When things don’t go your way, get excited

You don’t always get what you want. It’s one of those life lessons we learn at an early age, usually when birthdays or Christmases come around. You know what I mean.

Even if you’re overwhelmingly grateful for the gifts you receive, if someone has totally guessed wrong, it’s a little sad. One year, a relative gave my brother bedsheets for Christmas. And it’s not that he wasn’t thankful for the sheets. He needed them. But for Christmas? When you’re like 7 or 8?

It’s a good lesson to learn, though, to be thankful for what you’re given, even if it isn’t what you wanted. It’s good to learn it early because that’s a lesson that doesn’t change as you age. Most of the time, you aren’t going to get what you want out of life. So decide how you’re going to handle it now.

christmas-xmas-gifts-presentsToday’s verses are James 1:2-4.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind 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. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

I have a lot of plans. I want a lot of things. But what I want is rarely what I end up getting, and that’s okay with me. God isn’t keeping me from achieving my goals or hitting my deadlines because He wants to make me miserable. He isn’t holding back all the things I want because He’s mean. If He holds anything back, it’s because He’s got something better in mind. If He prevents me from hitting a deadline or making a goal that I think is important, it’s because He’s got something bigger planned.

God never intends for us to go without. He never wants us to have less than we need. But if we want to have all the things He’s promised for us, we’ve got to get on board with Him. We’ve got to follow His plan. We’ve got to get on His schedule, because He’s the one who can make things happen. So that means we have to start living life by His rules and seeing life through His eyes.

That means we rejoice when we don’t get our way. That means we get excited when we have to work harder to achieve something we thought would be easy. That means we leap for joy when someone makes like tough for us.

It goes against everything we feel, I know. When we hit tough times, it’s tempting to want to sulk, but don’t give into that mindset. That’s not an attitude God can bless.

So the next time you don’t get your way, thank God for it. It won’t feel natural, and that’s okay. It isn’t.

Beyond your roughest road is great joy

I can’t remember the name of the highway (it might have been I-10), but it was a road leading to Pensacola, Florida, where I went to college my freshmen year. My parents and I were going for a visit while I was still in high school, and we hit this particularly bumpy stretch of pavement. It went on for a long time, and it was really uncomfortable in the back seat. The car bumped and bounced all over the place. I had a notebook, of course, and was trying to write something, but I couldn’t because the ride was so rough.

Life is like that highway. You’ve got to get from Point A to Point B, and even though there’s a direct route, it’s not an easy road. There are potholes and obstacles. Sometimes you have to swerve. Sometimes you even may have to stop to fix a flat. But it’s the only way to get there.

What do you do in those situations? Do you turn around and go back? You can, but what’s the point of that? No, if it’s the only road you can take, it’s better to press on and just deal with the discomfort, because you know the road will smooth out on the other side. It’s just hard to remember that sometimes.

wood-road-dirty-forest_1532x1021Today’s verses are 1 Peter 1:6-9.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.

God has a plan for everyone. It’s up to us to go along with it, but the plan is there. What Christians forget sometimes is that the road isn’t easy, and God never promised it would be. He actually promised the opposite. But He does say that on the other side of the rough rode of following Christ is great joy.

That’s what we need to hold on to in the tough times. When the road gets difficult and the potholes keep coming and the rain won’t stop falling, just remember that God is with you, and He’s also on the other side of your struggle. He’ll help you get through it. He’ll send help when you need it. He’ll provide strength when yours runs out. Just keep believing that He’s right and that His promises are real.

The road might be a muddy mess, and you’ll be muddy by the time you cross it. But once you’re past it, you’ll look back on it with fondness. You will, believe it or not. Because in retrospect, even though it was a hard and challenging and difficult time in your life, you’ll see it as the moment when you knew God was with you.

Facing trouble is like riding a bicycle

I got a bicycle for my birthday this year. It’s pretty epic. Vintage, even. It’s not new, but my dad cleaned it all up. And it was waiting for me with a big “Happy Birthday!” sign on it when I got home.

I’d mentioned wanting one some time back because some of the happiest memories I have from childhood are all four of us riding our bikes around the trails when we lived in Wichita. We tried to ride bikes when we moved out to the country, but city bike tires weren’t designed for gravel roads. And then we just all got so busy.

So I hadn’t ridden a bike in 20+ years when I got back in the saddle. It was pretty embarrassing, I’m sad to say. I didn’t fall over, but I imagine I looked something like a newborn giraffe trying to figure out which way is up. But riding a bicycle really is–well, like riding a bicycle. You never really forget how.

I remembered how to sit, how to pedal, how to steer, but it had been so long since I’d exercised that particular set of muscles, let’s just say the ride didn’t last very long. I was really hurting by the time we were done. But you should expect that if you try to flex muscles you haven’t used in a long time. Maybe you know what you’re supposed to do, but you may not be physically able to do it until you’ve practiced.

my_bikeToday’s verses are James 1:2-4.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind 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. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

Have you ever thought of facing trials and challenges like body building? Maybe that’s too much of a stretch, but it makes sense to me. So much of how we respond to events in life is almost like muscle memory. We don’t necessarily think. We just react. But we react based on what our experience has been in past circumstances.

If you’ve never seen God do miracles, it’s very likely that the first time you run up against an impossible task, you’ll despair. If you’ve never seen God work out a situation with no possible answer, it’s very likely the first time you encounter an unsolvable problem, you’ll get upset.

But if you have seen God do the impossible, there’s not really much out there that can shake you. Sure, people may upset you. Circumstances may frustrate you. But you’ve seen things happen that should never have happened. You’ve seen the hand of God touching hearts, healing lives, mending the brokenness you never thought could be repaired. And once you’ve seen that, you can’t unsee it.

Our world is full of trouble. We can’t escape it. There used to be a time when we could ignore it, but it’s become so prevalent now, you can’t shut it out. It’s only a matter of time until you run into trouble that you can’t survive without God’s help.

If you haven’t encountered trouble like it before, just hold on. Because on the other side, you’ll be able to look back and see what God has done, not only in your life but in the lives of the people you love. Do what you’re supposed to do. Live how you’re supposed to live. And God will bless you and work it all out for your good and His glory.

And the next time trouble comes around (because there’s always a next time), you won’t blink. Because you will have experienced God’s goodness and His power already, and you’ll know what He can do.

Facing trials and troubles and challenges really is like riding a bicycle. The first time you get on, it’s hard work. It hurts. It’s a struggle. But the longer you ride, the more you practice, the better you get at it.

 

St. Francis Medical Center, Colorado Springs, CO

How do you trust God when life isn’t fair?

Life doesn’t always work the way we want it to. We can make as many plans as we want, but we can’t know the future. We can’t control our lives, as much as we try to. And when those moments come that blow all our carefully laid plans apart, we have a choice. We can either give up or manage the broken pieces as best we can, trusting that God will put them back together again better than they were before.

But it’s hard. It’s really hard. Because we get our selfish little hearts set on things that we want, and we are totally capable of convincing ourselves that God has told us we can have something. And maybe He has. But it has to be on His terms. And the plain truth is that when God says yes to our wants or our desires, we’re rarely in the place in our lives when it’s time for us to have them.

We have to live some more. We have to learn what the desire of our heart really is. Many times it changes and grows as we get older, and even when stays the same, as we age, it gets bigger, broader, as we understand more about ourselves and the world.

But that answer is difficult to accept when we want our way. And it’s so easy to sit back and focus on how unfair life is.

Because it is.

Life is unfair. Work is unfair. Ministry is unfair. Because the world is unfair.

And I don’t know where we (Christians, that is) get the idea that life on earth will be fair when nothing here is fair. The world is broken. We broke it, and it’s not going to be fixed again until after Christ comes back for us.

There’s nowhere in Scripture that says life is fair. There’s nowhere in Scripture where God promises that we won’t have trouble. In fact, the Bible says the exact opposite.

St. Francis Medical Center, Colorado Springs, CO

St. Francis Medical Center, Colorado Springs, CO (where I spent my weekend)

Today’s verse is John 16:33.

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.

This is Jesus talking to the Disciples. Maybe you read that differently, but to me that sounds like a confirmation that sometimes life is going to suck.

This world isn’t our home. We don’t belong here. I think it’s in Hebrews where the writer calls us pilgrims and strangers, aliens in a world we’re just visiting. We’re just passing through.

So why are we surprised when things don’t go our way? Is it the well-meaning teachers of the prosperity gospel? I’ve heard what they say. Those people claim that if you do what God says is right, you’ll have everything you want. Never mind the Bible never says that.

The Bible does say that if you obey God, you’ll be blessed. But being blessed has very little to do with getting what you want. So many times we don’t even know what we want or what we want is bad for us. So how would God be good if He allowed us to have something that would ultimately hurt us?

How many times has God provided what I needed? How many times has He showed up in my life at the pivotal moment? How many times has God let me down? I mean really let me down? I can’t think of once. I can’t think of one promise He’s made me that He hasn’t kept–to the letter.

And how do I repay Him? By whining when I don’t get my way? By grumbling when life isn’t fair? Hasn’t He proved Himself to me by now?

It’s hard to see the big picture. It’s hard to fall back on God when we’re so disappointed. It’s hard to keep trusting when you feel betrayed or let down or like God didn’t hold up His end of the bargain. But when you feel that way, ask yourself if you really understood the bargain to begin with.

God never promised we wouldn’t have trouble, and He never promised that He’d give us whatever we wanted. He just promised that we’d never go without what we need, and we’d never face the struggles of life alone.

We’re going to have trouble. And we’re not always going to get our way. But God always knows what He’s doing. God always keeps His promises.

So just hold on. The world isn’t fair, but Jesus has overcome the world. That means He’s bigger than any trouble you’re facing right now. And if you can just hold on long enough, He’ll prove it to you.

Stone steps at Tikal - Peten, Guatemala

Training to reach the top

If you haven’t worked out at all, can you climb a massive staircase at a dead run without passing out? If you can, you’re tougher than I am. Either that, or you’re not asthmatic. Generally speaking, it’s not a good idea to jump into difficult physical circumstances if you haven’t prepared yourself for them. That’s why people train for marathons. That’s why those crazies who climb Mt. Everest have to set up base camps along the way to acclimate to the altitude.

The photo I picked for today isn’t a very good representation of the temples at the ruins of Tikal in Guatemala. To really grasp their enormity, you kind of have to be there. But I will be the first to tell you that the steps leading up the front of all of them are killer. Most of the steps you can’t actually climb just because the temples themselves are so old, but the rickety old wooden stairs that have been built on the sides aren’t much safer. They’re certainly no less steep. 

Stone steps at Tikal - Peten, Guatemala

Stone steps at Tikal - Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Romans 5:3.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.

Encountering difficult circumstances in life is inevitable. We are going to run into problems because the world isn’t perfect and we aren’t perfect, and we’re all going to make mistakes, we’re all going to sin, and we’re all going to come up short of where we want to be. But when we reach that point, we have the option of pressing forward or giving up.

Giving up means that we’ll never learn anything. And every trial or difficulty in our lives is there to teach us something. Pressing forward is a challenge always, but at the end of the day you will have learned something about yourself and something about God too.

What’s really amazing, though, is that once you get past a difficult spot in your journey of life, the next time a similar problem comes up it won’t faze you. Because you already saw what God did the first time you went through it. So you aren’t afraid of taking the challenge head on.

Like training for a marathon. Like acclimating to a high altitude. When you press forward through difficult circumstances, your faith will increase in strength, and the next time your faith is challenged, you won’t falter. But if you give up in the middle of the fight, you’ll never learn the lesson you were supposed to learn. And you’ll keep experiencing the same problems over and over again until you do.

My first real job out of college was at a library. I loved my job, and I loved the people I worked with. But it really didn’t pay very much. I did okay for a year, but by the second year, my finances were starting to get a little thin because cost of living had gone up and my hourly rate had stayed the same. And by the third year, well let’s just say I wasn’t sure where my groceries were going to come from. I had a couple of options. I could stop giving to my church. I could stop providing for those less fortunate than me. But I felt like God was really calling me to do those things. So I didn’t stop.

Looking back on it now, I’m not really sure how the numbers make sense. Because I shouldn’t have been able to afford to live. But God provided for me in ways that I don’t know how to explain during that time in my life. And He did it so many times that there is no doubt in my mind that it was Him. So now? Well, in the circumstances that I’ve run into in the last two years at my new job when I run across an expense that I know God has put there, I don’t hesitate. Because I know He’s going to take care of me. He’s done it before.

Problems and trials are difficult. But do we really learn anything when life is going our way? Can we really understand something God is trying to teach us when we’re comfortable? I don’t think so. People aren’t wired that way. So at times, we need to be shaken up. We need to experience some difficult circumstances so that we can learn what God wants us to learn, so we can live the way He wants us to live, so we can handle what’s coming.

Climbing the steps up the temples of Tikal is difficult. It’s draining. It’s exhausting. It’s rough even if you don’t have asthma. And those steps are all you can see for a long time. But  it’s worth it because of the view at the top. Trials and problems in life are no different.  

Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

The Old Schoolhouse

Making the grade

When I was still in school, I liked tests. I liked them because I got to show off how much I knew. I used to look forward to the standardized state tests too because it was an opportunity to prove how much I had learned in a year. I was a weird kid.

But when I finished school, I thought that meant the tests were over. I thought that tests were something I would only have to deal with in school, but that’s not true at all. Tests are something we will deal with for our entire life. We just won’t always get a grade.

The Old Schoolhouse

The Old Schoolhouse - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is James 1:12.

God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

In school, you have to take tests to prove to your teachers that you have learned (or you haven’t learned) the lesson they were teaching. In life, tests may come just because the world is broken. And in life’s tests, there is no grading on the curve, and in many cases there is no A+ grade and sometimes not even an F grade. Sometimes there’s no grade at all. Sometimes the tests will last for years, and it’s all you can do just to get through one.

So what do you do when you encounter a test that lasts for an extended period of time? When you get sick or when someone you love gets sick or when you lose your job or when you lose your house? How is that a test? Is it multiple choice?

I’ve always thought that the tests God gives us are true/false tests. Either that or yes/no questions. We either say yes to Him or no. Yes to the world or no. And that always seems easier to me when I run into a difficult situation I have to endure.

We can either say yes to God and answer the questions that come our way based on what we know from the Bible. Or we can ignore what God says and try to answer the questions life throws at us using our own wisdom or our own experiences to light the way.

There’s nothing wrong with using your own experience to help guide you, but trusting in your own experience will only get you as far as your own experience has reached. So what happens when you encounter a test about something you haven’t experienced? Then you’re just making up answers. I’ve been there and done that (it was called General Biology my sophomore year of college at Wichita State, and I had to make up every answer I put down on those tests because I didn’t understand anything).

But when you use what God says in Scripture to answer the questions that life throws your way, you’ll pass the test. It may not always feel like you passed the test. But you will. Because the Bible deals with situations and circumstances and answers to questions that we have already experienced and have not experienced yet. And it applies to everyone. And it’s relevant to everyone.

I remember taking tests that seemed to last forever. And sometimes life tests are that way too. And sometimes we have to choose to keep going even though we don’t know the answer for sure. Sometimes we have to answer the way Scripture tells us without knowing if it’s going to work or not, and we have to just hold on and pray that it does. (And it will; just saying.) But having patience is the hardest part for me. The waiting is the most difficult aspect of taking a test for me because I want to know if I passed or not. I want to know the results right away. And that’s not realistic, not in a classroom and not in life either.

But if we can endure tests with patience, then the Bible says we’re happy. Because if you can stick with God throughout testing and trials, if you can stay loyal to God, according to the Message paraphrase the same verse says, “the reward is life and more life.”

Everyone will go through times of testing and temptation. Everyone. Because the world is broken, but if we endure and answer life’s challenges the way God has told us in the Bible, it will be worth it because God will bless us. And I don’t know about you, but I’ll take blessing over a grade any day.