“There are so many opportunities today, Lord.”

It was early on a Thursday morning, and I was praying about my day.  As I pondered what was in my schedule, I prayed over it.  Leading a corporate Bible study that morning.  Lunch with a young woman who had started attending one of my Bible studies in January.  And hosting a table at women’s ministry event at church that night where women would be given the opportunity to share their stories.

Those are the kinds of days I look forward to.  Lots of things scheduled and all about ministering to women!  So as I prayed, I said, “There are so many opportunities today, Lord.”

And then He said back to me, “Why don’t you see every day that way?”

Ummmm, yeah. Ouch.

Of course this wasn’t audible.  But it was still very clear in that piercing, convicting way that the Holy Spirit has.  It was one of those times where I felt like Job when he said, “I lay my hand over my mouth.”  (Job 40:4b)  What do you say?

It was convicting because I don’t see every day that way.  And the Lord knew it, of course.  Not the days when I am working in my home office, planning Bible studies, and maybe running some errands.  But every day holds opportunities.

Some are opportunities that I can take.  I think of these as the ones that aren’t planned like maybe the person in front of me in line or the cashier or the assistant at the eye doctor’s office or my waiter or running into my neighbor or my co-worker or even my family.  These are opportunities all around us everyday – IF WE WILL SEE THEM.  And, honestly, that is where I get stuck.  I just see them as errands, as surface interactions, or even maybe sometimes as part of the “necessary evils” of life.  But would it make a difference if I looked for, hunted for the opportunities in each day?  If I started every day thinking that it was full of opportunities?  Maybe I would see them then.  Maybe I would take more initiative.  Maybe I would get to share the gospel with someone who hasn’t heard it.

Then there are opportunities that I can make.  Who can I grab a meal or coffee with?  Who can I call?  Will I take a minute even to send an encouraging text?  Are there ways I can spend time with others within the things that are already a part of my day like going to the gym?  Yes, I may have work I need to do, but are there places in my week where I can make time to encourage or minister to someone?  Initiating can be hard for many of us, but I think most people appreciate it.  When I was in campus ministry looking at lonely freshmen, I felt like everyone wanted to do something but they were all too scared to initiate so they all just stayed in their room.  They just needed one person to initiate and get the ball rolling.  Sometimes we aren’t that much different as adults!  Lots of things can hold us back – busyness, laziness, feeling awkward, fear of rejection, and more.

opportunity signPaul talked about opportunities in Ephesians and Colossians:

“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.”  Ephesians 5:15-16
“Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.”  Colossians 4:5

Paul sees life as filled with opportunities and urges his readers to make the most of it.  The word for “time” in Ephesians and “opportunity” in Colossians in the Greek is the same – kairos.  Here is how it is explained by Kenneth Wuest in his Word Studies in the Greek New Testament: “’Time as regarded in its strategic, epoch-making, seasonable, opportune seasons.’  The idea is not to make the best use of time as such, which is what we should do in the sense of not wasting it, but of taking advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.”

So what opportunities does this season give you?  One way to think of that is as a season of life.  For example, one of the things I miss about being single (much as I love my husband) was that I had more time for ministry.  Filling up every night of the week with other people (which I could do) isn’t so good for my marriage.  Or sometimes I look at moms and envy the opportunities they have to be around people through their kids.  As their children are involved in activities from sports to school plays, parents are interacting with other parents all the time, many of whom may not know Christ.  Empty nesters suddenly find themselves with time that they aren’t sure how to use.  How can it be invested wisely?  And I think all of us look forward to retirement which will come with an amazing array of options to invest in people and projects.

But I think we can also look at “seasons” as even more specific than a season of life.  For example, for this season I live in this neighborhood with these specific neighbors.  Or for this season you are in your particular job with your particular co-workers.  These are seasons that change – people move, we move, jobs change, people come and go.  And so today gives you a unique opportunity wherever you are.

The other day I was struck how Ann Voskamp expressed this in her One Thousand Gifts Devotional (pg 95):  “God, today is the last like this.  This place, these people, this moment – it will never again be just like this.  Cause my eyes to see everything in my life afresh.  I may not pass by here again.”

What unique opportunities does your season give you?  Where can we take opportunities?  And where can we make opportunities?

Because today is full of opportunities.

Thoughts on Celebration

It’s a fun time to live in North Carolina.  Our NFL team is going to the Super Bowl!  It’s an event that has united everyone – Tarheel, Wolfpack, and Blue Devil – in rejoicing and supporting the Carolina Panthers.

Probably the biggest point of conversation about the Super Bowl is the quarterback of the Panthers, Cam Newton.  He has been a lightning rod all year, and being in the Super Bowl has just made it a topic of seemingly constant conversation.  (Full disclosure – I listen to sports-talk radio a lot, watch ESPN, and have a subscription to Sports Illustrated!)

cam dab So the other day I’m sitting in my car, listening again to the list of complaints about our quarterback:  he does “the Superman” in the end zone when he scores a touchdown, he dances when he scores a touchdown, he dabs when he scores a touchdown, he gives footballs to kids in the stands when the Panthers score a touchdown, he gets his teammates to take group shots on the sidelines before a game is over when they are winning (which is every time but one this year).  All things I’ve heard before, but this time it hit me – they are criticizing him for celebrating.

panthers sideline picAnd that got me to meditating on celebration.  Because it’s not a bad thing even if a lot of people don’t like Cam Newton for doing it.  Celebration is a wonderful thing, a necessary thing, and even a Biblical thing.

In the Old Testament, God set up several festivals – celebrations – for His people.  Deuteronomy 16 is a great place to read a summary of three of them.  Probably the best known of these festivals is the Passover which was their yearly reminder that God brought them out of slavery in Egypt.  I tend to equate the Passover with Communion in the New Testament which seems more somber than a celebration to me.  But over and over in the Old Testament, when the Passover is talked about, the word “celebrate” is attached to it.  It wasn’t just a sacrament – it was a celebration of what God had done for them.

Also mentioned in Deuteronomy 16 are the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Booths.  Both are related to celebrating God’s provision in the harvest and, in Deuteronomy, both are supposed to be done with joy!  I love how the command is worded in Deuteronomy 16:15: “Seven days you shall celebrate a feast to the Lord you God in the place which the Lord chooses, because the Lord you God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you shall be altogether joyful.” (emphasis mine)

God’s people also celebrated major events with joy.  For example, King David “danced before the Lord with all his might” and gave cakes to all the people when the ark of the Lord was returned to Jerusalem.  This was met with criticism by his wife, Michal, but David’s response was “I will celebrate before the Lord.”  (2 Samuel 6) Apparently being criticized for celebrating is nothing new!

And the ultimate celebration is yet to come – the marriage of the Lamb to His church.  What a wedding supper that will be!  (Revelation 19:1-9)

After remembering different celebrations in the Bible, I then recalled another place I had read about the importance of celebrating.  It was in The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner.  In this book, they detail five practices of leadership.  And one of them, encouraging the heart, involves celebration.  In fact, they dedicate a whole chapter to the topic of celebrating work accomplishments because it’s so important.  In their book focused on this leadership practice, Encouraging the Heart, they state, “Scholarly research offers further support for the contention that celebration influences performance.  In one study, for example, the investigators found that what distinguished high-performing groups from those performing less well was the wide variety and frequency of celebratory events – events where recognition and appreciation were expressed.”  (pg 114)  They emphasize that celebration needs to be done in community – not solo.

In some ways I think, as Americans, we are good at celebrating.  We celebrate some major holidays well like Thanksgiving and Christmas and the Fourth of July.  We celebrate births and marriages.  And most of us celebrate birthdays.  But then I wonder if there is still a lot more work to be done in our ability to celebrate.  How often do we gather to celebrate what God has done?  Really truly celebrate? Or how much do you celebrate an accomplishment at work?  Or the accomplishments of those you lead?  I think that often for me it’s tempting to say a quick “thank you” to God, maybe post it on Facebook, and move on.

Maybe Cam Newton is on to something.  He certainly finds joy in his work and in both his personal accomplishments and those of his team.  I don’t know if doing the dab in your cubicle is a good idea (although it might make you feel good!), but can you find other ways to celebrate a job well done, a goal attained?  Are there creative ways you can encourage those you lead by celebration?  Can we create ways to celebrate with our family of faith like King David did?  I know it’s definitely something for me to think about.

Thanks for the reminder Cam!  And Go Panthers!cam newton fans

(For a detailed explanation of the Biblical feasts, this is a great summary. )