Checking The Gauges

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You never conquer mountains. You conquer yourself—your doubts and fears.
— Jim Whittaker, the first American to Climb Everest

If you want to reach your peak, you must repeatedly and regularly stop and check your gauges.

What does it mean to "check the gauges"?

Automobile manufacturers supply an array of dashboard gauges so that you, the driver, can monitor the condition of your car. If you have ever run out of gas you know how important it is to check your fuel gauge. An occasional glance can save you lost time and a long walk.

Leaders must learn to monitor their lives.

I call this practice, "checking the gauges." Each month I take an hour to half day to stop and reflect. Taking a look at the dashboard of my life helps me assess how I am doing and what needs to change.

I have been practicing this habit for years. It has helped me to stay at my best as a man of God, a leader, husband, father, and friend. God has used "Checking the Gauges" to keep me out of the ditch and on the leadership highway. Without it, I would have "run out of gas" along the way.

How to "check the gauges"

Each month I carve out time to reflect. I find a quiet place and prayerfully examine my gauges:

The Spiritual Gauge: Monitoring my soul

God says, "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life."  When I monitor my Spiritual Gauge I am "keeping my heart." Here are five questions to ask:

  1. Love: Is my love for God increasing? Why? Why not?
  2. Idols: Is there something or someone I am looking to find my identity or to be "okay" other than Jesus?
  3. Surrender: Am I living a surrendered life before the God who loves me?"
  4. Community: Am I living in community with others or drifting toward isolation?
  5. Temptation: Is there a temptation or sin that has a hold on me?

This is Jesus' invitation: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28 NIV). He reminds me, "Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (Matthew 6:26 ESV).

Pausing to check my spiritual gauge is reminding myself to rest in Jesus him and to reorient all of life around him.

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The Physical Gauge: Monitoring my body

When Jesus saw that his disciples were tired he said,“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:39 NIV).

Jesus saw that the physical gauge was reading empty. It was time to pull over and refuel. One of my early mentors was Dr. Charlie McCall. Charlie was a physician who had played a significant role at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. He was a brilliant man and full of common sense:

Tommy, you’ve got to listen to your body. The time to rest is when you’re tired.

Charlie was telling me to check my physical gauge. Here is how I do this:

  1. Diet: Am I eating properly?
  2. Sleep: How much sleep am I getting? Is it sufficient rest? (I know I am getting sufficient rest when I am not yawning in the afternoon. What's your clue?). Click here for an interesting article on sleep.
  3. Exercise: Will my current patterns sustain a healthy and vibrant life?

Often times I ignore my body because deep down inside I have stopped believing the good news of Jesus. I bite off more than I can chew, I work much longer than I should, and I rest far less than is necessary because I am chasing something other than Jesus that I think will satisfy me (e.g. prestige, accomplishment, praise, stuff).

God instituted the Sabbath to help Israel rest. He gave us Sabbath rest so we would understand that he can do more in six days than we can do in seven days. Sabbath helps us re-focus our lives on Him.

Life is never a guaranteed "9-to-5." There will always be unusual seasons of busyness. Checking the physical tank is essential. An empty physical tank may mean you are simply in a busy season, but then again it may point to an empty heart.

The Emotional Gauge: Monitoring my joy

Automobiles, electric lights, electronic media, smart phones . . . these things make it possible for us to work 24/7. This isn't good. Running sunrise to sundown with no margins in life is going to lead to physical and emotional breakdown. If you find yourself desiring to escape, bothered by people, or walking around with a black cloud over your head, you're emotional tank is probably getting low.

For just a moment think about what happen when you take a vacation.

When you go on vacation, how long does it take for you feel "on vacation." What is the tell-tale sign? For me, it is the "Vacation Sigh of Relief." It may happen as soon as I start driving down the highway or when I finally sit back with no agenda and a good book in my hand. My body will relax and I let out a long sigh of relief: Ahhhhh!

You don't need a vacation to get the vacation sigh. What are the things you do that bring that sigh of relief? It may be a trip to the beach, enjoying a good movie, unhurried time with friends, gardening, or any of a number of things. Here are few questions to ask yourself:

  1. Am I experiencing signs of being emotionally drained: Escapism, avoiding people, negative attitude?
  2. When was the last time I did something fun?
  3. What brings the "Vacation Sigh of Relief"?
  4. Am I taking time for those things that restore me personally?

God "richly provides us with all things to enjoy" (1 Timothy 6:17 ESV). We need to remember that and take time for that.

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The Mental Gauge: Monitoring my mind

It is good to remember all of the great commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37 ESV). We love God with our minds when we grow our intellectual capacities, use the old noggin, and think Christianly.

Too many Christians have "buns of steel and minds of silly putty." Here are four questions to monitor your mental gauge:

  1. Am I spending too much time in mindless activities?
  2. Am I reading, reflecting, and growing as a Christian thinker?
  3. What book will I read this month?
  4. Am I able to "give an answer" to those who question my faith (1 Peter 3:15-16)? If not, what needs to change?

There are more than four gauges one can check. I also consider how I am living as a steward of the gifts and resources God has given me. Additionally, I like to keep tabs on my leadership. No matter how many gauges you monitor, it is essential to work into your calendar the changes you need to make.

What needs to change?

The biggest mistake people make when checking their gauges is not working necessary changes into their daily plan. If you have identified a change you need to make, you must take action. Write down what needs to change and when you will begin to work this change into your schedule. If you fail to plan, you are most certainly planning to fail. Here is an example of what this might look like:

  • Spiritual: I want to begin journaling to better chronicle the activity of God in my life. Action: Buy spiral-bound notebooks today. Get up 30 minutes earlier starting tomorrow.
  • Physical: I need to eat healthier. Action: Stop "fast food." Get a calorie counter. Reschedule my lunch appointments for restaurants with a healthier menu.
  • Emotional: I need to take a walk on the beach. Action: I will do this Saturday morning.
  • Mental: I want to begin a reading plan. Action: Identify one substantive blog that speaks to _______. Subscribe. Set aside 15 minutes at the end of my day.

For a number of years I assigned this exercise to students I taught. I required them to keep a journal (which I read) to record their progress. The single most recurring problem the students faced was recognizing what they needed to change, while failing to determine when they were going to make that change. I saw this problem again and again. Students felt uncomfortable with the intentionality I required. They wanted the change to be organic, but that just didn't happen. Good intentions do not make for transformed living. Changes must be identified and worked into the calendar of activities.

Is checking the gauges really that important? Yes, but only if you want to reach your peak!

Reaching your peak

Dr. Paul Brand was a world-renowned hand surgeon and leprosy specialist before his death in 2003. I first became aware of Dr. Brand when I read Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants, which he wrote with Philip Yancey. This recollection of Dr. Brand's life comes from the pen of Steve G. W. Moore:

I remember well when I was at my physical peak. I was 27 years old and had just finished medical school. A group of friends and I were mountain climbing and we could climb for hours. For some people, when they cross that peak, for them life is over.

I remember well my mental peak, too. I was 57 years of age and was performing groundbreaking hand surgery. All of my medical training was coming together in one place. For some people, when they cross this peak, for them life is over.

I'm now over 80 years of age. I recently realized I'm approaching another peak, my spiritual peak. All I have sought to become as a person has the opportunity to come together in wisdom, maturity, kindness, love, joy, and peace. And I realize when I cross that peak, for me, life will not be over, it will have just begun (Steve Moore, "A Graceful Goodbye," in Leadership Journal, (Summer 2002, Vol. XXIV, No. 3, Page 41).

Leadership, like life, is a long road trip. Leaders who take time to "check the gauges" and refuelenjoy the trip and don't run out of gas. God wants you to reach your peak! Stop and check the gauges.

Additional Resources:

Here are more resources for practicing self-leadership. These posts will help you with recognizing capacities and establishing a replenishment strategy. There are also some great quips and quotes to think about. God says, "Pay attention to your life" (1 Timothy 4:16). These posts will help: