Facing trouble is like riding a bicycle

I got a bicycle for my birthday this year. It’s pretty epic. Vintage, even. It’s not new, but my dad cleaned it all up. And it was waiting for me with a big “Happy Birthday!” sign on it when I got home.

I’d mentioned wanting one some time back because some of the happiest memories I have from childhood are all four of us riding our bikes around the trails when we lived in Wichita. We tried to ride bikes when we moved out to the country, but city bike tires weren’t designed for gravel roads. And then we just all got so busy.

So I hadn’t ridden a bike in 20+ years when I got back in the saddle. It was pretty embarrassing, I’m sad to say. I didn’t fall over, but I imagine I looked something like a newborn giraffe trying to figure out which way is up. But riding a bicycle really is–well, like riding a bicycle. You never really forget how.

I remembered how to sit, how to pedal, how to steer, but it had been so long since I’d exercised that particular set of muscles, let’s just say the ride didn’t last very long. I was really hurting by the time we were done. But you should expect that if you try to flex muscles you haven’t used in a long time. Maybe you know what you’re supposed to do, but you may not be physically able to do it until you’ve practiced.

my_bikeToday’s verses are James 1:2-4.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind 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. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

Have you ever thought of facing trials and challenges like body building? Maybe that’s too much of a stretch, but it makes sense to me. So much of how we respond to events in life is almost like muscle memory. We don’t necessarily think. We just react. But we react based on what our experience has been in past circumstances.

If you’ve never seen God do miracles, it’s very likely that the first time you run up against an impossible task, you’ll despair. If you’ve never seen God work out a situation with no possible answer, it’s very likely the first time you encounter an unsolvable problem, you’ll get upset.

But if you have seen God do the impossible, there’s not really much out there that can shake you. Sure, people may upset you. Circumstances may frustrate you. But you’ve seen things happen that should never have happened. You’ve seen the hand of God touching hearts, healing lives, mending the brokenness you never thought could be repaired. And once you’ve seen that, you can’t unsee it.

Our world is full of trouble. We can’t escape it. There used to be a time when we could ignore it, but it’s become so prevalent now, you can’t shut it out. It’s only a matter of time until you run into trouble that you can’t survive without God’s help.

If you haven’t encountered trouble like it before, just hold on. Because on the other side, you’ll be able to look back and see what God has done, not only in your life but in the lives of the people you love. Do what you’re supposed to do. Live how you’re supposed to live. And God will bless you and work it all out for your good and His glory.

And the next time trouble comes around (because there’s always a next time), you won’t blink. Because you will have experienced God’s goodness and His power already, and you’ll know what He can do.

Facing trials and troubles and challenges really is like riding a bicycle. The first time you get on, it’s hard work. It hurts. It’s a struggle. But the longer you ride, the more you practice, the better you get at it.

 

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A rather large hole in my brand new siding at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

It never rains, it hails

I live in Kansas. Have I mentioned that? Because I do. But I don’t just live in Kansas. I live in a small, remote area of wheat fields and sheep farms that tends to attract the most extreme weather in the state. And Kansas is a land of extreme weather.

I have multiple friends who are trained weather spotters, and one of them calls my house the Bermuda triangle of weather. Generally speaking, if there’s bad weather going on in Kansas, the strangest weather will be right over my house.

Take Wednesday night for example. The whole state had storms, yes. But the big, glaring red spot with Ping-Pong ball size hail was where? You betcha. Centered right over my house. And yesterday morning I got up for work and looked at the house, and in the morning light it looked fine. My brand new vinyl siding had weathered the storm! Hooray!

Well, hold your horses. I didn’t check the south side of the house where there were a dozen holes in the siding–some the size of tennis balls. Brand new siding–totaled. Brand new window screens–totaled. Brand new gutters–dented and dinged.

And this isn’t the first time this has happened. This same thing happened in 2007. We had a horrible storm, Broke windows, destroyed the siding, totaled the roof. So we got it fixed. And the week after–maybe even the day after–the last bit of work finished, another storm blew through and did twice as much damage.

And don’t think I’m complaining. This is life in Kansas. And we got off easy this time, honestly. None of the windows broke. The cars were all under cover. And all the trees that could have come down have already come down. If I wasn’t willing to handle this kind of life, I would have moved years ago.

But what struck me as I stood in the back yard, gawking at my Swiss- cheese-formerly-known-as-vinyl-siding is the timing. Oh, the timing of this storm is just amazing. Smack dab in some of the busiest months of my year. I’m running wild. My parents are running wild. And in the last few days, it feels like everything has just blown up.

What do you do in moments like that? How do you keep moving forward? How do you press on when it feels like every step you take is just the prelude to taking three steps backward?

A rather large hole in my brand new siding at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

A rather large hole in my brand new siding at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 1 Peter 1:6-7.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to 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.

Life here isn’t perfect, and it’s never going to be perfect. If we think it’s going to be, we’re just asking to be disappointed. And, let’s just face it, Christians, we have an enemy out there who doesn’t want to see us succeed for the cause of Christ.

Now, that doesn’t mean we should start jumping at shadows. I’ve met people who like blaming their difficult situations on Satan when it’s usually fairly obvious that their own bad choices have led them to where they are.

So don’t hesitate to examine your life. Check your heart. Check your attitude. See where you are with God. Before you start blaming all your life’s problems on Satan, make sure that you haven’t made decisions that have led to your current trouble. And if you find out that you have made mistakes, stop.

But, if you examine your life and you find that you have done the best you can, that you have held to what the Bible says, that you’ve put God first in every aspect of your life–and you’re still having crazy insane issues that don’t seem to stop? Well, then it’s a good chance that the Bad Guy is trying to slow you down.

And in that case? Don’t let him.

When you can step back and recognize that what you’re experiencing is simply our enemy picking on you, his petty schemes are easier to spot and they’re much easier to laugh at.

Yes. Laugh at.

And honestly that’s the best thing you can do. If he has to resort to throwing sticks and (hail)stones at us to upset us, he really must be desperate.

Don’t let him win. Don’t give in. Yes, it’s frustrating. Yes, it’s overwhelming. But think of the big picture. Remember who’s already won this war. And when you put the whole thing into context, you aren’t in as much trouble as you feel like.  Because God is bigger than anything Satan can throw at you.

So remember that the next time it hails on you. Siding can be replaced. Houses can be repaired. Lives can be rebuilt. And, in the end, Satan has already lost because he can’t take the things that really matter away as long as they already belong to Christ.

Old red shed at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Following God doesn’t mean you won’t have bad days

What happens when you obey God? I think we all make the assumption at times that if we do what God tells us to do, God will do what we ask Him to do. But that’s not really how it works, is it?

I’d like to think that doing what God commands would protect me from trouble, and in many instances, that’s true. If we do what God says, we’ll avoid the paths that can lead to danger and negative circumstances, but obedience doesn’t mean we’ll never face challenges.

Old red shed at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Old red shed at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 34:19.

The righteous person faces many troubles,
    but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.

Verses like this aren’t the kind that we like to read. We want to hear that righteous people never struggle, that righteous people never get sick, that righteous people never fall down. But that’s not the case.

Righteous people–or people who obey God’s Word–still live in a broken world, and bad things happen to good people in a broken world. That’s what makes it broken.

I’ve heard many Christians talking about how obeying God will protect them from trouble. Some Christian leaders in our culture preach messages that claim doing what God says prevents difficulty or challenge or struggle in our lives, but that’s not true. God doesn’t promise that we won’t have trouble in this life; He promises He won’t leave us when we do.

We are guaranteed to have trouble in this life. We don’t belong here. This world isn’t our home, and as Christ followers, the world will hate us. Plus, we have an enemy. Satan is constantly looking for ways to derail us. Put all of that together and you’ve got a recipe for conflict.

Christ followers will have trouble. Period. We’re going to run into difficult times, dark days, and challenging circumstances, but God has promised to come to the rescue. We don’t have to face those troubles alone. We don’t have to fight by ourselves. God will be right beside us every step of the way, offering His strength, His resources, and His insights into what’s really happening.

So when you run into trouble today, don’t be surprised. Don’t let it shake you. Don’t question whether God is really there. Realize that trouble is something everyone experiences, and God has promised that He’ll help us through it. So ask Him for help and wait for Him to show up. He will.

Speedy's Café at 187 N. Gower (more popularly known as 221B Baker Street in BBC's Sherlock), London, England

What Sherlock taught me about facing difficulty

I don’t watch television. If I find a show that I enjoy, I wait for it to come out on DVD and then marathon it, because I don’t like being tied down to a television schedule. And I’ve never been able to figure out how to get digital recorders to work anyway. Well, last year, I got hooked on a remarkable television show: BBC’s Sherlock. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. It’s amazing. Created by two Arthur Conan Doyle freaks (Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, the evil geniuses behind Doctor Who, my other current BBC obsession), it’s brilliant and funny and exciting and fresh and just all-around great entertainment. And it’s British. And it has Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in it, so what more could you ask?

Well, the season two finale was just evil. Evil, I tell you. And I’ve been waiting–waiting, waiting, waiting–patiently for the new series to come out. And I’ve got friend who watched it early because it launched in England earlier, and I thought about doing that. But for once, I wanted to watch it with everybody else, like a normal person. So I cleared my schedule on Sunday night and sat down to watch it on PBS.

And PBS was having major signal issues.

Now, if folks have cable, they didn’t have a problem. But I don’t have cable. I live in a 100-year-old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere with no access to cable systems, so I still operate on rabbit ears, which are hooked to a converter box and plugged into my television set. And something was wrong with the signal because every 15 seconds, the picture would fuzz and go silent for 5 seconds. And if you’ve watched any Sherlock, 5 seconds is a heck of a lot of time. You could miss an entire Cumberbatch soliloquy in 5 seconds.

I. Was. Pissed. Frustrated. Angry. Irritated. And just plain grouchy. I mean, seriously. I’d been waiting how long for this? Looking back on my reaction now, I’m kind of embarrassed about it because it seems like a very small thing to get so bent out of shape about. And that got me thinking about my life and perspective on a grander scale.

Speedy's Café at 187 N. Gower (more popularly known as 221B Baker Street in BBC's Sherlock), London, England

Speedy’s Café at 187 N. Gower more popularly known as 221B Baker Street in BBC’s Sherlock, London, England )yes, I’m that kind of geek that goes and takes pictures of set locations)

Today’s verses are Ecclesiastes 7:13-14.

Accept the way God does things,
for who can straighten what he has made crooked?
Enjoy prosperity while you can,
    but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God.
    Remember that nothing is certain in this life.

As I’ve posted before, Ecclesiastes is one of those books that you have to be careful with because Solomon was in quite a funk when he wrote it. So it’s not a book to just pick and choose verses and base your life off them. It’s a book to read in its entirety and understand as a whole.

To a certain extent, what this verse is saying is true. God has a certain way of doing things, and we have nothing to say about that. But God doesn’t bring hard times into our lives. God doesn’t take away good things from our lives. The world does that. Our own sin does that. The frustrations and irritations in our lives aren’t because of something God is doing; it’s a result of where we live and how we live.

But this is the verse that came to mind this morning after my frustrating experience with PBS last night. Not saying that PBS is like God. Not at all. But the situation reminded me of some similar events in my walk with God, where I was powerless to change anything, where I had a choice to either give up and cry about it or do the best I could until God revealed why it was all happening.

I’d like to think I’m a really great Christian who can handle whatever life and the world throws at me without complaint, but that’s not really the case. It’s funny. What I’ve found is that I can usually handle the really big things okay. The terrifying illnesses? No problem. The ridiculous expenses or the massive inconveniences? Not a big deal. But the small things? The tiny irritations? The pebbles in my shoe? They drive me flippin’ insane.

The tiny irritations of the Christian life are what make me crazy, and that’s not the way it should be. How I deal with the tiny irritations, especially when they stack up, will help me deal with the big problems later down the road. Like Sherlock last night. Instead of being grateful that I could see any of it, my first reaction was to get snippy and irritated. Why? Because I didn’t get what I wanted? How childish is that?

God doesn’t bring difficulty into our lives, but by the same token, He usually doesn’t snap His fingers to take it away when we encounter it. Some people like to say that means it’s His responsibility, and that’s their prerogative. But that’s like blaming a gardener for weeds. Weeds just happen; it’s not the gardener’s fault, and blaming him for it is a waste of effort and resources, especially since he will probably know the best way to deal with them anyway.

The perspective you choose when you encounter difficulty in your life will change everything, either for good or for worse. Don’t delude yourself. You are going to face tough times, regardless of whether you follow Christ or not. Why? Because our world is broken. And, no, God isn’t always going to step in and save you from the bad times because that’s not the way He works. There have been instances in the past where God has done that, where He’s intervened in ways that people can’t understand, and that’s not to say that He won’t do it again. But that’s His choice. That’s His prerogative, and if intervening doesn’t fit in His plan, He’s not going to do it. And He has that right as Sovereign God.

But just because He doesn’t step in doesn’t mean He’s abandoned us, doesn’t mean we’re alone or that He doesn’t care. It means He’s got something better. It means there’s a bigger plan and intervening would wreck it. Let’s face it, I learn more from difficulty than I do from comfort. I grow as a person when I face difficulty, and if I’m going through something tough right now, that means I’ve got something to learn. And whatever I learn is going to help me later on.

So if God has set you on a crooked, winding, steep path, don’t complain about it. Push forward and be thankful He’s equipped you for it. And when difficulty comes, don’t complain and don’t give up. He let it come for a reason. And when you don’t get what you want, remember that there’s something better on the other side.

True story. After I complained about PBS crapping out on me, my amazing friend Jessica told me about an incredible app. A PBS app! That allows you to watch current PBS episodes! Seriously? How awesome is that? So even though I didn’t get to see Sherlock last night, I’ll be able to watch it and the other episodes and the other PBS shows I love on my tablet, probably with better reception.

See? Something better.

I don’t know everything. I don’t have all the answers, and I can’t see the big picture. God doesn’t give me difficulty, but He lets me go through it so I remember He’s the one in control. And in His grace, He gives me what I need to get through and helps me learn something along the way.

So why be afraid of difficulty? Why get upset about it? Rejoice about it. Embrace it. Because you’re going to come out the other side better.