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An Empathetic God

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.

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A Useless Life

Have you ever considered what your epitaph might say? There are some pretty unique ones out there. There are some funny ones like Merv Griffin’s that says, “I will not be right back after this message.” Others are more sentimental expressing love for family. Some denote anger because they felt abandoned in their final days by those they loved. Epitaphs can be as unique as the individual, but one epitaph I have never seen reads, “Here lies a person who lived a useless life.” The truth is that what’s not done for eternity and others is often useless. The last thing I would ever want is to have lived my life only to get to Heaven and find out my life had been useless for God’s Kingdom.

The book of Titus is not a book most of us know well. However, in it Paul gives instructions on the importance of discipleship and teaching others how to live for God. In his closing statements, in Titus 3:14, Paul writes, “Our people must learn to spend their time doing good, in order to provide for real needs; they should not live useless lives” (GNT). One translation says, “unproductive lives.” God’s idea of a productive and useful life is one that helps others find Him, provides for the needs of others and brings people into a mature faith. I know that doesn’t encompass all of it, but Paul’s message to Titus was that he should be doing these things and helping other believers to do them as well.

1 Corinthians 3:13 says, “And the quality of each person’s work will be seen when the Day of Christ exposes it. For on that Day fire will reveal everyone’s work; the fire will test it and show its real quality.” That Fire will reveal whether we lived useful or useless lives. Every one of us will stand before Jesus on that day with our lives and the things we did presented to Him as an offering. Will the things you’re doing now survive that fire? We must live our lives with that fire in mind. There’s an old poem by C.T. Studd that reminds us, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” If you haven’t been living with the end in mind, you can start today and still have an offering that will survive that fire and show your life wasn’t useless.

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Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Trust in the Lord completely, and do not rely on your own opinions.

With all your heart rely on him to guide you, and he will lead you in every decision you make.

Proverbs 3:5 TPT

Today, as a nation, we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. He is best remembered for his work in the Civil Rights movement and his “I Have a Dream” speech. Having studied his life, his speech and the Civil Rights movement, I’ve learned a lot about him. Just like you and I, he had many flaws, he made some poor choices and at one point lacked direction in his life. His father was a minister and felt like he was supposed to go into the ministry too, but King wanted to be a lawyer or a doctor. As a young man coming out of college, he struggled with his faith and his future.

After thinking about it, he decided that the Bible had many profound truths that he could not escape. He decided to go to seminary in order to become a minister. Those years in seminary helped shape his public speaking and understanding of Scripture. I believe they have him the ability to say what so many were feeling and didn’t have the ability to express. They gave him the means to energize a people who had been emancipated for a hundred years, yet hadn’t seen a day of freedom since. Because of that decision to go to seminary instead of being a doctor or a lawyer, he changed the course of a nation and a people.

You and I are faced with struggles and difficult life decisions too. You may not think that you will change the course of a nation by the decisions you make today, but you could. I’m sure he didn’t think it mattered as much as it did what he studied as a post graduate. Our decisions have lasting impacts. Sometimes they change us or our family, but they could change our neighborhood, our city, our state or our country. What you do in life matters. The decisions you make shouldn’t be made lightly. Imagine a world where he would have been a doctor. He still would have saved lives, but not nearly as many.

When it came down to it, he made his decisions based on the truths of the Bible. That means he read it for counsel. You and I should be doing the same thing when it comes to our decisions. Instead of finding out what God thinks, we go and ask family and friends what they think. Instead of wondering about the spiritual impact to our lives, we base decisions on the monetary impacts. God’s calling on your life may not make sense at the time, it may take a while to fulfill or even seem so big that you could never accomplish it. That’s ok because He’s not asking you to accomplish His plan for your life in your own strength. He is looking for your obedience.

What decision is weighing you down today? Have you looked to God’s Word for help or to the wisdom of man? You don’t have to be afraid when you act in obedience to what God told you. Don’t look for others to try to give you every reason why you shouldn’t do what God called you to do. Look to God for guidance on your next step and trust that His decisions for your life are far better than the decisions you could ever make for yourself. Who knows, the decisions you make today regarding your calling could change the nation tomorrow.

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Standing Your Ground

I used to love playing King of the Hill. The struggle to maintain your position while people try to knock you off balance was fun for me. You’d have to brace yourself when you saw someone coming at you. The other thing you had to be good at was deflecting them as they hit you. Using their momentum against them was always to securing your spot on the hill. Inevitably you’re knocked off the spot, and then someone else occupies what was once yours. When that happens, it’s time to go on the offensive so you can take it back. It’s the classic game of standing your ground.

As Christians, our enemy roams around like a lion trying to intimidate us so we will back down and give up ground. Sometimes he comes at us with a full on assault doing everything he can to get us to give up ground, but like Jesus, we can hold our ground during these times by using the Word of God. We are to hold up our shield of faith in God’s Word when these attacks come. We need to use the whole armor God gave us to stand up to the devil when he is trying to take ground. It also takes a strong will and determination to stand up and say, “No more! I refuse to give up this land. You cannot have it!” I believe the Holy Spirit, who is our sword, gives us the courage and the strength to stand up and fight back. We have all authority through Jesus’ name, so stand up to the devil, resist his advances and he will flee.

Here are some Bible verses on standing your ground.

1. So then, surrender to God. Stand up to the devil and resist him and he will turn and run away from you.

James (Jacob) 4:7 TPT

2. Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.

1 Peter 5:8-9 NLT

3. With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.

1 Corinthians 15:58 MSG

4. Wickedness does not give security, but righteous people stand firm.

Proverbs 12:3 GNT

5. Put on the full armor of God [for His precepts are like the splendid armor of a heavily-armed soldier], so that you may be able to [successfully] stand up against all the schemes and the strategies and the deceits of the devil.

Ephesians 6:11 AMP

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Stand Strong

One of my favorite people in the Bible is Gideon. I’m reminded of his story so often because I find myself in need of all the lessons it teaches. In Judges 6, the Bible explains that times were bad in Israel. The Midianites were destroying crops, killing animals and harassing the Israelites. There wasn’t anything anyone could do to stop them. The Israelites lived in fear because of all the bad things that were happening. If they had grain, they had to thresh it in hiding. If they had goats, they had to keep them hidden. Anything in the open would be taken.

Gideon was threshing his grain in the bottom of a wine press so no one would see him. An angel appeared and called out to him, “Mighty hero, The Lord is with you.” Gideon, who was hiding because he was afraid of the Midianites, didn’t think twice about the angel calling him a hero. What caught his attention was that the angel said, “The Lord is with you.” He took a double take at the angel and must have thought this guy didn’t know much. How could he say that when so many bad things were happening?

He confronted the angel and asked, “If The Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?” Have you ever felt that way? When everything in life is going wrong and you feel abandoned by God. It’s an uncomfortable place. A dark place. Fear of the future grips your mind. You find yourself constantly worrying about things that you have no control over. You feel like God has forgotten you or worse, abandoned you in need. Your mind tells you that God doesn’t care. That He doesn’t see you in your pain.

In this verse, the angel reminds us that God’s presence in our lives isn’t proven by our circumstances. Our lives can be falling apart and God can still be with us. We’ve somehow come to believe that God is with us when things are good and has abandoned us when times are bad. His presence is with you no matter what. He is with you even when you can see His hand or feel His presence. He is with you when your life is so dark that you can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. He is not only with you, He’s preparing you for greatness in those times. Greatness doesn’t come from an easy life. It’s forged in the darkness and in the fire.

Whatever you are facing today, I say to you, “Mighty hero, The Lord is with you!” You may not feel like a hero, but you’re still standing through everything. You may not feel like The Lord is with you, but He has never left your side. He has been standing next to you through everything you have faced and everything you will face because He will not abandon you. He will not forsake you. He will not forget you. He will deliver you when the timing is right. He will lead you to better times when you have learned all He wants to show you in the dark. Stand strong today because The Lord is with you.

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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.

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Keep Failing

Several years ago I decided I was ready for the next step in my career. I wanted to be the General Manager of a retail store. I put on my suit, rehearsed answers of my achievements, thought of people I had helped get promoted and confidently walked into the interview. The District Manager followed the script for a little while then said, “I hate these questions. They don’t really tell me anything. Tell me about a time when you failed.” I sat there with a blank face. My heart was pounding. I thought, “A failure? Why does he want to know about my failures? Is he trying to keep me from the job?” As I searched for a good failure, I asked him to repeat the question. I gave him a failure when everything turned out good, but he wasn’t satisfied. He wanted one where I crashed and burned because he wanted to see how I responded to it.

Our past failures are something that so many of us try to hide. In fact, we are so afraid of failure that we typically won’t ever put ourselves in a position to fail at doing something. We try to stick with what we know so we’re always succeeding. What I’ve learned, and the point my District Manager was trying to find out if I knew is that failure is the greatest teacher. It is also the path to grace. If we never fail, we have no need for grace. If we never try to do something beyond our abilities, we also keep our faith small by never trusting God to do something through us. God rarely calls us to do things that we can do in our own strength and abilities because He knows pride is always knocking on our door waiting to take credit for our successes. But, when we do things beyond our abilities, it forces us to seek and rely on Him.

James 1:5 says, “And if anyone longs to be wise, ask God for wisdom and he will give it! He won’t see your lack of wisdom as an opportunity to scold you over your failures but he will overwhelm your failures with his generous grace” (TPT). God doesn’t ridicule our failures. He’s not waiting to strike us down when we fail either. He sees them as opportunities to grow us and to lavish His grace on us. When we’re called to something greater than our abilities, seek His wisdom first, then step out in faith and do it. If you fail, it doesn’t mean you didn’t hear God or that He didn’t come through for you. It quite often means you and God have two different definitions of failure and success. Don’t let what you think is a failure keep you down. Get back up, trust His grace and keep walking in faith because to keep playing things safe is truly a failure.

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Rule #1

If you’ve ever run a race, or at least watched a race, you know that the number one thing you shouldn’t do is look over your shoulder behind you. Why? First, when you look back, it creates wind drag and slows you down. Secondly, it’s hard to run in a straight line if you’re looking back. When you step out of your lane, in most races, it will disqualify you. Thirdly, and I think most importantly, it creates a negative mindset. What is driving you to look back? Fear. You’re afraid that someone else is gaining on you. That mentality distracts you from running your own race. You are no longer running to win. Instead, you are running to avoid losing, and that’s not the purpose of running a race.

In Philippians 3:13-14, Paul uses this same imagery when he compares living the Christian life to running a race. He wrote, “No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (NLT). Paul is reminding us that we are all in a race, and rule number 1 is to forget the past and don’t look back. The enemy tries to give us a negative mentality that tells us our past disqualifies us from serving God, being used by God or that we are not even worth being used by God. He wants you to think that way so that you will focus behind you on who you were rather than who you are becoming.

His encouragement for us is to press on and to keep our eyes on the prize even though you aren’t going to become the perfect Christian. Not one of us are capable of living this life without sinning or failing God, but we can’t let that keep us from running our race and looking forward. Those words “press on” are intentional. It means we keep going even when things are hard. We keep trusting in God’s grace for our sins and in His strength when we are struggling to advance. Our future is not in our past. It’s in Him, so we need to look ahead and keep our eyes on Him. Our heavenly prize is waiting for us, so we need to take captive every thought that tries to get us to look backwards. Don’t let them get a foothold in your mind. You are destined to win, empowered by His grace and will be victorious through Him.

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