Are You Settling for Less Than God's Best?

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Now the children of Reuben and the children of Gad had a very great multitude of cattle: and when they saw the land of Jazer, and the land of Gilead, that, behold, the place was a place for cattle; The children of Gad and the children of Reuben came and spake unto Moses, and to Eleazar the priest, and unto the princes of the congregation, saying, Ataroth, and Dibon, and Jazer, and Nimrah, and Heshbon, and Elealeh, and Shebam, and Nebo, and Beon, Even the country which the Lord smote before the congregation of Israel, is a land for cattle, and thy servants have cattle: Wherefore, said they, if we have found grace in thy sight, let this land be given unto thy servants for a possession, and bring us not over Jordan.
— Numbers 32:1-5

For forty years, the children of Israel wandered in the desert, and here, on the brink of entering the Promised Land, a group decided they don’t want to continue the journey. After viewing the land they had just conquered, the two tribes agreed that where they were at present was good enough.

Good enough. Oh, how those words must break the heart of our loving Father who longs for His children to have the very best. So, why do we do it? Why do we repeatedly settle for less than what God wants us to possess? I have a few ideas.

    1. It’s easier.

Let’s face it, good enough is much easier to accomplish than God’s best. As far as the tribes of Reuben and Gad were concerned, it made sense to them to stay put. The land was beautiful and good for cattle. The enemy had already been driven out. No more warring. No more wandering. Nope, they were ready to settle down and say, “Enough is enough.” Likewise, we often opt for what is easier over what is better simply because we don’t want to put forth the effort to attain God’s best.

    2. It’s quicker.

If the tribes stayed where they were at the time, they were home. No more waiting for the land that seemed too good to be true. We hate to wait, don’t we? The old saying is “Good things take time,” and that’s very much the case in our lives. Sure, we could settle for the spouse, job, home, or ministry that’s good enough, but how much better off would we be if we waited for God’s best? I often wonder how many people, weary of the wait, have settled for good enough only to regret it later.

     3. It’s less risky.

Waiting for God’s best involves risk. For the children of Israel, it meant trusting that the land to which they were heading was indeed wonderful and plentiful. They had to trust God enough to believe it was worth the work and the wait, and evidently, this crowd didn’t. Do we? Are we willing to work and wait for God’s best when it involves risk and even change? Do we believe God enough to put everything out there, holding nothing back? I fear we often cower in the face of making changes and taking risks and decide that where we are—even though it isn’t where we long to be—is good enough. We don’t trust God enough for us to leave the comfort and pleasure of now for what is waiting in the future. So, we settle.

Later in the Scripture and other historical texts, we see where this decision of the two tribes (and half of the tribe of Manasseh who joined them) backfired. While the land was lovely and perfect for their needs, it left them exposed to the enemies surrounding them. Had they crossed the Jordan River with the rest of their people, the river itself would have acted as a protective barrier against those who would seek to destroy them. Instead, they were an easy target for all who decided they wanted the land.

Not only that but in settling for less than what God had promised them, they were separated from the very presence of God. During that time, God manifested His presence in the Tabernacle, which went across the river along with the majority of the children of Israel. Without access to it, these two-and-a-half tribes were cut off from hearing from God and offering sacrifices to Him. When we settle for good enough, we will often find ourselves separated from God in the sense that something is hindering our communication and fellowship with Him. He is urging us to go forward and claim the prize He has for us rather than to be content with less.

Yes, settling for less than God’s best is easier, quicker, and less risky, but I can tell you, without a doubt, it’s not better. Good enough will never satisfy. We will always long for more, forever wondering what could have been if we had put forth the time and effort to seek God’s best instead of settling for things on this side of the river. No one ever regrets seeking God’s best, and God promises if we will seek, we will find.

Just a Bit Farther

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On a recent hike, Jason and I tackled a new trail (well, new to us). The path forked off one of our regular trails to a beautiful waterfall, and we had been intending to try it out for a while now, but it never seemed like the right time. But a couple of weekends back, we had nothing else scheduled for the day, so we figured we would try it. We knew the trail would eventually end up at another waterfall, but we had no idea what the path would be like or how long it would take to arrive at the destination. Still, it was a beautiful day, so the three of us (Jason, Barnabas and myself) headed off down the trail, determined to go as far as we felt like going.

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At several points, we questioned whether we should continue. After all, the waterfall destination could have been miles away. We simply didn’t know. Each time we stopped, we concluded we were doing well physically, Barnabas was having a blast exploring all this new territory, and we were indulging in pleasant conversation, so we might as well continue. At one point, however, we both had to admit our feet were getting tired, and we still had the miles of hiking to return to the Xterra. Still, neither of us wanted to turn around. “I’d hate to come this far and find we were only another half mile or so from the waterfall.”

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So, we continued, and guess what, it was less than half a mile before we were rewarded with the beautiful, cascading waterfall. Not only were we pleased by the sight of the falls, but we were both elated we had pushed on a little farther. What if we had stopped and turned around that last time? What if we had called it quits? How disappointed would we have been when we discovered how close we had come without reaping the reward for our labor?

Sometimes, the path in life is longer than expected, and we feel like giving up. Some days, the journey doesn’t seem worth the effort and energy. Yes, there are times we want to turn around and just be done with it all. But, dear one, I urge you to keep going. Just a bit farther. You do not understand how close you are to reaping the reward for your efforts, how near you are to achieving your goal or reaching your dream. Don’t stop now. You’ve come too far to turn back, especially when you’re so close. Press on, allowing the destination to keep you motivated because you know it will be worth it.

Just a bit farther, my friend. Just a bit farther. You can do it, and God will help you!

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.
— Galatians 6:9

It's Never Too Late

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I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, but when it comes to understanding time travel, it doesn’t matter how often others try to explain it or how many pictures they draw for me, I just don’t get it. The concept boggles my mind. The topics of alternate timelines, wormholes, and paradoxes leave me crying for pain relievers and a quiet place to lie down. Can I get an “Amen”?

Oddly enough, I enjoy watching time travel shows and reading time travel novels. (I guess I’m a glutton for punishment.) The truth is, I don’t try to understand the concept. I simply enjoy the story based around it and nod my head when it’s discovered that Character B is an older version of Character E from an alternate timeline. In other words, I go with the flow. It’s all science fiction anyway, right?

But here’s one thing I can’t swallow, and even my super-smart, time-travel-concept-competent hubby agrees with me on this point. The main characters exit their time machine only to discover that they’re too late to accomplish whatever it was they came to do, and everyone falls apart because their plans are ruined. Hello!!!! You’re in a time machine!!! If you’re late, get back in the time machine and reprogram it to send you back another ten minutes or ten days or whatever time you need to beat the bad guys. Duh! Even I, the time travel dummy, can figure that one out. Logic dictates if you have a time machine, there’s no such thing as too late.

We can say the same regarding God. If you think the concept of time travel is enough to turn your brain to mush, try wrapping your noggin’ around this one. God is ever-present. He abides outside of time itself which means He is not bound by it. He is everywhere all the time—past, present, and future. All of time is stretched out before Him, and He can see every moment, every event simultaneously. Is that crazy or what? I believe it because the Bible tells us it’s so, but I cannot even begin to understand or explain it.

What I do understand, though, is this: Since God is outside the limits and constraints of time, there is no such thing as “too late,” unless He determines it to be so. He rules time, not the other way around. He is always on time though it may not look like it to us.

The divorce papers are signed. It’s too late to make amends now.

Is it?

The bills are overdue, and the mortgage company is repossessing the house tomorrow. It’s too late to do anything about it.

Is it?

The doctor says the tumor is too large, and it’s now too late to operate.

Is it?

God is in control of all things, including time. Not a moment passes without His knowledge. Not once has He encountered a situation and muttered, “Oh no, I’m too late! I didn’t realize that was coming up so quickly.” Not once has He forgotten about our struggles or turned His back on our needs. And despite what some may say, God is not sitting up in Heaven saying, “Well, I think I’ll just let him sweat it out a little. That will teach him to depend on me!” God is not cruel, but He is loving and understands the value of making us wait. It’s not to cause a panic but rather to help us grow in our love and trust in Him.

It’s not too late to find another job.

It’s not too late to reach out to that family member.

It’s not too late, dear prodigal, to return home.

It’s not too late for you to give your heart to Jesus.

Whatever you're facing today,—however hopeless it may seem—remember, it’s not too late unless God says so. He’s the boss! He has the final say so. There is no instance in time or space He doesn’t control, so rest assured, He’s got this. Don’t give up. You may not see how He’s working, but you can trust He is. And if it seems like He’s in no hurry, remember He has no reason for haste because He has all the time in the world.

Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding: He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him.
— Daniel 2:20-22

Sailing the Seven C's - Continue in Your Efforts

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And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under colour as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship, Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved. Then the soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat, and let her fall off. And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take meat, saying, This day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing. Wherefore I pray you to take some meat: for this is for your health: for there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you. And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat. Then were they all of good cheer, and they also took some meat.
— Acts 27:30-36

When all hope seemed lost, when they had done all they could do, the sailors were willing to abandon ship. Every man for himself! They were ready to quit. As far as they were concerned, they had tried and failed, so why bother to fight the inevitable?

Fortunately, Paul was able to convince them to stay aboard the ship. I say he convinced them, but actually, he assured the soldier that the only ones who would survive were those who remained on the boat. As far as I know, this was the same soldier who was supposed to be guarding Paul and making sure the apostle didn’t escape. Ironic, huh? Anyway, the soldier evidently knew Paul well enough to trust him and cut the ropes holding the lifeboat, sending the craft crashing down into the storm-tossed waves. Wouldn’t you have loved to have seen the faces of those sailors? Confused. Irate. And likely hungry.

According to Paul, these men had fasted for two weeks. Two weeks! It’s only been two hours since I ate lunch, and I’m already hungry. Two hours, not two weeks! Now, I will tread lightly here because I don’t want to be misunderstood. There is a time and place for fasting. The Bible makes that clear. So, please understand I am not condemning the practice. When God tells you to fast, by all means, fast.  

But with these sailors, this was neither the time nor the place. They were in a situation where they required sustenance. They needed strength. Paul knew that and told them as much. “Wherefore I pray you to take some meat: for this is for your health.” I feel like Paul was saying, “Hey, guys, it’s not over, so don’t quit living just yet.” And that, my friends, is the message for us today. It’s not over, so let’s not give up on life. Instead, let’s continue doing what we know to do.

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One of my favorite quotes is “Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light.” During a storm, things can grow dark and confusing. It’s difficult to tell right from wrong, up from down, and even friend from foe. In the midst of a storm is the wrong place and time to make life-altering decisions, significant changes, or snap judgments. It’s not the time to try something new but rather to keep doing what we already know we’re supposed to do.

Oddly enough, when troubles hit Christian people, so many pull away from their faith. They stop attending church, forsake their prayer and Bible reading, and even draw themselves into isolation. They quit doing all the things they know they should do and often go seeking answers elsewhere. Sometimes in a bottle. Sometimes in a one-night stand. Sometimes on a dark bridge in the middle of nowhere. The storm hit before they had established a plan, and when it did, their world fell apart.

I won’t tell you it’s easy to keep on when every fiber of your being tells you to give up. It’s not easy at all! It’s difficult to continue doing the right things even when you know it’s the right thing to do. A storm is still a storm, and no part of it is painless. But as Paul told the sailors, you won’t make it if you abandon ship. Our only hope is to keep doing what we know to do until God tells us otherwise.

The good news is He’ll give us the strength to do it. Remember, we’re not alone in the storm. He’s there with us, holding us, guiding us, encouraging us. We discussed in yesterday’s devotion how God would hold us when we don’t have the strength to hold on to Him. Well, He’ll also give us the strength to persevere.

Don’t give up! I know the storm has been long and your strength is weak, but God will get you through this. Just continue your efforts, and whatever you do, don’t abandon ship!

Confidence To Serve - A Series on Confidence, Part 13

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And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, and had great reasoning among themselves. And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.
— Acts 28:29-31

This is the second time I've written this devotion.  On the first draft, I was nearly ninety percent finished when my program decided to crash, erasing everything I had just written.  Love it when that happens, NOT!  The ironic--or more likely, God-ordained--thing is how well the frustration goes along with today's topic:  confidence in serving.

I will readily admit my first thought when I discovered I had lost the whole devotion was, Fine, I just won't do a devotion today.  I don't feel like it anyway.  Truthfully, I don't feel like it.  After a long week and weekend, I'm fighting a terrible chest cold passed on to me by my dear hubby (thanks a lot, Jason).  My head is aching and woozy.  My throat is scratchy and sore.  I really want to do nothing more than sleep and maybe watch television.  I don't want to work.  I don't want to think.  I don't want to serve.

But serving God goes far beyond what we want or what we feel like doing.  It is about following His will and answering His call on our lives.  It involves doing the work He's given us to do and doing it in the confidence that it will be worth the time and effort.  It may not always seem like it. Just ask the pastor who preaches every Sunday to a crowd who's more interested in what they're having for dinner or doing later in the day than they are in the message the pastor is preaching.  Ask the missionary who's been on the field for years and still hasn't seen a single salvation decision.  Ask the evangelist who travels around the country with little to his name other than the vehicle he drives and is often faced with more criticism than compliments.

Serving is difficult. . .especially when we don't see the fruit of our labor.  It's hard to keep planting seeds when we don't see anything growing.  Sometimes, it seems so pointless, and we find ourselves wondering why we're wasting our time.  We doubt whether our service really matters, whether we're really making a difference.

Fortunately, God addresses those doubts in His Word.  He reminds us that our job is to be faithful and to leave the results up to Him.  He assures us that any work done for Him will be rewarded.  He promises us that the work is not in vain, and in that assurance, we can keep serving.  No, we may not see the results of our efforts right now.  We may not even see them in our lifetime.  But that doesn't matter.  God is still working, and He has chosen to use us.  If we will be willing vessels, He will accomplish great things through us.  We have His Word on it!

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
— I Corinthians 15:58
For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
— Isaiah 55:10-11

I don't understand why I had to lose my first draft of this devotion and be forced to start all over again, but I'm sure God had a reason.  Maybe He was testing me to see if I have confidence in serving.  Do I believe in what I'm doing?  Am I devoted enough to do His work that I will continue on even when the results aren't obvious?  I hope so.  

What about you?  Are you confident in your service to God?  Do you go about your day knowing in faith that your work matters?  Are you clinging to God's promise that your work is not in vain?

Oh, dear friends, some days the service is difficult, and we simply feel like giving in, but I encourage you, keep going.  Keep serving no matter what, and one day, you'll understand just how great a harvest you've sown.