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He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. Psalm 1:3  

What does it take to be prosperous? The politician will tell you it’s more government programs or less government programs. The religionist will tell you it’s more piety and stricter adherence to rules and dogmas. Prosperity is almost always measured by what you do or what you have accomplished.

The Psalmist gives us a different picture. The psalmist tells us that true prosperity doesn’t come from listening to the ‘experts’ of the day. Rather, prosperity comes from a relationship with the heavenly Father.

A person who prospers in God’s kingdom may not have the fanciest toys; the biggest house; the most accolades tacked to the end of their names. Prosperity in God’s kingdom isn’t the corner office, the star student-athlete, the one who carries signs to bring about social change.

The Psalmist gives us a word picture of what the person of prosperity looks like. In theMiddle East, water was not always easy to find. The Egyptians and other groups learned that if they diverted the river into channels they could irrigate crops and orchards. This was a great asset during times of drought and allowed them to expand productive crop land beyond the limited borders of the streams and rivers.

In Psalm 1 the prosperous person is, first of all, planted. There is a picture of intentionality here. We aren’t just randomly placed trees along the banks of some river. We are planted. Placed where we are and when we are for a divine purpose for the glory of the Father. Trees planted near each other benefit one another.

Secondly we are planted by streams of water. The diversion of water for the trees caused a constant supply and a steady flow of life giving water that was unhindered by drought. Usually these trees were located in a valley that protected from storms. Their roots were able to grow deep, making the tree healthy and strong.

Lastly the prosperous person bears fruit in season. An apple tree is always an apple tree. From the time it sprouts from the seed until it grows to produce beautiful fruit it is an apple tree. It’s an apple tree when it’s full of leaves and blossoms, when it’s laden with apples; when it’s enduring the fall and winter cold.

Prosperity doesn’t mean we always bear fruit, it means we are always what God intends for us to be. A tree that would bear fruit constantly would grow tired, and its leaves wither. We also grow tired when we constantly try to produce the life we think God wants for us. Prosperity comes through maturity. Strength comes through rest. Fruit comes as we learn to balance the two of them.

Take a lesson from the tree planted by the streams of water. You were placed where you are at this time to glorify God. Prosperity won’t come from a bunch of activity. Rather it comes from growing in relationship with your Heavenly Father. Fruit may not come as often as you’d like, but if you are digging your roots deep into the soil of his word, it will come in season.

PRAYER: Lord, I want to prosper. Too often my view of prosperity comes from listening and walking with those whose prosperity isn’t the eternal kind you can give. Help me to dig deep in your word so that I can prosper according to your Kingdom. Amen.

The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need. Psalm 23:1 (NCV)

First of all, we need to get rid of the romanticism behind being a shepherd. We’ve seen the pictures. Soft little lambs playing in an open meadow while adult sheep lay enjoying the sun. In the background a shepherd sits against a rock looking out over a peaceful valley. Blue skies. Green grass. Gorgeous scenery. Life is good.

Without a doubt there were days like that but have you ever really thought of what life as a shepherd was like? Occasionally (as in the night Jesus was born) you may be lucky enough to spend some time with other shepherds and other flocks. But much of their time is spent alone.

Shepherds didn’t go home at night. Their home was with the sheep. Smelly, stubborn, stupid boring sheep 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. They endured hot days and cold nights. They endured storms and winds and were under constant threat of enemy attack, especially in the dark. And the picture of peaceful sheep following a shepherd? Forget that too. Sheep are stubborn. They don’t know where to eat. They won’t go find good grass on their own. They don’t know enough to stay out of rushing water. If they tried to cross a stream that was too deep their wool would turn them into an effective anchor! They certainly aren’t fighters. Bears, lions and other predators see sheep as fair and easy game and an easy, instant meal.

Sheep rebel constantly, lack motivation, vision, passion, desire and wisdom. Even so, Jesus gives us a glimpse of what a shepherd was like. David, of course, was a shepherd. Shepherds were the first ones told of the birth of the Christ-child. 

Jesus calls himself the good shepherd. Here’s what he says about a good shepherd. A good shepherd knows your name. He may have hundreds of sheep in the flock, but he knows you. personally. That doesn’t mean he knows your name alone. He knows your likes and dislikes. He knows the intricate things about your personality. To me all sheep look the same. To Jesus every sheep is unique and exciting. That’s you. Unique. Exciting. 

The good shepherd protects. He lies down at the gate so no predators can get through. The only way to get to you is if they get through the shepherd first. Not much chance of anyone getting past Jesus. He’s passionate about protecting you.

Good shepherds know what is best for you. He prepares the day’s journey. He’s walked the path many times. He knows the best and safest route to take. We aren’t cookie-cutter sheep. Jesus knows that. Since we aren’t cookie-cutter sheep we don’t have one-size-fits-all needs. He won’t try to force you into some mold for life; rather he molds life events around you to make you the best you can be.

Jesus calls us sheep. We are described as sheep without a shepherd wandering aimlessly, getting into danger, struggling with survival, defenseless against the enemies in our life. So why would Jesus spend so much time with you, a silly sheep? Jesus knows that will all the faults you have, you are worth the fight. He’ll fight to the death to protect you. He’s willing to endure all of your negative qualities, your weaknesses and your rebelliousness. Why? Jesus loves you and you are worth the risk!

PRAYER: Lord Jesus. Thank you for a love that goes so deep. Thank you for understanding my weakness. Thank you for loving me enough to fight for me, cry with me and walk with me through the night. Most of all, thank you for forgiving my sin. Amen.

God has made us what we are. In Christ Jesus, God made us to do good works, which God planned in advance for us to live our lives doing. Ephesians 2:10 (NCV)

What motivates you to do good things for others? If you see someone drop something in the parking lot, what drives you to get their attention so they don’t lose it? When you are trying to get out of a packed parking lot why do you stop to let another frustrated motorist into the line? When you see a little child who is lost what moves you to help them to safety?

There are a lot of reasons people do good works. Some noble, some not so noble.

  • Sometimes we do good works because (in our eyes at least) they make us look powerful to those who are watching. We all like to look powerful, right?
  • Some do good things for praise. We seek the acknowledgement of a job well done because it gives us value. There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel appreciated, but self-glory should never be the primary reason for our actions.
  • Some do good works for others because they think it takes everyone’s eyes off of them. (If I do this, people will forget the bad thing I did back there.)
  • Some people have a sort of messiah complex. They do good things for others because in their subconscious mind they HAVE to be the one to step in and make things better. Sometimes this type of person will ‘create a crisis’ in order to step in and save the day.
  • Some people do good works now in hopes of banking some favors for the future. (“Better keep them in my good graces if I ever hope to get something in return.”)
  • Sadly, for some, the actions they do for others are driven by the hope that God will smile kindly on them and usher them into heaven.

You may read through the list above and think, “I know someone like that, thank goodness I’m not in the list!” But the troubling thing is that the enemy can sneak into our actions and twist the true reasons we do things around so that they end up being self-seeking.

Throughout Jesus’ ministry on earth he taught us that the good things we do should be done for one reason and one reason alone, to glorify the Father. Even in his prayer in the garden Jesus prayed that his ultimate and final acts of doing good on earth (his death and resurrection) Would bring glory to the Father.

We were put here on earth, as God’s chosen vessels to do good works. We are God’s tools to change the lives of those around us so they can be brought into relationship with him.

Good works don’t get us to heaven, but doing good things for others can bring a little heaven into the lives of the weary. We do good works for one of two reasons, power for ourselves or to make people better. As a Christ-follower you can make a difference in your world for the glory of the Father. That’s what you are here for.

PRAYER: Father God, may the things I do for others be done to glorify you. Forgive me for the times I’ve caught myself seeking my own glory and power. Help me to make a difference for you. In your name I pray. Amen.

And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. Hebrews 11:6 (NLT)

When the Russian Cosmonauts went into space in the 1950s they reported there was no sign of a creator God and no evidence of creation.

It seems ironic that the very sky these men saw as proof of God’s ‘non-existence’ is the same sky that reminds me of the awesomeness of his creation! New advances in technology have given new evidence of a vast, uncharted universe. Planet earth is a tiny speck in the grand scheme of the universe and mankind an even smaller speck.

Still, there are people who echo the words of the cosmonauts. They don’t, of course, make their prognostications from a spaceship. They do it from a classroom, an easy chair in front of the TV, and on the street corner. They wonder about God’s presence in the hospital room, the disaster relief office and the courtroom.

When times are good our search for God isn’t usually a priority. But when the journey of life becomes full of potholes and boulders it’s different. During those times when we realize we can’t fix what we are facing, we look for someone who can.

Many have sought God, and frankly, have found him to be non-existent. Prayers have gone ‘unanswered’. The cancer has come back. The lost child has been found murdered. The divorce has become final. The accident victim dies. In all of this, the question screams out: “So, where is God now?”

I don’t mean to minimize the pain and agony life brings our way, nor do I intend to categorize all of our emotions into a one-size-fits-all approach. But in the midst of our crisis of faith we need to honestly ask ourselves a question.

Do we diligently seek God as he is or do we seek the God we want? Some view God as a Santa Clause type individual. The God they want sees them being good and brings toys to good girls and boys. Of course, this philosophy never allows for the naughty list. Santa loves everyone.

Others seek a vending machine God. This God is a little more pleasant to the senses. If you are good, he will reward. Save up your good acts. Be a moral person. Go to church. Follow the Ten Commandments. Help old ladies across the street. Be involved in your community. End result: Blessings of God.

A diligent seeking after the God who is requires our faith in a God that may not always be understood, but is always love. His actions are beyond comprehension, but his forgiveness is without requirement. He’s not about what you do, or have done. He’s about what Jesus has done and can do in your life. He’s not a tame God. He can’t be put in a box. But his thoughts, his actions, his desire is for you and you alone.

PRAYER: God, I’m having a hard time understanding how you work. So many times I’ve sought you without relief. I now realize I was looking for the God I want, not the God I need. Show yourself to me in a new and amazing way so that I can grow in a love relationship with you. Amen.

Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” Matthew 22:37 (NLT)

It’s the driving force behind the athlete who spends hours perfecting his/her skills; or the parent who spends every waking moment working to give their children every physical thing they can possible give them; or the professional who thinks nothing of working 70-80 hours a week making sure the business succeeds; or the lover who compromises their values in order to stay in a relationship; some even devote their entire lives to religion and spirituality in hopes of gaining it.

That driving force is passion and its intended goal is to give us the one thing we cherish more than anything else, the feeling we belong and are loved. Many a family has been destroyed or lives lost in pursuit of the goal passion drives us towards.

The problem with passion is it often misguides our thinking about what is important and how to get there. Medals and trophies only give you satisfaction for so long and then they become empty. How many athletes’ lives have been destroyed because even though they were at the top of their game, it wasn’t enough to satisfy the longing in their heart?

It’s not just athletics or business or family relationships that bring us emptiness though. Religion and spirituality have the same effect.

Passion misguides us into thinking that in order to become more spiritual and closer to God we need to do more things, gain more experiences, give up the things we enjoy and speak out against the evil of the world. There’s a misconception that the louder our voices of protest, the stronger our passion for ‘what’s right’, the more spiritual we become and the more God will be pleased with our actions.

One day Jesus is confronted by experts in spirituality. The Pharisees knew better than anyone how to load up the guilt and increase the conditions for ‘spirituality’. But all their rules and regulations couldn’t bring happiness, peace or closeness to God. It’s the same way today. Religion never has and never will bring satisfaction to the driving force of passion in our souls.

Jesus Christ offers us a better way. God doesn’t want your protection, he wants your passion. He’s not impressed with your voices of protest or songs of praise or your pious lifestyle. He wants your heart. Religion measures your worth by your actions. God measures your worth by your heart, your inner being, and your strongest desires.

But he also understands the battle going in inside for your soul. Do you really want to satisfy the hungry beast within that we call passion? Jesus says it’s all about loving God.

PRAYER: Father God, I’ve been duped into believing that my actions will gain happiness, even my actions for you. I’m finding that actions only bring temporary relief at best from the emptiness of my soul. Forgive me for the futile attempts to draw close to you. Empower me to rest in the fact that my life is fulfilled by simply loving you. In Jesus name, Amen.

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