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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Just a thread in God’s great tapestry

Have you ever looked at the detail on a tapestry? It’s rare to find them in the United States, but in older parts of the world, tapestries play a role in history.

A quick Google search brought back some information on the longest tapestry in the world–the Apocalypse Tapestry, which originally stretched 459 feet. The richly detailed, colorfully woven panels feature scenes from the Book of The Revelation. Sources say it took five years to complete.

The Apocalypse Tapestry, the longest tapestry in the world

The Apocalypse Tapestry, the longest tapestry in the world

What amazes me about weaving–and weaving tapestries specifically–is that you need more than one color of thread. I mean, sure, you can weave with one color, but then you don’t have a tapestry. You have a rug. It takes colors and combinations of colors, twisting around each other, going over the top of and underneath each other to create the brilliant a beautiful designs that make it worth something.

A tapestry as a whole is an amazing thing, but what if you’re one thread in a tapestry. If you’re one thread in a massive tapestry, you don’t get to see the tapestry. All you see is the winding and twisting and inconvenience of having to deal with other threads. Some threads would be easier to manage. Other threads might be more difficult to get around. But you’d never be able to get away from other threads.

Have you ever considered that’s what our lives are like? Our life is one big tapestry, and we’re one thread.

tapestryToday’s verse is Genesis 50:20.

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.”

This is what Joseph said to his brothers after he revealed himself to them. His brothers had betrayed him, sold him into slavery, told his father he was dead. Joseph meanwhile experienced every horrible thing you could imagine, but God worked everything out. God had a plan the whole time. Joseph was one thread in God’s incredible tapestry.

You and I are no different.

Today is my last day at my “real” job. It was the kind of job I never thought I’d get. It’s so strange to be old enough to look back on my life. When I was in high school, I didn’t understand what it meant to see God’s fingerprints all over your life. People talked about it, but I’d never experienced it.

After college, maybe I understood it a little better, but I didn’t grasp it fully until I started working at the job I have now. I couldn’t have gotten that job without what I learned at the job before it. The job before it? I couldn’t have gotten that one without what I’d learned as a college student. And so on and so forth.

Every job I’ve had, every position I’ve held, has been training grounds for the next job, and that’s not an accident. That’s me being a thread in God’s great tapestry. And I wasn’t alone. All through my life, I’ve been surrounded by other threads–some going the same direction as I was. Some were going opposite. Others were perpendicular to my path, but that didn’t make them wrong.

I didn’t always understand why I had to walk the same path with so many other people, but now I can look back and see the beautiful design and pattern that God has made from my life and my interactions with other people.

God puts people in your life for a reason. Sometimes it’s to challenge you. Other times, it’s to encourage you and uplift you. Either way, you can learn something.

My life is a beautiful tapestry because God is a beautiful weaver, and He chose amazing colors to weave together in my life. If it were just me, there wouldn’t be much to look at, but because I’ve gotten to share life with so many wonderful people, God has made something beautiful out of something that could have been barren.

People make life difficult, sure, but more often than not, the people you meet will teach you something about yourself. And it’s something you need to learn. I’ll promise you that.

As I shut down my company laptop for the last time tonight, clear out my cubicle, pull off my name plate, turn in my keycards, and walk to the parking garage, I’ll be sad. I might as well accept it. I’ll be a wreck.

I’m sad to leave behind the people I’ve come to love so dearly, but I know this is the right choice. And I’m more thankful than words can ever say for what they’ve taught me about life and living and myself. I’m ready for my next adventure thanks in no small part to them. And the tapestry of my life has been made all the more beautiful because my thread crossed paths with theirs.

No matter where life takes you, never forget the bigger picture. We’re all part of a larger story unfolding bit by bit every day, and all of us have roles to play in the pattern of God’s great design.

Sometimes small steps are better than big ones

We live in a just-add-water society. We don’t have to wait for anything. All we have to do is buy it, dump some water in, pop it in the microwave for a few minutes, and you’re done. You don’t have to wait in line for movie tickets. You can buy them online.

Our world is so full of conveniences that sometimes we forget what it’s like to wait. And don’t get me wrong. I love my instant oatmeal in the mornings and my online shopping habit (the less I have to talk to people, the better), but one of the downsides of our instant gratification culture is that we forget how important it is to learn how to take things one step at a time.

Stone steps of Temple IV at the Mayan Ruins, Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Stone steps of Temple IV at the Mayan Ruins, Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Psalm 37:23.

The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
    He delights in every detail of their lives.

I don’t know of a verse in the Bible that directs us to take small steps, but the Bible is full of concepts about it. Esther taking small steps in God’s plan to become Queen. God leading the Israelites on a day-by-day basis through the wilderness. Taking life one step at a time is a biblical concept that we all need to wrap our heads around.

I don’t like waiting. At all. For anything. If I have a big bill, I pay it all at once, no matter how much it stretches me. If I have a book to read, I like to read it all in one sitting. Same with television shows. I don’t like waiting between episodes, so I wait until the show is all over and buy the DVD set and marathon it.

But life doesn’t always work out that way. Many times we aren’t financially able to make a big payment all at once and we have to chip away at it in bite-size pieces. And not everyone has the time or the attention span to take a weekend and watch an entire television series in one sitting. And sometimes, it’s not the wise thing to do to finish an entire project all at once. Sometimes the wiser path is taking small steps.

Trying to accomplish a massive task in one day just isn’t feasible, and if you consistently set impossible goals for yourself, eventually you’ll learn to stop trying because you never succeed.

If you would have told me four years ago that I would blog almost every Monday-through-Friday morning about a Bible verse at 6:30 in the morning, I would have told you that you were loony. Four years ago, I thought that was impossible. Well, it’s been four years, and I’m still going. But I didn’t start out with the intention of blogging for four years, self-publishing two books, and attracting around 500 followers on WordPress and Facebook. I just set out to write down my thoughts about a Bible verse for that day, and I kept doing it every morning.

I’m always talking about focusing on the big picture, and that’s important. But sometimes it’s more important to focus on the next step instead. Oftentimes the big picture will blow our minds. It’ll just be too big for us, and we’ll give up before we’ve even gotten started.

If we want to succeed, maybe we should start out focusing on what we have to do today instead of what we need to accomplish four years down the road.

Having trouble staying on a diet? Don’t worry about losing 50 pounds. Focus on what you need to do to lose one pound this week. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a lot, but it adds up. After a year, you’ll have lost 52 pounds.

Struggling with daily Bible reading? Don’t worry about getting a whole book or chapter read in the morning or in the evening. Just start with one verse a day. If you read one verse a day, every day for a whole year, you could almost finish the books of Galatians, Ephesians and Philippians!

If a task seems insurmountable or if your goals seem unreachable, don’t give up. Just divide them into smaller pieces, and take them one at a time. You’ll make progress. It’ll be slow, but every 1,000-mile journey starts with the first step. And you can’t get to the last step without taking the second and then the third and then the fourth and so on.

The big picture matters, yes. Never lose sight of that. But for today, focus on your next step. It doesn’t have to be huge or earth shattering. It’s just needs to be in the right direction.

Little purple flower - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Focus on the solution instead of the problem

Consistency is one of my biggest problems. I don’t have problems with consistency from a big-picture standpoint. Give me a vague problem to fix, and I can fix it. But when it comes to details, any consistency I have flies out the window.

We need 25 stories written for the upcoming magazine issue at my company? No sweat. Give me five days, and I can get it done. You need them proofread and copy edited to be flawless? That’s where I may have trouble. Details are difficult for me because I can get bogged down in them very easily.

Details overwhelm me. If there are five major problems staring me in the face, I might get a little stressed but it’s nothing I can’t handle. But if you throw 30 little things at me simultaneously, I will shut down.

And I think that’s what happens to me in life. As long as I can focus on the big problems, I’m okay, but the moment I start focusing on the little problems I get overwhelmed with how much there is to do and how inadequate I am to the task.

Little purple flower - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Little purple flower – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 42:11.

Why am I discouraged?
    Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
    I will praise him again—
    my Savior and my God!

The world is full of details. Tiny little details that if you miss just one, you can make a terrible mess. That’s just the way life is. But if you start focusing on those details, you’re liable to end up living with a very narrow-minded view of the world.

When I start focusing on all the tiny little problems I’m facing, that’s when I get discouraged. When I start focusing on the minor, petty issues that can absorb all my time and energy, that’s when I have trouble waking up in the mornings.

Maybe that’s not you. Maybe you are a detail-oriented person. Maybe it’s the details that you live for. And if that’s so, that’s great. But I bet the big picture intimidates you.

No matter whether we prefer to focus on larger problems or smaller problems, the issue remains that we all have problems. And we all usually have more than one problem we have to deal with in a day’s time. So how do we get past the point where our problems are all we can think about?

Well, it may be difficult, but instead of focusing on the problem, focus on the solution. No matter what problem you’re facing, there is a solution to it. And you can either choose to focus on how much you have left to do or you can choose to focus on how you are going to fix it.

Similarly in life, you can choose to focus on your inadequacies or all the things you’ve done wrong or all the details you’ve missed or all the mistakes you’ve made. Or you can choose to focus on the fact that God never makes mistakes and that He’s big enough to turn your screw ups into something that will glorify Him and bless you.

No, I don’t know how He’s going to do it. That’s for Him to know and for us to find out, but one thing I’ve learned is that God is both a detail person and a big-picture person. And He loves both perspectives because He’s the only Person I know who can work everything out to the best benefit of everyone involved.

So if all the details in life have you feeling down this morning, don’t focus on them. Or if the major problems in your life have you discouraged, don’t focus on them. Instead, put your hope in God. Lean on God and let Him take care of it. Do what you need to do to get through today, and God will provide an answer for you tomorrow.

That’s kind of the way He works anyway.