The Transition Zone – Changes Part 2

June 28, 2021

Hi Friends, Here’s Part 2 of an impromptu 3-part series on Dealing with Change and Transition. If you missed last week’s “Part 1 – When God’s Grace Lifts”, it would be great if you’d read it here before you read today’s post! 

I remember years ago, every Tuesday night at a certain time, something weird would happen on the TV. First there would be some spooky black and white images (this was in the days of black and white TV, so no extra points there), then there would be some spooky music “na-na, na-na, na-na, na-na”, then a spooky guy named Rod Serling would appear on my TV screen and say “You have just crossed over into the Twilight Zone…where nothing is really as it seems!” I suppose that somewhere in the world of television reruns, you can still find those “Twilight Zone” images and occurrences on your TV. But let me tell you about another weird and spooky place that you are likely to experience, maybe more than once. Let me welcome you to the “Transition Zone…where nothing is really as it seems!”

God normally directs and moves people in seasons of life, work, and ministry, with periods of transition between those life seasons. When we are in or entering into one of those recurring “in-between” times we are in the “Transition Zone.” The Transition Zone is potentially very dangerous time and place!

When God’s Grace Lifts from our current situation, we begin to experience friction and frustration (both internal and external). The things that once satisfied no longer do. Our hearts begin to withdraw from present activities and responsibilities. Creativity and energy level drops. The everyday details of responsibility begin to produce irritation and an “attitude” develops. It can seem as if there’s no passion and no way to get the pilot light lit again.

When change is thrown at us by season or circumstance or by the decisions or actions of others, we can feel a loss of control, and find ourselves in an emotional tailspin. We may feel as if we’ve been robbed or assaulted or “mugged!”

Before attempting to deal with the negativity and frustration we may feel, we’ve got to determine if it is Transition or Transgression. This is the time to ask the Holy Spirit to examine your heart and expose hidden faults. These must be dealt with through repentance, confession, and cleansing as they are exposed. Once it is clear that it is transition and not merely transgression, it’s time for Transition Management. Transition cannot be avoided and it must be managed!

The time of Transition is a crucial time of letting go but letting go in a responsible way. Move too fast, you become irresponsible. You let people down, violate your own integrity. Move too slow, you become irritable, then irascible. You risk losing respect for those you serve, the work you’ve been doing, perhaps even begin to tear down what you have labored to build.

If you find yourself in the Transition Zone, the next step is to identify the situation: Determine what needs to be done, what steps to take, what resources are required. God supplies resources for what He purposes for us to do.

Once again, Welcome to the Transition Zone! Here are some things about the Transition Zone that every visitor needs to know.

1. Nothing is really as it seems. In the Transition Zone, problems seem larger and blessings seem smaller than they actually are. You must “Magnify The Lord” through thankfulness and praise to get things into proper perspective. These are some of the feelings and perceptions that occur in the Transition Zone:
• “I look like a fool and feel like an idiot. I left in a blaze of glory to go and make my fortune in a distant land and now I have nothing to tell the people back on the other shore who told me I shouldn’t go. I’m stuck here in a kind of limbo. What will they think? How will I vindicate myself?”
• “Maybe I was wrong to take that step. Maybe I should have just accepted things as they were and learned to live with it. Maybe I should think about going back. Maybe I really blew it and as a result, life as I have known it is over.” (This part is true! Life as you have known it is over! Life as God wants you to know it is ahead in the fog somewhere!)
• “I have committed the unpardonable sin in leaving a place of security, as frustrating as it had become. There will never again be a place for me to really function in ministry and service. The only place God could really use me is in that particular place and situation.” (See, it’s good to look at this in print. It looks really silly when you write it out, doesn’t it?)
• “I left a good situation in a place I was really happy (In Egypt we were having such a good time!) “You want fries with that?” So now God is going to punish me for leaving what He had provided.” Actually, God is going to check your attitudes and reasons and then provide for you where you are now. He is the God of Things as They Are. (Note: You didn’t leave a good situation in a place where you were really happy. You left a place of growing frustration to follow God and your heart and took a step of faith to start a new life. So start a new life!)

2. Anything Can Happen Now! The purpose of the Transition Zone is to take you to a place where things can happen that could not happen where you were before. Remember how you felt when you first became aware of God’s call and purpose for your life. You were so confident that “Anything Can Happen!” It still can. But it is partly in your hands and partly in God’s hands. Put yourself entirely in God’s hands and then you will be better able to deal with the part that is in your hands. Don’t insist that everything be set in concrete too soon. As soon as the next step occurs, the “Anything” that can happen narrows down to “Certain Things” can happen. This is the season of opportunity. Let God run it His way.

3. The rules have all been changed. You no longer “have to..” get up in the morning at a certain time, be somewhere at a certain time, go to the hall on Saturday and set up for Sunday church. In fact, you no longer “have to..” do anything. Now the big question is, “What do you do when you don’t ‘have to..’ do anything?” How you handle yourself when the rules are taken away determines what the next set of rules needs to be. How you handle yourself now will figure significantly in what you will be doing ten years from now.

4. The Transition Zone is not in color nor is it in black and white, it’s shades of grey! At first grey makes it seem featureless and even hopeless. There is no clear sense of direction. But keep in mind that anything God wants to show you will stand out very clearly against a grey background. Keep your eyes open. You’ll have to watch out for the danger of eyes being focused only on the TV, a paper-back book, or a web page. Watch out for the tendency to only look down at your feet when walking in fog. Keep your head up!

5. What was is no longer and what will be is not yet. Before you entered the Transition Zone, it seemed as if you would be only too glad to be rid of what had been and that what would be was just around the corner. That’s because when God is leading you forward, He somehow seems to forget to mention the Transition Zone. (Moses: 40 years, Joseph: 13 years, David: 13 years, need I mention others?) Remember that the very purpose the Transition Zone exists, the reason you entered it, was so that what was would be no longer and what will be can be!

6. It’s easy to become confused and lose your way in the Transition Zone. You must not lose sight of why you entered the Transition Zone. Your ability to remain calm depends on it. Accept the fact that the Transition Zone is a grey, foggy, confusing place with no sign posts or beacons, not even a map. But there is a reason you entered and there is a way out. You must stay calm and apply to yourself all the lessons you have learned previously. Some of those lessons you have experienced, others you only know intellectually. This is the proving ground. But whatever you feel, whatever you experience remember…THE ONLY WAY OUT IS FORWARD.

7. There is no way to predict how long you will be in the Transition Zone. It depends on factors you have no way of knowing.
• Some of the factors depend on you: Lessons you apply, principles you operate, disciplines you exercise, attitudes you develop and maintain.
• Some of the factors depend on circumstances: Timing, job openings, people God brings your way, opportunities that have reached maturity, tests God has determined to apply. Do your part as well as you can. God will do His part perfectly!

8. Determine to make the best of the time you have in the Transition Zone. Once it is over and you are in “What will be,” you won’t find it easy to have time for some of the things you need to establish as disciplines and patterns. If you establish them now it will be easier to maintain them when you are in “What will be.”
• Daily Bible Reading. Follow a plan. I recommend a Through the Bible in a Year reading plan. Do it at a set time each day. No excuses!
• Keep a journal of your thoughts, feelings, and events that take place in the Transition Zone. Enter some info each day. You and others will need the insights you gain later.
• Get up and go to bed at a set time each day. Don’t let day run into night and night run into day. Set your own schedule. If God is going to be able to use you effectively in any task or role where you don’t have external controls, you need to develop this kind of discipline while you can.
• Set yourself projects with schedules and deadlines. Job search, fixing up the house, exercise, creative computing or writing, getting acquainted with the community, getting into church. Make your own list.
• Get out of the house. Take a walk. Walk 30 minutes a day and gradually increase it to an hour a day. Use the exercise to feel better and the time and distance to talk and pray.

Some Additional Transition Zone Thoughts:
• Type I: When your Transition is from A > to > B. Moving from one clearly defined position or role to another. This is hard. But it’s easiest to explain to others and to vindicate yourself to your adoring public.
• Type II: When your Transition is from A > to 0 to > B. Moving from a clearly defined position or role to another more or less clearly defined role but with a delay in between. This is harder. Harder to explain, harder to maintain your dignity in your own eyes and the eyes of others.
• Type III: When your Transition is from A > to 0 while waiting for B to be revealed. Moving from a clearly defined position or role to a period of no role, but with the expectation that God will reveal His will in His time. This is hardest. It’s impossible to explain. It looks like failure. It is humiliating. It can be financially embarrassing. Think of Elijah moving from the victory at Carmel to the wilderness, the tree, the gentle whisper and the new anointing. (1 Kings 19; James 4:10; John 5:41, 44).

The Type III transition is not only difficult but loaded with danger, in that the feelings of uncertainty can lead to making rash decisions or making rash statements or commitments.
• When you’re going through any transition, it is important to have people near who are more or less objective, people who care, who know you, but who can see the situation apart from the emotional state we’re in. If it is a Type III transition, it is imperative to have someone to help us monitor the process and to avoid dangerous errors.
• One of the good things about a Type III transition is that whatever work or ministry you do from this point onward will be uniquely you. It won’t be shaped by the responsibilities and expectations of a role, but will emerge from within. It will be developed out of the desires and concerns of your heart, the unique gifts and skills God has given you, and the relationships you have developed and will develop.

This little article grew as I was writing it. It is written from experience in how the Transition Zone feels, in how to deal with it, and in how to come out of it. Please bear in mind that we all are pilgrims who are seeking God’s purpose and we all spend some time, or even time after time, in the Transition Zone. We all face the realities of season, circumstance, and transition. Welcome to the Transition Zone! Enjoy your stay, but don’t settle here! Grace and Peace, Jim Stephens

I hope the first two parts of this brief series on Change and Transition have been a blessing to you. Next week we’ll look at one more aspect of Life Changes: The Choices We Make. Don’t Miss it!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

When God’s Grace Lifts – Changes Part 1

June 22, 2021

The past (FIFTY YEARS!) year and a half has been unsettling to us all in so many ways! It has been a time of great change! It has been a season of realizing we are not in control of so many things we assume we control! It has been a time when our patterns and routines have been challenged and disrupted. It has been a time when we have in many ways lost our grip on the concept of “normal”. Pretty much everyone I know has experienced unsettling change, and there’s little doubt that there’s more of that to come.

The change we experience can be initiated in a lot of different ways: We can initiate change by our own choice and action. Change can be imposed on us by the choices and actions of others. Change can be circumstantial. All change is unsettling to some degree, but the changes that hit us without our choice or approval can be the most unsettling and disruptive of all. And if we can’t see a pathway back to normalcy and at least some degree of control, change can have a deeply negative effect on us.

For the next couple of weeks, I’m going to write about change and transition–about how it comes to us; and we’ll consider together some ways we can respond well to change and make the best of the options and opportunities we have when change comes our way.

First, we’re going to consider the change that comes our way “When God’s Grace Lifts”! Wondering what I mean by “When God’s Grace Lifts”? Here’s what I’m thinking:

    • We are saved by the Grace of God. We are kept by the Grace of God. We are called to service by the Grace of God. We are enabled to serve by God’s Grace-Gifts.
    • If you are God-called, you are WHO you are by the Grace of God. If you are God-called you are WHAT you are by the Grace of God. If you are God-called, you are WHERE you are by the Grace of God.
    • So what do you do when the Grace of God begins to lift off you in a particular situation or place of service?

Most of us who have dedicated our lives to God’s service are functioning in the situation we’re in by God’s grace and His grace alone. We may be living in what to others seem to be abnormal circumstances, but to us it seems perfectly normal. We may be operating way outside our skill level or comfort zone, but the grace of God in which we are living and functioning makes it seem as if it is completely unremarkable! God gives grace for a sense of peace and normality in the most unusual situations and circumstances. We function daily in those situations, and it seems normal for a long time.

But then we begin to notice something is changing. It’s like what happens inside the engine of a car. A car engine is subjected to incredible stresses and extremes of temperature that can produce friction between the metal parts of the engine. In order to carry away the heat and prevent damaging friction, the engine is lubricated by oil that is constantly circulated around and between the moving parts. As long as the oil is fresh and clean and the oil level is full, the engine can operate smoothly for many thousands of miles. But if the oil level drops too low or the oil becomes contaminated, friction develops, heat builds up, and the engine can be severely damaged in just a few minutes.

Like the car engine, we may be ticking along pretty smoothly. There’s little or no friction, the temperature is normal, life is sweet! Then suddenly we find our attitude begins to deteriorate. Little things that we have taken as normal and acceptable begin to really grate on us. We become critical of people. We lose the motivation to keep going. We become irritable and negative and it seems as if it only takes the littlest thing to set us off.

In this mode we can easily become disagreeable at home, negative with friends and co-workers, and we may lose vision and momentum in work and ministry. As we look at our responsibilities and as we try to look forward to the things that we need to be doing, the motivation has evaporated, and it’s as if we simply “can’t be bothered!”

Depending on our personality and character traits, we may tend to withdraw and become depressed and isolated, or we may attempt to increase our level of activity and involvement by sheer force of will in an attempt to “jump start” ourselves.

If we have leadership responsibilities at a time like this, we know we mustn’t let others, especially those we lead or those we are accountable to, know of our struggle, so we may attempt to hide it. This can become very much like wrestling with an alligator and trying to tie it up and stuff it into a bag without letting anyone notice what’s going on.

At this point we are in an increasingly difficult and potentially dangerous situation. If we continue to try to hide our struggles from those around us, we risk damage to ourselves, our families, and those we are called to serve. If we come forward and try to explain what we’re going through and how we’re feeling to our people, our co-leaders, or our supervisor (whatever form that role takes in our accountability structure) we may be perceived as weak, unstable or uncommitted. “Just take a couple of days off and pull yourself together!”

When we begin to feel frustrated, lose vision, and become irritable, we need to take time to determine what is going on:

    • Am I overloaded with responsibilities and activities and simply feeling the strain of it?
    • Is there a problem or conflict with someone that needs to be resolved?
    • Is there sin in my life that I’m not dealing with that is causing me to feel this way?
    • Is this a test of my integrity, stamina, or perseverance?
    • Is it time for a change due to God’s Grace being lifted off me to live and function and serve in this situation?

As you consider the cause of your frustration, think about these possibilities:

    • If it is schedule or responsibility overload, take stock and pace yourself. See if there are activities others can help with. See if there are responsibilities others can assume.
    • If it is a relationship conflict, take the necessary steps to resolve it. Whether it requires conciliation or confrontation – deal with it.
    • If it is sin, repent, confess, and deal with it. (1 John 1:9-10)
    • If it is a test of integrity and responsibility, be faithful, fulfill your commitments.
    • But if it is due to the lifting of God’s Grace for service in the place or situation in which you are serving, then you may be facing a decision with long-term consequences for you and others around you. It is important that we properly handle and respond to the lifting of God’s Grace.

A word of caution: Don’t use the “Lifting of God’s Grace” as an excuse for failing to persevere under difficult circumstances, for failing to deal with difficulties, for failing to work through a difficult relationship.

Some steps of action to consider when we find God’s Grace is Lifting:
1. Don’t panic. The Grace of God brought you into this place of service, the Grace of God has kept you in this place of service, and the Grace of God will take you into your next place or level of service.
2. Begin to talk to God about how you are feeling. Be honest with God and honest with yourself. Listen to yourself in prayer. Try to distinguish between your feelings about how things are and “how things actually are!” Don’t allow yourself to see everything as negative and useless. Ask God for direction. Ask God for strength. Ask God to help you preserve your integrity and a measure of dignity! Ask God for help to avoid doing anything stupid!
3. Begin to talk to your spouse or if you are single, to a trusted friend, about how you are feeling. Again, be honest about it. Don’t make too much or too little of things. Listen to yourself as you talk: Are you whining?; Are you angry with someone?; Are you feeling guilty about something?; Are you disappointed in something that has failed or not met your expectations?; Are you feeling betrayed or let down by someone?
4. Bring yourself to the point where you are willing to “put it all on the altar” of sacrifice to the will and purpose of God for your life. Be willing to offer up to Him your position, your sense of achievement, your security, your ambitions. God may take it from you or give it back to you, but in any case, God will accept your willing sacrifice.
5. Try to take some time to get perspective on things. If you can go away for a few days to a quiet place to think and pray, do it. Take a mini-retreat (Click here for mini-retreat information)  with your spouse and talk and pray about how you’re feeling. If you can’t get away, take a couple of half-days, put your phones on silent, and talk and pray. If you can lighten your work load for a while, do it. But don’t just go along trying to do “business as usual” if all the oil is draining out of the engine. The heat and the friction will soon do some damage!
6. This is a good time to do some journaling. Write your feelings, your concerns, your fears. Write your hopes, your dreams, your burdens, and your ambitions. Write your ideas: “Some things I would really like to do if time, money, and location were not an issue..” If you have kept a journal, spend some time looking back to see if there is a pattern in the development of how you are feeling.
7. If you have been given words of counsel or encouragement, if trusted people have given you words of prophecy or insight, go over those things again. If you have recordings of them, listen to them now. If you made notes about them, go over the notes. If you remember the person speaking to you but can’t remember much of what was said, phone them and ask them if they remember what they shared with you. In all of this, be active, not passive. Seek God’s will, listen for God’s voice, watch for God’s hand.
8. Get some advice or counsel from trusted friends or peers in ministry or from people whose character and wisdom you respect. But don’t expect someone else to answer all your questions or make your decisions for you. Be careful about talking too much or too soon to those you are leading. You may be struggling, but you are still their leader. Don’t undermine their confidence or throw them into a panic.
9. When the Grace of God begins to lift in a particular situation or ministry responsibility, we still have to finish well. Don’t do or say things that will hurt others or make it hard for others to trust you. Don’t “drop the ball.” It’s important that we find the strength to carry out our responsibilities until we can release them in a mature way. It is important that we don’t begin to tear down what we have been laboring to build up. It is important that we fulfill our commitments.
10. Prepare for God to lead you forward. Be willing to move on if that is what God requires. Be willing to let go of your security. It may be painful. It may require that you step completely out of your comfort zone. It may require great sacrifice. But it will keep you in God’s will, it will keep you growing and maturing. And it will keep you under the Grace of God for life and service.

When the Grace of God begins to lift, you need to act quickly but not move too fast!

    • Act quickly to determine the cause of the changes taking place in your heart, mind, and attitude.
    • Begin to examine your heart and attitudes, to communicate with trusted friends, and begin to look for the Grace of God to lead you forward.
    • Don’t move too slowly and allow your attitude to deteriorate and damage your reputation and relationships.
    • Don’t move too fast and fail to fulfill your commitments and responsibilities.

Remember that it is by God’s Grace that we are who we are, where we are, and doing what we are doing.

Next week I’m going to write about “The Transition Zone”. Once you’ve begun moving forward into a season of change and transition, some of the old patterns don’t work any longer. It’s an in-between season and situation and we must be ready to respond carefully and wisely. I think you’ll find some helpful thoughts and ideas in next week’s post on “The Transition Zone”. Don’t miss it!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

The God Of Things As They Are

Click here for Jim’s latest Health Updates.

Some time ago, I received a letter from a young man, one of our past students at East London Bible Training Centre. This man, whom I will call Dan, is a leader in one of the London churches with which we have had significant involvement. In the letter, Dan outlined his involvement with the church, his leadership role, and then expressed some concerns he had about his effectiveness as a church leader.

Dan referred to the great expectations he and his wife and the other leaders had about his leadership role. He mentioned some very positive and encouraging prophecies he had been given specifically about his leadership and the fulfillment of God’s purpose for him with relation to the local church.

Then Dan expressed the concern that he had failed to completely and wholeheartedly respond to the call and challenge of leadership and that through distractions and half-heartedness he had betrayed or failed God, the church, and himself.

Dan said that he was feeling that perhaps he should step down from leadership and perhaps even move from the church to make room for others to develop into effective leaders.

Then Dan asked me two specific questions:

    1. If, in terms of God’s promise, purpose, and requirement, we fail at some point, is that it? Are we finished? Of course, we know that God in His mercy and grace will forgive, but does that mean we are finished in terms of God’s good plans and purposes for us?
    2. Is it possible, if we have once failed, to again receive God’s anointing and to fulfill God’s purpose for effective service? If we have missed God’s original plan for us is there a way to get back in the game?

These are good questions and address issues that each of us has wrestled with at some point in our lives. Is there only a plan A, or is there also a plan B? If I miss plan A, does that mean that the best I can ever hope for is an inferior plan B?

Before I go any further on this topic, let me point out three people in Bible accounts who missed it at some point in their lives and ministries:

  1. David, God’s anointed Shepherd King of Israel, sinned terribly through an adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and the conspiracy to murder her husband. After repentance and accepting God’s discipline, he carried on as God’s chosen king. He wrote many of the Psalms that teach us and help us to understand God better and provide a vehicle for our praise and worship.
  2. Simon Peter, who in a time of crisis denied three times that he even knew Jesus, went on to preach the church’s inaugural message on the day of Pentecost. Peter became a key leader in the growing church and helped the Jewish believers see that the Gospel was Good News for Gentiles as well as for Jews. He wrote 1 and 2 Peter, very challenging and encouraging letters to leaders.
  3. John Mark, who failed to follow through on his missions commitment to Paul and Barnabas, went on to write one of the four gospels. His gospel, probably written with the assistance of Simon Peter, shows us much of the humility, goodness, and practicality of Jesus.

So be encouraged, friends. There’s still hope, even when you miss it!

Now, I’d like to take a look at Dan’s concerns and questions about the callings and purposes of God in another way.

Years ago, I first read the poem “When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted”, by Rudyard Kipling. The poem contains a phrase which spoke to me very deeply. I don’t base my theology on the poems of Kipling, but I know when God takes a thought or phrase and plants it in me in a foundational and formative way that it is truth. Kipling’s poem, “When Earth’s Last Picture is Painted” closes with this phrase: “….The God of Things as They Are.”

That phrase became a revelation of God to me. When I begin to get pressed down by thoughts of “What I should have done”, “What they shouldn’t have done”, and “What might have been”, God reminds me that He is not the God of “What might have been”, but He is “The God of Things as They Are.” He is my God, now, in the situation exactly as it is. I am His child and servant, now, in my situation exactly as it is.

I have a tendency to waste time with “If Only’s” and “What If’s”. The “If Only’s” tend to focus on things done or not done in the past that cannot be changed. (There is no future in the past.) The “What If’s” tend to focus on things in the future that may or may not happen. (This is also called worry or anxiety.) Mark Twain said, “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, but most of them never happened!”

God’s purpose for Jean and me has led us to make a number of major decisions, changes, and moves over the last forty-plus years: selling our business, going into full-time ministry, moving to another state to pioneer a church, moving to Jamaica to serve as missionaries, moving to the UK to start and develop the Bible Training Centres, writing the Foundation For Christian Service course for African churches and conducting Pastors Training Workshops in Central Africa, then eventually moving to Oregon, in the USA, for a season of fruitful ministry in ways and situations we could not have imagined!

So many times when I look back at the situations, events, and seasons linked by that series of moves, I think, “If only I had moved more quickly in that case”, “If only I had waited a little longer that time”, “If only they had followed through on their commitment.” The list of “If onlys” becomes unending when I let my mind go in that direction. There may be lessons to learn from the “If onlys”, but the key is to learn them and move on.

Sometimes when contemplating an upcoming step of faith, I begin to think “What if I get it wrong – wrong move – wrong timing?” or “What if I discover I can’t handle it?” or “What if they don’t follow through?” It’s easy to become paralyzed by fear when you get into the “What ifs”. The fact is, the “What ifs” are not only unknown, they’re unknowable. If we spend too much time with “What ifs”, we’re dead in the water.

In the book “Prince Caspian”, from the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, the Pevensie children and Trumpkin the dwarf are making their way from Cair Paravel to the Table Mound and are getting quite lost. Soon Aslan appears to Lucy and shows her the way to go. However, she is the only one who can see Him and the way that He is indicating is less logical than the way that all the others want to go. She eventually gives in to the pressure from the others and goes their way which gets them all into trouble. Later, Aslan comes to her and tells her that she should have followed him. She complains that she would have been alone, and asks what would have happened if she had acted correctly. Aslan answers her, “To know what would have happened, child? No, nobody is ever told that.” “Oh dear”, said Lucy. “But anyone can find out what will happen,” said Aslan.

When we dwell on “If only..” and “What if..”, on “What would have happened” and “What might happen” we are asking God to be “The God of what might have been”, or “The God of what might be.” The God we worship and serve is “The God of Things as They Are.”

It is appropriate to ask some questions when we are dealing with a difficult situation in which things haven’t turned out as we expected, or when we’re facing major decisions. We need to realize that there are “good questions” and “bad questions.”

Some Good Questions may be:
• What have I learned from this situation?
• What should I do now?
• Where do we go from here?

Some Bad Questions might be:
• Why does this stuff always happen to me?
• What might have happened if I had / had not done..?
• What’s the use in trying anymore?

I am coming to realize that God is not so much the God who has a “plan A” for me and then no plan or option if I fail to fulfill it to the letter, nor is He the God who has a “plan A” for me and then switches to a possibly inferior “plan B” if I don’t fulfill “plan A.”

God is the God of things as they are. My situation, my mistakes, my right and wrong decisions, the things others did or didn’t do that I had no control over yet they affected my situation… All the positive and negative factors, all the consequences of right and wrong decisions, all of my strengths and weaknesses…. He is the God of all that!

So there is no longer “What might have been” to deal with, only “what is”. And there is not a “What might be” to worry and fret about, only “what will be” as I move ahead in faith, dealing with this present reality and moving into God’s future reality and purpose for my life.

So let’s accept the present, learn from the past, and press on into God’s future and His purpose for each of us!

I’ve included the full text of Kipling’s poem here:

When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted
Rudyard Kipling

When Earth’s last picture is painted and the tubes are twisted and dried,
When the oldest colours have faded, and the youngest critic has died,
We shall rest, and, faith, we shall need it—lie down for an æon or two,
Till the Master of All Good Workmen shall put us to work anew.

And those that were good shall be happy: they shall sit in a golden chair;
They shall splash at a ten-league canvas with brushes of comets’ hair.
They shall find real saints to draw from—Magdalene, Peter, and Paul;
They shall work for an age at a sitting and never be tired at all!

And only the Master shall praise us, and only the Master shall blame;
And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame,
But each for the joy of the working, and each, in his separate star,
Shall draw the Thing as he sees It for the God of Things as They are!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.




Whole Life Thankfulness – Thank You For My Life – Thankful Part 5

June 8, 2021

Levels of Thankfulness – Stages of Gratitude

One really important thing that’s happened as I’ve focused on Gratitude and Thankfulness is that I’ve begun recognizing levels or stages or qualities of Thankfulness in myself. It’s not necessarily a linear progression from one to the other. It can be parts of all or it can be one for one situation and another for another. And it can be most or all of these at the same time for me.

I’m talking about:
• Circumstantial Thankfulness – Thanks for the blessings!
• Comparative Thankfulness – Well, I guess it could be worse!
• Thankfulness In All Things – In Everything Give Thanks
• Whole Life Thankfulness – I’m Thankful for my life!

Whole Life Thankfulness – Thankful for my life

I’d love it if you’ll take three minutes and watch this video clip from the movie Joe Versus the Volcano.

When I first saw this movie years ago, as I watched this scene, God spoke something into my heart and started me on a quest (or something very like a quest) to live as much of my life as possible with a “Thank you for my life” attitude and outlook.

Oh God Whose Name I Do Not Know! Tom Hanks’ character Joe didn’t know the name of the God who had given him his life. I have the privilege of knowing the name of that God! He’s Father! He’s My Shepherd! And he’s the God who has given me nine years more of life on earth than my dad had. (And that’s just so far!)

If you read my recent series of posts “Not Disappointed”, you know that late in life, in my mid-sixties actually, I began to discover that my dad must have been way more important to me than I realized. My dad died in 1988 at age 69 and 166 days. I hadn’t seen him for a few years because Jean and I were missionaries serving overseas, and one of the things missionaries sacrifice is time with family. My dad and mom were able to visit us a couple of years after we moved to Jamaica. We were still living in the village in the mountains and my dad had a great time doing carpentry projects for the church and the children’s primary school. My dad was old school enough that he didn’t complain about having to do most everything with hand tools, because even if we’d had power tools, the electricity wasn’t consistent enough to count on. It was a great time!

Then he and my mom had gone back home to Oregon, and Jean and I and Melissa had moved to Kingston and started the Bible Training Center. Life was full and busy and it had been nearly two years since I’d seen my dad before he died. I was so thankful to be able to get a flight to Medford, Oregon, and thankful that they delayed the funeral a day so I’d be able to be there!

But twenty four years later, when I was approaching age 69 and 166 days, the age my dad lived to, I made an electronic calendar in Microsoft Outlook to count down to when I reached the age he reached. Somehow, it became really important to me to mark the age when I had lived as long as he lived. Kind of like the short-timer’s calendar we all kept in Vietnam to count down to the end of our tour of duty.

On the day I lived as long as my dad had lived, something happened in me. A good something. I decided, chose to believe, and made it a core principle of my life that every day from that point on was a gift from God. I know, they all are aren’t they? But this was a kind of defining moment for me. From that day forward, every day of my life is a grace-gift from God!

Not every day of my life since that day has been a pleasant day or enjoyable day. There have been lots of challenges, setbacks, pain, and heartache. Imagine that! And there have been joy-filled days, and restful days, and victories, and celebrations. You know, like normal life is.

And though I still get anxious about stuff and I feel envious or critical of people sometimes, that is not the core of my attitude toward my life. My life on its good days and its bad days is a gift from God. I’m thankful for my life!

In this series, we’ve considered Four Stages or Qualities of Thankfulness. (There may be five or six or however many you might discover on your life’s journey through sunny meadows and dark valleys.)

    • I don’t think these are a linear progression from one to the other. For me, it can be parts of all or it can be one for one situation and another for another.
    • I can find myself at any of these four stages in the same day.
    • I know that I want to arrive more frequently and stay longer at the “Thankful For My Life” stage of thankfulness!

Let’s determine to live our lives with an Attitude of Gratitude. I know it’s trite and it’s a cliché. But I also know that there is a way of living Thankful, living and thinking and acting out of a deep gratitude to God for the gift of life.

Don’t forget that Gratitude doesn’t come through having what you want, it comes through wanting what you have.

Be consciously and intentionally grateful for what you have, and don’t waste the moments of your life whining and complaining over what you don’t have! Express gratitude and thanksgiving continually!

I hope there has been an insight, or encouragement, or even a challenge for you as you’ve read this series of posts. Let’s explore the entire range of thankfulness and keep moving toward that place where we are more and more often, for longer and longer periods of time, simply Thankful for our Lives!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.