Faith is a process you have to repeat

faith-tested-endurance-growth-runner_1170x350

My roommate is training for a marathon. Well, it’s not specifically a marathon. It’s only a 5K.

“Only a 5K.”

Ha.

I don’t run. The only time you’ll see me run is if someone is chasing me. And the way I see it, when the zombie apocalypse gets here, I don’t have to run the fastest. I just have to run faster than the guy next to me. So I’m set.

Running is one of those things you don’t just go out and do if you haven’t done it. I mean, you can, but you’ll probably hurt yourself. If you want to run for any length of time, you have to work up to it. You have to train for it. If you don’t, your body won’t be able to handle the strain.

But lots of things are that way in life, not just running or physical activity. You have to work up to them. If you try to accomplish something without preparing yourself first, you’re likely to fail. So is it really surprising that faith is the same way?

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.” That’s what the Bible says in James 1:2-3, one of the shortest, most practical, most painful books on the New Testament.

You don’t start out with strong faith. Faith starts small, and it has to grow into something bigger. But it can’t grow until it’s tested.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]Faith starts small, and it has to grow into something bigger. [/su_pullquote]

What does a test of faith look like? That varies from person to person, but some tests of faith are financial (do you trust God to provide?). Some are relational (do you love God more than your significant other?). Some are physical (do you believe that God has your best interests in mind whether He heals you or not?).

Tests of faith come in many forms, but they’re always about the same thing. Do you trust God?

That’s what faith is about, following Jesus, trusting that He knows best, trusting that He’s got everything under control even when it doesn’t feel like it.

But God doesn’t drop you into these situations until He believes we’re ready. Looking back on my life, some of the tests He gave me as a child seem pretty insignificant. But I chose to trust Him then, and He came through for me. So I learned that I could always rely on Him, no matter what I needed.

So do you want powerful faith? Start small. It’s like training for a marathon. You can’t just do one day of training and expect to run the whole race without stopping.

Trust God for something small. And when He comes through, trust Him with something else. And something else after that.

Just like anything else you have to get better at, faith is a process you have to repeat. You won’t always see immediate results, but neither do runners.

The more God answers you, the easier it is to trust Him. The more you trust Him, the bigger you’ll realize He is. And before you know it, those giant problems that seem overwhelming to you today will just be a tiny blip on your radar that God helped you overcome.

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Sunrise behind the clouds at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Why repeat experiences aren’t always bad

Rochester, MN, is a nice little city. I’m not sure what the population is, but it’s big enough to have a decent downtown area–although I’m fairly certain most of the downtown is the Mayo Clinic.

That’s why we’re up here again, the third time this year. Visiting the Mayo Clinic. It’s a long, complicated story that’s taken up the better part of two years, but we’re hoping this trip will actually provide us with answers regarding my mom’s health.

What is really interesting to me this third time visiting Rochester is how not-stressed I am about the whole thing. Six months ago, I was uncertain. Seven months ago, I was a nervous wreck.

The first time we came up here, it was winter. Minnesota in March. Just where you want to spend vacation time, right? The snow drifts were taller than my car. Without the wind chill, it was 30 below outside. None of us knew where we were going. We didn’t know where to check in, who to talk to, where to eat or even what we could eat.

But now, in September, we’re all very comfortable in Rochester. Not like it’s a second home or anything, but it certainly is more familiar than it was. But that’s how life works. The things we’ve already experienced don’t stress us out like the things we haven’t, and because we’ve experienced all of this before, we know what’s coming.

Sunrise behind the clouds at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunrise behind the clouds at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Romans 5:3-5.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. 

One thing I’ve learned about life: Oftentimes you have to experience the same things over and over again before you learn anything. Looking back, it blows my mind how many times God has had to put me through the same frustrating circumstances just to get me to pay attention.

But if I can get over being frustrated, if I can look past having to go through the same stuff over and over again, I can start to see part of what He’s doing.

You don’t build endurance by running one race. You have to run a lot of races. You don’t build character by making the right choice once. You have to make the right choice many times. And you don’t truly understand God’s grace the first time He steps in to Help you when you don’t deserve it. You have to experience that many times before it really sinks in just how much He loves you and just how little you deserve His love.

Just because you have to go through the same frustrating circumstances over and over again doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. Granted, it may mean you aren’t paying attention to what God wants you to learn. Or it may just be that you need training.

So if you’re experiencing the same trial for the second, third or even fourth time, take a step back and do a heart check. Make sure your attitude is what it’s supposed to be. Make sure you’re open to learning or accepting what God may want to show you. And if you are, then just sit back and wait because God has something to teach you. He won’t bring you somewhere to leave you there without teaching you something.

Just because you have to go through something more than once doesn’t make you wrong or doesn’t mean God is punishing you. It could just be that He’s preparing you for something awesome.

Iris in the sun at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

He looked death in the face and didn’t flinch

Today is Good Friday. Today, nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus would die–and not just die, be brutally tortured, put on display, and allowed to suffocate until he died.

This month has been about endurance, and I’m not sure that there’s a better example of endurance than what Christ did on the cross for us.

I don’t usually put up entire chapters, but Isaiah 53 was calling to me this morning. I’ve posted it in the Message version, which is a paraphrase, but it really makes you think about it. I’m not going to post a commentary this morning. I’m going to let Scripture speak for itself.

And I’m going to sit back and be thankful and amazed and silent in shock that Jesus would love me enough to do this, that God would love me enough to do this for me.

Iris in the sun at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Iris in the sun at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Isaiah 53

Who believes what we’ve heard and seen?
Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?

The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
a scrubby plant in a parched field. There was nothing attractive about him,
nothing to cause us to take a second look. He was looked down on and passed over,
a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand. One look at him and people turned away.
We looked down on him, thought he was scum. But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures. But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed. We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way. And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,
on him, on him.

He was beaten, he was tortured,
but he didn’t say a word. Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered
and like a sheep being sheared,
he took it all in silence. Justice miscarried, and he was led off—
and did anyone really know what was happening? He died without a thought for his own welfare,
beaten bloody for the sins of my people. They buried him with the wicked,
threw him in a grave with a rich man, Even though he’d never hurt a soul
or said one word that wasn’t true.

Still, it’s what God had in mind all along,
to crush him with pain. The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin
so that he’d see life come from it—life, life, and more life.
And God’s plan will deeply prosper through him.

Out of that terrible travail of soul,
he’ll see that it’s worth it and be glad he did it. Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant,
will make many “righteous ones,”
as he himself carries the burden of their sins. Therefore I’ll reward him extravagantly—
the best of everything, the highest honors— Because he looked death in the face and didn’t flinch,
because he embraced the company of the lowest. He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many,
he took up the cause of all the black sheep.

Little flowers on Bolivar Island, Galveston, TX

Life may not be as bad as you think

I’ve mentioned that I’m in Kansas City at a copywriting seminar. Today is the last day, and I have to say I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve learned a lot and gotten to know some good people in the industry. But I learned something else yesterday, something beyond copywriting: I learned I have an awesome job.

Granted, I knew my job was great, but sometimes it takes really talking to other people in similar situations for me to grasp just what a great company I work for. I’m at this seminar with other people in my station who won’t be reimbursed for their parking, their meals, their gasoline. And I’m here being reimbursed for everything. I even have a company car to drive while I’m here.

It’s not that I’m not thankful for my job. I am. Every single day I’m thankful for it. But I’m not sure it had clicked in my head just how fortunate I am. On the bad days, it’s difficult. I’m not going to lie; this job has put me in tears many times. It’s full of frustrations and full of hard choices and big responsibilities, and I think some part of me had begun to take it for granted.

Many days I looked at my job as though it were something to endure, but what about these other people I’ve met at this seminar? They’re having to endure so much more than I ever have. And it makes me wonder if that’s not true all the time–that what I have to endure really isn’t as bad as I think it is.

Today’s verse is 1 Thessalonians 5:18.

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

Everyone knows we’re supposed to be thankful. Everyone knows that gratitude is essential. And most of the time, we do a pretty good job. I’d like to think I am a grateful person. I try to be. But it’s very difficult to be grateful when the ground is falling out from under you or when you’re doing your best to keep your head above water and more keeps pouring in on you.

When you’re a performance-driven person, it’s hard to truly see an ever-growing list of projects you will never complete as job security.

But the verse doesn’t say be thankful when you feel like it. It doesn’t say be thankful when everything is going right (or when everything is going wrong). It doesn’t put a time limit or a specific season when we’re supposed to be thankful. It just says be thankful and to be thankful in all circumstances.

So what does that mean? Face the day with a fake smile? Thank God half-heartedly and trudge on through the piles of work that would sooner bury you than cooperate?

Being thankful is a perspective. It’s a focus issue. If your default mode is gratitude, it makes a huge difference in how you face a day. And I think that’s where we need to be. I know that’s where I need to be.

We get so wrapped up in our own stories that it’s difficult to remember sometimes that other people’s stories might be full of more disappointments than ours. Other people might struggle more with things than we do, but it’s hard to remember that because sometimes all we can do is see our own trouble.

I’m not saying to stick with a job that you hate or with employers who take advantage of you. I’m not saying to stay at a job when you know God is calling you somewhere else. That’s not the case. But if you have a job where your needs are being met, where you are serving a purpose, where you are appreciated, and where you are being productive–be thankful. A lot of people don’t have that. And if you’re as fortunate as I am? Understand that we are in the minority.

I guess my thought this morning is that we need to have a default attitude of gratitude. Isn’t that cheesy? When we’re struggling and we feel persecuted, it’s easy to slip into endurance mode. And endurance is necessary. We need to keep going, to keep on keeping on no matter what is happening. But we also need to be thankful. And we need to keep our ears open. Because you never know how bad other people have it until you start listening and get your eyes off yourself. And once you understand how difficult life is for other people, your problems won’t seem so huge and you might even be able to see God working in your life in a way you hadn’t before.

So endure, yes. But be thankful first. It will make a huge difference in the way you view life and in the way you handle your troubles.

Snow on the pine trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Enduring when you can’t see God

Have you ever been in a situation where you are doing what God has told you to do but things in your life keep going wrong? You would think that if you did what God asked, He would arrange life so that it wasn’t so hard all the time. Right?

Well, unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. Yes, good choices and godly behavior do result in blessings, but remember we live in a broken world. So things aren’t always going to go the way we want them to, even if we obey God.

Snow on the pine trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Snow on the pine trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Genesis 50:20-21

But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? 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.”

The story of Joseph is one of the most amazing stories in the Bible. Joseph is one of my heroes because no matter how bad his life circumstances got, he never gave up hope. And in the end, he understood exactly why God had put him through the difficult times. If you can think of a depressing life event, I’m willing to bet Joseph suffered through something comparable. He was hated by his brothers. Sold into slavery. Lied about and thrown in prison. Forgotten. And he’d done nothing to deserve any of it. But he endured through all of the difficult circumstances because he believed that God was going to bring something good out of it.

Sometimes it’s so hard to see God when those things happen. Sometimes it’s impossible to see Him working, but the Bible says He’s there. And it’s up to us to believe that He is until we are able to see the pieces that fit in God’ s bigger plan.

I’m currently in Kansas City at a copywriting seminar for my job. I’m staying in a swanky Marriott on the Plaza. I’m not used to this level of service at hotels, though. When I drove my little company car into the check in area, a guy in a valet outfit held my door open and welcomed me. I had to go check in, but the rule is that you have to leave your keys with the valet guys. So I did. As I walked inside, I heard the guy lock the car with the remote key. There was a little confusion at the check-in desk, so I needed to come back to my car to get the paperwork, and I was looking for the valet guy. I couldn’t see him anywhere. I needed to get the key back so I could get into the car, but I couldn’t see him. Out of frustration, I tried to open the car door anyway, knowing that it would be locked — but it wasn’t. 

As I gathered the paperwork that I needed to prove to the hotel that I had really reserved two nights, I started getting angry. I thought for sure that I’d heard the guy lock my car, but it wasn’t locked now so maybe it had been another vehicle parked there. He had my keys, and he had just walked off somewhere, leaving my car and all my stuff in the front seat with the doors unlocked!

I shut the door to the car and started to go back inside, and just as I set my hand on the door, my car locked again. Well, that didn’t make any sense to me. The car didn’t lock by itself, but I didn’t see the valet guy anywhere. I went back to the desk, cleared up the confusion about the room, and walked back to my car–and the valet guy followed me out.

He’d been standing at the back of the lobby the whole time, in perfect view of me and my car. I just couldn’t see him. He unlocked the car, held the door as I got in, and pointed me where to go to park.

I felt like a moron, and I felt like a horrible person for getting irritated. Just because I couldn’t see him didn’t mean he wasn’t there, and as I think about the story of Joseph this morning, Joseph did it right. He couldn’t see God. How could he see God in all the horrible things that were happening in his life? But he never gave up and kept moving forward, living the way he knew God would be pleased with. And in the end, Joseph could put all the pieces together to understand exactly why God had allowed the things to happen to him in the first place.

So if you’re struggling through difficulty today, don’t give up and keep pushing forward. There’s no guarantee that it’s going to get better. Actually it might get worse. And while that’s difficult to take, especially if you know you’ve done nothing to deserve it, you have to believe that God is still there working.

Even if you can’t see Him, that doesn’t mean He can’t see you.

Roaring lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Enduring metaphorical lions

Sometimes it’s hard to do the right thing, but it’s always worth it. And God always honors people who do what the Bible says. Maybe it might not feel like it. Actually, at first, it may feel like you’re being punished for doing what the Bible says, but there’s never been a time when God hasn’t provided for his people or protected them when they needed it (even if they needed protection from themselves).

We live in a dark, broken world. Nothing works the way it’s supposed to; that’s been true since Adam and Even sinned. And the longer we live, the farther we seem to slip away from what God intended our lives to look like. We live in a culture that calls what is good bad and what is bad good and while we don’t have laws that force us to turn against God (yet), popular opinion and political correctness and peer pressure can be just as forceful.

Roaring lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Roaring lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Daniel 6:10.

But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God.

I love the stories in the book of Daniel. It’s such a complicated book, with so much going on, so much history, so much prophecy. But the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den is one of those little Bible stories that nearly everyone knows, whether they know the reason or purpose behind it or not. And if you’ve grown up in church at all, it’s likely you’ve heard the story or at least colored a Daniel in the Lion’s Den Worksheet.

It’s ironic because Daniel’s story is one we often relegate to children’s books, but it’s more relevant to the adult world now than it’s ever been. In case you don’t know the story, you can find it in Daniel 6. It’s worth reading. Basically, the king’s advisors got Daniel in trouble because they were jealous. Daniel was thrown into a den of lions because he wouldn’t stop praying in public, but an angel came and closed the lions’ mouths so they couldn’t hurt him. That’s the story.

For years and years, I’ve heard this story used as a premise for the concept of civil disobedience. In a nutshell, that just means that if a law ever commands that a Christ-follower turn against God, God’s law supersedes the law of men. In all other circumstances, we are subject to the authorities who are in power (I think that’s Romans 13). But when those authorities force us to disobey God, Christ followers need to obey God rather than men. Much like how Daniel did it here. But this month I’ve been focusing on endurance, and something stood out to me that I’m sure I’ve seen before but have just forgotten. Many times when we have to endure a situation or circumstance, all we really need to do is just to keep on keeping on.

When Daniel heard that the law had been signed, he didn’t go walk a picket line. He didn’t mark in the streets with a cardboard sign covered in catchphrases. He didn’t join a protest or a political organization. He didn’t issue written statements or go on national TV to declare his opposition. He didn’t do any of that. He quietly went home and prayed just as he had always done. I don’t know if that strikes a chord with you or not, but it makes me think. Because when I run into tough circumstances, the first thing I think to do is to go on the defensive. I want to put up my shield and hunker down and prepare to ward off the attacks of the people coming after me. Or I just attack.

Don’t misunderstand. We do need to be ready and prepared. We are fighting a battle, but we’re not fighting against people in this battle. And going defensive or offensive, usually ends up hurting people and hurting the cause of Christ. Yes, we need to stand up for what is right but always with humility and grace.

What did Daniel do? He didn’t change anything. He was already praying three times a day. So he just kept on doing it. And I think that’s what we need to do most of the time. We don’t need to change our tactics. We don’t need to get more aggressive. We don’t need to alter our course. I mean, if something is wrong, yes, it needs to change. But if not?

It’s like waiting in line at the grocery store. This is a horrible example, but work with me. If you get in line at a grocery store and you wait and wait and wait and get tired of waiting and decide to jump into another line, what happens? Usually, that line will move slower than the one you left.

Our world is dark and broken, and we can’t fix it. Honestly, God’s not even going to fix it. He fixes us. And when difficult and challenge circumstances come our way, we just need to endure them. We need to press on and keep doing what we’re doing. Check your heart, yes. Make sure you’re in the right place, and if you are, keep on doing what you’re doing. And take your troubles to God and trust Him sort them out.

Do what is right in spite of what people say about you. Do what God commands in spite of what people think of you.

Will that get us in trouble with people around us? Probably. Will that make us the butt of unfair jokes? Most likely. Will we be thrown into a pit of lions? Maybe metaphorically. But God can shut the mouths of metaphorical lions just as easily as real ones.

Distant, lonely tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Enduring when God is silent

I like instructions. I don’t always read them, but it’s comforting to know they’re there in case I need them. So what happens when the instructions don’t make sense? A friend was telling me over the weekend that her husband bought her a desk and assembled it for her, but the instructions were missing pages. So putting the desk together was a nightmare. What happens when you’re missing the instructions and the things you thought would be easy turn into something difficult?

That’s a silly example, but many of us run into that question a larger scale when we’re trying to live. We lose our instructions or we encounter a situation where the instructions no longer seem relevant, and we ask God for guidance. And He doesn’t answer. We ask Him to tell us what do to, and He doesn’t respond. What do you do then? How do you endure when God stops speaking to you?

Distant, lonely tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Distant, lonely tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Job 13:15.

God might kill me, but I have no other hope.
    I am going to argue my case with him.

Job is one of those people I can’t wait to meet when we get to heaven. He’s one of my heroes. The story basically goes that Job was one of the wealthiest men at the time, but he was also one of the most righteous. He was a God follower, and he wasn’t afraid if everyone knew it. And God pointed him out to Satan one day, telling him about how no one could match Job. So Satan made a deal with God that he could convince Job to turn against God, and God allowed him to attack Job. Overnight, Job lost everything. His wealth. His family. His status. Everything that mattered to him was taken, and he was left with a bitter wife and friends who turned against him.

Job is a big book. It’s 42 chapters, probably the oldest book in the Bible, and the majority of it is Job questioning, until God starts answering. But God doesn’t answer right away, and Job is left to puzzle through all the horrible things that have happened to him without God explaining it.

Have you ever been there? Have you ever had to suffer through circumstances that you didn’t deserve? Okay, let’s be honest. Most of the time the really bad stuff we encounter usually has some root cause in our lifestyle or our choices or our past, and it’s our own actions bringing the trouble to our doorstep. But have you ever really run into situations where you have to suffer through difficult things and you didn’t do anything to deserve them? I have. I know others who have too. And it’s in those moments where I have been really tempted to get upset at God.

I mean, why would He let this stuff happen to me? I didn’t do anything to deserve it. Why is He punishing me for things I don’t deserve to be punished for? That’s not fair.

If you’re there, read Job. Because he was there for 41 chapters. We are all in a very different place than Job was. He didn’t have the Book of Job or any of the Bible. None of it had been written down yet. So he had nothing except his experience and his relationship with God to go on. But we have Scripture. We have the Holy Spirit.

And what Scripture will tell you about God’s silence is that it’s never actually there. God is never silent. We just stop listening.

Are you facing troubles today? Are you facing situations that you don’t deserve? Have you asked God to take them away and He isn’t answering? Do this. Go outside and sit down and close your eyes and listen. What do you hear? Do you hear the wind? Do you hear birds singing? Do you hear leaves rustling on trees? Do you hear other people and life in the city?

God doesn’t have to speak in an audible voice for us to know that He’s talking. He speaks through the Bible. He speaks through Creation. He speaks through provision. He speaks through other people in our lives. He’s never silent, but we often let our troubles distract us.

Job was fortunate enough that God responded to him. God spoke to him. And when God was done speaking to him, this is how Job responded in Job 42:1-6:

Then Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me. You said, ‘Listen and I will speak! I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.’ I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.”

We don’t know why God chooses to do the things He does many times, but we know that He is fair and just and good and sovereign, which means He has the right do what He wants with what He made–and that’s everything. We know how the story of Job turned out. God blessed him with twice what he had before, and while Job had endured tremendous suffering, the second half of his life was more blessed than the first ever was.

So if you’re going through difficulty right now, think about Job. It’s okay to question God. It’s okay to wonder. It’s okay to talk to Him, to be honest with Him, to tell Him how you’re feeling, but remember who you’re talking to.

Everyone struggles through dark times. Everyone faces situations that seem unfair. And, yes, it’s frustrating and upsetting. But the more you focus on how God isn’t speaking to you, the quieter He’ll get. But it’s not that He’s speaking softer; you’re turning His volume down.