Tag Archives: Difficulty

The Spiritual Barometer of Comfort

“For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war.”
2 Chronicles 16:9 (NIV)

A friend dropped by for coffee yesterday and we enjoyed a long discussion. One of the slivers of conversation was around a class that is being offered in our community in the near future. The premise of the class is that some of history’s most influential people had their most productive and years after the age of 70. The class is intended to encourage adults in the back stretch of life’s journey to consider shunning the traditional view of retirement. Instead of moving somewhere warm and sitting by a pool, the class encourages people to consider how their final stretch of life’s journey might be their most productive and influential.

I thought about that this morning as I read today’s chapter and contemplated the story of King Asa. In yesterday’s post, the prophet Azariah encouraged Asa to “be strong and not give up” but the stretch of life journey that Asa was entering was not one of struggle. Asa’s major challenge and climactic fight was behind him. He was entering a time of extended peace. Thirty-five years of peace and rest. And that’s when he blew it.

Thirty-five years of relatively easy sledding finds King Asa has changed, but not in a good way. He forgot the lesson he learned in his war with the Cushites. He forgot how his faith had led to good things. He forgot Azariah’s admonishment. Thirty-five years of peace and comfort turned Asa into a hard-hearted, self-centric old man. It was the good times and life of relative ease that revealed the true nature of Asa’s heart. A seer named Hanani confronts Asa, but it only confirms and seals Asa’s bitterness (and lands Hanani in the stocks).

This morning I’m thinking about my current waypoint on this life journey. I often think that it’s the tough stretches of pain, tragedy, and difficulty that reveal the true nature of our hearts. Perhaps it is the stretches of comfort and ease that are a better barometer of my spirit.

Don’t Walk Out in the Middle of the Movie

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch….”
Jeremiah 23:5 (NIV)

I have a vivid memory from about the age of 13. My mother sat me down at our family’s dining room table and explained to me that, financially, things were not looking good for our family. My father was in a business  that was not doing well and my father had decided to walk away from the partnership in order for it to survive. There was a possibility, my mother explained, that we would lose our house and have to move. She wanted me to understand that things were tight and there would be no money for extras. We all had to “tighten our belts.”

As is typical with children, I’d never given much consideration to our family’s socio-economic status. Our needs were met. We had a loving family. My parents were hard workers and things were always status quo. This message of doom was a shock for me.

I do remember a few lean years as my dad switched to a couple of different jobs and ended up commuting an hour each day to work. My folks plugged away to make ends meet. It was the years of the farm crisis of the late 70s and early 80s and, while we weren’t farmers, there were plenty of people struggling. As a teenager, I learned some important life lessons in those years about perseverance, hard work and simple faith. In fact it was during those years that I found my faith in Christ.

It is common, I have found, for casual readers to wade into the ancient messages of the prophets and find only doom and gloom. And, to be honest, there’s plenty to be had. There is a lot of violence from a very violent period of history. It’s easy to get weighed down by the negativity. But, if you’re not careful you’ll miss the larger story.

In today’s chapter, amidst a terrible siege and Jeremiah’s prophecies of destruction, death and exile, the message takes an abrupt u-turn. From the royal line of David, Jeremiah predicts, God is going to raise up a “Righteous Branch” to shepherd His people. From a macro-view, it appears that God is pruning back the royal line which has been bearing bad fruit for a long time. There will be lean years. Things look pretty gloomy. That’s what happens when you prune things back. But from that royal line a new Branch will spring which  will become the Vine from which the fruit of the Spirit and new wine will be produced. Matthew and Luke were careful to record Jesus’ family tree in their respective Gospels. They wanted everyone to know that Jesus’ sprung from David’s tree. The “Righteous Branch” had bloomed.

This morning  the chapter has me thinking about the doom and gloom of the prophets. Every great story includes conflict and a period of time in which everything looks bleak. The hero is a “goner” and it’s all going to fall apart. Then comes the eucatastrophy and the climactic moment when it all comes together and works out.

I’ve discovered that giving up on the prophets in the middle of the doom and gloom is like giving up all hope because dad’s job changed and things are going to be tight financially. It’s like walking out of the movie when the hero is tied up next to a bomb and the countdown timer is at two minutes. Jeremiah, the “weeping prophet” reminds me today to “wait for it.” There is hope, light, and redemption at the end of the tunnel, but I have to press on and persevere.

Consider it Joy

“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy….”
James 1:2

Sometimes a verse becomes more than a verse. You take it in. You ingest it as a morsel to one who is starving. It is not about sweetness or delectability. It is about survival. The words are broken down within you. The truth of their meaning courses through your veins and brings essential spiritual nourishment to unseen corners within. The experience is not a random, unexpected inspirational event. Rather, it is the practical choosing of life. As Jesus said to our enemy in a moment of battle between flesh and spirit: “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word the proceeds from the mouth of God.”

James 1:2 is one of these verses for Wendy and me. It is a waypoint of our journey, when in the depths of the valley of death we ingested the truth of it. It was not an inspired mountaintop moment, but a desperate hanging on. We learned in that valley that joy is not the by-product of affluent blessing, but a choice amidst suffering.

Consider it…”

Consideration is a choice. It is a willful task. It requires time and mental effort. Joy comes out of our deliberate consideration amidst difficult circumstances, when hope and faith are on life support. We consider, again and again…

If God is good, and we believe He is.
If God knows what is best for us, and we believe He does.
Then we can be joyful, even as the tears stream down our cheeks.
Out of our consideration, again and again, we choose into joy.

Eventually there follows endurance, maturity, and a whole-ness we had not known before.

The internal lesson was important enough for Wendy to indelibly print a reminder on her forearm.

Managing Life’s Little Storms

All your fortresses are like fig trees 
with their first ripe fruit; 
when they are shaken, 
the figs fall into the mouth of the eater.
Nahum 3:12 (NIV)
Wendy and I got to the lake late Tuesday. A storm blew in and the worst of it came right over us. Lightning, thunder, heavy rain and straight line winds that wreaked havoc in the area. This included a blackout that had Wendy and me scrambling in the dark for candles as well as where we put the flashlights. An equally blustery storm of circumstance followed me yesterday as I attempted to fly to Texas for work and ended up stranded all day in Minneapolis. I had to scuttle my trip and pray myself on a flight back to KC so I could get back to the lake.
Life sometimes shakes us. Storms rage, whether it is of the natural or metaphorical variety. The real question is how we build our faith and lives to handle the maelstrom. In today’s chapter, the prophet Nahum describes the Assyrian’s preparedness as metaphorical fig trees. When shaken, they lose all their fruit.
Today, I am still admittedly tired from the storms of the past couple of days. I need another good night’s sleep and the travel stress has me still feeling a bit frazzled on the emotional end. But, I’m no worse for wear. Shaken, but feeling no less fruitful in the larger sense. In the grand scheme of things, these little life storms are blips on the radar that will come and go. A healthy perspective with an eye to the larger story, and a wee bit of faith are strong walls against life’s little tempests.

Hope and Reality

What we hope life's road looks like (top) and what we sometimes find to be the reality (bottom).
What we hope life’s road looks like (top) and what we sometimes find to be the reality (bottom).

And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me.
Acts 20:22-23 (NRSV)

One of the things that Wendy and I found fascinating about our time in Edinburgh a few weeks ago was that there’s hardly a straight, level street in the entire city. There are steep inclines, winding roads, angled streets, narrow alleys, and stairs upon stairs. We felt like we were constantly going up a steep hill or down a sharp incline. Our calves were killing us.

That came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter. I’m reminded that life’s path is not always easy, and the way does not always meander through pleasant, level places. The theme of Dr. Luke’s account of the first generation of Jesus followers if filled with difficulties, persecutions, executions, imprisonments, riots, shipwrecks, and floggings. And, time and time again Luke says that the Message flourished and daily the number of believers grew.

I found it interesting to bullet out Paul’s conversation with his fellow believers from Ephesus in today’s chapter:

  • I was a living example in my time with you. Follow it.
  • I’m going to Jerusalem and expect to be persecuted and imprisoned.
  • You’ll never see me again (I’m going to die before I can return)
  • Be on guard! Wolves are going to infiltrate your flock.
  • Give, and don’t expect anything in return.

The message was followed by weeping and grief.

It’s not exactly a Thomas Kinkade scene come to life. And, so it is with life’s journey. Sometimes the path leads through difficult terrain, but there is purpose in our pains and in the places God leads us. Paul wasn’t complaining about the road ahead. He may have felt fear and grief as he set out, but courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the willingness to press on in spite of fear.

Today, I’m thinking about the balance of hoping for the best while knowing that “the best” does not always look the way I want it to look.

He Went On

source: Keith Chastain via Flickr
source: Keith Chastain via Flickr

But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city. The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. Acts 14:19-20 (NRSV)

I had breakfast with a friend the other day. He is one of my inner circle of friends with whom I share the most intimate parts of my life journey. In the midst of our conversation he asked some very direct questions about life. He is keenly aware of some difficulties I have been facing over the past year and he was doing a spiritual check in. I needed it, and I left our time together re-freshed.

Life gets difficult. Our path sometimes leads through dark places. We face obstacles of many kinds. This shouldn’t surprise us, though I’ve observed that our natural human reaction is almost always to react with incredulity and shake our fists at God while asking, “Why me?”

The truth is that Jesus told His followers to expect difficulties. Time and time again God’s message tells us that the path of spiritual progress leads directly through painful places. It’s how it works. We are called to find joy in the midst, bring good companions for the sojourn, and to persevere.

I was amazed at Paul’s example in today’s chapter. He was stoned until incapacitated, his seemingly lifeless body drug outside the city, and he was left for dead. Talk about a bad day. Then his friends surrounded him, he picked himself up, and he went on.

Today, I’m reminded of this simple fact: He went on. Paul faced obstacles and difficulties that make my momentary stresses pale in comparison. And, he went on. So shall I.

Have a great day.

Choosing to Believe

source: pictoquotes via Flickr
source: pictoquotes via Flickr

You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
    Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me to know.
Job 42:3 (NIV)

Earlier in our walk through the book of Job I shared some of Wendy’s and my experience with infertility. Many of Job’s questions echoed our own questions during the darkest days of our striving to have a child together. The questions still arise from within us at times, but it happens less frequently the further we get in our journey.

The truth of the matter is that I still don’t understand. I have made peace with the fact that we will never understand on this side of eternity. Some things we will simply never know or comprehend. I can choose to let it eat away at my insides until my existence becomes enveloped in bitterness, madness, or both. That’s not a great way to live.

Wendy was the last of her close group of friends to get married. She was 33 when we wed nine years ago. She shared with me some of her struggles with singleness, and she finally found a place to rest in it. “If God is good,” she told me, “and I believe He is, if God has my best interests in mind, and I believe He does, then I have to trust that there is purpose and a plan for what I’m going through even if I don’t understand it.”

That same logic helped us through our struggles with infertility. I still find myself repeating it from time to time when the scabs on the soul wound begin to itch. As I read today’s epilogue from the story of Job, it seems to me that Job came to the same conclusion, though he used different words. Sometimes you have to choose to believe. That’s called faith. Not only is faith required to believe that God exists, but also to believe that God has a purpose and a plan for me despite my present circumstances.