When I was close to finishing high school I wanted to start a small farming business. So my father gave me an assignment to write a business plan. I didn’t really know how to go about it. But I researched it and wrote descriptions, goals, production schedules, infrastructure needs, budgets, and marketing strategies. The next year I began executing my plan during my first season of commercial production. And not surprisingly everything didn’t go as planned! For example, my plan was to have vegetable production be my core enterprise, with pastured broiler production second and egg production third. But the garden flooded and was my least profitable enterprise. Then I ended up buying out another farmer’s layer operation which made eggs our core product. So my strategy didn’t go as planned, but I ended up reaching my income goal for the first year of my farm anyway!
I am grateful for my father encouraging me to take time to plan. It is something I ‘plan’ to teach my three sons how to do. As some of you may consider helping your sons or family learn how to plan here are a few lessons that you could consider sharing with them . . . (Read the rest of this blog post here.)
-This blog post was written for the ManAbout ministry. You can learn more about the amazing work they do in equipping Dad’s to lead their sons into manhood at https://manabouts.com/
We went through lots of different phases of gift giving when I was growing up. I remember one time when my siblings and I woke up on Christmas morning to find the living room transformed into a child’s wonderland of carefully arranged toy sets (put together by my parents the night before). But our parents also didn’t want to cultivate greed in us kids so we tried times where we focused more on other aspects of family and traditions and just gave small gifts in stockings. As a parent now it can be hard to know how to balance gift giving with my own family and kids.
Gift giving can be a slightly controversial topic during Christmas time especially among the church. We see so many abuses and experience the extreme commercialization of Christmas (advertisements seem to come out earlier and earlier!). We understandably try to save Baby Jesus from being smothered and forgotten by our piles of presents and wrapping paper. And it is a legitimate concern. But if we can step away from everything everybody else makes about gift giving and presents I think it would be helpful to just think a moment about what God thinks of gift giving. Here are four things to consider and keep in mind this Christmas season.
- God is the Ultimate giver of gifts. James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” A gift is something freely given to someone without requiring payment. All the good things we enjoy around us; fresh air, sunshine, delicious food, family, and health, aren’t something we receive a monthly bill for. God delights to give us good gifts. He gave us the greatest Gift in his Son, Jesus. And since we are made in His image and are His ambassadors the act of giving gifts is a way we can reflect his character to the world around us.
- Gift giving is a key part of the spiritual economy. For the most part we live in a society of consumers. We are told that to prosper we must acquire and get more stuff. But God’s economy is different. In God’s economy, the more we give, the more we are entrusted with. “Give, and it will be given to you. . . For with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38) Not that gift giving should be done with a selfish heart, but it is actually a way we can be faithful with what God has given us. God is a shrewd investor, and if we don’t use what he has given us to bless others He will find another place to invest.
- Spending resources on relationships increases our value of them. My mother-in-law once told me that I would never regret money spent on my relationship with my wife. And so far it has proved true. Jesus said that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. (Luke 12:34) While it is true that the place someone spends their treasure indicates where their heart is, it is also true that where we want our heart to be, that is where we should invest our treasure. So if we find our heart not being as drawn to our wife, or to God, then we just need to find some way to practically spend money and time on them. The more we spend on something, the more we treasure it. Gift giving can be a way to help us value important relationships even more.
- Generosity is how we invest in eternity. (1 Timothy 6:17-19) We can’t take anything with us to heaven. But we can transfer funds to heaven. And one way we can do that is through giving it away. Jesus said to store up treasure in heaven. In Proverbs we are told that he who is generous to the poor lends to the Lord. If done with a truly selfless and generous heart gift giving shows that we are living with Eternity in mind.
I am by nature a very bad gift giver. Probably because I struggle with being a very selfish person. But I am trying to learn from God and others around me how to live with a generous spirit. When it’s all about the getting, then gifts can distract us from the very things that offer us real satisfaction and joy. But I am learning that when it’s all about the giving, then gifts can help us represent God, be faithful stewards of what we have been given, value our important relationships more, and store up treasures in Heaven! I pray that God helps me to become an expert Gift giver.
On my farm and in my life I am realizing more and more the need to get clear direction from God. I don’t want to waste my time on things that distract me from being fully used by Him. This past year my desire to let God direct the specifics of my farm and family have resulted in some major changes.
These changes have included:
- Totally handing over all of our farm’s commercial animal production to my cousin.
- Sharing our house for the season with my cousin and his wife and four children
- Limiting myself to an eight hour work day and setting up an office
- Not hosting a Redeeming the Dirt conference but taking time to invest in individuals
- Developing a new ultra-relationship-based marketing model and shifting away from selling at farmer’s markets.
All these changes have come as a result of seeking God and following what I felt like He wanted me to do. But making these changes were not easy. They were often risky and out of my comfort zone. And it is easy to question myself, “How do I know that this sense of direction is really from God and isn’t just my own idea or a distraction from Satan?” And this is an important question.
There are two main ways God tell us what he wants us to know.
- One way is through the Bible. In His Word God has revealed to us who He is, what He has done, and what He requires. It contains everything we need to know in order to live a life pleasing to Him. It answers life’s big questions like “Who am I?”, “Where did I come from?”, “What is my purpose in life?” etc.
- The second way is through the direct voice of the Holy Spirit. This is how God gives us specific direction for our life. We see one example of this when the Holy Spirit directed the Apostle Paul during his missionary journeys and called him to some areas and kept him from others.
It is important to be careful that we don’t say that God has said something when he hasn’t. We can fall into this error with Scripture by pulling verses out of context. But we can also fall into it by saying the Holy Spirit has given us specific direction for our life when he hasn’t. So how can we guard against following what we think is God’s voice when it isn’t actually Him speaking? Here are three things I learned earlier this year that have helped me and I hope may help you.
3 Ways you can discern whether the voice you are hearing is God.
Make sure that what you are hearing is consistent with God’s Word.
- Is the thing that you hear consistent with what God tell us in the Bible? Is what you feel Him calling you to do going to help you be more obedient to what is plainly said in Scripture, or cause you to be less obedient? For example, if I feel like God may be telling me to pursue a particular job I need to evaluate whether that job is going to help or hurt my ability to perform my basic responsibilities of disciple-maker, husband, father, steward, etc. There have been a lot of interests I have pursued over the years that I thought were what God wanted but ended up taking away from my ability to be focus in other areas of clear responsibility. Sometimes evaluating a felt calling according to the Word of God requires us to have to take time to study because we may not know what God’s Word says about that area.
God’s voice will not be a changing ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
- If what we are hearing is changing back and forth between a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ then it is probably not God speaking both of those. If we feel tossed back and forth between really thinking we should do something and really feeling like we shouldn’t we should probably stop and take some time to reevaluate. God is not a god of confusion. God often gradually reveals and clarifies direction in our life and many times we may not be hearing accurately from him because we are seeking specific direction too far ahead. Many times we need to listen to the immediate things he is telling us and trust him to make things clear as we move on. For example I could be wresting with asking God whether he want me to eventually quit my job and start farming full-time. I may find myself experiencing conflicting emotions because He is waiting for me to obey what he has already told me about my current garden and occupation.
What is the tone of the voice that I am hearing?
- Is it characterized by the fruit of the Spirit? Is it based and rooted in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Or is it characterized by the fruit of the Flesh? Things like lust, anger, envy, strife, selfishness, and all the opposites of the fruit of the Spirit? I may think God wants me to buy a certain tool right now but if I honestly examine myself I may find that that desire is really rooted in envy, greed or laziness and not patience and faithfulness. We may find emotions like fear when God calls us to radical acts of faith, but I have found that when they are from Him they are always accompanied by a ‘peace that passes understanding’.
We need to hear from God. And I would encourage you to keep seeking Him. He can definitely take you on quite the adventure! Here are a few parting thoughts as I wrap up this blog post and head to lunch.
- Be faithful with what you do hear, then God will speak more. In Acts 5:32 we are told that God gives the Spirit to those who obey Him. If you want to hear more from God, start obeying what you already know he wants you to do.
- Spending time with God and investing in your relationship with Him is one of the best ways to learn to recognize his voice. Just like the way you recognize the voice of a friend or family member over the phone even if you couldn’t tell someone else how you know it’s them. You recognize their voice because you have spent time with them.
- Be encouraged! God is patient and want us to hear him. And even when we aren’t listening He shows grace and can redeem the times we stray for His glory and our good.
What about You?
These are just a few thoughts about learning how to listen to God. I would love to hear any insights or experiences you may have! Has there been a time when you thought you were following the voice of God, but looking back realized it wasn’t? How have you been able to determine whether God is speaking to you?