A couple of decades ago, I went through what I somewhat jokingly call halftime in my life. I was born and raised in church and accepted Jesus at an early age. Then in my mid twenties I decided to live in opposition to how I was raised. It didn’t take long for God to work on my heart to bring me back into living His way. During halftime I suffered many consequences for my actions including people telling me I was disqualified from being a minister. As I was lamenting over it to a friend, he reminded me that God doesn’t rescind His calling in our life. He takes our past and uses it to help others.
Paul, who wrote a lot of the New Testament, was raised in the strictest sect of Judaism. His zeal for God’s Law was so strong that he hunted down and killed people he thought were in opposition to his understanding of the Law. Then, in Acts 9, as he was traveling to persecute Christians, Jesus appeared to him and changed his life. As he ministered to people, he referee to himself as the chief of sinners knowing what he had done in the past. However, God was able to use his past to prove to anyone that no matter how much they’ve lived in opposition to God, they are still able to receive God’s grace, find salvation and be used by Him in ministry.
Psalm 139:5 says, “You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way, and in kindness you follow behind me to spare me from the harm of my past. You have laid your hand on me!” (TPT) God is not afraid of your past (or present). He has a plan for your life and is able to use whatever you’ve been through and whatever you’ve don’t to help others find healing and forgiveness in Him. Those things do not disqualify you. Instead, they have prepared you for the future He has got you. You, nor others, have the ability to remove God’s calling or plan for your life. He has prepared your future despite your past. He has laid His hand on you to accomplish His purposes in your life. Leave the guilt and condemnation behind, and follow where He leads.
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.
I’m bad about losing my cool when things don’t go the way I planned. I like to look at a goal, see the steps that need to take place and then take those steps. When something unplanned happens along that journey, I start to stress out, think of the worst case scenario and complain. On the other side of the coin, when I come to my senses and have a clear mind, I have a great ability to improvise. I can make connections where there don’t seem to be any and get things back on track no matter how far off they are. It’s really a matter of self control in those times when my plans go awry. My wife usually has to remind me that it’s not the end of the world and to step back, clear my mind and reassess.
Joseph, who was Jacob’s son, had a dream that went awry too. After expressing his dream that one day his mom, dad and brothers would all bow to him, he was sold as a slave where no one would bow to him. Instead of panicking, he held onto the dream. When he was accused of trying to rape his master’s wife, he was thrown in prison, even farther away from the realization of his dream. We never read where Joseph panicked or complained. We simply read of a person who did what was required of him in whatever situation he was in. He kept a clear mind no matter how crazy life got, and God’s plan still prevailed no matter what his circumstances were telling him.
In 2 Timothy 4, Paul reminded Timothy that no matter what, he should hold true to his calling to preach the Word. Then he gave him insight that things will get messy and people won’t listen to his message. In verse 5, he wrote, “But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you” (NLT). He was reminding him and us to do the work we were called to do no matter what things look like or how bad they get. Each of us have a ministry that God has given us. If we get distracted by the things going on around us, we will fail to do it. However, if we keep a clear mind, stay the course and continue working, we will carry out all God has created us to do.
Years ago, I was the store manager for a major company. Not long after I took over the store, I needed to hire an assistant manager. My district manager came in and gave me a suggestion of who he thought would be a great fit for the store. I didn’t think they would be a good fit and wanted to hire someone else. He agreed to let me hire the person I wanted. When I approached them about applying for the job, they said they didn’t think I knew them. I replied, “I’ve been seeing your work ethic for years. I’ve watched how you interact with customers and how you’ve respected authority when it’s been in your store.” He replied, “I never thought anyone saw me. I was just being myself.” I agreed and stated that’s why I wanted him to apply.
The day after Jesus was baptized, He began calling disciples to follow Him. Philip was one of the first ones. He went and told his brother Nathaneal that he had found the Messiah. When Nathaneal approached Jesus in John 1:47, Jesus said to him, “Now here comes a true son of Israel—an honest man with no hidden motive!” (TPT) Nathaniel was stunned and said he didn’t think Jesus had ever met him and didn’t know how He knew him. Jesus replied, “Nathanael, right before Philip came to you I saw you sitting under the shade of a fig tree.” That was all it took for him to believe in Jesus and to follow Him.
A lot of ministry and work that people do for God’s Kingdom goes unnoticed. You have to give a lot of yourself, and more times than not you’re criticized more than thanked when it is noticed. I want you to know that God not only knows who you are, He knows you and sees what you’re doing. Don’t quit serving because people don’t see or people criticize. In Matthew 6:3-4, Jesus encourages us, “But when you demonstrate generosity, do it with pure motives and without drawing attention to yourself. Give secretly and your Father, who sees all you do, will reward you openly.” Remember, you’re not doing what you’re doing for man’s approval. God sees your unnoticed work and will reward you openly here or in Heaven. You are known and seen by God. Keep up the good work.
Recently I was talking with my friend outside while the kids were playing. They decided they wanted to play basketball. They were taking turns shooting, but every time the youngest tried to shoot, she could barely get the ball over her heard. I lowered the goal to see if that would help, but it didn’t. She just wasn’t able to get the ball high enough to go through the hoop. The next time it was her turn, I picked her up and held her over the goal so she could easily make it. After realizing she couldn’t do it on her own, and that she could with help, she began to ask us to lift her up each time it was her shot. I couldn’t help but think that it was great picture of how God helps us accomplish the things He’s called us to.
When the disciples came to Jesus to tell Him the 5,000 people were hungry, He told them to give the people something to eat. Just like that little girl looking up at that basketball goal, they realized it was impossible for them. Jesus blessed the fish and loaves, but had the disciples distribute it and pick up the leftovers. They were still able to participate in the miracle with His help. He was always working to give them confidence to do the work of the ministry with His help and not on their own strength. When He sent out the 70 in Luke 10, He told them, “You won’t need to take anything with you—trust in God alone. And don’t get distracted from my purpose by anyone you might meet along the way” (TPT). He was reminding them that they get to participate in the miraculous with God and they wouldn’t need anything of their own to make it happen.
Before He sent them off, He also said, “The harvest is huge and ripe. But there are not enough harvesters to bring it all in. As you go, plead with the Owner of the Harvest to drive out into his harvest fields many more workers.” God is still looking for people who will participate in the work that needs to be done, but to do it in His strength and with His help. He calls us to things that are greater than ourselves so that we can rely on His strength and know that it’s not in our own abilities. We can keep trying to do things on our own, over and over again, but they will fall short. When we learn to ask Him for help, and present ourselves as available to participate, He comes in with His strength, lifts us up and allows us to complete the goal. Remember it’s in our weaknesses and inabilities that His strength is made perfect. When we do our part, He does His.
Have you heard these phrases? Teamwork makes the dream work? There’s no “I” in team. Team – Together Each Achieves More. If you ever played sports or worked in a corporate environment, you’ve probably heard these and more. They’re trite sayings to remind you that just about everything you do is for a team of people around you. Each one of us are individual contributors to the whole. Some teams have a lot of dysfunction. Some have superstars who do the bulk of the work. Others function very well together like a well oiled machine. Groups of people working towards the same goal with the same vision and core values can accomplish exponentially more than any individual ever could. Yet, somehow, we think the ministry of the Church should be done by a few while the rest of us sit back and watch.
Have you heard these phrases around church? That’s the pastor’s job. I’m not comfortable witnessing. I’m not a minister. I don’t work here. If you’ve ever asked people to do things around a church, you’ve probably heard these. Somewhere along the way, we lost sight that we are one body working together to achieve the Great Commission. We let pastors do the work of the ministry and the church by themselves “because it’s their job.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. Yes, pastors work for the church, and many even have staff who work there too, but they are not the only ones who are supposed to be doing the work of the Church. If you belong to the Body of Christ and are involved with a local church body, you are part of a team and have responsibilities in the work of the ministry.
Ephesians 4 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. It’s so rich and full of things that jump off the page to me. If you’ve been in church long, you’ve heard of the five fold ministries listed in verse 12. God gave us apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, and that’s where we usually stop reading. However, verse 13 tell us why He gave them to us. It says, “And their calling is to nurture and prepare all the holy believers to do their own works of ministry, and as they do this they will enlarge and build up the body of Christ” (TPT). Their calling is to equip you, yes you, to do the works of ministry. You are a minister if you are a Christian. Read that again. We are all part of the ministry team and we each have a role to play in the enlargement of the Church. Sitting on a pew doing nothing and just attending church are not an option because you are part of the teamwork that makes the church work.
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.
I spend a lot of time thinking about the future. Not just the future, my future and the plans God has for me. I wonder when the dreams and plans He has for me will happen. I try to make plans and prepare myself for the things He wants to do through me. Then there are times when I think about my past. I think about the ugly details and can’t help but wonder if my past is the thing keeping me from the future God has for me. It’s easy to look behind me and then mentally disqualify myself. It’s usually in those moments I hear the still small voice say, “You can’t undo my calling on your life. Just keep being faithful in the little things.”
Peter is a disciple we like to pick on, but his faith enabled him to do things that were written about. There were moments when he had great revelation and times when Jesus rebuked him openly. Jesus once told Him that He would use him as the foundation to build His Church on. Yet Peter is also the person who denied even knowing Jesus. I’m sure he wrestled with the same thoughts I do. Had he messed up so badly that God changed His plan him? That’s why I love that Jesus imparted the blessing to him by asking Peter if he loved Him. When Peter said yes, Jesus comforted him and told him that the deal was still on by telling him to feed His sheep. His past didn’t matter. His heart did.
Psalm 139:5 says, “You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way, and in kindness you follow behind me to spare me from the harm of my past. With your hand of love upon my life, you impart a blessing to me” (TPT). Man looks on the outward appearance of things looking to disqualify ourselves or someone else from their calling, but God looks at our heart and the plans He has for us. He prepares the way and opens the doors for us. He uses the mistakes of our past, no matter how bad they were, to help us reach broken people with authenticity. He speaks His blessings of approval over us like He did for Peter. Do you love Him? Then go do what He’s called you to do. Quit worrying about all these other things and focus on your love for Him. He’s already prepared your way, so get moving on it toward your destiny.
One of the traps that I fall into is thinking that if I’m doing what God asked me to, I won’t find resistance from others. I mean if I’m doing God’s will, others, especially Christians should be on board, right? Not necessarily. The things that God calls us to do are often for us alone to do. Other people won’t necessarily see or run with the vision God has given you, and that’s ok. It doesn’t mean you didn’t hear God, or that they’re not. The enemy doesn’t want you to be productive for the Kingdom, nor does he want you to complete the work God has given you to do. He will use whoever and whatever he can to slow you down, discourage you and wear you down so that you lose your zeal, doubt your calling and give up.
Even though God had burdened Nehemiah with rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, and other people had caught on to that vision, it didn’t mean it was going to be easy. The people were joyful and started off strong, but then resistance came. People began to hurl insults at them to keep them from their work. Day in and day out they were verbally attacked. The verbal attacks turned into threats and plots against them to stop the work. They took their eyes off the goal and began to look at the enormity of the project, the size of the mess and lost their joy realizing it wasn’t in their strength to complete it. Nehemiah 4:10 says, “The people of Judah had a song they sang: ‘We grow weak carrying burdens; There’s so much rubble to take away. How can we build the wall today?’” (GNT) They became weary and discouraged like we do.
Galatians 6:9 says, “So let us not become tired of doing good; for if we do not give up, the time will come when we will reap the harvest.” If you’re getting discouraged because of the grind or the attacks from others in doing what God has called you to, pick your head up and look to the One who called you to it. Keep your focus on the end goal and not on the size of today’s problems. God will strengthen you and give you wisdom in how to handle today’s issues of you ask Him to. Pray for people who will run along side of you, who will catch the vision and who will share the load. Remember how big your God is. He is able to make a way where there seems to be no way. Keep pressing forward with the end in mind and you will reap a harvest for the work you’re doing.
At a young age I felt like I was called into ministry. I began preparing and practicing, but honestly I was afraid of it. It was a dream that was in front of me, but the older I got, the further into the future this dream seemed to go. Then in a single day, the dream died. I went through a divorce that couldn’t be avoided. The denomination I was a part of at the time had a rule back then that you couldn’t be a minister if you were divorced. I was devastated by both the divorce and the fact that I could never be in ministry. All my life had been pointing to the dream of ministry and it was gone. Not only was I having to start life over, I was lost without a dream to guide me. That is until a friend told me,”Do you really think that man can negate God’s calling?”
In Ezekiel 37, God showed Ezekiel a valley of very dry bones. I imagine it was quite a sight to see. Dead people’s bones were scattered everywhere and there were none connected together I’m sure. As God showed him all these bones, He asked him a question in verse 3. “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?” (NLT) You and i both know that humanly it impossible for them to be brought back to life, but that’s not how Ezekiel answered. Instead of stating the obvious, he replied, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know the answer to that.” At that answer, God told him to speak to those bones and prophesy to them to come alive and live again. Just like that the bones all came together and were covered with flesh. Then he was told to speak and prophesy the breath of life back into them and they became a living army.
You may be where I was once in feeling like your calling or the dream God gave you is dead and in the past. It doesn’t matter whether it’s anything you’ve done, someone has done to you or if it’s from not going after it in time. Man, including yourself, cannot take away God’s promises, nor His plan for your life. You may be looking at a valley of the dead bones of your dreams today, but God can make them live again. Speak to your dream. Speak life into it. If God has placed it in you, it will happen no matter what things look like today. Be like Ezekiel when you’re looking at what seems dead. Don’t pronounce that it can’t live again. Let God answer that question and watch Him begin to bring the pieces back together again.