Cultivate the Value of Gratitude – Part Two

How do you overcome the seeds of ungratefulness that culture has planted in your soul? How do you learn to be grateful in a world that excels at its opposite? How do you overcome the prevailing ethos of entitlement?

I’d like to borrow a line from a Matt Redman song called “Blessed Be Your Name.” In it, he sings to God, “Every blessing you pour out, I’ll turn back to praise.” To cultivate an attitude of gratitude, we should turn everything good in our lives into an opportunity to worship and give God thanks and praise. When we do, we acknowledge the Giver of the gifts. The Bible says in James, “Every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). Since anything good we have comes from God, why not give God the credit? 

Remember, the entitled person feels he or she deserves everything good that they receive, ignoring God’s goodness in the blessings (see yesterday’s blog – Part One). But when they don’t get what they want in life, God then to get the blame. On the other hand, when we turn blessings to praise, we cultivate gratitude. We’re training our hearts to become constantly aware of God’s goodness.

Any blessing we don’t turn back to praise turns into pride. We think we earned it, deserved it, or are worthy of it. That’s pride. And pride breaks God’s heart. Among other things, pride is a God-repellent. He opposes the proud. The good news is that God gives grace to the humble. Just as pride disgusts God, praise delights Him.

The apostle Paul modeled the right attitude better than anyone I know. Paul easily could have fallen victim to material, relational, or circumstantial ungratefulness. He had reason to gripe about all that he’d given up for Christ. He’d surrendered the normal life of marriage and being a dad to spread the Gospel. He’d been beaten, flogged, shipwrecked, stoned, left for dead, and imprisoned.

While in house arrest, instead of blaming God, crying about the injustices, or losing his faith, Paul chose to focus on what he had. In his gratitude, Paul discovered the secret of contentment. This wasn’t a natural response for him, just as it won’t be natural for us. Paul had to learn contentment, gratitude, and praise. He said, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

No matter what life threw his way, Paul learned to be grateful and content. Not on his own but through Christ who gave him strength. 

Once you take inventory of all your blessings, it’s easy to be thankful for what God has given you. But it’s also helpful to think not just of the good things you have but also the bad things that you haven’t experienced. 

In her poem “Otherwise” poet Jane Kenyon reflects on her blessings with gratitude, embracing each moment of life.

I got out of bed

On two strong legs.

It might have been

otherwise. I ate

cereal, sweet

milk, ripe flawless

peach. It might

have been otherwise.

I took the dog uphill

to the birch wood.

All morning I did

the work I love.

At noon I lay down

with my mate. It might

have been otherwise.

We ate dinner together

at a table with silver

candlesticks. It might

have been otherwise.

I slept in a bed

in a room with paintings

on the walls, and 

planned another day

just like this day.

But one day, I know,

it will be otherwise.

Kenyon wrote that poem in 1993, upon learning that her husband, Donald Hall, had cancer. Ironically, it was Kenyon, not Hall, who died a year later after a fierce and swift battle with leukaemia. “Otherwise” came unexpectedly. But Jane Kenyon didn’t miss the blessings of God in each day. She learned the art of gratitude.  

Cultivate the Value of Gratitude – Part One

Have you ever gone to a lot of trouble to do something special for someone, but they barely acknowledge your effort? You planned. You saved. You prepared. You thought of every detail. You made everything just right. You worked like crazy to surprise someone, bless someone, honour someone. And they didn’t say thank you. Of course you didn’t do it to be rewarded, but an acknowledgement would have been nice.

Imagine how God feels when He gives us life, His love, His presence, His blessings, His Son. And we ignore Him, continuing to do our own thing. Or perhaps we’re a bit more gracious and give a polite, token “thanks, God.” We show up for church once or twice a month, if we’re not too tired or don’t have the chance to take a weekend trip out of town. We halfheartedly sing a few songs, listen to the sermon, nodding to acknowledge God before rushing to our favourite restaurant or coffee shop to enjoy our normal life.

I believe that as believers we need to learn and live, embrace and cultivate the life-changing value of gratitude. Difficult at the best of times and especially so in our “entitlement” culture of today. But, as disciples we must focus on and make an effort to cultivate a lifestyle that is consistently grateful for all we have been given by the Lord. Living life with an attitude of gratitude is life-changing.

Gratitude kills pride. Gratitude slays self-sufficiency. Gratitude crushes the spirit of entitlement. When we replace our daily discontentment with whatever in life is bothering us – and simply focus on how much we have to be grateful for, our hearts will slowly change and we will live a life of thanksgiving.

Learning to be grateful to God puts us in a constant awareness of the source of all good things in our lives, always reminding us of our need, which God met through Christ. Rather than demanding that God serve our wishes, gratitude puts us in our rightful place – eternally indebted to the One who gave us life in the first place.

When you dig up the roots of entitlement, gratitude will grow in the good soil of a fertile heart. Gratitude will change how you see your past, acknowledging God’s sovereignty in all things. Gratitude positions you to experience God moment by moment in the present, depending on Him daily. Gratitude places you in a posture of worship, ready to give praise to God for every good thing He will do in your future.

What has God done in your life? What has He given you? What blessings do you take for granted? Your life? Your health? Your friendships? Your job? Your home or apartment? When you pause to really think, I promise you can see God in all things, even in the things you wish had never happened.

I’ve always found it interesting that people ask why bad things happen to them, but they rarely ask why good things happen to them. These attitudes reflect the false belief that we don’t deserve bad but we do deserve good. Remember, all we really deserve is hell. If you’re a Christian, Christ has saved you from the pit of your sin. You’ve been filled with the Spirit of God. You’re adopted into God’s eternal family. Your life is not your own. You were bought with a price – the blood of Jesus shed for you on the cross.

Just like the lepers who came to Jesus, you’ve been cleansed. Healed. Transformed. (see: Luke 17: 11-19)  Will you be like most in our society — like the nine who were too busy to say “thank you”? Or will you be different, live gratefully, and return to say thank you to the God who gave you everything that matters?  

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.”

Simon (the Rock) Peter

One of my favourite people in the Bible is Peter the fisherman. I relate to his inconsistencies, blunders, and well-intentioned failures. Like most of us, Simon didn’t have the credentials expected of a spiritual leader or hero. Many would have described him as unstable, unpredictable, and impulsive. But Jesus saw more in him than others saw. And, because of this fisherman’s story I know that Jesus sees more in you and me as well.

Calling Simon to be His disciple, Jesus gave the fisherman a new name that carried a new purpose (see Matthew 16). After Jesus plays a round of spiritual Jeopardy! Asking His followers who He really is, Peter lands the big money with the right answer. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” In recognizing Jesus’ true identity, Simon is stepping into a new name and a new position within the group of 12 disciples and in the future Church. 

Jesus says, “And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

(Matthew 16:17-18 emphasis mine)

He is no longer Simon, but Peter. He will no longer cast nets for fish, but now he will be a fisher of men. God will use him to win people into God’s Kingdom.

Now, if you know anything at all about Peter, even after Jesus’ declaration, Peter didn’t always live up to his new name. Like us, he still had much growing to do as a believer, a disciple, and as a leader. Numerous times Peter fell short of faithfulness. When the guards confronted Jesus near the Garden of Gethsemane, rather than responding as Jesus taught him, Peter resorted to violence and sliced off a soldier’s ear. I’m only guessing, but I am pretty sure Peter was swinging for the head and missed.

Peter’s most infamous failure followed on the heels of his boldest declaration. When Jesus explained that many would fall away, Peter fought back, promising his allegiance. “Even if everyone else in the world falls away and leaves you,” Peter declared with unbending boldness, “I will always be there for You and never let You down. (Mark 14:29, paraphrased). If you know the rest of the story, before the rooster crowed, Peter denied even knowing his Lord, not once, but three different times.

Even though Peter didn’t initially live up to his new name and purpose, God helped him grow into it. His consistent shortcomings became his best teacher to learn about the grace and redemption of God through Christ, Since he was forgiven much, he knew how to preach on repentance and forgiveness. It’s no wonder that God chose Peter to be the keynote speaker on the day of Pentecost as he unwaveringly told people to turn from their sins and turn to Christ,

Peter the Wishy Washy grew into his new name and purpose — Peter the Rock, called not to fish for fish but to fish for souls. History shows us that Peter died a martyr’s death for his faith in Christ. Tradition says that his enemies planned to crucify him on a cross just like Jesus to mock his faith in Christ. But Peter begged them not to, explaining that he wasn’t worthy to die in the same way as his Saviour. Many Christians believe that Peter was crucified upside down, displaying his love for Christ and his unwillingness to end his life in the same way as his Saviour. Peter may have been born as quicksand, but he died a rock. 

So, like Simon, when Jesus looks at you He does not see what others see. He does see what you see. So often people are labeled for one or another aspect of their lives. And then they wear the label like this is who they really are. Like this is all they really are. But Jesus sees past the self-imposed labels. He sees past the other-people-imposed labels. He sees the real you, the potential that He placed within you. We need to get past the identity baggage and see ourselves as Jesus sees us.

You don’t need to think long and hard to name people who’ve been labeled. There is Attila…the Hun. There is Conan …the Barbarian. Billy… the kid. Buffy… the Vampire Slayer. And, a child’s favourite, Winnie … the Pooh. Right or wrong people are known for what they do. Tiger Woods was known for being the best golfer in the world. Unfortunately, because of his extracurricular activities, he has now picked up less favourable labels. Some people’s names even become synonymous with their crimes or failures. No one wants to be a Benedict Arnold or a Doubting Thomas. You get the idea. There is Pam the People Pleaser. Evan the Evasive. 

Whatever you have labeled yourself; whatever others have labeled you — you are more than that. Much more. And, Jesus sees the real you and wants to work with you, walk with you, to bring the real you into the sunlight. He wants to help you lose the identity baggage and become whom He created you to be. No matter what others think or see, Jesus looks past all of that and sees the potential.

Like Peter we can find forgiveness and redemption in our walk with Jesus. Like Peter, Jesus will help us to see and realize the potential that is within us. And, with His help he will lead us into His eternal plan and purpose for our lives. You and I are on an amazing and exciting journey to discover who we really are ‘in Christ.’

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!

Passionate People

Passionate people live each day to the fullest. They recognize that every day is a gift from the Giver of Life, Jesus. They know that there are a great number of problems in the world today but they see problems as opportunities for God to move and do what He is good at – performing miracles. In spite of what they face they embrace and live each day fully and passionately. 

Passionate people are not afraid of making mistakes. They learn from their failures and see them as one of life’s greatest teachers. And failure can be a great teacher is we choose to learn from it rather than let it crush us. And, passionate people make that choice willingly and quickly.

An employee in a large corporation made a mistake that cost the company a million dollars. The man was called on to see the boss, and he fully expected to be fired. But his boss had a different approach.

“Do you know the secret of making a million dollars?” Asked the boss. “It’s making good decisions. And do you know the secret of making good decisions? It’s making bad decisions and learning from them. I’ve just invested a million dollars in you, so learn from your mistake. It may turn out to be a reasonably priced lesson after all.”

What are some of the lessons passionate people learn from their failures? Here are just a few that come to mind:

      • Failure teaches us to depend on God
      • Failure teaches us humility
      • Failure teaches us that we can’t always get what we want
      • Failure teaches us to make a correction in our course of action
      • Failure teaches us character
      • Failure teaches us perseverance
      • Failure teaches us that we can endure and survive

In terms of personal failure and defeat, I like to divide people into two categories: learners and non-learners. When learners make a mistake or fail at a task, they are less likely to repeat it. Non-learners are destined to fail again and again. When learners do something that works, they will probably do it even better the next time. Non-learners are hard-pressed even to repeat the victory.

George Eliot once said: “It’s never to late to become the person you could have been.” I would go on to say that you are destined to remain the person you have always been, lacking the passion and joy in life you desire, unless you learn from your failures and defeats.

Passionate people hang in there when the going gets tough. They persist, they persevere, they never lose heart,, and they never quit. Proverbs 24:16 says, “For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again.” Jesus told the parable of the persistent widow “that men always ought to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Combine these two scriptural principles, and you have the idea that a person who keeps praying and keeps persisting until success is certain — an unbeatable formula. And they pray and persist because they are passionate about life and everything each day contains for them.

The apostle Paul urged that we be “not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11). And he said to the Corinthian Christians, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us … Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:7, 16)

The “inward man,” of course is the key to all of this. When the torrential storm comes and the outward world is in turmoil we need to realize that we can live in the the calm of the eye of the storm. This means walking in the powerful understanding and faith that even if every worldly possession was washed away, God is unmovable and steadfast. And the best part is that this “inward man” – that spiritual passion – is renewed every single day. Here is the powerful inner strength that endure regardless of what the day brings our way. The powerful inner strength that enables us to be passionate people.

Psalm 46:1-3 “God, you’re such a safe and powerful place to find refuge! You’re a proven help in time of trouble — more than enough and always available whenever I need you. So we will never fear even if every structure of support were to crumble away. We will not fear even when the earth quakes and shakes, moving mountains and casting them into the sea. For the raging roar of stormy winds and crashing waves cannot erode our faith in you.” (The Passion Translation)

If you have that truth locked in your heart, you will keep coming back for more. You will be persistent and passionate regardless. You will have the passion of Peter, the Rock. During his three years on earth with Jesus, Peter humiliated himself more than once. But the important thing in the end was not his failures but his resilience. His passion for life. His passion for Jesus. His passion for the Kingdom. His passion for the Church. His passion for the lost. Peter was the disciple who walked on water toward Jesus until his faith gave out and he started to sink (see Matthew 14:22-32). Was it more important that he failed or that he was passionate enough, engaged fully, that he stepped out of the boat in faith? 

Do others consider you a passionate person? Fully engaged and excited about living life with Jesus? Someone who is fully embracing every aspect of life, every day? And, if the answer is no, what would you need to change to be seen and considered to be a passionate person?

Think about it!

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. 

What Would Jesus Eat?

Jesus made a statement that should make us pause before we order our next burger. “My food,” He said, “is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work” (John 4:34).

Wow. My food is to serve God. My food is to please Him. My food is to complete the assignment that God sent Me to do. My food is to do the will of My Father and to finish His work. That’s a different kind of nourishment. And one that caused Jesus’ disciples to stop and think, just as it does us. At first they were a little confused. Their leader had just finished ministering to a thirsty woman who needed more than water from a well when the disciples realized it has been a while since Jesus had eaten. So his buddies urged Him to stop and have a bite so He could keep up His energy.

But Jesus, never one to miss a teaching opportunity, responded, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about” (John 4:32). Now, if your mind is a bit odd like mine, you might imagine the disciples thinking, You’ve got food we know nothing about? Have you been hiding some of those new figs and olive Power Bars under your robe? Do you have pockets in there? Sneaking lamb kabobs from the temple concessions? Here we’ve been starving for hours and you’ve got some daily bread stuffed in your fanny pack? Why have you been holding out on us, Lord?

Maybe we’re not so weird after all, because the disciples also took the Lord’s response literally. “Could someone have bought Him food?” They asked (John 4:33). Maybe when we weren’t paying attention, one of the kids in the crowd slipped Him another Filet-O-Fish and some fries. 

When the people around us are all saying, “Get all you can! It’s all about you,” God wants us to contribute rather than to consume. When all of culture says, “Fill yourself,” God tells us to fill others. God didn’t create us to be takers. He created us to be givers. Rather than focusing on our desires, we are called to focus on the needs of others. Instead of cutting to the front of the line, we are called to wait at the end. God created us to serve.

And while at first it might seem like we aren’t getting as much (have you noticed how entitled the phrase “my fair share” sounds?), when we give our lives away, we discover a new and counterintuitive truth: When we give our lives, that’s when we find them. When we serve others, we’re serving God. We are more blessed when we give than when we receive. When we stop obsessing over what we want, only then can we find what we need.

And that kind of spiritual food, that spiritual nourishment, is far better than any burger.