Give In To The Craving!

Chocolates and sweets. Alcohol and soda. Salty foods like potato chips. Tobacco. Oily/greasy foods like French fries and hamburgers.  Coffee.

These foods and drinks make up the top sources of cravings for many people. And when the craving strikes, the often irresistible and uncontrollable urge to fulfill that craving usually overtakes any existence of willpower.

Give in too often to these cravings, and the calories and fat eventually turn into extra pounds. We know this, yet we still often find ourselves unable to resist a craving when it hits.

Some experts say we crave certain foods because they offer comfort by bringing back positive memories, calming us in some way or somehow helping relieve stress.  Other experts believe food cravings indicate some sort of vitamin deficiency or chemical imbalance. For example, a chocolate craving can indicate a serotonin (feel good hormone) imbalance, and craving salty food can indicate a mineral deficiency.

Regardless of their source, we all understand the power cravings hold over us. We also understand the need to limit giving in to those cravings in order for our bodies to be healthy and strong.

While food cravings carry negative connotations, there exists a craving that not only benefits us, but giving in to this craving also carries eternal reward and blessing.

“As newborn babies, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” (1 Peter 2:2-3)

Almost everyone has seen an infant ready to eat, and no one but momma can fulfill that need. This insatiable desire that we see in babies is the same type of craving that we need to have for God.

A Craving for God’s Word

A craving for God’s word exists in a desire for growth that, when fed, shows itself as a relentless passion for God.

Food cravings don’t just happen all by themselves. We train our bodies to desire these foods when we eat them too often and fail to place healthy foods at the core of our diets. We can also train our bodies and spirits to crave God’s word.

As we walk with God through all that life hands us and as we expose ourselves to His goodness and to the wisdom of His word, we develop an increasing passion for Him that can turn into a positive obsession. Being obsessed with God and craving the growth He offers through His word leads to joy, something that only comes from Him.

Imagine craving morning devotion and prayer time like you do morning coffee.

Consider a life motivated by an obsession for worship and praise like it is for chocolate.

What about expressing love to the family of God like we do for our favorite desserts?

What changes would you need to make in order to deliberately grow this type of craving for the living God?

Someone with an irresistible and uncontrollable craving for God finds comfort not through the temporal but through the eternal blessings offered by the Savior. A life obsessed with God is one that receives positive feelings and a sense of calm like none ever before known.

God can relieve stress and make up for any deficiency, and He can correct any imbalance.

Food cravings satisfy only temporarily, but the satisfaction that comes through a life obsessed with the Creator of the Universe provides a motivation that involves obeying God’s Word in a way that allows values to change. As values change, choices change, and as choices change, lives change.

When this transformation takes place, a new person emerges. That person focuses on building up and encouraging others, pursues love, mercy and grace, and seeks to meet needs rather than have needs met. This life obsessed with God is one that learns to trust Him more and more each day.

Just one taste of a life obsessed with God, and the craving starts to grow because it takes only once…

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:8)

Tasting that goodness begins the only craving that can truly transform a life in a way that will last forever.

The Babel of Unity

Babel

Most Christians know that God desires unity. We’ve also likely experienced the effects of disunity on individual as well as group effectiveness. So we get the basic concept that unity is good, and disunity is bad. Right?

Then enters the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9. The people build this tower, working together in unity with one language, only to discover that God is displeased. Why? What about their unity upset God?

Here’s the point… While God does desire unity among believers, he does not want it at the expense of our obedience to Him.

To help understand this truth, let’s consider the following points from the story:

  1. The people settled in one place when they knew God wanted them to spread out and populate the earth.
  2. The people focused on “building a name” for themselves rather than on obeying God.
  3. Left alone, the people only focused inwardly rather than on God’s bigger purposes.
  4. The people were led astray by ungodly leaders.

In that basic outline of the story, I see my own struggle with remembering what God desires of me and with keeping His will as my focus at all times. And this struggle is not because God’s directives are too big or overwhelming. It’s because I’m an imperfect human being with a part of me that wants to go and do and be all on my own. I want to say and do what I want when I want, and I sometimes balk at this idea of obedience to anyone else’s way.

Reading stories like the Tower of Babel, along with the many others in the Old Testament, I realize how much human nature does not change. In these stories, I see how my life might play out should I continue to settle where I want, build a name for myself, and focus inwardly. So it helps me tremendously to think through these stories, ones I’ve heard and read many times during and since my childhood days in Sunday school, and draw lessons to help me avoid the same mistakes others have made.

With that, consider the following application points drawn from the Old Testament story of The Tower of Babel.

  1. Arrogance and pride lead to thinking we can match and even exceed God’s wisdom. (Proverbs 16:18)
  2. Desire for self-sufficiency leads to rebellion. (Isaiah 65:2)
  3. Building anything through relying on our own efforts rather than on God alone is futile. (Psalm 62:5-8)
  4. Be careful of following others into disobedience. (James 4:4)
  5. God will step in to diffuse rebellion. (Genesis 11:5-9)

When I think of the times in my life when I lost my focus on God, I usually (always?) replaced that focus with selfishness and independence. I also stopped moving forward, and I planted my feet in order to establish myself. I looked to my own wisdom and ability to achieve success, and I simply followed the whims of my fickle emotions.

Let’s be clear on one point, though: God always intervenes when his people head down the path of disobedience. The problem is, we don’t always notice his activity because we’re too inwardly focused. And the more we ignore Him, the less sensitive we become to His voice, and the more blind we are to our arrant ways. Eventually, God simply leaves us to our own devices (Romans 1:24).

BUT, if we listen to His still, small voice, and if we acknowledge our wrong ways and simply, as Bob Newhart says, “Stop it!”, we can avoid the confusion that comes into our lives when we take the path lined with arrogance, pride and rebellion. When we turn our focus back toward God, we’ll experience a rushing return of his grace and mercy, and his blessings once again will begin to flow in our lives.

But don’t take my word for it, take God’s word for it.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

DISCUSSION: Can you think of additional application from the story of the Tower of Babel?

 For another take on the story of The Tower of Babel, see Loren Pinilis’ post “Why God May Oppose Your New Year’s Resolutions.”

Subscribe to Struggle to Victory by Email

Struggling for Unity

UnityAchieving and sustaining real, productive unity seems more and more like grabbing a handful of water these days. Sure, we see glimpses of people uniting for a cause or to accomplish a specific task or goal, but those events seem more like a bandage on a gaping wound than any real gain toward unity.

Instead, many (most?) countries lack a unified people and/or government, and so many companies and organizations struggle in a constant state of mismanagement and overwhelm. Broken marriages divide families and erode trust. Even churches crumble under the weight of selfish disagreements leading to division and strife.

Unity Takes Hard Work.

Feelings often encourage one direction while unity requires another. The choice between self and others continually drives a wedge into any efforts toward unity.

Often, people attempt to avoid disagreement and struggle in an attempt to create unity, failing to realize that unity exists as individuals work through disagreement and struggle. In other words, we find unity as we persevere through differences in opinion and preference and instead work toward peace as we focus on a singular goal. Refusing to quit in the struggle usually leads to great gains in unity.

The Bible teaches on unity more than on Heaven or Hell perhaps because while Satan may not be able to steal our salvation, he can undermine our effectiveness through disunity. He knows that the church and God’s people need unity in order to accomplish the goal of spreading the Gospel. He also knows that unity flourishes as we obey the command to love God and others, and getting our focus on our own desires keeps us from taking the path of love that leads to unity.

Basic Truths About Unity

Let’s look at some basic truths about unity found in Scripture in an effort to realize the significance of the stability unity brings to God’s people, benefits that flow well beyond the body of Christ.

  1. Jesus prayed for unity (John 17). In fact, His last prayer before taking the road to the cross focused on unity among God’s people. He knew that Christians united under God could accomplish much for the Kingdom than individuals operating on individual agendas.
  2. Unity is a command (Ephesians 4:3). A church filled with believers focused on leading Holy-Spirit led lives leads to a unified body bound by peace. Peace and unity together create a strand not easily broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
  3. Unity brings God’s blessings (Psalm 133). Harmony among God’s people refreshes the body of Christ. The pleasant and precious nature of unity spreads and soothes even into areas where chaos reigns.
  4. Unity is a powerful witness (John 13). Simply put, unity and peace make Christianity – following Jesus – attractive to the world. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true.
  5. Unity meets deep, emotional needs (Philippians 2:1-2). Encouragement. Comfort. Fellowship. Tenderness. Sympathy. Where these flow, unity and love exist in abundance.
  6. Unity comes through the spiritual growth of individuals (Colossians 2:2). Encouragement and strong ties of love come through confidence in the Gospel. That confidence results when individuals focus on knowing Christ.
  7. God gives us what we need for unity (Romans 15:1-6). Through God’s gifts of patience and encouragement for the purpose of preferring others, individuals adopt the attitude of Christ as a lifestyle, and unity naturally results.
  8. Unity is the strength (essence) of a healthy church (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12; Galatians 3:28). A unified church recognizes the need for every individual to do his/her part, each playing an integral role in the unified body of Christ.
  9. Love results in unity (Colossians 3:14). In fact, love exists as the most important piece of “clothing” a Christian wears because of its role in creating unity.
  10. We must guard unity (Ephesians 4:3; Philippians 2:1-5; 1 Peter 3:8-9). Guarding requires deliberate attention, which means intentionally focusing on the elements that create and sustain unity.

Unity requires a lot of consistent hard work (Psalm 34). Doing nothing to promote unity means allowing it to evaporate and become all but invisible as the gaping wounds in individual lives, in families, in churches, and in countries fester and reach epidemic and infectious proportions.

On Thursday, we’ll look at our individual responsibility for the creation, growth and sustained existence of unity. Get ready… eliminating severe infection often requires pain and sacrifice.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts about unity?

 Subscribe to Struggle to Victory by Email

Where Should You Place Your Trust?

TrustAnalyzing Trust

Where do you place your trust? Friends? Family? Spouse? Parents? Teachers? Doctors? Pastors? Authors? Children? Finances? Abilities? Talents? News? Television?

To some degree, every object of trust breaks trust at some point. We all know the sting of broken trust. If we’re completely honest, we all must admit to being the source of that sting at times too.

Where you place your trust and the level of trust you extend to another depends greatly on your view of their overall trustworthiness, dependability and reliability. How much you trust also depends upon your overall ability to trust in general. In other words, trust exists specific to the trustworthiness of the person or thing being trusted, but it also exists based on your overall life experience with trust as well as on your individual expectations for trust.

For example, I trust my husband more than any other person because our shared experiences over the past 29 years prove his overall trustworthiness. Doesn’t mean he’s never let me down, but it does mean his life speaks to a solid character deserving of trust.

On the other hand, broken trust with other people surprised me enough times over the years to the point of lowering my expectation for trustworthiness in general. People I thought I knew were not who I thought they were. Apparent character turned out not to be false. And, spoken values ended up as dust in the whirlwind of busyness and overload.

So, while my overall trust of my husband still stands strong and gives hope that trustworthiness still exists in people, my overall trust of people in general exists weaker today than it did five years ago.

Choosing Obedience Over Feelings

Today, I stand questioning the trustworthiness of people in general. Befuddled by what seems to be an epidemic gap between the private self and the public self in way too many individuals, I expect the appearance of character to no longer match reality and am pleasantly surprised when it does.

My reaction to these feelings involves wanting to live an introverted life, a natural bent for me anyway. But even more than what seems natural, I find myself drawn away from connecting and gravitating toward keeping people at a safe distance emotionally.

Yet, a pull deep within me keeps me from completely withdrawing. It keeps the desire for connection alive even at the risk of hurt caused by broken trust. That inclination involves the Holy Spirit’s work within me creating a desire to please God and do His will regardless of my feelings.

Scripture says to love others. It says to to connect and encourage and admonish and give advice and get advice. So, withdrawing goes against God’s desires. I admit to often being at odds with Scripture’s directives regarding connection. My desire to lessen the sting of broken trust rides high in my awareness, and I often given in to it.

The sting of broken trust leads me to pull against what Scripture says about loving others.

Since what I’m feeling does not match with what I know of God’s Word, I must analyze the disconnect and better align my thoughts and feelings with God’s Word.

With that realization, let’s consider what God says about trust.

What God Says About Trust

Scripture clearly tells us where NOT TO place your trust:

  • Weapons (Psalm 44:6) — This gets at the idea of our ability to defend ourselves.
  • Wealth (Psalm 49:6, 7) — A means for sharing blessing not an object of trust.
  • Leaders (Psalm 146:3) — Leaders often make mistakes and fail to meet our expectations.
  • Man (Jeremiah 17:5) — Placing people as the source of trust brings curse, not blessing.
  • Works (Jeremiah 48:7) — Trusting in skills and abilities leads to captivity; works are never enough.
  • Righteousness (Ezekiel 33:13) — We simply don’t possess the ability to obtain righteousness, to do enough to be completely trustworthy, on our own.

Scripture helped me understand the hurt caused by broken trust came because I expected complete trustworthiness from people and things unable to deliver it.

Scripture also clearly tells us where TO place your trust:

  • God’s Name (Psalm 33:21) — His name reflects His attributes and His character. God always holds true to His character.
  • God’s Word (Psalm 119:42) — Scripture provides the answers needed for every struggle of life.
  • Christ (Matthew 12:17-21) — The hope of all the world rests securely on the perfectly trustworthy shoulders of Jesus.

We are to trust in His Word, in who He says He is and with hope in the death-conquering power of Christ. My trust should belong nowhere else. And as is the abundant nature of God, He also gives benefits of trusting Him.

Place Your Trust in God

Trust blessings

When reading this list of benefits of trusting in God alone, I wonder try to trust or have confidence in anyone or anything else.

Subscribe to Struggle to Victory by Email

Other posts on trust:

How to Earn Trust

Some people struggle with honesty more than others. This struggle usually results from significant feelings of instability. Even after finding consistency, the struggle often returns when routines get rattled. With these people, learning how to earn trust is essential.

A great way to understand how to earn trust comes from how we can teach it to our children. My husband and I have often told our boys that they determine how much we trust them; they get to decide the level of trust that exists.

Practical Ways to Earn Trust

After explaining that how much we trust them is up to them, we provided practical ways to earn trust.

  1. Be faithful with small things. Small things done consistently over time add up to make a big difference. For our boys, this means being responsible with their possessions and keeping their rooms clean.
  2. Do what’s right even when no one is looking. We remind them that someone (God) always sees and that while he may not get caught, they don’t get away with it. We explain that this is the basis of their character.
  3. Check your attitude. Eye rolls. Hand flings. Voice tone. All of these speak toward lack of receptiveness. Being receptive — being teachable — opens your life up to blessings rather than undesirable consequences.
  4. Don’t get defensive. Fully listen first, which earns you the right to be heard. Defensiveness only alerts to the presence of dishonesty even more.
  5. Stop excuses. Think first, then check your motives. Before giving excuses, ask yourself if you’re trying to hide something. Own up to mistakes.
  6. Be honest. Seems obvious, but simply deciding to be truthful in attitude, actions & words goes a long way in your efforts to earn trust.
  7. Think of others. Putting others first often not only keeps you out of a lot of trouble, but it shows that you’re striving to not be selfish. Unselfishness goes a long way to help earn trust because dishonestly usually has selfish motives.
  8. Be dependable. Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it. Keep your commitments. There’s no quitting a team when the coach is mean. Young people can often serve as examples to adults in this area.
  9. Admit mistakes, learn from them, and move on. Get out how you’re feeling. Process your feelings. Deal with them before they direct you. Don’t let feelings determine actions. Don’t get hung up on the mistakes either. Move on.
  10. Stay positive. So many people are negative, mean and selfish. That doesn’t mean you have to be. Don’t let your circumstances determine your reality. Stay positive and focus on what you know is right.

This approach building trust works for any relationship, not just when teenagers want to earn trust with parents. Actually, the above habits are essential for anyone wanting a reputation of solid character.

Other posts on trust:

Pure Delight!

Delight: A high degree of pleasure or enjoyment.

RocksMy oldest son (age 14) recently played keyboards on our church worship team for the first time.

My youngest (age 12) gave up about 20 hours in the last few weeks of summer vacation to haul rocks for our church landscaping.

My heart truly feels full when my kids use their time, talents and treasure to bless others. My pure delight in my kids fills me to overflowing with joy when they move beyond their personal comfort to serve God. In fact, when they bless others, I am eager to bless them.

God feels the same way about His kids. He also wants to bless us when we honor him in any area of our lives.

“. . . he delights in those with integrity” (Proverbs 11:20).

“. . . he delights in the prayers of the upright” (Proverbs 15:8).

“My strong enemy was too strong for me but the Lord was my strength and support. He brought me into a large place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me” (Psalm 18:17-19).

When we live with integrity, He delights in us. When His kids pray, He’s delighted. He delights so much in the upright that He infuses them with strength and support, and He enlarges and delivers them.

Delightful Blessings9-8-13 Jon on keys

When I bless my kids, they never wonder what what’s happening. They know I am pleased with them and that I’m showing that pleasure in a tangible way.

God’s delight in us comes through in obvious ways too, but His blessings far exceed any I give my kids. God’s blessings include…

  • Strength – Courage, power & energy.
  • Support – Supply, brace & preserve.
  • Enlargement – Amplification, increase & growth.
  • Deliverance – Freedom, relief & salvation.

The following verses capture these specific blessings well…

“The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He will make me as surefooted as a deer and bring me safely over the mountain.” (Zephaniah 3:19) 

“They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.” (2 Samuel 22:19-20, ESV)

“Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, ‘Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.’ And God granted his request.” (1 Chronicles 4:10)

“You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah” (Psalm 32:7)

Being a parent helps me understand how God feels about me, how He delights in my obedience and wants to bless me when I turn to Him. Just like I want to bless my kids when I am delighted with them, God even more so delights in and wants to bless me. And just as my kids don’t have to guess when I am blessing them out of my delight with them, God’s blessings of delight come through loud and clear in my own life as well.

DISCUSSION: In what other ways does God show His delight?

Go Against the Flow

Moneyball tells the story of a general manager who decides to build a baseball team based on statistics rather than individual talent. Everyone, except the economist working for him, thought he was making a huge mistake. Everyone was wrong. His counterintuitive decision was right on the money. Billy Beane went against the flow of conventional baseball wisdom, and it changed the game of baseball forever.

Ever had an idea or wanted to make a change that went against what everybody around you was doing? Or, maybe you felt the need to resist going in a direction everyone else was taking. Going against the flow is difficult simply because it sets us apart from everyone else.

4 Principles for Going Against the Flow

Scripture says that while we may plot our course, the Lord directs our steps (Proverbs 16:9). Choosing to follow the steps He indicates often means going against the flow of our culture.

These 4 principles for going against the flow can help you better see the steps he wants you to take.

#1 Acknowledge Limits

Our culture is one of pushing limits. The world of sports is a perfect example. How fast can the mile actually be run? How many touchdowns can one person make in a season? Who can jump the highest or farthest? No matter what records are broken, the new record always becomes the goal. But the truth of the matter is that we do have – and need – limits. Limits allow us to avoid significant negative consequences (think weight control and traffic signs). Intentionally setting limits on desires and pleasures allows us to stay balanced and healthy in body, mind and spirit.  Setting limits is also counter-cultural because we’re told daily we can have what we want when we want it… no limits. Embracing the blessings of limits can protect us from thinking outside of the will of God.

Acknowledging limits goes against the flow of mainstream thinking.

#2 Raise Expectations

There is always someone who isn’t doing as well as you in some way, and it’s easy to get a false sense of superiority. Comparisons are dangerous, yet our culture promotes them like crazy. Comparisons create a false reality, and they can lead to pride in feeling like improvement is unnecessary. When we realize that Jesus is the bull’s-eye, though, we understand the need for progressive improvement. He is the standard by which we should measure our lives. In doing so, our expectations are raised, and we can set goals that don’t pit us constantly against one another.

Forgetting comparisons is certainly not mainstream thinking.

#3 Be Separate

Holiness is a Bible word that many think means perfection. But holiness is not about being perfect; it’s about being separate. When you separate yourself, you avoid conforming to the world. You avoid walking the path of destruction. You become an example of one aiming for the bull’s-eye. Others may consider you odd, but their approval isn’t what matters. The question you must ask is, “Does God approve of my life?” if the answer is yes, then you are living a life of separation and not conformity.

Seeking God’s approval over man’s approval goes against the flow.

#4 Make Relationship a Priority

Limits and rules exist for our safety, but they mean little more than restriction and confinement without relationship. Parents can discipline kids, but kids won’t truly aim for obedience if the relationship is weak. The book of Leviticus is all about establishing rules for the safety of the Israelites. While they focused on God, the rules weren’t a big deal to follow. They followed them because they loved Him. But as soon as they took their eyes off of Him, the rules were broken and rebellion reigned. Relationship makes following the rules a desire rather than a requirement.

Focusing on relationship over self does not support the thinking of our “me first” society.

Directed Steps

As John Carty noted in Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks for a Better Life,

“It’s not easy to overcome the training and traditions of a lifetime.”

Often, though, this is exactly what Christ leads us to do. He sometimes directs us to go against the flow of the training and traditions of our comfort zones.

Are you willing to take the steps He directs?