The Secret of Effective Problem Solving Skills

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When I was a kid, I loved G.I Joe. If an episode was on TV, it didn’t matter what else was going on. I would be in the fight with Duke, Flint and my boys just doing what we did:

Fighting Cobra and saving the world, thirty minutes at a time.

The only lasting effect of my time with “The Joes” is the unconscious, automatic response that comes anytime I hear the phrase “Now you know…”

“…and knowing is half the battle!”

If knowing really is half the battle (it is) then it’s probably important that we learn all we can about our enemy.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The secret to effective problem solving skills is to first know the problem you are trying to solve. So many miss this crucial step and end up solving the wrong problems…over and over again.

Time wasted re-solving the same problem is a battle won for busy.

I spent a day logging everything I did both at work and at home in hopes of getting some good intelligence on how Busy fights.

We’ll get into the details of this in a later post. For now, here’s the big revelation:

Lesson 1: Busy is mostly the outcome of good activities.

I wish this wasn’t true, but it is.

I spent most of my day engaged in tasks and projects that, if left unattended, would have a negative impact on my faith, family, health or community.

If this is the case, how do we win the fight against busy? We obviously can’t stop doing the things that we NEED to be doing!

Surely I wouldn’t suggest that we stop doing the GOOD things that fill our day. Right?

That’s exactly what I’m suggesting. Just not ALL of the good things.

Curious? Think I’m crazy? Good!

I’ll give you a teaser for the next post by asking the following question:

What “good” activities are you currently doing only to meet someone else’s expectations?

How NOT to Bless Your Friends

good-friendsI have a “How are you?” habit.

I can’t help it.  It comes out before I can catch it.

The problem with greeting people with this question is that you must be willing to actually listen to how they are doing.

Sure ninety percent of folks also have an “I’m fine” habit which gives me an easy out.  The other ten percent scare me.

That not-so-merry band of brothers and sisters are the honest ones.  They’re the people who realize the benefit of community and find no use in disguising themselves as “having it together” when they are falling apart.

Want to know how to really kick them while they’re down?

Tell them you’ll pray for them.  Then DON’T.

As believers, we keep certain phrases on standby.  These are the phrases that carry sincerity but are empty if we don’t follow up on the commitment they imply.

Multiple variations of “I’ll pray for you” clutter my top ten most used.

From my own actions, I’ve learned that most people who use this phrase on me will likely never follow up on that promise unless they stop on the spot to make note of the circumstances.

It is the same as saying “I know a guy who is an expert a fixing what you’re dealing with.  In fact, he has a 100% success rate.  And the best part?  He works for FREE!  I’m going to call him and tell him about your issue.  I’m going to KEEP calling him until he provides you resolution and relief”

But then you never call the guy.

Prayer is a commitment.

The next time you catch yourself saying “I’ll be praying for you”, stop and make note.  Immediately.  If you have a smart phone, set a reminder.  Right there in the moment.  Besides reminding you to follow up on your promise, it also sends an encouraging message to your friend that you’ll be intentional about remembering them in prayer.

Better yet, offer to pray over them at that moment. Then they KNOW your a prayer warrior that follows through!

Five Tips to Help You Pray SPECIFIC

prayingThere can be benefits to shopping generic brands.  Sometimes you get the same great performance that you would expect from a name brand item.  Other times the results can be as generic as the product.  Is generic prayer any different?

I’m not saying that the quality of God’s response is in anyway correlated to the quality of our prayer.  His plan is perfect.  However, when we pray SPECIFIC, we give Him the opportunity to answer SPECIFIC.  This leaves no room for doubt as to the source of the blessing.

Here are five tips that I’ve found to be helpful in keeping track of my SPECIFIC prayer requests in a busy world:

  1.  There’s an app for that! The folks at Evernote have created a terrific application for keeping lists, notes, photos, and even audio files easily accessible for anyone with a Smartphone, tablet, Mac or PC.  It’s excellent for keeping a detailed prayer list that syncs to all your devices. You can find their homepage here.
  2. Be a Name Dropper.  God knows.  But when interceding in prayer, it’s good that YOU know too.  Try not to pray for “Johnny Thomas’s cousin down South who has a health issue.”  Pray instead for “Trent Thomas in Bastrop, Louisiana who is fighting lung cancer.”  It’s usually OK to ask for these details.  DON’T use this as an excuse to be nosey when it’s obvious that privacy is a concern.
  3. Location! Location! Location!  Are you praying for God’s hand on something that has a specific geographic location?  If it’s nearby, go there!  Praying at the site of the need will add focus and intentionality to your prayer.  God likes both of these!
  4. Timing is Everything.  I recently had a group of friends go on mission in South America.  They did an awesome job updating their Facebook page daily with the where and when of the itinerary.  As a result, I was able to set reminders (Evernote can do this too) and pray at the exact time that I knew they would be facing challenges and opportunities.  God’s answer can even be “real time” if He wants it to be!
  5. It Is What It Is.  I generally hate this expression but, in regards to prayer, it’s surprisingly accurate.  When praying for repentance or for help with sin you’re fighting, don’t sugarcoat it.  God knows the ugly details and is eager to forgive and strengthen you.  If we gloss over the issue, we’re telling God we think we can hide it from Him.  Lay it at His feet.  If we give it ALL to Him, He will remove it ALL from us.  It’s impossible to overstate the magnitude of that fact.

What blessings have you seen that were SPECIFIC responses to SPECIFIC requests you made to our King?

Pray BIG

dreamprayI recently saw a TV commercial that was centered on the premise that, if you use this insurance providers services, all you have to do is sing their jingle and then ask for anything you wish and it will magically appear!

My insurance provider works this way but with a few more stipulations…If I want their services, all I have to do is be current on my premium, submit a claim, wait while the claim is reviewed, then pay my deductible on the repairs.

The human race has passed down legend and folklore from generation-to-generation about magic lamps, genies and little “g” gods that were alleged to have similar powers.

Biblically, this concept isn’t that far-fetched!  There are however, key differences in the message the Bible gives us and that of the insurance commercial.

God has the power to give us anything we could imagine should He choose to do so. The problem here would be our evil nature.  We need a holy filter to sift our desires through to make sure they fit God’s plan and bring Him glory.  New cars and hot tubs are nice, but they aren’t eternal.

Here are some pointers for praying BIG:

1.  PRAY IN THE CENTER OF HIS WILL – This is our filter.  James 4:3 says “You ask and you do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”  The other side of that coin is found in 1 John 5: 14-15 “And this is the confidence we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him.”

CAUTION:  It’s tempting to take verses like John 11:22 (“But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you”) out of context and starting treating God like that insurance commercial.  Don’t do it!  We need His will, not ours.  Read such verses with a broader perspective of the entirety of scripture.

2.  MAKE GOD SIZED REQUESTS – In Mark Batterson’s book “The Circle Maker”, He talks about the “Quailstorm” story found in Numbers Chapter 11.  If we ask things of God that could be perceived as achievable by coincidence or the work of man, those who witness the answer may not attribute the glory to the right source.  Pray in a way and size that only God is capable of delivering on.

 3.  BELIEVE  – James 1:6-7 says “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.  For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;” In Mark 11:24, Jesus tells us “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”  What if we pray prayers of Thanksgiving BEFORE we receive our request and proceed on course as if the blessing is on the way and guaranteed?  What an awesome way to demonstrate our belief!

Apply this approach to your BIG dreams.  You’ll be amazed with the outcome!  What stories do you have about times when you have PRAYED BIG and received a GOD SIZED response?

Embrace the Awkwardness

man-praying[1]In some cultures, those who talk audibly to themselves are considered insane. From the outside looking in, any of us might question the sanity of someone who is carrying on one side of a two-way conversation with no one physically there on the receiving end.

Despite the feelings of uncomfortable clumsiness that can come, the process of prayer is perhaps THE most critical aspect of our walk. Over the next few posts, we’ll discuss some of the hurdles that I have faced in my prayer life and some ways to overcome them.

This year, I participated in an experience that forced me to embrace the awkwardness of my prayer life.

A group of men in my church are participating in a study called “The Journey” by an organization called Influencers. You can find a link to their website here. This study is a tremendous way to grow from a foundation of belief to an abundant, active relationship with Christ.

In the spring, we went into the wilderness as a group on a Saturday morning. With each man finding his own place of solitude (and longhorn cattle…more on this in a future post), we each entered into a 90 minute conversation with our Creator.

I walked into the woods that day confident that I would have about 85 minutes to kill after a “long” five minute prayer. As I began to pray, the awkwardness began to fade. The longer I spoke, the easier and deeper the conversation became!

By the end of the 90 minutes, I was nowhere near finished…for the first time in my life, I experienced prayer that became a true two way conversation. I wanted more!

Some of the lessons learned in this process and in a book I recently read have changed the way I pray.

I have distilled these learnings into the following key points.

1. Pray to the RIGHT GOD.

2. Pray BIG.

3. Pray SPECIFIC.

4. Manage your Pray : ”Pray for You” RATIO.

5.  Have a WALKING PRAYER.

We’ll breakout and discuss each of these topics together in coming posts. Just click on the words in BOLD above to navigate directly to each respective post.  As we talk, I’m praying for your comments. Let’s engage in a true conversation and see what we can learn from each other!

What stories do you have about times when prayer changed your life?

Parted Any Water Lately?

MosesI was furious.  My boss had just stood before our senior leadership team and rattled off the list of folks who were “critical to the success of the project” and I wasn’t included.

I put weeks of work went into the project.  Not work weeks….whole weeks.  Late nights, weekends and early mornings were sacrificed to make an unlikely success a certain victory.  There were other people who put forth significant effort but it was common knowledge that I had “carried the ball”.

In all likelihood, he had simply forgotten to include me.  It was out of character for him not to recognize team players.  None of that mattered at the moment, though.  I knew that I would fade back into obscurity the second we adjourned and I was crushed.

Three years later, the project is still going strong and, as a result, our relationship with a key account customer continues to blossom and return value for shareholders.  None of this success is due to who did or didn’t get credit.  In fact, I seriously doubt that either of the senior execs in the room that day could name those that were recognized in that conference room.  What matters now is the fruit that was produced as a result of the collective efforts of those involved.

How many times do we repeat this scenario in a day?  There is opportunity for glory in almost everything we do.

“Honey, I took out the trash!”  Does she really need to know that badly?  Is she the one who will drive the trash truck around the corner and heft the full bags into the back just as soon as you let her know it’s on the curb and ready to go?

“John’s really having a tough time since he lost his job.  We bought groceries last week and took them over to his family.”  Really???  Would you rather have a cookie or a merit badge for that good deed?  I’m sure John’s really thankful that you got a gold star for helping him through a humbling and potentially embarrassing situation.

I say “you” generically in the above examples but I could just as easily substitute “I”.  I dare say we’re all guilty at times.

Everything God does, is done for His glory.  When we seek recognition, we’re really saying “You couldn’t have done that without me, God.”

Lie. Lie. Lie.  We can accomplish NOTHING.  ZERO.  ZILCH without God working in us and through us.

Our human nature wants us to feel special. This is not a sin that we choose to participate in. It’s evil engrained in us.  It’s in the DNA of our humanity….and the very reason we so desperately need Christ.

The next time you feel like you didn’t receive deserved recognition, do what I’ve learned to do:  Think about who parted the waters in the Bible.

You just thought of Moses didn’t you???  Let’s check.

God did it solo first (GEN 1:6-7).

THEN, He did it through Moses (EXODUS 14:21-22).

THEN, He did it through Joshua (JOSHUA 3:15-17).

THEN, He did it through Elijah (2KINGS 2:7-8).

THEN, He did it through Elisha (2KINGS 2:13-14).

Feel a little humbled about your grand accomplishment yet? Give that glory to the Creator and focus on the joy of being allowed to be a part of His work.

I know…it’s tough.

Death to the Checkmark!

Check MarkHi.  My name is Shane and I’m addicted to check marks.

Oh, sure…I struggle with other vices. This one, though is probably at the root of most of my failures and is a huge obstacle to the life of abundance that Jesus promised us.

Let me explain.

Everywhere we look, there are HUGE opportunities waiting for us.  Self-improvement opportunities, career opportunities, family opportunities and KINGDOM opportunities.  The hard thing about most opportunities is just that.  They’re hard.  They require hard work, goal setting, motivation, initiative, and a whole bunch of other cool words that would look great on a motivational poster.

I have a tendency to approach these opportunities with an absolute, all-or-nothing approach that feels really good at the jump, but sabotages my long range success and motivation.

  1. When I try to eat better, I go hard-core on the diet plan (you pick it, I’ve tried it).  24/7…all in.
  2. When I start exercising, I set a plan.  No less than 6 days a week.  30 minutes – an hour a day.  24/7…all in.
  3. When I try to lose weight (usually the ultimate goal of #1 and #2), I set a weekly weight loss goal of X LBS per week. 24/7…all in.
  4. When I try to grow my knowledge of scripture, I sign up for an online plan for daily reading and/or establish a routine of daily quiet time.  24/7…all in.

When we set up such regimented structures in our lives, we replace the freedom that God has given us with a legalistic approach. History has proven we aren’t capable of living up to such rules/laws…that’s why we need Jesus and the freedom he gives us.

Please understand that I think a daily quiet time in the Word is crucial to our spiritual growth…but, if we’re doing it for the sake of staying on track with a plan or to avoid the guilt of missing a day, we’re doing it for the wrong reason.

Eventually, the inevitable unknown of life creeps in and robs us of an opportunity to work out because we have a cold.  We eventually oversleep and miss our morning quiet time.  We land in an all-day business meeting with lunch catered and NOTHING fits the diet plan.

That pretty little checkmark that we love to see show up every day on our planner calls in sick.  Because of our regimented approach, that blank spot where the checkmark SHOULD be is a HUGE hit to our motivation. We resign to failure and abandon our mission.

Does it really have to be failure?  Absolutely, not.

Goals are good place markers to check the pulse on our progress.  They shouldn’t be used as a pass/fail metric.

I’m working to change my perspective.  I’ve just begun my latest attempt to get healthy.  This time, I’m not keeping a planner.  I’m not setting rigid goals.

I’m not making check marks.

Instead, I’m going to live freely, knowing that every decision I face is an opportunity.  Sometimes I’ll make the right one, sometimes I won’t.  As long as I’m making more good decisions than bad, I should be trending in the right direction and can feel victorious.

God has a plan for us…there’s no need to tie ourselves down with our own.

Live a life free of check marks.

Back to School With the Holy Spirit

Back to School!

Back to School!

I hated the phrase “Back to School” as a child.  I mean REALLY hated it.

As families scramble this week to get back into the school routine, I’m reminded of those feelings.  Fortunately, I have the maturity now to look back and realize why.

A teacher’s role is actually much different than I treated it as a kid.

They view themselves as instructors and mentors…I treated them like babysitters and prison guards. (I think I just heard a chorus of “Amens” from my childhood teachers who are reading this.)

Want proof that God has a sense of humor??  I married a Math Teacher.

How does this disparity between a teacher’s actual role and how kids perceive them parallel to the role of the Holy Spirit IN us and how we treat Him?

The bible tells us the Holy Spirit is literally placed IN us to instruct us (Nehemiah 9:20).  Much like a newly minted teacher entering their first job, the Holy Spirit IN us is eager to teach us and develop us.

These lessons are sometimes painful and difficult to learn.  The end result however, is well worth the effort:  a closer relationship with the Father.

Letting go of ourselves so that God can work through us can sometimes be a lot like a first grader having to put away their toy after recess.

Because of this, we often relegate the Holy Spirit to the role of babysitter instead of teacher.  We force Him to spend inordinate amounts of time saying “Put your toys away (material possessions/sin)….Stop jumping on the couch (bad habits/hobbies/sin)…Stop pulling little Suzy’s hair (judgment/hurtful words and actions/sin)”.

All of this takes away time that could be spent digging into the lesson plan and learning so we can promote to the next “grade” of spiritual maturity.

As you begin seeing the school bus return to the neighborhood and the traffic guard manning the school zone crosswalk again, let it remind you that the Holy Spirit is WAY overqualified for the role of babysitter in our lives.  Put away childish things (1COR 13:11) and tell the Holy Spirit you’re ready to get away from the preschool and get into the curriculum!

What “toys” and habits do you need to put away to allow the Holy Spirit to stop babysitting and start teaching in your life?