How can you achieve success in God’s eyes?

Success is an ironic means of measuring your self-worth, mainly because success looks different to each individual. Most of the time, you have to define success for yourself because it doesn’t mean the same thing to different people. Maybe this is a bad example, but I considered myself a successful writer long before my first book was published. I had defined success for myself very early in life, judging that I would be successful when I could say for certain that someone had accepted Christ because of something I wrote. That happened in 2006 or so. Every other success I’ve had in writing since then has been gravy.

Yet even though the definition of success changes from person to person, we’d all pretty much agree that we’d love to hear God say we were successful. Right? Wouldn’t God’s definition of success trump everyone else’s? It does in my book. So what does a person have to do to achieve success in God’s eyes?

landscape-mountains-nature-man_1555x1037Today’s verse is 2 Chronicles 31:21.

In all that he did in the service of the Temple of God and in his efforts to follow God’s laws and commands, Hezekiah sought his God wholeheartedly. As a result, he was very successful.

Hezekiah was the king of Judah during the period of history when the nation of Israel was divided. He ruled over the southern kingdom for 29 years and took the throne when he was only 25 years old. And the Bible says he was a good king because he obeyed God. If you read his story, you’ll find that it’s true. He reopened the temple and rededicated it. He re-instituted the celebration of Passover, and he led his kingdom to destroy all their false gods and idols. He was the king whose life God extended.

I love this particular verse because it’s very simple. Much of the Bible is. Hezekiah did everything with his whole heart focused on God, and because his focus was in the right place, God made him successful.

Keep reading his life story and eventually you’ll find that he takes his eyes off God and becomes proud. It’s then that things start falling apart. But as long as he remained dedicated to the Lord, God took care of everything else.

It’s easy to be afraid when God tells you to do something, especially if it’s something you’ve never done before, or if it’s something you’re uncomfortable doing. We’re usually afraid of the unknown, even if we say we aren’t. But God has never wanted our lives to be dominated by fear.

Don’t get me wrong. Some fear is good for us. Fear can tell us that we’re about to make a really stupid decision. It can warn us that what we’re doing needs to stop. But sometimes we take fear too far and we let it control us, and that’s not what God ever intended. The fear that paralyzes us in the face of God’s plan doesn’t come from Him; it comes from our enemy.

If you’re seeking God with your whole heart, you shouldn’t have room for that kind of fear. That’s a difficult place to reach, though. I’m not there yet. I still feel fear at the most inopportune moments.

God’s plan often will push us far outside our comfort zones, but those are the times when we need to fight through the fear and keep moving forward. God’s plans are never bad, and they’re always for our good, even if we don’t understand them all the time. And when we experience irrational fear while we know we’re doing what God has called us to do, we need to ask for the strength to persevere. Focus on seeking God with all your heart. Don’t give the fear that comes from the enemy a foothold in your heart.

That’s what it takes to be successful. That doesn’t mean you won’t experience fear. No, you’ll probably encounter more fear than the average Joe on the street if you’re dedicated to doing what God has called you to do, but God will give you the courage to face it and win. You won’t face it alone either.

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Can you give God the glory for your failure?

In the last couple of months, nearly a year really, I’ve been struggling and fighting with God about His plans for my life. He’s so funny. Just when you think you have Him figured out, He shifts you in a different direction.

I’ve been arguing with Him for ages, and now that I’ve made my decision, I’m wondering what exactly was holding me back for this long. I know it was fear partially, but fear of what? I know part of me feared to succeed and not be prepared enough for success, but most definitely the larger part of me feared to fail.

I’m a perfectionist, so I don’t like failure. I’m a people pleaser, so I don’t like disappointing others. Put those two characteristics together, and you’ve got a dangerous combination. But here’s a question we really need to ask ourselves: Should we really be afraid of failure?

Processed by: Helicon Filter;  MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAToday’s verse is 1 Corinthians 10:31.

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

I understand sometimes that the Bible uses figurative language, which means it’s important to understand the context. If you just pick up a Bible verse and take it literally without understanding who it was written to or why it was written, you could have a faith system based on “eat, drink, and be merry” and “then, Judas hanged himself.”

Context is important in Scripture, but sometimes you get a verse that doesn’t require context. It’s so plain, you don’t have to break it down. This is one of those verses.

Whatever you do, do it for God’s glory.

That means, if you succeed, if you fail, if you win, if you lose, you can do all of it for God’s glory, but what does that look like practically? Can you actually fail for God’s glory? Can you actually lose for God’s glory?

Doing anything for God’s glory used to confuse me. I didn’t know how to handle it practically, but as I’ve gotten older, I think I’ve started to grasp the concept a little better. Glory is kind of an old-fashioned word, and in churchy context, it tends to glow in stained glass colors, which I’ve always found make it difficult to fit into real life. Glory is the credit you give for the events and circumstances in your life.

Did you win an award? Who gets the credit? Did you get a great job? Who gets the credit? That’s the context we think about in giving credit to someone. Usually credit is only associated with what we call positive things. If our life encounters negative things, we don’t give credit. We pin blame.

If you get laid off, you don’t give anyone credit for you. You blame people. If you lose someone you love, you don’t give credit for it. You point fingers. But what would happen to our lives and our perspectives if we start giving God credit even for the terrible things that happen to us? Not in a way that accuses Him but in the way that demonstrates we believe He has something better in mind.

That would take your failure and turn it on its head, because if you fail for God’s glory–if you fail and give God credit for allowing you to fail–is it really failure? No, not at all. Everything that happens in our lives happens for a reason, even if it’s something bad. You can learn something from everything that happens to you, and God is big enough to take every horrible thing in your life and turn it into something beautiful. But before He can do that–or, rather, before you can see Him doing that–you have to be willing to give Him the credit for what’s happening in your life.

It’s not easy, because blame feels so much more natural. Well, it is natural. We’re geared to tear others down, to hurt people with our words, to shift responsibility from ourselves to those around us. That’s natural, thanks to our sinful natures, but if you’re a Christ-follower, you aren’t called to a natural life. You’re called to a supernatural life.

Has something awesome happened to you? Give God the credit for it. Has something terrible happened to you? Give God the credit because you trust He’ll make something beautiful from the ashes.

Don’t be afraid of failure or success. God is enough to work with both, and if you have Him on your side, nobody will be able to stop you. Not even yourself.

The key to achieving lasting success

It’s hard to believe that 2014 is almost over. That’s hard to swallow because I would swear it just started. I know time is supposed to start passing more quickly the older you get, but good grief!

So as I was thinking this morning about the upcoming year and all the wonderful excitement it will hold, I started getting a little nervous. There’s a lot riding on next year. Everyone wants to be successful, but there seem to be hundreds of different ideas on how to be successful. And, I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to read every 12-step book on success in the market. I’d much rather spend my time doing something than thinking about doing something.

So is there an easy answer to success? Well, I guess that depends on your definition of easy.

862369_73766129Today’s verse is 1 Peter 5:6.

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.

The Bible talks about success and victory frequently, which is nice because that’s a question people have often. But I’m not exactly sure the God’s strategy will jive with anyone else’s. God’s strategy for success seems a little backwards.

But then, that’s normal. Usually God’s way is entirely opposite of what the world says anyway, entirely opposite of how we’re wired to think. And this strategy for success is no different.

You want to be successful? Humble yourself.

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

Seriously, how does that work? If you want to be successful, don’t you have to make a name for yourself? If you want to win, don’t you have to fight harder, live louder, and play meaner than all your competition? Don’t you have to be the smartest person in the room?

No. None of that will make you successful.

Well, let me rephrase. None of that will bring you God’s success. There’s a big difference here. Because you can fight, shout, cheat your way to the top and win access to all the spoils of American affluence. But once you achieve that kind of success, you’ll find that it’s empty and unsatisfying. That kind of success leaves you hollow.

Success that comes from God fills you up. It stops the longing in your heart for more-more-more and overwhelms you with God’s goodness instead. Until one day you wake up and you can’t believe how much God has given you, and all you want to do is rush out and give-give-give to others because God has blessed you so richly.

See the difference?

The trouble is, success that comes from God isn’t always financial. And sometimes that’s better anyway. Not saying that God can’t bless you with money. Some of the most amazing, generous, awesome people I know are Christ-followers God has blessed with a lot of finances, and that’s incredible! But I know just as many Christ-followers who make it from paycheck to paycheck, and they are no less blessed.

But whether God’s success comes to you in a tangible or intangible form, the key to achieving it is humility before God. It’s the complete opposite of what the world teaches.

What does a humble life before God look like? Very simply, it’s doing what God says is right whether you understand it or not. That means living by the Bible. That means obeying God’s Word.

Yes, it’s an easy answer, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy life. But that’s when we need to remember that this life wasn’t meant to be easy. We’re living in a broken world, after all.

Do you want to be successful in 2015? Not the kind of empty success the world sells–but the success that comes from God? Sure, you do. I don’t know anyone who starts a new year hoping to be a complete and utter failure.

Be humble before God. Don’t live like you know it all. Recognize that God’s in control and do what He says. That’s it. It’s harder than it sounds, but in the time God chooses, God will bring you success. It may not look like what everyone thinks it should, but when you receive it, you won’t want anything else.

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.

What to do when your God-calling feels stuck

What is something that God directed you to do in your life? Take a moment and think about it. Maybe it was a business decision. Maybe it was a relationship decision. Whatever it was, you felt God calling you to do it, and you did it. What happened?

Did it turn out for the better? Or has it turned out yet at all? Maybe all it’s done is make life more difficult for you.

I feel like that’s where I am right now, where I’ve said yes to what God was calling me to do and all it’s done is make more work for me. There’s so much to do and no time to do it in, and on the days I’ve got the time, I’m so exhausted from everything else that’s happening, I don’t have the energy. And in those moments you’ve got to ask yourself how sure you are that God called you to do what you’re doing. Because there’s always the chance you’re getting frustrated because you’re trying to force your way down a path that isn’t meant for you.

But if you’re confident? If you’re certain? If you know without a shadow of doubt that you’re doing what God would have you do, how do you manage? How do you keep hoping that what you’re doing for God is going to be successful when you can barely manage to get your everyday tasks done, let alone the ones God’s called you to?

Today’s verses are Haggai 2:3-5.

437922_60330474_heapofstones‘Does anyone remember this house—this Temple—in its former splendor? How, in comparison, does it look to you now? It must seem like nothing at all! But now the Lord says: Be strong, Zerubbabel. Be strong, Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people still left in the land. And now get to work, for I am with you, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. My Spirit remains among you, just as I promised when you came out of Egypt. So do not be afraid.’

Haggai is one of those little minor prophet books hidden at the back of the Old Testament, so not a lot of people have heard of it. In that portion of the Old Testament, reading the Bible isn’t very much fun. I mean, reading the Bible is always wonderful, but sometimes the content is depressing. And for me, minor prophets are depressing. Because it seems all they do is warn of judgment coming. Over and over and over.

That’s not all they do, but that’s what it feels like.

It’s a broken record. The prophets warn of danger. The people ignore them. God sends judgment. The people beg for help. Over and over and over again. And it’s just so much like America right now, it’s only uplifting for the fact that we’ve got to be close to the end, which means we’re one step closer to going home.

But Haggai was a prophet during the time that a dude named Zerubbabel was trying to rebuild the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. I posted some time ago about a guy named Nehemiah, who was rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Zerubbabel was his predecessor. And Haggai came to Zerubbabel and Jeshua, his partner in crime, many times with messages from God. That’s what today’s verses are. A message from God to two men trying their best to fulfill their calling.

Think about the path these men agreed to follow. Rebuilding the Jewish temple after it had been annihilated. I’m not going to take the time to go into its dimensions, but the temple was HUGE. It was a massive, intricate structure with so much national significance. It was an enormous responsibility, not only to the people of Israel but also because God had called Zerubbabel to do it.

Take a pile of rocks and turn it into God’s holy temple again.

It wasn’t going to be easy. It wasn’t going to be fast. Not everyone was going to work their hardest, and not everyone even wanted it to happen in the first place.

In our soft American culture, we get this crazy idea from somewhere that when God calls you to do something, it’s going to be easy. And, folks, that’s just not true. If it were easy, anyone would do it. If it were easy, anyone could do it. But God called a Christ-follower to do it so He could give you His power–God’s supernatural power to overcome all obstacles. If God’s going to help you overcome the obstacles, that means the road won’t be smooth.

No, following your God calling isn’t easy. And it doesn’t happen overnight. Sorry to burst your bubble, but the temple wasn’t finished in a day. It took a lot of days, long days with hard labor and the impending threat of failure, to complete the work. And that hasn’t changed just because it’s AD 2014 and not 520 BC.

But God’s Word hasn’t changed either. And His instructions are as clear as ever. If you’re sure of your calling, if you know you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, be strong and get to work, because God is with us.

Whatever you’re doing for God doesn’t depend on your strength. It depends on His. You just have to keep working. You don’t have to be afraid because God is right by your side cheering you on with every step. You know what you need to do. So just do it.

You won’t succeed overnight. You’ re going to have days when you work really hard but you see no noticeable improvement. And in those moments when you’re threatened to despair, remember what God said. Be strong and get to work. He’s with us, so we don’t have to be afraid of failure as long as we follow Him.

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.

Thistles at Hadrian's Wall, Northern England, United Kingdom

Trusting God with your plans

It’s easy to say that I trust God with my future, but it’s more difficult to live like I do. I like to plan. I like to know what’s coming, so I know how to respond, how to react, how to prepare. But I don’t always get that luxury. Half the time what I plan doesn’t even happen, rendering all my careful planning null and void. The rest of the time, what I expect happens but it’s so fast it’s all I can do to just keep hanging on.

 

Thistles at Hadrian's Wall, Northern England, United Kingdom

Thistles at Hadrian’s Wall, Northern England, United Kingdom

Today’s verse is Proverbs 16:3.

Commit your actions to the Lord,
    and your plans will succeed.

I was thinking about plans this morning. I have a lot of them. I have things I want to accomplish. I have things I want God to do. Most of the time I say I’m trusting God to take care of it, but I think deep inside I really don’t. Deep inside I’ve still got my plans on my schedule on my shoulders. No wonder I never get anything done.

I checked this verse in the Amplified Version of the Bible just to see if there were any specific word usages that I missed. I’m glad I did because simply saying to “commit your actions to the Lord” doesn’t really capture the concept behind this verse.

The Amplified Version says this: Roll your works upon the Lord [commit and trust them wholly to Him; He will cause your thoughts to become agreeable to His will, and] so shall your plans be established and succeed.

Wow. What a picture. Can you just imagine rolling your works on God? Have you ever had to move something heavy? So heavy you had to put it on wheels? Andy and I once helped one of my drama kids move, and it was quite an ordeal to get all of his things into the truck. Some of them were really heavy, and we had to use the ramp to get the heaviest things into the truck. Being able to roll those heavy things into the truck and let them go was a relief.

That’s what we’re supposed to do with our plans. If you have plans like I do at all, they’re heavy. They’re big. And that’s great. We all need to have dreams. We all need to have aspirations. But most of the time they weigh too much for us to support on our own, and we’re reduced to rolling them around like boulders over uneven paths. What this verse is saying, written by King Solomon so many thousands of years ago, is that we need to roll those dreams and plans on God and leave them. Whatever they are, we need to give them to God.

I don’t know what your dreams or plans are, but I know God gave me mine. My dream is a gift that He gave me, and the only way I will see it accomplished is to give it back to Him. That means letting go and leaving it in His hands, trusting Him to do what He wants with it. It’s harder than it sounds. But if we can do it, if we trust Him so completely, if we can learn to see life and living from His perspective, if we can allow Him to transform our minds and our thinking, God will use our plans to do more than we ever planned to begin with.

That sounds pretty cool to me.

Are your dreams weighing you down? Are your plans too much for you today? Roll them up the ramp and leave them with God. Our lives are too short to spend toiling under the heavy weight of self-inflicted deadlines. Trust God to do what only He can, and move forward with confidence because of who He is.