Small victories win wars

It’s March, guys! The third month of 2017 has already begun. How are you doing with your resolutions? Confession time: January was a complete failure for me, and February wasn’t much better.

I had plans to eat right, to exercise regularly, to rest, and to spend time with the Lord. And while I managed some of it some of the time, overall I failed completely. So in March I trying again.

Does anyone else struggle with this? You have the best, most sincere intentions. You make plans and contingencies. You psyche yourself up for the difficult days, and you try to prepare yourself for the inevitable temptation. You do everything you can to convince your traitorous brain that you shouldn’t eat that or that you’ll feel better after you walk those two miles or you’ll get all your work done eventually and a break will be good for you.

But it doesn’t work.

And then one day you find yourself sacked out on the couch eating M&Ms out of a ten-pound bag while you start in on your fifteenth draft of the same article, and the treadmill makes fun of you silently from its darkened corner of the basement. You feel like the biggest loser on planet Earth.

How does that happen? Well, I’m not sure if it’s the same for anyone else, but I’ve begun to suspect that my approach to goals in general is to blame. I’m a big picture person. I don’t do details very well, and I usually operate under the assumption that no matter what happens, everything will eventually work out.

And since God is in control, that’s true for His people. He’s big enough to work out the details of our lives so that they turn into something beautiful, even if the circumstances are horrible. But that doesn’t absolve us from making wise choices in the mean time.

God gave us brains for a reason.

So many times, as Christians, I think we focus too much on the war, instead of the battle. Wars are made up of many little battles, some that we win and others that we lose. And, frankly, we lose those little battles because we’re willing to accept defeat. In the grand scheme of the war, we can lose a battle because it won’t affect the eventual outcome.

That’s both comforting in one sense and terrifying in another. Yes, it’s great to realize that we’ve already won the war regardless of how many battles we may lose. But does that mean we can just stop fighting?

No! Of course not! (Romans 6:1) Just because Jesus has already accomplished the final goal doesn’t give us the excuse to give up today’s battle. And make no mistake. Today is a battle. This very moment is a battle.

If anyone ever tells you that this life can be free of conflict, struggle, or strife, they’re selling something. Just being honest. Our life here was never meant to be free of those things. As long as we have the Holy Spirit in us, we will be in a constant battle with ourselves and the world around us. But don’t let it discourage you, because Jesus has given us the strength to overcome any challenge (John 16:33).

So how do you win those every-moment battles? How can you overcome the temptation to neglect your physical or spiritual or emotional health?

Well, just like wars are won through through smaller battles, your daily battles should be conquered with small victories. Instead of focusing on the big picture which seems unconquerable, focus on the choice you have to make right now.

Should I eat that handful of M&Ms even though I know it will hurt my blood sugar? Should I not take a break from my daily work because I have too much to do? Should I skip my exercise because it’s too much trouble?

None of those are earth-shattering questions. No answer to any of those questions will shake the world off its axis. But for those questions, there is a right answer and a wrong answer for you. No, the world won’t end if you eat the M&Ms, but it’s not the wisest choice you can make.

Living healthy is a daily battle, and the only way you’ll win is seeking wisdom to face the questions. That’s how you win those hourly battles—by making good choices. And you learn how to make good choices from God’s word. (1 Peter 1:13-16)

Ultimately, the choice is yours. You get to decide what you do, what you eat, where you go, how you act. God has given us that freedom. But if you choose a course of action without wisdom, you open yourself up to the consequences.

I don’t know about you, but as much as I love the big picture of life, I can’t win at life on my own strength. I need God’s help. Frankly, I can’t even win in an hourly battle without God’s Spirit (Zechariah 4:6). Nobody can.

But the truth is: God’s given us everything we need to live a victorious life (2 Timothy 1:7).

What choice do you have to make right now? What does God say about it? Have you even asked Him? If you haven’t, there’s your problem. He wants to help. So give Him a chance and see what happens.

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A full orange moon setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Facing the demon in the storm window

I got home from the Realm Makers conference in Philadelphia on Sunday around 3pm. Both my roomie and I were both exhausted, so instead of being productive like we probably should have been, we decided to watch some Firefly.

So we did–and that’s when we heard it.

*thump-thump*

Like someone walking around upstairs.

Nobody else should have been in the house. At first, I thought I’d imagined it, but we heard it again. So we both crept upstairs, me carrying a flyswatter (stop laughing; a flyswatter is a perfectly legitimate weapon). We did a quick search of the first floor.

Nothing.

We went back downstairs and resumed our watching.

*thump-thump*

Again. Like someone dropping shoes on the wood floor. Or like something banging on the outside of the house.

We repeated this process about four times, growing more and more unsettled with each suspicious thump-thump until we ended up standing outside trying to find out what on earth could be making the sound. And that’s when we saw motion in the storm window.

It turned out to be a cottontail rabbit. A young one I think. It had gotten stuck in the storm window and was trying to jump out. Every time it jumped it would bang its stupid bunny head on the window.

Yes, I’m uncompassionate. It made me laugh. And then it made me think. What I would have done? Would I have been brave enough to stay in a house where there was a creepy ghosty noise banging away on the windows when I couldn’t explain it?

A full orange moon setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

A full orange moon setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse 2 Timothy 1:7.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

Fear is dangerous. Granted, not all fear is bad. Some fear is good. Fear is a natural response to stupidity–or at least it should be. But some kinds of fear are paralyzing and not in a good way.

We fear things that we can’t control, and because we can’t control them, we make no attempt to change them. Fears can become like shackles, binding us up and keeping us locked in a dark corner instead of living in the light like we were created to do. If we aren’t careful, our great big lives can be made teeny tiny by our fear.

And one thing I’ve noticed, especially among Christians, is that we fear the world. We fear the darkness in other people, in organizations, in countries. And darkness is certainly worthy of respect but not fear–fear and respect are totally different. The trouble with fearing darkness is that it’s easy to turn away from it. It’s easy to ignore it. It’s so much easier to pretend that it doesn’t exist because we can’t control what might happen if we face it.

At the Realm Makers 2014 conference, the keynote speaker, New York Times Best Selling author Tosca Lee, had this to say about the darkness of the world and the Christian’s response to it:

“Darkness is a fact of existence, as is light. If we cover our eyes in response to darkness, we are afraid of it. And we are commanded not to fear.”

The world is full of fears, but God has given us His Holy Spirit. And He who lives in us every day is bigger and stronger than any darkness we may face in the world, so why are we afraid? Why do we give into the fears our enemy whispers in our ears?

I’m not saying to accept the darkness or condone it. I’m saying we shouldn’t ignore it. I’m saying we shouldn’t change the subject or write it off like it doesn’t matter. Darkness does matter, and we who are armed with the Light have a responsibility to conquer it in the name of Christ.

I’d like to tell you I would have slept just fine without knowing about the Demon Bunny in the storm window, but I’m not sure what would have happened if I hadn’t found it. The point I’m getting to is that I went looking for an answer. I didn’t just ignore it. I didn’t just put it out of my mind. I ventured out of where I was comfortable to find the cause, and when I found it, I dealt with it.

If we can face the darkness of our world with that kind of fearlessness, I think our lives would be different. I know our faith would be stronger.

What are you afraid of today? What dark aspect of the world are you setting aside and refusing to face because it will make you or others uncomfortable?

Stop. When you’re afraid, remember that fear doesn’t come from God. If you have an opportunity to share Christ’s light with someone lost in darkness, fight the fear. With God on your side, your fears are nothing but a stupid bunny trapped in a storm window. All they do is make noise.

Are you afraid of the dark?

When was the last time you were afraid? And I don’t mean just concerned about something. I live in an old house that makes all sorts of fascinating noises that my imagination can run wild with, whether I’m imagining that there are strangers walking around downstairs or I’m imagining that my water heater has blown up and flooded the whole basement. I’m not really afraid of either of those things happening, but living where I live and how I live, it’s something that could happen.

But the last time I was really afraid?

I don’t really know. I honestly don’t scare very easily. Maybe it’s silly, but one of the times I remember being the most afraid was when I had been cast in a skit for church. It was a tiny, tiny part. All I had to do was talk on an I-phone and be snotty. It was a cute part. A funny part that made people laugh. It was short, and it was even something I wrote. But the idea of going out on stage in front of all those people absolutely petrified me. It scared me to the point of nausea.

The only other experience I can even compare it to is learning how to drive again after my wreck. Trying to remember how to handle a vehicle going 70 miles per hour on a road you can’t control. Even though it’s been years, if I get behind a truck or van that has a ladder strapped (or not strapped well enough) to it, I can’t get around it fast enough. Maybe that’s a rational reaction, but my getting around it is usually motivated more by fear than common sense.

This is what I thought about when I read the verse for today.

2 Timothy 1:7

7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

Fear has nothing to do with God. At least, not this kind of fear. The kind of fear that this verse is talking about is the kind of fear I have experienced in many circumstances when I was afraid of what I couldn’t control. And that’s not of God.

When we become followers of Christ, God gives us power, whether it’s strength or patience or endurance or the ability to love people who don’t love us back. That’s what this verse says. He gives us all those things, but He does not give us a reason to be afraid.

So why do we still fear?

Well, we’re human. So I guess that’s the biggest reason why most of us still live small lives in terror of the unknown. And I guess there’s nothing wrong with that if we want to live that way. But is it really what God has called us to?

That’s the danger with fear. It paralyzes you. It keeps you from doing the things God has asked–sometimes even commanded–us to do.

I haven’t got it figured out yet, and I still struggle with this. But I can tell you that fear really used to control me in the two situations I mentioned above. The driving thing I have mostly gotten over. There are still times when I see something in the road or see a truck driving with too much stuff in it that I remember the sound of crunching metal and the feel of the world jarring to a halt or the burst of white with the airbags inflating. But most of the time, I’m good.

What definitely controlled me without question was my stagefright. And looking back now, I know it was a pride issue, because I wanted to control my performance and be absolutely perfect and never make mistakes and I always felt I could never be good enough. But I let that fear force me to turn down a lot of roles because I didn’t want to get up in front of people. I still don’t like getting up in front of people, but I made a decision after that first role with the I-phone. I decided that I was going to let go and stop worrying about what I looked like onstage and what I sounded like onstage or whether or not I delivered my lines with mechanical precision, and I was just going to do my best and let God take care of it. So the next role I ended up playing was quite a good deal larger than the second role, and it was a much more powerful script, and it was a pretty difficult part (I had to play a blind person). But the really funny thing was that even though I was nervous (I wanted to do a good job), I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t really afraid. And every time I started feeling afraid, I told myself to stop it, I asked God to help me not be afraid anymore, and then I went out and did what I was supposed to do. And I guess it went all right. I know God used it, and that was all I really cared about.

I think a lot of times we expect fear to go away just because we face it.

Well, that’s not always the case. Sometimes that fear will pop it’s ugly head back up and we’ll have to face it all over again. But that’s what real courage is — action in spite of fear. And that is the sort of power that God has given us because we have confidence that He will do what He has said He’ll do.

So the next time you’re afraid of something irrational (not something you really should be afraid of, mind you; fear of some things can be healthy), try to look at it from God’s perspective and see how small it really is. Then make your decision on whether to act or not.

What are you afraid of? And how is that stopping you from doing what God has called you to do? If God is big enough to create the universe, to create everything we can see and everything we can’t see, don’t you think He’s big enough to help you when you need Him? It’s something I forget all the time, but I know, for me, it’s time that I remembered. How about you?