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 ….
From the time I was a youngster, I’ve been labeled as a “wheeler-dealer”. I can’t explain it, but I just love to buy and sell stuff. I was apparently too young to remember this transaction, but my Mom tells the story of me selling the ladder that went to my bunk bed to one of the neighbor kids. Why he wanted it I couldn’t say, but apparently I felt I didn’t need it anymore, so out the door it went in exchange for a cash settlement. In the early 70s, you could often find me collecting, trading, and bartering with Wacky Package stickers or beer cans as they were the hot commodity of the day. Even now, I take great joy when I find something at a flea market, or in a garage sale, or on Ebay that I think I can turn a profit on. I don’t really know why, It just makes me happy. In fact, my favorite TV shows are American Pickers, Pawn Stars, the Barrett Jackson auto auctions, and The Antiques Roadshow. Somehow I’ve slowly gravitated toward these kinds of programs because they are all based on the principle of worth. Which simply put is, something is worth only what someone is willing to pay for it. Over time, I have come to realize that this is especially true in the realm of the Spirit.
As a believer, we must understand that all things of great value come at a price. “But Salvation is free” you might retort. True, salvation is a free gift to you and I, but it came at the highest price ever paid for anything. You see, as a believer we can sometimes unknowingly underestimate the value of some of the “good gifts” (Matt 7:11) given to us by our Heavenly Father. Every parent understands that if we give our children everything they want at no cost to them, eventually they will develop an entitlement mentality. In other words, spoiled kids think they deserve everything and don’t have to work for anything. This is why my Dad tried to teach me and my siblings about what he called “the value of a dollar”. Though he was a very wealthy and generous man, he did not give any of us kids everything we wanted nor was he pressured by when we wanted it. In turn, we learned that some things we had to wait for, to earn, and eventually to pay for ourselves. Maybe you don’t want to hear this, but our Heavenly Father sometimes likes to apply this principle as well.
Let’s take for example the kind of experiences that may be required of us in order to gain a greater level of spiritual authority. At one point, the Apostle Paul’s authority was brought into question by those who were jealous of the impact his ministry was making on the church of Corinth. His defense was both simple and profound. In essence, he claimed that he had earned his authority by consistently being willing to work hard and to suffer for the cause of Christ. “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.” (2 Cor 11:23) We must not be deceived about this, there will most certainly be some work and pain involved in the process of attaining genuine spiritual authority. True, some things will come as a free gift, but rest assured, others will have to be paid for. Much like our earthly parents, the Lord understands that we won’t appreciate anything of value that didn’t cost us something.
A friend of mine shared a story recently about attending the 90th birthday of one of his uncles. He said he had never really spent much time with the man, but he was confident that he must surely be wise after living all those years. He knew this might be his only opportunity to glean some of the wisdom gained over the course of a long and eventful life. So he cautiously approached and asked him to share just one “nugget of truth” that he had discovered. Much to his dismay, the old man flippantly replied, “just keep breathing.” At this, my friend walked away quite discouraged and offended at the man’s unwillingness to give up any of the goods. How dare he!
I’ve seen a similar dynamic take place at different church events. It’s not uncommon for a well meaning believer to approach someone who has just delivered a powerful message, or demonstrated some form of anointed public ministry. They will walk right up and ask, “could you please lay your hands on me so I can get what you have?” Unfortunately, that’s not usually the way it works. Most of the people who are walking in true spiritual authority or anointed ministry have paid a great price to be doing so. And if somehow they haven’t yet, believe me, they will. This principle can also apply to the gaining of what Paul called the fruit of the Spirit. Don’t believe me? Is your theology getting tweaked a bit? Just ask the Lord to “give” you patience and see what happens next. I can tell you from experience what will happen. NOTHING WILL HAPPEN… at least not any time in the foreseen future. You will have to wait like you’ve never waited before until you flesh screams out in frustration.
Again, please don’t be confused about what I am saying here. God does give us plenty of great things, spiritual and otherwise, free of charge. He is more gracious and abundantly generous than we will ever comprehend. As a believer we do share in an inheritance that is completely unmerited. But don’t be shocked if you have to pay dearly for some of the kingdom stuff you’ve yet to attain. There is purpose in our difficulty. The Lord will sometimes even allow our enemies to remain in order “to teach warfare” to those of us who don’t have enough “previous battle experience.” (Judges 3:1-2) That’s the principle of worth in action.
“He was despised and forsaken and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and pains… therefore I will divide him a portion with the great kings and he shall divide the spoil with the mighty, because he poured out his life unto death.” (Isa 53:3, 12)
I know for some it might be hard to believe that the Lord could speak through a classic rock song, but it happens to me all the time. In fact, I believe that there was a very powerful anointing that rested on many of the bands from the 60s and 70s. Even though most of the artists probably had no idea that the Lord was using them to speak truth, He often did just that with or without their intent or acknowledgment. Recently, while driving home after a long day of work, I decided to pick up my cell phone and call my friend about a business start up we were working on together. Knowing that we had both come from a very similar performance oriented background, we were encouraging one another with the truth that many times it’s not about us having to work harder or to strive to make something happen. Instead, the Lord was teaching us that our forward progress is usually more about being willing to trust in his goodness and sovereignty so that we can enter into His rest. The Lord was trying to help us get the revelation that when our soul is at rest, and the peace of Christ is ruling in our heart, then we can just sit back and enjoy the ride. As soon as I hung up the phone, I hit the radio button and the song “Free Ride” by Edgar Winter started up as if perfectly cued. Being the closet rock and roll devote that I am, I cranked it up as loud as it would go. A very powerful encounter with the Lord ensued.
In the formative stages of my spiritual development, I was internally driven by the belief that, “If it’s gonna be, than it’s up to me.” Oh sure I could quote any number of scriptures that were contrary to that mindset, but when it came down to how I was actually living… I was just as self motivated and clueless about the Lord’s leadings as I was before I became a believer. Although lordship starts with making a decision, that is most certainly not where it stops. In fact, learning how to truly depend on the Lord may involve a long and humiliating process. At least it has for me, and I’m fairly confident that I’m not the only one who’s had a little trouble practicing this principle. Most of us, and this is especially true of we American Christians, have been trained from a very early age to be self reliant and self oriented in thought and lifestyle. Think about it, the very formation of our country was due largely to our unwillingness to submit ourselves to a ruler. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a gun toting republican who thoroughly enjoys his freedoms. But learning how to be more lead and less driven has not been easy for me. I don’t know how many times over the course of my Christian journey, my soul has exclaimed, “Stand aside God and watch how much I can DO for you.
It’s taken many years to even begin to comprehend how arrogant that thought pattern must be to the Lord. Whether we admit it or not, we often live as if our Heavenly Father’s interest in us and/or his approval of us is somehow affected by something we might do or not do “for” Him. Granted, we all have things we’re called, gifted, and anointed to do. But believe it or not, he really doesn’t need us to do anything. “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Prov 19:21) Regardless of our theology, it is shamefully egocentric to deny the fact that His plans and purposes will prevail with or without our human efforts. This revelation is doubly needful for those of us who’ve committed ourselves to leading and serving in the church. As one who was once the textbook example of a Messiah Complex, I can tell you from experience that much of our need to “serve” may be improperly motivated. Remember, “the poor you will always have with you”. In other words, there’s always more that needs to be done. Our job is to do only what the Lord himself asks us to do. Anything beyond that is a yoke we need not wear. Obedience truly is better than sacrifice, that hasn’t changed. In fact, I’ve come to believe that one of God’s primary intentions for us is that we simply learn how to relax and enjoy the life He’s given us.
If you’re feeling the burden of a heavy yoke, maybe it’s time to inquire of the Lord about what you’re carrying that’s not really your responsibility. If you’re an intercessor, maybe you need to stop watching the news for a while. I’m pretty sure the oil spill in the gulf and that situation in the middle-east that you’re so concerned about will get solved without you losing any sleep over it. No offense, but sometimes we overestimate the significance of the role we play in the grand scheme of things. Go for a walk, enjoy a nap, eat a cheeseburger without feeling guilty for the love of God! It’s gonna be OK. He’ll keep the universe from imploding on itself. Our job is to cease from our striving and enter into his rest. The Lord God Jehovah is on the throne. He loves us and He’s got this whole thing figured out and under control. We need only to listen and obey, listen and obey, listen and obey. Let Him deal with the rest. Come on and take a free ride.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30)
The mountain is high The valley is low
and you’re confused on which way to go
so I’ve come here to give you a hand
and lead you into the promised land so…
come on and take a free ride
come on and sit here by my side
come on and take a free ride
all over the country I’ve seen it the same
nobody’s winning at this kind of game
we’ve got to do better it’s time to begin
you know all the answers must come from within so…
come on and take a free ride
come on and sit here by my side
come on and take a free ride.
You don’t have to follow the Lord for very long before you realize that he may sometimes lead you into places you really don’t want to go. In truth, most of our spiritual growth is the result of trial and error and is discovered in the context of difficulty. All parents will eventually figure out that in order for a child to mature, they must learn to endure and overcome tough situations. For example, you would not even be able to understand the content of this article had someone not required you to stick with the process we all go through in order to learn how to read. Put simply, all things of value come at a price and often after having to push forward when the going got rough. This is especially true in the realm of the spirit.
I remember when I was learning how to drive, my Dad would sometimes offer words of advice as he was riding along beside me in the front passenger seat. At one point, we found ourselves on the interstate in the middle of a violent thunderstorm. The rain was coming down so fast that you could barely see past the hood of the car and the water level on the road was rising rapidly. I noticed that several people had stopped on the side of the road and turned their emergency blinkers on. Being a new driver, and already being a little unsure of my ability to navigate in these kind of conditions, I decided that pulling off the road and waiting for the storm to pass was probably our best option. Just as I was about to slow down and veer onto the shoulder, sensing my uneasiness, my Dad very calmly suggested “you know ten miles and ten minutes can make a world of difference in the weather.” At that point I knew the decision was up to me and the adrenaline really began to flow. Do I play it safe and follow the lead of the curb huggers? Or do I press on wide eyed and white knuckled and hope for the best? In retrospect, I’m so glad I just kept rolling, because sure enough, in no time we drove right out of the storm and into the sunshine with miles and miles of dry pavement in front of us. You see, my Dad was a traveling salesman when I was a kid, and I knew he had pounded out hundreds of thousands of miles across the highways and byways of the mid-west. So that little nugget of driving wisdom carried a lot of weight with me.
So it is with the spiritual journey of the Christian. Time and time again we will find ourselves faced with that proverbial choice when dealing with a difficult situation. Do we keep moving forward, or do we pull off the road in a panic? I submit to you today that if we feel like we’re not making much progress in any area of our life or faith, it may be because we’ve simply ceased our forward momentum and declared that we’re in a state of emergency. In truth, I am appalled by how much time I have wasted as a believer wallowing in my own passivity and indecision. So many well meaning Christians seem to be paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong decision, or mishearing the Lord. What if I go the wrong way? What if that wasn’t really the Lord? Should I take this opportunity or wait for another? What if my motives are impure? What if, what if, what if … and the list perpetually goes on. Meanwhile, because of our limited vision and the fear of what may lie ahead, we sit there on the roadside letting the storm beat the tar out of us.
When we shrink back in fear thinking we might somehow miss the Lord, we are severely underestimating how BIG he really is. Trust me, he knows we’re going to make some dumb choices along the way, and his plan for us contains plenty of latitude for that kind of thing. In fact it is arrogant to think that we’re always going to do the right thing or make the right choice. God doesn’t get mad at us when we’re trying to go the right direction but get off at the wrong exit. Those off ramps turn into on ramps just as quickly. The goal is to keep going, keep driving, keep rolling. In fact, we may actually hydroplane at certain points along the way. Learn to have fun with it! Sometimes a little dangerous out of control driving lets you know you’re still alive. Besides, we can take comfort in knowing that Dad is right there with us and he’s not worried in the least. As our revelation of the loving sovereignty of our Heavenly Father deepens, we will find that if we just trust his leading and keep moving forward, the weather will surely change and we’ll end up where we’re supposed to be. In short, don’t be a fraidy chicken, you’re covered.
Isa 43:1-2 “Fear not… when you pass through the waters I will be with you.”