Plant Well

are-you-still-growingThen God said, “Let the earth produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.” And it was so. The earth produced vegetation: seed-bearing plants according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:11-12)

What have you seen grow in your life?

When might the seeds have first been planted and by whom?

What seeds are you planting today? With hopes of what?

Planting is full of promise. You start with a small seed that doesn’t seem to amount to much, but that seed is full of possibility. We often want instant growth, as if we could add a drop of water and instantly get a full-grown plant with perfectly ripened fruit, ready to be picked and enjoyed.

When my husband and I moved to a new house when our girls were small, he began creating a beautiful backyard. There was one type of flowering tree he really wanted, but it would take seven years to bloom. He didn’t want to wait that long, so he chose other options. Seven years later, he realized, “If I had planted that tree, I’d be enjoying it this year.”

He planted the tree, and we enjoyed it for several years when it matured.

My husband didn’t start with a single seed. He transplanted a small tree. However, he had to start somewhere. That’s what a season of planting demands—the choice to begin with something small in anticipation of growth.

Sometimes in our spiritual lives, we put all our plans in one plant. We plant a seed, then wait for it to grow. When it doesn’t become insta-fruit, we get frustrated. We watch time pass instead of using the passing time well. Spiritual life is more like a garden. There are many different things going on at once, and they are at varying stages of development. Some don’t do as well as we’d like, and some surprise us. Some of the things we didn’t think we needed or wanted come in handy, and some of our favorites become overused and worn out.

God is a good gardener—the best, actually. He’s giving you the seeds you need. Plant them.

What was something planted in your life years ago that you can now see the fruit of? What are you excited about planting right now? What are your hopes of growth? Be intentional about the planting process today. Take time to dig a little deeper, get your hands dirty, and water the fresh seed.

The Connection of Consequences

pile-of-puzzle-piecesYou will bear the consequences of your sins 40 years based on the number of the 40 days that you scouted the land, a year for each day. You will know My displeasure. (Numbers 14:34)

There is always a connection between our behavior and consequences, but it’s not always a 1:1 ratio as in this situation. One day: one year. It could just as easily be one day to one day or one day to one week. Perhaps one day to one minute or second.

We want to understand the connection between what we do (or don’t) and what happens next. But the only thing we truly know is that there is a connection. There are consequences to everything we do, say, and think (as well as to what we do not do, do not say, and do not think). Instead of spending so much time trying to figure out all the connections, we could use that same time and energy to focus on God, trust Him, and respond to Him. We can let Him figure it all out. Actually, He already has. That can be frustrating and infuriating in our own limited understanding, or it can be comforting and motivating to trust Him.

So, if you’re in a season of consequences you see as negative and are discouraged, take one step at a time to learn and grow. And if you’re in a season of consequences you see as positive and are motivated and encouraged, take one step at a time to learn and grow. No matter where we are, we can respond well.

Spiritual Treatment Plan

What are we willing to accept as our spiritual treatment plan? We want to grow up instantly. We want the spiritual maturity we see (or think) someone else has. We want to be able to do what they do. We want God to use us to reach others, to help them, pray for them, make a difference in their lives. We want to be an example for others.

But it takes commitment.

  • We must be willing to be pruned, which isn’t a comfortable process.
  • We must be willing to be refined, and there are some things we’d rather not give up.
  • We need to move beyond the milk stage, and it’s so much more comforting to be fed and stay with what we know than do some of the work on our own.
  • We must forgive, mingle with people who make us uncomfortable, wash people’s feet who we believe are unworthy, sacrifice, be generous…all according to the way God wants us to respond.

Growing up spiritually requires relinquishing control, choosing humility, and trusting God to guide each step of the way.

And it takes…time.

Time isn’t something we usually put in our treatment plans. We’re more accustomed to being able to take action steps to get better. We make appointments, rearrange schedules, buy the contraptions and medicines that will help us. We “don’t have time for this” when something interrupts our plans.

Spiritual growth involves inviting God to interrupt our plans. In fact, in order to grow, we need to ask Him to pretty much demolish our plans. Then, we need to trust His timing.

Growing up spiritually isn’t about an achievement chart. We can’t take classes and graduate and be done. We can’t make a list, even if it’s daily, and check everything off and expect to be done. It’s a process that takes time. And that time must be filled with our attention and intention.

Add time to your spiritual treatment plan, then commit each moment along the way to God. He’ll add in the refining, pruning, and feasting along the way…all in His timing, not yours.

When Ministry Isn’t Fun

“I have to work hard enough at my job—and I get paid for that. Volunteering for ministry shouldn’t take that much effort. If it’s not going to be fun, I’m not going to waste my time. I have more important things I’d rather do.”

It’s the new epidemic of faulty reasoning about serving in the local church. A previous generation often served sacrificially out of obligation or guilt, sometimes at the expense of joy. But too many today refuse to serve if the task doesn’t bring them excitement or at least pleasure. “No one can make me. I make my own choices. God wouldn’t want me to serve without excitement.” This if-there’s-nothing-in-it-for-me-I’m-not-doing-it attitude can weaken or even paralyze Christ’s body.

If we are a part of Christ’s body—the local and worldwide church—self-centeredness has to go. It’s not about whether or not we get paid. It’s not about the effort we expend. It’s not about the people we have to put up with. It’s not about the things we’d rather do. We have choices to make. Let’s look at a few.

Where Should I Give My Best Efforts?

When we’re receiving a paycheck for doing a job, we need to do the best we can, but not because we’re being paid. Whatever we’re doing deserves our best because (1) God equips us to do the work as we yield to him in obedience, and (2) we honor God as we steward well the gifts and talents he’s given us.

If we apply our best efforts only when they bring money or other tangible rewards, our efforts are more about us than about God. “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

How Can I Rethink Relationships?

God can use any relationship to develop his character within us.

We often assume Christians should be easier to get along with because they’re, well, Christians. People in the church shouldn’t create issues—just people outside the church.

But we’re all sinners. Instead of becoming frustrated with those within our church families, why not consider what God wants to teach us through those relationships, even when they’re difficult? Maybe he’ll prepare us for challenging relationships outside the church as we work through difficult situations within the church. Maybe he’ll use the fertile soil of our church family relationships to cultivate his characteristics, developing the fruit of the Spirit so that it is easily seen in our relationships outside the church as well.

What if we’re missing out on some of the best preparation he has planned for us by avoiding difficult relationships within the church? Is it possible we see relationships outside the church as easier because we don’t feel the same pressure to demonstrate God’s character with non-Christians? “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22, 23).

How Should I Spend My Time and Energy?

It might come as a shock, but the 24 hours we have each day aren’t ours to control; they’re ours to yield. They’re a gift from God. No matter how good our worthwhile activities seem, if they aren’t in God’s will and timing, they aren’t God’s best.

Family is good, but God wants us to keep family in perspective as his gift to us and realize family is under the umbrella of his will, care, and provision.

Service is good, but God wants us to keep it in perspective in his leading and timing.

Nothing and no one trump God. Everything and everyone he gives us are actually his, and when we begin to wrestle for control and management, we are no longer fully yielding. Our time and energy are his to give and ours to steward. When we mismanage them, we suffer, our relationship with God suffers, and the health of Christ’s body suffers.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:36-40).

Serving isn’t optional. As we struggle with it, we can make any excuse we want and try to project the blame onto leaders, other individuals, or the church as a whole. But excuses indicate a heart issue. God isn’t nearly as concerned about our excitement level as our commitment level. He’s not nearly as concerned about what we can get out of serving and building relationships as what he can give us.

It’s our choice. We can make it about choosing how to spend our time and energy. We can make it about what relationships we prefer to cultivate. We can make it about our own enjoyment.

But it’s really about God. Are we yielding to him with our choices?

Originally published at ChristianStandard.com.

What Time Is It?

time-in-your-handsThere is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

God’s Word declares there’s a time for birth, death, laughter, tears, silence, speaking, construction, destruction, and much more. You’ve experienced all these, and in many cases, you’ve experienced them time after time…but not necessarily at the time you preferred.

God chooses the time. We choose our response.

God created time. He knows how it all works together as it passes one moment at a time. We live within the constraints of time. Once a moment is gone, it’s gone. As we stress about the passing moment, more moments pass. God, on the other hand, is outside time, not limited by time. He lives in the right now as well as the near and distant past and the near and distant future.

God knows the timing of our lives and invites us to choose our response. We can be stubborn and self-focused, believing and behaving as if we can grasp onto time and do with it what we want. We can create our own schedules and to-do lists with the assumption we’re managing our own time. In reality, we’re only managing the time God gives us. We stand with open palms as God places each moment into our hands.

Don’t hold the moment too tightly; it will ooze out, and you will lose what God intended. Don’t hold it too loosely, or it will slip between your fingers, lost forever. God chooses time. Choose your response well with an outstretched palm.

Ask God to help you trust Him with the moments He’s giving you.

Set Your Boundaries Well

BoundariesSome people were even bringing infants to Him so He might touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. Jesus, however, invited them: “Let the little children come to Me, and don’t stop them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I assure you: Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:15-17)

Google “how to set good boundaries,” and you’ll be flooded with advice with how to manage your time, relationships, and schedule. Boundaries are important, right? I mean, without boundaries, we’ll be at everyone’s mercy. We’ll lose all control. We’ll end up exhausted, overwhelmed, and frustrated. We’ll become so inefficient that we’ll be ineffective. Right?

Well, it’s not quite as clear cut as that.

The problem with setting boundaries is that we often want to set them based on popular opinion or our own preferences. Boundaries aren’t ours to set. Only God knows where our boundaries should be set. Jesus welcomed children despite being busy. He chose one thing over another. Of course, He also chose to retreat at times. He spent time in prayer. He taught the disciples. He healed people. He provided nourishment for people. He chose well. As He served, He didn’t say, “I will never,” just “I won’t right now.” He walked where God wanted Him to walk, one step, one choice at a time. He let His yes be yes and His no be no.

But let your word “yes” be “yes,” and your “no” be “no.” Anything more than this is from the evil one.
(Matthew 5:37)

If you want to set your boundaries well, don’t set them yourself. God has already surveyed the land of your entire life. You’ll need His help and His timing every step of the way.

The Years Fly…and the days drag!

turtlerabbitSometimes we reach the end of the day and exclaim “Where did my day go?” (and I covered that topic yesterday), but many times we wonder if the day will ever end because of what we face throughout it. Yet, the years fly by. I’ve had many conversations with young moms who can’t believe their children are starting to walk, tie their shoes, beginning school, trying out for a sports team, or graduating from high school. However, we all agree there are days that we think will never end. We’re exhausted, overwhelmed, and frustrated, and we just want to go to bed and start again the next day! The years fly, but the days d…r…a…g.

Logically, it makes no sense. If we have days that drag, and those days make up a year, shouldn’t it seem the year drags, too?

How can we slow down the years so we can savor them but speed up the days so we can survive them?

We can’t.

It’s true. We don’t control time. We can’t make more, and we can’t eliminate it. We can waste it or use it well. We can savor it or dread it. We can manage it but can’t control it. We can steward it well…or not.

You don’t have to reflect on the years and wonder where they went, how they slipped by as if they escaped from you. You might not remember every single moment, but when you commit to savoring the moments as you have them right in front of you, it won’t really matter whether time flies or drags. You can choose to live life instead of giving time so much control.

The time you have is a gift. It might not always feel that way, which might be because (1) you waste so much of it that you create pressures with what remains, or (2) life isn’t always smooth sailing. God gives you time, but He doesn’t promise all the decisions you make about it and all the moments you spend it it will be easy. In fact, He says the opposite: “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:30)

Focus less on the balance sheet of what you’re gaining or losing, remembering or forgetting, acquiring or relinquishing. Instead, focus on what God had planned for you right here, right now. Take the next step. You might feel as if you’ve lost a significant portion of your race or that you’ll never reach the finish line. You might be bored with where you are and just want to know what’s ahead. You might want to start again. And in a sense, you can. Take a step. Go at God’s pace. It’s not about whether the turtle or the hare wins; it’s about finishing well.

Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne. (Hebrews 12:1-2)