‘A man of too many friends comes to ruin.’
Proverbs 18:24 NASB
With few exceptions, your success in life depends on your ability to establish and maintain relationships with the right people. According to a report by the American Management Association the overwhelming consensus of two hundred managers who participated in a survey, was that the most important skill of an executive is his or her ability to get along with people. They rated this ability as more vital than intelligence, decisiveness, knowledge or job skills. Quite frankly, none of us makes very many true friends in life—at least, we better not! Solomon warns, ‘A man of too many friends comes to ruin.’
Friendship requires time, energy, sacrifice and investing yourself. And not every so-called friend will prove to be one, as Jeremiah warned King Zedekiah: ‘They misled you and overcame you—those trusted friends of yours. Your feet are sunk in the mud; your friends have deserted you.’ (Jeremiah 38:22 NIV) The wrong friend will betray you, as Judas proved with Jesus. So, here’s a good rule of thumb: ‘Be friendly to everyone, but don’t have everyone as a friend.’ Solomon said, ‘The godly give good advice to their friends; the wicked lead them astray.’ (Proverbs 12:26 NLT) Charles Spurgeon said, ‘A man is known by the company he shuns, as well as the company he keeps.’
One Hebrew word for ‘choose’ is tuwr, and in the Old Testament it refers to a man like a surveyor who searches out land. So, if you’re wise, you’ll explore and evaluate your friendships before you enter into them. You say, ‘But I’m lonely.’ As George Washington said, ‘It is better to be alone than in bad company.’
‘I waited patiently for the Lord; He… heard my cry.’
Psalm 40:1 NIV
Anything that’s built well is put together slowly and carefully. Impatience is a sign of immaturity; children can’t wait for anything. Try to understand this: your impatience won’t move God faster. He works according to His own timetable. Paul writes, ‘We know that all things work… according to His purpose.’ (Romans 8:28 KJV) Just because the door hasn’t yet opened doesn’t mean that God has changed His mind. The timing may not be right for Him to get maximum glory, and you to get maximum benefit. So, what should you do while you’re waiting? Two things:
(1) Pray for God’s will. And don’t permit things to come into your life that are contrary to it, especially hurry and worry. Know how to allocate your time, your energy, and your money, including whom you should and shouldn’t spend time with. God says,
‘I make known the end from the beginning.’
(Isaiah 46:10 NIV) Before God starts anything, He has a clear picture of the end goal, and He ordains the steps that lead you to it.
(2) While you’re waiting—rejoice. ‘Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the sheepfold and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.’ (Habakkuk 3:17–18 NIV) Start thanking God today for what He’s already done, and for what He’s going to do in the future on your behalf. Because He will—He absolutely will come through for you.
‘He celebrates and sings because of you.’
Zephaniah 3:17 CEV
Some of us think so little of ourselves that we’d rather be in a bad relationship than none at all. Being around people doesn’t guarantee you won’t feel lonely. Actually, being with the wrong people guarantees you’ll end up feeling empty and used. Until you overcome your fear of being alone and wait for God to give you the right relationships, you’ll continue to feel lonely. Sometimes loneliness is more about not liking yourself than about not having people around who like you. Otherwise, why would you spend so much energy avoiding rejection instead of building healthy relationships? Perhaps you think if you don’t get involved you won’t get hurt. Or you’re afraid to open up in case people criticize you for sharing anything personal. Such anxieties just contribute to your sense of isolation. Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said, ‘What you picture in your mind, your mind will go to work to accomplish.’
(1) You need a true picture of how God sees you. Paul says, ‘Because of what Christ has done we have become gifts…God…delights in.’
(Ephesians 1:11 TLB) Zephaniah writes,
‘He celebrates and sings because of you, and He will refresh your life with His love.’
(2) You need a true picture of yourself. David said, ‘You… put me together inside my mother’s body, and I praise You because of the wonderful way You created me. Everything You do is marvelous!’
(Psalm 139:13–14 CEV) Having these two pictures clearly in mind stops you from operating with a devalued self-image, and enables you to ask for what you need in
‘Let him have all your worries and cares.’
1 Peter 5:7 TLB
Author John Mason writes: ‘I couldn’t feel at peace. Unless I had everything figured out, I became anxious, restless, nervous, worried, and grouchy… similar to a drug addict who needs a fix. The severity wasn’t the same but the symptoms were. I was a Christian and supposedly walked by faith. I trusted Jesus for salvation, but in other areas I trusted myself.’ Are you living that way?
Inspirational author William Ward wrote: ‘Worry is faith in the negative, trust in the unpleasant, assurance of disaster, and belief in defeat. It’s a magnet that attracts negative conditions. Faith is a more powerful force that creates positive circumstances. Worry is wasting today’s time, and cluttering up tomorrow’s opportunities with yesterday’s troubles.’
When an old man was asked what had robbed him of joy in his life, he replied, ‘Things that never happened.’ Do you remember the things you worried about a year ago? Didn’t you expend a lot of energy on them? And didn’t most of them turn out to be fine after all? Almost 99 percent of the things we worry about don’t happen.
Did you know that a dense fog covering seven city blocks thirty meters deep, is composed of less than one glass of water? Just one glass! But it can blot out practically all vision. And a cupful of worry can do the same thing. The Bible says, ‘People’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps.’
(Jeremiah 10:23 NIV) Stop trying to control every possible outcome. Life goes better when you decide to stand on God’s Word and trust Him to take care of you.
‘You will heap coals of fire on his head.’
Proverbs 25:22 NKJV
It’s not enough to simply leave your enemies alone; you must demonstrate God’s love towards them. ‘If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for so you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the Lord will reward you.’ (Proverbs 25:21–22 NKJV) What does it mean to ‘heap coals of fire on his head’?
Charles Swindoll explains that in ancient days, homes were heated and meals were fixed on a small portable stove, somewhat like our outside barbecue grills. Frequently, a person would run low on hot coals and need to replenish his or her supply. The container was commonly carried on the head. So, as the individual passed beneath second-story windows, thoughtful people who had extra hot coals in their possession would reach out the window and place them in the container atop their head. Thanks to the thoughtful generosity of a few folks, they would arrive at the site with a pile of burning coals on their head, and a ready-made fire for cooking and keeping warm. ‘Heaping burning coals on someone’s head’ came to be a popular expression for a spontaneous and courteous act one person would voluntarily do for another. When you treat an enemy this way, the Bible promises, ‘The Lord will reward you.’ You have a choice. You can experience the short-term satisfaction of retaliating and get into trouble with God for doing it, or show mercy and kindness and be rewarded by God for doing it. So, the word for you today is—treat your enemy with kindness.
‘Look with your eyes… hear with your ears, and fix your mind on everything I show you.’ Ezekiel 40:4 NKJV
If you train yourself to listen carefully to what someone is saying, they will generally tell you who and what they are before you get into a relationship with them. Prevention is better than cure! But more times than not, when someone begins to warn us of their weaknesses and what to expect, we jump in with our motivational ‘Oh no, that can’t be true’ thoughts, and encourage them to move forward with us. We need to learn the priceless art of listening without interrupting. If you do, you’ll save yourself years of tears, secret disappointments and negative experiences. Rather than using your optimism and persuasive style to coerce somebody into accepting your goals and objectives, you need to know when a person can’t become something just because you want them to or believe they can. They can’t run on your fuel! Your character and maturity won’t make up for their lack of it. Without your awareness of this principle, these high-maintenance relationships can weary you and drain your strength for years. In private or professional relationships, if you have to keep motivating to get started, you’ll have to keep motivating to maintain. On the other hand, if you look, listen, pray and observe, you can decide whether it’s worth the effort to engage in the relationship in the first place. And if you ask God, He will guide you in this: His Word says, ‘Look with your eyes… hear with your ears, and fix your mind on everything I show you; for you were brought here… that I might show them to you.’
‘So [you] will produce even more.’ John 15:2 NLT
Jesus said the vine dresser: ‘cuts off every branch… that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes [cuts back] the branches that do bear fruit so they… produce even more.’Notice two things:
(1) God cuts some things off. ‘What kind of things?’ Things you’re comfortable with but that stand in the way of your progress. Things He hasn’t chosen for you. Things that will bring you trouble. Things that refuse to change. Things that have served their purpose.
(2) God cuts some things back. A fruit tree that’s just been pruned certainly doesn’t look its best. And when God starts cutting back certain things in your life in order to redirect your energies, for a while you may not look so good either. Sometimes this means letting go of things you thought would always be there, or reprioritizing your life, or making do with less for a while, or not being able to explain to your loved ones why you’re going through the pruning process. But life-giving sap flowing into a barren branch with no potential for fruitfulness is a waste! And so is time, attention, and energy taken from first things and given to second and third things.
Understand this: God knows what needs to be cut off in your life, and He knows what needs to be cut back. And although you may not understand what He’s doing, pray: ‘Send whoever You will and take away whoever You will. I’ll praise You when they come and I’ll praise You when they go, because Your approval is my reward and Your purpose is my reason to live.’
‘The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?’
Psalm 27:1 NIV
What hope or help does the atheist or agnostic have? None! Writer and editorialist WO Saunders said in American Magazine: ‘I’d like to introduce you to one of the loneliest and unhappiest individuals on earth… the man who doesn’t believe in God. I can introduce you to such a man because I myself am one, and in introducing myself you shall have an introduction to the agnostic or skeptic in your own neighborhood, for he is everywhere in the land. You’ll be surprised to know that the agnostic envies your faith in God, your settled belief in a Heaven after-life, and your blessed assurance that you’ll meet with your loved ones in an afterlife where there’ll be neither sadness nor pain. He’d give anything to be able to embrace that faith and be comforted by it, but for him there is only the grave and the persistence of matter. After the grave all he can see is the disintegration of the protoplasm and psychoplasm of which my body and personality are composed, but in this materialist view, I find neither ecstasy nor happiness… He may put on a brave front but he isn’t happy… He sometimes yearns for a staff on which to lean. He, too, carries a cross. For him, this earth is but a tricky raft adrift in the unfathomable waters of eternity with no horizon in sight. His heart aches for every precious life upon the raft—drifting, drifting, drifting, whither no one knows.’
But when you put your trust in Christ, you can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?’
‘We are the clay, and You are the potter.’
Isaiah 64:8 NLT
Ever watch a lump of clay being transformed into something beautiful? The clay can’t change itself; the power to do that lies in the hands of the potter. Isaiah says, ‘We are the clay, and You are the potter. We are all formed by Your hand.’ That means you don’t have to live the rest of your life with your phobias and hang-ups; God can change you. Even if you’ve been a worrier all your life, you don’t have to worry for the rest of your life. So, what if you were born in poverty or prejudice? You don’t have to die that way. Where did you get the idea that you can’t change? What’s the source of comments such as ‘It’s just my nature to worry,’ or ‘I’ll always be pessimistic; I’m just that way,’ or ‘I come from a family of alcoholics and addicts so I’ll never be free’? Would you make the same statement about your physical body? ‘It’s just my nature to have a broken leg. I can’t do anything about it.’ Of course not. If your body malfunctions, you seek help. Shouldn’t you do the same with your sinful appetites, sour attitudes, and selfish tirades? What the world sees as rubbish, God sees as treasure. And like the potter, He can take you, mold you, and make you into a vessel of honor (see 2 Timothy 2:21). All you have to do is place your life in His hands. We sing, ‘Have Thine own way, Lord, have Thine own way. Thou art the potter, I am the clay.’ When you stop trying to change yourself and surrender to God, true and lasting change takes place.
‘Do not merely listen to the Word… Do what it says.’
James 1:22 NIV
When Nehemiah first saw the ruins of Jerusalem, he wept. Then he rolled up his sleeves and went to work. In the face of overwhelming odds and relentless opposition, he rebuilt the walls in just 52 days. How? Because it was his vision and his passion! Question: Are you afraid to say, ‘Lord, I’ll do anything You want me to do,’ in case He sends you somewhere you don’t want to go, or asks you to do something you don’t feel ready or qualified to do? You’ve got it wrong! The Bible says God’s will is ‘good, and acceptable, and perfect.’ (Romans 12:2 KJV) Now, while God’s will is ‘good’, it’s not necessarily easy. But He will give you a passion for it. When Jeremiah tried to stop speaking about the Lord, he said God’s Word became ‘like a burning fire shut up in my bones.’ (Jeremiah 20:9 NASB)
A God-given vision sets your heart on fire. You begin to see things you never saw before and get excited about them. You may have failed in the past, but God can take your chapters of failure and write a story of success. But it won’t happen if you’re just sitting on the side-lines. The Bible says, ‘Do not merely listen to the Word… Do what it says.’ You’ll get a passion for God’s will once you start doing it! And when it happens, you will say, ‘This is what I was made for.’ When you have a compelling reason for doing something, and you know God is watching and smiling on you, it makes all the difference in the world. So, the word for you today is: be passionate, proactive and persistent!