A series of great opportunities?

“We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantlly disguised as impossible situations.”- Chuck Swindoll

In Chapter 2 (“Involuntary Perseverance”) of Finding Favor, Brian Jones notes that, to our dismay, sometimes God responds to our request for favor in way that seems rather stark.  While we expect God to open new doors that enable us to explore new opportunities, He slams doors shut.  He answers our request with  resounding ‘no.’

Furthermore, no matter how mad or frustrated His answer makes us, God remains resolute.  At least for a season, God forces us to stay put.  As a result, He can finish His work in our lives.

In addition, Pastor Jones points out, staying put shocks us.  When we pray for God’s favor, closed doors represent the last thing we expect.  Instead, we expect to be blessed.  Thus, we fail to realize that God limiting our options may turn out as one of His greatest blessings of all.

Also, Brian reminds us, the Bible talks a great deal about perseverance.  Yet, we understand only one aspect – choosing not to quit.  However, there’s another facet of perseverance.  That’s when God makes the choice for us.  Pastor Jones explains:

“Sometimes God responds to our requests for new assignments by saying, ‘I don’t care how much you say you hate it.  I’m not going to let you quit.  I can’t do a great work through you until I do a great work in you.  You’re going to stay the course.  This is the way I’m choosing to show you my favor right now.’ ”

In conclusion, Brian asks, are you willing to:

  • accept this aspect of God’s favor?
  • submit your plans and dreams to a God who will double bolt all your escape routes at a moment’s notice?

Today’s question: What great opportunities in your life disguise themselves as impossible situations?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Whole-heartedness, the antidote to exhaustion”

Holy grit and God’s abundant grace

“Standing strong and praying through those times in-between calls for holy grit and God’s abundant grace.”- Susie Larson

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”- Hebrews 10:23 (ESV)

Susie Larson concludes Chapter 7 of Your Powerful Prayers as she talks about contending for some of the things God puts on your heart.  For in the other corner, Satan works to steal your joy, kill your dreams, and destroy your sense of purpose.  Consequently, you must stand on God’s Word, even when it doesn’t feel true.  But this battle makes you a fiercer prayer warrior.  So, the battle’s worth it!

Thus, Susie observes, prayer requires:

  • perseverance and perspective
  • sensitivity to the Holy Spirit
  • strategy from God’s Word
  • holy grit
  • God’s abundant grace

As Ms. Larson summarizes, we’re most powerful when we pray.  In addition, we’re most influential when we walk in step with Almighty God.  It’s impossible for God to fail us.  However, it’s completely possible and plausible for God to delay giving us what we want.  Such times test and prove our faith.

In conclusion, Susie cites Jon Bloom, from his book Things Not Seen (2015):

“How things appear to us, and how they actually are, are rarely the same.  Sometimes it looks and feels like the Almighty is dealing ‘very bitterly’ with us, when all the while he is doing us and many others more good than we can imagine.  God’s purposes in the lives of his children are always gracious.  Always.  If they don’t look like it, don’t trust your perceptions.  Trust God’s promises.  He is always filling His promises (emphasis Susie’s).”

Today’s question: How has holy grit and God’s abundant grace strengthened your prayer life?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Time to reframe our disappointments”

The best version of you – a hoper

“The best version of you is a hoper, because the Spirit of life is a Spirit of hope.  The Spirit never leads us to despair, and there is always hope — which is not based on circumstances, but rather is an inner disposition.”- John Ortberg

In Chapter 21 (“You Have to go Through Exile Before You Come Back Home”), John Ortberg states three options exist for you to view your future’s ups and downs.  Philosopher Robert Roberts lists those attitudes: hope, despair, and resignation.  However, a hoper represents the best version of you.

Furthermore, Pastor Ortberg notes, there’s good news about hope.  Hope can be learned.  And when a crisis interrupts “normal life,” it challenges our set of assumptions.  At this point, “post-traumatic”growth occurs- if we allow God to grow us in adversity.

Thus, John presents and modifies Jonathan Haidt’s descriptors of ways such growth occurs.  Pastor Ortberg discusses the first way today.

1.  Rising to a challenge reveals abilities hidden within you (and beyond you!) that would otherwise have remained dormant.  Until we must cope, we don’t know our capabilities.  Specifically, God uses trials to bring people closer to Himself and to produce perseverance, character, and hope.  For example, when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, Joseph lost everything but God.  Yet, in the process, Joseph found out that God’s enough.  Pastor Ortberg applies that concept to us:

“God isn’t at work producing the circumstances you want.  God is at work in bad circumstances producing the you he wants (emphasis John’s).”

Perhaps you’re’ in a situation that’s not what you wanted.  But when you show up and offer your best, John states that the something good happening inside you far outweighs the adversity outside you.

Today’s question: How close do you feel to the best version of you – a hoper?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Love — the resetting of broken bones”

Your most powerful weapon

OpalBirthsone“Truth is your most powerful weapon.  Pick it up and use it.”- June Hunt

June Hunt concludes Chapter 12 of How to Forgive by discussing the final three letters of her acrostic (F-O-R-G-I-V-E-N) for dealing positively and effectively with guilt.

Verify truth when Satan accuses.  Ms. Hunt states you can count on Satan accusing you.  Accusation is Satan’s favorite weapon.  You must counter Satan by taking hold of truth.  Just as Jesus (in the desert) responded to Satan with the Word of God, you must respond with God’s Word whenever you are tempted to believe God’s forgiveness doesn’t apply to you.

Exchange your life for the life of Christ.  We need to accept the truth that none of us have the strength to live the Christian life without Christ living in us (Galatians 2:20).  June notes that your part is “to let go of your life in exchange for living in the power of His.”

Notice that God brings your feelings in line with the facts when you obey Him.  June describes how perseverance pays off:

“Perseverance in spite of what you feel pays off.  Forgiving others and forgiving yourself- even when you don’t feel like it- guarantees freedom.”

June informs us that the opal is prized for its array of colors inside a single stone.  Yet, an opal is fragile.  It easily can dry out and crack.  Overall, an opal is considered weak.

Ms. Hunt observes that you feel fundamentally weak when you compromise your convictions.  You may feel unworthy of love or unfit to embrace God’s grace.  June explains how light shines brighter in darkness:

“As any jeweler knows, the opal[s beauty is best displayed when placed on a dark background.  When you release your painful rocks to the Master Polisher, a black background will make you shine even brighter.”

Today’s question: Which letters of Ms. Hunt’s acrostic struck a chord with you?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Three inner needs”

Your best thoughts

“Your best thoughts are God-thoughts.”- Max Lucado

“Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him. . . I will remember You from the land of Jordan, and from the heights of Hermon, from the Hill Mizar.”- Psalm 42:5-6 (NKJV)

Max Lucado concludes Chapter 14 of Glory Days by emphasizing that we, like the psalmist, must make a deliberate decision to treat out downcast soul with thoughts of God.  Pastor Lucado acknowledges the difficulty of doing so. Ultimately, blessing comes from perseverance:

” Troubles pounce on us like rain in a thunderstorm.  Finding God amid the billows will demand every bit of discipline you can muster.  But the result is worth the strain.  Besides, do you really want to meditate on your misery?  Will reciting your problems turn you into a better person?  No.  But changing your mind-set will.”

Caleb could have cursed God because he had to put his dreams on hold for over four decades.  Still, he didn’t complain or become crabby.  He stepped forward with a (1) God-drenched mind to receive his inheritance.  Max offers two additional ways to face your problems:

2.  Turn a deaf ear to doubters.  Ignore naysayers and pessimists.  Pastor Lucado quips: “Just because someone sings the blues, you don’t have to join the chorus.”

3.  Set your mind on a holy cause.  Max suggests the following assessment: How high is your calling?  Perhaps your problems feel so great because your cause is too small.  Max concludes:

“Once you find your mountain, no giant will stop you, no age will disqualify you, no problems will defeat you. . . . You have a different spirit.  You are a Promised Land person.”

Today’s question (from the study guide): On a scale of one to ten, with one being low and ten being high, how immersed are you in God-thoughts?  What can you do today to increase that rating?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “No falling words”

Sweat equity

“Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.  Earning is an attitude.  Effort is an action.”- Dallas Willard

Mark Batterson points out in Chapter 9 (“The Seventh Hour”) of The Grave Robber that the distance the royal official traveled between Capernaum and Cana is a twenty-mile uphill climb at a five percent incline.  Some miracles, like healing the official’s son, require sweat equity.  While our effort can’t make miracles happen, our lack of effort can keep them from happening.  Miracles cannot be earned, but effort may be the catalyst.

As Mark has written in All In, most of us only are willing to follow Jesus to the point of inconvenience- no further.  Following Jesus becomes problematic when it necessitates a detour in our plans.  Mark states: “If you want to experience a miracle, sometimes you have to go way out of your way.”  God just may want to see how serious we are- if we’re willing to walk to Cana.

Pastor Batterson emphasizes that the common denominator among miraculous answers to prayer is perseverance.  People don’t just pray like it depended on God, they also work as if it depended on them.  Some miracles happen in stages.  We need to pray again and again and again.  Mark encourages us not to let fear become a factor:

“Sometimes we let fear keep us from praying for a miracle because we feel like we will have failed if God doesn’t answer the way we want.  That isn’t failure because the answer isn’t up to us.  The only way we can fail is failing to ask.”

Today’s question: What has helped you persevere in prayer?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “God’s opinion”

Courageous praise

“Give thanks in all circumstances. for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”- 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Charles Stanley concludes Chapter 6 of Waiting on God with the final principle for persevering through dark times-courageous praise.  On the basis of our relationship with Christ, we express our thankfulness to Him regardless of our circumstances.

Dr. Stanley readily observes that it seems absolutely counterintuitive to praise God when “the stresses overwhelm you, your dreams are shattered, all seems lost, and you struggle just out get out of bed in the morning.”  Yet, without exception, Scripture admonishes us to praise God in every situation, for only praising God will minister to our spirit and lift our heart.  Our perspective changes.  We actively look for God’s help and deliverance rather than ruminating over the negative aspects of our life.

Especially during our darkest moments, giving thanks to God enables us to keep our focus on Him rather than dwelling on our circumstances.  As we find more and more areas of gratefulness, before we realize it we will be thanking the Father for the trial itself.  The greater the hurt we experience, the closer we draw to Him, as Dr. Stanley explains:

“You can express your gratefulness that He is teaching you to think as He thinks; love in the unconditional matter He loves; and forgive freely the way He forgives you.  Because when you do, it honors the Lord greatly, refreshes your spirit, and helps you endure courageously and victoriously.”

Today’s question: What has most helped you to endure your vocation loss with courageous praise?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Soar on wings like eagles”

Actively expressing faith

“So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.  You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.”- Hebrews 10:35-36

In Chapter 5 (“Claiming God’s Promises: Actively Expressing Faith in the Delays”) of Waiting on God, Charles Stanley emphatically states that the principle of claiming the Lord’s promises to you is a crucial precept during times of waiting.  This precept  will enable us to remain steady and strong when swamped by the waves and storms of adversity.

Up to this point, Dr. Stanley has discussed how waiting signifies an expected endurance demonstrated by a directed and purposeful attitude of prayer.  The third characteristic is that we must be active.

The Lord didn’t intend for believers to passively wait.  Although we are still in the sense that we relinquish all control of our situation and allow the Father to work through our circumstances, we must be active in our spiritual growth as we resolutely take hold of God’s Word.

Our ability to persevere is the key factor in receiving the very best God has planned for us.  If we jump the gun by taking matters into our own hands, we can’t possibly know with certainty that we will receive the blessings God has planned for us.

Today’s question: What Bible verses have encouraged you to take an active role in your transformational growth?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: Promises, promises!”

We all, like sheep

Goldenhamster“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. “- Isaiah 53:6 (NIV)

“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”- Henry David Thoreau

During my pre-downsizing, elementary teaching days at Ebenezer and Northwest Lutheran Schools in Milwaukee, no respectable Mr. Henning classroom was complete without he requisite class pet- typically a golden hamster.  One year my choice of living environment was a plastic mansion, complete with tubes and assorted attachments, including a penthouse sleeping area.  Not content with living in the lap of hamster luxury, our hamster chewed his way to “freedom.”  Reasoning that, sooner or later, hunger would override adventure, I strategically placed cups of food around the school.  When the class hamster took the bait several days later, he was embraced (aka ‘captured’) by his benefactor and returned to the classroom fold.

Jeff Manion describes the Land Between as a metaphor for the undesired transitions we experience in life, a middle ground where we can be transformed and established in our connection to God.  Discouragement comes with the territory, as Pastor Manion explains:

“Traveling through the Land Between, we often have to battle discouragement.  Sometimes deep discouragement.  The wilderness is a place where even the most hopeful must fend off feelings of impatience, futility, or despair.”

The issue isn’t that we have those feelings, but what we do once we have acknowledged them.  While we may not have control over our circumstances, we do have control over our reactions.  We will choose something: our way- depression, seething rage, revenge, retail therapy- or God’s way.

During this transitional time, we need to recognize that our souls are very vulnerable and that there is a fine line between honesty and complaint.  While complaint is turning away from God, candidly pouring out our heart to God is turning toward God.  Jeff Manion expresses the honest cry of the overwhelmed: “I can’t take this anymore.  It’s too heavy for me.”

That’s precisely where we need to be.  As we trust God, we develop perseverance and our faith will grow.  Max Lucado offers these words of encouragement:

“Don’t see your struggle as an interruption to life, but as preparation for life.”






When the soul grows short

“They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom.  But the people grew impatient along the way.”- Numbers 21:4

“Nothing in man seems to intent upon God as the soul. . . . The soul seeks the Might One as though he is the soul’s own home, as though it can only be at home with him. . . . The soul is hidden in God’s creating hand.”- Waaijman, “Soul as a Spiritual Concept”

Today John Ortberg concludes his discussion of five indicators when a soul lacks a center (Chapter 8, Soul Keeping).

3.  A soul without a center lacks patience.  When the Israelites grew impatient with their long wilderness journey, the text in Numbers says that their “souls grew short.”  Samson’s soul grows short from the persistent nagging of Delilah.  Being in a hurry to be somewhere else is an indicator that the soul has not yet found its home.

4.  The soul without a center is easily thrown.  Pastor Ortberg notes (from experience) that the key to riding a mechanical bull is to stay centered and sit loose.  Rather than clamping on tight, one needs to be flexible.  Life gets complicated and stuff happens.  John states: “If your soul lacks a center when life comes at you fast, you will be thrown off the bull.”

5.  The soul without a center finds its identity in externals.  When our soul is not centered in God, our temptation is to try to control our life.  The Bible speaks of this in terms of the lifting up one’s soul.  It is the opposite of faithful dependence.  When we define ourselves by external things, we lose our identity.

Today’s question: Which of John Ortberg’s five indicators are most applicable to your current situation?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Souls centered on God”