Cardinal in the pines at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Something to remember

What’s the big deal about rejoicing anyway? The Bible says over and over again that we need to rejoice, and Philippians is full of instances where Paul says to be joyful, be joyful, be joyful.

And I get that we need to be joyful because it will help our perspective. I get that we need to rejoice in difficult circumstances because it will help other people be encouraged. And deep down inside I understand that difficult circumstances come to help us grow and to remind us that this world isn’t home. But there are days when it still feels like an exercise in futility to continue rejoicing when nothing seems to go right.

So on those days when it’s difficult to find joy in anything, maybe we need to remember one important fact.

Cardinal in the pines at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Cardinal in the pines at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 4:4-5.

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.

Maybe this doesn’t bring comfort to you like it does to me, but the idea that the Lord is coming soon is enough to make me jump for joy.

I’ve read this set of verses many times, and every time before I have split them up into two statements: An admonishment to rejoice always and instructions to be considerate because God will be coming back soon. But when I read it this morning, I read it differently.

I’m not a Bible scholar, so maybe it wasn’t intended this way. But what if it’s three statements on how to live instead of two? Rejoice. Be considerate. Remember.

Remember, the Lord is coming soon.

What if that little tag on the end of that verse isn’t a warning like I’ve always thought it was? I’ve always read it like Paul is saying we need to be considerate or else. Rejoice and put others first, or else God will get you when He comes back soon.

But this morning that’s not how it sounds.

Rejoice always. Making this choice is great for our focus and our perspective.

Be considerate. Making this choice is great for our relationships with others.

Remember, the Lord is coming soon. Remember, the Lord is coming soon, so when you don’t feel like rejoicing, you still have something to rejoice about. Remember, the Lord is coming soon, so when you’re so bogged down with your own troubles that you can’t invest in others for a time, you still have something to look forward to.

With the pressures of daily life and the stress of just living, it’s so easy to forget that God is going to come back for us. It’s so easy to get buried in this life and think this is all there is. But this isn’t all there is. This world isn’t home. God is preparing a place for us that defies explanation, and we will get to live there with Him for all eternity, along with the others who have gone before us in Christ. No more sickness. No more pain. No more night. No more suffering. No more conflict or stress or tension.

That is our home. Not this broken, worn down shell of a world that we turned over to Satan thousands of years ago.

Yes. Rejoice always. That’s not an option. When everything goes wrong, rejoice. When everything goes right, rejoice. Choose to have an attitude that makes you unsinkable.

And be considerate of other people. Put others first. Help others succeed. Encourage others. Be there for others.

But above all else, remember, the Lord is coming soon. The world won’t go on like this forever, and when the ticking clock of Time itself finally winds down, all of us who know Christ will get to go on living with Him.

The little annoying troubles in life are just pebbles in our shoes as we’re walking home. Yeah, they’re irritating, but they’re just little things. And, yes, little things can add up until the sum of them feels like a big thing, but that’s perspective. Because even a mountain of pebbles is still insignificant compared to what God can do with faith the size of a mustard seed.

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The mailbox between the road and the driveway yesterday morning at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The world is not enough

I get tired of the world. I get tired of living in such a broken place, where what used to be good is now called and what used to be bad is now called good. I get frustrated because I know things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be. Marriages aren’t supposed to break up. People aren’t supposed to hurt each other. The things that are broken in the world were never intended to be broken, and it’s easy to get depressed thinking about it.

I hate to see people hurting, and I get so tired of having to overcome obstacle after obstacle in my own life when I don’t feel like I’ve really done anything to deserve it. You know? You live the way you’re supposed to. You read your Bible. You keep the faith. You treat others the way you want to be treated. You love God. You love people. And everything still goes wrong. Why is that? What point could there possibly be to living like that?

I got to thinking this morning that if everything went our way, we could be pretty comfortable down here. Aside from the obvious strengths we gain when we go through struggles, what we need to remember when life falls apart is that we don’t belong here. We weren’t made for this life.

The mailbox between the road and the driveway yesterday morning at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The mailbox between the road and the driveway yesterday morning at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 3:20-21.

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.

Some days it’s easy to remember that this world isn’t home. On those days, I would like nothing more for Christ to descend from the clouds and take us away. But then there are other days when I’m not thinking about that. There are other days when I’m pretty happy just where I am, with no one rocking the boat, with nobody reminding me of any higher purpose, when it’s just me and the world and I’m okay with that. And that’s not a good place to be.

Don’t misunderstand. Being content is important. Being content with what you have is essential. But being content is different than being comfortable. We shouldn’t be comfortable in the world because when you get right down to the heart of the mater, the world isn’t going to agree with people who follow Christ. And while I blogged about agreeing to disagree yesterday and how that’s all right (and it absolutely is), disagreement still causes conflict. It always has; it always will. And if your perspective isn’t shaped by the grace and love of the Holy Spirit, many times a disagreement is going to turn to outright anger and resentment. If you know your history, you know it’s true.

The world disagrees with us. Part of the world resents us. And the rest of the world hates us. And, just being real here, the parts of the world that don’t hate Christ followers yet, soon will. Why? Well, the Bible says they will. Because the world hated Jesus, so why would we expect different treatment when we are His followers?

It’s good to be content with what you have, with what God has given you. But that doesn’t give you permission to be comfortable. Being comfortable means you’ve settled in for the long haul. It means you’ve got your head down. It means you’re ignoring the signs around you that are trying to spur you into action. Being comfortable means you’ll stop growing, stop learning, stop seeking, stop trying. Being comfortable means you think the world is enough.

And to quote James Bond, “The world is not enough.”

We aren’t supposed to have a comfortable, easy life on Earth because Earth isn’t our final destination. Christian, do you get that? We aren’t supposed to hoard all our money and resources so we can sit back in our easy chairs with our remote controls and our cups of coffee and watch television all day long. We were designed for more than that.

I get comfortable. I have that dubious gift of being able to block stuff out and power through with my own goals and ignore everything else around me, and it’s not always a good thing. God put me here for a purpose, and as long as the world is broken, He has something for me to do. And if I’m so comfortable in my own little kingdom, I’m never going to venture out into the places where He wants me to go.

So take a good look at your perspective this morning. Are you angry because life isn’t working out the way you thought it would? Are you frustrated because the obstacles in your path seem unfair and inversely proportional to the life you’ve lived?

Good. Because the more uncomfortable we are, the easier it is to remember that this world isn’t our home.

So get your head up. Pay attention. And get uncomfortable.

Hole in the old wood of the 1890s-era schoolhouse at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Agree or disagree but don’t stop moving forward

We live in a contentious era. It’s favorable and even popular to argue a point where you disagree. The invention of chat rooms and blogs and social media has allowed people from every walk of life all across the world to sound off on each and every topic of discussion that is brought to light in a public forum, and while healthy conversation and discussion is useful, one-sided arguments where others aren’t allowed to disagree never are. But it’s the one-sided arguments that don’t allow discussion that have become more and more prevalent.

In our culture, it is a social norm to immediately think that if someone disagrees with you, they hate you. I’m not quite sure where this concept came from, but we have been inundated with the idea that simple disagreement means a complete inability to live and work together. As far as most people are concerned, we must agree, or we can’t talk to each other.

Why is that? Why must we agree? Why must one person compromise his or her opinions or beliefs to make another person feel better about their own? I think there’s another issue at the heart of that matter. And there’s another issue in the lack of civility that has permeated our culture too. But in reading through Philippians, I realized something about agreeing to disagree: It needs to happen in the Church.

Hole in the old wood of the 1890s-era schoolhouse at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Hole in the old wood of the 1890s-era schoolhouse at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 3:15-16.

Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.

I’d never really thought about it. Whenever I think about people having major disagreements, I usually go back to the debates I sat in on when I was in college. I remember having to I listen to one on homosexuality, and all I really took away from that debate was that my whole college despised the biblical view of gender and completely disrespected anyone who followed biblical principles. Of course, it didn’t surprise me, but I was shocked that the presenter onstage wasn’t even allowed to talk about his views because the audience kept shouting angrily at him. The moderator did nothing to stop it.

When I think about disagreements, that’s what I think of.

But you know what? Major disagreements happen in the church all the time. Even if you have an awesome church, disagreements are still going to happen. Why? Because everybody is different. We all look at each other differently. We all look at life differently. And our different experiences in life have shaped the way we live. And these differences extend to our walk with God too.

There are a lot of Christians in the world. Those people who believe that Jesus paid the price for their sins and because of Him alone they are going to heaven and they can have a relationship with God are everywhere, in every country. But if you put them all in the same room, it’s very likely that none of them will agree on anything else. Cultures are different. Personalities are different. Everything is different.

And it’s the same inside a church. A church is a group of people made up of different backgrounds, and if they don’t focus on what matters, if they don’t focus on what is the same, the differences will tear them apart. I’d like to say that disagreements in the church are more civil than disagreements in the world, but it’s not true. Oftentimes disagreements in the church are more vicious than what goes on in the world.

But no matter if your disagreement is with someone who doesn’t believe or with someone who does, the way to deal with it is the same:

Agree on what matters. Let God work everything else out. And keep moving forward.

That’s it.

Yes, sometimes it’s important to debate if everyone is given a voice. Yes, sometimes it’s important to argue as long as emotions stay out of it. Disagreements are healthy because they help us see other people’s points of view, but disagreeing doesn’t mean we hate each other. Disagreeing doesn’t mean you have the right to be vicious and mean to other people. Disagreeing is just someone with a different life experience trying to come to grips with you and your perspective on life. And if you listen to them, you’ll gain valuable insight. You may not agree. You may never agree. But that’s okay.

But you do have to listen. That’s part of a discussion. That’s part of a conversation. Listening. Not sitting still and clinging to your own perspectives, waiting for the opportunity to strike where your opponent is weak. That’s not listening. That’s premeditated attack.

And I can tell you from personal experience, the church excels at premeditated attacks. So do Christians.

Don’t misunderstand me. It’s important to agree. We do have to agree on the things that matter. But even if you get to the place where you can’t agree, that doesn’t mean you can be cruel. And within a church or a family or a business or whatever, when you disagree, let it go. Try to find a solution, but if you can’t, don’t worry about it. Don’t focus on it. Don’t press it. Don’t keep going back to it over and over and over.

Pray that God will make it clear, whether it needs to be clarified to someone else or to you.

But whatever you do, don’t move backward. Don’t turn back. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Hold on to the progress that you have already made because if you take a step back, Satan has won. And that’s what this is really about. That’s where strife and dissention really comes from, a ploy to hurt the cause of Christ.

You won’t agree with everyone. And not everyone will agree with you. Get over it. But you can focus on the perspectives that you share. And even if nobody agrees, you can still be civil. And let me tell you, it’s a lot easier to listen to someone who’s civil than it is to someone who’s rude.

Rough road to San Miguel Alto Uno, Peten, Guatemala

Get your head out of yesterday

I don’t run. I’m not built for it. My body tends to revolt against me whenever I try, but I have a lot of friends who run. And they don’t just run; they compete. These folks do triathlons and marathons and all sorts of other forms of torture like that. And one thing that I have noticed when you’re running is that you really need to keep your focus on what’s in front of you, otherwise you could run into trouble … literally.

I’ve never seen a runner trying to compete by running forward and looking backward. I’m sure people do it because people are strange, but I’d be willing to bet, they don’t run well. Because even if you find a way to look backward as you’re running forward, your focus won’t be where it needs to be–on the goal.

I’m also reminded of a line from an older movie, Gumball Rally, an old racing movie we used to watch with my dad. It was a movie about racing. All these different people in all kinds of different cars had to race from coast to coast, regardless of the legality of their actions, and one of the racers was this Italian guy who ripped the rearview mirror off the car windshield and tossed it in the backseat, proclaiming: “What’s behind me is not important!”

These people race. They’re moving forward toward a goal. Looking behind and focusing on where they’ve been will only slow them down and make them unhappy in most cases. And in all honesty, following Christ is very much the same.

 

Rough road to San Miguel Alto Uno, Peten, Guatemala

Rough road to San Miguel Alto Uno, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verses are Philippians 3:12-14.

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

We all came from somewhere. Some Christ-followers came from Christian homes; some didn’t. Some have come from a legacy of people who always loved God; some didn’t.  But no matter where we started, God is moving us somewhere else, sometimes physically, always spiritually. We’re all moving forward, and if we look backward, we’re going to slow down or we’re going to hamper the efforts that are going on around us.

Paul was majorly into sports from what we can tell from Scripture. He talks about running and racing and fighting and wrestling, and actually there are a lot of comparisons between the Christian life and sports. Sports require training. They require focus. They require pushing yourself to achieve something you’re pretty sure you aren’t able to achieve. They require teamwork most of the time. The Christian life isn’t a competition, though, but the other similarities are kind of cool.

And in this case, running is a great example because all of us are runners. If you follow Christ, you’re in a race. You’re not competing against anyone. It’s like a marathon or a triathlon, and Christ has already run the race and won. So the rest of us are competing against ourselves really, and it’s our goal to finish. And you can’t finish the race in front of you if you can’t get your eyes of what’s behind you.

The past is important. Don’t get me wrong. In some cases, it is important to remember the past. We need to remember where we’ve been and recognize what God wants us to learn from where we’ve been, but you can’t focus on yesterday. What’s done is done and can’t be changed; what can change is how you react to it.

I know people who bury themselves in the past. They forget about today and don’t even consider tomorrow, and all they can talk about is what happened before. Where they used to be. What they used to do. And living today is torture for them because all their focus is on yesterday, and they can’t handle the stress of right now or the implications of what might happen tomorrow because they can’t get their heads out of yesterday. And they’re miserable for it.

So what does this mean for us in 2013? Stop living life in a rearview mirror. Stop looking backward to find happiness and contentment in yesterday and start looking forward to what’s coming. Yes, what’s coming is unknown. What’s coming might not be fun at all. But it’s very likely that you’re already prepared for what’s coming, whether you know it or not. You probably experienced yesterday what you needed to know for today and for tomorrow. That’s what yesterday is for.

Learning.

You can learn from yesterday. Just don’t live there.

God sets our paths. He doesn’t let us run alone. And He always provides exactly what we need exactly when we need it.

Keep your eyes forward and run. Don’t worry about the other runners; they’ll handle themselves. Don’t worry about the road behind you; it’s past. Don’t worry about the road ahead of you; take it a day at a time.

 

Mulberry tree and yard light on a foggy morning at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Truly valuable

What do you value? I think many times we place value on things that don’t matter, and as a result we are often unhappy. Because what you place value on is what you will seek, and if you value something that won’t last or something that doesn’t satisfy, then of course you’ll be unhappy.

There are many different kinds of things we can value, that even people who don’t follow Christ would see as worthy, but what is it that should matter to us the most? As Christ followers, what are we supposed to value above all else?

Mulberry tree and yard light on a foggy morning at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Mulberry tree and yard light on a foggy morning at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 3:7-11.

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

What Paul is talking about at the beginning of this passage is his heritage, basically. Paul was everything the religious experts of the time could have ever wanted to be. A pharisee’s pharisee, I guess you could say. He was the best. He was the smartest. He was at the top of the food chain. He had it made. At least, he did until Jesus thumped him off his horse and had a one-on-one chat with him on the road to Damascus one evening. Then, everything changed.

All those things that Paul had placed value on before evaporated because he had learned what really mattered. All those past accomplishments did were to make him proud of what he had achieved, of what his family had achieved, of what his social and political status provided him with. Those things didn’t matter.

He was proud of keeping the law. He was proud of living according to the law. He was proud of doing everything according to the law. So he considered that he was a better person than everyone else around him because he knew and kept and did the law. But how empty was that life?

How empty is a life of being better than everyone else? I mean, it sounds good, but even if you’re better than everyone else, you’re still not perfect. You’re just isolated because your attitude has made you that way.

So many times, we value what the world says is important. Or we value what religion tells us is important. But do those things truly matter? Or are there merely complications for a life that was designed to be simple from the beginning? How complicated is it to know the law? How complicated is it to depend on your own knowledge and your own work and your own righteousness to be made right with God?

It’s beyond complicated. It’s impossible. because none of us are perfect, and that’s what’s required.

What makes us right with God is faith. It’s nothing we do. It’s nothing we wear. It’s nothing we achieve. Just believing that Christ paid the price for us. And though it’s not easy, it is simple. And whether we will admit it or not, there is joy in simple things.

So what do you value today? Are they temporary things that add further complication to your life? Or are they simple things that we allow to add further complication to our lives? Life is complicated, don’t get me wrong, but the things that matter are simple. So don’t get bogged down by the complications of life. Don’t let the things that don’t matter and don’t add value to your life weigh you down.

Don’t let the heaviness of your own righteousness convince you that it’s worth something. It’s not. Not in comparison to what Christ did for us.

Christ is all we need. The rest will fall into place. And even though it’s a choice that can be difficult to make a times, faith is truly simple. And in a world that grows more and more complex and complicated by the moment, a little simplicity is a nice change of pace.

Old elm tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Good enough

Being a good person makes me happy. How about you? But how many good people do you know? I know quite a few myself. Good people are the kind of people who always do the right thing, who never overreact, who never get in trouble, who never do anything to hurt someone else intentionally. I’m not lying. I do know people like that. I’m not one of them. But sometimes when you’re that good I imagine it could be difficult to remember that you’re not perfect.

One of the difficult places I’ve discovered as a Christ-follower is that dangerous place where you learn how to keep all the rules and follow all the traditions, where you find that careful balance between obeying the law and still saying that you trust Christ. Not saying we shouldn’t obey the law. The law is good. God gave us the law to establish order and peace, and–well–many of the Ten Commandments are moral law too. It’s just a good idea.

But where it becomes dangerous is when you convince yourself that you can be good enough. And for a little while, you’ll be okay. Because if you’re a good enough person, you can be a good enough Christian in comparison to others, but what happens when you screw up?

Old elm tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Old elm tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 3:2-4.

Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved. For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort, though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!

There’s a lot happening in this section of verses. Too much to really go into in a brief morning devotional, but what is important to understand is that during the Early Church, there was a group of people going around who believed people had to do certain things in order to be saved. Honestly, they weren’t much different from the church leaders during Jesus’ life. Honestly, they aren’t much different from the religious experts in any time. There has always been and probably will continue to be people who believe we have to earn salvation.

Paul is basically calling them on the carpet here. What he’s saying is that those people who believe you have to do something in order to be saved are trusting in their own accomplishments and not in Christ. Thsoe people are trusting in what they can do rather than in what Christ has done. And I find it ironic because our world and even the Church is still full of people who believe this. I know tons of people who talk about how Christ has saved them, yet they’ll turn around and tell everyone how they’re supposed to dress, live, eat, drink, speak, etc. in order to be right with God.

Watch out for those people.

There is no human effort we can make that will make us right with God. There is nothing we can do to earn our salvation. If there were, Jesus wouldn’t have needed to do what He did. So is Paul saying that we shouldn’t strive to “be good”?

That’s not the case at all. Part of having the Bible is knowing how to live. The Bible is a roadmap to life. It’s a guide that explains how we should make decisions and why. But the trouble comes when you take the lifestyle that the Bible promotes and turn it into something that redeems us. No lifestyle will redeem you. No dress code will make you perfect. All following the Law does is show us that we aren’t good enough.

Yes, being a good person, doing what I know is right, does make me happy. And it should. It should make everybody happy when you do the right, even though sometimes doing the right thing isn’t pleasant. But take a minute to scrutinize that happiness the next time you do something right. Are you happy because you did the right thing? Or are you happy because nobody else did the right thing? Are you comparing yourself to other people?

You can’t be good enough. Neither can I. Trusting your future entirely to your behavior is the quickest way to be disappointed, because even if your conduct is spotless, there will come a day when you screw up. And you’ll fall into a tailspin. When you spin out of control because you made a mistake, you have two options: You can compare yourself to someone else and tell yourself that what you did isn’t as bad as what they did. Or you can compare yourself to what the Bible says and recognize that you screwed up and that God forgives.

Which do you think will make you happy? Maybe at first glance, you’d think comparing yourself to someone else. Because after all admitting that we’re wrong won’t make us happy, will it? You should try it sometime. It’s funny how much a relief admitting wrong is.

Wearing the burden of perfection is exhausting. Take it from someone who has been there. You can’t be perfect, and even if you could, it wears you out. Trying to be perfect doesn’t bring happiness; it just bring weariness.

So do what’s right. Obey the law. But don’t trust your future to it. Because you’re not good enough. The one person who was is Christ, and He took care of it. So trust Him and let the rest go.

Dead sunflower at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Whatever happens

I spent all of January posting about change because of everything that was transitioning in 2013. But let me just say, I had no idea how much things would change and how many aspects of my life were going to be affected. I knew about a couple of areas, but for now, let’s just say that I think a lot more is going to change by the end of 2013 than I expected.

I mean, first off, I’m getting a new phone. And not just a new phone to carry around with me, but a new phone service. I haven’t had a new phone service in nearly 20 years. But the way things are working out, for financial reasons, we had to do something different. And maybe that sounds like a small thing, but learning a new phone and a plan on top of everything else isn’t exactly simple. And there are all sorts of other things coming down the pipe, and to top it all off, there’s a big winter storm coming in today. And I don’t mind the snow, but the ice will be difficult.

And it would be so easy to sit down and point out all the negatives in all of these situations I’m dealing with, but I’m pretty sure the Bible says not to do that. And I’m pretty sure the Book of Philippians has a thing or two to say on just focusing on the negatives, but why does it matter? When everything changes and when you’re disappointed and when you’re tired of everything, what’s wrong with allowing yourself to feel unhappy?

Dead sunflower at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dead sunflower at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Philippians 3:1.

Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.

Sometimes life just happens. Sometimes you can’t avoid it, and you get caught up in the drama and the high emotion, and there’s nothing you can do about it except press forward. And it’s all you can do to drag yourself out of bed because you know you’re just going to face another day where you have to work a job that stresses you out or you have to face an unpleasant situation that you can’t control.

And it’s in those moments where I feel that I just want to sit down and cry. I want to curl up in a ball and not talk to anybody and not have to be a shining example of Christ to the world because I’m so tired of not having control. I’m so tired of everything going wrong. I’m so tired of finally getting the hang of something just to have it change on me again.

So why is it important to keep looking up when those moments come? Why can’t I tuck myself in a corner and refuse to listen to what God is saying?  What’s wrong with sinking into a dark hole and giving up?

Most of the time I worry about how my actions and reactions will affect the other believers around me. But in this instance, I don’t think that’s the concern. Yes, it’s important for mature Christians to be a good example to new believers, but it’s doubly important for mature Christians to have a healthy perspective of circumstances in their life. Because it won’t matter how long you’ve been following Christ; you’ll grow bitter toward Him. And bitterness and faith don’t really work well together.

Notice that Paul doesn’t say when things are good we are to rejoice in the Lord. He doesn’t even say when things are bad to rejoice in the Lord. He says whatever happens. Good or bad. Planned or unplanned. Expected or unexpected. Happy or not.

Rejoice if you got the job. Rejoice if you didn’t. Rejoice if someone you love dies. Rejoice if someone you love welcomes a new life into the world (shout out to Luis and Val Alicea and little Isabella who arrived at 1am today!). Rejoice if the sun is shining. Rejoice if it’s cloudy. Rejoice if everything is right. Rejoice if nothing is.

Rejoice. No matter what.

Why?

Because it will protect your faith.

Choosing to have joy is a hard thing, especially when you’re struggling emotionally. Choosing to be thankful even for the bad things in life is challenging because it’s so much easier to just give up. But if you give up, you’re stepping out of a story that’s bigger than you. You’re choosing to believe that God can’t use a difficult situation in spite of how difficult it is. You’re choosing to believe that God is unable or unwilling, and that’s not true.

But so many people harden themselves when God doesn’t give them what they want. And it’s not that God is holding back blessings. It’s just that He has something better planned. But we have to choose to believe that.

Notice also that Paul apparently has repeated this a couple of times. But he says he never gets tired of repeating it, probably because he needed to hear it every time he said it or every time he wrote it.

It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been a follower of Christ, I still struggle with this, because I get stuck in that dark place between opportunity and challenge where I can see how God could give me everything I want. But then He turns around and sets me on a completely different path from what I thought He wanted. And I don’t know how to deal with that. I don’t understand many times why He does the things He does.

But let’s be honest for a moment. Do you really want to know what He has planned? If I think back ten or even fifteen years, I would have never imagined He could have brought me this far, and if He had told me about the responsibilities I would be trusted with as a 30 year old when I was a goofy little 15 year old? I would have had a coronary.

God has plans for us. They’re good plans. Plans to give us hope and a future. But the world is broken and so are we. And it’s rarely an instance of God just snapping His fingers or wiggling His nose in order to get us what we want; there’s usually some attitudes that have to be changed on our part before we can get there. And there are definitely challenges we have to overcome first. But if we can persevere through the challenges and through the difficulties and maintain the joy that we have on the good days throughout the bad days, something miraculous happens.

We grow up. We get stronger. And our faith increases because God proves Himself over and over again through difficult times. And later on down the road, He’ll usually give us what we want. We just have to want Him more first. If we can want Him and want what He wants more than anything, then facing trouble with a smile isn’t that hard because you realize that anything He allows is just going to help you later on.