“In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”
Everybody makes plans for their days, weeks, even their overall lives. You make decisions to go to school, or to go to work, or to pursue a passion you’ve had since you were a child. As a child, I’m willing to bet you had a dream job at some point. Perhaps it was to be a star athlete, or a musician, or a movie star, or an astronaut, or some other crazy awesome career. As you grew up, you may or may not have pursued that dream, or it might have changed to another dream. Regardless of what that dream is, you make plans for your life. You make choices and decisions so that you will get to a point where you want to be. Even if your choices aren’t leading you down your top choice of possible futures, or even a top ten, you’re still making them so you can provide for yourself or maybe even others.
How many of your life altering decisions include God in the decision making? How many of your small decisions include God? Do you ever ask what step He wants you to be taking next? Do you follow your own path, pursuing what you want most, or what God wants for you? Romans 8 discusses how much better God knows us than we know ourselves, and how He can work every single circumstance for something good. The issue with that is that you have to let Him. If you continually do what you want, ignoring God’s will, then you won’t end up in the best possible circumstance. It might be a great future you can line up for yourself, a fantastic one you’ve always dreamed of, but God knows if there is an even better life out there for you. He knows exactly what you need. The great thing is: if you ask Him, He’ll direct your steps towards the best possible outcome. It might not always be easy, or obvious, or even look sensible, but God sees the whole picture. He can see where a decision leads in twenty years, when we don’t even know what it will look like tomorrow. No matter what decision you might be making, no matter how big or how small it might seem, ask God what He wants you to do in that situation. I guarantee it will be the best possible answer. It might not look that way at first, but stick to God and His will for you, and everything will work out.
“In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. Isaiah 55:8
I tend to want to choose what areas in my life that God works on. Even if I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing and working on areas that are a problem in my life, it’s an area that I want to be better in. It’s not very often that I ask God what areas it is that He wants me to be working on. Which is crazy, because God knows me better than I know myself. He knows what my biggest flaws are, He knows where I need the most improvement, or where it’s most important for me to be working on.
See, the areas that we want God’s help in aren’t always the areas most important to get it. Our thoughts are not His thoughts. He is a lot lot lot more wise than I am. Even if I’m trying to improve on something that needs improving, God might be trying to get my attention to tell me that some other area of my life is what really needs the work. I might just be working on some surface issue, whereas God is trying to get to the root of the problem. I might overcome some struggle, but since I didn’t get to the real reason behind that struggle, another one will just pop up in its place.
God knows our hearts, He knows where we struggle, and He knows what causes those struggles. He knows what issue we need to work on that will help the most, but I might just try to work on the areas that are the most evident to me. It’s important not to do good looking things without asking God. Fighting an addiction is great, but it might just be costing you time and effort because you’re not facing the issue that is fueling that addiction. God knows exactly what we need, so ask Him what He wants you to be working on. Let God decide where you time and effort goes in your life, rather than deciding for yourself.
“In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” Psalm 5:3
David is often referred to as a man after God’s own heart. This is despite all of his flaws. I believe he is called that because he sincerely sought after God, even though he did mess up over and over. He continually relied on God, and always repented and returned to God when he did mess up or fall away. I believe Psalm 5:3 is an excellent example of that.
The first half simply reminds God that David is praying first thing in the morning. He’s confident enough to go to God and say “you hear me in the morning.” I don’t think he could say that if he wasn’t doing it every single day. Then the last two words are what really strike me about this verse. David has confidence in God. He has complete trust that God will follow through and answer his requests.
These are two things I wish I could say I always mirror in my own life, but that wouldn’t be true. I sometimes pray in the morning, as soon as I wake up, but there are other days I might not even speak to God at all. There are some requests I fully trust God to answer (whether it’s how I would like it answered or not I never know), and could say I “wait expectantly” for them. Most of the time, I tend to get more frustrated because God is taking too long or not answering things how I want Him to.
I think the greatest compliment I could ever receive would be for someone to say I’m a man after God’s own heart. I believe speaking to God first thing in the morning when I wake up is one way to do it. Trusting in His timing and His answers to my requests (since God does know much better than I do) would be another. Perhaps if you would like to hear that same compliment, these are two things you can do to take steps in the right direction.
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
God loves to intervene and allow “coincidences” to fill up my life. I was having a very rough day yesterday. I have a stack of note cards with some of my favorite Bible verses written on them. I grabbed the top one of the stack because I needed a verse for something I was working on. These three verses were on that note card. These three verses were not easy for me to hear at that time, because I was extremely anxious and nervous about something going on.
Despite my anxiety and fears, I still just happened to read these verses (Please note the sarcasm there, cuz it was definitely God’s timing for me to read them). These verses say to rejoice, pray, and give thanks. It doesn’t just say to do those things though, it says to do it always, continually, and in all circumstances. It was not a day that I was wanting to rejoice. It was not a day I honestly felt like praying. It certainly wasn’t a day I wanted to give thanks.
That doesn’t matter though. God doesn’t want our praises and prayers only when we are having good days and everything is going right in our life. He wants our loving relationship with Him in all circumstances, the good and the bad. Despite my feelings, despite my fears and doubts, I somehow managed to rejoice and give thanks. Not about the circumstances I was in, but I was able to thank Him for who He was, and I was able to trust that He would be in the results of what I was nervous about. I prayed to Him all morning, basically asking for help in my circumstances and doing my best to rejoice at the time.
I can thankfully say that everything I was worried about worked out fine. I was definitely rejoicing and thanking God over and over for that. I believe that since I listened to Him, He helped me to hear Him and make better decisions throughout my day. Things we are anxious and worried about may not always work out the way we want. These verses remind us that God is still God even in those moments. That we need to trust Him, and still thank Him for all the grace and mercy and love He freely offers us. Our circumstances might change, they might not even be good, but Jesus came to earth and died for our sins. Our circumstances would be a lot worse without that loving sacrifice. Even in the midst of storms, there is a multitude of characteristics that God envelopes we can rejoice and give thanks for, and we can certainly spend time talking to Him in prayer about.
“…they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Acts 17:11b
It’s very easy to be encouraged in my faith by speakers, songs, writers, or a variety of other methods. People who are strong in their faith and gifted in certain ways can always pass on knowledge and encouragement. I usually don’t test them the way that the people in Berea did to Paul. I take them at their word because if it encourages me, I just like that aspect of it.
I think there are two main reasons you should be testing the things that others are teaching. The first is the obvious: to make sure it is actually true. Now I don’t believe that anyone involved in ministry would purposely mislead anyone, but the Bible can be interpreted differently by different people. In James, it says that “to he who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him that is sin.” I read that as meaning what’s sin to me might not be sin to you with certain things. That is simply how I interpret it though. You might interpret it differently, but you should be studying the Bible to find your truth from there. Finding truth purely from other people will eventually let you down. God will teach you through the Bible, and He will show you the truth that you need in your own life. You can’t find that if you aren’t testing the truth others are teaching by examining God’s Word.
The second reason to test others is similar to the first: it’s just so you can get into the Bible and study it. When people teach, they teach well when they know the material. The Bible can be a daunting book. If you never open it, you will never know where to start when needing to find truth. If you study the Bible regularly, you will at least have a general idea on the truth God speaks in it. You will know better where to search when testing what others say.
People can always make things sound good, true, and accurate. It can sound encouraging and honest. The best place to learn truth from though, is God. He wrote a very long love letter to you for that purpose. So that you could see the truth in how much He loves you. The Bible is there for you to find truth, whether it’s to test others or to simply find out for yourself. God is ready to answer any question you have, and He is ready to spend time with you today.
“Then He said to them ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me’.” Luke 9:23
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58
I randomly read these verses together today. They are two of my favorite verses in the Bible, but I had never realized just how connected they were to one another. In Luke, Jesus is telling His followers just how difficult things will be at times if you want to truly follow God. You have to literally die to yourself every single day. You have to die to your own selfish desires. In 1 Corinthians, Paul is telling the church to always give everything you’ve got to God.
These verses are essentially saying the same thing, though there is obviously more in Paul’s letter. It reminds you why you should be giving everything to God. It reminds you that God is in control, and He has a plan. That God will use you. You have to be willing to let Him though. Not only do you have to be willing to follow God, you have to stand firm in the fight against sin and all the temptations that so easily knock us down.
I love Luke 9:23 because it as a reminder that following God does not mean that everything is easy. It actually means the exact opposite. The reason I love 1 Corinthians 15:58 though, is that it reminds me that God is working all things for His glory. It reminds me that when I feel like a failure, like my actions don’t mean anything, when I feel like I’m not making a difference: my labor is not in vain.
Following God isn’t easy. You have to die to yourself, to your sins. You have to carry your cross, an instrument of death. You have to be willing to stand firm and not be moved, you have to be willing to give all you’ve got for God. He promises amazing things when you do that though. He promises that it’s not in vain, that He’ll use whatever you give Him. Don’t be discouraged if things are difficult or times are hard. In the good and in the bad, God works through it all.
Psalm 136 is a very interesting chapter in the Bible. I recommend you go read it. It’s unique because there isn’t another chapter in the Bible that repeats a phrase as often as this one. The reminder that “His love endures forever” appears in all 26 verses of this chapter. Do you think that God might be trying to tell you something when He says it 26 times in a row?
It’s interesting to me as I read this chapter because I don’t usually read “His love endures forever” every single verse. I just read through the first line of each verse and note that phrase is in each one. It’s amazing how similar that is to my own life. I know that God’s love is there for me, every single day in every single situation, yet I don’t pay attention or focus on that. I focus on all of the other things that might be going on. This chapter encourages me because the entire thing is just a reminder of God’s love, and what He has done in history up to that point for His people.
It’s so easy to forget all that God has done in my own life. Unless I sit down and think about it, it doesn’t really ever cross my mind just how much He has impacted my life. Just how many struggles, hurts, pains, and addictions He has helped me to overcome. Writing a chapter like this for yourself is a great reminder you could read every day so you never forget just how much God loves you. Think back and go through all the victories God has given you, all the miracles He has worked in your life. You’ll be amazed when you stop and think about just how much He has done.
More importantly, never forget how much God loves you. Even if I mess up, God’s loves endures forever. Even when I give into sin, God’s love endures forever. Even when I make poor decisions, God’s love endures forever. Even when I turn away from Him, God’s love endures forever. Even when I’m selfish, prideful, envious, lustful, greedy, or angry, God’s love endures forever. And that fact is true for you as well. No matter what, God’s love for you endures forever.
Judges 17:6 says: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” I found myself asking whether or not this is how I lived. What I mean by that, is whether or not I live with God as truly king in my life, or whether I just say He is and then just go on doing what I think is best. So often I don’t go to God and ask whether a decision I’m making is the right one. I just think it is a good idea and do it if I want.
That’s not how I should be living though. The Israelites continually turned away from God, doing whatever they felt like doing, and it always led to their persecution and eventual destruction as a nation. God cares about each and every choice we make. He wants to be involved in the decision making process, even if it’s something trivial. Something that seems small and insignificant could lead to something big later on down the road.
Right now is a great time to take a survey of all the areas of your life and see if you’re asking God for help in making decisions in each one. Are you seeking His guidance in financial decisions? Relational ones? Ones affecting school or work? Are you asking Him where He wants you to serve, or are you just serving where you most want to? The Israelites never thought they were making bad decisions. The NLT version says they did what was right in their own eyes. The problem with that, is that our own eyes are blinded by selfish desires and sin. God can see through all of that and tell us whether the choice we are making is actually good or not. Turn to God in every single situation, in every single decision. Make sure the King of your life approves what you’re doing, not just yourself.
Today is a wonderful day. It is even called “good” by nature. Today marks when Jesus died for me, for you, for everyone. It’s the day He took all of the judgment for our sins. It’s the day He took our rightful place, and saved us. He redeemed us so that we could spend an eternity in heaven with Him. It’s a day we call good Friday because it signifies the best gift anyone could ever receive.
Yet, what I always think of on Good Friday, is that on the original one, the day Jesus died, it wasn’t that good to everyone who was close to Him. To the disciples and His followers, it was a day they saw someone they believed in crucified. His family and friends saw Him die. This man that so many had put their hope in, was dead. People still didn’t realize what was happening until He came back from the dead three days later. All they saw that day was that He was crucified.
I see this so often in my own life. That I focus only on today, right now. I don’t look forward to how God might be using it for good. Despite the fact that He has used countless moments in my life that seem bad for something greater. When I’m actually in the midst of some kind of hurt, or pain, or struggle, I don’t see how there is anything good about it.
I want to encourage you today to focus on what God has done in your life already, especially those of you who might be dealing with some rough times. In the moment, it might never seem good. It might seem miserable, it might seem like God betrayed His promises to you, it might seem like the hurt will never go away, it might seem like nothing good could ever come from something so bad that is happening right now. If you’re in that spot, I want to challenge you to remember why good Friday is so good. It’s because God took something that, to all of the people on that day, seemed awful. In reality, it was God saving every single one of their lives by sacrificing His Son for us.
Maybe you’re in a moment that seems like there could never be anything good that could come from it, but God promises that He works all things together for good (Romans 8:28). God sees the whole picture, He saw the resurrection, and He sees your future and how the bad things can lead to amazing things. I know that I’ve seen that in my own life. So spend some time this weekend reflecting on what the Easter story means to you, personally. And most importantly, spend some time with God, thanking Him for the sacrifice He offered two thousand years ago.