5 Things You Need to Know About Envy

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Envy has been called “the green sickness,” “a torment,” and “the most corroding of the vices.” Philip Bailey vividly described it as “a coal come hissing hot from hell.” And speaking of hell, no one has done a better job of portraying envy than Dante. In his Purgatory the envious sit like blind beggars by a wall. Their eyelids are sewn shut. The symbolism is apt, showing the reader that it is a blinding sin—partly because it is unreasonable, partly because the envious person is sewn up in himself. Swollen with poisonous thoughts in a dark, constricting world of almost unendurable self-imposed anguish.

Envy is the sin of the evil eye. The word envy is from the Latin invidia, meaning, “to look maliciously upon.” It always sees and desires what it does not have. Unlike jealousy, which focuses on possessing what you desire, envy focuses on taking something you desire away from the person who owns it. Envy is not just wanting what the other person has; envy wants the other person not to have it. Envy is sort of greed with a vengeance. Envy loves wealthy people to go broke; it loves for healthy people to become sick; it loves for skinny people to grow fat.

Envy is the one vice everybody has experienced. There are people who aren’t gluttons, who aren’t greedy, and even some who aren’t particularly proud. But everybody has been envious at one time or another. Our human nature has a built-in instinct to be envious. While we think envy is often justified and treated as a mild sin, it, too, can be just as deadly as any other.

Here are five realities of envy.

Envy is directed toward people close to us, not those who are distant.

It grows naturally in relationships between people who are equals. Two people of the same age and similar interests feel envy most keenly. Doctors envy doctors.  Lawyers envy lawyers.  Neighbors envy neighbors.  Salespersons envy salespersons. The closer a situation comes to matching your own identity, the higher the stakes become and the more likely envy is to erupt.

Envy reaches for what is out of reach.

My family picks apples at an orchard every fall. On one of those excursions, I noticed that I was always looking for the one seemingly perfect apple just out of reach. While there were plenty of apples, beautiful apples, well within my reach, it was always the one just out of my reach that caught my eye.  Such is envy.

Envious people cannot be content that they are victorious and prosperous. All they can see are others who have received more victories and achieved more prosperity.

You’ve heard the phrase, “The grass is greener on the other side of the fence.” Why do we believe that statement?  Simple.  The grass on the other side of the fence is always out of reach.  What is out there, or over there, or beyond what we have, is what we want.  We envy it.

Envy creates the sense that life is passing one by.

The envious often feel they are in their twilight years when the rookie comes to camp. Be that a neighbor who drives up with a new SUV or takes off on an exotic vacation to Italy or has a more productive vegetable garden. Or, a work associate that gets promoted over you or gets a perk that you wanted. Others may be glad and rejoice, the envious seethe and become angry.

Envy is rotten to the core.

The Proverb says, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones!” (Prov. 14:30 NIV). Chaucer’s Parson reminds us that envy is a foul sin because it sneers against all virtues and against all goodness. Envy is like a little worm inside an apple—it eats us up internally. Much of the depression people experience today is nothing more than internalized envy.  Like rust eating iron, envy corrupts men and women.

Envy has within itself its own destructive seed.

The Greek proverb is correct, “Envy slays itself by its own arrows.” Envy is deadly because it will not let us live happily. It robs us of joy.  It will not let us be satisfied with what we have or be grateful for our talents and personal qualities.  It becomes a barrier to the celebration of who we are.  It cheats us from blessings.

Which of these do you struggle with the most? What is your source of envy?

But there is help and hope. Part 2 of this article will provide steps to overcome envy.

 

One of my most popular books, The 7 Sins of Highly Defective People, takes a twenty-first century look at the seven deadly sins, including envy, and offers advice on how, through Christ, we can overcome them. The book is a repair guide that will take you from highly defective to highly effective in your Christian walk. Click here to claim your copy.

 

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What to do when angry

 

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Regina Barreca wrote in the Chicago Tribune Magazine, “. . .anger is . . . an itch, an allergic reaction to some little piece of life’s pollen blown your way.” Of all emotions, anger is probably the most common and most powerful. Hardly a day goes by without me experiencing some measure of anger—either my own or that of someone with whom I interact. My appointment is delayed. The traffic is jammed. A drunken driver kills three students at the local high school. My anger causes my face to turn red, my heart to race, and my eyes to water. I want to hit something or someone. The fire rages within. Anger is intensely personal. It is the quintessential individual signature emotion: I am what makes me mad.

Please understand, however, anger is normal and healthy. I am not responsible for the event or person that brought on my anger, only for how I respond to and use anger once it happens. Anger is not always sin. And not all anger is wrong. In the Old Testament, God became angry at the sin and wickedness of his people. In the New Testament, Jesus became indignant over the misuse of the Temple. And humans are instructed to express their anger, but not to become full of wrath and hatred. But anger can cause sin. A difference exists between “an angry person” and “a person who is angry.” An angry person is one who is controlled by anger—the fire is raging leading to sin. A person who is angry, on the other hand, is someone who has allowed a bit of life’s sparks from a certain event or person to ignite their anger—it’s a fire but not a wildfire.

What should I do the next time my smokestack starts to blow? Good question. I need to learn to control my anger. It has been said, “Your temper is one of your most valuable possessions. Don’t lose it.” Aristotle was right, “Anybody can become angry—that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way—that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” If I can’t control my anger, it will control me. So how do we keep anger under control?

Don’t bury your anger.
When my wife and I were in London one spring, we discovered that some of the bombs dropped on England are still killing people. They turn up and sometimes blow up at construction sites, in fishing nets, or on beaches fifty years after the war. Undetected bombs become more dangerous with time because corrosion can expose the detonator. What is true of bombs that are not dealt with is also true of people who have unresolved anger. Buried anger explodes when we least expect it.

And, when anger explodes it does all sorts of damage. It severs relationships. It causes ulcers. It leads to murder. When anger is turned inward it leads to depression. When it is turned outward it leads to aggression. So I have to deal with my anger, not bury it.

Anger is like a splinter in your finger. If you leave it there it gets infected and hurts every time you use your finger. If you remove it, the sore heals and you feel better.

Be wary of chronically angry people.
Anger is highly contagious. It’s dangerous to associate closely with people for whom anger has become a chronic way of life.

If we are not careful the anger of those we associate with will rub off on us. Their rage will become ours.

Take time to cool off.
We should never speak in the heat of anger. We tend to say words that hurt or wound. Sometimes we say things we never intended. We should give ourselves time to cool off because we want our anger to accomplish something positive.

Often, when I am angry my mouth runs faster than my mind. I engage my mouth before my mind is in gear. A sharp tongue only cuts one’s throat. Whoever said, “If you are angry count to ten, if you are very angry count to 100,” knew what he was talking about.

When I feel the fires of anger heating up I ask myself: Is this anger really worth what it’s going to do to others and me emotionally? Will I make a fool of myself? Will I hurt someone I love? Will I lose a friend? Am I seeing this event from the other person’s point of view? Many insignificant matters are not worth getting worked up about. We can win some battles and still lose the war. Perhaps one of the greatest cures for anger is delay.

Choose to forgive.
Anger is a choice. I am reminded of that every time I am in an argument with my wife and the phone rings. If you are like me, you don’t answer the phone with the same tone of voice that you are using in your fight. In a split second I can go from screaming to my calm, pastoral voice as I say, “Hello.” If anger is a choice, so is forgiveness. I can control my anger by choosing forgiveness over anger. Forgiveness is surrendering my right to hurt you back if you hurt me. It means that when I am the object of anger I don’t deserve; I can choose to forgive by not trying to strike back.

Forgiveness and anger cannot live together. I cannot be resentful and forgiving at the same time. If anger is fire, then forgiveness is water. Forgiveness is the water that puts out the fire of anger.

 

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The Power of Persistence

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Victory belongs not to the faint-hearted. Nor does it belong to the weak-willed. Nor to the uncommitted. Not if the enemy is great and his resolution strong. Only by facing the opponent head-on with undaunted valor can the battle be won. Victory necessitates that we fight on with undying, inflexible persistence.

People living significant lives accomplish the seemingly impossible task because they never give up. They never buckle under. Despite mounting criticism and intensity of opposition and overwhelming obstacles they persevere with determined resolve. They refuse to throw in the towel.

Often, the easiest thing would be to quit. Just give up. Return to the comfort and convenience of mediocrity. Forget about one’s dream, one’s passion, one’s goal. Give in to the words of the critics, give up to the opposition, and give way to the obstacles. Simply, tuck tail and run away.

There is great power in persistence. The race is not always won by the fastest. Or the game is not won by the strongest. But rather by the one that keeps on keeping on, who refuses to give up. Consider the postage stamp. Its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing till it gets there. Consider what former President Calvin Coolidge wrote, “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not: unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” Consider the words of race car driver Rick Mears, “To finish first you must first finish.” Consider the findings of Napoleon Hill after studying the lives of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. Writing in his book, Think and Grow Rich, he said, “I had the happy privilege of analyzing both Mr. Edison and Mr. Ford, year by year, over a long period of years, and therefore the opportunity to study them at close range, so I speak from actual knowledge when I say that I found no quality save persistence in either one of them that even remotely suggested the major source of their stupendous achievements.”

It is always too soon to quit. One of the most powerful and destructive tools that Satan has in his arsenal is discouragement. The subtle but dangerous compulsion to give up, to quit, to say What’s the use?

When you are tempted to quit, resist. We must endure in the battle until the evil day is over. We must press on in the face of the temptation to quit. Until the war is over, we must fight to the end. Until the race is finished, we must keep running. Until the wall is built, we must keep stacking bricks. Never give up. Never.

In a race it does not matter who starts but who finishes. In a ball game the most meaningless statistic is the halftime score. Persistence is the power that keeps us from giving up. We need to be like an oak tree. An oak tree is a little nut that refused to give up his ground. Have you ever wondered how the snail made it to the ark? By persistence.

We will be buffeted and plummeted. We will be criticized and opposed. We will be attacked and assaulted. We will struggle and fall. But we must fight one more round. We must rise each time we fall.

 

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How Hot Is Your Passion?

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Passion is a word that gets a lot of bad press. It’s often misunderstood. To some, the word passion brings back memories of illicit desires at drive-in movies with a high school flame. To others it evokes images of a murder committed in a fit of rage. It is true that passion is behind almost every sin.

But, passion is morally neutral. It is simply a strong feeling or deep longing for something. In its essence, passion is the fuel that ignites the fires of our meaningfulness, the force that drives the soul, and the burden that compels the individual to action. Passion is a clearly defined reason for living. It moves ordinary people beyond ordinary human activities. It causes people to make a difference in business, sports, academia, science, politics, and ministry. Some of these people explode like a Molotov cocktail to inflame a whole generation. Others burn quietly in the furnaces of everyday life, unknown to all but their immediate acquaintances—yet making a difference in their world.

“What distinguishes the empire builders in the end is their passion. They devote their lives to an idea that in time becomes an ideal. More important, they inspire others to buy into their dream. All are out, in one way or another, to change the world,” wrote Michael Meyer, The Alexander Complex. G.W.F. Hegel in Philosophy of History was right when he stated, “Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion.”

Passionate people never work for money. This is not to say that they do not earn a great deal of money. But the likes of William Shakespeare, Thomas Edison, Estee Lauder, Walt Disney, Sam Walton, and Bill Gates, who all became wealthy, were inspired not by money but by a drive to fulfill an inner longing that would make a difference in this world. Passionate people don’t just get a job. A job is something one does for money. Passion is something one does because they are inspired to do it. And passionate people would do it even if they were paid nothing beyond food and the basics. They would do it because it is their life.

Passion is not something we work up, but something planted within our being. Passion is the God-given ability to feel so strongly about something that it causes us to move toward the object of desire. Call it what you want—urge, burden, compulsion, force—passion originates from God. Passion is the birthplace of a dream, the trailhead of a new path God calls us to follow.

Significant passion originates with God and takes root in receptive and obedient hearts. Passionate people have their heart engaged in their work. Their work moves them like a lover ignites their soul. Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision, had as his life’s motto: “May my heart break for the things that break the heart of God.” Here was a man passionate about the things that moved God. He was excited and incited about caring for the hurt and wounded people of this world. He was engaged. Despite the magnitude of helping a starving world with physical and personal struggles, Bob Pierce gave his heart and soul to stamping out world hunger.

Passion comes from the heart of God to embrace our hearts, and it compels us to act. Passionate people translate their devotion into action. They discover, as we must, that a passion unchanneled soon dissipates. They know that passion without action is just a dream. Action without passion is drudgery. But passion with action is sheer delight.

You can decide now that you are going to let passion into your life. You are every bit as capable of living with passion as is a president, an Olympian, or a Nobel Prize winner. Passion is not a privilege of the fortunate few; it is a right and a power of every human being. You can show the world all you are capable of, all that, deep down, you know you can be.

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3 Reasons to Serve Others

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At a men’s meeting, a friend told about selling insurance earlier in his life. A story had circulated at insurance conventions about a lady who recently lost her husband and now was faced to care for family alone. A few weeks following the funeral of her husband a dozen people trudged through fourteen inches of snow, rang her doorbell, and asked if there was any way they could help. Her insurance salesman along with his son stopped by the widow’s home and shoveled her driveway and walks.

Talking about serving, even asking to serve, is a lot easier than actually serving.

Why should we serve?

Serving imitates Jesus.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry he had served his followers. But perhaps his most graphic picture of his servant’s heart came the night before his crucifixion. Jesus and the disciples had gathered for the Passover meal. Upon entering a home, it was customary to wash your own feet or to have them washed by a servant before eating. The bowl and the towel were present, but no disciple assumed the servant’s duty. To their surprise, Jesus assumed the servant’s role and washed their feet. “When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. ‘You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one anther’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you’” (John 13:12-15).

When we serve others, especially those who have no way of repaying us, we imitate Jesus. As he gave of himself, we do the same. Jesus set the example, and we imitate him.

When we take up the towel and serve one another we represent Christ to those we serve. We become his hands and his feet. Kenneth Leech wrote, “Christian spirituality is the spirituality of the Poor Man of Nazareth who took upon himself the form of a servant. To follow the way of the kingdom is therefore to follow him who fed the hungry, healed the sick, befriended the outcast, and blessed the peacemakers.”

Serving presents Jesus to the world.
Friedrich Nietzsche, the atheistic philosopher, allegedly stated, “Jesus’ disciples will need to look more saved if I am to believe in their Savior.” Nietzsche used the poor witness of some Christians as his excuse for not believing. He makes a good point: the world is looking for followers of Christ who look like Jesus. The world looks at us not only for right belief, but also for a distinctive Christ-like lifestyle, a faith expressed through action.

The people to whom the apostle James wrote struggled with the issue of faith versus action. In his letter, James illustrated the contrast of “faith alone” versus “faith demonstrated by works” with a hypothetical conversation between two believers: “Someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:18).

The world looks at followers of Christ and says, “Show me your faith by the way you live and serve in this hurting world.”

Service exemplifies the way Christianity is supposed to be lived. Believers who visibly and actively serve present Jesus to a watching world.

Serving fulfills us.
Jesus taught that “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45). This is the paradox of serving; in giving ourselves away, we find ourselves; in emptying ourselves, we find fulfillment.

In a time when many search for self-fulfillment and happiness, most people look for it in repeated highs of promotions, exotic vacations, or an infinite amount of worldly possessions. But real fulfillment comes in serving God by serving others. When we give ourselves away in service to others, we find meaning and purpose in life that selfishness can never equal.

Granted fulfillment is not the goal of service, but it is a by-product of servanthood. When we serve others God has a tendency to flow satisfaction into our lives. In the end meaning and purpose is what we receive.

John Wooden, in his autobiography They Call Me Coach, wrote: “You cannot live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.” You can arrange for a few hundred dollars to arrive at the home of someone who is hurting financially. You can provide childcare for a single parent to give them a free afternoon. You can open up your home to a single adult that is separated from their immediate family. You can volunteer at a food pantry or an inner city mission. Before your head hits the pillow tonight, determine what you can do for someone who never be able to repay you.

 

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The Antidote to Fear

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Fear is very much a part of life. It is a God-given emotion.  To be afraid is normal.  Yet, if fear is out of control, it is the most paralyzing emotion of all.  Fear makes a person doubt their abilities and paralyzes the free use of their talents.  It brings on “cold feet,” makes one a “chicken,” and eats away at one’s “guts.”  Fear causes one to miss a sure two-foot putt, a free throw in the closing seconds of a game, a budding opportunity for      financial gain, a friendship that could last a lifetime.  Fear motivates one to make more money—“just in case;” to always have the resume out—“you never know;” and to look      over one’s shoulder—“you can’t trust anyone.”

In the ancient Greek language, the word for fear meant flight. It’s the picture of pheasants being flushed from their nesting areas and taking flight because they have been frightened by the approaching danger of a hunter. It is the soldier in battle fleeing the enemy when being shot. “Did you hear those bullets?” asked one soldier to another. “Twice,” he said, “once when they went past me and once when I passed them.”

While fear is present when facing much of life’s transitions it does not have to paralyze. Moving to a new community, changing jobs, making new friends, attending a new church can all be fear-producing events. But they don’t have to erode the fulfillment in life.

“Fear not” appears many times in the Bible. God has provided just what is needed to move on and to conquer one’s fear. One faces their fears with fact. God says that we do not have to fear because of the fact that his presence accompanies us through the unpredictable events of life. God states, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.  For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom” (Isa. 43:2-3 NIV).

God says that one can face any new situation because he walks with his children. It’s only two words—“fear not”—easier to preach than to practice, but easier to practice with the awareness of God’s presence.

 

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4 Steps to Overcoming Worry

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Immediately after World War II the Allied armies gathered up many hungry, homeless children and placed them in large camps. There the children were abundantly fed and cared for. However, at night they did not sleep well.  They seemed restless and afraid.

Finally, a psychologist hit on a solution. After the children were put to bed, they each received a slice of bread to hold.  If they wanted more to eat, more was provided, but this particular slice was not to be eaten—it was just to hold.

The slice of bread produced marvelous results. The child would go to sleep, subconsciously feeling it would have something to eat tomorrow.  That assurance gave the child a calm and peaceful rest.

Like the orphans most of our worries are concerns with tomorrow. Worry is the great “What if.” It focuses on things that might happen, then spins out of control:  What if I lose my job? What if I fail the test?  What if I lose the sale?  We rob our present moments of joy by worrying about tomorrow and things that may not happen.

We weren’t born worrying. We have to learn to worry.  The good news is that if worry is learned it can also be unlearned. Here are four ways to overcome worry.

 Understand that God is your shepherd.

Now in our society we don’t see many shepherds roaming the hillside. But in Biblical times shepherds were quite common. A shepherd provided food, shelter, the basic necessities for the sheep. A shepherd defended against enemies, keeping the sheep from danger. A shepherd led the sheep when they were confused and did not know which way to go. A shepherd corrected problems that came along.

God has promised the same care. “God tends his flock like a shepherd” (Isa. 40:11 NIV). “As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep” (Ezek. 34:12 NIV).

Cast all your cares on God.

Peter wrote, “Cast all of your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7 NIV). Cast means to unload, let it go. When situations beyond our control come upon us, we can cast our cares on God or we can be consumed by them.  When we are stressed we can panic or we can pray.  If we prayed about all the things we worry about we would have a lot less to worry about.

Live one day at a time.

A lumberman, issued only a hand axe, was told to cut down fourteen hundred trees. One lumberman, one axe, fourteen hundred trees.  Standing in the center of the forest of towering lodge pole pines, he had several options.  He could conclude the job was too tough, turn in his axe and head into town.  Or he could dash from one tree to another, whacking at each but felling none, trying to deal with the panic of overtaking him in the face of his impossible task.  Or he could pause to figure out how many trees he would have to cut down each day in order to finish the task.  Once he knew what each day’s work required, he could tackle one tree at a time.

In effect, it is pointless to worry about what we can’t control. If today is a five-tree day, we focus on those five trees.  We know that tomorrow we will have more trees to cut, but we don’t let that keep us from concentrating on today’s five trees.

Decide not to worry.

There is no pill that will make us stop worrying. There is no seminar, tape, or book that will make us stop worrying.  There is no one spiritual experience we can have for us never to worry again.  The antidote to worrying is a daily choice, sometimes minute by minute, sometimes hour by hour, when we acknowledge that God is our shepherd, we put him in charge of our lives, we cast our burdens on him, and we live one moment at a time.

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4 Reflections While You Wait

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No one likes to wait. But we wait in traffic, in carpool lines, in holding patterns, in grocery stores, for the foursome ahead of us, for the doctor, for a spouse, for a baby, for retirement, for sermons to get over.

Waiting may be the hardest single thing we are called to do.

Waiting is not passive loitering for something to happen that will allow us to escape our troubles. Those who wait are those who work because they know their work is not in vain. The farmer can wait all summer for his harvest because he has done his work of sowing the seed and watering the plants. Those who wait on God can go about their assigned tasks, confident that God will provide the meaning and conclusions to their lives and the harvest to their toil. Waiting is the confident, disciplined, expectant, active, and sometimes painful clinging to God. It knows that we will reap a reward.

While you wait, remember . . .

Waiting on the Lord requires patient trust.
We live by the adage: Don’t just stand there, do something. While God often says to us: Don’t just do something, stand there.

We forget that the work God is doing in us while we wait is as essential as for whatever we are waiting. Waiting means that we give God the benefit of the doubt that he knows what he is doing.

Waiting is God’s way of seeing if we will trust him before we move forward. That trust is a patient trust. Whether it has to do with our relationships, our finances, our careers, our dreams, or our churches. We have to trust that God knows what he is doing.

Trapeze artists know that there is a special relationship between the flyer and catcher on the trapeze. As the flyer is swinging high above the crowd, the moment comes when he lets go of the trapeze, when he arcs out into the air. For that moment, which must feel like an eternity, the flyer is suspended in nothingness. It is too late to reach back for the trapeze. There is no going back now. However, it is too soon to be grasped by the one who will catch him. He cannot accelerate the catch. At that moment, his job is to be as still and motionless as he can.

The flyer must never try to catch the catcher. He must wait in absolute trust. The catcher will grasp him. But he must wait. His job is not to flail about in anxiety. In fact, if he does, it could kill him. His job is to be still. To wait.

Waiting on God is the in-between time, the time of panic when our lives seem frozen in midair for a month, a year, a decade. During those times we patiently trust in God.

Waiting on God reminds us that God is in control.
Sometimes people ask, “But what do I do while I’m waiting?” Good question. During those waiting times take on the active role of a watchman. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,” declared the Psalmist, “My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning” (Psa. 130:5-6 NIV). In biblical times, watchmen vigilantly guarded the city. They watched for enemies who might attack at night, and they waited for the sun to come up. They were alert and obedient, ready to respond when needed. When called upon, they sprang into action. But on the other hand, watchmen didn’t make things happen. They didn’t control the rising of the sun. They couldn’t speed up the process of the dawning of a new day. A watchman knew the difference between his job and God’s job.

Waiting is good for people like me. It reminds me that I am not in charge. I’m the patient. I’m in the waiting room. In the real issues of life, I am not just waiting around—I am waiting on God. Therefore, I can trust his wisdom and his timing. The person who waits on God loses no time. I can wait with confidence. Because I am waiting for someone, and that someone is God.

Waiting on the Lord allows God the time to accomplish his work.
I understand that the father of the modern missionary movement, William Carey, waited seven years before his first convert in India. As did Adoniram Judson in Burma.

The Chinese bamboo tree is one of the most remarkable plants on earth. Once the gardener plants the seed, he will see nothing but a single shoot coming out of the bulb—for five full years! That little shoot, however, must have daily food and water. During all the time the gardener is caring for the plant, the exterior shoot will grow less than an inch.

At the end of five years, however, the Chinese bamboo will perform an incredible feat. It will grow an fantastic ninety feet tall in only ninety days! Now ask yourself this: When did the tree grow? During the first five years, or during those last ninety days?

The answer lies in the unseen part of the tree, the underground root system. During the first five years, the fibrous root structure spreads deep and wide in the earth, preparing to support the incredible heights the tree will eventually reach.

I want to believe that I am a lot like that Chinese bamboo tree. Maybe you are like it too. We are working and dreaming and persevering, yet we feel like God is taking forever to bring our plans into reality.

During those times, we wait patiently on the Lord. We know that deep down he is working—while it may be underneath, hidden deep in our character. In due time, God will reveal everything he’s grown in us.

From our perspective, waiting can seem useless and unproductive. Nothing appears to be happening. Spiritual growth seems to stand still. Personal advancement seems squelched. From God’s perspective, however, waiting deepens and widens our souls. It is often through these waiting times that God is preparing us and working in ways we do not see.

Waiting on God increases my strength.
Sometimes I struggle to remember that it’s good to wait for the Lord. It isn’t easy. It goes against the grain of our quick-fix society. But, there’s a hidden benefit in waiting. In times of waiting my soul is revived and my spirit is renewed. Isaiah wrote, “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isa. 40:31 NRSV).

Ornithologists say birds have three methods of flight. Flapping, gliding, and soaring. Only a few birds, like eagles, are capable of soaring. Eagles’ wings are so strong that they are capable of catching rising currents of warm air—thermal winds that go straight up from the earth—and without moving a feather they can soar to great heights. Eagles have been clocked at up to 80 m.p.h. without flapping at all. They just soar on invisible columns of air.

Isaiah said that for those who wait on the Lord, times would come when they will soar. And when it comes. Hold on. We will be soaring.

In a dream, God told a man to go outside and push against a massive boulder in his front yard. So every morning for the next few weeks, the man went out and strained against the rock. He pushed and groaned and prodded and shoved, but the rock never budged.

Finally, in a fit of exasperation, the man fell to his knees and lifted his eyes to heaven. “What were you thinking, Lord? he cried, wiping sweat from his brow. “You told me to push this rock, and I’ve been pushing it for weeks, yet it has not moved an inch!”

A voice from heaven rumbled among the clouds, then whispered in the man’s ear. “I told you to push the stone,” God said, “I didn’t tell you to move it. I’m the only one who can move it, and when you’re ready, I will. By the way, look at your hands.”

The man looked at his hands. They had grown callused and tough with the work, and his arms bulged with muscles. Though his efforts seemed fruitless, he had grown strong; and now he was beginning to grow wise.

It helps to remember that God is the great mover. We are to push, to work. And if we wait, in confident trust, remembering that God is in control doing his work increasing our strength, we will experience the move of God on our lives.

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6 Ways to Plug into God’s Power

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If Jesus dwells within me, why do I feel so powerless? Have you ever asked that question? I have.

I read about a lady who had a small house on the seashore of Ireland at the turn of the century. She was quite wealthy but also quite frugal. The people were surprised, then, when she decided to be among the first to have electricity in her home.

Several weeks after the installation, a meter reader appeared at her door. He asked if her electricity was working well, and she assured him it was. “I’m wondering if you can explain something to me,” he said. “Your meter shows scarcely any usage. Are you using your power?”

“Certainly,” she answered. “Each evening when the sun sets, I turn on my lights just long enough to light my candles; then I turn them off.”

She was tapped into the power but doesn’t use it. Her house was connected but not altered. Don’t we make the same mistake?

We, too—with our souls saved but our hearts unchanged—are connected but not altered. We trust Christ for salvation but do not release the Holy Spirit for transformation. We occasionally flip the switch, but most of the time we settle for shadows.

What would happen if we flipped the switch? What would happen if we released God’s Spirit in our lives? What would happen if we stopped living in the shadows of anticipation and began to live in the light of transformation? What would happen if we went from being full of the Holy Spirit to being useful for the Holy Spirit?

Don’t you want to get connected to the power of the Holy Spirit?

Whenever I call computer support, the first question they always ask is: “Is your computer plugged in?” If we want to see the power of God work in our lives, we must be plugged in.

Here’s how—
Pray for his power. We do not have because we do not ask.
Obey his instructions. The power of God’s Spirit comes in direct proportion to our obedience.
Worship his majesty. Worship is the pathway of connecting with God. Remember the early disciples were recognized as having been with Jesus.
Expect his blessings. We must believe that God will do what he has promised.
Rejoice in his service. Rejoicing in God in spite of our circumstances is a sure indication that we know that God is in control.

Plug into God to see him work in your life.

 

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4 Reasons to Pray Daily

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Prayer is the indispensable and vital function of a believer. No aspect of our Christian life is more essential and crucial to our personal growth and spiritual health than spending time with God. We are never taller than when we are on our knees. We are never stronger than when we are confessing our weaknesses. We are never bolder in public than when we are quiet before God in private.

Why does prayer make such a difference?

Prayer brings God to us.
Prayer reminds us that we need God more than he needs us. Prayer brings God to us. The essence of prayer is to join God, not God joining us. We ask what is on God’s heart rather than telling God what is on our hearts.

Prayer is the lifeline that saves the drowning soul. Prayer is the umbilical cord that provides nourishment to the starving spirit. Prayer is the channel by which God’s life-giving presence flows to us.

St. Augustine, the early church father and theologian, described prayer as like a man in a hapless boat who throws a rope at a rock. The rock provides the needed security and stability and life for the helpless man. When the rock is lassoed it’s not the man pulling the rock to the boat (though it may appear that way); it is the pulling of the boat to the rock. Jesus is the rock, and we throw the rope through prayer.

Through prayer God comes to us. The Scripture states, “Come near to God, and he will come near to you” (James 4:8a GN). Prayer provides the communication that puts us in contact with God.

Prayer changes us.
A well-known preacher began his message by stating thunderously, “Prayer doesn’t change God.” The audience fell to a hush with an eerie silence. “Prayer doesn’t change things,” he continued. “Prayer doesn’t change circumstances,” he bellowed. “Prayer changes us.”

The prayers of the early disciples changed them. They were once timid and afraid, hiding and secretive, embarrassed and ashamed. But now they were praying for boldness and power in public ministry. “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus Christ” (Acts 4:29-30 NIV). Through their prevailing prayers God continued to change them. He took wimps (weak, ineffectual, and insipid persons) and transformed them into warriors (bold, courageous, and powerful people).

Real prayer is not only soul satisfying; it is life changing. Richard Foster wrote, “To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic of our lives. The closer we come to the heartbeat of God the more we see our need and the more we desire to be conformed to Christ.”

The needed change occurs in the war with the enemy. As we grow more and more like him we move from the rear guard to the front lines. We move from weakness to power. We move from fearfulness to boldness. We move from the comfort of the sidelines to the action of the game.

Don’t pray unless you want to change. Don’t pray unless you want to be propelled to action. Don’t pray unless you want to move on the offensive. Don’t pray unless you want to go to war. And, when you go to war you need power.

Prayer unleashes the power of God.
Prayer is the most powerful weapon in the believer’s arsenal. Is it any wonder that the Evil One seeks valiantly to keep Christ followers from praying? When we don’t pray Satan has won the battle. But when we pray, the power of God is unleashed.

For those disciples in Jerusalem they experienced the power of God in a very tangible and real way. “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken” (Acts 4:31 NIV). Perhaps the shaking was from thunder in the sky or a tremor of the earth or maybe it was the devil shaking in his boots. Whatever caused it, the shaking gave those early disciples a sense of God’s presence and power.

That power is unleashed on two fronts. The power is felt on the human front. Sidlow Baxter wrote, “Men may spurn our appeals, reject our message, oppose our arguments, despise our persons, but they are helpless against our prayers.” The chief priests and elders knew that these early disciples were unschooled and ordinary men, but they recognized them as having been with Jesus.

Then the power is felt on the spiritual front. Samuel Chadwick said, “The one concern of the devil is to keep saints from prayer. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.”

Prayer determines the difference between a warrior and a wimp.

The practice of prayer in a believer’s life is an incredible, virtually untapped power source. Prayer moves the hand of God. Prayer turns ordinary mortals into men and women of power. It is the key that unlocks the storehouse of God’s riches. It is the call that moves heaven to act on behalf of earth.

And when we join God, we are now ready for battle and guaranteed victory.

Prayer equips us for battle.
The battle is for the hearts of men and women. The war is waged as followers of Christ retake the territory of men and women’s souls that was once claimed by Satan. That’s where believers come in. God needs us on the front lines telling others about him. The war is won in the trenches of men and women’s will. We are enlisted to take the message to them. Prayer equips us for that engagement.

The early disciples were equipped and ready because they prayed. “After they prayed . . . they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31 NIV). This was not a second Pentecost. This was a fresh filling, a renewed awareness of the Spirit’s power and presence in their life and witness. This endowment of power for witness would continue as they prayed. Boldness was the outward sign of the Holy Spirit’s anointing.

How foolish one would be to go to battle without proper preparation, training, and equipment. How foolish are we to go to spiritual battles without prayer.

We are not outfitted for the battle against evil unless we pray. John Henry Jowett claimed that “it is in the field of prayer that life’s critical battles are won or lost.” As believers and as a church we will only be triumphant in storming the lines of evil for the souls of men and women when we pray.

What would God have us do? William Arthur Wade wrote, “God wants us to be victors, not victims; to grow, not grovel; to soar, not sink; to overcome, not to be overwhelmed.” To display those traits happens as we pray. Let’s not just talk about prayer, and have seminars on prayer, and read books about prayer, and listening to sermons on prayer. Let us pray. The souls of men and women hang in the balance.

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