Listen, Consider, Act

We’ve all been on the receiving end of unrequested advice. Our response says a lot about us. Here are 3 ways to respond to such advice.

One way is to be offended and react with a prideful “I don’t need your help. I’ve got this.”  A second way to respond is to be so insecure that you take everyone’s advice and act on it immediately because surely they all know more than you.

Neither of those will be useful to you.  The third way to respond is to listen to what is being said with an open mind and heart and then decide if it is the wise thing to do.

Recently I heard a talk by Andy Stanley called Ask It.  It was about learning to ask this question: “In light of my past experience, my current circumstances and my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing for me to do?”

If we approach every decision and lifestyle choice with that question we would make far fewer dumb decisions. Plain and simple. That one question would make us wiser instantly.

So what about all that advice we didn’t ask for?  If we can learn to ask the question we can filter out what is good from all the rest.  And we should remember, most people in our lives give us advice because they care about us.  If we react with pride we  will miss the blessing God may be trying to show us. And, if we act without wisdom, just following others advice blindly, we are being foolish.

So, the best method I’ve found is to listen, consider and then act.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. – Proverbs 12:15 (ESV

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety– Proverbs 11:14 (ESV)

The Most Difficult Task of All

“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” – Matthew 5:44 (HCSB)

Years ago I did a series of word studies from key verses in the New Testament. This particular verse from the book of Matthew is one that stands out as the definition of the ultimate difference between being a Christ-follower and a follower of all other religions.

When you look up just two words in this passage (enemies and persecute) in the dictionary you see the picture clearly. Webster’s dictionary defines these two words as follows:

Enemy – “one that is antagonistic to another; especially: one seeking to injure, overthrow, or confound an opponent.”

Persecute – “to harass or punish in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict; specifically: to cause to suffer because of belief” AND “to annoy with persistent or urgent approaches (as attacks, pleas, or importunities): pester.”

What Jesus is asking us to do is completely contrary to everything we encounter in the world. Wherever we see hatred and revenge condoned, we also see Christ challenging us to love and bless instead. How is that possible?  Only with the strength Jesus promises to give us. I believer that this is the most difficult test of our love for Christ in that we love those HE loves.

Look again at the definition of persecute. It says, “to annoy with persistent or urgent approaches.” Are there people in your life who constantly annoy you? We are called to pray for them. Our prayers may be the very thing that the Lord uses to change their lives for all eternity.  But again, we can only do this in the power of Christ.

Today, ask God to bring to mind those people He would have you love and pray for in spite of their actions or words toward you. Then ask Him for His power to do it.

If You Really Want Wisdom Do These Things

My oldest son, Andrew, is a true technology geek. He knows how to find any information he needs, usually  in a matter of seconds.  Often, when one of his brothers asks for information or wonders aloud about something, Andrew can be heard to say, “You have all the knowledge in the world at your fingertips and you’re asking me?” At this point he holds up his phone with a silly grin on his face.

This actually ties in with a longtime family joke.  As a homeschool family we were all about instilling a love of learning.  I can remember many times we would be sitting at the dinner table and one of the boys would ask a question. My husbands quick answer was always the same. “That would make a good homeschool project.”

Both  of these examples point to the same principle.  If you want to learn something you have to be willing to search for the answer.

It’s no different with the study of the Bible. All through the scriptures there is this theme of gaining understanding and knowledge but no where is it more prevalent than in the Proverbs.

I have been asking God for wisdom for many years. I’ve learned that it isn’t like asking a genie for a wish and it suddenly appears. Proverbs 2:6 says, “For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth comes knowledge and understanding.”  But the five verses preceding verse 6 give us some insight into how that happens.

Verses 1-5 use words like receive, treasure, be attentive, incline, cry , seek, search, and discover.  Those verses tell me that asking for wisdom isn’t a passive request . I don’t just make the request and then sit back and watch God deliver.

In order to gain wisdom from the Lord I have to be willing to take action. I have to want it enough to go after it.  I can start with one of those action words from the verses in Proverbs 2.  I have to choose to sit in God’s presence and allow Him to impart His gift of wisdom to me day after day. It takes perseverance,  but just gaining the wisdom isn’t the end of the story.You have to DO something with what you learn to make it truly valuable.  To have the wisdom of God, to be able to speak wisdom into situations, to make right decisions, to help find solutions for yourself and others is well worth the effort.

Having wisdom and knowledge but not using it is as bad as not having it in the first place.

How blessed is a man who finds wisdom and who acquires understanding. -Proverbs 3:13 (HCSB)

 

 

Stop Asking the Wrong Question

A couple of weeks ago we said good bye to a good friend we’ve know for over 4 decades.  He was a brilliant man. He did incredible things like reciting Psalm 103 every morning in Hebrew and memorizing entire books of the Bible. Eighteen months ago he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.  He fought hard but finally his battle ended.  At his memorial service someone told how they had never heard him ask “why?”  He had only asked “Where is Jesus in this?” He was always looking for Jesus.

Several years ago we lost another friend and mentor to throat cancer. She was gifted in speaking and had life-changing impact on so many lives but spent her final days unable to speak.  No one asked why, they just asked where Jesus was in the situation.

Just last week a man named Dan Hall spoke at our church. Through an accident in his hotel room, he is now paralyzed from the neck down.  He also chose not to ask God why.  He chose to ask instead, that his circumstances would be used to bring God glory. You can listen to his powerful message here.

As my husband and I have tried to adjust to the future with his diagnosis of cirrhosis we have tried very hard to follow the example of those who have had influence in our lives.  We have tried to seek what God is doing in each new turn in the path instead of asking God why it’s all happening.  It isn’t always easy.

Many times we are faced with a situation that seems unfair or unbelievably difficult and our first reaction is to ask “Why me?”  We have somehow come to believe that we don’t deserve to suffer or struggle with difficulties.  We think that for some reason, we should be spared.

Jesus wasn’t spared. He experienced the most unfair, unbelievably difficult, kind of suffering we could ever imagine. A level of suffering that none of us will ever face. He took our sin and suffered the consequences that we deserved and he never asked, “why me?”

Perhaps it’s time we stopped asking the wrong question and began asking the right one.  When was the last time you faced  something hard and asked to see Jesus in the midst of it?  To see God get the glory instead of seeking the answer to the “Why?”

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” –  Romans 8:18 (ESV)

The Third Watch

Courtesy Flickr - hosullivanIn the scriptures, there are references to the third watch. Most scholars believe this is the time between 3:00 and 6:00 in the morning. The time most of us are asleep. That is unless we happen to be wide awake. Sometimes sleep is evasive.

I used to have trouble sleeping. I’d wake in the night and the silence in my usually noisy household would be overwhelming. As I lay there trying to do all the things that are supposed to help sleep ( I never actually resorted to counting sheep) I would become more and more anxious and the quiet would become heavier and heavier. I’d think of all sorts of things that only increased the anxiety.

And if I had one long sleepless night, I would find myself dreading the next night. What if it’s the same? What if I am awake again for hours, all alone? The more I would dread it the more likely it was to happen again.

I tried reading, I tried watching a movie, I tried writing. Those things were all fine activities, that I should have been doing in the daytime, not when the rest of the household was in pleasant slumber while I counted the minutes until sunrise. And none of those things helped me sleep.

Finally, I did what I should have done in the first place. I went to God’s Word. I laid my anxiety before Him and asked him for wisdom and for peace.

Here is what he gave me.

Psalm 4:8 In peace I will both lie down and sleep, For You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety.

Proverbs 3:24 When you lie down, you will not be afraid; When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.

Do I still have sleepless nights sometimes? Yes. But now I know that if I am awake, God knows it. He has promised me sweet sleep so eventually I will sleep. In the meantime, I read my Bible and thank the Lord for His promises. I also pray for others who might be awake and anxious as I used to be. Now I believe that if I am awake, I might as well put that time to good use. I use it to pray not only for those who might also have anxious nights but also for anyone God brings to mind. I am not distracted in those moments and I can pray with purpose.

If you are troubled by sleeplessness, spend some time meditating on the verses above. Maybe even commit them to memory. And join me in praying for others who sometimes struggle in the third watch.

Reminder: You Are Not God and Neither Am I

Sometimes I forget that I’m not God. Sometimes when someone I care about is going through a struggle I get frustrated because I can’t help them fix it.  I want them to have peace in their life, I want them to…be happy!  But it’s not my job to fix their problems.

This is especially difficult when the one with the problem is a family member.  And many times more difficult when it is your child.  What mother or father ever wants to see their child suffer?

But each of us has to learn our own lessons and God is the one doing the teaching. He’s the one who knows what the goal of the lesson is. He is the one who can tell when the lesson has been learned.

From our limited human perspective, we can get a twisted view of what’s happening.  We can’t know all the important details and if we try to do too much to help we end up muddling the whole thing.  We can do more harm than good even with the greatest of intentions. But it’s still hard. Hard to see someone you love suffer. Hard to see them broken and discouraged.

There are some things you can do without taking over God’s job.  You can pray. Pray scripture over their lives.  Some great verses to pray are:

“Commit your works to the Lord and your thoughts will be established.” Proverbs 16:3

“Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him…He shall call upon Me and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him.” Psalm 91:14-16

“Eye has not seem nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9

” (I)do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” Ephesians 1:16-19

Above all, keep loving them. Keep listening. Keep believing that God can do what you cannot.

A Promise in the Pouring Rain

Pop-up showers. That’s what they call the drenching downpours that come out of nowhere during the rainy season in Florida.  You can be sitting at a stoplight and it can be raining on one side of the road and not on the other.

Recently, I had taken my husband to work and went to a park by the water. This has become a sort of mini retreat for me once a week.  It’s a great place to think. As it turns out, it’s also a great place to hear from God.

This time I sat on a bench watching across the bay as one of those pop-up storms formed in front of me.  I watched it gathering strength.  The wind began to blow and the water began to stir.  As I watched it move toward me, I could see that it was raining between me and the other shore that I faced.  Just to the right of the rain it was clear and sunny.   Just like life, I thought.  Sometimes you can see a storm approaching and you know you are in it’s path but you look around and see other people completely unaffected.  Not even getting sprinkled on.  How is that even fair?

Then, as I was thinking I should probably head toward shelter, I looked at the clouds in front of me and right in the middle of the darkest cloud was a splash of color. A hint of a rainbow.  As I continued to watch, I saw small patches of color elsewhere in the cloud. None of the patches seemed connected. They were just small spots in the middle of this cloud.

God spoke to my heart just then.  Even though that storm was headed my way, even though the sun was shining on other people, God was still with me.  God painted a piece of a rainbow just for me.  It was a reminder that even when the storms come, there is the promise of something good right in the middle of all the struggles.

I quickly headed for shelter and the rain poured from the sky for a time.  And then… you know what happened?

The sun came out again.

The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.- Nahum1:7 (ESV)

This was a Hard One to Write

Sometimes things come to a screeching halt until you make a decision. Sometimes the decision is hard. You avoid it. You deny it. You even try to trick yourself into believing it isn’t a big deal.

I’ve come to that place in the past ten days.  I’ve faced a hard decision.  But I believe I am on the right track. The sermon at church yesterday confirmed it.  Again. How does God do that?

You know those charts that list all the things that cause stress and you are supposed to tally up your score to see how vulnerable you are to stress-related illness?  I looked at one of those online the other day and actually laughed out loud.  The number of items I could check off, that have occurred over the past two years, are off the charts.

Many years ago I struggled with depression and after ten years on medication I was well and went my merry way.  I’ve been doing just fine until the long line of challenges began over a year ago and   haven’t let up. I’m sure some of you know exactly what I mean. Sometimes it looks like it will never end. If you’ve been reading my blog posts over the past few months, you can see that I’ve cried out to God for some relief. Asking if we could be done now.  But we aren’t done.

In the sermon yesterday, Pastor Willy spoke directly to where I am. It felt like he’d been reading my journal. He talked about how even Elijah struggled with discouragement and even depression. King   David certainly did.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of.  Especially when you can trace the list of stressful events that eventually cross the line of what any person could handle.  Pastor Willy encouraged us to deal with the physical issues first. I was glad to realize that I had already taken that step by visiting my doctor last week. That was hard. It felt like I was moving backward instead of forward.

Then we were told to address the spiritual issues.  Visits with doctors, medication, counselors, those are all good. But the bottom line is that God is the One who can make all the difference.  He is the final authority about your life and has all the answers you will ever need.

I am glad that I have a support system that helps me deal with the challenges I’m facing right now. I’m glad for skilled medical professionals who offer input and options. But mostly, I’m glad I serve a God who knows my deepest thoughts and knows exactly what I need.

If you are struggling with discouragement or anything else, please be encouraged that God knows where you are. He will guide you to the answers you need. And if His answer includes help from a doctor or counselor, please don’t feel condemned for taking that step.

If you’ve been down a difficult road and have found victory, look for those you can encourage. If we all keep our struggles private, what we go through doesn’t help anyone else. I am praying God will continue to give me the boldness to be transparent. It’s the best way to undo the plans of the enemy by encouraging others to find victory through my own life lessons.

The righteous cry, and the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.  Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. – (Psalm 34:17-19) NASB

The Red Sea Parts…Then What Do You Do?

Can you just see it?  The Israelites have just fled Egypt after an incredible demonstration of God’s power.  Now they stand at the shore of the Red Sea, water before them and Pharaoh’s army behind them. Hopelessly trapped. An impossible situation.  No visible way of escape.

Then God does something spectacular.  He speaks to the wind and it parts the sea creating dry ground for the massive nation of Israel to pass through the sea.  But, did you ever consider what it must have felt like to see the sea open up before your eyes?

You would be excited that you’d just witnessed a miracle. You would be amazed that a way of escape had been provided.   But can you imagine the noise of the wind? And what about the walls of water churning on each side of the path that has opened up in front of you? And now you would be expected to walk through all of that on foot with nothing to shield you from the wind and the splash of water right beside you as you walked.

I imagine it was terrifying.  It was the means of escape from the threat of the army closing in on them, but it wasn’t a stroll through a garden. The sounds must have been deafening. The risks were incredible. What if they got out in the middle and the walls of water gave way? They couldn’t turn back. There was only forward.

God says He will make a way for us where there is no way.  Exodus 14 proves that He is fully capable of doing so. He did it for them. He’ll do it for you. But when your prayer is answered and the way of escape has opened up, be prepared to face your fears as you step out in faith and move forward.  It might be scary, it might seem dangerous, it might cause you to consider turning back.  Don’t do it!

Press on and see the faithfulness of God. Don’t be afraid to get your feet muddy.

Thus says the LORD, who makes a way through the sea, and a path through the mighty waters, who brings forth the chariot and the horse, the army and the mighty man (They will lie down together and not rise again; they have been quenched and extinguished like a wick): “Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” – Isaiah 43:16-19 (NASB)

What Were You Created For?

I was reminded of a  truth I needed to hear again in the sermon this week.  The verses come from Exodus 31 where God tells Moses that He has appointed a man named Bezalel to be the craftsman who will make all the things they will need for the tent of meeting.   In verse 3 God says He has,” filled him with God’s Spirit, with wisdom, understanding, and ability in every craft.” Then in verse 6 it says,” I have placed wisdom within every skilled craftsman in order to make all that I have commanded you.”

As I listened, I heard the words carve wood, and I leaned over to my husband, Randy, and said, “so you, as a woodworker, can be assured that God has also given you wisdom and ability in your craft.”  We smiled at each other and went back to the sermon.

Later, I was thinking about this again and remembered a devotion I wrote several years ago called, The Master Craftsman, where I talked about how God was the master and He would craft our lives into something beautiful if we allowed him.

Then I went on to think about my own calling.  Sometimes what we feel called to do and what it looks like when we actually put it into practice can be puzzling. We think we know what we’re supposed to be doing but why don’t we see the results we imagined when we began?

Right now Randy is wrestling with how his illness will effect the dreams and plans we’ve talked about for years.  What keeps him motivated to continue when it appears that he might not have time to complete it all?  What keeps any of us motivated to keep going when it doesn’t look like we think it should?

The motivating factor has to be the truth that we gain from scripture.  Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.”

If He prepared the good works ahead of time, how can we “run out of time” before we accomplish them?  The only way that will happen is if we flat out choose NOT to try in the first place.

If all things work together for our good (Romans 8:28) then what looks like setbacks to us really aren’t.  So Randy’s illness, or my years of depression, or your (________________________________) fill in the blank, can do nothing to stop the good works that God has planned for us.  We just need to keep going.

If we woke up this morning then there is still something for us to do to bring God glory. If we don’t wake up tomorrow then we’re done and can spend eternity with Him!  What can be better than that?

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