Chasing After the Wind?

 

“Don’t be swayed by the false values and goals of this world, but put Christ and His will first in everything you do.” –Billy Graham

 

Solomon, long considered one of history’s wisest men, testified, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

  • He worked tirelessly to obtain labor’s sweet rewards: success, wealth, and possessions.
  • He accumulated enough wealth to build huge homes and plant beautiful vineyards, gardens, and parks.
  • He employed many servants.
  • He surrounded himself with all the worldly pleasures imaginable.

What did he conclude?

“Yet, when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:11). True satisfaction eluded him.

There is an old story about a rich business mogul who walked past a fisherman, sitting beside his boat, relaxing in the afternoon sun. The mogul asked, “Why aren’t you out catching fish?” The fisherman replied, “I’ve caught enough for today.”

The rich man persisted, “Why don’t you catch more fish than you need? You could make money. You could use it to buy a bigger boat, nylon nets, and go out deeper and catch even more fish. Then, one day, you could have a whole fleet of boats!”

“Then what would I do?” the fisherman asked. “Well, you could sit down, relax and enjoy life.” The fisherman replied, “What do you think I’m doing right now?”

Solomon seems to have come to a similar conclusion.

“What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun?

All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless. A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil.

This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” (Ecclesiastes 2: 22-25)

The sage’s experience taught him toiling in pursuit of more only robbed him of the comfort and enjoyment of what he had.

Hard work, in balance and perspective, has its rewards in this life—and they are to be enjoyed as a gift from the hand of God. Apart from this realization, no one can find satisfaction.

Jesus asks, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world and yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36) When it comes to recognizing what’s most important, sometimes we miss the forest through the trees.

 

My prayer this week – Lord, thank you for the many blessings you’ve bestowed upon me through my work, its remuneration, and rewards. Will you help me to balance my priorities, to accomplish work in its appointed hours, and to wisely employ and enjoy its benefits as a blessing from your hand?

 

Am I A Grateful Leader?

 

“Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul.” –Henry Ward Beecher

 

Historians tell of an incident involving the Persian king Xerxes. After his victory over the Greeks at Salamis, the king and many of his men boarded a Phoenician ship for home when a terrible storm came upon them.

The captain of the ship advised the king, unless the ship’s load was lightened, they’d all perish.

The king turned to his men and said, “It is on you that my safety depends. Let some of you show your regard for your king!”

Several of his men threw themselves overboard.

 The ship made it safely to shore. King Xerxes had the captain rewarded, placing a crown of gold on his head—and then promptly ordered him beheaded for causing the death of so many Persians.

So much for gratefulness!

Gratefulness is one of the most important characteristics a leader can possess.

While team members look to you for vision and direction as to where you’re headed, the atmosphere you create in getting there is every bit as important.

Not only is gratefulness great in the work environment, it’s good for us!

Studies have shown being grateful improves our physical and emotional health. It boosts our immune system and increases blood supply to our heart.

People who have kept a gratitude journal report increased alertness, enthusiasm, and improved sleep. What’s not to love about being grateful?

But gratefulness doesn’t come naturally to us.

There’s a story in Luke’s Gospel which paints the picture. On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus approached a village where he met ten men suffering from leprosy. In Jesus’ day, nothing was as pitiable as leprosy.

“Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:45-46).           

This explains why Luke introduced them as he did: They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (Luke 17:12-13)

Jesus heals them. He sends them to the priest—as was required by the law—so they could officially be deemed clean.

It’s not a stretch to say Jesus gave these ten men new life—restored to family, community and the practices of their faith, all of which leprosy had deprived them for years. But the story continues:

“One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?” (Luke 17:15-17)

They’d obviously moved on into their new lives, no time to be grateful.

Gratefulness isn’t just a good idea. It’s a command: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

It’s good for you, and it’s great for those around you.

 

My prayer this week – Lord, will you cultivate a more grateful heart in me? Will you make me a grateful leader? Will you help me to recognize those around me and express my gratefulness to them?

Are We There Yet?

 

“Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”   –Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of a long trip by automobile with young children, you remember the oft-repeated refrain: Are we there yet? How much longer? When are we going to be there? Are we almost there?

It’s a good thing Abram didn’t have any children when God called him to set out on a journey: “The Lord said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to a land I will show you’” (Genesis 12:1).

It’s interesting to consider what’s missing in this instruction—no destination or directions are given!

If you look closely at the calling God gave Abram, while it’s void of step-by-step and turn-by-turn directions, it’s absolutely full of promises! What God did say: “to a land I will show you” (emphasis added).

Read on. “I will make you into a great nation; I will bless you; I will make your name great; I will bless those who bless you; I will curse those who curse you” (Genesis 12:2-3 emphasis added).

God’s call is framed by promises of the role he will play—what He will do.

Abram’s journey unfolds over the next several chapters of Genesis. It was anything but smooth sailing.

The story is replete with obstacles and hurdles—some self-inflicted as Abram tried to “help” God bring his promises to pass.

There were many opportunities for discouragement along the way:

  • The land God was leading them to—it was inhabited by Canaanites.
  • The place they found to settle—a famine set in and forced them down to Egypt.
  • Because of Sarai’s beauty, Abram worried Pharaoh would kill him, so he said she was not his wife, but his sister—and then Pharaoh married her!

Are we there yet? How much longer?

It was quite a journey between the initial call to Abram and when he became Abraham—the father of the faithful!

Remember all those ‘I wills’? At every juncture, at every impasse—even on those occasions when Abram foolishly acted on his own—God was at work behind the scenes.

He promised “I will” and he did!

The writer of Hebrews tells us, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8).

Abraham’s journey, messy as it sometimes was, is summed up as an example of faith. There were occasions of discouragement, doubt, uncertainty and even folly—all the while God was at work behind the scenes.

Abraham stepped out in faith, and stumbled along after God. Faith is like that. But we can be assured the destination is in God’s capable hands. 

 

My prayer this week – Father, it is my desire to follow after you in faith, on those days when it’s easy and especially on those days when it’s hard. Would you remind me often it is you who calls, you who wills, and you who will complete the good work you’ve begun in me?

Consider it Joy?

 

“Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course.”  –William Shakespeare

 

Biologists have discovered, as strange as it seems, habitual well-being is not advantageous to a species. Life without challenge takes its toll on every living thing. 

Consider animals in a zoo. Zoo animals have a trouble-free shelter and environment constructed for them, food and water delivered to them, all while they lie around and get fat. Their survival instincts and their spirits are dulled. They can never be set free.

Or consider trees in a rain forest. Because water is so readily available, their root systems don’t extend more than a couple feet below the surface. They’re so shallowly anchored they can be easily toppled by a gust of wind.

Contrast this with the wild fig trees in the arid region of South Africa. Their root systems are forced to sink some 400 feet into the earth to reach moisture and nutrients. As a result of their being solidly anchored, there isn’t a wind that can harm them.

Nature shows us: an unfriendly habitat actually contributes to stability and vigor. The same is true of our spiritual lives.

The apostle Peter addressed a letter “To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered …” (1 Peter 1:1). The Jews of the dispersion, they were called. Persecution and trials were their everyday norm.

Peter reminds them, they and the adversity they endured, were deeply rooted in the sovereign will of God—and were bringing forth fruit. Concerning trials they faced, he offers:

“These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:7).

James, of course, set the trials and adversity of this life in proper perspective when he urges, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1:2-3).

These passages call on us to consider adversity and trial from the vantage point of confidence in God’s sovereignty. He’s accomplishing something in us. When suffering, “Do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord” (1 Peter 3:14-15).

We are to fix our eyes on Jesus. We may not completely understand, but with roots of faith sunk deeply in our God, life’s strongest gales won’t topple us. Rather, they’ll further contribute to our stability and vigor. Oh joy!

 

My prayer this week – Father, thank you for the many things you use in my life to grow my faith—even trials and adversity. Would you help me to bring a heavenly perspective to my struggles this week? Will you grow my faith—deepen my roots— in you?

What is Most Important?

 

“Time is all you have and you may find one day that you have less than you think.”― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

 

Professors are sometimes asked to teach on what wisdom they would impart if they knew it was their last chance—their last lecture.

In August of 2007, Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, received a terminal diagnosis: dying of pancreatic cancer, he might have six months left to live. One month later he delivered his last lecture.

His lecture went viral—it was viewed more than a million times in the first month after it was delivered. Pausch then co-authored the book The Last Lecture, which became a New York Times Best-Seller. Pausch died on July 25th, 2008. He was 47 years old.

What would make up your last lecture? What would be most important to share if it were your last chance?

Consider Jesus’ last lecture. It’s recorded in John chapters 13-16.

John 13 begins with these words: “Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world.” He knew this was the last chance to impart what was most important. John sets the stage with these words: “Having loved his own in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love” (John 13:1).

The Lord begins with a demonstration. He gets up from the meal—referred to as ‘the last supper’—takes off his outer garments, gathers a basin and towel, stoops and begins washing the feet of his disciples.

In Jesus’ day, this was the task of the lowliest of servants. The demonstration ends, and Jesus says, “I have set you an example” (John 13:15).

Indeed he had, but not just on this occasion of foot washing. The disciples had seen Jesus day in and day out. They knew the content of his character. They had experienced his love.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). Later in this same last lecture he reiterates: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). And still a third time, “This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:17).

Jesus’ last lecture is followed in John 17 by the record of his last prayer. Look at how the prayer ends: “I have made you known to them in order that the love you have for me will be in them” (John 17:26).

With the last words, last lecture, and last prayer, we can believe Jesus conveyed what was of the utmost importance in his heart—love one another.

 

My prayer this week – Lord, the manner in which I love others was important enough to be the theme of the last lesson you shared. Would you help me to see others with your heart and to love them with your love? May they come to know I am your disciple by my love?

Are You Wanting of Wisdom

 

“There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.” –C.H. Spurgeon

There’s an old story about a pompous young man who approached Socrates and declared, “O wise Socrates, I’ve come to you for wisdom!” Socrates led the man out into a nearby body of water, and when they were chest deep, asked, “What is it you desire of me?” “Wisdom,” the young man proudly replied.

With that, Socrates grabbed him by the shoulders and thrust him under the water. He held him down while he counted to thirty, then raised him up asking, “What is it you want?” “Wisdom,” sputtered the young man.

Again, the philosopher dunked him, this time counting to forty. Raised again, the teacher asked, “What is it you desire?” “Wisdom,” the student choked.

This time Socrates held him under to a count of fifty, then raised him again, “What is it you want?” “Air!” the desperate youth cried out. Socrates smiled, “There you have it—wisdom!”
Wisdom isn’t an innate virtue. It’s acquired. One of the ways it’s acquired is through experience—as the repeatedly dunked young man illustrates.

But for believers, there is a tremendous promise in the Bible to behold—“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).

God gave King Solomon an enormous blessing and responsibility—to lead the nation Israel, a people “as numerous as the dust of the earth.” Solomon was a smart guy. He knew enough to recognize his knowledge was insufficient. He prayed, “Give me wisdom, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (2 Chronicles 1:10)

God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possessions or honor … but for wisdom to govern my people over whom I have made you king, therefore wisdom will be given you” (2 Chronicles 1:11-12).

The weight of the task and his own want of wisdom drove King Solomon to his knees. And God responded. It’s a formula that works. Consider this testimony:
“I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of those about me seemed insufficient for the day.” –Abraham Lincoln

When overwhelmed by the weight of tasks at hand, the burden of outcomes unknown, and in recognition of our own want of wisdom for a given situation, what we need is readily available. Will we ask?

 

My prayer for this week – Lord, I give thanks for the roles and responsibilities you’ve called me to in this life. I especially give thanks for those things which drive me to my knees, in want of your wisdom. Will you grant me wisdom to meet my calling each day?


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