You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
Matthew 16:23b, 25 (NIV)
When you lose, you win.
Jesus speaks these words to the disciples after telling them of His suffering and death at the hands of the religious leaders and of His resurrection after 3 days. Immediately Peter protests “No Jesus, that’s not how the story goes!” But it is.
Peter had an expectation about how the Messiah would save Israel. But Peter was constrained by his own realm of possibilities. No plan to save Israel included Jesus’ death. It was inconceivable.
Each of us has an outline for how we’d like our lives to play out based in reality. Even our dreams are limited by what we conceive as humanly possible. Jesus says “Let it go. You’re thinking too small. You have no idea what we can do together.”
Jesus tells us that by releasing control of our future and following His guidance, we will lose our ordinary, safe, comfortable (and wasted) life and get one that is truly worth living. His plan might not be easy, predictable, or comfortable, but will be more fulfilling than our own.
God carefully created us with passions and talents. He will certainly use these for His purposes, perhaps in ways we can’t envision. But God makes no mistakes. He is inherently good and has an unimaginable life in store for you.
Will you trust Him?
Will you let God reframe your picture perfect life?
When we give our life to God, we get a better one. (tweet this)
Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.
Isaiah 1:17 (NLT)
I met a young man named Tommy at the Dunkin’ Donuts. Don’t spread rumors. We were only together 2 hours.
He opened the door as I entered, but grunted at my “thank you.” His body language spoke of frustration and anger. I sensed desperation and hopelessness in the way he roughly plopped his cup on the table and harrumphed back in his chair. His movements said “Now what?”
I commented that he seemed to be having a rough day. Yes, homeless for 2 years. He had spent the night in a jail cell after being found naked and covered in vomit, but thankfully not arrested. He described his attempt to survive the bitter cold by drinking nips to warm his insides, counting the minutes until the laundromat opened.
We talked over breakfast sandwiches until TJ Maxx opened where we bought clean clothes. Tommy was surprised by my kindness but I told him it’s the way God wants us to treat people.
Tommy tutored me on the highs and lows of street life, heroin addiction and trying to get clean with suboxone. He desperately wants to see his two boys who live with his mother in my town. We talked about making one good decision at a time.
Tommy looked like a new man as I gave him a parting hug. Sadly, an onlooker warned me “be careful touching people ‘like that’, they have many diseases.” I remembered that Jesus made a point of touching the outcasts.
Over the course of the day, an occasional unpleasant whiff from my shirt reminded me of that wonderful hug.
Are you willing to stretch outside your comfort zone to help an ‘untouchable’?
Love God by doing kindness to the outcasts. (tweet this)
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)
It was a trial run. God was testing me, preparing me for the real deal.
I received a compliment from a guy in my exercise class. “I like your cross” he said, referring to the necklace I wear every day. My hand rose to run the gold cross back and forth along the chain and I
responded “Thank you, it was my mother’s.”
That was not a good answer.
That man may be searching for meaning. He may be curious and have questions. He may have spent weeks building up enough courage to start a casual conversation with someone who might have answers. And I just thanked him.
I missed an opportunity.
I should have responded with something like “Thank you, my faith is important to me” or “Thank you, it reminds me of God’s love”, or “Thank you, it shapes my perspective.” But I didn’t.
Thank goodness we continued talking about favorite classes, tight muscles, jobs and, eventually, to his real desire to do mission work. Bam! The conversation from there was awesome as we shared stories of God’s goodness, guidance, and activity in our lives. It was exciting stuff.
“Thank you” could have ended the conversation, but God was preparing me.
This trial run gave me a chance to think about a response that leaves the door open. Sure, hinting at faith might be an awkward conversation stopper, but he asked about my cross. Why not give it a try?
Always be ready to give a reason for your faith. (tweet this)
My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me”, and I respond, “I am coming.”
Psalm 27:8 (NLT)
Come and talk with me.
I love this invitation, don’t you? I imagine God patting the sofa cushion and encouraging me to sit. And I try to respond “I am coming”, because I’m at my best when I start the day in scripture and prayer. But…
I often don’t have time to sit and I respond, “Not today, God, I’m in a rush.” What I forget is that a slow deep breath with my heart laid open before Him instantly communicates all that needs to be said. While God prefers the long version of the story (so He can ask questions and offer guidance), the snapshot invites His presence and involvement.
Come and talk with me.
The voice can sound like guilt when I haven’t prayed in awhile. It’s like reconnecting with a long-lost friend. “Where do I start? What excuse can I make for my silence? I know I should… but do we still have anything to talk about?” These thoughts prevent me from talking with God and the separation grows. But God doesn’t condemn my absence. He delights in my presence and calls to me every day.
Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning. (Lam 3:23)
When God whispers “Come and talk with me”, will you respond “I am coming”?
A heart placed open before God instantly communicates all that needs saying. (tweet this)
Meanwhile, the disciples were urging Jesus, “Rabbi, eat something.”
But Jesus replied, “I have a kind of food you know nothing about.”
“Did someone bring him food while we were gone?” the disciples asked each other.
Then Jesus explained: “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing His work.
John 4:31-34 (NLT)
This exchange with the disciples occurs just after Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well, offers her living water, and reveals himself to her as the Messiah. Jesus is exhilarated by the encounter. He is full in the best possible sense and the disciples want him to eat. No, thank you, my nourishment comes from doing the will of God.
Have you ever experienced this exhilaration?
I feel it when I recognize God’s work through me. I am psyched, pumped, jazzed. The adrenaline surges and I want to tell everyone. It’s an amazingly joyful feeling.
At that moment, the last thing I’m thinking about is physical hunger, or for that matter, whether I’m cold or tired. I’m full of a joy only God can provide.
Is this the kind of water Jesus offers the Samaritan woman? After this complete stranger summarizes her life’s mistakes and reveals his identity, she drops her water jug and races to the village to share her story. She has tasted the living water.
These nourishing experiences grow our faith and increase our confident hope in God’s promises. A steady diet of ‘doing God’s will’ fills us with His joy and life that is truly life.
A steady diet of ‘doing God’s will’ fills us with life. (tweet this)
Teach me your decrees, O Lord; I will keep them to the end. Give me understanding and I will obey your instructions; I will put them into practice with all my heart. Make me walk along the path of your commands, for that is where my happiness is found. Give me an eagerness for you laws rather than a love for money! Turn my eyes from worthless things, and give me life through your word. Reassure me of your promise, made to those who fear you. Help me abandon my shameful ways; for your regulations are good. I long to obey your commandments! Renew my life with your goodness.
Psalm 119:33-40 (NLT)
I have trouble following Jesus’ example. How about you?
Sometimes we don’t feel kind, can’t find the energy to volunteer, prefer to relax with our favorite show than call a struggling friend, don’t remember to pray, and skip Sunday services. I know. It’s hard to keep God at the center of life. We’re pulled in so many different directions.
I have good news! God knows.
He knows we aren’t capable of making Him our center on our own. God initiates the relationship when we express interest.
What I noticed in this psalm is that the writer doesn’t promise to follow God by using self-discipline. He asks God to change his heart and reset his priorities, to give him the desire and understanding, to turn his eyes and direct his feet. I imagine God is just waiting for us to ask.
Let’s release our feelings of failure and admit our inability to be self-disciplined followers without God’s help. You may want to reread the scripture slowly, as a personal prayer.
Help me, God! Make me eager to follow your way. (tweet this)
Wisdom shouts in the streets. She cries out in the public square. Come and listen to my counsel. I’ll share my heart with you and make you wise.
Proverbs 1:20,23 (NLT)
The following excerpts from wise men of faith have helped reshape my devotional
time. They suggest refreshing perspectives and practices for our time with God:
Listen, O Lord, to my prayers. Listen to my desire to be with you, to dwell in your house, and
to let my whole being be filled with your presence. But none of this is possible without you. When you are not the one who fills me, I am soon filled with endless thoughts and concerns that divide me and tear me away from you. Even thoughts about you, good spiritual thoughts, can be little more than distractions when you are not their author…
No book, no idea, no concept or theory will ever bring me close to you unless you yourself are the one who lets these instruments become the way to you.
– From A Cry for Mercy by Henri J.M. Nouwen, twentieth century Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer and theologian
Be sure to read, not cursorily or hastily, but leisurely, seriously, and with great attention; with proper pauses and intervals, and that you may allow time for the enlightening of the divine grace. To this end, recollect, every now and then, what you have read, and consider how to reduce it to practice.
– by John Wesley (Classics of Western Spirituality Series), 1700’s co-founder of the Methodist church
Lord, listen to my desire to be with you. (tweet this)
Devotions and prayer aren’t tasks to check off, but rather time to be filled with God’s Spirit and wisdom.
Let’s slow our pace, open our souls, and let Him speak.
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, because He who promised is faithful.
Hebrews 10:23 (NLT)
What is the ‘hope we profess’?
In the Old Testament, the Jews repeatedly tell the story of God’s activity in their history and His promise to be ruler over the nation of Israel. They tell it so often that I sometimes think “yada-yada-yada” and speed read until I reach new material.
The story was retold and retold because this was the foundation for their Hope, capital H.
They trusted with complete confidence and expectation that Israel’s one covenant God, who made the entire universe and chose Israel as a light to the rest of the world, would end Israel’s suffering, vindicate His people, and rule over the nation. They were irrevocably committed to God acting in history on their behalf. Old Testament ‘hope’ represents this confident knowledge and shaped every aspect of their lives.
God did act in history through Jesus’ life, crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus fulfilled Israel’s hope, just not as they envisioned, and gave hope a new definition. When Jesus returns, all believers will get imperishable bodies and live eternally with God, no decay, no suffering, no evil. And by believing and following Jesus’ teachings, we get a taste of this new hope.
The New Testament writers were just as certain of Jesus’ return as the Old Testament writers were that God would restore them. So, fellow Christians, Jesus is our Hope, capital H.
He will come again, conquer evil, restore the earth and resurrect all believers. We can confidently expect salvation, God’s glory, eternal life, wholeness, the end of evil, and to (finally) become like Christ.
How confident is our Hope? To what extent does Hope shape our lives, our relationships, our to-do lists?
Therefore, keep alert, because you don’t know the day or the hour.
Matthew 25:13 (CEB)
My devotional book has me pondering what being ready for Jesus’ second coming looks like.
Today’s verse summarizes Jesus’ lesson from the parable about ten bridesmaids who are awaiting the groom’s arrival. Five have planned ahead and brought spare fuel for their lamps while the others have not. The groom is late so they become drowsy and fall asleep. At midnight they awaken. “He’s coming! Let’s go!” But the unprepared bridesmaids’ lamps are empty. While they’re off buying more oil, the groom enters the wedding and closes the door. No one else may enter.
My study notes suggest that oil represents faithful living – applying Jesus’ teachings to life. I believe the oil is the result of faithful living, the fullness that floods our soul when we walk closely with Him.
The five wise gals were ‘on fire’ for Jesus. Their Spirit filled lives had enough in reserve to complete the task. The other gals’ lamps were burning at first, but they hadn’t considered how much would be required to wait for the groom. The wise bridesmaids offered advice to the unprepared, but couldn’t fix their problem. The groom had arrived.
I have unanswered questions. Why did the wise bridesmaids say they didn’t have enough oil to share? Why can no one enter after the door closes? And…
How can we be better prepared for whatever is required?
Jesus pairs the bridesmaid story with one about a master and his servants-in-charge. The master is pleased with the servants who are fulfilling their responsibilities. Those who are mistreating others and entertaining themselves are punished for eternity (Matt 24:45-51).
We can’t predict Jesus’ return, but we should expect it. (tweet this)
Be still, and know that I am God.
Psalm 46:10 (NLT)
You’re not crazy.
I did recently write about this same verse and our need to enter God’s presence with calm spirits. However, study in the beliefs of ancient society unveiled a new perspective.
The psalm was written when people believed that the mountains kept the oceans in place. The mountains prevented flooding. Would crumbling mountains amid a turbulent ocean be a worst case scenario? Yes, and the first part of Psalm 46 paints just this picture:
God is our refuge and strength,
Always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come And the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!
Come, see the glorious works of the Lord!
See how he brings destruction upon the world. He causes wars to end throughout the earth. He breaks the bow and snaps the spear; He burns the shields with fire.
Be still, and know that I am God!
Psalm 46:1-3, 8-10 (NLT)
To paraphrase, “We won’t fear. No, we’ll laugh in the face of our worst nightmare because God is good and powerful and on our side. Stand back and watch what God can do.”
Do we watch from the sidelines while God works a miracle? No, we do our part and God multiplies our efforts in a mighty and undeniable way.
Gideon’s 300 men didn’t relax riverside while God fought the battle. The outnumbered army fought their hardest with confidence (stillness) that God would give them the victory as promised.
Don’t worry. Don’t fear. Be confident that God can resolve even the worst disaster.
Don’t worry! Get busy and watch God multiply your efforts. (tweet this)