Knowing God

God, What Do You Call ‘Success’?

If everything in life went as planned and you achieved your idea of ‘success’, where would you be in five years’ time?

Photo sourced from Every Stock Photo by familymwr, used under licence: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/

Photo sourced from Every Stock Photo by familymwr, used under licence: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/

In my Day Dream Land, by 2019 I’ll be 27 and a well-known author of several novels and maybe some Christian living books. My writing career will be financially stable and growing, my readers will write to me and tell me how I’ve changed their walk with God and newbie authors will look to me for advice (which I will benevolently bestow).

Like I said, this is Day Dream Land.

God had me thinking about motivations the other day, and a possibility smacked me in the head. What if God asks me to keep my day job forever and release all my writing as free eBooks under a pen name, eliminating any money and recognition?

Yikes. I’ve never thought of myself as someone motivated by cash or fame, but that scenario sure took the shine off my ‘success’.

I’m not saying I will publish everything I write anonymously and for free. But all options are on the table; I’m following God’s leading here, not my own. Would I be happy if I had to let go of my definition of success for His? What is God’s definition of success?

I found it in the examples of David, Ruth and Joseph in the Bible.

David spent years on the run from King Saul, wondering why God promised to give him a kingdom only to make him a fugitive. Ruth left her family and country for a life of poverty in a foreign land. And Joseph was sold as a slave, unjustly imprisoned and then forgotten about for years. All three endured circumstances that they didn’t expect, and that no one would call ‘successful’. Yet all three remained faithful in the midst of their difficulties. And today they are some of the most highly honored people in the Bible.

If you read the rest of these people’s stories, their lives did come good in the end. But they weren’t honored as Jesus’ ancestors because of their eventual promotions. No, they were honored because they were committed even when life sucked. They were available to God at all times and they were obedient in all circumstances. They loved God above money, status, comfort and even family.

Because of that, Ruth has a whole book of the Bible written about her. David was called ‘a man after God’s own heart’. And Joseph saved his family and the entire country of Egypt from starvation.

So what if I never earn the admiration of readers? If I never make a living from my passion? The greatest names in the Bible achieved astounding success—though it wasn’t always recognized by the world—simply by being faithful.

 

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

Mark 8:36 NIV

To read the stories of David, Ruth and Joseph, look up 1 & 2 Samuel, Ruth and Genesis 37-50 in the Bible.

Who else do you know of who didn’t fit the usual definition of ‘success’, but pleased God anyway? Leave a comment!

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I Have Been Missing Out

Do you wait for joy and peace to hit you in the head?

Photo sourced from EveryStockPhoto.com by familymwr, used under licence. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/

Photo sourced from EveryStockPhoto.com by familymwr, used under licence. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/

I did. And I wish I hadn’t wasted years doing so.

I used to wait around for those feelings to magically appear, slogging through life until they did. When they came, I was happy. When they left, I fretted and stewed until they floated my way again. It never clicked that I could skip the stressing stage and chase after them.

Now I know that I have to ask God to help me change. I have to recognize my worries as a lack of trust in God and decide to put my faith in Him. It’s taking time, but it’s working! I wish I’d done it long ago.

Same with my relationship with God. Sometimes I’d feel really close to Him, but usually I wouldn’t. That didn’t bother me too much; I knew that emotions were fickle and not to be trusted. And it’s not like I paid no attention to God; I’ve always taken Him seriously and had a devotion time pretty much every day. But there would still be times when I coasted along, and times when I really dug in, chasing after God.

I’m lucky to now be part of a group that meets weekly, not for a routine Bible study, but to chase after God. We pray and sing and talk, and while I’ve been doing those things my whole life, there’s something special this time. We’re all meeting together because we want to seek God. We want to drive in closer to Him. We want to chase after Him. And He’s happily letting us catch Him.

Does this mean all things are easy? Most certainly not. We’ve all got stuff going on in our lives. But as I go after God more and more—with my friends and individually—I’m discovering again how I only ever really find myself in Him.

I think often people are afraid they’ll lose their individuality and become another zombie robot Christian, doing only God’s work and none of the things they’re interested in. But in reality, it’s the opposite. I’m only really finding myself, my purpose, my joy, my creativity and my individuality in God. On my own, I’m another zombie robot Millennial, busy with my family and job and hobbies. But the more I get to know God, the more I feel like there’s a whole other dimension out there that I’ve been blind to, and it’s so much more important than the things I’ve been focusing on. Wouldn’t it be sad to get to the end of your life and realise you’ve totally missed the point of it?

I’m starting to think that I need to passionately pursue God, even when I don’t feel passionate about Him. I always thought I was okay because I spent time with Him and obeyed Him. And I was okay—but I wasn’t great. Even though I was chugging along, I wasn’t chasing after more. I never prayed, “God, give me more of you.” But now I see that this Holy Relationship is like a marriage—even the happiest married couples never stop learning about each other. And the further you go, the greater the relationship is.

The leader of the group I attend often starts the meetings off by praying, “God give me more of You. I need more of You.” The first time I heard that I thought, “Huh. I don’t think I’ve said that before.” I was a bit surprised, because I’ve always considered myself quite serious about God.

As I kept coming along to the group (we’re called Project X—check out the website here) I’ve seen this example lived out in the lives of my friends. I’m seeing that I want to chase after God too. I’m not content with what I have of Him; I need more. Even though I already knew my purpose was wrapped up in God, now I’m understanding it. How can we get distracted with the world when, at the end of the day, it just doesn’t matter? And yet it happens so easily.

The more I know God, the less willing I am to allow myself to get distracted. I want Him. I need Him. I want to join in His work in the world—I want to be part of the stuff that does matter.

Sometimes a new TV series will come out on DVD or I get good ideas for my book and I’ll be very distracted by the world for a few days… or weeks. But if I pray for God’s help in loving Him, He will come through. He will help me love Him. He’ll help me not get distracted, He’ll remind me to practise discipline, He’ll show me how mind-blowing He is and how meaningless everything else is.

And slowly, inch by inch, I’m transforming.

 

Come near to God and he will come near to you.

James 4:8 NIV

…Anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Hebrews 11:6 NIV (emphasis mine)

My Heart is a Big Fat Liar

I suspect my heart is a culprit in the theft of my joy.

shattered heart

A week ago I wrote in my journal that I feel like God’s next lesson for me (in addition to recent lessons on trust) is about joy. More specifically, how to have more of it.

Yesterday morning I woke up after a restful sleep-in; it was the first morning of two days off work. I’d had great fun the night before, yelling at the TV with my housemates (it was a really dramatic episode of Chicago Fire!). But I woke up with guilt weighing me down. It wasn’t sumo wrestler-sized guilt; more like those exercise weights you strap to your ankles. It just made everything a bit harder.

Why? I wasn’t sure. But I felt unproductive, like I’d wasted chances given to me and God was frowning.

It’s not the first time and I know I’m not the only one. About eighteen months ago, I was sitting on a hotel rooftop in Warangal, India, having a devotion time with my seven mission trip teammates. We were all listening as one of us confessed that he’d been feeling distant from God and cynical about his faith for months. The feeling was eating at him, and he didn’t know how to fix it. He was torn apart by fear that this feeling meant something was fundamentally wrong with his relationship with God.

The view from our hotel rooftop in Warangal.

The view from our hotel rooftop in Warangal.

As I listened, I remembered something my Mum once told me during a difficult period of my teenage years: We all have our logic, spirit and emotion. And sometimes Logic and Spirit have to grab Emotion by the arms and drag him along, kicking and screaming. Sometimes, we have to ignore our feelings—our hearts—and go with what we know is the truth.

I’ve also heard of a pastor, who, when someone tells him, “I feel far away from God,” immediately asks, “Are you sleeping, eating and exercising right?” He believes that these are the most common causes for a feeling that God is distant or unhappy.

I don’t want to minimize emotions relating to a tragedy, clinical depression or a spiritual distance caused by sin. Those are real issues, and they need dealing with. What I’m talking about is that vague feeling that God’s looking at me, frowning—and I can’t figure out why.

So today, I’m proposing a new theory: Just because you feel something, doesn’t mean you have to believe it. Even the Bible says: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9 NIV)

I think a lot of people—including myself and my teammate—freak out when our emotions tell us that we’ve moved a long way from God. We assume that we are a long way from God and immediately take action to rectify the situation, despairing when nothing changes.

Then one day, the problem is magically gone. Why? It was never there to start with. You probably just had messed-up hormones that week.

Yesterday I woke up and prayed for a while, trying to relieve my heavy feeling. Then I looked back over my week and realized that I’d been working pretty hard. I hadn’t been unproductive. And the feeling that I’d displeased God with my laziness was just…wrong. And with that realization, the feeling evaporated.

Step Two is a Killer

Background - 3D notebook with the points marked in the list

There are eighteen inches between my head and my heart, but sometimes it feels like eighteen miles.

I’ve only recently started to comprehend that just because I know something, it doesn’t mean I believe it. Not in a way that affects my actions, anyway. For example, after twenty-odd years of knowing that God is trustworthy, I discovered that I Don’t Trust God. And last week I published a guest blog post claiming that I Don’t Want to Succeed, because true success is found in God. But was that really true? This week I’ve gotten frustrated with a lack of ‘success’ in my productivity, my writing and growing my author platform. Even though I should know better.

So what’s been missing? I’ve had the lightbulb moments; I have the knowledge necessary to change. That’s Step One. But as it turns out, that’s not enough. It’s Step Two that’s really the killer; I have to follow through with action.

Not rocket science, I know. It’s actually pretty obvious that change requires action. But I don’t think I’m alone in this situation—not by a long shot. Many people get stressed, lose their tempers, give in to negative thoughts, aim for the wrong goals… the list could go on. And I’m not talking about one-off incidents.These behaviors are consistent patterns in our lives. Yet we know we should trust God, count to ten, think positive and put God above all else.So what are we all missing? Step Two.

For me, Step Two involves not expecting knowledge to automatically translate into change. It means adjusting my thought patterns. And it requires recognition that this is not a five-second decision, then ‘poof’: I’ve changed. It’s a process, and it takes work. And that leads me to the all-important Step Three: asking God for help.

The Bible is clear; we are as capable as jellyfish in the desert on our own. But, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. (Phil 4:13 NKJV) Doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it’s possible. With God’s help, I can remind myself of His truth when I start to feel stressed or frustrated. I can take time out to spend with Him, let go of my worries, and replace them with peace. I can recognize negative thoughts when they start and hit them out of the park.

So what about you? Think for a minute. What is that thing you do that you wish you didn’t? Have you ever had an epiphany, but later realized that things are still the same? Maybe it’s time for Step Two. (And Three.)

Origins of the Dance Floor

Image

‘Meet Me on the Dance Floor’ is my latest guest post at Emilie Hendryx’s website.

And if you haven’t had the chance yet, make sure you visit my article on Ada Brownell’s website, ‘I Don’t Want to Succeed’.

And I’m not neglecting my own blog; a post tentatively titled ‘Step Two is the Killer’ will be up in the next week.

 

New Adventure Starts

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My first ever guest blog post is now up on author Ada Brownell’s blog, Ink From an Earthen Vessel.

Click here to read the post, ‘I Don’t Want To Succeed’.

My next guest blog post will be on Emilie Hendryx’s blog, Thinking Thoughts, in a few days. Watch this space for the link.

Happy reading! 🙂

Waiting, Self-Doubt and Heroes

You are wasting your time. No one will see or appreciate your work. You’re failing.

Photo by Alex E. Proimos, sourced from everystockphoto.com.

Photo by Alex E. Proimos, sourced from everystockphoto.com.

Even though I haven’t been consciously thinking those discouraging thoughts, they’ve definitely been on my mind over the past few weeks. Self-doubt has been infecting me. Quietly hovering on the edge of my subconscious, a general feeling of failure and foreboding has been like that sticky black goo that covers Peter Parker in Spiderman 3. Strong, dark, evil, and hard to get rid of.

Why?

Part of it is my addiction to affirmation. God’s weaning me off it, and this novel-writing venture is certainly stretching me. It will be a very long time before an agent, editor or reader tells me, “Good job!”. In the meantime I must plot, research, write, read, re-write, edit, edit, edit, re-write and so it goes on.

To put it simply, the waiting is frustrating. Alone at my computer, sometimes I feel insignificant, unworthy and foolish.

But then God reminded me of something I should have known all along: everyone has to wait.

Abraham stayed childless for decades. Joseph served time first as a slave, then as a prisoner. David was chased from cave to cave. Even Jesus spent years building tables and chairs. I’ll bet they were all tempted to feel forgotten, useless or alone. Yet when the time was right they founded nations, ruled empires and saved the universe.

The book of James opens with the words, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds”. (James 1:2 NIV, emphasis mine.) Pure joy? That’s right. Because God is teaching me perseverance; giving me maturity. Same as He did for them.

It’s a little humbling. Suddenly I almost feel proud that God is asking me to wait. I’m sharing in an experience that all the greatest men and women of faith have gone through. It’s an honour, really.

And so is God’s reminder in Psalm 139 that I’m not alone. Even when it’s been just me and my computer all day, God’s actually paying pretty close attention.

Blog 136 O LORD, You have searched me

and You know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;

You perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;

You are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue

You know it completely, O LORD.

Psalm 139:1-4 NIV

 

How about you? How do you feel when you’re stuck waiting? What do you do about it?