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?

Do you trust God or not?

A spider monkey hanging in a tree outside the Mayan Ruins of Tikal in Guatemala

The locals call it “the tour the monkeys take.” The canopy zip line near the Mayan ruins of Tikal is a series of cables strung from platform to platform in the thick of the Guatemalan jungle. It’s not uncommon to spot spider monkeys and bright-feathered birds as you sail from tree to tree.

I’ve never been on it, and I’m not planning to go anytime soon. But I know loads of folks who’ve done it. And I admire their fearlessness. They’ll strap themselves into the harness, hook themselves on the cable, and fling their bodies into the open air of the jungle.

If it were me standing on that platform with nothing but a slim cable to support my flight from tree to tree, leaping into the air like some kind of Superman would be the last desire in my heart. But while I haven’t done it physically, I’ve done it in other ways.

I walked away from my high-paying job to start my own business. I elected to write a novel that would challenge the way people see Christ-followers. I traveled alone to dangerous parts of the world. I climbed behind the wheel of a car after surviving a terrible wreck.

No, it’s not the same as riding a zip line through a jungle canopy. But it was just as crazy.

Facing the future can be terrifying. With everything we know is happening today, it’s hard to see the future as anything less than bleak. Yet some people still walk toward it with their heads held high. They charge toward the unknown without a hint of fear, risking life and limb as they fling themselves into the air.

How can you embrace the terror of the future without collapsing under the weight of everything you don’t know? How is it possible to be brave when all you have to go on is how much failure hurts?

Well, do you trust God or not?

That’s really the only question that matters. But it’s the one of the most difficult questions you’ll ever answer.

Trusting God can be difficult. God is perfect. That’s one of the things that makes Him so scary. Because He’s right all the time.

So what happens when you trust God for something, and you don’t get it? It happens more often than not. You think you know what He’s calling you to do. You’re sure you’re on the right track. You believe it with all your heart, and then BAM! The world changes. You lose that person you love. You lose that relationship you needed. You lose the job you had to have.

So much for trusting God, right? All it gets you is more pain, more heartache, more trouble, more stress. You trust Him to take care of things, and all you get is more difficulty and struggle.

But doesn’t it make sense that part of trusting God is trusting that He’s not done yet? If we say we trust Him, why do we give up when life gets tough?

The truth is, God never promised you wouldn’t get hurt. He never promised that you’d get to keep everything you have, relationships or possessions or positions included.

So many times I think we project our own wants and desires onto God’s promises. So when we hear Him promise to protect us, we think that means He’ll prevent heartache or that He’ll stop anything from happening that will hurt us. And that’s not the case.

The Bible doesn’t say trust God and you’ll never be hurt. The Bible says to trust God because He knows what He’s doing. Trust Him because even when you get hurt, He’ll stay by your side (Isaiah 43:1-2).

Your life isn’t what you expected. So what? Do you really want to limit yourself to what you expect? Why not believe that God has something bigger and better in store?

Your boyfriend or girlfriend left. I’m truly sorry, but maybe that’s not who God had in mind for you.

You lost a business deal or an election or a relationship. Do you really think God is so small that He can only work within the boundaries of your expectations?

I have trust issues. Everyone does. And God knows that. But He’s done so much to prove Himself. How much more does He have to do to demonstrate that He is good, that He is faithful, and that He is worthy of trust?

You can’t half-trust Him. Half-trusting is putting on the harness and staying on the ground. It’s writing your book and never telling anyone about it.

So decide. Ask yourself. Do you trust God or not? If you don’t, that’s fine. That’s your choice. And you have the right to make that decision for yourself.

But if you do trust Him, then it’s time to start living like it. Stop wallowing in the what-ifs and might-have-beens. Stop clinging to the life you expected. Stop pining for the dreams that didn’t come true. Open your eyes and see the world for what it is, see God for who He is, and remember that He isn’t finished yet. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Do you trust God?

Yes, you’ll probably be afraid. But that’s what bravery is—action in the face of fear, boldness in the face of danger (Proverbs 28:1).

You can stay on the ground if you want. But God has so much more for you. If you trust Him, He’ll take you places you never dreamed you could go, and He’ll do more through you than you ever thought possible.

A masterpiece can’t make itself

I’ve just been handed an intense copywriting project that requires me to dig into the recesses of my mind for plumbing engineering specs I haven’t thought about in two years. It’s going to take a whole day of fierce concentration to get everything done. I get started, and before long, I’m deeply submerged in the realm of copper tubing, sealing elements, and recirculation systems.

And my phone rings. Or somebody knocks on my office door. Or somebody needs to ask me a question in general.

Snap. Just like that. My train of thought derails. I lose the sentences I’m crafting. And the beautiful, concise paragraph I’d been forming in my brain disintegrates, never to be seen again.

Yes, I’m exaggerating (but only slightly).

I hate being interrupted, and I don’t always handle it with grace. I’m better about it than I used to be (experience is a hard teacher), but I still struggle.

When I’m working, I get so deep into the zone of my thoughts that when someone jerks me out of those thoughts, I feel disoriented and confused. It takes me a few moments to realign myself so I can even communicate. Then, once I’ve answered the question or provided the solution, I have to find a way to jump back into the project. Sometimes I can. Sometimes I can’t. Either way, I probably won’t find my way back to exactly where I was before.

And that’s okay. Part of adulting is learning how to pick up the pieces of your shattered concentration and keep moving forward. But when you have to change directions halfway through a project, often, your project won’t turn out like you originally intended.

Have you ever considered how God feels when we interrupt Him?

In Ephesians 2:10, God calls us His workmanship. That word means masterpiece. My life, and your life, are all part of God’s brilliant, beautiful, perfect plan. He’s designed a life and a future just for you and just for me, based on who we really are and what He created us to do.

We’re God’s masterpieces. We’re His works of art. But it will take our lifetimes on Earth to get us to the place where we’re complete. Want to know why? I can’t speak for everyone, but I can certainly speak for myself.

I get in God’s way.

I interrupt His plans with my own actions and half-brained attempts at controlling my own life. And while He can take the broken threads of my life and weave a beautiful piece of art from them, how much more beautiful would it have been if I hadn’t interfered in the first place?

Yes, God is Almighty, and there’s nothing I can do to screw up my life to the point where He can’t redeem it. But what if I hadn’t stuck my fingers into the frosting to begin with?

ephesians-2-10I often think of God as a sculptor, and I see myself as a shapeless block of marble, unyielding, stubborn, and not worth much at face value. And God, in His infinite patience and wisdom and artistry, chip-chip-chips away at my rough spots with His chisel and hammer. He looks at the ugly corners of my life and sees something majestic and beautiful, and He has the power to make something amazing from it.

But it isn’t always a fun process. Sometimes it hurts.

When I interrupt Him and try to fix myself, I only end up making more rough spots that He’ll ultimately have to chisel away. When I try to take control of my own life, I make more work for Him.

I go down roads I shouldn’t. I listen to people who are wrong. I look to idols to tell me what I should look like or how I should act. And instead of submitting to the design that He has for my life, I start trying to chisel myself into a shape that He’ll accept. But have you ever seen marble try to chisel itself? Even if it could, it wouldn’t turn out pretty.

A masterpiece can’t make itself.

God sees me. He’s the only one who really can see me. He knows my flaws and my failures. He knows my rough spots. But He can look beyond all those blemishes and see my true value. Since He’s the only one who can see it, He’s the only one who can bring it out. He knows what needs to be cut out of my life in order to let the best of me shine through.

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10

God is more gracious about being interrupted than I am, and I can take a lesson from that. I can learn to be kinder when I react to interruptions. I can learn to be persistent and keep trying even when my thoughts and plans are derailed. And maybe I will learn to not interrupt God with my own feeble attempts at control.

He’s the artist. I’m the masterpiece. And I can’t wait to see what He’s creating.

Christmas doesn’t have to be stressful

Nothing is more stressful than the holiday season. Don’t get me wrong. Christmas is my favorite time of year, but it’s also when a lot of stuff happens. A lot of things go wrong. A lot of people come to visit. A lot of things need to get done. And when you add all that up, it can amount to a heaping helping of stress and anxiety.

But the more Christmases I live through, the more I learn that my stress and anxiety during the holiday season doesn’t stem from family and friends visiting or expectations of others or needing to bake and cook and clean. No, anything negative I experience happens because I’ve got my focus in the wrong place.

christmas-xmas-santa-claus-adventToday’s verse is John 15:4.

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

The world is complicated and stressful without the hustle and bustle of the holidays, and it’s always a temptation to step away from God’s way and do things ourselves. But when we try to accomplish anything in our own strength, we will ultimately fail.

Like a branch can’t produce fruit if it’s severed from the tree, a Christ-follower can’t accomplish much without God’s power in his or her life. And that relates to everything we do. At our jobs. In our homes. In our churches. Among our families.

So as you gather with family and friends today and tomorrow, don’t let stress dictate how you feel. Don’t let the craziness of the season tempt you away from remembering what it’s all about.

Christmas is about Jesus. It’s the day He came to save us from our sins. It’s the day God kept His promise. Who cares if the pie burns or if your in-laws are being rude? So what if you couldn’t get the exact present you wanted? Whatever is bothering you today, shelf it. Let it go. Instead, focus on what really matters, and find your strength and patience in Christ’s love and grace.

It’s a stressful time of year, but it doesn’t have to be. With God, anything is possible. And if you’re a Christ-follower, you have free access to His power, and God is just waiting for you to sit down at His table.

God sees you when you’re struggling

I climbed a Scottish mountain yesterday. It was pretty exciting. Our little crew of international travelers walked up this really steep path to get to this ancient rock, which marked the place where the Clan MacLaren used to rally in older times.

It was a difficult climb. It was raining. And not just raining. Pelting. So loud and hard you can actually hear it on our videos that we’ve taken. A ridiculous amount of rain, especially for a bunch of Kansans.

The mud was thick and threatened to swallow us up. The rocks were few and far between, and the loam wasn’t very good at providing good places to grip.

But we made it to the top, and it was worth the trek. The view was beautiful, and we could say that we accomplished something incredible.

The muddy path to Creag an Tuirc, Balquhidder, Scotland

The muddy path to Creag an Tuirc, Balquhidder, Scotland

Today’s verses are Revelation 2:2-3.

I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.

It’s easy to give up when times get tough. It’s easy to walk away from a challenge, especially when you don’t feel up for it or when you’ve convinced yourself you aren’t capable. And when you think God isn’t paying attention, it’s even easier to walk away from a time of struggle.

But here’s news for you, friends. God is watching. All the time.

He sees when you struggle. He sees when you falter. He sees when you need help, and He cares. He’s not ignoring you. He’s watching you every step of the way.

Maybe that doesn’t comfort you, but it comforts me that God cares enough to watch what I’m doing. And He cared enough to intervene when it gets to be too much for me, which is always.

What are you struggling through this morning? What impossible task are you facing? Don’t give up. It will get harder before it gets better, you can almost count on that, but just because the situation is tough right now doesn’t mean that God isn’t with you.

So hold on. Keep climbing. Because the view from the top is worth the trouble it took to get there.

Sunrise behind the clouds at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Why repeat experiences aren’t always bad

Rochester, MN, is a nice little city. I’m not sure what the population is, but it’s big enough to have a decent downtown area–although I’m fairly certain most of the downtown is the Mayo Clinic.

That’s why we’re up here again, the third time this year. Visiting the Mayo Clinic. It’s a long, complicated story that’s taken up the better part of two years, but we’re hoping this trip will actually provide us with answers regarding my mom’s health.

What is really interesting to me this third time visiting Rochester is how not-stressed I am about the whole thing. Six months ago, I was uncertain. Seven months ago, I was a nervous wreck.

The first time we came up here, it was winter. Minnesota in March. Just where you want to spend vacation time, right? The snow drifts were taller than my car. Without the wind chill, it was 30 below outside. None of us knew where we were going. We didn’t know where to check in, who to talk to, where to eat or even what we could eat.

But now, in September, we’re all very comfortable in Rochester. Not like it’s a second home or anything, but it certainly is more familiar than it was. But that’s how life works. The things we’ve already experienced don’t stress us out like the things we haven’t, and because we’ve experienced all of this before, we know what’s coming.

Sunrise behind the clouds at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunrise behind the clouds at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Romans 5:3-5.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. 

One thing I’ve learned about life: Oftentimes you have to experience the same things over and over again before you learn anything. Looking back, it blows my mind how many times God has had to put me through the same frustrating circumstances just to get me to pay attention.

But if I can get over being frustrated, if I can look past having to go through the same stuff over and over again, I can start to see part of what He’s doing.

You don’t build endurance by running one race. You have to run a lot of races. You don’t build character by making the right choice once. You have to make the right choice many times. And you don’t truly understand God’s grace the first time He steps in to Help you when you don’t deserve it. You have to experience that many times before it really sinks in just how much He loves you and just how little you deserve His love.

Just because you have to go through the same frustrating circumstances over and over again doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. Granted, it may mean you aren’t paying attention to what God wants you to learn. Or it may just be that you need training.

So if you’re experiencing the same trial for the second, third or even fourth time, take a step back and do a heart check. Make sure your attitude is what it’s supposed to be. Make sure you’re open to learning or accepting what God may want to show you. And if you are, then just sit back and wait because God has something to teach you. He won’t bring you somewhere to leave you there without teaching you something.

Just because you have to go through something more than once doesn’t make you wrong or doesn’t mean God is punishing you. It could just be that He’s preparing you for something awesome.

Wheat fields at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Good things come to those who wait

I hate waiting. I think I’ve said that on this blog once or twice. Waiting just isn’t something I’m good at, but it’s something I usually end up having a lot of practice with. I don’t know if it’s because I have an active imagination and can see all the different possibilities of how life could work out the way I want it to or if it’s because I’m a perfectionist with an inferiority complex. Whatever the reason, I just don’t like waiting. If people got medals for patience, I wouldn’t medal in the top three.

Patience is a characteristic that we grow over time. We don’t really just wake up with it. That would be nice, but it’s one of those qualities we have to develop. You’ve heard the phrase: “Good things come to those who wait”? Exactly.

But patience is more than a character quality. It’s a gift.

Wheat fields at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheat fields at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Galatians 5:22-23.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

I’ve heard some people say that asking God for patience is a bad idea because then He’ll give it to you and you’ll end up having to stay in the same situation where you have to have patience for longer than you would have had to if you hadn’t asked for it. That was a long, rambling introduction, but I hope you get the point.

Many of us are in circumstances where we are waiting for God to tell us what to do next. Or some of us are in a situation where we know what God wants us to do… He’s told us to wait. To be patient. To be still. Am I the only one who hates that answer?

Whether it’s the answer we want or not, patience is good for us. The more patience we learn to have, the more we grow in other areas of our life–like faith. Because when you’re sitting still and depending on God to work out the details, you have to learn to trust Him more. When you’re not running around trying to arrange your life to fit the mold of your expectations, you have to let God design it the way He wants. And when you do that, your life works out better anyway because God is a better architect than you are. Just saying.

But personally I think asking for patience is a good idea. Asking God to help me be patient is more than a good idea–it’s a necessity. Otherwise, I’ll twist off and go do things my own way, and my life is too big for me to handle on my own already without me getting into situations I don’t understand.

So how do you have patience? How do you use patience? Because there is such a thing as being lazy. People can be lazy and just say they’re waiting for God to move. People can be lazy and just say they’re being patient. It’s a lot easier to be lazy than patient. But you can tell the difference when God does tell you to do something. If you’re being lazy you’ll look for an excuse to keep being lazy. If you’re being patient, you’ll jump at the opportunity to be useful.

Patience is a gift that God gives us when we accept Christ into our lives. We already have it. It’s our choice to use it or not. If you ignore it, you’re going to walk into a lot of situations where you aren’t prepared and you’ll probably end up falling on your face. But if you implement it, you’ll always be ready for the challenges that are coming. Well–maybe you won’t be ready, but you’ll be as prepared as you can be. And by the time the challenge gets to you, you’ll already have lots of practice waiting on God, and that’s the best way to prepare for any circumstance.

So if you’re faced with a choice today — to do or to wait — you might think about waiting. Granted, if you’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting, double check. Make sure God is telling you to keep waiting. But if you’re getting ready to run off half-c0cked and do things your own way, you might think twice. It’s better to wait and be sure you know what God wants before you do what you want.