All Things

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.

Jeremiah 29:11

In the movie Signs, an Episcopal priest has left the church following the death of his wife in a car accident. Her last words are an odd message that doesn’t make sense at the time. His son has severe asthma, his daughter is obsessed with leaving glasses of water all over the house, and his younger brother has returned after a failed professional baseball career. It sounds like his life has been cursed with bad luck; however, later in the film we see that all those negatives eventually save the lives of the entire family.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

Like the priest in the movie, we all have trouble sometimes reconciling the concept of a loving God with some of the trials we face, but we have to remember that the verse does not say all things are good. It says God words all things together for our good. Sometimes what we think of as bad things are a means to our good.

For example, I spent a good bit of time complaining about having developed dry eyes as well as having a truck load of dental work suddenly needing done. Besides the money issue, my body reacts to the numbing shots by getting the shakes, and the dry eyes required using prescription eye drops. God worked out the money issue by sending an anonymous angel to pay for two dental crowns and providing a coupon from the drug company to make the eye drops affordable ($20 for 3 month supply). Yet, I was still complaining about having the issues at all until I realized they were actually a blessing in disguise.

First, the dry eyes required using steroid drops and another prescription twice a day, so I was constantly rinsing my eyes with medication. Second, the numbing shots have epinephrine, which has another effect besides the shaking: it tends to clear out my sinuses. Add to that the fact that we have had more rain than usual this year, and it adds up to the best allergy season I have ever been through, which also kept my immune system stronger. On top of that, my local honey provider had a “bumper crop” this past year, so I had access to honey which also helped strengthen my immunity and ward off sinusitis and sinus infections. Given the current state of things that was definitely a blessing.

Sometimes we are put in places or seasons of difficulty, and all we want is to get out of it. I am including myself in this group. Yet, maybe we should focus on what we have been given and asking God to use the difficult situation to be a blessing in some way. In the book of Judges, Gideon finds himself in a difficult situation, and God gives him what many would call strange instructions.

And he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet in every man’s hand, with empty pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers.

Judges 7:16

When Gideon was faced with a battle that seemed insurmountable, God whittled his army down to 300 and told him to give each man a trumpet, a pitcher, and a lamp. With those three things, God won the battle for Israel. The sudden sounds and appearance of light sent the enemy into confusion so that they ran and actually killed each other. God took three household items and turned them into a way to take down the enemy.

What do you have in your hands right now? It may seem small and insignificant but God can use it for good. It will probably require some effort on your part; the army of 300 still had to show up with items in their hands and use them as instructed. Then God did amazing things; He worked it all for good to those who were called to His purpose. Right now I have a half-numb jaw, an abandoned house across the street, and a computer. I think I feel a mystery coming on; it’s probably better than what is on television.

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.

Letting Go

 

Sometimes more is not better. At one point in time I had four part-time jobs. I had a steady job that I worked 4 days a week, plus another job working in a friend’s shop on Saturdays and some afternoons after my regular job. Then, I also taught English at an online university on a fairly regular basis and occasionally did scoring work for another company online. It seemed like I should have more than enough money, but no matter how much I made, it always seemed to slip through my fingers. I could never get ahead to the point where I could write because I was always too busy. I had too much to do.

One day I got a notice that the online school was closing abruptly due to bankruptcy. Gone was one of my backups. Then, because of the Pandemic, my other online work was cancelled that I was depending on to pay some unexpected bills. How would I cover those now?

Gideon and the 300

Gideon faced an even greater challenge than personal finances. He was called to lead the Israelites into battle against the Philistines, a strong nation with a substantial army. Gideon rallied 32,000 men for the battle, which seemed insufficient in comparison to their enemy. Yet, in Judges 7:2, God says:

“And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me…  And the Lord said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place” (Judges 7:2,7).

Gideon was probably thinking too many men? What? Aren’t more men in battle better? However, God points out that if Israel went into battle with 32,000 men, then they will think they won the battle on their own merit. He wanted them to trust Him for deliverance, and not themselves. On top of cutting the army down to 300, God told Gideon to send the rest of the men home. While it wasn’t easy to hear that he should take only 300 men into battle, it was probably even harder to send the rest home, knowing he wouldn’t have any backup if things didn’t go well. He had to let go and trust God with the outcome. In the end, Gideon obeyed God and the Israelites were victorious because God went ahead of them, winning the battle using an unorthodox approach (read the rest of chapter 7 for details).

In my own life, I had been depending on the extra jobs as a backup when God wanted me to trust Him to provide for my needs. When I let go of trying to find replacement jobs and focused on writing instead, I began to see some success. I had an article, a devotional, and a Bible study published. While it wasn’t a lot of money, it added to my publication clips and increased my confidence that I was doing what I was called to do. In the meantime, other income came in to cover some of the unexpected bills. In order to move forward, I had to let go of the old so that God could open up new opportunities.

“Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19). If we want God to do a new thing in our lives, we have to be willing to let go of the old. So, open your hands, let go, and see what God will do.

What do you see?

setting tableSometimes I like to make a game of cooking something with just what’s left in the pantry. Sometimes it is for fun, sometimes it is because I’m too lazy to go to the store, and sometimes it is purely from necessity. Trying to find an appetizing meal out of random ingredients can put your creativity and problem solving skills to work. I had been doing this for years when I saw a similar challenge on a cooking competition show. The chefs must create a meal using only the ingredients given to them. There submissions are judged on taste, creativity and use of ingredients. I’ve come up with some very unique and tasty recipes myself that way. Necessity really can be the mother of invention.

In Luke 9:12-17, the disciples come to Jesus with a problem: it’s late and the people haven’t eaten. They tell him to send the people away, but Jesus tells the disciples tBreado feed the multitude. The disciples look around but they only had five loaves and two fish, so they said we need to go buy more food. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish and multiplied them so that there was enough to feed everyone with food left over. The disciples were amazed because all they saw was what was in their hands.

Switch scenes to the Old Testament. In I Samuel 17, David hears Goliath defying God and is incensed. He offers to fight Goliath while all the others are shaking in fear. All they see is the giant in front of them. Instead of looking at the giant, David points out how God has always come to his aid. So, he picks up five stones and his slingshot and defeats the giant. On top of that, he only needed one of the five stones to get the job done. Why, you might ask? David knew that God was bigger than any giant. He saw what God could do.

The difference between David and the disciples is their focus. The disciples saw a lack of resources and their inability to remedy the situation, while David saw a situation that needed to be resolved and believed God would help him win the battle. The difference is in how we look at the situation.

“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

We can’t feed the multitude or defeat the giant alone, but when we give the situation to God and offer ourselves to His will, He will make it more than enough. We become conduits for God as He works through us, allowing us to have a part in His ministry. It’s not what you have but what you do with what you have that counts. So, when we are faced with a job that seems too big for our meager resources, whatever they may be, if we give it to God, He will make it more than enough.

5 + 2 = More than enough #LessonsFromGideon

This video takes it a step further:

It Depends on Whose Hands It’s In.

 

 

Doing Your Part

We’ve spent Monday nights in April studying the story of Gideon in the book of Judges. One concept that was discussed was fulfilling your role. Gideon was given a battle plan from God. In order for it to work everyone had to take their place and do their part. Like our physical bodies, if one part doesn’t work right, the rest of the body suffers and doesn’t work at its optimum capability. It has to make up for the missing or damaged part.

At the same time we were doing the Bible study, I have been working for a company online. During my shifts, there are managers who monitor the work. In previous years, I either ignored their presence or got irritated or discouraged when they gave me feedback, especially when it was negative feedback. I took it personally and got frustrated. I wanted to quit.

I also teach online and get frustrated when I give students feedback and they ignore it, or they get defensive. I am only trying to help them improve their writing and their grade. I’m just doing my job. Why aren’t they listening? I tried to make it clear that I was here to help. All they had to do was ask, but they rarely sought help or applied the help I tried to give in feedback.

It hit me that the monitors were also only doing their job and trying to help me improve and do my best so that the job was done correctly. They were there to give me help if I needed it. All I had to do was ask for their input and listen to their feedback and apply it. Why hadn’t I listened?

The Holy Spirit also works to give us feedback. He lets us know whether or not we are doing our job and doing it so that it will be most effective. The problem is we often don’t listen because we don’t want to do the job, or we take the constructive criticism too personally and get our feelings hurt. We each have a job to do for the Kingdom. If we don’t do it, the church has to take up our slack and suffers for it.

What is your job? Are you working to the best of your ability or are you refusing to do the work? Are you an employee of the month or a slacker? Doesn’t God deserve our very best effort? It’s time to find the job you were meant for and become the person you were meant to be…me included.

#LessonsfromGideon