Watch Out When Wants Become “Needs”

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There is a mistaken belief that urges or yearnings or cravings that humans have are sinful and must be quickly squelched. To that end, many will deny themselves absolutely anything that brings them pleasure. 

But what God creates, He calls “good” and even “very good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). In one part of the Creation account, we read that God created “trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food” (2:9). Things used in the way God created them are both good and good for us. The Creator knows the best uses, and He shares these with us. He also knows the harmful misuses, and He warns us of these. 

Even Lucifer was created “perfect in beauty” until his craving for more than God had given him corrupted his goodness and turned him into satan (Ezekiel 28:12-19). satan’s craving perverted his heart because he craved more than what the Creator had given him. 

He still uses the same tactic today: he attempts to turn a craving for a legitimate good into an irresistible, entitled pursuit for more. This is what he did with Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden, trying to get them to doubt God’s wisdom in forbidding them from eating that one tree (Genesis 2:16-17, 3:1-6). 

Adam and Eve needed food, and God gave them a craving for good food. But they didn’t need the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—they just wanted that forbidden fruit. 

When wants become “needs,” “needs” become idols. 

Once again, satan tried the same strategy with Jesus. Jesus had a craving for food after 40 days of fasting, but His Father said, “Not yet.” Notice how satan again tried to get Jesus to question God’s wisdom with his “if” questions at each temptation. He even quotes a Scripture out of context to try to legitimize turning a want into a need (Luke 4:3, 7, 9). 

These longings may seem irresistible, but John counsels us: For every child of God can obey Him, defeating sin and evil pleasure by trusting Christ to help him (1 John 5:4 TLB). Jesus defeated the craving for wants-turned-to-“needs” by using the Word of God, and we would be wise to do the same (Luke 4:4, 8, 12). 

When wants become “needs,” “needs” become idols. And when “needs” become idols, our unfulfilled cravings create anxiety. And when anxiety persists, sin is usually not too far behind. 

So any anxiety in our hearts should alert us to the idols of wants-turned-to-“needs.” In other words, make sure what you are calling “needs” aren’t just wants in disguise. 

How can you do this? By asking yourself these four questions: 

  1. Is this an earthly craving or an eternal craving? Cravings for earthly things will ultimately fail because this world is temporary (1 John 2:17).  
  2. If I don’t get this thing, will I die? If I answer “no,” it’s probably a want. 
  3. Will this craving bring me closer to God? Jesus said, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8). So let’s ask ourselves, “If this longing is fulfilled, will it make me more dependent on God?” If the answer is “no,” then it’s probably a want. 
  4. Will this craving glorify God’s name? Jesus taught us to begin our prayer with an attitude of longing for God’s name to be glorified (Matthew 6:9-10). We can definitely spot wants we’ve turned into “needs” when we are looking for personal gain. Check out this verse from the prophet Isaiah— 

And therefore the Lord earnestly waits, expecting, looking, and longing to be gracious to you; and therefore He lifts Himself up, that He may have mercy on you and show loving-kindness to you. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed—happy, fortunate, to be envied—are all those who earnestly wait for Him, who expect and look and long for Him—for His victory, His favor, His love, His peace, His joy, and His matchless, unbroken companionship! (Isaiah 30:18 AMP) 

God longs to be gracious to you, so He puts cravings in your heart that can only be satisfied by His presence. Lucifer and Adam and Eve all lost God’s “matchless, unbroken companionship” when they tried to appease the wants-turned-to-“needs” idol. It doesn’t have to be like that for us! Ask the Holy Spirit to help you spot those wrong cravings and turn them into cravings that only God can satisfy. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series called Craving, you can find the full list by clicking here. 

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Links & Quotes

The churches in my hometown have banded together to get food to students who need it for the weekend. Would you like to help us? We can use both your food donations and your financial support as we serve nearly 200 students every week.

Jesus said we are hypocrites when we give, pray, or fast only outwardly. He called our prayers “pagan” when we try to pray unnaturally. Jesus desires for our giving, praying, and fasting to be natural parts of who we are. This is a short clip of a full-length teaching called “Keepin’ it real” that I shared exclusively with my Patreon supporters. If you would like to sponsor me too for just $5/month, check out the details here.

“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!” —Audrey Hepburn

“Astronomers are thrilled by the extraordinary images provided by the new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)—but some of the data already contradict Big Bang expectations. … Creationists have long noted that the Big Bang suffers from the mature distant galaxy problem. Big Bang theorists assume that light from the most distant galaxies took more than 13 billion years to reach Earth. By Big Bang reckoning, we should be seeing these very distant galaxies, not as they are today, but as they were more than 13 billion years ago. Hence, these galaxies should look ‘unevolved’ and ‘immature.’ Yet this expectation is routinely contradicted, and preliminary data from Webb continues the trend.” Check out more from this ICR article.

“Our leadership will always be second to our followership of Jesus.” —Pastor Ben Stoffel

Have you ever been cursed out? Here’s how Jesus wants Christians to respond. It’s pretty easy to say something nice to someone who has done something nice for you. But Jesus tells us to say nice things to people regardless of how they have treated us.

“The battles that count aren’t the ones for gold medals. The struggles within yourself—that’s where it’s at.” —Jesse Owens

“Your walk walks, and your talk talks, but your walk talks more than your talk talks.” —Anonymous

Thursdays With Spurgeon—Aids Of Self-Judgment

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Aids Of Self-Judgment

My soul is consumed with longing for Your laws at all times. (Psalm 119:20) 

     Spiritual desires are the shadows of coming blessings. What God intends to give us, He first sets us longing for. Therefore, prayer is wonderfully effective because it is the embodiment of a longing that is inspired by God because He intends to bestow the blessing prayed for! What are your longings, then, my hearer? Do you long to be holy? The Lord will make you holy! Do you long to conquer sin? You will overcome it by faith in Jesus! Are you pining after fellowship with Christ? He will come and make His abode with you! Does your soul thirst, yes, even pant after God as the hart for the water brooks? Then you will be filled with all His fulness…. 

     I say not that it is so with all human wishes, for ‘the sluggard desires and has nothing’ [Proverbs 13:4] and many a man has such evil cravings within his heart that it were contrary to the purity of God for Him to grant them. But where there are intense, heartbreaking earnings of a holy order, depend upon it, they are tokens of good things to come! 

     Where the grace of God reigns in the soul, it makes a man become a stranger among his fellows…. Worldly men care nothing for the judgments of God. No, they care nothing for God Himself! But when a man becomes born anew, a citizen of heaven, there grows up within his spirit a spiritual appetite of which he had felt nothing before—and he longs after God and His Holy Word. See to it, brothers and sisters, whether your souls cry out for God, for the living God, for again I say, by your longings you may test yourselves—by your heart’s desires you may forecast the future—and by your hungering and thirsting you may judge whether you are men of this world or citizens of the world to come. With such aids to self-judgment, no man ought to remain in doubt as to his spiritual condition and eternal prospects.

From Holy Longings

I am currently teaching a series of lessons called Craving. We are learning in these sermons that God created our souls to long intensely, to have cravings. But we go astray when what we crave are things that will merely last during this world. 

John told us, “This world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever” (1 John 2:17 NLT). So by its very definition, worldly things will never satisfy our cravings because the world is temporary. Only an eternal God can give us eternal satisfaction. 

As Spurgeon teaches us here, examining our longings is the best aid of self-judgment and will help us determine our future. Craving God’s presence will bring God’s blessing and His eternal fulfillment of our cravings. Craving anything else will lead to frustration and eternal disappointment. 

God longs to bless us (Isaiah 30:18) as long as we are craving Him!

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Not The Answer I Was Expecting!

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

I think the story of Jonah is pretty well-known. God calls Jonah to take His message to Nineveh. Jonah agrees to do this, but then promptly boards a ship heading in the opposite direction. To get his attention, God sends a storm that rocks this boat so violently that the sailors can do nothing to make any headway. Ultimately, Jonah asks the sailors to throw him overboard. As soon as Jonah hits the water, the storm stopped and Jonah is swallowed alive by a great fish that God had provided. 

The story continues with this narrative: “From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God” (Jonah 2:1). In the next verse, Jonah repeats, “In my distress, I called to the Lord, and He answered me.” 

It appears that Jonah’s first prayer may have been on the deck of the storm-tossed ship. Perhaps he prayed something like, “God, I know I have sinned against You. Please have mercy and get me out of this! I promise I’ll obey You this time.” 

How did God answer that prayer? Jonah says God answered like this: “You hurled me into the deep.” 

That probably is not the answer to prayer that Jonah was expecting! 

I remember when my friend was in a similar place. He had sinned against both God and his employer, and found himself in a whole lot of hot water. As a result, he lost his job. 

That probably is not the answer to prayer that my friend was expecting! And yet it was the best answer. He shared with me several months later that getting fired not only got his attention, it helped him put his focus back on God, and put him on a path where God could use him again. 

My friend learned what Jonah also learned: Even in our sinful state, God hears our prayers and He answers our prayers. The answer may not immediately be what we would have selected! But our sovereign God knows the best answer, and we must always trust Him. 

Jonah declared, “Salvation comes from the Lord,” and he also promised God, “What I have vowed I will make good” (Jonah 2:9). And he did. This time Jonah did go to Nineveh, he delivered the message God had given, and he called those people to repentance. They responded by humbly turning to God, and God showed them mercy. 

My friend, the next time you find yourself in hot water, or in an inescapable storm at sea, or a dire situation at work, remember that you can always call to God. He will answer you. His answer may not be exactly what you expected, but it will be the best answer! 

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Created To Crave God

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

I was playing golf with a pastor and a missionary when the starter asked if a single player could join us to make a foursome. We happily agreed. About 4-5 holes into our game, our guest asked what we did. My pastor friend started out, “I’m a pastor, and this guy is a missionary, and—” 

Our guest interrupted and blurted out, “You guys are Christians?! I’ve never had so much fun! I always heard Christians were boring.” 

When did it come about that people thought of Christians as boring—or even worse, as sourpusses and killjoys? Sadly, too many Christians have helped cement this idea in people’s minds. I think this is largely because those Christians are misinformed and frustrated. This frustration, I believe, comes from the mistaken idea that Christians are supposed to squelch any urges or cravings that we have.  

But check out this Q&A from the Westminster Catechism—

Q: What is the chief end of man? 

A: To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. 

Glorifying God is supposed to result in enjoyment—enjoying both God’s presence and the life He has given us. We are created to crave the fuel of His Spirit that satisfies and energizes us. 

Just as your car would at best under-perform if you attempted to run it with anything else but gasoline, so our lives will under-perform and feel like drudgery if we are trying to fuel our cravings with anything other than God. 

The dictionary defines “craving” as a great or eager desire, or a yearning. But I believe the Bible defines God-honoring craving as the longing for an intimate relationship with God that is implanted by God Himself. 

The people of Judah had gone astray from God and were trying to satisfy their urges with foreign gods and pagan idolatry. When King Asa called these backsliders back to God, here’s how he did it—

[Asa] commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers—to inquire of and for Him and crave Him as a vital necessity—and to obey the law and the commandment. (2 Chronicles 14:4 AMP) 

Contrast this with the temporary cravings of earth—

But those who crave to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and into many foolish, useless, godless, and hurtful desires… (1 Timothy 6:9 AMP) 

This world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever (1 John 2:17 NLT). 

Nowhere are godly cravings and earthly cravings better contrasted than in James 4:1-6. 

In this passage, the Greek word for desires (v. 1) and pleasures (v. 3) is hedone. This is where we get our English word “hedonism.” There is nothing wrong with pleasure—for God Himself takes pleasure—but it’s what pleasures we are craving that can make them ungodly. James rightly points out that the wrong hedonism is a craving to fulfill “your desires,” “your pleasures,” and to desire “friendship with the world” (v. 1, 3, 4)

Jesus talked about worldly cravings—using the same word hedone—when He said, “The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures [hedone], and they do not mature” (Luke 8:14). 

Notice the same thing in Isaiah 58:2 where God declares that people “seem eager” to delight in God, but it’s only a show for them to satisfy fleshly cravings. John Piper noted, “God means they are delighting in their business and not in the beauty of their God. He does not rebuke their hedonism. He rebukes the weakness of it. They have settled for secular interests and thus honor them above the Lord.” 

Instead, notice the fulfilled cravings when we seek God: “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on My holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 58:13-14). 

I like that reminder that “the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” The origin of the word craving is the Old Norse word krefja, which means to lay claim on something because of a promise. God has promised, and so we can claim it. 

James assures us that the spirit God implanted in us envies intensely (James 4:5). We were made to crave God’s presence, we were made to find ultimate satisfaction in His presence, we were made to find eternal delight in knowing Him more intimately! 

The proud person says, “God, I know what I want. Give it to me.” The humble person says, “God, I know Your presence is the only thing that will satisfy me. Give it to me.” 

The craving in our spirit can be redirected from earthly yearnings to God-honoring yearnings by yielding to the Holy Spirit. I would humbly suggest that our prayer should be something like this—

“Father, grant that my cravings are for Your name to be hallowed, Your kingdom to be made visible, and Your will to be done. Let the enjoyment I have in Your presence shine out of me in a way that invites others to be dissatisfied with their earthly cravings and find their ultimate satisfaction in a personal relationship with You through Jesus Christ. Holy Spirit, continue to refine and redirect all of my cravings away from earthly things to eternal pleasures. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.” 

If you would like to follow along with all of the messages in this series called Craving, you can find all of the sermons by clicking here. 

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Guided For God’s Sake

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Guided For God’s Sake 

In You, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in Your righteousness. Turn Your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Since You are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of Your name lead and guide me. Keep me free from the trap that is set for me, for You are my refuge. Into Your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God. (Psalm 31:1-5) 

     To lead and to guide are two different things very like each other, but patient thought will detect different shades of meaning, especially as the last may mean ‘provide for me.’ The double word indicates an urgent need—we require double direction, for we are fools and the way is rough. 

     Lead me as a soldier, guide me as a traveler! Lead me as a babe, guide me as an adult; lead me when You are with me, but guide me even if You are absent; lead me by Your hand, guide me by Your Word. The argument used is one fetched from the armory of free grace: not for my sake, but ‘for the sake of Your name’ guide me. 

From Spurgeon And The Psalms

When we let God lead us and guide us, we are never “put to shame.” It’s my own attempts at guiding myself that end up in shame and failure. This is why Jesus taught us to pray for God’s name to be glorified as His will is done. Part of that leading and guiding provides our daily bread and an escape from falling in the face of temptation. 

Interestingly, Jesus prayed the same thing for Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Not My will, but Yours be done.” And then Jesus could confidently use the same words from this Psalm as He hung on the Cross: “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” We can pray with the same assurance when we are allowing the Holy Spirit to both lead and guide us every single day.

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Amen Indeed

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

I had a great time on the Ailbe Podcast with Rusty Rabon. 

The reason I wrote Shepherd Leadership is because my heart was aching for my fellow pastors who were feeling frustrated maybe even to the point of contemplating resigning their churches. The principles I teach in this book are ones that will get all of us back to a biblical standard of what God says is successful in our ministries. 

Toward that end, I love praying for pastors. Every week I send a Sunday morning prayer to my fellow pastors in my hometown to encourage them to find satisfaction in serving the sheep the Chief Shepherd has placed under their care. 

As we wrapped up our time together, Rusty referred to a prayer I shared in my chapter entitled ‘Stick-to-it-iveness.’ This prayer is adapted from Psalm 23 and is intended to be a source of strength for pastors. 

Take a listen…

I hope this prayer is helpful and energizing to you. I also hope that you will pick up a copy of Shepherd Leadership to infuse some more encouragement into your ministry efforts.  

If you would like to check out the other clips I have already shared from this podcast, please check them out here. Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter is available in print or ebook, and in audiobook through either Audible or Apple. 

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Questioning God

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In the first six chapters of the book of Zechariah, question marks appear 18 times. 

Question marks invite a conversation; whereas, periods or exclamation points tend to end the conversation. Clearly, God enjoys dialogue.

God sometimes asks questions to get Zechariah to evaluate his surroundings or the prevailing culture. Sometimes God asks Zechariah a question to get him to clarify what he is seeing or thinking. 

But without a doubt, most of the questions are posed by Zechariah to either God or to the angelic messenger who sometimes serves as Zechariah’s guide. Not once does God nor the angel tell Zechariah to hold his tongue. Zechariah’s questions are never belittled nor treated as though they were a bother. Nor are his questions ignored. 

Rather, every single question is answered.

God enjoyed talking with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, He walked and talked with Enoch, He listened to the questions asked by Job and the psalmists, and here He engages Zechariah in conversation too. 

Prayer is never designed to be a monologue—with us just speaking to God—nor is Bible reading designed to be a monologue—with just God speaking to us. Both prayer and Bible reading are used by the Holy Spirit to keep a dialogue active and engaging. You and I should never be afraid to approach God with our questions, nor should we be afraid to listen to the questions God asks us. 

The dialogue between us and God builds an intimacy that cannot be developed in any other way. So keep asking those questions!

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Unexpected Response

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

I’m a bit of a nut about the exactness of words, so one of my pet peeves is the incorrect use of imply and infer. “Imply” is something I do as the speaker; “infer” is something you do as the listener. Or you might say implying is like throwing and inferring is like catching. 

A big problem arises when I infer something that you didn’t imply. Or even worse, when I infer something based on something you didn’t say. People will often say something like this, “Since Jesus didn’t specifically talk about ________ then it must be okay.” In logic, this would be called an argument from ignorance: concluding that an action must be acceptable because it has not been specifically stated to be unacceptable. 

Statement #10 in our series asking “Is that in the Bible?” is—Love your neighbor. Is that in the Bible? Yes!  

Remember Jesus called “Scripture” all of the words we would now call “Old Testament.” So in Matthew 5:43 Jesus quoted Scripture: Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord (Leviticus 19:18). 

Later on, Jesus would add to this Deuteronomy 6:5—Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength—to answer the question about the greatest commandment of all. 

In Leviticus 19, the Hebrew word for love means love in the broadest sense of the word, and neighbor means a friend or a fellow citizen. Unfortunately, the rabbis inferred that someone not a Jew was therefore an enemy and therefore not worthy of love. They further inferred that the opposite of love was hate. 

Matthew Henry commented, “They were willing to infer what God never designed.” 

Statement #11 is—Hate your enemy. Is that in the Bible? Yes, in the fact that it appears in print in Matthew 5:43, but it doesn’t appear in the Scripture that Jesus knew. It had become so ingrained in the thinking of people that they now assumed it was in the Bible. 

In many ways, the Old Testament laws were easier to live out because they were all external and easy to measure, like don’t murder or don’t sleep with someone who isn’t your spouse. But Jesus made it a heart issue—He said lust is the same as adultery and hate is the same as murder. 

Jesus also made love for enemies a heart issue. The word He used for love in the Greek is agape—the same word describing God’s love for His enemies in John 3:16—For God so LOVED the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish but would have everlasting life. 

Jesus said our enemies were really our neighbors and were worthy of sacrificial love because they, too, were loved by God. 

Matthew 5:44 is shortened in the NIV and has a footnote explaining that the longer verse was not seen in the earlier manuscripts. But given the fact that Jesus demonstrated everything found in the longer version of this verse, I think we are safe in using it. So let’s look at the response Jesus calls us to from the NKJV: But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. 

Here’s what Jesus says it means for us to love our enemies:

(1) Bless the cursers. We’ve all been “cursed out” with nasty, hateful words. When that happens, Jesus wants to bless that neighbor. The word He used for bless literally means to say good words. 

(2) Help the haters. Jesus said we are to do those things that are beautiful and excellent—like the good Good Samaritan did for his enemy-turned-neighbor (see Luke 10:25-37).  

(3) Pray for the persecutors. Talk to God about them; don’t talk to others about them. 

This response from Christians toward people whom others would call an enemy is totally unexpected by the world. This unexpected response will begin to draw enemies toward Jesus (1 Peter 2:12). If we will treat enemies and neighbors, they may soon become brothers and sisters in the family of God! 

When the world hits us Christians out of hate, let’s respond with unexpected love: blessing those who curse us, helping those who hurt us, and praying for those who persecute us. 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our Is That In The Bible? series, you can find the full list by clicking here. 

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Directed Steps

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Jesus was constantly cognizant of His mission. We see it at the beginning of His ministry and all the way through to the very end. At the beginning, He makes a decision where to live and base His ministry “to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah” (Matthew 4:12-16). At the end, He knows “that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled” He makes a final request (John 19:28). 

So “when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He withdrew to Galilee…and lived in Capernaum…in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali.” This residency fulfilled Isaiah’s prophetic word. 

Jesus knew He had to go to this region. The event of John’s imprisonment prompted His move to Capernaum. 

My sovereign God makes no mistakes; nothing is random nor inconsequential. I should develop the habit of praying, “Now that this has happened, what would You have me do?” I believe this is how Jesus lived. 

My life, just like Jesus’ life, has a purpose. Just as the Holy Spirit directed the movements of Jesus, He will direct my steps as well, if I will only listen for His voice.

I think we would be wise to form a daily prayer something along these lines—

Father, in my heart I may have planned a course for today, but I trust You to direct my steps. I will not stubbornly nor thoughtlessly lean on my own understanding, but at every moment I will listen for Your wise and perfect counsel. Jesus, just as You lived dependent on the Holy Spirit, I want to live this way as well. In Jesus’ name, Amen. (see Proverbs 16:9, 3:5-6; James 4:13-15) 

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