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"Lord, please! Send someone else."
(Exod. 4:13)Chapter 1 Ambition Crippler
The first step on the road to success begins inside our heads. Until we grapple with our past failures and conquer our sense of inadequacy, we will never be able to handle success. But once we get the past out of our heads, we're able to journey toward a meaningful, fulfilling life.
Many typical motivational speecheseven sermonsskip this important mental step. But the negative, dream-crushing defeats in our past can drown out positive, faith-building talk. Our disappointments and failures can corrode our dreams for the future. Sure we want to make a difference with our lives. But before we can develop a healthy ambition and a passion for God's purpose for us, before we can set our sights on God-honoring, God-pleasing success, we've got to deal with the baggage of our humanity.
When Moses was young, he made a huge mistake. He tried to take hold of his destiny and accomplish something great for God. But his timing and his methods were off, and he failed miserably. With an Egyptian buried in the sand and a price on his head, Moses retreated to the backside of the desert. As Moses watched the sheep and replayed his mistakes in his head for forty years, he allowed his dreams to wither away.
Still carrying the shame and disgrace of his past, Moses wasn't ready to volunteer when God called him at the burning bush. He had no more ambitions to do anything great for Godno passion for significant success. In fact, as God urged Moses to see the possibilities, Moses protested repeatedly.
"Who am I?" he asked (Exod. 3:11). He had lost the advantage of being raised in Pharaoh's household. Now he was merely an unknown, insignificant shepherd.
"What shall I tell them?" he asked (v. 13). Moses couldn't imagine himself back in Pharaoh's courts, much less debating successfully with the most powerful leader in his world.
But in spite of his protests, feelings of inadequacy, and past failures, this insignificant, hypercautious, stuttering shepherd without a message finally bowed to the call and will of God. And with God's help, Moses became a leader for all time.
What events or people in my past have crippled my ambitions and potential to do something great for God? What will it take for me to become daring enough to be a success for God?
It's far too easy, Lord, to see nothing but my shortcomings and miss the sight of your long arm of grace that can help me successfully fulfill your call.
"When you begin thinking you really are number one, that's when you begin to go nowhere."
Alternate themes: Confidence, Transformation, God's Call, Courage
I once thought all these things were so very important, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I may have Christ.
Whatever God Wants
It is ironic that I, who had little ambition, gained such influence while others, who would kill to have such influence, may still be seeking it. But I don't think you necessarily find something by going directly at it.
When we were learning to spot airplanes in the dark, the navy taught us that the center part of our eyes are blind at night. If you try to look directly at where the sound of the plane is coming from at night, you never will see the plane. If you look to the right or the left of where you hear the sound, you'll see the plane out of the part of your eye that isn't night-blind. Ambition is like that.
People who pursue ambitious goals often are some of the most frustrated people in the world. And those who have succeeded oftentimes have been ruthless in their attempts to achieve it and have left bodies scattered over the landscape.
Those who pursued meaningful service rather than direct ambition, however, often reached their goals. For every one of the achieverseven the honest onesthere is an enormous number of people who years ago offered themselves for ministry and have never come close to achieving their goals. So we have to offer ourselves to God to do whatever he wants us to do and let the personal ambition go by the way.
Richard Nelson Bolles
Can I accomplish something for my business or my church without caring whether I get the credit?
Help me to be ambitious in the right way, Lordnot seeking my own success, but in seeking your honor and glory.
"So many missionaries, intent on doing something, forget that God's main work is to make something of them."
Jim Elliot, martyred twentieth-century missionary
Alternate themes: Pride, Humility, Goal-setting, Glorifying God
A fool gives full vent to anger, but a wise person quietly holds it back... . A hot-tempered person starts fights and gets into all kinds of sin.
(Prov. 29:11, 22)
Anger without Sin
Lots of people have the power to hurt or frustrate me. But whether or not I express my anger when they do, is my choice. People don't "make me" angry; I allow myself to express my anger. No one else can make me respond aggressively or inappropriately when I feel anger. It often seems just the opposite because my response to feeling anger has become so routine that it seems "automatic." It feels as if the person or event triggered my anger and caused my response.
The truth is, so many of my responses to anger result from learned behavior. I learned it long ago, from people I grew up around. And I learned it so informally that I was not even aware of it.
Tommy Bolt has been described as the angriest golfer in the history of a game that has stimulated the secretion of more bile than any other single human activity outside of war and denominational meetings. One (possibly apocryphal) story recalls a time when he was giving a group lesson on how to hit a ball out of a sand trap.
Calling his eleven-year-old son over, he said, "Show the people what you've learned from your father when your shot lands in the sand." The boy picked up a wedge and threw it as high and as far as he could.
Anger is an inescapable fact of life. But the experience of anger is different from the expression of anger. What I do with my anger, how I express it and manage it, is another matter. The good news is that what we have learned we can also unlearn. It is possible for me to manage my anger in a God-honoring way: to be angry and not sin.
How would my colleagues or spouse say I handle my anger?
Oh God of peace and wisdom, give me a perspective that will help keep me from anger, and when I do get angry, give me the discernment to manage it in ways that will honor you and not hurt others needlessly.
"We need not ‘sin that grace may abound.' We are sinners and need only to confess that grace may abound."
C. FitzSimons Allison
Alternative Themes: Conflict, Marriage, Sin, Emotions
Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it againrejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.
Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
Deciding to Decide
During his freshman year at Yale University, William Borden, the great missionary, wrote a prayer in his journal: "Lord Jesus, I take hands off as far as my life is concerned. I put thee on the throne of my heart. Change, cleanse, use me as thou shalt choose. I take the full power of thy Holy Spirit. I thank thee."
This faith changed Borden's life and set in motion a shift of direction that had a profound effect upon his student years at Yale and Princeton Theological Seminary and in his brief career as a missionary to Egypt. Borden died in Cairo of cerebral meningitis at the age of twenty-five; his life was short but full. His commitment to Jesus Christ and the world missionary mandate of the gospel continues to challenge those who know his story.
Borden's journal entry suggests the narrow and fragile dividing line that marks the difference between active commitment to life on the one hand and apathy toward life on the other. In both, we make a choice that could be described by Borden's words as a freshman: "I take hands off."
It is remarkable that the same brief sentence"I take hands off"could be the key opening thought for motivated action on the one side and demotivation from all action on the other. How can this be true? In both instances we "take hands off" when we realize the limitations of human power; in both instances we become disillusioned with human achievement and success; in both instances we feel a disappointment with people who fall short of our expectations. Nevertheless, what we do with these feelings of disappointment, inadequacy, or fatigue makes all the difference between discipleship and apathy.
This is the moment Borden came to as a young man. He knew himself well enough not to place himself at the center of his life; he also knew too well the inadequacy of the people and institutions around him and the futility of enthroning in his heart the church, Yale, or any idealistic program. What Borden did instead was to decide in favor of Jesus Christ as the living center for his life. He chose to be available to live under Christ's will, and he claimed the assurance of the Holy Spirit. This act of commitment to life in Christ made all the difference.
Apathy, by contrast, institutionalizes disappointment. The soul withdraws from all effort at discovery and eventually decides to stop deciding. This is what apathy means: "away from pathos"away from suffering or any intense experience.
Is there a cure? Yes. It happens in stages for most people, but sooner or later it requires us to join up with the rest of the human race and finally demands that we, as William Borden did, decide to decide. It finally draws us into the rich colors of human feeling where the rewards are better than the possible dangers. Best of all, the cure draws us into fellowship with the nonapathetic Lord of life.
Earl F. Palmer
What would it mean for me to "take hands off"?
Lord Jesus, I thank you that your safe and strong hands surround my life today. I begin this prayer trusting in those good hands.
"If we are going to wait until every possible hindrance has been removed before we do a work for the Lord, we will never attempt to do anything."
T. J. Bach
Alternate themes: Commitment, Passion, Trust, Motivation
We are telling you about what we ourselves have actually seen and heard, so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy will be complete.
(1 John 1:3-4)
The Right Size
How often do we find ourselves search for just the right size in something we want or need? When we try on shoes or a shirt, we look for the right size, but the issue applies to other areas of our lives as well. How many people can I really know well? How many projects and jobs can I accomplish before I approach burnout? Questions of time and money management crop up: How much time should I spend at work, at play, on the Internet? How much money do I need to earn to be a responsible provider and yet a wise and generous steward? We wonder about the size of a group: What is the right size for a city? a school? a church? a family?
As I see it, the answer to all of these questions goes beyond mere numbers. Some families of three have more interpersonal fellowship than families of six; and some families of six notice and celebrate the uniqueness of each child more than families with only one child. There are single-parent families that have become the right size because faith, hope, and love have filled the empty place left by the missing second parent.
We are the answer to the questions about sizeif we care enough to take the place that only we can fill and then in friendliness reach out to the person on each side. When we do that, even the largest and most complicated gathering of people will be just the right size.
Size is like time; it comes down to a question of equilibrium and rhythm so that the answer lies in learning to balance large and small, fast and slow, many and few.
Any size is right when we do the work it takes to know someone else by name and when someone knows our name. Then our families and our churches are just the right size.
Have I found the right size for my church? my family? my fellowship? my circle of obligation?
Lord, thank you for including me in your forever family. I am grateful that you have invited men and women, girls and boys of all ages and races into the fellowship that shares the love and faithfulness of Jesus Christ our Lord.
"The Bible is all about community: from the Garden of Eden to the City at the end."
George F. MacLeod
Alternate themes: Community, Priorities, Perspective, Value
Moses protested again, "Look, they won't believe me! They won't do what I tell them. They'll just say, ‘The Lord never appeared to you.'" Then the Lord asked him, "What do you have there in your hand?"
Leadership Lessons from the Prince of Egypt
Before the movie The Prince of Egypt was released, I was invited to preview the film for DreamWorks Studios. It was a thrill to be a part of this project, but on top of the excitement of the moment, God spoke to me during that animated film on the life of Moses. It happened during Moses' encounter with the burning bush, when he was arguing with the Lord about why he couldn't lead God's people out of Egypt. Moses felt utterly unqualified to lead anyone out of anywhere. After a couple of rounds of debate, God won by asking Moses a simple question: "What is in your hand?" Moses was holding a shepherd's staff, something he had been using for forty years as he herded sheep in the desert.
When God calls us into leadership, he usually starts with familiar tools, giving us a ministry that looks a lot like what we've been doing all along. The leadership role he calls us to may not even seem spiritual or significant at first glance.
This encounter between God and Moses is full of spiritual truths for leaders. Consider the following:
Faithfulness counts. God calls us to keep on doing what we've already been doing. Leaders are not necessarily more gifted than others, but they are less inclined to give up.
God seeks a willing attitude in us. Scripture reveals Moses' great reluctance to assume the role of deliverer of Israel, but in spite of his fears he obeyed the call of God upon his life.
God's power comes upon an obedient heart. In Moses' eyes his staff appeared to be just an ordinary staff, but in the hand of God it became something powerful and even life-changing. From these verses on, Moses' staff was central as God guided Israel out of bondage. Each time an account mentions the staff, God is saying, in effect, "The common becomes significant when my power comes upon it."
God uses preparation. What we've been doing is preparation for what we will be doing. As the film showed, Mosesborn an Israelite, raised an Egyptian, reunited with his captive peoplewas uniquely qualified, through his life and preparation, to lead his people out of bondage. In the economy of God, there is no wasted time.
What is "in my hand" that God might anoint for service?
Lord, help me recognize that great opportunity isn't always something distant and "out there"it may be right in front of me. Then, gracious Father, equip me with the courage and obedient spirit to act on those opportunities.
"Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice."
William Jennings Bryan
Alternate themes: Faithfulness, Obedience, Gifts, Opportunity
The boy Samuel was serving the Lord by assisting Eli. Now in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon... .
Suddenly, the Lord called out, "Samuel! Samuel!"
"Yes?" Samuel replied. "What is it?"
(1 Sam. 3:1, 3-4)
Too Old to Hear the Voice of God?
For as long as I can remember, when I heard the story of God calling little Samuel while he lived with the old priest Eli, I had always identified with Samuel. While I was still much too young to understand the full implications, God had called me to serve him as a leader in his church. Similarly, Samuel's story is about God calling a boy, a boy far too young to understand the full meaning of that call at the time.
But then one day I realized that I no longer identified with little Samuel. I was starting to identify with aging Eli. He had been working in the temple for a lifetime, and had God ever spoken so directly to him? Had God ever awakened him in the middle of the night, calling him by his very own name? Why had God spoken only to this Samuel, a boarder in the Lord's house, but not to old, experienced, dedicated Eli?
Here I am, having served the Lord as a pastor for over thirty years. Some little upstart in his early twenties shows up, telling me that God has spoken to him, telling me that God has called him. Why has God not spoken directly to me? Why does God insist on speaking to someone half my years?
Here is my church, shrinking in membership. On the edge of town is that new, young church. Their building is not nearly as nice as ours. They obviously have a less-able and less-experienced pastor! And yet they grow. Why does God bless their efforts so profusely?
The account of young Samuel and old Eli becomes a story for those of us in the latter stages of our careers. To serve God means to let God be Godsovereign. He is free to bypass us and go to those young upstarts who do not have our maturity, experience, and wisdom. In each generation God calls those whom he calls.
Why does God do this? Think about it. To keep his church alive, thank God, the Lord goes to a new generation. Maybe he does it to keep proving to us that the church is of God, not of us. God keeps sustaining the church by infusing new life into itby calling people whom we might not have called.
One of my mentors was Carlyle Marney, a great Baptist prophet of the South. I first met him when I was in college. Then I ran into him again just after I was out of seminary. I was talking to Marney about an experience in which God's presence and grace seemed particularly real to me.
Marney listened thoughtfully, and then I asked him, "Are you surprised that God might reveal something like this?"
"No," Marney replied. "What surprises me is that God revealed something that wonderful to a kid like you and not to me!"
Marney had a keen insight into the working of God.
Is the calling of Samuel a good-news story or a bad-news story? Your take on it may have something to do with how long you have been at this business of Christian vocation.
Do I encourage younger, emerging leaders? Do I respect and seek out those with more wisdom and experience?
Sovereign God, in every generation you choose to call certain peoplewhether we like it or not. Yet you reveal yourself to all who call upon you. Whether we actually hear your voice or not, keep us open to your presence and mindful of your purpose for us.
"The error of youth is to believe that intelligence is a substitute for experience, while the error of age is to believe that experience is a substitute for intelligence."
Alternate themes: Aging, Envy, Maturity, Wisdom
Choose a good reputation over great riches, for being held in high esteem is better than having silver or gold.
How Do You Want to Be Remembered?
Never before in history have people had the opportunity to have a second adulthood. At the turn of the century, life expectancy was fifty years. Now people live an average of at least thirty years past that, and we are more affluent than previous generations. We are pioneers on a new demographic frontier full of new opportunities. In fact, the second half of life is or can be better than the first half.
While statistically we may live longer, we still don't know exactly when we will die. But all of us, if we wish, may select our own epitaphs. I have chosen mine. It is a fairly haunting thing to think about your gravestone while you are alive. Yet my epitaph stands as both a glorious inspiration and an epic challenge. Adapted from the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, it reads: "100x means 100 times."
You may call my 100x epitaph wishful thinking. But when you select an epitaph as an expression of gratitude, you identify yourself as someone with a purpose and a passion. I'm an entrepreneur, and I want to be remembered as being good soil where the seed multiplied a hundredfold. It is how I wish and attempt to live; it expresses my passions and my core commitments; and it is how I envision my legacy. I want to be a symbol of higher yield, in both life and in death.
Take the opportunity to write your own epitaph. Where is God calling you to serve? What passion has he instilled in your heart? Each of us has been given something to work withtime, money and/or ideas. Using all of who you are in service to God and to people in your community will lead to a deeper, more fulfilling sense of accomplishment.
What would I like my legacy to be?
Lord, give me a spirit of expectancy as I await the adventures you may have for me in the years to come!
"He who has influence upon the heart of God rules the world."
Helmut Thielicke, late German thelogian
Alternate themes: Passion, Maturity, Reputation, Gratitude
In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, "Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!"
He burst into my office one afternoon exclaiming, "I've at last found out what God wants me to do with my life!"
Even though he had intruded into my afternoon, I sat up and took notice. Having logged many hours with him, going over his life, pondering what he ought to do with himself after graduation, I was certainly interested that he had come to such a sure conviction of what God wanted him to do.
"It was clear as day. I was driving to my job, the one I have after school, and was stuck in traffic for a few minutes," he said. "There was this billboard over to the left, with a bush growing in front of it. All you could see were the letters G-O. ‘Go.' I drove on for another few minutes, and traffic stopped again. I looked at this pickup truck in front of me. He had a bumper sticker on the back of it, but it was partly torn off. All that was left were the letters N-O-W. Get it? ‘Go now.' Well, of course I knew what I should do. I'm going into elementary school teaching and not to law school."
I sat there stunned, thinking, And this is a soon-to-be college graduate? Aloud I said, "Look, that's a bush in front of a billboard and a torn bumper sticker. Why would you think that would be the voice of God?"
Crestfallen, he said, "Well, I guess you would have to have been there to get it. But it was clear as day."
Now whether that young man's response seems bizarre and ridiculous or perfectly sensible depends on a prior question: What sort of world do you think we live in? Is it a world where one might expect to receive messages outside oneself, where one might receive a word that is not exclusively self-derived?
We are taught, as modern people, that we live in a closed universe. There is no word other than that word that arises from within us. We are the captains of our fate, the masters of our souls. What we ought to do in life is a matter of our deciding what we ought to do.
Scripture beckons us toward a more open, complicated, and interesting world, a world where women like Mary received messages from God, a world where our lives are capable of being disrupted, jerked around, intruded upon, by a voice that is not self-derived.
I heard distinguished Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann say, "It is a sad thing to live an uncalled life. We have a whole generation who has nothing more to do with their lives than what they decide. Vocation is a great blessing."
And it is. To be able to live one's life for something more important than oneself, to have one's life grasped, grabbed, commanded for some good larger than one's own desires, this is great good news.
We do well to be attentive to the voices, to signals and signs that intrude at odd times in odd places, telling us to do odd things, reaching in to take hold of us, to take us somewhere we would not go if we had been left to our own devices. Our lives are not our own. We are not left to our own devices. We are called. Thank God.
Am I engaged in those spiritual disciplines that can help my spirit to be attentive to God's leading?
Holy God, there are so many "signs" that might be from youor might not. Grant us the discernment to separate the imagined from the real, and the wisdom to test everything according to your revealed Word.
"The great thing is to get the true picture, whatever it is."
Alternate themes: Discernment, Guidance, Vocation, Direction
Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.
Lord, I Can't Do This!
When I tried out for the cheerleading squad in seventh grade, there were only two openings. Every girl knew that Susie, the most coordinated, popular, and enthusiastic of us all, was guaranteed a position. The only question was who would earn the second spot. For weeks we practiced our moves to two assigned cheers and jumped the three protocol jumps.
On tryout day we were given numbers to objectify the process, and we waited in line, watching the girls who auditioned before us. Laura did better than her knobby knees usually allowed. Linda's athleticism was perfect, but her voice too quiet. Kathy's whole performance was solid. Then it was Susie's turn. We were all ready to watch her strut her stuff.
"Go back! Go back!" she chanted. "Go back into the woods because you haven't got, haven't got, you haven't got the goods."
The words were right, but the motions were wrong; they were the moves from the other cheer. It was a moment of group anxiety as we tried to silently signal Susie of her mistake, but her face told us she already knew. Everyone in the room was silently crying, Let her try again. But the head judge thanked her and asked for the next candidate.
Because of Susie's blunder, my name was one of the two announced the next Monday morning. I was suddenly propelled to a task I had not truly envisioned myself having. I asked myself, Will I be able to do this? Why did they pick me? Through the first three practices I was embarrassed and kept blushing. Feeling singled out and unsure of myself in my new role, my prayer was simply, Oh God, help me!
That was not the last time I felt ill-prepared to bear the responsibilities of a new position. New professional roles, including complex tasks of management and leadership, have placed new demands on me in recent years. I often need to shift and balance those that are heavy and difficult, shouldering them for the long haul. But God's guiding strength leads me step by step, away from negative assumptions of the past and toward a confidence rooted in his care.
Mary C. Miller
When faced with a challenging task, how do I respond? How does God want me to respond?
Godalone I can't. But with you and through you and for you, I can. Let me always rest in that assurance.
"We have given too much attention to methods and to machinery and to resources, and too little to the Source of Power, the filling with the Holy Ghost."
J. Hudson Taylor, nineteenth-century missionary to China
Alternate themes: Leadership, Confidence, Competition, Surprises
Then I heard the Lord asking, "Whom should I send as a messenger to my people? Who will go for us?" And I said, "Lord, I'll go! Send me."