7 Ways to Sleep More Soundly each Night, Even During Sleepless Seasons

By | Encouragement, Faith, Prayer | 21 Comments

If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Proverbs 3:24

Years ago when we were in business, Cheryl and I went through a difficult season in life. We had had such success, but times got hard. Dealing with employees, cash flow, banks and trying to increase sales so we could make payroll made for many sleepless nights. It was distressing. I was frustrated. And, because I couldn’t sleep, I was less productive during the day.

I’ve grown a lot since these days – and from these days and I’ve come to believe, unless there are health reasons why you cannot, we should be able to rest at night. I wish I had known then what I know now.

Over the years, I have learned a few secrets of sleeping better each night.

Here are 7 ways to sleep more soundly each night:

Exercise during the day

Sometime during the day, make yourself physically tired. Exercise not only works the body – it frees the mind. It helps you prepare to relax. There’s a power in physical activity which cannot be ignored. I try to exercise at least 5 days per week. During the sleepless days of business I mistakenly thought I was too busy to take the time – which was foolish on my part.

Eat healthy foods in adequate quantities

I’ve learned, for example, greasy foods don’t set as well on my stomach. You’ll have your own foods which don’t make you feel as well as you could. Also, if you eat too little you’ll wake up hungry. If you eat too much you won’t settle peacefully. Find the right quantity of food and discipline yourself to eat the right amount. This usually means eating until you are satisfied, but not stuffing your stomach. And, eating early enough for food to settle. We even find walking after we eat helps us rest better. Finally, for this point, staying adequately hydrated seems to help me sleep better. 

Put your day to bed

This is huge. For me it means reviewing my day and preparing for tomorrow. I spend a few minutes reflecting on what took place, what I can change and what I can’t, and then looking over my calendar for the next day. It mentally says “This day is over. A new day is coming.”

Be consistent

Even on weekends or when I’m out of town I keep pretty much the same schedule. Occasionally I’ll need to “catch up” on some sleep, but most of the time I’m in bed and out of bed  (without ever using an alarm) at the same time each day. Once it becomes a habit it’s not so bad – even getting up early. Seriously. We moved time zones in the last few years and there was another adjustment to make. Now my goal is 7 hours sleep a night. I can tell a difference when I don’t get it.

Invest in good bedding

Don’t be cheap when it comes to your mattress or bedding. I’ve learned you get what you pay for with this expense. Shop for quality, as well as price. There are mattress experts. Rely on them.

Write it down

Journaling can be a release from the day. Share your thoughts, concerns, fears and dreams. Get them off your chest then lay them to rest. (No rhyme intended, but it works.)

Pray

End with a release to God. Regardless of how stressful the day was give your burdens to the Burden-Bearer. I’m not trying to be cruel – just factual, but if worry is keeping you awake at night, you have a faith issue bigger than a sleep issue. I certainly did in the hard business season. Remember, Gid is on His throne – even as you sleep. (If you fall asleep while praying God won’t mind. Didn’t you enjoy watching your children fall asleep?)

There will always be exceptions when you still can’t sleep – sickness, sick children, etc., but it shouldn’t last long without impacting the rest of your life. And, if necessary, see your doctor. The older I get the more I realize how important sleep is for overall health and productivity. 

Try some of these and let me know how they work for you. I’m praying you learn some secrets for better sleeping.

Do you ever have trouble sleeping? What tips do you have?

If I Have Faith, Why Haven’t I Been Healed?

By | Christians, Church, Encouragement, Faith | 4 Comments

If I have faith, why haven’t I been healed? How do we answer this question when it’s asked by a loved one with cancer? When it’s asked by parents who’ve lost a child? How do we answer it for ourselves, when we find are wheeled in for surgery or otherwise suffering?

This question is one of about a dozen questions addressed in the new book, I Am Strong: Finding God’s Peace and Strength in Life’s Darkest Moments by my friend John S. Dickerson. Today’s blog is an excerpt from the book and is part 2 (part 1 available here).

Yesterday we examined how Paul the Apostle was never healed (in this life) from his “thorn in the flesh,” which included physical, emotional and spiritual chronic pain. Today we find encouragement in more Bible heroes who suffered severely, even while having the highest and strongest faith.

Paul wasn’t the only spiritual giant who found God’s strength and joy right in his suffering. Many of Heaven’s choice servants spent months or years in prisons, and not because they were being punished by God.

Joseph, who God used to save nations, spent 13 years as an Egyptian prisoner and slave—while God was delighted with him.

Zephaniah, God’s chosen prophet, spent a good chunk of his life in a Babylonian prison (present day Iraq). The same goes for Jeremiah, who suffered rejection, slander and loneliness as well as literal imprisonment while doing exactly what God had asked him to do. God even told him to expect the rejection.

Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, was chosen by God to declare that Messiah had arrived. Jesus called John the Baptist the greatest person in the history of the world. What a privilege! And then John spent the rest of his life imprisoned by Herod Antipas, who eventually beheaded John as a party favor for a niece.

The apostle John spent lots of time in Roman prisons and jails.

Many of the first Christians got arrested and thrown in jail, simply for believing in Jesus. This practice continues today in parts of the Middle East, northern Africa, China and other areas, where the idea of “problem free Christianity” insults the most faithful believers of our era.

Peter was imprisoned again and again.
Paul’s singing friend Silas shared his jail cell.

In the early years after Christ rose from the dead, it became so common for believers to get thrown into prison that the early church made it part of its culture to visit jailed Christians who couldn’t make it to the Sunday gathering.

These imprisonments meant the loss of all earthly possessions. Believers “joyfully accepted the confiscation of [their] property, because [they] knew that [they] had better and lasting possessions.”

Jesus warned Christians in one church, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution…”

Like Napoleon Bonaparte, John the disciple was sentenced to live his final years on a secluded prison island. From there, John wrote the final book of Scripture, Revelation. (John the disciple is different from “John the Baptist,” above, and keep in mind, he was “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” so no need to doubt Christ’s love for you when anymore in your own suffering.)

From Introduction to Conclusion, God’s people in the Bible are persecuted and jailed. Imprisoned on earth, but anticipating their escape into a better land with God. Peppered between those bookends we read stories where God does miraculously heal or instantly deliver from pain. God invites us to ask for such miracles in prayer even today. And I have seen Him perform those dramatic miracles. But, many strong believers today, including Joni Eareckson Tada, and recently Dr. Wayne Grudem, have not yet had a miraculous healing from pain or difficulty.

And we must face the reality that even the believers who did get miraculous healings (such as Lazarus, raised from the dead as described in John 11), those folks still eventually died earthly deaths. They left this earth knowing that death is not an end for the believer, but a beginning to a better life that actually is problem-free.

Here’s where we must gently but insistently course-correct many of our American brothers and sisters in Christ: Scripture focuses on our certain rescue in the future, not on present pain-free living now. (This can be a difficult concept for folks like us, who live in an age of immediate gratification.) Sure, some of God’s people got miraculously freed from their prisons. But the majority more closely followed the pattern of Paul, who prayed for healing three times (2 Corinthians 12:8), and then lived the rest of his earthly life with a painful “thorn” impaling his flesh.

It’s often the same today. While all believers will eventually be set free from our prisons, pains or thorns, we do not always gain immediate freedom or healing. This is why it’s called faith, a persistent belief that Jesus will break us out and that He will sustain us until His return. A faith that continues to believe, no matter what.

Find comfort in this list of spiritual super heroes. Their sufferings declare:
​When you feel like you’re in a prison, you’re not alone.
​When you feel like you’re in a prison, you’re not unspiritual or lower-class in God’s eyes.
​When you feel like you’re in a prison, you’re not unloved by God.
​When you find yourself in prison, God has not forgotten you.
​When you find yourself in prison, and you choose to cling to faith in Chirst, you can count yourself in the company of Scripture’s spiritual heroes.

Like Paul, writing with his “thorn in the flesh,” you can declare in Christ:

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not in despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed.”
-2 Corinthians 4:8,9

This blog is an excerpt from John S. Dickerson’s new book, I Am Strong: Finding God’s Peace and Strength in Life’s Darkest Moments. It’s written for times of suffering in life–to encourage you and help those you love build a Biblical theology of pain and suffering. Get free sample chapters by sending an email to: Friend@IAmStrongBook.com or visit IAmStrongBook.com.

Faith Obeys, Without Knowing How – An Encouragement to Walk By Faith

By | Christians, Devotional, Encouragement, Faith | 10 Comments

But Samuel said, “How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me.” The LORD said, “Take a heifer with you and say,’I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.” Samuel did what the LORD said.1 Samuel 16:2-4a

God sent Samuel to annoint David king. He was removing Saul from power. It was a dangerous and scary assignment and it made no sense politically or practically. Speaking against the king could bring death, but not only that, Saul looked like a king. David was an unknown kid.

Samuel was naturally afraid. Wasn’t there some other way? Samuel surely must have thought.

God’s plan was made. He wouldn’t budge because of Samuel’s fear. God never leads by popular opinion, so Samuel obeyed.

That’s what faith does.

When Samuel obeyed God, EVEN THOUGH it didn’t make sense – in his mind – for him to do so, he was exhibiting his faith in God. Faith always moves without seeing or understanding. Faith is always prior to receiving the complete picture or having all the answers. Faith precedes victory.

Every time.

If we want to please God, we have to obey Him at the point it seems to make no sense to do so.

Years ago our family traveled to our nation’s capital on vacation. I have spent considerable time in the city, as a college intern and during my political and business days. It is one of my favorite places to visit. Our boys had never been. I told them this would not be an enjoyable trip – at least not for the first few days. At nine and twelve years of age, and not being musuem people, I knew they would be bored at first and I wanted to prepare them.

I was right.

I told them, however, if they would obey me they would be glad they had been by the time we finished the trip. When we left Washington, DC, both boys were sad to say goodbye to the city. They had fallen in love with it. The twelve year old even said he wanted to attend a college there. (He later changed his mind.)

This is the way it is sometimes in our Christian walk.

Obeying God, following Him, and carrying out His plan, especially when it contradicts our own, is not always the first thing we want to do. It won’t even seem to make sense at times.

It may seem impossible.
It will likely make us afraid.
It stretches us beyond our abilities.
It might be uncomfortable.
It requires more resources than appears available.

But, as we obey God, and He works His will through our obedience, God blesses us in ways we never expected, and we begin to experience what it means “all things work for good for those who love the Lord”. (Romans 8:28)

Samuel didn’t want to go find David, but he obeyed. And, guess what? God knew what He was doing.

Duh!

And, God knows what He is doing in your life too!

You need only to trust and obey!

In what area of your life are you most having to walk by faith these days? 

5 Suggestions to Help You Worry Less

By | Christians, Encouragement, Faith, Fear | 18 Comments

Worry is like a plague to our body. It attacks our mind, then our heart, and over time, it can consume our overall health.

Wouldn’t it be great to never worry again?

I’m not sure this is humanly possible – although I can’t imagine either why Jesus would give a command He wouldn’t fully allow us to obey.

Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.” How good are you at obeying that verse?

But, then again, He commanded a lot of other things I’m not perfect at either.

So, I’m still a work in progress.

I know this, however – one part of maturing as believers is to begin to eliminate worry from our life. Certainly, as we mature in our Christian life – we should, over the years, worry less.

Let me share a few things I’ve learned, which may help.

Here are 5 suggestions to having less worry:

Pray more.

You see, it’s a trade-off. You can pray or you can worry, but you can never do both at the same time. Which would you rather do? Seems to be a reasonable trade. How amazing is it the Creator of sunsets wants to have a conversation with me? Worry seems to be a cheap substitute in this regard.

Do wise things.

As a believer, sin is always going to cause my inner conscience to feel guilty – which usually translates quickly into other emotions, such as doubt, anxiety and worry. When I know I’m doing the best I can do my heart is freed of needless worry.

Read more.

Of course, I’d recommend the Bible. I think followers of Christ should read it everyday. It’s where we find the hope, faith and trust spelled out for us by God Himself. But we should read things, which speak of truth and bring encouragement. For some people this may mean turning off the news and reading. In our home we opted not to have a television in our living room. We have to “go” watch TV. It’s not that television is necessarily bad, but I just don’t seem to find much which really encourages me these days. I try to read at least one chapter of a Christian book everyday, in addition to my Bible reading. The point is when we fill our minds with good things it crowds out some of the bad things.

Choose your thoughts carefully.

The Apostle Paul said to think about these things – “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy.” (Philippians 4:8) I always ask myself: Why worry about what I can’t control? Why worry about what might happen when I can choose to think about good things which are happening? And, lots of good things occur everyday – when I choose to think about them.

Trust more.

This really is the key to worrying less. The more I trust – the less I worry. I can step up my faith, because I know God is on His throne. He has a plan and He will do what is best. Every time! And, listen, the key to trusting Him more is simple – spend more time with Him. Like any healthy relationship it grows stronger with time and effort. The more you know God the more you will love and trust Him. 

Here’s to a worrying less lifestyle! Who’s with me?

7 Traits of Courageous Leadership

By | Church, Church Revitalization, Faith, Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | 21 Comments

Recently I posted 7 Characteristics of Cowardly Lion Leadership. In that post, I discussed the characteristics of leaders who fail to have the courage needed to lead well. I thought it only fair to share the reverse post. There are many courageous leaders in our world today, as evidenced by the strong organizations that thrive even during difficult economic times.

Here are 7 traits of a courageous leader:

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5 Things To Do AFTER the Crisis

By | Church, Faith, Fear, God, Leadership | 8 Comments

I have been writing about the times of crisis — especially from the viewpoint of leadership. My hope is that if you are in crisis-mode right now you are beginning to see the end of the tunnel. I pray God brings you through this time quickly.

You’ll want to read the first two posts HERE and HERE.

It’s important to know what to do AFTER the time of crisis has passed. Many of us miss these important steps.

Here are 5 things to do AFTER a time of crisis:

Rejoice. Be thankful the crisis is over and a time of peace has come. I have many times prayed fervently during the hard times, but forsaken my “God-time” when everything is going well. Don’t follow my example in this.

Share. The Bible is clear that we are to use our struggles to help others in theirs. Often because of fear or embarrassment we don’t allow people to see our past hurts. This denies God the opportunity to use the experiences He has given us for His glory. (Read 2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

Prepare. If you have lived long enough you know that seasons of crisis come many times in life. During the quiet times — when all is going reasonably well — is when we should be preparing for harder times.

Rest. To borrow from the Cheers theme song, “Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot.” Many people never enjoy the peaceful times because they are too paranoid about the next crisis that may or may not even occur. We should prepare for times of trouble, but we should never live in a state of worry. Worry is a sin. And, it’s never helpful. After a crisis, rest. Recover. Rejuvenate.

Grow. I have grown spiritually more during the hard times than in the easy times of my life. Crisis-mode teaches us valuable insight into the character and heart of God. Use the down times to evaluate your relationship with God, your life, and see how the two connect. Work on the places you are out of sync with God’s will for your life. Work on your skills as a leader. Become a better person. Some of the strongest character is developed only through times of crisis.

It would be nice if you never needed these posts. My sense is, if your life is anything like mine, that some of you will. Maybe even today. I’m praying for you if this is your current situation.