‘Though it cost you all you have, get understanding.’ Proverbs 4:7 NIV
Like any good parent, God wants His children to succeed. But to succeed in life, you must periodically ask yourself two questions:
(1) Am I committed to personal growth? ‘Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.’ Keep reading, keep learning, keep asking questions. A Chinese proverb says, ‘He who asks is a fool for five minutes; he who doesn’t ask remains a fool forever.’ Some of us are like the little girl who thought she’d exhausted the subject of mathematics once she learned her twelve–times tables. When her grandfather asked with a twinkle, ‘What’s 13 times 13?’ she scoffed, ‘Don’t be silly, Grandpa, there’s no such thing!’ Your hunger for wisdom and knowledge determines your future. In order to keep giving out, you must keep taking in.
(2) Am I enjoying what I do? You’ll never fulfil your destiny doing something you despise. Passion lies at the core of true success and fulfilment; it’s the spark for your fuse. It energises you when those around you grow tired. It helps you come up with answers when others cease to have creative ideas and strengthens you when they drop out. It gives you courage to take risks while others crave security. When you lose your passion, two things happen: first, you fail to pursue excellence; second, you jeopardise your integrity, because you’re tempted to take shortcuts and compromise by settling for less than God intended. Clues to your destiny are found in those things that generates passion in you. When you find yourself working at what you love you’re being clued in to God’s purposes for you.
‘Don’t try to disclaim responsibility.’ Proverbs 24:11 TLB
A woman went shopping one day and came home with a very expensive dress. Her budget–conscious husband was very upset and demanded to know what on earth possessed her. ‘The devil made me do it,’ she replied sweetly. He asked, ‘Well, why didn’t you say, “Get thee behind me, Satan?”’ ‘I did,’ she replied. ‘But he said it looked great from the back as well—so I had to buy it!’ Satan is an expert at distorting the truth by getting us to blame circumstances and other people for our mistakes; that way we never have to take responsibility. We simply need to take responsibility for our own problems and not blame them on our parents, upbringing, government or peers. Florence Nightingale, hero–nurse of the Crimean War, said, ‘I attribute my success to one thing: I never gave or took an excuse.’ When a winner messes up, they admit they were wrong and ask for forgiveness. When a loser makes a mistake, they immediately look for somebody or something to blame. The Bible says, ‘Don’t try to disclaim responsibility by saying you didn’t know… God…knows you knew! And He will reward…according to [your] deeds.’ David constantly prayed about his shortcomings, and his honesty helped make him ‘a man after [God’s] own heart.’ (1 Samuel 13:14 KJV) Instead of denying and defending your mistakes, take responsibility, learn from them and move on. That’s how you grow!
‘He…saw…evidence of the grace of God.’ Acts 11:23 NIV
Where there’s grace, there’s growth. And where there’s growth, there’s clear evidence of it. The church at Jerusalem sent Barnabas to the church at Antioch, and ‘when he arrived and saw…evidence of the grace of God, he was glad.’ As believers, we should be growing in ‘grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour.’ (2 Peter 3:18 NIV) And there should be evidence of it! When you accept Christ, He ‘[equips] you with everything good for doing His will’ (Hebrews 13:21 NIV); you become ‘a new creation…old things have gone; everything is made new!’ (2 Corinthians 5:17 NCV) Grace makes you more caring and compassionate, and less critical and judgmental. It makes you slow to speak and quick to consider the other person’s point of view. You’re less likely to react in anger when things don’t go your way, and more likely to put the good of others ahead of your own (1 Corinthians 10:24). Jon Walker says: ‘When you become a believer your role changes. You no longer have the job of looking out for your own interests; your job is to represent the interests of Jesus. You are the face of Jesus; showing up in the lives of others on His behalf… in hospitals… at funerals… at weddings… across the table as you share coffee with a friend… You’re on the job for Jesus, and the more you serve others in love, the more you’ll influence them toward Christ.’ Paul wrote, ‘Though I am free…I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.’ (1 Corinthians 9:19 NIV) That’s what it’s all about!
‘Give your servant a discerning heart to…distinguish between right and wrong.’ 1 Kings 3:9 NIV
Choices—they’re the determining factor in how your life turns out. When Solomon came to the throne as a young man, he prayed for wisdom to make the right choices in life. Legendary basketball coach John Wooden said, ‘There’s a choice you have to make in everything you do. So keep in mind that in the end, the choice you make, makes you.’ Some of us make life harder by making bad choices; others move through life more easily because they make good choices. The truth is, you don’t always get what you want but you always live with the consequences of your choices. Observe:
(1) Your choices reveal who you really are. Theologian HP Liddon observed, ‘What we do on some great occasion will probably depend on what we already are; and what we are will be the result of previous years of self–discipline.’
(2) The higher you rise, the more difficult your choices become. King Solomon could have had any woman he wanted. Sadly, he chose women who turned his heart away from God (1 Kings 11:4).
(3) Your choices change you for good or evil. Once you choose, you become a servant of that choice. It impacts your life and often on the lives of others. CS Lewis said: ‘Every time you make a choice you are turning the central point of you, the part… that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature.’ So you must make your choices prayerfully and wisely.
‘Daniel resolved not to.’ Daniel 1:8 NIV
When Daniel was taken prisoner to Babylon, he was quickly promoted to leadership in the king’s palace. But as a Jew he refused to ‘defile himself with the royal food and wine’. Could his choice have affected his career, or even cost him his life? Absolutely! But what we choose to do under pressure results from one of two things:
(1) Clearly established convictions we live by.
(2) Fuzzy convictions we’re willing to compromise for personal gain. Hard times don’t make you, they reveal you! In Leadership Gold John Maxwell writes: ‘After visiting twenty cities in seven days, it was good to be coming home! As the small private jet approached the runway, we were celebrating the success of the week. Then, in a moment, everything changed. The plane was hit by crosswinds and dropped straight down to the runway, the wheels hitting out of balance. All conversation stopped and our eyes widened as we realised we were in danger. The pilot, without hesitation, pushed the throttle and launched the plane back into the air… We all realised that could have been it! We sat quietly as the plane circled the airfield and a few minutes later we landed safely.’ As he got off the plane, John asked the captain, ‘When did you make the decision to put the plane back into the air?’ He replied, ‘Fifteen years ago.’ He went on to explain how as a young pilot in training, he decided in advance what decision he would make for every possible air problem. His decision was made long before the crisis. So have a gameplan in place before the problem arises.
‘He brought me…into a large place… because He delighted in me.’ Psalm 18:19 KJV
Melody Beattie says: ‘First you crawled; then you learned to walk and the world grew bigger. Then you rode a bike…drove a car…bought a plane ticket. Suddenly the horizons were limitless. Then doubts crept in: I can’t (you fill in the blank)…and your world shrinks a little. I shouldn’t take that trip…I’ll never find my way around…I’ve too many responsibilities. And it shrinks a little more…[until] you’re sitting in a little box with the lid tightly affixed. No experiences, no lessons, no life. Boxes can be comfortable…but no matter how cosy you make it, it’s still a box. They come in all shapes and sizes. When we let unrealistic fears hold us back we can be fairly certain we’re climbing inside another box…and sooner or later we’ll run into the walls. Find one small “I can’t” in your life and take the lid off the box… try for a minor impossibility… apply for that dream job… start pursuing your vision… Poke the top off your box. Stick your head out and look around. Find a fear and turn it into a ladder. Get out of the box of doubt and insecurity and into the freedom of courage and belief.’ If you let it, fear will cause your imagination to run riot. But ‘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) A sound mind restores your perspective and helps you see things from God’s viewpoint, where all things are possible. Today He wants to give you the courage to climb out of the box and bring you ‘into a large place’, because He ‘delights’ in you.
‘Cast your bread upon the waters.’ Ecclesiastes 11:1 NKJV
The Bible says, ‘Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.’ Notice two things in this Scripture:
(1) The risk requires faith. At first this verse doesn’t make sense. When you ‘cast your bread upon the waters’, the best you can hope to get back is mushy, waterlogged bread. Its meaning becomes clearer, however, when you realise it was written in a culture where seafood was the basis of trade and economic survival. Throwing bread into the water attracted fish, which you could then catch. There are important spiritual principles at work in this Scripture. For example, catching fish depends on the current flowing in the right direction, the sun, the moon and other elements only God can control. But when you do your part, God promises to do His. George Müller said, ‘Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible. There is no glory for God in that which is humanly possible. Faith begins where man’s power ends.’
(2) The return requires patience. ‘After many days you will find it again.’ You ask, ‘When will it happen?’ When God is ready, when He knows you are ready, and when it all fits into His plan. The Bible tells us to ‘imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.’ (Hebrews 6:12 NIV) You need faith and patience to receive what God has promised. And even when you don’t know what’s ahead, you can be sure of one thing—God will be there. Today He’s calling you to choose faith, even when you don’t know what’s on the other side.
‘And He went a little further.’ Matthew 26:39 KJV
Jesus left the crowd. He left the twelve disciples. In Gethsemane He even left the three who were closest to Him, went ‘a little further’ and fell on His face and prayed, ‘Not as I will, but as You will.’ (Matthew 26:39 NKJV) It was here, face to face with His Father, that He found strength to embrace the will of God for His life. Today God is saying to you, ‘The strength to handle this crisis and the wisdom to know what to do will be yours if you’ll just go a little further, stay in My presence a little longer, and dig a little deeper in My Word. If only you knew how close you are to the answer!’ Jesus was only a few hours away from the cross, a few days away from the resurrection, and on the threshold of launching the church. Are you in Gethsemane? Sometimes surrendering your will to God is hard, isn’t it? Look at Jesus. Before Heaven accepted the sacrifice of a surrendered body, it demanded the sacrifice of a surrendered will. Have you surrendered to God? Why do we trust others so easily while God longs for us to trust Him? You go to a doctor whose name you can’t pronounce, get a prescription you can’t read, take it to a pharmacist you don’t know, get medicine you don’t understand, and take it with confidence. Why is it so much easier to have confidence in these ‘unknowns’ than in God, Who is faithful in every way? The answer lies in where you place your trust. Trust comes from knowing someone intimately, listening to them and spending time with them. It doesn’t happen overnight; it takes time.
‘Seek His face continually.’ 1 Chronicles 16:11 KJV
A good relationship is based on being sensitive to the other person’s needs, and to do that, you must make the relationship a priority and spend time together. The difference between ‘catching a few moments’ with the Lord and spending quality time with Him is like the difference between driving through McDonald’s and spending the evening at a fine restaurant. At McDonald’s you drive up, shout into a microphone and drive around to a window where they hand you a bag of food. In a fine restaurant you sit down, savour every bite in a relaxed atmosphere, and leave satisfied and nourished. Too many of us live on spiritual fast food and never experience the banquet God has for us. The Bible says, ‘Seek His face continually.’ Have you learned how to stay in God’s presence and enjoy it? When it comes to prayer, we all face two challenges:
(1) Lack of desire. We complain about lack of time, but the truth is we make time for what we truly care about and enjoy. If you want to build an effective prayer life you must be willing to forfeit some things.
(2) We don’t know how. Find a place with no distractions. Take your Bible and a notepad with you. Use worship music to help you. Worship will change the atmosphere around you. Just do what works for you. And be patient! Sometimes it takes weeks or months before you develop a pattern, so stick with it—the rewards are worth it. And remember, prayer is a two–way street. It’s not about seeing how much you can tell God; it’s about learning to hear from Him as well.
‘You will ask what you desire.’ John 15:7 NKJV
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.’ For your prayers to be answered you must:
(1) Make Christ the centre of your life. ‘If you abide in Me.’ John was close enough to lean his head on Jesus’ breast, but Peter ‘followed [Him] at a distance.’ (Luke 22:54 NKJV) How close to God do you want to be? It’s up to you.
(2) Fill your mind with Scripture. When you pray the words of Scripture your faith is activated, the devil retreats as he did from Christ in the wilderness, and God responds because you’re praying in harmony with His will. So ask yourself, ‘Is my request in line with Scripture; will it blend with my gifts; will it draw me closer to God; what is my part in answering it; have I obeyed the Lord?’ Now, when you pray, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ (Matthew 6:11 NKJV), God probably won’t rain down groceries! He will give you opportunities you must seize and act on. The words, ‘Pray without ceasing’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17 NKJV), mean you should stay in God’s presence long enough for Him to answer your prayer, or change your request.
(3) Before you ask, examine your heart. ‘If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.’ (Psalm 66:18 NKJV) Achan’s sin had to be dealt with before Israel could go forward in the Promised Land (Joshua 7:10–26). And so does yours! The moment you become conscious of sin, confess it, then be confident that God has forgiven you and move forward.