And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 1 Peter 5:10
Ever had someone rub you the wrong way, do something that annoyed you, or make small comments that offended you? And you know you’re overreacting but you can’t help it? I recently received some “constructive criticism,” the kind where the “criticism” overshadowed the “constructive.” It threw me because it was regarding an area I felt God had called me to. These few negative comments caused me to question whether I was suited to continue; I alternated between berating myself and resenting her, and indulging in ugly human reactions. I spent the first day wallowing and defensive, complaining to my friends—“Can you believe she said that?”—all the earthly ways we attempt to pick up the shards of our self-esteem.
If ever we were tempted to forget how sinful we are, times like these are certainly good reminders. What we do next will determine whether we nurse a grudge or whether we will let God refine us.
That night, I sought God in prayer, and was reminded that what I do, God’s calling or not, is secondary to who I am in His eyes. What good is my service to him if my heart is black? My indignant reaction to a few negative comments reared an ugly head of pride.
Will I let this discourage me? Not if I interpret setbacks as equipping. Until God tells me to quit, I will continue down this path, sifting all compliments and criticism under the truthful light of God. The enemy likes it when our hurt causes us to make sweeping statements. But if we don’t use this time to see where we can improve, and let God convict us, forgive us, heal us and strengthen us, the experience will ossify into hardened pride.
Just like symptoms are indicative of a deeper illness, we are grateful for these experiences without which we would not know the darkness of our own hearts, if not for the grace of God and the sanctifying power of the gospel.
Let us choose to be better by:
Our upcoming ReNew Conference theme, “Immeasurably More,” comes from Ephesians 3:20. It’s one of the greatest glimpses of God’s heart and His desire to amaze and astound us with His goodness.
“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21
There are three layers in this description of His character, three levels of answered prayer, each one more generous and extravagant than the last. Conceptually, the verse begins with what “we ask,” (the sentence is not written out exactly in this order). This is our basic prayer request. Here’s how God multiplies and magnifies the “raw material” of our simple ask:
It’s nice when requests are answered. It’s even better when we receive something that goes above and beyond our initial request, like in the case of excellent customer service: a complimentary next meal when our order is botched, a class upgrade on an airline; or hearing this at the car rental desk: “Sorry, sir, we don’t have the compact car you originally booked, but we have a full-size SUV in the lot that we can offer you for the same price. Will that be ok?”
One of the most powerful ways that Ephesians 3:20 came true in my life was on a Men’s outreach trip to Vietnam a few years ago. Our team goes to help a middle school in one of the poorest provinces, an area that is hard ground for the gospel and a place with a very low number of believers because of the restrictive environment. We have to be careful in what we do and say for the safety of our host organization and even for the students and staff themselves. For this trip, I simply prayed that we would have an opportunity to share the gospel with someone – just one would be fine. Then God took this basic prayer and did His thing.
We did have a chance to share the gospel, not just with any person at the school, with the Headmistress! This was more than what my faith allowed me to pray for. A student, yes; a teacher, maybe, but the Headmistress?
The Headmistress asked about the “wordless bracelet” many of us wore, a bracelet with coloured beads that represent the gospel, black for our sin, red for the blood of Christ, white for forgiveness etc. Just having the chance to share didn’t necessarily mean that she would be interested in what we had to say. But she listened intently. Her body language and eye contact showed that she was thoroughly engaged and her questions told us that she was processing and analyzing what she was hearing. Having such a spellbound audience in the Headmistress was more than I would have ever imagined.
We gave her the bracelet to keep, and when other teachers saw this they quickly gathered around and asked the Headmistress about it. We could see her point to each bead and to recount what we had just shared with her. With my small faith, I expected her to parrot what we had said, to repeat word for word, line after line by rote. Being able to understand Vietnamese, I could hear it was more than that, immeasurably more: with a crowd of teachers around her, she retold the gospel story in her own words, in her own way using her own examples. This was unimaginably more than any of us could have asked, or even had the ability to do ourselves.
Next time you have a prayer request, ask that God would grant it in a Ephesians 3:20 way, not just to bless you, but so that He would be glorified.
Do you have an experience to share about when you’ve received immeasurably more than what you asked for?
Divide your portion to seven, even to eight, for you do know what misfortune may occur upon the earth. Ecclesiastes 11:2
The title may sound more like an advertisement than a reflection. In fact, I can even add an “endorsement” by noting that this advice came from the financially richest man ever!
While Solomon dispensed some wonderful economic, financial and spiritual advice, the point of this topic is that the Bible has truth that has stood the test of time and continues to be modern and—more importantly—helpful today.
I use this passage to show that this 3,500 year-old advice won the Noble prize for economics. Economist Harry Markowitz offered what is called the Modern Portfolio Theory or mean-variance analysis. Simply said, an investor can reduce the total risk of an individual asset by holding a diversified portfolio of assets defined as more than seven or eight. Asset classes include stocks, bonds, real estate and commodities of all types, e.g. oil, gas, agricultural products, precious and non-precious metals, etc.
My purpose is neither to describe nor to debate the theory but to give an example of Scripture that is just as relevant today as it was ten centuries before Jesus. Importantly, the application of the Word extends, beyond the stewardship of assets the Lord has placed in your hands, to ALL aspects of your life.
As you seek answers to any and all of life’s questions or concerns, I pray that you take two actions: First, go to the Lord in prayer and seek His guidance. Second, go the Lord’s Word and seek His guidance.
I acknowledge this may require a little more effort than praying, but I suggest you find a good concordance or topic index to help your search for appropriate passages. Make this important investment! You will be rewarded by the sense of both power and peace that His Word provides today.
Let us acknowledge this free investment advice by:
And the tempter came and said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:3–4
This verse is deeply meaningful, but there tends to be little personal consideration of its true profundity. When this simple verse is given time to really soak into our hearts, it has the power to obliterate an entire category of Satan’s temptations (the world’s promises) and transform our lives to one that basks in the freedom and joy promised by Christ (Galatians 5:1 and John 15:11).
The fact is, focusing on the material world is suffocating to our souls, simply because it distorts our view of heaven and the work of God and discourages us from doing good. Focusing on the material world also provides Satan an avenue to make us frustrated with God as we may feel He is not listening when prayers are not answered exactly as we ask. Most dangerous of all, it tricks us into thinking we’re more powerful and important than we really are.
Last week, a friend of mine told me about his first spiritual attack. During it, he could only call on Jesus to bring him through. Afterwards, he recounted how powerless he felt against the forces we are all dealing with. The spiritual world is very real and it affects the material world more than we should dare be comfortable with.
Yet we continue to focus on the material because it is the more immediate of the two worlds. How many times have we snapped at someone we love out of stress? How many times have we fallen into temptation out of a feeling of lack? How many times have we told small lies out of fear or convenience? These situations arise because we allow Satan to fan the flames of insecurity within our souls.
This is not to say that we should begin focusing only on the spiritual and put aside the material world; instead, we need to pay more attention to the world beyond and see the spiritual realm for what it is. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus did not say material things are not important, He only said we shouldn’t worry about them because our Father in heaven will provide for us (Matthew 6:25–34).
When we respect the spiritual realm, we see a more complete picture of our world and gain deeper wisdom into how things really work (hence Proverbs 9:10). We see the demonic chains that bind people, we see the spiritual war in our world and grow a healthy respect for scripture’s prophetic accuracy, and we see the attention God has for our lives and grow in our understanding of our identities as His daughters and sons. In Jesus’ rebuke of Satan above, He highlights that beyond the fabric of this material universe, there is a God who cares deeply for His creation.
Let us put the material world properly beside the spiritual world and see our lives through this expanded framework. Let us give thanks to our Father who provides for us materially and fills us up spiritually, so that we may be effective in bringing Him glory through our words and deeds.
Give me your lantern and compass, give me a map, so I can find my way to the sacred mountain, to the place of your presence, to enter the place of worship, meet my exuberant God, sing my thanks with a harp, magnificent God, my God. Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God — soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God. Psalm 43:3-5 MSG
God used Pastor Rick’s sermon on this passage in Psalm 43 to help me realise that I have been spending too much time looking out around me and not enough time looking up at God.
I find myself asking God for a lantern, a compass and a map to find my way through my problems but the psalmist in this Psalm asks for a lantern, a compass and a map to the place of God’s presence, to the place of worship.
I have been praying recently for God to bring change, transformation and healing in several matters that have been heavy burdens for me. I have been lifting these concerns to God but am now beginning to realise that I have been spending too much time dwelling on these problems and not enough time looking at God, worshipping Him, dwelling on His magnificence, His Glory! My soul has become downcast and I feel “down in the dumps” as I have become absorbed by my concerns. The solution…to be absorbed by God’s glory, to be focused on Him!
I recently wrote in my journal, “Lord God, take me from my emotional and spiritual funk. Help me to fix my eyes on you, not on my problems. Give me a lantern, compass and map to you. Help me to love you with abandon and to rejoice in you! Fill me with your joy! Bring me into your presence. Amen.”
God, you are great and deserving of our praise!
Hallelujah! I give thanks to GOD with everything I’ve got — Wherever good people gather, and in the congregation. God’s works are so great, worth a lifetime of study — endless enjoyment! Splendour and beauty mark His craft; His generosity never gives out. His miracles are His memorial — This GOD of Grace, this GOD of Love. Psalm 111:1-4 MSG
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. Psalm 19:1-2 NIV
Let’s lift our eyes to God and away from ourselves by: