My Newest Book–
A Parable of Life
Once upon a time there was a sunflower seed…
…so begins a simple tale of trust & beauty that we can all relate to. Often it is the simplest of ideas that can lead to profound shifts in our lives. Dr. Hollandsworth’s new inspirational gift book The Sunflower tells such a story, one that is well worth reading, pondering, and sharing with those you love.
Available in a free PDF to read, and in a beautifully illustrated full color softcover gift book.
Price is $6.99 from Amazon, or order direct from the publisher CreateSpace and use the coupon code CGXAP6SS to receive one dollar off the list price.
Jump Off by April Gazmen via Flickr
I had a friend tell me that he was “100% trusting God.” I smiled, and thought to myself, “Boy, I wish I could trust like that, one hundred percent.”
But then I thought, how would I rate myself? Ninety eight percent? Eighty percent? How much trust do I have?
Although I like living in a world of grays and probabilities, trust is black or white, all or nothing. You either trust or you don’t trust. If you jump out of an airplane, you can’t 86% trust that your parachute will open. You either trust and jump, or you don’t trust and stay in the plane.
That’s what trust really is: a choice that determines action. It’s not that you have eliminated any possibility of another outcome: every jumper knows there is a small chance that his chute will fail. But what separates the guy that jumps from the one who stays in the plane is that he has made a conscious decision to act as if the outcome were certain. It is the “leap of faith” that Kierkegaard spoke of: the bridge between logic & life.
You can’t spend your life waiting for a parachute with a “100% Absolutely Guaranteed” to magically appear on your back. There is an area right now in your life where you need to trust, where you need to make a conscious decision to act. Grab your parachute, open the hatch, and jump!
“We’re following the leader,
The leader, the leader,
We’re following the leader
Wherever he may go!”
It’s a game we all played in childhood. It’s human nature, really, to play “follow the leader.”
It’s a curious game, in that each person chooses when to join in and when to drop out. A child will join in, thinking “This is fun!” or “I wonder what will happen?” or maybe just “Well, everyone else is doing this…”
But eventually, they will start to question. “This isn’t so much fun anymore.” “I’m bored.” “Hey look, they’re having more fun over there.” “I don’t like what the leader is doing.” “I want to do what I want to do now.” And soon they will leave the game.
Actually, follow the leader is more than just a game for children. It’s a game we all play in life. We started out playing it with the people who raised us. They taught us their values, what they felt about right and wrong, what their concept of God was, what it meant to be a good person, and maybe how to get to heaven if they believed in such a place. Because we were children, we at first accepted what they said and started playing follow the leader. Later, we pick up the direction that our friends or social circle or church or just the world at large is going, and we keep following along.
But somewhere along the way, we all start to question the path that we’re on. We find out that life isn’t always simple or even pleasant. We get disillusioned with life, and with the path that we are following. “This doesn’t make sense.” “This isn’t much fun.” “This other path looks so much better…”
The reasons may be varied, and come in different forms, but they all point to the same thing: self-determination, wanting to be the captain of your own ship. In some form or fashion, the status quo isn’t working out, and so you strike out on your own.
It’s not wrong to question, to honestly seek out the truth, to make sure you really are on the right path. In Isaiah 1:18 God even pleads, “Come, let us reason together.” But usually the reason for leaving the path isn’t a quest for truth, but a quest to pursue pleasure or escape from pain.
We’ve all done this. Sometimes it’s dramatic, as when Eve ate the apple, or when a governor decides that his wife isn’t enough for him. Other times it’s much more subtle, and we just take a few steps off the path, just to see where it may lead. However it happens, we all want to stop playing “follow the leader” when the path that we’re on in some way doesn’t suit us, when we see another path that looks better to us.
And so we leave the path, and take up a new direction that we choose, that seems to lead to a much easier, more fulfilling destination. But to paraphrase Dr. Phil, “How’s that working for ya?” How is it? How is that little compromise, that little detour you’ve taken? Can you really see the end of the path that you’ve chosen? Do you really know where that detour may one day take you?
No, you can’t, can you? If you’re honest, you have to admit that you can’t see the future, you can’t know for sure which path will actually have you end up where you want to be.
But there is One who does know the future, and fortunately, He is One in whom we can absolutely trust:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
and He will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
We can’t trust our own intution or understanding. We are finite creatures who are limited and so prone to error. But there is one with infinite knowledge, infinite power, and infinite love for His children. He invites us to follow Him. Will you be willing to trust Him, regardless of whether you understand or desire His path? Will you lay down all your objections and follow the leader today?
“It is God’s business to decide if it is good for me. It is my business to obey Him.” Elisabeth Elliot
I had been planning the trip for years. I had researched it, read books, planned it out, drew maps, opened up a special savings account to save enough money, talked to other people who had been there, even went through catalogs and bought everything I thought I would need. I guess it had occupied a lot of my thoughts and dreams. It was going to be the trip of a lifetime.
One spring morning I awoke to the birds chirping outside my window. At last my wait was over. I packed my suitcases, assembled all my maps and directions, grabbed my keys, and headed out to the car. To my surprise, a young Middle Eastern guy was sitting in the driver’s seat, hands on the wheel, grinning at me.
“Jesus? Wow, I knew you’d be coming with me, but I guess I just didn’t expect to, like, actually see you…”
“That’s ok, John— no one ever does. Just jump in & let’s go. I’m as excited about this trip as you are. I’ve been planning it for a long time, you know.”
A bit taken aback, I managed to get out, “Oh, yea, I’m sure you have— I mean, with you being God & all, I guess you’ve planned everything, right?”
Jesus just smiled & said, “You sure have got me pegged. Hop in & we’ll get started.”
I started to get in, and then realized that Jesus was still in the driver’s seat. “Uh, Jesus, are you going to drive?”
He replied, “Yes, I thought that would work out better— I know the way we’re going.”
I figured that must be true, since He knows everything. I buckled up beside Jesus, and we started down the road.
It was a beautiful sunny morning, and I was starting to relax and enjoy the countryside when I realized that WE WERE GOING THE WRONG WAY!
“Wait, wait a minute Jesus! We’re headed the wrong way!”
He just flashed that smile again and said, “No we’re not. I got you covered. Trust me.”
I was confused now— I looked over my maps, and there was no way to get to our destination going down the road we were headed. “Jesus, there’s something wrong, look at the map here, we’re headed the wrong way.”
Jesus’ gaze softened somewhat, and He said, “We’re not going there.”
“We’re not going there, John. That’s not the trip we’re taking.”
That took a few seconds to sink in. My mind tried processing it, but kept getting stuck. I finally answered back, “I don’t understand, Jesus. I’ve been planning this trip for you for years. I’ve done all this planning and work, I’ve prayed & prayed about this trip, I’ve got these Bible verses to show how much this trip would please You.”
Looking down at my treasured maps, I emphatically stated, ” I KNOW this is the trip you want me to take.” Then, a pause, and more meekly I spoke, ” I… I… know it’s the trip I want to take too….”
I looked up from my maps, & I can’t put into words the look I saw on His face. It was love & care & a touch of sadness, all rolled into one. He replied to me, “That trip you planned— I know why you’re excited about it. I know how much it means to you. It’s a great looking trip. But…. it’s not our trip. It’s not where we’re going at all.”
Now I really was lost. “But why, Jesus? I was SO SURE…. Why not? Why can’t we go there?” I was getting desperate, and He could tell.
Jesus answered, “Some day you’ll understand. Some day you’ll be okay with it, even thank Me. But you can’t understand the reasons today, and you’re going to hurt today, and there’s nothing I can do to explain.” He added, “All you can do is trust me.”
Half in thought and half in pain, I turned my face away from Him. “I… I don’t know… I don’t know whether I want to go anymore.”
Jesus slowly eased the car off to the side of the road. He put the gear in park and turned to me. His words were kind but firm. “John, you can choose to get out of the car. If you do, I’ll wait right here. But you know in your heart that you can’t take the trip without me. Even if you tried, you know it wouldn’t be the same. ”
And then, looking straight into my eyes, He spoke, “And if I may be so bold, you need to decide in your heart whether your trip means more to you or whether the fact that you’re with me means more to you.”
I looked off again. That was true, and that was hard. Hard to admit that my plans & dreams were taking a bigger place in my thoughts & in my heart than Jesus did Himself. Hard to realize that it wasn’t so easy to give them up either.
Still lost in thought, I felt a strong arm give me a big squeeze around my shoulder. “Oh, lighten up! You think too much, did you know that? Stop thinking about the past that you can’t do anything about. Stop thinking about a future that just existed in your mind. It’s a beautiful day, and you’re with the best driving buddy in the world. I say we do this road trip, & do it up BIG!”
I smiled. I knew He was right. I let the tension go out of my shoulders as He pulled back on to the road. It was going to be a great day.
It’s been said that life is like driving down a road at night. That’s what I was thinking as I was driving home last night, seeing that white line stretching out in front of me. I suddenly realized that I was both absolutely certain & completely clueless, at the same time, about my drive, and about my life.
I realized that when I’m driving at night, I’m ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN about what I need to do RIGHT NOW, in the moment. That white line tells me whether I need to veer right, veer left, or keep it straight. A red light ahead tells me to stop; a green light tells me to go. As long as I keep my headlights on, the guidance I need for the present moment will always be there.
That’s just like my life. In my moment to moment living, I have “headlights” that infallibly guide me. As long as I’m walking in step with God, listening to Him, being mindful of myself, my circumstances, & others, I can be confident that I will know what to do RIGHT NOW, in the moment. God won’t fail me. He never has.
I also thought of the Biblical story of Joseph. Throughout his life, he was always guided as to what he needed to say & do at the right moment: he knew he had to refuse his master’s wife; he knew what to say to the imprisoned butler & baker; he knew how to save Egypt from starvation.
But even though I’m absolutely certain about driving in the present moment, I’m also COMPLETELY CLUELESS about WHAT LIES AHEAD. If you ask me if the road will head northeast or southeast, whether in the next mile I’ll go up a mountain or go across a bridge, whether there’s a lake up ahead or a desert— I’m (literally) in the dark. I’ve never traveled this road before.
Isn’t life like that too? I’ve never traveled the road of my life before, so I don’t know what lies ahead. I don’t know whether my job will prosper or end; don’t know whether I’ll live to 100 or die while typing this post; don’t know what joys or sorrows, victories or defeats I will face tomorrow. And guess what? If I try too hard to control my destiny, to make sure my life doesn’t take a sharp turn or go into a dark tunnel, I’m liable to run off the road completely.
The same was true of Joseph. Even though he saw visions and interpreted dreams, he never saw his own brothers trying to murder him, never saw being sold as a slave in a foreign country, never saw spending years in a prison. But he also never envisioned being the regent of the richest country in his world, having wealth and power beyond his comprehension, and being responsible for not only saving his family, but an entire country, from starvation.
That’s where faith comes in, for Joseph and for me. When I’m driving an unfamiliar road at night, I may be clueless about what’s around the bend, but I remain confident that I will reach my destination. I know the road was built to take me there, and I know I can trust my map.
Life’s the same way. I know that the path that God has lovingly chosen for me will succeed. Although there is much about it I can’t understand right now, and I’m completely clueless about what’s around the bend, I know that my final destination is secure, and that it ends with the One who loves me more than I can possibly imagine.
The book of 1 Samuel begins with the story of a remarkable woman of God named Hannah. As I meditated on her life I marveled at her heart towards God. This woman’s simple faith allowed her to walk with God through her deepest valley. God placed her story in Scripture as an example of how a follower of God walks with Him through adversity. Here are seven lessons we can all learn from the heart of Hannah:
Lesson One: Acknowledge God’s Sovereignty
“the LORD had closed her womb.” (v.5)
The very first thing we learn about Hannah is that she knew ”the Lord had closed her womb.” It’s clear that she and her husband saw her infertility as being under God’s sovereign hand. Without any help from sophisticated theology textbooks or philosophy courses, they were able to see the obvious truth that the being who created the universe must also be the being who orders its every event. Acknowledging God’s control over all our life’s circumstances is the essential first step to a life of walking with Him.
Lesson Two: Affirm God’s Righteousness
Next, we can see that Hannah saw God as righteous. Even in her deepest distress, she never accused God of being unloving or unjust. There is nothing in her prayers to suggest she cried out, “Why did you do this to me?” Her attitude parallels Job 1:22, where the Bible says that Job never “charged God with wrong.” If the first step of walking with God is to accept that He is in control, the second step must be to affirm Psalm 145:17 that, “the Lord is righteous in all his ways
and kind in all his works.”
Lesson Three: Keep Following in God’s Ways
“So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord” (v.7)
When confronted with deep soul pain, many people make the choice to walk away from God. Not Hannah. Year after year, she remained faithful to worship Him, even if it meant traveling to Shiloh with another woman who delighted in making her miserable. She could have feigned illness, or could have outright refused to go. Instead, she continued to obey God’s commands year after year after year, fully knowing how hard the road of obedience sometimes was.
Lesson Four: Go to God With Your Pain
“She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.” (v.10)
Acknowledging God’s sovereignty and righteousness and remaining faithful to Him does not mean we have to stuff away our pain or pretend it doesn’t hurt. God is a loving Father and He both understands our pain and desires that we pour out our heart to Him. Hannah, David, even Jesus in the Garden freely poured out their pain to God. He always received them, and He will always receive us. We can freely pour out our heart to God.
Lesson Five: Ask God to Intervene
O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant…” (v. 11)
Trusting that God knows best does not mean we do not ask for our desires. God does not answer to Hannah, “Why are you asking me for a child?” For that matter, can you remember anytime God reprimanded anyone for asking Him for a good thing? No, that is not the way of a loving Father with His children. Part of walking with God is putting our requests before Him every day.
Lesson Six: Trust God With All Your Heart
I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life (v. 11)
Hannah’s vow here is not an example of mere crass bargaining with a deity. No, it is a mighty expression of her faith. Hannah declares to God that she knows that He can open her womb, and that she is more than happy to respond to His grace with her faith in dedicating this still future child to Him.
Lesson Seven: Let Your Joy in God Transcend Your Own Desires
Lastly, Hannah’s song of joy in 1 Samuel 2 shows us that her joy in God transcended her own desire to keep her son by her side. There is no hint of regret or misgiving in dedicating her beloved son for the sake of the Kingdom. She rejoices in God and sings:
My heart exults in the Lord;
my strength is exalted in the Lord.
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in your salvation.
There is none holy like the Lord;
there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.
May we all strive to have a heart like Hannah that exults in the Lord everyday as we walk with Him.
One of the most soul-satisfying truths in the universe is that God will provide for the needs of His children. Focusing on God’s perfect provision will reap a rich bounty of joy, peace, trust, & gratitude in our hearts. No one can provide for our needs like God can, for only He has perfect knowledge of our needs, perfect power to provide for them, and perfect love to act on our behalf. God’s perfect knowledge, power, & love stand in sharp contrast to our own imperfections.
One of the core problems of our hearts is our distorted perception of what our needs truly are. We consistently and often disastrously misjudge what we need, and what’s worse, we often don’t even realize how fundamentally flawed our vision is. This universal human inability first manifested itself in the Garden of Eden. Eve was convinced that she needed the fruit and what it could give. She, of course, could not have been more wrong, and all her descendants have inherited her sin-clouded vision.
The Bible is full of stories of people not realizing what their true needs were, and yet God lovingly providing them at the right time. Joseph spent years rotting in a prison cell; he certainly must have thought “I need to get out of here!” And yet we know that Joseph actually needed to stay in that prison cell until the day came when Pharoah himself would bring him out of it. In John chapter 4 we read the story of the woman at the well. She thought that she needed a bucket of water, and yet Jesus showed her the real need of her heart.
Since God both perfectly knows our needs and is perfectly powerful to provide them, we can always comfort ourselves with this Biblical conclusion: If we have a need, God will provide it. The corollary is also equally important: If God hasn’t provided something to us, then we don’t need it.
Think about the worry and sadness and frustration and anger we could avoid by simply accepting these two truths:
If it’s a need, God will provide it. If God hasn’t provided it, then we don’t need it.
God is always in the business of providing our needs. In fact, the first time the word “provide” appears in most English Bibles is in Genesis 22. In one of the greatest statements of faith, Abraham tells Issac, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” That day, God proved to Abraham that He was Jehovah-Jireh, the Lord-Who-Provides.
Jesus Himself loved to talk about the provision of God as a loving Father. In the Sermon on the Mount He encouraged us to:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7-11)
But still our hearts often question whether God really is doing what the Bible promises He will do. We think, “I just know that I’m not getting everything I need. Maybe it’s because God really can’t give me everything I need (limited ability), maybe He doesn’t really know what I need (limited knowledge), or maybe He is deliberately holding back on me (limited love).” Whenever we are inclined to think this way, we need to realize how limited our understanding really is, and then focus on God’s nature (He knows all, He is in control, He has a plan, He loves His children).
There is one more step in being able to fully rest in God’s provision for our needs: realizing what our one true need is. As you read through the Bible, the truth becomes clear: our one true need is God Himself. The writer of Hebrews speaks to this when he writes,
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
We can be content because we will never be without the one thing we really need: the God who will never leave us or forsake us. Paul’s famous passage on contentment says much the same thing:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)
Notice that Paul says he doesn’t speak of being “in need”— he is content regardless of his external circumstances. What is his secret? The One who is always with him is always strengthening him. Why was David unafraid of walking through the valley of the shadow of death in Psalm 23? Because he knew that God was with him.
One of the major gauges of our growth in Christ is our heart’s turning away from feeling any “need” but Christ:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-3)
When we focus on Christ as our very life, then other “needs” will fade from view. This was the example of Abraham: God provided the sacrifice, and the ram in the thicket was the picture of the day when God would provide our greatest need, an atonement for sin, with what would cost Him most, the life of Christ. God met our greatest need then, as he meets our greatest needs now, with the most precious gift in the universe: Himself.
God is not only our provider, but our provision; not only the giver, but the gift. This is both our present joy and our future destiny. The last use of the word “need” in the Bible shows us what is to come in eternity:
And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:5)
One day we will have no needs at all, not even of light of lamp or sun. Let us live our lives today as we will live in eternity, focusing on God as our light and our life, and being richly satisfied in our God-Who-Provides.
My youngest son is playing Little League baseball this spring for the first time. One of the skills all the players must master is base-running. What’s so hard about running around bases? Well, it’s really not hard, IF you have these two rules locked into your thinking:
DO look at your coach— when he says run, run. Don’t hesitate, don’t think twice, don’t second-guess, just run. That’s all you need to do.
DON’T look at anything else— the ball, other players, people in the stands. You don’t have to worry about where the ball is or where the other players are, you don’t have any control over them, you just have to stick with what you DO have control over— running as fast as you can toward that base. You can count on your coach to be keeping track of all that other stuff. In fact, if you try to keep track of it, you won’t be able to run.
Come to think of it, it all boils down to trusting your coach and knowing the difference between the job that is in his hands vs. what he puts in your hands.
I wonder…. are our lives off the baseball field any different? In Matthew 6 Jesus is teaching about the difference between what is in God’s hands vs. what is in our hands:
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Notice Jesus lumps all our concerns into 2 categories: what we are to be concerned about, and what God is to be concerned about. All of the things that we typically get concerned about, all the stuff in our lives, is actually in God’s hands, not ours. He knows we need them. He is going to make sure we get them. When we spend our energy worrying about them, we’re no different than the base runner looking at the ball or the other players— we can’t control them, and it just slows us down.
Now what does Jesus say we ought to be concerned about, what is our “base-running” in this life that we are to focus on with all our strength? That’s right, seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness. That’s why Paul said in Philippians 3:13-14 that there was only one thing he was focused on:
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Are you focused on that one thing? Are you fully grasping with all your might what God has placed in your hands, while trusting that God will take care of what is in His hands? May God open your eyes and your heart to see what you are holding onto that you need to let go, so you may fully press toward the goal of God’s Kingdom.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
Part of the beauty and brilliance of God’s Word that continually amazes me is how a verse that you have read for decades and thought you completely understood suddenly takes on deeper meaning.
I was thinking and meditating on this simple verse Proverbs 3:5. With only five words in the original Hebrew it is a model of simplicity and profundity.
The verse sets up a contrast:
Let’s look deeper. Many passages in the Bible draw comparisions between God and men; much of the book of Job is an extended comparision between Creator and created. Although it sounds silly for God to have to keep reminding us of the obvious, He knows that we need it drilled in our heads: We are NOT God. God is NOT us. There is an infinite gulf between the existence of humans and the existence that is God.
Here God makes a earnest plea: TRUST. I am God, I am all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving. I am the only thing in this universe that you can confidently and absoutely trust.
God next moves on to the location of our trust (and our doubt), our heart. Why invoke trust with the heart and not the mind? We have all experienced trust on a “mind” level that did not extend to the core of our being. The “trust exercises” in vogue in business training where you have to fall backwards into the arms of your team members show us that what we know to be trustworthy in our mind doesn’t always control our actions. We need to trust God in our thoughts, our emotions, and in our actions, thoroughly and completely in our conscious existence— in other words, with all our heart. We need to be able to fall back into God’s arms fully trusting that his strength, love, & wisdom will always be there.
But what competes with this trust? What causes us to doubt God’s goodness toward us? Our own understanding. In the Hebrew the word means intelligence, wisdom, & discernment, and is usually used in a positive sense. But here we see if we use our own logic, our own analysis we are bound to come up short. The word “lean on” has a literal meaning to lay on for support. If we try to “fall back into the arms” of our own understanding we will miss God’s best for us.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
I received an email today that contained a prayer:
May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received,
and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
Let His presence settle into your bones,
and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.
With the exception of the poetic license of “infinite” possibilities and that “all of us” should be taken to mean “all of us who have been regenerated by Christ” this is a very Scriptural prayer. It’s one you can pray both for yourself and for other Christians. It certainly ministered to me today.