This is officially the first day of the brand new year. Everyone has reflected on the past 365 days, many have set resolutions for the upcoming 365, some are thankful to see the year leave, most are excited to usher in the new. The new year can be an exciting time of fresh starts and things to look forward to but it can also be a difficult time when some are struggling to fight the battle for contentment, hope, and peace.
Despite the many posts, updates, and one-liners about excitement for the new year I see all across the world of social media, there is one type of status update that remains lacking - posts from those who are struggling. 'Well, of course' you say. 'Because who posts a status update that says, "Tonight as I counted down to the New Year my heart ached and I felt lonely?" or "I'm really struggling financially this new year?" Who is going to like that?' But I wonder how many might have written something along those lines if they were brave enough to do so. It doesn't matter where you are or what time of the year it may be. The struggle and fight for contentment, to claim and live out what we know to be true in the Christian life, is real and ongoing. But let me encourage you. It is worth fighting for!
Finances will fluctuate. New Years resolutions may or may not be kept. People will come and go in our lives. Circumstances will change, jobs may become non-existent, financial status could shift drastically. The exciting Disneyland plans or vacation ideas to which you look forward for this new year may never materialize. Such are a few of the many areas in which we fight for contentment. And while all of that sounds rather bleak, I want to encourage you with something I know without a shadow of doubt will happen for the good! This time next year, Christ will still be with you. He will never leave; He will not be outsourced, changed, or made non-existent in your life. So when you find yourself in a time of trial or difficulty, when you find your heart wanting what God has not ordained, seek His face and cling to Him all the more. Because He is the only one who will be there when all else is not.
I've noticed something about Christmas this year. There are a lot of people who are hurting through it. 'Joy to the World' gets belted out from radios, choirs, joyous individuals, and entire churches but as I look around, I notice something other than carefree enjoyment of carols, lights, and tinsel. I see pain and hurt in people's eyes. Perhaps it's because of the recent and growing occurrences of terror and hate that destroy lives. Perhaps it's because we are now so connected to every corner of the globe, we have come to actually realize that 99% of the world will wake up with no Christmas or running water or adequate shelter. Perhaps it is just because the more life I live, the more I see the hurt that inevitably comes with it.
Christmas is a time of joy. From the time we are children we are geared toward Christmas being a happy, jolly time of goodwill and peace on earth. Even that great song, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day which at first decries the reality of there being any peace on earth eventually declares that yes, right WILL prevail. So what happens when that peace gets interrupted or hurt invades and pain, for the moment, prevails instead of joy? What do we do when it's hard to sing those familiar Christmas carols or wish someone a merry Christmas?
Cling. To. Christ. I think this is becoming my answer for everything these days. Just as in Sunday School where you learn that the answer is always "Jesus," so too, in life the answer is always this - cling to Christ. It is from Christ that we derive our hope and joy and peace and satisfaction and contentment and love. It is in Christ that we prevail through peace-destroying pain and walk on. It is in Christ that we live with pain and still weep tears of joy at the realization of just how good He is. It is in Christ that we must truly live and move and have our being. All else will fade or fail or break just as sure as the presents under the tree will tarnish and fade.
So this Christmas, whether you are in rapturous joy or walking your way through pain which life so often brings, take a few moments to pour out your heart to the One who makes a way for peace through pain and joy through trials. Take a moment and bow before that manger and let Him fill you with hope eternal. For hope eternal is why we celebrate Christmas at all.
Talking with a friend a while back, a comment was made that "Life is hard but God is good and therein lies the battle."
Oh, is this not true? God IS good. We know that. We cling to it. We rely on it and place our hope in the fact. We know, in our heart of hearts and with every fiber of our being, that there is no mistaking it. God. Is. Good. But then, enter stage left: life. The hard, messy, difficult, tear-inducing, maddening stuff. Lost jobs and lost children, money problems and hospital visits, war and destruction, banished hopes and demolished dreams. Life.
Life is hard. But God is good. The two facts are sometimes seemingly irreconcilable. Because how can God be good in the midst of such heartache, trial, and difficulty? How can God be good when life gets hard? How is He good when we find the things we hold dearest or long for the most extinguished or left unanswered? Simply this: He is good because He is there.
In the midst of our hardest situations, in the middle of lost hopes and difficulties, He is there. He will never leave us or see us lost, but will be with us every single minute and each step of the way. He creates beauty out of the ashes in which we sometimes find ourselves sitting. He enables us to rise and continue on. If that weren't enough, He is our refuge and shelter, the strong tower into which we can run for safety. He is perfect, holy, and has a plan for each of His children. He has given us full and complete access to the throne of grace which we can boldly approach and from which He will hear our cries. He loves us with love that cannot be fathomed and He is trustworthy.
So yes, life is hard. But God is good "and therein lies the battle." Fight to hold onto Him in your time of need, dear friends. He will see you through!
I would rather walk with God in the dark than go alone in the light.
- Mary Gardiner Brainard
I think the difficulty with this is remembering to keep in mind the fact that God is with us in the dark. Walking in the light is lulling and easy, causing it to at least appear more appealing. But therein lies the danger and is possibly why, so often, we are called to walk in the dark.
The light has a tendency of falsely removing our dependency upon the LORD. When things go well, we are lulled into thinking that we have it all under control. The darkness, the unknowns of life, however, show us in glaring contrast that we can truly do nothing on our own.
Walking in the darkness is not what anyone really "wants." No one wants the pain of illness and unanswered questions, the trial of job loss or heartache. But is it not typically when the world goes awry that we sink to our knees in recognition of our dependence upon the LORD? It is in the darkness of life's trials that we find we must cling to the cross and place our hope fully in Him. So, though I would rather the light, so long as God is with me, I will walk through the dark.
"God never violates the trust we put in Him." - Neva Coyle
I think you could say I've been pondering over this quoted fact a lot lately. I know God is trustworthy. I know God is good and righteous and holy and perfect and sovereign. And I have to preach these things to myself and choose to believe them. Because while I "know" all of these things, I also "know" that the world is an absolute mess. And it's not just a few things here and there - it's EVERYWHERE.
Earthquakes, drought, disease, marriages destroyed, human trafficking, morals shoved into the mud, wrong being made to be "right" and what is right being made to be wrong. It feels as if the earth will collapse or implode or crumble into small little bits. No wonder the Lord is going to roll it all up as a scroll! I can understand why He'd want to do so!
Then there are all of His children who are crying out. Crying out for justice, for peace, for help, for healing. Lives that have been torn apart or smashed in two. Lives that are desperate for "normal," desperate for the good times of yester year when illness was not plaguing them or their families, when their marriage was intact, when their children still loved Jesus.
When it comes to knee-jerk "fight or flight" reactions, I'd prefer to run away from all of this. But that is not an option. Working while it is still day is the command. Pressing on toward the high calling is the goal. And choosing to trust in a trustworthy God is an absolute must. Sometimes I think if we were just given a glimpse into the "whys" of events, we would be better able to "trust." But that's just it, isn't it? We often don't know why and we are still commanded to trust. We are still admonished to place our faith and hope in the One true God who quite literally holds the world and each member of it in His hands. Our finite minds cannot possibly understand what our infinite God is doing but this we can preach and claim and trust: God can be trusted because He is trustworthy.
It wasn't really midnight. But there was a phone call. We were just getting ready to turn in for the night when the phone rang. 10pm. Who would be calling at this time?
The caller on the answering machine identified himself as my brother's coworker. He said that my brother was really sick, had been taken to the hospital by ambulance, and if we didn't pick up, we really needed to call him back. That was all in the thirty seconds it took us to reach the phone and answer.
From that time-stopping moment, a thousand things run through your mind but it's the simple ones that take precedence. Shoes on. Grab a jacket. Car keys. Directions to the hospital. Thank the Lord for no traffic.
Park. Find emergency entrance. Only two allowed in to see him at a time. Pace the waiting room. Get told to sit. I don't want to sit. I want to see my brother. Finally sit. Get allowed in to see him. Try to put a smile on his face. Machine beeps and makes me jump. Glance at the machine. His heart is beating way too fast. Machine stops beeping. Heart beat normalizes. Machine goes off again. Then louder and faster. Then slows. This is utterly nerve wracking.
Medicine. More medicine. He gets transfered to another hospital. They get his heart rate down into a more normal pace though it's still fast enough he should be jogging. Better than the sprinting rate he did have. We have to leave. His heart rate still isn't normal and his heart isn't pumping right, either.
But we leave. He is at least "stable." List prayer requests on Facebook. Get a few hours of sleep. Call the hospital. Talk to my brother! Prayer requests have been gloriously answered. His heart is beating normally, pumping well, and the doctors figured out how to help him. He'll be coming home the next day. I feel like I've been hit by a truck.
Talk about putting "I trust you Lord, no matter what" into practice!
How very true this is! Anxiety robs of joy, of peace, of hope. It strips bare the beauty that is life lived with the LORD. It decays, dulls, and makes us ineffective as children of the King.
Think of that - we are children of the King! For what reason or for what cause do we need to be anxious? Does He not hold the entire world in His hands? Does He not still know the plans He has for each one of us? Has He forgotten our names or decided to neglect the good work He has started? Is His arm somehow shortened that He can no longer reach into our lives and affect a change?
For what cause should we give way to anxiety? For no cause.
Trusting in the LORD must be the action we choose. It must be the lense through which we view every detail of life. Trust is what will see us through trials and tribulations with joy and a deep abiding love for the One who created us. Trust will see us through the darkest days because it will focus our thoughts on the Light. Anxiety seeks to destroy and render us totally ineffective; trust frees us to walk unfettered regardless of how dark or unclear the path ahead may lie.
Let us ever and always, boldly, trust in the Lord.
"I think of faith as a kind of whistling in the dark because, in much the same way, it helps to give us courage and to hold the shadows at bay. To whistle in the dark... demonstrates, if only to ourselves, that not even the dark can quite overcome our trust in the ultimate triumph of the Living Light." - Frederick Buechner
Whistling in the dark... singing through uncertainty. That is such a great picture of faith - that abiding and ever present belief beyond the current circumstances and situations that seemingly have no answers or ending. It is a tentative action so small, yet so powerful, that mighty things can be accomplished with even a little amount of it. Just as that pin prick of a whistled note invades and pushes past the darkness, so faith pushes past the boundary of uncertainty. When fear and doubt desire to cage us in, faith pushes through the gate and refuses its capture.
Faith can seem like such a little thing yet it can fell giants, move mountains, subdue forces of evil, and bring entire nations to their knees. It is a choice yet it is also grown by the unseen hand of God; the Holy Spirit uses it to create warrior servants in the service of the High King and Jesus demands it of His followers. There is nothing we can do adequately for our LORD without it and yet so many of us lack so much of it that we find ourselves constantly crying out to the LORD for more.
In this day and age where so much darkness surrounds us and endeavors to invade our lives, let us be ever mindful of the fact that we not only serve the Light of the World but are called to be the light of the world, ourselves. We are to stand firm in the midst of darkness, firm in our faith in Jesus Christ, and shine into the darkness the love and hope and grace and goodness, and glory of Jesus Christ. We are to dispel the darkness. That is what faith does. In the midst of trials, sickness, discouragement, and death, our faith must be rooted in the One who triumphed over it all. Darkness threatens but faith breaks through and light shines in the darkness.
I read a quote the other day that said, "You will trust God only as much as you love Him."
This is an interesting one to ponder. You will trust God only as much as you love Him.... It would probably be pretty safe to say it works the other way around, too. You will love Him only as much as you trust Him. Love and trust go hand-in-hand. You love someone at least partly dependent on how much you can trust them. If there is complete trust, then there can be complete love.
The Lord is wholly trustworthy, therefore He ought to be loved with abandon. But do we trust Him fully? Whether or not we do will reveal just how deep our love for Him goes. This is such a challenge. Because really, how much do we love Him? We may say we love Him greatly, but then comes the litmus test - how much do we trust Him?
Love and trust go hand-in-hand. Both are formed from a steady, constant, ever-growing relationship. So where is our relationship? How much we love and trust the LORD can be a good litmus test for where our relationship stands. When trust wavers and doubt threatens, it is our relationship with the Lord that needs to be returned to - not a happier day or life with fewer problems.
"Bad days" will happen, trials will impede, and gloom will cover our bright happy sunshine but if we fully trust the LORD and our love for Him is rooted firmly in His grace and goodness and will, our faith will be built, joy grown, and relationship deepened.
How much do we love Him? How much do we trust Him?
How do you react when life doesn't go the way you expected? What do you do when it changes? Or doesn't change? Do you run away or toward the problem, situation, or circumstance facing you? More importantly, do you run to God with it? I've often heard it said that it's not so much the problem or circumstance, but what you do with it, that matters. I believe wholeheartedly that that little statement, that little bit of commentary on life, is true. The circumstance itself is a catalyst. Sometimes it can be a catalyst into fear, sometimes into the waters of doubt. But regardless, it should always catapult us into the arms of our loving Savior.
The Lord does not expect us to be numb or devoid of emotion. He expects us to be rightly angry when unjustly wronged. He expects us to weep tears of sorrow when faced with pain, tragedy, and loss. He expects us to, at times, feel doubt and worry and failure. But as our loving Father, He also expects us to approach Him with it, seek Him through it, and trust Him to work in it. He is our Father. His love, tenderness, mercy, and compassion are completely unfathomable.
He had compassion upon the multitudes when they were with Him and fed them. He had mercy on the woman caught in adultery and said, "Go and sin no more." His disciples rebuked the parents of little children and Jesus tenderly said, "Let them come unto me." And when asked how much He loved the world, He stretched out His arms upon the cross and said, "This much." So great is His love, tenderness, mercy, and compassion! So great we cannot begin to comprehend it all.
So when, through trials and life's stormy blasts, you want to run away from it all, by all means run! Run into the arms of the one who loves you far deeper than you could possibly know. Run to Him whose mercy exceeds our greatest hopes. Run to the one who tenderly holds His children and compassionately feels all of your pain. Run to the Savior, run to your Father, run to the one who cares about you and whatever situation you face so much that He died to redeem it out of the ashes and dust.
You are loved, you are precious, you are beloved, and you are redeemed. Never will you be left to struggle on your own. He is there in the midst of trials and pain and fiery torture. Run to Him because He loves you and because He cares.