When Life Is Hard

Comments on the book by James MacDonald

458704I’ve been reading through a really good book called When Life Is Hard by James MacDonald. The funny thing is, I didn’t even want to read it at first. My husband and I joked about getting the sequel, When Life Is Easy. But I am really glad I did read it. MacDonald has amazing compassion, but holds us accountable.

There is a part in chapter 4 that hugely impacted me so that’s what I’ll write about today. How do we get from a great relationship with God to making terrible decisions and disowning our Lord? It’s a shorter route than I realized, and it was a rude awakening that I’ve made it pretty far down the path at times of my life.

So, enter the trial, that one trial that just never seems to end and is so unfair. Let a month pass, a year, a decade…..here’s what can happen.

Trials CAN Lead to Discouragement.

Ok, so this one seems kind of common sense, doesn’t it. Aren’t we all in this place here and there? We can take step one to destruction on many days. MacDonald explains that many factors can go into us becoming discouraged. But, often it’s a faulty way of thinking, like blaming others, having a pity party, denial or just refusing to focus on God’s truths.

Discouragement Leads to Dislocation.

Now to me, this is something I’ve definitely overlooked. I get discouragement and why we need to keep our hearts and minds correctly focused on God. I’ve also noticed I can get discouraged and eventually feel better and not think that much about it. MacDonald explains that trials feel like pressure on us. God is getting our attention and allows some pressure that could end up causing us a slight limp or discomfort. BUT, and here’s the key, HE WILL EQUIP US TO BEAR UP UNDER THE WEIGHT. If we remain, and stay faithful, it’s possible it would not even be that difficult. Our main job is looking to Him and remaining where He puts us until He says we’re done. So, we have no idea how long it will last. It hurts. We want out. If we choose to squirm and crawl out….the pressure is going to cause major pain and serious injury (dislocation), perhaps that we will never recover from. So this step is caused by our desire to escape, be free of the trial and solve it ourselves. All that we accomplish is setting ourselves up for another time of this trial again. We didn’t learn our lesson. We didn’t overcome with God’s strength. We opted out and looped back around to have to do it again, maybe with a permanent added injury.

I would say I’ve been through this step at times too. I’ve given up on the right way and just forced my way out of a hard situation. Perhaps it was turning to lying or cheating, or failing someone we could have supported. Bursting out angrily and hurting someone, taking what may seem the easy way out but finding we’re left with a relationship that can’t seem to be repaired or a terribly guilty conscience.

Dislocation CAN Lead to Bitterness.

I wish I would have never gotten to this step, but, I have. Perhaps you have too. For me, bitterness is that turning point of I’m not listening to God anymore, I’m listening to me. I know He’s perfect but I feel this instance may be the first time He has messed up. I stop listening to wise friends and wallow in my own anger. Lines get blurred and I don’t care as much if I cross them. I am not getting what I feel I deserve. And I’m sick of it. Time for me to be in charge. The crazy thing is, you may even have an ok attitude. But, if you’re going with your plans and purposely skipping God’s….you’re still bitter.

Bitterness Leads to Profane Living.

This is where you tell yourself you don’t want God, you don’t like Him, and you’re fine with trying to undermine Him and His plans. The things you try not to do, you now purposely enjoy. You take His name in vain, refuse to pray or listen. You mock Him when able. You subject yourself to things that you know are bad for you. It’s being unfaithful to God and acting as if He means nothing to you. You can still get back to where you should be. But, you’re allowing your heart to be hardened, even hoping it will, which then leads to the final step.

Profane Living Leads to Disqualification.

Perhaps you thought at some point you could still come back to God, and He does give us SO MANY OPPORTUNITIES. But, eventually, it’s not your choice any more. “One day, I’ll make things right. One day, I’ll think about eternity. One day, I’ll tell Him I’m sorry for hating Him all my life.” If there’s still a soft part of our hearts, we have hope. We can still respond to God. But, as our hearts become harder and harder, we hear Him less and eventually our heart is just a rock that would need a miracle to change. MacDonald brings up the sorrow Esau felt after selling his very birthright for a meal. Hebrews 12:17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. He did want to seek it, but it was too late. And unless we turn to God before this point, this is where our downward spiral can also end. 

Repent. Submit to God no matter how difficult or unreasonable you feel the situation is. He’ll bring you back to Him. Eventually it will make sense. He is so good, and you can trust He knows what He’s doing. Our stubbornness gets us nowhere. Don’t say, hey, it’s not that big of a deal. It’s not like it’s life and death…..because that’s exactly what it is.

I hope this is helpful to others as it has been to me. Read the book! It’s worth it!

Our Perfect Best Friend

 For a man’s ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all his paths. Proverbs 5:21

Quite a humbling verse! God knows everything about me, but somehow thinking of Him examining my path makes me uneasy. I have to remind myself that

God is on my side.

He is for me.

Instead of picturing God facing me, stern look on His face, judging my path, I have to remind myself that God is grace. That doesn’t mean He’s any less holy, perfect or righteous. But He stands with me, arm over my shoulders speaking to me gently about my path.

I can ask God questions like, how do I avoid that in the future, Lord? Or I’m picking up a pattern. Will you help me change this? And He does. Or even comment, I don’t know why I do that. I really need help! He is happy to help me in any way I need.

I can rest easy in His presence and be open to His thoughts, convictions, and insights. Not that I will always love His input, not that they will always be my favorite words… but He speaks with love and kindness. It’s not, you’re a failure. It’s more, look my daughter, this isn’t good for you. Let’s work on freeing you from the snare.

We can think of God as our Best Friend, Ally, Counselor and Advisor. The thing is, He is still our Lord and we do need to be obedient to Him. So, we are in this unique relationship, knowing we are completely loved and known and also knowing our obedience and submission is necessary. Our Best Friend always knows best.

God is a friend, no doubt about it. He is for us and is not the accuser of His children. But, neither is He just like a human friend. It’s not a 50-50, compromise in everything friendship. We are mortal, sinful people and He is the Creator of the Universe! He chooses to walk with us, guide us, comfort and always love us. We can take comfort that He examines our paths. And we can decide ahead of time, when we disagree, we go with God’s way. It’s an interesting and amazing relationship He invites us into.

Living Water

N1704P58003CA word I have grown to love and appreciate more and more is, “satisfied.” I’m just tired of feeling I’m greedily shoving food and drink in my mouth, but always hungry, looking all around for what else may satisfy me other than Him. I can’t help but think of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, where an entire crew seems alive but is actually cursed to never enjoy this life. In effect, they are dead but living and wanting life’s enjoyments. All the pleasures of life are empty to them and they now seek death more than life. I can think of no better comparison to life without Christ as our complete source of joy and hope. Once we get to this realization, desperately empty and sick of all the world offers, whether we are 12 or 92, it’s such a relief to come to God and say, I am so done. I’m just sick of seeking pleasure and satisfaction the world promises is fulfilling. It just isn’t. I am exhausted and sickeningly stuffed full of food. I am left more empty than when I began my search to be content and satisfied.

So I come to my amazing Creator, Lord, Savior and Friend and just fall at his feet and cry. I feel the weight of my wretchedness, the pointlessness of my search for meaning and contentment in the world. I feel the piercing emptiness I am left with when I keep God at a distance.

Thankfully Jesus is there, reaching out to me with the most pure glass of water. Drink this, my love, He says. I know it’s Him,

He is the Living Water.

In John 7:37, Jesus says, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

I take a sip and my thirst is quenched. My entire body feels strengthened. My mind clears up. I see the superiority of my Lord over anything or anyone else. I am drawn to Him, to know Him better. That’s all that seems to matter at this instant.

I realize, I’m not alone here, either. Many brothers and sisters are also here, cup in hand, eyes glued to Jesus. And the pang of sorrow too, to see all the cups left partly full on the table, forgotten, at least for the time being.

Love God, Love Others

TeenGirlThe two greatest commands – love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself, seem pretty straight forward. Oh, is that all I have to do, we may think. I’ll figure this out in a day or two then I’ll move on to the “hard stuff.”

Rude awakening, we can go an entire lifetime and not achieve both…. or even one. My mind gets it but every effort to do either seems to be completely impossible in my own strength! 

The presence of sin in my heart and in this world taints everything.

Even my best intentions, I realize, somehow are rooted in my own pride and selfishness. Without God’s constant intervention, I have no chance of loving Him or people well at all. The Good News is that He did intervene in sending His Son to die in our place, for our sin. So, now there is a way to truly love God and others as long as it’s through Him.

Our sermon at church yesterday ties into this subject. I don’t see life as it really is. I see life through this distorted “me “lens. It colors everything, and not for the better. What looks right to me is everyone living life my way. And to you, living life your way seems right. We all assume we are the center of the universe and everyone and everything was made to make me happy. Either I continue viewing life through that “me” lens, or I willingly give it to God and accept His perspective instead.

Slight problem…um, I really still prefer my lens. My mind, again, tells me God’s way is better but I don’t naturally like anything about it. The colors seem off. It’s blurry and gives me a headache. It will take my whole life to appreciate God’s perspective and ways as I should! It’s a purposeful choice to give God our naturally distorted “me” lens to Him permanently.  

It’s true, with God’s lens before me, I strain to make out things. I get headaches. Sure, what I have managed to see is amazing, but will it ever feel right, be clear, be my lens of choice? The answer is yes – when I choose to see life through God’s lens all the time, I do begin to get used to it and eventually prefer it! I must choose to permanently give God my rights to those old distorted lenses of mine. But, then the real transition can be made, when I’m done switching back and forth and making myself sick doing so. God works in and through us to accomplish His two primary commands, to love Him first, and love others next.  Without God’s help, we would have no hope of doing either.

God…The Ultimate Giver

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”Acts 1:8

Power – it comes with the Holy Spirit. Not optional. Not, if you think to ask for it. We will receive power and will be Christ’s witnesses.

So the gift is given, the power is given, and all we need to do is receive. Be willing. Be open. Offer out open hands, admit our need and want. Say yes, thank you!
God offers us salvation, the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, and power amongst many others things. If we don’t have all He offers, it isn’t His problem, it’s ours. He is generous! He wants us to ask for what we need and is so gracious to care about our every hurt and hope. But so much He already freely offers – we have it. It’s ours. What a blessing to have this amazing confidence in our Lord and God. Truly, an amazing and good Father!

In the Light

Bright vector sun with lens flareBut if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. I John 1:7 

Being a Christian is often compared to walking in God’s light. Some days that light feel so wonderful, like a lovely sunny day after months of gloom. Our spirits are lifted and we can’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else. But other days, that same light feels really glaring and harsh and I feel tempted to

run and hide.

Maybe it’s a time I’m struggling with loving God more than the world, or remaining obedient to Him, or maybe shame has crept into my heart… regardless, it does not feel natural to walk in God’s light that day. Perhaps you’ve also had the nightmare where you are out and about in public, only to realize you never got dressed or that you’re up on stage with a spotlight so bright you can’t even see who is in the audience, and oh yeah, you’re naked. It’s 100% humbling, vulnerable, foreign and scary. All you can think about is running away, how you would give anything to be given a towel or something as you stand naked on stage, heck even a napkin.

No matter what situation we’re in or how God may seem to us that day, the truth is God is good and has so much He wants us to learn and experience in our walk with Him. We are where we are for a reason and can trust there’s something here to be learned if we are willing to just stay there in His presence no matter what. God doesn’t change, but we certainly do, way too frequently! We have to consider, what circumstances am I facing today? How obedient to God am I being right now? Am I spending time with God and fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord so I am held accountable? Or am I wandering where I shouldn’t be…in dark places where I can easily get in trouble and lose my way?

Here’s our daily challenge,

 walk in the light.

Stay in God’s light no matter how it feels today. If it’s a “naked on stage day,” it may be rough but make the best of it. Don’t go running off the stage. Get comfortable, get crazy and smile. Know God sees us as we are and still loves us. If God’s light seems to be burning you today, hot and relentless, ask Him to be your shade and your comfort while you are in that place. If you’ve been in the dark so long His light repels you, just give it time and let your eyes adjust. They will. And eventually no matter what sort of light God seems to be today, we will find there’s nowhere else we would rather be. We were made to be creatures of the light, completely known and loved by our heavenly Father, and gradually very well-known and loved by those we trust around us.

Overcomers

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 8:37 

 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. Ephesians 6:10-11

 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. I John 4:4

We are overcomers through our Lord Jesus Christ. He gives us the armor we need to be effective warriors and promises us the victory through Him.

I hear these reassuring words of truth and they are very encouraging and empowering! Yet one of our best weapons is plain and simple

humility.

With sin in our lives and hearts, any courage we receive first and foremost meets our pride. I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s easy to just take these courageous words of God and try to apply them to my own strength. 

But somehow, it’s our humility and admittance of our weakness on our own that is so crucial and easily missed. There’s a reason for armor – it protects something

weak and vulnerable.

That’s us. We’re not doing ourselves any good by feeding our pride and human strength if we head out to battle without that armor! Sure, we may feel more courageous but it’s pure foolishness. Without God’s sword and shield, our haughty, courageous thoughts will only get us killed.

It’s our weakness that God plans to shine through. I don’t think He enjoys helping us defeat the enemy when we then grab all the glory and just get cocky. Let’s keep an eye out as we are engaged in battle and as God brings us victory…

who gets the glory?

Outwardly do we praise Him and speak of our incredible armor that made our victories possible? And inwardly, are we remaining humble? Let’s ask God to reveal any pride we may be purposefully or even unintentionally feeding. Humility is where our power lies and it is a daily, hourly challenge. God will help point out areas He is addressing and correcting if we ask Him to reveal that to us. And yes, that will be a sure start to our practice of humility, no doubt there!