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.

Get Transparency articles delivered to your inbox weekly by signing up for our newsletter here.

Do you like this? Share it

The Process to the Promise

By Yodit Kifleprocess

His name was David — a young ruddy boy who tended his father’s sheep. When none of his seven brothers passed the Lord’s examination through Samuel to be the next king over Judah, David was called out from the field where he was diligently working. Little did he know what was about to take place would mark him for the rest of his life. The Lord had found favor in David and told Samuel to anoint him.

David had been chosen. Oil of consecration was poured over his head and scripture says, “The spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:13). So there it was, a promise had been given to David. He had single-handedly been picked out. I can’t imagine what he felt to be chosen amongst his brothers and to know this promise and anointing was put on his life. I’m sure he couldn’t wait to walk in it. I’m sure he thought it would manifest the next day. But we all know that wasn’t the case. Surprisingly, David didn’t become king until about 15 years after Samuel anointed him. But when it was time for him to be king, it was time. Nothing could have stopped what God had ordained for him.

Most of us struggle with the waiting process of a promise we believe God has given us. The moment God lays a promise on our hearts or has a promise spoken over us, we think the next step is to walk in it. Then I read the story of David and I realized that isn’t the case.

David’s story shows me it’s not the length of time between when a promise is given and when it manifests that shows God’s goodness or our faithfulness. It’s the journey taken in that time that reveals His good plan and our obedience.

You see, the very next day after David was anointed, he went back to tending sheep. What a humbling experience. You would have thought he would have been carried off on a chariot and placed in a palace. But no, this was just the beginning of a long road ahead for David that would test every bit of fiber in his body and reveal every bit of God’s sovereignty over his life.

There are many of us who know the calling on our lives. We know the promises of God that re-energizes our spirits: plans to prosper and not to harm us; desires of our heart when we delight in Him; our ashes for His beauty; every tear to be wiped; His peace that passes all understanding.

His promises are endless. Yet, there is this moment of recognition when we hear of His promises but have not found ourselves walking in them. And so we ask why? Why God did you show me this promise and why have I not seen it come to pass? Why God did you tell me you would give me the desires of my heart if I seek you and none of my desires have come to pass? Why?

I’ve learned that it’s the journey that confirms your promise. David didn’t reach his promise without a fight that qualified and confirmed his ability to walk effectively in that promise to become king.

He experienced hardship after hardship. Failure after failure. Attack after attack. Yet, all of these things confirmed God’s promise to David.

Saul, the king whom David would come to replace, first loved David and then because of jealousy, wanted to kill him. David was running for his life half the time in his journey. His character and integrity were tested when he had an opportunity to kill Saul but he let him go.

David never lost sight of the promise so he never lost sight of the purpose behind the hardships.

God never calls us into a promise without testing our character and faithfulness. He never gives us more than we can handle so the experiences we encounter are to show us that He wants to build us up to handle what He has in store for us.

To be king over a nation is not a simple task. David would have never been the amazing king he was unless he had gone through every hardship that came his way. The fight against Goliath wasn’t by accident. The discord between him and Saul wasn’t by accident. The friendship he gained in Jonathan wasn’t by accident. God doesn’t work by accidents.

And here is what made David different. He resolved it in his heart to see God’s hand in every situation. He knew the protection of God was on His life because he was given a promise. Now he knew he had to go through preparation.

You may be going through a period now where you are asking God why the wait? When is this promise going to be fulfilled? When are my desires going to come to pass? But here is God telling us through David’s life that every hardship is not without purpose. The challenges you face…the friendships you lose…yet the friendships you gain…the disappointments and discouragements you feel, they all have their place. We can’t let this journey to the fulfillment of our promise be spent in vanity. God is reminding us that He is just setting up the stage so when its time, it’s time, and you will know.

Everything you endured will have been what you needed to walk in that promise.

I look at my own life and have come to recognize the truth of this lesson. When the time came for me to walk in what God had ordained for me, it didn’t come a second too late. This is how detail-oriented God is in our lives. So I encourage you as always, don’t spend this time of waiting in vain. Learn to see His hand through it all.

His promise will always need preparation. But trust that it will never come without His protection. Stay encouraged because when it’s time…it’s time! Nothing will stand in the way. He’s not a man that He should lie. Now the question is, will you be ready?

Get encouragement from Transparency delivered to your inbox by signing up for our free newsletter here.

Yodit Kifle is a young woman passionate about God and the things of God. She started a ministry called WITHIN — www.thewithingroup.ning.com — focused on connecting young women to embrace sisterhood and encouraging them to become all that they are called to be.

Do you like this? Share it

What Defines You?

By Kevin Howell define

I love traveling. There’s something about seeing a new place and getting away from your normal surroundings that excites me. It’s sort of like a little adventure — and who doesn’t like an adventure?

In recent years, Southern California has been my destination of choice. I’ve fallen in love with the weather, the palm trees, the beaches, the landscape, and the laid-back lifestyle (the traffic and gas prices are another story). I met up with an old friend on a recent trip to LA. I mentioned how I’d love to live there, and he said it’s a cool place to reside as long as you relocate for the right reasons. He explained that people shouldn’t come to Cali for superficial things, such as the weather and the Hollywood lifestyle.

I began to think of why I would move to LA, besides trying to escape from Northeast’s harsh winters. Part of it may be justified, but part of it is just a desire for change. The grass is greener after all, isn’t it?

It’s easy to become disillusioned with our current state of life. We seem to be always aching for something better, at least I am. A better job, a better car, a better phone, better friends, a better church, a better mate. It seems like the hardest thing is to be content. To stay where we are and be satisfied with it.

When I graduated college, I so desperately wanted to start my adult life in a new place instead of returning home to New Jersey. I told God I’d go anywhere in the world He wanted me to go. When He said, “I want you to go back home,” I responded: “Except there.”

I’m starting to realize life is a little like those Samsung Galaxy S commercials where they mock Apple fanatics. While people camp out in front of the Apple store waiting for the “next big thing,” Samsung declares “the next big thing is already here.” I find myself looking for change,  wishing I was someplace else — in my career, my location, my relationship status, my tax bracket. But God wants me to stop looking.

“And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. God, not your marital status, defines your life.” 1 Corinthians 7:17 The Message

Though, in the above passage, the Apostle Paul was speaking of marriage and singleness, the principle applies to all areas of life. I think my search for something better is less about my discontent with where I am and more about letting where I am define me. And if you’re honest, it’s the same case with you.

We tend to identify ourselves with our circumstances, therefore defining our worth by what we do and how we live instead of who we are… instead of who God says we are.

Where you are, right now, is where you are. It doesn’t mean you will be there forever, and it doesn’t mean it has to define you. Just live, love, and trust God in the now, and let that define you.

Like my friend advised, I don’t want to move or change or wish for something else because of superficial reasons. The next big thing or a better life isn’t necessarily on the opposite coast. It’s right here, wherever I am.

 

If you like this article, you should sign up for free updates to this site. Find out more here.

Do you like this? Share it

A Love Story Cynic

By Kevin Howelllove story

I’ve never been a cynic. Not in any area of life. I’ve always been a positive, glass-is-half-full, things-will-work-out-for-the-best type of guy.

But that attitude has been changing as of late. The cynic in me has started to rise up. I don’t see all things as pure as much. I don’t see things as black and white. I see gray. A lot of gray. Particularly when it comes to God.

TIRED CHRISTIAN CLICHÉS

Now I still believe in absolute truth. I still believe every word in the Bible. I just don’t know if I still believe in some of the clichés, concepts, and statements we hear as Christians. In particular, the ones we say and hear about relationships.

You know, things like:

  • Just have patience, wait on God and He will bring you the right one.
  • If you focus on God and fall in love with Him first, then He’ll bring you the love of your life.
  • Or, learn to be content in your singleness and God will provide you the spouse of your dreams sooner than you think.

Sounds good, even biblical, but lately I’ve felt like it’s a bunch of bull. Personal experience hasn’t jived with these sayings. I’ve gone through several stages of waiting on God, being content, serving in ministry, growing in faith, not pursuing some relationships because God instructed me not to, and ending others because God told me to. Yet after all these seasons, I’m still where I started.

WHEN IS IT GOING TO HAPPEN?

It’s not that I don’t believe God will provide me with a great wife some day — and no, I don’t expect her to be dropped off on my doorstep — I just question why He it hasn’t happened already, and will it truly be worth what I’ve gone through?

I wonder if it hasn’t happened yet because of His timing or my actions. No doubt, I’ve made mistakes in relationships. Action and inaction have their consequences. But either way, how long is this wait?

And, is this wait really worth it? Will He really give me a friend and life partner that will outweigh the frustration over the years? Will she be better than the women I let go?

TRUTH TRUMPS CYNICISM

Conventional Christianity says so, but does the Bible? Can I believe that God is orchestrating my life and my love story into a beautiful symphony that will exceed my expectations? The cynic in me isn’t buying it.

I don’t put much trust in Christian sayings any more, but I have absolute faith in the Word of God. And that Word says whatever I’ve given up for God’s sake I “will be given much more in this lifetime” (Luke 18:29). And it says He is able to do far more than I could ever imagine or guess or request in my wildest dreams! (Eph. 3:20). There’s not much gray in those statements. He’s trustworthy and He wants to blow my mind when it comes to fulfilling my desires — including a spouse. The cynic in me questions the Christian clichés, but I know better than to doubt God’s character. What He says is true. So I choose to believe, even as I wait.

Do you like this? Share it

Why What You Want is Hard to Get

By Kevin Howelluphill climb

I was reading a post on one of my favorite blogs about how difficult it is at times to build strong, trusting relationships within a community. It touched my soul because I could relate to it. Because of the structure of our lives today — being busy with work, school, family, business, and other projects — forming new, deep and meaningful relationships isn’t easy. And truthfully, I don’t think it was meant to be easy. And as my fellow blogger mentioned to me, “Nothing that matters ever is.”

LIFE IS SUPPOSED TO BE HARD

I wish I had learned this lesson, say, 10 years ago. I mean, I knew in my early 20s that life wasn’t going to be easy and I would face challenges, but I didn’t realize life wasn’t meant to be easy. That it is purposely difficult. Uncertainties purposely exists. Challenges and hard things are purposely allowed by God. Things that matter most to us aren’t easily obtained.

God doesn’t set things up like this to screw with our minds — at least I hope He doesn’t — but rather for two primary reasons: to build our character and to maximize our joy.

God explains the first principle in James 1:2-4:

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.” (The Message)

Whether you face difficulty in finding a mate, a meaningful career, success in business, understanding your purpose, pursuing your dream, or anything else desirable, the means to the end is meant to develop you, not destroy you (tweet this). Our desires don’t fall into our laps because we wouldn’t exercise our faith that way. We couldn’t develop patience and perseverance if we didn’t encounter challenges. We wouldn’t mature without challenges, thus, we wouldn’t properly manage our blessings when we obtained them.

WHY HARDER IS BETTER

The road to what we want is also difficult because if it was easy, we wouldn’t enjoy the outcome as much. Author Donald Miller shared a story of hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru. There are two routes to the city, one along a river that would take about six hours to arrive at the destination. The other route is through the Andes Mountains, through high elevation, a difficult and dangerous journey that takes four days. The Incas made people take the mountain route. Why? As Miller explained, they wanted people to take the more challenging journey because people would appreciate the city more if they went through difficulties to get to it.

Our lives are the same way. They are designed with difficulties, uncertainties, danger, and adventure because when we arrive at the destination, when we obtain what we’ve been believing for, hoping for, and working for, we enjoy it more. We’re much happier and better because of the journey. So embrace the difficulties en route to your desires. It’ll make a better celebration when you get to your destination.

Kevin is the founder and editor of Transparency. He’s learning to appreciate the journey of life a bit more. Connect with him on twitter: @kevbhowell.

Do you like this? Share it

Embracing the Wait

waiting

Watching Time by its-my-life96 on deviantart.com

By Kevin Howell

I have a love-hate relationship with patience. We used to get along very well when I was younger. I understood, then, my hopes and dreams would take time to materialize, and I was undergoing a growth process that wouldn’t be accomplished in 48 hours. I actually looked forward to the process then. It was exciting to wait, endure, and develop as my story unfolded.

That’s not the case any longer.

The innocence of my early 20s has been supplanted by hurried discontent. I used to cruise on the highway and keep calm in traffic jams. Now, I cut off old ladies who are driving too slowlyPatience has escaped me. Maybe it’s because the world has seemingly slowed down. While technology has sped up the transmission of information, the real world still runs at its regular pace. So developing true friendship isn’t as simple as clicking “confirm” on a friend request. Falling in love doesn’t happen after a few exchanges on eHarmony. Meaningful conversations can’t take place on G-Chat. And character development can’t be traced on the new Facebook timeline.

A meaningful life experience still takes time. Because I know that, I’m impatient. I know meeting the right woman, falling in love, and getting married won’t happen in a year’s time — if I want the marriage to last. I desire to marry my best friend, and she can’t become my BFF in six months. So when I look at the long road ahead I get frustrated and fearful. I cherish deep friendships. The kind where we lose track of time sitting in Starbucks sharing our struggles in life. And the kind where, if need be, we grab hands right there and pray for one another. The kind of friends with whom I can be open and transparent and not worry about my words ever leaking out to someone else. But those types of bonds don’t develop overnight. Neither can I shake a nagging sin, ascend the corporate ladder, pen a bestseller, or become the man I always wanted to be without waiting patiently for the process to unfold.

Part of my problem is that I’m a visionary. I imagine my future. I daydream about destiny. Then, I dwell on it, so much so it becomes a virtual reality in my subconscious, and I want that dream life now. But it doesn’t work that way. A journey must take place first. And like a kid who is promised a trip to Disney World for the summer, but loathes languishing through winter and spring before he can meet Mickey, I hate the wait. I just wish God would skip my life ahead to the good part on His DVR. But He won’t do it (I asked but He ignored me). So I must learn to embrace the wait. To not dwell on the future, but focus on today. Because when I take life one day at a time, the future arrives a little bit sooner.

 

Do you like this? Share it

Stop Waiting on God, He’s Waiting on You

waiting

By Kevin Howell

I’m not into reading instruction manuals. I’m sure companies put a lot of work into them, and they’re helpful, but for most products, I like to tinker with the device myself in order to figure it out. It’s more adventurous that way. Seriously, if you owned one smartphone, do you really need to read instructions on how to use your new one? Same thing with software, DVRs, TVs, tablets, and the like. Some things are best learned by trial and error.

Unfortunately, I haven’t always applied that to my life. I’ve played it safe too often, especially when it comes to matters of faith. So often I’d say I’m waiting on God for something in my life, but I get the feeling God was actually waiting on me to move. Waiting for me to make a decision, and trust Him with the results. If you’re like me, and you’ve made your fair share of bad decisions in life, particularly before you began following Jesus, you might be a bit cautious when it comes to doing things now, wanting to be sure God is cool with it. Likewise, if you’ve gone to church for sometime, you may have even developed this theology of waiting on God to “order your steps.” While it’s good to be circumspect in all we do, we shouldn’t operate in extreme caution because honestly, no one in the Bible lived that way. Granted, a lot of those guys heard from God through burning bushes, voices of thunder, angels, and weird-looking prophets (John the Baptist probably wasn’t as approachable as Joel Osteen) — so they may have had more certitude in their actions. But regardless, they were more often moving and doing, not waiting.

We see this particularly in the gospels. Though Jesus did a lot of teaching in the synagogues, His greatest sermons were object lessons. He healed people more than He taught about healing. He forgave people rather than just talking about it. He confronted injustice rather than protesting against it. And all the while, He included His disciples in these actions. The disciples bonded with Jesus in action, not in Bible studies. They learned on the go.

I believe Jesus desires to teach us the same way — in action. He doesn’t want me to learn about prayer by reading the top 10 bestselling books on prayer at the Christian bookstore. He wants me to pray. If I’m doing it wrong, He’ll correct me. Faith is more than just believing, it’s doing. It requires action. Sometimes trusting God calls for us to wait, but more likely than not, it calls for us to move forward in uncertainty.

In Luke 17:12-14, Jesus comes across 10 people suffering from leprosy. He tells them to go show themselves to the priests. According to Jewish custom, when people were healed of the leprosy, they first had to go to the priests to be declared cleansed. Jesus did not tell these guys they were healed, didn’t pray for them, and didn’t lay his hands on them before He told them to go. They had to trust Him and act. There was some uncertainty there. They could have gotten to the priests and been exiled for coming near the religious leaders unclean. But they believed Jesus, and acted in faith. On their way to the priests, they were healed.

I heard a message about a month ago in which Bob Goff shared the importance of getting to the do part of faith. He admonished the audience with this: “If you just read about things, you feel like you’re doing something because you’ve read, but that’s what stalkers do. They read about things; they memorize all this stuff. I realized I was just stalking Jesus, and I was creeping both of us out.” Well, I don’t want to stalk Jesus; I want to follow Him. And I can’t follow anyone by standing still.

Kevin is the editor of Transparency and is learning how to move forward in faith and uncertainty. You can follow him on twitter: @transparencymag

Do you like this? Share it