When God’s Sovereignty and Your Bad Day Meet

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When God’s Sovereignty and Your Bad Day Meet

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I’m a planner. I have a running to-do list on my phone categorized by days. I rarely start a day without a set plan. Spontaneity isn’t in my blood. In fact, it kind of freaks me out.

A few weeks ago what started as a bad fever for one of my kids quickly became a family affair. Within 48 hours our entire clan was sick with not one, but two illnesses. Our pediatrician called it a secondary virus. I called it absolute insanity.

While I emerged unscathed by the two illnesses, my to-do list lay dormant without a single thing crossed off. As the sickness passed, I entered a mild state of panic. How am I going to catch up? I’m going to be digging out of laundry, dishes, and writing deadlines for weeks. Panic turned to self-pity, and I began wondering if God hadn’t made a mistake in giving me this awful week filled with sickness.

This Is the Day

Growing up I remember singing a psalm put to music called “This Is the Day,” taken from Psalm 118:24:

This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

For some reason, this peppy song came into my head repeatedly that week. As my plans went out the window (and were replaced with seemingly mundane caregiving work), I would hear in my head this childhood song.

Today is his day, Courtney, I would say to myself. Don’t despise it.

Easier said than done.

When our day is filled with completing tasks, happy family members, tangible results in our work, or a general good mood, it’s easy to think, “This is the day that the Lord has made.” It’s easy to rejoice in it. It’s easy to be glad when all is right in our little world.

But what about the day that’s hard? When nothing goes right? When the bad news comes? When you want a do-over by 9 a.m.? When a co-worker interrupts your project because she needs help with something, and now you have to work into the evening. Can you rejoice and be glad in that day? Can you see God’s daily gift to you in the bad as well as the good?

I think so.

God’s Purpose in Your Days

If our days were meant be about our own productivity, happiness, and fulfillment, then perhaps we could find a reason to sideline Psalm 118:24. But this is not the case. God’s purpose in our days is that he would get glory, that we would become like Jesus, and that we would grow in love for those around us. We are not autonomous beings. This means there are countless scenarios playing out in our days that are intended to accomplish God’s greater purposes for us.

The sickness of a family member might be God’s means of making you and them more like his Son. As you lay down your agenda and serve, God is at work. As the one who is sick accepts his limitations and sees his need in a fallen world, God is at work. A bad day doesn’t mean God’s hand is against you. It might be his way of showing he is for you.

God keeps no good thing from us (Ps. 84:11). If we don’t have it, it’s not for our good. Every circumstance that comes our way is under his control. He knows the number of hairs on our head; how much more does he know the outcome of our crazy lives (Matt. 10:30; Luke 12:7)? We see our life from only one vantage point. God sees it from many. We can accept the days he gives us with assurance and trust because he knows more than we do and sees the complete picture of our lives.

God’s Goodness in Your Days

Psalm 118 is a song of thanksgiving. The psalmist calls the nation of Israel to praise God for his steadfast love, then moves into recounting God’s deliverance from distress, which leads to worship. Verse 24 likely refers what is called the festival day, the day they celebrate God’s deliverance. As believers, we can join this celebration, even on the most difficult days. We may not experience rescue from earthly trials, but in Jesus we have the deliverance that matters most.

God’s goodness amid difficulty permeates the Scriptures, from Joseph declaring that God intended his brothers’ evil for good (Gen. 50:20) to the ultimate injustice when Jesus hung on the cross. The days that look like failures in the world’s eyes—and even in our eyes—are not really failures after all. They are accomplishing God’s plans for us and for the world.

Whatever kind of day God has planned for you today, it’s his day. He intends to achieve his purposes in you and those around you. Even when you feel like nothing is going your way, he is worthy of your praise. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

 

If you would like help navigating the “bad days” and the option of incorporating your faith with navigating the hard times, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a coach or counselor.

Your Shattered Dreams and Shaken Faith

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Your Shattered Dreams and Shaken Faith

By Vaneetha Rendall Risner

Sometimes my faith is shaken when my dreams are shattered.

I wonder where God is in the midst of my suffering. I cannot sense his presence. I feel alone and afraid. My faith wavers.

I question what I have long believed. I wonder what is real, especially when my experience doesn’t match my expectations.

This wavering deeply troubles me. I have tasted God’s goodness, enjoyed close fellowship with him, rested in his tender care. I have known both his power and his love. Yet in the midst of profound struggle, I have no answers. Just questions.

John the Baptist understood this struggle as he waited in prison. He, above all men, knew who Jesus was. Even in the womb, he leapt for joy in the presence of the unborn Savior. At the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, before any of his miracles, John declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). He baptized Jesus and saw God’s Spirit descend on him, testifying that he indeed was the Son of God.

And yet, at the height of Jesus’s ministry, John sent word to him from prison, asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2–3).

At one point, John was sure that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus further confirmed his divinity by performing miracles, yet now John was wondering what was true.

Why?

Unfulfilled Expectations

John knew from Scripture that he who gave the blind sight, made the lame walk, and preached good news to the poor could surely open “the prison to those who are bound” as prophesied in Isaiah 61:1. But Jesus didn’t do that for John.

So perhaps at this point, John doubted what he knew. If Jesus was indeed the Messiah, John probably expected to have a role in his earthly kingdom. He wouldn’t have expected to start with such a high calling, preparing the way of the Lord in the wilderness, only to end his life and his ministry in a small prison cell. Besides, John preached that the Messiah would come with an unquenchable fire. With judgment. With power. He likely expected that to be in his lifetime.

None of those expectations coincided with reality. And that may have caused John to doubt. Unfulfilled expectations often elicit that response in me. Especially when I’ve been faithful.

Jesus doesn’t condemn John for his doubts. He even says that no one greater than John has ever lived. He understands why John is asking the question. And Jesus’s response to him reinforces what John already knows: that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.

At the same time, Jesus knows that John’s public ministry is over. Just like the saints in Hebrews 11, John wouldn’t receive all God’s promises but could only greet them from afar. He would not serve with Jesus or see the fulfillment of God’s kingdom. But one day he would. One day he would see his glorious part in God’s magnificent plan. He, the last of the old covenant prophets, would see how God used him to prepare the world to receive Jesus.

And John would rejoice.

But for now, John has to accept the Messiah’s plans for his life. Plans that are different than what he envisioned. He has to dwell on what he knows to be true rather than fixate on his circumstances. He has to remember who God is and trust him from a dark prison.

And so it is with me.

When Your Plans Crumble

When my plans crumble and God takes me away from my dreams, I must trust in God’s infinite wisdom. When my cup of suffering seems too much to bear, I need to rest in his immeasurable love. When my life spins out of control, I need to remember God’s absolute sovereignty.

I may not understand what is happening. But I cannot stop talking to him. Or turn away in fear. I must simply go to Jesus and tell him my doubts. Ask him to help me see.

John’s doubts are the same as mine. I wonder if God is who he says he is. And if everything is under his control. And if he truly loves me.

And when I doubt, God calls me, as he did John, to trust what I know to be true. To trust the bedrock principles that I know from Scripture and from experience. That God is completely sovereign. And loving. And wise. Not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from his will.

In this life, I may never see how God is using my trials. But one day I will be grateful for them. All I can do now is trust that he who made the lame walk and the blind see, who died on a cross so I could spend eternity with him, is going to do the very best thing for me.

It all comes down to trust. Will I trust my circumstances that constantly change? Or will I trust God who is unchanging?

On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.

God Will Give You More Than You Can Handle

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God Will Give You More than You Can Handle

By Mitch Chase

Christians can make the strangest claims when comforting those who are suffering. What do you say to someone whose life is falling apart? If you have but few precious minutes with a person who’s lost a job, home, spouse, child, or all sense of purpose, what comfort do you give?

We might turn to conventional wisdom instead of Scripture and end up saying something like, “Don’t worry, this wouldn’t happen in your life if God didn’t think you could bear it.” The sufferer may object, head shaking and hands up. But you insist, “Look, seriously, the Bible promises God won’t ever give you more in life than you can handle.” There it is—conventional wisdom masquerading as biblical truth. You’ve promised what the Bible never does.

Temptations Versus Trials

In 1 Corinthians 10, the apostle Paul writes, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” His discussion is specific: he’s writing about “temptation,” a snare that breaks a sweat trying to drag us into sin. Using a predator metaphor, God warned Cain that “sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Gen. 4:7). Sin stalks us, but God is faithful. Sin desires to overcome us, but there is a merciful way of escape. Sin sets the bait, but for the believer—praise God!—sin is not irresistible.

Now if people apply Paul’s words about temptation to general sufferings, you can see where the line “God will never give you more than you can handle” comes from. I don’t doubt the sincerity and good intentions of those who use this phrase, but sincerity isn’t enough. Even Job’s friends meant well.

The Twin Errors

There are at least two errors in the unbiblical notion of “God will never give you more than you can handle.” First, it plays on the cultural virtue of fairness. Second, it points the sufferer inward instead of Godward.

1. Trials that Are . . . Fair?

If you give your children boxes to load into the car, you make visual and weight assessments that factor in their ages and strength. You don’t overload their arms and watch them crash to the ground with stuff splayed everywhere. That would be unfair. The saying “God will never give you more than you can handle” strikes a tone of fairness we instinctually like. There’s something pleasing about the idea that the scales are in balance, that God has assessed what we can handle and permits trials accordingly.

But there is a glaring problem with the “fairness” that undergirds this conventional wisdom: God has been unfair already, because he has not dealt with us as our sins deserve. He has been longsuffering, forbearing, gracious, and abounding in love. The sun shines and rain falls even on the unjust (Matt. 5:45). God transcends the categories of fair and unfair to such a degree that we have no position to evaluate his actions or weigh his will. His ways aren’t subject to our culture’s standard of fairness.

2. The Power . . . Within?

Suffering doesn’t ask if you’re ready. It may come slowly or with a vengeance, but it doesn’t ask permission, and it doesn’t care about convenience. There’s never a good time for your life to be wrecked. But the saying “God will never give you more than you can handle” tells me I have what it takes. It tells me I can bear whatever comes my way. It tells me God permits trials according to my ability to endure. Think about what this conventional wisdom does: it points people inward.

Yet the Bible points us Godward. As the psalmist says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling” (Ps. 46:1–3). When our strength is failing under crushing burdens, the answer is not within. God gives power to the faint and increases the strength of the weak (Isa. 40:29). The power comes from him to those who wait on him.

Where Trials Direct Us

Trials come in all shapes and sizes, but they don’t come to show how much we can take or how we have it all together. Overwhelming suffering will come our way because we live in a broken world with broken people. And when it comes, let’s be clear ahead of time that we don’t have what it takes. God will give us more than we can handle—but not more than he can.

The psalmist asks, “Where does my help come from?” (Ps. 121:1), and we must be able to answer like he did. We must know and believe, deep in our bones, that “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth” (121:2). When trials come, trust that the Lord’s help will come. This news is helpful to sufferers since we’re saying something true about God instead of something false about ourselves.

Paul recalled a time when God gave him more than he could bear. In a letter to the Corinthians, he wrote, “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (2 Cor. 1:8). Paul and his associates had been in circumstances that transcended their strength to endure: “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death” (1:9).

Then he provides a crucial insight into his despair. Why were he and his companions given more than they could handle? To “make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9). God will give you more than you can handle so that his great power might be displayed in your life. Indeed, a greater weight of glory is still to come: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17).

You might not consider overwhelming sufferings to be “light” and “momentary,” but think of your trials in terms of a trillion years from now. In the middle of affliction, sometimes the most difficult thing to hold onto is an eternal vision. Paul isn’t trying to minimize your affliction; he’s trying to maximize your perspective.

Suffering doesn’t get the last line in the script. In this life, God will give you more than you can handle, but the coming weight of glory will be greater than you can imagine.


If you are struggling with life’s trials and temptations and pressures, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a counselor or coach.

Coaching Tip: Ten Steps for Setting God-ordained Goals

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Coaching Tip: 10 Steps for Setting God-ordained Goals

By Mark Batterson

Goals are as unique as we are. They should reflect our unique personality and passions. And we arrive at them via different avenues. But these ten steps to goal setting can guide us as we circle our life goals.

1. Start with Prayer

Prayer is the best way to jump-start the process of goal setting. I highly recommend a personal retreat or season of fasting. I came up with my original life goal list during a two-day retreat at Rocky Gap Lodge in Cumberland, Maryland. The relaxed schedule gave me the margin I needed to dream big, pray hard, and think long.

If you set goals in the context of prayer, there is a much higher likelihood that your goals will glorify God, and if they don’t glorify God, then they aren’t worth setting in the first place.

So start with prayer.

2. Check Your Motives

If you set selfish goals, you would be better off spiritually if you didn’t accomplish them. That’s why you need to check your motives. You need to take a long, honest look in the mirror and make sure you’re going after your goals for the right reasons.

One of our goals — to create a family foundation — was inspired by my role as a trustee for a charitable foundation. The man who created the trust was tragically struck and killed by an automobile while visiting London, but he had written the trust into his will. It’s been almost two decades since his death, but his legacy is the hundreds of ministries that have received seed money in the form of a grant. No matter how much or how little money we make, that legacy of generosity is inspiring us to do something similar as a family.

More than a decade ago, I had a paradigm shift when it comes to finances. I stopped setting “getting goals” and started setting “giving goals.” All of our financial goals are giving goals because that is our focus. Our motivation for making more is giving more. After all, you make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give.

3. Think in Categories

It is hard to pull life goals out of thin air, so I recommend looking at the life goal lists of others. Don’t cut and paste someone else’s goals, but it’s a great way of getting your own ideas.

Another trick that has helped me is thinking in categories. My goals are divided into five categories: (1) family, (2) influential, (3) experiential, (4) physical, and (5) travel. The obvious omission is a category for spiritual goals, but that is by intention. All of my goals have a spiritual dimension to them. Some of them are obviously spiritual, like taking each of my children on a mission trip or reading the Bible from cover to cover in seven different translations, but running a triathlon with my son was a spiritual experience as well.

Any goal that cultivates physical discipline will cultivate spiritual disciplines too.

4. Be Specific

Just like our prayers, our goals need to be specific.

If a goal isn’t measurable, we have no way of knowing whether we’ve accomplished it. Losing weight isn’t a goal if we don’t have a target weight within a target timeline.

One of the ways I’ve increased the specificity of my goals is by attaching ages to them. I want to complete a triathlon in my fifties and sixties. Those are two separate goals that are time-stamped. I’ve also added nuances that make my goals more meaningful. I don’t just want to see the Eiffel Tower; I want to kiss Lora on top of the Eiffel Tower. It was extremely difficult to attach numbers to some of my giving goals and writing goals, but I decided it was better to aim high and fall short than to aim low and hit the target.

And it’s OK to make revisions to our visions.

5. Write It Down

I have a saying that I repeat to our family and our staff all the time: “The shortest pencil is longer than the longest memory.” If you haven’t written down your goals, you haven’t really set them. Something powerful happens when you verbalize a goal, whether in a conversation or in a journal. And it’s more than a good idea; it’s a God idea: “Record the vision and inscribe it on tablets.”

On more than one occasion, I’ve been able to achieve a goal almost immediately after setting it. A few years ago, I blogged about a new goal that I had just added to my list: visiting the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, where Martin Luther posted his ninety-five theses and sparked the Protestant Reformation. The very next day I got an invitation to be part of a gathering of leaders and thinkers to discuss what the next Reformation might look like. The place? Wittenberg, Germany. And our gathering took place on Reformation Day!

At some point in the process of goal setting, you need to muster the courage to verbalize it.

That act of verbalization is an act of faith.

When you write down a goal, it holds you accountable. The same goes for a prayer journal. I used to think that written prayers were less spiritual because they were less spontaneous. I now think the opposite. A written prayer requires more faith simply because it’s harder to write it than to say it. But the beautiful thing about written prayers in particular and prayer journals in general is that you have a written record of your prayer. Too often we fail to celebrate an answer to prayer simply because we forget what we asked for before God answers!

6. Include Others

I used to have a lot of personal goals, but I have replaced most of them with shared goals. Nothing cements a relationship like a shared goal. Goals are relational glue. And God set the standard with the Great Commission. If you want to grow closer to God, go after the God-sized goal He set nearly two thousand years ago. I’ve also discovered that when you go after a goal with another person, it doubles your joy.

Many of my goals revolve around my family. They are tailored to the unique personality and passions of my wife and children. Josiah is the biggest football fan, so he got in on the goal of going to the Super Bowl. My daughter, Summer, is a gifted swimmer, so I thought swimming the Escape from Alcatraz, a 1.5-mile swim from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco, would be a great goal for us to go after. And Parker has my adventure gene, so he went with me to Peru last year to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

One of the most important life goals on my list is creating a discipleship covenant for my sons. I think I’ve made more mistakes than the average father, but I knew I needed to get this right. When Parker turned twelve, I had circled his birthday in prayer. I spent months praying and planning a discipleship covenant with three components: spiritual, intellectual, and physical. The physical challenge was training for and completing a sprint triathlon. The intellectual challenge was reading a dozen books together. The spiritual challenge included reading through the New Testament, identifying our core values, and putting together his first life goal list.

At the end of that year, we celebrated the completion of the covenant by going after a life goal on both of our lists: hiking the Grand Canyon from rim to rim. Those two days will forever rank as two of the most challenging and fulfilling days of my life. We made the 23.6- mile hike in July as temperatures climbed above 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

I lost thirteen pounds in two days! It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but that is what made it so memorable. I’ll never forget the feeling as my son and I ascended the Bright Angel Trail and made it to the top of the South Rim. The first thing we did was get a vanilla ice cream cone at the concession stand. Then we just stood on the rim looking back at the trail we had traversed. No one can take that moment or that memory from us.

7. Celebrate Along the Way

When you accomplish a goal, celebrate it. When God answers a prayer, throw a party. We should celebrate with the same intensity with which we pray. One of my favorite Hebrew words is ebenezer. It means “thus far the Lord has helped us.” When you accomplish a God-ordained goal, it is an ebenezer moment. You need to find a unique way to celebrate it and commemorate it. Whenever I write a new book, for example, our family celebrates with a special meal on the day the book is released. And I get to choose the restaurant!

Setting goals is the way you turn imaginations into memories, and once you do, you need to celebrate them.

8. Dream Big

Your life goal list will include goals that are big and small. It will include goals that are short-term and long-term. But I have one piece of advice: Make sure you have a few BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) on the list. You need some God-sized goals that qualify as crazy. Here’s why: big goals turn us into big people.

One of my crazy goals is to make a movie. I have no idea how this goal will be accomplished. If I had to guess, it’s more likely I’ll write a screenplay than land a role as a stunt double. But who knows? I have no idea how it will happen, but this motivation traces all the way back to one of my earliest memories. When I was five years old, I put my faith in Christ after watching a movie called The Hiding Place. Somehow God used the medium of a movie to save my soul. I’d like to make a movie that does the same for someone else.

9. Think Long

Most of us overestimate what we can accomplish in two years, but we underestimate what we can accomplish in ten years. If we want to dream big, we need to think long. Big dreams often translate into long goals. My goal of leading National Community Church to give $25 million to missions won’t happen next year, but if we give faithfully and sacrificially over the next twenty-five years, we’ll get there. And Lora and I want to lead the way with one of our long goals: giving away $10 million over our lifetime.

If you want to dream until the day you die, you need to set goals that take a lifetime to achieve.

And it’s never too late to start.

10. Pray Hard

Goal setting begins and ends with prayer. God-ordained goals are conceived in the context of prayer, and prayer is what brings them to full term. You need to keep circling your goals in prayer, like the Israelites circled Jericho. As you circle your goals, it not only creates God-ordained opportunities; it also helps us recognize God-ordained opportunities by sanctifying our reticular activating system.

 

Who is Your Anchor?

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Wrestling with God and denying God are two different things. Suffering reveals who is anchoring you at all times. Are your circumstances in life your anchor, or is the God of Ages?…We must not let suffering choke out of us the truth about who God is…[Both] good and evil will cross our paths. And during both, the Lord remains the same. 
(Eric Mason, Unleashed, p 95)

When suffering hits, and it will, what we hold onto as the waves hit reveals to what our heart is anchored. If our inner security is based upon external circumstances, our emotions, or other people, we will find ourselves feeling easily swamped and on the verge of be swept away.

On the other hand, if we are anchored on Someone greater than us and greater than the events of life, we will discover a way to weather life’s storms when they occur without finding ourselves wrecked upon the reefs of life.

If you or someone you know is going through a stormy season in life and would like help, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to set up an appointment with one of our coaches or counselors.

Ears Plugged and Mad at the Silence

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When life gets chaotic and painful, the Bible encourages us to cry out to God. Sometimes, when we cry out it can seem as though we are getting a response of silence.  Is God broken? Is He giving us the silent treatment?

Before we get to anxious and angry, it may be wise to step back and do a self-diagnosis.  Are we only seeking Him out when we experience trouble? If so, maybe He is speaking but we just don’t have our ears unplugged or tuned into hearing Him.

The Bible does encourage us to talk with God in our distress, but it also encourages daily communication with Him, even during the mundane and good seasons of life.  Not only do we learn to follow Him outside of times of distress, we also practice keeping our ears unplugged and open to Him.  By engaging God regularly we help prepare ourselves to hear Him in our distress, too.

Where is Your Focus?

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Where we focus our attention is going to impact and drive our emotional state. If we ruminate on our problems or on those we blame for our situation, we will continue in a state of distress.

To learn how to deal with our distress and find help and rest, contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003.

Extend to Others What You Have From God

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Extend to others what God regularly extends to you. Love. Patience. Forgiveness.
-Lecrae