When I was around twenty years old, I began searching for a purpose in life. I wasn’t satisfied with the reason handed me by my family and society. This purpose was to make a good living, get married, raise three kids, do some good in the community and die.  I was not excited.

Therefore, I searched for meaning for six long years. I sought career success, marriage, fun, popularity, and advanced education. Even though I did attain some success, I still wasn’t satisfied with a compelling reason for being alive. I felt frustrated! Maybe I was chasing fantasies and there was no satisfying reason for my existence?

Then, at twenty-six, I was challenged to consider finding purpose in a relationship with God. I got excited about being involved in a giant rescue mission to help people find meaning in life through following Jesus. Therefore, I gladly accepted the challenge of becoming his disciple. I have never regretted this decision. Living for God’s will has brought me purpose for the past forty-six years.

But living for God is vague and we need the details of how it looks in everyday life. For example, I am entering a new stage where I need a fresh vision. I sense I am drifting a bit and not clearly focused on specific goals God wants to do through me. To help me clarify my purpose, I am reading and applying Andy Stanley’s book Visioning.

I feel sad many of us live much of our lives without a satisfying reason to live. This is what happened to the wisest man who ever lived. Solomon had this to say about life, “It is all meaningless—like chasing the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14) After pursuing every activity imaginable, he had this to say about purpose, “Fear God and obey his commandments, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, whether good or bad” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). Only when he connected his busyness to God’s purposes did he find meaning. Solomon was wise but did not practice wisdom for much of his life.

But how do we find God’s purposes for our lives?

First, we need to realize God had reasons for creating us. He says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared so that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, NAS).

As we journey with God through life, he reveals step-by-step what these works are. My works several years ago included working for the County to support my family, being a godly husband, raising my kids to be what God wanted them to be, and serving the church as an elder. Today, except for being a godly husband, all the works have changed.

We need to be careful to not pursue activities just because they feel good or others are impressed. When we don’t receive positive feedback, we can be deceived into thinking we don’t have much purpose.

I have struggled with this in recent years. The works God has given me have not given the feedback from others and myself for me to feel consistently important, loved, and safe. I have trusted more in this feedback than in what God thinks, which is “You are precious to me. You are honored, and I love you” Isaiah 43:4).

Four years ago, I came close to dying from an aortic aneurism. But I didn’t die. In a vision, God told me why. He said, “You didn’t die because I am not through working in you and through you.” Wow! I am important.

As long as we are alive we have a purpose to God for being here. We just need to discover what it is and live it out. May we choose to follow him as he leads us to finish his purposes.

If you are like me, you have spent little time thinking about heaven. There is so much living to do. So many responsibilities and so many tasks to do down here.

Our churches cooperate with this by seldom teaching about it. One of the reasons is most pastors don’t think of heaven much. They frequently receive little teaching from seminaries regarding heaven. Thus, pastors and Christians often have low expectations about heaven. One pastor even said he dreaded going there because it was going to be boring.

Therefore, many of us set our hopes on getting a raise, getting a new house, or accomplishing more at church to gain recognition. This disobeys God’s command to “set our minds on the things above, not the things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2, NAS). God wants us to look forward to heaven. He says to us, “Look forward to the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world” (1 Peter 1:13, NLT).

But why?

One thing is so we have the strength to face the daily battles with bills, raising kids, and all the other problems. Paul encourages us with “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (Romans 8:18). We can also be encouraged that these sufferings are producing rewards which God would not have given us without the sufferings (2 Corinthians 4:17).

God knows heaven is great and he wants us to anticipate it with eagerness. He says “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9, NLT).

Then, how can we look forward to something we have never imagined or experienced? By relying on the Holy Spirit to use our imaginations. May we remember some of our most enjoyable and experiences and imagine what heaven would be like if it were much better.

For me, I imagined what a day in heaven would look like. It would include living in a castle in the country, much like the flyover scenery from the beginning of the Sound of Music. I would be living with a family of many loving brothers and sisters. It would be a bright autumn day with Jesus coming over in the afternoon to go fishing with me. We planned to fish in a lake on the castle property which was full of large fish. Jesus and I planned to catch enough fish for a fish fry in the evening in which the castle family would be there. Afterwards, Jesus would hold a strategy meeting for those interested in developing a plan to reach worlds unknown for his purposes.

Will heaven be just like this for me. No. It will be much more exciting and exhilarating. But this exercise has helped me to become more excited about going there. I am sure many of you can imagine a day even more joyous and pleasurable for you, for he has promised that in his presence “is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11, NAS).

God wants us to look forward to heaven because it’s much better than here. In spite of our earthly families, friends, and achievements, the benefits of heaven are much better by far according to Paul (2 Corinthian 5:8). And he should know. He had been there before he wrote about it.

Why wait until this life has little to offer before we start thinking about heaven? Let’s get excited now about where we are going so we can better endure the challenges of this one and be prepared for the next one. May we learn to set our hopes on fully-experiencing the benefits of heaven, which will be even better than whatever we can imagine down here.

Face the Pain

I am beginning to realize how I have been running from a truth for several years now. The truth is that I am mortal. This means someday I will die. I know it sounds morbid, but it’s a truth we will all have to face one day. Yet, I haven’t fully-faced this painful reality. Despite three major surgeries in the last four years, I have continued to ignore the obvious.

It seems like God wanted me to face this pain when I almost died four years ago from an aneurism which nearly burst. But emergency surgery saved me. However, the doctors found extensive artery disease requiring six bypasses to fix the problem.

When I recovered from the surgery, I believed I was good for another twenty years. No. It seems the next year they discovered another aneurism requiring immediate surgery.  After the surgery, I put it behind me again and thought I didn’t need to face my mortality for another twenty years. No. A follow-up exam two years later found a new fast-growing aneurism, which also required immediate surgery.

Because I had not fully-faced the pain of my mortality, I have viewed doctors, tests, results and surgeries as enemies of my soul. They mess with the lie I will never die. This put me under a lot of stress. However, by accepting my mortality, I am beginning to see them as friends. They are my partners in postponing the painful reality as long as possible.

We all have painful things we avoid facing. This could be a difficult childhood, a failed marriage, bad health, or a major mistake we have made.

We must reach the point where the pain to avoid facing it is greater than the pain to confront it. God will need to bring us to this point.

In facing our pain, we need to ask God to help us be honest and depend on him to reveal the truth to us. We then need to ruthlessly turn away from the lies we are still clinging to regarding the situation. We need to rely on him to give us the guidance and strength to press on toward healing. Like me, we need to see how running from our pain is hurting our ability to live a joyful and powerful life today.

Two things which are helpful in this healing process are to talk and listen to God through praying the Scriptures and to seek out quality counselors.  Some of my richest times of gaining strength have been in praying the psalms. In those times, I both meditate and pray the requests in the psalms. I often digress and have a conversation with God about how the verse applies to my situation.

Counselors, both professionals and spiritually mature friends, can help us sort out the tangled confusion of our thoughts and feelings. One of my favorite verses is, “Victory is won through many advisors” (Proverbs 11:14, NIV).

So, what are you running from? Ask God to help you know. Ask him for the courage to face whatever it is. Be encouraged! God is relentless and loves us so much he will never give up helping us face our pain and transforming us to be like Jesus.

 

 

 

Balancing Life

The last three months having been particularly difficult for me. I had some health challenges including surgery and a major ministry commitment which added a hundred hours to my schedule in three weeks.

My system was thrown out of balance. I felt anxious and struggled with depression. Pain and fatigue were evident as well. I was so tired that I chose to stay home and rest rather than go with my wife to visit her relatives.

During the week she was gone, I reread the book Anxiety and Stress by Archibald Hart. I realized I needed more balanced.  Life was more than producing and impressing. I needed to beef up my exercise, friendships, relaxation, and rest to have the power to overcome the challenges ahead.

But what else could I do to be more balanced?

I reflected on what happened to me thirty years ago in which the challenges had worn me down. Job pressures, moving, and mid-life issues had exhausted me physically and emotionally. Over a three-year period, I learned how to slow down and add to my physical and emotional resources. This included giving myself permission to rest as needed, Sabbath rest on Sundays, recreational activities, and intentional relaxation. I have continued to practice many of these habits for the past thirty years. For the most part, they have helped me to have the strength to meet the challenges.

Recalling this journey over thirty years ago gave me hope God and I could restore my strength again to confidently face the challenges ahead. I am convinced nothing less than an all-out commitment to greater balance will be sufficient. God doesn’t seem to be lowering my challenges to fit my resources. Instead, he is challenging me to raise my strength to match his increased challenges.

As God and I developed an approach to a more balanced life, I was able to use the approach from thirty years ago as a starting point. This time the balanced approach had nine categories of activities.

Balance was the key. The elements of my recovery plan included counseling, spiritual growth, recreation, relaxation, nurturing social relationships, medical, and exercise. Also, it’s important to give out to others for all get and no give is not healthy for our souls. I know it will work because it has in the past and God has led in developing this one. He has been helping me implement it with good results so far.

Each day I seek the Lord on what I need to put into my schedule to sow good seed to reap a harvest of emotional and physical strength. I try to do at least one thing in each category as God leads. For example, one day I chose to do activities that were recreational, counseling (through book reading), exercise, social, rest, personal (like journaling) and spiritual. What I do is a day-to-day thing as God leads. I also do other things too, like ministry and chores around the house.

So, let’s not be victims of our circumstances. God has promised us the ability to face and overcome future challenges. Paul says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, NASB). This means facing with power whatever happens. Our job is to follow God and be responsive to leading the balanced life we need to be able to face the future with joy, peace, and love.

I feel I have been under considerable stress for the past three months. First, I had emergency surgery and then follow-up tests. Two months later, I had to rush my wife to the hospital with a possible heart attack. The next day I began a three-week program in which I mentored medical students for over thirty hours per week. After the three months, I felt drained, anxious, and depressed and wondered how could I get my joy and peace back?

How Stress Affects Us

Stress is with us to stay. We can’t avoid it. We experience stress in the big challenges of life, and in the daily hassles. There is nothing wrong with being under stress. It’s the way God designed life. What is important is to allow ourselves time to recover from the stress and not keep going as usual.

Ways to Recover

First, we need to face the fact we are tired and need recovery. Our natural tendency is to stay busy.

However, slowing down is not as easy as it seems. Many of us will suffer depression when we are not accomplishing as much. Our positive feelings about our worth are often tied to how much we get done. We may remind ourselves that with God we don’t lose any importance by not accomplishing as much.

We may also endure various physical and psychological pains that were masked when we were on an adrenalin high from responding to the stress. These pains would include headaches and indigestion.

We can become a student of ourselves in discovering what activities restore and refresh us. I have found it enjoyable to experiment to determine what activities add to my well – being. One thing I discovered was a love for deep-sea fishing.

Another action to take time is to rest. We need to slow down and take naps as necessary, and we can practice a Sabbath rest once a week if possible. Even God rested from his work on the seventh day.

We should be careful in making new commitments. I prayerfully consider each new commitment while I am in a recovery period which helps in not becoming overly – committed and stressed.

It is important to monitor our adrenalin arousal and how much “fight or flight” energy we are recruiting to handle each problem. Often, we use too much emotional energy. I recently started stressing over simply making an appointment for a test and had to talk myself down from a high adrenalin arousal. Remember God is watching over us and protecting us from all harm (Psalm 128:8).

However, we will need to be patient with ourselves. We didn’t get burned out in a day and we won’t recover in a day either. Many years ago, I knew little about resting and recovery and continued to push myself to do more when I was tired and needed to slow down. When I finally realized how depleted I was, I was exhausted physically and emotionally. It took me three years to fully recover my health.

Let’s learn to pace ourselves. May we enjoy the thrills, excitement and distraction stress brings us. But let’s also cooperate with our bodies and minds in being restored. May God grant us the grace to practice the actions that will help us to recover from stress.

 

 

 

 

I recently discovered I had another abdominal aneurism. They occur in weak arteries and often will rupture if they aren’t shored up by stents or other medical procedures. I had one three years earlier that had been successfully repaired through surgery.

Now, I had another one in the same area. The vascular surgeon recommended immediate surgery because it was growing fast and it was in danger of rupturing. Two weeks later I had surgery to repair the aneurism.

The doctor was pleased with how the surgery went. All the tests showed the aneurism was successfully repaired with a stent. I felt relief and a sense of security, at least until the follow-up scan.

Anticipating the results of the follow-up scan, what should I expect? Could God be trusted to give me good results?

What Can We Trust God to Do for Us?

As I waited for the scan results, God began talking to me through several verses of Scripture. One was, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 23:13, NASB). This reminded me we can trust our God to be good and do good things for us.

He also said, “Delight yourself in Me and I will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4, NASB). We can trust God to give us the desires of our heart as we delight in his goodness and greatness and allow him to change our desires.

We can also trust him to grow us spiritually through the challenges we face. He says in Romans 8:28-29:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called by according to his purpose. For those he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son”

He tells us in these verses he controls the scan results and will work them to our good, which is to make us more like Jesus.

Finally, we can trust God to lovingly watch over us in the difficulties of our lives. He said to me, “I am watching over you lovingly so that no real harm will come to you” (Psalm 121:8, paraphrased). God is our Father who deeply loves us and has our best interests at heart.

Experiencing His Protection

How do we feel safe as we face possibly dangerous circumstances? How do we experience the protection we know we have?

One thing that helps is to reflect and give thanks to God for the many times we have experienced his goodness. When I recall his blessings to me, I often feel better.

Another action is to meditate on verses like Job 37:13, which tells us that God is the one in control. It’s not circumstances, doctors, or how much faith we have that determines the results. God causes the results he wants for his purposes.

A final thought is to pray knowing God Almighty is good and has the power to give us what we ask. We then ask and trust he will give us good results- even if they aren’t the results we hoped for.

Yes, God can be trusted. He will do what he has promised. He will always look out for our best interests. He will always be with us to protect and help us in whatever we face.

 

 

 

I didn’t like the job that God seemed to be leading me into. I wanted to be a missionary but I had just been offered a good job with county government. My leader had interpreted this as God’s will for me to work in a secular job instead of working for his missionary organization. But I felt very disappointed. I didn’t think the job would be as exciting or important as being a missionary.

I suffered for two years with feeling that my career was inferior to being a full-time Christian worker – until I read the book, Secular Worker is Full-Time Service. The book explained that whatever job God leads us into, it is important work. A missionary’s work is not more important than doing a government job. We are all God’s representatives to the people at our jobs and to those who benefit from our labor. We further God’s work in the world by doing our jobs well, even if they are secular.

After reading this book I felt better. I had peace. I embraced my new career and stayed with it for 34 years. Although my career may not have been as desirable as being a missionary, it was what God wanted to do.

Part of the problem with our jobs is that we often use them to try to meet needs that they were never been designed to meet. We seek a fulfillment and meaning that our jobs will never provide. Unless they are connected to God’s purposes, they will lack meaning and satisfaction.

However, in my experience, I feel his joy and peace when I sense he is using me in my job. The honor and respect we get from people through our job achievements will never match the love, respect, and acceptance we get from God from just being his sons or daughters. We can learn to be content in our secular jobs resting in what God thinks of us rather than depending on what others think.

We must see our jobs from God’s perspective. Every job that God leads us to do has an important purpose in God’s plan of revealing himself and rescuing people from Satan’s control.

When we see our jobs as our way to serve God, it takes on more meaning than just putting bread on the table. Also, I have found that any job can be made more fulfilling by doing a good job. I feel satisfied out of doing the simplest projects well.

As I reflect on my secular career, I see how God has used the experience to make me more like himself. The tedious tasks developed patience, the difficult assignments developed courage, and the overwhelming projects developed humility.  The times I wasn’t promoted produced endurance, the times of success produced confidence in God’s goodness, and the times of obscurity produced greater dependence on God’s high opinion of me instead of what others think.

As the Psalmist says, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked” (Psalm 84:10, NLT). May we accept that God’s choice of our job is better than having any other job. We can then expect to experience joy and peace for doing his assignment.