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

How to Perform for an Audience of One

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In her 1984 Oscar acceptance speech, Sally Field famously declared, “I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!” Her buzz worthy words were quickly adapted into the more quotable expression, “You like me. You REALLY like me!”

Many snickered about her statement afterwards, belittling Hollywood’s need for accolades. But, as much as we try to believe otherwise, truthfully, we can all relate to this drive for approval, and the success which often follows it.

Recently, I discussed the difficulties of writing a blog with some friends at church. I told them many things we do in life receive immediate and visible feedback, but that’s not the case with writing a blog. I asked questions like: How do I know I’m on the right track? Should I be concerned with approval? How do I measure success?

I received some wise advice stated in this one simple sentence, “You need to write for an audience of One.”

For a couple of weeks now, I have thought about that sentence, and how it really applies to everything we set out to do in life. Replace the word “write” with whatever your heart calls you to do for God.

In what areas has he gifted you? Is it in encouraging, teaching, healing, giving, leading, or organizing? Maybe you’re not certain what your gifts are or how to use them – that’s fine too. You can contemplate for an audience of One!

The point being we should seek to please God, not others. In everything we do, we can measure success by our drive to know, serve, and please him. Of course, we hope if we perform for God that our results also please others, but that is not something we can control.

Human nature desires results in large numbers, but God sees even one life changed as significant. Can we try to rest in knowing that? Maybe the difference we make will never be known to us here on this earth. Should it matter? If we work for God’s approval, not others’, we clearly see the success in our endeavors.

Here are three Scriptures teaching me how to perform for an audience of One:

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10 New International Version (NIV)

We spend so much time working to please other people – family, friends, neighbors, teachers, employers, and co-workers. Then, long after the effort, we worry whether we met their expectations…if they approve of us.

How would our actions and attitudes differ if we dedicated ourselves to meeting God’s expectations first? Yes, we will mess up – it’s guaranteed. So, is forgiveness.

Sometimes we may be asked to do some hard and unpopular things. As difficult as it can be, serving Christ faithfully requires us to stop worrying about what others might think and seek his approval above everyone else’s. Give God your best performance.

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10 (NIV)

Misusing our talents, using them only for our own enjoyment, or pushing them aside is not what God intended for us. It is never too late to pay attention to the places in our lives where God’s goodness or grace can shine through us.

If pinpointing your gifts is difficult, keep in mind that God may be preparing you before enlightening you. Or, perhaps he is protecting you from acting too soon. There is a right time, place, and person planned especially for your contribution.

Even with uncertainty, we can ready ourselves by serving in different ways and considering what trusted people tell us we are good at. God is glorified when others see him working through our talents. Dedicate your talent to serving him.

Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. 2 Corinthians 3:5 (NIV)

It is so easy to claim all the glory for our accomplishments. I wonder, if we take all the credit, all the time, then do we truly reach our full potential? Scripture tells us that no one is competent enough to carry out God’s calling in their life without his help.

Our own natural abilities can only take us so far; we need God’s strength to move beyond our limitations. If we invite him to our performance and ask for feedback, who knows what might happen? Thank him for coming to the show.

So here’s how I think it goes. You give God your best performance. You dedicate your talent to serving him, and you thank him for coming to the show. One day the curtain falls, and you wait to hear a call for an encore.

Peeking between the curtains, you see no one but God remains. Empty seats all around. Yikes, were you performing only for him all along? I don’t know.

But, here’s what I do know. After a performance like that, he will be standing, clapping for all he’s worth. There will be no denying that he likes you. In fact, he loves you. He REALLY does.

Prayer for the Week:

Dear God,

Blessed be your name above all earthly measures of success. Help me look past the things that represent approval in the eyes of this world, and find it by serving you.

Lead me to people and activities that shine a light on my gifts. Show me the places to use these gifts to the best of my ability. 

Thank you for entrusting me with an assignment designed specifically for me. I pray that through my efforts others will see your goodness.

God, teach me to trust whatever plans you’ve got for me. Let me lean into you when the corners ahead look uncertain, and steady me with your confident hand to go beyond the limitations I place on myself.  

In Jesus’ Name, Amen

A New Kind of Resolution

2014 NYE in Times Square

Ahhhh, a new year! January 1st. Just speaking the date invokes a sense of renewal, doesn’t it? A time to evaluate priorities, nurture goals, and begin a quest toward organization. Like a schoolgirl in fall, the outing to purchase my new 2016 planner is a mission in itself. It must be a certain size, with tabs (very important) for each month, a section for future year plans, and pages for notes.

These requirements are non-negotiable. I have tried to manage with different formats in previous years, and well, the frustration…it’s just not worth it. I have a system to my madness; and for the year to start right, I must sort through shelves of calendars to find just the right one. A beacon in the piles of planners, it shines through, offering up its guarantee for a successful year. Do you understand this feeling? Maybe instead, you prefer sorting through the latest calendar apps on your phone, but, you know too, you will feel elated when you find the ONE certain to make this a great year.

We all have our tools and idiosyncrasies which we believe help us accomplish our goals for the coming year. Year after year, however, I learn that being organized and well-intentioned still leaves me falling short of achieving some goals. Over the holiday season I did some thinking on why that is.

I started by thinking about the goals I have set for myself in the past, which ones I was able to accomplish, and which ones I did not. Of course, sometimes I set myself up for failure by setting unrealistic expectations like exercising every day and eliminating sugar (really, no way!). But, assuming realistic expectations, what did I find was the difference between achieved and unachieved goals?

Other people.

Whoa, you may say, she’s blaming other people for not allowing her to reach her goals! No, no…quite the opposite. I am taking responsibility for not involving other people in the pursuit of accomplishing my goals. You see, when we look at it from a scriptural point of view, the Bible tells us:

“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22 New International Version

Throughout the Bible, it becomes clear that God intends for us to thrive through fellowship with others. Too often in our busy lives, we fail to engage with the people around us. Absorbed with discovering our own talents, we easily forget that working together yields greater results for everyone.

Over the past several years, I have set a goal to deepen my faith. I received daily email devotions, attempted to understand the Bible, and tried to attend church more regularly. I convinced myself I was meeting my goal, but something still felt unsettled. This past year, I stopped taking baby steps and leaped into several classes with others who wanted to explore their faith.

Admitting my lack of Biblical knowledge was somewhat intimidating. And, putting a voice to the questions and doubts that plagued my sense of reason made me feel exposed and vulnerable. I quickly learned, however, that I was not alone in these feelings. Other people had them too. And, they brought life experiences and learning to the table that I had no way of imagining on my own.  So, through the give and take of conversation, we learned from each other and deepened our faith in ways none of us could have alone.

Evaluating my other goals, I started to see a pattern. Whenever I sought “advisers”, I was more likely to reach my goal.

After years of pathetic attempts at strength training on my own, I found success by enlisting the help of someone with years of experience (see post: A Fit Faith). Making good choices about food became easier once I started reading books and attending classes taught by a few well-educated and trusted health crusaders. Joining an online training community for writers this fall provided knowledge from a team of experts on how to improve. And lastly, participating in a supportive forum for parents with college-aged kids, helped me revamp my changing role as a parent.

In all these areas of my life, from faith to health to vocation to family and so on, pursuing fruitful relationships with others helped me grow beyond any measurable goal I could envision. In return, I discovered unique contributions I could offer these individuals or my community as well.

So, in 2015 I finally learned something really big that has always been right in front of me, but never completely apparent. The load for achieving my goals does not rest squarely upon my two shoulders. Actually, my goals cannot even be achieved to their greatest degree by me alone. As I write down my 2016 New Year’s resolutions, an overriding tenet will be remembering to surround myself with others who excel where I falter.

Seeking help from wise counsel always promises to bring forth God’s best work in all of us.

Prayer for the Week:

Lord, Thank you for the blessing of another new year and the opportunity to start anew. Help me set goals with realistic expectations, and bring me solitude to consider my relationships with others. Show me ways we can rely on each other to achieve results beyond measure. Teach me to listen for your guidance on seeking counsel, and lead me in becoming a trusted adviser for others. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Christmas Countdown Challenge, Week 3-peace

Dove of Peace

Here we are at week three! How is your holiday spirit holding up? Are you weary from the stress of trying to please everybody – with the right gifts, the proper holiday sentiments, and celebrations that exceed expectations? It is so hard to remain relaxed in the midst of December chaos.

I’ve been wondering…do you think Jesus ever felt stressed by expectations from others? I mean, c’mon, just think about a few of the tasks stacked up on his to-do list: turn water into wine at a wedding that had run dry (John 2:1-11), feed 5,000 hungry souls with five loaves of bread and two fish (John 6:1-15), and raise a friend named Lazarus from the dead (John 11)! In these stories and many others, the people close to Jesus urged him to hurry up and fix things.

Yes, I think Jesus felt the stress surrounding him. What I find appealing is that he refused to react negatively to it. Time and time again, Bible stories describe Jesus’ calm, peaceful demeanor in the midst of crisis. In each case, he attentively listens to the issue at hand and then smoothly takes decisive action. I wish I could handle more situations this way, don’t you?

This week, for the Christmas Countdown Challenge, I am going to work on handling stressful situations with calm, purposeful action. As in the last several weeks of our countdown, I will write a related Scripture in the heading of my to-do list. Throughout the week, I will refer to this Scripture as I work through my Christmas tasks. My goal is to remain calm in the midst of stressful expectations, and feel more fulfilled by the season. I hope you plan on joining me! The Scripture for this week:

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:7 English Standard Version (ESV)

How can we calmly accomplish our tasks this week in spite of holiday stress? Here are a few ideas:

  • Set boundaries. There are many examples in the Bible of Jesus stepping back from, and even saying no to others in order to care for himself. Remember we are better able to care for others if we first place priority on taking care of ourselves. Meeting personal needs for sleep, nutrition, exercise, and relaxation sets us up to be better listeners, involved caregivers, and creative problem solvers.
  • Manage expectations. We tend to expect a lot of ourselves at Christmas. Set up a beautiful tree, host a cookie exchange, find the perfect gift, mail heartfelt wishes…the list goes on and on. It’s a tall order to fill, even for the most accomplished perfectionist. Trying to do all this day after day leads to burnout and quite frankly, “grinch-iness”. Managing expectations is not just about letting other people know what you can and cannot do; it’s also speaking truth to your own heart about how much you can handle. Let’s lighten our load and put our efforts into a reasonable number of tasks.
  • Seek new perspectives. When things don’t go according to plan, or family and friends disappoint, it’s easy to jump into reactions filled with anger, blame, or sadness. Instead of reacting, we can ask God to help us think about the situation differently. What might be influencing the behavior of those involved? Do my own expectations impact my reaction?
  • Scan for opportunities. During the holiday season, we face abundant opportunities to practice the way we handle stress. Even though stress surrounds us, we can practice maintaining a purposeful, yet peaceful demeanor. Each day provides a fresh start to harness our human nature and its fear-filled reactions to stress. Each problem situation offers a new chance to polish our more God-given characteristics of power, love, and self-control. Interesting, isn’t it? – how the birth month of our greatest gift, our Savior, is also a month full of opportunities to live more like him…

Prayer for the Week:

Dear God, Thank you for your guidance as I practice being calm and decisive during a stressful month. Help me as I prioritize my own needs, so that I can offer better care to others. Show me how to manage the expectations of others, and to be reasonable with what I expect of myself. Teach me to consider different perspectives before I react. Lead me in my words and actions, so I continually improve the way I represent you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Resources:

Attached you will find a to-do list document with the Scripture for the week displayed in the heading. Print it, if you would like, and use it for your list while referring to the Scripture throughout the week. Find peace in your week!

To-do List with Scripture, Week 3

 

Christmas Countdown Challenge, Week 2-expectations

merry christmas

Festive, joyous, bright, and full of merriment – that’s what holidays are made of. It’s what we order every year. It’s what we expect to receive. When life is good, we wait with joyous anticipation, and then, “Yes!”, we throw open the door and eagerly unwrap this type of Christmas.

Hmmm…but, there are those harder years, though, right? When the bell announcing the holiday rings, and we swallow real hard and hesitate to open the door. Because we know, this year, the package delivered won’t be what we ordered. We wanted a shiny, sparkly Christmas. Instead, we find a drab, beat up, missing-a-corner-kind of Christmas waiting on our front step.

I  pray your Christmas delivery this year is the shiny, sparkly kind we look forward to. There are several families on my mind lately who will have a more difficult time celebrating this season. This past year they battled illness, injury, and devastating losses. Chances are, people in your life are also coping with these struggles, and others like financial hardship and divorce.

We all relate to these difficulties at some point in our lives. This week, my Christmas Countdown Challenge is to help others who are hurting. Similar to last week’s challenge, I will begin by writing a meaningful Scripture on the heading of my to-do list. Before I assign priority to any task, I will read and contemplate this Scripture. While I go about my week, I will replay these words in my mind. My goal again this week is to remain less overwhelmed and more fulfilled by the season. I hope you will join me! The Scripture we will focus on this week:

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16 New International Version (NIV)

A few ideas on ways we can fulfill this Scripture:

  • Stop and pray. Picture a big red stop sign in your brain. Allow a moment to write down the names of the people in your life who need prayers. Next to their names, jot down your hopes for them. Be as specific as you can. For example, instead of simply praying for healing, you could pray for less pain, greater mobility, or caring doctors. Revisit these prayers each day.
  • Embark on encouragement. As you make your list for the week, include tasks to encourage those you are praying for. Maybe, include a hand-written note with your Christmas card to them. Bake a few extra treats to send their way. Offer to help them shop or take them for a coffee break. If they live far away, mail a gift certificate for an evening out or send a Christmas centerpiece to their home. In some way, let them know you care.
  • Leave a trail of joy. When you are out and about, remember to remain in the moment. Be present with the task you are completing and the people you are interacting with. If you are shopping, smile and make conversation with the clerk. If you are at work, listen to your co-workers and contribute only positive comments. Open doors, offer assistance, and dish out praise.
  • Let go and let God. Human nature convinces us at times that we can fix life’s difficulties, especially for those we love. We are disappointed when we discover we cannot. God calls us to work for him–not as him. Our toughest assignment, I believe, is trusting in a plan we cannot see. This Christmas, let’s work on letting go of things out of our control. Let’s hope that one day, when we look back inside that drab, beat up, missing-a-corner-kind of Christmas, we will be surprised to see a glimmer of treasure missed before.

Prayer for the Week:

Dear God, Thank you for staying right beside me no matter what life delivers this Christmas. Help me pray words which convey hope for others. Guide me in offering encouragement in meaningful ways. Show me ways I can serve you each day, as I try not to get lost in a holiday daze. Please forgive me when I try to run the show, and support me as I learn to trust in you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Resources:

Attached you will find a to-do list document with the Scripture for the week displayed in the heading. Print it, if you would like, and use it for your list while referring to the Scripture throughout the week. Let your light shine!

To-Do List with Scripture week 2