All That Was Needed

“I cannot do this!” I cried out,
And to this I heard no reply.
“I failed again!” did I shout,
But God did not answer why.
Angered now and so full of shame
That not good enough was my best,
I stormed off cursing my name
And knowing I’d failed God’s test.
“What you want from me I don’t know!
Nor do I think I have it to give;
I need to let this burden go
For this way I cannot live.
I tried to live, God, by your rule;
I failed, I sinned so many times.
And being human, hence, a fool,
I repeated one by one my crimes.
I tried to witness but cannot speak
Your truth in a way they would hear;
I’d be on missions, but am so weak
And crippled still by my fear.
I cannot do this!” I cried out,
And this time my cry was heeded.
“I know,” God said, “Without a doubt;
But your heart was all that was needed.”


The Four Levels of Faith

It seems there are four levels of faith:
1. Comfort faith
2. 11th-hour faith
3. Rack, Shack, and Benny faith
4. Even though faith

Comfort faith is the level I was at for a long time. I believed in God and claimed I trusted in Him to guide me…provided I wasn’t concerned about money, health, or anything else major at the time. Leah calls it “sunshine faith.” When it’s all going well enough, it’s easy to believe in God. It’s even easy to say you’re believing in God to bring you things that don’t have a definite deadline, like a house or the right person to marry. You feel good because you seem to have both a faith in God and a great deal of comfort in your life. A lot of people stay here because it’s such a nice place. Sure, trials may come, but with the resources they have, they’re able to get through most of them just fine on their own.

But God rarely uses people whose faith is at just this level. Following God requires a deepening of your faith with Him. 

It’s also hard to let go of the things you have when your faith, not only in God but that He is better than what you are letting go, is weak. I think people either get contented at this level and so don’t seek God, or they know that seeking God comes at a cost and they’re simply not willing to pay it. Either way, this is the lowest level of faith, lulling those with it to sleep.

And there’s one last danger: when a serious trial comes, many people at this level will crumble. Their faith hasn’t been worked and so they have nothing to stand on. It would be like a 120 lb. guy walking into a gym after benching 40 lbs. at home and trying to bench 400 lbs. He’d be seriously injured, if not killed.

The second level of faith is 11th-hour faith. It’s a bit stronger because you’re willing to step out and follow God outside of your comfort zone, yet there’s still a safety net. Leah and I currently have this faith. We moved down to Houston, but when we think about our checking account, we think, “Ok, we can sell her car and that should bring in about 3-4 months’ worth of expenses. We also have our credit lines, which could float us for an additional 4-5 months. We’ll be ok, we’ll make it.”

Our faith is growing each day, but we’re not quite ready to fully trust God. We want Him to catch us, even though we’re not ready to let go.

There’s some good in being here. For one, it hurts, meaning that our faith is growing. I had a job search last year and God blessed me with a contract job. I was stressed, though, because we were down to about a month’s worth of expenses. This time, I’m taking it much better, but I’m not where I need to be. Not close. I keep thinking about what will happen with the search and, even when I daydream about what God could do, it’s still not letting it all go to Him to let Him decide what needs to be done. I’m still telling Him that I need a job, which is to say, that I need the first step, but then I can take it from there. And if He doesn’t come through for a while, it’s ok because I still have my safety net.

Then there’s Rack, Shack, and Benny faith. Those of you who know Veggie Tales probably get this reference to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. King Nebuchadnezzar set up an image of gold 90 feet tall and demanded that all people worship it. These three refused, so the king gave them another chance. They refused again, saying, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16b-18)

This is powerful faith, what I call “even if” faith. They were determined to believe in God and serve Him, even if He didn’t come through for them. Even if they were to be burned alive for their faith, they would not budge. I’m not there yet. I could believe in God and serve Him through more now than before, but being faced with the prospect of being burned alive…I’m not sure I could be that strong. They were willing to let go, to have no safety net under them, and, though they were hoping God would deliver them, their faith didn’t depend on His answering their prayers the way they wanted.

This is where it gets scary, though, because you don’t know whether He’ll answer your prayers in your way or let you get thrown in the furnace. And if you do get tossed in, you don’t know that He’ll protect you. This is the point at which you still pray for your plan, but have accepted His.

Lastly, there is “even though” faith. This is a subtle, but important, difference from even if faith. With even if faith, you’re still wanting your will to happen. You’re hoping God gives you a way out and you’re still looking for it. You’re willing, you can be committed, but the faith is different because the focus is different. Jesus, as the man, didn’t want to go the cross, but He was willing to go, knowing full well that there was no way out, that He would, without question, suffer one of the worst deaths in recorded history, despite having done nothing to deserve it. He went, knowing that for a brief time, He would carry the weight of all our sin on Him, becoming the sacrifice to appease His Father’s perfect and adamant justice.

I don’t know if it’s possible; to be honest, I don’t even know if I want to have this kind of faith. It terrifies me to be willing to march boldly into a certain and horrible death, worshiping God the whole way. And it doesn’t even have to be death. If I knew for certain that God would not come through for Leah and I and that we’d be on the streets, that we’d never have kids, and that we’d live short lives marred with diseases and abuses, it would be hard for me to serve still. If I were to lose Leah, I would come back eventually, but I don’t think I could worship God when it happened or honestly love Him. I tell myself “one step at a time,” but I don’t know how far I want my steps to take me. I pray simultaneously for the boldness that I need to wield this kind of faith and that I’ll never need to have it.

If anyone had this faith, it was Habakkuk. In chapter 3:17-19, he writes, “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food, though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls, I will rejoice in the Lord. I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills.” Or as Job said in Job 13:15, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”

I am in the second level right now and part of my problem is I want to go back to the first as much as I want to press on to the third. I need to know more clearly the God I serve, and I need to let go of my own will in my life.

The 3 Reasons People Change

Last year, I started writing a book on why it’s so difficult for people to change. Some find it easy, but most of the ones I’ve known struggle with the same issues over and over. I certainly do. Even when I’ve found something that changes my life so dramatically for the better, it seems difficult to let go of my old ways.

A large part is certainly overcoming the inertia of our habits, but that’s more of an issue when we try to change. More importantly, it’s an issue that can be overcome by replacing bad habits with better ones.As for getting started on the change, however, I believe there are three reasons people change:

1. They are excited about the results of the change. If I could snap my fingers and be a world-class computer programmer, I would, but I’m not excited enough about the perceived results of my efforts to put the time in. Part of it is because I don’t want to be a programmer badly enough to put in the effort to change, and another part is because I don’t believe I will become world-class at it. If I believed that, I might be excited enough about those results to continue learning, but I’m not excited enough about the ones I expect to get. When I found out what Excel could do, I got excited about the potential results, and so I became very proficient.

Note that I didn’t say they want the changes, or even need the changes. People are going to do what they want to do even above what is good for them. Otherwise, people wouldn’t start smoking, they would exercise, and promiscuity would be rare because of the potential for diseases. It’s no different with change. It doesn’t matter whether you need to do it; if you don’t want to, you won’t. If you want to change, but want to remain the same more (even subconsciously) or want to avoid the process of change more, you won’t change.

2. They fear not changing more than they fear changing or more than they wish to avoid the process of change. People sometimes change particularly damaging habits because they see what happens to others with those habits, particularly those they love. I have a friend in Virginia who lived a rather wild lifestyle in high school. Her parents made few to no attempts to curb her activities, but when her older sister was in a near-fatal car accident, my friend took a long look at her life and where it was headed, particularly at what would happen to her if she died. She became a Christian and has steadily been growing closer to God since. It wasn’t because she was looking to give up sex, drinking, and partying, but because she feared Hell more than she feared losing these things.

3. They change because of love. One of the tactics people use to get loved ones to join groups like AA is an intervention, when the person’s family and closest friends come together to show that person in a unified way how much they’re hurt by the person’s actions. It can be a very effective tactic because nobody wants to hurt those they love. Others go on diets and start exercising or stop smoking because they want to be around for their children and grandchildren. The process in this case may be the least fun because often, the habits that are changed are addicting or life-long, rather than smaller things like taking a few college computer courses, but people can be convinced to change their lifestyles completely for those they love deeply enough.

This is not necessarily a complete list. I’m very open to feedback of other broad reasons why people change (i.e., specific reasons, such as stopping drinking to keep a job fall in some combination of the second and third core reasons). Thanks for any feedback!

Faith vs. Feelings

It’s easy to have faith in God when you don’t feel you need Him for anything. When your relationship with your spouse is good, when the kids are healthy, when you have enough money, and when your boss appreciates your work (or when you don’t have an upcoming test, for those in school), it’s easy to forget God. Yet this is when faith is weakest, when it’s not needed.

Leah and I have started working out since we’ve moved down to Houston. She was already in pretty good shape, but I have a few pounds I could easily lose. It’s hard, though. We have the P90X videos and plyometrics is ridiculously difficult. I can only get to 33:30 remaining and I’m sore the next morning. It’s ok, though, because my work is paying off. I’m starting to lose weight and that pain I feel is because I used my muscles beyond their capabilities, meaning they’ll rebuild themselves to be stronger. I hope to, within a month or two, be able to do the whole thing. My legs will be stronger, my heart will be stronger, and I’ll be leaner.

Oddly, we seek to work out our bodies, but don’t seem to want to work out our faith. We’re often happiest when we see no reason to need God, when our lives are going according to our plans. Personally, I think it’s a matter of feeling in control. With working out, I can stop if it’s too much or if I just decide I don’t care. I have that power. With life’s struggles, I usually don’t have that choice. But just as my character can only be built when I don’t want to build it, so my faith can only be built when I’m not in control. That feeling of being out of control breeds fear and, though I could quote Yoda here, I’ll quote 2 Tim. 1:7 instead, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

When you come to a challenge in other areas of your life, how do you respond? Do you back away and give excuses, or do you face the challenge head on? The way you respond to challenges in your life shows a lot about what you believe about yourself, but it also reveals a lot about what you believe about God. A weak faith in Him will make someone seek to avoid life’s struggles because uncertainty is uncomfortable; a strong faith will enable a person to embrace those times because their faith is growing stronger still and their God gets another opportunity to show them and the world His infinite love.

So…how strong is your faith?

An Unpopular Message

In writing a book on confidence, it never really occurred to me how unpopular a message this might be. I think it’s because in writing it, I was learning that my value isn’t in what I’d thought. It wasn’t in my honor or intellect or in working hard. It wasn’t in friendships or title or relationship status. And considering how stressed all of these made me, I was ready to cast them aside. 

Or so I thought…

And therein lies the problem: It’s difficult to get rid of parts of yourself, even parts that you hate or are hurting you. Until the message of my new value started sinking in, I was doomed to be lost, trying to deny the things that I thought gave me value while at the same time not really believing that God’s love for me made me so valuable. People need to be valued. Maybe it’s a twisting of our original need for love, but we crave it, as Jack Nicholson might say, “deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties.” There is no need stronger; it is the oxygen for our souls, a constant requirement that we don’t talk about much unless we’re not getting any. 

Then there’s some guy nobody’s really heard of telling them they don’t have to breathe in the same foul air they have been for years, that they can leave behind their source for their strongest need. I mean, imagine telling someone they don’t have to breathe anymore. I’m not the only one sharing this message, I know, but this is hardly a movement, at least, not yet. And why should it be? It sounds crazy.

Except for one thing: what most people are breathing in for their value isn’t really working for them. It makes them work only harder, gets them only more stressed, and robs them of the life, both literally and figuratively, that Jesus gave His life for them to enjoy. 

I remember learning how to swim. I had the floaties on my arms that were as big as my head, yet I still clung to the side of the pool as though a kraken would drag me down to the depths of YMCA’s pool the moment I let go. Then I started letting go, slowly and very cautiously at first, often grabbing the side again, yet those times became fewer with longer times between as I started learning how to swim and as my trust in my floaties grew. Eventually, I didn’t even need the floaties, and then I was free.

Your journey toward self-confidence, if you haven’t already started it, will probably be a lot like this. Mine certainly was, though it can take much longer to change a heart than it can to learn to swim. If it is like mine, don’t give up. Keep letting go of what you have been clinging to. It gets better. And better still, when you get scared or feel that you’re not valuable, start clutching onto what God says about you rather than your old go-tos. That will take a while, but that’s when you’ll really be free.


God’s Love Letter: The Lion’s Protection

God has written a love letter. To you. It’s a passionate outpouring of His heart for you, telling how much He cares for you and how often He thinks of you. It is not poetry, though it contains poems, for no poetry can capture the essence of what He’s telling you as well as His acts can. This love letter is the Bible, written in blood on something more permanent than stone.

I am reading the minor prophets now. Most have a similar message: woe to those who have worshiped other gods or mistreated Israel, for their destruction is coming. People who don’t believe that God is good will sometimes use such verses to show that God is vindictive and cruel. I see it differently. For the Israelites, these prophecies are God’s chastisement of them to draw them back to Him, much like a parent would punish a child for misbehaving to get them to behave again. 

For those who mistreated them, it’s a show of God’s care for those whom He chose. I remember seeing a youtube video of a group of hyenas attacking a group of lionesses and driving them away from a carcass. Then the lion of the pride comes in and just ravages the hyenas. He seemed to be everywhere at once, an unstoppable fury they could not hope to counter. Nobody messed with his pride without feeling his wrath.

Last year, a man in Texas (if I remember right) caught one of his ranch hands inappropriately touching his young daughter in his barn. He beat the man to death and was not only exonerated, but hailed as a hero. Whatever happens between him and his daughter, she will always know that her father is willing to do whatever it takes to protect her, that he is her lion. 

God is our Lion. He even calls Himself that. He is our King, our Judge, our Creator, our Savior, our Friend, our High Priest, and our Protector. All of these roles are parts of His role as our Father. As such, His wrath, even when He punishes us, is not out of hate, but out of a love that burns so passionately that He will do anything He has to for us to come back to Him. He allows some things to happen for reasons that we don’t know or don’t understand, but even in these, He shows His love for us by giving us circumstances that require us to have more faith in Him if we are to find our way through them.

You have the Lion of the tribe of Judah on your side. Who can take you from His will? What is there to fear?

The Heart of the Matter

The core reason we don’t change has nothing to do with procrastination, life’s distractions, or what others have done to us. We can blame all these things, but we do so to hide the real reasons we don’t change. Procrastination is a way to avoid both the work and risk of change. Distractions aren’t valid because we can always make time for what’s most important to us. If you can’t make time for it, then it’s less important to you than other things you’re doing, including your spare-time hobbies. And we have all been hurt by others, but if they could be justifiably blamed for our failure to change, nobody would change for the better.

The real reason we don’t change is because we don’t want to change badly enough. We may want the rewards of change, but we have a misconception about them or our likelihood of achieving them. We may overestimate the work required or underestimate our ability to do it. The underlying theme of even these excuses, though, is that we are, on some level, comfortable with our situation.

We have a fear of the unknown. We tell ourselves all kinds of lies about what will be out there, waiting to destroy us. From the monster in our closet or under our bed to the irrational fears of a hypochondriac to the fear we’ll be shamed at work over the slightest failure, we tell ourselves lies about what the unknown has for us. We may hope for good in our future, but we don’t often expect it until it actually begins to materialize. When we do expect it, it’s hard to not go the other way and see only the good.

Life will probably hand you something in between. Not all good, but not nearly as bad as you had feared. Think about all the things you’ve feared the last few years. How many of them have actually come to pass? For me, I was afraid I’d never get married and I’d die alone. Now, that fear is gone. I’ve been afraid that certain symptoms might be worse than I originally thought, but I’ve always recovered. Most of the things I’ve feared have never happened.

Your fear is slowly killing you. Many (though not all) of the changes you want to make are being hindered by your fear of the unknown. That fear is whispering to you that you’re better off where you are now because at least you know where you are. You know it hurts, but you also know you can live with it.

In the next post, we’ll look at how it got so easy to live with and what to do to change your expectations.