I’m probably preaching to the choir when I say this, but time is going by so fast! Last year, I turned 40. So entering a new decade prompted me to challenge myself to have more balance in enjoying the journey to achieving my goals instead of waiting to be happy once I accomplished my endeavors. 

Don’t get me wrong, I still have some work to do in this department, but I’m enjoying the journey to my destination much more than I used to. One of the reasons I believe this is the case is because I intentionally focused on my theme word last year, which was CULTIVATE.

For those new to the show, every year, I choose one word and a song that serves as a quick reminder to help keep me on track to achieving the goals I want to accomplish that year. Of course, a theme word or song will not get you from A to B. A goal without a plan is just a wish. I’m big on goal setting, so if you’re curious about how I approach my goals, feel free to download the goal-setting planner on the Hustle in Faith website, and I’ll also place the link in the show notes.

So anyway, last year, my word was CULTIVATE. I am a nerd.  I knew I would have to learn new skills to acquire the resources to help me get to the next level. I’m not saying that I have arrived, but at some point, you have to start implementing the skills you acquired.  I love to learn, so I can quickly go down the rabbit hole of researching a topic to death, but having all that knowledge will never benefit you unless you act on it.  So my word for this year is EXECUTE. 

Last year, for a variety of reasons, was a hectic and challenging year. Check out episode 207. However, one lesson in particular last year reinforced that if you put God first, you can have faith that He will provide you with the knowledge, wisdom, and resources necessary so you don’t have to feel like you need to depend on other people. “I count on me,” by Aloe Blacc, is my theme song for this year. I love Aloe Blacc, and his music really resonates with me. 

The song I Count on Me feels like my life story. The first verse:

It’s that I’m sick of sitting, waitin’ my turn 

I’ve been knocked around, pushed to the ground

People try to hold me down

But here’s a little thing that I’m sure about

I’m gon’ be standin’ firm

When I get back up again

I count on me

You’re probably nodding in agreement if you’re anything like me. We can’t choose the cards life deals to us, but we’re in charge of how we choose to play them. So my question is, “How will you handle the cards life deals to you this year?” 

Throughout this year, life will deal you good hands and bad hands. A bad hand means you’re forced to deal with negative circumstances, like receiving horrible cards in a card game. A good hand means you’re fortunate enough to deal with favorable circumstances, like having great cards in a card game.

We would all love it if life gave us nothing but good hands, but that’s unrealistic. Jesus already said that we would have trouble in this world but that if we rely on Him, He will give us the peace that surpasses all understanding (John 16:33, Phil 4:7). Knowing that we can be dealt a bad hand at any moment should keep us on our toes. We must be prepared for all the possible ways to react when we get a bad hand.

Life can deal us a bad hand, and we decide to fold. This means that we get a bad hand and give up. We walk away. This is precisely what Vashti did in the book of Esther. Some of you may be wondering, “ Who is Vashti?” I get it! Vashti was the Queen married to King Xerxes before Esther. For six months, King Xerxes displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty (Esther 1: 4). 

Once he was done showing off his wealth, King Xerxes had a banquet for seven days. On the 7th day, King Xerxes commanded each guest to be allowed to drink with no restrictions. On the last day of the banquet, King Xerxes wanted to show off his wife’s beauty while wearing the royal crown in front of all these drunk men. So he sent one of his servants to get her and deliver her to the king, but Queen Vashti refused to come. 

King Xerxes got mad. He sought advice from the “wise” men in his counsel about what he should do. Those men said you have to dethrone her from being Queen. These men were thinking about themselves. They worried that if the queen could get away with not listening to the King and other women heard about what happened; they would feel empowered to react as Vashti did. So instead of King Xerxes taking time to think for himself, he listened to his counsel. The rest of the story set in motion how Esther becomes his future queen and saves the Jews from being killed.

Now without a doubt, Esther is the star of this show, but there are lessons that we can learn from Vashti. She had a bad hand by being married to a man that was drunk with power and alcohol. Vashti did the right thing by removing herself from the situation. She knew that by refusing to obey a command from the King that she could be jeopardizing her ability to remain Queen of Persia. Vashti knew her dignity was more important. She dared to stand by her convictions and was willing to pay the consequences of her actions.

How many of us remain in toxic friendships, work environments, etc., all because we’re too afraid to give up? God has plans for us (Jer 29:11). However, we all have free will. Sometimes we tend to hold on to the wrong things in our lives so tightly that none of the other blessings God has in store for us can get in unless we’re willing to open our hands. Unless we’re willing to fold our bad hand, God can’t give us new cards to play with. Once we fold, we can get new cards. This will allow us the opportunity to start over so we can position ourselves to see the plans God has in store for us materialize in our lives.

Sometimes, when we don’t feel like God is moving fast enough if we have a bad hand, we may cheat so we can win. That’s exactly what Athaliah did (2 Kings 11; 1 Chronicles 22–23). However, unlike Vashti, Queen Athaliah was a wicked queen. Queen Athaliah was a bad person, received a bad hand, and attempted to cheat so she could win. Winning for her meant reigning over Judah by whatever means necessary.

Queen Athaliah’s story is wild! She was evil, just like her mother Jezebel, and taught her son to act the same way. Her son ends up getting assassinated. Instead of grieving his death, she takes this as an opportunity to kill her grandsons so she can reign over Judah because she would be the only person left alive in their family. However, Queen Athaliah didn’t realize that one of her grandsons had escaped. With the help of Jehosheba, Queen Athaliah’s grandson Joash remained in hiding for six years. Once he turned seven years old, the high priest, Jehoiada, crowned Joash king, and high priest Johiada ordered his guards to kill Queen Athaliah.

Queen Athaliah is a prime example of what happens when you allow an ego to go unchecked. She literally thought the world was supposed to revolve around her. I still can’t believe she killed her grandsons just so she could sit on a throne to reign over a kingdom when she couldn’t even control her own emotions. 

You can take comfort in the fact that even if you get caught up in someone else’s nonsense, God will make a way for you to escape as he did for her grandson Joash. God has an amazing way of leveraging people’s evil intentions to propel us to our destiny. 

It’s amazing when people try to set you up that they fall within their own trap. I’ve experienced this firsthand. I’m out here minding my own business, living my best life, only to find out someone didn’t like me because of ABC or that I was a little too efficient on the job and got upset that I wouldn’t dumb myself down. 

Folks like Athaliah expect the world to adjust to them. The world doesn’t work this way. Sooner or later, those who share Athaliah’s mindset will realize that cheating may give you the illusion that you won, but you won’t be able to enjoy what you gained because you didn’t earn it the right way. You’ll be constantly looking over your shoulder, wondering if someone else will hurt or steal your desire, just like you did to get it.

Instead of being deceitful, Athaliah could have been like Jabez and asked God to deal her some new cards so she could stay in the game. Can you imagine how hurt Jabez must have felt finding out the meaning of his name?  Jabez literally means “pain.” His mom called him this because she bore him in pain. Through no fault of his own, she passed the misery she experienced onto her son. (1 Chronicles 4: 9). I’m sure he had low self-esteem because life and death are in the power of the tongue. The words we speak help create the direction in which we choose to go. 

Jabez had no desire to live up to his name. He wanted something better for his life. He saw he had a bad hand and asked the dealer (aka God) for new cards. Jabez asked God to bless him, enlarge his territory, not to leave him, and protect him from harm. God granted his request (1 Chronicles 4: 9).

There are so many lessons we can learn from Jabez. However, the main lesson that resonates with me is that I have the power to accept or reject the cards dealt to me. The same applies to labels. People create and attempt to put labels on us because they are projecting what they may be currently experiencing in their own lives. Misery loves company. That’s why I am VERY careful of who I associate with and take advice from. If I feel like you’re adding more obstacles than contributing value in my life, then you can expect to find yourself outside my circle of trust real fast. 

This is a prime example of why it’s important to filter our thoughts in order to ensure they align with what God says about us (2 Cor 10:5). People can say what they want about you. However, if we truly believe we’re members of His royal priesthood, what people think and say about us will go in one ear and out the other. This is easier said than done, but it can be done. You just have to show God that you’re willing to take that first step so He can guide you down the right path.

Even when He takes you down the right path, you may experience some fear and frustration along the way. Just don’t allow your fear and frustration to keep you from continuing your journey like Jonah.

Jonah had a good hand, but he didn’t want to play his hand. He chose to delay the game. So for those of you unfamiliar with Jonah. He was a prophet that God commanded to go to Nineveh. Nineveh was a very wicked city, and God wanted Jonah to go there to preach. God wanted Jonah to tell the residents of Nineveh that they were wrong and needed to repent in order to get back on God’s good side. 

Jonah was like, “Nope.” Instead, he thought that he could run away from God. He went to Joppa to buy a ticket for a boat that was headed to Tarshish. During the journey to Tarshish, there was a very strong storm that threatened to rip the boat in half. Believe it or not, Jonah was asleep the whole time. The captain couldn’t believe it. He asked Jonah to pray to God so that they all would not die. 

To make a long story short, Jonah finally took responsibility. He told the crew that he was the reason for the storm and to throw him overboard. Once they did that, the sea grew calm, and a huge fish swallowed Jonah. He spent three days and three nights inside this fish, praying for forgiveness. Then the Lord commanded the fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land. Joah goes to Nineveh and shares the message God commanded him to do so. The people of Nineveh turned from their evil ways, and God didn’t destroy the city. 

God knew that Jonah had the skills to warn and persuade the people of Nineveh to repent and live a righteous life. Think about how many lives were saved when Jonah finally decided to play his hand.  Yet, Jonah, either out of fear or frustration, did not want to obey God. He literally had to be swallowed by a fish before being convinced that it was in his best interest to obey God. 

This begs the question, how many of us are not using the talents God blessed us with to help other people? I’m embarrassed to admit this, but for a very long time, I sat on the idea of doing this podcast. People always told me, “ Tosha, you have a great voice,” or “Hey, Tosha, what do you think about XYZ?” It wasn’t until I lost everything that I finally came to my senses. If you want to learn more about my story, check out episode 184.

The faster you play a good hand, will place you in a position to sharpen your skills so you can stay in the game. That way, once you get really good, you can be like Mary. She realized she had a good hand and immediately played her cards. The Angel Gabriel went to Nazareth to tell Mary that she was highly favored by God and that she had been chosen to bring Jesus into the world. Mary could have easily complained or tried to persuade God to choose someone else. Instead, she chose to accept her assignment. She said, “I am the Lord’s servant; may your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38).

I hate to admit this, but I didn’t have Mary’s attitude. When God started adding knowledge to my mental library. I was frustrated and angry, but I didn’t realize I had a good hand. Luckily God blessed me with a very business/law-savvy mom, so I got a chance to increase my knowledge by shadowing my mom. 

Mary’s attitude is the perfect reminder that when God tells us to do something, we should be honored to have the opportunity to work on a special assignment with Him. Like Mary, we should have a “bring it on” attitude. 

As you go through this year, remember life is going to deal you a variety of hands. Your ability to quickly discern how to play those hands will reduce the time it takes to win.  

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