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8

Twelve Questions Every Thoughtful Christian Should Ask Themselves Annually
Posted by Clare
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Was I a good investment for God this year?

I’m serious!  Have you ever thought of your life as a love gift Jesus gave to the Father for the purpose of serving in his kingdom, both in this life as well as the next?

“And they sang a new song, saying:  “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:9-10

You were purchased by Jesus for a purpose beyond your personal, eternal salvation.  You and I are an investment of sorts and as such have a mission from God.  So, how are you doing?

Evaluating God’s Investment

The end of an old year and the beginning of the next is a great opportunity for followers of Jesus to reflect deeply about their life this past year and about what in our lives this next year needs addressing.  It’s always been the practice of wise, spiritually vibrant Christians to live what’s been called, an examined life.

A family counselor once gave me this sage advice, “If nothing changes – nothing changes.”

Meaning, if I don’t have a plan to think and act differently, it’s highly unlikely that my life, relationships, and even my effectiveness for the kingdom, will ever improve.  This is the time for pre-decisions.

In Chapter Four of The 10 Second Rule, I describe a pre-decision as a choice we make ahead of time, to think and act differently – more wisely and more obediently.  But, the first step in making any pre-decision is self-examination.

Twelve important questions every Christian should ask themselves at least once every year.

I’ve prepared this list of questions I try to ask myself and urge others to ask themselves, every year.  Please don’t just read them, but set aside some time over the next week or two and meditate on them and pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance as to which issues are the most critical for you to address.  And, resist giving “yes” or “no” answers, but write out ideas the Holy Spirit will give you to improve or change in each area that you’re convicted needs addressing.  If you want to download this list, write your answers or thoughts in the spaces provided:

1. From the time I invest in personal Bible reading and the quality of my prayer life, would God conclude I was serious about deepening my relationship with him?

2. What are the “weights” in my life? (Private, or “pet” sins, addictions, bad habits or distractions that are holding me back from being truly sold out to Jesus.)

3. Does my spouse feel cherished, respected and loved by me?

4. Do my children respect me and are they growing more spiritual because of me?

5. Are there any personal habits, like my language, anger, alcohol use, or choices of entertainment that may confuse my children or my friends about a person who claims to be a follower of Jesus?

6. Who is the most difficult person in my life right now?  What have I done to reconcile that relationship and have I forgiven them?

7. Who are the financially poor, the poor in spirit, the sick or the imprisoned people (the “least of these”) I’ve come along side of this year?  Whose life have I made better by my direct involvement in theirs?

8. Do I feel comfortable meeting with non-Christians and sharing my personal, spiritual journey?  (When is the last time I did that?)

9. Have I seriously and intentionally been trying to live by the 10 second rule?

10. Have I handled God’s finances wisely?  (Would God characterize me as being as generous to others as I am with myself?)

11. Read Revelations chapters 2 and 3.  If Jesus were evaluating my life this year, what would he say he finds both “pleasing and wanting” in me?

12. Based on how I use my discretionary time, my money and the things I’m obviously most passionate about, would the people who know me best, my family, close friends, and people at work, consider me a Christian or a serious follower of Jesus?  Why?

Now, if you’ve written your answers out, confess your failures to the Lord and commit yourself to live more purposefully and obediently.  Put the ways you intend to do that in your Bible or your journal and try to review them at least monthly and share them with your accountability partner.

My question for you:  What questions do you occasionally ask of yourself in an effort to live a more examined life?

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Accountability Groups – Part II
Posted by Clare

Last week I tried to make the case for the importance of choosing the right men or women to be your accountability partners. This week let’s talk about how these groups actually work in real life. Here’s where I’d suggest you begin.

The Importance Of The First Few Exploratory Meetings
Set some dates for the first few meetings and make it clear that at this stage no one is agreeing to be an accountability partner yet, but you want to meet for a few weeks to get to know each other better and discuss everyone’s expectations.

1. Ask everyone to take 15-30 minutes to give the group a brief summary of themselves, including the type of family they grew up in, education, hobbies, spiritual journey, and current information… The goal is to get a feel for each person’s spiritual maturity, transparency, and family or personal issues.

2. Spend a second meeting talking about your expectations for this group. Ask everyone why they are considering being in a group like this and what they hope will be the benefits.

3. Unless you all know each other well, consider spending eight to twelve weeks in Bible study before you agree to a long-term accountability relationship. At the end of this time of study together you’ll have a much better feel for whether or not these are men or women you can trust to give you wise counsel when you need it.

4. Set a date when everyone who wants to enter into an accountability relationship, will communicate that they’re “in”, to one designated person, by a certain date. If anyone doesn’t call by that date, don’t pursue them. Make it easy for a person to opt out by simply not responding.

5. Decide how often you’ll meet, when and where. Most accountability groups meet weekly for a minimum of one hour, but 90 minutes is better.

SETTING YOUR PERSONAL GOALS:

Last week I talked about having each accountability partner writing down specific goals or things they want to accomplish, then empowering others to hold them accountable. But, what does that look like and how do you get started?

1. I’d encourage each person to set aside a half-day for prayer to seek God’s guidance for what he wants of you. Have each person write their personal mission statement. A personal mission statement is essentially a short paragraph that describes the person both God and you want to be, the relationships you desire to have, and the things you really want to accomplish in your life. I’ll give you an example of a personal mission statement little later.

I’ve written a workbook entitled Discovering Your Life’s Purpose, a guide of almost 40 pages for writing your personal mission statement and organizing a life that truly blesses God. It can be purchased or downloaded on this site.

2. Write your goals for the next quarter or 90 days, roughly organized as I’ve shown below. (Obviously you’ll want to modify these if you’re not married or don’t have children.) Begin with your personal mission statement at the top.

____________________________

John Smith

The purpose of my life is to enjoy Jesus, be content with who he has made me, with the resources and gifts I’ve been given and be a godly example to my wife, children and friends.

MY QUARTERLY (90 DAY) GOALS
With God’s help I hope to complete these goals by (date).

Spiritual Growth
1. Average 15 minutes of personal Bible study and prayer, three days a week.
2. Meet Jack for lunch and share with him what God has been teaching me.
3. Write out my personal testimony.

My Wife
1. Pray together at least once a week.
2. Plan a date night with just the two of us twice monthly.

My Children
1. Encourage my daughter’s involvement in Young Life.
2. Begin a monthly allowance with work, savings, and tithing expectations.
3. Plan to have a “date” each month with both of my children.

Vocational and Financial
1. Meet with my co-worker to resolve our differences at the office.
2. Increase our personal monthly savings for investment purposes.
3. Be home by 6:00 p.m. every night. No work on weekends!

Friends and Extended Family
1. Invite my father to lunch.
2. Set a date for one activity with a spiritually-oriented family or couple (Smith’s?).
3. Visit my grandmother at the retirement home.

Health and Recreation
1. Begin some form of exercise three times a week.
2. Take a ½ day off just for me.
3. Get my weight to 178 lbs.

Using your Goals in Your Weekly Meetings

At the next weekly meeting after everyone has written their goals, have each person pass out their goals for the next 90 days. Now everyone has everyone else’s mission statement and quarterly goals. Since everyone needs time to begin working on their goals, devote the next 12 weeks to Bible study and prayer for each other. Once the 90 days are up, begin your quarterly reviews:

Every three months devote your entire time each week to one person’s goals. On the week they are assigned, the individual being reviewed should bring some extra copies of their goals.

Area by area, each person should give a report on how they’ve done over the past 90 days. They share what they’ve actually accomplished as well as things they have not yet done and why. During this report, any person in the group can ask any question or make a comment.

The person being reviewed should also bring copies of what they hope to accomplish in the next 90 days, or email them to everyone within a week of completing their review.

Because we have six men in our group, this process takes six weeks to complete. After that time period, we either study the Bible or a book or topic that would benefit all of us. At the end of that six week period, we begin the quarterly reviews all over again. That means each year, every person gives their personal report four times.

I’m sorry this blog got longer than I had hoped. The Guide for Developing Christian Accountability Groups and Partners is available on the RESOURCES page. It has nine pages with additional ideas for what you do each week, suggested questions to ask each other and ideas for group activities to accelerate growth in all kinds of areas.

My question for you: If you don’t have a group of men or women like this in your life, what’s the one thing really holding you back?

Next week: Twelve important questions every Christian ought to ask themselves annually.
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4

Accountability Groups – Part I
Posted by Clare

For the last two weeks we’ve talked about spiritual mentoring. I think of accountability groups as group mentoring. But, there are some important differences. So, let’s take a look.

To whom you are accountable spiritually?

Have you ever really thought about that? Of course we’re all accountable to God. And most Christians have a Bible study group or Christian friends they hang out with. But do you have a flesh and blood person or people you’ve empowered to ask you the tough questions that will inspire you to live out the mission God has prepared for you in this life?

I do! I have five men, and my wife has four women, who are committed to help us grow spiritually, relationally, emotionally, and even physically. These are the men who watch my life and my back. They pray for me, encourage me when I need it, and speak truth to me even when I’d prefer not to hear it. They’re my accountability partners, my friends, and my spiritual brothers and we’ve been meeting weekly, for almost twenty years.

And, how did that come about? A simple phone call.

More than twenty years ago, I got a call from my friend Tom that had a profound effect on my life. He asked if we could have lunch to talk about something God had put on his mind. Normally I’d be wary. “What does he want from me?” That would be the first question that popped into my head, but I trusted Tom, so we met.

“Clare,” he started out, “I’ve been frustrated lately with how little I’m growing in some very important areas of my life. I really want to be a better follower of Jesus. I really desire to be a better husband and father and even a better friend to my friends. I have all these great intentions, but for one reason or another they just never seem to happen. The tyranny of the urgent, my job, the busyness of life, all kinds of factors seem to suck the life out of me and I rarely get around to doing the things I know God wants, and I want for me.

Now he had my attention. Immediately I identified with his frustration. What reasonably sensitive person wouldn’t? God, our spouses and children deserve our first allegiance. The problem is our bosses, customers and clients are sitting right in front of us or online, demanding our attention now, not when we have time, but NOW! And, they generally get it. But then, guess who doesn’t?

For stay-at-home moms it’s the same. The demands of children and all the frustrations of keeping a household afloat can be overwhelming. When do they have the time to address their needs and grow spiritually and relationally? And mothers who work outside the home are in a whole other league.

TOM’S PLAN

“So here’s what I had in mind,” said Tom. “I’d like each of us to write down a dozen things we know we ought to do to be the kind of Christian, husband, father, and friend we want to be. Then I thought we could meet together weekly, exchange our lists, and empower the other person to ask the question, “How are you doing in _______________? And go right down the list. I need a real person sitting right in front of me to encourage me to move from where I am to where I know God wants me to be, and my family needs me to be.” He also suggested that at the end of our times together, we pray for one another and the significant people in our lives.

As soon as he finished explaining his plan, it was one of those “dah!” moments for me. Of course, that’s what I needed! This wasn’t one more person demanding one more thing of me. These were goals I was going to prayerfully set – goals both God and I wanted of me. I was just giving permission to another person to ask me how I was doing and encourage me to godliness. Ironically, if my wife asked me the same questions, I’d probably think she was nagging. But a man I trust asking me these same questions felt empowering.

Still, I was wary. I knew that once I started down this road, I’d actually have to do the things I said I wanted to do, or I’d feel guilty. And I hated guilt. But let’s face it, my plan so far to mature in these areas wasn’t exactly on fire, and his idea intuitively made sense. So I said “yes” before I changed my mind and I’ve never regretted it.

My definition of Accountability Groups:

Accountability groups are small circles of Christian friends committed to encouraging one another to live out the will of God for their lives.

“Two are better than none, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”
(Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

Choosing Accountability Partners

Here are some things to keep in mind as you begin thinking about choosing accountability partners.

1. Over the years, in my experience helping hundreds of people find accountability partners and form accountability groups, I’ve found that three to four is the ideal number of members. (We actually have six in my group, but it works.) When only two people meet, over time there’s a temptation to simply end up having coffee or lunch and talking about life. That’s not a bad thing; in fact it’s a great thing, but just not the purpose of accountability groups.

2. The two primary requirements for accountability partners are that they be believers and people you respect. Look for men or women whose character demonstrates a love for God and a heart for people. They don’t have to be spiritual giants, but they should want to be.

3. It would be beneficial if at least one person in your group was particularly, spiritually mature and had a good grasp of biblical truths. If not, consider asking the most spiritual person you know to mentor your groups for three to six months rather than being a permanent member.

4. Each group should be made up of all men or all women. I don’t recommend co-ed groups.

5. Make this selection process a matter of regular prayer and develop a short list of the names of people the Holy Spirit leads you to consider. These are people you’re going to empower to encourage you, so think deeply about these people. This isn’t like joining a Bible study that you can quit anytime you want, or like it was in gym class where you count off by 4’s. Finding God’s best for you is critical.

6. Over the years I’ve found that best friends make great accountability partners. Unlike casual acquaintances, they already know how you treat your spouse and your children. They’ve observed your life; they know your moods, your strengths and your blind spots. Almost universally, I’ve found good friends who are accountability partners become even better friends over the years.

7. Find the first person, before you ask a third or fourth. Then the two of you should select the next member of your group, and the three of you pray about a fourth and so on. Before you meet with each person, send them to our website and ask them to download their own copy of the Guide for Developing Christian Accountability Groups and Partners. This will help assure you all have the same goal in mind.

Next week we’ll talk about how you get started and how accountability groups actually work.

If you’re having a 10 second rule moment and sensing that you’re reasonably certain this is something you need to do, then begin praying right now. I mean it! Shut your computer down now and begin praying for an accountability partner.

My questions for you: Do you have an accountability group? Tell us about it.
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Spiritual Mentoring Tips
Posted by Clare

What kinds of conversations do you have with those you mentor?

I get asked that question a lot. So, I thought it would be helpful for you if I passed on stories of honest conversations I’ve had with the men I’ve mentored to help them flesh out just what it means to follow Jesus in real life. Perhaps you’ll want to pass on these stories and ideas to those you mentor, or to your children or grandchildren. Some of these ideas you’ll realize quickly, God meant for you.

Here’s my disclaimer; I’m going to lie. Some of my stories are composites of multiple conversations I’ve had and in all of them I’ve changed names and facts to protect confidentiality. However, the content of each story is absolutely true.

The Problem of Other Gods
Last week I had dinner with Paul, a very successful young entrepreneur. He’s amazing! He’s energetic and whip smart. Paul grew up in a wonderful Christian home, respects his parents and believes everything they do about the Bible. Paul says he loves God and I believe him, but he also LOVES the deal! When I told him there was a time in my life that my business was my god, he understood immediately. I think I’ve pretty much buried my idol, but I think he’s still trying to keep his in one hand and God in the other.

In a previous meeting, I told him that God had used cancer in my life at age 31 to get my attention, so Paul had this great question for me; “How do I get back to putting God first in my life, before he crushes me with something like that?” Paul and I have only met three times, so we are at the very beginning of our relationship, but I told him this:

“Paul, the first commandment says this, “You will not have any other Gods before me.” If you don’t have even fifteen minutes in your day to read the Bible and pray, then what you’re actually saying to God is that everything else you’re doing, all day long is more important than him. That’s how I would read it, if I were God. Paul, I’ve never met a person who truly loved God who didn’t regularly read the Bible and pray. And I doubt you’ll be the first.

So, here’s a rule of life I’ve established for myself: I’ve made it my practice to never read anything – my emails, the newspaper – anything until I’ve read the Bible and prayed first thing in the morning.

Here’s the point of this story: If you’re going to mentor, be prepared to pass on to them the personal disciplines you actually practice that have helped you. They don’t have to do them just like you do, but share what works for you. Also, don’t be afraid to speak truth to those you mentor and then give them specific assignments to take “baby steps” of obedience. (By the way, I generally ask them to start reading a chapter a day, beginning with Matthew or Luke.) Chapter Seven in The 10 Second Rule book has some valuable Bible study ideas for using this time to shape their biblical worldview and develop a practical, working theology.

The Nature of Personal Truth
Charlie’s marriage is in trouble. And, of course, it’s not his fault. “Sure I have some issues but… (Here’s a listening hint; anytime, anyone uses the word “but”, what they’re really saying is this; “What I’m about to tell you negates, or is far more important than what I just said (or you said), before the “but””.) What they say after the “but” is their truth.

I’ve learned this about the nature of personal truth people: Because we’re sinful, we all remember the facts that favor our position and those facts become our “truth”, whether they’re actually true or not.

The person you mentor would probably put his/her hand on a stack of Bibles up to their waist and promise that everything they’re telling you is absolutely true. And I believe them. When they tell you something, you’re getting their truth, but probably not the whole truth. Often I have to meet at least once with their spouse to get their version of the truth, which probably will get me a little closer to the real truth.

Invariably, when I present to my guy, their wife’s “truth”, they think she’s lying. It’s important at this point for me to look them in the face and say, “You’re right, it’s quite possible she is lying. It’s also possible that she has the same problem you have, that what she’s telling me is her truth. In either case, unless you can begin trying to understand the problem from her perspective, and not just dismiss it, you’ve never begin the healing process. Don’t try to talk her out of her truth, just try to understand it whether you agree with it or not; that’s what a spiritually mature person does.”

“Love does not insist on its own way.” (I Cor. 13:5b RSV)

“Yeh, but…” I usually stop them the minute they say “but” and ask them to meditate on this verse and their wife’s truth for a week without letting “but” into the equation, come back and tell me how you are going to adjust your life to address your wife’s reality.” It’s been my experience that if a man, for instance, does that his wife’s spirit will also generally soften and she will try to understand truth from his perspective.

By the way, as a mentor I don’t do marriage counseling, instead I always refer them to a Christian counselor who does. I also ask them to give me permission to speak to that counselor occasionally to find out if, and how they are healing so I’m supporting what they’re being told in counseling.

Well, those are just a few of the hundreds of stories you’ll hear, if I keep blogging. I’m still learning myself about how following Jesus works in real life.

Next week Monday: How to use accountability groups to guard you heart and life.
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