At 29 years old this year has probably been the single most challenging year of my life. That’s a pretty bold statement considering my past which is inclusive of, but not limited to, drug addictions, sexual abuse, homelessness and six years in prison. The pain felt in those years and the damage they dealt to my life are undescribable. However, I don’t really consider those years as posing any real challenges to my life because I had already given up.
The way I see it, challenges only exist when you’re actually trying to get somewhere or accomplish something. I would define a challenge as a trial caused by unforseen circumstances beyond our control which threaten our accomplishment of certain goals or arrival at desired destinations.
The past four years since I’ve been home from prison have been full of trials. Unfortunately, most of those were the fruit of my own doings. This year, however, presented me some of the most serious challenges not caused by myself, and beyond my control, which posed some real threats to my goal to simply walk in God’s will for my life.
During real challenges it can be hard to hear the voice of God and stay rooted in His will for your life. In the bigger picture of things God’s will for all men and women is the same – that we glorify Him by delighting ourselves in Him. In the more minute picture God has a unique path for each of us to walk during our time here on earth.
My only real desire in life is to walk that unique path God desires me to. During the midst of my challenges this year I made up my mind that I would not be thrown off course. And the blessings haven’t stopped pouring down since I made that decision. That doesn’t mean the path isn’t challenging. It just means the challenges are well worth the rewards.
Many people have been watching me this year wondering, “How have you done it? What is defferent?” It started with decision to remain determined and steadfast. Unfortunately, this decision alone is not enough to keep centered in God’s will for your life. The following four things are what have kept me centered and on course this year in the midst of my challenges.
I’ve listed prayer first because it is often the most neglected virtue of the Christian life. We say quick prayers here and there but most of us (including myself) don’t have a very disciplined prayer life. This is something I am personally working on and little by little it’s getting better. Don’t get me wrong. I pray a lot.
In the morning when I wake up. At night before I go to bed. All throughout the day while I’m at work, running errands, cooking or cleaning. When I’m studying or reading my Bible. My most intimate prayer times are when I’m writing or preparing sermons or lessons because I carefully pray over every word in each sentence and every point in my lesson/sermon.
But even in all of this I often feel like my prayer life is still greatly lacking. That might make me sound crazy because I know I pray a lot more than the average Christian. But that’s the thing. It’s not about how much you pray but how you pray. I honestly believe that prayer is more so an attitude of the heart than it is about talking to, or listening to, God.
That is because the attitude of your heart will determine how you talk to God and what you hear from Him in return. When we look at prayer in decision making what we’re looking at is communion with God. It’s not so much about, “God, what would you have me to do?” and remaining silent until we get a clear straightforward answer in return. It’s more so about, “Will this decision interrupt, or cause a disturbance in, my communion with God?”
If the answer to that question is yes then you can bet your bucks God’s answer is either no or wait. Prayer is such an integral part of the decision making process if we want to stay in God’s will that it even comes into play at the other three steps. It simply cannot be neglected.
2. Sound Biblical Principles
Everyone has convictions and principles by which they live their lives. For the Christian, our job is to ensure that the principles we hold to are founded on solid biblical grounds. We make countless decisions every day without even thinking about them based solely on the principles rooted in our hearts. We could call these involuntary choices.
Just like our breathing is for the most part involuntary. We don’t have to think about breathing. We just do it. In the same way there are a ton of decisions we make daily that we don’t have to think about. We just do them. All of these are guided by some principle we have rooted within us.
The challenge at this step is that it requires a healthy dose of God’s Word. You cannot be guided by biblical principles if you are not familiar with the Bible. The key is familiarizing yourself with it in its entirety and taking time to digest it on a regular basis. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in prayer about certain things and had Bible passages or stories from the Old and New Testament come to mind that I had almost altogether forgotten about.
Whenever this happens I always look up that particular story or passage and take time to read, re-read and carefully pray over it. I usually ask myself three questions and continually pray over them until I have a clear answer:
- What does this show me about God?
- How did the people of God respond in this particular situation highlighted in this story or passage?
- Was their response viewed in a favorable or unfavorable light by God?
These questions always help me shed some biblical light on whatever I’m going through or praying about. And biblical light is godly light. You can never go wrong with it.
The thing is, even though I may have forgotten about these passages that the Holy Spirit brings to remembrance sometimes… I knew about them because I had read or studied them at some point in time due to my consistent diet of God’s word. The Holy Spirit can’t bring to remembrance things that aren’t stored in your memory.
There were times in the early days when God would guide me to passages I hadn’t read yet. And I believe He will do that for the babes. But even in most of those cases I had probably heard a sermon on it somewhere or seen a snippet of it in a book somewhere or something along those lines. We have to get ourselves under a good pastor, a good teaching ministry and on a regular diet of personal Bible reading and studying. It honestly makes your walk with God so much easier.
All this year God has been hitting me hard with this humility thing. Mostly for myself. I’m a very prideful man and I’m not afraid to admit it. I don’t so much care about my ego (my sense of self-esteem or self-importance) or the way others perceive me. My big challenge is the way others treat me. Growing up I never fit in anywhere. It didn’t take me long to learn that I didn’t have to fit in as long as people respected me. Respect for me then meant fear. If you didn’t fear me then you didn’t respect me.
It means something different to me now but I still struggle with the desire not to be treated a certain way. That sometimes makes me want to do or say things to make sure people respect me so that they won’t treat me subpar. After bringing it up in my leadership class at church recently I discovered I am not alone in this struggle.
When we are confronted with those moments we will make decisions outside of God’s will if we do not humble ourselves. Pride is at the root of all sin. Pride says, “Me first,” while humility says, “Others first.” It requires us to let go of our egos, of our fears about how others see us and of our entitlement to not be treated subpar. These are the tings we have to pray through at this point.
The apostle Paul’s words on love in 1 Corinthians 13 never get old to me. I owe this mostly to my pastor and a few close friends. Even in my early years as a Christian I was never a very loving man. Everything was still all about me and I cared very little for others. Right on down to my theology. In the beginning I chose the theological system that best suited my needs and made me feel best about myself with no regard for its affect on others.
My theology at the time was not kind or patient. It was envious, unbecoming, arrogant, provoked division and hate, empowered pride and selfishness and kept a detailed record of people’s wrongs. I thank God that He put the right men in my life to change that.
Paul wrote that without love we are merely a noisy gong and clanging symbols. Without love we are nothing, have nothing and gain nothing. Any decision made outside of love is definitely outside of God’s will for your life. Sometimes that will require tough decisions to be made. Decisions that on the surface appear unloving. But if they are within the biblical context of love and made with genuine concern for the well-being of others then they must be made no matter how hard they are.
– Joseph Sterling
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NASB)