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? 

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

From Ruins to Peace

You know the feeling.  That sinking feeling that comes when something is not where it’s supposed to be.

While writing my book Whole, I lost a completed chapter.  It disappeared into cyber space, never to be seen again.  It was my chapter on Esther, and I must admit I was pretty pleased with it.  It also represented hours of work.  And it was gone.  

At that point I wanted to quit.  I felt defeated.  But my friend and my husband cheered me on and so I got back up and started again.  In the end, it was a better chapter than the one it replaced.  

I tell you this because quite often we get to the point where we are enjoying smooth sailing in our lives and then the unthinkable happens. That sinking feeling rises up from deep within us. Disaster strikes, sickness sets in or the downward spiral just gets out of control.  Whatever it is, instead of enjoying the fruits of our labours, we are looking at ruins.  Instead of a forward momentum, we feel like we are moving backwards.    

I’ve been reading the book of Haggai in the Old Testament and it’s got a good word for those of us who feel like this today.  Who are looking at rebuilding and quite frankly feel like quitting more than anything.

In the book of Haggai, chapter two, God’s temple has been destroyed and has sat in ruins.  His people have been running about making sure their own needs and lives are running smoothly while God’s house sits in disarray.  The dust blowing through the abandoned site.  He wasn’t happy with his people and He tells them to get to work and rebuild.   

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He exhorts them to not be timid or hold back because He is with them.  “I’m living and breathing among you right now.  Don’t be timid.  Don’t hold back.”  (vs.5 Message)  

He tells them he’ll supply everything they need because “I own the silver, I own the gold.” (v. 8 Message)  

When we are staring at the ruins of what used to be glory, we can tend to forget about God. Maybe that’s the reason we are staring at a pile of rubble.  We’ve removed God from His rightful place and glory.  But He is God and He wants His rightful place in the centre of our lives.  He wants us to remember Him and put Him first.  Why?   Because he is living and breathing amongst us.  We may feel defeated and dead but the God of Angel Armies, as he is identified in this passage, is alive, ready to fight for us.  We need to put down our idols and see Him.   

Not only is He with us but He owns everything so we don’t need to be timid or afraid about getting back up, following wherever he is leading.  Our circumstances may not change, but we can expect great things of our God.  We can expect His glory.  We can count on His faithfulness to see us through whatever ruins we need to navigate, rebuild.

But that’s not all He says to those unruly people of His!  God then promises the Israelites, in verse 9;  ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”  Haggai 2:9 NIV

When we come to the place where all we see is ruins in our lives and we need to rebuild, we can remember He is with us.  He will supply what we need because he owns it all.  And he will take those ruins and make it even better than before.  And in that place of rebuilt ruins, He will bring peace.

When It’s the Wrong Season!

It’s April 17th and it looks like blizzard out my window. Yesterday was the first snow day of the year for the kids…in April. We spent the weekend huddled inside while snow, rain and freezing rain pelted our house for two full days. Friday and Monday were just starter and finisher days. Four days of foul weather and now today, snowing like it’s January.

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April 17, 2018!!!

I’m not sure about you, but that’s how life feels lately. Like a never-ending winter season. Now I love winter, maybe not as much as I used to I’ll admit, but I still enjoy the winter season. January is my birth month so I’m a snow baby. But sometimes when you are expecting spring and winter shows up again, even the most avid lovers can feel a little discouraged. I’m not only talking about weather here.

How many times have we dreamed about something, only to get something else completely different?

How many times have we assumed this or that, only to find out that our assumptions were wrong?

How many times have we gotten the wrong season, when we expected, no desired, a totally different one?

My first instinct is to resist and complain about the unfairness of it all. I don’t want to make lemonade out of the lemons life hands me. Really I don’t.At.All.

I think I deserve a good pity party and indulge myself in it.

This really accomplishes nothing beneficial. For me or those around me.  All it really does is make me more narcissistic, bitter, and angry to name just a few. I hide more.

Maybe I need to find a different response. I’m not saying be a Polyanna. I think there is something to being authentic about the troubles we face in our lives. We don’t need to be fake or lie to ourselves and those around us. Perhaps instead, we can acknowledge those troubles but not let them define us. Not let them master us or our days. I’ve let that happen too much. You?

I’m learning that if I let my focus stay on Jesus, that this is a good defence against that type of reaction. I used to think Jesus deserted me in the struggles and hardness of life. I didn’t want to admit it but deep down that is what I believed. He’s been telling me otherwise over the last year. That actually in the suffering, he steps closer to us. He may allow the difficulties, the sorrow but he doesn’t abandon us. He walks us down those lonely, rough roads. But if we let the hardness of the situation blind us by keeping us so inward-focused, we lose sight of him and we think we are alone.

But we are not alone. Ever.  Sometimes we just need to lift our heads, open our eyes and take a look around. He’s there beside us, holding us if need be. He breathes hope into us and instead of hiding, we can take a step towards living.  This is beneficial for us and for those around us.

It sounds easy but it’s not. I know. But maybe, just perhaps, today, we can take one step and just look up, away from the snow, the circumstances, the mess we may be in and look for Him.  He’s there waiting for us to see Him.  To breath life back into us, to give us hope.

If your road is a good one right now, still look up and see His goodness. Wherever you are today, look up and out. Sometimes a different perspective makes all the difference.

Prayer To Change

Prayer Warrior. Do you know one? I know several. Unfortunately those words don’t describe me. I’d like to change that.

Prayer is a discipline that has never been a strength of mine. It should be as important as talking to our family or friends. It’s not. At least for me.

I get bored easily and sometimes the thought of praying turns me off. It’s something I have, in the past, dreaded rather than looked forward to.

I think my problem is two-fold. First; I haven’t been very disciplined about it. Second; I’ve looked at it as too much of a discipline.

Yeah you read that right. I think my problem with prayer lies in who I think I’m praying to. My thinking has been all wrong. It’s been about me rather than Him. It’s been about performance rather than relationship. It’s been about one more To Do or get punished, rather than about grace and love.

Sometimes I treat God as my personal Genie in a Bottle.

That’s not I AM. Almighty God. Heavenly Father. I find I don’t know God, like I should after all this time. Instead I find I easily believe in the lies that the enemy whispers in my ear. I’m not okay with that anymore.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, we’ve been reading Craig Groeschel’s book, Daily Power. I mentioned about picking just one discipline to work on this year to get you where you want to be by December.

You’ve guessed by now, I chose prayer. I believe prayer leads the way to change because it takes you into the presence of God. Real prayer is letting go of the Genie factor, and surrendering to Him. In letting go of my lies and preconceived notions, I can begin to get to know God in a personal way. Communication is the best way to get to know someone, right? That’s where I want to be in December. I knew I needed some help in getting started.

A series of events, led to me the book, The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. It has changed my thinking about prayer and how I pray. It has also challenged my lack of faith and frankly, my whining.

I recently read these words in The Circle Maker:

”…the will of God doesn’t get easier. The will of God gets harder. Here’s why: the harder it gets, the harder you have to pray.
God will keep putting you in situations that stretch your faith, and as your faith stretches, so do your dreams…And it won’t get easier; it’ll get harder. It won’t get less complicated; it’ll get more complicated. But complications are evidence of God’s blessing. And if it’s from God, then it’s a holy complication.” (p.111, The Circle Maker)

Ironically, this was encouraging to me. Why? We don’t need more complications, right? Shouldn’t God be making our lives more easy?

If that’s the case, I’m doing something drastically wrong. How about you? The more I obey God, the more complicated life gets. So Batterson’s words make a lot of sense and comfort me. I’m not going crazy. We think when things go awry or get complicated, we’ve done something wrong, right? But if we are following God’s will, the complications are holy and viewing them in that perspective changes everything. Maybe we are doing something right.

Up to now, this is where I usually give up. But Batterson says this is where you have to dig in.

“This is where many of us get stuck spiritually. We’re willing to pray right up to the point of discomfort, but no further. We’re willing to pray right up t the point of inconvenience, but no further. Praying hard is uncomfortable and inconvenient, but that is when you know you’re getting close to a miracle!” (p. 112, The Circle Maker)

One of the things that always put me off prayer was it was inconvenient. I didn’t want to get up earlier to pray. I didn’t want to stop and take time out of my day to pray. My agenda was too busy. My pride said I was more important. I didn’t really trust that prayer was going to do anything because I didn’t trust God.

I was having trouble praying because I was still working under the idea I had to earn everything, including answers to prayer. I knew I was a mess so why would He answer? I didn’t trust Him because I really didn’t know Him. Not like a daughter. Not like a friend. Or heir.

This is where I want to be, come December. Daughter, friend, heir. Making time to speak to God is key to getting there. It’s baby steps but already shifts are happening. That’s the power of prayer and I hope to not only discover that power but know deeply the one who wields it.

 

Raising Up Daniels in a Babylonian World

As my husband’s been speaking on Daniel the last couple of weekends, I’ve been reminded how relevant Daniel still is in 2018. Mark’s tag line the first week was: “When we stand firm, we will stand out; and God will help us stand up!”

Automatically my thoughts went to our sons who are just entering their teen years and becoming men. Men who hopefully will become Daniels in a increasingly Babylonian world.

There’s so little tolerance for men or Christians today that I feel like our boys begin with three strikes against them. As a parent it concerns me, but I remind myself it’s not any different than Daniel’s experience. He was a Jew, and a slave, held captive by the Babylonian Empire. An alien in an alien world. Those are some pretty big strikes against him!

 

 

But Daniel was doing some things right. He obviously had some charisma that went along with a winsome attitude, as Mark mentioned yesterday. Because of his favourable attitude and respect for those in authority, Daniel found favour with those in charge over him.

But what really made Daniel a stand out? He never let his eyes stray from his God. I’m sure there was lots to look at in Babylon. Idols, women, riches and so much more. It was a heathen heaven so to speak. Daniel however, kept focused on who he believed in and chose to follow the only one true God when it would have been so much easier to choose a different path.

It is my prayer that as our boys grow up, they will do the same. That they will keep their focus on the one true God. Because there will be lots to look at; idols, women, riches and so much more. But if they keep their eyes on God and truly live out what they believe and know is truth, the rest falls into place.

Does it mean it’s all rainbows and unicorns? That would be a resounding no. Being a Daniel in a Babylonian world means you’re going to have some major trouble. You can count on it. (Lions den anyone?) And when that trouble comes barrelling down, God is going to help them stand up against it. You can count on that too.

What does being a Daniel look like? Love when it’s easier to hate. Generosity when it’s easier to keep it all for self. Not having the last word. Admitting being wrong. Being bold. Standing up for what is true. Self-control. Being a Daniel can only be done with the help of God. The good news is he’s given us a helper, the Holy Spirit and He’s there for the asking.

He’s ready to help everyone. Including me. It’s far too easy as an adult to hide away and think it’s a lesson only for my kids. I need to raise myself up as a Daniel too.
If I want my boys to be Daniels, as parents we need to lead the way. Disciple them in Daniel 101.

We need to keep our focus on God and not look to the right and get caught up in circumstances or to the left and get sucked into the lies of Babylon. More stuff will not make it better. Only Jesus will.

I need to be willing to put myself out there, what about you? Ah, but there’s the rub. It means engaging with people. I like my glass castle that keeps me isolated. Most days, I avoid as much human contact as possible. Because life’s just easier that way isn’t it? If we don’t engage we can’t say or do the wrong thing.

That kind of living makes up impotent. We were created to have relationships. Daniel was a slave in a foreign land, but God didn’t let him off the hook. We’re not excused either. I can’t really model Daniel to my four walls. I can’t expect from my boys what I am not willing to do myself.

“When we stand firm, we will stand out; and God will help us stand up!”  Mark Willcock

(Friends I am preaching this message to myself first and foremost!)