On the Brink of Your Miracle

Years ago my car engine burned up because the oil had leaked out. I’m sure the leakage had been going on for a while, but the destruction to my engine happened quite rapidly, mere moments after I saw the warning light on my dashboard.

Lately I’ve been reflecting on my need for “oil” of another kind—the oil of the Holy Spirit. And I’ve also been challenged about the necessity of regularly checking the warning lights on my spiritual dashboard.

Jesus told an intriguing story about this in Matthew 25. The opening scene looked like something from The Bachelorette, with 10 young women waiting for the bridegroom to arrive. Jesus said five of them were foolish, and five were wise, yet there was only one difference: The wise ones knew they needed extra oil for their lamp.

Unfortunately for the foolish women in this story, “the bridegroom was a long time in coming” (v. 5). Of course, this parable is a rebuke to those who expect Jesus to return so imminently that they needn’t prepare for the long haul, but I believe there’s another message as well: At times our faith, love, endurance, and faithfulness will be tested by our need to WAIT for our Lord to come into our circumstances with a breakthrough of some kind.

In the story Jesus told, as in our lives today, the bridegroom typically comes “at midnight” (v. 6), right when the night seems darkest and our hope is running out. However, midnight represents a tipping point in many ways, when nighttime reaches its zenith and inevitably begins to turn to day.

Recently I’ve found myself humming an old gospel song that says, “Don’t give up on the brink of a miracle.” When midnight is approaching and you still haven’t seen the Bridegroom’s intervention, it sure is easy to lose heart and give up.

Paul writes about this in Galatians 6:9-10:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

So what are the lessons for us today?

First, we must recognize that the Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. Because of that, we need to continually check the gauges on our spiritual dashboard, ensuring that we have enough “oil” for the long haul.

Second, instead of falling asleep, as the women in Jesus’ story did, we should live in great expectancy that our Bridegroom may soon come and break through with a miracle in our circumstances. Even though we may have been waiting for quite a while to have some of our prayers answered, the tipping point could be closer than we think.

In the meantime, we’re encouraged to keep “doing good,” using every opportunity to show love to the people God has put in our lives. No matter what “season” we presently find ourselves in, we’re called to sow seeds of faith and kindness. Although we don’t know “the day or the hour,” we can be confident our harvest will come.

When we take these lessons to heart, we’re sure to experience great blessings ahead—whether the Bridegroom comes as quickly as we want Him to or not.

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Misleading Signs of God’s Favor

Not long ago, I experienced a stretch of several months when everything seemed to go right for me. Although I’m now embarrassed to admit it, these events caused me to conclude, “Wow. God really loves me these days! It’s so awesome to be walking in His favor!”

Rather than tell you about my own crash landing on this mistaken interpretation of God’s favor, let me share the story of a friend of mine named “Joe.”

After facing some hard times a few years ago, things had really turned around for Joe. He had worked for the same company nearly 10 years, with little change in his salary or position. Then suddenly he was upgraded to a prestigious new window office, overlooking a beautiful lake. “Surely this is God’s favor!” he marveled to his friends.

During this same period of time, Joe started a new exercise regime—high-energy kickboxing. He was excited to find an exercise program he really enjoyed. “What a blessing to discover this great way to get in shape and lose weight!” he said.

But the biggest blessing of all was the day Joe unexpectedly met “the woman of his dreams” at a church event. They had an uncanny list of common interests and perspectives, and Joe had never been happier. “What an incredible sign of God’s love!” he concluded when describing God’s apparent sovereignty in bringing them together. “I’m so grateful for this amazing demonstration of His favor.”

Soon Joe’s story took some unexpected twists and turns, however. His company found someone more worthy of the nice window office, and Joe had to return to his original cubicle.

Then he started having chronic aches and pains from his kickboxing workouts. His back…his knees…his big toe—it soon became clear that the pain and risk of long-term damage was unacceptable. Joe was forced to go back to walking as his exercise of choice, and this was very disheartening.

And then the bottom fell out entirely. Just when everything seemed to being going splendidly, His “perfect” girlfriend dumped him. The trauma was almost unbearable.

If you’ve been following along with Joe’s story, you’re probably asking some vital questions at this point: “What happened to God’s favor? Did Joe do something to anger the Lord and cause Him to withdraw His love?”  

I hope you see how important this issue is. If we see signs of God’s favor when “good” things happen to us, then it’s probably logical to assume we’ve somehow lost His favor when “bad” things happen to us.

Yet, is this what the Bible teaches? Certainly not!

You see, many of us have the same theology as Job’s friends. When Job was prospering financially, in good health, and enjoying the perfect family life, his friends were convinced God had great love for Job. But when he faced unspeakable adversity, they were just as certain he had somehow squandered God’s love and favor.

The Bible is full of similar stories of God’s love for people who didn’t seem to be “blessed” at some points in their life. Joseph…Naomi…Jeremiah…Daniel…Paul—the list could go on and on.

If your theology is wrong on this point, your life will inevitably be a constant roller coaster, never certain where you stand with God…never really sure if He loves you and has your best interests at heart.

If you were walking with Jesus during His triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:7-10), you might have seen the “Hosannas” as a sure sign of the Father’s favor upon His Son. But this kind of thinking would create a serious dilemma a few days later when the same crowd shouted, “Crucify Him!” (Mark 15:12-14) And how does Jesus’ agony on the cross square with the misguided notion that God’s favor always means a carefree life?

The point is this: It’s dangerous to assume God’s blessings are always a sign of His favor, or to see every adversity as a sign of His displeasure. Many ungodly people are healthy and financially prosperous, but that doesn’t guarantee they will find the Lord’s mercy and favor in the final judgment.

Jesus taught that God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). This means our outward circumstances are often a very misleading representation of our Heavenly Father’s love for us.

However, this has been a hard lesson for my friend Joe, and for me as well. We’ve had to repent of trusting our circumstances as signs of God’s favor, instead of simply trusting what He’s said in His Word.

Perhaps you’re like Joe and me, needing to realize this powerful truth once again: Instead of loving you with a vacillating love, God loves you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3). His grace, mercy, and favor aren’t fragile qualities that haphazardly come and go.

So remember: If you are in Christ  today, you can be confident that you are also in His favor—no matter what difficult circumstances you may be going through.

Isn’t this a tremendous relief? Isn’t it good to know you already have God’s favor if you have Christ?  Paul said it so well: He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

Now that’s favor you can count on…rest upon…and radiate to others. Why? Because He loves you—no matter what.

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I would love to preach at your church or conference, be a consultant to your leadership team, or help your organization navigate the waters of transition. You can reach me at info@JimBuchan.com.

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Ready for Your Second Wind?

“Second wind is a phenomenon in distance running, such as marathons or road running, whereby an athlete who is too out of breath and tired to continue suddenly finds the strength to press on at top performance with less exertion.” – Wikipedia

I meet lots of people who are weary today. Many of them are fellow baby boomers, who get tired more easily than in their younger days.

But weariness is an epidemic affecting people of all ages, and often it has little to do with physical stamina. The weariness is typically more emotional, spiritual, and relational than physical.

I’m referring to a weariness that goes beyond anything Starbucks or Red Bull can cure. Can you relate?

When that kind of weariness hits, it makes us want to quit…give up…throw in the towel…or simply curl up in the fetal position. As General George Patton once observed, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

Marathon runners experience this. Usually around mile 20 they “hit the wall,” feeling like their energy has vanished and they can’t possibly run another step. There seems no hope of making it to the finish line at mile 26.2.

Yet long-distance runners often testify that something magical happens if they press on a little farther. Just when it seems the race has been lost, they suddenly get their “second wind.”

I need a second wind today, don’t you?

Some days I just want to quit. Other days I think I have just enough energy to sprint a little further until I keel over. But what I need is simply a second wind—energy enough to complete the race, all the way to the finish line.

Fortunately, Jesus understands that life is a marathon, and He offers a second wind to those who’ve hit the wall:

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

Whenever I read this beautiful promise, I’m struck by Jesus’ offer to provide “rest for your souls.”  When my body is tired, I can simply take a nap or a vacation. Although those solutions may be helpful, they fall far short of what I truly need: rest and refreshing that penetrates all the way to my soul.

Another stunning thing about Jesus’ offer is that it’s not a 3-point or 5-point self-help plan, so common today in our sermons, articles, and books. Instead, it just has ONE central point, on which everything else depends: “Come to me…”

This promise of Jesus was foreshadowed by another great Bible passage about what we can do when we hit the wall and are weary of life:

The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary…
He gives power to the weak
and strength to the powerless.

Even youths will become weak and tired,
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint
(Isaiah 40:28-31).

Notice that “even youths”—not just the elderly or baby boomers—“will become weak and tired” and “fall in exhaustion.” But the good news is that God offers us a second wind, “new strength,” when we cast our burdens on Him and spend time in His presence.

Too many Christians are relying upon the “wind” they received at their conversion, often several decades ago. No wonder we run out of steam when we do that.

What we need, instead, is a fresh infilling with the wind of the Holy Spirit. That kind of “second wind” will change everything.

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I would love to preach at your church or conference, be a consultant to your leadership team, or help your organization navigate the waters of transition. You can reach me at info@JimBuchan.com.

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6 Benefits of Life’s Irritants

God’s Strange Process to Create Something Beautiful in You

Recently God gave me a stunning word picture while praying with a friend. Through no fault of his own, my friend had been going through a difficult and often bewildering trial.

In my mind’s eye, I saw a beautiful pearl being formed amid the darkness of an oyster shell.

Not knowing much about how pearls are formed, I later did some research at AmericanPearl.com and found this intriguing description of the process:

The birth of a pearl is truly a miraculous event. Unlike gemstones or precious metals that must be mined from the earth, pearls are grown by live oysters far below the surface of the sea. Gemstones must be cut and polished to bring out their beauty. But pearls need no such treatment to reveal their loveliness. They are born from oysters complete—with a shimmering iridescence, lustre and soft inner glow unlike any other gem on earth.

A natural pearl begins its life as a foreign object, such as a parasite or piece of shell that accidentally lodges itself in an oyster’s soft inner body where it cannot be expelled. To ease this irritant, the oyster’s body takes defensive action. The oyster begins to secrete a smooth, hard crystalline substance around the irritant in order to protect itself. This substance is called “nacre.” As long as the irritant remains within its body, the oyster will continue to secrete nacre around it, layer upon layer. Over time, the irritant will be completely encased by the silky crystalline coatings. And the result, ultimately, is the lovely and lustrous gem called a pearl.

How something so wondrous emerges from an oyster’s way of protecting itself is one of nature’s loveliest surprises. For the nacre is not just a soothing substance. It is composed of microscopic crystals of calcium carbonate, aligned perfectly with one another, so that light passing along the axis of one crystal is reflected and refracted by another to produce a rainbow of light and color.

It’s not too hard to see the parallels between creation of a pearl and the difficult circumstances we all face in life from time to time:

  1. The pearl never would have formed without an “irritant”—some unwanted foreign object that intrudes into our peaceful world.
  2. The pearl, though ultimately beautiful and lustrous, is formed in utter darkness, in the “secret place” where no one can see.
  3. The larger the irritant, and the longer it remains, the larger and more lovely the pearl will become. It’s fascinating the Bible describes 12 pearls in the New Jerusalem as being so enormous that each pearl can form an entire city gate! (Revelation 21:21)
  4. The nacre that forms a pearl is actually made up of the same substance that created the outer shell. This is a great illustration of a life of integrity, consistent inside and out.
  5. Creation of a pearl is a slow process, usually requiring at least three to five years. In the same way, our maturation into Christlikeness is an ongoing process that requires time and patience.
  6. The painful, irritating process will be worth it in the end! Just as AmericanPearl.com describes for pearls, the result for us will be “a rainbow of light and color.” As an interesting parallel, the trial experienced by Noah and his family was rewarded at the end by a rainbow, a sign of God’s covenant love and faithfulness (Genesis 9:13-16).

So why did Jesus speak in Matthew 13:45-46 of “one pearl of great price,” so valuable that a man “went and sold all that he had and bought it”?  In a much greater way than my friend’s irritating, unfair trial, Jesus went through history’s ultimate agony when He suffered and died for us on the cross. The result was the gospel, a pearl so valuable that we should be willing to sell everything else in order to obtain it (Philippians 3:7-10).

If you are facing some difficult circumstances today, I encourage you to remember how pearls are made. You may not like the process, nor do I. But I’m pretty sure we’re going to love the outcome when the oyster shell opens and we marvel at what God has produced in us in the darkness.

 

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Feeling Overwhelmed? These 7 Tips Will Help

If you’re anything like me, some days you feel like conquering the world—and other days the world seems to be conquering you. Although I usually respond pretty well when confronted with just one problem at a time, it’s overwhelming when the problems come at me from every side. Some days I feel like I’m playing a game of cosmic Whac-a-Mole, with troubles springing up everywhere.

Yet I’m comforted to know that many others have written about days when they were surrounded by problems on every side. For example, King David wrote about being hemmed in by deadly enemies (Psalm 17:9). He described how he cried out to the Lord when his heart was overwhelmed, saying, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:1-2).

King Jehoshaphat was another person overwhelmed when “a great multitude” of enemies surrounded him (2 Chronicles 20). I encourage you to read the entire story for yourself, but here are a few of the key tips for experiencing victory when problems attack you from every direction:

1. Recognize that God is bigger than your problems. When facing overwhelming situations, it’s easy to feel quite small and vulnerable, if not hopeless. But look at how Jehoshaphat focused on God’s power and sovereignty, rather than trying to defeat the enemies in his own strength: “O Lord God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You?” (v. 6)

2. Reflect on God’s past faithfulness. If you’ve been walking with the Lord for a while, you hopefully have many memories of how He came to your aid during past battles. Jehoshaphat called to mind stories of God’s past miracles and promises, and he prayed, “AreYou not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and gave it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever?” (v. 7)

3. Rely on God’s power rather than your own. In crisis situations, there’s often a temptation to “take matters into your own hands” rather than trust the Lord and ask for His strategies. But Jehoshaphat freely acknowledged that he was powerless to handle things without God’s intervention: “We have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes areupon You” (v. 12). Notice that Jehoshaphat made a conscious decision to fix his eyes on the Lord instead of on his problems (cf. Hebrews 12:2).

4. Cast aside all fear. In a crisis, you need faith. Fear is never your friend. While Jehoshaphat was praying about his dire situation, the Spirit of God spoke an encouraging prophetic word to banish his fears: “Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle isnot yours, but God’s” (v. 15). You see, if the battle is YOURS, it’s quite reasonable for you to feel afraid. But when you realize that God is fighting on your behalf, victory is assured, and there’s no need to fear.

5. Listen for God’s strategy. Yes, the Lord will fight our battles, but victory comes only when we listen for, and obey, His strategy for our situation. In the case of this battle faced by the people of Judah, God’s strategy was to send a team of worshipers before the army: “When they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated” (v. 22). In times of trouble, praise is a powerful weapon, both to calm our hearts and to release God’s intervention.

6. Look for the blessings  amid the battles. In this remarkable story, the Lord not only caused Jehoshaphat’s enemies to destroy each other, but the end result was a huge treasure trove of plunder: “When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take away their spoil, they found among them an abundance of valuables on the dead bodies, and precious jewelry, which they stripped off for themselves, more than they could carry away” (v. 25). When first surrounded by enemy armies, Jehoshaphat probably would have considered it a great victory just to SURVIVE the battle. But God has much more in mind. He wanted Jehoshaphat and his people to THRIVE, becoming far better off after the encounter than before. If you’re going through a difficult trial today, remember that God can use it to give you far greater blessings in the end than in the beginning (Job 42:12).

7. Enter into God’s rest, even if the battle is still raging all around you. The story ends with this beautiful conclusion: “Then the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet, for his God gave him rest all around” (v. 30). If your battles have been intense and long-lasting, it may be difficult to envision finding a time of peace and security ever again. But God wants to give your story a happy ending, just as He did for Jehoshaphat.

Jesus predicted we would face some pretty overwhelming times in the Last Days, so we shouldn’t be too surprised when that happens. His advice was simple, though. Instead of focusing on the surrounding circumstances, He told us, “Look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:28).

The Message paraphrases it this way: “When all this starts to happen, up on your feet. Stand tall with your heads high. Help is on the way!”

So take courage, my friend. When you look up and turn your eyes upon Jesus, you can be sure that help is on the way.

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I would love to preach at your church or conference, be a consultant to your leadership team, or help your organization navigate the waters of transition. You can reach me at info@JimBuchan.com.

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