The Next Level

In the movie Groundhog Day, the main character keeps reliving the same day over and over again. He tries everything to break the cycle, but until he learns what he was meant to learn he is stuck repeating the same things over and over again. While we may not actually repeat the same exact day again and again, I bet most of us could say we have felt stuck in some way and unable to get to the next level.

When I need a break from work, I play a computer game. I had been playing the same level for what seemed like forever when I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before: a tool. When I used that tool, I was able to complete the round and move on to the next challenge. The harder the level, the more rewards you collect. I find the same thing true in my spiritual walk. As I try to grow and mature, I find myself stuck only to find that the tools I needed were there all along.

This week I have been reading two devotional books, one for writers and one on giving your dreams to God. Thursday they both had the same general message from two different angles about committing your work to the Lord. Then I listened to a podcast that talked about working from a place of rest. When I hear the same ideas or verses of scripture coming from multiple places, I have learned to take note. Here’s what I learned:

First, if we want to move to the next level spiritually, we have to do the work, but not just any work.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:10

While works won’t save us, there is still work to be done. This verse points out that God already had a plan for our lives, a work we were designed to do. When we fall in line with God and pick up his yoke, we find a satisfaction and enjoyment that exceeds anything we dreamed of even when the going is difficult or the work seems mundane.

Once we find the work God has us to do, we have to commit it to God:

Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. Psalm 37:5

Psalms 37:5

Grant thee according to thine own heart, and fulfil all thy counsel. We will rejoice in thy salvation, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners: the Lord fulfil all thy petitions.

Psalms 20:4-5

Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.

Proverbs 16:3

When you dedicate your dreams to God, you have to trust Him and let go. It sounds simple and easy, but it’s not. We humans have a hard time trusting and letting go. He is a good Father who only wants the best for His children, so He is trustworthy. When we do let go, God always gives back more than we ever dreamed. Too often we try to hedge God in with our small ideas when He has much bigger things planned.

When we have committed it to God, then we can work from a place of rest.

For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not.

Isaiah 30:15

When we let God set our boundaries, we can do the work that we were called to do but at a sustainable pace. Too often we allow the world to set the pace, one which is not healthy or meaningful. They call it a rat race for a reason. If we will let God show us which opportunities to take and which ones to let go, we can work from a place of rest knowing we are doing His will.

Then, we can look at each day as a chance to start fresh. Unlike the movie, we don’t have to repeat the same level. We can take the next step in our journey, the next level: we just need to remember:

This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalms 118:24

So, let’s take each day one day at a time. If nothing else, the last year taught us that while it’s good to make plans, those plans can change. When we let God have the reins and lead the way, we know we will be going in the right direction and can just enjoy the ride. We can rejoice and be glad.

When you feel overwhelmed by your To-Do List, take a step back and lift it up to the Lord. Ask Him to show you what He wants you to do. You may find that some tasks need to come off of the list, or you may find that God makes a way for everything to get done. Either way, the road is a lot smoother when we take up His yoke instead of dragging everything by ourselves. He wants to give us the life of rest we truly long for if we will only let Him.

Is there something God wants to take off of your To-Do list?

Hope is Confident

I was aggravated this morning because I couldn’t seem to get everything together to write my blog post last night or this morning before my dental appointment. I wanted it all taken care of so that I wouldn’t have to think about it when I got home. The dental appointment ran late, so it was past time for lunch when I finally left, and I still had to stop by the vet’s office for cat food. I was working my way into a pity party on the drive home because the dentist had suggested a crown to go over the filling. I was just getting caught up from last year, and I had several other debts still to pay. Would I ever get ahead?

Before I broke into tears, I decided to distract myself by thinking about what I could do, which was plan out my blog and my hope notebook project. I had somehow chosen the same verse twice for the notebook, so I was one short for my 40 days. I got an idea for the 40th day as I was driving along, and in the process I remembered that God was my hope, so I could be confident that He could handle whatever comes. All of the events of last night and this morning led me to the truth God wanted me to know: He is enough.

Day 29

The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.

Lamentations 3:24

Day 30

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:

1 Peter 1:3-6

Day 31

The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.

Psalms 147:11

Day 32

Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is.

Jeremiah 17:7

Day 33

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:

Philippians 1:6

Day 34

For the needy shall not always be forgotten: the expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever.

Psalms 9:18

Day 35

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31

As I reviewed the verses from this week, I saw God planting seeds of hope all along the way. Today was kind of like a pop quiz to see if I had learned my lessons this week. In the midst of the temptation to whine, the scriptures came back to remind me that hope is confident because it comes from a God who cannot fail. While the road will not always be easy on this journey called life, we always have a good traveling companion in the Holy Spirit and the destination is worth the struggle.

When you are tempted to wallow in pity, take a moment to list the things you have to be thankful for and it will improve your mood exponentially.  Then give that list of problems to God and ask Him to show you what to do. Sometimes that might be to just “wait upon the Lord” and sometimes it might require something on your part, but if you stay in His will, it will all work out to His Glory.

Now I’m going to go slurp some tea until feeling returns to my lip and work on my hope notebook. Today’s verse is especially timely and I am excited about the finale next week. Stay tuned to #MyHopeNotebook and remember that as long as we have God, we have a hope that give us confidence.

When the Bucket Meets the Road

October was a long month in some ways and way too short in others. I wrote 4 novellas, so every day I went to my first job, and then my second job, and then I came home to write a couple thousand words. I was happy to see November and was down to correcting the last two novellas to send to the publisher.

Driving home in the dark, suddenly there appeared a bucket in the road. Not your average bucket, but a heavy duty one. I couldn’t swerve or stop because of traffic; I had to hit it straight on. I figured it would hit and bounce, maybe ding my already dinged car, but no. It had staying power. It scraped and screamed on the asphalt and refused to break loose or break up, so I finally pulled over. I couldn’t see it and the side of that particular highway was not safe due to high traffic. Since all of my tires seemed fine, I waited for all the traffic to pass and then eased onto the road and drove to the parking lot of an empty building down the hill.

I finally found the offending bucket wedged under the front of my car and managed to pull it loose and toss it to the side. Saying a quick prayer, I got back in the car and headed home, thankful not to see any warning lights on the dash. I made it home without any further ado and went inside to finish what I had started.

It occurred to me that the incident is a lot like life. We are rolling along taking care of business when suddenly life throws a bucket at us. Whether it is a unexpected bill, an illness, a death, or just a bad day, it throws a kink in our plan and slows us down. We want to pull off the road and quit, but we still have to get home, so we have to deal with the problem and carry on.

Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:

1 Peter 5:7-8

First, the Bible says to cast our cares on God. We weren’t meant to carry them around. God wants us to trust Him with our problems. The devil is trying to trip us up and throws whatever he can at us, even a bucket in the road, but God is on the throne and better equipped to deal with the obstacles at hand. God allows the obstacles and uses them to help us grow in faith and in character.

But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.

Genesis 5:20

The enemy and even people will make plans against us, but they cannot over throw the will of God. He has a plan even when it seems like nothing is going right. Joseph had to be sold into slavery in order for him to end up in the right place to save his people from starvation. We may not always know the purpose of the bucket in the road, but we do know God.

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

God can use even a bucket in the road to teach us something, or even protect us from something that we can’t see. There might have been a potential wreck further down the road, or it might have just been a warning to slow down. Regardless, God can use it for our good if we let him.

So, when the bucket meets the road and you can’t avoid it, know that God will be there by your side. You need only to ask for His help and carry on. It’ll work itself out eventually. Stop stress eating because of poll results and getting angry over social media posts, God will work the bucket out however He sees fit. It’s out of our hands and that’s probably a good thing because we would have tried to save Joseph from being sold into slavery and look where that would have led.

The Unknown

Unknown

I am a planner. I like to plan out things for maximum efficiency. For instance, if I know I have several errands to take care of, I will plan out what order of attack will be the most efficient based on the locations of errands in relation to home, each other, and traffic patterns (such as left-turn signals or busy roadways). I also take into consideration if I need to go to one place first, such as the bank. Then I implement my attack. I get great satisfaction in ticking off my list as I go. It makes me feel productive. What I don’t like is going into the unknown, whether it is a new grocery store or a new career. I want to know the plan and the best way to get there; however, God often has other ideas.

When I was called to serve as a short-term missionary to Seoul, South Korea, I was excited and a little nervous. There were all kinds of plans to be made, such as what to do with my car while I was gone or what to pack to take with me. I thought I had everything under control; however, there was a hiccup in the transportation plans. I wrote to the mission about my arrival, but I never received a response. I had a plane ticket and my passport, but I had no idea what would happen once I arrived at the airport, such as who, if anyone, was picking me up. The last and main leg of the journey was a 15-hour non-stop flight, and I spent 90% of that flight trying not to worry about what would happen when I got there. When I stepped through the doors of customs into the waiting area, I searched the crowd, my heart racing. At first, I only saw a mass of strangers rushing to greet other passengers, but then I spotted a group of people holding a welcome sign with my name on it and felt a wave of relief wash over me. God had provided a way even though I did not know of the plans He was making in my behalf.

When Abraham left his country in Genesis 12, he had no idea where he was going. He went by faith. When God told Noah to build a boat when it hadn’t even rained, it took faith. When the Israelites left Egypt and walked into the desert, they didn’t know where they were going either. I did not know what would happen when I got to the airport, but God did. The reason God leads us into the unknown is to build our faith and force us to trust in who He is instead of in ourselves.

We want to know the plan, but God just wants us to know Him. The goal of this life is a relationship with God, to know Him better, to trust Him. The only way to do that is to step out in faith from the known path into the unknown, to cast out into the deep away from the seeming safety of the shore, knowing that whatever He has planned for us is better than anything we can dream up.

While planning has its place, we also need to be open to following God into the unknown believing in faith that He knows what lies ahead and will be with us all the way. If we follow His lead, we will never go astray. Psalm 46:10 says “Be still, and know that I am God.” The phrase “be still” can be translated “cease striving” or “release your hold” or “relax.” God is in the driver’s seat, and He knows more than any GPS about what lies ahead, so relax and enjoy the journey. God’s got this!

Rest

In today’s society REST is a four-letter word. Everybody, and every body, needs it, but no one wants to admit they took it. People almost feel the need to apologize for taking time off. My students use a resource in class, an article titled “Toxic Work World” by Anne Marie Slaughter in The New York Times, which speaks to this issue. It talks about a work culture that requires more and more time at work even if it is not quality work in order to not only succeed, but sometimes to even keep your job. It is a culture that frowns on taking vacation days. If there is a family emergency, many people are afraid to take off time to take care of things in fear of losing their jobs. We have taken competition to an extreme level to the point stress and anxiety are at epidemic levels. What is to be done?

Isaiah 30:15 says, “For thus saith the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel; in returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not.”

A writer pointed out that people have written sermons and devotionals by the thousands on the subject of returning or repentance, but very few talk about the second part: “In returning and rest shall ye be saved.”Even God took a day off. On the seventh day he rested. We even take the Sabbath as a day to be busy, running from one thing to another.

We need to take time to rest at the feet of Jesus, like Mary, and just soak up His presence. We need to draw from the power of the Holy Spirit. We need to reflect on Our Father’s blessings.

The Christian walk is a journey, not a competition. Everyone who completes the race is a winner, but, like any journey, we need to take breaks along the way to sleep, to eat, and to rest. Otherwise, we will run out of fuel and be forced to stand still. So, take time to rest…mentally, physically, and spiritually. Ask God and he will give you rest for your soul. Then, you will be prepared to be his example in a world of people who long for what He has to offer.

 

Postponed Pleasure

I received a book for Christmas titled A Book That Takes Its Time. In it there is an article on postponed pleasure which discusses the current need for instant gratification and its effects on people. Because of their need for instant gratification, people are missing out on a sense of anticipation, like waiting for Christmas morning to arrive. Not only that, but also people don’t appreciate what they have when they do get it. They are soon distracted by a new toy that they don’t have that someone told them they should have and the joy quickly evaporates.

People also aren’t willing to work at something. They want to be able to do it perfectly immediately, or they don’t want to do it at all. For example, when I started taking martial arts classes in high school in the 80’s, you had to work for 3 months before testing for your first belt, and then 6 months for the next belt and another 6 months for the next belt. Now schools are testing every few months to give students that sense of instant gratification because 6 months seems too far away and they lose interest. They need constant reinforcement in order to maintain interest in something. So, schools developed curriculum that required more belts over shorter periods of time so that students would want to go to the next level of the game, so to speak, and it gave the schools more income for more testing as well. Everybody wins! Except, they don’t really.

There is something to be said about working toward a goal and anticipating seeing it fulfilled that has been lost in a society of instant gratification. When we quickly get something, we just as quickly want to move on to a new thing. Our joy is short-lived and requires more and more to meet that ever-growing need. We are never happy. It is never enough. If we take the time to just enjoy the moment, like quietly watching the sunrise over the ocean (or even through your window at home), it gives the moment more…well just more. More joy and satisfaction for a goal achieved through time and dedication and sometimes through blood, sweat, and tears. The more we put into a goal, the more we will appreciate it when we reach that goal.

So, take the time to enjoy your life. Instant gratification is not all it’s cracked up to be. Take up a new hobby, like knitting, even if it means taking the time to learn new skills and practice. Your first project may look like a 5-year-old did it, but it is all about learning and enjoying the process. When you finally complete that project that made you pick up knitting as a goal, you will look back and laugh about the good times and the frustrating times and realize you enjoyed the ride. Life is the same. It’s not about the destination, but about the journey. Enjoy each day of the journey and each stop along the way; otherwise, who knows what you are missing out on.

Roller Coasters

I am not a fan of roller coasters. The constant up and down and being thrown about does not appeal to me and often makes me sick. I don’t find any fun or thrills in the process. We often refer to life as a journey which includes mountains and valleys, but when the mountains and valleys come too close together, the effect is a roller coaster.

Lately, life has been a bit of a roller coaster with things changing on sometimes an hourly basis. I have given up definitive plans for the near future. In other words, I don’t write anything in stone because I am not sure of where the next few turns will take me. I have come to a few conclusions, however.

First, we can make plans, but we only have today…the moment…to work with, so we have to keep that in mind. We have to roll with the punches and do the best we can. Do what you can do in the moment and enjoy all the little moments of joy as they come amid the struggles in life. Smile and sing along with a tune on the radio or wonder at the sudden appearance of wildlife or laugh at a funny moment in life.

Second, I am inspired to actually do the things I’ve talked about doing instead of putting them off to another day. Too many days have gone by in that manner. If we do all that we can do in a given day, then we will not have regrets. We may never accomplish everything we set out to do, but at least we will have tried. Besides, it may be that God never intended for us to do some things because He had other more important things for us to do.

While I can’t stop the roller coaster, I can do more to try and enjoy life. I can be more attentive to what God has for me to do and ignore what the world says I should do. I can only do what I can do and the rest is up to God.

 

 

Recalculating

Most people these days use a GPS when going somewhere for the first time. It gives a visual of the next segment of the trip and includes an electronic voice that reads the directions as you approach turns or changes in course. If you do not follow her directions, the voice will say, “recalculating” as it resets the directions to help you get back on the course she has laid out for you.

Life is often described as a journey. As a Christian, our ultimate destination is Heaven, but there are many stops along the way. We often encounter crossroads or are distracted by side roads and get off the path laid out for us by our GPS – God’s Positioning System – also known as the Holy Spirit. In a still small voice the Holy Spirit prods us and comforts us as we go on the journey. Sometimes He also has to recalculate the directions when we go off the course plotted out for us by God.

We also have a physical map in the form of the Bible. Psalm 119:105 says, “They Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” It shows us the way a segment at a time, just like the GPS in your car. Just as a flashlight or lantern can only illuminate a small section of a path in the dark, so does God illuminate the way we should go in small sections. We never see all the stops on the journey, but as we move along, more of the path is unveiled just as when we move forward on a path with a flashlight. Until you take a step forward, you cannot see any further no matter how hard you look.

Recalculating, unfortunately, is a constant need as we often think we know better than the GPS or even try to turn it off. While the GPS in your car can sometimes be mistaken, God never makes a mistake. However, as soon as you realize you have strayed off the right path or taken a wrong turn, ask your GPS to recalculate and show you how to get back on the right track.  One of the many benefits of a God-given GPS is that it never has to search for a satellite or tower and the battery is never dead. It is always active and ready to guide us as long as we will use it and follow directions.