Nailed It!

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While paging through an old notebook some time ago, in the margin of some meeting notes, I found a sketch of a nail. Yes, a nail.

The meeting was April 6, 2009. I don’t remember what the meeting was about, and probably nothing else on that page will ever mean anything to me again. But the nail does.

Because on Palm Sunday 2009 (which happened to be April 5), I listened to a message on forgiveness, and at the end the speaker handed out small nails as a reminder of the forgiveness we’ve all received and the forgiveness we should offer in turn.

For many years I carried one of those nails in my pocket regularly (some days I still do).

The man who delivered that message that day was pastoring a church we visited. My family and I didn’t stay there – it was over twenty miles away and we opted for somewhere closer to home. But we would be back.

It’s funny how we cross paths with certain people along our journey, never suspecting the major role that person will play in our lives someday.

This man had no idea the lasting impact this particular sermon made on my life. He had never met or even seen me before, and considering there were a thousand plus people in attendance that day I doubt he noticed me even then.

I had no idea that three years and one month later I would be in his church again…this time for counseling after a personal crisis would drive me into a spiritual wilderness.

He had no idea that his ministry would be the oasis in that wilderness that was exactly what I needed.

Neither of us had any idea that we would form a friendship, that we and our wives would see one another on a regular basis, or that I would one day consider him one of my most valued personal mentors.

But God knew all of that.

On that day in 2009 as I was doodling in the margin of my notepad, God had already mapped all this out. The meandering path I was about to take would lead right back to the same place I had been the day before, to see the man I had just heard speak.

These are the orchestrations of life that convince me there has to be a God who not only cares but is fully engaged in our lives. Nothing else can explain it.

And it makes me wonder…

…who did Saul of Tarsus see in the crowd that day at the stoning of Stephen who he would one day collaborate with for the furtherance of the gospel?

…what fellow wanderer would Joshua share a campfire with in the Sinai desert that would later become one of his loyal supporters or trusted advisers?

…what skeptic could Peter or John have had a run-in with who would eventually become a champion of the early church?

…which of King Saul’s soldiers may David have spied when he was hiding in caves who would someday serve in his own army?

…who is on the fringes of your life right now that will someday come back around to be a key person in your future (or vice versa)?

Predictability isn’t always God’s modus operandi, that’s for sure. But one thing is certain – He’s always working to bring things together in the most fantastic ways.

And when it happens, and we look back and see it, we can only marvel and say “Wow, God…you nailed it!”

Storytime

Brick Textures 040Having just completed a book filled with many personal testimonies, I was reminded of what God has been emphasizing to me for some time:

Each of our stories is valuable.

This was not a ‘Christian’ book. It was intended for a more universal or agnostic audience. Yet the stories repeatedly attested to the way God delivers people from the deepest, darkest places – even when they don’t specifically recognize it’s Him doing the delivering.  

If people who do not acknowledge the one true God can reveal His faithfulness, how much more the believer who knows exactly Who is behind every good thing in our lives (James 1:17)?

Granted, our stories can be ugly and painful.

Sometimes we are left wondering if things can ever be fixed, but in those cases God gives us the grace to press on.

Sometimes what we thought was unfixable is redeemed and becomes more beautiful than it was even before we screwed it up.

Sometimes it’s never fixed, but we later realize the ‘fix’ wasn’t what was needed after all.

Whatever the case with your particular story, it is worth sharing. It may be the encouragement someone out there desperately needs. So be faithful.

Too often we let the enemy convince us that our story isn’t useful. That it won’t do any good. It’s too ugly, too embarrassing, too mundane, or too common to be beneficial. His arguments against telling our stories seem limitless.

But there’s a reason Jesus said he was the “father of lies” (John 8:44). Whatever discouragement he is whispering to you, it’s simply not true.

He’s probably whispered a few more lies to you even as you are reading this:

God can use you without your story.”

If you don’t tell your story, no worries – somebody else will come along.”

Maybe your story is worth telling, but you’re not a good storyteller. Good story or not, it will sound dumb.”

People could use your story against you.”

Why are you reading this guy’s blog anyway? All this ‘feel-good’ talk is just setting you up for disappointment.

Lies! Don’t believe them.

Stay faithful. Be willing to speak. Let God take it from there.

Our trials and struggles bring two universal benefits to this life: our own personal growth and the encouragement of others. If you’re not willing to share your story, you completely nullify that second benefit.

One caveat: be careful of “suicide by transparency.” As I’ve cautioned previously, there are places for your full story and places for discernment. Different settings call for varying degrees of transparency.

Eighty years ago, the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous got it right when they urged alcoholics to share their story with other alcoholics who may be helped but use discretion in public forums for their own well-being and that of their loved ones. This was wise advice then, and has stood the test of time as part of the most successful recovery program ever established. 

Sometimes face-to-face story-telling needs to be tempered with caution and restraint. 

Sometimes a full disclosure of your story needs to be done with a level of anonymity.

And sometimes, in the rare occasions when you know you’re face to face with someone who can relate and will benefit, the storytelling needs to be bloody, raw, and painfully transparent.

If you trust the Holy Spirit’s guidance, you will know which situation is appropriate in the moment.

But don’t let Satan steal your voice. Never let him convince you that your story isn’t worth telling. Share what God is doing in your life. Take the risk, and make a difference.

 

 

 

You Never Know

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“But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more.” (2 Corinthians 7:6, 7 ESV)

You just never know. That word of encouragement that you bring today may seem so insignificant, so ineffective, even unnoticed. But you never know how God is using it.

Probably no one thought that someone as great as Paul would be so encouraged by a young understudy like Titus, or the now nameless people of the Corinthian church. But here we see evidence to the contrary.

From someone who has bought into labels and lies myself, I know all too well the feeling that whatever I have to say isn’t going to contribute anything worthwhile.

  • “Why would anyone care what my opinion is?”
  • “Do I really think someone as together as ___ would even have the time to listen to a lightweight like me?”
  • “How could I think that any person would hear advice from someone as spiritually ugly as I?”

Sound familiar? Maybe the questions in your head have sounded a little different, but I bet something similar has crossed your mind on occasion.

Sometimes when you speak into someone’s life, in your mind it appears like the conversational equivalent of tumbleweeds blowing across the plain. The right words aren’t there, the words that do come seem inadequate, or it seems the words are just not heard.

Most of the time this is your own self-image talking. Like me, you have convinced yourself that nothing you say can possibly be of value. The person you are speaking to is smarter, more spiritual, better educated, more experienced, too pretty, too popular, too cool, or [insert your own reason here], to listen to you.

But God is using it. He told the people of Israel “My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do” (Isaiah 55:11, HCSB). Likewise, He also promises us that the things he prods us to speak into the lives of others will not be wasted.

The best rule to live by is amazingly the same as it is for about every aspect of life: Always let God’s promises (“My word will not return void”) trump the Satan-inspired and self-imposed lies (“Nothing I say is worth hearing”).

Just remember that our impression of the situation is not perfect or complete.

The truth is we don’t really know who is paying attention or how deeply our words are penetrating. But God does.

We all need more encouragers in our lives. We all need to be encouragers in the lives of those around us.

So let Him speak through you, even when it doesn’t ‘feel’ effective. If your focus is on obeying and pleasing Him (Whose opinion is the only one that counts anyway), you don’t have to worry about whether you’re being effective. He will use it, in His way and in His time. Just stay faithful.

Do you have a story of a time when you felt a word of encouragement flatlined the minute it left your lips, only to find out later it really did lift someone up? If so, leave a comment below and tell me about it – those are exactly the kind of ‘war stories’ we need to share.