Decisions Decisions

despair1For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Philippians 2:13 NLT

My job was taxing but fulfilling. Deciding whether or not to leave was difficult.

Five years had passed since I’d been employed by a local county. I began as a teller and had moved up to supervisor. Though some days found me wishing for something different, most of the time I was satisfied.

Then my pastor presented an opportunity. Due to difficult circumstances, I had been out of the ministry for a few years. Now he offered me the chance to be his associate and work with the youth and children. I turned down his first request, almost without thinking. Age had crept up on me. I was too old to act like youth ministers are sometimes required to.

A few months later, he approached me again. This time I told him I’d pray about it. Soon thereafter, I accepted the part-time position—a decision that was only the beginning of more decisions to come.

Gas prices were rising, and my position at the county required two hours of driving. As I stopped in at the old country store across the road from my house, one of the new owners approached me about a part-time day manager’s position. I prayed again. Before I knew it, I was putting in my resignation at the county and working two part-time jobs.

According to Paul, God works in us and gives us the desire and power to do what pleases Him…but how?

When I trusted Christ as my Savior, He sent His Spirit to indwell me. Listening to Him helps me make good decisions. God’s Spirit lives in me and works through me. He is not just presence or some force; He is living and moving. He nudges me in the right direction but also nudges me when I make wrong decisions.

Knowing God’s Word also helps in the decision-making process. Here I find God’s principles, wishes, and commands. Having them ingrained in my mind helps me hear God’s Spirit when He reminds me of them.

A further help with decisions comes through prayer. Knowing the Word and having the Spirit makes the process of prayer more productive. As I pray, God will speak to me by His Spirit about things that align with His Word.

Don’t leave your decisions to chance. Listen to God’s Spirit, pray, and consult His Word.

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Seeing Clearly

mountainretreatThere he came to a cave, where he spent the night.
But the Lord said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

1 Kings 19:9 NLT

None of us had ever experienced what we were about to.

Eight couples from our church traveled to a cabin in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, for a marriage retreat. My wife and I had stayed in several cabins over the years—some we enjoyed while others were misrepresented by the rental agency. Not this one.

Our little convoy turned off the main road and ascended a narrow road until we reached Summit View Lodge—a four story cabin nestled on the side of a mountain. Everyone wanted to visit the top level to see the view. For 180 degrees, we saw nothing but mountain range folded upon mountain range. Our only obstructions were trees, smog, and low-hanging clouds.

Elijah had a sight problem as well, but trees, pollution, and clouds had nothing to do with it. He had defeated hundreds of pagan prophets on a mountaintop contest, but the wicked queen wasn’t pleased with his efforts. A 24-hour death sentence sent him running. His first stop was a broom tree where he asked God to take his life. Then he traveled to a cave where once again depression overcame him. In the midst of his despair, God helped him see clearly.

Fear, anxiety, and depression kept Elijah from seeing what God wanted to do in his life—just as clouds and smog kept us from seeing the totality of our mountain view. Adopting Elijah’s solution—running, is an easy escape point when things aren’t going our way or when I can’t see which way they are going at all.

Taking advantage of the abundant life Jesus offers requires a clear view—even when circumstances are against me. And this requires several steps which Elijah eventually took.

First, I must believe God is with me and is concerned. Elijah’s running was unnecessary. God could handle a wicked queen. Second, I must ask God to help me understand the situation fogging my sight. God gave understanding to Elijah in the cave. Third, I must accept my circumstances by faith. I won’t always understand what God is doing or why. Finally, I must release despondency to God. Discouragement and depression will only further cloud my vision. Releasing it by faith clears things up.

Regardless of what clouds your view, God can help you see clearly.

Refined by Sorrow

Sorrow is better than laughter,sad1c
for sadness has a refining influence on us.

Ecclesiastes 7:3 NLT

Never had I witnessed sorrow bring such a transformation.

When times of deep sorrow strike, many choose the road of bitterness toward God. If God’s as good as you claim, why did…, they ask. And I’ve wondered the same thing when traveling roads of sorrow. Not James. I was his pastor, but he and his wife rarely attended church. Nor had I ever been to their home. Only through the grapevine did I know they had marital challenges.

Late one evening, I received a call about a wreck involving James’ wife and young son. She had swerved to avoid a deer, ran off the road, and crashed. She was banged up and in shock. Her infant son was dead.

Following the funeral and several days of intense grieving, James began attending church regularly. Actually, every time the doors opened. Soon he walked the aisle, rededicated his life to Christ, and requested baptism. He continued to grow spiritually, and within a year of the accident was serving as a deacon in the church. Sorrow had refined him.

What wise King Solomon says seems ludicrous. Who in their right mind would rather have sorrow than laughter? But his conclusion is accurate: sadness has a refining influence.

Periods of sorrow remind me I have little—if any, jurisdiction over most of what happens to me. Through hindsight, I see how I could have changed the course of some of my travels, but most of them were outside my control.

Knowing God has a determitive and permissive will helps. Some things will happen because He has determined they will while others occur because He permits them—even though they aren’t in His perfect plan. Understanding this requires faith and my admitting I can’t always understand God’s ways. They are higher than mine.

If I respond correctly, sorrow will refine my relationship with God by moving me closer to Him. Knowledge that He’s in control will replace worry and anxiety. I’ll plunge deeply into His Word and run to Him through prayer. Sorrow can also produce a greater level of perseverance and patience. After all, I have a hope unbelievers don’t.

Don’t let the sorrow that comes from living in a sinful world depress you. God loves you and is in control of your life events. If you let Him, He will refine you through sorrow.

Chickening Out

chickenSo they spread this bad report about the land among the Israelites:
“The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there.
All the people we saw were huge.

Numbers 13:32 NLT

When I was young, chicken was more than the animal.

I was young when I learned chicken wasn’t necessarily a chicken. Chickens ran around my grandmother’s yard during the day and were locked up in the coop at night. But if my cousin asked me to do something I was scared to do and I didn’t do it, he labeled me a chicken. And since I was somewhat scared of adventurous things, I often wore the label.

“Marty, I bet you won’t jump off the tractor shed,” he might say.

“Are you crazy,” I’d respond.

“Chicken. Bak, bak, bak.”

Or if it was something I initially said I’d do but then changed my mind about at the last minute, I would be accused of chickening out. Either way, I was a chicken.

Of the 12 spies Moses sent into the Promised Land, 10 chickened out. Four hundred years of Egyptian slavery was behind the Israelites. Now, they stood on the border of the land God had promised their ancestors. Out of fear—or either good sense, Moses sent 12 men to peruse the land. It was promising alright but was also guarded by giants and walled cities. Ten of the men chickened out. Only Joshua and Caleb maintained they could take the land. The majority’s disobedience cost the Israelites 40 years of wilderness wandering.

I’m fond of telling people God won’t ask them to do anything they can’t do—but most of the time that’s not true. God often asks me to do things I can’t do. If I can do it, I don’t need Him. If I can’t do it—but He helps me do it, then the spotlight is shone on Him and He gets the glory for what’s accomplished.

What God asks of me, He enables me to do. He would have enabled the people to conquer the land—and He did for another generation 40 years later. The walled cities and giants were no problem for them when God was their guide.

I wonder how many things I’ve missed doing for God because I chickened out and never started. Living the Christian life involves faith and trust, and sometimes the faith must be blind faith—the kind children have.

Don’t chicken out on what God asks of you. He’ll always supply the strength, the way, and the courage.

Grief My Way

griefThen David got up from the ground, washed himself, put on lotions, and changed his clothes. He went to the Tabernacle and worshiped the Lord.
After that, he returned to the palace and was served food and ate.

2 Samuel 12:20 NLT

The family gathered around his bed and watched his body jerk and convulse—then fall silent.

A work-related accident had disabled Mike many years before. Though he managed to work a few jobs for short periods of times, he couldn’t hold a job long-term. Then he realized a dream—owning a store. Things went well for a time—until the widow-maker hit. Fortunately, it didn’t make one of his wife. His store was located across from a rescue station. As he collapsed, he motioned for rescue personnel. They got to him in time, but his heart suffered irreparable damage. Because other organs in his body weren’t healthy either, doctors turned down his appeal for a heart transplant.

Now Mike’s family gathered around his bed at the local Hospice house. Doctors had informed them their loved one’s body was shutting down. It would only be a few days or a week at the most. As his body floundered involuntarily, nurses assured the family he wasn’t in pain. In the early hours of the morning—when everyone had left except his sister and nephew, he gave up the fight.

I looked on as reactions to Mike’s death varied. Some sobbed uncontrollably, some shed only a few tears, some shed no tears at all, and some chose not to see him in his final state but to remember him as he was.

David’s reaction to his child’s death puzzled some. He grieved while the child lingered between life and death, but when the child died David got up and returned to life as normal.

Some don’t understand those who cry hysterically while others don’t understand those who don’t shed a tear. And refusing to look on a loved one in their final hours is incomprehensible to others.

Grieving is personal, and people do it different ways. I didn’t shed a tear when my father took his final breath, but I cried uncontrollably at his funeral. I’ve watched others sit silently in shock with no tears.

How we grieve is not as important as the fact that we do. Keeping our sorrow inside damages us physically and emotionally. Other’s opinions of our grief may hurt us but don’t matter in the long run. What matters is that we mourn our loss.

When loss incurs in your life, grieve your way.