Put To Good Use

The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him…”  – 2 Chronicles 16:9.

The story of one of the many people who questioned why or how God could use them is also one of the greatest. When the angel Gabriel told Mary that she’d be pregnant and give birth to the Son of God, “Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” (Luke 1:34) The angel responded to her and said: “For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37, NASB) The Bible is full of other examples of God doing improbable things through improbable people. 

The question for each of us today is: Do you believe that God can do improbable things through you? The Apostle Paul did. He prayed: “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20)

If we take some of the people from the Bible off their pedestal for a few seconds, we can quickly see they were ordinary, regular people that God did extraordinary things through. We can read about God working through the lives of Joseph, Moses, David, Paul, Peter and many others. But that was then and this is now. Can I really expect God to do something like that through me? We live in a different time. God still does the extraordinary through ordinary people. 

God is looking to begin and finish His work through ordinary people who are completely committed to Him. He is looking for people whose belief turns into a willingness. God is looking for people who will step out and be His hands and feet to a lost world. There may be times when we step out of our comfort zone. There may be times when God asks us to do something that make us uncomfortable and unconfident. But God is not looking for us to be comfortable or our commitment to Him to become mundane. God wants us to step out into the unknown and let Him guide our steps.

God doesn’t need us to complete His mission. Yet, God lovingly engages us, often to deepen our devotion, dependence, and faith in Him. Our relationship with Him isn’t about achievements and goals, but it’s about love and obedience.

At this time of year, we are in the middle of the NBA playoffs. Every basketball player works to be in the starting lineup and to be the player that makes a difference in a big game. But even greater than the honor of being used at crunch time is to be used by God. To be in His starting line-up, you don’t have to have great talents. You have to have the courage and the faith to say to God, “I want to make a difference because you made a difference in my life and you have a use for me to further your kingdom.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do we uncover the uses God has for our lives?
  2. What can we do this week to be of better use for God? 

Remembering

“Remember the things I have done in the past. For I alone am God! I am God, and there is none like me.” – Isaiah 46:9.

Our day-to-day lives are mostly spent doing ordinary, routine activities such as working, sleeping, and eating. The few hours, if any, that remain are normally dedicated to family, friends, hobbies, entertainment, and pursuing a relationship with our Lord and Savior. We want to feel the presence of God every day in a deeper way, but often God does not feel present. In those times, I think it is important to pause and remind ourselves of who God is and all He has done. 

God knows our propensity to get involved in so many things that we push God to the background, yet the reality is He has never left our side. To a frightened Israel facing a formidable enemy, God said:

“Perhaps you will think to yourselves, ‘How can we ever conquer these nations that are so much more powerful than we are?’ But don’t be afraid of them! Just remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all the land of Egypt. Remember the great terrors the Lord your God sent against them. You saw it all with your own eyes! And remember the miraculous signs and wonders, and the strong hand and powerful arm with which he brought you out of Egypt. The Lord your God will use this same power against all the people you fear.”  (Deuteronomy 7:17-19)

Remembering how God delivered us should remind us of His presence. We haven’t fled Pharaoh, but we have stories of our own. Instead of chariots, we have an errand child. Instead of a ruthless ruler, we have faced finding a job where there does not seem to be any. Yet as we look back, we can see God’s presence in a friend who talked to our child, a company executive who hired you when it seemed hopeless. God is always present. 

We see examples of God’s presence and provision throughout the Bible. When David led God’s people in restoring the Ark of the Covenant to its rightful place, he taught them a song of thanks to the LORD, saying, “Remember the wonders he has performed, his miracles, and the rulings he has given,” (1 Chronicles 16:12)  David then listed some of those miracles and judgments, culminating in verse 36, “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, who lives from everlasting to everlasting! And all the people shouted “Amen!” and praised the Lord.” (1 Chronicles 16:36)

As a Pastor, my ability to lead effectively in worship and ministry depends upon being able to worship God regardless of present circumstances. But there have been times when I have awakened in the morning with, shall I say, a less than spirited heart toward God. But then I pause to remember the faithfulness of God. I pause to remember how His presence and His provision has sustained me through some tough times. The practice of remembering sends a bolt of energy through me and sets me on His path again. Take time today to remember all that God has done for you. Thank Him for His presence and praise Him for all the amazing things He has done for you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can we daily remember who we are, and reverently keeping in mind who God is?
  2. Read 2 Samuel 6:5: King David danced in celebration and sang before the Lord with all his might. How do you celebrate before God?
  3. What has God done in your life recently that deserves remembrance and celebration?

Hide Or Seek

“If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” – Jeremiah 29:13-14.

Hide and seek is a game that everyone has played. One person would count to ten, as the other players would scamper off into another part of the house to find a place in which to hide. The anticipation would build as the person who was counting reached 10 and then ran around opening every closet door and looking under every bed. Who doesn’t remember hiding in a hall closet while your heart pounded, hoping like mad that no one would find you? The search was exciting, but the real fun was finding those in hiding.

When parents played hide and seek with the kids, they typically chose a hiding spot where they would eventually be found. I think it is the same way in our relationship with God. When He calls us to search for Him, He never hides Himself so well that He cannot be found.

In Jeremiah 29:13, God doesn’t hide where He can’t be found, but invites us to look for Him and find Him when He says, “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you.” There’s no wondering if you’ll find Him, doubting if you’ll be able to make your way to Him, or if you will be allowed to find Him. There’s no question, He will show Himself to you when you genuinely search for Him.

If you quietly seek Him, listen for His voice, and study His word, you will find Him. There are days when you may not feel His presence. But the fact is that God is always with you, even if you don’t sense His presence. And there will be times when you will feel His presence in a real and tangible way. In those moments, it will feel like finding one of your childhood friends in a hall closet, who jumped out with a shout of joy, “You found me!”

The key is not just to bask in God’s presence, but also to let that presence transform you. God’s presence isn’t simply for you to enjoy; it’s meant to inspire you to open yourself up in deeper ways to the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work of transforming you into the person God wants you to become.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe that God is always present even when we don’t feel his presence? Why or why not?
  2. What can we do this week to seek God?

Warning: Distractions Ahead

“Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.” – Proverbs 4:25 (ESV).

Distraction takes many forms in life today. Maybe you are preparing for a presentation you have to give at work. You are trying to get it done while you have the inspirational energy when you begin to wonder if you should start a load of laundry or whether the stock market is up or down. 

We all have the best intentions. We are excited about God, but we all fall victim to the distractions of this world. When we are distracted we have a diminished ability to think deeply about Him, to truly know Him as He is, and to grow more like Him. It is harder and harder to stop long enough to study the scriptures. We struggle with the attention needed to find quality time for God. Where prayer used to be the first activity of the day, we now begin our daily routine by checking our e-mail or checking our Facebook page. 

If you are skeptical that distractions are a big deal, take this challenge: Write down on a piece of paper every time you are distracted. My guess is you won’t complete the distraction challenge because you will be distracted.

Okay…there are distractions in your life. Now what? You cannot eliminate all the distractions in life, but what you can do is to focus on Jesus. What are His priorities?  Is the distraction taking you away from time with Him?

If we are easily overloaded, overburdened with the busyness of life, stop hitting the fast forward button. Rather hit the pause button and spend time in God’s presence. 

Our goal is the same, to not be distracted by anything that pulls us away from what’s supremely important—knowing Christ. God calls us to a life where distractions fade and His voice becomes the One we listen to first and foremost.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What kind of distractions do you have in your life? Do you surround yourself with distractions intentionally or unintentionally?
  2. Does your schedule, time, and life look like that of a person who wants to spiritually grow? 
  3. What are some things in your daily life you could change to eliminate some of the distractions?   

Expecting Something Sensational

“You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” – Matthew 17:20.

When you fall in love strange things start to happen: you can’t stop staring at the other person, you are on a natural high, you can’t stop thinking about them, you feel no pain, you want to try new things, your heart is synchronized with them, you love their quirks, and all that warm and fuzziness makes you smile all the time. It is no wonder you want to spend all your time with them. If you experience those intense feelings with your soulmate, imagine what it must be like to experience the presence of God. 

The problem is that we expect the presence of God to be out-of-this world glorious. And to be in the presence of God would be indescribable. But there is a problem. We could not be in the presence of God and survive. Moses asked God “show me your glorious presence.” in Exodus 33. here is the Lord’s response: “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh, before you. For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose. But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live.”  The Lord continued, “Look, stand near me on this rock. As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind. But my face will not be seen.” (Exodus 33:18-23)

We all desire God’s presence in our lives. But how do we recognize His presence? And it is easy to assume that God’s presence will be supernaturally spectacular, saturating all our senses; that weI will feel it enveloping every part of us. But much of the time this is not what we experience.

God’s presence is not yes or no. It is not all or nothing. There are various ways and degrees we might experience His presence, and therefore various ways and degrees we might respond to His presence. We can experience God as a gentle peace that comes over us. or we can experience God’s presence as joy. We can hear God’s voice, and experience His love in those quiet moments when it is just God and us.  It is understandable that we want the “fullness” of God’s presence, but that does not mean it will take a sensational form. 

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” This is what 2 Corinthians 3:17–18 has to say on the subject: “For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is anything making it difficult for you to see God’s presence in your life? Is there something you need to stop or start?
  2. What are some of the subtle ways God reveals Himself to you? What are some of the most effective ways you’ve found of seeking God?

Presence Of Mind

“If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” – Jeremiah 29:13-14. .

Let’s be honest. We all have those times in our lives when we feel lost, tired and alone. God seems distant, or you are preoccupied with something else because you haven’t felt His presence or joy in days or months. You keep asking yourself, “what am I doing wrong? Am I in a spiritual doghouse? Why am I facing this spiritual dry spell? How long will I be in this spiritual desert?” Most people yearn for the presence of God in their lives, yet there are times when His presence escapes us.

Consider Moses for a second. Moses led his people out of Egypt. In Exodus 33:12-13 we read, “…If it is true that you look favorably on me, let me know your ways so I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor. And remember that this nation is your very own people.” Basically, Moses wanted to know God and to be in his favor. Moses just wanted to see and experience his Father.

Think about that for a second. Here is Moses, who has had as much contact with God as any man in the Bible, throughout these verses keep asking for God. C’mon Moses, seriously: You met God at the burning bush. You experienced God’s power in the 10 plagues. You spread your hands and watched a sea become a road. You cracked a rock with a stick and it became a drinking fountain. You even saw God engrave two stone tablets with his law.

Moses had many encounters with God. The Book of Exodus records God revealing Himself, His purposes or His ways to Moses, and yet in spite of all that, he continued to want to feel the presence of God.

“Then Moses said, “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place. How will anyone know that you look favorably on me—on me and on your people—if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.” The Lord replied to Moses, “I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorably on you, and I know you by name.” (Exodus 33:15-17)

We all want to feel the presence of God. Unfortunately there is not always a definitive formula, a to do list that once completed results in the presence of God. But remember this when God seems distant. The God of the Bible is omnipresent, meaning He is present everywhere. The apostle Paul preached, “He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples,” (Acts 17:24). When we relegate God’s presence to a certain time and place, we may unintentionally imply He isn’t present at other times or in other places. God is always near.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is anything making it difficult for you to see God’s presence in your life? Is there something you need to stop or start?
  2. If you want to see God, experience God, to know God’s presence you must look back and you will see where He has been. Agree or disagree and why?
  3. What are some of the subtle ways God reveals Himself to you? What are some of the most effective ways you’ve found of seeking God?

Wait A Minute

“but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” – Isaiah 40:31.

Jesus could have come and healed Lazarus when he was still alive. Instead, He waited to raise him from the dead when he was already in his grave. God could have made David become king the day after he was anointed. Instead, He waited years to be king, many of those years spent fearing for his life, hiding out and running away from his father-in-law. God could have given Abraham the son He promised him when he was still a young man. Instead, He waited until he was 100 years old and because of physical reasons would have a more difficult time conceiving at that age.

God could have answered prayers instantly, but He made them wait instead. And He often makes us do the same.

He makes us wait for healing to come after we’ve been praying for years and there is no sign of recovery. He makes us wait to find our spouse after all our friends are already married. He makes us wait to start a family. One thing we know for sure, His ways are not our ways, so if we are asked to wait, it is because God has a better perspective, plan and purpose for our lives.

If He is making you wait, there is a very good reason for it. If He is telling you “no” today, maybe it’s because He has a better “yes” waiting for you tomorrow. If He is keeping you in the same place you’ve always been today, maybe it’s because He’s helping build your faith for tomorrow. 

Wherever you are at today know that God is right beside you and that there is a purpose for you. Even if that purpose is to wait. Don’t give up just because you don’t see anything happening today. It may seem that little is happening, but that may not be the case. So don’t allow your waiting period to make you hopeless about what tomorrow will bring. Instead, let it build your faith and give you even greater hope for what God has prepared for you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it look like to wait on God?
  2. What can we do this week to be better at waiting for God?

Better Purpose

“Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” – Philippians 2:12-13.

Isaiah 40:10 “God says My purpose will stand and I will do all that I please.” God isn’t obligated to explain to us everything He does. He doesn’t need our approval. Everything God does in your life He has a purpose for it–including problems and including saying no to some of your prayers. There’s a purpose in it.

2 Corinthians 4:17 says “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal!” Behind every problem there is a purpose. That purpose is an eternal purpose that you don’t even see right now. If you’ll get your eyes off the temporary situation and look beyond it you will see the eternal purpose that God wants to do in your life. Don’t always look at the circumstance you’re in right now. Circumstances are like a feather mattress — you get on top and you’ll rest easy, you get under and you’ll suffocate! It depends on where you are. God says no to your request because it involves the temporary and because there is a greater purpose that involves the future. I think of Joni Ericson Tada, the paraplegic. I’m sure she’s prayed that God would heal her. Yet God has said no. Instead He has a greater purpose for her life. I think Paul had to learn this in 2 Corinthians 12:7-11 where Paul prayed to be healed. even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. Paul had to learn that God is sufficient in every situation.

One of the marks of maturity and one of the marks of faith is the ability to accept a no. Immature people cannot accept a no for an answer. Ask your kids. As we grow we learn to accept no as a legitimate answer. Even Jesus had to learn what it meant to submit to God’s will. In the Garden of Gethsemane, right before the cross, Jesus prayed, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”  (Matthew 26:39) God let Jesus Christ go to the cross because of a greater purpose — our salvation.

When God says no it’s because He has a bigger perspective. Maybe He’s protecting you from an unforeseen problem you don’t even know about. Maybe it’s because of a better plan. He’s not limited to just one way; He has many ways. God has a greater purpose in your life that is greater than the problem you’re going through.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How is it possible to know what God is trying to do in you?
  2. What can we do this week to get in step with what God is trying to do in our lives.

God’s Game Plan

“You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.” – Proverbs 19:21. 

When people say that God has a wonderful plan for their lives, they often mean that God will help them achieve their dreams. God’s plans for our life are far superior to our ambitions, so sometimes the answer to our prayers are not what we are looking for because God has a better plan.

While we may not understand all the twists and turns of life, we can be sure of one thing: the same God who created us loves us. God’s personal promise is one of extreme hope and potential (Jeremiah 29:11). He also has an awesome strategy for your future. No matter what needs you are praying for at this time, God may say no because He has a better plan. 

We often want God to be our life coach rather than our Lord. We want God to give us some helpful tips on how to live an easier life, all the while forgetting that our mission is to glorify God. Instead of letting His glory shape our desires and ambitions, we too often expect him to comply with our prayer instructions for our lives. And when God says no, we wonder why because our lives wind up nothing like our expectations. What if we’re miserable? How is that God’s plan? Sometimes the path He leads us down is a difficult one. Sometimes we may find ourselves out of our comfort zone.  

Isaiah 55:8-9 “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Notice it doesn’t say, “my way, but my ways.” God has more than one way of doing things. He’s not limited in His options. He’s never forced into one answer. He has many alternatives. Our problem is that we get a preconceived idea and want God do what we want our way. We always pick the least painful way of having God answer prayers. God may not see it that way. 

Hebrews 11:39-40 says, “All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.”

When God says no we need to continue praying and trust God. Jesus is good. He never disappoints. Though He doesn’t always answer our prayers in the way we would like, He knows what’s best for us. The Bible says “You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever” (Psalm 16:11) God is not holding out on us. He is good — so good — and His plans for your life can be trusted.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When people say that God has a wonderful plan for their lives, what do they usually mean?
  2. Part of God’s wonderful plan for your life is to make you like His Son. Does this excite you? 

Sometimes It Is All About Perspective

“He knows about everyone, everywhere. Everything about us is bare and wide open to the all-seeing eyes of our living God; nothing can be hidden from him to whom we must explain all that we have done.” – Hebrews 4:13 (TLB) .

Google earth is too cool. It lets you fly anywhere on Earth to view satellite imagery, maps, terrain, 3D buildings, even the canyons of the ocean. Basically you can go anywhere in the world and zoom in to see what you want to see in great detail.   

Using Google Earth enables you to view the places you have lived and to relive long-forgotten memories of your childhood up to today. Through Google Earth, I can instantly gain a different perspective and scale of my world, even to the point of seeing earth suspended in space. You can zoom in and you can zoom out. That digital ability reminds me in a small, limited way about God’s perspective. Google Earth is a reminder that God sees the big picture with me right in it. He sees my life intertwined with other lives, events and timelines.

That perspective comes in handy when we pray. When we pray, take a few moments and “zoom out” of your life, to try and see the profound perspective that God has. The Bible emphatically confirms that God listens to us: “But God did listen! He paid attention to my prayer. Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer or withdraw his unfailing love from me.” (Psalms 66:19-20). When we don’t get the answer to prayer that we are looking for, do we really consider how God views our prayers from a much larger perspective?

Sometimes we can forget the big picture and use prayer as a springboard for my “fix-it” list. Or we stuff a “suggestion box” to God outlining the ways He could go about improving His performance. Try to see God’s perspective when you pray. Thank Him for all He has done in our lives. Ask Him to show His mission and His will for our lives. Our prayers can become much more meaningful and powerful if we can manage perspectives of a big picture along with our own circumstances. As I pray, it is helpful to me to spiritually “zoom in and out” in my mind’s eye to better appreciate true reality of what God sees and what He can do.

In our prayers, let’s always remember that God has a perspective that is far, far bigger than ours towards all life and things. He sees all. As humans, we have a limited view.

It is also important to remember that in the big picture, God’s timeline is often way different from ours. Read what God declares in Isaiah 46:10: “Only I can tell you the future before it even happens. Everything I plan will come to pass for I do whatever I wish.’”

Discussion questions

  1. How does God’s perspective change the way we pray? 
  2. What can we do this week to have the bigger picture when we pray?