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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Moon in the pine trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Preparing for the challenges ahead

It’s difficult to believe that 2012 is coming to an end. This is one of those years that I thought would never get here, and now it’s over. I honestly haven’t thought much about 2013; that’s probably going to start today. But one thing is certain about what is coming: It won’t be better than what we experienced in 2012. Actually, it may be worse.

I’m not trying to be cynical, and I’m not trying to be a downer or anything. I guess I’m just trying to prepare myself mentally to face the challenges that are coming next year, the ones I know about and the ones I don’t. Our world hasn’t experienced a great healing or a revolution of peace and love. 2012 has been the opposite of peace and love and healing, and it’s going to get worse and worse. And anyone who tells you differently hasn’t been reading Scripture.

So as a follower of Christ, how do I prepare for a year that will probably be more difficult than this one? How do I get ready to face the challenges that are coming?

Moon in the pine trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Moon in the pine trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is John 12:32.

And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.

This is part of a statement that Christ made to a group of Gentiles (non-Jews) who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover just before He was crucified. The verse right after this one states that Christ said this to indicate to them that He was going to die. But of course, still most of the people didn’t believe Him or didn’t understand. In spite of everything He had said and done, people refused to believe He was who He said.

Funny how some things never change.

But what caught my attention today about this verse is that it really does have a double meaning. Christ used it to tell them that He was getting ready to die–to be crucified, literally hung between heaven and earth for six grueling hours of physical agony to pay the price for our sins so that all people can come to God. But this verse also has another meaning in another context. Because if His followers lift Him up figuratively, in worship and praise, making Him the center of our attention and focus, something miraculous happens–people are drawn to it.

Have you ever witnessed this? I have. I’ve seen it. A group of people sit and sing songs praising God and people come over to hear it. I’ve been sitting in a worship service at church with nonbelievers all around, and somehow in the middle of that worship service something changes inside those people who don’t believe. And by the end, they want to believe. And I’ve seen it happen beyond just singing; I’ve seen it happen in living. Because if you live a life that gives praise and honor and glory to God no matter what the circumstances you’re in, people are drawn to it.

Why? Do you think it’s something special about you?

Well, maybe it is. But I don’t really think there’s anything special about Christ-followers, other than who we follow. If we remember to keep life in perspective and remember that God has everything under control, that He never makes mistakes, and He always keeps His promises, we don’t have to live life without fear. We can be confident who we are, where we’re going, and why we’re here. Do you realize what that makes us look like to people who don’t have that assurance?

If we lift Christ up in our lives, if we hold Him high and point to Him with every word we say, He attracts people to Him. It’s not something we’re doing; it’s all about Him.

And I find it ironic that Christ said this to the disciples just before He died. He knew their lives were going to become chaotic shortly after He said this. Maybe the disciples thought that the worst was behind them; knowing how they reacted to other situations, I’m sure they didn’t expect anything like what happened. But Christ knew it was coming, and He wanted them to be ready.

Guess what, guys? The worst hasn’t even started yet. You think 2012 was difficult? You think 2012 was depressing and overwhelming? Well, it’s going to get much, much worse because this world isn’t our home. It’s broken, and it’s breaking more every day. But we don’t have to focus on that. We can lift Christ up in the darkness, and not only will that keep our perspectives straight, it will also draw others who don’t believe to Him.

And that’s my parting thought for the last day of 2012. Don’t be discouraged. Maybe things will keep getting worse, maybe the darkness will keep getting darker, but we don’t live in darkness.

John 12:35-36

Jesus replied, “My light will shine for you just a little longer. Walk in the light while you can, so the darkness will not overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness cannot see where they are going. Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.”