The Cost of Giving Up

Giving up is easy. Just throw your hands up, walk away from what’s challenging you or frustrating you, and stop thinking about it. It doesn’t take effort or inner strength to give up. It just takes a choice.

I’ve been there before. Actually, I think I was there this morning. Faced with all this overwhelming stress, this crushing workload, and the exhausting struggle of planning for the future, I considered just walking away from all of it. I was ready this morning. Because what does giving up actually cost?

If I didn’t have to work so hard to make a living, maybe I could rest. If I didn’t have to take care of family members and friends so often, maybe I could actually take care of myself for a change. If I didn’t have to plan for the future outcome of two businesses, maybe I could make one of them work. Sounds to me like giving up would be a greater benefit to me than pressing onward has been.

But is that the truth?

The truth is no matter how little I work, I don’t rest. I don’t know how, and that’s a soul issue. The same is true in taking care of myself, and spending more time to myself won’t help my heart any. And maybe my focus is pulled in two directions with two businesses, but I’m not ultimately responsible for the success of either. And maybe it seems like giving up won’t cost me anything, but that’s an illusion. Because giving up on any of those fronts would cost me the blessings I haven’t received yet.

Work will be rewarded (2 Chronicles 15:7). That’s a promise God makes us. When we work for Him, He promises to reward us for what we’ve done. But the truth about rewards from God is that they don’t always follow the work immediately. Sometimes you have to wait for a while.

Think of it like a harvest. It’s wintertime now, and across Kansas all the wheat fields are dormant. They were all planted before the first freeze, and most fields are already sprouted. Some are green, although right now most are yellowish and brown because we’re having such a dry year. But the farmer who planted the field doesn’t know how the field is going to grow.

He planted the field before winter, and he’s trusting that the field will bring a great harvest in summer. But there’s six months between planting and harvesting.

The same is true with any great objective in our lives. First you plant the seed. Then, you wait for it to grow. Then, you keep waiting. Sometimes you have to tend it, water it, feed it. But mostly you have to leave it alone and just keep living your life. Eventually, the time will come when you can harvest, when the seed has grown into a strong, beautiful plant. But it never happens overnight.

Think about it.

When you try to get in shape, you have to exercise. You don’t develop strong muscles overnight. You have to keep at it. You have to keep walking, keep lifting weights, keep doing your best and working hard to be able to claim the benefits of exercise.

When you start a business, you can’t just let it sit. You have to work it. You have to build contacts, reach out to potential customers, create products, manage campaigns, and talk to people you don’t know. Your business won’t sell a million products overnight (unless you’re just super blessed … and if you are, can you give me a lesson?).

What would have happened if J.K. Rowling gave up after her tenth publisher’s rejection? What would have happened if Edison gave up on inventing the light bulb or if the Wright brothers decided that they should stick to making bicycles?

Giving up before they succeeded wouldn’t have cost them anything they currently had. It would have cost them what they were going to achieve. And it’s the same with the rest of us.

If you give up now, you’re forfeiting something great. No, you don’t have it now, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never get it. You’ll get that reward when the time is right (Galatians 6:9) and not a moment sooner.

Here on Earth, we get focused on time. We live and die by the clock. But when we come face to face with God’s schedule, we need to readjust our perspective. Time has no meaning to Him. He made time. He is beyond time, and so He’s not subject to it. God sees time very differently than we do (2 Peter 3:8-9). And just because He isn’t running according to our watches, doesn’t mean He’s late.

God is always on time. We’re the ones with the watches that run too fast or too slow.

Think about your deadlines that way. So many times I feel the urge to give up because I’m not going to achieve something by the time I set. But who cares about the time I set? My timetable isn’t the one that matters. So how can I even consider giving up when I don’t even have access to the timetable God’s running on?

Yes, giving up is easy. But it costs more than we’ll ever know. So just hold on. I know it’s hard. I know it’s frustrating. I know it’s taking everything you have to just crawl out of bed in the morning. (I know because I’m there too.) But the reward is bigger and better than we can imagine.

Keep walking. Keep writing. Keep believing. Keep building. Keep moving forward. Keep on keeping on. Don’t give up. The ones who came before us endured more than we have, and they’ve received their rewards in full, just like God promised (Hebrews 12:1-3).

Who’s to say we won’t be next?

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Life doesn’t wait if you take a wrong step

I’ve been walking two miles a day since April or so, with a few breaks in between for vacations and things of that nature. Kansas weather is a little fickle for walking outside, so to keep to a consistent schedule, I use the treadmill downstairs. It’s a pretty nice set up. I get down there, fire up the treadmill, switch on my audiobook, and walk.

Well, yesterday morning, I reminded myself that clumsiness runs in my family. I took a wrong step. My left foot stepped down on the guard, while my right foot was still on the belt. So, yes, my left foot stayed in one place, my right foot ran out behind me, and I tried my darnedest to do the splits.

I didn’t fall. If we’d gotten it on camera, I’m sure it might have even looked graceful. Because somehow I regained my equilibrium and jumped back on the belt, trying to regain my footing. But it didn’t work. I couldn’t get my feet under me, so I just let the belt carry me off the treadmill. And by that time I’d made such a horrendous racket, my poor parents were upstairs thinking I’d passed out or something.

It was a good reminder for me to pay attention to where I put my feet, even when I’m walking on a treadmill.

EE8A129965Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 9:24.

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!

Like a treadmill doesn’t stop if you put your foot down in the wrong place, life doesn’t stop when you fall down either. It feels like it should. When you take a tumble and hit the dirt, you feel like your life should stop. When you get hurt or when someone you love dies or when you run into trouble that shocks you or scares you, it feels like the world stops spinning. But it doesn’t.

Life moves forward. It goes on. And it will go on without you. It’s a harsh reality to accept, but it’s the truth.

I remember my first year at college. I went to a school a thousand miles away from home. When I came home for Christmas after my first semester, I was shocked at how everything had changed. My church had changed. My friends had changed. My family had changed. Life went on without me being there.

Change isn’t bad. We need to remember that and embrace it. Change is normal. So don’t let it catch you off guard. But some changes will hit you harder than others. Some things in life will knock your legs right out from under you.

That unbeatable diagnosis. That painful relationship. That bad decision. Something will throw you for a loop, and before you know it, you’ll be doing splits on a treadmill, one foot locked in place and the other one carried away by life’s current. And you’ll probably end up on your face. It’s at that point you have a choice.

You can stay down, or you can get up again. When you run to win, you get up when you fall down. When you’re chasing a prize, you pick yourself up after you stumble. When you have a purpose for doing what you’re doing, you don’t give up. That’s what this verse is about. It’s about living life for a reason.

You will fall. Nobody’s perfect. You may even fall more than once, but just remember why you’re running. Remember who you’re running for. As Christ-followers, we’re not after an earthly prize. We’re in this race to finish strong in the name of Jesus.

So get up. Dust yourself off. Get back on that treadmill. Run to win.

Everybody feels like giving up

What are you dealing with today that makes you just want to give up? Is it a relationship? Or a job? Maybe a dream?

If you’re in that place today, don’t think you’re alone. Everyone ends up there at some point in their lives. Even the most optimistic person in the world has a day when they just can’t take it anymore.

And there’s something God taught me yesterday as I was thinking about pushing through the tough times that I thought I’d better share. What’s even cooler is that it’s a lesson I learned from Christmas.

1149769_48728710Today’s verses are Romans 12:2-3.

We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.

As in everything else, Jesus should be the example we follow. He’s the One we should pattern our lives after, and He never gave up. Not even when he faced agony and disappointment and abandonment. Because He knew what was coming, He had the strength to keep going.

God made you with a purpose. He has a plan for you. Maybe you can’t see it right now, but it’s real. God started it, and He won’t stop finishing it until it’s done. That’s a promise. But our enemy does love to throw darts of discouragement at us, and when life is so busy and so crazy and so broken, it’s so easy to give in. It sounds so much easier just to give up.

And in those moments, it’s tempting to think that Jesus’ example doesn’t fit. Because He was God. And you’re not. I mean, after all, you’re just a regular person. You’re not a superhero. You can only take so much.  Right?

Well, let’s talk about the Christmas story, because, yes, Jesus was involved, but the major players were all 100% human. No superheroes present.

Who better to start with than Mary? A young woman. Pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Yeah, imagine life for her in the first century. You think you’ve got it rough? Mary could have been killed. The Law actually would have allowed for her to be stoned to death because no one would have believed she was a virgin and had still conceived a child. Life sucked for Mary, but if she hadn’t stuck it out, Jesus wouldn’t have been born.

What about Joseph? Mary’s husband. Before they were married, Joseph had to deal with the rumors and the whispers and the gossip that his fiancée had been unfaithful. And those whispers probably followed him for the rest of his life. Put yourself in his shoes. God asked him to be the earthly father of the Messiah, but Joseph would never get any credit. Not really. He’s the forgotten figure in your manger scene. He’s just Joseph. How awful is that?

What about the shepherds in the fields? Sure a bunch of angels popped up and told them the Savior had been born, but the angels didn’t give them a lift. The shepherd had to go searching Bethlehem, going from stable to stable until they found the one with a baby in it.

And the wise men? Gosh, I don’t think anyone really thinks about what the wise men had to go through to find Jesus. They’re always pictured in the manger scene with the shepherds, but they didn’t actually arrive until much later. And they had to do tremendous study to figure out when and where Jesus would be born. And then they had to travel for miles and miles and miles and miles…. you get the idea.

Here’s the deal, friends. Life is hard for everyone. Certainly some have it worse than others, and we shouldn’t ignore that fact. But just because you’re tempted to give up today doesn’t mean you’re the only one who’s ever felt that way. You’re not a horrible person. You’re not a bad Christian. You’re just human, and you’re stressed out and pulled in too many directions at once.

So here’s what you need to remember: Even if you feel like giving up, even if you think nothing is going to change, even if you can’t see an end to the difficult road you’re on, don’t give up.

Giving up is easy. Like the innkeeper when Mary and Joseph needed a place to stay. He didn’t even try to help them. Maybe life had just gotten in the way. Maybe he was having a tough time. But instead of trying to help a young couple in need, he just gave up and sent them away. And he could have been the one to be there when Jesus Christ was born. Think of what he missed out on because he gave up.

That thing you don’t think you can do? Ask God for help and try it anyway. That job you think is too much for you? Ask God for help and give it your best. That goal you think you’ll never achieve? Ask God for help and shoot for the stars.

Everybody feels like giving up eventually, but giving up is a choice. And with God’s help, you don’t have to choose it.

The road leading to Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Use your tough times like a stepping stone

I’ve been walking quite a bit in recent weeks, though not recently. Most recently I’ve been locked in my room trying to finish the two books I have in the works (the third AlwaysPeachy devotional book and a romantic comedy for Crosshair Press). But while I was walking regularly outside, I made it about two miles every evening after work. And I remembered something that I had forgotten.

My house is on a hill. Whether you come at it from the east or the west, you have to go up hill. Now, granted, it’s not a huge hill. This is Kansas, and while we do have some variety in our topography, generally speaking we’re pretty flat. But walking to my house isn’t all on level ground. When you start out, the going is easy. Then, you get to the far section line and turn around and bam! You’ve got a really good walk ahead of you.

The road leading to Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The road leading to Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 2 Timothy 3:14.

But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you.

When you experience trouble in life, you develop your own momentum as you deal with them. I didn’t take Physics, but I understand momentum and inertia. An object in motion stays in motion. So if you can get an object moving, as long as no other force counteracts it, it will keep moving. When you go through trouble in your life, you have to start moving, but when you stop is up to you.

When I’m in the thick of dealing with a big challenge in my life, I engage mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and sometimes even physically to get through it. I have to, or it’ll bury me. And sometimes when that challenge has been conquered, all I really want to do is collapse on my couch and watch a Jane Austen movie. And sometimes that’s what I do.

But on some occasions, I have the blessing of being able to see more problems on the horizon. I can see them coming, so they don’t surprise me. And instead of relaxing, instead of letting down, I keep up my high level of mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical alertness. Why? Because while they’re already at a high level, it’s easier to keep them that way than it is to let them fall only to have to build them back up again.

It’s like going downhill. At the top of a hill, you can go downhill really fast, but at the bottom, at the foot of another hill, you have the choice. You can stop and catch your breath, or you can use your momentum to get most of the way up the next hill before you slow down.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t stop and rest. Trust me, if you’re about to fall over or pass out, the best thing you can do is stop and take a breather. But I know that the second hill is a lot easier to get over if you can use the momentum you gained from conquering the first hill.

Have you got troubles coming your way? Maybe not even trouble. Just busyness. Everybody has that. The holidays are coming, and that usually means we all go nuts.

Get ready now. Start climbing the hill now so you can hit your downhill stride when the craziness gets here, and that way you can coast for quite a ways up the oncoming hill without straining. Sure, you’ll have to kick it back in gear eventually, but part of endurance is knowing when to coast and when to pedal for all you’ve got.

Booker the Basset Hound looking down the trail on the hike at Helen Hunt Falls, Colorado Springs, CO

What I learned from a basset hound on a mountain hike

Have you ever faced a challenge you were sure would defeat you? Have you ever started a task and understood a few minutes into it that you’d never finish it? Life seems to be full of experiences like that, those moments when the mountain in your path seems too high to climb and too wide to go around.

If you’ve been there (or if you’re there now), you’re not alone.

So this morning, I want to tell you a story about Booker the Basset Hound. I met Booker on a mountain hike in Colorado over Memorial Day weekend. We’d found a pleasant hiking area in Cheyenne Canyon called Helen Hunt Falls, and we decided to go for a walk.

Well, on the way up, we’d passed a family with an adorable basset hound who was just having the time of his life. And he amazed me because he was climbing steep steps and leaping on tall rocks and making really great time. He wasn’t intimidated. He wasn’t scared. Sure he looked awkward and silly teetering like an overweight slinky up the worn wood steps, but he was having the time of his life. And when his family started to take him back down, he decided he wanted to keep going. And he ended up dragging one of the kids walking him up to the top of the mountain trail.

And, as funny as this may sound, I identified with that silly basset hound. Yes, the awkwardness and lack of coordination too, but mainly that desire to do more, to be more, to see more, to achieve greater things than I should be physically capable.

When you dream big, you face big obstacles. Even if you don’t dream big, you’ll still face challenges in life that are too big for you to tackle on your own. And in those moments, you’ll be tempted to just stop trying.

Booker the Basset Hound looking down the trail on the hike at Helen Hunt Falls, Colorado Springs, CO

Booker the Basset Hound looking down the trail on the hike at Helen Hunt Falls, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Galatians 6:9.

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.

We face so many difficult circumstances in our lives, some more than others, but in general we all will encounter resistance every day. Even more so if we are followers of Christ.

And doing the right thing is hard. Making the right choice over and over and over again with no guarantee of success or victory or advancement is excruciating. And giving up sounds so nice, so restful, so relaxing.

But believe me giving up is anything but that. Because you’ll always be tormented by “what if.” What if you hadn’t given up? What if you hadn’t stopped trying? What if you hadn’t turned around?

You might have made it to the top of the mountain. It might have been just around the corner. It might have made all the trouble worth it.

The thing about God-given dreams, they have to happen when God is ready for them to happen. Our plans are no different. We can lay our lives out carefully and specifically, but if God isn’t ready for our plans to work out, they won’t. The time has to be right.

We just don’t know when that time is. So we have to keep moving forward until that time gets here. And if we’re paying attention, if we jump when He says jump, we’ll experience the joy of a dream fulfilled.

So what challenge are you facing today? Do you feel like poor Booker, trying to climb a mountain with short stubby little legs (and obnoxious tourists with cameras who keep taking his photograph)? It’s tempting to give up, but in those moments, you have to remember what you’re climbing toward. You have to remember why you’re doing what you’re doing, why you’re striving to achieve your goal, why you’re working to make your dream come true.

Life is hard, but don’t give up because the view is worth the climb. Don’t let the struggles you’re going through make you forget why you’re climbing.

A steep section of Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Walking buddies

When I went to England last summer, I got to walk along Hadrian’s Wall, the ancient Roman fortification that separated the “civilized south” from the “barbarian north.” The section that we walked is called Steel Rigg, and it’s a beautiful trail that winds up and down through the green windswept highlands. Maybe some people think it’s barren, but I think it’s beautiful. And steep. It was ridiculously steep in some places, and I’m not the most graceful or coordinated person. The photograph I picked today shows a particularly treacherous bit. I snapped the picture while the three people ahead of us were trying to get up the side of the hill, just for perspective. You probably have to enlarge the photo to see them (yes, that man is wearing a camouflage poncho….Americans).

I’m not a really active person. I’m trying to be. I’m working on being more active, walking more and taking the stairs and such, but a three or four mile hike up and down wet stone steps with crazy wind isn’t something I do every day. So I was a little nervous about it. And, plus, since I have a clumsy streak, I was absolutely sure I was going to trip on one of the ancient stone steps and tumble down a hillside. But I was determined that I was going to finish this. And I did.

Granted, I had my best friend along with me, reminding me to take it slow and walking beside me in spite of my snail’s pace. And we had a guide with us who knew where he was going. And my brother was along, who’s just a calming influence on me anyway. Without the three of them, there’s no way I would have braved Hadrian’s Wall.

A steep section of Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

A steep section of Hadrian’s Wall, Northern England

Today’s verse is Isaiah 41:10.

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
    Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
    I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

New years are hard work. They’re sort of like starting from scratch, except you go into them carrying all your excess baggage from the previous year. There are only so many resolutions you can make (only so many resolutions you can keep), and most of the time you find yourself giving in toward the end of the second week anyway.

I’d love to believe that a new year means you can start over again, but turning a calendar page doesn’t give you the power to start a new life. It just means you have to press forward in spite of all the junk you didn’t finish last year. Let’s just be real here. Can you honestly say you’ve done everything you had planned to do in 2013? How about in 2012 or 2011 or 2010? You get the point. I still have projects I started in 1994 that I’m trying to get done (maybe that’s just me).

And that’s discouraging. Personally I have so many awesome things I want to do, so many things I want to accomplish, but life keeps getting in the way, and it’s frustrating beyond measure. And when I sit down with my calendar to figure out how to fit everything I want to do into this set of 365 days, I begin to see how impossible it is, and it makes me want to give up, especially when I meet resistance from every angle.

Then, I run into a verse like Isaiah 41:10 that reminds me not to be afraid or discouraged. Whether it’s the start of a new year or not, life is full of uncertainties, and if you focus on them, you’ll depress yourself. Not knowing is always depressing, I think. And that’s why it’s important to focus on what we do know. As Christ followers, we know that God is with us. We know that He’s promised never to leave us, and we know that He’s working everything in our lives out for good, in spite of how crummy our circumstances may look right now.

It’s like walking along Hadrian’s Wall. It’s hard work, living life. Sometimes you have to watch your feet instead of the scenery because you aren’t sure if your next step is going to be solid enough to transfer your weight from one stone to another, but you can’t stop moving. I mean, you can. But what good will that do you? You can give up and stop moving forward, and then you’ll be stranded out in the middle of Northern England until someone brings a helicopter to come pick you up.

Like Hadrian’s Wall, life has ups and downs, harsh inclines and steep drops, damp stone steps and uncertain footing, and it can be tempting to give up and stand still. That’s why it’s important to have somebody walking with you, someone who moves at your pace, someone who knows where they’re going, someone to catch you when you fall.

Everyone is facing something today. Financial challenges. Work challenges. Health challenges. Family challenges. There’s a challenge for every person–sometimes more than one, usually more than two or three. But as Christ followers, we’re not facing those challenges alone. We just have to remember that. God has told us not to be afraid and not to be discouraged. He will give us the strength we need to keep moving forward. He is always victorious, and He’s offering that help to us today. We just have to take it.

Wheat at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Endure when it feels like nothing will change

For me, the hardest part of endurance is the length of time I have to wait before I see results. I’ve mentioned before that I really hate waiting. I don’t mind training and preparing and planning, but once what I have trained and planned and prepared for has happened, I want immediate results. I want to see a ROI–a return on investment, as we call it in the marketing world. But most of the time that’s not how it works.

Following Christ and living for God is less like a marketing campaign and more like wheat farming. In a marketing campaign, you do the work, you submit the materials, and you wait for your leads to come in so you can track them down and try to convince them to buy product. It’s all very rapid, and you get fast results. In wheat farming, or other types of farming, you plow your ground, you plant your seed, and then you wait. And wait. And wait. And wait. And wait. And pray that it doesn’t get hailed to bits or blown away. And pray that there’s enough rain but not too much. And you keep waiting until it’s finally time to harvest.

That’s what the Christian life is like. And that’s why we need to learn how to endure patiently because some things can’t be rushed, and if you give up too soon, you’ll miss out.

Wheat at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheat at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Galatians 6:9.

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.

It’s hard to do the right thing. It’s hard to press on and do good when all it seems to accomplish is to get you in trouble or to encourage others to take advantage of you, but that’s what we are called to do. As Christ-followers, we are called to live a life that honors God, and that means living according to the Bible. And maybe you didn’t know this, but the Bible isn’t exactly popular anymore. If you want to be politically correct, the Bible isn’t really the source for that.

It’s tiring to live the way the Bible says in a culture that mocks everything you believe. And it’s growing more and more difficult every day, it seems. And sometimes, in that quiet dark corner of my heart that I don’t like to admit is there, I wonder if it’s really worth it.

Have you ever been there? Where you’re just tired of being treated like a fool? Or you’re tired of always having to do the right thing and be branded as a goody-two-shoes? Or be labeled as “The Christian” when you really know the label means “self-righteous” to the people who use it?

Or are you tired of having to deal with other Christians? I think sometimes we focus on how frustrating it is to work in a culture with people who don’t believe the same way we do, but what about having to work with people who do believe the same way you do? It’s twice as frustrating because we have expectations for how Christians are supposed to behave, and when they don’t meet those expectations, it’s easy to get angry.

I get tired. I get worn out. I get exhausted with dealing with people and situations and circumstances, and there never seems to be an end to any of it. But then, I see a verse like today’s verse and I remember that many times I’m just in the growing phase of the season. People are growing. I’m growing. And if I try to harvest too quickly, I’ll kill my crop.

That’s why we have to endure. That’s why we can’t give up, whether you’re dealing with believers or unbelievers. We’re planting seeds every day, and maybe we’ll see something sprout. Maybe we won’t, but most of the time we’re going to harvest something. Maybe we won’t recognize it. Maybe we won’t even realize it, especially if we aren’t looking for it.

So don’t give up. And if you’re frustrated, try shifting your focus. Instead of seeing only how long you have to wait, try looking at how much your crop is growing while you’re waiting. We had so much moisture recently here in Kansas that the wheat outside my window has turned the most brilliant shade of green I’ve seen since last March. I got so used to the dull, dead colors of winter that seeing so much green nearly brought tears to my eyes.

And it reminded me that even in a season when it feels like nothing is growing, something is. You just have to look for it.