This is the third article of our current series, “A Work in Progress.”
Listen to Audio:
In Deut. 2:3 God tells Israel, “You have circled this mountain long enough. Now turn north…” A little background: The Israelites at this point had wandered in the desert for nearly 40 years. Now God is calling them from the southern border of Edom towards the land of Canaan, which is to the north.
Have you ever felt like you were walking in circles in a desert? In this post I want to help you get your wheels out of your spiritual rut and help move you forward.
Last week someone told me that they’ve been stuck in the same place spiritually for years. Our goal in this series is to change that.
Have you ever owned a compass? Do you know how to use it? Most people know that a compass helps you find the right direction, but they don’t know how to use it very well. The compass has a needle that has been magnetized and it always points in a certain direction. Do you know what direction that is? North!
Whenever you get off the path or feel lost, a compass will help you because it will always point to the north and you can find every other direction from that reference point. So many people in life don’t know which way to go. They feel like they don’t have a purpose or meaning. They feel like the Israelites, wandering, waiting for direction. People don’t know who they are, so they seek their identity in all the wrong places. Many of them wish that they had a compass to help guide them.
The Bible is just such a compass. It’s a reliable compass for life. As we read His Word, God guides us in the best path to take. In Psalm 119:105 it says that God’s Word is like a lamp to our feet and a light for our path. That means that God will help light our way through the ups and downs of life. He will help us to know which direction to take, and how to avoid the obstacles that we face in life. If you feel lost, or like you’re wandering in circles, the Bible will help you find your True North. In this post, I will lay out 4 Biblical principles that will help in that process. As you walk through each step, I want you to use your own “God story” to help you navigate. Our stories can be a guide that God uses to strengthen us and show us His plan and purpose as we go forward. This series is about taking that next step no matter where you are in your spiritual life.
So, let’s look now at those steps.
Step 1: Connect Your Life Story to Your Purpose
Your life story is more than your memories. It’s a series of God moments. You may be thinking, “Well, I didn’t come to Christ until I was 25. I wasn’t walking with God before then.” But that doesn’t mean that God wasn’t a part of your life or that He can’t use your past experiences…positive or negative. Romans 8:28 reminds us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” If you know and love Him now, He’s using “all things” to help you become more like Christ, even your past experiences.
I’ll share an example from the lives of my wife and me. Deb and I were both what you would call “at risk kids”. It’s one of the main reasons that we started Back2Back Ministries in 1996. We wanted to use our stories to encourage students to believe that their past doesn’t have to define them. It’s why we always say, “It doesn’t matter how you start, it matters how you finish.” So, whether it was working with kids on the streets of Mexico, mentoring kids in Over the Rhine in downtown Cincinnati, or raising up student leaders in our local community in the early to mid-90s, we wanted to use our pain and God’s transforming power to tell a story of hope and healing.
Connecting all aspects of your story helps you find the common threads. God then helps you weave them together to steer you to His purpose. As you reflect on your story, you’ll find common themes that guided and motivated your actions. Your mistakes and failures can become your greatest motivators and spiritual teachers.
The next step builds on this theme.
Step 2: Allow God to Use Your Failures and Hardships to Guide You
John Wooden wrote, “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be”
So often when we face challenging situations in life, we choose to allow them to stifle our growth. We get stuck and end up aimlessly walking in circles, like the Israelites. But those mountains in our lives are not dead ends, just another obstacle to overcome. Yet so many people allow their hardships to sideline them, to dictate their destiny. They make that negative event the focal point of their lives and allow it to knock them off course or wrap them in chains. Sometimes we avoid dealing with our challenges, but by doing so we make ourselves emotional time bombs. It’s always in the back of our minds. It controls us. Eventually, it is “triggered” and we explode. These are all traps of Satan and leave us wandering aimlessly in the desert. What we need to do is allow God to use our challenges to transform our lives. You have to see all of your story – both the good and the bad – as a learning experience. If you do, you can use it to grow. Think about it. When do you grow the most, when life is easy or when it’s difficult?
Step 3: Use the Spiritual Discipline of Quiet Reflection
Two spiritual disciplines that have been lost in our Christian culture are judging our motives and reigning in our sinful nature. We seldom take the time to think through our attitudes and reflect on our self-centeredness.
We see this in Matthew 18:1-4, “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
The disciples were lost in the wrong thought process…They suffered from what I like to call “Stinkin Thinkin”. They were saying, “I want to be better than everyone else.” We do the same thing in our lives. We become self-focused and chase after our own desires. That’s why we need to constantly take time for quiet-reflection.
I once read a quote by Margaret Wheatley that I liked. She said, “Without reflection, we go blindly on our way”. We need to make time for quiet-reflection. That means spending time in prayer and listening more than we talk.
I have told this story once before, but I believe it speaks so clearly to this discussion. Dan Rather, former anchor at CBS, once asked Mother Teresa what she said during her prayers. She answered, “I don’t say anything, I listen.” So Rather tried to rephrase the question and asked, “Well then, what does God say?” Mother Teresa smiled with confidence and answered, He doesn’t say anything. He listens.”
Sometimes God’s greatest gift to us is silence. Quiet reflection. Where the mind becomes secondary to the heart and the Spirit’s whisper consumes our soul. ‘Doing’ ceases, and our words become useless. Being in His presence is all that matters. (If you haven’t read the book “Practicing His Presence”, I highly recommend it.) Self-reflection requires quiet contemplation and from that spiritual discipline God can show us our True North. It’s in that place that you can reflect on your experiences and how they align with your story.
Twenty-one years ago, I was in a Spiritual crisis. I ended up on a mountain in Mexico trying to work through my thoughts. Because I’m a doer it was hard for me not to try to figure it out on my own. As I sat on that mountain listening to the sound of roosters, someone mowing, and loud music God led me to 1 Kings. As I was reading, everything slowly went silent. The roosters went silent, the mowing ended, and the neighbors shut off their music. In the quiet of that moment I read this…1 Kings 19:11-12, “The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”
Only in the stillness did I understand what direction I needed to take. It was in that quiet moment that I found my True North. Knowing yourself and understanding God’s will takes work. To start that work, you need to create a habit of quiet-reflection.
And finally, Step 4: Take the Focus off Yourself
Phil. 2:1-8 says, “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with his Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. But, in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should not only look to your own interests, but also the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
I’ve seen so many movies and read so many stories where the character says, “I should be the hero of my own story.” We usually begin as the hero of our own story. The problem is we also want to be the hero of every story we’re involved in. But, to become more Christlike, you have to look beyond yourself. Christ-like followers recognize that leadership is not about them…it’s about serving others. They realize that ultimately, it’s not our story, it’s His story and we are simply playing our part in His epic adventure. We should want to be a hero in His story.
To take the next step in your spiritual journey, you need to incorporate others into your story. As you do, life will have more clarity and meaning. You need to make your mission about others, and when you do, you’ll become the person you were designed to be. Remember, the Bible tells you to love your neighbor as yourself.
What we’re really talking about here is dying to self. Col. 3:3 reminds us, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” When we truly understand what it means to die to self, our lives will be transformed.
Stay tuned! That’s where we’ll pick it up next week.