Elephant at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Eating elephants

Everyone I know is busy. Some are in school. Many are planning weddings. Others are having babies. And the rest of us are overwhelmed with work and ministry and general family stuff. But “busy” seems to be the standard answer to the “How are you doing?” question we always greet each other with.

Doesn’t it feel like too much sometimes though? Do you ever feel like you have so much to do that you can’t ever accomplish anything? I constantly feel like I’m spinning my wheels. Or like my life is a treadmill and no matter how hard I run I never actually make any real progress. That’s not true, of course. If I were honest with myself I accomplish a lot in a full day, but when I compare it to the rest of the things I need to do (and the unrealistic expectations I put on myself), it never makes much difference.

When I look at the pile of things I need to accomplish in a day, I feel like I’m trying to eat an elephant. And it’s far too much for me. And when I start focusing on how there’s no way I can ever do all that I need to do, I start getting discouraged.

Elephant at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Elephant at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse(s) are Hebrews 6:11-12.

Our great desire is that you will keep on loving others as long as life lasts, in order to make certain that what you hope for will come true. Then you will not become spiritually dull and indifferent. Instead, you will follow the example of those who are going to inherit God’s promises because of their faith and endurance.

This verse is really referring to salvation and how to grow in your faith, but it struck me this morning that it applies to the rest of life too. That’s what I love so much about the Bible. Even when one verse is talking about one thing, oftentimes it’s also talking about something else completely in the subtext.

So much of following Christ on a daily basis is faith. But faith isn’t just some abstract, ethereal feeling you experience on a good day when you hear a beautiful song or watch the sun rise. Faith is a concrete, heart-wrenching choice that you make in the nitty-gritty moments of life. It’s the choice you have to keep making every day, sometimes every hour, to let go of what you’re worrying about and trust God with it. It’s a choice you have to keep making. Over and over and over.

Yes, you choose to follow Christ once. You choose to give Him your heart. You choose to trust Him for salvation. Once and forever. And you’re good to go as far as your eternal soul. But when it comes to living for Him from day-to-day? That’s a little more difficult. That’s a choice you have to make continually. Every morning when you wake up, you have to make the conscious decision that your day is going to be about Him. Not you. And you’ll have to remind yourself of that choice multiple times throughout the course of the next 24 hours.

Faith is one thing. Enduring faith — patient faith — is something else. I’m not good at waiting. I don’t like it. I’m all about action and doing and fixing; waiting and waiting makes me feel lazy. And I think that’s why God makes me do it so often because I learn a lot about Him and about who I am in Him throughout the process of waiting.

Great faith takes strong perseverance. That’s something many Christians won’t tell you, but it’s true. Faith can definitely be about those big miraculous moments; but more often than not, it’s about waiting. And waiting takes patience and perseverance and consistency.

So how does that help us accomplish everything we need to do? How does that get us where we need to be? How is waiting a comfort in situations where we’re so overwhelmed we don’t know what step to take next?

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

It’s the same way you climb a mountain like Mt. Everest. You get as far as you can in one day and you rest. Then you wake up and do it again. And again. And again. And again.  Don’t deviate. Don’t change course. Don’t give up. Just keep going. And eventually you’ll get to the top. (And then, of course, you have to come back down, but that’s another point for another Monday.)

When we’re facing a challenge that’s too big for us, just do the best you can and trust God for the rest. And when it feels like you’re just running on a treadmill, take a moment to look back and see all that you’ve accomplished. Don’t let yourself forget the things you’ve done and the successes you’ve had. And always look at where God has brought you.

God is always working in our lives. He’s always leading us forward, even if it is just one step a day. But one step is better than standing still, and add up all the steps you’ve taken in your life, and you’ll see how far you’ve come.

Be consistent. Be patient. Just keep doing what you’re doing. And something will change.

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What really matters

Sometimes it is difficult for me to distinguish the difference between my life and my actions. It’s very easy to get caught up in thinking that you are what you do, and it’s even easier to label people (yourself and others) by your job description or by your talents or by your accomplishments. Tony is a lawyer. Sarah is a dancer. Jake is the winner of the race.

I think we label people because we can’t see inside them. So it’s easier to identify people by putting labels on them, either to help us distinguish them from the crowd or to keep them safe in a box where they won’t threaten us. Either way, people are far more than how their labels describe them. We usually just can’t see it.

Every individual’s life is precious. There’s no denying or disputing that. Every person is unique and special and God sacrificed His most precious blood to save us.

Conversely, our actions are repeatable. Our accomplishments can be bested. Our job descriptions change, sometimes like the wind. And our talents aren’t really that unique, if you think about. Any “new” talent anyone has probably isn’t truly new; it just hasn’t been seen before.

I got to thinking about this when I read today’s verse of the day.

Acts 20:24

24 But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.

I find this interesting because Paul (who is speaking) was a pretty important guy. He was educated. He was intelligent. He was a Jew among Jews, which at the time meant he was pretty special. But none of those things mattered to him after he started following Jesus. I’m sure Paul accomplished a lot in his life, but the only thing that mattered to him after he started following Jesus was telling other people about Him.

This really made me wonder about the worth of my own actions.

My life, as in who I am inside, is precious to God. I get that. But what about my actions? What about the things I have done that haven’t been for Him?

Anything I have done only for myself really has no bearing on God. The things I do for myself are small and insignificant because they only benefit me — and most of the time I don’t know if it’s an actual benefit or not.

But the things I have done for God, not matter how small they start out, they usually end up ballooning until hundreds of people are blessed or encouraged. And most of the time, I never intended to accomplish anything like that. I just knew I needed to do what God had called me to do, and I did it. I had no idea how He would use it.

There’s an old hymn (I think it’s a hymn) called “Little is Much When God Is in It” and I think that’s very true.

We only have a limited time on Earth. Compared to eternity, it’s not even substantial enough to classify. The Bible just calls it a vapor, a puff of smoke. One moment here, the next moment gone. So in that limited time, what are we going to accomplish? What talent are we going to pursue? What job are we going to do? And what is the point?

Paul felt like his accomplished life would be worth nothing if it weren’t directed at doing God’s work, at finishing the task that had been appointed to him by God. I agree with that. And I agree with it in the perspective of my own life. The things that I have done for myself won’t last. But the things I’ve done for others in God’s name? That’s a whole different ball game.

I know many Newtonian Laws passed out of vogue with the advent of Einstien’s Theory of Relativity and the craziness of Quantum Physics but as far as I can tell, every action still has an opposite and equal reaction. What we do on Earth effects what our lives will be like in eternity. Our choices on Earth directly effect our lives in eternity. I don’t want to say that Earth is the proving grounds of Heaven, but it kind of is. If you can choose to live your life for Christ while you are mired in the darkness of this world, if you can see past the temporariness that is life on Earth and realize that what is coming after Earth is so much better, if you can live for eternity now while you’re dying with every breath — heaven will be a rewarding place.

I know my life is precious. But my actions are useless, futile, and small until I do them for God.

C.T. Studd wrote a poem that I think pretty much sums up what Paul was saying:

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

In the grand scheme of life, our actions will either make us greater on earth or bring us greater reward in heaven (which usually means we are made more humble on earth). The next promotion won’t last. The next “new” talent will fade into obscurity. The next accomplishment will pass as soon as someone does something better or greater. But the things you do for Christ remain and will be remembered forever, if not by people then by God Himself. And that is what really matters.