Focusing on what’s wrong isn’t going to help you

I woke up on Monday morning in a horrible mood. Do you ever just have mornings like that? Where you wake up and you just can’t cheer up? No matter how you try, you just stay in the dumps.

I hate those mornings. Fortunately, they’re few and far between. But when you have a morning like that, is there a way to get back on track?

1302654_51792540Today’s verses are Genesis 39:19-23.

Potiphar was furious when he heard his wife’s story about how Joseph had treated her. So he took Joseph and threw him into the prison where the king’s prisoners were held, and there he remained. But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden. Before long, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison. The warden had no more worries, because Joseph took care of everything. The Lord was with him and caused everything he did to succeed.

I don’t think there’s anyone in the Bible who had more reason to sulk and stew than Joseph. Sold into slavery by his own brothers, shipped to a foreign land, falsely accused, thrown in prison and forgotten–Joseph never did anything to deserve that kind of treatment. But he never gave up, and he always kept focused on living his life for God. How did he do it? He worked.

He worked for Potiphar before Potiphar’s wife lied about him. Then he worked for the warden of the prison. I’m sure he mourned, yes, and I’m sure he asked God why he had to go through all of this, but he didn’t ever sink into that black hole of self-pity.

When I’m in a bad mood, I find the best way to get out of it is to stop focusing on myself. Sure, it’s important to identify why you’re upset, because if there’s something really wrong, you should change it or fix it. But if you’re in the middle of circumstances that you can’t change, focusing on what’s wrong isn’t going to help you.

Instead, try focusing on what you can do to help people around you. Or, focus on what you need to accomplish in a day. No matter who you are, you’ve got goals you want to achieve. Instead of expending your energy on thinking about what’s keeping you in place, start working on all the things you need to get done in order to start moving again.

For me, there’s nothing more uplifting than making a list and checking items off of it. Maybe that’s my tiny bit of Type A showing, but it’s true. Or if that doesn’t work, set aside some specific time to do something that will cheer you up. Read a book and get your mind off the problem. Bake some cookies and take them to people you care about. If the weather is nice, go outside and walk or ride your bike. If the weather is bad, play a game inside or read a book.

Just stop focusing on the problem.

That’s not to say that you should live in denial. No, if there’s a serious issue going on, you should deal with it. But how many of us really live with serious issues in our lives? Most of the time, if it’s serious enough, we’ll do something about it.

Most of us just live with annoyances. Most of us just grin and bear it. The long hours. The lack of appreciation. The disrespect or the minimal acknowledgement. The coworker who drives you nuts. That small group leader who totally gets under your skin. The hypocrite you have to ride next to on the bus.

And when you’re in a bad mood, they all seem to gang up on you, don’t they? It’s like everyone is out to get you. Everyone has made it their mission in life to ruin your day. And the rational part of your mind knows that’s not true. But that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

So set up times in your day to sit and think about something else. When you catch yourself focusing on it or stewing on it, do something else. Get up and go visit with a coworker you haven’t talked to in a while. Ask someone if they want a refill on their cup of coffee. Do something productive like cleaning out a cabinet or washing dishes. Or turn on some music and sing or dance or whatever.

If you can get your focus off of what’s dragging you down, you might be surprised to find that you’re not in as bad a mood as you first thought.

Everybody feels like giving up

What are you dealing with today that makes you just want to give up? Is it a relationship? Or a job? Maybe a dream?

If you’re in that place today, don’t think you’re alone. Everyone ends up there at some point in their lives. Even the most optimistic person in the world has a day when they just can’t take it anymore.

And there’s something God taught me yesterday as I was thinking about pushing through the tough times that I thought I’d better share. What’s even cooler is that it’s a lesson I learned from Christmas.

1149769_48728710Today’s verses are Romans 12:2-3.

We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.

As in everything else, Jesus should be the example we follow. He’s the One we should pattern our lives after, and He never gave up. Not even when he faced agony and disappointment and abandonment. Because He knew what was coming, He had the strength to keep going.

God made you with a purpose. He has a plan for you. Maybe you can’t see it right now, but it’s real. God started it, and He won’t stop finishing it until it’s done. That’s a promise. But our enemy does love to throw darts of discouragement at us, and when life is so busy and so crazy and so broken, it’s so easy to give in. It sounds so much easier just to give up.

And in those moments, it’s tempting to think that Jesus’ example doesn’t fit. Because He was God. And you’re not. I mean, after all, you’re just a regular person. You’re not a superhero. You can only take so much.  Right?

Well, let’s talk about the Christmas story, because, yes, Jesus was involved, but the major players were all 100% human. No superheroes present.

Who better to start with than Mary? A young woman. Pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Yeah, imagine life for her in the first century. You think you’ve got it rough? Mary could have been killed. The Law actually would have allowed for her to be stoned to death because no one would have believed she was a virgin and had still conceived a child. Life sucked for Mary, but if she hadn’t stuck it out, Jesus wouldn’t have been born.

What about Joseph? Mary’s husband. Before they were married, Joseph had to deal with the rumors and the whispers and the gossip that his fiancée had been unfaithful. And those whispers probably followed him for the rest of his life. Put yourself in his shoes. God asked him to be the earthly father of the Messiah, but Joseph would never get any credit. Not really. He’s the forgotten figure in your manger scene. He’s just Joseph. How awful is that?

What about the shepherds in the fields? Sure a bunch of angels popped up and told them the Savior had been born, but the angels didn’t give them a lift. The shepherd had to go searching Bethlehem, going from stable to stable until they found the one with a baby in it.

And the wise men? Gosh, I don’t think anyone really thinks about what the wise men had to go through to find Jesus. They’re always pictured in the manger scene with the shepherds, but they didn’t actually arrive until much later. And they had to do tremendous study to figure out when and where Jesus would be born. And then they had to travel for miles and miles and miles and miles…. you get the idea.

Here’s the deal, friends. Life is hard for everyone. Certainly some have it worse than others, and we shouldn’t ignore that fact. But just because you’re tempted to give up today doesn’t mean you’re the only one who’s ever felt that way. You’re not a horrible person. You’re not a bad Christian. You’re just human, and you’re stressed out and pulled in too many directions at once.

So here’s what you need to remember: Even if you feel like giving up, even if you think nothing is going to change, even if you can’t see an end to the difficult road you’re on, don’t give up.

Giving up is easy. Like the innkeeper when Mary and Joseph needed a place to stay. He didn’t even try to help them. Maybe life had just gotten in the way. Maybe he was having a tough time. But instead of trying to help a young couple in need, he just gave up and sent them away. And he could have been the one to be there when Jesus Christ was born. Think of what he missed out on because he gave up.

That thing you don’t think you can do? Ask God for help and try it anyway. That job you think is too much for you? Ask God for help and give it your best. That goal you think you’ll never achieve? Ask God for help and shoot for the stars.

Everybody feels like giving up eventually, but giving up is a choice. And with God’s help, you don’t have to choose it.

The grounds at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

What is faith and how do we find it?

I’ve grown up hearing stories of heroes from the Bible and from everyday life who accomplished great things because they trusted God to do something miraculous. From Abraham to John Bunyan, from Joseph to Jim Elliot, from Ruth to Amy Carmichael … so many heroes, and the one thing they all had in common is faith. But faith is such an innocuous term anymore. If you even look it up in the dictionary, the first definition is practically generic. Faith means, “belief in someone’s abilities.”

So what is faith? And why does it matter so much? And why are there so many connotations?

The grounds at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

The grounds at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Galatians 5:22-23.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

In this verse, along with about 240 others in the New Testament, the word faith (πιστις) refers to being persuaded. This is the actual definition of the word out of Stong’s Greek Lexicon: “persuasion, i.e. credence; moral conviction (of religious truth, or the truthfulness of God or a religious teacher), especially reliance upon Christ for salvation.” So when the Bible talks about faith, at least when it uses this word, it’s talking about being persuaded that Jesus is who He said He was.

But this isn’t just a random Bible verse pulled out of Scripture. This passage is talking about the gifts the God gives us, the results of the Holy Spirit in our lives. So not only is faith being persuaded, it’s also a gift from God. But faith goes beyond the fuzzy, ethereal, feel-good pep talks some Christians use when they feel like waxing eloquent about something. Faith is a choice, and if you are a follower of Christ, faith is something God has already given you.

We have to make the choice to take God at His Word, yes. But once we do that, you’ll find it’s not so difficult to believe that God is there. The Bible won’t seem so far out anymore. And life doesn’t seem accidental like it used to. You stop looking at coincidences and start seeing purpose and plan. And the more you get to know Jesus, the easier it is to let Him take over your life.

So what is faith? Faith is choosing to believe what God says instead of what anyone else says. Faith is listening to what the world uses as evidence and choosing to believe what the Bible says about it, even if it’s contradictory or controversial. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that faith is blind, though. It’s not. God isn’t asking for a leap of faith from us, at least not when it comes to trusting Him initially. He’s already provided all the proof we need of who He is. The difficulty is choosing to listen to your peers versus choosing to listen to Him.

Faith is consulting the Bible before you check with your favorite talk show host. Faith is talking to God about a situation before you call a Christian radio station. Faith is letting go of what you know you don’t need to hold onto, even though your peers look at you like you’ve lost your mind. Faith is knowing who God is and walking side-by-side with Him every day. Faith is seeing Him in the small things. Faith is seeing Him in the big things. Faith is seeing Him in everything.

And the Holy Spirit is that still, small voice at the back of your mind that whispers not to worry. He’s the one who reminds us that God has a purpose and plan for our lives, and all we have to do is trust Him.

The same God who walked with Abraham, Joseph, and Ruth is the same God who gave vision to John Bunyan in prison, who gave courage to Jim Elliot in his last moments, who inspired Amy Carmichael to do the unthinkable, and He’s the same God who I talked to this morning and asked to help me write this devotional in a way that makes sense to somebody. I know that. I know it’s true because the Bible says it is, and I know the Bible is true because I know where it came from. I know God is God because He says He is. Creation proves that He is. His work in my life proves that He is.

Anyone who says different doesn’t lack faith. They just have their eyes closed.

So do you want faith? Guess what, Christian? You already have it. It’s that still, small voice at the bottom of your heart that urges you to take a chance on God. You probably know the one I’m talking about. It’s the one you shove to the back of your mind. I do it all the time. But what happens if you listen? Do you think there was anything special about Abraham, Joseph or Ruth or any of the other heroes out of the Bible? Do you think there was anything special about John Bunyan, Jim Elliot, or Amy Carmichael or any of the other heroes of faith from history?

No. The only difference is that they made a choice to listen and obey when God spoke.

What is God telling you to do today? Do it. Trust Him. And if you don’t feel like you can, ask Him to help you have faith. You have the faith already, but ask Him to show it to you. He will.

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.

Rocks reflected in rippling waters at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Changing the way others see you

I used to work in library, and one of the most embarrassing things that can happen while you’re working in a library is smudging ink on your nose because people will rarely tell you it’s there. It was easy to do too, since we worked around ink all day long, stamping books that were checked out, stamping books that were checked in. Ink, ink everywhere. So it wasn’t unusual to get it on your hands, and all you had to do was scratch your nose. 

It amazed me how nobody would tell you. They’d just let you walk around the department all day, dealing with patrons and other staff people, with a big green splotch of ink on your nose. Even people who would come up to the desk wouldn’t say anything; they’d just look at me funny. 

Isn’t it interesting how people look at you differently when things about you change? If you lose weight, they look at you differently. If you gain weight, they look at you differently. If you curse or if you don’t curse, if you dress modestly or if you don’t, if you talk loudly, if you sing off-key, people look at you differently than they look at other people. I’ve always figured it’s because being different makes you stand out, and once you stand out, it’s hard to fit in again.

I posted yesterday about how drawing closer to God changes us and how we should be looking for our identity in Christ and not in the superficial stereotypes of the world. But I got to thinking that when we choose to follow Christ, our view of ourselves isn’t the only thing that changes. The way other people view us changes too.

Rocks reflected in rippling waters at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Rocks reflected in rippling waters at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Genesis 41:45.

Then Pharaoh gave Joseph a new Egyptian name, Zaphenath-paneah. He also gave him a wife, whose name was Asenath. She was the daughter of Potiphera, the priest of On. So Joseph took charge of the entire land of Egypt.

If there had ever been a person who deserved a break it was Joseph. Joseph’s story covers a good deal of the last part of Genesis, so if you have a chance to read it, you really should. I guarantee it’s better than the cheap Kindle eBook you just downloaded.

But this passage comes from the later part of Joseph’s experiences in Egypt, after all of the struggles were over and he was finally getting to live in peace. And not just peace but power and recognition and success. This verse comes after Joseph interpreted the Pharaoh’s dreams and pretty much saved the nation of Egypt, which would pretty much save the entire region during the years of famine.

But what I had to focus on was the fact that when Pharaoh assigned Joseph this powerful governmental leadership role in Egypt, he changed his name. Now, I don’t know what Zaphenath-paneah means; according to the NLT it might mean “God speaks and lives.” What I do know is that when Joseph was brought to Pharaoh, Pharaoh thought he was a dirty prisoner, arrested for rape. But when Joseph was done, Pharaoh understood something–that Joseph knew God. And not one of their fake false Egyptian deities. He knew the real God, talked with the real God, walked with the real God. That made enough of a difference to Pharaoh that he changed his view of who Joseph was.

That’s the kind of life I want to live. I want to walk out my door in the morning and know that every person I meet won’t see me as just me. I want people to see my best friend Jesus through me. I want people to experience what a life can be like when you don’t turn away from God and what God says is right. Our culture has this idea that God is there to squash our fun, and that the Bible is only a rule book to prevent you from actually living. But that’s a lie.

Joseph did it. He lived in a completely pagan culture all alone with no one to be his friend. Abandoned, forgotten, lied about, falsely accused–if anyone had a reason to give up on God, it was Joseph. Because he hadn’t done anything wrong. On the contrary, he’d done everything right. But he never turned away from God, and he kept moving forward because it was the right thing to do. And God honored him for that.

So let’s remember today that when people look at us they aren’t just seeing us. If we’ve chosen to follow Christ, we are His ambassadors to a world that doesn’t want anything to do with Him. And it’s our job to help people see that life without Christ is no life at all. Judge your actions today by that rule. If someone who doesn’t believe is watching your life, what do they see? Do they see a life that’s worth changing their own life for?