A changed heart comes from God

Ever wonder why it’s so hard to stick to a resolution? Or maybe you don’t struggle with that. Most people I know have a difficult time with resolutions, though. Oh, they’re easy enough to make, but keeping them is another story.

Is there a reason for it? Well, there’s a reason for most everything that happens in our lives, and it isn’t always that we’re not trying hard enough or that we’re not sincere. I can tell you that I’ve made some very sincere resolutions before that have fallen through. And I’ve worked my tail off to keep a resolution before too, but that hasn’t always made a difference.

So what is it that makes the difference between keeping a resolution and falling off the wagon?

love-heart-hand-romanticToday’s verses are Romans 2:28-29.

For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.

The people I know who keep their resolutions or achieve their goals most frequently have a mindset that is in line with their resolutions. Their heart is aligned with what they want to accomplish.

Maybe this is a bad example, but you can’t lose weight if you aren’t dedicated to the process of losing weight. Being healthy and living healthy takes time and effort and hard work, and if you’re doing it right, you won’t see results overnight. You have to stick to it. You have to keep going, even on the days when you don’t feel like it. And if your heart isn’t in it, you’ll eventually fail.

What about not being late? That’s a good resolution. Say you resolve that you won’t be late to meetings anymore. That’s great! But being on time for a meeting means you have to get organized. You have to get things done, which means you can’t dawdle or daydream or waste time. You have to prioritize, and prioritizing takes hard work and sacrifice. You have to be willing to let some things slip in order to achieve the things you want to achieve.

If you want to keep your resolutions, you have to have a heart that lines up with what you’re trying to accomplish. Your heart has to change before your behavior can change. Many times our culture gets that messed up. We try to change our behavior in hopes that our attitudes will improve, but it doesn’t work that way. The attitude comes first, and then the behavior will straighten out.

The fact remains that God is the only one capable of changing the human heart. He can give us new dreams and healthy desires, but we have to put Him first in our lives. That’s not always easy, but it is always worth it.

So how’s your attitude today? Is it sour? Bitter? Resentful? Jealous? It might be angry or frustrated. It might be hurt or bruised. It might be self-focused and petty. We’ve all been there, friend, but none of us have to stay there.

Spend some time getting to know the Lord. Read the Bible, and talk to God about what’s bothering you. Take steps to put Him first in your life and see what happens. You’ll find that when your only concern is pleasing Him, the rest of your priorities will fall neatly into place. No, that doesn’t mean life will be easy, but it will get a lot clearer. And that’s more than half the battle as far as I’m concerned.

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God provides for us what He requires from us

Ever feel like you’re in over your head? Golly, I’ve been there more than once in my life, with the majority of those times happening within the last 10 months. Without fail, most of the times when I feel overwhelmed is when I’m doing something I know God has told me to do.

Something I’ve learned following God all these years? He asks me to do things I can’t do, and He does it all the time. Talk to strangers. Do math. Run a business. I don’t know how to do any of that. But those are specific things He’s told me to do. Well, not the “do math” part, but it’s implied with the “run a business” part.

When God tells you to do something impossible, you’ve got two choices. Either you tell Him no, or you ask Him for help. Because, yes, God asks us to do impossible things, but He knows we can’t do the impossible. That’s why we have Him. And if we know nothing else about God, we know that God has always, always provided for us what He requires from us.

Happy Scottish sheep grazing on the green grass near Hadrian's Wall in Northern England

Happy Scottish sheep grazing on the green grass near Hadrian’s Wall in Northern England

Today’s verses are Genesis 22:6-8, 13-14.

So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”
“God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.

Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, and Abraham was willing to do it. The writer of Hebrews states in chapter 11 that Abraham had faith that God would resurrect Isaac if need be, and he didn’t even hesitate. God told Abraham what He wanted, and Abraham went to do it. And God provided the sacrifice for him.

Over and over and over, throughout Scripture and even throughout the lives of Christ-followers in history, God has always provided. Maybe it’s food. Maybe it’s faith. Maybe it’s clothing or shelter or safety or status. Whatever a Christ-follower needs, he or she gets exactly when they need it. The trick is you probably don’t have it to start out with.

You have to be willing. Abraham was willing to give up his son because God asked him to, trusting that God knew what was best. And when God asks us to do something, we should be willing to obey even if what He’s asking doesn’t make sense right away.

God won’t contradict His Word, though. So be sure you always weigh what you think He’s telling you to do against Scripture. But once you determine the path He wants you on, get on it, whether you think you’re equipped for it or not.

So what’s keeping you in place today? Are you scared because you don’t know the future? Well, nobody does, so don’t let that stop you. God knows what’s coming, and He can be trusted. Do you lack money and finances? Do you lack independence? Do you lack courage? What about education or experience?

Don’t listen to the fear that’s holding you down. If your reason for telling God no is because you’re afraid, you’re listening to the wrong voice. God doesn’t operate through fear. And if He is asking you to do something for Him, He will provide you with everything you need to make it happen. Maybe you think it’s impossible. It probably is, but with God, all things are possible.

Give God a chance. Be willing to take that first step. God has always provided what He requires, and He won’t stop now.

God isn’t going to bless you for making yourself look good

When you do something nice for somebody, what’s your first reaction? Do you want to keep it quiet, or do you want to run out and tell the world what you’ve done? This is one of those difficult lines to walk because on one hand, you want people to know that there’s a need you’ve invested in, and if they want to be blessed they should invest too. But at the same time, you want to be humble about it.

We’ve all seen celebrities and politicians and other folks get up in front of us and talk about charities they support or good things they’ve done, but in my mind, it’s a lot harder to to envision them being really truly passionate about a cause when all they do is talk about it. Maybe that’s wrong of me. But in my experience, the people who truly care about causes or even other people spend more time doing something rather than talking about doing something.

woman-makeup-beauty-lipstick_1232x816Today’s verses are Matthew 6:1-4.

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. 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 you let that person in line behind you go in front of you, do you shout it to the store so they know what a great person you are? When you do that favor for a friend who didn’t ask for it, do you make sure your friend and everyone else hears about it so they can see what a great friend you are? That’s not to say that we shouldn’t go the extra mile for people. We should be kind. We should be gracious and generous and loving. The problem we run into is in the why.

Why do you want to help your neighbor? Why do you want to be kind to that person across the street? Why do you want to support a charity? Are you doing it so that you can get the recognition for your act of service and sacrifice? If that’s the case, your motivation is wrong. If any act of kindness becomes about you and your own recognition, rest assured, the applause of the people watching is all the reward you’re going to get, because God isn’t going to bless you for making yourself look good.

If you want to help others out of a genuine heart of love, it won’t matter who notices. It won’t matter to you if you get a story written about you in the newspaper. It won’t matter if you get interviewed on television. It won’t matter if your friends understand the sacrifices you’re making for them. What matters is that what needs to be done is done, and who gets the credit for it should fade away, unimportant and insignificant.

That’s the attitude God can bless. That’s the kind of person who God can make great.

Does that mean you should never talk about the good things you do? No, of course not. There is a time and place to talk about the good things you’ve done, but it all comes down to the motivation behind them. Your heart attitude will determine your words and your actions, and if your ministries are all about you, that’s what you’re going to talk about. But if your ministries are all about Jesus, that’s what the focus of your conversation will be.

Is it easy? No way.

It’s hard to do something kind or great and go unrecognized. It’s difficult because you don’t think anyone notices what you’re giving up to help others, and that’s discouraging. But God notices. So don’t feel insecure. And don’t feel unappreciated. Don’t chase people down to point out the good things you’ve done just so that you can feel better about yourself. That’s not the point of doing kind things for others.

Nothing you do is in vain. God sees it all and knows your heart. So trust Him to bless you in His good time. Jesus didn’t. And He had more reason than anyone to talk about His sacrifices.

Knowing stuff matters, but not being a jerk matters more

I’m helping out at the National Sales Meeting for my old company this week, managing PowerPoint presentations and training the person who will be filling my shoes next year. And it’s amazing to me where God shows up. He makes Himself obvious to me in places where I don’t expect.

One of the general session presentations yesterday afternoon really struck a chord with me, on a level much deeper than numbers and statistics and sales figures. It was a presentation on the difference between aptitutde and attitude.

You see, aptitudes are gifts or talents you are born with. Attitudes are up to you to chose for yourself. Aptitudes can be taught, and attitudes can’t. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about your job, your family, your group of friends, your ministry, or whatever, your attitude matters more than your skillset.

bad-attitude_650Today’s verse is Daniel 1:8.

But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods.

When the Babylonians invaded Israel, they selected lots of young people who were intelligent and trainable to learn Babylonian ways. Among those young people was Daniel, and Daniel realized he couldn’t change his situation. But when he realized the people ate foods dedicated to idols, foods that were against the law for Jewish people to eat, he asked permission to eat something else.

He could have gone about it another way. He could have just refused to eat the food he was given. After all, he was basically a prisoner. He’d been taken from his home and family. He had every right to be angry and upset. But instead he asked for permission.

See, Daniel was bright and smart, gifted, talented. He’d been selected because of his intelligence. He’d been chosen because of his aptitudes. But Daniel succeeded in Babylon because of his attitude.

You can be the most skilled employee in your workplace, but if you have a bad attitude, you won’t do very well. Maybe you’ll make it for a little while, but eventually you’ll lose your footing because it’s your attitude that matters.

Aptitude can be taught. You can always teach someone a new skill. But you can’t teach attitude. Attitude is something that you have to choose for yourself. The example used in this presentation yesterday was an alcoholic. You can tell someone he or she is an alcoholic over and over again, and they won’t believe you until they understand and realize it for themselves.

Knowing stuff is important, yeah. But not being a jerk is more important.

God has given you special skills and talents, and you should never take them for granted. But never forget that a skilled person that’s impossible to work with won’t ever accomplish much. God blesses you wiht talents, yes, but He blesses a good attitude abundantly.

A bad attitude makes you miss out on God’s best

Our attitude directs our actions. Maybe that’s a generalization, but I think it’s a pretty true one. Your attitude about a situation or a person or an event usually determines how you respond to it.

My attitude is usually pretty good, but generally speaking, my life rocks along without too many bumps. Sure, I have struggles and issues like everybody else, but my plans usually work out the way I want. I’m a planner, remember? I like to control everything, so I make a habit of thinking far ahead and knowing every step I can take to make something happen or to prevent something from happening.

But all of that changed recently with two little words: jury duty.

Yes, my civic duty as an American citizen. My opportunity to participate in the American legal system. And, honestly, something I’ve wanted to do since my freshman year of high school when my government teacher talked about it.

But here’s the deal: This is the worst week it could have come up. There are so many things happening, so many things to deal with, so many things to handle, I just don’t have the time to go to jury duty. And it’s really, really tempting to start feeling sour about the whole thing.

dare_to_complainToday’s verses are Philippians 2:14-15.

Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.

Ouch.

Does the Bible ever step on your toes? Yeah, it does that to me too. I think I’m doing all right, and then wham! I read a verse that makes me stop in my tracks.

Even when I complain, I don’t intend to. And here’s the kicker, I usually only complain when my attitude needs adjusting.

I’m exactly where I need to be. God has provided for me in so many ways, and when something comes along that I didn’t expect–something I don’t want to do–what’s my first reaction? I grumble. I complain. I groan.

Sure, maybe it’ll be a headache. Maybe it’s not what I had planned for tomorrow. But what’s more important in my life? Doing what I had planned? Or doing what God has planned?

Yeah. Rhetorical question.

I started this adventure because I felt God calling me to step out on faith and trust Him. Since then, lots of things have happened that I didn’t expect, most that I didn’t plan for. This is no different.

So what if I don’t get to do what I wanted tomorrow? God has something better for me. He always does.

Wherever you are today, don’t let your attitude lead you to ignore God’s best just because it might inconvenience you. Maybe the next step He’s putting in front of you isn’t what you wanted, but if it’s what He’s directing you to do, it’ll work out better in the end anyway.

God doesn’t always give you what you want

I’m staying in a swanky hotel right now. I mean, it has a bathtub. A real, honest-to-goodness bathtub that’s deep enough to soak in. And it has a shower too. Super swanky.

When I checked in at the desk, the lady asked me if I wanted a coffee maker brought up to my room. Now, I kind of have a coffee problem. I like coffee. A lot. Black or with milk or half-n-half or cream. Lattes, cappucinos, espressos, whatever. I love coffee.

Generally, hotel coffee is horrible, though. I usually can’t stand it, but when I wake up in the mornings early and write these devotionals, I desperately need a cup of coffee. So I’m willing to take anything. So, I told the lady at the desk, yes, I’d love to have a coffee maker in my room.

I got up to the room, and a guy from downstairs knocked and brought in my coffee machine. But it wasn’t a cheap little coffee pot like I’ve got at home. It wasn’t even a fancy coffee pot. It was a Keurig! A real-life Keurig with real-life coffee pods and everything! It was awesome!

How many times do we ask for something and expect a cheap response? How many times do we pray to God and ask Him for a specific result and expect a cheap answer? I do it all the time, but is that how we’re supposed to ask?

0125151521Today’s verses are James 4:1-3.

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.

I ask God for stuff all the time, and it’s normal for me to automatically assume that He won’t give it to me. That’s not because God’s mean. It’s not because I don’t trust Him. It’s just because I’m not sure my motives are always right.

I can’t be the only one out there who asks God for things I know I don’t need. Surely others have asked God for things, knowing that obtaining them probably wouldn’t be in my best interest. I’ve just asked for them because I wanted them. I’ve asked because it would make me happy or it would make life easier or it would help me feel vindicated.

There’s nothing wrong with being happy or having an easy life or feeling vindicated about something, but what is your motivation? For me, if I ask God for something because it will make me happy, that means I’m not content. If I ask God to make my life easy, that means I’m being lazy or giving into fear. If I ask God for vindication, usually that means I’m being insecure and letting my pride direct my actions and thoughts.

If you want God to give you what you’re asking for, check your motivation. Check your heart, because that’s what God looks at.

Hey, singles. Do you want a husband or a wife? Why? Is it because you feel incomplete without them? Is it because you need a spouse to move on to the next step in your plan for life? Or are you just sick of being the fifth wheel when all your friends are getting married and leaving you behind? If you want to get married, what is your heart motivation?

Hey, employed person. Do you want a raise? Do you want a promotion? Why do you want it? More money? More status? More power? What is the motivation behind your desire?

Hey, unemployed person. Do you want a job? Why?

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are or what kind of life you lead. If the motivation of your heart goes against what God says is right and true–or if your desire will go against God’s bigger plan for your life–God won’t give you what you ask for. Period.

And He’s not being mean. He just wants what’s best for us, while we usually can only see what’s good.

But you know what? Sometimes when you ask God will give you more than what you ask for. Sort of like my amazing coffee machine. I didn’t expect to get it. And even then, it wasn’t what I expected when I got it–it was better! And God’s just like that.

So if God hasn’t answered your prayers today, don’t give up. Yes, check your heart. Make sure your motivation is what it should be. And then, keep asking. The day is coming when God will blow your mind.

You can celebrate even the most Mondayish of Mondays

Ever wake up, and you’re just in a horrible mood? There’s no real reason for it. You’re just in a funk. And then things get worse? You forget stuff and have to go back for it. You lose stuff and waste time looking for it. You are so preoccupied with everything you forgot, you lose track of the things you actually remembered?

That was me yesterday morning. Just an all-around, no-good, Mondayish Monday. For no particular reason. I just couldn’t seem to get out of it either. I was grumpy at home, grumpy at work, grumpy to people I talked to.

But then something landed on my desk. By all rights, it should have made my mood worse. But it didn’t. Instead, it just made me realize that life isn’t as bad as it could be. Someday I’ll figure out how my brain works, but until then I’m just going to assume it was that “last straw” kind of moment. In those moments, you can either choose to cry, or you can laugh about it.

My default is laughter. So that’s what I did. And almost immediately, once I started seeing my day from that perspective, my attitude got better. Because maybe it sucked, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Maybe that doesn’t sound like something to celebrate, but wait until you’re there. And then you’ll understand how much joy you can find in the simple realization that life is so much better than it could be.

Bad Hair Day - AlpacaToday’s verses are Deuteronomy 30:19-20.

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life.

This is God talking to the Children of Israel. They are the descendants of the Hebrew slaves who Moses led out of Egypt, but because of their sin they weren’t allowed to enter the Promised Land. They had to wander the wilderness for 40 years until that generation died out and only their children were left.

This statement is to those children.

See, everyone wakes up in a bad mood once in a while. Everybody has bad days. And that’s okay. We’re human. But that also means we’re capable of making a choice.

You can wake up in a bad mood, but it’s your choice to stay in a bad mood. You can have a bad day, but it’s your choice to foster a bad attitude about it. Your attitude isn’t bad because your day was bad. That’s not how it works. Your attitude is bad because you chose that attitude.

When God gave the Children of Israel the choice to trust Him or rely on themselves, they chose themselves. They chose exile. That was their choice. When God gave their children the same choice, they chose to follow Him instead because they saw the mistakes their parents had made.

The truth is, we’re all born in a broken world. Nothing down here is ever going to work right. It’s not supposed to, not since Adam and Eve broke it. But a day is coming when all of that is going to change. All the things that are wrong, God will make right again.

But God has given us a choice. Follow Him or follow yourself. Believe He is right, or believe you know better. That choice is up to us. It’s always been up to us.

And on the most Mondayish of Mondays, if you believe God really does know what He’s doing, you can still sit back and laugh at the troubles and problems that come your way. Why? Because God is in control and everything that happens to you will work out for His glory and your good.

Didn’t say it would be good. But God will use it for good and will make it good. That’s His promise, and He never breaks His promises.

So are you having a bad day? It’s all right. Bad days happen to everyone. But just because it starts badly doesn’t mean it has to end badly. Talk to someone who loves you. Take a walk outside. Get a glass of cold, clear water to drink. And take a moment and think about everything you have and everything God has given you, and it won’t take long before you remember just how blessed you really are.