Don’t rush learning how to follow Jesus

I’m not a patient person. I’m like the least patient person you’ll ever meet. That’s why I marathon television shows. That’s why I rarely read books series until they’re complete. I don’t like waiting for stories to resolve. I want to know what happens right away.

Unfortunately that lack of patience seeps into other areas of my life. It’s one of the reasons why I didn’t do well in music lessons. My mom is a crazy accomplished classical musician, but she didn’t get there overnight. It took 45 years for her to get to that place. I wanted to pick up a musical instrument and be perfect right away. I didn’t want to work at it. I didn’t want to make mistakes and have to learn from them. I wanted the benefit of the skill without the drudgery of the discipline required to achieve it.

Sound familiar to anyone? We all have our sticking points when it comes to patience and discipline. Ironically, I had to learn that I had a lot to learn, regardless of what career path I chose. I settled on writing because I thought I was a great writer when I was little.

Yeah. Wow. Looking back, I knew nothing. And all I’ve learned in 25 years of writing (yes, I wrote my first story in kindergarten) is that I still know nothing, and that I have a lot more to learn. I’ve learned that I’ll never stop learning. But learning isn’t about filling your head with information. I mean, that’s part of it. The greater part of learning is patience. It’s hard work to learn. It’s trying and difficult, but the more you work at it, the stronger you get.

S059QDGBOG_1549x1037Today’s verses are Hebrews 10:32-36.

Think back on those early days when you first learned about Christ. Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering. Sometimes you were exposed to public ridicule and were beaten, and sometimes you helped others who were suffering the same things. You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew there were better things waiting for you that will last forever. So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.

Following Jesus takes discipline. Sorry to burst the bubbles of anyone who signed on expecting an easy ride. Think of following Jesus like two magnets with opposite poles being pressed together. On one side, you’re drawn to Him because you belong to Him, but on the other side you’re repelled because you still have a dark nature that wants your own way. You have to fight yourself every step of the way if you want to follow Jesus.

And then add in the trouble our enemy throws at us. We have an enemy who hates us because Jesus loves us, and our enemy will do everything in his power to distract us, stop us, hurt us, discourage us, and slow us down. But instead of seeing all those obstacles as barriers to following Jesus, try to see them as opportunities to grow.

Don’t rush following Jesus. Enjoy it. It takes time. It takes years. Learn to see the trouble as opportunities for God to show His power. Learn to see people as family members who just don’t know Jesus yet. But the more you seize opportunities to follow Jesus, the stronger you’ll become.

Jesus says to love your enemies. That’s not easy, but that’s part of following Him. You won’t want to do it, and Satan won’t want you to either. But Jesus says it, so we do it. Loving an enemy is an obstacle because they don’t want your love, but if you treat it as an opportunity, your faith will grow. Every time you extend love or kindness or forgiveness to someone who wants to hurt you (and you get nothing in return), it demonstrates to everyone around you and even to yourself that what Jesus says matters more to you than what is commonly or popularly accepted. And God blesses an attitude like that.

 

Living a victorious life in spite of a broken world

Ever have one of those days (or weeks or months or years) where it just feels like everyone and everything is out to get you? It’s not enough to have one problem. No, you have to have 12 all hit at the same time. Money problems and job problems and family problems and relationship problems and church problems and the list goes on and on and on. It’s different for every Christ-follower, but the story is the same.

In situations like that, it always makes me wonder if I’ve done something wrong. I never want to assume that I’m in the right, especially where my relationship with God is concerned. I always want to ask myself and judge my own heart to make sure I haven’t gone against the Lord in some way that He needs to correct. I never want to be so proud that I miss what He’s trying to teach me.

But what about when I haven’t done anything wrong? Sometimes life just stinks. The world is broken, and sometimes that brokenness affects my life, which has been redeemed but still exists as part of a fallen world. When that happens, what do we do?

gazing-rain-window_1555x1037Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 4:7-9.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.

It’s easy to get discouraged when you think about the state of our world, but we need to remember that this world isn’t our home. And even though we live here for now, that doesn’t mean we live here alone or that we’re helpless.

Every Christ-follower has power. We can face life with hope and strength and courage because God is walking this path with us, and if we rely on Him, He’ll give us what we need to get through the day.

So even in our darkest moments, when we’re surrounded by trouble, when we’re confused by circumstances, when people are out to get us, or even when we fall flat on our face, we can still live a victorious life. We don’t have to give in to the petty, grasping arguments and disagreements of the people around us. We don’t have to hurt each other. We have the power to choose love. We have the power to be like Jesus, and Jesus is undefeated.

If you’re down today, choose to get up again. And if you don’t have the strength to get up, ask for it. You’re not alone.

God is more than enough

Everybody has trouble. It’s just a part of life, but how we deal with the difficulties we’re facing says a lot about who we are. Do you hide when trouble comes your way? That’s understandable. Some trouble is just too much to face, and it’s so much easier to avoid dealing with it entirely than it is to confront it.

The problem is that you can’t hide forever. You can’t run forever. Some trouble keeps popping up. It just won’t die. And running from it or hiding from it only delays the inevitable. So what do you do when you can’t escape?

8J6SO4AGN0_1594x1196Today’s verses are Psalm 138:7-8.

Though I am surrounded by troubles,
you will protect me from the anger of my enemies.
You reach out your hand,
and the power of your right hand saves me.
The LORD will work out his plans for my life—
for your faithful love, O LORD, endures forever.
Don’t abandon me, for you made me.

If you’re a Christ-follower, God’s got you. That doesn’t mean you can disobey Him and expect no consequences. He loves us too much to let us get away with behavior that will hurt us and those around us. But when you face trouble that’s more than you can bear, He’ll be there with us to help us overcome it.

There’s no trouble in the world that’s bigger than God is. God is bigger than anyone or anything else in the world. It’s an inconvenient truth when we want our own way, because that means we have to surrender our stubborn will to God’s. But when we’re in trouble? When life is too much for us to handle, it’s nice to know that God is more than enough.

God’s got a wonderful plan in mind for each of us, and He’s promised to work everything together for our good and His glory. He’s the only one big enough to make that promise and keep it. So whatever you’re going through today, don’t give up on God. You may feel like He’s abandoned you, but He hasn’t. Even if you feel a million miles away from Him, He’s holding you in His hand, and He won’t let go. So stop fighting Him and let Him have His way.

Beyond your roughest road is great joy

I can’t remember the name of the highway (it might have been I-10), but it was a road leading to Pensacola, Florida, where I went to college my freshmen year. My parents and I were going for a visit while I was still in high school, and we hit this particularly bumpy stretch of pavement. It went on for a long time, and it was really uncomfortable in the back seat. The car bumped and bounced all over the place. I had a notebook, of course, and was trying to write something, but I couldn’t because the ride was so rough.

Life is like that highway. You’ve got to get from Point A to Point B, and even though there’s a direct route, it’s not an easy road. There are potholes and obstacles. Sometimes you have to swerve. Sometimes you even may have to stop to fix a flat. But it’s the only way to get there.

What do you do in those situations? Do you turn around and go back? You can, but what’s the point of that? No, if it’s the only road you can take, it’s better to press on and just deal with the discomfort, because you know the road will smooth out on the other side. It’s just hard to remember that sometimes.

wood-road-dirty-forest_1532x1021Today’s verses are 1 Peter 1:6-9.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.

God has a plan for everyone. It’s up to us to go along with it, but the plan is there. What Christians forget sometimes is that the road isn’t easy, and God never promised it would be. He actually promised the opposite. But He does say that on the other side of the rough rode of following Christ is great joy.

That’s what we need to hold on to in the tough times. When the road gets difficult and the potholes keep coming and the rain won’t stop falling, just remember that God is with you, and He’s also on the other side of your struggle. He’ll help you get through it. He’ll send help when you need it. He’ll provide strength when yours runs out. Just keep believing that He’s right and that His promises are real.

The road might be a muddy mess, and you’ll be muddy by the time you cross it. But once you’re past it, you’ll look back on it with fondness. You will, believe it or not. Because in retrospect, even though it was a hard and challenging and difficult time in your life, you’ll see it as the moment when you knew God was with you.

There’s something better on the other side

The light in my upstairs landing burned out a few months ago. A burned out light bulb in the city is one thing. The ambient light from outside often illuminates the inside of a house enough to see by, but out here in the country? Everything is always pitch black, until there’s a full moon.

Burned out light bulbs have always been interesting to me because they don’t look much different from a new light bulb. At least with the old incandescent bulbs, you could shake them to hear if the filament was dislodged. But with the new curlicue bulbs, I haven’t figured out how to look at one and determine if it works or not.

They look like they should work just fine, but when you actually try to use them, they’re broken.

bulbToday’s verse is Hebrews 13:14.

For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.

Have you ever realized how broken our world is? Maybe it looks fine on the outside, but in practical use, nothing works the way it’s supposed to? It’s one thing to know it. It’s something else to experience it, to watch your friends experience it, to see the pain and the suffering it causes.

Just turn on the television. Just listen to the radio. Spend an hour talking to someone at work or at school or at church. Everybody’s broken, but the world is more broken than any of us.

It’s so sad because God designed this world to function in a certain way. He put processes and rules and laws in place when He created it, and while all of those processes and rules and laws are still working, they have to use pieces that are falling apart.

It’s like our own lives, our relationships. Two perfect people would never find themselves on opposite sides. They’d always understand what the other was saying, and they’d never try to hurt each other. But nobody’s perfect. So in this world, our friendships and relationships of all kinds have to be built with imperfect materials.

We’re all insecure. We’re all afraid. We’re all jealous. How do you build a lasting relationship when the base materials you have to use are only good for tearing things apart? Maybe you could build a beautiful home with a horrible foundation, and maybe it will look perfect–but the first storm that comes along will bring it crashing down because it doesn’t work. It was broken from the start.

There are days when I know God can fix anything. There are moments when I believe that God is the restorer and can mend hearts and relationships and families and friendships. And I don’t doubt that. I’ve never doubted that. And I’ve seen Him do miracles more than once.

But is our world really worth fixing? Have you really thought about that? I mean, it would be wonderful if He did, but if you read Scripture, you understand that the way everything is falling apart isn’t a surprise. If you know the Bible, you know this global rebellion against God was coming. Maybe it’s not what God wanted for us, but it’s what has to happen before He can come back.

It’s so tempting to get attached to our lives here because they feel real. The taste of the coffee in my cup, the feel of the sunshine on my face in my upstairs office window, the smell of the apricots blossoming in the orchard. But it’s not real–not by God’s definition. It will all pass away in the end, and if I’m not invested in the things that are real, I’ll have nothing.

This world where we live isn’t our permanent home. It’s nobody’s permanent home. We will all live somewhere in eternity, but there are only two choices. And if you don’t choose one, that means you’re automatically choosing the other.

Jesus is real. Faith is real. Love is real. And the souls of the people around you are real. That’s what you should be investing in. You can spend all your money and all your time working to achieve a status or a goal the world says is admirable, but if God doesn’t say it’s worth it, it’s not.

Don’t get caught up in living in this world. Christ-follower or not, you’re not long for it. Not in comparison to forever.

But don’t be discouraged either. Our world is broken. People are broken. We’re all falling apart physically, emotionally, mentally. Nothing works the way it was supposed to, but that’s because this world isn’t our home. There’s something better on the other side, and that’s worth believing in.