We recently cleaned out our garage. I threw a lot of things away that I had held onto for years. I kept thinking, “At some point, I valued these things enough to spend money on them. Then later, I valued them enough to store them.” The next week, my mother in law did the same thing. I helped her throw away a couple of truck loads. On the road, she said, “It’s better for me to do this now. I don’t want my kids having to go through all this one day when I die.” We spend a lifetime working so we can buy things, most of which devalue over time. Then what? Someone has to go through them and determine whether to keep them, donate them or throw them away. Did what we mattered to us in this lifetime matter for eternity?
The psalmist who wrote Psalm 39 started thinking about the end of their life. In verse 6, they wrote, “We are merely moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing. We heap up wealth, not knowing who will spend it” (NLT). They stated wondering if what they had been pursuing had been worth it. If you back up a couple of verses, they prayed, “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered— how fleeting my life is.” What a great prayer. We forget that this life isn’t all there is. We spend so much time in this life preparing for it, trying to live well and live as comfortably as possible that we forget to think about eternity. It’s like the couple getting married spending all their time preparing for a wedding when they should be preparing for a marriage.
What are you preparing for in this life? Are you keeping eternity in focus? I admit that it’s hard to do. The pressures of this life are so real and present that I spend a lot of time thinking about them. It was the daily pressures that got this psalmist to turn their attention to eternity though. Are we allowing the pressures of the temporary things to take our mind off of the eternal? Are we spending too much time and money on things that others will throw away or donate? I used to have a small poem up that said, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” It was my daily reminder to pursue the eternal things and to not get so caught up in the affairs of this life that I fail to prepare for the next. Where is your focus today? What’s distracting you from looking at eternity? It’s good to ask God to remind you how brief this life is.
One of the things I don’t like to reveal about myself is how little I need to study in order to memorize things. In school, I didn’t have to stay up all night before a test. I simply needed to read my notes once and I was good. Sometimes I could go to someone in my class, ask for the flash cards they made and read them from my locker to the class in order to do well on the test. The ones who have to sit, read and pore over facts hated that studying came easy to me so I began to hide it. I still have to study things if I’m going to put them in my brain, but it just requires a lot less effort than it does for other people. The other thing is that once I’ve memorized it, I usually don’t forget it.
Part of our Christian growth is to study God’s Word. Each one of us must take time to dig in, memorize it, break it down and learn it. The methods you used in school will be helpful to you in studying what God has said. You have to look at things in context, understand the culture, know the writer and look at the different ways the words were used in their original language. Studying takes effort and time no matter who you are. Over and over in Scripture we are told to study the Bible so we will have better understanding, be better teachers, be more mature in our faith, experience growth and ultimately have success in life. How much studying have you been doing lately? We live in the Information Age. So much is available to us to study God’s Word. Don’t just read God’s Word, study it to show yourself approved who can rightly divide the word of truth.
Here are some Bible verses on studying God’s Word.
1. I’m asking GOD for one thing, only one thing: To live with him in his house my whole life long. I’ll contemplate his beauty; I’ll study at his feet.
Psalm 27:4 MSG
2. If you point out these instructions to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished [through study] on the words of the faith and of the good [Christian] doctrine which you have closely followed.
1 Timothy 4:6 AMP
3. Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.
Joshua 1:8 NLT
4. “Study and do your best to present yourself to God approved, a workman [tested by trial] who has no reason to be ashamed, accurately handling and skillfully teaching the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15 AMP
5. I study your instructions; I examine your teachings.
I’ve got a friend who doesn’t like to go to the doctor. He says, “Every time I go, they find something wrong.” Isn’t that the point? If there’s something wrong, wouldn’t you want to know about it? For some people, if the problem isn’t exposed, it doesn’t exist. So if they don’t go to doctor and have the tests run, they aren’t really sick. That’s the wrong way to think about things. If you have a sickness and there’s a cure, wouldn’t you want that sickness exposed so the disease doesn’t run its course?
To some of you, what I just described sounds crazy. Others of you can identify with it. Whichever side you’re on, the truth is that many of us think the way my friend does when it comes to sin in our lives. We don’t want to shed light on it or expose it, much less have a test run to prove it exists in our body. If there’s something wrong spiritually with you, wouldn’t you want to know about it? Wouldn’t you want to get it cured?
David fell into the group that wanted to go to the doctor often and have tests run to make sure nothing was wrong. In Psalm 26:2 he prayed, “Examine me, GOD, from head to foot, order your battery of tests. Make sure I’m fit inside and out” (MSG). He wasn’t afraid to have God shine His light into every dark corner of his life. He knew that sin likes to lay hidden in our lives unexposed. It tells us to pretend we are perfect and nothing is wrong. The truth is that all of us are infected with sin, and the way we rid ourselves of it is to expose it to the light of God’s Word.
If we truly want to live the lives God has called us to, we can’t be afraid to go to The Doctor and have Him test our lives. God will not condemn us for having Him expose our sins. Instead, He will be faithful to forgive us and to lead us down His paths. We can’t be afraid that He will find something wrong with us or what others will think. There’s a cure for the sin that’s holding us back and it’s free. Jesus already paid the price for our sin and has written out the prescription. Ask God today to examine you so you can be fit inside and out.
Throwback Thursday is a feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.
I have a friend who is both a pilot and a flight instructor. Being a trainer myself, I asked him about ways he helps people to remember things. He shared that two things he tries to teach pilots are to trust the instruments and also to go to the manual when there’s a problem. He said that many pilots have died because they trusted what they thought they saw instead of the instruments. They have special visors that block the pilots view of everything except the instruments to teach them to trust them. To teach them to go to the manual, he distracts them mid flight, then he shuts off the engines when their not looking. He lets them panic until they remember to go to the manual. Once they do that, they go through their checklist, find the problem and restart the engines. It’s a lesson they never forget.
Both of those are great lessons for us to remember as well. We can’t trust what we feel or even see with our eyes. Feelings lie to us and manipulate us. They’re there as warning signs, but if we constantly live by our feelings, we’ll have a miserable life. We live in an age where people believe truth is relative to the individual. What’s true for me may not be true for you. Living like that is like flying by what you see and not by the instruments. It’s dangerous. Jesus said He was the way, the truth and the life. He is the absolute truth that we must use to guide our lives with beyond our feelings. He told us that we’re going to have trouble and face things that will cause us to want to lose faith, but He also said that He has overcome the world and will give us peace. We get that peace when we trust Him more than what we feel or see.
We’ve also been given an instruction manual in the Bible. It is also absolute truth. When the engines of our life shut off and we start to nose dive, go to the manual God gave us. I love how Philippians 4:8 starts. It says, “Fix your thoughts on what is true” (NLT). Don’t let fear dictate your thoughts and actions. Compare everything to what is true. If it’s not true, don’t give it space in your head. What God says is more true than your situational feelings. Fix your mind on God’s absolute truth and not on your feelings. Fix your mind on the truth of God’s Word and not what others tell you is true. This takes discipline, but it gives you peace when everything seems to be falling apart. Jesus has not abandoned you or forgotten you. He’s right there in the cockpit of life with you reminding you to trust His instruments and His Word to get you through.
Imagine this scene. You’re in the kitchen trying to cook dinner. You have one child asking you for help with homework. Another child is in the high chair crying wanting something to eat because they just dumped their bowl of food on the floor. The TV is on and it’s turned up loud. Your phone then starts ringing. Just then you have a friend walk in. They survey all that’s going on, give a chuckle, sit down on the couch and ask when dinner is going to be ready. Can you imagine how that would make you feel? How would that change if your friend walked in, surveyed the situation and started helping? What if they picked up the spilled dinner and started to feed the baby to stop the crying? Even though they are a guest, you would be grateful to have them jump in and help.
Unfortunately, many of us are like the friend who comes in, sees everything going on at your church and sits down. Why would you help? You’re a guest, not a staff member. You can see there are things that need to be done, but it’s not your job. You’re there to get fed. The disciples had a similar mentality on the night of the Last Supper. A couple went ahead to prepare everything while the rest showed up expecting to just eat. However, they forgot one important detail. They forgot to get someone to wash everyone’s feet. Everyone was aware of the mistake, but no one did anything. They were arguing over who was the greatest instead. It was at that time that Jesus took off his outer garment, put on an apron and grabbed a towel. He saw what needed to be done, even though He had a lot on His mind that He needed to say, He washed their feet.
Having been at that dinner, Peter wrote 1 Peter 5:5 that says, “And all of you must put on the apron of humility, to serve one another; for the scripture says, ‘God resists the proud, but shows favor to the humble’” (GNT). Peter makes no exceptions in this verse. “All of you must put on the apron of humility.” None of us are above serving or helping others at home, at church or wherever you go. People all around us need help, but we have to lose the me first mentality if we’re going to serve others like Jesus. He knew that Judas would betray Him that night, yet He washed his feet and served Him dinner anyway. That is our example of putting on the apron of humility. It’s not about us or how uncomfortable we feel. It’s about showing the love of Christ to those who least deserve it because it was shown to us when we least deserved it. We must learn to serve others better if we’re going to be more Christlike.
Chris Hodges, pastor of Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, likes to say that the systems in your life are designed perfectly to take you where you are today. If you want to change your direction or outcomes, you will need to change the systems you have in place. If you want to climb Mount Everest, you would need systems in your life that would prepare you physically and mentally to make such a climb. Climbing Everest is a pipe dream for most people because all it is is a dream to them. When it becomes a goal, that’s when you put a system in place to begin accomplishing it. The things that you are accomplishing right now are a result of the goals you have in your life whether they’re conscious goals or not. What you are accomplishing right now is a result of what you pursue. If you don’t like the results you’re getting, change what you pursue or the systems you have in place.
In Matthew 6:21 Jesus put it this way, “For your heart will always pursue what you value as your treasure” (TPT). Too many times, you and I are valuing the wrong things or we’re not valuing the things we should enough. When we’re easily distracted or constantly changing our mind, we find ourselves going in circles in life. We’re constantly moving, but find we’re going nowhere or we’re way off target. The things we have and where we are in life are based on what we pursue, value and think about most. Brian Tracy says that we are like a magnet in that we attract things into our life based on our most dominant thoughts. If we want to change the things in our life, we must change our thoughts.
Proverbs 4:23 says, “So above all, guard the affections of your heart, for they affect all that you are. Pay attention to the welfare of your innermost being, for from there flows the wellspring of life.” The Good News Translation says, “Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts.” What are you pursuing right now? Is it money, better cars, better relationships, a closer walk with God? What do you think about most? Paying your bills, a better life, how to make more money or bringing God’s Kingdom to earth? Are your thoughts and pursuits of your heart in line with what God wants? If not, begin to change what you think about and pursue. Ask God to show you what He wants you to value and think about. The systems in your life may be great at getting you the things you want, but they’re ultimately unsuccessful if they’re not valuing what God does.
For years I was trained to teach others using the SHWIRPPA model. It turns out that if you just see or read something, you will only retain about 10%. If you just hear it, you will retain about 20%. When you observe something, you will retain about 30%. If you read it and hear it, you will retain up to 50%. It increases to 75% if you repeatedly write it, and if you practice it often, you will retain up to 90%. All my teachings and trainings then couldn’t just be me lecturing because the learner would only retain about 20%. What I have to do is include practices built into my classes so that the person in the room could retain almost all the information that I gave. The simple act of giving them the opportunity to apply what they had learned through a role play or practice exponentially increased their ability to remember and change their behavior.
It’s no wonder that James told us to not just be hearers of the Word (20% retention), but doers of the Word (90%). Becoming a Christian is not just about gaining knowledge or learning about God, it’s about becoming a new creation and changing our life. We can spend hours reading the Bible or other books about how to live the life God called us to, but until we interpret it and apply it, we will forget most of what we read or learn. Putting what you’ve learned into practice is a key element to growth. Try to remember last week’s sermon. How much do you remember from it? If you didn’t go out and apply the message, you probably don’t remember much. It’s time each of us began to own our growth by looking for ways to apply all we’ve learned so we can become more Christ-like each day.
Here are some Bible verses on practicing what you’ve learned.
1. Practice these things and devote yourself to them, in order that your progress may be seen by all.
1 Timothy 4:15 GNT
2. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:9 NLT
3. Practice God’s law—get a reputation for wisdom; hang out with a loose crowd—embarrass your family.
Proverbs 28:7 MSG
4. Blessed are those who observe justice [by honoring God’s precepts], Who practice righteousness at all times.
Psalms 106:3 AMP
5. What good does it do for you to say I am your Lord and Master if what I teach you is not put into practice? Let me describe the one who truly follows me and does what I say. He is like a man who chooses the right place to build a house and then lays a deep and secure foundation. When the storms and floods rage against that house, it continues to stand strong and unshaken through the tempest, for it has been wisely built on the right foundation.
When we go through hard times, we all want to know why. What did we do to deserve it? Why does it have to last so long? Did God abandon us? Has He forgotten us? How much more can we endure before we break? These are all questions we think about when we go through the fire of trials. It’s been my experience that it’s not until well after that I begin to get any insight into it, if at all. So why does God allow us to face unbearable conditions?
In a word, it’s transformational. There can be no transformation in our lives without hard times. They mold us, purify us and move us from one place to another. As my nephew says, “No pressure, no diamond.” The problem is, we want the diamond without the pressure. We want the transformation without the trial. We want strength without having to endure heavy lifting. We want things now instead of later, but that’s not how God works, nor is it how we were designed.
In Psalm 66:10-12 it says, “You have tested us, O God; you have purified us like silver. You captured us in your net and laid the burden of slavery on our backs. Then you put a leader over us. We went through fire and flood, but you brought us to a place of great abundance” (NLT). It was God who tested them, put a heavy burden on them and sent them through the fire and flood. He does the same to us today. It’s not fun, it hurts and it’s hard to get through at times, but God has a plan.
As the psalmist wrote, He’s purifying us in order to bring us to a place of abundance. You can’t get to the abundance without going through the purification of fire. When those times come remember that if you will endure it, God is working it out for your good. He’s bringing you to a place that you could never get to without having gone through it. Also remember his promise in Isaiah 42:3, “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” He’s there with you in these times and won’t let them crush you. Hang in there, abundance is coming.
Throwback Thursday is a feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.
A quote that has been floating around social media for a while says, “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life thinking it’s stupid.” How many of us have spent our lives thinking we’re stupid, not talented or have no skills to speak of? We usually think that when we compare a skill we lack in with someone who is above average in it. Yes, there are certain skills and talents that get people’s attention more than others. If your skills are not celebrated the same way, it doesn’t mean you don’t have them or are not as good or better than others in some area. Each of us have certain gifts and talents that we’re naturally good at. Each of us have been through unique experiences that have educated us in those areas more than others.
Another quote I like is from Ralph Waldo Emerson. He said, “In my walks, every person I meet is my superior in some way, in that I learn from him.” He changed how he looked at people by recognizing that each person is talented in different ways making himself available to learn from them instead of being intimidated by them. When we compare our desired talents with someone else’s natural talent, we will feel inferior and useless. That’s not how God made you. You have been uniquely gifted and given a purpose on this earth by God. If you spend your life trying to fulfill someone else’s purpose wishing you had their gifts, you will never be fulfilled and feel stupid like the fish mentioned above.
Paul wrote in Galatians 6:4-5, “Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life” (MSG). If you’ve found your calling, sink yourself into it and be excellent at it. Don’t spend your life wishing you had a different calling. If you haven’t found yours yet, there are assessments you can take (spiritual giftings, DISC and Myers Briggs*) that can help you see how you’re wired by God. Make careful exploration of who you are, find the work you’ve been given to do and do your best at it. That’s what God is asking of you. He’s not comparing you to others, so you shouldn’t either.
I’ve watched the movie “Greater” a couple of times this year. It’s the faith based story of Brandon Burlsworth who is considered the greatest walk-on in college football history. He had everything working against him, but he persisted. One coach told him since he didn’t have talent, he was going to have to work harder than anyone else. He was first to show up and last to leave. At one point, he got a new coach and the coach found him practicing his footwork when the practice field was closed. The coach asked him if his previous coaches let him do that. Brandon replied that they never knew he did it. The coach said, “Well, they say character is what you do when no one’s looking.” Brandon quickly replied, “Someone’s always looking.”
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church, he was reminding them that they were going to go through hard times. In chapter 6, let them know that how they respond matters. Verse 4 says, “Our work as God’s servants gets validated—or not—in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly… in hard times, tough times, bad times” (MSG). That phrase, “gets validated – or not – in the details” jumped off the page at me. In hard times, it’s more important than ever to focus on the details of our spiritual growth. We must continue to read and study God’s Word, spend time in prayer and fasting, share our faith and put into practice what we know. It’s those daily disciplines that help us to stay our post when times get tough.
Brandon Burlsworth was only able to achieve what he did because he continued with his daily disciplines no matter what. It’s easy to make excuses right now and to slack off on our relationship with Christ, but now is the time we need to go deeper in that relationship. People are watching how you and I respond to the crisis the world is in. Are we rising to the challenge or are we succumbing to “the new normal”? We must stay at our post, stronger than ever, giving people hope and pointing them to the One who gives peace in troubled times. Our work – our faith – gets validated in the daily details and exposed under pressure. Today’s climate is the time for us to step up, not back, and to stand firm in the power of His might. I believe God is calling us into a deeper relationship with Him than ever before. The way to that relationship and spiritual maturity is in the details of your daily spiritual disciplines.