When we wonder if it’s worth the effort

Have you ever said it?

“I may as well give it up. I’ve spent years working, praying, waiting, hoping … and nothing has changed.”

Or,

“This really won’t make much of a difference. Why even bother?”

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As a college student, I had a summer job that was funded by a grant. The tasks I was given filled a need, but I didn’t have enough work to fill the hours; almost every day I had to search for something more to do until the clock released me to leave for home. Later in life, I held a job that was often overwhelming simply because there was too much to do in each day. I worked long hours, often nibbling at lunch as I worked at my desk.

I much prefer the second kind of job, even though it’s more stressful. At the second job, I knew that everything I did counted for something.

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless (1 Corinthians 15:58 NLT).

It seems a simple statement, but doesn’t this promise inject you with just a few more ounces of energy? Doesn’t it make a difference to know that everything—everything—we do for the Lord is important? We are not just putting in our time, going through the motions of discipleship. Everything we do for Him matters in His Kingdom!

This puts all those “small” acts of obedience in a new light. How can we shrug off as insignificant anything the Spirit asks us to do?

Or how can we abandon hope and give up in discouragement if we’ve been given this promise?

One of Satan’s most effective strategies to derail our discipleship is to convince us that what we are doing has no or very little importance. Or perhaps he whispers other lies to you: “You’re not qualified to do this; someone else could do this better; what you do has had no effect; all your effort has meant nothing. Might as well give it up.”

No! Stand strong and immovable against the lies! If the Spirit is producing fruit in your life, if He moves you to do anything, no matter how small it might seem (remember the cup of cold water?), do not give up, because nothing you do for the Lord is useless.

The hope held in this verse grows even fuller when we look at its context. The verse is often quoted, but we find it in an unexpected context.

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul has just written long paragraphs about the promise of the resurrection of our bodies and the certainty that we will live forever. He ends it by saying, “So don’t give up. Stand strong. Whatever we do for the Lord is very important.”

The effects of what we do here on earth will not be limited to this hour, this day, or the dimensions of earthly life. What we do for the Lord has effects that reach into eternity.

So let us not allow discouragement or setbacks or unseen results immobilize us. Paul writes in another letter that we can be certain we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. (Galatians 6:9).

This is our hope—even when tired and discouraged or feeling insignificant and ineffective: Nothing we do for our Lord is ever useless.

May this promise pick us up again and again, to keep us standing strong and immovable.

Discouraged. Waiting. Trusting. Rescued.

It was a tough week. A wandering and wondering week. Many battles between the old nature and the Spirit. Doubts. Debates. Turmoil.

The Dragon of Discouragement had breathed his fire all week, but by Saturday he tired of threats and stood ready to devour me whole. The last post on Eternity that I had planned … never took shape.

Sounds gloomy, I know. Don’t stop reading here, though.

*****

I find comfort in the Psalms. Not only do they remind me of the goodness and unfailing love of God, they also depict writers who are so much like I am—seeking God with all their heart, yet sometimes so utterly paralyzed or sabotaged by human weakness. Many of the prayers in the Psalms I can make my own.

Somewhere I had read that Psalm 40 was “the writer’s psalm.” But it’s also the social worker’s psalm, the bookkeeper’s psalm, the taxi driver’s psalm, the care giver’s psalm, the teacher’s psalm, the mother’s psalm, the father’s psalm, the friend’s psalm ….

So on Sunday morning I went to Psalm 40.

Every now and then, the Scriptures absolutely startle me. Yesterday, that happened again.

I waited patiently for the LORD to help me,
and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair …  (Psalm 40:1-2a)

And I heard the word again, “Wait.”

*****

Have you ever heard someone describing an experience when the Lord’s direction came to them as clearly as if someone had actually spoken? One woman told me once, “It was as clear as if I’d heard a voice saying…”

The closest I’ve come to that was a number of years ago, also during a time of questions and agonizing. Then, the word came clearly: “Wait. See what I have for you. Wait.”

And here, at the beginning of the very psalm I was planning to read as my prayer and cry for help, was the same clear word. Even before my prayer came out, the Word spoke: “Wait patiently for Me.”

 *****

There’s so much more in Psalm 40 that gives us comfort. Verse 3 talks about God giving us a new song, making us hymns of praise for what He’s done. Verse 4 exclaims that there is great joy for those who trust the Lord. Verse 5 looks backward to great things He has already done and forward to His plans for us, “too numerous to list.”

But for the present, for me in that hour, the word was “Wait.”

*****

Now when you wait for something, you expect it, you know it’s coming. Wait for God. Expect His rescue. King David had a whole lot of tough weeks; at times he was even so discouraged or frustrated that he felt God had forgotten him. But he always knew rescue would come. He knew that unshakeable hope is found in only one Person and one Place.

Let all that I am wait quietly before God,
for my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress where I will not be shaken. (Psalm 62:5-6)

Wait quietly? I am much better at stewing and worrying and, really, getting quite carried away with my own fretting.

These words also came, this time from King Jesus: “Don’t let your heart be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.” (See John 14:1)

There it is in a nutshell. That’s faith. “Trust me.”

He says Trust me when we are all too aware of our humanity, when our old nature rises up and stomps on our best intentions. He says Trust me when we are doubting, when we’re discouraged, when we feel too weak for the battle. He says Trust me when we’re haunted by the past, fretting about the present, or worrying about the future.

“Don’t let your heart be troubled. Trust in God; and trust me.”

That’s not just a last resort, clinging to a straw when we are desperate. Trusting Him is the ONLY place we can go to live fully the life He died to give us. Trusting Him is the ONE place He wants us to live.

“Just trust me.”

The assurance of my King comes while I wait quietly.

.

Don’t be afraid. Don’t be discouraged.

For I have chosen you
     and will not throw you away.
Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
     Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
     I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

These are promises not only for contemplating a New Year, but also for every morning, every beginning, every step of your pilgrimage on this earth. Here is reassurance for times of uncertainty, strength for days of weariness, courage for moments of fear.

Your Father has chosen you and He will be with you through everything!

Isn’t that amazing?

And so, do not lose heart, no matter what obstacles loom on your horizon, because the LORD of the universe is with you. Your strength will come from Him. He will help you. When you know you are too weak, when you fear you are losing the battle, He will keep you going. When you think you struggle alone, His victorious right hand is working for you.

Don’t be afraid. Don’t be discouraged. He always holds you, and His hand is always victorious!

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Scripture: Isaiah 41:9-10 (NLT)

Throwing off a heavy weight

Go ahead and laugh. It’s a good morning for a chuckle. Since I couldn’t find a photo of myself in buggy horse blinders, this image of me in my moose-hunting gear will have to do. Frankly, I think this is one of the best photos of me ever taken.

 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge cloud of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up.

And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.(Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT)

I want to think shorter today. These verses have always spoken to me of a long-distance race, a marathon, the life-long living out of faith.

But within the marathon of our faith-life, we must run many sprints. Think of the times when a project seems impossible and overwhelming. Or those days when we can only hang on by our fingernails and hope the day will soon be over. And the fleeting moment, when we have to make a choice between treating someone as Jesus would or letting our human nature react. For all those races, the same principles apply.

(You’re wondering where those moose-goggles come in, aren’t you?)

Two things make it possible to dash the sprints and endure the marathon: stripping off whatever slows us down and focusing on the champion, Jesus, who is working in every circumstance to perfect our faith.

Jesus is working to make our faith complete and perfect. How encouraging! Even on those fingernail days, even when you think you have failed to run well, Jesus’ Spirit is at work perfecting the faith He began in you. I love the choice of the word “champion.” He ran the perfect race. And now He has us in training; under His guidance, following His example, He’s going to turn us into strong faith-contenders, too. Wow.

Does this change the way you reflect on those times you feel you did everything wrong?

Yes, you might indeed have done everything wrong, but God still works to achieve His purposes in you. It’s grace. It is how we go forward in life without fear or terror or timidity but with peace.

And just as any athlete has to follow the instruction of a trainer and coach, so we need to keep our eyes on the one who is training us.

That means I can’t be looking around at a whole bunch of things that will distract me. I’m thinking of those blinders on a buggy horse. I’m sure the moose-goggles are more attractive. But blinders is what I often need.

I cannot measure myself or the race I’m running by looking at others who run beside, behind, or ahead of me. Yes, there are many people whose stories can inspire us; Hebrews 11 was written for that purpose. And we are instructed to encourage each other. But we have to learn, somehow, to take inspiration and encouragement from the races others run and yet remember that each of us must run her own race, according to the purpose God has for her.

When I changed jobs, began a new race, the heaviest weight I carried was that habit of comparing myself to others, measuring my gifts and abilities against those of other writers. It was so easy, almost automatic, to read what someone else had written and then allow self-doubt to creep in. We humans have this habit of comparing ourselves, our abilities, what we have, what we’ve accomplished — even the shape of our bodies! — to what someone else owns or is or has done.

And when I start comparing myself to others on the same course, I can soon be thinking that I’m not running fast enough, I’m not running well, I haven’t trained enough for this … hey, why am I even doing this? I don’t belong in this event.

You know the downhill path of such thoughts.

I want to throw off this weight, be done with it, run freely. But like ashes from a bonfire drift back down and settle in my hair and leave smudges on my face, this tendency to compare myself with others keeps returning to me.

For me, this is one of the sins that so easily beset me in the race. It does come so easily, but …… is it really sin?

The Greek word used here for “sin” is hamartia, which means “any action or attitude that is contrary to the will of God and the revealed standards of God.” Whew. That would include many things we don’t normally label sin. And it convicts me: when my attitude about myself is other than what God says, then I need to repent and ask His forgiveness. (And remember: Repenting means changing!)

That’s why we need to keep our eyes on the Champion, why we need to know what God intends for us. We find all of that in His Word, the sword with which the Spirit battles sin in our lives.

Because His Word says:

    We have been given a spirit of power and love and self-discipline
    We are being transformed into Christ’s image
    We are his masterpiece, created ANEW to do good things He has planned
            (Did I emphasize that sufficiently?)
    He will not abandon the work He’s started in us
    His power within us will accomplish far more than we could ever imagine
                 (See references below)

And that’s just the beginning! These are just a few statements about what God intends for His children. Scripture is filled with His plans for us. I am convicted and humbled and encouraged and so loved.

Keeping our eyes only on Christ, running with His words in our ears instead of looking around at others, throwing off the things that weigh us down … that is how we run well in both the sprints and the marathon.

That’s my sermon for today. Preaching mostly to myself. Wearing my moose goggles.

*

Scriptures: 2 Timothy 1:7, 2 Corinthians 3:18, Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 1:6, Ephesians 3:20

Patience and Endurance

Today, Grandson and I plant on barren ground. Scattering seeds, leaving them to soak up sun and water, we hope for a sea of wildflowers next summer.

And I am reminded that I am an impatient person.

Chances are, these wildflowers will not be at the height of their glory for two or even three years. IF they germinate and take root. IF they are not choked out by other grasses and weeds. IF the mix of sunlight and shade is right. When it comes right down to it, I have no idea if I will ever see one blossom from these seeds.

But we scattered, hoping.

This morning, it was only wildflowers. But throughout my days, I plant many other seeds. I’m beginning to realize what an impatient person I am. I would prefer to see results now. I want guarantees. I grow weary of sowing, when I see nothing sprouting.

Do you grow tired of planting in hope on barren ground? Do not give up! The Scriptures encourage us.

We all know the admonishment, “Do not be weary in well-doing….” But sometimes, we do grow weary. Sometimes, we do want to give it up. Sometimes, we think all we do is in vain.

So how do we hang in there?

Willpower will not keep us in the race. Willpower is too easily convinced to quit. The only thing that keeps us hanging in there is hanging onto the Vine.

Patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit. He gives us the power to endure, even though we do grow weary, even though we might sometimes want to call a halt to the sowing.

Christ promises that His Spirit brings us the power to endure. I suspect that most of us have experienced only a tiny speck of the power and endurance that the Spirit can produce within us.

And — the strange thing that we know but that our human nature resists — it is only in the battle, in weakness, in struggle, that we learn to cling to the Vine, who builds our endurance and makes us strong.

I guess that’s why James tells us to Consider it pure joy, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. (James 1:2)

But when you cannot see the joy, when you grope in darkness for encouragement, when it seems you have nothing left within you to continue to plant hopeful seeds, then cling to the Vine.

The Father says,

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
             (Isaiah 41:10 NLT)

When we hold onto the Vine, the Vine holds us. And He promises victory!

We pray also that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light.   (Colossians 1:11-12)

May His power give us patience and endurance, fill us with joy, and enable us to live in our inheritance as His children.