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2020 was a difficult year for so many. Resolutions that were made were forgotten. Goals that were set were thrown out the window. People’s worlds were turned upside down with the loss of family members, the loss of jobs and the lack of true human connection. It was a year of loss for so many, but I believe that God has a plan and is able to take a year like that and to make something good out of it. The world sees times like that and it produces fear that prevents them from moving forward. As Christians, even if life hits us in the face, knocks us down or blindsides us, we get back up and move forward because we are driven by God’s purpose and led by His Spirit.
I can’t help but think of Job and all he went through. In one day he lost his fortune, his livestock, his servants and his kids. He took a knock out blow from life, but instead of staying down, he worshipped God and kept moving forward. He was then attacked with a terrible skin disease. His wife told him to curse God and die. His friends told him it was a punishment from God because of hidden sin. Even though he wished he would have never been born, he still worshipped God. In Job 17:19, he told his friends, “The righteous keep moving forward, and those with clean hands become stronger and stronger” (NLT). He knew that things happening to him were not because of sin, so he kept getting back up and moving forward.
How do you respond to tough times? Do you let it keep you down or do you get back up? The easy choice is to stay down and to submit to it, but that’s not what God calls us to do. Proverbs 24:16 says that the righteous get knocked down seven times, but they get up again. No matter how many times life knocks us down or what it throws at us, we must get back up and move forward. God has the ability to make all things (including 2020) work together for our good. We have the righteousness of Christ around us that helps us to move forward and to grow stronger through adversity. At all times, in all circumstances, find a way to worship God. It will give you the right perspective and the strength to get back up so you can move forward.
One of the things that I see so many of us run into is paralysis through analysis. What I mean by that is that we feel like we need more information in order to act. When we don’t feel like we have all the information we need, we stall or make excuses as to why we can’t do what we need to. Because we live in the Information Age, we know there is always more information that we can acquire in order to make the best decision. The problem is that our need for information has replaced our ability to act in faith.
We all grew up hearing the words, “Ready. Set. Go.” As a people of faith, I believe God often is asking us to skip those first two words and simply go. Our comfort is in the getting ready and getting set, but we’ve learned to live in those areas without going. The truth is that we will never feel like we’re ready when we are acting in faith. To feel like we need more information, skills or tools means we are trying to do it in our own power and not in God’s. We’ve got to learn to let go of those security blankets and trust that we already have what we just need to “Go”,
Colossians 2:6 says, “My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given” (MSG). It’s time for you and I to quit staying where we are trying to get ready. We need to step out with what we’ve been given and let God provide what we lack. Remember God doesn’t always call the most equipped people, but He does equip those He calls. It’s time to move forward with what you have. Break out of the paralysis through analysis, step out in faith and trust God to step in. That’s what faith is all about.
Throwback Thursday is a new feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other writing ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.
I recently heard a preacher say, “Our dreams must be greater than our memories.” Immediately that struck a chord with me. As I continued to think on that phrase and ponder it’s implications, I began to think of examples in the Bible where that was true. I thought of several examples, but the one that stood out to me the most came from the book of Exodus. The Israelites had moved to Israel about 400 years earlier to escape the famine, but they never returned to the land God promised Abraham. Now they had become slaves in a land that was not theirs.
In Exodus 6, God spoke to Moses to tell the people that He would deliver them from slavery and would take them to the land He promised Abraham. When Moses told them what God said, they didn’t even listen. Verse 9 says, “They didn’t even hear him – they were that beaten down in spirit (MSG).” The dream of being free had been forgotten, but God wasn’t done. He wanted to revive that dream. He kept at them until they began to dream again. It culminated with them walking out of Egypt and heading for their Promised Land.
It didn’t take long after they were freed for their memories to become greater than their dreams. In Exodus 16, they began to cry out, “Why didn’t God let us die in Egypt where we had lamb stew and all the bread we could eat?” They forgot that dreams require sacrifice. It’s hard work to make a dream become reality. Instead of putting in that hard work to realize the dream, they did something much easier, they remembered how easy it was before. Given the choice of working hard to achieve their dream or to go back into slavery, they wanted the later.
It’s easy to sit in judgement thousands of years later, but are we really that different? We have each been given unrealized dreams that we are no where near accomplishing. Why? Because it’s easier to sit and talk about the vision for our life than it is to accomplish it. It’s not hard to dream. It’s hard to make it a reality. As soon as it gets difficult, we start remembering how “good” we had it before. The dream, even though given by God, gets overpowered by our selective memories of the past. We turn back to go the Land of Ease instead of to the Promised Land.
The dream God has given you will not come without sacrifice. It will not bloom unless it is tended to. It requires you to get up from where you are, to take that step of faith you’ve been afraid of and to move in the direction God tells you to go. It won’t be easy, but nothing good ever is. There will be roadblocks along the way, but don’t let them stop you. Keep the dream God has given you at the forefront of your mind. Don’t entertain old memories. Keep pushing them back until you’ve arrived at your destination. When you get there you’ll be glad you believed in your dreams rather than your memories.
There was a period in my life where I fell like I had it worse than Job. I was losing everything in my life, and I was helpless to stop it. I felt like a knife had been put in my chest, pulled down to my waist and all my guts had fallen out. I was knocked down and didn’t want to get back up. I couldn’t see the future or any path forward. It was easier to just stay there and deal with the pain than it was to get back up and to keep moving.
As Christians, quitting shouldn’t be in our vocabulary. Giving up shouldn’t be considered. If we get knocked down six times, we get up seven. I had to remind myself of these things in those dark moments. I had to tell myself that others had it worse than I did and that I needed to start moving forward even if it wasn’t much. Between putting God’s Word in my mind and spending time in prayer, I was able to get back up and move forward. Doing the same, I believe you can find the strength you need to move forward as well.
Here are some Bible verses about not giving up.
1. The righteous keep moving forward, and those with clean hands become stronger and stronger.
Job 17:9 NLT
2. But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.
2 Chronicles 15:7 NIV
3. 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
4. No matter how many times you trip them up, God-loyal people don’t stay down long; Soon they’re up on their feet, while the wicked end up flat on their faces.
Proverbs 24:16 MSG
5. The Lord guides us in the way we should go and protects those who please him. If they fall, they will not stay down, because the Lord will help them up.
Psalm 37:23-24 GNT
Transitions in life are hard. They mean that one part of your life’s story is over and a new one is about to begin. They are the space between where faith is tested and fear fights to creep in. They are a temporary no man’s land that we have to walk through in order to grow. As we walk through them, it’s hard to see what’s coming next. The territory is so unknown to us that we put our attention and focus on the transition rather than on where we’re being transitioned to. We question God’s providence in our situation during these times.
I remember one of the first lessons I learned working in a child care center was with transitions. Kids hated transitions as much as adults. I learned that if I told them we were going to be making a change in direction in a few minutes, it would give them time to finish what they were doing and to prepare mentally for what was coming next. Now, when I talk to sales reps, I talk to them about transitions in the sale. It’s important for the buyer to know where they are in the sale and what’s coming next. I even encourage them to share with the buyer the why behind the transition.
As I’ve thought about all of that, I started wishing God would give us the warnings about transitions approaching in our lives and the why’s behind them. As I prayed about it, God reminded me how many times Jesus told the disciples what was going to happen to Him in Jerusalem and why. They never heard a word of it and were shocked in the Garden of Gethsemane. They entered a time of transition between having Jesus walk with them daily and having the Holy Spirit coming as their guide. Like us, they were confused, frightened and wondered where God was in the transition.
God speaks to each of us daily. He says things we ignore or don’t want to hear so we block Him out. We use our selective hearing when He speaks of things that scare us. The disciples heard Jesus tell them about the transition, but they weren’t listening. Even when we know a transition is coming, it’s still natural to be scared. We’re afraid of change. The last few years have taught me that change is necessary for growth. When we fight it, we fight growing, we fight the future God has for us and we fight God’s will. Our times of transition help prepare us for the change. They grow our faith and trust in God’s plan for our life. It’s something we can only see when we take the time to look back.
Imagine if Peter and the others had stayed locked up in their house and never went to the upper room. Out of 500 people whom Jesus told to go and wait, only 120 made it through the transition. They were tough enough to stick it out and trusted that God had something more on the other side of the transition. As He did for them, so He does for you. God has something greater for you on the other side of this time of transition. It may take longer than you expected, but hang on. The reward will be worth it. The growth you will experience will be like no other time in your life. Don’t give up in the time of transition. Hold strong to your faith and trust God to see you through.
Not long after Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492, other ships began to make the voyage across the pond. Several ships noticed a strange phenomenon as they sailed near the equator. There was very little wind and ships would drift there for weeks or months. In time, this area of the ocean became known as the doldrums. Sailors avoided it because they didn’t take the provisions to survive a trip that got stuck there for a long period. It was a place of stagnation, depression and death which is why it became known as the doldrums.
There are times in life when you and I sail into the doldrums. Everything seems to be going fine, we are moving along and then the wind stops. We begin to float along. We get stuck and can’t seem to get out of the place we are in. It often seems like God has forgotten us. We question ourselves and what we could have done to cause God to leave us in this place. I’ve seen people stay in these types of doldrums for years not knowing how to escape. It seems like their prayers to put wind back in their sails are falling on deaf ears, but that’s not the case.
If you read the first part of Acts, the disciples had been in the doldrums since the crucifixion of Jesus. They had moments where Jesus would appear to them, but when He left, they would feel just as stuck as before. On one of those occasions Jesus spoke to them and said, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift He promised as I told you before. (Acts 1:4 NLT).” Wait? For how long? How could Jesus leave them adrift in the doldrums? It was a dangerous time to be in Jerusalem. Just 40 days before, Jesus had been killed and they feared they were next.
They met in the Upper Room and prayed for the next ten days as they waited. Then Acts 2:2 says, “Suddenly there was a sound from Heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. (NLT)” God sent the wind of the Holy Spirit to fill their sails and push them out of the doldrums. That wind pushed them and the message of Jesus all over the world. They were no longer stuck in their depression and doubt. They were revived and renewed because they waited on the Lord in prayer.
If you’re stuck in the doldrums, let me encourage you not to give up. Wait on the Lord in prayer and ask for Him to send the Wind of the Holy Spirit into your life. I’m talking about spending some serious time in prayer. The disciples prayed and waited in one place until God answered. We need to do the same thing. We need to commit to praying not just a one or two sentence prayer, but an active, waiting on God all day kind of prayer if we truly want out of the doldrums. We need to wait on the Lord until He answers. Be prepared though. When that rushing, mighty wind blows into your life, God will take you farther than you ever dreamed possible.
One final thought: The doldrums are where hurricanes originate from. What seems like a windless place is where God launches the most powerful forces.
I have a friend who recently mentioned that they were struggling with all the outside forces in their life. All of their external circumstances seemed bent on crushing them. They didn’t want to give up or go back to a past that’s gone, but didn’t really know how to move forward either. They were stuck in this limbo of life with no good alternatives. It’s a scary place to be when today’s problems are so consuming that you can’t see a future for yourself. It’s hard to know where to go or what to do when you don’t know which way is forward. I can only share some of the things that helped me.
The first advice I give is to fill yourself with God’s Word. When the outside forces are greater than what’s in you, you’ve got to put something more powerful in you. Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world. The way to get more of God in your life is to spend time in His word. You have to make it a priority to read it. Mark Batterson says, “Reading is how you get through the Bible. Meditating is the way to get the Bible through you.” You’re not only going to have to read it, you’re going to have to think about it, chew it up and talk through it in order for it to fully strengthen you.
The second advice I give is to pray. God is not intimidated by your honesty in how you feel. In fact, I think it’s refreshing to Him when we are honest with our struggles, fears and thoughts. He gets enough surface level prayers every day. The ones where we cry out in desperation get His attention. The ones where we seek Him honestly draw Him in. The ones where we admit we can’t do it on our own cause Him to rush to our side. God knows we can’t make it through storms on our own. We weren’t created to. They’re meant to cause us to draw on His strength instead of being stubborn and trying to stand on our own. Prayer is how we communicate that need for God.
The next piece of advice I give is to surround yourself with other believers, especially those who know you and love you. Yes, some of your circumstances may be embarrassing, but trusting your family of God is what you need. Their prayers will be more passionate because they have a relationship with you. They won’t forget to lift you up in prayer. They’ll follow up with you and check on you. They’ll be that safety net you need in case you fall. They’re not there to condemn you. They’re there to help you. God placed them in your life to be a support. Let them be that for you.
If life has you in limbo or is pushing you down to see how low you can go, doing these three things will help you. If you’re life is going great and the sun is shining, these three things will help you. We never outgrow our need for God or to have His strength in our lives. We all need the inner strength that comes from a relationship with God. If we don’t need it to keep us from getting crushed, we need it so we can help someone else who is getting crushed. If you’re not in limbo right now, look for someone who is. They need your help more than you know.
What advice do you give to someone like I described?