Success through your own strength is limited

I like being productive. It’s the double-edged sword of a performance-driven perfectionist. I like getting things done, being able to check the boxes off, scratching the tasks off my to-do list. I’ve even been known to make a to-do list filled with tasks I’ve already completed just so I can tick them off and feel better about myself. I’m sure it’s some kind of psychosis.

Don’t get me wrong. Getting things done is good. Everyone should have goals, and we should all be working to accomplish and achieve something with our lives. But the trouble comes when we try to accomplish lasting goals in our own strength. There’s only so much of your own strength you can invest in a project or in someone else’s life before your strength runs out. And what happens when your strength fails you? All those project you’re juggling will drop like leaves in autumn. If you have no more strength to pour into them, they’ll fall away. That’s just the way it works.

But what if you could do more? What if you could accomplish great, lasting things? It is possible. It’s just not possible for you.

J8LSZELS1RToday’s verses are John 15:4-5.

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.

I don’t think anything I’ve done in my own strength or power will last beyond my lifetime. I could be wrong, but from what I know about myself, my own accomplishments pale in comparison to what God has been able to do through me. Because of God, I’ve been able to do things I never would have dreamed, help people I never would have met, go places I never imagined possible.

Maybe I can write a little devotional every morning for four years, but God’s the one who gives me the words to write. He’s the one who takes those words and uses them to speak to someone else. That’s not me. Gosh, guys, I mean it’s miraculous enough that I can even crank out anything coherent at this time in the morning.

My problem is that I try to do too much in my own strength. I tend to leap before I look. I rush into a situation before I ask God if it’s what He wants me to do. That’s not the life a Christ-follower should have.

A Christ-follower should live plugged in to Jesus. He’s where we get our strength. He’s where we get our wisdom, our peace, our love for others. And it’s His strength and power that allows us to make a difference in other people’s lives.

Autumn is my favorite time of year. Hands down. No discussion. I love the colors and the temperatures and the flavors. I love sweaters and socks and hats. And pumpkin everything. But the next time you see a tree losing its leaves, take a moment to remember God’s strength. While that tree is alive and awake, it’s pumping life into those leaves. But when it goes to sleep, the leaves don’t have the strength to hold on to the branch anymore.

I’m like a leaf. I am fully dependent on God’s strength to get me through my life. Sure, if I cut myself off from Him, I can make it. I can exist. I can let the wind blow me around listlessly and aimlessly. But what kind of life is that? That’s not the life God has in mind for me.

So don’t cut yourself off from God. Stop trying to live life without His strength. Stop trying to make a difference without His power. You can’t do it. If you want to productive, if you want to be effective, if you want to be successful, get plugged in to Jesus. His eternal, everlasting strength is ours for the asking. And with Jesus, you can do everything.

God is more than enough

Everybody has trouble. It’s just a part of life, but how we deal with the difficulties we’re facing says a lot about who we are. Do you hide when trouble comes your way? That’s understandable. Some trouble is just too much to face, and it’s so much easier to avoid dealing with it entirely than it is to confront it.

The problem is that you can’t hide forever. You can’t run forever. Some trouble keeps popping up. It just won’t die. And running from it or hiding from it only delays the inevitable. So what do you do when you can’t escape?

8J6SO4AGN0_1594x1196Today’s verses are Psalm 138:7-8.

Though I am surrounded by troubles,
you will protect me from the anger of my enemies.
You reach out your hand,
and the power of your right hand saves me.
The LORD will work out his plans for my life—
for your faithful love, O LORD, endures forever.
Don’t abandon me, for you made me.

If you’re a Christ-follower, God’s got you. That doesn’t mean you can disobey Him and expect no consequences. He loves us too much to let us get away with behavior that will hurt us and those around us. But when you face trouble that’s more than you can bear, He’ll be there with us to help us overcome it.

There’s no trouble in the world that’s bigger than God is. God is bigger than anyone or anything else in the world. It’s an inconvenient truth when we want our own way, because that means we have to surrender our stubborn will to God’s. But when we’re in trouble? When life is too much for us to handle, it’s nice to know that God is more than enough.

God’s got a wonderful plan in mind for each of us, and He’s promised to work everything together for our good and His glory. He’s the only one big enough to make that promise and keep it. So whatever you’re going through today, don’t give up on God. You may feel like He’s abandoned you, but He hasn’t. Even if you feel a million miles away from Him, He’s holding you in His hand, and He won’t let go. So stop fighting Him and let Him have His way.

Facing trouble is like riding a bicycle

I got a bicycle for my birthday this year. It’s pretty epic. Vintage, even. It’s not new, but my dad cleaned it all up. And it was waiting for me with a big “Happy Birthday!” sign on it when I got home.

I’d mentioned wanting one some time back because some of the happiest memories I have from childhood are all four of us riding our bikes around the trails when we lived in Wichita. We tried to ride bikes when we moved out to the country, but city bike tires weren’t designed for gravel roads. And then we just all got so busy.

So I hadn’t ridden a bike in 20+ years when I got back in the saddle. It was pretty embarrassing, I’m sad to say. I didn’t fall over, but I imagine I looked something like a newborn giraffe trying to figure out which way is up. But riding a bicycle really is–well, like riding a bicycle. You never really forget how.

I remembered how to sit, how to pedal, how to steer, but it had been so long since I’d exercised that particular set of muscles, let’s just say the ride didn’t last very long. I was really hurting by the time we were done. But you should expect that if you try to flex muscles you haven’t used in a long time. Maybe you know what you’re supposed to do, but you may not be physically able to do it until you’ve practiced.

my_bikeToday’s verses are James 1:2-4.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

Have you ever thought of facing trials and challenges like body building? Maybe that’s too much of a stretch, but it makes sense to me. So much of how we respond to events in life is almost like muscle memory. We don’t necessarily think. We just react. But we react based on what our experience has been in past circumstances.

If you’ve never seen God do miracles, it’s very likely that the first time you run up against an impossible task, you’ll despair. If you’ve never seen God work out a situation with no possible answer, it’s very likely the first time you encounter an unsolvable problem, you’ll get upset.

But if you have seen God do the impossible, there’s not really much out there that can shake you. Sure, people may upset you. Circumstances may frustrate you. But you’ve seen things happen that should never have happened. You’ve seen the hand of God touching hearts, healing lives, mending the brokenness you never thought could be repaired. And once you’ve seen that, you can’t unsee it.

Our world is full of trouble. We can’t escape it. There used to be a time when we could ignore it, but it’s become so prevalent now, you can’t shut it out. It’s only a matter of time until you run into trouble that you can’t survive without God’s help.

If you haven’t encountered trouble like it before, just hold on. Because on the other side, you’ll be able to look back and see what God has done, not only in your life but in the lives of the people you love. Do what you’re supposed to do. Live how you’re supposed to live. And God will bless you and work it all out for your good and His glory.

And the next time trouble comes around (because there’s always a next time), you won’t blink. Because you will have experienced God’s goodness and His power already, and you’ll know what He can do.

Facing trials and troubles and challenges really is like riding a bicycle. The first time you get on, it’s hard work. It hurts. It’s a struggle. But the longer you ride, the more you practice, the better you get at it.

 

Storm clouds over the fields at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

God’s voice is glorious in the thunder

Have you ever told God what to do? I hate to admit to it, but I do it frequently. I think I know best. I tell Him what I expect out of life, and I expect Him to give it to me. And when He turns around and does something that I don’t expect–usually something I don’t want–I get upset. I worry. I stress out. And while I don’t exactly doubt Him, I certainly don’t feel like trusting Him.

Where exactly do we get the idea that we can tell God what to do? I’m not sure if that’s just part of the human condition or not, and maybe it’s an older sister complex. I have always tended toward the bossy side. But seriously who gets to boss God around? Nobody. Especially not me. But that doesn’t stop me from trying. My proud heart is always full of words and possibilities and opportunities that I think I need to take advantage of, and God is crazy for not letting me do what I think is best.

Anyone else ever catch yourself thinking that way?

Today’s verses are actually an entire passage. I don’t do this often, but the whole chapter was just so good, I had to put the whole thing up, especially with what’s been going on throughout Kansas in the last few weeks with all the flooding and storms. The chapter is from the book of Job, and the person speaking in this chapter is a guy named Elihu, who sort of puts Job and his useless three friends in their places. But regardless of what is happening in this chapter (which is relevant, of course), the words Elihu says here are timeless. They’re still true today. And they are words we all need to remember as we tackle life’s ups and downs.

Storm clouds over the fields at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Storm clouds over the fields at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Job 37

“My heart pounds as I think of this.
     It trembles within me.
Listen carefully to the thunder of God’s voice
    as it rolls from his mouth.
It rolls across the heavens,
    and his lightning flashes in every direction.
Then comes the roaring of the thunder—
    the tremendous voice of his majesty.
    He does not restrain it when he speaks.
God’s voice is glorious in the thunder.
    We can’t even imagine the greatness of his power.

“He directs the snow to fall on the earth
    and tells the rain to pour down.
Then everyone stops working
    so they can watch his power.
The wild animals take cover
    and stay inside their dens.
The stormy wind comes from its chamber,
    and the driving winds bring the cold.
God’s breath sends the ice,
    freezing wide expanses of water.
He loads the clouds with moisture,
    and they flash with his lightning.
The clouds churn about at his direction.
    They do whatever he commands throughout the earth.
He makes these things happen either to punish people
    or to show his unfailing love.

“Pay attention to this, Job.
    Stop and consider the wonderful miracles of God!
Do you know how God controls the storm
    and causes the lightning to flash from his clouds?
Do you understand how he moves the clouds
    with wonderful perfection and skill?
When you are sweltering in your clothes
    and the south wind dies down and everything is still,
he makes the skies reflect the heat like a bronze mirror.
    Can you do that?

“So teach the rest of us what to say to God.
    We are too ignorant to make our own arguments.
Should God be notified that I want to speak?
    Can people even speak when they are confused?
We cannot look at the sun,
    for it shines brightly in the sky
    when the wind clears away the clouds.
So also, golden splendor comes from the mountain of God.
     He is clothed in dazzling splendor.
We cannot imagine the power of the Almighty;
    but even though he is just and righteous,
    he does not destroy us.
No wonder people everywhere fear him.
    All who are wise show him reverence.”

Old disc in the snow

Old, rusted tools aren’t beyond saving

My property is very old. My house is old, my land is old, my trees are old–everything about my home is old. And in the south pasture, next to the foundation of an old granary is a rusted disc. I guess the technical terminology is disc harrow, according to Wikipedia. I’m sure years and years ago, it was used to cultivate soil for crops, removing weeds, tilling up the dirt and so on. But it isn’t used now. It’s old and rusted and just sitting in the back pasture.

Part of me feels like it was irresponsible to let the old thing rust away in the south pasture. But what was I going to use it for? I don’t have horses, and I may have five acres but anymore that’s not enough to raise any kind of profitable crop. So it sits out there abandoned.

Old disc in the snow

Old disc in the snow - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 116:5.

How kind the LORD is! How good he is! So merciful, this God of ours!

On first thought, this verse really has little to do with that old disc out in my back pasture. But the more I got to thinking about it, the more I realized that it has everything to do with it.

God is the only Person I’ve ever met who could take someone who was abandoned and deemed useless by society and culture and use them to make a difference in the world. God is the kindest, most merciful Person I’ve ever encountered.

If you haven’t already, I really suggest reading the entirety of Psalm 116. The writer is basically talking about how God reached down and saved him from danger.

God doesn’t have to do things like that.

He’s God. He is self-sustaining, eternal, and all-powerful. He knows all and sees all, and He can do everything. He doesn’t need us. He doesn’t need anyone. So when faced with the choice to reach down and help someone who can do absolutely nothing for Him in return, why would God do it? Why does God insist on helping us, especially when we can’t repay Him?

What does it mean to be merciful? What does it mean to be kind?

Mercy and kindness, to me, go hand in hand. Because mercy is giving someone something they don’t deserve. Mercy is being kind to someone who doesn’t deserve kindness.

Mercy is extending a hand of forgiveness to people who have hurt us. Mercy is accepting punishment for someone else when you’ve done nothing wrong. Mercy is offering to help someone who can offer you nothing in return simply because it’s the right thing to do.

And that’s what God does for us every day, whether you believe in Him or not.

Some days I feel very much like an old rusted tool that isn’t useful for anything anymore. I feel used up and worn out and run down, like I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel to find some grain of creativity when I’ve already given it all away. Some days I feel like I’ve lost whatever usefulness I had and that I’m not good for anything anymore. But on the days when I feel like that, I need to remember the old disc in my south pasture. And I need to remember Psalm 116.

God is merciful and kind. And no one is beyond His ability to save and restore. Even those facing death aren’t beyond His reach. He’s God. He can do anything, and He can use anyone, no matter who they are or where they came from.

That old disc out in my south pasture is beyond my ability to restore. Just like I know some people (including myself) are beyond my ability to help. But no one is beyond God.

And the irony is that we don’t even have to ask Him to use us. He does it anyway. But if we ask Him first and if we go along with it, we can experience a lot of joy.

What God can do

Have you ever heard the stupid questions people ask to discover God’s limitations? The one that came to mind this morning is, “Can God create a rock too big for Him to move?”

Think about the answer to a question like that. If the answer is yes, that means there’s something God can’t do. If the answer is no, that means there’s something God can’t do.

Maybe there are generally curious individuals out there who sincerely want an answer to this question. But, seriously? Is this really something that matters? Aren’t there more important questions to answer about God than whether or not He can lift a rock?

The verse this morning is Jeremiah 32:17.

 17 “O Sovereign Lord! You made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you!

Many times I think we forget who we’re talking to when we pray. I think it slips our mind because God is so loving and He’s done (and is doing) so much for us on a daily basis that it’s easy to lose track of the fact that He made the universe out of nothing. His glory is so great that we couldn’t even stand in His presence without being obliterated. Our perception of God has been so altered by our culture that we view Him as this big friend in the sky.

Well, yes. He’s our friend. And we have access to Him through Jesus.

But we should never lose sight of who God is. We should never forget just how powerful He is and what He’s done and what He’s created and just how impossibly holy He is.

None of us can understand God. He’s too much for us. He’s too high above us. Can a grasshopper understand the way a person thinks? It’s the same deal between God and us. There’s no way we can ever comprehend the way His mind works, and I’m thankful for that. I don’t want a God I can understand, otherwise He wouldn’t be God.

But asking questions to discover God’s limitations when the Bible tells us He has none is a silly waste of time. As humans we can’t wrap our puny little brains around the state of being limitless. We have lived with limitations since we were born. Limitations like gravity. Limitations like needing sleep and needing air and needing food and water. Limitations like being vulnerable to sin–to doing wrong–to hurting other people–to letting people down. Those are limitations, and every human being suffers from those limitations because none of us is perfect.

But God is perfect. He has no limits.

The Bible says there’s nothing God can’t do, and I believe that. It’s hard to apply that in my life sometimes though, because it’s so hard to wrap my brain around the idea that God can do anything. But it’s true. He is strong enough to take any situation — no matter how awful it may seem — and turn it into something beautiful and wonderful that brings glory to Him.

So if you think asking if God can make rocks too big for Him to lift will tell you what you need to know about Him, I guess that’s fine. If you want to keep searching to discover God’s limitations, go right ahead. But can a limited being ever understand a limitless being? Can the finite ever grasp the infinite?

And why would a self-sufficient, infinite Person with no flaws and no needs create a world of people when He knew He would have to make an unthinkable sacrifice to even speak to them?

Now that’s a question.