- 2015May 26
It's essential to keep our focus on what truly matters. On the things and the priorities we're called to pursue. When confronted with a busy season, or even just the complexities of life, it’s easy to unintentionally drift away from the things that are most important.
Pastor Andy Stanley once said, “We don’t drift in good directions. We discipline and prioritize ourselves there.” I believe he's right. We can’t drift through life, thinking it will arbitrarily work out in the end but must be intentional instead.
Now, I know it's incredibly easy to allow the demands confronting us day in and day out to dictate what we do with our time. In our modern cultural, we're pulled in so many directions. One demand after another cries out for our attention, and if we're not mindful, we will lose proper focus, thinking all things before us are the things we ought to do, thinking every opportunity is one we ought to take. But if we succumb to this temptation, we will soon find ourselves adrift––deceived––running on a treadmill to nowhere toward some ambiguous destination, planned by neither God nor ourselves.
But God does have a plan for us. In Jeremiah 29:11, God says, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." Ephesians 2:10 tells us, "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." Psalm 139:16 says, "In Your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them." God most certainly has a incredible plan for our lives.
We will be given only a few short years on this earth. Scripture tells us that our life is like a breath, like a passing shadow. That we are here today and gone tomorrow much like the grass of the fields. And so it's imperative that we spend that time wisely. Ephesians 5:15-17 instructs us to "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is."
I once heard someone ask, "Where do you want to be on your last day?" Followed by the question, "What are you doing today to ensure you'll get there?" It's about legacy. What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind? How do you want others to remember you? What lasting mark is God calling you to leave on this world?
God has equipped you with very specific gifts and talents to be used to your joy and His glory (see note below). You have a calling that is unique to you, but I'd also like to suggest that our callings are essentially all the same. As God's chosen, we have been given a ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). "We are ambassadors of Christ," we're told in 2 Corinthians 5:20, and it is through us that God has chosen to make His appeal to the world, imploring sinners on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God. This is our ultimate calling. How we execute our callings may look different––you may be called to shine the light of Christ as you work a secular job while I'm called to full-time ministry––but the call is the same.
The Great Commission and the Great Commandment work hand in hand. Jesus said all the commands of God can be summed up in two, love God and love others. But we cannot do the Great Commandment without doing the Great Commission. We cannot love someone and withhold salvation, the greatest gift one can receive, from them. And so we must "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations," as Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:19). But there's order to things. I am not called to go to the nations at the expense of my husband or my children. And yet I'm not called to place my family above my God, which is precisely why I must seek wisdom from God on how to do what I'm called to do. My priorities must be straight. And I must intentionally keep them straight, for what we choose to do with our lives has eternal significance.
God is first––always.
My ministry to my family is next––always.
Then comes ministry to others.
And it's the same for you. But even within these groups, we must pray for discernment. Everything that comes our way must be run by God in prayer. Remember, not all good things are the things we're called to. Not every opportunity is one we should take. God's will must be sought above all things. And it is only then that we will avoid the drift and stay, by the grace of God, on the path He has willed for us.
Any thoughts? Share in the comments.
Note: For the sake of clarity, you are not what you do. You are a child of God. The call God has placed on your life is not your identity. Though it pleases God to see us doing what he created us to do, our works do not earn us God's favor. Favor is received apart from our performance. This is the very definition of grace––undeserved favor.
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:8-11
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8
- 2015May 23
Nothing teaches you how best to walk with Jesus than a season of much. I've had many balls in the air for many years now. Things I knew God promised me. Things I have been praying about for some time. And with so many promises awaiting me, I inherently knew that if I had forced any one of these promises into being that I'd find myself in a heap of a mess and wouldn't be able to handle it.
And so I prayed, asking God to do it His way. And He has.
God's timing is absolutely perfect––absolutely perfect. I know this. But when I prayed for all my promises to come, I did not know that His perfect timing for each of these promises would be NOW.
Writing. Speaking. Adoption. Three things God clearly called me to.
Over four and a half years ago, God called us to adopt.
The call to write came around that time as well. But God's call to write my book occurred just over three years ago.
Speaking was something God laid on my heart just months after being saved, before I ever knew what I'd speak about. But the direct call, the vision, came two and a half years ago.
I've lived in the already but not yet for some time. Already called––ordained––but not yet sent. Knowing what I would be doing someday, but not knowing when. And it appears now is the time, for not just one of these promises to come to fruition, but all three.
Our adoption is happening.
My book is being released.
And God has launched my speaking ministry.
With that, I am ridiculously thankful, but I've had to get on my knees, asking for wisdom. Willingly excited to follow, but cautiously discerning how.
Blessings have been poured out on my life in heaps, it seems, but with that, I feel the Spirit of God nudging me toward caution. I've heard it said success can be a catalyst for failure, and I believe this to be true. It is absolutely possible for us to experience some level of success only to be crushed and stretched too thin by its demands. And so I pray for God to prepare me, to prepare YOU, for what lies ahead. To give us the ability to discern when to say yes and when to say no. You and I may be presented with wonderful opportunities, but we must take every opportunity before God to ask whether or not we should do it. Not every good thing is the thing we're called to do.
Over the next few weeks, I'll be writing more about what God has been teaching me. I'll write about keeping first things first, keeping our focus on what truly matters. I'll write about doing what's essential instead of doing it all. I'll write about our need for rest and margin, despite our ever-increasing to-do list. I'll write about yoking ourselves to Jesus, partnering with Him in our callings. I'll write about walking with Jesus, doing things His way.
God tells us to ask for wisdom. When we ask, He delivers––every time. He certainly has done so with me lately, and I know these are truths we will all benefit from. So stay tuned! If we can get this stuff, if we can do thing the way Jesus does them, we will not only impact this world for good, but we will hold onto our peace while doing it.
Any thoughts? Share in the comments.
- 2015May 21
We have the incredible privilege of hearing from my friend, Kelly O’Dell Stanley, today. Her new book, Praying Upside Down, was released recently, and so I wanted to be sure to introduce her to you all. I pray you are blessed.
One Sunday morning when our son, Bobby, was six, he left our pew and walked straight to the front of the church, up the steps onto the platform, right in the middle of our worship. Pastor Nathan was sitting in a chair off to the side, putting the finishing touches on his sermon notes. Bobby circled around the worship leader, ignored the musicians, and climbed into the seat next to Nathan.
With a sigh, he leaned back and then scooted to the edge of the chair. The big smile and hug Nathan gave him weren’t a surprise—Nathan had taught all the children that they were always welcome to come up front. That day, as I watched through tears, I finally understood the beauty of having direct access to God. Knowing that He welcomes me, and you, with joy. No matter who’s watching.
That’s what the Bible means when it says, “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:16, NLT)
It’s a perfect picture of how we are to approach God. Boldly, with the faith of a child. Not hesitating, not being hindered by all the reasons we—or someone else—might think we’re not worthy to be up there right next to the King. All that matters—the only thing—is that He loves us. He could be annoyed by the interruptions; He could shush us and say that he has more important things to do. But He doesn’t.
Some people have trouble coming to God because they don’t feel worthy. They quote scriptures like Psalm 22:6 (“But I am a worm and not a man. I am scorned and despised by all!”). Their understanding of mankind’s (general) and their own (specific) sin, paired with an awareness of the holiness of God, cripples them, making them afraid to trust that He really wants them. Because they are convinced they don’t deserve to be there.
Somehow, I didn’t have that same struggle. I knew I couldn’t earn my way to a relationship with God, but like my son, I approached God with confidence. I took the Scriptures at face value: “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners … So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.” (Romans 5:8-12)
My mom was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer and I started a three-year roller-coaster ride. I claimed to have faith, but I was as dry and parched as a desert inside. When it came time to pray, I had nothing to say. Bitterness and sorrow and pain replaced any words I might have had. After Mom died, I built the walls even higher—fortifying them, adding a moat filled with alligators, for good measure—to protect myself from being hurt again. I rolled my eyes when someone at church would stand up and testify that they had been healed. Or even that they believed in healing.
I wasn’t sure if God didn’t answer or if He gave me the wrong answer. I began to doubt whether He was able to effect change at all. I hadn’t just lost Mom. Not to sound overly dramatic, but I’d lost everything I believed in. My grief made me incapable of seeing the truth. And the fickleness of my faith filled me with shame.
I had ceased to be the child approaching God without hesitation, or even the temperamental teenager stamping her foot and refusing to look at Him—and turned into that lowly earthworm. Why would God want me back? Once I realized how much I wanted—needed—Him, I didn’t feel like I had the right to ask Him. Because I had rejected Him before.
And then one Sunday morning at church we sang a song that broke through my defenses. “Through it all, through it all… I learned to trust in Jesus, I learned to trust in God.” I felt the walls crumbling as I thought-prayed, “No I didn’t. I failed miserably. Lord, I’m so sorry.”
Immediately I felt His response. “But I got to show you grace!”
Notice, He didn’t say that He had to. Nor that He did it grudgingly. Instead, it was like our magnificent, holy God was a little child Himself, hopping from one foot to the other, giddy with excitement at the gift He was thrilled to give me.
The one I didn’t deserve.
But that didn’t matter to God. All that mattered was that He wanted me back. He allowed me to march right up to that altar and lean into Him, to scoot close to the edge of His chair. To look into His face and see the kindness in His smile.
And to take a deep breath of relief, knowing I was right where I belonged. Filled with, wrapped in, emboldened by, and surrounded by His unfathomable grace.
Kelly O’Dell Stanley is a graphic designer, writer, and author of Praying Upside Down: A creative prayer experience to transform your time with God, which releases today. With 25 years of experience in advertising, three kids ranging from 21 to 14, and a husband of 24 years, she’s learned to look at life in unconventional ways—sometimes even upside down. In 2013, she took top honors in Writer’s Digest’s Inspirational Writing Competition. Full of doubt and full of faith, she constantly seeks new ways to see what’s happening all around her in her small-town Indiana home. Download free printables at www.prayingupsidedown.com.
When you talk to God, do you ever wonder if He hears? Do your prayers feel uninspired or routine? Do you sometimes feel like you don’t even know how to pray?
Let artist and author Kelly O’Dell Stanley show you what white space, sketching, point of view, and other artistic ideas reveal to us about how to pray—and experience a deeper connection with God than ever before. Praying Upside Down will move your prayers away from the preconceived and expected, allowing you to encounter God in a brand new way. It’s a fresh chance to add passion to your prayers and notice answers you never anticipated.
Jesus was known for turning situations upside down . . . and He will do the same in your prayer life. And because God is the ultimate creator and the original artist, when you incorporate this unique approach to prayer, you will encounter more of Him.
Available wherever books are sold.