From the very beginning of the Bible, we learn that God is a gardener. It says in Genesis that He planted a garden in the middle of creation. He didn’t simply speak it into existence like everything else. He took the time to plan and decide where He would plant each tree. He carved rivers around it to water it so that it would remain fertile. He walked in it every evening to enjoy it and to care for it. Then He placed Adam in there to be its caretaker. I think growth occurred naturally in that time because when Adam and Eve were removed from the garden, God told them that from now on they would have to sweat to get growth. There would be thistles and other things that would compete for the resources that he would grave to remove in order to achieve optimum growth. It then says that Adam began to cultivate the ground as soon as they left the garden.
God put the desire to create growth in each one of us. Some of us grow gardens. Some of grow families. Some money. In any case, if you look at your life, you’re spending a considerable amount of energy trying to achieve growth somewhere in something. Where we focus our time and energy is really what’s important to us since time and energy are our most precious commodities. What is it that you’re trying to grow? Will it matter for eternity? Is it only for your benefit? Each of us have to look at our lives to see if we’re growing the right things, and if we are doing the right things to create that growth.
2 Peter 3:18 says, “But continue to grow and increase in God’s grace and intimacy with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (TPT). Growth in maturity of our faith is required of each of us. Your Faith is not your pastor’s garden to tend. It’s yours. This message was from Peter, who was the head of the Church at the time. He was telling believers everywhere to own their growth. What are you doing daily to own your own growth? We must make sure we’re watering our lives with God’s Word. We have to pull the weeds of doubt constantly. We need to have a plan for the areas we need to grown in. If you’re going to own your growth, you’re going to have to start cultivating new ground in your faith and do the work of a gardener. Your pastor can give you the tools, but you must do the daily work.
Photo by Veronica Reverse on Unsplash
One of the most common Christian myths many of us believe is that when I do what God asks me to, there won’t be any issues and things will go smoothly. For me, it seems like when I step out in faith and do what God asks, things often start going wrong. There are times it feels like I’ve jumped out of an airplane, but I’m not the one who gets to pull the cord on the parachute. The ground starts getting closer and I start to panic. I cry out, “God, where are you? Did you tell me to do this? Why haven’t you worked on my behalf yet? Don’t you care about my reputation? My family? I thought you were going to work out everything for my good.” At that point, it’s easy to start questioning if I really heard God or if I’m really in His will because I’m looking at external factors and I’m believing the myth that everything should be smooth sailing when I’m in His will through obedience.
In Mark 4, after a long day of teaching, night was falling and Jesus said, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake” (TPT). They all piled in a boat, and several people from the crowd got in boats to follow them across the lake. Being tired from teaching, Jesus decided to call it a night. He laid down and fell asleep. That’s when a ferocious storm came rolling in with violent winds that were rocking the boat and causing it to take on so much water that they were afraid of sinking. In verse 39, they had a similar prayer to mine. They woke Jesus up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re all about to die?” Jesus, once He was fully awake, steps out, rebukes the wind and calms the sea. I’m sure He gave them a disappointed look as He said, “Why are you so afraid? Haven’t you learned to trust yet?”
Those words are ringing in my ears today as I shift my focus from my circumstances to who He is. When things don’t go the way we thought they should after our obedience, fear creeps in. Fear of failure. Fear of being embarrassed. Fear of going broke. Fear of our own ship going down. The storm you’re in may be great, but He is greater. It may feel like He’s asleep, but He knows what you’re going through. Push through the fear and panic, and trust that if He’s called you to it, He’ll get you through it. A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor, and easy times never stretch our faith. Yes, it might have been a big leap you took, but your faith has so much more room to grow. Now is not the time for panic. It’s the time for prayer and faith. He hasn’t ever failed you, and He won’t start failing you today.
Photo by Lucas Sankey on Unsplash
We’ve all been in a situation where we were outnumbered, outgunned and facing nsurmountable odds. It’s stressful to be in that place. Questions fill your mind causing you to doubt and to wonder if you’re in God’s will or not. Your fight or flight mechanism begins to kick in and it likes the flight option. In those moments, we have to be guided by our faith and not our fear. Moments like these are designed to build our faith and to grow our trust in God. If we run, we not only give into fear, but we lose an opportunity to grow our faith. God allows us to be in situations like this because He’s looking to grow our relationship. These pressure situations should cause our roots to go down deeper into Him.
In 2 Chronicles 14, Asa became king of Judah. After a long line of kings who disobeyed God, he changed course. He tore down the pagan altars his predecessors had built and turned the people toward God. There was peace during much of his reign, but it didn’t last. An Ethiopian came out against him with a million man army compared to his of just over half a million. He was thrust into one of those, “God, what’s going on? Aren’t I doing everything right” moments. He was outnumbered and outgunned, but his faith remained strong. He went out to meet the Ethiopian army head on knowing God was able to bring victory, and was willing to stand firm and fight even if God didn’t show up.
In verse 11 he prayed, “O LORD, there is no one besides You to help in the battle between the powerful and the weak; so help us, O LORD our God, for we trust in and rely on You” (AMP). Not only did he show up for the battle, he placed the outcome in God’s hands instead of his. There is an underlying peace in the turmoil when we give up our control of the outcome. It doesn’t make sense to let go, and often it goes against everything in us, but either God is going to step in or He’s not. Is your faith prepared either way? Even if he doesn’t deliver you or cause things to go “your way”, will you still trust Him? That’s the point we all must come to in faith. If we trust God is in control of the outcome, then we must determine ahead of time that whatever happens should deepen our faith not destroy it.
Photo by Piotr Makowski on Unsplash
On a trip to California, I went to Napa Valley because I had been told that it was beautiful. As I drove through it, I was mesmerized by the straight rows of vines going for miles. I decided to pull into a winery and take a tour to learn of their process. One of the things they shared was how good seasons don’t produce good wine. The good wine comes from the years when the vines struggle. There’s something about the fight for water, the digging into the soil and the struggle to stay alive that produces a complex flavor in the grapes, which in turn, makes for a “good year”.
As they spoke, I couldn’t help but correlate that to life. There are good seasons we go through and there are bad seasons. When we look back on our life, it’s the “bad seasons” that produce the most growth in us. That’s when we learn what we’re made of and how strong our faith is. It reminds me of Romans 8:28 that says how God works together all things for our good. The good that He works is often in our life for the long term even though that season is very painful.
In Genesis 37- 41, we read of a 17 year stretch where Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape, thrown into prison and was forgotten. After he was restored, he married and had kids. Genesis 42:52 says, “Joseph named his second son Ephraim, for he said, ‘God has made me fruitful in this land of my grief’”. God is able to make you fruitful in the most painful times and places of your life. You must hold onto to His promises, stand strong in your faith and keep believing that He’s working things out for your good.
Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash
When life gets tough, do you let it push you closer to God or farther away from Him? I’ve had it do both. There have been times in my life where I desperately wanted God to show up and answer prayers, and to me it felt like He remained silent. I became upset with Him and decided I wasn’t going to ask Him for anything again. Another time, I was far away from Him, and when things got bad, I turned to Him to survive. My faith became the foundation on which I rebuilt my life. In both incidents, events in my life were more than I could handle.
Each of us go through difficulties. Each of go through times where our faith is all we have left. How do you respond in those moments? Do you tell God you’ll never ask Him for anything again because He didn’t answer? Do you have faith God will see you through when there’s no visible path forward? Faith is all about trusting God in life’s most difficult moments. It’s easy to have faith when you don’t have to use it. But what about those moments when it’s all you have left?
James 1:12 gives us a promise from God that says, “If your faith remains strong, even while surrounded by life’s difficulties, you will continue to experience the untold blessings of God!” (TPT) When we hold onto our faith in those periods where it’s all we have left, we experience a depth of God’s grace we’ve never known existed. We also get to know a God more intimately because our relationship deepens in those times. When God is all you have left, your faith has the ability to grow. These times are not designed to crush you or push you away from God. Rather let them do the work of deepening your faith and relationship with God.
Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash
To be honest, I’ve always wanted God to operate on my time instead of His. Wouldn’t life be much easier if He did? There would be no waiting for the answer, no stress of things coming down to the last minute and no panicking that it might not happen this time. If only God would answer my prayers when I want Him to, that would be amazing, but it wouldn’t involve faith. Without the pressure of getting to the point that if God doesn’t answer things will go badly, there’s no growth in who we are as people. We are refined in the waiting process and our strength is increased. God doesn’t make us wait for the sake of waiting, He’s growing our faith.
David, who was a man after God’s own heart, was good at waiting. He understood that God knows better than we do and His timing is perfect. He didn’t try to make things happen when God slowed them down. He simply went through the process, trusted God and he was rewarded for it. Admittedly it’s no fun to be in the place of waiting. David had to live in caves and be on the run before he could live in the palace. God used that time to grow him into the best king he could be. Imagine what God is doing in you as you wait.
Here are some Bible verses David wrote about waiting on God.
1. My strength is found when I wait upon you. Watch over me, God, for you are my mountain fortress; you set me on high!
Psalms 59:9 TPT
2. Listen to my cry for help, my God and king! I pray to you, O Lord; you hear my voice in the morning; at sunrise I offer my prayer and wait for your answer.
Psalm 5:2-3 GNT
3. I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry.
Psalms 40:1 NLT
4. Wait passionately for GOD, don’t leave the path. He’ll give you your place in the sun while you watch the wicked lose it.
Psalm 37:34 MSG
5. Wait for and confidently expect the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for and confidently expect the LORD.
PSALM 27:14 AMP
Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash
When I was younger, we sang a song at church from Isaiah 43:1-2. In it, the Lord says, “Do not be afraid—I will save you. I have called you by name—you are mine. When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you; your troubles will not overwhelm you. When you pass through fire, you will not be burned; the hard trials that come will not hurt you” (GNT). Most of our songs were verses in the Bible back then. This one always made a string impression on me though.
One of the things I picked up on this verse was that it says, “When you go through,” not, “If you go through.” Every one of us will have times in our lives when we will go through waters so deep that we can’t touch the bottom anymore. We are all going to face difficulties that sweep us away like a rushing river. There are times when we will have hard times where things will get heated. But the promise of God first to us in this verse is that God will save us because He knows us by name.
Saving us doesn’t mean we won’t suffer loss, go through hardship or face difficulties. As I mentioned, this verse guarantees we will will. The difference is that you and I will not be overcome by the things that life brings against us. These things that happen should build our trust and faith in God because it’s in those times that our faith is proven and strengthened. In those times we find out what our faith is made of and how strong God truly is because we rely on Him so much. Don’t be afraid of these times. You belong to Him, and He knows you by name.
Photo by Kazden Cattapan on Unsplash
One of the things I have to do often at work is self evaluation. After my boss observes me either working in the field or in presenting information, I know that afterwards they’re going to come to me with three questions. What did you do well? What was your biggest opportunity? What will you do differently next time? After answering these three questions, my boss then answers them from their perspective. The goal is two fold: to get me to calibrate my perception with theirs and to keep me constantly questioning how I can be more effective at what I do.
They know that if they can instill in me a mental process that asks those three questions constantly, I will improve whether they are there over my shoulder or not. Paul understood this principle too. He was mentoring Timothy from a distance. He offered him advice and encouragement in leading a church. Clearly, Timothy was a younger man than those he was preaching to and had doubts. Paul gave him pointers in the books of I and II Timothy that are good for each of us as believers.
In i Timothy 412-16, Paul offered encouragement first. He said, “Don’t let anyone think less of you…but be an example.” He encouraged him to do the right thing knowing that he was under more scrutiny because of his age in a leadership role. He simply encouraged him to do the right thing and show others how to live. In essence, Paul was saying, “Practice what you preach.” We should live the life that we are asking others to live. Each of us should be examples of Christ’s love to those who see us. When we do that, it’s hard for anyone to look down on us.
Next, he encouraged Timothy to focus on reading the scriptures and using the gifts God gave him. The more we read the Bible, the more we put it into our hearts. We know that what’s in the heart comes out the mouth. If we spend time reading God’s word (publicly and privately), we and those who hear it will know what God says and will know how to live. We won’t just rely on someone else telling us what God says. We will know because we have heard it ourselves. Psalm 1:2 and Joshua 1:8 encourage us to not just read God’s Word, but to meditate on it as well. Meditating on it pushes it deeper into our hearts and minds.
Finally in these verses, Paul tells Timothy what my boss tells me. He said, “Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. (NLT)” He wants Timothy to not just do things, but to pay attention to what he’s doing and how he’s doing them. He wants him to question those things so he can improve as a minister. Paul then gave the payoff of such improvement: “Because if you do, you will save both yourself and those who hear you. (GNT)” How we live affects how others receive the Gospel. We should constantly be questioning what we are doing well, what our opportunities are and what we can do differently in the future to improve. How you live matters whether you are a minister or not. Live in such a way that it points others to salvation.