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.

Don’t let the Big devalue the Small

Something huge is happening today. I’ve been posting about it for the last few days. My best friend will be home tonight! I’ve been waiting for this day for more than two years, and in the last few days, it’s been all I can think about. We’ll get to have adventures together. I’ll get the privilege of seeing her face nearly every day. It’s huge and exciting and I can’t wait for tonight when she gets here!

But you know what? It’s not tonight yet. I still have hours and hours and hours until Katie arrives at the airport tonight. And, yes, it’s a big thing to have her home again, and most everything else in my life pales in comparison. But just because other events are smaller doesn’t mean that they’re less important.

Little flowers at Happy Meadows Campground near Colorado Springs, CO

Little flowers at Happy Meadows Campground near Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are 1 Kings 19:11-13.

“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

People are impressed by flash. Big booms and explosions, fancy light shows and displays, marketing and lace and suave charming facades. We like the big, impressive shows. They get our attention, and as long as they keep up the action, they keep it. And, honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that.

It’s okay to be flashy. I know a lot of flashy people who are devoted, dedicated Christ-followers. It’s great to marvel at a big show. Lightning storms are awe-inspiring. I’m a pyro and love fire, and I love guy movies where all sorts of things blow up. I get so caught up in the bigness of an event that I tend to miss the small, important things. And often what God wants us to learn is usually more obvious in the still, small moments.

God could have appeared to Elijah in any way He wanted. He could have been in the wind. He could have been in the earthquake. He could have been in the fire. But He chose to speak to Elijah in a still, small voice.

Elijah could have been carried away paying attention to the big stuff. I’m sure it was impressive. But what if he had been so focused on the big stuff that he missed God’s little voice? He would have missed the most important conversation of his life.

So what big thing is happening for you today? You know what’s happening for me. But I’ve got half a dozen other things going on today that are much smaller, and I need to pay attention to them. God gave me stuff to do today. Some of it’s big, and some of it’s small, but because God wants me to do all of it, it’s all important.

Don’t get so wrapped up in the great big events of your life that you forget the importance of the small stuff.

Don’t forget who the story is really about

When I’m writing a story, sometimes I get lost in it. I’m not sure how other people do it, but when I write, I’m really just watching a story unfold and committing the events and dialog to paper. Sometimes I don’t even know how it’s going to end. There are stories I’ve written where all my attention has been focused on what a character looks like or what a character says or what happens next in the story, and those are all important things to know. But it’s in those moments when I get so caught up in the details that I forget the point.

Some people will say that character is the most important part of a story. Others believe it’s plot–the chain of events that unfolds in a book. But I disagree with both of those. They’re important, yes, but not the most important. The most important part of a story is the message. Every story has a message, a lesson to learn, a point to communicate. And if you get so tied up in the characters and the voices and the settings and all the million little picky details, you run the risk of letting the message slip through your fingers.

Today’s verses are Matthew 17:1-8.

Six days later Jesus took Peter and the two brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus. Peter exclaimed, “Lord, it’s wonderful for us to be here! If you want, I’ll make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But even as he spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.” The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground. Then Jesus came over and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” And when they looked up, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus.

Put yourself in the shoes of Jesus’ inner circle–Peter, James, and John. The original three amigos. Can you even begin to imagine what they saw that night? In the blink of an eye, the veil covering Jesus’ earthly form pulled back, allowing them to see a piece of who He is. And if that weren’t enough, two legends from Jewish history decided to stop by for a visit.

Moses and Elijah. Moses and Elijah! My gosh, you don’t even have to know the Bible very well to know who Moses is. And Elijah may not be as familiar to you as Moses, but he’s the guy who called down fire on Mt. Caramel. These guys are heavy hitters. And their bodies had long since returned to dust.

So you can’t exactly blame Peter. I would have been excited too. Moses and Elijah! But Peter missed the point. Just like we do so often.

We take Jesus for granted because He’s always around. His name is everywhere, and we get used to Him, sort of like Peter did. Yeah, Jesus is a big deal, but He was always with them. Seeing two Old Testament prophets wandering around like they hadn’t been “dead” for a thousand years? Now that was something to write home about.

But God set Peter straight. The story isn’t about Moses. And it’s not about Elijah. The story is about Jesus, and it always has been. From before time began and long after time runs out, the story will forever and always be about Jesus. He’s the message. He’s the point.

Have you started to take Jesus for granted in your life? Are you more excited about something God is doing rather than the fact God is the one doing it? Take a step back. Take a moment to think about what actually matters.

It’s great to celebrate the details. It’s wonderful to focus on specific aspects of a job or a relationship or, like in my case, a novel. But don’t let those details get so big that they overshadow what really matters. Don’t forget who the story is really about.

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.