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Several years ago I taught a psychology of sales class. As part of the curriculum, we dealt with the rejection that all sales people face and how to overcome it. One of the methods was to speak out loud positive things about yourself that you wanted to happen. One exercise in particular had participants write down one attribute they wanted to be stronger in. They would get up in front of the group and say, “I am more courageous!” Then the rest of the crowd would shout back, “You are more courageous!” They were then encouraged to keep repeating it at home over and over until they became whatever it was that they chose in order to get it into their subconscious. Psychologists have proven that you can change your behavior, your mindset and even your attributes by creating new neuropathways for your thoughts to travel down. In order to do that, you had to create new paths and those began by speaking out in faith, if you will, about the new way you wanted your brain to think.
The apostle Paul was a person who faced a lot of adversity after he converted to Christianity. He was thrown in prison, he was whipped five times, beaten with a rod three times, stoned, shipwrecked, put in dangerous situations and so much more. If anyone had a reason to speak negatively, it was him. Yet despite all the troubles he had, he held firmly to his faith and spoke words of faith to the churches of that time. He stayed faithful to God despite what his circumstances were. In prison, he sang praises. In storms, he encouraged others, In pain, he trusted in God’s grace. In whatever he faced, he reminded himself that nothing could ever separate him from the love of God. He knew that his words were powerful not only for himself, but for others as well. He wrote many of his letters, which are the books of the New Testament in the Bible, from prison. He understood the importance of staying faithful to God and speaking words of faith in the most trying times. If Paul did it, so should we.
Psalm 116:10-11 says, “Even when it seems I’m surrounded by many liars and my own fears, and though I’m hurting in my suffering and trauma, I will stay faithful to God and speak words of faith” (TPT). Like Paul and this psalmist, you and I must stay faithful to God and speak in faith about all He has done and will do. Many times our situation and circumstances stand opposed to who God is and what we know of Him. In those times, we must trust in the unchanging nature of God rather than what our physical eyes and mind are telling us. We should sing praises and Bible verses out loud to get them into our mind and subconscious. Remember that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Don’t be afraid to read the Bible out loud, to pray out loud and to sing out loud when you feel surrounded by your circumstances. You will find strength, encouragement and faith to keep moving forward and to keep trusting in God’s plan for your life.
After speaking at a high school chapel service, a young girl came up to me and asked how she could know what her calling was. I told her to find her holy discontentment and start there. She still seemed a little confused, so I asked her to think about things that break her heart when she sees them. Then I gave her some advice I heard Andy Stanley give: Do for one what you wish you could do for many. Sometimes we look at an entire problem, feel inadequate and give up. You may not be able to eradicate hunger in the world by yourself, but you can feed one person. Start there. Do for one what you wish you could do for many. When you prove you can be faithful helping one, God will empower you to help many. It all starts with one.
I can’t help but think of King David wanting to show kindness to Saul’s family. When he found out Jonathan had a son that was still alive, he had him brought in. Historically, when a new family took over the throne, they wiped out the bloodline of the previous ruling family. Jonathan’s son thought that was what was going to happen to him when the king summoned him. However, David placed himself in this young man’s shoes and decided to show him kindness. If the roles had been switched, he would have appreciated kindness to his grandson. He then did for one what he wanted to do for any in Saul’s line; he gave him a seat at the king’s table and restored his family’s property.
I know you probably grew up reciting the Golden Rule and were taught to treat others the way you want to be treated, but what if you used it as a measuring stick for fulfilling your calling? I love the perspective that The Message gives it in Matthew 7:12. It says, “Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them.” When you have found your holy discontentment, do for one what you wish people would do for you if you were in that situation. Quit making the excuse that the problem is too great, you don’t have the resources to make a difference or that you’re not ready. Find one person in that situation and do what you can. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but you have to start. Put yourself in their shoes, think of what you would like for someone to do for you, take the initiative and do it.
About twenty years ago I did some things and went through some that changed my life. I made poor decisions and suffered consequences for them. At one point I was beating myself up over it. I began to get worked up and defeated over one thing in particular. Because of the things I had gone through, the denomination I was a part of at the time had a rule that people in my circumstance could never be in any ministry role. It was devastating. My whole life I had dreamed of one day being in ministry, and now that dream was dead. A friend came over and asked why I was upset. When I told him, he responded, “What makes you think that you, or this denomination, can rescind God’s calling? You don’t have that kind of power!” It was the slap in the face I needed, and I began to hope and believe again that one day that would happen.
In Romans 4, Paul is writing about Abraham, God’s promise to him and how it relates to our faith. Verse 14 says, “If God’s promise is only for those who obey the law, then faith is not necessary and the promise is pointless” (NLT). He explains none of us are capable of keeping God’s Law without messing up and God’s promises are received through faith. Then verse 17-18 says, ”This (Abraham receiving the promise) happened because Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who creates new things out of nothing. Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping.” That’s powerful. Even when there was no reason to hope, he kept hoping. That’s truly was faith is.
If you feel like a dream or calling is dead, it’s time to hope and believe again. Your past actions, or your current circumstances, do not have the power to change God’s promises or His calling. We serve a God who brings dead dreams, dead hopes, dead callings, dead you name it back to life. There is nothing that is impossible for Him. We have to push past the lies and what our eyes tell us in order to believe what God promised. We must awaken faith and hope in our heart again and trust that God, who brings dead things to life and creates new things out of nothing, will respond and move on our behalf. It’s not easy, but that’s what faith is. Abraham did it and was rewarded for his faith. I believe God will reward us too when we stand with that kind of faith and begin moving in the direction He called us to.
One of the best things to do around a baby is to play peekaboo. You know the game where you get the baby’s attention and then cover your face. When you open your hands to reveal you’re there, the baby sighs relief and often laughs which is contagious and starts the cycle over. Science has shown that this is good for babies. You’re teaching them gross motor skills, social skills, visual tracking and most importantly permanence. When you cover your face, the baby thinks you’re gone, and when you uncover it you suddenly reappear. By playing peekaboo, you’re teaching the baby that even though they don’t see you, you’re still around and can show up at any time. In essence, you’re even laying the groundwork for faith teaching them to believe even when they can’t see.
All throughout Jesus’ ministry, He kept telling the disciples that He was going to be crucified and go away. He told them not to let their hearts be troubled when that happens. He even told them that He would send the Comforter that they wouldn’t be able to see, but He would still guide them into all truths. After His death, He started playing peekaboo with the disciples if you will. He would show up, then disappear over 40 days. Thomas missed out on the first time and famously said, “Unless I see the holes in His hands and put my finger in them, I won’t believe.” Then Jesus showed up again in John 20:29 and said, “Do you believe because you see me? How happy are those who believe without seeing me!” (GNT)
There are times in our lives where it feels like Jesus is still playing peekaboo with us. At moments He feels so close that you can touch the hem of His garment. Then there are times when you feel like He’s gone and your prayers aren’t heard. The truth is He has never left you and He’s teaching you to believe even when you can’t see or feel Him. Hebrews 11:1 says, “To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.” Jesus is working on building up your permanence of belief in Him so that even when you can’t see Him or feel Him, you can be certain that He’s there and be sure that He hears you. We still have the Comforter with us today who is guiding us and growing our faith in the unseen. Continue to have faith and it won’t be long until He shows His face again.
Sometimes it’s easy to know what the right thing to do is, but it’s very difficult to do it. In my own life, I’ve found that I’ve passed on doing the right thing because my pride got in the way. Other times I didn’t do the right thing because my flesh wanted it and I gave in. In any of those cases, I can tell you that it’s created a mess. I’ve found that when I get into a habit of choosing the wrong thing, my life becomes a mess and it takes a while to make things right.
One of things I like to tell my son is, “You know the great thing about a mess? They can always be cleaned up.” No matter how much of a mess our life can be, it can always be cleaned up. It can take years sometimes, but once we determine to add God to the equation, miracles happen. I believe that miracles are the incubators for miracles. When things look so bad that there’s no way out, He can make a way.
The person who wrote Psalm 119 was a person who made some messes in his life and didn’t want to make any more. In verse 31 they prayed, “Lord, don’t allow me to make a mess of my life, for I cling to your commands and follow them as closely as I can” (TPT). They understood that it takes prayer, knowing God’s Word and following it no matter what to keep from creating messes. If you’ve made a mess already, it can be cleaned up with God’s help and choosing to do the right thing going forward. If you want to prevent future messes, continue to follow God’s Word. It has all the instructions you need.
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.
Most of us know the story of Thomas after Jesus was resurrected. Other disciples had seen Jesus but he had not. They kept telling him that Jesus was alive, but he knew what he had seen. He watched as they beat Jesus with a whip that had 9 strands on it with chunks of glass. He saw them put the crown of thorns on His head and then nailed His hands and feet to that splintered wood. He was even there when the soldier took a sword and rammed it through the ribs of Jesus. He heard Jesus say, “It is finished.” You couldn’t tell him that Jesus was alive after that.
Can you blame him? It’s easy to sit here two millenniums away and call him “Doubting Thomas”. Would you or I have been any different? Are we any different now? Thomas allowed circumstances to dictate his faith. He had also walked with Jesus and watched as He healed people with leprosy, issues of blood, lameness, mutism, deafness and all kinds of incurable diseases. He even watched on a few occasions as Jesus raised people from the dead. Yet here he was listening to others as they said they had seen Jesus.
Many of us have walked with Jesus too. We have seen what He has done in our lives, can point to healings that we’ve witnessed and watched as The Lord touches the hearts of the worst among us yet we still don’t fully trust in Him. We allow circumstances and things going on in this world to rob us of our joy, hope and faith. Our faith rises and falls on what happens around us. It is far too easy to forget what God has done in the past when there is a mountain ahead.
It’s no wonder that Thomas uttered the famous words, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in His hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in His side.” We do the same. We just say it different. “God if you’re really there and if you can really hear me, I need you to do…” It’s a good thing that God is patient with us. When Jesus saw Thomas, He didn’t mock him or ask why he didn’t believe. Instead, Jesus walked up to Thomas and gently said, “Thomas, put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” (John 20:27 NLT)
I think that’s what Jesus would say to us today. Don’t be faithless any longer. Don’t allow what you’re going through cause you to forget what He’s done for you in the past. He is patient and kind. Slow to anger. He is talking to you this morning and is inviting you to trust Him. He is in control even when it doesn’t feel like. He sees you where you are and knows your fear. He is deeply concerned about you and wants to show Himself to you and to provide the opportunity for you to touch Him. Thomas had to reach out and touch Him to believe again. Will you reach out today to touch Him in order to believe again?
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.
My job is one that requires people to gather together. When quarantining and isolation began, my customers postponed our meetings. The next day, our air conditioner went out. I felt defeated and began to worry about how to make ends meet. Fear started to creep in. That Sunday, my pastor preached on not giving into fear or a defeatist attitude. I began to change how I prayed to God about my situation. I thanked Him for all He’s done for me and began to recount the ways He’s provided in the past. My attitude began to change as I reminded myself that God is my source, not my skills, talents or job.
That week, we received money from a friend to help with the AC. The AC guy offered to accept half now and half in a month. The next day, I received a check from a stock payout that had been set up two years before. The next week, I received my income tax check. Then the bank sent me a check from an over payment last year. These are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more things that have happened during this time where God has shown up just in time and provided for our needs. It seems almost every day something happens where my wife and I look at each other, laugh in disbelief and then stop to thank God for His provision. We now look for all the ways He’s working in our lives beyond the monetary ways.
Psalm 18:22 says, “Now I’m alert to GOD’s ways; I don’t take God for granted. Every day I review the ways he works” (MSG). I believe when you and I begin to look for the different ways God is moving in our lives, we will find them. Some times it’s obvious, but most of the times, they are little, subtle hints that He’s working on our behalf and causing all things to work together for our good. We have to train our eyes to look beyond our problems to see His provision. We need to be alert to God’s ways of working in our lives so we don’t take the little things He does for granted. At the end of each day, think back to where you saw God work on your behalf and give Him thanks. Not only will it change your perspective of your situation, it’ll refocus your eyes on God.
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.