Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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When Pain Exposes Your Idols: No Other Gods Session 2

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(Second in a series of posts inspired by Kelly Minter’s Bible Study entitled No Other Gods: Confronting Our Modern-Day Idols)

Whenever I’m leading a group through a Bible study, I make it a priority to work through the book on my own before they begin. Back in the spring I studied Kelly Minter’s No Other Gods in preparation for this fall. The day I was reading Week 2, Day 3, I was sitting at my desk attempting to position my arm so that I could write. A huge splint bent at a ninety-degree angle was making it awkward to put pen to paper. It was just four days after breaking my elbow and wrist and I was reading about how God uses pain to identify our idols. Using the life of Hannah from 1 Samuel, the lesson gently emphasized that God occasionally brings pain into our lives for a reason. The last question on that day of study asked me to consider how Hannah’s life was enriched by God’s closing of her womb. Trying to connect her painful experience to mine, I scrawled a list of the things God was teaching me through having a broken arm (my comparison is not intended to diminish the deep pain of infertility). That list helped me to clarify the ways he was working and inspired me to write a few blog posts about what I was learning. (You can find those five posts from May and June of 2016 in the archives to the right.)

Now, seven months later, I was reviewing the lesson again to stay in sync with the women in my group. Turning the page in my book, I discovered a yellow Post-it note with the bullet-pointed list in my messy handwriting from back in the spring. It was the one I’d written a few days after breaking my arm. Ironically, I found it on the same day my doctor’s office had delivered a new device that will hopefully aid in healing my arm once and for all (at the moment, it still doesn’t extend fully).

Reading the list convicted me that some of the lessons I thought I’d learned needed to be repeated. I should probably explain this a bit more. My new therapy requires me to put my arm in a heavy elbow splint and to sit for thirty minutes three times a day. The device must remain on a hard surface and I have to be in a seated position. Since it’s my right arm, I can’t write, type or do anything particularly productive. Suffice it to say, I’ve been lamenting having ninety minutes of “wasted” time daily for the foreseeable future. My husband, on the other hand, thinks it’s awesome.  Apparently, my constant drive to be productive makes it difficult for my family to relax around me.

The more I thought about this, the more I felt convicted that although productivity is a good thing, it has become something of an idol in my life. The drive to complete tasks and tend to responsibilities can be relentless. And wrapped up in that is an underlying assumption that being constantly productive makes me a worthwhile person. There is a sense of power, identity and control that comes from knowing I’m accomplishing things constantly.

Reading Hannah’s prayer after the birth of her miraculous first child, I was struck by the contrasts in her description of God’s activities:

“The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up.

The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts…

For the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s; on them he has set the world.

He will guard the feet of his faithful servants, but the wicked will be silenced in the place of darkness.

It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the Lord will be broken.” (1 Samuel 2:6-7, 8b,9, NIV)

This is not the description of a haphazard or capricious God, but of a God who knows exactly what to give people in different seasons of their lives. He knows who needs more and who needs less; who needs to be humbled and who needs to be exalted. And he creates circumstances accordingly.

The last line of this passage is the one that strikes me hardest: “It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the Lord will be broken.” The power, identity and control that I get from being productive can make me feel strong. But this verse reminds me if my productivity is opposing God’s plans for me, I will be broken. For me, there are times when this has been literal. When I’m working so hard to do things “for” God without drawing on his strength and wisdom, I’m actually producing nothing of lasting value. Only when I draw near to him first and let his strength fill me and his wisdom guide me will I make any impact for his kingdom. And when he needs to remind me of this, he allows painful circumstances in my life, like a broken arm that refuses to heal fully without ninety minutes of doing nothing “productive” every day.

God is much more interested in a heart that is fully surrendered to him than a mind intent on being productive—even when the goal has spiritual implications (like writing a blog, preparing a Bible study or leading a ministry). Author Donna Partow says it this way: “God is not interested in the most efficient or effective way of accomplishing his work in this world…What he is profoundly interested in is you. And me…He is profoundly interested in molding and shaping us—conforming us to the image of his Son. He is profoundly interested in preparing us for the coming Kingdom, when we will reign as joint heirs with his Son.”

Josh Wilson’s song “Fall Apart” celebrates the way pain draws us near to the heart of God. Click on the link and be encouraged as you listen:

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Seeking Trustworthy Treasure- Sermon on the Mount Part 7

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The poster hung on my brother’s bedroom wall. In it, brilliant white buildings with blue domed roofs perched on a craggy hillside. Below them, the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea sparkled under the bright sky. A large title at the bottom read “Santorini, Greece.” I would gaze at the poster and think, someday, I’m going to visit that place.

The years have come and gone, and although I’ve never been, I still hope to visit Santorini … someday. The list of trips I’d like to take has only grown with age, but the same two things hold me back: time and money. With my firstborn preparing to leave for college in two years, taking this trip probably isn’t the wisest use of our resources right now. Maybe you can relate. It seems the responsibilities of our daily lives often keep us from turning our dreams into realities.

I think sometimes that’s how we view Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount too. They sound lofty and appealing, but not particularly practical: So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33, NIV)

Jesus urges us to structure our priorities so that seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness are of utmost importance. This is for our benefit and His glory. It sounds reassuring to hear God knows our daily practical needs, but what does it look like to seek His kingdom first? Ironically, I think it has to do with the same two things: time and money.

Your Time

Seeking God’s kingdom first includes short and long term decisions about how we spend our time. To evaluate the short term, think back on the last 3-5 days and consider the following: How many times did you read your Bible, pray or acknowledge God first thing in the morning?   We prioritize what we value most, so if you had time to shower, drink a cup of coffee, read your e-mail or check the news before leaving home, then it’s likely you had the time to spend a few minutes with God. It’s a matter of choices. If you want to make daily time with Him a higher priority, maybe it’s time to pray and ask Him to show you how.

We also make longer-term decisions about how we invest our time, whether that is in a paid job, a volunteer position, a service opportunity or our free time. Do you pray and seek God’s will before making decisions? Do you invite Him to show you how to use your time to bless others and to honor Him? This is another simple but profound way to align your priorities to His.

Seeking God’s kingdom first means including Him in your day and asking for His wisdom about how you spend your time. Try a simple prayer like this first thing in the morning: “God, let my priorities match with Yours today. Show me where you want to expand Your kingdom and what part You want me to play in that. Use me to bless others and to honor You today.”

Your Money

How, exactly, do we seek God’s kingdom first with our finances? Is there a realistic way to apply Jesus’ teaching?  “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21, NIV)

When our priorities align with God’s, we see money as a tool, not a source of security. God entrusts us with financial resources that provide for our needs. However, He also gives us opportunities to use them for His kingdom– whether that is supporting ministries, charities or specific people. When we are overly focused on our own comfort or security, we become self-centered and blind to the ways our material resources could further God’s kingdom.

If trusting God with finances is a struggle for you, pray and admit that to Him. Then, the next time you pay bills, let the first check you write be to your church or another ministry that spreads God’s kingdom. Show Him that you trust Him to meet your practical needs and that you want to seek His kingdom first. This intentional act will change your perspective on finances and give Him new opportunities to work in your life.

The only treasure that is 100% trustworthy is found in God’s kingdom. Our pursuit of Jesus enables us to align our priorities with His in ways that are both lofty and practical. It opens doors for Him to use our time and finances for greater impact and lets us discover the value of true treasure found only in Him.

Santorini will have to wait for now. In the meantime, I can experience the beauty of God’s kingdom every day right where I am.

Click on the link and make Lauren Daigle’s song “First” your prayer today.

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