Right now you need a revelation that Jesus is just as alive today as He was during His ministry in Judea. Often, we tend to separate the two stages of Jesus’s life (divine and Son of Man), we see them as two different books on our shelves. One speaks of who Jesus was for those three and a half years, and the second one about what Jesus could be like one day.
We look at Jesus as the lamb of sacrifice, or the humble servant during the time of His ministry and assume that nothing has changed. But what does Jesus actually look like now in terms of his nature, power, authority and existence? Then we have the second question of how do we engage and relate to Him today?
From a young age, we’re led to believe that success will make us happy. Success will bring us a spouse, money, comfort, a home, stuff to fill that home, and the ability to take nice vacations. How often as a child did we see the phrase “happily ever after” flash across the screen?
The poor orphan goes on an adventure and
becomes the king or queen of the land, or becomes a great hero in battle. It’s
the idea that if we just sit around and go about our mundane lives, eventually
adventure and rewards will come knocking at our door. Only then can we truly be
happy, for just beyond where we are is the place of bliss, contentment, and
This idea, which has been embraced by so many
people, gets reinforced as we’re indoctrinated to focus on the externals of
life. Yet we tend to forget that these external things aren’t always within our
We think the reason we’re unhappy is that we
don’t have the things we want—the perfect job, the ideal spouse, or more money
in the bank. Regardless of what our “white whale” might be, we find ourselves
thinking, “If only I had ________, my life would be better.” We idealize the
perfect life and attribute our own unhappiness to our failure to possess it.
For some, it’s the white picket fence and the nuclear family. For others, it’s a mansion filled with staff to cook and clean for them. There are those who long to live in the forest, by a lake, or up on a mountain. Each person has an ideal of what their perfect happy life would look like, and they engineer their life to reach those dreams.
I watched my wife buy into these ideals as she
followed the script of working hard to achieve the things that all earthly
standards testify to as success. I marveled as she became a partner in a
successful business with a contract to buy it out completely.
I had married my best friend from high school,
who was (and still is) a loving, kind, and attentive spouse. Through our
combined efforts, we became financially secure at a young age, thanks to our
diligence and many sacrifices. We also regularly attended our church as
card-carrying members. I was a member of the church financial council and coauthored
the church’s weekly home group curriculum. Later I founded Conway Christian
Resources and published my first book, Understanding
Who You Are: A Survey of 21st Century Beliefs.
From the outside, life looked great, but deep
inside something was missing. Success didn’t equal satisfaction. We found what
many others have discovered: that the hard work put in to achieve our dream
rewarded us with only more hard work. There wasn’t much more happiness in our
lives, but only more responsibility and less time to do the things that
actually made us happy.
When Succeeding Isn’t Success
we’re taught from a young age to strive toward is something external. And being
external, it’s only temporary. That new car will rust out, fall apart, and end
up one day in a wrecking yard. That new job title will eventually go to someone
else, if the company even survives that long. That nest egg will eventually get
spent, and the gains erode as they’re taxed into oblivion.
All these things we work toward either degrade,
disappear, or become valueless. But at the same time, all these things tell us
(and those around us) that we’re successful, that we’ve achieved and arrived at
a higher and better level of existence.
How will I know if I’ve succeeded if I can’t have things others are unable to possess? How will people around me know that I’m superior and successful unless they can recognize it half a mile away?
It’s the idea that “the person with the most
stuff wins,” so by definition shouldn’t that person be the happiest of them
all? In reality, those with the most stuff can be the most miserable, because
they constantly fear losing all they have. They’re unable to enjoy it and be
happy, because around every corner is someone looking to become happy at their
expense by taking what they have.
On the other hand, there are those who feel
that they haven’t succeeded, and they spend their time grumbling and
complaining that the grass isn’t as green for them as it is for others. They
look at the lush, well-manicured lawns of the successful and believe the lie
that they’d be happier if their lawn looked like that. Once again, it’s the
externals that are used to tell us and others if we’re happy or not.
“The greener the grass, the happier the life”
is the idea accepted by many, but at no point do they question why the grass is
greener. Maybe it’s because the successful person hires someone to make it like
that, because they’re so busy they could never do it on their own. Or it could
be that the other person actually put in the time and effort to make it look
that way. Those who grumble and complain about their grass tend to be those who
are unwilling to put in the work to make it better.
I remember when I moved into a house with three
lilac bushes on the property. They were in rough shape and hadn’t produced flowers
for several years. I had three choices. I could leave them as they were and
hope for the best, I could cut them down, or I could put in some effort and fix
them. It took two years of pruning, fertilizing, watering, and managing, but
finally those bushes sprouted their lilacs for the first time in years.
Did this bring a sense of accomplishment? Yes.
Did it make the yard look better? Yes. Did it make me happy? No. I was glad
that my effort brought about a good result, but it didn’t change how I felt on
the inside. To top it off, the summer that the lilacs finally bloomed was also
the same summer that we moved across the country. After all the hours of work I
put in, the benefits were to be enjoyed by another family.
There has to be more to life than houses, cars,
and landscaping, but if these aren’t the keys to happiness, what is? Since
trying to solve the matters of happiness with the external wasn’t the answer,
my wife looked inwardly. She turned to self-help books, having been reading
them since she was a teenager.
It wasn’t because something was wrong, but in
response to her aching for more. There was something missing, and yet the books
couldn’t create inner peace or transform their information into joy. Any fix
was only temporary relief, a distraction from the emptiness and the gnawing
feeling that in the midst of a fairy tale existence, something was still
Inside, there’s a cry—and not only in myself,
because I’ve heard that cry everywhere: “I know I was made for more.” It’s the
feeling of unfulfilled purpose. It weighs on my heart and leaves me
unsatisfied. Stuff doesn’t satisfy it, information doesn’t satisfy it. Neither
do titles, success, or the praises of others.
The Vanity of Vanity
What can you do when you’ve done everything right and found it lacking? This is what we and many other people have found out about life. Even Solomon dedicated the book of Ecclesiastes to this idea. The things we can buy at a store cannot make us happy over the long-term. We see that everything either fades away or forces us to pursue something else.
This is what’s referred to as vanity, where we have a high view of something or ourselves, but in the end it’s useless. It’s like dressing up a salmon in a top hat and a coat while calling it Lord Sebastian the Salmon, Ruler of All in the River. It doesn’t matter; you wasted your money, and no matter how that salmon was dressed up, it still ends up in an oven with some lemon and seasoning sprinkled over it.
the richest man in the land, but still felt hollow. He eventually drifted away
from God and into idolatry. He had gold, silver, wisdom, and women, but each of
those things on their own couldn’t produce happiness, joy, or purpose in life. Instead,
these things got in the way of his true purpose and brought about dark
consequences which shadowed his nation for generations.
So what then can we do? Should we give up material success and possessions in pursuit of the spiritual? Many have tried this and failed. The idea of shunning everything made of matter was the source of many troubles for the church, and it did nothing to fill the void. If we were all to abandon what we have and hide out in a cave seeking enlightenment, we would actually be ill-equipped to meet the needs of the church and the world around us.
On the other end of the spectrum, what if we
gave up the spiritual in pursuit of greater success? Again this leaves us off
balance and without any type of lasting joy.
Many things we consider to be the finishing
line are nothing more than tools to be used to get us to the actual finishing
line. Money can be good if it’s used correctly. Possessions can be helpful and
enjoyed if we understand their place in our lives. A career can be good if it’s
balanced with the rest of our lives. Vanity comes when these things or anything
else takes control of our lives, or we find ourselves in an endless chase for
the next big thing to achieve or buy.
I routinely find myself looking at what I have
and wondering if any of it is worth it. All the time and effort that went into
earning money so these things can sit on my shelf and get dusty. The same goes
for my music hobby. I know spending money on a guitar pedal won’t make me
happy, but it sounds good. At other times I think everything’s just a giant
waste, and I regret spending the money rather than saving it where it could
grow (unless the stock market has something to say about it).
Do I enjoy my hobbies? Yes, most of the time,
but they cannot make me truly happy. Instead, they help occupy the time,
sometimes to avoid life and other times to just unwind from it. No matter how I
feel, all those things will either break down, get sold (or given away), or
thrown in the trash. All that expectation, research, and the purchasing and
using of those things will eventually bring about a day where it doesn’t matter
This isn’t meant to be a depressing look at our
lives, but what’s being shown here is a picture that most people don’t like to
look at. The reality is this: Deep down, what we hold dear and see as valuable
will inevitably control our thoughts, desires, and time. If we place more value
on money than on people, then our lives will reflect that. If we put more value
on achievement than on family, our lives will reflect that. If we put more
value on being entertained than on true joy, our lives will follow that course
like a sailboat on a river.
Appreciation gets lost when we look for the greenest grass or biggest house. I had a friend who was quite well off financially, and when he encountered new people trying to be his friend, he would test them. It wasn’t something big or grand; he would give them a penny (or a nickel), and see how they reacted. If they were grateful and thankful, he invested time and friendship into them, because they weren’t driven by his bank account. If they tossed the penny aside, or complained or asked for more, he cut them out of his life. He was looking for people who valued him more than his money, or what he could do for them.
Why Am I Still Not Happy?
We see then
that being happy doesn’t automatically come from things, position, pride, or
gold. It comes from something deeper which cannot be bought. This has to do
with what we perceive to be important and whether or not we can be appreciative
of whatever we have at the time.
We see that many people turn to the wrong
things to try and answer the question, “Can I be happy?” We turn to
entertainment, sex, drugs, music, meditation, exercise, isolation, shopping,
food, and a host of other things to try and coax some happiness out of this
life. Happiness is fleeting and subject to so many variables. It’s also
incredibly picky, and thrives on unrealistic expectations.
Wanting to be happy is only part of the
equation, along with understanding our purpose and looking for something that
goes beyond our natural lives. The truth is that we cannot buy this happiness
because we can’t afford the price of it. No one can, because happiness doesn’t
overcome life, and the two are most often at odds with each other.
Understanding this conflict of expectation versus reality, we can start to come to terms with our lives and what to expect out of them. No longer should we continue to live according to “happily ever after”; rather, we should be hoping that our life can be summed up by the phrase “joy everlasting.” There’s something greater at work here, and how we can get to that place is determined by what kind of person we are.
Today it feels like there’s something missing in the lives of many Christians, we go to church, and occasionally read our Bibles but it feels if that it isn’t enough. As Christians we are good at listening, pondering, and absorbing information, revelation and insights. But what do we do with all of that knowledge? Do we write it down, store it away in our minds for a rainy day, or do we replace it with whatever is heard the following week?
In this weeks episode we look at how you can combine the things you hear with tangible actions which will deepen your relationship with God and give purpose to all of the messages, quotes and scriptures you encounter.
We’ve seen so far over
the past few months the path which David’s life took as it progressed through
the “4 A’s” of Anointing, Apprenticeship, Activation and Announcement. Despite
our desire for God to take us straight from the place of Anointing to the place
of Announcement where we are recognized as being in the fullness of our
calling, we must first survive the wilderness.
It’s in the wilderness as we have seen in Part 1 where you are faced with the realities of your heart and you’re given the opportunity to test your character, preparedness and devotion to God before you are given the full measure of your life’s calling. In part one we addressed the “Why” of having to go through the wilderness and now we must look at the “How” of not just surviving the wilderness season but thriving in it as well.
Faithfulness Brings Activation
For David the wilderness was not a time of quiet reflection, it was a
time of adventure, risk, action, and leadership. David was on the run from king
Saul who was proverbially frothing at the mouth to kill David and secure his
kingdom. This meant that David was constantly on the move and living in the
less desirable areas of the Judahite wilderness. David had to be constantly on
the move but he wasn’t alone. Over time he attracted others from the kingdom
who were outsiders and misfits but at the same time they recognized something special
Those people followed him and abandoned their comforts, security and the quietness of their mundane lives to follow this shepherd/general/musician into the desert with the hope that he would succeed Saul, the king God no longer endorsed. But for those people to follow him David first had to go out and live out a small measure of his calling. He led the people, delivered the oppressed from the Philistines (1 Samuel 23) and he forged what would later become the inner circle of the kingdom of Israel. David’s advisors, generals and mighty men came out of this season of the wilderness, and they didn’t suddenly appear after David became king,
Those people only found David because he was already acting with the
wisdom, leadership, and devotion of a king, even through the crown wasn’t on
his head yet. I feel that this is similar to the process we go through when we
try to fulfill our calling or find our own place in ministry. You don’t
automatically wake up one day and get handed the keys to a church of 5,000 people
when you’ve never done any kind of ministry or received any training. That is a
recipe for disaster, and it highlights the reason for the wilderness training
and waiting we have to go through.
Yet at the same time just because you don’t have a 5,000 person church or
a fancy title, or a paid position doesn’t mean that you don’t go about and do
many of the things you would be doing with those opportunities, titles, and
positions. It is the process of progressive faithfulness where you are faithful
with small and seemingly insignificant matter and you are rewarded with the
chance to do something greater next time (Luke 16:10). It is like the parable
where those who were faithful with financial responsibilities were rewarded
with the ability to oversee entire cities (Luke 19:17).
How can you dream of being a great evangelist like Reinhard Bonnke or
Daniel Kolenda if you refuse to go about your own community and preach the
gospel? How can you dream of being a great pastor if you don’t have a heart for
the people in your present church? How can you desire to be a mighty teacher if
you don’t take any opportunities to teach even one or two people? All of the
great things we want find their roots of their fulfillment in the little things
we do today.
I’ve had to go through this as well, I’ve had times and seasons where I taught small groups but I didn’t see it as a burden or a waste of my time. It was an opportunity to learn how to teach, write and communicate with people so I could develop the skills I felt God was trying to refine in me so I could do greater things. There are times when you will feel like it’s not worth the extra effort, but it always is.
At one church I was a member of I taught mid-week “adult Sunday school”
for a couple of years. It was a curriculum that I had put together and the
first year I taught it I had nine people attend. I was happy with that and the
20 lessons that came out of that course I still use today and they have shown
up in my articles and books. I still benefit from the work I did back then
because I was faithful with the process, I treated those notes as something
which could become greater later in life and I didn’t see that small class as
being beneath my calling.
I was really challenged with this in the second year I ran the course, I
had seven people sign up and only one showed up to the first night. That is a
real challenge to not only your desire to be faithful but also your pride as
well. The one person that showed up wanted to learn and that was all that I
needed to know, so for the next four months we met ever Tuesday and I taught
that material with the same zeal and quality I would if there was fifty people
in that room.
In that moment I could of bailed on the class using the excuse that it
wasn’t worth my time, or I could of thought about the times I spoke in front of
hundreds of people and feeling like God had demoted me some how. Instead I saw
it as a moment of testing where God wanted to see if I wanted to be a success
rather than a servant. It’s not easy going through those times, I’ve taught in
rooms full of people and I’ve had days where no one showed up, but I feel that
it’s in the times when no one shows up that God is examining our hearts the
Impurities in gold only rise up when it’s in the furnace, and that’s what the seasons of training and wilderness does. It takes the proverbial gold of our life and calling and heats it to the point where all of the dirt, flaws, and imperfections rise to the top so they can be scrapped off. But we resist going through this process because we fear what we could lose in the process, or we fear what might be lurking inside of us so we avoid the process and remain content with being less than what we could be.
People Will Eventually Recognize Your Calling
and Support You
Often what you will find is that when you
have a legitimate calling on your life and you demonstrate consistent character
and faithfulness people will begin to recognize those things in your life and
help you take the next step. We see this idea play out between David and
Jonathan where the calling of God and the faithfulness of David forced Jonathan
to embrace what God was bringing into reality.
1 Samuel 23:17–18 “17 And he said to him, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Even my father Saul knows that.” 18 So the two of them made a covenant before the Lord. And David stayed in the woods, and Jonathan went to his own house.” (NKJV)
We can’t be demanding about this, it has to come naturally and through the leading of the Holy Spirit. I strongly believe that God wants to use other people to help establish you so you can maintain a covering and protecting offered by the church community. Even with myself the majority of “opportunities” I’ve received in the church have come by a pastor or leader taking me aside and saying that God spoke to them or impressed upon them to bring me in to help in a project or a ministry. This has happened repeatedly in my life, I haven’t had to advertise my gifts or callings because I was always faithful with whatever was placed before me and I had a lifestyle which matched up with my calling.
It is that
faithfulness and devotion to loving God that opens up doors in your life and
not begging and petitioning anyone and everyone to give you an opportunity.
Really if you want to be in ministry and get opportunities all you have to do
is A) show up B) be faithful and C) don’t sin. At one church I was made the
“volunteer” youth pastor because I showed up to the launch of the new youth
ministry and wasn’t discouraged when barely anyone showed up and all of the
other volunteers ran off. I was asked to create curriculum for one church
because my pastor at the time got an impression from God to reach out to me
about that program. Although with that example I had already served for over
two years teaching and helping out with the youth program (ages 10-12), again
faithfulness brings promotion and opportunity.
This is all the personification of what it says in Proverbs 18:16, “A man’s gift makes room for him, And brings him before great men.” We can see this idea also play out in the relationship Barnabas vouching and supporting Paul (Acts 9:26-27) or even to a lesser extent Baruch’s support of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 36:4, 10).
It is through the people God leads into your life which helps you fulfill His purpose in the world, as long as your life and character lives up to that calling. Because having people supporting isn’t always about them promoting you it can also be about correcting you and protecting you. We see this play out in 1 Samuel 25 with the story of Abigail and Nabal as David was (justly) prepared to retaliate against Nabal for denying him the commission soldiers would receive for protecting a shepherd’s flock. But in that moment Abigail who saw something greater in David than just being a mercenary for local shepherds intervened and saved David from making an impulsive decision and preventing God from intervening in the situation (1 Samuel 25:32-33).
Not All Opportunities Bring God’s Favor
Something else I believe must be addressed whenever we talk about thriving in the wilderness season is that not all opportunities are from God, or even bring more of his favor into our lives. This is a critical revelation that we must face head on if we’re to survive the wilderness. Because there is no guarantee that you make it out of the wilderness morally, spiritually or naturally alive. You could go in the bar of gold and come out being nothing more than dross (or the sludge which floats to the top).
Where many people go wrong is that they see an opportunity to take a shortcut out of the season of apprenticeship or activation and go directly to being announced (or made king in David’s case). It could be through unethical means, or through something completely innocent but either way it is an attempt to bypass God’s plan and hurry the intended results. We all know how this mentality worked out with Abraham and Hagar, but we tend to think that we are immune from such mistakes.
Not once but twice
David was offered one of these shortcuts to his destiny, in 1 Samuel chapters
24 and 26 David has an opening to kill Saul and take the crown. David’s
followers tried to convince him to strike (1 Samuel 24:4) but each time David
refused because of the legacy of God’s anointing on Saul (1 Samuel 24:10, 1
Samuel 26:9). Even when David only cut off and took a chunk of Saul’s robe
while he was going to the bathroom in the cave there was apprehension and
regret for doing that (1 Samuel 24:5).
Most other people,
including David’s top lieutenants wouldn’t have hesitated to kill Saul in that
moment, but David’s honorable actions forced even Saul
to publicly profess David’s future as the king of Israel. Although this didn’t
stop Saul from trying to kill David again later.
1 Samuel 24:17-22 “Then he said to David: “You are more righteous than I; for you have rewarded me with good, whereas I have rewarded you with evil. 18 And you have shown this day how you have dealt well with me; for when the Lord delivered me into your hand, you did not kill me. 19 For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him get away safely? Therefore may the Lord reward you with good for what you have done to me this day. 20 And now I know indeed that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand. 21 Therefore swear now to me by the Lord that you will not cut off my descendants after me, and that you will not destroy my name from my father’s house.” 22 So David swore to Saul. And Saul went home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.” (NKJV)
I know today we don’t have to worry about killing Saul (or our pastor) to advance our calling or ministry in the wrong way. There are still many things we can do to compromise our walk with God in exchange for a Fast-Pass to our calling. Some people use manipulation, others teach corrupted doctrines, others play politics, but the most common seems to be the desire to abandon their current church and move to greener pastures. Now I’m not saying that you have to remain at one church for the entirely of your Christian life, rather I am talking about stepping outside of God’s plan and taking matters into your own hands.
Yes, there are times when God may call you to move from one congregation to the other but that is according to his will and not your own. Often people get frustrated and imagine that everything would be better somewhere else at a place where their gifts and abilities will be recognizes, praised and put to work. But the reality is that those kinds of advancements come from faithfulness and following God’s guidance in your life. At times he will leave you were you are and at other times He will call you to another place, much like how a soldier gets transferred from one base to another.
Often you will know that it is God calling you to move if your initial reaction is pain or loss, if its relief or joy then it may be your own mind trying to lead you astray. I’m speaking from personal experience here and I’m basing this on the many people I have known who have transferred churches with and without God’s guidance. Those who did do it with God’s leading were blessed and took the next step in their calling, while those who rushed into “greener pastures” faltered and remained in the wilderness.
Thriving Today and Tomorrow
Like David we will all
face challenges to bypass God’s plan for our life, or we end up like Eve who
questioned God’s goodness and nature in exchange what she had for something
else. The wilderness is that place where we can face these challenges with the
least amount of collateral damage to ourselves and to the church at large. It’s
the place where God can correct us and strengthen us before we have the
pressures of the world, ministry, or the full weight of our calling placed upon
us. This is done out of love because God wants not just the church to thrive
but the people who make it up as well, because when one succeeds the other does
also. However, God’s measure of succeeding is often much different than our
How to go from just surviving in the wilderness to thriving and developing in you calling? It’s done through faithfulness, integrity, character, hard work, devotion and the heart of a servant. You begin to thrive in the season of the wilderness when you accept that you are in that season and you use every opportunity to prepare your heart and spirit for the future. The seeds you sow in this season will become the fruit you eat when you are placed in the fullness of your calling, it isn’t the other way around.
You will thrive in this place when you begin to see mountains as opportunities, and you learn how to walk out your calling by living in part as if you have already “arrived” at the place God has called you to be. You can’t be lazy or dormant in this place because if you are you will never leave the wilderness, and you may even become stumbling blocks for those who come through the wilderness after you.
In this entire process
of the “4 A’s” of Anointing, Apprenticeship, Activation and Announcement
there’s no guarantee that you’ll make it through all four stages. At any point
you can get derailed or lost on the journey. Matters such as work,
faithfulness, and relationship with God are mandatory or you will find yourself
endlessly repeating the same stage over and over again just as the Israelites continued
in the same cycle of blessing, idolatry, judgment, and deliverance for hundreds
You can’t just rely on pleasantries between you and God to carry you through this season, this is the time where you develop your relationship with Him. Otherwise if you fail to learn these lessons, you neglect your relationship with God, or you take a shortcut out of this season you’ll just end up launching a ministry where the only god you serve is yourself.
“I’m in awe of Cameron D. Conway’s ability to pack all the major theological ideas into such a thin book! I also appreciate how he infused every chapter with practical analogies. This book is a great reference for every believer. I highly recommend it.”
Assistant Pastor, Maranatha Church, Nanaimo BC
In recommending a book, I am really recommending a person. Cameron Conway is well read and theology is more than an academic discipline, it is a way of life for him. “Understanding Who You Are” provides a high level view of what we need to know about God. You will enjoy Cam’s insights and his wit. Enjoy!