Give Up Your Story

There is something in all of us that desires to live a great story. We want to have a part in a story that matters. We want to do something that will count.  We want a legacy that will live beyond our death.

But how do we ensure that happens?

Some of us fixate on our own stories.

We try to get the most out of life. We seek to accomplish the most we can. We seek to achieve what others could not. We seek to do more, shine brighter, so that when we die our last thought will be “I lived a fulfilled life”.

But of course the problem with this kind of life is that we may never have enough. We may never accomplish enough. There is always more that could be done.

Some of us fixate on the story of our families

“Family is everything”, we say. We love our family’s history. And we care about our family’s future. We want to do everything we can to help our family be successful. Our legacy is directly tied to the future flourishing of the next generation.

But families can be fickle. The hard work and success of one generation is easily wasted by the next. And what one generation wants for a family is not necessarily what the next generation will want. There is no guarantee that the story of our families will turn out how we would like it.  There is no guarantee that our legacy will be past down.

Some of us fixate on the story of our nation

Individual stories and family stories are fine. But some of us are attracted to a much greater story. The story of our nation. That is the story the engulfs our lives. In our minds we feel like we know how the story should go.We feel good when the story is going the way we think it should. And we feel scared and anxious when the story seems to go off course.

Of course, here too there is problem. We have little control over what happens in our nation. We can do our best to get the people we want in office, but that does nothing to ensure the nation will go in the direction we believe it should go.

A better option- the story of Jesus

Jesus understands that we long to be part of a greater story– a story that matters. He made us that way. He also knows that the stories of individuals, families, or nations (or anything else), can’t give us what we desire.

Sin runs through everything and corrupts every story.

Thus we need a better story. A story that can’t be corrupted. A story that has the power to sustain hope. A story that will last. A story we can depend on. A story that can not fail.

This is the story of Jesus.

Jesus is the hero of history. At the end of time Jesus alone will receive all glory, honor, and praise. His will be the story that will be retold and never forgotten.

This is why Jesus invites us to give up our story, and enter into his story.

When we follow Jesus we are freed from trying to get the most out of our own life. Because we no longer have to strive for our own success, but can now live out of his success.

When we follow Jesus we are freed  from trying to ensure our legacy will be carried out by future generations. Because Jesus brings us into his family, a family whose legacy is guaranteed to never be forgotten.

When we follow Jesus we are freed from putting our hope in the story of our nation. Because Jesus invites us into his nation, “The Kingdom of God”.  The only perfect nation that will last forever.

Through our relationship to Jesus we become part of the greatest story.  The story that is able to ensure for us the significance we long for.

That is why the story of Jesus is the only story worth giving up all other stories to be a part of.

 

 

 

 

 

Five Practices that Lead to Happiness

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I hear what you’re saying.  You want to succeed in life, you want to feel significant and you want to be happy. But often you feel tired, unsure, and a little depressed. You want to know how to break that cycle without spending massive amounts of money for motivation that won’t last, or investing massive amounts of time for change that won’t stick. You want life to be different but you’re not sure what to do. You’re not looking for a quick fix but neither do you want to start something that will feel like a burden for the rest of your life.

Here is my humble attempt to help with five practices that, when I choose to apply them, help lead me to happiness.

Celebrate– For me I’m currently celebrating that I have been created by God, and that God never stops pursuing me. I’m celebrating that this God of infinite knowledge and power wants to be with me, to teach me, to lead me, and to care for me.  I’m celebrating that He has given me a wonderful wife and the best kids ever. I am celebrating that He has given me a job where I get to use my gifts and talents.  And I am celebrating that I have friends and extended family that really love me. Starting my day with celebration changes everything.

Create– I am learning more and more that I am made to create. When I create I am reflecting God, my Creator. Therefore to create is an act of worship.  The creations can be small- a blog post, a lesson plan, or lyrics to a song.  The size and scope does not matter. What does matter is only that I am using my gifts, skills, or imagination to make something. Anything. When I create I feel significant, and when I feel significant, I feel happy.

Connect– There is almost nothing more valuable than taking time to connect with others. To be honest, this is often the hardest one for me. To pursue others truly, like God pursues me, takes real work and involves constantly fighting my fear of rejection. But God is continually reminding me that we are made for relationships. People want to be connected with.  And happiness comes when I take the initiative to pursue people, even just one person each day.

Challenge-I don’t know about you, but it’s easy for my mind to dwell on negative thoughts, and there are great consequences for this. My negative thoughts lead to negative attitudes which in turn lead to negative practices. It has been said many times before, but it is so true: change starts with the thoughts in our head. I need to take time each day to challenge (and defeat) these thoughts. Scripture calls us to renew our minds (Romans 12:2), so I challenge my negative thoughts by spending time with God and letting Him fill my mind with His Word.  I also like to find time to be inspired by others. Just the other day I read a quote by the legendary motivational speaker Zig Ziglar: “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”  I need motivation every day, because I need to daily challenge my negative thoughts, negative attitudes, and negative practices. When I do, I am happy.

Be Consistent – Ok so I lied. Connecting with others is not the hardest practice for me– consistency is. Practicing the same things over and over again is incredibly difficult for me. There is a massive part of me that hates (with a capital “H”) routine. But I am learning that some routines are good.  When I get up early each morning to spend time with God, exercise, and shower before my kids wake up, I am happier. Each morning that I choose to reorder my world in a small way by taking the time to make my bed, I am happier. Consistency is hard, but it is also the most essential because it fosters the continual enjoyment of the fruits of the other practices, so it too leads me to happiness.

Celebrate, Create, Connect, Challenge and Consistency. I pray that these practices would lead you to a little more happiness each day.

What other practices have helped you find happiness?

God’s not so big plans for your life…

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I remember the chapel like it was yesterday.  In a college gymnasium, surrounded by thousands of students, I sat on what was usually an uncomfortably hard wooden bench.  But on that day, my body did not squirm for comfort, because on that day my complete attention was on the charismatic Christian speaker in front of me.  His sermon was well-crafted, his stories were funny, and all his applications of scripture were convincing.  And with the Bible in his hand and deep conviction in his heart, he proclaimed with prophetic boldness words that spoke to my soul….”God,” he said, “has big plans for your life!”  But his sermon did not end there.  No, he then went on to give us the really good news: “God has bigger plans for your life than you could ever imagine.”

And thus began my season of despair…

Looking back, the problem was two-fold. One, at the time I could imagine some pretty big plans for my life. Once, when reading an article about a Billy Graham crusade, I saw a black and white photo of Dr. Graham preaching to a crowd of a million people.  At the time it was the largest evangelistic crusade in history.  With complete seriousness, I looked at that picture and prayed, “God would you use me to preach to two million people?”  And, truth be told, at that time I could have imagined myself preaching to three million— if God needed me to.

Of course some will respond that I misinterpreted the speaker’s use of the phrase “big plans”.   And I could not agree more.  But this only illuminates the second of the two problems. Often, when well-meaning Christian teachers and preachers say these kinds of things, they never think to define what they mean by the term “big”.   And so students, or chapel listeners (and, let’s be honest, even pastors) are left to define the term on their own. The problem is when most American Christians begin to imagine and dream about what it could mean for God to have “big plans” for their lives, their dreams often start to look like a Christian version of the American Dream.  Tell a college student today that God has “big plans” for their life, and they’ll think God is going to use them to save the world, or at least “their” world—whatever that might be.

There was another chapel speaker that year who talked about God’s plans for your life. His sermon was also well-crafted, his jokes funny, and his scriptural applications convincing.  But there, before a gymnasium full of college students, referencing Tolkien’s famous “The Lord of The Rings” trilogy, he spoke (what I now consider to be) truly prophetic words: “You are not the hero of the story. You are not Frodo. Rather, in the great battle of life, you are more like elf #351. But that is significant, because you are in the story.”

I have come to believe that God’s pleasure is often not in creating “big plans” for our lives (at least not the American kind), but rather in giving significance to the sometimes seemingly small plans He has for us.

Often there is nothing glamorous, nothing inspirational, and nothing “news-worthy” about the work Christ calls us to. Often we are simply called to be obedient and to follow wherever Christ leads.  Most of the time these actions do not seem big at all— but they are significant.  In Christ we are free to give up fantasies of American grandeur and instead rest in the knowledge that our lives are significant, no matter what we do, because it is Christ who gives significance to all of our life. The good news is that our stories are forever intertwined with His story.  And so whatever we do, whether it seems big or small, it is a part of His grand eternal story, and that is significant.

In heaven I imagine we will meet missionaries who gave their lives to the work of the gospel while living in total obscurity.  We will meet pastors who never published a book, never spoke at a conference, and never started a network, but did quietly and faithfully fulfill their calling to shepherd a flock. We will meet businessmen and women who never climbed the corporate ladder, but did live simple lives of kindness, and integrity.  And there in heaven, I imagine we will see for the first time how Christ used every one of these lives and their actions to magnify His presence on earth.  And there, before the throne of God, I imagine we will stand in awe of those once obscure and un-glorious people, and together with all the saints, we will praise God for their significant lives.

Have you ever heard someone tell you God has big plans for your life? What did you think when you heard that? Does the difference between “significant plans” vs. “big plans” resonate with you at all?