‘The socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint.’ Genesis 32:25 NKJV
When you try to run from God, you keep running into Him at every turn. It happened to Jacob. He ran from his brother Esau’s anger, and when things got too hot in his father-in-law’s house, he ran from there too. Finally, when he could run no more, he ran into God at a place called Peniel. And it was there that his name was changed from Jacob, meaning ‘the deceiver’, to Israel, which means ‘a prince with God’. The Bible says: ‘Then Jacob was left alone, and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.” But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” So He said to him, “What is your name?” He said, “Jacob.” And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”’(Genesis 32:24–28 NKJV) When God dislocated Jacob’s hip, in essence, He was telling him, ‘Your running days are over, and your limp will be a constant reminder of your total dependence on Me.’ We all need a ‘Jacob experience’. Oswald Chambers said when God wants to use a man, ‘He hammers him and hurts him, and with mighty blows converts him.’ Everything Jacob needed, he found when he ran into the arms of God. The same is true for you.
‘See the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.’ Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT
Often life doesn’t go according to plan. A promotion doesn’t happen in time and your career plans get side-lined, or a relationship backfires and you spend every waking moment analyzing what went wrong. The secret to real peace lies in seeing ‘the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end’, and accepting that He works according to His own timetable. Have you ever tried unlocking the door to your house when you’re rushing, weighed down with packages, and the phone is ringing? It’s the right key, but it won’t work because you’re forcing it. Once you relax, the door opens with no problem. Counsellor Melody Beattie says: ‘Stop trying so hard. You’re sabotaging yourself. Once you decide a situation is good or bad, you put yourself in a position of having to do something about it. For example, if someone is “good” you start comparing yourself: am I better or worse? How do I need to improve? We’re exhausted before we begin! When the path is uphill—walk up the hill! When you have to go around an obstacle… go around it! Accept the path before you. The Bible says there’s “a proper time and procedure for every delight” (Ecclesiastes 8:6 NASB). Sometimes that means you don’t get what you want today, you get what you have today. Maybe something needs to happen first. Or there’s an important lesson God wants you to learn and you’re trying to avoid it. Or it’s just not time. Stop trying so hard to make things happen on your timetable. Do what you can do in peace, surrender the rest to God, and watch the “impossible” fall into place.’
‘Glorify God in your body.’ 1 Corinthians 6:20 NKJV
One pastor writes: ‘I stood on every healing Scripture in the Bible. Finally, I got so sick that I had to be rushed to the hospital. There they discovered I had five arteries completely blocked and scheduled me for a bypass surgery. When I came through it, I started questioning, “How could this have happened to me? I’m a pastor. I believe that God heals. I’ve prayed for others and watched Him heal them.” Then I remembered! I’d been warned repeatedly that my cholesterol and sugar levels were too high. I needed to change my diet, but I wouldn’t listen. I was addicted to fried foods and fatty foods. They were so tasty I couldn’t give them up.’
Jesus said the children of this world are wiser than the children of light (see Luke 16:8). The media and the medical establishment are warning us daily to eat more healthily, yet often the church is silent. Tobacco, alcohol, and drugs can kill you, but so can eating unhealthy food! Paul writes: ‘Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which is God’s.’ (1 Corinthians 6:19–20 NKJV) You have an assignment from God, and a responsibility to stay healthy and fulfill it. Your body is the temple in which He dwells, and the instrument He uses. So seek to ‘glorify God in your body’ each day.
‘You will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the right way.”‘ Isaiah 30:21 NCV
A counselor who was once an addict writes: ‘I was in treatment for chemical dependency and needed a job to get out. I looked for months, but nobody wanted to hire me. One day I was waiting for a bus when a little voice urged: “Look behind you.” I was standing next to an attorney’s office. “Go talk to the head of the firm and tell him you need a job,” were the words I heard. That’s crazy, I thought… but that “still, small voice” urged me on, so I obeyed. When I talked to the attorney and told him what was happening in my life, he understood because someone in his family was also recovering from addiction. Then he looked at me and said, “It’s funny you came in today. I was thinking about creating a position for a legal secretary and hadn’t gotten around to advertising.” Two weeks later I got the job, and it was better than any position I’d applied for. It paid more and made the best possible use of my skills.’ The problem isn’t that God no longer speaks to us; it’s that we don’t recognize His voice. Don’t be so quick to dismiss the random thoughts that cross your mind (see 1 Corinthians 2:16). Generally speaking, God won’t send a thunderbolt from Heaven to get your attention. More often He speaks through your thoughts, a family member, a friend, a teacher, a pastor, a change in your circumstances, the sudden discovery of the ‘perfect’ Scripture, the writing of a gifted author, or in the quietness when He fills your heart with perfect peace. So learn to listen to God’s voice.
‘The Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush.’ Exodus 3:2 NKJV
Moses lived on the backside of the desert for four decades: that’s over 21 million minutes! His life was defined by monotony until he had an epiphany. On a day that started out like the 14,600 days before, Moses spotted a burning bush out of the corner of his eye. Then he heard a voice from out of the bush calling his name. Sometimes God will surprise you! A burning bush is about as absurd as a talking donkey. Oh, wait, God did that too! One of the dangers inherent in walking with God for a long time is thinking that you’ve got Him figured out. We try to put Him in a box, but there’s no box big enough to contain Him. He says: ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.’ (Isaiah 55:8–9 NKJV) Instead of drifting through life aimlessly and letting all your days run together, you need to get up each morning and pray: ‘Father, thank You for this new day. Give me fresh insights in Your Word that reveal new aspects of Your character so that I might do Your will and glorify You.’ Become more alert and aware; don’t miss what God has for you. Do what Moses did: ‘“This is amazing,” Moses said to himself, “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go and see it.”’ (Exodus 3:3 NLT) Today, try to ‘see’ what God is doing in your life!
‘If you abide in My Word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ John 8:31–32 NKJV
Are you trying to overcome a bad habit? Jesus wants to set you free. ‘If you abide in My Word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ You ask, ‘What is this “truth” that will make me free?’ Jesus answers in six words: ‘If you abide in My Word.’ Victory is gained in your mind, and maintained in your mind. One lady joked, ‘Giving up cigarettes is easy; I’ve done it thousands of times.’
Seriously, how can you stop going back to old habit patterns? By repenting of them, renouncing them, and replacing the old thoughts that lead us back to them with new thoughts. And where do these new thoughts come from? Jesus answers, ‘If you abide in My Word.’ This means staying out of places that foster wrong thoughts and away from people who encourage wrong thoughts. It may mean changing what you watch on television. You’ll notice that before you give in to a bad habit, you think the thoughts that lead to it. The Bible says, ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ (Romans 12:2 NKJV) In the early stages of recovery from any addiction it’s critical to saturate your mind daily in the Scriptures, pray, and be willing to reach for the support of a friend (see Ecclesiastes 4:9–10). Will you sometimes fail on your way to success? Yes. But victory begins when you decide to be free, and believe God will set you free.
‘We are tempted by our own desires.’ James 1:14 CEV
James writes: ‘Don’t blame God when you are tempted! God cannot be tempted by evil, and He doesn’t use evil to tempt others. We are tempted by our own desires that drag us off and trap us. Our desires make us sin, and when sin is finished with us, it leaves us dead. Don’t be fooled, my dear friends.’ (James 1:13–16 CEV) When you keep sinning and violating your values, you can reach a place where it’s hard to live comfortably in your own skin. Any appetite that’s overindulged can quickly become an addiction. What you wanted yesterday, you find yourself needing today. Then before you know it, you give yourself over to the thing that’s controlling your life because it’s the only way you can find temporary escape. Stop and ask:
(1) ‘What about my life’s purpose?’ What about the person God called you to be? Seeing the joy others have is a constant reminder of the joy you’ve lost, and what you’re missing out on.
(2) ‘What happens when trouble hits my life or my family?’ In such moments you wonder, ‘Is this happening because of me?’ A thousand voices may tell you it’s not your fault, but deep down you are never sure. The only way to find real peace is to get right with God. And you can. Here’s His offer: ‘Turn to the Lord! He can still be found. Call out to God! He is near. Give up your crooked ways and your evil thoughts. Return to the Lord our God. He will be merciful and forgive your sins.’
‘God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”‘ Exodus 3:4 NKJV
Moses had all the potential in the world at forty but felt like a lost cause at eighty. Instead of doing God’s will God’s way, he tried to expedite God’s will and delayed it for four decades! At some point in our lives, most of us feel like life has passed us by. Our dream seems like a lost cause. That crisis presents us with a choice: throw in the towel, or throw our hat back in the ring. Many of us give up on our dreams because we feel like God has given up on us. But we serve a God of restoration (see Joel 2:25). The life of Moses proves that no matter how many wrong turns we’ve taken, it’s God’s grace that gets us back on track. Moses thought his past had disqualified him, but God leveraged it to prepare him for his date with destiny. No one knew the protocol of the palace like a prince of Egypt. After all, he grew up in it. And after tending sheep for forty years he knew the ways of the wilderness—the wildlife, the watering holes, the weather patterns. Moses got it wrong before he got it right, and you may too. And here’s the good news: God can use your past failures to fertilize your character and equip you with the strength and wisdom needed to do what He put you on this earth do too. The saying is true: ‘It’s wonderful what God can do with a broken life when you give Him all the pieces.’
‘Give, and it shall be given unto you.’ Luke 6:38 KJV
Many of us want to give to people we love and causes we believe in. But fear stops us. We’re afraid that if we give, we might not have enough left for ourselves. So instead of sowing, we hoard our seed and miss the harvest God promised us. Why? Because on some deeper level, we wonder if God would actually bless someone like us. Jesus said, ‘Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over.’ If a bank promised that kind of return on your investment you’d beat a path to their door, right? But banks can fail and bankers can’t always be trusted, whereas God has never broken a promise! Here’s an important Bible truth: when you open your hand to God, He opens His hand to you. And God has a bigger hand! But as well as learning how to give, you must learn how to receive. Jesus said, ‘Good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.’ (Luke 6:38 NIV) When God gives back to you, He often does it through people. All kinds of people! So don’t let pride or prejudice stop you from receiving from others, because God wants to give them a harvest on the seeds they sow into your life. Don’t circumvent the harvest—yours or theirs. Never hesitate to give to a true servant of God. ‘Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper.’ (2 Chronicles 20:20 NKJV) When God moves you to sow a seed, it’s because He has a harvest for you to reap. Don’t miss it!
‘We achieve this victory through our faith.’ 1 John 5:4 NLT
The Bible says, ‘Every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith.’ To live victoriously you must do these three things:
(1) Restrict the devil from moving in your life. Jesus said: ‘I promise you that God in Heaven will allow whatever you allow on earth, but He will not allow anything you don’t allow. I promise that when any two of you on earth agree about something you are praying for, My Father in Heaven will do it for you. Whenever two or three of you come together in My name, I am there with you.’ (Matthew 18:18–20 CEV) Satan doesn’t want you to know you have the God-given power to restrict his movements in your life, but you do. Use it!
(2) Dare to believe and reach for what God has promised you. Paul says, ‘Whoever sows generously will also reap generously.’ (2 Corinthians 9:6 NIV) A seed is anything you plant for the desired result, and a harvest is anything you decide to receive back from God. And both require an act of faith. Not only is God your source of supply, But He’s also unlimited, impartial, and generous.
(3) Wake up the dreamer within you. The Bible says, ‘Your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on My servants, both men and women, I will pour out My Spirit in those days.’ (Joel 2:28–29 NIV) Your season of life and your gender are no problem for God. Just ask Him to rekindle your faith and refocus your vision. Choose to live victoriously!
‘The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ Matthew 16:18 KJV
You cannot sit on the sidelines, because God has called you to the frontlines. Sometimes that means taking a stand for what is right. Jesus said, ‘I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’Note, gates are defensive measures. That means we have been called to attack the powers of hell. In 1517 a monk named Martin Luther picked a fight with the religious establishment. He challenged the status quo by attacking the selling of indulgences (licenses to sin). He posted the Ninety-Five Theses on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany, and ignited the Protestant Reformation. Luther probably didn’t know that he was making history. But small acts of faith and courage have a domino effect. When we do what is right regardless of the circumstances or consequences, we set the table for God to turn the tables. At the Diet of Worms in 1521, Luther was summoned by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and put on trial for his beliefs. Instead of recanting, Luther mustered the moral courage to take a stand: ‘My conscience is taken captive by God’s Word, I cannot and will not recant anything. For to act against our conscience is neither safe for us nor open to us. On this, I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.’ So, who do you need to stand up for? The homeless? The fatherless? The voiceless? Don’t let the problem overwhelm you. Don’t let what you cannot do, keep you from doing what you can.
‘He lifted me out of the pit of despair.’ Psalm 40:2 NLT
When an earthquake struck Haiti, an aid worker trapped under a collapsed hotel prayed, ‘Lord, I haven’t been in touch with You lately. Now I need You more than ever.’ He writes: ‘I heard a sound. “Who’s there?” I shouted. “Jim,” a man replied. He and five others were trapped too. “Would you like to pray with me?” I asked. “Yes,” he answered. So I said, “Lord, we’re asking You for a miracle. Please rescue us.” I was drifting off to sleep when rhythmic thumping woke me. Helicopters! We waited, but nobody came. I felt drained. No food and water for twenty-four hours and I needed a doctor… I closed my eyes, sure I’d never open them again… A voice shouted and I jolted awake… a survivor had contacted a rescue team through a small hole… An hour passed, then two… I banged on the wall. No response. “I’m going to die here, and there’s nothing I can do.” Then this thought came to my mind: Worship Me. I began singing: “Great is Thy faithfulness; morning by morning new mercies I see.” I sang: “Be still my soul.” Praise songs… to the One who knew exactly where I was. I felt God’s presence…and heard Him whisper, “Trust me with everything”…and I let it all go. “Your will be done, Lord”… Hours later a team of rescuers came down the elevator shaft, hoisted me to safety, and took me to the hospital. My wife was waiting. “I thought you were dead,” she said. “Me too,” I whispered. And I would have been if it hadn’t been for what I had with me in that dark place—like my faith that’s more alive than ever.’
‘Be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like Him.’ Colossians 3:10 NLT
Lasting change happens gradually on the inside, often before there’s any outward evidence of it. Pastor Jim Penner says: ‘A friend of mine recently went through hip-replacement surgery… the joint had worn to the point where he walked with a limp and had to use a crutch. Thanks to the skill of a modern-day surgeon he was quickly up and around again. Yet for months after the surgery, his limp remained… I ran into him this morning and the limp was gone. Where did it go? It had been there the day before. Had it vanished in the night? “You’re walking great,” I said. “What happened?” His response was priceless. “My physical therapist told me I had to retrain my brain.” His brain had been trained to expect pain so he limped in anticipation. Even when he didn’t feel the pain his brain said, “Hang on. It’s coming!” The Bible says in Christ you become “a new creature: old things are passed away… all things become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 KJV) But you have to change your thinking by believing, accepting, and acting on it. Christ has already done the restoration “surgery”. Just like my friend was given a new hip, God has given you a new life. The old one is gone along with all the bad things you’ve done, though, or said. You’re a brand-new creation. But you have to retrain your brain to accept God’s forgiveness and the restorative work Jesus has done in your life.’
So: retrain your brain.
‘I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ.’ 2 Corinthians 12:10 NLT
When you’re insulted, you can retaliate with a stinging comeback or see it as a growth opportunity. David said, ‘It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Your statutes.’ (Psalm 119:71 NKJV) Psychologist Dr. Brenda Shoshanna says: ‘The person who insults us is a teacher… come to help us reduce our ego, develop patience and compassion, practice unconditional forgiveness, and teach us about life and relationships. If you don’t perceive an insult as an insult, but as a teaching or a gift, it loses its power to hurt you. On a practical level, if you’re insulted, say nothing. Give yourself time. Much harm is created by lashing back, escalating the situation, and saying things you may not mean. Recognize it’s your ego—that false sense of pride acting up—and don’t go along with it.’ Paul reached a place where he actually took ‘pleasure in…insults’. Most of us aren’t quite there yet, but with time and practice, it can happen.
Consider the actions of Judas. Although he betrayed Jesus, he nevertheless accomplished God’s will—in fact, he was instrumental in God’s plan of redemption. So it can be that God can bring blessing into and through our lives by the betrayal of friends or the malicious action of enemies. God, who makes all things work together for good for those who love Him, can use even our worst relationships as a means of untold blessing. We can’t stop hurts and wounds from coming our way but, because of the grace of God, we can transform them so they resound to His glory. And we can realize that even enemies, like Judas, are really friends in disguise.
‘Their widows were being discriminated against.’ Acts 6:1 NLT
The Bible says: ‘As the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food.’ Why? Because they were outsiders. These women didn’t grow up in Judea or Galilee. They hailed from the distant lands of Greece, Rome, and Syria. If they spoke Aramaic at all, they did so with an accent. Consequently, they were ‘neglected’. (Acts 6:1 NKJV) The manager of the food pantry gave Hebrew women the first pick. The food bank director separated requests into two stacks: locals and immigrants. How did the church respond? ‘The Twelve [apostles] called a meeting of all the believers.’ (Acts 6:2 NLT) Have you ever been to a meeting of ‘believers’ called to deal with those who are ‘being discriminated against’? Why did the apostles call such a meeting? Because of the example, Jesus set from the very outset of His ministry: ‘And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written…’ (Luke 4:17 KJV) That day He announced the six things that God had sent Him to do:
(1) Preach the Gospel to the poor.
(2) Heal the broken-hearted.
(3) Proclaim liberty to the captives.
(4) Proclaim recovery of sight to the blind.
(5) Set at liberty those who are oppressed.
(6) Proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. That was the year of Jubilee when all prisoners were set free, all debts are forgiven, and all that was taken from you was restored. Jesus meets every need: body, soul, and spirit. And that’s the message you’ve been called to share with others.
‘The farmer plants seed by taking God’s word to others.’ Mark 4:14 NLT
In Jesus’ parable of the sower, the seed landed on four types of ground, producing four different results. ‘The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message, only to have Satan come at once and take it away. The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced. And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted.’ (Mark 4:15–20 NLT) The seed of God’s Word cannot fail: ‘It always produces fruit.’ (Isaiah 55:11 NLT) So if God’s promises aren’t being fulfilled in your life, ask yourself, ‘What kind of soil am I?’ Are you a surface person—thin-skinned and easily offended? A shallow person with no spiritual root system? Are you thorny ground? Are ‘the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things’ choking the spiritual life out of you? Or are you rich, fertile ground that produces results? Check the soil of your heart.
‘All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord.’ Deuteronomy 28:2 NIV
In a survey, hundreds of people were asked, ‘What’s the best thing that’s happened to you in the last five years?’ Amazingly, many answered, ‘Nothing.’ God’s Word promises us daily bread, daily benefits, and daily blessings, yet these people couldn’t even think of one good thing that happened to them in half a decade! What a sad way to live!
Author John Mason observes: ‘We typically see things not as they are, but as we are. By how we position ourselves, we’ll see the evidence of God everywhere or nowhere. Too often our minds are locked on one track. We’re looking for red, so we overlook blue; we’re thinking tomorrow and God’s saying now. We’re looking everywhere, and the answer is under our nose. When a person is positioned correctly, he’s ready to receive all God has for him.’ The Bible says, ‘All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. The fruit of your womb will be blessed… You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out. The Lord will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven…The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity…The Lord will make you the head, not the tail.’ (Deuteronomy 28:2–13 NIV) Notice the words, ‘if you obey the Lord.’ God’s love is guaranteed and unconditional. But His blessings require cooperation on your part. So today, walk in obedience.
‘You will find rest for your souls.’ Matthew 11:29 NIV
One of the greatest promises Jesus ever gave us is: ‘Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’ (Matthew 11:28–29 NIV) How could Jesus talk about being yoked in a harness, which suggests hard work and about rest in the same breath? To most of us, rest means kicking back in the recliner. That’s not the kind of rest Jesus was thinking about. A yoke is a harness that goes around the necks of two oxen so they can pull a load. Accepting Jesus’ yoke is a picture of submission. It’s also a picture of help because you’re not pulling the load alone. In each team of oxen, one is the leader and the other follows. Jesus will take the lead but you must be yoked to Him to get the benefit. So to enjoy intimacy with Christ, you have to bow before Him and accept His will. Jesus promises that His yoke won’t choke you, it won’t be wearisome or confining; you won’t chafe under it. In fact, the irony is, if you want to be truly free you must allow yourself to be yoked to Jesus by submitting your will to His. Now it’s possible to accept Christ’s yoke, then start pulling against it when life doesn’t go the way you want it to. Peace and rest come only when you relax in the yoke, and let Christ lead the way.
‘The things that are unseen are eternal.’ 2 Corinthians 4:18 ESV
We enjoy the blessings of change, but not the process of change. We’re creatures of habit. We form our habits, and our habits form us. Then we start to see things exclusively from our own perspective. And when that happens—we stagnate. The truth is, without change there is no growth. When you have the right attitude every experience—positive and negative—becomes an opportunity for progress. Think about it: trees need more than sunshine to produce fruit. Rainy seasons are productive seasons too, and they always precede the harvest. You don’t have to like rain, you just have to understand its purpose and benefits. The Bible says that every day ‘the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like Him as we are changed into His glorious image.’ (2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT) But to become like Jesus you must follow wherever He leads. That means following Him through the wilderness of temptation, the pain of rejection, the forfeiting of your reputation, the surrendering of your will—as well as being ready to go to the place of crucifixion where you die to all forms of self-centered living. Following Jesus may mean being in a different location tomorrow than you are today. Once you grasp this principle, you’ll stop fearing and resisting the changes taking place in your life and start seeing God at work in them. Paul says: ‘Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day… So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.’ (2 Corinthians 4:16–18 NIV)
‘We never give up.’ 2 Corinthians 4:8 CEV
Before you quit and walk away, read the story of how Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in just fifty-two days: First, he sought God’s help. ‘We prayed to our God.’ (Nehemiah 4:9 NIV) Second, he protected his vision. ‘And posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.’ (Nehemiah 4:9 NIV) Third, he refused to quit. ‘Should a man like me run away?… I will not.’(Nehemiah 6:11 NIV) Gandhi said, ‘You may never know what results come from your action, but if you do nothing there will be no results.’ In spite of the obstacles, the enemy, and the pressure—Nehemiah refused to give up. And God honors people with such a spirit. Paul said, ‘Even when we don’t know what to do, we never give up. In times of trouble, God is with us.’ (2 Corinthians 4:8–9 CEV)
Thomas Edison gave the world electric light, microphones, storage batteries, sound films, and a thousand other inventions. Here are the principles he lived by:
(1) Work to obtain all the knowledge you can about what you want to achieve.
(2) Fix your mind on your purpose. Persist! Seek! The trouble with most people is they quit before they start.
(3) Keep searching, no matter how many times you meet with disappointment.
(4) Refuse to be influenced by the fact that someone else tried the same thing and failed.
(5) Stay ‘sold’ on the idea that somewhere a solution to the problem exists, and you’ll find it.
‘Do not make hasty or premature judgments.’ 1 Corinthians 4:5 AMPC
Prejudice—is pre-judging. It makes you see those who don’t endorse what you believe as enemies. You attribute commendable qualities to the circle you move in, and negative ones to those outside it. That’s not what Jesus did. He befriended and fellowshipped with sinners and societal outcasts—without compromising who He was or endorsing their lifestyle. The Bible cautions against ‘hasty or premature judgments’, and reminds us that the Lord ‘will both bring to light the secret things that are hidden in darkness and disclose the motives of the hearts.’ (1 Corinthians 4:5 AMP) He’s the only one qualified to discern ‘the thoughts and intentions of the heart.’(Hebrews 4:12 ESV) So if you’re inclined to ‘make judgments about anyone ahead of time’ (1 Corinthians 4:5 NLT), here’s some food for thought:
(1) Face your prejudice. List all the people you don’t count as friends, people you actually go out of your way not to have a relationship with, and start loving them ‘by… actions and true caring.’ (1 John 3:18 NCV)
(2) Drop the mask. Look inside your heart and ask yourself what it is about the other person that bothers you. Are there similarities between you? Are they expressing something you’re hiding from?
(3) Get to know the other person. Paul said, ‘I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.’ (1 Corinthians 9:22 NLT) Whether or not you decide to continue the relationship, you’ll discover the power of your mind to obstruct, delude, and turn something into what it’s not. Plus you’ll have a better chance of winning others to Christ, because ‘love never fails.’ (1 Corinthians 13:8 NKJV)
‘I pray that out of His glorious riches, He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being.’ Ephesians 3:16 NIV
Until you realize the power of God that’s within you, you won’t use it. One of the greatest healing forces in the world is God’s Word, and it’s at your fingertips! For example, when you or a loved one gets sick, the Bible says, ‘These signs will follow those who believe: In My name, they will… lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.’ (Mark 16:17–18 NKJV) That’s a power-filled promise. When Jesus returned to Capernaum, the Bible says, ‘It was noised that he was in the house.’ (Mark 2:1 KJV) And before He left there, a paralyzed man got up and walked. So: if Christ lives in you, shouldn’t people feel His presence when they’re in your presence? If you’re on the church board, shouldn’t the church be blessed? Shouldn’t you be a change agent solving problems and helping the church grow? The church isn’t perfect. Nobody said it was. It’s a hospital, not an elite club. But whatever is wrong with the church is man’s doing, not God’s. When God is behind even the smallest thing it becomes mighty; it must succeed because His power is absolute, unchanging, and available! It’s time to ‘use God’s mighty weapons… to knock down the strongholds.’ (2 Corinthians 10:4 NLT) It’s time to force the issue by telling the devil to take his hands off everything that concerns you! Jesus said, ‘All authority in Heaven and on earth had been given to Me. Therefore go…’ (Matthew 28:18–19 NIV) He has given you the power—use it!
‘If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.’ Romans 12:18 NIV
Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.’ (Matthew 5:9 NKJV) Notice, God promised to bless peacemakers, not peace lovers. There’s a difference. Peacemakers pay the price; peace lovers enjoy the benefits. Sometimes you’ve got to confront people before you can comfort them. Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple because they were charging unfair exchange rates to those who bought lambs and turtle doves to offer as sacrifices to God. In most cases these were people who could least afford it, so Jesus decided to get involved. One of the names given to God is Jehovah-Shalom, ‘The Lord is our peace’(see Judges 6:24). ‘Shalom’ doesn’t denote the absence of trouble, but the peace of God in the midst of it. When we have an issue with someone, Jesus said we should take certain steps. First, go and try to resolve it privately. If that doesn’t work, take someone with you who can help. If that fails, take it to the church leadership. And if the person still refuses to be reconciled, then love them and leave them in God’s hands (see Matthew 18:15–17). It may not be a How-to-Win-Friends-and-Influence-People approach to conflict resolution, but it’s God’s way. Paul said, ‘If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.’ For example, Paul was willing to forego eating certain foods that were offensive to others (see 1 Corinthians 8:13), but he wasn’t willing to tolerate troublemakers in the church (see Romans 16:17). So you must know when to make waves, and when to make peace.
‘When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they lack wisdom.’ 2 Corinthians 10:12 AMP
If you’ve lost your joy in serving the Lord, maybe it’s because you’re comparing yourself to others and trying to be like them. Paul said, ‘Do your own work well… don’t compare yourself.’ (Galatians 6:4 CEV) Paul continually dealt with critics. And his response was always the same: avoid comparisons, resist exaggerations, and seek only God’s commendation. He refused to be distracted by criticism, or compare his ministry, or engage in fruitless debates. Author John Bunyan said if his life was fruitless it didn’t matter who praised him, and if it was fruitful it didn’t matter who criticized him.
Speaker and writer Anne Peterson adds: ‘Kill the dragons of comparison… When I see something that ruffles my feathers I pray for that person. It’s easier when I’m honest with God—He knows how I feel anyway. Then I begin to praise Him… I sing old hymns… they’re loaded with truths about the Lord. Instead of wondering when I’ll attain the thing I’m working towards, I dwell on the wonderful things God has already done. Contentment is available as long as we keep our eyes on the King of Kings.’ An unknown poet wrote: ‘The stick I made for measuring, I used almost every day. It helped me to compare myself with others on my way. I watched all those behind me, or further down the road, and I would readjust my pace or lighten up my load. The most important drawback with how I ran my race, was watching everything around—except my Saviour’s face!’
‘Don’t compare yourself.’ Galatians 6:4 CEV
Nothing will destroy your peace of mind faster than comparing. It shows a lack of understanding and makes you ‘behave unwisely’. (2 Corinthians 10:12 AMPC) Cain measured himself against his brother Abel, and it ended in murder. When the disciples compared notes to see who among them would suffer and who would be spared, Jesus told them, ‘That is not your business.’ (John 21:23 NCV) Observe:
(1) Comparisons can make you feel superior, which leads to pride. Remember the Pharisee who made a great show of thanking God because he was better than everybody else? (see Luke 18:11). Pride was Satan’s downfall; that’s why he loves it when you struggle in the same trap.
(2) Comparisons can make you feel inferior, which leads to low self-esteem and keeps you focused on yourself. You overlook the truth that ‘God doesn’t play favorites’ (Acts 10:34 GWT) and start believing He’s withholding things that are rightfully yours. Society creates a sense of entitlement; then Satan reminds you of all the people who’ve already attained what you want, which propels you further down the road to discontentment. Anne Peterson says: ‘Satan’s lies have a little truth mixed in, which makes them harder to recognize. We need to refute them by saturating ourselves with the truth… it’s only by learning the Scriptures that we can sort them out.’
(3) We attempt to bring God down to our level by comparing how He’s working now with how He worked in the past. Stop trying to figure God out, and trust Him! ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’ (Isaiah 55:9 ESV) Instead of comparing, start using and appreciating what God has blessed you with.
‘He took the humble position.’ Philippians 2:7 NLT
Jerusalem was surrounded by walls, and one of the ways into it was through Valley Gate. When Nehemiah rebuilt the walls, we’re told: ‘The people… rebuilt Valley Gate.’ (Nehemiah 3:13 CEV) In the Christian life there has to be a place for both ‘mountaintop experiences’ and ‘valley experiences’. Let’s take another look at a well-known Scripture: ‘They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles [that’s elevation]; they shall run, and not be weary [that’s acceleration], and they shall walk, and not faint [that’s duration].’ (Isaiah 40:31 KJV) And when you don’t have the strength to do any of these things, Paul says, ‘Having done all…stand.’ (Ephesians 6:13 KJV) There’s a season in your life for all these experiences and you must embrace it. The Bible says Jesus ‘took the humble position… Therefore, God elevated Him to the place of highest honor.’ (Philippians 2:7–9 NLT) Luke records that Jesus ‘took bread, and blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.’ (Luke 24:30 NKJV) Blessed and broken—that’s still God’s pattern. Why? So you can handle His blessings and remain humble. You’re in trouble when you’re more conscious of your image than of your need for God. That’s why He allows you to walk through situations that bring you to the place of utter dependence on Him. You have to be taken, blessed, and broken before you can be given away in service to others. In God’s Kingdom, the way up is down!
‘Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord.’ 2 Peter 3:18 KJV
There are two things that help determine personal growth:
(1) Your relationships. The Bible says, ‘Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?’ (Amos 3:3 NLT) The company you keep will lift you, level you, or lower you. A lady wrote this letter to an advice columnist: ‘In my last year of school my English teacher took an essay I’d written and torn it apart in front of the class. I was humiliated— I felt dumb. That was years ago, and I’ve never forgotten it.’ In a few short seconds, the wrong person diminished this woman’s sense of self-worth for a lifetime.
(2) Your reflections. When a Sunday school teacher asked a little girl, ‘Who made you?’ she replied, ‘God made part of me.’ The teacher asked, ‘What do you mean?’ The girl replied, ‘God made me little—and I grew the rest of myself.’ God holds us responsible for our personal growth. The psalmist wrote, ‘I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation.’ (Psalm 119:99 NKJV) The word ‘meditation’means ‘reflective thinking’. Like a slow cooker, meditation allows your thoughts to slowly simmer until they’re done. Most of us would rather act than think. But as Socrates observed, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ Reflective thinking is uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. For instance, we have difficulty staying focused. We find the process dull, and we don’t particularly enjoy spending time reflecting on difficult issues. But if you don’t carve out time for reflection and meditation, you won’t mature. You won’t grow in the ‘grace and… knowledge’ you need to succeed. It’s that simple.
‘Take care not to do your good deeds publicly or before men, in order to be seen by them.’ Matthew 6:1 AMPC
Jesus reserved His harshest condemnation for those who did good deeds ‘in order to be seen’. He flipped on the spotlight and exposed every self-righteous mole and pimple. He called them hypocrites, the original Greek for ‘actor’. First-century actors wore masks. So a hypocrite is someone who puts on a mask, a false face, and performs for the applause of others. Jesus didn’t say, ‘Don’t do good works.’ Nor did He say, ‘Don’t let your good works be seen.’ We must do good works, and some of them must be seen in order to have an impact. So let’s be clear. To do a good thing is a good thing. To do good to be seen is not. In fact, to do a good thing to be seen is a serious offense. Here’s why. Hypocrisy turns people away from God. When God-seekers see singers strut like Las Vegas entertainers… when they hear the preacher—a man of slick words, dress, and hair—play to the crowd and exclude God… When church attendees dress to be seen and make much ado over their gifts and offerings… When people enter a church to see God yet they can’t see God because of the church, don’t think for a second that God doesn’t react. Jesus was clear on this issue: ‘When you do good deeds, don’t try to show off. If you do, you won’t get a reward from your Father in Heaven.’ (Matthew 6:1 CEV) Today let God be seen—not you.
‘The name of the city from that day shall be: The Lord is there.’ Ezekiel 48:35 NKJV
During Israel’s twenty-fifth year of captivity, Ezekiel the prophet received from God His name Jehovah-Shammah: The Lord is there. God described Israel’s future home, Jerusalem, saying, ‘And the name of the city…shall be, The Lord is there [Jehovah-Shammah].’ It applied not only to the Lord of the old covenant, but equally to Jesus, the Lord of the new covenant. His name, ‘Immanuel’, like Jehovah-Shammah, means ‘the Lord is with us’ (see Isaiah 7:14). And it means at all times, in all places, under all circumstances, and for all of us, God is ever available and ever present! David proclaimed: ‘I can never escape from Your Spirit! I can never get away from Your presence! If I go up to Heaven, You are there; if I go down to the grave, You are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there Your hand will guide me and Your strength will support me.’(Psalm 139:7–10 NLT) Do you remember how fear, loneliness, and helplessness disappeared when you were in your mum’s or dad’s presence? In Israel’s deepest despair God’s response was always, ‘I am with you.’ Those words guaranteed that their needs would always be met! And today God is saying to you, ‘I’m with you’, and ‘neither death, life, angels, demonic powers, present or future fears, height, depth, nor anything else in all creation will ever separate us’ (see Romans 8:38–39). That promise extends to all God’s redeemed children—reach out and grasp it.
‘This will be His name: “The Lord is our Righteousness.”’ Jeremiah 23:6 NLT
The name Jehovah-Tsidkenu: The Lord our righteousness, was given by God through Jeremiah, announcing the coming of Jesus the redeemer: ‘I will raise up a righteous descendant from King David’s line… And this will be His name: “The Lord is our Righteousness.”’ (Jeremiah 23:5–6 NLT) Before Jesus came, our righteousness lay in our own efforts. ‘We will be counted as righteous when we obey all the commands the Lord our God has given us.’ (Deuteronomy 6:25 NLT) We absolutely failed that righteousness test! But ‘The Lord our righteousness’ became our solution. ‘For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.’ (2 Corinthians 5:21 NKJV) Notice: it’s only ‘in Jesus’ that we ‘become the righteousness of God’! You’re not to try to do right so you can feel righteous before God or to generate a supply of good works to draw from when needed. You’re to draw continually from the ‘righteousness’ deposited in your account by Christ. It’s useless to look within yourself for humility, patience, kindness, love, etc. They’re not there! You must take them by faith from the supply stored up for you in Jesus. Guilty hearts can draw forgiveness, anxious spirits can draw peace, and weary souls can draw strength from Jehovah-Tsidkenu. You received salvation by faith alone. And in the same way, you must draw righteousness, and everything else you need, by faith in what God has accomplished and stored up for your use in Jesus, The Lord our righteousness!
‘I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites…Peace! Do not be afraid.’ Judges 6:16, 23 NIV
The name Jehovah-Shalom: The Lord our peace, was discovered by Gideon when God told him to lead Israel against the Midianites—a position he felt was far beyond his capacity. ‘How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest…and I am the least in my family.’ (Judges 6:15 NIV) Here’s how the Lord responded: ‘I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites… Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.’ A frightened Gideon believed God and before the battle was even fought or the victory won, by faith he saw the peace already secured. So he built an altar to Jehovah-Shalom, ‘the Lord is peace’. We often assume we’ll only have peace when our situation changes. Then like Gideon we learn that inward peace doesn’t depend on altering our outward circumstances; it depends on believing God is with you and experiencing His inner peace. Jesus promises: ‘Peace I leave with you; My peace [inner, faith-based] I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives [outward, circumstantial]. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’ (John 14:27 NIV) However inadequate you may feel to face the challenges today, remember Christ’s words: ‘I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace… take heart! I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33 NIV) Notice: your job is to ‘take heart’, and trust Jehovah-Shalom to handle the rest!
‘Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.’ Exodus 14:13 KJV
Let’s continue with Jehovah-Nissi: The Lord my banner. Just because God fights your battles doesn’t mean you’re not involved. It’s not easy to hand control over to the Lord and let Him fight on your behalf. You may feel like you’re copping out, being irresponsible. You’re programmed to think, ‘Don’t just sit there—do something!’ You’re like a drowning man who can’t stop grabbling for his rescuer, thereby making his job almost impossible. In essence, you become your rescuer’s worst nightmare! The hardest part about the order to ‘stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord’ is that most of us mistake standing still for doing nothing. Fear says, ‘Do something—anything!’ Faith says, ‘Stand in faith. Let God do it!’ That’s about as far from doing nothing as you can get! It’s faith at its highest. ‘Why do I need armor if I’m not fighting?’ Paul says, ‘Put on the full armor of God, so… you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.’ (Ephesians 6:11 NIV) You’re to wear God’s armour—not yours. You’re to stand—not fight. ‘The weapons of our warfare are not carnal.’ (2 Corinthians 10:4 KJV) Our human methods get in God’s way. Natural powers are useless against spiritual forces. The grub of the dragonfly that lives at the bottom of the pond may be a finely developed, vigorous grub. But when it becomes a dragonfly, the strengths and abilities of its grub-life won’t help it to live an airborne life. Once you lived by effort, now you live by trusting in and relying on Jehovah-Nissi!
‘For the battle is not yours, but God’s.’ 2 Chronicles 20:15 KJV
When Israel was threatened by the mighty forces of Amalek at Rephidim, God gave them a supernatural victory. Realizing that God was fighting the battle for them, Moses built an altar to Jehovah-Nissi: The Lord my banner. Hear His words: ‘The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.’(Exodus 14:14 NKJV) ‘Be not afraid nor dismayed… for the battle is not yours, but God’s.’ Why then do you discourage yourself into defeat, trying to win the battle in your own strength? You engage in a fruitless cycle of fleshly repentance, resolutions, struggles, defeat, and discouragement, which leads to more fleshly repenting. The only sort of spiritual conflict that’s ever successfully won, is the one God fights for you. He doesn’t expect you to win the battle, only to surrender to Him and let Him win it for you! ‘So am I not supposed to fight at all?’ you ask. Yes, you’re to ‘fight the good fight of faith.’ (1 Timothy 6:12 KJV) Yours isn’t a battle of exhausting effort; it’s the battle of believing. ‘But am I not to wrestle as Jacob did?’ Observe two things: first, Jacob didn’t win by wrestling, he won by being rendered too weak to continue wrestling. Paul said, ‘When I am weak, then am I strong.’(2 Corinthians 12:10 KJV) Second, Jacob’s victory lay in his surrender. Are you worn out from the battle—at the end of your rope? You may be just where God wants you! Let go and trust your Jehovah-Nissi to prevail for you, because ‘the battle is not yours, but God’s.’
‘That men may know that You, whose name alone is Jehovah, are the most high over all the earth.’ Psalm 83:18 KJV
The Israelites called God ‘Jehovah’, a name they regarded as incommunicable and inexplicable. The name means the ‘self-existing One’, and the ‘I Am’. He was the Creator of all things; an awesome and unknowable supreme being. But God desired to be known in a personal way. So He added to the name Jehovah five revealing titles—word-portraits of Himself to help us better understand and relate to Him. Israel discovered these word-portraits during times of crisis and distress, and they will bless and encourage you during your times of need. Let’s look at each. Jehovah-Jireh: The Lord will see, the Lord will provide. Abraham was about to sacrifice his son when God provided a lamb for the offering in Isaac’s place. In response, Abraham called Him Jehovah-Jireh, the Lord who sees and provides. And it doesn’t just apply to Abraham. The New Testament says the Lord sees your needs and provides answers. Jesus said, ‘Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.’ (Matthew 6:32 NLT) Like a caring, alert, observant parent who anticipates his child’s every need, God provides well-timed solutions. Before a child’s shoes wear out a good father provides new ones; his child doesn’t need to beg, bargain or plead. ‘Then why don’t I have what I want?’ you ask. Because God knows what you really need—you don’t! What you see as ‘needs’ might simply be ‘wants’ in God’s eyes. Remember—Jehovah-Jireh sees your needs and will provide them!
‘She broke the flask and poured it on His head.’ Mark 14:3 NKJV
Do you remember the prostitute who anointed Jesus? ‘A woman came, having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head.’ She gave her most precious possession to Jesus. Not only was it extremely valuable, but it was also part of her sex appeal. Breaking it open was her way of breaking with her past. She was giving up her former life by giving that jar to Jesus. Remember the revival that broke out in Ephesus? Those who practiced sorcery burned their scrolls publicly. The value of those scrolls was estimated at 50,000 drachmas. A drachma was a silver coin worth a day’s wages. That’s 138 years of wages! They could have sold those scrolls and pocketed the money, but they would have been selling their souls. Instead, they made an $8.4 million statement of faith. Our problem is that we want God to do something new for us, while we keep doing the same old thing. We want Him to change our circumstances without having to change us at all. But if we’re asking God for new wine, we will need a new wineskin. Change is a two-sided coin that reads: Out with the old, and in with the new! Most of us get stuck spiritually because we keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. Spiritual routines are a crucial part of spiritual growth, but when the routine becomes routine, you need to change it. What got you to where you are, may not get you to where God wants you to go next.
‘Let us run with endurance the race.’ Hebrews 12:1 NKJV
Experienced runners know if they can just keep going, eventually they’ll get their ‘second wind’. Some refer to it as ‘runner’s high’, a release of adrenalin that makes you feel like you could run all day. So the word for you today is: keep running until you get your second wind! Paul says: ‘Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility… lest you become weary and discouraged.’ (Hebrews 12:1–3 NKJV) Note the word ‘endured’. Don’t let what’s going on around you sabotage what God’s doing within you. Generally speaking, your outlook is affected by what’s happening now. A drowning man isn’t too impressed with something good that’s going to happen tomorrow; he needs help today. Keep in mind that what you’re going through right now is temporary—so look for a turnaround. In the Old Testament God told Isaiah, ‘Comfort My people… Tell them they have suffered long enough and their sins are now forgiven.’(Isaiah 40:1–2 GNT) Then He went on to make them this wonderful promise: ‘The hills will become a plain, and the rough country will be made smooth. Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it. The Lord Himself has promised this.’ (Isaiah 40:4–5 GNT) Claim that promise for yourself today—and keep running!
‘Then Peter said to them, “Repent…”’ Acts 2:38 NKJV
A sign on a church notice board read, ‘Try God Week.’ The idea was simple enough: if you try Him for a week and don’t like the results, you can go back to your old life again. Peter didn’t tell the crowd on the Day of Pentecost to try God for a week. He preached, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.’ (Acts 2:38–39 NKJV) A fish doesn’t try water; it needs water in order to survive. A plant doesn’t try soil; it needs soil in order to grow. Likewise, you don’t try God; you need God because there’s a void within you only He can fill. And He wants to do more than just come into your life; He wants to take over your life! ‘But I struggle with certain weaknesses,’ you say. The truth is we’re all born with certain proclivities; some are just more obvious than others. That’s why every one of us needs to be ‘born again’. (John 3:3 NIV) As Jesus explained to Nicodemus, although he had a natural birth he needed a spiritual birth to enter God’s Kingdom. Salvation and the guarantee of Heaven take place immediately; all you have to do is put your trust in Christ. But submitting to the lordship of Jesus is a project you’ll be working on from the new birth to the New Jerusalem.
‘Build an altar to the Lord your God.’ Judges 6:26 NKJV
We may all be aware of individuals who have done something really wrong, and then try to hide it or find someone else to blame. Often we might try to excuse ourselves by saying our shortcomings are hereditary, or try to blame our faults on our past—‘it was the way I was brought up;’ ‘I didn’t know any better;’ ‘it’s not my fault.’ We may even try to cover up mistakes that our family has made in the past, thinking that it reflects badly on us. When it comes to your upbringing and family tree, sometimes you can’t do better than learn from it! But by God’s grace, you can do a lot about your future. Your parents may have stumbled in spiritual blindness, but you can walk in the light of God’s Word—and take your family with you. Gideon, an Old Testament hero, grew up in a family of idol-worshippers. It was a cultural thing; everybody did it. But God had plans for Gideon, so the angel of the Lord visited him one day and said, ‘Tear down the altar of Baal that your father has…and build an altar to the Lord your God.’ (Judges 6:25–26 NKJV) Now, that wasn’t an easy thing for Gideon to do because by nature he was a fearful person. And when he stepped out in faith to obey God, the townspeople wanted to kill him. But because Gideon said ‘yes’ to God, he ended up changing his entire family. So the word for you today is: change in your family can begin with you. Indeed, if not you—then who?
‘He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.’ Daniel 6:27 NLT
Sarah Utterbach writes: ‘There have been times when I wanted God to rescue me from certain pits, but He didn’t. Why? Because He wanted me to learn that His grace was sufficient in the pit. The question is never, “What will God do when all around me spells destruction?” The question is, “What will I do?” I may not be able to conquer the lions, but I don’t have to—that’s God’s job. Daniel said, “My God sent His angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions… because I was found innocent in His sight.” (Daniel 6:22 NIV) I may not be able to stop legislation from being enacted against me, but like Daniel, I can call on my God. “He prayed three times a day.” (Daniel 6:10 NLT) Stop exhausting yourself fighting the enemy and the conditions around you; they are too many. Just lean on God and be innocent of the charges made by those who are jealous or afraid because of your position with God and man. God didn’t rescue Daniel from the pit; He delivered him from the power of the enemy while he was in the pit. The lions were still there when Daniel left, waiting for their next victim. But they had no power over him—and as a redeemed child of God, they have no power over you either. Daniel went on to prosper in the kingdom, and that’s what God plans for you too.’ The Bible tells us, ‘He rescues and saves His people… He…rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.’ When you walk with God you can count on Him to protect you.
‘I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh.’ Acts 2:17 NKJV
Jesus was called a ‘friend of…sinners.’ (Matthew 11:19 NIV) Why? Because He didn’t analyze and label people. He didn’t seek out the well-heeled and well-behaved. He included them, but He didn’t limit Himself to their company. He sought out those who were marginalized and ostracised by society and reached out to them with God’s love. ‘But what about their sinful practices?’ you ask. ‘Mightn’t it look like we’re excusing their lifestyle?’
One day the Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus, saying, ‘This woman was caught in adultery, in the very act.’ (John 8:4 NKJV) Notice what Jesus did; He stooped down to her level and brought her back up to His! Only then did He say, ‘Go and sin no more.’ (John 8:11 NKJV) The fact is, if people could clean up their act before coming to the Lord, they wouldn’t need Him. The church was born when God’s Spirit was poured out on people from every race, culture, tradition, and background. You can’t have a genuine outpouring of the Spirit where people are alienated and excluded. When the world sees us coming together in unity under one anointing, they’re going to run again to the Upper Room crying, ‘What shall we do?’ (Acts 2:37 NIV) Paul wrote: ‘I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first (the insiders) and also for the Greek (the outsiders).’ (Romans 1:16 NKJV) As believers, we have the formula for making broken people whole. But before we can share it with them and have credibility, we must first be united by the Spirit.
‘Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us.’ 2 Corinthians 4:17 NKJV
Contrary to what you may think, the ideal environment for your children is not one that’s devoid of problems and trials. Though it’s hard to accept at the time, your children need the minor setbacks and disappointments that come their way. How can they learn to cope with problems and frustrations as adults, if their early experiences are totally without them? Nature tells us this. A tree that’s planted in a rainforest is never forced to extend its roots downward in search of water. As a result, it remains poorly anchored and can be toppled by even a moderate wind. By contrast, the mesquite tree that’s planted in a dry desert is threatened by its hostile environment. How does it survive? By driving its roots down ten meters or more into the earth, seeking water. By adapting and adjusting to harsh conditions, the well-rooted tree becomes strong and steady against all assailants. Our children are like these two types of trees. Children who have learned to conquer their problems are better anchored and better able than those who have never faced them. So your task is not to eliminate every challenge your child faces. Rather, it’s to serve as a confident ally on their behalf, encouraging them in their distress, intervening when the threat becomes overwhelming, and being available when the crisis comes. You need to give them the tools with which to handle the inevitable problems and pressures of life. Paul expresses it this way: ‘For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us.’ Bottom line: we are trained by our troubles.
‘Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Ephesians 5:18 NLT
Sometimes people get drunk to try to fill an emptiness on the inside. But it doesn’t work. Like the man quipped, ‘It’s champagne tonight and the real pain in the morning!’ Recognizing that His disciples wouldn’t survive without Him when He left, Jesus said, ‘I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever—the Spirit.’ (John 14:16–17 NIV) Once you understand what the Holy Spirit can do, you won’t want to live a single day without His help. Observe:
(1) He will plant your feet on the path of truth (see John 16:13).
(2) When you doubt your salvation, He will confirm that you are truly God’s redeemed child (Romans 8:16).
(3) In difficult situations when you don’t know what to say, He will give you the right words at the right time (see Acts 1:8).
(4) He will reproduce His nature in you (see Galatians 5:22). This is referred to as ‘the fruit of the Spirit’, not the efforts of your flesh. Fruit doesn’t struggle to grow; it simply draws life from the tree to which it’s connected and thrives. Paul writes, ‘Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ You can generally spot someone who is drunk by the way they slur their words and wobble when they walk. When it happens, we say they are ‘under the influence’. Paul’s point is clear: as a believer, your walk and your talk should be ‘under the influence’ of the Holy Spirit. So today ask God to fill you with His Spirit—and stay topped-up by reading His Word and praying daily.
‘Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers, and they hated him.’ Genesis 37:5 NKJV
First, dreamers are willing to make trade-offs. When God puts a dream in your heart you’ll have to make certain trade-offs, like forfeiting popularity for the pursuit of excellence and short-term pleasure for long-term fulfillment. Paul understood this principle: ‘The Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me.’ (Acts 20:23–24 NKJV)
Second, dreamers aren’t always appreciated. ‘Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers, and they hated him.’ Some people won’t appreciate your dream because it reminds them of the dream they never had or one they abandoned. And when they try to talk you out of your dream, often they’re trying to talk themselves back into their comfort zone. They will present you with every ‘rational’ excuse they’ve ever given themselves. So how should you respond? Love them, help them if you can, but don’t be influenced by those who have given up on their dream. Author John Mason says, ‘If you move with God you’ll be critiqued. The only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing and be nothing.’ (Even then you might be criticised—for doing nothing!)
Third, dreamers are overcomers. Joseph’s dream enabled him to overcome temptation at the hands of Potiphar’s wife, betrayal by his family, false imprisonment and a lot of other things that cause us to quit. God’s purpose alone should be the stuff of which your dream is made. To discover your dream, get to know yourself: your strengths and weaknesses. Observe where God has placed you, seek His counsel, and look for opportunities and ‘Kingdom connections’. When you do, He will give you a dream for your life and help you fulfill it.
‘Listen to your father, who gave you life, and don’t despise your mother.’ Proverbs 23:22 NLT
You don’t learn how to be a parent in school or college, you learn it ‘on the job’. And you make lots of mistakes—ones you sometimes look back on and cringe. But through it all, you love your children and want only what’s best for them. What’s the point here? If your parents failed you, then you probably have wounds that need to be healed. And God says, ‘I am the Lord, your healer.’ (Exodus 15:26 ESV)
But don’t fall into the trap of self-pity by buying into the idea that you came from a ‘dysfunctional family’. Some families are better than others, but all of them have areas of dysfunction. Look back and consider your parents’ circumstances and some of the challenges they faced while raising you, and perhaps you’ll be able to view the mistakes they made with a little more compassion. They are human beings, just as you are; they make mistakes, just as you do. Nobody’s perfect. By showing compassion towards them you’ll be better able to show compassion towards yourself when you inevitably make mistakes with your own children. And—this is important—when your children see you extending grace towards your parents, they’ll be better able to extend it towards you.
So if you need to forgive your parents, do it today and move on. Don’t keep bringing it up. Would you like God to keep reminding you of the sins He’s forgiven you for? No? Then try to show that same grace and compassion. And pray for them. Why? Because when you pray for somebody it’s hard to complain about them!
‘Lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.’ Isaiah 54:2 NIV
The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco can move up to six metres in either direction at its centre. All of its parts, including its concrete roadway, steel railings, and cross-beams, are connected from one welded joint to another through the vast cable system to two great towers, then down to a rock foundation beneath the Pacific. Here are two important biblical truths we learn from this:
(1) You must be strong. Paul writes: ‘Be strong—not in yourselves but in the Lord, in the power of His boundless resource. Put on God’s complete armour so that you can successfully resist all the devil’s methods of attack. For our fight is not against any physical enemy: it is against organisations and powers that are spiritual. We are up against the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil. Therefore you must wear the whole armour of God that you may be able to resist evil in its day of power, and that even when you have fought to a standstill you may still stand your ground.’ (Ephesians 6:10–15 PHPS)
(2) You must be resilient! The Golden Gate Bridge has survived a century of earthquakes because it was built to sway—but not too far. It’s flexible and resilient—you must be too. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: ‘We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don’t know what to do, we never give up. In times of trouble, God is with us, and when we are knocked down, we get up again.’ (2 Corinthians 4:8–9 CEV)
‘I will in no way be ashamed.’ Philippians 1:20 NIV
Over half of all Christians now live in the Third World, often in anti-Christian environments. More Chinese take part in Sunday worship than the entirety of Western Europeans. Lebanon is 40 percent Christian; Sudan, 5 percent; Egypt, about 10 percent. Many of these saints worship at their own risk. Consider their plight. If you were one of them, you may be the only Christian in your Iraqi university, or an Arab woman who offers prayers in silence, or a secret believer in an underground church. Or perhaps you’re in a society of religious freedom, but a community of spiritual oppression. Family members mock your beliefs. University professors belittle your convictions. Classmates snigger at your choices. Colleagues pressure you to compromise your integrity. Co-workers make it their mission to snag you in a weak moment. If that’s where you find yourself, stand up for Jesus! Paul wrote these words from his prison cell: ‘I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.’ (Philippians 1:19–21 NIV) The hymnist wrote: ‘Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross. Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss. From victory unto victory, His armies shall He lead. Till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed.’ Today, stand up for Jesus!
‘All these things I have kept from my youth.’ Luke 18:21 NKJV
The rich young ruler may rank as one of the most religious people in Scripture. He kept all the commandments. But you can do nothing wrong, and still do nothing right. By definition, righteousness is doing something right. But we’ve reduced it to doing nothing wrong. We fixate on sins of commission: don’t do this, don’t do that—and you’re okay. But that is holiness by subtraction. It’s your sins of omission—what you would have, could have, and should have done—that break the heart of your heavenly Father. If you’re a parent, you understand this. You love it when your kids don’t do something wrong, but you love it even more when they do something right. You have been saved to serve! Paul says God ‘created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us.’(Ephesians 2:10 NLT) God has a personal plan for your life called ‘His Will’.But you can’t just play defence, you have to play offence. You can’t just do nothing wrong, you have to do something right. You can’t just follow the rules—you’ve been called to follow Jesus. If you feel bad for the rich young ruler it shouldn’t be because of what Jesus asked him to give up, but because of the opportunity he passed up. Imagine saying ‘no’ to a three-year internship with your Creator! What Jesus asked him to give up was nothing compared to what Jesus offered him in return. Sadly, he said ‘no’.But you can say ‘yes’, and begin living the most wonderful life possible.
‘You still lack one thing.’ Luke 18:22 NKJV
Luke records: ‘A certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him…“You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honour your father and your mother.’” And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.’ (Luke 18:18–23 NKJV) This man had two problems, and Jesus put His finger on each. First, he discovered that keeping a bunch of religious rules cannot fill the emptiness in your soul; only a relationship with Christ can do that. Second, he discovered that he didn’t just own riches, his riches owned him and kept him from following Christ. He had so much potential. He could have leveraged his resources, his network and his energy for Kingdom causes, but he wanted to keep it all for himself. And the Bible captions his life in four words: ‘He became very sorrowful.’ Here’s the score. The rich young ruler eventually became the rich old ruler. Until the day he died, he’d remember the words of Jesus: ‘Come, follow Me.’ And Jesus makes the same offer to you. If you say no, you’ll regret it at the end of your life. If you say yes, you’ll be rewarded with joy and a level of blessing you never knew was possible.
‘He has blessed, and I cannot reverse it.’ Numbers 23:20 NKJV
The Israelites conquered the Promised Land and took possession of it, one town and one city at a time. Yet, beforehand, as they approached Moab, its king, Balak, hired a prophet named Balaam to pronounce a curse upon the advancing Israeli armies. Standing on a mountain overlooking the camp of Israel, Balak expected curses to come pouring out of Balaam’s mouth. But instead came blessings. When he asked Balaam why, he replied: ‘I have received a command to bless; He has blessed, and I cannot reverse it. He has not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen wickedness in Israel. The Lord his God is with him.’ (Numbers 23:20–21 NKJV) Was that because there was no ‘iniquity’ or ‘wickedness’ among the Israelites? No. Then how could God not see it? For the same reason, He doesn’t see your faults and failings—because He has chosen to see you ‘in Christ’ who is perfect, and whose atoning blood covers all your sins from the new birth to the new Jerusalem. When the Israelites set up camp each night, their tents formed the shape of a big cross; picture the tents of eight tribes running vertically, and four tribes running horizontally. Getting the picture? As a redeemed child of God, that’s how your heavenly Father sees you. He looks at you—through the cross. And since the blood of Jesus paid for every sin you would ever commit, God sees you as ‘accepted’ and ‘righteous’ and ‘complete’. So the word for you today is: because God sees you in Christ, you are irreversibly blessed.
‘May your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless.’ 1 Thessalonians 5:23 NLT
If you were simply a ‘spirit-being’ your spiritual potential would be unlimited. But you must constantly contend with your ‘soul’, which comprises your emotions, will, and intellect. And in addition, you have to cope with the needs and appetites of your physical ‘body’. Pray as you will, your ‘soulish’ nature won’t suddenly wake up one morning with the desire to please God because it’s always in conflict with His will (see Romans 8:7–8). When you ‘walk in the flesh’ it will take you down the wrong road every time. Like a spoiled child, it must be disciplined and made subject to your regenerated spirit. Your soul, on the other hand, is constantly caught between your flesh, which says ‘no’ to God, and your spirit, which says ‘yes’ to Him. That’s why your soul (will, emotions, and intellect) must be reprogrammed daily by God’s Word. Paul says, ‘Let God transform you into a new person by [renewing] the way you think.’ (Romans 12:2 NLT) Whatever you program into your computer is what you get out, right? Similarly, when you begin to think Scripturally you begin to live victoriously. The real action takes place in your spirit—the part of you that was renewed and regenerated when you were born again. When God’s Spirit became intimate with your spirit it resulted in a new birth, and as you grow spiritually you begin to produce spiritual fruit (see Galatians 5:22). As that happens you start to realize you are actually a regenerated spirit living in an un-regenerated body. Knowing this will help you understand many of your struggles, and pray: ‘Lord, I’m completely Yours: “spirit and soul and body”.’
‘How much more will your Father who is in Heaven give what is good to those who ask Him?’ Matthew 7:11 NASB
The cross proves how much God loves you. ‘He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?’ (Romans 8:32 NASB) And ‘all things’ means all things! If it’s promised in God’s Word, it’s God’s will—so refuse to settle for less. But you must be single-minded in your approach or you won’t receive anything (see James 1:6–8). The psalmist said, ‘One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after.’ (Psalm 27:4 KJV) Tell God exactly what you want. And if you’re walking in obedience and seeking to please Him, be confident when you come before Him. ‘…if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God.’ (1 John 3:21 NIV) But be careful; guilt undermines faith! When you permit sin into your life you become uncomfortable in God’s presence, and it’s hard to believe for the results you want. So deal with it immediately. Miracles happen to the believing—so get back into a position where you can confidently believe God for the thing you need. He hasn’t changed His plans for your life. Circumstances and seasons change, but God’s promises are forever settled in Heaven and are always fulfilled’ (see Isaiah 40:8 and Psalm 119:89). Jesus said, ‘How much more will your Father who is in Heaven give what is good to those who ask Him?’ Note the words ‘what is good’. That sounds like another Bible promise. ‘No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.’ (Psalm 84:11 KJV) And if God says no, it’s because it wouldn’t be ‘good’ for you. Trust Him—He has something better in mind for you.
‘The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.’ Psalm 37:23 NKJV
Elijah’s destiny was to stand on Mount Carmel, call down fire from heaven, and deliver Israel from idolatry. But he could only get there one step at a time. That’s how God works. First God sent him to a brook at Cherith (which means ‘covenantal cut’). At some point in your spiritual journey, you must discover that God is a covenant-making, covenant-keeping God. He is the Lord who miraculously dried up the Jordan River, made an ax-head float, and caused fish to swim into an empty net—proving that when He makes a promise He keeps it. When God sent Elijah to Cherith, He told him, ‘I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there.’ (1 Kings 17:4 NASB) Had Elijah gone elsewhere, God wouldn’t have met his needs. Why? Because a covenant is two-sided; when you do your part, God does His. Next, God sent Elijah to Zarephath, saying, ‘I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.’ (1 Kings 17:9 NASB) Think about it: God used a flesh-eating bird and a penniless widow to feed Elijah. So stop trying to second-guess Him! The Bible says, ‘The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.’ So here’s the question: if you truly believe that Scripture, why are you complaining, worrying, and trying to figure everything out instead of trusting Him? ‘Zarephath’ means a crucible, a place where metal is refined. If you’re going through a fiery trial today, rejoice—God is separating the gold from the impurities in your character. When you’ve passed the test at Cherith and Zarephath, you’ll be ready for the blessing of Mount Carmel!
My son [and daughter], if your heart is wise, my heart will rejoice.’ Proverbs 23:15 NKJV
Since there are no perfect people, there can be no perfect parents. So though you love your children dearly, at times you’ll get tired, frustrated, disappointed and irritable. The secret is to make such times the exception rather than the rule. A Christian psychologist writes: ‘A few years ago I asked one thousand mothers and fathers to describe their greatest frustrations in raising kids. I heard many humorous stories about sticky telephones and wet toilet seats and knotted shoestrings. One mother actually wanted to know why toddlers never throw up in the bathroom… But in our poll parents didn’t merely laugh about their frustrations—they tended to blame themselves. They said they were overwhelmed and were losing confidence in their ability to do the job. Many were having trouble just coping from day to day. How sad it is that this ancient responsibility of raising children has become so burdensome and laden with guilt. Actually, the facts won’t support that self-condemnation in the majority of cases. Most mums and dads are doing a creditable job at home—and it’s time someone patted them on the back for their commitment and sacrifice. Some day when the frustrations of toddlerhood and the turmoil of adolescence have passed, they’ll enjoy the sweet benefits of being very good and loving parents. Hang in there, Mum and Dad; you’re more skilled than you think you are.’
Solomon spells out the parent’s true reward: ‘My son [and daughter], if your heart is wise, my heart will rejoice.’
‘Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue.’ Psalm 120:2 NKJV
When you deliberately create a false impression, the Bible calls it dealing in ‘falsehood, untruth, error, deception, cheating.’ (Revelation 22:15 AMPC) That may sound harsh, especially if all you had in mind was making an extra dollar, sparing someone’s feelings or trying to make yourself look better. No human being would set such a standard, but God does. And He’s serious about it. Case in point: Ananias and Sapphira. When this couple tried to create a false impression about their giving, they dropped dead in the presence of the apostles. As a result, ‘No one else dared join them.’ (Acts 5:13 NIV) How long would you have lasted in that church? Peter said, ‘You have not lied to men but to God.’ (Acts 5:4 NIV) That puts a whole new slant on it, doesn’t it?
The story’s told of a guy who went fishing and caught nothing. So he stopped by the market on his way home and bought three fish. Then he told the shop assistant, ‘Throw them to me—that way when I get home I can honestly tell my wife I caught them.’
Solomon said, ‘My mouth speaks what is true… All the words of my mouth are just; none of them is crooked or perverse.’ (Proverbs 8:7–8 NIV) Some of the worst lies are the ones we tell ourselves, and end up believing. And another thought: a liar’s biggest problem is they can’t believe anybody else, because ‘how you live your life is how you judge your neighbor’. So if you have a problem telling the truth, pray, ‘Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue.’
‘Cast out this bondwoman and her son.’ Genesis 21:10 NKJV
When Abraham tried to hurry the plan of God and fulfill it through well-intentioned but misguided human effort, Ishmael was born. Perhaps you have tried something similar yourself. We all have our ‘Ishmaels’—a good idea that wasn’t a God idea. And it can complicate your life. So God told Abraham, ‘Cast out this bondwoman and her son.’ In other words: ‘It’s time to deal with your past and clean out your cupboard. This thing is holding you back, and until you deal with it you can’t move forward to your destiny. Get it out of your life and don’t look back!’
Sometimes your miracle (Isaac) and your mistake (Ishmael) can live together for a while under the same roof. Things can be so good in one area of your life, yet so bad in another. But there comes a time when God says, ‘Because of the plans I have for you, you must put this thing out of your life.’ And that’s not easy. It’s painful letting go of what your flesh craves or cherishes. But you have only two options: be led by your emotions and miss out on God’s best, or say, ‘As much as I love this person or thing, I love the Lord more.’ When you’re willing to walk away from something you thought you had to have because you love God more, that’s called ‘the sacrifice of praise.’ (Hebrews 13:15 NIV) And when you offer it up to God, you position yourself to experience a new level of His blessing. Is God speaking to you today about something similar in your life? If so, let it go!
‘Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.’ Romans 10:17 NKJV
Every day fear and faith will arise inside you, and you get to decide which one will prevail. An unknown author wrote, ‘Two natures beat within my breast; the one is foul, the other blessed. The one I love, the other I hate; the one I feed will dominate.’ Fear and faith will always be present in your life, and the one you feed will come out on top. You can’t expect fear to simply disappear. If you focus on your fears, entertain them, and give in to them, they’ll increase. The way to overcome them is to starve them. Don’t give them your time or energy. Don’t feed them with gossip, negative news reports or frightening films. Focus on your faith, and each day feed it through God’s Word (see Romans 10:17). The more energy and time you devote to your faith, the stronger it will become. Anytime that you feel afraid of something but do it anyway, you reprogram your attitude. In other words, when you feel afraid, it means ‘go’ instead of ‘stop’; it means ‘fight harder’ instead of ‘give up’. The most important step you can take to overcome fear is trusting God to do the thing you think you can’t do. No matter how strong a hold fear may have on you, it can be overcome. That’s because fear is in your mind, and your mind can be renewed by the Word of God. Here’s the key: ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.’ (Romans 12:2 NKJV)
‘Don’t worry about tomorrow.’ Matthew 6:34 NLT
Yesterday and tomorrow both clamor for our attention. Yesterday wants us to second-guess our decisions and worry if we did the right thing. That’s wasted energy. As President Harry Truman said, ‘If you’ve done the best you can—if you’ve done what you have to do—there’s no use worrying about it because nothing can change it.’ And tomorrow can also cause you to miss opportunities. Let’s face it, most people arrive at a different destination in life than what they expected—some better, some worse, but all different. So focusing on the destination isn’t necessarily a good idea. Besides, tomorrow may come, or it may not. There are no guarantees. Jesus said, ‘Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’ Jesus was talking to people who were worried about having the basic necessities in life, like food and clothes. And He said to them, ‘Don’t worry about these things… your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.’ (Matthew 6:31–32 NLT) The only place you really have any power—is in the present. Do what you can in the here and now despite your fear, and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re doing everything within your power to reach your potential. If you project too far into the future, you’ll suffer from the ‘what ifs?’ and your fears will run wild. Both Winston Churchill and Mark Twain are said to have quipped, ‘I am an old man and have known a great many troubles but most of them never happened!’ Give your past and your future to God and live your life one day at a time, trusting Him. That’s how you overcome fear.
‘We shall reap if we do not lose heart.’ Galatians 6:9 NKJV
Don’t allow what you can’t do to interfere with what you can do. Boxing manager Cus D’Amato said, ‘The hero and the coward both feel the same fear, but the hero uses his fear and projects it onto his opponent, while the coward runs. It’s the same fear; it’s what you do with it that matters.’ Most negative emotions can be converted into something positive to help us get further in life. Are you afraid of poverty? Convert it into a work ethic. Are you afraid of greediness? Convert it into generosity. Are you afraid of rejection? Convert it into the ability to connect with people. Are you afraid of insignificance? Convert it to the service of others.
As economist Roger Babson remarked, ‘If things go wrong, don’t go with them.’ Instead, seek a new way to do it. You can turn your life around by taking the thing that once created fear, and using that energy to do something worthwhile. There are many things in life you can’t control, and there’s no good reason to worry about those things. Writer Harold Stephens said, ‘There’s a great difference between worry and concern. A worried person sees a problem; a concerned person solves a problem.’ How can you become a problem-solver? By focusing on the things you can control. And the first one is your attitude. Remember, what happens to you isn’t nearly as important as what happens in you. The second is your calendar. You may not be able to control today’s circumstances, but you can do your best to plan the time you have. Most of us fear the future because we don’t prepare for it.
‘His compassions fail not. They are new every morning.’ Lamentations 3:22–23 NKJV
Henry Thoreau said, ‘Don’t be afraid that your life will end, be afraid that it will never begin!’ If you let fear take over your life, you’ll never fully live. The truth is that many of our fears are totally unfounded. Haven’t you found that to be so? Studies show that 95 percent of what we fear is baseless, and the rest are things we must learn to live with. Perhaps the best approach is to adopt the attitude of the poet Gertrude Stein, who said, ‘Considering how dangerous everything is, nothing is really frightening.’ Humanly speaking, there are no guarantees in life. We look at many things to protect us: insurance policies, burglar alarms, travelers’ cheques, aspirin, umbrellas, GPS systems, and airbags. But the truth is that life is dangerous, damaging to your health, and will eventually kill you. So you might as well live to the fullest.
Shakespeare said, ‘He is not worthy of the honeycomb that shuns the hive because the bees have stings.’ Don’t let fear keep you from taking small steps in your development. You never know where they may lead. There are two things that are ever-present with us in life: fear and faith. And every day you live, you choose one or the other. Jeremiah chose faith. He wrote: ‘Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!” The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.’ (Lamentations 3:22–25 NKJV)
‘I praise you because of the wonderful way You created me.’ Psalm 139:14 CEV
The story’s told of a man who had a morbid fear of thunder, so he went to see a psychiatrist. ‘You have a condition called brontophobia,’ the doctor said. ‘It’s silly to be afraid of thunder at your age. Just think of it as a drum roll in the symphony of life.’ ‘What if that doesn’t work?’ the man asked. The psychiatrist replied, ‘Then do what I do. When you hear thunder, stuff cotton wool in your ears, crawl under the bed, and sing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” at the top of your lungs until the thunder stops.’
Seriously, most fears are based on feelings, not facts. Try to look beyond your fears and uncover the expectations that lie beneath them. For example, if you were raised in poverty you may be afraid to be generous. If you were abandoned you may be afraid to trust anyone, or you may cling to people and try to control them. If you were abused you may fear emotional and physical intimacy. If you were constantly criticized you may be afraid that God won’t forgive you. If you don’t feel beautiful or intelligent, or you’re not from a high-class family, you may be afraid to mix with people or talk to them in case they look down on you. American humorist James Thurber wrote, ‘All men should strive to learn before they die what they are running from, and to, and why.’ David not only pinpointed the source of his fears, but the source of his self-worth and security: ‘I will praise You, for I am… wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works.’ When you know you have God’s approval, your fears begin to die.
‘And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, “Look at us.”‘ Acts 3:4 NKJV
The Bible says: ‘A certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms from those who entered the temple; who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms. And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, “Look at us.” So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them—walking, leaping, and praising God.’ (Acts 3:2–8 NKJV) This miracle begins with the words: ‘And fixing his eyes on him… Peter said, “Look at us.”’ And it continues with the words: ‘He took him by the right hand and lifted him up.’
In certain Zulu areas of South Africa, people greet each other with a phrase that means ‘I see you’. Could this be God’s strategy for human hurt? First, kind eyes meet desperate ones. Next, strong hands help weak ones. Then, the miracle of God. We do our small part, He does the big part, and life at the Beautiful Gate begins to be just that—‘beautiful’. To serve others you must first see them, and to lift them you must first love them because you know Jesus does.
‘And has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord.’ Acts 17:26–27 NKJV
Let’s look at three phrases in this Scripture:
(1) ‘And has determined their pre-appointed times.’ Your parents may not have wanted you, but God did. He scheduled the moment of your birth, has a purpose for your life, and you are constantly on His mind. If that sounds too good to be true, read on: ‘You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in Your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are Your thoughts about me, O God.’(Psalm 139:16–17 NLT) And that’s a foundation to build your self-worth on!
(2) ‘And the boundaries of their dwellings.’ God’s will for you requires being in the right place; that’s why He sets ‘boundaries’. Sometimes He will say, ‘Don’t go there, I want you over here,’ or ‘Don’t stay here, I want you over there.’ Because someone else goes somewhere and succeeds, doesn’t mean you will. ‘The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.’ (Psalm 37:23 NLT) Include God in every detail of your life, for where He guides, He provides.
(3) ‘So that they should seek the Lord.’ Every act of God in your life is designed to increase your dependence on Him. Every assignment He gives you will require His participation in order to succeed. With all his great talents, Paul acknowledged, ‘Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.’ (2 Corinthians 3:5 NKJV)
‘If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.’ Luke 9:23 NIV
In AD 44, King Herod Agrippa ordered James the Greater to be killed with a sword. He was the first of the apostles to be martyred. Reportedly, Luke was hanged from an olive tree in Greece. Doubting Thomas was burned in India. Philip was crucified and preached from the cross with his dying breath. Matthew was stabbed in the back in Ethiopia. Bartholomew was flogged to death in Armenia. James the Just was thrown off the south-east pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, then clubbed to death by a mob. Simon the Zealot was crucified by the governor of Syria in AD 74. Judas Thaddaeus was beaten to death with sticks in Mesopotamia. Matthias, who replaced Judas Iscariot, was stoned and beheaded. Peter was crucified upside down at his own request. When John the Beloved survived being put in a cauldron of boiling water, Emperor Diocletian exiled him to the island of Patmos. Now you will probably not be called to die physically for Christ—but to be His disciple you must die to yourself. Jesus said, ‘If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will save it.’ (Luke 9:23–24 NIV) If you want to find yourself, you must be willing to lose yourself in the cause of Christ. If you want to come alive in the fullest sense, you must be willing to die to all forms of self-centredness and live for Christ.
‘Seek first the Kingdom of God.’ Matthew 6:33 NKJV
Until the sixteenth century, ordinary people believed the earth was the center of the universe and the sun revolved around it. Then an astronomer called Copernicus came along and argued that the sun didn’t revolve around the earth, the earth revolved around the sun. In so doing, he revolutionized the scientific world forever. And when it comes to discipleship, Jesus did the same thing: ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.’ At its core, sinfulness is selfishness. It’s enthroning yourself—your desires, your needs, your plans—above all else. You may still seek God, but you don’t seek Him ‘first’. Instead of trying to fulfill His purposes, you try to get Him to fulfill yours. Who’s following who? Instead of following Jesus, you’re trying to get Him to follow you. It doesn’t work that way. ‘Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”’ (Matthew 16:24–25 NKJV) Note the words ‘loses his life for My sake.’ There’s a lot of talks today about ‘finding yourself’. The way to find yourself—is to seek God. D.L. Moody said, ‘The world has yet to see what God will do with and for and through and in and by the man or woman who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him.’ If you’re willing to surrender yourself to God, there’s no telling what He will do with you.
‘He will make certain each step you take is sure.’ Psalm 37:23 CEV
To succeed in life, you need these four things:
(1) Morals. What are you willing to compromise to get where you’re trying to go? You can’t get there any old way you like; you must have boundaries. Yes, we’ve all broken the rules at some time or other, but thank God we had rules to break. We were able to realign ourselves because somebody had pitched a tent on where ‘right’ is. Today people don’t seem to know or care much about that.
(2) Methods. A goal without a plan is like a road to nowhere. First the goal, then the plan, then the process. Adapting this simple three-step formula helps you understand that you won’t just leap into success. There are methods you must employ and stay with!
(3) Means. When God gives you the ‘vision’, He also gives you the ‘provision’. When that doesn’t happen, either the timing is not right or what you want differs from what He has in mind for you. God’s provision can come as an idea that hits you suddenly, or a thought that takes root and grows over time. And His provision involves help from other people, so walk in love wherever you go.
(4) Management. Jesus said, ‘To whom much is given, of him shall much be required.’ (Luke 12:48 AMPC) Some people act like ‘it’s over’ when God gives it to them. No, it’s just beginning. And guess who your biggest management challenge will be? You! That’s why the psalmist wrote, ‘If you do what the Lord wants, He will make certain each step you take is sure.’
‘Never stop praying.’ 1 Thessalonians 5:17 CEV
Have you become discouraged and stopped praying about the problem? If so, the word for you today is: ‘Keep on praying.’ God may not answer in the way you think He should, or within the time frame you think He should, but when you pray according to His Word, He has promised to answer: ‘No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.’ (Psalm 84:11 NKJV) When the children of Israel went to battle against a vastly superior army of Amalekites, Moses selected the Mountain of Prayer over the Valley of Battle and the Israelites won (see Exodus 17:8–13). When Abraham learned about the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, he ‘remained standing before the Lord’ (Genesis 18:22 NIV) rather than rushing out to warn the cities. When advisors informed Nehemiah that Jerusalem was in ruins, what did he do? Before he laid one stone in the foundation, he built a foundation of prayer under the whole project (see Nehemiah 1:4). Paul’s letters contain more requests for prayer than they do appeals for money or comfort. And what about Jesus? He rose up early to pray (see Mark 1:35). He dismissed people to pray (see Matthew 14:23). He climbed a mountain to pray (see Luke 9:28). Before going to the cross, He prayed all night (see Luke 22:39–46). Every word He spoke and every work He performed was saturated in prayer. And if He needed to do that, you do too! Bottom line: you can accomplish great things after you’ve prayed, but nothing great until you’ve prayed. So the word for you today is: keep on praying.
‘But we preach Christ crucified.’ 1 Corinthians 1:23 NKJV
A European village priest in medieval times is said to have told his congregation, ‘Come back tonight for a special sermon about Jesus.’ And they did. To their surprise, however, no candles illuminated the sanctuary. They groped their way to the pews and sat down. The priest was nowhere to be seen. Then they heard him walking through the church towards the front. When he reached the cross that hung on the wall, he lit a candle. And without saying a word he illuminated the pierced feet of Christ, then His side, then one hand, then the other. Raising the candle, he shed light on the blood-masked face and the crown of thorns. Then with a puff, he extinguished the candle and dismissed the congregation. Nothing more needed to be said.
Take the words ‘Christ crucified’, and add the words ‘for me’, and you’ll understand what God did when He hung His sinless Son on that cross. Had you been the only person who ever lived, Christ would have died for you. With His arms stretched wide, He was saying, ‘This is how much I love you.’When you’re tempted to sin, when you’re guilt-ridden by sin, when Satan whispers, ‘There’s no hope for you,’ when pride would have you focus on your own virtue and morality, go back to the cross. You can’t go there too often. Hymnist Isaac Watts sums it up in these words: ‘Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.’
‘May integrity and uprightness protect me.’ Psalm 25:21 NIV
Bobby Jones is considered one of history’s greatest golfers. But more than all his victories on the golf course, he’s famous for what happened in the 1925 U.S. Open. He inadvertently touched his ball and assessed himself a one-stroke penalty, even though no one else saw him touch the ball. But he couldn’t violate his conscience. And by assessing himself that penalty, he lost the Open by that one stroke. When tournament officials tried to compliment him for his integrity, Jones simply said, ‘You might as well praise me for not breaking into banks. There is only one way to play this game.’ Bobby Jones played by the rules. Full stop. And in doing so, he honoured the integrity of the game. One sportswriter wrote, ‘In the opinion of many people, of all the great athletes, Bobby Jones came the closest to being what we call a great man.’ Jones could have won the tournament, but he would have lost his integrity. And winning the U.S. Open wasn’t worth a one-stroke penalty on his integrity. That’s epic integrity! And that’s something to be celebrated. We live in a culture that celebrates talent more than integrity, but we’ve got it backwards. Talent depreciates over time. So do intellect and appearance. You will eventually lose your strength and your looks. You may even lose your mind. But you don’t have to lose your integrity. Integrity is the only thing that doesn’t depreciate over time. Nothing takes longer to build than a godly reputation. And nothing is destroyed more quickly by one stroke of sin. That’s why your integrity must be celebrated and protected above all else.
‘Forget what happened in the past, and do not dwell on events from long ago.’ Isaiah 43:18 GWT
Although it’s true that we all fail, here’s something worth remembering: you can fail successfully. How? By learning from your failures and growing stronger and wiser through them. Surrendering your future to your past just means you drown in remorse and hopelessness. But if you practice ‘failing forward’, you can experience future success. So acknowledge your failings, see yourself cleansed by the blood of Jesus, let go of your disappointment in yourself, and get up and try again. At one point in Elijah’s life, he got so depressed that he prayed he might die: ‘“I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”’ (1 Kings 19:4 NIV) Later when he was strengthened by God’s grace, he emerged from his depression a new man with a new mission in life (see 1 Kings 19:15–16). After he’d denied Christ openly, Peter was forgiven. Despite his weakness, he was restored and became the apostle who would ‘strengthen his fellow apostles’ and build the New Testament Church (see Luke 22:31–32). It’s not a matter of how badly or how often you’ve failed—it’s a matter of what God can make you when you accept His grace, get up again, and allow Him to empower you to do better. Peter is proof that God takes us when we are weak, and speaks and acts through us in ways that bring glory to Him alone! (See 1 Corinthians 1:28.) Will God sometimes correct you? Yes, He’s a good parent, but He won’t discard you. So the word for you today is—you can start again.
‘The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.’ Proverbs 11:3 NIV
The second quality you must exhibit in dealing with others is credibility. When people trust you they’ll listen to you. In the early stages of the relationship, they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt as long as your credentials are good. But in order to maintain their trust, you must demonstrate credibility [reliability, integrity, sincerity]. It’s been said that the mediocre teacher tells, the good teacher explains, but the great teacher demonstrates.
Ultimately, each of us should strive to be the message. In the first six months of a relationship, we focus on a person’s communication ability in order to make judgments about him or her. For example, when we have a new boss who speaks well and casts a compelling vision, we buy in. When we connect well with a new neighbor or co-worker, we feel we may have a new friend. When we meet the person we end up marrying, we think everything will always be wonderful. And for most people the honeymoon is wonderful. But after the honeymoon comes the marriage! Sometimes that too is wonderful, and sometimes it’s not.
What makes the difference? Credibility! Here’s how it works in relationships: during the first six months, communication overrides credibility. After six months of credibility overrides communication. When a person is credible, the longer the time, the better it gets. But for someone who lacks credibility, the longer the time, the worse it gets.
Credibility is like money: with it, you’re solvent; without it, you’re bankrupt. The truth is: with the passage of time the way you live far outweighs the words you use.
‘“Watch me,” he told them. “Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do.”’ Judges 7:17 NIV
On the eve of his spectacular victory over the Midianites, Gideon told his army of three hundred men, ‘Watch me… Follow my lead… do exactly as I do.’ What would happen if you said that to the people who know you? Would you have to qualify that statement by saying, ‘Follow me in business, but not my family life’? Or, ‘Follow my professional advice, but not my personal lifestyle’? To earn respect and be worthy of following, you need two qualities that really matter. The first is conviction: conviction is a set-in-concrete belief that you live by and refuse to compromise on. A pragmatist adjusts his or her beliefs and actions to things like the bottom line, or not making waves, or being liked and accepted. A man or woman of conviction won’t do that. Early one morning, Scottish philosopher and religious skeptic David Hume was observed hurrying to hear evangelist George Whitefield. When asked if he really believed what the great evangelist preached, Hume replied, ‘Certainly not! But he does, and I want to hear a man who truly believes what he says!’ Author Larry Phillips said: ‘There’s a noticeable difference between steel and tin—especially when hit. Genuine heartfelt convictions simply come across as “words of steel”. There’s a determined resolve in the tone… We need to be reminded that we can’t fake convictions! [People] will always discern the difference between words of steel and the sound of tin—no matter how hard the tin is hit!’ People know the difference between your core values and your intellectual concepts. If you don’t have a deep conviction about what you’re saying, why should they?
‘Do not seek Bethel, do not go to Gilgal, do not journey to Beersheba… Seek the Lord and live.’ Amos 5:5–6 NIV
Bethel is where Jacob had his life-changing dream and made a vow to God. Gilgal is where the Israelites camped after God miraculously parted the Jordan River and they stepped into the Promised Land for the first time. Beersheba is where Isaac dug a well and built an altar. All three places held a special significance: they were sacred landmarks in Israel’s spiritual journey. So why would God tell them not to seek Him there? The answer is simple: you won’t find God in the past. His name is not The Great I Was, it’s The Great I Am.
The psalmist said, ‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.’ (Psalm 46:1 NIV) When we cling too tightly to what God did last, we often miss what God wants to do for us next. He is at work right here, right now. He is always doing something new. So go ahead and build altars and mark holy moments to the past, but the purpose of altars is to remind us of God’s faithfulness in the past so we can have faith to believe Him for the future. When we stop living out of imagination and start living out of memory, we start dying. To be fully alive is to be fully present. It mandates leaving the past in the past. That’s why Paul wrote, ‘Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.’(Philippians 3:13–14 NIV) So the word for you today is: press on!
‘He burned the plowing equipment.’ 1 Kings 19:21 NIV
Elisha’s ministry begins with this Scripture: ‘He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah.’ He couldn’t go back to his old way of life because he had destroyed the time machine that would take him back. It was the end of Elisha the farmer, and the beginning of Elisha the prophet.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re trying to lose weight, get into university, write a book, start a business or a ministry, or get out of debt. The first step is always the longest step and the hardest. You can’t just take a step forward into the future; you also have to eliminate the possibility of moving back into the past. That’s how you go after goals. That’s how you break addictions. That’s how you reconcile relationships. To begin a new chapter, you must end an old chapter. Elisha didn’t need to burn his plowing equipment to follow Elijah, but it made a statement. More specifically, it was a statement of faith. There was no turning back. Nine times out of ten, failure is resorting to Plan B when Plan A gets too risky, too costly, or too difficult. That’s why most people are living their Plan B. They haven’t burned their bridges to the past. Plan A people don’t have a Plan B. It’s Plan A or bust. They would rather crash and burn to go after their God-ordained dreams than succeed at something else. The word for you today is: burn your bridges to the past and move forward.
‘Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself and the wife must respect her husband.’ Ephesians 5:33 NIV
A woman went away on a long weekend retreat. Halfway through the final Monday morning session she suddenly jumped to her feet and left the room. Concerned, a friend followed her to see what had made her leave the meeting so abruptly. She found the woman hanging up a telephone in the lobby. ‘Is everything all right?’ she asked urgently. ‘Oh, yes,’ the woman responded sheepishly. ‘I didn’t mean to alarm you, but I suddenly remembered that it’s Monday morning bin day.’ Her friend replied, ‘Bin day? Isn’t your husband at home?’ ‘Yes,’ replied the woman, ‘but it takes two of us to put out the bin. I can’t carry it, and he can’t remember it!’ The secret of a good marriage lies in learning how to live and work together. And here are ten suggestions to help you accomplish that goal:
(1) Agree to pray together daily.
(2) Find something good to say about each other every day.
(3) Don’t forget to snuggle.
(4) Think of yourselves as a team—not just a couple.
(5) Respect your differences.
(6) Eat at least one meal together each day.
(7) Submit your disagreements to God.
(8) Develop a strong sense of humor.
(9) Identify ‘your special place’, and ‘your special song’.
(10) Reminisce together.
Ironically, the number one reason given for divorce today is ‘incompatibility’. Well, guess what? You are supposed to be different! When two people with different gifts decide to love one another and listen to one another, their differences can become a source of strength rather than a source of weakness. Marriage: it takes two!
‘He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality.’ 2 Timothy 1:10 NLT
It’s no surprise that God has a heart for hurting parents. After all, God Himself is a father. What has parental emotion He not felt? Are you separated from your child? So was God. Is someone mistreating your child? They mocked and bullied His. Is someone taking advantage of your child? He, the Son of God, was set up by false testimony and betrayed by a greedy follower. Are you forced to watch while your child suffers? God watched His Son on the cross. Do you find yourself wanting to spare your child from all the hurt in the world? God did. But because of His great love for us, ‘He did not spare His own Son but gave Him for us all. So with Jesus, God will surely give us all things.’ (Romans 8:32 NCV) Note the words ‘all things’. There’s nothing God can’t do in answer to prayer! Perhaps you’ve prayed but your child has died. No pain compares to that of losing a child. Maybe you’ve said, ‘Jesus resurrected Jairus’ child, why didn’t He save mine?’ God understands your question. He buried a child too. And He hates death more than you do. That’s why He ‘broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality.’ For those who trust Christ, death is nothing more than a transition to Heaven. Your child may not be in your arms today, but your child is safely in His. After losing his son at birth, David looked forward with hope and said, ‘I shall go to him.’ (2 Samuel 12:23 NKJV) And so will you.
‘Her spirit returned, and she arose… And her parents were astonished.’ Luke 8:55–56 NKJV
You can do your very best for your children, and still stand where Jairus stood. You can love them, protect them, and pray for them, and still find yourself in an emergency ward at midnight or a drug rehab clinic during visitor’s hours choosing between two voices: despair and belief.
Who would have faulted Jairus for giving up? When he first went to Jesus, his daughter was critically ill but still alive. Then while he was talking to Jesus, word arrived: ‘Your daughter is dead.’ (Luke 8:49 NLT) In that moment Jesus looked at Jairus and said, ‘Don’t be afraid. Just have faith, and she will be healed.’ (Luke 8:50 NLT) Whether stopping the child’s sickness in its tracks, or raising her from the dead, Jesus was the answer to Jairus’ problem. And He is the answer to your family problem too. Notice two things Jesus did:
(1) He dismissed those who mourned, but had no faith (see Luke 8:51). Be careful who you let get close to you, especially in times of crisis.
(2) He united the parents in faith. ‘When Jesus went to the house, He let only Peter, John, James, and the girl’s father and mother go inside with Him.’ (Luke 8:51 NCV) At that point He ‘took her by the hand and called, saying, “Little girl, arise.” Then her spirit returned, and she arose immediately… And her parents were astonished.’ (Luke 8:54–56 NKJV) When you pray and put your faith in Christ, He can do things in your family that will amaze you!
‘Pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord. Lift your hands toward Him for the life of your young children.’ Lamentations 2:19 NKJV
The story of Jairus is the story of a pleading parent and an ever-present Saviour. So, ‘Pour out your heart…before the face of the Lord. Lift your hands towards Him for the life of your young children.’ Parent, you can do this. You can be a loyal advocate and a faithful intercessor. You can bring your parenting fears to Jesus. In fact, if you don’t, you might take your fears out on your children. Fear turns some parents into prison guards who monitor every minute and check the background of every friend. They stifle growth and communicate distrust. A family with no breathing room suffocates a child. On the other hand, fear can also create permissive parents. For fear that their child will feel too confined or fenced in, they lower all boundaries. High on hugs and low on discipline, they don’t realise that appropriate discipline is an expression of love.
Permissive parents or paranoid parents—how can you avoid those extremes? Pray! Jesus said so little about parenting, yet His actions speak volumes about prayer. Each time a parent prays, Christ responds. The big message in this story is: when your child is in crisis, turn to Jesus. But don’t wait for a crisis to come. When you send them off to school each day, do so with a blessing. When you tell them good night, cover them in prayer. When they’re stumped by a homework assignment they can’t handle, pray with them about it. Pray that your children will have a profound sense of their place in this world, and a heavenly place in the next one.
‘You saw me before I was born.’ Psalm 139:16 NLT
The psalmist wrote: ‘You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are Your thoughts about me, O God.’ (Psalm 139:16–17 NLT) If you want to know God’s will for your life, pray this prayer: ‘Lord, You knew me completely before I was born, and You shaped me and destined me for a purpose. Give me a clear vision of all You want to do inand through my life. I desperately need to understand what the “hope of my calling” (Ephesians 4:4 NLT) is, and “the exceeding greatness of His power” (Ephesians 1:19 NKJV) to enable me to fulfil Your purpose (see 2 Corinthians 9:14). Show me the gifts You have put in me, and how I can develop and use them for Your glory (see Romans 12:6). Help me to think big and pray with boldness (see Ephesians 3:20). I want to be open and available for whatever You have for me, and not miss Your blessings by being unprepared to receive them. Help me not to hold on to things or relationships that are not of You. I want to do Your will with my whole heart (see Psalm 40:8). Only You know what and who is right for me. Help me to hear Your voice, and give me the grace and courage to follow Your leading when I am afraid (see John 10:4). May the desires of Your heart become the desires of my heart. Enlarge my capacity to believe that You can take what I have and multiply it beyond what I can imagine. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.’
‘You are my hiding place; You will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.’ Psalm 32:7 NIV
Have you ever fantasized about running away from all the stresses of today’s high-tech world? Surely there’s a place somewhere on the globe where the pace is slower and the living is easy. That dream motivated a family in 1940 to move to an island called Guadalcanal in the Coral Sea. But two years later war broke out in the Pacific, and the couple found themselves witnessing a battle—in their front yard. Obviously, they had chosen the wrong place. Where can you go to escape the noise and hubbub of city life? How about a small island in the Caribbean called Grand Cayman? Vacationers to this resort say it is the closest thing to paradise on earth. The residents there pay no taxes. The water around them is calm and warm, and there are orchids growing everywhere. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But there’s a catch. Medical studies revealed that the two major ailments suffered by the citizens of Grand Cayman are hypertension and anxiety neurosis. Life on a tropical beach is not always what it appears to be.
Could it be that the stresses and pressures with which we struggle, actually come from within? Yes. And they will plague us no matter where we live until we learn to deal with circumstances as they are. Here’s how the psalmist did it: ‘You are my hiding place; You will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with My loving eye on you.’(Psalm 32:7–8 NIV)
‘And, behold, Isaac was caressing his wife Rebekah.’ Genesis 26:8 NASB
Back in the days when wooden ships depended on the wind to drive them, sailors had much to be concerned about: pirates, storms, and diseases. But often their greatest fear was ‘the doldrums’—an area near the equator characterised by calm and very light shifting winds. It could mean the death of the entire crew. The ship’s food and water supply would be depleted as they drifted for days, or even weeks, waiting for a breeze to put them back on course. We talk about something ‘taking the wind out of our sails’, meaning we’ve lost our momentum and we need something to get us back on course again. Your marriage doesn’t lose its momentum overnight, but over months and years of insensitivity and neglect. But it doesn’t have to be that way for you. Author Doug Fields in his book, Creative Romance, writes: ‘Romancing your spouse can change those patterns, and it can be a lot of fun. There’s no quick fix to a stagnant marriage, of course, but you can lay aside the excuses and begin to date your sweetheart again.’ God brought this charge against the church at Ephesus: ‘You have left your first love.’ (Revelation 2:4 NKJV) Then He told them how to remedy it: ‘Repent and do the first works.’ (Revelation 2:5 NKJV) Fearing King Abimelech would kill him and take his wife Rebekah, Isaac lied and said she was his sister. What gave him away? King Abimelech looked out a window, and, ‘Behold, Isaac was caressing his wife Rebekah.’ Romance saved his life and his marriage, and it can do the same for yours.
‘But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ 1 Corinthians 15:57 NIV
What seems like a setback is often a setup for a comeback! There’s no greater illustration of this than Good Friday. On the Saturday between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, it seemed all was lost. But it’s not over until God says it’s over! The greatest spiritual victory in history was won on the heels of its seemingly greatest defeat. All was lost, but not for long. Three days after His crucifixion, Jesus walked out of His tomb. And as a redeemed child of God, that same power lives in you today. ‘If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.’ (Romans 8:11 NKJV) In God’s Kingdom failure is never final. Not if you believe in the resurrection! You won’t win every spiritual battle, but the war has been decisively won. The victory was sealed two thousand years ago when Jesus broke the seal of His tomb. It was the death blow to death itself. Paul writes, ‘Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.’ (Romans 8:37 NKJV) Today you are more than a conqueror (in all these things) because of what Christ accomplished for you. Yes, you’ll experience setbacks. But remember this: without a crucifixion there can be no resurrection. So when you have a setback, don’t take a step back, because God is preparing your comeback.
‘The Lord gave him success in everything he did.’ Genesis 39:3 NIV
The second credential you need when it comes to getting people to listen to you is: success. Credibility doesn’t come from knowledge alone; it comes from results. When people want to succeed, they seek advice from those who have actually accomplished something. When you’re successful, there will always be those who want to listen to you. And if you have a proven track record in an area where they want to succeed, your credibility goes through the roof. So what does it take to be a success? Many different things. Here are a few:
(1) Habits. Everybody wants to succeed, but few are willing to pay the price. You don’t determine your future; you determine your habits and your habits determine your future. The secret lies in your daily routine. To succeed you must make a habit of doing what those who are unsuccessful don’t do.
(2) Opportunity. A successful person makes hay from the grass that grows under the other person’s feet! They don’t restrict their efforts to the hours when the sun shines. They recognise that success takes aspiration, inspiration, and perspiration.
(3) Persistence. Success means getting back up each time you fall. Scientist and inventor Louis Pasteur said, ‘Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity.’
(4) God. Abraham Lincoln said, ‘I believe the will of God prevails; without Him all human reliance is vain; without the assistance of that divine being I cannot succeed; with that assistance I cannot fail.’ God gave Joseph ‘success in everything he did,’ and He wants to do the same for you!
‘The common people heard Him gladly.’ Mark 12:37 NKJV
The Bible says concerning Jesus: ‘The common people heard Him gladly.’Why? Because His words were backed by these all-important things: His character, His conduct, and His concern for others. In short, Jesus earned the right to speak. Have you? Getting people to listen to calls for insight. When what you say truly helps somebody, you form a connection. Benjamin Franklin, one of the most admired figures in American history and known for his homespun wisdom, had a remarkable career. Interestingly, he had little formal education. He attended school for only two years, yet he was highly respected because of his knowledge and keen insight. A voracious reader and an intellectually curious man, he became an expert in a remarkable number of areas: printing and publishing, politics, civic activism, the sciences, and diplomacy. He was an innovative inventor who secured the support of France during the Revolutionary War, founded the first public library in America, served as the first president of the American Philosophical Society, and helped draft the Declaration of Independence. Biographer Walter Isaacson called Franklin ‘the most accomplished American of his age and the most influential in inventing the type of society America would become.’ People felt a sense of connection when Franklin shared his wisdom. Here’s how this applies to you. When you love people, work hard, study, develop and share your expertise in a given area, they will learn to respect and listen to you. And when it comes to listening, you don’t get what you demand, you get what you earn.
‘Be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.’ 1 Corinthians 1:10 NLT
There’s a legend about a covey of quail that lived in a forest. The birds were happy there except for their enemy, the quail catcher. He would imitate their call, and then when they gathered together he’d throw a net over them, stuff them into his hunting basket, and carry them off to market. Finally, a wise old quail said, ‘Brothers and sisters, I have a plan. When the quail catcher throws his net over us, we should all put our heads into a section of the net together and start flapping our wings. That way we can lift it as one and fly off with it.’ The birds all agreed, and the next day they did exactly that, making a successful escape. When the quail-catcher’s wife asked him, ‘Where are the quail to take to market?’ he replied, ‘When they all got together there was no stopping them!’
Writing to the Corinthian church, the apostle Paul said, ‘Some members of Chloe’s household have told me about your quarrels.’ (1 Corinthians 1:11 NLT) Then he went on to say, ‘Live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions… Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.’Success in any venture calls for the death of individual ego and self-interest. So when a mistake is made, refuse to place blame. Be forgiving, and don’t allow an offense to develop into bitterness. Offer praise for other team members’ strengths, and offer help in their areas of weakness. Be conscientious and dependable and stay focused on the bigger goal. When we learn to work together there’s no stopping us!
‘If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.’ 2 Corinthians 5:17 KJV
Nothing in history compares to what has been accomplished by Christian missionaries. Over one hundred years ago, a writer returning from a trip around the world discovered that missions and missionaries were being bombarded with criticism in the London newspapers. So he wrote a letter to the papers defending missions. In it he said that the transformation of wild savages in the isles of the South Seas was something to behold and that to make light of this was a heinous crime: ‘In a voyager, to forget these things is base ineptitude; for should he chance to be at the point of shipwreck on some unknown coast, he will most devoutly pray that the lesson of the missionary may have preceded him.’ The author of that letter was none other than Charles Darwin.
Consider the Papuans, one of the aboriginal tribes of New Guinea. Missionaries from Holland began to work with them, and in 1860, the first fruits of the New Holland Mission were seen when a man named Nathaniel Pepper, one of the aborigines, accepted Christ. Some years later, when thousands had been converted, the Papuan school won first prize in academic competitions among the twelve hundred colonial schools in New Holland. Quite a feat! Skeptics may have built a few leprosariums, hospitals and orphanages, but by far it’s been the followers of Jesus Christ who have made the greatest impact on this world.
‘Receive him forever, not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother.’ Philemon 1:15–16 KJV
What finally brought about an end to slavery? The gospel of Jesus Christ. Note the small letter Paul wrote to Philemon. A runaway slave was thrown into a Roman prison along with Paul, and Paul converted him to Christ. And when the slave was released, Paul sent him back to his owner, Philemon. The custom at that time was to kill escaped slaves after they’d been recaptured. But now Philemon had also become a Christian, another convert of the apostle Paul, who instructed him to receive him back ‘not as a servant, but above a servant, a brother.’ And in that new brotherhood, slavery found its death knell.
Now, fast forward to the days of William Wilberforce, who was convicted of his sin and converted under the preaching of John Wesley. Wilberforce, a slight, hunch-backed man, became one of the most powerful members of Parliament. Consumed by the Gospel and the freedom that Christ offered, Wilberforce devoted all his energies and eloquence to overthrowing the obnoxious African slave trade. And his success in abolishing it throughout the British Empire led to agitation for similar action in the United States. In fact, it was through the proclamations that thundered from pulpits throughout the northern states that abolitionist parties came into being and succeeded in destroying slavery once and for all. So it was through the church that slavery was eradicated. Jesus came ‘to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives.’ (Luke 4:18 NKJV) Are you a member of Christ’s redeemed church? If not, you can sign up today!
‘On this rock, I will build my church.’ Matthew 16:18 CEV
The Christian church is about one-and-a-half times the size of its nearest rival. The odds against that are staggering. Suppose today a group of missionaries showed up in your town and told you that a peasant who’d been put to death was reputed to have risen again. Furthermore, He was no less than the Creator of the universe. Would you buy it? The apostles did in the pagan Roman Empire, and what’s more—they eventually succeeded in overthrowing the Roman Empire. In the face of terrible persecution, Christianity continued to flourish. Even the attempts of Julian the Apostate to overthrow Christianity and re-establish the pagan Roman religions met with no success. When Julian’s onslaught against Christianity was at its worst, one of the emperor’s followers asked a Christian, ‘What is your carpenter’s son doing now?’ The Christian replied, ‘Making a coffin for your emperor!’ It wasn’t long after this that Julian was mortally wounded in battle. Falling to the ground, he picked up a handful of sand mingled with his blood, tossed it into the air, and allegedly declared, ‘Thou hast conquered O Galilean.’
No, the church is not perfect; that’s why people like us are welcome there! Nevertheless, there are many valid reasons why the church of Jesus Christ continues to triumph. It’s a hospital for the wounded, it’s a family for the lonely, and it’s a school for those being trained in the principles of discipleship. And ultimately, when everything temporal goes up in smoke, it’s the only thing that will be left standing (see 2 Peter 3:10–12). So commit your life to Jesus Christ and join His victorious church!
‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.’ Genesis 50:20 NLT
At seventeen, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. At thirty, Pharaoh made him ruler of Egypt. During those thirteen years, Joseph suffered terribly at the hands of his brothers. Now he held the power of life and death over them. Yet he chose not only to forgive them but to feed them in the time of famine. It’s one of the greatest examples of forgiveness in history. As they stand trembling before him, Joseph says: ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children. So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them.’ (Genesis 50:20–21 NLT)
Notice four things:
(1) Only God understands people’s hearts, therefore only He is qualified to judge them.
(2) As you become more mature, you’ll be able to see the hand of God at work in some of the situations you’ve been through; you’ll see the ‘good’ in them rather than the evil.
(3) Because you have grown spiritually, you’ll acknowledge that others are capable of growing and changing too.
(4) Because of the favor and blessing that God has given you, you’ll not only speak kindly to your offender but be generous towards them. Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.’ (Matthew 5:44 NKJV) Are you willing to do that? Are you at least willing to pray, ‘Lord, make me willing?’
‘They are a gift, my lord, to ensure your friendship.’ Genesis 33:8 NLT
Here’s something you need to know in order to move forward. The person who hurt you may never offer an apology in the manner you desire. After Jacob cheated his brother Esau out of his birthright, things got so bad between them that Jacob went to live with his Uncle Laban in Haran. Later in life, when both brothers had become wealthy and successful in their own right, Jacob decided to seek reconciliation with his brother. At first, Esau refused to accept his brother’s gifts, but when Jacob persisted, ‘Esau finally accepted the gift.’ (Genesis 33:11 NLT) Notice, Jacob never said, ‘I’m sorry I stole your birthright; please forgive me.’ Basically, he said, ‘I’d like to try and make amends.’ At this point, Esau showed real maturity by valuing his relationship with his brother over his right to exact revenge. So the family was united. There’s a lesson here. God wants you to grow up and exercise spiritual maturity. You can’t control what others do; you can only control your response. Furthermore, if you insist that someone apologize to you—in a certain way—the relationship may never be healed. As a result, you’ll be left holding a grudge. And holding a grudge is like holding a hot coal; it will keep burning you until you let it go. For example, you may want your husband to apologize for his behavior. But if instead he buys you a gift or does something extra nice for you, responds with grace instead of judging either his methods or his motives. In other words, ‘close the account’ and move forward.
‘I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.’ John 17:4 NKJV
The ant literally dies to work. Now let’s be clear, the Bible doesn’t promote a workaholic lifestyle that endangers your health and causes you to neglect your family. Too many marriages fall apart when a couple subscribes to that philosophy, and too many children grow up resenting the fact that their parents never had time for them.
That being understood, the contemporary concept of retirement can’t be found in the Bible. Yes, you may retire from a job, but you never retire from work. As long as you’re alive, there’s always work God wants you to do. Harvard University commissioned a study of some of its graduates. One group of one hundred participants retired at age sixty-five, while those in the other group worked to age seventy-five. In the first group, seven out of eight were dead by age seventy-five. In the second group, of those who continued to work—only one in eight had died by age seventy-five. Researchers consequently concluded that retiring too early can reduce longevity. Stop and consider the three-and-a-half-year ministry of Jesus. At the end of it, He said, ‘I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.’ Has it ever occurred to you that salvation is available because Jesus proved Himself a faithful laborer who stayed on the task until the job was done? Again, rest, relaxation, and retirement are worthy and well-deserved rewards for a life of hard work. But the truth is, as long as you’re alive God has something for you to do! And in doing it you’ll not only find joy and fulfillment, you’ll bless those around you too.
‘Lazy people are soon poor; hard workers get rich.’ Proverbs 10:4 NLT
A leaf-cutting ant may carry up to fifty times its own weight more than a hundred meters. That’s the equivalent of an 80 kg man carrying four tonnes on his back for ten kilometers! In a single summer, a large colony of ants may excavate 14 to 18 tonnes of earth to make a nest, and carry two tonnes of material back into the nest for food. It can make as many as four round trips a day to food sources that may be more than 120 meters from the nest. That’s roughly equivalent to a person walking 110 km. If the ant had the stride of a man, it would be capable of bursts of speed in excess of 100 km per hour and would walk normally at a speed of 32 km per hour. (And you think you have it rough!) One thing about an ant you can count on: he always gives his best and pulls his share of the load.
Teach your kids that their reputation will never rise above their work ethic, and how people view them as workers. The success of the Walt Disney empire is based on the philosophy of its founder: ‘Whatever you do, do it so well that when people see you do it, they’ll want to come back and see you do it, and they’ll want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.’ Teach your children to work hard, always finish the job, and always give their best. If they learn that lesson well, you won’t have to teach them much about success—it will be their constant companion.
‘In all labor there is profit.’ Proverbs 14:23 NKJV
The ant never sees work as menial or beneath his dignity. Whether it’s moving dirt or carrying breadcrumbs, he merrily goes along doing his job. How unlike that are many people today! Someone has quipped, ‘If you want to keep your teenagers out of hot water, put some dirty dishes in it!’ All work can and should be done for the glory of God (see 1 Corinthians 10:31). The sum of the matter is found in this simple Bible statement: ‘In all labor there is profit.’ Teach your children the old-fashioned way of getting money—working for it!
The word ‘vocation’ comes from the Latin word vocare, which means ‘to call’. So every job or vocation, regardless of what it is, is a calling from God. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr rightly declared, ‘Not all men are called to specialized or professional jobs; even fewer to the heights of genius in the arts and sciences; many are called to be laborers in factories, fields, and streets. But no work is insignificant.’ As a parent, you are preparing your child for their work life, so prepare them well. If you don’t, they’ll have a life of grief, and create a life of grief for others. Plus, they may end up back on your doorstep! Bosses don’t pay workers who don’t work. So before you give your child an allowance, give them some chores like making their bed, cleaning their room, helping around the house, taking out the rubbish, getting good grades in school, and doing their homework on time. Reward without responsibility is an indulgence. And if you love your child you won’t do that!
‘Take a lesson from the ants… Learn from their ways and become wise!’ Proverbs 6:6 NLT
The Bible says: ‘Take a lesson from the ants… Learn from their ways and become wise! Though they have no prince or governor or ruler to make them work, they labour hard all summer, gathering food for the winter.’(Proverbs 6:6–8 NLT) While the queen ant is the centre of attention and the mother of most of the ants in the colony, she’s not the chief ruler. The work and survival of the colony are insured by ‘soldier’ ants. These servant-leaders are older ants that begin each new activity in the colony by doing the work themselves. The younger ants then imitate the servant-leaders and join in the work. There are no supervisors, chiefs, or officers amongst the ants. So when Solomon says the ants ‘have no prince, governor, or ruler to make them work’, it means the ant is a self-starter; this is a picture of the diligent person he describes in Proverbs 10:4 NLT: ‘Lazy people are soon poor; hard workers get rich.’ When you see an ant carrying a piece of bread several times larger than himself up a steep slope, it’s a study in diligence! No matter how many times he drops the bread, he goes back and picks it up, and starts climbing again until he gets it to where it’s supposed to go. What drives him? Hunger—God’s motivating force in labor. ‘It is good for workers to have an appetite; an empty stomach drives them on.’ (Proverbs 16:26 NLT) The stomach-growl of a hungry man or woman is often God’s way of teaching us the value and importance of being willing to work.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’ Matthew 5:9 NIV
When you’re a peace lover, it generally means you’re looking out for your own interests. But when you’re a peacemaker, you’re putting yourself on the line to help others. Making peace isn’t easy. When you decide to seek the middle ground, you discover that ‘he who stands in the middle of the road gets hit by both sides’! Let’s be honest; sometimes it’s easier to live with the apprehension and animosity, than the threat of change that comes through working for reconciliation. ‘So far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.’ (Romans 12:18 NASB) That means you must learn to speak and interact with people who think differently than you do. It doesn’t mean you have to change your views or your message, but sometimes it means you have to change your approach. Peace-making means being willing to engage in a real dialogue with two people, rather than ‘sound bites’ by only one. Risking rejection isn’t easy for anyone. That’s why the power of peacemakers is so crucial to conflict resolution. It’s too lofty a goal to expect that all differences will homogenize into one melting pot. A realistic goal is a salad—a combined mixture of ingredients with each retaining its unique flavor and texture. True peace-making begins in the heart, not the head. The Bible says, ‘Love never fails.’ (1 Corinthians 13:8 NKJV) When people feel loved and understood, they take down their barriers and begin to connect with one another. And when that happens, it can not only resolve the issue but heal hearts and minds. That’s why Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called the children of God.’
‘For this reason, I was born.’ John 18:37 NIV
When you know what your God-given assignment in life is, and that God is on your side, you become virtually unstoppable. Will you make mistakes? Of course, but God loves you enough to correct you, redirect you, and get you back on track. ‘How do I go about discovering my assignment?’ you ask.
Here are fourteen helpful questions to ask yourself:
(1) What desires have been living in me most of my life?
(2) What motivates me to work hard and be productive?
(3) What keeps me going forward when I’m worn out?
(4) What makes me refuse to quit when I meet with resistance?
(5) What do I do that doesn’t seem like work?
(6) What do I do that brings a positive response and support from people?
(7) What am I doing or what’s happening in my life when doors seem to open automatically and effortlessly?
(8) What do wise leaders and godly counselors think about my work?
(9) What makes me feel good about being who I am?
(10) What makes my creative juices flow? (11) What am I willing to sacrifice in order to accomplish it? (12) What am I doing that I’d be proud to offer for God’s approval? (13) What would I do without being paid for it if I could afford to? (14) What would I be willing to withstand Satan on, in order to accomplish? Prayerfully consider these fourteen questions, and they will shed light on your God-given assignment in life.
‘Righteousness exalts a nation.’ Proverbs 14:34 NKJV
The well-known atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair once said, ‘Nothing good has ever come from Christianity. And if Christianity hasn’t, in fact, done good and produced good we must reject it.’ Even Christ Himself said, ‘You shall know them by their fruits.’ (Matthew 7:16 NKJV) But with every word of Christ that’s been preached, lives have been transformed and incredible good done for society. Take science, for example. As one expert pointed out, science could never have originated in any other culture. It couldn’t possibly have originated in the Muslim culture because of its belief in fatalism, which absolutely prevents any concept of scientific progress. Nor could it have originated among the Buddhists, or the Hindus of Asia, because of their belief that the physical world is an illusion and that our separation from the divine is merely imagination. Only through Christianity could science have come to be! Think about those who have gone into the slums to rescue the derelict, like the Salvation Army, the City Mission, and the YMCA. Christians have given themselves to such people as these. Today with the removal of Scripture from much of our culture, we’re seeing decay and corruption set in. So what’s the answer? Jesus said, ‘You are the salt of the earth.’ (Matthew 5:13 NKJV) So get your salt shaker out and start spreading the life-changing truth of God’s Word! Jesus also said, ‘You are the light of the world.’ (Matthew 5:14 NKJV) There’s not enough darkness in the whole world to extinguish the light of one small candle. So let your light shine.
‘Shamgar… struck down six hundred Philistines with an ox-goad. He too saved Israel.’ Judges 3:31 NIV
Because the Israelites disobeyed God, they ended up enslaved to the Philistines who ruled them with fear and intimidation. But Shamgar refused to be intimidated. He decided to disrupt the status quo, and he did it with an ox-goad—a long stick used by farmers to prod animals. He refused to let what he could not do keep him from doing what he could. After all, you plus God equals a majority. And if God is for you, who can be against you? (See Romans 8:31.) So Shamgar grabbed his ox-goad and charged six hundred Philistine soldiers. The enemy probably chuckled at his makeshift weaponry until he started wielding it. Then the look in his eyes struck fear into their hearts. Courage doesn’t wait until the situation favors you, or the plan is perfectly formed, or the tide of opinion turns. Courage only waits for one thing: a green light from God. And when God gives the go, it’s full steam ahead, no questions asked. It’s about attacking the problem with whatever ox-goad God has given you. It’s an all-out assault on the forces of darkness, by deciding to become ‘salt and light’ where God has placed you. It’s more than pointing out the problems, it’s committing yourself to be part of the solution. It’s more than just having a heart for Christ, it’s deciding to take action and become His hands and feet. Instead of sitting on the side-lines because you believe others are more qualified, it’s using what God gave you and asking Him to bless it. As the songwriter said, ‘Little is much when God is in it.’
‘Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks [for the privilege].’ Colossians 3:17 NKJV
When it comes to serving God, and others, set your heart on being faithful instead of trying to be prominent. The Bible says, ‘Promotion and power come… only from God’ (Psalm 75:6 TLB), so don’t try to promote yourself. Few things in life are worse than being in a slot to which you were never called and are ill-equipped to fill. Josh McDowell, who has spoken to millions of university students worldwide and authored scores of books, began his lifetime of service to Christ in a humble fashion. His first assignment at the headquarters of Campus Crusade for Christ was cleaning the main entryway floor. He wasn’t meeting with ministry leaders; he was busy scrubbing up the dirt from their shoes. Josh’s introduction to ministry was equivalent to the guy in the Old Testament who carried the tent pegs when they moved the tabernacle from place to place. Not exactly a high-profile position! Without a proper perspective on the motivation for ministry, it’s easy to get our feathers ruffled when we’re given an assignment we feel is beneath us. So how do we stay motivated about serving God? By remembering the promise that one day we’ll reap what we sow (see Galatians 6:7). God has promised that at the judgment seat of Christ He’ll reward our faithful service. So if He has called you to serve Him by serving others, keep your heart focused on faithfulness—not pride of place. Live by this Scripture: ‘Whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks [for the privilege].’ (Colossians 3:17 NLT)
‘You find families for those who are lonely.’ Psalm 68:6 CEV
A woman, recently divorced, moved to a town where she knew nobody. When she finally got up the nerve to visit a church, she prayed, ‘Lord, let me fit in. Surround me with friends.’ The Bible says, ‘A man who has friends must… be friendly.’ (Proverbs 18:24 NKJV) So she asked two ladies if she could sit with them, and they ended up going out to lunch together. Turns out, all three women lived alone and were feeling isolated. So they started a Bible study group and named it G.A.L.S.: God’s Amazing Love Sustains. Ruth Senter said, ‘When you’re truly joined in spirit… you work for the good of each other,’ and years later this little ‘family’ is going strong, sharing their ups and downs, praying, and looking out for each other.
Thomas Blackaby observed: ‘One of the good things God does is provide godly friends. This is one of His ways of giving us encouragement, support, advice, and companionship. Paul couldn’t have physically survived many of his trials and persecutions without companions (see 2 Corinthians 7:6–7). It’s sad when God’s people don’t spend time developing friendships, and instead go off on their own in ministry… no wonder they often burn out… or come home disillusioned or bitter because they didn’t have the support and encouragement their ministry demanded… Thank God for those He’s chosen to be encouragers and supporters. Who are you being a friend to right now? Who has God put on your heart to strengthen and walk alongside? Ask Him to help you be a faithful friend… that together you can rejoice in what He does through your combined efforts.’
‘A real friend sticks closer than a brother.’ Proverbs 18:24 NLT
The Bible says, ‘Some friends may ruin you, but a real friend will be more loyal than a brother.’ (Proverbs 18:24 NCV) Gloria Gaither points out that real friends are concerned about what you’re becoming. They look beyond the present and care deeply about you as a whole person. Solomon writes, ‘A man who has friends must himself be friendly.’ (Proverbs 18:24 NKJV) And while building and maintaining that kind of friendship takes time and energy, the rewards far outweigh the investment.
(1) Give you a hand up when you’re down. ‘Two people are better off than one for they can help each other… If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.’ (Ecclesiastes 4:9–10 NLT)
(2) Take the pressure off. No matter how much they love you and want to help, sometimes your family is just too close to be objective and it’s easier to open up to somebody you’re not related to. At such times, the Bible says, ‘The sweetness of a… friend gives delight by hearty counsel.’(Proverbs 27:9 NKJV)
(3) Make you laugh. Somebody said, ‘If you’ve no wrinkles, you haven’t laughed enough!’ When a good laugh is just what the doctor ordered, friends help you find humor in your situation—usually because they’ve been there! As Hazel C. Lee says, ‘Laughing at ourselves as well as with each other, brings a surprising sense of togetherness.’
(4) Hold you accountable. Ever notice when you’re acting contrary to God’s Word, it’s easy to fool yourself? That’s when ‘the slap of a friend can be trusted to help you.’ (Proverbs 27:6 NCV) So thank God for good friends who love you enough to be honest even when it hurts.
‘You prepare a table before me.’ Psalm 23:5 NKJV
When the psalmist said, ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ (Psalm 23:1 NKJV), he was affirming that he had a very personal relationship with God; one that was unique. God has given each of us a one-of-a-kind personality, gifting, purpose, and calling. And He wants a relationship with you that is unlike the one He has with anybody else. Just like your fingerprints are unique, so also is God’s interaction with you. Therefore you need to learn how to hear His voice and to know when He is speaking specifically to you. The psalmist goes on to say, ‘You prepare a table before me.’ Think about it this way. When you’re waiting for a table in a restaurant and your name is on the waiting list, sometimes the hostess will give you a pager to hold. Then when it’s time to be seated, the pager will vibrate or light up. In the meantime, you have every confidence they are preparing a table for you and that, if you’re patient, when it’s ready the pager will vibrate and let you know. Are you getting the idea?
As you read God’s Word and spend time with Him in prayer, something begins to vibrate and light up in your spirit. That’s ‘God’s pager’ leading and guiding you and preparing the circumstances just for you. Paul writes, ‘And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from His glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.’ (Philippians 4:19 NLT) How many of your personal needs will God provide? All of them! So stop worrying so much and instead put your trust in Him!
‘Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.’ John 13:17 NIV
Reading, receiving, researching, remembering and reflecting on God’s Word are important, but we must respond to it and be ‘doers of the word.’(James 1:22 KJV) This is the hardest step because Satan will fight you on it. You can be so busy going to the next church meeting, that you forget to put into practice what you learned at the last one. Jesus said, ‘Everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.’ (Matthew 7:24 NIV) God doesn’t bless you because you know the truth but because you obey it. ‘Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.’ We’re inclined to avoid personal application because not only is it hard—in some cases it’s downright painful! Jesus said, ‘The truth will set you free’ (John 8:32 NIV), but first it may make you uncomfortable. God’s Word reveals our motives, exposes our flaws, rebukes our sin, and demands change. That’s why it’s good to discuss your personal insights with others. We learn truths from other people that we’d never learn on our own. They help us to see and apply what we miss. They hold us accountable. One of the best ways to become ‘a doer of the Word’ is to write down an action plan. It should be personal (involving you); practical (something you can do); provable (with a benchmark or deadline). In the words of D.L. Moody: ‘The Bible wasn’t given to increase our knowledge but to change our lives.’
‘How I love your teachings! I think about them all day long.’ Psalm 119:97 NCV
You treasure God’s Word in three ways:
(1) By researching it. This calls for writing down your thoughts about it. It also calls for asking the right questions, like: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? In other words, your Bible study should give you insight, not just information.
(2) By remembering it. You may think your memory is poor, but you’ve already memorized millions of ideas and facts. The truth is, we remember what’s truly important to us! And there are enormous benefits to memorizing Scripture. It will help you resist temptation, make better decisions, reduce stress, build your confidence, stretch your thinking, and enable you to share your faith with others. Your memory is like a muscle; the more you use it the stronger it becomes. Start by writing down a verse that has helped you, then carry it with you on a small card. Review it aloud while you’re working, exercising, waiting, and before going to sleep. The key to memorizing Scripture is – review…review…review!
(3) By reflecting on it. No other habit will do more to mature you spiritually than reflecting daily on God’s Word. As you do, you’re literally ‘transformed into His likeness.’ (2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV) God called David ‘a man after My own heart.’ (Acts 13:22 NIV) And how did he earn that distinction? Because he loved to reflect on God’s Word: ‘How I love your teachings! I think about them all day long.’ The key to successful Christian living is yours when you treasure God’s Word.
‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.’ John 8:31 NKJV
John writes, ‘I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.’ (3 John 1:2 NKJV) In order to ‘prosper’, reading God’s Word must be one of your first priorities each day. Jesus said, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.’ To ‘abide’ means to reside in a certain place. It makes us think of home, the place where you find joy, acceptance, encouragement, support, protection, purpose, identity, and rest. To ‘treasure’ God’s Word means to accept it as your highest authority, your compass for direction, your counselor in making decisions, your benchmark for evaluating every relationship and action. In other words, the first and last word in your life. Many of our troubles occur because we base our choices on unreliable authorities, like:
Culture – ‘Everybody’s doing it.’
Tradition – ‘We’ve always done it this way.’
Reason – ‘It seems logical.’
Emotion – ‘It just feels right.’
All these are flawed because they come from within us, not from God. What we need is a perfect standard that will never lead us in the wrong direction, and only God’s Word meets that criteria. Solomon wrote, ‘Every word of God is flawless.’ (Proverbs 30:5 NIV) That means when His Word tells you to do something, you need to do it whether or not it makes sense to you, and whether or not you feel like doing it. You must say like Paul, ‘I believe everything that… is written.’ (Acts 24:14 NIV)
‘Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives.’ Colossians 3:16 NLT
As you fill your mind with God’s Word, the Holy Spirit will use it to transform you. ‘Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives…with all the wisdom He gives.’ How do you do that?
(1) By reading it. If you read the newspaper but not the Bible, you won’t grow spiritually. You can’t watch TV for three or four hours, then read your Bible for three or four minutes and expect growth. How can you say you believe the Bible from cover to cover, when you haven’t read it from cover to cover? ‘[We] should…read from it every day.’ (Deuteronomy 17:19 NCV) If you read your Bible for just fifteen minutes a day, you’ll read completely through it once a year. If you cut out just one thirty-minute television programme daily, you can read it through twice a year. Daily Bible reading keeps you within range of God’s voice. Do you want to grow spiritually? Develop a daily Bible reading plan and stick with it.
(2) By receiving it. In the ‘Parable of the Sower’ Jesus talks about three unreceptive attitudes: a closed mind (hard soil), a superficial mind (shallow soil), and a distracted mind (soil with weeds) (see Luke 8:5–15). He then goes on to say, ‘Consider carefully how you listen.’ (Luke 8:18 NIV) Any time you’re not learning, check your attitude, especially for pride, because God can speak to you through the most boring teacher if you’re humble and receptive. James says, ‘Humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.’ (James 1:21 NIV) These aren’t just good ideas; they’re life-changing principles!
‘I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my daily bread.’ Job 23:12 NIV
The Spirit of God makes us like the Son of God, through the Word of God! That’s why Satan will put 101 roadblocks in your way to keep you from reading the Bible. Paul writes, ‘I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up.’ (Acts 20:32 NASB) God’s Word is like a seed; it’s filled with potential. Jesus said, ‘The words that I have spoken to you are life.’ (John 6:63 NASB) An amazing thing happens when you study the Scriptures. Your mind illuminates, your heart resonates, and the truth comes to life in you. The Bible is more than just a doctrinal guidebook. It creates faith, produces change, causes miracles, heals hurts, builds character, transforms circumstances, imparts joy, overcomes adversity, defeats temptation, builds hope, releases power, cleanses minds, brings things into being, and guarantees your future. You can’t survive without it. It’s as essential to your life as food. That’s why Job said, ‘I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my daily bread.’ God’s Word is the spiritual nourishment you need to fulfill your life’s purpose. The Bible is described as milk, bread, solid food, and sweet dessert (see 1 Peter 2:2; Matthew 4:4; 1 Corinthians 3:2; Psalm 119:103). This four-course meal is the Spirit’s menu for daily strength and growth. Peter writes, ‘Crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up.’ (1 Peter 2:2 NIV) So make a commitment to spend time each day reading God’s Word.
‘My son, if your heart is wise, My heart will rejoice.’ Proverbs 23:15 NKJV
Author and pastor, James Merritt reports that fatherless children are 100 to 200 percent more likely to experience emotional and behavioral problems, twice as likely to use drugs and alcohol, more likely to become sexually active at an early age and three times more likely to commit a violent crime. Over 50 percent of teens who attempt suicide live in single-parent homes. Most runaways leave fatherless homes, and boys without fathers are 300 percent more likely to end up incarcerated. Seventy percent of juveniles in long-term correctional facilities grew up without a father. Fatherless daughters are 53 percent more likely to marry in their teens, and 164 percent more likely to have children outside of marriage. Fatherless daughters who marry have a 92 percent higher divorce rate, and fatherless sons are 35 percent more likely to experience marital failure. Eighty percent of teenagers admitted to psychiatric hospitals come from fatherless homes and are 50 percent more likely to grapple with learning disabilities. They fare worse in school and are three times more likely to drop out than kids who grew up in a home with a father. And it’s possible to be physically present, yet emotionally absent. In a recent poll, 50 percent of fathers said they feel guilty about spending too little time with their children. According to the Family Research Council, the average dad spends eight minutes a day in direct conversation with his kids. And in families where the mum works outside the home, it drops to four minutes. If you find these statistics shocking, wake up and do something about it!
My son, do not forget my law, But let your heart keep my commands.’ Proverbs 3:1 NKJV
If you’re a dad, God expects you to be the leader in your family. That means: (1) You must want to lead. Without good leadership, the chances are your kids are headed for a life of trouble. Former U.S. Attorney General William Barr said, ‘If you look at the one factor that most closely correlates with crime, it’s not poverty, it’s not unemployment, it’s not education; it’s the absence of the father in the family.’
(2) You must know where you’re going. Without clear direction for your own life, you can’t guide your kids. God expects you to enable your children to make wise decisions in such crucial areas of life as sex, money, relationships, marriage, and the vocations they choose. These are make-or-break issues. It’s your job to teach them both in precept and practice what those crucial life issues are, and to help them make godly decisions in each one.
(3) You must ‘be there’ for them. Let’s use this acrostic on the word DADS: Direction. Availability. Discipline. Spirituality. The most crucial component on the list is ‘availability’. Why? Because if you’re not available you can’t give direction, your discipline will be resented, and your spiritual leadership will be rejected. Nature abhors a vacuum, and if you don’t lead your children, someone will lead them for you. If you’re not there for them someone else will be—someone you may not like. And when that happens, the greater problem isn’t that you won’t be around; it’s that you’ll no longer be missed! In the Bible, God is called ‘Our Father’. So today ask Him to help you become the father your children need.
‘Hear the instruction of your father.’ Proverbs 1:8 NKJV
One day a man went into a barber’s and noticed a young man sweeping the floor. After talking to him, he learned that the boy had no dad in his life. ‘Son,’ the man asked, ‘who do you want to be like when you grow up?’ The boy shot back, ‘Mister, I ain’t never met nobody I want to be like when I grow up.’ Do you believe that at least one of every child’s heroes should be his or her dad? Do you genuinely want to be a hero to your children? If you do, you’ll have to make time for them and work at being the father they need. If you don’t, they may pick the wrong heroes and end up breaking your heart.
Child psychologist Wade F. Horn considered himself an expert on what made a good father. But when doctors diagnosed him with cancer and told him that he had about six years to live, he realized with a jolt that he was closer to primary school than the university in his level of expertise as a dad. He said, ‘It became clear to me in a personal way that if I were to have died because of that illness, my unfinished business would not have been my clinical practice… My unfinished business would have been my two little girls, who every morning when I was recuperating, would come and give me a kiss goodbye.’ Fortunately (or unfortunately) most dads will never get a wake-up call of this nature. But if you’ve been neglecting your kids, a wake-up call is exactly what you need.
‘We are citizens of Heaven.’ Philippians 3:20 NLT
Every year Pacific salmon, having lived five to six years in the ocean, suddenly get the urge to return to the headwaters of their birth river. Battling fishermen, bears, and giant hydroelectric dams, they fight their way upstream determined to reach their home. Scientists don’t know how the salmon make their way back to the exact river in which they were born after being in the ocean for several years. Some think it’s because they can taste or smell the fresh water from their river. Others think they may use the stars to navigate. Regardless of how they do it, we know they don’t use charts and compasses; their journey is intuitive. They have a longing for a particular river, and it can’t be satisfied until they find it.
That’s exactly how it is with us. God created us for Heaven, and nothing in this life will fully satisfy that longing (see Ecclesiastes 3:11). Just like those salmon—we’re in this world but we’re not of it. Yes, we find joy in fulfilling the assignment in life God has given us, but it’s nothing compared to the joy that awaits us in Heaven. Paul puts it this way: ‘We are citizens of Heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for Him to return as our Saviour. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like His own, using the same power with which He will bring everything under His control.’ (Philippians 3:20–21 NLT) And as your redeemed loved ones leave to go to Heaven, your longing to join them will only increase.
‘Let your conversation be always full of grace.’ Colossians 4:6 NIV
Pray: ‘Lord, I join with the psalmist David and ask: “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Your sight.” (Psalm 19:14 NKJV) I realize that the words I speak have tremendous power, both in my own life and in my relationships. Your Word says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Proverbs 18:21 KJV) Teach me to always speak words that are true to Your Word and glorify You. Help me to be careful to speak words that build others up and not tear them down, that edify rather than criticise, that is spoken in love and truth and not twisted by my own desires and expectations, and that brings confidence and not discouragement. Where I have spoken words that are negative or harmful about anyone else, forgive me. Keep me from saying things that hurt or cut others down in any way. I want to be kind with my words and have the tongue of the wise that promotes healing and blessing (see Proverbs 12:18). Help me to have such faith in Your Lordship over my life that I can “do all things without complaining and disputing.” (Philippians 2:14 NKJV) Help me not to speak negative things about myself. And every time I start to say a critical word, help me to stop immediately and keep a lid on it. Your Word says, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt [in good taste], so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Today let my words honor and glorify You. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.’
‘He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done.’ 2 Chronicles 26:4 NIV
The punch line in a cartoon reads, ‘No matter what we teach our children, they insist on behaving just like us!’ We smile, but it’s a very serious matter. One expert says, ‘We teach what we know, but we reproduce what we are.’ Your children may sometimes doubt what you say, but they will always believe what you do. So:
(1) If you want them to have a quiet time with God, you have one.
(2) If you want your children to be in church, take them, don’t send them.
(3) If you don’t want your children using foul language, watch what comes out of your mouth.
(4) If you don’t want your children to smoke, drink, or do drugs, you leave them alone.
When you say one thing but do another of your children may still love you, but eventually, they’ll lose respect for you. And what’s worse, they’ll think, ‘If the principles you preach don’t work for you, why should I try them?’ Your example will have more impact than all your exhortations. Read these two Scriptures carefully. The first is found in the Old Testament: ‘He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done.’ The second is found in the New Testament: ‘I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.’ (2 Timothy 1:5 NIV) Thousands of years separate those two Scriptures, but the truth they teach is timeless: so set the right example!
‘He gives power to the weak.’ Isaiah 40:29 NKJV
We say things like ‘As long as there’s life there’s hope,’ or ‘Hope is tying a knot in the rope and holding on,’ believing that things will get better. But when hope seems delayed or denied, mental and emotional illness can cause some people to look for a permanent way out. Suicide excludes God. When you take your life there’s nothing more He can do for you. It leaves a legacy of unresolved pain that will live on in the hearts of your loved ones. For generations, Christian leaders have debated and disagreed on the question of suicide. But every one of them believes these words: ‘Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression.’ (Proverbs 12:25 NKJV) And depression, left undealt with, can end in self-destruction. It may not be the result of a bullet or a drug overdose; it may be a decision to stop eating, or overeat, or stop reaching for help because the help they’ve received has not worked. But the end result is the same.
The Mental Health Foundation in Britain reports that women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders as men. People in low-income families are reportedly two to three times more likely to develop mental health problems than those in higher-income families. Can the Bible offer some comfort? Yes. ‘He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might, He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.’ (Isaiah 40:29–31 NKJV)
‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick.’ Proverbs 13:12 NKJV
Depression can cause you to give up on life. When the job got too big for Moses, he told God, ‘Kill me here and now… and do not let me see my wretchedness!’ (Numbers 11:15 NKJV) Certain that Jezebel would make good on her threats to kill him, Elijah asked God to take his life. It’s said the book of Job covers a span of only nine months, but Job’s losses were so devastating that he said, ‘My soul loathes my life.’ (Job 10:1 NKJV) Solomon said, ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick.’
Instead of arguing over the question, ‘Will a Christian who takes their own life go to heaven?’ we need to ask God for wisdom to know when a loved one has become so hopeless or emotionally ill that they can’t take another day of it. Who are these people? Young people who cut themselves as a cry for help. War veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who can’t escape the demons of war, and can’t expel them. Victims of abuse who engage in harmful or unhealthy behaviors as a way of coping. Good people who struggle with sexual issues but are terrified to talk about it. According to the World Health Organisation, 615 million people worldwide are battling depression or anxiety every day. They sleep in mansions and under bridges. Some of them are Christians with thoughts of suicide, who dread hearing that they’re weak and don’t have enough faith. A quick Scripture, a brief prayer, and sending them away with a ‘God bless you’ only throws them to the wolves. Jesus said, ‘I am sending you,’ (John 20:21 NIV) because you have the Word, the Spirit, and the power to help them.
‘Problems…help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.’ Romans 5:3–4 NLT
Michael Phelps captured the gold for his country in the Beijing 2008 Olympics and brought home a record eight best-time gold medals. But it won’t just be the number of medals we’ll remember, but his invincible spirit when things turned drastically against him in the 200-meter butterfly. As he touched the wall, winning the race, nobody knew what he’d undergone to accomplish it. As Michael pulled off his goggles and the world watched, incredulous, water poured out of them. He’d swum 200 meters almost blind, an experience swimmers dread. Counting strokes, looking desperately for any marks on the pool floor, he finally touched the finished wall, an Olympic conqueror in every sense. Phelps used his frustration to increase his stamina and determination to win.
Paul says: ‘We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know…they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope…And this hope will not lead to disappointment.’ (Romans 5:3–5 NLT) What a catalog of amazing benefits God provides us when we face problems!
Endurance: a commitment to draw on His grace and keep moving forward regardless of circumstances.
Strength of character: inner fortitude based on personal integrity.
Confident hope: a deep conviction that whatever it takes, ultimately we’ll make it.
And to crown it all, we’re guaranteed success in our God-appointed mission because ‘this hope will not lead to disappointment’! When you can’t see clearly what’s coming, stretch yourself—the finished wall is just ahead!
‘Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord.’ 2 Peter 3:18 NIV
Jesus told His disciples, ‘Since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow.’ (John 13:14–15 NLT) Whose feet did He wash? Peter, who denied Him; Thomas, who doubted Him; Judas, who betrayed Him; and all the others, who would desert Him. In other words, ‘Give the grace you’ve been given.’ You don’t endorse the deeds of your offender when you do. Jesus didn’t endorse your sins by forgiving you. Grace doesn’t tell the daughter to like the father who molested her. It doesn’t tell the oppressed to wink at injustice. The grace-defined person still sends thieves to jail and expects an ex-spouse to pay child support. Grace isn’t blind. It sees the hurtfull well. But grace chooses to see God’s forgiveness even more. It refuses to let hurts poison the heart. The Bible says, ‘See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.’ (Hebrews 12:15 NIV) Where grace is lacking, bitterness abounds. Where grace abounds, forgiveness grows. Peter writes, ‘Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord.’ Growing in Bible knowledge is a lot easier than growing in grace towards those who hurt you. The first requires a good memory; the second requires a Christ-like character. So how do you ‘grow’ in grace? By practicing it with everybody you meet, in every situation you find yourself.
‘Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.’ 1 Corinthians 6:19 NIV
Physical desires: The Bible tells us to feast, eat, drink, celebrate, sing, dance, shout, and make music—all the things we do with our bodies. These appetites, desires, and delights can actually become a way of remembering how good our God is. The physical is not separate from the spiritual; indeed it is God’s Spirit who makes our bodies come to life. The Bible doesn’t condemn you for wanting to be physically attractive. Now, this needs to be kept in perspective: ‘Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.’ (Proverbs 11:22 NIV) The same principle applies to men. But God did create our bodies.
So can we get real? God made us with a love of beauty. Some stylists started what they called a ‘hairdressers’ ministry’. Perhaps that sounds strange to you. After all, the only hairstylist mentioned in the Bible was Delilah, and when Samson went to her, things didn’t go too well for him. But serving people by cutting their hair can be a good thing. People will share problems with their hairstylist that they won’t share with anybody else. So you can see how that can be a real ministry. This group gave complimentary haircuts to physically and mentally challenged folks. Then they traveled to Costa Rica to serve young women trying to escape a life of prostitution. They honored and freely served bodies that had not been freely served for a long time: bodies that had been turned into objects. What’s the point? You may need to get a new concept, a Biblical concept of what is truly ‘spiritual’.
‘A man who has friends must himself be friendly.’ Proverbs 18:24 NKJV
Relational desires: Jonathan was heir to the throne, but he voluntarily gave it up because he knew his friend David was God’s choice to be king. Jonathan desired to be a friend more than he desired to be a king. How often do you find that? And he didn’t become David’s friend because he was pursuing some ‘discipline of spiritual friendship’. He simply liked David, and that friendship changed the course of Israel. We all have relational desires we don’t pursue. Unless a deep, meaningful relationship falls into our lap, we give up. However, friendships like that don’t just happen; Jonathan had to overcome unbelievable barriers to build a friendship with David.
Sometimes you will have to do the same, and God will help you. Author John Ortberg writes: ‘My friend Chuck has the spiritual gift of breakfast. He meets people in a Southern franchise called the Waffle House. The waitress loves to wait on him because he tips well and makes everybody laugh. He’s… really funny and utterly unguarded about his own brokenness, which makes people open up to him like tulips in the sun… He feels God’s presence most powerfully when he sits in the Waffle House and is allowed to see someone’s soul. It’s not the coffee that brings people to him; it’s the rivers of living water flowing out of him.’ If you’re naturally shy, here’s a tip: chances are the person you’d like to reach out to is shy as well. Go ahead, make contact and see what happens. Who knows, you could be the answer to their loneliness and they to yours.
‘He shall give you the desires of your heart.’ Psalm 37:4 NKJV
The desire to achieve: The first thing God said to Adam was, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and have dominion.’ (Genesis 1:28 NKJV) The reason you have such a strong desire to accomplish something in life is that God created you to ‘do it’. Few people were more motivated by achievement than Paul: ‘My life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned to me by the Lord Jesus.’ (Acts 20:24 NLT) God didn’t take away Paul’s desire to achieve; He harnessed it so Paul could fulfil God’s will. A strong career drive accompanied by the desire to learn and achieve can be good things—unless they lead to workaholism, worshipping status, neglecting prayer, and manipulating other people. When that happens, you need to re-evaluate your motivation.
But if that’s not the case and you find yourself growing in God with a fire inside you to accomplish something—go forth and achieve. Exercise dominion! Use your ability to accomplish good things for others. At that point, whether you’re contributing to a meeting, adding value to a team, or formulating ideas, you’ll know it’s more than just you. When you develop relational skills that enable you to bond with clients and associates, you can simultaneously pray for them and bless them. As you experience joy in your achievements, your life is pleasing to God. A word of advice: every now and then, remember to stop and thank Him that you get to do something you love!
‘A longing fulfilled is a tree of life.’ Proverbs 13:12 NIV
For the next few days, let’s look at some of our most common desires. Material desires: Lydia was a businesswoman who dealt in textiles (see Acts 16:14). She was one of Paul’s first converts to Christianity in Europe. Can you imagine what it took for a woman to succeed in business in such a male-dominated society? She was so successful she owned her own home. And it was large enough to become the meeting place for the first church in the history of Europe. Of all the religious edifices built over the centuries—Notre Dame, Westminster Abbey, and the Sistine Chapel—the first European church was in the home of this businesswoman. Now, if your desire to make money chokes out your generosity, causes you to live in debt, or creates chronic dissatisfaction, it’s time to re-evaluate what you’re doing. But making money, creating good products, and keeping people employed are God-glorifying things. ‘It is God who gives you the power to get wealth.’ (Deuteronomy 8:18 NKJV) Have you ever wondered why you enjoy tinkering with engines or working with your hands? It’s because you were made in the image of a creative God who engineered this unbelievable cosmic machine with forces and energy so transcendently mind-boggling that people devote brilliant scientific careers to understanding even a tiny bit of it. Whether you’re mechanically or scientifically oriented, it’s spiritual—and it counts! The Bible says, ‘The Lord… has pleasure in the prosperity of His servant.’ (Psalm 35:27 NKJV) And when your desire for material success is to glorify God and bless others, He will help you to succeed.
‘Everything in the Scriptures is God’s Word.’ 2 Timothy 3:16 CEV
Paul wrote to Timothy: ‘People who pretend to be what they are not will become worse than ever, as they fool others and are fooled themselves. Keep on being faithful to what you were taught and to what you believed. After all, you know who taught you these things. Since childhood, you have known the Holy Scriptures that are able to make you wise enough to have faith in Christ Jesus and be saved. Everything in the Scriptures is God’s Word. All of it is useful for teaching and helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live.’ (2 Timothy 3:13–16 CEV)
Here’s why you should read your Bible:
(1) So you won’t be led astray. God will never say something to you through another person, or your own thoughts, that does not line up with what He’s clearly revealed in His Word. That’s why you need to know the Scriptures.
(2) To know you’re truly saved. The apostle John writes: ‘These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.’ (1 John 5:13 NKJV)
(3) To identify your calling and equip you. Paul says, ‘The Scriptures train God’s servants to do all kinds of good deeds.’ (2 Timothy 3:17 CEV) The Bible is your guidebook for living the Christian life, so read it every day!
‘They made an opening in the roof.’ Mark 2:4 NIV
Mary Engelbreit always wanted to illustrate children’s books, but a school guidance counselor told her, ‘You can’t do that. Be practical. Get a degree and teach.’ Mary started working at an art shop, learned all about the business, and got to know artists who made a living doing what they loved. Bolstered by the support of her parents, she told herself, ‘You can become an artist. If you can imagine it, you can achieve it.’ By refusing to let obstacles on the conventional path to success hold her back, Engelbreit became a nationally recognized artist and launched her own magazine. Proust said, ‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.’ Learn to think outside the box, and remember, inspiration comes with perspiration! Expect problems, and don’t let them weaken your resolve. Four men who couldn’t get their paralyzed friend to Jesus because of the crowd ‘made an opening in the roof… lowered the mat the man was lying on.’ Jesus saw faith in action and rewarded it by healing the man. You can find a way around almost anything when you give legs to your prayers and persevere. Rebecca Barlow Jordan says: ‘True creativity doesn’t stop at the stage of inspiration. Many wannabes have tried and failed because they failed to overcome the hindrances. The true artist sees the completed picture by faith. All of us are artists, and God has work for us to do. [He] encourages us to enjoy the fruits of our labor. But the true blessing comes not just in knowing we’ve overcome… [it’s] when creativity validates its divine origin and brings honor to God.’
‘Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, ninety feet [30 meters] high.’ Daniel 3:1 NIV
It’s safe to say that anyone who builds a thirty-meter-tall statue to themselves is probably compensating for something. This statue was the epitome of pride. We all have a little Nebuchadnezzar in us. We’d never build a thirty-meter-tall statue of ourselves, but we get upset when people don’t bow to our wishes. We’d never throw someone into a fiery furnace, but our anger heats up when we don’t get our own way. We seek to worship in more subtle ways. We exaggerate on our CV, put down others behind their back, and tell white lies to hide the grey areas of our lives. If you don’t find your identity and security in what Christ has accomplished for you on the cross, you’ll hide your insecurities behind your hypocrisy. You’ll try to fight your own battles, create your own opportunities, and establish your own reputation. Two Scriptures define the fall of King Saul:
(1) ‘Then Saul built an altar to the Lord.’ (1 Samuel 14:35 NLT)
(2) ‘Saul…set up a monument to himself.’ (1 Samuel 15:12 NLT) And Samuel saw right through the smoke screen: ‘Although you may think little of yourself, are you not the leader of the tribes of Israel?’ (1 Samuel 15:17 NLT) You know who builds monuments to themselves? Those who think little of themselves! And the more insecure a person is, the more monuments they need to build. There’s a fine line between ‘Thy Kingdom come’ and ‘Mykingdom come’. If you cross that line, your relationship with God is self-serving. You aren’t serving Him, you are using Him. You aren’t building altars to God; you’re building monuments to yourself. And that’s idolatry.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew if they refused to bow down to the thirty-meter-tall statue of King Nebuchadnezzar, they would be executed. But they made a defining decision to stand up for what was right, rather than bow down to what was wrong. Most of us could have come up with a dozen rationalizations: ‘I’m bowing down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside,’ or ‘I’ll ask for forgiveness right after I get back up,’ or ‘What good am I to God if I’m dead?’ But it’s our rationalizations that often annul His revelations. When we compromise our integrity, we don’t leave room for divine intervention. When we take matters into our own hands, we take God out of the equation. When we try to manipulate a situation, we miss out on the miracle. If Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had compromised their integrity and bowed to the statue, they may still have been delivered from the fiery furnace—but it would have been by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, not God. And it would have been from, not through. They would have forfeited their testimony by failing the test. And while they would have saved their lives, they would have sacrificed their integrity. It was their integrity that triggered the miracle. It was their integrity that allowed God to show up and show off. Their integrity paid off: ‘Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.’ (Daniel 3:30 NIV) Bottom line: when you do the right thing, God will do the right thing by you!
‘When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.’ Acts 27:20 NIV
There are times when God seems inaccessible. When you pray, you feel abandoned in your present circumstances. And not just abandoned, but terrified and even hopeless. Paul understood that feeling. He’d longed for an opportunity to preach in Rome and was on his way there when a cyclone destroyed his ship. Paul not only foresaw the loss of the ship, its crew, and cargo but ‘our own lives also.’ (Acts 27:10 NIV)
He tried to warn the crew of the impending tragedy, but his words were disregarded by those in charge. In short, Paul and 276 others were placed in a life-threatening position by the wilful disregard of others, and there was nothing he could do about it. Feeling a sense of despair, he and his believing companions declared, ‘We finally gave up all hope of being saved!’ Then after fourteen days lost at sea—when the cyclone was fiercest—God sent an angel. ‘Do not be afraid, Paul… God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ (Acts 27:24 NIV) When it looked like Paul’s consuming desire to preach in Rome would be thwarted, God faithfully piloted them through the storm to the exact destination He’d planned for them. Paul would go to Rome and declare God’s Word before Caesar!
Are you caught in a storm? Whatever trial you’re facing today, know this one thing: you can trust God to carry you through it. He determines ‘the end from the beginning’ (Isaiah 46:10 NIV), so you will come out of this stronger and wiser.
‘Let us go on instead and become mature.’ Hebrews 6:1 NLT
We all get the same 168 hours in our week. But if the only time you devote to your spiritual growth is the time you spend in church on Sunday morning, you’ll never move beyond spiritual infancy. Think about it. An infant can’t feed itself; it chooses chocolate over carrots; it constantly falls down and has to be picked up; it keeps wandering off and getting into trouble; it’s basically self-centered and needs to be disciplined and trained. Are you getting the picture? The new birth is exciting, but it’s supposed to be your launching pad, not your cot. The Bible says, ‘Let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding.’ Note the words: ‘Let us.’ That means it’s up to you! At some point, you’ve got to say to yourself, ‘Starting today I’m going to do what it takes to grow up spiritually and discover God’s plan for my life.’
One day at the end of World War I, General Louis Lyautey asked his gardener to plant a particular type of tree on his estate. The gardener informed him that the tree, being unusually slow to grow, would take nearly a century to reach maturity. ‘In that case,’ the general replied, ‘there’s no time to lose. Plant it this afternoon!’ Here’s a fail-safe plan for growing into spiritual maturity: ‘They delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.’(Psalm 1:2–3 NLT)
‘He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs.’ Acts 1:3 NKJV
Evidence of Christ’s resurrection has been examined more carefully than evidence of any other fact in history! It has been weighed and considered by some of the greatest scholars, among them Simon Greenleaf, who held first the Royall, and then the Dane, professorships of law at Harvard University from 1833 to 1848. He helped bring Harvard Law School to prominence and is viewed as one of the greatest authorities on legal evidence in the history of the world. When Greenleaf turned his mind to the resurrection and examined it in light of all the laws of evidence, he concluded that it was a reality, that it was a historical event, and that anyone who honestly examined the evidence would be convinced this was the case. And it was for Dr. Frank Morison, a British lawyer/engineer who set out to write a book repudiating the resurrection of Christ. He did, in fact, write his book—but it wasn’t the book he intended to write! As he examined the evidence, this skeptical lawyer found it so overwhelming that he was forced to accept it, and became a believer. The book he wrote, Who Moved the Stone?, details evidence of the resurrection, and the opening chapter is entitled: The Book That Refused to Be Written. A Union general in the Civil War, attorney Lew Wallace, also set out to write a book disproving the deity of Christ and His resurrection—and ended up defending it in his famous book Ben-Hur, described as ‘the most influential book of the nineteenth century’. Christ arose! Your redeemed loved ones will too, and you can spend eternity with them in God’s presence.
‘Share each other’s burdens.’ Galatians 6:2 NLT
Dr Raymond Vath said, ‘We must do for others what they cannot do for themselves, but we must not do for them what they will not do for themselves. The problem is finding the wisdom to know the difference.’ You can be too helpful! By doing for somebody what they can do for themselves, you undermine their self-reliance and create an unhealthy dependence. So instead of rushing in and taking over:
(1) Show them manageable action steps. By helping them take charge of their life you’re arming them against despair and powerlessness. And by validating their efforts you’re helping them to rebuild their fragile confidence. A word of caution, however: when the crisis involves irreversible loss like divorce or death, the work of simply getting through one day at a time is action enough.
(2) Give them hope. In the depth of crisis there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel—a sense that the suffering will go on endlessly. Growth and improvement can’t happen without hope. Hope provides energy, and brings relief based on the conviction that things will improve. God promises, ‘I will bless you with a future filled with hope—a future of success, not of suffering.’ (Jeremiah 29:11 CEV)
(3) Be sure to follow up. Crises are seldom resolved quickly. Although life may eventually take on some semblance of normalcy, there may be episodes of relapse into sadness, helplessness or loneliness. Your words may bring comfort, but your ongoing attentiveness will help the hurting person maintain faith and progress in their journey to healing.
‘He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others when they are troubled.’ 2 Corinthians 1:4 NLT
One way to help a friend in crisis is to help them identify important resources-spiritual, personal, and interpersonal.
(1) Spiritual resources. ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.’ (Psalm 46:1 RSV) God’s Word illuminates the darkness and confusion. His Spirit is the source of all comfort—He gives ‘the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.’ (Philippians 4:7 RSV) His presence addresses the loneliness, and His power enables the hurting heart to overcome feelings of helplessness. People in crisis are often disoriented, which causes them to forget what God has already given them.
(2) Personal resources. Remind them of their unique strengths and skills. Help them recall past triumphs when they successfully navigated through tough times. Encourage a positive attitude that looks to the future rather than being paralyzed by present pain. Most importantly, strengthen their faith with prayer and truths from God’s Word. And last but not least, remind them of your support.
(3) Interpersonal resources. Family members, friends, business associates, and neighbors are likely to be supportive, and community resources are also available for medical, financial and material assistance. The local church is another network source. People in crisis are often too embarrassed to ask for help; they feel like they should be able to handle their own problems. Help them understand that you are blessed by giving and that one day they too will have an opportunity to help ‘someone else who is going through hard times’.
‘Offer each other a helping hand.’ Galatians 6:2 CEV
When a friend or family member is in a crisis, your aim should be to help them cope with it and grow through it. Sometimes that’s easier said than done! As their hurting hearts adjust to new and unfamiliar circumstances, they might be skeptical about whom to trust. But being there for them is what the kingdom of God is all about! ‘Carry each other’s burdens.’(Galatians 6:2 NIV) Your commitment can play a significant role in someone’s journey towards becoming emotionally healthy again. Here are three practical suggestions:
(1) Don’t expect them to initiate contact. It’s common for people in crisis to withdraw rather than ask for help. Often they’re too distraught to know what they need, so you’ll probably have to make the first move. And please don’t feel like you have to be a professional. Two simple steps can make the hurting one feel valued and understood:
(a) Listen carefully to their concerns and perceptions.
(b) Maintain eye contact and show genuine interest.
(2) Help reduce their anxiety. Offer a calming presence by inviting them to share their feelings. And if their viewpoint seems distorted, say something like, ‘May I suggest another way of looking at things?’
(3) Help them focus on what’s important. They’re feeling overwhelmed, so help them sort out the issues that need their immediate attention. Instead of rehashing the past and worrying about the future, encourage them to concentrate on the present and ‘live one day at a time.’ (Matthew 6:34 TLB)
‘Take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.’ Romans 12:8 NLT
We say, ‘It’s not my responsibility. I don’t want to get involved!’ Ever said those words? You may have thought you had a good reason—perhaps it was an inconvenient time—but the bottom line is you didn’t offer to help someone in need. And you’re not alone. Research confirms that the trend to avoid involvement is increasing worldwide. Nevertheless, ‘being there’ for others is a Biblical mandate; it’s the practical application of loving God and your neighbor (see Matthew 22:37–39). Crises generally present themselves in three ways:
(1) Situational crises include serious illnesses, the death of a loved one, or breakdowns in family relationships. The patriarch Job experienced all of these!
(2) Developmental crises happen over the course of life—leaving home, going away to college, marriage adjustments, parenting, retirement or declining health. Abraham and Sarah knew all about living through developmental crises. They left their home and family and endured years of childlessness. Then on top of that God asked them to sacrifice their one and only ‘miracle’ son.
(3) Self-awareness crises are when you discover disturbing truths about yourself—you’re told that, humanly speaking, your illness is incurable, or you see yourself as a failure because now you’re too old to realize your life’s goals. Or you face the reality of being divorced or widowed, or you feel rejected because of your background. People like Elijah and Jonah are examples of self-awareness crises. Do any of these examples bring someone you know to mind? And if so, ‘be quick to respond’.
‘Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings.’ Proverbs 22:29 NIV
Here’s a prayer for success at work: ‘Lord, I thank You for the way You’ve made me, for the many gifts and talents You’ve placed within me, and I trust that I’m the best person for this job. I am grateful for each and every one of the personalities I work with, even the ones I don’t particularly like or understand. I ask that my focus would be on accomplishing the goals You have set forth for me to perform during my time in this position. Give me wisdom and discernment on the job, even in the midst of a hostile environment. Help me to learn what You want to teach me here, and give me patience as You prepare me for the future. Help me to do my best, and to always remain positive and hopeful. Please quiet the complaints and disappointments of my heart with Your perfect peace, and allow me to trust You with my job. Dress me in the garments of praise and the righteousness of Christ that I may bring You glory where I work. Allow me to know my true identity, to walk in Your favor, and to seek to please You more than those with whom I work. Where there is contention, let me be a peacemaker. Where there is deceit, let me speak the truth. Where there is despair, let me bring hope. Where there is fear, let me bring faith. Where there is darkness, let me bring light. Where there is sadness, let me bring joy. These things I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.’
‘Give Your servant a discerning heart.’ 1 Kings 3:9 NIV
Dr John Maxwell writes: ‘Several years ago when I was speaking to a group of executives, someone asked me what principles I follow when hiring. “I have only one rule,” I explained. “I never do the hiring.” That got their attention. “And here’s why: I’m terrible at it.” I went on to explain my horrible track record…“Because I’m so optimistic and have a high belief in people, I’m unrealistic. It doesn’t matter what red flags come up during an interview with a candidate, I always think, I can help this person to improve and succeed. That’s not the right attitude for an interviewer. To be successful in this area you need people who are sceptical—the kind of individuals who wouldn’t even hire their own mothers. When I quit hiring, it took my organization to a whole new level.” When I told this room full of executives that I didn’t do any hiring anymore, I could see their first reaction was negative. But as I explained it, I could see they appreciated that I knew my own weaknesses, and they respected my honesty. Few things are worse than someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, making things up as he goes along, and pretending he has expertise when he really doesn’t have a clue.’
If you have a poor track record in hiring people, delegate the job to those who are gifted at it. And if you must do it yourself, pray Solomon’s prayer: ‘Give Your servant a discerning heart to govern Your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great person of Yours?’
‘He brought them out of their gloom and darkness and broke their chains.’ Psalm 107:14 NCV
God is in the business of setting people free—morally and spiritually. When the Israelites were in bondage, ‘they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them from their distress.’ (Psalm 107:13 RSV) Jesus still delivers day after day, and ‘if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.’ (John 8:36 NLT) So follow these steps to freedom:
(1) Cry out to the Lord. He said, ‘You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.’ (Jeremiah 29:13 NIV) The cry of the Israelites was a repeated heart-cry, and God still responds to cries from the heart. Deliverance starts by recognizing your total dependence on Him. Instead of trying to handle it all on your own, the Bible says, ‘Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares about you.’ (1 Peter 5:7 RSV)
(2) Feed your soul spiritually. Jesus said, ‘I am the living bread… Whoever eats this bread will live forever.’ (John 6:51 NIV) As you feed on God’s Word and share your feelings in prayer, He’ll lighten your burden and nourish your soul. He came to declare ‘freedom for the prisoners… and to set the oppressed free.’ (Luke 4:18 NIV) Take time to meditate on God’s Word. Reflect on it until you understand how to apply it to your life. Knowledge without application is useless. Freedom requires feeding daily on the Scriptures and applying what you learn to your present circumstances. ‘Happy are those who… love the Lord’s teachings, and… think about those teachings day and night.’ (Psalm 1:1–2 NCV) Do it each and every day—and be set free!
‘I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up.’ Exodus 3:8 NIV
For four hundred years the Israelites were enslaved by Egyptian taskmasters who oppressed them and ‘made their lives bitter.’ (Exodus 1:14 NIV) Many of us can relate to their feelings of helplessness when we think about areas in our own lives where we struggle with habits. Whether it’s food, alcohol, drugs, sex, money or abusive relationships, we’ve all experienced a sense of powerlessness in our repeated attempts for freedom. Failure can produce chronic hopelessness, to the point where you give up trying. Broken and crushed, Israel cried out to the Lord and He responded, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of My people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers and I am concerned about their suffering.’ (Exodus 3:7 NIV) Notice how God extended compassion towards them: ‘So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ (Exodus 3:8 NIV) God came down to bring them up—and He can do the same for you today. Israel’s deliverance called for the slaying of a spotless Passover lamb. They applied its blood to their doorposts and the death angel passed them by. The Bible says, ‘Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.’ (1 Corinthians 5:7 NIV) Jesus Christ, our sacrificial lamb, shed His blood to set us free from whatever it is that’s enslaving you. What are you struggling with today? You can be released from captivity—not by your own futile efforts—but by trusting in the God who answers the cries of His people.
‘In all things God works for the good of those who love Him.’ Romans 8:28 NIV
Novelist A.J. Cronin had been practicing as a physician for almost ten years when he developed a gastric ulcer that required complete rest. So he went to a farm in the Scottish Highlands to recuperate. He says, ‘The first few days of leisure were pleasant enough, but soon the enforced idleness of Fyne Farm became insufferable… I’d often, in the back of my mind, nursed the vague illusion that I might write. I had actually thought out the theme of a novel—the tragic record of a man’s egotism and bitter pride… Upstairs in my cold, clean bedroom was a scrubbed deal table and a very hard chair. Next morning I found myself in this chair facing a new exercise book open on the table, slowly becoming aware that, short of Latin prescriptions, I’d never composed a significant phrase in my entire life. It was a discouraging thought, as I picked up my pen. Never mind, I began.’ Even though Cronin struggled to write five hundred words a day and ended up throwing his first draft on the farm’s rubbish heap, he finished Hatter’s Castle. The book was dramatized, translated into twenty-two languages, and sold some five million copies. The world had lost a physician but gained a novelist. When God gives you a dream, sometimes the circumstances required to fulfill it won’t be to your liking. In Joseph’s case, it involved betrayal and false imprisonment. But that’s what it took to get him to the throne of Egypt. So ask God today, ‘What are You saying, or trying to show me, in the middle of this situation?’
‘Because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you.’ Genesis 22:16–17 NKJV
God said to Abraham, ‘Because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky.’ Isaac was the lifelong dream of a barren woman named Sarah and her husband Abraham. But the more God blesses you, the harder it is to keep that blessing from becoming an idol in your life. Money may be the best example. The more you make, the harder it is to trust Almighty God and the easier it is to trust the almighty dollar. It’s ironic that ‘In God, we trust’ is printed on US currency—because money is the thing so many of us find it most difficult to trust God with.
If you’re financially blessed, it’s a gift from God (see Deuteronomy 8:18). But God doesn’t financially bless us so that we can use it selfishly. He blesses us more, so we can be more of a blessing to others (see Genesis 12:2). The truth is, what you’re willing to walk away from determines what God is willing to entrust to you. He wants you to come to the place where you find your identity in Who you belong to, rather than in who you are. You can base your identity on a thousand things—the degrees you’ve earned, the positions you hold, the salary you make, etc. But if you base your identity on anything temporal, your identity is in a house of cards. There’s only one solid foundation: Jesus Christ. So, what’s getting between you and God? What feeds your ego? Where do you find your security outside of Christ? That’s what you need to put on the altar today.
‘He bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar.’ Genesis 22:9 NKJV
Abraham considered Isaac to be a special gift from God. But God-given gifts are wonderful things—and dangerous things. Why do we say that? Because as you cultivate the gifts God has given you, you can begin to rely on them more than you rely on God. And at that point, your greatest strength becomes your greatest weakness.
It was God who gave Lucifer a beautiful form and a beautiful voice. Those gifts were originally used to glorify God. Then Lucifer started looking in the mirror, started reflecting on his own beauty. He glorified the gift he had been given instead of glorifying God. The lesson in Lucifer’s fall is this: whatever you don’t turn into praise turns into pride. And that’s a problem, because ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ (James 4:6 NKJV) Instead of deflecting praise to God, Lucifer let it feed his ego. It was his sinful desire to be lifted up that led to Lucifer’s downfall. What are your greatest God-given gifts? What are your most significant God-ordained opportunities? What God-sized dreams has the Holy Spirit conceived in your spirit? That’s your ‘Isaac’. And you should love your Isaac and celebrate him, but he must never be permitted to take the place of God in your life. Sometimes God-ordained dreams aren’t just born, they have to be reborn. If they become more important to you than God, you have to sacrifice them for the sake of your soul. You have to put them on the altar and raise the knife. Sometimes your dream must die before it can be resurrected for God’s glory.
‘God tested Abraham.’ Genesis 22:1 NKJV
The Bible says: ‘God tested Abraham, and said…“Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham…went to the place of which God had told him.’ (Genesis 22:1–3 NKJV) You say, ‘Why would God test me?’ First, to prove Himself faithful to you. Second, to give you an opportunity to prove yourself faithful to Him. Your tests are God’s proving grounds. They’re the way you graduate to the next level in His Kingdom. That day Abraham proved there was nothing he loved more than God. And that was the day when God introduced Himself to Abraham as ‘Jehovah Jireh’, the Lord who provides. It’s when you exercise your faith that you discover God’s faithfulness. That’s why God will test your faith. The tests get progressively harder as the stakes get higher. And the tests will undoubtedly revolve around what’s most important to you. What do you find your identity in? What do you find your security in? That’s your ‘Isaac’. God will test you to make sure your identity and your security are found in Him alone. Indeed, He will go after anything you trust in more than you trust Him until you put it on the altar. Don’t worry; you don’t have to live in fear that God is going to take away what is most important to you. But if the gift ever becomes more important to you than the Giver, then the very thing God gave you to serve His purposes is undermining His plan for your life. And that’s why God will deal with it.
SoulFood: Deut 32:29–34:12, Mk 9:1–13, Ps 62, Prov 12:18–19
‘Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!’ Luke 23:18 NIV
The Bible says: ‘With one voice they cried out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)’ (Luke 23:18–19 NIV) And just like Barabbas, we deserve to die for our sins. Four prison walls, thickened with fear, hurt, and hate, surround us. We’re incarcerated by our past, our low-road choices, and our high-minded pride. We’ve been found guilty. We sit on the floor of a dusty cell awaiting the final moment. Our executioner’s footsteps echo against stone walls. Head between knees, we don’t look up as he opens the door; we don’t lift our eyes as he begins to speak. We know what he’s going to say: ‘Time to pay for your sins.’ But then you hear something else: ‘You’re free to go. They took Jesus instead of you.’ The door swings open, the guard barks, ‘Get out!’ and we find ourselves in the light of the morning sun, shackles gone, crimes pardoned, wondering, ‘What just happened?’
Grace happened! Christ took away your sins. All of them. Where did He take them? To the top of a hill called Calvary. ‘God in His gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He did this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed His blood, sacrificing His life for us.’(Romans 3:24–25 NLT)
Jesus loves and forgives you, and He has a wonderful plan for your life. So come to Him today.
‘Andrew… first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah.”’ John 1:40–41 NKJV
In the early days of his ministry, Billy Graham wanted to mobilise local Christians to bring their unsaved friends and relatives to his evangelistic meetings. So the Graham team devised ‘Operation Andrew’, a simple plan whereby church members listed the names of their unsaved friends, began praying for them, and invited them to Billy Graham’s crusades to hear the Gospel. Why the name ‘Operation Andrew’? Because each time we see Andrew in John’s gospel, he’s bringing someone to Christ. First he brought his brother, Peter. Then in John chapter six he brought a lad to Jesus who had five loaves and two fish. And in John chapter twelve he led a group of Greeks to Christ. And you can do the same.
Years ago a new Christian, twenty-four-year-old Albert McMakin, loaded his ute with friends and drove them every night to an evangelistic campaign in his city. Now, the chances are that you’ve never heard McMakin’s name before. But you’re probably familiar with one of his passengers in his ute, a young man who was converted to Christ that same week—Billy Graham. Andrew brought his brother Peter to Christ, and Peter ended up bringing multitudes to Christ. You just never know! The person you share your faith with today, or bring to church next Sunday, may be used by God to do things you never dreamed possible. And if you’ll do your part—God will do the rest.
‘And a book of remembrance was written.’ Malachi 3:16 KJV
Is it possible that when we get to Heaven there’ll be a ‘Mothers’ Honour Roll’, listing the names of all the faithful mothers who prayed day and night on behalf of their children and grandchildren? Maybe, but this much we do know: God honours mothers who honour God! He responded to the prayers of Hannah and gave her a son who grew up to be a prophet and lead the nation of Israel. And Paul writes concerning Timothy: ‘I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also.’ (2 Timothy 1:5 NKJV) The Bible tells us God keeps records: ‘Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name.’ John writes: ‘I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.’ (Revelation 20:12 KJV) Susanna Wesley had nineteen children (nine died as infants), and she spent an hour every day praying for each one by name. Her prayers paid off. One of her sons, John, brought a spiritual awakening to Britain and founded the Methodist Church. Maybe there will be an honour roll for mothers in heaven, and maybe not. But one thing is sure—when mothers pray, God listens and lives are changed. So never stop praying for your kids, Mum.
SoulFood: Gal 5:22, Lk 19:11–26, Ps 36:5–9, Heb 10:19–23
‘Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.’ Philippians 3:13 NKJV
Whatever your past may have been, God has a better future in mind for you. But before you can ‘reach’ for it, you must forgive the people who’ve hurt you, forgive yourself, and let it go. When you do that, you’ll likely experience a wide range of emotions. You may feel anger, thinking life’s unfair and it wasn’t what you wanted. You always envisioned a husband or wife who’d be there to take care of you. You never expected to have to take responsibility for life on your own. You may feel fearful, afraid you won’t be able to do it—and that if you fail you’ll only have yourself to blame. You may feel annoyed that now you have to consider your life in a different light, from a different perspective. You may even feel sad over the way you’ve blamed others in the past, knowing deep down inside that your life wasn’t proceeding the way you wanted because of your own choices and decisions. You may feel ashamed of your past mistakes, unsure if you really can take personal responsibility and move forward. Whatever emotion comes up, good or bad, know that it’s normal when you’re making a significant life change. And however you feel, don’t judge yourself! Acknowledge what you’re feeling; ask yourself if your thoughts are rational or if they’re just old fears talking to you. Then stick to your commitment to stop blaming others and take responsibility for your own life. The word for you today is: Forget those things of the past and reach forward to the things that are ahead.
‘The woman said, “The serpent deceived me.”’ Genesis 3:13 NKJV
Adam told God, ‘Eve made me do it.’ And Eve told God, ‘The devil made me do it.’ Excuse-making and blame-placing are built into our DNA, and until you get beyond them you’ll never make progress or find real happiness. Here’s a statement worth stopping to think about: we are the people we’ve been waiting for—no one else is coming!
If you’re willing to accept responsibility for your life, you’ll discover that no matter what other people do or don’t do, to or for you, you’re accountable to yourself. You decide how to respond. You decide to continue to move towards your dreams—or not. The truth is that Prince Charming isn’t waiting for you around the next corner. Your ship isn’t coming in. The tide isn’t about to turn. The odds are against your winning the lottery in this lifetime. So what are you going to do? When you’ve been hurt by someone else’s actions, you can do one of two things:
(1) Sit like a leper, and die at the gate of blame and complaint (see 2 Kings 7:3).
(2) Emerge with a strategy that enables you to say, ‘I’m too valuable to die, too tenacious to wait on anyone’s mercy, and too creative to accept yourneglect as my destiny.’ Only when you’re willing to stop blaming yourself and others, and take responsibility for your life and your situation, will God empower you to change things. This approach puts the thermostat within your reach and control. Instead of freezing to death or sweating in discomfort, you can set the temperature for your life and change the terms for your future.
‘Who can accuse the people God has chosen? No one.’ Romans 8:33 NCV
Paul writes: ‘Who can accuse the people God has chosen? No one, because God is the One who makes them right. Who can say God’s people are guilty? No one, because Christ Jesus died, but He was also raised from the dead, and now He is on God’s right side, appealing to God for us.’(Romans 8:33–34 NCV) The accusations of Satan splutter and fall like a deflated balloon. Then why, pray tell, do we still hear them? Why do we, as Christians, still feel guilt? Not all guilt is bad. God uses appropriate doses of guilt to awaken us to sin. We know guilt is God-given when it causes ‘indignation… alarm… longing… concern… readiness to see justice done.’ (2 Corinthians 7:11 NIV) God’s guilt brings enough regret to change us. Satan’s guilt, on the other hand, brings enough regret to enslave us. Don’t let him lock his shackles on you! Remember: ‘Your life is hid with Christ in God.’(Colossians 3:3 KJV) When God looks at you, He sees Jesus first. In the Chinese language the word for righteousness is a combination of two characters: the figure of a lamb and a person. The lamb is on top, covering the person. Whenever God looks down at you, this is what He sees: the perfect Lamb of God covering you. Only once in Scripture is it recorded that Jesus wrote something. And He wrote it on the ground, saying to an accused sinner He’d just forgiven, ‘You are free from condemnation. Go, and sin no more.’ (See John 8:10–11) So the word for you today is: trust your advocate, and not your accuser!
‘The man said, “The woman You put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”’ Genesis 3:12 NIV
The story of Adam and Eve’s failure teaches us two important lessons about God:
(1) He won’t accept your excuses.
(2) He won’t let you blame other people.
He insists that you take responsibility for yourself. And until you do, He can’t bless you like He desires. That means you must make a choice to stop living in the dustbin of past mistakes—your own, and other people’s. You must focus on where you’re going and what you’d like to see happen, rather than having your eyes glued to the rear-view mirror, looking back at what was done and who did it.
It’s time to take back your power! How?
(a) Declare ‘time-out’ when it comes to blaming.
(b) Define what success would look like for you and specify what you want to see happen.
(c) Delegate ‘who’ll do what’ in order to make it happen, and reward the people who help you towards a brighter future.
(d) Realise that deliverable goals are goals that are attainable.
Relationships in trouble desperately need good news, so develop some achievable goals that give everyone something to celebrate. It doesn’t have to be the ultimate goals that’ll win the war, but small successes that indicate you’re winning some battles. This game plan gives power back to the individual who needs to see progress. It distracts you from blame-fixing and gives you guidelines for what’s productive. It takes the power away from dwelling in the past, where none of us has the ability to undo what was done no matter who is to blame. And it’s a constructive effort, as opposed to one that’s destructive.
‘The tongue also is a fire.’ James 3:6 NIV
On a windy day in March 1997, a father and son visited Valley Forge National Historic Park, where George Washington stationed the Revolutionary Army during the difficult winter of 1777–1778. The man and his son had something much less historic in mind: they wanted to launch a model rocket. At first they tried using electric ignition wires to light the fuse, but to no avail. So they tried lighting the fuse with a common sparkler, the kind frequently seen at annual holiday celebrations. That’s when trouble began. Sparks ignited a grass fire and the winds quickly spread the blaze, burning a field where Revolutionary War soldiers had trained, and coming within a few hundred metres of George Washington’s headquarters. The value of what they put at risk was incalculable. It took thirty units from twelve fire departments over an hour to bring the blaze under control. In the end some thirty acres were charred, and the man with the sparkler was charged with destruction of government property and improper use of fireworks.
The Bible says, ‘Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.’(James 3:5–6 NIV)
‘Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.’(Psalm 141:3 NKJV)
‘He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil.’ (1 Peter 3:10 NKJV)
‘The lips of the godly speak helpful words.’ (Proverbs 10:32 NLT)
So make sure your words help, not hurt; build up, not tear down. In other words, be careful what you say!
‘The accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down.’ Revelation 12:10 NLT
The apostle John wrote: ‘I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens…“For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth—the one who accuses them before our God day and night.”’(Revelation 12:10 NLT) Satan has only one aim: ‘To steal, and to kill, and to destroy.’ (John 10:10 NKJV) He’ll steal your peace, kill your dreams, and destroy your future. And he has deputized a horde of silver-tongued demons to help him. He enlists people to peddle his poison. Friends dredge up your past. Preachers proclaim all guilt and no grace.
And some parents distribute it twenty-four hours a day. Long into adulthood you still hear their voices: ‘Why can’t you grow up?’ ‘When are you going to make me proud?’ So what’s the answer? Jesus! He’s ‘at God’s right hand, pleading for us.’ (Romans 8:34 NLT) Let that sink in for a moment. In the presence of God, in defiance of Satan, Jesus Christ rises to your defense. He takes on the role of a priest. ‘And since we have a great priest over God’s house, let us come near to God with a sincere heart and a sure faith because we have been made free from a guilty conscience.’ (Hebrews 10:21–22 NCV) A clean conscience. A clean record. A clean heart. Free from accusation—free from condemnation. Not just from our past mistakes, but from our future ones. ‘Since He will live forever, He will always be there to remind God that He has paid for our sins with His blood.’ (Hebrews 7:25TLB) So don’t listen to your accuser—trust your advocate!
‘You shall have a song as in the night.’ Isaiah 30:29 NKJV
Why does the Bible say, ‘It is good to sing praises to our God’? (Psalm 147:1 NKJV) Because when you express the promises of God’s Word in song, your faith is strengthened.
The Great Depression of the 1930s hit a businessman named JC Penney particularly hard, endangering his very health. Anxious and desperate because of his huge financial losses, Penney sank so low he felt he had nothing left to live for. Even his family and friends shunned him. In the hospital one night, he grew so demoralized that he expected to die before morning! Waking, he heard singing coming from the hospital chapel. The words of the song were: ‘Be not dismayed whatever betide, God will take care of you. Beneath His wings of love abide, God will take care of you.’ Entering the chapel, he listened to the song, the Scripture reading, and the prayer. He wrote: ‘Suddenly—something happened. I can’t explain it. I can only call it a miracle. I felt as if I’d been instantly lifted out of the darkness of a dungeon into warm, brilliant sunlight.’ From that day on, JC Penney was never again plagued with worry. He described those moments in the chapel as ‘the most dramatic and glorious twenty minutes of my life’. And when he died at ninety-five, he left behind 1,660 department stores bearing his name.
When nothing else works, the praises of God set to music can lift you out of a spiritual low. That’s why the Bible says, ‘It is good to sing praises to our God.’ Try it and see for yourself. It works!
‘A longing fulfilled is a tree of life.’ Proverbs 13:12 NIV
For the next few days, let’s look at some of our most common desires. Material desires: Lydia was a businesswoman who dealt in textiles (see Acts 16:14). She was one of Paul’s first converts to Christianity in Europe. Can you imagine what it took for a woman to succeed in business in such a male-dominated society? She was so successful she owned her own home. And it was large enough to become the meeting place for the first church in the history of Europe. Of all the religious edifices built over the centuries—Notre Dame, Westminster Abbey, and the Sistine Chapel—the first European church was in the home of this businesswoman. Now, if your desire to make money chokes out your generosity, causes you to live in debt, or creates chronic dissatisfaction, it’s time to re-evaluate what you’re doing. But making money, creating good products, and keeping people employed are God-glorifying things. ‘It is God who gives you the power to get wealth.’ (Deuteronomy 8:18 NKJV) Have you ever wondered why you enjoy tinkering with engines or working with your hands? It’s because you were made in the image of a creative God who engineered this unbelievable cosmic machine with forces and energy so transcendently mind-boggling that people devote brilliant scientific careers to understanding even a tiny bit of it. Whether you’re mechanically or scientifically oriented, it’s spiritual—and it counts! The Bible says, ‘The Lord… has pleasure in the prosperity of His servant.’ (Psalm 35:27 NKJV) And when your desire for material success is to glorify God and bless others, He will help you to succeed.
‘Here is the conclusion of the matter.’ Ecclesiastes 12:13 NIV
In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon talks about all the things in life he tried and found to be disappointing: the intellectual pursuit of knowledge, the physical pursuit of pleasure, and the material pursuit of wealth. In the last chapter of Ecclesiastes, he bottom-lines it: ‘Everything is meaningless.’(Ecclesiastes 12:8 NIV) Now, penning his last divinely-inspired thoughts, he wraps up his life’s message with these words: ‘Here is the conclusion of the matter.’ This is big stuff! Solomon is about to give us his bottom-line evaluation of a life well-lived. What is it? ‘Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment.’ (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14 NIV) The words ‘fear God’simply means to reverence, love, and serve Him, and live your life according to the precepts laid down in His Word. The songwriter put it this way: ‘Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.’ Author John Mason writes: ‘Is more money, a higher position, or more influence your goal? These are not goals; they are the by-product of true goals… Seek not the success, but truth, and you will find both. Work to become, not acquire. Measure wealth by the things you have which you would not exchange for money.’ When you wake each morning, pray this simple prayer: ‘Lord, above all else, help me to spend this day loving You and carrying out Your will. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.’
‘That Your hand would be with me.’ 1 Chronicles 4:10 NKJV
Not only did Jabez have great ambition, he had a growing faith and a deep trust in God. He had enough faith to pray and expect an answer. He was like the pioneer missionary William Carey, who said, ‘Expect great things from God, and attempt great things for God.’ There’s no mention of Jabez having any special ability or talent. The Bible doesn’t say he was wealthy or educated. He was simply a common man with an uncommon faith. Don’t worry about what you don’t have—if you have faith! God will give you the necessary power. He loves to use ordinary people who are willing to trust Him and see them succeed. Lots of super-talented people sit on the sidelines while ordinary people with faith score the goals and win. And you can be one of them.
Another interesting fact about Jabez is that he apparently had some type of handicap or disability. In the Hebrew language ‘Jabez’ means painful. Jabez apparently caused his mother so much grief during childbirth that she named him ‘Painful’. How would you like to go through life with that name? He may have been unwanted and unloved. But he was stronger than his handicap, and his faith kept him going. His eyes weren’t on the past, they were on the future. He believed that if God blessed him, then his future would be greater than his past. What’s your handicap? Is it physical? Is it spiritual? Is it an unhappy childhood? Is it a frustrating job or a broken marriage? Whatever it may be, Jesus said, ‘Everything is possible for one who believes.’ (Mark 9:23 NIV)
‘Everything in the Scriptures is God’s Word.’ 2 Timothy 3:16 CEV
Paul wrote to Timothy: ‘People who pretend to be what they are not will become worse than ever, as they fool others and are fooled themselves. Keep on being faithful to what you were taught and to what you believed. After all, you know who taught you these things. Since childhood, you have known the Holy Scriptures that are able to make you wise enough to have faith in Christ Jesus and be saved. Everything in the Scriptures is God’s Word. All of it is useful for teaching and helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live.’ (2 Timothy 3:13–16 CEV)
Here’s why you should read your Bible:
(1) So you won’t be led astray. God will never say something to you through another person, or your own thoughts, that does not line up with what He’s clearly revealed in His Word. That’s why you need to know the Scriptures.
(2) To know you’re truly saved. The apostle John writes: ‘These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.’ (1 John 5:13 NKJV)
(3) To identify your calling and equip you. Paul says, ‘The Scriptures train God’s servants to do all kinds of good deeds.’ (2 Timothy 3:17 CEV) The Bible is your guidebook for living the Christian life, so read it every day!
‘So God granted him what he requested.’ 1 Chronicles 4:10 NKJV
When Jabez prayed, ‘Enlarge my territory,’ he was saying, ‘Lord, I want more than I’ve got, and I’m asking You for it!’ This man had great ambitions, and God blessed them. There are three common misconceptions that can keep us from having great ambitions:
(1) We confuse fear with humility. We say, ‘Oh, I could never do that,’ and think we’re being humble. But that’s not humility. That’s fear; that’s lack of faith. A truly humble person would say, ‘With God’s help I can do it. With God’s blessing, I will do it. I may not be able to do it on my own, but with God’s help I can.’ That’s real humility.
(2) We tend to confuse laziness with contentment. We quote Paul: ‘I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.’ (Philippians 4:11 NIV) But this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t set goals. Paul wasn’t saying, ‘I don’t have any ambitions or future plans.’ Just the opposite, in fact! He spoke of ‘reaching forward to what lies ahead.’ (Philippians 3:13 NAS) If you don’t have a dream or a goal, ask God for one.
(3) We confuse small thinking with spirituality. Some people say, ‘I serve God in my little way.’ Why don’t you start serving Him in a bigger way? Why not let Him use you more? Other people say, ‘Well, I’m just fine the way I am. That’s the way God made me.’ It’s wrong to blame God for your lack of growth because He has provided all the tools and ideas you need in order to grow. Bottom line: think big or you’ll get in God’s way!
‘Oh, that You would bless me indeed.’ 1 Chronicles 4:10 NKJV
Jabez prayed that God would bless him in three specific ways:
(1) ‘Enlarge my territory.’ He had a dream of owning more land, and he asked God to bless that dream. When you stop dreaming you lose direction. When you stop setting goals you stop growing. You must have something you’re pushing towards. As long as your horizon is expanding, you’ll be spiritually and emotionally healthy.
(2) ‘That Your hand would be with me.’ God’s hand represents His power. Jabez realized that if he got more territory it meant he would have more responsibility. He would have greater demands and more pressure, and he would really need God’s help in his life. So he requested God to be with him. And when you ask for God’s presence in your life, you can be sure He’ll answer.
(3) ‘That You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.’ Jabez asked God for His protection. Why? Because in those days the more land you owned, the more influence you had, and the better known you were. And that made you a bigger target. It’s still like that today. The more successful you are, the more critics you have. The more territory you own, the more your enemies will attack you. The closer you grow to the Lord and the stronger you become as a Christian, the more the devil will harass you because he doesn’t want you to grow. But you can be sure, as Jabez was, that with God’s protection you don’t have to fear anyone or anything. Do you want to break out of mediocrity? Then pray the prayer that Jabez prayed.
‘And Jabez called on the God of Israel.’ 1 Chronicles 4:10 NKJV
In the book of First Chronicles, the Bible tells us about a man named Jabez. The first nine chapters consist of genealogies, listing more than six hundred names. And right there in the middle of all those names, God singles out one man for special recognition—and his name is Jabez. There are only two verses in the entire Bible about this man, yet he’s given honorable mention above the six hundred other people mentioned in these chapters. Why did God single him out? What did Jabez do that caused his name to be preserved for over four thousand years? What made him above average? For the next few days, let’s see what we can learn about him. ‘Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers.’ (1 Chronicles 4:9 NKJV) So, what set him apart? He dared to ask and believe God for great things: ‘Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” So God granted him what he requested.’ God wants you to ask Him for great things! He told Jeremiah, ‘Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’ (Jeremiah 33:3 NIV) Paul tells us that God ‘is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.’ (Ephesians 3:20 NIV) You can’t out-ask or out-dream God, so start asking Him to reveal His will for you—and believe He will give it to you.
‘In all to which you set your hand.’ Deuteronomy 28:8 NKJV
The word vocation comes from the Latin word vocare, which means ‘to be called’. It has come to denote a ‘spiritual calling’. Every vocation, regardless of what it is, is a calling from God. And once you start to see your job in that light, you’ll find it easier to believe God wants to bless you on the job. So with that in mind, you need to:
(1) Pursue work compatible with your gifts. ‘If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised.’ (1 Peter 4:11 NIV)
(2) Learn everything possible about your job. ‘Let the wise listen and add to their learning.’ (Proverbs 1:5 NIV)
(3) Recognise God as your true employer. ‘Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does.’ (Ephesians 6:7–8 NIV)
(4) See work as God’s gift, not punishment. ‘When God gives any man wealth and possessions and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God.’ (Ecclesiastes 5:19 NIV)
(5) Use criticism to your advantage. In fact, make it work for you. Ask for suggestions and correction. ‘If you ignore criticism, you will end in poverty and disgrace; if you accept correction, you will be honored.’ (Proverbs 13:18 NLT)
(6) Do more than expected. ‘If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.’ (Matthew 5:41 ESV)
(7) See the Lord as your work partner. Stay Christ-conscious throughout the day as you perform your duties, and ‘the Lord will command the blessing on you… and in all to which you set your hand.’
‘I fear that…I myself might be disqualified.’ 1 Corinthians 9:27 NLT
Paul writes: ‘Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.’ (1 Corinthians 9:24–27 NLT) Unless you take control of your life, you will always live knowing that you don’t belong to yourself. In other words, you belong to whoever and whatever is controlling you. In order to improve, you must keep these three things before you at all times:
(1) Reading. David said, ‘Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.’ (Psalm 119:97 NKJV) Discipline yourself to read something each day that will help you spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and career-wise. And put the Bible at the top of your ‘books to read’ list.
(2) Rewards. Author Mike Delaney remarked, ‘Any business or industry that pays equal rewards to its goof-offs and its eager beavers, sooner or later will find itself with more goof-offs than eager beavers. What you reward, good or bad, in yourself and in others, you’ll keep getting more of.’
(3) Results. The next time you’re facing a must-do task, and thinking of doing what’s convenient instead of paying the price, change your focus. Count the benefits of doing what’s right, and dive in. Instead of focusing on the ‘work’, focus on the ‘reward’.
‘A man of knowledge uses words with restraint.’ Proverbs 17:27 NIV
It’s not enough to have the right answers; you need the right approach. Good ideas and sound advice are wasted when you use a ram-it-down-your-throat approach. Wisdom means saying the right thing, at the right time, in the right way. ‘A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered.’ Your efforts at helping someone to change will fail, or worse, alienate them, unless you approach them in love and humility. Most people already know what their problem is. Chances are they’ve been grappling with it for a while, and deep down they want to do better. And unless you’re prepared for a ‘Who-are-you-to-tell-me’ response, you’ve got to approach them in the right way. ‘Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.’(Proverbs 16:24 NIV) Jesus said, ‘You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ (John 8:32 NIV) So, if people won’t receive the truth in the way you’re sharing it, maybe the problem is partially yours. Former U.S. Senate Chaplain Richard Halverson writes: ‘You can offer your ideas to people as bullets or as seeds. You can shoot them or sow them. Ideas used as bullets kill inspiration and motivation. Ideas used as seeds take root, grow, and bear fruit in the life in which they are planted. But there’s a risk: once it becomes part of those in whom it’s planted, you’ll probably get no credit for originating the idea. But if you’re willing to do without the credit… you’ll reap a rich harvest.’ So the word for you today is: take the right approach.
‘I went by the field of the lazy man.’ Proverbs 24:30 NKJV
It is better to be short-handed than to hire a sluggard; better to have nobody than a lazy body. Evidently, Solomon had suffered through a few sluggards on his payroll: ‘As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the lazy man.’ (Proverbs 10:26 NKJV) You know how irritating vinegar is when it’s taken straight, or how aggravating smoke is when it gets in your eyes! That’s how irritating a lazy person is to the one who hires him. Whatever he does will take twice as long to finish, and will either have to be done over or thrown out—at twice the cost. His presence on the job is worse than his absence. He wastes his own resources and everybody else’s. A tragic picture is painted in Proverbs 24:30–31 NKJV: ‘I went by the field of the lazy man, and by the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding; and there it was, all overgrown with thorns; its surface was covered with nettles; its stone wall was broken down.’ Now let’s be clear here: we must show compassion towards those who are down and out for legitimate reasons. But they need more than a handout; they need a hand up! They need more than food and clothes; they need purpose, dignity, and self-worth. And that’s what God wants us to give them. Abraham Lincoln wasn’t great because he was born in a log cabin; he was great because he got out of it. Now, the chances are you won’t end up in the White House, but unless you want to end up in the poorhouse, don’t be a sluggard!
‘The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold.’ Proverbs 20:4 NKJV
The sluggard sees an obstacle in every opportunity. Though he can’t hold down a job, there’s always a good excuse. The hours are too long, the pay is too little, the work is too hard, people are too demanding—take your pick. And don’t worry, if you don’t like any of those excuses the sluggard has plenty more. Have you heard the one about the lion? Solomon writes, ‘The lazy man says, “There is a lion outside! I shall be slain in the streets!”’(Proverbs 22:13 NKJV)
Thomas Edison, the epitome of a worker and the very opposite of a sluggard, said, ‘Opportunity is missed by most people because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like work.’ A sluggard is never without an excuse. It’s always too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry to work. ‘The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold.’ If sluggards harmed only themselves it would be one thing, but they hurt everybody else too. ‘He who is slothful in his work is a brother to him who is a great destroyer.’(Proverbs 18:9 NKJV)
Chuck Swindoll says: ‘That word “destroys” pulsates with liabilities. A lazy employee doesn’t simply hold an organization back; he destroys its motivation and drive. A lazy player doesn’t just weaken the team; he destroys its spirit and diminishes its will to win. A lazy pastor doesn’t merely limit a church, he destroys its enthusiasm, its passion to win souls and meet needs. Before long, everyone must do more to compensate for the sluggard’s negative influence.’ So again, the word for you today is: don’t be a sluggard!
‘How long will you slumber, O sluggard?’ Proverbs 6:9 NKJV
The sluggard never does today what he can put off until tomorrow, and he never does tomorrow what he can put off forever. His favorite work day is—tomorrow. That’s why God asks, ‘How long will you slumber, O sluggard?’When someone is capable of working and jobs are available, you may be talking to a sluggard if you’re continually asking, ‘How long are you going to take off between jobs?’ Or, ‘When are you going to look for another job?’ The story’s told of a college student who was trying to decide whether or not he should study. He grabbed a coin, flipped it, and in mid-air said, ‘Heads, I’m going to the movies. Tails, I’m going to watch TV. And if it stands on its edge—I’m going to study!’ Incidentally, some sluggards are even too lazy to flip the coin! A sluggard is a person who’s always going to ‘get around to doing the job’, but never ‘gets around’ to ‘getting around’. Parent, teach your children that when a job is to be started is as important as when it is to be completed. A child’s favorite response to a command is often, ‘In just a minute.’ Don’t start buying it, or you’ll be paying forever. Teach your kids that ‘now’ means now, and ‘finish’ means don’t turn the TV—or computer—back on until the job’s done. This is an important truth because as one leader said, ‘When you do what you have to do when you have to do it, then you get to do what you want to do when you want to do it.’
‘Go to the ant, you sluggard!’ Proverbs 6:6 NKJV
What exactly is a sluggard? Robert Hicks says, ‘Feeling we’re entitled to things without being willing to do the necessary labor to obtain them makes us a society of sluggards.’ There’s one thing you’ll never convince the sluggard of: that he’s a sluggard. ‘The lazy man is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly.’ (Proverbs 26:16 NKJV) Even if seven wise men tell him he’s lazy, he will not admit it—no matter if he’s outnumbered seven to one. You can tell a sluggard, but you can’t tell him much. ‘The desire of the lazy man kills him, for his hands refuse to labor.’(Proverbs 21:25 NKJV) A sluggard’s two favorite words are ‘one day’. You can hear him or her saying, ‘One day I’m going to hit it big.’ Or, ‘One day I’m going to own my own business.’ Or, ‘One day I’m going to…’ (you fill in the blank)! He or she always has an excuse as to why they can’t work. That’s the meaning of Solomon’s statement: ‘The way of the lazy man is like a hedge of thorns, but the way of the upright is a highway.’ (Proverbs 15:19 NKJV) When the sluggard looks out the front door of life, he doesn’t see a highway of opportunity, he only sees one big briar patch. Benjamin Franklin was right when he said, ‘I never knew a man who was good at making excuses, who was good at anything else.’ Bottom line: the sluggard would rather make an excuse than make a living. So the word for you today is: don’t be a sluggard!
‘Grow in grace.’ 2 Peter 3:18 KJV
Every day you live you’ll be presented with opportunities to ‘grow in grace’.And you must always be open and receptive to them. A grandmother celebrating her fiftieth wedding anniversary shared the secret of her long and happy relationship: ‘On my wedding day, I decided to make a list of ten of my husband’s faults, which for the sake of our marriage I would overlook. I never did get around to listing any. Each time he did something I didn’t like, I’d say to myself, “Lucky for him that’s one of the ten!”’ Now there’s a very wise lady!
Physical intimacy may bring us together, but growing in grace will keep us together. So when someone upsets you, instead of responding with angry words or angry silence, remind yourself that God is giving you another opportunity to ‘grow in grace’. And if you don’t do too well with some of the opportunities He sends, don’t worry, He will keep sending more until you get it right! Resentment is one of the most expensive luxuries you can indulge in. A deep-seated grudge eats away at your peace of mind like deadly cancer destroying a vital organ. In fact, there are few things as sad as a person who has harbored a grudge for years. Without forgiveness, life becomes an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation. One of the secrets to a long and fruitful life is to forgive everybody, everything, every night before you go to bed. It’s the key to having personal peace. So, start getting serious about the Bible admonition: ‘Grow in grace.’
‘Do you see this woman?’ Luke 7:44 NKJV
Luke writes: ‘Behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”’ (Luke 7:37–39 NKJV)
This scene took place in the house of Simon, a religious leader who was more concerned about ‘right and wrong’ than he was about hurting people. He may have been theologically correct, but he lacked compassion. And Jesus confronted him about it! ‘He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?”’ Simon saw her as a sinner and a loser. But not Jesus. He responded to the gift she brought and to the heart of love behind it. In determining her future potential to God’s Kingdom, He didn’t consult her sordid past or even refer to it. He saw her tears, understood her need, and shocked the religious crowd that day by saying, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ (Luke 7:48 NKJV) Be careful: when you’ve been in church for a while and forgotten what it’s like to be on the outside, you can become hard-hearted and fail to show the love of God to those who need it.
‘To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given.’ Ephesians 3:8 NKJV
One day the Pharisees caught a woman in the act of adultery. The law of Moses was clear; she must be stoned. And the Pharisees were ready to do it. This woman probably thought that Jesus, being righteous, would agree. She had no lawyer to defend her, not even a character witness! But suddenly Jesus stops and begins to write in the sand. Some scholars think that perhaps He wrote down their sins, including times and places. When He looks up, the woman’s accusers have gone. He says to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.’ (John 8:11 NKJV) That day Jesus lifted her from a position of undeniable guilt to one of unconditional pardon. She didn’t deserve it; she didn’t even know it was possible. And that’s your story too, isn’t it? One day Abraham Lincoln watched a plantation owner bidding for a slave girl. Figuring he was going to buy her and abuse her, Lincoln paid the price to set her free. ‘Does this mean I can go wherever I want to go?’ she asked. Lincoln said, ‘Yes, you’re free!’ With tears streaming down her face, she replied, ‘Then, sir, I will go with you.’ The word ‘grace’ is so important Paul mentions it three times more than any other writer. Remembering the violent life he lived, he writes, ‘To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given.’ The word ‘grace’ comes from the Greek word Charis, meaning ‘pure joy’. Although you don’t deserve it, God considers saving you to be a ‘pure joy’.
The secret things belong to the Lord our God. Deuteronomy 29:29 NKJV
The Bible says: ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.’ (Proverbs 3:5 NIV) That Scripture is easy to quote but hard to live by, especially when tragedy and loss touch our lives and we don’t understand why.
There are times when we pray and God gives us answers, and there are times when we pray and He gives us peace. ‘Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.’ (Philippians 4:6–7 NLT) In times of pain and loss, here are two Scriptures you can stand on:
(1) ‘The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us.’ When it comes to understanding things—we have our territory and God has His. And ours is limited to what He decides to reveal to us. Paul, who wrote half the New Testament by divine revelation, acknowledged, ‘We know in part.’ (1 Corinthians 13:9 NKJV) At best, we will always be limited in our understanding.
(2) ‘And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.’ (Romans 8:28 NKJV). Sometimes God explains things to us, and other times He stamps them ‘Will explain later.’ So when you’re tempted to throw up your hands in despair and say, ‘Who knows?’, remind yourself, ‘God knows!’ And today remind yourself that He’s working things out for your good and His glory.
‘Be strong and of good courage.’ Deuteronomy 31:6 NKJV
Any time you attempt something for the first time, or something you’ve failed at before, or something you think is too big for you, you’ll experience both fear and faith. They go together. One will win out over the other, but they never go away. Because Israel had no idea what challenges awaited them or what life would be like in the Promised Land, God told them, ‘Be strong and of good courage…for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.’ And today that’s His promise to you too! It’s fear of failure that stops us most of the time. Yet as you look back, you realize that most times failure doesn’t do permanent damage at all; you actually grow through it.
Author Katherine Paterson says, ‘To fear is one thing. To let fear grab you and swing you around by the tail is another,’ and John Maxwell adds: ‘We all have fears. The question is whether we are going to control them or allow them to control us.’ To go anywhere, you must launch out from somewhere, or you’ll get nowhere. American essayist Hamilton Wright Mabie said, ‘The question for each man to settle is not what he would do if he had the means, time, influence, and educational advantages, but what he will do with the things he has.’ So, confront your fear, step out in faith, and believe God for success.
‘Man is tested by the praise he receives.’ Proverbs 27:21 NIV
The English word flatterer comes from a French term that means ‘to pat, smooth, or caress’. So a flatterer is someone who will pat you on the back with one hand and, in some cases, knife you in the back with the other. Flattery is something a person will say to your face but will not say behind your back. It’s insincere praise from an insincere motive. And the Bible warns us to beware of it: ‘To flatter friends is to lay a trap for their feet.’(Proverbs 29:5 NLT) Flatterers will do you no good. In fact, Solomon says that in the long run you’re better off with a person who will criticize you than a person who will flatter you. ‘He who rebukes a man will find more favor afterward than he who flatters.’ (Proverbs 28:23 NKJV) When it comes to flattery you should always keep these two things in mind:
(1) Give praise sparingly but sincerely, with nothing but the best in mind for the other person.
(2) Receive praise wisely, without taking yourself or the person giving the praise too seriously.
Always remember that flattery was the weapon that Satan used to bring Adam and Eve down in the Garden of Eden: ‘You will be like God.’ (Genesis 3:5 NKJV) That’s why Solomon writes, ‘The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but man is tested by the praise he receives.’ So, the question you should always ask yourself when someone praises you is this: does this make me more big-headed or more big-hearted?
‘For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for Him.’ Philippians 1:29 NLT
Think of Gethsemane, the garden where Jesus Himself wrestled with the will of God. ‘Take this cup from Me.’ (Mark 14:36 NIV) It was a reference to the cup of wrath. Jesus knew He’d have to drink it to the dregs. But before He did, He asked His Father if He could take it away, if there was any other way. But then He qualified His request with the ultimate prayer of surrender: ‘Not My will, but Yours, be done.’ (Luke 22:42 NKJV) Our prayers tend to focus on external circumstances more than internal attitudes, because we’d rather have God change our circumstances than change us. It’s a lot easier that way. But we miss the point altogether. It’s the worst of circumstances that often brings out the best in us. And if it’s the bad things that bring out the good things, then maybe those bad things are good things in the grand scheme of things! When we’ve been tested we come to acquire a testimony to share with others.
Yes, you can be saved without suffering, but you cannot be spiritually matured or equipped for service without it. That doesn’t mean you seek it out, but it does mean you see it for what it is—an opportunity to glorify God. Paul, who suffered greatly, writes, ‘For you have been given the privilege of suffering for Him.’ Where did Paul find such strength? ‘I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.’ (Romans 8:18 NKJV) So the word for you today is: seek to glorify God in every circumstance of life.
‘Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.’ 1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV
There are two ‘whatever you do’ verses in Scripture.
(1) ‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.’ (Colossians 3:23 NIV) Your goal in life should be to love what you work at, and work at what you love. But that isn’t reality at every stage of life. Sometimes you’re called to do a good job for a not-so-good company, boss, or salary. Thank God you have a job that supplies your needs; there are unemployed people who would switch places with you.
(2) ‘Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.’ How do you eat and drink for the glory of God? Paul is using our daily rituals to make an all-encompassing point. Even the most mundane of activities is absolutely miraculous. You take approximately twenty-three thousand breaths every day, but when was the last time you thanked God for one of them? We tend to thank God for things that take our breath away. And that’s fine. But maybe we should thank Him for every other breath too! The purpose-driven life is described in these words from the Westminster Shorter Catechism: ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.’ It can’t be said any simpler, or any better. We exist for one reason and one reason alone: to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever. And you’re called to do that in whatever circumstance you find yourself. Any way. Anywhere. Anyhow. Whatever. Wherever.
‘The whole earth is full of His glory!’ Isaiah 6:3 NKJV
The distinction between sacred and secular is a false dichotomy. All things were created by God and for God—no exceptions. Every note of music, every colour on the palette, every flavour that tingles the taste buds. Arnold Sommerfeld, the German physicist and pianist, observed that a single hydrogen atom which emits one hundred frequencies, is more musical than a grand piano which emits only 88 fundamental frequencies. So every single atom is a unique expression of worship. According to composer Leonard Bernstein, the best translation of Genesis 1:3 is not ‘And God said.’He believed a better translation is ‘And God sang.’ The Almighty sang every atom into existence, and every atom echoes that original melody in three-part harmony by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Super-sensitive sound instruments have discovered that earthworms make faint staccato sounds, while whale songs can travel thousands of kilometres under water. Lewis Thomas put it this way: ‘If we had better hearing and could discern the descants of seabirds, the rhythmic timpani of schools of mullets, and even the distant harmonies of flies hanging over meadows in the sun, the combined sound might lift us off our feet.’ And some day they will. Glorified eardrums will hear this Scripture fulfilled: ‘Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!”’(Revelation 5:13 NIV) Today make it your goal to glorify God in all that you do.
‘That the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you.’ 2 Thessalonians 1:12 NIV
Bach composed over 200 cantatas. Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring may be his most famous. Nearly four centuries later, it’s still one of the most popular soundtracks as the bride walks down the aisle to meet her groom. The reason his music touches your soul is because it came from his soul. But did you know his cantatas didn’t originate as music, and that they were prayers before they were songs? Before he started scoring a sheet of music he would scrawl JJ—Jesu, Juya—at the very top. It means ‘Jesus, help me.’ Then at the bottom of every composition he inscribed three letters: SDG. They stand for Soli Deo Gloria—‘to the glory of God alone’. His life was a unique translation of that singular motive. So is yours. No one can glorify God like you, or for you, because your life is an original score. Soli Deo Gloria is living for an audience of one; it’s doing the right thing for the right reason. It’s living for the applause of the nail-scarred hands. It’s declaring that Jesus Christ is your all in all. Just Jesus. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. Paul bottom-lines it: ‘We constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of His calling, and that by His power He may fulfil every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God.’ (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12 NIV)
‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’ Zechariah 8:23 NKJV
The prophet Zechariah writes, ‘Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of Hosts in Jerusalem… saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”’ (Zechariah 8:22–23 NKJV) When people see God at work in your life, they’ll be drawn to you.
It happened to a short-order cook named Nicholas Herman. Dissatisfied with his life, he worried constantly about whether or not he was even saved. Then one day as he studied a tree, he was struck by the truth in Psalm 1:3: that the secret to growing spiritually lies in being rooted and grounded in God. So he decided to make his life an experiment in what he termed ‘the habitual, silent, secret conversation of the soul with God’. Today he’s better known as Brother Lawrence, the name his friends gave him. Chances are, you’ve heard of him and his writings. Although he spent his life in obscurity working in a monastery kitchen, how he interacted with God caused people from around the world to long to know God like he did. His friends said he ‘found God everywhere…as much while repairing shoes as praying with the community’. And after he died they compiled a book of his letters and conversations called The Practice of the Presence of God.It’s one of the most widely read books of the last four centuries.
Jesus said, ‘When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to Myself.’ (John 12:32 NLT) The more you cultivate the presence of God in your life, the more others will be attracted to Him. So, let others see God in you!
‘He will separate them one from another.’ Matthew 25:32 NKJV
The Bible says: ‘All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom.”’ (Matthew 25:32–34 NKJV) But here’s what happens to those on the left hand: ‘He will also say to those on the left hand, “Depart from Me.”’ (Matthew 25:41 NKJV) What determines His choice? How does He separate people? Is it based on the fact that one group was highly moral while the other was loose-living? Is it based on the fact that one group was doctrinally correct while the other went astray theologically? No.
Jesus said the destiny of all present will be based on one thing: showing compassion to those in need. You object: ‘We are saved by faith alone!’ Yes. But as Calvin pointed out, ‘The faith that saves us is never alone!’ The Bible says that faith without works is dead (see James 2:26). Jesus said that this was the standard by which we’ll be evaluated and rewarded: ‘I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ (Matthew 25:36 NKJV) Then He personalised it in these words: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me.’ (Matthew 25:40 NIV) That means you must open your heart and respond to the needs around you.
‘You bless the righteous, You surround them with Your favour.’ Psalm 5:12 NIV
When you ask someone for a favour, you’re generally asking for something they don’t owe you. The Bible says of God: ‘You bless the righteous; You surround them with Your favour.’ This word ‘righteous’ doesn’t mean flawless, otherwise none of us would qualify! It means to be clothed in ‘the righteousness of God’, thereby making us acceptable before God and qualifying us for His favour (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). And that’s a truth you need to grasp and hold on to! Why? Because when you have God’s favour, people start favouring you too—often for reasons they themselves can’t explain! The favour of God made it possible for people in the Bible who otherwise wouldn’t have amounted to much, to do great things. God called a teenager named Esther to save the Jewish people. So she stepped out in faith, approached the king uninvited, even though it violated protocol, and ‘obtained favour in his sight.’ (Esther 5:2 AMP) God made a way for her to do the job He’d given her. Without the favour of God, Ruth, a Gentile, wouldn’t have been accepted by the Jews. But because God had a plan for her life and her heart was open to Him, she ended up marrying Boaz, ‘a mighty man of great wealth.’ (Ruth 2:1 KJV) And from that union descended King David, and ultimately our blessed Lord Jesus. What favour! The Bible says, ‘A good man will obtain favour from the Lord.’ (Proverbs 12:2 NAS) And a single moment of God’s favour will do more for you than a lifetime of striving. So pray for the favour of God today—and start looking for it!
‘The wise listen to others.’ Proverbs 12:15 NLT
Positioning yourself to receive—makes all the difference! For example, as you read this, if you position yourself to receive by saying to the Lord, ‘I will take action on what You show me,’ you’ll benefit more than if you read it just to be motivated or inspired. To resist or to receive—that’s a choice you make every day. Nothing dies quicker than a new idea in a closed mind. It’s impossible to learn, if you think you already know it all. One of the reasons Jesus reacted so strongly to the Pharisees was because they refused to receive what He had to say. A wrongly positioned mind is like a microscope that magnifies trifling things but can’t receive great ones. Every situation, properly viewed, is an opportunity. But opportunities can only ‘drop into your lap’ if you position your lap where opportunities drop. When you don’t position yourself to receive, it’s like asking for a bushel while you’re holding a cup. Too often our minds are locked on one track. We’re looking for red so we overlook blue; we’re thinking ‘tomorrow’ and God is saying ‘now’. We’re looking everywhere, and the answer is right under our nose. When a person is positioned correctly, he or she is ready to receive all God has for them.
The Bible often uses the word simple. The original term means ‘thick, dull, and sluggish’, and it describes those who are insensitive and unreceptive to the thoughts of others. God will speak to you through people, but unless you listen you won’t hear what He has to say. So today position yourself to receive.
‘The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.’ Hebrews 1:3 NIV
Are you so focused on your troubles that you’ve forgotten what God’s Word says: ‘Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.’ (Psalm 23:6 KJV)? We know about Job’s troubles, but we tend to forget they were just for a short season in an otherwise very blessed life. The time Joseph spent in prison was eclipsed by the years of influence and privilege he enjoyed as the number-two man in Pharaoh’s palace. Are you having difficulty enjoying your blessings because you are afraid they won’t last? Maybe you’re so accustomed to trouble that you’re continually braced for it, like sitting in a comfortable recliner and not being able to relax. It’s time you stopped worrying and started believing God’s promises to you! He hasn’t brought you this far to abandon you. No, He has ‘appointed you to bring forth fruit that will last.’ Lasting joy and success—that’s God’s plan for you! The Bible says, ‘The Son is sustaining all things by His powerful word.’
God doesn’t speak something over your life, then let it fall apart. He said about His word: ‘It will accomplish all I want it to.’ (Isaiah 55:11 NLT) In Genesis, God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night.’ (Genesis 1:14 ESV) And guess what? That same sun shines today because of the word that brought it into being—and, God willing, it’ll shine again tomorrow. Now, if God will do that for an inanimate object like the sun, don’t you think He’ll take care of you too? Come on, believe that you’re called and chosen by God!
‘I have chosen you and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit.’ John 15:16 KJV
The word ‘ordained’ comes from the word ordered. God ordered and designed you specifically. He chose your life’s direction. He preserved you when you thought you wouldn’t make it. He pushed you when you thought you had run out of steam. ‘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.’ (Psalm 37:23–24 NLT)
He wants you to win. ‘No weapon turned against you will succeed… These benefits are enjoyed by the servants of the Lord.’ (Isaiah 54:17 NLT) That means the attacks being directed against you won’t succeed! But being chosen by God doesn’t mean you can just go and do your own thing. Paul says, ‘Should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of His wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?’ (Romans 6:1–2 NLT) When you’re chosen and appointed you have assurance of your position in Christ, even when your condition isn’t up to par. It’s also why God permits tests and temptations. He knows what it takes to keep you dependent on Him, and help you develop a strong root system. The first thing God told man was ‘be fruitful’(see Genesis 1:28). He wants you to be productive and successful in every aspect of your life. Jesus said, ‘It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom [to enjoy the advantages of Kingdom living].’ (Luke 12:32AMPC) Once that concept gets down into your spirit, it will change your life!
‘I will arise and go to my father.’ Luke 15:18 KJV
Once you grasp the fact that God has ‘chosen and appointed’ you to accomplish certain things, many of your unanswered questions will begin to make sense. Like why you see things differently from others, or feel compelled to move on while they’re happy to stay where they are. Paul said that long before we had heard of Christ, ‘He chose us in advance, and He makes everything work out according to His plan.’ (Ephesians 1:11 NLT) You’ve been handpicked and designed for the job! Why? Because God has certain things He wants to do through you. It’s the reason you’ve made it this far. It’s why you keep bouncing back each time Satan tries to destroy you. Here are two reasons you need to grasp this truth:
(1) If you think God chose you because you’re a great prayer-warrior, or read your Bible for hours on end, or you’re of sterling character, then the minute you let up or fail the devil will pounce and tell you you’re no longer accepted by God.
(2) Knowing your status before God enables you to say, ‘Even though I struggle and stumble and sometimes don’t have it all together, I can go to God at any time because He chose me.’ That’s powerful! It’s information the devil doesn’t want you to have because it will change your thinking, your outlook, and your confidence level. Even though he crashed and burned and ended up smelling like the pigs he fed, the Prodigal Son could say, ‘I will arise and go to my father.’ Rejoice, God is still your ‘Father’ even though you’ve messed up. Repent, return, recommit—you’re ‘chosen and appointed.’
‘We who believe are adopted as sons.’ Galatians 4:5 AMP
The word ‘appointed’ means God has scheduled certain things to take place in your life at certain seasons. Sometimes people have to make lifestyle adjustments to accommodate an unexpected pregnancy—but nobody adopts a child by accident. Think: knowing in advance about all your weaknesses, God chose you anyway. ‘God sent His son that He might redeem those who were under the authority of the Law and lead us into becoming, by adoption, true sons of God.’ (Galatians 4:4–5 PHPS) You never have to wonder whether it’s ok to approach your heavenly Father because He’s always ready to welcome you. Your seat is reserved at the table. ‘You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.’(Psalm 23:5 NIV) That means obstacles and opposition can’t rob you of God’s blessing. Being ‘chosen and appointed’ is like having a platinum credit card: you get preferential treatment! But that doesn’t give you licence to live however you please. Some of us are like the little boy who prayed, ‘Lord, make me a good boy. But if You can’t, don’t worry—I’m having a great time the way I am!’ No, ‘the Lord disciplines those He loves, and he chastens everyone He accepts as a son.’ (Hebrews 12:6 NIV) And God’s correction isn’t rejection, it’s proof of His love! You’re not chosen and appointed based on your race, virtues, gifts, talents, looks, and intelligence. God chose you because He loves you and has a special plan for your life. And the best part is, He’s going to strengthen and equip you to fulfil it. ‘He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.’ (Philippians 1:6 NIV)
‘I chose you and appointed you.’ John 15:16 NKJV
Jesus said, ‘You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain.’ How you begin a relationship is important. All parties need to feel secure in order for it to go well. For example, when you’re invited to somebody’s home for dinner, it’s reasonable to expect that they’ll fulfil certain social obligations. You shouldn’t have to wonder if you’re welcome, or if there’ll be enough food to go around, or if there’s a place at the table for you. Those are things you might be concerned about if you stopped by uninvited.
Likewise, knowing you’ve been ‘chosen and appointed’ by God gives you confidence. It means you’re accepted; you don’t have to campaign to get elected. If you think walking to a church altar to commit your life to Christ means you chose God, think again! God chose you for two reasons: to bless you, and to make you a blessing to others (see Genesis 12:2). But in the beginning not all His blessings may be things you rejoice about. The Bible speaks of blessings that you won’t have room enough to receive (see Malachi 3:10). Sometimes God’s blessings are so overwhelming that when He starts pouring them out you think, ‘I’m not sure I can handle this.’ And you’d be right—if you had been the one who initiated the relationship! But you didn’t choose God, He chose you. And whomever He calls, He equips. All you need to do is be open and responsive. ‘Give yourselves completely… be tools in the hands of God, to be used for His good purposes.’ (Romans 6:13 TLB)
‘I said, “Here am I. Send me!”’ Isaiah 6:8 NIV
Isaiah writes, ‘Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go…!”’ (Isaiah 6:8–9 NIV) In the preceding Scriptures Isaiah was making all sorts of excuses and telling God why he wasn’t qualified to do the job. But in God’s Kingdom, your calling trumps your credentials every time! And the litmus test isn’t experience or expertise, it’s availability and teachability. If you are willing to go when God gives you the green light, He will take you to inaccessible places and do impossible things. Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Esther, Moses, Samuel, David, and Isaiah all have one thing in common. They all said, ‘Here am I.’
Isn’t it ironic that we spend so much time and energy trying to figure out how to get to where God wants us to go, when all we have to do is simply say, ‘Here am I’? It’s God’s job to get us to where He wants us to go; our job is to make ourselves available. Like a doctor on call or a police officer on duty or a firefighter on shift, it’s our readiness to respond that God is looking for. Sometimes it’s a simple prompting to go out of our way and love our next-door neighbour. Sometimes it’s a calling to move halfway around the world. But it always starts with the little three-word prayer of availability: ‘Here am I.’ That’s what Moses said at the burning bush. That’s what Caleb said when he finally set foot in the Promised Land. And that’s what God wants you to say today.
‘He has created us anew in Christ Jesus so we can do the good things He planned for us.’ Ephesians 2:10 NLT
The Bible says God ‘created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.’ These are devastating times. A billion people are hungry, millions are trafficked in slavery, and pandemic diseases are gouging entire nations. Each year nearly two million children are exploited in the global sex trade. In the few minutes it will take you to read today’s devotional, almost ninety children will die of preventable diseases. More than half of all Africans don’t have access to modern health facilities. As a result, ten million die each year from diarrhoea, acute respiratory illness, malaria and measles. And many of those deaths could be prevented by one injection.
You ask, ‘What can I do about it?’ God answers prayer, so you can pray for those who are suffering. You can give, whether it’s a lot or a little. And you can volunteer. You’re surrounded by great causes in need of people. And here’s why you should get involved: your life is racing by, and if you aren’t careful, one day you’ll look up and your one shot at life will have passed you by. Some people don’t concern themselves with such thoughts. They grind through their days without lifting their eyes to look. They live and die and never ask why. If you want your life to matter, live it in such a way that the world will be glad you did. You were created and redeemed to ‘do the good things He planned for you long ago.’ And when you stand before God, He will ask you how well you carried out your assignment, and reward you accordingly.
‘Memorise His laws and tell them to your children over and over.’ Deuteronomy 6:6–7 CEV
It’s not easy being a Christian parent in a world where peer pressure feels as if it’s crushing down on you like a million tonnes of bricks; where values are at an all-time low and immorality at an all-time high. But with God’s help you can do it! To lead your children to Christ, do these five things:
(1) Begin when they’re young, and read Bible stories to them each night. Let them hear you pray for them to know Jesus personally, constantly thanking Him for dying for their sins.
(2) As you take them to church, explain what the various actions and seasons (Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Easter, and Christmas) represent, and why they’re observed and celebrated.
(3) Be sensitive to every spiritual question they ask, and take the time to answer their questions in a way they can understand.
(4) Buy them Christian DVDs and cartoons that will present Bible truths on their level.
(5) Trust the Holy Spirit to give you wisdom at the right time to present the Gospel to them, and pray for their salvation continuously. On one occasion Evangelist DL Moody reported ‘two and one-half conversions’ at a service he conducted. Someone said, ‘I suppose you mean two adults and one child.’ ‘No,’ Mr Moody replied. ‘I mean two children and one adult. The children can give their whole lives to God, but an adult has only half a life left to give.’ And remember, the things we learn best are the things we hear most. So: ‘Memorise His laws and tell them to your children over and over.’
‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’ 1 Corinthians 15:10 NIV
We all need good role models. But when you devote your life to being like somebody else, you risk becoming something God doesn’t want you to be. Always remember, your ‘heroes’ wrestle with blind spots and character flaws too. Paul said, ‘I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.’ (1 Corinthians 15:9 NIV) The same thing with Peter: when Cornelius sent for him, we’re told that as he ‘entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.”’ (Acts 10:25–26 NIV) If you’re successful in life, you’ll adopt that same attitude. The danger in hero worship comes from forfeiting your individuality and missing the path God has mapped out for you personally.
Some of the lessons God teaches us may be similar, but another person’s purpose, gifting, journey and time-frame will be different from yours. For example, a friend starts a business and makes money, but when you quit your job and follow in his footsteps you go broke. Or a co-worker wears something that looks great on her, but on you the same outfit looks like a sack tied in the middle. God is ‘jealous’ concerning you (see Deuteronomy 4:24). Why? Because He wants to protect you from anything that would rob you of your uniqueness, or threaten your relationship with Him. Bottom line: if you want to be on safe ground, make Jesus your role model and you’ll win every time.
‘We have this treasure in earthen vessels.’ 2 Corinthians 4:7 NKJV
Christians aren’t perfect! Here’s why:
(1) Because they’re human. Yet with full knowledge of our highest potential and our lowest inclinations, God loves us unconditionally. The Bible says, ‘We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.’ And guess what? Every time you meet treasure, you bump into the earthen vessel. An earthen vessel is just a clay pot, and when it’s cracked—it’s a cracked pot! That shouldn’t discourage you; it should give you hope and cause you to say, ‘If God can use that old cracked pot, He can use me too!’
(2) Because they’re spiritually depleted. The saying goes, ‘When your outgoing exceeds your income, your upkeep becomes your downfall.’ It happens to the best-intentioned among us. In the Old Testament a prophet told a story to the king of a soldier who was commanded to deliver a prisoner to a certain destination. His orders were clear: ‘Lose the prisoner and you’ll lose your life.’ The soldier lost his prisoner. ‘While your servant was busy here and there, he was gone.’ (1 Kings 20:40 NKJV) The king, in pronouncing judgment on the soldier in the story, pronounced it on himself. So pay attention to your spiritual life and don’t let it get depleted.
(3) Because they’re asleep spiritually. It was while Samson slept that Delilah shaved the locks of power off his head and delivered him to his enemies. And it was while the servants slept that an enemy sowed tares (weeds) among the wheat crop. Two things you must stay alert to are—sin and righteousness. ‘Awake to righteousness, and do not sin.’ (1 Corinthians 15:34 NKJV)
‘Stay with the ship [or] you cannot be saved.’ Acts 27:31 NIV
Every church has problems—and the people who cause them. It has always been so. Consider the Corinthian church. Some members got drunk during communion, and others formed exclusive clubs to support their favourite preacher! One guy was even having an affair with his stepmother (see 1 Corinthians 5:1).
Sitting beside you on Sunday mornings are some very messed-up and dysfunctional folks. But God keeps working with us, because He sees our potential value to His Kingdom. After writing about murmurers, complainers, the lustful, and the greedy, Jude ends his short book with these words: ‘Unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.’ (Jude 1:24 KJV) Noah didn’t jump ship for the same reason you shouldn’t leave your church—there’s no better alternative. Paul and 275 others were in a storm that looked unsurvivable. Nevertheless he told them, ‘Stay on board.’ Does that mean it’s always wrong to leave a church? No, but make sure your reasons are Scriptural and not self-centred. You say, ‘But the pastor’s sermons are too long.’ Paul once preached so long that a man sitting in a third-storey window fell asleep, plummeted to the ground, and died. And what did Paul do? He laid hands on him, revived him, and then went back to the rest of his sermon! (see Acts 20:9–11). Seriously, if your church has problems, don’t leave; stay and pray. That’s how things get changed.
‘Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.’ Ephesians 5:25 NKJV
Before you criticise your church, remember ‘Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.’ He hasn’t given up on His church, so don’t you give up on it! And stop talking so much about what you don’t like. If your church was perfect, you’d be out of place! Noah didn’t sail on the Queen Mary; he sailed on a glorified cattle boat. Can you imagine the noise, the confusion, and the violent tossing of a ship in a storm big enough to destroy the world? And how about the smell? All those animals all cooped up! But here’s the thing—everybody inside the ark was saved while everybody outside of it was lost. The story’s told of an aristocrat bragging about his lineage and pure-blooded ancestry. Irritated, one of his listeners remarked, ‘I suppose your forebears were on board the ark with Noah!’ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘my people had their own boat!’ You may smile, but there’s only one craft that’s guaranteed to make it safely into heaven’s port, and that’s the old ship of salvation.
Do things sometimes stink in the church? Sure. Jesus issued one of His harshest rebukes to Peter, the disciple who was destined to become a leader in the church: ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on things of God, but on things of man.’ (Matthew 16:23 AMP) But the great thing is that when you mess up, the same grace that restored Peter will be there for you too. So, the word for you today is: love your church!
‘Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding.’ Hebrews 6:1 NLT
Is what worked in the past not working for you now? Maybe it’s a job you’ve outgrown, or a relationship you need to re-examine, or a method you need to change. Regardless of what it is, don’t become so settled that you can’t let go and move on when you need to. They say the hermit crab looks for a shell that fits him, and lives there until he outgrows it. At that point he has to scurry along the ocean floor and find a bigger one—a process that repeats itself throughout his entire life.
So, here’s the question: are you clinging to something that no longer fits you just because it’s easy and familiar? David said, ‘You have freed me when I was hemmed in and enlarged me when I was in distress.’ (Psalm 4:1AMPC) You must be willing to move out of your comfort zone and deal with a little ‘distress’. That’s what makes you grow. Patience and persistence are admirable qualities, but they don’t work in situations you’ve outgrown. Instead of ‘hanging in’ and trying harder, at certain points in life you have to stop and ask yourself, ‘Is this situation good for me?’ If you’re not sure, ask God for ‘an understanding heart so that you can know the difference between right and wrong.’ (1 Kings 3:9 NLT) And when He tells you what to do—do it—even though at first it won’t feel comfortable. When God says it’s time to move on, it’s because there’s another shell out there designed to fit you even better.
‘He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs.’ Acts 1:3 NKJV
Evidence of Christ’s resurrection has been examined more carefully than evidence of any other fact in history! It has been weighed and considered by some of the greatest scholars, among them Simon Greenleaf, who held first the Royall, and then the Dane, professorships of law at Harvard University from 1833 to 1848. He helped bring Harvard Law School to prominence, and is viewed as one of the greatest authorities on legal evidence in the history of the world. When Greenleaf turned his mind to the resurrection and examined it in light of all the laws of evidence, he concluded that it was a reality, that it was a historical event, and that anyone who honestly examined the evidence would be convinced this was the case. And it was for Dr Frank Morison, a British lawyer/engineer who set out to write a book repudiating the resurrection of Christ. He did, in fact, write his book—but it wasn’t the book he intended to write! As he examined the evidence, this skeptical lawyer found it so overwhelming that he was forced to accept it, and became a believer. The book he wrote, Who Moved the Stone?, details evidence of the resurrection, and the opening chapter is entitled: The Book That Refused to Be Written. A Union general in the Civil War, attorney Lew Wallace, also set out to write a book disproving the deity of Christ and His resurrection—and ended up defending it in his famous book Ben-Hur, described as ‘the most influential book of the nineteenth century’. Christ arose! Your redeemed loved ones will too, and you can spend eternity with them in God’s presence.
‘He was moved with compassion for them.’ Matthew 9:36 NKJV
The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance defines ‘compassion’ as being moved in one’s bowels (the bowels were thought to be the seat of love and pity). It shares a root with the word ‘splanchnology’, the study of the visceral [inner] parts of the body. Compassion, then, is a reaction from deep within—a kick in the gut, if you will. Perhaps that’s why we turn away when we see news reports of children starving in refugee camps, and hear about the 1.7 billion people who live on less than $1.65 a day and go to bed hungry every night. It’s too much for us—especially when we perceive the need as so overwhelming that we couldn’t begin to meet it.
But what if you could? What if you could make life better for one hurting person? ‘Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.’ (Acts 3:6–7 NKJV) What if Peter had said, ‘I have no silver or gold, so I’ll just keep my mouth shut and pass on by’? But he didn’t, and as a result a crippled man who’d sat begging for years rose up and walked into a new life.
You say, ‘But I don’t have that kind of power!’ No, but God does! And when you see someone’s need and reach out your hand to meet it—God will release His power! It’s your compassion that flips the switch. So, today, act with compassion.
‘God is our mighty fortress, always ready to help in times of trouble. And so, we won’t be afraid!’ Psalm 46:1–2 CEV
One day a woman was driving through the countryside when she saw a tornado approaching, so she hid behind her car and watched as it demolished a nearby house. Running over to what was now a hole in the ground, she saw a man hunkered down with his eyes closed. ‘Are you ok? Is there anybody down there with you?’ she asked.
‘No,’ he replied. ‘Just me and God having an urgent conversation!’
Nothing fuels prayer like real need; in a crisis even unbelievers will pray. There are some issues in life we simply can’t resolve on our own, hence the psalmist wrote, ‘When I am in trouble, I pray, knowing You will listen.’ (Psalm 86:7 CEV) Sometimes our prayers are simply cries for help meant for God’s ears only. When you’re out of options, your faith develops fast and emergencies become opportunities to experience God’s grace and power in a greater way. So, if you’re in an S.O.S. situation today, here’s a prayer God will answer: ‘Father, it feels like I’m in an impossible position with no way out. Let me feel Your presence and the encouragement of Your Spirit, reminding me that with You all things are possible to those who believe. Send the answer from Heaven to my earthly situation. From where I stand, things look hopeless. But You are the God who created the earth from nothing, and rolled back the Red Sea so Your children could cross over safely. You made the blind to see, the lame to walk, and the deaf to hear. Today I thank You that You’re my God, and that You are “always ready to help in times of trouble”.’
‘For the happy heart, life is a continual feast.’ Proverbs 15:15 NLT
The story’s told of a wise old man. Every day he and his granddaughter would sit outside his petrol station in rocking chairs, waiting to greet tourists as they passed through their small town. One day a tall man with the appearance of a tourist started looking around like he was checking out the area for a place to live. ‘So what kind of town is this anyway?’ he asked. The old man replied, ‘Well, what kind of town are you from?’ The man replied, ‘One where the people are critical of each other. It’s a real negative place to live.’ The old man said, ‘You know, that’s just how this town is too.’ Later, a family passing through also stopped for petrol. The father stepped out and asked the old man, ‘Is this town a good place to live?’ ‘Well, what about the town you’re from?’ he replied. The man said, ‘Where I’m from everyone’s close, and always willing to lend a helping hand. I really hate to leave it.’ The old man smiled and said, ‘You know what, that’s a lot like this town.’ After the family drove off, the old man’s granddaughter looked up and asked, ‘Grandpa, how come you told the first man this was a terrible place to live, and when the second family asked, you told them it was a wonderful place to live?’ The old man looked into her big blue eyes and said, ‘Sweetheart, no matter where you go, you take your attitude with you—and that’s what makes it terrible or wonderful.’ Yes, life is what you make it! Which is why the Bible says, ‘For the happy heart, life is a continual feast.’
‘Who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms.’ Acts 3:3 NKJV
Peter and John were willing to let the lame man at the temple gate interrupt their plans, and maybe make them late for ‘the hour of prayer’—which raises an important point. Is it possible to be so busy with religious activities that you don’t take time for people who are hurting? Selfishness is one of the easiest sins to commit, because when you’re busy, you’re unaware of committing it. Paul describes Jesus as ‘the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.’ (Galatians 2:20 NKJV) It seems counterintuitive, but Jesus taught that we’re more blessed when we give than when we receive. Giving fuels us; withholding drains us. Giving requires energy, and that’s not always easy, especially in stressful situations.
Motivational speaker Trudy Metzger, who had an abusive childhood, became a giver in adulthood. However, she still finds it difficult to maintain the mind-set of a giver when dealing with some of the people from her past. She admits to becoming defensive and trying to control the situation if she feels vulnerable. And when that happens, she goes from being a giver to being a taker. She writes: ‘While giving requires energy, I have to say that the situations where I become a taker leave me completely drained and “dead” inside. To be a giver brings life—like watering a plant so that it grows—but to be a taker is like sucking the water and the nutrients from the soil, leaving both the plant and the soil depleted and useless.’ Being a giver is a win-win. It helps others, plus it energises and fills you with joy.
‘He gave them his attention, expecting to receive.’ Acts 3:5 NKJV
You can’t help someone until they’re ready. That calls for knowing the difference between those who are looking for solutions, and those who may just be looking for sympathy. Before the lame man at the temple gate received his healing, ‘he gave Peter and John his attention, expecting to receive something from them.’
Note two important words:
(1) ‘Attention.’ Have you got the other person’s attention? Are they really hearing what you say, or are they so blinded by circumstances and emotion that they can’t see a way out, even though you’re clearly pointing them to it?
(2) ‘Expecting.’ The most effective thing you can do to help somebody is to build their faith. And that takes patience. One leader writes frankly about his problem with impatience when working with others: ‘Early in my career I wanted to do things as quickly as possible and move on to the next thing. If someone didn’t want to move at my speed, I breezed right past him or her. But that leadership style hindered my ability to connect with others, and my relationships suffered. The good news was that I moved fast. The bad news was that I often moved alone. Moving at the speed of another person can be exhausting. It obviously takes energy to keep up with someone who’s moving faster than we are. But isn’t it also tiring to move at a slower pace than we want to?… I find it very frustrating. It tries my patience. However, if I want to connect with people, I have to be willing to slow down and go at someone else’s pace.’ And to help people, you must be willing to do the same.
‘What I do have I give you.’ Acts 3:6 NKJV
Notice two things in this story. First: it’s important to know what you have and don’t have. ‘Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you.”’ You must become comfortable in your own skin and confident in your calling. Paul writes: ‘Don’t cherish exaggerated ideas of yourself or your importance, but try to have a sane estimate of your capabilities by the light of the faith that God has given to you all… Through the grace of God we have different gifts. If our gift is preaching, let us preach to the limit of our vision. If it is serving others let us concentrate on our service; if it is teaching let us give all we have… Let the man who is called to give, give freely; let the man who wields authority think of his responsibility… Let us have no imitation Christian love. Let us have a genuine break with evil and a real devotion to good.’ (Romans 12:6–9PHPS)
Second: learn to recognise the difference between what people want and what they truly need. Sometimes they need to be strengthened; other times they need to be stretched. Sometimes they need comfort, not correction; other times they need correction, not comfort. This lame man didn’t need a handout—he needed a hand up. And that’s what Peter gave him. ‘He took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.’ (Acts 3:7 NKJV) So, in order to help people you must love them, recognise what they need, know what you have to offer, and connect with them at the point of their need.
‘Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer.’ Acts 3:1 NKJV
The Bible says: ‘Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer… And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple…to ask alms from those who entered…who, seeing Peter and John…asked for alms… Peter said, “Look at us.” So, he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.’ (Acts 3:1–7 NKJV)
Notice two things: (1) Miracles happen in ordinary moments. This man was probably no stranger to Peter and John; they walked past him daily. But this day was different. Peter said, ‘Look at us. We have the answer you need.’ Supernatural faith rose up in Peter’s heart, causing him to see an opportunity to glorify God, and he seized it.
(2) You must be prepared when your moment comes. You can’t give what you don’t have. You can’t tell what you don’t know. You can’t share what you don’t feel. You can’t give out of a vacuum. The fact is, nothing great is created suddenly; it takes time. Three and a half years of walking with Christ, listening to His messages, and seeing His miracles had prepared the apostles for this moment. So had the ten days they’d just spent in the upper room being filled with the Holy Spirit. So, the word for you today is: to help people, you must be prepared!
‘If we can be acceptable to God by obeying the Law, it was useless for Christ to die.’ Galatians 2:21 CEV
While grace doesn’t give anyone a licence to live as they please, the judgmentalism that comes from insisting that others live by our standards has caused untold damage. Chuck Swindoll writes: ‘Legalism spreads a paralysing venom… blinds our eyes, dulls our edge and arouses pride in our heart… love is overshadowed by a mental clipboard with a long checklist requiring others to measure up… soon friendship is fractured by a judgmental attitude and a critical look. And before you conclude that you’renot guilty, observe your reaction when you meet another believer who doesn’t think, act, or dress the way you do. Even when you think you’re sophisticated enough to disguise your real feelings, they come out in the “stony stare” and the “holier than thou” attitude.’
Jesus said, ‘Don’t judge others, and God won’t judge you. Don’t be hard on others, and God won’t be hard on you. Forgive others, and God will forgive you.’ (Luke 6:37 CEV) A judgmental Christian acts as though blowing someone else’s light out will cause their light to shine brighter. But it’s not so. Paul writes, ‘If we can be acceptable to God by obeying the Law, it was useless for Christ to die.’ You say, ‘But what if someone is getting off track, or sinning intentionally?’ The Bible says, ‘If another believer is overcome by sin… humbly help that person back onto the right path… be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.’ (Galatians 6:1 NLT) When you take it upon yourself to condemn others—you are denying them the same grace you may need before the day is over.
‘I delight to do Your will.’ Psalm 40:8 NKJV
Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth, wrote: ‘Tonight I sit on the porch, our old German Shepherd dog lying at my feet. Thunder rumbles in the distance. As the storm nears he tears into the front yard to meet it… furiously doing battle. As it passes he returns to the porch, convinced he has driven it away. He’s a German guard dog, carefully trained in search and rescue, attack and obedience. Search and rescue in these mountains can come in handy. I can’t imagine an occasion on which I’d give the order to attack. But a well-trained dog can sense hostility or spot a weapon (even what resembles a weapon), in which case it’s a wise person who freezes in his tracks. But it’s the obedience training that gives real joy. To stop, to sit, to lie down, to go away, to search, to stay, to heel. A disobedient dog is not only a headache, he can be a liability. Obedience makes a dog a joy. Is it less so with God and His children? There are some I know who’ve been trained in attack. We will not mention their names—you may know a few—but they’re skilled at it. Then there are those trained in search and rescue. (I put the Salvation Armyin this group.) And there are those who’ve been trained in obedience. I think this more than anything else must give the Lord pleasure. Simple obedience; joyful, eager, unquestioning obedience. To be able to say with the psalmist, “I delight to do Your will, O my God” would be the height of training for the Christian. For this is what gives God the greatest pleasure.’
‘Offer up your prayers and requests to God.’ Philippians 4:6 CEV
The Bible says, ‘With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God. Then God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will control the way you think and feel.’(Philippians 4:6–7 CEV)
When you pray more, you worry less. That means you have a choice: either pray about it or worry about it. In prayer you give the problem to God, therefore you experience more peace of mind. Does that mean you won’t worry about the problem at all? No. It means you’ll worry about it less. While your goal is to give it completely to God and not worry about it at all, you’ll only get there step by step. God’s not asking you to exist in a state of denial. ‘Don’t worry—be happy!’ fails to appreciate the seriousness of the concerns you have. God doesn’t expect you to suddenly stop caring. Instead He offers an alternative to the pointless and exhausting habit of worry: ‘Pray without ceasing.’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17 KJV)
Does that mean a thirty-second prayer will rid you of all anxiety? No. It means start your day with prayer, and continue praying off and on throughout the day. Pray as you drive. Pray at work. Pray before your lunch break. Pray when you get that difficult phone call. Pray when you’re disappointed by something. Pray when surprises come. Pray when you triumph. Pray in the midst of painful news. Pray without ceasing—literally. Your heavenly Father, being deeply touched by your struggles, loves it when you come to Him asking for help. He’s right there, ready to step in. Just invite Him to do it.
‘She has done a beautiful thing to Me.’ Mark 14:6 NIV
Most of us are good actors, but it’s difficult to fake a reaction. And when the woman broke the alabaster jar, the reaction of the disciples is telling. ‘Why this waste?’ They thought she was pouring her perfume down the drain by pouring it at Jesus’ feet. They called it a waste, but He called it ‘a beautiful thing’. Then He went on to say, ‘Wherever the Gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.’ (Mark 14:9 NIV)
Can you imagine what this one statement did for her self-image? It had probably been years since she’d heard a kind word or a compliment. Those words could be paraphrased, ‘You may not believe in yourself, but I believe in you.’ No one can spot potential like Jesus. That’s because He’s the One who gave it to us in the first place. And that’s why God will never give up on you. It’s not in His nature (see Philippians 1:6). His ‘goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life.’ (Psalm 23:6 KJV) All you have to do is turn around. This woman was desperate enough to crash the party, and Jesus responds to desperate people. How desperate are you? Desperate enough to make a move, make a change, make a sacrifice? Desperate enough to pray through the night? Read through the Bible? Reconcile the conflict? Plead with a friend who is a lost cause? Give your life savings to a kingdom cause? The path of least resistance won’t get you to where you need to be. But if you go out of your way for God, God will go out of His way for you.
‘More than a year’s wages.’ Mark 14:5 NIV
It’s possible the alabaster jar of perfume represented every cent of this woman’s life savings. The value is evidenced by the fact that two gospel writers find it noteworthy enough to give us a written estimate: three hundred denarii—the equivalent of an entire year’s salary. Let’s get down to the bottom line. For most of us, the alabaster jar of perfume is money. It’s our nest egg. It’s our pay cheque. It’s our retirement fund. And the question is this: are you willing to give it all away? We’re not suggesting you should not pay your bills or plan for your future or take care of your family. But if God prompted you to give it all away, would you be willing to break your alabaster jar and pour it all at the feet of Jesus?
During his lifetime, John Wesley gave away approximately thirty thousand pounds. Adjusted for inflation, that’s more than $2,270,000 in today’s money. Wesley made a covenant with God in 1731 to limit his income to twenty-eight pounds a year. But the first year he made only thirty pounds, so he gave just two pounds. The next year his income doubled, and because he managed to continue living on twenty-eight pounds, he gave away thirty-two pounds. He never had more than one hundred pounds in his possession because he was afraid of storing up earthly treasure. He believed God’s blessing should result in raising our standard of giving, not our standard of living. Even when his income rose to thousands of pounds, he lived simply and gave away all surplus money. He died with a few coins in his pocket, but a storehouse of treasure in Heaven. Think about it!
‘A woman who had lived a sinful life… brought an alabaster jar of perfume.’ Luke 7:37 NIV
The Bible says, ‘A woman who had lived a sinful life… brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping… poured perfume on them.’ (Luke 7:37–38 NIV) This perfume was pure nard, a perennial herb that is harvested in the Himalayas. Half a litre of it! And the jar itself, made of translucent gemstones, was probably a family heirloom. It might even have been her dowry. Plain and simple, it was her most precious possession.
How ironic, yet how appropriate that the perfume used in her profession as a prostitute would become the token of her profession of faith when she poured out every last drop at the feet of Jesus. Breaking that bottle was her way of breaking with the past. No more masking the stench of sin with the sweet scent of perfume. No more secrets. No more shame. She walked out of the dark shadow of sin into the light of the world. There comes a moment when you have to come clean with God. A moment when you need to unveil your secrets, struggles, and sins. A moment when you need to fall full weight on the grace of God. Why do we act as though our sin disqualifies us from the grace of God? That is the only thing that qualifies us! Anything else is a self-righteous attempt to earn God’s grace. You cannot trust God’s grace 99 per cent. It’s all or nothing. When we try to save ourselves, we forfeit the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ alone, by grace through faith (see Ephesians 2:8–9).
‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.’ Galatians 2:20 NAS
When men first learned to navigate the seas by using the stars, a whole new world opened up to them. A common saying in those days was, ‘He who is a slave to the compass enjoys the freedom of the open sea.’ Make a total commitment to let Christ be your compass in life. Consult Him on every step you take. Let Him set your course and He will direct you to places of freedom and fulfillment you never knew existed. Be willing to say, like Paul, ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.’ (Galatians 2:20 NKJV)
One night Toscanini, the famous Italian conductor, led the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a very difficult piece to conduct. So majestic was the music that the audience stood for ten minutes of applause. Toscanini took his bows again and again. He turned to the orchestra; they bowed. The audience continued to clap and cheer. Finally Toscanini turned his back on the audience and speaking only to the orchestra said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I am nothing, you are nothing, Beethoven is everything!’
CS Lewis wrote, ‘To love and admire anything outside yourself is to take one step away from utter spiritual ruin; though, we shall not be well so long as we love and admire anything more than we love and admire God.’ So, kneel at the feet of Jesus today and say, ‘I am nothing; You are everything. Here are my gifts, my resources and my dreams. I lay them at Your feet. I give them all to You, holding nothing back.’
‘We will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the word.’ Acts 6:4 NKJV
In Disciplines of a Godly Man, pastor and author R. Kent Hughes says: ‘Jay Sidlow Baxter once shared a page from his own personal diary with a group of pastors who had inquired about the discipline of prayer. He began telling how… he entered the ministry determined he would be a real man of prayer. However, it wasn’t long before his increasing responsibilities, administrative duties, and the subtle subterfuges of pastoral life began to crowd prayer out. Moreover, he began to get used to it, making excuses for himself. Then one morning it all came to a head as he stood over his work-strewn desk and looked at his watch. The voice of the Spirit was calling him to pray. At the same time another velvety voice was telling him to be practical and get his letters answered, and that he ought to face the fact that he wasn’t one of the “spiritual sort”—only a few people could be like that. “That last remark,” says Baxter, “hurt like a dagger blade. I couldn’t bear to think it was true.” He was horrified by his ability to rationalize away the very ground of his ministerial vitality and power.’ Understand this: minutes invested in prayer will give you a greater return than hours spent in ceaseless activity. The New Testament apostles understood that. As the church grew bigger and they became busier, they made a life-changing decision: ‘We will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the word.’ As a result, the church grew and multiplied. So, make prayer a priority!
‘I insist on buying it, for I will not present burnt offerings to the Lord my God that have cost me nothing.’ 2 Samuel 24:24 NLT
Instead of trusting God for victory over his enemies, David decided of his own volition to count the number of troops in his army to see how strong he was. God considered it ‘a slap in the face’, and a plague hit Israel that wiped out seventy thousand people. In order to stop the plague, David was told: ‘Build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.’ (2 Samuel 24:18 NLT) When Araunah realized what was happening, he offered his threshing floor and oxen to David free of charge. But David said: ‘“No, I insist on buying it, for I will not present burnt offerings to the Lord my God that have cost me nothing.” So, David paid him fifty pieces of silver for the threshing floor and the oxen. David built an altar there to the Lord and sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings. And the Lord answered his prayer… and the plague on Israel was stopped.’(2 Samuel 24:24–25 NLT) The old Anglo-Saxon word for worship is worth-ship, which is the act of ascribing worth or value to a person or object. What’s the point? It’s this: when it comes to serving God, if it doesn’t cost—it doesn’t count! God knows we can’t all give the same amount. But what He’s asking for isn’t equal giving, but equal sacrifice! The Bible says, ‘Honour the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything.’(Proverbs 3:9 NLT) So, whether you’re worshipping, serving, or giving, make sure you’re giving God your best.
‘Honour God with your body.’ 1 Corinthians 6:20 NLT
To get the most out of the time God has given you on earth, you may need to get into better shape physically. The Bible says, ‘Honour God with your body.’
How do you do that?
(1) Change your diet. Many of us eat for the wrong reasons—like stress, boredom, fatigue, anger, depression, and low self-esteem. Try to get to the root of your problem. Insufficient fruit, vegetables, and fiber, and too much fast food can wreak havoc with your health. Practice self-control. ‘Those who belong to Christ… have given up their old selfish feelings and the evil things they wanted to do.’ (Galatians 5:24 NCV)
(2) Start exercising. The secret is to start slowly. Take the stairs instead of the lift, park your car and walk, play ball with your kids instead of watching TV. God designed your body to move, and that doesn’t mean strolling from your car to your desk every morning. Exercising three times a week for thirty minutes will reduce your blood pressure and stress, and boost your sense of well-being. Come on, get with it!
(3) Go to bed earlier. Pastor Tony Jenkins consulted his doctor about his wife’s snoring. ‘Does it really bother you that much?’ the doctor asked. ‘It’s not just me,’ Jenkins replied. ‘It’s bothering the whole congregation!’ Seriously, you require eight hours of shut-eye. You can probably get by on less, but do you want to just ‘get by’? The psalmist said, ‘It is no use for you to get up early and stay up late… The Lord gives sleep to those He loves.’(Psalm 127:2 NCV) So, turn off the TV and the computer and turn in at a reasonable hour. The word for you today is: take better care of your body!
‘The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles.’ Proverbs 18:8 NKJV
The doodlebug lives at the bottom of a little cone-shaped hole that he burrows in the sand. He gets down as low as possible so he’s always looking up at everything else. When the ant comes around and gets on the side of this carefully prepared cone, the doodlebug feels a few grains of sand slide down, which signals to him that ‘food’ is up there. At that point he begins to throw dirt on his victim. What he’s trying to do is drag the ant down to his level. And that’s what we do when we gossip. We throw dirt on others, hoping to bring them down to our level. It’s why Solomon warned: ‘The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, and they go down into the inmost body.’
The ear craves gossip like a hungry stomach craves food. Solomon goes on to give this warning: ‘He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with one who flatters with his lips.’(Proverbs 20:19 NKJV) So, if you have gossipy lips or greedy ears, God says, ‘Don’t do it!’ Here’s something you may not have considered: while you can never be known and judged by what others say about you, you can be known and judged by what you say about them. In most cases it’s illegal to steal or receive stolen goods. That’s why the apostle Paul admonished, ‘Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.’ (1 Timothy 5:19 NKJV) And one more thought: a gossip must always have an accomplice to commit the crime. So, the word for you today is: don’t receive or repeat gossip.
‘Let the Spirit direct your lives.’ Galatians 5:16 GNT
Depend on Christ’s power to help you. ‘Let the Spirit direct your lives, and you will not satisfy the desires of the human nature.’ The sequence in this Scripture is very important. ‘Let the Spirit direct your life’—that’s the first part—‘and you will not satisfy the desires of the human nature.’ Notice, it doesn’t say you won’t have those desires. Spirit-filled people still experience the desires of the flesh, it’s just that they won’t satisfy them. We usually get the sequence backward. We say, ‘I’m not good enough to have God’s Spirit in my life. Once I get my act together, then I’m going to let the Holy Spirit control my life.’
God doesn’t say, ‘Get your act together and then I will help you.’ He says, ‘Let my Holy Spirit control you while you are still struggling with the problem. I will help you change.’ The sequence makes all the difference. You wouldn’t say, ‘I’m going to get well first, then I’m going to go see the doctor.’ That’s absurd! You need Christ in your life now! He has the power to help you change. You say, ‘But I enjoy doing what I do.’ That’s because there are ‘pleasures of sin for a season.’ (Hebrews 11:25 KJV) None of us would sin if it immediately made us miserable. Don’t look for God to nullify the appeal of sin; ask Him for the power to overcome its appeal. ‘For God is at work within you, helping you want to obey Him, and then helping you do what He wants.’ (Philippians 2:13 TLB) You’ll receive the desire and the power to do what’s right.
‘Don’t give the devil a chance.’ Ephesians 4:27 GNT
Avoid the things that tempt you. Stay away from situations that weaken your self-control. If you do not want to be stung, stay away from bees. Plan in advance to avoid situations that you know are going to cause temptation in your life. Don’t keep chocolate in the cupboard if you are trying to diet. Don’t acquire credit cards if you are an impulse spender. Get rid of your access to pornography if you are struggling with it. If you are a teenager, the time to begin thinking about self-control is not when you’re in the back seat of a car with someone who turns you on.
Question: what do you need to avoid? Or get rid of? Magazines? Books? DVDs? A relationship? The Bible says, ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’ (1 Corinthians 15:33 NIV) Avoid people and situations that tempt you. You may need to change your job because a relationship there is wrong and harmful to you. That’s a drastic measure, but you may need to do something that drastic in order to avoid whatever is tempting you at this particular time. If you have lived through years of repeated failure, then it’s time to get honest. And humble. It’s time to pray: ‘Lord, I’m not strong enough to resist this temptation by myself. Help me!’ And He will! ‘I patiently waited, Lord, for You to hear my prayer. You listened and pulled me from a lonely pit full of mud and mire. You let me stand on a rock with my feet firm… Many will see this, and they will honor and trust You, the Lord God.’ (Psalm 40:1–3 CEV)
‘Share each other’s burdens.’ Galatians 6:2 NLT
Make yourself accountable to someone. Alcoholics Anonymous has a ‘buddy system’ in which you are encouraged to call someone whenever you feel the pressure building to return to an old, destructive pattern. And it’s Scriptural: ‘Share each other’s troubles.’ (Galatians 6:2 TLB) You may not like this step, but if you are fighting a losing battle you need it. Find someone who will check up on you, pray with you, and encourage you in areas where you want more self-control. ‘Two people can resist an attack that would defeat one person alone.’ (Ecclesiastes 4:12 GNT) Every church needs ‘buddy’ relationships in which people are accountable to each other; relationships in which people encourage one another in the Lord. Having someone hold you accountable is tough, but it works. What should you look for in a ‘buddy’?
First, they should be the same gender as you. You don’t need to place another temptation in your path by sharing personal problems with someone of the opposite sex.
Second, you should look for someone you can depend on to follow through on this commitment—someone who is faithful.
Third, look for someone who will keep your problem confidential. Don’t choose someone who is known to talk too much.
Fourth, tell your buddy that he or she has permission to check up on you from time to time and ask, ‘How are you doing with your problem?’ Knowing that someone will be asking about your problem is an additional incentive not to give in to temptation. That may be the extra push you need to get you moving on the road to victory and self-control.
‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ Philippians 4:13 NKJV
Start believing you can change. Your beliefs control your behavior. The way you think determines the way you feel. And when your feelings become strong enough, they determine the way you act. The person who says, ‘I can’t do it,’ and the person who says, ‘I can do it,’ are both right. Much of the time you set yourself up to be defeated by what you’re saying. Your words reinforce either your right or wrong belief system. Three times in the first epistle of Peter, God reminds us to be clear-minded and self-controlled. Why? Because a clear mind is essential to self-control. God gave us the power to change our habits when He gave us the power to choose our thoughts.
Does Romans 12:2 tell us to be transformed by working hard or by sheer willpower? No. What are we transformed by? The renewing of the mind. When your self-control is being tested, you need to fill your mind with the promises of God. Here’s one: ‘When you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.’ (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV) You must believe God when He says there’s ‘a way out’ for you. Paul writes, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ That means you can change, and you can be different. Stop setting yourself up for failure by constantly criticising yourself: ‘I’m no good. I simply have no control over my life.’ Nagging doesn’t work—on yourself or on anyone else! Instead say, ‘All things are possible to him who believes.’ (Mark 9:23 NAS) ‘And I believe.’
‘The grace of God…offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness.’ Titus 2:11–12 NIV
Talk back to your feelings. We put far too much emphasis on our feelings. We think everything has to feel good or it’s not worthwhile. We say things like, ‘I don’t feel like studying… I don’t feel like working… I don’t feel like reading my Bible.’ Or, ‘I feel like having another drink… I feel like sleeping until noon.’ Don’t give your feelings so much authority. Feelings are highly unreliable; if you allow them, they will control and manipulate you.
God doesn’t want you to be controlled by your feelings. He wants you to master your moods. With Christ as the Master of your life, you can master your feelings. Talk back to them. God says He wants you to learn how to challenge your emotions. ‘The grace of God…teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives.’ (Titus 2:11–12 NIV) God’s grace gives you the power to do what’s right. It gives you the ability to say no to that feeling, to that desire, to that impulse. Are you battling a weight problem? Before you ever walk into the kitchen and open the refrigerator door, you have already begun to talk to yourself about eating. If you are serious, you will have to challenge some of those subconscious attitudes about food. When you hear your mind saying, ‘I just have to have a snack or I’ll die,’ you have to say, ‘No, I’m not going to die. In fact, I will be healthier if I don’t have a snack.’ Bottom line: God’s supernatural power can help you to master your moods, thoughts, and desires.
‘With the Lord’s help, they will stand.’ Romans 14:4 NLT
Put your past behind you. ‘One thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal.’ (Philippians 3:13–14 NIV) This Scripture exposes a misconception that will keep you from gaining self-control: once a failure, always a failure! You may say, ‘Oh, I tried to quit my bad habit. In fact, I have tried over and over. I guess I’ll never be able to get control of this.’ That is a misconception. Paul says, ‘We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going.’ (2 Corinthians 4:9 TLB)
Have you watched a baby learning to walk? They fall down a lot, but they don’t stay down. They keep on trying, and ultimately they succeed. How far do you think they’d get if they just gave up and said, ‘Some people were meant to be walkers, and some were not’? Failure in the past does not mean you’ll never be able to change. But focusing on past failures, however, does guarantee their repetition. It is like driving a car while looking in the rear-view mirror. You’re going to collide with what’s ahead of you. You have to put your past behind you. Few people had more failures than Thomas Edison, inventor of the electric light bulb. Most of us would have given up, but not him. He once said, ‘Don’t call it a failure, call it an education! Now I know what doesn’t work!’
When you realize sin doesn’t work, it’s a defining moment and your springboard to victory. A winner is simply someone who gets back up one more time than they fall down. So, the word for you today is: ‘With the Lord’s help, you will stand.’
‘A man’s temptation is due to the pull of his own inward desires.’ James 1:14 PHPS
For the next few days let’s look at how to develop self-control. Here’s the first step: accept responsibility for your lack of self-control. Admit your problem. ‘A man’s temptation is due to the pull of his own inward desires, which can be enormously attractive.’ The main reason you do things—is because you like to! When you know something’s bad for you but you still do it, it’s because you want to. Sometimes we try to ignore the problem of self-control or deny it: ‘What problem? I don’t have a problem,’ or ‘It’s just the way I am,’ or ‘Everybody else is doing it.’ Sometimes we blame others: ‘If I just had different parents,’ or ‘The devil made me do it.’ As long as you waste your energy making excuses, you can’t make progress.
James points out that we like to take the path of least resistance, and giving in to temptation is usually the easiest course. The starting point for developing self-control is to face what God has already said in His Word: ‘Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.’ (John 8:34 NIV) Do you want more self-control? Then admit you have a problem, and be specific about it: ‘I have this problem. This is where I need help.’ You may have a problem with food, drink, drugs, words, your temper, money, exercise, sex, TV, clothes, time—all these areas need self-control. So today get down on your knees and talk to God about the problem, believing that with His help you’ll be able to solve it.
‘A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.’ Proverbs 15:1 NLT
Even in the best of marriages arguments will arise from time to time. With two people of differing temperaments, tastes, and ways of thinking, how could it be otherwise? So here are a few rules of engagement:
(1) Think before you speak. Ask yourself if fear, stress, or worry may have provoked your mate’s response. Is it bothering you right now because you are feeling insecure and unappreciated? Could you be misreading or exaggerating the problem? Take time to try and identify what’s really happening.
(2) Ask for what you need. It’s ok to admit that some days you are needier than others. When a woman feels panicked every time her husband comes home late because her father did the same and was having an affair, it’s ok to say, ‘I know it’s irrational, but I’m having a panicky day.’ That kind of honesty strengthens a relationship.
(3) Never threaten. Threats just make your mate defensive and insecure. As a result, they can’t hear what you’re saying and nothing gets resolved.
(4) Ditch the baggage from previous relationships. The Bible says, ‘Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.’ (1 Corinthians 13:7 NLT) It’s wrong to make your mate keep ‘proving’ themselves over and over again. Don’t assume that old relationship problems are destined to keep repeating themselves. They won’t if you’re communicating and growing.
(5) Say something nice to your mate every day. Any time you think something good about your spouse, stop and tell them. And when they reciprocate, respond graciously to what they’re saying. Remember, sharp words can create wounds, but ‘a gentle answer deflects anger’.
‘Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything.’ Philippians 4:6 CEV
Chuck Swindoll writes: ‘The pressures of our times have many of us caught in a web of the most acceptable, yet energy-draining sin in the Christian family: worry. Chances are good you woke up this morning, stepped out of bed, and before doing anything, strapped on your well-worn backpack of anxiety. You started the day not with a prayer on your mind, but loaded down by worry. What a dreadful habit! Jesus challenged His followers with the question, “Who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:27 NAS) Worry solves nothing. It creates unrest and uneasiness, and if left unchecked it can churn our waves of anxiety into a perfect storm of emotions. Add a little imagination and creativity, and our worst fears come to life in Technicolor brilliance. The stress from worry drains our energy and preoccupies our minds, stripping us of our peace… We fret over big things and little things. Some of us have a laundry list of concerns that feed our addiction to worry. It’s a very unattractive addiction, yet we somehow manage to make a joke out of it. I’ve heard people say with a smile, “If I don’t have something to worry about, I get worried about not having something to worry about.” Anxiety has become a favorite pastime we love to hate. And worse, we’re passing it on to our children. As they see the worry on our faces and hear it from our lips, we’re mentoring them in the art of anxiety.’
So, what’s the answer? ‘Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything.’
‘Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.’ Psalm 56:3 NKJV
Faith is like a muscle; trouble may strain it, but in the end it grows stronger. David understood this truth. He was continually hounded by his enemies. Even as he was being anointed to sit on the throne of Israel, Saul was still occupying it. But instead of losing faith in God’s promise, David declared: ‘The Lord has chosen everyone who is faithful to be His very own, and He answers my prayers.’ (Psalm 4:3 CEV) When the Philistines captured him, he prayed, ‘There are many who fight against me, O Most High. Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.’ (Psalm 56:2–3 NKJV) When he ended up in a cave fleeing from Saul’s jealous rage, he said, ‘I will hide beneath the shadow of Your wings until this storm is past.’ (Psalm 57:1 TLB)
During the third century when Felix of Nola was running from his enemies, he is said to have taken refuge in a cave. A spider began to weave a web across the small opening, sealing it off and making it look like nobody had been inside for months. Consequently, his pursuers passed by. Stepping out into the sunshine, Felix declared, ‘Where God is, a spider’s web is a wall. And where God is not, a wall is a spider’s web.’ Jesus said you’d have problems in life; people will disappoint you, and you’ll even disappoint yourself. Sometimes you’ll end up in a cave because of something you did, or because of circumstances over which you have no control. But with God on your side, you can say, ‘Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.’
‘Just take your positions and watch the Lord rescue you from your enemy.’ 2 Chronicles 20:17 CEV
When you doubt God, you disappoint Him—because He deserves better. So, you must seek to strengthen your faith, because faith honors God and God honors faith. And He will send opportunities disguised as problems designed to strengthen your faith. When Job lost his health, his wealth, and his children, the Bible says he ‘fell to the ground and worshipped.’ (Job 1:20 NKJV) Job didn’t worship God because of his circumstances, but in spite of them. Notice the two things he did:
(1) He looked up. He recognized God’s sovereign right to decide all things. He trusted God’s loving character and believed He would ultimately do what was best for him. And you must do that too!
(2) He listened for a word. He realized this testing time was also a teaching time, so he declared, ‘He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.’ (Job 23:10 NKJV) Like gold being processed by the refiner, Job trusted God to bring out the best in him. Was it easy to do? No.
We want to cling to the familiar and return to the safety of yesterday, even though we know it’s not what God wants for us. The fears, surprises, and adversity that lie around the bend make us want to cut and run. But if you do, you’ll short-circuit God’s plan for your life. What should you do instead? Take your stand in faith: ‘Just take your positions and watch the Lord rescue you from your enemy.’ Whatever you are going through right now, remember that God is ‘with you’.
‘Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.’ Hebrews 11:2 NLT
The Bible says: ‘Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.’ (Hebrews 11:1–2 NLT) The heroes of faith listed in Hebrews chapter eleven were far from perfect. Noah believed God, built the ark, and saved his family. But when he came out of the ark he got drunk. Abraham was known as a ‘friend of God’, yet he lied to save his own neck and ended up compromising his wife’s safety. When God told Sarah she’d give birth to a child at ninety years old, she laughed—and you’d probably have done the same. And how about Joseph? He was a slave with a prison record who ended up second-in-command when it came to ruling Egypt.
Then there’s Rahab the harlot; we wouldn’t let her sing in the church choir, yet God listed her as a woman of great faith. And how about Jacob, who duped his brother and deceived his father-in-law in business in order to enrich himself? Would you do business with him? Then there was King David, whose womanizing led to murder and national scandal. Even Gideon and Samuel, two spiritual giants, raised children who went astray spiritually. Every one of these people was as human as you are. They faltered, fumbled the ball, and went through times of failure. Their only claim to fame is they believed God and He honored their faith—and He will do the same for you each time you put your trust in Him.
‘You sent help more than once.’ Philippians 4:16 NLT
Charles Swindoll tells the story of the giving tree: ‘When the boy was young he swung from the tree’s branches, ate her apples, and slept in her shade… But as he grew up he spent less and less time with the tree. “Come on, let’s play,” said the tree. But the young man was only interested in money. “Then take all my apples and sell them,” said the tree. The man did, and the tree was happy. He didn’t return for a long time, but the tree smiled when he passed by one day. “Come on, let’s play!” But the man, older and tired of the world, wanted to get away from it all. “Cut me down. Take my trunk, make a boat, then you can sail away,” said the tree. The man did, and the tree was happy. Many seasons passed—and the tree waited. Finally the man returned, too old to play, or pursue riches, or sail the seas. “I have a pretty good stump left. Sit down here and rest,” said the tree. The man did, and the tree was happy.’ Swindoll continues: ‘I stared into the fire, reviewing my life as I grew older with the tree and the boy. I identified with both—and it hurt. How many giving trees have there been? How many people have given themselves so I might grow, accomplish my goals, and find wholeness and satisfaction? Thank you, Lord, for each one. That night I crawled into bed. I had wept, now I was smiling. “Good night, Lord.” I was a humble man. Thankful I’d taken time to reflect.’
‘To Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think…be glory…forever and ever.’ Ephesians 3:20–21 NKJV
Israel’s journey from Egypt to the Promised Land illustrates three different places you can choose to live:
(1) The place of ‘not enough’. As slaves in Egypt they were forced to depend on Pharaoh for everything. And when you have to keep relying on anyone but God, you’re not truly free. Until you understand that God is your provider, you’ll live with a ‘not enough’ mentality. Elijah was living by a stream in the middle of a famine, and ravens brought him meat each day. Then one day the ravens didn’t show up, and the brook dried up. Why? God dried up a temporary source to drive Elijah back to his true source. Understand this: regardless of what or whom He uses—God is your source. He is called ‘Jehovah Jireh’, which means the Lord will provide.
(2) The place of ‘just enough’. In the wilderness Israel had just enough manna for each day. It’s no fun struggling to just get by. But we appreciate what we have to struggle for, and we learn to trust God more. Plus, living through such seasons builds into us a tenacity to keep moving towards better things.
(3) The place of ‘more than enough’. God’s plan for Israel was ‘a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing.’(Deuteronomy 8:9 NKJV) And His goal for you is abundance in every area of life (see 2 Corinthians 9:8 NIV). Is that so you can hoard it? No, it’s so you can bless others and fulfill your assignment in life.
So, stand on this Scripture: ‘To Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us… be glory… forever.’
‘Do not be afraid of sudden fear.’ Proverbs 3:25 NAS
In the Bible panic attacks are referred to as ‘sudden fear’. You can’t breathe, your palms sweat, your chest gets tight, and you feel weak. If you’ve ever experienced a panic attack, you’ll recognize these symptoms. Doctors estimate that in our stress-filled world, about a third of us experience at least one panic attack a year. If you are one of them, here are some things you can do to help yourself:
(1) Breathe deeply. Panic makes you breathe in short, shallow bursts, whereas breathing deeply helps to calm and relax you. So, when you start to feel overwhelmed, stop and breathe the name of Jesus. Try it; it works!
(2) Talk to yourself. Say, ‘By God’s grace I can handle this’ (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). If you respond with more panic, you’ll just end up in double trouble. Allowing yourself to feel panic without reacting to it may sound difficult at first, but it helps you break the cycle and take control of your thinking.
(3) Do something calming. This may be the last thing you feel like doing, because panic attacks make you instinctively think thoughts that feed your fear. So, take a minute and whisper a prayer, quote a Scripture, listen to inspirational music, or talk to a friend. And if your panic attacks continue, there’s no shame in getting professional help. After all, it’s God who gives doctors the skills and abilities to intervene. Here’s a Scripture you should write down and keep handy: ‘You can go to bed without fear, you will lie down and sleep soundly. You need not be afraid of sudden disaster… for the Lord is your security.’ (Proverbs 3:24–26 NLT)
‘I am the good shepherd.’ John 10:11 KJV
You never get a second chance to make a good first impression. Your message may be wonderful and much needed by the hearer, but the look on your face can turn people off before you open your mouth. Ever notice how many people have bad memories of growing up in church? They recall stern, severe, strange-looking people who passed condemnation on the world at large. What a disservice to God!
A little girl once saw a mule looking over a fence. Patting him on the head, she said, ‘It’s ok; my aunt is religious too!’ Jesus said, ‘I am the good shepherd.’ The word ‘good’ comes from the Greek word kalos, which means ‘winsome’ [attractive, pleasant, engaging]. Jesus’ attitude won people over every time! What we say accounts for 7 percent of what people believe. How we say it accounts for 38 percent. What they see accounts for 55 percent. Amazingly, more than 90 percent of the nonverbal cues we give off have nothing to do with what we actually say! So, if you think communication is just about words, you’re missing the boat, and the chances are you’ll have a hard time connecting with others.
A member of his staff once asked Abraham Lincoln to give a friend of his a job. After interviewing the man, Lincoln turned him down. Asked why, he replied, ‘Because I didn’t like the look on his face.’ The White House staffer protested, ‘That’s not fair! Nobody’s responsible for the look on their face.’ Lincoln replied, ‘That’s where you’re wrong. Everyone over forty is responsible for the look on their face.’ So: what does your facial expression say to others?
‘Let your light shine before men.’ Matthew 5:16 NAS
Jesus said, ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.’ (Matthew 5:16 NKJV) When you’re in darkness, you see the light before you see the carrier of the light, right? The old saying, ‘First impressions are lasting impressions,’ is true. John Maxwell quotes a communications expert: ‘You’ve got just seven seconds to make the right first impression. As soon as you make your entrance, you broadcast verbal and nonverbal signals that determine how others see you. In business those crucial first seven seconds can decide whether you win that new account, or succeed in a tense negotiation. Are you confident? Comfortable? Sincere? Glad to be there? In that first seven seconds, you shower your audience with subtle “clues”. And whether people realize it or not, they respond immediately to your facial expressions, gestures, stance, and energy. They react to your voice—the tone and pitch. Audiences, whether one or one hundred, instinctively size up your motives and attitudes.’
Whether you’re speaking, selling, interviewing, or dating, your appearance, attitude, and approach make all the difference in the world. People can tell a lot in seven seconds. They may decide they don’t want to hear anything you have to say, or they may be struck by how much they’re drawn to you. Henry Ward Beecher said: ‘There are persons so radiant, so genial, so kind, so pleasure-bearing, that you instinctively feel in their presence that they do you good, whose coming into a room is like bringing a shining lamp there.’
‘Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart.’ Jeremiah 15:16 NAS
People in Bible times dealt with depression too. Consider Elijah. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said, ‘Take my life.’ (1 Kings 19:4 NIV). Job said, ‘I loathe my very life.’ (Job 10:1 NIV) The psalmist wrote, ‘My soul is downcast.’ (Psalm 42:6 NIV) Now, when you’re clinically depressed you should seek professional help. But the kind of depression we’re talking about here is when your motivation is drained, your desire to pursue God is gone, your conversations have turned sour, you’re blind to your blessings, your enthusiasm is forced, and you’re in a daze regarding the future.
Here are some possible causes:
(1) Sin. Sin is like a stone in your shoe; you’ll have no peace until you get it out. No holiday, job change, relationship change, or doctor will heal it. But the blood of Jesus will cleanse it (1 John 1:7).
(2) Greed. King Ahab’s obsession with owning Naboth’s vineyard made him miserable and affected his entire family (1 Kings 21:4).
(3) Comparisons. Constantly comparing yourself to others will depress you (2 Corinthians 10:12).
(4) Speaking negatively. ‘The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.’ (Proverbs 18:21 NLT)
(5) Fatigue. Jesus called His disciples aside to rest. Why? Because He recognized that when fatigue walks in, faith walks out (see Mark 6:31).
(6) Unforgiveness. When you refuse to forgive someone, you carry them like an albatross around your neck. So, what’s the remedy for depression? Often it starts with prayer and Bible reading. Jeremiah, who battled depression, wrote, ‘When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight.’ (Jeremiah 15:16 NIV)
‘Learn to sense what is vital and approve and prize what is excellent and of real value.’ Philippians 1:10 AMPC
To achieve greater self-discipline, you should:
(1) Start your day by doing the hard things first. And when you get side-tracked, make yourself go back and complete them. For example, make your bed, pick up your clothes, and wash the dishes; don’t make extra work for others. And don’t start several projects at once; the feeling of ‘getting something done’ will help you grow in self-respect and self-discipline.
(2) Make a commitment to be punctual. Tardiness is a hard habit to break. To conquer it you must be willing to call it what it often is—inconsiderate, selfish behavior.
(3) Plan ahead. Everything takes longer than you think, so don’t wait until the last minute and then rush around like a chicken with its head cut off. ‘Living under the gun’ can give you ulcers, whereas allowing extra time is good for your health and peace of mind.
(4) Accept correction from those who care about you, without sulking or retaliating. Until you’re willing to take correction, you’ll never be qualified to give it. The Bible says, ‘Wisdom is found in those who take advice’(Proverbs 13:10 NIV), so if you’re wise you’ll welcome feedback and seek counsel.
Ask God to help you control your unruly thoughts, feelings, desires, and behaviors. Identify the unmanageable areas in your life, stop making excuses, face the truth even if it hurts, refuse to feel sorry for yourself, and set a few attainable goals. In other words: ‘Learn to sense what is vital and approve and prize what is excellent and of real value.’
‘God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well.’ Romans 12:6 TLB
Paul writes: ‘Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function… We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In His grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.’ (Romans 12:4–6 NLT) Dr. John Maxwell recommends that you work where you’re strongest 80 percent of the time, where you’re learning 15 percent of the time, and where you’re weakest 5 percent of the time.
So, what are your strengths? To find the answer to that question, you must:
(1) Be secure. If you allow your insecurities to get the better of you, you’ll become inflexible and resistant to change. And if you don’t change you won’t grow.
(2) Get to know yourself. Spend time exploring your gifts, ask for feedback and receive it, and be honest about your blind spots.
(3) Trust your leader. If you can’t trust the person you’re following, you should look for someone you can trust, or get on another team.
(4) See the big picture. Your place on any team only makes sense in the context of the big picture. If your sole reason for finding your niche is personal gain, your wrong motives will rob you of the very joy, fulfillment, and success you desire.
(5) Rely on your experience. The only way to know you’ve discovered your niche is to try things, take risks, learn from your failures and successes, and discover what God has gifted you to do.
‘The godly love to give!’ Proverbs 21:26 NLT
The level of financial blessing God will entrust to you depends on three questions:
(1) Are you mature enough to handle it?
(2) Are you hoping to reap but unwilling to sow?
(3) Are you a hoarder or a giver?
God knows we can’t all give the same amount. Jesus honored a widow for giving her last two coins, saying: ‘they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.’ (Mark 12:44 NLT) On the other hand, businessman Barnabas ‘sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.’ (Acts 4:37 NIV) The more God blesses you with, the more He holds you accountable for. Jesus said, ‘Much is required from those to whom much is given.’ (Luke 12:48 TLB)
At offering time, a pastor told his congregation to reach out and grab the wallet or purse of the person sitting in front of them. ‘Now,’ he said, ‘open it up and give as much as you’ve always wanted to give but felt you couldn’t afford!’ The truth is, we’re not all called to give equally but we’re all called to sacrifice equally. That levels the playing field. Isn’t it interesting how you can go to dinner at the home of somebody who doesn’t have a lot, and leave feeling like royalty because of their hospitality? That’s because the essence of generosity is self-sacrifice. God entrusts financial blessing to people who aren’t controlled by the love of money. How can you tell when you’re controlled by the love of money? Because instead of giving when God tells you to, you withhold. Understand this: when God impresses on you to sow a seed, there’s a harvest coming your way.
‘Gather in all the food produced in the good years… Otherwise this famine will destroy the land.’ Genesis 41:35–36 NLT
Joseph gave Pharaoh some sound financial advice that we would all do well to live by: ‘Gather into the royal storehouses all the excess crops of the next seven years, so that there will be enough to eat when the seven years of famine come. Otherwise, disaster will surely strike.’ (Genesis 41:35–36TLB) And how did Pharaoh respond? ‘Joseph’s suggestions were well received by Pharaoh.’ (Genesis 41:37 TLB)
You’re making wise choices for your future if you practice these three Scriptural principles:
(1) Tithe. If you’re giving your ‘leftovers’ to God, what are you telling Him about your priorities? That He’s last and least? ‘“Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in My Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of Heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put Me to the test!”’ (Malachi 3:10 NLT)
(2) Save. Discipline yourself to save a percentage of your income. Don’t worry if it’s a modest amount, just make it a priority! If you don’t, you’ll spend it on other things and never achieve your long-term goals for college, retirement, or helping the work of the Lord.
(3) Get out of debt. After giving to God and saving for the future, strive to pay off all your financial obligations. Stop paying the bare minimum on your credit cards. By not repaying them in full every month, you end up paying much more than you should. Put as much as you can towards eliminating outstanding debt, even if you have do without a few things for a while. In the long run, you’ll be way ahead.
‘The wise have wealth… but fools spend whatever they get.’ Proverbs 21:20 NLT
It’s foolish to buy things you don’t need and can’t afford, especially when your bills are overdue and you’ve nothing set aside for the future. Your financial security is determined by what you owe, not by what you earn! Having to work for years to repay debt severely limits your options.
So, determine your lifestyle by your actual income, not by what you wish it was or hope it will be. And when you get a raise, don’t automatically spend more. The Bible says, ‘There is precious treasure… in the dwelling of the wise, but a foolish man squanders it.’ (Proverbs 21:20 NKJV) One of the wisest things you can do today is to start saving for the future, and sowing a portion of your income into God’s Kingdom (see 2 Corinthians 9:6).
Author John Kennedy writes: ‘Peddling biblically-based financial advice has become a cottage industry. It’s not that the counsel is new, or that people haven’t heard it enough. The fact remains… Christians have racked up debt with no plan for financial accountability… they’re tapped out keeping up with interest payments.’ Is your philosophy in life, ‘Why wait and save, when a credit card will let me have what I want right now?’
If you’re buying things you don’t need with money you don’t have, stop it! Before you purchase anything else, ask yourself if you really need it. And even if you think you do, ask yourself if you can live without it for a while; otherwise you’ll become a slave to credit card debt. Here’s some sound financial advice: pray for God’s guidance before you make any non-essential purchase.
‘Straining towards what is ahead, I press on.’ Philippians 3:13–14 NIV
Developing your faith is like taking swimming lessons. Observe:
(1) Fear is like water; if you let it, it will take you under.
(2) You can only tread water for so long before you drown.
(3) When you reach a certain point, there’s no turning back.
(4) Faith is like the air in your lungs; it will sustain you and keep you afloat if you just relax.
Have you ever watched a seasoned swimmer? Stroke after stroke, he takes what’s in front of him and pushes it behind him, letting it propel him towards his goal. He literally takes what stands between him and his goal, and uses it to get there. Sometimes we despair and say, ‘I’m just keeping my head above water,’ and that’s ok as long as you keep ‘stroking’ and pressing on. It’s when you feel backed into a corner with nowhere to turn, that you’ve got to take hold of the faith God has placed within you and keep moving forward. Jesus said, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.’ (Matthew 11:12 ESV) The word ‘violence’suggests ferocity, passion, and intensity. You must be relentless and fight your way through, confident that God is on your side—because He is (see Psalm 56:9). The waters you’re in don’t determine your destiny; they either carry you over or take you under. It takes faith to keep going. When you quit, God can do nothing more for you! So today whether you’re doing breaststroke, backstroke, or some other kind of stroke that nobody’s ever heard of—keep pressing on.
‘Few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you.’ 1 Corinthians 1:26 NLT
Max Lucado writes: ‘Edith Hayes was a spry eighty-year-old with thinning white hair, a wiry five-foot frame, and an unquenchable compassion for South Florida’s cancer patients. I was fresh out of seminary in 1979 and sitting in an office of unpacked boxes when she walked in and introduced herself. “My name is Edith, and I help cancer patients.” She extended her hand. I offered a chair. She politely declined. “Too busy. You’ll see my team here at the church building every Tuesday morning. You’re welcome to come, but if you do we’ll put you to work.” Her team, I came to learn, included a hundred or so silver-haired women who occupied themselves with the unglamorous concern of sore-seepage. They made cancer wounds their mission, stitching together truckloads of disposable pads each Tuesday, and then delivering them to patients throughout the week. Edith rented an alley apartment, lived on her late husband’s pension, wore glasses that magnified her pupils, and ducked applause like artillery fire.’
Edith’s story does away with the excuse, ‘I’m too old to do something for God.’ Noah was over six hundred years old when he came out of the ark and helped to start the human race all over again. If you’re an older person, think about it this way: you’re a walking repository of decades of wisdom and knowledge. So, before you leave this earth, endeavor to give to others what God has entrusted to you. Right now, somebody, somewhere, needs something you have, and if you ask God, He will show you who they are. When He does—get involved!
‘You will be My witnesses.’ Acts 1:8 NIV
A witness is someone who sees and experiences an event, then testifies to it in court in a way that convinces others. And that’s what you have been called to do! You say, ‘But I don’t feel qualified.’ God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. And don’t let Satan convince you otherwise, because he will try. He will tell you God has an IQ requirement, or an entry fee; that He employs only specialists, experts, and high-powered personalities. No, Jesus said to His disciples, ‘You will be My witnesses… to the ends of the earth.’ You uneducated and simple folk. You temperamental net casters and tax collectors. ‘You will be my witnesses.’
The one thing the disciples had going for them was their willingness to take a step when Jesus said, ‘Follow Me.’ So, if you’re more plumber than executive, or more blue jeans than blue blood, you’re qualified! ‘Few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And He chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.’ (1 Corinthians 1:26–27 NLT)
So, pray: ‘Lord, You’ve called me into Your Kingdom to serve You in this specific place, at this specific time, and for this specific purpose. Despite my ordinariness I belong to You—and You are anything but ordinary! Today help me to pour out Your grace and compassion upon others, that they too may experience the richness of Your love.’
‘Perhaps the Lord will act on our behalf.’ 1 Samuel 14:6 NIV
During the early days of Saul’s kingship, the Philistines controlled much of Israel, and battle lines were drawn at the pass called Michmash. Saul seemed content to sit on the sidelines, but Jonathan wanted to be on the front line. ‘Come, let’s go over to the Philistine outpost on the other side.’ (1 Samuel 14:1 NIV)
There was only Jonathan and his armor-bearer, so the odds didn’t look good. But when you make a move that is motivated by God’s glory, it moves the heart and hand of God. What it requires is a step of faith. And often it’s the longest, hardest and scariest step you’ve ever taken. Usually when Israel’s kings went into battle it was because they had received a word from the Lord assuring their victory. Jonathan had received no such word. He simply said, ‘Perhaps the Lord will act on our behalf.’ Most people operate out of the opposite mentality: ‘Perhaps the Lord won’t act on our behalf.’ They let fear dictate their decisions instead of faith. So, they end up with Saul, sitting on the sidelines.
And how did the battle turn out for Jonathan and his armor bearer? ‘So the Lord saved Israel that day.’ (1 Samuel 14:23 ESV) All it took was one daring decision! That’s all it ever takes. When you move, God will move on your behalf. And if you don’t move, you’ll always wonder ‘what if?’ Often our longest regrets are our inaction regrets—the things we would have, could have, or should have done but did not do. So, the word for you today is: trust God, and act!
‘They shall come back from the land of the enemy.’ Jeremiah 31:16 NKJV
Are you living under a cloud of guilt, feeling like a failure because your child has gone astray? Don’t do it! The Bible teaches that sometimes children simply won’t listen to the counsel of their parents. Solomon was probably giving a word of personal testimony when he wrote, ‘A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.’(Proverbs 13:1 NKJV)
Jesus didn’t hold the father accountable for the fact that his prodigal son went astray (see Luke 15:11). And if you did your best, God doesn’t hold you accountable either. The truth is that bad parents sometimes turn out good children, and good parents sometimes have children who go bad. God’s first two children were placed in a perfect paradise, yet they rebelled. Ultimately, we’re all given the power to choose. There comes a time when every child is no longer a child, and has to take responsibility for his or her actions. So, if you’ve done your best as a parent, don’t let the devil put a guilt trip on you.
And if you’ve failed as a parent, it’s not the unpardonable sin. Not only will God forgive you, but you can also claim this wonderful promise: ‘Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded, says the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope in your future… that your children shall come back to their own border.’ (Jeremiah 31:16–17 NKJV) Don’t give up on your children, because God hasn’t. Keep praying and believing, and allow Him to work on them.
‘I was not aware of it.’ Genesis 28:16 NIV
One night Jacob had a dream. He saw a ladder with angels on it extending all the way up to Heaven, and God said to him, ‘I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.’ (Genesis 28:15 NIV) The next morning Jacob said, ‘The Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.’
When it comes to recognizing God at work in your life, you can be spiritually tuned in, or be like Jacob and not be ‘aware’ of Him. It was business as usual for Moses the day he noticed the burning bush—not an uncommon sight in a hot desert climate. Except this time the bush kept burning, and ‘when the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him.’ (Exodus 3:4 NKJV) You’ll have some of your greatest encounters with God in the everyday experiences of life. But you have to be open and receptive, otherwise you’ll miss Him. Whether we’re aware of Him or not, God is constantly trying to catch our attention—every single moment! He wants to draw us into ever-deeper relationship with Him.
And you never know where He’ll appear, or through whom He’ll speak. After the resurrection, Mary Magdalene thought Jesus was just the gardener. Paul writes, ‘Wake up, sleeper.’ (Ephesians 5:14 NIV) You can be awakened by a miraculous healing, a restored relationship, or even a great trial. Don’t just look for God in your triumphs; look for Him in your troubles too. Theologian Frederick Buechner said, ‘There is no event so commonplace but that God is present, leaving you room to recognize or not to recognize Him.’
‘The wife must respect her husband.’ Ephesians 5:33 NLT
Paul writes, ‘The wife must respect her husband.’ Pay close attention to the word ‘must’. This is a command from the Lord, not a suggestion or a topic that’s open to debate (see Ephesians 5:33). Notice, the Bible doesn’t say a woman must ‘love’ her husband, but it does say that she must ‘respect’ him.
And guys, before you take the throne and start handing out decrees, that means you must prove yourself worthy of respect! To respect your husband is to hold him in esteem and honor. What a woman needs from a man is located in her heart, and what a man needs from a woman is located in his head. It’s called his ego.
You say, ‘I’m not going to feed his ego!’ That would be like your husband saying, ‘I’m not going to feed your heart.’ Men long to have their egos fed. When you fail to feed your husband’s ego, he may end up vulnerable to somebody else who feeds it for him! As a wife, you were created by God with the ability to feed your husband’s ego in a healthy manner, by respecting and honoring him. There’s nothing more dangerous in a marriage relationship than disrespect. When a man doesn’t feel respected, he will either rebel against you, remove himself, or become passive. God has given two simple rules for building a successful marriage. The first is for husbands to love their wives, and the second is for wives to respect their husbands. And when you operate by God’s rules you get God’s results. So, if you want God’s best, and His blessing at home, start doing things His way.
‘Being heirs together of the grace of life.’ 1 Peter 3:7 NKJV
A good marriage is built on mutual sacrifice. Adam had to sacrifice something near and dear to him in order to get Eve—a rib. And your wife will know you love her when you’re willing to give up things that are important to you in order to meet her needs and promote her well-being. Too many men want to be married but still function as singles. They don’t want to sacrifice any time, attention, or resources for the benefit of their wives. They don’t want a wife; they want a maid. They want to marry someone so they can be served. No—it’s the opposite! The Bible says you and your wife are ‘heirs together’. That means she is an equal partner. So, her opinions, thoughts, and perspectives matter. Yes, as the leader of your home you may make the final decision, but when you don’t get your wife’s input and consider her viewpoint, holy wedlock can turn into unholy deadlock.
Your wife will respond to you when she feels cherished and valued (see Ephesians 5:29). You say, ‘But my wife’s as cold as ice.’ How did she get that way? Ice only stays icy in a cold environment. So instead of complaining, work at changing your environment. Husbands are thermostats and wives are thermometers. Husbands determine the climate and wives thrive or shrivel accordingly. There’s a reason your wife is ‘cold’. And there’s a solution: warm her up and watch her melt! When you begin to love, nurture, cherish, and protect her as Christ did the church, you’ll have a whole new woman in your arms. Try it and see.
‘Husbands, love your wives.’ Ephesians 5:25 ESV
We sometimes throw the word ‘love’ around loosely, leaving it to be defined in many different ways. People say things like, ‘I love chocolate cake,’ or ‘I love football,’ or ‘I love that television show.’ What they really mean is they ‘like’ and ‘enjoy’ these things.
The Bible’s definition of love goes much deeper than what entertains and excites us, or even what makes us feel emotionally attached to one another. To love someone is to pursue their well-being and make it a priority. Love’s first concern is always: ‘How does this action contribute to my partner’s well-being?’ If it doesn’t—or if it does the opposite—then it isn’t love. The Bible says, ‘Husbands…love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her… In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it.’ (Ephesians 5:25–29 NLT) As a husband, you can learn two things from these Scriptures:
(1) We are all innately selfish. So, your greatest challenge will always be to put your wife’s interests ahead of your own, and be willing to sacrifice your own agenda to do it.
(2) We must practice being sensitive. Think how sensitive you are to the aches and needs of your own body, and apply that same principle to caring for your wife. You say, ‘That’s a tall order!’ Yes, and the God who commands you to do it will give you the grace to do it day by day. So, draw on His grace!
‘For those who are married, I have a command that comes not from me, but from the Lord.’ 1 Corinthians 7:10 NLT
Having God’s blessing on your marriage is contingent upon your operating according to His rules. To enjoy His protection, peace and prosperity you must follow His instructions. For example, you can spend hours arguing and still not resolve the issue. Whereas, if you’d just followed God’s rules, the argument could have been over in a matter of minutes. And both parties would have been satisfied at the end of the process.
When your car breaks down, you take it back to the dealership. Why? Because they sold it to you and they know how to fix it! God performed the first marriage. So, when your relationship gets into trouble, if you’re wise you’ll talk to Him about it before talking to each other. Furthermore, when you get married with the attitude, ‘If this doesn’t work out I can always get a divorce,’ you’re running in the opposite direction from the truth of God’s Word.
Paul writes: ‘For those who are married, I have a command that comes not from me, but from the Lord. A wife must not leave her husband. But if she does leave him, let her remain single or else be reconciled to him. And the husband must not leave his wife.’ (1 Corinthians 7:10–11 NLT) Yes, there are some acceptable reasons for divorce, but they are the exception and not the rule! A Hollywood celebrity spent millions of dollars on her wedding and then divorced her husband just over two months later on the grounds of ‘incompatibility’. When you say, ‘Till death us do part,’ you say it before God and you’re supposed to mean it.
‘When he had found one pearl of great price… [he] sold all that he had and bought it.’ Matthew 13:46 NKJV
In one of the most unique corporate take-overs ever, Stanley Tam legally transferred 51 percent of the shares of his company to God. He started United States Plastic Corporation with thirty-seven dollars in capital. When he gave his business back to God, annual revenues were less than two hundred thousand dollars. But Stanley believed God would bless his business, and he wanted to honor God from the get-go.
At that point, most of us would have been patting ourselves on the back. Not Stanley. He felt convicted for keeping 49 percent to himself. After reading the parable of the merchant who sold everything to obtain the pearl of great price, he made a decision to divest himself of all his shares. He said, ‘A man can eat only one meal at a time, wear only one suit of clothes at a time, drive only one car at a time. All this I have. Isn’t that enough?’ So on 15 January 1955, every share of stock was transferred to God, and Stanley became a salaried employee of the company he started. Before he was through, Stanley gave away more than 120 million dollars to the cause of Christ. If you want to measure the depth of your love for Christ, look at your calendar and your credit card statement. They don’t lie. How you spend your time and money are the two best barometers of your true priorities. Is Christ your pearl of great price? He wants to be. He deserves to be.
‘…the Spirit of God moved…’ Genesis 1:2 KJV
Christ’s disciples left everything to follow somebody they didn’t begin to comprehend. They dreamed of a Messiah who would establish a kingdom to overthrow Rome, so His crucifixion blew their minds. So did His resurrection, because they had to preach a message that would cost them their lives. Sometimes they didn’t know what to make of Jesus: ‘…the disciples saw Him walking on the sea… “It is a spirit,” they cried out.’(Matthew 14:26 KJV) When He ate with them on the shore following His resurrection, ‘None…dared ask Him, “Who are You?” knowing that it was the Lord.’ (John 21:12 NKJV) If you’re going to walk with God get ready to have your faith stretched.
The first thing we read about God in Scripture is that He ‘moved’. If you plan to move with Him this year, you must overcome two things.
First, complacency. Scientists conducted an experiment with an amoeba in a stress-free environment. The conditions were ideal; it had no adjustments whatsoever to make. But it died. Why? Because change and challenge are as necessary as food and water. Complacency can kill! Second, you must avoid complaining. Failure to acknowledge God’s goodness caused Israel to go in circles for 40 years: ‘These things happened to them as…warnings for us.’ (1 Corinthians 10:11 NIV)
Two children sat down to lunch. One opened his lunchbox and moaned, ‘Ham sandwiches again? This is the fourth day in a row. I’m sick of ham sandwiches!’ His friend said, ‘I bet if you tell your mum you don’t like ham sandwiches she’ll make you something else.’ ‘Mum?’ replied the first child. ‘I make my own lunches.’ Hello! Have a problem with complaining? Fix it! Make up your mind to move with God!
‘You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory.’ Revelation 4:11 NKJV
A Christian farmer supposedly taught his horse to start and stop, using words from the Bible. When he wanted the horse to go, he would shout, ‘Praise the Lord.’ When he wanted the horse to stop, he would shout, ‘Hallelujah.’ All went well until one day a thunderbolt caused the horse to take off galloping at full speed. Realising he had lost control, the farmer panicked and forgot the words he had trained the horse to respond to. Up ahead was a cliff, and they were headed towards it at full speed. Desperately he tried to recall every religious word he’d ever heard of. He shouted, ‘Amen! Jesus saves! Worthy! Holy!’ Nothing worked. Just as the horse approached the precipice, he shouted, ‘Hallelujah!’ The horse stopped right there on the edge. Relieved, he wiped the sweat off his brow and said, ‘Whew, praise the Lord!’
Seriously, praising the Lord is not a religious activity that belongs only in church on Sunday morning. ‘From the rising of the sun to its going down the Lord’s name is to be praised.’ (Psalm 113:3 NKJV) That means let your first words in the morning and your last words at night, be praise to God. ‘Why should I praise God every day?’ you ask. Because He is worthy of your praise. ‘You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power.’ And one more thought. Spoken words of love and appreciation draw people together and create intimacy. Do you want to get closer to God? Start praising Him more.
‘Who dares despise the day of small things?’ Zechariah 4:10 NIV
Imagine the temple lying in ruins, and having to be rebuilt from the ground up. That’s what things were like when Zechariah shared his vision with the people of Israel. Some thought it couldn’t be done, and others thought that their particular contribution would make no difference. So Zechariah challenged them in these words: ‘Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.’ (Zechariah 4:10 NLT)
In 1963, MIT meteorologist Edward Lorenz presented the hypothesis that became known as the butterfly effect. He theorized that a minor event, like the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil, could conceivably alter wind currents sufficiently to cause a tornado in Texas. Lorenz came to the simple yet profound conclusion: ‘Minuscule changes in input can make macroscopic differences in output.’ That simple discovery has the power to change your life. It can radically alter your spiritual, emotional, relational, or financial forecast. It can change the atmosphere of your organization or your marriage. One decision. One change. One risk. One idea. That’s all it takes. You don’t have to make one hundred changes. All that does is divide your energy by one hundred, and results in a 1 percent chance of success. You have to be 100 percent committed to one change. It will take an all-out effort. It will probably be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. But that one change has the potential to make a 100 percent difference in your life.
‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.’ Ephesians 1:3 NKJV
Farmer Brown, so the story goes, lived during the Great Depression. He was having trouble keeping up the mortgage payments on his farm. Eventually the bank gave him thirty days to catch up on his back payments or face foreclosure. Then something wonderful happened. A man from an oil company showed up on his doorstep, asking for a lease to drill for oil on his land. Since he was going to lose the farm anyway, Farmer Brown decided that it couldn’t hurt. Well, that oil company drilled and hit a gusher—82,000 barrels of oil a day. Immediately Farmer Brown became a millionaire many times over.
Now, here’s the question—when did he become a millionaire? Was it when oil was discovered on his farm, or when he first bought the land? He was a millionaire the moment he purchased the farm, but he lived in poverty because he didn’t know what was under his feet and within his reach. The Bible says God ‘has blessed us with every spiritual blessing.’ Some people think the only thing God will do for you is bless you with salvation, then He lets you struggle through the rest of life until you get to Heaven. As long as you believe that, you’re living in your own spiritual version of the Great Depression. You’re living spiritually poor, spiritually weak, and spiritually deprived because you don’t know what’s available to you in Christ or how to access it and appropriate it in your life. Refuse to live that way. Instead, read your Bible and begin to claim God’s promises in every area of your life.
‘Before you were born I set you apart.’ Jeremiah 1:5 NIV
Does a baby come into the world with a complex personality, or is that child a blank slate on which experience will write? In the past, behavioral scientists believed newborns had no temperamental or emotional characteristics upon arrival from the womb. Their little personalities were supposedly formed entirely by the experiences that came their way in ensuing years.
But most parents knew better. Every mother of two or more children was convinced that each of her infants had a different personality—a different feel—from the very first time they were held. Now, after years of research, numerous authorities in child development acknowledge that those mothers were right. One important study identified nine characteristics that varied in babies—such as moodiness, level of activity, and responsiveness. They also found that the differences from child to child tended to persist into later life. Indeed, babies do differ in infinite ways that define our humanness and our individuality. If every snowflake that falls has its own design, and if every grain of sand at the seashore is unique, it makes no sense to suppose that children are assembly-line products stamped out by the same giant cookie cutter. There’s no denying the importance of environment and human experience in shaping who we are and how we think. But there can be no doubt that each person on earth is a one-of-a-kind creation from the earliest moments of life. As God told Jeremiah: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.’ You need to know that about your children.
‘You are complete in Him.’ Colossians 2:10 NKJV
In his book Outlive Your Life, author Max Lucado says the Greek word for ‘blessed’, makarios, was the name of an island off Greece. It was known as ‘the blessed island’ because it was self-contained. The residents didn’t need to leave it in order to get their needs met. The natural resources of this island were so rich that everything needed to enjoy life was already there. There’s a lesson here for you. The moment you trust in Christ as your Saviour, He becomes your King and you begin living in His Kingdom. You don’t have to leave it and go elsewhere to find what you need, because it’s all around you in the island of blessing. You don’t have to strive for God’s blessing; you simply have to ‘tune in’ and receive it. It’s like your radio; there are no orchestras or newscasters inside it, it’s only a conduit and a point of contact. Even when your radio stops working, there are still signals in the air. All your radio does is receive the signal that comes from another source and deliver it to you. If you lose sight of that fact, you’ll give the radio more credit than it deserves.
One of the reasons we don’t recognize the blessings of God in our lives is that we confuse the means of delivery with the source. If something doesn’t miraculously fall into our lap, we think it didn’t come from God. No, God will bless you at different times, through different people, in different ways. But you must always remember that they are only the carriers of blessing, while He is the source of it (see Psalm 31:19).
‘The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.’ John 14:26 NIV
Jesus ended His Sermon on the Mount with a striking story that addresses the gap between knowing and doing: ‘Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.’ (Matthew 7:24 NIV) The problem is, we find it easier to be smart than to be good. You don’t need to know more about the Bible until you put into practice what you already know. John Ortberg says that when he taught tennis, unskilled novices would agonize over which racket to buy—whether to use nylon or gut strings, whether to string them up at 30 or 32 kg. The problem was, they couldn’t even hit the ball. Instead of debating the minutiae, they simply needed to practice. But a word of caution here: you don’t become a ‘doer of the Word’ by drawing on your own strength and willpower. The Holy Spirit who dwells within you is referred to in Scripture as ‘the paraclete’. The word means ‘one who comes alongside to help’. When you decide to do what’s right, the Holy Spirit within you empowers you to do it. When a situation arises, He will prompt you as to what you should do. Jesus promised, ‘The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.’ You ask, ‘But what if I don’t get it right?’ He will work with you, giving you opportunities until you do get it right.
‘Be doers of the word… not merely hearers.’ James 1:22 NRS
A businessman known for his ruthlessness, arrogance, and religiosity told Mark Twain that before he died he intended to visit the Holy Land, climb Mount Sinai, and read the Ten Commandments aloud. ‘I have a better idea,’ Twain replied. ‘Just stay here in Boston and keep them!’
We’d rather cogitate on what we don’t know, than act on what we know we need to do. For example, a company knows it needs to improve its quality control so the executives discuss the problem, listen to presentations, read all kinds of books, look at state-of-the-art systems—but never actually get around to doing anything. Their problem isn’t ignorance; it’s knowing too much but doing too little. Another everyday example: people would rather debate the merits of protein vs. carbs, French cooking vs. vegetarian, lifting weights vs. cardio, than change how they eat. The bottom line is simple: expend more calories than you take in. Likewise, some Christians would rather debate doctrine than do what Jesus says. As the old ad for Nike trainers said—just do it! Practice loving a difficult person; try forgiving someone; give some money away; stop and say thanks; worship God; encourage a friend; bless an enemy; when you’re in the wrong say, ‘I’m sorry.’ Face it: you already know more than you need to. And nothing turns people off faster than somebody with a head full of knowledge, who lacks grace and character. It’s the same today as it was when James wrote, ‘Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers.’
‘He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like His own.’ Philippians 3:21 NLT
The Bible says our heavenly bodies will be exactly like the one Jesus had following His resurrection. He resembled Himself, because the disciples could recognize Him. He ate and drank with them. He could be touched. He could miraculously pass through walls. Talk about ‘time travel’—He could appear in various places to different people without traveling by any recognized means. His transformed body no longer aged, nor was it subject to sickness and death. And your new body will be like His. ‘Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when He comes back. After that the end will come.’ (1 Corinthians 15:23–24 NLT) Scottish Presbyterian Robert Baillie learned in 1684 that he would be hanged for his alleged involvement in a plot to assassinate King Charles II, then drawn and quartered, and his head and hands nailed to a local bridge. How did he respond? By first quoting this Scripture: ‘Our citizenship is in Heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour…who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body.’ (Philippians 3:20–21 NKJV) Then he declared: ‘They may hack and hew my body as they please, but I know assuredly that nothing will be lost, that all these my members shall be wonderfully gathered and made like Christ’s glorious body.’ The truth is that whether you get buried in a casket or cremated and your ashes scattered, it makes no difference. God has prepared for you a glorious body just like Christ’s.
‘Then the Lord said to me, “Even if Moses and Samuel stood before Me, My mind would not be favorable towards this people.”’ Jeremiah 15:1 NKJV
Difference five: prayer. The Bible records only two occasions when Samson prayed: first, when he thought he was dying of thirst and needed water (Judges 15:18); second, in the last moments of his life when he’d lost everything and ended up in prison (see Judges 16:28). He was like the little boy who was asked, ‘Do you say your prayers every night?’ He replied, ‘No; sometimes I don’t need anything.’ On the other hand the Bible says, ‘Samuel called to the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day; and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel.’ (1 Samuel 12:18 NKJV) One of the greatest tributes given to anyone in Scripture was spoken by God concerning Samuel’s prayer life: ‘Then the Lord said to me, “Even if Moses and Samuel stood before Me, My mind would not be favourable towards this people.”’ Such is the ‘clout’ Samuel had with God!
The Bible also has much to say about the prayer life of Jesus. Sometimes He prayed all through the night; other times He was up praying before dawn. It was the secret of His effectiveness in ministry. He made regular deposits in prayer so He could make regular withdrawals of power when He needed it. And you’ll notice that He seldom prayed for anyone He healed. Why? Because He’d already spent time in prayer. Old-timers in church used to refer to this as ‘staying prayed up’. And it’s the secret of victorious Christian living.
‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.’ 1 Samuel 7:12 NKJV
Difference four: accountability. Samson had an independent attitude and refused to be accountable to anyone else. He was a ‘lone ranger’ who refused to work with others. And his erratic attempts at deliverance caused the Philistines to tax God’s people more and make their burdens heavier. Samuel, on the other hand, worked in consensus with others. When he prayed and God gave Israel a spectacular victory over their enemies, he refused to take any of the credit. ‘Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpeh and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.”’
Samson was ‘me’ focused, but Samuel was ‘us’ focused. The psalmist said, ‘Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity…for there the Lord commanded the blessing.’ (Psalm 133:1–3 NKJV) The secret of walking in God’s blessing is not to operate alone, but cooperate with others. That’s how the New Testament church did it. ‘When they had further threatened them, they let them go… And being let go, they went to their own companions.’ (Acts 4:21–23 NKJV) When the apostles came under attack, ‘they went to their own companions.’ They had relationships in place with those who knew how to advise and guide them, strengthen and encourage them, pray and share God’s Word with them. You need such relationships too! And you can’t afford to wait until trouble comes before you establish them. Do it now, in the good times, and they’ll be there for you in the bad times.
‘The Lord your God was your king.’ 1 Samuel 12:12 NKJV
Difference three: motives. Samson repeatedly dishonored the Lord by his actions and his lifestyle. That’s because he had no regard for God’s honor. What a contrast Samuel was! When Israel wanted a king in order to be like all the surrounding nations, it broke his heart. He said to the people, ‘The Lord your God was your king.’ Honouring God was his highest priority. And there’s a lesson here for us, especially those in ministry. Every time someone steps behind a pulpit, they must check their ego and ask themselves the motive question: ‘Is my aim to make God look good, or myself look good?’ And it’s a hard question to answer.
The Bible says, ‘For the Lord is the God of knowledge; and by Him actions are weighed.’ (1 Samuel 2:3 NKJV) The truth is that without the power of God’s indwelling Spirit, none of us have what it takes to do the job, and we must never forget that. The tragedy of Samson’s end is described in these two Scriptures: ‘He awoke from his sleep, and said, “I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!” But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him.’ (Judges 16:20 NKJV) ‘So it happened, when their hearts were merry, that they said, “Call for Samson, that he may perform for us.” So they called for Samson from the prison, and he performed for them.’(Judges 16:25 NKJV) Note the word perform. Without God’s grace and power we are all, at best, just performers. So stay humble, and seek only to exalt the Lord.
‘Get her for me, for she pleases me well.’ Judges 14:3 NKJV
Difference two: relationships. ‘Then his father and mother said to him, “Is there no woman among the daughters of your brethren… that you must go and get a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” And Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she pleases me well.”’
When it came to relationships, Samson was guided by his lower impulses instead of the principles of God’s Word. And he paid dearly for it. Three times we read in Scripture: ‘Samson went down…’ (Judges 14:1 NKJV) He went down to Timnath and married the wrong woman. He went down to Gaza and spent the night with a harlot. He went down to Sorek, ended up in the lap of Delilah, and lost his strength, his freedom, his reputation, his anointing and his life.
Samuel, on the other hand, was raised up to purify the ministry. Eli the high priest had two sons called Hophni and Phinehas whom he had ordained to the priesthood, but they were taking bribes to cover sin and brazenly consorting with prostitutes. There’s a lesson here for every redeemed child of God: ‘Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.’ (2 Corinthians 6:14 NIV) Is God being biased or unloving? No, He’s being protective! When you’re ‘yoked together’ in a relationship with someone who doesn’t share your faith, your values, your goals and your priorities, you end up in a tug of war with each pulling in a different direction. When problems arise, as they surely will, what you need is someone by your side who turns to the same source you do for the solution—God.
‘Time would fail me to tell of…Samson…and Samuel.’ Hebrews 11:32 NKJV
Samson and Samuel are mentioned in the same Scripture, but there are big differences between them. You ask, ‘Why should I be interested?’ Because as a Christian, you are like them. Each had a miraculous birth, so they’re a picture of those who’ve been born again and called to serve God. Paul writes, ‘These things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition… Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.’ (1 Corinthians 10:11–12 NKJV) Difference one: finances.Samson was greedy and manipulating, whereas Samuel practiced integrity. One day Samson bet thirty Philistine princes that they couldn’t solve his riddle, saying, ‘If you cannot explain it to me, then you shall give me thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothing.’ (Judges 14:13 NKJV) Quite a wardrobe, eh? Samson’s emphasis was ‘you shall give me.’ He’s an example of Christians in business who discredit the cause of Christ by unethical practices, and those in ministry who twist the Scriptures and resort to emotional manipulation to raise money.
The world is watching, so let’s heed the Scripture: ‘Provide things honest in the sight of all men.’ (Romans 12:17 KJV) Samuel was totally different. After forty years of his exemplary leadership, the people paid this tribute to him: ‘You have not cheated or oppressed us.’ (1 Samuel 12:4 NIV) When others can say that about you, you did it right! Jesus said, ‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ (Matthew 6:21 NIV) The condition of your heart is revealed in how you handle finances.
‘Moses wrote all the words of the Lord. And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar.’ Exodus 24:4 NKJV
One of the secrets of Moses’ great success in life was this: he spent time each day with God, and he wrote down what God told him. And you should do that too. Here’s why. Writing clarifies your thoughts, gives you a permanent record you can refer back to and allows you to measure your progress. We only remember what we take time to record.
One of the best-known American missionaries was Jim Elliot, who became a martyr for Christ in 1956 in Ecuador. He kept a spiritual journal, and it makes interesting reading: ‘My devotional reading pattern was broken. I have never restored it… prayer as a single man was difficult… now it’s too hard to get out of bed in the morning… I’ve made resolutions on this score before now, but not followed them up.’ Such writings become a mirror that reflects your true spiritual condition—a condition it’s easy to forget unless it’s staring you in the face each day. Elliot, like all of us, struggled with the spiritual disciplines. But unlike most of us, he kept a written record of his spiritual defeats as well as his spiritual victories. Keeping such a journal will force you to reflect on your heart’s true condition, record your progress, regain your lost momentum, reject your bad habits, reinforce your good habits, and help you to reach your spiritual goals. Do you know any other discipline that offers such benefits?
No? Then start a journal of your spiritual journey today.
‘Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase.’ Proverbs 3:9 NKJV
Solomon writes: ‘Honour the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine.’ (Proverbs 3:9–10 NKJV) The people who heard these words lived off their land and their livestock. Whenever they reaped a harvest or birthed new cattle, they’d take the first sheaf or the firstborn calf to the temple and offer it to the Lord. These were called ‘firstfruits’. By doing this they acknowledged that ‘everything I have comes from God, and belongs to God. And everything I’ll need for the future depends upon God’s goodness to me’. There’s not a more important money management principle you’ll ever hear than this: give God your ‘firstfruits’, not your leftovers! Businessman Arthur DeMoss was a spiritual giant and benefactor who gave millions to God’s work and left behind a foundation to carry on his legacy. DeMoss said that to be successful you should give God the first dime out of every dollar, the first hour out of every day, and the first day out of every week. You ask, ‘Does that mean God won’t love me if I don’t tithe?’ No; you can’t do anything to earn God’s love. However, giving back to Him willingly demonstrates our obedience and love for God.
‘The hand of the diligent makes rich.’ Proverbs 10:4 ESV
The word diligent means ‘to cut or sharpen’. It describes a worker who’s sharp, decisive, and keen. He or she wants to work, make a difference, and contribute to their families and to society. Life ‘owes’ you nothing except an opportunity to succeed. And you’ll have to work for that success.
One day two teens were talking when one said to the other, ‘I’m really worried. Dad slaves away at his job so I’ll never want for anything. He pays all my bills and sends me to college. Mum slaves everyday washing, ironing, cleaning up after me, and even takes care of me when I’m sick.’
Puzzled, his friend asked, ‘So, what’re you worried about?’
He replied, ‘I’m worried the slaves might escape!’
If you’re a parent, teach your children the virtue of diligence. And don’t just preach it—live it! You’ll know you’re succeeding when they no longer feel ‘entitled’ to an allowance, and stop seeing you as a human cashpoint machine with the words ‘Free Money!’ stamped on your forehead. Your children will spend over half the waking hours of their prime adult lives working, and they need to know that it was God’s idea and not a form of punishment. Some people think work was the result of the curse in Eden, but it wasn’t. God gave Adam the job of tending the garden before sin came on the scene (see Genesis 2:15). Jesus was a carpenter (see Mark 6:3). And Paul, one of the most influential Christians in history, was a tentmaker (see Acts 18:1–3). There’s nothing dishonorable about work worth doing, and work done well.
‘The blessing of the Lord—it makes [truly] rich, and He adds no sorrow with it [neither does toiling increase it].’ Proverbs 10:22 AMPC
It’s said the famous publisher William Randolph Hearst saw a picture of a beautiful painting and became very interested in acquiring it for his collection. He sent agents all over the world to search for it, but they couldn’t find it anywhere. A year later, out of the blue, one of his employees came and told him that the painting had been found. Excited about the discovery, Hearst asked where it had been unearthed. His employee said, ‘It was in a crate in your warehouse. You owned it all the time.’ The problem was, Hearst had never read the ledger that had the record of everything he owned.
Your Bible is a ledger filled with blessings God wants you to experience. Now, none of these blessings are greater than salvation, but it’s not the only blessing. ‘The blessing of the Lord—it makes [truly] rich, and He adds no sorrow with it [neither does toiling increase it].’ John D. Rockefeller once said he’d exchange his fortune for a chance to go back and work as a clerk in his old office in Cleveland, Ohio. Why? Because stress caused him to suffer bouts of insomnia, ulcers, and depression. The blessing of God brings success—without stress! God tells you about it in His Word. He wants you to be ‘rich’ in your relationships, in your health, in your peace of mind, in your career, and in everything that concerns you. So get to know what God has promised you, then begin praying and believing Him for it.
‘We have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view.’ 2 Corinthians 5:16 NLT
If you tend to associate only with ‘your own kind’, think about this: ‘We have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view.’ Jesus went out of His way to meet a Samaritan woman at a well. From a cultural and religious point of view, it was a bad move. First, she’d been married five times so she had a tarnished reputation. Second, she was a Gentile. And in those days a Jew couldn’t drink water drawn by Gentiles or eat their food. Jewish physicians couldn’t attend to non-Jewish patients.
Jews actually referred to Gentiles as ‘unclean’, believing that by mixing with them they too would become unclean. But Jesus was all about including people, not excluding them: ‘The Word became human and made His home among us.’ (John 1:14 NLT) Jesus touched lepers, loved foreigners, and spent so much time with partygoers that religious leaders called him a ‘glutton and a drunk.’ (Matthew 11:19 GWT) Jesus didn’t label people; He loved them. And when you follow Him, He puts His finger on your prejudices and makes you deal with them. That’s because He wants to change the way you look at people, not seeing them as Jews or Gentiles, insiders or outsiders, liberals or conservatives, etc. ‘We have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view.’ Today you may come across some discarded people like the woman at the well. They may have been thrown out of church, or just turned off by church—and you’ll have a chance to label them or love them. Honour God—and love them!
‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.’ Colossians 3:16 NKJV
The story’s told of a couple who decided to go duck hunting together. They heard that they needed a good duck hunting dog, so they went to a kennel and got one. They heard that they needed a good shotgun, so they went to the store and bought one. Then they went hunting. At the end of the day they hadn’t got a single duck. The husband said to his wife, ‘Honey, we’ve got to be doing something wrong here.’ His wife replied, ‘Well, maybe if we throw the dog up a little higher he could catch a duck this time.’
When it comes to the Christian life, we try to accomplish things with tools that don’t work or don’t make sense. A dog is not the right equipment to get ducks—you need firepower to bring a duck down. Why did Paul write, ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom’? Because when the word of Christ dwells richly in your heart, you’re equipped with God’s wisdom. You can’t solve a problem by using the very elements that caused it. You need God’s wisdom, and it’s found in His Word. Less than 30 percent of Christians read their Bible daily. Think about that: 70 percent of Christians look for the answer in the wrong places.
When you have a problem, the first thing you should ask is, ‘What does God’s Word say about this?’ ‘The entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.’ (Psalm 119:130 NKJV) Instead of doing things that don’t work—turn to God’s Word.
‘If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.’ John 8:36 NKJV
When you become a prisoner-of-war, the enemy controls all your movements and decides what each day of your life will be like. Has the enemy captured you? Perhaps you’ve tried over and over again to be free from your addiction but you are still imprisoned by it. There’s good news: ‘If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.’ Whether you are addicted to drugs, lust, alcohol, gambling, food, or anything else, your answer is not natural—but supernatural. Your addiction is a ‘symptom’ of a deeper spiritual condition that Jesus the Great Physician wants to heal.
At the core of every twelve-step programme is this truth: it’s only by turning to a power greater than ourselves and developing a relationship with Him, that we can get free and stay free. And we know who that ‘power’ is—Jesus! When you feel ‘restless, irritable, and discontent’, His presence is what brings peace and serenity. When you’re tempted to turn to your addiction to find relief, His presence fills the emptiness within you and enables you to say no. When you experience ‘euphoric recall’ and begin to think about the best times of your addiction rather than the worst ones, His Word renews your mind and reframes your attitude, showing you the right path to take at that moment: ‘Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.’ (Psalm 119:105 NLT) Peter said, ‘The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations.’ (2 Peter 2:9 NKJV) Today, God wants to set you free.
‘Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle.’ Hebrews 11:34 NLT
The word ‘metamorphosis’ means to be changed from one form into another. In Hebrews chapter eleven, we find famous people such as Moses and David.
Did they have weaknesses? Yes.
Did they sometimes struggle? Absolutely.
But: ‘Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle.’ Picture a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly. It starts out slow and slimy, and takes hours to crawl a meter or so. When it undergoes the process of metamorphosis, however, it becomes a beautiful butterfly that can fly long distances by simply riding the air currents. The butterfly’s wings developed as a result of struggling in the cocoon until it broke free. No fight, no flight! Getting the idea? Are you struggling with something today? Are you in a spiritual battle? It’s your struggles that develop your strength, and your battles that bring your victories.
Satan doesn’t want you to know that. He hopes the battle you are in will destroy you instead of develop you, so he keeps pouring on the pressure. When Paul’s life became so hard that he thought he couldn’t stand another day of it, God told him, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT) How did Paul respond? He writes: ‘Now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me… For when I am weak, then I am strong.’ (2 Corinthians 12:9–10 NLT)
‘Dwell in Me, and I will dwell in you.’ John 15:4 AMPC
There’s an art to making good tea. You can dip your teabag up and down in the hot water and then pull it out. Or you can let it dwell there so that you can experience the tea’s full strength and flavor. Jesus said: ‘Dwell in Me, and I will dwell in you. [Live in Me, and I will live in you.] Just as no branch can bear fruit of itself without abiding in (being vitally united to) the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in Me. I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever lives in Me and I in him bears much (abundant) fruit. However, apart from Me [cut off from vital union with Me] you can do nothing.’ (John 15:4–5 AMPC)
The secret of victorious Christian living is not ‘dipping’ in God’s presence once a week in church, but ‘dwelling’ in it every day. That’s why this devotional is a helpful tool for your spiritual growth; it causes you to get into God’s Word each day, meditate on it, and ask, ‘Lord, what are You saying to me?’ When you’re a dipper, you’ve got to ‘make things happen’ by your own effort. You’ve got to move the bag up and down, wrap the string around the spoon, then pull, etc. That’s effort—and that’s not how God wants you to live the Christian life. No, He wants you to be a ‘dweller’. It’s the depth and duration of your dwelling that determines the strength and richness of your spiritual life. So the word for you today is: don’t be a dipper, be a dweller.
‘Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world.’ James 1:7–8 NLT
The planet Mercury is hot, whereas the dwarf world Pluto is cold. That’s because Mercury is close to the sun and Pluto is a long way off. A planet’s temperature and climate are determined by its proximity to the sun. There’s an important spiritual principle here. As a redeemed child of God, your spiritual temperature is determined by how close you are to Jesus. You say, ‘I wish I were closer to the Lord.’ The truth is that you are as close to Him as you desire to be, decide to be, and discipline yourself to be. Your pursuit of God reveals your passion for God—or the lack of it. To experience true intimacy with someone, you must be willing to sacrifice other things and give yourself fully to that person. The psalmist wrote: ‘You have said, Seek My face [inquire for and require My presence as your vital need]. My heart says to You, Your face (Your presence), Lord, will I seek, inquire for, and require [of necessity].’ (Psalm 27:8 AMPC)
You’ll notice that the psalmist didn’t say you were to seek God’s gifts, but His face! Not the gifts, but the Giver of the gifts! And a wonderful thing happens when you do that: ‘Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He will give you the desires and secret petitions of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord [roll and repose each care of your load on Him]; trust (lean on, rely on, and be confident) also in Him and He will bring it to pass.’ (Psalm 37:4–5AMPC)
‘Everyone who hears these words of Mine.’ Matthew 7:24 NIV
Certain products carry a label that says: ‘Warning! This can be hazardous to your health.’ Instead of helping you, certain kinds of Bible study can actually hurt you. The Bible says, ‘Knowledge puffs up.’ (1 Corinthians 8:1 NIV) The Greek word for puffs contains the idea of being inflated, like a hot air balloon. By the time a Pharisee completed his training, he could quote hours and hours of Old Testament law. Yet Jesus said the Pharisees were like beautifully painted gravestones: filled with dead men’s bones. Satan knows the Scriptures so well that he was able to quote them to Jesus in the wilderness temptation. And what is Satan’s chief quality? Pride. It’s the sin that got him thrown out of Heaven. The whole point in studying the Scriptures is to make you more dependent on God and give you the right approach to life.
People mainly read the Scriptures for three reasons:
(1) To find proof texts that support their views.
(2) To find promises that apply to their particular needs.
(3) To discover principles to live by.
If you’re wise you’ll be a member of this third group. Jesus said, ‘Everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.’ When the storms of life came, the wise man’s house stood firm while the foolish man’s—the one who didn’t practice what he knew—came crashing down. Added knowledge brings added responsibility. ‘Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge and to your knowledge self-control…’ (2 Peter 1:5–6 NIV) So in addition to acquiring knowledge through regular study, plan to apply that knowledge towards self-control.
‘Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in Your law.’ Psalm 119:18 NIV
Here are some helpful keys to getting more out of your Bible study time:
(1) Ask questions. The more questions you ask, the more you’ll get out of it. Who was this written to? What was the situation the writer was facing? What was the main message the author was trying to get through to them? As you ask these questions you’ll begin to discover things you’ve overlooked or never seen before. The psalmist was a meditator and an in-depth studier of God’s Word. That’s why he prayed, ‘Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in Your law.’
(2) Write down the answers. The purpose of asking questions is to get answers. Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators, used to say, ‘Thoughts disentangle themselves as they pass through the lips and fingertips.’ So have your notebook handy and write down the nuggets of truth God gives you. If you don’t, you’ll lose them.
(3) Don’t just discover it, do it! Evangelist DL Moody said, ‘The Bible was not given to increase our knowledge but to change our lives.’ James wrote, ‘Do not merely listen to the word… Do what it says.’ (James 1:22 NIV) Ask yourself, ‘What attitudes do I need to change? What do I need to stop doing, or start doing? What do I need to believe, or stop believing? What relationships do I need to work on? What ministry should I be having to others?’ Don’t go to your Bible with the attitude of finding some truth nobody’s ever seen before, or something to impress others with. Find out what God is saying to you.
‘Your commands are boundless.’ Psalm 119:96 NIV
The psalmist wrote, ‘To all perfection I see a limit, but your commands are boundless.’ What does that mean? It means each time you read a Scripture you’ll see something different in it. It’s like shining light on a diamond. Each time you turn it slightly, you see another facet of its beauty. That’s why the Bible is different from any other book you’ll ever read. You’ll learn things about God from personal experience and from listening to the thoughts and experiences of others, but you’ll get to know Him better through the reading of His Word than any other way. You can study the same Scripture over and over again, dig into it, leave it for three or four months, and when you come back to it there is much more to find.
The key is this: stick with it! There’s no limit to the number of questions you can ask, no limit to the observations you can make, and no limit to the applications you can make. So don’t give up! The best attitude to have in Bible study is the one Jacob had when he wrestled with the angel of the Lord: ‘I will not let You go unless You bless me!’ (Genesis 32:26 NKJV) As a result God gave him a new name, a new nature, a new walk, and a new future. Bible study has no shortcuts; it takes effort. But if you’re diligent and patient you’ll reap great rewards. Once you’ve felt the joy and satisfaction that comes from finding a great spiritual truth on your own, and applying it to your life, you’ll never approach Bible study the same way again.
‘Remember, each of us will stand personally before the Judgment Seat of God.’ Romans 14:10 TLB
Judgment Day will be characterized by two things: rewards and regrets! Jesus highlights this in the story of three servants who were given talents to invest on behalf of their master. The first two invested well and were rewarded, while the third one buried his talent and was judged accordingly. The first two considered their options, crunched the numbers, took the plunge, and were willing to risk failure. As a result their boss said, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ (Matthew 25:21 NKJV) Now, God doesn’t reward foolishness. So before you make a move, talk it over with Him (see Proverbs 3:5–6). The third servant, however, said, ‘I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground.’ (Matthew 25:25 NKJV) He made the most common and tragic mistake when it comes to giftedness: he failed to benefit his Master with his talent.
Some invest their talents and give God credit, while others misuse theirs and give Him grief. Some honor Him with ‘fruit’, while others insult Him with excuses. And how does God feel about the latter? ‘Take the money away from him and give it to the one who invested.’ (Matthew 25:28 GNT) Fear is the opposite of faith, and ‘without faith it is impossible to please [God].’ (Hebrews 11:6 KJV) So step out in faith; God won’t let you down. Take a risk; He won’t fail you. Even if you stumble on your way to success, He encourages you to envision the day when you’ll feel His hand on your shoulder and hear the words: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’
‘So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them.’ Deuteronomy 31:6 NLT
Incredible though it may seem, when Israel encountered difficulties in the wilderness, they wanted to return to their old life of slavery in Egypt. The security of the known was less threatening to them than the challenges of the unknown. So the Lord said to them, not once, but twice, ‘So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.’ Why did He say that? Because it’s in taking action that you overcome your fear! When you challenge your fears, you master them. When you wrestle with your problems, they lose their grip on you. When you dare to confront the things that scare you, you open the door to the future.
A wise man once said, ‘Take the bull by the horns until you have him screaming for mercy.’ Almost without exception every man and woman in the Bible whom God called to do great things felt inadequate, and told Him so. And how did God respond to them? ‘I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with My victorious right hand.’ (Isaiah 41:10 NLT) Author John Mason writes: ‘The desire for safety stands against every great and virtuous dream. Security, many times, is the first step towards stagnation. Boldness in vision is the first, second, and third most important thing. If you dare nothing, you should expect nothing.’ So whatever opportunity or obstacle you’re facing today, factor God in. With Him on your side, what you have is always greater than whatever you lack.
‘Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.’ Isaiah 41:10 NLT
Two of our biggest fears are—failure and criticism. And they never completely go away. You can overcome them, but they’ll show up when you face your next challenge. It’s in accepting fear as part of life’s journey instead of running from it, that you learn to conquer it. Indeed, as you look back at what you’ve already overcome, you realize that most times failure doesn’t do permanent damage—you actually grow stronger through it. If you’re anxious today, God is saying to you, ‘Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.’ So trust Him, and get out of your comfort zone!
An unknown poet wrote: ‘I used to have a comfort zone where I knew I couldn’t fail; the same four walls of busywork were really more like jail. I longed so much to do the things I’d never done before, but stayed inside my comfort zone and paced the same old floor. I said it didn’t matter that I wasn’t doing much; I said I didn’t care for things like dreams and goals and such. I claimed to be so busy with the things inside my zone, but deep inside I longed for something special of my own. I couldn’t let my life go by just watching others win; I held my breath and stepped outside and let the change begin. I took a step, and with new strength I’d never felt before, I kissed my comfort zone goodbye, then closed and locked the door. If you are in a comfort zone, afraid to venture out, remember that all winners were at one time filled with doubt.’
The word for you today is: get out of your comfort zone.
‘We could only conclude that God was sending us to preach the Good News there.’ Acts 16:10 TLB
The Bible says, ‘Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas. That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.’ (Acts 16:6–10 NLT)
God has an ‘open-door policy’. When He opens a door, you’re supposed to walk through it. Note, however, that when God kept Paul from going into Asia, he didn’t hang around asking, ‘Why, Lord?’ He kept moving. For Paul, trying something and having it not work out was no big deal. He believed that his gift to God was his willing heart and his mobility, and God’s gift to him was that He’d always guide him to where he needed to be. What God prevents is as much divine guidance as what He permits. Every door that didn’t open, every opportunity you didn’t get, and every call that didn’t come were as much God’s leadings as those that did. So knowing you can’t stay where you are right now may be the starting point for God’s leadings in your life. And such leadings often begin with a stirring and restlessness in your soul.
‘They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.’ Revelation 12:11 NKJV
Irene Park became a committed Christian. Her story is remarkable. She said she was once a high witch in the state of Florida, seducing boys and girls into occult activities. She stated that the children she could never reach were those whose parents protected them by praying over them in the name of Jesus, standing on the merits of Christ’s atoning blood.
Today the occult has made its way into some of our public school systems under the guise of ‘pluralism’ and ‘free speech’. If you’re a parent, you should be concerned! It’s wise to give your child a mobile phone so they can contact you in emergencies. But the most powerful defense you can give them is praying over them in the name of Jesus and standing on the merits of His shed blood. Jesus defeated Satan at the cross. And today He’s saying to you, ‘My victory is your victory, and My authority is your authority—use it!’ You must acknowledge the existence of the devil, but you must not be afraid of him because ‘greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.’ (1 John 4:4 KJV) To deny the existence of Satan or underestimate his power gives him the advantage over you. But God has given you the key to overcoming Satan’s power in your life: ‘And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.’Start declaring what the blood of Jesus has done on your behalf. When you do, you’ll begin to walk in victory.
‘By their fruits you will know them.’ Matthew 7:20 NKJV
When we speak about ‘the fruit of the Spirit’, we are talking about these nine qualities of character: ‘love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.’ (Galatians 5:22–23 NKJV) These fruits are not for ‘show’, they are for sharing with others; otherwise they’re no better than fruit that was never grown in the first place. Suppose you drive up to a roadside produce market with your heart set on buying fresh vegetables. You see home-grown tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and several varieties of peppers—everything you need and more. Just as you start to select your items, the farmer who owns the stand says, ‘Sorry, this produce isn’t for sale. I just like to grow it and enjoy looking at it until it rots. Then I throw it away.’ Huh? Now you likely haven’t encountered such an absurd situation, and probably never will. That’s because farmers and customers know that produce is for consuming. Sure, it’s beautiful to look at, but its God-ordained purpose is to bring nutrition and health to people. If all we do is go to church and preach about fruit, analyze fruit, and examine each other’s fruit, we are failing miserably. It’s not enough to bear fruit, we must share that fruit with others so they can be blessed and impacted by the Kingdom of God. Paul writes, ‘For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.’ (Ephesians 2:10 NLT) Bearing fruit and sharing fruit are two sides of the same spiritual coin.
‘Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”’ Isaiah 6:8 NKJV
William Carey is referred to as ‘the father of modern missions’. But the number of his accomplishments in India was almost equaled by the number of obstacles he overcame just to get there. He was told by a group of ministers, ‘If God wants to save the heathen, young man, He will do it without your help or ours.’ Carey was not a career missionary. He was a young Englishman in poor health with a pregnant wife and small children. He was just like the rest of us—trying to make ends meet and keep life together. But he had something else, a burning question he could not escape: ‘Who will reach the lost in India, if I don’t go?’ Looking back later, Carey realized that the challenges he overcame at home were what qualified him to succeed in his God-given assignment abroad.
The same thing happened to Isaiah the prophet: ‘I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” And He said, “Go, and tell this people.”’ (Isaiah 6:8–9 NKJV) But before Isaiah was qualified to go, he needed a life-changing encounter with God. ‘Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is purged.”’ (Isaiah 6:6–7 NKJV) Do you sense God preparing you and getting ready to send you? If so, say yes.
‘We walk by faith, not by sight.’ 2 Corinthians 5:7 KJV
Good leaders will tell you there are times when they’re not sure; when they don’t know all they’d like to know. And if they’re really frank they’ll admit, ‘I’m glad the people I’m supposed to lead don’t know how much I don’t know!’
Whether you’re a leader or a follower, the Bible says, ‘We walk by faith, not by sight.’ But let’s be honest; sometimes we know what God wants us to do but we don’t like it. So we pray hoping He’ll change His mind and rubber-stamp what we want. But it’s not going to happen. God can’t bless you beyond your last act of disobedience. In the book of Hebrews we read, ‘By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.’ (Hebrews 11:8 NIV) When you follow God, most times you’ll go out not knowing as much as you’d like to. Counsellors, study groups, success manuals, committees, business plans, and projections can help you. But there comes a time when you have to leave your comfort zone and move in the direction God is pointing. Will you have answers to all your questions and clarity about all your concerns? No. Just like your car’s headlights don’t shine round the next corner, God will give you instructions on a ‘need-to-know basis’. And it’s the only way to live! It keeps you dependent on Him, helps you to remember who’s in charge and who deserves credit for your successes. And by the way, God’s leadings take a lifetime to learn, so don’t get discouraged.
‘We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak.’ Romans 15:1 NIV
If you think you’ve nothing of real value to offer others, consider the words of an unknown poet: ‘One song can spark a moment; one flower can wake a dream. One tree can start a forest; one bird can herald spring. One smile begins a friendship; one handclasp lifts a soul. One star can guide a ship at sea; one word can frame the goal. One vote can change a nation; one sunbeam lights a room. One candle wipes out darkness; one laugh can conquer gloom. One step can start a journey; one word can start a prayer. One hope can raise our spirits; one touch can show you care. One voice can speak with wisdom; one heart can know what’s true. One life can make a difference; you see… it’s up to you.’
Author Jon Walker says: ‘Encouragement is part of God’s nature. The New Testament word for encouragement is the same word Jesus used for the Holy Spirit who comes alongside us as an advocate… constant comforter… resident reminder… holy helper… indwelling guide… supplier of courage. Another way God encourages us is when other believers come alongside us as agents of encouragement. Encouragers offer affirmation and confirmation to those who see God’s hand working in their lives (see 1 Thessalonians 2:3–4); exhortation and reassurance to those who walk through trials and tribulations (see 1 Thessalonians 5:14); and reconciliation and restoration to those who stray (see Galatians 6:1). While there are many ways to bring out the best in others, in reality it only takes one: a willingness to “bear with the failings of the weak and not… please ourselves.” That’s how we strengthen them in the faith. It’s called “people-building.”’
‘Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.’ Romans 15:2 NIV
Two men who shared a hospital room ended up becoming friends. One was allowed to sit up for an hour every day. His bed was beside the only window. The other man spent his life flat on his back. Each day the man at the window would describe the activity and color of the outside world: the park overlooking the lake, ducks swimming, children playing, couples walking hand-in-hand, the skyline in the distance. His friend, who could see none of this, smiled and imagined it all in his mind’s eye. One day the man by the window died and his roommate moved into his place. He propped himself up to look outside and was amazed to see a drab brick wall! Confused, he asked the nurse how come his friend had described the scenery in such glowing terms. She replied, ‘Actually, he was blind and he couldn’t even see the wall. He just wanted to encourage you.’
Paul said, ‘Each of us should please our neighbors…to build them up.’There’s great satisfaction in encouraging people, especially when your own situation is less than ideal. One author writes: ‘When you tell someone they’re beautiful, you change how they see themselves. A girl in love thinks she’s the most beautiful girl in the world because her young man said so. When a teacher tells a student he’s smart, he works harder and achieves more. When a parent tells a child she’s loved, she has confidence to reach for the stars. On the other hand, a doctor who point-blank tells a patient that he’s “terminal” can speed up the death process.’
Words are powerful; use yours to build people up.
‘Phebe… a succourer of many.’ Romans 16:1-2 KJV
Your church needs members committed to supporting and encouraging each other. People like Phebe, whom Paul calls ‘a succourer of many’.Succour: in Greek, it applied to Olympic coaches who supported athletes and made sure they were trained and equipped to win. Bible scholar H.F. Moule describes Phebe as ‘a champion… who stood up for others… a devoted, brave friend of converts in trouble, who fought battles of protest where she found oppression… and pleaded the cause of the poor.’ That’s a heavy-duty assignment! And in today’s ‘Me Generation’ not many are willing to take it on. But the truth is, there’s no greater investment than people.
When you invest in another person you give yourself a gift, because you can’t light their path without brightening your own. And the divine rewards outweigh any earthly compensation: ‘Whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord.’ (Ephesians 6:8 NKJV) As one pastor observed: ‘You have something nobody else can give. Think about how you can make somebody else’s life better. Who can you support and strengthen? Somebody needs your encouragement today… needs to know you believe in him, that you’re for him, that you think he has what it takes to succeed. Looking back, chances are someone played a pivotal role in helping you get where you are today. A parent or teacher who had confidence in you… a boss who placed you in a higher position when you didn’t feel qualified… somebody who saw more in you than you saw in yourself.’ Now it’s your turn!
‘Whenever two of you on earth agree about anything you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father.’ Matthew 18:19 GNT
The Bible says, ‘Whenever two of you on earth agree about anything you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in Heaven.’ Becky Smith was eighty-four years old and her sister Christine was eighty-two. The years had taken sight from the first and bent the body of the second, so they couldn’t attend church. Yet their church needed them. They lived on the Isle of Lewis off the coast of Scotland, and a spiritual darkness had settled on their village of Barvas. The congregation was losing people, and the youth were mocking the faith, speaking of conversion as a plague. In October 1949, the Presbytery of the Free Church of Scotland called upon their members to pray. But what could two elderly, housebound sisters do? Quite a lot, they determined. They turned their cottage into an all-night house of prayer. From 10:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. two nights each week, they asked God to have mercy on their island. After several months, Becky told Christine that God had spoken these words to her: ‘I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground.’ (Isaiah 44:3 NKJV) She urged her pastor to conduct a revival and invite the well-known evangelist Duncan Campbell to speak. When Campbell refused to come, she insisted: ‘God says he’s coming and he’ll be here in a fortnight.’ And it happened! For five weeks Campbell preached every night to overflowing crowds at 7:00 p.m., 10:00 p.m., midnight, and 3:00 a.m. Sinners were converted, pubs closed for lack of patrons, and the Isle of Lewis tasted the presence of God—all because two women prayed in agreement.
‘As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart.’ Acts 16:14 NLT
Some of us think that successful people are difficult to win to Christ because they don’t have the same needs as others. But they do. Everyone has an emptiness within them that only God can fill, and He wants to use you to fill it. Consider the story of Lydia. ‘One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth… As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying. She and her household were baptized, and she asked us to be her guests. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home.” And she urged us until we agreed.’ (Acts 16:14–15 NLT)
Not only did Lydia respond to the Gospel, she opened her home so that others could come and hear it too. In many cases it’s easier to reach successful people with the Gospel. Why? Because they know that to be successful you must be open to new ideas and concepts. And they understand that in order to enjoy continued success, you must stay open to change. Don’t let the fact that someone is not your social peer keep you from telling them about Jesus. Note the words, ‘As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart.’
It’s your job to tell them, and it’s God’s job to open their heart! So sow the seed of His Word into their life when you have an opportunity, and believe that the ‘Lord of the harvest’ will do the rest.
‘Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?’ Romans 8:35 NLT
Paul asked the great question: ‘Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?’ When you don’t know why God loves you in the first place, it’s easy to doubt His love at times. You want to know how He feels about you when you act like a jerk, when you snap at anything that moves, when your thoughts are gutter-level, and when your tongue is sharp enough to slice a rock. You ask, ‘How does He feel about me then?’
And what about when bad things happen—does God care then? Does He love you in the midst of fear? Is He with you when danger lurks? In other words, ‘Will He ever stop loving me?’ That’s the great question, isn’t it? Perhaps you crossed the line this week. Or you started drinking and kept at it until you couldn’t walk. Or your business took you where you had no business being. Or you cursed God for making you stand at the grave of a loved one you weren’t ready to give up. Did you drift too far? Did you wait too long? Did you slip too much? Were you too uncertain? ‘Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?’ No, absolutely not. Paul reassures us: ‘I am convinced that… neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power…above or…below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God… in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 8:38–39 NLT)
‘May God… give you grace, mercy, and peace.’ 1 Timothy 1:2 NLT
Let’s face it; much of the time we don’t know what problems people are dealing with or what they’re going through. So when you decide to pray for them, follow Paul’s example, in which he asked God to give Timothy these three things:
(1) Grace. In the Bible, the word grace implies two things: first, God’s unmerited favor; second, ‘all of God’s ability you’ll ever need to handle whatever you are facing.’ Here’s a great Bible promise you should stand on in times of difficulty: ‘God, who gives all grace, will make everything right. He will make you strong… support you and keep you from falling.’ (1 Peter 5:10 NCV)
(2) Mercy. A large publishing house had a machine that automatically mailed reminders to its readers when their subscriptions had expired. One day it malfunctioned and a rancher in a remote Colorado town received 9,734 notices. So he drove for kilometers to the nearest post office, posted his cheque, and wrote, ‘Send me the magazine. I give up!’ That’s how it is with God; He keeps sending us notices. ‘Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.’ (Lamentations 3:22–23 NKJV)
(3) Peace. The peace God gives can sustain us through the worst of circumstances. And it’s different from the peace the world offers. At best, the world offers temporary relief. But ‘the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds.’ (Philippians 4:7 NIV) So when you’re not sure how to pray for someone, ask God to give them His grace, His mercy, and His peace.
‘You need to persevere.’ Hebrews 10:36 NIV
Try to imagine what life on the ark must have been like for Noah. He probably didn’t get much sleep. He was feeding, cleaning and caring for thousands of animals around the clock. And it must have smelled to high heaven. Did you know that African elephants produce 136kg of waste per day? It was smelly and messy. And that’s a pretty accurate picture of what obedience sometimes looks like. It’s hard work, and it gets harder. The blessings of God can complicate your life. But unlike sin, they bring a level of joy and fulfillment you have never known (see Proverbs 10:22). No matter what vision God has given you, it will take longer and be harder than you ever imagined. Noah offers a little reality check, doesn’t he?
If a decade sounds like a long time to patiently pursue a God-ordained passion, try more than ten! It’s amazing what God can do if you just keep hammering away year after year! We tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in a year, but we underestimate what God can accomplish in a decade. The key is to be a planner and a plodder. Planners see into the future and cast a vision; plodders put one foot in front of the other and keep going one day at a time. Success is not just about getting where God wants you to go, it’s about who you become in the process. It’s crossing the finish line the way the apostle Paul did: ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.’ (2 Timothy 4:7 NLT) So, do what God has told you.
‘God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.’ 1 Corinthians 1:27 NIV
As long as you need man’s approval, God is limited in what He can do through you. Faith is the willingness to look foolish. That’s why faith and humility go hand in hand. Noah looked foolish building an ark in the desert. Moses looked foolish asking Pharaoh to let his slaves go. The Israelite army looked foolish marching ’round Jericho blowing trumpets. David looked foolish attacking Goliath with a slingshot. The wise men looked foolish following a star. Peter looked foolish stepping out of the boat in the middle of a storm. And Jesus looked foolhardy hanging on the cross.
But the results speak for themselves, don’t they? Noah stayed afloat during the flood. Moses delivered Israel out of Egypt. The walls of Jericho came tumbling down. David defeated Goliath. The wise men found the Messiah. Peter walked on water. And Jesus rose from the dead.
There comes a moment when you must quit hedging your bets, quit playing it safe and doing what you’ve always done. You need to build the ark, or at least plant some trees or saw some planks! Faith is acting as if God has already answered our prayers, and acting as if God has answered means acting on our prayers even if, as in the case of Noah, it takes over a century. Jesus said, ‘Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’ (Mark 11:24 NIV) What has God told you to do? Start doing it!
‘Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.’ Genesis 6:8 NIV
You ask, ‘What is the favor of God?’ It’s God doing for you what you cannot do for yourself. It opens doors of opportunity. It turns opposition into support. It can help you land a promotion, make the list, or seal the deal. The Bible says, ‘Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.’ (Luke 2:52 NIV)
Note, just as you can grow in wisdom and stature, you can also grow in favor with God and men. So instead of being content with the level of favor you enjoy, ask God for an increase. You ask, ‘How do I find favor?’ Obedience! It begins by surrendering your life to Christ. ‘No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.’ (Psalm 84:11 NASB) And God’s favor is not limited to the spiritual realm; it extends to the material realm as well. In Noah’s life, it translated into ingenious inventions. He didn’t just build the first boat and pioneer the shipbuilding industry, he also made many technical discoveries. According to Jewish tradition, Noah invented the plow, the scythe, the hoe, and a number of other implements used for cultivating the ground. The favor of God translated into good ideas.
It doesn’t matter what you do, God wants to help you do it. He wants to favor your business plan, your manuscript, your lesson plan, your legal brief, your sales pitch, etc. But you’ve got to position yourself for that favor by acting in obedience and walking uprightly. If you are willing to give God the glory, He will bless you beyond your ability and beyond your resources.
‘Noah walked with God.’ Genesis 6:9 NKJV
What went through Noah’s mind when God told him to build a boat in the middle of dry land? Nobody had ever done it before. Yet the Bible says, ‘Noah did everything just as God commanded him.’ (Genesis 6:22 NIV) How did he do it? Answer: ‘Noah walked with God.’ Walking takes place step by step. The trouble is, we want God to reveal the second step before we take the first step of faith. But until we take the first step, He won’t reveal the next step. We’ve got to be obedient to the measure of revelation He has given us, if we want more of it. That’s why we get stuck spiritually. We only want to follow Christ to the point of precedence—the place where we have been before—but no farther. We’re afraid of doing what we’ve never done before because it’s unfamiliar territory.
So we leave unclaimed the new gifts, new anointings, and new dreams God wants to give us. You’ve got to push past the fear of the unknown. You’ve got to do something different. The African impala can jump three meters high and ten meters long, yet it can be contained in a small enclosure with 1.2 meter high walls. Why? Because it will not jump if it cannot see where it’s going to land. We have the same problem, don’t we? We want a money-back guarantee before we take a leap of faith, but that eliminates faith from the equation. We are called to ‘walk by faith, not by sight.’ (2 Corinthians 5:7 NKJV) So the word for you today is: do what God has told you.
‘By faith Noah… built an ark.’ Hebrews 11:7 NIV
Noah built the ark because God commanded it. It’s what he was called to do in life. Sawing planks and hammering nails for him was an act of obedience. And when everything was said and done, it was the longest act of obedience recorded in Scripture. From start to finish, Noah’s one act of obedience took tens of thousands of days! And with each daily act of obedience, he glorified God. No matter what tool you use in your trade—a hammer, a keyboard, a mop, a football, a spreadsheet, a microphone, an espresso machine—using it is an act of obedience. It’s the mechanism whereby you worship God. It’s the way you do what you’re supposed to do. The Bible says, ‘Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.’(Colossians 3:17 NIV) Stop putting yourself down and thinking what you do is not important.
Remember the old proverb, ‘For want of a nail’? It goes like this: ‘For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the message was lost. For want of a message the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.’ In God’s eyes, small acts of obedience are big things. When you joyfully do little things like they are big things, then God will do big things like they are little things. That’s how His Kingdom advances. So the word for you today is: do what God has told you.
‘Noah did everything just as God commanded him.’ Genesis 6:22 NIV
Noah’s ark measured 300 cubits in length, 50 cubits in width, and 30 cubits in height. A cubit is thought to be the equivalent of 44.4 cm. That means the ark was the length of one and a half football fields. The internal volume of the ark was 43,000 cubic metres—the equivalent of around 350 buses. If the average animal was the size of a sheep, it had capacity for 125,000 animals. To put that into perspective, there are 4,000 animals from 350 different species at Taronga Park Zoo. That means you could fit over 31 Taronga Zoos on board Noah’s ark. And since it was the first boat ever built, it’s not like it came with an instruction manual. It was back-breaking work that required blood, sweat, and tears. And it took an incredible amount of faith to build the ark. Who builds a boat in the desert? Who hammers away for over 100 years on something they might not even need? Who banks their entire future on something that has never happened before? According to Jewish tradition, Noah didn’t just start building the ark. He planted trees first. After they were fully grown, he cut down the trees, sawed them into planks, and built the boat. And here’s an interesting piece of information: not until the late nineteenth century did a ship that size get constructed again. Yet that design ratio is still considered the golden mean for stability during storms at sea. Noah’s act of obedience literally changed the world—and obedience will change your world too. So do what God has told you to do.
‘“It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord.’ Zechariah 4:6 NLT
Zerubbabel was called to rebuild the temple. It was a huge undertaking, so God told him, ‘“It is not by force nor by strength, but by My Spirit,” says the Lord… “Nothing, not even a mighty mountain, will stand in Zerubbabel’s way.”’ (Zechariah 4:6–7 NLT) When God calls you, you need to know:
(1) You may have to walk alone. When God uses you, people often assume you’re strong and don’t need anything. They don’t realize you’re just a regular person who’s half scared to death at times, and who’s more amazed by your success than they are. And when nobody stands with you or ministers to you, you become vulnerable to discouragement.
(2) You need God’s help or you’re in trouble. Samson discovered this: ‘He awoke from his sleep and thought, “I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him. Then the Philistines seized him.’ (Judges 16:20–21 NIV) God stepped back and let Samson see that it was the Lord doing it, and not himself. So you must live with a sense of dependence on God.
(3) It’s God’s power, not yours, that makes the difference. If you’re waiting for God to give you exceptional equipment before you decide to get into the fight, you’re not going to experience victory. God’s ‘strength is made perfect in weakness.’ (2 Corinthians 12:9 KJV) The way you know you’re truly anointed is when God takes substandard equipment and performs supernatural feats. And that only happens when you say, ‘Lord, I don’t see how You could do this through me, but I’m trusting You to.’ That’s when He gets involved!
‘All their works they do to be seen by men.’ Matthew 23:5 NKJV
Here’s a working definition of the word hypocrisy: ‘to be seen by men’. Jesus had a no-tolerance policy when it came to hypocrisy. Why? Because He knew it turns people against God. Instead, He taught:
(1) Expect no credit for your good deeds. None. If no one notices, you aren’t disappointed. If someone does, you give the credit to God. Stop and ask yourself this question: ‘If no one knew of the good I do, would I still do it?’ If not, you’re doing it ‘to be seen’ by people.
(2) Give your financial gifts in secret. Money stirs the phony within us. We like to be seen earning it. And we like to be seen giving it. So Jesus said, ‘When you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.’ (Matthew 6:3 NLT)
(3) Don’t fake your spirituality. When you go to church, don’t select a seat just to be seen, or sing just to be heard. If you raise your hands in worship, raise holy ones, not showy ones. When you talk, don’t doctor your vocabulary with trendy religious terms. Nothing nauseates more than a fake ‘Praise the Lord’, or a shallow ‘Hallelujah’, or an insincere ‘Glory be to God!’
Ever watch children in a playground shouting, ‘Watch me!’ That’s acceptable because they’re still immature, but it’s not acceptable in God’s kingdom. Silence the trumpets. Cancel the parade. Enough with the name-dropping. If accolades come, politely deflect them before you believe them. Slay the desire to be noticed. Stir the desire to serve God. In other words, don’t be a hypocrite!
‘Hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.’ Proverbs 14:23 NIV
In the book of Proverbs, Solomon uses the word sluggard no less than seventeen times. A sluggard isn’t a person who would work but can’t find a job; a sluggard is a person who could work but won’t. The story is told of a man who applied for assistance at the welfare office. The official asked, ‘Why do you need financial aid?’ He replied, ‘Because I’m having trouble with my eyes.’ The official asked, ‘What’s the nature of your eye trouble?’ The man replied, ‘I just can’t see myself going to work every day.’ And every sluggard has eye trouble. Or it doesn’t bother him as long as somebody else is doing the work.
President Theodore Roosevelt was right when he said: ‘Extend pity to no man because he has to work. If he’s worth his salt, he’ll work. I envy the man who has work worth doing, and does it well… far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.’ Somehow we’ve lost the spirit, if not the letter, of President Roosevelt’s thinking. Ask any employer and they will tell you that someone who’ll work, work hard, do the job right, and finish the task, is getting harder to find. God’s not against leisure. A worker who’s rested and refreshed will be a better worker. Solomon’s contrast in the book of Proverbs is between labor and laziness. Parent, one of the best things you can do for your children is to pass a strong work ethic on to them, and set them up to succeed in life.
‘He was… successful… because he obeyed the Lord.’ 2 Chronicles 31:21 CEV
Here are seven Scriptural steps to success in life:
(1) Put God first. He wants you to succeed; what good parent wouldn’t? So work on your relationship with Him. ‘Now acquaint yourself with Him… thereby good will come to You.’ (Job 22:21 NKJV)
(2) Help others to become successful. ‘Whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord.’ (Ephesians 6:8 NKJV) Don’t just be interested in yourself, become interested in others too.
(3) Create a climate of confidence around you. As long as you keep speaking words of doubt, you’ll never experience victory. Remind yourself that your ‘sufficiency is of God.’ (2 Corinthians 3:5 KJV)
(4) Stay informed. ‘A wise man will hear and increase in learning.’ (Proverbs 1:5 NASB) Observe, read, and grow. If you’re willing to pay money for a good meal but not for a good book, perhaps you value your appetite more than your intellect.
(5) Picture yourself attaining your goal. Think and talk success. Moses did that: ‘Moses didn’t give up but continued as if he could actually see the invisible God.’ (Hebrews 11:27 GWT)
(6) Write down your plan and establish deadlines. Make a detailed list of required activities, and set checkpoints. Guard your mind and prioritize your time. Make ‘the very most of the time [and] opportunity.’ (Ephesians 5:16 AMPC)
(7) Set a realistic goal. And work towards it one priority at a time. Many things in life fail for one reason—broken focus. So avoid distractions: ‘A double-minded man is unstable.’ (James 1:8 KJV) If you do these seven things, you’ll succeed in life.
‘Along unfamiliar paths I will guide them.’ Isaiah 42:16 NIV
Another way God will lead you is: through confronting your fear and taking a step of faith. Are you feeling uncertain or afraid as to God’s will in the situation? His promise to you is: ‘I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.’ (Isaiah 42:16 NIV) Pay particular attention to the words: ‘unfamiliar paths’… ‘darkness’… ‘rough places’. When you’ve sought God’s guidance through the Scriptures, when you’ve tried to listen to the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit, and when you’ve reached for the wisdom of trustworthy people, then you must step out in faith and do what you believe God is calling you to do.
It’s one thing to ask, ‘Lord, what should I do?’ It’s entirely another thing to ask, ‘Am I willing to do it once You make it clear?’ Try to answer these two questions:
(a) What makes risk so difficult for you? Be honest. For most of us risk and change are uncomfortable, challenging, and even threatening. That’s why the Bible says, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and lean not on your own understanding.’ (Proverbs 3:5 NKJV) If you’ve been in the habit of leaning on your own understanding, it’s a hard habit to break. Now, God doesn’t say, ‘Don’t use your understanding’; He says, ‘Don’t lean on it—lean on Me.’
(b) Are you willing to make a major change in your life—assuming that it’s the Lord’s will? You must answer these two questions. And not until they are answered correctly are you ready to move ahead.
‘The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.’ Proverbs 12:15 NIV
Another way God will lead you is: through Godly advice. Moses experienced this. Instead of getting help, he tried to do it all himself. At that point his father-in-law, Jethro, said to him, ‘What you are doing is not good.’(Exodus 18:17 NIV) Then he told Moses to delegate responsibility to capable leaders who could share the load with him. ‘Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said.’ (Exodus 18:24 NIV) As a result, Moses’ problem was solved, and Israel made it successfully to the Promised Land.
Some of the time God will speak to you directly and reveal what you should do, but much of the time He will speak to you through relationships. He will bring wise and seasoned people alongside you. At that point you need to be humble enough to heed their advice. You may be good; indeed, you may be better than most. But you’ll never be as good as you could be, without the help of others. But you must be careful who you listen to—trustworthy counselors and persons who want only what God wants. Such persons will stay objective, listen carefully, and answer slowly. Often they won’t give you an answer at the time you ask for it. They want to sleep on it; they want to pray about it; they want to think about it. Such a person is like having an extra set of eyes and ears. Why would you want to live without them? So today be open to those God sends into your life to help guide you.
‘God is working in you.’ Philippians 2:13 NLT
Another way in which God will lead you is: through the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit. As a parent, you wouldn’t allow your children to get into trouble if you could stop them—and neither would God. ‘For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.’
God will give you a desire to do His will, plus the power to carry it out. You ask, ‘But how can I know God’s voice?’ Through time, through testing, through experience, and most of all through intimacy with Him. When a loved one calls you on the phone, they don’t have to say, ‘Hello, this is your husband or your wife calling.’ You know their voice! And learning to recognize the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit is crucial.
‘The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way?’ (Proverbs 20:24 NLT) When all is said and done, you will say, ‘Honestly, I didn’t figure this thing out. It must have been God.’ The longer you walk with God the less you’ll know about why He leads as He does, but you’ll know with assurance that He does lead you. Knowing that is what will draw you back to Him time and time again to seek His guidance. The apostle Jude said, ‘I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith.’(Jude 1:3 NIV) Those words— ‘I felt I had to’—are nothing less than the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit.