Learning when you look back

The end of the year is a time when everyone starts looking back over the weeks and months that have passed. At least, it is for me. I think about where I started at the beginning of the year. I think about all the great things that have happened, but I also think about all the bad stuff too.

I love life. I love following Jesus. I love doing what God has called me to do, but it’s a foregone conclusion that life isn’t always happy. Sometimes bad things happen, and they often happen to good people. But the world isn’t perfect, and we’re all just doing the best we can to get by in it. That being said, I screw things up. I make decisions in fear or insecurity or anger. I hide when I ought to speak up. I speak up when I ought to shut up.

But no matter how many times I mess up, one thing is certain–I learn something.

PTJNJ5LZLAToday’s verse is Deuteronomy 4:9.

But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren.

I don’t like making mistakes, and I don’t like difficult situations. I don’t like conflict. I don’t like it when people are unhappy with me or with others. But many times I end up in a circumstance where I’m facing one or all of those things, and many times it’s because of something I did or said (or because I failed to do or say something I needed to).

I noticed that gasoline was really low the other day. Like less than $1.50 per gallon, and I should have filled up. But I didn’t. I decided to put it off. And the next day, it was up around $1.75, and I had to fill up because I was almost out. When you make a judgment call about anything, you have to face the consequences. And whether the consequences are good or bad, you can still walk away with a lesson learned.

God cautioned the Children of Israel to remember what they had been through in the wilderness, how He’d taken care of them, how He’d guided them and provided for them. He wanted them to remember so that they’re children wouldn’t forget. And that hasn’t changed today. It might be thousands of years later and we may be living in a different culture, but the concept is still the same.

When God brings you through something, remember it. Remember what you learned. Remember how you got into it. Remember how God got you out of it. And take steps to keep remembering it. Tell your family. Tell your friends. Tell anyone who will listen. Write it down, because you will forget, and you shouldn’t.

So take stock of where you are and how you got there. Take a moment and look back on your life and the choices you’ve made that brought you to where you are today. Then learn from it. If you made a choice and good consequences followed, remember it. If you made a choice and bad consequences followed, remember that too and don’t do it again.

The New Year is approaching with more speed than any of us realize, and many of us will try starting over. That’s all well and good, but if you don’t remember how you got here to begin with, you are destined to make the same mistakes all over again.

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Tractor tracks on Pleasant Valley Road, Haven, KS

Don’t get sidetracked

Have you ever started a year trying to plan ahead because you know it’s going to be wild and crazy? I still think it’s a good idea because you have to know what resources will be available, and you won’t know that until you set it all down and look at the  big picture. But what happens when your year gets wilder and crazier than you expected? What happens to your carefully laid plans then?

I’ve posted about this before, and I’m posting about it again because it’s something I’m struggling with. Nearly everything I’ve planned for this year has changed due to circumstances beyond my control, and I’m not upset about it. I’m just trying to figure out how to cope. And I really think that’s part of the danger of planning too well. When life throws you a curve ball, you don’t always know how to hit it because you’re too busy looking in all the directions you think it might go instead of watching the ball itself.

Tractor tracks on Pleasant Valley Road, Haven, KS

Tractor tracks on Pleasant Valley Road, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Proverbs 4:25-26.

Look straight ahead,
and fix your eyes on what lies before you.
Mark out a straight path for your feet;
stay on the safe path.

When you have so many things happening, so many issues to take care of, so many things going wrong or even going right in some instances, it’s really easy to let your focus slide. That doesn’t sound possible, but it happens, doesn’t it? Or maybe it just happens to me. I find that when one plan changes, it changes all my other plans. So while I’m scrambling trying to make sense of the rest of my life and salvage what I can from my plans that are falling through, I neglect the reason the first plan changed. And usually it’s because of something happening right in front of me.

I get focused on the future. I get focused on what might happen. I get focused on the plans that aren’t even taking shape yet, and I forget about what’s happening today. Maybe that’s part of being a big picture person. Maybe that’s because I don’t like detail. I don’t know, but it’s not a very smart way to live because instead of hitting home runs, the balls keep hitting me.

So I needed today’s verses. I need to remember to look straight ahead at what is right in front of me. It’s not bad to look to the future. It’s not bad to plan for what might happen, but we can’t forget what’s happening right now.

We can’t control tomorrow. Honestly, we can’t even control what happens today. We can only control how we react to what happens today, and that has more power over what happens tomorrow than any of our careful planning.

And when you get focused on what’s in front of you, don’t get distracted looking at the sides. Don’t let your focus drift. Nothing wastes more time (time that you probably don’t have) than fooling around with issues that aren’t even on the road you’re walking.

Taking an alternative route is fine as long as it’s God who leads you down that path, but if you’re getting off the road He set you on just to satisfy your own curiosity or to make someone else happy, you’re asking to get lost.

Keep your eyes straight ahead. Plan where you’re going today. Have an idea of what you’re going to do tomorrow, but don’t count on it too strongly because you don’t know what’s going to happen. The only thing you should believe in 100% when it comes to planning is that God’s going to do what He’s going to do, and it will be better than what you’ve got planned.

So walk straight. Deal with what’s in front of you, and don’t worry when your plans change. In my experience, even if the change isn’t welcome, it will work out for the better in the end.

The view from behind a cannon in Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

Why I shouldn’t be discouraged

There’s a lot to be afraid of in life. I’m sure if you tried, you could make an exhaustive list of all the possibilities without too much effort. There is so much that we face on a daily basis that we could be afraid of if we choose. I’m sorry to say many times I choose fear when it comes to certain situations, especially like talking to people I don’t know. And maybe this is just me, but once I give in to fear, discouragement follows soon after–because I know better. I know that fear is a choice. I know that fear is not from God, but there are times when I choose it anyway.

The Bible amazes me because so often it has already made connections between emotions that we don’t think about.

The view from behind a cannon in Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

The view from behind a cannon in Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

Today’s verse is Isaiah 41:10.

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

If you asked another person why they shouldn’t be afraid, I’m pretty positive the answer would come back as a list of reasons, depending on the situation. Why shouldn’t you be afraid of a break-in? You have a security system. Why shouldn’t you be afraid of a hail storm? You have car insurance. Why shouldn’t you be afraid of the dentist? And so on and so forth. So when God chooses to give reasons for why we shouldn’t be afraid or discouraged in this verse, it’s interesting to note His reasons.

Don’t be afraid because God is with you.

Don’t be discouraged because I am your God.

Are those sufficient reasons to turn from fear and discouragement? Obviously, God thinks so, or He wouldn’t have said it. These are His words via the prophet Isaiah to the people of Israel, offering comfort and help.

The fear part I get. We shouldn’t be afraid because God is with us. If God’s with us, who can be against us? If God is with us, nothing can harm us that He hasn’t allowed, and even if something does harm us, He’ll be there throughout. He won’t leave us. I can grasp that on a rational level, although the emotional level is a little more difficult. Once fear gets its claws in you, it’s hard to break loose of its hold.

We don’t need to fear the unknown. We don’t need to fear what we don’t know. We don’t need to fear period. God is with us. He’s got it handled. He knows what’s He’s doing.

Okay. So what about discouragement? Don’t be discouraged because God is our God. What? What sense does that make? Is that even an answer to the question?

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but God doesn’t always answer our questions in a way that we expect. Half the time, He’ll answer with a question. And the rest of the time He’ll answer the question we don’t even know we’re asking. He knows our hearts, and He knows what we need to hear, especially when we don’t know. But He’s always right. And He always says what we need. So what does this mean?

Why shouldn’t I be discouraged? I am your God.

Think about that statement for a moment. I am your God. What does that mean to you? To me, it means that I have access to a power greater than myself. It means that God has got everything figured out and He’s willing to let me in on it. It means that God has chosen me, not that I chose Him. I have, but He chose me first to be a part of His big plan.

For me, discouragement comes when I’ve failed or when I’ve given in to something I know I shouldn’t have done. For me, discouragement is a response to my inadequacy. And when I think about it that way, it suddenly makes sense.

I shouldn’t discouraged because God chose me in spite of my failures and inadequacies. My shortcomings are no surprise to Him. He knows all about them. I shouldn’t be trying to get through life on my own anyway. Remember? God is with me? That means He’s with me in the good times as well as the bad times.

When discouragement rears its ugly head, I need to remember that my life isn’t about me. It’s not about my failures or my successes. It’s about God and what God is doing and what He wants to do. I’m a part of His plan because He put me there–right where He wants me–and nothing is going to happen that He didn’t already know about. Nothing is going to catch Him off guard. And when I fail–and I will–I don’t need to give in to discouragement because He’s my God and He never leaves people behind.

Discouragement is as much a choice as fear is. True, I think it’s more of a response to giving into fear, but both of them are choices. And God has equipped us to face both down. So if you’re facing a tough situation today or if you’re just feeling blue, don’t give in. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be discouraged.

God is with you. He’s your God. He wants to help.

Choose to let Him.