Faithful in little, faithful in much

In the last month God has made it increasingly clear to me that much is accomplished in the drudgery of the day-to-day. Even the most mundane of tasks is worthwhile, all because our lives and our actions matter. Every word, every action, even every thought matters. Everything we do is eternal.

I love the Parable of the Talents found in Matthew 25:14-29 (here are verses 14-23, but it’s all really good):

“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’”  

One of the neatest experiences is to realize that consistenly being faithful in little has a dramatic impact on your friends, family, and coworkers. The truth is that so often we become influencers and transform environments without even realizing that we’ve done so. When you’re faithful with little when it’s hard and when you don’t understand, and when you think no one sees, you yourself are transformed, sanctified, and made more like Christ. And that doesn’t go unnoticed.

I think sometimes we feel like we’re out in the desert.We feel without hope of achieving our dreams and sometimes we even begin to feel forgotten. We wonder why God’s put our dreams on hold. But let me say this – if I’ve learned nothing else in the last several years, I have learned that faithfulness in the desert leads to an incredible reward. God never, ever puts our dreams on hold, even when we’re asked to wait.

I love this verse and I’ve held on to it since the fall:

“But these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.” Habakkuk 2:3

So, my encouragement to you today – if you feel stuck in the wrong job or the wrong state, or even if you don’t know where God is calling you or what His plans for you are – be faithful right now. Be faithful where you are. Look for opportunities to love and influence the people you see daily. The rewards you will reap as you eventually move from one season to another will be tremendous.

The challenge for me as I transition is to continue pushing through, working hard, and remaining faithful as I see the end approaching rapidly.

He, and He alone, changes times and seasons

“He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.” Daniel 2:21

Beth Moore’s study of Daniel that I’m doing right now is absolutely incredible. Completing one day’s work is never enough – I always want to work through the next few days (and I often do so). I’m learning so much and at the perfect time. Beth says “the highest theme of the Book of Daniel is undoubtedly the sovereignty of God.”

Wow. I love that. I think, if you step back far enough, that’s the highest theme of the Bible and I hope that someday when people look back at my life, they make the same remark.

Beth also says “God’s sovereignty also means that He has supremacy over all things and does whatever He desires with whomever or whatever He pleases. To miss God’s sovereignty in the book of Daniel is to miss the point.” I’m intrigued by Daniel 2:21 – “He [God] changes times and seasons…” Ecclesiastes says “to everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecc. 3:1) and Daniel is telling us that it’s God Himself who ordains, and changes these times and seasons.

So what about what I’m walking through right now? Yep, it’s God-ordained. He’ll change it when He’s ready or when He pleases. And this knowledge is beautiful and frustrating, calming and confusing. But it brings clarity. “God’s providence is intentional and purposeful” (Moore).

I love Daniel 2:22. It’s such a good follow up to verse 21:

“He reveals deep and hidden things;

He knows what is in the darkness,

and the light dwells with Him.”

The fact that He knows all and is in total control is such a blessing… because I know that I certainly can’t see more than a step ahead, if even that, on a regular basis. I have trouble maintaining perspective, even when searching for the big picture. I falter and hesitate and find myself angry at the lack of information and insight I’ve been given. But I have to remember the promise above – God Himself knows and reveals these things and the light is with Him! Several years ago I found Stormie Omartian’s book Just Enough Light to be very helpful in understanding the state of my heart and it’s just as revealing now.

In her introduction she says, “More and more, God is teaching me to trust Him for every step I take. He constantly calls me to stretch beyond what’s comfortable. To walk through new territory when I would rather stay with the familiar. To face difficult physical, mental, and emotional challenges. To do things I know I can’t achieve by myself without His power. Each time something is required of me that I’m certain I am unable to accomplish in my own strength, I see a picture of just one or two steps being illuminated, while those before and after are engulfed in darkness and cannot be seen. This describes my walk with God. I trust Him for each day of life, grateful for every breath, determined to look for the blessing in the moment, no matter what the circumstances. I follow His lead – even when I can’t see where I’m going, even when it scares me to do so – because deep within my spirit I know that these simple steps of faith are preparing me for eternity.”

His sovereignty must be my focus and His leading my sole desire. These situations that are so troubling may merely be distractions from the big picture, but regardless, according to Daniel, they are ordained by God. My job is to embrace His plan and follow the path that is illuminated as it is illuminated.

Character Close Up: Esther

You might have just rolled your eyes at the subject of this post. I know that a couple years ago, I definitely would have.

I used to view Esther as just another focus of women’s Bible studies. I thought she was overhyped just because there were so few women who are the major focus of stories in Scripture. I lost track of how many times I heard about her at summer camp break out sessions for girls, in jr. high Bible studies, and in youth group discipleship programs. So when one of the girls in my small group asked if we could study the book of Esther almost two years ago, I have to admit that I was more than a little disappointed. I thought I had left Esther behind in youth group.

Not that Esther didn’t inspire me – she did – but I think I thought that “if I perish, I perish,” while inspirational, was all there really was to Esther. I wanted to do a study that was “substantial” – something that would change the hearts of these girls forever. I couldn’t have been more wrong. There’s definitely a reason that the book of Esther was included in the Bible! After leading a study on Esther for the girls in my Gathering small group and really digging into and studying the Scripture, Esther now definitely stands close to the top of the list of Biblical characters I want to emulate in my life.

She was totally amazing. God knew exactly what He was doing when He chose her to help deliver the Jews, and He didn’t just choose her and throw her in – He stayed with her and empowered her and taught her so much about following His will.

The character traits that Esther shows throughout her story are these: an intense commitment to prayer and fasting, absolute and immediate obedience to the leadership placed over her, radical submission to God and to His plan, and an extreme desire to change her world and save not only her generation, but an entire people. Her statement “if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16) could stand alone in testament to her faith – but it doesn’t have to because she actually lived it out.

Her story would terrify anyone – she was a beautiful orphan taken away from her uncle Mordecai and all she’d ever known (2:8). This had to have been scary and seen (at least at first) by Esther as a negative circumstance  – after all, she was young, probably had plans of her own, and the king was known for being quick to anger, irrational, egoistic, had a harem, and had banished his previous (and probably pregnant) queen.  All of these are negative, but Esther takes it all in stride .  She acts in wisdom, gains favor, and lets God position her for greatness though she knows nothing of the drama to come or her role in it (2:9).  Her trust and obedience is amazing.

While reading Esther, I get the sense that she had a sense of what God would call her to do and did it – she ran  “so as to take the prize” (Eph. 3:12-14). We see Esther throwing off the weights (insecurity, fear, discontent) and running her race faithfully. Esther prepared herself to meet the king for a YEAR (2:9).  She could have become frustrated and maybe even asked “God, why am I here?  What are You thinking? Why aren’t You using me?” God was teaching her to wait. Esther was so wise – she asked for what Hegai advised – she was in it to win it and to please the king.  Otherwise she’d be just another concubine.  She wanted to be his wife (just as an aside – you want to learn how to talk and relate to a guy? It takes wisdom. Read Esther).

Esther is crowned queen and is queen for FIVE YEARS and it’s NINE YEARS total before God’s purposes become clear and she recognizes God’s strategic placement that brought her to the palace (4:12-16).  Once it is clear, she doesn’t cling to her position, her crown, or her life. Instead, she’s willing to lay it all down and potentially give her life for her people. She fasts and prays for wisdom, and then acts.

Esther gives us a model to follow when we feel God is asking us to do something difficult –

  • Calculate the cost
  • Set priorities (others before self)
  • Prepare (Esther fasted and prayed, and got other people involved in the process)
  • Determine a course of action and move boldly in the direction God has called you to follow.
  • Esther and Mordecai do not despair or just wait for God’s intervention – they recognize their positions hold purpose.

Esther has the most compelling ending I can think of – because her obedience a WHOLE NATION was spared certain death and destruction – her life made a difference.  The Jewish Feast of Purim was established to celebrate Esther’s life and to remember her bravery and obedience to God.

I’m not certain that I would react as Esther did and that’s one of the reasons I want to cultivate the patience, wisdom, and faith we see in her life. I feel like if I were thrown into a situation where I was torn away from my family and sent to be a concubine to a crazy king, I might be more than a little upset with God. While that particular situation is highly unlikely, I want to learn to handle difficult circumstances with grace and to never blame God for where He might decide to put me or what He might ask me to walk through.

Esther is a Biblical example of someone who learned to suffer well and to let her suffering shape and develop her character. Her life should definitely make us question how we handle difficult circumstances and how we can develop the same character attributes that we see bringing her favor with God and with men. God is just as sovereign and strategic in our lives and it’s important that we recognize that. Each of us is being shaped and placed exactly where God wants us to be and our actions echo into eternity as well. Esther is the perfect person for me to study again as I’m asked to step back, cede my life again to Christ, and simply obey.

Thoughts from a snow day

I find out a lot about myself when I look at how I spend my time. I typed something in a conversation the other day that hit me pretty hard once I looked at it again. I said, “Sleep always trumps food. Wait no, sleep trumps everything except God.” And then I realized that all too often, even sleep trumps God in my life. And then… when I take a deeper look I realize how much pride I struggle with… the idea that I’m somewhat in control is probably one of the hardest things for me to let go of. I find that I let it go and then somewhere between there and here, I’ve unknowingly picked it back up again. It determines how I behave, how I spend my time, and where I place my trust.

Pride. Sin. They keep me from God. I know that He’s completely sovereign… that He holds my life in His hands, allows each breath I take to provide oxygen to my lungs and has all of the hairs on my head numbered, but so often I question His timing, His plan, and the path I’m walking down.

Change. There’s very little I hate more than change. Especially if it’s life-altering. I recognize also, that change is good and that without change we die… but these recognitions don’t make it any easier to make the leap. I find that when I’m faced with it I begin to shut down on the inside… I tell myself it’s ok, that I’m ok, and that the distrust is merely preparation for the inevitable losses that will occur.

I’ve been this way my whole life. I’ve never been able to dive head first off of a diving board or do a cartwheel. And I think it’s because I’ve always been too worried about protecting myself – as if I could add even a second to the days I’ve been allotted (Psalm 31:15, 139:16).

Fear is a lack of faith. And its sin. We so clearly see that in the life of Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples. Peter’s an ordinary guy who displays extraordinary faith at different points in Scripture – He leaves his job to follow Jesus at just His words, “follow Me” (Matt. 4:18-19), walks on water out to meet Jesus at the word “come” (Matt. 14:28-29), and understands who Jesus really is before many other people do (Matt. 16:16, Mark 8:29). However, Peter is so often reactionary and easily swayed instead of unmovable in his faith. He starts to sink when he is distracted by the wind and the waves (Matt. 14:30), he cuts off a soldier’s ear when Jesus was arrested (Matt. 26:51), and then swears he never knew Him when he’s associated with Christ later (Matt. 26:69-75).

All of this to say: I find myself feeling a lot like Peter today. I feel like sometimes I wake up to the fact that I’m walking across water and I can’t make it on my own – I will certainly drown unless saved by grace. These times, the times when I recognize how very much I need Jesus – the times when my total insufficiency comes to light and all of my pride is exposed – this is how He keeps me close. In His overwhelming goodness, He walks me through change often so that my own heart is exposed and I’m forced to come to terms with the fear residing there. Without the grace of God, I’d be off always doing my own thing… forcing doors that aren’t supposed to open and clinging to things that I should gracefully let go of.

Ryan shared Acts 16:6-10 with me the other day:

“6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down lto Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul3 had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

The message here is great and I love the way he put it: “They kept moving. God closed doors. They changed directions. God closed doors. They went a different way. God showed them what they were to do.”

I was also reminded of Matthew 6:25-34 today:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?7 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, jeven Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

I’m learning to leap. I’m learning to let go. I’m learning to trust completely, all over again. All because of this truth: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:16)”