Category Archives: discouragement

Weary yet pursuing

“So where you on the Richter scale, babe? How are you on a scale of 1 to 10?”

Jessica asked me this question the other day, and it wasn’t nearly as easy to answer as it might initially sound. I had to answer it on multiple levels.

I had to answer it practically. Practically, experientially, I wasn’t doing great. If life is a series of peaks and valleys then I think I was scraping the bottom of a valley somewhere. From a practical, factual perspective, I probably logged in between a 2 or a 3.

I also had to answer it emotionally. Surprisingly, my emotions were significantly higher than my factual reality—probably somewhere around a 6. However, before you conclude that I’m too out of touch, or living in a dream world, I should probably mention that my emotions were tied to my third answer.

I also had to answer Jess’ question positionally. I told her, “My circumstances are a 2.5; my emotions are a 6, but my determination is a solid 10. It’s true that I’m a little weary, but my posture, my position—my commitment to keep on running—has never been higher.”

There’s precedent for this in the Bible. After Gideon and his troops routed the Midianites in Judges 8:4 they were described as “weary yet pursuing” and something interesting happened. Divine strength found them as they ran.

Sometimes we can Sabbath (we can regroup, recoup, and withdraw), but sometimes life requires us to run all night. If you are in a running season, please don’t stop and don’t despair. God’s grace knows how to find you even while you run!

The ministry of standing

When Nazi Germany bombed London in the direst moments of WWII, Prime Minister Winston Churchill would routinely climb onto a roof (or on top of his car if he was on the ground) to stand and watch the bombs fall. His defiant silhouette—no doubt replete with his famous Churchillian cigar—was a reminder to anyone who saw him that Great Britain was not defeated yet. His ministry of standing in the face of insurmountable odds injected the citizens of the British Isles with hope and won him the nickname “Lion.”

Did you know that’s your ministry too? Ephesians 6 tells us that there are moments in our lives when we’ve done everything that we know to do and all that remains is for us to climb onto a rooftop and take our stand.

Standing isn’t the most glamorous ministry you will ever have. It’s not the most enjoyable of assignments—indeed, we usually don’t engage in this task until most other options have failed us—however, there is something in the standing that releases the power of God.

And after you have done everything…stand.”

Are you standing today? Are you holding your ground despite overwhelming circumstances? Is your rooftop silhouette a silent reminder that you haven’t lost all faith and that the outcome of your battle is far from over?

History tells us that when England was standing America was stirring. Who knows what heavenly forces are stirring on your behalf as you continue to take your stand?

 

 

Not alone in your darkness

narnia5guardianPsalm 97:2 says that “clouds and thick darkness” surround God, and that’s great news for you and me when we go through our times of cloudy skies and Stygian gloom.

You are not alone in your darkness.

I know it feels like you are. It feels like you’re suffocating and like there is no end in sight. It feels like things will never change and that all of your former hopes were mere illusions bent on mocking you.

Hold steady.

The Scripture employs a strange contrast when describing the atmosphere around God. Sometimes it says that He dwells in unapproachable light, and at other times it shows Him shrouded with the dark. Both descriptions are accurate.

He is present in the dark, but He eventually turns the lights back on.

If you took a moment to recall your history, you would inevitably remember times when darkness had swallowed up your light and you didn’t know which way was up. Then you would also recall how you made it through those times—how God helped you through those times.

One of my favorite literary scenes of all time comes from C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy when Shasta, lost and despairing, encounters Aslan in a dark wood. For a while Shasta thought he was all alone in the dark, but then he perceived a presence beside him. After a while he felt the lion’s breath, then he heard the voice, and eventually he saw the face of Aslan, the High King of High Kings in Narnia.

It’s a picture of Jesus of course. He is there in the dark even if you can’t perceive Him. Eventually you will. After a while you will feel His warming breath, and then you’ll hear His voice, and eventually you will see Him again. When you do, the lights will come back on and you’ll realize you are much further along in your journey than you ever imagined you would be.

The Man in the Arena

cliff-scalingA recurring theme in Theodore Roosevelt’s writings and speeches was “the man in the arena.” Here is one of his classic quotes about such a person—hopefully a man or a woman like you:

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the grey twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

That’s it for today. Some truths are best absorbed through brevity. May Mr. Roosevelt’s words ignite a noble fire in your soul!

William’s 400-meter failure

EUGENE, OR - JUNE 23: Bryan Clay reacts after getting disqualified in the men's decathlon 110 meter hurdles during Day Two of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 23, 2012 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)During the past few months I have been volunteering as the assistant track and field coach at my daughter’s high school. I’ve loved it, and it has been the fulfillment of a dream I’ve carried ever since I first met Pat Stahl, the track and field coach who profoundly shaped my life in high school.

Part of why I love track so much is that its lessons speak so profoundly to our spiritual journey. To spend a day on the track is to witness lessons about perseverance, work ethic, mental preparation, and hitting the wall. It is a sport about running with comrades and also running alone. It’s a tremendous sport that is jam-packed with spiritual truths and metaphors.

I experienced one of those lessons last week when William failed in the 400 meters.

He didn’t actually fail; he just thought he did. Leading up to our last track meet, William (not his real name) was about one second shy of qualifying for league finals in the 400-meter dash, and I was convinced that with some extra training and inspiration he would be able to qualify.

He worked incredibly hard all week, he ran the best race of his life in the meet, but he still failed to qualify. I was proud of him, I commended him for setting a personal record, and then I watched him slump under weighty feelings of personal failure and shame.

I am a competitor and I hate to lose so I understand the post-failing emotions that accompany a moment like William’s. However, after he apologized to me for the 10th time for failing to qualify I realized that something was wrong. He didn’t just feel failure; he felt a sense of shame.

As I spent the next thirty minutes trying to reinforce truth and liberate him from shame I realized that we do the exact same thing. Sometimes we work hard, do our best, fall short of our personal expectations, and then get taken out by shame.

I’m sure my words to William would echo God’s words to you: “I’ve seen your effort…I’m proud of you…you’re doing better than you realize…you’ll do even better next season…you are not a failure…now kick this shame to the curb because WE’VE GOT ANOTHER RACE TO RUN.”

Taking your ball and going home

take your ball and go homeHave you ever had a Jeremiah day?

A Jeremiah day is one where we question our calling, resent the various sacrifices that we have to make in our lives, get angry at God, but then lament our inability to actually walk away from Him.

Jeremiah the prophet hit such low ebb in his ministry that he literally longed to die. He felt tricked and manipulated by God, he cursed the day of his birth, and he wished desperately that he could call it a day and take his ball and go home.

His calling trapped him; however, and refused to let him quit. He said, “If I say, ‘I will not mention His word or speak anymore in his name,’ His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9).

Then two verses later, something changed. He must have seen a glimmer of light or sensed a whisper of God’s presence or word, because Jeremiah went on to say, “But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior.” Other translations say, “But the Lord is with me like a dread champion…like a mighty terrible one…like a fearsome warrior…like an awe-inspiring warrior…like a powerful giant…like an awesome mighty one.”

Do you need to see God in that role? Do you need to know that you’re not walking alone, but that a mighty dread warrior walks beside you? Jeremiah would tell you to carry on; keep walking; don’t quit. Your champion is still with you, and even though the storm might be obscuring His form right now, you too will have moments when the clouds part, the weariness lifts, and you see Him clearly again.

Distracted on Saturday depressed on Sunday

punching-bag discouragementPreachers, teachers, and pastors often express a nearly universal weekend sentiment: they are distracted on Saturday and depressed on Sunday. The pre-preaching preparations start to settle over them by mid-afternoon on Saturday, and the post-preaching depressions start kicking in shortly after their services end on Sunday.

This isn’t always the case of course. Indeed some of our Saturday nights are peaceful and fun, and some Sunday mornings leave us feeling bold and inspired. Unfortunately though, that’s not usually the norm. Usually for us pastors, varying levels of distraction and discouragement mark our weekends.

The distraction and discouragement aren’t inherently bad things—after all, we’re excited to preach and we want to positively impact our hearers—and they can be useful tools to help us grow and draw us deeper into God’s presence and perspective. However, if they’re allowed to gain too great a hold on us, they will inevitably take us out. We will turn too much of our focus inward and we’ll lose precious time with family and friends. We will be present but absent at the same time, and instead of celebrating what God is doing, we will end up fixating on ourselves.

Fortunately, there is a remedy, but you have to love boxing to understand it. It’s called the counterpunch, wherein a fighter throws a swift, countering blow right into the middle of his or her opponent’s barrage. It’s how Evander Holyfield KO’d Mike Tyson back in 1996. A 25 – 1 underdog, Holyfield counterpunched Tyson into submission, ultimately scoring the greatest upset in boxing history. It’s how Floyd Mayweather Jr. has remained undefeated in 49 professional fights.

The counterpunching strategy is simple. When hit, hit. When pushed, push back. Pray. Read a Scripture. Speak truth to yourself. Say out loud that you are rejecting the discouraging lies of the enemy. Pray for someone else. Go for a run. Do something to shake the wet blanket of distracting discouragement, so you can get back in the saddle and carry on.

Although directed at a pastoral dynamic, this post applies to all of us. Whatever your vulnerability is and however and whenever you get hit there—hit back. Counterpunch. It’s the path to boxing upsets and victory in spiritual warfare.