‘God is… a very present help in trouble.’ Psalm 46:1 NKJV
The Bible says, ‘God is… a very present help in trouble.’ (Psalm 46:1 NKJV) But first you must believe that ‘God is,’ otherwise the best you can hope for is good luck or human help. And how far do you think that’ll get you? When the doctor says he can’t do any more to save you or a loved one, who will you turn to? When you’ve run out of answers and need guidance, where will you go to find them? When you’re guilt-ridden and long for peace and forgiveness, who’ll provide them for you? When you do away with God, you become your own god, because you recognise no greater power in the universe than yourself. You can see why the Bible says, ‘The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”’ (Psalm 14:1 NKJV) How foolish to cut yourself off from the greatest source of help in all the universe!
For the next few days let’s talk about why ‘God is,’ and why you should put your trust in Him.
First, let’s look at astronomy. The Bible says: ‘The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display His craftsmanship …night after night they make Him known. They speak without a sound or word… Yet their message has gone throughout the earth.’ (Psalm 19:1–4 NLT) Did you know that 90 percent of the world’s astronomers believe in God? That’s a higher percentage than can be found among butchers, bakers and candlestick makers! The great minds who have thoroughly examined His handiwork, believe that ‘God is’. How about you?
‘Then Judas, the one who would betray Him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?”’ Matthew 26:25 NIV
In a sermon about commitment to Christ, the great preacher Charles Spurgeon said: ‘I’ve known some who preached the Gospel with power, but lived to depart from it altogether. I’ve known others who discharged the duties of deaconship and eldership with considerable diligence, who have afterwards given way to their evil passions. I’ve thought some of them to be the holiest of men. While they’ve been praying I’ve been lifted up to the very gates of Heaven; if anyone had said these would one day fall into gross sin, I wouldn’t have believed it. I’d sooner have believed it of myself. Those who seemed stronger than we have fallen, so why not we? Our Lord’s disciples who sat at the table with Him, when they were told that one of them would betray their master, each enquired: “Lord, is it I?” That was a very proper question. There wasn’t one who asked, “Lord, is it Judas?” Probably not one of them suspected him. And it may be that the worst hypocrite in this assembly is the one upon whom there doesn’t rest at this moment a single shade of suspicion. He has learned to play his part so well that his true character hasn’t yet been discovered.’
If those words hit too close for comfort, don’t walk—run—to the foot of the cross today! Run to the One who, with full knowledge of your struggles and temptations, loves you unconditionally; the One whose blood cleanses you from sin, whose grace can lift and sustain you, and whose power can help you live an overcoming life.
‘Let us not love with words … but with actions.’ 1 John 3:18 NIV
Here are five Scriptural ways to improve the quality of your relationships:
(1) Always show appreciation. Who are the people that really matter in your life? Let them know you love them, and do it often. Practice the ten-to-one rule: ten compliments to every one criticism! Many of us think the best way to help people is to ‘straighten them out’. No, the best way to help others is to look for the best in them. Dr John Maxwell calls this ‘the 101 Percent Principle’. Look for one thing you admire in somebody, then give them 100 percent encouragement for it. That’ll help you to like them, and vice versa. (2) Put others first. ‘Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men.’ (Ephesians 6:7 NIV) If you adopt that mindset in your dealings with others, you will go far in life. (3) Serve others gladly. Talking about how difficult it is to hire and train people, an airline executive said, ‘Service is the only thing we have to sell, but it’s the toughest thing to teach because nobody wants to be thought of as a servant.’ (4) Forgive it, resolve it and move beyond it. If someone has hurt you and you need to address it, do it immediately. Then forgive it, resolve it and move beyond it. And if it’s not worth bringing up, forget it and move on. (5) Make time for the people who matter. Don’t give away your time on a first-come-first-served basis. Don’t devote so much energy to ‘the squeaky wheel’ that you short-change the people in your life who matter most.
‘We rebuilt the wall … for the people worked with all their heart.’ Nehemiah 4:6 NIV
To succeed, Nehemiah needed favour with his boss, the king. So he prayed that this heathen potentate would finance the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. It was a bold prayer, and it wasn’t answered overnight. But Nehemiah didn’t sit around waiting. In the meantime he put together a plan, assembled a team, and scheduled a date to begin the work. That way when the king said yes, he was ready to move.
Some people think if God’s going to do something, why should they do anything? Then there are those who think they don’t need God at all, so they try to do it on their own. But both extremes are wrong. Sometimes God has to balance what He’s doing in your life with what He’s doing in somebody else’s life, so that ‘all things work together for good.’ (Romans 8:28 KJV) In Nehemiah’s case, waiting for a letter of authorisation from the king and funding for the project was like waiting for a government grant—it can take a while. But the Bible says, ‘The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.’ (Proverbs 21:1 NAS) Nehemiah exercised bold confidence in God’s willingness to provide. He also understood that, while he was waiting, it was his responsibility to prepare and set things in place so that when God gave him the green light he was ready to move. He exercised faith—and wisdom. He knew he couldn’t do God’s part, and that God wouldn’t do his part. So the word for you today is: ‘Prepare yourself!’
‘…be happy, because that is what God wants you to do.’ Ecclesiastes 9:7 NCV
Solomon writes: ‘So go eat your food and enjoy it; drink your wine and be happy, because that is what God wants you to do. Put on nice clothes and make yourself look good. Enjoy life with the wife you love. Enjoy all the useless days of this useless life God has given you here on earth, because it is all you have. So enjoy the work you do here on earth. Whatever work you do, do your best, because you are going to the grave…’ (Ecclesiastes 9:7–10 NCV) Despite his sarcasm, Solomon has a point. Two chapters later, he gives the bottom line of a happy life: ‘Fear God and keep His commandments.’ (Ecclesiastes 12:13 NIV) So, what are you waiting for? To graduate? Get married? Have children? Retire? Life is about the journey, not just the destination! Your life is here and now, your family is here and now, your marriage is here and now, your career is here and now. The journey takes place every day, and you can find meaning when you search for a greater purpose. You can find small joys every day if you have eyes of faith. Solomon recognised that ultimately we all end up at the same destination—the grave. The only difference lies in how much we enjoy the journey. Instead of obsessing over the things you can’t control, revere God, keep His commandments and leave the control to Him.
Phil Cooke writes: ‘I have to believe that God’s in control, and for me to always demand answers is to assume His role. I’ve decided to sit back and let Him be God and let me be me.’ That’s a philosophy you would do well to adopt!
‘These things happened to them as examples for us.’ 1 Corinthians 10:11 NLT
It’s a mistake to think the great achievers in the Bible were somehow different from us and say, ‘In my situation a life like that isn’t possible.’
Esther’s freedom was taken from her when, because of her beauty, a pagan king made her one of his wives. Talk about feeling out of place! But no place is out of place when you’re in the place God wants you to be! When Haman plotted to have the Jews exterminated, Esther was strategically positioned by God to save them. She discovered her life’s purpose when her uncle Mordecai told her she had ‘come to the kingdom for such a time as this.’ (Esther 4:14 NKJV) And what was her response? ‘I will go to the king [on behalf of my people]…and if I perish, I perish!’ (Esther 4:16 NKJV) But instead of perishing, she prevailed!
So what can we learn from Esther? (1) When you first start out, God won’t give you all the details. That doesn’t mean He doesn’t have a plan. It’s in seeking Him that you discover His plan and draw on His strength. (2) Knowledge is power. Whether you’re a slave or a sovereign, when you know God has called you it enables you to overcome each obstacle as it arises. (3) Knowing God’s in control gives you boldness. When Esther said, ‘If I perish, I perish,’ she was simply putting herself into God’s hands, knowing that even death can be faced with confidence when you trust Him. Not only does God have a place for you here on earth, He has an even better one for you in Heaven. And that puts you in the ultimate win-win situation.
‘If God is for us, who can ever be against us?’ Romans 8:31 NLT
Paul asks five all-important questions:
(1) ‘If God is for us, who can ever be against us?’ (Romans 8:31 NLT) The assurance of God’s presence tilts the scales in your favour. So whatever you’re facing today, remind yourself, ‘God is for me.’ (2) ‘Since [God] did not spare even His own Son but gave Him up for us all, won’t [God]…give us everything else?’ (Romans 8:32 NLT) Think about it: Would God save your soul, then leave you to fend for yourself? Or address your eternal needs and not your earthly ones? No! (3) ‘Who dares accuse us…? No one—for God Himself has given us right standing with Himself.’ (Romans 8:33 NLT) Every accusing voice, including your own, counts for nothing in the court of Heaven. God’s acceptance trumps everybody else’s rejection—and He accepts you because He sees you ‘in Christ.’ (4) ‘Who then will condemn us?… Christ Jesus died for us… He is sitting in the place of honour at God’s right hand, pleading for us.’ (Romans 8:34 NLT) When your accusers rise up and speak against you, Jesus, your defence attorney, silences them. Why? Because His blood covers you! (5) ‘Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?’ (Romans 8:35 NLT) Paul answers his own question: ‘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… nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 8:38–39 NLT)
Knowing these five truths will help you enjoy your day, and sleep better at night!
‘Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him.’ Genesis 37:5 NIV
Staying power overcomes misunderstanding and rejection. Sometimes the people you count on to support you will actually try to undercut you. When God gives you a vision too big for them to handle, they’ll say, ‘You’re getting too big for your boots,’ and then try to cut you down to size—their size!
Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, then went home and told their father he’d been killed by a wild beast. Can you imagine how Joseph felt when someone asked, ‘Tell me about your family’? General Dwight D. Eisenhower said, ‘There are no victories at bargain prices.’ And sadly, betrayal happens as often in church as in secular society. When Charles Spurgeon was in his early twenties, such large crowds came to his church that the building couldn’t accommodate them. So he met with thirty of his church leaders and suggested they build an auditorium that would seat 5,500 people. Allegedly, he told them that if any of them doubted the possibility of accomplishing this, they should leave. And twenty-three did! But Spurgeon held true to the vision God had given him. He had the ‘stickability’ to see it through, and for over thirty-five years crowds packed the Metropolitan Tabernacle morning and night, making it one of the most influential churches in history.
An old Gospel song says, ‘Got any rivers you think are un-crossable? Got any mountains you can’t tunnel through? God specialises in things thought impossible; He can do just what no other can do.’
‘I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back.’ Judges 11:35 KJV
Staying power overcomes family opposition. When Jephthah’s family disowned him and threw him out of the house, he built an army that ultimately delivered Israel from the hands of their enemies. As a result, he ended up becoming the nation’s youngest judge. When faced with the challenge to ‘fold up or hold up,’ David Livingstone demonstrated staying power. His wife, Mary, gave him so much trouble, always complaining and criticising, that she made his life’s work almost impossible. The tension between them became so great that Livingstone sent her home to England for a period of more than twelve years while he suffered, bled and ultimately died in Africa for the cause of Christ.
When Jesus went home to Nazareth to minister to the people He grew up around, some of them tried to throw Him off a cliff. And in spite of His teachings and miracles, His family thought He was mad. Did that hurt Him? Of course. But He didn’t let it stop Him. He said: ‘Anyone who wants to be My follower must love Me far more than he does his own father, mother, wife, children, brothers or sisters—yes, more than his own life—otherwise, he cannot be My disciple. And no one can be My disciple who does not carry his own cross and follow Me… don’t begin until you [first] count the cost.’ (Luke 14:26–28 TLB)
When your family opposes you, love them and pray for them because God can change their hearts. And until He does, keep serving Him.
‘Here on earth you will have many trials.’ John 16:33 NLT
Two more reasons you need to develop staying power are:
(1) It overcomes prolonged illness. When sickness saps your physical, emotional and mental strength—that’s when you need staying power. The Bible says, ‘The strong spirit of a man [or woman] sustains him in bodily pain or trouble, but a weak and broken spirit who can … bear?’ (Proverbs 18:14 AMP) Charles Spurgeon was known to multitudes as ‘the prince of preachers’. His ministry impacted London and much of the British Isles. Yet he was so sick that he had to spend a lot of his time resting in Southern France. His wife, who became an invalid after the birth of their twin sons, transcended her physical limitations with staying power. Though paralysed, she directed from her bed an unprecedented book distribution effort. And it’s largely because of her staying power that Spurgeon’s books are on the shelves of more people around the world than the books of most other ministers.
(2) It overcomes financial limitations. George Müller, who founded homes for orphans in England, is a prime example of staying power. He saved the lives of thousands of children, and he did it by faith. Many times he didn’t have the money to buy food for their next meal, but he never complained. Instead he prayed. And in response to his faith, money poured in from all over the world, much of it from people he never knew. Müller lived by the Scriptural principle: ‘Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.’
‘We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed.’ 2 Corinthians 4:8 NIV
Here’s a saying that has proven to be true: ‘What doesn’t destroy us makes us stronger.’
And here are four sayings that have proved to be false: (1) ‘When you become a Christian all your problems are over.’ Whoever told you that didn’t get it from Scripture. Paul said, ‘We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.’ (2 Corinthians 4:8–9) (2) ‘All the problems you’ll ever encounter are addressed in the Bible.’ God tells us many things in His Word, but He still requires us to ‘walk by faith, not by sight.’ (2 Corinthians 5:7 KJV) That means receiving guidance from His Word, from the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and from the counsel of godly friends. (3) ‘If you’re having problems, you must be unspiritual.’ The opposite is true. Satan’s attack is proof that you haven’t been conquered, that you represent a threat to the kingdom of darkness, and that you’re doing the will of God. And the greater the attack, the greater the level of blessing that awaits you beyond it, so keep going. (4) ‘Being exposed to sound Bible teaching automatically solves every problem.’ It will certainly help you solve your problems, but it won’t solve them for you. You must be a ‘doer’ of the Word and not a ‘hearer only’ (see James 1:23). Paul writes, ‘Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on all of God’s armour so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies [and tricks] of the devil.’ (Ephesians 6:10–11 NLT) In other words, you need ‘staying power.’
‘Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up.’ 1 Corinthians 13:4 NKJV
Some of the greatest insights on what it means to love someone come from the pen of the apostle Paul: ‘Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.’ (1 Corinthians 13:3–7 NKJV)
John had been married to Mary for fifty years. One night in bed she said, ‘When we were young, you used to hold my hand.’ A little irritated, he slowly reaches out his hand. ‘When we were young, you used to snuggle up to me,’ Mary said. Even more slowly, John’s body creaks and turns, nestling against hers. ‘When we were young, you used to nibble on my ear,’ she whispered. Abruptly he throws back the covers and jumps out of bed. Bewildered, Mary asks, ‘Where are you going?’ ‘To get my teeth!’ he grumbles.
To nibble on an ear when you’re full of romance and bubbling hormones is one thing. To nibble on that same ear years later when it holds a hearing aid, when the scent in the air is Vicks VapoRub, and when you have to get up to get your teeth—that’s love!
‘You shall go out with joy.’ Isaiah 55:12 NKJV
Every morning say, ‘Today, I will go out with joy.’ That’ll set your attitude straight! Generally speaking, there are three kinds of people: (1) Those who feel bad about feeling good. They believe we’re not supposed to be happy, just ‘responsible.’ (2) Those who rain on your parade because your joy bothers them. Often these people have been hurt by life and anger simmers just beneath the surface. (3) Those who lift your spirit and breathe life into you.
You say, ‘But doesn’t the Bible tell us believers are supposed to be different from nonbelievers?’ Yes, but not negatively different—positively different! And unless you commit yourself to walking in the joy of the Lord, you’ll find negative ways of distinguishing yourself from nonbelievers. Paul writes, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always.’ (Philippians 4:4 NIV) If you’re thinking, ‘That’s easy for Paul to say; he doesn’t have my problems,’ think again! When Paul wrote those words he was in prison with no chance of getting out. For him joy was a decision, not a reaction to circumstances. You ask, ‘How could Paul be joyful in prison?’ Because he understood that true joy comes from devoting yourself to something bigger than your own interests. The Bible says, ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength.’ (Nehemiah 8:10 KJV)
True joy calls for three things: (a) Making a conscious choice to focus on God’s goodness every single day. (b) Reaching out to bless others every chance you get. (c) Understanding that joy produces strength, which explains why your joy is the devil’s primary target. When you lose your joy you lose your strength, and he wins—so be joyful!
‘We have placed our confidence in Him, and He will continue to rescue us.’ 2 Corinthians 1:10 NLT
Paul writes: ‘We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in…Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed…we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And He did rescue us from mortal danger, and He will rescue us again.’ (2 Corinthians 1:8–10 NLT) For Paul, what looked like the end of the road was just the beginning of a fresh infusion of God’s power and favour into his life. As a result he went on to say that through it all he learned not to trust in himself, but in God ‘who raises the dead.’
It’s when your plans look dead that God’s resurrection power begins to operate in your life in greater measure. As long as you have a loving heavenly Father to call on, a word from the Lord to stand on and faith to activate it, you have every reason to rejoice.
So come on—start calling on God today! And do it in faith—not doubt. Expect Him to release His power on your behalf; then watch as He turns your situation around. Why? Because now you’re starting to trust the One who can really do something about it! Always remember that no matter how strong or successful you are, there’ll never be a time in your life when you don’t need God’s grace and guidance. And the sooner you learn that, the better off you’ll be.
‘God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.’ Philippians 2:13 NLT
Underline these words: ‘God is working in you.’ He does this as you engage your mind, open your mouth, move your feet and use your hands to do what He’s already put into your heart. The moment you say yes to His will, He gives you the ability to perform it.
Notice, He doesn’t reveal His will to you, then call you. He calls you and, as you step out in faith and obey Him, He reveals His will to you step by step, empowering and equipping you as you go.
If you’re thinking you’d like a little more detail before you make a commitment, take note. First: God may make you uncomfortable where you are. ‘Like an eagle that stirs up its nest… the Lord…led him.’ (Deuteronomy 32:11–12 NIV) To teach her children to fly, a mother eagle literally pushes them out of the nest. Talk about being out of your element! Can you imagine what they are thinking? ‘It’s my mother doing this to me.’ But until a baby eagle is forced out of its comfort zone, it doesn’t realise it was born to fly, spread its wings, release its power and take its place in the skies. Is God stirring up your comfort zone today? Second: God’s direction is impossible to follow without His help. He plans it that way. Jesus said, ‘Without Me you can do nothing.’ (John 15:5 NKJV) Third: There’s persistence in His leading. Human ideas go away, but God’s direction stays. That means time is on your side—so stay in step with God and don’t get ahead of Him.
‘He shows the proper path to those who go astray.’ Psalm 25:8 NLT
Throughout Scripture God talked to ordinary people, and He’ll talk to you too! He told Abraham when to leave home (see Genesis 12:1), and Jacob when to go back home (see Genesis 31:3). He told Elijah where to find food in the middle of a famine (see 1 Kings 17:1–5). On two different occasions He stopped Paul from walking through what appeared to be a door of opportunity because He had something better in mind for him. The Bible says: ‘The Lord is good and does what is right; He shows the proper path to those who go astray. He leads the humble in doing right, teaching them His way. The Lord leads with unfailing love and faithfulness all who keep His covenant and obey His demands.’ (Psalm 25:8–10 NLT)
Nothing is more important in life than being led by God. Other people’s input should confirm and clarify what God’s already telling you. But until you’ve heard from Him, you’ll be tempted to think other people’s ideas are God’s leading—and that can hurt you.
You’re unique, and God has a unique plan and purpose for you. When you’re not sure which way to go, stand on His promise: ‘I will lead My blind people by roads they have never travelled. I will turn their darkness into light and make rough country smooth before them. These are My promises, and I will keep them without fail.’ (Isaiah 42:16GNT) It doesn’t get any better than that!
‘Many waters cannot quench love, nor can rivers drown it.’ Song of Solomon 8:7 NLT
The story’s told of a wedding where the minister said to the groom, ‘Do you take this woman for better or for worse? For richer or for poorer? In sickness and in health?’ And the groom said, ‘Yes, no, yes, no, no, yes.’
We all want the better, richer and healthier parts of marriage, but that’s not the way relationships work. In some modern marriage ceremonies the bride and groom pledge to stay together ‘as long as love shall last.’ Let’s hope they both know a good divorce attorney, because they’re probably going to need one. The truth is that relationships which are based on feelings don’t last. The only real stability in marriage is produced by a firm commitment that holds two people steady when emotions are fluctuating wildly. Can you imagine a parent saying to a child, ‘I’ll care for you as long as I shall love you?’ No, and neither does a wishy-washy expression of love hold much promise for the future of a marriage. Think about it this way: emotion is like the carriage of a train, but commitment is the engine that pulls the relationship through all the ups and downs of everyday living.
Solomon puts it this way: ‘Many waters cannot quench love, nor can rivers drown it. If a man tried to buy love with all his wealth, his offer would be utterly scorned.’ (Song of Solomon 8:7 NLT) And one more thought—the theme of the Bible is resurrection. That means even though your love may feel dead, God can cause it to live again if you’re both willing to let Him work in your heart.
‘The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.’ Psalm 118:6 NIV
First, be willing to take a risk. Yes, you might be hurt or embarrassed—so what? To overcome insecurity and gain confidence you must allow yourself the freedom to take a chance. Start writing that book, take those music lessons, stand up and speak at the meeting! Feel the fear and do it anyway! ‘Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.’ (Proverbs 29:25 NIV)
Second, learn to laugh at yourself. Get over your obsessive need for approval and acceptance and learn to laugh at your mistakes. We’re all human; stop taking yourself so seriously! When you make a mistake, be the first to see the funny side, and you’ll find people more supportive than you think.
Third, start thinking realistically. It’s time to drop the security blanket and realise it’s not all about you. You are not the centre of the universe, and your little faux pas don’t mean that much in the bigger scheme of things. Besides, mistakes are often better teachers than success.
Fourth, reward yourself for little victories. When you complete a project, reward yourself. When you take advice or correction without retaliating, reward yourself. Often the people we lash out at are those trying the hardest to help us. Get used to the idea that you’re valuable, talented and skilled, and your worth in God’s eyes is inestimable. Stop scrutinising yourself through distorted lenses and start seeing yourself with 20/20 vision. Once you can do that, your fears will be replaced by God honouring confidence in yourself and in your future.
‘You do not have because you do not ask.’ James 4:2 NKJV
Notice: (1) There are benefits you won’t receive unless you ask for them. Plus, ‘asking and receiving’ works wonders for your self-esteem. Imagine the joy these five women felt when their petition was granted. Obviously they were emotionally secure or they wouldn’t have tried it. So, as a redeemed child of God declare, ‘If God be for us, who can be against us?’ (Romans 8:31 KJV)
(2) Timing is important. ‘A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.’ (Proverbs 27:12 NLT) The daughters of Zelophehad spoke up while they were still in the wilderness; the Promised Land hadn’t yet been conquered. There’s nothing like good planning. You can’t just sit around and assume others are thinking about your welfare. For example, after the raises are announced is not the time to petition your boss for an increase. Zelophehad’s daughters made life better for every other woman in Israel. So by speaking up and confronting the situation not only will you be blessed, others will too.
(3) Strive for a win-win situation. The battle was not yet over. The daughters of Zelophehad had uncles who appealed the new ruling, pointing out that if these women married men outside their tribe then their land holdings would go to other tribes. So God made another ruling; to possess land you must only marry within your own tribe (see Numbers 36:5–11). And when it comes to marriage, spiritually speaking that principle still applies. ‘She is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.’ (1 Corinthians 7:39 NKJV) The same for men.
‘The daughters of Zelophehad…stood before Moses.’ Numbers 27:1–2 NKJV
The daughters of Zelophehad teach us that we must: (1) Be willing to do something about it. Complaining doesn’t change anything; it just makes you more miserable. With millions of people entering the Promised Land, other women were in the same predicament. But nothing changed until these five women became proactive and refused to accept the status quo. That took courage. Going before Moses was like appealing to the Supreme Court. Solutions are found when you decide to face your problems head-on and do something about them.
(2) Be clear about what you want. What do you want to happen, or stop happening? When you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there; you must have a clear goal in mind. These women believed they were entitled to the same blessing the male members of their family received, and they refused to settle for less. As a result, God gave it to them. And He will do the same for you. ‘Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.’ (Galatians 6:9 NKJV)
(3) Refuse to be deterred by opinions, policies, and traditions. Under the law of Moses women weren’t even numbered as part of the census (see Numbers 26). Can you imagine the shape the church would be in if we lived by that policy today? Many times in the Scripture God altered ‘the norm’ in response to bold faith, and changed the destiny of those individuals. And what He did for them, He will do for you.
‘Give us a possession among our father’s brothers.’ Numbers 27:4 NKJV
The five daughters of Zelophehad are a great example of how to get what you want. The Israelites were about to possess the Promised Land. Guidelines had been established for allocating the land among the various tribes. But the law said that only males could inherit land. These five women thought this was unfair since it denied them the ability to inherit their deceased father’s property. So they challenged this law by taking their case to Moses. ‘Our father died in the wilderness… and he had no sons… Give us a possession among our father’s brothers.’ (Numbers 27:3–4 NKJV) Now, since it was God who gave the law, only He could change it. So Moses took their case before the Lord, and here’s what He said: ‘The daughters of Zelophehad speak what is right… you shall…cause the inheritance…to pass to them.’ (Numbers 27:7 NKJV)
These brave women took matters into their own hands. They had no men in their lives to speak up on their behalf—no husbands, no brothers, and no sons. Yes, they had uncles, but it was unlikely that they would support them in their request since they were asking for land that would, under the current plan, default to the uncles.
Here’s what we learn from this story: (1) When something is unfair and unjust, God may be calling you to challenge and change it. (2) All things don’t come to those who wait, but to those who are willing to go and get them. (3) Man may close the door, but when you turn to God He can open it for you.
‘The Spirit… intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.’ Romans 8:26 NIV
We usually think of groaning as something negative. But when the Spirit groans in prayer it’s good. ‘The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.’ (Romans 8:26–28 NIV)
Sometimes when we’re praying about a certain need, we feel it so deeply that we can’t express ourselves in words. At that point the Holy Spirit enters the picture and helps us with our weakness. But He does more than just feel for us, He takes our pain and deepest longings and presents them before God. What does this tell us about prayer? That the Holy Spirit connects with your prayers when they come from your heart and not just your lips. There are times when you’re unable to articulate a single word in prayer; nevertheless you’re making an important connection.
Ever reach a point where you’re so concerned about something that when you come before God, all you can do is sigh? You’re learning something important about prayer! God allows us to groan; otherwise we’d never truly pray. We’d utter words but never really pray from deep within—where ‘effectual fervent prayer’ has to begin (James 5:16 KJV).
‘In the… fear of the Lord there is strong confidence.’ Proverbs 14:26 AMP
When you submit to God, you don’t have to be afraid of anything because He becomes your ‘refuge and strength.’ (Psalm 46:1 NAS) Fearing God doesn’t mean being afraid He’s going to hurt you. He’s a good God! ‘The fear of the Lord’ is about honour and respect—it just means you follow His directions and recognise His authority in all things.
You’ve probably noticed there’s not a lot of respect for authority these days; we’ve developed the kind of mentality that says, ‘Nobody’s going to tell me what to do!’ But the Bible says, ‘In the reverent and worshipful fear of the Lord there is strong confidence.’ (Proverbs 14:26 AMP) Why does it say that? Because a reverent and worshipful fear means being respectful and obedient. It means you’ll do what God says to do, and your confidence and trust in Him will continue to grow. And you’ll notice something else that’s important: the more reverential fear and awe you have of God, the more careful and courteous you’ll be in your dealings with others. That’s because you know you’re accountable to God for your actions, and you recognise that other people are just as valuable to Him as you are.
Solomon writes, ‘Here is the conclusion of the matter: fear God and keep His commandments… this is the whole duty of man.’ (Ecclesiastes 12:13 NIV) Moses told the children of Israel, ‘What does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God… walk in all His ways… love Him… serve the Lord your God with all your heart and…soul.’ (Deuteronomy 10:12 NIV) It’s not complicated!
‘Give, and it will be given to you.’ Luke 6:38 NKJV
Generosity isn’t just about money. Lots of people say, ‘As soon as I get rich I’ll become more generous.’ But the greatest givers often have the least money. Grandmothers on meagre pensions are sending a few dollars a month to help build orphanages. People barely making it are giving to feed the hungry. Retired employees are mentoring younger workers. Single people with limited resources are spending their evenings working with the homeless or families in need.
No matter where you are financially, you can begin a lifestyle of giving. If you can come up with the money for a nice car, dining out, movie tickets, dating and other leisure activities, chances are you can find something to give if you really want to. Jesus said, ‘Give, and you will receive… The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.’ (Luke 6:38 NLT) Want a bonus? Want a blessing? Start giving your time, treasure and talent to others. Jesus either lied or He told the truth, and you need to find out which. If you believe He told the truth you’d be foolish to withhold instead of giving.
Studies have revealed that, in general, giving makes us happier, is good for our health, promotes gratitude, increases connection and cooperation and is even—sometimes—contagious! So start giving to others and see what happens.
‘When the Almighty was yet with me, when my children were around me.’ Job 29:5 NKJV
Here’s a true saying: ‘The family that prays together, stays together.’ Here’s another true saying: ‘The family that eats together and communicates, raises well-adjusted children.’
When the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Centre studied five hundred teenagers, here’s what they discovered: children whose parents ate dinner with them five times a week or more were the least likely to be on drugs, to be depressed or to be in trouble with the law. They were also more likely to do well in school, and be surrounded by a supportive circle of friends. Even when families met together at a fast-food restaurant they got the same results. By contrast, the more poorly adjusted teens ate with their parents only three times a week or less. What do these findings mean? (1) You need to make time to be involved with your children on a daily basis, especially during the formative years. (2) When you give your children things, you give them short-term pleasure and excitement, but when you give them time, you give them self-worth. This may call for working fewer hours or eliminating certain activities, but it’s an investment you’ll never regret.
Job was one of the wealthiest men in his generation. But after tragedy struck and all ten of his children died in a single day, he looked back and wrote, ‘The Almighty was yet with me, when my children were around me.’ You need to ask yourself: ‘Am I spending enough time with my family?’ If you don’t like the answer, start changing things.
‘We are not ignorant of [Satan’s] devices.’ 2 Corinthians 2:11 NKJV
On the heels of a spiritual victory it’s tempting to let down your guard, but that’s when you’re most vulnerable to Satan’s attacks. You can’t afford to be ‘ignorant of [Satan’s] devices.’ Even Jesus wasn’t exempt. In a display of supernatural power, He fed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish. After a miracle like that most of us would have decided it was time to kick back and take it easy for a while. But instead of basking in the afterglow, Jesus ‘departed to the mountain to pray.’ (Mark 6:46 NKJV) It wasn’t apparent at the time, but He was about to face one of the fiercest storms of His ministry (see Mark 6:48).
Henry Blackaby observes: ‘The disciples raced headlong into the tempest unprepared, but… Jesus entered the storm prepared and met the crisis with all the power of God… Stand guard over your high points… when you experience God mightily… go immediately to a place of prayer so the Father can prepare you for what’s to come.’ Times have changed but human nature hasn’t. We’re still our same old predictable selves—and Satan knows it. That’s why he ‘prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.’ (1 Peter 5:8 NLT)
To stop him from gaining an advantage: (1) ‘Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you'(James 4:7 NIV); (2) Surround yourself with godly companions (see Psalm 1:1); (3) Stay connected to God through His Word and prayer. Vern McLellan said, ‘In the morning prayer opens the treasures of God’s mercies and blessings, and in the evening it shuts us up under His protection and safeguard.’ That’s a fail-safe strategy you should adopt.
‘Then the devil comes.’ Luke 8:12 ESV
Anne Graham Lotz writes: ‘In the course of a week, the hot-water heater broke, water pipes burst… the bathroom showerhead fell off… [and] I was confronted with friction between family members and problems with my ministry staff. I was tempted to lose my temper, to worry instead of trust, and to neglect my prayer life. What looked like ordinary frustration… was something more sinister… Satan attacks our weakened defences in the mundane areas of our lives.’
The Bible says that immediately following the spiritual blessing He received at His baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert ‘to be tempted by the devil’ (see Matthew 4:1–11).
There are important lessons here: (1) Don’t rest in success. After the benediction comes the battle. What incredible blessing has God recently given you? Whether it involves your ministry, family, career or your personal walk with God, watch out! Satan targets us when we’re off-guard. (2) Stay in God’s will. Have you ever thought, ‘If it’s this hard it can’t be God’s will,’ and decided to quit? Just because you’re doing the right thing doesn’t mean you’re immune. Jesus was in God’s will when the enemy attacked Him. When things look bleak, don’t ‘lean…on your own understanding’; that’s the time to ‘trust in the Lord with all your heart.’ (Proverbs 3:5 NKJV) (3) Know the Scripture. Every time Jesus was attacked He countered with, ‘It is written.’ God’s Word is called ‘the sword of the Spirit’ (Ephesians 6:17 NIV) because it’s our primary offensive weapon against evil (see Ephesians 6:16). Jesus used it to defeat Satan, and so must you.
‘The children God has graciously given your servant.’ Genesis 33:5 NIV
We live in a day when children have never been given more of the things they want, and less of the things they need. What do they need? You! Not trinkets, treasures and toys, but your love and your time.
Read these unsettling words in a Newsweek column entitled, ‘Dear Dads, Save Your Sons,’ by psychologist Christopher Bacorn. He tells about an anxious mother in her mid-thirties who came to his office with her 15-year-old son. The boy’s dad had left four years before. Since then the teenager had descended into alcohol, gang membership and violence. The mother had nowhere else to turn, and it was obvious the boy was at best a hostile participant. After attempting for thirty minutes to crack the steel vault of this boy’s heart, Dr. Bacorn realised the futility of it all. He wrote these poignant and sad words: ‘I’ve come to believe that most adolescent boys can’t make use of professional counselling… What a boy can use, and all too often doesn’t have, is the fellowship of men—at least one man who pays attention to him, who spends time with him, who admires him. A boy needs a man he can look up to. What he doesn’t need is a shrink… As a nation we’re racked by youth violence, overrun by gangs, guns and drugs. The great majority of youthful offenders are male, most without fathers involved in their lives in any useful way.’
In Genesis we read that Jacob was a successful businessman, but he discovered that his greatest earthly treasure was ‘the children God has graciously given to your servant.’ (Genesis 33:5 NIV) Dad, have you discovered that?
‘Therefore comfort one another with these words.’ 1 Thessalonians 4:18 NKJV
A well known pastor once planned to attend the funeral of an acquaintance and, by mistake, ended up at the wrong funeral parlour. The body of an elderly man was laid out, and his widow was the only mourner there. She seemed so lonely, he stayed for the funeral and then accompanied her to the cemetery. After the committal service, as they were driving away, he confessed that he hadn’t actually known the lady’s husband. ‘I thought so,’ she replied. ‘I didn’t recognise you. But it doesn’t matter. You’ll never, ever, know what this means to me.’
Philip Yancey writes: ‘Simple availability is the most powerful force we can contribute… We rightly disparage Job’s three friends for their insensitive response to his suffering. But read the account again: “When they came, they sat in silence beside Job for seven days before opening their mouths”…those were the most eloquent moments they spent with him. Instinctively I shrink back from people in pain. Who knows if they want to talk about their predicament or not? Do they want to be consoled or cheered up? What good can my presence possibly do? My mind spins out these rationalisations and as a result I end up doing the worst thing possible: I stay away… No one offers the name of a philosopher when I ask, “Who helped you the most?” Most often they describe a quiet, unassuming person… who was there… who listened more than they talked, who didn’t keep glancing down at a watch, who hugged and touched, and cried… someone who was available and came on the sufferer’s terms, not their own.’
That’s how you minister to others.
‘God…comforts us…so that we can comfort [others].’ 2 Corinthians 1:3–4 NIV
A century ago a lady visited an American orphanage and asked the matron, ‘Is there a child here nobody has offered to adopt?’ The matron replied, ‘There is. Her name is Mercy Goodfaith. She’s ten years old, not much to look at, and has a hunchback.’ The lady said, ‘That’s the child I want!’ 35 years later the director of the Orphanage Inspection Department in Iowa submitted the following report on a state-run facility: ‘This home is outstanding. It’s clean, the food’s good, the children are well cared-for, and the atmosphere is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The matron, Mercy Goodfaith, has a soul that oozes love; she has such beautiful eyes I forgot how homely her face was—or that she was a hunchback.’ Because a Good Samaritan had the courage to love and nurture a little girl others overlooked, Mercy Goodfaith went on to share that same love with hundreds of other orphans.
Paul says, ‘God… comforts us… so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we… received.’ (2 Corinthians 1:3–4 NIV) And Billy Graham adds: ‘Those who have suffered the most are best able to comfort others …to empathise with [their] afflictions because of what they’ve experienced… Our sufferings may be hard to bear, but our goal should be to learn all we can from what we’re called to endure so we can fulfil a ministry of comfort as Jesus did. “Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18 NIV) The sufferer becomes the comforter in the service of the Lord.
‘Who works out everything in conformity with… His will.’ Ephesians 1:11 NIV
The Bible says before you were born: ‘Every day of [your] life was recorded… Every moment… laid out before a single day had passed.’ (Psalm 139:16 NLT) God personalised a road map for your life ‘in conformity with… His will.’ (Ephesians 1:11 NIV) And it’s your job to discover it and walk within its confines.
Terry Nance says: ‘You may know your ultimate destination, but need guidance on how to get there. First and foremost, “God’s Word is a lamp for your feet and a light for your path.” (Psalm 119:105) He sees the big picture… the shortcuts and pitfalls… Don’t look for external guidance… the Holy Spirit lives inside you, and it’s from within that you’ll get the inside track.’ Meditate on these Scriptures and make them personal prayers: ‘God has made us what we are… to do good works, which [He] planned in advance for us to live our lives doing.’ (Ephesians 2:10 NCV) ‘The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.’ (Psalm 37:23 NLT) ‘You clear the way for me, and now I won’t stumble.’ (Psalm 18:36 CEV) ‘Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.’ (Proverbs 3:6 NLT) ‘Behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or…left.’ (Isaiah 30:21 NLT)
At the end of his life Paul could say, ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.’ (2 Timothy 4:7).Notice, sometimes Paul had to ‘fight’ to stay on course, but by God’s grace he made it—and so will you!
‘Your love for one another is growing.’ 2 Thessalonians 1:3 NLT
When Paul says, ‘Your love for one another is growing,’ it’s not the kind where life’s perfect and everybody accommodates you. God’s intention is to ‘grow’ you into the kind of love that’s not defined by your feelings, but a sacrificial love that says, ‘I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.’ (Galatians 2:20 NIV) It’s possible to be in love with the idea of a perfect marriage, without actually loving your mate. Or the dream of what your children could become, if only they’d follow your advice. But when it comes to loving a rebellious teen who acts like ‘the other side of the family,’ it’s a growing process that puts your love to the test.
Jesus said, ‘As I have loved you… you must love one another’ (John 13:34 NIV), and He never asks us to do anything without giving us the ability to do it. So are you ready to do a little growing?
Kristin Armstrong says: ‘When we’re hurt it’s common to withdraw. But the worst thing a parent can do is to withhold affection in response to a child’s behaviour. A child’s heart grows when it’s nurtured with unconditional love. Affection doesn’t depend on behaviour, mood or circumstances. Being pleasing does not equate to being lovable. Imagine if Jesus loved us only when we behaved perfectly. We’d never experience His affection, and consequently we’d wither away. And since Jesus is our example, we need to love others with Christlike grace. He loves us according to His capacity, not according to the degree of our merit. We must love others… not by our standards but by His.’
‘Its fruit looked delicious… So she… ate it.’ Genesis 3:6 NLT
Let’s look at the first time in Scripture anyone was tempted and see what we can learn. The Bible says, ‘The serpent was the shrewdest of all the [creatures] the Lord God had made… he asked the woman, “Did God really say…?”’ (Genesis 3:1 NLT) First, Satan will blind you to all the good things God has in store for you. Then he’ll take mood-altering substances like drugs or alcohol, or somebody else’s husband or wife, or internet porn, and tell you it won’t hurt you. Don’t bite! He’s a liar! Don’t believe him! ‘Temptation comes from our own desires… These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters.’ (James 1:14–16 NLT)
Any weakness that’s constantly indulged, excused, denied or hidden has the power to enslave you. Failure to identify and target your weakness strengthens it. Ignoring your areas of vulnerability makes defeat inevitable. Satan has assigned certain people to feed your weaknesses. Be discerning. Your weakness will be drawn to any friendship that accepts it, enjoys it and feeds on it. It has an agenda of its own—to take over your life and sabotage God’s plan for you. It’ll always bond with the wrong people and make you uncomfortable in the presence of the right ones. And it can emerge at any time, including your latter years.
So how do you overcome your weakness? Through willpower? No, through God’s power! And it’s available to you today—so reach for it!
‘He ran from the house.’ Genesis 39:12 NLT
The Bible says, ‘Joseph was a very handsome and well-built young man, and Potiphar’s wife… began to look at him lustfully. “Come and sleep with me,” she demanded. But Joseph refused. “Look,” he told her, “my master trusts me with everything in his entire household… How could I do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God.” She kept putting pressure on Joseph day after day, but he refused to sleep with her, and he kept out of her way as much as possible. One day, however, no one else was around when he went in to do his work. She came and grabbed him by his cloak, demanding, “Come on, sleep with me!” Joseph tore himself away, but he left his cloak in her hand as he ran from the house.’ (Genesis 39:6–12 NLT)
Note the words: ‘She kept putting pressure on Joseph day after day.’ Joseph’s temptation kept happening when he was around a certain person: Potiphar’s wife. And it kept happening when he was in a certain place: Potiphar’s house. So he ran. Not because he was weak—but because he was wise! He understood that if you hang around temptation too long you’re playing with fire and setting yourself up to get ‘burned.’
So, what people and what places do you need to avoid? What sources of temptation do you need to remove from your life in order to live victoriously? Remember the old Kenny Rogers song: ‘You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em; know when to walk away and know when to run’? God isn’t dishonoured when you run—you’re dishonoured when you don’t!
‘Nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.’ 2 Chronicles 20:12 NKJV
When Jesus told Peter he would soon deny his Lord, Peter virtually boasted, ‘Others may, but not me!’ Yet within a few hours he was swearing and disavowing any knowledge of Jesus. It can happen to any of us. The Bible says, ‘Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own [particular] desires and enticed.’ (James 1:14 NKJV)
We all have areas of vulnerability which, if not disciplined by character and commitment, have the potential to defeat or even destroy us. What can you do? (1) Recognise it. Before you yield to temptation you usually go through certain stages. By neglecting prayer and Bible reading you become indifferent to God, insensitive to danger, and find yourself drawn like a moth to a flame. Then you begin to rationalise your disobedience and think, ‘Nobody knows. What harm will it do?’ And the more you silence the voice of conscience, the stronger your carnal appetites become. Then you surround yourself with people who do the same things, or are at least willing to look the other way. Jesus said, ‘Pray… that you may not enter into temptation.’ (Mark 14:38AMP) Pray for strength before the temptation comes! (2) Reach for help. When Jehoshaphat came up against an enemy too big to handle alone, he prayed, ‘We have no power against this great multitude… nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.’ (2 Chronicles 20:12 NKJV) Jehoshaphat knew he was no match for the enemy, and he knew where to turn for help.
What’s the secret of victory? Lean less on yourself and more on God!
‘To be conformed to the likeness of His Son.’ Romans 8:29 NIV
The Bible says, ‘Those God foreknew He… predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.’ (Romans 8:29 NIV) When you read the preceding verses in the chapter you discover God does this through prayer. This should encourage you to pray. Many times we don’t pray because we don’t think anything’s happening. But with God, something’s always happening! We wonder, ‘When is He going to work?’ What we fail to understand is—He’s always working.
When it comes to prayer He’s either answering the way you hoped, or changing your heart through the Spirit’s intercession to bring your prayer into harmony with His will. You say, ‘But I don’t see anything happening.’ When you plant a seed, you don’t come back the next day expecting green shoots and leaves. Does that mean nothing’s happening? No, a host of necessary processes are taking place below the ground where you can’t see them. Don’t make the mistake of thinking because you don’t see the evidence that nothing’s happening. It’s just not harvest time yet. One way in which God is making us more like Jesus is by helping us to pray the way Jesus prayed, ‘Not My will, but Thine, be done.’ (Luke 22:42 KJV) That means when your prayer lines up with His will, He’s already working on it even though you can’t see it. And if your prayer isn’t in accordance with His will, He’s working to change your request by changing you.
Unanswered prayer can be as big a blessing as answered prayer, when it keeps us from violating God’s will. And what is God’s will? To make you more like Jesus!
‘Let us stop passing judgment on one another.’ Romans 14:13 NIV
You can work alongside and pray for someone who’s having an extramarital affair, without having one yourself. Remember, you were a sinner before you were saved by the grace of God, so act with humility and don’t fall into the trap of self-righteousness. As Merv Rosell says, ‘When God forgives, He consigns the offence to everlasting forgetfulness,’ so show grace when you encounter somebody whose lifestyle makes you uncomfortable. Learn as much as possible about them, and allow your interactions to dispel any preconceptions and prejudices. See them as hurting individuals loved by God—people who need the same grace you received.
When you love the unlovely, you’re just doing what God did for you. Just because somebody’s ‘different’, doesn’t mean you should dismiss them or consider them inferior. You don’t want to be judged or demeaned because of your colour, culture or countenance, so don’t do it to others! Because the Bible is clear about not emulating others in their sinful practices, we can be tempted to think we’re better than they are. That’s the sin of pride!
Sometimes we think if we love and accept certain people, we’re condoning their sin. No, the truth lies in remaining respectful, and accepting others the way Jesus did. Whether it was racial differences (Samaritans), lifestyle differences (the five-times-divorced woman at the well), or class differences (Nicodemus), Jesus loved and accepted people as they were, while inspiring them to a higher standard.
‘Do not let sin control the way you live.’ Romans 6:12 NLT
When someone says, ‘I can’t help myself; it’s just the way I am,’ they are right, but only partially right! Researchers identified more than a hundred identical twins who had been separated at birth. They were raised in various cultures, religions and locations. By comparing their similarities and their differences it became clear that as much as 70 percent of their personality… was inherited. Their DNA determined such qualities as creativity, wisdom, loving-kindness, vigour, longevity, intelligence, and even the joy of living. Consider the ‘Jim twins’ who were separated until they were 39 years old. Both married women named Linda, owned dogs named Toy, suffered from migraine headaches, had wood-working shops in their garages, drove Chevys and served as sheriff’s deputies. Their personalities and attitudes were virtual carbon copies.
What do these findings mean? Are we puppets on a string, playing out a predetermined course without free will or personal choices? Not at all. Unlike animals, we’re capable of rational thought and independent action. We don’t have to act on every sexual urge, for example, despite our genetic underpinnings. Heredity may nudge us in a particular direction, but our impulses can be brought under control. This is where the new birth comes in. God gives you a new nature, and the power to overcome your old one.
Paul addresses it: ‘Do not let sin control the way you live, do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life.’ (Romans 6:12–13 NLT)
‘…and especially [be a blessing]…’ Galatians 6:10 AMP
When someone hurts you, you have three options: (1) hurt them back; (2) avoid them altogether; (3) pray for them and look for ways to bless them (see Matthew 5:44–45). Paul says: ‘So then, while we [as individual believers] have the opportunity, let us do good to all people [not only being helpful, but also doing that which promotes their spiritual well-being], and especially [be a blessing]…’ (Galatians 6:10 AMP)
We’re so caught up with how others treat us that we’ve little or no concern about how we treat them. We’re afraid of being taken advantage of, especially if our past experience with someone has been painful. Not only do fear and dread make us supersensitive to everything they say and do, we may misinterpret their motives and see them in a negative light. Without question, it’s difficult not to be concerned that others will treat you badly if they already have a proven track record. That’s why it’s so important not to think about it at all (see Philippians 3:13 and Isaiah 43:18). Does this mean the person won’t have to account for how they treated you? No. The Bible says, ‘Each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.’ (Romans 14:12–13 NIV)
Hand the situation over to God—and refuse to take it back. Then, ‘be a blessing’. In other words, occupy your thoughts with ways in which you can be helpful. When you do that you’ll have no time to dwell on personal grievances. Plus, it gives God an opportunity to work on them—and you.
‘My foot has held fast to His steps; I have kept His way and not turned aside.’ Job 23:11 NKJV
Many of our endeavours in life fail for one reason—broken focus. We allow ourselves to get distracted. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ‘Concentration is the secret of strength in politics, in war, in trade; in short, in all management of human affairs.’ Where should you focus your concentration? On your mission! And when you make a mistake, don’t chase after it. Don’t try to defend it. Don’t throw good money after it. When you make a mistake, acknowledge it. If you need to, seek forgiveness from God and the person you have hurt. And when possible try to make amends. Once you’ve done these things, refocus your attention on your mission and move on. Keep your eye on what it is you desire to do.
You’ll never meet a person focused on yesterday who had a better tomorrow. John Foster Dulles, secretary of state under President Eisenhower, observed: ‘The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is still the same problem you had last year.’
A problem resolved is a springboard to future success, to bigger and better things. The key is to focus on what you’re learning, not losing. When you do that you open the door to future possibilities. Regardless of how you feel about a problem, you can still thinkabout it with calm assurance. Peace in the most troubled circumstance comes when you ask for God’s help in planning what to do about the problem. And in the end, that’s what matters.
‘In the shadow of His hand He has hidden Me.’ Isaiah 49:2 NKJV
When you’re called to serve God in a particular capacity, it’s not unusual to go through a period of anonymity where you feel invisible. Isaiah was called of God ‘from the womb’. (Isaiah 49:1 NKJV) But he experienced a season of being hidden ‘in the shadow’ while God perfected his ministry. When a vision takes a long time to come to fruition, and you’ve sacrificed and worked without recognition or seeing results, it’s easy to feel like you’re wasting your life. Isaiah was human too. He got discouraged and said, ‘I have laboured to no purpose… spent my strength… for nothing.’ (Isaiah 49:4 NIV) But just because you feel that way doesn’t mean it’s true. ‘God… rewards those who earnestly seek Him’ (Hebrews 11:6 NIV), and you’re no exception.
It took thirty years before Jesus started His public ministry. Moses, David, John the Baptist and Paul endured years of obscurity before they were brought to the forefront. In God’s Kingdom there are no overnight sensations or flash-in-the-pan successes. Beth Jones says: ‘Anyone who wants to be used of God will experience hidden years in the backside of the desert. During that time the Lord is polishing, sharpening and preparing us to fit into His bow, so at the right time, like “a polished shaft” He can launch us into fruitful service. The invisible years are years of serving, studying, being faithful in another person’s ministry and doing the behind-the-scenes work.’ The Bible says, ‘God is not unjust; He will not forget your work.’ (Hebrews 6:10 NIV) Be patient; when the time is right He will bring forth the fruit He placed inside you.
‘Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ Romans 12:2 NKJV
The most important thing you can do every day is—renew your mind with God’s Word. When you get that right, everything else will begin to fall into place. You’ll think and act differently, so you’ll get different results.
Do you remember the old TV series The Beverly Hillbillies? What made the show so interesting is that Jed and his family had been set free from their past—a life of poverty back in the Ozarks. But even after they moved to California’s Beverly Hills, they continued in their ‘hillbilly’ ways. Their location had changed, but their mindset hadn’t. The same was true of the Israelites. They had a slave mentality. Even though they were free and God was providing their every need, the minute a problem came up they wanted to go back to Egypt. They couldn’t enter tomorrow because they were still carrying the baggage of yesterday! Read these words carefully: ‘Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.’ (Hebrews 4:1 NKJV) You ask, ‘But aren’t God’s promises guaranteed?’ Yes, if you do what He says! God promised to bless you—if you sow with a joyful and generous heart. He promised to direct your paths—if you acknowledge Him in all your ways. He promised to forgive you—if you forgive others.
You only ‘prove what is that good… acceptable… perfect will of God’ by continually renewing your mind! So the word for you today is: renew your mind with God’s Word.
‘My peace I give you … Do not let your hearts be troubled and … afraid.’ John 14:27 NIV
The peace Jesus gives brings a sense of assurance that no matter what happens you know ‘it is well with my soul’. He says to us: ‘My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and … afraid.’ The peace Jesus gives doesn’t depend on conditions and circumstances. It comes from knowing you’re God’s child and that your Father controls the universe, loves you and always has your best interests at heart. That’s why people who’ve lost everything will often tell you they wouldn’t trade what they’ve learned, even if it meant recouping all their losses. Joni Erikson Tada discovered a supernatural peace when an accident confined her to a wheelchair, and Corrie Ten Boom found it in a Nazi death camp. Missionary Elisabeth Elliot found it ministering to the Indian tribe who massacred her husband. She wrote, ‘Only in acceptance lies peace … not in resignation.’ There’s a big difference! Author Creath Davis points out that: ‘Resignation is surrender to fate. Acceptance is surrender to God. Resignation lies down quietly in an empty universe. Acceptance rises up to meet the God who fills that universe with purpose and destiny. Resignation says, “I can’t.” Acceptance says, “God can.” Resignation paralyses the life process. Acceptance releases the process for its greatest creativity. Resignation says, “It’s all over for me.” Acceptance says, “Now that I’m here, what’s next, Lord?” Resignation says, “What a waste.” Acceptance says, “In what redemptive way will you use this mess, Lord?” Resignation says, “I’m alone.” Acceptance says, “I belong to you, Lord.”’
‘Why are you so fearful?’ Mark 4:40 NKJV
Following Jesus invariably means going through storms. When you’re in over your head and sinking fast, you learn things about the Lord you’d never know otherwise. At first you wonder, ‘How’d I get into this mess?’ Then you start to see His hand at work and end up saying, ‘Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!’ (Mark 4:41 NKJV) The disciples finally reached a place where they were willing to follow Jesus—without question. And that’s God’s plan for you.
‘Don’t be afraid’ isn’t a call to naïvety or ignorance. God doesn’t expect us to be oblivious to the challenges life brings. But as long as Peter kept his eyes on Jesus, the waves couldn’t take him under. So look to God, stand on His Word, and recall His goodness. The Bible says, ‘We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.’ (Hebrews 2:1 NAS) Do whatever it takes to keep your eyes on the Lord. CS Lewis wrote: ‘Moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable; but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable… that’s why faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where to get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro with his beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of his digestion. Consequently, one must train the habit of faith.’
So the word for you today is: Don’t be afraid.
‘Oh, that [we] would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness.’ Psalm 107:8 NKJV
When you’ve been through hard times, it can make you want to cut back on trusting God, and start playing it safe. When you’ve been through back-to-back storms, the security of the harbour starts looking good. Now it’s ok to rest and regroup, but don’t settle for safety and miss what God has planned for you.
The Bible says: ‘Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters… see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. For He commands and raises the stormy wind, which lifts up the waves of the sea. They mount up to the heavens, they go down again to the depths; their soul melts because of trouble. They reel to and fro… stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end. Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brings them out of their distresses. He calms the storm, so that its waves are still. Then they are glad because they are quiet; so He guides them to their desired haven. Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness.’ (Psalm 107:23–31 NKJV) Where do we see God’s wonders? In life’s storms!
The most common command Jesus issued was: ‘Don’t be afraid’ or ‘Have courage.’ His second most common commandment is to love God and your neighbour. That means the one statement Jesus made more than any other was ‘Don’t be afraid!’ Why? Because He wants you to trust Him more!
‘Why are you so fearful?’ Mark 4:40 NKJV
Notice how the disciples reacted to the storm on the Sea of Galilee, and see if you recognise any of the same traits in yourself:
(1) Fear makes us doubt God’s care. The disciples asked Jesus, ‘Do You not care that we are perishing?’ (Mark 4:38 NKJV) They didn’t ask about His strength: ‘Can you still the storm?’ Or His knowledge: ‘Are you aware of the storm?’ Or His know-how: ‘Do you have any experience with storms?’ Instead they voiced doubts about His character: ‘Do you not care?’ If you let it, fear will erode your confidence in God’s love and make you forget His faithfulness. (2) Fear makes us reach for control. Jesus was asleep, so the disciples woke Him and basically said, ‘Do something, quick!’ Fear comes from a perceived loss of control. When we’re afraid, we grab for a component of life that we can manage—like our diet, or our job, or the neatness of our house, or in many cases—people. The more insecure we feel, the more controlling we tend to become. (3) Fear makes us forgetful. The Bible says, ‘He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick.’ (Matthew 8:16 NKJV) What a résumé! But fear gives us spiritual amnesia; it makes us forget what Jesus has already done and how good He has been to us.
And what was Jesus’ response? ‘Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?’ Faith doesn’t eliminate fear; it silences it, robs it of its power and draws us closer to God. And when that happens things begin to change for the better.
‘When the Spirit has His way with us.’ Galatians 5:17 TLB
Always remember that no matter how long you walk with God, your carnal nature never improves. It never becomes more like Jesus, even over time. That’s why we’re told to ‘crucify’ it daily (see Galatians 5:24).
Even the apostle Paul struggled with his lower nature: ‘We naturally love to do evil things… opposite from the things that the Holy Spirit tells us to do; and the good things we want to do when the Spirit has His way with us are just the opposite of our natural desires. These two forces within us are constantly fighting… to win control over us, and our wishes are never free from their pressures… But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives He will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ (Galatians 5:17, 22–23 TLB)
You ask, ‘Is such a lifestyle even possible?’ Yes, but you must do these four things: (1) Remember that Satan never takes a day off. You’re constantly in his crosshairs, so you must protect yourself with God’s Word and prayer. (2) Identify the sin you’re most prone to. The Bible says, ‘Lay aside… the sin which so easily ensnares.’ (Hebrews 12:1 NKJV) Why? Because the area of your greatest weakness is the one in which you’ll constantly be attacked. (3) Keep your spiritual tank full. ‘The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.’ (Romans 8:6 NIV) (4) Walk in God’s strength, not your own. Does the fight ever end? No, but God’s power plus your choice to obey and keep fighting, always lead to clear and lasting victory.
‘The measure [of thought and study] you give [to the truth you hear] will be the measure [of virtue and knowledge] that comes back to you.’ Mark 4:24 AMP
Martin Luther said studying the Bible was like picking apples. First you shake the trunk, then you shake the limb, then you shake the branch, then you shake the twig, then you look under every leaf. There’s no other book in the world like it. You can read the same Bible verse a dozen times and get a dozen different insights. That’s because it’s ‘God-breathed’. (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV) Here’s what Jesus said about studying God’s Word: ‘[Things are hidden temporarily only as a means to revelation.] For there is nothing hidden except to be revealed, nor is anything [temporarily] kept secret except in order that it may be made known.’ (Mark 4:22 AMP) Then He adds: ‘Be careful what you are hearing. The measure [of thought and study] you give [to the truth you hear] will be the measure [of virtue and knowledge] that comes back to you—and more [besides] will be given to you who hear.’
Do you want to grow spiritually? Build better relationships? Succeed in your career? Conquer anxiety and find peace? Break a bad habit? Be healed from the emotional wounds of your past? Then meditate on, ponder, think about, practice mentally and verbalize the Word of God. Instead of living off someone else’s spiritual insight, study God’s Word for yourself and allow the Holy Spirit to bless you with life-transforming insights.
Jesus said, ‘The Spirit takes My message and tells it to you.’ (John 16:15 CEV) And you’ll experience the truth of those words when you personalize the Scripture you’re reading.
‘Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.’ Romans 6:12 NIV
Self-control is one of the great keys to success in life. And since God’s Word has a lot to say about it, if you ask Him He will help you to cultivate it. What you struggled with when you were young will be different from the things you struggle with when you’re older, but you’ll face temptation in one form or another as long as you live.
Self-control is one of the nine fruits of the Spirit listed in the Bible (see Galatians 5:22–23). It calls for bringing every aspect of your life under the mastery of the Holy Spirit. It’s a lifestyle characterised by discipline, not impulse. The Greek word for ‘self-control’ comes from a root word meaning ‘to grip.’ It calls for getting a grip on your spending so that you don’t go into debt for things you don’t need and can’t pay for. It calls for getting a grip on your temper and not saying things you’ll later regret: ‘Better… a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.’ (Proverbs 16:32 NIV) It calls for getting a grip on your desires. If Joseph had failed to say no to the repeated advances of his boss’ wife, he’d never have seen his life’s dream fulfilled or have sat on a throne of Egypt. Understand this: Satan has discerned your destiny and he’s out to stop you from reaching it. So pray for self-control, and practice it on a daily basis.
‘He did not retaliate when He was insulted.’ 1 Peter 2:23 NLT
When it comes to constructive criticism, try to learn from it and grow wiser. When it comes to unjustified criticism, remind yourself that Jesus was criticised too, so you’re in good company. And when you’re tempted to give in to resentment and strike back, read these Scriptures: ‘If you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in His steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when He was insulted, nor threaten revenge when He suffered. He left His case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.’ (1 Peter 2:20–23 NLT)
There’s an interesting story about Abraham Lincoln. During the Civil War he signed an order transferring certain regiments. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton refused to execute it, calling the president a fool. When Lincoln heard he replied, ‘If Stanton said I’m a fool then I must be, for he’s nearly always right, and he says what he thinks. I’ll step over and see for myself.’ He did, and when Stanton convinced him the order was in error, Lincoln quietly withdrew it. Part of Lincoln’s greatness lay in his ability to rise above pettiness, ego, and sensitivity to other people’s opinions. He wasn’t easily offended. He welcomed criticism, and in doing so demonstrated one of the strengths of a truly great person: humility.
So, have you been criticized? Make it a time to learn, not lose.
‘Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?’ Amos 3:3 NKJV
A toxic relationship is like a limb with gangrene: unless you amputate it the infection can spread and kill you. Without the courage to cut off what refuses to heal, you’ll end up losing a lot more.
Your personal growth—and in some cases your healing—will only be expedited by establishing relationships with the right people. Maybe you’ve heard the story about the scorpion who asked the frog to carry him across the river because he couldn’t swim. ‘I’m afraid you’ll sting me,’ replied the frog. The scorpion smiled reassuringly and said, ‘Of course I won’t. If I did that we’d both drown!’ So the frog agreed, and the scorpion hopped on his back. Wouldn’t you know it: halfway across the river the scorpion stung him! As they began to sink the frog lamented, ‘You promised you wouldn’t sting me. Why’d you do it?’ The scorpion replied, ‘I can’t help it. It’s my nature!’ Until God changes the other person’s nature, they have the power to affect and infect you. For example, when you feel passionately about something but others don’t, it’s like trying to dance a foxtrot with someone who only knows how to waltz. You picked the wrong dance partner! Don’t get tied up with someone who doesn’t share your values and God-given goals. Some issues can be corrected through counselling, prayer, teaching and leadership. But you can’t teach someone to care! If they don’t care they’ll pollute your environment, kill your productivity and break your rhythm with constant complaints. That’s why it’s important to pray and ask God, ‘Does this person belong in my life?’
‘The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.’ Exodus 18:18 NIV
God has placed people within your reach who are willing to help you. If you don’t accept their help, you will be frustrated and they will be unfulfilled because they’re not using their gifts. God hasn’t called you to do everything, for everybody, in every situation. You can’t be all things to all people all the time! You yourself have legitimate needs, and when they are not met you suffer and so do the people around you. There’s nothing wrong with needing help and asking for it; in fact, it’s wrong to need help and be too proud to ask.
Because the children of Israel looked to Moses for everything, he tried to be ‘all things to all people.’ And that’s when he reached a breaking point. So his father-in-law suggested he delegate some of his authority and let others make the less important decisions while he made the more important ones. It worked! Moses did what Jethro suggested and it enabled him to succeed in his assignment. Plus, those under his leadership got to enjoy a sense of accomplishment too. It was a win/win, and the job got done right!
Question: Are you complaining that people are placing too many demands on you, and you’ve too much to do? Are you reluctant to let others help because you don’t think anyone can do the job as well as you? Look out! The Scriptures caution about developing ‘an exaggerated opinion of your [own] importance.’ (Romans 12:3 AMP) Reach for help. You’ll last longer and enjoy life more if you do!
‘Do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them.’ Ephesians 6:4 NLT
If your teenagers don’t like you telling them what to do, relax; they’re normal. And it’s not peculiar to teenagers; it starts much earlier. One psychologist tells about the mother of a tough little four-year-old girl who was demanding her own way. The mother said, ‘I’m your boss, I have the responsibility to lead you, and that’s what I intend to do!’ Little Jenny thought over her mother’s words for a minute, then said, ‘How long does it have to be that way?’ Already, at four years of age she was yearning for the day when nobody could tell her what to do. That’s a God-given instinct.
One of the first things God said to Adam and Eve was, ‘Take control over the earth.’ So the task for you as a parent is to hang on to the reins in the early days, and gradually begin to grant independence as maturity is demonstrated. This is one of the most delicate responsibilities of parenting. Power granted too early produces folly, but power granted too late brings rebellion. Knowing when to let out the rope, and by how much, requires wisdom; and God is the giver of wisdom (see James 1:5). If you pray, observe, and listen carefully, you’ll begin to see the critical milestones in your child’s life.
Paul writes, ‘Do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.’ (Ephesians 6:4 NLT) And as a parent, that’s some of the best advice you’ll ever get.
‘Pursue … overtake … and … recover all.’ 1 Samuel 30:8 KJV
When King David and his men returned home from battle, they discovered that the Amalekites had burned their homes to the ground and taken their families prisoner. They were devastated. They wept until they’d no tears left. Then God spoke to them and said, ‘Pursue… overtake… and… recover all.’ And with His help they did!
So no matter how bad your situation looks right now, don’t give up. Cry if you have to, then dry your tears and go out in God’s strength and take back what the enemy has stolen from you. If necessary, take it a centimetre at a time, drawing on His strength and not your own. Paul writes: ‘Let us not lose heart and grow weary and faint in acting nobly and doing right, for in due time and at the appointed season we shall reap, if we do not loosen and relax our courage and faint.’ (Galatians 6:9 AMP) God won’t quit on you, so don’t quit on Him! He has promised in His Word: ‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God.’ (Isaiah 43:2–3 NIV)
Don’t give up—go through! It’s easy to quit, but it takes faith to go through. When your faith honours God, He honours your faith! And with Him on your side you’ll come out stronger than you were when you went in. So the word for you today is: ‘Pursue … overtake … and … recover all.’
‘Lord, You have searched me and You know me … You perceive my thoughts.’ Psalm 139:1–2 NIV
Just as a body builder develops a great physique by using the correct weightlifting techniques, you must apply the right techniques to achieve the desired results in resolving your conflict. No athlete attempts to lift heavy weights or engage in intense exercise without first warming up his or her muscles. The warm-up is crucial to the workout, as it minimises the risk of injury and increases overall muscle performance. Similarly, preparing for confrontation is almost as important as the confrontation itself. Confronting someone spontaneously or without preparation can have disastrous results. Preparation allows you to look at the situation more clearly and not in the midst of an emotional moment, and will most likely lead to a more effective encounter. This would be a good time to pray: ‘Lord, You have searched me and You know me… You perceive my thoughts from afar… Before a word is on my tongue You know it completely.’ (Psalm 139:1–4 NIV)
It’s important that you first deal with your negative emotions, such as anger or resentment. While you may deem them justifiable, if you don’t ‘release them’ by the power of the Holy Spirit they will become a roadblock to achieving harmony. And you must also refuse to succumb to the fear of addressing the issue, lest you abandon the entire notion of initiating a confrontation.
God can work on both ends of the line. While you are praying and preparing your heart, He can prepare the other person’s heart. ‘There is deceit in the hearts of those who plot evil, but joy for those who promote peace.’ (Proverbs 12:20 NIV)
‘A time to keep silence, and a time to speak.’ Ecclesiastes 3:7 NKJV
Confronting at a time when the person is most receptive takes wisdom. Wife, when your husband first comes home from work, give him space before you bombard him with the problems of the day. Husband, don’t wait until you arrive at the event to tell your wife you don’t like the outfit she’s wearing. Tell her when she can do something about it. And you should make every effort to confront a person when he or she is alone, just as Jesus commanded: ‘If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private.’ (Matthew 18:15 NAS) Confronting someone in the presence of others can cause them to become defensive in order to save face. Your goal is reconciliation, not embarrassment.
If you have something ‘heavy’ to tell someone, it’s not a good idea to have the confrontation at their house or yours—select a neutral location. That way it will be easier for the person being confronted to leave the scene, if he or she becomes belligerent. And there’s always the possibility that this could happen.
Sometimes you have to temporarily lose people, to win them later. ‘He who rebukes a man will find more favour afterward than he who flatters with his tongue.’ (Proverbs 28:23 NKJV) Note the word ‘afterward’. If you don’t get the immediate response you desire, you can still win—especially if you pray, relying on the Holy Spirit to work in a person’s heart. But you must be willing to take the risk and confront the situation in order to bring about the change you desire. If you don’t, things will remain the same—or get worse.
‘When Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face.’ Galatians 2:11 NKJV
When Peter showed partiality to Jews over Gentiles, Paul confronted him over it! Why? To keep unity in the church. Sometimes you’ve no option but to confront someone. The question is, ‘How?’ None of us are born with the innate ability to do this; it’s a skill only learned through practice and patience. And the reason we’re not good at it, is because we avoid it like the plague. As a result, our relationships suffer and our problems don’t get resolved.
The first step in preparing for a confrontation is to establish the right purpose for putting the issue on the table. The focus should be on achieving a better relationship. This can either involve getting someone to stop doing something, or start doing something. At no time should your goal be to tell someone off, or get something off your chest, or lay a guilt trip on them. So it’s important that you first confront yourself. Be honest about why you’ve decided to confront the issue. Do you have an ulterior motive such as resentment or wounded pride, or do you want to see a genuine change in behaviour? You need to ask yourself, ‘When this confrontation is over, what behaviour do I want to see the offender change?’
Remember, in effective confrontation you are looking for a desired outcome and a win-win for both sides. ‘A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city.’ (Proverbs 18:19 KJV) If a person knows you truly care about them and are seeking to glorify God in the situation, you’re more apt to get the response you seek.
‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him.’ Romans 15:13 NIV
Trusting God is so much simpler than not trusting Him. When you doubt God, His Word, and His promises, you’re left to your own devices and reasoning when it comes to working things out. And as a result you get stressed out.
Take a moment and read the following three verses, then think carefully about what they mean: ‘But the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. Now we who have believed enter that rest.’ (Hebrews 4:2–3 NIV) ‘He who has once entered [God’s] rest…has ceased from [the weariness and pain] of human labours.’ (Hebrews 4:10 AMP) ‘Come to Me, all you who labour and are… overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.]’ (Matthew 11:28 AMP)
How are you supposed to approach God? In faith! The Bible says: ‘Without faith it is impossible to please and be satisfactory to Him. For whoever would come near to God must [necessarily] believe that… He is the rewarder of those who earnestly and diligently seek Him [out].’ (Hebrews 11:6 AMP) That means when you come to God, you must do the believing. And when you do, you’ll receive His joy and peace. These two things are God’s will for you; they were bought and paid for at the cross. Christ’s work is already finished, and the only thing that remains to be accomplished is for you to believe. When you do that, God will respond and bless you every time!
‘Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.’ Philippians 3:13 NLT
There are things inside you that must be dealt with before you can move ahead. Every experience you’ve had from birth until the present moment has helped shape who you are. The things that happen to you, good and bad, are instrumental in determining how you’ll act and react for the rest of your life.
Paul talks about ‘forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.’ You ask, ‘What did Paul have to forget?’ A lot! Paul was there, looking on with approval, when Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was stoned to death. Before he met Christ on the Damascus Road, Paul routinely imprisoned and put Christians to death. The fact is, if he hadn’t overcome his past, he would never have written half the New Testament and helped establish a church that would last two millennia. Was Paul perfect? Not even close! That’s why he said: ‘I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ saved me for and wants me to be… I am still not all that I should be but I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God is calling us up to Heaven because of what Christ Jesus did for us.’ (Philippians 3:12–14 TLB)
The only place the past can live is in your memory; and the only power it has over you is the power you give it. So the word for you today is: Start looking forward.
‘Write the vision and make it plain… that he may run who reads it.’ Habakkuk 2:2 NKJV
When God gives you a vision for your life, write it down, keep it before you at all times, and run with it. You say, ‘But I see no way for it to come to pass.’ The Bible records God’s answer to Habakkuk when he posed this question , ‘The vision is yet for an appointed time… wait for it; because it will surely come.’ (Habakkuk 2:3 NKJV) You may not know how to get from where you are right now to where God’s vision will ultimately take you—but God does.
So ask Him to reveal the next step to you. Whether you’re in prison like Joseph, in a soup kitchen in the inner city, or at home taking care of small children, God will fulfil the vision He placed in your heart. The more you see yourself leading in the boardroom, launching your own business, serving in ministry, writing your first book, or helping others through your gifts, the sooner it’ll become a reality. Before a vision becomes clear, God gives us glimpses of it—like a picture developing from a soft hue into sharp resolution.
So take the vision God has given you and run with it. Let it motivate you to perform to the best of your ability in your present position, while staying in communication with the One who knows and loves you best. Today pray: ‘Lord, I know that where I am right now isn’t where You’re taking me. Give me glimpses of Your vision for my future, so that my understanding may grow in accordance with Your timing. Give me patience along the way, and faith to trust that You’re always working for my good. Amen.’
‘But you must always act like your Father in Heaven.’ Matthew 5:48 CEV
Jesus said, ‘Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over.’ (Luke 6:38 KJV) Notice, He didn’t say, ‘Only give to those who can give back to you.’ John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, said, ‘You haven’t lived today successfully, unless you’ve done something for someone who can never repay you.’
In the days of Jesus, a Roman soldier could legally force a Jewish civilian to carry his heavy backpack for up to a mile. That was his right, and you refused to do so at your peril. So to walk the first mile was to do only what was required. Then Jesus came along and said, ‘If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two.’ (Matthew 5:41 NIV) Why? Because ‘extra-mile service’ gives you an opportunity to impact the lives of others. A person with an extra-mile attitude is someone who cares more than others think is wise, risks more than others think is safe, dreams more than others think is practical, believes more than others think is possible, and gives more than others think is necessary.
Here’s how Jesus bottom-lines it: ‘If you love only those people who love you, will God reward you for that? Even tax collectors love their friends. If you greet only your friends, what’s so great about that? Don’t even unbelievers do that? But you must always act like your Father in Heaven.’ (Matthew 5:46–48 CEV) So always do more than is expected.
‘The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.’ Luke 19:10 KJV
The first thing you generally notice about someone who’s in trouble is their problem. But if you look beyond their problem, God will help you to see their potential. At each Kentucky Derby the crowd sings ‘My Old Kentucky Home’. But most people don’t know it was written by Stephen Foster, who purportedly died of alcoholism. The police allegedly found him in a New York doss-house with a deep gash in his throat. They rushed him to Bellevue Hospital but it was too late to save him. Among his belongings they found a note with the words written, ‘Dear friends and gentle hearts’. It sounded like the words of another song, but he died before he could write it. Jesus came to ‘seek and to save that which was lost’. There are people around you today who have lost their way, their family, their job, their health, and their hope—people Jesus came to save! And that’s where you come in. You’re called to be His hand extended. Elizabeth Holt Hartford lived and died in a Los Angeles slum. Here were her parting words: ‘You see me as an old lady who’s all broken down with age. But what you don’t understand is that this is me in here. I’m trapped in a body that no longer serves me. It hurts, and it’s wrinkled and diseased. But I haven’t changed. I’m still the person I used to be when this body was young.’ Today ask God to do two things for you: (1) Open your eyes to the needs around you. (2) Activate your heart to meet them.
‘What will be the boy’s rule of life, and his work?’ Judges 13:12 NKJV
When God told Samson’s father Manoah that he would have a son in his old age, he asked, ‘What will be the boy’s rule of life, and his work?’ He was a wise father. He knew that in order for his son to fulfil his destiny, he must be raised by certain rules. Children feel more secure and tend to flourish when they know what the boundaries are. Imagine driving your car over a bridge that’s suspended hundreds of metres in the air. For first-time travellers, it can be a scary experience. One little fellow was so awed by the view that he said, ‘Wow, Daddy! If you fell off here it would kill you constantly!’ Suppose there were no guardrails on the side of the bridge; where would you steer the car? Right down the middle of the road! Even though you don’t plan to hit those protective railings, you just feel more secure knowing they’re there. And it’s the same with your children. They need to know what the ‘rules of life’ are, and that you’ll enforce them consistently. When the rules are clear at home, children live in safety. As long as he or she stays within those reasonable, well-marked guardrails there’s joy, freedom, and acceptance. Your children may not admit that they want you to be the boss, but they breathe more easily when you are. Bottom line: when God gives you a child, it’s a twenty-one-year project, at a minimum. During that time you train them either for failure or for success. The choice is yours.
‘Each of you must … speak truthfully to your neighbour.’ Ephesians 4:25 NIV
Telling the truth sounds simple, but it takes commitment on three levels: (1) Verbally. When you’re found out in a lie, it undermines the confidence others have in you. For example, when a husband or wife denies blowing the family budget, or covers up a drinking problem, inevitably there’s trouble. But when each knows that the other ‘will hold firmly to the truth in love’ (Ephesians 4:15 PHPS), the relationship becomes stronger and more likely to weather the storm. (2) Behaviourally. ‘Unless you are honest in small matters, you won’t be in large ones. If you cheat even a little, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.’ (Luke 16:10 TLB) Cheryl Richardson says, ‘Integrity is the key to living an authentic life.’ You become known as a person of integrity by keeping your word. So when you make a commitment, follow through—even when it costs you, and even when you get a better offer. (3) In actuality. Why is telling the truth such a big deal? Because every relationship in your life is based on trust. When you don’t deal truthfully: a) You end up losing your influence and the respect of others. b) You live in fear of being found out, which makes you insecure and forces you to live on two levels: public perception and private struggle. c) You have to worry about what you’ve said, and to whom. d) You get to where you can’t trust or believe others because ‘as you live your life, you judge your neighbour’. e) You make yourself feel better by rationalising, ‘Everybody lies.’ The trouble with that line of thinking is—you can’t trust them either!
‘Great peace have they who love your [Word], and nothing can make them stumble.’ Psalm 119:165 NIV
One of the last things Jesus told His disciples before leaving this world was, ‘In this world, you will have trouble.’ (John 16:33 NIV) And He was right, wasn’t He? We all experience stress, occupational demands, deadlines, expectations, personal pressures ganging up on us and constantly trying to rob us of the peace we desperately desire. No one is immune to stress, frustration, and the feeling that we’re on the ‘autobahn of life’. What is all this but the absence of peace? And the answer can’t be found in a pill, a possession or a pleasure. All those things wear off or wear out. The Bible talks about three different kinds of peace. Let’s look at them: (1) Peace with others. ‘As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.’ (Romans 12:18 NIV) This is external peace, and it’s necessary for human relationships to flourish. (2) Peace with yourself. ‘Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.’ (Colossians 3:15 NIV) This is internal peace, a rest of mind and soul that escapes most of us. (3) Peace with God. ‘Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 5:1 NIV) This is eternal peace, and it comes from knowing you’ve a right relationship with God. So here’s how it works: when you’re at peace with God you’ll be at peace with yourself, and when you’re at peace with yourself you’ll be at peace with others. That, in a nutshell, is the peace process!
‘Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.’ James 1:19 NIV
The only way to avoid having to deal with difficult people—is to move to another planet. Human beings are a mixture of vices and virtues, and unless you understand that, you won’t be able to work or live with them successfully. The story’s told of a monk who joined a monastery and took a vow of silence. Once a year he was invited to appear before the abbot, and he was permitted to say one thing. After the first year when he was asked what he had to say, he replied, ‘The bed’s too hard!’ At the end of the second year when he was asked, he responded, ‘The room’s too cold.’ At the end of the third year he was asked the same question. He replied, ‘The food’s terrible. I quit.’ At that point the abbot smiled with relief and said, ‘Thank goodness! Because you’ve done nothing but complain since you got here!’ Think about it: even if you joined a monastery you’d still have to deal with difficult people! So what can you do? Learn from the farmer. He plants, pulls weeds, and cultivates, knowing the harvest will eventually come if he patiently keeps doing these things. It’s one of the reasons James writes, ‘My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.’ (James 1:19–20 NIV) There are no shortcuts. The only way to have a good relationship is to work at it and be patient. When you do, God will bless that relationship.
‘Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.’ James 1:17 NKJV
If your vision in life is to become as rich as possible, hoard every penny you make, and indulge your every whim—your vision is not from God. But if your vision is to succeed, use your success to bless others, and fulfil the purposes of God in the earth, your vision is from God. When God called Abraham, He promised him three things: ‘I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing [to others].’ (Genesis 12:2 NIV) Understand this: every worthy vision comes from God whether or not it’s related to so-called ‘spiritual’ matters, and whether or not the person with the vision realises the source of their vision. The Bible says, ‘Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.’ We tend to compartmentalise our lives, to view God as having influence and relevance when it comes to ‘spiritual’ visions, missions, and goals, but little relationship to ‘secular’ visions, missions, and goals. St Augustine said, ‘Let every Christian understand that wherever truth is found, it belongs to his Master.’ God is the fountain of all truth, and the source of all worthy visions. And since He gave you your vision you must pour yourself into it every day. The psalmist said, ‘Let the Lord be magnified, who has pleasure in the prosperity [success] of His servant.’ (Psalm 35:27 NKJV) With God as your partner you must expect to succeed—and you will!
‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’ Romans 8:31 NIV
The question isn’t simply, ‘Who can be against us?’ That’s an easy one to answer: disease, inflation, corruption, exhaustion, calamities, and fears. The real question is, ‘If God is for us…?’ Let’s read these words slowly, placing emphasis on each of them: (1) God is for you. Your parents may have forgotten you, your teachers may have neglected you, your siblings may be ashamed of you, but within reach of your prayers is the Maker of the oceans: God! (2) God is for you. Not ‘maybe’, or ‘has been’, or ‘would be if’, but ‘is’! God is for you today, at this minute, as you read this sentence. No need to wait in line and come back tomorrow. He’s with you. He couldn’t be closer to you than He is at this second. His loyalty won’t increase if you’re better, nor lessen if you’re worse. He is for you. (3) God is for you. Are you too tired to continue? He’ll carry you. Are you too discouraged to fight? He’ll fight for you. Turn to the sidelines; that’s God cheering you on. Look past the finish line; that’s God applauding your steps. (4) God is for you. When you’re pushed aside, ignored, forgotten, He’s on your case—and He remembers you with delight. We already know He has a scar that says: ‘I have written your name on My hand.’ (Isaiah 49:16 NCV) So when you get up each morning look in the mirror and tell yourself, ‘God is for me!’
‘When there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping.’ Romans 4:18 NLT
Let’s examine the last three stages involved in recovering from a divorce. Stage Five is acceptance. Yes, acceptance can and eventually does come! And when it does, sometimes you’ll feel a twinge of guilt for not feeling depressed and sad any more. What’s happening? You’ve stopped fighting. The war within has settled down and you’ve begun to experience peace. And it’s God’s peace that transcends human understanding (see Philippians 4:7). Stage Six is hope. ‘When there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping … In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises.’ (Romans 4:18–21 NLT) Something inside you rises up and says, ‘I will live again, and I will love again. My life is not over.’ This is when purpose is rediscovered, new friendships develop, and you start to grow stronger. Emotionally you age fast—and it becomes an advantage. Stage Seven is fulfilment. You say like David: ‘I will not die; instead, I will live to tell what the Lord has done.’ (Psalm 118:17 NLT) Whether it’s a new relationship, another career, or a particular achievement, God will see to it that you find fulfilment again. This is the place where complaining is never heard because you no longer need to rehearse old memories of failure or betrayal. The God who said, ‘Behold, I make all things new’ (Revelation 21:5 NKJV), is giving you a new future, and you refuse to trade it for the pain of your past.
‘I will restore to you the years.’ Joel 2:25 NKJV
Recovering from divorce and learning to live again takes time, so please be patient with yourself. Chances are you’ll go through the recognised stages of grief: (1) Denial. You try to ignore or minimise what has happened in hopes it’ll go away. You fear confrontation and refuse to face it. You won’t go for professional help because you think ‘it’ll all work out in the end’. (2) Anger. When someone rejects you, it affects your self-worth and you react the wrong way. You make wild, unchecked statements born out of emotional chaos—sweeping statements like, ‘Good! I’m glad it’s over! Just you wait! I’ll find someone who really loves and appreciates me!’ (3) Bargaining. Once you realise anger just robs you of joy and drives the wedge deeper, you resort to looking for a solution or a compromise. And when that doesn’t work you progress to the next stage. (4) Depression. It hits you at the most inopportune times like birthdays, holidays and anniversaries. Re-runs of ‘our favourite movie’ on television or restaurants where you made memories together depress you. At two o’clock in the morning you’re wide awake and can’t sleep. This depression is often the result of introspection, because you can’t think wrong and feel right at the same time. So what can you do? Learn to discipline your thoughts. Set new goals for your life. Focus on helping someone else. When Job prayed for his friends, God healed him and restored his fortunes (see Job 42:10). And He will restore yours too, so keep trusting Him and don’t lose heart.
‘Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past.’ Isaiah 43:18 NAS
Divorce is one of the most painful things the human heart can experience. If it’s happened to you, you know that’s true. If it hasn’t, be grateful and show compassion towards those who’ve been devastated by it. Have you been crushed by someone you trusted? Does loneliness overwhelm you in the midnight hours? Do you feel as though your hands are completely tied? Does it upset you because your friends don’t seem to understand? Don’t despair—your present circumstances will change. You will recover; you will rebuild; you will not stay down. It will take time, and you’ll have to invest some effort. You will experience pages of sadness in your diary of success, but by God’s grace you will learn to live again and love again. As you draw close to God and search His Word, He will reveal to you the secret of inner peace, and how to take back your life. If you are the innocent party, read this Scripture and hide it in your heart: ‘He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.’ (Psalm 147:3 NIV) If you are the guilty party, remember you haven’t committed the unpardonable sin. So your failures are forgivable and forgettable. God’s promise to you is: ‘I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and remembers your sins no more.’ (Isaiah 43:25 NIV) Whether you are the innocent or the guilty party, the word for you today is: ‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past … I am doing a new thing! … I am making a way.’ (Isaiah 43:25 18–19 NIV)
‘Search me, O God, and know my heart.’ Psalm 139:23 NKJV
Here are two mistakes we make when it comes to praying. (1) We focus on our failures. Therefore we pray without faith and confidence (see 1 John 3:21–22). (2) We fail to examine our motives. The psalmist wrote, ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart … see if there is any wicked way in me.’ (Psalm 139:23–24 NKJV) There are prayers God won’t answer for our own good—or at least not right now. Pastor Jerry Sittser writes: ‘Your cause may be right, but you may still be wrong: manifesting pride, gloating in victory, punishing wrongdoers with excessive severity … The great hazard for people on a crusade is … they become blind to their own faults. They fight for civil rights but treat janitors like second class citizens. They uphold standards of Biblical sexuality but show little grace toward their spouse. Unanswered prayer is God’s gift … it protects us from ourselves. If all our prayers were answered we’d abuse the power … use prayer to change the world to our liking, and it would become hell on earth. Like spoiled children with too many toys and too much money, we’d grab for more. We’d pray for victory at the expense of others … intoxicated by power we’d hurt people and exalt ourselves. Isaiah said, “The Lord longs to be gracious to you … therefore He waits.” (Isaiah 30:18NAS) Unanswered prayer protects…breaks…deepens and transforms. Past unanswered prayers which left us hurt and disillusioned, act like a refiner’s fire to prepare us for future answers.’ Bottom line: pray with the right motives!
‘The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.’ Psalm 51:17 NLT
When we submit to God’s dealings in our lives, He empowers us to reach our full potential by gently breaking areas of our stubborn will that need to be submitted to Him. As these areas are broken, His power within us is released and things begin to change for the better. Power and talent without character and direction, have destroyed many a man and woman. You probably know some of them. So be warned; unless your talent is governed by character, you’re headed for trouble. A horse may come from a line of blue-ribbon champions, but until its will has been broken its power endangers itself and those around it. You’ll notice two important things about a thoroughbred champion horse: (1) It hears many voices during the race but it has learned to respond to only one—the voice of its rider. And that’s God’s plan for you. You’ll get a lot of opinions, but to win in life you must be led only by God. And that calls for humility. ‘He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way.’ (Psalm 25:9 NIV) (2) Its power is realised and its full potential released only when it can be harnessed and directed. So, is God breaking you in similar fashion? Is He putting His harness on you and saying, ‘You can’t live like that anymore, or do your own thing, because I have plans for you’? The word for you today is: ‘You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honour God.’ (1 Corinthians 6:19–20 NLT)
‘He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.’ John 11:25 NKJV
Years ago a best-selling country song said, ‘Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die.’ Why? Sometimes it’s because we’re not sure that we’re ready. But you can be. How? (1) You can prepare spiritually and emotionally. Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ (John 11:25–26 NKJV) When you put your trust in Christ, death is not the end of you but the beginning of the best version of you. (2) You can prepare relationally. How? By letting the key people in your life know on a regular basis how much you care about them. You must also forgive anyone who has hurt you, and seek their forgiveness if you hurt them (see Mark 11:25–26). (3) You can prepare financially. One of Christ’s last acts on the cross was to commit the care of His mother to one of His disciples. Good stewardship requires that you leave a valid will with clear instructions concerning your earthly possessions and how you want your funeral to be handled. This may not be a pleasant thought, but it’s your spiritual responsibility. Paul writes, ‘I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.’ (Philippians 1:23 NKJV) Why did Paul say Heaven was ‘far better’? Because God had already given him a glimpse into Heaven. David felt the same way: ‘In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.’ (Psalm 16:11 NKJV)
‘Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.’ Psalm 39:4 NLT
Next time you drive through a tunnel and come out on the other side, remind yourself that’s how death will be for every redeemed child of God. You say ‘good night’ on earth, and hear ‘good morning’ in Heaven. Dr Elizabeth Kübler-Ross explained that most of us go through the following stages when we face the prospect of dying: (1) Shock stage: ‘Oh no, God!’ (2) Denial stage: ‘It can’t be true!’ (3) Anger stage: ‘Why me?’ (4) Bargaining stage: ‘Spare me, God, and I will do something for You.’ (5) Depression stage: ‘It’s all over. I have nothing to look forward to.’ (6) Testing stage: ‘What can I do to make my remaining days worthwhile?’ (7) Acceptance stage: ‘It doesn’t make sense to fight the inevitable.’ The truth is, the moment we were born we all began to run out of time. It’s just that in the wonder and excitement of childhood and adolescence, and the busyness and stresses of mid-life, we don’t think about it much. We’re like the hypochondriac who put the words on his tombstone: ‘I expected this, but not just yet!’ But as we age and realise that we’ve less time ahead of us than behind us, we begin to pray with the psalmist: ‘Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.’ (Psalm 90:12 NKJV) Someone asked Charles Spurgeon, ‘Do you have dying grace?’ He replied, ‘Not today, but I will when I’m dying!’ And the grace that has saved and sustained you thus far will be with you as you transition from your lesser life into your greater one.
‘Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.’ Proverbs 27:6 NLT
When it comes to seeing ourselves clearly, we all have blind spots. So we need people who’ll tell us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. When someone really loves you, they’ll feel compelled to point out the shortcomings in your life, the sinfulness and areas that need improvement. You may be tempted to dismiss them, but you need to get beyond the sting of their words and listen for the truth in their message. The writer of Proverbs tells us, ‘Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.’ The truth sometimes hurts. But you must have faith that the encouragers in your life really have your best interests at heart. If you’re ever to experience a sense of accomplishment in this life you need someone you can trust; someone who sees where you are, and where the path you’re on is leading. If you want to really know yourself and how you come across to others, you need a trustworthy mirror committed to reflecting the truth back at you instead of what you want to hear. And if you find yourself resenting the very input you need, think about these Scriptures: ‘The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.’ (Proverbs 12:15 NIV) ‘Pride … breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.’ (Proverbs 13:10 NIV) ‘Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.’ (Proverbs 15:22 NIV) So here’s the question: who tells you the truth? That person’s your real friend!
‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ John 15:12 NKJV
James Dobson wrote: ‘A sixth grade teacher shared with me the results of a creative writing project assigned to her class. She asked the kids to complete a series of sentences that began with the phrase, “I wish…” The teacher expected her students to write about their desires for bicycles, toys, animals, and trips to theme parks, etc. Instead, twenty of the thirty students made reference to the breakup of their families or conflict at home: “I wish my parents wouldn’t fight.” “I wish my father would come back.” “I wish I could get straight A’s, so my dad would love me.” “I wish my mother didn’t have a boyfriend.” “I wish I had one mum and one dad, so the kids wouldn’t make fun of me. I’ve three mums and three dads, and they botch up my life.” “I wish I had an M-1 rifle so I could shoot those who make fun of me.” It’s hardly front-page news that the family is in trouble today, but it continues to distress me to see little children like these struggling at a time when simply growing up is a major undertaking. Millions of their peers are caught in the same snare. Every aspect of their young lives is influenced by family instability during their developmental years. Without gaining access to professional counselling, many of these kids will drag their problems into future relationships. Then the pattern of disintegration will repeat itself in the next generation. Returning to the responses given by these sixth grade students, I wonder how your children would complete a sentence that began with the words, “I wish…”’
‘They dug through the clay roof above [Jesus’] head.’ Mark 2:4 TLB
When the four people carrying their paralysed friend arrived at the house where Jesus was preaching, the crowd was so big that they couldn’t get to Him. So they’d a choice to make: give up, or persist and find a way through. That’s when they decided to climb up and dig ‘through the clay roof above [Jesus’] head’. When they finally broke through and Jesus saw their faith, He said to the man, ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!’ (Mark 2:11 NLT) And what happened next is notable: ‘The man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers. They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!”’ (Mark 2:12 NLT) Whatever ‘roof’ is separating you or the person you love from Jesus, it must be removed. Tear it off! Don’t let anything stand in your way! Jesus can give anyone healing, a fresh start, a good job, a strong marriage, healthy kids, or an effective ministry—if they are willing to dig for it. These people were radical in their approach. They didn’t just have faith—they had faith in action! They had come to see Jesus and they refused to be denied. As they dug through the clay roof they believed they were only a metre away from a miracle, and they weren’t about to be put off. Knowing that is what kept them going. So no matter what you have to do today, let nothing stop you from getting to Jesus. You’re closer to a breakthrough than you realise, so keep digging and don’t stop until you get there!
‘Four men arrived carrying a paralysed man on a mat.’ Mark 2:3 NLT
It took four people to get this man to Jesus, and fortunately they weren’t the kind who gave up easily. They refused to let the crowd stand in their way. They even ‘raised the roof’ to get him to Jesus. So if you want to minister to people: (1) You must be aware of their need. They may look like they’ve ‘got it all together’, yet inwardly be lying on a stretcher. When they’re alone they cry out, ‘God, unless you help me I’m finished.’ They’re hurting, desperate, and powerless, and they know it. (2) You mustn’t let them down. Committing to bring somebody to Jesus means picking them up, refusing to let them down, and carrying them the whole way. It means comforting, encouraging, and holding them securely until He touches them. (3) You must allow Jesus to do it His way. Often hurting people don’t know what they need—but Jesus does. So once you get them there, back off and let Him work. When we’ve been in church a while we tend to look for outward signs of change. But Jesus recognised that this man’s first need was for forgiveness: ‘My child, your sins are forgiven.’ (Mark 2:5 NLT) After that He addressed the man’s second need: ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!’ (Mark 2:11 NLT) Don’t dismiss God’s tendency to work in ways that don’t make sense to you. He knows what He’s doing, and He never does anything by half-measures. Once He starts working on somebody, He’ll continue His ‘good work in you [and] will perfect it’(Philippians 1:6 NAS) so Jesus will be glorified.
‘Looking unto Jesus…’ Hebrews 12:2 KJV
A vision is a picture of what ‘can be’ rather than ‘what is’. Your vision may be to bring health where there is sickness—like the vision Albert Schweitzer had for Africa. Or of education where there’s ignorance—like the one that motivated Gilbert Tennent to help establish Princeton University. It may be a vision of freedom where there’s oppression—like the one that made William Wilberforce give up a life of privilege to eradicate slavery. Or your vision may be smaller and simpler—like being the first one in your family to graduate from university, or becoming a great parent to your child even though you yourself never had one. Or breaking a bad habit before it breaks you…or overcoming your fear of technology and learning to use an iPad…or spending your retirement years impacting the world around you instead of sitting in a rocking chair waiting to die. Thoreau said, ‘If you’ve built castles in the air…put foundations under them.’ But having a vision isn’t enough; there has to be a commitment to act on it. That’s called a mission—and it requires setting specific, measurable steps to achieve it. Those steps are called goals; they establish a plan for accomplishing your mission and thus fulfilling your vision. You’ll generally have one vision, but many goals. And each goal you reach brings you a step closer to fulfilling your vision. And here’s the really good news: when your vision comes from God and you look to Jesus, He’ll give you the strength, wisdom, connections, relationships, and resources to make it happen.
‘A talebearer reveals secrets.’ Proverbs 11:13 NKJV
When you gossip you’re like a loose cannon. Stop and try to imagine that. When a cannon is anchored and aimed in the right direction it can win the battle. But when it’s not, it can destroy everything in its path. And that’s what gossip does: ‘A talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter.’ The word ‘talebearer’ comes from the Hebrew word rakal, which means ‘to go about’; it’s likely derived from an old word meaning ‘merchant’. So a talebearer is someone who goes around peddling gossip! The story is told of a mother who was preparing dinner one evening when her little boy came running into the kitchen. ‘What has Mama’s little darling been doing all day?’ she asked. ‘I’ve been playing mailman,’ he replied. ‘Mailman?’ the mother wondered aloud. ‘How could you do that when you’ve no letters?’ He said, ‘Oh, I had a whole bunch of letters.’ Alarmed, she said, ‘What letters?’ Her son replied, ‘I found them all tied up with ribbon in an old trunk in the attic, and I put one in every mailbox on the street.’ Even when you don’t intend harm, your words can start a chain reaction that devastates people’s lives and drives wedges. That’s why the Bible says, ‘A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates the best of friends.’ (Proverbs 16:28 NKJV) Unless you’re sure that what you’re sharing in confidence will remain in confidence and result in good, don’t share it at all. And if you feel like you must talk to somebody, talk to the One who can do something about it—God!
‘I pray that … your soul prospers.’ 3 John 1:2 NKJV
John wrote, ‘I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.’ For your soul to prosper you must: (1) Question your doubts and not your faith. We spend too much time dwelling on our misgivings, and experiencing faith as an occasional flash in the pan. God’s promises are for ‘believers’, so start believing what He says. (2) Not be a ‘Lone Ranger’. It’s no coincidence that the Old Testament tells the story of God’s ‘people’, and the Epistles were addressed to ‘congregations’. We grow as we relate—not isolate! (3) Guard your thought life. Practise mind management! When your ‘thinking is controlled by the sinful self, there is death. But if [it’s] controlled by the Spirit, there is life and peace.’ (Romans 8:6 NCV) (4) Fall asleep, and wake up, immersed in gratitude. It’ll transform your day. ‘In everything give thanks.’ (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NKJV) (5) Get rid of anything that distracts you from God. Toss the junk reading material, and if need be—throw in the TV! (6) Always err on the side of mercy. Philip Yancey writes, ‘I marvel at the humility of a God who descends to live inside His flawed creatures, but do I show that same attitude toward people of whom I disapprove?’ (7) Be specific, and not revert to generalities when discussing your faith. Paul wasn’t ‘ashamed of the Gospel’ (Romans 1:16 NKJV), and neither should you be. (8) Be gracious to those who irk you. Remember, God chose them too! Sometimes it’s easier to be gracious to nonbelievers than to uptight, judgmental Christians. But that just makes you a different kind of judgmental! (9) Forgive those who hurt you. Harbouring hatred hinders healing; instead, bring your hurts to God.
‘Live in peace … and the Author and Promoter of peace will be with you.’ 2 Corinthians 13:11 AMP
When Jesus sent His disciples out to preach, He told them to go into each city, find a suitable house in which to stay, and say, ‘Peace be unto you.’ If they were accepted they were to stay there and minister. If not, they were to leave and shake the dust of that place off their feet (see Matthew 10:11–15). Why did Jesus say that? Because instead of staying where you’re tolerated, you need to go where you’re appreciated. You shouldn’t waste your time on people who don’t want to be helped. If you remain where there is strife you can’t be effective. Strife grieves the Holy Spirit. When peace leaves, the Holy Spirit leaves, and He’s the one who does the real work. Question: when you picture Jesus ministering to others, how do you see Him? Certainly not with the stressed-out, hurry-up attitude we often have. Don’t you get an image of Him ministering in a quiet, tranquil peace? That’s a trait you need to develop too. As ambassadors of Christ we need to become more like our Master in dealing with others. Paul writes, ‘Live in peace, and [then] the God of love [Who is the Source of affection, goodwill, love, and benevolence toward men] and the Author and Promoter of peace will be with you.’ When you resort to force, argument, intimidation, anger, and coercion, you’re on your own. But when you demonstrate affection, goodwill, love, and benevolence towards people, God has promised to be with you. So the word for you today is—choose to ‘live in peace’.
‘Your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”’ Isaiah 30:21 NIV
One of England’s finest preachers decided because of his wife’s failing health not to go to America and speak at an important conference. Although he’d purchased his ticket, the ship sailed without him, and J. Stuart Holden missed a golden opportunity in the prime of his preaching career. A devoted husband, he gave himself to caring for his wife and tried not think of what he was missing on the other side of the Atlantic. The truth is we’re too easily disappointed when our plans fall through; too easily discouraged when ‘great career opportunities’ are missed, and our complaining proves that we don’t know God like we say we do. Delay is often the protective hand of our heavenly Father. It certainly was for Holden, who resolved never again to question God’s timing. Why? Because the unused ticket he held reserved his passage on the new ‘unsinkable’ luxury liner—RMS Titanic. There’s so much talk in the Church today about self-help, that God’s providence and guidance is seldom mentioned. But the bottom line is we don’t decide God’s plan for our lives, we discover it. Much of the time we don’t understand how He leads us, and it’s only in retrospect that we see His hand at work. Paul wrote, ‘When I go to Spain… I hope to visit you.’ (Romans 15:24 NIV) But, as far as we can know for sure, he never made it; instead he ended up in prison. But it was from there that he wrote the Epistles. So here’s the question: if you really believe God is directing your steps—why are you questioning, doubting, and complaining?
‘Don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.’ Romans 13:14 NLT
If you’re serious about living a victorious Christian life you must do three things: (1) Burn the bridges to your old lifestyle. Any bridge you refuse to burn gives Satan an invitation and re-entry point into your life. The new believers at Ephesus did something radical; they brought out all their books on witchcraft and pornography and burned them in public. They weren’t namby-pamby or willy-nilly; they were committed! They lived by the words: ‘Don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.’ (2) Establish prayer as a top priority. Prayer puts a shield of divine protection around you; don’t start your day without it. Jesus said, ‘Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation.’ (Matthew 26:41 NLT) Unless you acknowledge your vulnerability for sin, you won’t pray against it and you’ll end up experiencing defeat. The most effective weapon the enemy has against you—is you. Your old nature must be crucified daily, and prayer is how you do it. (3) Fill your mind with God’s Word. Jesus said, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ (Matthew 4:4 NKJV) Three different times in the wilderness Satan tried to get Jesus to submit to temptation, and each time Jesus responded, ‘It is written.’ (Matthew 4:4;7;10 KJV) After the third attempt Satan gave up and left Him alone. Why? Because he can’t prevail against you when you know God’s Word and stand on it. So have your ‘It is written’ armour ready. Build yourself up on the Word of God before the attack comes.
‘She is your companion and your wife by covenant.’ Malachi 2:14 NKJV
As the culture around us becomes more permissive, the idea of faithfulness in marriage is being challenged. The entertainment industry promotes the idea that infidelity is a marvellous game for two. But they don’t tell you the downside. When it has run its course, it brings pain and disillusionment. And not only for the two people involved, but for those who love them, depend on them, and look to them for an example. It’s time for some straight talk about the covenant of marriage. After the thrill of the chase and the cooling of passion, you get back to cooking, cleaning and earning a living. Yes, the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, but it still has to be mowed. When you’re dating you get to see the best aspects of someone but when you marry them, you get to live with their flaws, frailties, and irritants, much like those in your former husband or wife. And guess what? Married life begins to feel confining. Then what does the individual do when he or she is beginning to feel trapped? Hopscotch from one life to another in a vain search for something indescribable—something they never seem to find. What’s the answer? Instead of looking for the right person, seek to grow and mature and become the right person. Often the qualities you’re looking for in someone new lie undiscovered and unappreciated under the surface in the person you’re married to. These qualities are like seeds: if you water them, nurture and protect them, they will grow into something beautiful you can enjoy.
‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.’ John 3:36 NIV
No matter how many bad choices you may have made in the past, you can be redeemed by one good choice—the choice to surrender your life to Christ and follow Him. Max Lucado writes: ‘Ever wonder why there were two crosses next to Christ? Or why Jesus was in the centre? Those two crosses symbolise one of God’s greatest gifts—the gift of choice. The two criminals have much in common: convicted by the same system, condemned to the same death, surrounded by the same crowd, and equally close to the same Christ. In fact, they began with the same sarcasm; each said cruel things to Jesus. But one of them changed. He said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise.”’ (Luke 23:42–43 NIV) We rejoice that this thief could change, but we dare not forget the one who didn’t. There are times when God sends thunder to scare us. There are times when God sends blessings to lure us. But there are times when God sends nothing but silence, as He honours us with the freedom to choose where we will spend eternity. We have never been given a greater privilege than that of choice. Think about the thief who repented. Though we know little about him, we know this: in the end, all his bad choices were redeemed by a solitary good choice. He chose Christ!’ And you can make that choice today too. ‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.’
‘All the prison doors flew open.’ Acts 16:26 NIV
The Bible says: ‘About midnight Paul and Silas were … singing hymns to God … Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken … all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.’ (Acts 16:25–26 NIV) Praise opens doors. Praise breaks chains. Any time you praise God in spite of the circumstances, the forces of Heaven come to your aid. You say, ‘But sometimes I don’t feel like praising God.’ The psalmist wrote, ‘I will bless the Lord at all times.’ (Psalm 34:1 NKJV) Sometimes praise is an emotional response to God’s goodness; other times it’s an act of your will. Anybody can praise God in the good times. But when you have to rise above your feelings and your circumstances, that’s when it really counts. The battle of Jericho teaches us that sometimes you have to shout God’s praise when: (1) You are up against a brick wall. (2) It feels like you’re going in circles. (3) Your circumstances seem to mock you. (4) Your rational mind thinks, ‘This plan doesn’t make any sense.’ (5) It’s the last thing you feel like doing. But when you praise God anyway, you discover the truth of Nehemiah’s words: ‘The joy of the Lord [the joy that comes from knowing He is present with you and has gone before you to work things out in your favour] is your strength.’ (Nehemiah 8:10 AMP) When you’re ruled by circumstances and emotions you live on a rollercoaster. But if you look to the Lord of your circumstances and praise Him, you move from weakness to strength.
‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Matthew 22:39 NIV
In The Fine Art of Friendship Ted Engstrom outlines ten ways to love others: (1) Love is unconditional. If it’s not… it’s manipulation. (2) Our natural tendency is toward self-centredness (which isn’t related to a healthy self-esteem); that’s why it takes a conscious effort to love. (3) Each of us is a one-of-a-kind creation. Therefore it takes time—often a long time—to understand one another. (4) Do you really listen and try to understand what people are saying? Or do you listen in order to give an answer; in other words, by letting the other person talk while you mentally formulate your response? One who loves, listens with understanding. (5) Simply being there to care, whether or not you know exactly what to do. Loving your neighbour involves fulfilling, in a visible way, Christ’s promise, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ (Hebrews 13:5 NKJV) (6) Just because God put you in a leadership position doesn’t mean He made you ‘better’ than others. Paul warns the leader ‘not to think of himself more highly than he ought to.’ (Romans 12:3 NKJV) (7) Be generous with your praise and encouragement. Inspiring words build up the self-esteem of others, whereas critical comments kill enthusiasm and love. (8) Make your friends number one: ‘In honour preferring one another.’ (Romans 12:10 KJV) This is another point where we see a clear difference between the leader who loves, and a power-holder who ‘looks out for number one’. (9) Learn to love God with all your heart. Then love your neighbour as yourself. (10) Emphasise other people’s strengths and virtues, not their sins and weaknesses. Why? Because you’ll be needing grace and love yourself before the day’s done!
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ John 3:16 NIV
God loves you so much that He gave His only Son to save you. ‘Save me from what?’ you ask: (1) Going through this life lost, directionless, joyless, and unfulfilled. (2) The judgment of God—Spending the next life lost and without the joys of Heaven He wants you to share. That’s how highly God values you. So when you keep putting yourself down, you’re rejecting His opinion of you. And to disagree with God is to make yourself equal with Him, or worse, put your opinion above His. Maybe you never thought about it like that before. Actress/singer Ethel Waters ministered to great crowds in the Billy Graham crusades. She was born black and poor in a segregated society, but when she found Christ she gained true self-esteem. With a smile that would melt your heart, she told her audiences, ‘God made me—and my God don’t make no junk!’ When you refuse to see your worth as a creation of God and as an adopted child of the Father (2 Corinthians 6:18), it’s impossible to love others with a genuine Godly love or accept that they love you. You become skilled at tuning out compliments and picking up on criticism, because it confirms the negative opinion you have of yourself. As a result, you distance yourself from people and end up lonely without ever knowing why. Maybe your parents failed you, or your spouse betrayed you. You may feel like ‘damaged goods’, and seek escape in addictions or affairs or a lifestyle of ritual accomplishment. But it doesn’t work. Only when you accept that God loves you unconditionally, that you are valuable to Him, will you have love to give to others.
‘Without Me you can do nothing.’ John 15:5 NKJV
We think that if we have enough willpower, we can fight off every temptation that comes our way. And sometimes it works. Here’s the problem, however. Willpower is your best friend when things go well, but often the first friend to check out when you get weary. When you don’t want to do something, your carnal mind will give you plenty of reasons why you don’t have to. Your emotions will even join in and say, ‘I agree, because I don’t feel like doing it anyway.’ Your mind, will and emotions would love to run your life, but the Bible says you’re to be led by God’s Spirit. ‘Walk and live [habitually] in the [Holy] Spirit [responsive to and controlled and guided by the Spirit]; then you will certainly not gratify the cravings and desires of the flesh.’ (Galatians 5:16AMP) Willpower and discipline are necessary to a successful life, but willpower alone won’t be enough. Determination may get you started and keep you going for a while, but it’s never enough to bring you across the finish line. ‘“Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,” says the Lord of hosts.’ (Zechariah 4:6 NKJV) What happens when instead of turning first to willpower, you turn to God? He releases His power into your willpower and energises it to bring you across the finish line. That way willpower doesn’t get the credit for your success, God does. That’s why Jesus said, ‘Without Me you can do nothing.’ This is one of the most important and difficult lessons you must learn if you want to enjoy the life Jesus died to give you.
‘A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back.’ Proverbs 29:11 NKJV
Honesty and good communication are the foundation stones for a healthy relationship. This is particularly so in marriage. But any good idea can be misused. For example, it’s honest for a man to tell his wife that he doesn’t care for the way she cooks. It’s honest for a woman to express anger over her husband’s shortcomings. But honesty that does not have the best interest of the other person at heart is cruel, and a form of selfishness. This is especially so when the other person can’t do anything about it. Some couples, in their determination to share every thought and opinion, destroy the sweet spark of romance that drew them together. No longer is there any sense of magic. They’ve unravelled the romantic allure that first attracted them to one another. Your spouse is the person you chose to marry. So if you didn’t do your homework up front, don’t complain when you don’t like the test results. Peter writes, ‘Continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.’ (1 Peter 4:8 NLT) Paul writes: ‘Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.’ (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT) When you practise these virtues, you’re guaranteed a happy marriage.
‘We saw the giants … and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight.’ Numbers 13:33 NKJV
Wherever you go, you take your mentality with you. After four hundred years as captives in Egypt, the Israelites developed a slave mentality. Because they were dominated for so long, they never learned to be decision makers. They functioned best when other people told them what to do. Consequently when they approached the Promised Land and their leader sent twelve spies in to check it out, ten came back, saying, ‘The inhabitants of the land are giants. We are like grasshoppers compared to them.’ But two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, knew God was with them so they reported the opposite about the land: ‘We are well able to overcome it.’ (Numbers 13:30) Joshua and Caleb developed the capacity to see things from God’s vantage point. It spelled the difference between success and failure—and this one secret will change your world. You learn to ‘mount up with wings’ like an eagle (Isaiah 40:31 KJV) and see every situation from a higher viewpoint: through God’s eyes! You stop looking at the devil’s picture of defeat and focus on God’s portrait of success. This is your ticket to the Promised Land! Having consulted with God, start speaking what you desire—not what you dread (see Psalm 107:2). Speak your expectations—not your fears. This isn’t mind-over-matter or pop psychology. It’s standing on God’s Word instead of thoughts that have held you captive. It’s declaring instead: ‘I am what God says I am … I have what God says I have … and I can do what God says I can do!’ (see Philippians 4:13).
‘We can come before God … without fear.’ Ephesians 3:12 NCV
Dr James Kennedy said: ‘I read an interesting book by an unbeliever who attempted to “do in” the Christian faith. Despite his lack of belief, I found insightful something he said regarding prayer. He called it “the most incredible conceit in the history of mankind,” arguing that if you worked for General Motors as a lowly employee and wanted to see the boss, you wouldn’t have the remotest chance … Think about it. What would happen if a citizen tried to speak to the President of the United States? I’ve thought about putting in a call just to see … I’d probably speak to a secretary or an assistant to somebody, but not likely the President … “And so,” says my skeptical friend in his book, “What an incredible conceit to suppose that at any moment we can talk to the boss of the whole shebang.” And indeed the concept of prayer would be an incredible conceit … if it weren’t true. But it is … and it’s the most incredible condescension on the part of a gracious God. You could probably never speak to the highly placed people in this world, yet the most highly placed person in the universe—“the boss of the whole shebang”—waits patiently to hear what you have to say. “We can come before God with freedom and without fear … through faith in Christ.” Don’t you find that amazing? This day … You can talk to the boss, tell Him your worries and cares, share with Him your triumphs and joys—and He always has time to listen.’ Prayer gives you access to God!
‘An intelligent person aims at wise action … a fool starts off in many directions.’ Proverbs 17:24 GNT
Successful people have one thing in common: they’ve developed the habit of doing what unsuccessful people aren’t willing to do. We all want more money, but we don’t all want more work. We’d all like to be slim and trim, but we’re not all willing to eat right and exercise daily. The bookends of success are commitment and consistency. Without commitment you’ll never start, and without consistency you’ll never finish. Getting started is the hardest part, because we come up with so many reasons not to. So: (1) Start small. Take the first step. You can’t take step two until you’ve taken step one. Taking the first step to prioritise your life will focus you in the right direction. But don’t expect to immediately understand all that’s required. ‘By faith Abraham … went out, not knowing.’ (Hebrews 11:8 KJV) God guides you when you’re in motion, so ‘you’ll know as you go’. (2) Start with yourself. If you want others to respond to you differently, give them a different set of attitudes and actions to respond to. (3) Start early. Someone said, ‘Noah didn’t wait for his ship to come in—he built one.’ Hard work is an accumulation of the easy things you didn’t do when you should have. The truth is, the work doesn’t seem nearly so hard once you stop putting it off. (4) Start now. What are you waiting for? Until you finish school, get married, have kids, the kids leave home, you retire, or you die? If you wait long enough you’ll only have one regret—that you didn’t start now.
‘He now showed them the full extent of His love.’ John 13:1 NIV
People spend hours every day on social networks like Facebook—in many cases because they’re lonely. Now, there’s nothing wrong with interacting with others this way. In fact, social media offers one of the greatest tools the Church has ever had for reaching the world with the Gospel. But in a day when it’s getting easy to neglect real relationships, let’s remember why we’re connecting with others in the first place. One author says: ‘Life is so much richer when we have friends with whom we can share our joys and troubles … Unfortunately loneliness remains a major problem and source of pain for many. But none of us need become resigned to loneliness; [it’s]…“treatable,” if not actually avoidable.’ Real relationships aren’t built by posting updates, or tweeting and re-tweeting the most thought-provoking quotes. It takes more time than that. The greatest social networking involves meeting someone’s needs in a way that never would’ve happened without a one-on-one connection. That’s what Jesus did. Most of His public ministry was spent pouring Himself into twelve men who, in turn, went out in His name and poured themselves into others. The Bible says, ‘Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent of His love.’ The psalmist spelled out how many people today feel deep down: ‘No one is concerned for me … no one cares.’ (Psalm 142:4 NIV) If you want to meet people’s needs you have to get ‘up close and personal’. That’s what Jesus did, and He’s your example.
‘Be beautiful in your heart.’ 1 Peter 3:4 CEV
Princess Diana was considered to be one of the most beautiful women in the world. Yet she disliked what she saw in the mirror. This led to an eating disorder known as bulimia, which is caused by self-loathing. And the ‘beauty cult’ has infected many of us with a similar sense of inadequacy and inferiority. The problem is—we’re looking in the wrong mirror. It’s a good thing to stay physically fit and dress in a way that compliments you. But it’s a bad thing to base your worth on your physical appearance. Why? Because you are fighting a losing battle against Mother Nature and Father Time. Here are three Scriptures you need to think about: (1) ‘A beautiful woman who lacks discretion is like a gold ring in a pig’s snout.’ (Proverbs 11:22 NLT) That Scripture could be reduced to one sentence: ‘Beauty is, as beauty does.’ (2) ‘Charm can be deceiving, and beauty fades away, but a woman who honours the Lord deserves to be praised.’ (Proverbs 31:30 CEV) That Scripture could be reduced to one sentence: ‘Beauty may attract attention, but only character will earn you respect.’ (3) ‘Be beautiful in your heart … This kind of beauty will last, and God considers it very special.’ (1 Peter 3:4 CEV) That Scripture could be reduced to one sentence: ‘God measures by a different yardstick; with Him, beauty is an inside job.’ And here is one more thought: people will treat you according to how you treat yourself. So as you begin to appreciate the ‘beauty’ God has placed within you, others will begin to appreciate it too.
‘You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.’ 2 Corinthians 9:11 NIV
When you give to fulfil the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth’ (Matthew 6:10 KJV), He will make sure you have everything you need when you need it. That’s His guarantee, and it should dispel your fears about giving. In fact, there’s really only one thing you should be concerned about when it comes to giving: holding back to the extent that God is no longer involved in your finances. There’s nothing you can do to earn or deserve God’s love, but you must exercise faith and follow His instructions if you want to walk in His blessing. So here’s the question you should ask yourself: ‘Who’s better able to meet my needs, God or me?’ If you’re generous with God, He’ll make sure you have more than enough so that you can continue to be generous. But first He wants to see you investing more in His Kingdom—not in order to get what you want from Him, but because you value His eternal purposes more than your own interests. Are you prepared to step out in faith and take advantage of the law of the harvest by inviting God to get involved in your finances? Money is often the last door we open to God because we think it represents our security. If you really want to become secure financially, get God involved in your finances as soon as possible. The sooner you start sowing seeds, the sooner you’ll begin reaping harvests. And when that happens, you’ll never go back to doing things the way you used to.
‘Teach the wise, and they will become even wiser.’ Proverbs 9:9 NCV
Whether God has called you to be a leader in church, in business, or at home, here are two important principles you must always practise: (1) Reach for people who stretch you. Solomon said, ‘Teach the wise, and they will become even wiser.’ You can tell a lot about the direction your life is heading by looking at the people with whom you’ve chosen to spend your time and share your ideas. Their values and priorities impact the way you think and act. If they’re positive and dedicated to growth, their values and priorities will encourage you and reinforce your desire to grow. It’s not always comfortable to associate with people who are ahead of you in their growth, but it’s always profitable. So try to cultivate relationships with people who stretch you. And don’t think only in terms of what you can gain; bring something to the table yourself. Remember, you’ve got to make the relationship a win/win, or it won’t last. (2) Realise there are trade-offs. As responsibilities increase, rights decrease. In a world where perks and privileges often accompany the climb to success, sometimes little thought is given to the responsibilities of the upward journey. As John D. Rockefeller Jr once said, ‘Every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.’ Jesus bottom-lines leadership in these words: ‘To whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.’ (Luke 12:48 NKJV)
‘Whoever says to this mountain.’ Mark 11:23 NKJV
Does the problem you’re facing seem like a mountain to you? Jesus said: ‘Assuredly … whoever says to this mountain, “Be removed and … cast into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore … whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in Heaven may also forgive … your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father … forgive your trespasses.’ (Mark 11:22–26 NKJV) Here Jesus gives us three keys to answered prayer. (1) Keep speaking God’s Word over your problem. ‘My word … shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and … prosper in the thing for which I sent it.’ (Isaiah 55:11 NKJV) (2) Keep feeding your faith and starving your doubts. ‘Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.’ (Mark 11:24 NKJV) (3) Keep forgiving. ‘Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him.’ (Mark 11:25 NKJV) The mountain in your life can’t be removed if you’re harbouring unforgiveness. God’s willingness to answer your prayers depends on your willingness to forgive the person who hurt you. So ask yourself: is it worth holding on to bitterness? Bernard Meltzer says, ‘When you forgive, you in no way change the past, but you sure do change the future.’ Whether or not you think your offender deserves to be forgiven, do it for your own sake—so that the mountain can be moved.
‘God shows no favouritism.’ Acts 10:34 NLT
A lot of us are like the lady in the prayer meeting who said, ‘I always love everyone I see.’ The problem is—she had her eyes closed! Discrimination makes us accept without question the opinions and biases we’ve heard growing up, and the pronouncements of narrow-minded people. Rarely do we stop and ask, ‘Is this right?’ Or more importantly, ‘Is it Christ-like?’ Discrimination relegates people to second-class citizenship because of their colour, gender, economic status, church denomination or the circumstances of their birth. Sometimes our biases are so ingrained that we can’t see them in ourselves and we react in anger when confronted with them. But God doesn’t let us off the hook. Paul challenged Peter, the future head of the church, over the sin of discrimination: ‘He [Peter] used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they [the Jews] arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.’ (Galatians 2:12 NIV) Paul didn’t give Peter a free pass because he had other redeeming qualities. No, his behaviour was hurting people and reflecting badly on the church. The most quoted text in the Bible is: ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ (John 3:16 NKJV) Note the words ‘whoever believes’. That means we’re all equal at the foot of the cross. There God makes no distinctions. And before you can deal with the prejudice in someone else’s life, you’ve first got to deal with it in your own. So acknowledge your hidden biases and deal with them.
‘If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God.’ James 1:5 NKJV
Yesterday we talked about children who are compliant, compared to those who are defiant. Every parent with two children or more is probably blessed with at least one of each. When one child is a stick of dynamite and the other is an all-star sweetheart, the cooperative, gentle one can easily be taken for granted. If there’s an unpleasant job, they’re expected to do it because Mum and Dad don’t have the energy to fight with the tiger. When it’s necessary for one child to sacrifice or do without, there’s a tendency to pick the one who won’t complain as loudly. Under these circumstances, the compliant child gets the short end of the stick. The consequences of such inequity should be obvious. The responsible child becomes angry over time. They have a sense of powerlessness and resentment that simmers below the surface. They’re like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32). He didn’t rebel against his father, but he resented the attention given to his irresponsible brother. That’s typical! So you must try to balance the scales in dealing with your compliant child. Make sure they get their fair share of attention. Help them find ways to cope with their overbearing sibling. And, within reason, give them the right to make their own decisions. There’s nothing simple about raising kids. Even the ‘easiest’ of them need our very best effort—and God’s wisdom. And it’s available: ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.’
‘Your children shall be taught by the Lord.’ Isaiah 54:13 NKJV
There are two kinds of children. The first are compliant ones—those who sleep through the night from the second week of life. They coo at their grandparents, and smile while their nappies are being changed. They are never sick on the way to the grocery store or the doctor’s surgery. During later childhood they love to keep their rooms clean, and they do their homework brilliantly without being asked. Then there are defiant ones: ‘strong-willed kids’. They get their mother’s attention long before birth because they scratch their initials on the walls of the womb and kick like crazy. They enter the world yelling about the temperature in the delivery room, and complaining about the incompetence of the nursing staff. From about eighteen months forward, they want to run things and tell everybody what to do. Their favourite word is no! Compliant children are a breeze to raise, but defiant ones can turn out fine too. The secret is to shape their strong will during the early years, without breaking their spirit. This is done by setting boundaries very clearly, then enforcing them with loving firmness. Even the toughest kids find security in a structured environment where other people’s rights, as well as their own, are protected. When this is done right, even the most independent child can learn to be responsible and self-disciplined. And God will work with you. He promises: ‘All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.’
‘If you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you.’ 1 Peter 2:20 NLT
You become like the people you spend the most time with, so choose your friends carefully. If you spend time with angry, resentful people you risk becoming an angry, resentful person yourself. That’s because attitudes are contagious. Here’s a wonderful story that illustrates the point. A man purchased a newspaper at a newsstand every day. He always greeted the vendor very courteously, but in return received very gruff and discourteous service; the vendor would rudely shove the newspaper in his face. The man, however, would politely smile and wish him a nice day. This went on for several days until a friend asked, ‘Does he always treat you this rudely?’ The man replied, ‘Unfortunately, he does.’ The questioner asked, ‘Are you always so polite and friendly to him?’ The man replied, ‘Yes, I am.’ The questioner continued, ‘Why are you so nice to him when he’s so rude to you?’ The man replied, ‘Because I don’t want him to decide how I’m going to act.’ The Bible says: ‘If you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in His steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when He was insulted, nor threaten revenge when He suffered. He left His case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.’ (1 Peter 2:20–23 NLT) That’s how to please God.
‘Do not forsake your own friend.’ Proverbs 27:10 NKJV
Chuck Colson, President Richard Nixon’s ‘hatchet man’, went to prison for his part in the Watergate cover-up. In his book, Born Again, he tells how he was invited to speak at a university soon after his release from prison. At the time there was still much hostility towards the entire Watergate crowd, especially Richard Nixon. Questions were coming at Colson rapid-fire, and the students were becoming increasingly hostile. One stood up and referred to a criticism Henry Kissinger had levelled at Richard Nixon. ‘Mr Colson,’ he demanded, ‘do you agree with this criticism?’ Colson said he scanned the room and could tell every ear was listening to hear what he would say. Here’s how he replied: ‘We all know Mr Nixon’s negative qualities. He has been dissected in the press like no one in history. I could tell you his good points, but I don’t believe I could persuade you to accept them. But when it comes down to it, no, I don’t go along with Henry Kissinger’s comments. Mr Nixon is my friend, and I don’t turn my back on my friends.’ Colson said for a moment he thought the roof would fall in—and in a way, it did; but not as he expected. There was a moment of silence, followed by a thunderous standing ovation. The reason? Even hostile students could appreciate loyalty to a friend. If you want to find out who your true friends are, just make a mistake! Many of those you thought were your friends will desert you like rats from a sinking ship. That’s why the Bible says, ‘Do not forsake your own friend.’
‘Ask … seek … knock.’ Matthew 7:7 KJV
The famous evangelist RA Torrey said two of the greatest secrets to effective prayer lay in: (1) Studying the Word of God and finding His will as revealed in the promises. (2) Taking these promises and spreading them out before God in prayer, with the unwavering expectation that He will do what He said. Don’t tolerate prayerlessness in your life. Don’t allow the stress of so-called progress to dictate how much time you will sit at the feet of your Saviour. Crave those times. Schedule those times. Protect those times. Grace L. Naessens puts it like this in her poem, The Difference. ‘I woke early one morning, and rushed right into the day; I had so much to accomplish, that I didn’t have time to pray. Problems just tumbled about me, and heavier came each task. “Why doesn’t God help me,” I wondered; He answered, “You didn’t ask.” I wanted to see joy and beauty, but the day toiled on, grey and bleak. I wondered why God didn’t show me; He said, “But you didn’t seek.” I tried to come into God’s presence; I used all my keys at the lock. God gently and lovingly chided, “My child, you didn’t knock.” I woke up early this morning, and paused before entering the day. I had so much to accomplish, that I had to take time to pray.’ If you are wise you will stay ‘prayed up’ and prepared for the inevitable crises of life. It’s foolish to wait until trouble shows up at your doorstep to begin this essential spiritual discipline.
‘Love is patient and kind … It does not demand its own way.’ 1 Corinthians 13:4–5 NLT
Here are some pointers to help you solve your relationship difficulties: (1) When it’s about money. How you manage money within a marriage depends on the set of skills you’ve developed and the amount of discipline you’ve exercised. One of you may be a saver and the other a spender. So you have to work together to make joint decisions that affect both of you, and work within the boundaries of your reality together. Consider how much debt you have, how much income, and how much you need to save. Find a way to achieve financial freedom. The Bible says, ‘The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.’ (Proverbs 22:7 NKJV) (2) When it’s about time. If you’re not spending time together—one of you is missing the other. Ideally, you both want to spend more time together. But if your partner keeps making this complaint, take it as a compliment that he or she still enjoys your company. Schedule designated times together on both your calendars—with no intrusions. There’s no substitute for spending time with your mate. (3) When it’s about jealousy. We’re not talking about a possessive spouse who won’t allow you to glance at the waiter without accusing you of cheating. But generally when there’s jealousy in a relationship it’s an indication of insecurity. You may need to have a frank discussion about your commitment to each other. Talk about the little habits and mannerisms your spouse interprets as flirtatious. Communicate, and don’t allow the jealousy to grow into bitterness, distrust, or disgust.
‘Accept each other just as Christ has accepted you.’ Romans 15:7 NLT
God’s love transcends class, race, gender, politics, geography and culture. ‘…He broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in Himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of His death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.’ (Ephesians 2:14–16 NLT) The cross creates a new people: a people unhindered by skin colour or family feud. A new citizenry, based not on common ancestry or geography, but on a common Saviour. ‘Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.’ So confront your prejudice and root out your biases. Pray: ‘Lord, reveal them to me. How often do I judge someone unworthy of You by the way I treat him or her? Rebuke me in Your love. Where can I tear down a wall or remove a barrier that keeps Your children apart from one another? What can I do in my sphere of influence to bring the love of Christ to someone who may feel ostracised or estranged from You? Give me divine insight, and bless me with the resolve to be Your hands and feet. Make me a bridge and not a wall.’ Do you remember President Ronald Reagan standing at the Berlin Wall in 1987, saying, ‘Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall’? We’ve isolated, quarantined, excluded and judged people long enough. Let’s tear down our walls and show God’s love!
‘Now to Him who 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
Here are some Scriptural strategies for conquering your fear of lack: (1) Give God the first tenth of your income (see Malachi 3:8–12; Matthew 23:23). To debate whether it’s an Old Testament rule versus a New Testament requirement obscures the heart issue. To say it’s too hard because of your mortgage, car repayment or any other debt is to consider your bank manager more important than God. Gratitude starts as a discipline before it becomes a joy of the heart. (2) Live by the 10-10-80 rule. After you give God the first 10% of your income, put the second 10% into savings and budget yourself to live on the remaining 80%. (3) Confront the areas in which your fear of lack are the greatest. Food? Housing? Transportation? Health insurance? Retirement? Now cast down those imaginations and replace them with this promise: ‘God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.’ (2 Corinthians 9:8 NLT) (4) Refuse to rely solely on your credentials, marketable skills, or influential contacts for the assurance of your financial provision. ‘Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.’ Maximise your personal power, but trust ultimately in God’s power alone. Jesus said, ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’ (John 10:10 NIV) That’s not just ‘spiritual’ life, but every aspect of life. Today, believe and receive what Jesus promised by faith, and begin to live ‘to the full’.
‘The Lord is my Shepherd … I shall not lack.’ Psalm 23:1 AMP
Why does the Bible compare us to sheep? Because they’re one of the most dependent creatures in the world; they must trust in the shepherd for everything they need. And that’s how God wants you to live: in dependence on Him. When you constantly live in the fear of lack, you’re not trusting God enough. This core fear drives many of our other fears, including the fear of becoming disabled, or the fear of ageing, or the fear of investing, or the fear of retiring poor. In its extreme form, fear of lack can lead to anxiety that requires you to live on tranquillizers and medication. It’s also one of the root causes of greed. You can become so obsessed with insuring yourself against the possibility of not having enough, that you hoard more than you’ll ever need. It can drive you to become a workaholic so that neither you nor your children will ever experience discomfort, inconvenience and helplessness. And like all fears, it’s based on an erroneous belief about God—in particular, His ability and willingness to take care of you. ‘The Lord is my Shepherd [to feed, guide, and shield me], I shall not lack.’ Stop living as though you don’t believe what God has promised you! A good strategy is to learn the promises, understand the ones that are conditional, meet the conditions, and rest in His love and faithfulness. This doesn’t mean you sit idly by and wait for God to do what He has given you the ability to do. You must do the natural things, and trust Him for the supernatural ones.
‘But they who seek (inquire of and require) the Lord [by right of their need and on the authority of His Word], none of them shall lack any beneficial thing.’ Psalm 34:10 AMP
It’s ok to grow up in poverty, as long as poverty doesn’t grow up in you and control your thinking. One celebrity was asked how he felt about growing up in poverty. Amazingly, he confessed that he still suffered anxiety over having enough in the future. So he tended to be overly frugal, viewed his money as somewhat surreal, and wasn’t able to relax and enjoy the blessings that come with success. However, his wife had brought balance to the relationship with the mindset of give, spend, and save. Who do you believe is responsible for your success, yourself or God? As long as you are, you’ll remain vulnerable to people, circumstances, and economic conditions. But when you know God’s responsible for your success, what you gain you can maintain. So your options are: trust yourself—or God! The psalmist writes: ‘There is no want to those who truly revere and worship Him with godly fear. The young lions lack food and suffer hunger, but they who seek (inquire of and require) the Lord [by right of their need and on the authority of His Word], none of them shall lack any beneficial thing.’ (Psalm 34:9–10 AMP) You say, ‘But that’s an Old Testament promise.’ Then here’s a New Testament one: ‘God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.’ (2 Corinthians 9:8 NIV)
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart.’ Matthew 22:37 NIV
One day Christ’s critics asked Him, ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ (Matthew 22:36 NIV) His answer is a timely reminder to both leaders and followers; it includes those who sit in the pews and those who stand in the pulpit. ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart … all your soul and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.’ (Matthew 22:37–38 NIV) As a leader you must never leave a question in anyone’s mind as to who is God—and who isn’t. Namely, yourself! God said, ‘You shall have no other gods before Me.’ (Exodus 20:3 NKJV) And that’s important, because you’re never in greater danger than when people begin to praise you. Yes, we must teach people to respect, honour, and reward good leadership, but the Christ-like leader discourages adulation and shies away from the limelight. John the Baptist was so successful as a preacher that when he got through speaking, his audience flocked to Jesus. Speaking of it, Christ later said, in essence, ‘John, you did your job well!’ Apparently John agreed, for he said, ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’ (John 3:30 NKJV) Isaiah wrote, ‘In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up.’ (Isaiah 6:1 NKJV) The king’s death occurred before Isaiah saw the Lord. Only when a leader dies to ego, becoming impervious to applause and approval, is God glorified in his or her leadership. Indeed, when Christ alone is exalted, the God-called leader smiles and says, ‘Thank You, Lord—that’s how You intended it.’
‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?’ Luke 6:32 NKJV
The love talked about in Scripture isn’t a sentimental emotion that gives you goose bumps. It’s compassion, caring, and concern for the well-being of another. It’s based on commitment, not convenience. It’s an act of your will, not a reflex of your emotions. Jesus asks a question that’s a real traffic-stopper. ‘If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit?’ (Luke 6:32–33 NLT) Loving is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, and it will require all the grace God can give you. Jesus continues: ‘Love your enemies! Do good to them! Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from Heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for He is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over … The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.’ (Luke 6:35-38 NLT) You say, ‘That’s a high standard!’ Yes, that’s why it’s the winning strategy.
‘Love never fails.’ 1 Corinthians 13:8 NIV
The Bible says, ‘Love never fails.’ Think about it: money doesn’t bring happiness, fame doesn’t bring self-worth, and revenge doesn’t bring satisfaction. The only thing that never fails is love. When Mother Teresa addressed world leaders at the United Nations, she was asked, ‘How can we have world peace?’ She replied, ‘Go home and love your family.’ If we all did that, ‘Paradise Lost’ would become ‘Paradise Found’! Napoleon Bonaparte’s intellectual greatness and intense egotism make his alleged tribute to the supremacy of leadership by love all the more striking. He said, ‘Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I myself founded great empires: but upon what did the creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love, and to this day millions would die for Him.’ Sometimes leaders are just power-holders. Because you can’t love others without making yourself vulnerable, they see expressing love as a weakness. But the fact is you can’t love and ‘keep all your options open’. To truly love—whether it’s your spouse, your children, or the people you lead—you must give yourself unreservedly in such a way that you can be hurt and even rejected. The fundamental principle on which power-holders operate is to protect themselves and everything they have. Whereas the fundamental principle of true leadership is to give of yourself with no holds barred. Love as an intrinsic characteristic of leadership seems outmoded, yet according to Scripture it’s still the winning strategy. The Bible says, ‘God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.’ (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV) That’s why love is the winning strategy.
‘You shall … be led out with peace.’ Isaiah 55:12 NKJV
Perhaps you’re wondering, ‘What am I supposed to do with my life? What’s my purpose here?’ God answers these questions through our abilities. He leads us to our life’s purpose through the skills and talents He has given us. God-given gifts are the skills a person easily performs, often without formal training. We derive great pleasure from doing what we’re naturally good at doing. So if you aren’t sure of your life’s purpose, just do what you do well and watch God confirm it by blessing your endeavours. Don’t spend your time trying to do what you’re not gifted to do, or what somebody else is good at. We know we’re operating in our gifts and calling when what we do ministers life to others. If what we do makes us miserable and fills us with a sense of dread, usually we’re not in God’s perfect will. He gives us peace and joy to let us know we’re fulfilling His perfect plan: ‘For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace.’ Look at what you enjoy, what you’re good at, and what God is giving you the grace to do—then let God be God in your life. He wants to flow through you, and it may not be in the same way as He flows through others. Trust His ability in and through you, and don’t be afraid to be unique. God has a specific place and a specific plan for each of us. How will you know you’re in the right place fulfilling His plan? You will have peace!
‘My heart grew hot within me, and as I meditated, the fire burned.’ Psalm 39:3 NIV
When God gives you a vision for your life, it’ll burn within you like a fire that can’t be extinguished. The psalmist said, ‘My heart grew hot within me, and as I meditated, the fire burned.’ So, what lights your fire? What burns ‘hot’ within you? When God calls you to do something, He creates within you both the desire to do it and the power to carry it out. Though you feel inadequate and unqualified, stand on His Word: ‘For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.’ (Philippians 2:13 NLT) Mahatma Gandhi had a vision of a free and independent India at a time when it was governed by the British. Henry Ford had a vision of every family in America owning an automobile at a time when people were frightened of his new invention. Daniel K. Ludwig had a vision of a self-supporting industrial region in the heart of the Brazilian jungle at a time when there was no industry, no electricity, and no city of any kind for hundreds of kilometres. Where do such creative desires come from? God, Who is our Creator! And when God gives you a wide-blue-sky mindset, you’ll never be happy living in a mental birdcage. Are there times when you’ll feel afraid and uncertain about what to do? Yes! Fear and faith are two sides of the same coin, and they’ll always be part of your thinking. But the one you choose is the one that’ll determine your future—and you get to choose!
‘He took the path to her house.’ Proverbs 7:8 NKJV
Solomon writes, ‘I perceived … a young man devoid of understanding, passing along the street near her corner; and he took the path to her house.’ (Proverbs 7:7–8 NKJV)This guy’s mistake was being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong person. And the message is clear: If you don’t want to get burned, stay away from the fire! You can’t get hooked on cocaine if you never use it. You can’t become an alcoholic if you never drink. And you can’t commit sexual sin if you don’t allow yourself to get into the wrong situation. It’s impossible to escape completely from situations and people who may be potentially dangerous. But as Martin Luther said, ‘You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can stop them from making a nest in your hair!’ The story’s told of an elderly man who noticed a little boy riding around and around the block on his bike. This went on for hours, and finally the man asked him, ‘Son, aren’t you tired? You’ve been riding around this block all morning.’ The little boy replied, ‘I’m running away from home.’ The man replied, ‘But you’re not running away from home, you’re just riding around the block.’ ‘No,’ insisted the boy. ‘I’m running away from home—but my mum said I couldn’t cross the street.’ We’re all prone to wander, so God has laid down certain boundaries we should never cross, certain places we should never go, and certain people we should never accompany. There’s never a right time to be in the wrong place with the wrong person. So don’t go there.
‘Give to Your servant an understanding heart … that I may discern between good and evil.’ 1 Kings 3:9 NKJV
Have you ever wondered why God made King Solomon the richest man in his day? Here’s the answer: ‘God said … “Because you … have not asked long life for yourself, nor have asked riches for yourself … but have asked for … understanding … I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you. And I have also given you what you have not asked: both riches and honour, so that there shall not be anyone like you among the kings all your days.”’ (1 Kings 3:11–13 NKJV) Before you ask God for material success, ask Him for wisdom and understanding. When you have those two qualities, God can trust you with material success because He knows you’ll use it to do His will and glorify Him. So what exactly is understanding? It’s the sum total of knowledge and wisdom! It’s the ability to interpret life as God does—to see what He sees in a person or situation. In other words, understanding is the ability to see through God’s eyes, hear through His ears, think through His mind, and feel through His heart. What’s the answer to marital conflict? Understanding! What’s the answer to parent-teen conflict? Understanding! What’s the answer to business conflict? Understanding! ‘In all your getting, get understanding. Exalt her, and she will promote you; she will bring you honour.’ (Proverbs 4:7–8 NKJV) The word for you today is: pray for understanding.
‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ Hebrews 13:5 NIV
Somewhere beyond loneliness, there’s a contentment that’s born of necessity. When all your options in the natural realm seem closed, doors can spring open in the spiritual realm. That’s when you begin to see the possibility of having the kind of relationship with God you never had before. John was alone on the island of Patmos, a penal colony like Alcatraz, when God caught him up and took him on a trip through the glories of Heaven. As a result we have the book of Revelation. Paul was in prison when he wrote his greatest epistles. In Genesis, God did His miraculous work of creation and He expressed His delight in it by saying that ‘…it was very good.’ (Genesis 1:31 NLT) And you must learn to do that too. When others say nice things it reflects their opinion of you. But when you can speak well of yourself it reflects your opinion of you—and that’s the one you live with every day. To get a handle on loneliness, you must do away with the notion that anybody’s company is preferable to your own. A survey of thousands of couples revealed that 50 per cent wouldn’t marry the same person again. There are many reasons for that. One is—nobody but God can fill the spiritual emptiness within you. Think about it for a moment and you’ll realise that sometimes the solution to loneliness isn’t people, it’s purpose. It’s not a lack of affection, but a lack of direction. And when you need purpose and direction for living there’s only one place to go—to God!
‘For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.’ Ephesians 5:29 NKJV
When it comes to loving your husband or wife, the Bible uses the words ‘nourishes and cherishes’. The word nourish means ‘to build up, strengthen, develop and sharpen’. The word cherish means ‘to treasure, value, protect and celebrate’. Do you recall how you felt as a child at your birthday party when you were treated like the most special person in the room? Now you’re older and more mature, but don’t you still want to be celebrated that way… just a little bit, once in a while? Come on, admit it—you know you do! Feeling celebrated in a loving relationship is essential to its health. It’s nice to be the object of the celebration, but it’s equally important to plan celebrations for and with your partner. Whether it’s for big occasions like birthdays, anniversaries and job promotions, or smaller occasions that matter only to the two of you, making your mate feel special and cherished in ways that matter to him or her helps create a lifelong bond between you. Now, being celebrated doesn’t mean that life is always a party. Sometimes celebration includes comforting and consoling each other through the dark days and tough times. In fact, the ability to celebrate the joys of life amid its bitter downturns is a priceless quality you’ll find only in mature individuals. It’s easy to celebrate the good times, but you need someone to love you and stand by you after the holiday ends and the workday begins. So the word for you today is: nourish and cherish each other!
‘Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us.’ Ephesians 5:2 NKJV
Do you show a loving attitude? The Bible says, ‘Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and given Himself for us.’ Your mouth is such a major part of your love walk. We fail to realise how much we can do for people by building them up with our words. And we need to be even more careful not to say things that tear them down. The Bible says, ‘…the heart is deceitful above all things.’ (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV) What vibes are you giving off? What are you ‘putting out there’? When we’re too busy to show love—we’re too busy, and it’s time to examine our heart motives and attitudes. How do we do that? By examining our tongue, and what’s coming out of our mouth. Do you remember the last time you went to the doctor and he asked you to open your mouth and say, ‘Aaah’? The reason they ask you to do that is so they can examine your tongue. Just like your tongue tells a physician a lot about your physical health, it can tell you a lot about your spiritual health. To get answers to your prayers you must search your heart in three areas: (1) Learning to abide in Christ. This will bring you to a higher level of spiritual maturity and help you discover the authority you have in prayer. (2) Speaking in line with God’s Word. This can move ‘mountains’ in your life (see Mark 11:23). (3) Growing in your love walk. This opens up powerful opportunities for you to show others who God really is.
‘Treat them fairly … Then, when you call, the Lord will answer.’ Isaiah 58:6; 9 TLB
Are you self-sabotaging your prayers? God told the Israelites the reason they weren’t getting answers to their prayers was because they were engaged in finger-pointing and criticism (Isaiah 58:9–10). Have you been guilty of that? It’s just as important to glorify God through the words you speak when you’re not praying, as when you are. The Bible says there’s a direct link between having a critical, careless tongue, and not getting your prayers answered. How you treat others will determine how God treats you (Ephesians 6:7–8). God lays it squarely on the line: ‘Stop oppressing those who work for you and treat them fairly … share your food with the hungry and … those who are helpless, poor, and destitute … If you do these things, God will shed His own glorious light upon you. He will heal you; your godliness will lead you forward, goodness will be a shield before you, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then, when you call, the Lord will answer … All you need to do is to stop oppressing the weak and stop making false accusations and spreading vicious rumours! Feed the hungry! Help those in trouble! Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you shall be as bright as day. And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy you with all good things, and keep you healthy too.’ (Isaiah 58:6–11 TLB)That means the answer to your prayers is contingent upon two things: your attitudes and actions towards others.
‘If you abide in Me … it shall be done for you.’ John 15:7 NKJV
Have you spent weeks, months, or even years praying about something specific? Are you saying, ‘Lord, I know what Your Word says, so why isn’t it working for me?’ In order to get the result you’re praying for, you must be able to answer this question: Are you praying for God’s will? Jesus said, ‘If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.’ (John 15:7 NKJV) The word ‘abide’ speaks of intimacy and close connection. It paints a picture of ‘home’, the place where you experience provision and nurture. When you have that kind of relationship with God, you’ll know His heart and His desires so well that your will is going to line up with His will. And as a result you’ll get what you ask for. Don’t just assume that what you are praying for is in line with God’s will. Instead test your prayer by applying the ‘abiding principle’. Abiding brings spiritual maturity. And when you’re spiritually mature you begin to pray differently. Your prayers aren’t self-centred and self-seeking. The time you spend in the presence of the One you love most becomes more important to you than the end result you hope for. You don’t mind waiting, because you realise God’s timing is always perfect. And when He chooses to say ‘no’ to your request, you rejoice and say, ‘Then You’ve something better in mind for me, and I trust You.’ Have you reached that point yet in your walk with Him?
‘Uphold the weak.’ 1 Thessalonians 5:14 NKJV
Every school has boys and girls who are at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Some of them are physically unattractive, some are slow learners, and some are simply unable to make friends and find a comfortable place in the school environment. (The same is true in the workplace and the church.) The key question is: what should teachers do when they see one of these children being ridiculed and taunted by their peers? Some would say, ‘Kids will be kids. Stay out of the conflict and let the children work out their differences for themselves.’ But the Bible says we are to ‘uphold the weak’. When a strong, loving teacher comes to the aid of the least respected child in class, something dramatic occurs in the emotional climate of the room. Every child seems to utter an audible sigh of relief. The same thought bounces around in many little heads: ‘If that kid is safe from ridicule, then I must be safe, too.’ By defending the least popular child in the classroom, the teacher is demonstrating that he or she respects everyone and will fight for anyone who is being treated unfairly. One of the values children cherish most is justice. (Adults do too!) They are, conversely, very uneasy in a world of injustice and abuse. Therefore, when we teach children kindness and respect for others by insisting on civility in our classrooms, we are laying a foundation for human kindness in the world of adulthood to come. So wherever you are today, endeavour to ‘comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.’
‘We have wronged no one.’ 2 Corinthians 7:2 NKJV
Life coach Douglas Woods says: ‘Each of us holds many values … Some … superficial, transitory, or fitting solely the moment in which we find ourselves. Others are more fixed and stay with us through our life; these are our “core values”.’ Paul could adapt to any culture in order to reach people for Christ, but when it came to his core values he could say, ‘We have wronged no one.’ Your core values are: (1) Your friends and lifelong companions. Abraham Lincoln said, ‘When I lay down the reins of this administration I want to have one friend left, and that friend is inside myself.’ (2) Your compass. Seasons, relationships, circumstances and goals change, but core values remain. Like a compass, they always point you in the right direction. Is living this way easy? No. Doubters will think you’re foolish because you walk by faith. People without family values won’t understand your devotion to your family. The carnally minded won’t understand your dedication to Christ. And those whose core values differ from yours will try to convince you to follow them, or lower your standards. (3) Your anchor. Without core values you’re adrift. Any storm can take you under; any current can carry you places you don’t want to go. But with core values you have an anchor that holds even when the weather gets nasty. Addressing issues that come with age, Christian psychologist Dr James Dobson says: ‘Midlife crisis is more a phenomenon of the wrong value system, than the age of the group in which it occurs. All of a sudden you realise the ladder you’ve been climbing is leaning against the wrong wall.’
‘Our enemies said … “We … will kill them and put an end to the work.”’ Nehemiah 4:11 NIV
Cause number four: Fear. ‘Our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.”’ Why did Israel’s enemies not want the walls of Jerusalem to be rebuilt? Resentment! A wall around a city guaranteed its protection and prosperity. So first they criticised the Jews; then they threatened them. But notice who got discouraged first: ‘Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn they will attack us.”’ (Nehemiah 4:12 NIV) When you hang around negative people long enough, you pick up their negativity. When you listen to someone repeatedly say, ‘It can’t be done,’ eventually you start believing them. So pick the right company! Avoid people who strengthen your fear and align yourself with those who build up your faith. Do you have fears that are making you feel discouraged right now, that are preventing you from developing and growing? Do you fear criticism or embarrassment? Are you afraid to take that big step and look for a new job? Maybe you’re afraid you’re not capable of the task. Maybe you’re worried you won’t hold up under pressure. Maybe it’s the fear that you have to be perfect. Count on it—fear always discourages you! In whom are you trusting? If it’s in yourself or other people, read this promise: ‘The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.’ (Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV)
‘We cannot rebuild the wall.’ Nehemiah 4:10 NIV
Failure. The third reason we become discouraged is reflected in the Israelites’ complaint: ‘We cannot rebuild the wall.’ In essence what they were saying is, ‘We’re too tired. It’s not possible. It’s foolish to try. We give up.’ Because they were unable to finish the job as quickly as planned, their confidence plummeted; they lost heart and became discouraged. Question: How do you handle failure in your life? Do you sit down and hold a pity party? Do you say, ‘Poor me! I can’t get this job done’? Do you start complaining, ‘It’s impossible. It can’t be done. I was a fool to even try’? Do you blame other people: ‘Everybody else let me down. They didn’t do their part of the job’? The difference between winners and losers is winners see failure as a temporary setback. They’ve learned to look beyond it, whereas losers see failure as permanent. Each time a winner gets knocked down, ‘they … get up again.’ (Proverbs 24:16 NLT) There’s an old adage that says, ‘In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins—not through strength but through perseverance.’ It’s when faithfulness is most difficult that it’s the most necessary. As author John Mason observes, ‘The secret to success is to start from scratch—and keep on scratching!’ So when you get discouraged stand on this Scriptural promise: ‘Keep on being brave! It will bring you great rewards. Learn to be patient, so that you will please God and be given what He has promised.’ (Hebrews 10:35–36 CEV) Be brave, be patient, and you will succeed.
‘There is so much rubbish that we are not able to build the wall.’ Nehemiah 4:10 NKJV
Cause number two: Frustration. The Jews were building a new wall, but old, broken rocks were strewn everywhere, along with dirt and dried-out mortar. And when they looked at ‘so much rubbish’ they became discouraged and lost sight of their goal. There was so much junk in their lives they didn’t know how to get on with the real business of living. Any time you undertake an important project there’ll be rubbish to remove, and sometimes it gets frustrating. You can’t avoid this, but you can learn what to do with it so you don’t give up on your plan. What’s the ‘rubbish’ in your life? Trivial things that waste your time, consume your energy, and keep you from becoming all you want to be? Things that keep you from doing what’s most important, like building a relationship with your spouse and children, or being active in your area of giftedness at church? The rubbish in life is those things that get in your way: the interruptions that keep you from accomplishing your goals. And these are the things you need to deal with. In other words, you need to take out the trash! Nobody else is going to do it for you. God won’t, and you can’t ‘pray it away’. God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and said, ‘Take care of it.’ It’s in maintaining the blessings God has given you that you learn the difference between what’s important in life and what’s not. And that’s a lesson you’ll keep learning over and over.
‘The strength of the labourers is giving out.’ Nehemiah 4:10 NIV
The story of Nehemiah highlights four major sources of discouragement. Let’s look at the first of them: Fatigue. The people in Judah said, ‘The strength of the labourers is giving out.’ In other words, they’d worked themselves to exhaustion. They were worn out physically, mentally and emotionally. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that discouragement is strictly a spiritual problem. We say, ‘Maybe I need to recommit my life to God,’ when in fact the real problem is we’re burned out. We need rest and renewal. Indeed, sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is relax, or go to bed, or take some time off. When do fatigue and discouragement surface? Look at verse six: ‘So we rebuilt the wall until all of it reached half of its height.’ Do you know when you’re most apt to get discouraged? When you’re halfway into a project! Everybody works hard at first. The Bible says the people ‘worked with all their heart.’ (Nehemiah 4:6 NIV) Why? Because of the newness of the project. It was exciting and novel, but after a while the newness wore off and the work got boring. Life settled into a routine, then a rut, then a ritual. Be careful: when fatigue walks in, faith walks out! That’s why the psalmist said, ‘He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul.’ (Psalm 23:2–3 NIV) Fatigue is one of the biggest causes of discouragement, and it often shows up about midpoint. It’s why we leave so many projects unfinished. Bottom line: if you need time off, take it!
‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’ Proverbs 29:18 KJV
What do you ‘see’ in your future? What’s your ‘vision’? In 1862 Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, yet one hundred years later African-Americans were still victims of segregation. During a speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, Dr Martin Luther King Jr expressed his vision in these now famous words: ‘I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the State of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream … of that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”’ The night before Dr King was assassinated in Memphis, he told his audience he had ‘seen’ the Promised Land, and even though they may not get there at the same time, they would one day enter it. If you don’t have a vision for your life, ask God for one. And when He gives it to you, pour your life into it believing you’ll live to ‘see’ it fulfilled!
‘Time would fail me to tell of …Jephthah.’ Hebrews 11:32 NKJV
Your child of promise may be far from perfect today, and their transition into God’s Kingdom may be anything but smooth. ‘Time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of aliens.’ (Hebrews 11:32–34 NKJV) When you read these names and know their stories, you realise Satan will fight your child of promise from the day they’re born until the day they die. And if he can’t get to them, he will try to get to their children. Jephthah had to rise above the stigma of having a prostitute for a mother and a father who wanted nothing to do with him. But he overcame all this, led Israel to victory over their enemies, became known as ‘a mighty man of valour’ (Judges 11:1 KJV), and ended up listed alongside the Bible’s greatest heroes, including Abraham, Moses, Esther, Ruth, and David. Abandonment, abuse, addiction, absenteeism, anger, and aggression—none of these can stop God from using your child of promise if you’ll ‘stand in the gap’, pray on their behalf, and keep speaking God’s Word over them. ‘What is the gap?’ you ask. It’s the difference between what is and what can be; the difference between who your child is right now and who God knows he or she will become in the future.
‘I sought for a man among them who would … stand in the gap.’ Ezekiel 22:30 NKJV
Sometimes your child of promise may get into trouble at school, mix with the wrong crowd, and experiment with drugs, alcohol, gangs or sex. They may rebel against everything you’ve taught them. But that doesn’t mean they won’t eventually respond to God and do His will. Before Saul of Tarsus became Paul the apostle God had to throw him off his horse, humble him before his peers, and blind him for a season. Do you remember what Jesus said to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road that day? ‘It is hard for you to kick against the goads [thorns, stings].’ (Acts 9:5 NKJV) Sometimes your child of promise will come the easy way, other times they’ll come kicking and screaming; they won’t get there overnight! God took Paul into the wilderness for three years to detox him from wrong thinking and reprogram him with the truth of His Word because that was necessary to equip him for his calling. (Galatians 1:18) So when your child of promise seems to be lost in the wilderness, blind to their destiny, or even down in the dust, don’t despair; God is still at work. What should you do? God said, ‘I sought for a man [or woman] among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of …’ (Ezekiel 22:30 NKJV) Build a wall of protective prayer around your child. ‘Stand in the gap’ and pray God’s Word over them. Jesus promised that when you pray with authority here on earth, He will move Heaven on your behalf (see John 14:13).
‘Jephthah … was a mighty man … but he was the son of a harlot.’ Judges 11:1 NKJV
Genes are powerful things! They can determine a child’s hair colour, eye colour, and the proclivities that make them like their father or mother. But when a child grows up and constantly makes bad choices it may not be genetic; it may be that the enemy has targeted them because he’s discerned their destiny. That’s when God steps in. Moses’ mother placed him in a basket and hid him in the Nile River. But God arranged for Pharaoh’s own daughter to find him, take him to the palace, and raise him as a leader in Egypt. As a parent, when you do your part, God will do His. When you do all you can for your child, God will intervene and do what you cannot do. Paul writes, ‘We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.’ (Romans 8:28 NLT) God has a ‘purpose’ for your problem child, so keep loving them and praying for them however long it takes. The Bible says, ‘Jephthah … was a mighty man of valour, but he was the son of a harlot.’ Your child may have been born in less than ideal circumstances, but that won’t stop God from blessing them. On the contrary, He can use every circumstance in their past to fuel their future with wisdom and strengthen them to fulfil the thing to which He’s called them. So don’t give up on your child of promise. Pray, ‘Lord, You promised it, I believe it, and it will come to pass!’
‘Satan has asked for you … But I have prayed for you.’ Luke 22:31–32 NKJV
Your problem child could be a child of promise! God has a special destiny in mind for such children; that’s why there’s so much drama around them. Satan has targeted them because he sees their potential. He has discerned God’s plan for them and he’s out to stop it. Would Satan do that? Yes! He used Pharaoh to get to Moses, and King Herod to get to Jesus before they were two years old. Why? Because one day they would arise as deliverers and fulfil God’s plan. Likewise, Satan will attack your child of destiny. Paul said, ‘It pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles.’ (Galatians 1:15–16 NKJV) But Paul spent the first thirty years of his life going the wrong way before he met Jesus and started going the right way. So as the parent of a child of promise, what should you do? Pray for them! Knowing the special plan Peter would fulfil and the attack of Satan that would soon come against him, Jesus told Peter: ‘Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.’ (Luke 22:31–32 NKJV) When your children are young, lay your hands on them and speak God’s Word over their lives. And as they enter their teenage years continue to pray and speak God’s blessing upon them. Fight for your child of promise!
‘A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.’ Proverbs 29:11 NIV
Anger is a God-ordained emotion, but it’s meant to be your servant instead of your master. So keep your temper on a leash. Any time you’re tempted to give in to anger, stop and ask yourself two questions: (1) Is this really worth my anger? Much of the time you’re working only with partial information. Furthermore, when you view someone in the context of their best qualities rather than their worst ones, you usually respond differently. (2) Is this the best way, place and time to express my anger? It’s hard to ask yourself this in the heat of the moment, but your emotions can be tamed and your temper can be trained. The Bible says one of the fruits of the Spirit is ‘self-control’. (Galatians 5:23 NLT) When someone wrongs you, the question isn’t whether you are big enough to do something about it; the question is whether you are big enough not to? The story’s told of two brothers who got into an awful fight and their mother ran upstairs to break it up. When she asked how the fight got started, the older brother said, ‘It all started when he hit me back!’ If you’ve an anger management problem, write this Scripture down, carry it with you and try to read it before you lose your temper: ‘Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs.’ (Proverbs 19:11 NLT) You say, ‘That’s hard to do!’ Yes, and you’ll never do it perfectly. But if you do it more often, God will be glorified—and you’ll feel better too.
‘Even perfection has its limits…’ Psalm 119:96 NLT
High standards and attention to detail are commendable; they show you take pride in your work. However, dyed-in-the-wool perfectionists take an all-or-nothing approach by finding fault and obsessing over how they could have done it better. Case in point: after delivering one of history’s most memorable speeches, Abraham Lincoln described his Gettysburg Address as a ‘flat failure’. Perfectionists see opportunities to perform as opportunities to fail, so even when they do reach their goal there’s no sense of accomplishment. None of us will ever attain perfection this side of eternity. We’re all imperfect; get used to it! We only ‘…know in part…’ (1 Corinthians 13:9 NIV) So: (1) Give yourself permission to fail, in order to succeed. Henry Ford said, ‘Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again… more intelligently.’ (2) Though you’re not likely to excel initially, don’t be afraid to try. You won’t get perfect results, but it will let you see that sometimes ‘average’ can be progress. (3) Lighten up. Be forgiving of yourself, and extend grace to others. Emerson said, ‘A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.’ (4) Don’t get bogged down in details. Set a time limit; say, ‘I’m going to give this thirty minutes.’ A well-known counsellor says, ‘Have reasonable expectations…do your best and encourage others to do the same. Flaws and imperfections determine your uniqueness. Relish them. Embrace them…you’re human …God made you that way.’ The truth is, God doesn’t judge our mistakes nearly as harshly as we do. He ‘…remembers we are only dust…’ (Psalm 103:14 NLT)
‘Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.’ 1 Peter 5:7 NKJV
The word ‘casting’ pictures a fisherman throwing his net into the sea to catch fish. He knows he won’t succeed by carrying his net, but by casting it. What are you carrying around? Old pain? Old resentment? An old torch for somebody who’s moved on? Cast it away! You’re sacrificing your future for something that’s not worthy of your time and energy. Why would God tell you to do something so radical? Because ‘He cares for you’. While you’re caring for it, He’s caring for you. It’s hard to watch somebody you love twisting in pain because of something they shouldn’t be carrying. God has no problem making the thing leave you alone; you just need to loosen your grip on it. Today God’s speaking to you, not what’s bothering you, saying, ‘Cast it away!’ Satan is a thief. Unwillingness to forgive is one of the doors through which he enters, and you are the only one who can close it. When you wake up and realise how much he’s already stolen from you, you’ll be angry with yourself. Harness that anger. Let it motivate you to live by the three R’s: Repent. Rectify the situation if possible. Take Responsibility for your life. Once you’ve done that, close the book on it, enjoy the benefits of God’s grace, and move on. Recognise when something is dead. No amount of effort can resuscitate a corpse, so sign the death certificate, bury the past, and get going. That doesn’t mean you’re quitting, it means you’re conserving your strength for things that count, for things you can do something about.
‘You have said, “Seek My face.” My heart says to You, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”’ Psalm 27:8 ESV
If you spend hours each day watching television and can’t find a few minutes for prayer and reading the Scriptures, you’ve a spiritual appetite problem—one that needs your attention. David Brainerd, an eighteenth-century missionary to the American Indians, wrote in his journal: ‘I withdrew to my usual place of retirement in great tranquillity. I knew only to breathe out my desire for a perfect conformity to Him in all things. God was so precious that the world with all its enjoyments seemed infinitely vile. I have no more desire for the favour of men than for pebbles. At noon I had the most ardent longings after God which I ever felt in my life. In my secret retirement I could do nothing but tell my dear Lord in a sweet calmness that I knew I desired nothing but Him, nothing but holiness, that He had given me these desires and only He could give me the things I desired. I never seemed to be so unhinged from myself … so wholly devoted to God. My heart was swallowed up in God most of the day.’ The psalmist felt the same way: ‘I desire you more than anything on earth. My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever … how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter.’ (Psalm 73:25–28 NLT) You can tell how spiritually healthy you are by your appetite for the things of God.
‘He makes me lie down … He restores my soul.’ Psalm 23:2–3 NIV
Learn to pay attention to your body’s signals and emotional responses to the demands you place on yourself. When you’re tired to the point of distraction, you need to slow down and rest. Yes, there are seasons that require extra time and energy but, even in the midst of these seasons, you need to find a way to take care of yourself. If you constantly ignore your body’s aches and pains, work 24/7, eat out of vending machines, and run on caffeine and adrenalin, you’ll get sick and be forced to slow down because you wouldn’t take care of yourself. Knowing your ‘speed limit’ allows you to know when it’s time to stop, refuel, and replenish, to restore your energy and your soul. Many of us have abused our bodies for so long that we believe our healthiest days are behind us. Not necessarily so! No matter how bad your condition is, there’s help! Your body has the ability to restore itself. God will work with you and in you to bring you back to wholeness if you follow His guidelines for good health. Practise doing everything you do for God’s glory, including eating (see 1 Corinthians 10:31). Look at your plate and ask if what you’re about to eat is mostly what God created for you to stay healthy. Make a balanced diet a way of life! Each time you choose healthy foods you choose life, which is God’s gift to you. Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish, it’s good stewardship. By eating well, sleeping enough, exercising and taking regular vacations you can increase the effectiveness of your life and bring glory to God (see 1 Corinthians 6:19–20).
‘I will … make the rough places smooth.’ Isaiah 42:16 NIV
Observe: (1) It’s never easy to leave your comfort zone. Moses probably didn’t relish leaving the luxury of Pharaoh’s palace or the security of his new family in Midian. Yet if he hadn’t, he’d have failed to fulfil God’s call. Just because you don’t feel like doing something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. The greater the assignment, the greater the sacrifice. (2) Real growth begins once you leave your comfort zone. For forty years Moses benefited from everything Egypt had to offer. But only after he left Egypt for the first time did he begin to learn what was really important: namely, God’s purposes. It took another forty years in the desert to discover how God intended to use him—and by then he’d been humbled and made over. The bottom line is: before you can go—you have to grow! (3) Staying in your comfort zone will rob you of your greatest moments and memories. Your life story is written in risks—those you took and those you avoided. Twenty years from now you’ll be more disappointed about the risks you didn’t take than the ones you did. The way to pre-empt tomorrow’s regret is by moving forward today into the ‘faith zone’. You say, ‘But there’s so much I don’t know or understand.’ That may be true, but here’s a promise you can stand on: ‘I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them … turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These … things I will do; I will not forsake them.’ (Isaiah 42:16 NIV) What more assurance do you need?
‘Along unfamiliar paths I will guide them.’ Isaiah 42:16 NIV
To do God’s will, Moses had to leave his comfort zone. ‘Moses, when he grew up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter … He thought it was better to suffer … than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward.’ (Hebrews 11:24–26 NLT) To fulfil the assignment God gave him, Moses had to be willing to give up two things: (1) Comfort. Ease is a greater threat to your progress than hardship. After living in a palace, Moses spent his next forty years in the desert tending sheep. He married one of Jethro’s daughters, managed her father’s business, and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. Can you imagine leaving all that to go back and face Pharaoh? God’s plan for your life will bless and reward you, but never assume it will be easy. (2) Security. When God called him, Moses had many doubts and questions: ‘Who am I that I should go?’ (Exodus 3:11 NKJV) ‘What shall I say to them?’ (Exodus 3:13 NKJV) ‘Suppose they will not believe me?’ (Exodus 4:1 NKJV) ‘But I am slow of speech.’ (Exodus 4:10 NKJV) Finally he told God, ‘Send someone else.’ (Exodus 4:13 NIV) Have you been doing that? Fortunately, God wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and Moses finally did the one thing that works when you’re uncertain about the future: He obeyed God, entrusting the details of the future to Him. In doing that Moses agreed to answer God’s call, leave his comfort zone, and return to Egypt. As a result the Children of Israel were delivered from slavery, and Moses’ name became a household word.
‘Love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you.’ Matthew 5:43 NCV
When people mistreat you, Jesus makes clear how you should respond. ‘The law of Moses says, “If a man gouges out another’s eye, he must pay with his own eye. If a tooth gets knocked out, knock out the tooth of the one who did it.” But I say: Don’t resist violence! If you are slapped on one cheek, turn the other too. If you are ordered to court, and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat too. If the military demand that you carry their gear for a mile, carry it two. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow. “There is a saying, ‘Love your friends and hate your enemies.’ But I say: Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way you will be acting as true sons of your Father in Heaven. For He gives His sunlight to both the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust too. If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even scoundrels do that much. If you are friendly only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even the heathen do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.’ (Matthew 5:38–48 TLB) Bottom line: Respond in a Christlike way.
‘You did not do it to Me.’ Matthew 25:45 NKJV
Every act of kindness you showed to someone in need, as well as every time you turned a blind eye, you’ll account for when you stand at the judgement (see 2 Corinthians 5:10). Jesus will recount them one by one—one deed done to improve the lot of another person, even small ones. Indeed, everything Jesus mentioned seems small: ‘I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ (Matthew 25:35–36 NKJV) The early Church father Chrysostom pointed out, ‘We do not hear “I was sick and you healed me,” or “I was in prison and you liberated me.”’ So that does away with the excuse, ‘How could I heal a sick person or liberate someone who’s enslaved?’ Jesus said, ‘I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ These works of mercy are simple deeds, and yet in these simple deeds we serve Jesus. Astounding, this truth: we serve Christ by serving needy people. Some of them live in jungles you can’t find, and have names you can’t pronounce; others who play in cardboard slums, or sell sex on the street. Some of them brought their woes on themselves, and others inherited the mess from their parents. You can’t help all of them, but you can help some of them! And when you do, you serve Jesus. That’s what Jesus will talk to you about when you stand before Him one day.
‘Take delight in honouring each other.’ Romans 12:10 NLT
One of the most common sources of conflict between husbands and wives comes down to a simple matter of differing assumptions. Dr James Dobson writes: ‘Years ago I went through a very hectic period of my life professionally. I was a full-time professor in a medical school, but I was also travelling and speaking more often than usual. I completely exhausted myself during that time. It was a dumb thing to do, but I had made commitments that I simply had to keep. Finally on a concluding Friday night … I came dragging home. I had earned a day off, and I planned to kick back and watch the USC–Alabama football game that Saturday. Shirley, on the other hand, also felt that she had paid her dues. For six weeks she had taken care of the kids and run the home. It was entirely reasonable that I spend my Saturday doing things she wanted done around the house. Neither of us was really wrong. But the two ideas were incompatible. Those assumptions collided about ten o’clock Saturday morning when Shirley asked me to clean the backyard umbrella. I had no intention of doing it. There was an exchange of harsh words that froze our relationship for three days. It’s important to understand that neither of us was looking for a fight, yet we both felt misunderstood and wounded by the other. Our conflict was typical of what goes on every day in a million other homes. It all comes down not to deliberate antagonism, but to something called “differing assumptions.”’ What’s the answer? Don’t assume, ask!
‘…keep Satan from taking advantage of us.’ 2 Corinthians 2:11 AMP
You will always be tempted in your weakest areas. So: (1) Prepare yourself. Otherwise you won’t be ready when it comes. Where does temptation originate? In your mind! Any defeat that manifests itself in your conduct was first a battle lost in your mind. That’s why Paul wrote that we should ‘…keep Satan from taking advantage of us.’ (2) Brace for impact. Ask God to help you detect Satan’s advances, and buckle your seat belt in preparation for what lies ahead. An ink-stained wall in Wartburg Castle, Germany, illustrates the point. Deep in prayer, Martin Luther suddenly became aware of the enemy’s presence. The story goes that he picked up an inkpot and hurled it against the wall, aiming it at the devil. Luther sensed the adversary’s advance and responded the best way he knew how. Sound extreme? Maybe, but the question is do you have that kind of spiritual sensitivity? (3) Submit to God, and then serve the devil an eviction notice. If you don’t, he will defeat you. ‘Submit … to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.’ (James 4:7 NAS) Satan wants you to do the opposite by resisting God and submitting to him. Don’t fall into his trap! If you’re battling temptation today, stand on this promise: ‘Our high priest is able to understand our weaknesses. He was tempted in every way that we are, but He did not sin. Let us, then, feel very sure that we can come before God’s throne where there is grace. There we can receive mercy and grace to help us when we need it.’ (Hebrews 4:15–16 NCV) God will give you the grace needed to overcome temptation.
‘Her children … call her blessed; her husband … praises her.’ Proverbs 31:28 NKJV
When it comes to motherhood, this sign on a church bulletin board says it all: If evolution is true, how come mothers still only have two hands? Seriously, Mum, today we stop to salute you and let you know how much we appreciate you. Some days you probably wonder if what you’re doing even matters. Your work is never done … you’re always exhausted … and there’s no big financial reward. We live in an age that seems to diminish service and exalt glitz…sometimes it’s hard to value your investment. But hear this: God says you’re highly esteemed by Him, and that children are some of His most precious gifts (see Psalm 127:3). A godly mother is someone who is described by her family: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.’ So Mum, while your role isn’t defined by a pay cheque or a promotion, you’re vitally important to your family and your children’s physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Nobody can take your place! Samuel was one of Israel’s greatest prophets, but who was the driving force in his life? His mother, Hannah! When Samuel was born she said, ‘I am giving him to the Lord for as long as he lives.’ (1 Samuel 1:28 TLB) Mother, you matter more than you know. God is moulding tomorrow’s leaders in your hands.
‘Each of you is a part of it.’ 1 Corinthians 12:27 NLT
None of us can do individually, what all of us can do collectively. Paul writes, ‘All of you together are Christ’s body [the church], and each of you is a part of it.’ But His body has been known to misbehave. The brain discounts the heart. (Academics discount worshippers.) The hands criticise the knees. (People of action criticise people of prayer.) The eyes refuse to partner with the feet. (Visionary thinkers won’t work with steady labourers.) So Paul writes, ‘The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”’ (1 Corinthians 12:21 NLT) The mega-church needs the smaller church. The pastor needs the missionary. Cooperation is more than a good idea; it’s a Scriptural command. ‘Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.’ (Ephesians 4:3 NIV) When we work together in unity, the Bible says God ‘commands His blessing’ to be upon us (see Psalm 133:1–3). We haven’t been called to compare, to compete, to complain, or to criticise one another. No, we’ve been called to complement one another! When it comes to problems with other believers, Jesus said: ‘I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by My Father in Heaven. For where two or three come together in My name, there am I with them.’ (Matthew 18:19–20 NIV) What an astounding promise. When we come into agreement, Jesus notices. He shows up, and He hears and answers our prayers.
‘Who is equal to such a task?’ 2 Corinthians 2:16 NIV
In Second Corinthians chapter two Paul asks the question, ‘Who is equal to such a task?’ And in chapter three he answers it: ‘Our competence comes from God.’ (2 Corinthians 3:5 NIV) We’re aware of our limitations when it comes to meeting the needs of our families, fulfilling the demands of our jobs, persevering in spite of the energy drain and the chronic pain, battling a long-standing habit, learning a new job after being laid off, staying in a difficult marriage, and finding the strength needed to keep forging ahead when our dreams fail. We pretend we’ve got it together. We act like we’re capable of handling any situation, but deep down we know we’re not. The truth is, without God’s grace and power we are inadequate. This can be a tough concept for proud, assertive types to accept. It undermines their ego to have to acknowledge that without God they don’t know the right thing to do, the right way to do it, or where the power to do it will come from. It’s tough for them to admit they must consciously rely on Him at all times. But once you adopt that stance and start depending on God, you’re on the threshold of the life you’ve always wanted. What was the secret of Paul’s strength? The power of Christ, operating in him (2 Corinthians 12:9). D.L. Moody said, ‘When a man has no strength, if he leans on God he becomes powerful.’ Regardless of how long you’ve walked with Jesus, never forget that all of your adequacy comes from Him.
‘Who am I that I should go?’ Exodus 3:11 NIV
Why does God call people who don’t necessarily feel qualified? So we’ll depend on Him more than on ourselves. When God called Moses, he asked, ‘Who am I that I should go?’ When God called Gideon, he replied, ‘I am the least in my family.’ (Judges 6:15 NIV) When God called Solomon, he said, ‘I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.’ (1 Kings 3:7 NIV) When God called Jeremiah, he replied, ‘I do not know how to speak.’ (Jeremiah 1:6 NIV) Yet they all became great leaders. How did they do it? By saying yes to God’s call, learning from their mistakes and growing wiser, and drawing strength from God each day. So whether your God-given assignment in life seems large or small, you can grow into it. A vocal teacher once told Mary Martin, the famous American singer, that she had an inferior voice and would never make it in the field of music. But she determined otherwise and, for over half a century, she reigned as one of the country’s most loved and popular singers. Mary overcame her seeming deficiency through determination and self-discipline. The Greek statesman Demosthenes had such a speech impediment as a boy that he was embarrassed to speak before a group. But he invested long hours by the sea in unrelenting practice to overcome his problem—and as a result, became one of the most famous orators of all time. You may not have a natural aptitude for leadership, but under God’s guidance you can develop into a leader. Why? Because even though you may be limited, the God who lives within you isn’t!
‘What we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later.’ Romans 8:18 NLT
Sometimes we view the call of God on our lives through rose-coloured glasses. But hearing His call isn’t the same thing as falling into your dream career. When God called Jeremiah to preach to a people who refused to listen, he cried so much he became known as ‘the weeping prophet’. Our first response to a God-sized assignment is generally—fear. Henry Blackaby writes: ‘Some people say, “God will never ask me to do something I can’t do.” I’ve come to the place in my life that if the assignment I sense God giving me is something I know I can handle, I know it’s probably not from God. The kind of assignments God gives in the Bible are always God-sized. They’re beyond what people can do, because He wants to demonstrate His nature, His strength … and His kindness … to a watching world.’ Saying yes to God’s call often means putting in hours of effort when you’d rather not. And it doesn’t always reward you with the kind of recognition you’d hoped for. People may disapprove of what you’re doing and try to block you. For sure, it’ll involve trial and error and some false starts. And natural talent alone isn’t enough to honour your calling; you’ll need ideas, strength, and creativity beyond your own resources to do what God requires of you. Paul says, ‘We are labourers together with God’ (1 Corinthians 3:9 KJV), because in order to succeed it has to be God and you doing it together. He doesn’t just call you to work for Him; He calls you to work with Him!
‘The Lord called Samuel again the third time.’ 1 Samuel 3:8 NKJV
You didn’t arrive on this planet with your calling pre-clarified and your gifts pre-developed. Discerning God’s calling usually involves attempts and failures. He called Samuel four times before he recognised the divine voice. Before Peter walked on the water he said, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ (Matthew 14:28–29 NAS) And Jesus said, ‘Come.’ Here’s a lesson you can learn from this: You are not in charge of water-walking, Jesus is! It’s not about having power at your disposal to be used any time you choose, for whatever you please. Before you decide to get out of the boat you’d better be sure it’s what you’ve been called to—and that Jesus is the One calling you. God’s looking for more than impulsiveness. Sometimes we make reckless decisions about relationships, finances or work, then rationalise them using the veneer of spiritual language. In many self-help books risk-taking is seen as commendable, but as a Christian the risks you take should be in direct response to God. If you’re a thrill-seeking personality, you may be particularly susceptible in this area. Boredom can make you vulnerable and tempt you to solve your problems by making rash decisions that are out of step with God’s will. There’s a fine line between ‘not being afraid’ and ‘being stupid’—one that’s easily blurred. Knowing when to step out of the boat and take a risk doesn’t just call for courage, it calls for wisdom to ask the right questions, discernment to recognise the Master’s voice and patience to wait until He says, ‘Come!’
‘God works through different [people] in different ways.’ 1 Corinthians 12:6 PHPS
Skilled potters recognise that when they press clay it presses back, giving them an indication of what it can and cannot become. Amateur potters often lack that discernment—and the end work proves it. When you don’t honour your raw material, it can become your enemy. The word vocation comes from the Latin word for ‘voice’. Discovering your calling involves listening very carefully. If you close your ears and pursue something you’re neither called nor equipped to do, you’ll end up living with anxiety that whispers, ‘You’re trying to do something God didn’t tell you to do.’ The courage to acknowledge what you’re not brings great freedom; the lack of it imprisons you. Parker Palmer writes, ‘You cannot choose your calling; you must let your life speak.’ Perhaps you were created to learn, and in so doing to benefit others. If you are, you’ll find yourself drawn to reading, reflecting, writing, and teaching. However, if you’re convinced (or allow others to convince you) that you must be a corporate success in order for your life to count, you’ll always be sawing against the grain of your life. Instead, learn to ride the horse in the direction it’s going. Philosopher Mortimer Adler writes about brilliant minds called to sit at the table of what he terms ‘the great conversation of the human race’. Well, guess what? Ninety-nine percent of us will never sit at that table! But we can look forward to the commendation: ‘Well done … good and faithful servant’ (Matthew 25:21 NLT), that God promised to those who hear His call, accept it and devote their lives to fulfilling it.
‘Give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord.’ 1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV
A career is something you choose; a calling is something you receive. A career is something you do for yourself; a calling is something you do for God. A career promises status, money and power; a calling generally promises difficulty, suffering and the opportunity to be used by God. A career may end with retirement and lots of toys; a calling doesn’t end until you die. A career can be disrupted by any number of events, but God enables you to fulfil your calling even in the most difficult circumstances. For some people in Scripture obeying the call of God meant living in slavery, being captured and sent into exile, or being put to death. Their career trajectories didn’t look promising, yet they fulfilled their calling in extraordinary ways. Chuck Colson had one of the highest profile careers in America. He had access to power and influence in the Nixon White House, yet he landed in prison. His career was over, but his calling was just beginning. He was called to reach others just like himself. He reflects: ‘The real legacy of my life was my biggest failure—that I was an ex-convict. My great humiliation—being sent to prison—was the beginning of God’s greatest use of my life; He chose the one experience in which I couldn’t glory [and used it] for His glory.’ In the providence of God, the end of your career can be the beginning of your calling. So whatever God has called you to do, the Bible says, ‘Give yourselves fully to the work … because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.’
‘Encourage him, and strengthen him.’ Deuteronomy 3:28 KJV
Encouragement can work miracles. In the movie Stand and Deliver, high school teacher Jaime Escalante has two students in his class named Johnny. One is a happy child and an excellent student; the other spends his time messing around and getting into trouble. When the Parent Teacher Association held its first meeting of the year, a mother came up to Jaime and asked, ‘How’s my son, Johnny, getting along?’ Jaime mistakenly assumed she was the mother of the better student, so he replied, ‘I can’t tell you how much I enjoy him. I’m so glad he’s in my class.’ The next day ‘problem Johnny’ came to Jaime and said, ‘My mom told me what you said about me last night. I haven’t ever had a teacher who wanted me in his class.’ The result? He completed his assignments that day, and brought in his completed homework the next morning. A few weeks later he had become one of Jaime’s hardest-working students—and one of his best friends. His life had been turned around because of an accidental word of encouragement. It works like this: When you look for good in a person and express it, you give them something to live up to. In other words, you motivate them to be better than they are. The last thing God told Moses to do was to encourage and strengthen Joshua ‘for he shall go over before this people, and he shall cause them to inherit the land which you will see.’ (Deuteronomy 3:28 NKJV) And here’s the great thing about encouragement: you don’t have to be rich, attractive, prominent or brilliant to give it, and it’s always appreciated. So today, encourage someone.
‘When they could not find a way … they went up on the roof.’ Luke 5:19 NIV
When you pick up the weight of another person, it can be a heavy burden to bear. Notice: (1) It took four people to bring this man to Jesus. Sometimes you have to call in reinforcements. When you’ve prayed for someone and nothing seems to be happening, here’s a great Scripture: ‘If two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by My Father in Heaven. For where two or three come together in My name, there am I with them.’ (Matthew 18:19–20 NIV) (2) It was their faith, not the sick man’s faith that Jesus responded to. ‘When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”’ (Luke 5:20 NIV) The poor guy had been in this condition for so long that his faith was probably as dead as his limbs. But that’s no problem for God; He’ll respond to your faith by touching your loved one. (3) They refused to give up on him. You need tenacious faith that refuses to quit. Just because you talked to someone about the Lord before and they didn’t respond, doesn’t mean they won’t respond now. Maybe they weren’t ready back then, and now their circumstances have changed. Maybe you went about it the wrong way, and now you have a better approach. The point is, when you do your part, God will do His. ‘So let us not become tired of doing good; for if we do not give up, the time will come when we will reap the harvest.’ (Galatians 6:9 GNT)
‘They came… bringing a paralytic… carried by four.’ Mark 2:3 NKJV
Some people have to be ‘carried’ to Jesus because they can’t get to Him by themselves. Like the man in the story, they are paralysed. ‘Paralysed by what?’ you ask. Paralysed by an out-of-control behaviour. Paralysed by a belief system that tells you you’re too sinful for God to ever love and redeem you. Paralysed by the memory of something that happened in your childhood and now you’re afraid to talk about it. Paralysed by an addiction to illegal substances, prescription drugs, gambling, pornography, alcohol, work, or money. Whatever your addiction—one thing is for sure—it’s paralysing. You can be paralysed by fear, anxiety, depression, a bottomed-out sense of self-worth, or a nightmarish childhood of neglect and abuse. On the other hand, you can be a self-made man or woman paralysed by success, materialism, greed, self-absorption—not acknowledging any need in your life for God. Is any of this hitting close to home? Jesus began His ministry with these words: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’ (Luke 4:18–19 NKJV) The New Living Translation of the Bible paraphrases the latter part of verse 19 by saying, ‘the time of the Lord’s favour has come.’ Here’s the good news! Life may not always have been good to you, but God’s grace and smile of favour can change all of that—starting today.
‘The power of the Lord was present to heal them.’ Luke 5:17 NKJV
One day when Jesus was preaching in a certain house, four men brought their paralysed friend so He could heal him. When they couldn’t get through the crowd they climbed up onto the roof, created an opening, lowered the man down to Jesus, and He healed him. The Bible says, ‘The power of the Lord was present to heal them.’ The Pharisees were sitting nearby, and the power of God was present to heal them too, yet they received nothing. It’s amazing, but true; you can be in the presence of Jesus and leave unchanged. Why? Because your attitude and approach determine your results! Pride and preconceived notions—thinking you have God all figured out—can stop you from receiving what you need. Paul says, ‘For indeed the Gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.’ (Hebrews 4:2 NKJV) These religious leaders had no ‘faith’. They were interested in engaging Jesus in theological arguments, not in seeing the power of God demonstrated and this sick man healed. So you can have a head full of theology and a heart filled with doubt, and receive nothing from the Lord! Luke Chapter 5 records: ‘When [Jesus] saw their faith, He said to him… “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” Immediately he rose up… and departed to his own house, glorifying God. And they were all amazed, and they glorified God… saying, “We have seen strange things today!”’ (Luke 5:20–26 NKJV)
‘We are justified (acquitted, declared righteous, and given a right standing with God) through faith.’ Romans 5:1 AMP
Until you understand how God views you, you’ll struggle for His approval and worry that you never measure up. Is that how you feel today? If so, meditate on the following Scriptures and let them remove your doubts. (1) ‘Through Him we … become … [acceptable and in right relationship with] [God].’ (2 Corinthians 5:21 AMP) Unworthiness is one of the greatest weapons Satan has against you, so take it out of his hands. In a sense, God has put a screen between you and Himself; it’s the blood of Jesus. And when He looks at you through that screen He sees you as righteous and forgiven of all sins. That’s why we call it ‘amazing grace’. (2) ‘[Righteousness, standing acceptable to God] will be … credited to us … who believe in (trust in, adhere to, and rely on) God.’(Romans 4:24 AMP) Did you get that? All the righteousness needed to get into Heaven—is credited to your account the moment you put your trust in Christ. As a Christian there’s a difference between your position and your condition. When you sin, it affects your condition. But your fixed position is ‘in Christ’ (see Romans 8:1). You say, ‘But what about my shortcomings?’ That’s your condition, and the Holy Spirit is working on it every day (see 2 Corinthians 3:18). Transformation, which means ‘to change form’, is a daily process. And while you’re in that process God views you as righteous! In other words, righteousness isn’t a performance but a position. And God put you into that position the moment He saved you. Now you know where you stand with God.
‘You shall bless the Lord for the good land He has given you.’ Deuteronomy 8:10 NKJV
Today we celebrate the blessings of God we enjoy as a nation; blessings paid for in the blood, sweat and tears of our forbears. Note what God said to His people when they entered the promised land: ‘The Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land in which you eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper. When you have eaten and are full, you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments.’ (Deuteronomy 8:10–11 NKJV) Our challenge is not that we are slow learners, but that we are quick forgetters. Here are two all important truths we quickly forget and need to remind ourselves of daily:
First, God is the source of every blessing we enjoy. That’s why He cautioned His people: ‘…then you say in your heart “my power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth”. And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish his covenant which He swore to your fathers.’ (Deuteronomy 8:17–18) Every good thing you enjoy—past, present and future—is a gift of grace from God. Every action of God in your life is designed to increase, not decrease, your dependence on Him. The success of every assignment God gives you, depends on His involvement and participation. The apostle Paul acknowledges the secret of his success in these words: ‘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)
‘As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.’ Proverbs 27:17 NLT
Arguments can be either constructive or destructive; it all depends on how you handle them. Many times our relationships fall apart or develop into unending chapters of misery because we either fail to recognise or are unwilling to face our problems before they escalate into emergencies. Rather than discuss what’s not working between us, we get into a conflict and argue about whose fault it is. In contrast to discussion that constructively airs the issues, arguments bring charges and appoint blame, which is destructive. They provoke hurt, anger, defensiveness, aggressive feelings, bitterness, and other strong emotions. That’s why the Bible says, ‘It is to a man’s honour to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.’ (Proverbs 20:3 NIV) Now let’s get real for a second! This side of Heaven none of us will live without differences of opinion and disagreements. Even in the best of relationships you’ll have them. And you must realise that not all conflict stems from wilful behaviour; it often arises through innocent mistakes and simple neglect. Entering into an honest discussion that details the reasons for the conflict helps bring clarity, understanding and appreciation for the other person’s position. Above all, never go deaf! Pay attention to what the other person is saying. There’s nothing worse than having somebody think you’re not listening to them. It’s through open, loving discussion that our opinions about our relationships are honed and clarified. Indeed, the things you refuse to deal with can hurt your relationship more than anything else you do. That’s why the Bible says, ‘As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.’
‘In the same way you judge others, you will be judged.’ Matthew 7:2 NIV
Here’s a sobering Scripture: ‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged.’ (Matthew 7:1 NIV) Jesus was hard on the religionists of His day because they spent their time nit-picking. They condemned the disciples for not washing their hands, and Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. Consider Jesus’ response: ‘You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, My decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent Me.’ (John 8:15-16 NIV) So here are some questions you need to answer: ‘Do I judge others based on their actions, and judge myself based on my intentions? When someone’s behaviour doesn’t reflect a choice or decision you’d have made, are you quick to comment? When people don’t move at your pace or do something the way you want it done, do you peg them as lazy and worthless? When you hear something negative about somebody, do you repeat it before checking to see if there’s any truth in it?’ Ben Franklin said, ‘I resolve to speak ill of no man … not even in a matter of truth; but rather by some means excuse the faults I hear charged upon others, and upon proper occasions speak all the good I know of everybody.’ If you’ve a genuine concern for someone who’s going in the wrong direction and have earned the right to address it, do it in the spirit of love. And remember, you earn that right by consistently demonstrating love and care for them.
‘I… am as a sparrow alone upon the housetop.’ Psalm 102:7 KJV
Do you feel unqualified for the job God has given you? Do you think He picked the wrong person? Many scriptural heroes felt the same. David, whose psalms encourage millions, ‘a man after [God’s] own heart,’ lamented, ‘I … am as a sparrow alone upon the housetop.’ It’s hard to imagine a less significant bird, yet Jesus said, ‘Not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing.’ (Matthew 10:29 NLT) Charles Swindoll writes: ‘In our… impersonal world it’s easy to underestimate the significance of… one. With so many who seem more capable, gifted, prosperous, and important, who am I to think my part amounts to much? Aren’t you glad Martin Luther King Jr., Walt Disney, Winston Churchill, Irving Berlin, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Wesley, [and Mother Teresa] didn’t think that way?…How many people did it take to help the victim on the Jericho road? How many were chosen to confront Pharaoh and lead the Exodus? How many lost sheep were of concern to the shepherd? How many did God use to prepare the way for the Messiah? Just one! Centuries ago a woman named Esther thought there was nothing she could do. She was the Jewish wife of a Persian king, who was about to be tricked into making a disastrous decision that would exterminate the Jews… Like everyone who stands in the gap, Esther was willing to get involved to the point of sacrifice, and say, “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). Today ask yourself, “What should I be doing?” You can make a difference.’
‘So Moses brought their case before the Lord.’ Numbers 27:5 NKJV
When you get a reputation as a complainer, people will begin to avoid you. There’s an interesting story in the Old Testament about the five daughters of Zelophehad. Here was their problem. Their father had died in the wilderness before the Israelites entered the Promised Land. He had no sons to inherit his land, and the law didn’t allow women to receive it. Consequently, without a father, brothers, husbands, sons or other men in their immediate family, Zelophehad’s daughters were left out completely. It wasn’t fair, but it was the law. So rather than complaining to others, the sisters presented their ‘petition for an inheritance’ to Moses and the leaders. And when Moses brought their case before God, He agreed with the women and granted their request (see Numbers 27:1–11). Now, what do you think the outcome would’ve been if they’d gone around whining to everyone and anyone who’d listen instead of going directly to those who could do something about it, namely Moses and God? It’s doubtful they’d have obtained their inheritance. Understand this: God doesn’t reward complainers! The sin of complaining angered Him to the extent He stopped an entire generation of Israelites from inheriting the Promised Land when they were standing on the very threshold. You say, ‘Well, I’ve suffered an injustice, so who should I complain to?’ The Lord, the One who can do something about it! The psalmist wrote, ‘I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare my trouble before Him.’ (Psalm 142:2 NAS) And that’s the best advice you can take!
‘This day is a day of good news, and we remain silent.’ 2 Kings 7:9 NKJV
The Syrian army had surrounded the city of Samaria and nothing could get in or out. It was a desperate situation. Eventually the inhabitants began starving to death. Four lepers who’d been quarantined and forced to live outside the city walls decided to go into the Syrian camp hoping to find mercy, and maybe food and water. But when they got there they discovered an army of angels had scattered the Syrians, who’d fled leaving behind food, water, clothing and treasure. These four men couldn’t believe their good fortune! They ate, drank, exchanged their rags for fine clothing, gathered treasure and hid it where they could find it later. Then they remembered that in Samaria their own people were hungry, thirsty, needy, sick and dying. And they were faced with the dilemma: Do we keep this all to ourselves, or share it with those who need it as much as we do? ‘Then they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news, and we remain silent. If we wait until morning light, some punishment will come upon us. Now therefore, come, let us go and tell the king’s household.”’ Today you will meet someone who’s spiritually hungry, and what they need is Jesus. So what are you going to do about it? If you don’t tell them, who will? If you don’t share the good news they may die spiritually. You say, ‘But I’m timid.’ God used four social outcasts to bring good news of deliverance. And if you let Him, today He will use you too.
‘Since he was stronger than she, he raped her.’ 2 Samuel 13:14 NIV
One of the things that make many women particularly vulnerable to different kinds of abuse and manipulation is their God-given maternal instinct. Women are nurturers, reaching out to needy people to nurture, love, and provide them with inner strength. For example, mothers love to take care of helpless babies. But all too often these healthy desires are taken advantage of by those who want to fulfil their own lusts. Sometimes it seems that the more helpless a man acts, the more maternal some women become. And wicked men capitalise on this in order to have their way with them. That’s why the gift of discernment, ‘the ability to discern’ (1 Corinthians 12:10 NLT), is so important. There are many wonderful men out there. But be warned, there are also men who are cut from the same bolt of cloth as David’s son Amnon. Second Samuel chapter thirteen gives us a tragic example of this principle when Amnon took advantage of his stepsister Tamar. Amnon was dangerous, and there are other men just like him. Violence in relationships and marriages is growing at an alarming rate. The abuse includes physical assault, rape, molestation, psychological threats, stalking and financial coercion. At the heart of abuse lies a desire to gain and maintain control over another person. And as a woman it’s particularly important never to allow loneliness or your nurturing instinct to coerce you into a position of vulnerability with another Amnon. If you find yourself in that kind of situation, ‘blow the whistle’ immediately, expose the offender, and seek help.
‘Here am I and the children… the Lord has given me!’ Isaiah 8:18 NKJV
You don’t have to spend huge amounts of money to have meaningful family life. Children love the most simple, repetitive kinds of activities. They want to be read the same stories hundreds of times, and hear the same jokes long after they’ve heard the punch lines. These interactions with parents are often more fun than expensive toys or special events. Dr James Dobson says: ‘A friend of mine once asked his grown children what they remembered most fondly from their childhood. Was it the vacations they took together or trips to Disney World or the zoo? No, they told him. It was when he would get down on the floor and wrestle with the four of them. They would gang-tackle the “old man” and laugh until their sides hurt. That’s the way children think. The most meaningful activities within families are often those that focus on that which is spontaneous and personal… Busy and exhausted mothers and fathers, especially those who are affluent, sometimes attempt to “pay off” their kids with toys, cars and expensive experiences. It rarely works. What girls and boys want most is time spent with their parents—building things in the garage or singing in the car or hiking to an old fishing pond. No toy, to be played with alone, can ever compete with the enjoyment of such moments. And those moments will be remembered for a lifetime.’ You say, ‘But I’m so busy.’ If you’re too busy to get involved in the lives of your children, you’re too busy! Rearrange your priorities and start making some changes.
‘Whatever is in the heart overflows into speech.’ Luke 6:45 TLB
When you resort to profanity it proves the truth of God’s Word: ‘No man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God… and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God.’ (James 3:8–9 NKJV) Profane language is unbecoming to a redeemed child of God. So why do we do it? First: We lack the adequate vocabulary to express ourselves and feel we must swear in order for our words to have impact. Second: We resort to profanity to release our frustration with the situation. Either way, we’ve developed an ungodly pattern of expressing our displeasure, and we need to restrain ourselves. Jesus said: ‘A good person produces good deeds from a good heart. And an evil [person] produces evil deeds from his hidden wickedness. Whatever is in the heart overflows into speech.’ Acknowledging that profanity resides in your heart will help you reject the idea that a swear word just ‘slipped’ out of your mouth. The fact is it slipped out of your heart! If you’re ‘profanity-prone’, spend more time with God and ask Him to purify your heart and your mouth! Words are just verbal thoughts. So ask Him to help you practice mental discipline by ‘casting down’ profane thoughts, and instead using words that bring life to your innermost being and to the lives of others (see 2 Corinthians 10:5). James writes, ‘Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.’ (James 3:10 NKJV)
‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ John 21:5 NIV
The Bible tells us: ‘Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”’ (John 21:4–7 NIV) Is your business failing? Is your back to the wall financially? Look at Peter; he’d fished all night and caught nothing. He was tired and discouraged, just like you. Then Jesus started talking to him, even though Peter didn’t recognise Him at that point. And Jesus gave him an instruction that didn’t seem to make sense. ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ Peter may have thought: ‘Lord, respectfully speaking, You may know a lot about preaching but You don’t know much about fishing! If the fish aren’t biting on the left side of the boat, they certainly aren’t biting on the right side.’ When you ask God for a miracle, He may give you an instruction that doesn’t gel with your thinking. And when He tells you to do something different from what you’ve always done, it’ll take you out of your comfort zone, surface your fears, and stretch your faith. But if you obey Him you’ll end up with net-breaking results. And when it happens you’ll say like Peter, ‘It is the Lord at work in my life!’ So, business person, listen to Jesus!
‘He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.’ Matthew 13:58 NIV
Isn’t it interesting how Jesus could work miracles everywhere except His own home town? The problem wasn’t the location; it was the attitude of the people. The Bible says: ‘Coming to His home town, He began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” …And they took offence at Him. But Jesus said to them, “Only in his home town and in his own house is a prophet without honour.”’ (Matthew 13:54–57 NIV) So how did Jesus respond? He left them and moved on! Faith refuses to stay stuck in the past. Beware of ‘I-knew-you-when’ people. When you let them define your world, they always make it smaller. They’ll try to keep you stuck at a stage in your life that’s passed and gone. They’ll try to define you on the basis of who you were, not who you’ve become—and certainly not who you may someday be. They’ll want you to linger with them in memory lane, and rob you of the momentum you need to soar. They’ll not permit you to embrace the future. Don’t let them. God wants to do great things in your life, but you need to move beyond the ‘good old days’. The past is past; it can’t be rewritten, it can only be replayed over and over. It’s time to write the rest of your story. The future lies before you like an uninhabited land waiting for the pioneers of destiny to explore it. So forge ahead!
There is…joy for those who promote peace.’ Proverbs 12:20 NIV
One day in the middle of a raging storm, Jesus stood in the bow of a boat and issued this command to the elements: ‘Peace, be still!’ (Mark 4:39 NKJV) And to the amazement of His disciples, the Sea of Galilee became as calm as a millpond. Now, you may never do anything that spectacular in life. But when Jesus, the peace giver, lives within you, He’ll give you the wisdom to speak into troubled lives and situations and make you a calming influence. In 1420 the German monk Thomas à Kempis said, ‘First keep the peace within yourself, then you can also bring peace to others.’ But you can’t give others what you don’t have. So where can you find the kind of peace he’s speaking about? Heaven! The Bible says: ‘But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere… those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.’ (James 3:17–18 NLT) In a television interview Barbara Walters asked the highly acclaimed actor Richard Dreyfuss this probing question: ‘If you could have only one wish, what would you wish for?’ Without hesitating Dreyfuss replied, ‘Every time I have a birthday, every time I blow out the candles, every time I see a shooting star, I wish for the same thing… inner security.’ And guess what? The people around you feel exactly the same way. So, today be a carrier of God’s peace.
‘Study to be quiet.’ 1 Thessalonians 4:11 KJV
Dr Joe R. Brown of Rochester, Minnesota, tells of the frustration he encountered while trying to take a physical history on a patient. The man’s wife kept answering every question. Finally, Dr Brown requested that she leave the room. But after she left he discovered that her husband couldn’t speak. Calling the wife back, Dr Brown apologised for not realising the man had aphasia—loss of speech—and couldn’t speak a word. The wife was even more astonished—because she didn’t know either! The Bible says there’s ‘a time to be silent and a time to speak.’ (Ecclesiastes 3:7 NIV) Why? Because communicating too little can destroy a relationship, and so can talking too much. Sometimes we talk because we’re lonely and have few opportunities to speak to others; other times it’s because we love the sound of our own voice. Whatever your motivation, excessive talking can hurt you. That’s why Paul writes, ‘Study to be quiet.’ To ‘study’ implies striving or intense effort. And if you have a ‘motor mouth’ it’ll take intense effort and discipline to overcome this entrenched habit. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to say less than you know; sometimes your power in a situation comes from silence, not words. Anxious people tend to blabber on, and when you’re negotiating that can put you at a distinct disadvantage because it tips the other person off that you’re insecure. When Jesus stood before Pilate to be judged, ‘He opened not His mouth.’ (Isaiah 53:7 NKJV) Why? Because Jesus wasn’t on trial—Pilate was! And Jesus knew it. Here’s the bottom line: You usually learn more by listening—so don’t talk too much!
‘He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.’ 1 Thessalonians 5:24 NKJV
Do you feel like God is leading you to do a certain thing or move in a certain direction and you’re feeling anxious because you’ve got lots of unanswered questions? Then read this: ‘By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.’ (Hebrews 11:8 NKJV) That’s what you must do too! Not only will you not have answers to all your questions, sometimes you won’t be able to explain what you’re doing to the people you love either. God’s Word says, ‘He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.’ So you can say, ‘I don’t know all the details or how this is going to work out, but I know God has promised to be faithful and that’s all I need.’ In other words, your faith is in the faithfulness of God. It doesn’t get any better than that! ‘Blessed be the Lord, who has given rest to His people… according to all that He promised. There has not failed one word of all His good promise, which He promised.’ (1 Kings 8:56 NKJV) Even if you stumble on the road to success, the Bible says, ‘If we are faithless, He remains faithful.’ (2 Timothy 2:13 NKJV) Will Satan attack you? Yes. ‘But the Lord is faithful, who will establish… and guard you from the evil one.’ (2 Thessalonians 3:3 NKJV) Knowing that, your attitude should be to ‘hold fast the confession of [your] hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.’ (Hebrews 10:23 NKJV) Today have faith in God’s faithfulness.
‘Her husband praises her: “There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!”’ Proverbs 31:28–29 NLT
In their book The Language of Love, authors Gary Smalley and John Trent tell of a woman who was feeling frustrated because her husband would come home from work each night and not talk to her. Finally, she told him a story about a man who went to breakfast with some friends. He ate a big meal, then gathered up the crumbs and put them in a bag. Later that day he went to lunch with some business associates and ate another big meal. Again, he put a few crumbs in the bag. When he came home that night, he handed his wife the bag of leftovers. Then the woman told her husband, ‘That’s what you are doing to me. All day the children and I wait to talk with you when you get home. But you don’t share yourself with us. After being gone all day, you hand us a doggie bag and turn on the television set.’ The husband said that hearing this hit him like a two-by-four. He apologised, and began to work on opening himself to his wife and family. If you’re the ‘strong, silent type’, you’ll have to work a bit harder to accomplish this. But it’s worth it in order to have a good marriage. The wonderful qualities that attracted you to your spouse are still there, you just have to look for them and express appreciation for them. Solomon puts it this way: ‘Her husband praises her: “There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!”’
‘If you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in Heaven may forgive you.’ Mark 11:25 NIV
When asked which emotions contribute most to physical illness, a group of eminent doctors said, ‘Anger and unforgiveness.’ That’s because over time they release deadly toxins into your body. One doctor said, ‘It’s not what you are eating, but what’s eating you that threatens your health.’ When someone hurts you, there are four things you should do: (1) Talk to them. Now, there’s a right time, a right place, and a right way to do it. Before you say anything, ask God to guide your thoughts and words. Then say what’s in your heart in a loving, low-key, non-judgmental way. After that, leave the rest with God. He can do a better job of changing things than you can. (2) Don’t retaliate. When you’re tempted to lash out at someone, stop and remember the price Jesus paid to take away the sins you commit. Seeing your offender through God’s eyes will help you to forgive just about anybody. (3) Let it go. As long as you dwell on the issue it’ll keep hurting you. You may let someone off your hook, but that doesn’t mean they’re off God’s hook. He will deal with them the right way and bring about the right result, which is something you can’t do. (4) Ask God to bless them. You say, ‘Are you serious?’ Yes; Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you.’ (Luke 6:27-28 NIV) And when Jesus tells you to do something, He gives you the grace to do it.
‘God has not given us a spirit of… timidity.’ 2 Timothy 1:7 NLT
One of the most famous intimidators in the Bible was Goliath. He boasted, ‘Come… and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!’ (1 Samuel 17:44 NKJV) But David didn’t have ‘a spirit of… timidity,’ so he replied, ‘This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head.’ (1 Samuel 17:46 NIV) Intimidators count on you to wilt in the face of verbal attack. That’s why you must let them know you refuse to give in, and that you have the God-given strength to resist their tactics. God never intended anyone to oppress or dominate another person. So stand up for yourself today in His strength! And if you are the intimidator, ask yourself why you feel the need to gain power and control over others. Indeed, you may need the help of a seasoned counsellor to help you work through it. Intimidators often grow up in a chaotic or negative environment in which they feel powerless to change their circumstances. As a result they vow never to allow their lives to be out of control again, so they seek control instead. But their so-called strength just masks their insecurities and fears. Whatever the cause, intimidators can never hope to have a meaningful relationship with anyone they force into submission. And since the spirit of intimidation doesn’t come from God, there’s only one other source—Satan. Understand this: God is in control of every aspect of your life, so you’ve no need to control, or be controlled by the behaviour of others.
‘Your Father knows exactly what you need!’ Matthew 6:8 NLT
Jesus said: ‘When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask Him!’ (Matthew 6:7–8 NLT) When people say, ‘I don’t know how to pray,’ what they usually mean is that they don’t know how to pray like us. They don’t know how to use our ‘Christian jargon’. Jesus says you don’t need to worry about getting the words right because ‘your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask Him.’ God’s listening to our hearts more than our words. We don’t have to be self-conscious; He’s not grading us on how well we express ourselves. Compare prayer to breathing. You breathe instinctively without awareness and conscious attention; it’s a natural expression of our moment-by-moment dependence on oxygen. That’s how God wants us to engage in our communication with Him. He wants to be as the air we breathe and the environment in which we live. Edwin Keith said, ‘Prayer is exhaling the spirit of man and inhaling the Spirit of God.’ Through prayer we can live in continuous contact with God. Jesus said, ‘Pray to your Father secretly, and your Father, who knows your secrets, will reward you.’ (Matthew 6:6 TLB) Prayer isn’t a public demonstration of how spiritual you are. Communication with the One we love calls for getting alone with Him, away from interruptions and distractions. It’s about you and your Father having an intimate talk.
‘Do not be quickly provoked.’ Ecclesiastes 7:9 NIV
Angry outbursts are destructive in all relationships, especially in your home. Children are the most vulnerable to parental anger, and they mirror their parents’ behaviour. We shape our children’s destiny by our words, behaviours and attitudes, and if they’re raised in a home that’s consistently high-volume, they’ll react similarly. Your outbursts are training your children to be hysterical and violent. Soon everyone will be overreacting, flying into fits of rage and attacking one another. When you exhibit tantrum-like behaviour, you’re acting out of a selfish need to get what you want, when you want it, in the way you think you ought to have it. Please—for your family’s sake—start acting like an adult; exhibit self-control. ‘Imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.’ (Hebrews 6:12 NKJV) Notice, you must have faith and patience. You may not be able to control what happens in life, but you can certainly control your reaction. Whether it’s the anger a father brings home from the workplace, or a wife’s anger towards her husband, it can bring a curse. Simeon and Levi harboured anger in their hearts and became vicious and vindictive murderers. Because of this, a curse came upon them, and the anger was passed down from generation to generation (see Genesis 49). You must break the curse by resisting the temptation to let anger dictate your behaviour. In the words of James: ‘My dear brothers, take note… Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.’ (James 1:19–20 NIV)
‘The Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all.’ 1 Thessalonians 3:12 NKJV
As C.W. Vanderbergh wrote, ‘To love the whole world for me is no chore. My only real problem is my neighbour next door.’ Most businesses would benefit greatly if bosses truly loved their employees, and the workers knew it. Most marriages would be happier, if spouses heard and saw constant reminders that they were loved by their mates. Most families would be happier, if parents consistently and lovingly affirmed their children. Tim Sanders, who wrote Love Is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends, tells us love is the crucial element in the search for personal and professional success. He goes on to say that if life was an iPhone, love would be the first app you should add. Sanders is on to something! The greatest leaders are loving leaders—their followers, friends and employees know they have their best interests at heart. Stop and think about this: Would you say the people who made the greatest and most lasting impact on you were the ones you felt genuinely loved and cared about you? Of course you would! And that’s how you’re supposed to treat others. The songwriter said, ‘Love wasn’t put in your heart to stay; love isn’t love till you give it away.’ Here are four good reasons for saying ‘I love you’ on a regular basis: (1) You need to say it. (2) You need to hear yourself say it. (3) Others need to hear you say it. (4) You need to hear it from others. So don’t be afraid to say those three little words! Once you start—you’ll never go back!
‘There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.’ Proverbs 14:12 NKJV
Imagine a long, dark hallway with a series of doors on either side. Written on each one is the name of an addiction such as alcohol, tobacco, drugs, pornography, gambling, etc. Your teenager must walk down that hallway on their journey to adulthood, and their temptation to open those doors will be great. They can hear the beat of the music and the raucous laughter of their friends echoing from inside. The pressure to join them can be enormous. And it’s very difficult to convince a fun-loving adolescent that they should stay in the dark hallway, which seems so boring and embarrassing. Unfortunately for a certain percentage of individuals who open one or more of these doors, a tragedy begins to unfold. If a person is susceptible—and there’s no way to know in advance—he or she only has to crack the door a centimetre or two and a monster will run out and grab them. And some will be held in its grip for life. If you talk to an addict about his or her addiction you’ll learn that it probably began casually—with no hint that life was about to take a tragic turn. It all started with opening a door. Solomon bottom-lines it in two Scriptures: (1) ‘My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, “Come with us” … do not walk in the way with them, keep your foot from their path.’ (Proverbs 1:10–11; 15 NKJV) (2) ‘There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.’ (Proverbs 14:12 NKJV)
‘The Lord is close to the broken-hearted.’ Psalm 34:18 NIV
One woman said, ‘I’d no idea grieving involved so many “firsts”. My first night alone, the first time I attended church alone, my first anniversary alone. And when I didn’t think things could get worse, I find myself bracing for the holidays alone—I’d give anything to boycott them.’ In such moments we can stand on the promise, ‘The Lord is close to the broken-hearted.’ He offers us the comfort of His presence and His Word, the support of loving friends and family, plus the passage of time to help heal us. In the meantime there are some things you can do for yourself: (1) Draw on God’s strength. Grief is physically and emotionally draining. So ask God to protect you from being consumed by it, and to strengthen you when you’re feeling down. ‘He gives strength to the weary… those who hope in the Lord … renew their strength.’ (Isaiah 40:29; 31 NIV) (2) Have reasonable expectations about what you can handle. Don’t expect too much too soon. Treat yourself like you’d treat your best friend; be kind, considerate, and nurturing. (3) Try to plan ahead. When you’re grieving there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to handle special events like birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. Some people decide to do something totally different instead of trying to maintain old traditions that reinforce their sense of loss. Do what feels best to you. (4) Allow others to help you. Going it alone usually means going nowhere; reach out to friends and loved ones. Ask them to pray with you and for you. Remember, others don’t necessarily know what you need unless you tell them.
‘Jesus wept.’ John 11:35 KJV
Dr Colin M. Parkes said, ‘Grief is the price we pay for love.’ The more you love someone, the more you grieve their death. Shock, disbelief, confusion, depression, emptiness and anger are all part of the process. When Jesus arrived at the home of Lazarus, His friend had been dead for four days and his sister Martha was upset. She wanted to know why Jesus hadn’t come sooner, or prevented it altogether. ‘Why, Lord?’ It’s a question we ask when we’re overwhelmed with grief. And what was Jesus’ response? The Bible says that seeing Mary and the other mourners, ‘Jesus wept.’ And when He did, He made it ok for you to grieve too! Tears don’t represent a lack of faith; they just mean you’re human. The One who gave you the ability to love understands sorrow and loss—that’s why He gave you tears. How do we mourn? One counsellor says: ‘Awkwardly. Imperfectly. Usually with a great deal of resistance. Often with anger and attempts to negotiate… We flounder through kicking and screaming, until we reach that peaceful state called acceptance.’ But acceptance doesn’t mean giving in to despair, because ‘the parting is for a moment and the reunion is for eternity.’ Paul says: ‘We will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality … then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”’ (1 Corinthians 15:51–54 NIV)
‘Diotrephes … loves to have the preeminence.’ 3 John 1:9 NKJV
Some people are so insecure and easily threatened that they feel a need to tear down anyone they perceive as a competitor. Consider Diotrephes, one of the New Testament church leaders. He found himself in a real dilemma when John recommended some gifted teachers of the Gospel to come and speak at his church. Plagued with insecurity, Diotrephes feared their visit would threaten his own pre-eminence, so he refused to allow them to come. John, upset with Diotrephes’ behaviour, outlined to his friend Gaius how he planned to deal with it. ‘I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church. Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God.’ (3 John 1:9-11 NKJV) The sad truth is that you’ll find the spirit of Diotrephes alive and well in both secular and sacred organisations. They cast aspersions on newcomers perceived as threatening. They accuse bright, talented women of getting ahead by means other than their skills, talents and qualifications. They look for chinks in their victims’ armour. But contrary to what they think, diminishing another person’s image isn’t going to enhance theirs. The origin of our word for ‘devil’ comes from diabolos, which is literally translated as ‘to slander’. To slander, then, is to do the devil’s work!
‘Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence.’ Hebrews 4:16 NIV
The Bible says: ‘For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have One who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’ (Hebrews 4:15-16 NIV) Dr Tony Evans says that God’s grace is like an ambulance coming to treat you when you’ve a medical emergency. First, it dispenses immediate grace to your most serious symptoms. Then they slide you into the ambulance, which is equipped with more grace—more medical facilities to deal with your problem. Then the ambulance races to the hospital where even more grace awaits. And once you’re admitted, the hospital keeps dispensing grace until your need has been addressed and you can go home again. In the words of John Newton’s beloved hymn: ‘’Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home.’ One day Jesus heard our emergency call: ‘Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ He came to earth, found us dying in sin, and reached down to save us. And as our High Priest, He transported us from where we were to a place that has all the grace we’ll ever need until we go home with Him. One day God will sit on a throne of judgement where there’ll be no more grace but, until that day, He’s seated on a throne of grace. So anytime you fail or falter, you can ‘approach the throne of grace with confidence’ and receive God’s mercy and forgiveness.
‘Why do you cry out over your wound?’ Jeremiah 30:15 NIV
God asks His people, ‘Why do you cry out over your wound, your pain that has no cure?’ Then He answers, ‘But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds.’ (Jeremiah 30:17 NIV) If there’s anything more insidious than the rage, frustration, and other negative things that come out of us and wreck our relationships, it’s the inner source from which they originate. Festering wounds from past relationships are dangerous wounds. You say, ‘But you don’t know how badly this person hurt me.’ The point is they’re still hurting you, so how can you cleanse and heal the wound? God’s way is to tell it like it is! He doesn’t put a bandage on an infected wound—He demands that the problem be dealt with. We need to understand that He’s willing to repair the broken places in our lives; all He requires of us is to expose where those places are. Only Jesus can walk us through the barrier of time and into our wounded past. Certainly one of the most important steps to healing is to forgive from the heart—to acknowledge the wound and the anger, and then let it go. And it can be tough to do, but there can be no freedom or healing without forgiveness. Bitterness will eat you alive if you don’t forgive. It’ll wreak havoc on your present-day relationships. God will give you the grace to forgive and let it go, but you must make the choice to be cleansed of resentment by forgiving the offender. There is no other way to peace and freedom.
‘Walk in wisdom… redeeming the time.’ Colossians 4:5 NKJV
One of your greatest possessions—is your next twenty-four hours. How will you spend them? Will you allow television, pointless emails, unimportant tasks, your own impulses, the wrong people or other meaningless distractions to consume your day? Or will you take control of your time and make today count? Leadership experts say that focusing on the top 20 per cent of your priorities brings an 80 per cent return on your effort. So when you get up each morning, look in the mirror and say, ‘Today I’ll live my life according to God’s will, and give my energies to the things that help me fulfil it.’ The truth is, there’ll always be things vying for your attention. Advertisers want you to spend money on their products. And have you noticed how people with nothing to do, usually want to spend their time with you? Even your own desires can be so diverse and your focus so scattered that you aren’t sure what needs your attention first. That’s why you need to focus like a laser on your God-given purpose. Whatever you concentrate on, you give strength and momentum to. Your priorities determine how you spend your time, so set them prayerfully and maintain them carefully. Eliminate non-essentials. Those who tell you, ‘You can have it all’ are misguided. You can’t do everything you want to do, but you can do everything God wants you to do. You’ve got to choose! Success comes from doing the right things right, and letting the rest go. If you’re not sure what the right things are for you, imagine yourself looking back on your life years from now— which things would you regret not doing?
‘We were buried with Him through baptism.’ Romans 6:4 NKJV
When a couple gets married they put on wedding rings. Could they be married without them? Sure, but the rings identify them as belonging exclusively to one another. We would think it odd if a husband never wanted to go out in public with his wife. He might say, ‘I’ll eat dinner with you, as long as it’s at home.’ That would be an insult! Likewise, just as the ring publicises the fact that you have a covenant relationship with your spouse, baptism declares that you believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and you have put your trust in Him as your Saviour. ‘Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.’ (Romans 6:4–8 NKJV) Not only does baptism declare to others that you have publicly identified yourself with Christ, it’s a constant reminder to you. When you’re tempted to go back to your old ways, it says, ‘You’re no longer that person, you’re a new creation in Christ with a new set of values, attitudes, actions, and destiny.’
‘Anyone who believes in Me will live, even after dying.’ John 11:25 NLT
The story is told of a nine-year-old boy named Philip who suffered with Down’s Syndrome. In Sunday school the other kids made fun of him because he was different. The Sunday before Easter, the teacher gave each of the kids a plastic egg and asked them to look for symbols of new life, like seeds and leaves, and then place them inside the egg. The idea was to open their eggs on Easter Sunday and discuss what they had found. When the children gathered, they had collected all sorts of things like flowers, butterflies and rocks. But when the teacher opened Philip’s egg it was empty. One child said, ‘That’s not fair, he didn’t do it right!’ But Philip tugged at the teacher’s sleeve and said, ‘I did do it right. It’s empty because the tomb is empty. That’s why we have new life.’ The class gasped—and from then on Philip rose to a new level of respect and became part of the group. But Philip’s family knew his time was short—too many problems for one small body. So that summer he died. As the class of eight-year-olds faced the reality of death, they marched up to the altar—but not with flowers. Together with their teacher, they each placed an empty plastic egg on their friend’s tiny casket. Why is the resurrection of Jesus so important? For two reasons: (1) His resurrection guarantees yours. (2) If you live long enough you will experience the heartache of losing someone you love. Easter guarantees you will meet them again—alive, immortal, and just like Jesus!
‘For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin.’ 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT
The Roman soldiers may have nailed Jesus to the cross, but what held Him there? The Bible gives us the answer: ‘For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.’ The reason Jesus didn’t call an army of angels to save Him, as He could have, was because He’d rather give up His life than give up on you. We struggle to comprehend such a love because we’ve nothing to measure it by or compare it to. Nobody has ever loved us like Jesus, and nobody ever will! And His crucifixion makes it possible for us to ‘come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.’ (Hebrews 4:16 NLT) WA Criswell writes: ‘In a dream I saw the Saviour. His back was bare and there was a soldier lifting up his hand and bringing down that awful cat-o’-nine-tails… I rose and grasped his arm to hold it back. When I did, the soldier turned in astonishment and looked at me. And when I looked back at him I recognised—myself.’ In the film The Passion, people worldwide were moved by the hideous nature of crucifixion. Underlying the story were two clear messages: (1) This was the price required to redeem each of us, a price only Jesus could pay. (2) This is what we need to stop and think about each time we’re tempted to sin and disobey God.
‘Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?’ Lamentations 1:12 NKJV
It’s said that there was once a railway controller called John Griffin. His responsibility was for a drawbridge over the Mississippi River. One day he took his young son to work with him. After putting the massive drawbridge up, Griffin was eating lunch when suddenly he heard the whistle of the Memphis Express roaring towards the crossing. Leaping from the observation deck, he ran to throw the control switch. Glancing down, his heart stopped! His son had fallen into the gears, trapping his leg in the cogs. Desperately he tried to devise a rescue plan, but there was no time. His son was down there—but there were four hundred passengers on the train! Griffin knew what he had to do. Burying his face in his arm, he pushed the master switch just in time to lower the bridge into place as the train thundered across. Then raising his head he looked into the passing windows with tear-filled eyes. There were businessmen casually reading the newspaper, ladies sipping coffee, and children eating ice cream. Nobody even looked at the control house or glanced down at the great gearbox. In agony Griffin cried out, ‘I sacrificed my son for you people. Don’t you care?’ But as the train rushed by, nobody heard the anguished father’s words. On this Good Friday, as we consider the cross where God sacrificed His Son for each of us, He’s asking: ‘Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?’ The question then becomes: ‘What…shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?’ (Matthew 27:22 NKJV) There is only one right answer to that question: ‘Today, I accept You as my Saviour and my Lord.’
‘God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.’ Romans 12:6 NLT
To excel at anything, you must discover your major gifts and put them to work. One of Paul’s minor gifts was making tents to help support his ministry, but clearly his major gift was teaching and building churches. You say, ‘How can I discover my major gifts?’ (1) Get God’s input. Who knows the product better than the manufacturer? You didn’t create yourself, so there’s no way you can tell yourself what you were created for. But God can, and He will. ‘If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you… But when you ask Him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver…’ (James 1:5–6 NLT) (2) Commit for the long haul. When you were first learning to walk you spent more time on your bottom than on your feet. But you succeeded. That’s because you were born to walk! You may discover your major gifts quickly and easily, but developing them to their maximum potential will be the work of a lifetime. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. (3) Get feedback from the right people. Asking others for feedback isn’t always easy, but it’s essential to success. Never be too proud to seek help. And if you’re a ‘loner’ here’s a Scripture you need to ponder: ‘There was no deliverer, because it was far from Sidon, and they had no ties with anyone.’ (Judges 18:28 NKJV) A word of caution, however: Choose people who have no agenda other than to help you.
‘My son [my daughter], be wise, and make my heart glad.’ Proverbs 27:11 NKJV
Here’s a magic bullet that teenagers like to use in order to manipulate their parents: ‘You don’t trust me!’ So we start backpedalling. ‘No, dear, it’s not that I don’t trust you being out with your friends or taking the car, it’s just that I…’ and then we run out of words. We’re on the defensive, and the discussion is over. The truth is that we can trust our children at some things, but not others. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. For example, many of us are authorised to spend our company’s money from certain accounts. But they don’t give us the whole corporate chequebook! So let’s stop being suckered by our kids, and boldly state that trust comes in stages—some of it now, and more later on. Humorist and author Mark Twain joked, ‘When a child turns twelve you should put him in a barrel, nail a lid down and feed him through a knothole. When he turns sixteen, you should seal up the knothole.’ Seriously, there are times when every parent feels this way. But at some point you’ve got to let out the line and begin to trust them. And here are two important things about trust: First, it must be age-appropriate. You should risk only what you can reasonably expect to be handled safely. Second, trust must be earned. Erma Bombeck once quipped that she wasn’t going to pay $2000 to straighten the teeth of a kid who never smiled. What’s going on inside your youngster explains much of what you see on the outside. Relax, better days are coming!
‘The Lord searches every heart and understands every motive.’ 1 Chronicles 28:9 NIV
When Ananias and Sapphira saw others selling their land and giving the proceeds to the church so the poor could be cared for, they thought it was a great idea—in theory. However, when they sold some land they withheld part of the money and then lied about it. They wanted increased visibility and spiritual status without paying retail for it. They wanted to ‘look the part’ without having to pay the price. But Peter exposed their sin, saying, ‘You didn’t lie to people. You lied to God!’ (Acts 5:4 CEV) Not only were their motives exposed, they both dropped dead. And as a result, ‘Great fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard what had happened.’ (Acts 5:11 NLT) One pastor says: ‘Numerous Sundays I’ve preached a message that deeply moved the members of my congregation. But ironically I’d “prepared” by arguing with my wife on the way to church, or making life miserable for my children. Years of practice came to my rescue and I easily morphed into “the pastor”, becoming instantly compassionate, holy and spiritual. I was faking… [because] feeling needed, respected and wanted can become as great a motivation as love for Christ.’ When it comes to examining your motives, here are two Scriptures you need to read and consider carefully and prayerfully: (1) ‘The Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will be found by you.’ (1 Chronicles 28:9 NIV) (2) ‘I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.’ (Jeremiah 17:10 NIV)
‘Say to her, “Is it well with you?” … And she answered, “It is well.”’ 2 Kings 4:26 NKJV
If you died today would you go to heaven? Before you answer, read this story. In 1871 fire ravaged the city of Chicago, leaving three hundred people dead and a hundred thousand homeless. Attorney Horatio Gates Spafford, a friend of DL Moody, helped its people get back on their feet. After two years of tireless effort, he and his family decided to take a much-needed holiday. They planned to travel to England and join Moody in an evangelistic crusade, then go on to Europe. When Spafford got delayed he sent his family on ahead, planning to meet them on the other side of the Atlantic. But they never made it. Near Newfoundland their ship collided with an English sailing vessel and sank within twenty minutes. Spafford’s wife, Anna, survived by clinging to some floating wreckage, but all four of their daughters drowned. The next day Spafford received this terrible two-word telegram from his wife: ‘Saved alone!’ He immediately went to be with her. Later, in the course of relating their story to DL Moody, Spafford said quietly, ‘It is well; the will of God be done.’ It was those days of overwhelming grief that inspired him to write the beloved hymn that has comforted so many: ‘When peace like a river attendeth my way; when sorrows like sea-billows roll. Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say: It is well, it is well with my soul.’ Can you sing those words? You can when you accept Jesus as your personal Saviour. Why don’t you do it today? Who knows what tomorrow will bring?
‘To slander is to be a fool.’ Proverbs 10:18 TLB
It’s rare to find a political candidate these days who runs a totally clean campaign. But slandering isn’t limited to politicians. Given the right set of circumstances, each one of us can be tempted to denigrate the other. Before you do, however, read these words carefully: ‘Lord, who may dwell in Your sanctuary? Who may live on Your holy hill? He… who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbour no wrong and casts no slur on his fellow-man.’ (Psalm 15:1–3 NIV) Can you recall the last time you spoke words that tore someone down? What was your motive? Why did you feel a need to diminish them in the eyes of other people? Were you speaking out of the pain of having been hurt by them? Did you envy their accomplishments? If so, have you not learned to let envy motivate you to achieve your own goals instead of making you defame another? Is it possible you grudgingly admire and desire something the other person has? The Bible says, ‘Promotion and power… come from God.’ (Psalm 75:6–7 TLB) This Scripture should cause you to become a team player, not a competitor. There’s no reason to snuff somebody else’s light out so that yours can shine. God has already declared that no one can thwart His purpose for your life: ‘The Lord… has spoken—who can change His plans? When His hand moves, who can stop Him?’ (Isaiah 14:27 TLB) And since God has already secured your destiny and promised to avenge all wrongs perpetrated against you, you never need to engage in slander.
‘We finally gave up all hope.’ Acts 27:20 NIV
Don’t despair. ‘When… the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope.’ The last thing we throw overboard when we face a crisis is—hope. And when we throw that away, we’ve pretty much ‘had it’. Are you wrestling with an issue that’s been battering you back and forth? Have you come to the point where you’ve thrown things out, and now you’re at the point of despair? Remember, the sailors on Paul’s ship ‘finally gave up all hope’ because they ignored his warning and ignored the reality God is in control. They ignored God’s plan. And they ignored His ability to inject hope into an absolutely hopeless situation. When the Bible speaks of ‘hope’ it’s not talking about luck, or chance or accident. No, it’s talking about focused faith! ‘Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.’ (Psalm 31:24 NIV) ‘The eyes of the Lord are on those… whose hope is in His unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name.’ (Psalm 33:18–21 NIV) ‘Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Saviour and my God.’ (Psalm 42:11 NIV) ‘Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.’ (Romans 15:4 NIV) So the word for you today is: Don’t despair, but ‘Put your hope in God’.
‘They threw the ship’s tackle overboard.’ Acts 27:19 NIV
Don’t discard what’s important. Things didn’t get any better on the apostle Paul’s voyage to Rome. ‘We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard.’ (Acts 27:18–19 NIV) Note the things they discarded: a) Their cargo—that which is precious and valuable. b) The ship’s tackle—the very thing that could have stabilised them. c) Their food—that which they needed to sustain them. d) Themselves—they all jumped overboard and started swimming to shore. When we find ourselves in a crisis, we’re tempted to ditch the very things we need most—things that are important to us; values we’ve hung on to in better times. Under pressure we want to get rid of it all. We become compulsive. We give up on our dreams. We run out on our relationships. We throw away the important principles we learned as children. Joshua told the children of Israel, ‘But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now.’ (Joshua 23:8 NIV) Instead of doubting God’s promise to you, stand even more firmly on it. Instead of abandoning His plan and purpose for your life, tighten your grip on it. ‘Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.’ (1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV) ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.’ (Philippians 1:27 NIV) That’s how you survive—and thrive in a crisis.
‘We gave way to it and were driven along.’ Acts 27:15 NIV
Don’t drift. Typically we react to a crisis in the same three ways as the sailors on board Paul’s ship: ‘The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along.’ The first thing life’s storms tend to do is make us drift. We lose sight of our goals and forget where we’re headed. We ignore our values and get off course. Because they weren’t equipped with compasses and the stars were obscured by the storm, the sailors were in total darkness. Which raises the question: How do you characteristically react in a dark situation when you can’t see the stars and you don’t have a compass? You may drift, going where the waves carry you. You may let your problems batter you and toss you back and forth. In life, strong currents can discourage you and make you wonder, ‘What’s the use? Why fight it?’ So you end up going with the flow. But now’s the time to do the opposite! Strengthen your grip of faith: ‘Hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful… Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded… persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.’ (Hebrews 10:23; 35-36 NIV) Note the phrase: ‘He who promised is faithful.’ Question: Has God ever failed you? Answer: No! And He won’t now. ‘Hold unswervingly to the hope we profess… He who promised is faithful’ (Hebrews 10:23 NIV), and He will bring you through this crisis.
‘Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things.’ Psalm 119:18 NIV
One day Elisha and his servant awoke to find the house they were in surrounded by an army of enemy soldiers. His servant panicked and asked, ‘What are we going to do?’ So Elisha prayed, ‘Lord, open his eyes so that he may see.’ (2 Kings 6:17 NIV) Suddenly he saw their enemies surrounded by an even bigger army of angels. On their way home to Emmaus, Cleopas and his companion were heartbroken because Jesus, the One in whom they’d placed their hopes, had been crucified and buried. Out of nowhere a stranger joined them on their journey and, when they reached home, they invited him to stay for supper. As he prayed and pronounced a blessing over their meal, the eyes of Cleopas and his companion were opened and they recognised that the stranger was none other than Jesus Himself (see Luke 24:13–35). A man on a commuter train kept gazing out the window and saying, ‘Wonderful; just wonderful!’ What was he looking at? Run-down apartment buildings and rubbish spilling over onto the pavement! After hearing him say, ‘Wonderful!’ four or five times the lady beside him remarked, ‘It doesn’t look too wonderful to me.’ Whereupon the man replied, ‘I’ve been blind for the past thirty years. But through the skill of a surgeon, the generosity of a donor, and a corneal transplant, I’ve been given the gift of two new eyes. And to me, everything I see is wonderful.’ Grumbling blinds you to God’s blessings, but gratitude opens your eyes to enjoy them. So today, ask the Lord to open your eyes to all the ‘wonderful things’ that surround you.
‘Train up a child in the way he should go.’ Proverbs 22:6 KJV
Raising your child ‘in the way he should go’ means being aware of: (1) Their interests. John Ruskin said, ‘Tell me what you like, and I’ll tell you what you are.’ What do your children like? Numbers? Colours? Activities? The greatest gift you can give them isn’t your riches, but revealing to them their own. (2) Their relationships. What statement best characterises your child? a) ‘Follow me, everyone.’ b) ‘I’ll let you know if I need help.’ c) ‘Can we do this together?’ d) ‘Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.’ Don’t characterise loners as aloof, or crowd-seekers as arrogant. God designed them that way. What gives your child satisfaction and makes them say, ‘Yes’? Do they love the journey, or the destination? Do they like to keep things straight, or straighten things out? What thrills one child bothers another. (3) Their environment. A cactus thrives under different conditions from a rosebush. What soil does your child grow in? Some love to be noticed while others prefer to hide in the crowd. Some do well taking tests, others excel in the subject but stumble when it comes to exams. Winston Churchill repeatedly failed tests in school, yet he changed history. We only excel when we’re in the right environment. (4) Their strengths. At two, Van Cliburn played a song on the piano as a result of hearing someone teaching in an adjacent room. His mother noticed, gave him lessons, and the kid from Kilgore, Texas, won the first International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow. Resist the urge to label your children before studying them, and ask God to help you understand their uniqueness.
‘In keeping with his individual gift or bent.’ Proverbs 22:6 AMP
As a parent you either accelerate or stifle your child’s giftedness. The Bible says, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.’ (Proverbs 22:6 KJV) That doesn’t mean when you set your kids on the right path they’ll never leave it. No, salvation is the work of God (see 1 Corinthians 3:6). So what does this Scripture mean? The Amplified Bible says, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go [and in keeping with his individual gift or bent]’. Note the word ‘bent’. As a parent you hold the bow, and your child is the arrow. So pray for God’s help in recognising your child’s strengths and giftedness and aim them ‘in the way [he or she] should go.’ The fact is God pre-wired your infant, pre-programmed your toddler’s strengths, set your teen on a trajectory, and then gave you an eighteen-year research project! So ask yourself, ‘What sets my child apart?’ Childhood tendencies often forecast adult abilities. Read them. Discern them. Affirm them. Cheerlead them. Think about the life of Joseph. At seventeen he saw dreams and visions of himself as a leader (see Genesis 37:2–10). And as an adult he interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh and ended up leading the nation (see Genesis 40–41). As a boy David displayed two strengths: fighting and music. Later he killed a lion and a bear (see 1 Samuel 17:34–37). And he played skilfully on the harp (see 1 Samuel 16). Fighting and music dominated David’s adult life, and are largely what he’s remembered for today. So strive to understand, appreciate and channel your child’s uniqueness.
‘I know that You delight in me.’ Psalm 41:11 ESV
The devil doesn’t want you to know that God’s favour is on your life, or that you’ve been blessed by Him with all the good things you enjoy. The truth is, the devil doesn’t want you to think God has done anything good for you at all! He will try to convince you that you have no purpose, power or potential. He’ll try to persuade you that your background means you won’t amount to anything and, if that doesn’t work, he’ll play the childhood memories card. If that doesn’t work either, he will remind you of all the disappointments you’ve been through in life. And if you buy what he’s selling, you’ll end up with such self-doubt and low self-esteem you won’t believe God has blessed you in any way or that He has a wonderful plan for your life. But He has! No matter how limited your ability or lacklustre your accomplishments, every blessing you’re enjoying today happened because the Lord is on your side. The psalmist said, ‘By this I know that You delight in me: my enemy will not shout in triumph over me… You have upheld me… and set me in Your presence forever.’ (Psalm 41:11–12 ESV) David understood that his enemies were attacking him because they witnessed the favour of God on his life. The question is, do you understand that God’s favour is on your life too? If you don’t, you won’t expect the attack, understand the reason behind it or how to overcome it. You’re blessed and favoured—that’s why you’re a target! Are others resentful because of what God has done for you? How come they see it and you can’t?
‘It is a very small thing that I should be judged by you.’ 1 Corinthians 4:3 NRS
Paul writes, ‘With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you… It is the Lord who judges me.’ (1 Corinthians 4:3–4 NRS) Can you imagine viewing criticism as ‘a very small thing’? Or being liberated from the need to impress people; your self-esteem no longer dependent on someone noticing how successful, smart, or attractive you are? Think what it would be like to feel genuine love for someone who expresses their disapproval of you. Is such a life even possible? With God’s help, yes! One pastor says: ‘Years ago I wanted to lead a certain ministry. When I wasn’t chosen I became angry. Of course I didn’t show it. That’s not to say I didn’t love God. I just wanted to serve me more than Him! By saying no, God was correcting an attitude that would destroy any real ministry I might have later. When you represent God so visibly it’s nearly impossible for anyone to detect that you’re a fake…except God.’ Ever hear of ‘approval addiction’? Its symptoms include living in fear of what others think of you; being easily hurt by what they say; a nagging sense you aren’t good enough; constantly trying to impress important people. And like all addicts, you’ll go to any lengths for a fix.
For many of us, our daily preoccupations suggest we belong more to the world than to God. Even the mildest criticism makes us depressed and apt to react in anger; a little praise can lift our spirits. Like small boats adrift on a huge ocean, we’re completely at the mercy of the waves. Is this an issue you need to pray about today?
‘Father, I have sinned.’ Luke 15:18 NIV
The Prodigal Son’s story begins like this: ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” So he divided his property between them. Not long after… the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and… squandered his wealth in wild living.’ (Luke 15:11–13 NIV) This young man’s sin was bad, really bad! In a Middle Eastern patriarchal society the disrespect he demonstrated towards his father is beyond what most of us can relate to. As the younger son he was entitled to a third of the family estate, but only after his father’s death. So in a sense he was sending a message to his dad, saying, ‘I wish you were dead.’ If you think that’s shocking, his father’s response of love and grace is even more shocking. And if you’ve failed God badly, it’ll come as a real encouragement to you. When his boy came back home— broke, busted, and disgusted—the Bible says, ‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms round him and kissed him.’ (Luke 15:20 NIV) In that culture, fathers never ran. A proud patriarch would never hitch up his garments, bare his legs, and run—ever! The point Jesus wanted to make is this: The moment you turn around and come back to God, He will run to meet you with open arms, forgive your sin, and restore you to your rightful place in His family. So, come today!
‘The Lord’s servant must not quarrel.’ 2 Timothy 2:24 NIV
Let’s consider why some people are given to quarrelling: (1) They grew up in homes where it was a pattern, so they think it’s normal. It may be normal, but it’s certainly not Christ-like. The Bible says, ‘Avoiding a fight is a mark of honour; only fools insist on quarrelling.’ (Proverbs 20:3 NLT) (2) To boost their self-worth. Some folks only feel good about themselves when they’re attacking the validity of somebody else’s opinions and beliefs, and manoeuvring that person into defending their position. The quarreller’s goal isn’t to add value to other people’s lives by showing them the error of their ways; it’s pure one-upmanship. Solomon says, ‘Starting a quarrel is like opening a floodgate, so stop before a dispute breaks out.’ (Proverbs 17:14 NLT) Does that mean you shouldn’t stand up for what you believe? No, it means you must learn to disagree without being disagreeable! When you’re mean-spirited you do more harm than good. Benjamin Franklin was known to have remarked diplomatically, ‘On this point, I agree. But on the other, if you don’t mind, may I take exception?’ If you’ve a tendency to be argumentative, remember that it costs you absolutely nothing to respect someone’s opinion—especially on matters of no eternal consequence. That’s why Paul told Timothy, ‘The Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone.’ Will Rogers put it this way: ‘People’s minds are changed through observation, not through argument.’ So the word for you today is—don’t quarrel, and avoid people who do!
‘Remember the Lord in everything you do, and He will show you the right way.’ Proverbs 3:6 GNT
Before you date somebody, ask yourself: (1) Am I free to be who I am? If you have to reinvent yourself to keep somebody happy, you’re in the wrong relationship. If they disapprove of you now, do you seriously think marriage will improve things? Not a chance! (2) Is the relationship based on honesty? The Bible talks about ‘telling each other the truth.’ (Ephesians 4:25 CEV) Relationships thrive on openness and trust. When deceit creeps in, it’s time to get truthful in a hurry or else call it quits. (3) Have we established clear boundaries? If the relationship ended today, would you regret your level of involvement? The Bible says, ‘Run from sexual sin… sexual immorality is a sin against your own body.’ (1 Corinthians 6:18 NLT) God made sex a commitment specifically for marriage; otherwise what was intended to be beautiful and fulfilling can leave you feeling ‘used’. (4) Is this person possessive or controlling? If so, it’s a red flag. The Bible says, ‘Love is … never jealous.’ (1 Corinthians 13:4 CEV) If you can’t make a move without the other person’s permission, you need to back off and re-evaluate the relationship. (5) How are we spending our time together? Without a plan, it’s easy to get more physically involved than you should. That’s why it’s good to agree up front about establishing boundaries. Keep God in your relationship and you won’t go wrong. ‘Remember the Lord in everything you do, and He will show you the right way.’
‘Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.’ Philippians 4:6 NLT
Worry is one of the most ineffective pastimes we can indulge in. Jesus Himself asked, ‘Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?’ (Matthew 6:27 NLT) Worry is the assassin of rest and relationships. It stalks us and hijacks our minds. While we may continue to function publicly, there’s a sinister force lurking within us. This enemy called worry disorients moods, destroys creativity, and depletes your sense of completion which comes from within and can’t be achieved by the acquisition of things. Why do we wrestle so much with things we can’t change? Many of us go to bed with half the issues of the day still lurking at the edges of our minds. We wrestle most of the night with issues that can’t be resolved before morning anyway. As a result we go to work feeling exhausted—less able to solve the problems than before. And our tiredness then goes on to exact a huge toll on our relationships. Here’s God’s prescription for worry: ‘Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. 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 … Fix your thoughts on what is true… honourable… right… pure… lovely, and admirable … things that are excellent and worthy of praise… Then the God of peace will be with you.’ (Philippians 4:6–9 NLT) Today let God set you free from worry.
‘…I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.’ Matthew 20:14 NKJV
Jesus told the story of a farmer who hired day labourers: some at 6 am, some at 9 am, some at 12 noon, some at 3 pm and some at 5 pm, one hour before quitting time. Amazingly, he paid them all the same wage. When the complaints started flying, the farmer said, ‘I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.’ You say, ‘Nobody pays a day’s wage to one-hour workers.’ God does. Deathbed converts and lifelong saints enter Heaven by the same gate. They don’t enjoy the same reward, but they’re saved by the same grace. A last minute confessor receives the same grace as a lifetime servant? It doesn’t seem fair. The workers in Jesus’ story complained too. So the farmer explained the prerogative of ownership: ‘Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me…’ (Matthew 20:15 RSV) The thief on the cross proves that when you request grace with your dying breath, God answers your prayer. The Prodigal Son ‘…wasted his possessions…’ (Luke 15:13 NKJV) The Greek word for ‘wasted’ pictures a farmer throwing handfuls of seed into the ground. Imagine the Prodigal Son spurning his father’s kindness, going out and ‘throwing it all away.’ But he returned. And when he did ‘….his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.’ (Luke 15:20 NKJV) The Father was saving the son’s place. And He’s saving yours too. Eleventh hour grace means that, if you’re able to read these words and respond, it’s not too late.
‘The words of a gossip… go down to a man’s inmost parts.’ Proverbs 18:8 NIV
Gossip destroys reputations and friendships. And it keeps others from opening up and getting the help they need. The Bible ranks gossip up there along with murder (see Romans 1:29). It may not be your intention, but your words can break somebody’s heart. It’s no big surprise when people gossip at the beauty salon or in the workplace, but how about church? It’s just not so obvious there because we’re experts at disguising it. For example, a friend confides in you about a marriage issue, or their child’s drug problem, and what do you do? You get on the phone and call the prayer chain. You ‘share it’ under the guise of asking for prayer. James writes, ‘If anyone … does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.’ (James 1:26 NIV) Why does God come down so hard on gossip? Because it tells the world certain Christians can’t be trusted; that somebody with a problem is safer in a twelve-step group than in church. Ever notice how gossip travels faster on grapevines that are sour? And some of the worst offenders are Christian leaders seeking to impress their peers by divulging details of somebody else’s struggles. If you see this tendency in yourself, you need to pray: ‘Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord.’ (Psalm 19:14 NKJV) If you must talk, talk to God.
‘He is able … to run to the cry of … those who are being … tested.’ Hebrews 2:18 AMP
Are you facing a home repossession? Jesus didn’t have a place to lay His head. Has someone taken advantage of you? Jesus lived among slaves and paid taxes to a foreign emperor. But what if your problem is the opposite and you’ve a successful business to run? Can Jesus relate? Yes. He recruited and oversaw His own organisation: seventy men and an assortment of women who supported Him financially and looked to Him for leadership. Are you responsible for budgeting and hiring personnel? Jesus knows leadership isn’t easy. His group included a zealot who hated the Romans and a tax collector who worked for them. And how about family tension? ‘When His family heard what was happening, they tried to take Him away. “He’s out of his mind,” they said.’ (Mark 3:21 NLT) Has someone wrongly accused you? The night before His death, people ‘tried to find something false against Jesus so they could kill Him.’ (Matthew 26:59 NCV) Jesus experienced every detail of human life, ‘being tempted, tested, tried… suffering.’ (Hebrews 2:18 AMP) Author Max Lucado writes: ‘Jesus was angry enough to purge the temple, distraught enough to weep in public, fun-loving enough to be called a drunkard, winsome enough to attract kids, poor enough to borrow a coin for a sermon illustration, radical enough to get kicked out of town, responsible enough to care for His mother, tempted enough to know the smell of Satan, and anxious enough to sweat blood.’ So why would Jesus endure earth’s toughest pain? So you’d know without doubt that ‘He is able … to run to the cry of … those who are being … tested.’ Today, Jesus hears your cry.
‘Those who lead good people along an evil path.’ Proverbs 28:10 NLT
James Dobson writes: ‘I once saw a documentary film that featured a packing house where sheep were slaughtered. Huddled in pens were hundreds of nervous animals that seemed to sense danger. A gate was opened leading to a ramp, and through a door to the right. In order to get the sheep to walk up that ramp the workers used what is known as a “Judas goat.” This is the goat that had been trained to lead the sheep into the slaughterhouse. The goat confidently walked to the bottom of the ramp and looked back. Then he took a few more steps and stopped again. The sheep looked at each other skittishly and began moving toward the ramp. Eventually they followed the confident goat to the top, where he went through another gate that closed behind him. This forced the sheep directly into the slaughterhouse… There’s a striking similarity between the sheep following the Judas goat and teenagers who succumb to peer pressure. Those who are more confident and rebellious often lead the timid into trouble. Some inject themselves with heroin or get involved with cocaine; others engage in dangerous sexual practices, or drive while drinking… But why do they do such destructive things? Don’t they care about their own lives and the future they are risking? Most of them do. But the pressure to conform—to follow the Judas goat—is even stronger than the need for security and well-being.’ The Bible speaks of ‘those who lead good people along an evil path.’ So: (1) be aware of who is influencing your teenager; (2) get to know their friends.
‘For the Lord does not see as man sees.’ 1 Samuel 16:7 NKJV
Look again at that situation you don’t understand. Try to imagine Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus. She is about to give birth to the Son of God who will one day redeem the world. She needs a place to stay for the night. Someone has the opportunity of a lifetime! Sadly, the record reads, ‘There was no lodging available for them.’ (Luke 2:7 NLT) Opportunity knocks; but the innkeepers were too busy to open the door and seize it! Look again at that seemingly hopeless situation. Imagine a boy in the crowd following Jesus. Can you see him in the corner? Look again. His lunch basket contains five loaves and two fish—just enough to feed one person. Andrew asks Jesus, ‘What good is that with this huge crowd?’ (John 6:9 NLT) Yet when the Lord blessed it, it was more than enough to feed five thousand people. Like the song says: ‘Little is much when God is in it.’ Look again at that enemy who seems unchangeable. Saul of Tarsus is attacking you. Why? Because he hasn’t yet had his life-changing encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road. God hasn’t revealed to him what He’s revealed to you, so he is passionate about the wrong things. Don’t counter-attack, and don’t give up on him. God’s about to do great things for him—and through him. Rarely are people as they first appear. Nobody has to stay the same as they are today. When God begins to work in their life, anybody you know can experience a 180-degree turnaround—sometimes within twenty-four hours.
‘Do you look at things according to the outward appearance?’ 2 Corinthians 10:7 NKJV
Paul makes it clear that there are qualities we haven’t yet discovered or discerned in some of the people around us. Most of our conclusions are based on limited and often flawed information. God saw qualities in David his own family didn’t recognise. To them he was just a shepherd boy. In fact, when he showed up at the battlefront and offered to fight Goliath, his oldest brother, Eliab, told him to go home and mind his own business. Yet within hours David had killed Goliath and his name had become a household word in Israel. Joseph’s brothers resented the dream God had given him, and his father’s favour towards him. Nevertheless he went on to become prime minister of Egypt and ended up taking care of his entire family during a famine. The lesson in all of this is: Be careful how you treat people who get under your skin! Learn to look past outward appearances. Remember Ruth, a peasant girl gathering barley who went on to become the boss’s wife? Somebody like her may one day end up signing your pay cheque, so bless her and treat her well. And learn to look beyond the distraction of beauty. Remember Esther, and consider the fool Haman who underestimated the beautiful girl sitting beside the king. She knew something he didn’t; she had divine access to knowledge that would save her people and bring about Haman’s demise. It was just a matter of time. Bottom line: You never really know what’s taking place in someone else’s mind. So don’t be so quick to write them off—take another look!
‘Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh.’ 2 Corinthians 5:16NKJV
What did Paul mean when he wrote, ‘we regard no one according to the flesh’? Simply this: instead of focusing on another believer’s faults and failings, try to see them as a regenerated spirit living in an unregenerated body. The fact is they’re ‘made right with God through Christ’ (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT), and as such they have the potential to accomplish great things. No question, when it comes to forming relationships you must be discerning. The wrong people can hurt you and the right people can help you. But it’s not your job to go around ‘vetting’ people based on your limited knowledge of them. If you could see them through God’s eyes and know what He has planned for them, perhaps you’d be less critical and more complimentary. Instead of looking down on them, you’d start looking up to them. And you’d invest time, love, and energy in them. Why? Because God is big on the law of reciprocity: ‘Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do [for others].’ (Ephesians 6:8 NLT) We give up on people because we can’t see what God sees, or understand what He’s doing. God’s looking at something He placed within them, something you can’t see. And He’s not finished with them, so withhold your judgement and criticism. What if God had written you off because of the mistakes you’ve made? Instead of looking for the worst in people, look for the best. And when you find it, nurture it and draw it out. In other words: Be willing to take another look!
‘Others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire.’ Jude 1:23 NKJV
When someone you love gets into a situation that can hurt them—get involved! The Bible says, ‘On some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire.’ (Jude 1:22–23 NKJV) The Greek word for ‘save’ means ‘to take immediate, decisive, and continuous action’. Here the word ‘fear’ means ‘a strong dose of respect for something that’s life-threatening, dangerous, or alarming’. And the phrase ‘pulling them out of the fire’ means you don’t have a moment to waste. The house is burning down and they’re asleep. Break down the door and drag them out if you have to! ‘…show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment…do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.’ (Jude 1:22–23 NLT)
Don’t sit back and say, ‘It’s not my responsibility.’ It is! The Good Shepherd left 99 sheep to go after the one that was lost—and He didn’t stop until He found it and brought it back to safety. Is there a chance you’ll be misunderstood, criticised and rejected? Sure, but as Paul says, ‘The love of Christ controls [compels; drives] us.’ (2 Corinthians 5:14 NCV) When you love the people Jesus loves, you don’t have a choice! You say, ‘But I won’t know what to say!’ Then pray: ‘Lord, help me to know exactly what to say and do. Give me wisdom and boldness to say what needs to be said. Help me to love enough to speak the truth while there’s still time. Use me as an instrument of Your grace to reach them before it’s too late. In Jesus’ name. Amen.’
‘You have been saved through faith.’ Ephesians 2:8 NKJV
The Bible says, ‘By grace you have been saved through faith.’ Faith in Christ alone gives us the assurance of Heaven. Poet Henry van Dyke put it like this: ‘I am standing upon the seashore. A ship… spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch until… she hangs like a speck of white cloud where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other. Then someone at my side says, “She’s gone!” “Gone where?” Gone from my sight. That’s all. She’s just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left… Her diminished size is in me, not her. And just at the moment when someone says, “There, she’s gone!” there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the joyful shout, “Here she comes!” And that is dying.’ You say, ‘But I wasn’t raised in church. Where do I go to find faith?’ DL Moody said: ‘I prayed for faith and thought it would come down and strike me like lightning, but faith didn’t seem to come. Then one day I read the tenth chapter of Romans, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” I closed my Bible and prayed for faith. Then I opened my Bible and began to study— and faith has been growing ever since.’ You say, ‘But I don’t know how to pray.’ Simply say, ‘Lord Jesus, I repent of my sin. I place my trust in You today and accept You as my personal Lord and Saviour.’ Did you pray that prayer? Did you mean it? Yes? Then you are ‘saved through faith’.
‘Where do I put my hope? … in You.’ Psalm 39:7 NLT
Society’s fascination with Hollywood and celebrities has gone a little crazy. Millions idolise those who have achieved fame and fortune, yet stardom does not provide the satisfaction it advertises. Marilyn Monroe could have told us that. So could Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson. Consider the adoration accorded to Muhammed Ali in his prime. He was known as ‘the prize fighter who couldn’t be beaten’. His picture appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated more than any other athlete in history. Wherever he went the cameras followed. But wealth and fame cannot buy good health, and he fell victim to the ravages of Parkinson’s disease. Sportswriter Gary Smith spent some time with the ailing fighter at his home and asked to see his trophy room. Ali escorted him to a dark, damp barn beside his house. There, leaning against a wall was a board displaying mementoes—photos of the ‘Thrilla in Manila’, pictures of Ali dancing and punching, and hoisting championship belts he had won over his head. But the pictures were smeared with white streaks caused by pigeons that had made their home in the rafters. Ali picked up the board and turned it around, face to the wall. Then as he started to leave, Smith heard him mumble, ‘I had the whole world, and it wasn’t nuthin’. Look at me now.’ The psalmist wrote, ‘All our busy rushing ends in nothing. We heap up wealth, not knowing who will spend it. And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in You.’ (Psalm 39:6–7 NLT)
‘A bruised reed He will not break, and a smouldering wick He will not snuff out.’ Matthew 12:20 NIV
When a loved one dies from sickness, accident, violence or advanced age, our grief, according to counsellors, is labelled ‘uncomplicated’ or ‘simple’. However, when they die by suicide our recovery process becomes ‘complicated’, fraught with often unanswerable questions. We experience guilt, even anger. ‘Was I not there for them? Should I have done more? Could I have helped prevent it? How could they do this to us? They were being purely selfish. They thought about nobody but themselves!’ These feelings will take time and God’s grace to resolve. Friends and families of suicides often ask the following questions, the biblical answers to which can help in dealing with our grief. Is suicide murder? Scripture nowhere equates suicide with murder. Biblically, murder is an act committed against another. How does God feel about people who commit suicide? While God can’t be said to support suicide, nobody understands better than He the despair that drives someone to escape from their unbearable suffering. At our lowest moment, our Father cannot deny His compassion for us. ‘A bruised reed He will not break, and a smouldering wick He will not snuff out.’ Are suicides saved or lost? (1) There is only one ‘unpardonable sin’ (see Matthew 12:31–32), and it’s not suicide! (2) ‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons… nor anything else… will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 8:38–39 NIV) Not even suicide can quench God’s love or cancel the salvation that love bought for us!
‘First… be reconciled… then… offer your gift.’ Matthew 5:24 NIV
Are you at odds with someone? Is it constantly on your heart, robbing you of peace and even affecting your job performance? Here’s what Jesus said you’re supposed to do: ‘If you are offering your gift at the altar and… remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there… First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.’ (Matthew 5:23–24 NIV) You say, ‘I’m waiting for him to come to me.’ What if he doesn’t? Today Jesus is telling you, ‘Go and be reconciled.’ That’s humbling. And it’s risky, because you may not get the response you hope for. Why didn’t Jesus say, ‘Wait a while and the situation might change’? Because when you allow things to bottle up, you blow up! You end up bringing out all the ammunition—everything that’s bothered you about the person for the last decade! On the other hand, maybe you’ve decided to ‘sleep on it’ for now. The Bible says, ‘Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.’ (Ephesians 4:26–27 NLT) The Enemy wants to hurt both of you by driving a wedge between you—are you going to let him do that? What if you win the argument but the other person walks away wounded and upset? What’s more important, the point you’re trying to make or the relationship? For God’s sake, and for your own sake, forgive, overlook the offence and get on with your life. What’s at stake here is your gift! If you want God to use and bless you—don’t wait, seek reconciliation.
‘If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offence.’ Matthew 18:15 NLT
After explaining the commandment that says, ‘Honour thy father and thy mother’ (Exodus 20:12 KJV), a Sunday school teacher asked her class of six-year-olds, ‘Can you think of a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?’ Without missing a beat, a little boy answered, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ (Exodus 20:13) Seriously, why did Jesus make such a big deal out of being reconciled to our brothers and sisters in the faith instead of letting disputes between us fester? After all, He considered it important enough to give us a three-step plan for handling it. First, go to the person privately. Second, take two or three others with you so that what is said can be confirmed. Third, if those two actions don’t bring reconciliation in the relationship, take it to the leaders of your church. However, if you read these Scriptures without reading the ones that follow, you’ll miss the whole point Jesus is making. He said: ‘I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, My Father in Heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as My followers, I am there among them.’ (Matthew 18:19–20 NLT) When we seek reconciliation and come into unity, two wonderful things happen: (a) We can pray with confidence and get the results we need. (b) We enjoy a sense of God’s abiding peace and presence that’s not possible as long as the issue remains unresolved. So if you want to walk in God’s blessing today, seek reconciliation.
‘Remember the Lord in everything you do, and He will show you the right way.’Proverbs 3:6 GNT
After being anointed king of Israel, instead of immediately going to Jerusalem and claiming his throne, David was forced to spend years living like a fugitive and hiding in caves because Saul was out to take his life. More than once he must have asked himself, ‘What about the promise God gave me?’ Then an interesting thing happened. One of David’s soldiers found Saul asleep; he came to David, saying, ‘God has delivered your enemy into your hand… let me strike him.’ (1 Samuel 26:8 NKJV) What an opportunity! Get rid of the man who wants to kill you, come out of hiding, and claim your throne. After all, you’re already anointed to be king! It all made sense, except for one thing—it wasn’t God’s plan. As much as David wanted to rule Israel, he knew that in order to succeed he must do it God’s way. This story should make you think twice, and pray before acting. When Abishai offered to kill Saul, he had David’s welfare at heart. So be careful; your friends can give you advice contrary to God’s will. That’s when it’s hard not to go along with it, or defend your decision by rationalising that the end justifies the means. Never let anyone, however well intentioned, persuade you to do what you know is wrong. ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Never rely on what you think you know. Remember the Lord in everything you do, and He will show you the right way.’ (Proverbs 3:5–6 GNT)
‘From the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.’ Luke 12:48 NIV
Added blessing always brings added responsibility, so: (1) Stop complaining. Happiness doesn’t come from getting what you want; it comes from recognising and enjoying what you have. So keep a positive attitude and be grateful every day. Rudyard Kipling said, ‘Don’t pay too much attention to fame, power or money. Some day you’ll meet a person who cares for none of these, and then you’ll know how poor you are’. (2) Stop assuming. When you see your neighbours buying new furniture, taking expensive holidays and driving the latest car, does something stir inside you to do the same? Be careful; just because someone appears to be in similar circumstances to yours doesn’t mean anything. They might earn twice as much. On the other hand, they may be in debt up to their ears or three-quarters of the way to bankruptcy or a divorce court. Stop making assumptions and trying to be like somebody else. (3) Stop withholding. Bruce Larson said, ‘Money is another pair of hands to heal, feed and bless the desperate families of the earth. In other words, money is my other self.’ But that’s only true if you’re willing to part with it. Money is like manure: If you let it pile up it stinks; if you spread it around it helps things grow. Money gives you options the less fortunate can only pray for. And one more very important thought: How you use your money will be one of the biggest issues you’ll face on Judgment Day. Indeed, it’ll be a determining factor when it comes to your eternal reward. Think about it!
‘Love is patient, love is kind.’ 1 Corinthians 13:4 NIV
Truly great people understand the power of kindness. Once while Abraham Lincoln was dining in the White House one of his guests blew on his coffee, poured it into his saucer, and drank from it. As you might imagine, some of the refined ladies and gentlemen seated nearby were aghast, and for a moment the room was filled with an embarrassed silence. Then Lincoln took his coffee, poured it into his saucer, and for the rest of the evening drank directly from it. And you know what? Everyone else in the room followed suit! One small act of kindness saved a White House guest unbelievable embarrassment. And that simple but thoughtful gesture by one of America’s greatest presidents reminds us of the value of setting an example of kindness. Chances are you’ve never heard of Stephen Grellet, a French-born Quaker who died in 1855. He’d still be unknown to the world at large, except for a few immortal lines that will likely be remembered forever: ‘I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.’ Each day has one thing in common with the next. Both offer opportunities to show kindness, and when missed, those opportunities leave you with unwanted regrets. Poet C.R. Gibson wrote, ‘I have wept in the night for the shortness of sight, that to somebody’s need made me blind. But I never have yet had a twinge of regret, for being a little too kind.’
‘Be devoted to one another.’ Romans 12:10 NIV
Sometimes we think that in order to be successful we have to be tough, hard-nosed and stoic in how we relate to others. Some folks even go so far as to interpret kindness as weakness and vulnerability. Nothing could be further from the truth. Kindness signals tremendous inner strength that others not only appreciate, but respect. Aesop wrote a fable in which the wind and the sun argued over who was the stronger. ‘Do you see that old man down there?’ the wind asked. ‘I can make him take off his coat quicker than you can.’ The sun agreed to duck behind a cloud while the wind blew up a storm. But the harder the wind blew the more firmly the traveller wrapped his coat around him. Eventually the wind gave up and the sun reappeared, smiling kindly upon the old man. Before long he mopped his brow, shed his heavy coat and strolled away. The sun knew the secret: warmth, friendliness, and a gentle touch are always more effective than force and fury. Jesus was hard on hypocrites and those who took advantage of others. But to everyone else, including society’s rejects, He showed great kindness. He came into an unkind, dog-eat-dog, every-man-for-himself culture where there were no mental health institutions, hospitals, orphanages or organisations of mercy. Yet He poured the milk of human kindness into every bowl of human suffering. And at the cross He demonstrated the ultimate cost of kindness—and in so doing, changed the world for all time. So, ‘Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves.’ (Romans 12:10 NIV)
‘Be fruitful, and multiply.’ Genesis 1:28 KJV
God told Adam, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply.’ In other words: ‘Fulfil the purpose for which I made you by giving yourself fully to it.’ Ever observed a great golfer? His level of concentration, the fluid grace as he arcs the club into that little white ball and sends it sailing onto the green? It’s what he was meant to do. He knows it and takes pleasure in it. People who fulfil their calling exude an excitement and a connection to their gift that transcends fame. Most of them have simply found a way to get paid for doing something they love. Money never replaces purpose. When you find the thing you’d gladly do for free—there’s a good chance you’ve found your calling. You were made in the image of God, with a built-in drive to create. That doesn’t mean you must have an artistic temperament to find your life’s purpose. But everyone who’s aware of their calling is in the process of giving birth to something. It may seem obvious that those who are songwriters, artists, and poets are giving birth to their dreams. But so is any one of us who discovers who he or she is, and answers that call through their unique gifts. You may be called to give birth to a business, or invent a technical device that will benefit others, or discover a cure for some disease, or find new systems of efficiency in the workplace. You say, ‘But what if I try and fail?’ The real loser is the one who never attempts to fly with the wings God gave them. So, do what God’s called you to do!
‘I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.”’ Psalm 55:6 NKJV
The psalmist wrote, ‘Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.’ Have you ever felt that way? Sorry, there’s no escape! Wherever you go—there you are! Peace is ‘an inside job’. Oceanographers tell us that even the worst ocean storms rarely extend more than 8 m below the surface. Gales can rip the ocean, causing tidal waves 30 m high, but just 8 m below the surface the water is as calm as a pond. The point is this: The only place you’ll ever find peace in the midst of life’s storms, is through an in-depth experience with God. Korean Christians have a saying that emerged from the persecution they endured because of their faith in Christ: ‘We’re just like nails. The harder you hit us, the deeper you drive us; and the deeper you drive us, the more peaceful it becomes!’ Part of God’s purpose in allowing the storms of life to blow, is to drive us deeper—deeper into dependence on Him, and deeper into relationship with Him. Wilbert Gough said, ‘God takes life’s broken pieces and gives us unbroken peace.’ When you focus on the God who never meets a problem He can’t solve, instead of focusing on the problem you can’t solve, you’ll experience in-depth peace. And you’ll carry that peace with you wherever you go. Others will notice it and seek your advice when they too face trouble. You see, when you know that the God within you reigns above you, you won’t succumb to what’s around you.
‘A gentle south wind began to blow.’ Acts 27:13 NIV
You can’t afford to be guided by circumstances alone. ‘When a gentle south wind began to blow, they thought they had obtained what they wanted; so they… sailed along the shore of Crete. Before very long, a wind of hurricane force… swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm.’ (Acts 27:13–15 NIV) It’s foolish to ignore what God says, even when your circumstances seem to contradict it. Things may look good to you right now, yet you could be sailing straight into a storm. You say, ‘This decision must be ok because I feel so good about it.’ Do you remember the words from Debby Boone’s old hit song: ‘It can’t be wrong when it feels so right’? Feelings can lie, and if God says, ‘Wait in the harbour,’ you’d better do it because the Devil can arrange undesirable circumstances if you put out to sea. Notice the words: ‘When a gentle south wind began to blow, they thought they had obtained what they wanted.’ When it comes to the important decisions in your life, stand on these Scriptures: ‘Lead me, O Lord, in Your righteousness because of my enemies—make straight Your way before me.’ (Psalm 5:8 NIV) ‘Guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are God my Saviour, and my hope is in You all day long.’ (Psalm 25:5 NIV) ‘Teach me Your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path.’ (Psalm 27:11 NIV) ‘Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God; may Your good Spirit lead me on level ground.’ (Psalm 143:10 NIV) When you pray that way, God will guide you in the right direction.
‘The officer in charge… listened… to the ship’s captain.’ Acts 27:11 NLT
Here are two more pointers on how to avoid shipwreck: (1) Don’t take advice from the wrong people, even the so-called ‘experts’. The Bible says, ‘But the officer in charge… listened more to the ship’s captain and the owner than to Paul.’ Chances are, the ship’s owner was an expert in business and its captain an expert in maritime matters. Nevertheless, both men were incapable of hearing the voice of God. Bottom line: Be discerning about who you allow to speak into your life. Just because someone’s successful in a secular field doesn’t mean they’re qualified to give you spiritual guidance. ‘Honour those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work… and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work.’ (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13 NLT) Where should you go when you need spiritual guidance? To leaders in God’s work who have proven themselves worthy of your love and respect. (2) Remember that sometimes the majority gets it wrong. ‘Most of the crew wanted to go on to Phoenix.’ (Acts 27:12 NLT) The fact is the majority can be wrong! Remember what happened when Moses started to lead the children of Israel to the Promised Land? The majority wanted to return to Egypt. But they were wrong—dead wrong—and they perished in the wilderness. We can get ourselves into a real mess by following prevailing opinion and the most popular ideas. Listen for God’s voice and you’ll always go in the right direction. ‘He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way.’ (Psalm 25:9 NIV)
‘There is trouble ahead if we go on—shipwreck.’ Acts 27:10 NLT
The apostle Paul was a prisoner on board a ship headed from Palestine to Rome. After they ventured through the Mediterranean Sea and docked at the island of Crete, God told Paul to advise the crew not to leave the harbour because there was going to be a great storm. But they wouldn’t listen, and they ended up shipwrecked. Why? Impatience! They had a schedule to keep (Acts 27:9–12). The truth is, when we allow ourselves to become impatient we often end up in a storm. One pastor writes: ‘I’ve spoken with many crisis-ridden people who were impatient to get married… or get a new job… or move to the other side of town. They didn’t take time to check things out with God, and they sailed right into the awaiting storms.’ Instead of waiting for God’s choice of a mate, loneliness can drive you into the arms of the wrong person and a lifetime of misery. Making financial decisions without consulting God first can land you in debt that may take years to get out of. Sometimes when God says no, He doesn’t mean never. He’s simply saying, ‘Not now.’ And what He has in store for you is worth waiting for! Here’s something you’d do well to keep in mind: God does a work of preparation within you to equip you for what He has in mind for you. His Word says, ‘Whoever believes will not act hastily’ (Isaiah 28:16 NKJV), so don’t get impatient and jump the gun. ‘Wait… for the Lord… follow His path, and He will honour you.’ (Psalm 37:34 GWT)
‘The Lord gives… Wisdom.’ Proverbs 2:6 AMP
When Karen O’Connor and her husband attended a marriage seminar on love and respect, it was an eye-opener. She writes: ‘What I was hearing hit close to home… I laid out my husband’s vitamins and prescriptions every morning even though he knows the routine better than me. I assumed unless I took charge he’d ignore or forget them. I “suggested” what foods would help him lose weight, and took over researching some facts he needed for a speech he was writing… While some see these actions as helpful, in my case they were about control… trying to manage and direct my husband in matters that are his business. I thought my way was better so I imposed it… Here are some of the challenges couples face and how we can change our responses: Old behaviour: answering questions directed at your mate. New behaviour: being quiet while your spouse replies—and learning something from their response. Old behaviour: giving unsolicited advice. New behaviour: listening… trusting your mate to find his/her own solution, and supporting that discovery. Old behaviour: explaining your partner’s point of view for them. New behaviour: waiting to hear their viewpoint and encouraging it. Old behaviour: making financial decisions without consulting your mate. New behaviour: presenting investment opportunities and talking them over together. Both husbands and wives admitted feeling embarrassed, judged, put down and angry when their spouses stepped in and answered, or made decisions without asking them. Everyone needs help… but crashing your mate’s boundaries and manipulating the outcome is something else. When you’re anxious or uncertain about when to step in and when to step aside, pray for guidance.’
‘When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them.’ Matthew 9:36 NIV
In spite of economic challenges, Australia is consistently the richest country in the world when the median measure of wealth is measured (and second behind Switzerland when an ‘average’ is calculated.) But prosperity has little to do with generosity. You say, ‘If I ever get a lot of money, I’ll be generous.’ Jesus said, ‘Where your treasure is [invested], there your heart will be also.’ (Matthew 6:21 NIV) Research from the Institute for Social Change showed that in the UK a few years ago, the poorest 20% of people gave 3.2% of their income to charity, while the richest 20% of people only gave 0.9%. It’s unlikely to be a very different percentage in this country. Financial expert Daniel Levin says, ‘Prosperity isn’t in what you’ve attained, but rather in what you give away.’ The truth is, if you want to become a more generous person you can’t wait for your income to increase; you must allow God to change your heart. That means looking for a reason to give every day, and finding a compelling cause or a worthy ministry. And you won’t have to look far; they’re all around you. The Bible says of Jesus, ‘When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless…’ When it comes right down to it the recipients of our generosity aren’t really churches, causes or institutions. They’re people—people loved and valued by God; people for whom Christ died. So what are you doing for others? How you answer that question is the measure of your generosity!
‘He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.’ Philippians 1:6 NIV
If you want God’s will to be done in your life, don’t rush things. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, did that. As a result Ishmael was born, and that brought all sorts of strife and family complications. Remember: ‘Flesh gives birth to flesh… the Spirit gives birth to spirit’ (John 3:6 NIV), so be sure your plans are conceived by God’s Spirit. Don’t try to salvage anything flesh-based. God said, ‘My covenant I will establish with Isaac.’ (Genesis 17:21 NKJV) Isaac was born as a result of God’s will, done God’s way, in God’s time. Everything that’s conceived in you comes from one of two sources: the flesh or the Spirit. So be careful. People will try to involve you in all kinds of schemes to promote yourself. God doesn’t need anybody’s help to bless you; He can do it all by Himself! That’s why whenever Satan attacks you, you need to be able to point him to your spiritual birthplace and remind him that you didn’t begin this project and you don’t have to finish it. ‘He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.’ And here’s another thought. If God’s dealing with you about carnality, pride, or some other obstacle in your path, don’t resist, don’t run, and don’t get in His way. Like a drowning man frantically trying to save himself—until you stop flailing around God can’t do anything for you. So the word for you today is: ‘Try less and trust more!’
‘Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.’ Proverbs 22:6 NLT
Sometimes raising teenagers can be like sending an astronaut into space. Early space probes launched from Cape Canaveral in the 1960s created anxiety for the safety of the astronauts. It was especially intense when the spacecraft was re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. At the most dangerous part of the journey, negative ions would accumulate around the heat shield and interfere with radio contact for about seven minutes. Seven-very-long-minutes! Finally the reassuring voice of Chris Kraft would break in and say, ‘We’ve made contact with Colonel Glenn again. Everything is A-OK.’ In a very real sense, adolescence can be like that spacecraft. After the training of childhood, a thirteen-year-old is blasted into space with a flurry. Then something like ‘negative ions’ begins to interfere with communication just as the adults want to be assured of the child’s safety. Why won’t he or she talk to them? Why has he or she disappeared behind a wall of silence? It’s a confusing and terrifying time. Fortunately, in a few years the first scratchy signals will begin to come through again and contact will be re-established. The negative environment will gradually dissipate, and the ‘splashdown’ during the early twenties can be a wonderful reunion for both generations. What should you as a parent do during this time? First, you must pray for them and stand on the truth of God’s Word: ‘Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.’ Second, you must exercise patience. ‘Let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.’ (James 1:4 NKJV)
‘I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.’ Genesis 28:15 NIV
How come when someone talks to God we say, ‘They are praying’, yet when someone claims that God talks to them we think they are ‘flaky’? Has God suddenly stopped speaking to His children? Would you stop speaking to yours? John Calvin described God’s guidance as ‘the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit’. And Ignatius of Loyola called it ‘movements of the soul—thoughts, feelings, or desires… given to us by God.’ They may come as a conviction of sin, an assurance of God’s love, or the call to do a certain thing, but they’re a ‘must’ for the spirit-guided life. To hear from God you must be receptive, and sometimes—desperate! During a very bad time in Jacob’s life God appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.’ When Jacob awoke the next morning, he said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.’ (Genesis 28:16 NIV) ‘Not aware’—does this describe you? As you read these words your thoughts are being guided by a human being: a writer. Don’t you think God can do the same, or better? In truth, God can guide your thoughts without the influence of intervening sounds or images. Look what happened to Samuel when he was a boy. God spoke to him one night in the temple, but he didn’t know it was God speaking. He needed the help of Eli the high priest to recognise the voice of God. But once he did, his life changed dramatically—and yours will too.
‘He guides the humble in what is right.’ Psalm 25:9 NIV
How can you learn to be guided by the Lord? In three different ways: (1) Through prayer. Thomas Kelly wrote: ‘There’s a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing… but… at a profound level, we may also be in prayer… and have a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings.’ (2) Through obedience. What use is God’s guidance if you’re not willing to follow it? And what about the guidance you’ve already received through the Scriptures but haven’t acted on? Frank Laubach, whose life was an experiment in listening to God, wrote: ‘I never lived… until I reached the place where I wholly… resolved and then re-resolved, that I’d find God’s will, and that I would do that will though every fibre in me said no, and that I would win the battle in my thoughts. It was as though some deep artesian well had been struck in my soul… Money, praise, poverty, opposition—these made no difference, for they will all alike be forgotten in a thousand years, but this spirit which comes to a mind set upon continuous surrender, this spirit is timeless life.’ (3) Through faith. Have the words, ‘I believe the Lord told me’, been abused? Yes, they have! Sometimes religious leaders use them as a ploy to get what they want. But don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater! The truth is, you won’t grow spiritually if you close yourself off from the guidance of the Holy Spirit. You must believe—mind-blowing as it sounds—that God really can and does speak to us.
‘I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you.’ Psalm 32:8 NKJV
Before talking about what divine guidance is, let us be clear about what it’s not: (1) A last resort. We don’t think much about spiritual guidance until we face major questions like who to marry, what house to buy and which stock to invest in. Spiritual guidance isn’t a hot line! The key to knowing whether you really desire God’s will lies in asking, ‘How often do I seek His guidance when I’m not facing difficulties?’ (2) Only for a privileged few. In the Old Testament, God made a donkey speak (see Numbers 22:28). Now, what if the donkey had put on airs and considered itself an exalted spiritual class above all the other quadrupeds? (3) An excuse to do nothing. One man said he decided not to seek a certain job, because it would be a sign of God’s will if he got it without trying. So does that mean whatever happens as a result of our passivity is God’s will? That’s like sitting in the middle of the motorway and saying, ‘If I don’t get run over by a car, I’ll know it’s God’s doing, and not me acting in the flesh.’ (4) Playing it safe. Sometimes we don’t really want guidance; we want safety! Decision-making can be scary—and lonely. Even small decisions can create anxiety. God wants us to develop good judgment, and there’s no way to do that without making choices, taking risks and occasionally failing. He wants mature children, not robots. His purpose isn’t just to get us to perform the right actions, but to become the right kind of people.
‘In all things God works for the good of those who love Him.’ Romans 8:28 NIV
No experience is ever wasted if you use it wisely. God can use what you’ve been through to develop you into the person He intended you to be. Moses grew up in a foster home. As the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter he spent forty years learning the language and ways of the Egyptians. What better preparation for understanding your enemy than being raised among them? But Moses needed to learn a few personal lessons too. So God took him into the desert for another forty years to tend sheep. The grandson of Pharaoh became a lowly shepherd. Nothing will humble you like having to take a job for which you’re overqualified, especially when your own failure put you there. But during those years on the poor side of town, God taught Moses how to identify with hurting people. Finally, at eighty years old, he was ready to fulfil his calling. ‘God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”’ (Exodus 3:4 NIV) At this most unlikely place God revealed to Moses his calling as Israel’s deliverer. And even though he was afraid, made excuses and raised objections, he ended up doing a brilliant job. The point is this: Moses’ eighty years in training weren’t wasted. Forty years in a palace prepared him to deal with Pharaoh, and forty years as a shepherd prepared him to lead God’s people through the wilderness to their destiny. So even though you’d rather be someplace other than where you are right now, remember, God never wastes an experience. Never! He will use it all for your good and His glory.
‘There is a place near Me where you may stand.’ Exodus 33:21 NIV
If you’ve ever been caught in a hurricane, you know it’s one of the most powerful natural forces known to man. Wind gusts of up to 250 km an hour; rain up to 12 cm an hour; the ability to create waves 10 storeys high, with surges up to 8 m wide. It’s been known to level entire cities in minutes. Two components of a hurricane are especially interesting. One is the eye—that relatively calm centre in which sinking air inhibits cloud and thunderstorm development. And immediately surrounding the eye is the eyewall, which contains rising air and powerful rain clouds. In sharp contrast to the calm eye, the eyewall houses the most powerful elements of the hurricane, including the strongest winds and heaviest rains. If you could hover above this force of nature you’d see that the strongest part of a hurricane takes place near its centre, while the centre itself remains relatively calm. There’s a lesson here for all of us. God doesn’t take away all our troubles—at least not as quickly as we’d like Him to—but He promises us peace in the midst of them. Few people had more trouble than Moses. His job was to feed, lead, and protect two million people. And no matter what he did, they constantly complained. So one day God said to him, ‘There is a place near Me where you may stand … I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with My hand.’ (Exodus 33:21–22 NIV) And if you ask Him, today God will bring you to that place of peace too!
‘…keep these words deep in your heart and in your soul.’ Deuteronomy 11:18 BBE
How do you get God’s Word ‘deep in your heart’? (1) By meditating on it each day. The psalmist said the way to succeed in life is by meditating on God’s Word ‘day and night.’ (Psalm 1:2 NLT) But you must slow down in order to do it. Ever watch a cow chewing cud? The more it chews, the more it gets out of it. So when God impresses a thought on you, think about it throughout the day. Make it your first thought in the morning and your last thought at night. Do this for 365 days and you’ll be amazed how you grow spiritually. (2) By allowing it to convict you of sin and cleanse you daily. ‘How can a young man [or an older one] keep his way pure? By living according to Your Word.’ (Psalm 119:9 NIV) His fellow monks used to ask Martin Luther why he spent so much time in the confessional. After all, he lived in a monastery, so what on earth could he have to confess? Chanting off-key? No, Luther was aware of his own aptitude for self-justification. And he knew God’s Word was the only detergent strong enough to get down into the deepest recesses of his thoughts, imaginations and motives and cleanse him. (3) By putting what you learn into practice. Your Bible knowledge may be a hundred times greater than someone else’s. But if you’re not a hundred times more loving, patient, joyful, gracious, forgiving, etc., what good is it? A head full of doctrine and a heart devoid of love will just turn people away from Christ. Today get your theology off the drawing board and start putting it into practice.
‘You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.’ Psalm 23:5 NIV
There are two kinds of people who’ll never understand your need to take care of yourself: (1) Legalists. They never stop trying to measure up to certain perfectionistic moral, ethical and religious standards. (2) Serve-a-holics. They sacrifice themselves on the altar of endless church activity, believing it’s the only way to please God. Some of Jesus’ disciples did this. When a woman poured expensive oil on His head they got upset. How come? Had they never read the words, ‘You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows’? In Bible times oil was used for different purposes such as soothing, massaging and refreshing the body after a long journey or a hard day’s work. ‘So God thinks it’s ok for me to take a break?’ you ask. Yes, but since serve-a-holics have a need to be needed, they think like: ‘This perfume could have been sold… and the money given to the poor.’ (Matthew 26:9 NIV) Their motivation might be different to that of the disciples but their belief system is: ‘Others matter—I don’t!’ Understand: When you take care of others but not yourself, you (a) become spiritually and emotionally drained; (b) end up resentful because your needs go unrecognised and unmet; (c) start looking for relief in the wrong places. Just as Samson headed to Delilah’s house to relax and let down his hair, when we look to the wrong people and things rather than learning to heed God’s instruction to care for ourselves, we give a foothold to the Enemy. That foothold can then be exploited for our destruction. Don’t let that happen to you. Start taking care of yourself spiritually, physically and emotionally.
‘She poured it on His head.’ Matthew 26:7 NKJV
Jesus allowed others to minister to Him. Do you? ‘A woman… having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil… poured it on His head… But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?”… when Jesus was aware of it, He said… “She has done a good work.”’ (Matthew 26:7–10 NKJV) There’s an important lesson in this story. You must allow the care you pour on others, to be poured on you. Otherwise you’ll burn out. Jesus practised this principle. So did the psalmist: ‘You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.’ (Psalm 23:5 NKJV) In order for your cup of service to stay full, it must continually be refilled. And since people generally treat you according to how you treat yourself, you must learn to treat yourself right. It’s a good thing to take care of others, but sometimes we hide behind that in order to avoid having to take care of ourselves—or because we don’t know how. The question is: How can we fulfil Christ’s command to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12:31 NIV), if we haven’t learned how to love ourselves? Many of us become resentful of the demands people dump on us each day without ever seeming to give anything back in return. When the world you live in makes endless withdrawals, you must learn to make deposits; otherwise you’ll end up with insufficient funds. And pretty soon those cheques will start bouncing everywhere—morally, emotionally, and spiritually. Who’ll give back to you—if not you? So today pray: ‘Lord, give me the grace to allow the oil I pour on others, to also be poured on me.’
‘[Hidden] treasures… riches stored in secret places.’ Isaiah 45:3 NIV
When we’re stressed—and who isn’t nowadays?—often our first inclination is to consult the latest ‘how to’ book or DVD, or seek out the camaraderie of Christian friends. Reimar Schultze observes: ‘At best we get a splash of what we’re looking for. Time about God never replaces time with God. Look around your church and tell me whether with all the religious books, CDs and programmes, there are any [that] come up to the stature of Enoch, Abraham, Moses and Noah. God Himself has been, and always will be the greatest source of information, inspiration, transformation and fellowship… Isaac was meditating in the fields when “he lifted up his eyes, and saw…” (Genesis 24:63 KJV) From being alone with God comes seeing… in our quiet moments He sets before us gifts and delicacies… hidden to the hurried man. The Bible says, “When [Jesus] had sent the multitudes away, He went up into a mountain apart to pray” (Matthew 14:23 KJV)… Many who came to see Jesus travelled for days, yet He sent them away so He could pray. To get alone with God you have to send something away: relatives, friends, schedules… opportunities… other people’s opinions. That was true with Jesus. Many were offended by Him. He didn’t let people-pressure run His life; it was governed by His Father… [You can] become a slave to man, or live to meet God’s expectations. You can’t do both. If you do the latter, streams of living water will flow from your innermost being, and you’ll have power with God. He’ll reveal to you “hidden treasures, riches stored in dark places.”’
‘Who am I…that you have brought me this far?’ 2 Samuel 7:18 NIV
A member of parliament took his little daughter to visit Westminster Abbey. As she stood looking up at its magnificent columns, her father asked, ‘What do you think, sweetheart?’ With childlike candour she replied, ‘I was thinking how big you look at home, Daddy, and how small you look in here.’ God’s presence has a way of humbling us. In the Old Testament, King David went in and sat before the Lord and said, ‘Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?’ The Bible’s filled with examples of people who humbled themselves before God. In Matthew’s Gospel he mentions his own name only twice, and both times he calls himself a tax collector. And John doesn’t even mention his own name in his Gospel. The name ‘John’ that appears throughout his Gospel refers to John the Baptist. John simply calls himself ‘the other disciple’, or ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’. Luke wrote two of the most important books in the Bible without ever once mentioning his own name. And Paul, the Bible’s most prolific author, referred to himself as ‘a fool.’ (2 Corinthians 12:11 NIV) He described himself as ‘the least of the apostles’ (1 Corinthians 15:9 NIV), and later claimed to be ‘less than the least of all saints.’ (Ephesians 3:8 KJV) In fact, as Paul grew older his ego grew smaller, and in one of his final Epistles he referred to himself as ‘the chief of sinners’ (1 Timothy 1:15). King David wrote no psalm celebrating his victory over Goliath, but he wrote a psalm of penitence confessing his sin with Bathsheba (Psalm 51). So, always be humble!
‘God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were.’ Romans 5:20 NLT
Why did God establish a new covenant with His people through Jesus instead of continuing with the covenant He’d given to Moses? Because while the law had the power to let people know how far short they fell, it didn’t have the power to make them want to obey it. Let’s suppose you have a tendency to eat too much chocolate. You want to be free from the habit, so you make a law for yourself: ‘I must not eat chocolate. I cannot eat chocolate. I will never eat chocolate again.’ You even convince yourself that for you it’s a sin to eat chocolate. But this self-made law doesn’t set you free from the desire for chocolate; it actually seems to increase your problem! Now all you can think about is chocolate; it’s on your mind day and night. Eventually you find yourself sneaking around to eat chocolate because you told everybody you were never going to eat it again. You can’t eat chocolate in front of people so you hide when you eat it, and end up feeling really guilty because now you’ve become a ‘sneaky’ sinner. Now you understand the pain that comes from being ‘under the law’ instead of free in Christ. New believers often focus their attention on God’s laws in order to control their passions, but it doesn’t work. As they mature, however, they learn to direct their attention to the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and discover that He can set you free from the desire to sin. The law requires living in perfect obedience, which we cannot fulfil; living by grace is relying on Christ and His perfect life of obedience, drawing each day on the power of God’s Spirit.
‘His father…filled with love…ran to his son.’ Luke 15:20 NLT
Canoeing specialist Bill Havens was almost guaranteed to win a gold medal in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. But a few months before the games he learned that his wife would likely give birth to their first child while he was away. She told him that she could make it on her own, but this was a milestone Bill didn’t want to miss. So he surprised everyone and stayed home. He greeted his infant son, Frank, into the world on 1 August 1924. Though he always wondered what might have been, he said he never regretted his decision. He poured his life into that little lad, and shared with him a love for the rapids. Twenty-four years passed, and the Olympic Games were held in Finland. This time his son Frank was chosen to compete in the canoeing event. The day after the competition, Bill received a telegram from Frank that read: ‘Dear Dad, thanks for waiting around for me to be born. I’m coming home with the gold medal that you should have won.’ It was signed ‘Your loving son, Frank.’ Bill Havens wanted his family to know they always came first, no matter what. And that made him a hero to a little boy named Frank. Bill understood that medals tarnish, records are broken, and achievements are soon forgotten. These things don’t satisfy. What does? The love you have for your children, and the love they have for you. Jesus pointed out that even when a child is wayward, a parent’s love can restore them. Are you neglecting your family today? If so, take action immediately!
‘Let us run…the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus.’ Hebrews 12:1-2 NKJV
At the Good Will Games in Edmonton, Canada, the Jamaican team was participating in the 4 x 100-metre relay. Those in the third leg of the race had a friend competing in another event nearby. While the sprinter was waiting for the baton, he looked up for a moment to try and see how their friend was doing in his event. Big mistake! In the next moment, the guy running the second leg of the race came up to him with the baton—and crashed into him. Needless to say, the Jamaicans lost because one of their runners was looking at the wrong thing. Instead of focusing on his own race, he was looking at someone else’s. Who are you looking at—Christ, or other Christians? The Church is like a spiritual hospital: its members are in various stages of treatment, with the aim of becoming whole. So when you look to Christians you’ll sometimes be disappointed—but not when you look to Christ. One day Jesus told Peter what type of death He would suffer, and Peter questioned Him about what sort of death John would face. ‘Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘…what is that to you? You follow Me.’ (John 21:21–22 NKJV) Have you ever watched a team rowing in the Olympic Games? They can’t see the finish line because their backs are towards it, so they keep their eyes on the captain. He guides them. He motivates them. He shouts, ‘Row, row, row!’ He gives them a cadence and keeps them on track. So the word for you today is—keep your eyes on Jesus.
‘Teach us to realise the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.’ Psalm 90:12 NLT
The story’s told of a guy who went to Heaven and met St Peter. Peter said, ‘Tell me what good things you did in your lifetime.’ The guy replied, ‘Well, a gang of Hell’s Angels was beating up an old lady and stealing her purse, so I rushed in and saved her.’ Peter said, ‘When did this happen?’ The guy answered, ‘About one minute ago.’ Seriously, unless Jesus comes back, you are going to die. The psalmist wrote, ‘Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty.’ (Psalm 90:10 NLT) Let’s say you’re sixty, and you live to be eighty. That’s two hundred and forty months! When you begin to think that way, time becomes a precious commodity and a limited resource, and you get serious about making every day count. Each time you say, ‘I’ll take care of that tomorrow,’ you’ve lost another day you can never get back. Here are some questions you need to think about. Have you discovered God’s will for your life and devoted yourself to fulfilling it? If not, why not? Understand these three things: (1) God scheduled the date of your arrival on earth. ‘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.’ (Psalm 139:16 NLT) (2) God has laid out a track for you to run on. ‘Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.’ (Hebrews 12:1 NLT) (3) God will reward you for how you’ve lived (See 1 Corinthians 3:11–15). So make every day count!
‘The Lord make His face shine on you.’ Numbers 6:25 NIV
When you study the life of Christ you realise that for Him prayer wasn’t an energy drainer, but an energy giver. And it can be the same for you when you come to see God’s face shining upon you as you talk with Him in prayer. When you’re with a critic who wants to argue, you lose energy. But when you meet with your best friend, you gain energy, and Jesus said, ‘I have called you friends.’ (John 15:15 NIV) Have you ever noticed how people in love sometimes speak to each other in baby talk? It’s immensely intimate and private—and it’s off-putting to a third party. But we do it because it is the most tender language we know. Jesus’ prayer life demonstrated this intimacy. He called God ‘Abba’, an Aramaic word much like ‘dada’ or ‘mama’. (Jesus spoke in Aramaic, and some portions of the New Testament are written in Aramaic rather than Greek.) ‘Abba’ was a Jewish child’s first word, because it was so easy to say. Somehow when Jesus was with God, the tender love that an adult offers to a child to give him strength is what He received from His Father. And you can have that same experience. It’s why Paul wrote: ‘You have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when He adopted you as His own children. Now we call Him, “Abba, Father.” For His Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are His children, we are His heirs.’ (Romans 8:15–17 NLT) Your highest goal in prayer should be intimacy with God.
‘Your face, Lord, I will seek.’ Psalm 27:8 NKJV
We get a remarkable picture of what can happen in prayer when we watch a parent and a little child. Imagine a one-year-old who looks at you and holds his gaze. You’re charmed. He looks shyly at first, tilting his head away and looking out of the corner of his eye. You do the same. It’s fun. He turns his face to look directly at you. You mirror the turn. Then there’s a sudden noise behind him, and he looks startled—you mirror his surprised look. He’s so startled that he’s getting ready to cry, so you shift to a smile. He does the same, and he’s soon gurgling with joy. When a child makes eye contact like this, when someone lets him know that they understand what he’s feeling, his brain and nervous system make crucial connections inside his body. He is experiencing what’s called ‘neural integration’. By playing the face game, you’re literally giving the child peace. It heals him. He finds delight in your presence. And prayer works like that too. In the Old Testament God instructed Moses to give the Israelites the following blessing: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face towards you and give you peace.’ (Numbers 6:24–26) In prayer we speak about ‘seeking God’s face’. That means sometimes prayer is about speaking, other times it’s about listening. But there’s a third ingredient. It’s the security that comes from sensing God’s smile of love and approval.
‘I have betrothed you to…Christ.’ 2 Corinthians 11:2 NKJV
In Bible days betrothal meant much more than engagement: it was part of the marriage ritual. As soon as a couple was betrothed, they were considered to be one. But the marriage wasn’t consummated for a year or more. During that time the groom would build their new home, continue courting his bride, getting to know her and allowing her to know him. And the bride would prepare herself by learning everything she could about her future husband so that she could please him in all respects. Finally the groom brought his bride to their new home and they began to live as husband and wife. So what’s the point of this illustration? Simply this: the Church is the bride of Christ, and we should be longing for the time when our union with Him will be consummated and we’ll partake of the marriage supper of the Lamb in Heaven (See Revelation 19:7). Until then Jesus is fulfilling His part by preparing a place for us, praying and interceding on our behalf, continuing to woo us, to lavish His love upon us, and to bring us into ‘the knowledge of [Him].’ (Ephesians 4:13 KJV) And what’s our part? Remembering that how we live our lives reflects on Him. No man wants his wife running around writing bad cheques, engaging in lewd conversation, getting drunk in public or flirting with other men. He wants her to refrain from those behaviours because he loves her and wants her reputation to be good. He wants his wife to be a good reflection on him and their family. In other words, your betrothal to Christ demands that you no longer live for yourself—but for Him!
‘I myself always strive to have a conscience without offence toward God and men.’ Acts 24:16 NKJV
When you go through a metal detector in an airport you are required by law to take everything out of your pockets. If you don’t, you set off a beeper. And if you try to hide a gun or a knife, you will probably end up in prison. Your conscience works the same way. When you knowingly do wrong, the Holy Spirit who lives within you will trigger your conscience and an alarm will go off inside you. If you’re wise, you’ll repent of your sin and make things right. Why? Because your alternatives aren’t good! ‘Having faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck.’ (1 Timothy 1:19 NKJV) Think of the word ‘shipwreck’, then picture the word ‘Titanic’. Getting the picture? When God says no, He’s not trying to be hard to get along with; He’s trying to protect you from the iceberg you’re sailing towards. Many of us have security systems in our homes. When we open the door we have thirty seconds before the alarm goes off and the police are called. God has given you an alarm system that works the same way; it’s called your conscience. And there are three things you can do with it: (1) Turn it off. (2) Tune it out. (3) Allow it to guide you and walk in the blessing of God. The writer to the Hebrews said, ‘Pray for us, for our conscience is clear and we want to live honourably in everything we do.’ (Hebrews 13:18 NLT) That should be your prayer today, and every day!
‘Blessed be the Lord, who daily loads us with benefits.’ Psalm 68:19 NKJV
The story is told of a twelve-year-old boy who had never spoken a word in his life. As a result, his parents thought he couldn’t speak. Then one day his mother placed a bowl of soup in front of him and he took a spoonful. He pushed it away and said, ‘This is awful; I won’t eat it!’ The family was ecstatic. His father said, ‘Why haven’t you ever talked to us before?’ The boy replied, ‘Because up until now everything’s been ok.’ The only time some of us speak is to complain! You say, ‘But I’ve got nothing to be grateful for.’ Really? If you slept eight hours last night, there are millions of insomniacs who would gladly switch places with you. If you have a job, a roof over your head, and three square meals a day, there are millions of unemployed people who would like to have your problem. If you were able to get out of bed this morning and move through the day pain free, you’re blessed with the gift of health. Without it you would truly have something to complain about! And what about your salvation? What price would you put on that? Your sins have been forgiven, you have peace with God, and when you die you have a home in Heaven. Sure, we all have trials and tough days. But don’t insult God and belittle His blessings by saying you don’t have anything to be grateful for. It’s time you started talking to yourself, as David the psalmist did: ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.’ (Psalm 103:2 KJV)
‘When the Almighty was yet with me, when my children were around me.’ Job 29:5 NKJV
Vince Foster served as deputy counsel to President Bill Clinton. He allegedly committed suicide in a Washington DC park. A few months before his death, Foster was asked to speak to the graduating class of the University of Arkansas School of Law. This is what he told the students: ‘A word about family. You have amply demonstrated that you are achievers willing to work hard, long hours and set aside your personal lives. But it reminds me of the observation that no one was ever heard to say on a deathbed: “I wish I had spent more time at the office.” Balance wisely your professional and your family life. If you are fortunate to have children, your parents will warn you that your children will grow up and be gone before you know it. I can testify that it is true. God only allows us so many opportunities with our children to read a story, go fishing, play catch, and say our prayers together. Try not to miss one of them.’ Job’s seven sons and three daughters died tragically in a single day. Looking back on it, he said, ‘Oh, that I were as in months past, as in the days when God watched over me…when the Almighty was yet with me, when my children were around me.’ (Job 29: 2; 5 NKJV) If you sacrifice your children for your career, or for material things, you’ll live to regret it. Don’t let that happen to you. On your journey to success, be sure to take your family with you.
‘…I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him [Christ] who strengthens me.’ Philippians 4:12-13 ESV
The Bible says, ‘Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.’ (Jeremiah 17:7 NIV) To succeed at whatever God calls you to do, you must learn to be confident—not self-confident, but confident in Christ. Paul was brilliant, but he said, ‘I can do all things through Him [Christ] who strengthens me.’ Jesus said, ‘…without Me you can do nothing.’ (John 15:5 NKJV) It seems to take forever to learn this truth. Much of our frustration comes from misplaced confidence. Paul says, ‘Put no confidence in the flesh.’ (Philippians 3:3 NIV) Now, he wasn’t saying you aren’t supposed to trust anyone. He was saying if you give others or yourself the trust that belongs to God alone, you won’t succeed. He won’t let you! To succeed at anything you must have confidence, but it must be confidence in God. You must believe that He wants you to succeed. You may fail on your way to success, but if you trust God, He will take your mistakes and cause them to work out for your good (See Romans 8:28). Sometimes our confidence is shaken when trials come, especially if they’re lengthy. When this happens you must do what David did: He ‘encouraged and strengthened himself in the Lord.’ (1 Samuel 30:6 AMP) When David had no one else to believe in him, when his men were so disappointed in his leadership they talked about killing him, he still believed in God’s ability to work through him. As a result, he got everything back that he’d lost. Nothing was missing. In fact, he received back more than he’d lost. Think about it.
‘Love suffers long and is kind…’ 1 Corinthians 13:4 NKJV
To be happy in a relationship, you must give each other space. And you have to be secure to do that. Someone said, ‘If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours for life. If it doesn’t, it was never yours in the first place.’ When you constantly crave someone’s affection and try to cling to them, you create the very thing you dread—distance. By overreaching, you drive them away. Just as a drowning person grabs anything that floats, including their rescuer, a panic-stricken lover tries to hold on to the one who’s attempting to escape. That makes them even more frantic to get away. The story’s told of a guy who wanted to date a beautiful girl but she turned him down. He decided that the way to her heart was through the mail, so he began writing her a love letter every day. When she didn’t respond, he increased it to three letters a day. In all, he wrote more than seven hundred letters in a single summer. Not only did his plan not work—she married the postman! Appearing too anxious and available will drive the other person away rather than attracting them to you. Love is like a plant; when you smother it, it dies, but when you give it air, it thrives. There’s only one person who can ‘fix’ you, and that’s God. As you become more spiritually healthy you’ll become more emotionally healthy, and when that happens you’re more apt to find your needs being met. Paul bottom-lines it: ‘Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself.’
‘Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honouring each other.’ Romans 12:10 NLT
Deep within each of us is a desire to run our own lives and, in some cases, other people’s lives too. As a result we become experts at manipulating one another. This desire for control brings about different behaviours. Here are six of them you must be aware of and avoid if you want good relationships: (1) Emotional blackmail. ‘Do what I want or I’ll get angry and go to pieces.’ (2) The guilt trip. ‘How could you do this to me after I’ve done so much for you?’ (3) The eternal illness. ‘Don’t upset me. Can’t you see I’m not well?’ (4) Help from beyond the grave. ‘Your dear father would have agreed with me.’ (5) Divine revelation. ‘God told me you should do what I want.’ (6) Humiliation. ‘Do what I want or I’ll embarrass you in front of others.’ These are powerful tools we use to get others to do what we want. And not only are adults good at using them, teenagers can be masters of manipulation too, especially if they’re not thinking straight. ‘I want this thing so badly I’ll go and do something stupid (even if it hurts myself) if I don’t get it.’ An argument that becomes a dangerous cry for help is the worst nightmare of many parents of teenagers. Manipulation is a game any number can play—right in the privacy of our own home. But those who engage in it pay a high price in conflict, hostility, and resentment. What’s the answer? The Bible gives it to us: ‘Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honouring each other.’
‘You have taught me from my youth.’ Psalm 71:17 NKJV
When a child is raised by praying parents who walk according to God’s Word, 85% of the time they’ll develop a strong faith before age thirteen. But what if your kids are already grown? One of God’s titles is ‘Redeemer’, which means He can give you another chance. Commit your life to Christ; that’s how generational cycles of failure are broken. Or what if you’re concerned about bringing a child into an evil world? The Bible says it’s the children of the light who push back the darkness (Matthew 5:14–16). God promised, ‘My spirit and My words that I give you will never leave you or your children or your grandchildren, now and forever.’ (Isaiah 59:21 NCV) You ask, ‘How can I compete with the negative influences around me?’ Every study confirms that a parent has the greatest influence—greater than friends, school, or the media—in determining the character and direction of a child. Think of it as a relay race. Success isn’t just based on how well you run, but on how well you pass the baton. Only when the story of future generations is told will you know whether you won or lost. The psalmist writes, ‘You have taught me from my youth… Now also when I am old…do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come.’ (Psalm 71:17–18 NKJV) Don’t drop the baton! Make it your goal to raise children who’ll pick up your legacy of faith and carry it further than you did. When you commit to doing that, God will work with you and through you.
‘Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.’ Matthew 6:32 NLT
Here are two more steps to overcoming anxiety: (1) Ask for help. Paul wrote, ‘Outside were conflicts, inside were fears. Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus.’ (2 Corinthians 7:5–6 NKJV) You’re not unique; others are facing the same fears too. By ‘telling’ on your anxieties, they begin to lose their power. Remember: ‘Two are better than one…If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!’ (Ecclesiastes 4:9–10 NIV) Share your feelings with someone you trust, and ask them to pray with you. People are more willing to help than you might imagine. Less worry on your part often means more happiness on theirs. (2) Focus on God, not yourself. Jesus concludes His call to calmness with this challenge: ‘Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.’ (Matthew 6:32–33 NLT) If you seek wealth, you’ll worry about every dollar. If you seek health, you’ll fear every blemish and bump. If you seek popularity, you’ll obsess over every conflict. If you seek safety, you’ll jump at every crack of the twig. But if you focus each day on God’s Kingdom, ‘He will give you everything you need.’ Elizabeth Cheney wrote: ‘Said the robin to the sparrow, “I should really like to know, why these anxious human beings rush around and worry so.” Said the sparrow to the robin, “Friend, I think that it must be, that they have no Heavenly Father such as cares for you and me.”’
‘And the peace of God…will guard your hearts.’ Philippians 4:7 NIV
Here are three more steps you can take to overcome anxiety: (1) List your worries. For one week, make a list of the things you worry about most. Children? Health? Money? Marriage? Job? These aren’t one-time worries that come and go quickly. They’re things that make you ‘perpetually uneasy’ (Matthew 6:25 AMP), so begin to review them. Ask yourself how many of them have actually turned into reality? Charles Spurgeon said, ‘Our worst misfortunes never happen…most of our miseries lie in anticipation.’ (2) Analyse them. You’ll detect recurring areas of preoccupation that may become obsessions: what people think of you; the fact that heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s run in your family; the fear that you won’t have enough to live on when you get old. Identify each fear and pray specifically about it. (3) Live in today. God has promised to meet your needs daily, not weekly or annually. He’ll give you what you need—when you need it! ‘Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.’ (Hebrews 4:16 NKJV) The old hymn goes: ‘Not so in haste my heart! Have faith in God, and wait; although He lingers long, He never comes too late.’ When the word ‘worry’ is mentioned in the Bible, it’s almost always following the words ‘do not’. If ‘worry’ features in your vocabulary, it should be as part of God’s words to you: ‘do not worry’. Philippians 4:6–7 NIV says to you, ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer… present your requests to God. And the peace of God… will guard your hearts.’
‘Stop being perpetually uneasy (anxious and worried) about your life.’ Matthew 6:25 AMP
Here are some steps to overcoming your anxiety: (1) Talk to God. Don’t bemoan the collapse of an investment; ask God to help you. Don’t pace the floor of the hospital waiting room; pray for a successful surgery. ‘Casting the whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all] on Him.’ (1 Peter 5:7 AMP) (2) Slow down. ‘Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.’ (Psalm 37:7 KJV) Jesus’ first miracle took place at a wedding. They had run out of wine, which was a social disaster in those days. Mary could’ve blamed the host for poor planning, or the guests for overdrinking, but instead she took the shortage to Jesus and He solved her problem. You can do the same. Assess the problem, and then take it to the Lord in prayer. (3) Don’t let your anxieties get the best of you. When a mosquito lands on you, you don’t say, ‘I’ll take care of it in a minute.’ No, you kill it before it can bite you. Be equally decisive with your worries. The moment they surface, deal with them. Before you rush to diagnose that mole as a cancer, have it examined. Instead of assuming you’ll never get out of debt, consult a financial expert. Be a doer, not a stewer. Horace Bushnell said, ‘Anxiety is a word of unbelief or unreasoning dread. We have no right to allow it. Full faith in God puts it to rest.’ The crosses we bear over anxiety concerning the future aren’t crosses that come from God. So give your anxiety to God, and leave it with Him!
‘There is…a time to be silent and a time to speak.’ Ecclesiastes 3:1; 7 NIV
The Bible has a lot to say about not criticising and passing judgment. But there are times when silence isn’t ‘golden’, it’s deadly. For example: (1) Silence is deadly when you use it as a passive, retaliatory means of expressing your anger or displeasure. That’s called ‘emotional manipulation’. Jesus said, ‘If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.’ (Matthew 18:15 NKJV) Jesus is recommending pretty assertive behaviour by commanding us to take the initiative in addressing the ‘trespass’. Trespassing is the unauthorised crossing of a boundary, and many times we feel like we’ve been trespassed against or wronged. However, rather than addressing the issue directly with the offender, we resort to sulking and pouting. Jesus says, ‘Don’t do that!’ Your lack of communication can leave the wrongdoer unaware of their behaviour and make them more likely to repeat it. (2) Silence is deadly when you fail to defend someone against unwarranted criticism or vicious rumours. Don’t let fear of alienation and rejection cause you to let slander and character assassination go unchallenged, especially when you’re aware of facts to the contrary. (3) Silence is deadly when it results in your making an undesirable decision by default. The fact is, silence can indicate consent. Prayer was taken out of public schools in the United States because the majority stayed silent instead of speaking up. The Scripture says, ‘There is…a time to be silent and a time to speak.’ So have the courage of your convictions and speak up!
‘Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.’ Ephesians 3:20 NKJV
If you only have a thimble-worth of capacity and you’re standing on the edge of a vast ocean, you have access to a lot of water but you won’t get much of it because your capacity is so small. If you have the capacity of a bucket you’ll get more than a thimble, but once the bucket is full the ocean can do you no more good. If you have a barrel you’ll get more than a bucket, but once the barrel is full you will still only have taken advantage of a miniscule part of the ocean. The idea is to offer God the biggest container possible. Offer Him all of you so that He can accomplish what He wants to do in your life. And no matter how successful you may be, you still haven’t maximised all that God wants to do in you and through you. Paul puts it this way: ‘Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.’ When you give your life to Christ, the Holy Spirit takes up residence within you. That means if your life has been a failure thus far, He can turn it into a success. And if your life has been successful thus far, He can take you to a higher level of success. That’s why you should begin each morning by praying: ‘Lord, I make myself totally available to You this day; work through me to accomplish Your will.’ That’s a prayer God will answer.
‘I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.’ Psalm 118:17 NKJV
Today people are living longer and enjoying better health. Given that fact, it would be wise to glean from their wisdom and value their talent. You may have noticed that television advertisers are targeting younger and younger people. Why? After all, isn’t a tube of toothpaste sold to an eighty-year-old just as profitable as one pitched to a kid? The idea that life should be winding down at sixty or seventy makes no sense. Immanuel Kant wrote one of his best philosophical works at the age of seventy-four. Verdi penned his classic ‘Ave Maria’ at eighty-five. Alfred Lord Tennyson was eighty when he wrote ‘Crossing the Bar’. Michelangelo was eighty-seven when he completed the Pietá, his greatest work of art. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes set down some of his most brilliant opinions at the age of ninety. Titian painted his famous Allegory of the Battle of Lepanto at the age of ninety-eight. President Ronald Reagan was one of the most powerful men in the world at seventy-five. Noah was over six hundred years old when he came out of the ark and helped to start the world all over again. David the psalmist wrote two things worth noting about getting older: (1) ‘They shall still bear fruit in old age’ (Psalm 92:14 NKJV); (2) ‘I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.’ When the spotlight moves from you to the younger generation, don’t be discouraged. Just serve faithfully in the shadows, knowing that one day God will reward you openly for all you have done.
‘Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.’ Luke 16:10 NIV
Jesus said: ‘Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?’ (Luke 16:10–12 NIV) God won’t promote you beyond your current level of competence and commitment. Indeed, He’ll keep bringing you back to these two things until you get them right. As you walk with Him, He’ll increase your faith by testing you in settings that require only a little faith. And if you pass, He’ll expose you to circumstances that require more faith. Each time you prove your willingness to trust Him at a higher level, He will reveal a little more of Himself and entrust to you a greater measure of blessing. That’s how it works. Every small step of faith leads to a deeper, richer and more rewarding relationship with Him. When Michelangelo was painting the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel he spent endless hours lying on the scaffolding perfecting the details. It was a miserable job. A student, curious about why the renowned sculptor took such pains with details that could only be seen from a distance, asked, ‘Who will know whether or not it’s perfect?’ The master artist replied, ‘I will!’ And so will your Master—Jesus! What you’re doing today matters. It’s the determining factor in what God will call you to do tomorrow. So be trustworthy in little things.
‘God…will not forget your work and the love you have shown.’ Hebrews 6:10 NIV
Satan will try to convince you that you don’t count for much in God’s Kingdom because you don’t have a high-profile gift like preaching, teaching or leading in public. Nothing could be further from the truth: ‘God…will not forget your work and the love you have shown…as you…helped His people.’ God sees you working behind the scenes day in and day out, caring for ageing loved ones, raising your children, encouraging others and contributing where you can. Will Rogers said, ‘We can’t all be heroes. Somebody has to sit on the kerb and clap as they go by.’ So when you think you’re too small to do big things, try doing small things with a big heart of love. You never know what you can do until you try! James Sizoo said: ‘Glamour isn’t greatness, applause isn’t fame, and prominence isn’t eminence. The man of the hour isn’t apt to be the man of the ages. A stone may sparkle but that doesn’t make it a diamond. People may have money but that doesn’t make them a success. It’s the seemingly unimportant people who determine the course of history. The greatest forces in the universe are never spectacular. Summer showers do more good than hurricanes, but they don’t get a lot of publicity. The world would soon die but for the fidelity, loyalty, creativity, and commitment of those whose names are unhonoured and unsung.’ Today God values what you do. ‘Don’t get discouraged and give up, for [you] will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time’ (See Galatians 6:9).
‘Is anyone among you afflicted (ill-treated, suffering evil)? He should pray.’ James 5:13 AMP
It’s amazing how long we put up with things before we decide to pray about them. The hymn writer says, ‘O what peace we often forfeit; O what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.’ We complain to our friends. We wonder why God doesn’t do something. We wrestle with the situation in our minds, yet we fail to take advantage of the simplest solution there is—prayer. Charles Spurgeon wrote, ‘The desire to commune with God is intensified by the failure of all other sources of consolation.’ We’re all guilty of treating prayer as a last-ditch effort. When you say things like, ‘Nothing else is working. Maybe I should pray about it,’ do you realise what that says about you? That you really don’t understand or believe in the power of prayer as you should. You’re carrying burdens you don’t need to carry, and life is harder than it has to be because you don’t realise how powerful prayer is. If you did, you’d pray about everything—not as a last resort but as a first response. The Bible says, ‘Is anyone among you afflicted (ill-treated, suffering evil)? He should pray.’ When you’ve a problem: pray. When someone hurts you: pray. When you’re sick: pray. When you feel like giving up: pray. When someone you love is suffering: pray. When you’re discouraged: pray. When you don’t know what to do: pray. Jesus, who prayed early in the morning and late at night, said, ‘Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.’ (Mark 11:24 NKJV) So pray about it.
‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ Matthew 3:17 NKJV
When Jesus was baptized, ‘the heavens were opened to Him…And suddenly a voice came from Heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”’ (Matthew 3:16–17 NKJV) That day when Jesus stepped into the River Jordan, He was stepping into the fullness of God’s purpose for His life. Those waters were teeming with the sins of mankind. John had baptized multitudes of converts there; their sins figuratively passing from them into the sea of God’s forgetfulness, just like the waters of the River Jordan end up in the Dead Sea. Maybe you’re appalled at the idea of Jesus wading into sin. But He was doing it to fulfil the purpose of God: redemption for you. Jesus was exactly where God wanted Him to be, doing exactly what God wanted Him to do. That’s why His Father announced, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ There’s a lesson here for you. Doing God’s will sometimes means stepping into messy situations and troubled waters. But when you obey God and do what He says, you won’t have to speak up for yourself or fight for yourself. God will command whatever forces are involved to yield to you, honour you, listen to you and even bless you. You won’t have to flounder around for the right answer, or wonder if something is right for you. God will give you the ability and resources you need because you’re where He wants you to be, doing what He wants you to do. So the word for you today is ‘step into the water’.
‘…Matthew got up and followed Him.’ Matthew 9:9 NIV
Collecting taxes for the Romans was a lucrative job. But for a Jew like Matthew it meant betraying your own people. As a result he was despised and excluded from religious worship. But that didn’t stop Jesus from calling him to be a disciple. And when He did, Matthew didn’t hesitate; he ‘got up and followed Him.’ Here’s a man most of his fellow citizens would have considered a traitor. Jesus saw latent loyalty in Matthew, the hidden promise, the waiting potential. Others might have seen a loser but Jesus saw the man who would record His words and deeds and write a Gospel to bless future billions. It doesn’t matter who we are or what we’ve done, Jesus has a plan for us. And He wants each and every one of us to fulfil our God-given, divine purpose. It’s natural to be apprehensive when you’re facing change and uncertainty, but God says, ‘Take courage!…Don’t be afraid.’ (Matthew 14:27 NIV) Jon Walker writes: ‘God knows it involves a challenging stretch… He knows our abilities and resources aren’t what strengthen us for the journey (Philippians 4:13). When we fear we can’t do the things God calls us to do…that He won’t protect and provide…we embrace the lie that our circumstances are bigger than God, and our faith gets placed on the altar of our own perceptions. If you’re like me you often fear what’s behind the curtain of God’s call, and—frustratingly—He won’t let me peek… He keeps the curtain of our future drawn so we’ll learn to live by faith and not by sight, so we’ll become certain of what we hope for, and become sure of God even when we can’t see how He’s working in our current circumstances.’
‘He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.’ Philippians 1:6 NIV
Has God called you to do something you don’t feel capable of doing? Could you think of a dozen others better suited for the job? It doesn’t matter what you think, God didn’t choose somebody else! He chose you in spite of your limitations and insecurities. Your inadequacies don’t surprise Him. In fact, His ‘power works best in weakness.’ (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT) Jon Walker says: ‘You may…hide your weaknesses from others, but you can’t hide them from God. He created you (do you think He made a mistake?) He created you with weaknesses to keep you on your knees… without them to push you back to God you’ll get prideful… and He won’t allow you to use them as an excuse for avoiding your mission or ignoring your purpose. If God is calling you to a monumental task, He will equip you to complete it—and that includes the Holy Spirit working from inside you. So focus on His strength, not yours. Don’t think about how incapable you are for the task. Remember, God is bigger than anything you face, no matter how overwhelming it may appear.’ The Bible says we were ‘created in Christ…to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.’ (Ephesians 2:10 NIV) God’s plans are never an afterthought. He designed you for a specific purpose, and the One who ‘began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.’ So instead of letting fear stop you, let it motivate you to get up and get going!
‘He who invokes a blessing on himself…shall do so by saying, May the God of truth and fidelity [the Amen] bless me.’ Isaiah 65:16 AMP
The word ‘invoke’ implies these two things: (1) to make an earnest request for, or to solicit; (2) to put into effect or operation, or to implement. With that in mind, read this Scripture: ‘[It shall be] that he who invokes a blessing on himself in the land shall do so by saying, May the God of truth and fidelity [the Amen] bless me; and he who takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of truth and faithfulness to His promises [the Amen], because the former troubles are forgotten.’ That’s a powerful promise! God, our Father, spoke the world into existence, and we need to stand on His Word to frame the world we will live in. When you speak the blessings and promises of God over your life, you ‘make an earnest request and solicit it’. And by applying it ‘put it into effect or operation, and implement it’. This is why God told Moses to bless the Israelites with these words: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.’ (Numbers 6:24–26 NKJV) Then God added, ‘And I will bless them.’ (Numbers 6:27 NKJV) Understand that what we speak to ourselves and to others can lead us down either a right path or one of destruction (James 3:2–10). God’s Word, rightly understood and applied will change things for the better, but remember, ‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue.’ (Proverbs 18:21 NKJV) So the word for you today is—invoke God’s blessing upon your life!
‘They looked the other way.’ Genesis 9:23 NLT
The Bible says: ‘After the flood, Noah began to cultivate the ground, and he planted a vineyard. One day he drank some wine… and became drunk and lay naked inside his tent. Ham… saw that his father was naked and went outside and told his brothers. Then Shem and Japheth took a robe, held it over their shoulders, and backed into the tent to cover their father. As they did this, they looked the other way so they would not see him naked. When Noah woke up from his stupor, he learned what Ham, his youngest son, had done. Then he cursed Canaan, the son of Ham.’ (Genesis 9:20–25 NLT) Have you ever uncovered something about a person in a position of respect, and you just couldn’t refrain from telling other people? If you have, think about this: if God trusted you enough to reveal someone’s nakedness or sin, maybe you weren’t meant to ‘see’ and ‘tell’, but to ‘cover’ that person’s nakedness with discretion, compassion and prayer. The Bible says, ‘Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.’ (Proverbs 2:11 NIV) The fact is that Ham ended up being condemned, while his father Noah ended up in Hebrews chapter eleven being given honourable mention with the great heroes of Scripture. You say, ‘But I’m free to say whatever I like!’ Not true! The Bible says, ‘A talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter.’ (Proverbs 11:13 NKJV) What if God decided to show someone else your nakedness? Remember, what you sow, you reap! How you handle someone else’s area of vulnerability determines how God handles yours (Galatians 6:7).
‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’ Proverbs 29:18 KJV
What are you planning to do with your life? What you set your heart on will determine how you spend your time and energy. And it takes as much effort to live an unfulfilled life as a richly rewarding one. Some scientists have recently estimated that the human brain has between 10 and 100 terabytes of capacity, which means we all have lots of room for growth. One of the most rewarding things you can do this year is work to develop your mind. ‘Where there is no vision [sense of direction], the people perish.’ Dissatisfaction doesn’t come from the absence of things, but the absence of direction. Too many of us merely exist because we’ve settled for less than God intended. The quality of your life will be determined by your vision and the effort you’re willing to put into fulfilling it. So stop and make a written list of the areas where you’d like to grow this year, then tackle the three or four most important ones. Don’t get discouraged if the one you’re working on doesn’t want to co-operate; nothing great is ever created suddenly. Paul said of his faith, ‘I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.’ (Philippians 3:14 ESV) It’s a process; you have to keep plugging away. Some days it’ll feel like two steps forward and three steps backward. But don’t give up. It’s better to die for something than to live for nothing! And unless you try something beyond what you’ve already mastered, you won’t grow. So what are you waiting for? Life? It’s waiting for you—so get going!
‘I know the plans I have for you.’ Jeremiah 29:11 NIV
God says, ‘I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you…plans to give you hope and a future…pray to Me, and I will listen to you.’ (Jeremiah 29:11–12 NIV) Ask God for His plan. It’s miserable playing a part for which you’re ill–suited. It’s like walking in shoes that don’t fit. So… what are you good at? What do you enjoy doing most? What accomplishments make you feel best? List five moments in your life when you were acutely aware of this feeling of fulfilment. Does this reveal anything about your purpose? If money wasn’t a consideration, how would you fill your days? How does this compare with where you are now? What one small step can you take right now—one phone call made, one letter written, one email sent—to move you towards your true calling? What have you learned about your purpose through failure? Are some areas clearly not a part of your calling at all? Who do you admire for the way they’ve applied their talents? Why are you like them? What can you learn from them? How would you describe your vision for your life this year? Or five years from now? Or ten? Who are the people in your life who really get who you are? Have you asked them what they think your purpose might be? Have they given any indication of how they think you should use your talents? If you could write your own obituary, what would you want it to say? What would you like to be remembered for? As you begin this new day, ask God for His plan.
‘Remember Lot’s wife.’ Luke 17:32 KJV
Before God destroyed the city of Sodom, He sent two angels to rescue Lot and his family from it. Their instructions were clear: ‘Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed…’ (Genesis 19:17 NKJV) But: ‘…his wife looked back behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.’ (Genesis 19:26 NKJV) Jesus recalled this story in a simple statement: ‘Remember Lot’s wife.’ Here are two lessons you should learn and remember: (1) Don’t look back with longing to your old sinful pleasures and pursuits. The promise sin made was false then, and it’s still false now. ‘Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.’ (James 1:14–16 NKJV) (2) Don’t look back with regret on the mistakes you’ve made. Lot’s two sons-in-law wouldn’t heed the message of the angels or the pleading of their father-in-law, so they stayed behind. Perhaps that’s why his wife looked back. But it was fatal then, and it’s fatal now. Don’t wallow in the regrets of your past. Stop dwelling on the injuries inflicted on you by others. Get your eyes off the rear-view mirror and onto the road ahead. God has great things in store for you; that’s what the battle in your life is about. Jesus referred to Satan as a ‘thief’ (See John 10:10). He has already stolen too much from you; don’t let him steal any more. Today commit your life to Christ, and watch His blessing begin.
‘In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God…for you.’ 1 Thessalonians 5:18 NKJV
Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking has a brilliant mind. He has been compared by some to Albert Einstein. But he has a rare degenerative disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS syndrome or motor neurone disease). And it has left him virtually paralysed. He learned to use a computer with the tips of his fingers and was able to communicate his calculations and thoughts. Before he became ill, he described his life as a ‘pointless existence’. He drank too much and did very little work. But after discovering that he perhaps had only a few years to live, life suddenly took on an urgency and a new meaning. And he was actually happier than he was before. He explained the paradox this way: ‘When one’s expectations are reduced to zero, one really appreciates everything that one does have.’ When you’re told that you only have a limited time left to live, it transforms your whole perspective on living. Things you overlook suddenly become meaningful: the laughter of children, a sunrise or sunset, the love of friends and family, or just a walk in the park. The most miserable people in the world are those who believe that life ‘owes them’. They’re never happy, because they never believe they get what they deserve. The apostle Paul was in prison with no hope of getting out when he wrote, ‘In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.’ What was he saying? Simply this: Instead of competing, comparing and complaining, focus on the good things God has given you, enjoy them and develop an attitude of gratitude (Philippians 4:8).
‘Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.’ Psalm 127:1 NRS
When your skill level is high but the challenge of the task is too low, you experience boredom. When your skill level is low and the challenge of the task is too high, you experience frustration and anxiety. But when the level of the challenge matches the level of your skills—then you’re ‘in the flow’. We don’t work mainly for money, recognition, promotion, applause or fame. We work for the flow that comes from a partnership with God. We hunger for flow, and when it’s present, something happens in our spirit as we connect with a reality beyond ourselves and become a co-worker with God. This is why the psalmist says, ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.’ Flow is part of what we experience in that partnership and, in that, God in turn uses flow to shape us. Bezalel experienced flow when he carved wood, David when he played the harp, Samson when he used his strength, Paul when he wrote a brilliant letter, Daniel when he ran a government, and Adam when he gardened. If other people report to you, one of the great spiritual acts of service you can perform is to ask whether they’re experiencing flow in their work, and help them experience it even more. When you’re working in the flow of service to God, when you’re experiencing flow in activities that enhance and bless the lives of others—you’re working ‘in the Spirit’. Paul was in the flow when he described himself as ‘poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.’ (2 Corinthians 6:10 NIV)
‘Do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.’ Colossians 3:17 NIV
Research shows that the best moments of our lives don’t come from leisure or pleasure. They come when you’re immersed in a significant task that’s challenging, yet matches up well to your highest abilities. In those moments, you’re so caught up in an activity that time somehow seems to be altered; your attention is fully focused without your having to work at it. You’re deeply aware, without being self-conscious; you’re being stretched and challenged, but without a sense of stress or worry. You have a sense of engagement or oneness with what you are doing. This condition is called ‘flow’, because people experiencing it often use the metaphor of feeling swept up by something outside themselves. Studies have been done over the past thirty years with hundreds of thousands of subjects to explore this phenomenon of flow. Ironically, you experience it more in your work than you do in your leisure time. In fact, your flow is at its lowest ebb when you’ve nothing to do. Sitting around doesn’t produce flow. This picture of flow is actually a description of what the exercise of dominion was intended to look like. God says in Genesis that we’re to ‘rule’ over the earth, or exercise ‘dominion’ (See Genesis 1:26, 28). We often think of these words in terms of ‘dominating’ or ‘bossing around’. But the true idea behind them is that you’re to invest your abilities to create value on the earth, to plant and build and write and organise and heal and invent ways that bless people and cause God’s Kingdom on earth to flourish.
‘I must work the works of Him who sent Me.’ John 9:4 NKJV
You’ll experience a new level of fulfilment when you begin to see what you do for a living as an important part of God’s will for your life. Jesus preached and healed, but He saw it all as ‘work’ given to Him by His Father. You must too. Instead of seeing church as a place where you meet with God on Sunday morning, see it as a place where you’re fed and strengthened so that you can carry the presence of God with you into the workplace. ‘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) Notice two words here: (1) ‘Word.’ That covers skills of communication and information. (2) ‘Deed.’ That covers skills such as creativity and building. Whatever you do, you’re supposed to do it with a thankful heart, as though the Lord were your boss—because He is. When you work with that attitude, you come alive. One person comes alive when they pick up a musical instrument, another when they lead a team, another when they counsel someone who’s hurting, and another when they’re looking at a financial spreadsheet. When each of us is doing what God designed and called us to do, the world around us is enriched. All skill is God-given, and we’re invited to live in conscious interaction with the Holy Spirit as we work, so that we can develop the skills He gives us. Work is a form of love. We cannot be fully human without creating value.
‘Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”‘ Luke 8:30 NAS
Remember the man in Scripture who was possessed by demons? ‘Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” because many devils had entered him.’ (A legion in the Roman army comprised some six thousand troops.) ‘Legion’ wasn’t this man’s real name; it represented his demonic oppression. He’d suffered with this oppression so long that perhaps he’d come to accept it as the new norm. Perhaps you’re struggling along a similar vein, naming yourself ‘Fatso’ because you’ve battled weight for so long with no apparent victory in sight. Or you define yourself as a ‘victim’ because you were abused or taken advantage of by others. Maybe you see yourself as a ‘failure’ because you’re divorced, or your kids have gone off the tracks. If so, it’s time to lose the negative labels and start seeing yourself the way God sees you. Jesus set this tormented man free, gave him his right-mind back, and restored him to his family. And He wants to do the same for you! Satan will take you from one extreme to the other. He’ll make you either boastful or bashful; make you think you’re ‘hot stuff’, or convince you that you’re worthless. Don’t buy it! Self-deprecation is often disguised as humility, when in reality it’s a rejection of God’s Word, which assures you that you ‘can do all things through Christ who strengthens [you].’ (Philippians 4:13 NKJV) What others call you doesn’t matter; what you call yourself does! The bottom line is: ‘God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.’ (2 Corinthians 9:8 NIV)
‘God was kind! He made me what I am, and His wonderful kindness wasn’t wasted.’ 1 Corinthians 15:10 CEV
If you’ve been blessed with success, read these words from Paul and take them to heart: ‘God was kind! He made me what I am, and His wonderful kindness wasn’t wasted.’ Every good thing you have right now, plus every good thing you’ll enjoy in the future, comes from God. Try never to forget that! You say, ‘Wait a minute, I worked hard for this. Don’t I deserve a little credit?’ Yes, you do; the Bible says, ‘Give honour and respect to all those to whom it is due.’ (Romans 13:7 TLB) But praise by its very nature can be intoxicating. The human body is a remarkable piece of chemistry; pat a man or woman on the back—and their head starts to swell! Someone said ‘Praise is like perfume; if you consume it, it’ll kill you!’ That’s why Paul gives us this timely reminder: ‘What are you so puffed up about? …if all you have is from God, why act as though you are so great?’ (1 Corinthians 4:7 TLB) One day King Nebuchadnezzar’s head got too big for his hat, and he boasted, ‘Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built…’ (Daniel 4:30 NLT) But God interrupted his proud moment and stripped him of his kingdom, and he ended up losing his mind and living like a wild beast. Only when he repented and acknowledged that God was the ruler over everything, did God restore his sanity and his kingdom. Corrected, humbled and enlightened, he knelt down and prayed, ‘I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes towards Heaven, and my sanity was restored.’ (Daniel 4:34 NIV) Boasting is a form of insanity—don’t do it!
‘He will direct his children.’ Genesis 18:19 NIV
Speaking about Abraham, God said, ‘He will direct his children… to keep the way of the Lord.’ Can God say that about you? When you get serious about raising godly children, God puts the focus where it belongs—on you! If you want to see important truths sail right over your children’s heads, try teaching them something you’re not personally committed to. Do you think your children are just being difficult? No, they’re watching you like a hawk! If your actions demonstrate that what you’re teaching them isn’t important to you, it’ll never be important to them either. And can you blame them? If you’re devoted to chasing material things, they will be too. But if you devote yourself to serving the Lord, they’ll be drawn to Him as well. Do you want to enjoy a long, happy life? Pass God’s teaching on to your children, and to their children after them (See Deuteronomy 6:2). Notice, your love for the Lord comes first: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.’ (Deuteronomy 6:5 NKJV) Surprised? You shouldn’t be. When your lifestyle demonstrates your love for Christ, He’ll attract your children like nothing else on earth. Do your children see you reading the Bible? Do you discuss its truths with them in an engaging way? When behaviours and values come into question, do you lead them to the Scripture for answers? Why is this so important? Because the Bible says, ‘Another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord.’ (Judges 2:10 NKJV) In order to raise godly children you must teach them God’s principles, and practise them yourself.
‘Come aside by yourselves…and rest a while.’ Mark 6:31 NKJV
There are two kinds of ‘tired’. And the dissimilarity is like the difference between puffy spring rain clouds and the clouds that precede a tornado. One is temporary and normal. It comes from a job well done, and after a period of rest you bounce back. The other is a chronic inner fatigue that accumulates over months, and doesn’t always manifest itself in physical exhaustion. In fact, it’s often masked by frenetic activity and impulsive behaviours such as: (1) You can’t relax over a meal or coffee. (2) You keep checking and rechecking your voice messages and emails. (3) Your bedside table is piled high with publications designed to keep you ‘ahead of the game’. (4) Taking a day off seems impossible. (5) You don’t take breaks and you work every holiday. (6) You can’t sleep. (7) Any free time you have is spent in ‘escapist’ behaviour like eating, drinking, spending and mindlessly watching TV. When we don’t rest, we lose direction. We’re lured away from God by the mistaken belief that determination and effort will allow us to achieve our dreams. So, the truth is: while you’re busy working hard, you can lose your ability to hear the voice of the One who called you initially. Yes, God expects you to work hard, but not by endangering your health, your family or your time with Him. If that’s the shape you’re in right now, Jesus is saying, ‘Come aside…and rest a while.’ If you’re wise and you want to go the distance—you’ll pay attention and do what He says.
‘Only in returning to Me and resting in Me will you be saved.’ Isaiah 30:15 NLT
God said, ‘Only in returning to Me and resting in Me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it.’ When you’re emotionally and spiritually drained by people’s expectations, it’s easy to grow numb to the full range of human emotions. And while it may seem like a relief to be free from negative emotions, the positive ones also become elusive because you don’t feel much of anything—good or bad. When that happens you’re likely to end up being directed by things like: (1) over-scheduling; (2) poor time management; (3) performance anxiety; (4) having few boundaries; (5) tolerating toxic relationships and bad habits; (6) unresolved grief or pain; (7) wrong goals. So what’s the answer? ‘Only in returning to Me and resting in Me will you be saved.’ Instead of pushing on and struggling to keep going, stop and talk to God about what’s happening in your life. Rather than feeling isolated and weighed down by the impossibility of your situation, include Him in the equation by praying: ‘Lord, help me to keep my mind stayed on You. During this time of busyness and stress help me to reorder my priorities according to Your will, to think Your thoughts, and to let the mind of Christ have its rightful authority in my life. Your Word says You’ve ordained peace for me. Because You are my fortress and my deliverer, I will not allow myself to be troubled or afraid. Thank You for keeping my heart and mind at rest through Christ Jesus. Amen.’
‘The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’ John 10:11 NIV
Sometimes people hide behind their busy schedules to avoid having to say ‘no’ to people. Jesus knew when to get involved, and when not to. Learn from Him. You’ll never be able to respond effectively if you feel obligated to meet every need all the time. And God’s not asking you to. He only expects you to respond to what He sends your way. James MacDonald says: ‘I’ll never forget my guidance counsellor’s face when she heard I was going into the ministry. “But you don’t even like people!” she exclaimed. I remember thinking, “So what? Ministry’s about preaching and leading a congregation to greater heights. I don’t have to worry about individuals.” But that’s a myth. We dare not become so programme-focused that we flee from the next person God sends our way. I’m amazed how far bureaucracies will go to make systemic change, rather than making an exception that would easily fix the problem. Personal needs are too significant to commit to the rigidity of any programme. Some of us think the problem with handling needs personally is that they can multiply like rabbits. Plus, programmes exist to prevent you from becoming overwhelmed, right? Wrong! The “ministry myth” that says, “What you do for one you must do for all,” is a recipe for burnout.’ Jesus spent much of His time ministering to individual needs. And He said, ‘The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’ But in order to do that you must make room in your life for the unexpected.
‘Your words…[are] my joy and my heart’s delight.’ Jeremiah 15:16 NIV
God promises certain things to those who take time each day to get to know Him through His Word. Let’s look at some of them: (1) Joy. ‘When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear Your name, Lord God Almighty.’ (2) Strength. ‘Now I commit you to God and to the word of His grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.’ (Acts 20:32 NIV) (3) Peace. ‘Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing can make them stumble.’ (Psalm 119:165 NIV) ‘If only you had paid attention to My commands, your peace would have been like a river.’ (Isaiah 48:18 NIV) (4) Stability. ‘I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure.’ (Psalm 16:8–9 NIV) (5) Success. ‘Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.’ (Joshua 1:8 NIV) (6) Answered prayer. ‘If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.’ (John 15:7 NIV) Joy, strength, peace, stability, success, and answered prayer—these are the things everybody wants. Don’t you? Well, look no further. God has promised them to you when you spend time with Him in His Word each day.
‘Come and drink the Water of Life.’ Revelation 22:17 TLB
The Babylonians encircled Jerusalem and cut off its food supply. The question was, how long could they hold out? That’s what the Babylonians kept wondering. But a month passed, then two, then an entire year, and still they held out. The secret of Jerusalem’s survival lay in a water supply from a spring outside the city walls where Hezekiah had cut a 542 m long tunnel through solid rock. From there water passed under the city walls to a reservoir inside called the Pool of Siloam. Without it God’s people would have gone down in defeat. But it’s not just another Bible story; there’s an important lesson here for you. To live victoriously you must: (1) know your life’s true source; (2) protect it; (3) draw from it daily. If your security, your strength, your self-worth or your strategy for living comes from any other source but God, the enemy can defeat you. Everything you need comes from God, so protect and nurture your relationship with Him, for it will always be the focal point of Satan’s attack. A day without reading God’s Word isn’t merely a slip; it’s a set-up for failure. Prayerlessness isn’t carelessness; it’s foolishness in the extreme. You say, ‘Well, I’m doing ok and I don’t pray or read the Bible very much.’ Maybe you haven’t reached your hour of testing yet. When that comes, without an established source to draw from you’ll struggle more and succeed less. Is that really how you want to live? If not, the word for you today is: ‘Come and drink the Water of Life.’
‘This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.’ Matthew 21:42 NKJV
Jesus said, ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.’ Note the word ‘rejected’. The rejection of his brothers put Joseph on a path that led to the throne of Egypt and the saving of his family and his nation. How often has something happened in your life that you later realised was necessary? If you hadn’t experienced this or walked through that, you wouldn’t have been ready for the blessings you enjoy now. When you begin to see the hand of God in it you understand that what the enemy intended for your destruction, God used for your development. To be ‘more than a conqueror’ means you can stand up and say: ‘Here’s how I see it. It took everything I’ve been through to make me who I am and to teach me what I know. So I choose to be better, not bitter. I trust the faithfulness of God more than ever. I’ve learned that if faith doesn’t move the mountain, it’ll give me strength to endure until tomorrow. And if it is not gone by tomorrow, I’ll still believe that God is able and trust Him until He does.’ Relax, rejoice; your steps are being arranged by the Lord (Psalm 37:23). He hasn’t taken His eye or His hand off you, not even for a single moment. When you get through this trial you’ll realise that ‘the worst thing that could have happened’ was, in reality, ‘the Lord’s doing’, and it will become ‘marvellous in your eyes’.
‘Godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation.’ 2 Corinthians 7:10 NKJV
The word ‘repent’ means to acknowledge your sin before God, turn from it, seek God’s forgiveness, and start living differently. It means doing an about-face turn and heading in the opposite direction. If you go 20 km down the road in the wrong direction, it requires doing a U-turn and coming 20 km back. At first this can seem discouraging. But it’s profitable, because next time you’ll think twice about where you’re headed. Repentance sometimes means making restitution to others. Zacchaeus was a tax collector who got rich by overcharging people. But after he met Jesus he said, ‘If I have cheated anyone, I will pay back four times as much.’ (Luke 19:8 GNT) God is more than willing to forgive you, but He may allow you to experience the painful consequences of your sin in order to motivate you towards obedience. ‘No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.’ (Hebrews 12:11 NLT) Satan will try to tell you that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace, but you’re not. The Prodigal Son wasted his inheritance and ended up in a pigsty. But the day he decided to come back home, his father ran to meet him and restored him to full sonship in the family. And God will do that for you too. ‘Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the Lord that He may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for He will forgive generously.’ (Isaiah 55:7 NLT)
‘Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.’ Proverbs 25:11NAS
Critics point out what’s wrong, and leave you feeling bad about yourself. Coaches show you what you did wrong, teach you how to do it right and leave you feeling better about yourself. Cheerleaders lift your spirits, offer their help, and assure you that you can succeed if you keep trying. So which of the three are you? If you tend to be one of those hard-driving, goal-oriented people, coaching someone may be a challenge for you. Perhaps you’re from the school of thought that believes a pay cheque should be encouragement enough—especially if an employee is being generously compensated. If so—beware! You’re stuck in the Stone Age and in dire need of a mindset change! If you want people to be productive, learn how to build them up. You say, ‘But it’s not my natural inclination to want to coach poor performers. I just want them out.’ Hold on there; you’re dealing with a human being, a person loved and valued by God! And with a little encouragement, some hand-holding and lots of communication, you may end up with a level of productivity and loyalty the cocky superstar isn’t capable of. Yes, if you’ve ‘a bad apple’ in the bunch you need to get rid of them before they infect the whole barrel. But before you resort to firing someone, try firing them up! Some of the people you work with just need to be presented with a clear vision, shown how they can be part of it and enlightened about the incentives and rewards that come from being part of the team that’s fulfilling a vision.
‘I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.”‘ Psalm 122:1 NKJV
People stay away from church for many reasons. Sometimes they feel bad because their faith isn’t working as well as they think it should. Or they’re still struggling with certain problems. Or they’re depressed because it looks like everyone else is doing well except them. Don’t let discouragement keep you away from your spiritual family. You need their love and support. You need to hear them say, ‘We made it, and by God’s grace you can too.’ The Bible says, ‘Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some.’ (Hebrews 10:25 NKJV) The word ‘forsaking’ is taken from three Greek words which could be translated ‘out’, ‘down’, and ‘behind’. It pretty much describes someone who feels left out, spiritually and emotionally down, and far behind everyone else. The moment you feel that way the enemy whispers, ‘Just stay home from church today; you don’t need to go there with all those good people.’ If the enemy can separate you from other believers at the very time you need them most, he can rob you of what God has in store for you. Sure, you can stay at home, read your Bible and turn on Christian radio and television. But surrounded by your spiritual family you’ll get answers, experience joy and receive encouragement you can’t find anywhere else. Church is the last place the devil wants you to go when you’re feeling low. He knows if you go, you’ll be touched by the presence of the Lord and be able to crawl out of the hole you’re in. So, go to church!
‘After He had dismissed them, He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray.’ Matthew 14:23 NIV
Jesus dismissed a crowd of listeners and fans in order to spend time with His Father in prayer. As a result, when He returned to the crowd He was empowered to work miracles. Think about it; before an airliner takes off, the attendant tells you that if the plane gets into trouble you should secure your own oxygen mask before attempting to help others with theirs. After all, unless you’re getting enough oxygen, how can you help them? So, are your own needs being met? If not, it’s time to start taking care of yourself before you burn out. You can’t travel quietly through life hoping people will recognise when your plate is full. Speak up, or they’ll just keep pouring on more problems and responsibilities. Personal empowerment begins by taking control of your life. Overloaded people fail at marriage, ministry and management. They fail at parenting, partnership and personal endeavours. Like an airplane, if you carry too much baggage you won’t get off the ground. When you’re motivated by the need to please others or impress them, you’ll take on too much and fail to reach the heights God planned for you. Or you’ll crash because you ignored your limitations. Every situation that arises doesn’t warrant your attention! Was Jesus misunderstood when He dismissed the crowd? Probably. And you’ll have to make that same decision too. People who don’t recognise your needs and respect your goals will drain you, divert you, and keep you grounded. So what’s the answer? Give what you can, and learn when to say ‘enough!’
‘They shared everything they had.’ Acts 4:32 NIV
When you read the story of the New Testament Church, you tend to get caught up in its explosive growth and amazing miracles. But here’s a component you shouldn’t miss: ‘No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had… There were no needy persons among them…those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money…and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.’ (Acts 4:32–35 NIV) You say, ‘If I just had more money I’d be happy.’ You might feel more secure and have fewer worries, but you wouldn’t necessarily be happier. In the Journal of Happiness Studies, researchers looked at what distinguished quite happy people from less happy people. One factor consistently separated those two groups. It’s not about how much money you have; it’s not about your health, security, attractiveness, IQ or career success. What distinguishes consistently happy people from less happy people is the presence of rich, deep, joy-producing, life-changing, meaningful relationships. Social researcher Robert Putnam writes: ‘The single most common finding from a half-century’s research on life satisfaction, not only in the U.S. but around the world, is that happiness is best predicted by the breadth and depth of one’s social connections.’ But you can know a lot of people without really being known by any of them, and end up lonely. Those folks in the New Testament Church got it right: it’s in sharing with one another spiritually, emotionally, financially and relationally that you achieve your highest level of joy.
‘Be doers of the word, and not hearers only.’ James 1:22 NKJV
Why does the Bible say, ‘Be doers of the word, and not hearers only’? Because hearing without doing becomes boring—every time. You can get to the place where you’ve heard so much preaching and teaching that you say to yourself, ‘Oh no, not another sermon!’ The problem isn’t the Word; it’s that you’ve become oversaturated and spiritually numb. You’re bored because you aren’t putting it into practice and reaping the rewards of what you’ve heard. Jesus said, ‘If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.’ (John 13:17 NKJV) Once you start doing what you’ve been told to do, you won’t have time to be bored. The phrase ‘hearers only’ is from the Greek noun akroates. Today we’d use it to describe students who sit in on a class just to hear the teaching, instead of taking any assessment or being graded. These folks weren’t interested in learning, passing exams, earning a degree and going out to make a difference in the world. They were there because they found it intellectually stimulating and they loved the excitement of being with the crowd. Often they followed their favourite teacher from one town to another; they loved new speakers, and when the class ended they’d get together to eat, drink, laugh and discuss what they’d heard. Mostly, they just wanted to look knowledgeable in each other’s eyes. Don’t let that happen to you. ‘Remember… knowing what is right to do and… not doing it is sin.’ (James 4:17 TLB) Open your heart to the truths you’ve heard preached and begin to put them to work in your life. When you do, rest assured you’ll never again suffer from spiritual boredom.
‘Don’t sin by letting anger control you.’ Ephesians 4:26 NLT
Uncontrolled anger is like jumping into your car, revving the engine, and discovering too late that the brakes don’t work. The Bible says, ‘Be angry without sinning. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the devil any opportunity [to work].’ (Ephesians 4:26–27 GWT) Did you get that? Uncontrolled anger opens the door to Satan—and it’s all downhill from there! So before you say something you’ll regret and can’t take back, ask yourself: (1) Is the relief I’ll get from venting worth the aftermath? The Bible says, ‘A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.’ (Proverbs 15:1 NIV) By sounding off, you run the risk of making the finest speech you’ll ever regret. By its very nature anger encourages exaggeration, and makes you say things you can’t retract. Long after you’ve moved on, harsh words maintain their power to wound and divide. (2) Is it really worth dragging other people into it? Anger inevitably affects those around you because it’s human to want to take sides, even if you’ve ‘no dog in the fight’. Involving other people is usually a way to feed your ego and justify bad behaviour. Don’t do it. (3) Is my anger appropriate? Anger over ignorance and injustice has always led to progress. But it’s easy to let small stuff like thoughtless comments and cranky kids make you overreact. For anger to have a healthy result it needs to be measured and constructive. Paul says, ‘The mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.’ (Romans 8:6 NIV) It comes down to a control issue, and a controlled response is a Christlike response. It always wins.
‘Defend the cause of the fatherless.’ Isaiah 1:17 NIV
In her book Mothers and Sons, Jean Lush talks about the challenge single mothers face in raising sons. Ages four to six are especially important and difficult. A boy at that age still loves his mother, but feels the need to gravitate towards a masculine image. If he has a father in the home, he’ll want to spend more time with his dad apart from his mother and sisters. So what advice can be given to a mother who’s raising a son alone? First, she must understand he has needs that she’s not best equipped to meet. Her best option is to recruit a man who can act as a role model to her son. Of course, good mentors can be difficult to find. Single mothers should consider friends, relatives or neighbours who can offer as little as an hour or two a month. Single mothers who belong to a church should be able to find support for their boys among the male members. Scripture commands people of faith to care for children without fathers: ‘Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.’ Jesus took boys and girls on His lap and said, ‘Whoever welcomes a little child like this in My name welcomes Me.’ (Matthew 18:5 NIV) If you are a man and you have been asking God to use you in His service, this could be a real ministry opportunity for you. Think of the incredible potential of one small boy, and the privilege of helping to mould him into a man of God who fulfils the purposes of God during his lifetime. What a privilege!
‘I come…in the name of the Lord.’ 1 Samuel 17:45 NKJV
To bring down the ‘Goliath’ in your life, here are three things you must do: (1) You must stand up to him! Any problem you try to excuse or escape, you empower. After listening to Goliath’s threats every day, fear gripped the hearts of God’s people and they couldn’t stand up to him. (2) You must remember what God has already done for you. David recalled his victories over the lion and the bear. And you must do the same. Jeremiah said, ‘This I call to mind…therefore I have hope: because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning.’ (Lamentations 3:21–23 NIV) The strength to deal with today’s struggles comes from remembering how God helped you solve yesterday’s struggles. (3) You must cut off the giant’s head. ‘David…took his sword…and cut off his head…And when the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.’ (1 Samuel 17:51 NKJV) You need to know your spiritual enemy, study his tactics, and be willing to fight with the same level of intensity as he does. You must take what you learn and apply it to his weak areas. And never assume he’s dead when he’s just dazed. If you do, he’ll sneak up on you another day. Go for a permanent solution, not a short–term fix: (1) fortify yourself with prayer (2) renew your mind with the Word of God (3) reach for the support that’s available to you through your spiritual family. Above all, remember your strength doesn’t lie in yourself, but in God. With Him on your side you’ll win every time.
‘Who are you to judge your neighbour?’ James 4:12 NIV
Nobody wants to spend time with someone who monopolises the conversation by updating them on their top-ten-people-to-criticise list. Staying home and watching old movie reruns is more appealing than going to that kind of party! It’s a hard truth to hear, but the people you need most are the ones who’ll avoid you when you become known as a fault-finder. Sometimes criticism is inadvertent; on a better day, led by God’s Spirit and focused on what’s positive, you’d never say such things. Notice what Aaron said: ‘We have acted foolishly.’ (Numbers 12:11 NAS) He didn’t try to defend his position by saying, ‘Yes, Moses did marry the wrong person,’ or ‘We deserve more of the limelight.’ No, he realised his mistake, repented, and retreated from it. And you must do that too. Why? Because criticism blocks the flow of God’s blessing in your life! Oswald Chambers wrote, ‘Whenever you’re in a critical temper, it’s impossible to enter into communion with God.’ Stop and ask yourself: ‘Is the momentary relief I get from criticising others worth losing my sense of God’s presence?’ To regain that sense of His presence you need to confess and forsake your critical attitude, then replace it with a more gracious and loving one. Today, get down on your knees and pray: ‘Lord, forgive me for thinking my perspective is always right. I acknowledge that as arrogance. Give me grace in dealing with others—the same grace I’ve received from You. Help me to accept our differences and not demand that everyone see things exactly as I do. Give me victory over my critical attitude. In Jesus’ name. Amen.’
‘If I were…trying to please men.’ Galatians 1:10 TLB
Some important observations: (1) Criticism is often ego-based. Oswald Chambers wrote, ‘Beware of anything that puts you in the place of the superior person.’ And that’s exactly what criticism does: it highlights you as the one who ‘knows’. Not only that, it gives you the satisfaction of shining the spotlight on others. People find it much harder to see your life when you’re shining the glaring light of criticism on theirs. When you live this way your attitude says, ‘If I can’t make it in this world by what I do, I’ll make it by knowing what you should do better.’ James writes, ‘These things ought not so to be.’ (James 3:10 KJV) And Paul writes, ‘Love each other…and take delight in honouring each other.’ (Romans 12:10 NLT) (2) Criticism can break hearts. Imagine how Moses felt when his brother and sister suddenly turned on him. Because the people closest to us know the details of our lives, we’re always vulnerable to their criticism. Sometimes as parents we leave our children’s lives in shambles by creating a home that’s rife with criticism. Maybe as you read these words you hear the voice of your harshest critic—a parent who constantly put you down. A parent whose words still ring in your memory: ‘You were never any good’; ‘You’ll never amount to anything.’ (3) How should you respond to criticism? Paul answers: ‘If I were…trying to please men, I would not be a…servant of Christ.’ (Galatians 1:10 NAS) Instead of listening to your critics, centre your attention on what God thinks of you and your life will take an upswing. In the final analysis, His is the only opinion that counts.
‘Take delight in honouring each other.’ Romans 12:10 NLT
Having a critical attitude may not destroy your relationship with God, but it’ll definitely hurt your capacity to experience His love, His presence and His blessing. Notice, it was God who smote Miriam with leprosy. She started out by criticising her brother Moses, and ended up feeling the consequences in her relationship with the Lord. Why? Because God pays attention to the way we treat each other! Maybe you’re wondering, ‘Why would God make such a big deal out of this?’ Because when you choose to sin, you choose to suffer. Everything God classifies as sin is hurtful to you—everything. When God says, ‘Don’t,’ what He really means is, ‘Don’t hurt yourself.’ And when He says, ‘Don’t criticise,’ He’s not trying to deprive you of satisfaction. He’s saying that having a critical attitude goes against who He made you to be, and what you’re called to do. Just as fish were made to swim and birds were made to fly, you were made to live in fellowship with God—and a critical spirit hinders that fellowship. Even people who don’t claim to be particularly religious are cognisant of the negative effects of criticism. Dr David Fink, author of Release from Nervous Tension, studied thousands of mentally and emotionally disturbed people. He worked with two groups: a stressed-out group and a stress-free one. Eventually one fact emerged: the stressed-out group was composed of habitual fault-finders and constant critics of people and things around them. On the other hand, the stress-free group was loving and accepting of others. There’s no doubt about it, the habit of criticising is a self-destructive way to live. Don’t go there.
‘Keep your tongue from speaking evil.’ 1 Peter 3:10 NLT
God dealt with Moses because of some of the mistakes he made. In fact, one of them kept him from entering the Promised Land. Nevertheless, God wouldn’t permit anybody else to criticise Moses—not even his sister Miriam. So what can you learn from this? (1) We’re all capable of harbouring a critical attitude. Miriam had great qualities. She saved Moses’ life as a child, and she wrote a song of praise Israel used to celebrate the crossing of the Red Sea. But she paid a high price for her critical attitude—leprosy. (2) When you’re resentful you become critical. ‘Miriam…began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife.’ (Numbers 12:1 NIV) But was that the real issue? No. ‘They said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?”’ (Numbers 12:2 NKJV) Moses’ wife was just a diversion; the real issue was Moses’ success. Their beef was: ‘How come he gets all the attention?’ (3) Anytime you succeed you’ll be criticised. The Bible says, ‘Moses was very humble’ (Numbers 12:3 NKJV), yet even he couldn’t escape the pain inflicted by self-appointed critics. And you’re no different; as long as you’re alive somebody will find fault with what you’re doing. Brush it off and keep going. (4) If you’ve been critical, you need to repent. When Aaron acknowledged, ‘We have acted foolishly…we have sinned’ (Numbers 12:11 NAS), God showed mercy and healed Miriam. Most of us would rather classify criticism as a weakness, but from God’s perspective it’s a genuine, bona fide, registered sin. And there’s only one way to deal with sin—repent and stop committing it.
‘The sin we have so foolishly committed.’ Numbers 12:11 NIV
When Miriam criticised her brother Moses because of the wife he chose, the Lord heard and she was smitten with leprosy. Maybe you grew up in a family that was forever finding fault, and now you hear the same tone in how you talk to your children. You can’t enjoy God’s blessings because you’ve been programmed to inspect, nitpick and form opinions—usually negative ones. The Bible says, ‘If you want to enjoy life and see…happy days, keep your tongue from speaking evil.’ (1 Peter 3:10 NLT) The definition of the word ‘criticism’ (dwelling upon the perceived faults of another with no view to their good) should cause you to pause and think. First, there’s the word perceived. Often your perceptions aren’t accurate; there are always circumstances you don’t understand. Next we come to the words dwelling upon. We’re inclined to walk through life saying, ‘That’s not right,’ or ‘I wouldn’t do it that way.’ You say, ‘I’m an analytical person, it’s how God made me.’ That’s fine, but the problem comes when you choose to dwell on your observations—when you can’t set them aside. You say, ‘But how can I help somebody if I don’t dwell on what they’re doing?’ That’s why the last part of the definition—with no view to their good—is so important. It’s not wrong to dwell upon somebody’s faults, provided you do it in a non-judgmental way with a view to helping them find a solution. Does that mean it’s ok to discuss it with a third party? Only if you can end the conversation by saying, ‘Let’s pray about it, keep it in confidence, and try to help.’