabeth serves as a mentor to Mary.  The basis of the relationship is that the mentor has authority in the mentee’s life.  Due to this responsibility of speaking into the life of another, a mentor is usually a rare type of person. Mentors are individuals of unimpeachable credibility whose advice rings true. They are people whose past achievements back up their counsel and whose diverse experiences are what qualify them.  The accomplishments of the mentor should correspond with the area that she is mentoring in. For example, if you are a mentor for mothers, it is more important that you have raised a houseful of healthy children than that you possess a college degree. 

 

Why is Experience the key?

 

 

Experience is the key to mentoring because mentors base their life-shaping instructions on their real life experiences rather than the teaching of empirical knowledge.  The mentor imparts what she’s learned through sharing stories, anecdotes and experiences, not through covering materials or working through a curriculum. Mentoring requires an intimate relationship characterized by vulnerability and spontaneity.

During mentoring, training occurs in a free-flowing informal exchange.  Mentoring takes place through conversation and hearty dialogue rather than monologue. A mentor is not a college professor in front of a classroom surrounded by students taking notes. Mentoring is less formal than teaching and more about the individual being mentored than the information that is being exchanged. It is because of this unique characteristic of mentoring that the mentor must check any personal agenda at the door. 

 

 No-Agenda required!

 

 

In short, mentoring is not about one person living their life through another person.  Serving as a mentor is not about creating a mini-you. The mentee is a unique individual with unique talents and abilities who is following their own God-ordained course in life.  An overriding theme inmentoring is the intention to help someone help themselves. Wise mentors recognize that their guidance is most appreciated when it’s specifically asked for.  They offer up plenty of possible suggestions to their mentees without requiring a specific course of action.  They refrain as much as possible from telling their mentee what to do.  It is as if the mentor and mentee are driving down the road of life together.  The mentee is the one in the driver’s seat and the mentor is riding shot gun.  The mentor’s job is to ride along offering up advice and warning the driver about approaching bumps and turns but the mentor never takes the steering wheel and begins driving the car herself.

   

 

What about Trust?

 

 

A solid mentor-mentee relationship is rooted in trust.  Trust has to be established from the beginning of the relationship and must deepen over time.  In a successful mentoring relationship a strong alliance will be built.  The mentee trusts that the mentor is on her side. The overall atmosphere of the relationship should be one of mutual sharing and caring. The mentor must be willing to give the valuable gift of their time to the mentee and it can never be a “don’t call me, I’ll call you,” arrangement.  The mentor makes herself available as needed within reasonable limits.  The best mentoring takes place in ordinary life settings where mentor and mentee have casual and regular exposure to one another.  In these life settings, the mentor can come along side the mentee as she tackles the normal obstacles of life.  

  

          Where do “life’s Obstacles” fit in?  

 

 

Learning how to overcome obstacles is one of the most important lessons mentors can pass on.  Obstacles in life create a learning curve and cause the mentee to be more open to receiving new input.  Obstacles make for teachable moments. The crisis makes any help the mentor is bringing even more meaningful and useful.  Mentors tap into their own experience banks for examples of how they confronted similar obstacles.  Tackling tough situations together is what bonds and cements a solid mentoring relationship.

       

       When is “Real” mentoring taking place?    

 

 

The atmosphere of the mentoring relationship is relaxed and real. An intimate mentor-mentee relationship necessitates genuine sharing of insights, observations and suggestions.  Mentors offer an objective ear but they also offer real accountability.  They are not meant to be syrupy-sweet cheerleaders offering only affirmation, or speaking only what their protégé wants to hear.  Mentors give feedback on performance and offer opinions and confrontation when it is called for.  A good mentor can share hard things with as much openness as easy things.

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Demonstrating Spiritual Maturity Through Our Emotions

One of the most incredible parts of existing as a human being is coming to grips with the fact that we were created in the very image of God. 

 

As creations made expressly in His image He gave us a mind, will and emotions. 

 

We have the ability to think, to feel and to make choices. 

 

Francis Schaffer said, “…as God is a person He thinks, feels and acts: so I am a person who thinks, feels and acts.  Yet despite the reality that we were created to be all three intellectual, emotional and volitional in nature, many Christians today have emphasized the mind and the will to the exclusion of the emotions. 

 

This prejudice regarding the superiority of the mind is demonstrated in the current stream of evangelical thinking.  Among most evangelical Christians, the mark of spiritual maturity is the ability to acquire facts and store biblical knowledge.  Many church systems perpetuate the idea that the more biblical truth you can cram into your brain the more spiritually mature you are.  This is a fallacy. 

 

While knowledge of the Scriptures is important, spiritual maturity comes through transformation of the whole person.  It involves applying the Scripture in order to be conformed to Christ in our mind, will and emotions. 

 

The Bible is clear that the basic way to know whether a person is a Christian or not is not to assess how much a person knows but to look at how a person lives.  It is not only important that one think rightly one must also act rightly.  Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love is clearly an emotion, so evidently the expression of emotion in a believer’s life is also a vitally important part of Christian maturity. 

 

Throughout the Bible, we see God expressing His emotions.  In the Old Testament, for example, one thing we are graphically taught is that God can be pleased and made happy and that God can also be displeased and moved to anger. 

 

In the New Testament, God’s emotional repertoire is definitely expanded.  We see Jesus as God incarnate expressing the entire myriad of human emotions.  He feels love, compassion, joy, fear, sorrow, grief, discouragement, frustration, hurt, loneliness and anger.  In fact, just like us, He experiences every emotion on the map and yet He does it all without sin.

 

Emotions despite the judgments many of us might make about them are neither negative nor positive.  They are neutral.  What we do with emotions is what causes the positive or negative impact on our lives.  How we express them determines the constructive or destructive quality of that emotion.

 

What separates Jesus and His expressions of emotions from our expressions of emotions, is that Jesus felt emotions and always expressed them appropriately and without sin.  Jesus’ most common description of himself was, “I am meek and lowly of heart.” 

 

The choice of the adjective meek is an interesting preference of descriptors. Meek is one of the great Greek ethical words and was a word charged with meaning for the first hearers.  It is an understatement to say that it does not have the same meaning today in our culture as it did in the culture of the original recipients.  While meekness in the culture extant at the time Jesus walked the earth described a person who had every instinct, every impulse, every passion and every emotion under control, the term has been downgraded in our society to mean gentle.

 

Use of the word “meek” today conjures up images of Casper Milktoast.  Meekness in the first century however, was attached to images of strength.  Meek meant power put under control.  Now it has come to mean the opposite “powerlessness”.  In Jesus’ time, meek was commonly used to describe an animal which had been trained to obey the word of command from his master. It was used to describe a horse which had learned to answer perfectly to the reins.

 

Meekness as an attribute said something very admirable about our Lord.  It said that although Jesus had all the resources to be all-powerful He chose to express himself as a person under restraint.  He expressed His personality, His emotions appropriately, always keeping His impulses and passions in check.  He was meek. 

 

As we desire to come into conformity with the nature of our Lord it also falls to Christians to cultivate meekness in their own lives.  We are to experience the full gamut of emotions that God created us to experience in his image, yet we should demonstrate true spiritual maturity and like Jesus exercise control over our emotions. 

 

Jesus expressed righteous anger in the temple when He cast out the money-changers.  He chose to overturn their tables and run them out of the place.  It should be realized however, that He could have struck them dead on the spot, summoned angels from heaven to destroy the place or caused an earthquake to level the temple. He demonstrated control.  He exhibited the appropriate emotion with the appropriate force for that circumstance. 

 

In conclusion, emotions are a valid part of each of us created in God’s image.  As Christians, we should never deny, ignore or even downplay the emotional part of us.   True spiritual maturity involves being conformed to the image of Christ in our mind, will and emotions. 

 

Christ expressed a wide variety of emotions in His life, yet always in appropriate ways at appropriate times. That should also be our goal.  We need to be truthful as we express the emotions that are inside of us; that’s what makes us human beings made in the image of God. The key is that as Christians, we must strive to communicate our emotions in proper God-honoring ways.

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Establishing New Habits—Tips to Help You Keep Those New Year’s Resolutions

It is good to remember that when we speak of habits, we may either be referring to something good or something bad. In the case of the Christian life, we are often speaking of replacing bad habits with good ones. This process is really called repentance, since the bad or sinful habits lead away from God, while the good habits or virtues lead toward God and eternal life.

Many people believe in changing their ways at the beginning of the New Year, but any time is a good time to begin forming a good habit. In fact, the best time to root out the bad and institute the good is always the present moment. Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold now is the day of salvation. (2 Cor. 6:2)

Ten Be-attitudes for developing new habits:

 

1) Be Patient – Understand that cultivating a new routine will take time. It is encouraging when 21st century Christians find out that what contemporary secular experts discover, using scientific methods, the Church has known and practiced all along. One such recent discovery is that it takes about six weeks, or forty days, to make a certain practice into a habit. The period of forty days has since Old Testament times been that amount of time necessary to prepare for something significant or purge oneself of something negative.

 

2) Be Realistic – Trying to change too many behaviors at once can back fire on you.

Pick one new positive habit you’d like to develop and stick with that. Many New Year’s Resolutions fail because overly ambitious people who want desperately to change try to do too much all at once.  When individuals do this all their good intentions tend to go down the drain before January is even over.  For instance a person who is trying to lose weight, launch a new daily devotional routine and do a makeover on their finances all at one time would probably be biting off more than they can chew. Instead of trying to change everything all at once, pick one area to focus on and follow through on changing that one area.

 

3) Be Concrete – Choose something tangible and measurable to change. It is difficult to assess whether you’ve met a vague goal. For example, instead of deciding indistinctly “I will have a better prayer life in 2009, be as specific as possible. Rather than the loose goal of deciding to “pray every day,” decide to “pray first thing in the morning for 30 minutes” and track your success on your calendar or in your day-timer.

 

 

4) Be Intentional – Record your goal and post reminders in places you will see on a daily basis. There are many good places to place a reminder: a post-it note on your bathroom mirror, a note under the magnet on the refrigerator door or a message on the screen saver of your computer monitor.  Remind yourself of the commitment to change that you have made.

 

5) Be Prepared – Make it easier to begin your new behavior by preparing for success ahead of time.  Make sure you have all necessary equipment and materials available beforehand.  For instance, if you’ve decided to work out twice a week, make sure you have all your work out clothes and necessary items in a bag ready to go the night before your scheduled work-out so that all you have to do is pick up your bag on the way out the door.

 

6) Be Kind to Yourself – Rewarding yourself with a small reward each time you perform the new habit will help pair it cognitively with positive emotions. In general, research shows that rewards work better than punishments and will be most effective if they occur as soon as possible after each occurrence of the desired action.

 

7) Be Smart and Link Habits- An effective way to establish a new habit is to pair it with an established habit. This is called the Premack Principle after the Behavioral psychologist David Premack. Premack proved that a frequently occurring action can be used effectively to reinforce a less frequently occurring behavior. For example, if you are trying to remember to drink more water, it is helpful to place your water bottle next to your coffee maker and remind yourself to drink your water before you down your customary “lattes” each morning.

 

8) Be Accountable – Utilizing a social support system is one of the best ways to establish a new habit.  If you make a date to work out with a friend or a bunch of friends it can increase your sense of accountability and help you stay on track.

 

9) Be Public – One way to further increase your sense of accountability is to tell other people about your efforts. In addition to your accountability partner also announce to others that you are establishing new patterns then it will be even harder to let those new habits slide.

 

10) Be Gracious to Yourself – When you experience a set-back and fail to practice your new habit, don’t condemn yourself and give-up, give yourself a second, third, fourth or as many chances as needed to get back on track. Stay positive and believe you can change, if you stay proactive and motivated and get right back on task—the change will eventually come!

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Sacred Places of the Heart

 

Throughout God’s Word a recurring metaphor becomes evident; faithful believers are likened to travelers or pilgrims on the road of life.  Psalm 84:5 declares, Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, whose heart is set on pilgrimage.  A pilgrimage is a long journey to a sacred place, especially one of exalted purpose or moral significance.

The idea of pilgrimage is introduced in Genesis. God reveals himself to Abram and requires of him that he leave his homeland and go to another land of God’s bidding.  Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  Gen 12:1-3 (NKJV).  Why did God call Abram out from his familiar surroundings? God knew he needed to be removed from old friends and situations that might hinder his full obedience to Him and that his departure would provide a definite step of faith.  God has, throughout the centuries, required his people to come out from among the world and to be separate.  We are special people with a special destination – heaven – and as Christians we are all pilgrims. We have realized that this world is not our home and we have started our trek to “our Father’s house.” 

 

 

Hebrews 11 gives a long list of Bible characters and explains, All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it and they agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Heb 11:13-16 (NLT). According to this passage, all the faithful characters listed shared a common understanding that they were pilgrims, sojourners, travelers and nomads—human beings just visiting this planet on their way to their true and promised habitation.

 

 

In reading the accounts in the Bible of the lives of the many pilgrims that have come before us, it is clear that life’s journey is almost never a simple excursion.  Instead the path God provides is almost always a circuitous expedition over extremely adventurous territory.  As Christian sojourners our hearts are on the road that leads to heaven and God, but the places of the heart we must visit on the way offer unique and varied challenges. 

 

 

As we traverse this foreign land we can be assured of many side trips to “spiritual locations” along the way.  Like required stations or stopovers along life’s journey, there appear to be compulsory sites we must all experience.  Many places of the heart described in the Bible have geographical titles that tie them to a metaphorical map of life’s journey.  Similarly to our predecessors who followed the Lord through literal deserts and valleys and like those who climbed actual mountains in order to be obedient, those on “spiritual” pilgrimages also take visits to places both uncertain and sublime. 

 

 

Visits to the desert, the valley, the high seas, the fruitful places and the mountaintops are among those sacred places that we all have an opportunity to discover.  They are inevitable sites of the soul that God’s itinerary almost always dictates and has in store.  The Bible provides rich symbolism to be researched and understood about each of these sacred stopovers that are so common to God’s people.  Much can be gleaned as we interpret the imagery of Scripture and apply the wisdom and experiences of other pilgrims who encountered these sites along the way. 

The desert or wilderness is an arid expanse of land that is unsettled, usually used as pasture for animals and is suitable only for the nomadic lifestyle. A sojourn in the desert or wilderness in the Bible is associated with seasons of temptation, solitude, persecution and barrenness.

The valley is a tract of low lying land between mountains. The valleys of ancient Palestine were mostly dry, rocky, glorified riverbeds where occasional torrents caused flash floods during the winter.  In Scripture, the valley symbolized low times of affliction, pain and vulnerability.

 The mountains of the mid-east are known for their stark appearance. They have no great forests on their slopes and are instead characterized by cliffs, crags and rock overhangs. The mountains symbolized strength and steadfastness.  They depicted God’s power and were the backdrops of great spiritual events and revelations.

The sea refers to the Mediterranean and the Jews had a natural tendency to shrink away from the sea. Traversing the sea was associated with great danger, little control and constant fear.  To pass through the “deep” was symbolic of passing through a time of heavy affliction wrought with tossing waves and storms.

Fruitful places or gardens in biblical times were usually walled enclosures, in which there were paths that led among the trees and foliage.  An individual could rest among arbors decked with aromatic blossoms and enjoy the effect. Gardens were used as sacred places and fruitful gardens symbolized prosperity.

 

We can look into the lives of Scripture’s pilgrims, compare notes on their journeys and learn from their successes and failures. The question becomes “how did those who came before navigate their course through life and how will I navigate mine?” Peter in his epistle warns Christians, “And remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time as “foreigners in the land.” For you know that God paid a ransom to save you… 1 Peter 1:17-19 (NLT)

The apostle Peter believed that we should be wise and fear the Lord because of the lessons others had learned during the times of their pilgrimage. We should pay attention and realize we are also foreigners on a sojourn paid for through the precious blood of our Savior.  I agree with Peter and I would add we should not be accidental tourists along life’s path because each place we are fortunate enough to visit has a beauty and a lesson of its own. I think what we often fail to realize is that each place is actually a meeting place with our God and a site to be savored and walked through with Him.  Each of the sacred places of the heart, even the difficult places, give us an opportunity to grow closer with Him and to know Him in deeper and more intimate ways. 

 

Fellow pilgrims, October 17-19, 2008, the Women at Crossroads are heading to Winter Park for what we hope will be a life-changing women’s conference.  Grab your backpack and your Bible, because spending a weekend adding to your understanding of Sacred Places of the Heart is bound to impact your relationship with God in countless beneficial ways. 

 

  

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