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

Three Ways Gratitude Boosts Faith

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Yesterday, I caught myself smiling because I felt grateful for grasshoppers. Yes, strangely enough, grasshoppers. These hopping creatures have taken over my walking trail recently. Randomly popping up out of the long grasses, they bounce high across the sidewalk – in front of me, beside me, behind me, and sometimes even ON me!

Not long ago, I would have merely found them an annoyance and kind of creepy looking. But, as I walked with them yesterday, I saw them differently. Studying one that sat still, I photographed it and admired its construction. Remembering that I saw them last year, I wondered if they are a sign of the seasons changing. I considered how happy and free they seem, in spite of their relatively short life span.  In my mind, I compared them to guests at a surprise party, eagerly waiting to jump up and yell, “Surprise!” As I was thinking these things, I did not think about anything else. The grasshoppers held me captive in the present moment – no worries, no hurries, no deadlines, no cares. So, yes I am quite grateful for grasshoppers.

Upon returning home, I scribbled down one simple word in my gratitude journal – grasshoppers. In October 2012, almost four years ago, I started a numbered list of things I am thankful for in a gratitude journal. It began as an experiment after I read a book by Ann Voskamp called One Thousand Gifts. In her poetically written book, Ann describes how jotting down simple blessings or gifts noticed throughout her day (like grasshoppers) enhances her faith. She challenges herself to reach one thousand gifts, thus her aptly named book.

After reading Ann’s book in 2012, I aimed to record my own one thousand gifts. I bought a journal and started recording: 1. Bright fall colors, 2. Leaves falling down, and 3. Dinner together. Each day, my goal was to record at least three to five gifts in my journal. I missed some days. And, sometimes I found it hard to come up with three things. Other days, a tidal wave of gifts would sweep over me. Each day I tried to think of brand new gifts, but I did not make it a requirement. There were many days I repeated writing the same gift such as gratefulness for my family. I decided there was nothing wrong with that. As far as I know, there are no rules or boundaries with gratitude.

When I began this practice, I didn’t know if I would stick with it. I tried an online thankfulness journal in the past and stopped. I tried naming blessings before getting out of bed in the morning, but too often my to-do list would take over my thoughts. I liked how I could easily open this journal and focus on quickly writing something down. Later, paging back over my gifts reminded me of prayers I had at that time as well. Slowly, over the next four years, I noticed a boost in my faith.

Here are three ways gratitude boosts faith:

1. Gratitude teaches us to enjoy “present” moments

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

The word “present” means a few things when discussing gratitude. First, living in the present refers to enjoying the period of time occurring right now. Second, being present is an attitude, meaning we pay attention to our life; we are aware of our surroundings. And third, a present is a gift or something given to someone free of charge. All of these meanings come into play as we relate gratitude to faith through the Scripture above.

Practicing gratitude boosts faith by reminding us God gave us life for today – in this moment (period of time). Making gratitude a habit teaches us to intentionally look for and be aware of reasons to rejoice, even on days when we don’t feel like it (attitude). Faith grows as we see and appreciate all the loving offerings our God provides (gifts). Because of gratitude, I was present enough to notice the grasshoppers, look for reasons to appreciate them, and consider them as a gift for my day.

2. Gratitude delivers peace when combined with prayer

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7 (NLT)

A daily practice combining gratitude and prayer helps us gradually experience God’s peace. We start by turning our worries into prayers. And, we work on accepting that we cannot control or fix some of the problems in our lives. Instead of letting issues rule our emotions, we tell God about them and keep gathering strength to move ahead through gratitude.

Practicing gratitude brings gifts or blessings to our attention which encourages us. Thanking God for these gifts we see, in spite of our trouble, fills us with hope. Peace or faith in God’s care increases as we become more aware of all he does for us each day.

3. Gratitude brings enough.  

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19 (NLT)

It is hard to feel grateful and lacking at the same time.

As we get better at noticing God’s blessings in our lives, desires for more material possessions wane. We learn that having the latest and greatest stuff does not keep us satisfied for very long. We evaluate wants versus needs more than before. Often after consideration, gratitude brings us to the conclusion that we are content; we have enough.

In a similar way, gratitude also teaches us that we are enough. The world constantly messages us that we should be better looking, more successful, and always upbeat. But, gratitude says, “Hey, we are doing okay.” Becoming more thankful for how God made us unique teaches us to care less about being judged by the world. Our motivation changes. We stop living to please others, and we start living to please God. Filling up our hearts with gratitude inspires good and healthy action.

Boosting faith through gratitude takes time. The three boosts to faith of living in the present moment, finding God’s peace, and having/being enough certainly do not show up the first day we practice gratitude. Like any good habit, gratitude requires routine commitment. If writing in a journal each day doesn’t work, brainstorm for something that might. Everyone can practice gratitude each day in some way. For example, gifts from the day can be shared over a meal with family or friends, photographed during a walk, thought about at soccer practice, or whispered before sleep at night.

This week, as I wrote grasshoppers down in my gratitude journal, I passed a mile marker of three thousand gifts. This astounds me. Four years ago, when I wrote down my first few blessings, I had a hunch gratitude might improve my life. I had no idea it would become one of my lifelines over the next several years as our family coped with health challenges. Of course, God knew then my faith would need a boost. He brought me to gratitude. Thank you God.

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The Grasshopper Gift by Jamie Trunnel 

Grasshoppers, you both scare and delight with a greeting so hearty;
Jumping out like eager guests waiting for a surprise party.

A quiet walk turns into a celebration every few steps,
As you pop across the pavement giving my gait greater pep.

Keep me on my toes, my eyes aware to see
Brief miracles of life around, hopping free.

You remind me within each day lies a gift.
Even an abundance of insects can give spirits a lift.  

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Other Resources:

For more on materialism read the previous post Kick Materialism to the Curb

For more on blessings read the previous post Defining Grace

For more on finding joy read the previous post Joy > Happiness

Find Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts on Amazon right here

Note: The grasshopper photos shown in this post are courtesy of Pixabay.com

Living like a Superhero

Have No Fear… Unless You Make Me Mad

The automatic doors hummed open, and our eyes smiled with connection – a young boy, of about 5 years, and myself. His mom, nearby, leaned on their cart, fishing for keys and handling life’s latest on her cell phone.

Waiting beside her, I know he saw me coming. He saw me with my cart full of groceries and my mind busy with thought. So, he thought of a plan he could initiate quick.

His expression turned stern as he methodically focused on my approach. My distracted gaze turned into curious wonder. He planted his feet wide and placed his little hands straight together, as if to say a prayer over his heart.

There was a pause. A wait, if you will, for my exact “exit” moment.  As the doors buzzed open, he flung his arms out wide with power, and a “whoosh” sound sailed from his lips. In his marvelous imagination, his superhero capabilities had opened those automated doors for me.

Together in the moment, our grins escaped us.

This small superhero brightened my ordinary day. My own kids, now in college, were also once young, versatile characters – routinely becoming ninjas, magicians, pirates, or superheroes at the drop of a hat. This little boy reminded me of them and of all the adventures we shared as they were growing up.

My tense, busy thoughts slipped away as memories of lighter moments took their place. Suddenly, the importance of my to-do list paled in comparison to enjoying the moments of my day. I hope, maybe, by playing along, I improved my young hero’s day as well.

Can you remember a recent encounter with a superhero? Most likely, your encounter was not with someone possessing door opening powers (sorry, maybe next time). More likely, it was witnessing someone taking a stand for something they believe in, providing a helping hand, or sharing knowledge they possess.

Have you ever thought about how you use your superhero power?

Some people have jobs which are heroic in nature like firefighters, the military, health care workers, shelter administrators, teachers, and pastors. Their superhero identities and powers are public knowledge – as with Ironman or Captain America.

But, the rest of us, like the majority of superheroes, have hidden identities and powers – more like Superman, Batman, or Spiderman. The fact that our powers are not readily apparent does not make them any less valuable. They lie beneath the surface and emerge in many roles such as: parent, friend, child, artist, volunteer, advocate, patient, customer, employer, or team member.

Our powers are actions we are gifted in like: truly listening, showing encouragement, offering guidance, providing resources, demonstrating strength, inspiring change, or recognizing the good in others. Those around us have a true need for these elements of our character, and they thrive because of our efforts.

We can be superheroes in whatever we do, wherever we are. 

My encounter at the grocery store reminded me that each of us is born with motivation to live like a superhero. Have you ever met a child who did not pretend to save the planet from something evil? I have not.

Human beings have an innate drive to save.

Somewhere along the way, for many of us though, that drive gets buried. It gets buried under the responsibilities and insecurities this world dumps on us. That’s life. But, you know, like any fantastic superhero story, we can rise out of the rubble and reclaim our strength.

How do we live like superheroes?

I like to learn by example. And, some of the greatest historical examples of people becoming superheroes are found in the Bible. Each of them offers lessons to help refine our character, but the ultimate example of a superhero found in the Bible – Christians believe that to be Jesus.

Throughout Jesus’ life, he modeled many heroic qualities, and he left us with a mission to live our lives more like his. After searching Scripture for instructions on how to live like Jesus, I zeroed in on three of his main heroic traits we can apply to our lives:

  • Courage

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26 New International Version (NIV)

Whether we are doing a big thing or a small thing, being a superhero requires courage in action and in belief.

Courageous actions show we trust in outcomes beyond our control. We keep moving forward through uncertainty, knowing God works in every situation for our eventual good.

Courageous beliefs instinctively guide us to step out of our comfort zones, and serve others in ways we could never imagine. Amazing things can happen when we let go of worldly constraints and see where our hearts can take us.

Following Jesus means we bravely surrender our own plans, and dare to dream about his.

  • Self-sacrifice

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24 (NIV)

This piece of Scripture tends to make people squirm. The word “deny” does not fit well into our culture of achievement, excess, and conformity.

It is much more comfortable to follow Jesus from afar. Jumping in the trenches with him brings inconvenience, judgement, and discomfort.

But, all superheroes readily give up their own interests and agendas for the common good, don’t they? Jesus never promised an easy path. In fact, he informed us that “in this world, you will have trouble” (John 16:33).

Following Jesus means we move selflessly, without hesitancy, to do God’s work and to show appreciation for God’s work being done.

  • Love

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:34-35 (NIV)

Becoming a superhero or following Jesus like a disciple, means we wholeheartedly seek to live as he did by loving others.

Unlike other heroes, our mission instructions will never self-destruct. Jesus sends daily instructions by way of the Holy Spirit, which lives in all believers. If we pay attention, we will notice the Holy Spirit continually pointing out opportunities to love.

With practice, we get better at loving others and tuning out protests from our human nature. We adapt to hearing the Lord’s quiet praise instead of the world’s noisy recognition.

Following Jesus means we examine all of our actions and beliefs to see if they resonate with love. 

Superheroes work better together, when their powers are combined.  

Familiar superheroes almost always enlist a sidekick or join forces with other superheroes to take down a villain mastermind, right? In a similar way, Jesus formed a team of disciples to spread his teachings, instilled the Holy Spirit in his believers, and called them to spread a message of love.

We do not have to look very far to find superheroes ready to team up. They are out there – making sales calls, coaching baseball teams, sitting in hospital rooms, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and pretending to open automated doors.

Just like any combined force of characters, we feel more powerful together, and the good we do multiplies.

An army of mere mortals we will be, confidently placed on the front lines and backed by the ultimate power, the mighty hero, our awesome God. Surely, our grins escape us. And then…

The Lord will march forth like a mighty hero. Isaiah 42:13 (NLT)

Prayer for the Week

Dear God,

Thank you for placing others in my path who remind me of my mission to love as courageously and selflessly as Jesus did.

Help me find the courage to act when faced with the unknown. Guide me to bravely believe in the coming good.

Save a spot for me next to you in the trenches. Give me the strength to make sacrifices and readily accept hard assignments.

Teach me to quickly recognize opportunities to model your love and to praise others for the work they have done.

Encourage me to humbly join forces with the companions you send my way. Guard our backs as we work hard to bring glory to your name.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Inspiring Resources:   

  • This: Idleman, Kyle. Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print. Available on Amazon right here.
  • And this:
My two superheroes in their younger years.
My two superheroes in their younger years.

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

Love on Ordinary Days

Love

 

“The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31 New International Version (NIV)

She stood on my doorstep, her face mirroring my own, shadowed with concern. It was September 11, 2001, and the world would be forever changed. Our family had recently moved from New York to Iowa. My husband, however, was still working in New York City, not far from the Twin Towers. “I just heard the news,” my neighbor said. “Are you alright?”

Unreachable by phone, his safety was finally confirmed via email late that day. Stories of a city that looked like a war zone. Heavy sadness regarding the fate of colleagues. People uniting for aid and sanity.

This past weekend another tragic scene of terror took place in Paris. Witnesses’ testimonies resound and horrific images roll across our television screens. Hearing accounts of shopkeepers and residents ushering people off the street into safer havens brings back the hard memories of 9/11 once again.

Days like this come all too often anymore. Bringing their own brand of fear and sorrow, they compel us to broaden our definition of who “neighbors” are and how to love them through painful times.

In the midst of chaos, we become keenly aware of the call on our hearts to express love to others despite differences or distance. Somehow this call diminishes once life returns to normal. Why?

Maybe because when life is “ordinary”, there is ample space for human judgement and disregard to creep in. Sometimes, unintentionally, our “humanness” deflates our power to love. It is so much easier to love someone when they are nice, when they agree with our opinions, and when their lifestyle is comparable to our own. If differences arise or time is scarce, then demonstrating love challenges the best of us.

Scripture clearly emphasizes loving others as we love ourselves. Jesus commands us to love intentionally this way every day – even ordinary days. How can we amend our human nature to better fulfill God’s expectations to love? Here are some ideas I’m working on:   

  • Learn: Study acceptance through examples of love. Every week we hear extraordinary stories of love, service, and even forgiveness.

In late 2014, a couple (Deborah and Donald St. Laurent) in New Hampshire lobbied to release their son’s killer, Chris Bazar, from prison, then gave him a job and a place to live. The two young men were best friends up until the night of the shooting, when drinking and marijuana impaired Bazar’s thinking. The Christian Post offers this quote from the bereaved father: “I think he’s done his time. I think it’s something that he’s gonna have to live with for the rest of his life. I also believe that people deserve a second chance,” added Mr. St. Laurent. (Web. 12 November 2015)

Headlines like this are reminiscent of teachings in the Bible. Modeling neighborly love throughout his life, Jesus also befriended those others turned away. He continually counseled and assisted the sick, the poor, the elderly, and the imprisoned.

God does not ask us to decide if someone is worthy of love; he declares love for all people, regardless of circumstances. He instructs us to simply and obediently demonstrate his love and acceptance.

  • Listen: Hear needs for love around us. Identifying needs help us understand how our talents can showcase love. Is it in the form of encouragement, comfort, resources, wisdom, ministry…?

Gustavo “Goose” Alvarez spent more than ten years locked up in prison. While there, he discovered a valuable food commodity – instant ramen noodle soup cups. Prisoners could buy them at the commissary, trade them, and concoct elaborate feasts with random ingredients.

For example, instant ramen combined with strawberry jelly and soy sauce makes a delicious teriyaki soup. Add Flamin’ Hot Cheetos to a cup for a tamale flavor. Alvarez and a childhood friend wrote a book detailing recipes collected from prisoners, along with some intriguing stories about serving time. Prison Ramen: Recipes and Stories from Behind Bars is now sold in bookstores both inside and outside of prison.

Alvarez paid attention to the needs around him. He saw that swapping stories and recipes brought the prisoner community closer together, leading to fellowship instead of hostility. His storytelling talent benefits not only the prison community, but many others who enjoy a good tale and cheap meal.

  • Lead: Use our own pain to love others. We are all messed up, imperfect, and broken. Our pain ideally positions us to help someone else on a similar path.

The Woodward family of Atlanta, Georgia is using their experience in battling Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis to help others. Three of the four members in their family cope with these conditions. All successfully achieved remission through the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). Sharing their experience and helping others became their website’s mission. And, their foundation assists in funding unprecedented SCD research at the Children’s Hospital of Atlanta and the Seattle Children’s Hospital.

The Woodward family bravely shares their journey to help others cope. Their story illustrates how one family can generate a ripple effect of love through their own hardship.

These examples illustrate how we can work to better “love our neighbors” every day. Learning how others overcome judgement helps us think differently about people. Listening to needs for love identifies ways to use talents. And, leading others out of brokenness provides proof of God’s grace.

God’s heart breaks when his people are in the midst of tragedy. He calls us to help revive their hope. Then, he asks for our best effort in remembering this same assignment when order is restored.

Prayer for the Week:

Dear Lord, Prayers for our neighbors in Paris to feel the comfort of your embrace. May they receive your love through those faithfully serving as your hands and feet. Show me how to love even when it is difficult. Teach me how my talents can help others overcome challenges. Enable me to confidently use my own hurt to boldly love others. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Scriptures to Apply:

Mark 12:31, “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (NIV)

Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (NIV)

Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (NIV)

Questions to Help Make Sense of Life:  What situations or people make it difficult for me to love? If I ask God to help me think about this differently, what might I learn? Where do my talents match up with needs for love? How can I use the brokenness of my life to help heal other lives?

Resources 

http://www.christianpost.com/news/people-deserve-a-second-chance-in-unusual-case-of-forgiveness-parents-give-sons-killer-home-and-job-128346/

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/11/04/454671629/behind-bars-cheap-ramen-is-as-good-as-gold

http://gutharmony.net/index.php/2015/08/26/scd-helped-this-whole-family/#more-784