Daily Verse – Struggle.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Ephesians 6:12 NIVUK

In this verse the Apostle Paul is teaching, and reminding, believers that our world and lives are more complicated than we think.

Before becoming believers we were purely physical beings and existed in a world of physical situations and challenges.

Now, as believers, we have had the spiritual connection, which Adam and Eve originally possessed, put back into place through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

This spiritual ‘refit’ brings us to a new life but a life which also has it’s own unique set of circumstances.

When I read through this verse this morning I got stuck on the ‘struggle’.

The Greek word used is palé and occurs only in this verse in the whole of the New Testament.

Translated mostly as ‘struggle’ it derives from the word ‘pallo’ which means wrestling or to wrestle.

Often our struggles are very much like a wrestling match. We are in the grip of an issue or problem and we are trying to pull away or overpower the ‘thing’.

I am reminded again of the story of Jacob wrestling the Angel of the Lord, mentioned in yesterday’s Daily Verse.

Jacob saw and understood our lives/world is much more complicated than we often care to consider.

We can struggle creatively as well.

Creativity is a mental and physical experience.

Even creatives who are not believers will refer to their practice as often being a spiritual process.

Recognising and making connection with the spiritual can still mean we struggle or wrestle – with doubts, with processes, with realising that physical form of the mental idea.

If we wrestle like Jacob we will become stronger in our spiritual lives and creative practices.

Daily Verse – Walking with the Wise.

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.

Proverbs 13:20 NIVUK

In this recent technological era we can gain unparralleled access to the very best people in our field of interest.

Most of them even do Masterclasses to teach you everything they have learnt on their journey.

We are often told in the marketing blurb ‘they have made the mistakes so now you don’t need to’.

According to Proverbs, however, this will not make us wise.

We are instructed to walk with the wise – hō·w·lêḵ – to go along with, keep pace with, to be conversant with.

Rabbi’s like Jesus did not just ‘teach’ in the synagogues, as we might here a preacher in a pulpit, but every footstep, every conversation, every gesture, even the way he ate his meals, would be observed by his disciples and imitated.

A teacher’s wisdom was the sum of every part of them, physical, spiritual, and thought.

Literally, walking in the footsteps of those wiser than ourselves in our field of interest, creativity, spiritually, or our work, will help us to become yeḥ·kām – to be wise in word, action, or thoughts. This word only occurs three times in the Old Testament, with all of them occuring in Proverbs.

I am not suggesting that we ignore every bit of wisdom which isn’t given to us in person – as much as I might like it, I cannot take a walk with Claude Monet if I want to paint ponds – but we should perhaps make more of an effort to form relationships/friendships – mentors – where we can experience their gifts in proximity.

Find a mentor/teacher and howlek them!

Daily Verse – 1 Peter 4:10

https://my.bible.com/en-GB/bible/113/1PE.4.10.NIVUK

Interestingly in the Greek Interlinear text of this passage, the phrase ‘from his great variety of spiritual gifts’ does not appear. This is clearly an addition by the translators to further inform on the meaning of the passage.

The more straight forward Interlinear ‘(as) each has received a gift’ is much more inclusive than the addition of spiritual gifts.

You can read of specific spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 13, and no doubt your ‘gift’ may be part or inclusive of these.

Yet there is a difference.

Your gift maybe of conversation or hospitality, music or poetry, confidence or encouragement, teaching or listening, art or craft.

God’s Spirit will be abundantly clear in all of these, no doubt, and they are your gifts to use in service of others, reflecting God’s ‘manifold grace’.

The word gift is charisma occurs 8 times in the N.T. and is always translated as gift, ‘free from God’ and only once in Romans 8:1 as ‘spiritual gift’.

You all have at least one gift from God, which brings something positive to others.

What’s yours?

What Would You Do With 47% Extra Time?

A study, led by Harvard, claims that an average ‘knowledge’ worker works in a state of distraction for 47% of their time.

Flip this around.

By being more focused they could accomplish the same amount of work in half the time.

Or potentially double their output.

Just because we are ‘creatives’ it doesn’t mean we don’t get distracted, or it doesn’t matter if we are distracted.

So how effectively can you focus?

Remember that multi-tasking is a myth – your brain focuses on each task by rapid switching, so you only ever do one task at a time.

Phone messages. Phone calls. Social Media. Changing the tunes. Not being clear on the task you will execute in a defined period of time. Not being prepared with everything you need for that task.

Any improvement in your habits or discipline, which impact that 47%, will result in a significant improvement.

Professional cycling team Ineos – formally Team Sky – are as famous for their 1% rule as they are their Tour de France victories.

Try and improve everything you do by 1%.

Over time those 1%s add up to something incredible.

  • Prepare properly – have everything you need where you need it.
  • Schedule specific tasks in your calendar and put a time limit on it.
  • Use a timer to keep you on track.
  • Limit the amount of time you need to switch away from your task – if you are hinting for 90mins don’t have a playlist which only lasts 55mins, for example.

You can Log/Record what you do in the time you devote to your creative endeavours, to see how personally bad the problem is for you. Every time you stop doing your intended task make a quick written or voice note.

Review it and do what you can to delete those clear distractions. See how much of that 47% you can gain back.

(The distraction of keeping the log doesn’t count!).

The Daily Verse – Luke 13:19

‘It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.’ – NIVUK

Luke 13:19

What do you plant in your life?

Can you see your life as a tree?

Jesus has just had an argument with a Synagogue leader because he was criticised for healing a woman on the Sabbath.

The only things you were permitted to do on the Sabbath were to go and pray publicly or at home. Food had to be prepared the previous day. It was to be a complete day of rest.

Jesus took pity on a woman who had had a debilitating illness for eighteen years. He saw this as God’s work.

The Synagogue leader was wrapped up in the man-made laws surrounding this day of rest. He was completely unconcerned about the plight or the healing of the woman.

In response to this Jesus teaches him about the Kingdom of God.

Israel’s expectation was that the Messiah would come in triumph and over throw their oppressors. They expected a military leader who would restore the nation to power and might.

Jesus tells them the the coming Kingdom was starting with the mustard seed – the tiniest of seeds – but would eventually grow into a great tree, whose branches would become home to many types of birds.

He was teaching that the Kingdom would not just consist of the nation of Israel.

Jesus’ continual references to going plants and seeds in his parables was a common ‘language’ for the majority of his listeners. The majority of people lived rurally and would grow some food to eat and also keep a few animals.

For many of us growing is a separation of commercial growing for food, and personal plants for visual aesthetic, if you are lucky enough to have a garden.

We can use this growing metaphor and apply it to ourselves as well.

If we plant the smallest of seeds – if we begin with a positive intention – and tend the soil and care for its growth – attend daily to develop that first positive action – over a period of time the seed will become a tree – the habit will become a strength and be clearly seen by others – eventually providing a home for the birds amongst the branches – and will prove a blessing to many others as well as ourselves.

What seed could you plant in your lives?

Do you want to be more creative or organised? Do you want to learn a musical instrument? Do you want to learn a foreign language? Do you want to learn to cook better?

Do you want to develop the courage to talk to more people? Do you want to find ways to do small positive actions for those in your lives? Do you want to be fitter and healthier?

All of these things will enable you to develop those branches and bless the people who come within their reach.

If you ever get the chance to watch the documentary-movie Skid Row Marathon then I would highly recommend it.

A Los Angeles Judge is a keen runner. He is then asked by a man who he convicted and sent to jail to go down and see the Midnight Mission which was helping him get back on his feet after his release from prison.

The Judge is encouraged to help out with the Mission, so he starts a running club.

Watch the film – it is uplifting and will leave you teary eyed at the same time.

The Judge’s seed was his love of running. The tree grew as the running club developed. In the branches miracles happened.

What is the first seed you will plant?

The Daily Verse – Luke 13:8

“Sir,” the man replied, “leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig round it and fertilise it.” – NIVUK

Luke 13:8

Are there areas of your life that appear to not be bearing fruit?

Have you decided to cut those areas out of your life or attend to them more carefully?

Today’s verse is taken from the Gospel of Luke and is part of a parable which Jesus is teaching from.

We are told that a man has a fig tree growing in his vineyard but for three years it has not produced fruit. He decides it is time to cut the tree down and do something else with the soil.

He calls to his gardener and gives him the order but the gardener asks for another chance – one more year – for the tree.

He will tend it – dig around it loosening the soil so the roots are watered more effectively – and he will fertilise it – adding in manure to nourish it.

The gardener will put in extra time and effort to that one tree, out of the whole vineyard, to try and get it to bear fruit.

He tells the owner, if this doesn’t work then cut the tree down.

Many commentators state that Jesus is alluding to the nation of Israel here. They have one more year to ‘repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand’.

There are many other verses in the Gospels which lend strength to his view, but often in parables Jesus has several threads in his teaching.

The owner has waited patiently. Three years is more than generous.

The gardener sees his job as caring and nurturing, not cutting down; although judicious pruning is often needed for a plant or tree to grow more healthily.

The gardener commits himself to put in the extra time and effort to aid the tree.

When the owner thinks it is worthless the gardener sees possibility.

We see this attitude in Jesus throughout the Gospels.

He takes time with people the leaders of society think are worthless. He nourishes them. They produce fruit.

In more recent times the habit of structuring our lives and getting the maximum potential out of them, we are generally encouraged to be like the vineyard owner.

If something isn’t bearing worthwhile fruit then cut it out.

Habits, possessions, use or users of time – if they aren’t productive then get rid of them.

The logic makes perfect sense and can be the right way to act.

This parable contrasts the owner’s attitude with that of the gardener. The former has put very little effort in to the vineyard and the gardener has; and he is willing to put in more time and effort on this one tree.

Is it his superior knowledge that commits him to this course of action? Or is it faith in his ability to effect a change?

If we view the tree as the sinners and the tax collectors and the sick and those who counted for nothing in Jesus’ society, then we see the difference between the owner – the religious leaders – and the gardener – Jesus.

The tree can be us, our lives – habits and actions – or perhaps the people in our lives.

The gardener doesn’t just leave the tree, he commits to the time and attention it needs.

This is how we need to look at our lives on many occasions.

Some areas may not be working that well, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t, given sufficient effort from ourselves.

It needs to be the right effort though.

We need to look at the deficient areas we all have and assess what will improve the growing conditions for our ‘trees’.

If we aren’t sure we can ask another gardener – they love to share little tips and tricks, generally from their own experiences.

So, identify a few fruit-less trees in your life and look at them with a gardener’s eye – what can you do to improve the nourishment to the tree and improve the soil it is in?

Day 467 – Creative Like Bill Belichick, Pt.2.

So yesterday I suggested that relatives could take inspiration/lessons from sports and hopefully I will convince you today.

Bill Belichick is the most successful NFL coach ever because:

  • He stays focused on the overall goal and works hard to achieve it
  • He never goes through the motions and always trains with purpose
  • He makes sure that he puts the right players on the pitch at the right time
  • He doesn’t panic if things don’t seem to be working early on in the season and understands the importance of late on in the game and the season
  • He doesn’t waste time talking about the game

So how does this translate into being creative?

Be really clear about what you are trying to achieve.

Belichick knows the season is about winning the Super Bowl and so is the pre-season and the post-season. If you want to write a novel then that is the goal, nothing else. Prepare. Execute. Analyse to make next year’s performance better. It is hard work so put in the hours. Be focused and cut out distractions. Commit and achieve.

Practise with purpose and put what you learn into action.

A very underestimated part of what Belichick does is the practice field. The Patriots train with crowd noise. They train with old and scuffed up balls, removing as much of the grip as they can. They try to recreate conditions similar to the ones they will play in. All practice is purposeful.

It can be hard if you are time pressed for your creative pursuit but you need to practice. If you are a writer then try and find an extra couple of hundred words which are based on what you are writing, or will write in the next chapter. It might be character descriptions, or scene setting, or dialogue. If you are an artist you might need to experiment with colour, or sketch certain body parts, or try different techniques for applying the paint.

Use the creativity you need for that particular moment.

Don’t get distracted or show off. Use the skills to produce the elements you need to make that particular chapter, or picture, or composition, exactly as you need it. Be prepared and execute. If the scene is your chapter is heavy on dialogue, then make sure you have been practicing that element. Listen to good movies or tv, listen to or read good scenes from books and plays.

Don’t Panic!

Sometimes, particularly in the early stages, things might not go quite the way you had planned. It happens. Work out why and fix the issue. Sometimes there might not be a specific problem, you just didn’t execute well enough, so make sure you do the next time. Keep pressing on and know everything will come together late on in the season when it really matters. You may have zigged when you wanted to zag but keep the process going and remain focused on the end result.

Don’t waste time and energy.

Monosyllabic answers and repetitive phrases at press conferences are communicating that this isn’t where we win championships and Super Bowls.

As creatives we have platforms which can really boost the audience for our creativity in ways which no other writers/artists have had before, but it can also be a massive distraction. Social Media is the press conference. Learn from Bill. Don’t waste your energy and know it is taking time away from your main job. It is necessary, which why even he does them, but his conduct tells you that he knows what is important. The end result.

So Create Like Bill! And I hope to see you all in the Hall of Fame! (But don’t be surprised if Bill doesn’t speak with us!)

Day 466 – Creative Like Bill Belichick, Pt.1.

I’m not trying to alienate anyone here by mentioning the New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick. I understand that the franchise and the coach are like Marmite – you love them or you hate them.

For full disclosure I am a San Francisco 49ers fan, but as a sports coach you have got to learn from the best and the 6 Super Bowl victories simply make him the best.

I was listening to the Sky Sports NFL podcast, with the excellent Neil Reynolds and Jeff Reinebold, where they were finishing up their pre-season ‘state of the franchise’ thoughts and the final team being mentioned was the Patriots.

It occurred to me that surely the secrets of Belichick’s success could be applied to being creative.

Hear me out.

Players on a team are ultimately a set of skills and experiences. The coach uses those skills and experiences to craft a win. You get enough wins in a season then you get the big prize at the end; but even if you don’t, those wins remain achievements in themselves.

As a creative you gather together as many skills and experiences as you can. You use those to produce a piece of work. You put together a good enough body of work then you are often acknowledged/rewarded/awarded titles and prizes.

Let me be more specific.

You are a writer. You gather your group of players – in this case authors/books/characters/plots from across all your years of reading. You use this knowledge, these skills and experiences, to write a chapter – to win. You win as many regular season games as you can – you write as many chapters as successfully as you can. Losses and ties mean you need to do some revision. The post-season is where you hone it all down to that last championship game – the finished novel.

Perhaps, alternatively, the different games in the normal season are different types of writing. The post-season is your overall body of work.

The head coach is the natural editor in your brain. A little more of this. A little less of that. Those elements for that particular match, or these elements for this piece of writing, in order to be successful.

Hopefully, you can see where I am going with this.

Tomorrow, I will try and convince you of what Bill Belichick can bring to our creative endeavours.

Day 444 – A Sense of Place.

I’ve been listening to a BBC Radio documentary on The Pennine Way.

It is a national trail which runs for 268 miles through England and up into Scotland, and the hills over which it runs is often called the ‘backbone’ of England.

The documentary describes the places and the people along it, the music, songs, and poetry which it inspires, the history and the culture of its length.

Many creatives are both inspired and captivated by what is right there on their doorstep.

Which places and people, history and culture, inspires you and how does it inspire and direct your creative output?

Day 438 – To TV or Not To TV, That Is The Question.

One piece of writing advice is to destroy your tv.

You’re a writer of books, so read ’em and write ’em.

TV was invented to distract you and allow advertising to sell you stuff.

So that should be enough for why not to TV.

So Why to TV?

Plot and Characters in a story arc.

Most tv series don’t give you much more, other than a great source of material for building ‘cliffhangers’ into your chapter endings.

Watch how each episode is finished. How does it wrap the events of that episode but how does it inform on what went on in previous episode plots or signal something yet to come.

What character relationships are there and how do they develop?

Not everything needs to make sense. A lot of TV shows don’t even try to explain shifts in scenes or seemingly impossible plot points – they just know you want a conclusion to that episodes situation and to see how the relationships between the key characters is furthered.

Perhaps you don’t need to fret over all of those details which were giving you sleepless nights after all.