This week I’m reflecting on ten years of writing devotions. In the early days of writing, my mind was beginning to be consumed with fear. I felt the pressure of coming up with something to write about each day. I made a list in my phone of possible topics that I would add to. I would ask friends what they thought I should write about. Some mornings I sat there frozen, not knowing what to write, and feeling the pressure of an audience expecting something from me. Doing what God asked me to do was making me miserable and fearful – neither of which come from God.
I went to a writer’s conference hoping to gain insight. When I went to the registration table, they gave me a ticket to have a private breakfast with William Paul Young, writer of “The Shack”. Over breakfast, I explained my predicament. He gently told me that I was approaching God the wrong way. I was looking at Him as a well that could run dry. Instead, God is a never ending river of creativity. He said, “If you go to God’s creative river each day with an empty bucket and pray, ‘God, here’s my bucket. Would you fill it up with what you want to say,’ He will do it. You are going to have to spend time at His feet in order to do that.” Immediately I felt freedom and the fear left me.
What I realized is that God is the source of creativity, not me. I was trying to do what He asked me to in my own strength, creativity and knowledge. That was creating a mental mess. Zechariah 4:6 says, “Not by strength and not by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord who rules over all” (NET). Whatever God has called you to do, He has called you to do it in His strength, not yours. Yes, you must show up and do the work, but you are not the source, He is. Don’t let the fear of your inadequacy take over your mind. Instead, go to God each and every day, recognizing He is the source, and ask Him to fill that bucket with whatever you need to fulfill what He’s called you to. It will free you up and restore the joy of your calling.
Have you ever felt ill equipped to do something? Maybe you did your part to get ready for it, but you didn’t have the right tools to be successful. I’ve had that happen before. I had to lead a meeting, but when I arrived to the location, there wasn’t a projector. If they couldn’t see my PowerPoint slides, they wouldn’t be able to understand what I was discussing. It was one of those moments where you have to get really creative or pray that someone had a spare projector somewhere. Thankfully that was the case and I was able to give them the info they needed.
When it comes to fulfilling your purpose, the same thing can happen. There’s only so much you can do before you need God to do what only He can do. The problems come when we stop being patient and start trying to get creative in doing God’s part. We try to equip ourselves for what He wants to accomplish through us, but like Saul’s armor on David, it doesn’t fit. I’ve found that moving forward before God has done His part often complicates things and can have long lasting consequences.
In Hebrews 13:21, the writer prays and reminds us, “May the God of peace provide you with every good thing you need in order to do his will” (GNT). You have a part and God has a part. Learn to do your part and then have patience while God does His. He will give you what you need when you need it. I know it feels like you need it sooner or that you need to step in and help Him, but wait on Him. The Bible is full of people who didn’t wait and tried to do God’s part. Today, purpose in your heart that you will trust God to provide the thing you’re missing to accomplish His will and that you will wait until He gives it to you.
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.
Several years ago I worked in early childhood education. One of the first things I learned (and had to keep learning) was to never do for a child what a child can do for themselves. I like things to move along quickly. Watching a child do a task they were new at was painstakingly slow. It was a lot quicker for me to step in and do it for them, but in doing so, I was robbing them of increasing their ability to do the task. I had to learn to coach them through the process rather than to just sit back and watch them struggle. Some kids wanted me to do everything, liked the help, some ignored me and others insisted they didn’t want my input. Ultimately i embraced my role to empower them.
As Christians we’re not much different than the kids I used to work with. We’re slow moving on the tasks God asks us to do. When He sends help, we may push back because of our pride. Many times we just want God to do all the hard work while we sit back and enjoy the fruits of His labor. There are also times where we simply ignore what He’s asking us to do. He write it off telling ourselves that the voice isn’t God. Ultimately we need God’s help in completing and fulfilling our purpose. He gave us the Holy Spirit to guide us and to help us as we accomplish His will.
Philippians 2:13 says, “For it is [not your strength, but it is] God who is effectively at work in you, both to will and to work [that is, strengthening, energizing, and creating in you the longing and the ability to fulfill your purpose] for His good pleasure” (AMP). One of the notes in my Bible for this verse says that while God supports us, it is our responsibility to do the work He called us to. No one else is going to do what you’re called to do. It is your part to play in the story God is writing. He’s there to guide, help and support you through it, but He’s not going to do for you what you can do and are called to do. Listen for His voice as He guides you, strengthens and energized you to fulfill His purposes for your life.
I remember the day we were in chapel in high school when they announced that a girl was going to come up and sing a special. We all looked at each other and said, “She can sing? She doesn’t even talk!” About that time, this shy girl was escorted up on stage. She looked terrified and the microphone was shaking in her hand. Without warning, and with no music playing, she started singing. It was incredible! We sat there shocked as she sang this song. As soon as it was over, we all jumped to our feet and cheered. She went on to win several singing competitions and is a worship pastor at a church today.
The Bible is full of people who were timid and shy about using their gifts and talents. Moses had a speech impediment, but God chose him to lead Israel out of slavery and through the desert. Timothy is another example. He was young and inexperienced, but God chose him to be a pastor. Paul’s letters to him were always encouraging him to continue to step out in faith into his calling despite his fear. I grew up quoting several of Paul’s messages to him because I needed to hear those words. We simply cannot allow fear to hold us back from using the gifts God has given us.
2 Timothy 1:7 says, “God doesn’t want us to be shy with His gifts, but bold and loving and sensible” (MSG). Almost every other version starts out with, “God has not given us a spirit of fear.” In the verse before, Paul reminds Timothy to fan his gifts into flames. We fan them into flames by pushing through the fear and doing what God put into us to do. Almost anyone who uses their gifts experiences fear. The ones who push past that spirit and embrace God’s spirit of power, love and a sound mind get to experience the satisfaction of fulfilling their purpose. It’s up to each one of us to find the encouragement we need, step out in faith and do what God has created us to do. Pushing past the fear isn’t easy, but it is necessary.
Years ago I would lead mission trips to Haiti not long after the earthquake. Before we would leave, I would talk to the team about what they could expect. I would remind them that it is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and their infrastructure was destroyed. No matter where you looked there were needs that needed to be met. There was person after person whose story would break your heart. Then I would tell them that our job was to go in and do xyz. We needed to pick up the football where the last group set it down, then we would run with it as far as we could and set it down. If we tried to do everything and meet every need, we wouldn’t accomplish much. Helping them understand our part was key to being the most productive and accomplishing the most good.
In 1 Chronicles, David looked at his palace one day and noticed how nice it was. He then thought of the Tabernacle, a tent that housed the Ark of the Covenant. He wondered why he lived in such a nice place while God was placed in a tent. He asked the prophet to ask God for permission to build a temple, but God refused to allow David to build it. Instead, his son Solomon was picked to build it. Instead of sulking because he wasn’t going to build it, he started gathering all the supplies necessary to build it so Solomon wouldn’t spend years getting ready. After he was finished, he brought Solomon and the leaders over and showed them everything. Then in 1 Chronicles 22:18 he said, “My part in this was to put down the enemies, subdue the land to GOD and his people; your part is to give yourselves, heart and soul, to praying to your GOD. So get moving—build the sacred house of worship to GOD!” (MSG)
You were designed and created on purpose and with a purpose. There is a part for you to play in building God’s Kingdom. Don’t get distracted looking at what other people are doing. Seek God for what your part is, then do it with all your might. Understand that the work will not be completed until Jesus returns. Pick up the football wherever it is, and run with it as far as you can until you can’t go anymore. Don’t get distracted and worry about whether or not other people are doing their parts. That’s between them and God. Your part is to what God has called you to do with all your strength. Understand that your part is also a thread woven into the masterpiece God is creating. Do your part, and do it well so that when you arrive in Heaven you’ll hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
It was a sculptor named Frederic Bartholdi who designed and built the Statue of Liberty. It was built and then dedicated in New York City In 1886. It would be nearly 20 years later when the Wright brothers first took flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Yet, when building the Statue of Liberty, Bartholdi refused to cut corners, especially on the head of Lady Liberty. To think that someone would ever be able to see the top of her head never crossed his mind, but he took the time to put the same amount of work and detail up there. When you’re driven by excellence, you focus even on the details you don’t think that others will see. You understand that when you get the small details right, the big problems rarely show up.
My personal motto is, “If it has my name on it, it needs to be done with excellence.” If I’m going to spend my time working on something, I want to make sure I don’t cut any corners or do a job that will reflect poorly on me. In my mind, I think about how the things I do don’t just reflect myself, but God. As a person who bears the name Christian, I should also be concerned about the reputation of the One whose name I bear. According to 1 Corinthians 12:7, each one of us are given gifts by God in order to help each other. If we’re going to maximize our gifts and their effects in the lives of others, it’s important that we understand how to use them and that we focus on using them well. We should never take these gifts lightly.
Galatians 6:4 says, “Let everyone be devoted to fulfill the work God has given them to do with excellence, and their joy will be in doing what’s right and being themselves, and not in being affirmed by others” (TPT). You have work that God has called you to do through the unique gifts He has equipped you with. If you don’t use them, or do your work half heartedly, you diminish the ripple affect into the lives of others. To have the greatest impact on this world, we each need to know our giftings and operate in them with the excellence they deserve. Put time into perfecting the details, even the ones you think no one will ever see. You never know what God will do or how He May bless your commitment to doing all things with excellence.
Did you know that there are four seasons to farming? In the Spring, it’s the time of planting. The soil is tilled and seeds are placed at the right depth and spacing. In the Summer, it’s critical to make sure the crops are getting the right amount of water, fertilizer and sunlight. With the Fall comes the harvest. It’s about gathering in the produce at the peak of ripeness and then ripping out the old stalks so the ground can be infused with organic matter. Then, when the winter comes, the land has an opportunity to rest. You also spend this time repairing your tools and getting ready for the next Spring.
As I read that, I can’t help but think of the seasons of our life. Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us there is a time and a season for everything. That includes our lives. Some of us are in a season of planting and preparing for what’s coming. Some of us are in a season of working on growing what we’ve planted. Some of us are in a season of harvest where we are reaping the benefits of what we’ve done. Others are in a season of rest where things in your life have been ripped up and it’s time to make repairs so you can plant again. Have you ever considered what season you’re in and the responsibilities God has given you for that season?
Proverbs 10:4 says, “Know the importance of the season you’re in and a wise son you will be. But what a waste when an incompetent son sleeps through his day of opportunity!” (TPT) God has you in this season for a purpose. In every season you find yourself in, there are things you should be doing for that season as well as things to prepare for the next season. Ask God to give you wisdom to know the things you should be doing in your season. Every season comes and goes. You will not be in this season forever, so make the most of it. Don’t let the opportunity of what God is trying to do in your life during this season pass by.
One of the things that I see so many of us run into is paralysis through analysis. What I mean by that is that we feel like we need more information in order to act. When we don’t feel like we have all the information we need, we stall or make excuses as to why we can’t do what we need to. Because we live in the Information Age, we know there is always more information that we can acquire in order to make the best decision. The problem is that our need for information has replaced our ability to act in faith.
We all grew up hearing the words, “Ready. Set. Go.” As a people of faith, I believe God often is asking us to skip those first two words and simply go. Our comfort is in the getting ready and getting set, but we’ve learned to live in those areas without going. The truth is that we will never feel like we’re ready when we are acting in faith. To feel like we need more information, skills or tools means we are trying to do it in our own power and not in God’s. We’ve got to learn to let go of those security blankets and trust that we already have what we just need to “Go”,
Colossians 2:6 says, “My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given” (MSG). It’s time for you and I to quit staying where we are trying to get ready. We need to step out with what we’ve been given and let God provide what we lack. Remember God doesn’t always call the most equipped people, but He does equip those He calls. It’s time to move forward with what you have. Break out of the paralysis through analysis, step out in faith and trust God to step in. That’s what faith is all about.
To me, one of the most interesting decisions anyone made in the Bible came from Peter and the disciples in John 21:3. Peter told the disciples, “‘I’m going fishing.’ And they all replied, ‘We’ll go with you.’ So they went out and fished through the night, but caught nothing” (TPT). Three years earlier, Jesus had called Peter away from the fishing boats to fish for men instead. For three years, they watched Jesus perform miracle after miracle. Then they saw Jesus crucified and resurrected. He wanted them to meet Him in Galilee, yet when they arrived, they went back to their old jobs.
I don’t know how long it was after they returned to Galilee before they went fishing, but it’s very indicative of what we all do. God tells us to wait, we wait, He doesn’t show up during our time table and we do something else. We reason, “Maybe we missed God.” Instead of moving forward, we go backwards to what’s familiar to us. We pick up our old nets and step away from our calling. Just like this night of fishing for the disciples, it’s unproductive and unsatisfying. Once you’ve had a taste of your calling, it’s hard to be fulfilled by anything else. Yet Jesus doesn’t leave us there. He chases after us like the lost sheep and redirects us.
I love in this story how when Jesus tells them to cast on the other side and the nets fill with fish, Peter doesn’t wait to bring them in. He jumps out of the boat and swims to shore. I believe that’s what God is asking each us to do. It’s time we jump out of the boat of the familiar and moved toward Jesus. It may be uncharted waters for you, but the fulfillment you seek is to be using the gifts He’s given you in the calling He’s placed on your life. If you’re in the sea of the familiar right now, jump out of the boat and swim to where God is calling you.
Several years ago I attended a conference for ministers. One of the speakers was Jon Acuff, and he spoke on critic’s math. The way critics math works is 1 insult + 1,000 complements = 1 insult. We can be praised by everyone for our work, but if one person didn’t like it, we allow that one negative comment to erase all the positive feedback we’ve received. It can be like we never even heard the compliments because our mind spends all its time focusing on the one negative comment rather than our feedback as a whole. Critic’s math is a dangerous thing for us to fall into.
An example is in the Book of Esther. Haman was the King’s prime minister. He had been put in such a high position, that the king declared everyone should bow to him as he passed by. Everyone bowed down except one. Mordecai refused. In the fifth chapter, Esther had prepared a banquet for he and the king. When he left, everyone bowed except Mordecai. In verses 12-13, he told his wife and friends, “What is more, Queen Esther gave a banquet for no one but the king and me, and we are invited back tomorrow. But none of this means a thing to me as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the entrance of the palace” (GNT). He allowed critic’s math to cloud his thinking, and it ultimately cost him everything.
You and I need to accept that we can’t please everyone, and that pleasing people is not our goal. Pleasing God is. Ecclesiastes 7:10 warns, “Don’t pay attention to everything people say.” When you receive negative feedback, take it constructively, but don’t give it so much weight that it distracts you from what God has called you to. What He has to say is far more important than what any person has to say. Keep focusing on what God wants to do in your life and through you, and don’t let one person’s negativity keep you from reaching your potential or from finishing your race.