Experiencing Preparation

5.30I wanted to be intentional is trusting God to prepare me this year. Of course, he’s been faithful! It’s not that I doubted God’s preparation; I just wanted to be more intentional in yielding to it, recognizing it, and giving God the credit he deserves.

I can often see how God has prepared me when I look backward. (I invited many friends to join me in celebrating God’s preparation through a blog post series called “A Month of Preparation.” To read more, type “A Month of Preparation” in the search bar at the top of this page. All posts ran in March 2013.)

I’ve also become more sensitive to God’s preparation while I’m in the process. After all, yesterday’s preparation was at some point “today.” I won’t always understand the specifics of God’s preparation, but I can certainly acknowledge he is preparing me in whatever situation I’m experiencing.

But in the past couple months, God has taken his teachings of preparation to another level for me. Preparation isn’t something I can acknowledge and appreciate in hindsight or in real-time. Preparation is also anticipatory. When I expect God will prepare me, I am not only aligning myself with his will but also giving him the glory ahead of time.

Sometimes my acknowledgement of his preparation in advance is between him and me. I thank him for what he is about to provide or take me through. I acknowledge that I will approach the blessings and troubles ahead with his perspective, not mine.

But there’s not as much tangible accountability when I don’t speak in preparation, and there is power is speaking God’s name. So, I’m developing a habit of claiming God’s provision and promise to others before I can see his provision and promise. Then, I have taken a step of faith, and I’m not tempted to take credit for something or try to explain it with reason. If I’ve said “God will…,” I’m claiming him ahead of time in faith. I’m prepared to proclaim, accept, and live out God’s will. It doesn’t mean I proclaim the specifics of what’s going to happen.

I simply proclaim in boldness that what I’m going to do is in God’s strength, not mine, that he gets the glory, not me, and that I trust him, no matter what.

Joseph faithfully lived out his faith by giving God glory before doing what he knew only God would provide. He could have just as easily proceeded without mentioning God by name. He could have taken the credit himself or given the credit to God in hindsight. Whether his boldness came from his full confidence in and reliance on God or whether it was important to him for accountability, the result was the same.

(1) He placed himself without reservation under the authority of God.

(2) He informed those around him that it was God and God alone who guided and provided for him.

The two men answered, “We both had dreams last night, but no one can explain their meaning to us.”

Joseph said to them, “God is the only One who can explain the meaning of dreams. Tell me your dreams.” (Genesis 40:8)

 

The king said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, but no one can explain its meaning to me. I have heard that you can explain a dream when someone tells it to you.”

Joseph answered the king, “I am not able to explain the meaning of dreams, but God will do this for the king.” (Genesis 41:15-16)

How is God preparing you, and how are you responding?

The Fence of Pride, Arrogance, and Ignorance

5.29You might be the one to…step into the role, accept the position, complete the task. Yet you might not be the one.

Why do you say yes or no to something?

We build fences that keep us from walking the very ground God intends us to cover, because we’re too proud, arrogant, or ignorant to consider, acknowledge, and accept where God wants us to go. We tear down fences that are intended to keep us from walking the ground God doesn’t intend for us to cover, because we’re too proud, arrogant, or ignorant to consider, acknowledge, and accept where God wants us to remain.

It’s God’s job to build and tear down fences, not ours. Anytime we do the building or tearing down, we should be cautioned to attend to where we are and where we should be.

We think we should be able to decide where God wants or doesn’t want us to be. We even try to convince others we know where they should or shouldn’t be. If there’s a gap in what needs to get done, we think we know who should step up, because (1) someone has to step up or else it won’t get done, or (2) we see how the person and the task would perfectly fit together. Even if what we assume is consistent with God’s direction, we need to ask for his instruction first. Jumping in to provide a quick fix might seem to fix the problem, but if it’s not the way God wanted it to be fixed, another problem will soon follow. What seems to fit to us isn’t always God’s best fit. We can have God’s confirmation in less than a blink-of-an-eye…and when it doesn’t come that quickly, we’re wise to patiently wait.

On the other hand, we can excuse ourselves from responding by saying we’re waiting on God’s instruction when we’re not fully committed to hearing God’s instruction. We’re fairly certain we’re not supposed to respond, but we’ll wait it out in case God says differently. But are we actively waiting or passively waiting? There’s a difference. We always need to be active in our relationship with God, no matter where and at what pace he has us.

What fences are you building or tearing down on your own, apart from God’s instruction?

Looking across many situations, I have to admit I’ve probably torn down more fences on my own than built them, but a particular fence-building project has stuck with me. As I was serving in the small group and women’s ministries at church, a group of women approached me in search for a particular type of Bible study. I understood what they were asking for, but I also knew what they specifically wanted didn’t exist. We could piece it together, but it wouldn’t be a comprehensive study. They ask if I’d write it.

I laughed.

Several weeks later, they asked again. I didn’t laugh this time. Instead, I made excuses. I didn’t have the time, I had never written a Bible study, and, “Besides,” I claimed, “God hasn’t called me to write it.”

When they asked again a few weeks later, I was a bit annoyed. I decided the only way I’d get them to quit bugging me was to appease them by praying about it. I asked a couple friends to pray about it, assuring them I was certain I wasn’t supposed to do it, but this was a “just in case” prayer.

Within 24 hours, I knew I was wrong. I was supposed to write what later became the Pure Purpose Bible study.

I built a fence where it didn’t belong.

Whether you think you’re too good or not good enough to do something or whether you simply don’t recognize something that’s supposed to be on your radar, be cautious. Be sensitive to God’s leading. He wants you to walk every step of the territory he has purposed for you. Don’t explore where you shouldn’t be or place limits on where you should go.

After Lot left, the Lord said to Abram, “Look all around you—to the north and south and east and west. All this land that you see I will give to you and your descendants forever.I will make your descendants as many as the dust of the earth. If anyone could count the dust on the earth, he could count your people. Get up! Walk through all this land because I am now giving it to you.” (Genesis 13:14-17)

Full Disclosure

5.27Repentance.

It’s a word we either don’t like to hear, don’t understand, or simply ignore. Repentance requires acknowledge of something being amiss, and we don’t necessarily like to admit we’re wrong. It seems to indicates weakness, and weakness is…well, a weakness!

But it’s not.

When we repent, we admit where we are, not to get stuck, settle into a place of defeat, or give up. We repent, because we’re willing to move beyond where we are. We acknowledgement where we are isn’t where we should be. It doesn’t mean everything in our lives is bad. In fact, as we grow in faith and let God consume our lives more completely, we realize he challenges us to repent of even the slightest details of our attitudes and intentions, pruning the tiny weeds before they grow into trees.

There are no limits on repentance. It includes the big and tiny, the ongoing and momentary, the obvious and well-disguised.

We often respond in faith forgetting the importance of repentance. We ask for blessings, we praise God, we expect God’s promises…but we haven’t done a heart-check first. We need to ask ourselves if there’s anything between us and God as we approach him, and since we work toward developing an ongoing connection with him, we need to be adamant about consistently asking him to identify anything that’s creating any amount of distance between us. That also means we have to be willing to listen as he reveals the distance. We need to be willing to respond.

A lack of repentance impacts personal faith, and it also impacts community. Each person is responsible for his/her own repentance. Each person is also able to ask for repentance for the community. It must be done with a pure heart. We don’t ask for repentance because “that person” did something wrong. We ask for repentance because we did something wrong whether we personally offended or not. Going to God in repentance for our community assumes our association among that community. (See Nehemiah’s prayer in Nehemiah 1:1.)

Repentance isn’t a pit of guilt. It makes a way out of the pit of guilt. Get familiar with repentance. It’s a grace-filled gift from God.

God, be merciful to me because you are loving.
Because you are always ready to be merciful, wipe out all my wrongs.
Wash away all my guilt and make me clean again.

I know about my wrongs, and I can’t forget my sin.
You are the only one I have sinned against; I have done what you say is wrong.
You are right when you speak and fair when you judge.
I was brought into this world in sin. In sin my mother gave birth to me.

You want me to be completely truthful, so teach me wisdom.
Take away my sin, and I will be clean. Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Make me hear sounds of joy and gladness;let the bones you crushed be happy again.
Turn your face from my sins and wipe out all my guilt.

Create in me a pure heart, God, and make my spirit right again.
Do not send me away from you or take your Holy Spirit away from me.
Give me back the joy of your salvation. Keep me strong by giving me a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:1-12)

Is Change a What or a Who?

5.25How often do you demand, expect, or desire organizational change?

Consider the following:

What does the national government need to “get it right”?

What are the top changes the church should make?

What are the major changes you want to see at your workplace or grocery store or in the healthcare, education, or public aid systems?

It’s easier for us to demand organizational change than to accept personal change. We can identify issues that need to be addressed and resolved. We’re great armchair quarterbacks. But how do we respond when God announces,

“I interrupt this game you’re dreaming about to bring you back to reality. You’re trying to play everyone else’s game, and you’re missing out on your own. You need to be willing to change instead of just talking about change.”

Ouch.

Mahatma Ghandi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” I think God would tweak it a bit: “You must be the change God wants to see in the world.” In essence, you need to listen and respond to God and the way he’s changing you. You’re not the only one on his radar; he’s able to be everywhere all the time. He’s got the details covered. That means he can change the world. He could change organizations. But God’s way of changing works through people. He’s passionate about people he creates and wants an intimate relationship with them. If you desire change, he wants you to experience change.

Change is an investment. It can be a foolish investment or a wise investment. God wants to show you what wise investment is. He wants you to engage in investments that yield significant growth. The growth and change isn’t always what you define as the best or most preferred growth and change, but if it’s God’s way, it’s the best way.

Are you going to get stuck in the quagmire of expecting change outside you in order to meet you where you are, or are you willing to let God examine where you are and take you to another place, impacting not only your own life but those you connect with along the way?

“I am the true vine; my Father is the gardener.He cuts off every branch of mine that does not produce fruit. And he trims and cleans every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit.You are already clean because of the words I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch cannot produce fruit alone but must remain in the vine. In the same way, you cannot produce fruit alone but must remain in me. I am the vine, and you are the branches. If any remain in me and I remain in them, they produce much fruit. But without me they can do nothing. If any do not remain in me, they are like a branch that is thrown away and then dies. People pick up dead branches, throw them into the fire, and burn them. If you remain in me and follow my teachings, you can ask anything you want, and it will be given to you. You should produce much fruit and show that you are my followers, which brings glory to my Father. I loved you as the Father loved me. Now remain in my love.” (John 15:1-9)

Approaching Issues with Grace

5.23

So many issues, so many choices in how to approach them.

There are the biggies: gun control, abortion, same-sex marriage, immigration, and the list goes on. Then there are the ones that we don’t deal with on a national scale, but they soak into the very same topics as well as permeate our daily lives: forgiveness, tolerance, hypocrisy, mercy, pride, rights, humility…

We separate one from another, because we don’t want to have to apply the same standards everywhere. We can support one issue based on a premise that undermines another. We can set ourselves emotionally aside for one issue but come unglued for another. We point out the logical flaws of someone else’s argument but fail to see our own. Worse yet, we apply God’s Word to condemn others while applying God’s Word into our own lives, inviting him to challenge our own faults and offenses.

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. But early in the morning he went back to the Temple, and all the people came to him, and he sat and taught them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery. They forced her to stand before the people. They said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught having sexual relations with a man who is not her husband. The law of Moses commands that we stone to death every woman who does this. What do you say we should do?” They were asking this to trick Jesus so that they could have some charge against him.

But Jesus bent over and started writing on the ground with his finger. When they continued to ask Jesus their question, he raised up and said, “Anyone here who has never sinned can throw the first stone at her.” Then Jesus bent over again and wrote on the ground.

Those who heard Jesus began to leave one by one, first the older men and then the others. Jesus was left there alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus raised up again and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one judged you guilty?”

She answered, “No one, sir.”

Then Jesus said, “I also don’t judge you guilty. You may go now, but don’t sin anymore.” (John 8:1-11)

How can we approach all the issues surrounding us? Grace.

We can’t force others to walk the same journey we’ve walked, recognizing every truth we’ve struggled to face. We can’t fix all wrongs or become the keeper of all moral rights and wrongs. God is the judge, and he does a good job of it. He doesn’t need our help. He needs our obedience. And being obedient to God means living out the lives he created us to live, becoming more and more like him every moment of every day.

Can you claim to becoming more like God with every moment of every day?

When we walk with God, the issues become secondary. How we approach every person and every situation comes from the core of our faith. We yield to how he guides our responses, and he knows what he’s doing more than we’ll ever know while walking this journey on earth. When we’re concerned with where God has us and what he’s teaching us, we’ll be a lot less concerned with keeping track of everyone’s issues. Oh, we’ll certainly still be engaged in issues, because God engages us in the community and world we live. But we stop trying to fit God into the issues; we let the issues fit into our relationship with God.

God sent Jesus to place a grace-filled path under your feet. Are you walking on it? As you do, you will be living the grace-filled path out loud for all to see and hear.

But the gate is small and the road is narrow that leads to true life. (Matthew 7:14a)

Authenticity Isn’t Just About You

5.22Have you ever given advice you have difficulty applying in your own life? Have you ever stretched the truth (a.k.a., lied) to make yourself look a little better or perhaps a little worse in order to avoid doing something? (Perhaps you’ve even deceived yourself.) Are there areas of your life in which you know there are principles you should follow, but you just don’t seem to be able to discipline yourself to apply them, or you struggle with how they apply directly to you?

You’re not alone.

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” John 14:6

Lord, teach me what you want me to do, and I will live by your truth. Teach me to respect you completely. Psalm 86:11

Truthfulness isn’t just about what you say. It’s about the way you live. It paves the way for an authenticity in our lives, a perspective that reflects actually and exactly what we claim. Authenticity is a reflection of God, which means if we want authenticity, we can’t look in our own mirror; we have to use his.

If you’re supposed to reflect God’s character, how “real” is the reflection?

Truthfulness affects others. It affects their faith, because it affects how they see God. Whether I have a long-term relationship or momentary encounter with someone, my character, the way I behave, my attitude…all combine to reflect the God who created me for purpose on this earth. No moment, no situation, no person is insignificant. The truth of who I am, my authenticity, affects others.

And here’s the truth. I don’t always reflect the truth of God’s character. Sure, sometimes it has nothing to do with deceit. It might have to do with ignorance. But in all honesty, how often are we ignorant in a situation versus how often we rationalize we’re ignorant? It’s much easier to plead innocence than to take responsibility.

Not listening to God isn’t the same as not knowing his character. We live in a “shirk responsibility” culture. It’s easier to blame someone else. But when it comes to your personal walk with God, it’s between you and him. I can assure you, he’s not the one creating space.  Are we distant from God sometimes? Yes, but we can acknowledge the distance and move. Or we can choose instead to try to figure out the distance, whine about the distance, and end up in the same place weeks or months from now. Are we hurt or confused sometimes? Yes, but again, we can acknowledge our emotions and experience and begin the process of moving to another place, or steep in the turmoil and end up in the same situation, or worse, weeks or months from now.

Consider your life. Stand next to God and look into his mirror, the reflection he sees of you. Look at your authenticity, becoming actually and exactly what is claimed.

Pure_Purpose_Cover_for_Kindle(Today’s blog post is adapted from the Pure Purpose Bible study. For more information, including a free sample, click here.)

You Can Learn It!

5.20

Wise people can also listen and learn; even they can find good advice in these words. (Proverbs 1:5)

There’s something we can learn in every situation from every person…even if it’s something we learn to avoid instead of replicate. How willing are you to learn? Do you go into every situation, looking for what God wants to teach you? Do you easily dismiss some situations because you’ve “been there, done that” and are certain it will be the same? It’s essential to learn from past mistakes and avoid being in similar situations or attitudes that will yield the same mistakes, but that’s not the only reason we avoid situations and attitudes. We often avoid some things because they’ll require an effort of learning we don’t really want to expend.

Learning requires change, and we’re not always open to change.

Even people who say they enjoy change would probably agree the change they most enjoy is that which they’ve been part of creating or that which is consistent with their preferences. Faced with change that is in opposition to where we are or where we want to be is another story.

But that’s the kind of change God requires.

So brothers and sisters, since God has shown us great mercy, I beg you to offer your lives as a living sacrifice to him. Your offering must be only for God and pleasing to him, which is the spiritual way for you to worship. Do not be shaped by this world; instead be changed within by a new way of thinking. Then you will be able to decide what God wants for you; you will know what is good and pleasing to him and what is perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

Spiritual growth isn’t comfortable. It’s rewarding, but even when we can appreciate the benefits, we don’t always like the process. In fact, we even try to micromanage the process a bit (as if we could). Our micromanaging definitely impacts the process, but not in the way we intend. We don’t change the process. We simply impact the effect the process has on us. Our willingness to yield and obey through the lessons affects our spiritual growth.

For example, we might begin to categorize our gifts and skills and set aside the things we don’t think we should or can do. We see people who are more organized than we are (or insert just about any other skill), and we begin to accept that we will never attain that level of organization. However, we have a great relationship with a person who has those skills, and the topic seems to come up over and over. We brush it aside, keeping ourselves where we are instead of imagining where God wants us to be. He’s handing us a learning opportunity, but our fear, intimidation, or disinterest keeps us from engaging.

Yes, there are some things less likely for us to learn because of a variety of limitations, but are they limitations God created in us to keep us within the bounds of the purpose of our lives, or are we limiting ourselves? Or, are we projecting what we think are our limits, claiming them as God’s limits for us? Be careful. God will often teach outside your comfort zone.

If God intends for you to learn it, you can learn it.

Learning God’s way isn’t the easy way, but it’s the best way. Are you ready to learn what he wants you to learn today?