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When the Heart Turns

I received an interesting (and enjoyable) compliment yesterday. I met with a man who was frustrated in his relationship with his wife and acted out a couple days prior to our meeting. He said things that were unfortunate which gave his wife the impression that things were in deep trouble. I knew the history of this couple and I have seen this man growing consistently for the past few months so I suspected there was quite a bit of hope for them. When I got together with him it was clear to me he really did want to have a successful marriage.
We talked about the patterns in their relationship that tend to catch him unaware and spark an angry response. We explored the decisions he was making that caused his well-being to be determined by his wife’s responses which was putting pressure on her to “act right” all the time. We reviewed the way a marriage relationship is different than the other relationships in our lives and we set new strategies for helping it go smoother.
None of this was new information as we had spoken about these things before. There was, however, a different response. The compliment I received was, “I don’t know what you did but my husband is a completely different person than the one who left for work. It is miraculous.” I have been at this long enough to know that it wasn’t anything I did. It was the condition of this man’s heart. He was motivated to figure it out. He truly wanted to know and was open to whatever it would take to have a healthy, loving, productive relationship. I have known for a long time that when people’s hearts are open, I appear to be brilliant. When their hearts are closed, I don’t seem to know much at all.
Heart From HandsIt was a good reminder to me of Proverbs 22:17, “Pay attention and turn your ear to the sayings of the wise; apply your heart to what I teach.” Regardless of how people respond the sayings are wise and the teaching is true. Change, however, happens when people accept wisdom with an open heart. This is where it gets exciting because matters of the heart move quickly. A man (or woman) with a soft, responsive heart is one breakthrough away from positive transformation that will extend his influence and draw people to him. A man (or woman) with a stubborn heart is likewise one breakthrough away from complicated setbacks that threaten his relationships and push people away. In either case, the important thing is the condition of the heart and the heart can change quickly.
Many of us have people in our lives who frustrate us, annoy us, disappoint us or simply refuse to do what we know is right. Our tendency is to monitor their behavior in a sincere attempt to get them to act correctly. If the problem is a lack of training, this is helpful as in the case of parents training their children. If the problem, however, is a matter of the heart, it is better to commit this person to prayer and wait for God to turn their hearts because when the heart turns, it is miraculous.
Jesus, give us the humility to keep our hearts soft before you.

Plug In

I was in the San Diego airport yesterday looking for a place to plug in my computer. Along the outside walls were rows of chairs with outlets underneath. I wandered around the perimeter only to find that every seat was taken. I was taken aback by the disappointment I felt within. If I powered up my laptop without plugging it in, I would drain my battery before I boarded the plane. I had plans to work on my computer during the flight and I knew my seat would not have an outlet so it was important to be fully charged before I traveled. I knew that if I could only plug in while I waited, everything would work out well. If I couldn’t connect to an outlet, I was going to be running on limited resources and would have to scale down my expectations and productivity.
So I decided to take another lap. As I finished my round, someone was just finishing up and getting ready to vacate their seat with the precious plug. I waited with strategic patience. I didn’t want this person to feel rushed but I wanted anyone else who was nearby to know that I was planning on taking this seat. Well, it worked. No one else rushed the bench so I didn’t have to fend anyone off.
Plugging in made it all work. I was able to get a couple of hours of work done while I charged the battery. I was able to do everything on the plane ride that I had planned. I was freed up from thinking too hard about how I was going to respond to life with limited resources. It was a good reminder to me that life goes better when I am “plugged in.” Two verses from Proverbs reminded me of that truth this morning:
“The fear of the LORD leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble.” (Proverbs 19:23)
“The human spirit is the lamp of the LORD that sheds light on one’s inmost being.” (Proverbs 20:27)
As I was sitting in my “power chair” preparing for my journey, I noticed several others doing exactly what I had done earlier. They passed by, looked down to see that the row of chairs had electrical plugs, and then registered obvious disappointment on their faces. They needed to plug in just as I had. They had expectations for their day just as I had. They were hoping to board their planes fully charged just as I had.
It is a universal need for anyone who wants to pursue excellence. As the verse above says, “The human spirit is the lamp of the LORD.” When the lamp is lit, it energizes everything else. It introduces us to our dreams, sheds light on our opportunities, and points out areas of growth that would otherwise hinder us. For the lamp to do its work, however, it needs an energy source. It has potential without the fuel but it cannot operate.
As you plug into Jesus today, may God give you the energy you need to fulfill His plans for you.

Plans and Reality

I am a planner. I like to forecast where I believe things will be in the near future. I like to have a sense of clarity about what I am doing and why I am doing it. I am amazed, in fact, at how much energy and focus I have when I have a clear plan to work on. That is probably why a number of verses in Proverbs jumped out at me this morning. This book is a rapid fire collection of wise saying about life which at items appear to be in no particular order. The important themes, however, repeat themselves. So as I read Proverb 19-21, the following verses all proclaimed the same principle:
• Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. (19:21)
• A person’s steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand their own way? (20:24)
• A person may think their own ways are right, but the LORD weighs the heart. (21:2)
• The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the LORD. (21:31)
It is our job to make plans. It is God’s job to determine the results. We are designed with active minds, decisive wills, and vibrant emotions so that we can be full participants in life. We naturally think, dream, and plan. Life is bigger than us though so God actively directs our steps and governs the affairs of men. It is a remarkable partnership that works best when both parties are fully engaged. The hard part, of course, is when our plans get redirected by God’s sovereignty. Remaining flexible to God’s leading while pursuing goals is one of life’s great challenges.
Intellectually, I know this is how it is. Emotionally, however, I think I will struggle with this my whole life. Just in the past month I have seen this principle play out numerous times:
• I made plans to be finished with a writing project on August 30th. I will most likely be done this weekend.
• I made plans to complete a landscape repair on my property by September 15th. I think I will begin that project on October 15th.
• I made plans to clean my office this week and the verdict is still out.
In a bigger sense, I have seen this play out in the direction my career has taken. I made plans to be a local pastor my whole life. I have watched as God transformed that desire into a conference ministry. I made plans to provide Pam with the opportunity to develop her speaking and writing ministry to women. God used that platform to develop a ministry together speaking and writing for men, women and couples.
Sometimes this principle is comforting because it means I don’t have to figure it all out myself. My job is to keep moving, actively making plans that make sense. God’s job is to direct my steps so His plans prevail. At other times, it is irritating as I realize I have no ultimate control over my life. So, I keep reminding myself to ignore the irritation, get back to doing my part, and trust that when I look back I will realize that God’s plans really were best after all.

Power Outage

I was completely engaged when it happened. I was on the phone gathering vital information from a friend. I was online checking into a flight. My office lights were on and the fan was blowing a cooling breeze. Without any warning, everything suddenly shut down. The entire county of San Diego experienced an electrical blackout. No more phone, computer, lights or fan. Everything I wanted to do suddenly came to an end and there was nothing I could do about it.
I knew I relied upon technology but I don’t think I realized just how dependent I was on electricity until this restless feeling of frustration took over. For a little while, I felt like I couldn’t do anything and I was helpless in my own power to do anything about it.
Then I got to thinking. All of San Diego County proved it was dependent upon a power beyond themselves. Most people don’t understand electricity but they rely on it every day. The average individual could not explain how power gets from its source to their homes but they expect to be able to turn on their lights, charge their cell phones and watch their TVs with very little effort or planning. They are so used to this power in their lives, they take it for granted just about every day.
This experience gave me a fresh look at Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Just like electricity, we don’t need to fully understand God in order to put our trust in Him. We don’t need to explain where He gets His power or how He delivers it to our lives in order to utilize it in our pursuits and relationships. Just like electricity, once we get used to it, we can easily take it for granted.
It also amused me that no one ever calls their neighbors weak, insecure, naïve or old-fashioned for relying on electrical power. In fact, it is considered modern, innovative, efficient, and intelligent to fill your life with electrical appliances and electronic equipment. In fact, we would be greatly surprised by anyone who didn’t want this power. Even though this type of energy cannot provide eternal salvation, emotional security, peace in the midst of stressful events or recovery from a personal loss, we expect everyone to integrate into their daily routine. It appears we are more comfortable trusting it than we are the God who created us. Once we personalize our trust in a relationship with God, others get uncomfortable and feel like we are pressuring them.
My goal this week is to say, “God, thank you for your power. Help me take full advantage of it,” every time I turn on a light or start up my computer.

The Time for Wisdom is Now

Harding won 63-14

Overreacting is one of the easiest things to do. I attended my youngest son’s first football game of the season this past Saturday. He is a junior in college and playing free safety. On his first defensive play, he did a great job coming up from the secondary, “filling the hole,” and making the tackle on the running back for no gain. He popped up, grabbed his arm and slowly ran to the sideline. From the way he was holding his arm, I thought he had hurt his shoulder. I quickly made my way down to the railing of the bleachers to watch the athletic trainer check him out.
Instead of his shoulder being a problem, I noticed his right middle finger pointing in the wrong direction. His hand was pointing south but from the second knuckle his finger was pointing east! It was freaky looking. It would have been easy at this point to think we had a major problem. It would have been easy to conclude that he was done for the day. Without wisdom, it would have made sense to wrap up his hand and head for the hospital. The athletic trainer had seen this before, however. With a calm look on his face, he strategically probed Caleb’s finger. He pressed on the bone above and below the knuckle. He then turned his back to Caleb so he couldn’t see the procedure they were about to perform because he knew this would make my son calmer. With a skilled hand, he “popped” Caleb’s finger back into joint. Based on his wisdom, the trainer then taped the joint, “buddy taped” it to the ring finger and my son went back into the contest.
What looked like a major problem, turned out to be a dislocated finger. What appeared at first to be a drastic issue, turned out to be a painful inconvenience. The trainer knew because he had already acquired the wisdom.
This is the point of Proverbs 1:20, “Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square.” Wisdom is freely available to everyone every day. The key is to look for it before you need it. Today, while things are calm, uneventful and safe is the time to seek after wisdom and try to get it lodged into your soul. The danger comes when you wait for the crisis to beg for insight. I am really glad the trainer didn’t cry out, “Oh God, I have never seen anything like this before. Please give me wisdom right now to know what to do,” because it would have been too late.
There are three things I try to do every day to gain the wisdom I will need for my journey:
1. I ask for it. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
2. I read words of wisdom. First from the Bible and then from other people who possess wisdom.
3. I ask the question, “How do I make this work in my life?” Knowledge asks, “What?” Selfishness asks, “Why?” Wisdom asks,”How?”
May God grant us the wisdom today that we will need tomorrow.