The Road to Greatness

“… whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.” Matthew 20:26

We live in an upside-down world. It’s almost certain that the road signs to success are always mis-marked by the world. For example, if you want to be beautiful, the world says you must dress to reveal as much skin as possible, whereas the Word says beauty comes from the hidden person of the heart. If you want to experience a good time, the world says you need alcohol or drugs; otherwise, it’s dry and boring. The Word gives better directions to fun that require no alteration of the senses.

The same is true if you wish to find greatness. The world’s road signs point to academic achievement, wealth, and power. The more you have of any of these, according to the world, the higher your level of greatness. Some spend all their lives striving to make a name for themselves, sacrificing relationships and health for what can’t travel with them beyond the grave. At worst, many who reach “the top” experience disappointment that their accomplishment did not deliver the high it promised. At best, the high is short-lived and the slavedriver of success cracks the whip as he cackles, “Go higher, achieve more, work harder!”

Christ offers a far better way! He says that the road to success is marked “Servanthood.” Forgetting about yourself and focusing on the needs of others is counter-cultural and contrary to human nature, but it is the fool-proof way to greatness. Oftentimes, this road is void of the flashing marquee bearing your name or a mention through a microphone, but the eyes of the King itemize your every work of service and one day His great voice will say “Well done!” He won’t even need a microphone!

Resist the temptation to compare yourself to others who appear to be accomplishing so much and experiencing the glow and popularity of the limelight. Instead, measure your success by Christ’s map. How often are your footprints found on Assistance Avenue, Sharing Street, Provision Parkway, Compassion Cove, and Doing-For-Others-Drive? The world often visits these places with ulterior motives, but you can come with joy because you are simply passing on what God has lavished on you. Because He is all you need, you are free to serve simply out of love for Him and a desire for others to experience the same.

Which kind of success are you pursuing, My Friend? Do you need to make a detour? If so, Christ will meet you at the crossroads where you made a wrong turn and will gladly exchange your heavy burden of the world’s success for the lighter load of servanthood.

A Prayer When You Fail

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

I didn’t think I’d be here again, Lord. I am embarrassed to find myself here once more. I should be farther along by now. I thought this was behind me, that I’d made enough progress that this would never happen again. I feel so dirty inside, and the heaviness of my guilt makes me want to do something crazy to escape it. I don’t deserve your forgiveness, but I sure do need it. Part of me wants to delay asking as a way of punishing myself. I feel I’ve used up too much grace already. I wouldn’t blame You if You said there’s no more left for me, but where else can I go? You are the only One Who cleanses soul-deep, and I can’t live with myself if I don’t get it. I don’t understand why you haven’t cut me off, but I’m glad you haven’t. My guilt says I have a lot of nerve asking for mercy, that I should quit asking. I can’t!

Please forgive me, Lord. Cleanse me from my sin and help me start again. By now, I don’t trust myself to stay right, but I’m begging for Your power not to be what I hate most.

“Thank You” seems too small a response for such a colossal cleansing, but I’ll start there. “Praise You” gets closer to what my heart feels for this indescribable gift. I’ll need to do it the rest of my life for what I feel for You in this moment. “Change me,” reminds me of my dependence and gives me hope that future days will find me walking in victory. I love you, Lord, and I’m grateful for this cleansing…again.

“…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:11

The Fight With Fear

“Fight the good fight of faith…” 1Timothy 6:12

Every time you start making important changes, Fear loud-talks you, hoping you will retreat to the old familiar territory where nothing ever changes but your age. She is always telling you why something won’t work, why it’s too soon or too late, or that you need to be more realistic. She taunts, “Who do you think you are?” How long has she kept you stuck already? Aren’t you tired of it?

What are you going to do about it?

How about you call Fear’s bluff? Stop letting her do all the talking, and YOU tell HER how it’s going to be from now on. She says you will fail if you try. Why not tell her you prefer risking failure while trying than failing by way of negligence? (Besides, you never fail when you dare to try. Even if you don’t reach your goal, you learn something, gain valuable experience, and best of all, you receive the automatic reward of knowing you defied Fear and forged ahead anyway. That, My Friend, is powerful!)

Be rude to Fear, interrupting her while she’s still talking. Ask, “Why are you working so hard to keep me here? What benefits don’t you want me to reap? Which one of God’s promises are you hoping I won’t see fulfilled?” Fear has an ugly agenda, and you can’t trust her.

Fear does her best work when you are alone or tired. She never fights fair. Determine to never make a decision based on anything she says in those vulnerable moments. Fear is a pushy drama queen who thinks everything must happen now or the world will end. Then when you make rash decisions, she’s the first to call you a fool. To fight her, you need reinforcements. Call a friend, journal, ask God to give you His perspective and to unveil the lies Fear is telling in those moments.

In Christ, you are an overcomer, an overwhelming conqueror (Romans 8:37). This gives you the right to slap Fear in the mouth with the truth, kick her with the cleats of courage, and gouge her agenda with faith. You can win the fight with Fear!

The Beauty of Generosity

My husband and his mother are the most generous souls I have ever encountered. I recall one day asking God to make me like them. Since then, I have taken mental notes of characteristics that generous people possess.

First, the generous person is fearless. Could it be because they have a perfect love that casts out fear? (1 John 4:18) They are unafraid that what they are giving away will mean a deficit for them. Their free-hearted giving seems almost reckless at times, but they genuinely believe it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). They cannot seem to rest until they have served someone through giving. Do you know anyone like this?

Second, generous people possess a beautiful faith. They believe that God will fill the void their giving created. They don’t worry that their resources will dry up. The apostle Paul assured some poor and needy but extravagantly generous people of this very truth. These believers begged for the priviledge of giving out of their meager resources and when they did, Paul wrote to them, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed….” In other words, generous people recognize that giving is the best means of getting. Isn’t this contrary to human nature? We think hoarding is the way to meeting our needs, but the loving heart of God cannot resist refilling a void made through generosity. Isn’t that beautiful?

Third, generous folks don’t worry about whether they get payed back. There is a peacefulness to their generosity that is absent of record-keeping. To them, the act of giving is its own reward.

Finally, generous people live an exciting life because they have a front row seat to see the many creative ways God comes through for them. They know God is going to provide, they just don’t know how. When He does, they rejoice and then joyously share what they receive with others because they believe receiving is best enjoyed when shared.

Are you a generous person? What things stand in the way of your being so? How do you want to ask God to help you be a more giving person?

Hope for the People-Pleaser in You

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10.

Do you struggle with people-pleasing? Do you do things you don’t want in order to avoid someone’s anger or disappointment only to find you’ve angered and disappointed yourself? Do you obligate yourself to say “yes”when you mean “no”? Do you find yourself so overburdened with pleasing people that you have no energy left for the most important things? Most of us have this problem to some degree. How do you conquer this?

To overcome this habit, your focus has to change. People-pleasing places other people and their preferences at the center of your universe. For the follower of Christ, only He should occupy that place in your life. It is impossible to please God and people all the time and at the same time.

One way that helps me is to remember that one day I will stand and give an account before God about the life I lived. It’s a sobering thought that helps me look beyond people straight into His all-knowing gaze. When I recall that He expects me to make His agenda my agenda, what other people think and want begins to pale. I suspect that on that great Day, He will hear no excuses about what others wanted me to do with the assignments He gave me.

People-pleasing can distract you if you are not daily aware of God’s presence. The noise of social media, constant activities, and personal insecurities tend to drown out the voice of God unless you are intentional about keeping Him in His rightful place throughout the day. Daily time in His Word, intentional meditation on what He says there, regular worship, and an ongoing prayer life are some of the best practices in tearing down the stronghold of people-pleasing.

How well are you doing in these four areas? Which one might you need to give more attention?

Your Perseverance Will Pay Off

But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. Job 23:10

You can do this. The fear may never go away so you must determine to move forward in spite of it. You knew it wouldn’t be easy, but you probably didn’t expect it to be this hard. God knew how difficult this would be for you and He already had a plan to be strength in your weakness.

You may be angry that God has not ended your trial, answered your pleading, or healed what hurts. You may be tired of all the answers you know you should believe. Please don’t stop believing. Part of persevering means continuing to obey God when it makes no sense to you. Just because you don’t think you are improving does not mean you’re stagnant. You are not always the best judge in measuring your growth while you’re growing. God has said He will be faithful to complete the work He began in you, but that means you keep going even when you don’t feel like it. It also means exercising the humility of surrendering to His process. Why make it harder than necessary?

One day you will reap the reward of persevering, but only if you keep going. You are not in this alone, but you alone can choose to finish well. You’ve come too far to turn back now.

When Friends Can’t Be There

“A man who has friends must himself be friendly, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24

I hope you are blessed with people who help you weather the tough times in life; people who could have walked away long ago but have shown epic loyalty and support. Even the best of friends and relatives have limits. They are human and they get tired or they have seasons of trouble in their own lives and can’t be there for you. A good friend gives another friend permission to be human and occasionally unavailable. If you are especially blessed, you have more than one good friend so that you don’t wear out the first one. Still, sometimes all of your friends are occupied when you need them most, and you feel alone.

Only Jesus has the unique ability to stay with you always. Even when you feel He is absent, know that your feelings can lie. Talk to Him, write to Him in your journal, or you may even sing to Him. Trusting He is there despite your feelings exercises faith, which may be part of why you may not sense His presence. God wants to teach you to stand on His Word when you have nothing else on which to stand. Fill the loneliness with reminders of His promises and of times when He came through for you. Real friends will find you again, and the reunion will refresh you. Until then, sit on the Savior’s lap and tell Him all that is in your heart. He listens better than anyone else you know, and His love endures forever.