Potential vs. Purpose

The assignment seemed easy to me, but five days later I was still agonizing over it.

At my church’s Women’s Fellowship meeting a couple of weeks ago, I suggested to the ladies that we all choose one word or phrase that we’d like to focus on in the new year. Not necessarily a goal or a resolution, but just an idea or truth we feel God might be calling us to concentrate on. The women all agreed. Then I got stuck.

The morning after Christmas, during my quiet time with the Lord, I was reading a chapter in The Cure, a book that talks about how to move from self-rewarding righteousness into a deeper love-focused relationship with Christ. The authors pointed out that, as we shift our focus from ourselves to the Lord, we mature in our faith, and that maturity brings us closer to fulfilling the purpose for which God created us.

We all have potential. Peter had the potential to become the best fisherman in Israel, Matthew could have become the top-ranking tax collector in his division, and Martha could have won awards for her hospitality skills. However, despite the obvious skills and talents of these followers of Christ, God had a higher calling for their lives.

Peter became a fisher of men. Matthew recorded the life of Jesus in what is now the first book of the New Testament. And Martha modeled great faith for centuries to come when she proclaimed: “Yes, Lord . . . I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:27)

I have the potential to do many things—some of which I may eventually do, some of which I won’t. The same is true for you. You have talents and abilities that, given enough time and attention, could make you highly successful.

In my experience, focusing on my potential has been frustrating and tiring at times. I don’t always know where to put my energy and, when I fail at something, I feel discouraged. What if I were to put my energy into trusting and loving Jesus, asking Him to make of my life what He wants, what He created me for?

“It’s up to God, and it involves His glory, your fulfillment, and the welfare of others,” write the authors of The Cure. It’s reassuring to know that if I focus on following Jesus, instead of on trying to prove my worth to others, I will mature into someone who lives a life of purpose and not merely potential.

My word for 2020? I have finally settled on PURPOSE.

purposeSide note: A few hours after I chose my word, I came across this insight in Boundaries (Cloud & Townsend): “Only the honest, purposeful life leads to good fruit.”

BINGO! Just the confirmation I needed. As my friend Paola likes to say, “God is so personal!”

At the same time, I was about to crack open a new journal as I’d been madly writing in my previous one for a couple of months and it was full. So I lettered the quote on the first page. Good to go…

What about you? What is God leading you to focus on in the new year?

Ann-Margret Hovsepian

 

Room for Jesus?

“How do you feel when you think about God choosing to have his one and only Son born not in a palace, but in a lowly, humble place?”

Mara, a character in the book Two Steps Forward by Sharon Garlough Brown, feels convicted when her spiritual director Katherine asks her the above question. She responds: “Jesus deserves better. A lot better.”

“But God freely chose that place,” Katherine points out.

A moment earlier, Mara had been confessing that her life felt too messy for Jesus to enter it. She had a colourful past and her marriage was so rocky that she was feeling real hatred toward her husband. She didn’t know where to start cleaning up her heart to make room for Jesus. Katherine challenged her to consider whether that was her job. Was she trying to make her heart look like a luxury resort before she let Jesus in? That’s when she reminded Mara that Jesus, who could have been born in a palace, chose instead a simple stable.

I am so much like Mara at times. I look at my life and think, “Okay, let me get rid of this pile of junk and then do some dusting there and, oh, that cabinet is a mess and… and… and…” Meanwhile, Jesus is waiting for me to ask Him in so that we can spend time together, so that He can help me with the clean-up. But I’m too proud, or I’m too ashamed, and then I feel stuck.

Have you ever felt this way? Like your mess is too messy, your pain too painful, your darkness too dark? How could God want to be part of any of that? Why would He waste His time there when He could be somewhere brighter and cleaner?

The Bible tells us that Jesus “came to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) When someone is so lost that a search-and-rescue party is organized or the Coast Guard is called in, they’re generally not in a wide-open well-lit space. They may be in the middle of a dense forest, somewhere on a mountain, or lost at sea. If Jesus came to seek and save the lost, He anticipated entering dark and messy places. He was willing to do that. He is still willing to do that. Why?

He loves us. He loves us with a love we cannot image because we are simply incapable of loving that way. It makes no sense to us. But it’s true:

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

and

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)


I wrote the reflection above for my church newsletter a few weeks ago but I feel like I need to say a bit more. Here are some additional, more personal thoughts…

For a major chunk of this past year, my heart was a very messy place. As I tried to make sense of things I’d struggled with for years, I dug deep into my past (or things I read and heard turned over some of the dirt), unearthing things that I then I had to decide what to do with. Like someone decluttering a house, I ended up with KEEP, TOSS, GIVE AWAY, and DECIDE LATER piles. So, yeah, it was messy. It made me nervous because I thought there was no space left for God. I found myself trying to talk to Him through the closed door of my heart while I shuffled the piles around (making the junk look different instead of actually getting rid of it), but it was hard to hear how He was answering.

Somehow, God still reached me through the chaos. (I think it was when I could no longer breathe in there and I had to nudge the door open a bit.) He showed me that I didn’t need to deal with my mess to gain His approval, to ensure that He was pleased with me, to earn His love. I already had all that. What I needed to do was trust Him enough to let Him in, to let Him see the mess, to let Him clean it out. I needed to admit that I couldn’t manage my failures, my sin, my brokenness and that I needed Him to do that. I needed to become vulnerable. I needed to risk intimacy with Him.

And you know what? That’s what I did.

And you know what? He stepped in, not with contempt or condemnation, but with love and compassion. He didn’t reject me. He didn’t berate me. He didn’t belittle me. He began sweeping and tidying and helping me toss things that don’t belong in my heart to make room for the things He wants to give me.

January 1 will mark 40 years since I asked Jesus Christ to be my Lord and Saviour (I just figured out that milestone — wow!) but it’s taken me this long to really begin to grasp how much He loves me and how much I can trust Him.

And you know what? That’s okay. Some plants shoot up out of the ground and grow quickly. Others take their time and mature more slowly. I can’t afford to get tangled up with regrets about what I did or didn’t do in the past, what I could have done better. Today, I’m forgiven. If God does not condemn me for my past, why should I?

If your life feels messy and chaotic or dark and cloudy or whatever kind of challenge you’re going through, don’t let the enemy convince you that you’re somehow beyond the reach of God’s grace. Jesus would love nothing more than to step into your mess and sweep it with His love, the most powerful cleansing force you’ll ever know.

Can I pray for you? If you’re struggling and need some encouragement, please write to me. And please remember that God loves you more than you can imagine.

Ann-Margret

Growth Lessons from a Flower

A couple of weeks ago, my geranium plant looked like just another plant: healthy green leaves but no flowers, no colour. I felt sad until I had another look last week and saw tiny buds emerging. A day or two later, they were starting to open!

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I was fascinated by how the tiny green “leaves” were pushed open by the flower so I did some research. Those are actually called sepals and I learned a few other things that immediately brought to mind the beautiful process of maturity believers in Christ go through (or at least should!)

Plant life always starts with a seed, which contains everything needed for growth and reproduction. It’s no surprise that Jesus used the analogy of a sower spreading seeds to illustrate how the gospel touches hearts.

Seeds need warmth and water to germinate. In some cases, the sprouting process requires light or even fire and other harsh conditions. Every human heart has different circumstances, but each one needs to give the gospel message time to send down roots and start growing. This happens when we trust in Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.

Once a plant sprouts, it must produce its own food through photosynthesis—converting sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into sugars that help it grow. Similarly, Christians must draw spiritual nourishment from God’s Word and from time in His presence.

Eventually, a plant will develop buds that burst into colourful blooms. Flowers aren’t only pretty to look at. They attract pollinators to their reproductive organs, which God cleverly incorporated into His design. As we mature in our walk with God, others should be attracted to His beautiful characteristics in us and smell His pure fragrance in our lives.

When flowers reproduce—when collected pollen travels down into a flower’s “ovary” and meets the tiny eggs that are waiting—new seeds are created and the process begins again. Fruitful Christians are meant to further God’s kingdom by sowing seeds and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others.

How is your garden growing this summer?

Ann-Margret Hovsepian

 

Craving Approval

I was 15 when I had to write the little blurb that would later appear next to my graduation photo in the school yearbook. Before listing my cherished memories, pet peeves, activities I was involved in, and closest pals, I shared this quote:

“There is no reward from God to those who seek it from men.”

This somewhat insignificant fact came to mind recently as I was reflecting on a truth about myself, one I felt God was challenging me to confront. I was thinking about how I’ve always struggled to make sure I have the approval of
people around me—and I don’t just mean my parents and teachers. Even strangers or mere acquaintances were not safe from my big approval-catching net.

Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with living in such a way that meets with the approval of most people around you—if you’re doing so out of a sincere impulse to live rightly. However, it’s not ideal (or healthy) to base every action and decision on one’s perception of how others will react. Not only does this set you up to potentially make a lot of bad decisions, but it’s also exhausting, not to mention futile.

The irony that I ended up approaching life almost completely opposite to the words of wisdom I’d imparted on others three decades earlier did not escape me. The revelation was momentarily disheartening but it also gave me clarity and the opportunity to change my approach. It allowed me to ask God to change my heart and to move from being a people-pleaser to a God-pleaser.

Why is this important? Because being a people-pleaser is not the position of humility and servitude it appears to be on the surface. Instead, it’s just another way of keeping one’s focus on oneself. We think of people who don’t care about others as being self-centred and conceited, but being a compulsive people-pleaser is simply the other side of the same coin.

We live in a world where people on both sides of a political divide put a lot of energy into what we now call virtue signaling or moral posturing. We see the same problem in Christian circles with doctrinal debates. The compulsive need to have others see us as good and virtuous and morally superior seems to be spreading like a virus.

Galatians 1:10 makes it abundantly clear where our focus should be: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Now, doesn’t that make life a whole lot simpler?

Ann-Margret

Free Hummingbird Colouring Page

Hello, friends! Cover smallerI got the urge to doodle last night so I took a little break while nursing a sore throat to create a surprise gift for you. Here are two versions of a colouring page, with or without the border, that you are welcome to print out and colour.

The downloads are free, but I’d love it if you shared the link to this post with your friends and, if you haven’t already, please check out my devotional colouring book, Restore My Soul. If you have a copy of Restore My Soul and enjoy it, would you please consider writing a review today? Thank you! That would be an enormous blessing to me. ❤

Here are your freebies! Have a blessed day. 🙂

hummingbird no border

hummingbird

Take Time to Be Holy

One principle I’ve learned over many years of attending Sunday School and Bible study is that the recipe for growth as a Christian calls for four key ingredients: prayer, Bible study, fellowship and service. And I’ve observed that these four ingredients are not only the means to growth but also the result of growth. The more we do these things, the more we want to do them and the better we get at them.

This principle was confirmed for me in a rather startling way a couple of weeks ago when one of the hymns we sang at church was “Take Time to Be Holy.” While we were singing, my attention was drawn to the repeated phrase: take time to be holy.

Take time. Take time to be holy. Take time to be holy.

The journey toward holiness begins with our choice, and it requires a time commitment. We can’t just sit around waiting for holiness to happen to us. (That’s why we feel like it takes forever to get there.) It isn’t simply given to us. It’s a process that is activated when we take time.

That Tuesday morning, I decided to listen to the song more closely so, while still laying in bed, I searched for the song on my phone and found a version of it sung by Joseph Habedank. And this is when I was startled by a joyous observation. Look at the first lines of the first verse:

Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord — That’s PRAYER!

Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word — That’s BIBLE STUDY!

Make friends of God’s children — That’s FELLOWSHIP!

Help those who are weak — That’s SERVICE!

I’ve been a Christian for 39 years. I’ve been serving in the church since I was a teenager. My father’s a pastor. But I still struggle with the pursuit of holiness. Here’s the thing: As with any other pursuit, it’s not enough to desire holiness, to fantasize about it. Life isn’t a fairy tale where if you wish for something hard enough, it comes true.

The missing link is time coupled with effort. Commitment. I need to “take time to be holy” instead of spinning my wheels wondering why I’m not getting anywhere.

Time is a precious commodity. How am I spending it?

How are you spending yours?

Ann-Margret

The Internal Disease

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading Patti Callahan’s Becoming Mrs. Lewis, a fictional novel based on the real-life events surrounding the relationship between C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman. During one of their conversations, Joy expressed dismay at her tendency to be tempted by certain sins. She was struggling and I can imagine that she might have been angry, too—angry that she was bound to a nature that she could not be rid of or change.

I’ve been there. I’ve subconsciously—perhaps even wilfully at times—questioned God for making me a certain way, with weaknesses and tendencies that I am uncomfortable with and ashamed of. Why couldn’t He have made me to be naturally kind and pure and unselfish? This is spiritual immaturity and a lack of wisdom.

I love C.S. Lewis’ response: “God doesn’t judge by internal disease, but by moral choices.” In other words, we may not be able to control what tempts us, angers us, saddens us, or hurts us, but we do have agency to react to each situation in a moral and godly manner. Shame shouldn’t lie in one’s natural inclination toward particular sins but in choosing to yield to those temptations when God has clearly given us the free will to choose otherwise.

It’s like the hyperparathyroidism I battled for many years: I did nothing to create the disease in my body and I could do nothing to get rid of it. However, I had the choice to either change my diet and habits to minimize the symptoms or ignore my doctor’s guidelines and suffer. (Thankfully, surgery eventually solved my problem but even that was beyond my own capabilities.)

Looking back on my life, my sense is that many of us expend a lot of energy fighting with or denying our sinful nature when all we really need to do is daily choose God’s will over our own, God’s plan for us over our own.

Ann-Margret

thinking girl

 

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