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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Faith is a process you have to repeat

faith-tested-endurance-growth-runner_1170x350

My roommate is training for a marathon. Well, it’s not specifically a marathon. It’s only a 5K.

“Only a 5K.”

Ha.

I don’t run. The only time you’ll see me run is if someone is chasing me. And the way I see it, when the zombie apocalypse gets here, I don’t have to run the fastest. I just have to run faster than the guy next to me. So I’m set.

Running is one of those things you don’t just go out and do if you haven’t done it. I mean, you can, but you’ll probably hurt yourself. If you want to run for any length of time, you have to work up to it. You have to train for it. If you don’t, your body won’t be able to handle the strain.

But lots of things are that way in life, not just running or physical activity. You have to work up to them. If you try to accomplish something without preparing yourself first, you’re likely to fail. So is it really surprising that faith is the same way?

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles 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.” That’s what the Bible says in James 1:2-3, one of the shortest, most practical, most painful books on the New Testament.

You don’t start out with strong faith. Faith starts small, and it has to grow into something bigger. But it can’t grow until it’s tested.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]Faith starts small, and it has to grow into something bigger. [/su_pullquote]

What does a test of faith look like? That varies from person to person, but some tests of faith are financial (do you trust God to provide?). Some are relational (do you love God more than your significant other?). Some are physical (do you believe that God has your best interests in mind whether He heals you or not?).

Tests of faith come in many forms, but they’re always about the same thing. Do you trust God?

That’s what faith is about, following Jesus, trusting that He knows best, trusting that He’s got everything under control even when it doesn’t feel like it.

But God doesn’t drop you into these situations until He believes we’re ready. Looking back on my life, some of the tests He gave me as a child seem pretty insignificant. But I chose to trust Him then, and He came through for me. So I learned that I could always rely on Him, no matter what I needed.

So do you want powerful faith? Start small. It’s like training for a marathon. You can’t just do one day of training and expect to run the whole race without stopping.

Trust God for something small. And when He comes through, trust Him with something else. And something else after that.

Just like anything else you have to get better at, faith is a process you have to repeat. You won’t always see immediate results, but neither do runners.

The more God answers you, the easier it is to trust Him. The more you trust Him, the bigger you’ll realize He is. And before you know it, those giant problems that seem overwhelming to you today will just be a tiny blip on your radar that God helped you overcome.

Trouble isn’t an inconvenience, it’s an opportunity

If you’ve ever traveled to another country, you understand what it’s like to be immersed in a culture that isn’t your own. Even if the common language is something similar to what you already speak, everything is still different. And we’re very fortunate to live in a very small world, where the major cultural differences are something you can research before you leave home. But in my experience, it’s not the major things that throw me. It’s the small things.

Take England, for example. I knew they drive on the other side of the road, and while that took a little getting used to, it didn’t affect my everyday life as much as trying to navigate the shower did. In the US, we have one knob for a shower, usually. You just turn it and water comes out. Well, in England (at least, where I stayed), there’s a knob for pressure and a knob for temperature, and if you get them mixed up, you’ll be in a lot of hot water–literally.

It’s kind of like life, if you think about it. The big troubles are easy to identify. You might even be able to prepare for them before they hit you, but the little, annoying, nit-picky, everyday problems can’t really be quantified. You can’t prepare for them. You just have to survive them.

step-forward-e1338890548766Today’s verse is Matthew 6:34.

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

We all run into trouble every day, no matter who we are or where we live. Sometimes it’s big trouble, but most of the time it’s small. Like little pebbles getting stuck in your shoes. And when those little troubles keep hitting like ocean waves pounding on a beach, it’s important not to focus on them.

Trouble is easy to focus on because it’s obvious. You can’t get away from it, and no matter how far you run, it always finds you. Trouble is everywhere because the world is broken and because none of us have a perfect life. But that doesn’t mean we have to live our lives focusing on our troubles.

If all you can see is the trouble you’re in and how it’s going to affect you tomorrow, you’re going to miss what’s happening today. See that’s the problem with focusing on little troubles. They feel huge when they hit, but they really aren’t that big of a deal.

When you get a rock in your shoe, it feels gigantic, doesn’t it? Or what about an eyelash in your eye? You have to stop everything. And it’s not wrong to stop, as long as you keep moving again.

What would happen if you’re walking across a parking lot and get a rock in your shoe. Sure, you stop to dig it out, but what would happen if you decide it’s too much trouble to keep walking? What if you turn around and go back because you’re afraid of the other rocks that might get in your shoe next?

That’s no way to live.

Big trouble you can often see coming from miles off, but the little trouble springs its traps on you at the most inopportune moments. But if you live your life worrying about those moments, you’ll only see them as inconveniences, instead of what they really are–opportunities for God to show how big He is.

Be ready for the future, yes, but don’t let the problems of tomorrow dictate your actions today. You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. Yeah, it’ll probably include some kind of trouble, but that’s life on Earth. And we can’t let it derail us from the path we know God has set us on.

Don’t be afraid to live life one step at a time. Focus on today, and don’t let the little troubles get you down. God is bigger than any trouble in your life, and He’s just waiting for you to let Him prove it.

 

The first step may be hard, but the second step is harder

I rely on GPS navigation when I’m in a city I don’t know, but–just being honest–even when I’m in a city that I do know, I’m not the best navigator in the world. I’m a landmark navigator. I’ve gotten better at knowing roads, but my default method of getting from point A to point B is to memorize the location of the fast food joints on the corners of the intersections.

It’s not easy to navigate a road you’ve never driven on. Even if you “drive” it digitally on Google Maps, that still can’t prepare you for the potholes that mysteriously appear when you least expect them. And nothing can help you get ready for the long, tedious, barren trek between Hays, Kansas, and Colorado Springs, Colorado. And that’s not even the longest, most tedious, most barren trek in the United States. Anyone ever been to Big Bend National Park in Texas? Talk about emptiness!

Maybe you know where you’re going, but you aren’t sure how you’re going to get there. It’s said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, and that’s true. But it’s not the first step that’s hard. It’s the second and the third and the fortieth and the 500th, not knowing what you’ll find after you take that step.

PillarOfFire (2)Today’s verses are Exodus 13:21-22.

The Lord went ahead of them. He guided them during the day with a pillar of cloud, and he provided light at night with a pillar of fire. This allowed them to travel by day or by night. And the Lord did not remove the pillar of cloud or pillar of fire from its place in front of the people.

When the Children of Israel left Egypt under Moses’ guidance (after Pharaoh let them go), they were walking through unknown territory. It was a land nobody knew on a journey that nobody had ever taken before, and God–in His grace–gave them a way to navigate the unfamiliar terrain. He basically walked in front of them with a pillar-shaped cloud during the day. At night time, the cloud would catch fire and provide them with light during the evening hours. And if God wanted them to move during the night, the pillar of fire would move.

That’s how they got around. The pillar would move, so they would move. When the pillar didn’t move, neither did they. Can you imagine? Walking around in the desert wilderness following a giant cloud? Stopping when the cloud stopped? Moving when it moved?

I think that trumps GPS, honestly. I just don’t trust technology all the time. But a towering pillar of cloud or fire? Heck, yeah. I could follow that just fine, once I got over the idea that it was God Himself moving around in front of me.

What stood out to me about this passage, though, is the fact that God knew where He wanted the Children of Israel to go. He knew where He was leading them, and they were content to follow (for the most part). God only took them as far as they needed to go for one day. He didn’t call down in a mighty voice that the next day they would cross a scary wooden bridge. He didn’t tell them that in two weeks they would have to climb a mountain. He didn’t enlighten them that in one month they would have to swim across a piranha-infested lake.

Yes, I made that up. But you get the idea.

The Children of Israel didn’t need to know what was going to happen in a week. They didn’t need to know what was going to happen months and months. All they needed to know was where they needed to go for that day. One day at a time, one step at a time. That’s how God led them. Do we think He operates any differently today?

I’m a planner. I like to know what’s coming so I can prepare–mentally, physically, emotionally. But I don’t need to know. What I need to do is trust God. If He moves, I should move. When He stops, I should stop. That’s what I have to remember. I need to let Him guide me the way He guided Israel when they left Egypt.

Maybe their situation wasn’t ideal, but think about it. They knew where they needed to go that day, and God provided for them. Seriously, what more do you need? Maybe it’s nice to know where you’re going to end up, but do you really want to know? If you’d have told me ten years ago what I would have to go through to get to this point in my life, I would have been terrified. Instead, God gave me the opportunities I needed when I needed them so that I could face my current struggles with the experience I’d gained earlier in life.

God doesn’t waste time–His or yours. Just trust Him enough to follow Him, and you’ll see.

Sometimes small steps are better than big ones

We live in a just-add-water society. We don’t have to wait for anything. All we have to do is buy it, dump some water in, pop it in the microwave for a few minutes, and you’re done. You don’t have to wait in line for movie tickets. You can buy them online.

Our world is so full of conveniences that sometimes we forget what it’s like to wait. And don’t get me wrong. I love my instant oatmeal in the mornings and my online shopping habit (the less I have to talk to people, the better), but one of the downsides of our instant gratification culture is that we forget how important it is to learn how to take things one step at a time.

Stone steps of Temple IV at the Mayan Ruins, Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Stone steps of Temple IV at the Mayan Ruins, Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Psalm 37:23.

The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
    He delights in every detail of their lives.

I don’t know of a verse in the Bible that directs us to take small steps, but the Bible is full of concepts about it. Esther taking small steps in God’s plan to become Queen. God leading the Israelites on a day-by-day basis through the wilderness. Taking life one step at a time is a biblical concept that we all need to wrap our heads around.

I don’t like waiting. At all. For anything. If I have a big bill, I pay it all at once, no matter how much it stretches me. If I have a book to read, I like to read it all in one sitting. Same with television shows. I don’t like waiting between episodes, so I wait until the show is all over and buy the DVD set and marathon it.

But life doesn’t always work out that way. Many times we aren’t financially able to make a big payment all at once and we have to chip away at it in bite-size pieces. And not everyone has the time or the attention span to take a weekend and watch an entire television series in one sitting. And sometimes, it’s not the wise thing to do to finish an entire project all at once. Sometimes the wiser path is taking small steps.

Trying to accomplish a massive task in one day just isn’t feasible, and if you consistently set impossible goals for yourself, eventually you’ll learn to stop trying because you never succeed.

If you would have told me four years ago that I would blog almost every Monday-through-Friday morning about a Bible verse at 6:30 in the morning, I would have told you that you were loony. Four years ago, I thought that was impossible. Well, it’s been four years, and I’m still going. But I didn’t start out with the intention of blogging for four years, self-publishing two books, and attracting around 500 followers on WordPress and Facebook. I just set out to write down my thoughts about a Bible verse for that day, and I kept doing it every morning.

I’m always talking about focusing on the big picture, and that’s important. But sometimes it’s more important to focus on the next step instead. Oftentimes the big picture will blow our minds. It’ll just be too big for us, and we’ll give up before we’ve even gotten started.

If we want to succeed, maybe we should start out focusing on what we have to do today instead of what we need to accomplish four years down the road.

Having trouble staying on a diet? Don’t worry about losing 50 pounds. Focus on what you need to do to lose one pound this week. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a lot, but it adds up. After a year, you’ll have lost 52 pounds.

Struggling with daily Bible reading? Don’t worry about getting a whole book or chapter read in the morning or in the evening. Just start with one verse a day. If you read one verse a day, every day for a whole year, you could almost finish the books of Galatians, Ephesians and Philippians!

If a task seems insurmountable or if your goals seem unreachable, don’t give up. Just divide them into smaller pieces, and take them one at a time. You’ll make progress. It’ll be slow, but every 1,000-mile journey starts with the first step. And you can’t get to the last step without taking the second and then the third and then the fourth and so on.

The big picture matters, yes. Never lose sight of that. But for today, focus on your next step. It doesn’t have to be huge or earth shattering. It’s just needs to be in the right direction.