Life’s too short to rush from one crisis to the next

Last week, I took some friends to the zoo to show off what Wichita has to offer in the way of tourism. We didn’t plan to pick a gorgeous day for walking around outside, but that’s what we got. It’s December, so we expected it to be cold and snowy or rainy and miserable, but it wasn’t. It was beautiful. Light jacket weather. Warm sun. Blue skies. And all the animals at the zoo were feeling it too, because they were all outside soaking it in.

Sometimes life throws us rare moments of joy or wonder. It’s not that life is altogether a horrible thing. Quite the opposite. But normal life can get tedious sometimes, and we can get so busy with the day-to-day stuff that we forget to rejoice when something rare and wondrous and incredible comes along.

A goat chilling in the rare December sun at the African Farm exhibit at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

A goat chilling in the rare December sun at the African Farm exhibit at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Jeremiah 6:16.

This is what the Lord says:
“Stop at the crossroads and look around.
Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it.
Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.
But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!’

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m wired to work. I don’t stop. Even when I’m sitting down watching a TV show, my brain is going a million miles an hour in the background. I’m always running, running, running to get stuff done, and that’s great for productivity most of the time. That’s great for the everyday tasks that need to be done. But when you get into the habit of work, work, work, when the time comes to rest it’s hard to stop.

And you must. We have to be able to turn off the work, work, work part of our brains and learn how to rest, otherwise we’ll burn ourselves out. Rest doesn’t have to be complicated either. It can be a short moment that you just stop what you’re doing and do something else for five minutes. Take a walk. Spin around in circles. Laugh at the sky. Make a cup of tea and drink it. Whatever floats your boat. Whatever gets you out of your work-work-work focus and into a mindset of refreshment. It’s different for everyone.

God expects us to rest. Don’t just rush from one crisis to the next. Life’s too short for that. Look for the road you’re supposed to be on and walk it consistently, and the proper road will give you the opportunity to rest. The wrong road will suck the life out of you.

But whatever you do, don’t let the moments pass. Don’t let the rare times when the sun is shining go by without taking the time to enjoy it. When you see God do something awesome, stop what you’re doing and recognize it. Praise Him for what He’s doing. It doesn’t matter how bad a mood you’re in, if you start praising God, you’ll probably feel better when you’re done.

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A Psalm for Thanksgiving

Psalm 106:1-5, 43-48

Praise the Lord!
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.
Who can list the glorious miracles of the Lord?
Who can ever praise him enough?
There is joy for those who deal justly with others
and always do what is right.
Remember me, Lord, when you show favor to your people;
come near and rescue me.
Let me share in the prosperity of your chosen ones.
Let me rejoice in the joy of your people;
let me praise you with those who are your heritage.

Again and again he rescued them,
but they chose to rebel against him,
and they were finally destroyed by their sin.
Even so, he pitied them in their distress
and listened to their cries.
He remembered his covenant with them
and relented because of his unfailing love.
He even caused their captors
to treat them with kindness.
Save us, O Lord our God!
Gather us back from among the nations,
so we can thank your holy name
and rejoice and praise you.
Praise the Lord, the God of Israel,
who lives from everlasting to everlasting!
Let all the people say, “Amen!”
Praise the Lord!

Praise God in the dark because He sees the light

When was the last time you told God how awesome He is? I mean, it’s easy to talk about how awesome God is when you’re around other people who think He’s awesome too. But there’s a big difference between joining into common conversation and initiating conversation with God.

Sure, we don’t have trouble asking Him for stuff when we need it. We can go before Him and fire request after request at Him, and He wants us to do that. But we need to remember who we’re talking to. We shouldn’t forget who God is.

sunset-summer-golden-hour-paul-filitchkinToday’s verse is Psalm 7:17.

I will thank the Lord because he is just;
    I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.

Praise and worship can easily attract a lot of attention. It’s one of the parts of following Jesus that can get flashy and showy pretty quickly. Hand raising and shouting and praying out loud–if you’ve got a performance-based mentality, it can get out of hand fast. And pretty soon it’s about you instead of about God, so you’ve always got to guard your heart.

But when it comes to worship, I think Christ-followers are too guarded. We get more excited about sports events than we do about what God is doing, and that’s just as bad as trying to garner attention for ourselves.

Regardless, something none of us do enough is telling God that He’s great. Maybe I’m generalizing. So maybe I should just say that I don’t do it often enough. When I pray, most of the time I launch into the requests, but that’s not where I need to start. I need to start by telling God that He’s amazing. I need to tell Him how incredible His creation is, how abundant His blessings are, and how grateful I am that He gave me this life.

But maybe you’re not in that position right now. Maybe you aren’t loving life very much. Maybe you’re in a tight spot, and you just don’t see how you could possible praise God in your current circumstances.

Well, that’s what I love about this particular verse. It doesn’t say that we should thank God because of all the great things He’s done for us. It doesn’t say that we should thank God for being powerful or all-knowing or wise. Sure, He’s all those things, and, yes, He’s done great things for us (whether we realize it or not). But this verse says we should praise God because He’s just.

Even if you’re in a place in your life right now where you feel like nothing is going right, that’s one truth you can hold onto. God is just. God is good. The Bible says it over and over again, and even if you can’t be thankful for your life right now, you can still be thankful that God is just, fair, and right. Because that means if you keep doing what He says is right and keep trusting Him, eventually your circumstances will work out all right too. And that’s worthy of praise.

We don’t praise God enough. We’re too stuck in our own heads. We’re trapped in our own little worlds, unable to see past the darkness to the light on the other side. But God can see. So instead of wasting time complaining about your situation, take some purposeful time to praise God. Turn on some music. Take a walk outside. Look for miracles. I promise, they’re everywhere.

Be intentional in looking for reasons to praise God, and I promise you’ll find them. Praise God in the darkness because you know He sees the light, even if you can’t.

Praise God for what you don’t have yet

My first novel hits the stores today. It’s a project 13 years in the making, and I never expected it to get this far. I’m so excited that I can hardly focus or think about anything else, but I’m absolutely terrified that people will hate it. And more than anything, I’m scared that it will fail.

I want it to challenge the way people think. That’s why I wrote it, because God challenged the way I think, and I wanted to share what I learned about faith and about following Him. I just did it with spaceships, bounty hunters, and malfunctioning androids. Different strokes, you know?

I’m asking that God will use it, not only to challenge our way of thinking in 21st Century America but also to support itself. I’d love to be able to make a living on this thing and its sequels. And I found myself yesterday telling God that if He made it successful in the ways I wanted, I would praise Him for it. But just as I thought that, I felt a little tug in my heart.

You know the feeling. It’s the finger poking you in your chest or that hand slapping the back of your head like Gibbs off NCIS.

And that unmistakable still, small voice asked me a question that rang in my ears: If I can praise God for what I already have, why can’t I praise Him for what He’s going to do later?

1056131_54670030Today’s verses are Acts 16:22-25.

A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks. Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening.

Paul and Silas were among the world’s first missionaries, and they always seemed to be getting into trouble. This was no exception. Because they couldn’t stop talking about Jesus, they got themselves beaten and arrested. But they weren’t moping or feeling sorry for themselves. No, they were singing praise songs.

I’m sure they had both gotten to the point where they could thank God for the tragedies and the difficulties in their lives, but I don’t think they were spending all this time thanking God for the chains and the prison. I firmly believe they were already seeing past the prison, to what God was going to do in their lives after He got them out of prison, which He did in rather spectacular fashion (check out the rest of Acts 16 for the rest of the story).

But how does that apply to us today?

Have you ever tried to praise God for something He hasn’t given you yet? To thank Him for prayers He hasn’t answered yet?

It’s easy to praise Him for what He’s already given us. We have it. We can see it. We can hold it in our hands. But praising Him for something He hasn’t given us yet takes faith–faith that He will do it, faith that He’ll provide and open doors and that He’ll really do what He’s promised to do.

Maybe it sounds arrogant to praise God for what He’s going to do for us tomorrow. And, granted, if you aren’t careful you can turn into one of the “name-it-and-claim-it” prosperity gospel preachers who tell you God will always give you what you want. And that’s not from Scripture. Not at all.

God always answers prayers in the way that’s best for us, and that doesn’t mean we always get what we want. It means we get what God wants–and ultimately that’s better anyway.  But regardless if God answers the way you expect or the way you don’t, He still answers. And maybe His answers aren’t what you want, but you can know they’re always good. Because He is good.

Will my book be successful the way I want it to? I don’t know. I hope so, but more importantly, I want my book to be successful in the way God wants it to. That’s what matters. That’s what will make a difference.

So whatever you’re asking God for today, don’t bargain with Him. Don’t base your response to Him on whether He does what you want or not. That’s not the point.

If you can praise Him whether you have what you want or not, you’ve already achieved something greater than mere success. You’re seeing life from His point of view. And that’s worth more than any 5-star review or royalty check.

Wheelbarrow full of snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Fight discouragement with praise

 

The National Weather Service tells me I have a foot of snow outside at the moment, but one thing I’ve learned living out here is you don’t know exactly how much snow you’ve had until you go out walking in it. From the windows it’s deceptive. Yesterday, I was out walking around when we only had 8 inches, being doubly thankful I have a job that I can work from home, and I managed to end up in a drift of snow that was a lot deeper than I expected it to be. It came up past my knees. Compared to the rest of the landscape, the drift didn’t seem obvious, but it was there, and it slowed me down enormously as I was trying to walk.

Life is kind of like a yard full of snow drifts. You don’t always know how deep they are, and if you aren’t careful you can end up stuck.

I’ve been posting this week about discouragement, and I ran into a verse this morning that really encapsulates everything we need to do to fight discouragement in our lives.

Wheelbarrow full of snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheelbarrow full of snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Isaiah 12:4-5.

In that wonderful day you will sing:
    “Thank the Lord! Praise his name!
Tell the nations what he has done.
    Let them know how mighty he is!
Sing to the Lord, for he has done wonderful things.
    Make known his praise around the world.

I’m going to make this brief because my home office is still freezing in spite of my little electric heater. I’ve been working for fifteen minutes, and my fingers are already going numb. (Please excuse typos if you see them!!)

Discouragement isn’t something that we just have to accept and move on with. We don’t have to live with discouragement, and God has given us all sorts of weapons to use in the fight against it. One of those weapons is truth. Knowing God’s truth will help us face the lies that discouragement whispers to us, but another weapon is praise.

Praise is hard on a good day, let alone on a day when you feel lower than low, but praise is one of the best things to do when you don’t feel like it. Worship takes your eyes off yourself and puts them on God, telling Him how awesome He is, how wonderful He is, and thanking Him for everything He’s done in your life.

Yes, maybe your life sucks right now, but it’s not as bad as it could be. Seriously, think about it. Take your worst moment and you’ll be able to find something positive about it with God’s help. Our lives are never as bad as they could be, and that’s God’s grace.

So in those discouraging moments, those moments where you end up stuck in the snow drifts, step back and praise God. Focus all your energy on telling Him how great He is, on telling others How great He is, instead of how difficult your life is at the moment, and something miraculous will happen. Your situation won’t change, but the way you see it will.

And, if you ask me, life is less about what happens to you and more about how you respond to it. So if you can face difficulty and discouragement with a smile and still keep praising God in the darkness, you’ve won the bigger battle anyway.

Blossoming thistle flower as a major storm approaches Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Remember who you’re talking to

I don’t like reading instructions. I’m one of those silly people who prefer to jump into assembling things without the aid of an instruction manual. I prefer to guess, even if it voids the warranty and especially if there are parts leftover. I’d rather figure it out for myself than have someone tell me or than have to take the time to figure out which page has the English on it.

Did you know there are instructions to prayer? Jesus gave us a format that we should use when we pray, but not many people use it. As I blogged about yesterday, some folks traditionally like to recite the practice prayer. To me, that’s like reading an instruction manual out loud. I’m sure it’s beneficial, but it doesn’t accomplish what it was designed to accomplish until you use it.

Blossoming thistle flower as a major storm approaches Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Blossoming thistle flower as a major storm approaches Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Matthew 6:9.

Pray like this:
Our Father in heaven,
    may your name be kept holy.

This is the first line of the Lord’s Prayer. In other translations, you might remember it says something about “hallowed be thy name” but this means the same thing. There is so much going on in these first two lines, I almost split them up to talk about on separate mornings, but they are basically communicating the same concept: God deserves our worship.

That’s the first thing we need to remember when we pray. That’s the first step in the process. Worship. Praise. Telling God how awesome He is.

Why?

How many times do we just go to God with a request? With a demand? How many times do we open the line of communication between us just to ask for something and then shut it down?

Don’t get me wrong. God wants us to ask for things. He wants us to tell Him what we need, but that’s later on in the process. To start with, we need to get our perspective right. We need to remember who we’re talking to.

All too often, I think we get really comfortable with our relationship with God. And on one hand, that’s good. God wants a personal relationship with us. He wants us to call Him our Daddy. He wants to be the closest friend we have–but not at the expense of us forgetting Who He is. He is God. He is I Am. He created everything. He rules everything. And everything is about Him, whether we want to admit it or not. He is terrifying in strength, glorious in power, awesome in love, and furious in wrath. He is so far above us we couldn’t possible comprehend Him, so why do we expect that we can treat Him like a genie in a lamp? Where does that idea come from?

No. Before you ask for things, before you make your requests, before you delve into your list of demands, worship Him. Tell Him who He is to you. Thank Him for what He’s done in your life, in your heart, in our world. Remind yourself of how He’s changed you.

This is so important because by first acknowledging that He is God and you aren’t, it’s easier to remember that He knows what He’s doing. And it’s good to remember what He’s already done for you so you’ll remember that He’s never left you hanging.

So as you pray today, start off by telling God how great He is. Actually, even if you don’t get to your requests, just tell Him how great He is. Thank Him for specific things in your life. Thank Him for specific events in your life, good or bad. Thank Him for always being there.

Once you recognize everything He’s done, it’s hard to stop thanking Him. And once you’re done praying, don’t shut the line off. Don’t hang up the phone. Don’t forget He’s there. Worship Him all day. Keep an open line of communication going all day. When something goes wrong, praise Him. When something goes right, praise Him. Not only will it change your perspective, but it might change your circumstances too. Because Scripture proves that God loves to do things for grateful people who know Who He is.

Wheat ready for harvest at sunset - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving 2012, and we all have a lot to be thankful for. I was thinking about trying to make a list, but I have too much to write down. When I sit down to think about it, I’m overwhelmed with all the amazing things God has done for me and for my family and for the people I love.

This post isn’t long today, mainly because I’ve got to get downstairs and start cooking. But I needed to focus first thing this morning, and nothing helps me get my perspective right better than a statement from David. Not a Psalm, but close enough to it.

Think on this for a little while before you eat, and I guarantee that it’ll give you a different perspective on your turkey and dressing.

Wheat ready for harvest at sunset - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheat ready for harvest at sunset – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s passage is 1 Chronicles 29:10-18.

 Then David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly:

“O Lord, the God of our ancestor Israel, may you be praised forever and ever! Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.

“O our God, we thank you and praise your glorious name! But who am I, and who are my people, that we could give anything to you? Everything we have has come from you, and we give you only what you first gave us! We are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace.

“O Lord our God, even this material we have gathered to build a Temple to honor your holy name comes from you! It all belongs to you! I know, my God, that you examine our hearts and rejoice when you find integrity there. You know I have done all this with good motives, and I have watched your people offer their gifts willingly and joyously.

“O Lord, the God of our ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, make your people always want to obey you. See to it that their love for you never changes.