The Next Step

 “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.”

(Proverbs 13:12)

I recently entered a couple of writing contests, and I am about to send off a couple of proposals to publishers. I am reluctant to get my hopes up because being a writer, by nature of the beast, means getting rejected on a regular basis. Still, it can be tiring to get up and try again and again. It can make your heart sick, but when you do get published, it replenishes your spirit and the desire to keep working. The result is worth all the work I put forth, but it still requires effort on my part to reach my desired goal.

The book of Joshua tells the story of how the children of Israel have finally left the wilderness to take the Promised Land. The goal is in sight, but there are a long list of opponents between them and the finish line. They start out strong and have great success, but as they move into the land they lose momentum. Maybe the battles were starting to take their toll, or the people lost sight of the goal. So, Joshua tries to fire up the Israelites.

 “And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, How long are ye slack to go to possess the land, which the Lord God of your fathers hath given you?” (Joshua 18:3)

They needed to complete what they had started. This scripture was in my daily reading just as I was struggling with some writing deadlines. Starting a project is always exciting, but the difficult part is to keep plodding through the middle. I realized that if I ever wanted to see the desire of publication come to fruition, I had to keep moving forward. I couldn’t let fear of failure or apathy keep me from my goal. I needed to take the next step, complete the next task, until I finished the assignment.

We all have those days where apathy gets the better of us. There are days when we would rather be a sloth on the couch than a tortoise that moves steadily toward the finish line. On those days we need to stop thinking about all the things that need to be done to reach the goal. Instead, we need to just focus on the next step. If every day we take one step, then every day we are one day closer to the finish line. 

When you find yourself struggling to take the next step, imagine what it will be like when you cross the finish line. Then we will realize that all the days we struggled were worth the effort. So, as you look at the day ahead, what one step can you take toward your goal? Do that. The satisfaction that you get from completing that task will compel you forward to the next one until you see the finish line ahead.

Rest

If I had to choose one word as a theme this week, it would be rest. First of all, I could really use a little, but couldn’t we all? Beyond that, I kept bumping into the word everywhere I turned. Early in the week, I listened to a podcast from Bonnie Gray, and she was talking about taking time to rest and reset. Then, I received a card in the mail with the same scripture:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

This morning my Bible reading was from Joshua 11 and the last verse jumped out at me:

So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord said unto Moses; and Joshua gave it for an inheritance unto Israel according to their divisions by their tribes. And the land rested from war.

(Joshua 11:23)

The last line resonated with me: “And the land rested from war.”

I don’t know about you, but I think we all could use a little rest from war. 2020 has turned out to be a marathon for battling on multiple fronts. Every time we turn around some new “threat” has materialized out of the mist, another giant to slay. Yet, Jesus called everyone who was “heavy laden” to come to him, and He would give them rest. How does that work?

First, you have to actually come to Jesus. In other words, you have to stop and spend time with the Lord. I think the phrase quiet time is even more important these days. We need to take time to be still and quiet; we need to block out the world and allow the peace that passes understanding to settle on us (Philippians 4:7).

Another thing we can do is to actually do less. Sometimes we overbook our schedules by trying to do everything. In the podcast I mentioned earlier, Bonnie Gray discussed letting go of being busy. In a society that values productivity, we can be tricked into thinking that a busy schedule means we are being productive. In fact, the opposite may be true. We may be busy but not really accomplishing anything of importance.

Finally, we need to take time to do things that we enjoy. Strike that. We need to schedule time to do things that we enjoy. Coffee (or tea) breaks were created for a reason. We need breaks from the daily grind for physical and mental health, not to mention our spiritual health. Do something fun. Do something silly. Do nothing.

I know when I start the day with a quiet time, and then end the day with a little quiet time I feel more rested and ready to do battle even in 2020, especially in 2020. I also know that taking time to knit or read a good book also lifts my mood and my energy. So, sit a spell, sip some tea, pet a cat (or dog), and enjoy the moment. Besides, your cell phone could probably use some alone time, too.

What Mean These Stones?

I collect stones from places I have been: a smooth stone from a wild beach, gemstones from the Rocky Mountains, or a colorful piece from a yarn expo in Atlanta. Each one brings to mind a memory of an adventure to new places. I keep them in a box that says, “Keep on smiling, the best is yet to come.” Occasionally, I take them out and smile as I recall the day I got a particular one though the trips were rarely smooth. Even bumps in the road can be reasons to rejoice or laugh about later. If nothing else, it gives us a story to tell.

As I was journal writing last night, I made a list of things I needed to do today. One of the things I mentioned was what am I going to write for my blog? This morning my Bible reading was from Joshua 4, and the question “What mean these stones?” struck home for me.

21 And he spake unto the children of Israel, saying, When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones? 22 Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land. 23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over: 24 That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the Lord your God for ever.

Joshua 4:21-24

In Joshua 4, the children of Israel have just left the wilderness and are crossing over the Jordan River to finally take possession of the Promised Land after 40 years in the wilderness. God tells Joshua to pick 12 men ahead of time, one from each tribe, to pick up stones out of the river. When they get to the other side of the Jordan, they made a memorial out of these stones. Joshua tells the people that one day their children are going to ask what those stones are for, and they should tell them about this day and the miracle God performed.

In my margin notes, I wrote a personal summary: “God went before them and prepared a way.” In Joshua 3:4, it says God would go before them because “ye have not passed this way heretofore.” I have heard people repeatedly say “unprecedented” in referring to current events. We have not passed this way before. Other generations have dealt with adversity, but this is new to us. Yet, God is still going before us to make a way.

As we move forward into uncharted waters, what “stones” will we pick up to make a memorial for future generations?

Be Prepared

In a Bible study, we were talking about the old cartoons where the character has a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. Someone pointed out that you never have to invite the devil to whisper in your ear, but you have to be more diligent to commune with the Holy Spirit. The more you try to do God’s will, the louder the devil will shout, but the Holy Spirit is a still, small voice.

When the children of Israel first came to the Promised Land, they focused on the giants and refused to move forward. They listened to the enemy shouting in their ear that it was impossible instead of the confident voices of Caleb and Joshua who proclaimed that the land was theirs for the taking. Because of this, the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness until that generation had died before they tried again. This time they had Joshua as their leader.

“And Joshua said unto the people, Sanctify yourselves: for to morrow the Lord will do wonders among you.”

(Joshua 3:5)

Joshua told the people to prepare themselves mentally and spiritually for the battle ahead because God was about to do a miracle. Not only did they cross the Jordan on dry ground when it was at flood stage, but also they saw the walls of Jericho come crashing down a week later. They merely had to step out in faith to see God at work.

Whenever I try to intentionally persevere at writing, I am always bombarded with doubts, fears, and obstacles. In the past, I let those things get in the way, like the children of Israel staring at the giants. Now I am trying to move forward. The obstacles and the doubts are still there, but my perspective has shifted. I am focusing on God instead of the obstacles. I dipped my toe in the Jordan River, but I have to keep walking if I want to see walls of Jericho fall down.

10 And herein I give my advice: for this is expedient for you, who have begun before, not only to do, but also to be forward a year ago. 11 Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have.”

(2 Corinthians 8:10-11)

Now is the time to perform what I had willed to do before. In a sermon on James, a pastor pointed out that the biblical equation for success is as follows:

humility + hustle + Holy Spirit.

First, we have to realize that success will only come from God not ourselves, so we shouldn’t boast. We have nothing that was not given to us by God, and any success we might have also comes from Him. Second, we still need to do our part and do the work assigned to us. Waiting on the Lord does not mean sitting down. It means following His timing. Third, it is up to the Holy Spirit what the outcome will be. God decides what success means. What seems small to us may change someone else’s life.

So, let’s be prepared for God to do a miracle by doing the work assigned to us. Let God determine the increase. What we think of as success may not be what God has in mind, but what God has in mind is always better in the long run. Time to hustle.

Be Not Deceived

Lately, I find myself being aggravated and irritated at every turn. It usually occurs after I read some post on social media or just the media in general. I start going over and over a comment, replaying it in my mind and getting more annoyed. I was praying for God to help me get past this attitude when I came across verses in my daily reading and was reminded by the Spirit of other verses. You see, I had recently determined to have a more Christ-like attitude. Let’s face it, I had decided to be less grumpy because I had so much for which I should be grateful. The minute I determined to work on that goal, I was hit by every kind of temptation imaginable in direct opposition to that goal. I had gotten the enemy’s attention.

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.

 (1 Peter 5:8)

The devil is always looking for ways to trip up Christians. He wants to make us ineffective as ambassadors for Christ. The more you try to follow Christ’s example, the more he will attack. However, he is sneaky and tries to use others to do his dirty work.

 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

(Ephesians 6:12)

We spend our time fighting things and people when in reality we should be fighting a spiritual battle. We need to recognize who the true enemy is and how he is at work. Only then can he be defeated.

From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

(James 4:1-3)

We need to stop fighting each other, and recognize our true enemy. The devil keeps us so busy fighting one another that we fail to do what we have been commanded: Love one another. The only remedy to eradicate hate is love. We can jump on every bandwagon to fight injustice that there is, but if we do it without love, then we are just a lot of loud noise (I Corinthians 13).

Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

(Romans 12:21)

So, instead of going on a rampage on social media, let’s try and show a little kindness to our neighbors. Instead of returning hate for hate, and meme for meme, let’s spread the Good News of hope in Christ. Let’s be an agent of good.

Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.

(I Corinthians 15:33)

To me, this verse sums up the problem these days. We have allowed the enemy to divert us from our purpose. Let’s not be deceived anymore. Let’s take up our only spiritual weapon, the sword of the Spirit (God’s Word), and turn it on our real enemy (Ephesians 6: 17).

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)

Like a Tree

I have spent most of today watching a parade of utility trucks lined up down the street. It all started last night. I went to bed to the sound of rain starting to fall and a little wind. No weather alerts, no strikes of lightning, just a mild summer storm. The first warning that something was amiss was a cracking sound, followed by the ominous click of the power going out. Then, there was a flash of sparks and all fell silent. I tried to look out my window, but rain had blurred the screens and darkness had settled on the entire neighborhood, no street lights.

I dialed the power company outage number, and they confirmed my power was out, something I was well aware of by then. I submitted the notification of my address and lay down to sleep since there was nothing more to do. The sound of beeping utility trucks and floodlights woke me up. I called the number again for an update to find out a tree had fallen on power lines. They estimated a couple of hours. The last truck left at 3 p.m. the next day. They had underestimated the damage and the time it would take to repair it.

I have pondered on and off all day how such a slight storm could cause so much damage. The answer is that the roots of the tree were not strong enough to withstand the storm. This year we have had a lot of rain and multiple storms. The tree had apparently found the final straw as the old saying goes. It couldn’t take anymore, so it gave way. In the process it took out quite a bit of collateral damage with it.

The incident reminded me of Jesus telling the parable of the seeds in Matthew 13. The seed that fell on stony places reminded me of the tree down the street:

Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away… 20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; 21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. (Matthew 13: 5-6, 20-21)

Because the tree did not have good roots, it had no staying power, just like seeds planted in stony ground. After a few storms or a little heat, they give up. They fall down.  However, Psalms 1:3 says:

“And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”

When you nurture a plant or tree with the right nutrients, it grows strong and can withstand the storms. For Christians to stand strong, we need the Word of God, prayer, and fellowship with other strong believers so that we can be rooted in Christ and abound (Colossians 2:6-7). If you want to withstand the storms, you have to stay rooted in faith. Then, like the song says, you shall not be moved.

Share with Care

The old saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is not true. As a writer, I know words are powerful. Words have the power to hurt, but they also have the power to heal. I can still remember mean things people have said when I was in elementary school, but I can also remember the encouragement I received from teachers. Words are weapons that should be handled with care, which is why the Bible warns us that the tongue is dangerous:

“Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.” (James 3:5-10)

The tongue can set fires and spew poison, but it can also heal and bring people together. Proverbs 15:1says, “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” When we respond with the truth in love, we can defuse a situation, or we can act rashly and throw another log on the fire. When we take a moment to think before we click, maybe we can find a better way to say something, or in some cases say nothing at all. Proverbs 25:11says. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” Silence can be golden.

There is a time and a place to speak and stand up for the truth, but it should be led by the Holy Spirit not an angry spirit. The enemy will use anything to create dissension. This is no truer than on social media where fake news, photo shopped pictures, bait ads, and conspiracy theories abound. The enemy wants to distract Christians and get their eyes off the goal of spreading the good news by getting us to chase rabbits. Philippians 4:8 gives us some guidelines to follow to help keep us on track:

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

So, before you are tempted to share an article, photo or post ask yourself the following:

  1. Is it true, just, pure, and lovely?
  2. Is it of good report (fact check)?
  3. Is there any virtue in sharing it?
  4. Is this going to give God praise?

If not, one advantage keyboards have over tongues is the delete key.

Joy > Happiness

The catch phrase in writing these days is “do the work,” which is good advice, but I think I like Ray Bradbury’s take on it better. He was giving a speech in 2001 and said write what gives you joy and then it will never be work. While that is true, I must also point out that just because you have joy doesn’t mean you will always be happy or that it will always be easy. It just means there is something greater than the temporary trials and frustrations of everyday work. Joy is greater than happiness.

Psalms 30:1-5 says:

“ I will extol thee, O Lord; for thou hast lifted me up, and hast not made my foes to rejoice over me.

O Lord my God, I cried unto thee, and thou hast healed me.

O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave: thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.

Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.

For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

Most people only quote verse five about joy coming in the morning, but they don’t dwell on the four verses before that. Verse one mentions victory over foes, which means there were foes. Verse two says you have healed me, which means there was sickness. Verse three says you kept me alive, which means there was danger. Verse four talks about God’s holiness, but it is in relation to His anger, which means there was sin.

As humans in a fallen world, we deal with hard things on a daily basis. There are enemies, sickness, dangers, and sin. We do have to work, both for a living and at being more Christ-like, but we have a joy that comes from God which is greater than happiness. Happiness is totally dependent on our circumstances, but joy is a gift that comes every morning.

“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.”

(Lamentations 3:22-23)

The book of Lamentations is basically a funeral dirge after the fall of Jerusalem. Jeremiah is crying over the loss of the city and the temple, yet even here he points out that God is faithful because His mercies are being renewed each day. Therefore, we know that regardless of our circumstances God is faithful to give us joy each day. Like any gift, however, we must receive the gift in order to benefit from it. The present will be useless still wrapped in a bow in the hands of the Giver.

Once we receive the gift we can have joy even when times are hard. The best upgrade we can receive in life is to trade in happiness for joy. Then we can be grateful, not for the difficult circumstances, but for the presence of God even in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”

(Psalm 16:11)

So, take the upgrade and let joy rule your life instead of happiness because with it comes a peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7). It will fill your spirit even in the worst situations. We can have joy in the morning because these things are temporary and will pass, but the love of God is eternal. That you can count on.

The Next Step

I love maps, especially when I am going on a trip. I love to look at all the possible routes, and then highlight the way I want to go with a highlighter, old school or electronic. I like to decide where I am going to eat along the way or any stops I want to make. I am a planner at heart, and I like to plan way in advance. However, as Hemingway pointed out, “the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray” (Of Mice and Men).

One year my sister, a friend, and I went on a tour of New England. My sister had plotted out places to eat based on a book of little known restaurants. Every place we had chosen was closed for repairs, closed for the season, or just closed. We then had to scramble for alternatives, which often turned out to be some of the highlights of our trip. Most of them we came upon almost by accident in the course of our journey. We could have missed some great experiences and great food if we had been looking too far ahead.

Currently, the world is in an uproar with the uproar topic changing on an almost hourly basis. People are trying to make long-term plans for the future, but circumstances make that almost impossible. This is unsettling, I admit, but God sees the big picture even when we can’t see a mile ahead. Maybe He has something special to show us that He doesn’t want us to miss.

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”

(Psalm 119: 105)

Many people have memorized this verse. It was part of our pledge to the Bible that we said every year at Vacation Bible School. But have you thought about what it means? If you have ever used a lamp to walk in the woods at night, or a flashlight for that matter, how far can you see? Basically, you can see a few steps in front of you. The destination is usually shrouded in darkness and the stopping points ahead are in the shadows at best. You have to pay attention to where you are and take it one step at a time.

“A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.”

(Proverbs 16:9)

God wants us to trust Him to take care of the future and to lead us in the right paths along the journey. They are not always the paths we would have chosen, but they are always the best paths. Sometimes the path is full of ruts and potholes, and we wonder what in the world could be waiting at the end to make the journey worthwhile. Yet, when we look back, we often find that those are the paths to the greatest blessings.

So, what do we do when we can’t plan for the future? We take the next right step. God shines his light onto the path through His Word and the Holy Spirit to show us the next step. Once we move, the light will shine on the next step. While we are praying for God to show us the way to go and lamenting that we aren’t getting an answer, it may be that He has already shown us the next step and is merely waiting for us to move forward. Ask yourself: What is the next right step? Then take it and watch what God will do.

Gift Giving God’s Way

I like to paint. Give me an empty room with clean blank walls, taped off and ready to paint, and I am itching for a roller so that I can get started. I love to see fresh color transforming walls into something fresh and clean until the whole room is new. However, I don’t like the prep work. First, you have to move stuff out of the way. Then, you have to clean the surfaces and wait for them to dry. Finally, you tape off or cover anything you don’t want to get paint on. It’s a bit tedious and time consuming. Painting is the fun part.

Yet each step of the project is necessary if you want the project to be the best it can possibly be. The same is true of our gifts from God. He intends them to be used in service for Him, our gifts back to Him. In her Bible study on Gideon, Priscilla Shirer points out that Judges 6:19-20 sets out four steps in giving gifts:

  1. Prepare it.
  2. Present it.
  3. Put it down.
  4. Pour it out.

#LessonsFromGideon

For example, God expects me to use my gift as a writer. The first step is preparing my gift, which means honing it to the best of my ability. Writers should read good writing, keep in God’s Word, study the craft in classes and through experts, and practice as much as possible. We should work at revision and listening to constructive criticism, especially from fellow writers and experts.

The next step is presenting our gift, which means we have to turn all of those notes and ideas into an actual written document. Brainstorming is fun; writing is hard work. You have to research topics and fact check. You have to organize those thoughts into a clear and logical order. Then, you have to revise, edit, and proofread until your writing is the best that it can be.

The third step can be difficult for some people. Eventually, you have to release your work. You have to submit it in some form or fashion for others to see. Either you share it with a friend or you submit it to be published in some way. No matter how you do it, allowing others to read your work can be scary, leaving you vulnerable. You wonder if it is good enough.

Finally, you have to allow God to do what He wants to with it. The point of the gift is to give it back to Him, but sometimes we aren’t happy with the results. Many times we have no idea whether or not our words actually make a difference, but that is where we have to trust God that it won’t return void if it is done in His Will. After all, it is His gift, and He can do what He wants to with it.

What gifts do you have? God gave us gifts for a purpose, so if you have been hiding a light under a bushel basket, get it out, dust it off, and ask God what He wants you to do with it. Seeing what He has given us, it’s the least we can do. I still don’t like prep work, but He’s worthy of our best work, so it’s time to get out the cleaning rags and painter’s tape and put my best brush forward and pray that I can paint a picture with my words.