Do you struggle with developing self-control in your life? Here are 8 actions steps you can take today.
I was sitting at my desk, reading my Bible in the early dawn when my husband walked into the room. "I hate it," he muttered. He must have noticed my raised eyebrows, because he smiled and clarified for me. "I hate the disciplined life." Then he pulled on his jogging clothes and went for a run.
He had to. He has preached about self-control in our college chapel. So, yeah. He couldn't just blow it off.
The message he preached from Titus 2 was really convicting for me because I have so many pockets of laziness in my life, so many examples of a failure to exhibit self-control. It is something I have been working on and meditating on lately.
A few weeks ago I picked up a thought-provoking book and ended up reading it all the way through. The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan suggests focusing our life and our efforts of self-discipline on the area most effective for attaining our goals. I always try to analyze what I read in the light of Scripture, so there were a number of things I found myself thinking about after I finished the book, and one of them was the interesting argument that will power is a myth.
They call it a myth because we often make plans with the assumption that when we are dropped into that challenging place of decision or temptation in our lives, our will power will be there to bolster us up. The stark reality, they argue, is that when we lean on our own will power, we often find it has mysteriously gone AWOL.
We probably find this true in our lives. For instance:
In the moment of temptation, we often fail the will-power test.
But self-control is NOT a myth. It is commanded by God. Titus 2 actually spells out all the categories of people who are supposed to exercise self-control: old men (vs. 2), old women and young women (vs. 5), and young men (vs. 6). That pretty much means everyone on planet earth, right? And if we aren't clear on that, verses 11-12 mention again that "the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us. . .to live self-controlled."
That means me. My husband. You.
But how can we do this? Here are eight suggestions for specific actions we can take today.
8 Actions We Can Take to Promote Self-Control in our Lives
These are eight things that I have found extremely helpful in my own battle for self-discipline. It's a battle I'm constantly fighting.
How about you?
It's easy to get discouraged when we know we have failed so often in the past, but God has commanded self-control. Let's take action today to obey this important, life-altering command.
The Annual Goals and Planning (GAP) Retreat: A Powerful Tool for Communication and Productivity in Marriage
We have found this annual event is the most important factor in the success of any of our endeavors as a couple.
As a couple, my husband and I have worked hard at communication. That doesn't mean we have always succeeded; we have had our fair share of communication mishaps, like most couples, where we plumb forgot that we hadn't mentioned to our spouse that company was coming, or that we volunteered them for (fill in the blank), or that so-and-so was getting married.
However, when it comes to the basics of family life, we have managed pretty well. This, in spite of living increasingly busy lives filled with ministry, mission trips, hospitality, homeschooling, furloughs, and other travels.
And I can tell you exactly the reason why.
We call it our annual Goals And Planning (GAP) Retreat. Once a year, usually in January, we put our lives on hold for 24 hours in order to get away as a couple for the explicit purpose of planning and prayer for the upcoming year.
During that 24-hour retreat, we hole up somewhere quiet and discuss all the issues that we face as a couple and as a family and plan ahead for everything that needs to happen that year and in the future upcoming years. We do both long-term and short-term planning, making individual, family, and ministry goals.
Since we started doing this, we haven't missed a year. We have found that this is the single most important factor for success in all of our ministry and family endeavors.
IS IT WORTH IT?
Years ago I worked at a major pharmaceutical company in America, and one of my responsibilities was to help my boss organize and run their Annual Business Planning Retreat. Employees flew in from all over America, taking valuable time out of their busy schedules, in order to gather at a conference center for a few days and plan the direction of the company for the next year. The cost of that week, both in time and money, was staggering. And yet, I have no doubt it was worth it.
When considering your annual GAP Retreat, you may wonder if it will be worth the cost in both time and money for you and your spouse. I can assure you that if you do this properly, your investment in this one day each year will be more than worth it.
Couples with young children, especially, may have trouble finding a babysitter and wrangling this time alone. Don't let that stop you. You probably need this more than anyone else! You who are so immersed in diapers and pacifiers often find it hard to poke your heads up for air and make time for your spouse or for life planning. It's easy for you, especially, to get lost in the trees and lose sight of the forest. The long-term welfare of your family can easily get drowned out by your short-term, sleep-deprived need to survive.
I understand. There have been years where the first thing on our agenda for our GAP Retreat was a good nap.
Maybe, on the other hand, you are empty nesters and don't feel a need to leave your home in order to find some time alone. You may find time alone while in your normal daily surroundings, but will it be distraction free? Investing in a one-night stay at a nearby hotel or bed and breakfast will ensure that your focus can remain on your spouse, God, and the necessary planning you need to do.
As a couple, the two of you are yoked together. In order to accomplish the work God has for you to do, you must be pulling at the same load, pulling at the same speed, and pulling in the same direction. Otherwise that yoke is just slowing you down and messing you up. This GAP Retreat will give you a vision, as a couple, for how you can help each other complete the work God has commissioned you to do. It will help you live with a shared mission, a shared ambition.
The twenty-four hours you spend with your spouse nailing down your goals and activities for the upcoming year will be an investment that pays dividends. Yes, it is worth it.
WHAT TO DO ON YOUR GAP RETREAT
Each couple will find their own rhythm when it comes to this retreat, but let me share some of the things we do.
THINGS TO DISCUSS ON YOUR GAP RETREAT
We each get our own list. This includes things like health and fitness, Bible reading, other personal reading goals, writing goals, and random stuff like taking online courses in modern Hebrew or Ugaritic. (Bonus points for you if you can guess which one of us wants to take the Ugaritic course.)
This includes all the things we want to do together as a family or want to incorporate into our parenting. We include Bible reading and memorization, reading out loud (we are currently working through the Sugar Creek Gang books), any specialized skills we want our children to learn, music lessons, and any specific homeschooling goals. We often discuss gift possibilities for the year because we are intentional in our gift giving for our children, always seeking gifts that promote their education, physical fitness, skills, or spiritual growth.
We sometimes discuss our financial situation or financial or budget-related goals that we wish to set. We take a look at the projects we are giving to, and what we might want to give to in the future. Sometimes we set goals about how we can increase our giving.
We have our ministry at BJMBC and all our goals associated with that, but this section also includes other ministry endeavors. We list any requests for us to speak or teach in other places in the Philippines or in other countries and the preparation we need to do for those events. We also try to prioritize our children's ministries, like their Children's Choir at church and the neighborhood Bible Club our children minister in. Often we try to plan for ministries of hospitality or small group gatherings of one sort or another.
This is exactly what it sounds like. Surprisingly, we usually have many miscellaneous goals. We are both life-long students, so there is much we want to learn and accomplish.
It seems like our prayer and discussion times often result in a family or ministry theme for the year. One year we were burdened about strengthening marriages and families. That informed our acceptance of speaking events. When we were asked to do two separate weekend events on two separate islands, we knew right away that the one we were supposed to accept was the one that would further our goal of strengthening Filipino families. God led clearly through the theme He had already given us.
That same year we also hosted small-group events at our house for couples from our church to gather and watch a DVD series on the topic of marriage.
Another year our burden was for encouraging believers to plan their lives God's way. This resulted in a book and a seminar that Tim has taught in many places.
I cannot overemphasize the power this retreat has had in pushing us forward in our goals.
RELATED: The Three-Part Goal Setting Series.
TAKE TIME FOR FUN!
We don't just work on this GAP Retreat. We also take time out to do some fun things together as a couple. Depending on where we are and what we have time for, we will play games, go on dates for meals, spend time doing a favorite activity such as swimming or hiking, or just go out for coffee and dessert.
This isn't just about work. It is about reconnecting as a couple and taking a break from the world in order to focus on each other. It should be the most romantic, wonderful day of your year as a couple. We find this is often the highlight of our year as a couple.
THE BENEFITS OF AN ANNUAL GOALS AND PLANNING RETREAT
Between you and me, this annual Goals And Planning (GAP) Retreat has been one of the best investments we could have made in our marriage, our family, and our ministry. What are the benefits we have seen?
I'd like to encourage you to consider taking a GAP Retreat with your spouse. It will be life-changing for you as a couple, as you take the time to plan out your year and your future, examining your life from all angles and making both long-term and short-term goals.
No doubt as you have entered this new year, you have laid out some plans for what you would like to accomplish for God. Those plans may be exactly what God wants you to do. On the other hand, you may experience some divine redirection as the year unfolds.
How should you respond to God's redirection?
HOW TO RESPOND TO GOD'S REDIRECTION
I will be leading a Footsteps of John and Paul Study Tour to Asia Minor (Turkey) and Greece later this year. In the course of our travels, we will mimic the track (as much as possible) of Paul’s second missionary journey that took him from Troas to Corinth.
Thinking about Paul’s travels that took him for the first time into modern-day Europe reminds me of one of my favorite passages on divine redirection: Acts 16:6-10.
Twice in these verses Paul is stopped by the Holy Spirit from continuing on a course of action he had chosen.
Why? Is Paul fighting against the Lord’s leading?
In my opinion, that’s the least likely explanation. More likely is that Paul simply did not know exactly where God wanted him to go. He knew his calling was as the Apostle to the Gentiles. He knew his burden to preach the Gospel in places where the name of Christ was not yet known. The two places he was forbidden to go (Asia and Bithynia) both qualify. Both would end up receiving a gospel witness. But neither place was God’s will for Paul at the time.
To me, this is a great example of how a believer may not always know exactly what God wants him (or her) to do. If the church’s greatest missionary (Paul) did not know exactly where God wanted him to go, how much more you and I?
What should we do in times like that?
What I gather from our passage is that we should work the plans that we have made (the plans that fit God’s call and our ministry burden), knowing that God will direct or re-direct us as necessary. God has works which He has prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10); He will not allow His surrendered servants to get off track.
Furthermore, what our passage suggests to me is that God may close one door of ministry in order to open a better one. Paul was thinking locally—Asia and Bithynia. God was thinking more globally—cross the Aegean Sea into modern-day Europe. Divine redirection demands that we trust divine omniscience: we would have made the same choice if we knew what God knew. Through God’s providential redirection, Paul was able to plant churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and Corinth. What a great open door!
No doubt as you have entered this new year, you have laid out some plans for what you would like to accomplish for God. Those plans may be exactly what God wants you to do. On the other hand, you may experience some divine redirection as the year unfolds.
If God closes certain “doors” before you, do not doubt Him or complain. Worse, do not rebel or resist. Realize that His closed doors are leading you to His open doors. In the end, His ways are always better than ours. Take comfort from the fact that the true and living God is sovereignly redirecting your path to accomplish His ends: A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps (Prov. 16:9).
You and I exist for the glory of God.
Here are twelve Scriptural ways for us to bring God glory this year.
12 Resolutions for Glorifying God this Year
Recognizing that I exist for the glory of God, I resolve to glorify God by. . .
1. Confessing Jesus Christ as Lord.
And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
2. Bearing much fruit (as I abide in Christ).
Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
3. Attracting the lost to my God by my actions.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
4. Living conscientiously before a watching world.
I Peter 2:12
Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.
5. Keeping my body morally pure.
I Corinthians 6:18-20
Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.
6. Living in unity with other believers.
We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me. For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.
7. Advancing God's reputation at the expense of my rights.
I Corinthians 10:31
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.
8. Giving beyond the expected.
II Corinthians 8:19; 9:11-13
For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.
Being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God. For the administration of this service not only supplieth the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God; Whiles by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men.
9. Loving things that really matter.
And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.
10. Allowing God to prove--and improve--my faith through trials.
I Peter 1:7
That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.
11. Turning insult for Christ into an opportunity for praise.
I Peter 4:16
Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.
12. Using my spiritual gift to benefit others.
I Peter 4:11
If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
Are you a man of courage, determined to obey God's commands? You need a battle plan.
He was the man who, above any other individual in Scripture, is admonished to “act like a man.” Joshua 1:1-9 is a direct charge to him to “be strong and of good courage.” God orders him to act this way in light of his gargantuan task of bringing Israel across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land. His beloved mentor Moses is dead. The weight of responsibility now lies on his shoulders. He is to take courage in God’s command—"Have not I commanded you?"—and face his task.
How does Joshua respond?
He immediately swings into action (Joshua 1:10).
He begins by commanding the leaders, “Prepare because within three days you will cross over the Jordan River.” What we must not miss is that Joshua is passing along the very command he received. God told Joshua to take courage and “go over” Jordan. Joshua has so taken courage that he now turns God’s command into a future tense verb for the people he leads: "You will cross over Jordan."
Joshua then turns to the Transjordan tribes, the two-and-a-half tribes that would receive their inheritance east of the Jordan River, and reminds them that all the mighty men of valor are to cross over Jordan and assist the other tribes in wrestling their inheritance from the Canaanites (v. 14).
If we continue to follow Joshua's actions, we see that right around the same time as his actions in chapter 1, he sends two spies to scope out the situation at Jericho (2:1). Why? Crossing the Jordan River will put the city of Jericho in their cross-hairs. Joshua is strategizing and thinking ahead.
Joshua also moves from the Shittim camp—where they had been for the last several months—by transitioning to the Jordan itself (3:1). He then readies the people (3:5) and instructs the priests (3:6). Joshua moves fast: he takes all of these steps within a few days’ timeframe (regardless of how you interpret the various “three days” of the passage, 1:11; 2:22; 3:2).
Joshua’s actions exemplify what a man does when he faces his responsibilities with courage.
The command had gone out. He had been summoned to courage. His spirit within him rose up to obey. He then proceeded to work through the steps necessary to obey the command—ready the leaders, remind the Transjordan tribes, plan ahead for the battle at Jericho, move the camp to the Jordan, prepare the people, and instruct the priests.
Once a man has determined to show courage and obey, he thinks through the logical steps necessary to accomplish his God-given task and formulates a battle plan.
Perhaps you, too, have made the decision to take courage and obey the Lord's commands to you. What is the very first thing you must do? If you are going to move forward with decisive action, you--like Joshua--must think through the steps needed to fulfill the task at hand.
This can take various forms, but it almost inevitably involves writing something down.
Each day I grab my planner or a sheet of paper and make a list of the things that come to mind that I need to accomplish that day. Sometimes something that needs to be done by tomorrow creeps onto my list, but that is okay too. There is nothing wrong with planning ahead or building a runway for the future. What I find is that making such a list gives me an objective target to shoot at for the day. It's my battle plan for obedience.
When is the best time to do this?
Some people do this at night so they can wake to a battle plan already formed. For me it works best to do it first thing in the morning, right after my personal devotional time with the Lord. Sometimes, to be honest, part of the list forms while I am still having my personal devotional time. While I am reading or praying, various things I need to do that day flit across my mind. I write those things down so that I don’t have to keep wondering whether I will remember them after my devotions. I jot them down immediately and then turn my focus back to what I am doing.
A benefit of making my list at this time is that I can take some additional time to pray through the list or even talk my list over with the Lord while I am making it. Nothing is so helpful as talking over your battle plan with your Commander-in-Chief! It is only in the power of His might that you will carry it out anyway.
This to-do list governs the actions I take throughout the day. What if you have too many things? What if it is impossible to do everything? I have found that having this list actually enables me to accomplish far more than I thought I could because I have a target to shoot at. It also keeps me from frittering away my time until I finally decide to launch into my day. It encourages me to attack my work and accomplish the most difficult things first by adhering to a strategic battle plan.
In addition to my daily to-do list, my wife and I take a twenty-four hour Annual Goal Planning Retreat each year where we strategize and make goals for the year. This long-term planning time enables us to break our large projects or goals down into their smaller moving parts, which we can then complete one by one throughout the year. This helps us to keep our focus on our greatest responsibilities and how God wants us to fulfill them.
Are you a man of courage?
Have you made out your battle plan for today?
Do you ever wake up in the morning with massive overwhelm, knowing that your To-Do List for the day is much longer than the amount of time you have to finish it? How do you respond to this kind of stress?
Here are four things to do when you have too much to do.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU HAVE TOO MUCH TO DO
1. Give Thanks.
Give thanks for your long list of things to do? Yes. You can thank God that you have worthwhile responsibilities and relationships in your life. Imagine if you had nothing to do all day? It's not as fun as it sounds. There are people in this world who just stand by and wish for a job, for a spouse, for children, for worthwhile activity, or for a goal to pursue. For whatever reason, they don't have that. Maybe they don't have the skills to do a job like yours. Maybe they don't have the education. Perhaps they are aimless, with no goals and no purpose. Or maybe their ill-health prevents them from being able to work. The first thing to do on a very busy day is to thank God for the privilege of responsibility!
2. Spend time with the Lord.
George Mueller addressed this need for busy people when he said:
I look upon it as a lost day when I have not had a good time over the Word of God. Friends often say, ‘I have so much to do, so many people to see, I cannot find time for Scripture study.’ Perhaps there are not many who have more to do than I. For more than half a century I have never known one day when I had not more business than I could get through. . . but I have always made it a rule never to begin work until I have had a good season with God and His Word. The blessing I have received has been wonderful.
Reading the Word of God and spending time with the One who made you and gives you work is the best way to start a busy day. It will prepare you for your work and give you the strength you need for the demands you will face.
What if you don't?
Just as God has dealt with people who didn't tithe by allowing them to put their money into pockets with holes, He sometimes also deals with us regarding our time. Because we haven't spent our first and best part of our day with the Lord, we make foolish decisions that end up sucking even more of our time. Of course, God is gracious and He often helps us accomplish things even if we haven't given Him the first part of our day. But how wonderful it is to go into your day knowing that, although you may have a lot to do, the most important thing in your life has already been accomplished.
3. Ask yourself these Four Important Questions about your To-Do list:
Martin Luther is often quoted as having said, "I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer." In other words, prayer is the key to a truly productive day. Once you have asked yourself the four questions above and thoughtfully deleted, delegated, consolidated, and procrastinated, again take the remainder of your list to God and ask for His guidance in accomplishing the things He wants you to do.
Yes, life can often be stressful and our lists of things to do can be overwhelming. If you find yourself reacting blindly to this kind of pressure in your life, take a little bit of time to step back and look at the big picture. Give thanks. Spend time with the Lord. Ask yourself the four important questions. Then pray and ask God for supernatural help. Continue to pray as you move through your day. You are not omniscient and have no idea what your day holds. But He is, and He is very good at prompting you to do certain things at certain times.
When you take the time to do these things, even though you are very busy, your day will undoubtedly be more productive and less stressful.
When making a decision, what are the best ways to let the Word of God shine light on your pathway?
The (hopefully fictional) story is told of the man who was seeking God's will for his life. With all good intentions, he decided to open the Bible randomly and follow whatever instruction he found there. Closing his eyes, he allowed his Bible to fall open and placed his finger on the page. When he opened his eyes, he read, "And Judas went out and hanged himself." Eyes bulging with fear, he tried again, and this time his finger landed on the verse, "Go and do thou likewise." Trembling, he tried yet once more. "What thou doest, do thou quickly."
This method of randomly opening the Scripture has been employed through the years by many well-meaning Christians. Unfortunately, when making a decision, it is not the best method of allowing the Word of God to guide you.
The Bible does have the answers to your questions and can, indeed, aid you in making decisions! What are some correct methods for letting the Word of God shine light on your pathway?
5 ways to consult the scriptures when making decisions
1. Start with clear commands of Scripture.
2. Study passages that relate specifically to your decision or circumstance.
3. Reflect on Biblical principles found in Scripture.
Perhaps there is no clear command and you can't think of a single passage that relates specifically to your circumstances. Are there any general principles in Scripture that would relate to your dilemma?
For example, I Corinthians 10:31 says that whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, we should do it all to the glory of God. Let this principle guide you by asking yourself questions, such as:
4. Look for Biblical examples of people in life circumstances that are similar to yours.
5. Contemplate principles God is teaching you in your personal devotional time.
God is sovereign over your Bible reading. He uses your life circumstances each day to more deeply embed the truths you read that morning into your heart. And He also uses the Scripture that you read to meet the needs of your day. Your personal time in the Word every day is a necessity.
This article was adapted from the book Planning Your Life God's Way: Practical Help From the Bible for Making Decisions by Timothy Berrey.
What Biblical truths enable us to worship and praise God during times of great personal suffering?
Imagine if you were wealthy beyond measure. You had a delightful family, with many children. And then, suddenly, disaster struck. Your wealth was stolen and destroyed. Your children were all killed. . . You received notice of this tragedy all in one day, as one after another of your stocks and bonds nose-dived, your houses collapsed, and your children died from a natural disaster that could only have come from God.
Would you say with Job,
"Why does God make me keep on living? I long for death, but can't find it. Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?" (Job 3:23)
Fenced in. Covered over. Shut up. Entwined as in a net.
Would you feel this way about your life? That the Almighty One is shutting you up as in a jail cell, covering you up with miseries one upon another?
Would you wish for death?
And is Job right in saying the Almighty has fenced him in?
After all, that sounds harsh. Imagine the God you serve--and Job knows his own righteousness before God, although he admits that even he has sinned and committed transgressions--imagine that God imprisoning you in tragedies as in a cell.
Has God truly hedged Job in?
Ah. . . The irony.
The great, successful irony of the book of Job.
If we were to take out the first two chapters of the book, we would be irate because we wouldn't understand the layers of meaning in this story.
But we had just read, a few chapters before, Satan's own words to God:
"Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land." (Job 1:10)
Satan accuses God of favoritism. Of "hedging" Job in. Of fencing in not only Job, but all his house, and all his wealth. All the houses and wealth that God Himself had given Job.
And guess what? God doesn't deny it. He, in fact, adjusts the fence, thus proving that there is a fence; there is an actual hedge. He moves the boundary line. He tightens it a little, adjusts it to fit Job only. There is still a fence. Job was right about that. He just didn't understand the nature of the hedge. But Satan does.
"Go ahead," God says to Satan. "Do what you want to his possessions. Only don't touch Job himself."
What Job doesn't know is about to hurt him. What Job doesn't know is that God Himself, the Almighty One, is using him as an example of righteousness. For Satan, for the angels, for the readers of this inspired, preserved Book for ever and ever to come. For you. For me.
Job doesn’t know his pain is a direct result of his righteousness.
So Job suffers greatly.
And then, to complicate matters, God moves the fence again. Satan comes back from walking to and fro upon the earth, prowling, stalking the righteous. Meddling where he is able. Seeking whom he may devour.
And God points Job out to him again. "See that man? You said he would curse me to my face. Where are his curses?"
Does God know that Satan will ask for a smaller fence?
Surely. He is the all-knowing One.
Satan, predictably destructive, does: "Let me touch his body. He will curse you to your face."
God: "Go ahead, but spare his life."
The fence tightens even more.
So now Job is sitting in the ashes, scraping his boils with old shards of pottery. Lots of time on his hands to think. No wealth to oversee. No children to email. Even his relationship with his wife seems strained.
He starts thinking about all God has done to him.
Wait. . . Has God done this terrible thing?
We as readers are torn. We know it was Satan. Yet, God provoked Satan to ask for this. We know God's sovereignty; we just saw it in action as He moved the fence once, twice, and as He grants permission for Satan to afflict Job. The obvious conclusion is that Satan needs permission from God. He can't touch Job without it.
The players in the book all know this too. At least, they sense it somehow. The servant says, "The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep." Job says, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away." Satan says to God, "Stretch out Your hand and touch his bone and his flesh and he will curse You to Your face." And even God Himself says to Satan, "You incited me against him to destroy him without reason."
Everyone in the story agrees that God is responsible for all of this. Even though Satan is the one who wreaks the havoc in Job's life.
God is responsible for the hedges in our lives. And He is responsible when they are shifted.
Do we rejoice and take comfort in that during times of personal suffering?
Questions to think about from this story of Job:
Are you failing to meet your goals because of a long list of excuses?
This one simple mental adjustment will help you to banish excuses and accomplish your goals.
My Exercise Excuse Script
Laura to self: I need to go jogging.
Internal Excuse Maker: Experts say you only have to do that 3-4 times a week in order to see results. Do it tomorrow.
Laura: You said that yesterday, and the day before. I'm running out of days in the week.
IEM: Well, it's looking kind of overcast out there. It might rain. And you wear glasses without windshield wipers, so when it rains, you can't see. What if you step in a pothole? You have children to care for. You shouldn't do that to your family. Better stay home today.
Laura: Yes, I have children to care for and I want to be alive to see them grow up, so I'd better go today.
IEM: Speaking of which, they are probably going to wake up from their nap any minute. You probably don't have time to go jogging.
Laura: Well, then, I'd better go now, huh?
IEM: Remember the dog? He followed you up the street the last time, barking ferociously. You were terrified and if that nice man hadn't chased him off, you might be in the hospital right now recovering from rabies shots.
Laura: But maybe he won't be there today. Maybe I can carry a stick.
IEM: That will look cool. Go ahead. Do that. And then those construction workers will really stare when you jog past.
Laura: I'll take a different route to avoid the construction site.
IEM: Oh, and don't forget: your shoes are at the repair man, getting glued back together because they are five years old and falling apart.
Laura: Aack! I forgot about that.
IEM: So, see, you can't go. Told you so.
It's called ego depletion. After arguing long enough with your Internal Excuse Maker, you run out of mental energy to make the right choice (exercise) and decide instead to raid the freezer for a Dove Dark Chocolate Bar and drink a coffee or two.
At least that's what happens to me.
My No Excuse Policy
Something had to give, if I was ever going to succeed at my exercise goal. So I decided I would turn the excuse script off. Instead of listening to my obnoxious Internal Excuse Maker, I instituted a personal No Excuse Policy. I decided that I would not tolerate ANY excuses at all when it comes to exercise.
With my new policy, the Exercise Excuse Script doesn't even start running.
You and I both know which excuses truly are valid. All the rest are just a version of the "lion in the street" and should be sternly banned.
What are your goals for this year? Did you want to read through your Bible in a year, start a new exercise program, pay down a debt, or finally pursue a long-standing dream of yours?
More importantly, what spiritual task has God asked you to do for His kingdom that you haven't even started doing yet because of your Internal Excuse Maker?
Are you allowing your Internal Excuse Maker to run roughshod over you? Or have you found a way to turn off the Excuse Script?
Maybe you--like me--need a No Excuse Policy.
My new policy has enabled me to exercise six days a week (except when truly valid excuses come up, like sickness), and now exercising has become something I actually look forward to every day. Imagine if succeeding at your goals became that fun?
Oh, and by the way, that day that my shoes were in the shop? I borrowed my son's sneakers. They fit great and are much newer and cushier than mine. My IEM flipped out, but I jogged on air, not pavement, that day.
Try this one simple thing. Institute a No Excuse Policy for just one of your goals today.
Silence your IEM and start jogging on air.
PS--If you haven't yet formed a habit of reading the Word of God daily, may I personally encourage you to make that area your first venture into a No Excuse Policy? You will be amazed, as I have been, by the way the Lord personalizes your Bible reading to the challenges you face throughout your day.
Singers croon these words. Novels portray them as if they were a proverb. Whole movies are produced with this one piece of bad advice as their theme. And yet, it is quite possibly the worst advice ever given about marriage: "Follow your heart."
"Follow your heart."
Follow my heart?
That is all I need to do to end up in a marriage marked by commitment and fidelity?
My heart will constantly give me good advice about whatever decisions I need to make today?
My heart, which is wise beyond words, will always lead me in the right path?
This kind of thinking is radical nonsense.
Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
Is that the kind of compass you want to use? A deceitful compass that snickers as it points southeast instead of north?
Don't follow this advice. It is dangerous advice for any realm of our lives but especially dangerous in the realm of marriage. We are already predisposed to heed the deceitful compass of our hearts when it comes to the emotional area of relationships. Following advice like this can send us right over the edge of a cliff like a herd of naïve lemmings.
In no other area of life do we tell people, “Just follow your heart, dearie, and everything will work out.”
And yet, when it comes to marriage, we are inundated with books and movies and songs instructing us to ignore everything else in life and follow our heart.
Please don’t follow your heart. Not if it contradicts the teaching of Scripture in any way.
The Word of God gives you wisdom to follow. Follow that. Ignore your deceitful heart. It will only get you into trouble down the road.
I know the objection that plagues you when you read about this: “If I don’t follow my heart, will I marry someone I don’t love and live in an emotionless marriage forever?”
Highly unlikely! God is not a malicious Father who gives you stones instead of bread or a snake instead of a fish. He is a loving Father who knows what you need and what will ultimately please you even more than you do.
Wouldn’t it be nice if God spoke from the sky directly to you and told you who to marry? And then promised you a love-filled and fulfilling marriage of the sort that has you holding hands and kissing in corridors when you are seventy?
He doesn’t do that, specifically, but He does give signposts to follow. They are found within the pages of His Word.
(You aren’t reading His Word? That’s the problem right there.)
Jeremiah 13:10 talks about people who refuse to hear God’s Words and who instead stubbornly follow their own heart. Their heart that, a few chapters later we are told, is deceitful and desperately wicked. A wacky compass.
"Follow your heart” is possibly the worst advice ever given about marriage, but here is the best: follow the Words of God. You can’t go wrong when you do that, because God’s Word is a lamp for your feet and a light for your path. It will keep you from stumbling over obstacles and it will show you where the correct road lies.
Don’t follow your heart. Guard your heart. Follow God’s Word.
If you liked this post, you might also like:
Six Very Important Questions to Ask About a Potential Mate
and the Will of God series:
Part One--Sometimes We Ask For A Stone
Part Two--Why Did God Say No?
Part Three--Open Doors and God's Will
Tim and Laura
Timothy and Laura Berrey are missionaries with Gospel Fellowship Association. They share a passion for missions which has taken them to several countries in Africa, Asia, and Europe. They currently minister in the Philippines.
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