Run, Forrest, Run!

dreambigNehemiah 6:15-16

Determined to follow God’s destiny for our lives.

Forrest Gump, after he had experienced a lifetime worth of amazing events in just a few years, memorably sat at his mother’s side and asked, “Momma, what’s my destiny?”

His mother, Sally Field, looked at him and told him that he would have to figure that out for himself.

Do you ever wonder about your own destiny? I do. I’ve been known to ask myself all manner of silly what-if questions, worried that I had somehow missed out on my destiny. If Dr. Lamb had hired me for the administration job, would I have been following my destiny? If I had completed my application to teach at Wheaton College?

As my life has progressed, I have realized that, so long as I am faithful to God, He clears the way for my destiny. He finds me the opportunities that I need to have. He opens the doors that I need opened. And when I walk through the appropriate doors, good things happen.

Sometimes, like Forrest Gump, we can’t see our destiny for our nearness to it. Sometimes we don’t recognize the guidance and assistance that God provides.

Destiny, I suppose, is most easily seen in the rear-view mirror, but if we follow God, we’ll find it.

  • What aspirations and goals have you set for yourself that later seemed clearly not to be your destiny?
  • How has God helped you to better understand the plans and goals He has in mind for you?
  • Do you pray constantly and diligently, asking God to reveal in clearer detail His plans for your life?

Fight or Flight

dreambigNehemiah 4:13-14

Determined to Fight

A number of years ago, my son-in-law found himself involved in the breakup of a business collaboration. My brother had already advised him that his first mistake was taking on partners, but he knew better. One night, while the cat was away, the mice–that is the partners–came with a U-Haul and loaded up all of the business equipment. Suddenly, the partnership had been dissolved leaving the person closest to me without an income.

As a good father-in-law, I resolved to go into battle on his behalf. We sat through a mediation session. We talked with a lawyer. All the while, I found myself gearing up for war. But somewhere along the way, my son-in-law said, “Let’s just let it go.”

He was not determined to fight, and, at least in this case, he was making the choice. Some people are far too ready to fight. Some people are too eager to surrender. There is merit in both actions.

When Nehemiah determined not to be bullied by Sanballat and company, he was determined to fight if the situation came to that. He understood that if he fought, he would be fighting for God’s dream and under God’s direction.

Fighting sometimes leads to defeat, injury, and even death. We have guarantee that God will make us victorious when we fight in His service. But I would rather suffer loss fighting for God than avoid loss by surrendering His battle.

  • Are you more given to fight or to surrender? How can you determine the right times for each impulse?
  • What is a situation in your life right now that is worth fighting to win? Can you name one that is not worthy?
  • Is your communication with “headquarters”–your spiritual disciplines–sufficient to be confident that you are following God’s orders?

More than Just Barking

dreambigNehemiah 1:4-11

Determined to Pray

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were lying in bed. As she typically does, she held out her hand. I knew that to be my signal to take her hand and pray. We’ve done things this way for years. When I don’t move on the signal, she gets a trifle irritated with me.

On the night in question, though, something unique happened. Bo, our standard poodle, leaped up onto our bed. This he does from time to time, usually settling in at the foot of the bed for a few minutes. Since he is clean and doesn’t shed, we find the habit charming. This time, though, Bo went farther. He crept up between us and toward our joined hands. Then he put a fuzzy paw on our hands, almost as if he intended to join us in the prayer.

After laughing at Bo’s newfound devotion, we thought a bit about the pointlessness of a dog praying or making prayer-like movements. On the other hand, I must admit, sometimes our prayers are only slightly more genuine. Sometimes we view prayer as a task to be ticked off the to-do list. We’re obligated to pray rather than determined to pray.

When we are determined to pray, our inmost thoughts will ascend powerfully to God. Otherwise, we might as well be Bo, yapping in the backyard at the rising moon.

  • Does your prayer life reflect a determination to pray or merely a habit or not even that?
  • What obstacles stand in the way of your prayer life reaching its potential? What sacrifices are you willing to make to overcome them?
  • What important matters in your personal life, your family life, your church life, or other areas deserve a greater determination to prayer from you?

 

Running with the Distractions

dreambigNehemiah 6:1-3
God-inspired dreams will require you to persevere through distractions
About four years ago, I got onto the most successful health and fitness kick of my life. Over the course of six months, I lost as much as 65 pounds, eventually settling in at around 50 pounds below my unfortunate high-water mark. During that same period, I took up running. That was strange enough, but more curious still was the fact that I actually, for the first time in my life, enjoyed running. Running became an essential part of my life, on the trails in Overland Park and the streets of Independence and the gravel roads around Oak Grove, I ran six days a week.
Eventually, I started running in races of 3, 6, and 13 miles. In 2015, I ran a half-marathon in under two hours. That’s not fast but it’s pretty good for a fat boy!
I enjoyed the energy, the way my clothes fit, the way I could bound up steps, and the sense that I could do anything. And then, a little over a year ago, I took my eye off the ball. During the late fall of 2015, I let the exercise routine get away from me and went back to my old ways of eating. It wasn’t that I intended to change, but I became distracted. A trip to Nashville and then a holiday and suddenly my good habits had given way to my old bad habits. All of 2016 was a struggle, a struggle I mostly lost.
I’m convinced that being a reasonably healthy, fit person is a God-inspired dream for me. When I’m healthy, I will have a better attitude and be able to do more for longer for the Kingdom. And so why wouldn’t distractions try to turn my head to pizza buffets and binge-watching?
Not every distraction is a fiend from the pit of hell. Some distractions are just other people pulling on us or our own fleshly inclinations pushing us. But the reality is that whatever is good in our lives will have to weather distractions. How we deal with them will largely determine our success.
  • Think over the dreams that God has led you to embrace in the past. Have you face distractions while trying to keep your eye on that prize?
  • What tools can you use to be as effective as Nehemiah in pushing aside distractions?
  • Would a stronger, more consistent prayer life and Bible reading routine help you to keep your attention on the dreams God has ordained for you? What are you willing to do about making that a reality?

The Perils of a Pipe Dream

dreambigNehemiah 4:10-12
God-inspired dreams will be surrounded by discouragement
“Well, that’s probably just a pipe dream.” That’s what my encouraging supervisor at UMKC suggested when I confided that I wanted to earn a doctorate from Oxford University. Sure, I was halfway through a Masters at a decidedly low-prestige university. I had no business thinking I could make the leap to one of the most celebrated universities in the world. But that was my dream, so I shared it with her. Pipe dream, eh?
After finishing that degree, I taught for about a year before applying for doctoral programs. My applications went to various schools in the U.S. and that one centuries-old place in England. And when the reply came from Oxford, what did I learn? What came from my pipe dream?
“We regret to inform you,” the letter said. Actually, I don’t recall what the letter said, but it did that polite no-saying that rejections do. Maybe it was, “While many aspects of your application were impressive . . .” Regardless, the answer was “no.”
God-inspired dreams will be surrounded by discouragement, but so will a lot of self-inspired dreams. I have no reason to believe that God intended me to go to Oxford. It was my own ambition that led me in that direction.
Just because a dream is followed by discouragement does not prove that it comes from God. But all important dreams from God will be met with some measure of discouragement.
By the same token, when we pursue self-inspired dreams, ones that we for some reason shouldn’t be chasing, and we keep in constant relationship with God, we will experience God’s direction, which often takes the form of gentle discouragement or conviction.
  • What are your dreams? Are they God-inspired or you-inspired? How can you tell the difference?
  • When pursuing God-inspired dreams, how have you experienced discouragement? How did you deal with it?
  • Are you staying in close enough conversation with God that you can identify what He does and doesn’t want you to pursue? Are you close enough to weather the discouragement?