I laughed-out-loud at the post a friend made about the upcoming new year: “No one claim 2022 as ‘My Year’! Let’s all agree to just walk in to the year slow, humble, cautious!” If we haven’t learned to slow down a bit and see what the year has in store for us by now, we’re never going to learn. Here are a few thoughts and goals I believe we should (and can) all set for ourselves for 2022…
- Rest more. Slow down, breath, use your vacation time, take a sick day (mental health counts!), praying and meditating more… in fact, just practice sitting silently in God’s presence listening for a change would be great. Do something that actually brings rest to your soul even if it’s still technically an activity – like working out, reading, catching up with friends. We’ve been so drained in so many ways these past two years, but we still need to learn how to gain rest for our souls.
- Learn a new skill. Rest isn’t always stationary. Last year I began the journey of learning new skills that could help me in the job market. I gobbled up several classes online for a nominal cost and earned some IT certifications in the process. There are several platforms, but I’ve grown to prefer Udemy as a fantastic site/app to learn practically any new skill or even hobby (like professional photography on your iPhone!). I learned so much and enjoyed the content I was taking so much that I began sponsoring their service as an affiliate. Click here to explore course on Udemy that might interest you.
- See people in person. It’s been two years of quarantining. Vaccinated people outnumber unvaccinated people roughly 2:1 in California. In many ways, our emotional, mental, and relational health have suffered far worse than our physical well-being. While we still have some social distancing protocols in many places, and new variants are seemingly always going to be a concern, we must return to increasingly consistent social contact. If you’re nervous, just start small, but please start somewhere. You need people, and frankly people need you. Even with all our social media, we are in enormous need of real social interactions. Get in a church this year (or back to church). Go back to your gym, form a book club, birthday parties, etc. Heck… get some friends and fly to Hawaii!
- Exercise gratitude. I’ve worked on journaling more lately and intend to do this a lot more in 2022. My wife recently got a three year journal for me (which you can find on Amazon here). It’s good to review where I’ve come from, and how God’s answered my past prayers. The three year component, makes it so that each following year I can see where I was that day and it actively reminds me of how God has worked in my life since then.
- Take the easy wins. There’s some low-hanging fruit you can grab. Take whatever counts as an easy win. Make your bed, put your running shoes on, lay your clothes out for the next day, set the coffee pot to begin when you when you want to get up, etc. Have I ever talked about how good it feels to mark anything off a to-do list (Ooooh, the dopamine!)?! We overestimate what we can do in a year and underestimate what we can do in a day. Big change is the result of consistent, little actions. So knock out your resume, update your LinkedIn profile, read one verse in the Bible app – just start with an easy win!
- See how people are actually doing. I hope this next year doesn’t just become a year of us learning to pay attention to our well-being more, but also that of others. We’ve got to start looking up more, seeking eye contact, and asking each other how we’re really doing. Begin with your immediate circle, but let’s expand to start noticing strangers. When we all begin to see each other, we eventually begin to get seen more as well.
- Be more generous. When Tiff and I started a family, one piece of advice we were told is that if we waiting until we were “ready” to have kids, we would never do it. The same is true with generosity. We have so many noble goals, like buying a home, starting a business, and actually taking that vacay… all of which are good and we should do. But I sincerely believe that God reward us when we give of ourselves. And if we wait until we’re ready, we’ll never do it. I pray that 2022 becomes a year of unprecedented generosity for all of us – both in regards to our time and treasure. It’s been too easy to hide from volunteering and excuse a lack of generosity these past couple years. But 2022 could stand to be marked by a new commitment to giving of ourselves in such a way that we actually find ourselves in the process.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments! What are some simple, reasonable goals you’ve been thinking of for 2022? Which of the goals that I mentioned are you going to take action on? What did I miss that you would add?
The phrase no pain, no gain has been a mantra for athletes and fitness junkies for years. And what they understand about physical pain needs to be broadened to a much more general use in all of our lives.
Pain hurts. That’s the whole problem. No one enjoys it, and if someone does, we rightfully question their mental health. But I’ve learned from repeated familiarity that there is a premium value for pain that is not achieved otherwise.
Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.
It’s been the battle cry of my ministry – of my life! I even made a wristband saying as much. The difficulty is that I have to remind myself of this when it’s the least convenient. When I’ve gone through a loss, a failure, a disappointment, a setback – that’s when pain is punching the hardest. And that’s when I have to remind myself that there is a resource that only comes through such pain.
This is easily the greatest reason why most people are stuck in life. Stuck in their career because they think they can’t start over. They can start over, but starting over sucks.
Stuck in their marriage because they won’t have uncomfortable conversations about the problems in their relationship, so they settle for “peace” which isn’t true peace it’s just a pause in the fighting. And by pause, I mean nothing is being worked out together.
Stuck in their faith, because you won’t risk anything meaningful in your pursuit of truly knowing Christ, “and the fellowship of His suffering.” (Philippians 3:10).
Stuck in your finances, because it’s more convenient to have a little fun now, rather than save for a lot of freedom later.
We are naturally pain averse. But pain comes for us all. It comes by choice through sacrifice, or it comes by consequence through inaction, playing it safe, and maintaining a status quo. But regardless of how it comes, we still have a valuable decision to make…
What do I do with my pain?
- I can internalize it – become bitter, spiteful, and self-destructive.
- I can vocalize it – assign blame, make public statements, protest, and pass responsibility.
- I can mobilize it – realize that I got here at a price, and pain is a tutor – a tough and expensive one – whose lessons are hard-earned, and few are willing to pay the tuition.
Pain comes from many sources. Self inflicted, abuse by others, setbacks from life, and even from God, Himself. It was Him after all, who led His own Son to the cross. But through the price of the pain He endured on the cross, our salvation was purchased.
What might your pain purchase? You’re richer than you think. Your pain is a resource. You can choose anger and resentment, or you can choose humility, grace, perseverance, wisdom, and growth. It’s my prayer that you mobilize the premium price of pain God has allowed in your life for greater things.
Jesus deals with a “rich young ruler” in Mark 10. That sounds like a hand I wouldn’t mind being dealt in life, amiright?! He’s rich. He’s young. He’s powerful… Gees, was he good looking, too? I mean, what was this guy missing??? Yet this man comes to Jesus seeking the key to the gift of eternal life – something he seemed to understand only Jesus could offer. Here are six observations I make from that encounter that I believe apply to those wealthy in the things of this world today as well:
- Never satisfied with your success. Many suggest that the young man in this story was coming to Jesus to get an “atta boy” for what a moral person he was. Regardless, he was searching for something he knew he lacked. America’s first billionaire, John Rockefeller was famous for answering the question, “How much more does a man need?” to which he responded, “Just a little bit more.” It’s always just a little more.
- Constant need to stay busy. The story begins by telling us that this man “ran up to Him…” Always running. Always in a hurry. Everything is always urgent. The man’s life wasn’t at risk. Neither was his riches. Something far greater was – his soul. Even though he couldn’t identify the thing he lacked, he knew it couldn’t wait. Often times, those financially wealthy can’t stand the idea of idleness, even for rest sake. Because idleness tends to lead toward reflection, and reflection leads toward…
- Feeling empty and unhappy when introspective. I often refer to laying awake at night, staring at the ceiling, letting the TV wash over you as you wonder “what’s wrong with me?” This is not isolated to wealthy people to be sure, but I believe they sense this more frequently and painfully than others. The rich young ruler may have been looking for an “atta boy” from Jesus, but I really think he came in such a rush because of this emptiness. He knew something was missing from his otherwise overflowing life. Not that he hadn’t tried to fill that gap…
- Attempts at filling a perceived gap. Jesus confronts him with the commandments in the Old Testament, and the rich young ruler replies with an emphatic “DONE IT!” response. I read that as, “I’ve TRIED! What else do I need to make this hole in my life go away?” Every year another celebrity takes their life – usually for reasons we don’t ever truly understand. They’ve got everything: money, fame, people paid to serve them constantly, beautiful women/men to sleep with them, luxurious and exotic vacation spots. They’re often top of their fields, be it acting, singing, business… or all of the above. And if that isn’t enough, they can turn to substances, alcohol, adrenaline rushes, a new sexual partner, another vacation, etc. But eventually a realization sets in…
- A consistent nagging that all you have isn’t what you really want or need. As the rich young ruler presses Jesus for the answers he craves, Jesus makes the same offer of life to him that He offers everyone: Drop what you’ve got, and follow Me. This is the invitation we all get. We’re all invited in Jesus name, to let go of every other source of identity and self reliance, and follow Jesus. The rich young ruler has his answer! He’s now staring face to face with what he wants – what he NEEDS! He can feel it in his very soul, drawing him to the life Jesus offers to all who come to Him in faith. But it’s not always so simple to separate our white-knuckle grip on our stuff. Especially when we have a lot of stuff…
- An unhealthy sense of self reliance. Ultimately, the young man leaves Jesus instead of following Him. He goes away “grieving, for he was one who owned much property.” Jesus didn’t want the man’s wealth. He can walk on water, multiply a single meal to feed a multitude, He even defeated death – what would He need money for?! But he did call the young man to give up the source of security he was clinging to – sell it off, give it to the poor. But as is true with every wealthy man or woman, the temptation to trust in yourself is very strong. After all, you made it this far. You were never “suppose” to be able to get where you are, but you did it. Maybe I just need another vacation…
Look, it’s ok to have a lot of wealth. We read in the Bible that there were many people who had great resources who followed Christ. But generally it was the destitute, the broken, the hurting. Wealthy people can receive the gift Jesus offers just fine… but they must come to Him the same way as the poor. Humble. Broken. Desperate. Ready to leave everything else behind. If only there wasn’t so much to leave…
There’s nothing wrong with possessing riches. But there is everything wrong with riches possessing you. May you seek and receive the only true riches that outlives money, property, and earthly wealth. May you and I come to the cross , not in our self-made attempts at power or prestige, but rather in our poverty; and may you find what the rich young ruler sought.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9 NASB
You ever feel like you do the right thing, and yet bad things happen anyway?! It’s like “Karma” got drunk and punished the wrong person. No good deed goes unpunished – that was a phrase I heard growing up from other adults expressing this exact frustration.
The Apostle Paul had to know that feeling too. In Acts 16 we see this remarkable event where he and Silas were preaching the message of hope in Jesus, even performing an exorcism on a slave girl – in a city called Thyatira in modern day Turkey. For this, they were arrested, physically beaten, and thrown in jail. Well this sucks, would probably be my impulsive response to such circumstances. But what happened next was even more incredible:
25 But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; 26 and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!” 29 And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, 30 and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
They worshipped God – after being beat up, and thrown in jail… hardly feels like the occasion to celebrate. And while it doesn’t give us a ton of detail, it tells us that they sang hymns – those are songs of worship addressing God directly. There wasn’t anything sarcastic or halfhearted about it.
It was after this, that God literally shook the prison open, freeing them from their cell – but they didn’t leave! I mean why bother? If God could open their prison and decide they could go, there’s hardly any need to rush. The prison guard (who woke up from the earthquake) saw all the doors open and assumed the prisoners fled, was about to take his life – knowing that a far greater punishment awaited him once his centurion supervisor discovered his failure. But upon finding Paul and Silas still there, he hits his knees and asks about their hope in Jesus. Now that is a miracle…
We don’t tend to celebrate or worship God in the middle of difficulty. It’s easier and far more convenient to wallow in self-pity, anger, guilt, and resentment. But when we find within ourselves the capacity to praise God through the pain, God literally opens doors and sets us free. And often times, the outcome is not only our own deliverance, but also that of someone who’s been silently watching us, just like the prison guard. Or your children. Or coworkers.
Praise God through the pain. Find the good to acknowledge. Trust in His sovereignty, that this will somehow work together for your good and His ultimate glory. You didn’t want a comfortable, boring life anyway. You wanted a life that mattered. And nothing worthwhile is ever easy.
I’ll pray for you. It’s the “proper” response in American church culture whenever someone shares something with you about their struggle. It really sounds nice. And I believe it’s almost always offered with the purest intentions. But it tends to have as little sincerity as “bless you!” does whenever someone sneezes.
Because of this, when I was raising support before we moved to launch LifeCity, I literally asked no one to pray for me. I felt like it was ridiculous to ask people who claimed the name of Jesus to pray for one of their own who was trying to start a church. Sure, it sounds spiritual to “ask” for prayer. But even if you don’t like me, you’re not going to pray for me unless I ask you to?! Pardon me, but your prayer life needs help if that’s the case.
Now it’s our obligatory, knee-jerk response on social media whenever a terrorist attack, natural disaster, social injustice, or some other form of tragedy affects some other part of the world to flood social media with hashtags, quotes of solidarity, and temporary profile pics expressing our love – and again, prayers – for those suffering such terrible losses…
Then, of course, one week later, we’re back to our completely unaffected lives. The hashtags fall from the lists of “what’s trending” and the temporary pics revert to our normal selves, and like our often completely meaningless expressions of prayer – nothing has actually changed.
No one without food was fed. No one homeless found shelter. No one grieving a loss was comforted. Nothing. NOTHING! was changed by our shout-outs saying that we’re praying for any city, country, or people group affected by such things.
Look – I don’t mean to be such a kill-joy, and I certainly dislike coming across as a jerk – especially regarding praying! But we need to really, really quit blaming prayer for our inaction. Hear me out…
In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us, “23 Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”
Offerings were presented in the Temple as part of the prayer rituals of ancient Israel. Jesus literally tells His followers to stop their prayer offering to go make things right with someone they’ve offended. In other words – it is more important to God that we actually do good instead of simply praying for good.
Please note – in the very same passage, Jesus tells His followers to then go and present their offering after they’ve reconciled with the offended brother; but the priority is not on merely doing “religious” exercises, but improving people’s lives.
It is far more difficult to look someone in the eye and apologize, or offer forgiveness to them than it is to “pray” for them and hope that God just glosses over a situation you would rather avoid altogether. Prayer does not work that way.
Prayer moves the hand of God only to the extent that I’m willing to obey Him. Where obedience is lacking, so is the power of prayer. I’m not saying that prayer doesn’t work. I’m saying that prayer without faith doesn’t work. And faith in God is always accompanied by a corresponding action. James talks about that in James 2:14-17. Paul even talks about this in Ephesians 2:10.
So don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying “Don’t Pray!” I’m saying that we need to quit hiding behind prayer as an act of disobedience for doing actual good. Feed a hungry family. Donate some time to volunteering in your city. Restock a coat closet at a school for students in need. Spend some time with someone who’s hurting. Go and actually do something! Go and be the answer to someone else’s prayer. Have a strong bias toward action. And then pray for them, and that others would join you in trying to meet real needs in this broken, hurting world.
Otherwise, don’t ask God to do something He’s already commanded and enabled you to do. Seriously.
P.S. – The next time someone tells you they’re struggling with something you genuinely can’t do anything about, try this. Instead of saying “I’ll pray for you,” just do it. Just pray for them right then and there. Say, “Can I pray for you right now?” Put your hand on their shoulder (if appropriate) and pray for God to intervene right then and there. And afterward, make sure they’ve got your number in case there is something you can do to help.
This past Sunday, I preached a message as part of a new series called, Made New. You can check out the message below. One of the main thoughts I shared was this:
You’re not a bad person.
We tend to judge ourselves as “bad” or “good” based on our perception of ourselves in comparison to our perception of others. This gets tricky on several levels. Because I know my faults far better than anyone else, I can be far more critical of myself. We all do this… we compared our “behind the scenes” to everyone else’s “highlight reel”. You’re not a bad person. That’s not your greatest problem. Your greatest problem is – outside of Christ – you’re a dead person.
Ouch. That was direct! Maybe even abrasive, huh? Well please don’t be offended at me. I’m not even the one pointing it out. In Ephesians 2:5 the Apostle Paul writes, “even though we were dead in transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you are saved!”
The bad news is – you’re not bad – you’re dead apart from Christ. If you were just bad, you could do something about your condition. You could work harder, get your life cleaned up, cut some bad habits, start some better ones, get all “religious”, and help yourself get right with God. A bad person could get better…
But a dead person is pretty helpless. You’ve never seen a dead person perform CPR on themselves, or warm up a defibrillator to shock their heart back to life. No, because dead people need outside help – they need a Savior. Someone who is not dead themselves, who can breathe life back into the lifeless, change their heart, and restore them to new life.
And that’s exactly what Jesus does for us. He squared off with death and dragged it kicking and screaming into it’s own grave… but He walked out victorious over death on the third day. Now, the One who came back from death offers to breathe His new life into our tired, broken, dead souls.
Have you experienced a new life in Christ? Have you placed your faith and trust into the only one who can bring a dead soul back to life? I invite you to do so today.