The One Thing Keeping You From The Life You Want

eyes of love

Once upon a time a rich young ruler comes to Jesus. This man had everything: money, power, youth. Maybe he was even not-too-bad looking.

But even though it seemed like he had everything anyone could want–he knew he was missing something.

He came to Jesus with a burning question

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17)

This young man knew that the things he had wouldn’t last forever. He needed eternal life.

Jesus gave the searching man a rather standard answer: Follow the commandments. Don’t murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Honor your father and mother.

The young man thought: Good. I’ve got this. He told Jesus, “I’ve done all those things since I was a boy.”

But Jesus knew there was one thing that was holding the man back from the life he really wanted. There was one thing that was distracting him from his real life. So Jesus looked at the young man and said:

“You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

The rich young ruler went away despondent. Because this was the one thing he could not do.

one thing2I totally get that young man. Not that I’m rich. Or powerful. Even youth has pretty much passed me by. But there have often been things in my life that have distracted me from my real life–the amazing, beautiful life that Jesus wants me to have. Sometimes Jesus has asked me to surrender things I held tightly–in order to wholeheartedly follow Him.

And often I have been exactly like that man that met Jesus. I have said no. I’ve hung onto whatever I thought it was I couldn’t live without. Music career. Pursuit of dream house. Wanting family close.

But when I’ve hung onto those dreams, those desires–I discovered that didn’t actually make me happier. They only pulled me away from Christ. I couldn’t follow Jesus closely because I was dragging around the weight of my own will, my own expectations.

Usually I come to my senses and realize that a life of following Jesus is better than any other path. I eventually release that one thing that is holding me back from the life I really want–the life God has planned for me.

What are holding onto? If Jesus spoke to you and said, “You lack one thing. Go and surrender _________” What would that one thing be?

If Jesus spoke to you and said, 'You lack one thing. Go and surrender __________' What would that one thing be? Click To Tweet

It’s always difficult to surrender things we hold dear. But there is one phrase in Mark’s account of the rich young ruler that makes it a bit easier.

Mark wrote “Jesus, looking at him, loved him” (Mark 10:21).

When I struggle to surrender whatever God is asking me to let go, I remember Jesus’ love. I picture Him–looking at me with eyes of love–holding out His hands to take whatever burdens He has asked me to relinquish.

Jesus doesn’t ask me to release my desires or my possessions because He wants to make me miserable. He asks me to release them because, in His love, He knows the one thing that is keeping me from the life I really want.

Next step: If Jesus spoke to you and said, “You lack one thing. Go and surrender _________” What would that one thing be? Spend a few minutes basking in Jesus’ love for you. Then write a prayer surrendering that one thing–the one thing that is keeping you from the life you really want.

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If you would like to learn more about avoiding distractions and living a focused life, check out a FREE lesson that shares the one habit that changed my life more than any other. 

This five-page lesson will help you:

  • Discover the one Faith-Focus Habit that can immediately make a difference in your daily peace and clarity.

AND

  • Take the first step toward living out God’s plan for your life and ignoring all the trivial paths that side-track you from your true purpose.

Click on the button below to get this FREE lesson:

download your free lesson!

 

 

 

 

 

When You’re Distracted By Your Desires

Trust in the Lord

There was a time when I wanted a new house more than anything. It wasn’t that the house we lived in was a hovel. It fact it was a two-story, four-bedroom, two-full-bath residence with a big backyard. The trouble was—it was old. And just a mile away, developers were constructing a brand-new subdivision of luxury homes. Suddenly, all the little flaws in my house were magnified. The windows that were painted shut were infuriating. The floor plan was aggravating. The well water that periodically turned my laundry orange was maddening.

I began to obsess about getting a new house. I lost sleep as I fantasized about a new place to live. I worried about saving money for a down payment. I failed to find anything good about my current home and in the process misplaced any tranquility I might have possessed. My new-house-obsession was a distraction from my real life.

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 37:4:

Delight yourself in the Lordand he will give you the desires of your heart.

A new house was definitely one of the desires of my heart. Every time I tried to open the windows I wished for a new house. Whenever I tried to clean the rust stains off the tub I hoped for a new home. I kept praying that God would answer that desire.

But although I knew verse 4 of Psalm 37 by memory, I had forgotten about verse 3:

Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.

God promises to give me the desires of my heart, but first He asks me to trustHim.

Lately I’ve been finding that when I’m having trouble trusting God, the best thing I can do is be honest with Him. When I’m distracted by things that I want, I can stuff those desires down because they’re not spiritual. I can avoid praying about them because they don’t seem like something God would care about.

But of course, God knows the desires of my heart anyway. So the best thing I can do is bring my whole wish list to Him. Even if the list has things that seem trivial or (gasp!) worldly, when I talk to God about them, He can help me sort them out.

distractingdesiresThis is more than just asking God to give me everything on the list.

It’s giving Him the list.

It’s trusting that in His love, He will know which of those things are good. It’s having faith that He will answer my prayers when the time is right.

You know, I struggled with new-house-distraction for a long time. But after I decided to trust God to give me what I needed, I learned to see its good points. And a couple of years after that, God blessed our family with a brand new house.

When I tell my gracious heavenly Father that I’m ready to trust Him, that’s when my heart changes. When I give God my desires, that’s when they lose their grip on my soul. When I hand God my list, my distracting desires give way to peace.

Next step: What distracting desires have a grip on your soul? Write down your list of wants. Then give it to God, tell Him you trust Him to give you what is best–at the right time.

 

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If you would like to learn more about avoiding distractions and living a focused life, check out a FREE lesson that shares the one habit that changed my life more than any other. 

This five-page lesson will help you:

  • Discover the one Faith-Focus Habit that can immediately make a difference in your daily peace and clarity.

AND

  • Take the first step toward living out God’s plan for your life and ignoring all the trivial paths that side-track you from your true purpose.

Click on the button below to get this FREE lesson:

download your free lesson!

 

Learning to Delight in the Gift

 

 

 

delight in the gift
 
A while back I met a friend for lunch that I hadn’t seen in months. She met me with a hug and a beautiful bunch of pale pink tulips.

My first thought was: They are so lovely!
 

My second thought was: I didn’t get her anything!
 

Somehow how I couldn’t fully delight in the gift because now I felt the balance of friendship was upset.
 

As I contemplated this I realized that my delight in God’s gift of grace is also somewhat diminished by the fact that I didn’t give Him something of value in return. I feel I have to do something for God 

In one way this is perfectly sane because it is a good thing to want to give back to God.

But in another way this is ridiculous because what could I give God that could equal the incomparable gift of His Son?

The real problem lies in the fact that sometimes my doing gets in the way of enjoying God. The nagging feeling that I should be busy in His service sometimes prevents me from simply delighting in Him.

Psalm 37:4 says:

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

When we learn to delight in the Lord, He becomes the desire of our hearts. We rest, contented with who He is and what He has given. The pressure to do is diminished. The weight of the my inadequacy is lifted.

Just for today, let’s put aside our doing and simply sit at Jesus’ feet enjoying His presence, reveling in His grace, marveling in His love.

Delight in the gift.

Next Step: Take five minutes today to sit quietly with God. Delight in His love, care, and protection. Thank Him for His many gifts to you.
revel in His grace

When You’re Feeling Unsettled, Dissatified

 

When I'm feeling unsettled, dissatisfied, Jesus knows what I need the most.

This month I’m reading through the gospel of Mark. I’m slowly digesting one chapter a day. I’m allowing God’s words to unsettle my soul enough to draw me closer to Him and receive His grace.

It didn’t take long for the unsettling to happen. On the second day of my journey through this short book I read a story that made me uncomfortable. Mark gives the account of four strong men who come to Jesus bringing along a friend who couldn’t walk–a paralytic.

The very first words Jesus said to the man lying helplessly on the stretcher were, “Your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5).

Now put yourself in the position of the man on the mat. Were those the words you were hoping to hear? Probably not. Most likely the words you wanted to hear were, “You are healed.”

But Jesus knew what the man needed most. What the paralytic needed more than healing was grace. What he needed more than the ability to walk was the ability to proceed on God’s path of life. What he needed most was forgiveness.

Like the man on the mat I come to Jesus with many pressing needs. I am convinced that if God would just grant this one request I would be happy. Okay, maybe two things. Or three.

But Jesus knows what I need most:

Forgiveness

unsettled soul

And because He died an awful death in my place, because He defeated our most terrible foe, because He rose triumphant, forgiveness is available. Because the Holy Spirit worked faith in my heart and drew me closer to the cross, forgiveness is mine.

If you know the story of the paralytic, you know that Jesus didn’t make the man wait long before He also told him, “Get up and take your mat and go home” (Mark 2:12). The man received what he needed the most and what he probably wanted the most.

But what if Jesus had not healed the lifeless limbs? Would the man have been content? Would he been disappointed but then realize that peace in his soul was worth far more than strength in his legs?

The reason this story unsettled my soul is that I fear I would not have been satisfied with just the gift of forgiveness. I fear this because I often go to Jesus with what some perceived need and forget He has already given me what I require most. The desperate longings in my soul can seem more important than my most desperate need for forgiveness. And so I am not content.

Perhaps you can relate. You are facing loss. Pain. Discouragement. Your spirit is not content.

Maybe together we can pray that we would realize that God has already met our most crucial need. That He has given us grace. Healing for our souls. Life in His love.

Pray for contentment for the greatest gift: Forgiveness.

 

What to Do When Life Disappoints

Our natural reaction to disappointment is to grumble and complain, but there is another way.

What do we do when life disappoints? Our natural reaction is to complain and grumble. We tell our sad story to anyone who will listen.

This is what I tend to do. Especially about the fact that my grandchildren live far away.

I make sure that all of my friends hear about my grandchildren in China—emphasis on China. I smile weakly as I talk about how much I miss them. When others talk about their grown children or grandchildren, I immediately remind them of my sad situation by sighing wistfully, “You are so lucky to have them close by.”

Thankfully, I have very sympathetic friends. They commiserate with me. They say, “Oh it would just kill me to have my kids so far away.” One friend even commented that my husband and I were the poster children (or would that be the poster parents?) for empty-nesters. He said everyone we knew could say, “At least we don’t have it as bad as John and Sharla.” Which made me laugh, but also served to worsen my case of poor-me-syndrome.

When our expectations are not met and we continue to yearn for the unattainable, we also tend to complain to God. All of our prayers start with the word, “Why?” We can’t come up with one good reason that God would have for not answering our prayers and giving us what we want.

When I have a really bad case of poor-me-syndrome, there are certain Bible passages I try to avoid. Passages like:

“Whom have I in heaven but you?  

And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.

My flesh and my heart may fail,

 but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Psalm 73: 25-26

I brush over verses like this because I can’t seem to say, “God, there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” I’m ashamed to admit it. I want to be like the psalmist, but it just ain’t happening.

But if I stop avoiding the psalm and look at it a little closer, I notice that the psalmist did not come to those words easily. In the beginning of the psalm he was just like me asking, “Why do other people seem to have it so good?” It isn’t till the end of the psalm that he is able to come to the point of saying, “God is enough.”

And the answer is in the last verse of the psalm. Here he says, “But as for me, it is good to be near God” (verse 28). Being in God’s presence is what changes us.

Let that sink into your heart.

Nothing could be better than being near God.

near God

Question: What do you do when life disappoints?

What Child is This: Enthroning Christ

loving hearts enthrone HimOne of my favorite Christmas carols is “What Child is This?” Somehow the hauntingly beautiful melody defines this poignant season for me.

But I’ve sung it so often that I can do so without really thinking about the words. “What Child is this, who laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping” conjures up Christmas card pictures of the crude stable but doesn’t change my heart.

Recently a line in the third verse caught my attention:

The King of kings salvation brings

Let loving hearts enthrone him.

This stirs up a couple of questions: “Does my heart enthrone Christ?” “How can my heart enthrone Him?”

Does my heart enthrone Christ? To answer this question honestly, I would have to say, “yes and no.” Some days I do live bowed to the majesty of the Almighty God. But many other days I live as if I am king (or queen) of my life. I make my own decision. I ignore the King’s edicts. I spend little time kneeling before the throne. I make demands and become discouraged and angry when the universe doesn’t revolve around me. I live as If I am in charge of my own little kingdom.

Eventually, living like this wearies my soul. Living as if I am in charge requires a lot of pulling against God’s loving hand. It wears me out.

How can my heart enthrone Him? So how can I daily put Christ back in His rightful place–on the throne of my heart? When I look at the words of the carol, I see one key, “let loving hearts enthrone Him.” When I remember God’s amazing love in sending the gift of salvation in the form of a baby, I can respond in love. And when I love, it’s easier to allow Him to sit on the throne. It’s (almost) natural to bow in humility before God’s grace.

I can also daily enthrone the King through prayer. Each day I need to approach Him in the throne room of my heart and ask Him to reveal just who is sitting on the throne right now. If it looks suspiciously like I’m on that seat, I need to ask Christ for the strength to jump off the throne. Allow Him to be the King of my life. Bow my heart to His loving grace.

This Christmas season let’s bring the gift Jesus truly deserves–our hearts.

Question: How do you consciously enthrone Christ in your heart?

How to Live with a Holy Longing

HowToLiveWithAHolyLonging

 

A holy longing.

I love that phrase.

There are a lot of things I long for: my family nearby, time with friends, a little more success, a new handbag, dark chocolate that has no calories. The list could go on and on.

I tend to beat myself up about this because the really disturbing thing is that even when one of my desires is met, I’m not immediately satisfied. Instead of sitting back and thinking–Now I have everything I want, all is well–I start wanting the next thing on my list.

Lately, I’ve been wondering what is wrong with me. After all, I’ve been a Christian a long time. I should have made a little more progress on this contentment thing.

 

Then I read this quote by Augustine:

The whole life of the good Christian is a holy longing.

Suddenly everything made sense. A good Christian will not be satisfied here on earth. In our hearts we will always be longing for more because we were made for more than this world. No matter how big our houses are, or how successful we are, or how much money we have in the bank, we will naturally want more. While all of those things can be good things, they won’t truly satisfy.

2 Corinthians 5:2 puts it this way:

“For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.”

In this life we groan, because whatever we have now simply can’t be enough. We yearn for the time when we will be in heaven, perfected in holiness united with Christ.

Perhaps this is one of those unlikely truths in God’s kingdom, but when I realized that I won’t be satisfied while here on earth, I began to be more content.

To me, living with a holy longing means:

  • I don’t have everything I want–but God has given me some amazing gifts–I can be thankful.
  • I don’t have everything I desire–but I’m trusting that my Lord is leading me on an amazing adventure–I can watch in expectation for His plan.
  • I don’t have everything I long for–but I know that someday I will–I can begin to hold my Savior’s hand with patience.

All my little wantings–all my silly desires for cute shoes and dazzling success–are actually a shadow of something deeper:

a holy longing.

Question: How would you describe a holy longing?

 

 

Finding Your True Self

true self

Finding your true self–it’s a quest we are all on.

Because too often we live in a disguise.

Did you put on your funny self today to hide the pain in your heart? Did you dress up in the competent, confident self even though you feel like a failure? Are you wearing the bubbling, outgoing self to cover up the loneliness inside?

We’ve all been there.

We don’t think anyone will love the real person inside and so we cover up the authentic self with a closet full of disguises. Or we’ve neglected the true self for so long we aren’t even sure who that is anymore.

God is in the business of resurrecting our true selves. We can find that authentic person when we believe that God truly loves us as we are. Not the disguise. Not the mask. He loves our authentic self.

Now, finding that authentic self sometimes requires a bit of discomfort as Jesus peels away the masks we have been wearing. Jesus said:

Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? Matthew 16:26 (MSG)

Self-sacrifice sounds painful. But don’t worry–Jesus work is gentle. Even as He asks us to give up one of our false identities, He fills us with His love and grace. And when we do make that sacrifice, we often feel a sense of relief. Release in not trying to be someone we are not.

Today ask God to reveal to you any masks you have been wearing.

Feel the freedom of being your true self as you allow Him to peel the mask away.

Remember Christ loves the real you.

Question: What masks are you sometimes tempted to wear?

 

Book Review: Teach Us to Want

Many, like me, imagine desire and faith in a boxing ring, facing off like opponents.

Jen Pollock Michel makes that statement in the first chapter of her book, Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition & the Life of Faith. This engrossing and challenging book is a theology of desire explored through the words of the Lord’s Prayer.

I, too, have seen desire and faith as opponents: my old self wanting my desires to win and my new self rooting for faith. I have often complained that I have a dysfunctional “wanter.” After all, my health would be so much better if I wanted to do push-ups and eat salad instead of craving couch time and Mint Moose Tracks ice cream. My spiritual life would be easier if I only desired what God desired. In fact, maybe life would be better if I simply didn’t have any desires.

But Michel makes the case that desires are a natural part of us. Without desire we don’t have the fuel to move ahead in life. Our unique desires are part of who we are. Yes, our “wanters” can be corrupted, and so we must be careful to guard our hearts, but desire can be what draws us closer to God.

Reading Teach Us to Want helped me learn a lot of desire:

  • Desire pulls us to our heavenly Father as we pray for what we need.
  • Examining our desires can lead to self-discovery and transformation.
  • Unmet desire is a training program for learning to trust a gracious God.
  • We want too much and we want too little.
  • It is not self-effort that recalibrates our wanters. Only God’s grace can turn our heart’s desires toward His kingdom.

Desire has been a topic I have long struggled with. Teach Us to Want untangled a lot of my thoughts on the subject. In fact, now that I have finished reading it, I plan to read it again. It is a meaty book, filled with honest transparency and personal stories.

I think this quote from the last chapter sums up Teach Us to Want:

There is a biblical case for wanting and wanting well…Although easily corrupted, desire is good, right and necessary. It is a force of movement in our lives, a means of transportation. It can be the very thing that motivates us to change and that carries us to God…Growing into maturity doesn’t mean abandoning our desires, but growing in our discernment of them.

Check out Teach Us to Want on Amazon.

Jen Pollock Michel is a writer, speaker, and mother of five. She is a regular contributor for Christianity Today’s her.meneutics and also writes for Today in the Word, a monthly devotional published by The Moody Bible Institute.  Jen earned her B.A. in French from Wheaton College and her M.A. in Literature from Northwestern University. She lives in Toronto, Canada, with her family and blogs at jenpollockmichel.com. You can follow Jen on Twitter @jenpmichel.

Give God Your List: Learning to Trust God with Your Desires

GiveGodYourList

There was a time when I wanted a new house more than anything. It wasn’t that the house we lived in was a hovel. In fact it was a two-story, four-bedroom, two-full-bath residence with a big backyard. The trouble was—it was old. And just a mile away, developers were constructing a brand-new subdivision of luxury homes. Suddenly, all the little flaws in my house were magnified. The windows that were painted shut were infuriating. The floor plan was aggravating. The well water that periodically turned my laundry orange was maddening.

I began to obsess about getting a new house. I lost sleep as I fantasized about a new place to live. I worried about saving money for a down payment. I failed to find anything good about my current home and in the process misplaced any tranquility I might have possessed. My new-house-obsession was causing me a lot of anxiety.

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 37:4:

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

A new house was definitely one of the desires of my heart. Every time I tried to open the windows I wished for a new house. Whenever I tried to clean the rust stains off the tub I hoped for a new home. I kept praying that God would answer that desire.

But although I knew verse 4 of Psalm 37 by memory, I had forgotten about verse 3:

Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.

Trust in the Lord

God promises to give me the desires of my heart, but first He asks me to trust Him.

Lately I’ve been finding that when I’m having trouble trusting God, the best thing I can do is be honest with Him. When I’m distracted by things that I want, I can stuff those desires down because they’re not spiritual. I can avoid praying about them because they don’t seem like something God would care about.

But of course, God knows the desires of my heart anyway. So the best thing I can do is bring my whole wish list to Him. Even if the list has things that seem trivial or (gasp!) worldly, when I talk to God about them, He can help me sort them out.

This is more than just asking God to give me everything on the list.

It’s giving Him the list.

It’s trusting that in His love, He will know which of those things are good. It’s having faith that He will answer my prayers when the time is right.

You know, it took me a long time to learn to be content with that old house. But after I decided to trust God to give me what I needed, I learned to see its good points. And a couple of years after that, God blessed our family with a brand new house.

When I tell my gracious heavenly Father that I’m ready to trust Him, that’s when my heart changes. When I give God my desires, that’s when they lose their grip on my soul.

Question: What do you do when you are struggling with trust?