Hard Work, Not Good Luck

“The thoughtless, the ignorant, and the indolent, seeing only the apparent effects of things and not the things themselves, talk of luck, of fortune, and chance. Seeing a man grow rich, they say, ‘How lucky he is!’ Observing another become intellectual, they exclaim, ‘How highly favored he is!’ And noting the saintly character and wide influence of another, they remark, ‘How chance aids him at every turn!’ They do not see the trials and failures and struggles which these men have voluntarily encountered in order to gain their experience; have no knowledge of the sacrifices they have made, of the undaunted efforts they have put forth, of the faith they have exercised, that they might overcome the apparently insurmountable, and realize the Vision of their heart. They do not know the darkness and the heartaches; they only see the light and joy, and call it ‘luck.’ They do not see the long and arduous journey, but only behold the pleasant goal, and call it ‘good fortune,’ do not understand the process, but only perceive the result, and call it chance.” —James Allen, in As A Man Thinketh

Our Prayer Coach

I love football! 

The plays that the quarterback calls in the huddle are very creative. It may sound something like this: “soultrain alert 13 trap on 1.” Then after the team breaks the huddle with the play that they just know will be successful, the quarterback may look over the other team’s defense and callout something like, “check” or “sally” or “Omaha.” This is called an “audible” and it’s communicating to the team how they are now going to modify the play that they just called. The quarterback calls this audible because it appears to him that the defense may know what sort of play they were planning to run. 

The teams that can adjust better on-the-fly—or call audibles—usually win the game. 

None of this happens without lots of practice! Practice builds good habits. Practice helps teams learn from their mistakes and develop even better habits. All of this practicing also requires a good coach overseeing the process, and individual team members who are willing to submit to the coach’s direction and correction. 

Have you noticed that there are some Christians who “audible” well? Unexpected things pop up that seem to throw many people off their game plan, but these Christians seem to adapt so easily. Why is that? It’s definitely not because they are wired that way, or have a higher spiritual IQ, or they can think faster. It’s because they’ve practiced good habits, they’ve learned from past experiences which have developed better “audibling” habits, all under the guidance of a perfect Coach. 

Jesus told us about the amazing prayers that we would be able to pray, and how the Holy Spirit can be our perfect Coach in this process (John 14:12-17, 26; 16:13-15). 

There are some incredible things that happen when we pray consistently, when we pray boldly, and when we pray in the character of Jesus. 

John Piper asks, “Why do God’s children so often fail to have consistent habits of happy, fruitful prayer?” He answers his own question like this: “Unless I’m badly mistaken, one of the reasons is not so much that we don’t want to, but that we don’t plan to.” 

Successful football teams don’t simply show up on game day and compete successfully. They plan to be successful. They practice and study the coach’s game plan so that they can be ready to audible when necessary. So too for Christians—we can’t just show up for spiritual battle and expect to be successful. We must also practice, and study the game plan laid out in the Bible, and listen to the Holy Spirit as He coaches us. That’s the only way we can successfully handle all that life and even the devil throws at us. 

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be sharing some hindrances that I see that can derail our practice of prayer. In the meantime, I want to challenge you—as I’ve challenged myself personally—to think on three questions:

  1. Do I really want to pray effectively? 
  2. Am I willing to put in the energy necessary to pray this way?
  3. Am I willing to let the Holy Spirit coach and discipline me in my prayer practice? 

If you can, please join me at Calvary Assembly of God on Sunday as we continue our series called Prayer Plan. 

Freed From A Self-Made Prison

“Sickly thoughts will express themselves through a sickly body. Thoughts of fear have been known to kill a man as speedily as a bullet, and they are continually killing thousands of people just as surely though less rapidly. The people who live in fear of disease are the people who get it. Anxiety quickly demoralizes the whole body, and lays it open to the entrance of disease; while impure thoughts, even if not physically indulged, will soon shatter the nervous system. 

“Strong, pure, and happy thoughts build up the body in vigor and grace. The body is a delicate and plastic instrument, which responds readily to the thoughts by which it is impressed, and habits of thought will produce their own effects, good or bad, upon it. …

“To live continually in thoughts of ill will, cynicism, suspicion, and envy, is to be confined in a self-made prison-hole. But to think well of all, to be cheerful with all, to patiently learn to find the good in all—such unselfish thoughts are the very portals of heaven; and to dwell day by day in thoughts of peace toward every creature will bring abounding peace to their possessor.” —James Allen, As A Man Thinketh (emphasis mine)

You can check out other quotes from As A Man Thinketh by clicking here.

Linger In Gratitude

I just finished a series of messages at Calvary Assembly of God called Fading Gratitude. It was intended to give some practical thoughts that would stimulate our continual gratitude—not just thankfulness on a day called Thanksgiving.

Sarah Young does a masterful job speaking the words of Scripture as though it were Jesus speaking first-person to us. This word is so appropriate on the heels of this series and on the eve of our Thanksgiving celebration.

“I want you to linger in gratitude. This is a most delightful place—where the joy of My presence shines warmly upon you. 

“You often and pray fervently for something until you receive the answer you desire. When I grant your request, you respond joyfully and thankfully. But your tendency is to move on rather quickly to the next matter. I want you to remain for a while in an attitude of grateful joy. Instead of experiencing only a short-lived burst of gratitude, let this pleasure flow freely into the future by training yourself to recall what I have done. One way is to tell others about it. This blesses both them and you, and it pleases Me. Another way is to write down the prayer-answer someplace where you will see it again and again.

“Keep bringing your gratitude to Me. This thankfulness will bless you doubly—with happy memories of answered prayer and with the delight of sharing enjoy it with Me.” —Jesus (in Sarah Young’s Jesus Always, emphasis mine)

A Radical Change In Perspective

My friend Josh Schram shared a great message yesterday, wrapping up our series called Fading Gratitude. 

Josh was transparent about some of the struggles he overcame during his younger years, explaining how his decision to be grateful even for those roadblocks completely changed his perspective.

When we’re not intentional, our gratitude naturally begins to fade. It’s not that we’re intentionally ungrateful, but we just merely forget to be thankful. 

Our fading gratitude creates a domino effect. When gratitude fades we live with… 

Anxiety can keep us from even trying to pursue what God has planned for our lives. 

When a large group of people needed to be fed, a couple of Jesus’ disciples forgot about the miracles Jesus had already done in the past, and as a result, they became anxious about what to do next. 

Philip replied, “Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!” Then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up. “There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?” (John 6:7-9)

Yet Jesus multiplied more than enough for everyone to eat AND there were more leftovers than there was food that they originally started with! “So they picked up the pieces and filled twelve baskets with scraps left by the people who had eaten from the five barley loaves” (John 6:13).

That’s why Jesus tells us, So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matthew 6:34). When we’re grateful for what God provided yesterday, and we’re thankful for what He’s providing today, it will cut short any feelings of anxiety about what God will do again tomorrow!

“No amount of regret changes the past, no amount of anxiety changed the future, but any amount of gratitude changes the present.” —Ann Voskamp 

Gratitude can radically change our perspective! 

If I’m not choosing gratitude, then gratitude is fading. I can be grateful for things I originally thought were holding me back. I can give those things to Jesus—He is not only more than enough but He also gives back to me more than I gave to Him. 

 

Ingratitude Can Mess Us Up

Fading gratitude can negatively impact our past, present, and future. Because when our gratitude to God begins to fade, so does our understanding of what God has already done for us, our appreciation of what He is still doing for us today, and our hope for what He will provide for us tomorrow. But we can flip the script—Our continual gratitude can begin to positively impact our past, present, and future! 

“Gratitude is from the same root word as ‘grace,’ which signifies the free and boundless mercy of God. Thanksgiving is from the same root word as ‘think,’ so that to think is to thank.” —Willis P. King 

The more we THINK about God’s grace in our lives, the more we can give THANKS for all He has done. Or said another way…

The best way to be THANKFUL is to be THINKFUL!

In Psalm 78, Asaph gives us a two-word reason for the up-and-down history of the Israelites: they forgot. The Israelites’ forgetfulness led to their lack of gratitude, which then caused yet another downward turn away from God. One of the examples he gives us is very informative: the daily provision of manna while the Israelites were in the wilderness (see Psalm 78:11-25; Exodus 16:4, 14-18). 

Every day God’s people had their food needs miraculously supplied for them, yet they begin to take this gift of God for granted. They stopped thinking about His provision, and then they began to ungratefully grumble (Numbers 11:4-6). Their grumbling actually caused them to want to return to slavery in Egypt! 

With fading gratitude, we can get stuck in the past. We even end up looking back at slavery and scarcity and call it “the good old days”! With fading gratitude for the past, sometimes we beat ourselves up. We say things like, “If I would have known then what I know now….” But you couldn’t know then what you know now. You only know now because of what you went through then, which makes another reason to be grateful. After all, God is using everything we have gone through to work out His plan (see Isaiah 46:9-10; Romans 8:28). 

We need to be thinkful about our past so that we can be thankful for what God is doing with it today.

Manna provided food every single day the whole time the Israelites were in the wilderness. It stopped immediately after they entered the Promised Land. For that daily provision, they should have been thankful but it was when they forgot to be thankful that they longed for the past and tried to do things on their own. 

The manna is a picture of Jesus. Not only is He our daily bread for today, but He is also our hope for eternity with God in Heaven. And for that, we should be daily thinkful AND thankful. 

If you’d like a fun idea of how to stay thinkful AND thankful, check this out.

Join us this Sunday as we learn more about the dangers of our fading gratitude. 

Consequences For Children

Dr. Kathy Koch has some great insights in her book Start With The Heart for anyone who works with children.

“Rather than using the words ‘rewards’ and ‘punishments,’ I recommend using the word ‘consequences.’ This small change helps children own their responsibility in changing negative behavior and maintaining positive behavior. Rewards and punishments are things we give children. Consequences are what children earn because of their choices.” —Dr. Kathy Koch

Check out my book review of Start With The Heart by clicking here. You can also read some other quotes from this book here and here.

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