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New Book: The Happy Christian

Happy Christian

As you can imagine, I’m rather happy to introduce my new book to you today!

I wrote The Happy Christian mainly because there don’t seem to be many of them around today. There’s a serious joy deficit dragging down God’s people and undermining our message of good news for the world.

The book is partly a critique of unbiblical versions of happiness; but it’s mainly a positive presentation of the Christian life in an increasingly negative culture.

I identify the causes and consequences of this widespread and demoralizing plague of negativity, and I propose ten biblical and practical methods to re-balance our attitude, outlook, words, and actions in a way that will lift the spirits of Christians, compel attention for the Christian faith, draw people to Jesus, and make the church a beacon of hope in a world of despair.

Although I make frequent reference to the current fascinating surge of scientific research into happiness, the book’s analysis and prescription is built upon biblical truth, truth that honestly faces the realities of sin and suffering, but that also transforms even these negatives into positives.

Once again, I’m very grateful to Joel Miller and the wonderful team at Thomas Nelson for all their help in getting the book to this stage. It won’t be available until February 2015, but as pre-publication copies are beginning to circulate, I thought it was time to make it official.


Christ Shares His Happiness With Us

Yesterday we looked at the seven kinds of happiness God has left for us to enjoy in the world:

  • Nature happiness: Enjoying the creation
  • Social happiness: Enjoying friends and family
  • Vocational happiness: Enjoying our jobs
  • Physical happiness: Enjoying health and strength
  • Intellectual happiness: Enjoying study and learning
  • Humor happiness: Enjoying jokes and funny stories.
  • Spiritual happiness: Enjoying God through His Word and Spirit

And I left you with a question: Which of these happinesses did Jesus experience and enjoy?

My answer: All of them! And He’s the only one who experienced them all in perfect proportion and place.

Perhaps the one we might choke on a bit is the idea of Jesus having a sense of humor, laughing with friends and family, etc.

This really all comes down to one question: Was humor part of perfect pre-fall humanity?

If not, then not only did Jesus not experience it, neither should we. Humor is a consequence of sin, part of the post-fall world, and therefore should be shunned and avoided.

But if it was part of perfect pre-fall humanity, then there’s no reason why Jesus would not enjoy or even tell a funny story, especially in his childhood and youth. We’re on fairly safe ground there. I do question whether that would continue as he aged and matured. As He grew in knowledge of His work, as He entered upon public ministry, and especially as His sufferings increased exponentially throughout the following three years, He would increasingly become “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” The Gospels reveal him to be a deeply serious man, and no wonder.

Christ’s Supreme Joy
Having said that, there’s no question that Christ’s supreme joy among the seven was spiritual joy: His delight in His Father’s will, His Father’s Word, and His father’s presence. Without totally excluding the other six kinds of happiness, that’s the joy that He was especially speaking of when He prayed to His Father: “These things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13).

But what specifically was the source of His happiness at that time? When we come across a happy person, a person who’s smiling, we ask them, “What’s so funny?” or “Why are you so happy?” and they’ll tell you about something that had just happened or that they’d just heard or thought about. So what was there in the run up to John 17:13 that made Jesus so happy that he spoke of “my joy”? There were multiple ingredients:

  • The joy of God’s presence – communing with God in prayer (v. 1)
  • The joy of God’s sovereignty (2)
  • The joy of God’s salvation (v. 2, 8 )
  • The joy of knowing God (v. 3)
  • The joy of glorifying God on the earth (v. 4)
  • The joy of doing God’s work (v. 4; John 4:32)
  • The joy of God’s heavenly glory (v. 5)
  • The joy of communicating God’s Word (v. 6, 8, 13, 14)
  • The joy of God being obeyed (v. 6)
  • The joy of God’s election (9, 10)
  • The joy of God’s preservation (11, 12)
  • The joy of a returning to God with the ransom price (13)

This is a multi-dimensional, super-abundant, over-flowing spiritual happiness that Jesus identified in Himself, and was enjoying so much that He looked at His disciples and prayed, “Father, give them this too. Transfer my joy to them. Share my happiness with them.”

And perhaps even more amazingly, this is a prayer Jesus is still praying for His people. Every Christian’s every smile, joy, and pleasure, is an answer to this prayer. Every Christian who is dejected and depressed is being prayed for in this way by their great High Priest.

As Arthur Pink wrote: “The Savior would not only have His people safe in eternity, but He desires them to be happy here and now.”


New Student Tip #12: Memorizing

Although schools and colleges have moved away from the imbalanced emphasis on memorizing and regurgitating huge chunks of information, with a much greater focus on demonstrating understanding, many subjects still require an ability to memorize, especially for tests and exams.

Unfortunately, few students are taught how to memorize, usually resulting in lots of inefficient and ineffective trial-and-error methods. Some of the following tips are based on research and some on my own experience of learning and teaching.

1. Go to lectures

One of the benefits of being present at lectures is that the material not only goes in the eye-gate but also in the ear-gate. Reading the material is good, but hearing the material is even better. It would be really easy for many teachers just to pass out their notes and say “Go read!” But educators have found that most students understand and retain knowledge better when it is heard as well as read. There’s something about the physical presence and audible voice of a teacher that make the information stick better than just reading.

2. Take notes

Sharing notes seems to be a highly efficient method of study. However, taking your own notes has been demonstrated to lay the information down better in the brain. In fact, writing them by hand rather than typing them on a laptop activates even more regions of the brain and fosters better recall.

3. Single-task

Yes, believe it or not, you will learn more and better by focusing on the lecture alone. This study examined the impact of multi-tasking with digital technologies while attempting to learn from real-time classroom lectures in a university setting.

Participants who did not use any technologies in the lectures outperformed students who used some form of technology. Consistent with the cognitive bottleneck theory of attention (Welford, 1967) and contrary to popular beliefs, attempting to attend to lectures and engage digital technologies for off-task activities can have a detrimental impact on learning.”

4. Outline

You cannot memorize globs of undifferentiated data. Your brain will rebel or explode. If you want to love your brain and your brain to love you, you need to organize and outline your lecture notes and any notes on assigned reading. I’ve written more about the how of note-taking here. When outlining, make a huge effort to make your structure and content as logical as possible. Your brain finds it far easier to remember the logical than the illogical!

5. Summarize and simplify

You will remember more if you write it in your own words, if you reduce the number of words, and if you use simple words. That’s why, when you are putting your notes in outline form, you should do the intense mental labor of summarizing as much as possible and simplifying as much as possible. You can’t remember everything, and you’ll forget everything if you try. Better to memorize less but memorize it well. You’ll be amazed at how much a well-memorized summary outline will trigger memory of the material not in your summary.

6. Color your notes

Given a choice between memorizing simply black text on white paper compared to color-highlighted text, the brain will choose the latter any day. A well-highlighted page looks more like a picture to the brain, something like a map, which leaves a deeper and longer impression on the mind.

7. Use mnemonics

A mnemonic is a strategy or technique to improve memory. It translates information into a form that the brain finds easier to remember. If that’s still double dutch to you, here are a few samples to get you started. Using mnemonics  can be tough work at first, but the brain is like a muscle in some ways, the more you push it, the stronger it gets. The mental “lifting” that you used to find impossible gradually gets easier with practice and of course the ability transfers to other subjects too.

8. Little and often

Short and frequent is better than long and rare. It is better to study your four or five subjects every day for shorter times than to study one subject each day for the full day. By the time you go back to what you studied four or five days previously, most of what you learned will have gone.

When I ask struggling Hebrew students about their study habits, they will usually say, “Well, I study 2-3 hours every day. The first thing I tell them to do is to shorten their study time. Once they’ve started breathing again, I explain the strategy using the following diagram:

Study-habits 1

7-8am: Study the subject first thing in the morning for 45-60 minutes maximum. As soon as you end that period, your mind immediately starts losing data at a frighteningly rapid rate. Imagine where this graph ends up by the end of the day (feel familiar?)

11am: Re-study the same material again, although this time it should only take you 20-30 minutes. Notice that the knowledge level is higher than the the first period (and reached faster), and that the data loss rate has a shallower gradient (it takes longer to forget what you’ve learned).

4pm: Re-study same material again, this time for 10-15 minutes. Knowledge peak is even higher and gradient of loss even shallower. (In between these study times, you can be studying other subjects using the same method.)

9pm: Just before bed, review the material one more time for about 5-10 mins. Note peak and gradient (appealing, isn’t it!).  Compare where you are now with where you would be if you only studied the subject for one long period. Where would that red line be?

And if you want to seal it for good, do a quick 5-minute review first thing the next morning before studying new material. That will really set the mental concrete.

9. Test yourself

It’s easy to think we’ve memorized something…until we get into the exam room and it’s gone. That’s why you should test your recall beforehand, perhaps using flashcards or getting someone to test you. Forcing yourself to recall something itself improves your memory of it. Speaking answers out loud also secures the data better in your mind.

10. Feed and rest your brain

This Wall Street Journal article cited evidence showing that students who ate a regular balanced diet that included fruit and veg did better than those who ate a high-fat, low-carb diet that was heavy on meat, eggs, cheese, and cream. The brain requires a constant supply of energy and “has only a limited backup battery.”

The same piece also recommended that students don’t wake up earlier than usual to study as this could interfere with the rapid-eye-movement sleep that aids memory. All-nighters impair memory and reasoning for up to 4 days.

Previous Tips

New Student Tip #1: Dropbox
New Student Tip #2: Wunderlist
New Student Tip #3: Evernote
New Student Tip #4: Diigo
New Student Tip #5: Lastpass
New Student Tip #6: Calendar
New Student Tip #7: Feedly
New Student Tip #8: Covenant Eyes
New Student Tip #9: The Why of Note-taking
New Student Tip #10: The How Of Note-taking
New Student Tip #11: Time Management

Books

Thriving at College by Alex Chediak (for students)
Preparing Your Teens For College by Alex Chediak (for parents of students)
Top 10 Books for Students


7 Kinds of Happiness

Although this world can be a sad place, in God’s mercy there are still many different kinds of happiness in the world.

Nature happiness: This is the kind of joy that can be derived from the creation, the happiness we experience through our physical senses when we encounter God’s creation. Mountains, rivers, lakes, trees, flowers, animals, seasons, weather, food, etc., – all of them and much more can put smiles in our heart and on our face.

Social happiness: We find so much wonderful pleasure in our family and our friends. Relationships of different kinds and degrees are so integral to a happy life.

Vocational happiness: Although our jobs can often frustrate us, we also experience much job satisfaction and even exhilaration when things go well.

Physical happiness: The joy we have in being fit, strong, and healthy, able to do what we want to do. It’s especially intense and special to those who have their health and comfort restored after sickness or surgery.

Intellectual happiness: The pleasure that comes from understanding something – analyzing it, explaining it, improving it, remembering it, using it. We master a subject or solve a problem and enjoy a kind of mental ecstasy.

Humor happiness: God created humanity with a sense of humor – it’s not the result of the fall. Sure, it’s often hard to separate humor from sin today because jokes and funny stories are often so vulgar, crude, and demeaning of others. However, there is still such a thing as holy and healthy humor.

These six joys can all be experienced both by the Christian and the non-Christian. Isn’t it amazing how much happiness, and how many different happinesses, God has left for His creatures in this fallen and sin-cursed world. “Good unto all men is the Lord, Over all his works, his tender mercies are” (Psalm 145:9).

Having said that, a Christian should be able to derive even more happiness from these six sources by connecting them with God’s grace and God’s providential activity in their lives.

Also, there is a joy that only the Christian can experience, a joy that at times contains more pleasure and delight than the other six put together, and that’s spiritual happiness. This joy often fills and even floods a believer’s heart as he/she reads the Bible, learns about God and His grace, and communes with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is indeed joy unspeakable and full of glory.

But let me leave you with a question: Which of these happinesses did Jesus experience and enjoy?


New Student Tip #11: Time Management

I’ve already given a couple of time management tips in my calendar post. But here are some other practices I’ve found helpful in managing my time in an efficient way.

Watch: Get one. I know, I know, it’s so old fashioned (at least until the Apple Watch comes out), but there’s something about having the time tick away in front of your eyes that makes you more conscious of time and the need to use it while you have it. Why not download a clock-face App to your computer that will allow you to see the hands swinging round – it seems to convey the passing of time better than digital numbers.

Plan: Don’t just plan class time but plan study time and exercise time too. Put everything in your calendar and treat it as an appointment you have to keep. Part of planning is trying to anticipate needs ahead of time so that you don’t have to rush around in a last-minute panic. Plan to use small time block of 20-30 minutes for small tasks like writing an email or making a phone call. Use bigger time blocks for bigger tasks.

Routine: God is a God of order and having made us in His image, we will thrive when we have orderly and regular lives. Although there are some unpredictables in student life, you should strive to make each week as much like any other. Get your body used to set study times and places so that its ready to roll when the time and environment cues kick in. The more rhythm you build into your life, the more you will thrive and flourish.

Review: Take 15 minutes at the end of each week, say Friday or Saturday evening, to review how the week went and to plan for the next week. Learn from what worked, and from what didn’t, and adjust accordingly. Take special note of anything unusual in the week ahead, like family and church obligations, or medical and dental appointments, and work out how you need to adjust your normal plans.

Divide: When you get dates for assignments, tests, and exams, work out how much time you have until the date and divide the work over the days and weeks available. Write out a study plan with the work you plan to have completed each week and check it off as you go. When you start worrying, you can look at the plan and see it’s reasonable and do-able, removing unnecessary stress.

Margin: Don’t cram everything in your calendar so that there is no room for the unexpected. Better lose ten minutes of study or exercise time than be constantly rushing trying to squeeze the last possible second of time out of life.

Limit: Work tends to expand to fill available time. For example, if you know you have four hours available to prepare for an exam or write a paper, you’d be best to set yourself a three hour target and leave yourself an hour to relax or socialize. It’s amazing how much can be done when you have to do it in a lesser time. This is especially true of something like email or social media. If you set strict time limits on these activities, you’ll get through a ton more emails and also use your social media time much better.

Focus: When you limit your time on any activity, you have to focus all the harder to make sure you get through the work. That means that you need to shut off distractions like the Internet, emails, messages, phone calls, etc., – you can use software blockers to help you.

Hide: Get away from places where people can tempt you to talk, have coffees, etc. You’ll have much more time for that, and with much less guilt, if you really focus on undistracted studying. In fact, you’ll be amazed how much time you end up with.

Single-tasking: Similar to previous point but worth emphasizing there is no such thing as multi-tasking, only multi-switching with every switch requiring ramp-up time.

Sleep: I’ll write a separate tip about sleep, but I’m sure you already know from painful experience that cutting down on sleep not only makes your studying less efficient, it also reduces retention of what is read.

Early: As the mind is much more impressionable and retentive early in the day when it’s not been crowded with stimuli and packed with useless information, the best study hours are usually first thing in the morning. Many find they can study twice as much twice as fast in the morning compared to the evening.

Exercise: Research has shown that exercise boosts cognitive function, creativity, problem solving and productivity. In fact a NASA study showed employees who exercised daily worked at 100% efficiency after 7 hours, while those who didn’t saw a 50% drop, meaning it took them twice as long to accomplish the same thing. So, exercise, in effect, creates time.”

Audit: In my Leadership class I have students perform the following exercise which you may want to adapt to invite input and develop accountability.

Log your time in 10-minute segments for weeks 3&4 of the semester. Analyze your use of time, and make suggestions about how you plan to improve. Find an accountability partner in the class, share your proposed time management plans, and evaluate one another’s performance over weeks 5-7. Submit a 5- page paper by the end of week 9 describing the lessons learned.

Memorize: “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 3:15-16).

Previous Tips

New Student Tip #1: Dropbox
New Student Tip #2: Wunderlist
New Student Tip #3: Evernote
New Student Tip #4: Diigo
New Student Tip #5: Lastpass
New Student Tip #6: Calendar
New Student Tip #7: Feedly
New Student Tip #8: Covenant Eyes
New Student Tip #9: The Why of Note-taking
New Student Tip #10: The How Of Note-taking

Books

Time Management from the Inside Out: The Foolproof System for Taking Control of Your Schedule–and Your Life by Julie Morgenstern
Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence by Daniel Goleman
Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life by Winifred Gallagher
Thriving at College by Alex Chediak (for students)
Preparing Your Teens For College by Alex Chediak (for parents of students)
Top 10 Books for Students

Other Resources

See Top 50  Time Management Articles