Gaining Strength From the Little Things…

If I never learn to say “no” to my own desires…
…when I want yet another cookie…
…when I want to go to a movie I shouldn’t see even though my friends are going…
…when I want to spend some money that I should save…
…when I want to play another video game instead of taking out the trash…
…when I want to post something on social media that will dishonor someone else…
…when I want to check for new messages while I’m in the middle of a live conversation…

If I never learn to say “no” to the simple, little, daily choices in life,
how will I have the strength to say “no” when I face the bigger decisions and temptations that are sure to come?

Will I be able to say, “no” to my own desires…
…when I don’t want to have that difficult conversation that needs to be had?
…when I don’t want to help that person who has a need that I can meet?
…when I would be uncomfortable sharing my faith with someone?
…when professing my faith might cost me my freedom or my life?

Jesus said “no” to His life with His Father in Heaven so He could come to Earth as a man and die a death that He did not want to die (Mat 26:39).  He did this so that we could know the joy of living our lives for God’s glory forever instead of for our own short-term happiness.

He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.  Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you?      – Luke 16:10-11 (NASB)

Maximum Productivity

Genuine productivity is not about getting as much done for God as we can manage. It is doing the good work God actually has for us in a given day.

Alan Fadling, An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest (pg 54)

One great equalizer is the 24 hours we each get each day. Nobody gets more, nobody less. God’s not in the habit of rewarding the more productive among us with an extra hour or two.

God knows we all need time for a range of activities like social interactions, intellectual stimulation, exercise, rest, spiritual disciplines (e.g. prayer, scripture meditation & study, silence & solitude), serving others, supporting our families, and whatever else He calls us to.

So answer this: Does God ever expect anything of us that He doesn’t give us the resources to accomplish?

If you agree with me that the answer is “no”, why is time management the number one question people ask me for help with? Nearly everyone I know behaves as if God has given us more to do than He has given us time for.

I believe the solution for “not enough hours in a day” is to spend more of those hours in highly productive stillness. If we spend more time like Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:38-42) instead of being busy like Martha, we will know how God wants us to spend our busy hours instead of doing what we (and others) think is important. Then when it’s time to work, we can do it with gusto, knowing we’re doing the right stuff.

Be still and know that I am God. (Ps 46:10)

It’s not just slowing down to hear what God wants us to do. It’s slowing down so God can reveal to us Who He Is. We should work hard first at seeking God…even if that hard work takes the discipline of “doing” less.

God doesn’t award us extra hours, but He does multiply or minimize the outcome of our effort. Consider what God says to the disobedient Israelites in Haggai 1:

You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes…You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away.

Compare that to the promise of Malachi 3:

…put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts.

You choose: Haggai or Malachi?

Seek God with your best hours, and let Him multiply the fruit of the rest.

What Are You Wired For?

God has gifted every one of us with certain traits, talents, and desires. We have a responsibility to use that wiring for God’s pleasure.

But I’ve come to realize that one reason God may have wired me certain ways is to give me the opportunity to worship Him by doing the hard things that go against my natural wiring.

Here’s an example: I’m an introvert. I’m energized by solitude. God made me that way and I don’t expect or desire for that to change (despite living in a culture that tends to place higher value on extrovert characteristics). But rather than using that wiring as an excuse for not doing things I don’t want to do, I’m learning to do God-honoring things that aren’t natural for me because I believe God is pleased with my hard work for His glory. Introverts aren’t exempt from the many scriptures that tell us how to interact with one another, to proclaim the wonders of God’s work in our lives, or to share our faith with others. It may be harder work for us, but our disciplined obedience glorifies God more than the same acts would if we could do them effortlessly. The same rule applies to extroverts who may need disciplined obedience to learn to value waiting in solitude and silence as scripture teaches.

I always thought it would be a great blessing if I were to sit down at a piano and have God miraculously give me the ability to worship Him without me spending years practicing and developing the skills. But I realize that would be an example of God blessing me — the long hours of disciplined hard work I would have to spend to develop those skills to worship Him would be my blessing to God, i.e, an act of worship.

So by all means, we should use the way God has wired us to glorify Him. But our specific wiring isn’t an excuse to not do what doesn’t come easily. It provides an even greater opportunity to glorify Him as we do the hard stuff.

Treasures of Displeasures

2015-03-28 09.10.32This morning I ran the Thomas House 5k Run 4 Homeless Children.  First time since high school I’ve run in any official race.  My dog was not at all happy that I went running without her.  So after running 3.1 miles and walking the mile home from the race site, I had to take her running for another mile if I was going to have any peace the rest of the day.  And no, running is not something in which I find the least bit of pleasure.

But as I pondered why I was doing something I dislike so much, it occurred to me what a sad life I would live if I only ever did the things I enjoy.  Our life treasures of character, stamina, perspective, values, and a host of other things are built from the trials and challenges and struggles we face.  It’s as if those things are deposits into a bank account that we can then draw on to enjoy the pleasures of life even more.

The gospels tell us to deny our self, take up our cross, and follow Jesus.  The discipline of denying our self (saying “no” to what we want, “yes” to what God wants) develops in us the strength to take up our cross so that we can choose to follow Jesus.  This isn’t some humanistic drawing on our own strength; this is the process God has ordained for us to draw on His strength to follow the path He wants us on.

Hot and sweaty, I prepare to jump in the shower, only to discover the hot water heater is on the fritz.  Cold showers are also not something I take pleasure in.  Maybe I should have started this article by making a distinction between choosing to do what we don’t want to do and being forced to do what we don’t want to do.

Persecution vs. Discipline

Until a week ago, I would have described what ISIS is doing to Christians in Iraq as persecution of the church. The pastor of a church in the Kurdistan region of Iraq convinced me otherwise. Certainly ISIS is doing plenty of evil, but as their actions pertain to the church, consider this perspective:

Persecution is what happens when Christians are on mission and accomplishing God’s purposes on earth. Discipline is what God does to those He loves enough to correct their behavior when necessary.

According to this Iraqi pastor, the church in Iraq was not on mission, but apathetic toward God’s call to reach the Iraqi people with the Gospel. As often happened in the Old Testament, God is using those intent on evil to awaken His people and cause them to realign themselves with His priorities. The hardships they are enduring is strengthening the church and equipping them for a great movement of the Gospel deep in the heart of Islam.

The typical story we heard over and over from those who have been displaced is that ISIS gave them thirty minutes to get out of town, join ISIS, or be killed. Why give them thirty minutes to flee? That doesn’t sound like the tactic of Islamic extremists unless they are constrained by the hand of God. Nearly two million people have been given a second chance.

2015-01-26 18.47.20
Home group meeting by the light of a single bulb powered with electricity provided by a Muslim neighbor

Over a million Christians have left Iraq. Our pastor friend equates these to Jonah fleeing from delivering the message God gave him for the people of Ninevah. Many of those who have relocated within Iraq are renewing their commitment with a vision for returning to Mosul and other towns and villages once ISIS is pushed back. They are gaining the skills and strength now to launch a church planting movement throughout Iraq. Mosul, by the way, is the geographic location of Ninevah in Jonah’s day.

Will this move of God succeed? Because God has given us stewardship over this planet and chooses to work through us, it may depend on whether the church in America and around the world stands with our Iraqi brothers and sisters to strengthen, equip, encourage, and most of all pray for them.

While in Iraq, we met with the Kurdistan Director of Religious Affairs. He indicated that even if they successfully push back ISIS in Iraq, they expect to see another million refugees come their way, many from Syria. Their struggle with trying to help these refugees is exacerbated by the fact that Baghdad has no budget to help and Kurdistan’s economy is being severely hurt by the drop in oil prices. Remember that the next time you fill up your gas tank. Perhaps the blessing God is giving you with lower gas prices is one He would have you pass on to meet basic life needs of our Iraqi brothers and sisters.

If you want to participate financially, you can give through http://www.grace4iraq.com.

The Purpose of Spiritual Disciplines

What I have discovered over the years is that practicing the spiritual disciplines is not for the purpose of knowing more data about God, more facts about his Word, or more information about the Christian life.  Instead, the disciplines are for the purpose of knowing and experiencing the richness and vitality of a relationship with God—a relationship that begins with the Lord’s expression of intimate love for us.  His earnest desire is that we relish this truth at the deepest recesses of our being. By coming before him with ears, eyes, hands, and heart open wide, we remain in him long enough to hear his voice and make choices aligned with his will.

Macchia, Stephen, Becoming a Healthy Disciple: Ten Traits of a Vital Christian

It’s Your Choice…

If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.

– Luke 9:23

Do not love the world nor the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

– 1 John 2:15

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…

– Romans 12:2

But I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

– 1 Corinthians 9:27

Satisfying our own desires drives most of what we do, most of the time.  Our culture (especially the middle-class American Dream culture) reinforces that drive thousands of times a day.  Practically everything we see and hear reinforces it.  We’re so used to it that anyone who suggests we “don’t deserve” something, or should say “no” to something we desire is just a voice crying in the wilderness.

Here’s the good news:

Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 37:4

But I read this verse differently than I used to.  He’s not trying to motivate me to do the right thing, like bribing a kid with a piece of candy; “If I delight in the Lord, He’ll give me a red Ferrari.”  He’s not telling us how to earn the things we long for.

If we’re delighting in the Lord, the desires of our heart will be for the things He’s dying to give us (or more literally, that Jesus already died to give us).  Things like love, righteousness, and justice.

Our delight drives us to make choices and take actions that reinforce that delight.  If we delight in someone, we go out of our way to do things to please him or her.  The free will God gave us allows us to make intentional choices that show our delight in Him.

What intentional choices have you made today to deny yourself and reinforce your delight in God?  

Make a choice today about how you’ll deny yourself to delight in Him tomorrow.