Re-Post: Hope for the Sad Heart

Throughout the month of April I am taking a break from writing in order to focus on other things.  As a result I am re-posting some of my most popular articles.

Every person experiences times of sadness and hopelessness, times universally felt by the rich and the poor, the famous and the unknown, men and women, grownups and children.

The beautiful truth is that there is hope for you and me.

Sad Woman

I often use the YouVersion bible app on my iPhone.  Two weeks ago they advertised that each person who began a three-week devotional plan and completed it on time would be entered in a drawing for one of five iPad minis.

I almost always read the bible in the mornings and pray, but my humanity got the best of me and I started a devotional just because I could have a remote chance of winning an iPad mini.  I chose the Lead Like Jesus plan put together by Ken Blanchard.

God had other plans, I am convinced.

Earlier this week the Scripture for the plan was 2 Corinthians 9:8 (ESV):

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

This verse blew my mind.

Just the first four words are enough for my times of doubt:

And God is able.

Paul goes on, however, to explain that all of God’s grace is available to each and every one of us who is a believer.  Grace is when you receive something you do not deserve.  Grace is what you need to get through a difficult situation or to forgive someone who has harmed you.

The rest of the verse drives home the fact that this grace is available everywhere all of the time in order for me to have “all sufficiency,” or contentment, allowing me to thrive in doing good work.

Wow.

I do not get angry; generally I am very cool headed.  A few days later, though, a minor incident had me seething.  I had to go on a long walk to cool off.

In the middle of that walk this Scripture came back to my mind and I began to ask God to do this for me, to make all of his grace abound for me in this situation at this time.  I had been trying to have peace on my own all morning and had failed miserably.

Five minutes later I was completely at peace.  God did what he said he would because he will always keep his promises and my desire was his desire.

Does God always answer the way we want him to?  No.  But 2 Corinthians 9:8 is a promise, and God cannot deny his promises.  He must fulfill them because Paul says elsewhere that in Jesus Christ every promise is “Yes.”

The next time I hit a hard situation I have a new plan:

  1. Admit to God I am unable to remedy the issue or bring about the desired result.
  2. Pray for him to fulfill his promise in 2 Corinthians 9:8.
  3. Ask for guidance on what to do next.

If you are a believer there are no impossible situations, no times or places where God cannot help and rescue you.

If you are still undecided about following God, let this verse remind you that no one and no place and no time is out of God’s reach.

Where do you need to apply 2 Corinthians 9:8 in your own life?

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Hope for the Sad Heart

Every person experiences times of sadness and hopelessness, times universally felt by the rich and the poor, the famous and the unknown, men and women, grownups and children.

The beautiful truth is that there is hope for you and me.

Sad Woman

I often use the YouVersion bible app on my iPhone.  Two weeks ago they advertised that each person who began a three-week devotional plan and completed it on time would be entered in a drawing for one of five iPad minis.

I almost always read the bible in the mornings and pray, but my humanity got the best of me and I started a devotional just because I could have a remote chance of winning an iPad mini.  I chose the Lead Like Jesus plan put together by Ken Blanchard.

God had other plans, I am convinced.

Earlier this week the Scripture for the plan was 2 Corinthians 9:8 (ESV):

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

This verse blew my mind.

Just the first four words are enough for my times of doubt:

And God is able.

Paul goes on, however, to explain that all of God’s grace is available to each and every one of us who is a believer.  Grace is when you receive something you do not deserve.  Grace is what you need to get through a difficult situation or to forgive someone who has harmed you.

The rest of the verse drives home the fact that this grace is available everywhere all of the time in order for me to have “all sufficiency,” or contentment, allowing me to thrive in doing good work.

Wow.

I do not get angry; generally I am very cool headed.  A few days later, though, a minor incident had me seething.  I had to go on a long walk to cool off.

In the middle of that walk this Scripture came back to my mind and I began to ask God to do this for me, to make all of his grace abound for me in this situation at this time.  I had been trying to have peace on my own all morning and had failed miserably.

Five minutes later I was completely at peace.  God did what he said he would because he will always keep his promises and my desire was his desire.

Does God always answer the way we want him to?  No.  But 2 Corinthians 9:8 is a promise, and God cannot deny his promises.  He must fulfill them because Paul says elsewhere that in Jesus Christ every promise is “Yes.”

The next time I hit a hard situation I have a new plan:

  1. Admit to God I am unable to remedy the issue or bring about the desired result.
  2. Pray for him to fulfill his promise in 2 Corinthians 9:8.
  3. Ask for guidance on what to do next.

If you are a believer there are no impossible situations, no times or places where God cannot help and rescue you.

If you are still undecided about following God, let this verse remind you that no one and no place and no time is out of God’s reach.

Where do you need to apply 2 Corinthians 9:8 in your own life?

How to Love Others Better

In order to love others better you need to love God first.

Father and Son

So often in my life I have allowed the approval of others to control how I feel about myself, when God’s opinion is what matters most.

The oxymoron that in order to fully love someone else you need to give them second place in your life behind God is completely true.  No one person can truly fulfill you.  No one person can truly fill your heart.  No one person can perfectly love you.

Except God.

God loves unconditionally, gives grace to those who seek him out, and never fails.  God made you and me, and he knows the condition of our hearts better than we do ourselves.  Naturally, then, he is going to be able to meet our needs better than anyone else.

Once you have submitted control of your life to God and are completely relying on his view of you, then, and only then, will you be able to fully love someone else.

Everyone else is broken just like you and me, and everyone else is looking for fulfillment just like you and me.  You and I know that we cannot fulfill someone else’s every need, so when someone else puts that pressure on us we fold.

But when a God-reliant person meets another God-reliant person, expectations for the relationship settle into their proper place.  Ultimate fulfillment is expected from God, and companionship for the journey is expected from the relationship.

Companionship does not mean perfection.  Companionship means two God-redeemed broken people walking the path of life together and helping each other when the going gets tough.

Christ modeled companionship when he stepped out of heaven and came to earth as a child to walk alongside of us.  In our brokenness and sin he came down and gave us a hand up.

If you want to love others better this Christmas and throughout your life,

  1. Seek God for true fulfillment.
  2. Become a true companion on the journey.

Where are you seeking fulfillment that can only come from God?  How can you become a better companion to those closest to you?

God’s Call to Action

For decades now I have been praying the armor of God in Ephesians 6 over myself nearly every day, and today I realized something new.

Ephesians 6:14-17 (NIV 1984) says:

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Here are the components mentioned in the above passage, with my non-seminary observations:

  • Truth.  This is God’s perspective on anything and everything.
  • Righteousness.  This is right standing with God, which we receive only through the grace and sacrifice of Christ.
  • The Gospel of Peace.  The good news is that God has reconciled us to himself through his Son, Jesus Christ, thereby giving us peace with him.
  • Faith.  Hebrews 11 says “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (NIV 1984)  While my thought had always been that faith is the one “act,” if you will, that Christians “do” when they accept Christ as Savior, it was pointed out to me recently that in Ephesians 2:8 the grammar actually states faith itself is a gift of God.
  • Salvation.  Again, this is the work of God in our lives; we cannot save ourselves.
  • The Spirit, or the Word of God.  God’s word, the Scriptures, penetrates to the core of our soul and reveals God’s truth through the Holy Spirit.

In the past month or two I have become more aware of how every component of God’s armor is something he does for us.  This morning, however, something else became clear to me:

Our shoes, the gospel of peace, give the expectation that we will spread peace to each other and with God everywhere we go through the good news of what God has done in our lives.

Think about that for a moment.  Do you bring peace to every situation you enter?  Does your story of what God has done for you permeate everything you do?  When people look at your life, do they see someone responding to God’s gift of peace with him by acting peacefully with everyone, or someone taking advantage of the peace of God in their own lives but refusing to allow peace in their everyday relationships?

I would propose that putting on the shoes of the gospel of peace is similar to wielding the sword of the Spirit; they are both offensive, not defensive, parts of our lives.

  • We are to engage culture, not retreat from it.
  • We are to take steps of faith, not simply hold our position.
  • We are to enter into conflict, not avoid it.
  • We are to forgive, not hold a grudge.
  • We are to speak and act peacefully, and not just when it is convenient.
  • We are to share what God has done for us, not keep it to ourselves.

For me entering into conflict rather than avoiding it is something I regularly have to choose; it does not come naturally.  Sharing my faith outside of church is hard for me, not easy.  Taking steps of faith is difficult for me.  I am grateful, however, that God has been helping me to grow in these areas.

God will help you in your unique situation; all you have to do is ask.

In which of these areas do you need to grow?

Practicing What I Preach

The trouble with giving advice is that eventually you have to follow your own advice.  Lately I have been reminded of my advice to others on creating space in their lives for themselves, and of how poorly I have been doing that myself.

Here is what I have often told others:

  • Meet with God often. God is your strength, not your own abilities. Just this morning our pastor was speaking from Galatians 3:1-5 and reminding us that everything – salvation, personal growth, and God’s miraculous work in and through us – is completely based on our faith in God. That faith cannot grow without time spent in the Word and in the presence of God. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.” Romans 10:17 (ESV)
  • Make yourself a high priority. If you do not take care of yourself you will not be of any use to others. In fact, you will drag others down. After your relationship with God you need to come next.

Our tendency as humans is to “white knuckle” our way through life. We see something that needs to change and we grit our teeth and try to make it happen. That is a recipe for failure. I tried that approach to saving my first marriage and failed. True change comes through Christ from the inside out, not by bootstrap determination. While there are things we can and should do to take care of ourselves, we cannot really take care of ourselves properly without a constant reliance on God.

Practically speaking and aside from time with God, here are a few things I am trying to do in order to keep myself a priority.

  1. Rest. Honestly, I don’t sleep enough. I get to bed late and then am not quite fully “there” first thing in the morning. Granted, I am not a morning person, but going to bed really late doesn’t help. This past week I went to bed twice after midnight, which is a serious no-no for me. I know some of you night owls can pull off pranks like that, but not me.
  2. Retreat. A week or so ago I took a partial-day retreat. Well, let’s say I tried. The goal was to get away from the distractions, spend some extra time with God, and then do some big picture thinking about work. I was able to do some of each, but family things distracted me. I was not able to fully unplug. I used to take these retreats every month but have gotten away from the practice. Next time I will be truly unplugging.
  3. Recoup. God established the Sabbath for a reason. He rested on the 7th day, but we motor right on through in our work and activities without a break because it all “has to get done.” Stop. Just today I had to remind myself not to do church work because I had the afternoon off. All sorts of details and plans were running through my mind, but I had to set them down so I could catch a nap and spend time with my boys.

These are just three areas where I need to improve.

How about you? How do you keep yourself as a priority in your life?

5 Steps for When You Are Confused, Overwhelmed, or Frustrated

We have all been in situations where we have felt confused, overwhelmed, frustrated, or some combination of the three.  You may even be there now.

Few things are as depressing as being in such a dark place in your life that you cannot see your hand in front of your face, so to speak.

None of us truly wants to remain there, but finding your way out of that black hole can be very difficult.

I may have talked about this before, but I remember being in such a dark place when I was in college that I cried myself to sleep every night.  I understood what David meant in Psalm 63 when he said that he was in “a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (63:1, NIV)

Since then there have been many times when I have been confused and overwhelmed, not knowing what to do.

One truth – 7 words, however, have transformed my ability to face these times.

In 1 Corinthians 14:33 (ESV) Paul says these 7 amazing words:

God is not a God of confusion.

Think about that statement.  Paul goes further.  The whole verse goes like this:

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

Consider also that God’s first recorded words in Genesis (and in the entire Bible, for that matter) are these:

Let there be light.

God is a God of clarity, light and peace.  Everything else comes from someone else: sometimes us, and sometimes the evil one.  But not God.

These words do not mean that I will never face confusion or uncertainty.  These words DO mean, however, that God is on my side and the darkness, those feelings of confusion or of being overwhelmed are not reality.  They are coming from somewhere else and God is working to help me get back to clarity, peace, and light.

Here are 5 steps for when you are confused, overwhelmed, or frustrated:

  1. Stop.  Do not make any major decisions or changes.  If you make a major decision when you are confused you will end up making the wrong one and regretting it for the rest of your life.  Making a decision when you are confused is like handing car keys to a blind man.  Dangerous and, well, stupid.
  2. Pray.  Ask God for help.  He is the only one with the right perspective on your situation and on how you are wired.  You cannot find lasting peace and clarity without him.
  3. Contemplate.  Ask good questions.  If you are not good at this, ask a trusted friend or counselor to help you.  How did you become confused in the first place?  Why are you feeling overwhelmed?  Do you have too much stress at work, unresolved tension with a spouse?  Have you forgotten to take a critical medication?  (I’m not joking!  Some of us have to admit we need medication to help us function normally.)  Are you dragging unconfessed sin or bitterness around with you?
  4. Resolve.  If any of your questions yield answers that need action, do those things right away.  Do not wait.  If you are too stressed at work, investigate your boundaries, work-load, and work environment.  If you are not taking the correct medications, fess up, quit pretending to be smarter than your doctor, and take your medicine like a good boy.  If you are harboring bitterness, forgive.  Nothing will make you sicker faster or cloud your vision more than bitterness.  That stuff is poison.
  5. Move.  After you have resolved all of the issues you discovered you can finally continue moving forward in whatever area where you were previously experiencing confusion.  Most likely you will have more clarity and peace at this point.  If you do not, seek a counselor so that you can get to the bottom of your issues.

God is not a God of confusion.

You are not meant to wander through life looking for the light switch.  You can emerge from the darkness, and God is ready to help you.

How have you worked through feelings of confusion and of being overwhelmed?

Why You Shouldn’t Read This Blog

I get tired of headlines that say, “How a One-Legged Man Won the 100 Meter Dash and So Can You,” and other such ridiculous stories.  Usually they end up trying to sell you something.  The title should be more like “Why You Should Let Me Sell You Something You Don’t Need.”

So in the interest of truth in advertising, I decided I would tell you why you shouldn’t read this blog.

  1. Because I have it all together.  Definitely not.  I am as broken as the next guy.
  2. Because you need a quick fix.  There is no such thing as a quick fix.  As one person from copyblogger said, “Shortcuts are always the longest.”
  3. Because I am the best at what I do.  No, you can probably find quite a few people who are better at this than I am.
  4. Because your mother told you to.  Um, yeah, this is not a good reason, unless your mother is a personal friend of mine.  In that case, maybe.

On the other hand, here are some reasons why I would hope you and others would read this blog.

  1. You need encouragement.  We live in a very negative world.  The media always seems to be looking for the next shooting or scandal.  I want to be a place where you can find something positive to chew on.
  2. You want to become a better worship leader and musician.  I want you to avoid pitfalls that I have conveniently found for you.  I am also passionate about worship, worship leadership, and music, and I will give you everything I’ve got in the hopes of helping you get a step ahead.
  3. You are a new leader.  This blog is definitely for you.  I remember stepping into my first full time worship leadership job and discovering over time how green I was.  I needed some place to go to get my questions answered.  Fortunately God provided a friend or two on staff to support me.  If I don’t have the answer I will find it, because I want you to have the support I would have wanted.
  4. You need to be reminded that God is faithful.  He is.  I can promise you that, and I will continue to remind you.  I know this by experience.
  5. You need to know that good things can come out of failure.  As Seth Godin says, failure and being a failure are two different things.  God uses our failures and mistakes to help us grow.  I know.  Going through a divorce was the most difficult thing in my life, but it probably has been the best growth experience I have ever had.

So now you know.

And I hope you stick around and invite your friends to read this blog for all the right reasons.