Life is full of challenges but one of the most difficult times we face is when the bottom falls out and you wonder how you’re going to keep going. It’s easy for people to think, “I just can’t go on.”
But you can.
After all, everyone has trials. Even the big names of the faith whose stories we read in the Bible often struggle.
For Instance, the Apostle Paul found himself alone at the end of an incredible career. He was a prolific church planter. He wrote about 1/2 of the New Testament. But he came to the end of his life alone & discouraged.
How did he respond? The key for him was the presence of the Lord.
Even David in Psalm 23 talks about this when he experienced his deepest, darkest times. He, too, was reassured by the presence of the Lord. His hope is expressed in the phrase, “You are with me.”
It’s life changing to know God is there. He is present in your life.
You may still go through the valleys, but when you have the assurance that God is there, that will make all the difference.
God is with you. You are not alone. The Creator of the Universe is by your side.
What does that look like for you?
Well, you may need to make some adjustments to give God a place in your life. You may need to find a good local church and start attending regularly. You may need to get on a Bible reading plan. You may need to make prayer a part of your thought processes throughout your every day.
You don’t have to become a spiritual giant overnight. But you do have to take some steps to take care of your inner self and give God room so He can be right there with you.
And that will make all the difference.
Security has become a common word especially in the digital age. Everyone wants to know how to feel secure. In fact, on the back of every credit or debit card is a security code. Yet someone else is able to pick our pocket so to speak, and fraudulently use our secure card. So much for security.
All of us want to feel secure. So where do we find our security? Take your pick. Some find it in their careers. Others look in the mirror for theirs. If something is lacking there are ways to enhance what one sees!
Then there are skills and abilities. If you live in a hot climate and possess HVAC skills you should always have a job, that is, if you maintain your skills.
And of course, there is money. Perhaps that is where most of us find our security.
But think for a moment: how secure are you, really?
Recently Kendrick Norton, a professional football player for the Miami Dolphins had an arm amputated following a vehicle accident. His career is not over, as are the large paychecks which come from playing in the NFL. While many have said in jest that NFL stands for “Not For Long,” the fact is many often play far less than they expected. And none of us know what a day holds when we wake up.
The sad reality is we are only one incident away from losing our security.
Think of all the things we place our security in…that can be taken away…
Sharon Stone, once one of the hottest movie stars in Hollywood, suffered a massive stoke which took her several years to recover. During that time she had to remortgage her house and says she lost everything. So even one’s place and position in Hollywood is dependent on health and one’s ability to perform.
Life is so fragile, and so much is beyond our control, yet we continue to carry around our security blankets.
Cicero was at one time highly exalted within the Roman Republic. But even that didn’t last as he was eventually murdered due to his opposition to Mark Antony. And one day when this world end, his place in history will be gone. So in actuality, you cannot even secure your place in world history.
And then there is social security. Yet, we are told that for many it will not provide much of a future. So much for that security. Don’t look to the government for security.
So where do we look?
Think about it. The ONLY thing you can secure is the eternal destiny of your soul.
“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation,
my stronghold and my refuge,
my savior; 2 Samuel 22:3
And Jesus reminded us in Mark 8:36,
For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?
So the question is, “How secure is your security?”
In the NFL about this time of year, dreams die. That is, another team loses and is knocked out of the playoff race. Their dream of making it into the playoffs and hopefully getting to the Super Bowl can vanish in a weekend.
However, does that mean that the dream really died? Not at all. Pretty soon every team will begin to strategize for the next season, the next run. And the dream will live again.
Think about Joseph and his dreams in the book of Genesis:
Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words (Genesis 37:5-8).
Then through a series of incidents he found himself in an Egyptian prison. The years passed. As he sat in the prison cell I can imagine his dream continually surfaced in his mind.
I wonder, did his dream ever die? After a series of providential circumstances Joseph not only got out of prison, he rose to an unprecedented level of authority. Now Joseph was governor over the land. He was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground (Genesis 42:6).
Maybe your dream didn’t die. Maybe its just not the right time. As you get ready to begin a new year, maybe it’s time to dream again.
I worked for my dad’s steel erection company for years, from the time I was a teenager on into my 30’s. Being the boss’s son had its privileges, but sometimes it sure didn’t feel like it.
It was not unusual for some of the guys to hurry on a job, leaving lots of little things undone, so they could head on to the next job. Unfortunately for me, my dad sent me in after them to wrap up loose ends.
This was often very challenging. I may have to burn some welds loose, cut new holes in the roof, or move a roof vent. Sometimes I had to set up a 36′ foot ladder and climb all the way to the top.
Or I may have to throw a huge oxygen tank over my shoulder and hike up several flights of stairs. Only to return and get the acetylene tank. And then return and get the hoses. You get the idea. Sometimes I spent more time getting ready to work than actually doing what needed to be done.
But don’t miss the bigger picture. At one time someone was on the roof with all the equipment at hand. But they chose to move on before they were completely done. It took at least three times as much effort to come behind them and finish the job.
It seemed to be never ending at times. But that’s the job my dad gave me for a period of time.
One day I had just about had it. I needed a break. So at the end of the day I went by my dad’s office. I walked in and complained, “Why am I stuck with all the junk work?’
And he replied, “That’s how you get good.”
Enough said. Now I understood. After all, who doesn’t want to get better, or in my dad’s words, “get good?”
That day my complaints ended. Yes the junk work continued, but now I enjoyed it.
Sometimes you have to look beyond the mundane tasks of life to the real reasons you do what you do. And that makes it all worthwhile. The power of WHY.
Our phones and social media have transformed the way we communicate, connect, receive the news, and stay in touch. In short, we cannot be separated from our phones anymore.
Just two decades ago if you wanted to meet someone for lunch you had to plan well in advance. Not anymore. And chances are you will not call. You will text. Yes, you are only a text message away from a lunch date.
We call it a phone, but in truth it’s far more. In fact, few of us actually talk on it. But with all the positives comes the negatives.One downside is that now you can easily find out what people are saying about you. That is, if you are fairly well-known. Sports players regularly check their phones to see what others are saying about them.
Now you know that’s not healthy. After all, if you are famous, the haters abound.
Which leads me to Kevin Durant, unquestionably the second greatest basketball player in the world at this time.
“Second best!” How would you like to be the second best in the world? At anything?
However, as with every other thing on social media, things get magnified. Apparently, Kevin Durant is sulking and emotionally hurt by all the negative comments about him on social media.
So why is he reading those things? Makes no sense.
And he is not the only one. Even NFL players have been known to check their phones during halftime! Things have gotten totally out of hand.
But the only remedy is for players to avoid their phones, or at least the “mentions” about them. Otherwise their confidence will plummet and they will spend needless hours distressed by all the negative comments.
Social media can destroy the confidence of even the greatest stars of our time. So what about the rest of us? Bottom line: proceed with caution. If you sense harmful effects after your time on social media, maybe you need to think about changing how you use it.
You and I know people whose faith has failed. Perseverance can be hard.
Joseph in the book of Genesis sat in a prison cell for well over a decade, but he eventually became a ruler in Egypt.
In the 1600s, John Bunyan sat in a prison cell for twelve years because of his preaching, but it was there that he wrote one of the greatest Christian classics of all time, “The Pilgrim’s Progress.”
And there are perseverance examples outside the church world.
In history and archaeology, King Tut was almost not King Tut. What I mean is today he is known around the world…but only because one guy persevered.
In 1904 at the age of 31, Howard Carter had no job and no money, so he left the field of archaeology. In 1907 a series of fortuitous events got him connected to the wealthy Lord Carnarvon.
At the same time another archaeologist, Theodore Davis, assumed there was nothing to be found in his search and gave up his rights for his digging area. Carter took over the spot and began years of digging.
In 1922 Lord Carnarvon told Carter he was done. You have to have money, so Carter pleaded with him to reconsider.
Carnarvon agreed to ONE MORE SEASON.
So on November 1 they started digging again. And on November 4 they found the stairway that led to King Tut’s tomb!
One of the greatest discoveries of all time was made possible ONLY BECAUSE OF PERSEVERANCE.
In the recent American League series funeral arrangements were being made for the N.Y. Yankees. And of course, the blame would land on the shoulders of Joe Giradi, the manager. Which meant that his days of managing the Yankees was coming to a close.
After all they were down 2-0 in a five game series. And they were playing the hot and heavily favored Cleveland Indians. Yes, the situation was bleak.
Which reminds me of David in the book of 1 Samuel. After killing the Giant and serving King Saul his career went south. Saul was on a giant ego trip and was not about to share the spotlight with someone else. It got so bad that Saul began to make plans for taking David’s life. We find David living in a cave. Not the best living conditions, but what is interesting is how bleak David’s situation was. Notice those with him. “Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him; and he became captain to them” (1 Samuel 22:2 NASB). Clearly the odds were stacked against David. Yet we all remember him as the great king of Israel.
Back to the Yankees. They won game three. But the chance of them winning three in a row to win the series 3-2 was slim at best. While I am not personally a Yankee fan I became one. I love classic comebacks. And I love cheering for the underdog.
Just as David’s comeback has gone down in history so had the Yankees. General Manager, Brian Cashman, said after game 2, “We just have to keep batting. Nothing is over yet.”
One other thing to keep in mind. One of the Yankees’ top hitters struck out 16 times over the five games. In fact, he only got one hit! That in itself is a recipe for disaster. That’s where the team picked up the slack. It truly does take a team.
Four Quick Hits
One of the better known verses in the Bible is Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
Occasionally we get to see it played out right on our own TV screens.
The opening night of the NFL season was at New England–last year’s winner of the Super Bowl.
Fans were greeted with a huge, over-the-top intro hyping how great the Patriots were.
Not sure who gets the credit for the idea, but let’s just say it seemed odd. It certainly didn’t reflect the attitude of the coach or the quarterback. The intro was clearly out of character.
It was way too much pride in their Super Bowl win. They had already celebrated that back in February.
But then, why not just rub it in. Maybe it will intimidate the opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs. After all, New England was favored to win, and some were already talking about a perfect record all the way to another Super Bowl win.
Let’s just say that the Chiefs didn’t get the memo. They easily handled the Patriots that night.
For New England it was utter humiliation. The celebratory intro made it worse.
To be fair, they could have done a pregame celebration with more dignity.
In fact, pride is not always negative. For instance, we appreciate people who take pride in their work. So pride can be positive.
The pregame celebration could have focused on the fans, the attitude of some of the players, the hard work put in at practice, and a host of other things. Yes, the team was down 28-3 late in the game, but why not take pride in the fact that the team never gave up?
At any rate, the whole thing seemed to promote more arrogance than gratitude.
At the end of the day, you have to wonder if all the pregame hype had not actually worked against the Patriots. We’ll never know. After a few games they are still struggling.
But we do know that it’s good advice to let someone else toot your horn.
Pride in the form of conceit and arrogance is never appropriate. To others it’s always out of place.
Now keep in mind that we are talking about one the greatest sports franchises ever to come along. Even they seemed to be oblivious to their uncalled for boasting and pride.
Which is a reminder to us that pride is never far away and does indeed precede destruction.
Let’s wrap up our short discussion on H.O.P.E. To recap, stories are one of the most valuable ways to regain hope. That’s why we listen to them, read them, and why God put them in the Bible.
It’s History now, but stories still inspire. In my last post I introduced you to Hannah and her story. We left off with her feeling hopeless.
She had done all she could. She was out of answers. However, she could pray, believe, and wait. In short, if God didn’t show up and do something, then she would never have a child.
That’s what she did. Like the Psalmist she poured out her complaint to God and told Him all about her trouble (Psalm 142:2). Her prayer led to personal peace for we read, “And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad (1 Samuel 1:18, ESV). Soon after she experienced…
Omnipotence. That is, God stepped in. “They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her” (1 Samuel 1:19, ESV).
Perhaps you are thinking, “I can only take so much.” “Or how long will it take?” Or “What’s the purpose in all my mess?”
That’s when you need…
Promises. Not a promise that your pain will go away. Not that the sun will shine brightly on your life tomorrow. You need to know that God is always working, despite what you see and feel. In the present things don’t make sense. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28), ESV).
Or do we? We’re beginning to doubt. So right now maybe a lot of problems and predicaments are weaving their way throughout your life. Everywhere you look there are dark clouds.
There is another great story about Joseph. Note what he said about all that he had gone through: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20, ESV). The phrase you meant evil against me could be translated you weaved evil into my life. Which they did.
But what did God do? He re-weaved all the bad stuff and turned it into one spectacular finish. I realize happy endings are not automatic. But what I want you to see is the promise that God is working. That’s what we need to know.
That should lead you to our final letter…
Encouragement. Hope and encouragement. Those are found throughout the Old Testament. Even the apostle Paul was aware of the value to be found in the Scriptures, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4, ESV).
H.O.P.E. can be a reality in the midst of your own pain. Is it?
In my last post I talked about needing hope. Fortunately hope is available.
In the Bible. So let’s get started, using the acrostic H.O.P.E.
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Which means we need to go back to the Old Testament and read some Bible stories. And you thought Bible stories were for kids.
Hang with me. One of the great treasures in the Old Testament are the stories. Stories of hope. Many who lost hope experienced miraculous turning points. And chances are if you need hope, you need a miracle.
We will come back to that thought, but for now let’s go back some 3,000 years. 1 Samuel chapter 1 gives us the details. Hannah is married with no financial worries. Her husband attends church with her, and to top it off he loves her unquestionably.
Now you may be thinking, “Must be nice. So what could possibly be her problem?”
In spite of all this, she was deeply depressed.
In her culture it was not uncommon for a man to have two wives. The other wife had no problem getting pregnant and flaunted all of her kids.
Hannah could not get pregnant. She is not the first barren woman in the Bible, but you need to feel her deep emotions.
Get the picture. The husband loved Hannah, which no doubt did not sit well with the second wife, Penninah. So you can imagine how Penninah loved to talk about all her kids. And how many times did Hannah have to hear “I’m pregnant again!” Or “Look at all the kids running around the house.”
Hannah felt hopeless.
She lived under a continual cloud of depression.
Now what? Things looked bleak. Can you identify?
History is helpful especially when you think your situation is unique. Perhaps.
In my next post we’ll get to the last three letters O.P.E., because Hannah did find hope, and so will you.