Encouragement

The Danger of Comparison

We do it everyday. Consciously or unconsciously, we size one another up. We measure others by their looks, the type of car they drive, where they live, and by the type of job they have. We use comparison like a measuring stick, assessing our own worthiness based on how many friends we have on Facebook and how many likes we have for our posts on Twitter and Instagram. But the sin of comparison is robbing us of our joy and contentment.

The problem with comparisons is that they lead us to make judgments – toward ourselves and toward others. And comparison also causes us to show partiality toward others or ourselves.

As human beings, we often use conscious or unconscious measuring sticks to try and rank others. But the problem with that is that we are all created in God’s image and likeness. Therefore there are no “better people” or “worse people” – there are only people created in the image and likeness of God.

Comparisons get us into trouble for at least two reasons:

1. They can make us feel better than the person we are comparing ourselves to, leading to pride. Remember the man who thanked God that he wasn’t a sinner? The enemy of our souls loves it when we struggle with pride. After all, it was his downfall.

2. They can make us feel worse than the person we are comparing ourselves to, leading to low self-esteem, which still keeps our focus on ourselves. Although it says in James that God is not a respecter of persons, we do not believe this if we believe God is withholding something from us that is rightfully ours.

In other words, when we compare, we’re essentially telling God that what He created wasn’t good enough. And we miss the opportunity to see the beauty of God in ourselves and in others.

The Bible says satisfaction comes from doing your best, not comparing yourself to others: “Let everyone be sure to do his very best, for then he will have the personal satisfaction of work done well and won’t need to compare himself with someone else” (Galatians 6:4 LB).  In other words, you can’t focus on your purpose and find contentment while looking at other people.

So here are four ways to stop comparing yourself to others and rediscover your joy and find contentment:

1. Remember that you are fearfully and wonderfully made. 

Psalm 139:14, the psalmist tells us that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” In other words, you are God’s unique creation. If you ever consider yourself unremarkable or even ordinary, you’re not seeing yourself God see you. But when we discover the truth that we are God’s unique design, it is overwhelming and empowering. So when you begin to feel inadequate and feel the temptation to compare, quietly whisper a prayer of thanks to God for making you the way you are.

2. Realize we all have different strengths and weaknesses. 

The reality is that there will always be someone thinner, richer, and better looking than us! No matter how hard we try, someone will always be better at something than we are. So when we start feeling the need to compare, we must recognize our opportunity to practice humility and recognize the beauty of God in His creation. This past week, at a Night of Prayer for our church, the different gifting and talents of our church staff struck me. And I thought about how each of those staff members’ gifts and talents are needed for the church to function well. God in his sovereignty has given us each a set of gifts and talents to accomplish His kingdom purpose.

3. Choose compliments over comparison. 

Instead of being people that compare ourselves to each other, we need to be people who champion each other. So whenever you find yourself comparing yourself to another, why not go right up to that person and compliment them about the very thing you are comparing yourself with. Jealous of someone’s great hair, his or her nice car or beautiful home? Tell them how beautiful you find those things! Instead of comparing your accomplishments to the accomplishments of a coworker, why not send a note congratulating them on their achievement? When we turn our comparisons into opportunities to champion each other, the devil loses and God is glorified.

4. Rely on God’s opinion rather than the opinion of others. 

Truth be known, it’s often our own insecurity that causes us to compare ourselves with others. But what if you and I relied on God’s opinion of us, before we had a chance to listen to our own, or another’s opinion of us? Not only are you and I fearfully and wonderfully made, but Scripture also reminds that those in Christ are loved, forgiven, accepted and complete. That means we must use God’s measuring stick, not our own or that of others to live by.

So when it comes to comparison trap, God asks one thing of you: Be who He created to be!

24 Lessons on Marriage

Today my wife Jennifer and I celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary. That’s 757,382,400 seconds, 12,623,040 minutes, 210,384 hours, 1,252 weeks or 8,766 days of being married to my best friend!

I remember, Saturday, May 15, 1993 like it was yesterday! I remember my groomsmen gathering at Lyon’s for breakfast! I remember my eyes tearing up as my beautiful bride Jennifer walked down the isle. I remember stopping by Kaiser in Vallejo to get a prescription for birth control, before we hopped on a plane for Hawaii the next day. I remember watching the sunset as we ate our first meal as husband and wife at the Moss Beach Distillery. It was the beginning of a spectacular journey that has almost spanned a quarter of a century.

We had no idea what the future held for us on that day. But we said we would love and cherish each other for richer and poorer, in good times and bad; and we knew that as long as we had God and each other, we would have enough. And through all of life’s surprises and challenges, its hard fought lessons and its moments of sweetness, we have stayed true to each other and our vows by God’s grace.

So to honor our many years together, here are 24 lessons I’ve found most valuable in our marriage:

  1. Marriage takes work. You can’t just cruise into idle after the wedding date. Each season, with its challenges and opportunities, is an opportunity to trust God, grow in His likeness and cling to each other.
  2. God is the only One who can fulfill us at every level. It’s unfair to expect my spouse to be my all-in-all. Therefore, it’s important to surround ourselves with other friends, who will encourage us on the journey.
  3. You cannot change each other. And you cannot change yourself either. God is the One who changes and transforms us.
  4. My spouse is my most important ministry. Period.
  5. Love is an action, not an emotion. The greatest and most challenging definition of marital love is found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-6: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
  6. Play together. Participating in an activity or hobby together will bring you closer together. Over the years Jen and I have taken country western dance lessons, played golf together, and watched many of a San Francisco Giants game together! These moments are priceless.
  7. It’s about the simple things. Over the years, some of the best times Jen and I have had are when we simply took a walk on the beach, watched a movie on Netflix, or did the dishes together.
  8. Opposites attract. Remember all those things you loved about your spouse when you were dating? Well those are same things that drive us crazy when we’re married. We simply get attracted to the opposite of us. And I believe it is part of God’s design.
  9. Listen to your wife. Don’t offer advice! Be empathetic and meet emotion with emotion. As it says in Romans 12:15, “rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn.”
  10. Pray together. Nothing has brought Jennifer and I closer together than praying to God together! We are the closest, when we pursue God together.
  11. Non-sexual touches lead to great intimacy in the bedroom. Perhaps that is too much information here, but it took me awhile to learn this lesson. Men are like microwaves. Women are like crockpots. Understanding each others need in this area will go a long way.
  12. Date your mate. For Jennifer and I, much of our time on date nights are talking about our kid, but it’s important to spend time dating. Do the things you enjoy, without the kids.
  13. Take family vacations. These create treasured memories for your kids. Every year for the last 24 years, minus a year or two, we have taken an annual camping trip to Plumas Eureka State Park! And every year, we spend some time on one of the hikes, recalling God’s faithfulness to our family. The place holds treasured memories for our family. And in doing this each year we’ve created family traditions.
  14. Capture memories! I am the photographer in the family, and over the last 24 years I’ve captured over 25,000 pictures of our family. That’s almost 1,000 per year. But it’s so fun to look back on all the fun we’ve had as a family. In addition, Jennifer has placed pictures in our house in strategic places to remind us of God’s faithfulness to our family.
  15. Children change everything. Adjusting to parenthood is hard but rewarding. And just when you think you’ve figured it out, you enter into a new phase of parenting, which keeps you humble and dependent on Jesus!
  16. Marriage thrives best in community. Being a part of a married small group over the years has brought us great blessing. In fact, it was the prayers of our small group that God honored by giving us the biggest blessing of all, our son Zach, after years of struggling with infertility.
  17. Marriage is not a 50%-50% give and take. It is 100%-100%. The love that we’re supposed to show our spouse every day is unconditional, sacrificial love. This is what Paul states in Ephesians 5:1-2, “be imitators…and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
  18. A good marriage takes two good forgivers. It’s important to keep short accounts in marriage and resolve conflict in a productive way that leads to greater intimacy.
  19. Speak words of life. Intimacy is about being fully known and loved. Therefore, we need to learn to express our needs, wants and desires, in order to allow our spouse to understand and respond. Your spouse also needs to hear words of encouragement. They need to know that you appreciate them.
  20. Love your spouse according to their love language. I learned this one early on in our marriage. I was doing all these things around the house to show Jennifer I loved her. Then one day, she called me out, stating I was doing all those things for me. That was the last time I ever did anything around the house and she regrets ever saying that. Seriously, there are 5 Love Languages: 1) time; 2) gifts; 3) service; 4) touch; and 5) words of affirmation. Jennifer’s love language is time! And it’s not quality time; it’s lots of time.
  21. Don’t have a television in your bedroom. This came as advice from the pastor who did our pre-marital counseling. We’ve honored it since; and we’re so glad we did.
  22. Keep a budget. The most important step to achieving financial success in your marriage is to make a budget. Put simply, a budget allows you to tell your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.
  23. Turn off your phone. The simple act of turning off your phone can go a long way toward growing closer. Just put it down & concentrate on being together.
  24. Take time to laugh. Most couples spend the majority of their time talking logistics: who’s doing the grocery shopping, which one is calling the repairman, who’s picking up the kids. A relationship is more than logistics, so have a pillow fight instead!

20 Things I Learned from My Mom

In honor of my mom this Mother’s Day, I wanted to share some of the life lessons I learned from her, either by her words or by her example…

  1. Believe in yourself. You can do anything you set your mind to.
  2. Don’t expect things to be handed to you. Work for them.
  3. Don’t give up. When you encounter roadblocks or hurdles, figure it out and move on.
  4. Keep your commitments. If you say you’re going to do something – do it.
  5. As long as you try your best in everything you do, you’ll never fail.
  6. Be respectful to those around you.
  7. Education is worth pursuing. Plan and save for it.
  8. Work smarter, not harder. Do it right the first time.
  9. Spring cleaning is good. Don’t hang onto junk, throw it out.
  10. Age is a state of mind.
  11. Be responsible with your money. It doesn’t grow on trees. (Okay, maybe I heard that one from my dad!)
  12. Getting organized will help you get the important things done.
  13. Prioritize vacations. Work hard. Play hard.
  14. Try new things. Life should be full of experiences.
  15. It’s important to remember special days in people’s lives.
  16. Be dependable.
  17. Honor family traditions. They’re fun and create memories.
  18. Always send thank you cards!
  19. Take care of the things that matter most.
  20. Stand your ground. Sometimes it’s okay to go out and play, even though you didn’t eat your liver!”😀

Happy Mother’s Day Mom! Thanks for who you are, all you do and everything you’ve taught me. I love you!

Live. Love. Thrive.

We were never intended to live our lives apart from God. In fact, it’s impossible to try to live the Christian life apart from Him. God has not called us into a relationship with Himself, only to leave us alone to find our way through the maze of life. Prior to His departure, Jesus promised a Counselor who would guide us into truth and act as our guide and companion. The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, not only empowers us to become like Jesus, but he also fills us with a supernatural ability to do great things for God.

In West Texas there is a famous oil field known as the Yates Pool. During the Depression, this field was a sheep ranch, owned by a man named Yates. Not able to make enough money on his ranching operation, Mr. Yates was in danger of losing his ranch. With little money for clothes or food, his family, like many others, had to live on government subsidy.

Then one day, a seismographic crew came into the area and told Mr. Yates that they thought that there might be oil on his land. They asked permission to drill a wildcat well, and he signed a lease contract. At 1,115 feet the well struck a huge oil reserve. The first well came in at 80,000 barrels a day. 50 years later, a government test showed that one of the wells still had the potential to produce 125,000 barrels of oil a day.

And to think Mr. Yates owned it all! The day he purchased the land, he received the oil and mineral rights. Yet, he was living on government subsidy. A multi-millionaire, living in poverty! The problem? He did not know the oil was there. He owned it all, but did not possess any of it.

I know of no better illustration of the Holy Spirit than this. As Christians, the moment we receive Christ, we are indwelt (I Corinthians 3:16) and sealed (Ephesians 1:13; 4:30) with the Holy Spirit, and as such we have direct access to God’s unlimited power source for strength and victory. But, like Mr. Yates, most Christians continue to live in self-imposed spiritual poverty, because they do not know how to appropriate the power of the Holy Spirit, which is already theirs in Christ.

Such was the experience of Peter, who apart from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, denied Christ three times, but who later under the power of the Spirit, proclaimed Christ boldly. Of course, we know that the Spirit had not yet been given when Peter denied Christ, but clearly Peter’s story shows us the difference the person and work the Holy Spirit can make in our lives. Not many sermons or talks are devoted to the work of the Spirit, but it’s important to understand the Spirit’s work in our lives, so we can experience the promise Jesus made to his followers in Acts 1:8 when we said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

In looking at the biblical data concerning the person and work of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit’s roles are numerous. He assures us of our salvation (Romans 8:16); He baptizes us (Acts 1:4,5; 1 Corinthians 12:13); He convicts the world in regards to sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8); He directs us (John 16:13); He empowers us (Acts 1:8); He fills us (Ephesians 5:18); He guarantees our inheritance (Ephesians 1:14); He helps us (John 14:16,17); He indwells us (I Corinthians 3:16); He regenerates us (John 3:5); He seals us (Ephesians 1:13; 4:30); and He teaches us (John 14:26). The regenerating, indwelling, baptism and sealing by the Holy Spirit take place at the moment of salvation. However, the assuring, directing, filling and teaching aspects are ongoing ministries of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life.

Because the Holy Spirit is the source of the overflowing life (John 7:37-39), we must live in dependence upon Him, walking moment by moment in His strength and not our own. This is why Paul, in Ephesians 5:18, exhorts us to “be filled with the Spirit.” To be filled with the Spirit, means to be controlled and empowered by the Spirit, and the imperative is in the continuous progressive tense, suggesting that one must “continually be being filled.” By appropriating the fullness of the Spirit by faith, one is not only empowered to be Christ’s witness, but also empowered to live life to its fullest (John 10:10).

So, how do you know if you are walking according the Spirit? Check the fruit! As it says in Galatians 5:19-23, The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” If you want your life to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit, the solution is simple, walk according to the Spirit. As Romans 8:5 tells us, Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit, have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.”

If you have been living in spiritual defeat, wondering if there is any validity to the Christian life, there is hope for you! The same power that was available to Christ is also available to you in the person of the Holy Spirit! And Jesus’ promise to us is this, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).

Remember, if you are in Christ, you do not have to ask the Holy Spirit to come into your life, because He is already indwelling you. But to be filled, directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit, you simply yield to Him and ask for His fullness and power. It’s the difference of a glass of milk with a bunch of chocolate sitting at the bottom of the glass, and a glass of milk with the chocolate stirred up, so that it looks and tastes like chocolate milk. Both glasses have the same amount of chocolate in them, but one looks no different than a regular glass of milk, while the other is taking on the characteristics of its indwelling force. In the same way, as Christians, we need to allow God to stir us up (fill us), so that others see Christ in us, the hope of glory.

So here’s the point. When we live in the power of the Holy Spirit, the evidence of the Spirit’s work is supernatural. The church can’t help but be different. And the world can’t help but notice.

Post written as a contributor for Principles to Live By

Flourish in Relationship

relationshipsGod made us to flourish! And as God’s created handiwork, we are made to flourish with him and with others in relationship. Therefore, in order to become God’s best version of ourselves, we need to be connected with others, specifically seeking to build and cling to these four important relationships in our lives:

God…

Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” In this passage, Jesus tells us that there is no other relationship of greater importance; there is no aspect of life any more important, than to know and to be in relationship with God. A healthy relationship with the Creator and a willingness to allow God’s Word to guide our actions, activities, and govern how we act towards others will allow us to experience the promise of this verse.

In my life, none of my other relationships work well if my relationship with God is out of whack. I can tell when I have neglected time with Jesus, as I get weary, become less patient and less present with others. And sadly this state of mind rubs off into my relationships with my wife, my son and with those I work with. But as I seek first God’s kingdom, and prioritize my relationship with Him, everything goes much better, as I experience His presence and power!

Friends…

Everybody needs a few close friends they can laugh with, cry with, have fun with, or do life with. And there is such power in connectedness. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 tells us that, “Two people are better than one, because they get more done by working together. If one falls down, the other can help him up. But it is bad for the person who is alone and falls, because no one is there to help.”

Zig Ziglar used to tell a story about how Belgian horses are trained to work together—and how it made these incredible animals so much more effective. Belgian horses are huge, powerful animals. In fact, one Belgian can pull more than 8,000 pounds. That’s one strong horse! But the amazing thing is that if you put two Belgian horses together, who are strangers, they don’t just double the amount they can pull; they actually triple it to 24,000 pounds. And if you spend some time training them to work together, that unified pair can pull a whopping 32,000 pounds. That’s four times what a single horse can do alone!

That story reminds me that connections are powerful. And just as Solomon reminds us, people need healthy relationships to win at life, too.

Wise Counselors…

Life can present us with challenges and decisions that are not easy to make on our own. We may pray about the situation and read God’s Word for guidance, but could still feel confused and uncertain about the direction we should take. It’s in these times, that it can be helpful to seek the counsel of other wise and godly people.

I believe that everyone needs a mentor in his or her life. To cultivate a relationship with those who have already been where we are or who are a little further along on the journey. A wise counselor is someone in which you can bounce ideas off of, gain wisdom and get perspective from.

Proverbs 15:22 states, “Plans fail without good advice, but they succeed with the advice of many others.” Seeking wise counsel is a sign of maturity and humility and some of the most successful people in life have surrounded themselves with wise counselors.

As a pastor, I have come into contact with many great Christian leaders like Bill Hybels, Phil Vischer, Dave Ramsey, and Rick Warren, and what strikes me about their leadership is that they are always asking questions. In my conversations with these men, they don’t seek to impart with me their wisdom; they seek wisdom by asking lots of questions. And I believe it’s this humility and perspective on life that God blesses.

A Close Confidant…

Finally, I believe we all need a trusted friend who you not only enjoy being with, but who speaks truth into your life and with whom you feel safe enough to be real.

Jesus called twelve guys to do life with him, but within his circle of twelve, he had an inner circle of three comprised of Peter, James, and John. These were his closest friends and confidants. And in following Jesus’ example, we need to circle ourselves with a few people that truly know our story, our struggles, our insecurities and our fears.

It’s these types of friendships that shape who we become and truly affect where we go! Having these sorts of relationships will not only help us run the race that God has called us to, but will also help us to experience joy and encouragement along the way.

Yes, life is all about relationships! So get connected, start taking some risks to be vulnerable and get connected by pursuing these relationships in your life. Until next time…

Post written as a contributor for Principles to Live By

Reflections on Turning 50

football-50Today I turn 50 years old. That’s right, the Big Five-O. Yep, it’s my birthday and I’m thrilled to be given the gift of turning 50. As i embark on this new decade of life, I’m filled with joy, gratitude and wonder. And instead of complaining, or making jokes about being over the hill, I’m celebrating the gift of reaching this milestone day.

These past 50 years have been an amazing ride for Bryan Hardwick, and I have the scars, age spots, wrinkles, gray hair as well as the AARP card to prove it. And at 50, I think I look pretty good and can probably still make your head spin on the dance floor. But, I have to admit, embracing this milestone day has been a journey for me. And as this day has approached, I have truly wondered if my best days are behind me or before me. Yet in recalling God’s faithfulness over these past 50 years, and in understanding God’s character and promises, I have come to embrace that the best days are truly ahead.

In considering the stories of the Bible, I learn that many men of the Bible experienced greater fruitfulness and blessing in their ministry in the second half of their life. Moses and Aaron were chosen to lead the Israelite’s out of Egyptian at the ages of 80 and 83. Joshua was given the charge of leading the conquest of Canaan, during the last thirty years of his life to which he lived to 110. Daniel was well over 80 when he served as one of three governors over the kingdom of Babylon and was thrown into the lion’s den. So until God takes us home, our mission is not done, and each moment is to be treasured until we are called home.

The last 50 years have been great ones…I have an incredible family who I love and who loves me. I have been blessed to spend the last 25 years of my life with this most amazing woman of God who loves me unconditionally and who is an incredible cook and mother to our son Zach. I have an amazing son, who is our miracle from heaven. He’s thriving in his freshman year at Rocklin High School and I am so encouraged by the young man he’s becoming. I have a career that I truly love! Yes, it’s complicated at times, especially over these past couple of years, but it is truly an honor to come alongside others to help them experience God in fresh ways. In addition, I have been blessed by some awesome friends and mentors who have walked through some amazing seasons with me. I could go on and on, but special thanks go out to Dan, Dave, Mike, JP, Todd, Brad and Michael for believing in me and making a difference in my life.

  • Yes, it’s been an amazing 50 years and by God’s grace I have learned to take myself less seriously, worry less, and to accept and even love my imperfections. To embrace that I am perfectly imperfect. That I am flawed, and that I make mistakes. Yep, I bump into walls and I stumble and fall. But I have learned that in embracing my imperfections, I embrace God’s love and grace in my life. And for this recovering perfectionist, this has been one of the greatest gifts I have experienced.
  • So, thank you God for the gift of another year! Today, I own my age and I wear it proudly. I am 50! WooHoo! And I’m praying that this will be the best year ever. I am filled with anticipation of what this next phase of my life will bring and I welcome it all.

Christian Athleticism & The Olympics

An Edited Repost from August 1, 2012

If you are like most American’s r2016_1ight now, you’re probably a little sleep deprived from watching the Olympic coverage! With so many televised options, you can literally watch Olympic coverage 24-hours a day! It’s amazing to see these athletes, some of whom are just teenagers, perform at the highest level of competition! When I was 17, I sure wasn’t preparing to fly to Rio! I was just hoping that I didn’t blow the engine in my 1967 Volkswagen Bug!

What I’m struck by is the sheer amount of perseverance and dedication these Olympic athletes possess. Countless hours of practice, a myriad of sacrifices and an incredible amount of strength & grit got them to the Rio games. While they make it look easy, they put in years of hard work, for a single event that will, at best, last for only a few minutes!

The games teach us the value of self-control, discipline, training and adherence to principle. And these athletes make us shake our heads in disbelief at the strength, skill and determination of which human beings are capable.

In 1 Corinthians 9:27, Paul writes, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified” (NLT). In considering this verse, I believe that the Apostle Paul knew and understood something that many of us contemporary Christians miss: Success in the Christian life requires training, conditioning and focused effort. There is a spiritual athleticism required. Learning to trust God and live the Christian life requires training, just like gymnastics and swimming.

Watching the Olympics has once again inspired me to give my all for Jesus! After all, lazy Christians, like lazy athletes, don’t win. What’s more, they don’t even have much fun!

The Power of Praise

worshipWhen I was on the Northstar Project with Cru during the summers of ’85 & ’86, I learned a children’s worship song, that we were encouraged to sing when times got tough during our missionary efforts in the former Soviet Union. The lyrics were so simple, but every time I sang them, I sensed the enemy flee. The song, It’s Amazing What Praising Can Do, simply went like this:

It’s amazing what praising can do,
Hallelujah, Hallelujah.
It’s amazing what praising can do,
Hallelujah.
I don’t worry when things go wrong,
Jesus fills my heart with a song.
It’s amazing what praising can do,
Hallelujah.

In Psalm 89:15 , the psalmist declares, “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim You, who walk in the light of Your presence, O Lord.” In this passage, we discover that there is power in praise. And my experience tells me this is true for when I have personally made the decision to fix my eyes on God, and give Him praise, no matter what’s staring me in the face, I begin to experience the release of those struggles over me.

I have been thinking about the power of praise today, and in looking at the Scriptures, here are some reasons I have found to praise God…

Praising God produces a revived and rejoicing heart when we are downcast and discouraged.

Notice that praising God is a choice we make and how praising God lifts our souls in Psalm 63:1-4, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen You in the sanctuary and beheld Your power and Your glory. Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You. I will praise You as long as I live, and in Your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise You.”

Praising God raises an awareness of how we have fallen short, and leads us to confess, repent, and appropriate His forgiveness.

In Isaiah 6:1-5 we read that, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him were seraphs, each with six wings: with two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Praising generates triumphant faith.

One of the most striking illustrations of this is found in 2 Chronicles 20. King Jehoshaphat and Judea are about to be attacked by their enemies. Jehoshaphat calls the people to prayer and fasting to seek the Lord regarding how they should respond. The Lord tells them not to worry because the battle isn’t theirs but His. He gives them the battle plan and assures them of His presence and deliverance. Jehoshaphat then does something incredible: he appoints a choir to go ahead of the army, singing and praising the Lord for His holiness. Jehoshaphat demonstrated great faith in God’s plan by appointing a choir to lead His army into battle. In an awesome demonstration of great faith, they marched off singing, praising, and thanking the Lord for His enduring love. And here is what happened as a result: As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated (2 Chronicles 20:22).

Praise invites His presence.

God dwells close to us when we praise Him. He lives there. He looks for it.  As it says in Psalm 22:3, God “inhabits the praises of His people.”

As Christ followers we have a choice every day…To live in the worry and stress of our self-absorbed, fast track world. Or, we can ask God to help us take our eyes off all that may be swirling around us and to look up to Him, the One who holds it all together! And as the classic hymn goes, when we do, we will see that “the things of Earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”

God longs for us to know the power of His presence. He desires to bless us more than we could imagine. His Spirit urges us onward, calling us closer. And in response to His invitation, may we open our mouths and sing, for its amazing what praising can do!

God Uses Broken People

5180924ce78db2ca9c21fd153be59021I ran across this devotion that my wife Jennifer wrote a few years ago and felt it appropriate to share in light of some recent posts and conversations. I love her wisdom and heart on this…

We all have something to offer someone. We all have a story, past experiences, successes and failures that God could use to strengthen someone else.

During the Passover Celebration, Jesus was teaching and exhorting his disciples one last time before his death. He speaks of his suffering, his betrayal and the life of service that was ahead of them. Then Jesus says to Peter “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat.  But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.”  Luke 22:31-32 (NLT)

I was blessed by Jesus’ words to Peter. Maybe not the “Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat” part, but the remaining words in these verses. First, I love that Jesus prayed for Peter. Second, I find it hopeful that Jesus used the word “when” and not “if” you repent. And finally, I love Jesus’ exhortation to Peter to strengthen the brothers.

Jesus told Peter that his faith was to be tested and a few minutes later Jesus told Peter that he would deny Him three times.  “But Jesus said, ‘Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.”  Luke 22:34  And we know how this part of the story ends… “At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Suddenly, the Lord’s words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.  And he went outside and wept bitterly.”  Luke 22:61-62

We see here in Luke 22 and other portions of Scripture that Peter really blows it, but Jesus doesn’t condemn him or release him from his future ministry opportunities. He isn’t sidelined for a bad choice or a season of bad choices. Instead, Jesus said “so when you repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” Jesus knew that Peter would deny him, he also knew that after he repented he would be better prepared to serve Him and serve His church.

God is our great redeemer and restorer. Just like God used Peter, failures at all, he can use our story, our times of rebellion, our desert seasons, our trials, and our victories to encourage and strengthen others. What a blessing it is to come alongside someone and encourage and strengthen them with the truths and lesson we learned from the Lord during a difficult or victorious season. God can use a willing individual’s different experience, negative or positive to strengthen others. So lets step up, shed the belief that we have to be perfect to serve God and start serving others.

Author Philip Yancey said in a magazine interview that “God doesn’t custom design Superman characters and plant them down here (to do His work). He deals with the talent pool available.” That’s us! The talent pool available. What a privilege to be used by God.

For further conversation about Peter’s life and ministry, click over to http://bryanhardwick.com/lessons-from-peter/

Cultivating True Humility

IMG_5420In 1995, God used a message from Nancy Leigh DeMoss to bring about a spirit of true repentance at the National Staff Training of Campus Crusade for Christ, now called Cru. I had just left the staff of Cru two years earlier, but my friends were calling me to share that God was doing a mighty work at the training in Colorado and I couldn’t wait to listen to the message as it was made available to alumni. It challenged me 20 years ago, and today, I was reminded of this message and spent this evening listening to it again, as I asked God to search my heart and break my heart for the things that break His.

In the message, Nancy talks about the characteristics of pride, which are rooted in arrogance and insecurity versus true humility, which is rooted in authentic brokenness. In the message, she challenges the church to be broken before the Lord, for God wants to unleash his power through broken people.

Here are the differences she shares between proud and broken people. In reading these characteristics, let’s confess those characteristics of pride that God reveals in us and let’s ask Him to restore the corresponding quality of a broken, humble spirit within us.

Proud people focus on the failures of others.
Broken people are overwhelmed with a sense of their own spiritual need.

Proud people have a critical, fault-finding spirit; they look at everyone else’s faults with a microscope but their own with a telescope.
Broken people are compassionate; they can forgive much because they know how much they have been forgiven.

Proud people are self-righteous; they look down on others.
Broken people esteem all others better than themselves.

Proud people have an independent, self-sufficient spirit.
Broken people have a dependent spirit; they recognize their need for others.

Proud people have to prove that they are right.
Broken people are willing to yield the right to be right.

Proud people claim rights; they have a demanding spirit.
Broken people yield their rights; they have a meek spirit.

Proud people are self-protective of their time, their rights, and their reputation.
Broken people are self-denying.

Proud people desire to be served.
Broken people are motivated to serve others.

Proud people desire to be a success.
Broken people are motivated to be faithful and to make others a success.

Proud people desire self-advancement.
Broken people desire to promote others.

Proud people have a drive to be recognized and appreciated.
Broken people have a sense of their own unworthiness; they are thrilled that God would use them at all.

Proud people are wounded when others are promoted and they are overlooked.
Broken people are eager for others to get the credit; they rejoice when others are lifted up.

Proud people have a subconscious feeling, “This ministry/church is privileged to have me and my gifts”; they think of what they can do for God.
Broken people’s heart attitude is, “I don’t deserve to have a part in any ministry”; they know that they have nothing to offer God except the life of Jesus flowing through their broken lives.

Proud people feel confident in how much they know.
Broken people are humbled by how very much they have to learn.

Proud people are self-conscious.
Broken people are not concerned with self at all.

Proud people keep others at arms’ length.
Broken people are willing to risk getting close to others and to take risks of loving intimately.

Proud people are quick to blame others.
Broken people accept personal responsibility and can see where they are wrong in a situation.

Proud people are unapproachable or defensive when criticized.
Broken people receive criticism with a humble, open spirit.

Proud people are concerned with being respectable, with what others think; they work to protect their own image and reputation.
Broken people are concerned with being real; what matters to them is not what others think but what God knows; they are willing to die to their own reputation.

Proud people find it difficult to share their spiritual need with others.
Broken people are willing to be open and transparent with others as God directs.

Proud people want to be sure that no one finds out when they have sinned; their instinct is to cover up.
Broken people, once broken, don’t care who knows or who finds out; they are willing to be exposed because they have nothing to lose.

Proud people have a hard time saying, “I was wrong; will you please forgive me?”
Broken people are quick to admit failure and to seek forgiveness when necessary.

Proud people tend to deal in generalities when confessing sin.
Broken people are able to acknowledge specifics when confessing their sin.

Proud people are concerned about the consequences of their sin.
Broken people are grieved over the cause, the root of their sin.

Proud people are remorseful over their sin, sorry that they got found out or caught.
Broken people are truly, genuinely repentant over their sin, evidenced in the fact that they forsake that sin.

Proud people wait for the other to come and ask forgiveness when there is a misunderstanding or conflict in a relationship.
Broken people take the initiative to be reconciled when there is misunderstanding or conflict in relationships; they race to the cross; they see if they can get there first, no matter how wrong the other may have been.

Proud people compare themselves with others and feel worthy of honor.
Broken people compare themselves to the holiness of God and feel a desperate need for His mercy.

Proud people are blind to their true heart condition.
Broken people walk in the light.

Proud people don’t think they have anything to repent of.
Broken people realize they have need of a continual heart attitude of repentance.

Proud people don’t think they need revival, but they are sure that everyone else does.
Broken people continually sense their need for a fresh encounter with God and for a fresh filling of His Holy Spirit.

© Revive Our Hearts. By Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

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