Sunday, September 29, 2013

Book #23: Greater by Steven Furtick

Our Sunday school class finished a book study on Greater by Steven Furtick a few weeks ago. I really, really like this book.

It follows the Biblical story of Elisha, the prophet who was called to service by the more well known prophet Elijah. Elisha was plowing in a field when Elijah came to get him, and not only did he follow God's command but he burned his plow as a symbol that he would never return to the monotony of his previous life again. He committed to standing back and allowing God to do greater things through him.

The plow burning part made me a little  nervous at first, mostly because sometimes I'm afraid that Trey's going to come home and say something like "Hey! Let's move to Zimbabwe and minister to the people there," and I'm going to have to say, "Hold up there, mister. I've got me a big ol' mission field right here, as do you, plus the boys have football and gymnastics this week and my calendar is crazy." But that's not what this book is about. It's about knowing that whatever you are, whatever you do each day in your life, God wants to do extraordinary things through you. It's about not being okay with good enough because God is so much more than that.

The story from 2 Kings 3 is a powerful one, and I don't think I've ever heard it before this book. My lame summary goes this this: Elisha tells these Israelite kings that even though there has been a drought and their whole armies are about to die from thirst, God is going to make it rain. Like, tonight. He tells them to start digging ditches to catch all this water. Instead of thinking the prophet might be a little nuts, the people grab some shovels. Sure enough, God brings the rain and the people are saved.

The lesson here is one I love. Don't just sit around waiting for God to do great things through you - GRAB A SHOVEL AND GET BUSY! God has already promised to bless his people, but we have to do our part. We have to be willing to get our hands dirty. Furtick believes God tells us, "If you dig the ditches, I'll send the rain." Elisha commands the people to make the valley full of ditches. Plural. God is ready to send lots of rain if we only will do the work to get ready.

Furtick also writes about using the gifts you have. "It means giving up on what others can do that you wish you could do and what you would do if you had certain gifts that you, candidly, do not have and may never develop." God's greater is not about being the best at everything - or even anything - but instead it's about opening yourself up to let God use the gifts he gave you. As a super-competitive person, that really helps me take the pressure off myself. Furtick says, "Stop waiting for what you want and start working with what you have."

I want to write about this quote, and I don't have a clever way to introduce it. "Everything I have is a gift from Him to begin with. I didn't earn it, so why would I get in God's face, claiming to know what He should do with the blessings that don't belong to me in the first place?"

At the end of last year school year, I got a promotion I didn't ask for. Instead of just being appreciative about that, I wondered why I didn't get a different promotion or why I had to change jobs at all. I worried about the impact my new job would have on my family, and I truly couldn't get past the "why" of this new job. I feel called to work in schools with teachers and students. I believe God gave me the right combination of gifts to do that reasonably well, and I feel a heavy burden for kids in need emotionally, educationally, and physically, but I couldn't stop questioning why on earth I got the job I did. Don't misunderstand me. It's not that I didn't want it. It just wasn't anything I saw in my plan for myself. But as the school year started we were studying this book. I realized that it isn't up to me where my greater takes place. It's up to me to open myself up to doing God's greater wherever I am, even if it's not in my own long term plan. So I let go of my own plan, and I pray every morning that sometime during the day I will be a light...make someone's day someone who wouldn't get helped if I wasn't there. I can't tell you the fulfillment that brings.

But there's more.

"There comes a time in the life of every follower of Jesus when God asks us to do something that will deliver a deathblow to our pride...I'm talking about something different from the decisive step away from our old lives. This is about the moments when God reveals that even the good is worthless apart from Him. The acts that cause us to see that without Him we can do nothing. And none of this is intended to embarrass or shame us, but rather to make us deeply and desperately dependent on God as our one and only source."

I like to think I'm good at my job. I'm a pretty good mom. I'm a good wife. But my good is nothing. Nothing. Nothing without God's grace and peace and wisdom. With the responsibilities of my new job, it has never been more evident that unless I am utterly dependent on God for every second of every day I can't do a thing, personally or professionally.  When I start thinking I've got things covered all on my own, that's when they start crashing. Knowing I'm crazy if I go it alone takes some of the pressure off, too.

Later, Furtick nears the end of Elisha's story in the Bible and tells of the time that the bad king of Aram surrounded Dothan, where Elisha is living (2 Kings 6). One of Elisha's attendants notices the next morning that they are surrounded and sort of freaks out. Elisha tells him not to be afraid. "Those who are with us are more than those who are with them." Then he prays that God will open the man's eyes so he can see. In that moment, the attendant sees "the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha."

Cue up Chris Tomlin's new song, "Whom Shall I Fear." I know who goes before me. I know who goes behind. The God of angel armies is always by my side. The One who reigns forever, He is a friend of mine. The God of angel armies is always by my side. How can we ever be discouraged?  Furtick writes, "The key to victory is right in front of you -- if you open your eyes to see it. The world is against you, yes. But the One who has overcome the world is with you and for you." We are never alone. Heaven's army surrounds us. That is so exciting! Come on! Get excited!  The power of God is with us!

Sidenote: My favorite line from the book is "There's a fine line between confidence and Kanye." I'll not elaborate more because this is already too long. Sufficed to say, this is an awesome quote that I'll find a way to use at random times in my life.

Furtick ends the novel with prayers for his readers. These are the ones that spoke to me the most because I highlighted them:

"I pray that you won't settle for raising good boys and girls who don't get on your nerves or interfere with your dreams but who are world changers that chase after God's dream for them."

"I pray that every voice that has labeled you as anything other than a beloved son or daughter will be silenced and that you will believe only what your Father God has said about you."

So, if you've made it this far in this marathon post (and even if you didn't), I pray these things for you, too. I hope that you're ready for God to show you greater right where you are each and every day. Start small but dream big because we serve a big God.

Book #22: The Energy Bus by John Gordon

I don't read self-helpy kind of books. For the most part, I end up getting frustrated with the author and his I-am-so-smart-that-I-can-fix-everyone-in-the-world attitude. Also, this frustration comes before I ever actually start a self-helpy book.

However, at work we were given a copy of The Energy Bus and asked to read it, so I did. I was pleasantly surprised by the way it's written. It's more of a self-help book in story clothing. A man is struggling with his personal and professional life and is mad at the world. His car breaks down, and he is forced to ride the bus to work. But this is no ordinary bus. It's --wait for it-- The Energy Bus driven by Joy herself. Over the course of the next few weeks, Joy and her passengers impart wisdom upon Bad Mood Guy (I don't remember his name), and as he applies their principles his entire life turns around.

I appreciate the idea that if you put out positivity, then you're a better person to be around. I also especially appreciated the part about energy vampires. Those people suck, and we should protect ourselves from them or try to influence them to be more positive.

Sidenote: "Positivity" is not a word that my blogger recognizes. I may have just made it up. Someone call Webster.