Little pink flower on Glen Eyrie hiking trail

How does God want us to live?

I’m not sure people understand what it means to seek God’s will. Seeking God’s will sounds so poetic and so epic. And Christians are forever seeking God’s will for their lives as though it’s some ethereal concept that no one can really understand. But the pure and simple definition of “seeking God’s will” is: how does God want us to live?

The answer is in Scripture. So if you’re not willing to read Scripture and you’re not willing to listen to people who do, you aren’t going to find the answer to that question. No other philosophers know. No other Christians under their own authority know. No experience is going to teach you.

There are many parts to God’s will, many components to how He wants us to live our lives. And I think many of us, even those of us who read Scripture and try to apply it consistently, forget sometimes that God has given us commandments about how to live. It’s not an issue of Him suggesting that we do something and giving us the option of obeying or not. No. There are specific principles in Scripture that we are commanded to obey.

Granted, it doesn’t mean that we’ll go to hell if we don’t obey. If we believe in Christ, we’re saved. Period. But many who have struggles in their lives might not have so many struggles if they were to take God at His word and actually live the way He says.

Little pink flower on Glen Eyrie hiking trail
Little pink flower on Glen Eyrie hiking trail – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s passage is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

I don’t think it can be plainer than that. I know it can’t get simpler, at least in concept. Actual application can be challenging, but if you want to know God’s will, here it is.

Christians are always to be joyful. It doesn’t matter where you came from or where you’re going. Be joyful. Remember that joy is different than happiness. Happiness depends on your situation. Joy supersedes your circumstances. If you have Christ in your life, you have joy. If you follow Christ, then even on your worst day, your joy should be greater than your situation because this world isn’t home. We’re just passing through here and our trials are light and momentary compared to the awesome eternity God has in store for us.

Christians are never to stop praying. It should be constant. Without ceasing. We should live a lifetime of prayer, constant communication with God. And it shouldn’t be the cute little prayers we learn as children. It should be personal, individual, in your own voice talking to your friend God and telling Him about what’s going on in your life. Praying for the people you love. Praying for yourself. Praying for everything, even the requests you think are small and insignificant.

And Christians are to be thankful in all circumstances. Good, bad or indifferent. Why do we think difficult circumstances give us the option to complain? Why do we think a bad day gives us a reason to grumble?

I struggle with this because bad days can really get me down. And it’s not bad to be down. Everyone has bad days, and everyone feels down every now and then. What’s bad is when you stay down. What’s bad is when you get so focused on the bad things in your life that you can’t see what God is doing. If you are at the point where you can’t see God working in your life and in the lives of people around you because all you can see is how bad you have it, stop what you’re doing right now and talk to Him.

Make a list of the things you have. Make a list of the things you’re thankful for. And if you can’t make a list for yourself, ask someone close to you to do it for you. Because I guarantee everyone has a page full of things to be thankful for. Those of us who forget are just so focused on ourselves that we can’t remember. And there’s always something in our own lives that someone else would kill to have–and we take it for granted.

The Message says it this way:

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.

If we can do this, if we can really grasp these things and really live this way, it will change our perspective. It changes our lives completely. And suddenly the situations and circumstances that are weighing us down become non-issues. Because nothing can steal our joy, because we get to tell God about it and know that He will help, and because something God will always come out of it so we can be thankful even during the worst troubles.

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Dead sunflower in the pasture

When you don’t want to wake up in the morning, check your perspective.

Do you ever get tired of life, of following the same routine morning after morning? I do the same things every day, I accomplish everything that’s on my plan, but I hardly ever accomplish anything I really want. Just getting through the day takes so much energy that I rarely have the strength to get to the things I really want to do.

Some days it can be hard to just keep going, to persist in doing what you know is right when you can’t see a purpose in it.

Dead sunflower in the pasture

Dead sunflower in the pasture - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

So much of life is perspective. So much of surviving and thriving on earth is perspective. If you can maintain the right perspective, you can get through any challenge. If you can remember that going to the dentist is good for you even though it’s uncomfortable, you can prevent painful and dangerous oral surgeries. If you can remember that going the speed limit is right even though it’s inconvenient, you can prevent getting a ticket or causing an accident.

Perspective is everything.

Spring is going to get here eventually. Some folks say it’s here already, but I think it’s just Kansas screwing with us. But at some point, the tilt of the earth is going to spin us into warmer temperatures and longer days. But until then, it’s dark and cold(ish). And we have a choice. We can view the winter as the season where we hunker down and try to stay warm until spring begins and doing the right thing becomes comfortable and convenient again, or we can keep doing the things we know are right even if it means we might be cold.

When you’re tired, it’s easy to be tempted to give up. When you’ve been pulled in so many directions at once and had so much demanded from you, it’s easy to blame other people for your inability to complete the tasks you’ve been assigned. But is it right?

Giving up is the easy way out. And easy rarely is the same as right.

According to this passage, the difficulties that we’re experiencing in this life are small and temporary. I know some days they don’t feel small and temporary; they feel huge and permanent. But check your perspective. In comparison to eternity, they’re nothing. In comparison to what we will gain in eternity by persevering, they’re just a little bump in the road.

And we can choose to focus on the problems and insurmountable odds that we encounter on a daily basis. Or we can choose to focus on what God has said about the problems and insurmountable odds that we encounter on a daily basis. They’re small and they don’t last very long and by enduring them, we will receive glory that outweighs and outlasts them.

We can choose to see only the troubles that we see every day. Or we can choose to look beyond them and focus on what good they might do in our lives to come. Because according to this verse, the things we see are going to end, and the things we can’t see yet will last forever.

Perspective. It’s all about perspective. It changes everything.

Two turtles peeping

Unforgiveness can wreck friendships, even if your friends don’t need to be forgiven.

Do you ever screw up? I do. A lot. Nobody’s perfect, and I’ve been very fortunate in life to have friends who are very quick to forgive, not just me when I have been less than I should be have been but others who have wronged them as well. But what happens when you have a friend who has trouble forgiving others?

Two turtles peeping

Two turtles peeping - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 17:9.

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.

Proverbs is such an interesting book. It doesn’t really give commandments, necessarily, but it does state facts. It doesn’t really focus on the law; it just talks about what happens if you don’t obey the law. In this case, Christians are supposed to forgive. That’s what the Bible says. But in Proverbs, this is what happens if you don’t forgive.

Forgiveness is such a strange concept. It’s one of those paradoxes we often encounter in the Bible. We convince ourselves that holding bitterness and resentment against someone else is going to hurt them, but it actually hurts us more than it hurts them. Because it turns us into bitter, resentful people. And it doesn’t hurt the person you’re angry with at all. Half the time, if you’re feeling angry or upset at someone who has hurt you, they don’t even know how you feel. So as you spiral downward and become a hateful person, the one you’re angry with is sleeping just fine at night.

But when you forgive someone after they’ve done wrong to you? It sets you free from the power of that bitterness and hatred. And it feels like a huge heavy load is lifted off your shoulders.

But there’s another level of relationship that is affected by forgiveness or unforgiveness: your other friends.

Unforgiveness doesn’t just affect you. It affects the people around you.

If your friend is the one who hurt you, of course, unforgiveness will separate you. But, even if your friend isn’t the one responsible, refusing to forgive the person who did hurt you will still put a damper on your friendship. There is something about being around unforgiving, bitter people that makes you want to rip your hair out. Why would you want to hang out with someone who refuses to forgive?

Now, let me clarify.

There is a difference between forgiveness and restoration.

Forgiveness is commanded. Restoration takes trust; trust must be earned over time. We are commanded to forgive, mainly for our own mental health and wellbeing. As many times was we are hurt, we are to forgive. Seventy times seven. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive. But . . . do you restore the person who hurt you to the same close place of friendship that you did before they hurt you? No. The Bible is also full of warnings about staying away from foolish people. And if you continually have to forgive someone for the same hurtful actions, restoring them to a close friendship with you makes you just as foolish as they are.

Forgiveness can be very difficult. It’s tempting to hold on to hate and bitterness, but when you forgive someone else for how they hurt you, something really interesting happens: it makes you easy to love. Because to forgive someone makes you humble, and humility is lovable. Arrogance isn’t. And refusing to forgive someone demonstrates that you think you’re better than they are. And you’re not.

All we puny humans are in the same boat. Nobody’s perfect, and we all hurt each other. And even if you need to put some distance between you and the person who hurt you, you can still forgive them for what they did. Trust me. It makes life easier, not just for you but for your friends too.

Leaf-cutter ant trail

What to do with that fork in the road

When you have two good choices, which one do you pick? When you come to a fork in the road and both look to be good roads for you, which one do you take? It’s an old question, one that people have struggle with for years in poems like The Road Not Taken by Frost. People write about it. They sing about. Everyone has choices, and we all have to make them. And then we spend much of lives looking back over our shoulder wondering if the path we took was the right one.

Leaf-cutter ant trail

Leaf-cutter ant trail - Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verses are Psalm 25:4-5.

Show me the right path, O LORD; 
      point out the road for me to follow. 
Lead me by your truth and teach me,
      for you are the God who saves me.
      All day long I put my hope in you.

The choice of which path to take isn’t a new problem. People have been dealing with choices since Creation. And much of the story of Mankind is all about the choice to obey God or not. Eat the fruit or not. Leave your home and go where God tells you or not. Get in the boat or not. Sleep with a woman who isn’t your wife or not. You get the idea.

So when you come to a fork in the road, how do you know which way is the right way? According to this Psalm, you ask for directions.

I don’t like asking for directions, whether it be to find a restaurant or if it’s an item in the grocery store. I’d rather find it on my own. I’d rather use my own rationale and logic and make a few mistakes and walk a little farther or turn around a few times than appear incompetent and ask someone how to find it. And maybe that’s okay in the grocery store or while you’re navigating a city, but it’s not a very wise idea for navigating life.

If you choose to live life haphazardly, making uninformed decisions, making choices with no foundation of knowledge, you’re going to end up in trouble. You’re going to end up lost. And you’re going to take others down with you because life doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

I have gotten frustrated with God on many occasions because of where I found myself on the road of life. I had chosen to follow a road I thought looked good for me, but it didn’t take me where I thought it would. And, at best, it turned out to be nothing but a distraction. So was it right for me to be frustrated with God about a choice I made?

No. If I had looked ahead, if I had examined my motivation before I started down that path, I would have realized that I wasn’t choosing the path for God’s sake — I had taken it for my own.

So many times we choose roads to follow based on our own desires. What we want. Our dreams. Our goals. And we don’t ask God first. We just assume that He’ll be okay with it because we’re following our heart. That’s what He wants, isn’t it? He wants us to be happy, doesn’t He?

Above all else, God wants us to follow Him. He wants us to be holy, like He is. Not for His sake but for our own. And sometimes that means choosing a path that doesn’t feel right, even though it might look right to us. And the only way to tell the difference is to compare it to Scripture.

When you know a road will contradict the life and the purpose that God has designed for you, that is a road you shouldn’t take. If you choose a road because it looks easy, it will distract you. If you choose a road because it will give you fame and fortune and wealth and power and influence, it will leave you empty. If you choose a road simply because it’s what you want, you will give up before you reach the end.

But if you choose a road because it calls you to do something that God has said is right, you won’t be sorry. And that road will lead to another road. And that road will lead to another road, until one day you have left all the difficult little trails behind you and are booking along on a highway at top speed, wondering how God could have brought you so far.

If you need to know which road to take, ask for direction and compare your choice to what Scripture says is right. God will reveal the answer.

The Road Not Taken
Robert Frost (1874–1963).  Mountain Interval.  1920.

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same, 

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.  

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Backstage at a puppet show

Backstage

I like drama. Not in life. Not between friends. But on stage. I like to listen and watch stories play out live. Stories are great to read, but watching them told through talented actors with beautiful sets is just as much fun. But there is a part of drama that doesn’t get much spotlight — because it’s not meant to. Beyond the actors, beyond the directors, beyond the writers, the crew of the backstage is essential to a great production.

If the backstage doesn’t function, the piece doesn’t work. The backstage is the well-oiled machine that keeps a show running. Yes, your actors can be phenomenal. And your director can be visionary. And your writing can win awards. But if your backstage isn’t organized enough to bring all the pieces together, nothing will work.

Backstage at a puppet show

Juan, Andres and Jay backstage at a puppet show - Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verses are Matthew 6:2-4.

When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

When I read today’s verses, I thought of the backstage.

No one ever talks about the backstage. No one ever talks about the people in the trenches on movie sets. The stage managers, the prop masters, the grunts who do the difficult work usually fade into obscurity. They are the ones listed in the end of the credits in small type that few pay attention to. They are the ones who make the movie or the play happen, and no one will ever see them. If someone ever sees them, especially during the movie or the play, that means they’re not doing their job.

Backstage is invisible. Like shadows. You’re never supposed to see them. Backstage is designed to help the actors and the directors and the writers shine, while they receive little to no credit at all. And the irony is that I don’t think they mind.

Maybe this is a bad example. But I think Christians are supposed to live like they work backstage at a theatrical production. That’s what this statement from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount says to me.

People who help others in order to draw attention to their good works are hypocrites. That’s what the religious people of Jesus’ day did. They wanted to make sure everyone knew that they were sacrificing to help people around them. But what Jesus is saying here is that when you help someone, you shouldn’t make a big deal out of it. You should keep it private. You should keep it between you and God.

I love what Jesus said that those who call attention to their good deeds have received all the reward they will get. When we help others just to show off how compassionate we are, all we do is demonstrate that we crave attention and adulation and praise from our peers. And, yes, you may be helping others. But if you only help others to obtain the credit for it? Those good works don’t mean anything.

But if you help someone in secret–if you help someone quietly, without fanfare and without expecting praise–that’s different. That says you care more about the person you’re helping than what you can get out of helping them. And that kind of humility is something that God will bless.

Granted, we are supposed to give God credit for everything. We’re supposed to be ready with an answer if anyone asks us why we live the way we live. So don’t be a backstage Christian when it comes to explaining your faith. That’s not what I’m talking about.

When it comes to helping others, stay in the shadows. Don’t desire adulation or credit, and don’t seek after the spotlight. God knows what’s going on in your heart, and He will make sure you receive the reward you deserve for your actions, either in this life or the life to come.

Stick to the backstage. You can get all the action you can stand without having to make a fool of yourself in front of millions of people. Sounds like a good trade off to me.

Soybeans vs. Wheat

Sometimes you gotta’ wait

Why is waiting important? It seems like every area of life is about waiting. You’re either waiting to hear back from someone. Or you’re waiting for a specific day to come. Or you’re waiting for people to arrive or for people to leave. Waiting is hard work, even though it feels like you aren’t accomplishing anything.

Farmers wait for their crops to grow. Business people wait for opportunities to shine. Actors wait for a script where they can pour their heart into. Teachers wait for their students to bring back their homework to show that they actually learned the lesson. Doctors wait for the next medical breakthrough. Everyone waits. It’s part of life, no matter if you follow Christ or not.

Soybeans vs. Wheat

Soybeans vs. Wheat - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 62:5-8.

Let all that I am wait quietly before God,
      for my hope is in him. 
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
      my fortress where I will not be shaken. 
My victory and honor come from God alone.
      He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me. 
O my people, trust in him at all times.
      Pour out your heart to him,
      for God is our refuge.

Waiting on God is a concept that is mentioned over and over again throughout the Bible. I think God brings it up so many times because people like me insist on forging ahead independently. And I don’t suppose there’s anything wrong with that. After all, we are supposed to be bold and courageous, and we’re not supposed to live life in fear. But there’s a big difference between living life in fear and running ahead when you can’t see your feet in the dark.

Sometimes you have to wait. Sometimes the choices you make mean you have to wait longer.

My neighbors across the street planted two separate crops. They both tilled up their land at the same time, but one planted winter wheat and the other planted soybeans later in the year. So when June rolled around, the wheat was ready to be harvested (it was actually cut down the day after that photo was taken). But the soybeans were just beginning to sprout because they were planted later. So the wheat was cut and stored away in June. The soybeans weren’t harvested until many months later.

So why is it important to wait?

Practically, that’s a simple answer. If you try to eat hot soup straight out of the pot, you’ll burn your tongue. But in regards to living life? Waiting is important because you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. I’m not saying you have to wait before you make a decision, especially if you know it’s the right decision to make. But I have a hard time letting it go at that. I can make decisions all day long. I can choose to act in a certain situation. But then I don’t want to stop acting. I want to keep going.

It would be tantamount to harvesting that whole field of wheat and not wanting to stop before I harvested the soybeans too, even though they weren’t ready.

Because my heart and my head tell me I’m right and that I know what I’m doing and that I can handle any trial that comes my way, so I forge ahead without consulting God about it. And I expect to earn my victory in life on my own because I am a capable person and I don’t need help.

But that’s not what this Psalm says.

When people and situations rise up to challenge us, the first inclination is to strike back. When circumstances align where it seems that obtaining success will be easy for us, the first inclination is to seize that opportunity. And, yes, if you’re in a situation where the obvious answer is to do the right thing or choose the right thing, do it. Don’t wait for answers you already know. But we are rarely in that situation. We have a multitude of choices laid out before us and all of them can be good — but many of them give us the chance to run ahead of God seeking our own victory. And whenever we try to seek victory for ourselves by ourselves, we will fail. Because we’re not that good.

Choose a path. Stay on it. Do what you’re supposed to be doing. And wait for God to work out the details.

Sometimes you have to wait. Waiting doesn’t mean that you’ve done something wrong. And it doesn’t mean that God isn’t working. It could just mean that the crop you planted needs a little more time before you harvest it.

Sun behind the clouds

Trusting what will endure in a life that is temporary

When the sun rises in the morning, what are you doing? Are you still sleeping? Are you already at work? Are you on your way to work? We get 24 hours every day until the day that we die, and even though 24 hours a day sounds like a long time, it really isn’t. It seems even shorter in the winter time because the sun rises later and sets sooner.

The 24 hours we get in each day, we never get again. They come and they go. Fast. As a child, 30 seemed ancient and far away. But I will be 30 this year. But what is 30 years compared to 60? What is 60 compared to 80 or 90? And what is 90 compared to eternity? I think 90 years is a long time to live, but in the grand scope of what our existence will truly be, 90 years is nothing.

Sun behind the clouds

Sun behind the clouds - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 39:4-7.

LORD, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is. You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;  at best, each of us is but a breath. We are merely moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing. We heap up wealth, not knowing who will spend it. And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?  My only hope is in you. 

We are so consumed with time, especially those of us in America. We all carry watches. We all have clocks, although most of my clocks are set wrong. We all have cell phones with the time displayed. Why? Because we don’t want to be late. Americans are the culture most controlled by the power of the clock. We rush from meeting to meeting, always listening to the tick-tock of time and rarely understanding its true significance.

We grasp and clutch and cling to our possessions because it took so long and we worked so hard to earn them. And in the brief time we are alive on earth, we scramble to accumulate as much wealth as possible so that we can live comfortably. Is that wrong?

Well, no. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to live a comfortable life. And there’s nothing wrong with trying to provide for yourself and your family. There are biblical examples of how to run businesses successfully. God has nothing against making money. But the problem with wealth and money and comfort is that they so easily become our idols. When wealth and money and comfort become what we live for, our lives lose their significance. Because what good will it do you when you die? You can’t take it with you.

Life is more than possessions. I try to remember that money is a tool to be used. And I know I struggled with it when I first started working at my current job because I’d gotten so used to having so little that I didn’t know how to live when I had so much. When I could pay my bills and buy my groceries and still have money left over, it threw me. And there is something about having a surplus of money that makes you want to hold on to it. Maybe it doesn’t work that way with everyone, but that’s the way my mind is geared. My first inclination is to hoard. But what good will that do?

No, it’s not wrong to save, especially for someone in my position in life. But if I ever let my hope rest in that savings account, I stop hoping in God.

Verse 11 of this same chapter in The Message says: When you put us through the fire to purge us from our sin, our dearest idols go up in smoke. Are we also nothing but smoke?

God will allow punishment and testing into our lives when we do things that contradict His Word. When we allow money and comfort (or anything else) to take His place in our lives, He won’t let that go. And when the testing comes, those things that we cling to will burn away because they aren’t worth anything, in spite of what the world says.

Comfort. Money. Wealth. Fame. Power. Influence. Sex. None of it will last, and none of it will give you strength enough to face the next 24 hours, no matter how brief it might be in comparison to eternity. Because when God allows trouble into your life, you can try to rely on your idols but none of them will be able to withstand God’s testing.

Only God will remain.

So in our brief, temporary life on earth, it’s a good idea to put our hope in something that will last beyond it. Anything of earth is going to burn away. Everything we know down here is going to come to an end. We need to trust in God because when everything else comes crashing down, He will still be standing.