One of my favorite shows is Alone. They take ten people, put them in a hostile environment with ten items and have them survive until everyone taps out. It appeals to me for many reasons, but one of my favorite parts is when the contestants have been alone and hungry for about 30 days. There is a huge psychological battle every contestant faces as they document themselves on this journey. Some grow to hate the location, the hunger, the isolation and the constant struggle for food and water. Then there are others who are in a similar location a few miles away that get ahold of the negative thoughts and begin speaking positive words instead. In every case, the ones who continue to speak negatively tap out of the contest. The one who can continue to find positive things through the struggle is the one who wins.
I’m not sure there’s another person in the Bible besides Jesus who suffered more than Paul. He was imprisoned multiple times in jails that were dark, nasty and had no humanitarian standards for prisoners. He was shipwrecked, beaten to a pulp many times, dragged out of cities, lied about, stoned, robbed, left for dead and abandoned. The things he went through, many of us couldn’t survive. However, Paul kept preaching the Gospel, writing letters and encouraging others through it all. My favorite story is when he was in a dungeon of a prison, bleeding and hungry, and he starts singing praises to God for all to hear. No matter how bad things were, he found a way to praise and refocus his attention on God instead of his circumstances.
David was a lot like him too. In Psalm 34:1-2 David penned, “I will praise the Lord at all times. I will constantly speak his praises. I will boast only in the Lord; let all who are helpless take heart” (NLT). He didn’t say, “I want to praise the Lord at all times.” He was saying, “I will,” as in he’s not going to give his mind the choice to do anything else. Do you have have an “I will praise the Lord at all times” attitude? You need to decide that attitude ahead of your circumstances, but even if you’re in the middle of hard times now, you can choose it. Praising God doesn’t change your circumstances, it changes you in the middle of them. It strengthens you and puts your focus on the One who is greater than what you’re facing. If you haven’t chosen to praise the Lord at all times, do it today and put it into practice. He deserves to be praised in the good times and the bad.
Lamentations 4 and 5 are two of the saddest chapters in the Bible. Jeremiah was so descriptive of what life was like living under the control of their enemy. The people who were once wealthy were digging through the trash to find food. The kids were forced to do manual labor that was too hard for them. Anyone caught looking for food outside the city walls was killed. Confidence was replaced with desperation, and joy was replaced with a deep depression.
People no longer gathered to talk. No one sang any songs. The population was dwindling down because people were dying of starvation. It was a very dark period in Israel’s history. Jeremiah knew they were living under the enemy’s control because they had turned their back on God. He cried out in repentance and asked God how long would they suffer. Then he remembered that suffering is temporary, but God is eternal.
You may be going through a dark time in your life right now as well. It may feel like God has abandoned you and that you are living under the enemy’s control. I know what it’s like to live through that. I know what it feels like to lose everything and wonder if you should still try to keep going. I can let you know that the suffering is only temporary. It does end and the sun comes out again. God has not abandoned you no matter how alone you feel.
I pray Jeremiah’s prayer in Lamentations 5:21 over you today. It says, “Restore us, O Lord, and bring us back to you again! Give us back the joys we once had!” (GNT) I’m living proof that God restores what the enemy stole, and that joy returns. When God restores you, He will rebuild everything better than it was. When He gives your joy back, it will be greater than before. What feels like forever is only a season. Restoration is coming.
Have you ever tried to carry something that was too heavy for you? I’m not talking about something you couldn’t lift. I’m talking about something that you could hold, but not for very long. You struggle to lift it, with each step you exhale trying to manage the weight and size of the object. You can only go a few feet before you have to set it down, take a breather, look at how much further you have to go and then try again. You repeat the process over and over until you finally reach your destination. It’s exhausting and can give you medical problems if it’s too heavy or too far.
Imagine carrying that same object and a friend comes over. They see you struggle and instead of offering help, they offer suggestions on how to carry it better. “Lift with your legs, not your back,” they say. How does that make you feel? Clearly they see you struggling, but they are doing nothing to help you. It gets frustrating. How about if instead of helping you they cheered you on? How would that make you feel? “Come on! I know you can do it! You’ve got this.” While it might help morally, it still doesn’t help with the problem.
What you really want when you’re struggling like that is for them to say, “Hey, let me give you a hand.” When they grab the other side, the weight is halved. Suddenly it’s more bearable than it was. You may be able to go a little bit further before you have to set it down. Their physically helping you with the object is a lot more useful than telling you how to do it or encouraging you to do it. Would you agree? Then why do we do the first two when we see someone struggling with heavy burdens?
I once heard a person say, “With a friend, joy is doubled and pain is halved.” I could also add burdens are halved. Galatians 6:2 says, “Help to carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will obey the law of Christ.” It didn’t tell us just to encourage someone who is carrying a burden or to tell them how to carry it. We are told to help them carry it. When someone is carrying a burden, it’s a lot like that large object. They may only be able to take a few steps before they’re exhausted. They may not feel like they’re making progress. While words of encouragement are nice, helping them with the heavy lifting is what’s needed.
Think of a time when you’ve had a heavy burden. What is it that you wished people had done for you? Go and do that for someone else. When I see others who are going through something I’ve been through, my first thoughts are, “What did people do that made me mad? What did I wish people had done.” I then go and try to do the second instead of the first. It’s important that we look around us today to see which friends are struggling. While a word of encouragement is nice and a few tips on how to bear the burden is great, I’m sure they’d love some help with the heavy lifting.
This morning I was praying for a friend’s daughter who recently had a stroke. I saw my friend’s Facebook post wishing she could hear her daughter speak to her again. I could hear the desperation in her voice through the printed words on my screen. I began to call out in desperation with her for God to hear her prayer and to answer it. As I prayed, my mind went back to a scripture that God took me to this morning in Ephesians 3. The Message puts verse 20 like this, “God can do anything, you know – far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!”
As I continued to pray, I asked, “God, I know you can do anything. How do I get you to go from can do to action?” I know God has the ability. I need Him to not just have the ability, but to actually do. I then though that I have the ability to do so much, what motivates me to move into action? It’s usually when someone or something demands my attention the most that causes me to put it at the front of my action items. It’s when something becomes the most pressing thing that I usually act.
My mind then went to the story in Luke 5 and Mark 2 of a paraplegic man who needed healing. He didn’t have the ability to get into God’s presence on his own. He had the desire, but lacked the strength. It was four of his friends who carried him to Jesus. When they got there, the house that Jesus was in was so crowded that no one could get in or out. I don’t know how long those friends tried to get in or if they tried to reason with others that their friend had a more desperate need to see Jesus than they did. What I do know is that they weren’t going to sit idly by and let there friend remain that way. They weren’t going to wait for Jesus to come out of the house.
Instead, they carried him to the roof, pulled the roof off tile by tile until they were above where Jesus was. They then lowered their friend into the presence of Jesus who had the ability to do far more than they could imagine in their wildest dreams. They caused Jesus to act. They caused Him to turn His attention to that friend and to say, “Get up. Take your bedroll and go home.” He was moved from can do anything to doing something because the friends wouldn’t quit.
We all need friends who are willing to carry us into the presence of an all mighty God who can do anything. We need friends who won’t stop or stay at the back of the line when we are in desperate need for a touch from God. We need friends who when the door to the Throne Room is blocked and the area around Jesus is crowded that will not give up and go to the roof of Heaven, tear back the tiles and put us at the feet of Jesus. Jesus said where two or three are gathered, I’m with them. This man had four friends gathered to put him in the presence of Jesus.
You may be on that mat today without the ability to get in front of Jesus. You may need some friends to join with you in your desperation to put you in the front of the line where you have Jesus’ full attention. If that’s you, comment below. Tell those who read this what you need prayer for. We can be those friends who carry you to Jesus when there seems to be no way into His presence. We’ll tear off the roof and lower you down to where He is. We won’t stop until Jesus goes from can do to action. If you’re reading this and have the ability, I’m asking you to join me in prayer today for those who don’t have the ability and are in desperate need for a touch from God.
I know that today is one of the hardest days of the year for a lot of people. It’s one more reminder that no one loves them. That they are single…. Still. It’s a difficult day emotionally. Other people are getting roses and gifts at work. They are talking about where they are going to eat tonight. They are showing off expensive gifts this morning. Then people look at those without that today, smile and say, “Don’t worry, you’ll find love someday. You just haven’t met the right one.”
Somehow words like that don’t help. They only drive the dagger deeper into the heart. Everyone has a need for love. Everyone has a need to be accepted by someone. It’s just the way God made us. Because He is love and we were made for Him, we were made with this cavern in us that can only be filled with love. Sure, being loved by a person is great and shows acceptance, but that alone doesn’t fill the cavern. God knew that we would seek out love and hoped that we would find Him.
Instead of finding Him, many find “love” in forms that are not of Him. They get desperate because their mind says, “I was supposed to be married by now” or “Im getting so old that there won’t be anyone left to love me.” I’ve been there. I’ll go a step further. My thoughts said, “All that’s left at this age are the crazies that no one wanted. I’ve got to choose from them. Oh wait, am I one of them?” The mind can play some pretty cruel tricks on you.
I can say that until you learn to love yourself, it will be hard for others to love you. The way you see yourself is the way you project yourself even though you try to mask it. If you don’t love yourself, your mind says, “No one will ever love you.” Then you fight off anyone that even tries. You find fault with them or reasons you shouldn’t be together and sabotage the relationship often unknowingly. It becomes a cycle and the norm.
The first step to loving yourself is realizing that you are already loved. You are loved beyond measure and beyond your own comprehension. I John 4:10 says, “This is real love – not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” God loves you no matter what. You are His child and He gave His all, His very best, for you! Yes, I’m talking to you. You are valuable. You are worthy of love. You are constantly thought of. Psalm 139: 17-18 says, “How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand.”
Think about that. If every time God thought about you was counted, it would be more than the grains of sand in the Sahara. More than the grains of sand on every beach in the world combined. He’s obsessed with you! He loves you more than anyone including yourself can. Accept that love and know that you are worthy of love, even your own. A person’s love, while good to have, will not fill that cavern in you. It won’t even get you to Heaven, but God’s love will and does.