He’s God at both ends of your journey

When I have a question, no matter how random or strange, all I have to do is type it in my smartphone and wait for an answer. When I’m hungry, I can go to a fast food restaurant and get a burger immediately. When I’m thirsty, there are Quik Trips on every corner with fountain drinks on the cheap.

No matter what I need, or even really what I want, there’s a way to get it right now. Nobody really has to wait for anything.

We live in an instant gratification kind of world, and to a certain extent, there’s nothing wrong with that. The convenience of modern technology has made it easy to get fast answers, make fast decisions, and accomplish more in less time than ever before. Those are all great things. But instant gratification doesn’t help us learn patience, and it absolutely doesn’t help us learn to make long-term decisions.

mountains-man-person-hikerToday’s verse is Isaiah 46:4.

I will be your God throughout your lifetime—
    until your hair is white with age.
I made you, and I will care for you.
    I will carry you along and save you.

There’s nothing short-term about God. But being a long-term God also means He’s not really into instant gratification.

You can ask Him for an immediate answer until you’re blue in the face, but He won’t just because you asked. He loves you enough to withhold a good blessing in order to give you a better one, and sometimes that means holding off on answering your prayer until it fits in His schedule. Not yours.

In a world obsessed with now, now, now, I think God is asking us to wait, wait, wait. Nobody really likes waiting, but you have to admit that it builds character. And once you get down the road a little farther, you can look back and realize that waiting actually did you a favor. How many times have we jumped on a deal or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity only to discover that a better deal or a better opportunity came up a few weeks or months later?

There’s always a time for action, but waiting is an option we need to consider more frequently in our fast-paced, instant-gratification focused, short-term world. God has promised that He’ll be with us until the end of our life on Earth. He isn’t just God for a moment. He’s not just God until you have a problem too big for Him to solve (that never happens, by the way). And He won’t even stop being your God after you die. He’ll be your God in eternity too.

So don’t ever get it in your head that God’s going to walk away from you or abandon you. One of the many things I love about God is that He’s in it for the long haul. He doesn’t sign up to be our God for the days of our youth. No, He wants us all the days of our lives, from our foolish childhood, to our rebellious teenage years, to our bullheaded mid-life crises, and finally to our wiser years when we finally start understanding what matters in life. Throughout all of those stages in our life experience, God wants to be our God. And if we ever feel like He’s stepped away from us, He isn’t the one who moved.

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The trail at Helen Hunt Falls, Colorado Springs, CO

Think twice before you take the first path

I’ve had a number of really exciting cab experiences during my stay here in Chicago, most of them centering on the cab driver himself. But yesterday, I saw something I’d never seen before.

The cab driver was taking us back to our hotel, and the streets were pretty congested. I don’t think I’ve seen a moment where the streets haven’t been congested, to be honest. We crossed an intersection, moving really fast, and the driver slammed on his brakes. Why?

Because a man in a wheelchair was wheeling himself down the middle of the street. Cars swerved both ways around him, and he kept waving at everyone to keep coming. Now, either he was daring them to hit him or he didn’t realize he was in a really dangerous place.

We got around him without getting ourselves or him or anyone else killed, and the taxi driver just shook his head and said in his very thick Nigerian accent: “That’s just not very smart, man.”

The trail at Helen Hunt Falls, Colorado Springs, CO

The trail at Helen Hunt Falls, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Proverbs 16:25.

There is a path before each person that seems right,
    but it ends in death.

Have you ever done something really stupid in the heat of the moment? It made sense right then, but when everything calmed down, you realized how much of an idiot you were.

I’ve been there. More than once.

At first glance, the idea seems perfect. The plan is flawless. But that’s just surface thinking. If you take the time to think it through, to look below the surface and consider the consequences of your actions, you might start seeing problems.

But when you’re in a rush or panicking or desperate to see some kind of movement, you rarely stop to think about consequences. When you’re in action mode, all you want is instant gratification. And, I’m not going to lie, acting without thinking often provides instant gratification.

But instant gratification comes and goes. It doesn’t stick around. And maybe you’ll be satisfied for a moment, but after it’s over, you’ll be stuck where you were before. And then you’ll have the consequences of your actions to face.

I don’t know what the crazy dude in the wheelchair wanted yesterday. If he wanted attention, he sure got it. If he wanted someone to run him over, he was right where he needed to be. But if he was just trying to get from point A to point B without dealing with the crowds on the sidewalk, maybe he could have come up with a better solution.

Just because an idea seems legit at first glance, don’t jump on it immediately. Take the time to think about it, especially if it’s going to require a large investment from you. And beyond just thinking about it, pray about it. Ask God for direction and keep reading your Bible. You never know what you might find in Scripture that will give you the answers you need. God reveals Himself to us in many different ways, if we’re willing to keep our eyes open.

Why bumpy roads and seed planting are good

Some roads are deceptive. When you first start walking, the path is relatively straight and even, but the longer you walk that path, the more difficult it becomes.

When I was down in Guatemala the last time, we did a lot of driving, some highway but the rest was on these crazy back roads in the middle of nowhere. We’re talking rough roads with bumps and rocks and steep hills and sharp turns. When we left El Chal that morning, the road looked easy, but getting to where we were going took effort and patience and no small amount of discomfort.

Rough road to San Miguel - Peten, Guatemala

Rough road to San Miguel – Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verses are James 5:7-8.

Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near.

What is it about people that makes us think life is supposed to be easy? Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the only one who has this weird idea that life should be easier than it is. And if that’s the case, I should probably just stop talking. But I don’t think I’m alone.

Something inside us tells us that we’re not supposed to have to struggle like this. Or if we struggle, we’re supposed to be guaranteed a reward. But life has no guarantees. Even if you work your butt off, even if you do your very best, you aren’t guaranteed a job. You aren’t guaranteed success. You aren’t guaranteed advancement.

So why do we put ourselves through it?

On that trip in Guatemala, we killed ourselves getting to these remote Kekchi villages, and the goal was introduce people to Jesus. Not to convert anyone. If a conversion happened, that was awesome, but we weren’t exactly expecting it. The Kekchi culture rarely makes spontaneous decisions.

So if you think about it from a normal “evangelistic” mindset, we were busting our buns for no return on our investment. We were walking, hiking, driving, forging through jungle and back roads to get to these villages–one of which had never seen a white person before–and we weren’t going to see anyone come to faith in Jesus.

We were planting seeds.

Planting seeds is just a fancy Christian phrase for introducing people to Jesus or shedding light on who Jesus really is.

That’s the part of following Jesus I think we skip over sometimes. You can do everything you’re supposed to do for God and never see anyone choose to follow Jesus, at least not in your lifetime. Sometimes it takes multiple lifetimes, multiple generations for someone to realize their need for Christ.

And that works the same way in other circumstances too. Just because you don’t get instant results doesn’t mean your work and your sacrifice has been in vain. It just means you’ve planted a seed, and someone else will get to harvest it.

To be honest, that kind of sucks. Because when I plant something, I want to be around to watch it grow and reach the point where it can be harvested. But that’s for my own pride. That has nothing to do with honoring God.

And how many times have I harvested something planted by someone else? That’s how this process works. We plant seeds in people’s lives, and then we step back and let them grow–often without our supervision–and someone else gets to harvest the results.

The village we were going to in this photograph had no church. We wore ourselves out getting there and giving our presentation. And the village packed the tiny little building we were in. There were people hanging from the rafters. We did our thing, and we left.

A few months later, that village started a church. Many people have come to know Christ, and they’re still growing.

What’s the point?

Roads have bumps. Some bumps are bigger than others. Some bumps can be so large you have to slow down to get over them. Sometimes you have to stop and go around them. And even when you get to the end of that road, when you reach your destination, you aren’t guaranteed success.

But that doesn’t mean you haven’t been successful. And that doesn’t mean God won’t still do something fantastic with what you accomplished. Granted, you might never see it. But you don’t have to. Once you do something for God, it never fades. The people you affect for Christ are eternal. The tasks you accomplish for Christ will withstand the greatest storm. And once you plant a seed, nobody can unplant it.

And don’t think it’s just about leading people to Christ. We’re supposed to do all things to God’s glory, and that means our relationships, our jobs, everything.

A lot of the Christian life is planting seeds and praying for the harvesters who come after you. So when you get the chance to finish something for Christ, take a moment to be thankful for the people who planted the seeds before you. Because you didn’t get where you are by yourself.

So if your road is turning out a little bumpier than you expected and you aren’t getting to see results from everything you’ve sacrificed, don’t be discouraged. You’re leaving behind a legacy that other people can use to achieve great things for God. And if you ask me, that’s awesome.

Bee on a sunflower at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Better than a reward

I’m a big fan of the Stargate television franchise, both Stargate: SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis. Maybe that makes me a geek to admit, but I think they’re fascinating. And science fiction is one of my passions because it’s a form of storytelling that allows you to tackle difficult cultural topics without being offensive.

I bring this up today because I just recently watched an episode where one of the characters faces the choice to do the right thing (telling the truth) or to do what she has always done (lie and run away). And one of the other characters encourages her to do the right thing because she will experience relief and happiness as a result.

Is that what happens? Well, not exactly. The character who chooses to do the right thing is actually put in prison and sentenced to life. Not what I would call happy or a relief. If you want to see the episode, it’s called “The Powers That Be” (Stargate: SG-1, Season 9, Episode 5). And it’s the first thing I thought of when I read today’s verse.

Bee on a sunflower at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Bee on a sunflower at Safe Haven Farm – Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 119:1.

Joyful are people of integrity,
    who follow the instructions of the Lord.

Crazy science fiction shows aside, truth is true no matter where you find it. And that’s the case with this concept: people who do the right thing can be joyful. But in many instances, our culture defines joy as happiness, and they’re not the same thing.

Happiness anymore is identified with instant gratification. We want immediate results in our favor when we make any choice, difficult or not. That’s why people make bad choices many times because bad choices usually provide instant gratification of some sort, but when the consequences catch up with us, that’s when life isn’t much fun anymore.

Joy is different. Many times, when you do the right thing, when you try to make choices based on the Bible, when you try to live the way God has called us to live, life won’t get easier. On the contrary, it may even get harder. As in the case of this television show episode, even though the character decided to do the right thing, she had a lifetime of bad choices built up that she still had to pay for somehow. Consequences don’t go away just because of one good decision. That’s a law of the universe. If you’ve planted a whole field of bad seed and choose–at the end–to plant a few good seeds, you aren’t going to get an awesome harvest. Maybe those few good seeds will sprout something nice, but the majority of the harvest will be horrible. And that has nothing to do with God. That’s the result of your own choices.

But what if you always make the right call? What if you always do the right thing? Doesn’t that entitle you to some instance or moment of immediate satisfaction, beyond just knowing that you did the right thing?

Maybe.

But at the risk of sounding hyper-spiritual, isn’t joy reward enough? I mean, joy is rarely instant, but it is constant. And why do the right thing at all if you want a reward? Is that the reason to do the right thing? Is that the reason to live the way we’re supposed to live? Isn’t it enough to do right because it’s what God expects?

If we live our lives because we want something in return for our good decisions, I don’t know if we’re living with the right perspective. If we make choices because we will receive a reward for them, I don’t know if our focus is right. Why do you make the choices you make? Why do you do the things you do? What is your motivation for living, for making choices, for choosing between right and wrong?

I’m not saying rewards are bad. No way. I’m just saying I don’t think they should be our focus.

If you’re in a relationship with someone, whether it’s a friendship or a marriage or whatever, do you do good things for that person because they will reward you for it? Do you do good to that person because you expect them to do good back to you? Maybe you do. I don’t know. But to me, in my relationships, I do good for people because I love them. I don’t expect anything in return. I don’t do good for people so they will reward me; I do good for people because I want to be a good friend, an encouragement, a blessing.

Rewards are nice. But what is better is a deeper friendship than I had before.

That’s what’s at stake here. You can do the right thing for God because He will reward you. He’s said He would, and He does. But if all you want is a reward, your life will be shallow. And even the joy you receive won’t satisfy completely because you’ll always want more. But if you do the right thing for God because you want to know Him more, because you want to deepen your relationship with Him, the joy you get will be far better than any financial gain. There’s no end to God, and the better you get to know Him, the more you want to know about Him.So if you’re facing a difficult choice today, choose to do the right thing. Make a decision based on the Bible. Do what God would have you do. But don’t choose based on a reward you might receive. That’s the same motivation you would make a bad decision with. Do the right thing because, even if the results are difficult to handle, you’ll get closer to God, and that’s better than a reward any day.