success?

Of this I am almost certain, there are two proverbial keys necessary to unlocking the door of success to any goal we desire to reach. The first key is discipline, a weighty key that requires great strength; the second is balance, a delicate key requiring great attentiveness to preserve its fragility. Now here is the hardest part… you have to use both keys at the same time to unlock that “door.”

Are you imagining this with me?

Does this seem nigh impossible to anyone else?!

Well, let’s just start with this then, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13) Despite the fact that balance and discipline seem almost contrary to one another, it is possible to exercise both and reach the goals you have set for yourself. But not on your own. You need your Heavenly Father to help you.

There have been numerous times in my life when I have tried to do it all in my own strength, and every time I am left exhausted and disappointed until I realize I have not been relying on Him to help me. And until you do the same, you too will end up exhausted and disappointed. Of course, I am no expert; all I can do is share with you the things that the Lord has shown me in my own life. While making my goals for 2012, this was something that God put on my heart – something that would help me stick to my goals and see growth in my life.

With that being said, let’s address these two “keys.” Of the two, balance is probably the one I struggle with most, so I will address it last. Discipline can be a little easier for me if it means acquiring something I really want. For example, in January 2011, I set a goal to lose thirty pounds by the end of the year. My purpose was two-fold 1) I wanted to be an ideally healthy weight 2) I wanted to feel good about myself. By June 2011, I had lost thirty-five pounds.

The difficult thing is being disciplined when I don’t want to be, but need to be. I can think of several goals I have set for myself, because I know they are things that I should be doing in order to see growth in my life. The hard part is putting what we know we should be doing into action. Because knowing how to do something and actually doing something are two very different things.

The truth is, you know how to reach your goal. You probably wouldn’t have set a goal, if you had no idea how to attain it. But if you are like me, it’s taking the necessary steps that can be a struggle… or as in my introductory illustration, it’s lifting that weighty key that requires a measure of strength. So where do we find that strength? Through Christ. He gave us everything necessary in His Word and through the power of His Spirit. In fact, discipline is a fruit of the Spirit. It’s just known by another word – temperance. (Galatians 5:22-23).

With this in mind, ask yourself a few questions:
1. Why have I set my goal? Is it to please yourself, others, or Jesus Christ? Above all, if your goal is not set with Christ in mind, then perhaps your goal is not really worth striving for. Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ…” When you are living a Christ-centered life, knowing that everything you do is for Him makes the hard things a little bit easier. Now along with the Christ-centered goals you may find yourself and even others pleased, and there is nothing wrong with that as long as pleasing Him is your primary focus. Later in verse 23 of the same chapter the Bible says, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.”

2. Have I asked for the Lord’s help in accomplishing my goal? Once you have separated selfish goals from Spirit-filled goals, this step becomes a bit easier. Jeremiah 29:11-12 says, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.” God obviously wants the best for you, and since He is omniscient and omnipotent, why not ask for his guidance and strength in reaching your goals?

3. Am I doing everything I can to reach my goal? Oh, hello discipline… we meet again. So once you understand you must be dependent on God, what can you do?

First, get organized. Organizing your life is a whole other subject in and of itself. Time and space and frankly capability does not permit me to address this right now. Ask God to help you prioritize your responsibilities. Read books on organization (I highly recommend Getting Things Done by David Allen).

Next, get focused. You have already narrowed your goals to the things Christ would have you do, now write them down. Set time frames for your goals, and intentionally make time to reassess your progress on a regular basis. Eliminate distractions that keep you from reaching your goals.

Finally, do. Stop making excuses. Stop wasting time. Trust me, I know that it is easier said than done, but at some point you have to decide that you are just going to do it! And you can. Because your goal is worth doing when you know you are doing it for the glory of God. “Whether therefore you eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

As I told you before, I set a goal in 2011 to lose 30 pounds, and I reached it. What I didn’t tell you was how it affected the other areas of my life. The results were not good, because I had completely disregarded that necessary key of balance. There was nothing wrong with my goal to lose weight. The problem was I had lost sight of all other aspects of life, and losing weight almost became an obsession. I no longer thought of my goal being accomplished for the glory of God; my goal was being accomplished for the glory of man. I thrived on compliments. My appearance in the sight of others controlled my every thought. Now, there may have been other factors that played into this – certain life events that had provoked a measure of insecurity with how I looked. But had I my focus been on Christ, I would not have reached this point.

Fortunately, the same life events that had played a part in my obsession also brought my attention back to my relationship with God – the relationship I had almost completely abandoned for several months. As I sought him for guidance and strength (something I had not done when I had set my goals) I began to realize how faulty my mindset was. And once God had shown me where I fell short, He began to help me find the balance I needed.

Now, perhaps I had known this all along, but for the first time in my life, I had intentionally decided to live it out. I determined that everything I did would only be done because my relationship with Him was all that mattered. Do you know what I discovered? Obsessing over my weight and my appearance – what I should and shouldn’t eat or wear or whatever – was doing nothing for my relationship with God. Yes, the Bible says, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost… For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body…” I had started off with these verses in mind, but I had forgotten the end… “and in your spirit, which are God’s.

With this in mind, here is my advice for finding balance:

1. Put Christ at the center of all your goals. And if your goal cannot be done to the glory of God, let it go! Pleasing Him is all that matters. There is no #2 after this. As far as, I’m concerned, it is the only thing necessary to acquiring balance.

As I said before, I am no expert. But I know what the Bible says, and I know what the Lord has shown me, and I know how the Lord has worked in my own life. I only pray that some part of this may help you or simply encourage you in some way. Paul said, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before. I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

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you have now.

A birth, a life, a death.

This much is certain.

A life – my life, your life – length unknown.

What are you doing with this moment?

Those who have influenced the world most are those that have done the most with the time they are given. Those who have changed the world are those that were most aware of the value of every minute.

They were governed by the same clock, the same calendar by which you are governed. They did not know when their time would end, but they lived with an understanding that the passing of every minute is an irretrievable commodity.

What motivates you?

I recently asked a number of people what motivated them. The answers were surprisingly varied, yet I would venture to say that those with noblest motivations are those with a true understanding of time.

Several mothers responded by saying that their children motivate them. They know that childhood and adolescence are fleeting, but they also realize that these years are foundational to their children’s futures so they cherish the time they have to mentor and mold.

A number of people responded with motivations like “glorifying God,” “the cross,” and “the love of Christ.” I believe they understand that we will give account for the time that we are given, and only the things that are done for Christ will matter.

I don’t think there is necessarily any one right answer for what should be our motivation, but I strongly believe that our motivations should be centered on Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:12-13 speaks on the importance of this saying: “Now if any man build upon this foundation [Jesus Christ] gold, silver, precious stones, [eternal things] wood, hay, stubble; [temporal things] Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.”

What you do with your time reveals your true motivations.

I can claim that the future is my motivation, but if I do not spend my time wisely or better yet, invest that time now, my claim is unfounded. I can tell you that the love of Christ is my motivation, but if my actions do not reveal the love of Christ to others then my words are meaningless.

Assess your life. Be honest. What motivates you? Is it relationships, identity, health, knowledge, wealth, beauty, acceptance – this is what the world will tell you is most important, but none of these things can last. People will come and go. Health will fail. Riches will not last. Beauty will fade.

Do you want to make a difference with the time you are given?

C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”

Paul was one of those Christians. He understood that his time on this earth was short, and there was much to be done. His advice: “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)

I recently asked my students if any one knew what God’s will was for their lives. I was completely surprised that not one hand went up. Then I realized why. To them, God’s will was something far off in the future – when they needed to decide where to go to college, or what career path they should take, or whom they would marry. Those decisions are indeed aspects of God’s will, but He has a will for each and every one of us right now. I began quoting Romans 12:1-2, and they finished with me. “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

Seek God’s will today, and He will inevitably direct you towards the right college, the right career, and the right spouse; and He will do it all in the right time too!

God has given you this moment, right now.

Today you will either choose to become more like the world or more like Christ. With every passing minute you move in one direction or the other. You cannot conform to the world AND be transformed by the Word.

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever. ~ 1 John 2:15-17

Today you will either invest your time into your own future and the future of others or you will waste it on selfish pleasures that hold no significance. Live with eternity in mind.

The length of your life may be unknown, but you have now. What will you do with it?

when God doesn’t make sense

How do we understand an infinite God with finite minds? Simply, we don’t. A comprehended god is not God at all.

If you have lived the Christian life for any length of time, it is likely that you have experienced a time when you did not understand what God was doing. From our limited perspective, His way just did not make sense. Our natural response is to take those circumstances back into our own control, turn back, stop moving, or at the very least, figure it all out. I have been there. I hate confusion and love solutions. When God doesn’t make sense, my mind races with possible scenarios and outcomes. Then a two word command from the Word of God is brought to my mind. “Be still.” (Psalm 46:10) Not a pleasant suggestion to rest, more of a command to stop with my control-freak tendencies and know that He is God. It is then, when I stop that He reminds me of His promise from Proverbs 3 – one that you are likely familiar with.

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Beyond this incredible promise, however, is a Bible filled with reasons why we can and should be encouraged when our circumstances don’t make sense. So I want to share with you what God has shown me.

1. When God’s leading in your life doesn’t make sense, take heart because He might just magnify Himself through you!

I think we have a tendency to read the Bible (especially those most familiar stories) without truly thinking them through. We are able to see the whole picture, and we neglect to consider what these men and women faced, while not knowing what God was going to do. Often times, the things God either told these people to do or what He allowed to happen to them were seemingly absurd.

  • Noah was commanded to build a giant boat that would house him, his family, and a host of animals because God was going to flood the earth and “destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life.” (Genesis 6:14-17)
  • Abraham was told to leave his country without a specific destination. (Genesis 12:1) Then later, after God had made a covenant with Abraham to make of him a great nation and after God had fulfilled that promise (when Abraham and Sarah were both over ninety… absurd in and of itself), God tells Abraham to offer his son as a sacrifice. (Genesis 12:2-3, 17:16-19, 22:2)
  • Moses led God’s people out of Egypt only to be trapped between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea; then God told them to go forward. (Exodus 14:5-15)
  • Joshua was told to march around an entire city for seven days. (Joshua 6:1-16)
  • Gideon gathered an army, only to be told that the army is too large. Then by God’s processes, the army was narrowed down to three hundred men. They then faced Midian with trumpets and empty pitchers. (Judges 7:2-21)
  • David, a man after God’s own heart, was anointed to become the next king of Israel only to have the present king of Israel attempt to kill him… multiple times. (1 Samuel 13:14, 16:12-13, 18:10-11, 19:9-10)
  • Elijah, after delivering God’s message to wicked King Ahab, was told to hide himself, and he would drink from a brook and be fed by ravens. Then, when the brook dried up, he was told to go to a widow woman and ask for her last meal. (1 Kings 17:1-12)
  • Job, who was “perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil,” lost all of his possessions as well as his children in one day. Then when he “sinned not,” he was afflicted with sore boils from head to feet. (Job 1:1,13-19,22; 2:7)
  • Mary, a virgin, was told she would give birth. (Luke 1:26-34)
  • The disciples were told to feed five thousand men with five loaves of bread and two fishes. (Luke 9:10-16)
  • A man who was blind his whole life had clay (made from dirt and spit) put on his eyes and was told to go to the pool of Siloam and wash. (John 9:6-7)
  • Paul, while faithfully spreading the gospel, was imprisoned, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked and so much more. He was also afflicted with a “thorn in the flesh,” which he asked the Lord to take away three times. (2 Corinthians 11:23-27, 12:7-8)

These are just some of the most familiar stories. The Bible is full of stories in which men and women face seemingly impossible situations. Put yourself in their place. Imagine that you don’t know what God is going to do. Does it make sense? No!

But we do know what happens in the end, and that is what makes the stories so awesome! When these men and women obey God’s commands and trust His guiding hand, they see God magnified. These stories are all about God!

  • God blessed Noah and made a covenant to never destroy the earth by flood again. He also invented the rainbow! (Genesis 9:1,12-16)
  • God provided a ram as a substitute offering in response to Abraham’s obedience. (Genesis 22:13)
  • God parted the Red Sea and had the children of Israel walk on dry land; then, best of all, He had the waters come down on the Egyptian army and killed them all. (Exodus 14:21-31)
  • God gave the Israelites the city of Jericho when the walls fell down flat. (Joshua 6:20)
  • God caused the people of Midian to turn on themselves when they heard the three hundred trumpets. (Judges 7:22)
  • God protected, delivered, and blessed David. David wrote, “Let them shout for joy, and be glad, that favour my righteous cause: yea, let them say continually, Let the LORD be magnified, which hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servant.” (Psalm 35)
  • God saved the widow and her son and proved His Word to be truth. (1 Kings 17:24)
  • God revealed His omniscience and omnipotence to Job and blessed Job with twice what he had before. (Job 38, 42:12-17)
  • God favoured Mary and she gave birth to the Son of God, who would give His own life to take away the sins of the world. I love her words “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” (Luke 1:30,35,46)
  • God fed the five thousand and left fragments that filled twelve baskets. (Luke 9:16-17)
  • God opened the eyes of the blind man so that he could see; then Jesus used the miracle to teach spiritual blindness (John 9:11,39-41)
  • God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

2. When God’s leading in your life doesn’t make sense, trust Him because He is faithful.

The God who made Himself real to these Bible characters is the very same God who wants to make Himself real to you and to those around you. The Bible is filled with promises given to those who trust Him and follow His leading.

God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. ~ 1 Corinthians 1:9

I’m smiling right now as I type this because even now there are aspects of my own life that do not make sense. But this life is not about me – it’s all about Him. And if He wants to use perplexing circumstances to magnify Himself through me and prove Himself faithful, that is an awesome privilege! Nothing could bring me more joy than to be used by Him for His glory.

One last thought…

When we read the Word of God, we see the stories from start to finish. But it may be that you will never why God allows certain circumstances into your life. It may not make sense, but we cannot forget that He is God. Job never knew why God allowed all his possessions and family to be taken, but in the end he was faithful, and God blessed that faith.

There is also a chance that you will not see God’s blessing on this side of heaven, but the Bible says, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him.” (James 1:12)

O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together. ~ Psalm 34:3