God’s Direction – 1st Place!

Most of us desire to know God’s direction for our lives.  We want to know, what, how and where to do the will of God.  In our prayers, we ask God to open the doors of opportunity and close the doors He does not desire for us.  When we read Scripture, we long to hear from God to determine the exact direction He desires for us.  However, when we do not hear or see the direction we think God has for us, how do we react?  Do we get frustrated and stop praying?  Do we get angry at God and “take some time off” from our relationship with Him?  Or do we stop and ask ourselves, why is it that God isn’t speaking?  Is there something in our lives that He wants us to focus on before giving us the direction we long for?

Thousands of years ago, Israel had been taken captive by Babylon.  God had ordained this as Israel was living in sin.  After some time, Persia then overtook Babylon and took the Israelites captive.  During that time, Nehemiah (the Israelite cup bearer to the king – and prophet) saw Jerusalem in shambles.  He prays to God about this and God moves the heart of the king so that Nehemiah can go and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

During the process of rebuilding, there were many who opposed the Israelites from rebuilding the walls.  God continued to move the heart of the king and under Nehemiah’s direction, the walls were built and completed.  Then more opposition came.  And this is where Haggai, the prophet, comes in.

Haggai was given the task, by God, to motivate the Israelites into working on the temple.  The Israelites were scared at first and then became comfortable with their surroundings.  Over time, they saw some success and began building and taking care of their homes.  Yet, even as they worked on their own homes, the temple was still in shambles.

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’  Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” – Haggai 1:2-4

Many times, as new believers, we are excited to be in this new relationship with our Creator.  We confess our sins, read the Scripture – looking for His direction and we spend time in prayer (even if we don’t understand how to pray, we still spend the time trying).  As time goes on, we see the successes of focusing our attention on our relationship with our Creator.  Maybe, you received an unexpected raise or a new job (that you were praying for) came your way.  You begin to see how God operates and the rewards you get for being obedient to Him.  But then…. you get comfortable.  Without realizing it, your prayer life begins to wane.  Reading Scripture becomes more of a chore than of a pleasure and you become very comfortable right where you are.  This is where the problem begins.

You notice that life isn’t all that exciting anymore.  Yeah you’re a Christian, but so what.  You go to church once a week and pick up your Bible on occasion.  You pray at meals or when you have a problem, but other than that, your prayer life is eh.  Suddenly, one day, you begin to notice that the job God had provided to you no longer seems to be that exciting anymore.  It’s okay, becomes the thought process for everyday living.  So what happened?  Why has life become so boring, so mundane?  Simply put, it is because we forgot about our relationship with God.

The Israelites were getting comfortable.  But they also wondered why things weren’t going the way they thought it would or should.  Have you ever worked so hard, yet you feel like the results are just mediocre?  You work and work and work, and in some cases in ministry, only to never be satisfied or see the fruit of your labor?  You read and pray for months only to never be satisfied with what you are reading or hearing?  This is what the Israelites were doing.

Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways.  You have planted much, but harvested little.  You eat, but never have enough.  You drink, but never have your fill.  You put on clothes, but are not warm.  You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” – Haggai 1:5-6

Because Israel had not put God first, God allowed them to never be fully satisfied.  Have you ever felt, you are never satisfied?  I know I have.  And as a child of God, us never being satisfied should be warning sign to us.  Not being satisfied means we have placed God second and other things first.  We have allowed the cares of this world to supersede that which God commanded… “I am the Lord your God.  You shall have no other gods before me.”  In essence, we place an idol where God should be.

When we place God second, it is not to say we don’t believe in Him, but we say through our actions, we can do better.  We tell the Creator of everything that we know more and can handle whatever it is we are going through.  Let me encourage you today by saying, none of us have a handle on our lives.  None of us really understand what we go through and why we go through it.  Our minds are great at lying to us, convincing us that we do not need anyone.  When we place God second, we shouldn’t wonder why life isn’t going well.

Placing God first in everything isn’t easy.  We have a tendency to work very hard for little reward.  But when we place God first, we still work hard but God gives the increase.  We plant the seed of His Salvation into the lives of others by loving them and telling them about Jesus Christ.  We water the seed of His Salvation when we go through the hardships with others, praying for them when they cannot.  But we cannot harvest what is not there.  Only God gives the increase.  Only God makes His Seed into a living plant.  Only God can grow the fruit.  We benefit from the harvest, but God does most of the work.

Unfortunately, we have a desire to try and force the fruit to grow.  We water more.  We add fertilizer over and over again.  We place lamps around the plant on the cloudy days.  We work and work and work, only to find ourselves exhausted and dissatisfied.  We then blame God, others and even ourselves when things don’t go the way we desire.

So how do we get out from underneath this pitfall?  How do we place God first?

Well that’s for next time.  Until then, God bless and encourage someone today.

When Trials Come…

No matter who you are, at some time in your life, hard times will come.  Sometimes it will take the form of the loss of a job or bills that need to get paid.  On occasion it can be as severe as losing a loved one or hearing from the doctor you only have a few months to live.  Regardless of how small or large your trial may be, we all go through them.

David, shepherd boy, went through many times of ups and down.  He faced days of joy and days of depression.  One of these occasions was when Saul (the rejected king of Israel) wanted to hunt down and kill David.  At one time in David’s life, David went to live with the Philistines.  The irony of this was that just a few short years earlier; David had killed Goliath, the Philistine champion, with a small smooth stone and a sling.  Now David needed to hide so he went to the Philistines and started to act insane.  After some time, the Philistine king did not want David around as his advisors didn’t trust David.  Not only was David on the run, but he had nowhere to go as well.  It was during this time that he wrote Psalm 34.

Although this Psalm is too long for this blog, I encourage you to read it before going on.

What you see in this Psalm are some key areas where David relied on his faith in God.  First, David acknowledges what God deserves, praise and worship.  He says, “I will extol the Lord at all times, his praise will always be on my lips.”  David’s response is in line with how Jesus taught his disciples on how to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed (holy) is your name…”  David takes his first step out of the feelings of what he was going through.  He gave God praise.

Then in verse 4, we see David seeking God.  He took time to look for God.

“I sought the Lord and he answered me, he delivered me from all my fears.”

David continues to explain that “those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.”  He realized that by seeking God, there is no fear of judgment, no fear of failure, no fear of horrific situations.  David knew that “with God all things are possible”.  He recognizes that God is with him, through the good, bad and ugly.  He then does something we have a tendency to forget.  He tells others to try God out.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him”

When we go through trials and tribulations, the normal human reaction is to focus on our feelings.  We fear because we focus on us rather than God.  Remember Peter?  When Peter was focused on Jesus, he walked on the water.  When Peter focused on his surroundings he began to sink.  Guess what?  Jesus still reached out to Peter.  In the same way when we focus on God, we take no regard for our feelings, we “walk on water” but when we focus on our problems, we begin to sink, feeling sorry for ourselves and become introverted, like a scared turtle in its shell.

David then tries to encourage others.

“Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.”

How many times are we ready to share what God teaches us while we are suffering?  For most of us, David is an example of what we all should do; share our faith, especially when we are suffering.  That, my friends, is the hardest thing we can do.  We don’t feel like sharing our faith.  We only want to share our suffering.  But there is a satisfaction we receive from God when we share His work in our lives when we suffer.  Paul describes it as, “In my weakness, God shows His strength.”  How profound!

So how do we actually do this?  We need to be conscience of what we say and how we feel.  Although it is extremely difficult, here are some steps we can take to ensure we focus on God.

  1. Pray for others while we suffer.  When we do this, we focus on what God wants to do in their lives rather than our own trials.
  2. Read His Word.  Seek God’s face.  Only He can give you the comfort you need.
  3. Meditate on what He says to you.  This is not some strange chant while closing your eyes in a sitting, contorted position.  It is simply a thought process.  Think about what God is saying.  Think about what He has done in your life.
  4. Praise God.  Take some time to thank God for all He is doing.  Thank Him for creation.  Thank Him for your family.  Thank Him for your suffering.
  5. Share your experience.  Take some time to tell others about what God is teaching you.  Make it positive.  Let others know that even though you are going through some terrible situation, it is temporary and God is right there with you.

If we can take these simple steps, we will really see God’s work in our lives.  God wants you to experience peace and joy, so praise Him in your suffering.  Read in your suffering.  Meditate and praise Him in your suffering and then share God’s Word with someone else.  Maybe they need to see the love of God through your hard times.

God bless and encourage someone today.