When I was in my teens, I was in a scouting program through my church. I had a plan to get my Gold Medal of Achievement (Eagle Scout equivalent) before I turned 18. I had a lot of badges to get. One of them was the Bachelor merit. I had to plan three meals a day for the family, create a shopping list for it, go to the store to get it, prepare those meals, make my bed every day, clean the house, etc. Each merit had a list of activities that had to be done and signed off on before I could earn it.
It taught me to be goal oriented and to work well with lists. The downside of it is I got the mentality of a box checker. I thought all I needed to do to be successful was to check off certain boxes and it would happen. If I wanted to be more spiritual, I just needed to figure out which boxes to check and I’d be good. Do you ever feel that way? Do you think, “What do I need to do to be _________?” It’s the box checker mentality.
A box checker came to Jesus in Matthew 19, and he asked what he needed to do to get to Heaven. Jesus gave him a list of commandments to be checked off. Then in verse 20, he said he had checked off those boxes, and wanted to know what other boxes there were. Jesus told him to sell all he had and follow Him. He and the disciples were perplexed and wondered who could get into Heaven. That’s when Jesus told them that getting into Heaven isn’t about checking boxes.
In verse 26 Jesus said, “With people [as far as it depends on them] it is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (AMP). There is so much in life that isn’t about what we do, but what God does. We want to earn it, but it’s impossible. What do you need to do to get God to love you more? What do you need to do get His favor? We have this mind that says, “If I check off these boxes, then God will …” Jesus was saying go the rich young ruler, and to us, “Quit trying to check boxes.” When we do that, we think we can earn His favor or His grace, but they are gifts freely given. It’s hard to do, but we need to let God do what only He can do because it doesn’t depend on us.
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Throwback Thursday is a new 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.
Since I live in a major US city, I get to experience traffic on my daily commute. Because of that, my eyes have been trained to look at the car right in front of me when I drive. If you’ve ever taken Driver’s Ed or Defensive Driving, you know that’s not a healthy driving habit. You should be looking about 10 to 30 seconds ahead while driving. People who drive with their eyes looking at their immediate situation tend to have more wrecks and tickets. Plus, I find it scares your wife a lot!
What’s true in driving, is true in life. There are people who get so caught up in their current situation that they lose sight of the future. Their present situation is all they can see, and they’re constantly living in fear of having an emotional wreck. Because they haven’t trained their eyes to look forward, it’s hard to imagine a positive future. Life becomes an emotional roller coaster with a pessimistic view of the world. That’s exhausting and not how God wants us to live our lives.
God wants us to train our eyes to look beyond our present circumstances and troubles. He wants us to look further down the road so we can see that our current situation is only temporary. In the bigger picture, we can see His hand directing our life with purposeful movement. II Corinthians 4:18 says, “So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (NLT).
When your current situation becomes overwhelming, look ahead to joy that’s coming because what you’re going through now is only temporary. This too shall pass. God uses these times to build character, perseverance, endurance and hope in us. Each circumstance you go through has a purpose that God is using for your good and for the good of others. The next time you get caught up looking at the present, remind yourself to look ahead. You are more than your present situation. There’s a bigger picture God is working on.
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I’ll never forget a minister who came to work at our church when I was younger. They felt that God had called them to our town and our church. Not long after they had uprooted their family from their hometown and moved to ours, things started to go wrong. Their car broke down, the AC in the house went out, etc. It seemed that for a year nothing went right and everything was against them. They concluded that they missed God and weren’t supposed to be there. They resigned and moved back to where they lived before.
I remember talking to them about it, and decided to label it Jonah Syndrome. They believed if bad things were happening, they must have missed God or disobeyed Him. My response was that bad things happen, and that it could be an attack to try to make them ineffective at what God had called them to do. To this day, I believe they didn’t think that bad things happen to people who are in the will of God. Unfortunately, there are a lot of us who believe that. The truth is that we need to get rid of the Jonah Syndrome.
All of the early disciples, and most of the Early Church, suffered hardships. Paul was beaten, shipwrecked, left for dead and had disagreements with the leadership of the Church. Bad things happened to him constantly in the New Testament. He even had one nagging problem that he said was a “thorn in his flesh”. He asked God to resolve and remove the problem, but God didn’t. Instead, in 2 Corinthians 12, He replied to Paul, “My grace is sufficient” (AMP).
I like how Psalm 34:19 says, “Good people suffer many troubles, but the Lord saves them from them all” (GNT). You and I are going to go through suffering and have our own thorns in the flesh. It doesn’t mean we are not in God’s will, it means that we need to learn to trust His grace. Jonah was running from his calling. That’s why he suffered. If you’re trying to do what God called you to and you’re running into troubles, ask God for His grace to help you endure. It could be that you’re on the edge of a breakthrough and the enemy is trying to stop you. Above all, seek God’s wisdom in the matter and trust His answer.
One of the classes I train has me ask, “Is this your truth,” at the end of each section. If someone says it’s not their truth, I’m to engage them to find out why they don’t believe what I just taught. I’m looking for their objection to the truth I’ve presented. My goal is to not just get them to accept the truth, but to go back and implement that truth into their life. We always act on what we believe, so it’s important to know what the truth is before we act.
We live in a world where the lines of truth are constantly being blurred. Over the last two generations, Truth has gone from something we all accepted as a whole to what each of us believes individually. What I’ve learned is that truth is truth no matter what I believe personally. I can choose to not believe in gravity, but that doesn’t stop me from coming back to the ground when I jump. There are still universal truths in our world whether people choose to believe them or not.
I was talking with a man recently about truth, and I brought up Jesus in Pilate’s court in John 18. When Jesus said that He came to testify to the truth, Pilate asked, “What is truth?” (GNT) I wish the Bible would have recorded Jesus’ answer. We know from John 14:6 that Jesus said He was the way, the truth and the life. Also in John 1, we read that Jesus is the Word Of God made flesh. He, and the Bible, are our absolute truth in this world. It is the plumb line in a world that has lost its direction.
The reason you use a plumb line in construction is because your eyes can deceive you. In the same way, the Word Of God is our plumb line in this world. Our eyes can deceive us, and it can be difficult to determine what truth is. Psalm 33:4 says, “The words of the Lord are true, and all his works are dependable.” We must know God’s Word if we are going to use it as a plumb line to build our lives on the rock of truth. Otherwise, we will be like the foolish man who build his house on the shifting sands of what culture believes at the moment.
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I can’t tell you how many times I’ve prayed, “Lord, am I on the right path? Is this where you want me? What’s my next step?” I always want to be in the know about the path for my life. I want to be able to see it and know I’m in the right place. Then this week I saw someone post Jeremiah 29:11. It says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (NLT). They then said, notice who knows the plans. It’s not me or you.
That spoke volumes to me since I always want to know the plan. Faith is about trusting the plans God has for me even when I don’t see them fully. I need to trust the steps He gives me, and i need to wait to take them until He says to. My impulse is to be like Abraham where God shows the promise and then I try to get there on my own. We need to learn to trust God’s plan, His timing and His path to get there. I’ve learned there’s less heartache if I do.
Here are some Bible verses on trusting God’s plan and the path to get there.
1. The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.”
Psalms 32:8 NLT
2. People may plan all kinds of things, but the Lord ‘s will is going to be done.
Proverbs 19:21 GNT
3. A man’s mind plans his way [as he journeys through life], But the LORD directs his steps and establishes them.
PROVERBS 16:9 AMP
4. The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.
Psalms 37:23-24 NLT
5. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.
Proverbs 3:5-6 HCSB
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At church, we’ve been singing Michael W. Smith’s song “This is How I Fight My Battles”. It’s a simple song, but it’s powerful. One of the lines says, “It may look like I’m surrounded, but I’m surrounded by you.” As we sing that song, it reminds me of when Elisha’s servant walked outside one morning and saw they were surrounded by an army. He called for Elisha who came outside and said, “Don’t worry about it. There’s more with us than there are with them. Lord, open his eyes to see.” (2 Kings 6:17)
I also think of times in my life where I’ve been surrounded by turmoil, heartbreak and relentless attacks. Even when that period seemed like it would never end, God would surround me with people who would pray for me, encourage me and help me to stay in the battle. When all seemed lost, God never left me. He surrounded me with His presence and His people when the enemy had surrounded me and tried to take me out.
As you read through the Psalms, David felt that way too. He was chased and trapped in caves by King Saul and the army of Israel at times. Other times it was foreign armies hunting him down trying to take him out. He even writes of family and friends who talk behind his back and want to destroy him. Through it all, he cried out to God because he understood that when the enemy comes in like a flood, the Lord lifts up a standard against him (Isaiah 59:19). God surrounds us in our greatest moments of despair.
Psalm 31:21 says, “Praise the Lord! How wonderfully he showed his love for me when I was surrounded and attacked!” (GNT) It’s not time to give up when you are surrounded- it’s time to look up! There are more with you than there are against you. God shows a His great love for us in the moments where we need it most. We have to learn to take our eyes off of the enemy that is surrounding us and look to God who is surrounding them. You are not alone in your fight. You are surrounded by the Lord Of Hosts and the armies of Heaven.
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How do you handle stress or bad news? I’m the type of person who replays the situation over and over in my head trying to find a solution. Each time that I don’t find one, the stress seems to get heavier. I begin to feel tired, but I can’t sleep because I’m too worked up. I try to think of something else, but I can’t. My mind fixated on the problem and all of its consequences. I even start to question myself as to why I wasn’t prepared for this. I keep concentrating on the problem until I remember that God knows the answer.
To help my mind make the shift, I play praise and worship music. I love how it invites the presence of God into the place where I am, and how it shifts my attention from how big the problem is to how big God is. From deep within me, I begin to thank God for all He has done in my life, for all He has provided and for all He is going to do. As I do that, i give the responsibility of finding the solution over to Him. I don’t have to have control of the situation or my future because it’s in His hands.
I know that’s easier said than done, but the truth is He is more capable of working out His will in my life than I am. He is able to use whatever it is that’s stressing me out for my good. By giving it to Him, I release myself of the stress of having to find a solution and the fear of making the wrong choice. I spend time reminding God of all the times in my life when He has intervened or taken what I thought was a bad thing and turned into something good. The power of praise and prayer changes everything.
David knew that. In Psalm 30:4 he wrote, “Sing praise to the Lord, all his faithful people! Remember what the Holy One has done, and give him thanks!” (GNT) He then reminds us that mourning may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning. We don’t have to fear what tomorrow will bring when we place it in a His hands. When we learn to pray and give praise in these times, we can wake up joyful because we are trusting our unknown future to the God we know.
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