Tough Struggles & Humble Obedience

Thoughtful Planning & Smart Work

“Some structures on Earth and beyond appear so graceful we cannot imagine the complicated designs, systems and procedures that made them possible. Architects, engineers, even astronauts must imagine fearlessly — anticipating problems, planning meticulously and course-correcting with split-second agility. Building successfully takes perseverance, teamwork, courage… and a willingness to try.”

~ Lego Interactive Display, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, IL

Tough Struggles & Humble Obedience

Some people in our lives, or maybe we see people on television or hear about someone in another city or country, appear so together and successful. They seem to be making a tremendous impact for God.

We cannot imagine the struggle, hardship, pain and growth that made being who they are today possible. Parents, pastors and even missionaries must pray fearlessly — confessing struggles, seeking wisdom and learning from mistakes — with continual humility and grace-filled obedience.

Building a Godly life takes perseverance, grace and mercy… and a willingness to die daily.

“When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor.” (James 4:10)

“But those who obey God’s word really do love him. This is the way to know whether or not we live in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Christ did.” (1 John 2:5-6)

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4)

Balanced Goal Setting

DiligentGoal setting has existed in a variety of shapes and sizes for me over the years. I’ve attempted what others have recommended, and some of it worked… sort of… for a little while anyway. In that, I’ve personally experienced great success as well as epic failures with goal setting.

Traditional goal setting— taught via books, classes and websites — has never worked well for me. Bits and pieces, have, but not any approach as a whole. Yet, I cannot give up trying. Something inside of me propels me toward backward and present assessment for the purpose of forward planning.

Scripture about being prepared like the ant (Proverbs 6:6-11), counting the cost (Luke 14:28) and preparing your field (Proverbs 24:27) dominate my thoughts when I think of goal setting. Scripture also touts the importance of diligence…

“The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” (Proverbs 21:5)

But there are also Scripture indicating a futility in goal setting.

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:13-14)

Setting goals without a good dose of humility results in setting ourselves up not just for falling short of our goals but for not enjoying – not truly living in – the present process and moment.

The next verse in James 4 helps bring a balanced perspective to planning and goal setting.

“Instead you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” (James 4:15)

Proverbs 16:9 further emphasizes this balance.

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

This scripturally balanced perspective of goal setting gives me peace as I reflect backward and look forward because I can better see both the importance of setting goals and for leaving room for God to change my plans. Ultimately, this means His goals take precedence over mine.

To reach this balance, I find asking a couple questions to be quite helpful.

  • Do my goals make room for the unexpected?
  • Do I love God’s will more than my own?

The most effective mindset for goal setting involves having our own ideas and making our own plans but knowing God will ultimately accomplish His sovereign will.

DISCUSSION: Do you struggle with the idea of goal setting too? Does this more balanced way of thinking help in that struggle?

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.”

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Struggling with Humility

You remember the song, right? While I haven’t heard it since I was a kid, the words came immediately to mind when I decided to study pride and humility. Go ahead & sing it… you know you want to.

Humble song But seriously…

Defining Pride & Humility

The NASB Life Application Study Bible defines humility as:

“Usually, an honest self-appraisal, characterized by the knowledge that one is merely human and by the absence of pride.”

The NASB Life Application Study Bible defines pride simply as

“exaggerated self-esteem.”

Both pride and humility begin in a person’s mind and eventually become visible in their conduct. Where humility shows through in an absence of pride and arrogance and instead involves being unpretentious and unassuming, pride shows through in a lofty and often arrogant assumption of superiority.

Moving from Pride to Humility

Scripture provides many examples of God both causing and expecting humility.

  • God humbles to reveal the condition of our hearts and to test our obedience. (Deuteronomy 8:2-3)
  • God promises forgiveness and healing to the humble even after grave sin. (2 Chronicles 7:14)
  • God leads toward and teaches humbleness. (Psalm 25:9)
  • God humbles those who don’t fear Him. (Psalm 55:19)
  • God opposes the proud. (1 Peter 5:5)

Resistance is futile. Resistance to humility, that is. Either we choose to let go of pride and to humble ourselves before a Holy God, or we choose to suffer the consequences of opposing God. Willingly choosing humbleness is a much better option that being humbled by God. Just read the Old Testament for proof of that fact.

Choosing Humility

Choosing humility involves taking the road to the cross. It requires following Jesus in attitude, action and word. It requires dying to self. While we may all truly believe that Christ died on the cross for our sins and then rose from the dead in defeat of sin, death and the devil (See 25 Verses About The Defeat of Satan), do we actually live that belief in the same spirit in which Christ made His way to the cross, the spirit of humility?

“Humility is not denying the power or gifting you have, but admitting that the gifting is from God and the power comes through you and not from you.” (Unknown)

Choosing humility involves realizing your value as a redeemed child of God, value from Him and not in any way earned or created by you. It means focusing on what God did for your redemption and then choosing to live that out in obedience by serving Him in whatever way He asks using the abilities, talents and gifts he gives.

Practical Humility True humility comes to us exemplified perfectly in the life of Christ. Applied to Jesus, the NASB Life Application Study Bible defines humility as:

“[Jesus’s] attitude of service to others and His willingness to forego the rights and exaltation that are properly His as the Son of God.”

Jesus’s one focus – to seek and to save the lost – led Him down a path of obedience to the Father all the way to the cross. This involved serving others, being criticized for associating with “lesser” sorts, and submitting to God’s will over His own. With every right for exaltation, Christ chose humbleness. At the very least, with no right at all for exaltation, we can choose to live lives of practical humility as we follow His example by:

  1. Humbling ourselves regularly before God. (James 4:10; Luke 18:9-14)
  2. Being humble in our dealings with others. (Philippians 2:1-11; James 3:2; James 5:16)
  3. Bearing affliction and wrong with patience. (1 Peter 3:8-17)
  4. Submitting to authority. (1 Peter 2:18)
  5. Staying teachable. (Proverbs 10:17, 12:1)
  6. Forgiving endlessly. (Philippians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 4:5; Matthew 23:11)
  7. Staying grateful. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
  8. Always being willing to work toward trust.

We must, like Christ, be willing to serve others with no thought for what we’ll get in return, never considering ourselves too good for association with anyone as we realize Jesus came to save everyone, not just the socially acceptable.

We must also be willing to give up our own wants and desires to pursue God’s will. Choosing humility does not, unfortunately, mean pride remains forever absent from our lives. We will still continue Struggling with Pride. We will still have moments where pride rears its ugly head, but those are the moments where we can once again choose humility.

DISCUSSION: What does practical humility look like in the life of a believer today?

Sunday Reflections – Friend or Enemy?

Have you taken a spiritual inventory lately? A big part of such an inventory involves taking stock of your friendships, specifically your friendship with the world versus your friendship with God. Asking the following questions helps evaluate if you are a friend of God or His enemy.

  • What do your values reveal about you?
  • What do your passions say about what’s important to you?
  • What do your investments say about your focus?

Are you God’s enemy? Being a friend of the world means you are an enemy of God (James 4:4). Evaluate your friendship with the world by asking the following questions.

  • Are you investing all your energy, effort, choices and gifts into things without eternal value?
  • Are you willing to do anything to get what you want?
  • Are you a Sunday morning only Christian?
  • Are you more fervent with things like sports and television shows than you are with God?
  • Are you letting your values be determined by the world rather than Scripture?

Are you God’s friend? Being a friend of God, like Moses and Abraham were, means having an exclusive relationship with God. Being God’s friend requires being All In with Him. Ask yourself the following to help determine the status of your friendship with God.

  • Have you gone beyond making Jesus your Savior to making Him your Lord?
  • Do you trust everything in this life to Him?
  • Do you make excuses for why you can’t live for Jesus, or have you moved beyond blaming others and taken responsibility for your friendship with God?

How do you become a friend of God? James does not sugar coat anything he says, and his instructions for becoming a friend of God also come to us with clear instruction in James 4:7-10. Let’s look at these instructions in the form of questions to fit with our spiritual inventory mindset.

  • Have you humbled yourself before God?
  • Do you deliberately resist the devil?
  • Do you intentionally draw close to God?
  • Are you choosing to Stay Pure?
  • Have you shown repentance?
  • When was the last time you bowed down before God?
  • Do you regularly admit your dependence on Him?

Is friendship with God worth it? Let’s turn again to James 4:7-10 to determine whether friendship with God is worth giving up friendship with the world.

  • Resist the devil, and he will flee.
  • Draw close to God, and He will draw close to you.
  • Bow down before God & admit dependence on Him, and He will lift you up and give you honor.

I don’t know about you, but this spiritual inventory was not a lot of fun for me. In fact, it was somewhat uncomfortable. Depending on where you are in your life, an inventory like this might be downright painful. But the discomfort and pain pale in comparison to the benefits.

DISCUSSION: Have you ever done a spiritual inventory like this one? Was it helpful?

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