Prepare For It

My sister and brother-in-law are expecting their third child in early February, thus ending a 9-month period of intense preparation. They have prepared the room where Lewis will sleep, made plans for the hasty hospital trip, and have gotten my other two nephews prepared for the fact that an addition is on the way. They have actively waited.

Psalm 5 has come to be one of my favorite passages in The Bible. It says, in part, “In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.”

We are instructed to faithfully expect the fruition of those things we are praying for, even if they don’t come with the apparent certainty that accompanies a pregnancy. And when you wait expectantly for something, that necessarily entails a degree of preparation.

There are some who offer prayers and then take a passive position. Unfortunately, passivity can have many negative consequences, three of which come to mind.

First, the thing you’re praying for may not come to pass because you’ve not used the waiting period to work on issues God needs you to address. Second, if your prayer is answered, you may not be in a position to embrace it simply because you’re not ready. Finally, you may give up on the dream altogether because you’re fixated on the fact it has not yet been fulfilled rather than on what you need to do.

It is important that we prepare for our dreams. But a word of warning to those who decide to actively wait: you’ve probably got a lot more work to do than you realize.

I started my preparation with a couple of printed articles in a half-inch binder. Months later, I’ve far outgrown it. I’ve realized there are so many things I need to do and so many areas in my life that require improvement, some of which I thought were perfectly fine. The more I work on, the more I find that requires work. And this is one of the fruits of actively waiting – becoming a better person.

James 1:2-4 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

How you actively wait is dependent upon where you are in life and what you’re praying for. However, there are certain actions we can all take, regardless of the journey.

First, continuously strengthen your relationship with God so you can more easily ascertain His instruction. This entails learning God’s character through reading His Word and prayer. It also requires a degree of soberness and silence so divine whispers do not go unheard and subtle signs do not go unseen.

Second, learn all you can about the thing you’re praying for. If you’re praying for health, learn how to maintain a healthy lifestyle or learn how to prevent your illness from resurfacing once it is cured. If you’re praying for the success of a new business, learn how to manage a company that is larger than your startup or map out the characteristics and qualities of the additional staff you’ll need.

Finally, and most importantly, go read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Seriously, do it immediately after you finish this post. It will provide you with a clear blueprint on how you should be living, and following the instruction therein is critical both to realizing your dream and living a fulfilling life that is pleasing to Him.

So, no matter what the goal is, these three items should help get you started with waiting actively. By doing so, you’ll better yourself and be prepared for all God’s grace in your life.

Wait, there’s actually one more thing: buy multiple binders.

The Virtue Of Patience

The other morning, rushed to get out the door and to my office, I frantically searched for the misplaced keys to my car. I ran rapidly from room to room, gave each a cursory look and rummaged quickly through drawers and other belongings. Still, nothing.

After a few minutes of this, I hopelessly stood there, almost ready to throw in the towel and call a colleague for a ride. Perplexed, I put my hands in my pockets, prepared to think through each step I’d taken since I last saw them. Sure enough, upon doing this I found the keys had been in my pocket all along.

A lack of patience can easily cause us to overlook the obvious and to make mistakes that would be avoidable were we to act deliberately and with focus. However, Ephesians 5:15-17 instructs, “Make the most of every opportunity. Don’t be vague and thoughtless, but live accurately and purposefully.”

To exercise patience we must be present in and accept our current situation, no matter what the circumstances are. This is especially critical as you pursue a large dream or goal, because reaching a substantial goal can entail a substantial amount of waiting, and waiting will be far more rewarding if you can develop patience.

Psalm 26 says, “No one is disgraced who waits for You, but only those who lightly break faith.” Waiting is a part of life, but for many this is a fact that would be readily changed if we had the power to do so. But the truth is, this desire stems from a fundamental misconception of waiting, a misconception which, at this point in The Journey, I am trying to change.

I’m reading a book called Seven Spiritual Gifts of Waiting, by Holly W. Whitcomb. Mrs. Whitcomb wisely says that “waiting is an important guest to honor in the guest house of our humanity. If we consciously allow waiting to be our teacher, we can accommodate waiting more peacefully. If we welcome waiting as a spiritual discipline, waiting will present its spiritual gifts.”

However, as Whitcomb puts it, “In order to convert the inescapable lessons of waiting into deliberate spiritual gifts, we, too, have to be present; we need to pay attention. We need to actively participate in this dramatic conversion from waiting as something to be endured to waiting as a gift.”

One gift that stems from waiting is the development of patience. Unfortunately for me, patience is found nowhere in the genetic code I have inherited. To make matters worse, this virtue has all but been lost in our society of instant gratification. Nonetheless, it is an important quality to develop, and one which requires training on our part.

Since I’ve started working on patience, I have found two exercises particularly helpful:

First, employ patience in small situations that usually cause you to become impatient. Impatience for me is most commonly experienced while driving. For example, if the individual in front of me delays accelerating upon a light turning green, I used to find myself becoming frustrated. However, by consciously realizing and working on this, I have been able to overcome it. And by overcoming small instances of impatience, I am strengthening all those cerebral synaptic bonds and pathways necessary to exercise patience in more substantial situations.

Second, reminding yourself of the big picture is hugely beneficial. Reaching a goal is a process, and going through that process requires taking many individual steps. When we look at the big picture, it becomes clearer that a current circumstance is simply an individual and necessary piece of that picture, one that should be appreciated and thought about.

Looking at the big picture also helps us put things into perspective. The traffic light situation provides a valuable example. Really, someone delaying when the light turns green may cost me five to ten seconds? Hardly something to stress over in the context of an entire day. In the same way, one particular occurrence or circumstance is but a step in the much larger context of your ultimate goal.

For me, one of the biggest challenges with the concept of patiently waiting has been the idea that I am not actually doing anything to reach my dream.  However, this is not the correct way to wait, as my next post will explore.

Until then, let me leave you with a quote from author Franz Kafka on the importance of patience:

Patience is the master key to every situation. One must have sympathy for everything, surrender to everything, but at the same time remain patient and forbearing… There is no such thing as bending or breaking. It’s a question only of overcoming, which begins with overcoming oneself. That cannot be avoided. To abandon that path is always to break in pieces. One must patiently accept everything and let it grow within oneself… One must, in the dead leaves that rustle around one, already see the young fresh green of spring, compose oneself in patience, and wait. Patience is the only true foundation on which to make one’s dreams come true.

Shifting Focus

When I was young, I went to a small episcopal day school where we often would sing Matthew 6:33. Unfortunately, I’m not able to show you how this tune went but the lyrics were, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

It’s amazing how words I sang as a child could resurface after so many years. It’s as if they were lying dormant, only later to come to life and have a profound impact on my faith. For parents with young children, I suppose the messages you ingrain in them can always come back, so make sure they’re positive.

The fact of the matter is that this verse is critical to anyone walking in faith. It instructs us that we should not dedicate all our focus to goals and aspirations but should instead fixate our eyes on God. After some thought, I have a few ideas that may explain why this is.

Proverbs 4:5-7 says, “Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth. Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore, get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”

A focus on God allows us to gain divine wisdom and understanding, two virtues which Proverbs makes clear are indispensable in our life.

The second idea came to me only yesterday after speaking with someone and thinking about my previous blog post. In that post, I referenced Romans 8:28, which says, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

I suspect most people reading this blog have the first part down – loving God – but what about the second? 

God put you and I on this earth for a purpose, and we need to seek out that purpose. By focusing on Him, we are able to gain an understanding of how we can use our lives, our blessings, and our skills to do His work.

Really, our relationship with God has got to be a two-way street. We cannot simply expect Him to answer our prayers without actively seeking to do the things He wants done. God will help us accomplish our goals, but we need to help accomplish His.

So, all of that to say, I’m making it a point to seek God first, to gain wisdom and understanding, and to be disciplined in my service to Him. As easy as it may be to become fixated on my own aspirations, I’ve also got to help accomplish His.

Intricate Works

Something happened a few weeks back that taught me a very valuable lesson. I won’t get into all the details of what happened but, suffice it to say, it was an incredible step in The Journey.

This event opened my eyes to the fact that there are times we don’t see God working simply because we’re looking in the wrong places. In fact, trying to find out how God is working can become a fruitless and exhausting exercise – purely speculative. The reason for this is found in Romans 8:28.

Romans says that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” The term all things tells us that nothing is off limits in His works. 

God can use sights, sounds, smells, feelings, other people, and a combination of all these things to accomplish the task. It’s no wonder we can’t see what He is doing, much less imagine it.

The intricacy of God’s work has another important implication, especially to those who are relying on faith to reach a dream. If this describes you, let this message stick deep in your spirit: You cannot allow yourself to get discouraged by or dwell on day-to-day circumstances.

What you have accepted as a setback could just as likely be a tool God is using to move you toward your dream. That “setback” could be the event that propels you further in your journey, that sets you on a path to accomplish your goals.

The fact of the matter is that God’s way is far superior to our own. Rather than spend valuable time and energy becoming discouraged by an event, we ought to reassert our faith and pray that God leads us down the path He has chosen. His way of accomplishing your dream is far better than yours. Let it go and follow Him.

David understood this principal very well, and his dedication to God’s methods caused him to accomplish amazing things. In fact, David did not simply wait for an event to occur to accept God’s plan, he actively sought out God’s path and encouraged those events to occur.

In Psalm 25, David asks, “Show me Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths. Guide me in Your truth and faithfulness and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; for You do I wait expectantly all the day long.”

If you’ve offered your dreams and goals to God, you need to accept that there will be times when you don’t see anything happening. There will also be instances when you don’t understand why a particular event takes place. This is when you dig your heals in.

Rather than waste time and energy analyzing everything, we should recommit ourselves in faith and ask that God lead us down the path He has chosen. He will get you there sooner than you will on your own.

Every Good Thing

One of my favorite things about traveling to a new place is the opportunity to go on a jog and take in my surroundings. I’m able to notice so much more about that place: fascinating sites, sounds, people, culture. Really, the experience enriches my entire trip.

Maybe running forces me to slow down and really see the things that are around me. I don’t know. But I do know this: If I were focused solely on finishing my run I’d miss it all, and what a tragedy that would be.

Life is much the same way, and certainly working towards a dream is too.

There was a point in this journey where I became so fixated on the fulfillment of my goal that I failed to see so many wonderful things God was doing to get me there. I was too focused on finishing my run.

One night I decided to sit quietly and identify the blessings I had failed to see. Honestly, once I started this exercise the flood gates opened. There was so much I had missed, so much to be thankful for.

Psalm 107:43 says that we should “heed these things and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord.” I’ve realized there are many benefits to doing this, and each perpetuates growth in the other. Allow me to explain.

First and foremost, God cherishes it when we thank Him for everything He has done. This is something we should all be able to relate to. It’s fulfilling to have someone recognize a kind gesture or action. God is the same way.

Second, when we make it a point to thank God for all things He is doing in our lives, it forces us to recognize those things, and when we realize that God is at work, it increases our faith because we notice he’s acting on our behalf.

Finally, when we approach God with increased faith, He takes joy in our trust in Him and rewards that faith, thereby increasing our blessings and the things we have to be thankful for.

Then the cycle continues and grows…

Now, if you decide to do this, some blessings may seem more significant than others, but it’s important to give thanks for all good things in your life. James 1:17 says, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

Once you realize that each good thing in your life is from God, you learn that every single blessing is equal, no matter how small it may seem. Why? Because any time any good thing happens to you it means that your Holy Father has singled you out and focused His grace on you.

So next time you find yourself lost in a pretty night sky, know that your Creator is concentrated on you. Next time a stranger smiles at you, know the Lord has moved them to do so. And be sure to always give thanks for these things. It is good for your Father and it is good for you.

Falling Out Of Faith

I did not want to tell you this but I fell in my faith today – big time. Sure, moments of doubt and confusion have come in the past, but this little episode was by far the worst.

Why did I not want to tell you? Well, I want this blog to serve as an example of living boldly in faith, and surely such a life does not involve the experience I had today, right?

Wrong. In fact, I would speculate that nearly every single person who has ever decided to live in faith has fallen.

Even the great figures of the Bible fell in faith. Out of fear and doubt, Moses refused God when instructed to demand that Pharaoh set the Israelites free. But in the end, Moses put those feelings aside, regained his footing in faith, and accomplished great things.

David can be seen on many occasions in the Book of Psalms wondering why God is not listening to him. But it was David who said, “Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.” Like Moses, David always regained his footing.

Peter was called by Jesus to walk on water. When he began doing so in faith, he was fine; however, when he took his eyes off Christ and began to fear his surroundings, he sank. But Peter called out to the Lord and asked for help, and Jesus lifted him from the waters. He fell, but called out to God and regained his footing.

Proverbs 24:16 says that “a righteous man falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.” It’s normal to fall, but the key is to get your footing back.

I like to think of faith as an amber, and there will be times when that amber begins to fade. During these times, it is critical to care for it and reignite the fire. But how do you do that?

I’ve found four steps work for me. First, like Peter, call out to God for help. He will hear you. Second, immerse yourself in the Word. I’ve found great comfort from the Book of Psalms. Third, find out what causes you to stumble in your faith and distance yourself from those things. Finally, think about what encourages your faith and draw nearer to those things.

All this can take a great deal of effort – faith is a fight. But you have to ask yourself, is your dream worth fighting for? If it is, you must get back up and keep moving forward.

In times of doubt, it is not uncommon to wonder if you’re even supposed to pursue your dream. Maybe this dream just isn’t for you. Maybe you were mistaken and are wasting your time.

I’ve found an exercise that will answer this concern.

Just for a second, hit the emotional reset button. Decide for one moment that God is in control, He is bringing your dream to pass, and that you will continue to pursue your goal with faith and expectancy.

Now, let that thought fade. Allow yourself to stumble. Allow yourself to give up. Be aware of how you feel.

How did the emotional experience of each compare to the other? Chances are, love and peace were associated with the first and far more negative emotions with the second. Which emotions do you think come from God?

James 3:17 answers this question. It says, “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” If these are the emotions you feel while pursuing your goal in faith, you are in agreement with God.

Yes, I stumbled today, and that’s ok. My dream is worth fighting for. I’m regaining my footing and pressing forward.

Persistent Prayer

The Book of Luke sets forth a great parable that Jesus shared with his disciples called the Parable of the Unjust Judge. I’ve linked it here if you’re interested in checking it out.

In the parable, Jesus explains the importance of being persistent in prayer to God. And He did this by telling of a widow who repeatedly approached a judge, requesting that he grant the relief she was seeking.

This judge was not having it. He was calloused, cared only for himself, and was not at all moved by the concerns of others. However, the widow remained determined to reach her objective.

I can imagine she experienced times of doubt and anxiety. She was working so hard to achieve her goal, but rather than see improvement, she experienced only setback. Nonetheless, she continued moving forward.

In an instant, the widow’s work and determination paid off. Her fortunes turned completely around and the judge granted her plea. As Jesus explains, the judge did this only because she repeatedly asked him to. She did not give up.

So, what’s the takeaway? I could try to tell you but the parable does such a good job. It says, “Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.” 

If you are working towards a goal as I am, do not give up, my friends. Stay in prayer, keep pursuing your dream. Don’t let doubt dig up what you’ve planted in faith.