Knowing the next step is half the battle

I like plans, but I’m not very organized. So operating in a corporate environment using a workflow chart was difficult to wrap my brain around at first. I didn’t get the concept of connecting geometric shapes with squiggly lines to symbolize processes at first. It just seemed like a lot of extra work to write down a process when it was easier to remember what came next.

When you have simple processes, that’s true. But in many corporate environments, a work process can involve dozens and maybe hundreds of people and multiple departments. With a process that complicated, you need to have a standard to refer to in the moments when a project gets crazy. You need to have a road map to look at so that you can get back on track.

If you think about it, nothing is more complicated than life. So why do we attempt to get through life without some sort of plan? How do we expect to keep ourselves on track and on target without a map to refer to when we get lost?

sea-beach-holiday-vacationToday’s verses are Psalm 37:23-24.

The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
He delights in every detail of their lives.
Though they stumble, they will never fall,
for the Lord holds them by the hand.

God doesn’t give us the whole plan for our lives all at once. Honestly, He rarely shares the entire plan with us in our lifetime. But one thing God will always provide for us is the next step.

Following Christ isn’t a chaotic mess of disorder and strife. Sure, we all have struggles, and we all have varying amounts of stress to deal with at times. But if your life is chaotic, something is wrong. God doesn’t work in chaos. That’s our enemy’s specialty. God is always clear about what He wants. It’s our hearing that’s often plugged up, and it’s usually plugged up by our own voices.

You can get as spiritual and theological about God’s will as you want, but what it comes down to in the end is doing what God says is right one step at a time. God’s will is too big and too much for us to comprehend, because it encompasses the length and breadth and depth and width of our entire lives and even aspects of our legacies. I don’t know about you, but my puny human brain couldn’t take all of that in. So I’m glad God doesn’t tell me. I think it would scare me to death.

God has a plan, but He’s only going to tell us the parts we need to know when we need to know them. That’s His right. And if we think we deserve more than that, well, we should remember whose plan it is and whose story we’re living in. So when God gives us a piece of the plan, we need to act on it right away.

Example? The first step is to trust Jesus. That’s what God wants for all of us. He wants us to make the call to follow Jesus, to trust in Christ’s sacrifice alone for our salvation. That’s the first step, and until you take that step, nothing in life will make sense. And after you take that step, well, life still won’t make much sense, but you’ll be able to see God working.

After that, the next step is to actually start following Christ. You do the things He did. Like baptism, an outward expression of an inward change. You live like He lived–loving God and loving people. Following Christ will take the rest of your life, and it will look different for different people. And, frankly, God isn’t always specific about what He expects. We’re to “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly” with God, yes, but those three things can take a variety of shapes and sizes in our lives.

So what next? That’s the question many of us face. We’ve chosen to believe in Jesus. We’ve committed to following Jesus. But what does that mean?

Honestly, you just have to get to know God better, and He’ll tell you. He’ll show you. He always does. He’ll reveal in your heart the path that you should take. He’ll open the doors for you. He’ll muddy up the roads you should avoid and straighten the roads you should walk. You won’t be able to get away from it.

So don’t worry about what’s next. Trust that God knows where you’ll end up, even if you can’t see where you’re walking. Focus on growing closer to God. Spend your time talking to Him, reading about Him, learning about Him, and He’ll show you what comes next.

What comes next is the easy part. God already has that worked out. The hard part is actually doing it.

Canoe crossing a river between Kekchi villages, Peten, Guatemala

Letting the toaster do its job

I just got back from eating breakfast in a hotel lobby. Some hotel breakfasts are really awful; this one wasn’t too bad. Lots of options. Hot and cold. Everything covered, which is nice because half the people in there were coughing.

There was a guy at the table across from me who was like a veritable chef, taking the different options at the breakfast counter and turning them into some crazy fancy meal. But it was funny. Because he didn’t seem to be able to stay seated for more than a minute. He kept getting up for one reason or another. And then I realized he was making toast. Maybe he didn’t trust the toaster (understandable). I don’t know. But I found it interesting because the way he was acting made me think he thought there was something he could do to make his bread toast faster.

Canoe crossing a river between Kekchi villages, Peten, Guatemala

Canoe crossing a river between Kekchi villages, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verses are Exodus 14:13-14.

But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”

Have you ever found yourself in a situation like that? You have a goal to accomplish, and you set things in motion but then you have to sit back and wait. And before long you find yourself getting involved again and sticking your hands back into the process because you need to make sure things are still moving along–when really all you’re doing is slowing things down.

I do that all the time because I’m a control freak. I don’t like letting go of things. I don’t like having to trust that other people will do their jobs, especially if the success of my whole project is riding on their perspective of responsibility.

Maybe that’s good in some cases, but when it comes to the big issues in life, it doesn’t work. Because those big moments in our lives are far larger than we are and there’s no way we could even begin to control them.

This passage today comes just before God parts the Red Sea so the Israelites could escape Pharoah’s army. Moses and the Israelites were backed into a corner, so to speak. There was no way they could have survived on their own, so God had to intervene. And there was nothing any of them could have done about it. They just had to sit back and wait.

I find myself in that position almost daily now, where events in my life have gotten so big and so overwhelming that even if I wanted to have control over them I couldn’t change anything. I’m not strong enough, not smart enough, not fast enough, not resourceful enough, not powerful enough to do the things I need to do to achieve success in my life. Maybe I could have when I was younger, but I’m in over my head in so many different areas of my life now that I need God for every step I take.

It’s difficult, admitting you don’t have the skills or resources required to be completely independent. But let’s be honest. Who wants to be completely independent?

The trouble is we have to wait. And the more we fuss and fret and try to stick our noses where they don’t belong, the more trouble we’ll make for ourselves in the interim before God does what He was going to do all along.

The guy who wouldn’t leave the toaster alone this morning probably should have just let the toaster do its job. With all his fussing and poking and adjusting, he ended up with burned toast.

Are you facing struggles? Are you facing challenges? Are difficulties rushing at you in a tidal wave bigger than you think you can survive? God hasn’t left you, and He won’t. Trust Him. Follow Him. Believe Him. And He will make a way for you to get out. He’ll step in and save the day, just like He has done throughout history. But He’ll do it in His own time.

So be still. He’s God. He’s got it handled, and He doesn’t need our help.

Snow on the pine trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Enduring when you can’t see God

Have you ever been in a situation where you are doing what God has told you to do but things in your life keep going wrong? You would think that if you did what God asked, He would arrange life so that it wasn’t so hard all the time. Right?

Well, unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. Yes, good choices and godly behavior do result in blessings, but remember we live in a broken world. So things aren’t always going to go the way we want them to, even if we obey God.

Snow on the pine trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Snow on the pine trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Genesis 50:20-21

But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.”

The story of Joseph is one of the most amazing stories in the Bible. Joseph is one of my heroes because no matter how bad his life circumstances got, he never gave up hope. And in the end, he understood exactly why God had put him through the difficult times. If you can think of a depressing life event, I’m willing to bet Joseph suffered through something comparable. He was hated by his brothers. Sold into slavery. Lied about and thrown in prison. Forgotten. And he’d done nothing to deserve any of it. But he endured through all of the difficult circumstances because he believed that God was going to bring something good out of it.

Sometimes it’s so hard to see God when those things happen. Sometimes it’s impossible to see Him working, but the Bible says He’s there. And it’s up to us to believe that He is until we are able to see the pieces that fit in God’ s bigger plan.

I’m currently in Kansas City at a copywriting seminar for my job. I’m staying in a swanky Marriott on the Plaza. I’m not used to this level of service at hotels, though. When I drove my little company car into the check in area, a guy in a valet outfit held my door open and welcomed me. I had to go check in, but the rule is that you have to leave your keys with the valet guys. So I did. As I walked inside, I heard the guy lock the car with the remote key. There was a little confusion at the check-in desk, so I needed to come back to my car to get the paperwork, and I was looking for the valet guy. I couldn’t see him anywhere. I needed to get the key back so I could get into the car, but I couldn’t see him. Out of frustration, I tried to open the car door anyway, knowing that it would be locked — but it wasn’t. 

As I gathered the paperwork that I needed to prove to the hotel that I had really reserved two nights, I started getting angry. I thought for sure that I’d heard the guy lock my car, but it wasn’t locked now so maybe it had been another vehicle parked there. He had my keys, and he had just walked off somewhere, leaving my car and all my stuff in the front seat with the doors unlocked!

I shut the door to the car and started to go back inside, and just as I set my hand on the door, my car locked again. Well, that didn’t make any sense to me. The car didn’t lock by itself, but I didn’t see the valet guy anywhere. I went back to the desk, cleared up the confusion about the room, and walked back to my car–and the valet guy followed me out.

He’d been standing at the back of the lobby the whole time, in perfect view of me and my car. I just couldn’t see him. He unlocked the car, held the door as I got in, and pointed me where to go to park.

I felt like a moron, and I felt like a horrible person for getting irritated. Just because I couldn’t see him didn’t mean he wasn’t there, and as I think about the story of Joseph this morning, Joseph did it right. He couldn’t see God. How could he see God in all the horrible things that were happening in his life? But he never gave up and kept moving forward, living the way he knew God would be pleased with. And in the end, Joseph could put all the pieces together to understand exactly why God had allowed the things to happen to him in the first place.

So if you’re struggling through difficulty today, don’t give up and keep pushing forward. There’s no guarantee that it’s going to get better. Actually it might get worse. And while that’s difficult to take, especially if you know you’ve done nothing to deserve it, you have to believe that God is still there working.

Even if you can’t see Him, that doesn’t mean He can’t see you.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

God’s never still

I get depressed pretty easily when I think about the state of our world. So many horrible things are happening, and they all seem so far out of our control to fix. The majority of what is wrong, however, is that our culture is having to face the consequences of their choices. The world is broken and makes broken decisions. The problem is that the rest of us, who are trying to live right, usually get caught in the crossfire.

On the really difficult days, it’s easy to focus on everything that’s going wrong. It’s easy to focus on the fact that God seems to be silent. He’s not talking. He’s not moving. He’s not obvious. Sometimes it’s easier just to think that He’s not even paying attention because if He is paying attention, why isn’t He doing anything about it?

If you’ve ever asked that question, you aren’t alone, and you aren’t the first.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm – Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Habakkuk 1:5.

The Lord replied,

“Look around at the nations;
    look and be amazed!
For I am doing something in your own day,
    something you wouldn’t believe
    even if someone told you about it.

Habakkuk is one of those Old Testament minor prophet books that usually only gets attention if someone is making fun of names. But Habakkuk is one of my favorite books in the Bible. He’s open and honest and genuine and straightforward about what he is struggling with, and he doesn’t pull any punches when he talks to God.

The book pretty much starts with Habakkuk taking the state of affairs of the world to God and asking Him what He’s thinking. He wants to know how long he has to ask for help before God will do something. He wants to know how long he has to watch evil and violence triumph over what is right.

Today’s verse is the beginning of God’s answer.

I’ve said this before because it’s true. I very easily get caught up in day-to-day life. Maybe it’s because I’m objective-focused and my day is made up of schedules and routines. Getting distracted by the everyday is easy for me. And in that distraction, it’s also easy for me to think that God isn’t in my life. I know He is, but when I get focused on the humdrum of the everyday, it’s easy to miss Him because I’m not focused on Him.

And it’s not like it’s easy to see Him in American culture. Not really. Not anymore. Pick a news story that’s big in the media right now, and I’d be willing to bet that it’s not about how God is moving in peoples’ lives.

However, if you read missionary blogs or follow church news in other countries, you might be surprised. It’s easier to shut God out of American culture because as a country we’ve turned our backs on Him. But in other countries, they’re desperate for Him. And because they’re desperate for Him, He’s obvious to them.

And that’s what I thought this verse was about when I first read it: Look around the world ans see what God is doing elsewhere. And that’s true. God is moving everywhere. My best friend has been in Portugal for two weeks, and she’s gotten to see some pretty amazing things that God is doing in peoples’ lives. And honestly, He’s working here too. We just aren’t looking. We’re so focused on what’s happening in our lives today that we miss Him.

But context is important. It’s so important because the Bible is more than just a book of platitudes. It’s more than just a storybook. You can’t pick and choose verses to fit a point; you can try, but that’s a dangerous game. And this verse doesn’t mean what it seems to mean if you take it out of context.

The NLT has a little note made in the margin that says the part that reads “Look around at the nations/ look and be amazed!” in Greek it actually reads, “Look, you mockers; / look and be amazed and die.

Whoa. What?

Paul quotes this verse in Acts 13 when he’s preaching in Antioch. Taking the language from Hebrew (which Habakkuk was written in) and relating it in Greek (which Paul spoke) reveals another layer of meaning — as Greek always does.

Habakkuk 1:5 in the Message is also a little startling:

“Look around at the godless nations. 
   Look long and hard. Brace yourself for a shock.
Something’s about to take place
   and you’re going to find it hard to believe.”

If you keep reading, you’ll see what God is talking about. He isn’t standing still while the world lives the way it wants to. He isn’t ignoring while the world does what feels good and mistreats people. And whether those people live in the U.S. or in another country doesn’t matter. God can see everything, and He isn’t going to be silent for long.

In the rest of this chapter, God talks about how He’s stirring up the Babylonians who will come to conquer Israel. That was the only way to get through to the people of Israel — let a foreign army conquer them. Allow them all to be taken into captivity where they no longer have their comforts to keep distracting them.

Anyone sense a parallel?

God isn’t always going to fix things the way we think He should. I’m glad. Because He knows the source of our biggest problems, and He knows how to make it right again. We just have to trust Him, even if we find it hard to believe that what He’s doing can possibly ever work out for our good. And on those days when we’re tempted to think that He’s not paying attention (like me), we need to remember that He’s never still. God is always doing something somewhere. He’s always working somewhere.

So don’t be discouraged or depressed. Keep following. Keep doing what Scripture says is right. God will handle the details. And even though we may be stranded in a broken world for a brief moment, we’re not abandoned. God has a plan.