June 14: Subjecting Our Goals to God’s Will

Read 2 Corinthians 1:1-24

Paul’s ministry to the Corinthians had been a loving and fruitful one. He had personally been there and stayed longer than he had in most other cities. He had sacrificed much for their spiritual benefit. In spite of all he had done for them, they questioned his motives and integrity. It seems that other “spiritual leaders” had come to Corinth. Wanting to cast doubt on Paul’s credibility, they had publicly called his ministry into question and had caused many in the church to do the same.

Among the accusations that they made was the idea that Paul was wishy washy. Perhaps they couldn’t trust what he said . . . even his message of salvation through Jesus. After all, they reasoned, he had said he would come and visit the church, but he never showed. Indeed, Paul had intended to stop in Corinth after time in Ephesus. Unfortunately, his plans changed and he was unable to visit them.

This week, as we learn more about cautiously making plans and being people of our word, it is important to note this truth from Proverbs 16:9:

“In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.”

As we have seen, all of our plans must be ultimately subject to the will of God. Similarly, we must be careful to follow through on promises made. Even so, as Paul experienced in his relationship with the Corinthian church, we may discover that our plans and the steps God has us take are, at times, different.

It has likely happened to you . . . on both sides of the equation. You have been the one whose plans have changed. Similarly, you have been the one with expectations of someone that God directed differently than anticipated. When God redirects someone else, can you accept that and demonstrate Christian love rather than wagging a finger in someone’s face saying, “You promised!”? When God redirects you, can you choose to please Him rather than people? And in an attempt to maintain your integrity, can you try to explain the change of plans to those impacted?

sbk

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June 13: How to Make Fruitful Goals

Read Psalm 127:1-5

In vain. Unsuccessful. Ineffectual.

No one likes the thought of any of those words. Who wants to invest time that, in the end, is wasted? Who wants to expend energy that doesn’t count for something? Who wants to release resources for something that goes belly up? No one, of course.

“In vain!” Not one of us would want those words to describe our intentions or endeavors. Thankfully, the Psalmist did not want that for us either. Think about what he says in the first two verses.

  1. Unless the Lord shows up, your work is futile (v. 1)! You need to carefully evaluate your endeavors, don’t you?! You need to build where He is building. You need to watch what He is protecting. As you set goals and make plans, you must carefully and prayerfully think about the degree to which your priorities align with God’s. You must be careful to give yourself to those things that are important to Him and to the direction He is leading you.
  2. Because the Lord shows up, your rest can be sweet (v. 2)! Have you identified where God wants you to invest your time, energy, and resources? Once you have, you must be careful to not claim full responsibility for seeing the end product realized. If you do, you can find yourself kicking into workaholic mode! Up early and out late, you can begin to think, “This won’t get done unless I do it!” Instead, God wants to give you rest. And, sometimes to your surprise, He even works while you rest! That means you can work and rest dependently and expectantly.

So what can you expect when you operate according to these two principles? Well, the opposite of “in vain.” Try some of these words on for size: fruitful, successful, effective, worthwhile, meaningful. The hope of those adjectives is worth pursuing with God’s help!

sbk

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June 12: Surrendering Our Plans

Read James 4:1-17

Do you have any plans or new goals this summer? Maybe you have some dreams and aspirations. Perhaps there are some things you are aiming at, hoping for, praying about. But now comes a difficult question. Do you incorporate the Lord into that process of making plans?

The imaginary person in the last verses of James 4 somehow looks similar to the person I see when I look in the mirror. This person had developed a clear plan. Perhaps his colleagues and his boss even applauded him for it. His departure and return were pretty clear. His strategy for the next year was in place. The profitable outcome seemed guaranteed.

But there was one thing he had not included in the planning . . . God’s will. That is one thing that we can easily overlook. We make plans for tomorrow’s tasks, our summer vacations, and even what retirement will look like while often forgetting that we do not really know what tomorrow may bring. We make plans for the future without calculating in the fact that there is but one who knows and holds the future.

So what needs to change? Do we give up all planning and strategizing? Certainly not. That is not the point that James is making. Instead, we should seek to incorporate God into the planning process. And, even once we have arrived at a tentative plan, we must hold onto it loosely. We must remember that it is only “if it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that” (v. 15).

So what plans do you have for today? How about tomorrow? What about next week?  For the summer? Years from now? Do you need to surrender those things to the Lord and to His will? Now is a great time to begin to do that. And the rest of life will provide a great opportunity to continue to practice that surrender.

sbk

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June 11: Spiritual Resolutions

Read Leviticus 27:1-34

I suppose there is a world of difference between the new leaf people sometimes turn over at the beginning of summer or a new year and the Old Testament vow described in Leviticus 27.

For most, resolutions are just targets, at which they aim. While hitting the bull’s-eye is desirable and admirable, missing it isn’t all that bad. If a person made a decent effort, that was what counted. Meanwhile, Old Testament vows were binding. A person was obligating himself/herself.

Secondly, those making resolutions often see the proposed commitment as purely personal. Sure, life might be better if he/she followed through, but there are often no spiritual overtones to the commitment made. A vow, on the other hand, was a sacred, spiritual commitment. The ones illustrated in this chapter of Leviticus were commitments made to God in which people, property, or possessions were dedicated to Him and His service.

As you begin this summer perhaps with new commitments, think about these two things:

  1. What commitments are you making that will stretch you spiritually? Over time, most of us settle into comfortable spiritual practices that may allow for moderate growth. Meanwhile, we read of people like the apostle Paul who were pressing the envelope of comfortable in order to do and to be what God wanted. Let me encourage you to consider a commitment that will push you towards the Lord and doing His will. It could be related to Bible reading. Maybe prayer. Perhaps sharing your faith.
  2. Once you identify a commitment to accelerate your growth and obedience to God, don’t give yourself an easy out. Make it somehow binding. Develop a plan and appropriate accountability that will help you to follow through as you passionately pursue the goal and even hit the bull’s-eye. Don’t allow this to be another commitment characterized by some good intentions and a few days of feeble attempts.

Here is how the apostle Paul described his pursuits:

“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).

Press on . . . and upward!

sbk

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June 10: Summer Goals

Read Matthew 5:33-37

Summer is a great time to turn over a new leaf and perhaps make some resolutions. As the days get longer and the outdoors become more inviting, maybe you are considering some lifestyle changes related to weight or exercise. Or perhaps you’re picturing this summer as the perfect time to finally clean out that basement or garage and get organized. Maybe you’re thinking about a fresh return to some spiritual disciplines. If so, it may be tempting to go through some sort of complicated promise to God that you will be a different person.

Or, let’s take today’s reading in a different direction. You may be the kind of person who has been known to tell some pretty tall tales. When you are telling the truth, then, your listeners may find it difficult to recognize it. What kind of assurances do you need to give that your assertion is accurate?

As kids, my brothers and I often tried to add the “wow factor” to our stories by exaggerating the details of what had happened beyond reality. At other times, we made promises about what we would do that we never followed through on. We knew that about each other. When things were borderline unbelievable, because of our track record, we found ourselves needing to say things like, “I swear!” or “I swear on the Bible!” Perhaps the most sincere expression of a past reality or a future promise was when we swore “on a stack of Bibles.”

Jesus, however, wants us to simply be people of integrity. We should be people of our word. Our “yes” means “yes.” Our “no” means “no.” We need no other guarantee that what we are communicating is accurate. We need take no oath to demonstrate our sincere desire to follow through on a promise.

As you head into this summer with good intentions, will you be a person of integrity? In your daily interactions with others, will you be known as one who can be trusted? As one who always tells the truth? Be a person of integrity by being truthful about your description of the past and present and by being one who carries through on promises about the future!

sbk

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June 9: Life After Repentance

Read Psalm 51:1-19

Adultery and murder. Most people consider those to be two of the “biggies.” You find them on God’s list of top ten things not to do (Ex. 20). Have you ever done either? Both? David had. (See 2 Samuel 12:1-14.) What about you? That’s a pretty personal question. Thankfully, I am asking it through words on a page or a screen, not in person. Gratefully, I am not asking you to hit reply, jot a note, or make a phone call with your answer. I already know your answer. According to Jesus, adultery includes a lustful look and murder is as simple as spiteful, angry words spoken to another. (Check out these and other sins in Matthew 5.) At some point, all of us are guilty.

But, whether our sin is adultery, murder, or some “lesser” transgression, there comes the question of life after sin. What does that life look like? Is it a life of guilt? Should it be a life spent in penance trying to make up for the past? David’s words of confession, written in the aftermath of his own sin, remind us that cleansing and forgiveness are ours for the asking. When we confess, His forgiveness is complete.

That’s not all! Life after confession of sin can also be a life of joy, gladness, and rejoicing (vv. 8, 12). Your days need not be governed by guilt. Your face can be one that genuinely smiles. You can enjoy a hearty belly laugh. It is not just okay but expected that you will find yourself belting out songs of praise to the Lord in your car. You can lay your head on your pillow at night in peace, without having to revisit the stupidity of your past for the umpteenth time.

One more thing — life after confession includes meaningful service. David looked forward to leveraging his influence and opportunities in order to teach transgressors the ways of God and to bring other sinners to repentance (v. 13). Though our sin may impact the nature of our future ministry, God doesn’t place us in the stands as a spectator after He forgives us. He keeps us on the field as key players in a game designed to bring Him honor and others to full devotion.

sbk

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June 8: Growing Dependence on God

Read Psalm 54:1-7

In my Bible, this information appears as something of a prelude to the Psalm: “When the Ziphites had gone to Saul and said, ‘Is not David hiding among us?’”

That line likely wasn’t part of the original Psalm. Someone along the way probably added it to give us the possible historical context for the chapter. Whether or not it was part of what David originally wrote, the lines sure do fit.

How would you respond if you were being pursued and someone were seeking to take your life?

OK, that is probably not a question that resonates with your normal experience. Let me ask this one instead: “How do you respond when the obstacles/problems in your life seem insurmountable and larger than life?”

We do well when our first response is like that of David’s opening lines…calling out to God for help. “Save me…vindicate me…Hear my prayer…listen to the words of my mouth.” Unfortunately, we sometimes go directly into personal problem-solving, fretting as if it is up to us to find the way out.

We do well when we remain confident like David in verse 4. It is God, who is our help. He is the one who sustains us. Unfortunately, we sometimes conclude that He has abandoned us. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, we will find our confidence strengthened when we do what David did in verse 7. He reflected on the ways that God had delivered him from his troubles in the past.

We do well when we commit to continued service and praise to God the way David did in verse 6. In spite of the circumstances, we should still “sacrifice a freewill offering” and “praise [His] name . . . for it is good.”

David’s prayerful responses in Psalm 54 are good reminders to us in the midst of adversity. But there is one more thing worth noting. Did this come naturally to David? I am not sure it did. 1 Samuel 23:16 tells us Jonathan “helped [David] find strength in God.”

Is it possible that the words of encouragement Jonathan offered provided the inspiration for the words of Psalm 54? I think so. Is it possible that encouragement we receive from others can cause us to find strength in times of despair? I know it to be true.

In times of trouble, seek encouragement from others so that your dependence on God grows!

sbk

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