I’ve gone for most of my life without seeing many (if any) clear, straight-up, physical, unquestionable, out-of-this-world miracles. I’ve often had to chalk up much of other people's supernatural stories as God at work in a different way in, through, and around them. But especially in my early days of wrestling with my faith, I found myself wondering often why God wouldn’t show up in similar ways for me.
It’s forced me to wonder if my perspective is off. Do I see things in a way that I’m missing the miracles in and around me each day? If God truly is at work in this world and I’m an ambassador of His Kingdom, I don’t want to miss Him.
It’s clear to see throughout the New Testament that we as believers have access and proximity to God’s power like never before. God used to be only present to the High Priest. But now, the Holy Spirit resides in each of us. Jesus was only able to be with certain people for certain amounts of time. But now, the Spirit is with us during all circumstances.
But is the extraordinary and divine limited to only “out-of-this-world” encounters? Would He possibly be able to (and want to) use the quieter, undetected stuff to leverage His power to create something in us?
If you can relate with me, I think God is using you already more than you think and that His power is really with you.
But how do you tap into “phenomenal cosmic power?” Maybe start simple. Maybe start small.
Lately God has been leading me to dwell in thankfulness.
Getting washed by thankfulness can change your perspective of just about everything in your life.
I’m guessing I don’t need to convince you that thankfulness is a fruit that pops up in our life from being with God. But just in case...
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” - 1 Thessalonians 5:18
“And whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” - Colossians 3:17
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God,” - Philippians 4:6
I really believe that to the level that we meditate and soak in thankfulness, we understand and see God’s active power in our lives. Look at how the opposite can be true:
“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” - Romans 1:21
Do you see that? These people knew God but didn’t honor Him or give thanks. And what was the result of this way of life? Their thinking was stifled. Their hearts were darkened.
Think about what thankfulness does: It forces us to think about what we have rather than what we wished we had. It forces us to remember that we don’t deserve whatever good things we have. It causes us to truly consider who’s provided the goodness in our lives.
If you find yourself wishing that you saw God more at work in your life, slow down and cultivate thankfulness in your life.
Take a few moments right now.
Try to stop yourself each hour throughout the day.
Get your journal out, and list every little thing that you’re thankful for.
As your thankfulness grows, focusing on what God is up to in your life is more natural. And He created us to see Him clearly. Slow down. It’s worth it.
Every day you do this.
And every day, you lose energy because of it.
But you probably can’t stop it.
You notice how confident she is.
Or how kind he is.
Or how strong he is.
Or how well off she seems.
Or how peaceful his life must be.
I’m talking about comparison.
Comparison can slip into the menial thoughts and observations of our day-in, day-out routines. Take a real, honest self-inventory for a minute though. How often were you jealous (even a small amount) of someone today? Or how often did you feel inadequate to one degree or another because of someone else?
Over the years, it's been really easy for me to dismiss and accept these thought patterns as regular parts of life. But the more I've thought about it, these thoughts do absolutely nothing good for me. In fact, they seem to deteriorate my self-image when left unchecked. And sometimes the only response I have to think of is a tired quip.
Rome wasn’t built in a day.
But maybe it could be.
Maybe they just didn’t have the right technology to pull it off back then.
We might be able to do it in a day now.
Or at least less than however long it took them.
Whether or not that’s true, the adage has always been thrown around to remind us all that masterpieces don’t happen without hard work, determination, and time. But it's just too easy to think, "I wish I was that talented" or "If only I could do something that well" or "Yeah, I'll never be that good.
You know this feeling all too well, right?
Think back to gym class. Remember elementary gym class? Yeah, dodgeball was great, but I’m asking you to peer into those dark, repressed memories of the dreaded physical tests. If your school was anything like mine, you had these tests every other month or so where you had to do something like “10 pushups, 10 situps, 30 second wall sit, etc..” And right now, that doesn’t sound like much. But back then, it was HARD! I remember the very first gym test when I didn’t even really know what I was doing. My frail little chicken bone arms could barely sustain my body, let alone push it all the way up from the ground! I remember making it to 3 and then passing out on the floor. It was humiliating!
For a kid who had never worked out before, 10 pushups was hard. But imagine what I felt when I saw Sylvester Stallone taking care of business while training in Rocky. “I can barely do 3 regular pushups. He can ALTERNATE PUSHUPS WITH ONE ARM.” That’s crazy! And simply looking at how great Rocky is and how absolutely unable I was, my present state was obviously not great. And it was easy to think that my future was just as impossible.
And for a 3rd grader, yes, that’s crazy. But don’t we do this to ourselves all the time? I frequently get excited about a dream that I want to make a reality. My wife will vouch for me on this. She hears about them all the time. Her first question after I’m done processing is usually, “Why don’t you try?” And immediately, all the bravery I had in ideating slips away. I run into comparing myself to people who have already blazed a similar trail and have done much better than I could.
Comparison is a crutch that you don’t need, and you can walk better without it.
Stop comparing yourself. If you think God’s given you a dream, chase it until He proves otherwise. If He really has, the worst thing that could get in His way is your choice to do nothing.
“We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.” - 2 Corinthians 10:12
Have you ever wished that you took more risks?
I often think this as I watch Shark Tank. The savvy entrepreneurs featured as “Sharks” defied all odds to achieve success. They hustled and worked against all opposition they experienced to get what they wanted.
And countless other celebrities would tell you that the odds were stacked against them.
Walt Disney when he was fired because of his lack of creativity.
Oprah was told she got too emotionally invested in her news stories.
Steven Spielberg was rejected from the Southern California School of Cinematic Arts.
It's really easy to see those stories and think that those people are special cases.
But here’s the thing we forget all too often:
God doesn’t do “odds.”
God at his very core is greater than us. And because he created the reasoning that we use to observe and speculate about the future, it would make sense that his ways would sometimes (or even oftentimes) go outside what we would expect AND be better, even with pain or uncertainty involved.
My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. - Isaiah 55:8-9
If He goes against what would most likely be possible, He disrupts our reasoning.
If He disrupts our reasoning, He gets our attention.
If He gets our attention, we tend to listen better.
I think about Jonathan and his armor-bearer taking on the entire Philistine army by themselves. If Jonathan had been looking at reason, he surely would’ve stayed put in his tent. But instead, he gets himself and his sidekick out of bed and in enemy territory--don’t miss this--ON A HUNCH.
“Let’s go across to the outpost of those pagans,” Jonathan said to his armor bearer. “Perhaps the Lord will help us, for nothing can hinder the Lord. He can win a battle whether he has many warriors or only a few!” - 1 Samuel 14:6
Did you see that one little word, “Perhaps…”?
Now that’s a risk.
And I think Jonathan was so eager to take it because he understood this thing that so many of us miss: God doesn’t do “odds.” In fact, he loves defying odds so that He can wake humans up from their “humanness” and receive glory Himself.
Jonathan didn’t attack the Philistines because he wanted to make a name for himself.
Jonathan attacked because he saw an opportunity.
What opportunities lay in front of you?
In order to see them, you might have to lay “reason” to the side for a minute or two.
What are the incredible outcomes that could only happen through God’s provision and power?
Instead of running towards what makes sense, it’s time for us to run towards Jesus.
Sure, sometimes He is resting in the reasonable choice. But the reasonable choice is not a sign that Jesus is there.
Seek Him out. Pray so as to make yourself uncomfortable. And then see how God leads your steps, words, and actions. It may surprise you.
It's hard to feel stuck. Whether it's relationally, occupationally, with a hidden sin, with your finances, or spiritually, there's a deadness that seeps into all other areas of your life when you're feeling like you can't overcome something.
And when you look at Scripture, it's really easy to see that's not the way God created us to live. At. All.
If you're feeling stuck, it's time to live blessed instead.
I was reminded this morning that Jesus gives us a really good blueprint through the Beatitudes of what it looks like to focus our efforts on the most important things. As we focus on what's most important to Him, it puts our own circumstances and struggles in perspective.
The hinge point of these beatitudes is in the beginning of each when Jesus says "Blessed are those..." or, in some translations, "God blesses those..." This isn't #blessed where something good happens or we're reminded of how nice we have it. This is a deep sense of peace and joy that God has for His people when we're living in the ways that matter most to Him. The Greek word here can even be translated to "lucky" (more on this here) to remind us that we've been chosen and called not based off anything good we've done but because God loves us and is using us.
We can start to see our life as it actually is rather than hindered by our limited view if we hold tight to these things:
1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Stay sober-minded about whose you are. Your good works aren't yours. They're God's. In fact, your whole life is His. Keep your thoughts focused on whose you are, not on how well or poorly your actions seem.
2. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
The deepest mourning is when we see how far our actions truly separate us from the holiest of holies: God. When we remember our own depravity, we can see his grace more clearly. True comfort comes in seeing this.
3. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
We start to turn a corner here and see Jesus inviting us into a way of living. The term "meek" could more literally be defined as "the men who suffer wrong without bitterness or desire for revenge.” It's controlling our anger and choosing to love rather than dish out what we believe is deserved. God calls us to always live this way.
4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
This is not a "feel good" stanza. Jesus promises this. And of all the beatitudes, I'm most challenged by this one. I want to grow. I want to be closer to God. But is that the primary driving force of my life? Am I willing to forego all my selfish desires to truly experience His love and direction? Major heart check for me. And if you find yourself in a similar place, start praying this as often as you remember: "God, help me to hunger and thirst for your righteousness in me."
5. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
When we choose to give mercy to others who we feel may or may not deserve it, what we're really saying is, "God, I trust your justice over my own." And the truth is that you and I deserve judgment outside of the work of Jesus. When we treat others with the same mercy we've received from Jesus, we experience that mercy freshly.
6. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
We can't do this on our own. Scripture's clear that our hearts are deceitful, wicked, and self-seeking. But when we continually seek to empty ourselves and live God's way instead of our own, we see His ways more clearly. And by reaction, we can see and know Him more clearly, too.
7. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
"This does not describe those who live in peace, but those who actually bring about peace, overcoming evil with good." To witness and participate in bringing God's Kingdom to earth is one of His greatest calls. We do that in the small acts of grace we show to our coworkers or family members. We also do this in bringing relief and restoration to brokenness we find in our neighborhoods and cities.
8. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Persecution is such a tough subject for those of us who live in "comfortable" America, where the highest amount of persecution we may receive is a dirty look from a coworker. My greatest challenge in this is to not live safely. It's easy for "American Christianity" to just be a part of our lives that doesn't stir the pot or create uncomfortableness for others or ourselves. When I think about the stories of the early church and true persecution, I think of men and women who were willing to look like complete fools that even one person would understand the God who loves them. How "out of my way" am I willing to go to listen and obey the true voice of God? To what degree would His voice be just a little too crazy or weird for me to say, "Yeah, probably not that." And how can I stretch myself and invite the work of the Spirit in my life instead of doing what just feels like enough to me?
I pray that Jesus' words would stir up your heart to think differently about your circumstances. I pray that you would live a truly blessed life. I pray that whatever you feel stuck by would loosen its grip on you as you pursue the way of Jesus. And I pray that God would direct your thoughts and actions to what matters most: His voice and His way.
Some thrill seekers are drawn to the unknown like a moth to a flame.
For the rest of us, THE UNKNOWN CAN FREAK US OUT.
It’s part of our psyche, especially for guys, to see the world as structured by formulas.
Do this and that will happen.
Try that and this will be the result.
But formulas only work every time when it comes to chemical compounds and taxes. Or something like that.
People are inherently unpredictable. We are fickle, needy, and uncertain. We break the mold, frustrate each other, and out of nowhere think of ways to help each other out.
That’s why when you’re struggling mentally, you need a counselor, not a mathematician.
And when it comes to anything unstable or erratic, our brains tend to fill in the gaps with the worst possible scenario.
If I don’t know where my child ran off to, she’s definitely in immediate danger.
If my pastor steps down from his position, the guy who’s going to replace him can never be as good.
Whatever the reason we do this, it is completely unfounded and unnecessary. We become instantly superstitious of something that hasn’t even happened yet. And treating it as though it is imminent, certain, or truth can dangerously warp our perception of the world we live in and the God who is in control of it all.
When we invite this fear into our lives, we are trading away the hope and peace that Christ intended our lives to be filled with.
The great news is that this trade-in offer doesn’t have a “must return” date. If you know that you’re being run by a feeling that isn’t even real, hand it over. Get it out. Take on something much better.
God didn't create you to always be looking over your shoulder anticipating the worst.
He created you to trust Him.
And through that trust, He begins to show you better ways to prepare for and engage in the trials and joys that come your way each day.
And that's way better in my book.
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." - John 14:27