He will direct your steps

“In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:6

None of us know the future.  When we are honest with ourselves, we need and long for guidance, wisdom, and direction.  If we will acknowledge the Lord with each decision, He promises to provide that needed direction.  When I look back at the past two decades of my life, I am amazed at how Jesus has kept his promise to direct my steps.

When I was 16 God brought a friend into my life to share the gospel with me.  Months later I began leading a bible club and started sensing a pull to give my life to full time ministry, being an agent of healing and empowerment in people’s lives. I was not excited about that pull.  I tried going in a different direction.  Then the Lord spoke, “Shepherd My people.”  I knew He was asking me to serve Him as a senior pastor.  I surrendered.

I never pursued a position but served–painting, cleaning toilets, folding bulletins.  My friends and I prayed a ton and went looking for people to share Jesus with.  The Lord directed me to Life Pacific College and to NewCommunity Church. He brought Dave Metsker into my life to mentor me.  I became a small group apprentice.  I later started leading small groups and outreach teams, and teaching evangelism classes.  I served as an admin, then a youth pastor, then as an assistant pastor, then as a professor at LPC, and then as the senior pastor…all while at the same church!

At each turning point, I acknowledged the Lord and He directed my steps.  Whether it was a question of staying or going to another church, a question of buying or selling a house, a question of accepting a new position or not, a question of starting a masters degree or not, I asked the Lord and He directed my steps.  I can think of dozens of times the Holy Spirit spoke to me or led me.

All the joy I have experienced in ministry, all the blessings in my life, and any impact I’ve made on other people boil down to one common factor: I acknowledge Him, He directed my steps.

As a young senior pastor, I asked the Lord for a certain kind of mentor.  A few weeks later, the Lord said, “Call Jerry Dirmann.”  I did not know who he was except that he pastored in Anaheim.  I did not consider God was answering my prayer.  I called any ways.  The short story is that Jerry and The Rock “just happened” to be the very mentor and ministry I was asking God for.  My heart and ministry have increased because I made that call.
A couple years ago, I was enjoying being a senior pastor; we were experiencing God’s blessings.  I had no desire to move on. Then one night I had a significant dream (rare for me but not the first). In the dream Jesus led Michele and I under the Arch in St. Louis and spoke to me, “This is your city.” Again, the short story is that now I am in St. Louis preparing to start a multiplying congregation of The Rock in the city if St. Louis.  Why!?  Because Jesus is directing my steps.

Years ago he saved me and called me to follow Him.  I have decided He is worth following.  Lord, what’s the next step?

Acknowledge Him and He will direct your steps.  Promised.

Psalm 23

Psalm 23 was not written on a green hillside on a peaceful day; it was written in a dark cave on a frightening day.

1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.2He makes me to lie down in green pastures;He leads me beside the still waters.3He restores my soul;He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.4Yea, 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.5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;You anoint my head with oil;My cup runs over.6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life;And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.

Often, because of the wonderfully comforting words David sings to God in Psalm 23, we imagine he wrote it on a green hillside, on a sunny, peaceful day while watching sheep feast on grass. Descriptions like “green pastures” and “still waters” and statements like “restore my soul” cause us to see this picture David is painting with his song and release inside of us the same comfort he was experiencing while he sang.  

We image these words were penned during his boyhood years as a shepherd of his father’s sheep, as he spent many days and nights alone, contemplating and singing. We believe the song flowed from a heart full of youthful innocence and optimism.

But by doing this we miss the power of Psalm 23. By looking closely at Psalm 23 we observe that David was not on a green hill side but inside a dark cave. He was not a youth but a fugitive. He was not inexperienced at the crises of life. He had been betrayed, lied about, and attacked. He had lost everything. He was afraid for his life. Psalm 23 is a manifesto of patient faith sung during a dark time in David’s life. It is an anthem of hope. When we place this bright Psalm in its dark context it shines even brighter–the words more comforting, the example more compelling. 

David describes himself as walking through the valley of the shadow of death–a clear allusion to the physical desert he was hiding in, the threat to his life, and the emotional weight bearing on his soul. He says that he is the presence of his enemies.  He did not have enemies before King Saul tried to kill him.  When he says, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life” he is using a play on words. “Follow” is best translated “pursue”.  It is a word used of hunting someone or something to destroy it. It is a word used to describe persecution. This declaration, like the rest of the Psalm, is a faith-filled defiance of his circumstances. David is experiencing lack, but he declares that God is his shepherd and lacks nothing. David is emotionally raw, but he declares God makes him lie down, gives him rest and restores his soul. He doesn’t know what to do or where to go, but he declares God will guide him. His life is being threatened, but he declares God is with him and comforts him. His enemies–an angry, jealous, crazy King Saul and his army–are pursing David in the desert, but he declares that God delights in him. Can you imagine someone hating you, lying about you, attacking you and trying to end your life? David was innocent; he had done nothing to warrant this attack. In the midst of rejection and loss, he declares God loves him and enjoys him. Though a crazy man is trying to kill him, David declares God’s promise and plan for his life will win. He is implying, “This man might be chasing me, but God is chasing me too. And God, not this man, will catch me. His goodness and mercy, his love, his blessings, his promises, his plan, his commitment to me will catch me, consume me, and characterize my life!”

Psalm 23 is powerful because David is declaring the exact opposite of what he is experiencing. Without denying his precarious state, he boasts about his God, defying his circumstances with the declaration of God’s promises for his life. He is not a green hillside, but a dark cave. 

  • He declares he has no lack because he was hungry and alone.
  • He declares God is with him because he is scared for his life.  
  • He declares God’s delightful fellowship because he is being rejected and attacked by his King and father-in-law.
  • He declares the goodness and mercy of God pursues him because he is being pursued by a man who wants to end his life, terminate his calling, and rob his blessings. 

He is assuring himself that God is with him and for him; that, even if others reject him, God delights in him; that, in the end, God’s good promises will win out in his life. Whether financially or relationally, physically or spiritually, emotionally or practically, David is placing his trust and hope firmly in the Faithful One’s hands.  

We have, in many of David’s Psalms (and especially Psalm 23), a perfect example of how faith responds to trials, delays, setbacks, disappointments, and life threatening situations. This is what it means in 1 Samuel 30 that David “strengthened himself in the Lord” in response to tragedy. This is costly worship. Faith boasts about God. Faith does not deny circumstances but it sure does defy them. Circumstances have a way of preaching to us, of boasting that they will defeat us. David knew how to overcome. He models for us that we need to preach to our hearts and to our circumstances by boasting about our God. We need to declare that our God is bigger than our circumstances. This is how to be people of faith, of worship, who overcome and see the fulfillment of God’s promises and plan in our lives.  

So boast about your God. Declare what God will do for you.

I do not lack; because I have God, I have everything I need. If I have nothing, but I have God, I lack no good thing.  God is my comfort, peace, and rest. I will not fear.  Though I am emotionally raw, God restores me. He is the strength of my soul, the strength of my emotions, my confidence, my rock and refuge. God is with me; I am not alone. He will guide me.  God delights in me. Even if others reject me, God loves me and enjoys me. God will bless me. His plan for my life will win. His goodness and mercy, his blessing and promises, his love and faithfulness will characterize my life. And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever!  

Refreshing Worship part 2

Part 1: Refresh the heart of God with your praise

Part 2: when God is refreshed, he refreshes you.

When God is refreshed, he refreshes us. When we praise him, he sits down; when he sits down, his brings his kingdom (Psalm 22:3)– his kingdom full of joy, peace, righteousness, freedom, wisdom, and power. He has everything you need! God created us so we could enjoy him and he could enjoy us. Bring him joy through worship and you will encounter the presence of the Lord full of his enjoyment of you.  

Acts 3:19
Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, 

Psalm 23:5
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.

Give God a sacrifice of praise; pour out all your heart in worship. You will find your heart flooded with peace and joy. God is an extravagant giver and we were created to be filled with his joy and pleasure. 

Psalm 16:9-11
Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will rest in hope.10For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.11You will show me the path of life;In Your presence is fullness of joy;At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

When God appeared to Abraham (recorded in Genesis 18), Abraham first honored God, hosting his presence, seeking to refresh God’s heart. Only THEN was the power of God released, only THEN was Abraham’s prayer answered.  

Genesis 18:9-10
THEN they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?”So he said, “Here, in the tent.”10 And He said, “I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.”

Abraham and Sarah had a promise from God; they waited 25 years to conceive a child together. When God appeared to Abraham and his presence was honored, Abraham’s desire became reality.  The power to fulfill God’s promise was received when God’s presence was received. 

Refresh the heart of God with praise and he will refresh your heart with the blessings and promises of his kingdom. 

Refreshing Worship part 1

Refresh the heart of God with your praise.

Abraham, a man of faith who understood what pleases God, did not expect God to serve him but postured himself to serve the Lord. When God appeared to Abraham (recorded in Genesis 18) he bowed down and asked for God to stay for dinner. His desire: that God would be refreshed. That is the heart of a person who worships God in spirit and truth.  

Genesis 18:4-5
[Abraham said] Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5 And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts.

Words of praise from your own mouth is like giving God fruit to eat. Just as a fresh, juicy piece of watermelon on a hot, summer day refreshes you, so God’s heart is refreshed by our praise.  

Hebrews 13:15-16
Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. 16 But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

The priests of Israel were commanded to offer animals as sacrifices to God; these holy BBQs were pleasing to God. But David tells us it’s not meat God is after, but rather our heart.
Our songs of praise, from a sincere and humble heart of faith, is like a sweet smell to God. Just like the smell of BBQ or fresh apple pie makes your mouth water and draws you like a magnet to the source of the smell, so God is drawn to our sincere praise.

Leviticus 1:9
And the priest shall burn ALL on the altar as a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord.

Psalm 51:16-17
For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;You do not delight in burnt offering.17The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,A broken and a contrite HEART—These, O God, You will not despise.

1 peter 2:5
…you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 

When you praise God, you invite him to be with you; you prepare a place for him to sit like Abraham did in Genesis 18. Just as we are honored when someone invites us to dinner and prepares something special for us, so God is honored when we praise him. He feels comfortable, welcome, and at rest to sit down and spend quality time with us.

Psalm 22:3
But You are holy, Enthroned in the praises of Israel.

Do you want to please the Lord? Do you want to refresh his heart? Then offer him a sacrifice of praise. Brag on God, boast about him, thank him for who he is and what he has done for you.

You praise will refresh his heart and attract him to you. 

Thankfulness is the healthiest emotion

Thankfulness is reality

1 thess 5:16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Thankfulness is the healthiest emotion.  It is the most “real” feeling, because thankfulness aligns with the reality that all we are and have is a gift from our Creator and Redeemer–something he has graciously done and given rather than something we have earned or deserve.  Every breath and every gift is from above.  Therefore, when we are grateful, we are in agreement with truth, with reality.  It is truly the only appropriate response from a creature to the Creator, from the redeemed to the Redeemer.

And because it’s the most real emotion, it’s the healthiest.  When a person is full of thankfulness it puts their heart at rest and stimulates joy.  When a person is ungrateful, envious, greedy, prideful, boastful, or complaining it robs people of joy and peace.  From ungratefulness flows depression, anxiety, anger, discouragement, disunity, and such.

Faith thanks God

Romans 1:20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were  thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

People don’t believe in God because they are not thankful.  This, Paul says in romans 1, is fundamentally what is wrong with humanity.  At the core of our disease–our sin, our rebellion, our insanity–is that we are ungrateful.  Idolatry begins with ungratefulness, legalism/religion begins with ungratefulness (and that rooted in a lie about God we have believed). Paul brings the indictment to all humanity: you know there is a Creator but you don’t want to acknowledge your dependance on his sustaining power and grace; you know he is the source but don’t want to give him the credit.  It’s not for a lack of evidence that we struggle to believe; its for a lack of thankfulness.  Our resistance to the humbling effect of worship is what blinds us and causes us to be selective in our honest assessment of the facts staring us in the face.

If we think God owes us or is stingy we try to manipulate him or control him like an idol.  If we think we have to earn something from him, we become legalists seeking to earn favor. If we work for our salvation or blessing, then we are to praise. We have something to boast about.  Eph 2:8

But the reason why life is a gift, and more so salvation, is because it removes all boasting in self. It destroys that pagan, religious effort.  Even unhealthy responses like shame, condemnation, guilt, and such are rooted in this lie of needing to earn from God and produces ungratefulness.  When something is a gift, you simply receive it with thankfulness… like a child–unbridled gratefulness and enjoyment.  The truth is that God is good; that he is all good, all the time; that every good and perfect gifts come from God; that there is no darkness, wickedness, evil, ulterior motives in him.  He created us because he is good, he created everything good, he created everything for our good.  He loves us and wants the best.  And the same motive drove him to the cross.  He redeemed for our good.

If everything comes from God, if all good gifts in life are from God (James 1), then the only logical response is thankfulness.  When we are ungrateful for any aspect of life, for any person or gift, we are being ungrateful to God and dishonoring him.  When we complain or grumble, when we compare or are envious, we are discrediting and dishonoring the one who has given us everything.

How would you feel? 

Numbers14:11 Then the Lord said to Moses: “ How long will these people reject Me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them?

What if you gave me a gift and I grabbed the gift, held it to my chest and said “thank you gift for giving me yourself.”  Or what if someone asked me who gave me the gift and, while you stood silently by, I explained how I bought it, how I earned it because I’m awesome. How would you feel?

And so, faith is always thankful.  Gratefulness is the manifestation of faith because it’s rooted in truth. We are grateful when we believe that God is and is a rewarder of those who seek him diligently (Hebrews 11), when we believe that he is good and every good and perfect gift comes from him, when we believe that in him we move and breathe and have our being, when we believe that he is for us and not against us….  Faith simply receives the gift with thankfulness and enjoyment.  Faith boasts in God (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Faith is thankful because it embraces the truth that I did not earn this, I cannot deserve this; my life is contingent on another’s choice, work, generosity, mercy, kindness and patience. As my friend Clint says, “you can’t be thankful for something you have done.”

Zero complaining

Philippians 2:14 Do all things without complaining and disputing, 15 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world….

We have much to be thankful for (a list would stretch across the galaxies) and nothing to be ungrateful for.  Mindsets like envy, complaining, blaming God and others, entitlement (you owe me), and such are rooted in ungratefulness and unbelief.  These stem from faith in our efforts or in another person.  Those responses and emotions are evidence we have idolatry in our hearts (see Psalms 37).  They are unbecoming of a Christ follower.  Those things should not be among us–in our hearts, churches, families, words.  You may think you are a “fairly grateful person” but the presence of emotions and vocabulary rooted in things like envy and complaining are the opposite of gratefulness. Listen to your words, watch your heart; are you truly thankful, fundamentally thankful?  Freedom begins when you realize: no one owes me anything!  God doesn’t, people don’t, your parents don’t, your employer doesn’t, the government doesn’t.  We need to return to the basics of life: everything is a gift from God.  This is Faith 101.   If our expectations or words don’t align with that truth, we have lost our way.

Can you imagine giving someone a gift only to have them ask why you didn’t spend more or why you didn’t give them what the other person got? Can you imagine them complaining about the gift?  Or what if the day before Christmas, after you labored over a special present to give your friend, they bemoan, “you never give me anything, you never think of me.”–how would you feel?

Faith believes God will do what he says and waits patiently with thankfulness to come through.  Faith does not compare or envy or complain.  It gratefully receives from God what HE wills to give.

Thankfulness is attractive

Psalm 22:3 But You are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel.

God is attracted to a grateful heart.  People are attracted to a grateful heart. When we are grateful we shine like lights in darkness (Philippians 2:15). Not only is thankfulness one of the healthiest emotions but it is one of the most attractive ones–to God and people.  God is drawn to it.  It pleases him because it honors him for who he is and what he has done.  So let praise fill your lips always–Psalms 34.  He is always worthy of our thankfulness, praise, rejoicing, worship.

If you want to always be filled with the Spirit, always saturated in his presence; If you want God to be drawn to you, attracted to you; if you want him to want to be around you; if you long for the presence of the Lord then always praise him.  Aren’t you the same?  Would you rather be around a grateful person or a complainer?  If someone always talks about themselves or always complains, do you feel drained or filled?

Psalms 100:1 Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands! 2 Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before His presence with singing.

Ephesians 5:18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be  filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, 20 giving  thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…

And thankfulness attracts people who are far from God, without hope, in disappear.  When they see light shining at the end of their dark tunnel they run to it.  When they hear words of thankfulness, see you filled with joy even in hard times, observe your contentment and peace in a storm, they are experiencing your faith which points to God’s faithfulness and truth.  Your thankfulness is a great witness of Christ, your gratefulness shouts “hope” to them.  So shine!

Thankfulness is the healthiest emotion

And finally, to repeat, thankfulness is the healthiest emotion.  When you are grateful you will break anxiety and control, fear, and anger; you will break depression and hopelessness.  When you align your heart and words with truth by thanking God (out loud with praise) for who he is, what he has done and what he has promised (i.e. In alignment with his Word), you will find the fruits of joy and peace fill your heart, reshape your emotions, renew your mind, and transform your attitude and the quality of your relationships, ministry, work, and life.  Simply begin to say, “Thank you Lord for… (Insert truth from the Word of God)”.  Do this about everything in your life.  Simply begin to speak and sing praise to God throughout your day.  Like a seed planted in the ground, thankfulness begins in the heart and then manifests in our emotions, thoughts, and relationships.  Like a seed, it takes time to germinate, grow and bear fruit.  But if you stick with it, you will experience a harvest of wholeness.  Thankfulness can literally transform your whole life.  It is that powerful!  You will see the desires of your heart fulfilled, greater fruitfulness, confidence, blessing, and such when you are thankful.  And even in the hard times, you will have a joy and peace inside you that the storms of this life can’t touch.  Can you imagine: everything falls apart and everyone else is freaking out, but you are totally at rest, filled with joy, intimately connected to God, filled with praise, confidently waiting on the Lord.  Why?  Because you chose to be thankful.  It is that simple!  It may not be easy, but it is that simple!

Thankfulness changed my life!

Are these just ideas?  Or is this what has transformed my life?  If someone were to ask me what is the one habit that has changed your life? I would simply reply, “Thankfulness!”.  In a time of deep despair, depression, hopelessness, unbelief, and bondage the Lord led me to thank him.  First, for each day.  Then, for life itself.  Then, for the cross.  Then, for every truth about him, every gift from him, and every promise to me.  He coached me to voice reality with a grateful heart.  He taught me to align my words with his Word in praise.  That simple lesson was THE transition point for breakthrough in my life, relationships, ministry; it was that small act that has rippled through the rest of my life releasing joy, confidence, rest, and influence.

Try it: 24-7 thankfulness for years. The let me know the results.  I’m a satisfied costumer.