Tag Archives: Grace

How to Stay Encouraged During Life’s Storms

At some point in life, we’ll all get discouraged. Heck, at some point this week we’ll get discouraged.How to Stay Encouraged During Life's Storms

Whether life is going great for you right now or you’re in the worst year of your life, there are moments when you feel down. If you’ve sat through or listened to any number of sermons during your life, you’ve likely heard a minister say you need to “encourage yourself in the Lord.”

That’s a cool saying, I always thought, but what exactly does it mean? And how do I actually encourage myself in the Lord?

The phrase is quite vague, especially out of context, but the light bulb started to come on for me while reading about King David in 1 Samuel 30. David and his army of a few hundred men had just been rejected by the Philistine army (you’ll have to read the background as to why the heck he and his men were trying to join the Philistine army) and were returning to their camp. When they got there, the village had been raided and burned down, and their wives and families had been kidnapped.

Oh snap.

So everyone was devastated, crying, in despair, and angry. Then they turned their anger toward David. They talked about killing him (hey, somebody had to be the scapegoat). Needless to say, this was bad day for David. He was beyond discouraged. But then…

“But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.” I Sam. 30:6

In the middle of his despair. In the middle of the worst day of his life. In the middle of destruction, David encouraged himself. He had no one to encourage him—everyone around wanted him dead—but he found a way to encourage himself.

So how’d he do it? The Bible doesn’t explain how, but theologian John Gill presents a clear explanation in his commentary that we can use to encourage ourselves in times of discouragement.

HE TOOK IT ALL PATIENTLY

Grieving the loss of his own loved ones and being surrounded by a mob of angry soldiers, Gill says David “took it all patiently and exercised his faith in God.” David didn’t freak out. He didn’t react in anger, fear, or desperation. He kept a level head. He was patient. When it seems like hell is breaking loose in our lives, we’re tempted to react in unhealthy ways like speaking negatively, using depressants, venting on Facebook/Twitter, or taking out our frustration on others. The first step to encouraging ourselves in the Lord is to take the hits patiently. This in itself is an act of faith in God (because for most of us, being patient is a miracle).

HE TRUSTED IN THE POWER & PROVIDENCE OF GOD

David trusted in God’s power, knowing the Lord was able to pull him and his men out of their despair, and in God’s providence—His divine guidance and care. We need to remind ourselves that God is greater than our problems and circumstances, and even when we feel alone, His providence is keeping us.

HE REMEMBERED GOD’S PROMISES & HIS FAITHFULNESS

David had been already seen God work in ridiculous ways in his life. He knew God’s promises and experienced His faithfulness to them. In our lives, we’ve seen God’s promises fulfilled—in big and small ways. We encourage ourselves by remembering what God said and knowing He’s faithful in every single promise.

HE RECALLED THE GRACE, MERCY & GOODNESS HE EXPERIENCED

Finally, David recalled the lavish grace, mercy, and goodness of God. Above all else, he remembered that God is good AND He had been good to him. Likewise, we must remember that God has been good to us. Like, ridiculously good. Why, when we need Him most, would He pull back?

If you read the rest of 1 Samuel 30, you see David prayed to God, pursued the scoundrels that burned down their village, killed them all, and rescued everyone’s family—happy ending. I’m sure our stories will be less dramatic. But hopefully, like me, you have a better understanding of what it means to encourage yourself in the Lord.

If we take a lesson from David and we encourage ourselves in the Lord during a dark moment, depression, debt, sickness, or any situation, we’ll not only get through it all, but we’ll come out of it stronger in God, and with a heck of a testimony.

Be encouraged my friends.

 

 

 

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We’ve All Been Hurt, We All Need Healing

No one is immune to hurt. It transcends social status, nationality, gender, job title, marital status, religion, and race. We acquire hurts like we acquire years. It’s part of the human experience. Some of us deal with deeper, more painful experiences than others. But regardless of the degree of pain, we all have this experience in We've All Been Hurt, We All Need Healingcommon.

As a guy, I know we don’t like to admit we have emotional scars, but we do. That breakup hurt us. The rejection stung. Getting passed up for the promotion was painful. Your wife’s words during the argument wounded.

Of course we all learn to get over hurts. We develop coping mechanisms that help us recover, move on, trust again, love again, and hopefully, forgive. But those hurts remain part of us. We rarely shed them, we just cover them. People don’t know the pain we’ve dealt with because we disguise it with smiles, busyness, humor, or surface-level relationships.

We remember hurts much more than positive experiences. They’re more traumatic. I tend to bury emotional hurts. I try not to think of them and let the past be the past. There is some benefit to that because it doesn’t allow negative experiences to taint my future. But there are times I feel it’s important to remember my hurts. Remember what it was like to be rejected, ridiculed, dumped, dismissed, or betrayed. Because the thought of that pain prevents me from hurting others.

Most of us internalize hurt, we think no one has dealt with the degree of pain that we have. But people all around us—our family, co-workers, friends, neighbors—have as much hurt as we do. And if we realize that, we will deal with people differently. We will speak differently. Think differently. Act differently.

I don’t know the hurt you have experienced, but I know I don’t want to contribute to that hurt. I want to contribute to your healing. I’m not a psychologist, so I don’t mean I want to talk people through their issues, but there are simple things I can do, we all can do, to help heal without digging through people’s baggage. Here are ways we can contribute to others’ healing:

  1. Speak kindly: Proverbs 16:24 says, “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.” Kind words and compliments can do wonders when it comes to healing. I don’t know about you, but when someone compliments me, my ego soars, and that’s not a bad thing. A simple compliment can change somebody’s day, erasing a bitter moment with a memorable word that’s as sweet as honey
  2. Walk in meekness: This one isn’t easy for us because we associate meekness with weakness. We think we’ll be eaten alive if we’re meek. But this world needs more meekness, which doesn’t mean weak, but rather gentle, mild, patient, and moderate. By displaying this characteristic—being patient, understanding, and not harsh with people—we allow people to work through their hurts with grace. This is particularly important in our close relationships (spouse, boy/girlfriend, family).
  3. Speak to people’s potential: We are all works in progress, which is code for “we screw up a lot and need grace.” Most of us tend to beat ourselves up or reflect on hurts when things aren’t going right. At these moments, it’s hard to see past our present predicament. That’s why we need to see the potential in others, and speak to that in people. Tell them you see what they are becoming: Let them know they are good parents even if their kids are raising hell; tell them they are talented when they just got laid off; tell them they are a good friend even when they mess up relationships. They know they aren’t there yet. But you’re not lying to them, you’re pointing them towards their future selves. You’re speaking to the person they are becoming, not the one they are.

You don’t have to have all your hurt healed before you help others. By contributing to the healing of others, you tend to heal yourself in the process.

Realize your hurts simply connect you with everyone else. Let your pain sensitize you to the pain of others, and help you to be a healer.

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God has a Role for Rejects

Have you ever tried out for a team or auditioned for a role and been rejected? It kinda sucks, right? Or how about applying for an organization or job and getting that kindly worded rejection email? We’ve all been there.

courtesy of compfight
courtesy of compfight

I was reminded of my times of rejection while reading about Gideon in the Bible recently. I’ve always been fascinated with the story Gideon, one of the judges of Israel, because of his journey from being fearful to a mighty warrior leading a pack of 300 men to defeat the Midianites (sort of like Leonidas, but more successful).

In Judges 7, God devises one of the most preposterous battle plans in history, which couldn’t have done much to ease Gideon’s fears. Gideon started with an army of 32,000-strong to take on the Midianites, but God told him that he had too many people and instructed Gideon to tell all those who are afraid to go home — 22,000 departed… 22,000 rejected.

Down to 10,000 men, God said there were still too many, so he devised a test where all the men who didn’t drink water a certain way (whatever that means) were sent home. That left 300 men.

9,700 rejected.

So with 300 men, Gideon went to the Midianite camp in the middle of the night, they played their trumpets, broke some glass, and shouted and that was enough to cause the Midianites to run for their lives. But the intriguing part for me is Judges 7:23, which says:

“And the men of Israel gathered together from Naphtali, Asher, and all Manasseh, and pursued the Midianites.

Though just 300 were set apart for the first battle with Gideon, God used other men to complete the work. And I believe the same men who were sent home because they were afraid or because they were deemed inadequate for the mission by God’s test at the water, were the same ones who gathered together to pursue the Midianites.

God used the rejected.

Despite their original fears, deficiencies, or maybe just not being destined to be among the 300, God still used them. Despite their initial rejection, they still had a role in God’s purpose and plan to deliver Israel.

That should be encouraging to us because despite our weaknesses, fears, and deficiencies, Jesus still has use for us. We still have a role in His plan, and our role is just as important as the 300.

The 31,700 rejected didn’t abandon the cause. They didn’t stop serving God. Sure, they had no clue what Gideon or God was up to. And that journey home was probably frustrating and confusing. They may have questioned God, they may have cursed Gideon, they may have doubted their own abilities. But when the time came to act, when their number was called, they didn’t hesitate. They knew it was their turn. (Heck, they even had the fun part. They didn’t just play trumpets and shout, they actually got to fight).

So even if it appears that you didn’t make the cut and you were initially rejected — whether in ministry, career, business, personal, or professional life — don’t give up, don’t be discouraged, don’t let your dreams die. Your time is coming. God is still calling you to a key role in His plan. Stay ready. You’re not rejected, you’re just reserved for a particular purpose.

 

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5 Lessons for My 18-year-old Self

I read a Facebook post from a friend a few weeks ago that asked: What would your 18-year-old self think of you?

It’s an intriguing question, and as expected, the answers were comical and varied. I think for most of us, life hasn’t life lessonsturned out exactly how we thought it would be when we were 18. Whether that’s good or bad depends on your perspective. I know I don’t have nearly half of what my 18-year-old self wanted, and that’s OK. That kid didn’t know anything anyway. If I could write him an email — to his AOL address — about how he turned out, these are the five key things I’d point out to him:

1. YOUR DREAMS AND AMBITIONS CHANGE

I know you’re driven, and somewhat stubborn, Kevin. You have big goals and dreams. That’s great. But guess what? A lot of that stuff isn’t going to happen. It’s not because you don’t have a good work ethic, or won’t acquire the skills you need, it’s just that most of that stuff won’t matter after a while. The stuff you thought you couldn’t live without? Well, you’re living without it, and you’re doing fine. Your goals and values have changed — for the better.

2. YOU’RE SECURE

This may be the greatest relief to you, and one of the greatest things to happen to you. You don’t care what people think of you. You realize your imperfections, and you don’t sweat them. You’re comfortable in your own skin. Unfortunately, this took a while — years! The awkwardness you sometimes felt in high school, the desire to fit in with certain crowds, and the worry of what other people think of you continues well into adulthood. But it gets better. It’s a process, but you get to the point where you don’t give a damn. That’s a very good thing.

3. YOU’RE NEITHER MARRIED, NOR RICH…AND IT’S AWESOME

Sorry to break it to you, but you’re in your 30s and you’re single. You don’t drive a Benz either. You done crying? OK, now listen. Here’s the weird thing: You’re happier than ever. Don’t worry, you still have plenty of time to get married and acquire wealth — because contrary to what you think, 30something ain’t old — but you’ve reached a status much greater than married or wealthy. It’s called contentment.

4. YOU’RE SUCCESSFUL

Yup, you are a success. But not because of your career or accomplishments. That’s not how you measure success any more. You’re successful because of the people you impact. That’s right, you’re more concerned with people than promotion. You help others. You listen. You love. That means more to them, and you, than anything you ever dreamed of accomplishing.

5.  YOU HAVEN’T CHANGED

I know that sounds weird since Nos. 1-4 don’t mesh with who you are yet, but, at your core, you’re still the same guy. You know why? Because all this stuff is already in you. The wisdom, maturity, confidence, peace, contentment, and character, it’s deep in your soul. You’re a diamond in the rough. You still have a lot of rough edges now. But in the pressure cooker of life, the pretense, the fear, the insecurity, the doubt and dirt are chipped away, and who you really are is revealed.

Enjoy the journey, young Kevin, you’ll be OK. Oh, and pull up your pants!

What would you tell your 18-year-old self? What are the key things you’ve learned over the years?

 

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How God Gives Surprise Gifts

By Kevin Howell

photo by Shereen M via compfight creative commons
photo by Shereen M via compfight creative commons

There’s nothing like Christmas time. It’s truly the biggest spectacle in our society. As much as I like the commercialism of it, I stay balanced by reflecting of the story of the birth of Christ in Luke. It’s one of the most dramatic, miraculous accounts in history. And though Jesus is the center of the story, there are so many other characters that teach us inspiring lessons just in the first two chapters of the book.

Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, for example. He and his wife Elizabeth were quite old at the time, and they couldn’t have children. We are told this couple lived honorably before God, kept the commandments, and “enjoyed a clear conscience before God.” They were faithful, devout Jews.

It’s interesting that despite the couple being devout and pleasing to God, they still couldn’t have children. One of their desires remained unfulfilled. There have been times when I felt like I was doing the right things, pleasing God, serving, yet stuff was missing in my life. What I was believing for, what I felt I should have had, I lacked. Does it make sense? No. That’s where Zachariah and Elizabeth were.

Yet, despite the fact the time for bearing children had passed in their lives, they weren’t bitter. They still lived honorably before God. And Zachariah went about his business, serving God.

Zachariah was a priest, and one day he was going about his regular priestly duties when an angel appeared to him, scared the crap out of him, then said:

“Don’t freak out bro. Your prayer has been heard. Your wife is going to have a son by you (which must’ve been a relief, because no man wants to hear his wife will have a son from some other dude), and you’ll name him John. He’s going to be awesome. He’ll be filled with the Spirit and he’ll turn people of Israel back to God and prepare the messiah’s arrival.” Luke 1:13-17 (NKV – New Kevin Version).

Zachariah, still clearly freaked out by all of this, didn’t believe it because he and Elizabeth were too old. Because he doubted, the angel said Zachariah wouldn’t be able to speak (became mute) until his son was born. (Read Luke 1 for all the details).

The day Zachariah went to the Temple was just another day at work. He wasn’t expecting an angel to show up, that’s why he was freaked out. And he sure as heck wasn’t expecting to hear what he heard, that’s why he doubted.

I believe God operates the same way in our lives. I’m not saying you will be visited by an angel (and honestly, I don’t know if I could handle that), but as you are going about your normal business, staying faithful and doing the mundane things, God will surprise you.

He’ll surprise you because He loves you. He’ll surprise you because He’s never forgotten about you. As with Zachariah, He’s heard your prayer. Even if it was months ago…even if it was years ago….even if you feel your time has passed.

It’s clear Zachariah’s faith wavered. He was old; he didn’t think being a father was possible any longer. Chances are, if you’ve been waiting on a prayer to be answered for a while, your faith has wavered too. But God’s faithfulness isn’t based on our faith. He’s faithful, plain and simple, in spite of us.

At the time of the first Christmas, Israel was going about its normal business, not expecting the messiah to arrive. But God was faithful to His promise, and the Lord arrived. This Christmas, even if you’ve forgotten about a dream, or if you feel forgotten, God hasn’t forgotten. He’s bound to surprise you, just like Zachariah.

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