In Part 1  of The Good Life, I briefly shared about a couple of the lessons learned during a five year period of my life in which God seemed to be a million miles away.  After functioning for many years with what I thought was a relatively significant sphere of influence, my faith journey suddenly took an abrupt turn down a treacherous road that led me to a very dry place on the backside of nowhere.   Like most American males, my identity was closely tied to my job and my perceived status in the proverbial pecking order.  I went from overseeing a gifted ministry staff and weekly having the attention and esteem of hundreds of people, to being the lowest man on the totem pole in a dead end job.   Any inflated impressions I may have once had of my self quickly became little more than a distant memory.  Now that I was no longer “The Pastor” I began to question my place in the world and what purpose my life might have apart from my calling and ministry abilities.  More importantly, what value was I to the Lord if I could not even hold onto the position of “full-time” Christian servant?  The answer to that question came as a result of an elongated wrestling match with God that I wouldn’t wish on anybody.  But hopefully, by learning from my boneheaded stubbornness, you can fore go a few of the painful face plants and mat burns that accompany any form of confrontation with an omnipotent being.

OK, so you don’t feel like you’re fulfilling what you know the Lord has called you to do.  Or maybe he’s made promises to you about your future that don’t seem to be getting any closer to being realized.  Perhaps  you’re currently experiencing an unprecedented level of  situational difficulty.  Money problems?  Broken relationship?  Shattered dreams?  Poor health?  For the overcoming Christian, it all eventually leads to the same outcome…  an unconditional surrender of our will, followed by a decision to trust in the kind and gentle nature of our Heavenly Father.  One of the most crucial truths I learned in the wilderness is this; never put your hope in an outcome, instead, put your hope in the Lord. We often hear the fist half of Proverbs 13:12 quoted; “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”  But that’s not the end of the verse.  It continues with “a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”  If we find ourselves sick at heart, it might be because our hope has been misplaced.  Real life begins, and our deepest longings are fulfilled when we can authentically breathe the ultimate prayer of surrender, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

Please trust me on this my friend, God will do what he wants, when he wants, however he wants to do it.   In fact, if experience has taught me anything, the what, when, and how of God’s plan for us often ends up looking completely different from what we might have envisioned or hoped for at first.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  (Isa 55:9) If we can’t be happy unless God does what we want him to, or we somehow withhold our affection unless he does it the way we think he should, then we might as well prepare ourselves for an extended stay in the Heartbreak Hotel because we’re not going anywhere anytime soon.  Simply put, man plans and God laughs.  We might as well get used to it because that’s not gonna change.  Lordship ultimately requires us to give even the good things he’s given us (words, promises, dreams, callings) back to him.  God allows in his wisdom what he could easily prevent by his power.

Now here’s the good news.  Those promises we have from the Lord don’t lose any of their potency or potential with the passing of time.  I don’t care how long it’s been, he will do what he said he would do.  He is completely faithful to his word and worthy of any amount of blind trust we can muster.  Our job is to live in obedience one day at a time.  Each day God will give us the grace to do what he asks us to do.  If we ever find ourselves being anxious about our future, then in essence we’re trying to borrow from tomorrow’s grace.  Learning to live by faith is a lot like collecting manna.  If you try to get enough both for today and tomorrow you’ll end up with something rotten.  “Tomorrow has enough worries of its own.”

After a long wander through the desert, I am slowly learning to enjoy my life in whatever form it takes.  Many times this begins with little more than a quick acknowledgement of the Lord’s goodness.  Sometimes it’s more of a conscious decision to be grateful.  All in all, the quality of our life has everything to do with our demeanor toward God. If we stay mad at him, or question his goodness for too long, we’ll find our selves stuck in the dry places. When we choose to believe that he loves us and wants nothing more than to bless us, then the good things he has for us begin to flow again.  Truth be known, my situation hasn’t changed all that much since I entered the wilderness.  I’m still working the same job for the same pay.  My sphere of influence and ministry remains small in comparison to what it used to be.  I’m not really in a place where I can do some of the things I know I’ll eventually get to do for the kingdom, but for the first time in my life, I’m starting to find peace and fulfillment in a way I’ve never experienced.  Little by little, I’ve been getting the revelation that I don’t really have to do or be anything to earn the Lord’s approval or affection.  I’m his beloved son and he likes me just the way I am.  I like to hunt, collect stuff, hang out with friends and eat really good food.  That’s the way God made me… and that’s enough.

Lord please help us to submit to your will for our lives.  Please forgive us for holding back our affection when things don’t turn out the way we want them to.  You are so kind and patient with us.  Help us to keep our eyes on you and on all the good things you have given us to enjoy.  Forgive us for comparing ourselves to others and help us to accept who you have made us to be.  You are good and your mercies endure forever.  Amen

After 20 years of serving as a local church pastor, we needed a break.  Vocational ministry tends to create a unique brand of difficulty, and somehow we must have signed up for the deluxe package.  But little did I know that our decision to take a sabbatical would send me out of the frying pan and right into the fire.   After handing over the leadership of our church to my associate pastor, we moved hundreds of miles away from everyone we knew and re-located in a part of the country that seemed more like another planet than another state.  I took an entry level construction job which often required me to spend much of my day digging holes at sewage plants and county landfills.  Within months of moving, a cantaloupe sized growth mysteriously showed up in my abdomen resulting in the need for major surgery and the removal of over half of my liver.  But worst of all, for the first time in my adult life, going to church on a Sunday morning made me feel like I was merely another head in a sea of heads.  I went from being a first string Quarter Back to just another spectator who apparently could only afford tickets in the nose-bleed section.

This was just the beginning of a five year period during which I experienced what some have called “the dark night of the soul.”  During this time, my identity and self worth came under direct assault.   More often than not, my days were marked by a deep depression and an underlying anger toward the Lord for allowing me to go through this kind of mental and emotional torment.  “After all those years of serving your people… this is my reward?  What is going on?  What are you doing to me?  This doesn’t make any sense!  If this is all there is, just go ahead and take me out.”  And so it continued, from anger to apathy, from sadness to despondence.  At times my frustration became so intense that I felt I was literally losing my mind.  Again, this went on for several years.   I now understand that this season was a tailor made time of testing designed to dig up and root out certain mind-sets and thought patterns that I had developed over the course of my life.  And though I’m probably only a year or so out beyond the edge of this desolate spiritual wilderness experience, I’m beginning to feel like maybe I can identify a few of the truths revealed to me over the course of that painful hands and knees crawl through the burning sand.

Somewhere in the midst of all my crying and yelling at the Lord, I began to realize that He’s not really swayed by our fit throwing.  Though most of my overly dramatic cries for help came in the form of seemingly innocent prayer requests, many of them were actually my attempt to get the Lord to do what I thought he should do.  More accurately, I wanted him to do them in the time frame that I thought he should.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that God really does have “all the time in the world” to accomplish his plans and purposes.  What feels like an eternity to us is not even a click on the second hand of his watch.  So for us to require the Lord to respond to our requests, or even to fulfill his promises in our time frame… well it just doesn’t work that way.  Lordship is trusting not only that he’ll get it done, but that it will happen when he’s ready for it to and not a moment sooner, no matter how much we complain or beseech him to do otherwise.

Another key to navigating the wilderness was learning how to stay focused on the right things.  Paul encouraged the early church to practice this principle. whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable– if anything is excellent or praiseworthy– think about such things.” (Phil 4:8) One of our enemy’s oldest tactics is to rob a believer’s enjoyment of life by simply reminding them of what’s not right. But if we spend our days dwelling on what’s not right about ourselves or our situation or that person at work who makes our skin crawl, then we are basically creating our very own self fulfilling prophecy.   Magnifying the negatives and minimizing the positives of our past or present reality will inevitably leave us joyless and oppressed.  We must learn to focus rightly because eventually we will become that which we behold.

This principle is particularly true when applied to our relationship with the Lord.  If our prayers are focused on what he hasn’t done for us rather than what he has, then we’ll slowly be convinced that he really doesn’t love us the way we once thought he did.  This is a powerful deception that literally can ruin our faith, and in turn, spoil our life.  Over time, I have developed an inner resolve to focus on the goodness of God and what he has done and is doing for me.  Listen up believer, we’re going to spend eternity in paradise with the Lord!  We are saved, redeemed, justified, adopted, deeply loved, and accepted just as we are.  We serve a GOOD GOD who wants nothing more than to bless us because we are his children.  He is true, noble, right, lovely, admirable, excellent and worthy of our praise.  If we choose to believe anything to the contrary, regardless of how dismal our situation may become, then we are walking in a profound foolishness and deception.    We must not allow our flesh and our struggle with our own human weakness to skew the heavenly perspective we were created to maintain.   Often, the discipline of focus begins with a decision to simply “think about“  the “right” things.   We will stay rightly focused as we learn to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor 10:5)

Lord Jesus, help us to get this one.  We know you are good.  We know you love us.  Forgive us for listening to lies about your nature.  Forgive us for our impatience. You are a good Father and you want to bless us and surround our lives with your mercy and favor.  You have provided for us, you have protected us, you brought us out of the darkness and into the light and we give you our praise.  We worship you because you are worthy! Thank you Jesus, we love you.  Help us to stay rightly focused today.  Amen.

To be continued ….

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