Your Morning Cup of Inspiration

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8-9

Have you ever noticed that God does not answer our prayers in the way that we expect? I am a planner.  I am constantly thinking about the next thing I want to accomplish.  I have very clear ideas about what I want my next 10 days, 10 months and 10 years to look like.  I happen to think that my plans are pretty good.  But God always has different ideas.  He likes to take my plans, turn them on their head, and do something entirely different – and better – with them.  And when He does, I am reminded that His ways are higher than my ways, and His thoughts are higher than my thoughts.

For instance, I don’t care for change. I don’t like moving, and I don’t like switching jobs.  In fact, after I was done with school, I easily could have remained in New York City forever.  But God decided that I needed to see the world.  So circumstances have led me to live all over this country and abroad.  These moves have enriched my life in ways that staying put would not have.  I’ve had incredible experiences, and I’ve made friends from so many different places.  God knew better than I did what was best for me.

What I’ve learned is that when I am faced with a seemingly negative problem (like having to move or change jobs), God will use that situation to benefit me. But I have to do my part, and trust Him.  I have to trust that He can turn that negative situation into something unbelievably positive.

What does it mean to trust God with your “negatives”? It means keeping a positive attitude, even when you can’t see how your problems will ever be solved.  It means continuing to work hard, even when you don’t see the possibility of any payback.  It means holding yourself to the highest standard of behavior, no matter what is happening in your life.  It means showing through your words and your deeds that you have put your whole life in God’s hands, and that you know with every fiber of your being that He will work out all things for your benefit.

Trusting God is hard. Instead of trusting God, most of us want to figure things out ourselves.  However, many problems aren’t solvable by our own human abilities.  Many things in life simply are outside of our control.  The recession and its financial devastation were matters outside of our control.  Illness is a circumstance outside of our control.  Some relationship issues are outside of our control.  When we are confronted with matters outside of our control, we need to trust that God will handle those matters.  We need to let go of our anxiety and fear because He is the only one who can take those problems and ultimately use them for our benefit.

If you have problems in your life that you are trying to solve to no avail, stop fretting and trust God. Know that His ways are higher than ours.  Know that His thoughts are higher than ours.  Know that He can do what we cannot.  Know that He not only will deal with your problems, but He will turn them into blessings.  Simply stay in faith and trust Him.

“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.” Galatians 5:13

One of the most difficult aspects of moving from emotional immaturity to emotional maturity is coming to terms with the fact that in every relationship, you must bring something to the table. In order to have good relationships with your spouse, employer or family members, you have to have something to offer (besides being alive and having a pulse).

It is impossible to have a successful relationship in which you solely take and never give. You can complain all day about how people should “accept” you for who you are, but no one is going to want to deal with you if you don’t do things for other people.  For instance, no one is going to want to marry you, or stay married to you, if your major contribution to the marriage is to watch television and eat chips.  No employer is going to want to hire you if you are sloppy and unhelpful.  Employers (and spouses) want people who are responsible and hard-working and who have a good attitude.

So when the Bible admonishes us to serve others, that isn’t just a way to encourage you to be nice. When we serve others, we in turn become successful in all areas of our lives.  Couples who serve each other have happier marriages.  People who are good at serving others are better employees.  They have more friends.  And they have better relationships with their children and families.  The Bible isn’t just a book about the history of Christianity.  It is a book about how to live your life successfully.

If a certain relationship in your life isn’t going as planned, ask yourself this, “What am I bringing to the table? Am I helpful?  Or am I spending most of my time thinking about all the things that person should be doing for me?”  If your job situation isn’t going well, ask yourself, “Am I giving my job my best effort?  Do I go in every day with a good attitude?  Or do I put a sour look on my face if someone asks me to do something outside of my job description?”

Even our relationship with God requires us to offer ourselves up in service. Yes, God loves you unconditionally.  There is nothing you can do that will make God reject you.  However, if you want to have a good relationship with God, you need to do your part.  You need to communicate with Him through prayer.  You need to seek His guidance in all things.  And you need to be willing to give your life up in service to Him.

This week, consider what it is that you are bringing to the table in your relationships.  Are you being helpful when a family member is overwhelmed?  Are you giving your job your best effort?  Are you spending a portion of each day doing things to serve others, or is your time mainly spent serving your own needs?  Then spend some time thinking about the ways that you can boost your service quotient.  It will be time well spent.

“Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” Psalm 34:14

There are a lot of wars going on. There is a war against terrorism.  There is a war against ISIS.  In some parts of the world, there is a war on women and girls.  But all these wars really stem from one war – the war that rages within ourselves.  Every day, we are at war against our base natures.  We are at war against our inclination toward greed, lust, dishonesty, and impatience.  We are at war against our own anger, apathy, and meanness.  We are at war against the unsavory aspects of our personalities that we need to gain control over.

That is why the short bible verse above is so powerful. Passive discipleship is not enough.  You can’t hum your way through your life and hope for the best.  Each of us needs to be active about our discipleship.  We have to depart from evil and do good.  We each have to seek peace and pursue it.

That means that we simply cannot react to what happens around us. We have to act thoughtfully.  Let me explain.  Most of us feel like we are good people.  I feel that way.  And as long as things are going well, I am an incredibly nice and generous person.  I am patient and easy-going.  But how I act when things are going well doesn’t mean anything.  The true test of my nature is how I act when things aren’t going so well.  Am I patient when someone is being rude or irritating?  Do I lust after material things, like a bigger house, a fancier car or nicer clothes?  Do I stand up and do something when I see injustice?  I am embarrassed to say that sometimes I pass those tests, and sometimes I don’t.

Active discipleship means that you do more than simply react to what is going on around you. It means that you intentionally commit yourself to do the right thing.  You decide to turn the other cheek, even when someone is cruel to you.  You choose to serve others, even when it costs you time or money.  You agree to be a peacemaker, even when you aren’t feeling very peaceful.

Active discipleship is a commitment that each of us needs to make every day until we die. That is because we will never fully conquer our base natures.  Of course, we can mature and grow in wisdom.  And with that, we become less susceptible to the unpleasant aspects of our human nature.  But as long as we are breathing, we will never be fully rid of the potential to be critical, unkind, judgmental, and cruel.

So how do we practice active discipleship? How do we control the base aspects of our human natures?  One way to pray.  Through prayer, God can help us gain control over ourselves.  If we pray before we act, God will guide us to be kinder and gentler to those around us.  When we pray about difficult situations, God will give us wisdom on how to deal with them.

Active discipleship also requires that we be brutally honest with ourselves. We all justify our bad behavior from time to time.  “I wouldn’t have said those things, if he hadn’t done X.”  “She deserved it.”  “I got mad because I was tired and having a bad day.”  “S/he is a bad husband/wife, so what else could I do?”  The list of excuses we make is a mile long.  If you find yourself falling into the trap of making excuses for your bad behavior, ask yourself this: Would you want your friends, family and colleagues to hear what you just said?  Would you want them to know what you just did?  If not, then you shouldn’t be doing it.  It is just that simple.

Moreover, active discipleship takes discipline. Self-control isn’t easy.  That is why it helps to surround yourself with positive influences.  Read books by people who inspire you to live a life that serves God.  Associate with people who hold themselves to a higher standard of behavior.  Listen to music and watch movies and television shows that have positive messages.  Fill your mind with what is good.

This week consider how you can commit yourself to a life of Active Discipleship. Are there ways that you can be more thoughtful about how you treat others?  Are there areas in your life where you need to consciously adjust your attitude?  Remember that while the work of Active Discipleship is hard, the benefits of maturing spiritually and emotionally outweigh that cost.

Life is not fair. You only have to read the news, or just walk out your door, to learn that life simply isn’t fair.  Innocent children are born into all kinds of circumstances, some good, some not so good, and some that are shockingly bad.  Some adolescents sail smoothly through their teen years, while others face bullying or loneliness.  Then as adults, unfair things can happen to us, whether they be job losses, illnesses or the premature death of loved ones.

However, life’s unfairness doesn’t give us the right to give up. You have to play the hand that you’re dealt.  And if you play it well, you will be amazed at what you can accomplish.  Consider two of our presidents: Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.  Both grew up with single, hard-working mothers.  Neither had the ideal “Leave It To Beaver” two-parent style upbringing.  Yet, that didn’t stop them.  And whether you agree with their politics or not, it is undeniable that they didn’t allow their childhood circumstances to limit them.

What I’ve learned is that if you simply use what God has given you, no matter how meagre, He will take your efforts and multiply them exponentially. For example, anything that I’ve accomplished in my life has started with God giving me a tiny talent.  I then used that talent and worked hard.  And God took my tiny talent and my hard work and did something wonderful with it.  That is how I got into law school.  I had some brains, I added to that a ton of work, and then God ran with it.

The converse also holds true. For instance, God gave me some musical ability.  However, after I finished my education and started my career, I stopped working at music.  As a result, I haven’t accomplished as much as I should have in music.  I’ve wasted the talent that God gave me.  I haven’t done my part with hard work, and so He hasn’t been able to propel me forward.

Life’s unfairness does not hold us back. We hold ourselves back.  God gives everyone a seed of talent.  Some people get bigger seeds, and some people get smaller ones.  It really doesn’t matter what size of seed you’ve been given.  It only matters what you do with it.  I can have a great, big seed of talent, but if I am lazy and unmotivated, that seed will dry up on the ground.  By contrast, if I water my tiny seed and tend to it, God can make that little seed blossom into something incredible.  The choice is mine.  It is a waste of time to whine about how my seed is so “tiny.”  My only job is to work with the seed that I’ve been given.

The key to life is playing the hand you are dealt, and not being distracted by whatever cards are in someone else’s hand. This week consider what hand you have been dealt. What are you doing with the talents and opportunities that God has given you?  Are you making the most of them?  God has given all of us something to work with.  Don’t worry if others have been given more than you.  That is OK.  Just take what you’ve been given, work hard with it, and then let God turn your talents and hard work into something AMAZING.

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