Small victories win wars

It’s March, guys! The third month of 2017 has already begun. How are you doing with your resolutions? Confession time: January was a complete failure for me, and February wasn’t much better.

I had plans to eat right, to exercise regularly, to rest, and to spend time with the Lord. And while I managed some of it some of the time, overall I failed completely. So in March I trying again.

Does anyone else struggle with this? You have the best, most sincere intentions. You make plans and contingencies. You psyche yourself up for the difficult days, and you try to prepare yourself for the inevitable temptation. You do everything you can to convince your traitorous brain that you shouldn’t eat that or that you’ll feel better after you walk those two miles or you’ll get all your work done eventually and a break will be good for you.

But it doesn’t work.

And then one day you find yourself sacked out on the couch eating M&Ms out of a ten-pound bag while you start in on your fifteenth draft of the same article, and the treadmill makes fun of you silently from its darkened corner of the basement. You feel like the biggest loser on planet Earth.

How does that happen? Well, I’m not sure if it’s the same for anyone else, but I’ve begun to suspect that my approach to goals in general is to blame. I’m a big picture person. I don’t do details very well, and I usually operate under the assumption that no matter what happens, everything will eventually work out.

And since God is in control, that’s true for His people. He’s big enough to work out the details of our lives so that they turn into something beautiful, even if the circumstances are horrible. But that doesn’t absolve us from making wise choices in the mean time.

God gave us brains for a reason.

So many times, as Christians, I think we focus too much on the war, instead of the battle. Wars are made up of many little battles, some that we win and others that we lose. And, frankly, we lose those little battles because we’re willing to accept defeat. In the grand scheme of the war, we can lose a battle because it won’t affect the eventual outcome.

That’s both comforting in one sense and terrifying in another. Yes, it’s great to realize that we’ve already won the war regardless of how many battles we may lose. But does that mean we can just stop fighting?

No! Of course not! (Romans 6:1) Just because Jesus has already accomplished the final goal doesn’t give us the excuse to give up today’s battle. And make no mistake. Today is a battle. This very moment is a battle.

If anyone ever tells you that this life can be free of conflict, struggle, or strife, they’re selling something. Just being honest. Our life here was never meant to be free of those things. As long as we have the Holy Spirit in us, we will be in a constant battle with ourselves and the world around us. But don’t let it discourage you, because Jesus has given us the strength to overcome any challenge (John 16:33).

So how do you win those every-moment battles? How can you overcome the temptation to neglect your physical or spiritual or emotional health?

Well, just like wars are won through through smaller battles, your daily battles should be conquered with small victories. Instead of focusing on the big picture which seems unconquerable, focus on the choice you have to make right now.

Should I eat that handful of M&Ms even though I know it will hurt my blood sugar? Should I not take a break from my daily work because I have too much to do? Should I skip my exercise because it’s too much trouble?

None of those are earth-shattering questions. No answer to any of those questions will shake the world off its axis. But for those questions, there is a right answer and a wrong answer for you. No, the world won’t end if you eat the M&Ms, but it’s not the wisest choice you can make.

Living healthy is a daily battle, and the only way you’ll win is seeking wisdom to face the questions. That’s how you win those hourly battles—by making good choices. And you learn how to make good choices from God’s word. (1 Peter 1:13-16)

Ultimately, the choice is yours. You get to decide what you do, what you eat, where you go, how you act. God has given us that freedom. But if you choose a course of action without wisdom, you open yourself up to the consequences.

I don’t know about you, but as much as I love the big picture of life, I can’t win at life on my own strength. I need God’s help. Frankly, I can’t even win in an hourly battle without God’s Spirit (Zechariah 4:6). Nobody can.

But the truth is: God’s given us everything we need to live a victorious life (2 Timothy 1:7).

What choice do you have to make right now? What does God say about it? Have you even asked Him? If you haven’t, there’s your problem. He wants to help. So give Him a chance and see what happens.

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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?