Life is full of challenges but one of the most difficult times we face is when the bottom falls out and you wonder how you’re going to keep going. It’s easy for people to think, “I just can’t go on.”
But you can.
After all, everyone has trials. Even the big names of the faith whose stories we read in the Bible often struggle.
For Instance, the Apostle Paul found himself alone at the end of an incredible career. He was a prolific church planter. He wrote about 1/2 of the New Testament. But he came to the end of his life alone & discouraged.
How did he respond? The key for him was the presence of the Lord.
Even David in Psalm 23 talks about this when he experienced his deepest, darkest times. He, too, was reassured by the presence of the Lord. His hope is expressed in the phrase, “You are with me.”
It’s life changing to know God is there. He is present in your life.
You may still go through the valleys, but when you have the assurance that God is there, that will make all the difference.
God is with you. You are not alone. The Creator of the Universe is by your side.
What does that look like for you?
Well, you may need to make some adjustments to give God a place in your life. You may need to find a good local church and start attending regularly. You may need to get on a Bible reading plan. You may need to make prayer a part of your thought processes throughout your every day.
You don’t have to become a spiritual giant overnight. But you do have to take some steps to take care of your inner self and give God room so He can be right there with you.
And that will make all the difference.
In the NFL about this time of year, dreams die. That is, another team loses and is knocked out of the playoff race. Their dream of making it into the playoffs and hopefully getting to the Super Bowl can vanish in a weekend.
However, does that mean that the dream really died? Not at all. Pretty soon every team will begin to strategize for the next season, the next run. And the dream will live again.
Think about Joseph and his dreams in the book of Genesis:
Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words (Genesis 37:5-8).
Then through a series of incidents he found himself in an Egyptian prison. The years passed. As he sat in the prison cell I can imagine his dream continually surfaced in his mind.
I wonder, did his dream ever die? After a series of providential circumstances Joseph not only got out of prison, he rose to an unprecedented level of authority. Now Joseph was governor over the land. He was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground (Genesis 42:6).
Maybe your dream didn’t die. Maybe its just not the right time. As you get ready to begin a new year, maybe it’s time to dream again.
Let’s wrap up our short discussion on H.O.P.E. To recap, stories are one of the most valuable ways to regain hope. That’s why we listen to them, read them, and why God put them in the Bible.
It’s History now, but stories still inspire. In my last post I introduced you to Hannah and her story. We left off with her feeling hopeless.
She had done all she could. She was out of answers. However, she could pray, believe, and wait. In short, if God didn’t show up and do something, then she would never have a child.
That’s what she did. Like the Psalmist she poured out her complaint to God and told Him all about her trouble (Psalm 142:2). Her prayer led to personal peace for we read, “And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad (1 Samuel 1:18, ESV). Soon after she experienced…
Omnipotence. That is, God stepped in. “They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her” (1 Samuel 1:19, ESV).
Perhaps you are thinking, “I can only take so much.” “Or how long will it take?” Or “What’s the purpose in all my mess?”
That’s when you need…
Promises. Not a promise that your pain will go away. Not that the sun will shine brightly on your life tomorrow. You need to know that God is always working, despite what you see and feel. In the present things don’t make sense. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28), ESV).
Or do we? We’re beginning to doubt. So right now maybe a lot of problems and predicaments are weaving their way throughout your life. Everywhere you look there are dark clouds.
There is another great story about Joseph. Note what he said about all that he had gone through: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20, ESV). The phrase you meant evil against me could be translated you weaved evil into my life. Which they did.
But what did God do? He re-weaved all the bad stuff and turned it into one spectacular finish. I realize happy endings are not automatic. But what I want you to see is the promise that God is working. That’s what we need to know.
That should lead you to our final letter…
Encouragement. Hope and encouragement. Those are found throughout the Old Testament. Even the apostle Paul was aware of the value to be found in the Scriptures, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4, ESV).
H.O.P.E. can be a reality in the midst of your own pain. Is it?
In my last post I talked about needing hope. Fortunately hope is available.
In the Bible. So let’s get started, using the acrostic H.O.P.E.
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Which means we need to go back to the Old Testament and read some Bible stories. And you thought Bible stories were for kids.
Hang with me. One of the great treasures in the Old Testament are the stories. Stories of hope. Many who lost hope experienced miraculous turning points. And chances are if you need hope, you need a miracle.
We will come back to that thought, but for now let’s go back some 3,000 years. 1 Samuel chapter 1 gives us the details. Hannah is married with no financial worries. Her husband attends church with her, and to top it off he loves her unquestionably.
Now you may be thinking, “Must be nice. So what could possibly be her problem?”
In spite of all this, she was deeply depressed.
In her culture it was not uncommon for a man to have two wives. The other wife had no problem getting pregnant and flaunted all of her kids.
Hannah could not get pregnant. She is not the first barren woman in the Bible, but you need to feel her deep emotions.
Get the picture. The husband loved Hannah, which no doubt did not sit well with the second wife, Penninah. So you can imagine how Penninah loved to talk about all her kids. And how many times did Hannah have to hear “I’m pregnant again!” Or “Look at all the kids running around the house.”
Hannah felt hopeless.
She lived under a continual cloud of depression.
Now what? Things looked bleak. Can you identify?
History is helpful especially when you think your situation is unique. Perhaps.
In my next post we’ll get to the last three letters O.P.E., because Hannah did find hope, and so will you.
It’s been well said that hope never goes out of style. Who doesn’t need hope? I’ll bet you wonder about that at times. Because all of us sure need it.
You even wonder what it would be like to not need hope.
While all may need hope, some are in desperate need of it.
What’s the difference?
You desperately need hope when you feel…
Helpless. You don’t have the answers or the resources to alleviate your current pain.
Overwhelmed. You feel like you are drowning in debt, emotional pain, or on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Paralyzed. How many times have you sat and thought for hours only to realize that you have not accomplished anything? Pain affects our productivity.
Exhausted. You are at the end of your rope and you know it.
You are not alone. In my next post I want to share a story from the Old Testament where we will meet a woman who was in need of hope. Her pain was about to do her in. She wondered if life would ever change.
As another football season is about to begin, training camps are opening up.
However, there is one star Running Back who will not be in camp.
In 2014 Ray Rice was caught on video punching his wife–fiancee at the time–in an elevator. As the video went viral, the Baltimore Ravens were essentially forced to cut him from the team. Also, because of the despicable act the NFL also banned him for a period of time. Now that the ban is over, teams are not that likely to reinstate him.
All because of one foolish act.
One. Foolish. Act.
For Ray Rice it cost him millions of dollars. Let that sink in. Millions. That is costly.
And to some degree we have all paid a price for a particular act. Usually they are small things, like sleeping through our alarm one morning or eating too much during the holidays or even getting a speeding ticket.
But what about the more serious “foolish acts”?
Things that impact your entire life and derail you from the path you had planned to take. Some things can even destroy your dreams.
I’ve witnessed the fallout of a happy marriage when a one-night stand destroyed it all. Or what about the single Tweet that cost a young college-grad her job before it even started. Or the person who didn’t get a promotion because of something posted on Facebook.
Many will have to watch their hopes and dreams crumble because of one foolish act. Sad. Ray Rice is one of them.
Did you know the Bible tells about a person who could only look at his dream from a distance? It was Moses.
In Deuteronomy 34:4 it says, “And the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.”
Why? Because of one foolish act during Moses’ time leading Israel to the Promised Land. Water was scarce and the people were complaining. If you are a parent and have ever traveled a long distance with your kids, perhaps you can relate a little.
At any rate Moses was human and lost his patience. In fact, he got angry. However, despite the circumstances Moses still needed to obey the LORD.
And the LORD had told Moses to speak to the rock.
But that’s not what happened. “Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock.” (Numbers:20:10-11 ESV).
While it may seem like a small thing to hit the rock rather than speak to the rock, it was still an act of rebellion. Plus when you look more closely it appears to the people that Moses was the provider of water. After all, he is the one who hit the rock.
Had he spoken to the rock and water came out it would have been obvious that the LORD was the provider.
Because Moses that day, in a moment of anger, acted rashly and brought attention and honor to himself, he had to suffer the consequences. God took it seriously, and that one foolish act proved to be very costly.
So stay alert in your decisions and your actions. Be aware of oncoming temptations. Don’t be sidelined by one foolish act.
So far we have only introduced a couple types of wisdom. Clearly you can be wise and unwise at the same time. Which leads us to the final aspects of wisdom.
In my last post I talked about planning well and persuasively presenting your plan. But that alone will not guarantee the outcome you want. So let’s press on.
3. You also need philosophical wisdom. This is not the Greek idea which was often simply theory. That sort of wisdom is all bark and no bite. Here I am using the term to describe the ability to think clearly, concisely, and concretely. That will come before the type of behavior that will honor God. True wisdom is knowing and doing. Of course, our thoughts should line up with biblical teaching. Too often someone will voice an opinion and say, “Well, I don’t have a verse to substantiate my belief….” Let’s be honest. That may be an indication that it is not true wisdom.
So why did Absalom side step Ahitholphel’s effective plan and turn to Hushai’s plan? Absalom lacked number 4.
4. Perceptive wisdom is similar and also desperately needed. When the woman shared her story, as persuasive as she was, David soon smelled something fishy. His perception was right on target. However, not long after that when Absalom came and feigned spirituality, David lacked the perceptive wisdom to smell disloyalty in the air (2 Samuel 15:9). Granted, whenever someone plays the God-card, it can be very difficult to argue with them. But this only underscores the need for prayer.
What if Absalom had this? He would have gone with Ahitholphel’s superior plan and not lost his life as a result of his poor decision.
5. Most of us on a daily basis need practical wisdom. During the day some of us are not the best at execution. We plan well, but at the end of the day we fail to get stuff done. We’ve all had wasted days. Which means we could all use a little more practical wisdom and thereby have more productive days.
6. Last, but not least, is proactive wisdom. David seems to have lacked this at times. As proactive as he was on many occasions, often it was his lack of proactivity that cost him greatly. Sometimes he, like us, failed to act. Absalom was recalled home, but for two years the king never went to see him. That proved to be unwise.
7. At this point I would like to talk about a seventh type of wisdom that has more of a wide angle view. It is panoramic wisdom. It may seem a little redundant; however, it does underscore our often limited view of what wisdom actually entails.
For instance, on my phone I have the ability to take a panoramic photo. That is, I can take a picture that will take in the entire scene rather than just a part of the scene. Sometimes it’s helpful to take a very wide angle or inclusive photo. After all, if it involves a group of people, who wants to get left out? The same is true with wisdom. Which aspect of wisdom do we really want to dispose of?
Wisdom involves a host of virtues like knowledge, insight, understanding, learning, and discretion. Wouldn’t you agree that we should be praying for all of those? Also, because it’s often hard to possess all the wisdom you need, it is helpful to seek the counsel and advice of others. David did, and Absalom did.
Within these chapters you will find a mixture of wisdom and a lack of wisdom. Isn’t it amazing how we can be so wise and yet unwise all at once?
Full of wisdom, yet devoid of wisdom?
Which underscores the need to pray for wisdom.
What kind of wisdom are you praying for today?
In my last post I introduced the subject of wisdom. Wisdom is one of those traits that can be used for good or evil. Our goal is to use wisdom to benefit ourselves, others, and even the organization or business we are associated with. We are gleaning our thoughts from 2 Samuel 17 and 18.
Here’s the storyline in a nutshell. Absalom, David’s son, has been living in exile and Joab wants him to be recalled home. However, as the story continues into chapters 17 and 18 more examples of wisdom and the lack of wisdom will illustrate even more how much we need to pray for wisdom. Six kinds of wisdom pop up in the story. Six kinds of wisdom you can and should pray for. And then a seventh which encompasses all six.
1. So Joab comes up with a plan. To get from here to there you will need planning wisdom.
Joab planned well in the sense that he was successful in getting Absalom recalled. Yes, you may read the story and would rather call it a scheme, and you would be right. However, I simply want to point out that his planning ultimately worked.
In chapter 17 Ahithophel also comes up with an effective plan.
Now Ahithophel urged Absalom, “Let me choose 12,000 men to start out after David tonight. 2 I will catch up with him while he is weary and discouraged. He and his troops will panic, and everyone will run away. Then I will kill only the king, 3 and I will bring all the people back to you as a bride returns to her husband. After all, it is only one man’s life that you seek. Then you will be at peace with all the people.”4 This plan seemed good to Absalom and to all the elders of Israel (verses 1-4; NLT).
2. The plan was acknowledged to credible. However, as good as the plan was it lacked something, which we shortly see. And it was ignored because of what it lacked. So keep in mind that you may have the right plan, but it never gets executed because planning wisdom alone is not enough. Ultimately, you have to sell your plan.How was Joab going to convince the king to recall his son? He needed to make an emotional appeal. And who better than a wise woman who feigned to have her own family issues? So in comes the woman who was able to grab David’s attention and persuade him to act. She had persuasive wisdom. Granted, many use this type of wisdom to manipulate crowds or individuals for selfish reasons. In 2 Samuel 15:6 Absalom deceived the people. There is somewhat of an art to be persuasive. You must you the right words, tone, style, and even environment to persuasively move people.
Let’s jump back to chapter 17 and look at Ahitholphel’s plan. Once again, it was a very good plan. However, it lacked persuasive wisdom. Hushai came along and offered another plan. Actually, an inferior plan. But his plan had metaphors and appealed to Absalom’s emotions. Which plan was accepted and adopted? The one that was more persuasive.
So while you may be praying as you plan, don’t forget to pray for the ability to effectively communicate and persuade.
It may make the difference in whether or not it is well received.
In my next post we’ll look at four more types of wisdom.
James 1:5 (NLT) exhorts us, “If any of you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.”
Most of us probably approach the subject of wisdom from only one angle.
We simply want to know what to do next. Let’s call this particular wisdom. Perhaps you are looking to buy a new car and you want to make the right choice. Or it could be a career decision or any number of current decisions.
However, let’s expand our thinking of wisdom. For some good illustrations of the various kinds of wisdom read through 2 Samuel 14 and the beginning of 2 Samuel 15.
For starters there is popular wisdom. In many ways this is not wisdom at all, but if we have bought into the surrounding culture’s mentality, we think we are wise. I’m not sure you want to pray for this type of wisdom.
Many have unknowingly bought into the flavor of the day. But anyone can go along with the crowd. Absalom was all style and no substance, which incidentally makes many politicians, celebrities, and sport’s stars our modern-day heroes. But Absalom proved to be deceptive, and he hurt a lot of people.
With that in mind let’s dig a little deeper. Perhaps a good place to start is to read and reflect on the two chapters mentioned above. Here’s the bottom line: We can be wise and unwise at the same time. Full of wisdom and devoid of wisdom at the same time. Seems paradoxical, but a very real reality.
There are four main characters in those chapters, and they all possess wisdom. Not all wisdom is used wisely or for positive reasons. Some actually use their wisdom in order to manipulate others. Sad, but true.
That in itself calls for wisdom.
We’ll come back in the next post to discuss the types of wisdom you need to pray for. Until then read and reflect upon the two chapters mentioned above.
Excuses. We use them all the time. Sometimes we quite frankly just don’t want to do something.
Maybe some are legit, but could we be hurting ourselves, could we be holding ourselves back from reaching our full potential?
We have to ask, don’t we?
In the church world several scenarios tend to come up regularly.
1. We may be encouraged to schedule some time for Bible study.
Excuse: I don’t have the time.
2. Could you serve in this area perhaps greeting or children’s ministry?
Excuse: That’s not my area of giftedness.
3. This week would be a great time to start tithing.
Excuse: I can’t afford to give that much.
4. Would you like to join us this week in small group?
Excuse: The time frame doesn’t work for me.
You get the point. Granted many of our excuses are genuine. Moses certainly seemed to have some legitimate reasons for not wanting to do what God asked of him. In Exodus 3-4 Moses has the incredible burning bush experience with God. Following that God commissioned Moses to return to Egypt and be the leader and main spokesman for Israel.
To be honest public speaking always seems to rated at the top of our fears, so Moses reluctancy is reasonable. Or is it?
Now Moses appears to have good excuses for not responding to God’s call. But then all excuses seem plausible or we would not give them. Moses seems to be lacking self-confidence in his speaking abilities, but then who hasn’t felt linguistically challenged at some point.
Is that a good reason not to go?
God didn’t think so. In fact, God eventually got angry.
And thankfully Moses did ultimately go.
So what was the outcome? Moses became the greatest leader in the Old Testament, and perhaps in the entire Bible, next to Jesus.
The bottom line: Moses’ excuses were keeping him from his full potential. I’ll bet he was glad that God kept on him. What if God had given up and said,”Fine, don’t go, I’ll find someone else.”
How sad that would have been. Not only for Moses but for the nation of Israel and ultimately even us.
So the next time someone asks or challenges you, before you give an excuse ask yourself: Is my excuse holding me back from my full potential?