By Dr. Frank Minirth

Bit by bit, we shape our own lives by choosing what thoughts to dwell on, what words to say, what to do, and what not to do. These choices form patterns that direct our lifestyles and impact our relationships. It’s awesome to realize how much control we have over something so important – our lives!

Animals, birds, fish, and plants can’t make these choices; they only know when and how to function through delicately timed God-given instincts. But God gave us the great endowment of a free will – a uniquely human ability. He offers us guidance through his Word,but it is our choice whether or not to let him direct our paths. It’s a joint venture; his ways are perfect and we choose to follow him. “…I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore, choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deut. 30:19). It’s an opportunity of a lifetime!

Choice – Not Chance

God wants us to make right choices because he loves us.

Everyone wants to be happy, healthy, loved, reasonably prosperous, and to enjoy fulfilling relationships. These desires motivate us as we maneuver through our day-to-day lives. The decisions we make are based on our needs, habits, others’ demands, impulsive urges, and conscious planning. But do we also consider God’s will for us?

Making healthy choices is an important part of maturing. It requires taking time to consider all of the alternatives and consequences. We need to ask ourselves how our choices meet our physical, social, financial, emotional, and spiritual needs.

Sometimes these choices are difficult. For instance, Joe had an opportunity for a promotion within his company, but it meant moving his family to another part of the country. He had to consider the effects on each family member. It would bring in more money, but they would be farther away from their relatives. Would little Susie’s asthma be affected? Would his wife be able to find another job as fulfilling as teaching in the community’s Christian preschool program? Joe had a lot to think and pray about before he made his decision.

But we don’t all believe we possess this freedom of choice. Some believe that bosses, spouses, or parents have as much or more to say about their lives than they do. Sometimes this feeling of being coerced is comfortable; if things go wrong, someone else can be blamed. Age, health, skills, financial status, and location also can seem to stifle choices. But we can choose to become bitter and negative, or conversely, accept situations and work toward making improvements.

Some decisions will be mistakes. We wonder, Why did I drop out of that class? Will I ever get the chance to make up for what I did to her? If I had waited a little longer, maybe things would’ve turned out differently. We learn from these mistakes and go on.

Remember, every ending leads to a new beginning…perhaps a step closer to what God intended for us. We can’t totally understand why things don’t work out, but we can find comfort in the verse: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

Driven by Feelings

Our feelings have a powerful impact on the choices we make. After all, people wouldn’t get married if they didn’t love one another, and families wouldn’t break apart if members weren’t hurt or angry. Find a trusted friend or counselor who can help you sort your unhealthy feelings (defensiveness, jealousy) from health ones (love, self-confidence). If forgiving someone would bring emotional relief, choose to let go of the grudge.

Feelings can also be fragile. When someone ignores us or when we have been unjustly accused, it hurts. Office politics and arguments at home can drain our “emotional tank.” Protect yourself from these situations: build up your reserves of self-esteem and inner peace by leaning more on God. Count your blessings, appreciating what’s right in your life rather than despairing about what’s wrong, and give thanks for what you have instead of dwelling on what you’ve lost or can’t have.

By focusing on God’s will and remembering that his enduring love and calming grace are always with us, we can make wise choices. “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have abundance for every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8).

Choose A Healthy Mental Diet

With all the diligence you can muster, guard your heart and mind.
“For as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). Your mental diet is important because your mind controls your behavior. Avoid negative input as much as possible by staying away from the people, places, and things that bring out the worst in you. Violent movies and X-rated books and magazines leave their marks. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2).

People who have nibbled or feasted on negativism over the years can’t expect to transform their thought patterns and behaviors overnight. But they can commit to working on them. Criticism, putdowns, and pessimism can be replaced with praise, encouragement, and comfort. This requires time and effort, but it’s a worthwhile investment.

Focus on positive things by studying meaningful passages in the Bible, reading good books, and spending more time with the people who care about you. The apostle Paul tells us in Phil. 4:8 that we can change our lives by seizing control of our thoughts and concentrating on “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praise worthy meditate on these things.”

You can harness your brain by memorizing Scripture. Find a verse that gives you special encouragement and commit it to memory. This can be extremely effective in directing your thoughts. “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword…and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).

We Are What We Repeatedly Do

When you choose to do something over and over again, it becomes a good habit or a bad one. Do you procrastinate? Do you drink, smoke, or eat too much? Are you slow to admit when you’re wrong? Do you lose your temper when things don’t go your way? Do you gossip or make sarcastic remarks? Do you spend hours plopped in front of the television, or do you talk about yourself instead of listening to others? Do you stretch the truth to make yourself look good? Everyone’s guilty of some of these, but don’t let them become habits.

Make a choice to change! Resist these common pitfalls by committing yourself to a simple plan:

* Write down precisely what the problem is.
* List the possible solutions.
* Decide what to do.
* Commit to a plan for a certain period of time.
* Start immediately to carry out this plan.
* Don’t allow yourself to make excuses if you start to waver.
* Give yourself a report card at the end of each week and follow your plan diligently for at least a month. you’ll soon be telling yourself, I’m glad I did instead of, I’m sorry I didn’t.

As bad habits begin to fade, little bits of extra time or energy will emerge. Fill them quickly with something positive so you won’t feel an emptiness. Changing your routine or eliminating a time consuming bad habit can open up wonderful opportunities for something good.

Common Sense:
Our Sixth Sense

One of our biggest national deficits is the shortage of common sense instinctively knowing what to do and when to do it. lt’s not as “common” as it should be. We can measure IQ (intelligence quotient) and physical features, but we have no way to measure common sense.

We need it to make healthy choices. For instance, does it make sense to tell a secret and risk ruining a friendship? Does it make sense to leave everything to the last minute or to cross a busy street in the middle of the block instead of walking to a stoplight? What about planning a cross-country drive when you only have a seven day vacation or staying out late when you have a big presentation to make the next day? None of these decisions would make “common sense.”

Sometimes the advice I give on “The Minirth-Meier Clinic” daily national radio program or in my
books sounds like simple common sense. Often it is. But it’s surprising how many people benefit from hearing it over and over again.

A depressed patient recently confided, “I feel like l’m on a permanent treadmill. Sure, things around me vary from year to year. My kids get older and their needs change, but my life is overwhelmed with just trying to keep up. I’m so busy doing all the things I must do that I have no time for any real choices! There’s no time for fun or time just for me.”

This person simply needed help setting common-sense priorities. I had her make a list of all
the things she routinely did each week and each month. The lists were long and left no time for
unexpected, personal, or impromptu experiences. I had her circle the most important things and draw a line through things that could be postponed, altered, delegated, or forgotten. She saw flickers of free time begin to appear.

Setting priorities isn’t new or remarkable, but it’s something everyone needs to do. Does your calendar reflect your priorities? Have you scheduled “dates” with your spouse and kids? Are you still on committees that no longer interest you?

Be loyal to your top priorities so you don’t get physically or emotionally down, review them regularly, and stay flexible because they’ll change almost as often as your circumstances do.

Spend more time with friends or family members who can cheer you on when you’re confused or discouraged. A genuinely concerned and accepting person can give you strength to keep your choices on track.

Overcoming Our Trials

Trials are a natural part of life, and the way we respond to them is important-even more important than understanding why they happen. But the Bible does give us some possible reasons for trials:

* To produce character and hope (Rom. 5:1-4)
* To produce patience and completeness (James I:2-4)
* To show the power of Christ (2 Cor. 12:9-10)
* To show the glory of God (John 9:I-3)
* To show what faith can do Mark 5:21-42)
* To learn to depend on God 2 Cor. 1:8, 9)
* To be able to comfort others 2 Cor. 1;3, 4)
* To show the “proof” of faith 1 Pet. 1:6-8)
* Because of a ministry for Christ 2 Cor. 11:22-28)
* To stifle pride (2 Cor. 12: 1-7)
* Because of irresponsible behavior of others (Hosea)
* Because we are part of a fallen world (Gen. 3:16-19)
* Because we reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7, 8)
* For discipline (Heb. 12:6)
* Because our enemy, Satan, seeks to destroy us (Eph. 6:12; 1 Pet:8-9)
* Reasons known to God but not given to man (Job 1:21-22)

lf you can’t determine which reasons apply to your situation, wait for God to reveal them, if he chooses.

Remember, God is in control, and his ways are above our ways. If circumstances are beating you down, fight back through faith and don’t give up. The apostle Paul says in Phil. 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Determine options and set up a realistic plan of action. Make sure this plan provides for growth in these areas: spiritual, emotional, physical, and key relationships. Ignoring one of these areas will damage the others.

lnject Hope lnto Your Life

Choosing to grow more like Christ is not beyond our grasp. God wants us to know that we can choose to let go of negative feelings, thoughts, and actions, and that we don’t have to wait until we get to heaven to feel secure and loved. Our present problems are but fleeting moments compared to eternity, and we have the opportunity to begin experiencing more joy right now.

Think of the eternal perspective. As believers, our years on earth are insignificant compared to an eternity in heaven. This perfect home is available only to those who have accepted that Jesus Christ, God’s son, personally died for each one of us to pay for our sins. This is the most important choice we will ever make-it will determine our destinies.

Frank Minirth, M.D., is the president and sojourner of the nationwide Minirth-Meier Clinics. He has coauthored more than thirty books, including The Anger Workbook (Thomas Nelson) and is heard weekly on the Clinic’s nationwide radio broadcast, “The Minirth-Meier Clinic.”

(The above information was published by TODAY’S BETTER LIFE, Fall 1993)

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