What Has Final Authority in Your Life?

“The human mind is the most deceitful of all things. It is incurable. No one can understand how deceitful it is” (Jeremiah 17:9 GW).

One fundamental question in life stands above all others.

What will have the final authority in your life?

What sources will help you determine your values? Will it be your parents? Or your peers? Perhaps your school or the books you read? What about the movies or television shows you watch, or the songs you listen to?

God allows you to make the decision. He’s given us free will.

Most of our options come down to three different choices.

Myself: We can depend on our gut to tell us what to do. But there’s a problem with that. Study after study reveals that our perceptions are more likely to be wrong than right. In fact, sometimes we lie to ourselves. In Jeremiah 17:9, the Bible says, “The human mind is the most deceitful of all things. It is incurable. No one can understand how deceitful it is” (GW).

The World: We can depend on what other people think to determine our values. The problem is, the world often values the wrong things. For instance, the world emphasizes beauty over character, or tells us to pursue whatever feels good, or declares that whoever has the most possessions wins. We’re bombarded with these worldly values through all sorts of media — so much so that it’s easy to start thinking God put us on this planet to look good, feel good, and get stuff. But that couldn’t be further from the truth!

God’s Word: God’s Word is objective and truthful, as opposed to our own perceptions or the world’s opinions. God’s Word says, “If you continue in My word . . . you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32 NASB).

After reading about these choices, where will you look to determine your values? Which one will you chose to be the final authority in your life?

What will have the final authority in your life?

Talk It Over:

  • How have you seen other people make poor choices by valuing the authority of anything other than God?
  • Why is the choice of authority so critical that it’s the “most fundamental question in life”?
  • What will have the final authority in your life? How have you decided to answer that question?

We Don’t Need to Fight Critics

So I replied by sending this message to them: ‘I am doing a great work! I cannot stop to come and meet with you.’ Four times they sent the same message, and each time I gave the same reply” (Nehemiah 6:3-4 NLT).

Negative people will distract you. You know God has given you an important assignment. But these naysayers tell you that you’re the wrong person. You’ve got the wrong idea. You’re doing it the wrong way.

Take Nehemiah, for example. Nehemiah wasn’t a pastor or a priest. He was a businessman. Israel had been taken captive by the Babylonians. The Israelites had been in exile for 70 years — and then the Babylonians let them go home. Jerusalem had been destroyed and was defenseless. Nehemiah got a big idea. “I’ll rebuild my city. And I’ll start by rebuilding the wall to protect it.”

He encountered instant opposition.

Israel’s enemies didn’t want to see Jerusalem defended. Leaders realize that every opportunity comes with opposition. I’ve never done anything in my life that wasn’t opposed by somebody. Opportunity plus opposition equals God’s will.

Nehemiah’s enemies tried all sorts of things to stop him from rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. They tried ridicule, rumors, and threats. When none of that worked, they tried to slow him down with discussion.

Your critics — the naysayers who want to prevent you from doing what the Lord has called you to do — will use the same bag of tricks. They’ll ridicule you, spread rumors about you, and even threaten you to get you to stop doing what God wants you to do.

But instead of listening to them, respond the way that Nehemiah did.

“So I replied by sending this message to them: ‘I am doing a great work! I cannot stop to come and meet with you.’ Four times they sent the same message, and each time I gave the same reply” (Nehemiah 6:3-4 NLT).

We don’t need to fight with naysayers. It’s not worth it. Billy Graham once told me you can wrestle with a pig, but only one of you is going to enjoy it. He was correct. If you want to go take on people who are negative about what you’re doing, you’ll just waste your time.

Nehemiah didn’t defend his work. You don’t need to defend yourself either. Just let it go. Have enough faith to wait for the day God’s work through your life will be proven correct. That day will come.

Talk It Over:

  • Why is it so hard to ignore naysayers?
  • How have you faced opposition and naysayers as you’ve followed God?
  • What might you say to naysayers based on what you’ve learned today?

Why Hope Isn’t the Same as Optimism

We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28 NLT).

Life often brings you matters that are difficult to swallow, like a sickness, a job loss, or the death of a friend or family member. Those pills are bitter going down, and we often choke on them.

Rest assured that God is up to something good in your life even if you can’t see it. God is actively working to bring good out of whatever happens in your life. To hold on to hope in the midst of tough times, you’ll need to grab a hold of this truth.

The Bible says it this way: “We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28 NLT).

The Bible isn’t saying that every event in your life will be good. You and I both know that’s just not true. But it does say that when you put your whole life together, every piece of it works together for good. It’s like making a cake. You may not like the taste of each ingredient, but when it’s all put together, you can’t keep your hands off of it. God wants to bake an amazingly tasty cake with your life, and he wants to use even the distasteful and bitter elements to do it.

God also doesn’t say that everything works together “like we want it to” or that every story will have a happy ending. The reality is not every business decision will make you a million dollars. Not every couple that gets married will live happily ever after. Not every child will become captain of the football team.

Instead, the verse reminds us that we can have absolute confidence that the Master Designer of the universe causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God. (By the way, this promise is for “those who love God,” not for people who don’t know God yet.)

Hope isn’t the same as optimism. It isn’t the belief that something bad will turn out well. It’s the absolute confidence that every part of your life ultimately makes sense regardless of how it turns out this side of eternity.

From our vantage point, life looks like a mess at times. But God’s view from Heaven isn’t the same as ours.

You can’t even imagine the good that God has in store for your future. In Jeremiah 29:11b God says, “I have good plans for you, not plans to hurt you. I will give you hope and a good future” (NCV).

Your future is in God’s hands — and there’s no better place for it to be.

Talk It Over

How have you seen God work a bad experience out for your good?
How is Jesus’ death on the cross an example of God working out good in a bad situation?

Where Do I Find Real Hope?

May God, the source of hope, fill you with joy and peace through your faith in him. Then you will overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13 GW).

At the end of World War II, a U.S. submarine came back to dock at Newport News, Va. As it came into port, something terrible happened, and the submarine began to sink. The Coast Guard was immediately dispatched to save the crew, and divers swam down to the submarine. As they approached it, they heard a sailor using a hammer to tap Morse code on the hull. His question: “Is there hope?”

That’s a fundamental question we ask in life: Is there hope?

It’s asked every day by thousands of people in thousands of different ways:

  • When someone is sitting in the doctor’s office awaiting test results.
  • When a couple get nowhere despite months and months in counseling.
  • When talking to an accountant before walking into a bankruptcy court.
  • When a family hears their child is missing.

You can go 40 days without food and three days without water. You can go eight minutes without air. But you can’t go a single second without hope. It’s an essential part of life. When hope is gone, life is over.

Because hope is in such short supply in our society today, people fall for all kinds of scams. They trust in false hopes, like psychic hotlines, palm readings, astrology, fake healers, and quack cures. Inevitably, those false hopes disappoint. Nothing disappoints worse than false hope.

So where do I turn to find real hope? The Bible says turn to God.

In Romans 15:13, the Bible says, “May God, the source of hope, fill you with joy and peace through your faith in him. Then you will overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (GW).

God is the only source of hope that’ll never disappoint. When we place our faith in him, he provides joy, peace, and hope that overflows.

You need that kind of hope.

At the end of the book of Ezekiel, God says, “I am Jehovah Shammah.” In Hebrew that means, “I am the God who is always there.” God is always there. He’s in your past, in your present, and in your future. He’s with you in the good places. He’s with you in the evil places.

He is everywhere. And you are never, ever alone. Where God is, hope is.

Talk It Over

  • When do you have the most difficulty seeing God’s presence in your life?
  • How does knowing about God’s constant presence give you hope in the midst of despair?
  • How can you encourage another person with a reminder of God’s presence?

Get Alone with God, and Wait

“The Lord is good to everyone who trusts in him, so it is best for us to wait in patience — to wait for him to save us” (Lamentations 3:25-26 GNT).

When life seems to be falling apart, your most “spiritual” decision may be a surprise: Get alone with God, and wait.

The Bible says in Lamentations 3:28, “When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions: Wait for hope to appear. Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face. The ‘worst’ is never the worst” (MSG).

Most of us don’t know how to “enter the silence.” We’re always anxious. We don’t like to wait on God because it stresses us out. We like to be in control.

What does it mean to wait on God? You sit down, close your mouth, and just listen to God. You may read your Bible. You may pray. But most all, you’re quiet in front of God.

Anxiety comes when we’re not “waiting for hope to appear,” as Jeremiah tells us. God wants to talk to us. God wants to give us the hope we crave. But we’re often way too busy. All of our circuits are busy! When God calls, we’re on a different line.

If we want to listen to God and experience the hope he has for us, we have to get alone with him. We must “enter the silence” and be ready to hear him.

Jesus also said this in Matthew 6:6: “Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace” (MSG).

Get honest with God, and your focus will shift from just seeing your problems — no matter how overwhelming they seem — to the grace of God.

Lamentations 3:25-26 says, “The Lord is good to everyone who trusts in him, so it is best for us to wait in patience — to wait for him to save us” (GNT).

The same is true for us. No matter what obstacle you’re facing, wait for God’s timing. He’ll time your next move perfectly.

So wait and listen.

Talk It Over

  • Think of a time in your life when acting too quickly led to a disastrous outcome. What’s one truth you can draw from that experience?
  • What might help you “enter the silence” with greater consistency?

It’s Time to Eliminate Negative Self-Talk

“Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts” (Proverbs 4:23 GNT).

Long before psychology came around, God said your thoughts determine your feelings and your feelings determine your actions.

Our minds are really an amazing creation. It would take a computer the size of the Pentagon just to carry out the basic functions of your brain. Your brain contains over 100 billion nerve cells. Each individual cell is connected with 10,000 other neurons.

You are constantly talking to yourself — all the time. You’re talking to yourself right now! Research indicates that most people speak at a rate of 150 to 200 words per minute, but the internal dialogue that you carry on with yourself (self-talk) is more like 1,300 words per minute.

The problem is that in all our self-talk, a lot of people are like Job. In Job 9:20b, he says, “Everything I say seems to condemn me” (GNT). If you’re typical, you are your own worst critic. Right? You’re always putting yourself down. You could walk into a room smiling, but inside you’re saying, “I’m fat. I’m not smart enough. I’m ugly. And I’m always late.” Most of this dialogue is unconscious.

God wants you to stop putting yourself down. When you put yourself down, who are you really putting down? You’re really pointing to the Creator who made you. When you say, “God, I’m worthless; I’m no good; I can’t do anything,” you’re actually saying, “God, you blew it with me.” That’s why God says it’s wrong to put yourself down.

How do you eliminate negative self-talk so you can become a more confident person? It’s the principle of replacement: “Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right . . . Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about it” (Philippians 4:8b TLB).

Focus on what you want to be, on what God wants to do in your life. I don’t know any better antidote to low self-esteem than to read God’s Word every day. Study it, memorize it, meditate on it, and apply it in your life. I can’t tell you a better thing to help you raise your confidence level than to get in the Bible and start believing what God says about you.

Talk It Over

When you read the Bible, try to find a verse that speaks to you, write it down on a card, memorize it, and start affirming it back to God. For instance, “I am valuable, I am significant, I am forgivable, and I am capable.” Let God remold your mind because “as [a man] thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7a NKJV).

Make Choices That Positively Affect Your Life

God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him” (Romans 8:29 MSG).
You are wonderfully complex, the Bible tells us in Psalm 139:14. To fulfill God’s purpose for you, you have to look at every dimension of your life and understand five factors that influence your identity. So far this week we’ve talked about the ways that our chemistry, our connections, our circumstances, and our consciousness affect the way we are shaped.
If these factors were like the cards you’re dealt in a card game, then the fifth factor would be your wild card. Why? Because that card represents your choices, and that card affects all of your other cards. You may not be able to control the hand you were dealt, but you can use your wild card to change the way you live your life by the choices you make.
The Bible says we are created in the image of God. No other animal was created in the image of God! Dogs have instinct but don’t know the difference between right and wrong. Elephants have no moral compass. But you get to choose to do right or wrong. The freedom to choose is humanity’s greatest blessing and also our greatest curse, because we make foolish choices that harm us and harm everyone around us.
The wild card of choice means –
You didn’t choose your connections, but you can make new relationships and mend or nurture the ones you already have.
You can choose how you respond to your circumstances.
You can choose to stop believing the harmful things people say to you.
Your character is shaped by your choices. What choices will you make today that will positively affect the rest of your life?

Talk It Over
Talk about a time when you became more centered on Jesus because of a wise choice or series of choices.
What do you need from God today to help you overcome the difficult circumstances that keep you from making good choices? Pray, and ask God for the help you need.

Even Your Flaws Can Bring Glory to God

“Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous — how well I know it” (Psalm 139:14 NLT).

When people are hurting, they need simple truth, not simplistic truth. It’s not enough to tell someone to pray, read the Bible, or go to church. You have to help them know how to make changes in their lives.

And we can’t make changes in our lives until we understand our identity. You cannot become all that God created you to be until you embrace your identity — the unmistakably unique you that God intentionally made for a purpose.

You are wonderfully complex, as Psalm 139:14 tells us. To fulfill God’s purpose for you, you have to look at every dimension of your life and understand five factors that influence your identity. Then you have to make the most of what you’re given. We have all been given different parents, pains, problems, and potential, but we will all be held accountable one day for what we did with them.

The first factor that makes you who you are is your chemistry. This includes your DNA, your genes, your hormones, and your chemical makeup. Some of us were born with a low tolerance for pain; others have an extremely high tolerance for pain. Some of us have low energy levels; others bounce off the walls. Some of us have trick knees, weak eyesight, or brittle bones. Some of us have different brain chemistry, such as low levels of serotonin that can cause depression.

We’re all imperfect, and no flaw is sinful or shameful — it’s the way God wired you! I bought a pair of distressed jeans once that had a tag that read: “These jeans have intentional flaws in order to make them unique.” Your “genes” are the same way: They have flaws that make you unique. Those flaws are part of your custom design, and God planned them for his purpose and glory.

You will never be able to make a change in your life or fulfill God’s purpose for your life until you understand that you are wonderfully complex and uniquely designed for God’s glory. The question then, is this: What will you do with the hand you’re dealt?

Tomorrow we’ll look at the second factor that influences our identity: connections.

Talk It Over

What flaws make you unique?
How can those flaws bring glory to God?
Here’s the question we each must answer: What will you do with the hand you’re dealt?

Faith, Not Feelings, Pleases God

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21 NIV).

When you are a baby Christian, God gives you a lot of confirming emotions and often answers the most immature, self-centered prayers so you’ll know he exists. But as you grow in faith, he will wean you of these dependencies.

God’s omnipresence and the manifestation of his presence are two different things. One is a fact; the other is often a feeling. God is always present, even when you are unaware of him, and his presence is too profound to be measured by mere emotion.

Yes, he wants you to sense his presence, but he’s more concerned that you trust him than that you feel him. Faith, not feelings, pleases God.

The situations that will stretch your faith most will be those times when life falls apart and God is nowhere to be found. This happened to Job. On a single day he lost everything — his family, his business, his health, and everything he owned. Most discouraging, for 37 chapters, God said nothing!

How do you praise God when you don’t understand what’s happening in your life and God is silent? How do you stay connected in a crisis without communication? How do you keep your eyes on Jesus when they’re full of tears? You do what Job did: “Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised’” (Job 1:20b-21 NIV).

Tell God exactly how you feel. Pour out your heart to God. Unload every emotion that you’re feeling. Job did this when he said, “I can’t be quiet! I am angry and bitter. I have to speak” (Job 7:11 GNT).

He cried out when God seemed distant: “Oh, for the days when I was in my prime, when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house” (Job 29:4 NIV).

God can handle your doubt, anger, fear, grief, confusion, and questions. You can bring everything to him in prayer.

Talk It Over

In what ways can you show God that you trust him even when you don’t feel his presence?
What are some of the things you can praise God for, even when you don’t understand what’s happening in your life?

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