Releasing your potential requires a willingness to move beyond the familiar into the realm of possibilities. . . . .If you attempt new things and make choices that stretch your horizons, you will embark on an exciting journey. You will begin to see the marvelous being God created you to be – a being filled with more capabilities than you ever dreamed possible. The journey begins when you gain an understanding of what potential is and how you can release it. For once you understand the magnitude of the wealth God gave you, to turn from consciously and conscientiously unwrapping God’s gift is to abort your potential and refuse to fulfill the purpose for which He gave you life. The knowledge of what you have failed to use to benefit yourself, your contemporaries, and the generations to follow will judge you on the great day of accountability. Potential is given to be released, not wasted.
Just wanted to drop a line wishing all you fathers out there a blessed and happy Fathers Day. As some of you know, the Father blessed Li and I, and surprised us as well, back in 2004 with the birth of our daughter, Salina. I was 55 at the time and certainly had not expected such a gift. And that is exactly what Salina has been, a true gift in our lives.
Being a Father is not only a blessing, but also an awesome responsibility. It is an especially tremendous spiritual responsibility. I remember being in prayer a few days after Salina’s birth and the Holy Spirit gave me a powerful message. The content of the message was basically this:
God thinks enough of you, and loves you enough, to give you the privilege and the responsibility to care for and raise one of his daughters.
In an odd way, I had never really looked at parenthood from that perspective. The Holy Spirit drove the message home and it settled deep within my heart. Over the nine years since that time, I have also come to understand first hand how being a parent is not only a mighty calling, but also a context in which the parent’s spiritual growth can prosper. The Christian path is a journey of dying to self, sacrifice, and agape love. All three of these elements are part and parcel of being a father (and a mother).
(originally published in 2008, this article is as pertinent now as it was then. It is moved forward from the archives after numerous requests).
It is vital that every person understand that we are responsible for developing the potential stored within us. We must deepen our contact with our divine potential, which I (and our Quaker friends) call our “Inner Light,” and do all that we can to nurture, feed, and actualize our true, God-given potential. Further, we must recognize that as we move forward in developing our optimal potential, we can never afford to stop. In essence, when we travel the Christian journey, we are either moving forward or backward. There is truly no place to stand on the spiritual path.
Spiritual growth is a complex subject and we could waste much time and space exploring the more arcane aspects of personal unfolding. However, I choose instead to try to keep things as simple as feasible, especially in the context of a short article. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a topic that seems to cause many sincere Christians to go off the tracks and race down many enticing but unproductive rabbit holes. I am talking here about the subject of “purpose.” The issue of purpose is intimately connected with potential and it is often difficult to talk about one without delving into the other.
Many of us are so obsessed with “finding our purpose” that we ignore more important aspects of the spiritual journey. Granted, the universe seems to be arranged in such a way that each of us came to this planet with a unique mission. In spite of this, however, all of us share components of a more generalized, universal purpose. In my own journey, I have come to define a central aspect of this universal purpose as follows:
“I must become the optimal version of myself for the glory of God and the sake of others.”
“Well, I can’t argue with that,” you might say. “But how do I pull it off?”
Good question. Space does not permit a detailed explanation of the complete methodology of becoming the best version of yourself and, besides, I believe that each of us must find our own personal way of unfolding our divine nature. Still, I think we can look at two practical things we can do: define and visualize.
Begin by spending time developing a definition of the best version of yourself. What qualities will your highest self possess? What kind of activities will be a central part of your life and your spiritual development? How will you earn your living? And most significantly, how will you be of service to others? Pray for wisdom, personal insight, and spiritual discernment as you begin this process and continue to pray regarding your purpose on a consistent basis. In addition to prayer, think of successful people who possess the positive traits that you want to develop and that will be essential to realizing your purpose. Study their lives and see what motivated their success.
Turn to the pages of Scripture and through prayerful study and reflection, examine the lives of those characters you hold in high esteem. And above all, look to the life of Jesus, our ultimate guide. Ask yourself, “How did Jesus go about demonstrating the optimal version of himself?” Keep in mind, Jesus was fully human. He was not some strange, ethereal being who was on spiritual auto-pilot. Jesus had to make choices, just as you do.
After spending a couple of weeks on the above exercises, take out a notebook or sit at your keyboard and write out a vision of yourself – a positive, spiritual vision of yourself as your optimal self. Make a list of the character assets you possess. Spend time in prayer discussing these traits with God and asking for the assistance of the Holy Spirit in making them a reality in your life. Finally, write a specific definition of the best version of yourself and how you will serve the world.
Once you have a workable definition, set aside a special time each day and see this best version of yourself in your mind’s eye. See yourself manifesting the qualities described in your definition, engaging in the activities you listed, and serving in your best capacity. This exercise of your imagination is a key component of making the best version of yourself a reality.
From the outset, you must learn to consistently see the best version of yourself and your life unfolding in your inner vision. The power of the mind’s eye is uncanny. It is through our capacity of thought and inner visualization that we are capable of taking something out of the realm of the unseen and making it a reality in the realm of the seen. This requires faith: faith in yourself and your abilities; and faith in the principles of optimal cognition. If you have a problem, see it resolved; if your have a business, see it succeeding; if you have a dream, see it unfolding according to your desire.
Let this positive image become a part of yourself, sinking down into the subconscious mind and your inner spirit, the central core of yourself.
A fundamental principle of human nature is that whatever you keep before your mind’s eye will affect you, either for good or for bad. If you consistently focus on negativity and dwell on your problems, your mindset will become darker and your problems will worsen. If you focus on limitation, lack, failure, and defeat, this is the kind of life you are going to create. Instead, try focusing your mental energy on success, victory, health, abundance, peace, joy, and happiness. Our innermost spirit, which is one with the Divine Source, has as its purpose the unfolding of your greatest good. Don’t lose sight of that truth. In order to create the kind of life you want, you have to get your thoughts and your inner vision in alignment with the power and purpose of your innermost spirit, your “Inner Light.”
This visualization process is not a fantasy or an escape from reality. It is, instead, based on centuries of practical application and positive results. When life presents you with problems, many times there is nothing you can do about it. However, you can have complete control over your response to any problem life sends your way. You can have greater peace of mind if you just choose to have the right kind of thoughts. Focus your entire being on finding solutions, rather than wallowing in the problems at hand. Work diligently to find the Inner Light, and when you do, continue to take proactive measures to deepen and maintain your contact with this sacred aspect of your being.
The greatest tragedy in life is not death, but a life that never realized its full potential. You must decide today not to rob the world of the rich, valuable, potent, untapped resources locked away within you. It has been said that the wealthiest place on earth is not in bank vaults, Fort Knox, or underneath Bill Gates mattress. No, the wealthiest place on earth is the cemetery.
Beneath the gravestones lie so many dreams that went unfulfilled; so much potential that was never realized; so much purpose that was never discovered and manifested. I am reminded of the poignant verses of Tagore in the Gitangali:
The song that Icame to sing remains
unsung to this day.
I have spent my days in stringing and in
unstringing my instrument.
Be persistent and keep at it in a disciplined, optimistic manner. Before you know it, you will hear your song ringing up from your inner spirit. From that point forward your life will be more positive and meaningful. And when the day comes when you leave this world, you will leave a valuable contribution to those who follow you. Whether great or small, you will leave a positive legacy. And for certain, you won’t be making a deposit in the Bank of Dead Dreams.
Practice God’s love. Nothing disperses the darkness, confusion, and the works of the enemy more effectively than walking in and practicing God’s love. God is love, and He is motivated by love. As we dare to love our children and family unconditionally, the darkness has to depart from them eventually. Parents, your display of love in action in everything you do will have a tremendous impact on your family life.
(The Holy Spirit put this quotation in my heart this morning and impressed upon me that some person or persons needed to see this message. In obedience, I posted this as Ms. Delgado’s words are indeed filled with wisdom. They are taken from her book Satan, You Can’t Have My Children).
God’s blessings for us are limited only by ourselves – not by His resources, power, or willingness to give. Refuse any obstacle, person, or opinion that restricts your expectations for our future. There are great, God-given opportunities before you, great open doors, and great rewards lying within your reach. Stretch. Expect. Believe. Persist. Possess.
Any thoughtful, observant Christian should be aware by now that the Western church is in crisis. Don’t be deceived by the growth of the so-called “mega-churches” and the various and sundry “evangelistic explosions” that we see taking place. The fact is, people are leaving the faith in droves and fewer new faces are coming through the doors. Moreover, these dwindling numbers, along with our culture’s increasing negative view of Christianity, have relegated the church to a position of peripheral social influence.
Once the bedrock upon which our culture’s value system was built, the church is now little more than marginal voice in the constantly shifting tides of post-modern America. Identified by most Americans as joined at the hip with Right-Wing Conservatism, the church is viewed with increasing disdain and animosity. Traditional attempts at evangelism and apologetics only seem to make the situation worse. Evangelism is seen as an attempt by elitist Christians to ram their faith down people’s throats and apologetics is viewed as an archaic attempt to make the unreasonable make sense.
If the church is to survive, drastic changes must take place. It should be obvious by now that the old ways of “doing church,” especially evangelism, is doomed to failure.
Personally, I have come to believe that the most effective form of Christianity involves being faithful to our calling to incarnate Christ to a hurting world. This is the essence of what is often called “Kingdom living.” It is a lifestyle which, if carried out with compassion and commitment, will in and of itself draw people to the faith. It involves a simple paradigm: find a pressing social need and address it.
Put simply, it means giving flesh to grace. This is what Christ did and we are called to no less.
When people of faith express the love of God through acts of service and kindness, people take notice. These simple acts of grace accomplish far more than reasoned arguments, stadium rallies, popular seminars, and best-selling books. These simple acts of grace, especially given the church’s increasingly negative image in our culture, are the most effective forms of evangelistic activity we can engage in. It was not so different in the early church, which can serve as a model for what we should be doing.
In the middle of the Third Century a terrible plague devastated the Mediterranean world, dealing death to large swaths of the population. Many of those stricken with the disease were sent out of the cities, destined to die agonizing deaths alone and terrified. The Christian faithful, however, responded in a much different fashion. Dionysius, the bishop of Alexandria, describes the acts of grace this way:
Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting t heir pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead.
Many people were drawn to the fledgling church by the acts of service and sacrifice that so typified the early Christians. I am of the belief that it is here that the modern church can find its methodology of renewal. Crafting theological arguments is not the answer in today’s post-modern culture; nor is allying the church with a political party or ideology. Withdrawing into our own “Christian culture” is equally misguided. Instead, we need to immerse ourselves into the hurts of this world and find creative ways to bring God’s healing light to those hurts. Anything else misses the point.
Paul stressed that in order to be effective witnesses for the gospel, we must become “living epistles.” We must become open letters that anyone can read and by reading, come to a deeper understanding of just who this radical Galilean was and is. It is a high calling, indeed and not one to be taken lightly. If we take Jesus’ words about the final judgment as recorded in the 26th Chapter of Matthew as true, then it should be obvious to even the most dense among us that the litmus test for defining a Christian is not belief in Christ, but in embodying Christ.
Michael Frost, in his excellent book Exiles, points out that this incarnational living is incumbent upon all who would claim Jesus as Master and Teacher:
Practicing the presence of Christ means being a living example of the life of Jesus. This raises the stakes enormously. It means that our lives need to become increasingly aligned with the example of Jesus. It doesn’t require sinless obedience – as if that’s possible anyway. It means, though, increasingly becoming people of justice, kindness, mercy, strength, hope, grace, generosity, and hospitality.
Yes, this divine calling is an invitation to a life of fulfillment and reward beyond our imagining, if we will only yield ourselves to it with complete abandon. Yet for many of us, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Still, it is necessary to move forward as best we can, relying on the promises of God and the empowerment of the indwelling Holy Spirit. For many of us, we get better in spite of ourselves. I know that is often true in my case.
This call to emulate Christ is a call to give flesh to grace. The whole story-line of God’s Great Saga is one of proactive grace. God saw that we needed grace and gave us Christ and Christ saw that the world needed grace and gave the world us. Just pause and chew on that one for a minute. What a great honor and what a great responsibility.
As “living epistles” we have the opportunity to meet God in the divine moment, what Erwin Raphael McManus calls the “epicenter of God’s activity.” When we consistently engage in these acts of Christian kindness, we in essence become what Gary Thomas accurately calls “God Oases.” Thomas explains:
A holy man or woman is a spiritual force, a “God oasis,” in a world that needs spiritually strong people. When the winds of turmoil hit, such people become shelters; their faith provides a covering for all. By their words and actions, by the ways they listen and use their eyes to love instead of lust, to honor instead of hate, to build up instead of tear down, holy men and women are like streams of water in the desert, affirming what God values most. When the heat of temptation threatens to tear this world apart, godly men and women become like the shadow of a great rock. These God oases carry Christ to the hurting, to the ignorant, to those in need. They will be sought out, and they will have something to say.
I find this description of godly men and women highly inspirational, not to mention vivifying. Thomas’ words encourage us to sensitize ourselves more and more to God’s activity in this world and further, to take compassionate action in emulating Christ’s acts of grace and healing. In ways both great and small, we can locate that epicenter of God’s activity and get to work.
It is nothing less than our calling, our responsibility, and our honor. And in so doing, it is my earnest prayer that more and more of us can become living epistles – God oases – and give incarnation to the godly image described in Isaiah 32:2: