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.

Chicken yakisoba I made one day just because I could, Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

God will provide

What do you need? I’m not talking about what you want, because what we want and we need are rarely the same. But what do you need? Do you need a job? Do you need a car? Do you need food to eat? Do you need clothing to wear? I’m going to make the assumption that you are reading this blog post on your computer or your tablet or your phone, which probably means you have your immediate physical needs met at the moment. That is an assumption, and I never know where these crazy posts end up, so if I’m wrong, I’m wrong.

All of us have needs. Our needs vary greatly from person to person, and our needs today may be completely different than our needs tomorrow. So when you need something, who do you ask? When I was younger, I would ask my parents. If I needed something, I knew they were there to provide for me. But I’m not that young anymore, and while I still sometimes turn to my parents for help, most of the things I need are things that they really can’t give me. Most of the things I need are things they shouldn’t give me if I want to call myself an adult.

So who do you ask? Friends? Family? The government?

Chicken yakisoba I made one day just because I could, Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Chicken yakisoba I made one day just because I could, Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’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 one of the closing verses of the Book of Philippians, where Paul is saying his farewells to the people of the Church. This verse comes off a previous paragraph (Philippians 4:14-18) that thanks the Church of Philippi for their support and their gifts that helped sustain him when he was on one of his missionary journeys. He identifies the Church of Philippi as “the only ones who gave me financial help.” He also says no other church did this, at least at that time.

And at the end of this paragraph where he is thanking the Church of Philippi for providing for him, he writes down this verse that says God will provide. God will provide? Sounds to me like the Church of Philippi provided. Is Paul being facetious? Is he being sarcastic about this? How can he go from saying “thank you for all the money you sent me” to “God will take care of you too” in one breath?

I really believe that you have to understand how God works for this to make sense. This is what I’ve learned through many years of following Christ: Whether through miraculous circumstances or the generosity of fellow believers, God will always provide for your needs.

If you’re a Christ follower, you’ve experienced this. You’ve been sitting in church and listening and all of a sudden you feel an undeniable urge to give money. Or you’re walking down the street and you feel this sudden pull to give somebody some money or help somebody out. Do you really think that’s you? I mean, maybe you’re a good enough person to just randomly walk around giving people money and helping people out, and if you are, good for you. I’m not that good. But God is. And God lives in me. And He tells me sometimes that I need to help somebody or I need to give somebody some money.

When that happens, I hesitate sometimes because honestly I live paycheck to paycheck. You would think a single person living in a paid-for house and a paid-off car with a full-time career would be fine, but it’s the little everyday expenses that kill you. But every time God has told me to help someone else financially, those times when it was a financial burden for me, He has always provided for me. He’s always made up the difference, and usually He provides more than I need.

Sometimes those needs are met through circumstances and situations that nobody has control over. In those instances, I can only thank God. But other times, people provide for me–like my parents or like my friends or like strangers on the street, and in those instances, I can thank them but I also need to thank God because He moved them to do it.

Philippians is one of those books that I never get tired of reading. It’s all about how to be happy. It’s about how to be content and joyful in living and following Christ. And a big part of that is trusting that God will provide for you, no matter what you need.

And God does. Maybe he’ll use a miracle, maybe he’ll use your next door neighbor (and maybe that is a miracle), but He will provide. He might even use you to provide for someone else, but you can trust that if He asks you to do something, He will provide for the hole it leaves.

That’s who He is. He is our God who provides what He requires. We just have to trust that He will.

We Americans don’t think about it because we don’t usually sacrifice anything; we’re not used to it. But standing up what Paul was doing back then could have been a death sentence. In all honesty, in parts of our world today it still is, just not in the U.S. Not yet.

Mountain lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

The secret to happiness

What is the secret to being happy? Is there a magic formula that you can just mix up some random things and expect to create happiness for yourself? Is it at the end of a rainbow, like a pot of gold? Does it even exist? Life can be so dark sometimes. People have to endure so many things, so many hurts, so many disappointments. How can you be happy when you have to face so many discouraging obstacles, whether they’re of your own making or not?

Yesterday, I posted about how Paul said we can be content. And it’s true. We can. There’s a difference between contentment and complacency, but we can be content where we are. In one of yesterday’s verses, Paul said that he had learned the secret to being content, but it didn’t strike me what it was until I read today’s verse.

Mountain lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Mountain lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Philippians 4:13.

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:13 is one of those hallmark verses that just about everybody knows, whether you realize you know it or not. People who don’t read the Bible know it. It’s almost as prevalent as John 3:16, but have we really stopped to think about what it means? It’s comforting, yes. And whenever I read it before, it calmed me down because it helped me to remember that God can empower me to accomplish great things.

But what we need to remember is that the Book of Philippians wasn’t originally broken down into chapters and verses. It was one long letter Paul wrote to the Church of Philippi, and while most verses can stand on their own, if you consider them in their original context, they take on a different meaning.

This is an example. This verse can stand alone and be true. We can do everything through Christ. Christ gives us the strength we need to get through life. That’s true. But where is this verse located in the grand scheme of Philippians 4? It’s in one paragraph that reaches from verse 10 to verse 14.

How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.

It’s a good habit to get into that whenever you see a verse that begins with For or Since or But that you read the previous verses, because that word indicates a connection to the sentence that comes before it. So what comes before verse 13, our verse today? Well verse 12.

I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

See what I’m getting at? Do you see the difference? Do you see what I saw this morning that I’d never really paid attention to before?

If there’s a secret to being content, to being happy with life, it’s right here. No matter what you’re going through, no matter where you are, no matter what you have or what you don’t have, you have strength to do everything because Christ is with you. Christ gives us strength for the bad days. Christ gives us strength for the good days. So whether you’re celebrating a win or mourning a loss, you can still be happy because you can trust that Christ will strengthen you no matter what.

Trusting that Christ will help me face a day no matter what it brings is enough to make me happy. It’s enough to make me content with where I am in life and where I’m going. I don’t have to be afraid of the future, because with Christ I can handle whatever is coming. I don’t have to have to regret the past, because with Christ I can learn from my mistakes and leave them there. I can love people, I can rejoice in difficulty, I can live without worry, and I can be secure enough to disagree with people I respect because Christ gives me the strength.

I think the Message encapsulates Philippians 4:13 best: Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.

Want to be happy? Want to be content? Embrace this. You can do everything through Christ.