Anyone can start a race, it's the finishing part that strains the spirit, body, and soul. Really, anything in life is pretty easy to start; it's easy to start a diet, it's easy to start cleaning out a closet, it's easy to start a fitness regiment, it's easy to start a budget strategy, etc. etc. etc.
When life's surprises drop in uninvited we usually can muster the courage and strength to start the journey, but as time passes, strength and bravery begin to wane; confusion, doubt, and anger relentlessly intrude in on our thoughts. These are those nasty, uninvited, minions that taunt and torment the strongest of us. Try as we may, the water well of perceived strength is discovered to be empty at times. In our attempt to muster up the slightest semblance of the warrior of yesterday we end up scraping the bottom of the well that has now grown rather barren and crusty. The race, once so valiantly approached, now seems to be moving at a turtle's pace.
The desire for someone, anyone, to really understand your particular situation is ultimately an attempt in futility. There will be those with similar stories etc. but the impact on your life in particular cannot really be understood by anyone in general. It's no one's fault of course, our individual journey is just that, individual...solo. So as the journey is individual, so too the things that help. What helps someone else does not seem to often fit the need inside, personally, where the cracks and crevices seep out despair.
Then, you might ask, where do we land in this journey of the unknown? A reasonable question, a not so easy answer. I noticed my little bio on my Facebook page the other day that says, “I am committed to my commitment to Jesus Christ. I have purposed in my heart to stand in the midst of the storm with my face to the wind.” I made that statement early on in this long journey but when I re-read it, I realized it is still true, and it is still my stand!
Therefore, having so vast a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, and throwing off everything that hinders us...let us keep running with endurance the race set before us... -Hebrews 12:1
There was a cartoon that showed a man getting his fortune told by a fortuneteller. As she looked him over she said, “you will be sad and miserable and poor until you are 30.”
“Gee,” the man replied, hoping for a change in fortune... “what happens when I'm 30?”
The fortune-teller replied, “then you'll get used to it.”
Our reaction to the circumstances of our lives will have everything to do with our sense of well-being and success. It affects our ability to be thankful even in challenging circumstances. It is our perspective that counts and a determination to see beyond what's in front of our eyes.
I remember when we decided to move to Dallas, TX from beautiful Hilton Head Island, SC. We had friends that questioned our sense; “really, you're moving to the jungle of city living in landlocked Dallas, TX from your beautiful resort home, a fifteen minute walk from the beach?” In retrospect I can see that that may have looked like a questionable move.
I did have several months of adjustments and could have allowed depression to set in and dictate my attitude, but I decided to find something that I thought was beautiful about the Texas landscape and focus on that. I chose the bluebonnets that bloom every spring. If you've not yet experienced this wonder in blues and purples you have missed an extravagant spectacle of God's artistic breath…hills and sides of highways covered with flowers in the midst of the hustle and bustle of traffic. Many a day you will see this traffic halted to a slow crawl and even some people stopping to gaze at this spring wonder. There are always people and families tromping through the maze of color and having pictures taken to commemorate this brief interlude of beauty splattered across the Texas scenery. It is a view that is too short-lived but one that is etched in your memory so keenly you anticipate the ritual return with anticipation.
We must learn to make the best and choose to see the best in any situation...you may not be able to change your situation but you can change your attitude.
Two men looked from prison bars,
One saw mud, the other stars.
The Thanksgiving celebration is almost upon us. You may find yourself in limiting or frustrating circumstances, but choose today and ask for His perspective...mud may be all around but look up...you'll see stars.
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. -I Thess. 5:18
Our Christian world we live in is not a make-believe world where there are no questions or no problems. It is a world we walk out every day by faith and yet doubt sits on our shoulder looking for any opening to pounce and shake us loose from our moorings. Our faith is being attacked on every level and it seems the only stance that is not acceptable in our culture is being a Christian. And the problem worsens because we feel so inept and feel our intellectual deficiencies are only highlighted by our weak response to these assaults...and doubt digs in a little deeper.
No wonder, at times, we falter as believers in the midst of this disbelieving age. The cultural situation we are facing today, with Christian beliefs and values being mocked and ridiculed, has provoked the serious problem of doubt for many Christians. I believe what has been most damaging is not the fact that Christians doubt, but the lack of honesty regarding our personal struggles with doubt. It is beneficial to have a healthy understanding of doubt because testing comes to us all.
“Faith,” as one author suggests, “is a radical reliance on God.” It's not faith in our faith, or faith in our friends, or faith in our culture, or faith even in our Bible knowledge; these are all substitutes and they will come up short if we rely on these during our times of struggle, and/or testing. “...what is doubt but faith suffering from mistreatment or malnutrition?” -Os Guinness
Doubt is not the opposite of faith, unbelief is. To believe is to be of one mind, to disbelieve is to be of another mind, and to doubt is to be in between...doubt then is a half way stage but if not checked can move on into unbelief. Doubt is not always fatal but it is always serious. Again, left unchecked or unchallenged doubt can neutralize our hold on faith and can be the prelude or origin of unbelief. Too many Christians find their life of faith a boring, joyless affair. Why? Because there has been a subtle mixing of Christian and non-Christian ideas that have slipped into our way of life. We find ourselves halfhearted because we're double-minded. We try to find the best in both worlds, but we ultimately find the best of neither and end up with the worst of each.
What and why we believe is not blind faith. Our faith is not blind, rather it sees the invisible. Take the story of Abraham and the conflict of the promised heir, Isaac, and God's new command to now go and sacrifice him. Abraham wasn't acting on blind faith, he was trusting in a God that he already knew. He couldn't see the outcome but he trusted in the One who knew the outcome…"he knew why he trusted God who knew why.”
“Unless each of us wrestles with the truth of our own faith, we will end up with opinions rather than convictions. No conviction is truly our own unless we are prepared to hold it even if the rest of the world is against it.”
Martin Luther, defending himself before the Roman Emperor closes his appeal with these words: “My conscience is taken captive by God's word, I cannot and will not recant anything. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. So help me God.”
Let's not doubt God...let's rather doubt our doubt.
The aforementioned quotes were taken from God in the Dark by Os Guinness.
Persevere, persist, continue...can you tell I'm trying to say something? Have you ever felt like there was a big red target on your back and that about the time things are going relatively smooth, even in the midst of challenges, a razor sharp dart hits you strategically smack between the shoulder blades... metaphorically speaking. You may have been managing, you developed coping skills and strategies with the help of the Lord and you had a tenuous, at best, sense of well being for the moment. Well, don't get comfortable!
The book of James has been my consistent reading over these past few days. James, it appears, has an insight into the trials and temptations of life that most of us might miss. Sometimes when I read verses like, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds..." I want to look James in the eye and say, "Really?" "You really think I ought to consider it pure joy?" Gathering my emotions I press on into further reading knowing and trusting James has his reasons for such a blatant declaration. And there it is...that word, because; a seemingly innocuous little part of speech, referred to as a conjunction, that connects the statement with the reason. "...because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." Oh, okay then, the goal is perseverance with the definition being: continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition; steadfastness.
Why can't good times be used to produce perseverance? Why can't peaceful, contented times produce perseverance? Simplistic questions with an even simpler answer...because they can't and don't! There is nothing wrong with having good times and peaceful, contented times, we get those too and we get them to enjoy. But James is after something here, a greater gain than even happiness, he's after eternal rewards and only trials produce perseverance and only those who persevere under trial get the prize...a crown of life. "Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him."
Does it help to have this information when in the midst of a trial? The answer is a resounding YES! So much of our life is peppered with trials and only coming to a settled realization that it is not all about the 'here and now' it's also about the 'then and there.' This truth will assist us to persevere, to be steadfast, to hang on, hang in, hold on and carry on! There's a crown waiting; a crown that we will receive for persevering. It is not the kind of crown that we will prance around wearing pointing to a bejeweled headpiece, no,no,no, it's a crown that we will be able to lay at His feet. On that final day, when we all stand to give an account, we sure don't want to stand there empty handed.
It has been said, "Who can mind the journey when the road leads to home?"
We always think our spiritual journey is somehow unique. We have the unsupported belief that the things that happen to us, only happen to us and they happen only to us because there is something terribly wrong with us!
While we are, by design, unique individuals the trauma of unbelief and life circumstances comes to us all, albeit in varying degrees and descriptions.
I had the privilege of teaching a class on the Minor Prophets at Christ for the Nations Bible Institute. Each prophet has its own unique style and varying insights and purposes within similar messages. One particularly interesting character is the prophet Habakkuk. What kind of name is that and what were his parents thinking??? While those may be first response questions a look at the prophet’s message soon takes precedence over his unusual name. The theme of the book of Habakkuk is “The perplexing ways of God.” The message revolves around Habakkuk’s queries regarding the ways of God and is basically an account of his pilgrimage from doubt to worship, from questioning to assurance, from unbelief to faith. Whatever terms you want to use the message is clear; it is his life’s testimony. It documents his journey from complaints to confidence, from doubting to trusting, and from the valley to high hills. Isn’t that true for all of us? Our life is a pilgrimage from one extreme to another; from darkness to light, from weakness to strength from unbelief to faith!
The ups and downs and back and forths of life are not unique to our spiritual journey but are consistent with the testimony of many men and women of God found in scripture. Habakkuk begins his dialog with God, like many of us, with a complaint and then a ‘why’ question, “O Lord, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear?…Why do you show me iniquity, and cause me to see trouble?”
After the prophet rehearses his position of frustration, disappointment and even despair because of the dire circumstances around him, he concludes his musings with, I believe, inspired insight by proclaiming, “The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills.” A key verse in Habakkuk,“…the just shall live by his faith.” The phrase, ‘shall live’ means to not only just live, but to stay alive!
He will make me walk on my high hills, live by faith and stay alive!
It seems that anytime I am about to start a new adventure or respond to a new opportunity, I go through the most debilitating warfare of feeling as if I am simply unable to do what is required of me; insecurities, doubt, and intimidation try to reign. There are times that I literally feel like running away but never quite sure where to go! I read a statement in some article years ago that went something like this, …wherever you go, there you are. So forget running away, your insecurities will be there when you arrive. The voices we hear when the enemy is trying to undermine our calling comes through loud and clear. We ‘all’ hear voices at one time or another. I hate that and I have to fight it off and persevere in the knowledge that it is God who calls and equips. “…I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry…” ( I Timothy 1:12)
Understanding the purpose behind this kind of warfare helps. The harassment of the enemy comes for one main reason…to keep you and I from impacting the people God has called us to influence; to neutralize that influence and to render us impotent. The enemy is not a bit threatened by our sermonizing or our oft quoted platitudes as long as we never step beyond that into ministry that plows the soil of people’s lives so that they may receive the seed of God’s word. It is His truth that transforms lives.
A vital aspect of influential ministry is the ability to take the shattered pieces of our lives and offer them as emblems of the staying power of God. I’ve probably said this before but indulge me. It is not our gifts that qualify us but rather our scars! Henri Nouwen addresses some necessary attributes for leaders of tomorrow in his little book, The Wounded Healer: “It is a painful fact indeed… how poorly prepared most Christian leaders prove to be when they are invited to be spiritual leaders in the true sense…They have become unfamiliar with, and even somewhat afraid of, the deep and significant movements of the spirit…The man who can articulate the movements of his inner life...is able to create space for Him whose heart is greater than his, whose eyes see more than his, and whose hands can heal more than his.”
What we have to offer to others ( and what the enemy wants to disrupt) is our ability to articulate with those who are afraid, the things we have seen, heard, touched, and overcome. We must be willing to put our own ‘tried’ faith at the disposal of those who need our help.
When the enemy comes and sits on our shoulder and shouts into our ears that ‘we are unable’…shake yourself, flick that demon off and show your scars!
I remember several years ago stopping by to see Mrs. Freda Lindsay, co-founder of Christ for the Nations. She was 95 years old at the time and we had become good friends through the years. She has always encouraged me and supported me in ministry…she liked it that I was loud enough for people to hear!
She said there were always people coming to see her lately ‘snapping pictures!’ However, she didn’t hesitate when I asked for another picture to be ‘snapped.’
She is a woman I greatly admire and respect because she has survived more than most of us will ever even face. I respect survivors. I trust people with scars.
Some life lessons I learned from Mrs. Lindsay:
-When you don’t feel good, don’t stay in your pajamas. Get up and get dressed; don’t let the devil know how you feel.
-When you are confronted with a battle, enter into warfare immediately. Many battles are lost in the first few minutes because we wait too long to engage and we allow the enemy to gain ground.
-Read what your critics say and then, ‘get over it.‘
-When some diabolical warfare attacks you don’t waste time trying to figure it out, just acknowledge that it is ‘pure devil.‘
-Don’t get caught up in every new thing that comes to the Body of Christ; maintain your foundation.
-To keep yourself from ever falling, read your bible through every year…three chapters a day and five on Sunday.
I told her many times that I want to be just like her when I grow up!
mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. (merriam/webster dictionary)
Courage…the strength that makes us move forward when our feet want to retreat. (susan bozarth)
Courage…the ability to face the unknown with tear-stained cheeks but head erect. (susan bozarth)
"Courage rises when the cause is greater than the circumstances." (winston churchill)
"Courage is not the absence of fear nor the guarantee there are no risks." (winston churchill)
"Life is expanded in proportion to courage." (unknown author)
"Courage is fear that has said its prayers." (unknown author)
"Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway." (John Wayne)
“Be strong and of good courage…” (joshua 1:6)
“Only be strong and very courageous…” (joshua 1:7)
“Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (joshua 1:9)
"Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened." (Billy Graham)
I just wanted to ‘encourage’ you to look upon yesterday as a victory, face today with faith and tomorrow with courage.
II Timothy 1:7- For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
I hate fear. It really annoys me. It is paralyzing, intimidating, harassing, and frustrating to name just a few descriptive words and more significantly it is a spirit. (II Timothy 1:7) Even with these graphic words a clear picture of what fear does to a person is not really revealed. It takes your breath away at one moment and turns you into a creeping, skulking, wretch the next. I hate fear. I hate what it does to me and I hate what it does to other people.
The interesting thing about fear is that it changes as we get older. The theme of our fear may change but the torment remains the same. When I was a little girl I was afraid the sun would fall (it hasn’t…yet) and I was really afraid that my older brothers would lock me in the bathroom or barn or some other scary place. While the first fear never materialized the second fear came true way too often and to my brothers delight I screamed and cried like a baby. While those fears left no lingering results…or did they? Other more ‘grown-up’ fears seem to take a toll on our very being.
Since fear is a ‘spirit’ the only way to fight spiritual battles is spiritually. Now I know that is not great revelation but sometimes we do forget some of our basic teachings and foundations from years gone by. If God has not given us a spirit of fear what has He given us?
He has given us power – But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you. (Acts 1:8)
He has given us love – There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear. (I John 4:18)
He has given us a sound mind – …we have the mind of Christ. (I Corinthians 2:16)
We must fight spiritual battles with the spiritual weapons (truths)that He has provided.
I remember, as a young Christian one of the very first scriptures I memorized. Let me encourage you with it now.
Isaiah 41:9-10 – …Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.
We are always trying to make sense of the messes that present themselves to us in maddening regularity. We, in our narrow and limited attempts, try to understand the 'why' of the thing. But the truth is this...it doesn't matter ‘what’ the mess is, He is there…not just in the middle of it, but over, under, and all around it; and He will take you ‘through’ it! He promised! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. Isaiah 43:2
I know most of us would prefer immediate deliverance from the mess or challenge, or situation, or whatever the circumstances but God has His reasons and purposes! He never seems in a hurry either! If we could resign ourselves from the need to understand the reason we could move forward and trust Him for the purpose.
I read this statement sometime ago, “something wonderful survives everything terrible!” We need to embrace that truth...whatever is left from our season of challenge will be beautiful...because it survived...and not only 'it' survived, WE survived! We cannot reason, understand, or even imagine all that God has for us as we walk out His purposes without every getting or even needing, an explanation of ‘why.’
No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love him. I Corinthians 2:9
You may or may not need this book, but I guarantee you know someone who does. If misfortune in life is trying to destroy you or someone you know, I have wonderful news for you: this book will help you keep living.