If I’m a winner, why do I live like a loser?

conquerors-warriors-winners-discouragement_1170x350

I can’t do anything right. I’m a failure at life. It’s not even worth trying something new because I’ll ultimately screw it up and let everyone down. Ever feel like that? I’ve had a month of feeling like that, which is utterly ridiculous because it’s been a great month. A successful month. A month full of positive momentum. Yet emotionally, spiritually, and mentally I’ve been stuck in this unending quagmire of discouragement.

God is gentle with people many times. He calls to us softly in that still, small voice of His. He beckons us closer to Him with promises of peace and assurances of unconditional love.

Well, I’m not people. And gentle promises and soft speeches rarely do anything for me except make me suspicious, and that’s probably a character flaw. But thankfully my God knows how to talk to me. He’s my Shepherd, and He knows how to get my attention. And usually it involves a two-by-four.

I was out on my morning walk yesterday, and I’d started the morning slow and draggy, uninspired, discouraged, beaten down for no real reason. I just felt mopey. But I’d decided to start walking in the mornings, so I got ready to go. To make matters worse, my MP3 player died for no reason, which put me in a bad mood. Walking my two miles was going to be harder without something to listen to.

So I just chalked it up to the kind of day I was going to have, and I started down our old loose-gravel road, struggling against a hard south wind. But because I didn’t have anything else to listen to, I just decided to tell God about all my problems.

The whole two miles, I just told Him what was on my heart and how sad I felt and alone and discouraged. Like nothing I do matters. Like nothing I try succeeds. And somewhere along that two-mile stretch, WHAM! This verse hit me like a ton of bricks:

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

That’s Romans 8:37, if you care to know. And it echoed in my empty brain for about five minutes while I walked, stunned into silence. The realization that accompanied left me shaking. Because if I believe that, if I truly believe that God has made me more than a conqueror, I should be living like it. But I wasn’t. I was living as though I’d been defeated.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]Why would I choose to live defeated when I have the opportunity to live victorious?[/su_pullquote]

It’s so hard to see the light sometimes. It’s so hard to focus on everything that’s right, especially when you feel overwhelmed by everything that’s wrong. That’s when discouragement hits. That’s when it takes all your strength to pull yourself out of bed in the morning. That’s when you tell yourself that you can’t win, can’t succeed, can’t do anything right. You’re choosing to see all the obstacles in your path instead of the bright, shining path God has opened up for you.

I am a conqueror.

Not will be a conqueror. Not used to be a conqueror. I AM a conqueror. Not in my own strength or abilities or talents. Not by any gift or virtue I possess but through Jesus. God has made me a conqueror through His power. So why would I choose to live defeated when I have the opportunity to live victorious?

Maybe that bright shining path Jesus provided only stretches out for the current day, and I can’t see tomorrow. Isn’t that all right? Isn’t it enough to know that you have what you need for right now? It’s difficult to live that way. It’s hard for this control freak to wrap her brain around it, but there’s no better way to live.

Why be satisfied with the little shack you can build with your own hands when God wants to help you build a mansion?

Against all odds, God has provided for me today, and He has promised to provide for me tomorrow. Do I really need more than that? Do you?

No more choosing to see the obstacles. No more choosing to see what’s wrong. No, that doesn’t mean I ignore them, but I can acknowledge an obstacle without letting it discourage me. God has made me a conqueror. God has made me victorious. Through Him, I can do impossible things.

And so can you.

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You can’t take two roads at the same time

Everything about our 21st Century culture revolves around getting our own way. We like our food prepared a certain way. We like particular options on our cars. We like specific types of music or movies or books. In the last 30 or so years, we’ve grown up expecting that people will cater to our whims. That’s customer service. If I want a skinny decaf no foam latte, I order one, and that’s what I expect to get. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Well, there’s nothing wrong it until what we want contradicts what God says is right. Then, we have a choice. Because in the choice between two paths, you can only choose one. You can’t walk down the middle.

CI1HWTBJL1_1372x913Today’s verse is Matthew 6:24.

No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

This is one verse out of a much larger passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:19-34), and if you’ve got time I really recommend reading the whole thing. This is one of those concepts in Scripture that gets really twisted around, I think. There are some who look at wealth and money as though it’s something evil, and that’s just not the case. Money becomes evil when it becomes more important in your life than God.

When you place the acquisition of food or clothing or status higher than your desire to walk with God, you have a problem, because you’re walking down the road that will take you away from God. You can walk with God and have money and resources, but you can’t walk with God and love money and resources more than you love Him. That doesn’t work out so well.

Jesus was devoted to one path. It was the same road He started walking when He learned how to walk, and it was the same road that led Him to the cross to die to pay for our entry into heaven.

Staying on one path is hard, especially when there is so much of the world to see, but once you step off that narrow road, there aren’t always guideposts to get you back to it. It’s like taking a poorly planned detour. In some parts of the country, a detour winds through pretty residential areas, but most of the ones I’ve been on are desert-like and time-consuming and irritating. That’s what stepping off the path gets you–confused and frustrated. And you only have yourself to blame.

It’s tempting to want to live our lives the way we want to live them, but if you are a Christ-follower, your life doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to Jesus. And you simply can’t follow Jesus when you’re only focusing on doing whatever it will take to get more money. And, believe me, I know how important money is. You can sit and be as holy and spiritual as you want, but if you don’t have money, you can’t eat. This has become even more obvious to me since I started working for myself. Money is hard to get.

What’s even harder is trusting that God will provide. But that’s what this entire passage is about. You can serve money and scrimp and save and fret and stress out for your entire life to scrape a few pennies together that might last a few years. Or you can just chill and do what God says to do today and trust that when you need something, God will provide it for you.

Maybe that sounds naive. But I’m not the one asking the questions. Jesus is staring back at me in this passage asking me why I have so little faith.

So stop fretting. Stop chasing dollar bills. Instead, put God’s priorities first in your life and trust that He’ll provide when you need it.

Jesus walked one path. That’s the direction He went. And if we say we’re His followers, we probably ought to follow. Don’t you think?

Learning to trust God’s complete provision

I double booked myself. Again. I hadn’t done that in a long time. I told someone I could give them a ride at a certain time, but I forgot I had already arranged to help somebody out on the same day.

What do you do when you need to be in two places at once? How do you decide what is more important? They’re both important.

The way it works for me? When I end up double booked (which has happened more frequently than I care to admit), I pray about it. Maybe that sounds cliched, but when I am lost, that’s the best solution I’ve found to help me get sorted out again. And usually, God tells me what I need to do. He makes it clear to me what I’m supposed to choose.

But what do you do about the person you’ve left hanging? How do you handle that situation? Well, funny story, I offered to help find a replacement for me, and I got the surprise of my life. I discovered that God had already prepared a more qualified person in my place. I just had to ask.

God had already known what I was going to need. I just had to sit back and trust that He would provide.

givingToday’s verse is Philippians 4:19.

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.

This is Paul talking, and Paul had more reason than anyone to complain about his lot in life. Seriously, I think he spent more time in prison than outside of it. But he never lacked anything he needed.

This is what I need to wrap my head around.

God will always provide what I need. God will always make a way for me. He will always get me everything I need–all of it. Not just some of it. Not half of it. All of it. That’s a promise.

Now, that doesn’t mean He’ll always give us what we want. No, what we want and what we need are rarely the same. But in my experience, I’ve found that most of the time, God still gives us what we want too.

It’s hard to trust Him. It’s a lot easier to just jump in and do what you think is right, regardless of whether it is or not. It may start out easier, but it’s harder in the long run.

But if you can let go, if you can truly trust God with everything, you’ll understand that His provision is complete. He knows what we need, and He provides for us, like a father provides for his children.

He knows what we need better than we do anyway. You know that right? He knows what’s good for us. But we have to take that step where we surrender our entire being to Him. And beyond that, we have to be willing to surrender our future, our comfort, and our preconceived notions to Him.

It’s not easy, but it’s better. And He won’t let us go without.

If you are following God and feel like you’re going without, think twice about that thing you don’t have that you want so desperately. Could it be that it isn’t as good for you as you think?

God already knows what you need, and He wants to give it to you. So just sit back, wait, be patient. It’s much better to be given something than it is to just take it.

The danger in failing to prepare for success

Put yourself in this situation: You’re doing your best to follow God, but you just don’t have the finances or the time to be able to do what He’s asking. So you take a chance. You do it anyway, and you ask God for help.

Then, out of the blue, when you’re least expecting it, God shows up and helps you. Maybe it’s through a friend. Maybe it’s through an organization. However it happens, you get the help you need exactly when you need it.

It’s great right? Right. But what do you do next?

Maybe I’m the only one who struggles with this, but I convince myself that God isn’t actually going to help me. Sure, He’ll help me in small ways that I’ll be able to understand later down the road, but I don’t want to get my hopes up so high that I’ll be disappointed. So what happens when God shows up in my life in a big way?

Yeah, I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do.

So many times, I think we prepare ourselves for failure, but we never take the time to prepare ourselves for success. In the same way, I think we prepare ourselves for God to not show up. So when He does, we stumble and struggle and trip all over ourselves.

1254934_54597353Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 9:6-8.

Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.

God has promised to provide for us. Period. He never leaves us. He never abandons us. That’s His promise. Now, that doesn’t mean His children won’t have to face the consequences of their choices. And it doesn’t mean that you’ll always get your way. But it does mean that no matter what happens in your life, God can turn it into something beautiful. And He will. If you let Him.

I am a proponent of independence. I like being independent. I like being self-reliant. Having to depend on someone else makes me nervous. So I’m all for forging your own path. I hate asking for help or support. I hate admitting weakness. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But there’s a big problem you run into when you live life convinced that God won’t show up to help. When God does show up, you ignore Him.

When God prompts someone to do something for you, you write it off as them being generous. When you narrowly miss getting into a horrible car wreck, you chalk it up to the luck of the draw. When all the pieces of your life and your career fall into place just right so you can advance, you just think it’s because you were prepared.

When God shows up in your life, don’t just brush Him off. Don’t just assume it’s fate or luck or that you’ve just been a good enough person to deserve it. Nobody’s that good.

It’s difficult to hope sometimes because God doesn’t always do what we expect Him to do. We expect that He’ll solve problem A with solution B, but instead He solves problem X with solution Y, and problem A hangs around for a little while longer. And it’s only years later that you realize problem A wasn’t really a problem at all–it was just the way you were looking at it.

See that’s how God works normally in my life. He helps me when I need Him, but He keeps me uncomfortable because that’s the only way I grow. And He’s got big plans for me, so I’ve got a lot of growing left to do.

The point is learning how to focus on what God is doing instead of focusing on what we want Him to do. And that’s hard. But the more we keep staring at what we want, the more blind we’ll become to what He’s actually doing around us. And soon the day will come when we won’t be able to see His work at all.

So when God shows up in your life–in a big way or a little way–stop and thank Him. Recognize that it is HIs doing, and ask Him for wisdom to know what you’re supposed to do next.

If you fail to prepare for success, you’ll crash and burn. You won’t know what to do with all the good stuff that’s happening, and eventually you’ll start to see the good stuff as bad stuff. Following God is similar. The more you expect Him not to show up, the less you’ll be able to see Him when He actually does.

Tubs of homemade pork tamales made by a Kekchi village to feed us, Esfuerzo II, Peten, Guatemala

You can afford generosity in God’s name

Stingy people aren’t much fun to hang around. If you don’t know any stingy people, count yourself fortunate. They’re exhausting.

I am fortunate to know many, many generous people, but that doesn’t mean I’m surrounded by wealthy folks. Whether you are stingy or generous, it has nothing to do with how much money you have.

Tubs of homemade pork tamales made by a Kekchi village to feed us, Esfuerzo II, Peten, Guatemala

Tubs of homemade pork tamales made by a Kekchi village to feed us, Esfuerzo II, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verses are Matthew 25:37-40.

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Some of the most generous people I’ve ever known haven’t been wealthy, at least by what the world would call wealthy. I’ve known some who invited me over for dinner, when they didn’t know where their next meal would come from. I’ve known others who relied on God’s provision from paycheck to paycheck in order to feed their families, but they never hesitate to offer what they have to help someone else.

Generous people humble me, and more than anything they make me want to be generous too. And I’ve learned something about generous people. Because I’ve known a lot of them. They all have something in common.

None of them have anything.

If you ask them about their house, they’ll tell you they don’t own a house. God owns a house and let them use it in His name. If you ask them about their possessions, they’ll tell you they don’t have possessions. God has blessed them with the things that make life easier, and they get to make use of them to help others in His name. The same is true of their finances. Everything they have is God’s, including their money. God is just trusting them to manage it in His name.

Have you ever tried to live that way? Looking at your house, your car, your money, your everything as though it truly belongs to God and He’s just letting you borrow it? Would that change your perspective on the things you call your things? Would that lead you to take better care of the things God has given you? Or would you worry less about them?

If nothing else, it should make us second guess how we use our things.

But what happens if you open your house to strangers and they tear it up? What happens if you give money to someone and they let you down? Believe me, I feel those questions. I come from a school of thought that you’re supposed to be responsible with the things you have, and I don’t think that’s wrong.

But what’s more important? Doing what God says or taking care of things that don’t even belong to you?

God has given us everything we have, and as Americans, we have a lot. I don’t think we really understand how much we have until we leave the country. The areas of Mexico and Guatemala that I’ve been in have been among the poorest I’ve ever seen—and also the kindest and most generous.

Does it make sense for Americans to cling to what doesn’t even belong to them?

Before you decide to favor your things over the people around you, take a moment and really talk to God about it. Yes, we’re supposed to be wise, and I do believe God gave us brains for a reason. But don’t ever let concern for things get between you and doing what God says is right.

No house or car or paycheck is worth that.

When you open your doors and your home and your heart to others, God is able to reach others with His love through you. You get to be an extension of God, welcoming people and loving people and helping people.

Don’t worry about the expense. Remember, God gave you the means to obtain what you have in the first place. If He wants you to have it again, He’ll give it to you.

Don’t lose the opportunity to be Jesus to someone because you’re afraid to lose something you don’t even own.

Drawing water from a well in Se'tul, Peten, Gutemala

God won’t let your well run dry

Facing an unknown future is hard enough when you know where your next meal is coming from. Imagine facing it without that knowledge. How much more difficult is life when you aren’t sure if you’re going to have enough to live on? Clothes to wear? A shelter to sleep in? If you’ve never had to live with those questions, it might be difficult to imagine it, but there are people all around us–and not just in foreign countries–who face those questions every day.

Times are tough for everyone. Even people who have the finances and resources to survive are threatened with job loss and propane shortages and high taxes. And so many of those people would be generous if they had enough to share. Are you one of those people? The ones who would give what they have to help someone else if it didn’t jeopardize your own security?

How do you reconcile being generous as God has asked us to be with our current financial state? Can it be done? I think it can, as long as we remember where our financial security comes from. It’s not our job and it’s not our own resources. We have what we have because God has given it to us in one way or another, and if you look at it that way, how can we refuse to help people who need it?

Drawing water from a well in Se'tul, Peten, Gutemala

Drawing water from a well in Se’tul, Peten, Gutemala

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 9:8-11.

And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, “They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.” For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve experienced this. God has provided for me in so many ways I can’t begin to number them, and it never ceases to amaze me how I can have everything I need and most everything I want and still have enough to share. It happened again just recently. I’ve been praying because I knew I had some extra expenses coming up. I always do at the beginning of the year. And I just didn’t see how I was going to make certain things happen financially, but I had decided that I wasn’t going to worry. And that if God wanted it to happen, He would work it out.

Surprise, surprise. He did. In His own way, of course. On His timetable. According to His plan. Not mine.

The hardest thing is taking that first step and committing without knowing for sure. I mean, you can know for sure that God will provide for you; you just won’t know how. And sometimes He’ll turn everything on its head. Most of the time He doesn’t do what you expect Him to do. But He always keeps His promises. You just have to trust that and keep moving forward even if you aren’t exactly sure what you’re going to find on the other side.

Don’t grasp and cling to your possessions. Don’t hold on so tightly to your finances that you can’t see the needs of other people. And if you have the opportunity to help someone, do it. It’s not an accident God brought them into your life. There are no accidents.

Be open. Be willing. Don’t be afraid to help others. Don’t be afraid to invest in other people. Ask God about it before you do it, yes. But if He says to do it, don’t hesitate. Don’t make excuses. Jump in with both feet and give what you have. God won’t let your well run dry when you’re using it to bless other people in His name. On the contrary, usually you’ll end up with more than you can handle,

The plaza fountain at Bradley Fair, Wichita, KS

Following God’s lead even if you think you know better

I’d like to think I’m a fairly organized person, but the truth is my life is pretty chaotic. I go at it with the best of intentions, but as Robert Burns once wrote: “the best-laid plans of mice and men go oft awry.” And that’s what happens to me. I plan and I scheme and I prepare, and when the event I’m getting ready for arrives, I end up winging it anyway. And that’s okay, but sometimes I get tired of flying by the seat of my pants.

I had a moment yesterday to just sit and think. Those moments don’t come as often as I’d like, and I don’t make time for them like I should. Everyone needs a moment (or two moments) to think about what they’re doing, where they’re going, how they’re living and how their choices today may affect their life tomorrow. And as I was thinking about preparing for 2014, making budgets, planning for trips, getting ready for my parents’ possible upcoming retirement, I was tempted to start worrying. Because there’s a lot to do in a year, and usually all my time is consumed by taking care of the unforeseen events in life, not even counting the ones I wanted to accomplish.

But as I was thinking today, I had to stop and just marvel at God’s provision. At the beginning of this year, I couldn’t have told you that everything that’s happened to me would have happened. As I look back on 2013, I’m stunned speechless at what I’ve been able to do, where I’ve been able to go, all the things God’s let me accomplish, and how He has miraculously provided for me in every situation.

The plaza fountain at Bradley Fair, Wichita, KS

The plaza fountain at Bradley Fair, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Isaiah 58:11.

The Lord will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like an ever-flowing spring.

Sometimes I feel like I’m wandering through life without a plan, and that frustrates the dickens out of me because I like plans. I like maps. I like knowing the big picture so I know how badly I can screw up before I ruin everything. And I feel like I’m constantly in that phase of life where I have a basic idea of where I’m going and what I’m doing, but I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.

So when I read a verse like this that says God is continuously guiding me, it makes me laugh a little. I’m being honest here, okay? Because is He really? If He is, sometimes I think He’s being awfully subtle about it, and subtle doesn’t work with me. I’m like a guy in that regard. I follow directions much better if you just come out and tell me instead of hedging around the subject. Subtext and subtlety to me are kind of like uncomfortable shoes; they serve no useful purpose.

But the moment I start questioning whether or not God is guiding me, I immediately start thinking of all the things I’ve done and places I’ve gone and people I’ve met that I should never have had the opportunity to experience. I think of everything that’s happened in my life that I can’t take credit for, and in all of those miracles, His hand is obvious. But a lot of that is because hindsight is truly 20/20. It’s difficult to see His hand moving when you’re in the valleys, and sometimes you have to get to the mountain top before you can see the trail He was leading you on.

But more than just guiding me, looking back over my life, even in the moments where I felt like I was wandering, I never lacked anything I needed. True, I didn’t have some things I wanted, but wants and needs are very different. Even in college when I was living from paycheck to paycheck on ramen noodles and dollar-store spaghetti, God still provided people in my life who helped me. God put me in the places I needed to be, and He gave me the opportunities to step up and be faithful with what He gave me. And He proved Himself to me big time over and over and over again.

So where are you today? Are you sure you know where you’re going, or are you wandering around feeling listless? Take a moment and read Isaiah 58. The whole thing. It’s not long, and it’s worth it. Walking with God isn’t about rules and regulations and rituals that only have symbolic meaning and no real life application. Following God isn’t about being good or following the rules or putting on a good Christian show. It’s about living life with Him. It’s about living and loving the way He does.

God never stops guiding us. He never stops leading us. If we get turned around, it’s because we took someone else’s directions. But God’s still on the path. He’s still waiting for us to turn around and go back to where He is.

So if you’ve gotten off the path, go back. If you haven’t left, don’t leave. Just keep following where He’s leading you, and along the way, you won’t lack anything you need. In fact, he’ll continuously provide, not just basic needs but strength too. He’s promised, so He’ll do it. You may feel like He’s leading you in circles, but that’s part of trusting His sense of direction more than your own.