TIMELY ENCOURAGEMENT

Life’s challenging obstacles can cause us to feel overwhelmed with heartache, sadness, and despair. During these challenging experiences in our lives, it is vital that we draw close to God so He will draw close to us. Although you face troubles, remember that God, our heavenly, all-knowing Father, knew what you would encounter before the foundations of the earth were laid.

That unpleasant, life-changing experience you faced might’ve been a shock to you, but God knew about that before He created you and He already set up an internal encouragement system within you to assist you during difficult times, when you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal LORD and Savior. Despite the setbacks, detours, and pit stops you face, remember that God has a purpose for you that will be fulfilled.

In scripture, David experienced a devastating, overwhelming event. David returned home with his men only to find that the Amalekites raided and burned his land with fire and took captive the women and children. David and the people who were with him wept until they were too exhausted to weep any more, and the people with David spoke of stoning him. Everyone was affected and in distress, but God came through in timely encouragement.

Remember David had a relationship with God; David was a worshiper and a man after God’s own heart. So even in the midst of distress, the scripture states that David felt strengthened and encouraged in the LORD His God and sought God’s direction regarding his troubles and David recovered all that the enemy stole from him. After David encouraged himself in God, I believe he was able to inquire of God’s direction because he had faith and witnessed God’s provision, protection, and promises performed in the past and knew without a doubt that God would come through for him.

You’ve probably experienced a situation similar to David when your steps were ordered to return to a place and everything was totally out of your control, individuals connected to you were negatively impacted and their actions and words indicated that they wanted to get rid of you! Let this be encouragement to you that no matter the situation you are facing or have faced, allow God’s encouragement system to kick in (The Holy Spirit) and inquire of Him at all times regarding your route of divine recovery. God comes through on time for you!

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Positive Belief

The story of Abraham amazes me no matter how many times I read it. It’s not just the birth of a son when he was a hundred years old. That’s a miracle! But just as amazing is the information that he waited twenty five years for the fulfillment of the promise. He was seventy-five when God promised Him a son.

I wonder how many of us would believe God and live in expectation for twenty-five years. Most of us probably would have said, “I didn’t really hear from God.” “Oh, I guess maybe God didn’t really mean that”. Or “I need to go somewhere else to get a fresh word from the Lord”.

In our impatience, we often take matters into our own hands. I say we get “bright ideas”–plans of our own, which we hope God will bless. These plans open the door for confusion and chaos. Then their results must be dealt with, which often delays our miracle.

The Bible gives us promises, hope, and encouragement. God promises good to those of us who serve Him. Despite the adversity of our circumstances– and some people have absolutely terrible situations– God still promises good. Our sense of goodness, however, may not be the same as God’s. Getting what we want immediately may not be best for us. Sometimes waiting is the best thing because it helps develop the character of God in us.

The Lord chooses to do good to us and make us happy; the devil chooses to do wrong and to make us miserable. We can remain patient and keep believing God’s promises, or we can allow the evil one’s whisper to fill our ears and lead us astray.

Positive belief in God’s promises yields good results because the Good One sends them to us. Refuse to give up, and you will see the results of your positive belief.

A Positive Perspective

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A spiritual wilderness does not have to be a negative time if we are eager to obey God. I know this sounds counterintuitive, but the desert’s purpose is quite positive: to train, purify, strengthen, and prepare us for a new move of God’s Spirit, resulting in us becoming more fruitful.

Unknowingly, when entering the wilderness, many people panic and behave unwisely. Without understanding, they search for and do the wrong things. An example might be a radical change in career or changing from one church to another—any drastic move in their life that they think will bring instant happiness or restore what was normal. For a single person, it might be leaping toward a new relationship after the hurt of a painful breakup.

If you search for an escape route before understanding why God has you in a particularly dry situation, you unwittingly prolong your wilderness time. This may cause more hardship, frustration, and even defeat, because you don’t understand the season or the place to which God has led you.

This was the case with the children of Israel during their forty years in the wilderness. What was to be a one-year wilderness journey became a lifetime experience. Ouch! A lack of understanding of what was happening to them caused an entire generation to be unfit to inherit the Promised Land.

God’s purpose in leading the children of Israel into the wilderness was to test, train, and prepare them to be mighty warriors able to capture and occupy their divine promise—a new homeland. But instead, the children of Israel erroneously perceived the wilderness as punishment, so they murmured, complained, and lusted constantly.

How tragic! If we can learn to recognize when we have entered a wilderness experience, we can avoid complaining and be thankful that beyond this place is a “Promised Land” of new maturity, power, blessing, opportunity, and fulfilled promise.

How have you viewed your wilderness season?


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Chosen to Complete Good Works

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When God chose you, He appointed you to bear fruit. In fact, He has chosen you for good works that God has prepared in advance for you to do. Devotional writer Hannah Whitall Smith wrote this: “Christ has chosen us that we should bring forth fruit. A fruitless Christian life is an impossibility.”

A fruitless Christian life is an impossibility.

As you abide with Jesus, staying close to Him (just like a branch stays attached to the vine), your life will produce the fruit God intends. The good works God prepares for you to do involve blessing others through service but also leading those who don’t know the Lord to Jesus Christ.

Your life won’t look like anyone else’s because God designed specific good works for you that He enables you to do by the power of the Holy Spirit. Think about your neighborhood, your school, or your place of work. The Bible teaches that God chooses the exact places where we live (Acts 17:26). What if God placed you exactly where you are in order to bless others and lead them to Jesus? What if the circumstances of your life constitute the perfect soil for the fruit God intends to bear?

You might ask, “Why did God bring me here? I don’t understand His purpose for me!” You now know that God intends to bear fruit through you right where you are as you abide with Jesus. 

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Rest In Him

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The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pasture: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. -Psalm 23:1-4

When God created the heavens and the earth, the Bible says that He rested on the seventh day. Now, if God took a rest break in His schedule, then it’s safe to say that you and I will need a rest break as well along our journey. Take the approach of doing everything in your ability to accomplish His plan for your life and then rest in assurance that He will take care of making sure it comes to pass.

A lot of people reach a stage of burnout simply because they do not rest. They do not take the time to replenish their strength. Every now and then make sure to stop and just breathe for a moment. Taking a break from constant activity is something that can actually keep you energized as you continue to walk out God’s plan for your life. 

Make no mistake about it. God wants His children to rest. When you rest, it allows you to replenish your physical, mental, and emotional strength that keeps you fighting the good fight of faith. In the book of Psalm, David gives the analogy of a shepherd making his sheep lie down and take a rest. A shepherd would do this in order to make sure his sheep were rested for the journey that was ahead of them. Sometimes the sheep would fight and struggle, but because the shepherd cared for the sheep, he would make hem lie down. 

Just as the shepherd cares for sheep, God cares for you. He knows the journey that lies ahead for you and He will nudge you when it’s time to rest for a moment. Taking a rest break doesn’t mean you are losing ground; it just means you are getting prepared for the journey ahead into greater things. #RestInHim 

The “LOVE” of God

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”-John 3:16

Have you ever just wondered what God was thinking when He sent His Son to die for us? Do you know the sacrifice He made for us? God loved us so much where He sent His Son  to die for propitiation of our sins. I think about what Jesus had to go through and how He was treated badly. It makes me sad. Every time I see the Passion of Christ and other related movies, I cry.  I can only imagine what He had to go through because of the love He has for His people. 

I love God because He first loved me. God’s love cannot be compared to any other. No one can love you the way God loves you. No matter who abandons you, reject you, or don’t love you, always know that you have someone who will always love you unconditionally-GOD! LOVE is patient, LOVE is kind, LOVE does not envy, LOVE does not boast, LOVE is not easily angered; LOVE protects, always trusts, hopes, perseveres, LOVE never fails. 1 Corinthians 13. LOVE covers a multitude of sin.

If God loved us so much to sacrifice His Son, then why do we as believers don’t express the same love He has for us towards others? We tend to hurt God’s feelings over and over again and He keeps on forgiving us. God will never hurt, harm, or abandon you. Sometimes we hurt, harm, and abandon ourselves and God. God is no respector of person, He treats and loves us all the same. 

Since we know that God’s love for us will never  fail, we should ask God to give us the capacity to love fully and completely. When I look at the cross, I know God has shown me the deepest depths of mercy. Sacrifice. Forgiveness. Salvation. We have to embrace this model of love and live it each day. God’s Word and love is a living example that inspires me towards a greater passion in life. Be consumed by God’s love today!

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1. God Loves you Unconditionally

God loves with agape, the love described in 1 Corinthians 13. He loves you so much that He sent His Son to die on the cross for you, that you might have everlasting life. His love is not based on performance. Christ loves you so much that while you were yet a sinner, He died for you.

God’s love for you is unconditional and undeserved. He loves you in spite of your disobedience, your weakness, your sin and your selfishness. He loves you enough to provide a way to abundant, eternal life. From the cross Christ cried out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” If God loved those who are sinners that much, can you imagine how much He loves you — His child through faith in Christ and who seeks to please Him?

The parable of the prodigal son, as recorded in Luke 15, illustrates God’s unconditional love for His children. A man’s younger son asked his father for his share of the estate, packed his belongings, and took a trip to a distant land where he wasted all of his money on parties and prostitutes. About the time that his money was gone, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He finally came to his senses and realized that his father’s hired men at least had food to eat. He decided, “I will go to my father and say, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired man.”

While he was still a long distance away, his father saw him coming and was filled with loving pity. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. I think that the reason he saw his son coming while he was still a long distance away was that he was praying for his son’s return and spent much time each day watching that lonely road on which his son would return.

Even as the son was making his confession, the father interrupted to instruct the servants to kill the fatted calf and prepare for a celebration — his lost son had repented; he had changed his mind and had returned to become part of the family again.God demonstrated His love for us before we were Christians, but this story makes it obvious that God continues to love His child who has strayed far from Him. He eagerly awaits His return to the Christian family and fellowship.

Even when you are disobedient, He continues to love you, waiting for you to respond to His love and forgiveness. Paul writes:
Since by His blood He did all this for us as sinners, how much more will He do for us now that He has declared us not guilty? Now He will save us from all of God’s wrath to come. And since, when we were His enemies, we were brought back to God by the death of His Son, what blessings He must have for us now that we are His friends, and He is living within us! (Romans 5:9)

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2. God Disciplines the Ones He Loves

The love that God has for you is far beyond our human comprehension. Jesus prayed, “My prayer for all of them (the disciples and believers of all ages) is that they will be of one heart and mind, just as you and I are, Father…I in them and you in me, all being perfected into one — so that the world will know you sent me and will understand that you love them as much as you love me.”

Think of it! God loves you as much as He loves His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus. What a staggering, overwhelming truth to comprehend! You need have no fear of someone who loves you perfectly. You need never be reluctant to trust God with your entire life for He truly loves you. And the almost unbelievable part of it is that He loves you even when you are disobedient. Even on the human level, loving parents display such love. I loved my daughters as much when they were disobedient as I did when they were good. For their sakes, because I do love them, I sometimes found it necessary to correct them. So, it is in your relationship with God. When you are disobedient, He disciplines or corrects you because He loves you.

Hebrews 12 teaches about the love that motivates God’s discipline:
Have you quite forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you, his child? He said, “My son, don’t be angry when the Lord punishes you. Don’t be discouraged when He has to show you where you are wrong. For when He punishes you, it proves that He loves you…Let God train you, for He is doing what any loving father does for His children. Whoever heard of a son who was never corrected?

Since we respect our fathers here on earth, though they punish us, should we not all the more cheerfully submit to God’s training so that we can begin to really live? Our earthly fathers trained us for a few brief years, doing the best for us that they knew how, but God’s correction is always right and for our best good, that we may share His holiness. Being punished isn’t enjoyable while it is happening — it hurts! But afterwards we can see the result, a quiet growth in grace and character. Christ’s death on the cross has once and for all satisfied the wrath and justice of God for the believer’s sin. God chastens and disciplines you to help you grow and mature spiritually.

3. God’s Love Reaches Beyond Circumstances

The early Christians endured persecution, hardships and unbelievable suffering. Yet Paul wrote to them:

Who then can ever keep Christ’s love from us? When we have trouble or calamity, when we are hunted down or destroyed, is it because He doesn’t love us anymore? And if we are hungry, or penniless, or in danger, or threatened with death, has God deserted us? (Romans 8:35-37). No, for the Scriptures tell us that for his sake we must be ready to face death at every moment of the day — we are like sheep awaiting slaughter; but despite all this overwhelming victory is ours though Christ who loved us enough to die for us.

For I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from His love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels won’t, and all the powers of hell itself cannot keep Gods’ love away. Our fears for today, or worries about tomorrow or where we are — high above the sky, or in the deepest ocean — nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ when He died for us. Such love is beyond our ability to grasp with our minds, but it is not beyond our ability to experience with our hearts.

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It Takes Time

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven Ecclesiastes 3:1 

I am sure that God who began the good work within you will keep right on helping you grow in His grace until His task within you is finally finished on that day when Jesus Christ returns- Philippians 1:6

There are no shortcuts to maturity. It take years for us to grow to adulthood, and it takes a full season for fruit to mature and ripen. The same is true for the fruit of the Spirit. The development of Christlike character cannot be rushed. Spiritual growth, like physical growth, takes time. When you try to ripen fruit quickly, it loses its flavor. While we worry about how fast we grow, God is concerned about how strong we grow. God views our lives from and for eternity, so He is never in a hurry. 

The moment you open yourself to Christ, God gets a “beachhead” in your life. You may think you have surrendered all your life to Him, but the truth is, there is a lot to your life that you aren’t even aware of. You can only give God as much of you as you understand at that moment. That’s okay. Once Christ is given a beachhead, He begins the campaign to take over more and more territory until all of your life is completely His. There will be struggles and battles, but the outcome  will never be in doubt. God has promised that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion”.

Discipleship is the process of conforming to Christ. The Bible says, “We arrive at real maturity- that measure of development which is meant by fullness of Christ”-Ephesians 4:13 Christlikeness is your eventual destination, but your journey will last a lifetime. So far we have seen that this journey involves believing (through worship), belonging (through fellowship), and becoming (through discipleship). Every day God wants you to become a little more like Him: “You have begun to live the new life, in which you are being made new and are becoming like the One who made you” -Colossians 3:10

Although God could instantly transform us, He has chosen to develop us slowly. Jesus is deliberate in developing His disciples. Just as God allowed the Israelites to take over the Promised Land “little by little” so they wouldn’t be overwhelmed, He prefers to work in incremental steps in our lives. Why does it take so long to change and grow up? There are several reasons:

We are slow learners. We often have to relearn a lesson forty or fifty times to really get it. The problems keep recurring, and we think, “Not again”! I’ve already learned that!” -but God knows better. The history of Israel illustrates how quickly we forget the lessons God teaches us and how soon we revert to our old patterns of behavior. We need repeated exposure. 

We have a lot to unlearn. Many people go to a counselor with a personal or relational problem that took years to develop and say, “I need you to fix me. I’ve got an hour.” They naively expect a quick solution to a long-standing, deep rooted difficulty. Since most of our problems- and all of our bad habits- didn’t develop overnight, it’s unrealistic to expect them to go away immediately. There is no pill, prayer, or principle that will instantly undo the damage of many years. It requires hard work of removal and replacement. The Bible calls it “taking off the old self” and “putting on the new self“. While you were given a brand new nature at the moment of conversion, you still have old habits, patterns, and practices that need to be removed and replaced.

We are afraid to humbly face the truth about ourselves. I have already pointed out that the truth will set us free but it often makes us miserable first. The fear of what we might discover if we honestly faced our character defects keeps us living in the prison of denial. Only as God is allowed to shine the light of His truth on our faults, failures, and hang ups can we begin to work on them. This is why you cannot grow without a humble, teachable attitude. 

Growth is often painful and scary. There is no growth without change; there is no change without fear or loss; and there is no loss without pain. Every change involves a loss of some kind: You must let go of old ways in order to experience the new. We fear these losses, even if our old ways were self-defeating, because, like a worn out pair of shoes, they were at least comfortable and familiar. People often build their identity around their defects. Fear can definitely slow down your growth. 

Habits take time to develop. Remember that your character is the sum total of your habits. You can’t claim to be kind unless you are habitually kind- you show kindness without even thinking about it. You can’t claim to have integrity unless it is your habit to always be honest. There is only one way to develop the habits of Christlike character: You must practice them- and that takes time! If you practice something over time, you get good at it. Repetition is the mother of character and skill. As you grow in spiritual maturity you must believe that God is working in your life even when you don’t feel it.

Spiritual growth is sometimes tedious work, one small step at a time. Expect gradual improvement. There are seasons in your spiritual life, too. Sometimes you will have a short, intense burst of growth followed by a period of stabilizing and testing. What about those problems, habits, and hurts you would like miraculously removed? It’s fine to pray for a miracle, but don’t be disappointed if the answer comes through a gradual change. 

Be patient with God and with yourself. One of life’s frustrations is that God’s timetable is rarely the same as ours. We are often in a hurry when God isn’t. You may feel frustrated with the seemingly slow progress  you’re making in life. Remember that God is never in a hurry, but He is always on time. He will use your entire lifetime to prepare you for your role in eternity. The Bible is filled with examples of how God uses a long process to develop character. Don’t get discouraged. Remember how far you’ve come, not just how far you have to go. You are not where you want to be, but neither are you where you used to be. 

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Thinking Like A Servant

My servant Caleb thinks differently and follows me completely.- Numbers 14:24

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself- Philippians 2:5

Service starts in your mind.  To be a servant requires a mental shift, a change in your attitudes. God is always more interested in why we do something than in what we do.  Attitudes count more than achievements.  King Amaziah lost God’s favor because “he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, yet not with a true heart.” Real servants serve God with a mindset of different attitudes. 

Servants think more about others than about themselves. Servants focus on others, not themselves. This is true humility: not thinking less of ourselves but thinking of ourselves less. They are self-forgetful. Paul said, “Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand” Philippians 2:1-4. This is what it means to “lose your life”- forgetting yourself in service to others. When we stop focusing on our own needs, we become aware of the needs around us. 

Jesus “emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant”. When was the last time you emptied yourself for someone else’s benefit? You can’t be a servant if you’re full of yourself. It’s only when we forget ourselves that we do the things that deserve to be remembered. Unfortunately, a lot of service is self-serving. We serve to get others to like us, to be admired, or to achieve our own goals. That is manipulation, not ministry. The whole time we’re really thinking about ourselves and how noble and wonderful we are. Some people try to use service as a bargaining tool with God: “I’ll do this for you God, if you’ll do something for me”. Real servants don’t try to use God for their purposes. They let God use them for His purposes.

The quality of self-forgetfulness, like faithfulness, is extremely rare. Out of all people, Paul knew Timothy was the only example he could point to. Thinking like a servant is difficult because it challenges the basic problem of my life: I am, by nature, selfish. I think most about me. That’s why humility is a daily struggle, a lesson I must relearn over and over. The opportunity to be a servant confronts me dozens of times a day, in which I’m given the choice to decide between meeting my needs or the needs of others.

Self-denial is the core of servanthood. We can measure our servant’s heart by how we respond when others treat us like servants. How do you react when you’re taken for granted, bossed around, or treated as an inferior? The Bible says, If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life“- Luke 6:30

Servants think like stewards, not owners. Servants remember that God owns it all. In the Bible, a steward was a servant entrusted to manage an estate. Joseph was this kind of servant as a prisoner in Egypt. Potiphar entrusted Joseph with his home. Then the jailer entrusted Joseph with his jail. Eventually, Pharaoh entrusted the entire nation to him. Servanthood and stewardship go together, since God expects us to be trustworthy in both. The Bible says, The one thing required of such servants is that they be faithful to their master”- 1 Corinthians 4:2 How are you handling the resources God has entrusted to you? 

To become a real servant you are going to have to settle the issue of money in your life. Jesus said, “No servant can serve two masters….You cannot serve God and money” -Matthew 6:24 It is impossible. Living for ministry and living for money are mutually exclusive goals. Which one will you choose? If you’re a servant of God, you can’t moonlight for yourself. All your time belongs to God. He insists on exclusive allegiance, not part- time faithfulness. Money has the greatest potential to replace God in your life.

More people are sidetracked from serving by materialism than by anything else. They say, “After I achieve my financial goals, I’m going to serve God.” That is a foolish decision they will regret for eternity. When Jesus is your Master, money serves you, but if money is your master, you become its slave. Wealth is certainly not a sin, but failing to use it for God’s glory is. Servants of God are always more concerned about ministry than money. The Bible is very clear: God uses money to test your faithfulness as a servant. That is why Jesus talked more about money than He did about either heaven or hell. He said, “If you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?”-Luke 16:11 How you manage your money affects how much God can bless your life.

There are two kinds of people: Kingdom Builders and Wealth Builders. Both are gifted at making a business grow, making deals or sales, and making a profit. Wealth builders continue to amass wealth for themselves no matter how much they make, but Kingdom Builders change the rules of the game. They still try to make as much money as they can, but they do it in order to give it away. They use wealth to fund God’s church and its mission in the world. 

Servants think about their work, not what others are doing. They don’t compare, criticize, or compete with other servants or ministries. They’re too busy doing the work God has given them. Competition between God’s servants is illogical for many reasons. We’re all on  the same team; our goal is to make God look good, not ourselves; we’ve been given different assignments; and we’re all uniquely shaped. Paul said, “We will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original”- Galatians 5:26

There’s no place for petty jealousy between servants. When you’re busy serving, you don’t have time to be critical. Any time spent criticizing others is time that could be spent ministering. When Martha complained to Jesus that Mary was not helping with the work, she lost her servant’s heart. Real servants don’t complain of unfairness, don’t have pity-parties, and don’t resent those not serving. They just trust God and keep serving. It is not our job to evaluate the Master’s other servants. The Bible says, ‘Who are you to criticize someone else’ servant? The Lord will determine whether his servant has been successful.”-Romans 14:4

It is also not our job to defend ourselves against criticism. Let your Master handle it. Follow the example of Moses, who showed true humility in the face of opposition, as did Nehemiah, whose response to critics was simply, ‘My work is too important to stop now and…visit with you.” Nehemiah 6:3 If you serve like Jesus, you can expect to be criticized. The world, and even much of the church, does not understand what God values. One of the most beautiful acts of love shown to Jesus was criticized by His disciples. Mary took the most valuable thing she owned, expensive perfume, and poured it over Jesus. Her lavish service was called a “waste” by the disciples, but Jesus called it “significant” and that’s all that mattered. Your service for Christ is never wasted regardless of what others say.

Servants base their identity in Christ. Because they remember they are loved and accepted by grace, servants don’t have to prove their worthy. They willingly accept jobs that insecure people would consider “beneath” them. One of the most profound examples of serving from a secure self-image is Jesus’ washing the feet of His disciples. Washing feet was the equivalent of being a shoeshine boy, a job devoid of status. But Jesus knew who He was, so the task didn’t threaten His self-image. The Bible says, “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that he had come from God…so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist”. -John 13:3-5

If you’re going to be a servant, you must settle your identity in Christ. Only secure people can serve. Insecure people are always worrying about how they appear to others.  They fear exposure of their weaknesses and hide beneath layers of protective pride and pretensions. The more insecure you are, the more you will want people to serve you, and the more you will need their approval. When you base your worth and identity on your relationship to Christ, you are freed from the expectations of others, and that allows you to really serve them best. 

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Seeing Life From God’s View

The way you see your life shapes your life. How you define life determines your destiny. Your perspective will influence how you invest your time, spend your money, use your talents, and value your relationships. One of the best ways to understand other people is to ask them, “How do you see your life”? You will discover that there are as many different answers to that question as there are people. I’ve been told life is a circus, a minefield, a roller coaster, a puzzle, a symphony, a journey, and a dance. 

People have said, “Life is a carousel: Sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down, and sometimes you just go round and round” or “life is a ten-speed bicycle with gears we never use” or life is a game of cards: “You have to play the hand you are dealt”. If I asked how you picture life, what image would come to your mind? That image is your life metaphor. It’s the view of life that you hold, consciously or unconsciously, in your mind. It’s your description of how life works and what you expect from it. 

People often express their life metaphors through clothes, jewelry, cars, hairstyles, bumper stickers, even tattoos. Your unspoken life metaphor influences your life more than you realize. It determines your expectations, your values, your relationships, your goals, and your priorities. For instance, if you think life is a party, your primary value in life will be having fun. If you see life as a race, you will value speed and will probably be in a hurry much of the time. If you view life as a marathon, you will value endurance. If you see life as a battle or a game, winning will be very important to you.

What is your view of life? You may be basing your life on a  faulty life metaphor. To fulfill the purposes God made you for, you will have to challenge conventional wisdom and replace it with biblical metaphors of life. The Bible says, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”-Romans 12:2

God’s view of life: Life is a test, life is a trust, and life is a temporary assignment. This is the foundation of purpose driven living. God tested Abraham by asking him to offer his son Isaac. God tested Jacob when he had to work extra years to earn Rachel as his wife. Adam and Eve failed their test in the Garden of Eden, and David failed his tests from God on several occasions. But the Bible also gives us many examples of people who passed a great test, Such as Joseph, Ruth, Esther, and Daniel. Character is both developed and revealed by tests, and all of life is a test. You are always being tested. God constantly watches your response to people, problems, success, conflict, illness, disappointment, and even the weather! He even watches the simplest actions such as when you open a door for others, when you pick up a piece of a trash, or when you’re polite toward a clerk or waitress or others.

We don’t know all the tests God will give us, but we can predict some of them, based on the Bible. You will be tested by major changes, delayed promises, impossible problems, unanswered prayers, undeserved criticism, and even senseless tragedies. In my own life I have noticed that God tests my faith through problems, tests my hope by how I handle possessions, and tests my love through people.  A very important test is how you act when you can’t feel God’s presence in your life. Sometimes God intentionally draws back, and we don’t sense His closeness.

When you understand that life is a test, you realize that nothing is insignificant in your life. Even the smallest incident has significance for your character development. Every day is an important day, and every second is a growth opportunity to deepen your character, to demonstrate love, or to depend on God. Some tests are overwhelming, while others you don’t even notice. But all of them have eternal implications. The good news is that God wants you to pass the tests of life, so He never allows the tests you face to be greater than the grace He gives you to handle them. 

Every time you pass a test, God notices and make plans to reward you in eternity. James says, “Blessed are those who endure when they are tested. When they pass the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him”– James 1:12. At the end of your life on earth you will be evaluated and rewarded according to how well you handled what God entrusted to you. That means everything you do, even simple daily chores, has eternal implications.

Most people fail to realize that money is both a test and a trust from God. God uses finances to teach us to trust Him, and for many people, money is the greatest test of all. God watches how we use money to test how trustworthy we are. The Bible says, “If you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven”?-Luke 16:11-12 This is a very important truth. God says there is a direct relationship between how I use my money and the quality of my spiritual life. How I manage my money (“worldly wealth“) determines how much God can trust me with spiritual blessings (“true riches”). 

Let me ask you: Is the way you manage your money preventing God from doing more in your life? Can you be trusted with spiritual riches? Jesus said, “‘From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” Luke 12:48 Life is a test and a trust, and the more God gives you, the more responsible He expects you to be. 

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Using What God Gave You

God deserves your best. He shaped you for a purpose, and He expects you to make the most of what you have been given. He doesn’t want you to worry about or covet abilities you don’t have. Instead, He wants you to focus on talents He has given you to use. When you attempt to serve God in ways you’re not shaped to serve, it feels like forcing a square peg into a round hole. It’s frustrating and produces limited results. It also wastes your time, your talent, and your energy. 

The best use of your life is to serve God out of your shape. To do this you must discover your shape, learn to accept and enjoy it, and then develop it to its fullest potential.  The Bible says, “Don’t act thoughtlessly, but try to find out and do whatever the Lord wants you to”-Ephesians 5:17. Don’t let another day go by. Start finding out and clarifying what God intends for you to be and do.   

Take a long, honest look at what you are good at and what you’re not good at. Paul advised, “Try to have a sane estimate of your capabilities”-Romans 12:3. Spiritual gift tests and ability inventories can have some value, but they are limited in their usefulness. The best way to discover your gifts and abilities is to experiment with different areas of service. You have dozens of hidden abilities and gifts you don’t know you’ve got because you’ve never tried them out. So, I encourage you to try doing some things you’ve never done before. No matter how old you are, I urge you to never stop experimenting.

Don’t try to figure out your gifts before volunteering to serve somewhere. Just start serving. You discover your gifts by getting involved in ministry. Try teaching or leading or organizing or working with teenagers. You will never know what you’re good at until you try it. When it doesn’t work out, call it an “experiment”, not a failure. You will eventually learn what you’re good at. 

Ask yourself these questions: What do I really enjoy the most? When do I feel the most alive? What am I doing when I lose track of time? Do I like routine or variety? Do I prefer serving with a team or by myself? Am I more introverted or extroverted? Am I more a thinker or a feeler? Examine your experiences and extract the lessons you have learned. Review your life and think about how it has shaped you. Moses told the Israelites, “Remember today what you have learned about the Lord through your experiences with him” -Deuteronomy 11:2. 

Forgotten experiences are worthless; that’s a good reason to keep a spiritual journal. Paul worried that the believers in Galatia would waste the pain they had been through. He said, “Were all your experiences wasted? I hope not!– Galatians 3:4. We rarely see God’s good purpose in pain or failure or embarrassment while it is happening. When Jesus washed Peter’s feet, He said, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand”- John 13:7. Only in hindsight do we understand how God intended a problem for good.

Extracting the lessons from your experiences takes time. I recommend that you take an entire weekend for a life review retreat, where you pause to see how God has worked in the various defining moments of your life and consider how He wants to use those lessons to help others. There are resources that can help you do this. Since God know what’s best for you, you should gratefully accept the way He has fashioned you. The Bible says, “What right have you, a human being, to cross examine God? The pot has no right to say to the potter. “Why did you make me this shape’ Surely a potter can do what he likes with the clay! -Romans 9:20

Your shape was sovereignly determined by God for His purpose, so you shouldn’t resent it or reject it. Instead of trying to reshape yourself to be like someone else, you should celebrate the shape God has given only to you. Part of accepting your shape is recognizing your limitations. Nobody is good at everything, and no one is called to be everything. We all have defined roles. Paul understood that his calling was not to accomplish everything or to please everyone but to focus only on the particular ministry God had shaped him for. He said, “Our goal is to stay within the boundaries of God’s  plan for us”. -2 Corinthians 10:13

God wants you to enjoy the shape He has given you. Satan will try to steal the joy of service from you in a couple of ways: by tempting you to conform your ministry to the expectations of others. Both are deadly traps that will distract you from serving in the ways God intended. Whenever you lose your joy in ministry, start by considering if either one of these temptations is the cause. The Bible warns us to never compare ourselves with others: “Do your own work well, and then you will have something to be proud of. But don’t compare yourself with others.” -Galatians 6:4

There are two reasons why you should never compare your shape, ministry, or the results of your ministry with anyone else. First, you will always be able to find someone who seems to be doing a better job than you and you will become discouraged. Or you will always be able to find someone who doesn’t seem as effective as you and you will get full of pride. Either attitude will take you out of service and rob you of your joy.  You will find that people who do not understand your shape for ministry will criticize you and try to get you to conform to what they think you should be doing. Ignore them. Paul had to often deal with critics who misunderstood and maligned his service. His response was always the same: Avoid comparisons, resist exaggerations, and seek only God’s commendation.

One of the reasons Paul was used so greatly by God was that he refused to be distracted by criticism or by comparing his ministry with others or by being drawn into fruitless debates about his ministry. God expects us to make the most of what He gives us. We are to cultivate our gifts and abilities, keep our hearts aflame, grow our character and personality, and broaden our experiences so we will be increasingly more effective in our service. Fail to use what you’ve been given and you’ll lose it. Use the ability you’ve got and God will increase it. Whatever gifts you have been given can be enlarged and developed through patience. 

In Heaven, we are going to serve God forever. Right now, we can prepare for that eternal service by practicing on earth. Like athletes preparing for the Olympics, we keep training for that big day. We’re getting ready for eternal responsibilities and rewards! https://amzn.to/2LuTXiR

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