Gardening Lessons

Hi Friends, this blog post is a bit longer than usual. I’ve included quite a bit of scripture in the text because I felt that some of you would want to use this article as a sort of handbook to put some of these things into practice. I don’t mean this to be “preachy”! I hope you find it helpful! Grace and Peace, Jim

In October 1997 Jean and I moved from Leytonstone (London E11) into a house in Chingford (London E4), northeast London. One of the reasons we chose to rent the new place was the large back garden. We love gardening and this place offered great possibilities. The garden had been badly neglected for some time, but we’re experienced gardeners and we knew we could handle it. (Note: In England, in terraced housing, the term “back garden” is inclusive of everything out the back door of the house between the fences of the neighboring houses on either side. The back garden is exactly the width of the house itself, and includes any lawn, shrubs, trees, flower beds, walkways, and possibly a small green house or garden shed.)

We pictured ourselves sitting in the back garden on the patio on warm summer evenings with a glass of iced tea and a nice meal. We saw BBQ’s in the summer with friends over for the afternoon and evening. And we could already see the beauty of roses, petunias, peonies, chrysanthemums, snap-dragons, fuchsias, and all the other stuff we like to grow and enjoy.

So I went to the local garden center and bought some rose bushes. On the morning of rose planting day we walked up and down the garden with coffee cups in our hands, looking and planning and we found just the right places for the four rose plants. But in one of those places was a very thorny bush-tree called a pyrocanthus. In another of the chosen places was a dead shrub-tree of indeterminate type and origin. Both had to be removed to plant the roses.

The pyrocanthus, or firethorn, is incredibly thorny! And to get at the roots to dig it out, I first had to cut off about 1000 thorny branches that poke and jab and very effectively defend itself against pruning and removal! It is a very painful process to prune and remove a pyrocanthus!

The dead shrub was entangled in the most incredible network of ivy vines and runners, coming over the fence from the neighbor’s garden. The ivy had not only taken over the fence, and killed every plant and shrub it could get hold of, but it hindered me from removing the shrub which was already dead! And besides that, the whole matted mess of ivy was full of spiders. I hate spiders!

I hacked and clipped and sawed and chopped for hours: Thorns in one place and ivy vines in another. I was beginning to despair and I wanted to quit when I saw how little progress I was making and how everything I tried to do simply led to another thing that must be done first. But I persevered and hacked and chopped. When I finally got the pyrocanthus chopped back and dug out by the roots, and when I finally got the ivy hacked and chopped back (don’t forget this is my neighbor’s ivy, not mine!), and when I had finally dug out the dead bush by its roots, I stepped back to look at what I’d done. The entire garden (or so it seemed) was piled with thorny, clingy branches, vines and dead stuff that somehow had to be disposed of. And I still hadn’t even begun to plant the roses!

Jean came and helped me and we began to bag the stuff. I clipped and chopped it into smaller bits and she began to pack it into big black bin bags. The bin bag count was growing and the piles of branches and vines seemed not to be shrinking, but we kept on and then finally it was the last bag and it was done. Nine big bags full. And now what on earth are we going to do with all this? I began to consider the options: Try to burn it? (not permitted)!; Find a dump and haul it two bags at a time in the car?; Put one bag per week in the wheelie bin for the next two months?; Move away and leave it?

Then I remembered something I had seen come through the letter-box from the local council about rubbish pick-up dates. It seemed there was something about a special rubbish pickup for “garden waste.” I found the leaflet in the file and sure enough, the council will pick up as many as ten bags of “light garden waste.” I had nine bags. I phoned the council and discovered they would pick it up and haul it away for free within five working days. I only had to put it in the front garden and leave it and they would come for it. Grace!

So for up to five days it’s going to sit out in front of the house and everyone who passes by can see my trash! Never mind, it’s on its way out! Someone will come and take away all this rubbish I generated in the process of beginning to clear out my garden so we can enjoy it this summer. Now I can begin to plant some things that are useful and beautiful. Our garden can actually become the fruitful and enjoyable place we want it to be!

And I thought, “How like my life is this experience with the garden.” I’ve got a pretty good idea of what my life could be and should be from the teaching and examples in the Bible and from the lives of other mature Christians. I want my life to be like that. I’ve got a desire and a passion for that. The question is: Am I willing to work at it to get it that way. And can I actually do it? And how do I actually do it?

The Apostle Paul writes to young Christians about this stuff. He says: 1 Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. 5 So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. 6 Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. 7 You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. 8 But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. 9 Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. 10 Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. 11 In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. 12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. 16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 17 And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. (Colossians 3:1-17 NLT)

Paul goes on to say in Romans 7:15-25: 15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. 18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. 21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. (Romans 7:15-25 NLT)

As I process this stuff, I begin to realize that here’s a man who was an Apostle, who was powerful in faith, who wrote most of the New Testament, and he understands how I feel. He is dealing with the same stuff I’m dealing with. Like my gardening experience, some things in my life are like thorny pyrocanthus bushes, defending themselves against my efforts to remove them. Other things are like clingy ivy vines, entangled with other things in my life until it seems impossible to get rid of them.

You know, I think sometimes we avoid getting close to God and to other believers because we know we’ll have to face and deal with some thorny issues and we’re not sure we can actually do it. Sometimes it’s easier to just stay out of the garden and sit on the couch scrolling through social media than to begin to plan and do the gardening. Sometimes we begin and it just becomes overwhelming. We think, “What have I gotten myself into?” We just want to quit. So how does the Bible tell me to deal with it? How do we actually do this?

1. Get focused on what we want to be, to become. Get a picture of the person we are destined to be. We look to the Bible to set standards and give hope. We fellowship with God to keep our spirits sensitive and strong. We fellowship with mature believers to learn from their example and receive their practical insights.

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. (Colossians 3:1-2 NLT)

2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. 3 Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. (Hebrews 12:2-3 NLT)

25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. (Hebrews 10:25 NLT)

2. Begin to get rid of the things in our lives that don’t fit the picture: things that hinder or entangle us, things that pull us in the wrong direction. Take decisive action. Face it. Deal with it.

5 So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. (Colossians 3:5 NLT)

8 But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. 9 Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. 10 Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. (Colossians 3:8-10 NLT)

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. (Hebrews 12:1 NLT)

3. Identify and own the specific things that entangle us. Everyone has particular sins that entangle. These are not necessarily the same for each of us. But they are there. They must be identified and “thrown off.” The process of getting rid of these things is: 1. Repent (Turn around) 2. Confess (Face it honestly, take responsibility) 3. Rid yourself of it (Take some decisive action to renounce or forsake it) 4. Call the Grace truck to come and get the rubbish and cart it away.

8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1 John 1:8-9 NLT)

4. Begin to clothe ourselves with righteousness. We accept full responsibility to begin to act like the person we expect to become. The Bible teaches us what is right. The examples of others can show how it’s done. This may take lots of practice, it may involve trial and error. Don’t quit just because you didn’t get it right the first or even the fifth time. Once you identify the behaviors and qualities that you need to put on, you just begin to do them. Not perfectly, not getting it right every time, but “doing the stuff.”

12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. (Colossians 3:12-15 NLT)

5. Accept discipline from the Lord. God’s discipline proves that we are truly His children and that He truly loves us. God’s discipline is essential to maturity and fruitfulness.

5 And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the LORD’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. 6 For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” 7 As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? (Hebrews 12:5-7, 11 NLT)

1 “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. 3 You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. 5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. 7 But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! 8 When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father… 16 You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. (John 15:1-8, 16 NLT)

Dear friends, we can do this thing! We can be men and women of God. We can grow, mature, clean up our act. We can be fruitful for God. Let’s allow God’s grace to work in our lives and let’s determine we will never give up!

1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. (Romans 8:1-2 NLT)

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.

Lessons Learned From The Phone Company

Last week’s “Notes from My Journey” blog post, “Life on Hold” , was mostly about how we deal with the frustrations of delay and of “not being in control” of some aspect of life. This week I’m looking at some of the lessons this process has taught and re-taught me through the years. Pardon me for being so subjective here, but the things that happen in my life are the things I learn most from, y’know!

Let me just take a moment to remind you of the story… On the 15th of October 1999, we moved from inner-city London to a house in the forest outside Bend, Oregon. The day we moved in was a Friday so it was Monday the 18th of October when we contacted the phone company and ordered phone service. After a few minutes on the phone we discovered that the house had never had phone service connected and that it would require two miles of phone line to be run from an existing service point in order for us to have a phone line.

How long would this take? With the need to apply to the US Forest Service and the US Bureau of Land Management for permits to run the phone line across 10,000 feet of government land, the projected date of service was 31 March 2000. It would take five and one-half months to get the necessary permits and about two days to install the cable to connect us to the phone network.

Woe unto me! As Job said, “The thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me!” (Job 3:25 KJV)

Remember, this was 1999, so “dial up” internet connection was the order of the day. For someone as dependent on the phone as I was for communication, email, and internet access, this was almost too much to bear! I remember when we lived in Kingston, Jamaica from 1984 to 1991 and our phone service was frequently out of order, the very first thing I would do when I came into the house or when I got up in the morning was to go over and pick up the phone and check for a dial tone! And now to be told we would be without a phone line for the entire winter just really knocked me flat.

As this situation unfolded over the next few months, here’s how it worked: We were not entirely cut off from the world without any phone communication at all. We had the use of a cell phone for voice communication. But in order to send and receive emails and access the internet we had to travel nearly three miles through the forest to the home of a kind and generous neighbor who let us connect our laptop computer to their phone line for dial-up access the internet.

Then the wait began. Everyone we knew was praying that our phone line would be connected sooner rather than later. Whenever we saw our friends the first question they would ask is, “Any news about the phone line?” It would have become a joke if it had been funny. But it really wasn’t funny to me and this experience became a real, but not easy, learning process in my life.

Winter came and with two feet of winter snow on the ground, the daily trip to check email became a challenge. Spring eventually came and the snow melted and still no phone line. The projected phone service date of March 31 came and went and two and a half more months of delay and frustration followed. We finally got the phone connected and heard the dial tone for the very first time on June 16, 2000, eight months and one day after I heard those words, “Sorry, Mr. Stephens, but there’s no phone service to your house.”

When the shock of discovering that we would be without a phone line for internet access through the severe High Mountain winter first hit me, I imagined the worst. In fact the way it worked out in day by day living was less traumatic than I expected. It was challenging, difficult, and frustrating, but taking it one day at a time, it was “doable.” Taken a day at a time, with the Grace God gives, most of the challenging things we face are perhaps less catastrophic than we first imagine them to be.

During the eight months of Autumn, Winter, and Spring that had passed since we moved into this house, I learned a lot about waiting, about myself, and about God’s Grace to deal with disappointment and delay. I’ll try to put into words some of the lessons I learned through that and other “waiting” experiences, and perhaps some thoughts on how to apply these lessons in life.

Lessons Learned From The Phone Company

Here are some of the lessons I learned during that long winter in the mountains (And find myself re-learning over and over because I seem to have such a short memory that must constantly be re-taught!):

God truly is My Provider. He doesn’t always provide what I want when I want it, but He does provide a way to live and the grace to live with the way He provides. He provides on His terms and in His time. He sometimes provides what I want but always provides what I need. He provides for the development of my character and my faith and not just for my pleasure and my comfort.

I can learn to live with God’s present provision. I need to be more flexible and not say, “It has to be this way or that way.” I don’t need to worry or fear or try to figure out in advance just how it is all going to work out. God is my provider. God will provide. I can live with the provision He gives in the way He gives it.

I need to trust God more and whine and complain less. I am capable of making a real fool of myself by constantly complaining and whining about how hard my life is and how unfair the situation is. There’s a time to tell people your problem and enlist their prayers and concern and there’s a time to simply tell God and leave it with Him.

It’s not healthy to spend too much time thinking and talking about something you simply cannot change. It’s best to do what you can about the situation, give it to God, and get on with what you can do about living the life you have. The Apostle Paul had a situation like this. Here’s what God told him… 7 even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. 8 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. 9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. (2 Corinthians 12:7-9 NLT)

If you let it, one unsolved problem or unfulfilled desire can take over your life and make you incapable of enjoying and appreciating the rich blessings you have. I tend to focus all my attention on the unsatisfied desire and forget to appreciate the many gracious and generous provisions God has made. I recall hearing Al Miller, my pastor in Jamaica often saying, “There’s always more going right than going wrong in your life!”

After a while you begin to hit Prayer Request Fatigue. People get tired of hearing that the prayer hasn’t been answered yet. People want to hear the request, pray about it, and then hear that it is all taken care of the next time they speak to you. When we pray earnestly about things and the answer is delayed or doesn’t come at all, it raises issues that we’d rather not deal with about our faith, others’ faith, and God’s willingness and ability to answer.

The people in my small group really cared about what concerned me. These people I met with every Tuesday evening for prayer and sharing really did care and really did pray for me and my needs. It is important to find a small group of believers to share life with.

That which seems to be a big crisis to me doesn’t affect everyone in the same way. For me, not having a phone line was a big crisis. For some, not having a phone line would be a welcome break from pressure and interruptions. For me not having a phone line was a crisis of near “Biblical Proportions!” For Jean it was only a minor inconvenience. When we look back on eight months without the phone line it is clear that we managed to get done what we needed to do. Jean was gracious enough (most of the time) not to say, “I told you so, oh you of little faith!”

The answer will come eventually and when it does it won’t make your life perfect! When we are focused on one need or desire, there it is a tendency to believe that when it finally happens, life will suddenly be perfect and we will “live happily ever after!” In fact, when the answer comes and the desire is fulfilled, life will still have its needs and imperfections and it is amazing how soon the thing will become “common” to you.

Is there a time to simply stop praying about something we desire or need? The weight of emphasis in the Bible is that we should continually cry out to God for the thing we desire or need. Only once does God say, “Don’t ask anymore!” and in that instance He makes it clear to Paul that there is purpose in the unanswered prayers. (See 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 and Luke 18:1-8; Matthew 7:7-11).

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. (Luke 18:1 NIV)

7 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7-11 NIV)

Lessons Learned From The Phone Company

I realize my little “telephone story” may seem trivial compared to the things that some of you are facing. The principles of survival and success remain the same for my “little” situation or your “big” crisis:
• Face it
• Embrace it
• Give it to God
• Live the life you have
• Never give up

I hope this helps!

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.

Life On Hold

For Those Whose Lives Are, Have Been, Or Ever Will Be “On Hold.”

It’s a challenge to know how to move forward in terms of re-engaging with the world around us right now. The COVID pandemic, with its myriad responses for so many of us (for all of us actually) is moving into the rear view mirror and we’re not sure whether we’re going “back to normal” or trying to piece together a “new normal” or how this is all going to settle out. My communication with friends from around the world, including many of you who are reading this blog post, has made me aware that the government, church, business, and social responses have been ever-changing and often confusing! Many of you are in places where the lockdowns continue or have recently been re-instated. Others are in places where some restrictions are lifted while others remain. Others are presently experiencing a sort of Wild-West free-for-all and frustrated by the sudden lack of order in the process.

Anyhow, I’m not going to keep banging on about COVID. We’ve all been “On Hold” in some ways and how we respond to the next steps in the process can reveal a great deal about a great deal! And you may be “On Hold” in some way or ways I know nothing about. So I’m going to tell you a story about an “On Hold” experience that taught me a lot about myself…

When we moved from London to a cabin in the forest thirty miles southwest of Bend, Oregon in October 1999, the very first thing we did upon arriving was to contact the phone company to connect us for phone service. We discovered right away that the house had never had phone service, and that in order to connect a phone line to the house it required that two miles of phone cable be run, partly overhead on existing power line poles and partly underground in a trench. We further discovered that in order to run this phone cable, permits had to be issued by the United States Forest Service and by the US Bureau of Land Management each of which controlled part of the land that the cable had to pass through.

There was an initial flurry of activity with engineers and surveyors coming out to have a look at what had to be done and where it had to be done. Then our order was assigned to the phone company’s Delayed Order Department (that had an ominous sound to it from the beginning!), and we were given a case number and told that as soon as the necessary permits were obtained and as soon as the winter snows (which hadn’t even arrived yet) were gone, the phone line would be installed.

Thus began my winter of being put on hold! In order to contact the phone company’s Delayed Order Department, I was required to dial an initial number, then work through a series of menus (automated menus several layers deep were still relatively new to us all in 1999!) which I negotiated by listening to a computer voice and pressing the appropriate key on the phone and eventually I would hear a voice telling me “you have reached the Delayed Order Department. All our case managers are currently dealing with other customers. Your call is important to us and will be answered in the order in which it was received.” And then the “On Hold” music would begin to play.

    • “Just let me put you on hold for a moment.”
    • “Will you hold, please?”
    • “Your call is important to us.”
    • “Thank you for holding. Your call will be answered in the order in which it was received.”

It is so frustrating to work through a multi-layered computerized menu for ten minutes only to be put on hold! And the longer you hold, the more you feel you have invested in the process and the harder it is to hang up. And you still need to get through to the person or agency who has power over some aspect of your life or you wouldn’t have phoned in the first place!

Life on Hold…

It’s not just the phone company or a business or government agency that can “put you on hold.” Sometimes it seems like life itself is “on hold.”

Life on Hold can be the feeling you can’t do things you need to do because you’re waiting for someone else to do something, to make a decision, to act. You may find yourself waiting for the decision or action of someone who doesn’t seem to have your best interests at heart or who doesn’t have the same priorities as you. You may find yourself waiting for some sequence of circumstances to fall into place before you can move forward.

Feeling as if your life is on hold may be a particular problem of people who desire to live purposefully. It can also be the problem of people who desire to serve because the desire to serve often puts you in a place of depending on the decisions and actions of others.

Some people are “on hold” because of a difficult marriage; some are “on hold” because of complicated family situations; some are “on hold” in frustrating, dead-end jobs. Some are filling ministry positions in churches where the congregation or the senior pastor has you “on hold.” Debt may have you “on hold.” Poor health may have you “on hold.” Waiting for retirement or for the kids to be grown and on their own can give a feeling of being “on hold.”

When your life is “on hold” it seems like everything gets projected into the future: “someday it will happen…” Energy drains away, discouragement sets in, creative thoughts are consumed by being and feeling “on hold.”

Why Am I On Hold?

If you’re at all like me, you want things to have a reason. You want it to make sense that you’re on hold for some larger purpose that will eventually be revealed. Here’s a “reason” joke: “Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes the reason is that I’m stupid and make bad decisions!”

Anyhow, when I was looking for a reason that the phone company had put my life “On Hold” I asked myself questions like the following:

    • Is it to better know and fulfill God’s will and purpose?
    • Is it to fulfill my responsibility to others?
    • Is it because of my own actions or bad decisions?
    • Do I have an unhealthy dependence on someone or something?
    • Is it merely a matter of timing?
    • Am I being impatient?
    • Is there a work of grace to be done in me through this experience?

While there may have been elements of any or all of those in my situation, I never got an answer to my question, “Why?”

But as I processed through the eight months of waiting for the phone to ring, I thought of a variety of reasons for a variety of situations of “Life on Hold”:

    • You’re getting an education, formal or otherwise.
    • Your spouse is not on the same track spiritually so you can’t move forward.
    • Your children are a primary responsibility. When they are grown you’ll have greater freedom.
    • You find yourself raising your children’s children.
    • You’re working faithfully and waiting for retirement.
    • You are in debt and you “owe your soul to the company store!”
    • Ill health prevents you from doing all you feel you should be doing.
    • You’ve experienced a business failure and you’re trying to pick up the pieces.
    • Your parents are in ill health and becoming dependent on you.
    • There is some other covenantal obligation that demands your fulfillment.

It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. (Psalm 119:71 NIV)

Life On Hold… Is There Really A Reason And A Purpose?

Sometimes it is simply necessary to be “on hold.” I believe it is important to take an honest and objective look at our situation (get some help with this if you can’t be objective) and see if there is divine purpose in being “on hold.” Is God using this time on hold to speak to you? What’s the music playing in the background? Is it the voice of God?

Life on Hold… Using The Phone Call Metaphor To Think About What To Do And How To Live When Your Life Is On Hold.  There are some things you can do while your life is on hold! It’s your decision after all. What you do now and what you do next is up to you!

    • Decide if it’s really important to get through. Make it your decision rather than someone else’s. Am I holding for something that is not really God’s best for me?
    • Sometimes you can leave a message. Pray about the situation and release it to God. Let it go to God and get on with life. “Commit your way to the Lord..” Psalm 37
    • Don’t allow yourself to begin to “whine” and blame God or others for your frustration. There is a real danger of developing resentment against those you feel have put your life on hold. Live as unto the Lord. Rejoice in the Lord. In everything give thanks.
    • Be willing to “hang up” the phone and be confident that God knows your number and will call you when He’s ready. What if I’m out? He’ll leave a message. Sometimes you just need to hang up and get on with life! Let Go!
    • Find some practical things to do while on hold. Live each day as it comes. Find purpose in each day’s plans and activities. Develop personal disciplines of time use and accomplishment.
    • Make the very best of your present situation. Learn to be content in all circumstances. Realize – Remember – Know that each day is now. Each day is part of the reality of your life. Tomorrow is probable but not certain.
    • You do have today. This is your reality. This is your life! Live the life you have. Make it purposeful. Seek to live with purpose and integrity while “on hold.” You may find you’re not on hold after all! You may find purpose and satisfaction in the very thing you felt was “holding you” from purpose and satisfaction.

Life on Hold… I Don’t Have Time For This!

After many years of pretty intense ministry activity, developing the Bible Training Centre in Jamaica, then going to the UK and developing the schools there and then launching into training pastors in Africa, the winter of 1999-2000 I found myself in an isolated log house in the remote mountains of Central Oregon and I began to feel as if life was over and effective ministry was finished. I knew better. I knew that God had given us this opportunity to rest and reflect, but I still felt that life was “on hold” nonetheless! I thought, “I haven’t got time for this! Doesn’t God know the clock is ticking?”

During this time three good friends spoke honestly to me in a season when I was feeling that my life was “on hold.” Hugh Laybourn spoke to me of future hope and encouraged me to look up and ahead. Darryl Rodman spoke to me of rest and refreshing to renew strength and prepare for a new level of ministry. Ray Stokes spoke to me of past achievements and of my present attitude and encouraged me to appreciate and make the best of the current situation. All three were very helpful. Do you have someone who can “speak the truth in love” and caringly confront you?

Out of months or sometimes years of “being on hold” may come one insight, one revelation of grace and truth that turns your lump of charcoal into a diamond.

Live life, then, with a due sense of responsibility, not as men who do not know the meaning of life, but as those who do. Make the best use of your time, despite all the evils of these days. Don’t be vague, but grasp firmly what you know to be the will of the Lord.  (Ephesians 5:15-17 JBP)

There is a sense in which for the committed believer, life is never on hold. God is working on us and in us in every delay, every frustrating experience, every setback we experience. God works in us so that He can more effectively work through us.

I hope you find some insight in my “On Hold” story that is helpful to you. I still struggle with some of these things. For me, the nature of my learning and growth, the nature of my slow progress from who I am to who I want to be usually involves more than one experience in the process of learning the important lessons. The most important thing is to keep going. Let God determine how many lessons it takes. Keep showing up. Keep responding to the grace God sends your way. Don’t quit!

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10:35-36 NIV)

 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.


Choices – Making Decisions We Can Live With – Changes 3

This is part three of a brief impromptu series on Changes and Transition. You can read “Part 1 – When God’s Grace Lifts” here. “Part 2 – The Transition Zone” is here. I think you’ll find some helpful thoughts and ideas in this series.

Choices Have Consequences: Our Lives Are Shaped By Our Choices.

Lot chose for himself the whole Jordan Valley to the east of them. He went there with his flocks and servants and parted company with his uncle Abram. (Genesis 13:11 NLT)

Genesis 13:11 tells us that when the time came for Abraham and Lot to separate, “Lot chose for himself…” Lot made a decision based on superficial observation, selfish interests, and wrong values that ultimately led to his downfall and the loss of everything he had.

Our lives consist of segments involving time, location, activities, and associations, segments that are both linked together and separated by the choices we have made. Because choices have consequences, the way we handle choices has a lot to do with how life treats us and what we experience and accomplish in life. (Moses – Deuteronomy 30:19; Joshua – Joshua 24:15; Elijah – 1 Kings 18:21)

• There are a variety of things to be considered in making choices. There are a variety of ways in which people handle choices. But choices are a fact of life and must be dealt with. The Bible has some very practical wisdom for us in the area of making right and wise choices.
• Some periods of our lives are “decision-intensive.” These times may be heavily loaded with decisions, both large and small. These decision-intensive times can be very stressful and trying and it may seem the most difficult time to make good decisions because of the pressure we feel. In these times we must be especially careful to apply wise decision making procedures.
• Don’t try to avoid decisions and choices. Avoiding decisions is making decisions by default. But don’t go to the opposite extreme and make decisions impulsively or thoughtlessly. Sometimes the stress and anxiety of choices is relieved by just making the decision, even though it hasn’t solved the problems. Having made the decision, we can then focus on steps of action.

Facts About Choices:

• Some choices set events in motion that determine the present and future direction of our lives. Just as faith releases power in the heavenly realm that causes things to happen in the earthly realm, choices set in motion chains of events that cannot be undone.
• Some choices are mutually exclusive. Most often, one choice leads us through a door into a particular segment or chapter of our lives and excludes other possibilities. By making one choice, we exclude the possibility of another choice. By taking one course of action we exclude the other course of action.
• Some choices lead to entanglements. These entanglements could be debt, unhealthy relationships, business or ministry commitments, a whole range of things. This can have serious negative consequences for us if we have been careless or impulsive in our decisions.
• Some choices lead to loss and destruction: Loss of reputation, Loss of opportunity, Loss of freedom, Breakup of relationships.
Some choices are more important than others. Take time, seek God’s will, get godly and wise counsel concerning the important decisions in your life. Which shirt shall I wear today? Where shall we go for lunch? Who will I marry? Should I leave this church or give it another try? Some people spend more time over the choices on a menu than over determining the will of God.

We Must Have A Proper Basis For Making Right Choices.

Here are several things we must be aware of in preparing to make good decisions – decisions we can live with:
• Emotions can run high. Emotional reactions can vary from enthusiastic over-reaction to hesitation, fear and panic. Work with facts, not just feelings. Make sure that you have clear factual information on which to base your decision.
• Avoid making decisions under pressure. This is the time when tragic mistakes are most apt to be made. These are often reactive decisions. Is a decision really required, or am I looking for a quick way out of a difficult situation?
• Write up a balance sheet which includes the pro (+) and con (-) factors. Be honest with yourself if you want a good decision. You may want to make a Yes / No List of reasons for and against the decision. You may also make a Yes / No List of possible consequences of the decision.
Research and investigate all aspects of the choice or opportunity that you are considering. Consider the options and the potential consequences.

To Consistently Make Good Choices – Decisions You Can Live With – Consider The Following Things:

Is it a Right thing? Does it measure up according to my Code of Ethics? This is a right and wrong issue. We must develop a Code of Ethics by which we govern our choices and actions. Some things we will do and some things we won’t do. Right and Wrong. Absolutes. Good and Evil. Yes and No. Based on Scripture and its practical application to life. (Joseph – Genesis 39:9)
• Does it violate or break any of God’s laws?
• Does it break or violate any vows or commitments I have knowingly entered into?
• Does it violate the trust anyone has placed in me?
• Does it compromise my conscience or my convictions?

Is it a Good thing? This is about the effect and consequences on others and on myself. This can include being sensitive to others’ feelings and wishes. This involves thinking of someone other than yourself.
• Is it good for me, my family, and my other responsibilities?
• Will anyone be hurt by it?
• Will it enhance or damage my testimony of God’s Grace?
• Will it help me better influence others for God?
• Does it lead to entanglements that hinder my freedom to serve my God?

Is it a True Value thing? Does it measure up according to my Value System? We must develop a value system based on God’s value system. Eternal values over temporal values. People over projects. Purposes over possessions. Integrity over peer pressure. It matters what people think, what you think, and what God thinks. You must decide how much it matters.
• Is this going to produce gold, silver and precious stones or wood, hay and straw? (Matthew 6:19-21; 1 Corinthians 3:10-13)
• Will this decision lead me to invest in God’s kingdom or in the world system.
• Am I looking at the long term or the short term?

Is it the best thing? This is about priorities. Good, better, and best. Sometimes good can be enemy of best in our lives. (Luke 10:41-42)
• Does it match with what I know to be really important in my life?
• Does it lead to growth and challenge?
• Is there something else I know would be better or more important?

Is it a God thing? Is it consistent with God’s revealed will and purpose for my life? In order to have a basis for right choices, we must have an unconditional pre-commitment to the Will of God as it is revealed to us. David said, “I delight to do Your Will O God”, and Jesus said “Not My will, but Your will..” Am I willing to put God’s will first in my choices and decisions? (Psalm 40:8; Matthew 26:39, 42)
• Is it consistent with how God has led me so far? Does it fit the pattern? When trying to discern God’s leading, be careful to distinguish between Spiritual and Mystical.
• Is it consistent with what I know to be God’s will so far in my life?
• Does this strengthen or weaken, build or destroy the important things in my life?
• Does this make me a better, more effective servant of God?

Is it a Me thing? Is it right for me and for who I know I am as a person and as a child of God?
• Is it consistent with my heart’s desire? Do I even know my heart’s desire? Or do I continually say, “Well, on the other hand..” If we are double-minded we will not be able to consistently make right decisions.
• Is it consistent with my personality? We can change if we desire something enough. It is a tragedy to see people who are living below their calling or potential simply because they aren’t willing to put forth the effort to change or overcome a weakness.
• Is it consistent with my strengths and weakness? Risk versus security; know if you can stand the pressure of risk-taking.
• Is it consistent with my skills and abilities? Skill can be learned and abilities can be acquired. If the decision is important enough to me I will be willing to put forth the required effort to equip myself for the task.
• Do I have peace and joy about it? “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts…”

Some Practically Spiritual Advice For Decision Making:

Count The Cost. Are you willing to pay the price? Be realistic. Every decision has its consequence and every choice has its cost. Sometimes the right choice, the godly choice is sacrificial. (Matthew 13:44; Luke 14:28)

Seek Wise Counsel And Advice. Scriptures on importance of wise counsel: Proverbs 12:15; Proverbs 15:22; Proverbs 19:20; 1 Kings 12:8

• Get your counsel from someone who has more than theory, someone who has it working in their life. Don’t get financial counsel from people who are up to their necks in debt and don’t get marriage counsel from people who are twice-divorced and on their third marriage!
• Get your counsel from someone who will tell you the truth and won’t just tell you what you want to hear. Each of us needs good friends to tell us what we want to hear, but we also need true friends to tell us what we need to hear.
• Get God’s counsel. Pray and seek the Lord’s will. Allow time and space for God to communicate with you. Cultivate the skill of hearing and recognizing God’s voice. Predetermine to unconditionally obey the Lord.

Be Prepared To Hold Steady Under Pressure. Don’t be surprised by pressure and difficulties. Even right choices can lead us into times of trial and challenge. Be steadfast – unmovable. Finish what you start – don’t be a quitter. Don’t be a “spiritual butterfly”, flitting from one decision to another when things get tough. (Ephesians 6:13; Hebrews 10:35-39; 1 Peter 4:12)

Remember That God Is A Redeemer – A Restorer. He is “The God of the Second Chance.” See my blog post “The God of Things as The Are” here. No matter what the past, there is a new beginning for the present and hope for the future. Don’t waste your life and miss today’s opportunities because of the “what if’s..” and “If only’s..” that previous wrong decisions throw at you. In case we make wrong decisions and bad choices, we accept the responsibility, we deal with the consequences, and we get on with life! Right choices made in faith can sometimes break the chain of consequence. Don’t underestimate God’s grace and mercy. Put your confidence in the redemptive work of Christ at Calvary. (2 Corinthians 5:17; Revelation 21:5)

This post is loaded with points to ponder and scriptures to explore and seek God’s inspiration and direction. It’s a lot to take in and a lot to process. Don’t get bogged down in the details as you read it. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct your thoughts to the things that will help the most!

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.