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Making Life Messages by Tony Stoltzfus

Aug 8th, 2011 | By | Category: Featured Content

Adapted from The Calling Journey by Tony Stoltzfus

Making Life Messages is one of the more unilateral things God does. He decides where he is going to meet us, he creates or leverages the circumstances that get our attention and motivates us to engage him at the heart level. When we do engage him, it is Jesus that invades and transforms our hearts, too. Our job consists of two things: recognizing where he is already at work and choosing to go there with him.

God can make living in our brokenness so painful that we are compelled to recognize our need to change. But he would much rather teach us to be attentive to what he is doing. The earlier we recognize God is at work and lean into it, the less painful the surgery is. Here’s the key: since it takes extraordinary circumstances to change our identity, every time we experience extraordinary circumstances is potential Life Message formation time. Pretty simple, huh? And once you master meeting him in extraordinary circumstances, you can learn to go to the heart level and be transformed in any circumstance, large or small.

What are the clues that God may be knocking on the door of your heart? Here are some common symptoms with questions to help you reflect on what’s happening:

  1. God has brought me into a difficult situation like this several times.
    What are the common elements in the way I respond, and are my responses biblical?
  2. This affects me much more deeply than the circumstances warrant.
    Why does this touch me so deeply? What in my past does this situation stir up?
  3. I find myself blaming others or making excuses for myself.
    What am I afraid of? Why do I need someone or something else to blame?
  4. I experience strong negative emotions here like fear, anger, or grief.
    Where is that coming from? What is the hole in my heart this exposes?
  5. I am not hearing God speak to me as much as usual.
    Am I not hearing because I’m asking the wrong questions? What does his silence show me?
  6. Something I am doing isn’t working that usually worked before.
    What’s changed? Is God asking something new of me?
  7. I’ve tried all the obvious practical steps and nothing changes.
    What would it look like if I stopped trying to address the outward behavior and started looking for what drives or motivates me to do it?
  8. I am challenged in an area or get negative feedback from others several times.
    What are they seeing that I don’t see? What part of this is my problem?
  9. I have failed at something significant, or am in significant adversity.
    How does God want to redeem this by redeeming something in me?

Once we realize we are in an extraordinary moment, it’s time for the second key step. We need to engage God at the level of our hearts, not our heads, our behavior, or externals. The questions above are designed to do just that. Notice that they are about my motives, my identity, my fundamental drives, and what God’s growth agenda is for me. None of them ask what needs to change in the other person.

Here’s an example of how to apply this to a real life situation. Let’s say that you face a valley time in life triggered by a son rebelling, doing drugs or just closing himself off from you. The broken relationship and brokenness in your son’s life is painful.

There are many different ways you can engage the situation. Focusing on getting your son in a better school or changing his attitude is externalizing the issue. Bemoaning how he is making your life difficult is taking a victim posture. Maybe you tend to shrink back inside yourself and hope the problem goes away, or spend your devotions every day crying out to God in prayer to save him. None of these responses put the focus on what God wants to do in you. One of the most well-worn defensives we use to protect our hearts is asking God to deal with other people’s problems instead of our own.

A step in the right direction might be resolving to spend more time being there for him, or practicing the art of listening instead of nagging at him about his grades and his personal habits. These are good, practical steps, but they do not get down to the level of your heart. The focus is on using discipline to control your outward behavior, not discovering why you are a poor listener, or why you feel compelled to tell your son what he is doing wrong.

Reading books on anger and control can give us some good tips on self-management, but books alone tend to get us engaging with our heads and not our hearts. With our heads we think of things to do different, but what God wants is to come and dwell within us and replace the heart of the old dad with a new one. Dealing with God at the heart level means asking questions like these:

  1. How is what my son is doing a reflection of who I am as a father?
  2. What drives me to try so hard to control what he does?
  3. What do I gain by not paying attention to him or not giving him the time he needs? What does that say about me?
  4. How are my wounds and needs driving my responses? How do those needs impact him?
  5. I keep reacting to him—why? Where is this situation touching a hole in my heart?
  6. He’s told me I am a jerk when he is angry—what part of that is true?
  7. Who does Jesus want to be for me here in my own brokenness?
  8. Why is it so hard for me to ask these questions?

Wrestling with God at this deep level is what forms Life Messages. Conversely, failure to engage God in transitions means that in our next stage we will remain at the same level of impact as before. That’s a tragic waste of the adversity we went through. Fortunately, once we’ve made him lord, God is pretty good at taking us to where we need to go!

Tony Stoltzfus coaches senior leaders on how to engage God in difficult seasons. More of his research and reflections on coaching destiny are found in the books The Calling Journey and the Christian Life Coaching Handbook.

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