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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Remodeling is never easy and always messy

remodel-renovate-mess-life-God-heal_1170x350

I have never built a house or a commercial building, although I know quite a lot about their plumbing systems (how many people do you know who can say that?). But one thing I do know is that there’s a major difference between new construction and renovation.

In a lot of ways, new construction is easier. You can begin from the beginning. You can establish a new foundation. You don’t have to worry about working around existing systems that are already installed. Oftentimes new construction is cheaper for that reason. But even though building new sometimes is easier and cheaper, it’s not always the best option. And that’s true for things other than houses and buildings too.

In relationships (romantic or otherwise) or even in your own life, you can’t just start over. You can try, but you’ll often find that past experiences have left scars you have to work around. Building new isn’t an option, and you have to renovate instead. And the honest truth about renovation is that it’s messy. You have to clear old stuff out of the way to make room for new stuff. You have to rebuild foundations. You have to fill in cracks. You have to make a bigger mess before you can start making it better.

The Bible talks about this in Hosea 6:1-3. The prophet says, “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces; now he will heal us. He has injured us; now he will bandage our wounds. In just a short time he will restore us, so that we may live in his presence. Oh, that we might know the Lord! Let us press on to know him. He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring.

Maybe some people will read that and think negatively of God, but is it really a negative statement? How many times do we need to have our lives torn apart before we realize what really matters? How much agony do we need to experience before we get our heads out of our backsides and start paying attention?

If you’ve got a splinter in your finger, you have to dig it out, and often that hurts more than the splinter itself does. If you’ve got an organ that’s not working or a growth that needs to be removed, the process of surgery usually causes more pain than the organ or growth did. But you’ve got to get it out.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]You can’t just wipe the slate clean. You can’t just build new. You have to remodel, and remodeling is messy. [/su_pullquote]

If a relationship in your life is causing you pain, don’t just give up on it. Don’t just walk away from it. If your perspective on life or God or people or work or whatever is making you bitter and resentful, don’t just give up. Your emotional response to a bad situation is an indication that something is broken and needs to be fixed. Sometimes it’s the people around you. Many times it’s your own self.

You can’t just wipe the slate clean. You can’t just build new. You have to remodel, and remodeling is messy. But when you’re finished, isn’t it amazing? Once you complete a remodeling project, it’s incredible to see it, compare it to what it used to be, invite people in to marvel at it.

That could be your life. That could be your relationships.

If it feels like God is hurting you today, don’t walk away from Him. That means He’s working on you. That means He’s remodeling your life. Instead of running away from Him, work with Him. Find the spots that need attention and get your hands dirty. Get the old stuff out. Make room for the new. And get ready to invite people inside to show them what God has done with a space you thought was hopeless.

Dreams are like seeds, and God’s the one who plants them

Nearly everyone I’ve ever met has a dream. Granted there are a few who don’t. But the vast majority of people I know have a burning desire in their hearts to accomplish something. Maybe it’s something that’s never been done before, or maybe it’s something that others have already tried. It doesn’t matter if it’s an original idea or a revised one, it won’t leave you alone, and your soul is only quiet when you’re pursuing it.

So what happens when the season of your life prevents you from chasing your dream? What do you do then? You don’t have the money. You don’t have the time. You don’t have the energy. You just can’t make a living and chase your dream at the same time. Or, you can, but some important part of your life will suffer. You can chase your dream at the cost of your spouse or your children. You can chase your dream at the expense of your health. You can do all of those things, but you have to realize what it’s going to cost you.

Instead, wouldn’t it better to let God work things out? Sure, He works on a different timetable. He won’t move as fast as you want Him to, or He’ll move so fast you’ll scramble to keep up. But you’ve got to remember that your dream didn’t appear in your heart by accident. God gave you that dream, and He wants to help you achieve it. It just has to be in His timing and not yours.

Wheat growing at Safe Haven Farm

Wheat growing at Safe Haven Farm

Today’s verse is Philippians 1:6.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

Dreams start out like seeds, and God’s the one who plants them. They grow a little at a time over the years until they turn into something you can recognize. I mean, after all, plants all look alike when they’re first sprouting. But you can’t tell grass from wheat right away. It takes a little bit of time before you can identify what your dream actually is.

But once you know it, you can start helping it along. Feeding it, caring for it, giving it what it needs so that it can grow bigger and stronger. For me, when I understood that my dream was about writing, I took classes in writing. I practiced writing. I followed other writers and read what they wrote. I fed that dream until it grew big enough that it wasn’t just a vague inclination anymore.

But I hit snag. Even though I’d cared for my dream, it still wasn’t the right time to live it. So I had to do the hardest thing: I had to give it back to God. He’s the One who gave it to me to begin with, but I didn’t want to give it back. It was mine. But I couldn’t help it grow anymore. I had done all I could to make it happen, and it wasn’t enough. God was the only One who could give it life. That took a long time. But I finally got there.

And along the way, I’ve learned the most dreams are the same. God gives them to us, but at some point, we have to be willing to give them back to Him. Without Him, they won’t ever become what they were meant to be. We’re not strong enough to accomplish that. Only God can. And He’s promised that whatever dream you have won’t die. Maybe it will feel like it is because you’re turning loose of it, but that’s not the point.

God just wants you to trust Him. So will you trust Him with your dream? Will you let it go and let Him have it back and trust that He’ll turn it into something bigger and better than you can imagine? Turning it loose won’t kill it. Quite the opposite. Sort of like you, your dream can’t live until it dies first and becomes something bigger.

So turn it over. Whatever it is. You can’t accomplish your dreams alone. They’ll stall and stop and flounder and fail, but if you give them to God, He’ll rejuvenate them. And on the day you least expect it, your dream will show up again with more possibilities and more joy than you thought possible, when God says the time is right.

Accepting that you fail isn’t accepting failure

Fear. We all experience it. Our circumstances are just different. Maybe you’re starting a new job. Maybe you’re facing a life-changing decision. Maybe you’ve got a project on your plate that you don’t know how to do. And it’s scary.

I wouldn’t say that I run away from things that scare me, but I do have an extraordinary talent for living in denial. And I’m a very creative person, so I can come up with all sorts of believable excuses to get out of doing the thing I’m afraid to do.

I fear failure. I fear letting people down. I fear letting God down. I fear that one day I’ll find that my best isn’t good enough, and that no matter how hard I try, I’ll never accomplish what I’m supposed to accomplish. And that fear gets so strong in my heart sometimes that I convince myself it’s better to not even try, because why get my hopes up, why get anyone else’s hopes up, when I’m only going to fail.

706BA1163FToday’s verses are Romans 8:15-18.

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

You will fail. Period. Just start wrapping your head around it right now. You are going to fail. Every day you’ll fail. But there’s a difference between accepting that you will fail and accepting failure.

Accepting failure is giving up. It’s giving in to the fear that’s lurking in your heart. It’s believing a lie about who you are and who God is. A Christ-follower is never ever called to accept failure, and we have no excuse for accepting failure. Why? Because we’re not God’s slaves. We’re His children, and we have access to every bit of His power.

But accepting that you will fail is different. We have all been there. I was that kid on the barn swing too afraid to jump out of the hayloft because I knew I’d fall and make an idiot out of myself. I was the kid with the answer in that college classroom too afraid to raise my hand and speak up because there was a possibility my answer was wrong. I’m that writer who’s afraid to say what I really think because I’m scared how people will react.

The difference between accepting failure and accepting that you’ll fail is whether or not you pick yourself up again after you faceplant. If you’ve accepted your failure, you’ll stay down. What’s the point of getting up anyway? You’ll just fall down again. That’s what you tell yourself. So you stay down. But if you can accept that you will fail in your life, you’ll be able to get up again. It won’t be easy. And it’ll still be scary. And you may have to go through some really, really hard times. But you’ll try again. And who knows? With God’s help, maybe you’ll succeed.

Don’t be afraid to call out to Him for help. Don’t be afraid to call a friend for help either.

Don’t fear failure. It happens to everyone. It’s what you do with it that matters. Just because you fail doesn’t mean you can’t try again. Don’t focus your energy and emotion so entirely on the outcome of what you’re trying to accomplish. Focus instead on why you’re doing it, but that reason is what you’ll fall back on when you’re looking for the strength to stand up again.

 

You can’t win a fight without fighting back

I finished the revised draft of a 109,000-word novel yesterday. This is the sequel to my debut novel, which released December 2014, and it’s part of a series I’ve been writing since 2001 or 2002. Somewhere in there. It isn’t the hardest book I’ll ever write, but it is the most difficult and challenging one I’ve written to date. I was sorely tempted to give up a few times over the last month.

Fortunately, I am blessed to be surrounded by many much-loved friends who were willing to encourage me and brave enough to tell me I needed to eat a sandwich or take a nap. (If you are a friend to a ridiculously stubborn and independent person, you understand what my poor friends deal with.)

I was tired. I was frustrated. I was irritated at myself (for my perceived slowness and my inability to hit my overly ambitious, self-imposed deadlines). I wanted to give up, but I didn’t. I kept pushing forward because I’ve got a host of people who would probably track me down and strangle me if I didn’t deliver the sequel pronto. That was one motivating factor. 😉

But the biggest motivation to finish came from my deeply held belief that God keeps His promises.

black-and-white-sport-fight-boxerToday’s verse is Hebrews 10:36.

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.

God has never let me down. Not ever. He’s always been there when I needed Him. He’s always provided for me, sometimes even when I didn’t know what I needed or when I needed it. And years and years ago before I even understood what I was doing, God showed me that I could write. And God promises that if we use our gifts and talents for Him, He’ll bless us and He’ll bless the work we do in His name.

Somewhere along the line, during this crazy month of rewriting, I lost track of who the book belonged to. It’s not mine. I gave it to the Lord all those years ago when the idea first came to me. So no matter how difficult the journey gets between now and when the book releases, between when the book releases and Book 3 goes into production, and so on and so forth, God will make it worth it.

It’s hard to hold on to that sometimes because–let’s just be honest–life sucks. Crazy bad stuff happens. Loved ones die. Your insurance goes up. Your car breaks down. That unexpected expense that empties your bank account. Work is too stressful. You lose a relationship. The other half of your brain moves away. And it can’t all happen one piece at a time. No, it’s all got to happen at once, and you get so distracted by all the awful, discouraging things going on that you forget who’s really in control. Because nothing feels controlled. Everything feels out of control.

So what do you do when it feels like life is circling the drain? When nothing you do is good enough. When the straw broke the camel’s back years ago but nothing’s changed. What can you do?

You can give up, sure, but do you believe God or not? If God’s given you a job to do, you need to do it. It might stink right now, but if you throw in the towel, you have no idea what you’re leaving behind. God made you a promise, and He always keeps His promises. So instead of walking away, endure patiently.

Enduring isn’t fun. Being patient isn’t fun either. So patient endurance is a double whammy of anti-fun. But if you can do it (and God will give you the strength), you’ll be able to keep moving forward. And you will move forward, even if you feel like you’re standing still. And someday, farther down the road, you’ll be rewarded for it.

You don’t get rewards for giving up. You can’t win a fight without fighting back. And it’s not that our lives should be about rewards or what we get in return for serving God. That’s not the point. But we do need to remember that God doesn’t give us difficult tasks without promising to make them worth our effort.

What are you facing today? A frightening diagnosis? A new diet? A new job? Shoot, I’ve got lots of friends who just had new babies. Talk about a challenge. God has promised to be with you and to give you strength when you need it most. And He’s promised that the trials and struggles you go through are all part of a bigger plan.

Yes, life is hard. And following Jesus is harder still. But He promised that it would be worth it.

Sacrificing for the right reasons doesn’t feel like a sacrifice

I’ve heard it said that the best definition of love is sacrifice. If you love someone, you’ll sacrifice for them. But what does it mean to sacrifice?

In American culture, the concept of sacrifice has such a negative connotation. If you sacrifice something, that means you’re giving something up, and everybody knows giving something up stinks. But I have a problem with that definition, especially when it comes to the concept of sacrificing for God.

When you sacrifice for God, is it really a sacrifice? Have you ever thought about it that way? Because when I sacrifice something–my time, my energy, my focus, my finances, etc.–for God, I always get back more than I’ve given.

See we think of sacrifice as giving something up and never getting anything in return, but that’s not the case. Well, maybe it’s the case if you’re sacrificing for selfish reasons. Nothing done with selfish motivation ever pays a return–not really.

But turn that around. When you sacrifice for selfless reasons, you’ll be hard-pressed to see your choice as a sacrifice. I know tons of people who sacrifice every day. They sacrifice their time and their emotions and their money. They sacrifice possessions and privacy and personal desires. They sacrifice all kinds of things, but because they’ve got their perspective straight, they don’t see it as a sacrifice at all. They see it as an opportunity to do something kind for someone else.

desertToday’s verse is Hebrews 11:24-27.

It was by faith that Moses, when he grew up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin. He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward. It was by faith that Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger. He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible.

Just about everybody knows the story of Moses, whether it’s The Ten Commandments version of his life or the Prince of Egypt version. And we all like to focus on the fact that Moses talked to God and went before Pharaoh and said things like “Let my people go!” and brought the plaques on Egypt, etc. etc. etc. (no, wrong Yul Brenner quote…. so let it be written, so let it be done).

But how often do we focus on the fact that Moses had every right to stay in Egypt and claim a position of lordship? Moses might not have been born Egyptian, but he’d been raised in the palace. He could have stayed. He could have claimed title and land and riches and status. But he didn’t. He chose to walk away from it, and he ended his life doing what God had called him to do.

Talk about sacrifice, right? Walking away from a life of privilege to herd sheep at the hind end of the desert? Releasing his rightful claim to comfort and security in exchange for a barefoot conversation with a burning bush? But if we could talk to Moses today, regardless of all the crap he had to go through leading the Children of Israel, I don’t think he’d say that he sacrificed anything. On the contrary, he had a front row seat for some of the greatest miracles in recorded history.

Perspective is everything.

Are you in situation right now where you feel like you’re sacrificing and no one is recognizing it? Well, I hate to be the rain on your parade, friend, but sacrifice has absolutely nothing to do with recognition. If you sacrifice, you aren’t necessarily going to get to see your name up in lights. If you sacrifice for someone you love, they may not even notice. But if you’re sacrificing for the right reason, it won’t matter.

If you give up something you want expecting something in return, that’s not sacrifice. That’s bartering.

If you keep seeing your sacrifice as something you “had to do” for whatever reason, you’ll never move past it. If you keep bringing it up, you haven’t sacrificed anything. You’re still holding on to it. And you can’t walk that line. You can’t say you’ve sacrificed something if you’re still clinging to it.

But if you let go of what you want, especially if you’re letting it go for God’s sake, and you don’t pine after what could have been, you’ll be surprised at the turn your life will take. Maybe at the beginning, it’ll feel like you’re walking away from the best dream you’ve ever had, but when it’s over, you’ll be standing on a mountaintop talking to God like He’s your closest friend.

Just because you give up something you want doesn’t mean your life is going to be unhappy. It doesn’t even mean that you’ll end up losing out. In fact, you might even end up with more than you had to start.

The monsters are only scary because you’re small

When I was little, there was a movie playing in the theaters. I remember it clearly. I don’t think we went to see it in the theater because I was too young–or I just had too much of a crazy imagination that it wasn’t wise.

My parents had quite a job with me and my brother. We had loud, visceral reactions in movie theaters. So I’m pretty sure we didn’t go see a lot of movies. Instead, we waited until they were available on VHS (yes, I’m dating myself).

shrunkthekids.jpg2But I clearly remember the movie Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. What a traumatic movie! If you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s one of those classic 80s family movies that every kid needs to see, just in case your eccentric headcase dad builds a shrink ray in his attic and you need to know how to survive.

I remember a lot of things from that movie, but one of the cool things that stood out to me was how the miniaturized kids tamed an ant to help carry them across the backyard. The blades of grass around them were massive–like ginormous water slides. Seeing the world from a miniaturized perspective turned even the simplest, least scary things into a nightmare.

So what does that tell us about perspective? As normal, non-shrunk people, we think we’re pretty big. The things that scared the kids in that movie (ants, cigarette butts, Cheerios, etc.) wouldn’t have been a problem for them if they’d been regular sized. But what happens when we, as regular-sized people, encounter problems and difficulties that seem way too big for us?

shrunkthekidsToday’s verses are Isaiah 55:8-9.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

God sees things differently than we do because He’s bigger than we are. Those problems and challenges we encounter that seem insurmountable are nothing to Him.

Sort of like in that crazy movie. To us, a blade of grass is nothing. It’s small enough to us that we can get around it, lift it, move it, step on it, whatever. To a miniaturized person, a blade of grass is a massive obstacle. Normal life is exactly the same.

You’re going to run into obstacles and challenges in life that are too big for you, and there won’t be anything you can do about it. You’ll encounter heartache and frustration and confusion and anger, and you’ll reach the point where you understand that some things are just out of your control. And at that point, you have two options. You either give up, or you let it go.

Don’t give up. Giving up never helped anybody.

But letting go? That’s a different story. When you let go of what you’re trying to do or understand, that’s when God can come along and help. Because as long as you stubbornly hold on to it (whatever it is), He’ll let you keep trying to do it by yourself. And you’ll fail.

But when you let go and give it to Him? That’s when He can turn it into something better than you can imagine. Why? Because He’s bigger than you can imagine. The worst obstacles in your path are nothing to Him. The greatest fears and frustrations in your life aren’t even a blip on His radar.

He sees your life differently than you do. He sees the challenges you’re facing differently than you do. Because He’s bigger and greater and stronger than anyone else you have ever known.

Don’t be afraid to let go of your dreams, your goals, and even your fears. Don’t give up, but stop holding on so tight. It’s tempting to do that because the bigger the challenges in your life, the harder you tend to cling to your own strength.

Stop it. Your own strength will fail. Instead, cling to the One whose strength will never fail. God knows what’s happening in your life. He knows the end of your story, and He knows His plans for you. And guess what? They’re awesome.

So maybe life is overwhelming. Maybe you have obstacles in your path that just seem impossible to overcome. Maybe there are monsters in your way. But maybe they only look like monsters because you’re too small to know better. Maybe those impossible, overwhelming things really aren’t that big either.

With God on your side, you can do anything. So don’t be afraid. Don’t give up. And let Him have the chance to prove it to you.