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The Storms We Cause

By Michael Youssef, Ph.D.

We can trace the origins of our storms to three primary sources. Some storms are of our own making -- the direct consequence of sin in our lives. Other storms are caused by the actions of other people, and some are simply intended to test us.

In Jonah's case, his storm was a direct consequence of his disobedience. When storms result from our sin, we must first repent of that sin before even attempting to work through the consequences.

The Scripture tells us, "'My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, . . . Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? . . . No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:5-7, 11).

Prayer: God, show me if there is sin in my life that is causing a storm. Help me to confess and repent so I can bear the consequences with humility and have peace as I rest in Your grace and mercy. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

Changing Course

By Michael Youssef, Ph.D.

Jonah thought he had circumvented God's call to Nineveh by sailing away from it. What Jonah couldn't see was the storm brewing beyond the horizon. Soon he would discover that his disobedience would cost him far more than the ship's fare.

God is extremely patient with us. When we begin to rebel, He often lets us run until we return to Him broken and repentant. But sometimes God will intervene: "Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up" (Jonah 1:4).

Are you drifting away from God? Maybe there is a task or a witnessing opportunity He has been nudging you toward, but you have refused to budge. Or perhaps you have turned a deaf ear to God's voice, fearing what He may be calling you to do.

Changing our course can be a challenge, but by spending time in prayer, we can listen for the Spirit's voice -- and His wisdom. Also, seek forgiveness for spiritual drifting or disobedience in your life. Commit to a fresh and renewed relationship with Christ.

Prayer: God, help me to change course so that I'm going the direction You have called me to go. Guide me and give me wisdom as I listen for Your voice. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. . .Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me" (Psalm 51:10, 12).

Running To Tarshish

By Michael Youssef, Ph.D.

Have you ever desired something so strongly that you spent hours and hours in prayer over it, even though you knew in your heart that it was not God's will for you? What happened when that desire remained unfulfilled? Did you accept it as part of God's plan -- or did you turn your back on God in anger and frustration?

Running away from God will get us nowhere. No matter how far we try to run from God, He is always present.

God's will for our lives is far better than any plan we can conceive. Jonah, however, chose to follow a different plan: "Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord" (Jonah 1:3).

Instead of being filled with gratitude that God was calling him to do great things, Jonah boarded a ship that was going the opposite direction. God had called Jonah to Nineveh, a city in modern-day Iraq, yet Jonah was headed for Tarshish, located on the coast of Spain. Emotionally, spiritually, and even geographically, Jonah was running as far as he could in the opposite direction of God's will for his life.

Tarshish symbolizes that place in our lives where we've settled for what we want, instead of what God wants. Tarshish is the nice comfort zone in which we hide. It's safe, it's easy, and it's appealing. But sometimes the places where we can be of most help -- and make the most difference -- are the places where we are shaken and challenged.

Prayer: Father, what Tarshish are you calling me out of today? Forgive me for the times when I've run to my Tarshish to hide. Help me to trust that Your plans are best for me and to respond in obedience. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

"Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there" (Psalm 139:7-8).

Surely Not Me!

By Michael Youssef, Ph.D.

God never promised an easy life. In our service to Him, we will sometimes be called to certain tasks that are difficult or even frightening. In the Old Testament, we see the journey of the prophet Jonah as he, too, faced a challenging call from God.

Jonah's initial attitude toward his call to witness to the Ninevites can be summarized in these words: "Surely not me, and definitely not them!" All of us have been there at some point in our lives -- whether in a general attitude of not wanting to witness or in a specific situation that we found awkward or complicated.

Like many of us, Jonah wasn't ready to step outside of his comfort zone. He was happy to serve God when the tasks were easy and enjoyable, but he resisted God's call when it meant a greater height of service. How is God calling you to obey Him today? Whatever He is asking of you, do not delay in obeying His commands.

Prayer: God help me to be open and obedient to whatever and wherever You call me to, even when it takes me out of my comfort zone. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

"I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands" (Psalm 119:60).

God's Prompting

By Michael Youssef, Ph.D.

Has God ever given you a task that created a sense of panic or dread in your heart? Maybe He was calling you to lead a small group in your home. Or perhaps there was a specific person in your life who needed to hear the Gospel. Instead of rejoicing in this responsibility, perhaps you avoided it.

We often claim that we want God to use us, but in reality we mean this only on our terms. Our words loudly profess, "Here I am, Lord. Use me however you want." But our hearts often whisper, "Lord, I want to serve You, but only if it means working on this project or serving in that location. I definitely don't want to witness to this particular person or to that particular group."

No Biblical example better reflects this attitude than Jonah. In this book of Scripture, we see a man who had served God faithfully in the past but resisted God's call when it became less comfortable: "The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 'Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.' But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish" (Jonah 1:1-3). When God gives you a mission, will you run away, or will you choose to obey?

Prayer: God, help me to respond in obedience to Your prompting. Forgive me for the times I have avoided those promptings and, like Jonah, have run in the other direction. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

"Then [Jesus] said to them all: 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me'" (Luke 9:23).

The Importance of Salt

By Michael Youssef, Ph.D.

Jesus said that we are "the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13). The value of salt, especially in the ancient world, cannot be underestimated. Roman soldiers received their wages in salt. The Greeks considered salt to be divine. The Mosaic Law required that all offerings presented by the Israelites contain salt (see Leviticus 2:13).

When Jesus told His disciples that they were "the salt of the earth," they understood the metaphor. While the universal importance of salt is not as readily apparent in our modern world, the mandate that Jesus gave to His first disciples is still relevant and applicable to His followers today.

What are the characteristics of salt that caused the Lord to use it in this context?

Theologians have different theories about the meaning of "salt" in Matthew 5:13. Some think that its whiteness represents the purity of the justified believer. Others say that salt's flavoring properties imply that Christians are to add divine flavor to the world. Still others believe that Christians are to sting the world with rebuke and judgment the way salt stings an open wound. Another group asserts that, as salt, Christians are to create a thirst for Christ.

Salt, however, has another vital purpose which is probably what the Lord had in mind -- it stops decay. When Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth," He meant that all of His disciples were to serve as preservatives, stopping the moral decay in our sin-infected world.

Prayer: Father, help me to remember that I should be a preservative in this world of what is true and good and right. Help me to obey Your Word so that I can be more like Christ. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is -- his good, pleasing and perfect will" (Romans 12:2).

A Willing Witness

By Michael Youssef, Ph.D.

God wants us to tell others about His love -- not only through our words, but also through our actions. Saying "Jesus loves you" is not enough. We need to demonstrate how God's love has changed our hearts and our souls. We need to be willing to submit fully to God's control over our lives as a living testimony.

It's easy to do God's work when the recipient is someone we care for -- but what happens when God wants us to minister to someone who is offensive, obnoxious, or condescending?

Like Jonah, sometimes we are called to witness to people we don't feel great compassion toward -- neighbors or co-workers we don't like or acquaintances who intimidate us.

Jonah's response to God's calling was one of rebellion and resistance. Instead of heading for Nineveh, he ran for Tarshish. Instead of obedience, he chose to flee from God and from His call.

Has God placed a call on your heart to witness to a particular person or to serve Him in a certain way? How have you responded? Are you on your way to Nineveh -- or have you boarded the ship for Tarshish?

Prayer: God, forgive me for the times I have not ministered to someone when I should have. I pray that You would give me a new compassion for others and a desire to be a witness for You to everyone I meet. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

"May the God of peace . . . equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen" (Hebrews 13:20-21).

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