The Danger of ‘If Only’ Living

I love the song If I Were a Rich Man from Fiddler on the Roof. Tevye, a Russian peasant, asks God ‘what would have been so terrible if I had a small fortune?’ and then goes on to describe the kind of life he’d live if he did.

We all have a tendency to ‘do a Tevye’. It might not be about money, but fairly frequently we rest our chin on our hands, gaze out of the window of our lives and daydream… IF ONLY. If only X hadn’t happened. If only X would happen. If only I was better at X. If only I could do X. If only I had X. If only I could have what I ask for. If only God would give me what I want (Job 6:8).

What If Onlys do you live with? Are they about money, or possessions, or relationships, or talents? Whatever they are, I want to encourage you to ditch the If Onlys in your life.

When her brother Lazarus died and Jesus showed up several days later, Martha’s words to Him were:

“Master, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” John 11:21, MSG.

Martha’s If Only was simply that her brother had not died, and that seems a very reasonable wish given the circumstance.

But if Martha had got her If Only, we’d have missed out on one of the New Testament’s greatest miracles, because Jesus went straight to Lazarus and raised him from the dead! We’d have missed a display of God’s incredible power and heart to heal, a demonstration of Jesus’ divine authority, and everyone who was there would have missed the most amazing thing they’d ever see in their lives!

Sure, your If Onlys probably make a massive amount of sense. They’d bring you benefit. They’d benefit other people. They probably seem completely innocuous, and you’re wondering why I’m even making a fuss about them. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t know what the full effects of our If Onlys would be. We don’t know what we might be messing up.

God knows the things you need, and He’s not stingy: He’ll give them to you. We just need to remember that God knows what we need better than we do:

 This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. 1 Corinthians 25, NLT.

He knows what He’s doing. You, generally, do not. You are staggering around in the dark with a little torch, seeing only what’s at your feet. God’s wearing His night-vision goggles. If God’s allowed something into your life, you’re better off for it. Or, at least, you will be eventually. If something is taken away from you, or your never attain it at all, that’s also for the best. Either it’s like that because He made it so, or He’s going to fix the whole situation up so good you’ll be sure it was His plan all along. It might not make sense to you, but God’s logic is way superior to yours. You cannot see all ends, you’ve just got your torch, remember. Stop If Onlying and trust The Man With The Goggles.

You see, no matter what good things you want for yourself, or for others, God wants even better. What’s more amazing than being raised from near-death? Being raised from actual death! On the face of it, Martha’s If Only seems out-there enough – that a man on death’s door would be healed. People would probably have told her she was foolish to think it could happen. But we learn that Martha’s crazy-big If Only was actually way too small! God had even bigger and better in store. If we all got our If Onlys we’d probably miss out on a whole lot that we can’t even begin to imagine!

I think there are three main kinds of If Only. The first is the past-tense If Only; if only this had / hadn’t happened. That’s the kind of If Only that Martha experienced with Lazarus.

The second kind is the future-tense If Only. It’s the one that says if only this would / wouldn’t happen. This is when we aren’t happy with what we’ve got and are wishing for something better around the corner. It’s the ‘if only I could find someone to marry’, the ‘if only I could get that promotion’. And maybe those things are just around the corner for you. But they’re not here yet. And because our lives are in the hands of the One who knows what’s best for us, that’s probably a good thing!

I am the absolute worst for wishing my life away. I’m so future-oriented that I rarely stop to look at the view. It’s always tunnel vision to the next big thing. And I think to a certain degree, we’re all like that. But you are where you are for a reason. Make the most of it. If you feel like you’re in a season of waiting, check out my post on why.

The third kind of If Only is the If Only about ourselves. If only I was cleverer. If only I was more athletic. If only I was more musical. If only I was less short-tempered. This last kind of If Only is often the most insidious and destructive, because it makes us call into doubt our very worth. But you are beautiful. Flawed, yes. Imperfect, yes. With room for improvement, certainly. But you are absolutely wonderful. You can always be a better you, but never wish you were a different you.

So what if there are things you really suck at? That’s how it’s meant to be!

Clay doesn’t talk back to the fingers that mould it, saying, “Why did you shape me like this?” Isn’t it obvious that a potter has a perfect right to shape one lump of clay into a vase for holding flowers and another into a pot for cooking beans?  Romans 9:20-21, MSG

Maybe you’re not a tall, elegant and showy vase. Maybe you’re a bean pot. Well I know who I’d go to if I was hungry. But if we were all bean pots, we’d have a whole load of beans and no way to brighten up our homes. We need both.

I really cannot draw, and sometimes I think it’d be nice if I could. But it seems God doesn’t intend for me to devote my life to creating wonderful works of art, so that’s totally okay! I could look at an artist and wish I had their talent. I could dream up a whole life for myself where that was the case, and say If Only. But I’m made for a different purpose.

So strive to be better, by all means, but never wish yourself away. You are a world-changer, and as you journey through life you can create amazing wake in a way completely unique to you.

Now, when I say we need to lose our If Onlys, I’m not advocating that we never want for anything other than what we have, that we never dream, that we never want to improve ourselves, our lives, and the lives of those around us. I think as Christians we’re called to be big dreamers.

But there’s a big difference between saying ‘if only’ and asking God for something in prayer. God wants us to come to Him with our desires. But if we make a request to God, we have to be prepared to accept the answer. Whether it’s a yes, no, or not now. Whatever it is we should take it, praise God for it, and run with it. Be empowered by it. Take action on it. Our If Onlys come when we don’t accept the answer. When we listlessly linger on our request. When we chew on it or, more accurately, let it chew on us.

And it’s not healthy. It shows that we don’t trust God to deliver His best for us. It demonstrates a lack of gratitude for what He has given us. It’s taking a stance of powerlessness in our lives when really we can move mountains with God on our side. It takes away our joy and peace because we’re always hankering after something different. It makes us look at the bad instead of at the good. It stops us from loving ourselves and our lives.

So kick your If Onlys, no matter how innocent they may seem. Live in the present. Make the most of every day. Be yourself. Ask God for what you want, and thank Him whether He gives it to you or not. Because, to quote Albus Dumbledore:

It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.

The Love of My Life

Who do you love most in the world? And for those of you who think you know what the right answer is, put your hand down, you’re not allowed to say Jesus. What earthly person do you love most?

Think about your feelings for that person. Conjure them up right now. What’s it feel like when you’re with them? Or when you’re not? Hold onto that, you’ll need it in a bit.

As Christians, loving God is the most important thing we are to do. Jesus tells us so in Mark 12:29-30. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, of course Christians are meant to love God. My question for you today is what kind of love do you love God with?  Deuteronomy 6:5 tells us to

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

That’s a pretty intense love. It’s not really a love we love people with. At least, not very often. But that person you thought of before, the one you love most? I bet if you love anyone with all your heart, soul and might it’s probably that person.

Me, I’m a bit of a hopeless romantic. I just love to be in love, and when I fall, I fall hard. And I would say that in those situations I do love with everything I am. But here’s the uncomfortable question: do I love God as much as that?

And what about you? All those feelings you conjured earlier, about that special person. Do you feel that way about God?

If you’re not sure, here are some things to think about which might help clarify it.

1. Do you thirst for Him?

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. Psalm 42:1

Have you ever had heatstroke? It’s nasty. My little experience began when I thought that I’d be fine without a sunhat for an hour or so on a peddle-o in Mallorca. I was so wrong. By the time I got back to the shore I was feeling very shivery and sick. I stumbled back to the apartment, went straight to the fridge, and downed a two litre bottle of Fanta Lemon in one. I don’t know how I fit that much liquid inside me, but I just couldn’t tear the bottle away from my lips. My body was screaming at me that I needed fluids.

I think that’s the kind of panting the psalmist is referring to. Not just a slight thirst, but an all-consuming desperation, an urgent desire.  Elizabeth Gilbert puts it in a great way:

Look for God like a man with his head on fire looks for water.

When you miss someone you really love, it can kind of be like that. Separation can be agony. The desire to be reunited is visceral and urgent. You would do just about anything to deeply drink in their presence again.

Does your soul thirst for God in the way that my body thirsted for that Fanta? Do you seek Him like your head’s on fire? When you’ve been distant from Him for a while, do you miss His presence like you miss a love you have to be apart from?

2. Do you share everything with Him?

Pray without ceasing. 1 Thessalonians 5:17.

When I fall in love with someone, I want to share everything with them, from the big stuff to the totally trivial. I see a funny picture of a cat, or someone in the office says something daft, or a car is parked badly, and my first thought is ‘I have to share this with so-and-so’.

Beyond the trivial, I want to share all the important aspects of my life with them. I want them to hear about my dreams and opinions, involve them in my hobbies, make them watch my favourite movies, read my blog, come to my concerts. I become like a small child bringing their parents a drawing they did, it’s all ‘look at this’, ‘look at this’.

Even further, I want to involve them in my decisions, so that the future I’m building is a shared one. Not just me, but me-and-them.

Do you tell God about everything, from the huge to the mundane? Do you actively seek to involve Him in every part of your life? Do you involve Him in decisions? When you’re planning your future, are you planning it for the two of you together?

3. Do you run to Him?

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1.

When I have a bad day, I know exactly who I would go to for support. If you love someone, it’s likely that they’re the first person you turn to when things go wrong. If that person loves you too, they’ll give you the support you need, to the best of their ability, and that positive feedback develops trust. You reach a point where just their presence is reassuring. They sort of become a refuge.

Capture3

No one is capable of supporting us like our Father, the King of Kings. He should be the first place we run.  When we’re within the walls of His love, we don’t have to fear the outside world.

Do you turn to your heavenly Father first when things go wrong? Do you trust Him to comfort and protect you? Do you seek Him in order to feel assured and safe?

4. Do you boast in Him?

Let him who boasts boast in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 1:31.

Isn’t it annoying when someone won’t stop talking about how great their child is? About how little Harry can do a puzzle now, and look how much he’s grown, and how he’s got Grade 8 on his kazoo and full marks in his GCSEs and, and –

And you’re like, who cares, really?

But the truth is, when you love someone you can’t stop talking about them. You boast in them. You kind of become an evangelist for them. You think everything they do is fabulous, and you’re completely blind to the fact that other people might not see them quite the same, and might not want to hear it.

Do you talk about God that much? Do you talk about Him in the same glowing way, regardless of whether the person listening wants to hear it? Are you always boasting about just how great your Father is?

5. Is He your home?

Because God has made us for Himself, our hearts are restless until they rest in Him. Augustine of Hippo.

They say you know you’re in love when home becomes a person, not a place.

This is a culmination of all the previous points. When we are with the people we love, we feel like we’re at home. We are comfortable, safe, authentically ourselves. It’s a place we want to linger, a place where we can sit back with our makeup off and just be.

I think that meeting with God should be more like going home than going to church. When we go to church we put on our nice clothes, make sure our hair looks okay, and smile as best we can. And there’s usually nothing wrong with that. But when you enter the presence of God it should be more like kicking off your shoes at the door, grabbing a hot chocolate and snuggling down on the sofa with someone you love. You laugh, you cry, you express love, you express rage. It’s intimate, it’s genuine, and it’s completely safe.

Do you approach God like you’re coming home? Do you pop on your slippers and stick the kettle on? Or do you dress yourself up, and try to appear the shiny, polished version of yourself that you show to the world?

I’d like to challenge you, as I am currently challenging myself, to learn to love God with your best love. The love that is only drawn out of you by a few people in your life. The love that desperately desires nearness, intimacy, sharing. The love that is the safe place you turn to when everything else is a mess. The love that you literally cannot stop talking about, that you cannot get out of your mind. The love that is your home, and there’s no place you’d rather be.

The Whole World In His Hands

You must not defile the land where you live, for I live there myself. Numbers 35:34, NLT

Anyone who’s had to spend any time in conversation with me will know that I’m kind of passionate about the environment.  For one, it’s my day job – I work as a consultant trying to get people to think more about how they use the resources of the world around them. But I’m also the woman who always checks a brand’s green credentials before she buys anything, who doesn’t eat beef because oh-my-gosh-do-you-know-how-bad-that-stuff-is-for-the-planet, and who’s still on the hunt for a really good all-natural, organic mascara (seriously, if you find one let me know).

Put simply, I feel that part of God’s purpose for my life is to be a bit of a Lorax.

Unfortunately I still come across many Christians who see me as some sort of pagan tree-worshipper.  Who see the earth as a sinking ship that God will lift our souls from in the end; temporary and therefore not important.  Who seem to think that ‘saving the planet’ somehow contradicts saving people for Jesus.

But I don’t think it’s just me. I think God is passionate about the environment. I think God loves His creation and it breaks His heart that we are so careless with it. So I’ve lined up five reasons why I think it is every Christian’s responsibility to do everything in their power to protect the planet.

1. God created the world and is its ultimate owner (i.e., put that down, it’s not yours)

Psalm 24:1-2 says:

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him.  For he laid the earth’s foundation on the seas and built it on the ocean depths. NLT

From animals (Psalm 50:10-11) to natural resources like silver and gold (Haggai 2:8), the Bible tells us it all belongs to God. God created the world, and (controversially) He didn’t create it for us.  In Colossians 1:16, when talking about Jesus, Paul says:

Everything was created through him and for him. NLT

God created the world for Himself. It’s not ours, He just lets us live here. We see that clearly when, in Leviticus (25:23), God tells the people:

The land must never be sold on a permanent basis for the land belongs to me.  You are only foreigners and tenant farmers working for me. NLT [emphasis mine]

If a good friend lent you their shiny new car for a week, how would treat it? Would you drive like an idiot, burn out the clutch and scratch the bodywork? Smear your muddy boots on the carpets and crumble crisps over the passenger seat? After all, they lent it to you, you can do what you want with it.

Of course you wouldn’t. It’s not yours. You’d be extra careful because at the end of the week you were going to be returning it to its owner, who’d probably not be too pleased that you’d ruined such a valuable asset.

God’s been so good to let us experience and make use of the wonderful world He made for Himself, the least we can do is take care of it until we give it back.

2. Jesus redeems all of creation

John 3:16 has got to be one of the most well-known verses in the Bible.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. NKJV

What’s lost in our modern English translations is that the original Greek word used for ‘world’ was kosmos, which literally translates as ‘universe’.  That favourite passage is telling us that Jesus came to earth and died for our whole broken creation, not just for humans.

In another favourite part of the Bible, Romans 8, Paul describes creation waiting with eager longing, he describes creation as groaning in labour pains and he says that creation will be set free from bondage to decay.

I think we minify God’s amazing plan when we limit Christ’s work to the forgiveness of sins.  It goes beyond that; it is to reconcile God to His creation:

For God in all His fullness
    was pleased to live in Christ,
and through Him God reconciled
    everything to Himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
    by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. Colossians 1:19-20, NLT

Everything. All of it. Tout.

3. We are called to be stewards

Looking after the world was the very first thing God told us to do.  It was the first commission.  Before anything else,

The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. Genesis 2:15, NLT

The original word for ‘tend’ is shamar, and is elsewhere in the Bible translated as ‘serve’, for example when saying we should ‘serve’ the Lord.  It’s the same word.  And the word that’s here translated as ‘watch over’ is abad, which could also translate as ‘preserve’ or ‘keep’.  The same word is used in the popular blessing ‘the Lord bless you and keep you’ (Numbers 6:24).

To me, God’s instructions to us in Genesis 2:15 have a caring connotation.  The words used to denote our relationship with creation are the same words used to describe our relationship with God.  We are to serve it as we serve God, and we are to protect it as God protects us.

Many Christians use Genesis 1:26-29 as an argument against caring for the planet.  Here it says:

Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. KJV

The mistake that I think people make here is in thinking that ‘dominion’ is synonymous with ‘exploitation’.  But dominion is morally neutral.  It is true that we have been given incredible power over the planet, but it is up to us whether we exercise our dominion with responsibility and loving-kindness, or whether our dominion will be selfish and destructive.

After all, God has ultimate dominion of the universe, and yet when He came as the person of Jesus He came not to be served but to serve.  God shows us that the model for dominion is service, just as His first commission suggests.

4. God is the Lord of Justice

Across the world, it is the poor and the powerless who suffer from humanity’s environmental carelessness.  Central to Jesus’ teaching is compassion and justice to the vulnerable.  Across the world it is a commitment of the Church to fight poverty and prejudice.  It’s a central part of our faith.  And as we know that is the poor who are disproportionately exposed to dirty air and water, toxic chemicals, lack of open space, and poor sanitation, shouldn’t we as Christians be making a difference for these people who can’t make a difference for themselves?

Ezekiel 34:18 says:

Isn’t it enough for you to keep the best pastures for yourselves? Must you also trample down the rest? Isn’t it enough for you to drink clear water for yourselves? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? NLT

In our western society, we are certainly doing a whole bunch of trampling and muddying with our lifestyles. And there are a whole bunch of far less fortunate people trying to scratch a life off what’s left.

5. Jesus is the greatest green activist

Finally, take a look at Hebrews 1:3.

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. NIV [emphasis mine]

This verse has major implications on how we have to view issues like pollution. Jesus sustains all things. It’s what he does. And we’re called to be more like Jesus.

So if Jesus sustains (maintains, preserves, defends, continues) creation (i.e the entire physical and spiritual universe), what does that make us when we act to destroy it? With every lake we dry up, every seabird we choke in oil, every glacier we melt, every piece of litter we drop, we are contravening the will of God, which is to preserve. We are setting ourselves on the opposing side to the designer and sustainer of the universe.

I don’t know about you, but I know who’s side I’m on. And I for one am going to keep speaking for the trees.

 

Doing Disappointment

I am a bit of a planner. Wait, scratch that – I obsessively plan out everything. When I go on holiday, I have the itinerary sorted months beforehand, with the schedule virtually down to when blinking is allowed (to those of you for whom this sounds stifling: don’t worry, there are scheduled relaxation times). The rest of my life is planned to the same degree wherever possible.

The problem with planning so much is I am often disappointed. It rains on the day I planned for that coastal walk – so my holiday is ruined! More seriously, the life I envisaged for myself starts to slip away because of a failed relationship, or an uncertain career.

While as a super-planner I might be an extreme case, we all get disappointed. People let us down, situations don’t turn out how we expected, we don’t live up to our own expectations…

And disappointment’s a tough feeling to deal with. Proverbs 13:12 says:

Hope deferred makes the heart sick. NLT.

It’s certainly true that life’s disappointments can often be the first step down a slippery slope to doubt and hopelessness.

Being a Christian doesn’t shield us from disappointment. Jesus himself said ‘in this world you will have trouble’, and the Bible is full of people loving God and going through discouraging times. In Exodus 5, after Moses has followed God’s instructions all the way to Pharaoh’s palace to free the Israelites (which isn’t going well for him), he cries out to God:

Why, Lord, have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name he has brought trouble on his people, and you have not rescued your people at all. NIV.

That’s a cry that’s familiar to me – ‘God, I’m doing my best here, and it doesn’t really look like you’re pulling your weight! Isn’t this what you wanted me to do? Then how come it’s going so badly!’

Of course, we know now that Moses’ story doesn’t finish there, that God made good on His promises and all the Israelites walked free. When we’re going through disappointment, we’re told in scripture to trust in God and His promises for us. They are the one thing that will never disappoint.

What really causes disappointment?

Disappointment is defined as ‘sadness or displeasure caused by the non-fulfilment of one’s hopes or expectations’. So without hopes or expectations, there could be no disappointment, right?

Now, I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t hope! In fact, hope is one of the ‘three things’ that remain after all others are gone (1 Corinthians 13:13), but the problem comes when we don’t place our hopes and expectations in the right places.

Consider a specific disappointment that you’ve dealt with, or are dealing with now, and think about the source. I bet that it comes from you resting your hopes and expectations on at least one of two things:

1. People

Newsflash: no one is perfect. People, even good people who love us, invariably let us down. So when we place our hopes on people, we’re bound to be disappointed. Our relationships can be huge sources of disappointment purely because no matter how we might wish it, no person can fulfil all our needs. God never intended that to be the case. He left a hole in us all that only He can fill, and there have been times in my life when I am sure God has allowed me to be let down by people just to remind me of that fact! He wants me to search for fulfilment in Him.

2. Circumstances

Much like people, our circumstances are bound to let us down because, let’s face it, things change. Even if we go through a wonderful season of life where everything seems to go our way, we cannot count on this lasting for ever. There are so many things out there that could hit us and totally knock us for six. So if we place our hopes on our circumstances, we’ll only be disappointed as they change. God never changes. His promises are eternal, and so are the only firm platform on which to place our hope.

The truth is, as long as we place our hope in earthly things, we will always be disappointed eventually.

What now?

So what do we do while we’re in the throes of disappointment (other than weep into our ice-cream tubs)? I’m going to suggest two things here:

1. Rejoice

Yeah, you heard right. Habakkuk 3:17-18 sets a great precedent:

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Saviour. NIV.

It can sound like both the ultimate Christian cliché and the hardest thing to do in the world, but the Bible tells us that when things aren’t going our way, when the situation seems impossible, when we can’t see a way out – rejoice. Praise. Celebrate.

Be thankful to God for delivering you from your disappointment, even when that delivery isn’t obvious yet. Or rejoice for all the good things you do have in your life. Or rejoice that God has already won the ultimate victory through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Whatever it is you have to be thankful for, shout for joy to the Lord (Psalm 98:4)!

2. Switch providers

I don’t mean your mains gas or your phone contract. I mean think carefully about where you’re placing your hopes and expectations. If you aren’t leaning on God for your provision, you may want to switch your tariff.

While disappointment can be gut-wrenching, really it’s an opportunity to cling to God as our source and deal with the things in our lives we have been leaning on instead of him, so that every day we can lift our voices to God and say:

All my springs are in you. Psalm 87:7, NKJV.

His are springs that will never run dry, and there’s nothing disappointing about that.

Face of Light

woman-984279__180

As Christians, we’re called to be salt and light to the world. Matthew 5:16 says:

“Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” NIV

It’s about our lives shining with a light that points to God.

In Exodus 34, Moses came down from Mount Sinai after spending time alone with God, and his face was physically glowing! It’s one of my favourite Bible stories, because it’s an extreme example of what we should all be aiming for every day!

While we might not get an actual halo, we can learn a lot from Moses about shining God’s light.

1. We look like what we look at

Have you ever had a friend who used a certain word or phrase all the time, and suddenly you started saying it too? Or have you heard someone’s terrible taste in music for so long you actually started to enjoy it? Or hung around with a real gossip until you realised you were doing the same? We know that we become like the people we spend time with. Proverbs 13:20 says:

“Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.” NLT

So if we become like those we’re close to, guess who we have to spend more time with in order to look like God!

Moses was alone with God for very long stretches.  More than once Moses fasted and prayed for 40 days at a time. God spoke to Moses directly, and even allowed Moses to see some of His glory. It was real, close, protracted fellowship with God that gave Moses God’s glow.

While it’s not practical for us to spend 40 days just solidly chatting to God, there is always more we can do to draw closer to Him. If you pray for 15 minutes per day, pray for 30 and you’ve already doubled your contact time! Wouldn’t it be great to double your likeness to God?

2. We need Moses Motives

Reflecting God’s glory gave Moses authority. When he gave the Israelites instructions, they knew from the radiant glow of his face that he’d been talking directly to God, and they listened! What a great gift to ask God for, especially as a leader! But Moses never asked for that gift. In fact, he didn’t ask God for any gifts at all. Moses wanted two things:

1. For God to forgive his people (Ex. 32:12):

“Turn away from your fierce anger.” NLT

2. For God to reveal himself (Ex. 33:18):

“Show me your glorious presence.” NLT

It was never Moses’ desire to shine.  What he asked was to see God, and to see his people saved.

What is it you’re asking God for, and why? Are you asking to excel at something, or to be noticed by people? Or are you asking God to reveal himself to you more?

It’s right to want God’s spiritual gifts; Paul tells us we should ‘eagerly desire’ them (1 Corinth. 14:1). But if we want them for our own glory instead of God’s, we’ve got it all wrong.

3. Use it, don’t abuse it

We’ve established that Moses’ brightness was a source of real authority for him, so it’s pretty amazing to read that he actually went around wearing a veil! He only took off that veil when he was giving a message directly from God to the people.

Moses could have used the gift God gave him to exert his own influence over people, but instead he used it only to do God’s will. He could have used it to raise himself above others, but instead he used it to raise everyone together.

What talents and gifts do you have? Now, honestly, do you use them to raise everyone up or to get yourself ahead? Are you serving God and the community, or are you serving yourself?

I wonder how long Moses’ face would have shone if he’d tried to use it for his own benefit.

4. You can’t see your own face

When Moses came down from the mountain, Exodus 34:29 tells us:

“he wasn’t aware that his face had become radiant because he had spoken to the Lord” NLT

Moses was glowing like God and he didn’t even know it!

You know, the only face we can’t see clearly is our own. We just don’t see ourselves the way others see us. We tend either to big ourselves up internally, thinking we’re better than we are, or else we do ourselves down. It’s not always arrogance or low self-esteem, it’s just that we can’t get a clear, objective, view of ourselves.

In reality, if you think your face is shining with God’s radiance, it’s probably just blazing with your own ego.

5. In fact, stop considering your own face at all

Maybe another reason Moses didn’t recognise God’s radiance on his face is because he wasn’t even thinking about his own face!

When Moses prayed to God, it wasn’t about himself. Moses was interceding on behalf of his people, begging God to forgive them. In fact, he even prayed that God would give their punishment to him (Exodus 32:32)!

Selfishness is the exact opposite of God, and we cannot get close to Him when we’re just considering ourselves. There’s no way that Moses could have reflected God after 40 days of selfish prayers! It took real Christ-like altruism to have such close fellowship with God.

If we stopped checking our own faces to see whether they’re bright and shiny enough, and focused on the needs of the world around us, we’d find that we reflected God far more.

 

 

 

Preparing the Ground – Why am I Waiting?

We know that God has an amazing plan written for each of our lives (just check out Jeremiah 29:11!). Maybe you have some idea what that might be, maybe you don’t, but for large chunks of time all of us face the frustration of not being there yet.

Don’t worry. God’s preparing the ground for a season of growth.

gardening-690940_1280

One of the most important steps in gardening is preparing the soil, because healthy soil is essential for healthy plants. Good soil is loose and fluffy, it has the perfect balance between holding water and draining well, and it’s full of the minerals plants need to flourish.

Try planting vegetables in the central reservation and you’ll see: soil that isn’t made ready won’t produce good fruit. We are very much the same.

Proverbs 24:27 says:

“Do your planning and prepare your fields
    before building your house.” NLT

Here’s the thing: preparations are vital! You wouldn’t build a house until you’d planned it out and made sure you had everything you needed. The same goes for embarking on seasons of your life.

Maybe you feel like you are prepared. You’ve been reading the Bible, praying every day, serving in your church, cutting out bad habits, and you’re just so eager to live out God’s plan for you! So why has He not revealed to you what your house is going to look like? Why is He not opening doors for you?

The truth is, life is full of waiting rooms. Times when we’re sitting still, expectant but not yet walking through that door. You might feel like you’re fifteen minutes overdue your appointment, but it’s the doctor’s call when you’re seen to, not yours.

Waiting isn’t anyone’s hobby. It’s certainly not mine. When I’m waiting I find it very difficult to concentrate on what’s going on around me in the moment. Anyone who’s tried to have a conversation with me at a bus stop will know that. But while we’re waiting, we should remember: it’s far better to be still in God’s presence than maniacally rushing around without him.

So why are you waiting?

There are things going on in my life at the moment that I never would have been able to deal with a few years ago, simply because as time has passed I have grown in character.  The soft skills I have picked up, and changes in attitude I’ve undergone, are not things that could have been forced or rushed. I couldn’t have gone on a training course and got it done in a week. These changes have been forged by the people I’ve known, the experiences I’ve had, and that bit of extra time to get to know myself and God a little better.

In everything we do, even and especially in the waiting, God prepares our character so that when the time comes, we will be able to make the most of the good and bear the bad. If we had hit those things before we were ready, it would not have been the best for us.

There are some things we simply cannot ready ourselves for. When we don’t know what’s ahead, how can we know how to prepare? That’s when we have to walk in faith with the one who has it all mapped out!

In Luke’s gospel (14:28), Jesus says:

“But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it?” NLT

Maybe you’re in your waiting room because you don’t have enough cash for your building yet.  I don’t necessarily mean money (although that might be it), I’m talking about the spiritual, experiential capital that you’ll need to invest in whatever God has in store for you.

Perhaps you need to mature emotionally, perhaps you need more education, perhaps you need to meet certain people, or go through a particular experience to give you the passion you’re sure to need. Perhaps the waiting is that experience.

I can’t see my future, and so I don’t know what my building is going to look like. I don’t know what materials I will need, or even how to prepare the foundations. At the moment, it doesn’t feel like I’ll ever build anything! But I am in the hands of the architect, and He’s got it all measured out and the bricks are on back order.

Maybe you’re not in your real calling yet, but you are where you are for a good reason. And if you feel like nothing’s happening for you, that’s good, because you aren’t ready for it. Be patient and trust in the waiting, and get excited for the season of growth that’s on the horizon.

 

Seeing Good

filter-407151_640

Whether financial, relational or personal, life is full of challenges that can make it really hard to see the positive. When our careers aren’t going as well as we’d hoped, when there’s chaos at home, when people we love walk out on us, and when our health starts to fail, it’s sometimes impossible to see the good in the situation.

But no matter what life throws at us, it’s our attitude that defines us. Our attitude is the stance we take on life, our viewpoint of different situations, and determines how we think, feel and react.

Winston Churchill got it totally right when he said:

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Someone with a good attitude can enjoy life even when things aren’t going to plan, and we all know people who manage to be negative even when, objectively, their life is good. Which of these people do you recognise in yourself?

What we often miss is that it’s up to us to decide whether we’re a pessimist or an optimist. We tend to think that our propensity to see the good in a situation is fixed – a part of our personality or upbringing, something we’ve inherited from our Gran or something that grew out of all those bad things we went through. ‘I’m a pessimist, it’s how I’ve always been.’

But we can’t afford to think like that. The truth is your Gran isn’t in control of your mind. You are, and a lot of the time it’s the only thing you can control! You attitude can be negative or positive, and guess what? You can choose for it to be positive. No matter the circumstance, it’s up to us to decide how we choose to view it. We have to learn to see good.

Everything in life has positives and negatives, and while in many situations it is much easier to spot the negatives, the complex and contrary nature of life means there’s always a bright side. Even when the glass is half empty, you still have something to drink. In every situation, there is good. In every person, there is good. Sometimes it’s not easy to see, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to quit looking. It’s time to look harder.

There are few stories in the Bible that don’t involve someone going through something nasty at some point. But the thing that unites those Bible heroes is that their joy and confidence in God doesn’t diminish in the face of trouble. If anything, it’s strengthened.

Look at Joseph – sold into slavery by his own brothers and eventually imprisoned, he remained positive and God blessed him abundantly. Not only that, but God used those events to bring him to a place where he could save his family from starvation.

Think of Daniel – held captive in a foreign land and threatened with death for his faith, he wouldn’t stop praising God. Unharmed by a den of lions, Daniel ended up restored to his former high position.

And then there’s David – when faced with a giant, he had utter confidence that God would come through for him: “This is the Lord’s battle, and he will give you to us!” (1 Samuel 17).

Did these people thrive in their personal times of trouble because they were unable to see the bad stuff around them? Because they were wearing special holy God-specs that made everything look rosy? Unlikely! I’m sure they were well aware of the bleakness of their situation. It was all about their attitude, their choice to continue to be positive, thankful and faithful.

The Bible tells us that we can control the flow of good things into our lives by our attitude. In Matthew 6:22 Jesus says:

“Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light.” NLT

I love how The Message puts it:

“Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!” MSG

This tells me that simply by looking at the light, I can bring more of it into my life. By focusing on the good, I will invite more of it in! That’s not to say that God isn’t always pouring favour into our lives, but that our attitude affects the aperture! If God’s favour is the water running down a hose, then focusing on bad things is the equivalent of standing on that hose!

When we learn to see good, we find that we can be happy even when we have little, have a good time even when we’re losing, and have real hope for the future no matter what our current circumstances look like. But more than that, we become a source of positive energy ourselves, benefitting those around us.

So what things should we focus on? Paul had some great advice for the Philippians (4:8):

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” NLT

With these in mind, try making a list of all the good things in your life today, and thank God for them. It might just change your life.