7 Ways I Protect My Sabbath – A Challenge For My Pastor Friends

Man using a tablet computer while relaxing in a hammock

This is a hard word for some pastors, but after a recent post I was asked about how I protect my Sabbath. That’s a great question, because many pastors struggle in this area. In fact, many pastors I know who would teach their church to observe the Sabbath, seldom do so personally. This fact alone is one of the leading causes of pastoral burnout, in my opinion.

Protecting my Sabbath has proven to be crucial in protecting my ministry.

I observe my Sabbath day on Saturday most weeks. It’s my day with Cheryl. It’s not a day where I do nothing. That’s not how I rest. It’s a day where I do what I want to do. On my Sabbath, I don’t work. I play. I rest. I recharge. I clear my head and prepare for the week ahead.

Here are 7 ways I protect my Sabbath:

Recognize the value – I have to realize there is a reason to observe a Sabbath. It’s almost like God knew what He was doing. :) If I value it enough, I’ll make it a priority. The value of a Sabbath is not only for myself, but it aligns me with God’s design for mankind. “On the 7th day He rested”. Have you read that somewhere? We were created with a need for the Sabbath. That makes it valuable.

Make it a priority – Not only do I value the importance, but I make it a priority in my week. As important as any other day, my Sabbath is a must do part of my week. A Sabbath is good for the pastor, the pastor’s family and the church. That’s worth prioritizing.

Place it on the calendar – The Sabbath needs to be planned in advance. If you think it’s going to happen when you “catch up”, you’ll never take a Sabbath. Depending on the size of your staff or the demands of your church, your day may not be the same as mine, but you choose a day that works best and calendar it regularly.

Trust others – One of the leading reasons I hear for pastors not taking a day off is that they don’t have anyone who can handle their responsibilities. This is especially true in churches where the pastor is the only staff member. Regardless of staff size, pastors need to surround themselves with some healthy people and take a risk on them. I delegate well so that when I’m gone I know things will continue to operate efficiently. Ultimately, however, when I honor my Sabbath I’m demonstrating that I trust God. After all, the plan was His idea.

Discipline myself – I just do it. I make myself take a day off. (You should consider this discipline!) Now, here’s the hard part of that. In addition to saying “Yes” to yourself, you have to discipline yourself to say “No” to others. Without a doubt, if you try to protect a day there will be multiple invitations, seemingly good opportunities, and non-emergency interruptions. It will happen. You’ll have to continually help others (and yourself) understand the value in this discipline. It’s part of being a healthy pastor. And, I assume, most churches want that. Frankly some will never understand the value in your Sabbath (even if they see the value for themselves), but they will also be the first one to complain if you aren’t performing at your best in other areas of your ministry.

Prepare for it – I have to work hard prior to a Sabbath so I can comfortably take it without reservation. That means I handle any details I can in advance. Whether a pastor works five or six days a week, (I personally work 6) it is important to work hard and smart enough where there is no guilt in taking your deserved and commanded sabbath. Not trying to be cruel here, but if you are not finding time to take a Sabbath, it could be a planning and organizational problem as much as it is a demand of your time problem.

Learn to enjoy -Some pastors, like me, are not wired for a Sabbath. I realize some people have no problem taking a day off, but I honestly would work seven days straight if no one stopped me. There’s always plenty to do. I’ve learned, however, that I function better the other 6 days if I have one day that I’m not working. It’s been a challenge to maintain it, but I now truly look forward to the rest. It’s proven to be as important for my wife as it is for me and when she’s happy, I’m happy.

Now, please understand, there are no perfect plans. This works most of the time for me, but not all of the time. There are, of course, exceptions, interruptions, and Kingdom opportunities, which cause me to not be able to protect every Sabbath day. (Jesus had those too.) As much as is possible, however, I stick with this plan, and when it is interrupted, especially if it happens several weeks in a row, I will make up the time with some extra time away. I try to get my downtime back at some point. It’s that important to me now.

Pastor, are you protecting your Sabbath? Be honest.

The strength and success of your ministry may depend on it.

Pastor, what tips do you have for helping some of my burned out pastor friends maintain a weekly Sabbath?

Bonus question: Pastor, do you have a plan for extended time a way…a Sabbatical of some form? Could you share what you do in this area to help the rest of us?

10 Disciplines I’d Recommend Everyone Start in Their Twenties

Closeup of mature man´s hand giving a book to his son,conceptual image, over white background

This is one of those posts I hope someone learns something from which can help them in life.

Okay, I hope that for all of my posts — otherwise why am I writing. But, I see this one as a life-giving post for those who will read it and take some of it to heart. Specifically, my target is those who are in their 20’s, who are starting out in their adult life and career. As I’m writing, I’m thinking of my own two sons in that demographic, the young people who work on our team, and the hundreds of college students and young adults in our church. Those who come to mind are driving my desire to invest something in you who will read this.

I’m 51, which is certainly not old — although it may have seemed like it was when I was younger — but it is old enough to have learned a few things. Like things I wish I had done when I was younger. And, some things I’m glad I did.

I have learned the only way to really sustain something in your life is through self-discipline. No one is going to force you to do some of the most important things you need to do.

If I were in my 20’s again, there are some disciplines I would make sure I incorporated into my life. I would practice them enough that they would be natural for me today.

Here are 10 disciplines I would recommend everyone start in their 20’s:

Saving. It’s easier to start setting aside money before you start spending it. Setting a budget and living by it makes so much sense to me now. It didn’t in my twenties. I wanted all the disposable income I could make. But, I didn’t spend it wisely and now I have to make up for lost time saving for my future.

Exercising. I exercise everyday. Now in my 50’s I recognize more than ever my need for regular physical activity, but some mornings the body doesn’t want to get going. Without it being intrinsic to who I am I’m not sure I would start now.

Journaling. I have journaled off and on throughout my life. It is so much fun to read my thoughts from 30 years ago and reflect on how much I’ve learned and things God has done in my life. Still, there are periods missing where for years I didn’t journal. Knowing the value in what I do have I wish this had been a more defined discipline.

Friending. Those deep, lasting friendships often start early. And take work. At this stage in life friendships have deeper meaning and importance to me. I need people who can speak into my life who know me well. I have those, but not necessarily among people I knew in my 20’s — who have a long history with me. I look on Facebook at friends from high school and college and I wish I had worked harder to keep those friendship strong. I miss them. At the time I thought they would last forever. They didn’t. They are still “friends”, but not at the level they once were. I’d make sure I surrounded myself with the right friends — and those may or may not be the people from your 20’s, but I’d build healthy, long-lasting friendships.

Identifying. Specifically here I’m referring to learning who you are — who God designed you to be — and then living out of that truth throughout your life. This is the discipline of faith. Figuring out what you believe about the eternal and why you believe it and then putting faith into practice is vitally important. It will be challenged so many times. The author of Ecclesiastes writes, “Remember your creator in the days of your youth before the days of trouble come.” Such wise advise. Knowing what you believe — nailing it down without reservation — will help you weather the storms of life which surely come to all of us. As a believer, knowing God’s approval of you will help you believe in yourself and your abilities and empower you to take the God-sized risks you may look back and regret if you don’t. This discipline also helps you develop the discipline of prayer — seeking wisdom from God. When you fully recognize the value of being “in the family of God” you are more likely to cry out regularly to “Abba Father”.

Giving. Just as saving is an easier discipline if you begin early so is giving. Whether it’s time or money I now realize the value there is to me in helping others. I have practiced this one throughout my adult life and it is one of the most rewarding parts of my life. I highly recommend starting this discipline early before the world and all its demands takes the ability from you.

Resting. Those in their 20’s now seem better at this one than my generation was but for those who need it — start resting now. Work hard. I think that’s a Biblical command and a good virtue. But, the older you get and the more responsibility that comes upon you the harder it is to find the time to rest. It needs to be a discipline.

Life-planning. Creating a discipline of stopping periodically to ask yourself huge questions will keep you heading in a direction you eventually want to land. Questions such as — Am I accomplishing all I want to do? If, not — why not? Where should I be investing my time? What do I need to stop doing — start doing — to get where I want to go? In what areas of my life do I need to improve? These can be life-altering questions. Ideally, we should ask them every year, but at least every few years this is a healthy discipline to build into your life — and the sooner the better.

Honoring. This discipline is honoring the past — learning from those who have gained wisdom through experience. When you’re young you can be guilty of thinking you know more than you really know. It’s not until you get to a certain age — certainly I’m there now — where you realize how much you don’t know. There is always something to be learned from another person’s experience you don’t have. This one seemed to come to me naturally, because I grew up most of my early life without a father in the home. I craved wisdom — especially from older men. But, I cannot imagine where I would be in life had I not developed the life-long discipline of wisdom-seeking early in my life.

Coaching. Pouring into others is a great discipline — and should begin early in life. In my 20’s I didn’t realize I had something to give others from what I had already learned. Imagine the impact of a 20-something person investing in a middle or high school student — maybe someone without both parents in the home. It wasn’t until I recruited one of my mentors in my mid-20’s and he said, “I’ll invest in you if you invest in others” that I began this discipline. I wish I had started even earlier.

It’s probably not too late for most who will read this to start most of these. Most of them, however, become more challenging the older you get.

Someone will wonder how I chose the order of these or if some are more important than others. There may even be push back because I started with one about money. I get that and it’s fair. Obviously, one on this list is MOST important. In my opinion, it would be “Identifying”. All else is an overflow of that one. But, had I started with it then the natural question is which one is number two, and number three, etc. Whichever one would have ended up number ten could seem less important. I think all of them are important, so I didn’t prioritize them.

Any you would add to my list?

July 4th Verses of Encouragement

American Holiday

Here are a dozen verses for your Fourth of July encouragement.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. Psalm 33:12

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. Titus 3:1-2

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:14

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, Philippians 3:20

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. Matthew 18:20

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior. 1 Timothy 2:1-3

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. Romans 10:1

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth! Psalm 108:5

God bless!

An Encouragement To Be A Dad (Happy Father’s Day!)

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Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table. Psalm 128:3

The role of a father is so important in the home.

God bless the fathers of the world today!

A friend told me once about an incident at her daughter’s house. Her son-in-law was really excited about finishing a book in a series of fiction novels. He was so anxious to finish the latest release that he stayed up most of the night, doing nothing other than read. Normally very interactive with his family, this night he did nothing but read. Seated comfortably in his favorite chair, his back was to the rest of the house. The first time he got up was well after midnight. He was startled to stumble over something on the floor — one of his sons. His son was sleeping behind his chair, just to be close to “Daddy”.

What an impact a father has on his family!

The statistics of fatherless homes are astounding. Sobering. Scary even. (Read some of them HERE.)

One of the greatest gifts I could give my boys when they were home was to simply spend time with them in the backyard. They loved to pass a ball together. I fully believe God used these times to mold their character and help shape them into godly young men.

Children love to spend time with their fathers. They long for male attention, male interaction, and a father’s approval. They learn from dad how much they can accomplish and how secure they are in this world. They learn to love in strength. They learn to take risks and get up after failure. And, so much more.

Fathers, please, don’t neglect your greatest responsibility. I know the world is demanding much from you these days. I know you are tired from the pressures and stress of life, but your family’s health depends so greatly on the important role you play.

I know men who would love to be a dad if God allowed and I know those who have lost their dad or never knew him. It’s a deep pain. I know moms who had to play both roles. I know those who have lost children. Can’t imagine. If you have the opportunity — or if you’re dad is in your life — take advantage of the blessing.

I’m praying for you! Happy Father’s Day!

A 4 Step, Simple Strategy To Have a Less Stress-Filled Life

Business, card, mock.

Are you ever stressed?

Silly question, right?

We can never remove all the issues of our life that bring us stress. We have to somehow learn to navigate our lives through stress.

I have some easy suggestions. I have shared this strategy so many times. I hope you find it helpful.

Let me warn you, this isn’t some deep, researched system. These are simple. But, in my experience, they are powerful suggestions.

Here are 4 steps to a less stressed life:

Get a set of index cards. Write on each one what you are most concerned about in life right now. Only one concern per card, but use as many cards as necessary. Everything you’re concerned about — worried about if that’s your word — goes on a card. (You can grab a cup of coffee if you want — since that’s in the picture.)

There is something cleansing about writing out your concerns. It is a therapeutic exercise. (Insider information — you’ll find some of the things don’t merit a card once you have to write them.)

Place cards. After you’ve completed your cards, lay them face up on a table in front of you. This is a bare your soul moment. Now, share them with God. He knows them already — better than you — but do it anyway. It is freeing to give your recorded burdens to your Creator.

Pray. Pray something like this, “God, this is what I have before me which I can’t handle. I’m asking You as my Father, who loves me more than I can imagine, to give me direction, success, wisdom, patience and understanding in every area of my life. Lead me along the path you would have for me. I’m trusting completely in you. If this season is a success in my life it will depend on You. I love You Lord. In Jesus name, Amen”.

Do the best you know how to do. And, then leave the rest in God’s hands.

Please understand this is not a formula for success. I don’t believe those exist.

And, this isn’t simple. I used the word simple earlier, but that was just to keep you reading. There’s nothing simple about walking away from your right to control your outcome and leaving things in God’s hands. Even though we ultimately have very little control over the way things turn out in our life — we still naturally want to try. Worry often comes easier than faith.

Also, understand God is certainly not defined by our prayers. God will do what is best for us and His will — even when that disagrees with what we think we want.

This “system” is, however, Biblical — in my opinion. I based it on Hezekiah’s actions in response to receiving a letter that threatened his entire kingdom. (Talk about stress.) Read that story again in 2 Kings 19:14-19.

I have tried this numerous times and God always responds to my humble attempt to surrender my fears, stress, and concerns to Him.

Sometimes this response has relieved me of my stress. Most of the time, however, this process helps me refocus and feel a sense of calm among my circumstances knowing my God is ultimately in control.

Try this and see what happens.

5 Tips when Communicating with Women

man woman talking 2

I recently posted 5 Tips when Communicating with Men. I promised a companion post.

I should say I don’t feel as comfortable with this side of the discussion. Obviously, this is not my gender. I love my wife — and I study her. I have worked with hundreds of couples — many times in distress. Still, I don’t feel I’m qualified to speak for the gender.

My degree in counseling and experience working with hundreds of couples, however, has helped me process some thoughts about men and women and how they communicate. I wrote these, but ran them by my wife prior to posting.

As I said with the men, remember these are generalized statements, so not all women will fit in each of these. If they don’t fit with you, dismiss them. Simple as that. Men, if you wonder — ask. The only intent here is to be helpful.

Here are 5 tips when communicating with women:

There may be a deeper meaning – What a woman says most likely represents the way she feels, which may or may not be captured completely by the words she uses. It’s harder to put emotions into words. I find it important to ask Cheryl to clarify what she is saying often. It sometimes helps if I repeat back what I think she’s saying, then allow her to tell me what I’m missing.

Emotions are attached so the way you say it is important – Most women place a very strong value on relationships and people. Because of that, women may think and communicate more with their hearts. It’s more difficult for a woman to “set feelings aside” when communicating, for example. They are relational and more subject to getting their feelings “hurt”. Women don’t necessarily want to avoid discussing the difficult issues, but they do want men to consider how they say things. Words can have heavier meanings for a woman, since they are often interpreted with emotions.

Details are important if they are attached to someone they love – I always joke that Cheryl can remember where the socks in the house are, because they are worn by someone she loves. Women want to know details of a man’s life because she loves the man. I have to remember this when Cheryl asks for more details about my day. Sometimes her questioning is just so she can be a part of it; not to burden me with questions. Also, because trust develops with information and experience, and because women may live closer to the emotions of an issue than even the facts sometimes, details can be important in learning to trust a man. Knowledge and information helps keep the woman’s heart from emotions such as worry or fear.

Crying may simply be a way to express and release emotions – With intense emotions — sometimes a woman can feel overwhelmed with stress, anger, grief or even pleasure — tears are a natural reaction. Cheryl knows, however, that when she cries I get uncomfortable. Just as a man needs to learn to use anger responsibly, the same is true of tears for a woman. It can help a man communicate better when he understands tears may simply be a way of expressing emotions. (One thing Cheryl does for me if she’s crying is to release me from responsibility — if I didn’t cause the tears. That’s always helpful and allows me to better support her.)

They don’t always need you to fix things They may need you simply to listen as they work through something. This is a hard lesson for a man. Cheryl processes with me as she shares the burdens of her day, a stress she feels, or a disappointment in her life. She doesn’t usually want me to have an answer — at least not immediately — she wants me to be a sounding board as she thinks through the issue. I’ve learned that sometimes it is best to say nothing — just listen — until she asks me for an opinion. Of course, when she says “Go” I’m usually ready with the solution. :)

Learning to communicate better as men and women makes life more enjoyable for both genders. Most women I know are willing to admit that a woman can be more complicated to understand than a man. I’ve learned by experience that when I don’t understand how to communicate with Cheryl — or what she is saying — or when I mess up — I get tremendous credit for asking her to help me understand. Cheryl always seems patient with me when I’m attempting to communicate better. Men, it’s worth the effort!

Women, what would you add to my list?

51 Things I’ve Learned in 51 Years

Old books on the table

I continue to learn. I hit 51 years of age this year and one thing that’s become apparent over the last couple years is how much more I still have to learn.

And, yet, along the way, I have moved into a unique opportunity. It’s almost scary at times. People are looking to me for advice. They think I have something to share. Wow! Just when I realize I don’t really know anything, people think I know some things.

So, I culled together some of my learnings.

Here are 51 things I’ve learned in 51 years:

  1. There is no substitute for experience.
  2. You can’t lead people where they don’t want to go.
  3. No one will be as concerned about protecting your time as much as you.
  4. A “lesson in humility” teaches far more than an “ego boost”.
  5. Often what I don’t want to do is the very thing I need to do most.
  6. The best friends sometimes say the hardest — but most needed — things to hear.
  7. People are more honest with you if they can predict your reaction.
  8. We hurt most the ones we love the most.
  9. Very few people can really comply with “don’t tell anyone”.
  10. If someone goes to bed angry they wake up angrier.
  11. You never get a second chance at a first impression.
  12. God could not and would not ever send you beyond His abilities.
  13. Rebuilding trust is more difficult than keeping established trust.
  14. If you have to impress a friend they aren’t much of a friend.
  15. “Just once” is almost always a bigger deal than led to believe.
  16. Don’t be defined by a past you don’t intend to repeat.
  17. Never let an inability to understand keep you from an ability to respond in obedience to God by faith.
  18. Hard times come naturally in life. We must determine early to use them for God’s glory, to develop personally and to help others.
  19. You can pray. You can worry. You can’t do both at the same time.
  20. When you quit trying to be like someone else you have a better chance of being who God designed you to be.
  21. There is wisdom with age. Always be willing to learn from those who have lived and experienced more of life.
  22. The longer you wait to forgive someone the longer it takes to heal your heart.
  23. Don’t miss what matters most by worrying about what doesn’t.
  24. More success in the world does not automatically bring more happiness, but more success with the things that matter most does.
  25. Having wisdom doesn’t mean you made all the right choices. It just means you learned from the choices you made.
  26. Just because your momma laughs, doesn’t mean it’s funny.
  27. Never waste an idea. Always have something nearby to write it down.
  28. You can’t ignore one life principle by trying to live another
  29. Don’t stop doing the right thing even when the wrong thing is receiving more celebration. That party won’t last.
  30. A sweater may be old and ugly now, but one day everyone will want one just like it.
  31. Often one’s perception is determined by his or her experiences — good or bad.
  32. Habits form quickly.
  33. You can have tons of “friends” until there is trouble in your life — then you’ll discover some real friends.
  34. Big dreams rarely make it past our mind unless someone risks the chance that they could fail.
  35. The little things we do often have more value than the big things.
  36. Character is shaped by how we respond to life’s difficulties and life’s victories.
  37. Genuine love is far more choice than it is emotion.
  38. Recovery is often just on the other side of surrender.
  39. People are the greatest investments.
  40. Emotions should never be the sole indicator of decision-making.
  41. Your reaction determines their reaction.
  42. Never mistake the silence of God as the absence of God.
  43. Everyone receives motivation through affirmation.
  44. Seldom will you be 100% certain of a decision.
  45. Solicited applause are seldom genuine.
  46. The best opportunities seldom come wrapped neatly in a package with a bow on top. They usually come with work. Get your hands dirty work.
  47. The best leaders are often the ones smart enough to get out of the way of smarter people.
  48. Integrity does the right thing, regardless of whether it brings popularity.
  49. Some of your greatest achievements will be what you inspired others to do.
  50. If God is stretching you, it may be uncomfortable for a while, perhaps even hurt, but eventually you’ll love the new shape.
  51. Always learning something new keeps your mind young and you’ll have less resistance to change.

5 Things Job’s Friends Teach Me About Being a True Friend

View of business people consoling colleague.

I’ve always been captivated by the friends of Job.

You remember Job. The man of suffering. He suffered the loss of everything.

Somewhere in the grief process his friends came. Start about Chapter 2. They provide a bulk of dialogue in the book.

We can learn a few things about how to be friends to those who are hurting from the friends of Job.

Here are 5 words to the friends of Job:

Thanks for showing up. Sometimes physical presence is the most comforting way to help someone grieve a loss. You came when it was uncomfortable to be a friend. That’s when a true friend is found. You even sat with him — apparently not even eating — for seven days. Thank you. Your witness is well-noted.

Speak truth. Not what everyone else is saying. Some in your culture believed that all suffering was the result of sin. We know that’s not true about Job. You said some things that sounded good. Culturally acceptable things. But it’s usually best not to provide commentary. Just say what is true. Nothing more. Sometimes that’s only stuff like, “Wow! You’re hurting. I’m sorry. I love you. I’m here for you!”

Not everything has to be explained. You had a lot of “ideas” why Job was suffering. Thanks for your insight. You just couldn’t possibly understand all that God was allowing in Job’s life nor could you predict his final outcome. Sometimes explanations are more burdensome than they are helpful in a time of grief.

Silence isn’t deadly. Seriously. Sometimes silence is gold. Even godly. Look at Ecclesiastes 5:2 for an example. You did that — before you started talking. The days you were silent were possibly as much help to Job as anything you did. It was your presence. Don’t be afraid just to demonstrate your love with your presence more than with your words.

You help me better understand the Bible. The Bible is true. All of it. Cover to cover. I believe that. I know that in the core of my being. Everything in the Bible is truth. But not everything in the Bible is true. It’s truth in that it’s God’s written word. It’s not true unless God said it. Man talks in the Bible. So does the evil one. Some of the things you said weren’t true. You meant well. But, it’s not truth unless it comes from God’s mouth or it amplifies His truth.

So I learn from you — Job’s friends. Thank you.

I must be present when my friends are hurting most. I must not try to explain everything. I must not think everything needs my input or my attempt at a solution. I must be okay with silence. I must not take what I’ve heard — or what’s culturally acceptable — as an indication of truth. I must stick with the Scriptures and an accurate interpretation of them.

And, when I don’t know truth to share — I’ll just be silent. And, be present. Fully present.

4 Principles Learned from the Book of Esther

Bible

I love the story of Esther. If you haven’t read it lately, you can do so HERE.

Here are the four principles I’ve observed from the story of Esther.

1. God has a special plan for your life.

Esther was placed in a royal position, not by chance, but for a purpose.

Reminds me of one of my favorite verses. Proverbs 16:9, “In his heart a man plan’s his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

God didn’t make a mistake where He has you today. I think we spend too long in our life trying to figure out where God wants us to be or wishing we were somewhere else, instead of just allowing God to do something with our life where we are, while waiting for more to come.

2. Sometimes you will have to go against common sense, against what others advise, even against what you want to do in order to follow God’s plan.

Esther would have to approach the king, though she didn’t have permission. This could have meant certain and sudden death for her since it was even against the law to approach the king. Esther’s response: “If I perish, I perish!”

Sometimes God’s will makes perfect sense, as you examine your experience. (I wrote about that HERE.) That doesn’t mean, however, that you won’t be required to take risks for God. The best things in life often come with the greatest risks. The degree of difficulty is not an indication that God is not in it. In fact, the opposite would be closer to truth.

3. The time to follow God’s plan is now.

I find Esther 4:14 interesting. “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

We mostly consider that last part of the verse, but notice the “Who knows?” It’s a question. They weren’t sure. They knew she was in the position as queen. She had opportunity to see the King. They knew God wanted to save the people. They knew for whatever reason Esther had been made aware of the plan. But did they know for sure that’s what Esther was supposed to do? Apparently not! They went without being 100% certain. Who knows?

There will be times in your life when you’ve gathered all the information you can, you’ve prayed as well as you know how, you’ve sought Godly counsel; whatever you are doing is not sinful…but there is something inside of you that’s still not sure. You can sleep on it. That’s something I always do. Esther waited 3 days, but at some point you just have to muster the courage to move forward. Without all the answers, are you ready to step out and walk by faith? Don’t be afraid to allow God to determine the outcome.

4. Trusting in God completely brings great rewards.

Esther 8:17 In every province and in every city, wherever the edict of the king went, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating. And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them.

Esther saved a nation. Her obedience saved God’s people from destruction! The reward for obedience was even better than expected. Esther went before the king prepared for the worst case scenario…she got the very best! Many people became followers of God! The people were inspired by the faith of one woman and one man that everything changed in that nation.

It will always prove profitable in the long run to obey God. When others see us living in radical obedience; obedience that makes no sense, they’ll want some of what we have. The world around you is looking for answers; trying to figure out how to make life work. We may not have all the answers, but we know about a God who does.

When was the last time you asked, God what do You want to do through my life? Are you ready to walk by faith?

Three Steps to be an Expert Disciple of Jesus

Jesus hand

Jesus was specific about what it takes to be a good disciple. This isn’t a guessing game.

If we want to mature in our walk with Christ, we should pay close attention.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

Here are three steps to be an expert disciple:

First, we must deny ourselves

Jesus is not saying here that we should not own anything. Or want nice things. He is asking us to line our desires with His desires — even when they conflict with our desires. He is asking us to prioritize our life — with God and others in mind. (The first and greatest command — and the second is like it.) In denying ourselves, we are to look to Jesus and not unto our own abilities. Trusting Him when we can’t find our way without Him. That apart from Him, we can do nothing. Deny our fears. Deny our inabilities. Deny our sinful temptations by the power of the Gospel. Deny me — for Him — knowing I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Second, we must take up our cross

I don’t have a cross. At least not literally. But Jesus is encouraging us to carry forth His cross. His agenda. His mission. We are to be the salt of the Earth. We are to spread the Good News. We are to be Christ’s ambassadors to the world, as others see Jesus in us. The message and wonder of the cross — the Gospel — is to be evident in us. We should love the unlovable. Forgive the ones who don’t deserve forgiveness. Extend grace. Attempt to bring reconciliation through Christ. His cross.

Third, we must follow Him

That may seem like the easiest, but it is perhaps the most difficult. It would be easier to write a bunch of rules of what a good little Christian should look like. But, we’d only mess that up into some sort of legalism. Michael Yaconelli once wrote, “Jesus said follow me’, not ‘Follow my rules.” I remember when I was younger playing “follow the leader”. The guy in front made all the moves. The object was to follow the leader exactly. It was usually easier in looks than in practice. Jesus is our leader and every day we need to mimic the Savior. It won’t always be easy. Culture will work against us. Some in the church will still want to write more rules. But Jesus following will always be best. It’s part of being a disciple. In fact, it IS being a disciple.

Which of these three steps do you most need to apply to your life today?