Tag Archives: Discouragement

Time, Distance, and Perspective

[King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon] took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had made up for its sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.
2 Chronicles 36:20-21 (NRSVCE)

Struggle, discouragement, loss, conflict, death, and divorce. Along my Life journey I’ve experienced both events and seasons I didn’t understand in the moment. I had no good answers to the “why” questions. From my vantage point on the road of life, the dark clouds surrounding me had no silver lining. Daily life became a slog through confusion, anxiety, grief, and even despair.

I know my experience is not the exception, but the rule. While the exact events and seasons may differ from person to person, I don’t know a single person who has not experienced at least a few “mountain top” moments in life, nor is there a person I know who hasn’t walked through what the Psalmist aptly describes as “the valley of the shadow of death.” Even Jesus in His earthly journey had His mountain top transfiguration contrasted with His guttural cry of despair: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

In today’s chapter we finish the book of 2 Chronicles. It’s a Cliff Notes version of the final Kings of Judah who become puppets of both the Eyptian and Babylonian empires. The season of Judah as an independent kingdom is over.

What fascinated me as I read the Chronicler’s final chapter is how he left the story. It’s very different than the scribe who wrote a parallel history in the book of 2 Kings. The scribe of Kings was writing at the time of the Babylonian exile. The story simply comes to an end with the fall of the Kingdom to Babylon. He is writing in the dark cloud of defeat. He has no vantage point of time and distance. He has no answers to the “why” questions. He is struggling to make sense out of the circumstances.

The Chronicler, however, is writing post-exile. He’s is further down the road of life and history. Cyrus, King of Persia, has allowed the Hebrew exiles to return to Jerusalem and has made allowance for wall of Jerusalem and the Temple to be rebuilt. There is a new beginning. There is hope. The Chronicler looks back at the exile and sees prophetic fulfillment. He sees that the exile has allowed his homeland to experience sabbath in preparation for a new season, the planting of new seeds, and the anticipation of new life and possibility of a fruitful future.

This morning I’m thinking about the ebb and flow of our respective journeys and our stories. There will be mountain top moments. There will be deep valleys and despair. I won’t always have “why” answers in the moment. In fact, I come to accept that I may never have certain “why” answers that satisfy my heart this side of eternity. If I keep pressing on, however, I may be able to look back with much needed perspective. Like the Chronicler, I may see in retrospect that to which I was blind in the moment.

At the end of every valley is another rise, and that which lies beyond. I won’t see it until I get there.

Possibility. Anticipation. Hope.

The Improbable Actually Happens

[The Assyrians] shouted it with a loud voice in the language of Judah to the people of Jerusalem who were on the wall, to frighten and terrify them, in order that they might take the city.
2 Chronicles 32:18 (NRSVCE)

It’s such an improbable moment. Bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded, and your team trailing by three runs. The grand slam to win the game. It actually happened on Sunday night when a Chicago Cub rookie named David Bote actually pulled off the improbable home run that every kid dreams about on the sandlot.

Sometimes the improbable happens. Jesus, who pulled off all sorts of improbable feats, reminded His followers that with God nothing is impossible, no matter how improbable.

Today’s chapter records one of the most improbable events in history. The Chronicler provides a condensed description of the events, which were more thoroughly told by the scribes who wrote the book of 2 Kings and by the prophet Isaiah.

The Assyrians of the ancient world were really bad dudes. They had taken warfare to a whole new level and made themselves fabulously powerful and wealthy by raiding, plundering, and decimating other nations. They were the first to use siege engines and had a corp of engineers who found all sorts of ingenious ways of breaching the walls of the cities they attacked.

The weapon the Assyrians used most effectively, however, was fear. They were heinously brutal in their treatment of conquered. They impaled people on spikes, skinned people alive, dismembered people, and burned others alive. The Assyrians discovered that the more brutal they were, the more fear they spread into the next cities on their campaign and the more fearful people were, the easier it was to defeat them.

In today’s chapter the Chronicler records another tactic the Assyrians used. They had a master manipulator who would stand outside the city walls and talk smack to the people inside in their own language, psychologically wearing them down with fear and intimidation. The Assyrian envoy loudly mocks King Hezekiah, mocks the Judeans, and mocks God.

Hezekiah stands firm. He reminds his people, “Be strong and of good courage. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him; for there is one greater with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.”

The defeat of the Assyrians is an improbability bordering on impossibility. Jerusalem didn’t have the defenses to withstand a siege. The Assyrians were on a roll. They were better equipped, more experienced at war, and had everything in their favor. It’s the bottom of the ninth, two outs, and King Hezekiah is down to his last strike.

And then the improbable happened. The entire Assyrian army encamped around Jerusalem dies overnight. Historians to this day argue about what happened to the Assyrian army, but the improbable actually happened. Jerusalem was spared by the most improbable of events.

This morning I’m thinking about discouragement and fear. It’s so easy to get down and discouraged. I find myself bombarded in news media and social media with messages telling me to be afraid of everything. Everything is so bleak. There is so much to worry about. Things are so terrible, so awful,  and so hopeless. Ugh.

Today I’m encouraged by a grand slam and a historical event.

The improbable happens.

Encouragement Needed

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Now hear these words, ‘Let your hands be strong so that the temple may be built.’
Zechariah 8:9a (NIV)

In just a month or so, Wendy and I will be celebrating three years that we’ve lived in the house we built here in Pella. This morning I was thinking back to those months between August 2014, when we broke ground, and the end of February when we moved in. It seemed like an eternity. I was not prepared for all of the decisions that had to be made and the endless fussing and fretting over the most seemingly insignificant decisions.

The process did seem long and endless at the time, but the truth of the matter is that the building of a complex, multi-level, multi-room structure in six months would be nothing short of miraculous to those Zechariah was addressing when he wrote today’s chapter sometime around 500 BC. The “remnant” of exiles who returned to rebuild Jerusalem with its crumbled walls and broken down Temple were looking at not months, but long years – even decades of painstaking, back-breaking toil.

The rebuilding of Solomon’s Temple began in 536 BC but was abandoned two years later. It was picked up again fourteen years later and went on for another five years before it was eventually rededicated. The rebuilding of Jerusalem would continue for another 70 years.

Today’s chapter reads like a message of encouragement to the people facing the arduous task of continuing the work while in the depths of frustration at the rebuilding process. Through Zechariah, God encourages the people to imagine how great it will be when the work is completed and families of all generations are filling the city streets from children playing freeze-tag to old people leaning on their canes and reminiscing about the “old days.”

The truth is that whether we’re ancient Hebrews facing years of toil to rebuild our capitol city or a modern day couple standing in Lowe’s wondering if the project will ever be completed, we all sometime need encouragement to keep pressing on. The Apostle Paul consistently told the followers of Jesus, to whom he wrote the letters making up most of the New Testament, that he was writing to encourage them. He told them to encourage one another and reminded them  that their love, prayers and gifts were a tremendous encouragement to him. Paul was carrying out the task of building the church, not a building made of wood and stone, but a much messier task of building a living, breathing organization of diverse, flesh-and-blood people into a cohesive whole.

This morning I’m reminded that we all need encouragement on this life journey. It’s an important ingredient to any project, relationship, or process. Even God knew that the people of Jerusalem needed a shot in the arm, and today’s chapter is a record of the encouragement He sent through His prophet, Zechariah.

From time-to-time we all need others to encourage us and we, in turn, need to be on the lookout for those who could use a dose themselves. Encouragement is simple gift to give: a kind word, a postcard that takes you five minutes to write, a thank you note, a prayer, or a hug and sincere “Hang in there.”

Need a little encouragement today? Consider your reading of this post a divine appointment. Hang in there, my friend. Press on. Keep going. I know it may suck right now but I believe that your faith and grit are leading to good things ahead.

Opposition is Inevitable

But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that [Jesus] drives out demons.”
Matthew 9:34 (NIV)

One of the things I have noticed over recent years is the divergent poles of political thought on both sides of the political spectrum. One side thinks that everything they believe is “all good” and whatever the opposition believes is “all bad.” Those in the middle who desire to seek compromise are pulled apart by the extremes on both sides. No matter what good any one tries to do or say, they are immediately attacked, slandered, criticized and their thoughts summarily dismissed.

I found it interesting that amidst Jesus’ unprecedented display of divine power and love He experiences criticism and negativity on all sides.

  • Jesus extends forgiveness to a paralytic, then heals the man … and the religious leaders dismiss Him a blasphemer.
  • Jesus shows love in reaching out to Matthew, the tax collector, and his friends … and He is condemned by the religious leaders for being with sinners, and criticized by the disciples of John the Baptist for partying and not fasting.
  • Jesus arrives to raise the synagogue leader’s daughter from the dead … and He is laughed at by the mourners gathered there.
  • Jesus quietly heals two blind men, restoring their sight. He asks only that they keep quiet about it … and they do the opposite of what Jesus asked.
  • Jesus casts out a demon who had made a man mute … and the good religious people said that Jesus must be the Prince of Demons.

Along life’s road I have come to understand that you can do nothing worthwhile in this world without being criticized and condemned by somebody. Opposition is inevitable in this world, even to the things of God’s Spirit. Today I witness Jesus, who is healing, forgiving, loving, raising the dead and releasing people from spiritual bondage. At every turn He is being criticized, dismissed, ignored, laughed at, and condemned.

Why should I think that it would be any different for me?

This morning I’m reminded that no matter where Jesus leads and no matter what I am called to do, I will encounter some measure of doubt, criticism, hatred and opposition. My job is to press on, keep my eyes focused on Jesus, and to love even those who criticize me for it.

Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” – Albert Einstein

Big Catch at the Right Time

This was one of Dad's and my better catches.
This was one of Dad’s and my better catches.

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. Luke 5:5-7 (NIV)

I did a lot of fishing with my dad and siblings when I was a kid. There was nothing worse than being out all day, and not catching a darn thing. For a kid, it was torture. I can only imagine how much worse it was for Simon when it was all night he’d been out and fishing was his livelihood. As I read this morning, I so identified with the discouragement Simon had to be feeling. He was tired. He was depressed. The last thing on earth he wanted to do in that moment was go back out on the water and, to top it all off, he’d just been washing his nets. Going back out meant that he’d have to come back and wash them all over again. Ugh!

I have often found, along life’s road, that God’s timing and my timing are not always the same. As frustrating and discouraging as it can get waiting on God’s timing, I have not been discouraged in the long run. The adrenaline rush that Simon must have felt when he realized his nets held the largest catch he’d ever experienced pushed away any weariness he felt. The catch served to teach him that this teacher from Nazareth really was a man of God, and was what Simon needed to convince him to leave his nets and follow the young rabbi. Finally, the catch would have provided Simon and the boys the funds they would need to provide for their families and their new life as disciples of Jesus.

Like Simon, I have found that God’s timing usually comes through, not when I want it, but right when I need it, and it provides God’s best when I need it the most on multiple levels.

Lessons Learned in Time

A page of a calendar.
A page of a calendar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
the name of the Lord is to be praised.
He settles the childless woman in her home

    as a happy mother of children.
Psalm 113:3, 9 (NIV)

I have been meditating in recent weeks about the passage of time, and the way that God has arranged layers of meaning into days, weeks, seasons, and years. God exists beyond time and time is as much a part of God’s creation as the stars in the sky or the oceans. As with all artists, what is created is an expression of the creator and I have been thinking about the ways time expresses the character and nature of God, who is not bound by it.

So, as I read the psalm this morning I was at first struck by the third verse of the lyric. Praise and worship of the Creator is to be a part of the natural flow of day from morning until night. In ancient days, there were specific times around the clock when followers stopped what they were doing to pray. Christian tradition calls this the daily offices or “praying the hours.” I attempt to pray the hours on a regular basis, but confess to being horrible at it. David even wrote in the lyric of his psalms about his stopping to pray five times a day. Some religions continue this tradition as do some groups within the larger family of Jesus’ followers.

Then I came to verse nine and it stirred a whole host of emotions within me. This is a verse that I had memorized and held onto while, for years, Wendy and I were diligently attempting to have children together. As our attempts met with repeated failure, this verse became the source of incredible anger within me as I wrestled with doubt, disappointment, and discouragement. The incredible emotional pain of that period of our lives has waned over this past year or two, but reading verse nine brought it flooding back to me this morning.

And so, this morning I have these two verses connecting for me in ways I would have never connected them seven or eight years ago. I have come to learn that there are layers of purpose and meaning in the passage of time. Day-by-day God is to be praised in the waxing and waning of the sun and moon as we tread our life journey through its peaks and valleys. Wendy and I have not realized our hearts desire to have a child together as had envisioned. Throughout our earthly lives, this reality will be the source of shared grief.

In the hindsight which the creation of time affords, however, I now realize that the promise is not wholly unfulfilled nor is the grief we experience eternal. As we walked together through some dark times Wendy would say through her tears, “If God is good, and He is, then we must believe that the plans He has are the best for us even if we don’t understand them.”

Many days have passed. The grief has not gone away, but it less acute than it was. Over time, our experience has broadened my perspective and I like to believe that it has deepened my faith. I am learning that sometimes I ask the wrong questions, and then get angry when I don’t understand the answers. I am learning that time is layered with more meaning and purpose than I’ve ever realized, and that lesson changes the way I experience this 17,415th day of my journey and the way I relate to those with whom I share it.

From the rising of the sun this morning, until it goes down, my heart and my lips will praise God.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 42

English: Monday Morning :: duo pop & Folk Fran...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why am I discouraged?
    Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
    I will praise him again—
    my Savior and my God!
Psalm 42:11 (NLT)

It’s not only Monday morning as I write this post, but it’s also the first morning back from a week of vacation. Wendy and I did what we hardly ever do, which is to try and unplug from work. Despite a few frantic e-mails and phone calls from work that I couldn’t ignore, I did pretty well at pushing the tyranny of the urgent to the back burner. It was refreshing, and I would be lying to you if I told you that I was really excited about the pile of e-mails, the pressing deadlines, and the dropped balls which I am facing this morning.

The thing that I noticed about today’s chapter is the juxtaposition of the questions “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad?” with the clear statements of determination “I will put my hope in God. I will praise him again.” The truth of the matter is that life is full of Monday mornings. The “back to work blues” is a familiar emotion.  The important thing is not to exclude God from these moments, but to recognize God within them. When we choose to realize God’s presence in every moment – even a Monday morning back from vacation – and consciously decide to praise God in and through every circumstance, we find ourselves on the path toward both maturity and wisdom.