When someone is staring something new, whether it’s a business or ministry, I usually give them the same advice. I tell them, “Start with Timex, not Rolex.” You want to build something that will take a licking and keep on ticking. You also don’t want to over spend. So many times when we’re starting something new, we make it about the sizzle instead of the steak. If you want to build something that will last, take your time, do things right and lay the foundation work first. No, it’s not sexy and it may not get a lot of attention, but if you do the small things right from the beginning, the larger things will take care of themself later. God puts it this way, “If you will be faithful in the small things, I’ll make you faithful over many things.”
In Zechariah 4, the Lord showed him Zerubbabel in a vision. He was the man who would lead the first group of Jews out of Babylonian captivity around 500 BC. This first set of Jews went back under his leadership, and with money collected by all Jews, with a mission to rebuild the Temple. The work was tedious and hard. People tried to disrupt them and stop them, but Zerubbabel kept working and kept the people focused. The Lord reminded him that it wouldn’t be completed by his might or strength, but by the Spirit of the Lord. Then in verse 10, the Lord sends him a reminder, and one to us too. He said, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand” (NLT). It was a reminder to not undervalue the beginning work of laying the foundation.
If we don’t get our foundation right, the rest of the structure is unsound. God is not concerned with whether or not we’re making things attractive enough. He wants us to do them right and to do them well. Whatever you’re starting won’t be a success because of your might or power, but by God’s Spirit. Yes, you should work like it depends on you and pray like it depends on God, but don’t despise the small beginnings. Don’t compare yourself in the beginning stage to where someone else is that has been doing it for a while. Put your head down, do what God called you to and leave the results up to Him. He doesn’t measure success the way we do anyway, so quit trying to build something that’s successful in man’s eyes. It’s not their approval you’re after.
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When you’re in over your head, who do you seek guidance from? I’ve made a few of these calls, and I get a few of these calls from time to time. Each time I’m talking with someone who is asking for guidance, I immediately start praying, “God, give me wisdom. Give me the right words that will help them make the right choices. Give them the courage to make the hard choices necessary. Amen.” I know that my wisdom is flawed, but God’s wisdom is perfect. He sees the whole picture and knows what they need to do. Too often we seek His guidance, or other godly guidance late in our journey rather than at the beginning.
In the books of Chronicles and Kings, you can read about many of the early kings of Israel and Judah. In almost every case, the writer quickly tells you whether they were a godly King or whether they did things that were evil in God’s sight. There were a couple Kings who took the throne when they were kids. In at least two of the cases, they were heavily influenced by godly people. They were taught and encouraged to lead with godly principles. They also continued to seek God’s will and direction for their nation as they ruled. Because they followed God’s plan, they prospered during their reign.
2 Chronicles 26:5 says, “And as long as the king sought guidance from the Lord, God gave him success” (NLT). That’s an important lesson for us to learn. If you and I will seek God’s guidance and wisdom, He will give us success in the things we do. God loves to give us wisdom, but it’s our choice whether to follow it or not. The path God gives is rarely the easy path and requires us to make tough decisions. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to us, but remember, He’s not looking at what you see now. He’s looking ahead to the parts of the road you can’t see. The guidance He gives is based on His plan for you, and we know He has good plans for each of us. No matter where you are in your journey, there’s still time to start seeking God’s guidance.
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One of the questions I ask young adults is, “How do you personally define a successful life?” If they struggle with the answer, we fast forward until their 80 and look at their life. Then I ask, “If you had a successful life in your eyes, what would you see?” Many times I hear people say, “Lots of kids or grandkids,” or “A full bank account,” or “Lots of property.” If they know where they want to end up, they can start working towards getting there. Now let’s flip the question, “At the end of your life, how will Jesus know you lived a successful life?”
I don’t mean that question as a Jesus Juke. I want you to think about whether you’re living for yourself or for Him. Do your goals match up with the goals He has for you? 2 Corinthians 5:15 says, “He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them” (NLT). If at the end of your life, you attained your measure of success, but not His, you’ve failed. In Mark 8:36, Jesus said, “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?”
2 Corinthians 5 goes on to tell us that when we are in Christ, we receive a new life. With a new life comes new purpose. We no longer are to live for ourselves (old life). We are to now live for Christ (new life). This new life produces different fruit than the old one. The definition of success changes because your purpose changes. If you’re still working under your old definition of success in your new life, spend time asking God what His definition of success is for your life. It’s not too late to begin fulfilling your purpose in your new life.
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One of the words God uses over and over in the Bible is courage. He wants us to be courageous when doing what He asks. One of my favorite passages is in Joshua 1. Verse 7 says, “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do” (NLT). Success starts with being strong and courageous, but what does it mean to have courage?
The simple definition is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s the ability to keep going when things aren’t going the way you thought they should. It’s the most difficult thing to have when you need it the most. If you’ve lived life at all, you’ve been discouraged. You’ve lost battles you thought you should have won. You’ve suffered defeat after defeat and wondered where the strength comes from to keep going. How do you find courage in those times?
In those moments, I simply prayed that God would just help me to take the first step, which was survival. We often think of courage as this great thing, but I believe it’s found in facing a new day, taking one more step or breathing one more time. It says, “I’m not going down. I’m not giving up!” Where do we get that courage from in those moments? As I’ve said, I found it in prayer and through God’s help.
Psalm 3:3 says, “But you, O Lord, are always my shield from danger; you give me victory and restore my courage” (GNT). God will restore your lost courage and give you the victory when you ask. Quit worrying about trying to win the war, and focus on getting courage from God to win today’s battle. Keep God’s Word in your heart, and be careful to obey it. Then, as Joshua 1:7 says, you will have success and victory.
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When I was a teen, someone told me, “You become like those you run with.” When I was a young adult, someone told me, “You show me who your friends are, and I’ll show you who you are.” Then several years later, someone told me, “If you want to soar with eagles, you can’t be scratching around in the dirt with turkeys.” All these reminders have been about the importance of choosing who you choose to hang out with. Either the group you’re with will hold you back or help you get to that next level.
As I’ve lived my life, I can honestly say that these messages are true. Close relationships are the greatest influencers of your success or failure. If you’re constantly failing and are stuck in a bad place, you need to walk away from the relationships that are holding you back. Your life will not change until you change your relationships. If you want your life to improve, associate with people who are ahead of you and are moving in the right direction. This works for spiritual and economic growth.
As Paul was grooming Timothy to be a leader, he gave him the same advice. 2 Timothy 2:22 says, “Strive for righteousness, faith, love, and peace, together with those who with a pure heart call out to the Lord for help” (GNT) Paul wanted Timothy to understand it’s difficult to grow on your own. You need other like minded people who are headed in the same direction to help you get there. Proverbs 27:17 tells us that as iron sharpens iron, one person sharpens another. You need people around you who will make you sharp.
When coaching or counseling people, I let them know that they need someone ahead of them that they can follow. They need someone beside them that can challenge them. They also need someone behind them that they can help get to the next level. Finding the right relationships is one of the most difficult tasks in life. That’s why it’s preached to you since you were young. It’s never to late to make the changes you need to make. If you’re ready to soar with eagles, spread your wings and leave the turkeys behind.
One of my favorite pictures we took on a trip to Haiti was where one person was pretending to cut a board with a skill saw while another person held up the power cord with a confused look on her face. We took it to make people laugh, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that’s how many people live their lives. They have the right tools to be successful, but they lack the power to utilize those tools properly.
Part of what I do for a living, and also do here on this site, is to give people the tools they need to be successful. Power tools work best when they’re plugged in. Imagine how long it would take to cut a board using a skill saw that wasn’t plugged in. Think about the effort it would require and what that cut would look like if they had to do it manually with that saw. Even though we had the right tool, without the power to use the tool to its potential, we wouldn’t be very successful.
In Deuteronomy 8:18, Moses was speaking to the Children of Israel just before they went into the Promised Land. He was giving them final instructions to remember since he would not be crossing the Jordan river with them. He said, “Remember the LORD your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful” (NLT). He was reminding them that they have the tools to be successful, but God is the source of power behind those tools. He wanted them to remember that their success wouldn’t be of their own power.
The same is true for us. While we hold the tools and do the work, it is God who gives us the power to be successful at whatever He calls us to put our hand to. Like a professional athlete who takes a knee after a touchdown or points to Heaven after a homerun, we need to take time to honor God for each success we have. It keeps us humble and it reminds us and others that God is our source. Apart from His power, we are trying to cut a board with an unplugged skill saw.
Joshua 1:8 has always been one of my favorite scriptures. From a child, I’ve heard it said that this verse is God’s secret to success. It says, “Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do” (NLT). The secret to success is to know God’s laws, to study them, to meditate on them, and to obey them.
Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” If we will study God’s Word, and put it in our hearts, we are more likely to do what it says and less likely to abandon it. It gives us advice on how to live, what to say, and how to make Godly decisions. The more we study it, the more knowledge and wisdom we will gain. It sheds light on the traps others have fallen into so that we can avoid them.
One of the things we discussed with our guide in Israel was how God wanted all kings to be given a copy of the scriptures and He wanted them to read them daily. He wanted the leaders of Israel to be successful and for their people to prosper. He knew that they would be given all kinds of advice, and that they would need a way to determine if it was good or not. The scriptures do just that. If the advice lines up with God’s Word, follow it.
If God was so concerned about kings reading His Word, you and I should follow that example. There’s not one of us who doesn’t need help in our Christian walk. We all face temptation, but we don’t have to give in to it. When we put God’s Word in our heart, we give ourselves a fighting chance against temptation. Jesus used God’s Word against the devil when He was tempted, and we can do it too. The secret to living a successful Christian life isn’t secluding yourself from the world. It’s having a power in you that’s greater than the world’s attempts to pull you away from God.