Breaking a Most Difficult Addiction

addiction 4

Just one week into my much-needed sabbatical, one thing is abundantly clear: I find it extremely hard to fully relax without feeling guilty and unproductive. As an addict to the world of deadlines and to-do lists, “productivity detox” is a difficult and painful process.

Perhaps you’re a performance addict too. But you’ll never know for sure until you take time to break free from your dependence on activities and accomplishments—the “drugs” that enable you to feel good about yourself.

For years, friends have assured me that God’s love for me is not based on anything I can DO for Him. But I’ve been so busy trying to do His will that I’ve never really been able to test their theory.

If you’re a performance addict, you live in fear of what would happen if you suddenly stopped performing. Having carried the world on your shoulders for so long, you’re terrified that a moment’s rest might cause everything around you to come crashing down.

And what would people think if we no longer were performing and producing? It turns out we’re not only addicted to our accomplishments, we’re also addicted to the quest to look good in the eyes of our peers.

Amazing Benefits

My sabbatical has brought me face to face with my need to WAIT for God’s empowerment and direction when they don’t come immediately. I’ve discovered that resting and waiting often go hand in hand, as King David described: Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him” (Psalm 37:7).

I’m not sure which is more difficult for me, resting or waiting. I’m poor at both of them. Why? Because nothing productive seems to be accomplished while I’m resting or waiting.

Yet the Bible gives some magnificent promises to those who learn to wait on God. Those who take time to wait on Him will be…

  • Free from shame (Psalm 25:3, Isaiah 49:23).
  • Strengthened and encouraged (Psalm 27:14).
  • Enabled to expand into new territory (Psalm 37:34).
  • Assured of His provision (Psalm 104:27).
  • Able to receive divine guidance and counsel (Psalm 106:13).
  • Recipients of supernatural blessings and breakthroughs (Proverbs 8:34, Isaiah 64:4).
  • Strengthened to mount up with wings like eagles (Isaiah 40:31).
  • Blessed with a revelation of God’s goodness (Lamentations 3:25).
  • Recipients of fresh vision from the Lord (Habakkuk 2:3).

This is just a small sample of the amazing promises given to those who wait on the Lord. So why is this so difficult for many of us?

God’s Waiting Room

Lately I’ve tried to put myself in the shoes of Jesus’ disciples when they were told not to DO anything after His ascension, but rather “to WAIT for the Promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4). The whole world needed to be saved, yet they were instructed to wait in Jerusalem.

It turned out that these faithful believers only had to wait 10 days before the Holy Spirit was poured out on Pentecost. But while they were waiting they didn’t know  this would be the timetable. When God puts us in His “Waiting Room,” we’re seldom told how long the wait will be. We just have to trust Him that the resulting blessings will be worth the wait.

So are you willing to join me in the difficult process of breaking our addiction to activity and accomplishments? Are you ready to enter into God’s rest and patiently wait for a fresh breakthrough of His power and guidance?

Like a heroin addict who goes cold turkey, breaking our performance addiction is never easy. Our self-image is at stake, after all. And when we fully rest and patiently wait, we’re likely to make a horrifying discovery: Our self-image has been based more on our accomplishments than on recognizing God’s unconditional love for us.

But imagine the joy and freedom you’ll experience when you realize your Heavenly Father loves you even on the days when you haven’t accomplished a thing. Yes, He loves you more than you’ll ever know, and your performance has absolutely nothing to do with it.

So go ahead and thank Him. And breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Will You Settle for Less than the BEST?

If given the choice between a meal at the fanciest gourmet restaurant or McDonald’s, which would you choose? There are several reasons people frequently opt for fast food, and this points to some larger issues in how we make important, life-altering decisions in our lives.

Of course, sometimes you might just be having a Big Mac attack, craving greasy, high-calorie food instead of things that are better for you. Yes, there is some immediate pleasure, but how does that make you feel a few hours later?

At other times, your decision to settle for fast food may be a matter of cost. Hey, you can get LOTS of food at McDonald’s for the price of a good steak at Ruth’s Chris. But think about it: You also can buy dog food relatively inexpensively if that’s what you are willing to settle for.

Although I don’t eat much fast food these days, I’m sure it’s main attraction for me was simply SPEED and convenience. Even when I could afford Ruth’s Chris, I didn’t want to spend an hour or two to eat there. Usually, I was in a time crunch, on the way to some meeting or appointment. Sitting down for a gourmet meal wasn’t enough of a priority to carve out time in my schedule.

I’ve been challenged by these principles lately, for they don’t just apply to my diet, but to other priorities and decisions in my life.

For example, am I truly willing to practice delayed gratification instead of indulging my “sweet tooth” for momentary pleasures? Am I willing to patiently pay the price to receive God’s BEST for my life instead of settling for mediocre options and outcomes?

Many Bible stories speak to these issues, but I’m especially intrigued by the prophet Samuel’s quest to find the next king (1 Samuel 16:1-13). The Lord had instructed him to select the new king from among the sons of Jesse, which at least narrowed down his search.

But it turned out that Jesse had many sons, so it potentially could be a long day to determine which of them was God’s choice.

Starting with the oldest son, Eliab, the prophet began his review process. “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!”  he said enthusiastically (v. 6).

This misguided assumption by Samuel should cause each of us to pause and realize how we might be prone to the same error. Like a McDonald’s drive-through, the easiest decision would be to simply anoint Eliab and be done with it.

Yet as the story continues, God tells Samuel his perspective is all wrong:

Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (v. 7).

Think of how this might apply to your own life today. If you’re considering a business deal or new career offer, are you content to merely examine how it appears on the surface? If you are seeking a wife or husband, are you prone to be swayed by their physical appearance rather than what God has done in their heart?

One by one, seven of Jesse’s sons came before Samuel, and the Lord surprisingly turned each of them down. From a human perspective, each of these young men probably seemed like good candidates: handsome, strong, and with a good upbringing.

But could you imagine how Israel’s history might have been different if Samuel had settled for one of these first seven options? It would have been quite easy to do so, especially when Option #8 hadn’t even appeared on the scene yet.

Samuel must have been puzzled when God refused to put His stamp of approval on any of Jesse’s first seven sons. “Are ALL the young men here?”  he asked in frustration (v. 11).

No one had even thought to invite David to the big event. After all, he was the youngest, assigned to the menial task of caring for his father’s sheep.

Like Samuel, perhaps you’re looking at your options today on some important matter. Maybe you’ve already discarded the first seven possibilities, and you see no other prospects on the horizon. So…will you wait for Option #8—the option that’s still hidden from your view?

It had been a long day for Samuel, just as our selection processes in life may seem long and arduous. But when David finally appeared, there was no doubt that He was God’s man. “Arise, anoint him; for this is the one!”  Samuel said, certainly with great relief.

My friend, God has wonderful plans for you. He wants to give you His best. But that means you’ll have to be patient, waiting for the other options to pass by.

Your “David” is right around the corner. I hope you won’t settle for anything less.

 

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

The Excruciating Wait

As almost everyone knows, faith is an indispensable key to getting your prayers answered (Matthew 9:29). But when you look at the stories of men and women of faith throughout the Bible, you nearly always see another vital ingredient at work: PATIENCE.

This really shouldn’t be a surprise, since we’re clearly told it’s through “faith AND patience” that we’ll be able to activate God’s promises (Hebrews 6:12).

Yet waiting is hard. It was difficult for people in Bible days, and perhaps it’s harder than ever in today’s instant-gratification, microwave, fast-food and fast-everything culture. If we have to wait more than five minutes for our food at McDonald’s, we’re ready to call for a Congressional investigation.

But the waiting process is even harder when it seems to go on forever, with absolutely no signs of a breakthrough. And when the thing we’re waiting for is very important to us, the wait can be EXCRUCIATING.

No wonder Solomon wrote, Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12). Perhaps you’ve experienced that kind of painful delay at times. I certainly have.

However, we’re in very good company if we’re struggling to wait for God to fulfill His promises. Here’s just a partial list of Bible heroes who had to endure an excruciating wait time:

  • Abraham and Sarah had to wait decades for God to give them a son.
  • Jacob had to wait and work for seven years to win Rachel’s hand in marriage—but then ended up with Leah instead. Seven additional years of work were required by Laban so he could have Rachel too.
  • Joseph as a teen was given some vivid prophetic dreams about his destiny, but he had to endure excruciating years of adversity before his dreams were fulfilled.
  • David was anointed by the prophet Samuel as Israel’s next king, but he wasn’t able to actually take the throne until many years later.
  • Martha and Mary asked Jesus to come and heal their brother Lazarus—but He seemed to arrive too late! Fortunately, Jesus not only was able to heal, He also could raise their brother from the dead.

Are you agonizing today about some prayer request that hasn’t been answered yet? Is there some longtime dream you’re waiting for God to fulfill? If so, don’t give up! Be patient, and avoid the temptation to take matters into your own hands, as Abraham and Sarah did in having a child by Hagar. Good things are birthed in God’s “waiting room.”

Earlier in this blog post, I shared Solomon’s observation that “hope deferred” can lead to a sick heart. Thankfully, the verse doesn’t end there. Solomon adds this great promise: “When the desire comes, it is a tree of life.”  Other versions say “a dream fulfilled” or “a longing fulfilled.”

This is fantastic news for all of us. Yes, our hopes and dreams may be deferred or detoured at times. But the excruciating wait will make the fulfillment all the more meaningful and wondrous.

Our patience will be rewarded. I’m counting on it.

 

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

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.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Living Life on Standby

Recently I faced a number of situations where I was put on standby, and none of them were much fun.

At work everything was put on hold two days in a row because of the “possibility” of a very important meeting that never ended up happening. During that same week, a pastor asked me to be on standby to preach for him in case bad weather prevented him from getting back from a ministry trip on time—but he returned successfully.

Meanwhile, I was looking forward to a new initiative in my personal life, only to find out about a six-month waiting period before I could even begin. More waiting. More standby.

I don’t like being on standby. There’s all the stress of preparation and all the frustration of waiting, but the payoff seems so uncertain. I hate to waste time, and that’s usually what it feels like when I’m on hold.

And I bet you’ve faced some “standby” situations too. Perhaps you’re waiting for some kind of medical diagnosis or procedure…a new job or promotion on your present job…the launch of a new ministry…or resolution of some relationship issue.

Lots of people in the Bible were put on standby, with mixed results. Noah’s life couldn’t progress until he completed construction of a gigantic ark—and that project took over 100 years.

Abraham and Sarah were on standby for decades to receive their promised son from the Lord. While waiting, they cooked up a scheme to have a child by other means. The result was the birth of Ishmael—and thousands of years of conflict in the Middle East.

King Saul was told to be on standby until Samuel could return in seven days and present a burnt offering to God. But Saul grew impatient when Samuel didn’t return in the designated time, so he offered the burnt offering himself. As minor as this infraction may seem to you and me, it marked the first step in the unraveling of Saul’s reign.

The disciples were put on standby as Jesus prayed and sweated drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion. He found them fast asleep, unable to pray and stay awake during even one hour of standby mode.

As these stories illustrate, it’s a hazardous thing to be on standby. We tend to get impatient…take matters into our own hands…and often do something crazy.

However, I’ve found that God often has a reward in store when we learn how to handle the standby mode correctly. Perhaps an illustration from the world of pets may help…

If you throw some object into the backyard, your dog is likely to retrieve it and bring it back to you. Most dogs do this instinctively, without any training. You can give him a treat to reward him for his efforts, if you would like. But the dog hasn’t really accomplished much, has he? Rather than displaying any feat of obedience, he was simply doing what came naturally.

However, what if you want your dog to get the object and then sit quietly in place until you ask him to come to you? That’s a skill likely to take some training from you and some self-control by the dog. You must teach him what the command “Stay” means, and he must fight all of his natural instincts in order to comply.

It’s pretty impressive when a dog has learned to obey his master in doing something contrary to animal instincts. You really should treat him with a reward when he can do that.

Well, I would like to say I’m a voice-trained dog, but too often I’m not. Too often, I still do what comes naturally instead of what the Master is commanding.

The key to dog training is repetition, I guess. And that seems to be the same pattern God uses in training us to be voice-trained believers. Hopefully, we will learn the lessons in time.

I encourage you to take a hard look at the standby situations in your life today. Are you patiently waiting, listening for your Master’s instructions rather than doing whatever is right in your own eyes?

And perhaps you need to be challenged about the opposite side of the coin: Do you think you are waiting on a green light from God on some issue, when He’s actually waiting on YOU to take action and get started?

Let’s listen to our Master’s voice today, my friend. If we do, I’m convinced our standby periods will be rewarded.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Dog Years…and the Perils of Waiting

I always thought I would become more patient as I aged. Sadly, though, the opposite has been true.

Instead of enjoying life under a palm tree somewhere, I find myself racing against the clock to complete all the unfulfilled dreams God has put inside me. Like a sports team desperate to score more points in the fourth quarter of a game, I’ve been watching the clock and endeavoring to “run my best plays” until the final buzzer sounds.

I recently realized that my state of mind is a lot like living in “dog years.” It’s commonly said that every year a dog lives is like seven years for a human. But as a person approaches the sunset of life, it seems as if dog years and people years begin to run at a similar pace.

For those in the final quarter of life, every year passes by more rapidly than the one before. Every moment is precious, and there’s no time to waste.

I don’t know how old Moses was when he realized this profound truth: Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom” (Psalm 90:12 NLT). But I find myself, like him, pleading for more of God’s wisdom as I number my days and recognize the brevity of life.

Not long ago, a friend of mine experienced a practical example of the “dog years” mindset. His marriage came to a sudden end when his wife left him for another man. It turned out that the affair had already lasted for several years when this breakup occurred, and the split was very quick and final when it finally came about.

My friend was around sixty years old, and he was eager to rebuild his life with a new wife of the Lord’s choosing. Yet he found that, under the laws of his state, there was a one-year waiting period before a divorce could be legally finalized. This seemed to him like an unfair and unbearably long period under the circumstances.

The problem, I think, is that my friend was living in the “dog years” of his life. From that perspective, a one-year wait seems like at least seven years.

Ironically, seven years is exactly the length of time Jacob had to work and wait in order to marry his beloved Rachel. But you can imagine my friend’s reaction when I tried to explain this illustration to him. “I don’t know how old Jacob was when he had to wait seven years,” my friend said, irritated at my example, “but when you’re 60+ years old, a seven-year wait would seem like an eternity.”

Yes, my friend was viewing his situation in dog years. Waiting can be agonizing when you feel like the clock is ticking.

Although I am sympathetic to my friend’s dilemma, I also recognize the virtues of learning to wait on God’s timing. While Moses spoke of the urgency caused by the brevity of life, David frequently pointed out that God won’t disappoint those who wait upon Him:

“None of those who wait for You will be ashamed…Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; for You I wait all the day (Psalm 25:3-5)

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).

So, what are YOU waiting for? If your waiting is mere laziness or procrastination, it’s time to get moving again. But if you are sincerely waiting on the Lord and listening for His direction, a wonderful outcome is ahead for you.

And if you fear that your waiting period will be measured in dog years, there’s good news in the story of Jacob’s wait for Rachel: Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her” (Genesis 29:20).

Isn’t that cool? When your eyes are on the Lord, He can help your wait seem like mere moments.

 

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

On the Brink of Your Breakthrough

Your breakthrough is probably a lot closer than you think. Whether you need a miracle in your health, finances, relationships, or peace of mind, it’s possible that the answer is just a few steps away.

But I can understand if you are skeptical. You may have been waiting a long time already.

Abraham and Sarah had waited many years for a son, and you can understand why they would laugh upon hearing God’s prediction that their breakthrough was finally less than a year away (Genesis 17:15-17, Genesis 18:9-15). Yet their baby boy came just as the Lord promised, and they named him Isaac, which meant “Laughter” (Genesis 21:1-7).

If you laughed when I said your breakthrough was probably close at hand, you may want to call your eventual breakthrough Laughter, as Abraham and Sarah did. Of course, God always has the last  laugh (Psalm 2:4), but I think Laughter is a wonderful name to call the breakthroughs He gives us.

Often it seems that our breakthrough is far away or simply impossible. The four lepers who sat glumly at the city gate certainly didn’t feel like they were on the brink of any breakthrough. The city was surrounded by an enemy army, and its inhabitants were gripped with famine, starvation, and hopelessness. But within a single day,  the lives of these men were profoundly transformed (2 Kings 7:3-11).

Jesus’ disciples had fished all night and caught absolutely nothing, and their prospects looked anything but bright. Yet everything changed when they obeyed His surprising advice: “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat!”  (John 21:6)

Doesn’t this seem like a pointless instruction? If there were no fish on the left  side of their small boat, why would it make any difference if they tried the right-hand side?

But the disciples were closer to a breakthrough than they could have imagined. They took Jesus’ advice, and that made all the difference. Within moments,  they had caught 153 large fish.

How long will it take for YOUR breakthrough? Isaac was born within a year of God’s prediction to Abraham and Sarah. The lepers received their windfall of treasure within 24 hours of their step of faith. And the disciples received a miracle catch of fish within mere moments of obeying Jesus’ instruction. A breakthrough doesn’t have to take very long at all.

So here are two questions for you to ask: What do you need from the Lord? And what is He asking you to do?

After you have followed His instructions, your long-awaited answer can come with remarkable speed. Laugh if you want, but it’s true.

 

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter