Are You Missing Your Next Step?

1sam-16v7The Lord said to Samuel, “How long are you going to mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and go. I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem because I have selected a king from his sons.”

Samuel asked, “How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me!” (1 Samuel 16:1-2)

There is always a “next step” of obedience. God wants us to move onward. We carry much of the past with us, because it prepares us, it has consequences, and it requires us to continue to wrestle and deal with things. Yet we still move on in  obedience. God invites and instructs us into our next step.

And we will often be able to find something that could hold us back, some reason we should stay where we are just a little longer: some excuse, diversion, or concern.

We may like the familiar, even if we aren’t completely content there, because it’s comfortable, even in it’s familiar pain and struggles. The next step isn’t quite as certain. It could be better; it could be worse. We just don’t know.

But will we only choose based on our own perspective of better or worse? If so, we’ll miss out on some uncomfortable, trying experiences and relationships that help us grow. We’ll stay put instead of taking some amazing journeys, even as they are wrought with complications and obstacles.

Are You Better Off?

indexI was recently reading a book on church leadership that put forth a question to people:

“Are you better off five years after joining the church?”

It doesn’t have to be just about joining a church. I prefer to rephrase it a bit to ask, “Are you better off spiritually since…?” Then insert whatever you thought would have helped you grow spiritually. Perhaps it’s serving more, attending worship services more often, journalling or reading more, meeting with a mentor or mentoring someone else, asking more questions, building more relationships, and so on. Or are you continuing to go through the motions but you haven’t truly changed? Are you content to check a task off your to-do list or calendar app and pat yourself on the back?

Involvement requires investment, sacrifice, and change. It will challenge and grow you. Sometimes growth happens by leaps and bounds and other times it’s gradual. Sometimes you’ll take a huge leap forward then coast for so long that you end up losing more ground than you gained. That’s why it’s important to reflect on chunks of time instead of asking yourself if you changed since last week.

However, if we’re intent on changing through daily and weekly situations, we can be certain to change over longer periods of time. But are we changing well? All change and growth isn’t good. Are we content to define what “better off spiritually” means, or do we have a open mind and heart to considering what the truth of that phrase is? Do we let our assumptions and backgrounds define it, or do we ask questions? Do we look for affirmation or for challenging correction and conviction?

The quick answer to “Are you better off spiritually…?” is “Yes!” But is that the truth? Commit to soaking in the question and asking God for direction as you seek the answer. Growth always involves humility, patience, and purposeful pursuit.

Why We Study God’s Word

Why do we do what we do? What’s our motivation?

We can study God’s Word to find self-help, cherry-picking what we think most helps and affirms us.

We can study God’s Word to check it off our legalistic faith checklist.

We can study God’s Word to alleviate our guilt or build our credibility.

We can study God’s Word for ammunition for what we what to prove or disprove.

Or we can study God’s Word to pursue God.

After all, His Word is a lot more about Him than us. He gifts us and reveals Himself through His Word.

Looking Through More Than One Lens

I have grown to love photography over the past several years. It started on my first trip to Israel. I took a new camera, and as I played with light, shadows, perspective, and patterns, I began to look at my surroundings with a different perspective. I noticed things I might have previously passed over. I paid close attention as I walk by or around something, noticing small perspective changes with each step.

As much as I enjoy photography, there are challenges that come along with it. On a recent trip, I was reminded over and over how difficult it is to have more than one perspective at once. I like the power of my zoom lens, because it allows me to pick out and capture small details. However, sometimes I find myself too close to something to capture a broader view, and it’s frustrating when I can only get a portion of an animal or building. Changing perspective requires changing lenses, which takes time, which I don’t always have when I’m trying to capture a moving critter or shadow. Changing lenses also requires coordination, which I don’t always have when I’m already juggling other things in my hands, or if I’m wearing my gloves.

I found another solution. My phone takes good pictures with a wide perspective, so I kept my zoom lens on my camera around my neck, and my phone in my pocket. Both were convenient, so I could choose the best perspective for the best capture.

In everyday life, we need to have different perspectives available, too. We need to become practiced enough with the benefits and downfalls of various perspectives that we can determine which is best for each circumstance and interaction. Each needs to be accurate. In other words, we need to capture the truth of reality with no filter. We don’t want to distort what is around us because of the perspective we choose. We don’t want to taint what is true. However, we can only righteously live out God’s will when we’re willing to discern the best tools to use to get the most—His most—out of each experience.

God is many characteristics at once—just, merciful, faithful, good, forgiving, convicting, patient, pursuant, corrective, and so on. He knows the best combination of His qualities to apply to each and every situation. His perspective is all-knowing, so He incorporates it all in just the right mixture. We, on the other hand, have difficulty determining when to stand up and when to sit down, when to shut up and when to speak up, when to keep our distance in caution and when to take compassionate risks. We often see our options as either/or choices that take time and effort to change.

But God puts all the same characteristics in us that He has, because we’re made in His image (well, except the things like sovereignty and omniscience that only He can possess and contain). We don’t have to clunkily change perspectives as if we can only have one. We can become familiar enough with all that God provides us and keep them readily available so we can respond with the best…with His help, of course!


When You Clean My Bookcases When I Die

I looked for something on my bookshelf, the one where I keep most of my completed studies and notebooks. It doesn’t seem like too long ago that I started working through them. Yet when I glance over the spines, each one brings back flickers of memories from various moments and seasons of my life.

With some, I remember an “aha” tucked deep in my heart long after I closed the back cover. With others, the most powerful remainder of the study is a relationship rooted in time spent with someone else. I’ve learned a lot, struggled through a lot, left a lot behind, and grown more than I ever imagined possible.

Yet I face shelves of books that, to someone else, are just that–useless books or notebooks someone else has written in, nonsensical scribbles highlighting important lessons and moments along the way.

One day, someone will throw all these books away.

That’s okay with me. They’re more meaningful to me than anyone else.

However, I hope whomever cleans out the bookcases realizes all my completed bible studies are not merely completed tasks and obligations. They are journeys, experiences, and conversations. I don’t want them to pause over them in order to retrace my steps. I hope they pause over them to reflect on their own.

We may take different notes. We might take different approaches. But we are each on a journey. Let’s be willing to be disciplined, determined, pliable, humble, and transformed.

The Value of Gems

masterpieceYou are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. You rejoice in this, though now for a short time you have had to struggle in various trials so that the genuineness of your faith—more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. You love Him, though you have not seen Him. And though not seeing Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:5-9)

Ponder It.
What do you believe God thinks of you?
If you could change one thing about the way you see your value, what would it be?
How committed are you to becoming God’s masterpiece?

Receive It.
Gems are beautiful, shiny, and full of colors. They’re valuable, but their true value is not determined by a gemologist. You are like a gem, and no one but God can determine your value. God didn’t mess up His design of you. He’s God, and He’s incapable of messing up. He created you in His image. You have His imprint on you. You can distort the image He’s placed on you by the way you live, but you can’t eliminate the image of God within you. No matter what you do, you cannot veer so far from God that He cannot reach you. You can never completely eliminate the image with which He’s created you. You’re designed from the inside out. When you neglect or refuse to acknowledge the worth God has given you—whether you inflate or deflate yourself—you are trying to say you know more about how you’re made and who you are than God does. You’re wrestling God for authority. And you will lose that wrestling match every single time. God decides your worth, and He thinks you’re worth sending His only Son to die for you. Yes, God sees your shortcomings, but He sees them only in the context of your potential. He knows the possibilities with which He created you, and He will continually strive to guide and mold you to your completion. When you don’t acknowledge His will and your value, you miss out on a piece of His plan, which is exactly what He doesn’t want you to do. Let Him show you your value. Fully live as He intends.

Live It.
This is it: the wrap up of our 30-day devotional journey. But it’s not an ending. It’s a continuation. God is still working in your life. He desires your faith and trust. He wants you to know Him and follow Him well. Stay committed to Him. Trust His work in your life. You are becoming a magnificent masterpiece.

You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16, The Message)

Trace and Restore

masterpieceTherefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come. Everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)

Ponder It.
How has God changed your life?
What is something you have left in the past?
What is something you are anticipating for your future?

Receive It.
Tracing is difficult. You must start with a pattern and follow it closely. The same is true with restoration. You’re trying to recreate something. You don’t want to betray the original. The same is true with us. We are God’s masterpieces, but in order to become more like Him, we have to know Him. It’s a process. We’re constantly uncovering, tracing, and restoring who we believe He is and, therefore, who He created us to be. We were created in His image, and He is constantly transforming us. But we have to focus, not because we’re responsible for the work. God does the work of transformation. But our job is essential to the process. We have to yield. We have to pay attention, listen to His instruction, watch for the fulfillment of His promises. He wants us to become, and that takes time, effort, humility, and willingness.

You don’t have to live up to the standard of who God will transform you into someday. Stop comparing yourself to who you can or should become. You’re not there yet. You’re not prepared for that step. If you focus too much into the future, you miss out on the step God wants you to take today. You miss out on the preparation He has planned for you, the preparation that will lead you where you need to be and give you what you need when you reach each of your tomorrows. Let God take care of assessing your life. He has the best vantage point. He is the original artist, so He’s the best possible option to restore you into the masterpiece He has planned.

Live It.
Write as many words that describe God as you can. You can include names or adjectives, anything that reveals who He is. Write for at least one minute. Knowing God better helps you trust Him more. Knowing Him better helps you know Him better. Knowing Him better challenges you to rely on Him as He transforms you into His masterpiece.