Just Be You!

Every one of us is unique. God created us and we are “one of a kind.” There has never been someone exactly like you before you. There will never be someone exactly like you after you are no longer on the plant. And, each one of us is called, through our uniqueness, to do good works that He has prepared for us even before we were born (see: Ephesians 2:10).

Because He created you and has selected specific things for you to do within His wider plans and purposes, you have everything you need to fulfill your purpose. So, you have everything you need to do everything God wants you to do.

Don’t just take my word for it. Look at what Scripture says: “[God’s] divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3). FIRST, notice that according to this verse a godly life doesn’t happen under our own power; it happens by God’s divine power. NEXT, make sure you realize what God’s divine power have given us. Every thing. Every thing. Everything. In case you’re wondering, the Greek word translated as “everything” in this verse, pas (pronounced PAHS), means “everything.” It also means “each, every, any, all, the whole, all things.” You know … “everything.”

God is never caught off guard. He doesn’t ask people to do something, then realize later that they weren’t equipped to do it and say, “Whoops! My bad! I don’t know what I was thinking. You don’t have what you need to do that!”

When God called Moses to lead the Hebrew people out of their slavery to the Egyptians, Moses didn’t believe he was good enough to do it (see Exodus 4). He didn’t believe he was that unique person designed for this specific task. He argues with God, “I’m not a good speaker. I can’t do this!” And you’ll remember from the story that God slapped His forehead and answered, “Oh, my Me, Moses! You’re right. I guess I just thought you could do it, but you’re obviously not good enough!”

Of course, God never did that. When God calls you, He equips you with everything you need to do everything He wants you to do. I believe that this “I can’t do it” mentality boils down to each one of us comparing ourselves to others we know and see around us. When people compare themselves to other people, we end up making excuses for ourselves:

      • “Well, I’m not a good speaker like Stephen.”
      • “Dave’s really good with money, but I never have been.”
      • “I sure wish I had Beth’s confidence.”

Scripture tells us that when we compare ourselves with each other, we are not wise (2 Corinthians 10:12). Instead, we should be focusing on the unique ways God created us. We say, “I wish I could do that!” Instead, we should be discovering and acknowledging those things that we can do. What are the things you can do that other people can’t? God has given you everything you need to ado everything Her wants you to do.

When I speak God’s Word, I can sense God’s Spirit empowering me. God created me to share and teach His truth. Of course, there are far more things that I cannot do.

I can’t sing. When I try to sing, dogs howl and birds migrate. I’m pretty sure what I do doesn’t even qualify as a joyful noise.

I can’t fix anything. I may be the only person I know who’s gifted at breaking things that are already broken. You may have heard that old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t let Howe anywhere near it!” I’m so bad at fixing things that I can’t even fix a sandwich.

But those things don’t bother me. Because I wasn’t created to sing. I wasn’t created to fix broken appliances. And what difference does that make in God’s blueprint for my life? Other people were created to do those things, and it’s my great joy to let them live out the talents God made them for.

Stop focusing on the things you can’t do. Turn your attention to the things you can do. Don’t flip through the catalog of things you aren’t, wishing you could order a few nice things for yourself. Instead, look at the sales brochure for you. Start meditating on the truth about you: “I am a unique person created by God. One of a kind. I’m a new creature in Christ Jesus. I already have everything I need to do everything God wants me to do.”

People At Your Funeral

I know that it’s hard to imagine, but one day people are going to talk about you. When you die and people gather to “remember you” people are going to talk about you. And what I’ve learned from all the funerals I have officiated at is this: at the end of your life, those who loved you most won’t talk about many of the things that consume your thinking today. So many of the things we strive for, chase after, and emphasize in our culture never get mentioned in those settings. I’ve never been at a funeral where the family passed around the deceased loved ones resume, reminiscing about each of his accomplishments. I’ve never once seen family pass around bank statements or stock portfolios. And as much as our culture applauds sports, I’ve never seen trophies or medals displayed next to someone’s casket.

It’s not what they did that matters but who they were.

Their motives, their attitudes, their feelings – the kind of person they were – these are the things for which they are remembered. Funny stories about how they always did certain things in their own special way. Memories of how they offered encouragement, support, friendship, compassion, and love to family, friends, coworkers, communities. Testimonies about how their strength, courage, stamina, and faith inspired everyone around them. These are what define a person’s story in the end. 

Stephen Covey, in his leadership classic, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, asks readers to think through how they want to be remembered when they die. While it may sound creepy or morbid or depressing, it’s actually a quite liberating and life-affirming exercise. When we think about the kind of person we want others to remember us for being, it’s much easier to work backwards from our deaths to make the choices now that can help us grow into that person. When we know our destination, it’s much clearer when and where we should start, stop, stay, and go. 

Ultimately, we know that our stories don’t have to end when we leave this life. When we experience the grace of God through Christ, we can live forever serving and enjoying God in heaven. And while I don’t know for sure, that’s when I think the stories that our lives tell will be taken to a whole new level.

Because our stories are not just our stories

Our stories are part of an ever bigger story.

Every life is connected to so many others.

My story is connected to your story. All of our lives intersect with countless other lives in ways that we don’t recognize or can’t even imagine. But God knows the big story, the grand design that He’s been authoring since the beginning of time. He knows how all the chapters fit together, how each of our stories unite in an epic like no other. 

Imagine a person in heaven explaining how your life impacted them. How your story changed their story. I’ve heard someone speculate that in heaven we’ll have a huge banquet, a crazy-joyful dinner party unlike any other. During the meal, one after another, each person will share their story, and we’ll finally get to see how they all fit together.

So how do you want your part in that ultimate story to read? I know you don’t want to live with regrets. None of us does. But most will. You may not like where your story is heading, but it isn’t finished yet. It’s not too late to change it. We’ve all made decisions we regret. We’ve all made mistakes and found ourselves wondering how we were going to keep going. But the good news – the essence of the new life, of being born again, is that Jesus is walking with you and is there for you. He want to help you write your life story. He is willing to give you a fresh start. Rebirth. Resurrection. Grace. 

God wants your story to be more than “happily ever after.” He wants you to be fulfilled “eternally ever after.” If you allow Him, your story will become written in a language more meaningful, with themes more beautiful, than you could ever imagine. 

The choice is yours!

Success and Distress

It’s easy to ignore God when life is good, but He sure seems appealing in the middle of a storm when life is going sideways.

Jonah knew a thing or two about that. He’d rebelled against what God had told him to do and made a run for it in the opposite direction. But through a series of unusual events, Jonah’s actions caught up with him at sea. He was thrown overboard and swallowed by an enormous fish. Jonah himself described the life-altering incident this way: “In my distress I called to the LORD, and He answered me … When my life was ebbing away, I remembered You LORD, and my prayer rose to You…” (Jonah 2:2, 7). Notice when Jonah remembered God: it was during distress. I can’t think of many people who remember God during their success, but I know plenty who do during their distress.

When you are drowning, you need a life preserver. When there’s a storm, you need shelter. When you’re hurting, you need a comforter.

God allows storms in our lives for a variety of reasons, and one of them is to draw us closer to Him. And like when the disciples crossed the sea and a storm arose threatening to sink them we need to remember, as they did, that Jesus is in the boat and thus in the middle of the storm with you. 

I have learned that I experience Jesus better in the valleys than I do on the mountaintops. Sure, I appreciate Him when things are good, but I need Him when I’m low. David walked through the valley of the shadow of death and said, “I fear no evil because You are with me.” In the same way, I decided long ago to trust God in all situations when I have nothing else to trust but Him. And, even when there are other alternatives that I might lean towards to fit the current life situation I am facing, I still trust in only Him. 

To trust God regardless of your circumstances, remember two things when you are caught in a storm.

First, God’s presence is with you, no matter how alone you may feel. 

He is always with you. Mark wrote in his gospel, “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped” (Mark 4:37). Notice this wasn’t just a spring shower; it was almost too much for the small boat and the frightened disciples (some of whom were seasoned fishermen) to handle. But even though the circumstances seemed too much to bear, the disciples were not alone. Mark states, “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion” (verse 38).

So many people think that they wouldn’t be going through their struggles if God were really with them. But that’s simply not the case. Having Jesus in the stern beside you doesn’t mean the storm won’t rock your boat. It just means the storm won’t sink you. Never forget: He’s with you, both in the spring shower and in the worst tornado imaginable. 

Second, not only is God with you in the storms, He will also use them for His purposes in your life.

No matter how terrible it may seem in the moment, God always has a higher plan and a good purpose because He loves you more than you can imagine.

Think about the story we’ve been talking about. Who decided to take the boat ride? Did you even notice that detail? It was Jesus. After teaching, Jesus said, “Let’s go to the other side.” Why did He plan this short trip? Because He knew that on the east side of the lake there was a man in need. So He loaded up His buddies and started the journey to go help this suffering person. And since Jesus was God in the flesh, He knew the storm would come. Going in the storm was always part of His plan. 

Don’t miss this: The disciples didn’t experience the storm because they were out of God’s will. The disciples experienced the storm because they were in God’s will. Their ordeal wasn’t some accident, some freak event that took Jesus by surprise. He knew the storm was coming. And He knew it would serve a higher purpose in the lives of those He loved.

Now, you might be asking, “Did God cause the storm?” That’s a great question, and a fair one. You might ask that about some area of your life or about someone you care about. Did God cause me to lose my job? Did God cause me to get depressed? Did God cause this bad thing to happen? We need to be honest and admit that brilliant and sincere Christians passionately debate this question. Does God cause everything to happen, or does God simply allow some things to happen?

Some say that God never causes anything bad to happen. Since God is a good God, they suggest that He causes only good things, and all bad things come from our evil opposition. Others argue that God is so big and sovereign that He rules the whole universe and causes everything that happens on earth and in heaven.

Honestly, I don’t know. I’m not God. I can’t tell whether God causes the storms or just allows them. But one thing you can count on is this: God always uses storms. When we love Him and we’re pursuing His purposes, He’s always working things out for our good (Romans 8:28).

When we recognize this truth, we can decide ahead of time that no matter what happens, no matter what life throws at us, we’ll trust God.

If you know that God is always with you and that He uses everything for your good, why are you so afraid?

Simply trust Him!

Achieve Great Things

If you want to achieve great things in your life, you’d better be ready for risk-taking. Theodore Roosevelt (former United States president) said, “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumph, even though checkered with failure, than to take rank with poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” If you’re a Christian, you know that the “gray twilight” he’s talking about isn’t mysterious or elusive. It’s called lack of faith. We can risk the cost of battle because Jesus promised, “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23). 

To move forward and achieve great things for the Lord and His Kingdom you often have to fight a giant or two in your life. Most of the giants we face are inside us. I am not saying that there will not be circumstances, situations, and relational conflicts that you will need to deal with. But, to live life fully and accomplish great things with your life there are some giants within each of us that we will need to face and defeat. They include: resentment, fear, discouragement, loneliness, worry, envy, guilt, shame. There are many battles that need to be faced and won before we can move on to achieve great things for the Lord.

There are many ‘giants’ that line up to challenge a passionate and fulfilling life as a believer. You may struggle against doubt, temptation, jealousy, procrastinations, anger, rejection, bitterness hopelessness, or another equally debilitating problem. You may be hindered from a life of passion and fulfillment by old scars and still-painful wounds inflicted by these brutes. If you hope to break through to a passion-filled life and achieve great things, you need to meet your issues head on, and by faith.

Most of us need our soul restored before we can become fully engaged in a life of passion fueled by our love for Jesus. All the motivational pep talks and spiritual disciples are hallow for the person who struggles with unresolved pain from the past and unconquered problems in the present. The path to passion  and achieving great things for wounded people begins by choosing no longer to be a victim and to take whatever steps God makes available to you to heal the past and help you move confidently into the future He has for you.

When you go to war against your inner issues, it probably won’t be easy, and you likely won’t dispense your problem with one shot. You may be in for a long battle. It may get worse before it gets better. You may take a hit or two along the way. But if the skirmish gets you past your personal issues and on the road to the passionate life you desire, it’s worth the risk and effort. Consider these lines from an anonymous author:

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.

To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.

To reach for another is to risk involvement.

To expose your ideas, your dreams, before a crowd is to risk their loss.

To love is to risk not being loved in return.

To live is to risk dying.

To believe is to risk failure.

But risks must be taken,

because the greatest hazard to life is to risk nothing.

The people who risk nothing, have nothing, are nothing.

They may avoid suffering and sorrow,

But they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live.

Chained by their attitudes, they are slaves;

They have forfeited their freedom.

Only the person who risks is free.

Father Knows Best

My father used to share with me his wisdom, usually when I was not asking for it. You know, when things went wrong and I was enjoying feeling sorry for myself. Some of his wisdom included:

      • “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose; it’s how you play the game.”
      • “You can do anything that you set your mind to.”
      • “You are who you run with”

This latter one was dealing with my friends when growing up and associates when working in the business world and pursuing the call of God on my life in the church world. I was never sure if he was suggesting that I find some new friends or new associates or not. But what has become clear, through, was the truth of the saying. Whether you’re a kid, a tween, a teenager, a young adult, or middle-aged, you will become like your closest friends. Count on it.

When we connect with another person, we become a conduit of their values, beliefs, and decisions. I’m not basing this just on my dad’s advice or on some clever pop psychology. In the Bible, Solomon wrote, “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20). If you stick close to people who are wise, you’ll become wiser. If you hang out with people who are godly, you’re likely going to grow closer to God. If you become close friends with people who make good decisions, chances are you will make good decisions too.

But the opposite is dangerously true as well. If you hang out with the wrong crowd, you’ll likely end up doing stupid and dangerous things along with them. If the people you surround yourself with are passive, unmotivated people, you’ll likely do less, not more. If your best friends constantly ignore God, chances are you’re going to drift from Him as well.

When I reflect on my life, I realize I rarely got into trouble by myself. Almost every time I did something stupid or unwise, I was running around with people who were equally foolish. On the flip side of that coin, I rarely succeeded at anything on my own. When I grew as a Christian leader, it was never in a vacuum. I was always blessed to have others speaking life into me and offering valuable feedback. The same is true spiritually. When I’m closest to God, I’m always simultaneously close to godly people as well. 

Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.

Any success I have in life is the direct result of a decision that changed the direction of my life. With God’s help, I connected with the best, God-loving, wise people I could find. And once I started looking, God continued to bring them across my path. Anything good that I’ve done or am doing comes from God using the right people to influence me and make me better. I am who I am today because of the friends and associates I chose in the past.

You are too. The people you know determine the story you tell with your life. And the people you’re hanging out with today are shaping the person you will become tomorrow. 

One Decision Away From…

The truth is each one of us is just one decision away from changing our lives forever. And, a second thought, your best decision is the one you’re about to make. For your life to be all that God wants it to be – that you want it to be – you need to understand that it’s the small choices no one sees that result in the big impact everyone wants. 

If there is a goal you want to achieve, you have to make decisions that will move you in the direction you want to go. These are not big decisions. They are actually every day, small, often mundane decisions. However, they add up and determine where you end up in life. Andy Stanley in his book “The Principle of the Path” puts it this way: “Direction, not intention, determines destination.”  And you set your direction in life one small decision at a time. 

If you want to take aim at the life you want to live, you have to make small, life-changing choices and then act on them daily. The best decision you can make is always the next one. Each decision should move you closer to becoming all that God made you to be, to turn your life in the direction of your goals and dreams  – and God’s plan for you. Most people look at others who are successful and figure they probably made just a handful of big, really important decisions. But the opposite is true. It’s the small choices no one sees that result in the big impact everyone wants. 

When you choose to forgive your spouse instead of holding on to resentment, no one sees that happen. But the evidence is clear in your marriage. People may tell you how great they think your kids are without ever realizing that their maturity happened over time, growing slowly out of small decisions, daily boundaries, and tiny course corrections you planted throughout their lives. Coworkers who see you get a promotion probably have no idea how many times you had to ignore workplace politics and just keep bringing your best every day. Even your friends who attend your college graduation might not appreciate just how many late nights you spent studying while it seemed like everyone else was procrastinating or partying.

If you could take a step back and look at your life, you’s see that every decision matters, even the little ones. Many of our daily choices happen invisibly, almost by default, like taking the same route to work every day or hopping onto social media every time we have a spare moment. Every day, we decide what to wear, where to park, when to schedule the next meeting, how to explain some report, what to eat for dinner. 

But it is critical to understand: these seemingly no-big-deal decisions add up over time. They become habits. And those habits have a cumulative effect, ultimately changing the story we tell with our lives and about our life. 

Let me give you a few examples of things people end up doing that, if they thought about it, they never would choose to do:

      • Most people who smoke never planned to become addicted to something that can kill them. They just decided to try it once to see if they liked it.
      • People who end up embezzling probably didn’t set it as a long-range goal to steal from their employer. Most likely they began by “borrowing” a little from petty cash to pay for lunch here and there.
      • People who have an affair didn’t just wake up one morning and think, “My spouse won’t mind if I get intimate with that hottie at the office.” It started back when they lingered a little after a meeting because they were enjoying the attention of a co-worker.
      • Most failed entrepreneurs probably didn’t include bankruptcy in their startup plans. They just went over budget to take a risk they didn’t properly evaluate.
      • People who find themselves hooded on prescription painkillers didn’t aspire to get arrested for driving under the influence and possessing illegal drugs. They were only looking for a little relief from chronic pain. 

It’s easy to observe problems like these and think, I would never do such a thing! Nobody wants to be that guy, the one who lost his marriage because of his secret porn addiction. No woman wants her story to include gossip, shoplifting, and alcoholism. It’s tempting to think there’s no way you could become addicted to cigarettes, embezzle from your employer, cheat on your spouse, overspend your corporate budget, or keep taking pain meds after the pain stops.

Most of us struggle to connect the small daily choices we are constantly making with the big differences we want to see in our lives. But the truth is you are one decision away from changing your life forever. And, your best decision ever is the one you’re about to make – intentionally or unintentionally (just by deciding to do nothing). 

So something to think about:

    • What is something you should “start” to do today?
    • What should you “stop” doing that will improve your daily life?
    • What is it you are wanting to run from but should really simply embrace and “stay”?
    • Where is God directing you to “go” in your walk with Him?
    • Is there someone you can “serve” in the Name of Jesus?
    • Who is it that God wants you to “connect” with?
    • What is preventing you from “trusting” God with your whole life?

Seven areas where decisions can result in a big impact.

Time To Leave?

We seem to be in a season of change. A time when we are having to leave what we know. What is safe, comfortable, and secure. Or, at least, what we believe is safe, comfortable, and secure. I am sensing deep in my soul that it is “Time to Leave” what is known and stretch; reaching out to what is yet unknown. Unknown but challenging and certainly exciting.

What about you? Do you sense something new happening in your life? Can you smell the change in the wind? Even if you don’t feel like anything is different right at the moment, it’s always a good idea to keep your heart prepared for change. Because it happens to us all: a new step of faith, a new venture, a new opportunity.

You’ll face something new or different, maybe something you didn’t see coming. You can’t avoid change. Sometimes we’re called to stand our ground when change blows in, but many times we need to take a risk and step into the change. God may have planted a restless desire (what I call ‘Divine Discontent’) in you to serve Him in some surprising way. Maybe He’s given you a burden for a specific group of people or inhabitants of a special place. Maybe He’s calling you to go. Follow that hunch and see where it takes you. Take that leap of faith. Embrace the adventure. The best way to make a big jump is to get a good running start. 

There’s a great story in the Old Testament about Abram and Sarai (who later are renamed Abraham and Sarah) that I think illustrates this perfectly. In Genesis 12, God speaks to Abram. At the time, Abram was living in a town called Haran, but he was from a city called Ur of the Chaldees. Back in Abram’s hometown of Ur, the people worshipped a false moon god named Nannar.

What’s significant here is that the one true God chose to reveal Himself to Abram, a guy whose only exposure to religion was seeing people worship the moon. God gave Abram a very simple, direct command: walk away from everything you’ve ever known. “Leave your country and your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1 NIV emphasis mine).

Leave and go.

It may seem obvious, but to go somewhere else you have to leave where you are. To go somewhere else, you have to leave what’s known, what’s comfortable, what’s predictable, and what’s easy. To step toward your destiny, you might have to step away from your security. 

Just imagine the kinds of things that must have been going through Abram’s mind. But I’ve lived here for years, God! I moved here with my dad. This is my home. I like it here. All my friends are here. My house is almost paid for. The schools are great. (I know Sarai and I were never able to have kids, but still.) My best friend lives right down the street from me. Over there is where I get my hair cut. I get my camels groomed just around the corner, and I really trust that guy. I don’t want to leave!

Abram had all these things he was used to. A life that was comfortable. And here comes God, calling him to go some place he doesn’t know anything about. But God makes Abram a promise. He says, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all people on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2-3).

I can imagine Abram talking back to God. “Say what? A great nation is going to come from us? Maybe you missed this, God, but uh, we have exactly zero kids. None. We’re childless. Sure, we tried for years – and trying was fun! But that never got us any results. Now here I am, seventy-five years old. It’s really kind of too late for us. Surely we can’t start having kids now. And you’re telling me you’re going to make us into a whole nation.

I wonder if you’ve ever made a promise to God like I have.

      • “God, if you’ll just help me pass this one test, I promise I’ll study next time”
      • “God, if you’ll just let me not get caught, I’ll never do this again, I promise”
      • Lord, if you’ll help me finish this big project for work, I promise I’ll start sooner next time”

I don’t know about you,, but most of the promises I’ve made to God didn’t stick. That’s because we’re not changed by the promises we make to God; we’re changed by believing the promises God makes to us.

Let’s look in verse 4 at what happens to Abram after God makes His promise:”So Abram left, as the LORD had told him to.” Simple as that. Just what God told him to do., Abram did. But what if he hadn’t? What if instead Abram had tried to rationalize everything? What might have happened?

Today, because of Old Testament tradition, we sometimes refer to God as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” If Abram hadn’t gone, God wouldn’t have changed his name to Abraham later when He made a covenant with him (Genesis 17). There wouldn’t have been an Isaac. There wouldn’t have been a Jacob. We wouldn’t know God today as “the God of Abraham” because Abram would have continued serving his old moon god Nannar.

If Abram hadn’t had the faith to obey God and step out, who knows what consequences we might be living with today? Would you refer to as “the God of Carl, Alex, and Jeff?” We can’t know. Thankfully, because Abram had faith in the one true God, we don’t have to.

Where is God calling you to venture into new territory? We are entering into a season of change. Embrace it. 

God’s Ultimate Over Your Immediate

Here is something we all need to keep in mind: “You will very likely overestimate what God wants to do through you in the short run. But you will very likely underestimate what God wants to do through you in the long run.

Remember that ministry and impacting others with the Gospel of the Kingdom and the love of God is a marathon and not a short sprint. 

Our walk with God and our daily lives is really a series of small decisions that we make and choices that come along that don’t seem to be life-changing or earth-shattering. Just small every day choices and decisions that will determine the future that we will have. The impact we will have. 

There were two brothers – Esau and Jacob. Esau was the oldest and he was a hunter. He was, of course, his father’s favourite. And because he was the oldest son he was given very special treatment as he would be the heir to his father when Isaac died. He came in one day from hunting and was seriously hungry. He made one small decision that impacted the rest of his life and the history of the world as we know it. He traded his birthright for a bowl of stew. After all, he was hungry and was not thinking long-term or even short-term repercussions of this one decision.

The same is true of us. We generally have short-term vision and think only of the immediate need or want. We make decisions based on our feelings and current situation without much thought – if any thought – about what will change in the future because of this one small decision or choice that we are making in the immediate – the now! So, really we need to let the Holy Spirit guide us in every minor and major decision of every day.

Paul told us to “let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires” (Galatians 5:16-17 NLT). As God’s Spirit guides us, we won’t be seeking the bowl of stew, another Oreo cookie, or a scoop of ice cream. The Holy Spirit replaces our lower, self-serving, demanding desires with God’s higher, Kingdom-serving, selfless ones.

Think about this for a moment. For centuries God’s name has often been tagged by the patriarchs who loved and served Him faithfully. You’ve probably heard God referred to as “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” If you pause and reflect on the story we mentioned above, you’ll see something that will stop you in your tracks.

Esau was the older brother with the birthright. When Jacob tricked him into giving away his birthright, Esau traded the ultimate for the immediate. If he hadn’t made that devastatingly destructive shortsighted decision, throughout history you would have heard God referred to as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau. Esau lost his standing.

You’ll be wiser. I know you will. When faced with temptations, you’ll look beyond the moment. You’ll remember that patience is better than power. Self-control is more important than conquering a city (See Proverbs 16:32). You’ll choose God’s ultimate over the immediate. You’ll never trade your birthright for a simply bowl of stew. You’ll no longer sacrifice your destiny for distorted or daily desires.

As you realize how much God has planned for you to do in this world, I pray you will live with a long-term perspective – a Kingdom perspective – making decisions that will honour God and propel you forward over time. You sacrifice your own ego-driven agenda in order to experience the perfect timing of God’s plan and purpose for your life. Instead of demanding that you want now, you’re often infinitely better off waiting. Proverbs 16:32 says, “Better to be patient than powerful; better to have self-control than to conquer a city” (NLT).

Living with patience is better than muscling forward to demand what you want before the time is right. Self-control often unlocks the door to blessings that are longer lasting and more meaningful. Patience comes from knowing you already have enough of what you need the most because you are God’s child and He knows what you have need off even before you ask. And He has given to you all that you need certainly to life and to godliness. 

 

Overnight Success?

Behind every great story there’s always another story. Rarely does success come without time, discipline, and hard work. Successful people often joke that they spent years becoming an overnight success. What many people don’t realize is that it’s the things no one sees that result in the things everyone wants. It’s the faithfulness to do mundane things well, to develop productive habits, and to remain faithful that eventually leads to success.

Old Testament prophet Daniel is a great example of this. Whether you know a lot or a little about Daniel, when you hear his name, you probably think, Oh, yeah . . . Daniel in the lion’s den. Any kid who grew up attending Sunday school or visiting vacation bible school, has heard the amazing story of Daniel surviving the night in a cave filled with hungry felines.

Let me refresh your memory, and then we’ll go back to the part many overlook. King Darius was the reigning king of Persia. As his kingdom grew, he appointed 120 satraps (similar to our present-day governors) to handle regional matters and help govern the people. The king then chose three administrators to oversee those 120 satraps. Daniel was one of the chosen leaders. Over time, by consistently serving the king with an excellent spirit, Daniel stood out among all the other satraps and administrators. Eventually the king decided to place Daniel in charge of the entire kingdom.

So Daniel was an overnight success, right? Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Don’t forget, there’s a story behind every story. Why was Daniel successful? Why was he favoured among others? Why did the king respect him so much? Promote him so quickly? Believe in his leadership? Why did God look favourably on Daniel? Why did God close the mouths of the meat-eating lions?

We find the answer in a part of Daniel’s story that many people skim over. His divine favour was the result of one small decision he made at some point in his life. We don’t know when Daniel made this decision or why. We don’t know whether someone helped him or he decided it on his own. All we know is that Daniel made one decision, starting one habit that changed his story.

As you might expect, the other leaders were fuming with jealousy of Daniel. The story continues, “Then the other administrators and high officers began searching for some fault in the way Daniel was handling government affairs, but they couldn’t find anything to criticize or condemn. He was faithful, always responsible, and completely trustworthy. So they concluded, ‘Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the rules of his religion.’” (Daniel 6:4-5)

Let’s consider for a moment some of the great qualities of our hero Daniel. Even though the other guys did everything they could do to find something wrong with him, they couldn’t find anything. Daniel was honest, trustworthy, and dependable in all that he did. He was exactly the type of person the king was looking to promote. So his opponents decided there was only one way they could trap Daniel into doing something worthy of punishment. They needed to devise a plan that involved his faith in God. They knew he wouldn’t do anything wrong. They were going to have to back him into a spiritual corner.

“So the administrators and high officers went to the king and said, “Long live King Darius! We are all in agreement—we administrators, officials, high officers, advisers, and governors—that the king should make a law that will be strictly enforced. Give orders that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions” (Daniel 6:6-7)

The king apparently liked the sound of their plan because he agreed to their proposal. No one could pray to anyone but him for the next month. And so the plan to trap Daniel was set in motion. 

When Daniel heard about the new thirty-day restriction on prayer, he did the same thing he’d done three times a day for months, maybe years, possibly decades. Daniel went to his house and prayed to God.

As a result, Dan the Man was arrested and had to stare down the big cats and prove that God was his one and only. But think for a minute. It wasn’t just that Daniel wasn’t afraid of lions or had some super courage that mere mortals can never hope to attain. No, Daniel had started a regular practice much earlier in his life that helped him face this impossible situation. To others, prayer might have seemed insignificant. But to Daniel, it was a discipline that shaped his story.

We don’t know how many years Daniel had been practicing this habit, but three times a day, every day, Daniel stopped and looked toward heaven. He worshipped God. He aligned his heart with God’s heart. He sought God’s will to be done through his life. Because of Daniel’s consistent and prayerful focus, he grew as a God follower, as a person, and as a leader.

Daniel wasn’t an overnight success. He was able to stand tall because he’s faithfully knelt before the one true king. The small, daily discipline of prayer equipped him to face the big, scary test of those hungry lions, both the peers who were attempting to destroy him as well as the big cats in the arena. Starting something small and then faithfully continuing it made his story so rich that it’s been told for thousands of years now, and still counting.

The moral of the story: It’s the things not one sees that result in the things everyone wants. 

A Stress-Free Life

When the topic of stress comes up, it is usually to remind us of how stress can be harmful to our health and overall well-being. You rarely, if ever, hear that stress is part of a meaningful life.

As a Christian leader I use to attend a number of leadership events every year. I would often hear warnings about stress and ways to avoid it. Sometimes it was even presented in ways that caused me to feel ashamed that I was working hard and putting in long hours in the trenches of “pastor-preneuring” the church I had just planted. I never remember anyone explaining that stress actually has an upside. Not all stress is bad stress, and to live with no stress is an unreasonable goal if you want to have a meaningful life. There’s no shame in stepping into stress. It doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong, and it doesn’t make you less spiritual.

Jesus had stress. In fact, Scripture says He sweated blood, which can happen when our body is reacting to extreme stress.

The disciples had stress. The mission they were on required them to embrace stress.

The heroes of the Bible had stress. The goal was not to have a stress-free life.

Marriage has stress. When two different people (often opposite in personality) decide to do life together, they are committing themselves to a journey that includes its share of stress.

Family has stress. Children are a blessing, but parenting is stress on steroids.

You and I are no different. We will have stress if we have a job, and stress if we don’t have a job. We’ll have stress if we have lots of money or don’t have any money. There’s no such thing as a stress-free life!

In the move The Lion King, Timon and Pumbaa (the meerkat and the warthog) try to convince Simba, a young lion cub, to go after the stress-free life. They called it hakuna matata, which translates from Swahili as “there are no troubles.” It sounded great to young Simba, but the problem was that in the pursuit of hakuna matata, he would miss out on his future. Simba’s father, Mufasa, was king of the Pride Lands, and Simba’s destiny was to take over as the king. In the end he made the choice to give up the pursuit of trouble-free life and embrace the problems and the stress that go along with a life of meaning and purpose.

What’s true in Simba’s story is true in our story. We have absolutely zero chance of living a stress-free life and a meaningful life at the same time. 

Jesus taught us that there’s no such thing as a hakuna matata life here on earth: “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus is saying, “Trouble is unavoidable in the place that I have assigned to you. I’ve told you these things to give you peace in the trouble-filled, tension-filled places that I’ve assigned you to be.” He’s saying, “My peace, the peace that I can offer, is not limited to peaceful environments and peaceful circumstances. My eace goes with you unto places I’m sending you.” 

It always amazes me when I come across people who avoid pressure, because they want to be where God is, and they assume God’s not in the stress. They think God stays in the quiet, calm setting with serene surroundings. That’s like saying God keeps to the quite outdoors and spas. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a good idea to go somewhere quiet and peaceful to get recharged. At the same time, we have to get free of the idea that God is only in the quiet places. We need to start seeing Him in the noisy, loud, turbulent, pressure-filled places that He’s assigned us to. 

The good stuff happens in the place of pressure. Pressure is where giants like Goliath fall. Pressure is where battles are won. Pressure is where diamonds are formed and babies are born.

The pressure pf problems doesn’t mean the absence of God. While it’s true that sometimes God wants us to leave the tension and go to the peaceful place, He’s actually assigned us and called us to live in the wild. To stay in the streets. To have peace in the place of our assignments. God doesn’t wait for us to leave the pressure cooker and come to Him in the quiet place. God is in the chaotic and tension-filled places, too. He is in the stress, too!

Everything that’s worth something has a price. All progress has opposition and all advancement has adversity. When you find yourself in wild and crazy situations at school, at work, and in your family, you may feel tempted to withdraw or even to run the other way. But before you do, ask yourself, Is this where I’m meant to be? Is this what I’m here to do? Because the place you want to run from is often the place God has assigned you to. If He assigned you to that place, He is with you in that place. Start to see Him there.

God was in Babylon with Daniel and closed the mouths of the lions. God was in Macedonia with Paul and Silas and opened the doors of their jail cell. God puts us in places that are stressful to achieve the work He wants to do in that place. But He doesn’t just send us. He is there with us. God is in the stress.