Are You Off Center?

“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” – Deuteronomy 6:5.

Steve Maraboli, speaking on priorities said, “when someone tells you they are too ‘busy’ it’s not a reflection of their schedule, it’s reflection of your spot on their schedule.”  The point is this: If God is not our priority, it is not a reflection of God, but a reflection of the spot we put God in our schedule and in our priorities. God longs to be and should be the center of the universe and will always be the center of our lives.   

Most Christians when establishing a list of priorities, include God, spouse, children, others, job and ministry, howbeit, in different orders. Making a list of priorities doesn’t mean that we neglect the lower things for the upper things.  All of these things are things that matter to God and thus should matter to each one of us. But in life and in marriage, the list begins and ends with God. The number one priority in our life should be God. But it should be deeper and more inclusive than that.

I don’t want God to be just a priority in my life. He should not be relegated to a bullet list of things that really matter to me. Because when we simply place Him on the top of the list, we are claiming that He is part of our lives. If we make God another line in a list, we are suggesting that God plays a role, albeit large role in my life. But God shouldn’t be a role player, or another component in our lives. God should be our lives. To be a follower of Jesus means that God owns my life. There’s nothing outside of Him. It means giving up ourselves and desiring God’s will above all else.

I don’t want to compartmentalize God. I don’t want to think of Him as separate from any aspect of my life. Instead, as I think through each “priority”, I want to consider how that part of my life is critical to Him. How does He want me to use that part of my life for His glory? When we establish a list of priorities, God is the list, because the whole list comes out of God. My priorities are established through Him. In fact, my prayer is that the list is actually a list of His priorities.

Marriage will test our desire and ability to put God in the center of everything in life. There will be job callings and job problems, a sink full of dishes, a gazillion loads of laundry, and trash bags full of dirty diapers, unpaid bills, lack of sleep to name a few. Although encountering problems in this life will never cease, our lives can be dramatically simplified, purpose-filled, joyful, and effective the moment we begin to live with Jesus as the center of our lives.

“Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken. My victory and honor come from God alone. He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me. O my people, trust in Him at all times. Pour out your heart to Him, for God is our refuge.” (Psalm 62:5-8)

Discussion questions:

  1. How can we put God in the center of our lives?
  2. What are the obstacles to making God the center of our lives?

One Step Away

“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” – James 4:8-10 (NKJV).

Drawing near to God involves getting close, in much the same way you wish to be with those you love. The good news is God is always close.

Isaiah proclaimed, “Seek the Lord while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6).Jeremiah 29: 13-14 says, “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord…” 

It is nice to have that person we can trust by our side to help us make decisions and to figure things out. But nobody can be by our side all the time except God. God is always there. Wherever we go, God is there with us.   

In fact, God is one big step closer than anyone else ever can be; He’s there in you. He’s there in the room with you. And when you sit in that meeting with a customer, and your mind is working a million miles an hour trying to understand problems and develop solutions without resources and in spite of office politics, He is there. When family problems mount, He is there. In the toughest moments in life, we can have the incredible, indescribable joy and peace because God is in that place. Jesus wants to guide our way through life, but we have to be willing to let him. We need to have faith in Him and in His promises.

We don’t need an international mobile phone to talk to God; we can talk anytime, anywhere, because He is there. We can ask for advice, help, guidance, wisdom and then trust that He will guide and lead us in the way we should go.

God is with us, leading us, guiding us, loving us, providing for us — all with His unlimited resources. What do we need? Do we need strength, peace, love, joy, or hope? He has it all. He is longing to pour out His favor and blessing. We need to be open to Him and to trust Him.

This is why the Bible tells us that we can now cast all of our burdens and cares upon the Lord – because it is now His job to take full and complete care of all of us from the moment we fully surrender everything over to Him. Isaiah 58:11 says, “The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.”

 Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe God is always there? How have you experienced that?
  2. What can we do this week to make his presence real in our lives?    

Failure Can Be A Stepping Stone

“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. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

Failure is part of life. It is often the bottom line in our fears. We fear failing, but for some people, failure is a stepping stone. Their failure makes them stronger and results in greater success. We see that played out in business, research, sports and every other aspect of life. For others, however, failure is not easy to overcome and stays with them for years to come. It causes them to shy away from taking the steps God wants them to take because they just might fail. The truth is, you may fail taking the next step. You may fail taking the next step after that. And the one after that.

Nehemiah was an old testament figure living a thousand miles from Jerusalem. He had risen to prominence as the cupbearer to the king of Persia, and was living the high life. One day, he asked some friends who had visited Jerusalem how the people in the city were doing. Their answer would change Nehemiah’s life:, “They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.” (Nehemiah 1:3) When Nehemiah heard this, it was like a shot to the gut. For days he mourned, fasted and prayed to God. Nehemiah had a burden to go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall. 

I believe God is doing exactly the same thing in the hearts of His people today. God is calling us to step out of our comfort zone and to do something. You don’t have to be a pastor, a missionary, or a super-spiritual star or hero. All you need is a willingness to overcome your fear, step out of your comfort zone and trust Him.

It may be something as simple as just walking across the room to talk to someone you normally would have ignored. Or inviting your neighbor over for coffee or taking a co-worker to lunch to see how they’re doing.

Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone like Nehemiah did and live for something bigger than yourself.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Failure can be a negative or a potential positive. Which applies to you? 
  2. What can we do to step out of our comfort zone this week?

Jumping Ship

Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. About three o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them, walking on the water….Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.” “Yes, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted. Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?” – Matthew 14:24-25, 28:31.

What is so astonishing about this passage is that Peter actually jumped out of the boat. Peter was willing to do something that no one else was—jump. And by jumping he had the amazing opportunity to do something no other human being has ever been able to do then and since – walk on water. The whole experience was predicated on getting out of the boat.

If God has given us a burden for someone or something, we need to jump ship if we are going to use our God-given gifts to affect others. Nothing will happen if all we do is talk about jumping into life-changing opportunities that God has put right in our path, but, we never actually jump.

Reluctance to jump is the default reaction for many people.  After all, who wants to jump off a boat in the middle of a storm. We prefer staying in our comfort zone, amidst the status quo. Remember that Peter was the only one of the 12 disciples who jumped out. Peter was the only one that experienced walking on water. 

Step one is taking the first step. If you want to experience the type of moment that Peter experienced then you have to take a step into the adventure He has put on your heart and get your momentum moving, and God will then empower your next step. It could be something as small as joining a small group, or going on a mission trip, or trying to patch up a splintered relationship. Sometimes taking the smallest step in God’s direction ends up being the biggest step of your life. Tip toe if you must, but take that first step.

I encourage you not to miss the God-given opportunities because you are too comfortable and safe to jump out of the boat. It is time to jump ship.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Has there been a situation where you felt the urge to jump out of the boat? If you didn’t what kept you from jumping?
  2. Is there something today that is calling you to jump out of the boat?

A Small Wonder

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.”  Zachariah 4:10.

Soul surfer Bethany Hamilton is an example of small steps leading to big dreams. If you didn’t see the movie Soul Surfer, Bethany Hamilton was a natural talent in the sport of surfing. At age 13, an almost deadly shark attack resulted in her losing her right arm. She was back on her surfboard one month later, and after two years of small steps forward she won first place in the Explorer Women’s Division of the NSSA National Championships.

When we think of responding to God’s call, we often remember the dramatic stories: Gideon defeating an army with 300 men, Elijah and the prophets of Baal, and Paul struck blind to name a few. But what about all us “ordinary” followers of Jesus? 

Sometimes in life, we get so overwhelmed by the enormity of our goals that we give up before we even start trying to achieve them. If our goal is to get out of debt, that number may seem so large and so daunting, that it keeps us from even taking a first step in the process. Or we may dream about being the CEO of a company, but just the thought of starting at the bottom and working our way up through the ranks seems almost impossible, so why even bother?

But God never intended for us to do everything at once. In fact, that’s not how He works through us either. God usually doesn’t reveal His whole plan to us. He may give us a small piece of the plan or just give us a direction to follow, but we may not know the rest of the plan for quite a while, if ever. All He wants you to do is trust Him, and step out in faith.

Chances are we will not become, Gideon, Elijah or Paul in 2018, if at all. No one expects us to be like them. They didn’t have to have everything all figured out at once or even be able to see the end picture in its entirety. But what they did do is to take that first step and then another.

God wants us to keep taking steps toward our goals and to listen for His guidance along the way. So put aside any worry or guilt that might be holding you back and commit to taking small steps each day, week and month as we progress further into 2018. That could mean getting baptized, committing to digging into the Bible each day, discovering how God wants to use you to help others, or just learning more about God’s plan for your life.

Discussion questions:

  1. How do you define small steps? What makes it a small step rather than a big step?  
  2. What can we do this week to start taking small steps?

God Is Big Enough

“Can you direct the movement of the stars—binding the cluster of the Pleiades or loosening the cords of Orion? Can you direct the constellations through the seasons or guide the Bear with her cubs across the heavens? Do you know the laws of the universe? Can you use them to regulate the earth?” – Job 38:31-22.

You have ideas, dreams, even a vision for your life. You feel called to do something greater and more fulfilling for God, but can’t figure out where to start. Or maybe you look around and see how God is using others and wonder if you have the right stuff to be truly used by God. Most of us feel inadequate at times to be used by God. We feel like we don’t know enough, we haven’t been a Christian long enough, we’re too old, not old enough, don’t have the right gifts, and the list goes on. In other words, God wants to do great things, but He will need to use somebody else.

When we think that way, we limit God’s work to our own understanding. We limit His power to work good from everything. The solution is to stop limiting God in your mind. He’s bigger than your theology. He’s more capable than your mind can comprehend.

I think we sometimes forget how big our God is. Remember, He is the Creator, He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and end. We tend to put God in human terms so that we can better understand Him, but we need to remember that God is not bound by our limitations and our weaknesses, He is as far above them as we can possibly imagine. Our God is not a God we can put in a box, or keep in control, He’s not a tame God or a “safe” God. 

Colossians 1:17 says “He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.” He holds everything from the invisible forces that keep the atoms of our bodies together to the galaxies and constellations in the heavens. In Job 38 (above), God answers Job’s questions about God’s reasons for His actions by contrasting God’s power and majesty with Job’s. 

In those moments when you wonder if you can be used by God and deciding whether to take that first step fo faith, remember Luke 1: 37 (NASB): “For nothing will be impossible with God”  Nothing means just that: not one thing. Nothing is too big for God, too hard for God, too much for God. And if nothing is impossible, that means anything and everything must be possible with God. He can remove any obstacle, overcome any challenge, mow down any opposition. He can do anything. Anything. God will use you if you are willing to take the first step even if the next big step God wants you to take is actually small.

Discussion questions:

  1. How often do you reflect on how big and how great our God is? 
  2. Read Psalms 97:1-6: What does that say about God?
  3. How should the fact that God can do the impossible change how we view our ideas, dreams and visions?

Miss Today And Miss Out

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” – Matthew 6:24. 

Too often we as followers of Jesus fall into the trap of dwelling on the past or being anxious about the future. A consequence of this frame of mind is that we become frozen in time. We are unable to move forward because we are stuck on past failures or disappointments and thus are unsure about a future that seems completely open and beyond our control. It is as if we believe in God, but it doesn’t affect us on a day-to-day basis.

All this means is that we miss opportunities in the present moment. God could be calling us to do great things today, but we are too focused on the past or the future that we can miss what is happening right in front of us. Every person can have his or her life radically changed by Jesus Christ. Paul did a complete 180 on the road to Damascus (Acts 9 ), and Christ is still fulfilling His promises, answering prayer and changing lives today. We need to be aware of what He is doing right now, today, in this very moment.

All through time God has been actively working out His plan in the world, and that includes today. Jesus is not on vacation, or chilling waiting for God to give Him the go ahead to return to earth.  God is always at work around you. Take a look at the passage in John 5:17, 19-20 (NIV) “But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.”….“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. ” 

You can believe God hasn’t stopped working and that He is working right now to achieve His purpose. Scripture tells us He is actively working on our behalf, interceding for us. Hebrews 7:25: “Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save[a] those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.” Romans 8:34 adds, “Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.”  And 1 John 2:1 says, “My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father…” 

So while Jesus Christ redeemed our past and secured our future, He is also uniquely and intimately involved in our today. Jesus has done great things for us and has promised to do even more, but to miss out on what He is doing right now is to minimize the fullness of His work on our behalf. 

 Discussion Questions:

  1. How can we see God’s plan at work in our lives today?
  2. How do we make space for God to do His work in our lives today?    

A Vote Of Confidence

“So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” – Deuteronomy 31:6.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and didn’t understand anything they were saying because they were using technical or specialized vocabulary? Maybe a doctor explained some health issue to you in medical terms that were very appropriate and precise, but you had no idea what he was saying because you did not understand the terms. But while you may not grasp totally what they say, you have confidence that the doctor knows what he or she is talking about and is capable of solving what ever medical issue you went to the doctor for.   

Most people do have confidence in their doctor, but confidence in God can be a much more difficult business. Maybe we think we are unworthy. Maybe we think the answer is no, because the answer always seems to be no or no answer. Psalm 27 addresses the subject because much of the Psalm is about sure and certain confidence in God. The psalm begins: “The Lord is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?”

But if only this were all. If only things were so simple, and we could all confidently get clear help in our next doctor visit or the next time God wishes to use something in some way. If only it were so easy.

Psalm 27 simplifies the confusion to a great degree. In verses 10-11 we read, “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close. Teach me how to live, O Lord. Lead me along the right path, for my enemies are waiting for me.”  The psalmist wasn’t wresting with the flu, or loss of a job, or a relationship problem. Still, the psalmist had real struggles in his life that possibly included being forsaken by father and mother, beset by foes, and attacked by greedy enemies. But in the midst of all that, the psalmist somehow expressed a confidence in God.

When we trust God with our self-confidence, we put the power in His hands. That can be scary and beautiful all at the same time. We’ve all been hurt and crushed by others, but God doesn’t do that. He knows we aren’t perfect, but loves us anyway. We can feel confident in ourselves because God is confident in us. 1 Corinthians 2:3-5 says:

“I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling.  And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit.  I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. How important is it to have confidence?
  2. Can confidence be a negative as well? Why?
  3. What can we do this week to increase our confidence in God?

Walking Into The Unknown

So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” – Matthew 6:31-33.

We have all heard the term the “Christian walk.” It refers to an individual’s personal, spiritual journey. Many times we have false expectations of what the “Christian walk” should be like. Many times we believe that it should be free from troubles and difficulties. Some think that it is dull, boring and mundane. As Paul tells us in Acts 20:22, “…I don’t know what awaits me.”  In other words, the Christian walk is really a journey Into the unknown. 

That is a tough environment to be in. Talk to any business manager and they will tell you that it is very difficult to be successful when unknowns pop up and surprise you. Christians feel the same way about the unknowns in their walk with God. They look at it like a preacher who gives you an outline with blanks but then skips some of the points? That doesn’t work for us,

We like complete outlines. All the blanks filled in. All the gaps closed. All the details disclosed. And all the why questions answered to our satisfaction.

But that’s not the way life is. There will be gaps in our Christian walk that are simply too wide to close. And there are some questions for which there are no apparent answers. But that is the way God wants it because He designed life to be this way.

Without blanks, we would have no room for Him to write in His answers. Without gaps, there would be no way for Him to become the Way when there is no way. Without unanswered questions, there would be no way to show us that He is the answer. If we knew all the details then we would attempt to control our life and story rather than Him to be our life. Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). If we had all the blanks filled in, we would not seek God’s part in our story. Our God is not fickle, forgetful or fragile in any way. He does not make mistakes. He has a purpose for our gaps. He has a divine purpose behind all the blanks and the unanswered questions in our life. He leaves room for faith. 

Learn to be okay with that. Learn that God does what He does for reasons you can’t always see or understand.  Learn to believe that God is good, even when the unknowns of life creep in.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think that God does not give us all the details?
  2. Do you find comfort knowing that God is in the midst of your uncertainties?  Why?

Taking Your Cues From The Spirit

“Your call will become clear as as your mind is transformed by the reading of Scripture and the internal work of God’s Spirit. The Lord never hides His will from us. In time, as you obey the call first to follow, your destiny will unfold before you. The difficulty will lie in keeping other concerns from diverting your attention.” ― Charles R. Swindoll

Have you ever found yourself at an impasse with God? You just can’t seem to shake this idea that the Lord is doing something in your life, and more specifically, what He has next for you. There is only one problem. He isn’t telling you.

So you hit your knees and ask God for direction much like an actor or actress looking for their next cue. You want what all Christians want: for God to lead you and to show you what you are supposed to do with your life. But sometimes it seems the cues are just not there.   

As wonderful as it would be to see the whole picture before we get started, He usually leads us one step at a time after we get started. In Acts 20:22-23, Paul acts on a cue from the Holy Spirit. “And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead.” Proverbs 16:9 says “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” 

God cannot direct our steps unless we are stepping. God’s first call is to movement, with cues to follow. For example, God calls Abraham out of Ur to “go to a land I will show you.” Not exactly a complete screenplay with all the cues. So it can seem as if God is not particularly interested in providing us with the details of the journey to which He calls us. But, if He is leading us to do something, you can know He has a good reason for it. He sees and knows what you cannot see. But He will never leave us or forsake us. When we take a wrong turn, He is there to say “Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left.” (Isaiah 30:21) So if you are feeling paralyzed trying to make a major life decision, remember that whichever way you go, you have the Spirit. And He is everything. Go into every day and every decision mindful that your greatest need in life is not guidance from God, but Christ himself.

So look for the cues from the Holy Spirit. It may be a door opened or closed. It may be the power of His presence. It may be a still small voice. It may be a small cue that doesn’t help you understand the master plan. A cue that will not help tell you what He wants you to do with your entire life, but tells you where God is leading you today. And all those cues will lead you exactly where He wants you to go with your life.

Discussion questions:

  1. How sensitive are you to the Holy Spirit’s promptings?  What things in your life can make you numb to such guidance? 
  2. Are there any areas in your life where you are struggling to yield to the cues of the Holy Spirit?  Why do you think it’s been a struggle?  
  3. What can you do differently this week to be more receptive to God’s voice in your life?