I have ADD, my son recently was diagnosed with ADHD. So its been on my mind. I’ve spent the last 5 years of my adult life especially learning how to make the most of the way God made me. I’m also constantly hearing from other people that they struggle in some way in these areas, to focus spiritually, to being too impulsive, and so on, so here are some ways that work for me in all my scattered glory. One successful strategy is to have external controls (schedules, routines, helpful friends) in your life, because it may be harder to internalize those things than others. Perhaps these examples from my life could work for you.
10. Lay down Gospel landmines – I call them ‘landmines’ because I don’t exactly know when I’ll hit them, nor exactly when they will go off. For example I get morning and evening readings of “Daily Light” emailed to me every day (portions of scripture compiled together somewhat thematically). Which is great because like many I struggle with checking my inbox way too often throughout the day. I also leave out a soft leather bound copy of “My Utmost” which I usually get to first thing in the morning, but if I don’t I will at some point. I can read all of these in less than ten minutes, and sometimes that is all I do. But these ‘landmines’ become the themes of my life, and the background music of my soul, the words that seem to pop out when I’m encouraging someone or praying for someone. They wet my appetite for God, His word and His will through the day. When they ‘go off’ and blow up they bring me to my knees, I need to re-read them over and over again and God speaks to me in a powerful way to comfort, challenge or convict me.
9. Spiritual Sprints – I always did well on courses that lasted for the whole day rather than a few days a week. My sweet spot was one week intensives, where you are totally isolated and focused on the course. Death to me was traditional marathon 16 week courses, especially online courses! (In other words no year long bible reading plans for me!) So spiritually I will do things like live in the New Testament once a year between Christmas and New Years. Its a 3-4 hour commitment a day, and takes work to stay on task, but that way I am somehow fueled by the challenge. Not only that but every single time, I get this far more complete, stunning, mind blowing view of who Jesus is, that is always worth it. I need to often ‘get away’ for the day or go away to my closet / office, and bring my guitar, my sermon podcasts, my books and my bible and be with Jesus for hours. The best thing is He is completely fine that I might switch from things to thing before Him. I might sometimes tire out others, but He won’t get lost in my ADD.
8. Fasting – This discipline really doesn’t work for my ADD, actually it works very much against it. Eating is just another great stimulating thing that I enjoy (too much!), often while doing other things as well. But this is such a great and powerful way for me to condition myself, so I fast just about every week. It takes a supper conscientious effort for me, but that makes me depend all the more on the Lord. I replace snacking and eating with a conscience humbling of myself before my creator. I often experience incredible joy while fasting, no doubt very helpful in establishing a habit, but it does not come immediately. (No at times its more just like misery.) The more I can learn to say no to myself, the more I can see the Lord work in my heart. This is also called the mind of Christ, or walking in the Spirit. I am freed to be a better husband, pastor, neighbor, ect… who can put others first when I am used to saying no to myself, humbling myself and devoting time towards praying for others.
7. My ‘doorway’ preacher – When I was a teenager, I used my door as a personal propaganda machine for good and ill. Covering it completely like the uni-bomber, with quotes and images I wanted to internalize. It is a little more organized and tame now (I’m sure my wife is thankful) but I still have quotes all over one the doors in my house, that when I will walk by I stop and focus on one thing or another that is helpful. This is sort of another potential ‘gospel landmine’ but these are things I’m particularly need to memorize and meditate on. One of the quotes I have on my door right now is from Hudson Taylor a missionary pioneer in China. This one might help anyone with some struggle in focusing their spiritual lives “I have found that there are three stages in every great work of God, first, it is impossible, than it is difficult, then it is done.”
6. Corporate prayer – I am so incredibly grateful for starting off as a new believer in a church that met almost every morning of the week for prayer. I would often go once or twice a week. Praying with others is where you learn how to pray. Praying with others you hear the heart of God. For those who struggle with focusing on God, it is so helpful to learn the forms of other peoples prayers, as well as the randomness, nakedness and authenticity in the prayers of mature brothers and sisters as well. No doubt, the highlight of my week is praying with other teachers from our ministry, for our students, who are pastors, certainly on God’s frontline throughout rural Rwanda. If you’d like to pray and your in Kigali, just hit me up.
5. Get help – When I realized a few months ago that facebook was becoming a spiritual distraction in my life, I went for the nuclear option. After a few failed attempts to do this by myself (signing off, than getting right back on), I emailed my wife, old pastor and some co-workers here in Rwanda that I am ‘going offline’ while I was seeking to be 100% in Rwanda and doing language learning work. What do people do when they want to get serious about any life change? They get help. If you want to start running, you’ll be way more successful if you do it with a friend. You need others as well as a sounding board, to know if what you are doing is just your latest urge, or really what makes sense considering how your story with God is unfolding. Ultimately however you need to seek God’s help and guidance in your life, and go with it. I remember a great professor in seminary, she said we can’t just tell people they need self-discipline. If we came from backgrounds without discipline, we need others to help us foster discipline, we need ‘others-discipline’ more than self-discipline in the beginning. If you want to grow, get HELP. If you want to never change, just keep all your struggles your own personal secret.
4. Obsess about God – If you can’t ‘shut off’ at night. Don’t sit in misery about it. If your mind is always racing about something. Feast your thoughts on God. Turn a challenge in your life into a dividend. I remember when I was a new believer and I realized this. I began to read, and think and than applying that to teaching, and sharing with my friends. God used this in my life, He can use it the lives others too.
3. Plan for resting / distraction – Do you know how I managed to not fail seminary? I managed because I had a counselor at the time who was wise enough to lead me to the fact that if I don’t intentionally plan down time and distraction time, I will constantly be looking for it. What I was doing between work, my family and full time seminary I was starving for rest. I would be googling every possible thing under the sun rather than writing the paper I need to for school. So when I mentally knew, at around 7pm I’m going to watch Colbert Nation or the Simpsons, and next weekend I’m going to take my wife out for a date. I suddenly became more productive. If I didn’t plan these things I’d be hungry for them all the time. I’d be stuck in a paralyzed 24/7 half working, half not stasis. It is so ironic that when I’m needing to be the most productive in a short time, I need to be the most intentional about planning time for rest.
2. Be patient, and keep your eyes on Jesus – If you read those who have something to teach us throughout history on spirituality, they will all be pretty unified on this point. Don’t get mad at God and yourself when you don’t become a saint in a day! There is a holy kind of restlessness, that we all deeply need, to drive us to surrender to Christ. And yet, however much we can empty ourselves, humble ourselves, it is only Christ who can lift us up and fill us up. It is only God himself who can work his fruit into our lives. So keep your eyes on Jesus, lay your whole life, all your habits, all your dreams, all plans down before Him. But then be patient and look to Christ alone who can give you His spirit, Ultimately, only God alone can produce the fruit of love, patience, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control into your heart, as we learn to say no to ourselves, we will become so united with Jesus that His nature increasingly becomes our. Don’t forget, like the one who idolizes anything. We are what we focus on, we become like whom or what we worship. Where will you set your eyes? Be patient, and know that God will change us, when we learn to lean on Him.
1. Take risks for Jesus – If your made to take risks, why wouldn’t you? You are going to take stupid risks that will destroy yourself, and your family if you don’t bring this aspect of yourself under the Lordship of Christ. See Jesus isn’t scared that you are impulsive, but He can use that for His glory. A huge reason that many are spiritually depressed, is because they don’t know the pure joy and thrill of laying down their lives for something greater than ourselves. If the only version of Christianity you’ve been expose to, seems to stifle your personality, and keep you in a box, where there is never any real danger of physical, or emotional loss (or possibility of significant victories in the midst of the battle), come hang out with us in Rwanda! I’ll help you with that. Seriously, email me and I can give you some advice that if you listen, may not be so safe, but it light of the glory of God, will be worth it. Besides this there are people waiting for someone to take a risk for them. I remember calling friends in vain late one night to find just one guy who would come with me to help some desperate people escape the crack house they were in. I called a lot of guys taught and discipled in churches to be sociable, but not to take risks for Jesus, risks that others desperately needed us to take.
We are eager to talk to folks who have struggled to deepen their relationships with Christ through spiritual disciplines regardless of what your struggle is. My wife and I, all we know is that Jesus is worth repenting for our lack of discipline for. We don’t claim to have ‘arrived’ we are very much in process, and yet the more consistent we are, the quicker we learn to get back up, to walk with Jesus, to be His friend, the more joy we have, and the more power we have, and we want you to know that as well. Let’s do this together, feel free to reach out.
If you are simply tired of failing, stop now, pray and consider two possibilities.
1. God is worth a lifetime of effort, a lifetime of getting back up after we fall, a lifetime of loyalty no matter how imperceptible our spiritual growth is to us. Because maybe its not ultimately about God making us ‘the best we can be’ but it is and has only ever been about serving Him, who alone is worthy.
2. Grace is for real. No matter how much you fail, there is not now, and NEVER will be any condemnation for those who are in Christ. God has adopted us, and loves us as His children, and when we seek to serve Him even in our small and imperfect ways, like a Father he rejoices with and in us at every small step we take.