The prison of want

Come with me to the most populated prison in the world. The facility has more inmates than bunks. More prisoners than plates. More residents than resources.

Come with me to the world’s most oppressive prison. Just ask the inmates; they will tell you. They are overworked and underfed. Their walls are bare and bunks are hard.

No prison is so populated, no prison so oppressive, and, what’s more, no prison is so permanent. Most inmates never leave. They never escape. They never get released. They serve a life sentence in this overcrowded, underprovisioned facility.

The name of the prison? You’ll see it over the entrance. Rainbowed over the gate are four cast-iron letters that spell out its name:

W-A-N-T

The prison of want. You’ve seen her prisoners. They are “in want.” They want something. They want something bigger. Nicer. Faster. Thinner. They want.

They don’t want much, mind you. They want just one thing. One new job. One new car. One new house. One new spouse. They don’t want much. They want just one.

And when they have “one,” they will be happy. And they are right—they will be happy. When they have “one,” they will leave the prison. But then it happens. The new-car smell passes. The new job gets old. The neighbors buy a larger television set. The new spouse has bad habits. The sizzle fizzles, and before you know it, another ex-con breaks parole and returns to jail.

Are you in prison? You are if you feel better when you have more and worse when you have less. You are if joy is one delivery away, one transfer away, one award away, or one makeover away. If your happiness comes from something you deposit, drive, drink, or digest, then face it—you are in prison, the prison of want.


This article excerpted from Traveling Light.

Traveling Light is available on Amazon, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

This service is like Netflix for Bible Lessons. You pay a low monthly, quarterly or annual fee and get access to all the lessons. New lessons that correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines are automatically included, as well as a backlog of thousands of lessons. Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking, as well as answers from well-known authors such as David Jeremiah, Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado. For more information, or to sign up, click here.

The burden of a lesser deity

His pen has scarcely touched papyrus, and he’s urging us to avoid gods of our own making. With his very first words in this psalm, David sets out to deliver us from the burden of a lesser deity.

One might argue that he seeks to do nothing else. For though he will speak of green pastures, his thesis is not rest. He will describe death’s somber valley, but this poem is not an ode to dying. He will tell of the Lord’s forever house, but his theme is not heaven. Why did David write the Twenty-third Psalm? To build our trust in God … to remind us of who he is.

In this psalm David devotes one hundred and fifteen words to explaining the first two: “The LORD.” In the arena of unnecessary luggage, the psalmist begins with the weightiest: the refashioned god. One who looks nice but does little. God as …

A genie in a bottle. Convenient. Congenial. Need a parking place, date, field goal made or missed? All you do is rub the bottle and poof—it’s yours. And, what’s even better, this god goes back into the bottle after he’s done.

A sweet grandpa. So soft hearted. So wise. So kind. But very, very, very old. Grandpas are great when they are awake, but they tend to doze off when you need them.

A busy dad. Leaves on Mondays, returns on Saturdays. Lots of road trips and business meetings. He’ll show up on Sunday, however, so clean up and look spiritual. On Monday, be yourself again. He’ll never know.

Ever held these views of God? If so, you know the problems they cause. A busy dad doesn’t have time for your questions. A kind grandpa is too weak to carry your load. And if your god is a genie in a bottle, then you are greater than he is. He comes and goes at your command.

A god who looks nice but does little.


This article excerpted from Traveling Light.

Traveling Light is available on Amazon, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

This service is like Netflix for Bible Lessons. You pay a low monthly, quarterly or annual fee and get access to all the lessons. New lessons that correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines are automatically included, as well as a backlog of thousands of lessons. Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking, as well as answers from well-known authors such as David Jeremiah, Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado. For more information, or to sign up, click here.

What does it mean (spiritually speaking) to travel light?

What does it mean (spiritually speaking) to travel light?

Do more beloved words exist? Framed and hung in hospital halls, scratched on prison walls, quoted by the young, and whispered by the dying. In these lines sailors have found a harbor, the frightened have found a father, and strugglers have found a friend.

And because the passage is so deeply loved, it is widely known. Can you find ears on which these words have never fallen? Set to music in a hundred songs, translated into a thousand tongues, domiciled in a million hearts.

One of those hearts might be yours. What kinship do you feel with these words? Where do the verses transport you? To a fireside? Bedside? Graveside?

Hardly a week passes that I don’t turn to them. This passage is to the minister what balm is to the physician. I recently applied them to the heart of a dear friend. Summoned to his house with the words “The doctors aren’t giving him more than a few days,” I looked at him and understood. Face pale. Lips stretched and parched. Skin draping between bones like old umbrella cloth between spokes. The cancer had taken so much: his appetite, his strength, his days. But the cancer hadn’t touched his faith. Pulling a chair to his bed and squeezing his hand, I whispered, “Bill, ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.’” He rolled his head toward me as if to welcome the words.

“He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”

Reaching the fourth verse, fearful that he might not hear, I leaned forward until I was a couple of inches from his ear and said, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

He didn’t open his eyes, but he arched his brows. He didn’t speak, but his thin fingers curled around mine, and I wondered if the Lord was helping him set down some luggage, the fear of dying.

Do you have some luggage of your own? Do you think God might use David’s psalm to lighten your load? Traveling light means trusting God with the burdens you were never intended to bear.

Max Lucado, Traveling Light: Releasing the Burdens You Were Never Intended to Bear (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2001), 7–8.


This article excerpted from Traveling Light.

Traveling Light is available on Amazon, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

This service is like Netflix for Bible Lessons. You pay a low monthly, quarterly or annual fee and get access to all the lessons. New lessons that correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines are automatically included, as well as a backlog of thousands of lessons. Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking, as well as answers from well-known authors such as David Jeremiah, Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado. For more information, or to sign up, click here.

Traveling Light — Psalm 23

Traveling Light — Psalm 23

 I’ve never been one to travel light.

I’ve tried. Believe me, I’ve tried. But ever since I stuck three fingers in the air and took the Boy Scout pledge to be prepared, I’ve been determined to be exactly that—prepared.

Prepared for a bar mitzvah, baby dedication, or costume party. Prepared to parachute behind enemy lines or enter a cricket tournament. And if, perchance, the Dalai Lama might be on my flight and invite me to dine in Tibet, I carry snowshoes. One has to be prepared.

I don’t know how to travel light.

Fact is, there’s a lot about travel I don’t know. I don’t know how to interpret the restrictions of a supersaver seat—half price if you leave on Wednesdays during duck-hunting season and return when the moon is full in a nonelection year. I don’t know why they don’t build the whole plane out of the same metal they use to build the little black box. I don’t know how to escape the airplane toilet without sacrificing one of my extrem-ities to the jaws of the folding door. And I don’t know what to say to guys like the taxi driver in Rio who learned I was an American and asked me if I knew his cousin Eddie who lives in the U.S.

There’s a lot about traveling I don’t know.

I don’t know why we men would rather floss a crocodile than ask for directions. I don’t know why vacation slides aren’t used to treat insomnia, and I don’t know when I’ll learn not to eat food whose names I can’t pro-nounce.

But most of all, I don’t know how to travel light.

I don’t know how to travel without granola bars, sodas, and rain gear. I don’t know how to travel without flashlights and a generator and a global tracking system. I don’t know how to travel without an ice chest of wieners. What if I stumble upon a backyard barbecue? To bring nothing to the party would be rude.

Every travel-catalog company in the world has my credit-card number. I’ve got an iron that doubles as a pa-perweight, a hair dryer the size of a coach’s whistle, a Swiss Army knife that expands into a pup tent, and a pair of pants that inflate upon impact. (On one flight my wife, Denalyn, gave me a swat on the leg, and I couldn’t get out of my seat.)

I don’t know how to travel light. But I need to learn. Denalyn refuses to give birth to any more children even though the airlines allow each passenger three checked bags and two carry-ons.

I need to learn to travel light.

You’re wondering why I can’t. Loosen up! you’re thinking. You can’t enjoy a journey carrying so much stuff. Why don’t you just drop all that luggage?

Funny you should ask. I’d like to inquire the same of you. Haven’t you been known to pick up a few bags?

Odds are, you did this morning. Somewhere between the first step on the floor and the last step out the door, you grabbed some luggage. You stepped over to the baggage carousel and loaded up. Don’t remember do-ing so? That’s because you did it without thinking. Don’t remember seeing a baggage terminal? That’s be-cause the carousel is not the one in the airport; it’s the one in the mind. And the bags we grab are not made of leather; they’re made of burdens.

The suitcase of guilt. A sack of discontent. You drape a duffel bag of weariness on one shoulder and a hang-ing bag of grief on the other. Add on a backpack of doubt, an overnight bag of loneliness, and a trunk of fear. Pretty soon you’re pulling more stuff than a skycap. No wonder you’re so tired at the end of the day. Lugging luggage is exhausting.

What you were saying to me, God is saying to you, “Set that stuff down! You’re carrying burdens you don’t need to bear.”

“Come to me,” he invites, “all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28 NLT).

If we let him, God will lighten our loads … but how do we let him? May I invite an old friend to show us? The Twenty-third Psalm.

The LORD is my shepherd;

I shall not want.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures;

He leads me beside the still waters.

He restores my soul;

He leads me in the paths of righteousness

For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil;

For You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil.

My cup runs over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

All the days of my life;

And I will dwell in the house of the LORD

Forever. (NKJV)

Max Lucado, Traveling Light: Releasing the Burdens You Were Never Intended to Bear (Nashville: W Publish-ing Group, 2001), 4–6.


This article excerpted from Traveling Light.

Traveling Light is available on Amazon, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

This service is like Netflix for Bible Lessons. You pay a low monthly, quarterly or annual fee and get access to all the lessons. New lessons that correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines are automatically included, as well as a backlog of thousands of lessons. Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking, as well as answers from well-known authors such as David Jeremiah, Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado. For more information, or to sign up, click here.

Destroying Discouragement

First Response: Cry out to God. “Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their reproach on their own heads, and give them as plunder to a land of captivity! Do not cover their iniquity, and do not let their sin be blotted out from before You; for they have provoked You to anger before the builders … Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God …” (Nehemiah 4:4–5, 9).

I’m going to make a radical suggestion to you. Next time you encounter some major setback in your life, reverse your usual procedure—that is, cry out to God first instead of last. Most of us wait until we’ve exhausted all other alternatives before appealing to God as a last resort. I don’t know about you, but I grit my teeth when I hear someone say, “We’ve tried everything; now all we can do is pray.”

Don’t wait until last to look up. When discouragement comes, start at the top! Go to the Lord and ask Him to help you sort through all the issues. May I tell you what works for me in times of discouragement? I sit down with my computer and my journal and I begin to talk to God. I say, “Lord, I need to talk with You right now. Some things are going on in my life that I can’t understand, and I’m having a hard time with it. I need to tell You about it.”

For me, it helps to begin setting the issues down in writing as I verbalize my feelings to God. As I do this, something begins to change in my spirit.

First of all, I bring everything out of that dark “anxiety closet” into the light. Writing it down and reading it out loud brings clarity. I discover that things weren’t quite the way I thought when they were smoldering within me. I’ve imposed order on them, examined them in the light.

Second, I’ve done as Nehemiah did—I’ve cried out to God. This is the most important thing. Sometimes we just need to let go, be a child, and cry out to Daddy. That brings the innocence and dependence that are the beginning of wisdom. It cuts through our discouragement. If you don’t think this is a very spiritual approach, read through the psalms. When David was beset by worries (and he was beset by a multitude of them), he did exactly what I’ve prescribed above. He wrote them down and cried them out. He was brutally honest about his discouragement, and you can be, too.

Second Response: Continue the Work God Has Given You to Do. “So we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work” (Nehemiah 4:6).

Why is it that our immediate reaction to adversity is to quit? Like the angry little boy on the playground, we take our ball and go home. People leave churches; they quit jobs; they walk away from marriages—all because they’ve encountered the predictable season of discouragement. And of course, that’s the worst thing we can do. We always come to regret our emotional walkouts. Satan knows that if he can play on our emotions and get us to quit, he can keep the problem from being resolved. He can keep God’s work from moving forward. But take a look at Nehemiah. He felt all the discouragement of his people, but he never set down the trowel, never missed a beat in laying the next brick. He knew he had to keep on keeping on. Yes, there were problems to deal with—but he wasn’t going to set aside the mandate God had given him. “The people had a mind to work,” the Scriptures tell us. Nehemiah helped them see that productive labor is just what the doctor ordered sometimes. It’s healthy and therapeutic to work off our frustration.

Needless to say, it’s also a great way to bring a little discouragement to the enemy. Later on, Sanballat and Geshem tried one more stunt to make Nehemiah slow down on his work. They invited him to a conference. Anyone in the business world will tell you that conferences and committees are great ways to slow down productivity! And I’ve always loved Nehemiah’s comeback. “So I sent messengers to them, saying, ‘I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?’ ” (Nehemiah 6:3).

Modern translation: “Please accept my regrets, but God’s agenda outweighs yours right now.” The main thing is to keep the main thing as the main thing. We need to have a firm grasp on what God called us to do, put on the blinders, and keep plugging away. As we’ve seen, clear goals are the best preventive maintenance for burnout.

No matter how devastated you may feel, no matter how down in the dumps your spirit may be, keep up the good work. Experience leads me to believe that the times we least feel like working are the times we most certainly should. Emotions are treacherous advisers. We need to be disciplined and stay on task. Nehemiah knew his people didn’t need to bail; they needed to build. They didn’t need to walk; they needed to work. And our discouragement will have a way of sorting itself out.

Third Response: Concentrate on the Big Picture.

  Therefore I positioned men behind the lower parts of the wall, at the openings; and I set the people according to their families, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked, and arose and said to the nobles, to the leaders, and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.” (Nehemiah 4:13–14)

Nehemiah’s men were fanned out across the perimeter, working on little sections of the wall—and that was part of the problem. They were so separated that they couldn’t communicate and encourage each other. They could only see their own little hole in the wall, their own little pile of rubbish. It was very difficult to maintain any perspective.

We, too, tend to reduce the world to the cubicles we work in. “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world,” said John le Carré. Your cubicle may not have a window, but you can always keep one wide open in your spirit. Open it to God. Open it to others. Hold on to the Big Picture. Nehemiah’s workers were down and out. The muddy bricks and old debris made a discouraging picture, but only a few steps back and a little imagination upward revealed a portrait of the New Jerusalem. You may see nothing but drudgery in your life; you need to see what He is doing in you, with you, and for you. You need to hold on to that hope. It will help you prevail in the darkest of times.

David Jeremiah, Slaying the Giants in Your Life (Nashville, TN: W Pub., 2001), 27–30.

 


This article excerpted from Slaying the Giants in Your Life.

Slaying the Giants in Your Life is available on Amazon, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

This service is like Netflix for Bible Lessons. You pay a low monthly, quarterly or annual fee and get access to all the lessons. New lessons that correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines are automatically included, as well as a backlog of thousands of lessons. Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking, as well as answers from well-known authors such as David Jeremiah, Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado. For more information, or to sign up, click here.

Dealing with Doubt

Confront your doubts head-on, as Thomas did. But you’ll want to handle them carefully. Let’s discover how you can disarm them.

Admit Your Doubts Personally

Has this ever happened to you? Sliding into a pew, late for church, you feel tired, edgy, and possibly coming down with a cold. Across the sanctuary, people are standing and testifying: “I won five more souls to the kingdom of God,” somebody says. “And I bet some of you have won more souls than that! I don’t know about you, but I feel God’s sweet presence every moment of every day.” Everyone around you is laughing, applauding, and saying, “Amen!”

Won five souls to the Lord? You can’t even enter the church parking lot without honking your horn at someone who got your space. You’d like to stand up and give your testimony. “Hello, everybody. Let me tell you about my week. I haven’t felt anything but a lousy sinus headache and a bushel of doubts. I haven’t had the sense of God in my life for a long time. I’m barely getting by at work, my family life is in chaos, and to be absolutely honest with you, I haven’t seen God doing much of anything.” Then you would sit down, knowing not to expect many amens—just the kind of awed stares usually reserved for gorillas at the zoo; perhaps the same glances that Thomas got in that disciple-filled room.

But it would be far better for you to stand up and spill it in public than to smother your tangled emotions in sanitary smiles for months and years. If you’re going to make it through the bad times and finally encounter the true goodness of God, you must begin with honesty. You must admit to yourself that it’s not well with your soul.

Articulate Your Doubts Clearly

You can’t get by with a simple, “Oh, I’m just a natural-born doubter, I guess.” No, you’re going to have to do better than that. You’re going to have to crystallize your thinking and put your finger on precisely what it is that’s causing your uncertainty. The nameless doubt is the one you can’t harbor. Identify it, describe it clearly, and deal with it. Are you struggling with the historicity of the Resurrection? We have excellent source material to recommend. Are you grappling with the problem of evil? Great minds have grappled before you—and they’re willing to share their thoughts. Are you wondering if one brand of faith is any different from another? Make a brand comparison.

Articulate what you doubt and why you doubt. What brought this on? Was it something someone said, perhaps some scholar or skeptic? Is there something amiss in the realm of your emotions? Clarify these issues; wipe the clouds away.

Acknowledge Your Doubts Prayerfully

Christian writer Mark Littleton found a little formula that I like. It goes this way:

    Turn your doubts to questions.

    Turn your questions to prayers.

    Turn your prayers to God.

You mean we can take our doubts directly to God? Won’t He be offended? Not according to scriptural precedent.

David Jeremiah, Slaying the Giants in Your Life (Nashville, TN: W Pub., 2001), 145–146.


This article excerpted from Slaying the Giants in Your Life.

Slaying the Giants in Your Life is available on Amazon, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

This service is like Netflix for Bible Lessons. You pay a low monthly, quarterly or annual fee and get access to all the lessons. New lessons that correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines are automatically included, as well as a backlog of thousands of lessons. Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking, as well as answers from well-known authors such as David Jeremiah, Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado. For more information, or to sign up, click here.

Resisting Your Resentment

3. Work It Out

A couple managed to stay married for fifty years. At the anniversary party, someone asked for their secret. The husband said, “We made a simple agreement when we were married. Whenever she was bothered about something, she should go ahead, tell me off, and get it out of her system. As for me, every time I got angry I should go out and take a walk.” He concluded, “I guess you can attribute our marital success to the fact that I’ve largely led an outdoor life.”

Actually, he does have a point. There’s something to be said for good, physical exercise. There is no full physiological solution to what is a spiritual problem—let’s be very clear on that—but a little perspiration is beneficial for strong emotions. It takes the edge off fresh anger. It provides an outlet. It becomes an escape valve so that we don’t build up a backlog of bitterness. Don’t sit in a dark room and brood. Go out and take a vigorous walk. Sweat away some of your emotions.

4. Talk It Over

You can discuss your feelings with trusted friends. You can discuss them with your family. But please don’t fail to talk your feelings over with the One who loves you most, and the One who has the power to make you, your mind, and your heart brand-new. Go to the Lord and tell it all. Bring that essay with you, no matter how many pages it took you to write. Even if it’s the size of War and Peace, that’s okay. The Lord never slumbers. He’ll listen to every word.

Be just as honest with God as you were on paper. That’s hard for some people who put on their emotional Sunday best before approaching God in prayer. It’s good to acknowledge His holiness, but it’s also important to be authentic in prayer. If you’re furious, remorseful, frantic, sorrowful—whatever emotion you may have, bring it to God. Come as you are. It’s not as if you can hide anything from Him, anyway. There’s no hair on your head He doesn’t know; no molecule within the marvel of your body that He didnplace there. Share it all with Him, and He’ll begin to share certain things with you—things such as grace and forgiveness.

Hebrews 12:15, as we’ve seen, offers a compelling phrase: “Looking diligently [carefully] lest anyone fall short of the grace of God.” What does that mean? Those with resentment in their hearts are coping with a grace deficiency. They need to approach God and recover what they’ve lost, for He is the only true source. To experience His grace and forgiveness is to find that we have plenty of it for others. Otherwise, we’ll continue to play by the world’s rules. We’ll continue to keep our ledgers and tally up every little hurtful word and deed we perceive someone has aimed our way.

There is a story of two men who were traveling through the jungles in Burma, one a visitor and the other a resident missionary. Along their journey they came to a murky little pond, and the waters came up to their necks as they crossed it. When the two men emerged on the far side, the visitor was covered with leeches—all over his arms, his legs, and his torso. He began frantically plucking at the parasites, trying to pull them off. But the missionary said, “No—don’t do that! If you pull one out suddenly, a part of the creature will remain under your skin, the wound will become infected, and you’ll be in much worse condition.”

The other man said, “Then what am I supposed to do?”

“We need to get you into a balsam bath, as quickly as possible,” said the missionary. “Soaking yourself in the bath will cause those leeches to pull out their hooks, and you’ll be free.”

Deep resentment is the leech that embeds itself in your heart. You can’t pluck at it and discard it simply by making a resolution, reading a book, or any other simple action. You know from experience it’s going to take more than that; those feelings have their hooks in you. But there is one thing you can do, and that’s to bathe in the luxurious grace of God. When you do that, a lot of strongholds begin to loosen within your spirit. When you contemplate the forgiveness He has given you, your merciless grudges begin to fade into nothing. When you feel the wonders of His cleansing grace, you settle down into that bath until the waters rise up and overflow. They begin to soak all of those around you, your antagonists and rivals and enemies. Suddenly the thing you resented doesn’t seem worthy of notice anymore.

It simply comes down to this: We can forgive because God has forgiven us. If you haven’t accepted God’s forgiveness for your sin, you’ll struggle to forgive others. You’ll know no way other than the strict rule of the ledger book. But if you’ve found the way of grace, you’ll find how delightful and rewarding life can be when you stop keeping score.

Talk to God. Ask Him to help you see the depth of His love, His mercy, His grace and forgiveness. Ask Him to fill your cup with it. Then spend some time expressing your thanksgiving to Him for doing so. I have a feeling that, after doing so, the spell will be broken. You won’t feel at the mercy of merci-lessness any longer.

David Jeremiah, Slaying the Giants in Your Life (Nashville, TN: W Pub., 2001), 129–131.


This article excerpted from Slaying the Giants in Your Life.

Slaying the Giants in Your Life is available on Amazon, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

This service is like Netflix for Bible Lessons. You pay a low monthly, quarterly or annual fee and get access to all the lessons. New lessons that correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines are automatically included, as well as a backlog of thousands of lessons. Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking, as well as answers from well-known authors such as David Jeremiah, Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado. For more information, or to sign up, click here.

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