What God Wants First

August 4, 2015 — 2 Comments
What God Wants First

What God Wants First

The Bible is a big book.

It can be overwhelming.

Have you ever tried to wade through it, thinking, “What does God really want from me?”

I have good news. We don’t have to guess about what God really wants from us.

There are pivotal pieces of Scripture all throughout God’s Word that tell us plainly what He wants.

When God freed Israel from Egypt, He did so with the intent of building a special relationship with this nation. God’s desire to save the world through a Messiah would eventually be played out in the context of this “special people”.

So when Israel was out of Egypt’s grasp, God called Moses up Mount Sinai. It is there that He would make plain to Israel how they were to interact with Him and each other. This was a pivotal moment in their history, in the story of salvation, and the history of the world.

What God said first tells us a lot!

The God of All Creation said,

“You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)

Pretty straightforward.

No other gods. None. Not one.


  • Was this God that came down to the mountain insecure? Nope.
  • Was this God jealous? Yes. But not in the immature way you and I think of it.

So, why is this the first commandment?

God knows who He is.

  • God is completely unique in His nature. He is limitless, completely holy throughout. He’s not like us.
  • This God came down to speak with Moses in order to establish a special relationship with Israel.
  • God knows that if we follow Him, and actually do what He says, life (and eternity) will go so much better!
  • He is the only being who can truly, confidently, say, “My way is best for you. Don’t follow anyone else.”

God knows who we are.

  • God knows our hearts, how impatient and unfaithful we can be.
  • He knows we’re going to be quick to nod our heads in agreement and quick to wander away.
  • God knows that we need clear instruction. How many other “gods” before Him? Zero. Nada. Nunca. None.

So, how are you doing with this? Do you worship any other “gods”?

I know, I know. You don’t have a little statue you pray to. That’s probably not the “god” you’re in danger of worshiping.

But the reality is that anything that rules our hearts and minds is a rival for the One True God.

How about “the big three”?

  • Sex
  • Money
  • Power

We all know people who serve these “gods”. And we’re all tempted to.

But what about the more subtle “gods”?

  • Your career
  • Your health
  • Your hobby
  • Your kids

I know those are all good things. And you should pay attention to them.

But look, anything that we allow to sit on the throne of our hearts, where only He should sit, is our “god”.

God wants to be first in your heart, mind and life.

God called to Israel (and us) with a clear voice. He called them into an exclusive relationship.

Just as your spouse doesn’t want to be the “first of many loves”, our God doesn’t either.

The Lord, our God, wants all of your relationships, your decisions, everything about you, to come under the leadership of His Lordship. The good news is that as we submit all of this to Him, we are more blessed than we ever could be by running our lives without Him occupying the throne of our hearts.

In short, God wants you! He wants an exclusive relationship with you. All of you.

So, what about you? Is it time to evaluate who is first in your heart?

I hear a lot of noise about the Bible.

Everyone has an opinion about what it says, but so much of what I see is second-hand.

Pre-chewed. Regurgitated. Barf.

Psalm 19

Psalm 19

If we are going to learn how to think clearly about God, ourselves, life and issues, we need to approach the ultimate source document with new vigor.

It’s time to stop googling our theology.

It’s time to become students of God’s Holy Word.

When I was in High School I cracked open the Bible seriously for the first time. Up until then I had only known what others (godly, loving others like my Mom and my Sunday School teachers) had told me. It was time to find out for myself what this whole Christianity thing was all about.

I was shocked at what I found.

  • I found no tame God. Rather, I discovered the King of the Universe, whose words spoke all of creation into existence, Whose holiness consumed His enemies, and Whose love overcame the deep brokenness of the world.
  • Rather than cute little stories of perfect people, I read of people who were as screwed up as me (and more!). My eyes were open to the reality that people have always been broken.
  • Most of all, through 66 books I perceived the hand of one Author who masterfully wove together my redemption.

Night after night, one chapter at a time, I drank in this epic story. As I pored over these ancient texts, God began to write His story upon my heart and mind. As I subjected myself to Him, His laws and His ways, He showed me how Jesus could become my way, my truth and my life.

I continue to be “transformed by the renewing of my mind” (Romans 12:2) as I open up the Bible.

I encourage you to open His Word.

  • Investigate. Explore. Prepare to be shocked. Confused. Perplexed.
  • Don’t expect God to serve up some refried version of His story. This book is raw!
  • You will have two new questions for every answer you find.

Allow yourself to stand in awe at the feet of the Author of Life.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
    reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.

I wonder what would happen if we started approaching God’s Word as just that, His Word to us.

For more help getting started…

“The Bible is Hard to Understand”

Why I Love This Bible App

Me & Cassie, our oldest or 4 girls

Me & Cassie, our oldest of 4 girls

Listen, I know you may see me and think, “Joe smiles a lot. His life must be pretty easy, pretty happy-go-lucky for him to be so happy all the time.”

Not quite.
Yes, I love life.
  • Jesus is a never-ending Source of blessing.
  • My wife and children are a great joy.
  • I love what I get to do for a living.

But I assure you that there is more to this story.

Please do not mistake my deep joy for happiness.

Kelcy and I have been through quite a bit of pain throughout the process of saying “yes” to God.

I’ll save you the sob story. But just take my word that there have been painful periods that left us on the ropes, dodging punches and trying desperately to stay on our feet. And there have been times when life laid me so low I literally could not get myself off the floor. We’ve walked through seasons where it seemed as though God had forgotten about us, and we’ve lived to see the other side of those seasons.

The daily and weekly ordeal of laying our will down to His does not get easier as life goes on.

The stakes of following Jesus become higher and higher as the years progress. The level of trust required to say the next “yes” grows instead of diminishes. Over and over, writing Him the “blank check”, saying, “whatever, wherever, whenever” has and continues to come at a high cost to us in many ways.

Throughout whole seasons of my life I have questioned God’s plan and direction for my life.

But every once in a while He gives me a glimpse of how He is weaving a tapestry of testimony all through my life. My God, my Father in Heaven, who called me into relationship with Him through His Son Jesus, is crafting a good work in and through my life.

Do you know what the coolest part is?

He’s not using just the biggest, brightest, shiniest parts of my walk to point the way into His preferred future for my life. He is redeeming the darkest, most depressing episodes of my life in order to point me in the continued direction of obedience for me, my family and my ministry.
Today I had yet another conversation in which God displayed to me His presence in my life. I could not explain it to you in an hour if I tried. You’ll just have to take my word when I tell you that God is redeeming some painful episodes of our life, ones that left us questioning His will but saying “yes” the best we knew how each step of the way. And He is in fact taking the sum of all those “little yeses” and adding them up to a trajectory that only He could fashion for our future.
  • Those years of my life that I battled a crippling sense of defeat and failure
  • The days when I was literally digging ditches for the Lord…
  • All the times I thought God’s plan for my life had been derailed
  • When I was convinced that He was done using my life for the sake of the Gospel…

Those dark times, when I could barely make my mouth say, “yes, Lord”, those are the times that God was forming me. And come to find out, those are the same times God has used, is using, and will use to shape the future of my continued, “yeses”.

Friend, can I convince you to do one thing today?

No matter what, say, “Yes” to Him.

No matter what darkness or uncertainty you are facing, make your mouth form the word, “yes” to the Lord.

Then take the next step He has revealed to you.

  • Are you disconnected from God? Say the “big yes” by inviting Jesus into your heart.
  • Is your life out of order? Do you need to get rid of something? Do it. Say “yes to holiness.”
  • Did you get off track with God? It’s time to step back in. Say, “yes” to Him again.
  • Do you have hurts that are keeping you away from church? God is bigger than those. Come back.

The “yeses” that are said in the midst of pain weigh more than those said on sunny days.

Say that next “yes”.

Joy, deep and lasting joy, comes on the other side, sometimes a long time after.

It’s time to get free.

September 24, 2014 — 4 Comments
Freedom in Christ

Freedom in Christ

You may not think of me as someone who needed to be “set free” from sin.

But I was. And I am.

I’ve never done drugs. I’ve never had a problem with alcohol. I’ve never been to jail.
But the darkness of my soul was deep. My separation from Christ was profound. The distance between us was as a great chasm. I could not cross it.
Sin has its way with every person. And we’ve all earned what sin yields. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death…”
We’re all casualties. But we don’t have to stay dead.
Christ has come to breathe new life into us, and set us free.

Are you ready to get free?

Take a look at this verse from one of my favorite hymns, “And Can It Be”.
“Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light.
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.”
– Charles Wesley
Friends, my life has been set free by God. He sent His Son into this sin-stained world to rescue my heart, which was darkened and in need of His light. His perfect holiness blazed forth in Christ, opening up my eyes.
Maybe you know what it’s like to live in the dark. Sin has had its way in you for too long.
Are any of these true for you?
  • Addictions run you.
  • Anger batters your relationships.
  • Bitterness and resentment cloud your vision.
  • Lust keeps you from faithfulness and purity.
  • Depression and despair dominate the landscape of your life.
  • You just can’t resist the urge to gossip or speak badly of others.
  • You just want to experience complete and true freedom, but can’t seem to attain it.

It doesn’t have to be that way anymore.

Today could be the day He opens up your eyes. If Christ’s light is blazing into Your darkness, just get up and follow Him.
When our Father in Heaven sent His Son into the world, it was to “seek and save those who are lost.” (Luke 19:10 NLT)
That’s me.
That’s you.
God sent His perfect Son into your life to “turn the lights on.” If you are reading this post, He is reaching out to you.
It’s time to allow CHRIST to free you from all the chains that have bound you. He has broken the power of sin by offering His perfect life as a sacrifice for your sin. When He rose from the grave, His power had the final word.
Psalm 107 talks about the freedom found in God’s redeeming power. It says, of the prisoners he sets free, “He led them from the darkness and deepest gloom; he snapped their chains.”
That could be you today. If God is “turning the lights on” in your dungeon, simply reach out in prayer to the One who freed you.

“It is for freedom Christ has set you free…” (Galatians 5:1)

Dad, Here's What I Really Need From You by Michelle Watson, PhD

Dad, Here’s What I Really Need From You by Michelle Watson, PhD

This special post is by Michelle Watson, PhD, LPC, author of “Dad, Here’s What I Really Need From You: A Guide for Connecting with Your Daughter’s Heart”.

I had the good fortune of receiving an advance copy of this outstanding book. Please share it with every Dad of daughters. I know it will bless them.

You can get your copy here: Dad, Here’s What I Really Need from You: A Guide for Connecting with Your Daughter’s Heart


Are you old enough to remember the craze in the 60’s and 70’s where really cool prizes (a.k.a. “cheap gimmicks”) were tucked inside cereal boxes? I can still see my sister and I begging my mom to buy the kind with the most alluring prizes, regardless of whether we even liked the cereal (whichI’m sure set a foundation that continues to be in place today because I’m still a sucker for a deal!).

One of my favorite prizes was a decoder ring that instantaneously transformed me into Sherlock Holmes as I had the cryptic tool to solve the mystery on the back of the box. The thing that sticks in my mind about decoder rings is that they instantly provide the link between the problem and the solution. Without the magic ring the problem is left unsolved and unanswered.

If you’re a dad to a daughter, the question I pose to you is this:

Do you ever wish you had a decoder ring to better translate, understand, and relate to her?

Especially if she’s hit that age (a.k.a. puberty) you most likely have wondered what tool you need in your toolbox to actually decode her. Maybe she used to be easy to relate to while now you’re feeling left high and dry in the resource department. Maybe she used to love you singing songs to her when tucking her in bed but now she’s too cool for all that.

Dr. James Dobson, in his book Bringing Up Girls calls this stage “juvenile puberty,” a time where high levels of estrogen in the female brain lead to changes in mood (greater anxiety, anger, irritability), behavior (self-absorption that is often viewed as selfishness), and thinking patterns (inflexibility, obsessive focuses—boys, clothes, body, etc.).

The reason I’m telling you this is to place in your hand one kind of “decoder ring” to give you greater understanding of what’s happening in your daughter as she is growing and maturing.

The truth is that we girls don’t have control over what’s happening in our brain at this adolescent stage (and sometimes a bit past adolescence). We don’t make this happen and we don’t know what is actually going on inside of us. All of a sudden everything changes. This also means we don’t know how to explain it to you either, Dad.

If you’re anything like the dads of daughters I lead in The Abba Project, you are often left scratching your head and wondering where daddy’s little girl went. Your confusion might easily lead you to make a reactive decision, which is to back away and turn to mom and say, “here, you’re a girl; you go in.”

Dobson continues by asking the question: What does a girl need from her parents when everything has gone topsy-turvy? The answer, he says, is more attachment, not less.

To further underscore the point he adds, “even when she is most unlovable, she needs love and connectedness from her mother, but also from her father.” Dad, I implore you to bring yourself to your daughter. She needs your male energy, even if she doesn’t know she does.

It is here where things can get a little more complex. Sometimes when your daughter starts being more unpredictable and moody, it sets off something in you that you may not like about yourself or that makes you feel like you don’t have control. Here is how my dad said it to me awhile back:

“Michelle, I guess the reason we clash a lot is because we are so much alike. I see in you so much of me.” It’s my intensity and perfectionism that activate something in my dad (and me) that often causes us to bonk heads, and these are things that he doesn’t necessarily like in himself either.

So what do you need to do to be a dialed-in dad who is sensitive to your ever-
changing daughter even with all the up’s and down’s for each of you?

Let’s go to Scripture and read about an incredible dad who did get it right with his daughter. In fact, he will give you six words to make you a better dad today.

Caleb is one of the spies who, along with his friend Joshua, went into the Promised Land when there were giants inhabiting it. But instead of being intimidated, these two guys saw with eyes of faith and believed that God would keep His promise to give them their land regardless of all the overwhelming odds.

Fast forward to the time where Caleb is living out his role as a dad to his daughter. Her name was Achsah and she was a woman of faith and courage, a woman with a voice who wasn’t afraid to ask for what she wanted. It’s obvious that her dad had modeled to her what it meant to be bold and forthright.

Let’s pick up the story in Joshua 15, verse 18:

“One day when Achsah came to her husband, she urged him to ask her father for a field. When she got off her donkey, Caleb asked her, “What can I do for you?”

I LOVE that question from dad to daughter! It’s so simple yet so profound. These are six words that every dad should memorize and use regularly. I believe they literally will change the way your daughter interacts with you if you put these into practice.

Caleb brings himself to his daughter’s problem. He is willing to invest his own time and resources to help her. (And it’s worth noting that he was still a dialed-in dad even after his daughter was married).

Notice the freedom of honest clarity that flows from Achsah’s mouth as she responds to her dad’s question. She replied,

“Do me a special favor. Since you have given me land in the Negev, give me also springs of water.”

She boldly asks him for something that is important to her. She obviously knew that she had the foundation of relationship with her dad to ask him for a “special favor.” There was no fear there. She knew he would listen. She trusted that he would respond.

And the amazing thing is that he does it for her. We read that,

“Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs.” (v. 19)

  • Do you notice how easily she responded to her dad’s question without holding back?
  • Do you notice how Caleb gives his daughter more than she asked for?
  • Do you notice that he offers himself as the solution to her request?

Dad, I encourage you to begin making these six words a regular part of your interactions with your daughter. I promise that they will be a life-changer in the way your daughter responds to you!

Thanks Caleb for being a fantastic role model of a dialed-in dad. Would that there be more dads in the 21st century who follow in your footsteps.


Dr. Michelle Watson

Dr. Michelle Watson

Dr. Michelle Watson approaches life and relationships with one ear turned upwards, listening to her Abba Father’s voice, and another turned horizontally towards His kids.  Whether in her counseling office or speaking to teens, women, or dads, she seeks to keep it real while pointing to her Healer.  Her first book will be released on September 1, 2014 as a resource to help dads with daughters entitled Dad, Here’s What I Really Need From You:  A Guide to Connecting with Your Daughter’s Heart.  You can read more about The Abba Project and her ministry to dads at drmichellewatson.com.

“God will never give you more than you can handle.”


God will never give you more than you can handle

God will never give you more than you can handle

I’ve heard this quoted as Scripture one too many times. It’s just not in there.

It’s a nice sentiment. It looks good on a facebook post.

But it’s not in the Bible. You can Google it. Look it up on Bible Gateway.

You won’t find it. It’s not there.

It’s harmful.

Not only is this is not a Bible verse. It’s also not a benign statement. In the right context, it can constitute spiritual abuse.

Imagine the day I arrived at the ICU, just in time to watch a mother sign the DNR for her adult child. Or how about the next day, when I sat with the parents as they informed their little boy that his sister would not be coming home.

What do you think? Should I have looked them and said, “God will never give you more than you can handle”?

It would seem glib at best, woefully ignorant at worst. Assuring a grieving parent that, in essence, “you should be able to handle this” isn’t just not helpful. It’s malicious.

The same holds true for countless experiences that people you know face every day.

So where did this saying come from?

And how has it become so widely spread and accepted as true?

I think I know where the confusion comes from.

Here’s what the Bible actually does say:

1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV) says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

Now I bet you’re confused.

You’re probably thinking, “How is that different than, ‘God will never give you more than you can handle’?”

It’s a LOT different. Let’s break it down.

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.”

You suffer through the same stuff everyone does. When you do, God is not picking on you. All 7+ billion people in this world go through trials and temptation. Yours are unique to you. But they are not unique.

This perspective matters.

One of the devil’s oldest tricks is to make you think that you are suffering pain that is exclusive to you. If he can win that battle in your mind, he can turn you away from going to God and actually getting the help you need. All it takes is a little seed of resentment to spout into full-blown rebellion of the heart.

“And God is faithful;”

Stop. Let this sink in.

When you run into trying times, do you run to God or away from Him? All too often, when we are faced with an obstacle, we assume God is somehow to blame. He’s not. He’s faithful. Just because something goes wrong doesn’t mean God has left you.

The sooner we take the focus off of our temptation and place it on God’s faithfulness, the better.

And this is the pivot point:

“…he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.”

This is where the wrong turn happens. People read this part alone and think, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Wrong.

It does say that God will not let you be tempted “beyond what you can bear.” So there is an outer limit to temptation. God will only let so much happen. But how can we know that’s true?

Read this last bit and I’ll explain.

“But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

If you and I are honest, we have to admit that there has never been one single moment where we had to give in to temptation.

(I’ll give your mind a moment to scroll through the memory banks, compiling an argument against me…)

Ok, I’ll go first.

Look, I have made innumerable excuses for my sins. I still do. I love to recall how different factors played in to how I acted, thought or treated someone else. Something about painting myself as helpless seems to make me feel less bad about doing what I know I shouldn’t. I wish it weren’t true. But it is.

But if I’m honest, I can tell you that there has never been a time I had to give into temptation. I just chose the easy way out.

And that’s the rub, isn’t it? There is always a way out. But it often comes at a price.

  • You can choose to let that snarky comment slide. But then you’d lose the opportunity to air out that great comeback.
  • You can choose to claim all your income on your tax return, even the cash. But then it would, literally, cost you.

Whatever the temptation, there is always a way out. And God has given to us the power to make that choice. (Romans 6:14; 1 Corinthians 8:1; 1 Corinthians 15:57) But we often just don’t want to pay that price.

God will never railroad you into disobedience. That’s what this is saying. You are never under compulsion to sin. Never. No matter how you try to explain it away in your head, you never have to sin. There is always a way out.

God will definitely give you more than you can handle.

God will definitely give you more than you can handle

God will definitely give you more than you can handle

But He will never leave you without the option to obey Him. Here’s the sticky part: You may not like the options in front of you.

Scripture is full of examples of people who God gave more than they could handle.

Job – I don’t know if you know this, but as far as we can tell, Job is the oldest book in the Bible. Yeah, isn’t that great? The portion of Scripture that has been in written form longest is a story about a guy who God allowed to lose everything! So much for the Bible being a feel-good story.

At the low point of his life, after losing his children, wealth and health, Job’s wife looked at him, pitiless, and said, “Why don’t you just curse God and die?” Ouch.

I’d say God gave Job more than he could handle. Yet he did not sin by cursing God. Yes, he bottomed out. And it wasn’t pretty. But in the end, God proved Himself faithful.

Consider Abraham. God told him to move to a land that God had not yet showed him. God said, “Go” and Abraham went. I bet he wondered where he was headed. I sure am glad he responded to God.

Later, God told Abraham to go sacrifice his son. Like, with a knife. And he obeyed. I could not imagine…

In the end, God was faithful to provide a sacrifice to replace Isaac. (Hint hint, foreshadowing here.)

Noah built a boat before the rain clouds gathered. (Genesis 6) I bet he was tempted to throw in the towel. I bet he was glad he didn’t.

Moses was told to march into Egypt after 40 years of being on the lam for murder. (Exodus 3) He gave God a list of reasons he couldn’t do it. But God didn’t buy it. Eventually, Israel was freed.

Once the Israelites were freed, however, they whined. They griped so much that God wanted to kill them all and start over with Moses. (Exodus 32:9-10) Oh, and they rebelled too. (Exodus 32) All of them. It got ugly. But God was faithful.

David’s son turned on him and his kingdom fell. He acted like he was crazy to get out of a tight spot. (1 Samuel 21:10-15)

Jesus asked His Father if there was any other way to save the world. (Matthew 26:36-46) There was not. So Jesus was nailed to a cross, and the sins of the entire world were placed on Him. I am glad he didn’t give into temptation early in his ministry. (Matthew 4:1-11) I am glad He never gave into temptation. (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15)

How about Stephen? He was tried before the Sanhedrin. All he had to do is say, “Ok, I won’t preach anymore” and he could have walked away. It doesn’t even seem like the temptation to renounce Christ even registered. Instead, He preached, glorifying God, and paid with his life. (Acts 7)

Each of these men were tempted, yet chose to obey God above all else.

The price tag for their obedience was steep. But the price tag for their disobedience would have been much greater. In the end, their acts of faith are still telling the story of God’s faithfulness thousands of years later.

My point?

God gave each of these men more than they could handle.

I’m just glad it wasn’t more than He could handle.

What about you?

Have you ever had more than you could handle?

  • Maybe your marriage imploded.
  • Maybe you lost a child.
  • Maybe you’re addicted.
  • Maybe life just hasn’t turned out the way you hoped it would.

I am so sorry that you have had to deal with that. I know that nothing I can say will take away that pain.

If that’s you, I know you’re tempted. You’re tempted to turn your back on God, to blame Him, and walk away.

Or maybe you already have. I’ve been there.

The best news ever is that, even if you have walked away, God is still there when you turn around.


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A Prayer for the People of Walmart - by Joe Wickman

A Prayer for the People of Walmart – by Joe Wickman

Three children are screaming at the top of their lungs. And I mean scream-ing!

Believe me. I have 4 kids. They have screamed in stores. It happens. I get it.

But here, in the checkout line of our local Walmart, I’m bombarded with these cries of frustration. So is everyone around me. I can feel the tension building in our collective shoulders.

  • One mother (Is she the mother? Dear God, I hope not.) lashes out in frustration.
  • Another family ignores their little guy. “Maybe the kid would stop screaming if they acknowledged his existence.”
  • The third screamer? I can’t even see them. But oh, I can hear them.

The cashier laments, “My head is killing me!” (I wonder why.)

I try to be compassionate, telling her I hope she feels better. She’s so sweet and helpful. But really I just want to get out of there. I feel like my own head’s going to explode, and I’ve only been there a half an hour.

In the parking lot, people are cutting each other off, much like they were in the store, just now with cars, not carts. The collective angst spills out of the doors, past the smiley-face price tags, and into the world at large.

“I’ve got to get to my vehicle.”

There’s that angry mom again. Now she’s angrily buckling her toddler into the seat. I can’t quite make out her words. They’re somewhere between a curse and a grunt. My stomach turns.

  • Do I step in?
  • What would I even say?
  • How does a man, by himself, approach an angry Mom in a parking lot?

All this rushes through my head in 5 seconds as I walk toward my car.

Too late. She drives away first. Gone. Now I wonder what life is like for the little girl in her care.

I drive away.

I’m stunned. I can’t escape the thought, “That was awful!”

I’m not trying to be all “emo” here. But my heart is heavy. What was intended to be a casual stop at the store to pick up a few things turned into a deeply disturbing experience. I’m actually sad.

“What the heck just happened?”

It’s not Walmart’s fault.

As a pastor, I deal with broken people on a daily basis. I’m one of them.

But it seems like here, in the aisles of the discount store, we come face to face with the reality of who we are. At our modern day market, where prices are low enough to lure us in from every corner of our community, we come face-to-face with the unvarnished “us”.

A lot of times we don’t like what we see.

As a people, big picture, we are broken.

People don’t treat each other poorly for no reason. It’s a sign of a deep brokenness within that person. As the old saying goes, “Hurt people hurt people.”

As I drive away from this brief encounter with the hurting people of my community, I think:

  • “How does Jesus love people like that?”
  • “Wait. That’s exactly what I’m like without Him.”
  • “Jesus, how can I love people like you do?”

As I pray, a Scripture flashes to my mind, a fragment of a verse.

“harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”

I look it up. It’s Matthew 9.

Jesus’ attitude toward deep brokenness is laid out here. Let’s see what we can learn:

Matthew 9:35 Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom.

When Jesus came to earth, He immersed Himself in the everyday. He descended into our brokenness and brought Good News!

35 And he healed every kind of disease and illness.

He didn’t just preach. He got his hands dirty. He healed. He reached into broken lives and changed them for the better. Jesus is capable. He is willing. He is able. Am I? Are you?

36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

This is how Jesus sees the broken people. What right do I have to see people any differently?

37 He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. 38 So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.”

Jesus came to earth. He laid down His life for broken us. Then He left. He returned to Heaven. Why?

Jesus wanted us, broken us, healed by Him, to carry on His work until He returns.

He sent His Holy Spirit to fill us, to equip us to love like He loved. He calls us to touch broken lives with the “Good News of the Kingdom”!

If you are a Christ follower…

  • How do you respond to brokenness when you see it?
  • Are you part of the solution?
  • Are you stepping into the harvest field?
  • Are you praying for the Lord of the harvest to send more workers?

Don’t let brokenness repulse you. Let it propel you.

Jesus sent His followers into this world to love people. So let’s get to it.

Compassion must be followed by action. It can start with a prayer.

Here is a prayer for the people of Walmart:

Lord, my heart is heavy when I encounter the ugliness of brokenness.

Help me understand that all people are broken, and in need of Your repair (including me).

Open my eyes so I can see like Jesus, instead of judging and complaining.

Turn my anger and sadness into deep compassion. Help me love like You do.

May the light of Christ shine through me, overcoming darkness wherever I go.

Make me a part of Jesus’ healing, transforming ministry in my home, through my church, and in my community.

In Jesus’ brilliant, healing, life-changing name I pray. Amen.


I opened up our local newspaper and an article immediately grabbed my attention.

You Are What You Decide by Sean Brady

You Are What You Decide by Sean Brady

Three revelations, one after the other, rushed to my mind.

  1. “Hey, someone local wrote a book!” (I’m slowly writing a book too.)
  2. “Hey, that book is about a topic I’m interested in!” (Decision Making)
  3. “Hey, I know that guy!”

It turns out that Sean Brady, my one-time teacher, has made a career out of helping people make decisions. Since he taught the Middle School “Apex” program, he has acquired a wealth of life experience and specialized training that makes this unique profession viable.

The Company

Now “Mr. Brady” (he no longer lets me call him that) leads Prism Decision Solutions. Their mission is to “Provide dynamic group processes and state-of-the-art systems to accelerate group decision making.” In short, if your organization has a high-stakes, complex decision to make, Prism can lead you through to the solution.

The Book

Sean (I still want to call him “Mr. Brady”) has now consolidated years worth of decision-making research and development into an accessible resource. “You Are What You Decide” provides “8 Keys to Better Decision Making” that will help you navigate simple and complex situations in your personal and professional life.

But the book here:  You Are What You Decide: Eight Keys to Better Decision-making

Sean Brady - Author of "You Are What You Decide"

Sean Brady – Author of “You Are What You Decide”

Why buy it? In Mr. Brady’s words:

This book is about how to improve deliberate, high-stakes decision-making.

Who doesn’t need help making decisions?

Here’s my “Quick Hits”:

  • The book was a quick read. You could knock it off in an afternoon.
  • The “8 Keys” are easy to understand and apply.
  • It is an entry-level book on decision-making, but extremely useful.
  • This book is serving as a launchpad for my continued study of the art of decision making.

It’s short. It’s simple. But it’s helpful.

I found myself quoting the concepts in meetings at work the week after I read it. And maybe more importantly, the concepts continue to resurface in my mind as I navigate personal and professional decisions.

Pick up a copy for yourself. Heck, I recommend picking up a copy for each of your teammates at work.

If we make better decisions, our lives will be enriched. After all, “You are what you decide.”

How NOT to Pray Part 10: Don't Change

How NOT to Pray Part 10: Don’t Change

I’ve been writing my first book for about 150 years now.

This is Part 10 of 10. Now I’m going to go back through all 10 parts, rewriting and developing the content. When I’m done, I hope to have something that’s helpful. I hope it’s at least worth putting together into an eBook format.

Part 1 of “How NOT to Pray” is right here.

How NOT to Pray Part 10: Don’t Change

You know what happens when you don’t change?

Not much.

Eventually, if you dig in your heels for long enough, you’ll calcify. You’ll rust tight. You’ll stop moving forward and you’ll rust tight.

By now it’s safe to assume you’re reading this because you want your relationship with God to go somewhere. At least I hope that’s why you’re still reading, and it’s not just because, like me, you have this weird thing about finishing every series you start, no matter how terrible it is.

I promise not to tank this last chapter. But I’m going to need some participation from you too. It’s time to put hands and feet to your prayer life. It’s time to pull all of this talk about prayer out of the theoretical realm and secure its impact in the here and now. It’s time for you to change.

Ready? Let’s go.

Let me ask you a point blank question:

Does your prayer pass the “so what” test?

What I mean is, “Is your life changing as a result of your prayer?” If it’s not, you’re doing it wrong. If you learn “how to pray”, but don’t ever change as a result of connecting with God, then “So what?” It’s all for nothing.

The fact that it’s possible to pray without changing should make you sick to your stomach, at least a little bit. But it is. It’s possible to “pray” all the time and not change a bit.

Jesus actually pointed out how NOT to pray:

5 “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. (Matthew 6:5)

The Jews didn’t have a word to accurately describe the spiritual fakers Jesus was talking about here. So he called them “hypocrites”. It means “stage actor”. You think, “That doesn’t sound too bad. Actors are celebrities!” It wasn’t a compliment. In fact, it was a pretty harsh insult, a slap right in the face.

In Jesus’ day and culture, actors were considered professional liars. The Jews looked down on the Greeks in more ways than one. The “pretending” that actors did was despicable. So to refer to someone praying as a “hypocrite” was about as big of a slam as you could imagine.

Jesus says, essentially, “Don’t be a pretender when you pray. Don’t pray for show. Pray for go.”

So, if you don’t want to fall into that category, maybe you should take a minute and do some evaluation.

You’ve got to answer these honest questions about prayer:

  • What if I DO hear from God?
  • What if I come to Him in prayer, and He speaks to me?

I don’t mean, “speak” like an audible voice. But what if you pray and God answers? Are you prepared to change what you’re doing and how you’re doing it? Are you move-able? Or is all your prayer just your effort to act spiritual?

As we pray, God might ask you to:

  • Stop sinning
  • Leave your life as you know it and start following Him
  • Sever ties with a toxic person
  • Develop a new habit
  • Answer the call to ministry
  • Ask forgiveness from someone you hurt
  • …and a thousand other things, all requiring you to respond

God seldom says, “Stay the course.”

It’s not because that’s never the answer. But it’s usually not the answer you’re looking for. What I mean is you’re typically approaching God about things you know you need help with.

You come to Him with a problem you can’t fix. You need God to open His toolbox and do the work you can’t. You approach Him with a sin that you’re stuck in. You desperately need His mercy and grace. You call on Him to be our GPS when you’re peering down two roads that take you to very different destinations.

  • You ask God for guidance.
  • You place our problems in His lap.
  • You go to God for the power to change.

Be honest. Sometimes you hope He won’t answer.

Why? Answered prayer comes with a whole new set of consequences. And you and I, being human, would often rather stay put, mired in our misery, than risk the unknown. Even when we ask for God’s help, we’re often unwilling to change in order to step into His new reality.

Don’t think so?

  • Ever heard a teenager whine about not having any money?
  • Ever heard a Dad say, “I’ll give you a few bucks if you mow the lawn”?
  • Ever seen said teenager roll their eyes in response?

Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.

In spite of your most impressive spiritual gymnastics, if you’re not ready to actually move in response to God when you pray, you risk short-circuiting the whole process. Prayer requires response if it’s to foster close relationship. Remove real-life response from your prayer life, and it’s pointless. Or worse.

Prayer without response can be hazardous to your spiritual health.

Solomon put it this way:

Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed–without remedy. (Proverbs 29:1)

“Stiff-necked.” Not a term we throw around at the office. Stubborn. Unchanging. Un-lead-able. You get the idea.

My point? If you come to God, asking for help, you’d better dang-well be ready to be helped. And if you’re not, you’d better start moving anyway. Otherwise you’re just flapping your gums. Praying to the God of action (Creator, Healer, Comforter, Sustainer… He is a doer) often requires you to move in ways you’re not prepared for, that aren’t easy, and that cost you something.

Consider Jesus’ prayer life.

Jesus was in constant communication with His Father. And I don’t think anybody could make a case for his life being a cake-walk. But the intensity of His life and ministry necessitated constant communication with God Almighty. The mission He was on required Him to be constantly responding to the leading of the Lord.

It it’s true that Jesus prayed to and responded to His Father in Heaven, then it’s all that much more applicable to us.

You were not designed to just float through this life.

God has in mind for you a life that is filled to the brim with adventure. Hang with me. I’m not suggesting everybody is destined to be Indiana Jones. But I do know this: Developing a responsive relationship with God is the most invigorating thing you can ever do.

Your joining God in this adventure has little to do with your outward circumstances. It has everything to do with your inner response to Him.

Whether you’re a sky-dive instructor or a desk jockey, the one thing that is guaranteed to fill your life with a sense of purpose is an authentic, responsive relationship with Almighty God. Only He can bring a Universe worth of purpose to what might otherwise be a very vanilla life.

If you’re in constant communication with the God who holds your days in His hand, you enter into a whole new realm of possibilities. Suddenly, the sky is the limit for your life. No matter what your outward circumstances, your relationship with God gives you the opportunity to soar!

Do you know what this means?

Your limitations do not limit your life nearly as much as you thought they did!

Maybe you’re __________. (Insert disability / limitation here.)

You’re fat. Skinny. Hurt. Sick. Poor. Dyslexic. ADHD. You were born at the wrong time… in the wrong place… to the wrong people… to really live a life of significance.

Or maybe your life, full of bright promise, took a terrible turn. You were sideswiped somewhere along the way, and things will never be quite the same. The hope of the perfect life has been snatched away. You’re forever on plan B.

Stop it.

Do not define yourself by your limitations.

This is not a pep talk. I’m not going to promise you that God will magically whisk away all your hardship. Instead, I’ll point you to the fact that a full-contact prayer life is vital for a life full of challenges. Take a quick look at the numerous examples in Scripture, and you quickly realize you’ve got no reason to count your obstacles as larger than God’s grace and mercy.

Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, Paul… take a look at their lives and it gets squirrelly quick. They were some messed up guys whose one redeeming quality is that they learned how to live out an authentic walk with God. In-between outrageous obstacles and personal failures they learned how to God to God honestly, and respond as He spoke.

You can do the same. In fact, you can do better because you have some advantages over those guys.

Did you ever stop to think that Abraham didn’t have a Bible? Or a church. Or a pastor. He worshiped God, served Him, moved when He said to move, all by discerning God’s will through prayer.

So, what’s your excuse?

If these guys managed to live a life connected with God, through prayer, you can too. And you can do it with the advantage of a Bible that God wrote down and packaged together for you. You can do it in the context of a body of believers that’s as messed up and in need of Him as you are. So do not act like just because we have challenging lives you cannot hear from God in prayer. You can.

And as if that’s not enough, consider your Savior.

You serve the God who was dead. Yep, dead. Jesus died. Talk about a show-stopper. The God of our salvation, the Messiah that came to save the world from sin, experienced death. But he also experienced resurrection. Don’t lose sight of this fact. This is the game-changer for you.

The fact that Jesus, God in flesh, died on the cross, means that your stupid sin habits are not only forgiven (1 John 1:9), but their power is broken! I don’t know if you’ve realized it yet, but you’re free (Galatians 5:1)! You just need to start stepping into the freedom that was purchased for you with Christ’s blood.

So since you’re free, you no longer have any obligation to sin (Romans 8:12-13). There is literally nothing holding you back from accessing God directly (Hebrews 4:16).

So start praying like you can step right into God’s throne room. Because you can. If you are in Christ, and Christ is in you, then you have been granted access to the Father. You are His child. You have been adopted into the family.

So pray. Pray like you’re asking your Dad for advice, for what you need. And then do what He tells you to do.

Each “Yes” leads to the next “Yes”

Prayer, coupled with response, opens up the next opportunity for you to respond to your Father’s will.

God’s revealed will is clear. It’s found explicitly in the pages of Scripture. This incredible gift is under-utilized by many Christians. We have exponentially more access to God’s Word than any previous generation. It’s all laid out in black in white, just waiting for you to open the book, or the site, or the app.

God’s Word is clear on so many things. You certainly do not have to guess who God is, what He is like, and what He desires for you. You can open up the Bible and see, page after page, what He’s all about. Exposure to God’s Word, over time, will reveal to you an accurate picture of Who He is. Then you’ll know better how to interact with Him.

God’s discovered will is different. There’s no app for that. It’s unearthed one conversation at a time, in the context of a life that’s continually responding to God’s revealed will. How do you find out what God’s discovered will is? Through prayer.

The Bible isn’t going to tell you who to marry, where to apply for a job, or how to respond to a nasty email. But your Father in Heaven cares about all those things. So, after you run your day-to-day decisions through the filter of God’s Word, then you take them to prayer. As you repeat this process, you will discover His guidance is ready and waiting.

You will grow to daily pray within the boundaries of God’s Word as a constant discipline. Then, all you have to do is respond as you hear His voice.

  • So, are you prepared to move when God answers your prayers?
  • Your answer to this question will either inhibit or accelerate your growth in Christ.


My final advice to you? Pray. Respond. Repeat.

Step into the adventure one prayer at a time.


“How NOT to Pray” is my first awkward attempt at writing a book. It’s taking me forever and I’m not sure it’s any good. With any luck, it will be available by mid-2050. Thanks for reading so far.


April 25, 2014 — 4 Comments
STOP TEXTING! by Joe Wickman

STOP TEXTING! by Joe Wickman

Stop texting if…

  1. You’re angry.
  2. You’re not sure what their text meant.
  3. Your question cannot be answered with a yes, a no, or a number. (i.e. I’ll be there at 8:00)
  4. You value the relationship.

Look, texting is great, but only for a few things. My thumbs can sail over the surface of my iPhone keyboard. Texting is one of the modern conveniences I don’t know how I’d live without. It works great for shooting a quick question or note.

But there’s also a downside. People mistake texting for actual communication. It’s just not. Texting in order to communicate important, complex ideas is like trying to describe your favorite movie via email. It doesn’t work. It’s not the right method.

At best, a text is a short, limited message. It’s like talking on a telegraph. Type. Send. Wait for response. It’s stripped of all the rich verbal cues that color in a phone conversation. And even a phone call misses the all-telling body language that brings life and meaning to a face-to-face talk.

At worst, texting is the most easily misconstrued way to transmitting actual ideas. And forget about feelings. That’s why texts are often confusing.

I cannot tell you how many times I have told people, “STOP TEXTING!”

  • Husbands and wives text instead of calling or talking face to face, and can’t understand why they’re misunderstood.
  • Friends fight about stupid stuff that could be solved with one conversation if they just put in the effort.
  • Business people text instead of calling, and wonder why they’re losing money. (This numbs my mind.)

Seriously, people. We’ve GOT to get better at communication.

The next time you’re angry, or confused, or questioning someone’s motives, kick the communication up a notch.

Instead of texting, call. 9 times out of 10 you’ll solve your problem. It’s amazing what gets cleared up when you can hear the tone of someone’s voice. It’s like wiping the fog off your mirror. Suddenly, you can see clearer.

If a call doesn’t work, get face to face. Expressing complex thoughts and feelings, as well as listening, happens best when people are within 6 feet of each other.

It’s not rocket science. It’s just common sense. But I see people screw it up all the time.

Do you need to stop texting?

If you value your relationships, maybe you’ll use texting more selectively.

For more relationship help:  “Winning at Relationships

Do you know someone who texts too much? Share this post with them.

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