Monday, March 26, 2012

Planning with God

Once upon a time, a shipment of watches was rejected by a local jeweler.  The undelivered goods were sold for half price to a 23-year-old man who was not all that impressive.  His straightforward plan was to sell the watches, which he quickly did.  He then left home and moved to Chicago where he met his future business partner.  From those humble beginnings, Sears & Roebuck was born.

We pray and plan our work, then work our plan.  We try to anticipate the unexpected, planning and praying accordingly.  We start out strong and then run into unforeseen problems.  Just when we seem to get life back together, the proverbial wheels fall off.  And like those “abandoned watches”, we’re stuck in a strange place with nowhere to go.

When the unanticipated or unplanned happens, what is our reaction?  Do we yell at the screen?  Does the keyboard get pounded as we read the email?  Do we lash out at the poor unfortunate person delivering bad news?  Do we hang our head in disappointment and depression?  Do we shake our fist at God in anger and disgust?

What do we do when our plans are abandoned or rejected?  We built them with skill, with the goal that they would be used.  But now, like those watches, we have not where to go.

The Bible has much to say about planning, almost all of it is positive.  But in the midst of our planning, what do we do with the “abandoned watches” in our life?  What does God have in store for us?  Here are three guiding principles;

Stand – While plans are good, we need to stand with God, giving Him the right to overrule them.  As we stand with God, He will take us to a unique destination, on an untraveled road.  Just think about your life, I bet your life has been full of unexpected turns that no one could have ever anticipated.  When Mary Ann and I got married in Baltimore, we had no clue that we’d be living in central Florida.  More than our standing with God, He has stood by and with us, guiding and providing for us.   Proverbs 19:21 – Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.

Steps – There is no way for us to know all the miles and turns along the road of life.  That’s why we need to take steps with God and with life.  It’s a life-long process of walking with God, allowing Him to be God.  In moving from Baltimore to Florida, I forgot to mention that it also included nine job changes and five moves.  When we try and control everything with a clenched fist, we become our own God and worship ourselves.  Giving control of each day to God releases us from the prison of idolatry and the chains of worry.  Proverbs 16:9 – In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.

So – There are times when God has revealed His will for our lives, but something just doesn’t seem right.  When these times come (and they will come) the question becomes, what to do?  Do we quit?  Do we sit down and pout?  Paul was called by God to preach, reaching Jew and Gentile alike for Jesus, yet he and his companions are prevented by God to enter Asia.  It is interesting to read how the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Jesus kept them from Asia.  In spite of God’s leading not to go into Asia, Paul continued to follow his calling and kept on reaching people.  The key word is “so”.  In spite of God’s direction not to go a certain place, Paul stayed at the task, sharing Jesus where he could.  The implications for us are huge.  When God seems to be saying “no” in one area, are we open to His “yes” in another?  Acts 16:8 – So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas

The application is clear – what we do when our plans (our “watches”) are delayed, abandoned or rejected is vitally important and reflects on our relationship with God.  Let’s continue walking in faith;
  • Stand with God, allowing Him to work His purpose out in our lives
  • Take Steps with God, walking with Him daily
  • Remain faithful to God, So we will be faithful to our Father and His call

Monday, March 19, 2012

The “one thing”

Not all that long ago, we spent hours in libraries, poring through books and magazines to find information that today is easily searchable and accessible.  We stuffed handwritten notes, faxes and “while you were out” forms in our pockets to be replaced by 21st century communications and technology.  We have multiple devices that make dinner reservations - telling us which way to go, cars that park themselves, microwave dinners, robots that vacuum our floors, rugs and pools. Yet, as I listen, I hear these familiar comments;
  • I’m overwhelmed and the backlog keeps growing
  • I have too many meetings, e-mails and demands on my time
  • I feel like I’m not giving enough attention to what’s most important 
  • I just can’t keep going like this

While no one likes technology more than I do, the latest advances in tablets, smart phones, cloud computing or anything else is not going to solve our problem.  The solution comes from centering our lives on the “one thing” that God calls us to.  Moving forward requires us to face three tough decisions:

Idolatry – Our number one priority in life is worship.  Worship is the sum total of our relationship with God, attention, focus and longings.  This is so much more than what happens on Sunday mornings.  It is so engrained into our character and nature that we do it all the time, even without thinking.  So, the question becomes not if I am worshiping but who/what am I worshiping?  Am I engaged in idolatry, bowing down before the “golden calf” of self-importance, an overbooked schedule, being needed, personally making all the important decisions and getting my way?  We got into idolatry through worship, and we get out through worship.  We need to repent and set aside prime time in our schedule for worship.  Worship “sets the table” not only for our personal relationship with God, but empowers us for service.  What could be more important than this?  Psalm 27:4 - One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.

Bury our dead – Much of our schedule is pre-locked into meetings, commitments and expectations, many have been going on for years.  They may have started out with positive results but have drifted into mediocrity, or worse.  With passion for your calling and compassion for people, we need to either strengthen/rebuild the vision/focus of those commitments (Revelations 3:2) or end the expectation of our involvement.  I understand that this can be difficult as some of these commitments are buried in DNA, command performances dictated by your superiors, even predating your arrival.  As we seek to follow God, investing our time and energies on the important, we can approach people with an attitude of their best interest as opposed to our demands.  There are things that just are not going to get handled and not everyone is going to be happy.  I can’t find any promise in the Bible where it says life or change is easy, or that my job is to make everyone happy.  We need to choose the better for the kingdom of God.  Luke 10:41 - “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Focus on eternity – It is so easy to let our time, schedules and energies drift, especially towards short tasks that have immediate feedback.  Responding to a call or email gives immediate, positive encouragement, but how does it match up with the more important things in life?  Much of what happens within life, work and ministry has very long incubation periods, so it’s vital that we have an eternal investment perspective when it comes to spending our time, attention and energies.  We have many choices throughout the day; where we spend our time, what requires our personal attention, what can be delegated, what can be set aside.  Sometimes, guilt may even direct our choices.  We need to choose wisely with an eternal perspective on what is truly important.  Philippians 3:13-14 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But 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.

As we eliminate idolatry, bury our dead and focus on eternity, our service to God and people will blossom and produce a rich harvest, blessing many and enriching our lives in the process.