How does God give us strength to face life’s challenges?

I don’t like social events with people I don’t know well. Just being honest. I know that’s usually the point of social events–to get to know people better. But I am a classic introvert. I detest small talk, and I have very little talent for starting a conversation with someone I don’t know.

But if I can go to a social event with someone I know well, things are different. Or if there is someone in attendance at the event that I know well, my comfort level goes through the roof. Why is that?

Whether it’s my brother or my best friend or just someone who I’m close to, as long as they’re by my side, I feel ten times stronger. I don’t know if it’s the comfort factor of knowing they’ve got my back. Maybe it’s knowing they can help me pick up the conversation with a stranger if it starts to lag.

All I know is that when someone else is by my side, it’s not so hard to do the things I need to do, whether that’s as an accountability partner or as a sidekick in a socially awkward situation.

too_heavyToday’s verse is Haggai 2:4.

But now the Lord says: Be strong, Zerubbabel. Be strong, Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people still left in the land. And now get to work, for I am with you, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

This isn’t the only verse in Scripture that makes the correlation between being strong and God’s presence. The Bible is full of instances where God tells His people to be strong because He’s there. And I guess just practically speaking what does that mean for us today?

It’s all well and good to say, “Be strong because God is with you” when you’re going through a tough time in your life, but that doesn’t mean God is going to show up and fix your problems for you. That doesn’t mean He’s going to do that scary job interview for you. That doesn’t mean He’s going to do the heavy lifting in your life.

Is it just a generic feel-good statement? “Hey, God’s here, so don’t be afraid!” Great for comforting people in an ethereal, religious sense, but what does it actually mean?

I like practicality. I like useful statements. And what I’ve learned about the Bible (and about God) over the years is that He is both practical and useful. There’s nothing fluffy about God. He doesn’t waste words. So if He feels the need throughout Scripture to make a connection between His presence and our comfort, there must be a practical reason for it. And there must be a practical application for our lives.

Have you ever been in the situation where you had to face a terrible challenge? Maybe it was an illness or the loss of a loved one. Maybe you lost your job or the funding for your school bills didn’t come through. We all have those moments in life where it feels like everything comes to a standstill while we deal with the grief and the disappointment and the anxiety.

In the aftermath of those moments, or even while we’re still dealing with them, where do you get the strength to keep going? Where do you draw your strength to face those challenges without giving up?

Some people do give up. Some people throw in the towel and walk away, and that’s certainly their choice. But the heroes of our world are the ones who stick to it and face impossible odds and overcome, but where does that strength come from? Sure, maybe some people have a moral strength of character that’s superior to others, but nine times out of ten, the people who have overcome the impossible things in life are drawing from a well of faith.

God’s presence doesn’t mean that He’s going to take our troubles away. No, most of the time, we need to face those troubles to learn something. But knowing that God is by our side throughout those struggles should bring us comfort and peace in the midst of them. Why?

If we trust that God is with us, that means we aren’t facing these troubles alone. If God is with us, He knows what’s coming and He’s someone we can turn to for guidance and wisdom and unconditional love no matter what.

God has ways of communicating with us. It’s not voices in the clouds or religious portraits in grilled cheese sandwiches. It’s through the Bible. It’s through His servants. And it’s through His Spirit in us.

There have been so many times in my life where I’ve been going through a difficult time and didn’t know what to do, and all I had to do was ask God for help and suddenly I’d know the answer I was looking for. Or I’d find it in Scripture. Or a mentor or friend would say something to me that helped me see the problem in a different light.

Having God by my side means He knows what is coming in my life. He’s God. He’s seen it. And He knows I can get through it. And that gives me courage to face whatever comes. No, God’s presence won’t magically imbue us with superpowers. I mean, it could. There’s no limits on what God can do. But generally speaking He doesn’t choose to act that way frequently in our world nowadays.

God loves us unconditionally. God has seen the plans He has for us, and they’re good, by the way. And for those who love Him, He’s working out the details for our benefit and His glory. That’s who God is. That’s who has your back, because He’s also promised to never leave us.

Knowing that, we can all be bold. We can all have courage. Because, seriously, who wouldn’t want to go to a party with Somebody like that?

Sun setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

How can you stop being angry?

I don’t get angry easily. It takes a special person to really make me mad. I get frustrated, sure. I get snappy, yeah. But angry? Not usually. Unless the situation is just right or (and this is more likely) my current problem is a result of my own actions.

This happened the other day. Without going into the gory details, let’s just say I got mad. I got really mad. It’s been a long time since I’ve been that upset. And the day didn’t get any better. It just kept getting worse. I couldn’t fix anything. I couldn’t find a solution. I couldn’t do anything about any of it. And the more I kept messing things up, the more angry I got.

When I get that angry, I tend to shift blame. That’s my first response. Isn’t it everyone’s? It’s not my fault. I’m not the one who such-and-such. Or if he/she would just let me do my job, this wouldn’t have happened. Anyone else ever experience that?

Well, I hate to tell you this, but getting angry about it isn’t the right way to handle it.

Sun setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sun setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are James 1:19-21.

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.

God has some harsh things to say about anger. He doesn’t say it’s wrong. No, anger can be useful at times to stimulate us into action. But anger can rapidly rage out of control, especially when the focus of your anger is wrong.

Don’t ever make anger your first response. Maybe it’s what you feel first, but that doesn’t mean it’s what you have to express first. First, you need to listen. You need to take a deep breath and slow down and refocus. Then, when you’re calmer, pay attention.

In my situation, I was ready to blow up. Seriously. Those of you who know me know how rare that is, but I was totally on the brink. Absolutely ready to chuck it all in the corner and give up completely.

But a nagging little voice at the back of my brain started whispering louder and louder until I couldn’t ignore it. The voice kept asking the same question: “Who are you really angry at?”

It’s a good question to ask when you’re angry because most of the time the people we take our anger out on aren’t the people we’re actually even angry with. They’re just convenient targets.

So I took a deep breath. I hid in a quiet place for a little while until I could think straight. I asked God to take the blinder off and give me courage to face the truth.

I was angry at me. Because I was in a situation of my own making. Unwise choices. Consequences. Nothing earth shaking. Just irritating. And absolutely, 100% my fault. No one else’s.

And when God gave me the strength to face that fact, my anger actually went away, and it turned into a fierce desire to make things right again, to never get to that place again, to make the decisions I need to make and act on them immediately.

So who are you angry at today? Who made you angry? Who are you dealing with in your life who you think is the central focus of your anger? Are you sure that’s really the person you’re angry at?

Whoever you’re angry at, figure out a way to sort it out because anger left to simmer gets stronger and hotter as the years go by, and before you know it, that little bitty flame will grow into something you can’t control, a fire that blazes and destroys everything in its path.

Don’t be afraid to discover it’s yourself you’re angry at. Being angry at yourself is actually the best possible outcome because with God’s help, you can change your attitude. And our attitude is usually where everything starts.

Evergreen tree - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Courageous habits are built

Every day we all face challenges that will either stump us or cause us to grow. Even if we make the wrong decision, we can still learn from it and know what to do the next time the challenge comes. But if you don’t know what to do and you choose to do nothing, what will you learn from it?

Evergreen tree - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Evergreen tree – Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses come out of the Book of Esther, which I was reading last night. Two sets really stood out to me:

Esther 2:20

Esther continued to keep her family background and nationality a secret. She was still following Mordecai’s directions, just as she did when she lived in his home.

Esther 4:11-16

“All the king’s officials and even the people in the provinces know that anyone who appears before the king in his inner court without being invited is doomed to die unless the king holds out his gold scepter. And the king has not called for me to come to him for thirty days.” So Hathach gave Esther’s message to Mordecai. Mordecai sent this reply to Esther: “Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: “Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will do the same. And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king. If I must die, I must die.”

Granted Esther’s situation was a little different than any that we will probably face today. She’d been taken from the life she knew and made a queen because of her beauty, and an evil man in the king’s court was trying to annihilate the Jewish people. And it fell to Esther to stop him.

But even though her situation was very different from any we will likely face anytime soon, the principles of how she acted during that time are still relevant to us today.

Before Esther even reached the king’s court, she has already built a habit of humility by obeying her cousin Mordecai. So when Mordecai told her to keep her heritage a secret, she didn’t hesitate to obey him.

Then when the plot to destroy the Jews came to light and Mordecai told her to ask the king for help, even though she hesitated out of fear, when Mordecai reminded her that God had put her in a position of authority for a reason, she did it.

Part of doing the right thing is making it into a habit so that when you face the really difficult times, it’s easier to do what you know is right even if it’s scary.

Pop culture would have us believe that courage is some mystical force we summon up out of the blue in order to face the great fears that average people shrink away from. Maybe there is some truth to that. Maybe some people are just bolder than others. But courage isn’t magical and it isn’t something that just materializes. It’s something you have to work on. It’s something you have to choose to do over and over again before it really makes any difference.

Just as it’s important to make doing the right thing a habit, doing courageous things needs to be a habit too. But courage doesn’t always present itself in the grand light the movies and books always display it. Courage is small sometimes. It’s not always attractive. And it’s not always successful – at least in the way the world would call successful.

Courage can be as small and insignificant as smiling at a homeless person. That doesn’t sound big. That doesn’t sound earth shaking. Maybe it’s not. But if you’re a shy, introverted person (like me), it’s you putting yourself out of your comfort zone. It’s you caring more about someone else than yourself. It’s you risking that in response, that person might speak to you, and when you’re an introvert, that’s terrifying. But courage is action in spite of fear, trusting that God has put you where He’s put you for a reason and will catch you when you step wrong.

Even Esther didn’t see the results of her courage until later. Chapters 5, 6, and 7 deal with her plan. She didn’t just come out and ask immediately for what she wanted. She had to prepare the king’s heart for what she was going to ask. But that meant patience.

Courage is something we all need to have. But it isn’t going to look like what the movies say it will. It’s often small, and it’s often very personal. But if you take courage and do what God is calling you to do, even if it feels small at the time, He will use your actions to do something incredible with it.

That’s what God does. He takes our small act of courage and uses it to bless a lot of people.

Are you afraid of the dark?

When was the last time you were afraid? And I don’t mean just concerned about something. I live in an old house that makes all sorts of fascinating noises that my imagination can run wild with, whether I’m imagining that there are strangers walking around downstairs or I’m imagining that my water heater has blown up and flooded the whole basement. I’m not really afraid of either of those things happening, but living where I live and how I live, it’s something that could happen.

But the last time I was really afraid?

I don’t really know. I honestly don’t scare very easily. Maybe it’s silly, but one of the times I remember being the most afraid was when I had been cast in a skit for church. It was a tiny, tiny part. All I had to do was talk on an I-phone and be snotty. It was a cute part. A funny part that made people laugh. It was short, and it was even something I wrote. But the idea of going out on stage in front of all those people absolutely petrified me. It scared me to the point of nausea.

The only other experience I can even compare it to is learning how to drive again after my wreck. Trying to remember how to handle a vehicle going 70 miles per hour on a road you can’t control. Even though it’s been years, if I get behind a truck or van that has a ladder strapped (or not strapped well enough) to it, I can’t get around it fast enough. Maybe that’s a rational reaction, but my getting around it is usually motivated more by fear than common sense.

This is what I thought about when I read the verse for today.

2 Timothy 1:7

7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

Fear has nothing to do with God. At least, not this kind of fear. The kind of fear that this verse is talking about is the kind of fear I have experienced in many circumstances when I was afraid of what I couldn’t control. And that’s not of God.

When we become followers of Christ, God gives us power, whether it’s strength or patience or endurance or the ability to love people who don’t love us back. That’s what this verse says. He gives us all those things, but He does not give us a reason to be afraid.

So why do we still fear?

Well, we’re human. So I guess that’s the biggest reason why most of us still live small lives in terror of the unknown. And I guess there’s nothing wrong with that if we want to live that way. But is it really what God has called us to?

That’s the danger with fear. It paralyzes you. It keeps you from doing the things God has asked–sometimes even commanded–us to do.

I haven’t got it figured out yet, and I still struggle with this. But I can tell you that fear really used to control me in the two situations I mentioned above. The driving thing I have mostly gotten over. There are still times when I see something in the road or see a truck driving with too much stuff in it that I remember the sound of crunching metal and the feel of the world jarring to a halt or the burst of white with the airbags inflating. But most of the time, I’m good.

What definitely controlled me without question was my stagefright. And looking back now, I know it was a pride issue, because I wanted to control my performance and be absolutely perfect and never make mistakes and I always felt I could never be good enough. But I let that fear force me to turn down a lot of roles because I didn’t want to get up in front of people. I still don’t like getting up in front of people, but I made a decision after that first role with the I-phone. I decided that I was going to let go and stop worrying about what I looked like onstage and what I sounded like onstage or whether or not I delivered my lines with mechanical precision, and I was just going to do my best and let God take care of it. So the next role I ended up playing was quite a good deal larger than the second role, and it was a much more powerful script, and it was a pretty difficult part (I had to play a blind person). But the really funny thing was that even though I was nervous (I wanted to do a good job), I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t really afraid. And every time I started feeling afraid, I told myself to stop it, I asked God to help me not be afraid anymore, and then I went out and did what I was supposed to do. And I guess it went all right. I know God used it, and that was all I really cared about.

I think a lot of times we expect fear to go away just because we face it.

Well, that’s not always the case. Sometimes that fear will pop it’s ugly head back up and we’ll have to face it all over again. But that’s what real courage is — action in spite of fear. And that is the sort of power that God has given us because we have confidence that He will do what He has said He’ll do.

So the next time you’re afraid of something irrational (not something you really should be afraid of, mind you; fear of some things can be healthy), try to look at it from God’s perspective and see how small it really is. Then make your decision on whether to act or not.

What are you afraid of? And how is that stopping you from doing what God has called you to do? If God is big enough to create the universe, to create everything we can see and everything we can’t see, don’t you think He’s big enough to help you when you need Him? It’s something I forget all the time, but I know, for me, it’s time that I remembered. How about you?