Paddle boats always seem like a lot more fun when you’re watching someone else on them! There we stood on the dock, watching others paddle around; their laughter echoing from every corner of the lake. Our church was holding its annual summer picnic at the park- fun and fellowship for the whole congregation. My good friend and I waited for the lifeguard to call us over so we could sail out and join the others. Finally, he looked in our direction and waved us over to the last boat available at the end of the row- an old blue one with chipping paint from years of repetitive use. We sat down, the lifeguard unhooked the rope, gave us a gentle push in the right direction and off we went, into the wild blue yonder (or more accurately, the “murky” brown). Our young legs were eager to catch up, so we put our heads down and pumped as hard as we could towards the sound of laughter. A few minutes passed by and we were already getting tired, so we stopped to catch our breathe and take inventory of how far our blistering pace had brought us. We were already at the center of the lake. Back at the docks, the lifeguard looked so small; the giant umbrella on his wooden chair seemed like nothing more than a cocktail decoration now. We had clearly closed some distance. Suddenly, without warning, a cloud passed over the sun and a gust of wind stirred up around us. We returned our feet to the pedals, but our efforts became futile. Our friends weren’t getting any closer. The gust blew hard in our faces and after a few minutes of “first-rate” paddling, we were forced to give up. It was clear at that point… we weren’t meant to sail the way we wanted to go. Our boat drifted in circles for a few minutes until we embraced defeat and directed our attention back to the docks. With the wind at our backs the paddling seemed effortless, returning to land in the blink of an eye. We climbed out of our boat and our friends shortly followed, sharing in a good laugh together at the expense of our failed attempt at sailing. I learned a valuable lesson that day; it’s much easier to get somewhere with the wind on my side.
The first month of 2019 is already behind us. Can you believe it?! It was only a few weeks ago that multitudes of eager souls declared their “resolutions” at the countdown to midnight. Countless hearts, wide-eyed with hope for change- seeking a new year that promised to be better than the last. With the turn of a calendar page we gain a fresh hunger for growth, stability and answers to previously unanswered questions. No, we may not all wrap up our ambitions in a pretty bow called “resolution.” We may not all jump to social media to boast our endeavors to the world, but we do all find a sense of empowerment in the act of moving ahead. It’s profitable to have a fire in your belly, but difficult to keep the embers burning. Are you still moving forward or are you adrift in the wind?
We’re at that point already, folks, the razor’s edge between “breakthrough” and “breakdown.” Studies dictate that a large percentage of resolutions were already abandoned by the second week of January- many more efforts will be relinquished in the next few days, and a large portion of those that remain will fall apart completely by next week. Only a fraction will survive long enough to ever become a habit. Now, I’m certainly not here to be the rain cloud on your “resolution parade,” but the odds are not in our favor. It’s time to take stock of our efforts. Are we paddling in the right direction?
What was (or is) your goal for 2019? Some folks are inclined to eat healthier; lose weight or work out more. Some wish to read more books, write a book, learn an instrument or take up a hobby. Many aim to get a new degree, change their employer or begin a new occupation altogether. Some attempt to put down their cell phones and step back from the overuse of social media. Others hope to save money, travel more or take spontaneous risks. Some hearts long to make new friends, find true love or cultivate better relationships. Many are driven to new business ventures while others will finally retire after a lifetime of hard work. All great things, beneficial for betterment!
We live in an age of “self-discovery” and even “re-self-discovery.” We’re always looking to reinvent ourselves. We restlessly change majors, jobs, scenery and even “significant others” like we’re changing our socks. This generation has an incredible drive to succeed and yet, that very same mindset can birth a stubbornness that leaves too many swimming against the current when they need to follow the flow. What do I mean by this? Well… our personal desires can’t trump the will of the living God. Our human nature is always the underlying problem. We pick a direction that seems ideal for our lives. Face it, we do what we want! We even convince ourselves that the choices we make are always a part of God’s will. “THAT WAY!” we declare, setting sail with the assumption that the Lord will bless every endeavor.
“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Proverbs 16: 9
I understand, we’re not meant to live inactive, dormant lives. Situations call for action. We have to move, and I’m certainly not accusing everyone of making decisions without God in mind. However, it’s in our best interest to acknowledge that no effort will succeed if it’s not aligned with God’s will. Everything in your life runs according to His plans and His direction; with His power and by His mercy. There will never be any greater ambition than to seek intimacy with the Lord. So, when you choose to move, where is your heavenly Father in the process? Do you paddle tirelessly in your own direction or is His wind at your back?
“We pursue knowledge of that which we love. Those who love literature get academic degrees… Those who love gardening read up on techniques… Those who love photography study the art. If we do not love these things, we will not get to know them well. We do not zealously invest in that which does not interest us. Our greatest love shapes all our other affections and determines our path. Isn’t it the same in our relationship with God? Can we really know Him if other loves are greater rivals?” Chris Tiegreen
Be realistic! Should God really want to act on our behalf if we push Him behind more “pressing” life goals? We who know His nature as a loving Father can prematurely assume that He’ll anoint any path we choose without offering His opinion on the matter. This is folly. Do we expect God’s support simply because we believe He exists? When our undertakings grow difficult, our enterprises fail and we find ourselves paddling hard without gaining ground, we cry out, “God help me!” We beg for His nearness. “Come close,” we plead. When the winds of life blow against us, it may be an indication to reorient our priorities. Pursuing the Father’s will must always be our primary venture. He will come close and work through our efforts when He holds the position of "first love" in our lives.
“...for the Lord, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you.” Exodus 34: 14
Pursuits require effort. Our success (or failure) is based upon our ability to stand firm. When distractions, difficulty and disillusion arrive do we stop pedaling? The scale will only tip in our favor when practice becomes a habit. There’s a reward for every “good and faithful servant” who seeks God’s face. Diligently walk with the Father and He will ease your steps. Think about it, how does anyone find the strength to accomplish their goals? They bear witness to those who have walked before. Success breeds success. Understanding that something CAN be done gives us the confidence to drive forward. It sets the bar and marks the finish line. If we’re resolved to seek the Lord’s direction, we need only find inspiration in the life of Jesus. He carried out the will of the Father by trusting in His guidance. Following Christ’s example builds bigger faith. Do you have the desire? God doesn’t promise His “seal of approval” on our plans, but He does promise to light our way and listen to our hearts. Have you ever truly stopped to align your plans with His? Have you ever asked if your endeavors are pleasing to Him? Return to Him before you sail out.
RETURN TO HIS WORD! Do you “ask” and yet, you still don’t “receive?” Take stock of your intentions, your priorities and sins. It may be unpleasant, but be sincere with yourself. Do you want God’s help? How much of YOU does He get in return? His Word tells us...
"We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will." John 9: 31
“And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for.” 1 John 5: 14-15
"For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil." 1 Peter 3: 12
“In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” Jeremiah 29: 12
Before you read another word, pray with me, would you? “Lord, help me to do Your will. Grant me the desire to ask for that which pleases You and remove all that which does not. Fill me with the confidence that knows I can ask You for anything if I seek righteousness and my efforts are pure. Give me the persistence to seek you with my whole heart so You will hear my prayers.”
RETURN TO HUMILITY! When most of us first met the Lord, we were moved and shaken. Hard hearts softened and new breath met our lungs. We felt the weight of our sin and witnessed the extent of our wandering, but reconciliation found us as the Father’s love set us free and His saving grace brought us to our knees. Somewhere along the line, many of us lose our sense of awe at who God is and what He’s done. Grace, mercy, reconciliation, eternal life… they become words and phrases that mix in with the rest of our “Christian vocabulary.” The reality behind them can lose its vigor in our hearts if we’re not careful. We long for God to be near, to help, to guide, to act and yet, we rely on our own strength- to reach our own goals- by our own understanding. We know truth, but wave it away like a fly at a barbecue.
Solomon had goals too; aspirations to complete the Temple of the Lord and wouldn’t you know it, he did! But God was always at the forefront of His plans and the center of His prayers. Because of this, the Lord listened and fulfilled Solomon’s endeavors because he was a righteous man who sought heaven’s face. Therefore, the Lord chose his Temple to draw close to those who would live in true humility.
“Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. My eyes will be open and my ears attentive to every prayer made in this place. For I have chosen this Temple and set it apart to be holy—a place where my name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to my heart.”
2 Chronicles 7: 14-16
RETURN TO PASSION! Too many Christians are bored. You don’t have to agree with it, but it’s still true. It’s written all over the faces of countless “congregants” around the world; from the tiniest old church on some remote mountaintop, to the grandest “mega-church” with seven services, a gift shop and their own coffee brand. We settle into our lives of faith like they’re cubicles in an office building and we think it’s God’s job to keep us excited, focused and serving His cause. When we get complacent, we start looking back at what “was” because we’re not entertained or content with what “is.” We’ve lost our passion! We’ve quit. We’ve succumbed to drift on the waters.
“But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”
Luke 9: 62
Look forward with anticipation for what God may want to do in your life. It’s said that “a body at a rest stays at rest” and “a body in motion stays in motion.” The same is true for your spirit. God has quite literally “seen it all,” and yet, He still burns with an endless passion for His people. We’re called to be like Him (like Christ), so we can’t excuse ourselves from that passion. Keep moving with the understanding that the Lord is always ready to do something new. God is in ALL things, so why maintain the delusion that some missions don’t involve Him? Walk with desire for the things of heaven. God will lead you on your way, listen to your heart and surely bless your path. Make your plans- set your goals- reach for your resolutions, but do it all with God’s glory in mind. Return to Him; following His word, serving with humility and reinvigorating your passion. Ask for direction in the name of Jesus, and watch how quickly the Lord lifts your sails.
“At that time you won’t need to ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name. You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy.” John 16: 23-24
“Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he did for me. For I cried out to him for help, praising him as I spoke. If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But God did listen! He paid attention to my prayer. Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer or withdraw his unfailing love from me.”
Psalm 66: 16-20