Category Archives: Perseverance

Dealing with Despair

Humans are generally terrible at dealing with difficulties, adversity, sorrow, trials or illness. We tend to whine, mope and feel sorry for ourselves when things don’t seem to be going our way. But God understands and He has placed in Scripture a fail-safe way for us to transcend difficult circumstances, rise above the adversity and refocus on what is truly important. He doesn’t ask us to grit our teeth and go on. He doesn’t ask us to pull ourselves up. He doesn’t even ask us to put on a smile and pretend it doesn’t hurt. In Psalm 13: 1-6, He gives us a template for dealing with difficult times.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?    How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Like David, we are an impatient people! We could endure almost anything if we knew how long it would last, but not knowing the future leads us into despair and our entire perspective on life goes dark.

We accuse God of forgetting us. He doesn’t, of course, but it feels to us like he does. We accuse God of turning His back to us. “He has abandoned me (and we add the melodramatic) – FOREVER!” “Where are You?” we cry. So we “take counsel” in our souls. In other words, we get inside our own heads, park there and go around and round and round which only leads to more depression and anxiety. We are convinced that we have been left on our own and we start to try to figure out our own solutions.

But David knows better, even though he feels alone and abandoned he reaches out to the God he knows is there and the turnaround begins.  David starts to realize that He needs God’s wisdom and perspective. He understands that “taking counsel with himself”, staying inside his own head, will never get him out of his doldrums. He understands that without God’s insight, without God showing up, he will likely just give up either emotionally, physically or spiritually.

Here is where David shows us how to win the victory over despair. “But” is a powerful word. It is a declaration that we will not be held captive by our situation; a declaration that we are choosing a different reality, that we will not be defined by our circumstances. David makes the declaration that he will ground his life, not on his own feelings or self-counsel, but on the foundational, unmovable truths of God’s character. “But I have trusted in your steadfast love.”

This is God’s basic character – Love. I can trust that God will always be true to Himself in His dealings with me. I can expect that God will continue to act according to His Love towards me expressed in Christ Jesus. Trust is a choice, a deposit of faith into the treasury of God’s love. The present circumstances do not change who God is nor do they block the eternal flow of His love, mercy, goodness, compassion, patience toward me. I can bank on that.

And while trust is a function of the mind, rejoicing is an act of the heart. Rejoicing isn’t about being happy. It isn’t putting a good face on and going around saying “Praise the Lord.” Rejoicing is grounding our heart, our deep down core, firmly on God’s present and future deliverance. Not only can we be sure and rejoice in our eventual heavenly home, but we can know that God will not abandon us to the present troubles – He rescues us here and now.

When our focus is on God’s eternal Love and his saving work, we can’t help but express that outwardly through our mouths or body. Our whole being rises up and overflows in worship to Him. Some of might even sing out loud. We remember how He has dealt with us. We look at our lives and see His hand guiding our moments. We recognize that what we thought were seemingly insignificant moments or random happenings were actually His acting to bring us closer to Him.

And we are breathless, humbled and joyful.

This Psalm reflects the arc that our life takes as we live our lives through any troubles. We move from complaining and despair, to crying to God in prayer for help, to a reaffirmation of our relationship with the Father; a relationship not based on trusting our own strength or wisdom, not based on our own goodness or righteousness but a relationship wholly grounded on His love and grace. As we move through the difficulties of life, if we will remember to Trust, Rejoice and Sing, we will be able to say with absolute confidence: It is well with my soul.

The Other Eleven

Some stories in the Bible are so familiar that it is easy just to skim over them and not really think that there is much else to learn. For me, one of those stories is when Peter walks on water. It is found in the Gospel of Matthew:

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. (Matthew 14:22-32)

 So picture this scene in your mind. The disciples are in a boat struggling with a storm that came up suddenly. Then, out of the crashing waves and foamy sea, a figure appears, coming towards them. Any reasonable person would do what the disciples did – panic! Clearly this is some sort of supernatural entity, a ghost, in other words. What else could it be? Real people do not just walk on water. So they scream, call Jesus a ghost and cower in fear.

Most sermons that I’ve heard on this passage focus on Peter. Peter gets out of the boat!  Peter walks on water. Peter starts to sink. Jesus rescues Peter. Peter, Peter, Peter, blah, blah, blah. Let me just say that I am NOT Peter. I am still in the boat with the other eleven watching Peter’s adventure. I can imagine the thoughts and feelings running through their minds. “I’m not going out there! Maybe I should have? Is Jesus going to be mad at me, disappointed with me for not stepping out? I should have recognized Him? How could I not have recognized Him? What kind of idiot am I? What kind of disciple am I? I’m a failure. I missed a chance to show Jesus my faith in Him.” On and on it goes believing they’d “missed it.”

And yet we do the same thing. We are so quick to beat ourselves up when we think we don’t have enough faith, or we aren’t “doing enough” for Jesus. We so easily disqualify ourselves and we throw up our hands and give up. Well here’s the rest of the story. After Peter and Jesus get into the boat, those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (Matt 14:33). The other eleven worshiped Him. They made Him the focus of their hearts and minds and did not wallow in self-pity. They recognized who He was and responded appropriately.

And let me remind you of one other thing. The other eleven in that boat were still sent out by Jesus to preach the Kingdom. The other eleven saw the resurrected Christ. The other eleven received the power of the Holy Spirit. The other eleven went out from Jerusalem and changed the world. They didn’t miss anything.

So, I want to encourage you today as you read this. If you are thinking that you’ve missed “God’s plan for your life.” (Play dramatic music here). If you think your faith isn’t strong enough or you’re too afraid or you can’t see how God could ever use you, remember that regardless of our weaknesses, our screw-ups, our lack of faith, Jesus is still the Son of God. That never changes. Just worship Him. He still loves you very much and hasn’t given up on you. You and the other eleven are in the same boat.

It Is What It Is… or Is It?

No doubt you’ve heard the expression. It pops up everywhere. “It is what it is.” It sounds profound as if the person uttering the phrase is wise and thoughtful, speaking, as it were, of an ultimate reality. But as you think about this just a bit deeper, it seems to me that “it is what it is” has a dark side to it. “IT” can be any situation or circumstance we are currently facing; some difficulty that seems to have gotten the better of us. “IT” seems inescapable, inevitable and unavoidable. “IT” will win in the face of our puny efforts to get around it. So we just shake our heads and with a shrug of our shoulders and defeat in our voice make the pronouncement, “Oh well, it is what it is. I may as well accept my fate.”

My friends, I don’t believe that this fatalistic, defeatist attitude is compatible with our Christian confession. Imagine if you will the retelling of the story of Jesus approaching the city of Nain found in Luke chapter 7. As Jesus approaches the city he encounters a funeral procession carrying the body of a young man out to be buried, his widowed mother weeping behind the casket. Jesus looks upon this scene and his heart breaks. Then he suddenly shakes his head and says, “It is what it is” and walks on by into the city. The young man is still dead and the widow destitute. After all, what could he do about “IT.”

Satan whispers into our ears that it is futile to resist “IT.” Our own flesh screams to let “IT” take its course. Yet we must remember that we have a God who is not bound by “IT.” We have a God who does not see how things appear, but how He wants them to be. We have a God who created out of nothing and calls into beings things that are not. We have a God who has overcome the World, defeated Satan, set us free from the power of Sin and declared with ultimate authority, “That is how IT is!” And we have a God who invited us into His process of transforming and re-forming our world.

That young man lying in the casket in Nain was raised from the dead. The widowed mother received her son back. Life was now different! Jesus didn’t see death and defeat, he saw life and victory. This is what he speaks into all our lives – Life and Victory. So I urge you to throw off the fatalistic pessimism of “It is what it is” and take up the possibilites of the resurrection power of Christ. Things are not as they seem and we know the One who can change them (and us) as we run to Him.

Maintaining our Freedom

In a previous post, I wrote about the freedom that Christ has won for us through His life, death and resurrection (read “True Freedom” here). In the post, I said that in Christ we have been set free in some very significant way.

First, we have been set free from the power of Sin (Romans 6:6).   “Sin is no longer our master. In Christ we are no longer beholden to Sin; we are no longer compelled to carry out those desires and practices of our natural self that are so destructive and demoralizing. We have been unchained from Sin’s power to dictate our life course. This freedom allows us as Christians to choose to obey God, to live godly, righteous lives, to pursue purity.”

Second, Christ freed us from the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:15). We are no longer required to earn or maintain our salvation through self-effort or man-made rules. This freedom allows us to freely pursue an open, joyous relationship with Him.   We are no longer trying to “prove” how good we are or how worthy we are to have been saved.

But Paul goes on in his letter to the Galatians and says something that is truly remarkable and should cause us to pause to consider.  He says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). Did you notice that? “Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery!” Paul is saying that even though Christ has blessed us with this freedom, it is possible for us to revert back into slavery – voluntarily! Why? Why – and how – would we do that? Paul answers that question. Because our flesh – the remnants of our old sinful nature – still tries to pull us back. And unfortunately it is too easy to simply go with the flow and go right back into our old habits, practices and attitudes. In other words, we put the yoke of slavery to Sin or Law on our own shoulders. But Paul says it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a way to maintain our freedom.

 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh…If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Gal 5:16, 25)

 Walking in the Spirit sounds mysterious, weird or super-spiritual, but is simply another way of saying “hanging out” with Christ – abiding – staying connected. This is the stuff of our daily Christian life. We walk in freedom by maintaining a close, open relationship with the Spirit. It is a walk – together – side by side. He does His part – instructs, guides, teaches, convicts – and you do yours – respond. You see, the flesh causes us to try to hide from Him (like Adam), but walking in the Spirit means we deliberately approach Him even, especially, in the most dark moments.

I want to suggest to you three tools, three weapons in our battle against the flesh that will help us stay connected with the Spirit. These three tools, when appropriately deployed maintain our freedom in Christ. These three tools are: Renounce, Repent and Forgive.

The flesh is informed and empowered from the past – all the things we have done or said or all the things that have been done or said to us. This does not mean that everything in our past is bad, there may be much to be thankful for and bless, but we simply acknowledge those areas where damage was done or sin embraced and close the door. That is where “renouncing” comes in. Renouncing is closing the door, disowning, disavowing or rejecting the “deeds of the flesh” in our past and not allowing them to influence our lives today.

I have written about repentance before (Rebellion and Repentance – Part 1, Rebellion and Repentance – Part 2). Repentance keeps our account current with the Lord. It is focused solely on our actions today and doesn’t let things “stack up.” Repentance is not feeling sorry or sad. Instead, it is a decision of the will to make different decisions. Repentance is about changing one’s mind or attitude, not about “mucking about” in our soul looking for junk. It is being open to the Holy Spirit spotlighting areas that grieve Him and agreeing with Him.

Finally, we have the tool of forgiveness. Again I have written about it before (The Hardest Person To Forgive). It is such an important and powerful weapon against the flesh because it short-circuits the flesh’s desire to hate, judge, condemn and seek revenge.  Forgiveness “unhooks” yourself from the effects of the other person’s actions or words by not allowing the other person to control or influence you today. Forgiveness releases the person who hurt you to God’s justice and mercy. It doesn’t mean we excuse or approve the other’s action, it simply means we no longer hold on to the pain. And don’t forget that forgiving yourself is just as important as forgiving others.

So there you have it. Maintaining our freedom in Christ comes from staying close and connected to Him. And He has given us some magnificent tools to help us do just that – to clear the emotional and spiritual clutter – that could hinder our walk with Him. Continue your walk in freedom. He is keeping stride with you each step along the way.

Why Get Out of the Boat

I wrote the post below almost exactly two years ago, but I wanted to revisit it because I’ve been thinking about this story and Peter’s remarkable decision to get out of the boat and follow Jesus into a storm.  I’ve thought to myself, “What would motivate someone to do that?”  “Is there anything that is so important or valuable that is worth risking everything?”  For Peter, there obviously was – being with Jesus.  And I honestly have been asking myself if I would do the same – fear being such a powerful motivator.  So I’m re-posting this not because I have an answer, but because I am still asking the question.  Why would I get out of the boat?  Or better yet, WHEN will I get out of the boat and what would that look like in my life?  I hope this post helps you ask, and answer, these same questions.

Fear of Heights and Stormy Weather                                January 27, 2012

I have to admit at the outset that I am terribly afraid of heights.  I don’t like climbing ladders.  I don’t like being on roofs.  I don’t even like being near windows in tall buildings.  A few years ago, I visited the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington.  To get to the observation deck you had to take a glass elevator (the floor was glass also) and ride on the outside of the tower all the way to the top! Who came up with THAT idea?  I couldn’t look out or down.  I just looked straight ahead at the elevator door until we reached the top.  I tell you this not to embarrass myself – although I just did – but to let you know that I understand what it feels like to leave the comfort of what we know, of what is secure.  I am perfectly content with my feet firmly planted on the ground.  There is no good reason to “rock the boat” and climb anything.  Which brings me to this story about the Apostle Peter found in the Gospel of Matthew:

Immediately after this, Jesus made his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake while he sent the people home. Afterward he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves.  About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came to them, walking on the water. When the disciples saw him, they screamed in terror, thinking he was a ghost. But Jesus spoke to them at once. “It’s all right,” he said. “I am here! Don’t be afraid.”  Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you by walking on water.” “All right, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. (Matthew 14:44-49, NLT)

 So I’m not exactly sure everything that is going on here, but one thing is very clear – Peter is crazy!  They are in a boat in the middle of the lake, fighting a storm and what they think is a ghost shows up next to them on top of the water.  My first reaction would not be, “Hey, I should go out there and join him.”  No, I think I’ll stay in the comfort of my boat, such as it is.  Sure it may be a little rocky, a little wet and unstable, but at least I know I’m reasonably safe.  Boats are where people belong, secure, not out ON the water.  “Stay in the boat,” our brains scream at us!

 Peter, I think, had a different motivation.  If this really was Jesus out there on the water, then Peter wanted to experience everything the Lord had for him.  Peter didn’t want to miss any opportunity to follow or be with Jesus.  If Jesus was there, then Peter was going to be there.  If Jesus was walking on water, as unlikely as that should be, then Peter was going to walk on water.  Peter was willing to risk everything to live the fullness of life with Jesus.  And stepping out of the boat into the storm was certainly a risk, a big risk; after all he could drown, but was a risk worth taking to be with Jesus.

 Here’s what we need to think about.  Most of us would likely stay in the boat – like the other eleven disciples.  That is the reasonable thing to do.  Most of us would listen to our inner voice telling us to stay in the boat.  I understand.  It makes sense and it is scary out there on the water in the midst of our life storms.  Many of us have built “boats” in our attempt to be safe or at least have some semblance of safety in our lives.  But we’ve built those boats out of the planks of fear, anger, frustration, pain, self-effort, self-protection or control.  We’ve convinced ourselves that as long as we stay in the boat, the storm won’t get to us.  However, remember that Jesus is not in the boat!  He is out there in the middle of the storm telling us that it is safe to go to Him.  He is not some illusion, some nice idea or some good but misguided teacher.  No, He is real and He is really God.  And being on the water, in the storm with Jesus is better than trying to live in our boats and just get by.

 Getting out of our boats may seem terrifying, just like climbing a ladder is for me.  But getting out of the boat doesn’t have to be traumatic or dramatic.  I think it starts with simply recognizing that our boat isn’t such a good place to be – it’s not as safe, secure or reliable as we would like to believe.  Life with Jesus is much better, more fulfilling than floundering about in our self-made rowboat.   When He calls us out to Him, we can, like Peter, risk everything to be with Him.  When He calls us out to Him, we respond by letting go of all those things we think will protect us and stay focused on Him – who He is and what He is saying to us.  I can’t promise it will be easy.  The storms will still come and they will be frightening, but think about the adrenaline rush, the adventure, of walking above and through the storm with Jesus.  Now that is a journey worth taking. Oh, and don’t forget the raincoat.

Joseph’s Path to Greatness

We find in the book of Genesis the story of Joseph, one of Jacob’s 12 sons.  I’m sure you know the story, at least, the part about his technicolor coat.  His whole story is told in chapters 37 through 48, but in summary it goes like this.  Joseph had several dreams in which his brothers would be bowing down to him – his older brothers no less.   His brothers did not appreciate what they perceived as arrogance and insolence so they first threw him into a pit then sold him as a slave to Egyptian traders.  He was then sold to an Egyptian man named Potiphar and there succeeded until Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him.  He resisted and she falsely accused him of attempted rape.  This landed him in prison.  There he found favor with the jailer and fellow inmates who later deserted him and forgot about him.

At this point, I would have expected Joseph to be really bitter against his brothers and none too happy with God for letting all those bad things happen.  He’d be saying something like, “God what about the dreams you gave me?  What about my family?  Why am I stuck in Egypt?  This wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen.  What did I ever do to deserve such bad treatment?”  But this isn’t the end of the story.

In prison Joseph languished until the day one of his former fellow inmates recommended him to Pharaoh to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams.  Pharaoh was so impressed he promoted Joseph to administer his kingdom.  Joseph achieves greatness!  In the meantime, back home his family was experiencing a famine and they go to Egypt to buy food from none other than their brother Joseph who they did not initially recognize.  When they approach Joseph to ask for food, they all bow down to him – just like in the dreams.  In the end, Joseph was reunited with his entire family as they moved to Egypt under Joseph’s care and protection.

Here’s my point, God had indeed given young Joseph a calling, a mission, if you will, for his life.  He would achieve a place of authority.  But to fulfill his calling, Joseph would experience abandonment, deprivation, accusations, and betrayal.  And his path to greatness would be delayed by decades.  Yet Joseph ended up in the right place and time to help his family and assure that God’s people would be provided for.  God’s great plan of salvation was in full swing.  God’s ways are inscrutable and, from our perspective, seem random and frustrating.  We want a direct line from now to then on a path of ease and comfort, but that is not how He works.  He never has and I don’t think He ever will because He sees things further down the road than we could ever imagine.  He knows which zigs and zags are necessary to carry out His plan.  We don’t.

I believe we all have a calling, a calling to some level of greatness in the Kingdom.  We just don’t know what path we will need to take to get there.  I’m not saying that we will experience everything that Joseph did, but the path will certainly not be what we imagine – or even prefer.  That doesn’t mean we won’t end up in exactly the right place at the right time.  In the meantime, as we wait on God, what do we do?  We simply live our lives in a way “worthy of the calling” (Ephesian 4:1) and not minimize the impact we are already having on those around us.  After all, that is part of the greatness of the Kingdom, here and now.

Asking the Impossible

This is probably one of my favorite stories in the Bible.  I find it so compelling and I return to it often for inspiration and encouragement.  It is the story of the blind man Bartimaeus and his interaction with Jesus.  Here is the story as found in the Gospel of Luke.   (In the gospel of Mark is where we find the man’s name).

As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.  (Mark 18:35-43  ESV)

What has always stood out to me in this story is his boldness, his audacity.   When asked by Jesus, “what do you want?” Bartimaeus did not hesitate.  He went for broke.  You see he could simply have asked Jesus for some money to make it through the day.  He could have asked Jesus for advice on a better location for begging.  He could simply have settled for “just enough to get by.”  He was blind and there was no point in trying to change that – right?  Wrong!  Bartimaeus asked for the impossible.  He asked for something that only God could do!  He wants to see.  He wanted his blindness gone.  That my friends takes hutzpah.  And that to me is encouraging part of this story, because while this may be a very nice story and we are very happy for Bartimaeus’ good fortune 2000 years ago, it still has application to us today.

I think that many of us are blind – perhaps not physically blind, but certainly spiritually or emotionally blind.  I think we are blinded by our assumptions about how life should be, how a Christian should act or speak or dress, what we deserve, what our worth is.  These assumptions blind us to the possibilities of a fuller life in Christ,  to a life that takes us off the roadside of begging and enables us to join Jesus in all His glory.  We are also blinded by arrogance.  We think we have made something of ourselves and doing ok.  We don’t need much and don’t ask for much.  We rely on our own resources and skills.  Our arrogance blinds us to the need to ask Jesus for help.  We don’t even recognize our blindness and live our lives only within what we can control.  And finally, I think that too often fear blinds us.  We are too afraid to approach God because He might say no… or worse yet, He may say yes.  Then what?  Everything will change and we all know that change is bad.  We would rather stay in our blindness where we are comfortable than dare ask to see.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live a life that is limited by my own assumptions, arrogance or fear.  I don’t want to stay by the side of the road begging just to get by and miss what Christ has to offer.  I want to see everything that He has prepared for me and join Him in LIFE!  I want to ask God for the impossible, for what only He can do, for that miracle that transforms lives.  I don’t want to be blind anymore.  That is what I learn from Bartimaeus.

So my question to you is, “What will you ask for when Jesus shows us and wants to know what you want?”  Will you ask Him for just enough or will you ask Him for the impossible.