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Whatever Your Hand Finds to Do

My name is Janet. I am a perfectionist. I wish I could say I were a recovering perfectionist, but that would only be wishful thinking. It isn’t for lack of trying, though. I’ve read many books on the subject. Perhaps you have too? If so, you know escape from this, um, malady is quite elusive.

God’s been talking to me about this today, though. Bombarding me with thoughts from every source. I think maybe I’m starting to catch on. Perhaps if I share some of these thoughts with you, one or two will stick with me . . . so someday I can be perfect! (You see how defeating this tendency is?!) But someday I will be because God is perfecting me. He just isn’t done yet, and I keep trying to hurry Him up.

Today’s barrage began with these verses:

“The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them, and you will be changed into a different person. Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you.” -1 Samuel 10:6-7

These were Samuel’s words to Saul as he prepared to crown him Israel’s new king. Saul wasn’t anybody, and he was far from perfect, but God chose him, and God’s Spirit changed him. Had Saul embraced this change, God’s Spirit within him – God’s guiding Presence all around him, he would have done no wrong by doing whatever his hand found to do! Unfortunately, he let being a king go to his head and chose to go his own way. Things went badly for him after that. But for a longing-to-recover-perfectionist, these words are quite freeing. So long as God is with me, His Spirit within me, my heart devoted to Him, I don’t have to fear making mistakes. I can do whatever my hand finds to do for Him, and God will use it somehow. In fact, I trust that even if my attempt is misguided, He’ll recognize my heart in the right place, redeem the intent, and use it anyway! He is able to do that because He is God.

After reading that passage in Samuel’s first book, I found these words in a devotional:

“God’s grace changed me, so over time I stopped thinking about all the things that were wrong with me and I started thinking more about all the things that were right with Jesus. I have since discovered that we become what we behold, and as I beheld Jesus, I started to become more like Him because God’s Spirit was at work in me.” -Christine Caine, Unshakeable, p. 46

God’s Spirit changed Saul. God’s grace changed Christine. God changes you and me, too! But when grace changed Christine, it taught her to refocus her thoughts. I love that she learned to stop thinking about all the things that were wrong with her, thinking about all the things that are right with Jesus instead. To me, this sounded like a new Parachute Prayer. Let’s call it the Parachute Prayer for the Perfectionist! Whenever we catch ourselves trying to fix ourselves, we can praise God for Who He Is instead. In time, He’ll do the fixing. Our job is to behold Him and wait.

Next, I came across this verse:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” -Ephesians 2:8-9

I gave myself this lecture in my journal:

“Get off the performance treadmill and embrace grace! Focus on Who God Is and all He has done. Worship Him instead of berating yourself. He will gently change you. Let Him do the work while you wait and worship and do whatever He leads you to do. ‘Wax on. Wax off.’ Some day it will all make sense.”

For those who don’t understand the waxy reference, it’s from the movie, The Karate Kid. The kid wanted to learn karate. His teacher had him wax his car. He didn’t understand, but he obeyed. Later, it proved to be a valuable part of his training. Sometimes God works with us in the same way. We do whatever he leads us to do; He does His mysterious work in us.

And finally, our pastor preached from this verse as he wrapped up his Trust Issues series from Psalm 23:

“Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” -Psalm 23:6

Now I’ve really enjoyed this series and took careful notes all the way through, even today! But God was still talking to me about perfectionism, so I got two messages this morning at church. I’m mostly going to write about what God was saying to me. To illustrate his message, our pastor chose a picture of a girl hiking up a mountain. The photographer focused on the back of her head, shoulders, and backpack, so it felt as if we were following her. All morning, God had been telling me to focus on Him instead of my imperfections, to do whatever he led me to do. That picture and verse made everything clear to me in a unique way.

Because my husband is in the military, we’ve moved many times. This means there have been many times that I have gotten into a fully loaded car, pulled out behind my husband driving a fully loaded truck, and followed him across the country, always with a child or two or three, and sometimes a dog in the seats surrounding me. And when we started doing this more than twenty years ago, we didn’t have phones with GPS’s on them to tell us where to go. My husband had the map; I followed him. In fact, because I wanted to get where we were going and have a terrible fear of getting lost, I followed closely. I matched his speed. I stayed in the same lane. I got off the road if he got off the road. I focused on the back of his vehicle, knowing it would lead me where I wanted to go.

When we follow Jesus, our Shepherd, this way, His goodness and love follow us. In fact, our pastor said the Hebrew word means they literally chase us. In my mind, being perfect is being Christlike which is being perfectly loving and good in every circumstance. Therefore, instead of me pursuing perfection, I follow Christ – with the intensity of one who does not want to get lost! – and then the very thing that’s been eluding me all of my life will begin to chase me – as Jesus leads me home.

If I try to be perfect, I will fail. If I follow Jesus wherever He leads, God will eventually perfect me. And I will dwell in His Presence forever. You can, too!

My name is Janet. I’m a child of God. I want to be whatever He wants me to be, so I’m watching to see what He’s doing and where He will lead. I know He’s working through all things for good, to benefit His Kingdom and glorify His Name. I am thankful He’s invited me – just as I am – to be part of His work.

Father, You’ve given us so many reasons to take our eyes off of ourselves and to put them on You. You are worthy of our worship and of all of our thoughts. Please help me to remember today’s lessons. Expand on them as You will. And use them to help others who struggle as I do. I thank You, Lord. Amen.


You can read more lessons I learned from moving in my book, Home Is Where God Sends You, available from Amazon. My book on Parachute Prayer is available there as well.

 

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How Not to Harden into Salt

“But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” -Genesis 19:36

I tend to feel a lot of sympathy for Lot’s wife. Having moved many times, I can relate to the longing to look back. Even when I’m ready to move, to experience a grand adventure in a shiny new place, once there, I miss friends and familiarity. But Lot’s wife was forced to move quickly with no time even to pack. God’s command to not look back would have been a challenging one to keep. Only complete trust in His goodness even in harsh circumstances could have enabled Lot’s wife to follow through.

Thankfully, God hasn’t commanded all of us to never look back. We can cherish the memories of past seasons of life. Maintain some traditions. Keep in touch with friends. We only run into trouble when looking back tempts us to go back or keeps us from moving forward. Life is a journey toward eternity. If we stop or try to go back, we’re not letting Jesus lead us onward through the next phase of our trip.

Childhood. Youth. Early days of marriage. Parenting preschoolers, elementary schoolers, teenagers. Launching children. Enjoying the empty nest.

I really liked my empty nest.

But God is filling it back up!

There are days now when I face down stubborn or wipe yogurt spills up off the couch and pause to look back . . . with longing . . . at the quiet, ordered life I was able to enjoy for a few years.

There is no going back, though, without turning into salt. And deep inside I know, the time for quiet, ordered came too soon to last for the rest of my life. I don’t know how long I’ll get to live on this earth, but forty or fifty years of quiet and ordered just might have driven me insane. I’m thankful God called our family into this new thing. I’ve lost all control, but I’m eager to see where God is taking us all.

Back to thoughts of turning to salt. When water dries up, it leaves a mineral residue. The Bible refers to Jesus as the Living Water. It also says that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us, but could it be that when we stop following, the Living Water flowing through us evaporates as Jesus tries to lead us on? He calls us forward, but we stand still, looking back determined, baking in the harsh sun. Eventually we stiffen up, harden . . . until nothing is left but a residue of salt.

When hardships and challenges come, we must look beyond them to Jesus before us and follow Him on through. We’re on a journey to Heaven where the best is yet to come. Looking back may give the illusion of comfort, but our hearts, our lives, will harden with that choice. Best to stay close to Jesus, practicing trust in His goodness, come what may. He is the One enabling us to follow Him all the way.

Jesus, please keep us moving forward, following You through each new phase of life. When we reach our destination and see Your name glorified above all, we will be so thankful we did not choose to turn back.

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Finding Purpose in Place

Place and Time“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” -Genesis 2:13

Just like He did for Adam, God has intentionally placed each of His children—that is, each and every person He created—where they are, not only in location but also in time. And just like He did for Adam, God created each of us with purpose. He gives us meaningful work—a reason to live. He didn’t just create us to exist until our time to die.

But sometimes we struggle to understand what our purpose is. Genesis 2:13 gives us a hint. According to this verse, God put Adam in a specific place to do a specific thing. According to Acts 17:26, God placed each of us in a specific place. That place is where our search for purpose must begin.

In other words, the key to discovering God’s intention for our lives may be as simple as asking,

  • “Where has God put me?”
  • “What or whom has He given me the responsibility to tend, to take care of?”
  • “How can my life help something or someone around me to produce something good?”

The Hebrew word shamar, interpreted in Genesis 2:13 as take care of, literally means to guard and preserve. What has God given you to guard and preserve or to improve or to bring out its best? When we can answer that question here, where God has put us, we’ll begin to enjoy purpose-filled, productive lives that will continue to flourish anywhere He leads.

Father, as we stop and take in our surroundings today, help us to see what we can do. You put us here with purpose. Show us what we can do. And then help us to do it for You! In Jesus, we pray. Amen.

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The Challenge and Blessing of Change

Bluebonnets

Change.

Life seems to require it.

But the pain of going through it brings blessing.

When we cooperate.

This has been on my heart these past few weeks. Twenty Sixteen is already proving to be a huge year of change!

At the moment, I’m sitting in a functional house full of boxes that need to be emptied. Yes, we’ve moved—again. This time by choice. How weird is that? We just couldn’t find peace in the house we were renting; we felt unsafe. So we moved. And we’re so glad we did!

DSC01646Yesterday, to take a break from the boxes, I tried something crafty, and it worked! I covered our front door’s windows for privacy and made them pretty in the process. (Click here to learn how.)

I also went on the season’s first flower hunt yesterday. I’m back in Texas where this passion began, but I’ve found new places to explore. I’ve made a list. I visited the first site yesterday where I found curious buds about to bloom, but not quite. Soon I must go back to see what’s hiding in those green packages.

Our God made all growing things to change.

A few years ago, my brother gave me a spice rack, hoping to encourage me to cook with something more interesting than salt. I took him up on the challenge, found at least one recipe for each spice, and blogged about my experiences in learning to cook. I went from cooking quick and easy for a family of five that included three young boys to cooking more creatively for just two. Then, by necessity, I learned to cook with less dairy, no soy, then no gluten—and sometimes, when extended family visits—without nitrates or eggs. Now, as we prepare to adopt a child or two or four, I’ll need to learn to cook for a family again. This time I’ll be looking for quick and easy without the ingredients we can no longer handle. And now I have a whole spice drawer to go with the spice rack I often refill! I think I’ll start blogging about my experiences in learning to cook all over again—again.

MysteryPlantLearning one set of successful recipes wasn’t enough. Even my cooking must change. I’m excited about the challenge.

I think I used to think that childhood was the time for change, that once a person reached adulthood, things stayed pretty much the same until death. Spouse, career, family, home. Unlike the Hobbit, I welcomed the adventure God called our family into—military ministry. But I think maybe I wanted (or expected to get) that adventure on my terms. I wanted to pick and choose my challenges. I had expectations of what I’d find in each place and how I’d deal with it and how life would respond to me.

Tolkien got it right when he wrote The Hobbit. Life is best when it’s full of adventure and challenge and change—even if that adventure, challenge, and change mean dealing with something difficult right where you are. These are the gifts God uses to help us learn to rely on Him and to mature. Sometimes He lets us choose our challenges, but even then they come with surprises. All we really have control over is how we choose to respond. We can ask God for more of His strength, courage, power, and wisdom as we handle life with thanksgiving, dignity, and grace—or we can whine, complain, get angry, and demand our cozy Hobbit hole.

That won’t do us any good, though. The neighbors have already auctioned off our stuff and leased the space to someone else. When one adventure’s over, a new one must begin. Even if we settle down, life will continue to change.

We don’t always have a choice about the changes in our lives. Illness, death, downsizing, disaster. These come upon us, and our only choice is in how we respond, what work we’ll let God do in our lives through the trouble that has come our way. But when we do have a choice, if we always make the safe choice, let security determine our path, we’ll never change and grow—and we’ll miss out on many blessings God has planted along our way.

Yellow from a DistanceWhen I went flower hunting yesterday, there was a paved path along a creek. Some flowers were close to the path, but the bluebonnets I was most excited about were scattered in a field several yards away. I’ve walked on the path before and seen all kinds of critters scamper across it—including big spiders and snakes. (Okay, the snakes don’t really scamper.) I knew these were lurking in the field between me and the flowers I wanted to photograph.

I really don’t like spiders or snakes.

In some places, the grass around the flowers was tall, giving critters great hiding places. I stayed on the path and took pictures from a distance here. In other places, though, the grass had been cut right up to where the flowers were. Walking to the flowers was still a little risky, but not so much. It was a calculated risk worth the effort with care.

As we navigate our way through this life, we can prayerfully take such calculated risks with care, as God leads, in order to change, grow, and mature—and enjoy great blessings along the way! In fact, on the walk back to my car, I saw a mother with two little girls heading straight across the field to the flowers, no hesitation, only joy. As we grow to trust our heavenly Father with whatever comes our way, we’ll find such freedom to enjoy each new adventure in our lives.

Thanks for letting me ramble on and reflect a bit today. I hope to get back into my regular writing routine within a few days—unless things change.


Are you moving this season, too? Check out my devotional for encouragement as you do: Home Is Where God Sends You: Lessons in Contentment from Nearby and Faraway.

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The Roundabout Straight Way

Finding Home“He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.”Psalm 107:7-8

Psalm 107 starts with a call to thank God for what He has done and a command to testify. I especially love verse 2: “Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out! Tell others he has redeemed you from your enemies” (NLT). The Psalm goes on to do just that—to speak out and tell. The rest of Psalm 107 is a collection of testimonies about what God has done to redeem His people.

The psalmist starts this collection of testimonies with a summary of the Israelites’ forty-year journey through the wilderness, ending this section of the Psalm by thanking God for leading His people to a place where they could settle at last. This is what I’m focusing on today. I find it interesting that the psalmist tells us the Israelites’ wandered for forty years yet also says God led them by a straight way. How can both be true?

Where Janet Has LivedHere is what I think: if I look at a map with each location my husband and I have lived in marked with a green dot and lines showing movement from place to place to place, I see what looks like a tangled mess of wandering. But when I remember each place, I know God led us straight there. Deliberately. With clear intent (sometimes only revealed to me in hindsight, if at all). I also know that had we skipped any of these places—and the experiences we gained in each—we wouldn’t really be where we are today. And we wouldn’t be able to go where we’re headed tomorrow. From His unique vantage point, God sees the only straight way.

In other words, what looks straight on a map, physically, may not be the most direct route in the spiritual, emotional, mental realm. Physically, I could have traveled straight from California to Texas without experiencing any of the places where I lived in between, but I wouldn’t have experienced Texas in the same way—and the people I know now wouldn’t have met the person I am today. God led me where I am and made me who I am by leading me straight here—in the perfect, roundabout way.

He did the same thing for the Israelites.

He’s doing the same thing for you—whether you move often or are currently living in the same place you’ve known all your life.

God defines point A and point B differently than we do. Who we are becoming and how we influence the people we meet along the way are more important to Him than travel between two dots we can see on a map.

So what does this information mean to you and me?

1. We know that God is preparing us and the people around us now to settle in His heavenly kingdom forever. So we can trust that He’ll use every stop along the way as part of this process. We may not know what He’s doing or why, but because of Who God Is and what He knows, we can gratefully accept the opportunity to learn and serve in each place.

2. We can view each place, even if we know it’s temporary, as a place to settle, do just that, and be thankful. The Israelites settled in the Promised Land, but only temporarily. God moved them again because they still had a lot to learn. He’s in the business of preparing His people for the ultimate Promised Land. He has lessons to teach and character to develop. He leads us where He must, so we can grow closer to Him.

3. As we settle in each temporary place, we can joyfully anticipate that final place. Wherever God leads us in this world, Heaven is straight ahead.

Father, thank You for leading us by the straight way, according to Your perfect point of view, to a place where we can settle. We’re following with confidence. Prepare us for Heaven and use us to help others get there, too. We love You, Lord! Amen.

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Home Owners’ Dysociation Blues

Blue Bonnet“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” –Luke 6:27-31

Last week, I read The Choosing by Rachelle Dekker (and loved it, by the way). I immediately recognized it as dystopian fiction but realized that I didn’t know, precisely, what that word means. What exactly makes dystopian dystopian? I looked it up. It was a well, of course, moment for me.

Dystopian is the opposite of utopian. A utopian society, if it existed, would be perfect. A dystopian society, on the other hand, is one where nobody wants to live. Well, nobody except for a select few power-hungry bullies who force everyone else to follow all their arbitrary rules – such as: every district will send two children a year to fight the other districts’ chosen children to the death because doing so will maintain harmony in our world. Or you will spend your childhood preparing for marriage, but if you aren’t chosen for marriage on a specified day, you will have to be society’s invisible slave for the rest of your life. Or you can only have one virtue. If you have more than one virtue, you are a danger to society and must be destroyed.

Somebody really needs to stand up to bullies who make ridiculous rules like that.

My husband and I recently moved into a dystopian community. We didn’t do this on purpose. But, in spite of this, we do love our new home! We chose it from a distance through pictures. We even “drove” down the street via Google to see what the neighborhood looked like. We knew there was an element of risk, but we’ve lived in the general area before and are only renting this time, so we felt confident. And we were thrilled when we walked into the house for the first time. The reality is even better than the pictures were. And as a bonus: if I walk out my back gate, I walk into my very own wildflower field! Have I mentioned we love our new home?!

We’d only been here a few days, though, when we got an e-mail message from our property manager. Seems the trailer we were using to move some of our stuff into our home was perceived as a violation of Home Owners’ Association (HOA), or should I say, “Home Owners’ Dysociation” (HOD) rules. We were told to move it off the property immediately or face the HOD tribunal for disciplinary action. Thoughts of Jace from Duck Dynasty fighting for the right to keep chickens on his property came to mind. That and knowledge of forms of disciplinary action taken in fictional dystopian societies was enough to make us comply. We finished unloading the trailer and moved it that afternoon. Now we can’t walk through our garage, but since the HOD can’t see it, they don’t care.

Horse ThistleIf you don’t already know this, my husband and I move every few years (You can read some of the lessons we’ve learned from this here.) It’s not unusual for neighbors to come to the door to introduce themselves and welcome us to the area. Some offer to help if we need anything. Others bring flowers or fruit baskets or casseroles. We never expect this from our new neighbors, but it’s always nice to receive a friendly greeting. It helps us feel like we belong.

The e-mail from the HOD had the opposite effect. It made us wonder if we may be unwanted here.

Instead of coming to our door to talk with us politely, an anonymous stranger with a camera took a picture of our trailer and sent it to our property manager along with a complaint. That’s just offensive.

And, as it turns out, the rule about trailers only applies to trailers that aren’t in use. Ours was in use, helping us move into our home. That stranger with a camera was overzealous—and just plain wrong. (Not to mention, a tattletale.) We almost wish we could have faced that tribunal to defend ourselves, but our property manager refused to tell us how to contact the HOD. She also refused to give them any defense on our behalf. Just thanked us for complying to get the HOD off her back.

As I said, we love our new home. But had we seen the rules before we signed the lease, we wouldn’t have chosen to live here.

Ironically, the letter that came with the list of rules said “These obligations [notice: not rules, obligations] are not intended as an inconvenience or an invasion of your freedom, but rather as a means of maintaining harmony in your community.” Ironically is a difficult word to use correctly, but I did use it correctly here. The truth is the exact opposite of what is stated in that letter. We were inconvenienced. Our freedom was taken away. We don’t feel any harmony. And we don’t yet feel that it’s our community.

So what are we going to do?

  • We are going to enjoy this new place for as long as we are living here.
  • We are going to love our neighbors as we love ourselves—even if we learn they go around taking pictures of perceived HOD violations and tattling on us.
  • We will avoid further confrontations with the HOD by following their rules—unless they tell us to fight each other to the death. (In that case, we’re breaking our lease.)
  • We’re going to thank God for our home, for our neighbors, for this new community, and for any opportunities to serve in His name.
  • And the next time we see someone moving in, we’ll visit, introduce ourselves, and take a welcome gift.

The problem with dystopian societies is their leaders care more about outward appearances than they care about the individuals who live within. It hurts to be one of those individuals. But there’s an object lesson here. Whenever I notice the specified exactly one tree and seven bushes in each yard of my neighborhood, I’ll remember that people are more important than buildings or yards. It’s people who give value to a community. It’s people loving people in Jesus’ name who make that value soar.

Father, please teach us to care about the people who inhabit the homes in our neighborhoods. Help us to reach out with love and acceptance and hospitality. Thank You for the perfect example we see in Your Son. Help us to clothe ourselves in Him as we love others in Your name each day. Amen.

Bible verses that floated through my mind as I wrote this: Philippians 1:10, Matthew 23:27, Philippians 4:4-7, John 13:34-35, Colossians 3:12

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When Going Back Is Moving Forward with God

The Four Phases of the Flower Hunt . . .

Flower Hunt1. New in Town

Look at all these new flowers! Can’t wait to grab the camera and hunt them all down.

2. There One Year

Must hurry to catch all the flowers that died last year before I could photograph them.

3. Second Anniversary

Why do these flowers only grow along the highway?! Surely they’re hiding somewhere else where I can actually take their picture. I. will. find. them.

4. After Year Three

Got it. Got that one. Yep, that one too! No new flowers . . . time to move.


Wait! What?

We’re going back?

There are no new flowers at back!

But we were only there for a year that first time. And I was just a flower hunting novice then. An opportunity for better pictures? Flower hunting season—here I come!


Going back doesn’t feel like going forward, but with God even the old becomes new.

A New ThingIf you find God leading you back perhaps He has:

  • A fear for you to face.
  • An anger you must confront.
  • A missed or brand new opportunity for you.

Even when God sends us back, we can rejoice in the knowledge that He’s doing a new thing—in us, around us, with us—for the glory of His name!

Father, thank You for life’s surprises and for the grace You give us to adapt. There is always much to look forward to—especially when we’re trusting Your lead. Amen.


Home Is Where God Sends YouAre you getting ready to move? Take this daily devotional with you! Home Is Where God Sends You: Lessons in Contentment from Nearby and Faraway. Available at Amazon.com.

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When Life Changes Your Plans

Life Happens When You Plan“Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” –John Lennon

I found this quote in a book I was reading last week. It made me laugh because it’s just so true. Just the other night, my husband and I were marveling over all we’ve encountered so far in our 27 years of marriage:

“How’d we get here, Janet?” Mike asked.

I smirked. “Well, we started in San Diego . . .”

He laughed. But we did start in San Diego, then we moved to Kansas City for school, then we were offered a pastorate in Maine . . . who could resist that adventure? . . . and life has offered one surprise after another since then. Starting out, we never could have imagined even half of it – and might have been tempted to bypass some of the adventures had God warned us in advance. It’s a good thing He didn’t do that.

“We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall.” –Proverbs 16:33, NLT

We keep trying to figure out what will be next, well, after this coming assignment . . . that we know . . . maybe . . . we’re in the military, after all. More significantly, we’re following God. I don’t think with either you really know where you’re going until you get there. And then you might be needed somewhere else. We make our plans using the information we have, but circumstances tend to change. We’ve learned, or maybe we’re still learning, to roll with that.

Proverbs 16-9As Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”

Or, in King Solomon’s words, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” –Proverbs 16:9

God is the One in control when it comes to life.

I recently stumbled upon a translation of Philippians 4:11-14 that helped me understand this idea of rolling with life in a new way:

“I have learned how to manage on whatever I have. I know how to be poor and I know how to be rich too. I have been through my initiation and now I am ready for anything anywhere: full stomach or empty stomach, poverty or plenty. There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the One who gives me strength.” –Philippians 4:11-14, The Jerusalem Bible

The translation I’m most familiar with says, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (NIV). Another translation says, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have” (NLT). These put the focus on learning to be content in any situation which prompts the question, “How do I do that?”

The Jerusalem Bible tells us. In this translation, Paul says, “I have learned how to manage on whatever I have.” This tells me that being content is managing to do what you need to do with whatever you have, whatever God has provided, for whatever situation. And it’s not a matter of deciding to be content. Instead, it’s a matter of trust.

Which is why we have to learn it. Trust comes with experience.

When I look back on each circumstance of my life: each home, each state, each country, each financial state, each stage of marriage, of parenting, each new ministry or career— I can see God’s hand at work. There were times when we didn’t know how we would manage.

But we always did. God always provided enough. He always helped us to manage on what we had.

Therefore . . .

As I face new unknowns, as life happens to me while I make other plans, I can trust my God. He’s proven Himself faithful. All will eventually be well. I can be content knowing that.

Father, thank You for Your faithfulness and wisdom. Thank You for this life and all of its adventures, for meaningful work, for family, for surprises around every bend. Thank You for providing all we need to manage in whatever circumstance and for making us ready for it. Thank You most of all for Your presence. You are with us. That is all we really need. We love You, Lord. Amen.

If you struggle to find contentment in changing circumstances, my first book, Home Is Where God Sends You: Lessons in Contentment from Nearby and Faraway, may encourage you. Available at Amazon.com.

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Jacob’s Confident Prayer

White Flowers“I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps.”Genesis 32:10

Jacob was nervous on the night before he encountered his brother Esau for the first time in twenty years. He had reason to be. The last time he’d seen Esau, Jacob had just stolen his blessing. Esau was angry enough to kill, so Jacob ran away from home in order to stay alive.

But Jacob learned some things in twenty years away. As he prepared to renew his acquaintance with his brother, he prayed.

As I read his prayer this morning, I noted Jacob’s approach. First, he tells God that he is returning to his people, including Esau, because God told him to and because God promised to take care of him. In other words, “Lord, You led me to this place. I’m trusting You to keep Your promise.” (See Genesis 32:9.) When we’re acting in obedience, remembering that God is control of the outcome is a good thing to do. God never forgets this, but our verbal affirmation of His role in the operation is significant. It shows our submission to His will, and our decision to trust.

Next, Jacob remembers where he came from and compares it to where he now is, giving God all the credit for the changes in his life. This was the part of the prayer that most caught my attention. Instead of starting out by presenting his urgent request for safety, Jacob praises God for what He’s already done. What’s more, he notes that God chose to bless Jacob not because of anything Jacob had done to make himself worthy of God’s favor, but just because God wanted to.

I wonder if that part of the prayer was more for Jacob’s good than for God. Jacob stated the facts beautifully, and God surely deserved to hear those words from Jacob’s mouth, but Jacob needed to acknowledge those facts, to own up to his shortcomings and to express gratitude for God’s grace. That done, Jacob could present his urgent request for safety with confidence. (See Genesis 32:11.) God had already done so much for Jacob just because He wanted to. Jacob could move forward in trust that God would continue the work He had begun.

  • What are you concerned about today?
  • What has God already done for you?
  • Where have you come from and where are you now?
  • What are you most grateful for?
  • What work in you has God begun?
  • Where is He leading now?
  • How can you show God that you trust Him with your life?

Father, help us to recall where we’ve been, to trace the path You’ve brought us on so far, and to recognize where we are. We are thankful for all You have done. As You lead us into the future, we have the confidence in You we need to trust. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

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Do You Trust Him?

“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.’” –Genesis 12:1

“So Abram went.” –Genesis 12:4

Because we move so often, I’ve come to love these verses. I wrote some of my thoughts about them in my book, Home Is Where God Sends You. Abram knew that, that home was wherever God sent him. God said, “Go.” Abram went. And he took his family, though he had no idea where God was leading them.

WindsorOver Christmas vacation, when much of our family was together, we played a silly game with our dog. He has a limited understanding of the English language, you know. But certain words just fill him with joy and make him wag his whole body all over the place. One such phrase is, “Do you wanna . . .” This phrase prompted our game. You see, it doesn’t matter what words follow that phrase. Windsor wants to! We asked him:

  • Do you wanna sleep outside in the cold?
  • Do you wanna skip dinner?
  • Do you wanna new kitty to keep you company?

Oh, yes! Yes! Yes! Windsor wanted it all!!! He worked himself into such a frenzy, he was practically doing back flips!

Don’t feel too sorry for him, though. When he’d worn himself out with all that wagging and running around to show us just how much he wanted whatever we said, we gave him several dog treats, patted his head, and told him what a good dog he is—which was what he had expected all along. He didn’t mind our silly game at all.

I realized later that the reason Windsor got so excited, without even understanding the words that followed the phrase, “Do you wanna,” was because he trusts us. He knows that we only ever offer him (in seriousness) things that are good. That phrase is usually followed by words like treat, go for a walk, go for a ride in the car, eat, or go outside. Sometimes that car ride leads to the vet, but Windsor enjoys socializing with the people he meets there even if he has to get a shot or two. Perhaps he even understands, on some level, that those shots are for his own good. I may be overestimating him there, but he still trusts us. He doesn’t fear the words that follow “Do you wanna” because he knows we’ll always take care of him.

That’s the kind of trust that Abraham showed in God. It’s the way we can trust God, too. When He says, “Go,” we can move forward with confidence.

Galatians 5:25 says, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” He leads. We follow. We keep taking steps to keep up. We do the next thing, whatever it is, whether we know where it will lead or not. We take one step at a time in trust.

Father, yes. We wanna trust You. Point us in the right direction. Lead us step by step. Because we know You love us, we choose to follow where You lead. Amen.