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.

Lion roaring about something at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

Sometimes you gotta explode

Maybe it’s different for extroverts, but when I get really upset about something or when I am really disappointed about something or really hurt about something, I don’t blow up. I simmer. I’m like a bottle of soda pop that you shake up but don’t open—you can see the bubbles threatening inside, but they have nowhere to go, so they stay put until they settle down. And I suppose that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with being that way.

Except what happens if someone opens a bottle of pop right after it’s been shaken up? Or dropped?

Yeah. It explodes. And makes a mess. So what’s better? To explode first? Or to explode later?

I wish there were an option to not explode, but—just being real here—everybody explodes at some point. Or at least everybody hits a breaking point at least once in their lives, though whether you explode or not depends on your personality.

So, is that okay? Is it okay to hit the point where you can’t take it anymore? And when you get there, what do you do about it?

Well, I think the number one thing you can do is talk about it. And don’t feel like you have to go to a therapist. You don’t even have to go to a friend or a family member. You don’t have to go anywhere. You can stop what you’re doing and tell God about it.

Today’s verses are from Psalm 13.

Lion roaring about something at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

Lion roaring about something at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
    Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.

But I trust in your unfailing love.
    I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord
    because he is good to me.

The Psalms amaze me. Sometimes they disturb me. I can’t believe that David or the other Psalm writers would commit some of these thoughts to paper. But all I have to do is think about some of the things I’ve accused God of doing (or not doing), and I feel just as verbally abusive toward God as the Psalmists.

Here’s the point. God knows that we aren’t perfect. He knows our stories. He knows our personalities. And He knows how much we can take before we snap. Sometimes we need to snap because that may be the only way we get the picture that we’re not in control of our lives.

David snapped. More than once.

David accused God of lots of things. David wailed in his despair. He hurled emotional statements at God and at others and at himself, and if he hadn’t been in such a state, he probably never would have said any of it.

Did God strike him with lightning? Did God give up on him? Did God abandon him?

No. Even when David’s life turned upside down because of his own sins, God never left him. So why do we think that God will leave us?

What I find most fascinating about the Psalms is that so many of them begin with the writer crying out to God for help or out of despair and depression. So many Psalms start with the writer acknowledging how lost he is. But every Psalm usually ends with the writer—the same one—cheering and rejoicing and praising God.

How does that happen? How can you start out piteously and end up victoriously?

Well, first you have to get piteous out of the way. And you can’t do that until you accept that you feel it and face it with the truth—God is stronger than any trouble you’re facing.

Many times when I’m crying out to God on the bad days, I’ll draw myself up short because my brain reminds me just how much God has done for me. I’m in the middle of bemoaning my present circumstances, and it’s like a little voice whispers: “Hey, dummy, what about last week when He did something impossible for you?”

Or not even impossible. Something kind.

Why does God allow horrible things to happen in our lives? I don’t pretend to know, but I do know that no matter how awful it may be, He can turn it into something good—something better than it ever could have been by itself. And He never will abandon us, no matter what we say or do. If you truly belong to Him, you’re stuck with Him for eternity.

So don’t bottle it up. Or do. Either way, when you explode, make sure you take it to God first. He’s big enough to take it, and he’s patient enough to love you through it. There’s nothing you can do to change that, for better or for worse.