- The most popular philosophy in the world is “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Or “You can have it all.” Sometimes it is phrased, “You can do anything you can imagine.” Sometimes it is stated, “Your dreams can come true.” Life is supposed to be about getting what you want and doing what you want. What is Christ’s response to that idea?
- Have you had a personal experience of losing your life and finding it in Christ? What was it like when everything fell apart? What was your experience in finding your life?
- The Bible says that Paul lost his life and found it again in Christ. Do you know that story? Read Acts 9, and then be alert to more hints of that in Paul’s sermons and letters. After Paul lost his old life, what did Ananias tell him would be the mark of his new life?
- Very early in childhood children are asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” According to today’s focus verse, what is the real question we all should be asking ourselves?
- Are you living the life you believe you were created for? If so, what is it? What if you were paid less or had to live in a bad place? Would you give up your life today if you could be a celebrity instead? Do you know anyone who has given up the life he was created for in order to do something else more glamorous?
- There is a school of thought that says, If you can dream it, you can do it. How would the psalmist respond to that idea?
- What exactly does it mean to “commit your way to the Lord?” You have an idea, a plan. God is sovereign. How do the two things fit together?
- Have you attempted to do what this verse suggests? Did God act? How did you know?
- Because the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts, we always live at the intersection of time and eternity. Where does this verse fit in that picture?
Why do I blog? Readers of this blog may be interested to know that I ask myself this question fairly often. When I first started blogging, I blogged, because people told me every writer needs a blog. During those years, I had a real problem finding subjects to write about. I asked myself why I was blogging, and the answer was that somebody else thought I should. I spent my real time and effort trying to write books. Nobody read my blog, probably because what I wrote betrayed that I didn’t know why I was writing. Nobody read my books, either, despite my slogging through the submissions process for several years.
Over years of writing books, meditations, prayer guides, Bible studies, book reviews and even a blog, I came to realize that blogging was a very important part of my call to serve Christ as a writer. I began to understand that I was learning things in my studies and research that fitted a niche that I didn’t see anyone else serving. I was trying to understand something in my own life, and as I learned and grew through prayer, research, and Bible study, I realized that God wanted me to share what I was learning. I had not become an expert on anything, but I had dug deep and uncovered some truths that might bless others if they knew. Last May I participated in a project where I met people and engaged in conversations that helped me to get serious about answering God’s call to share.
One of the first questions a blogger inevitably asks herself, if she is honest, is this: Who am I to tell anyone anything? I wasn’t the first person God called who responded that way. When God called Jeremiah, Jeremiah responded by saying, “Ah, Lord God! I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” God replied, “I am with you.” God called Moses, and Moses responded, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” God replied, “I will be with you.” Jesus stood on a mountaintop in Galilee and called his few faithful followers who were still with him after his death and resurrection. He gave them an impossible task, saying, “Go … and make disciples of all nations.” None of the gospel writers record how the group responded, but it seems likely they were just speechless. Wouldn’t you be dumbfounded if someone told you it was your job to evangelize the entire world, even if you could take forty people to help you? To their dumbfounded silence, Jesus said, “I am with you always.” If the Bible is telling the story correctly, God did not send Jeremiah or Moses or the apostles out to do a job; he invited them to go along with him to do that job. God called me to share what I am learning as I grow in faith, and when he called me, he invited me to go along with him to do this work. Every time I ask myself “who do you think you are?” I remember that God said, “I am with you.” Why do I blog? I blog, because I can’t help myself, and I blog because God has invited me to join him in the work of sharing what he is teaching me.
In that context, I made a commitment to post five days a week, and I promised God I would do my best to share with integrity what I was learning. I began to see a pattern in the things I learned:
- The culture of the US has been growing more and more secularized over the past fifty years, with the pace increasing dramatically in the past twenty years. The current administration is the first ever to express itself in explicitly secular terms. Christians cannot separate sacred and secular as secular thinkers do, and this difference makes some interactions quite volatile. Christians must remember that Christ died for all people, including people who want to suppress the expression, perhaps even the existence, of Christian faith.
- The culture of the US is shuddering under the impact of growing numbers of Islamic adherents. The events of September 11, 2001, color all interaction between Muslims and non-Muslims in the USA, but the rapid increase in the Islamic demographic makes it essential that Christians understand Islam and follow Christ’s guidance in our relationships with Muslims. From Open Doors International comes a suggestion to use the word Islam as an acronym for “I Sincerely Love All Muslims.”
- The only way to have Christ-like interaction with the world around us is to know Christ. We must deepen our prayer life and deepen our understanding of Scripture. Only by engaging in the disciplines of the faith can we mature in faith and develop a worldview that embodies Christ’s redeeming love for all people.
As I grow to understand more and more about these three areas, I try to share what I learn and invite others to share with me what they are discovering
Why do I blog? Because God has called me to serve him as a writer, and he guides me daily to new understanding of that mission. Why do I blog? I blog to share with my readers what Christ has taught me, not because I know anything special, but because any beggar who finds bread should share it with other beggars on the same road.
I am very grateful to the readers who have chosen to follow my blog, and I equally value those who pass through as visitors from time to time. I appreciate their comments. When a reader shares with me what he or she has learned in the context of what I am learning, I grow. I blog, because God asked me to share and promised to go with me and help me to do my job well. I blog because as a blogger I am learning from my readers as I hope they learn from me.
Once upon a time someone tried to tell children that they could resist the lure of illegal drugs by simply saying, “No.” Sex education programs that teach abstinence sometimes try the same tactic: Just say NO. It is extremely hard to say NO to something you really want, something you hunger for, and all those programs about saying NO have high failure rates. People cannot simply say no to deep hunger. Children try drugs because being one of the “in” crowd meets a need, and the drugs themselves temporarily fog their ability to recognize that the need is not being filled. Children experiment with sex because there is a deep hunger they think sex will satisfy, and they keep it up, because the human body is designed to hunger for sex. It is a lot harder just to say NO when everything within you is driving you to YES.
Frederick Buechner, quoted by Mike Glenn in The Gospel of Yes explains that our destiny in Christ is a deep and powerful force which is like the forces that drive people to drugs and sex for fulfillment. Buechner says, “The place God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” When I read those words, I knew that at last somebody had clearly stated what has happened to me. I never had a “Damascus moment” like the apostle Paul when my world crashed down around my ears and I finally saw my future. My experience has been very different from that, and someone who recently asked me to describe my sense of calling was a little disturbed that I didn’t have a single enlightening moment, a powerful “one thing” that came clear to me. My experience of calling is more like the discovery of what Buechner called “deep gladness” and the arrival at the intersection with a “deep hunger” in the world.
My call is to learn how the world actually thinks in order to learn how to communicate with the world as it is. The Bible teaches me, and I can easily observe, that human beings are fatally flawed from the moment of birth. The Bible explains it as the work of Satan and the will of humans. The Bible teaches me that Christ came to change all that. My own life is a testimony to that truth – I, a flawed human being, met Christ and was transformed by him into the person I was created to be, not the sad failure I had become on my own. I want to share that experience with other people. I want other people to know Christ as I know him. The desire to share Christ with others is a driving force in my life. My experience with Christ created deep gladness in my life.
However, I find that nobody wants to hear me quote John 3:16 as a greeting. People reject most quotations from the Bible, although a few proverbs and some generic selections from Ecclesiastes pass muster as safe aphorisms. If I want to share Christ, I can’t speak Bible language. I must speak the language of the culture in which I find myself. And that is not easy.
The culture uses the same words I do to talk about life, but they don’t mean the same things. Here, I am happy to say, is another deep-seated gladness for me – words. I love the study of words, and the more I study the words of the culture, the better I understand what the real hunger of the culture is. Guess what. The culture hungers for someone who will heal our guilty feeling that each of us is personally responsible for the terrible mess the world is in. The culture hungers for Christ. The problem is that it has classified Christ as an element of religion, thereby defining him as a myth, and in that act, the culture believes that it has removed the Christ problem from the real world. The culture is now engaged in a rational and reasonable search for the solution to the universal guilt that they refuse to call sin, because that, too, is a myth.
My calling is to understand their language, so I can speak their language to share the Christ they have tried to lock up inside houses of worship.
My deep gladness, Christ the Living Word, and my other deep joy, the study of human words, have met with the world’s deep hunger for a cure for the universal guilt.
I have found my destiny – my YES in Christ. How it will all work out I don’t know, but what I do know is that I have never been happier. I have a sense of fulfillment and peace that is like the moment when you sit down by a fireplace on a snowy day. I am working very hard. I spend long hours every day researching the culture and studying my Bible and writing what God gives me to understand. I don’t have a vision of the distant future; I barely have a vision of tomorrow. I forget to do things that should be ingrained habits by now. None of that matters, because I am saying “yes” to Christ’s “yes” to me. I am glad, deeply glad, and I love sharing bread with the hungry world just waiting for Christ’s “yes.”
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“Blogging Through the Book is a group of bloggers who literally blog while reading the book. It’s different than merely reading a book and posting a review. We have a chance to read and share our thoughts in community. Click HERE to learn more or visit www.danapittman.com.”
I receive a daily newsletter from Michael Hyatt. I’m not an executive of anything, but I think anybody can learn from leaders. Those of us who simply want to be more intentional when we write or speak are actually leading when we refuse to follow. So I mine his daily newsletter for guidance and inspiration.
Today’s topic could easily have led me to skip the newsletter. I’m glad I didn’t. The topic is coaching for pastors. I’m not a pastor, and I can’t afford coaching. I read the newsletter anyway. For the same reason I always read it. I never know what little gem will be embedded in there somewhere.
Today’s gem is this: the need is not the call. In an interview with Michael Hyatt, Dick Savidge gave an example of the value of coaching for a pastor, explaining how one pastor improved his work and his life after learning this important principle. I do believe that every Christian could benefit by learning this truth.
Among the many problems every person faces in our busy 21st century lives is the pressure to do good. We all are solicited by NGOs, by our churches and by our neighbors with causes to do good things. The television bombards us with requests for money for the hungry, the abused, and the enslaved. Our children need us. Our communities need us. There are so many needs.
The need is not the call.
You might think that a pastor would easily distinguish among the many needs that knock on his door and readily discern which ones God wanted him to give priority to. It isn’t easy even for pastors. And it isn’t easy for you and me. But we need to learn how to do it. None of us can effectively do what God created us to do unless we know how to discern what he is actually calling us to do.
Jesus gave us a terrific example of the right way to solve this problem in the gospel of Mark. After being tempted by Satan, and after John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee and began preaching. He called the first four disciples as he was traveling around, and he went to Capernaum where Peter and Andrew lived. In the synagogue on the Sabbath, Jesus was invited to speak, and we know what his message was: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:14) He was interrupted by a needy man. The demon who possessed the man shouted and interrupted the teaching and distracted the listeners from the wonderful message. Jesus loved the tormented man. He cast the demon out, thereby setting the man free. He met a need that people understood, and they were in awe.
The Bible tells us that the rest of the day was filled up with needy people. If Mary, the sister of Martha, had been there, she would no doubt have run up to Jesus after he got to Peter’s house and said, “Master, tell us more. Tell us about the kingdom of God.” But there is no record that anybody asked him that question. They were all caught up in the spectacle of the exorcism in the synagogue, and the excitement only increased when news got out that he had healed Peter’s mother-in-law, too. By the time Sabbath was over, the house was surrounded by needy people – the sick, the crippled, and the demon-possessed.
According to Mark, Jesus gently took care of all those needs. He helped people, because he loved people. The next morning, when another crowd began to gather, there were more needy people. Jesus, however, was nowhere to be found. When Peter and Andrew did find him, he was all alone somewhere praying. Praying. When all these people needed him. And when Peter and Andrew told Jesus that everyone was looking for him, Jesus said, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” (Mark 1:38) It must have shocked these two who were very new disciples that Jesus was going to ignore all these needy people.
Jesus knew that the need was not the call. Jesus, however, had been out there in that lonely place, wherever it was, praying. It is not hard to guess what he was praying about. He had spent the previous evening taking care of needs. Starting at sunset, and going into the night, he had healed and helped many people. After what must have been a short night, Jesus had left the house before sunrise in order to pray. He had found an isolated spot and there he spent time in prayer. Because he turned to his father for guidance, he was able to finally discern that the need was not the call. By the time his disciples found him, he was confirmed through prayer in the central focus of his call. His call was to take his real message to many more people. Healing a few people and casting out a few demons was not going to transform the world.
There is a bigger question here, of course, than simply discerning the call. A lot of people will ask in an accusing tone, “Well then, what is God going to do for all those needy people? Are we just supposed to leave them in their need?” They might even feel so bold as to say that to Jesus. The disciples almost certainly asked that question, although their tone was probably more respectful. If I have an opportunity to help needy people and I pass it up because I am focused on the work God is calling me to do, I am subject to be asked the same questions. A pastor will absolutely be judged and criticized when he delegates any need to another staff member or to some other agency altogether. The world is watching us. The watchers will pounce on us when we say that somebody’s need is not our call.
The only way to make that decision is the way Jesus did it. He went to God in prayer. We don’t know how long before sunrise Jesus left the house for this purpose, but it was considerably after sunrise, after the crowd had started to gather, after the house had been searched and the neighbors had looked here and there, after people had had time to engage in all sorts of speculation that Peter and Andrew finally ranged far enough afield to find Jesus. There was a good deal of time for Jesus to pray through his conflicting demands and come to the conclusion that all these needs were not his call. His call was to take his message throughout Galilee, the message that would transform many people and eventually take him to the cross.
I don’t equate myself with Jesus. I don’t even equate myself with anyone called to be a pastor. But I have a calling. In order to fulfill my call, there are things I cannot do. I cannot do all the good things that need to be done. I cannot help every good cause. Because if I did, I would never be able to fulfill the purpose for which God called me. This work would go undone. Like Jesus in Capernaum, I need to pray daily for wisdom and discernment, because I am certainly not more wise than Jesus. I absolutely must pray in order to have any certainty that I am choosing to do the work God actually wants me to do. I struggle constantly with the fear that I am wasting my time, anyway, and that feeling certainly undercuts my willingness to assert that any particular need is not my call. That concern takes a lot of prayer. I don’t even know that I have it right yet.
Still I am comforted to be reminded that the need is not the call. It is important to remember that God did create me for a reason. I am not an accident. He has important and fulfilling work for me to do. It is quite worthwhile for me to spend the time it takes to discern between needs and calls. I thank God for his call to me, and I pray to be a faithful servant to complete the call I have received.