Free will is a gift from God

I was at a funeral recently, contemplating my life and what would be said at my funeral.

Questions were racing through my head like, “Who is responsible for my life? Is m life a result of the choices I make or is it a result of the soverenty of God? Do I have the power to create a harvest by the good seeds I plant or do I just sit and watch life unfold for me because God has my life all figured out?

When God created us, did He not create us with a free will?

For Him to interfere in my life, without my permission, is that not a violation of His nature?

If I am free to make choices, either good or bad, why do I blame God when things don’t work out for me as planned?

As I search the Bible for answers I discover that there is a God of this world – Satan, who is the father of all lies. He is a devil who steals, kills and destroys. God is a good God and every good gift comes from Him.

So the next time I am experiencing sorrow and grieving, I will think twice before I say “God allowed this.” Those words to me sound like the words of a victim not an overcomer.

Does not God’s plan for my life involve Him giving me options and leaving the choices to me? Even when I make mistakes, I can trust Him to work things out for good.

He knows my heart and if I genuinely want His involvement, I need to give Him permission. We are co-labourers with Christ which means we are in this together.

I think we have gotten our job-descriptions mixed up and it’s time to start taking responsibility for our lives and the choices we make.

Even when we make mistakes, by truly repenting and learning from them, we can trust God to turn things around.

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

Verse 31 goes on to say, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

God won’t do the work for us, but He offers support, comfort and strength for us to do the work He has called us to do.

I no longer believe that God is the cause of sorrow, pain and grief. God can turn things around for good and opportunities can come out of deep sorrow. In this work we will experience persecution, pain and grief, but I know God is on my side.

I am confidant that as I need things, ideas or people they will turn up at exactly the right moment in time, because God is for me not against me.

Whatever I want said at my funeral, I have been given the power to create like I want because God has given me a free will.

It’s easy to blame others, even God for my shortcomings but like one pastor friend told me, “The buck stops here.” Let’s be responsible for our own lives and stop making lame excuses for why we aren’t living our lives to our full potential.

Maybe that starts by asking yourself what you want said at your funeral.

Developing our relationship with God

As a Christian, a follower of Christ, we live in this world, but we are not of this world. Satan is the god of this world. He is the father of all lies and masters of deception.

According to 2 Corinthians 5:20 we are ambassadors from a heavenly kingdom and we require discernment to walk in truth. In John 14:6 Jesus says He is the way, the truth and the life. John 8:32 tells us that when we know the truth, the truth will set you free. We can be free from sickness, bondage, and fear, because Jesus paid the price.

When Jesus died for our sins on the cross, he sent His Holy Spirit to assist us. Romans 8:11 acknowledges that the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, dwells in us. Living daily in relationship with the Holy Spirit requires hearing His voice and obeying Him. But how do we do that? I have discovered three ways to develop my relationship with God.

#1 Confess and repent. God is a holy God and sin separates you and I from God. When the Holy Spirit reveals to me that I have sinned, and I confess it and turn away from it, and according to 1 John 1:9 He is faithful to forgive me.

#2 Study the Bible. 2 Timothy 2:15 encourages us to study the Word of God. As I learn what the Bible says, I discover who God is. God is truth and I can trust Him and His Word, but I must read and study it to get it into my heart so it becomes a part of me.

#3 Pray and talk with the Holy Spirit. Proverbs 3:6 says that in all your ways acknowledge God and He will direct your steps. As I humble myself and acknowledge that I need God, I give Him permission to work in my life. I ask Him questions and converse with Him. As He leads me, I am committed to obeying Him. In John 10:14 Jesus says that His sheep know His voice. Isaiah 30:21 says, “Your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.’ Whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left.

Developing your relationship with God is a priority and following these simple steps will empower you to have a life-giving experience with God.

Make sure you’re not all work and no pray

Busyness is no excuse for becoming out of touch with Jesus In the Bible it is recorded several times that Jesus would withdraw himself into a quiet place to pray.

For years it never occurred to me that it may be beneficial to take some quiet time in solitude.

The words ‘rest’, ‘quiet’ and ‘peace’ were not in my vocabulary. My calling was not to be a monk somewhere on a deserted mountain. I had places to go, people to see and things to do.

Isaiah 26:3 says, “you will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” I didn’t have “perfect peace” because there was a world out there that needed me, and if I did not attend to it, the universe might come to an end.

Besides quiet time was a waste of my life. Even when I tried to slow down I felt guilty and only thought about all the things I should be doing.

Most of my life I would hide behind busyness. I was addicted to work in the fast lane. I was on a speeding locomotive and didn’t know how to get off, even if I wanted to.

The hurried stream of everyday life was for me a type of hypnosis that kept me in constant motion. Being a workaholic is very acceptable in our society. My bosses loved me and I would flaunt all my reference letters to anyone who would look.

I thought every opportunity I said “yes” to was another feather in my cap, but it was really another rock in my shoe.

Unconsciously I was running away from my problems, trying to bury them with busyness. At times, my intense workload kept my mind off my problems, acting as my soother. Yet the more I ran away from the difficulties that I should have been dealing with, the worst they became.

It was like a monster growing in my closet. The more I neglected and ignored it, the bigger and stronger it grew, making it even more difficult to deal with. I was in a vicious cycle. My job, unlike my personal life, offered validation for all my energies being poured out. I received pats on the back, acknowledgment of my efforts and even financial rewards.

At home, though, I felt taken advantage of, receiving very little recognition and I was drained financially.

Life in the fast lane fed me daily doses of adrenaline. My addiction was so intense that eventually when I was forced to take some time off, I actually experienced withdrawal symptoms.

I would pace the empty halls in our house, morning The Good Old Days. It was too painful to sit down for more than five minutes. I could not focus or concentrate on anything else except my grief in being thrown off the high-speed train. I was similar to the Israelites fantasizing about Egypt. Oh yes, we can all make excuses for our off-the-wall behaviour. But addiction to work is not a time for excuse.

Sometimes the truth is a sharp knife that cuts deep into the layers of denial and neglect. Facing and admitting our relationship problems, financial problems or health problems is not for the faint-hearted.

This is when we need the help of God and others to bring our lives back into alignment. It’s time to come into the light, repent of prayerlessness and stop hiding behind busyness.

Does your pride surpass humility?

What is the difference between pride and humility?

Being proud or arrogant involves having a know-it-all attitude and taking matters into your own hands. It is based on fear of believing that God is withholding good from you. It is a selfish act concerned only for the needs and feelings of oneself.

Pride involves being self reliant, coupled with a belief of being better than others. 1 Peter 5:5-6 says “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you, be submitted to one another, and be clothed with humility, for God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.”

Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart and saves such as have a contrite spirit.”

There are many benefits in living a life of humility. It honours God and gives Him permission to work in your life. Here are some of the attributes of humility. As you read the list, ask yourself which ones you need to develop in your life.

People who possess humility are:

• God-conscious and rely on Him for help.
• Teachable and willing to learn, admitting their own weaknesses.
• Compassionate, forgiving others because they know how much they have been forgiven.
• Believing there s enough for all of us and are genuinely interested in seeing others succeed.
• Believers of God’s willingness to work in them despite all of their flaws.
• Accepting of personal responsibility and able to see where they are wrong in a situation.
• Concerned about being real because what matters to them is not what others think, but what God knows.
• Willing to be open and transparent with others as God directs.
• Able to acknowledge specifics when confessing their sin.
• Quick to take the initiative to be reconciled when there is misunderstanding or conflict in relationships.
• Honest and not trying to cover up secrets.

The main difference between pride and humility is the motive of your heart. God is aware of what is in your heat and wants to shine His light into the dark areas of our soul.

In Psalm 51:10 David says to God, “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit in me.”

People who operate in true humility are a joy to be around. They are not defensive or judgmental. They aren’t trying to prove that their story is better than yours. They are genuinely interested in others.

Humility is a quality worth pursuing, but it only comes by relying on God. Admitting that we need Him and then trusting that He hears our prayers are true acts of humility.

Know-it-alls are really annoying, probably even to God. Only those who are humble can really handle promotion without letting it go to their head.

God knows more than we do, and relying on Him is an honour. Pride pushes God away, while humility draws us closer to Him.

Reading the Bible is a Powerful Tool

I’ve heard that more than 80 per cent of Christians do not read the Bible. I know that even I, an ordained minister, am tempted to not be disciplined in this area. There have been times when days, weeks and yes even months have gone by that I would not read my Bible. The excuses are countless, but they boil down to two main ones, both of them false – the Bible is boring and too difficult to understand. As I have confessed my faults to others, I have discovered that they too share in my struggle.

In my challenge to change my attitude towards the Bible, I find myself considering two concepts. The first is whether God would chose to speak to us in such obscure language that only scholars could understand it. And secondly, is whether the contents of the Bible are indeed not interesting or exciting. I found neither concept is true. God has spoken to us in simple terms for all to understand, although there are parts of the Bible that seem harder to comprehend at first. The Bible is full of impacting and life changing stories and concepts that certainly are not boring. As I sought to discover the answers, the secret was revealed to me when I realized that reading and studying are two different things. Reading is something we do for pleasure, in a leisurely and casual way for the purpose of entertainment. We should really study the Bible, not just read it. But studying suggests serious labour and diligent work. My problem lies in the fact that I failed in my duty to study God’s word not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work. My problem was laziness and a lack of motivation.

It is Satan’s strategy to stop us from reading and studying the Bible. Satan hates every word of it and he will spread the feeling that to study this ancient book is a burdensome and boring task. The Bible comes from God. He is the ultimate author. It is His word and it comes from Him. The Bible allows us to become acquainted with God, to discover what He values and to discern His will. It trains and equips us with faith, wisdom and revelation.

The secret to joy is found in obedience to God, but how can we be obedient if we do not know what it is we are to obey? Therefore true joy cannot be fully discovered if we remain ignorant of God’s word. Knowledge of the Bible does not guarantee that we will do what it says, but at least we will know what we are supposed to be doing in our quest for human fulfillment. The issue of faith is not so much whether we believe in God, but whether we believe the words of the God in whom we believe. Reading God’s word is a powerful tool. In living a life of victory, reading the Bible is not an option. If we are not fulfilling our duty we need to ask God to forgive us and begin the daily discipline of studying the Bible. Ask Holy Spirit to enlighten His Word and make it real to you.

Are you a Mary or Martha?

Striving to get ahead can become exhausting when things don’t work out the way you want them to. In the middle of problems it is helpful to remind yourself what the purpose of your life is. Putting priorities straight and being aware of the way you do things is important even to Jesus. There is a story recorded about this in Luke 10:38-42. It’s a story about two women named Mary and Martha.

The world applauds achievement but Jesus desires intimacy and is looking for people who express their love for Him. If you feel that you are caught up in the rat race of life, maybe now is the time to evaluate your motives. Asking your self what the reason is for being so driven can help to bring clarity to you. Are you ambitious and trying to prove to yourself or others that you can accomplish great things? Do you believe that your value is based on performance?

Most of my life I have been a high achiever but I often hit rock bottom and accused God of not caring. Martha said to Jesus “Do you not care?” Like Martha I doubted God’s goodness and His love for me and these doubts caused me to try to take matters in to my own hands. Believing that God was holding back from me led me to depression, sickness and thoughts of suicide. I believed that my worth was connected to my performance and just like Martha I grew weary of much serving.

When Jesus rebuked Martha, He wasn’t rebuking her ACT. He was rebuking her ATTITUDE of allowing service to irritate, agitate and absorb her. Luke 10:27 tells us to love God and love others. There is a time to serve others, but only after we have first learned how to develop a relationship with God. Service without devotion is exhausting and hopeless. Spirituality without service is barren and selfish. Learning to balance work and worship is the key.

The only requirement for a deeper friendship with God is showing up with an open heart ready to receive from Him. He paid the price and all we need to do is come. Finding a quiet place to be honest with God and myself was a turning point in my life. As I openly communicated my frustrations to Him, I became free from the many burdens that would weigh me down. Talking to God and allowing Him to lead and direct me, allowed me to live with a peaceful assurance that He is there with me. As I lean on Him and freely receive His love and companionship, the focus of my service to others doesn’t come from a sense of duty, but rather love. As I abide in Him service becomes less of a burden and more of a joy. I want to help others because of the love that I receive daily from Him.

Are you a Mary or are you a Martha? Be both!

Time to get out of your comfort zone

Being gutsy is a necessary quality to make positive changes in our lives. Just recently I had to make some decisions to produce some radical changes in my life. It seemed clear to me what I needed to do, yet difficult to have the courage to do it. I was overcome with the fear of getting out of my comfort zone. As I pondered the question “What does it take to create the life style I desire?” I had to admit that being a risk-taker was a threat to my security. Yet what is security? Is it false security? And what is my security based on?

As I pondered the answers to these questions, I had to admit that I needed courage. The definition of courage is the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger or pain without fear. Courage means being brave to act in accordance with one’s beliefs, in spite of criticism. Deuteronomy 31 tells the story of Moses and Joshua crossing the Jordan and facing their giants to enter into their promise land. In verse 6, the Lord said to Moses, “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them. For the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”

Having courage is not just about little tiny me, being all by myself, tying to stand up to huge giants, bigger and more powerful than I. It takes having the right perspective and mind set to conquer the fear of moving out of your comfort zone. I can have courage because of the One who is with me. Besides what am I so afraid of? Am I afraid of making a mistake, being misunderstood, or afraid of not knowing the next step? What is the root cause of my fear? Sometimes fear is not at all rational. Will someone put a gun to my head because I make a mistake?

Another name for courage is faith. What is faith? According to Hebrews 11:1, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Faith is having confidence and trust. It is a belief that is not based on proof.

How can a person produce lots of faith? Matthew 17:20 tells us that it doesn’t take a lot of faith to move the mountains of obstacles in our lives. It only takes a tiny seed of faith. When we plant a tiny seed of faith to live our dreams, we need to water it, nurture it and protect it. We can’t allow the weeds of doubt to choke it out.

In the movie “The Pursuit of Happiness” there is a scene where the dad (Will Smith) tells his son, “Don’t ever let anyone tell you, you can’t do something. Not even me. Alright? You got to dream. You got to protect it. People can’t do something themselves, they want to tell you, you can’t do it. You want something, go get it! Period.”

It is time to let go of excuses and stop blaming your circumstances for not living the life you desire. What fears are stopping you from achieving your dreams? Are you ready to demonstrate courage and move out of your comfort zone? If you want something go after it.

Alice Maryniuk, author of Thinking for a Change. How to transform your life by transforming your thoughts.

Are you a hypocrite for being authentic?

God designed us to live a life that is authentic. Psalm 139:15, 16, says “My frame was not hidden from You when I was being formed in secret and intricately and curiously wrought as if embroidered with various colours in the depths of the earth a region of darkness and mystery. Your eyes saw my unformed substance, and in Your book all the days of my life were written before ever they took shape, when as yet there was none of them.” We are to be free to be the person God created us to be.

Just recently I had a conversation with friends and we were discussing the meaning of authenticity. One person commented how some people are very different in their private life compared to their public life. For example if a person has anger issues and yells at the children, yet in the public they pretend to be a sweet little person, they are not being true to themselves. Being authentic means we don’t have secrets to hide. Perhaps we need to deal with the anger so that we are genuine in our “sweetness”. If we are trying to deceive others, we will be deceived ourselves.

Integrity means being whole, entire, or undiminished in moral and ethical principles. It involves being honest and truthful in sound character and not living a double standard. By telling others to “Do as I say, and not as I do” are we being a hypocrite? A hypocrite is a fraud and a phony. Most people find this behaviour repulsive, especially the ones who see us behind closed doors. If I am a disrespectful and selfish liar, perhaps I’d be better off to act like a jerk all the time. If so, then at least I would be an authentic jerk! Those who know the “true me”, are probably tired of the act and wish others knew the truth about who I really am.

During my childhood being the youngest of six children made it difficult for me to make my own decisions and choose for myself what was truly authentic. I was like a chameleon, changing with the environment. It took me many years to discover who I wanted to be and to be consistent in being the real me, all the time. Even as an adult I struggled in learning to be genuine and transparent.

In order to be authentic, the goal is consistency. If I desire to be honouring of others and genuinely care about them, then I must develop true character. I have discovered that there is only one way to build character. It is formed by the school of hard knocks. I become a forgiving person by learning to forgive. I become a patient person from opportunities allowing me to demonstrate patience. And I’m learning not to be a jerk, even an authentic one! Being authentic involves deciding who you want to be and then being that person all the time. We allow everything in our lives to be a true reflection of who we really are. Being authentic brings harmony and true contentment. There are no secrets to hide and those closest to you enjoy the consistency of you being your true self all the time. If you despise hypocrites, be a good role model by being the real you, all the time.

Alice Maryniuk is the author of Thinking for a Change. How to transform your life by transforming your thoughts.

We need to remember to have fun

Learning to enjoy life and having fun is a skill well worth pursuing. An old proverb says that “A merry heart does good, like a medicine.” There is more to life than just putting your nose to the grindstone. As the old saying goes “All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy.”

In University one of my favourite courses involved playing games, colouring and cutting out pictures from magazines. My fellow class mates complained and said they weren’t paying good money to be in pre-school. I had forgotten how much fun I once had doing those activities and it brought back my creativity. I realized that life had become so serious for me, that I forgot how to have fun.

Having a positive feeling about one of our abilities can help us to deal with another area which is more difficult to handle. Focusing on areas of success and competence can buffer the ill effects of stress.

Being the youngest of six, I had to learn how to run fast. It was survival of the fittest. High School was a very stressful time for me and it was not a pleasant experience. I was not academically smart, I didn’t have the makings of a beauty queen, and I was extremely poor in social skills. But boy could I run. I could outrun any boy in my PE class. It was the one thing that gave me pleasure. Despite all my problems I was a fast runner and I used that positive aspect to offset my other problems.

Enjoying life is about appreciating and noticing simple pleasures.

  • The smell of fresh baked bread or of lavender.
  • The feeling of the warmth from the sun, or enjoying a shoulder massage.
  • Sleeping in a comfortable warm bed.
  • The sound a children laughing or a canary singing.
  • Gazing at the stars or watching an eagle.
  • Eating a juicy mango.
  • Enjoying a favourite movie that makes you cry.
  • Laughing at a funny joke.

I am not saying that life is just full of games and one should never work hard. It’s about maintaining a balance, knowing when it’s time to stop and not allowing work to control you. People report low job satisfaction as one of the greatest sources of unhappiness. Robert Ornstein and David Sobel in their book Healthy Pleasures say “Job dissatisfaction can result from underload as well as overload, lack of job variety, and no challenges to help develop skills.”

They go on to say, “Invest in yourself in ways that are meaningful. Some enjoy getting an education or are active in a hobby. Growing in knowledge can increases your confidence level. Having a hobby can increase your health by having something you love to do just for the sake of doing it. It is like a retreat, a place to escape, an island of satisfaction, building self-confidence and self-mastery.”

In their book they also mention the importance of being a part of a team and having a sense of belonging. They discuss the importance of not being self-centered. They say doing something for others can bring a sense of happiness.

Q: “How many self-centered people does it take to screw in a light bulb?”
A: “One. He holds it still while the world revolves around him.”

How about you? Are you self-centered? Is your work controlling you? Are you ready to allow the simple pleasures of life to splash into your difficult situations? What hobbies would you like to incorporate into your life? Do you have a healthy balance of work and play?

Alice Maryniuk is author of Thinking for a Change, how to transform your life by transforming your thoughts.

Parents do not give up

Parenting is not an easy task with all the negative influences of this world. But I want to encourage parents that their positive contribution in the lives of their children will have a profound influence. Gods Word is powerful.

I was two years old when my mom got miraculously saved. She was sick in bed, dying and an audible voice spoke to her and told her to Repent or perish. After the third time still arguing, she admitted she was a sinner. A peace came over her and a brilliant light filled her room. She fell a sleep and when she woke up she was healed from bronchitis, and double pneumonia.

She started attending a Baptist church and she took all of us children with her. Every Sunday I heard the salvation message and one day at the age of five, I knew I needed Jesus and that I wanted to go to heaven. In elementary school my mom would put booklets called The Four Spiritual Laws in my pockets and I would walk around the playground handing them out. My mom would help me win contests in Sunday school to memorize the most verses and to read the Bible through in a year. Because I had invited Jesus into my life, my spirit was saved, but my mind needed to be renewed by the word of God. I was called ugly and stupid and I believed that was who I was. I was shy, withdrawn and easily intimidated. I believed I was a mistake and not wanted. I barely make it from one grade to the next.

Grade 10 was a significant year for me. I walked to school 45 minutes each way because I did not want to take the bus with all those mean kids. Every morning I would read the Bible, and I wrote down special verses on 3×5 cards. On the way to school I would memorize those verses. There was a battle going on inside of me. I would read You are created in the image of God and I would think to myself that God must be ugly. Then I read You have the mind of Christ and I concluded: Mmm, He must be really stupid. I remember memorizing Jeremiah 29:11 You are created for a purpose and a plan. Ya right! That can not be true because I was a mistake. It was when I read Romans 3:4 Let God be true and every man a liar that a bomb exploded on the inside of me. What if the Bible was true and I had believed lies? It was time to make a decision about whom to believe. It took years to get those crazy ideas out of my head, but by meditating on Gods word I am learning how to allow His word to be truth in my life. The Bible says You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.

Now I am enjoying the benefits of being free and my heart is filled with gratitude towards my mother who never gave up on me. Those biblical principles have changed my life and the lives of others whom I reach on a daily basis. Gods word works if you understand how to apply it into your own life. So parents never give up. Your role is a vital one.