When I was a teenager, the scouting program I was a part of gave us a code to live by. Today, we would call them values statements or core values. One of the eight values was courageous: he is brave in spite of danger, criticism or threats. I didn’t realize then how important that particular one was as a teenager, and even more so as an adult. It taught me to be strong in the face of things when they weren’t going my way or even against me. Being courageous means you don’t run away in those moments. You do what’s right no matter what going on around you.
In the last several chapters of John, Jesus was talking to the disciples on the night before His crucifixion. He was telling them what was about to happen to Him, and also what would happen to them going forward. He wanted them to have peace in the chaos, and to let them know that He was going to send the Holy Spirit as a helper who would live inside of them to combat the outside pressures against them. Then, just before He prayed and went to the Garden of Gethsemane, He said, “For in this unbelieving world you will experience trouble and sorrows, but you must be courageous, for I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33 TPT)
He reminded them, and us, that we are going to experience times when the world is against us. We are going to have troubles and things not go our way, but we are to be courageous. He said these things because He wanted us to look past our current problems knowing that He has already won. We can be brave because whatever we’re facing is not the end and it won’t conquer us because He is in us. We have to keep reminding ourselves of this verse when things look bad or like there’s no tomorrow. We can be courageous in spite of what we’re facing by trusting His promises.
Growing up, I spent countless hours playing Mike Tyson’s Punch Out on the Nintendo. The goal was always to go through the progression of fights so you could fight Mike Tyson. At times in the game, I would swing away at the characters hoping to connect a knock out punch. All of a sudden, my guy would drop his hands and start panting. At that point, he became vulnerable in those fights, and I had to dodge punches to keep from getting knocked out. After a few seconds, his strength would return and I could start fighting again.
To be honest, I never beat Mike Tyson. I got to the point where I could get to him every time, and could even go several rounds with him. At some point, my character would get tired and Mike would knock me out. I would get so frustrated because the guy would get winded at the worst times, and there was nothing I could do about it. I actually can relate to that guy a lot more now that I’m getting older. Battles seem to get more difficult, and I seem to get winded more quickly.
There’s a famous portion of Scripture in Isaiah 40 that speaks to this. Israel had begun to think that God had abandoned them in their battles, and they were tired. God spoke and asked how they could think that. Then in verses 29-31, He said, “He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint” (NLT).
If you’ve been getting winded in your battles, and you’re starting to wonder where God is, these verses are for you today. Don’t get anxious and swing away, which only wears you out. Wait on and trust in the Lord. He will give you the strength you need to endure, and He will help you knock out your biggest opponent. Whatever your Mike Tyson is in life, God is there with you to help you fight it without growing weary. He is the everlasting God. He never grows weary or weak.
Throwback Thursday is a feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.
A friend of mine has a ministry called Know The Fight. He understands that people feel misunderstood, unwanted and unloved, so he began helping them to tell their stories. What he found was that as he helped them tell their stories, he helped them bridge the gap between them and others. The more people revealed about their hidden wars, the more that others realized they weren’t fighting alone. He creates and shares some amazing videos. On his personal social media, he posts things from hilariously absurd memes to quotes and reminders that will sometimes hit you between the eyes. He posted one of these recently and I wanted to share it here. He wrote, “My anxiety drops when I realize that everything that’s happening to me is to make me more like Christ.”
The more I thought about that, the more I realized how true it’s been in my life. God used some dark days in my life to purge me and to make me more like Christ. When things happen that I don’t understand, I remind myself that He is the potter and I am the clay. I’m sure that the clay doesn’t understand when chunks are taken out of it, when it gets crushed and out back in the middle of the wheel or when it gets hollowed out. I know that I don’t, but looking back on those times in my life, I can see that God was making me more like Himself, removing parts of my life that were holding me back and rebuilding my life to make me more Christ-like. Did those times hurt? More than you may know. When I look back from where God has led me, I’m thankful that He took the time to do those things, painful as they were, so that He could bring me here.
In the Early Church, they faced mass persecution and Paul addresses it a lot reminding people that God was using it to grow them and the Church. In one such exhortation in 2 Thessalonians 1:5, he wrote, “All this trouble is a clear sign that God has decided to make you fit for the Kingdom “ (MSG). I don’t know the hidden war going on within you today, but God does. He gave us the promise in Romans 8:28 that He works all things out for your good. No matter what it is that you’re facing, know that God can use it to make you more Christ-like. You may feel like you’re the only one going through it and no one can relate. While your circumstances may be unique, the pain, the battle and the loneliness are shared by others. God sees you and He is using this time to reshape you more into His image.
If you’ve ever read the book of Job, you may have found yourself feeling sorry for him. There may have been times in your life when you’ve even related to him too. I know I have had those moments. When you go through periods of loss or continuous disappointment, Job is a great book to read. You will find that there’s always someone who has it worse than you, there is purpose in pain and that you can endure anything. I don’t know how many times I’ve read the book, but I can tell you that I’m still amazed when I come to the end of the first chapter. After Job has lost all his livestock, his riches and his children, he doesn’t curse God. He doesn’t cry out, “Why me?” Instead, it says he fell to his knees and worshipped God. He recognized that everything he had came from God, and if God took it all back, he was good with it.
I can honestly say that during my times of great disappointment and loss, that was not my attitude. To stand on rock bottom in life, look up from the hole you’re in and bless God seems unfathomable, yet Job was able to. If he was able to, you and I are to. He made the choice to worship instead of to whine. He chose to bless God instead of to curse Him. He made the choice to recognize everything he had belonged to God and wasn’t a result of His own work. The perspective he had challenges me to readjust and calibrate how I see God and how I react in the bad times. It’s easy to worship when things are going well, but can we worship when everything seems to be going wrong? Can we praise Him when our prayers are unanswered? Can we thank Him when we don’t see a way forward? Can you say, “Even though I’m broken, yet will I praise you”?
Habakkuk 3:17-18 says, “Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!” (NLT) There’s a very similar picture here to the attitude Job had and that we are to have. Joy is not something that is circumstantial. It doesn’t rely on what’s going on around you. Joy looks at where your strength comes from. It looks at who your hope is in. It is defiant in the face of any circumstance you may face, and it says, “My hope is not in al, these things. My hope is in God. No matter what comes my way, I know that my God is able to do exceedingly and abundantly more than I can ask or pray for. Even though things look bad now, yet will I praise God! He is my rock, my fortress and my salvation.” You and I have that same spirit of joy within us. In tough times, activate it and worship. Remind yourself that God is in control, He has a plan and that no matter what happens you will continue to trust and to praise Him.
I remember first hearing about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” when I was young. There was debate on whether it was a physical handicap that happened to him or a person who heckled him everywhere he went or something else. I don’t God told us what it was because we don’t need to know. I know it’s fun to speculate, but whatever it was it humbled him and limited his effectiveness in his mind. We know that he was surprised that after asking God three times to remove whatever it was that God didn’t remove it. God allowed whatever it was to bother him or limit him to continue so that Paul would be humble and learn to rely on God’s strength and wisdom instead of his own.
Think of something in your life that is happening or has happened that bothers you or feels like it’s limiting you. It probably consumes a lot of your thinking of how to get rid of it or to escape it. Has it caused an increase in your prayer life? Has it caused you to depend on and seek God more? If it has, then what looks like a curse, may actually be a blessing in disguise. I know it’s hard to look at something annoying or painful in our life and to see that as a blessing, but anything that draws us into a closer relationship and dependence on God is a blessing though it may not seem like it at the time. We like having an easy life and smooth sailing, but those things don’t produce mature believers. They produce overconfidence in our own abilities. One of my favorite quotes is that smooth seas never produced a skilled sailor.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 says, “then he told me, My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become” (MSG). Learning to take our limitations in stride is hard, but necessary in our maturity. Difficult things happen to everyone. How we respond matters. We can get angry and depressed or we can let them push us into greater dependence on God and His grace.
In 2 Chronicles 20, a huge army was headed to Jerusalem to destroy Israel. Jehoshaphat, who was king, was terrified and didn’t know what to do. They were unprepared to face an army this large. He did three things we need to do when we’re under attack or overwhelmed by what’s going on. He decided to seek God’s help first. He asked the people around him to start fasting and called a prayer meeting like he had read about from the kings of old. In verse 12 he prayed, “O our God, won’t you stop them? We are powerless against this mighty army that is about to attack us. We do not know what to do, but we are looking to you for help” (NLT). When you feel powerless and don’t know what else to do, pray, seek God’s guidance and get some close friends to pray with you.
As they were praying, the Spirit of the Lord came upon one of the men standing there and he began to prophesy. In verse 15 he said, “Listen, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Listen, King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.” He then encouraged the people to show up for the battle and then God would fight for them. God always expects us to act first. Our acts of faith activate His provision. These men had to go out dressed for battle against an army that was larger, and trust that God would do His part. God expects the same thing out of us. We have to step out in faith, do what God asks of us and He will do His part. Remember, the battle is not yours, but you still must show up.
Finally, the king consulted people around him and they suggested that the army sing praises to God. They put worshippers out front who led them in singing as they headed for the battlefield. Verse 22 says, “At the very moment they began to sing and give praise, the Lord caused the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir to start fighting among themselves.” The very moment you begin to praise, God begins to move. Praise invites God’s presence into your present situation. I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve fought battles through praise. Praising God in the middle of your battle is a way of confirming that the battle is the Lord’s. If praise can set Paul and Silas free in a dungeon, it can set you free in the battle you’re going through. Remember , our battles are not against flesh and blood, though they present themselves that way. Fight on your knees and with your praise. Battles are first won in the spiritual realm before they are won in the physical realm.
I always loved it when basketball season was starting in high school. What I hated was going through conditioning for it. Coach would have us start off with stretches. We would then have to run about a mile. Once everyone was back in the gym, we began to do exercises that strengthened our core. Our legs would get wobbly around that time, but then we had to start doing drills. If you messed up, you had to take a lap around the three acre property. To wrap up practice we would run the lines, or horses as we called them. The next day, we would do it all again. Our bones ached. It hurt our muscles to go upstairs for classes. Coach would remind us, “We may not be the tallest or the fastest team, but we will be the best conditioned team.” He was right. We ran the legs off every other team straight to the State Championship.
Conditioning has a purpose with the end in mind. It hurt going through those times, especially not knowing if it was going to pay off. In 1 Samuel 30, David and his men were on the run from Saul. They were considered fugitives. They had to move out of the country and live with one of Israel’s enemies. When Israel rose up to fight that country, David and his men went to fight on behalf of the enemy. They weren’t trusted, so they were sent back to the town of Ziklag where they had been staying. As they arrived, they saw smoke rising into the sky. Another enemy came in while they were at the battle front, burned their town and captured their wives and kids. David’s men began to talk of killing him. It was a dark day for David, but it was all part of God’s conditioning for him to become king.
David kept his eyes on God instead of his circumstances. Verses 6-7 say, “David strengthened himself with trust in his GOD. He ordered Abiathar the priest, son of Ahimelech, “Bring me the Ephod so I can consult God” (MSG). David understood that sometimes God’s plan takes us through painful circumstances. It often leads us to places we don’t understand. Like David, it’s important in those seasons when everything seems to be falling apart and our closest friends are turning on us, that we strengthen ourselves in our relationship with God, and that we consult with Him. Conditioning is often very painful, but there’s a reason and a season for it. We must go through that period in order to be prepared to endure what’s ahead. God’s plan and purpose for you are good. Don’t quit when things look bleak. Trust Him more and those times of conditioning will pay off.
Several years ago I got a group of people together online who were going through difficult times. My plan was to meet with them each day for 30 days to provide them with encouragement from God’s Word as I shared the struggle I had made it through. I think we were about a week into it when one of the participants messaged me and said, “We get it that you made it through. What we need to know is how you made it through.” It was an aha moment for me as a writer, but as I went to answer her, I realized I hadn’t stopped to consider the steps I had taken to survive. The group quickly fizzled out because I didn’t have that answer. I wanted to help them, but just because I had walked where they were walking didn’t help them much. It gave them hope that they could survive, but still left them without a roadmap out.
There are several books of the Bible that share with us the struggles that David went through. He waited nearly 15 years from the time he was anointed king to becoming king, he ran from Saul, faced a coup from his son, sinned against God and so much more. His life was not perfect and he went through a lot. Reading about those things is inspiring, but it’s the Psalms that draw us in because they are the roadmap. They share how he survived those trials and consequences. He writes out where he put his hope, how he trusted God and that he needed a new heart. They speak to us more than the stories because as we go through difficulties, we need practical information of how to get through things.
2 Corinthians 1:4 says, “He helps us in all our troubles, so that we are able to help others who have all kinds of troubles, using the same help that we ourselves have received from God” (GNT). If you’ve made it through troubled times, think about how you made it through so you can help those who will go through something similar later. If you’re going through hard times now, keep a journal. It may be the key that helps someone else later. Your trials are not without purpose. Yes, they help purify you and strengthen you, but they’re also so that you can help someone else later. God helps us through difficult times, but there are practical things you’re doing or have done that other will need to know. Don’t get stuck without an answer like I was. Be prepared to help with a roadmap when the time comes.
I was watching the Grow Leadership conference this week, and the last session was “Thriving In Storms”. There was a lot of talk during that session of how pastors can lead and grow during difficult times. However, it’s not just pastors who go through difficult times. We all do, and several of the things he talked about translate to you and me including his final point. In times of trouble, you and I need to be looking up instead of around. When there’s chaos in our life, the tendency is to be looking around at all of it in disbelief. Our brains are made for order, not chaos, and when it happens to us, we lose sight of our focus. John Maxwell often says, “What you think about grows.” Are you thinking about the troubles you’re going through or the one who can help you through them?
Chris Hodges also said something that we all need to be reminded of. He said, “Prayer is not just communicating with God. It’s also waging war against the enemy.” When we’re going through a troubled time, we send up a few 911 prayers, but after that, our prayer life tends to drop off. We can’t afford to get off our knees when we’re going through troubled times. We need the communication with the Father who will lead us through the valley, and we also need to be waging war against the one who is attacking us. Instead of letting troubles disrupt your communication with God, make a conscious effort to increase your prayer time. It will have a twofold effect: 1. Your faith will increase as your communication and focus on God increase. 2. You will pull down strongholds that are trying to keep you from thriving.
Here are some Bible verses on praying in troubled times.
1. Leave your troubles with the Lord, and he will defend you; he never lets honest people be defeated.
Psalm 55:22 GNT
2. This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him And saved him from all his troubles.
Psalms 34:6 AMP
3. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV
4. The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.
Psalms 9:9 NLT
5. Let this hope burst forth within you, releasing a continual joy. Don’t give up in a time of trouble, but commune with God at all times.
Recently we had a friend, who is a chef, come to the house to prepare a meal for us and to teach us how to prepare steaks. We had three different petite steaks prepared three different ways. One was reverse seared, one was sous vide and one was dry brined. On the dry brine, he told us to cover the steak with salt and allow it to sit for at least an hour before washing off and cooking. The salt will pull the moisture to the surface of the steak creating a juicy, flavorful steak with a caramelized outside. The salt worked well before and during the cooking process. He then told us it’s best not to use pepper until after you’ve cooked your steak. Whereas salt interacts well with the fire, pepper actually adopts a bitter taste that we’ve all become used to.
As I was reading Mark 9:49-50, I thought about this dinner. Jesus said, “Everyone will be purified by fire as a sacrifice is purified by salt. Salt is good; but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have the salt of friendship among yourselves, and live in peace with one another” (GNT). Every one of us will go through the fire in this life. Will we dry up and get burned during that time or will we become more flavorful? I love how The Message puts Jesus’ word of Matthew 5. It says, “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.”
Our lives should be bring out God flavors in this world especially when we’re going through hard times. We shouldn’t be like those with pepper on them producing bitterness. Just like those steaks, it helps if we’re covered in salt before we go through the fire. We must continually be in prayer and in God’s Word so that when the fire comes, that’s what comes out of us. The world is going through a tough time right now. People are afraid, bitter and arguing. What better time for us to be salt and light than now? We have an opportunity like never before to bring out the God-flavors of the world. Let’s not squander it by being bitter. Let your salt be flavorful and leave a good taste in people’s mouth as you point them to God.