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Posts Tagged ‘discouragement’

heart

I am indecisive.

He tells me to write something.

 I ask why.

 He reminds me that I like to.

 I oblige.  The following is the fruit of that exchange.

Sometimes it helps me when I write.  But sometimes it is hard.  Sometimes I am at a loss for how to say what is on my heart.  Sometimes I know exactly how to say it but I do not want to.  Pouring out your heart and soul and dreams and fears and failures on the daily is scary.  You either have to resolve to not care how people read you or you have to care so much that you resolve to make your scribblings absolutely perfect with a willingness to correct them when they misinterpret you.  Sometimes it just feels like no one is really listening anyway.  Like those things that mean the very most to you, those things you’ve said and written and tried six ways from Sunday to express go wholly unnoticed and unheard.  Writing is like shouting out to all the world your deepest feelings only to let them float unabashedly through the air.  And you’re waiting.  Waiting for someone – anyone – to catch them; hear them; learn from them; know God through them; seek him…and know you; understand you; feel you.

So often those words don’t work, though.  It is like you are pouring yourself out all the time and the only thing that keeps you from becoming empty is to keep pouring out.  Even still, after all the words have floated away for days and months and years on end, you are left wondering whether you are yet altogether unknown; misunderstood; unaccomplished.  Who knows where the words have gone?  The writer prays for the somewheres where they might have fallen.

Sometimes I do not know myself as well as I would like to.  Writing helps me know myself better.  It helps me understand myself and who I am and why I am feeling happy or sad or frustrated or lost.  It helps me organize my thoughts on God, on life, and on who I really am and what I know as truth.

There is one thing writing does not do, though.  Writing does not talk back.  As much as I try to personify my notebook, she remains silent.  Writing does not talk back.  It only listens.  It is lonely.  I guess that’s why I write a lot about the Bible.  It is like God is talking and I am listening.  My writing is just me telling the world what I heard.

I am happy that God has given me this gift to write but sometimes I am sad that I cannot seem to say things audibly instead.  I feel so closed and unable to speak freely sometimes; many times.  I do not know why I am so afraid.  The fear I feel when I think about talking out loud about what is in my heart is often so strong that it makes me almost run away and hide.  I am so afraid.  I want to pray and tell God so many things but I am afraid to say them out loud.  Saying them makes them real and maybe I just wish they were not real.  So I often just pray about being able to pray.  I do not run away anymore.  I stop and I write it down instead.

I guess my biggest fear is rejection. That God or men will hear what is in my heart and what is most important to me and throw it away.  Or not care.  Or disregard it altogether.  Or hate me for saying it.  But why would I think that?

I think it because it is what happened to the most right and truthful one of us all:  Jesus.  It is what has been happening to me in many ways my entire life.  Because people reject truth and lack grace, I distrust and doubt the God who made them and somehow believe he will do that same thing.  Once I gave a man a paper with the gospel and he physically threw it down and trampled it in front of me.  But if I trust the God of the Bible I believe that even that kind of act – be it physical, relational, or otherwise – is a blessing working in my favor.

I digress.

Vulnerability is what the writer’s heart is made of.  Vulnerability is what God’s heart is made of.  He, too, chose written words to deliver his deepest messages to us.  He sent the One He loved most and watched him suffer in order to save.  And people throw his best efforts away.  We do not care about his words like we should; sometimes not at all.  We disregard Him altogether.  Some hate Him for saying  his best words and we even crucified his exact representation.  Yet, He spoke them still.  He speaks them still. He sent Him still.  He sends us still.

Maybe my written words will somehow send those same messages to someone.  The messages of love and forgiveness and grace and truth.  Maybe I will suffer long to find those just right words I have been called to write.  Maybe He will save through them; through Christ in me.  I dare to believe that hope every single day. It is the often only thought that keeps me from utter discouragement.  I lift my pen and let the words float away in greatest hope and terrible fear.  My prayer is ever, “God, please bless this trembling writer’s work once again.”

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unbelief

God has miraculously called Moses and laid out his plan.  Moses has left his home and family, shared God’s words with the enslaved Israelites, and faced their powerful, oppressive opponent, Pharaoh.  So far, things have gone exactly how God said they would, yet Moses is already discouraged, questioning God, and accusing him of “doing evil.”

Although God had told Moses beforehand that Pharaoh would initially refuse to let Israel go, apparently Moses didn’t expect him to double the workload as a result.  Moses didn’t expect Israel, aka God’s people made up of his friends and family whom he was there to help, to turn on him when Pharaoh said, “No.”

These unexpected hardships have already broken Moses.  In chapter 6, God answers Moses’ prayers of exasperation and accusation with grace.

First, God reassures Moses that “he will see” what God is about to do.  He reminds Moses that Pharaoh is indeed going to let Israel go.  Next, God reminds Moses about who he is, what he has done, and what he is assuredly about to do.  God’s words to a discouraged and defeated leader are thus:

I am the Lord.  (6:2)

I made a promise to these people. (6:4)

I have heard their cries for help.  (6:5)

I have remembered my promise. (6:5)

Moses, tell them.  Tell them again that I am coming to bring them out of slavery.  Tell them I am the Lord.  Tell them I will deliver them.  Tell them I will redeem them.  Tell them I am choosing them – that I am their God and they are my people.  Tell them they will know me and I will keep my promise to them.

Wow.  This is some good news!  Especially for tired, burdened, oppressed slaves!

Moses obeys God.  He tells them again of God’s plan to rescue them.  But Israel did not listen.  They did not believe.  They were broken and bullied.  Hope is hard when you’ve been down as long as these guys.  Nevertheless, Matthew Henry warns us, “First, disconsolate spirits often put from themselves the comforts they are entitles to, and stand in their own light.  Secondly, passions oppose strong consolations.  By indulging ourselves in discontent and fretfulness, we deprive ourselves of the comfort we might have both from God’s word and from his providence, and must thank ourselves if we go comfortless.” 

With their unbelief and discouragement at his true and faithful words, again Moses is ready to despair.  How is Pharaoh going to listen to me if even my own people won’t?!  In this way, one discouragement begets another and Moses begins to follow Israel’s lead rather than Israel following his as would have been proper.  Matthew Henry has a good word concerning our leaders in this way: “The frowardness and untractableness of those that are called Christians greatly discourage ministers, and make them ready to despair of success in dealing with those that are atheistical and profane.”

How often the discouragement of hardships causes us to disbelieve God’s promises!  When the whole world is saying, “No” “Impossible” “Give up” it is extremely hard to believe God’s promises of “Yes” “All things are possible” “Don’t give up.”  But we must!  Because children of God walk by faith, not by sight.  Leaders for God walk by faith, not by sight.  Christians walk by faith, not by sight.

Children, Leaders, Christians, never forget –

He is the Lord – here called El-Shaddai – a God all sufficient; a God that is enough and will be so.

He has made a promise to us – his people.

He is not deaf to our prayers and needs.  He hears our cries for help.

He remembers his promise and will keep it.

Child, do not be discouraged.

Leader, do not be discouraged.

Christian, do not be discouraged.

Leader, tell them He is the Lord.  Tell them again that He is coming. Tell them He will deliver them.  Tell them He will redeem them.  Tell them He is choosing them – that He is their God and they are His people.  Tell them they will know Him and He will keep his promises to them.  Child, believe.  Christian, believe.

That’s the good news.  Do not be discouraged if they do not believe you at first.  Just make sure you believe God.  Be encouraged because we know how the story ends.

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discourage

God had called Moses out of Midian, away from his family, and back to the place he’s run away from as a criminal refugee forty years earlier.  God has listened to Moses’ objections, dealt with his refusal, and answered his doubts.  Moses has spoken to his people, the Jews, about God’s plans to deliver them, and brought his brother, Aaron, on board with God’s orders.  Finally, in Exodus chapter 5, we find Moses and Aaron approaching Pharaoh and asking that God’s people, which just so happen to be their people, too, be given leave from their slave labor for three days.

Moses and Aaron tell Pharaoh – the most powerful ruler in the world at the time – that God himself wants them to hold a feast in the wilderness and then they’d be right back.

Consider that request for just a moment.  It is quite absurd when you think about it.  Imagine going to the highest authority you can possibly think of and telling him that God himself needs to “borrow” thousands of his subordinates – who just so happen to be all your friends and family – for a few days.  As a dictator set on accomplishing goals and dealing out work, are you really going to oblige these two nobodies?  Pharaoh’s reply is not at all surprising:

But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” ~Exodus 5:2

Who said I should let all my workers leave?  God?!  Um.  I don’t think so.  Why should I obey this so-called “God?”  I don’t know him.  No slaves are leaving their work.

God is just about to show Pharaoh exactly who he is, but first God’s prophets try to tell him.  Again, Moses and Aaron petition Pharaoh.  They warn, “…what if God sends pestilence or sword…” because of your disobedience to him?  All the while, they knew that that was exactly what God was about to do.

Still, not surprisingly, Pharaoh disregards them.  He accuses them of being lazy liars and trying to get out the Israelites out of work.  Flexing his worldly power in defiance, he sends his own plague upon them by failing to give straw to make bricks.  The leaders of the task were beaten for failing to produce the same amount of bricks as when they were given the straw.  The leaders went to Pharaoh crying “injustice” upon deaf ears.  Next, they went to Moses and Aaron, cursed them, and complained of the hardship their request to leave had brought.

Moses went back to God completely discouraged and doubtful.  He asks, “Why?”  “Why have you done evil, God?”  “Why did you send me, God?”  “You haven’t delivered anyone at all, God.”

Even though God had told Moses up front that Pharaoh would initially refuse him, Moses was unprepared for this seeming failure.  The world hit him with a blow he wasn’t expecting – no straw and beatings as a result of his request – and instead of blaming the evil ruler for his evil, he automatically defaults to blaming and accusing God of evil.

Why?

Moses understands God’s sovereignty.  He knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that God is in control of all things.  Therefore, evil dealt in response to his obedience to God – from both his enemies as well as his friends – is unbelievably difficult to understand – even when you’ve been told the future by God himself beforehand.

Been there, Moses.  I feel you.

What are we to do when our obedience to God is met with worldly injustice, evil treatment, pain, suffering, and even accusation from the very people we are seeking to help?

Moses asks why, accuses, and blames God.  These are the most human, natural responses, but they are what we ought not to do.  Instead, we must try to remember God’s plan and trust in him no matter what happens as a result of our obedience – and that’s scary.  It includes many unexpected hardships.  It requires an extra helping of courage and a great resolve to put away our natural instincts to duck and run from obedience to God when things go wrong.  If we find ourselves in this kind of situation, let us remember the words of Matthew Henry:

“What strange steps God sometimes takes in delivering his people; he often brings them to the utmost straits when he is just ready to appear for them.  The lowest ebbs go before the highest tides; and very cloudy mornings commonly introduce the fairest days.” 

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Paul continues to instruct the Philippians on unity in chapter 2.  His focus is on action and attitude.  Paul reminds them of the benefits received in Christ.  He exhorts them to use their grace-given gain for his glory and the good of others.  He fashions his exhortation in such a way that encourages these Christians to consider whether they have gained anything good by following Christ, and, if so, how that should spur them on to do as he did.  He reminds them what Christ-like sacrifice really looks like.

Paul uses deductive reasoning to bring his readers to a proper conclusion.  He says this:

if there is any encouragement in Christ;

if there is any comfort from his love;

if there is any fellowship with the Spirit;

if there is any affection and sympathy found in him

then complete my joy

then be of the same mind

then have the same love

then be in full accord and of one mind

then do nothing from rivalry or conceit

then be humble

then consider others more significant than yourselves

then stop being selfish

then serve others

then have the mind of Christ.

So, are these things true?  The questions become, “Has Christ offered encouragement to us?  Has he loved us?  Has he comforted us?  Has he given his Spirit to us for fellowship?  Has he been affectionate and sympathetic to us?”

Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  The answers are all yes.  The Bible teaches us that Christ has indeed done and is doing all of these things for us and much more.  If he had not and was not, we would still be without hope and without God in the world.

But, Paul, what if I don’t really feel encouraged much?  What if I’m continually discouraged by doubt, fear, anxiety, and regret?  What if I don’t feel loved?  What if I am lonely, full of sorrows, and continually accused by myself and the Enemy?

If anyone had reason to doubt and despair, it was Paul.  If anyone could have justified wallowing in self-pity and defeat from an undeserved jail cell and a life full of severe earthly hardships, it was Paul.  Instead, he wrote Philippians and told his church and all the churches coming after how to practice faith with joy.  Oh, to have the perspective of Paul!

By divine wisdom, Paul knew this: by reminding ourselves and our brothers and sisters of the great undeserved gifts Christ has given to us, we choose to place our faith in the truth.  We debunk the lies our feelings, our sinful nature, and the Enemy tells us and we agree with God about his care and concern for us.  Not only that, the reminder should serve to stir us up with like-minded gratitude, thanksgiving, and service towards others.  When we are full of God, we sacrifice being full of ourselves right up on the altar.

Little wonder why Paul stresses unity and humility.  Division stirs up pride and pride stirs up division.  Christ desires harmony and humility in his church.  He pioneered the road with sacrifice and paved it with selflessness.  Who’s following?

But, Paul, if we live like this, putting self last and everyone else first, never using our own right to be right – even when we are, won’t we be taken advantage of?  Won’t we get used?  Won’t everyone play us for fools?  Won’t every narcissist and no-gooder land on our door step?  Won’t we miss out?  Won’t we be abused?  Won’t we lose?  We’re going to get ripped off, Paul.  People are going to walk on us.  If we listen to you, we’re going to need therapy because our wicked, deceitful, selfish hearts are going to rebel and bully us into self-pity and depression with an inferiority complex on the side.

If Paul were here, this is what he’d probably say:  Go back to the ifs, Lori.  Christ will encourage you.  Christ will comfort you.  Christ will fellowship with you.  Christ will affectionately sympathize with you.  Christ’s humility is his glory.  So it is with you.  Start with thanksgiving and consider the cross.  Constantly remind yourself of the truth.  Stop being selfish.  Serve.  Remember that imitation is the highest form of admiration.  Make him known and you will be known by him.  If he is always with you, be always with him.  Humble yourself and you will be exalted.

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I’ve had exactly one lesson.  Aside from a couple years of kickboxing, shadowboxing, and beating my belligerence out on the heavy bag, I do not know the first thing about boxing.  I’ve been in four street fights – only two of which I was the aggressor.  This is not the same.  I am hardly qualified to teach anyone anything about boxing.  Nevertheless, here is what I learned on day one.

My stance is wrong.  My angle of impact is wrong.  My position is wrong.  I do not protect myself properly.  My balance is off, and, if I enter a fight uncorrected, it will hurt.  A lot.  Truth be told, it will hurt anyway.  Like teach told me – boxing hurts.  

You know what he didn’t tell me though?  He didn’t say, “Your stance is wrong.”  He said, “Stand like this.  Good!”  He didn’t say, “Your angle is wrong.”  He said, “Press in and hold your punch.  Can you feel how your angle corrected?”  He didn’t say, “Your position is wrong.”  He said, “Turn your body away from me…like this.  Don’t leave yourself wide open like that.  Better!”  He didn’t say, “You’re gonna know it if you keep trying to protect yourself like that.”  He said, “Hold your protecting fist flush against your face.  It will hurt less if there is contact.”  He did not laugh when my wretched excuse for balance left me lying on the floor.   He gently reminded me how important balance is. He did not allow me to continue throwing the wrong kind of punches when he saw that I was bleeding. He wiped my blood up off the floor and showed me something else. 

I cannot imagine how utterly ridiculous I looked to this guy (and my husband who sat watching the whole sitcom.)  But I do believe I learned more about life – particularly the Christian life – than I have in a long time.

Teach said two things that I doubt I will find myself soon forgetting.  He said, “Boxing is a game of windows.  You have a split second to make your move and then the window closes.”  He also said, “Boxing is war.  It may not seem like it to those who think it is just a sport, but when you are in that ring, you feel it.  It is war.”

Life is a game of windows.  We have momentary, fleeting opportunities to get this thing right.  The Christian life is war.  Those who do not see it as such are not engaged.  And we who are engaged have a monumental choice when it comes to teaching the privates entering boot camp how to fight fair.  Boxing is offensive and defensive at the same time.  So is the Christian life.  We can discourage and destroy others with heavy-handed defense or we can train and encourage them so patiently and respectfully that it makes even our offensive moves kind.  

That’s the kind of teacher I want to be.  That’s the kind of trainer I want to become.  I imagine I will have a lot more blood on my face and hands even if I do it the right way.  I might even look like a big disgrace at times.  But the war is worthy of my all.  I refuse to stop fighting.  I just have to better learn how.  Quitting is not an option in war time.  I will persevere.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my eye upon you. ~Psalm 32:8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VcCaTXcwh9w

 

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I have three little girls.  One wears her heart on her sleeve at all times.  In the rare event that she doesn’t immediately tell you what’s bothering her, you can read her like a book anyway.  One wouldn’t tell you what’s on her mind if you gave her three bribes and posed the question with her favorite Barbie.  She can be disgruntled for hours without giving so much as a grimace.  And one, well, one just uses decibels whether she’s mad, sad, glad, or being bad.  

People are different.  We serve a creative God.  That’s what I’ve found myself explaining to child #1 as she becomes increasingly self-aware.

Lately, she’s been on a mission to learn about what’s going on in the spiritual lives of those around her.  She decided to write her own little newspaper and interview people at church.  So far, she has discovered 1. It’s a lot of work and 2. Discouraged people don’t do interviews.

 She considers discovery #1 a bummer – nevertheless, a bummer she is willing to accept.  But discovery #2 has made her puzzler sore.

“Why don’t some people want to talk?”

“Sometimes people are just having a bad day.”

“But if people knew they were, and I put it in the paper, other people could pray for them and help them.”

“Sometimes people don’t want anyone to know they’re having a bad day.”

“Why?”

“Everyone is different, and they deal with things differently…”

After nearly six months and thirty chapters of Job, I can honestly say I understand why public service announcements on personal discouragement are difficult to obtain.  I better not tell Mia, though, right?  Wouldn’t want to discourage her…

There’s a heresy in the church which has long been accepted as truth – even present as far back as the time of Job, before there even was a church.  It says bad things only happen to bad people, only good things happen to good people, and if you have a problem you are either really bad or you have forgotten how being good can solve it.  There’s simply no room for honest exchange where judgement looms.  If you don’t believe me, ask Job how it went when he spoke of his discouragement regarding his faith.

Furthermore, to compound the issue, discouragement is as difficult to hear as it is to share.  Even those who genuinely want to help often do not know how to effectively listen.  For me, the book of Job was down near Numbers and Leviticus on my to-study-next list.  As I shared the other day with my husband, Job is tough to stay in because it’s wearying and even depressing to read and study in depth.  It’s hard to understand.  It’s hard to believe.  

Often it’s the same in the church.  It’s hard to hear of suffering and sour circumstances day after day after day and not become weary and weighed down by them.  We want things to make sense.  We want to be able to offer explanations and answers.  But sometimes, there is no satisfactory explanation this side of heaven.  It bothers us so we band-aid, ignore, or downplay the truth we do not understand.  

Everyone knows this.  The unspoken rule teaches us not to speak if we are the one who is discouraged.  It whispers to us: “You’ll burden someone.  You’ll look unspiritual.  You’ll receive unsolicited counsel from every immature source within earshot.  You’ll be judged.  It’s not worth it.  Keep your pain to yourself.”

Often, we just don’t know if we are allowed to be broken.  We are not sure if we will be met with the grace we all know so much about.  We do not believe God uses Job-like days to grow both us and our church.  So we keep them to ourselves as best we can and we rob our brothers and sisters of the truth.  Everyone begins to believe the lie, put on the smile, and pretend life doesn’t hurt.  Voila.  Perfect church; no Jesus.

Job’s absence removes the need for God and his grace.  If there is no resemblance of Job – of discouragement, of hardship, of suffering, of pain – then there is no resemblance of Jesus either.  Surely we can self-sustain – if not actually, certainly superficially.  Especially if its others who are having Job lives and Job days.  So the Jobs can learn to be quiet and the rest of us can pretend he isn’t smack dab in the middle of our Bibles, our rows, and hanging around our very necks on the cross.

Lies are attractive, but Job looks like Jesus.

For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men;
    a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not. ~Isaiah 53:2-3

Even on Job days, tell your story.  Surely Jesus will meet you with his.  You are his story.  You are history.  Get over yourself.  

Even on good days, hear the Jobs around you.  Surely, Jesus will teach you the true meaning of grace through them.

“Grace teaches us, in the midst of life’s greatest comforts to be willing to die and in the midst of its greatest crosses to be willing to live.” ~Matthew Henry

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rm5kx3xqmg0

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Once again, Satan has obtained God’s permission to torment Job.  He has already extinguished all of Job’s earthly possessions and murdered his children.  All that’s left is his health and his wife.  Therefore, Satan takes Job’s health and uses his wife to tempt him.

“To God’s children, Satan is a tormentor first, and then a tempter.  His own children, however, he tempts first, and draws them to sin, and afterwards torments, when thereby he has brought them to ruin.” ~Matthew Henry

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. 8 And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes.

9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. ~Job 2:7-10

Life couldn’t get much worse for this poor fella.  Just after he’s lost all his children, livestock, and servants, he becomes afflicted with a very painful disease.  Instead of binding up and gently nursing his wounds, his wife leaves him to “scrape” them with broken clay by himself.  Not only does she not care for him, she afflicts him even more by discouraging him from trusting God.  When Job is at his lowest, she tempts him to throw off his faith and give up on life altogether.

  “It is Satan’s policy to send his temptations by the hand of those that are dear to us, as he tempted Adam by Eve and Christ by Peter.” ~Matthew Henry

Job never falters.  He responds by telling his wife she sounds like an unbeliever.  He affords God the right to be sovereign over both good and evil.  While many men refuse to seek and obey God despite every earthly blessing, Job never denies God or sins against him despite all of his pain and lack of earthly blessing.  Why?  Who could respond this way?  

The answer is our ultimate comfort and rest in our darkest hours.  It is this: God saves and God keeps.  No mortal man could experience these trials and continue in faith of his own accord.  Well, if we’re being honest, no mortal man could ever even come to faith of his own accord.  But Job not only had great faith, he also kept his faith with the worst odds in human history.  That tells me that it certainly wasn’t him keeping himself faithful, it was God keeping him from falling by his own mighty hand alone.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. ~Jude 1:24-25

What a comfort!  You wouldn’t think studying a passage about a man who had lost everything, come down with a wasting disease, and is dealing with a quarrelsome, faithless wife would be comforting.  But nothing is too hard for Our God.  What a comfort to know and understand that severe pain and misery may indeed come into each and every one of our lives, and yet, we serve a God who will never let us go.  If he saved us, he will keep us through hell and high water.  It’s a good thing, because we are going to need him to do just that – both in life and in death.

Lord, help me to put away the fear of falling away from you in trials and temptations.  Help me remember that the same mighty hand who chose me will ever keep me.  I am yours and nothing can separate what God has joined himself to in love. 

 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~Romans 8:38-39

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2BpTCeRPZQ

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