Archive for February, 2015

It Takes Courage

I admit that to some extent I am a timid person. I am afraid of heights, do not have any desire to skydive, and never mastered the art of speaking calmly to a large audience.

I have also struggled with many other fears, pains, and scary circumstances in life.

But in the process of living my life, I’ve developed a lot of courage.

What’s courage and why do we need it?

What Courage Is

Courage is our ability to do something that scares us or causes us great pain because it’s the right thing to do. It is not being fearless. It’s our commitment to do God’s will at all costs, which could be losing our head, as some have.

Why We Need It

We need courage to live the life that God intends for us. For example, as Joshua was about to enter the Promised Land and conquer it God commands him to be strong and courageous. Why?

Because it was scary and dangerous to conquer the Promised Land. Many fighting men would be tempted to give up and retreat. They needed a leader who followed God into the heat of battle where death and injury often happened.

And our life also has many dangers and pains in it. God promises it will. “In the world you will have tribulations” (John 16:33). How can we live for the will of God if instead we are guided by our fears and comfortable circumstances?

When I was going through a particularly difficult and confusing time several years ago, my main beacon of light was determining what the responsible thing to do was. Then, I asked God for the courage to do it. It was not finding what felt good or what was easy.

An example from that time was the problem of resting. I usually didn’t feel good when I rested. But I needed to rest, even though I felt guilty and sad because I wasn’t accomplishing anything. But I courageously learned to rest because it was the responsible thing to do.

So, how do we get courage?

How We Get It

One thing we can do to get courage is to act courageous–to face our fears. The opposite thing to do is to run away or avoid them.

I have seen the consequences of acting cowardly, both in my own life and in organizations. There are serious consequences when we don’t act courageously in the face of danger and pain. In my case, I burned out keeping busy until I courageously learned to rest.

Another key to acting courageously is to live in the reality that God is always with us and helping us to do his will. If only we will rely on him. “Don’t be afraid, I will help, strengthen and uphold you. Only rely on Me” (Isaiah 41:10; Hebrews 11:6, paraphrased).

A third thing we can do to acquire courage is to be filled with the Spirit. We need to learn how to live in the power of the Spirit. Then we will be courageous. “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power” (2 Timothy 1:7, ESV).

A final suggestion in acquiring courage would be to reflect on God’s help in other difficult times in our life. Part of David’s courage to face Goliath came from his reflection on God’s faithfulness to help him in the past to face the dangers of both lion and bear (1 Samuel 17:32-50).

So, are we going to choose to be courageous?

Remember the old saying, “ A coward dies a thousand deaths, a hero dies but once.” A courageous person is a hero.

May we choose to be courageous. May we have the courage to do all of God’s will, even when it’s scary and hurts.

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How Can We Be Successful?

One of the positive things I received from my dad was ambition. I wanted to be a success in life. I wanted my life to count.

But I never seemed to be satisfied with my achievements. If I got promoted to one level, it wasn’t long before I was dissatisfied and wanted a higher one.

I thought at one time that if I became a manager, then I would be successful. So, I became a manager–but I failed as a manager because I never seemed to master supervising supervisors.

Currently, I am trying to succeed at writing. I have written a book, and I write this weekly blog. I have set up some standards to measure success- and I am failing to succeed by my standards. But am I failing by God’s standards?

What Is Success?

Solomon is considered the wisest man who ever lived (although he often did not act on his wisdom). He concludes that success in life is respecting God and obeying him (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

Jesus says that success is to do God’s work and to seek to grow spiritually. “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

God says through Jeremiah that success is following God’s plans for our life. “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, NLT).

It’s not our arbitrary standards that measure our success. It’s not what others think. It’s not the honor and publicity we receive that determines how successful we are. It’s what God thinks.

And how successful he thinks we are will not be known until the Believers’ Judgment that we all will go through to determine our rewards in heaven (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

From this passage, success to God is the extent that he thinks we did the works he wanted us to do, in his power, and for his purposes.

So, what must we do to be successful?

What We Need to Do To Succeed

One thing we can do to succeed in life is to obey God. Not just know the Bible, but also obey the Bible-and the key to obeying the Bible is learning to rely on God who not only instructs us how to live through the Bible, but also empowers us to live it.

Another thing we can do to succeed in life is to learn to trust God, even when we don’t have a clue where he is leading us. Do we want to limit our trust in Almighty God to do only what we can understand?

God says, “Trust Me with all your heart. Don’t trust your understanding. Then, I will lead you into success as I define it.” (Proverbs 3:5-6, paraphrased).

He also instructs us in the Book of Joshua that success comes through meditation on the Bible and obeying it. Reading, hearing, memorizing, and studying it are all good, but until we meditate on the Bible we often don’t hear what God is revealing to us (Joshua 1:8).

A final thought on what we can do to succeed in life is to love and appreciate God for who he is–and then he promises to bless us with success. “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). In the process of delighting in him, he changes our desires to match his and enables us to succeed in attaining them.

My prayer is that you will be a success in life and you won’t be fooled by seeking success in how famous you are, how much money you make, or how big is your ministry.

Instead, may you find success in doing what God wants you to do, relying on him to do it, and for the purpose of furthering his work in the world.

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I wrote an article a few months ago about spiritual disciplines. It has been one of the most read articles on this blog in recent months. This has encouraged me to write some more about them.

First of all, what are spiritual disciplines?

What Spiritual Disciplines Are

Spiritual disciplines are practices like doing Bible study, listening to sermons, and memorizing Scripture. Doing them does not grow us spiritually. Yet, God often uses them to grow us spiritually. He does the growing as we cooperate with him by practicing the spiritual disciplines that he leads us to do.

What Spiritual Disciplines Are Not

When I was a young Christian, I thought that having daily quiet times, going on retreats and doing Bible studies was why I was growing as a Christian. I couldn’t imagine that God would grow me unless I did the heavy lifting by practicing spiritual disciplines.

So, I was somewhat sympathetic towards some people who criticized me last year for teaching “works righteousness” when I advocated practicing spiritual disciplines. Even though my first response was, “How could they think that? Of course growing spiritually is totally a work of God.” But I soon recalled my experience trying to earn spiritual growth by working hard through spiritual disciplines.

I was reminded that we could misuse Bible studies and quiet times to earn favor with God, instead of using them to receive God’s grace of spiritual growth.

God Requires Our Participation To Grow Us

However, I have come to realize that without God working no matter how many Bible studies I do, verses I memorize, or how long I pray, I will not grow. But I won’t grow to maturity if I don’t do these things either. God requires my participation.

It is like a farmer sitting on his hands and refusing to plant seeds and cultivate the land. Can he expect to harvest a crop in the fall? Of course not!

Paul says, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7, NIV).

So, like the farmer, practicing spiritual disciplines is like planting and watering seeds. They are activities we do through which God performs his miracle of transformation.

Our Participation Includes Spiritual Disciplines

God says, “Pray and I will take away all your fears” (Psalm 34:4, paraphrased). The spiritual discipline is intense prayer.

“Meditate on My word and obey it and I will make you successful” (Joshua 1:8, paraphrased). The spiritual disciplines are meditation and Scripture memory.

“Invite Me to search your heart and change it with your cooperation and I will” (Psalm 139:23-24, paraphrased). The spiritual discipline is contemplative prayer.

“Be silent and I will reveal Myself to you in deeper ways” (Psalm 46:10, paraphrased). The spiritual discipline is silence.

“Follow My example while I was on earth and often spend time with the Father in undistracted devotion” (Mark 1:35, paraphrased). The spiritual discipline is a quiet time.

I know of over 60 spiritual disciplines. We can’t even begin to do them all every day. Or would we want to. Instead, may we ask him to lead us to practice the few that he will use today to make us godlier and to do his works through us (Philippians 2:13).

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Anxiety and Prayer

We were sharing prayer requests the other night in our bible study group, and two of us asked prayer for anxiety. One person had been struggling with anxiety for two weeks. I shared that I had been struggling with it for two months. Neither of us had a clear idea about what the cause was.

What is anxiety?

The dictionary says that it is a feeling of worry, unease, muscle tension, and fear. Anxiety does not feel good, as we all know.

So, how can prayer help? And what is prayer?

Prayer is simply talking to God.

God says prayer can help a lot with our anxiety. “Don’t be anxious about anything. Instead pray about everything that is bothering you. I will give you peace as you ask for My help. And don’t forget to thank Me for all the ways I am helping you” (Philippians 4:6-7, paraphrased).

But what if we don’t know what’s causing us anxiety, like my friend and I don’t.

God has an answer for this question as well.

“Ask Me to search your heart, and I will show you what is making you anxious. I will then lead you into experiencing My supernatural peace of mind” (Psalm 139:23-24, paraphrased).

However, we do know a lot of the stuff that is making us anxious. I learned years ago that when I took each known burden to God in prayer, my confusion would begin to dissipate. I would become clearer thinking again.

God promises us in Psalm 34:4 that, “If you seek Me in prayer, I will help you escape from your anxiety (paraphrased).”

But you may say, “I did seek God in prayer and I’m still worried–I still feel anxious. What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with God?”

God encourages us not to give up on prayer. “Ask and it shall been given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:7).

In other words, God wants us to be persistent; not to give up. We need to keep asking until he delivers us from our anxiety.

We need to keep in mind that God loves us. He doesn’t want us to suffer needlessly. He says, “Cast all your anxiety on [Me] because [I] care for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

Yet, if we are honest, most of us experience anxiety because we stubbornly want to muscle our way through life instead of asking for God’s help. Often, we know deep within our self that life can overwhelm us at any time. And that’s scary. That creates anxiety in us.

Which can be good. I learned in seminary that anxiety is a call from God to pray. It’s the idiot light on the dashboard that says that there’s something wrong.

Somehow we have become disconnected from the reality that God Almighty loves us and is watching out for our best interest. Prayer can help us to reconnect to this reality.

So, as we experience anxiety, let’s not forget to pray. Let’s not just treat the symptoms of anxiety through relaxation exercises, enjoyable experiences, and sleep.

Let’s also seek to get to the source of our anxiety, which often is not resting in God’s care and protection through prayer (Matthew 11:28-30).


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