How do you picture God the Father? Long white hair, golden crown, sitting on a heavenly throne? Calm, in control? Do you picture Him running? The Bible does not describe the Father as being in a hurry at any time except once: The Parable of the Prodigal Son. When the father sees his son at a distance, he can’t wait to embrace him so he runs. That was very undignified for a family patriarch to hitch up his robes and run down the street, yet that is the picture Jesus gives us of the emotion of our heavenly Father in welcoming us back. God meets us more than half way. He is not holding a grudge for all the dumb things I have done. Coming to God does not mean condemnation but rather celebration.
When our children were small we took them camping frequently. Once when our youngest daughter was about 5, she went to the restroom and came out a different door than she had gone in. She became disoriented and couldn’t find her way back to our campsite. After half an hour we became concerned. We started searching and soon had other campers and the park rangers involved in the search. Do you think after 15 minutes, I would turn to my wife and say, “Don’t you think we’ve looked long enough?” Imagine a child getting lost in the mall while Christmas shopping. Even if her parents had to search for hours and hours, would they give up on trying to find her?
I’ve messed up big time. I’ve failed over and over and over. So God is really angry with me, right? Wrong. My failure is not bigger than God’s grace. Romans 8:31 (NIV) says: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Isn’t that something to get excited about?
Despite my failures, God invites me into relationship. Who am I in Christ? I am forgiven, loved, righteous and chosen. Being right on the inside empowers me to be right on the outside. I am a new creation (2Corinthians 5:17) but with the same thinking I will not see the newness in my spirit express itself in my life.
Winston Churchill said in the darkest days of World War II, “Never, never, never give up.” It’s easy to give up. That takes no anointing or empowerment by the Holy Spirit. John 10:10 tells us Jesus came to give abundant life. What is stealing that abundant life from me? I don’t have to be talented. I don’t have to be smart. I do have to not give up.
What is my level of obedience? “I know I shouldn’t watch that on TV but…” “I know I shouldn’t go there, but…” “I know those friends are bad for me but…” It’s not that I don’t hear from God. I just want my own way and I will have to live with the consequence of that choice. I go to church, but what do I do the rest of the week? This is not about being weird. It’s about making choices that will bring good fruit in my life. God meets me where I am but He doesn’t leave me where I am. God loves me too much for that.
I have plenty of opportunities to feel sorry for myself, but where will that get me? I was laid off at 54. It is tough to find a good job at that age. God opened new doors for me. It is never too late to begin again. I count these as the best years of my life.
My future has no room for my past. Samuel anointed Saul as king, mentored him yet he was a failure as king. He became haughty and proud. God spoke to Samuel and told him not to mourn the failure but get a new vision for David as king. That choice was a historic success. God is never without a plan. That includes my future as long as I don’t adopt a bad attitude. How long will I live in regret? God is not the Great I Was or the Great I Will Be. He is the Great I Am, the God of now. Everything will change the moment I head in the right direction.
Philippians 3:14 tells us to forget what lies behind. Instead we are to be reaching, straining toward our future. I will not stroll into God’s destiny for me. I will not slide into it. Press! The past is trying to pull me back. It takes a strong effort to reach for that future that God has for me.
“I’m going through hell!” No you’re not. Sure there are hard times but this is not hell. And if you are going through difficult times, don’t pitch a tent and camp there. Get up and move forward. I may wonder if this season will ever end. The answer is to keep moving forward.
When our son was killed, we faced a choice to focus on his death or move into a new beginning. When Moses died, the nation mourned his loss, but at the end of the mourning period God challenged Joshua to move forward. “I need a miracle, I need a miracle.” Get up and move forward. Too much of society today has a welfare mentality, dependent on the government, dependent on others. “Somebody feed me. Somebody house me. Somebody take care of me.” God says, “Get up and move forward.” That is when God will move.
Am I going to live cowering in the corner, hiding from the devil? “Oh, don’t talk about the devil. I don’t want him to notice me.” If I am a Christian he notices me, be assured.
A lion tamer uses a chair when he enters the cage with the big cats. Why is that? The four legs make it difficult for the lion to focus on one thing, particularly on the man. What is the devil waving in front of me? Sex, drugs, power, acceptance. I need to look at who is really behind those.
Is Satan putting a lot of temptations in front of you? That is a good sign. If I don’t come face to face with the devil, it means I’m going the same direction he is. The closer I get to God the more Satan will fight. Before I came to God I was doing a great job of messing up my own life, Satan didn’t need to help out. Now he is coming at me to trip me up. He wants to make an example of me. “You remember Joe, the guy who was always talking about God? He just got picked up for meth.” Satan has a victory.
The devil doesn’t want me to connect with God’s love because that is where my strength is. “Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.” (Ephesians 3:17 NLT)
Years of hearing negative voices, and years of replaying negative events have placed deep in my mind a negative view of myself. My mind replays these voices and events without consciously thinking about them. It replays them automatically.
I have to cut the umbilical cord, cut ties with the old life. My father spoke negative words over me: “You just don’t follow through.” “You’re weak.” “You won’t follow instructions.” Will I still be a prisoner to those hurtful words? Just as the doctor cut the cord to my mother at birth, I also need to cut the cord to those hurtful words. Otherwise negative power will continue to flow into my life today.
In Papua New Guinea, monkey meat is a staple of their diet. When the natives hunt, they place a banana in a narrow mouthed jar. The monkey will reach into the jar and grab the banana, but he cannot get his hand back out while holding the banana. The hunter can come right up to the monkey and club him but he will not let go of the banana. Am I holding onto something from my past that is bringing me death?
The more I face struggles in this life, the more my perseverance, character, and hope grows. Like the baby learning to crawl, I must to move forward with the hope that God is using my challenges to prepare me for bigger things to come. Dissatisfaction is the first step for transformation. Difficult times have a purpose: they push me into my destiny, shape my character, move me out of my comfort zone, made me trust God.
1Corinthians 2:9 (NLT): “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” The blessing is already prepared. God has to prepare me so when I get there I am ready to handle it. I can ask for a good wife but if I am not ready to be a good husband, what happens? A blessing given too soon is not a blessing at all. Give car keys to a 10 year old and what happens? The prodigal son received his inheritance but he didn’t have the character to handle it. We need to stop being angry and instead give thanks in all things. In the challenges I learn what I could not learn any other way. I press through rejection, I press through fear, I press through loneliness. When the devil thinks he has me down, I press. The devil wants me to sit down and shut up, but I will press.
I might not be able to change my circumstances but I can change how I think about them. God is more interested in changing my mind than He is in changing my circumstances. Change my circumstances without changing my mind and I will soon find myself back in the same place with the same problems and the same defeat. With too many lottery winners its “Easy come, easy go.” 70 percent of them lose or spend all their money in five years or less. My thoughts control my life. A thought doesn’t have to be true to direct my life. The mind is the battleground. Romans 8:6 (NLT) tells us, “Letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.”
In Philippians 1:6 (NLT), Paul encourages us with: “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” What God starts He finishes. I may feel discouraged and want to give up. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9 NIV)
The world has its value system promoted by advertisers that say life is all about me. The transformation we seek is from Self-centered to God-centered, from “Give me my stuff” to serving God and others. 2Corinthians 3:18 (NIV) describes it this way: “We are being transformed into His image with ever increasing glory.” It doesn’t happen overnight. Psalm 37:23 (NKJV) says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” “Steps” means it is a process.
Change is a process. Shortcuts are the devil trying to get me to take the easy way. What is the Lottery but a tempting shortcut to prosperity that is only an empty promise? Help a chick break through its shell and it will die. Why? The struggle strengthens him. A withdrawal first requires a deposit. Otherwise it is called bank robbery. The struggle is the deposit I make to qualify for the victory.
God hasn’t given up on me. I am not so far away that His arms can’t reach me. If I am willing to step away from the pigpen, to humbly seek Him, He will be running with His arms outstretched. I don’t have to run to God. I only need to turn toward Him and He will run to embrace me.