You can’t win a fight without fighting back

I finished the revised draft of a 109,000-word novel yesterday. This is the sequel to my debut novel, which released December 2014, and it’s part of a series I’ve been writing since 2001 or 2002. Somewhere in there. It isn’t the hardest book I’ll ever write, but it is the most difficult and challenging one I’ve written to date. I was sorely tempted to give up a few times over the last month.

Fortunately, I am blessed to be surrounded by many much-loved friends who were willing to encourage me and brave enough to tell me I needed to eat a sandwich or take a nap. (If you are a friend to a ridiculously stubborn and independent person, you understand what my poor friends deal with.)

I was tired. I was frustrated. I was irritated at myself (for my perceived slowness and my inability to hit my overly ambitious, self-imposed deadlines). I wanted to give up, but I didn’t. I kept pushing forward because I’ve got a host of people who would probably track me down and strangle me if I didn’t deliver the sequel pronto. That was one motivating factor. 😉

But the biggest motivation to finish came from my deeply held belief that God keeps His promises.

black-and-white-sport-fight-boxerToday’s verse is Hebrews 10:36.

Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.

God has never let me down. Not ever. He’s always been there when I needed Him. He’s always provided for me, sometimes even when I didn’t know what I needed or when I needed it. And years and years ago before I even understood what I was doing, God showed me that I could write. And God promises that if we use our gifts and talents for Him, He’ll bless us and He’ll bless the work we do in His name.

Somewhere along the line, during this crazy month of rewriting, I lost track of who the book belonged to. It’s not mine. I gave it to the Lord all those years ago when the idea first came to me. So no matter how difficult the journey gets between now and when the book releases, between when the book releases and Book 3 goes into production, and so on and so forth, God will make it worth it.

It’s hard to hold on to that sometimes because–let’s just be honest–life sucks. Crazy bad stuff happens. Loved ones die. Your insurance goes up. Your car breaks down. That unexpected expense that empties your bank account. Work is too stressful. You lose a relationship. The other half of your brain moves away. And it can’t all happen one piece at a time. No, it’s all got to happen at once, and you get so distracted by all the awful, discouraging things going on that you forget who’s really in control. Because nothing feels controlled. Everything feels out of control.

So what do you do when it feels like life is circling the drain? When nothing you do is good enough. When the straw broke the camel’s back years ago but nothing’s changed. What can you do?

You can give up, sure, but do you believe God or not? If God’s given you a job to do, you need to do it. It might stink right now, but if you throw in the towel, you have no idea what you’re leaving behind. God made you a promise, and He always keeps His promises. So instead of walking away, endure patiently.

Enduring isn’t fun. Being patient isn’t fun either. So patient endurance is a double whammy of anti-fun. But if you can do it (and God will give you the strength), you’ll be able to keep moving forward. And you will move forward, even if you feel like you’re standing still. And someday, farther down the road, you’ll be rewarded for it.

You don’t get rewards for giving up. You can’t win a fight without fighting back. And it’s not that our lives should be about rewards or what we get in return for serving God. That’s not the point. But we do need to remember that God doesn’t give us difficult tasks without promising to make them worth our effort.

What are you facing today? A frightening diagnosis? A new diet? A new job? Shoot, I’ve got lots of friends who just had new babies. Talk about a challenge. God has promised to be with you and to give you strength when you need it most. And He’s promised that the trials and struggles you go through are all part of a bigger plan.

Yes, life is hard. And following Jesus is harder still. But He promised that it would be worth it.

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Lounging giant tortoise at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Some people juggle geese

Do you ever get so tired of running that you just want to give up? I do. I’ve heard it said that life is a race, like a marathon, and we’re running toward the finish. But I don’t think that’s accurate. I think life is a series of races. We’re not necessarily competing against others, though in some cases we are, but most of the time we’re just trying to reach the finish line. And when we finish one, we end up starting another. Or some of us are running multiple races at once.

Maybe a better example is a juggler. Everyone juggles. Some people juggle two balls. Some people juggle six. We juggle our career, our family, our hobbies, our dreams, our responsibilities, and our unpleasant tasks (According to Wash on Firefly, “Some people juggle geese.”), and the entire purpose in juggling is to be able to accomplish more at one time. Like running two races at the same time. If you can do more, you should. But the more you try to do, the more difficult it becomes. You have to run longer and harder; you have to have more balance or coordination.

And if that’s the path you chosen (or if that’s the path that’s chosen you), who says you can’t just stop? Why can’t you just quit juggling? Why can’t you just stop running? You can, can’t you?

Lounging giant tortoise at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Lounging giant tortoise at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Hebrews 10:36.

Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.

Why do we run a race in the first place? And this can be metaphorical, because I don’t run. I’m not built for it. Even in an emergency, the best I can muster is a brisk jog. But why do we set out to accomplish something great in any situation?

Well, I believe we want to challenge ourselves; we want to grow, build our skills, increase our experience. Or we want to help other people. Usually there’s a goal when you set out to run a race or when you decide to take on another item to juggle. Running the race of life itself or just juggling life itself (your own life; not someone else’s) is difficult enough.

But then you get married. Then you have kids. Then your parents need help. Then your friends need help. Then your job gets stressful. Then your dreams start requiring more of you than they did before if you ever want to see them become a reality. Then ministry gets tough. Just name a complication, and I guarantee you will face it at some point in your life. It will be another race you need to run. It will be another ball you need juggle. That’s just the way it is.

It’s never easy. And I’m not a “good enough” Christian to say that I’ve never wanted to stop. Sometimes there are so many things going in my life, sometimes I have so many balls in the air or so many races to keep track of that I don’t even remember why I’m doing it. And if you’re at that point, maybe it’s time to step back and reassess, because if you’ve forgotten your purpose, it’s a good chance you’ll say yes to anything. And we aren’t called to juggle ten balls for no reason.

But if you’ve got six balls (or waterfowl) and you know why you’re juggling and who you’re juggling for, is it okay to drop them? If you’ve got six races you’re running at the same time, is it okay to stop running? You know I’m speaking in metaphor here. If you have so many things going on in your life that you’re doing for God, is it okay to stop doing them?

Well, of course, it’s okay. God isn’t waiting around the corner with a sledgehammer eagerly anticipating the moment when you let down so He can smash you. That’s not the God I know.

It’s okay to be tired. It’s okay to be exhausted. It’s okay to be worn out. But before you give up and walk away from all of it, take a moment to rest and remember why.

Why are doing the things you’re doing? Why are you juggling the responsibilities that are on your plate? Who gave them to you? Did you accept them out of guilt? Or did you genuinely feel God calling you to take them up in the first place? There’s a big difference there.

If you accepted something to juggle or a race to run because you felt guilty about not doing it, most likely, that was your own pride speaking. Because God doesn’t work through guilt. Yes, guilt is an important aspect of coming to know Christ. You have to recognize it and understand that you are guilty, but once you come to Christ and ask Him to cleanse you, you aren’t guilty anymore. And God isn’t going to use guilt to pressure you into something you’re not ready for.

Remember also that you won’t juggle forever. You won’t run forever. Races have an end. And, yes, there may be another race waiting as soon as you finish one, but if you’re at the end of a race, why stop just short of finishing? Finish strong. It’s difficult, but it’s worth it.

What the writer of Hebrews is saying here is that God can be trusted to keep His promises. And there are many promises God has made that we will experience just by believing in Him, but there are a lot of other promises out there–promises that require us to run our races the best we can and not give up.

If you’re tired today, that’s okay. Everybody gets tired, and it’s okay to take a rest. It’s good to re-examine your purpose. But whatever you do, don’t give up. God has great plans for you, and He’s made you awesome promises. And if you walk away from the finish line when it’s in sight, you might be forfeiting more than just the race.

Faith is only the beginning

How many people think living the Christian life is easy? How many Christians operate under the delusion that once they’ve given their lives to Christ, everything will work out and be easy and perfect and they’ll never have to struggle with anything again?

I think the Christian community we live in now, in 21st Century America, has communicated that accepting Christ is the hard part and living life with Him (and for Him) is easy.

In a certain light, that’s true. Living for Christ is easy in that it’s easy to know what decisions you need to make; He has told us quite clearly in the Bible what we’re supposed to do and what we’re not supposed to do. What’s difficult is actually doing it. What’s difficult is waking up every morning and reminding yourself that you have chosen to live for God and that your life needs to reflect that. What’s difficult is staying positive and continuing to believe that God is going to work everything out when you are in the middle of a storm that never seems to end.

So many Christians I have spoken to get the idea that once they accept Christ all their troubles will be over, and that’s not true. Living the Christian life is hard. Doing the right thing is hard.

When we decide to believe in Christ, when we choose to place our faith in Christ, we become a new person, yes. But the old person we used to be is still rattling around inside of us. And the world outside us doesn’t change either. Our faith is all that has changed.

Faith is another thing I think a lot of Christians get confused about. I think people believe that once they decided to trust Christ that everyone gets this magical ability to simply believe everything God says without question. Again. Not true.

Having faith doesn’t mean you don’t question. Having faith means you believe even if you have questions.

Faith is a gift that God gives us, yes. And when we accept Christ, God gives us the faith to believe Him, but that doesn’t mean that our faith is automatically big enough to handle the truly difficult struggles of our lives. No. It needs to grow.

Have you ever met anyone with incredible faith? Someone who God could allow anything — absolutely anything — to come into their lives and they wouldn’t bat an eyelash? I have met many people like this, but I can tell you that they weren’t “born” with that kind of faith. They had to develop it. Their faith was small when they started, but they put God to the test, and He never let them down. And when their faith was tested, they hung on to it and when the trial was over, they came out stronger for it.

The passage today is a long one, and I went ahead and included the beginning verses, too, just for context. 2 Peter 1:3-8 says this:

 3 By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. 4 And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.

5 In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.

 8 The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 2 Peter says that when we came to faith in Christ, God gave us everything we would need to live a godly life. And not only that, He gave us a way to escape a life of darkness and sadness caused by the world.

But how?

I think it’s interesting how lazy a lot of Christians are (myself included). Maybe it’s the influence of modern-day America. I don’t know. Or maybe it’s a knee-jerk reaction to legalism. That could be.

Let me be very clear so I don’t miscommunicate this. There are nothing we can do that will save us. Works don’t make us right with God. Only belief in Christ allows us to have a relationship with God.

That being said, faith is just the beginning of that relationship. If you don’t work at your faith — if you don’t take steps to help it grow — it will stay small and ineffective and your life as a Christian will not be what God intended it to be.

You must have faith. But according to this verse, to live a godly life, you need to supplement your faith with a few things. And this list is in an order for a reason. If you think about it, you have to have each one in order before you can attain the next one.

Once you have faith, you need to have moral excellence. You need to be aware of what is right and what is wrong, and when you are given the chance to do wrong, you need to choose to do what is right, even if it’s difficult.

Once you have moral excellence, learn. Gain knowledge. About anything and everything that will help you live a godly life, that will help you be effective in ministry. If you can understand morality, you will be able to know what is right and what is wrong and will be able to see what knowledge is beneficial and what isn’t.

Once you have knowledge, you must have self-control. You can’t just walk around spouting off all the facts that you’ve learned. You could confuse other people. You can’t walk around telling people how to live. That’s not your place. So you need to learn to control yourself.

And when you’ve learned to control yourself (the most difficult person to control, and–really–the only person you can control), learn how to endure patiently. It doesn’t matter if it’s people or situtations. God allows them into your life for a reason, and you can learn something from them.

After that, learn godliness. Learn what it means to be truly like God. Know His characteristics and do what you can to incorporate them into your life. Obviously, there are some aspects of God that we can’t ever be like (omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, etc.) but there are qualities that we can share. His creativity (not that we can create anything, but we can come up with new ideas). His love. His joy.

The next step is brotherly affection. Learn to love your fellow Christians. This is hard because oftentimes Christians are the hardest people in the world to love. But if another person believes in Christ, that person is our brother or our sister, and God has commanded that we love each other.

And after you learn how to love fellow Christians, show love to everyone. Love the people around you who aren’t Christians. Love the people around you who think they’re Christians. Love the people who hate you. Love everyone.

Do you see what this is? It’s a process.

When you first come to know Christ, your faith makes you whole. Yes. That’s done. It’s immediate. Have faith in Christ and be saved from your sins.

But the life you live after you decide to have faith is a step-by-step, day-by-day process that will take the rest of your life on Earth. It’s not something that happens overnight, and it’s not easy. And there are good days and there are bad days, but the more you grow in your faith, the more effective you will be as a Christian. The more you live like this, the more useful you will be to God.

Faith is a choice. Living it is a series of choices. But as 2 Peter already said, we already have everything we need to live like this. We just have to look for it. And if we ever get turned around, we have the Bible as our roadmap.