Today is my 2,000th post to Devotions By Chris. In a few weeks, I will have been writing devotions for eight years. It’s taught me a lot about being faithful to what God has asked me to do. It has also taught me to redefine what success looks like when you’re doing what God has asked you to do. Success in God’s eyes isn’t measured by subscribers or by clicks. It’s measured by our faithfulness to the ministry we receive from Him. Success is found in being faithful in the little things and doing what He’s asked with all your strength whether you understand the reason or not. Can you obey and be faithful even when it’s difficult and you don’t understand?
My pastor said something that is along these lines. He said, “If you ask God for an Oak tree, He’ll give you an acorn.” God plants seeds of the things He’s calling us to in our hearts. We have to water them and tend to them even when we can’t see anything. Even when it shouts through the ground, you have to stick with it even though it may be years before it’s what you’ve envisioned. In Luke16:10 Jesus tells us that if we’re faithful with the little things, He can trust us with greater things. Managing the growth of an acorn can be tedious at times and unremarkable. No one may notice your efforts or the small steps of growth, but you’re not doing it for others or for those reasons. You’re doing it because it’s what God planted in your heart.
As Paul was wrapping up his letter to the church at Colossae, he tucked in a little note to a minister who may have been thinking of giving up because he wasn’t seeing the growth or success he thought he should. In Colossians 4:17 he told the believers, “Be sure you give Archippus this message: ‘Be faithful to complete the ministry you received from our Lord Jesus!’” (TPT) That’s today’s message to you. Be faithful to what you have received from the Lord even if it doesn’t look like you pictured it. Keep going even if you’re not being successful in the world’s eyes. Your faithfulness is noticed by God, and He counts your obedience as success. You may not change the world, get noticed by anyone or even feel like you’re making a difference at times, but if you will keep doing your part, God will keep doing His.
One of the stories on the Bible that speaks to me every time is in 1 Samuel 1. Hannah wasn’t able to have a child so she was ridiculed, taunted, bullied and shamed. Year after year this went on. One year she had enough. Instead of attacking her bully, she went into the Sanctuary to pray. She wept bitterly before God, crying out in prayer for a long time. As she prayed, her lips were moving, but the words were coming from her heart. She wasn’t leaving until God answered her prayer for a son.
Verse 10 says, “Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord” (NLT). One of the first questions that comes to my mind is, “When is the last time I prayed with that kind of desperation?” Most of our prayers are simple ones with little emotion. I believe one of the reasons God answered Hannah’s prayer, and will answer ours, is because it was fervent and came from deep within her soul, not just her mind.
Verse 12 says, “Hannah continued to pray to the Lord for a long time” (GNT). I’ve heard the saying, “Don’t pray until you’re through. Pray until you’ve prayed through.” This is where it is applied. Too many times, we ask God for something and when He doesn’t answer right away, we quit praying. Hannah didn’t just pray for a long time, she prayed a long time for years. God uses her internal torment to develop a life of prayer. She wasn’t going to stop until she got her answer. One of the reasons God answered her prayer, and will answer ours, is because of persistence.
After the Eli, the priest, had told her God would answer her prayer, verse 18 says, “Then she went back and began to eat again, and she was no longer sad” (NLT). Hannah believed God would answer and acted accordingly. She didn’t let the years of God not answering prayer create doubt. She held onto the promise and acted in faith before God answered. She quit believing the words of the bully and held onto God’s Word instead. One of the reasons God answered her prayer, and will answer ours, is when we act in faith.
Throwback Thursday is a feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other writing ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.
Almost every measure of success has to do what some type of key performance indicator. People judge your success by how much money you make or how many items you sell. We brag about how many hours we work each week too. Somewhere along the way, we have also made busyness an indicator of success. The more busy you are, the more successful you must be. We’ve just about made busyness equal to godliness. Our constant for us is on what are we producing today. Because people measure us by our outputs, we focus solely on those, but how are your inputs?
Jesus was a busy person by all accounts. Thousands would come to Him to hear Him preach and to be healed. The Bible often says that He had compassion on them and healed them all. The output of His ministry was strong, but that is because He focused so much energy on His inputs. You constantly read where Jesus went alone to pray. He knew that if all He did was focus on His outputs, He would burn out and have nothing left to give. If He needed to replenish His innermost being, how much more do we? You can’t keep giving without putting anything back inside. Inputs matter.
Proverbs 4:23 says, “Pay attention to the welfare of your innermost being, for from there flows the wellspring of life” (TPT). Your wellspring of life depends on you focusing on your inputs. Every one of us have different ways of recharging. For some, it’s solitude. For some, it’s going for a walk. Think of the times you feel most energized. What we’re you doing? Those are things that keep you going and need to be scheduled into your life regularly. Life drains everyone. We all must pay attention to our inner health if we’re going to be able to accomplish all God has for us. Jesus found the balance between being about His father’s business and recharging. So can you.
When I was a teenager, I was part of a scouting program at church. One of the things that was taught to us each week was the code of core values that each one of us were to adopt into our lives. To this day, I can recite all eight, and still try to live by them. The very first one was, “Alert – He is mentally, physically and spiritually alert.” I believe there is deep significance in this one for everyone, and that we should all live by it. To be mentally alert is to pay attention and to guard our mind. We have to be careful what we all into it. To be physically alert is to pay attention to our surroundings so we can keep ourselves and others out of danger. Spiritually alert is very similar. Instead of looking into the physical realm, we need to be alert to things happening in the spiritual realm.
Jesus and several authors of the New Testament warm us to be alert, to pay attention and to be vigilant. Each one of us must be aware of danger and opportunities around us. We’re not mean to drift along life being carried by its current. We must live intentional lives paying attention. We are to fight the enemy when he shows up, rescue the lost when our paths cross and ready to give an answer for the hope that lives within us. We cannot let our guard down ever. When we do, our enemy will strike or we may miss an opportunity to lead someone to salvation. Being alert is a core value that every Christian must have and incorporate into their lives.
Here are some Bible verses on being alert.
1. Be sober [well balanced and self-disciplined], be alert and cautious at all times. That enemy of yours, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion [fiercely hungry], seeking someone to devour.
1 Peter 5:8 AMP
2. But since we belong to the day, we must stay alert and clearheaded by placing the breastplate of faith and love over our hearts, and a helmet of the hope of salvation over our thoughts.
1 Thessalonians 5:8 TPT
3. Remember to stay alert and hold firmly to all that you believe. Be mighty and full of courage.
1 Corinthians 16:13 TPT
4. Just make sure you stay alert. Keep close watch over yourselves. Don’t forget anything of what you’ve seen. Don’t let your heart wander off. Stay vigilant as long as you live. Teach what you’ve seen and heard to your children and grandchildren.
Deuteronomy 4:9 MSG
5. Do all this in prayer, asking for God’s help. Pray on every occasion, as the Spirit leads. For this reason keep alert and never give up; pray always for all God’s people.
When my son was a new born, my wife and I decided we didn’t want him to learn the behavior of crying for what he wanted. That started with the very first thing that babies learn to cry for – milk. We began to pay attention to his movements and sounds around feeding times so we could anticipate when he was hungry. As we noticed them, we would begin to warm up some milk and feed him. However, there were times when we were busy and missed his cues. In those moments, he would let us know he was hungry and ready for milk through his only means of communication- crying. The best part was when he began to hold his own bottle. Later, we was able to crawl to the bottle when he was hungry and began the maturation process of feeding himself.
As Christians, we go through a maturity process as well. When we first accept Jesus as our savior, we are merely spiritual infants. We need the milk of God’s Word to help us grow. We need to learn simple concepts that are easily digestible. As we mature, we should graduate to more difficult concepts and spiritual disciplines. Just like a baby, there is a transformation that takes place in our lives. Our inner faith should grow as we mature and learn how to reconcile our inward faith with our public life. As we drink the milk of God’s Word, it begins to change how we live so that our lives become more Christ like.
1 Peter 2:2 says, “In the same way that nursing infants cry for milk, you must intensely crave the pure spiritual milk of God’s Word. For this “milk” will cause you to grow into maturity, fully nourished and strong for life” (TPT). Each of us need to own our own maturation process. It’s not the responsibility of the church to grow us. We must intensely crave spiritual food Monday through Saturday and learn to feed ourselves. Reading God’s Word daily puts food into our spirit. Meditating on verses is like the chewing process. It breaks it down and releases nutrients that are vital to your growth. Wherever you are in your maturation process, there’s always room for more growth that fully nourishes your soul and leads you into a stronger spiritual life.
Several years ago I was in charge of a fundraiser for a mission trip at our church. We had someone volunteer to make brisket for us, so we sold tickets ahead of the event. After we got the final number of tickets in, the man cooking the brisket gave me the shopping list including how much brisket. As I was buying the brisket, I believed we would sell more brisket than we had sold tickets for. When I got to the counter to order the briskets, I asked for an additional case. If you’re unfamiliar with that, it’s about 60 lbs of more meat that we would need to sell. Many people who bought tickets failed to show up for their meat though. We had a ton left over so I asked the pastor if we could sell after church. My wife looked at all the meat and said, “I hope God honors your faith because I don’t see how we can sell all of this.”
As Christians, we must daily choose whether we’re going to let fear hold us back or let faith guide us. There are so many decisions we have to make, some with long lasting effects. We can shrink back in fear of the unknown or we can step out in trust of what God will do. Hebrews 10:38 says that God is not happy with those who let fear hold them back. I don’t want to live a life that doesn’t make my Heavenly Father happy so I choose to live and walk by faith even though it isn’t easy. When you live by faith, you never know for certain if or when God will jump in to help. There are a lot of “God, where are you? Now would be a good time to show up” moments. But, as the psalmist said, “I’ve never seen the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging for bread (Psalm 37:25).”
I like how Hebrews 10:39 describes the life we’re to live. It says, “But we are certainly not those who are held back by fear and perish; we are among those who have faith and experience true life!” (TPT) You and I cannot be people who are held back by fear. We are people who advance by faith. Either we believe what we say or we don’t. Our actions will always be consistent with what we truly believe. I’ve chosen to move forward despite fear. Living by faith doesn’t mean you’re not afraid. It means you chose not to let it hold you back from your God given purpose. Faith takes a deep breath and makes the decision to go forward in spite of the fear in your belly, and God honors that kind of faith.
By the way, all that brisket sold out in a matter of minutes after church and doubled what we had raised through ticket sales.
Years ago when my mom passed away, there was an endless line of sympathetic people saying they were sorry for my loss. I was grateful for their words and actions, but inside I was wanting something more. I didn’t need an apology from friends and acquaintances. What I realized I needed was empathy from someone who understood what it was like to lose a parent at a young age. When I found people like that, it was a completely different feeling and conversation. It wasn’t an apology. It was a, “I understand the hurt and the pain. You’re going to get through this. Here’s what got me through and what it’s going to be like in the near future,” conversation. It was like a breath of fresh air to me because they understood.
There are times when it’s hard to pray because of the things we’re going through. We wonder how could God understand? Should we really be feeling this way? Prayer was never meant to be a set of rote phrases. It was created so we could have a conversation with God, but sometimes it feels like we’re the only ones who have ever gone through something or have been the only one who has experienced something. Those feelings are lies from the enemy and are meant to isolate you from others and to keep you from praying to God. When I hear those lies, I have to remind myself that while my experience may be unique, I’m not the only one who has go e through something like it, nor am I the only one who has felt the feelings I feel.
To open up communication with God, I remind myself that Hebrews 2:18 says, “Because He Himself [in His humanity] has suffered in being tempted, He is able to help and provide immediate assistance to those who are being tempted and exposed to suffering” (AMP). Not only does Jesus understand, He can provide immediate assistance to us in those moments where we desperately need someone who understands us. He doesn’t think we’re crazy for the feelings we have or the things that tempt us. He knows they’re part of the human experience because He lived a human life and was tempted and felt loss the way we do. God is not sympathetic to what you go through. He’s empathetic which is greater. That should be like a breath of fresh air to each of us.