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?

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Knowing the next step is half the battle

I like plans, but I’m not very organized. So operating in a corporate environment using a workflow chart was difficult to wrap my brain around at first. I didn’t get the concept of connecting geometric shapes with squiggly lines to symbolize processes at first. It just seemed like a lot of extra work to write down a process when it was easier to remember what came next.

When you have simple processes, that’s true. But in many corporate environments, a work process can involve dozens and maybe hundreds of people and multiple departments. With a process that complicated, you need to have a standard to refer to in the moments when a project gets crazy. You need to have a road map to look at so that you can get back on track.

If you think about it, nothing is more complicated than life. So why do we attempt to get through life without some sort of plan? How do we expect to keep ourselves on track and on target without a map to refer to when we get lost?

sea-beach-holiday-vacationToday’s verses are Psalm 37:23-24.

The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
He delights in every detail of their lives.
Though they stumble, they will never fall,
for the Lord holds them by the hand.

God doesn’t give us the whole plan for our lives all at once. Honestly, He rarely shares the entire plan with us in our lifetime. But one thing God will always provide for us is the next step.

Following Christ isn’t a chaotic mess of disorder and strife. Sure, we all have struggles, and we all have varying amounts of stress to deal with at times. But if your life is chaotic, something is wrong. God doesn’t work in chaos. That’s our enemy’s specialty. God is always clear about what He wants. It’s our hearing that’s often plugged up, and it’s usually plugged up by our own voices.

You can get as spiritual and theological about God’s will as you want, but what it comes down to in the end is doing what God says is right one step at a time. God’s will is too big and too much for us to comprehend, because it encompasses the length and breadth and depth and width of our entire lives and even aspects of our legacies. I don’t know about you, but my puny human brain couldn’t take all of that in. So I’m glad God doesn’t tell me. I think it would scare me to death.

God has a plan, but He’s only going to tell us the parts we need to know when we need to know them. That’s His right. And if we think we deserve more than that, well, we should remember whose plan it is and whose story we’re living in. So when God gives us a piece of the plan, we need to act on it right away.

Example? The first step is to trust Jesus. That’s what God wants for all of us. He wants us to make the call to follow Jesus, to trust in Christ’s sacrifice alone for our salvation. That’s the first step, and until you take that step, nothing in life will make sense. And after you take that step, well, life still won’t make much sense, but you’ll be able to see God working.

After that, the next step is to actually start following Christ. You do the things He did. Like baptism, an outward expression of an inward change. You live like He lived–loving God and loving people. Following Christ will take the rest of your life, and it will look different for different people. And, frankly, God isn’t always specific about what He expects. We’re to “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly” with God, yes, but those three things can take a variety of shapes and sizes in our lives.

So what next? That’s the question many of us face. We’ve chosen to believe in Jesus. We’ve committed to following Jesus. But what does that mean?

Honestly, you just have to get to know God better, and He’ll tell you. He’ll show you. He always does. He’ll reveal in your heart the path that you should take. He’ll open the doors for you. He’ll muddy up the roads you should avoid and straighten the roads you should walk. You won’t be able to get away from it.

So don’t worry about what’s next. Trust that God knows where you’ll end up, even if you can’t see where you’re walking. Focus on growing closer to God. Spend your time talking to Him, reading about Him, learning about Him, and He’ll show you what comes next.

What comes next is the easy part. God already has that worked out. The hard part is actually doing it.

Thistles at Hadrian's Wall, Northern England, United Kingdom

Trusting God with your plans

It’s easy to say that I trust God with my future, but it’s more difficult to live like I do. I like to plan. I like to know what’s coming, so I know how to respond, how to react, how to prepare. But I don’t always get that luxury. Half the time what I plan doesn’t even happen, rendering all my careful planning null and void. The rest of the time, what I expect happens but it’s so fast it’s all I can do to just keep hanging on.

 

Thistles at Hadrian's Wall, Northern England, United Kingdom

Thistles at Hadrian’s Wall, Northern England, United Kingdom

Today’s verse is Proverbs 16:3.

Commit your actions to the Lord,
    and your plans will succeed.

I was thinking about plans this morning. I have a lot of them. I have things I want to accomplish. I have things I want God to do. Most of the time I say I’m trusting God to take care of it, but I think deep inside I really don’t. Deep inside I’ve still got my plans on my schedule on my shoulders. No wonder I never get anything done.

I checked this verse in the Amplified Version of the Bible just to see if there were any specific word usages that I missed. I’m glad I did because simply saying to “commit your actions to the Lord” doesn’t really capture the concept behind this verse.

The Amplified Version says this: Roll your works upon the Lord [commit and trust them wholly to Him; He will cause your thoughts to become agreeable to His will, and] so shall your plans be established and succeed.

Wow. What a picture. Can you just imagine rolling your works on God? Have you ever had to move something heavy? So heavy you had to put it on wheels? Andy and I once helped one of my drama kids move, and it was quite an ordeal to get all of his things into the truck. Some of them were really heavy, and we had to use the ramp to get the heaviest things into the truck. Being able to roll those heavy things into the truck and let them go was a relief.

That’s what we’re supposed to do with our plans. If you have plans like I do at all, they’re heavy. They’re big. And that’s great. We all need to have dreams. We all need to have aspirations. But most of the time they weigh too much for us to support on our own, and we’re reduced to rolling them around like boulders over uneven paths. What this verse is saying, written by King Solomon so many thousands of years ago, is that we need to roll those dreams and plans on God and leave them. Whatever they are, we need to give them to God.

I don’t know what your dreams or plans are, but I know God gave me mine. My dream is a gift that He gave me, and the only way I will see it accomplished is to give it back to Him. That means letting go and leaving it in His hands, trusting Him to do what He wants with it. It’s harder than it sounds. But if we can do it, if we trust Him so completely, if we can learn to see life and living from His perspective, if we can allow Him to transform our minds and our thinking, God will use our plans to do more than we ever planned to begin with.

That sounds pretty cool to me.

Are your dreams weighing you down? Are your plans too much for you today? Roll them up the ramp and leave them with God. Our lives are too short to spend toiling under the heavy weight of self-inflicted deadlines. Trust God to do what only He can, and move forward with confidence because of who He is.

Steps in the jungle at Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Don’t be afraid to change your plans

I had a plan when I was a senior in high school. I would graduate from Pensacola Christian College in four years with a degree in commercial writing, but I probably wouldn’t get a full-time job after graduation because I was probably going to get married and start a family. Well, my plan didn’t work.

I made it a year at Pensacola Christian College and came home (thank God) and finished my writing degree at Wichita State University instead. And I’ve been working full time since 2005 (sign language interpreter, librarian, writer) and I still haven’t even been on a date, which is normally a prerequisite when you intend to get married. None of these things were in my plan, but looking back now, I wouldn’t change any of it.

Steps in the jungle at Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Steps in the jungle at Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Proverbs 19:21.

You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.

People get attached to the plans they’ve made. I’m not really sure why, but it happens to me too. When I was young I used to get so upset when our plans would change at the last minute. Maybe it’s because I’m a creature of habit. I don’t know.

But what I’ve learned over the years is that even though you make plans, you can’t be afraid to change them. Why? Well, God has a better plan than you do. And even if your plan is good, His is best. He won’t force you to change your plans, but you’ll sure be better off if you do.

I could have forced my plan. I could have gone back to PCC for the rest of my education. I didn’t have to leave. No one forced me to leave. (Oh, but I’m glad I did.) I didn’t have to go to WSU. I could have opted for an associate degree at a junior college and lived at home. And that way maybe I could have pursued a relationship. I could be married now. Most of my friends my age are married. Most of my friends younger than me are married. And many of them have kids–more than one kid. Some have armies.

But when I consider all that God has given me because I changed my plans to suit His, I wouldn’t go back for anything. I had many plans for my life, but God had a purpose for me that I didn’t know about. And if I had pushed my own plans, it would have been a lot more difficult to reach the purpose God had in store.

So what’s the point of getting upset when we change our plans? Why are we afraid of it? Most of the time, if you’re changing your plan for a reason God has indicated, the new plan will be better than the old one in the end anyway.

I think the fear comes from the unknown. Once you sit down and plan something, you have the illusion that you’re in control of your plans, but that’s not true. Even if you push your own plan, you’re not in control of it. Life can still spiral out of control at a moment’s notice whether you’re following your plan or God’s plan. The upside of following God’s plan when everything falls apart is that you can trust all the bad stuff is part of the plan. If you’re following your plan and everything falls apart, you won’t know what to do and you aren’t big enough to fix it.

Being steady and consistent are important. If you promise to do something, you ought to do it. I’m not saying that if you’ve planned to do something you should back out of it because it pushes you out of your comfort zone. That’s not the point at all.

But if you’ve planned to do something and God obviously shows you that He wants you to do something else? Don’t dawdle. Change your plans to suit His. And don’t be afraid of it.

Him asking you to change your plans could be for a reason as simple as avoiding an unforeseen catastrophe on the road you were driving on. Or it could mean you end up the president of a company instead of peon in a cubicle. Whatever plans He asks you to change, you just have to trust that He knows better and that His plans are better. After all, He can see the big picture, when we’re stuck with just a few pixels.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Looks like the world is falling apart, doesn’t it? If it isn’t the unemployment here at home, it’s the rioting in the Middle East. It’s the danger on the Mexican border. It’s the threat of North Korea. Or it’s the earthquakes that kill so many people. Or the storms that leave people homeless. There is so much going on around us that it’s easy to focus only on the disaster quotiont of this broken world we live in.

War. Poverty. Bad things happening to good people. Somedays it’s enough to really depress me.

I know it definitely makes me wonder what God is up to. I don’t doubt that He’s doing something. He’s always doing something. But whatever this is that’s sweeping the world right now, whether it’s chaos or anarchy or liberty or apathy some weird combination of all of them, it’s unsettling. I believe we’re in the End Times, but we’ve been in the End Times for a long time, and I still feel like it’s going to get much worse before it gets better.

There are so many what if questions. What if the stock market crashes? What if the money system fails? What if there is another terrorist attack and we don’t retaliate and they just keep coming until there’s nothing left of this country? What if we all lose our jobs? What if the harvest goes south again and there’s not enough food for people to live on? What if, what if, what if, what if.

What if questions will be the death of me. So I’m trying not to ask them anymore. The only real answer to a What If question is that God knows what He’s doing and that He will never forsake His children.

The verse this morning truly encouraged me, and I hope it encourages everyone else too:

Jeremiah 29:11-13

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 In those days when you pray, I will listen. 13 If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.

 Isn’t God’s love amazing? You know He’s got to have other things that should rank higher than reassuring us that He’s got our backs, but He does it anyway.

I love the context of this verse too, because it was given to the nation of Israel when they were captives in Babylon. They were in captivity. Their homes had been destroyed. Their families were separated. It looked like the very end of everything they had ever dreamed of. But God told them that it wasn’t. He told them that He already had everything worked out and that even though they weren’t living the life they’d always dreamed of, He was still with them and He was still making plans for their future. And they weren’t just any plans — they were good plans.

It’s the same for us.

Things are pretty rough now for a lot of people. And even those of us who are still employed aren’t really safe. Anything could happen. But nothing surprises God. He’s got plans for us, and they’re good plans. And the fact that He promises to hear when we call out to Him shocks me. I mean, come on! This is God. He made everything from Jupiter to leptons and He’s even willing to entertain an audience with a goofy, screwed up wordsmith like me? How is that even possible? I know it’s not logical or rational, but it’s true. If I call to Him, He’ll listen; if I look for Him, I’ll find Him.

It’s the same for everyone else. Even if life is rough and you aren’t where you think you should be right now, just hang on because God’s got good plans for everyone.

Forgive me another crude pop culture analogy, but I adored the new remake of the A-Team. It had been a long time since I laughed that hard at the same time I was on the edge of my seat. The leader of the A-Team is Hannibal Smith, and this guy is pretty incredible (the character is amazing . . . . and Liam Neeson played him so that made him flippin’ awesome). But this character is known for his planning skills and strategies. He can make a plan so far in advance that he’s basically directing the actions of their enemies.

Now, I’m not saying that Hannibal Smith is like God or vice versa. But if you watch that movie (and probably the TV show), you’ll see that some of Hannibal’s plans have some pretty rough spots. Or they require the rest of the team to go through some pretty scary stuff before it all ends well. But those rough spots have to be there. They’re unavoidable. They’re uncomfortable but they’re necessary, and in the end it all works out.

In some ways, that’s how God’s plans work. He knows what’s happening. He’s got it all worked out. He knows our thoughts and our actions before we think or make them. But because the world is broken, there are some points in our lives that are going to be rough. They’ll be scary. We’ll be uncomfortable. But, it’s all part of the plan, and God knows what He’s doing. And in the end, when everything is over, it will all turn out all right because God is God, He never makes mistakes, and He always keeps His promises.

And I’m sure He loves it when a plan comes together too. =)