Planning Ahead

“Christ told his disciples not to be anxious about tomorrow, but he never said not to consider tomorrow. Intelligent problem solving demands careful consideration of the future effects of present solutions.” – R. C. Sproul

How are you at planning? Some personalities like to “wing it”, assuming everything will be OK. There may be times for just taking what comes and enjoying the ride. Most times, though, we need to plan. The book of Proverbs tells us that, and our Creator shows us this truth by example.

Paul says that God planned for our redemption before the world was created. He knew if he created beings with free will in a world where Satan could tempt, they would fall, and they would need a Redeemer. He foresaw it and planned for it before he said, “Let there be light.”

Most of us love this message to Israel that we claim, too: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). There’s comfort and even awe in knowing God is planning ahead for each of us.

And he has a plan for how this world will end and the new eternal world will begin. The book of Revelation shows that plan in visions and pronouncements. It’s a hard book to figure out, but we do know God’s plan will unfold exactly as he envisions it.

We have responsibilities and dreams that will never be fulfilled if we don’t plan carefully. What is it for you today? Financial security? Emotional healing? Healthy relationships? Intimacy with God?

Yes, we live by faith, but our faith must be accompanied by some God-guided planning!

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” – Proverbs 16:9

A Trustworthy Love

“Oh, holy night, fill with silence that I might hear that which is not spoken by human voices.” – Sharon Ann Reich-Gray

How well do we know God? We are told that even the stars in the sky reveal who he is. We see his fingerprints all around us in creation. He speaks to us through his Word when a verse just seems to come to life as we read it: The message jumps off the page and into our hearts.

And he speaks through our thoughts, sometimes giving direction, often just letting us know how much he loves us or encouraging us to trust him. He might say something like this:

I love you beyond anything you can know. Accept my love. Love me back.

Or this:

Accept that I have given you gifts and talents for you to use and enjoy as you choose. You don’t have to prove anything. Just receive my love. Know me better. When you really begin to know me, you will serve me better, too.

Or this:

Believe I am who I say I am. Trust me to go ahead of you on the path, to always tell you the truth.

Or this:

Trust me in the dark. Trust me never to leave you, always to love you.

He truly loves his children and wants nothing but the best for us. If we believe that, we can face anything that comes our way today. Keep listening!

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” – Ephesians 3:17b-19

Now’s a good time to pray.

“A man may study because his brain is hungry for knowledge, even Bible knowledge. But he prays because his soul is hungry for God.” – Leonard Ravenhill

Do you have any soul hunger going on? Wanting to know God better. Wanting to feel his presence. It’s likely he is the one putting that desire in your heart. When it comes, respond. How? By praying. When we pray, we reach out to connect, knowing he’s already reaching out to us.

Why the urgency to pray now? If you’re busy, it seems OK to wait until later to pray, right? Or if you are distressed about something, it’s hard to focus on prayer. God must surely understand that!

Here’s what David says to God in Psalm 32 “ . . . let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found” (verse 6). Personally, I don’t think God will go into hiding if I don’t pray right away. That would not be consistent with everything else we read about him in the Bible. Instead, I think the danger of not “finding” him when we pray may lie with us as the pray-ers.

Maybe we need to pray before we get distracted with the the things around us and forget to get back to him. Or before we make decisions without his guidance and find ourselves not wanting to reach out for help. Or before we get accustomed to moving through life without him. God doesn’t want that to happen to us and neither do we. So, the antidote to “losing” God through distraction, stress, mistakes, or just hard heartedness is to pray now. Now, while our hearts are drawn toward him.

Got a minute? How about using it to talk to God?

“Pray all the time.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (The Message)

Getting to Know Him

“There is no peace like the peace of those whose minds are possessed with full assurance that they have known God, and God has known them, and that this relationship guarantees God’s favor to them in life, through death and on for ever.” – J. I. Packer

What does God feel when he looks at you? Approval? Frustration? Does thinking about that help you grow spiritually? Probably not. I propose that our personal and spiritual growth is not so much about what God sees when he looks at us as it is about what we see when we look at him.

If we focus on earning God’s approval, we try self-improvement schemes: looking good, behaving well, getting over bad habits, and trying to love everyone! That’s a lot of work and we’ll never be better people just by trying harder.

The first step, of course, is accepting Jesus’ invitation to follow him. After that, it’s about learning to know God – as he reveals himself in the Bible, in times of prayer, and through wise and mature Christian teachers and writers. When we see his heart, we realize he’s pleased with us already. He knows we will fail and, when we turn to him, he forgives every time. And when he does, he begins to change us. It’s his work, not ours.

So instead of anxiously trying to earn God’s approval, let’s just get to know him. Most of us have some incorrect perceptions of him that need to be fixed. So let’s put our energy into learning who he is and responding to his heart. When we know him, we will love him, and our efforts to please him will be out of love, not fear.

 “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . .” – Exodus 34:4

Staying lost?

Prodigal Son (New Your Public Library), Public Domain

“I cannot be reborn from below; that is, with my own strength, with my own mind, with my own psychological insights. I can only be healed from above, from where God reaches down.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen

I had a dog years ago who liked to explore the world, and sometimes he got lost. One of two things happened when we realized Luey had taken off again: Either we’d go looking for him, calling his name, checking his favorite haunts, or he would get hungry and find his way home. The end result was the same either way: The lost dog didn’t stay lost.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells three parables about lostness. The first was the lost sheep. The shepherd knew the wanderer would never find his way back to the flock on his own, so he secured the 99 sheep and set out to find the one who was lost.

The second was about a woman who lost a valuable coin. She searched until she found it and then called her neighbors in to celebrate. What was lost had been found.

The third is familiar to all of us. It is about a lost son, the one who declared independence from his father, took his inheritance early and set off to a far country where he lived an irresponsible life until his money ran out, a famine hit, and there was no one to turn to but Dad who welcomed him home with a great feast.

The point of these stories? That which is lost can be found.

If you’re feeling lost today, God knows where you are. He will help you find your way back home. You don’t have to stay lost!

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:10

How does God really feel about us?

God loves us not because we’re lovable, because He is love. Not because He needs to receive, because He delights to give.” C. S. Lewis

Most of us have been taught that God loves us. We hear it in children’s songs and in the earliest verses we memorize. But, do you know that he also likes us? On some days, I find it much easier to believe he loves me than that he likes me; but, look at this verse (and there are others like it in the Bible): “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love” (Psalm 147:11).

It’s hard to understand how the God of the Universe could take pleasure in a mere human. And what exactly pleases him? According to this verse, that this human is in an appropriate and loving relationship with him. Apparently God likes that. I think of him as a doting parent who smiles at every advance we make, cringes at our mistakes, aches over our sins, and protects us from going too far outside his loving boundaries. He loves us because he created us, and he likes us because we are all unique beings with our own personalities, quirks, and ways of relating to him.

He is our teacher, our guide, our heavenly parent. He delights when we respond to his instruction. He smiles when we return his perfect love with our human, less-than-perfect, version. He rejoices when we do the right things and is saddened when we take a wrong turn. He loves us completely and, on most days at least, he likes us, too!

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. – Psalm 16:11

How’s your love life?

“The world is not a playground; it is a school-room. Life is not a holiday, but an education. And the one eternal lesson for us all is how better we can love.” – Henry Drummond

I had a pastor years ago who said that, when we stand before God, he will have one question, “How was your love life?” I still think about that because I believe he was right.

Loving is good, but we have to be very careful where we direct our love. Read this ” . . . in the last days people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (from 2 Timothy 3:1-4). Paul is describing people who are good lovers, but they are loving the wrong things! He mentions three areas:

Self: We should value our lives, appreciate the unique way God has made us, and live with confidence. But we go wrong when our focus is on ourselves, what we want, where we are going.

Money: We have to have money to live, but when money becomes our primary focus, not for survival, but for prestige, affluence, or luxury, it’s a dangerous love.

Pleasure: We work hard and we get stressed. So, there are times when we should throttle back and enjoy the good things life offers. That’s great, but only if we are not living just for pleasure – the next thrill or trip or indulgence.

Jesus told us where our love should be directed: Toward God and toward others. We will never do it perfectly, but when that is our goal, God will give us contentment, confidence, and joy – and when we stand before God, he will be pleased that we loved wisely and well.


“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” – Proverbs 4:23

Come closer.

“A rule I have had for years is: to treat the Lord Jesus Christ as a personal friend. His is not a creed, a mere doctrine, but it is he himself we have.” – D. L. Moody

When God wanted to give Moses the law, he told him to climb a mountain, maybe so he could separate himself from the activity around him and get as close to God as possible while still having his feet planted on earth (Exodus 19:20). On that mountain, he learned God’s ways, received his commandments, and saw his glory.

When Jesus saw a woman who was bent over because of an evil spirit’s influence for eighteen years, he called her to come over to him. He could have healed her from a distance. He could have gone to her himself. But, he stopped walking and invited her to come closer. She did, and she was healed (Luke 13:10-13).

When Jesus went throughout Galilee in his early ministry, he invited people to come to him so they could have rest for their souls (Matthew 11:28).

We see the pattern, don’t we? God does not want to be distant from us. He sent Jesus to bridge that gap and now both the Father and the Son say, in essence, “Come closer. Don’t hide from me. Don’t stand at a distance and call out to me. Just come. Sit at my feet. Listen to my voice. Tell me what you need. Let me love you. I’m waiting for you to move from your place of stress and anxiety and get close enough to me to know me, to trust me, and to receive peace and joy from my hand.”

What are we waiting for?

 “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” – James 4:8a

New

“The people of God are not merely to mark time, waiting for God to step in and set right all that is wrong. Rather, they are to model the new heaven and new earth, and by so doing awaken longings for what God will someday bring to pass.” ~ Philip Yancey

It’s a new year. We have celebrated its coming and have lived a few of its days. How’s it going so far? For me, it feels an awful lot like the old year!

God’s idea of new is different from ours. Read Revelation 21 and you’ll see what I mean. He says, “Behold I am am making all things new.” Not just a new page on the calendar. All things new. And the chapter tells us what he means: a new heaven, a new earth, an entirely new way of living. Amazing, right?

As wonderful as that will be, we don’t have to wait until the end of time to experience God’s idea of new. Those who choose to accept Jesus’ invitation to forgiveness of sins and relationship with him experience a newness that begins right then. Immediate goodbye to the frustration of trying to handle everything alone – including not only life’s challenges but also our guilt, regrets, and fears. Instead we greet a new life where we are guided, accepted, forgiven, and secure forever.

Once we begin to follow Jesus, we live a new and renewed life every day – one filled with anticipation, adventure, God’s presence, and, sometimes, his surprises.

Let’s not settle for a new year when we can have a new life!

“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” – Romans 6:4

Practice on Humans

“. . . anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (I John 4:20b)

We can’t see God. Or sit across the table with him. Yet we are told that the greatest commandment is to love him and the second is to love our neighbors. I wonder if it has to be in that order.

Praying about loving God one morning, a thought came that I believe was from him: “Practice on humans.”

Maybe it is easier to love someone we can look in the eye, or touch, or hear. And maybe loving humans better will help us love God better, too.

We can start with those who are easy to love – babies and small children. Right? Then other family members, people at work or in the neighborhood. The next step is when God asks us to love someone who is dirty, angry, clingy, selfish, or arrogant. We start with those we can love easily, and then God moves us on to bigger love challenges. When we accept those challenges, allowing God’s love to flow through us, we become better lovers and, as we do, we find our love for God and love for human beings are closely intertwined.

Mother Teresa was ministering to lepers one day when a visiting American businessman saw her put her arms around a sick and very dirty man. Cringing, the American visitor commented to the person with him, “I wouldn’t do that for all the money in the world.”

Overhearing him, Mother Teresa responded, “Neither would I. But I would do it to show him the love of Jesus.” She had mastered the love lessons. Let’s find someone to love today!

“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” – Mother Teresa