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Monday, January 30, 2012

Finding Your Purpose Through Obedience

On a recent trip to a thrift store in my area, I noticed that the "Christian/Inspirational" section of donated books were almost exclusively works about discovering God's purpose or plan for our lives.  It was clear by the number of repeats that this collection was not taken from only one person's library. By my reckoning, this shelf represented dozens of failed searches on this topic, spanning several decades and generations.

I wonder what this really indicates. Maybe these books were all purchased in the midst of a crisis, and had made it to those shelves when their owners found what they were looking for.  Maybe it shows a general feeling of discomfort, or a yearning for a chance to be a spectacular servant of God. I will never know.

I can say that there is a purpose for each of us, which God has prepared in advance for us to accomplish (Ephesians 2: 10).  It isn't to serve ourselves, and contrary to popular belief, it isn't to serve others, either.  Our most basic purpose is to serve the Lord (Ecclesiastes 12: 13).  Beyond this, God may plan for us to do some things that benefit us, and some things that benefit others, but this is a different situation for each person.  If we are looking for our purpose, we should start there, with submitting our hearts, wills, and plans to the Lord.

Many of us want more than just "a life lived for God," and such answers are unsatisfactory to our ears.  We want to be known for our obedience; we want to be great leaders and distinguished servants.  We ask God to show us this kind of purpose, so we can get started living it right away.

Here is where it gets trickier.

It seems that God doesn't take us to spectacular lengths until He has put us through training of some sort.  Sometimes this can take year after long year to accomplish.  Esther had grown up, and went through months of rigorous training as the king's wife, before her purpose, to save her people, was revealed (Esther 4: 14).  Her grand purpose wasn't apparent until the moment it arrived, but her faithfulness and obedience had become ingrained in her through all those years of trials.

Oftentimes, the wait is much, much longer than Esther's.  The premier English poet and politician John Milton (1608-1674) dreamed of authoring an epic poem for England of the quality of Dante's Divine Comedy, but his work Paradise Lost was not completed until he was in his 50s, blind, and broke.  Moses took even longer to discover God's plans for him; he did not receive his commission to lead the nation of Israel to the promised land until he was already in his 80s (Acts 7:23-30).  I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

Today, I can't tell you where God is taking you, and what kind of grand plans He has made for your life.  I can't tell you if you will be as famous as Moses, or if you will only be known to a small group of people in a little town somewhere in the world.  I can't tell you if your greatest purpose is just now being revealed, or if you still have years of waiting ahead of you.  All I can say is that wherever you are right now, the basic requirements are the same: "fear God and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12: 13d NIV).  Don't spend time worrying about the revelation of your purpose; God is taking care of that part (Exodus 4: 11-12; Matthew 10: 18-20). While you are waiting, just work on training your heart to love and obey God.  Then, when the time comes, you will be ready.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Weekly Snippet: 5 Verses to Guide and Encourage

No matter what happened this week, there was probably at least one moment when you needed some encouragement, deliverance, or guidance from God.  If one of those situations is still weighing heavily on you at this moment, I hope you'll take a moment to read each of these verses slowly and carefully, really analyzing what the tell you about God and about the circumstances you are facing.  Each of them has helped me at different times this week, and I hope they will help you, too.  Pray over each one, asking God to help you understand it and apply it to your life.  When you reach the end, I hope you will walk away feeling refreshed and encouraged as we head into the weekend.

  • "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things" (Philippians 4:8 NIV).
  • "For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love" (Psalm 33: 4, 5 NIV).
  • " Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high.  My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as one pleads for a friend" (Job 16: 19-21 NIV). 
  • "To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he [God] will give eternal life" (Romans 2: 7 NIV).
  • "For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline" (2 Timothy 1: 7 NIV). 
  • " Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God" (Philippians 4: 6 NIV). 
Be at peace and rest, my friends. Put your life, your future, your plans, and your cares in Jesus' hands, and let Him carry you through anything life puts you through.  Until next time, stay savvy and may God's face shine upon you (Psalm 67: 1-3)! 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Weekly Snippet: Too Much of a Good Thing?

Earlier this week, I barked my shin on a pile of boxes I have stacked up in my house for my business, and I caught myself complaining to God about them.  "Help me get rid of some of these boxes.  I have too many!" I said.

I guess I wasn't expecting an answer, but God gave it. "Two years ago," He reminded me, "You were always asking me for more, because you needed them for shipping and you didn't have enough in the right dimensions. Now you're complaining about having too much of what you asked for?"

I felt a bit sheepish then (no pun intended, folks), and withdrew the complaint.  Later on, I caught myself starting to complain about a similar thing--having so much food that I was worried that some of it was going to spoil.

That really made me think.  I'm truly blessed if I can say, today, that I have too much of something I need--too much food, too much time on my hands, too much togetherness with loved ones, too many boxes.  Of course, it is possible to have too many health problems, too many needs, and too many concerns.  I'm not talking about that.  I just have to reflect on my complaining and say that it's really stupid to whine about having too much of a good thing, especially if that "too much" is actually an answer to prayer.

Why is it that truly blessed people sometimes forget to be grateful?  Those who whine about having too much of a harvest might regret their complaints if the winter comes and they didn't have enough, after all.  Those who complain about having too much time with their children will always regret it when they've moved away.  Of course, when we have too much of a blessing, it can seem like a curse, as long as we forget to recognize where all this abundance came from.  The problem here is perception.

We read about the Israelites, and how they continuously complained about everything they received from the Lord while they journeyed through the desert.  In one incident, they worried they might starve, but later whined because they'd had too much manna, and were sick of eating the same thing every day (Numbers 11: 4-6).  They forgot what it was like to be hungry, and they took their blessing (and their Benefactor) for granted.  That's just embarrassing!

The lesson we should gather is that God expects grattitude from us--a grateful heart and a pleasant attitude.  He wants to see us knee deep in blessings, and thankful for it, not complaining about something that He gave us to meet our needs.  This takes a special kind of faith that looks beyond things to see the glory of the Provider behind them.  Every blessing, every prayer answered, testifies to the love and attentiveness of the God of the universe, because, "my God will meet all your needs, according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus," (Philippians 4: 19 NIV).  Now does that thought make us want to complain about what we have?

P.S. If we have too much, maybe we should store up what we've been given (2 Kings 4: 1-7), or share our blessings with someone else who needs them (Acts 2: 44-47).  Just a thought.

Monday, January 16, 2012

That Restless Feeling

Lately I've noticed a pattern in my moods at the end of the day.  Maybe you've had days when it seems that, no matter when you get up, or what you do all day, you feel like you haven't done enough when night comes.  You get restless.  At first you try to distract yourself with some interesting activity such as browsing the Internet, watching some random tv show, or reading a book.  You still feel restless.  If you get desperate, this is the point where you go and speed clean something, or some other activity you don't care for all that much.  You figure if you haven't done enough, chores might fill that void.

It doesn't.

I had gone through several nights of this in a row when I finally noticed the antidote to that restless I-need-to-feel-productive mood.  Get alone with God for awhile!  It really works.

Nothing under heaven can really fulfill the need to be needed, although some things seem to, for awhile (like relationships, or parenthood, or a promotion at work).  What we really desire is for someone to really notice our efforts and give approval.  Until then, we may find ourselves chasing that approval and feeling restless when silence greets us at the end of the day--and scented candles, positive quotations, and a clean bathroom aren't going to fill the void.

Spending time with God means, to me, spending time reading the Bible and really analyzing what it says and how it applies to me, and praying accordingly.  It helps me realign my priorities with God's, and see where I am falling behind in obedience.  I don't feel so restless because I'm reminded again of where I stand with God, and what He wants from me.  I feel like I really did something worthwhile with my time.  I'm so blessed to be able to actually draw near to God and get my instructions from the source (Deuteronomy 4: 7)!

This, I believe, is essential for feeling contentment.  Rather than wasting precious minutes on things to fill up that restlessness and dissatisfaction I am feeling, I'd rather offer up my life and my free time to God (although cleaning that bathroom has to be done from time to time).  It's what I was made to do (Ecclesiastes 12: 13-14), and what I feel the most useful doing.  Besides that, it is pleasing to God, and that's the approval I've been looking for.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12: 1, 2 NIV)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Truth That Outdates Tradition

Perhaps you've heard this story before, but I thought it was worth retelling.  I once heard of a young newlywed bride who wanted to impress her new husband with her domestic prowess.  She got up early, cut the end of the pot roast off like her mother had always done, put it in the pan, and cooked it all day.  Her husband (like a smart man) told her he loved it and ate several helpings.  However, he had one question: "Why did you throw away the end of the roast?"

She was stumped, so she called her mom. "I don't remember, exactly, honey.  That's just how your grandmother always did it," Mom replied.

After getting off the phone with her daughter, the mom couldn't stop puzzling over it, so she called up her own mother. "Why is it, exactly, that we always cut the end off the pot roast?" she asked.

"It's simple, really.  I had to make it fit in the pan," Grandma said.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Habit of Obedience

Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “This is what you are commanded to do, O peoples, nations and men of every language: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.  Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” (Daniel 3: 4-6 NIV 1984)
No one really knows the origin of the expression " to face the music," but I find this biblical scene to be the most evocative of the meaning of the phrase.  Every governmental official--except for three--bowed down to the idol when the music started.  There were three men who chose to face the music, rather than bowing their heads to what it stood for.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego's decision began years before, when they were violently taken from their homeland and chose to remain followers of God.  For those of us who might dream (maybe just a secret wish) that we could have a similar chance to heroically stand up for God, we have to realize that the strength to stand in this kind of extreme circumstance comes from years of trials and tests which had prepared these men for this moment.  It didn't start when the band started playing.

The Bible only hints at these tests, but we read that these men were children of nobility, and likely orphaned by Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 1: 1-6).  If that trial wasn't enough, they next risked death to defy the king and refuse his food, which may have been sacrificed to idols (Daniel Chapter 1).  They also had probably been challenged to abandon integrity many times in their positions of leadership in the government (Daniel 2: 48-49; 6: 3-5).  They could have given themselves excuses to disobey God because of their circumstances, but they had decided not to. So how did they find the resolve to refuse to bow to Nebuchadnezzar's giant idol?  They simply continued in the pattern they had established for themselves.  Resisting sin had become a habit!  They faithfully believed God would supply the rest of the miracle (Isaiah 43: 2).

 If you want this kind of opportunity to stand up for God and really show the world who He is in your life, it starts with daily, smaller decisions to obey, whether or not anyone is looking.  Create in your life the habit of obedience, and God will supply the strength necessary to overcome the challenge you are facing.  Obedience is difficult, but habit makes it easier.  God supplies the rest of the miracle.
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. (Philippians 1: 27-28 NIV 2012).

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Those Happy, Fearless Christians

I went to a watch night service at church this weekend to ring in the new year with prayer, rather than partying.  I believe it was a very beneficial experience to spend that time in prayer and reflection over my life, analyzing the direction I've taken and trying to make plans for 2012.

One other great thing I took home from the experience was the testimony from a friend who grew up in a strict Hindu family in India, but recently converted to Christianity.  I had the pleasure to listen to her fresh perspective on Christianity and being Christian, having "known that deep darkness," as she put it.  She spoke of meeting Christians who seemed to be happy all the time, and wondered how that was possible.  She had gone to the temples and prayed to idols, but always felt sad, because she didn't know how that prayer was supposed to work.  She didn't feel secure or certain in anything, not even her ritualistic righteousness (even her own family said that she was more religious than they were).  Now, according to her, she feels joyful all the time, because now she is sure she is praying to a God who is alive, and listening.  She knows without doubt that He hears her, and has seen proof of answered prayer.

That's a testimony we all need to hear!

Even when things are rough, we should remember what this new convert has pointed out: We have joy and peace in Christ that the world lacks.  We Christians have a living God, who is faithful to hear us and to answer us.  The world does not know Him, or comprehend the peace we have in knowing Him. They don't know what they are missing.  Do we who are in Christ fully appreciate what we have?

Speaking of fear and uncertainty, we who are in Christ don't have to dwell on these emotions, which can shut us down and prevent us from being useful.  We need not feel alone or exposed to the darkness of this world, because we have God, our protection and shield (Genesis 15: 1; Psalm 33: 20).  He is always with us, and we can always depend on Him (Joshua 1: 9).  When we walk with God in the plans that He has made, we can walk forward with confidence.  What a promise!

Let's learn from this young convert, even those of us who have been Christians for decades, and don't forget to be joyful and positive in our thinking and living.  This is a serious and far-reaching challenge for 2012.  Can we remember Who exactly we are serving?  Can we be fearlessly happy in Christ, no matter what comes our way this year?