Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (II Corinthians 12: 8-10)
Life constantly hands us checks for which our personal strength is overdrawn. David was one who openly acknowledged that his soul (mind, will, emotions) was overwhelmed, and He turned to the Rock that was higher than all of his problems and “assignments.” And so can you and I!
But first, we have to recognize and discern what we can and cannot do. Consider these 3 prerequisites for drawing on God’s strength so that you can do anything He calls you to do or face any challenge that the devil throws at you.
- Recognize your inadequacy. The first step for getting help is to admit that you need help. Two things are stumbling blocks here. On one hand, you may experience over-confidence in your own abilities. Yes, God has given you talents, and you have honed them over time. But they alone are not enough for a person who wants to live a fully productive and purposeful life. It takes more. On the opposite extreme, you may be so intimidated at the size of your challenges and your own low self-worth that you see no hope, and simply you withdraw and quit. So where’s the balance? It’s in recognizing your own insufficiency, but at the same time fully embracing the Hope (not just a wish, but a solid, divinely-granted HOPE) that strength far exceeding your own is freely available.
- Surrender your pride. Whoa, this can be a tough one! Forget the motivational speeches (some of which I’ve given) that claim that YOU can do anything you set your mind to. Hard years of experience have taught me what the Bible could have saved me from learning the hard way. SELF-dependence (pride) goes before a fall. I believe that Paul was saying, “When I recognize that I am weak, then I’m ready to access God’s strength.”
- Learn to live in dependence on God’s Spirit. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, He has placed His own Spirit inside you. Get that. GOD lives inside you! He wants good for you more than you want it. He sees the positive possibilities when you can’t. His strength is limitless. What He wants from you and me is a big “YES!” framed in desperate dependence on Him. He will never leave you or forsake you, and He’ll never let you down.
God, my best efforts without Your power are never enough. I fully acknowledge that before You and before the world. I desperately need You, Lord. Help me to set aside the pride of SELF-confidence while rejoicing that in YOU, I can do all things You call me to do.
P.S. I will not publish a devotional tomorrow, as I will be traveling. I will appreciate your prayers as I minister at a women’s retreat and teach Sunday morning at Troy Assembly of God in Troy, Missouri.
Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. (Philippians 4: 8-9, The Message)
The battle for your life is fought in your mind.
Garbage surrounds you and tries to make its way inside. (Garbage in, garbage out.) Old voices clamor for your attention, and they’ve been there so long, they can begin to sound like your own. Demonic forces specializing in fear, anger, and depression are diligent at their jobs. They help to arrange circumstances and whisper temptations for you to focus on the thoughts that support their goals.
The very good news is, you don’t have to be a victim of it all! You can decide your focus. Further, these decisions will determine the mental habits that will dictate your moods and your productivity..
What are you looking at, talking about, and obsessing about? Are you zeroed in on evidence supporting your anxiety? You find what you fear because your attention is trained on it. Do your eyes gaze on what’s going wrong, or what could?
There’s a better way. Pull out of those mental habits of negativity. Intentionally and systematically focus on what’s right, on experiences in your day for which you are grateful, on words and attitudes that are positive, on people who breathe faith, and on the strengths God has given you. When your mind wanders into negative territory, rein it in! Refocus!
A positive and fulfilling life does not require ideal circumstances. If it did, no life would be positive and fulfilling. A mind that is “stayed” on the abundance God has provided, even in the midst of tough situations, is an anchored and peaceful mind.
So how’s your mind today? Where will you place your focus? You do have a choice, you know.
Lord, You said that You’d keep me in perfect peace when my mind is stayed on You. I choose to focus on what You’ve said about me, about my life situations, and about my future. I want to do that so often intentionally that all my thought habits are aligned with You and Your words of encouragement to me. Then, my God, flow those thoughts out of me and into the lives of those You’ve assigned me to influence.
As the deer pants for the water,
So my soul pants for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; (Psalm 42: 1-2)
I used to love it when we sang the worship song about this scripture passage: “As a deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after You. You alone are my heart’s desire, and I long to worship You.” Beautiful, and so true!
However, I am learning to enrich my personal Bible study by digging a little deeper. I ask questions rather than making assumptions. I may ponder, “What did that word mean in the original language?” I may go searching resource books to answer, “What was their culture that gives greater understanding of what was meant when it was first said or written?” And in this case, I asked, “Why does a deer pant for water?”
I learned that any animal pants when thirsty, and deer are no exception. The panting is the animal’s way of trying to cool until water can be found. Water satisfies the thirst of the deer.
So how does that relate to you and me? Have you ever been in a “dry place” in which your soul felt parched? You’ve perspired emotionally until the “dehydration” threatened your spiritual, physical, and mental well-being? This scripture alludes to the fact that the “living water” quenches the most persistent and insistent thirst of the soul.
In our “panting,” we try to remedy the situations ourselves. But there is no substitute for the cool, clear, flowing rivers of living water, produced only by the Holy Spirit. Only God is capable of truly satisfying spiritual thirst.
In my quest to discover why a deer seeks water, I discovered another interesting fact beyond the obvious “thirst” answer. The deer will seek a stream or source of water in order to erase the scent of it’s trail. In other words, the water is protection from predators for the animal.
Oh, how I love the metaphors of the Bible! Why else would we turn to the Lord when we’re “thirsty?” Sometimes the dehydration of the soul comes because we’re exhausted from facing threats and sometimes running away from the enemy’s attempts to harm and destroy us. As we immerse ourselves in God’s Word and experience “the washing of water by the Word,” His protection surrounds us. Any enemy following our scent is stymied and confused because we are walking in a stream of living water that thwarts the best of demonic noses.
As the deer pants for the water, so my soul pants for You, O God.
Lord, I do long to know You more deeply. I’m hungry and thirsty for You, and You said that anyone who hungers and thirsts after Your righteousness shall be filled. I receive it, God. I receive it.
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith. (Hebrews 12: 1)
I came across an incident in an old prayer journal. I had been praying about a situation with a beloved relative in which I was begging God to show me what to do. What I heard in my spirit was, “Just get out of the way.” I realized that I was trying to figure out how I could intervene and solve the problem, when what I needed to do was set aside I and focus on HIM.
That got me thinking about how often I may be getting in the way of what God is up to – which is plenty. Just maybe that’s true for you as well.
I love that visual in Hebrews of being in a race and having weights on – not the smartest thing to do if you want to go fast, prevent fatigue, and finish the race. To persevere and to complete the race well, you have to throw off those weights, keep running, and keep your eyes on Jesus.
God is up to something – a LOT. My job is not to figure out all the particulars of what I need to do. It’s not to devise grand plans about how I can do things for God so that He will be pleased with me. No, my role is simply to listen, surrender, and get myself right in the middle of what He has in the works.
My job is also to get out of the way, to get rid of anything in my life that could get in the way of the flow of His Power through me. The same goes for you. But how can we get out of the way, and what are the weights you (and most surely I) need to get rid of?
- Lose the weight of ego. This is not about you, about what you can accomplish, or about your marvelous adventures and the stories you will have to tell. No, this is all about Him and them. It’s Christ in you and through you, touching and making a difference to others. It is only through grace – undeserved blessing and favor – that you have the privilege of being a part of it. Give up ego.
- Lose the weight of treasured sin. Nobody knows about it but you. Really? Those secret thoughts and places in your heart have a way of bursting out into words and actions. You will never be perfect, but deliberately hanging on to secret little (or big!) areas of disobedience will set you up for failure. I want nothing blocking the channels through which He will flow blessings. Give up treasured sin.
- Lose the weight of rigid plans. Prepare? Sure. Study? Absolutely. Organize rather than just approach it willy-nilly? No doubt. But in all of that, know that God just may have other ideas about how all of it will flow. Live sensitive and open to the leading of the One Who has it all planned out in ways you may never have imagined. Give up rigid plans.
Don’t hesitate. “Don’t weight.” Throw them off, and run the race God has mapped out for you.
Lord, my life is Yours. Every task You assign me is Yours. Moment by moment, teach me to listen to Your Voice. As you work in me and through me, enable me to maintain the consistent answer, “Yes!” And please, help me in the yielding never to block Your work with my prideful solutions. Show me the weights in my life that I need to throw off in order to accomplish Your work. Help me to walk in Your way, but never to get in Your way!
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (James 4: 13-17)
What would you do today if you knew it was your last? Who knows? It well might be.
James gave a sober warning, and I begin by passing it along to you. Take nothing for granted. When you read the obituaries, so many of them had no idea when they awoke that morning that their breaths were numbered. Their family members had no idea they were speaking to their loved ones the last words on this earth when they walked out that door. I don’t say this out of negativity but from a positive call to action.
How did you answer my very first question? Ponder your answer for a moment. Next question. What are you doing this day about those most important activities you would include if it were your last day? Would you love on your family members in word or embrace? Then do it. Would you take the time to talk about things that matter? Make that happen on this day. Would you be diligent about helping someone to have a better life? Do it! Do you need to settle your salvation or come back to the Lord? No better time than today. In fact, today could be the only time available.
Seize this day, this very day! This 24 hours is filled with opportunities! Be thankful for every hour, every moment, and don’t let a single God-given window of opportunity close. If God presented it to you, He will empower you for it and see you through it – this day!
Life is fragile, “a mist.” THIS is the day the Lord has made. Be glad in it, and use it to the max!
Dear Lord, I give this day to You! I give myself to You in this day. Open my eyes to what’s most important, and give me an Elbow in the ribs when an opportunity to act is in front of me. Give me the courage to step out on waters to which You’ve called me. When that day comes that I breathe my last, I want to go in peace. I want to know that I’ve fulfilled the purpose You’ve placed on my life, that I’ve invested my life in my family and others to which God has assigned me, and that You will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
It wasn’t supposed to happen…but it did. It’s not the way you planned it or dreamed it…but it is what it is. You want to know … WHY?
After you go through the unexpected unthinkable, it’s natural to want to understand what happened. It feels as though having the answers you crave will bring some kind of relief, give you that ever-elusive “closure.” Here are a few of the dozens of questions that cry out for answers:
- Why did this have to happen?
- Why did it happen to me?
- Why did he/she do this?
- Why didn’t I see it coming?
- What did I do to deserve this?
- What if…?
The inability to comprehend what really happened does raise your level of anxiety. So you ask the questions over and over again…to yourself, to God, to friends, to the coffee table, to whomever will listen.
So “why” does this questioning happen? I believe there are three primary reasons.
- You believe that by knowing the answers you will regain some kind of control.
When adversity hits you broadside, it sends you reeling. After all, this isn’t what you had planned at all. In fact, it violates almost anything you could have imagined in your worst nightmares. You feel powerless.
You’ve heard the saying, “Information is power.” You feel instinctually that if you can just have all the information, you’ll get back some kind of control over the situation. You will be disappointed if you feel that finding all the answers will totally relieve your sense of powerlessness when your whole world has been shaken. Because you don’t find relief from the initial information you uncover, your quest for answers can become obsessive. Unfortunately, some questions are unanswerable in this life. That’s tough to swallow.
2. You unconsciously believe that knowing all the reasons will allow you to rewrite the ending.
It had been some eight months since the fatal morning that would redefine Shari’s world. It had been a perfect, clear morning for their daily 6:00 A.M. walk. As usual, Shari and her walking partner of six years donned reflective safety gear. They’d chatted and laughed as they always did. When they turned onto the final street, Shari walked on the inside while her buddy walked closest to the road. Without warning, there was a screeching, horrific sound. In an instant, the unspeakable happened before her eyes. Her friend was hit, thrown into the air and onto the top of the car that had careened around the corner. He died almost instantly.
Shari wrestled with the questions. Why didn’t the woman see them? Was she on a cell phone or putting on makeup? What if she herself hadn’t gone back in the house to get something just before she left? Would that three minutes have made the difference? Would her friend have been hit if they had not been in that exact spot at that time? Why him? He was such a good man, a kind man. Why didn’t we hear the car coming? Maybe we could have gotten out of the way.
Can you see what Shari is searching for in her questions? She’s trying somehow to make the situation turn out differently. But it can’t. What happened, happened. No amount of imaginary revision of the scene will change it.
3. You search for answers to protect yourself in the future.
This is actually a good reason to search for answers, provided you keep your response in balance. You want to know how you can make the world safer for yourself and those you love. That’s a normal response. However, if you’re not careful, you can get stuck in the unanswerable, or you can become so overprotective that you severely limit your life.
(Adapted from Dr. Bev Smallwood’s book, This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me.)
God, please empower me to stop the relentless pursuit of “why” and to turn m attention to You and Your “how’s.” No matter what I’m going through, You are my all-sufficient Lord!