Category Archives: perseverance

Meanwhile we groan

At Grace Church we just finished a church-wide 90-day reading campaign where we read all of the words of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. The unique thing about this reading plan was that we only read Jesus’ words—we ignored the entire surrounding context.

I know. I know.

We’re not supposed to read the Bible that way. We’re supposed to understand the Scripture’s context so that we don’t misinterpret or misapply its message. We’re not supposed to lift an isolated passage out of context or we run the risk of “proof-texting”. Even so, it was very powerful for me to read Jesus’ words all by themselves. Hearing Him say, “I am willing; be clean” or “I have chosen you” or “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven” and just absorbing those words was exhilarating.

Although I don’t generally advocate a “proof-texting” context-less reading of Scripture, I had another experience today where a single phrase of Scripture lifted up off the page and spoke to me. In 2 Corinthians 5, the Apostle Paul was painting a vivid picture of our promised eternal state with God, and then he said, “Meanwhile we groan” (verse 2).

For some reason that phrase spoke to me on multiple levels:

  • Our ultimate hope is secure…but meanwhile we groan.
  • The Gospel keeps advancing in our lives…but meanwhile we still groan.
  • God will finish what He has begun in us…but in the mean time we still endure some groaning.

This isn’t pessimism! This isn’t a gloomy, Eeyore perspective on life. It’s a validation of our groaning. It’s recognition that sometimes—even amidst God’s potent promises—there is a groaning in this life that has to be endured.

Please be assured that our groaning isn’t the final word—rejoicing is. Victory is. But in the meantime, we groan. We groan as we wait for His unveiling…we groan as we wrestle with sin, temptation, and compromise…we groan as we fight for the liberation of the human soul…and we groan, knowing that He is beside us in our groaning.

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.”

Inspired when there’s no inspiration

getinspiredIt’s easy to feel inspired when you’re inspired (and, yes, I do realize how silly and obvious that sounds), but what do we do when we’re not inspired and yet we’re still expected to perform?

How do we get inspired when nothing moves us or awakens our creativity?

The Apostle Paul expected Timothy to find a way. In 2 Timothy 4:2 Paul told his young disciple to, “Be prepared in season and out of season.” Paul knew there would be times when Timothy was in the off-season of his life—he wouldn’t feel especially motivated or prepared—and yet he still believed that Timothy could find a way to produce.

It’s great when we’re hit by moments of inspiration. It’s wonderful when ideas are flowing, interest is high, and we feel motivated to tackle the task at hand. However, we cannot become dependent on those times because the real treasure of life occurs in the uninspired, daily-ness of living.

We can’t wait to get externally inspired; we have to learn to summon it from within. Here are a few ways that we can do this.

  1. We can speak to our soul. In some of King David’s worship psalms he begins by speaking to his own soul, and then he ends by speaking to God. He begins with, “Praise the Lord, oh my soul” and He ends with simply, “Praise the Lord.” He speaks to—he engages—his own soul, and then once his soul is engaged the inspired emotion takes over.
  2. We can get to work, trusting that inspiration will follow. Creativity is like a muscle; the more we engage it the stronger it gets. As Thomas Edison famously said, “Genius is one percent inspiration ninety-nine percent perspiration.” We can wait around forever to feel inspired or we can get to work, knowing that inspiration will soon follow.
  3. We can remember that motion creates emotion. At least that’s what motivational speaker, Tony Robbins, tells his listeners. He says that if we will get moving—if we will rouse ourselves and move ourselves to physical action—the internal feelings of inspiration will begin to chase us down.

Whether it is natural coaching like Robbins’ or more spiritual counsel like David’s, the bottom line is the same. We can’t sit around until we get inspired. We have to get busy, faithfully doing what we know we are called to do, trusting that the inspiration will eventually find us.

Are you a visionary?

Finish-LineVisionary

adjective vi·sion·ary

  • having or showing clear ideas about what should happen or be done in the future
  • having or showing a powerful imagination
  • of or relating to something that is seen or imagined in a dream or vision

Every person possesses visionary gifts, and is able to dream about a brighter future. However, some people are specifically gifted of God with unusual visionary skills and talents.

Here are several visionary statements to help us gauge our visionary aptitude:

  • While some say, “No one understands” the visionary says, “I am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, and I am not alone.”
  • While some see a problem, a visionary sees a race to run.
  • While some worry, “What if I trip?” a visionary wonders, “How fast can I go?”
  • While some see a “finisher” T-shirt, a  visionary fixates on the victory lap.
  • While some fix their eyes solely on their own strengths and abilities, visionaries glue their eyes to Christ.
  • While some lament the sacrifices that must be made, visionaries celebrate the lives that will be changed along the way.
  • While some count the cost, visionaries count the reward and joyfully move toward its acquisition.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Winning, losing, and the Christmas story

boxersSometimes in life it is difficult to tell who is winning and who is losing.

Consider Joseph’s stint in slavery, the three Hebrews’ stroll in a fiery furnace, and our Lord’s own trial and crucifixion. Each of these events shouted defeat for God’s purposes, and yet each of these defeats became a doorway to a greater victory.

Sometimes defeated moments of extreme anti-climax are actually tipping points.

From all natural perspectives the birth of Jesus Christ was the greatest anti-climax in human history.

  • His entrance in to the world was not with the splendor of a world ruler bent on global conquest.
  • His arrival wasn’t marked by dignity and fanfare.
  • No one would have peeked into the stable and thought, “Surely, a king has just been born!”
  • Rather His nursery smelled like cow manure…his crib was a feeding trough…and his only attendants, shepherds.
  • Everything about His birth was a giant anti-climax.

Yet in that disappointing moment something else was happening and all of heaven knew that the most glorious of victories had just been unleashed. Immanuel, God with us, had come near.

What looked like anti-climax was the tipping point for the universe.

Christmas reminds us that things aren’t always as they appear. Don’t be too quick to judge and label the defeated moments in your life. God might see them as portals to a greater victory.

Success versus Faithfulness

mother teresa“God has not called us to be successful, He has called us to be faithful.” –Mother Teresa

Do you agree with her? Do you think that Mother Teresa, whose ministry touched millions, knew what she was talking about?

Or how about the Scriptures? Did you know that the words “faithful” and “fruitful” occur in the Bible 78 and 35 times respectively, whereas the word “successful” doesn’t appear even once?

OF COURSE we want to be successful. OF COURSE we want to do a good job, hit the bull’s eye, be effective, etc., etc. But we’re not supposed to worship success. And it’s not supposed to be our highest aim.

Faithfulness is.

It is possible to be successful without necessarily being faithful; however, it is impossible to be truly faithful without touching success. God’s definition of success isn’t derived from strategic thinking workshops or effective branding campaigns; it’s defined as faithfully discharging the duties of our calling.  Many of the most successful police officers, parents, educators, friends, business owners, or neighbors will never dance in the spotlight. Their lives and ministries will be conducted in relative obscurity, unchased by news crews or paparazzi. They will be “known” somewhere else.

Heaven.

“Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before Him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed His name. ‘They shall be mine,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘in the day when I make up my treasured possession.'” (Malachi 3:16-7)

Let’s beware the siren of success, opting rather for faithfulness where success is merely a byproduct.

 

Nothing good happens after midnight (unless it’s this)

streetlightA parenting coach once remarked about curfews: “Nothing good happens after midnight.”

It’s probably good advice since most deviant behavior occurs in the late night hours when shops are closed, streets are empty, and everything is cast in shadow. However, what do you do when it isn’t a curfew you’re discussing but your life? What do you do when you’re in a midnight season of life and no matter how much you look for it you can’t find any evidence of a sunrise?

That’s the state of many people in our country today. From economic woes to international crises to general feelings of instability, a bleak outlook on the future seems to be the norm.

It’s hard to see a lot of good after midnight…unless it’s something like this.

In Acts 16 Paul and Silas found themselves locked in the inner cell of a prison with their feet painfully chained up in the stocks, and in verse 25 it says: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.”

That’s a powerful sentence: “About midnight they were praying and singing to God.”

The safest, most powerful place to be at midnight is in the place of worship and prayer. That’s where locked doors burst open, inhibiting chains fall apart, and the darkness of midnight gives way to the morning sun.

Midnight prayer and worship sessions always end with a sunrise.