Friday, January 3, 2014

Enough, Already!

image used under Creative Commons license

I'm blessed enough to have easy access to a lot of great blogs and bloggers.  Normally, that's a great thing.  I get a lot of good information and spiritually well fed.  But the last week or so has had me feeling like the young man in the picture and brought me to the point of thinking the words in today's title.

It seems that the closer we are to the end or beginning of a year, one or more of several things happen:

We will:
  1. wax nostalgic about the past year,
  2. make resolutions or set goals for the coming year, or
  3. resolve to ignore all that and focus on God.
Those of you who know me or have read my posts for any length of time, know my life verse by heart, by now.

Matthew 6:33 (NKJV)  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 

I had a pretty good year in 2013.  I gained some direction, truly experienced the love of my friends, and even published my first two Kindle ebooks.  I also had some physical things go in the wrong direction.  But that actually freed me from some of my own residual legalism.  I have a way of trying to do things on my own and seeing what I do as getting me ahead.

When you're relatively in good shape, it's easy to push beyond your limits because someone you respect says you can or should.  It's easy to still want to do that, even though it's no longer logical. Until you realize that you don't have to push.  That push is from yourself and that's flesh.  The flesh creates nothing good (Romans 7:18).  If God is in it, you can reach, but He'll carry you.  So, you get to turn toward that verse and enjoy the ride, no matter how good or bad the external conditions might be.

All of that highlights something in that verse.  It says "seek".  To me, seeking is a forward movement.  The definition speaks of turning toward something.  If I turn toward the previous year, that's not moving forward. In a way, it's hanging onto things that are over and done with.  Yes, there are those called to focus on what has already happened.  We can learn from those things.  But that's their call, not mine.  

If I need to recall something from the past, God has a way of bringing it to mind in a way that I can see whether it applies or not.  Every time I start latching onto past "glories", I feel like I'm following in the footsteps of Lot's wife.  As much as I like eating salt, I don't want to become a pillar of it.

Now.  What about those resolutions and goals?  I can't speak for anyone else.  But I can't recall any resolutions I've made that have lasted longer than a few weeks.  And I may have had some successes with things I've done on my own.  But, unless God's involved, there's no eternal value.  In both, we once again see Romans 7:18 (NKJV), "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find."  Any future goals I may set need to include God and get past my flesh.

Luke 12:16-21 (NKJV)  Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully.  And he thought within himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?'  So he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry." '  But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?'  So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."

That passage in Luke shows death interrupting the rich man's plans.  But the circumstances that knock our plans off the rails don't have to be that dire.  And the goal doesn't have to be trying to gain for the flesh.  The moment we start making plans with the expectation that nothing can side track them, we eliminate God from the process.  

The founding pastor of our ministry had an interesting phrase.  He spoke of giving God "veto rights" on our lives.  We can make all the plans we want, but we need to do that with the attitude that allows God to change those plans as little or as greatly as He desires.  God can do that, whether we allow Him to or not, although He chooses not to violate the gift of free will that He gave us.  But the important part is that we place ourselves in unity with His will.  The benefit of that is twofold.  The results will be better than when we leave ourselves in control.  And we won't be thrown for a loop when things don't go the way we planned them.

That brings us to the third possibility.  We can nudge ourselves to focus on God.  That sounds good. We know that our own plans never are as good as His.  Both the details and the timing certainly go beyond anything we can put together.  But, every time I direct myself to follow God,  20/20 hindsight shows my flesh being the mover.  Maybe, if I have another seventy years, I might start to get it right. So, if you're like me, what should we do to focus on God in a way that's pleasing to Him?

I can only tell you what I do.  You might need to modify it to better suit who you are in the Lord.  I had some years of detouring into Zen Buddhism.  The Zen meditative state calls for clearing your mind and often uses a chant to help with that.  What that misses is something the Bible tells us.  If there's a mental void, anything can get in to fill it.  We might gain some wonderful insights.  But we could also be creating a habitat for spiritually creepy, crawly things to live.  Not good.  But that's easy to prevent.

Instead of a blank mind, get into reading the Word.  It's the major way God communicates with us. That reading then becomes the replacement for the Buddhist chant.  So, there's no void, just a channel into the soul filled by God's Word.  That time of reading and meditation might be an hour or two, one day.  The next day, our schedule might only allow five minutes.  If we're focused on God, that five minutes can carry us for the rest of the day and be just as spiritually productive as those two hours on another day.  The focus could be a doctrine or a passage.  Or God could lead us to study one word, with its full meaning in the original language, along with its implications for my life. So, what do we conclude?

We have our own three possibilities:

  1. We don't want to hang onto the past, but we don't want to forget it either.  There are lessons to be learned.  And God can certainly give us the sweet fragrance of memories of people and situations that blessed us.
  2. We don't want to make resolutions that will only fail and are created by and for the flesh, anyway.  We can set goals, but only if we realize God has veto rights over our plans.  We need to accept that our thoughts aren't always His thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).  The real power in planning is in letting God choose what parts of our plans fit His plan.
  3. The only way we can truly focus on God is to let Him bring that focus into our lives.  It can't be done in our own efforts.  At the same time we're not going to be like a limp rag, being dragged along by God.  Although God could choose to infuse our spirit with effortless wisdom, He usually has us participate in our own blessing.  The wisdom, peace, and joy that's found in the Word doesn't get into our soul by osmosis.  We have to actively open The Book and read and study it.  And that needs to be done with the desire to look for Him, not for knowledge.
So, I'm not hanging onto the past, I'm not making plans that I don't want God changing, and I'm letting Him maintain my focus.  It's all about Him, anyway.  I have a few things in my sights for 2014, but those are details that God is free to modify or replace.  If I'm truly moving forward toward God, my seeking will allow me to grow closer to Him, it will make me more like Him, and it will let me bask in the infinite love He has for me.  Will we fail?  Absolutely.  Will we rebound from that failure? Most of us will.

2 Peter 3:18 (NKJV)  but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen. 

13 comments:

  1. I enjoyed this post allot. I agree with you about the past & resolutions and such. It's a catch 22 sort of. Make plans but don't concrete them. Live for the moment to moment with God leading, but yet seek forward to things beyond. I think back to a conversation God had with me one day while praying. He said that if I would allow Him to lead and I allowed Him to be my constant companion I would never have to ask for things I need. When you walk with someone closely they are intimate with the day to day things going on in your life. This He said is where I would find rest. It's funny this last couple of months I have forgotten that until now. Thank you for the post, it spoke to my heart!

    I'm hid with Christ!
    Shawn

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    1. I'm glad my post spoke to you. It seems like I can get in my own way if I don't look at things from God's perspective. I wrote that as much for me as for anyone else.

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  2. I'm guilty of writing both a goals post and a reflections on 2013 post. But - the goals were in terms of my blogging... and included things that will help bring me closer to God (a lot more Bible reading will be incorporated, and prayer, and personal time with God). I try to use my blog not for knowledge (or, not only) but for building my own relationship with the Lord. And the 2013 reflection - I always write my rather light-hearted "lessons learned" post. That's more just a fun post for me... reflecting mostly on the crazy things that happened (i.e. getting a concussion from a basketball to the head).

    Great post, and I look forward to keeping up with your musings in 2014. God bless!

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    1. I enjoy what you post, Brandi. I like things that make me think and examine. Even if I argue with them, sometimes.

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  3. Great post Bill... I find that the key for me in this confusing issue is to do my best to renew my mind (Romans 12:2) so that I CAN know the will of God (that's what the verse promises). That's how I can even remotely get close to setting a goal/resolution that resonates with His heart.

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  4. That's the only way to fly, Carey. And He's the only one with renewal capability.

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  5. Planning. Seems to be the key word brought to my attention this week, or maybe I'm just looking for it. ;)

    I always do a reflection post at the end of the year, even if it doesn't get posted. I think I only have one year that actually has "positive" things in it. I'm not sure success is fully ingrained in my life plan. (Totally kidding.) And I ended last year's reflection with a goal for 2014. Follow God.

    Great thoughts! I read someone's post of resolutions earlier this week that almost gave me a panic attack. Too much! Impossible! Why stress ourselves out like that at the beginning of the year when the plans are going to change anyway?

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    1. The problem is that we get running so fast that, if God weren't omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, He'd have a hard time keeping up. And we get so focused on what we want and understand that we miss a ton of blessings.

      The last few years have brought some really neat milestones. They've also had some pretty strong negatives. The interesting thing is that the highs are better than the artificially induced kind. And the lows are lessened by including God in the equation. Which sounds like the foundation for a more detailed sequel to this post, for Monday.

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  6. "He spoke of giving God "veto rights" on our lives- I love this line., do you have a video I can watch when he had a sermon on this?

    I can plan all I want to, but if that is not in HIS plan it goes in vain.. It is funny from Carey he says Romans 12: 1-2 as this was my favorite verse that kept me out of trouble while I was in school and then you state Mathew 6:33 which was our motto when I ran a christian business networking group in Minnesota.. You have a some great writing skills and this was a great article to read. Thanks Bill.

    PS. God is not finished with me yet!

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  7. I'll have to see if one or more of our video clips of Dr. Stevens has him talking about veto rights. It's been 8 years since he went home to be with the Lord. I came into this ministry in '83 and he was using the phrase shortly after that. So, it's probably a matter of finding the right video(s).

    It's really such an expressive phrase to describe the best choice for the believer being to allow God the final say, even if that goes against our expectations.

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  8. I agree.. sorry didn't know he was no longer here.. I just think that statement is brilliant and very applicable to my last 23 years in self-employment roles. :)

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    1. It may take awhile. But, if a video of him teaching on that exists, you'll have a copy shortly after I have it.

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  9. Hi Bill,

    Leon Sammartino here - just curious about the photo - I assume you picked it up off flickr, and nice of you to credit it. But here's the thing I didn't take it. Not sure who did but if you could remove my name it would be appreciated, It's a great photo, but I don't want credit for something that isn't mine.

    Thanks,
    Leon

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