priorities (5)

When You Fall Short of Expectations

We all know what it feels like to let people down. Our boss…spouse…kids…parents…friends…customers…clients. The list goes on.

It feels terrible to let people down.

Apple, one of the world’s most successful companies, let its shareholders down last quarter. The company was expected to take in $76.54 billion in revenue for the quarter (yes, BILLION), but they “only” received a meager $75.9 billion.

Meanwhile, Apple only sold 74.8 million iPhones in the quarter, short of the projected 75.4 million.

How depressing…

In an effort to explain these disappointing results, Apple CEO Tim Cook explained that there were “a lot of great things happening in a turbulent environment.”

But Apple shareholders weren’t impressed by this explanation, and the stock value dropped more than 6% today.

There’s a lesson in all of this, of course. Probably several lessons.

If your life is focused on trying to live up to people’s expectations, you will find yourself frustrated and depressed much of the time. Occasionally, someone may give you an “At-a Boy.” But more often than not, you will find yourself living “below expectations.”

Which raises a critical question: WHOSE expectations will govern your outlook on your success or failure?

Put another way, the question is this: WHO are you trying to please?

If your answer is that you want to please EVERYBODY, you might as well check yourself into an insane asylum, because that’s surely where you’re headed.


Each of us must decide who we’re ultimately trying to please. If we want to maintain some degree of sanity, we are wise to make it our primary ambition to please our Heavenly Father rather than anyone on earth. If you want to do a little Bible study on this, here are a few verses: Matthew 3:17, 2 Corinthians 5:9-10, Galatians 1:10, Matthew 25:21.

We also must have the wisdom to reject any unfair or unrealistic expectations people try to pin on us—because they inevitably will from time to time. Remember how Jesus rejected the expectations of those who hoped He would overthrow the Romans and immediately set up His kingdom? He was clear on His mission and wouldn’t let people squeeze Him into their mold.

So here’s my life-changing homework assignment for you: Take some time to get away by yourself and prayerfully review the list of people you’ve been trying to please. Then write down what these people are expecting, and ask the Lord whether those expectations are HIS expectations or something you should discard.

If you take this homework to heart, I have a prediction: You’ll exit the treadmill you’ve been on and once again experience the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

And if your revenue this quarter fails to reach $76 billion (or some other grandiose projection), don’t ask me to feel sorry for you. Instead, I would tell you to be grateful—to celebrate! Things could have been a whole lot worse.

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The Perils of Being a Good Juggler

I have an exceptional ability to juggle lots of balls at the same time. I don’t mean literal balls. My hand-and-eye coordination isn’t good enough for that. But, better than most people, I’m able to successfully juggle multiple projects, activities, and relationships.

Many of my best friends are only able to focus on one project at a time. Sometimes I envy them, for being a good juggler is both a blessing and a curse.

Almost anyone can successfully juggle one ball from hand to hand. And with a little practice, most people can handle two or three balls. Juggling four or five balls is far more difficult, though. Even if you can juggle four or five balls for a short period, the problem is sustainability.

I’ve found that when you’re a good juggler, people keep giving you more balls. It’s not really their fault, but your boss, spouse, kids, and friends seem to think your capacity is unlimited. So you go from juggling one ball…to two…to three…to four. And everything goes splendidly at first.

Yet when you’re a good juggler, you inevitably end up with one more ball than you can handle. Sadly, you seldom see how hazardous this progression is—not until ALL the balls end up on the floor.

Those of us who are good jugglers typically end up juggling many of the wrong balls. We have a hard time saying NO. Instead of prioritizing and focusing, we try convincing people of our nearly superhuman abilities.

There’s an old gospel song that says, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” The challenge for good jugglers is that we often forget Who this song is referring to. God is able to simultaneously juggle all the balls in the universe—but we’re not God.

If you’re a good juggler like me, my heart goes out to you. As the Scriptures advise, I hope you’ll learn to cast your cares on the Lord, remembering that He’s the only limitless juggler. May you regularly seek His wisdom on which balls are meant for you, and which ones aren’t.

If you’ve taken on too many balls, running the risk of dropping them all, I pray you’ll recognize your precarious situation before it’s too late. In the end, you’ll be far more productive—and much happier—if you focus on your true calling. That’s where you’ll find God’s grace and strength.

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Success Secrets of History's Greatest CEO

By any measure, his accomplishments were astounding and unparalleled:

  • With virtually no start-up funds and only a handful of staff, he established an organization that has seen annual growth for 2,000 years.
  • He led the organization for just three years before leaving it in the hands of his handpicked successors.
  • Without any of the benefits of modern technology, his product was marketed in every known nation on earth in less than a century.
  • From its humble beginnings, the organization founded by this leader has grown to billions of adherents around the world, some of whom are willing to die rather than give up the life-changing product he introduced.

The “CEO” I’m referring to, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth. I’ve recently been thinking about 5 of his success secrets we all can profit from:

1.      Put as much emphasis on preparation as on implementation. Jesus spent 30 years in preparation for a 3-year ministry. In contrast, many pastors today spend 3 years at seminary in hopes of having 30 years or so of fruitful service. In our impatient, microwave society, we nearly always undervalue the importance of careful preparation.

Jesus urged his disciples to take time to lay a firm foundation before trying to build anything. On a sunny day, it may be tempting to build a house on sand, but storms will surely come to every life (Matthew 7:24-27). Instead of being overeager to start the building process, Jesus said we should first “count the cost” and see if we have what it takes to finish the job (Luke 14:28-29).  

Every successful sports team understands this principle. The key to victory is in painstaking preparation, not just showing up for the game.

2.      Carefully select your inner circle. Few things will impact your life more than the entourage of friends you choose to live your life with. On the positive side, the Bible says if you walk with wise people, you will become wise (Proverbs 13:20). But it also warns, “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

Jesus was very deliberate and purposeful in selecting his inner circle. In addition to spending time getting to know each of the men who ultimately would become his disciples, he spent an entire night in prayer before the final selection was made (Luke 6:12-16). How much time, attention, and prayer do YOU give toward selecting the main people you spend time with?

Notice that Jesus’ selection process wasn’t based on people’s resume or their outward qualifications. If you were going to choose a team to take your message and product to the ends of the earth, would you pick theologically inept fishermen and tax collectors?  However, guided by prayer and discernment, Jesus saw the great potential of these men, even though they seemed to be unlikely candidates for success.

Despite his careful vetting process, Jesus frequently had to confront those in his inner circle when they got off track. For example, Peter wanted to block Jesus’ pathway to the cross and was sternly told, “Get behind Me, Satan” (Matthew 16:21-23). Are you willing to stand against your friends when they try to hinder God’s will for your life?

3.      Remain focused on the mission instead of the numbers. Those of us in ministry can be especially prone to place an undue importance on statistics. How many people attend our services…the size of the budget and staff…how many seats in our sanctuary…etc.

And often the numbers are truly a significant indicator of God’s blessing on our endeavors. For example, I work at Inspiration Ministries, and in 2015 more than 125,000 people will have clicked the “I prayed the prayer” button on our salvation website. Every four minutes or less, someone is indicating a decision to make Jesus Christ their Lord and Savior! I thank God for this tangible fruit from our outreaches.

Throughout the Bible, we’re frequently told about the number of people involved in one story or another, so it’s fair to conclude that numbers matter to God. However, Jesus also realized how fickle and misleading numbers can be. His ministry rapidly grew to more than 5,000 people, only to fall back to the original 12 disciples when he preached an unpopular message one day (John 6). On another occasion, he experienced a crowd cheering “Hosanna,” followed just days later by some of the same people shouting, “Crucify Him.”  And then all of his disciples scattered at the cross except John. So much for “numbers” as a sign of success.

These illustrations in the life of Jesus also are a reminder that our mission is to make DISCIPLES, not just CONVERTS or fair-weather followers (Matthew 28:19-20). The next time a friend boasts of the Sunday attendance at his church, ask him how many of those people are truly becoming dedicated disciples of Jesus instead of spectators in the crowd.

4.      Have a clear succession plan. Even if you build a very successful organization, the real test will come when you die, retire, or leave. Will your successors have the skills they need to continue and even expand the mission?

Entire books could be written on this, but let me just quote two mind-blowing statements by Jesus about his succession plan. In John 16:7, he assured his disciples that it was actually to their advantage for him to leave them, because then they could be empowered by the Spirit. And he was so confident in the outcome of this empowerment that he promised they would be able to do even greater works then he had done (John 14:12).

So, who are you empowering in the next generation to follow in your footsteps and expand the mission you’ve started?

5.      Understand who you must please in order to be successful. Modern-day CEOs have lots of “bosses” that they must keep happy. For example, they must have the support of the board, the stockholders, and their management team, and it’s incredibly hard to please all of these people. You may not be a CEO today, but there’s a good chance you have many bosses you’re trying to keep happy: spouse, kids, friends, boss at work, pastor, etc.

In contrast, Jesus only had one person he was trying to please. And even before Jesus’s ministry had begun, his Heavenly Father had declared his great pleasure: This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).  

When you recognize that you ultimately have just one Boss (2 Corinthians 5:9), all of life becomes simpler and more peaceful (Psalm 46:10).

My friend, whether you have any aspirations to be a CEO or not, I encourage you to put these 5 success secrets into practice. Your life will surely change for the better. 

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The Presents and the Presence

My precious daughter Molly will turn 30 next month, but I’ll never forget one of her first Christmases. It was 28 years ago, when she was about to turn two.

We had purchased some great presents for Molly, who was our only child at the time. It would be exciting to watch her reaction to the carefully chosen gifts we had purchased.

However, to our amazement, Molly showed very little interest in the toys, clothes, and educational materials we had wrapped for her. Instead, she was fascinated with the shiny bows, labels, and wrapping paper. Rather than appreciating the actual presents, she was having a blast as she tore apart the wrappings.

I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed in her reaction. Didn’t Molly realize that the wrappings were insignificant in comparison to the gifts on the inside?

But God convicted me that day about my tendency to do the very same thing with His presents in my life. I’m often more caught up with the wrappings of the Christian life than with the presents He has prepared for me on the inside. If I like the wrappings, I may proceed to examine the gifts as well. If the wrappings are unimpressive, I sometimes fail to even open the packages.

I remember a Christmas Eve service I attended several years ago. The church had gone all out in preparing a dazzling display of special effects. The huge screens up front were filled with a wide array of specially created graphics. To the normal worship team, the church had added a full orchestra of extremely talented musicians. The overall effect was an astounding “shock and awe” experience of holiday lights and sounds, with high energy and an even higher decibel level.

The pastor preached the gospel that day too. I’m sure he did. But I’m having a hard time remembering anything about his message. It all seemed to get lost in the glitzy wrapping paper surrounding it.

I’m certainly not against creativity and modern technology in presenting the gospel message. But it’s sobering to remember that there weren’t any fancy wrappings around the baby born in a manager 2,000 years ago. The scene surrounding the newborn baby Jesus was starkly simple. Basic. Humanly unimpressive.

The point of the Christmas story was clear, and it should be the point of our church services as well: “They shall call His name Immanuel…God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

You, see God’s PRESENT to us was His PRESENCE with us. That’s why it’s such a tragedy when we get caught up in the shiny bows and wrappings and end up missing the miracle of His presence with us.

Yet I’m afraid this happens all too often. After our church services we typically comment on the quality of the music or the pastor’s message, when the more important issue is whether we ever encountered God’s presence during our time together.

I encourage you to take a few minutes today and examine your own spiritual life. Are you distracted by all of life’s activities…events…people…duties? Or are you enjoying an intimate relationship with the Savior who came to open the gateway to God’s miraculous presence?

Don’t be content with the ribbons and wrappings of the Christian life, my friend. Jesus is the Present who unlocks God’s Presence. We can’t settle for anything less.

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As my to-do list was screaming at me for attention this morning I got to thinking about how and why its voice has gotten so loud in my life. No, no, I know that at my age I should be doing a little less and shouldn't have a to-do list. But, I'm not slowing down and it often seems more gets added to the list than gets cleared from it.


None of that changes the fact that the thing was screaming for attention. Then I noticed a mind-map I'd been doodling the other week and saw that I'd written down TO-BE LIST. I don't even remember thinking about that at the time I was mapping, no idea why or where that idea came from. Well, of course I know, if I didn't you wouldn't be seeing this post here now would you? But, I had just jotted it down and hadn't done anything with it. Until this morning...


Suddenly my screaming to-do list got real quite, kind of a 'if I just shut up for a while he'll move off that idea and we can get back to work" type of quite. Like a rabbit beside the trail, waiting, silent and still to see which way you're going to move. Poor to-do list, I've moved the wrong way and trapped it. Now it's squirming and fighting to get loose so it can run its merry course. Oh, don't worry, I'm not going to kill or harm it - it is after all full of important and worthwhile things that need to get done. It just needs a little taming and the TO-BE list is just the one to do it. So now the to-do must serve the to-be's and I'll be leaving the blotter with the mind-map on top of the desk to remind me that the priority is to-be and the to-do's must serve that purpose. There's another great day ahead!

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