The Definition of Great

“You’re going to do great things for God.”

Words, spoken as encouragement to many young leaders and Christians, seem harmless but in my experience, are better left unsaid.

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Graduation from Tyndale with a Masters of Divinity

My husband and I have heard these words from well-meaning people. However, they’ve haunted me over the years. I’ve spent hours trying to figure out where we went wrong. What we did wrong.

After examining our lives, our decisions, our hearts, there’s no one thing or decision to point to and say, “Aha, that’s the exact point, where things started to tank.” We prayed and followed where we felt God was leading. 

That’s the part that gets me. Maybe you can relate. Do you ever feel like you’ve said yes to God only to have him say no to you? 

You’ve loved God, tried to live out his Word, yet you wonder what happened to the great things you were supposed to do. Looking around, you’re surrounded by toys, dirty diapers, and a stack of dishes in the sink, waiting patiently to be washed. Or your church attendance isn’t near what you’d hoped this far in, even though you serve God and his flock faithfully. Your blog has never gone viral. You didn’t get that promotion which would help you give more. Halfway through life, why bother, seems like an appropriate question.  

We get to this point because, in part, we have bought into the lie of this little “encouraging” phrase. When someone says, “You’re going to do great things for God,” what we actually hear are the words you’re and great. Maybe it’s just me and my own narcissism, but as I watch churches topple, I think not. 

We have a problem because we make our lives and our ministries about us. The truth is God is the great I AM, he doesn’t need any help from us, but we like to convince ourselves that he does. The sun comes up every day without my help. It sets every night without you saying one word. Read Job 38 to get some perspective. And in all that glory and awesomeness, He chooses to include us in his plans. It’s a privilege not an inherent right. 

 

What does “great” mean? We need to define it because our definition of great and God’s, are vastly different. My mind goes immediately to David and Goliath great. Great equals success, fame, applause.

That’s not God’s definition. Jesus explains it in Mathew 20:25-28. He’s talking with his disciples. He reminds them how the leaders lord their authority over the people. Then he says, “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave– just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (emphasis mine)

In God’s economy, greatness isn’t about church attendance, membership or budget numbers.  How many people are attending the conference you’re speaking at or the ministry you’re running isn’t what he’s counting on. It has nothing to do with fame or money. Greatness is not as the world speaks it. As I define it.

Greatness is serving others. Feeding them, sheltering them, loving them even when it costs you. It’s standing up for God’s truth and being willing to follow Him until the end, even if it involves a shipwreck or two. (Read about Paul.) Or worse. (Read about any of the apostles, Stephen, to name a few.)

The world may declare your stack of dirty dishes and diapers, unimportant. The small church who faithfully serves God and others may not get noticed because well, it’s small. Finishing strong in unpleasant circumstances may still be considered failing to most. The world calls us losers because we don’t live up to their standards but it’s a lie. 

Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. 1 Cor 1:27 NLT

Next time you want to encourage a young pastor, ministry leader or new believer, forego the “You’re going to do great things for God” speech. Instead, find a personal way to encourage them and then start praying for them.

 

Related posts Successful Failures about the prophet Jeremiah.

In the Spacious Place

After the decadence of December, I like the simpleness of January and February. The white snow, and blank calendar spaces soothe my soul because those blank spaces signal the arrival of Hope. Hope you’ll change. Hope circumstances will change. Hope that the coming year will be different. The new year is still bright and shiny.

Wide open spaces provide room to move, think and breathe deeply. Busy schedules, phone calls, texts, appointments, to-do lists eventually crowd us, we lose focus. We run like hamsters on a wheel, getting nowhere. There’s no space in our heads, hearts or days to think, reflect or pray. When we don’t make room for those things, it becomes challenging to implement change, and to grow. Hope shrinks.

But in these early days of the new year, hope abounds. Our calendars, our ability to say no, are still in our grasp. Change can happen, right? It’s not too late. 

David writes about wide open spaces in Psalm 18, after God delivered him from the hands King Saul, whom David had served faithfully. I can only imagine the sting of that betrayal. David pens these words:

He brought me out to a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. Psalm 18:19 CSB

In the New Living Translation (NLT), it reads: He led me to a place of safety; he rescued me because he delights in me.

God delivers David to a spacious place or safe place. I don’t know about you but I loathe crowds. Open spaces equal safety. Sometimes God does deliver us to a spacious place. He removes the obstacle, the relationship or sickness. 

Sometimes he does not. That’s when we feel like the world is closing in, don’t we? Breathing becomes hard. But God did not abandon David to his trials. His presence filled those caves David hid in. He ran beside David as he fled Saul’s insanity and wrath.

God doesn’t always remove the circumstances or the people, but God still delivers us. It doesn’t always show up in the form of physical change but rather in a shift in our minds and hearts when we make room for God to live there. 

He rescued David because he delighted in him. He feels the same about you and me. His love for us came in the form of his one and only Son, he’s our proof of how God feels about us. He rescued us for all eternity but he’s still in the business of delivering us to a spacious, safe place, today. Right now. Even if our blank spaces and hope seemed to have fizzled already, he’s still there, in caves, the hospitals, the boardrooms and living rooms, waiting to rescue us. Will we make room for him to deliver us to a spacious place? 

The Christmas Miracle of a Softened Heart

How’s your heart this Christmas? It’s the question that echoes through the “fields by night,” the draughty stable and living rooms filled with lights and decorations this year. I hear it in Christmas readings and songs. What does my heart have to do with Christmas?

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Everything.

Our hearts beat out the rhythm of our lives. Proverbs tells us that we are to guard our heart because it’s from there that all else flows. (Proverbs 4:23) All else. Love, hate, obedience, disobedience, worship, decisions we make and what or who we treasure, all of it stems from our hearts. So what’s the prognosis? 

Maybe over the last year we’ve inched farther away from God. We’ve stopped our quiet time. We only go to church when we feel like it, which isn’t often. We’re distracted by family, our jobs, relationships that all take priority. It’s been a subtle separation. 

Or maybe we ran from God because he disappointed us. We’re not sure he can be trusted. 

Our schedules are full and the days busy. Who has time to meet with God?

The consequence is an unresponsive heart that no longer hears or listens to the whispers of God.  

We’re lured instead, by the lies of the enemy, who knows our weak spots and hits us there repeatedly. We doubt, we question and we believe God has abandoned us. Our hearts turn stone cold. We guard ourselves from the one who has the cure.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way. Now is a great time to make changes.

Christmas gives us both time and permission to turn our heart around. We get a pass to love more, give more and become a better person. To embrace our Christian heritage. Why not take advantage of that? Christmas is part one of a love story followed by part two at Easter. A narration of a God who loved us so much he gave up his only son so he could have relationship with you and me. It’s a hopeful story of redemption, as well a promise of eternal life. Why not take the time to explore it more? Get to know God more intimately? Let the good news of Christ’s birth be a balm to our wounded, hard hearts.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26 (NIV)

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It’s one of my favourite verses. I need this but I can’t do it on my own. Neither can you. Only God can work miracles and turn our hearts around. This is my Christmas wish this year. I want a new heart.  

In asking, I have to be willing to deal with what caused my heart to harden. Like sin, poor attitudes and false beliefs about myself or Him. Whatever he reveals, we have to deal with it or we end back where we started. Again he walks alongside us as we do. 

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I don’t think we ever experience the full measure of Christmas and its life saving message until our hearts beat warm because we know how great our need is of that baby in a manger. He miraculously changes us. Perhaps it’s the Christmas miracle we’re looking for this Christmas season. 

 

This blog is a result of many readings, sermons and a general sacred echo over the last few months and weeks. One book that has been exceptionally good is Paul David Tripp’s New Morning Mercies, A Daily Gospel Devotional. Check it out.  Also the Christmas sermons at Country Hills Church have been wonderful. You can listen to them here

If you liked this, check out my blog about Heart Shaped Perfectionism here.

The Lesson My Son Taught Me

I wrote this a couple weeks back but didn’t have time to get back to it until now. Even though National Novel Writing Month is over, the lesson my son taught me applies to more than writing. It’s a life lesson.

Today the 5:30 am wake-up call got old. Correction; it got old a few days back but this morning the temptation to stay under the warm covers got real. The battle waged within me, until I dragged my weary body out into the cold dark morning. 

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Today I wanted to quit. My body and brain are tired. Doubts plague my mind. I know I can write fifty-thousand words but will it be any good? Why bother trying?

We all get to the point where we feel like stopping, don’t we? Whether it’s our job, a relationship, parenting, or some physical activity, we get to the point where we think we can’t do it one more minute. One more day. One more year. We’re scared we haven’t got what it takes to finish well or at all. We’re sure we aren’t good enough. The ending is unknown. Will the good guys win or the bad? Why continue? 

Precisely because we don’t know how it ends, we need to carry on. We need to push through to the other side. My son reminded me of this last week. He’s trying out for the basketball team and the coach had them running for the entire two hours. My son has learned over the years that you have to keep running, if you want to make the team. So he said to me, “I wanted to stop but I just pushed through it.”  

My kids are my best teachers. I wanted to stop but I just pushed through it. How different would our situations be if we just implemented that philosophy? 

If we beat back the pain, the doubts, the questions and just kept moving forward. On those days when the bed is warm and 5:30 am seems like the middle of the night. When our kid is hitting our buttons and we want to quit on them. When we have to pay rent but the job is boring. When marriage doesn’t live up to our expectations. When a relationship veers off course. I wanted to stop but I just pushed through it.

We all experience the desire to quit and it’s not weak to admit it. The key is distinguishing between the times we need to stop because we need help, and the times we think it would be easier to quit. I’m writing about the latter today. It would have been easier to stay in bed this morning and forget my word count. But the momentary pleasure of a sleep-in would have faded quickly, replaced with disappointment in myself. The less challenging path may provide temporary relief but it doesn’t last. There’s always fallout that results in regret, disappointment and sadness. 

Calling it a day has a ripple effect and those around us feel it too.  Often times when I’m upset with myself, I take it out on those closest to me. I’m not a happy camper so the rest of the house suffers. So when we consider quitting, we need to keep in mind those around us. Our decision affects them too.

I’m glad I got up today and spent those couple of hours in solitude, writing. I got my word count but more than that, I proved something to myself. I’m not a quitter. I wasn’t raised that way. I have what it takes to stay the course. 

The ending may remain unknown but the journey to its discovery, is worth it. So those dark, cold, winter mornings when the bed is warm and you want to stay put, push through it and get up. You’ll thank yourself in the end.

PS. He made the team and I made the 50K word count. And if you feel like quitting and it’s more than a passing bad day, then I would encourage you to speak out and seek help from a counsellor, a pastor, or friend. It’s not weak to admit you’re at the end of your rope and you need someone to come alongside you. You are not alone.

Anatomy of Winning

It’s the last weekend in October, Halloween is just around the corner and then November One.  I’m not much of a Halloween person.  November One is what I’m really gearing up for.  It’s the start of National Novel Writing Month, affectionally nicknamed, NaNoWriMo.  I’m a WriMo.  

I entered the challenge last year and won, meaning I wrote fifty thousand words in thirty days.  Actually less then thirty because cutting a deadline too close, makes me queasy.  So I wrote more than the allotted sixteen hundred words a day.  

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Also, I had no excuse.  I didn’t work outside the home so a two thousand word count was doable.

2018 is a completely different story and my courage is faltering as the start of NaNoWriMo looms.  This year I’m employed outside the home part-time and I’m working with an editor on last year’s book.  This may not seem like much to those of you who work full-time and still manage to eek out the fifty-thousand word count.  Kudos to you!  For this writer, it’s going to take all my energy not to have a melt-down.  I know this about myself.

One big concern is creating a new story and editing and rewriting a different one.  It’s like jumping in and out of different realities.  This may cause some neurosis on my part.  Consider yourself warned.

The other challenge is the genre I chose to write.  A fractured fairy tale.  I’ve read many but haven’t written anything like it.  As I started to contemplate ideas I decided, why not?  Not because it’s going to be easy but precisely because it’s going to be the exact opposite.  I’m a masochist so by all means, why don’t I just jump right in?

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Why do we take on these ludicrous feats?  Why bother with a self-imposed torturous contest?  I’m asking myself that as I take my sanity temperature and run through all my doubts.  

Along with the impending deadline of November One, that bully, fear, is stalking me.  His hot breath searing my neck.  But the hideous creep has underestimated me.

This year, I’m so done with being beaten up by thugs.  So I’m digging in my heels and thrusting out my chin.  You think you’re going to make me cower in a corner?  

I refuse.  Not only am I going to write about a protagonist who overcomes, I’m going to be one in my own real life story.  Doubt and fear will not dictate what I do or don’t do.

Like any heroine worth her salt, I have a plan. Organization is key.  Pre-planning and prep is my weapon of choice.  Telling people you are setting off on this adventure or some other scheme is a good motivator to achieving that daily word count.  Or end up looking like a fool. I don’t want that.

Like any authentic heroine, I will have to battle my demons.  Nothing of value is learned if it’s handed to you on a silver platter.  There will be distress, crisis and chaos.  My brain knows this but the rest of me is blissfully ignorant of the upcoming battle.  The brutes of this particular tale are fatigue, fear and time.  

Who are yours?  

How do we overcome these sneaky, manipulative cads?  Stick to the plan. Oh, and bring along some cheerleaders who will help you grind through to victory.   

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I may be the one writing, but behind every writer, every hero of any story, is a group of people who help us reach our destination.  We might think we are alone or we might pride ourselves on being self-reliant but these are lies.  Remembering this is key to success.

It is naive to expect all wins and no losses.  There are going to be off days when my characters go on hiatus or the roof leaks at home.  Paralysis caused by fear is going to threaten to still my fingers on the keyboard.  Meals still need to be made even if it’s cereal and life goes on.  The only thing that counts on these days when the pressure of my enemy’s knee against my should blades feels like an anvil on my chest, is to shove the perp off and get back up.  It’s in the rising up and pressing on that we are victors.

 

These are the things I’m going to try and remember in the upcoming month.  What about you?  What challenge are you facing in the upcoming days, weeks or months?  What do you need to remember to help you win? If nothing else, I hope you remember you aren’t alone, and get back up when you get knocked down.

When The World Changes

Do you remember a time when you entered a new phase in life?  Suddenly you felt like you were living on another planet?  I remember bringing my second son home from the hospital on New Year’s Eve Day, happy to be home but as my twenty-two month buzzed around me, oblivious to the new baby, I wondered where I’d left my sanity and what planet was I on? 

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I love my boys but the reality was that my world had changed drastically since I’d left my house two days earlier.  The old one had been busy but this one felt chaotic and I could feel resistance rising up in me. Adapting to change wasn’t, and still isn’t, my specialty.   

Have you ever had a similar experience?

It happens over and over in life, doesn’t it? Seasons change. Kids grow up.  We have losses and gains.  Our family is in the midst of big changes in almost everyone’s lives.  What planet did I just land on?  It’s no longer familiar and I feel resistance rising.  Fear grips my heart.  The unknown taunts me.  Excitement fills me as the promise of new things take hold.  It’s confusing, isn’t it?

How do we find our legs in this gravity-less new world?  

An anchor.  We need an anchor to hold us true and steady.  Honestly, I don’t think I need one.  I can stay on course, I tell myself, only to discover I’ve drifted.  The longer we let ourselves wander, the harder it is to get back.  

An anchor will hold us.  We don’t have to work to stay in place.  We are tethered.    If we spin off into space, that cord will draw us back. 

That’s who Jesus is.  He’s our anchor.  If we let him anchor us, the world doesn’t stop spinning by but we do.  We are held fast in the chaos.

He also gives us room to roam but if we get too far he gives us a tug, reminding us he is there.  

It’s our choice whether we decide to hold to him, our anchor, or cut him loose. I’m finding for myself, that as the world gets crazier, an anchor is a necessity.  I am not reliable or consistent enough to keep myself firm but God is.  

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.           Heb 11:1

When We Choose Not To Be Kind

Sometimes we know better but we choose to do it anyway.  We choose to be mean over loving.  We choose to indulge the injury rather than offer grace.  We choose darkness over light.  I say choose because it is a choice.

I’m ashamed to admit that I have done this. Too. Often.

One instance stands out in my mind.  Maybe because I see a visual reminder every now and then.  It makes me cringe.

A few years ago, I chose self-righteous indignation over grace.  There was a child who was one of those kids who had the word TROUBLE written all over them.  At least that’s what I saw.  I did not want her around my kids.  She was a number of years older than them.  She was sneaky and manipulative.  I had every right to protect my kids from her but at the same time I didn’t do it in a way that was kind or gracious.  

I wrote her off as a LOST CAUSE.  She knew she had done some things I didn’t like and she wasn’t welcome.  She stopped coming by.

I still see her around.  I don’t know much about her but it appears I wasn’t far off on my prediction.  I take no pleasure in this.  Instead, it makes me wonder what would have happened if I had handled things a little differently.  

Instead of seeing TROUBLE, what if I’d looked closer and saw GRACE.  Instead of writing her off as a LOST CAUSE, I saw that she was, instead, a LOST GIRL.  What if I’d looked at her and saw how Christ saw me.  He saw a LOST GIRL who He offered GRACE to.  I wasn’t TROUBLE to Him.  He saw the potential of what could be.  He still does.  

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That’s how He sees this girl.  It’s how I should have seen her back then.  

I wonder too, what would be different today, if back then, I’d offered her friendship and  safety instead of being a mama bear with a snarl.

Do we need to protect our kids?  Absolutely.  I’m not saying we stop protecting them.  I’m not talking about abusive relationships here, either.  

But I think there are times we can protect them but still offer grace and love to the ones we are protecting them from.  Especially when it comes to kids and teens who bully, who have terrible home lives and who just need someone to believe in them.  Sometimes those kids don’t know any better and need someone to show them a better way.

We can still be kind but firm.  

We can still be loving but put in rules and boundaries.  I think some kids are just crying out for these simple things today because the world is so confusing.

We can still be gracious and say no.  

We have a choice to be kind to those in our circles of influence.  We think it really doesn’t matter but we can never know the ripple effect of just one small act of kindness.  One smile.  One grace given.  Even if we are in disagreement or trying to protect loved ones.

Would this girl’s life be any different today?  I have no idea.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But I will never know because I made a choice not to be kind.