Spring represents new beginnings and fresh starts. It’s also the time of year when Christians around the world engage in the liturgical season of Lent – a time for growth, reflection and renewed devotion. During the season of Lent, Christians have historically taken a step back to examine their lives. By retreating and pursuing space to think, I believe people will begin to see what they truly desire and will have the courage to take the appropriate steps to see change in their lives.
I have been leading an international charity for more than a decade and pastoring churches for more than 30 years, and through my work I have observed many Christians who truly believe the promises of God. And yet, people rarely create enough space and time to observe their lives closely enough to see those promises realized.
I am intimately acquainted with both the promise of unspeakable joy and years of discouragement and even depression. In my recently released book, “God’s Favor,” I wrote about a tragic loss my wife and I endured, and other incredibly difficult personal challenges we have navigated. In the writing of this book, I was forced to examine misconceptions about material gain and how a relationship with God can provide joy and endurance amid hardship. I know what it’s like to believe in God’s promise of an overcoming, victorious life, and yet spend long seasons overwhelmed and defeated. This is how I learned to look beyond my circumstances, fully embrace my faith in a new way and trust the Lord beyond what I could see.
Over the years, scores of people I’ve met or pastored wondered aloud to me, “Why aren’t God’s promises a reality in my life?”
We often have a huge gulf between our expectations and our realities. Our expectations for life in God are massive, but our aspirations are too low. Simply put, we can only hit the target we are aiming for, so our hopes have direct influence on our reality. Sometimes we see our God-given dreams as self-serving. I’ve counseled many people who tell me, “I don’t want much.” They get exactly what they want, and yet they’re surprised their lives are lacking.
Everyone has experienced difficult seasons in life, but I believe God uses even those seasons to place a discontent in our hearts and a hunger to see his abundant goodness. That is what the Lenten season is all about. We intentionally give something up – whether it is a certain food group, television or any type of technology break – in an attempt to realign our true desires with God’s desires for us, and then we identify a way to see them fulfilled.
This process can extend beyond Lent, but I believe it is meant for our good. If you’re in that kind of season, I encourage you to do three things:
Eliminate all selfish wants. Resist all bitterness over what you don’t have. Ask God to help you clarify what your desires are and to replace bitterness with hopeful desire.
Illuminate all good desires. Allow yourself to dream big! Identify clearly what you desire – and then tell it to God.
Activate your desires. Don’t just sit on your desires; take action toward them. This may mean studying for them, disciplining yourself, starting something new or closing a chapter of life.
God desires for each of us to experience a fulfilling life. Our circumstances will continue to change for as long as we live, but when we recognize God’s faithfulness and learn to find joy in Him, we experience a rich life no matter what we’re facing. But, beyond that, when you begin to activate your God-given desires and identify what makes you come alive, you’ll find the life God has for you. Abundant life doesn’t fade; it will be there to wake you each morning to a hopeful joy. And you’ll spend your day loving others toward their destinies too. That itself is a dream realized!