‘Time and chance happen to them all.’ Ecclesiastes 9:11 NIV
Are you the kind of person who needs clear answers to everything and can’t tolerate shades of grey? Well, the truth is we don’t have answers for much of what happens in the world. God stamps many of the issues we struggle with: ‘Will explain later!’
Modern science would have us believe that given enough time, everything is concrete, exact, measurable, and provable. But we’ve discovered this isn’t so. For example, why does one family experience tragedy and another doesn’t? Why do the ‘haves’ throw more food into the garbage every night than what it would take to feed the ‘have-nots?’ Why do the young and innocent die? You could drive yourself crazy with these questions and still not find the answers. So what should you do? The Bible says: ‘Eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favours what you do… Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love… Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might… The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favour to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all. Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.’ (Ecclesiastes 9:7–12 NIV)
Bottom line: Learn to live with unanswered questions, trust God with all your heart, and wring the most out of each day. That’s the Bible formula for happiness.
‘The joy of the Lord is your strength.’ Nehemiah 8:10 KJV
You get to choose your outlook each day, so choose wisely and well. Observe: (1) A joyful outlook gives you the winning edge. When world heavyweight champion Joe Louis got knocked down by Tony ‘Two Ton’ Galento in Yankee Stadium, he immediately jumped up and went after his opponent. When his trainer protested, ‘Why didn’t you stay down for nine like I’ve always taught you?’ ‘What?’ growled Louis. ‘And give him all that time to rest?’ Then he went out and won the fight. (2) A joyful outlook determines how others respond to you. When you smile, people tend to smile back. But if you come across as hard-nosed, they’re likely to respond in kind. If you want to enjoy people as you go through your day, think well of them. This isn’t rocket science, but it’s easily forgotten. (3) A joyful outlook brings happiness. English literary figure Samuel Johnson said: ‘He who has so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition will waste his life in fruitless efforts, and multiply the grief… he proposes to remove.’ (4) A joyful outlook always brings the best result. Successful people embrace this truth, whether it’s a surgeon going into the operating room, a pastor preparing a sermon or an executive launching a new business venture. Confidence increases your chance of success every time.
So when you approach a task, especially one you don’t relish, fix your mind on God’s promises and not your feelings. It’ll get you back on track every time—guaranteed!
‘I will pay back four times the amount.’ Luke 19:8 NIV
Zacchaeus had a bad reputation; as a tax collector he got rich by bilking people. And the fact that Jesus spent the night at his house shocked the religious community. We’re not privy to what Jesus told Zacchaeus that night, but it caused him to respond, ‘Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ Jesus answered, ‘Today salvation has come to this house.’ (Luke 19:9 NIV)
There’s an important lesson here about becoming whole. The basis of true emotional healing rests on your willingness to forgive and, when possible, make amends to those you’ve hurt. If you owe someone a debt, you must try to pay it. If you’ve wounded them, you must apologise and try to restore the relationship. Jesus said: ‘So, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.’ (Matthew 5:23–25 ESV)
So, who do you need to make things right with today? Pray for grace—then go take care of it. When you do God will bless you, and you’ll feel better about yourself too!
‘The Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.’ Romans 8:27 NLT
Since we sometimes pray outside of God’s will, part of the Holy Spirit’s job is to change our minds—not convince God to give us what we want. That’s why the Spirit ‘searches our hearts’ in prayer. Sometimes words are inadequate; you don’t always know what someone’s really thinking or wants based on what they say. But if you could see inside their heart you’d know exactly how to interpret their words. That’s what the Spirit does when He searches our hearts and interceded for us to the Father.
But if the Holy Spirit is going to intercede for us (appeal to God on our behalf) we’d better learn what God’s will is. And where do we learn that? In His Word. Before we can pray in the will of God two things have to happen. First, we must have a regular intake of Scripture. God’s mind is revealed in His Word, so when you read the Bible you learn how to pray the way you should. Second, if our prayers are going to hit the mark we need to practise meditating on the Scriptures. Just as a good cook allows a stew to simmer in order to bring out all the flavours, we need to ‘marinate’ our minds in Scripture and allow it to become part of us. When that happens we’ll start to see things change in our prayer lives because the Spirit’s intercession is tied to God’s will, which is tied to His Word.
In the final analysis you may think you know what you want, but God knows what you need!
‘Put your heart right… Reach out to God.’ Job 11:13 GNT
Jesus, ‘the Great Physician’, never covers up an infected sore. He insists it be lanced, drained, cleansed and given time to heal. Maybe you’ve given birth to a child out of wedlock, or had an abortion, or been in prison, or walked through a bitter divorce. Don’t be discouraged. Jesus is not impressed by our virtues, He’s touched with ‘the feeling of our infirmities.’ (Hebrews 4:15 KJV) He understands your struggle. ‘He Himself has… been through suffering and temptation, He knows what it is like… and… is wonderfully able to help us.’ (Hebrews 2:18 TLB)
Maybe you’re wondering if someone with your past problems can be blessed and used by God. Absolutely! The hymn by William Cowper puts it like this: ‘There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins; and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.’ The rewards of repentance are awesome! Zophar replies to Job: ‘Prepare your heart and lift up your hands to Him in prayer! Get rid of your sins, and leave all iniquity behind you. Then your face will brighten with innocence. You will be strong and free of fear. You will forget your misery; it will be like water flowing away… Having hope will give you courage. You will be protected and… rest in safety. You will lie down unafraid, and many will look to you for help.’ (Job 11:13–19 NLT)
Whether it’s guilt over something you’ve done, or the pain of something that was done to you—let it go! Today, step into the river of God’s grace and let it flow over you, setting you free.
‘…give it to the one who has the ten bags.’ Matthew 25:28 NIV
Remember the three stewards who were each given a sum of money to invest? The first two doubled theirs; the third buried his in the ground. The first two were promoted; the third was fired. ‘Throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness.’ (Matthew 25:30 NIV)
Could there be a more powerful incentive to taking a risk of faith based on what God promised you? You say, ‘But what if I fail?’ Failure trains you for success! It can show you what you need to change in order to move forward. Think of it this way: as a redeemed child of God you have a security net that allows you to fail safely. But if your reputation and self-worth are all tied up in knots over some failed enterprise, you won’t be motivated to try again. It’s human nature to want to feel good, to succeed, to win the prize, to move forward. But just like a world-class athlete backs up to gain the momentum to run faster, sometimes a few steps backward now will fuel your progress later. And here’s something else to keep in mind: God assesses our accomplishments differently than people. A failure in the eyes of men is often a success in the eyes of God. Remember Noah? Before the flood he looked like a loser; afterward he became the most successful man on earth.
Your most fulfilling reward isn’t human approval—it’s God’s ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ (Matthew 25:21 NIV) So take the risk!
‘As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.’ Proverbs 27:17 NLT
When you stop growing, you stop enjoying your co-workers and associates. In most cases it’s another symptom of lack of growth, and it’s directly linked to your lack of influence. When you’re the ‘go-to’ person, everyone seeks you out. They want your advice and expertise on a myriad of issues and concerns. But once you stop growing, the focus shifts to someone else. Personal growth keeps you focused on people, and keeps them focused on you.
So what can you do to stay fresh? Start cross-pollinating. Bees spend their lives moving from flower to flower, carrying pollen from one source to another. And what’s the result? Growth! Because bees continually spread pollen around the garden, more flowers start growing and it becomes a more beautiful environment. In life, cross-pollinating means identifying valuable information from multiple sources and spreading it in various ways to different people. So start looking for answers in unexpected places. Paul writes, ‘Stir up the gift… which is in you’ (2 Timothy 1:6 NKJV), otherwise it’ll lie dormant and you’ll become bored. Dedicate some time every day to personal growth. Discover where you do your best thinking, and go there regularly. Get up earlier, use your lunch break, turn off the TV in the evening. The time and place don’t matter—the important thing is that you stick to it. Eugene S. Wilson said, ‘Only the curious will learn, and only the resolute overcome the obstacles to learning. The Quest Quotient has always interested me more than the Intelligence Quotient.’ Often innate curiosity will tell you more than intelligence.
The point is, you must be committed to personal growth in order to succeed.
‘A wise man has great power.’ Proverbs 24:5 NIV
Another indicator of your need for personal growth is—losing interest in your career. Many people think this comes from staying in one job too long or experiencing a midlife crisis. The truth is, most of us lose interest in our job because we lose interest in growing.
Consider those who experience the highest levels of intensity and creativity. Generally speaking, they’re passionate about their job and they’re not nearly as concerned about specifics as they are about ‘the big picture’. While those around them get bogged down in the minutiae of daily routine, growth-oriented people are busy swinging the bat and trying to hit the ball out of the park. These are people who are growing, learning and expanding their experience—people who never lose interest in their work—or in life. Growing peanuts sounds pretty boring, right? Not to George Washington Carver! He studied them, developed them, discovered hundreds of different uses for them, and became so famous he was invited to Washington, D.C. to explain the secret of his success to a congressional committee. Here’s what he told them: ‘God created the peanut. So I just asked Him to tell me what could be done with it, and He showed me!’ It’s that simple.
Spend as much time expanding your knowledge and experience as you spend on the mundane, and see if your interest levels and excitement don’t change for the better. The Bible says, ‘A wise man has great power, and a man of knowledge increases strength.’ (Proverbs 24:5 NIV)
‘Wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.’ Proverbs 2:10 NIV
Personal growth leads to promotion. Stop and look at the people in your church, your company or your circle of friends. Management consultant W. Edwards Deming said, ‘Learning isn’t compulsory… neither is survival.’ In corporate culture, the higher your position, the less ‘doing’ is involved, and the more ‘critical thinking’ comes into play. Consider a corporate conference room during an important meeting. Typically, a cadre of foot soldiers sits around the table with laptops, briefcases and boxes of files, while the president enters the room carrying very little. That’s because he or she wasn’t hired to run computers, maintain schedules and manage files. They were hired for their expertise and the power of their ideas. Organisations want people with the best ideas to be in leadership; consequently, promotions generally go to the self-starters—men and women who exhibit initiative and growth. So start generating some new ideas and see how quickly you get noticed!
Daniel began as a slave in Babylon, on the bottom rung of the ladder. But he was soon promoted to a position in Nebuchadnezzar’s cabinet. That’s because the king was looking for people with the following qualifications: ‘Showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve.’ (Daniel 1:4 NIV) Talk about job security! And what’s more, ‘Daniel remained there.’ (Daniel 1:21 NIV)
So dedicate yourself to personal growth.
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty.’ Isaiah 6:3 NIV
When Isaiah saw God he wrote: ‘In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him were seraphim, each with six wings: with two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for Us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”’ (Isaiah 6:1–8 NIV) Now, this portion of Scripture wasn’t intended to make you indulge in morbid introspection, or doubt your righteous standing before God as His redeemed child. Isaiah was the nation’s leading prophet, and God had an assignment for him. But before he could undertake it, he needed to acknowledge his heart’s condition and let God change him. And today you need to do that too!