The Win/Lose Scenario (Or, When I’m Worried About Being A Loser)

What do you do when success for someone else means failure for you? David had to ponder this question a number of times, starting as a boy, when he fought off lions and bears to protect his flock.

This became a refrain in David’s life. Once he was anointed to be the next king of Israel, this roused King Saul’s jealousy, and Saul made numerous attempts on his life. The Philistines didn’t much care for David either. Sometimes his own people — even his own officials — betrayed him and fought against him. Finally, his own child, Absalom, came against him and drove him from his throne.

In each of these situations, there was no intention of creating a win/win scenario. Former friends and family members turned into mortal enemies. And for them to win, David had to lose. So David had to learn how to handle his fears, sustain his hope, stay strong in faith, and be courageous in battle.

If you read the Psalms that were composed during these periods in his life, a pattern begins to emerge in David’s prayers. He would often follow a version of this pattern:

  1. Lord, I see my situation. I am going to be real with you, God. This situation frightens me. It keeps me up at night. It gives me an upset stomach and high blood pressure. I struggle to calm my troubled thoughts, or to get this situation out of my head, or even to think about anything else.
  2. Lord, I see you. I know you are my God. You are my powerful Deliverer. You are my shield from harm. You have promised to be my Savior from sin, my protection in danger, and my hope in death.
  3. Lord, I see your goodness. We have a track record with each other, God. You have always been kind to me, and sheltered me from harm. You gave me strength to slay the lion and the bear when I was still a little boy — with my bare hands! That was not me, Lord. That was you. Remember what you did for me when Goliath came at me? You sent that very first smooth, round stone into Goliath’s forehead. Remember Saul? Or that time with the Philistines, when they were attacking me? Each time, you helped me. You protected me.
  4. Lord, I see your victory. Others may have their plans to see me fail — to see me stumble and fall. But you have victory in store for me. It may be earthly victory, Lord, if that’s your will. Or it may be eternal victory, if that’s your choice for me. One thing I know about you. You love me as your child. You have a special place in your heart for those who have been humbled. And you will see to it that in the end, justice is done. Because I am your child, I will rise victorious and your name will be glorified.

What a great pattern for any of us to follow when we find ourselves in our own win/lose situation. If you find yourself in that set of circumstances right now, can I urge you to find a quiet place, take several deep breaths, close your eyes, maybe even count to ten, and say,

“Lord, I see my situation… Lord, I see you… Lord, I see your goodness… Lord, I see your victory…

…May your name be glorified, Lord!”

“O LORD, I say to you, “You are my God.” Hear, O LORD, my cry for mercy. O Sovereign LORD, my strong deliverer, who shields my head in the day of battle — do not grant the wicked their desires, O LORD; do not let their plans succeed, or they will become proud… May slanderers not be established in the land; may disaster hunt down the violent. I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy. Surely the righteous will praise your name, and the upright will live in your presence.” (Psalm 140:6-8, 11-13, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, December 11, is Esther 1:1 – 2:18, Revelation 2:18 – 3:6 and Psalm 140:6-13.

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Perfect Protection

God’s promises are like a powerful shield that guards us from the slings and arrows of life. Make no mistake, life will throw its best blows at us. But God’s promises are our perfect protection — whether from sin, the temptations of Satan, or even death itself.

God’s promises are our rest. We can lie in them when we feel exhausted.

God’s promises are our rescue. We can look to them when we feel lost.

God’s promises are our medicine. We can find healing in them when we feel broken.

God’s promises are our power. We can find strength in them when we feel weak.

God’s promises are our vindication. We can find justice in them when we feel wronged.

God’s promises are our guidance. We can find direction and purpose in them when we feel life has lost its meaning.

And the Israelites were all of these when they were exiled in Babylon. They were exhausted, lost, broken, weak, wronged and felt life had lost its meaning. So God sent Ezekiel to them to remind them of his promises.

According to Ezekiel, the Israelites would find everything their souls were missing in the promises of their gracious God.

And so will we!

“I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice” (Ezekiel 34:15-16, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, November 18, is Ezekiel 33:21 – 35:15, James 2:1-26 and Psalm 128:1-6.

Lord, your promises are wonderful. Help me to always remember how important and helpful they are. They are my perfect protection. I want to look to your promises for everything my soul needs in life.

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Divine Safety Net

Marcus Aurelius was the original “philosopher-king.” Emperor of Rome for 19 years, from 161-180 AD, he was also considered one of the greatest Stoic philosophers. He was a big advocate of self-sufficiency and personal self-empowerment. He once wrote, “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”

What Marcus Aurelius said almost 2000 years ago has become a rallying cry for modern American culture. “It is all within yourself,” we are told. We can make our own way, create our own life, carve our own path. Be fiercely independent. Or, as Frank Sinatra famously put it in his iconic song: “I did it my way.”

But it’s all an elaborate deception. That message is a lie.

There is a much better way, and it involves not going it alone. It means doing life together with God. It entails leaning on him for strength and wisdom, for courage, forgiveness and peace. It means believing that God is right when he tells us, “Two are better than one.” And that’s especially true when one of the two is God.

Consider this. When God is at our side, we have the Creator of heaven and earth beside us. When God is at our side, we have one who never needs to rest or sleep beside us. When God is at our side, we have One who desires to shade us from harm and who wants to to keep our foot from slipping. He knows the entirety of our life, and he knows the little bits and pieces of our life too — right down to every time we leave to go somewhere, and every time we return.

Sometimes life can be as risky as a trapeze act. But God is our divine safety net. He is where our help comes from.

Which means — as the Psalmist writes — he would be a pretty good person to keep close at hand at all times.

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore” (Psalm 121:1-8, NIV).

Lord, thank you for being my protection. I am grateful that you watch over me, and over my coming and going. Help me to always recognize my need for you and your protection. Walk with me and guard my life.

Our Bible reading for Monday, November 9, is Ezekiel 17:1 – 18:32, Hebrews 9:16-28 and Psalm 121:1-8.

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What God Dreams About

Everyone has dreams. Dreams give us hope. Dreams keep us going. Dreams guide us to our next step, and they guide us to the goal line.

In fact, Helen Keller once said that if a person possesses no vision or dream, he is in a sad state: “The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but no vision.”

So we know that people have dreams. But did you know that God also has dreams? He absolutely does! He has a very clear vision for his relationship with his people. I was reminded of this by a passage from the book of Jeremiah.

At an absolute low point in Israel’s history, God had banished his people to Babylon. It didn’t look as if God’s relationship with them would ever be right again. The closeness and tightness of their relationship appeared to be gone forever.

But God kept the dream alive that he would reconcile with his people. He revealed this vision through Jeremiah. Though events would have indicated that God’s relationship with the Israelites was over and done forever, God’s promises indicated that his grace and forgiveness was very much alive.

Do you believe that God still has a dream for his people today? Are you confident that his grace and forgiveness are very much alive? Do you know that he dreams about you, and about the relationship that he hopes to have with you — just as he did so many years ago in the days of Jeremiah?

As then, so now.

I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul. (Jeremiah 32:37-41, NIV).

Lord, help me to understand that you have dreams for me. Help me to remain confident that your vision for me and my life are good and kind, and will bring me blessing upon blessing.

Our Bible reading for Friday, October 16, is Jeremiah 32:26 – 34:22, 1 Timothy 1:1-20 and Psalm 119:41-48.

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Refresh Your “Why”

“By perseverance the snail reached the ark,” said Charles Spurgeon, the great British preacher. But that simply raises a question: “Whose perseverance was it? The snail’s? Or God’s?”

There are really two things that keep a Christian going. These two things form our “why” for being a Christian.

The first is God’s love for us. There is no love as steady, as firm, as lasting, as God’s love. His love in unconditional and unrelenting. His love is forgiving and merciful. His love is caring and compassionate.

And the second is Christ’s perseverance. Once Jesus commits to something, he will always see it through to the end. It doesn’t matter how much it costs him, Jesus’ promise means it’s already as good as done. Because he will always persist until he has finished what he started.

And there’s no better reminder of both God’s love and Christ’s perseverance than the cross and the empty tomb.

The cross and and the empty tomb are our guarantee. A God and Savior as loving and persevering as ours will help us in our weakness. He will strengthen us when we are down. He will protect us when we are undergoing the devil’s attacks. He will help us repent of our sins and do the things God has commanded in his law.

That’s why the apostle Paul prays that the hearts of the Thessalonians would be constantly directed toward God’s love and perseverance. Here the word “heart” indicates not simply their emotions, but also their intellect and the will.

He knew that as long as the Thessalonians’ hearts, minds and willpower moved in that direction — in that correct direction toward God’s love and Christ’s perseverance — then their faith in God would grow, and their connection to Jesus would remain steady, solid and unbreakable. Their energy for Christ and for the gospel would never wane, and their unified, hard work for the kingdom would continue.

The love of God and the perseverance of Christ is the very source — the “why” — of our own love and perseverance. But far more importantly, it is also the source of our forgiveness, our reconciliation to God, and eternal life.

Does your “why” for being a Christian need to be refreshed and renewed? Say a little prayer today. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct the eyes of your heart, mind and will into God’s love for you, and into Christ’s perseverance that took him all the way to the cross for you.

“But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. (2 Thessalonians 3:3-5, NIV).

Holy Spirit, direct my heart into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. Help me to remember God’s faithfulness and his protection. Give me a repentant heart for the times when I fail to keep God’s commands, and grant me forgiveness at the cross of Christ. Help me to continue to do the things God commands with the love and perseverance you first displayed for me, and now give to me.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, October 15, is Jeremiah 31:15 – 32:25, 2 Thessalonians 3:1-18 and Proverbs 25:1-10.

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Seeking and Working: Opposites that Attract

Hezekiah was a 25 year old young man when he became king of Judah. And his father Ahaz had not been a good king. Not even close. Let’s just say that Hezekiah’s father was best known for shutting the temple down, while simultaneously setting up altars to false gods on every street corner in Jerusalem. They were like Circle K’s, they were so prevalent.

From the very beginning of his reign in Jerusalem, Hezekiah set out to do the right thing in God’s eyes. Hezekiah’s hero, the man he sought to emulate was not his father, but his ancestor David. He wanted to have the heart and mind of the king who was “a man after God’s own heart.”

What I love about the description of Hezekiah is the dual nature of how Hezekiah lived out his relationship with God in everyday, practical terms. From this depiction of Hezekiah, we get a sense of what his relationship with God actually looked like.

So, what did it look like? If we had been someone serving under King Hezekiah, or a personal friend or family member, or even one of his enemies, what would we have noticed about him?

I think the answer to this question boils down to two things.

First, we would have observed that Hezekiah was a man of prayer. He looked to God instead of to himself for answers. He did not make a move without first consulting God for guidance.

And second, we would have been amazed at Hezekiah’s passion and work ethic. We would have seen a mission-minded, vision-focused individual, who nevertheless had his feet planted firmly on the ground, and his hands always moving and prepared to get dirty.

How about you? How often do you step aside, create some space, and push the world away for a little while so that you can consult with God in prayer, and ask God for direction and guidance?

And then, how ready are you to plant your feet firmly on the ground, and say to yourself, “Ready, Set, Go!”? How prepared are you to get your hands dirty doing whatever the kingdom requires, serving God wholeheartedly?

I think you can see from Hezekiah’s life that the Lord responds to such bold inquiry through prayer, and to such readiness to work passionately for the kingdom. Just see how God watched over Hezekiah, and all the people that faithful Hezekiah led, and took care of them “on every side!”

These two — seeking and working — on the surface of things, might look like opposites. One is quiet and meditative, the other active and busy.

But these are two opposites that definitely attract God’s attention!

“This is what Hezekiah did throughout Judah, doing what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. In everything that he undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered… So the Lord saved Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib king of Assyria and from the hand of all others. He took care of them on every side” (2 Chronicles 31:20-21, 32:22, NIV).

Heavenly Father, thank you that you show us people like Hezekiah, who walked faithfully with you in faith. Help me by your Spirit’s power to emulate his heart, his mind, and his actions. I want to become a person of fervent prayer, and learn to seek your guidance always. I want to become a person of action, ready to serve you and your kingdom with passion, energy and joy!

Our Bible reading for Friday, August 28, is 2 Chronicles 31:2 – 33:20, 2 Corinthians 1:23 – 2:11 and Proverbs 21:5-16.

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A Stronghold and a Shelter

When I visited Mozambique this past summer I got a chance to visit the Ilha de Mocambique, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The reason this small, seemingly insignificant island is so highly honored is its history. On the island itself is the Fort Sao Sabastio, the oldest fort still standing in sub-Saharan Africa. This massive fort’s construction began in 1558, and was not completed until fifty years later.

It was a true stronghold, evidenced by how solidly it still stands more than four hundred years later. With a little clean-up, it could still be a functioning fort. In fact, there’s a proposal on the books in Mozambique to turn it into a university.

This is now the place I think of when I read Psalm 27. God is like this solid stronghold, only far better. This stone fort is actually a mere shadow of the stronghold that our Lord is.

The promises of Psalm 27 are truly awe-inspiring. The Lord is our refuge. Our shelter. Our rock.

He will give us courage when we are afraid. He will give us confidence when we are shaky. He will give us calm when we are threatened.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid?

For in the day of trouble
    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
    and set me high upon a rock” (Psalm 27:1, 5, NIV). 

So what’s your personal version of “the day of trouble” right now? What’s keeping you awake at night? What history is chasing you? What enemy is pursuing you? What situation is threatening you?

Here’s God’s promise to you: Jesus will guide you, and light the way forward with his word. Jesus will protect you behind the walls of his love. Jesus will hide you under the tent of his grace. Jesus will set you high on the rock of his righteousness.

Our Bible reading for Friday, February 27, is Leviticus 1:1 – 3:17, Mark 9:33 – 10:12, and Psalm 27:1-6.

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