Bucket lists, God’s Plans, and the Redwood Forest

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 New Living Translation (NLT)

When is the last time you checked something BIG off your bucket list? This month, after years of dreaming about walking through the redwood forest in California, I finally did it. It was awesome.

Did you know California’s North Coast redwoods are THE tallest trees in the world? They are also some of the very oldest living things — some species are over 3,000 years old! Just let that sink in a minute…

The forest I visited was part of California’s Redwood National and State Parks. Wandering through this forest of towering green giants certainly provides a real life perspective on our small size in this big world.

On my trip, I learned some interesting facts about redwoods to share with you. These facts helped me think about God’s plans, not only for these redwoods, but for each of us. Come along, walk with me.

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. 

Coastal redwoods are hardy trees. They can grow just about anywhere. But, they only grow into their massive potential along the California coastline. Why? In California, the cool, wet, and foggy conditions allow the tree’s needles to draw in necessary nutrients from the air’s moisture which nurtures the tree to grow up, up, up. In other climates, these redwoods can only get nourishment through their roots. Tree circulation systems cannot pump high enough to sustain a huge coastal redwood elsewhere. Nutrients must also come from the environment to grow that tall.

Like the redwoods, God also places us in conditions for ideal growth. If we think back upon the events of our life, we can see how relationships, opportunities, and challenges occurred to strengthen us. We are different from trees because we can choose whether we soak up the nourishment around us — whether we look for and pursue God’s direction in our days. God provides the climate for us to grow into the tallest plans he has for us. He puts us in places that can help us reach our true potential. 

They are plans for good and not for disaster

With bark up to a foot thick on some trees, the coastal redwood is strong and tough. The denseness of its bark is just one trait among many which make this tree so unusual. When exposed to fire, the outer layer chars into a barrier or heat shield, protecting the tree from destruction. Pests, like ants and termites, find redwoods unappealing or poisonous, so they do not harm it. Even damaging floodwaters and creek beds are no match for this wood’s survival. Redwood resists water-related rotting; wood that is thousands of years old is found underwater by well drillers in sturdy shape.

California’s redwoods face enemies of fire, pests, and water, but they thrive regardless. Their natural composition allows them to survive and grow into the world’s tallest trees. Similarly, our lives are full of difficult conditions. But our God, the God who equips the redwoods for their good destiny, equips us to withstand this world’s trouble as well.

God does not wish disasters upon us. In this world we will have trouble (John 16:33). But, we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). God created us out of love and for a relationship with him. The strength of this relationship comes from faith in him. Faith gives us sure hope and prods us to seek God’s good through everything that happens to us.

To give you a future and a hope. 

Okay, so here’s the clincher: when a live coast redwood tree (Sequoia Sempervirens species) falls in the forest it can regenerate itself into new life. The fallen tree can keep growing through its limbs or branches. The upright limbs eventually turn into a new row of trees. Similarly, circular groups of new trees can grow out of redwood stumps. The genetic information in the cells of a new tree is identical to each of the others, and to the tree they sprang from. The fallen tree truly has everlasting life.

If God’s plans for the redwoods are good and full of hope, how could they be anything less for us? He has plans for our future, and he is never unsure about how to get us there. We can trust him.

As we grow in faith, the care and guidance he provides become more clear. He stays beside us when we muddle along, when we celebrate, when we endure, and when we mourn. God delivers hope through all conditions and ultimately, through Jesus’ sacrifice, he promises us an eternal life.

Do you think maybe the things we write on our bucket lists arise from inside us for reasons greater than we can imagine? I went to the redwood forest to see the tall, beautiful trees. I left inspired to think about God’s plans and the way he cares for us. He delivers messages in the most amazing ways.

I think God must smile big when we check something off our bucket list. Like he is checking something off too. Perhaps he planned it that way? He is so good. Press on in faith, my friends!

Dear God,

Thank you for the plans you have for us and for the many blessings you give. You place us in the best conditions for maximum growth. The people, events, and opportunities you place in our path encourage us to keep moving ahead. Help us stand tall, strong, and steady as we grow in relationship with you. Give us the courage to do what we need to and the patience to hope in your ways. Grant us wisdom to see how you are always working good, even through hard things. May we live our days here full of your peace, and forevermore in the glory of your presence. In Jesus’ Name, Amen 

Note:

I would love to hear about something on your bucket list. If you have checked something off recently, were there ways you felt God was there with you? Write me a note in the comments or on my “Contact Me” page.

Related Posts:

Embracing God’s Plan

Psalm 23: A Shepherd’s Meanings and Motivations

Where Joy Flows From

Inspiring Resources:

treesofmystery.net

This is the Day the Lord Made

An outdoor breakfast in the middle of an Iowa summer is one of the best ways to start the day. The fogginess of sleep lifts as two blue jays perching on the deck railing chirp and bob their bodies up and down, as if dancing to their own song. Sunlight shimmers in the trees as the wind waves with leaves of green. The flowers, blooming so bright, easily capture and hold the attention span of anyone not yet buzzing with caffeine.

Sometimes, if I sit very still and quiet, an additional morning companion joins me. A chubby squirrel, eager for a belly full of peanuts, scales the side of my house and squeezes underneath the deck railing. Warily glancing at me, he pursues his breakfast quest. Stretching and reaching, even turning himself upside down at times, he retrieves peanut after peanut from the feeder. We study each other between our morning mouthfuls. Does he pray and ponder the day ahead as I do? Unlikely. But, seeing him up to his whiskers in peanuts while holding his furry paws in a prayerful pose, I like imagining that he does.

This new day’s beauty brings the familiar words of Psalm 118:24 to mind: “This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.” I consider these words, and I wonder what else the Bible has to say about mornings. How does Scripture invite us to start the day?

Begin with Gratitude

This is the day the LORD has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24 New Living Translation (NLT)

Truly, there are some days when we do not feel like rejoicing. Life gets crazy, our moods fluctuate, and problems overwhelm us. In reading through the Psalms of the Bible, it is clear the writers understood how hard life is. They are not simply proponents of putting on a “happy face”. They openly tell God about their trouble, and then proclaim reasons to rejoice in spite of suffering. This Scripture reminds us we have been given this day TO LIVE. Through our trust and hope in God’s goodness, we can find joy in the blessings we do have. Beginning the day with thankfulness helps us appreciate everything God provides.

Accept Forgiveness

 

The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. Lamentations 3:22-23 NLT

Some days it is hard to get started because we feel so weighed down by past mistakes. God’s unconditional love for us, however, never ends. Each day is a new beginning — a fresh start with forgiveness. If we offer up our sadness, struggles, and sin to him, he promises to restore us. He hurts when we hurt. Using all of our experiences, he faithfully teaches us and crafts our pain into something good. Remembering God forgives our past mistakes allows us to pursue each day looking for new opportunities to love him and others.

Pursue Direction

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. Psalm 143:8 New International Version (NIV)
In the morning, when our minds have fewer distractions, we gain deeper insights than at busier times during the day. Reading Scripture and praying in the morning helps us grasp new meaning in his promises and find fresh guidance for our journeys. Like other relationships, our connection with God grows stronger as we devote more time and energy to it. Starting the day with God develops a strong relationship, which ultimately makes us more attentive to his direction throughout the day.

Make Requests

Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord. Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly. Psalm 5:3 NLT

Laying our requests out before God, first thing in the morning, helps us release our own inclination to worry and control situations. Trusting God to do what is best allows our minds to work on the things we can do something about. Wisdom is learning to discern what we cannot control, letting go, and watching expectantly for God’s good in our requests.

Demonstrate Worship

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35 (NIV)

Jesus modeled reverence or deep respect for God through morning prayer. For him, prayer was more than just a time to let God know his feelings and make requests. It was also a time to worship and strengthen a trusting relationship. So even in the midst of chaos, Jesus prioritized time for praising and listening to God. His devotion to prayer showed the relationship with his Father came before anything else. A regular practice of morning worship demonstrates an all encompassing love for God — a love poured out of the heart, soul, and mind.

 

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how just a handful of Scriptures can lay a solid foundation for the day? The Bible seems to work best that way for me. We can always get something out of it, even if we don’t read it cover to cover. We can pick something we are curious about, like morning, and look it up.

In a way, exploring the Bible for new discoveries is similar to the mornings I spend on my deck. I see a lot of the same things. Many characters make return visits. But, if I am alert and aware, I also notice something different than the morning before. It could be the ants marching in line to the hummingbird feeder, a different birdsong in the woods, or just the fact that my windows need a good cleaning. Whatever it is, it makes me smile as I realize this practice of searching for something new brings me joy. No matter how chaotic the world becomes, this day is ours TO LIVE. This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it. Press on in faith my friends!


Answered Prayer

By Jamie Trunnel

When I am lost
And I don’t understand,
I ask God

To take my hand.

I say to him
Tell me what to do,
To make things better

And to pull me through.

God says take a moment.
Enjoy my grace.
Everything has a season.

Every emotion, a place.

Remove the blinders,
And break the locks.
Hurt can heal

When light is not blocked.

Look for me.
I am everywhere.
The world I created

Answers your prayer.

References:

There are more Scriptures that reference mornings and how to start our days. They can all be found using the concordance (a list of alphabetical important words) in the back of your Bible.

Related Posts:

Embracing God’s Plan

 

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Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. I am working on accepting this as a good thing. Like many of you, I enjoy the satisfaction that comes with meeting deadlines and crossing items off to-do lists. I get frustrated and negative when my accomplishments fall short of my goals. Then, it takes awhile for my motivation to rebound and to get back up to speed.

But, life interferes with the best laid plans and the strongest of ambitions. Unanticipated problems occur, accidents happen, people need our help, the weather changes, income declines, health issues arise…and so it goes.

There are days, weeks, months, and seasons in life when we feel like we can never do enough and we will never be enough. We wonder if God really has a plan for our life and an agenda for each day. How do we accomplish his plan when all these problems keep slowing us down? Why doesn’t he help us out a little more?

Recently, I took these questions to Scripture and found reassurance. When things don’t go according to plan it can be a good thing. It can be a God thing. Here are a handful of truths to help us welcome God’s plan in our days:

  • God is sure of his plan for us.    

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 New Living Translation (NLT)

God made a plan for our lives even before we were born. He continually works in our hearts and minds through the Holy Spirit to encourage our faith in his plan to grow. He leads us to try new things, puts teachers in our path, and instills confidence in our abilities. He nudges us to consider how the gifts he gave us might help others find faith and feel loved.

The decisions we make and the paths we take do not surprise God. He is there for us always, through everything that comes our way. He does not promise a life free of suffering, but he fills his believers with hope, and ultimately he brings good from all their hardships.

Of course, our free will allows us to embrace or resist God’s plans for us. But, he never stops pursuing and trying to reach us. His love for every one of his children is unconditional and unrelenting. Our humanity loves shortcuts, but there are no shortcuts to understanding God’s plan. Ultimately, understanding God’s plan requires understanding God.

As long as we are on this earth, it is never too late to invest time in getting to know God. Like any other relationship, we get to know God by spending time with him. This means spending time studying the Bible, reading Biblical interpretations, learning from pastors, and discussing faith questions with others. The more we learn about God, the clearer our role in his story becomes.

Embracing God’s plan means we commit to developing a relationship with him in our daily life.

  • God’s plan differs from our own.

My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts, says the Lord. And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9 (NLT)

Oh, how we love the illusion of control. We get so caught up in busily achieving our goals that we can forget God may have an entirely different strategy in mind. He will not conform to our purposes; we need to strive to fit into his.

Throughout our lifetimes, we will cope with a myriad of difficulties perceived as obstacles in the way of achieving our dreams. Maybe these difficulties are not really problems, but possibilities God puts on the agenda to carry out an even bigger plan.

Perhaps God allows difficulty to enter our lives to capture our attention, to encourage us to check our direction, and to build a relationship of trust with him. Once we realize we cannot control our life, we start to contemplate and even anticipate the opportunities God sends our way.

Embracing God’s plan means we work on being flexible, good-natured, and inquisitive when unexpected events change our daily agendas. 

  • God promises to fulfill his plan.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Philippians 1:6 NLT

God’s work for us began when Christ died and offered us eternal life. His work continues within us through the Holy Spirit during our lifetimes, up until the moment we die. As faith grows, God helps his believers discover their talents and gifts which help carry out his plans.

Those slight nudges we get to serve others are also the Holy Spirit’s way of directing us down God’s path. Through our offerings of food, clothing, money, shelter, prayer, talents, friendship, etc. we deepen our faith and help the faith of those around us grow.

When we feel like we are not making any progress, it helps to remember God’s promise to finish his work. By diligently seeking and including him in our lives, we give him the green light to go to work. He will not give up on us.

Embracing God’s plan means remembering each of us is a good work in progress, and God promises to complete every one of his projects.   

  • God will always help us.

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. Isaiah 41:10 NLT

Fear and worry are part of our world. There’s no getting around that. God knew this, and thus packed the Bible full of his strength and compassion for us. When we feel stressed, the Bible is the greatest resource for renewal. We can find Scriptures and stories that relate to any situation and bring us guidance.

God also sends help in a multitude of other ways such as people, prayer, intuition, and events. When facing trouble, tuning into the world around us (instead of tuning out) opens up our eyes to the ways God helps us. We naturally start developing the trusting attitude God desires – that he is working all things together for our good, in his own time and way.

There will always be days when we wonder if God knows what he’s doing. Days when we are at the end of our rope and frustrated by our trials. God’s Word tells us time and time again, do not worry. He is always there for us. He loves us, and he holds us up.

Embracing God’s plan means reaching out to him for help and trusting him to follow through.

God makes an agenda for every one of our days. This agenda often will not match what we have planned. But, that’s okay. God’s plans are good and far beyond what we could ever imagine. We can meet each day with an air of expectancy, and be ready to embrace the opportunities God sends. For we know, there is a lot of work to be done in and through us. We fight against fear and worry because we trust God’s promises to help us. Rest assured, one day, he will raise up our hands, victorious in his plans.

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A Prayer for You:

Dear God,

Thank you for creating me with a plan in mind. Help me learn more about your goals for my life as I grow in faith. Teach me to remain flexible in my schedule and to see my problems as your possibilities. Thank you for trusting me with the assignments you have given me, and for your reassurances that I can handle them. Lead me as I work to conquer worries and fears, and as I strive to make you proud. May the first item on my to-do list always be: “whatever God hands me.”

In Jesus’ Name, Amen

A Fit Faith

Dumbbell B&W

“Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” Matthew 22:37-38 New International Version (NIV)

Flipping a 150 pound tractor tire fifty times in a workout was never a line item on my bucket list. Surprisingly, however, this feat hijacked the list, and I crossed it off with pride on my fiftieth birthday. Ha, who knew?! This girl does have strength, coordination, and endurance.

A year ago, I considered myself a fairly physically fit person, but certainly not someone people recognized from the gym. Thirty minutes on the elliptical and I was good to go. I was not concerned about my biceps or my core, and I had no idea what a TRX or a burpee was.

After a great deal of salesmanship, my husband convinced me that strength training would be good for me to try. Strength training exercises use resistance from things like dumbbells, rubber exercise tubing, and even your own body weight to cause muscles to contract. Physical benefits include improved muscle strength, tone, mass, and endurance. Starting slow, I worked with a trainer to learn proper technique and combine new exercises.

Gradually, I noticed changes in strength, and other, more unexpected things too. I finally understood how to properly lift heavy objects with my legs, and not my back. More conscious of my posture, I found myself keeping my shoulders back and down. Flipping a huge tire fifty times became a possibility. My body continues learning to speak this challenging new language every week. Stronger and wiser, my muscles thank me for it by surprising me with what they can do.

In much the same way, I never considered writing a blog about applying Scripture to life. A far cry from a biblical scholar, I attended church randomly most of my life. A good person equals a “fairly fit” Christian, right? I was not concerned about my spiritual biceps or strengthening my core beliefs, and Bible study classes intimidated me.

When a health crisis hit our family, I found myself desperately wishing my muscles of faith were stronger. I longed for courage, for answers to serious questions, and for peace of mind. I scrutinized how fit my faith was. I could not honestly say I was dedicated to loving God with all my heart, soul, and mind.

Perhaps striving to love God that completely would guide me towards a more “fit faith”? Gradually, I am discovering and adding new spiritual exercises into the routines of my life. Some ideas to power up faith:

Learn about prayer and make it a daily practice. Max Lucado’s book, The Power of a Simple Prayer is a great resource for anyone wanting to learn more about how to talk to God. Prayer does not have to be a formal, scheduled event; it can take place throughout your day like other conversations.

Express gratitude every day. Just becoming aware of the many things to be thankful for can help us think more positively and ease worry. Use a notebook, an app, or an online journal to record blessings each day.

Seek to understand Scripture. Start understanding and applying Scripture by reading devotions, a life-application Bible, or Christian teaching books. Focus on one verse a day and see what you can learn from it.

Join a supportive network of people who also seek a stronger faith. Support can come in many ways such as attending church, discussing a faith inspired book together, using creative talents, or working on a team project for the community.

Be still. Carving out time to simply sit with a quiet mind can be a very difficult task. Taking this break, however, can rejuvenate us for the challenges we face. Solitude eases worries, brings clarity, and reveals inner strength through the Holy Spirit.

As I see it, improving faith fitness is very similar to improving physical fitness. Exercises should be tailored to an individual’s unique needs. A variety of exercises work best to challenge the mind, body, and spirit. Consistent practice is important for long term benefits. And, the results can inspire others.

Like training in the gym, stretching our faith helps us grow stronger and wiser in new ways. Asking God for help no longer seems like an insurmountable task. Blessings become more apparent than ever before, and we feel grateful to see them. Recognizing the needs of others and showing compassion takes precedence over fulfilling our own needs. And, seeking answers to common faith questions is no longer scary and isolating.

Developing a “fit faith” continues to be a work in progress for me. I do not have a formula to follow for success. What I can say with certainty, though, is that I am in better shape now to handle the next downturn in life.

Prayer for this Week:

Lord, thank you for being my patient trainer as I seek a “fit faith”. Guide me in conversation with you and help me understand how to apply your teachings to my life. Fill my heart with gratitude as I count my blessings each day. Remind me to be still in your holy presence and listen for your direction. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Scriptures to Apply:

Matthew 22:37, “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” (NIV)

Ephesians 3:16-17, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” (NIV)

Romans 4:20, “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,” (NIV)

Questions to Help Make Sense of Life:

How fit is my faith? Are my spiritual muscles getting the workouts they need to sustain me through the ups and downs of life? What can I change in my faith routine to strengthen my love for God?

God Doesn’t Do Rush Hour

The Open Road

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12 New International Version (NIV)

It’s Monday, another week, and another 168 hours to get something done. Hearing these words can conjure up images of to-do lists, tighten chests with anxiety, and tie stomachs in knots. The weeks of our lifetimes seem to cruise by with increasing speed the older we become.

Catching our breath, we notice conversations littered with common phrases such as “so busy”, “don’t know where the time goes”, and “gotta run”. We read books on developing more efficient habits, watch programs on time management, and hire services to help organize our lives. Clearly, the quest for using time wisely is important to us.

We can learn how to eliminate nonessential tasks and how to prioritize the remaining items. But, what if, even after cutting back, our list still leaves us with a feeling of dread? Maybe, it’s not only the number of things to do, but also the approach in doing them that needs tending.

In Garth Stein’s wise and witty book called The Art of Racing in the Rain, he writes: “In racing, they say that your car goes where your eyes go. The driver who cannot tear his eyes away from the wall as he spins out of control will meet that wall; the driver who looks down the track as he feels his tires break free will regain control of his vehicle” (83).

Applying this, if we regularly set our sights on busyness, we have no direction or control when a wall shows up. However, if we look ahead and visualize driving through life’s crazy course of events with diligence, then we can continually regain traction. Our distracted society makes it easy to go with the flow of never getting enough done. Living in busyness, without a focal point, is like driving in rush hour; we get nowhere. God calls us to vigilantly search the horizon for worthy purposes and focus attention in that direction. A welcome sense of peace comes when we live our lives focusing on a purpose, instead of distractions.

Turning attention away from upcoming walls requires slowing down and noticing our surroundings. Last week, while shopping at Target, a preschool age girl with sparkly silver shoes darted in front of my cart to get a better look at a display of the newest toys adapted from the Disney movie Frozen. “Oh my goodness, oh my goodness…would you look at this?!” she squealed exuberantly. Her father, I noticed with amusement, seemed unfazed as she rattled on. His focus was ahead, towards bath necessities and groceries.

Perhaps, the little girl’s unbridled enthusiasm is a daily pattern of life for this father. Maybe, that particular day, it was a notable distraction from the direction his “eyes”, and thus his “car” really needed to go. Understandable. I wonder, though, if like the rest of us at times, he needs reminders to slow down and become more aware of the gifts in front of him? Allowing for moments of mindful appreciation help us remain present and grateful for God’s direction in our lives. These breaks in our day give us space to breathe and to think about where we are headed.

Clarity regarding how our time is spent comes easier when we focus, slow down, and remember to involve God in our decisions. We often forget to ask him for direction when we are rushing about. He gave us free will to make choices, but he never intended for us to feel alone in making them.

His directions are the gut feelings we get about whether something is right or not. It’s what drives people to do great, big things like put a man on the moon, end a war, and research cancer cures. It’s what drives people to do smaller scale, kind acts like visiting an elderly neighbor, helping a struggling child learn to read, or sending a care package to a Syrian refugee.

All of these acts matter. None are considered insignificant. God places a different call in each one of our lives; spending time with him is how we figure out what that call is for us. If we slow down long enough to identify what we are aiming for and ask God for direction, our time here will be more fulfilling.

Invite God along for the ride. Listen for his quiet instructions to set your gaze down the track. And, remember he prefers the scenic route.

Prayer for this Week:

Lord, thank you for the blessing of the hours in this week. Help me remember to include you in the process of making my plans and to ask for guidance in prioritizing my tasks. Show me how I can better serve others for you. Keep my focus on finding and following your directions for my life. Bring my attention back to your goodness through moments of pause. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Scriptures to Apply:

Psalm 90:12, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (NIV)

Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (NIV)

Proverbs 20:5, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” (NIV)

Questions to Help Make Sense of Life:

How often am I overwhelmed by my own busyness? Can I prioritize my to-do list so that I move at a steady pace, focusing on my task while still appreciating the gifts that surround me? Can I remember to ask God to help me figure out what he is calling me to do and listen for his direction in my day?