Life is a journey. Over the years, I learned that a journey isn’t the same during each part of the journey. There are highs and lows, good times and bad times. There are moments of rejoicing, and moments of sorrow and tears. When one sets out on a journey, so often the sojourner thinks the steps have been set, the days are fixed, and there is a great picture of what will result at the end of the journey. Consider a trip to an amusement park. You know stops along the way for refreshments and bathroom visits are likely. You know that fun will be had with rides and games. You may even have an itinerary in place. In the end, you know you will leave with a collection of photos, overly hyper children overcome by sugar and fast food, and perhaps a slight case of dehydration from the heat of a sunny day.
Life isn’t like that though. No matter how much you plan, how much you think that the steps have been set in place, that the days are fixed, life does not come all beautifully packaged. Yes, each of your days is written in the Book. Yes, all of your tears are caught in His bottle. Yes, He has a plan and a purpose for your life. Yes, there is a narrow path that few will choose. Yes, there is an end to the journey which culminates with the New Heaven and New Earth as we worship our King. But the journey—the journey is a journey of faith. And when you step forth in faith, you can only cling to the promises of God, lay everything down before Him, and trust that when the journey gets difficult, when the road gets hard, when people turn their backs, when eyes are opened, when jobs are lost, when health deteriorates, when the puzzle isn’t coming together like the picture on the box—that God is Sovereign, that God has everything beautifully orchestrated, and that nothing can snatch you from His hand.
As I sit here today, in the middle of turbulent part of my journey in life, I can certainly say that my mom never warned me of these days. There are days no one can prepare you for except for a life long journey filled with experiences—a journey filled with triumph and loss, pain and suffering, truth and lies. The scars of life, they sometimes feel as if they cover us completely—as if they will have the last say. But it is in the ashes, that we are reminded of God’s love for His children. We are reminded of the price that was paid. We are reminded that we will rise—that even when the days of this journey can be hard, and dark, and painful—that even when these days come—that God, in His infinite wisdom and His unfailing love, has victory. He has overcome. Now in Him, in Him we are washed. In Him, we find peace. In Him, we are made new. Over and over again. And one day, one day when our Lord returns, all will bow and confess, all will see His glory, and all things will be new.
“The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand.” – Psalm 37:23 [ESV]
“Even a courageous person’s steps are determined by the LORD, so how can anyone understand his own way?” – Proverbs 20:24 [CSB]
In the world, we have favoritism. There are people we enjoy more. There are things we like more. We usually have favorites. But the Bible says that favoritism is a sin (James 2:9). We are not supposed to have favorites.
There are people who believe that God has favorites; however, He does not show favoritism. When we struggle, and see others doing so well, we think God loves those with less struggles more than He loves us. The truth is we are all on a journey that is unique. As we are going through struggles, it does not mean that God loves others more. God loves you. His love for you has nothing to do with you. His love is based on Who He is.
Favoritism is divisive. Showing favor to someone above another will cause stumbling blocks. God desires unity. Today, look at how you can promote unity. Take a closer look at your relationships and ask the Spirit if you are showing favoritism. Aim to look at people through God’s eyes today. Each person is special. Each person is important. Each person matters.
“For God does not show favoritism.” – Romans 2:11 [NLT]
I love a good shortcut. It has been a difficult few months as my favorite shortcut has been shut down due to construction. I save 5-10 minutes on my drive with that shortcut. But in life, there are not always shortcuts. You really cannot learn in life if everything is a shortcut.
God desires an investment from us. If we are going to walk with Him, the walk includes turns and rest stops. The walk includes going the long way until we grasp what He is trying to teach us or until we allow Him to chip away at something that isn’t meant to be in our lives.
When God led His people the long way to freedom, it was not to keep His people from the freedom, but to help them grow to truly experience the freedom He had for them. If they went the short way, they would have turned back. They weren’t ready. He led them the long way so they could be ready—so they could experience the best He had for them.
Today, don’t look for the shortcuts to God. Don’t look for shortcuts in life. Appreciate the long road God has you on, because it is the road that will lead you to God’s best for you. Take some time today to thank Him for not letting you alone on the road.
“When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, ‘If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’” – Exodus 13:17 [NLT]
I’ve been having a lot of shoulder pain for the past few months. It started to be very bothersome and interrupt my activities of daily living. Someone who knows a thing or two about shoulders has told me I have a weak shoulder. Yes, a weak shoulder. I never thought it could be possible—that I could have a weak shoulder—as I am always active. The problem is the particular area doesn’t do the work as other muscles and it has become too weak to support itself.
So now I am in a lot of pain and lately I find myself with eyes filled with tears as I try to sleep. I find myself having to do exercises to work out the weak area. This therapy is painful. This therapy can be draining or overwhelming. This therapy is necessary.
As God chips away at us, helping to mold us into we are meant to be, we might feel some pain. Change requires loss. We grieve. We drag our feet. We don’t understand. To move along with God and walk alongside Him doing our part, we find ourselves making adjustments to our lives to make room for Him and that can appear overwhelming. We say things like, “I have to wake up earlier so I can get my morning devotion read or it won’t get done” We find ourselves stepping out in faith in small and big ways. Turning down jobs. Traveling to unfamiliar areas. Changing direction. But just as I need this therapy to strengthen my muscle again, so we need God’s Word, His direction, His prodding. I pray today you allow yourself to be molded by our Maker, rejoicing as you trust His perfect plan. Praise Him. Trust Him. Embrace Him. Dig into His Word—not just here and there, but every day. Take it with you. Write it down. Remember it. Cherish it. Eat it. Speak it. Love it. No one who trust God like this – heart and soul – will ever regret it.
“With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: ‘God has set everything right between him and me!’ Scripture reassures us, ‘No one who trusts God like this – heart and soul – will ever regret it.’” – Romans 10:10-11 [MSG]
Almost a year ago I sat down to write about Daniel 3:18. When I write, there are two different ways that I begin. First, there are moments when I am walking my dog Max and the Lord leads me to something. Second, there are moments when I am reading my Bible (many times during my lunch break), when He leads me to something and I will scrawl down some notes for later. Nonetheless, this week I was again reading Daniel 3:18 and was led to write about it. But it felt very familiar.
I considered that perhaps I had written about it before. After writing devotionals, other books, papers, sermons, lessons, etc., it was a possibility. I felt this overwhelming need to search, and then I found it, “But Even If.” Does someone need to hear it again? Yes, and God knew—it was me!
Life has been very difficult lately. Life in general is difficult, but lately I have been feeling exhausted. Not tired. Exhausted. Everything is a battle. I have followed the narrow path. But when we are on the journey God has placed before us, our expectations of the outcome might be very different from where God takes us. Hence the exhaustion. For some of us it’s frustration or even worse. But God reminds each of us that He is with us and He has a great plan for our lives. No matter where we are at on the journey, no matter what our expectations for a situation, our lips should say, “But even if he doesn’t” we will still press forward and live each day firmly rooted in Him. I’m pressing forward. He is my hope and my confidence.
“But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” – Daniel 3:18 [NLT]
“Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” – Psalm 25:5 [NIV]
The pathway that we travel in life can be a challenge or a breeze, a struggle or a journey. The Bible says that God will guide us “along the best pathway.” This reminds me of the Red Sea pathway. When the Israelites were freed to leave, God led them the long way. They didn’t go what we would consider as the best pathway. But it was the best pathway. We just do not think like God so we cannot always see why it is the best.
You might be in a place in your life right now where you are questioning the pathway you are on or the pathway that God is pointing you to take in life. You may be wondering if it truly is the best pathway. It might not look like a good path to take. It might not seem like the easiest path or the path that will bring about the most fun. It might be a scary path or a path that will cause you some grief—maybe some people will turn their backs on you when you select the path God is leading you to take right now.
We might not know where this pathway will lead or what God may have in mind, but we can always trust that He will guide us along the very “best pathway.” Don’t be a senseless horse. Keep pressing forward and allowing Him to show you the way. He knows the best pathway.
“The LORD says, ‘I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.’” – Psalm 32:8-9 [NLT]
On a recent trip I drove from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. The drive did not seem so long except when we were in Virginia. It seemed like Virginia went on forever. When I compared the time we spent in Maryland and West Virginia, it was very apparent that the journey as longer. I started to feel exhausted. I started to doubt if we would ever get out of Virginia and reach our destination. The trip did not look like this on Google Maps.
As we understand our journeys in life, we usually have some sort of perception of what to expect. We use our knowledge, our experiences, and even other experiences to help prepare us for what lies ahead with the current road we are traveling. The problem arises when reality is very different from what we expected. We start to lose momentum, to get exhausted, to even have doubts.
Don’t give up. If God has called you to do something, you will reach the finish line. The road is not always going to be quick or smooth, but He is faithful. Focus on God, not on your expectations of the situation. We cannot know 100% what the situation will bring our way, but we can trust our unchanging God. I eventually made it to North Carolina and you will eventually reach your destination as well. Keep pressing forward. We each have a long road ahead of us, but it promises us a beautiful future.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24
Today was my graduation. When God first called me to return to school for ministry, I will admit I was hesitant. As time passed, I understood that He would see me graduate but I never considered that I would be given the title of Salutatorian and would have the opportunity to give the Benediction. As Ephesians says, God provides immeasurably more than we could ever imagine. God continues to amaze me.
Don’t underestimate God or limit what God can do in your life. Remember that He promises immeasurably more than we can imagine. I went from not considering returning to school, to applying and getting accepted, to considering if I could graduate, to considering what to write for the Benediction and what to wear for graduation. We don’t stay right where we are at–there is always change happening. We are either moving more toward God and what He has for us or we are moving in the opposite direction. Keep moving toward Him and be expectant of Him working in incredible ways in your life.
Here’s the Benediction I delivered at the Commencement Ceremony today. It is my prayer that you will make this prayer your own. You will also find a video clip containing the Benediction as well.
Commencement Ceremony Benediction
Let us pray.
Thank You Father for bringing us to this very moment,
which is not an ending but a new beginning.
Thank You for Your goodness, for Your promises,
for Your faithfulness, for Your Word.
You hold all things together.
Thank You for providing us all that we have needed to make it here today
May Your grace shine upon my fellow graduates.
May You protect those who have gathered here today to celebrate with us.
May You continue to make Your Presence be known among us.
May our hearts be open.
May our eyes be focused.
May our ears be listening to Your voice.
Lord, continue to use each one of us for Your Kingdom.
Where there is hatred, may we bring love.
Where there is darkness, may we bring light.
Where there is error, may we bring truth.
As You lead us forward on another journey
Remind us of what is good.
Help us to seek justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with You Lord.
Now, may we move onward in peace.
“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
To Him be all the glory.
In Jesus’ name.
[Note: see St. Francis of Assisi, Colossians 3:17, Micah 6:8]
The story of the woman by the well always has been one of my favourites for so many reasons. After studying John 4 more closely, I read up on verse 29 and it got me thinking. Verse 29 says, “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done, this is not the Christ, is it?” The woman asked this question when she returned to her people to tell them about her encounter with Jesus. What is important to note about this question, is the lady asked the question expecting a negative response.
I started to think about how we interact with Jesus in prayer. When we come to Jesus, do we ask expecting a negative response? Or do we believe He can do the impossible? When we are going through our day, do we believe God will provide us with the necessary provisions to do His will, or do we think that we will have to find another way? Our attitude has a lot to do with our actions and reactions in life. Our attitude also is a demonstration of our faith and of our relationship with Christ.
Now the woman by the well grew in faith. She went from not having any faith to having some faith. Then she ran to the others and she shared what had happened. Then they believed. What a journey! And this is the same journey that each one of us is on in life. We come to know Jesus and then we embark on a journey of faith. Little by little, we become stronger in our faith. At the same time, we begin to share this faith with other people. After the people of Samaria heard Jesus, they said, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world” (v. 42).
Maybe you are having a bad season in life or simply a bad day or week. Perhaps you are at a place where you are thinking negatively. Don’t be hard on yourself by limiting God. Don’t get discouraged and allow Satan to cause you to think that God has forgotten you or doesn’t care about you . Allow God to show you who He is and the faithfulness He has to His children. You never have to go thirsty.
“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” – John 7:37b-28 [NASB]