I’ve combed through the book of Jeremiah looking for things to learn and grow from. What I found was a man who obeyed God, said what he was supposed to say and was rejected because of it. He was beaten, thrown into a public prison, dumped into a cistern to die, dragged off against his will and called a liar when people didn’t like the messages God gave him. Before he even gave the messages, he knew that the people were going to reject the messages. He even tried to keep quiet at one point, but he said the word of God felt like a fire trapped in his bones until he spoke it.
I can only imagine what he felt. In Lamentations 3:16-19, he described some of it for us. He wrote, “He has made me chew on gravel. He has rolled me in the dust. Peace has been stripped away, and I have forgotten what prosperity is. I cry out, ‘My splendor is gone! Everything I had hoped for from the LORD is lost!’ The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss” (NLT). Powerful words describing a bitter time.
Even though this period of life was bitter for him, he didn’t become bitter. For me, that’s been one of my goals in life. When times get tough and all hope is lost, find a way to not get bitter through the process. When we have to endure bitter times in our lives, we have a choice. We can dwell on our losses, our disappointments, our failures and our suffering or we can choose to dwell on God’s faithfulness through it all. One choice will make you as bitter as your circumstances and one will give you strength to endure.
Jeremiah chose the latter. In the next few verses he wrote, “Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.” No matter what you’re having to go through, God has been faithful to you and He loves you. Today, concentrate on who He is and what He’s done for you throughout your life instead of your present situation. A smooth life isn’t guaranteed to any of us, but the faithfulness of the Lord has been.
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In 2 Chronicles 20, several armies joined together to attack Judah (lower Israel in the divided kingdom). King Jehoshaphat was terrified and not sure what to do when he heard the news. He immediately sent out word to all the towns to send people to Jerusalem to fast and pray. While they were assembled, he prayed aloud for everyone to hear. In verse 12, he prayed something that is key for all of us to pray in such situations. He said, “We do not know what to do, but we look to you for help” (GNT).
Then, the Spirit of the Lord came on a Levite named Jahaziel. He spoke several things to them, but the part I want to focus on comes from verse 15. He said, “The Lord says you must not be discouraged or be afraid… The battle depends on God, not on you.” That should offer relief to you and I. The battles we are facing don’t depend on our ability, but God’s. We don’t have to be afraid of what we are facing because our God is bigger and more powerful.
The Israelites had to show up to the battle in order to win it according to the prophesy. The same is true for us. To calm his men down, King Jehoshaphat told them, “Put your trust in the Lord your God, and you will stand your ground. Believe what His prophets tell you, and you will succeed.” Faith is more than just showing up for the battle. It’s trusting what God says despite what you see. If we want success, we have to trust His report more than what our eyes and others tell us.
What happened next is incredible and also a great lesson for us. The king ordered that they praise the Lord for the victory before the battle! When they began to praise, it threw the enemy into a panic and they defeated themselves. They renamed the valley “Baracah” which means the valley of praise. Praise is one of our most powerful weapons. We need to use it before our battles because God dwells in the praises of His people. God can turn your valley of fear and desperation to a valley of praise if you will look to Him, depend on His ability, show up for the battle, and praise Him.
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Life is full of opportunities where it seems easier to just give up. Despite what you see on social media, everyone had challenges and things they face that push them to their limit. We all have a white flag of surrender that’s just itching to come out in certain situations, but there are no rewards in giving up. There is no growth in quitting. Proverbs reminds us that no matter how many times you and I get knocked down, we are to get back up. We must purpose in our hearts that we won’t be defeated and that we won’t give up or we’ll take the easy way out when it shows up.
Most of the time, our breakthrough is just beyond the point where we want to give up. Anything worth having is worth fighting for. It requires us to hang in there and stay engaged. As Ephesians 6 put it, after we’ve done everything, we should at least still be standing. When we continue to stand despite the set backs, despite the sucker punches, despite the news we receive, God honors that. Giving up is admitting defeat, but you and I fight from a place of victory that’s already been won.
Here are some verses on not giving up.
1. Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up. Expect GOD to get here soon.
Psalm 31:24 MSG
2. Think of what he went through; how he put up with so much hatred from sinners! So do not let yourselves become discouraged and give up.
Hebrews 12:3 GNT
3. Now Jesus was telling the disciples a parable to make the point that at all times they ought to pray and not give up and lose heart.
LUKE 18:1 AMP
4. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.
Galatians 6:9 NLT
5. They were trying to intimidate us into quitting. They thought, “They’ll give up; they’ll never finish it.” I prayed, “Give me strength.”
Nehemiah 6:9 MSG
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When people ask where I went to school, I often say, “Hard Knocks University.” For the longest time, it seemed that life kept knocking me down. No matter what I did, I couldn’t gain ground. In fact, it felt like the bottom kept falling out from underneath me. I learned that the only way to fail Hard Knocks University is to quit. I also learned that the only way to graduate was to get closer to God. The troubles we face in life can either make us bitter or better. We get to choose by how we respond when we keep getting knocked down.
For me, I let it push me closer to God. I found myself praying more asking God for the wisdom to make better decisions. I also started reading the Bible more. I knew there were principles in it that could help with the things I was facing, so I began to consume the Bible looking for answers. What I got was a deeper relationship with God and the promise that He wouldn’t abandon me in my troubles. I began to put my focus on Him instead of my problems, and then I began telling my problems about Him instead of the other way around.
The Psalmist must have graduated Hard Knocks University too. Psalm 119:71 says, “My troubles turned out for the best – they forced me to learn your textbook” (MSG). If you’re in the toughest school around, let it draw you closer to God and His textbook. He probably won’t take the troubles away as quick as you like, but you are guaranteed that He will walk through them with you. Failure can’t be an option, and you don’t want to keep taking the same course. If you want to graduate, you’re going to have to read the textbook. I recommend you start with a chapter in Proverbs each day to get the wisdom you need.
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Have you ever felt like God was a million miles away, especially when you needed Him most? I have, and so have others. Even King David felt that way. In Psalm 10:1 he wrote, “Why are you so far away, O Lord? Why do you hide yourself when we are in trouble?” (GNT) I don’t know if it’s because we are so focused on our problem or we expect God to transport us out of the situation that causes us to feel like He’s so far away in those times.
Hagar, the mother of Abraham’s first child, felt that way too. She had been run off by Abraham’s wife because she had gotten pregnant. While she was running from her problems, an angel met her and asked where she was going. She explained how hard things were and that she felt abandoned. The angel told her to name her son Ishmael which means “God hears”. He also told her to go back to the situation she was in. She named the place Beer-Lahai-Roi which means “Well of the God who sees me”.
From that, we know that God hears us and sees us. He’s not a million miles away. There’s often times when He puts us back into situations or doesn’t take us out because He is teaching us and molding us. If we run from hard times, we will miss out on becoming who He was forming us to be. A piece of clay isn’t able to be used until it goes through the fire. Until then, it will easily crumble and the potter has to start over.
Not only did God hear Hagar’s cry for help, He heard David’s. Going back to Psalm 10, David answers his own question in verse 14. It says, “But you do see; you take notice of trouble and suffering and are always ready to help. The helpless commit themselves to you; you have always helped the needy.” If God saw Hagar and David, He sees and hears you. He’s not a million miles from you. He’s right there with you, walking through this right beside you. He is the God who sees you, and He’s working things out for your good even if you can’t see it.
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This week, I’m counting down my top posts for the year. This was my most popular post written in 2017.
There’s a viral video that’s been floating around Facebook for a while now. It’s of an artist on Ukraine’s Got Talent. She has a large canvas and begins to draw what appears to be one of the judges. As she continues to work on it, the judges become impatient. One by one, they give her the dreaded X. After all judges give her the X, she takes the canvas, turns it upside down, then throws a chalky substance on the canvas. When the dust clears, it’s a portrait of someone else.
I think we are all a bit like those judges at times when God is trying to do a work in our lives. We think we know what He’s up to, and we don’t agree with it. We think we know best and we X out of His plan. We are always trying to put together the pieces of what He’s doing, and we are judging it. The problem is that we truly have no clue what He’s doing because we have the wrong perspective, and He’s not finished yet. We’ve got to learn to have patience while God works in our lives.
We’ve become a part of the culture that tries to figure everything out before it’s done. We like things now rather than later. We don’t let things develop and mature like they’re supposed to. God wants us to be patient, especially when He’s working in our lives. Isaiah 30:18 says, “But GOD’s not finished. He’s waiting around to be gracious to you. He’s gathering strength to show mercy to you. GOD takes the time to do everything right—everything. Those who wait around for him are the lucky ones” (MSG).
God’s message to us today is to be patient while He works. He’s taking His time, doing the things that are necessary. You may not understand it, or be able to see the full picture of what He’s doing right now. If you will wait for Him to complete what He’s started, you won’t be disappointed. Don’t be like those judges and miss out on the art that God is trying to create in your life. God’s not finished yet. The final product is worth the wait.
By now, you’re probably familiar with the story of Apollo 13. The space capsule was supposed to do a “routine” landing on the moon and bring back rocks. Two days into the flight, there was a problem with the oxygen tank and it limited their ability to do anything. Instead of a lunar landing mission, it became a rescue mission. As they tried to figure out how to rescue them, Gene Kranz uttered the famous saying, “Failure is not an option!”
He was reminding his people that no matter how hard things got, they were not going to give up. They faced so many obstacles and hit a lot of dead ends. Instead of letting them give up, he sent them back to the drawing board to figure out another way. Many times the crew, and the people at NASA, didn’t know what to do next. While the Apollo 13 never accomplished their goal of landing on the moon, the mission was counted as a success because they found a way to get them back.
Giving up is to resign to failure. I can’t tell you how many times in life, I’ve felt like giving up. I felt like a failure, so I thought I might as well give up. I failed at life. I failed at love. I failed at work. It was easier to give up. I lacked the strength to try again. I thought I was out of options other than to give up. I had to remind myself that failure wasn’t an option. I had to tell myself to get back up. I had to pray like my life depended on it because it did.
Psalm 142:3 says, “When I am ready to give up, he knows what I should do” (GNT). When you’re at the point that you don’t know what to do next, pray that God would show you what to do. Ask Him to open the right door, to illuminate the right path. Be still, listen to His voice and look for the next step. Whatever you do, don’t ever give up because failure is not an option. Success is not earned by the outcome. It’s earned in not giving up.
Each year, I take one week off from writing to help me refresh and reset. This is that week. To help you stay faithful to your daily devotional time, I’m bringing back a series I wrote a few years ago on disciplines we as Christians need to have. Enjoy and I’ll be back next week with all new devotions.
Once you can do everything that we discussed this week, it’s time to really start training. Training is about pushing yourself beyond your limits. Jesse Owens, the Olympic sprinter, talked about how he learned to push beyond the pain. We must too. We can’t let life’s pains stop us from our training and running our race. We can’t let other people’s faults interrupt us from reaching our goal. It’s time to start really putting our faith into practice daily. Each day I ask God to allow me to be His hands and feet to at least one person. I ask that He would use me to speak His words to someone.
Training is hard work. Hebrews 12:2 in the Message says, “It means we better get on with it. Strip down, start running – and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how He did it. Because He never lost sight of where He was headed – that exhilarating finish in and with God – He could put up with anything.” Start running and never stop. Keep your mind on things above and look to what awaits those who finish the race.
Keep your mind on the prize. Paul said it like this in Philippians 3:14, “Friends, now don’t get me wrong; by no means do I consider myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward – to Jesus.” Just like in a marathon, you need to keep your mind on your goal of completing the race and hearing Jesus say, “Well done.” Hebrews 12:1 says that there is a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on! We aren’t alone in this race. We have others who are out there to help us complete it. Find a running buddy and challenge each other daily to keep going further than you ever thought possible.
There are many similarities in training for a marathon and training for godliness. Both require mental strength and endurance. One is for temporary gain and the other is for eternal gain. Set your mind on the things that are above and remember that this world is not our home. We should be working towards our eternal home. Spend time each day working on getting there. Philippians 2:12 says, “Work hard to show the results of your salvation.” Keep working. Keep pushing. Don’t let set backs discourage you. You are not running this race alone. You’re in it to win it!
One of the pictures I have in a shoebox somewhere is of me and the neighborhood kids posing by the outline of a fort we made out of Fall leaves. We were so proud of it that we had my mom take a photo of it. We spent a lot of time making that thing, but our efforts were wasted by the first strong wind to blow through. Those leaves kicked up and scattered all over the yard again. We might have rebuilt the thing once or twice more before we gave up realizing that it wasn’t going to last.
Sometimes we can feel that our work for the Lord is like that leaf fort. It feels like our efforts are wasted and unappreciated. Nothing we do seems to last, and we get discouraged. I know what it’s like to invest in someone only to watch the winds of change undo all our progress. It’s frustrating to watch hours, and dollars appear to go to waste when something we’ve done for the Lord is destroyed or brought to nothing. All of us go through those times where we wonder, “Is this even worth it?”
Paul must have experienced some of those feelings as well. He knew that if he felt that way, others did too. He wanted to encourage those of us who feel that way. In I Corinthians 15:58, he wrote, “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” (NLT). He wanted to remind us to keep going and that the work we do for God matter.
Whether you teach Sunday School class with kids who don’t appear to be paying attention, lead a small group that has inconsistent members, work the parking lot at church where no one follows your direction, or any other number of unappreciated jobs around the church, keep working enthusiastically. Your labor is not in vain. Keep scattering seeds. The Lord prepares hearts and causes those seeds to grow in due season. Don’t give up. Be strong and immovable because nothing you do for God is useless.
When I was a Sophomore in high school, our basketball team made it to the state championship. We didn’t look like much either. Our pre game warm up clothes were grey sweat pants and our gym shirt. The tallest guy on our team was only 6’1″. I’ll never forget going into the locker room before that game. Coach had a newspaper in his hands and said, “I want to read y’all something before we go out there. This is the Dallas Morning News. It says, and I quote, ‘This game is nothing but a formality. Lifestyle (my school) doesn’t stand a chance against their stronger, taller, more experienced opponent.”
He put down the paper, looked at us, and said, “Now the world thinks we’ve already lost, and we haven’t even stepped foot on the court. They’ve already decided that trophy belongs to the other team. I say we go out there and prove everyone wrong. I say we go out there and give it everything we’ve got. And when that final buzzer sounds, let’s see who’s on top!” Immediately we began to shout what sounded like war cries. We began to beat the lockers making noise. We ran out of that locker room and played the game of our lives and won.
II Chronicles 32 and Isaiah 36, tell how the king of Assyria was destroying cities across the land. He moved his conquest into Israel and continued his victorious streak. He had a psychological advantage over any city because he hadn’t lost. When he turned his eyes to Jerusalem, King Hezekiah didn’t fear though. It made him curious. Isaiah 36:4 says, “Then the Assyrian king’s chief of staff told them to give this message to Hezekiah: “This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident?”
He wasn’t used to finding kings who weren’t afraid of him. The world knew when the Assyrian King fought you, it was just a formality, but something was different with King Hezekiah. This chief of staff came and spoke loudly in Hebrew about how he was going to destroy everyone and everything in Jerusalem. He told the people it was foolish to trust Hezekiah. He told them to disobey and to just open the gate so the inevitable would happen quickly. He even told them that the Lord their God told him to come destroy them.
Hezekiah’s had confidence because he knew God loves an underdog. In II Chronicles 32:7-8 he told his warriors, “Be strong and courageous! Don’t be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria or his mighty army, for there is a power far greater on our side! He may have a great army, but they are merely men. We have the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles for us!” That day, God got rid of the Assyrian King. He proved why those who trust in Him can have confidence even though everyone else says they’ve already lost. You may not have the power, ability, or strength to win your battle, but you have a power far greater on your side. Don’t let fear cause you to trust what seems to be a formality. Have confidence in our God. His report is what matters.