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Now is the Time of Your Breakthrough. Or Maybe Not.

 

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“God has a plan. God is working his plan. God’s plan includes you.”  Those were words printed in bold letters on a sign hung above the pulpit in a church I used to go to in Tulsa. The pastor wanted her people to know that their lives were not just stuck in the mud, that God was doing something in them and through them. God was working.

We all need that hope. We all need that reassurance that we’re part of something bigger, that our lives have significance and purpose. Or at least, many of us do. I do. And every once in a while we need someone to remind us that we’re on track.  That’s where encouragers come into play – I mean legitimate encouragers, those sensitive to the Spirit’s promptings who can offer words directly from God to those of us going through moments of self-doubt. I do not mean those false “prophets” who post memes on social media about “Now is the time of your breakthrough …” or “This is your year. This year God will bring all your dreams and plans to success.”

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general words of encouragement are great …

God does have a plan, and God does want your dreams to come true. He planted them in you, in your DNA, even before you were born. They are woven into the fabric of who you are. They’re not selfish, they’re part of the bigger picture, a piece in the cosmic puzzle, and without you fulfilling those dreams, that larger picture will never be complete.

But that does not at all mean that “now” is the time.

And while we all need general words of encouragement to “press on” from time to time, other well-meaning but misguided words claiming divine authority can do more damage than if they were never spoken at all. False prophets are dangerous. They can lead you down the wrong path or prompt you to do something way before the right time. And a good thing or even a well-meaning act at the wrong time can become a very, very wrong thing.

A couple examples …

Let me throw a couple of bible examples at you.

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… specific “prophetic” words broadcast to the public, not so much …

Anybody hanging out in a Word-based church in past few decades has probably heard sermons on Abraham “Ishmael-ing it”.  God tells old Abe that he will have a son, and makes some stunning promises about how his descendants would affect the course of history. Abe is thrilled, of course, but he is also 75 years old. He waits for it to happen, but after a number of years of waiting for his wife to become pregnant, he thinks “now is the time” and gets the bright idea to have a child with his wife’s slave instead. Ishmael is born. There are some family complications, and Abe finally has to send Ishmael and his mother away. He missed it. And the son he was promised finally came when he was 99 years old – almost 25 years after the promise.

Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph has a divine dream, two of them in fact, that he would be a great leader of his people. He’s a hot-headed, spoiled little punk, and rubs his brothers’ noses in it. They end up selling him into slavery, and he ends up in an Egyptian prison for several years. Ultimately, all that works out to make him a well-equipped leader when he finally is appointed Prime Minister of Egypt … about 15 years after the inspired dreams.

And we all know the story of “The Ten Commandments.” Who hasn’t seen the movie? Moses is the chosen deliverer of the Israelites suffering in slavery in Egypt. At the age of 40 he decides “now is the time,” and ends up murdering an Egyptian man who was abusing a fellow Israelite. And then has to flee Egypt to escape justice. He ends up tending goats and sheep for the next 40 years before God finally calls him through a burning bush.

The New Testament opens with stories about this exotic character, John the Baptist. He has a miraculous birth, born to elderly, barren parents, complete with angelic visitations and prophesy. He was called and destined to be the forerunner of the great Deliverer of Israel, yet he ends up living in the wilderness, wearing shabby clothes eating bugs. Then one day, “the word of God came to him while he was in the wilderness.” “Now is the time,” and he began his famous preaching.  But he had to wait, to live his life, until that time came. He had to wait until the authentic “word from God” said “go.”

Even Jesus – now there was some miraculous birth scenes. Immaculate conception, Holy Spirit impregnation, angelic proclamations – that whole scene from “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” where Linus quotes from the gospel of Luke: “… and there in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid …”  Yet even Jesus did not begin his ministry until he was baptized by John and the Spirit descended upon him, empowering and affirming him: “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased…” Only then does Jesus’ miraculous ministry begin.

The bottom line

The button line is that just because God has a plan, just because he’s given you dreams, does not mean that those dreams start now. You may not be ready yet. In each of the biblical examples just mentioned, there was a time of preparation.  The gospel writers say of both John and Jesus that they “grew in wisdom and in stature, in favor with God and with men.”  That is, they had some growing up to do. They weren’t ready to launch out into God’s promised plan or into their dream vocation right way. It took years before they were ready. And they had to wait for the divine green light: “now is the time.”  But that green light was legitimately divine, not just some positive word spoken by a feel-good, encouraging “prophet.”

God made some astounding promises to Abraham about his descendants, the nations of Israel and Ishmael. But they didn’t happen overnight. In fact, at one point, the nation was conquered by the Babylonians, and many of the people were yanked out of their homeland and taken into captivity to Babylon. They had their prophets claiming that God was about to rescue them and restore everything to its proper place.  But they lied. They were well-meaning, but they were wrong. And Jeremiah, a legit prophet of God, had this to say to them: “Settle in. Increase, grow. It’s gonna be a while, but I have plans for you …”

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the LORD.

This is what the LORD says: “When 70 years are completed in Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise … For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future…”  (Jeremiah 29:4-12)

We all love to quote that last verse: “I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD…” But we almost always quote it out of context. The verse right before it says “When 70 years in Babylon are completed …”  There is a necessary period of development, of preparation and growth. There is a timetable for your dream, for God’s plan.  But “Now” may not be that time.

now3So when you hear the so-called prophets and diviners making these warm and happy claims that “this is the year of God’s favor for you, now is the time for you to step into your call and to fulfill your dream…,” take note. Listen inside yourself for the genuine voice of God. Is now really the time, or are you still in the prep stages – like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, John the Baptist and Jesus?

Don’t get frustrated. Don’t become impatient. Don’t lose hope.

There will be a time when you get the green light from God, when the “word from God” will come to you in your wilderness. That will be the time to launch.  God does have a plan. God is working his plan. And God’s plan does include you. Your job in the meantime is to prepare, to learn, to grow in wisdom and in stature, in favor with God and men – to get ready for the right time. To wait for the appointed time.

“Now” may – or may not – be the time.  Discern for yourself. Wait for your own specific word. Don’t jump the gun – or you might just end up wandering around a mountain tending goats for 40 years.

photo credit: “High Fly,” Abhinay Omkar via Flickr, cc.

This post originally appeared in IMPACT Magazine.

Big Problems Just Mean a Big Life

big-problems_3537904106People with small lives don’t have big problems.

That was the nugget of wisdom that fell out of my mouth during a talk with a couple of friends about the $h!t-storms they were experiencing recently.

Drama and trauma with friends. Bosses. Legal issues. Relationship issues. Money issues. Crises that just seem to happen out of nowhere, that blindside you. And you’re stuck there, confused, steaming with anger, wondering where the heck God was, and what he was doing – or if he was doing anything at all.  Does God even care?

“Is God cruel?” my friend asked.

This is real life stuff.  Stuff happens. Life happens, and it isn’t always pretty. And we shouldn’t expect it to be.  Even with God on our side, we should not expect everything to just fall into place easily, readily, smoothly, and think we’re just gonna experience happiness, peace and joy all the time.  It’s just not realistic. Nor is it good faith.


And a scene from the life of Moses suddenly took on new relevance. I don’t remember if it was in The Ten Commandments movie or not, but there’s this scene after Moses has his encounter with the Burning Bush, and God commissions him to go tell Pharaoh to “Let my people go!”  The Hebrew people had become so populous in Egypt that the Egyptians feared they were becoming a minority in their own country. So the politicians decided to implement a form of immigration control: first, kill all the newborn Hebrew baby boys. Then enslave the people (to keep them under control). And after Moses passes on God’s message to the top dog, Pharaoh, to let the people leave to get on with their purpose, Pharaoh responds by ordering that straw no longer be given to the Hebrews in order to fill their daily quota of brick-making. Now they had to go scrounge for straw themselves – and not miss their quota: “not one brick less!” (Exodus 5-6)

And the Hebrews do what we all do. Gripe. At the slave-drivers, at their foremen, at Pharaoh, and even at Moses.  “Why have you done this to us? You have made us a stench in Pharaoh’s nose, and now given them a reason to exterminate us. May God judge you for what you have done” – this from the Israelites to Moses. And you know Moses had to be thinking, “this is what I get for trying to help.”

So Moses gripes to God. “Lord, why have you caused all this trouble for them? Why did you even send me here? Ever since I went to the king to speak in your name, he has treated the people worse than before. And you have done nothing to help them!”

Moses expected great things. He had this moving encounter with God, gotten his marching orders, received a new purpose in life, a new mission. He was gonna be the savior of his people.  And it all just got worse. It all went downhill from that point on.

And most of us will experience this in life. We get a moment of inspiration, we discover a new found purpose and meaning to life. We may even have had a fresh encounter with God that has revitalized our spiritual life.  We’re on fire with new life, new excitement, new mission, new energy, new purpose. Everything seems to make sense now: “this is what I’m on this planet to do!”  And then … everything begins to fall apart. Nothing works out the way we planned. All the scenarios we played out in our heads about how things would happen, how our life would go, how events would transpire … all come crashing down around us. And we’re left traumatized and in shock.  Shaking our heads to clear the confusion – what just happened? Did I make all this up? Was this just some fantasy, some delusion?  What happened to God? Why is all this crap happening to me?!

And here’s God’s response: “Now you will get to see what I’m about to do. By my mighty hand and my outstretched arm, I will compel Pharaoh to let my people go.”

In other words,
the bigger the problem, the greater the power.

The deeper the crap, the more amazing the outcome.

Little problems don’t require divine intervention. We can handle them ourselves. What bragging-rights does that give God?  It’s the big stuff, the stuff too big for us to handle, that requires the supernatural, the miraculous.

People who are content with little require little. Those who are happy to have small lives, to just have a convenient job, to pay their bills and have a comfortable home where they can just relax and watch the football game on Sunday afternoon – what need do they have of mighty displays of the miraculous?

My gut feeling when talking with my friends about the startling amount of difficulties they were experiencing was that they were destined for bigger things. Big trouble means a big life.

That doesn’t mean that every little situation was going to work out wonderfully. That did not mean that suddenly things were gonna start falling into place.  Even knowing God was working in the process does not mean it was gonna be easy.  In fact (unfortunately!), it often means the opposite.   But it’s the big picture where things begin to make sense. It’s in the looking back afterwards that we get to see the divine power at work, doing things beyond our control, even beyond our imagination. And it never is how we expect. God never works in ways that we could have predicted.  That’s way too small for him, way to restraining. And way too small for us!  We deserve bigger things. For those who want it, for those who feel it deep inside their gut, we have bigger things in store, bigger destinies. Destinies that touch the world around us.

Those who don’t want that kind of big life probably won’t experience these kinds of big difficulties.  They’ll have challenges appropriate to the size of their dreams.

And for Moses and the complaining Hebrews, they got to witness the amazing hand of God – to the point that we’re still talking about 3500 years later. And they even made a movie about it.  Beyond that, here’s a little nugget: they not only got a new freedom and vision for themselves, they get to see a new side of God they hadn’t seen before. “I appeared to your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as El Shaddai, God Almighty. But I did not make myself known to them by my holy name, Yahweh, “I AM”.  This name is for you, from now on …”   Oh, and by the way, “I have heard their groanings, I have seen their troubles, I remember my promises, and I will deliver them …”

That’s the message to those going through some deep doodoo right now. It never happens like we expect. And we gripe and moan about it. That’s okay. That’s human.  It’s the end results that count.  The bigger the problem, the greater the solution. The more resistance, the more spectacular the outcome.  Or, as the Apostle Paul puts it in Romans 8:28, “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose…”

To doubt God, to ask where he is in all the stuff that’s going on, that’s human. It’s okay.

Our mistake is putting our “faith” in how we expect God to do things, rather than “trusting” that he’s gonna work it all out in the end.

That’s the real mark of a vital faith, a solid spirituality.  “We’re gonna get through this, and God is gonna make it all work out for our good. And in the process, we’re gonna grow, we’re gonna become better and stronger, and we’re gonna see a new face of God we’ve never known before.”

So as hard as it might be to do in real life, our game plan when going through the deep doodoo is pretty simple: Don’t focus on the immediate situation. Don’t lose heart over the immediate circumstances. Don’t get lost in the details of the small picture. The grander scheme, the big picture, is where it all makes sense. The more complicated the situation, and the uglier the mess, … the more clearly it indicates a bigger outcome, a more beautiful and purposeful life.

Small lives don’t require a divine “outstretched arm and mighty hand”.  Big lives do. And that’s where you’re headed.
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photo credit: B Rosen via photopin cc
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STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. He blogs at CafeInspirado.com, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.
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Spiritual Krav Maga (part 2) the adventure continues …

  • Fight on both fronts: spiritual and physical
  • Get aggressive: switch from a defensive to an offensive role
  • Use whatever is at hand as a weapon

Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. (2 Cor 10:3-4)

We live in two realms, two dimensions: the spiritual and the material.  So, to live an effective life, both aspects must be addressed.  The spiritual contains the real power, but the natural is the trigger to release it.  The two must work in harmony.  Action – Impact.  Trigger – Power.   This is the same principle as Faith-Works: without the works, the faith is “dead”, unreleased, and therefore no result is ever realized.

So, in real life, we must seek to act on triggers to release or activate God’s power to generate the results.

What is the trigger for any given situation?  It can be discovered by answering the basic question of “what is in your hand?”   This is a biblical principle.  When God commissioned Moses with the impossible task of freeing the Israelites from the most powerful empire in the world, Moses balked. And God asked Moses: “What is in your hand?” (Exo 4:2-3) That simple staff was the key to confronting Pharaoh, unleashing 10 plagues, parting the Red Sea, and winning battles. And we are instructed,“whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecc 9:10).   When Moses looked at what he had, all he saw was a stick.  God saw a tool he would use to unleash the miraculous.  It is also a key of Krav Maga: use whatever is available as a weapon.

How does this apply in reality?  Two examples from my own life:
1. Financial.  I’ve been working the same job for nearly 6 years now.  And I’ve been diligent and productive — I’ve done it “with all my might,” you might say.  In other words, I strive to be a valuable asset to my employer.  And I wanted a raise.  We don’t get annual cost of living adjustments, but every couple of years the company will do evaluations and give us some token of appreciation — usually in the low single digits.  I wanted more, and honestly thought I’d earned more.  I prayed quite a bit about it, not wanting to get caught up in discontentment or bad attitude, and making sure I wasn’t just being greedy.  I waited till I had some inner “go ahead” from God.  Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not the most outgoing or aggressive person around. I’d make a lousy salesman.  But I knew I had to force myself past timidity.  And I scheduled a lunch with my boss to discuss my situation.  That lunch turned into an 8 hour meeting, and I walked out victorious.  I got a double-digit percent increase.  (By the way, this was the second time this has happened in recent years, applying the exact same strategy but at different jobs: diligent work to prove my value, prayerful preparation, then respectful but assertive confrontation.  And the results were identical.)

2. Health (my current battle).  Got a cold.  Yeah, sure, a petty thing.  But it can make me miserable and cause me to miss work.  Two fronts: I’m quoting scripture to myself whenever I think about it: “he took my infirmities and bore my diseases, and by his stripes I am healed”, “I will drive sickness out from among you”, “no plague shall come near your dwelling”, “behold I give you power … and nothing shall by any means hurt you”, etc. Whatever Word from God that seems relevant, I’m speaking to myself and my sickness.  That’s the spiritual.  On the physical side, I’m getting rest, not overexerting myself, and I’m taking vitamins aggressively (not your once-a-day half-hearted approach).  Okay, gotta admit, it’s still dragging on.  Going on day 5 now.  But my symptoms are light — noticeably lighter than in the past — and I haven’t needed to take cold meds to get through the day.  I barely need to blow my nose, no sinus pressure, only mild congestion, no cough, no achiness.  Not the miraculous results I’d hoped, but definite improvement none the less.  And I’m not giving up.  Persistence till I win.  “Krav Maga!”

And the adventure continues ….