When Your GPS Signal Returns

Magi 2

Recently I was praying with a friend who was struggling to find God’s direction for his life. As we prayed, I vividly remembered the Bible’s account of how the magi temporarily lost sight of the star that had started them on their journey:

Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time! (Matthew 2:9-10 MSG).

What an intriguing story. The magi had been so moved by their initial sighting of this star that they left everything and set off on a journey of hundreds of miles just to glimpse and worship the newborn King. But at first the star only guided them as far as Jerusalem, where the religious leaders and King Herod pointed them to Bethlehem as the likely place of the Messiah’s birth.

As these men set off for Bethlehem, something very exciting happened: “Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies.”

As this passage came to mind, I immediately recognized how it applied to my friend’s situation. Several years before, he had sensed clear direction from the Lord to proceed in a certain direction. Yet the cares and circumstances of life had hindered him—and now his original vision seemed like a dim memory.

Sensing the Holy Spirit speaking into his situation, I told my friend with great confidence, “The star of guidance is going to appear for you again!”

I also pointed out that, as with the magi, it would likely be the “same star” as he had seen before. To use a modern parallel, it’s as if his GPS had quit working for a time, but now it was about to resume charting the original direction.

Perhaps this is a word of encouragement for you as well. Is your spiritual GPS still functioning? As God did in the case of the magi, sometimes He sovereignly removes our external guidance for a time, causing us to seek Him once again. However, notice that the magi experienced great joy  when they saw the star again—and so it will be with us.

As the magi discovered, incredible joy rises in our hearts when we realize we’re in “the right place” at “the right time.” And it’s important to see that the star didn’t just lead them in some random direction: “It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child.” That’s the ultimate purpose of all divine guidance, isn’t it? God wants to lead us closer to Jesus.

A personal note…

The same night as I prayed with my friend, my sleep was restless. Finally, at about 3:30 a.m., I gave up sleeping and started pondering how the story of the magi’s renewed guidance applied to my own life.

Like my friend, I’ve been sensing that the Lord wants to give me fresh vision and guidance. I’ve even been planning a sabbatical when I can get some needed rest and a new perspective.

But there at 3:30, tossing and turning on my bed, some things became very clear to me. Like the magi, I had sought direction from friends and “religious leaders,” when what I really needed was to see the star again.

In mere moments, I began to receive some of the “fresh vision” I craved—and it turned out to be a return of some “old vision” I’d lost sight of and neglected.

Surprise, surprise, surprise. It turned out that I already had  vision. As with the magi, when the “star” of guidance appeared to me in the middle of that restless night, it was the same star that had set me on my journey several years before.

I know I still have a long way to go. But I’m headed toward “Bethlehem” to see the King, and I’m pretty excited about it.

I pray you’ll take time to look again for the star that got you started. Although the night around you may be dark, that’s when stars shine the brightest.

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Leaving Limbo

One of the most powerful sermons I’ve ever heard was based on an obscure passage where we’re told that Abraham settled down between Kadesh and Shur” (Genesis 22:1). After reading this verse, the preacher spent nearly an hour describing the challenges and frustrations of living in-between two different places.

Have you ever found yourself in a place like that—stuck in limbo between where you’ve been and where you’re going? Perhaps you were awaiting graduation from college or grad school…a promotion at work…the sale of your home…the diagnosis of a troubling medical condition…or the finalization of a bankruptcy or divorce.

It’s no fun to live in-between. And this is especially true when your limbo experience comes through no fault of your own.

Abraham and Sarah had a long wait for their promised son. They spent years in limbo between the promise and the fulfillment. Their wait wasn’t because of any lack of faith, but simply part of God’s preparation for the blessings ahead.

In contrast, the Israelites’ 40-year delay in reaching the Promised Land was totally preventable. They could have reached their destination in less than 40 days if they had been willing to trust and obey the Lord.

So what can you do if you find yourself stuck in limbo today? Sometimes all you can do is trust the Lord and wait! But in the meantime you should follow God’s instructions the best you can, and keep sowing seeds of love and kindness to the people around you. In “due season” you will reap!  (Galatians 6:9)

It’s not an exaggeration to say that our entire earthly existence is “limbo” in comparison to our future life in eternity. Even if God has blessed us with a great life today, we surely haven’t arrived at our ultimate destination yet.

Hopefully we’ve left our life of sin and rebellion behind, but that doesn’t mean we’re near perfection. Even the great apostle Paul knew he was still on a journey in-between his old life and his heavenly one:

One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).

No matter how long we live or how mature we become in Christ, this uncomfortable reality will not change until we reach our heavenly home. Limbo experiences are bound to come from time to time.

But notice that Paul wasn’t resigned to passively living in a bleak, unchanging limbo during his lifetime. Yearning for ever-increasing intimacy with the Lord, he was committed to pressing on until he reached life’s finish line.

Recently I worked on an article describing the breakthroughs God gave many of His people in the Scriptures. These inspiring stories demonstrate that we must never lose hope, for the Lord can find us even we’ve been residing in limbo.

How long does it take to exit limbo? Although it sometimes can take months or years, at other times the breakthrough just requires a simple decision or step of faith.

The Bible is full of examples of God SUDDENLY intervening in people’s health, finances, relationships, or emotions—totally changing their circumstances in a mere moment. Often our exit from limbo takes much longer than that, of course, but it’s good to know that God still can work miracles when we give Him the opportunity.

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Lessons From a Trapeze Artist

I recently found myself humming an old tune, which is an apt prophetic picture of where many of us presently find ourselves:

He flies through the air with the greatest of ease,

The daring young man on the flying trapeze.

Just as a circus trapeze artist must let go of one trapeze and fly through the air until grabbing the next one, I often have found myself in a similar position—flying through the air in transition between the trapeze left behind and the one still to come. We know we aren’t where we used to be, but we’re not where we’re going to be either.

It must be an exhilarating experience for a trapeze artist to fly through the air like that. But I’m sure it’s also a bit terrifying to know that the force of gravity will take its effect if the next trapeze doesn’t come within reach soon.

Much of the church is in a similar place, it seems. We have been propelled by many wonderful trapezes, past revivals and moves of God. But now many of us are flying swiftly through the air, on our way to a coming trapeze that is not yet altogether visible.

If we recognize that God’s plan is to take us “from one degree of glory to another” in this process (2 Corinthians 3:18), this can be an exhilarating experience. However, it’s easy to feel apprehensive as well, with nothing to hang onto except the Lord Himself.

Experienced trapeze artists realize they dare not look down or they will surely miss the next trapeze. Big mistake! Instead, the Lord’s intention is not only to keep us from falling (Jude 1:24), but to enable us to soar on eagles’ wings (Isaiah 40:31).

Despite the dangers, this is no time to play it safe. If we insist on clinging for dear life to our original trapeze, we are certain to make no progress at all. We’ll never go any higher unless we exhibit the courage of “the daring young man” who was willing to defy gravity and fly.

Be bold and courageous, my friend. As you let go of the past and press forward, I pray you will be strengthened for exciting new transitions on God’s flying trapeze.

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Speeding Up Your Recovery

Although I’m grateful for all the good accomplished through the Recovery Movement over the years, I get perturbed by its tendency to assign people to long-term victimhood. The philosophy seems to be, “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic,” even if God has transformed your life and you’ve been sober for decades.

And things aren’t much better if you attend a recovery group for grief, divorce, overeating, codependency, or some other trauma in your life. It’s as if they hand out scarlet letters at the door, reminding you of your past.

When a friend recently attended a divorce recovery group, the leader told him that for every year of marriage, it generally takes several years to recover after a divorce. This is nonsensical, of course. My friend had been married for more than 30 years, so it would take him at least 60 years to recover based on the group leader’s formula. The leader’s prognosis was pretty disheartening to say the least.

And then the divorce group leader made another misguided statement: “There is absolutely nothing you can do to speed up your recovery. You just have to endure the pain until it subsides.”

Okay, I know what he means. You can’t take shortcuts. For every trauma in life, there will be some pain that simply must be endured. But does that mean there’s nothing we can do to speed the recovery? That’s both ludicrous and unscriptural.

We’ve all met people who are so full of unforgiveness and bitterness after a trauma like divorce that they’re prolonging their recovery. In fact, I’ve known people who will never recover in this life, because they won’t let go of their offense. Instead of the initial wound killing such people, their life is undermined by the infection they allowed to set in.

Just as we can do things to hinder our recovery, I believe we can position ourselves for faster and more complete healing.

Isaiah 58:8 describes this in a context of fasting, seeking God, repenting of wickedness, and serving the poor: “Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily.” Isn’t that good news? Yes, healing is a process that may take some time. But when you take the right steps, “your healing shall spring forth speedily.”

Years ago, the Lord showed me that discipleship is basically a matter of 5 Connections: God, People, Truth, Character, and Service. Remarkably, these same five components can speed along our emotional healing and recovery from difficult situations:

Connection with GOD: In His presence is healing balm and fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). That’s the ultimate key to any kind of positive transformation we seek (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Connection with PEOPLE: Even though most emotional traumas are caused by other people, it’s also likely that God will use our relationships with people as an important component of our recovery. It’s an indisputable fact of life that positive, truth-speaking, encouraging people can help to speed our recovery, while negative, cynical people will just prolong our pain and foster more toxicity.

Connection with TRUTH: When we’ve gone through a life-altering situation, we must be careful to remain grounded in the truth of God’s Word rather than our transitory and misleading feelings. Satan uses our emotional traumas as opportunities to speak his lies, so it becomes more important than ever to cling to the truth about who God is and how much He loves us.

Connection with CHARACTER: Too often, people who are hurting try to self-medicate their pain through alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling, toxic relationships, or other destructive activities. Such things are a great way to go from the frying pan into the fire. Instead, we should use any emotional trauma as a time for God to expose and heal any wicked or hurtful areas of our heart (Psalm 139:24). We also must carefully monitor our lives and take preventative action if we see some kind of bad fruit developing.

Connection with SERVICE: One of the greatest ways for us to receive healing is to reach out to heal the pain of others. Like the man who had a shriveled hand in Mark 3:1-5, our disability can be healed when we stretch out our hand in obedience to the Lord.

Those of us from a charismatic or Pentecostal background might prefer to think that all emotional healing should come from a supernatural, instantaneous touch from God. Just come to the altar for prayer, and everything will be alright.

While that kind of immediate remedy is surely possible, the Lord often prefers to take us through the process of healing. Why? Probably because the 5 connections in the healing process are the very same connections we need to become more like Christ. Just as sanctification and discipleship aren’t instantaneous propositions, emotional healing may take more than a single prayer.

If you’ve been struggling to break free from some kind of traumatic experience or relationship, don’t despair. God has a plan for your recovery—and it doesn’t have to take as long as you’ve thought.

Make a decision today to forgive and release those who have wronged you. Then engage in the 5 connections in the Lord’s unfailing process of recovery and transformation.

 

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Get Off Your Merry-Go-Round!

If you need a turnaround in some area of your life today, perhaps you can profit from the wisdom of NBA star Tracy McGrady when he was recovering from injuries and a shooting slump. Trying to explain his new outlook, he told the sports reporters, “My career was sputtering until I did a 360 and got headed in the right direction.”

I never was a math genius, but I know enough to realize that a 360-degree turnaround would be sending McGrady in exactly the same direction as he was headed before.

Many people make this same mistake. They think they’re making a turnaround, when actually they’re just spinning in circles. Plenty of motion, but not much progress. In the end, nothing has really changed. Yes, they turned things around 360 degrees, but what they needed was a 180-degree  course correction.

I’ve discovered that I’m not a big fan of things that go in circles. Even though I live in Charlotte—the heart of NASCAR country—I’ve never understood people’s fascination with cars that travel hundreds of miles at incredible speeds, only to end up several hours later in exactly the same spot as they began.

I’ve also become disenchanted with merry-go-rounds, electric train sets, hamster wheels, and treading water in a swimming pool. Isn’t it better to invest our time and energy into things where we can see PROGRESS instead of pointless repetition?

But I’ve known lots of people who never seem to get offer their merry-go-round or hamster wheel. If you run into them a decade from now, you can be certain they’ll be right where you left them. How sad.

One of the things I love about walking with God is that it’s a life of CHANGE and PROGRESS, rather than circles and stagnation. We’re called to leave Egypt and journey to the Promised Land—not taking the circular route that leads us back to Egypt or on a 40-year trek in the wilderness.

If TVs had been invented during the days of Moses, the circular journey of the Israelites could have been televised as some kind of reality show. Instead of NASCAR’s Daytona 500, it could have been called “The Israelite 40.”

Do you see why I hate circular journeys? The Israelites experienced this insanity long before Einstein or some other 20th century philosopher defined it as “Doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results.”

Yet lately I’ve been reevaluating my position on this. The Lord eventually did  bring Joshua and the Israelites BACK to the place where they first boarded the merry-go-round instead of entering the Promised Land. The sight of this place must have brought back terrifying memories to Joshua, for God and the Israelites had to spend most of Joshua chapter 1 trying to alleviate his fears: Have I not commanded you?”  the Lord said to him, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go”  (Joshua 1:9).

How ironic. God had brought Joshua and the Israelites back full circle—360 degrees, as Tracy McGrady might say. He did this in order to heal them, restore them, and prepare them to move forward  into the place of their destiny.

The same “full circle” principle is found in John 21, when Peter and the other disciples tried to return to fishing after Jesus’ death. The Lord appeared to them and gave them a miracle catch of fish—reminiscent of the scene when He first called them to follow Him in Luke 5:1-11. The cure for their failure, discouragement, and bewilderment was to take them full circle and remind them of their original calling.

So perhaps Jesus wants to bring you back to your first love today or back to the kind of miraculous, joy-filled life you experienced when you first encountered Him. Just as He prescribed a 360-degree turnaround to the Ephesian Christians in Revelation 2:5, maybe He’s speaking a similar message to you: Turn back to Me and do the works you did at first.”

No, the goal certainly isn’t to go in endless circles. But sometimes you have to return back so you ultimately can move forward. You have to be healed from your fears and failures, so you can be launched into a whole new level of faith and fruitfulness.

 

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