3 Questions to Write an Easy Personal Development Plan

I am frequently asked to help someone get started writing a personal development plan. I think everyone’s plan looks different, because we all are starting at different places. I believe, however, that there are some common questions, which can help all of us think about how we should be developing.

Take a break from your daily routine, grab a cup of coffee, a pen and some paper, and think through these three questions. Keep in mind, I can’t write your plan for you, but these may be tools to fuel your thoughts towards personal development.

Where am I now?

Be honest with yourself. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Where do you most need to improve? Consider each aspect of your life. Where are you in your career, family, social, financial, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being? Which of these areas are most neglected? In which areas do you excel?

Where do I want to be?

Think in terms of each of the categories above. Think through six months, one year and five years. What areas do you most need to improve? In what areas are improvement most critical? What areas, if you were to address them, would improve your overall satisfaction with life? What are some dreams you have for each area? Where do you get excited about the idea of stretching yourself to achieve them?

How can I get there?

For every goal you say you want to achieve, write some concrete action steps..a plan to get you there. What are some measurable goals you could implement to help you achieve them? This is the hardest part, but simply write one or two action steps for each broad goal. You will need to update this plan periodically with your progress and you can continually add to and refine these action steps. The key is that you take action to move forward in the direction you want your life to develop. Ask yourself: Where do I need more training? Do I need a mentor? Could I use more practice? Who could hold me accountable?

Now work the plans; take action. A piece of paper with plans of them, or an idea in your head, is worth very little until you take steps to achieve them. The best day to get started is today!

This sounds simple, but if you will spend a few hours thinking through your individual plan for personal development, the time could make the difference in whether or not you achieve the goals you have for your life. When you finish this plan, you won’t necessarily have a professional looking document you could turn into your college professor and there are certainly methods more complex for writing a personal development plan, but for me the end goal is progress towards my goals, and most of us are more likely to do something which is easy and less time consuming. This is a method I can and do use frequently.

Do you need to do this?

12 Bible Verses Which Have Shaped My Life

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Here are 12 Bible verses that have helped shape my life. There are so many others, but these were the first 12 to come to mind. I memorized these years ago and they’ve been timeless truths…daily reminders…I have “hidden in my heart”. All verses are from the New International Version, because I that was the version I primarily used at the time.

You may want to pick one, write it on an index card and put it on the refrigerator, and hid it in your heart.

Here are 12 life-shaping verses:

Noah did everything just as God commanded him. Genesis 6:22

Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. Ecclesiastes 5:2

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 1 Peter 1:14-15

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Psalms 51:12

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Proverbs 4:23

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. Proverbs 16:3

I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me. Psalms 13:6

Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. 1 John 5:21

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. Exodus 14:14

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings. Proverbs 25:2

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps. Proverbs 16:9

What is one of your life-shaping verses?

My Thankfuls: 10 Reasons for a Happy Thanksgiving

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For years, when the boys were at home, we shared our list of “Thankfuls” each Thanksgiving holiday. We would each take turns (one item at a time) of ten things we were most thankful for that year. I remember early in this tradition the boys’ spellings weren’t always correct, but their lists were always sincere.

I miss those special times sitting in our living room, but that shouldn’t stop me from sharing my list with you.

Here are my “Thankfuls” this year:

1. My relationship with Christ. And the grace that got me there. (And keeps me there.)

2. My loving wife. She’s my best friend. She’s seen my best and my worst and keeps being my biggest supporter.

3. My two amazing sons. Jeremy and Nathaniel (Nate)…age 25 and 22…are simply two of the best men I’ve ever known. Seriously.

4. Jeremy’s wife Mary. If I had raised a daughter…or picked a wife for my son…I would have wanted a Mary. Thanks God.

5. My calling. I work for Jesus. How cool is that? I ran from it for years…but it’s the best “career” I’ve ever had. And, I’ve had several.

6. Family and friends. Cheryl and I are so blessed with amazing families…with low or no drama. We have friends we can call upon at any time day or night. The greatest asset of our married life together is people.

7. The staff and people of Immanuel Baptist. Nearing a year and a half with them, I can honestly say we’ve met some of the most loving, supportive people we’ve ever known. We’ve already made friends for life.

8. My health. Granted, I work on it, but I’ve had friends die of cancer (and other causes) this year…some younger than me. I am thankful for being able to run…and walk…and feel well enough to work…and play.

9. The city of Lexington. We adopted our new home quickly. It’s our mission field, and that’s what missionaries do. We love the sports, exploring the many restaurants, the neighborhoods, and especially the people. What a lovely place to live!

10. The future. I look around the world today and see a lot of darkness. But, this year, I’m thankful, as always, that I serve a risen Savior. That makes every morning new with His mercies and grace. I’m grateful the days ahead are bright…because He is my light. (Cheesy…maybe…but always true.)

There’s part of my list. I could continue, because I am blessed. No, my world is not trouble free…far from it actually…but when I pause and consider all that God has done and is doing around me…thanksgiving is my only proper response.

And for what (or whom) are you thankful this year?

10 Things I’m Learning in Ministry and Life

wisdom road sign arrow

Some are new…some are reminders I’m seeing lived out…

The most mature is often not the one with the most knowledge of Scripture but the one who has learned to most live like Christ.

The longer we sit in the same chair the more ownership we take in it and the less likely we are to want to move from it.

If we want people to grow we have to encourage people to change. Stability isn’t growing. It’s often the level field on the way to a period of decline.

Success in ministry is not always translated into success as a follower of Christ.

Just because they know it doesn’t mean they know how to live it. Or that they live it.

Without a sense of desperation, many people will resist any change you propose.

Pastors are human.

My attitude at the beginning of a day often determines my progress and attitude at the end of the day.

A similar perspective that changes frowns into smiles often changes worry into a prayer…fear into faith…bad days into good.

More talk the talk than walk the walk. And it’s easier. And I’m guilty too at times.

What are you learning these days?

3 Seemingly Non-Productive Activities that are Always Productive

Green extra mile sign

Here’s a secret about my life you may not know.

Some of the most productive activities in my life can seem non-productive.

When I consider the fullness of my calendar…as a busy pastor and leader, every moment counts. I live by a schedule and a mound of checklists.

But, I’ve learned there are some things, which may take time from other things, which make the other things even more productive…and life more meaningful.

Here are seemingly non productive activities that are always productive:

Quiet time – If I start my day quietly reflecting on something (really Someone) bigger than the world I’m about to face, I feel better prepared to meet that world. I’d love to say every morning is an earth-shattering, Jesus rock my world experience. It’s not. But, when I discipline myself to slow down before I hit a fast pace, the balance of my life seems in place.

Exercise – I know, by experience, that the way I feel physically impacts the way I feel emotionally and spiritually. I can’t imagine being able to separate one from another. I don’t always feel like exercising. Even though I love running, sometimes my body doesn’t want to cooperate, but when I do, I always…I mean always…have a more productive day. (Because of this, sometimes I exercise twice in one day.)

Nap – I know. Talk about unproductive. Imagine taking a break from a crowded calendar to sleep. One might even say I’m lazy. Actually, anyone who knows me would never say I was lazy. They’d more likely use phrases like workaholic or, at least, very productive. What they don’t know perhaps is that one secret to that is when I feel the afternoon blahs coming…no amount of caffeine seems to help. I’m not afraid to stop everything, close my eyes for 15 or 20 minutes, and recharge my batteries. It works wonders for a tired brain. I’m always ready to go at the calendar again after a quick shuteye.

So there. You have some of my secrets to being productive. These help me go the extra miles in life.

Do you have any secrets you would share with me?

Leadership and Life Inspiration from T. J. Maxx

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Everyone has had this experience or at least witnessed it happening. You’re exiting a store after a purchase and an alarm goes off all around you. Lights flash. People stare. You (or whoever it happens to) are embarrassed. 

The store clerk failed to remove one of the security tags from an item you bought, stuck the item in the bag and sent you on your way. It was an innocent mistake. No one is mad. Normally. You simply return to the counter, they remove the tag and you’re on your way again. No harm. No foul. 

But, for a split second, you’re embarrassed. It feels like people are thinking something about you that isn’t true.

You stole something.” And yet you didn’t. 

Or even…

You’re an idiot.“And yet you’re not. 

Those alarms usually place us initially on the offensive. Even though you didn’t do anything wrong, you feel like everyone thinks you did.  

Of course, sometimes people did steal something, which is why the systems exist in the first place. But, for you, because of an honest mistake, it became a nuisance. 

Recently, Cheryl and I were out of town and witnessed this happen at a T. J. Maxx store. Yet, instead of obnoxious piercing noises and flashing lights, we heard a polite, easy to understand voice recording say: 

Excuse me, but we must have forgotten to remove a security tag from one of the items you purchased. Please return to the cashier’s desk and we will be happy to assist you.” 

I loved it. The lady “caught” simply returned to the counter. She appeared to be surprised, but unalarmed. People seemed to laugh about it. No one seemed to be looking for a criminal. Instead they looked for an honest mistake. 

It seemed to communicate…

We are not assuming you did something wrong. We simply want to correct our error.”

Genius. 

Someone at T. J. Maxx has been thinking.

Most people who set off those alarms aren’t criminal in their actions. They are innocent people. T. J. Maxx is thinking for their paying customer. A relationship they want to keep and protect.

It was a great reminder to me of something I remind myself and our team frequently. 

The way you approach an issue of concern often determines how it is received.

Do you have an issue to address with someone that could prove to be uncomfortable?

Consider these suggestions:

If the relationship is valuable enough to keep and protect…

Write it down and consider how it sounds initially. Put your response to the issue in print…for only your eyes to see at this point. Does it sound unsensensitive or alarming? Would it immediately put you on the defensive? If so, consider rewording to a softer, kinder approach. 

Practice how you will say it. Pay special attention to your tone and body language. You can be truthful…and you should be…without being degrading and accusatory. Practice grace and truth.

Prayerfully address the situation. Pray to change your heart towards the issue first. Pray for your approach…perhaps even more than you pray for their response.

Because, your approach will often determine their response.

Thanks T. J. Maxx for the inspiration.

Dr. Henry Cloud – Boundaries for Leaders – Catalyst

boundaries

Dr Henry Cloud is a popular psychologist and author. I have recommended his book “Boundaries” dozens of times. We all need them in our life.

Recently Cloud released the book “Boundaries for Leaders”. It’s a needed book. He spoke to us about it at the Catalyst conference.

His ultimate theme for the presentation:

Proper boundaries for leaders help us to be productive for the long haul.

An outline of that process:

1. Pay attention to what’s most important. (Ultimately our identity in Christ.)

  • Understand and know our identity.
  • What is it that you’re good at doing? What in your life needs attention now?
  • Written visions are more likely to be achieved.
  • Have guard rails of what you need to focus on now. Don’t let 86 other things interfere. And over time your mind will begin to form around your true identity (of what’s important).

2. Positive emotional climate. Built up in your true identity in Christ.

  • A traumatized brain divides…into two parts. The creative side, that can think through decision making.
  • Other side of brain is a defensive mode. If a train is coming at us we don’t have time to think. Just react defensively.
  • But we need the thinking side to realize our true identity.
  • To live in the reality that God is generous with grace and wisdom.
  • James 1:5…He will give wisdom…without finding fault.

3. Relational Connection

  • Someone to walk through the process with us.
  • Someone to hold us accountable. Disciple us.

4. Control

  • Learn to self-control.
  • God designed our brain where it loves to have control.
  • We were designed for self-control. But we try to control everything else out of our control, instead of ourselves.
  • The number one factor in accomplishing a goal is believing that we can.
  • Believing, by faith, that God can make in us who He has designed us to be. Our identity is in Christ.

My notes, of course, are just an outline…perhaps you need to read the book. I intend to soon. While this is not a post with an intent to promote the book, Cloud’s books have been helpful to me in life and leadership. From this talk, I believe this one will be likewise.

The Biggest Mistake of My Life

hiding mistakes

One of our boys has always been such a deep thinker. When he was 3 years old, watching a movie with him was a chore, because he would analyze every aspect of the plot. We would try to explain to him it was only a cartoon, without a ton of hidden meaning, but it was never enough. Even today he’s the analyzer of life. He asks the deep questions.

Personally, he takes after me (although he’s more fluent at it than I am). I’m a questioner too…and believe it’s been a help to me in life, ministry and leadership. The best questions get the best answers.

So it was not surprising when one day, when he was an early teenager, seemingly out of nowhere, Nate asked, Daddy, what’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in your life?”

I didn’t have to think long. We had owned a very successful, fast-growing business. We stood to make lots of money in the years ahead, and we sold that business to buy another. It was devastating. If it could go wrong it did. Although it’s a very long story and we felt we were doing the right thing at the time, it proved to be a very painful five year experience until we sold the business, basically walking away with nothing.

I told Nate (we call him Nathaniel) that selling one successful business and buying that business was obviously the biggest mistake of my life.

Nate countered quickly, “Yea, but you’ve said you probably would have never surrendered to ministry had that experience not occurred.

You’re right,” I replied. “I was too busy chasing a dream. God worked it for good. But, that was definitely my biggest mistake in life.”

As I said, I’m an analyzer too, so several days later, while I was in a time of prayer, Nate’s question came to my mind. I decided to ask God about it. In my prayer, I said, “God, why did you allow me to make the biggest decision of my life? I would have followed you if you had made it clear. Why couldn’t you let me do it another way? That was such a difficult time in our life.” (It was one of those rare pity parties I had with God. Don’t be afraid to have them. He understands.)

God seemed to interrupt me before I could continue. Now please understand, I have never heard God audibly. And, I’d love to say He speaks to me everyday. But, there have been a few times where I am certain I heard the impression of God on my heart…where I know God “spoke” clearly to me. This was one of those times. (As a side note, they always line up with truth from God’s word.)

I sensed God say, “Ron (I’m so glad He knows my name), your biggest mistake was not buying that business.”

I was surprised. I figured it must not be God to hear such a reply. So, I snapped back, almost as if I was sarcastically speaking to my own false thoughts, “Oh really, well then what was the biggest mistake of my life? Because I can’t think of one bigger.”

God interrupted again…

“Ron, your biggest mistake was following your will for your life and not mine.”

And, God was silent. Point made. Point accepted. I had no more questions.

The truth is many had seen what God was doing in my life; including my wife, but I had ignored them…continually replying that we are all “called to ministry”…and I resisted the surrender to vocational ministry for many years.

God’s counsel that morning has proven true so many times, as I reflect back over my life and the decisions I have made. The greatest failure in my life has always seem to be a result of when I do what I want to do rather than what God wants me to do.

Here’s hoping someone learns from my mistakes.

There is No Such Thing as Ordinary

This is a guest post by my friend Michael Kelley. Michael is Director of Discipleship, Lifeway Church Resources Division and an awesome author, husband, father and friend. I’ve shared his stuff before, because I believe in him and his work. As he releases his next book, I invited him to share some thoughts with my readers.

There is No Such Thing as Ordinary

I’ve never met a president. Or saved a child from a burning building. Or climbed Everest. I don’t run in powerful circles or tweet nuggets of wisdom adored by millions. My office walls don’t have pictures with me and the Queen of England or medals from my wins at the Olympic Games. Perhaps if I were an international man of mystery, I’d look over and see a picture of me standing next to a world leader at that ceremony when I was awarded some token for my bravery. Then I could turn and see another wall full of mementos and trinkets collected from my adventures. Instead I’m looking at four family pictures, a calendar, and a particularly fierce-looking rendering of a black and yellow fire- breathing dragon laying waste to a castle.

Ah, parenthood.

A regular life isn’t bad, necessarily. In fact, a certain kind of bliss accompanies the “normal” life. There aren’t a lot of surprises, and for a guy who has a to-do list for every day (with the last item on that list being “Make tomorrow’s list”), a lack of surprises can be very comforting. What is more, an ordinary life actually affords an opportunity to love things like pictures from an eight-year-old of dragons and castles. In an ordinary life, your existence becomes papered with moments like these.

And yet . . .

And yet there are those days that just feel boring. The routine becomes monotony, and you find yourself refreshing your e-mail over and over again, waiting for something—anything—to break up the ticking of the clock. You feel something inside of you, something that appreciates the life you have, but at the same time wonders if there’s something more. Something that you’re missing. I feel that way sometimes.
The truth is that we will all spend 90 percent of our time here on earth just doing life. Just being ordinary. If I were writing a self-help book, I might follow that realistic, slightly demotivating statement up with something like: “Break out of the ordinary. Pursue your bliss. Go skydiving. Do something important. Carpe diem.” The same motivation, in Christian terms, might read: “God’s will is that you have a life of adventure. Get out there and make an eternal difference. Do something big for God.”

All of those statements are true in a sense; all of them can be appropriate. What those statements communicate is that we should be focused on Jesus and expanding His kingdom. That should be our priority. Those statements challenge us to recognize that we only have a limited time here on earth, so we need to make sure we spend our time doing things that matter. However, implicit in an exhortation like “do something big for God” is the notion that we are currently not doing stuff that matters, and we have to abandon that insignificant stuff to break out of the rut—chase the dream . . . be the man . . . overcome obscurity . . . all that stuff.

Chasing dreams isn’t the problem. Neither is maximizing what you have to make a difference in the world for the sake of Christ. The problem is in our definition of significance.

People tend to believe that the pathway to significance is paved with the big, the showy, and the grand. The people who are most often lauded as influential are the ones doing the big, impressive things with their lives. Consequently, those same people cannot involve themselves in these mundane details of life. Indeed, the mundane details are like anchors that weigh a person down from the bigger and the better. So moving toward a life that matters involves moving past the details that don’t.

But what if we’re wrong? What if “bigness” is not an accurate measure of significance? What if the whole idea of “ordinary” is a myth? And what if a life of great importance isn’t found by escaping the details but embracing them? What if God actually doesn’t want you to escape from the ordinary, but to find significance and meaning inside of it?

That’s what this book is about. This book is for the stay-at-home mom and the office job dad. It’s for the regular church member and the ordinary citizen. It’s for the person who has ever looked at the seemingly mundane details of life and wondered if they are really doing anything that’s worthwhile. It’s for all of us ordinary people who are following an extraordinary God. My hope, as you read the first half of this book, is that you would be awakened to the myth of the ordinary as you see and extraordinary God who is constantly moving and working. Then, as you move into the second half of this book, I pray that you might see the greater purposes in a few specific, but often ordinary, areas of life that we tend to push to the margin. And maybe, when we get to the end, we will have begun to see God, and life, in a whole new way. Perhaps we will have begun to see that there really is no such thing as ordinary when you are following an extraordinary God.