Continuing with our "Living for Jesus This Christmas" series, here is a story of the importance of gratitude and faith this holiday season.
At this time of year, the stress levels for many are almost too much to bear. We struggle through the ups and downs of the season, as we navigate family, our budget, and our church life. It’s all too easy to become frustrated and angry, and then to lose sight of our priorities. The key to changing all this: thankfulness -- for Christ, salvation, and what we have been given.
During Christmas season, I often find myself up awake at night, wondering about all that is and all that could be. As I stare at the ceiling, I struggle with the thought that maybe I’m not living up to what God intends for me to be. And indeed, there are always areas I can improve, but much of this self-doubt is probably rooted in ungratefulness.
My wife Kalene's recent solution to some of these difficulties was to share with me a lovely song from the 1954 film, White Christmas:
“When I'm worried and I can't sleep / I count my blessings instead of sheep / And I fall asleep / Counting my blessings / When my bankroll is getting small / I think of when I had none at all / And I fall asleep / Counting my blessings / If you're worried and you can't sleep / Just count your blessings instead of sheep / And you'll fall asleep / Counting your blessings”
And isn’t this the truth? We all have the blessing of Jesus, who saves, as well as many other blessings. If only that were our focus instead!
Paul the Apostle understood this. Repeatedly, he opens his letters with words of thankfulness. For example, even when addressing the Corinthian church, who he is struggling to maintain a relationship with, he says:
“Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in all affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, thus through Christ our comfort overflows also” (2 Cor 1:3–5).
Here is Paul, in the midst of a struggle with the Corinthian church, and with some struggles of his own, showing a spirit of thankfulness. By counting his blessings, he finds a way to have joy even when things are hard.
When we really get down to it, there’s an obvious point that we all know, but that maybe we should take a second to remind ourselves of: This season is about Jesus, or at least it’s supposed to be. Breathe that in. Tell yourself that everyday. Remember what Jesus did for us, and be thankful for it. It will change everything.
And then, take a moment to remind yourself how the one who gave it all calls us to give it all for the betterment of our world.
When we give, our thought patterns change -- and our general attitude about life changes. We find ourselves realizing what God can do through our lives and then we find ourselves grateful for it.
Jesus can do so much through your life, and wants to do so much. Give over more of your life to him this year. Let him work through you in this season, to show love to others with a generous and grateful spirit. Work with Christ to transform lives and our world.
This article was previously published under the title, "Reclaim a Spirit of Gratitude this Christmas Season."
Right now it's highly likely that you're facing some problem or difficulty that seems impossible to overcome. I've been there. For that matter, I am there. But if there's anything I've learned about faith, it's that Jesus is in the business of hope. Here are four reflections on hope and why it's such a critical part of faith. Here's how hope can change your life, right now.
When the author of the biblical book Hebrews explained faith, he spoke of hope.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV).
As Christians, we do not physically see Jesus. We also do not know when he will return to earth. But we believe (have faith) in him. We have a conviction about that which we cannot see.
Ask yourself: Has God called you to a purpose? Now ask yourself: Do you believe in Jesus' work in your life and the world? If your answer is "yes" to both of those things, then really it shouldn't be hard to take the next step: To hope in what Jesus will do in your life. Have hope that God will see through his purpose in your life.
You may not have faith in yourself, but you can have faith in Jesus working through you. Faith is hope. And it can have incredible power in our lives.
Hope is magical; or better put, it’s miraculous. It changes our perspective and it changes lives.
Consider for a moment one the great problems of our world: extreme poverty, the fact that there are millions of people around the world trying to survive on less than a $1.25 per day.
Now consider that the developing world is full of people with tenacity and strength who lack the resources to make their dreams reality. They need hope. They need opportunities. Those of us with resources can offer them hope. Something as simple as our purchasing and donating decisions can change lives.
When we give of our time, money, or resources, we have the opportunity to watch Jesus’ work in the world. That act of faith should give us hope.
Each of us have a chance to see God at work, to put our hope into action. And doing so can offer us hope in return.
The incredible thing about offering someone hope is that doing so also offers you hope. It makes you believe in what the person you’re helping is yet to see. It changes the way you feel about the state of that person’s life, and in doing so, causes you to think about what hope God has in store for you.
Having hope for someone else gives you a small glimpse at God’s eternal perspective. You briefly see the connections God does: how he has used you to help someone else, and how he will likely use someone else to help you. And it doesn't take long to get from there to believing in what God can do in your life.
Jesus has great opportunities in store for this generation. He is the hope that Hebrews 11 speaks about. It is his work through the Spirit that we’re anticipating and desire to fully realize. It is Jesus’ second coming that we wait for. But it is his work now that we live for.
As Christians, we are convicted that Jesus was resurrected from death and is working even now. We believe in what he is yet to do, and we should do everything we can to be a part of it.
In hope, there is something magical that ignites our spirits—and it’s something we can bring to others in the name of the Jesus.
This article is adapted in part from my earlier article, "Hope is Magical."
The founder of Jesus' Economy, John D. Barry, is an author and editor. And now you can buy his books right on JesusEconomy.org! By purchasing John's books on JesusEconomy.org, you will help fuel the movement of Jesus' Economy. You will also get free shipping on every book! In addition, all of John's books are 10 percent off right now, for one week only!
This series of studies works through books of the Bible verse by verse, even phrase by phrase, with practical prayer suggestions and guided reflection questions for individual or group study. For this series, John has authored studies on the books of Malachi, Colossians, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, and 2 Peter and Jude.
This 365-day devotional, which John co-authored with Rebecca Van Noord, covers the full span of the Bible in one year. The included reading plan curates readings each day from the Old Testament, New Testament, and poetic literature. John and Rebecca’s devotionals will help you grasp how the entire Bible is connected to reveal and exalt Jesus Christ. Practical questions at the end of each section help you reflect on what it looks like to live out the love of Jesus in everyday life.
In this study of 2 Corinthians, John uses Paul’s relationship with the church he established in Corinth to explore how Christians should deal with broken relationships. This study will equip you with godly wisdom to help you discern when to reconcile in relationships and when to walk away, by cutting ties with darkness.
These studies by John are perfect for your small group, Sunday school class, or small group. If you want to order several books for your group, we can offer you a bulk discount on John's books. Contact us at 1-855-355-3266 or email@example.com.
John D. Barry is the CEO and founder of Jesus' Economy. As such, he has dedicated his life to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. He also serves as a missionary with Resurrect Church Movement, the domestic division of Jesus' Economy dedicated to equipping U.S. churches to alleviate poverty and plant churches. John is the General Editor of Faithlife Study Bible and Lexham Bible Dictionary. He has authored or edited over 30 books, including Resurrected Servant in Isaiah, Cutting Ties with Darkness, and the daily devotional Connect the Testaments. John formerly served as founding Publisher of Lexham Press for Faithlife Corporation (the makers of Logos Bible Software) and is the former Editor-in-Chief of Bible Study Magazine, a product he launched. John speaks internationally on engaging the Bible, poverty, and spreading the gospel.
We hope that these books will help you gain understanding of the heart of our organization and, most importantly, the heart of Christ. Each and every purchase goes to support operations to fuel the movement of Jesus' Economy. Now that’s a win-win.
Millions of people around the world do not have resources to meet their basic needs. These people are living in poverty. Many of them do not have access to clean water, or the ability to buy or grow food. Many of them live in villages or cities with suffering economies, and there are simply no jobs. When people have limited food and water, education gets pushed back. In places like this, families are held captive to cycles of poverty.
Today is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, and we are reminded of our brothers and sisters suffering in poverty around the world. It is discouraging to think of how many people poverty impacts, and of how the pain carries on to future generations.
The good news is this: we are doing something about it, and you can, too.
Taking action against poverty is one of the ways we as Christians are called to love. In 1 John, John reminded the church of the importance of putting faith in action.
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18 ESV).
There are many ways you can bring hope to impoverished people. You can give your time and prayers, donate money to a program you’re passionate about, or even start your own. Poverty is all over the world—in other continents, and in your own city.
If you’re looking for a place to start, Jesus’ Economy has some great programs you can get involved in as we work to renew Bihar, India.
Bihar, India is a state with more than a million people living in extreme poverty. A large cause of the problem is a lack of clean water. Some women and children spend many hours each day walking miles to collect drinking water. This takes up so much time that women cannot work and children cannot go school. Our clean water program raises funds to drill wells in Bihar. Each well can provide safe water for 2,000 people, and so far we have completed four wells.
When families have access to safe water, women have more time to work and provide for their families. Our empowering women program is going to train 40 women to run successful tailoring businesses and sell their products on the western market. These women already have skills in tailoring, but need an opportunity to learn business skills. This program is currently 47 percent funded.
We are working to bring hope through the alleviation of physical and spiritual poverty. Our church planting program funds church planters in various villages in Bihar to set up home churches, and also to go into the villages and share the gospel. At this point, we are funding four church planters, all of whom are additionally starting Bible studies and literacy training as they go. Thousands of people in Bihar are hearing the gospel for the first time, and each church planter brings the gospel to thousands more.
Advik was first sponsored in September 2016, and has started five Bible studies and one house church. Another church planter, Santhosh, recently held a spiritual awakening seminar with 250 people from 16 different villages in attendance. We are so excited about how God is moving in Bihar, India.
Eradicating poverty is not only important, it is the gospel. We love because God loves us. And one way we can show that love is through working to alleviate poverty.
“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16 ESV).
We are called to use what we have to bless others. And it’s not always about money. If you have a little time to give, consider volunteering for an organization that works to alleviate poverty. If you have an extra coat, consider donating it. One small action can be a huge blessing to someone else. Don’t be afraid to do small things and big things to fight poverty. Just remember this: nothing will change if you do nothing at all.
You can alleviate poverty and bring hope to people in so many ways, and we encourage you to be praying about where you can start.
“Where do you want to be in five years?” a professor asked me in the middle of the crowded dining hall.
It was March of my freshman year at a Christian university.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I answered. “Maybe Uganda? Somewhere doing missions work, though.”
While there is nothing wrong with wanting to go into full-time missions, there was a problem with my answer. The problem was that I wasn’t being honest with myself. I didn’t truly see myself in Uganda, or even want to go there. But I wanted to want it, because I thought that was what faithful Christians were supposed to do.
I thought full-time overseas missionary work was the best work any Christian could be called to. That was my first mistake. The second was that I didn’t have a clear understanding of what being a missionary really was.
Like many Christians, I had a misconception about the nature of missions work. I was 19 and convinced that full-time missions work in an impoverished nation was the best way to serve God. And I was worried that it meant I wasn’t a good enough Christian if God wasn’t calling me away to do big and scary things.
I disregarded the fact that I am an introvert who is easily exhausted by groups of people. I disregarded the fact that God hadn’t given me gifts of public speaking, teaching, or leading. I knew I could learn all those things if the mission field required it of me. God would give me what I needed to succeed in his plans.
And that’s true. But I was disregarding the gifts that God did give me; and I knew that going into full-time overseas missions wouldn’t be the best way for me to use those gifts. I knew that I didn’t really feel called to Uganda. I had for a long time felt like God was calling me to worship and serve him through writing. Of course, I could’ve written in Uganda, but I knew God was asking me to not go that far—he was asking me to stay close by and work on creating art that could make people feel and remind them what’s important in life. He wanted me to spread the gospel right here.
Every believer receives spiritual gifts to use as a member of the body of Christ. These gifts empower us to do God’s work. Not everyone is going to be gifted and called to lead. Nor will everyone be called to missions work in another country. We’re all different, and that’s a great thing about the body of Christ:
“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” (1 Corinthians 12:27–30 ESV).
It is important that believers work together as different parts of the same body. If a finger suddenly decided it didn’t want to be a finger anymore, and started to act like an ear instead, everything would fall apart. As a body, we will be most successful at spreading the gospel if we each use the gifts God has given us and not attempt to be someone other than who God created us to be.
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:4–7 ESV).
The professor saw through my lie and called me out on it.
“What really gets you going? What do you love?”
“I love writing. I’ve always wanted to write.”
“Why do you see yourself in Uganda and not in, say, Paris, writing every day at a café?”
“I-I don’t know.”
“Why full-time missions and not full-time writing?”
“It just doesn’t seem like enough,” I finally confessed.
There it was. Sometimes, doing the things we’re good at doesn’t feel like enough. Even when God gives us gifts, we disregard them in favor of pursuing what we consider to be a more noble or spiritual occupation.
I believed the myth that becoming a missionary in a far-away country was the best thing anyone could do for the Kingdom of God. I know I’m not the only Christian who has made this mistake, and this has led Christians to mission fields they do not belong in. When this happens, the kingdom is missing out on the work we are actually called to do.
Being a missionary doesn’t always mean traveling across the world. Being a missionary means taking on the mission of spreading the gospel—which is something we are all called to do:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20 ESV).
Being a missionary isn’t always about leaving. Sometimes it means staying right where you are and using the gifts God has given you. And no calling is higher or lower than another. The whole world needs the gospel, including the community you live in now.
After pursuing a writing career, God might still call me to Uganda. I’m keeping my ears open. But no matter where I go or where he calls me next, I’m going to listen and be honest with what I’m hearing.
I encourage you to do the same. Respond to the call God has placed on your life. Be a missionary in whatever you do.
One of the biggest challenges we’ll ever face as a Christian comes when God says, “Stay.”
We’ve all been there. And I don’t know about you, but that command only gets harder to hear the older I get.
It can be one of the most difficult things we have to do, especially when we see people all around us actively doing amazing things for the Kingdom. You probably know many people changing jobs, starting movements, and uprooting their lives across states, or even countries, to follow where God is leading them. Maybe that’s you right now. Whether you are in a season of action or not, you will undoubtedly come to a time in life when God says, “Stay.”
It makes you feel small. It makes you feel weak. It makes you feel unneeded. We get uncomfortable because we know that in order for big things to happen, people have to actually be doing things. And sitting on the sidelines feels wrong.
However, just because it feels wrong, doesn’t mean we are being punished for being bad servants or that it is wrong at all. Everyone needs rest sometimes.
Our job in these moments is to listen to what God is telling us. Why is he asking us to stay still? What are we supposed to do in the quiet? The answer is going to be different for everyone, so if you want to know what God is asking of you, you have to grapple with it yourself.
The biblical King David dealt with many moments of waiting on God. In his darkest turmoil and loneliness, he came to a deep understanding of stillness and quiet, and what God wanted him to learn from it.
Throughout the Psalms, he cried out to God continually because he felt alone, forsaken, and scared. One psalm (while not ascribed to David) is a reminder that it is alright for God's people to not constantly be taking action.
“Be still and know that I am God. / I will be exalted among the nations, / I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10 ESV).
The silence does not mean God is telling us to be lazy or apathetic to his plans. Sometimes it means that he is doing something big and we just need to wait. David encouraged God’s people to find peace in the waiting. He says,
“Be strong, and let your heart take courage, / all you who wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 31:24 ESV).
But it’s not always easy for us to be at peace with the silence. And it wasn’t easy for David, either. At a time when he was facing intense depression and exhaustion, he says,
“I am weary with my crying out; / my throat is parched. / My eyes grow dim / with waiting for my God” (Psalm 69:3 ESV).
Yet in all his suffering, he learned that God’s timing would always be better than his own. In the same Psalm, when his throat is aching and his eyes are puffy with tears, he declares,
“But as for me, my prayer is to you, / O Lord. / At an acceptable time, O God, / in the abundance of your steadfast love / answer me in your saving faithfulness” (Psalm 69:13 ESV).
David, a man after God’s own heart, had to learn how to rest in God’s silence and find peace in his timing. And it wasn’t easy for him. While he valiantly waited about 15 years until his time to become king, at other times he made big mistakes.
David often despaired, as we all do. He cried out hundreds—probably thousands—of times for God to listen to him. The silence tore him up. But he waited on God, and he grew in faith because of it.
“But I am like a green olive tree / in the house of God. / I trust in the steadfast love of God / forever and ever. / I will thank you forever, / because you have done it. / I will wait for your name, for it is good, / in the presence of the godly” (Psalm 52:8-9 ESV).
Being grounded often seems like a punishment to us. It creates a crisis within us and we begin to question who we are and who God is. And that’s OK. Cry out. Struggle with it. Fall on your knees and really listen to God. Listen to the silence.
If we are to be truly Christian, we cannot let Christianity be merely an idea.
“But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. … For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:18, 26 ESV).
Christianity is about our life values changing—from our beliefs to our actions; from how we think about our money to how we spend it; from how we think about time to how we use it.
We cannot look at the suffering of our world and do nothing about it, and still call ourselves Christians. The way we view our faith should change absolutely everything about how we live—from our giving to our shopping, from our faith to our deeds. Being Christian should change the very way we view the world.
Our world is more interconnected than ever before. The opportunity to end extreme poverty is greater than it has ever been—meaning we’re more likely to do so. But for that to happen, Christians have to step up and live the values of our faith.
Christianity must be a movement based on self-sacrifice. And the time is ticking for us to make that a true statement. Because there are people already exploiting our interconnected world: Think of the 2012 factory fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh; child labor being used to make products; and many other horrific atrocities that have resulted from manufacturing clothing alone. We don’t often think about it, but our purchase choices—when we buy cheap stuff, made cheaply—are contributing to global inequality. And this is just one example among many of where Christians should be setting a better example.
We need to be better informed; we need to make better purchasing decisions. And we need to have more fair trade purchasing options—options that involve the fair treatment and payment of workers. We also need to empower the impoverished in the process.
Our world has already recognized the value of the interconnected globe, and the potential of developing economies, but Christians are struggling to catch up.
We saw how connected our world was on the day that Facebook purchased WhatsApp for $19 Billion dollars. Think about that: $19 Billion. When Facebook made the purchase of the messaging system WhatsApp for this staggering figure, one of the main reasons cited by analysts was that WhatsApp customers represented an emerging market. And many of these customers were in the developing world! The emerging market that analysts had in mind were developing world customers. Wall Street is now calling the developing world an emerging market.
Our world is interconnected. The question is whether we, as Christians, will leverage these connections for the betterment of the impoverished or allow the impoverished to be exploited?
We can leverage the connections in our world for the betterment of everyone. One idea: provide online commerce opportunities to the impoverished. Give them direct-to-customer access. At Jesus’ Economy, we’ve pictured this as an online Fair Trade Shop.
And lest anyone say that this won’t fix the problem. Think of this anecdotal evidence: Amazon.com is already valued at over $900 per share and many estimate it will cross $1,000 per share. Its wealth alone is much greater than many developing countries. That’s how much economic power there is in commerce. I think capitalism can be redeemed—for the good of everyone. Capitalism can help us create global equality.
Imagine if online fair trade opportunities were also connected into a global network of experts who could train the impoverished on hard business skills (such as accounting); moving through a product development cycle; and ethical business practices. And then imagine, if the impoverished who received this training had access to microfinance (small loans) to grow their businesses—to purchase tools or hire staff.
We must look at the world differently. By and large, the world has been looking at microfinance as something limited to a local economy. In current microfinance models, we have one poor tomato farmer selling to one poor cattle farmer—and dollars within the economy are just exchanging hands. One person may become wealthier but the overall economy is still impoverished. We need a new microfinance model.
What we need is money coming into an impoverished community from the outside. This is where global ecommerce comes into play. In our interconnected world, I can manufacture Jesus’ Economy branded t-shirts in Kampala, Uganda and bring money into the local economy simply through the purchasing power of U.S. buyers. In return, I can create jobs for a group of impoverished young people.
I can help not just with my giving but also with my shopping. My dollars say what I believe in.
This would mean a new economy. It would mean renewal. Money would sweep in from the developed world into the developing world and lift entire families out of poverty. This is the type of thing that Christians can do together—to end extreme poverty. This is one way we can show people that Christianity is more than an idea. This is one way for us to create a more just and equitable world.
As a child, 95% of what I said could not be understood. But my mother insisted that I be allowed to enter school as a normal student and hired speech therapists. Nothing short of a miracle later, and a ton of hard work, I now speak perfectly. But I remember that I was once the voiceless.
Around our world there are millions of people who lack access to these opportunities. And there are millions who are kept poor because of their social standing, or the color of their skin, or corrupt regimes. And I cannot live in a world like that.
I cannot live in a world where there are people do not have a voice.
It takes more than ideas to change the world. It takes more than belief. But belief is a start.
Every significant advancement toward equality in our world has required sacrifice—more than ideas, more than belief. From the abolition of slavery, to the right for women to vote, to civil rights for African Americans, to the end of apartheid in South Africa—a movement of self-sacrifice has backed beliefs.
The biblical book of James put it this way:
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:14–16 ESV).
True faith requires sacrifice—for the betterment of others. True faith requires that we do more than pray, or wish others well, or have the right theories or ideas.
I believe in a few things that are worth sacrificing for: Jesus as my savior for starters. And that this same Jesus has in view a global economy that will make our world a better place. That there is such a think as a Jesus’ economy.
When we talk about ‘economy’ we usually think of GDP, stock prices, and currencies. While I intend for the term Jesus’ economy to evoke these ideas, there should also be a part of the name that is a bit jarring. Jesus and economy aren’t usually paired together, but they should be.
Jesus believes that each and every life is of equal value. And thus Jesus’ economy is about empowerment of the impoverished. It is also based in the belief that empowering the impoverished is for the betterment of the entire world. Jesus’ economy is about creating a new spiritual and physical reality for the impoverished and marginalized—for those most in need.
Today, there are many people who claim faith in Jesus, but I ask: Where then is the action, the change, the renewal of our world? Why are there still millions upon millions of people impoverished? Prayer is not enough. Words are not enough. A mere claim to salvation is not enough. James puts it this way:
“But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?” (James 2:18–20 ESV).
A belief in Jesus requires action. As James puts it: “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26 ESV).
Jesus’ economy is based on self-sacrifice and its currency is love. It is a belief that the voiceless deserve to be heard. It is love in action.
Imagine what could happen if we all rose up and took action. Imagine how the world would view Christianity. Imagine the lives that would be renewed. Imagine.
I had ran this trail dozens of times, but this time it was almost pitch black. As I leaned on my memory of the curves in the trail, I thought, “This is what it’s like to follow Jesus.”
When you set out on a faith journey, no one tells you how many times you will feel completely lost in the dark. I know this feeling deeply; I also know the God who has been there for me in the midst of it all.
My wife and I sold nearly all of our stuff, including our house, to dedicate ourselves full-time to creating jobs and churches for the impoverished and unreached. When you first set out on a journey like this, the whole thing sounds romantic; we’ve all wanted to start afresh. But the reality is not romantic: the journey is often more difficult than words can describe. This is where faith comes becomes reality—in the midst of the feelings of darkness and the ambiguity.
But what God has done in me through this journey is of immeasurable worth. Here are three faith principles God has taught me through this adventure.
If we fully understood all that God is doing, we wouldn’t be on a faith journey at all. It requires no faith to trust in what you can see and understand. God, in his infinite wisdom, is doing far more than we can anticipate. We cannot know God’s mind or understand his ways (compare 1 Corinthians 2:6–13). God has not been instructed by us, nor is he in need of our instruction.
“Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD or what man shows him his counsel? Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?” (Isaiah 40:13–14 ESV; compare Romans 11:34).
We must learn to cherish the ambiguity, for it gives us ample reason to come before our God regularly. The truth of the matter is that we should come to him, simply because he is worthy of praise. But in our needs, we find even more reason to come before the throne of God. The ambiguity teaches us trust in his word.
Faith journeys begin with an understanding of who God is and what he is doing in our lives. When God calls us to a new adventure, it emerges out of his unique plan for our lives—and his collective plan for the betterment of all of creation (compare Romans 8:19–24). In the midst of the journey, though, it is easy to doubt. We doubt ourselves, our partners in ministry, and God’s plans. Sometimes, we even doubt God himself—or at least our understanding of him.
Pain gives us an opportunity: We can either give into the darkness of our world, or we can lean into our God. It’s a familiar phrase, but Psalm 23 describes this well:
“He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:3–4 ESV).
It is for God’s namesake that he leads us—through the valleys, up the hills, and through the darkness into the light.
We must acknowledge that we don’t know where God is leading and trust him anyway. To do so, we must remember what he has originally revealed to us—through prayer, in discernment with other believers, and through the Bible. It’s important to count the promises of God and rehearse them regularly. We will learn to be in awe of him and through this we will learn wisdom (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:2). This will naturally lead us to praise him more (compare Psalm 104:24).
When we feel broken, there is nothing more sweet to our spirit than to sing a song of praise. God stands with us in the darkness—he is the light (compare Psalm 4:6; 13:3). Let us sing praises like the Psalmist:
“For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness” (Psalm 18:28 ESV).
“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1 ESV).
When we feel as if the path is clouded by the darkness, we must look to God like Israel did in the wilderness. God was a great fire in the darkness, leading Israel; he was physically in front of them as their beacon of hope (see Exodus 13:21).
God has already set a great light for humanity in his Son Jesus. Jesus once said:
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12 ESV).
Jesus has lit our lives up with his light; he has renewed our hearts, restoring us out of the darkness of this world and into relationship with God the Father (compare John 1:4–9; 3:16–17).
Although darkness may feel like it surrounds our path, the reality is that we are not truly in the darkness. Instead, we have the light of Jesus. It just feels as if we walk in the dark.
The journey of faith is often ambiguous, but the God we serve is not. True light is already there for us in Jesus—we simply have to look ahead to him.
We may not know precisely where Jesus is leading us, but we must remember who he is. We must trust him to be the light in the darkness.
For years, I thought the key to life was to work harder. But it’s deeper and more spiritual than that. Here are four life lessons I have gleaned from ministry failures.
Those who act like everything they touch turns to gold—as if they are Midas—are faking. There is no golden key to success and there is no golden opportunity that will change everything. But that’s not a reason to despair; it’s a reason to have hope.
If life were all about positioning—with the right person or right place—we would have a reason to despair. Because right now many of us would be ruled out—moved to the B Team or cut entirely. Success is not about talent. Success is about what you do with what you are given. Jesus made this abundantly clear in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14–40).
You may be thinking that I’m going to say that luck is the second half of the battle—or that thing we call “timing,” which is another word for luck. But your spiritual life is the other half of the battle. And for that matter, it’s pretty much the entire battle.
If you fail spiritually, everything else will fail. No level of hard work can make up for a broken person. God expects much of us, but he has already given everything for us—by dying on a cross for our sins (Romans 5:7–9).
If we work hard, will it gain us salvation or acceptance by God? By no means (Ephesians 2:8–9)! We must know, see, and hear God in the midst of all we do. I learn this lesson over and over again.
Hard work will not save you. Instead, hard work is a response to the God we love. We should not work to gain God’s respect, for he already loves us beyond comprehension (John 3:16–17).
The plan often looks better than what real life feels like. The difficulties of following God’s calling on your life are often too many to count. But our plans to follow God’s calling should not deter us from loving God.
When the plan falls apart, or fails you entirely—as nearly every one does—you have to decide what you’re going to do. You have a decision to make about the kind of person you’re going to be.
Failed plans are a chance to start afresh. Closed doors are an opportunity for clarity. And failure is meant to put us right on our knees before God (Philippians 4:6). And if we get closer to God—if we learn, grow, and mature—then failure can actually be called success.
I have had my fair share of failed initiatives. It’s part of entrepreneurship and part of ministry. If I weren’t willing to endure difficulties, I would never attempt to face down the problem of poverty. If I weren’t willing to see pain and anguish, then ministry would be the wrong place for me. But what I do—or don’t do—really doesn’t matter if I am not looking to Jesus.
When we focus on Jesus, we see a better version of ourselves—how he can transform us (compare Hebrews 12:1–2). When we look to Jesus, we see what we sinners can become. We see how our broken communities can be renewed. We see how life can be full of grace, truth, and hope. We see that failure—in career, ministry, or family—is an opportunity to seek grace, repentance, and be changed for the better. We see that looking to Jesus, as simple as it is, really does change everything.