“How do I know what God wants me to do?” This is a question that people of all ages ask – from teens finishing high school to retirees finishing their careers.
First, God has called all of us who are believers in Him to do the same thing: live a life that glorifies God in all that we do. This is of primary importance. I have had several different occupations in my life – day care worker; bank teller; stay-at-home mom; missionary; teacher; writer – but in every one of those jobs, I was first and foremost a follower of Christ. If you aren’t seeking Him in ALL you do, nothing you do will be truly satisfying.
If you are seeking Him, and you’re looking to begin, or maybe change, a career, here are a couple questions to ask:
“What do you like?” God won’t call you to something you hate. He might call you to something you’ve never thought of, or never imagined yourself doing. But it won’t be a job you hate. So think about what interests you: My love for reading led me to major in literature, which ultimately led to my jobs as both an English teacher and a writer. My husband’s passion for the word of God led him to seminary, where he trained to be a professor of the Bible. One of my favorite former students, Janell, took the love she’s always had for science, combined with her deep compassion for others, and chose a career in the medical field.
The second question is, “Where does God put you?” For me, from the time I turned my life over to Him, God kept giving me opportunities to teach. From VBS to Sunday school to Bible studies…age sixteen on, I was thrown in situations where I needed to teach. I didn’t see it at the the time, but looking back, I know it was God preparing me, showing me what He made me to do and helping me to get better at that. So where does God put you? Are you often asked to help organize events? To care for the hurting? Do people always come to you for advice? Consider the places and situations God places you in, in the present, and evaluate what that may mean for your future.
Don’t be among the people – young and old alike – who choose a job because of the prestige it may bring or the salary it may pay. Seek God’s direction. He knows exactly what you should be doing.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jer. 29:11
Jesus, in Matthew 5, tells us, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Sometimes, though, as we go through the Christian life, we lose our “shine”. We get dull. Rather than being a light to point people to Jesus, we blend in to the world around us.
I was thinking about “shining” on Saturday night. My daughter, Emma, and her friends went bowling after Homecoming (yep, not much to do in Largo, FL…). I almost turned around because the bowling alley looked deserted from the outside. But we walked in and realized it was because this was “midnight bowling” where the florescent lights were turned off and only black lights were turned on.
As Emma got deeper into the bowling alley, she got brighter. Her neon-coral dress glowed under those lights. It was pretty funny.
As I walked out, I thought about how, though Emma’s dress was bright, it didn’t glow like that at home while she was getting dressed, at the pictures before Homecoming, or at Homecoming itself. Nope, not until she stood under the black lights did that happen.
In the last two to three years, Emma’s relationship with God has grown steadily. She wakes up every morning and reads her Bible, she seeks out other believers for fellowship; before we moved here, she led a girls’ Bible study and was being mentored by godly women at our church. But, in those two to three years, life had been fairly easy for Emma. She was known at church and school, she was comfortable there. She had good friends and a familiar routine.
The move was tough on her because she had to leave so many amazing friends and influences. She left a school where she had a fabulous group of long-time friends, a church where she was plugged in and involved. She could have easily gotten angry at us – and God – for taking her away from all that. But, in what has probably been the “darkest” time for her personally, Emma has chosen to shine. She has chosen to cling to God even through the tough times. And God has blessed her for it – not just with tangible blessings, although there are those, but with internal, soul-deep blessings that will last for eternity.
And, sometimes, that’s why God allows us to experience difficulties: He wants to strengthen us, to grow us, refine us, bless us, so we can shine even brighter for Him.
So if you’re like Emma, and going through a “dark” time, don’t hide in the shadows, don’t allow the darkness to win. Stand under the “black lights” of your trial and SHINE!
My son’s K-3 teacher was named Mari Paz. She taught at a bilingual school in Madrid, Spain, and she had very strong opinions on how to properly educate preschoolers.
In our first meeting with her, Mari Paz held up a drawing of an apple and told all of the parents in the room that every child will color that picture inside the lines. If they didn’t color inside the lines, Mari Paz said she would throw the paper away and give them a new one. The children would keep working at coloring inside the lines until they got it right. She had plenty of blank apples for them to practice on.
I came home one day, not long after that talk, to find Thomas sitting at the table with a coloring book open, his little tongue stuck out, his tiny fingers moving slowly across the page, trying desperately to stay inside the lines. It made me want to cry. I threw that paper away, gave him a blank sheet and told him to create whatever he wanted. I want to foster creativity, not conformity!
This is sad when we think about a sweet little three-year-old. But what about us? How often do we feel the pressure to “color inside the lines”? We females, especially, get this. We need to look a certain way, dress a certain way, fit into a certain “mold.” And we sit, our tongues stuck out, our stomachs sucked in, trying desperately to stay inside those “lines.”
It’s just as crazy for us as it was for Thomas. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. God loves us, he created us for a purpose. And that purpose is most definitely not to try to fit into someone else’s ideals. That purpose is to be exactly who God made us to be. And we are created to be different sizes, different shapes, with different talents and interests.
So toss out that “picture” you’ve been trying to fit into, and look instead at God’s portrait of you. Beautiful. Made in His image. His precious child.
Besides, life would be incredibly boring if we were all pictures of apples colored inside the lines.
Learning a second language as an adult is hard. I attempted to learn Spanish at age 30, first in Costa Rica, then in Spain. One thing you find out pretty quickly is that it’s almost impossible to completely lose your accent. As much as I wanted to speak like a native, I just couldn’t.
I stuck out a little in Costa Rica – I was taller and paler than most. But I fit in Spain pretty well. I could walk down the street and most people would assume I belonged there.
But then I would speak.
And they’d know I didn’t belong.
I was thinking about that today, and I began to wonder about my “spiritual” accent. I wondered if, when I open my mouth, people around me know right away that I’m not from around here.
In Hebrews 11, we read about some of the heroes of the faith. In verses 13-16, we are told these men and women admitted they were “strangers on this earth.” And that admission led them to a longing for their true home – their heavenly home – in a city God prepared for them.
It was not wrong for me to want to sound like a native Spanish speaker. But it would be very wrong of me to want to blend into this world.
I struggle with that all the time, though. I don’t want people to think I’m weird or label me narrow-minded or unintelligent because of my beliefs. So sometimes, I talk like the world, act like I belong here. I try to mask my spiritual accent.
And, sadly, there have been times in my life when I’ve done a great job at that, times when no one knew I was a stranger here.
And then I read about people like Enoch and Noah, Abraham and Sarah. People who, like me, weren’t perfect, but they lived a life of faith that looked absolutely insane to those around them. What they did made no sense – not even to them. But they trusted that God knows better than them, that His advice is better than the world’s, and they obeyed.
Like those heroes, we are not of this world. Our home is in heaven. Let us, like them, maintain our heavenly accents. So what if the world thinks we’re crazy?
We’re not from around here!
I did a lot of theater growing up. I tried some other stuff — like piano (meh), sports (yikes!), and beauty pageants (don’t EVEN get me started…). But theater was my first and greatest love. I was fortunate to grow up in a town with one of the top community theaters in the country and several amazing theaters in the surrounding cities, so I was ALWAYS in a show. I played everything from a mouse to an orphan to an existential wanderer….over 25 plays in all, from the time I was five until I graduated high school.
Everyone – myself included – assumed I’d pursue theater after high school. Not just because I loved it, but because there was nothing else I was good at! Seriously. I was a terrible athlete and an average student. I was good at one thing and one thing only: performing.
But when I was sixteen, I dedicated my life to God at a Christian camp. I really meant it, too. I told God I would do whatever He asked me to do. So God immediately began working in me. First, he had me break up with the guy I was dating. That wasn’t too hard. But then…He made it clear He wanted me to leave the performing arts school I attended.
I knew what He was asking — not just that I leave the school, but that I give up my plans to be an actress.
Uh, God, maybe I heard you wrong? I prayed. I mean, Broadway needs missionaries, right? I could SO shine for You on the Great White Way. Pleeeeeeease??
But God was asking me to trust Him, to give up my plans for my life and follow His plans instead.
It was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made, but I left the performing arts school – and my dream of becoming an actress – and obeyed.
God blessed my obedience in so many ways. It would take another blog – or ten – to talk about that! I have never regretted following God’s plan instead of mine. Never.
Most people make their most life-altering decisions between ages 16-24. I certainly did. Maybe you’re there, right in that window, and God is asking you to trust Him, to listen to Him, to follow Him wherever He leads.
That decision isn’t easy – believe me, I know! But I also know it is SO worth it. God knows far better than we do what is best for us.
(By the way: I still get to do theater – I direct and act, even write plays! I love that! And though it is a wonderful hobby, it isn’t my life’s passion…Ministering to teens is my life’s passion. But I never would have known that had I not surrendered to God’s leading all those years ago. In letting go of the “good”, God allowed me to have the “great”).
Yes, that’s right. God wants you to run.
My sister ran a marathon when she was 19. She trained for months, running her college campus, watching what she ate, learning how to find a rhythm, to push her body past its limits. And then she ran. And ran. 26 miles. Her body hurt. I’m sure, several times throughout that day, she thought about quitting. Limping home and curling up with some Ben and Jerry’s. But she was determined not to listen to her tired body. She pressed on. She called me when it was over, thrilled to say her socks were soaked with blood (only runners understand that is an exciting discovery — I am not a runner, so my response was, “Ewww!”). She did it. She was exhausted, in pain, aching all over. Running a marathon is NOT easy. But, she says, finishing is an amazing feeling. Worth all the sacrifices she made.
The writer of Hebrews says, “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
The Christian life is like a marathon. We are running a race that has been marked out for us — God has identified our “route,” he has placed on it important landmarks to see, to shape us; people we are to influence and be influenced by; lessons we are to learn. The race isn’t always easy. Like my sister, there will be times when we’re just hurting and want to quit, times when the end seems too far away to ever achieve. But like my sister, we need to persevere. God is calling us to run, not a literal marathon, but a spiritual one. One where the prize is not a medal or bleeding feet, but “the prize of our high calling in Jesus Christ.”
So run. Grab your shoes, start your training, get rid of whatever it is that is holding you back from running the race God has marked out for you. Don’t sit on the sidelines. Don’t just read about the race. Don’t just talk about it. Don’t just listen to sermons about running. Don’t complain about the others who are running or claim to be running. Run! It is worth the effort. It is worth the pain. It’s worth the sacrifices.
Because making it to the end is going to be amazing!
I hate being in the middle of things.
Beginnings are fun. Or challenging. Maybe even tough. But they are the beginnings. Even when they are the beginning of difficulties, there’s a sense of strength, an “I can do this” attitude. In the beginning of trials, I am clinging to God, preparing for the battle, armed and ready for whatever may come. At the beginning of the good stuff, I am on the mountaintop, dreaming about the amazing things to come.
I don’t mind endings, either. When it’s something good — like a book being published or a school year ending — I look back with a contented sense of accomplishment. All that hard work really WAS worth it! When it’s the end of a difficult time…whew. I can see a little more clearly what God was doing and how He taught me through the trial. There is relief and rest. It’s over!
But the middle…The middle makes me feel like this:
I’m in the middle right now. We moved here three months ago. When we first moved, it was really hard, but I was clinging to God for help as we left the people and places we loved back in Tampa. I knew God had his hands all over this move, that there is a purpose in it, a reason for us to be here. But there was some excitement, too – new house, new location, new people, fresh start. The unknown can be both exhilarating and intimidating.
But the unknown is more known, now. We are in the middle of life in the new place. We know people, but don’t have close friends, yet. We’re involved in church, but we’re still the “new folks.” We are in the middle of a new routine, but we’re all missing the familiarity and comfort of the old one.
I spoke to one of my new friends last week. She is in the middle of a far more difficult situation than I am in. My situation will very likely end well. And my ending is likely far closer than hers. She shared how, when her trial began, she was ready for it, armed for battle. But as the war wages on, she is finding herself weary. Her battle will not end soon. She is tired, overwhelmed, she has far more responsibilities than she has time.
Listening to her, I felt guilty for what I know is pure whininess on my part. My “middle” is a cakewalk compared to hers.
But my solution is the same as hers: She said the only way she can get through her trial is one day at a time. She asks God to help her accomplish just what she needs to accomplish that day. Then she wakes up the next day and does the same thing. One day at a time, clinging to Christ even when she’s exhausted, even when the end seems impossibly far away.
Last week, God used this new friend to encourage me. And, yesterday, he brought an old friend by to bring further encouragement — to remind me of his faithfulness in the past so I can continue to trust Him with my future. God reminded me that He is with me in the middle, walking beside me. He reminded me there are lessons to be learned in the middle and joys to be experienced here, as well. The middle is, for me, right where God wants me to accomplish his purposes in my life.
So I will choose to rejoice…even in the middle.
Have you ever had the amazing spiritual “high” after a great week of camp? Or felt like God is so near you could almost reach out and touch Him? Do you ever feel like God is really far away? Or do you sometimes wonder if he’s even there at all?
My kids and I were listening to the fabulous Focus on the Family’s Radio Theatre production of CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters in the car a while back. In this book, a “head demon” is writing to his student about how to keep “those awful” humans from knowing God.
The whole book is brilliant, but one particular “letter” always sticks out to me: The one where Screwtape tells his student about the “Law of Undulation.” This law is the reality that sometimes Christians can feel very close to God and sometimes we can feel very far away. Screwtape’s advice is that, when humans feel far from God, they need to believe this is how they will always feel. They should doubt if they even know God, if there even is a God, and if it is at all worth it to continue serving Him when it seems like no prayers are being answered and no blessings are filling their cups.
Have you ever been there? I know I have. The Christian life isn’t easy, and we sometimes live with the false expectation that it should be, that if we know Christ and serve Him, everything is going to be terrific, all the stoplights will be green and all the cute shirts will be on sale.
The advice, “unknowingly” given by Screwtape in this book, is that God allows those periods where we feel distant from him – what one author has called “the dark night of the soul” – to help us grow. He wants us to be motivated, not emotions, but by faith. To obey even when things aren’t going well, to rejoice even when life is tough, to love even when we don’t feel like it.
This state, Screwtape says, is “dangerous.” He warns his student to do all he can to prevent humans from understanding the truth that there are waves – undulations – in the Christian life. Good times, bad times, happy times, sad times, times we feel close to God, and times we feel like he is a million miles away. Because when we understand that, we are free to serve God regardless of how we feel or what circumstances we might currently be in.
So, my friends, let us be “dangerous.” Let us commit ourselves wholeheartedly to serving our Savior no matter what. Even on bad days. Even when people treat us poorly. Even when we are in the middle of terrible circumstances. Let us “ride the waves” of life and not be sucked into their undertow.
I‘m not old. But I can see old. I am perilously close to the top of the hill.
I know I’m getting older because people look at my wedding pics and say, “Look how cute you were!” (emphasis on the were). And because people think I’m lying when I say that I just got my first gray hair this year (It’s true! And it’s still just the one). And because my firstborn is just a few months from turning 16 (excuse me while I hyperventilate).
There are benefits to getting older: I have 39 years of life lessons behind me. My wrinkles reflect wisdom. My gray hair (did I mention I just have the one?), survival. I no longer ask Dave if my butt looks big in those jeans. Of course it does! I’ve had three kids and I hardly ever exercise.
I no longer try and compare myself to supermodels. Instead, I think about writing their mothers and telling them to put on some clothes.
Getting older is part of life. Sadly, our tendency in facing that reality is to focus on the outside. We want to surgically remove all vestiges of age – suck it out, perk it up, lift it away. But too often this results in a complete lack of focus on the inside. And while there is nothing wrong with wanting to look nice, there is something really wrong with making that all you think about.
Here’s a verse many of you have heard before, but all of us need to be reminded of: “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” I Sam. 16:7b
If, as Christians, our goal in this – and the next – life is to glorify God, then constantly worrying about what we look like, how we’re aging, counting our gray hairs and Googling ways to minimize crow’s feet is not beneficial. Being grateful for the years God has given us, the lessons He has taught us in those years, looking for ways to serve others and share Christ’s love –that is where our focus should be.
So even if you’re not old, or almost old, you should still be focusing your energy on developing your inner beauty. It sounds cliche – but only because it is true. Inner beauty is more important! It is more lasting. So forget your butt. Start asking “how does my heart look?”
Most of you reading this are like me – you’ve spent a lot of time on a Bandwagon. If there’s a new fad, a new saying, an “it” fashion, you are all over it. We’re all guilty of it. I’ve been around long enough to see everyone I know – myself included – fall victim to one Bandwagon scheme…or a hundred.
That crazy diet that makes you sick to your stomach, causes your hair to fall out and your breath to stink? Yes, that one. It was THE health craze. Those fabulous purses that cost three times more than the no-name brand and fall apart just as quickly? HAD to have it. And let’s not even go into the shoes. Who cares if they’re ridiculously uncomfortable and you have to fracture your pinkie toe to get into them? That pointy toe, stiletto heel is worth it all, baby!
We can get really passionate about our phases – I was into a diet about 10 years back that was I SURE was “the” answer for all people everywhere. I told my friends and family about it, met with others doing the same thing. I was all in on that Bandwagon….for about a year. Now, I forget what was so great about it. It was just a diet! Silly me.
The problem comes, though, when our faith becomes just another “phase” – a Bandwagon we jump on because our friends are doing it or we had an experience at camp or we went through a difficult time and promised God if He got us through it, we’d serve Him. When we seek after Jesus the same way we’re seeking after those pointy-toe boots or that all-natural diet, He eventually gets “old”. We burn out and move on to another phase.
God did not send His only Son to die on our behalf and offer us eternal life so that we could have an “experience.” The Christ-life should never be the equivalent of the latest shoe, diet, or fancy purse. It is a lifetime commitment to the One who created us, has plans for us, is FAR superior to us in every way. Living for Christ means that we daily offer Him our wholehearted worship and devotion. We aren’t in it for what we get out of it, and we’re not in it because “everybody else is doing it”. We are in it because we recognize that we are made in the image of a holy, awesome God, a God worth telling people about, worth devoting our lives to.
We need to get off of “Bandwagon Christianity”, own our faith, and live it out every day — no matter the cost.