In the final scenes of The Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta peer into the countryside from the train that returns them to their district. Peeta asks Katniss, “What do we do now?” She replies, “I guess we try to forget.” Peeta and Katniss have literally had to fight for their lives and have discovered love in the process. Their experience has been incredibly tough, one that wasn’t asked for but chosen for them by lottery. Peeta responds: “But I don’t want to forget.”
I watched that scene and instantly noticed the parallels. I’ve had tough times and we all do. Let me share some points this scene rehearses for me.
Never forget the days that humble you. In fact, they’re unforgettable because they’re often full of pain that grinds us down in positive ways we don’t realize until months and years later. We shouldn’t forget these periods because God, in his providence, oftentimes orders our steps through these places, always with a purpose and providing for our safety. We must embrace these tough times for the spiritual training they provide and certainly as grace afforded us. I’ve learned to thank God for the hard times in my life. I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything now because I’ve gained too much from them.
Hard times should prove the good in us. They should be a constant reflection to us of how well-equipped we are for our challenge; of our spiritual strength and progress, although our knees may buckle at times. Our perspective should also change: God doesn’t send us through a wilderness to be conquered. If anything is to be lost, then the course is designed to necessarily relieve us of excesses and encumbrances impeding of God’s purpose in us, for which we always need refinement. In the end, God wants to make a show of us to us.
Pain produces shared intimacy that can otherwise never be known. People who experience incredible hardships or disasters together are often knit heart-to-heart forever thereafter. This is why Peeta says what he does. Their lives were at stake and they had to trust one another in the most ultimate way. They learned things about themselves and each other and had to use it to survive. The situation was serious; there was no playing around, not even with words. Our relationship with God is the same. Those who rely on God through their toughest times gain an intimacy with him others who neglect him cannot know. People often desire the spiritual connection they perceive in some. But it won’t be acquired apart from walking with God wherever he leads—and that includes through tough times.
The chorus of Colton Dixon’s beautiful song “Through All of It” says:
“I have won and I have lost,/ I got it right sometimes,/ But sometimes I did not./ Life’s been a journey;/ I’ve seen joy, I’ve seen regret./ O! And you have been my God through all of it.”
Instead of asking “Why me, God?” I began to ask “What am I to learn from this?” Being thankful changed me from being a victim to a student. Even in my darkest hour God had something to show me and was desperately trying to get my attention.
Joseph’s story is my favorite in the Bible. I’ve read Genesis 37-50 numerous times. Not only is the account fascinating, but it’s also insightful. I learn much from Joseph’s life, and I want to share some of those points with you now. Continue reading “6 Things I Love About Joseph”→
I’m not sure where things went off the rail in my apologetics course, but there was a schism growing between the class and the professor. Our prof was a swell man and a true scholar. I’d often sit amazed listening to him march through church history, doctrines, councils, and personages, all without notes, and facilitate great discussion.
Since most of us had other classes with him, we knew what to expect of his sessions. They were challenging but not difficult. Yet something baffling began happening in this class. Students started receiving low grades and didn’t understand why. When we inquired, our work just wasn’t up to par and not what he had explained. When it happened with a major topical essay, it was a last straw for some.
Mad and I Won’t Be Silent!
One of my buddies in the class got downright angry, and his response surprised me. He was taking the matter to the dean of the department. This guy was well-liked for his gentle and friendly demeanor, so I was stunned at his reaction. To me his response was overboard.
Now, I wasn’t happy about my grade either. I had written the biggest and most deeply researched paper I ever composed in grad school and was happy with what I had produced, knowing I had satisfied the professor’s requirements. When I received a “D” for it, I was dumbstruck; and so it went for most of the class, now for the second or third time.
I didn’t know what the solution was, but I knew it wasn’t being up in arms and reporting the professor, as I was encouraged to do. I was grieved because my friend had the wrong spirit about him. He was furious and hostile. I advised him to talk with the professor instead of going to the dean. He flatly rejected the idea.
A Surprising Message
The most curious thing then happened. One day soon thereafter I returned from that class and discovered that the professor had emailed me in that short time. It was a surprise since I wasn’t sure when I had given him my email address. But it was his memo that was still more surprising.
He too knew something wasn’t right in the class, and he wrote to ask for my opinion about how to resolve it. Talk about shocked!
I used the moment to voice the concerns of the class. I told him that we were grasping all that he taught and meeting his stated demands; however, if there was more he desired, it wasn’t being fully communicated. Then, I offered him some simple suggestions. Well that solved everyone’s problem. The professor re-graded papers and graciously tossed out other low scores.
In Step with the Spirit
I’m still struck by that lesson and favor from the Lord. When I read that email, my first thought was about my classmate who chose to lash out in anger rather than to be prayerful and find a satisfying resolution. That opportunity wouldn’t have come had I harbored a contemptible attitude.
Another occasion taught me like principle. I had to confront a matter with a superior since no one else would—not easy. I took a weekend just to pray about it. On Monday when I addressed my leader, he replied, “Yeah, the Lord spoke to me about that.” I didn’t have to say more.
I’ve learned that if I stay in the spirit of Christ, God will work out the kinks.
Once word spread about Job’s tragic misfortune, three of his friends—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar—traveled to visit and mourn with him. Generally, nothing wonderful is made of these men due to the flawed counsel they offered Job. But their companionship is something they model that we should emulate.
The Pervasiveness of Trouble
Hard times hit us all…no one is immune. Sometimes trouble comes crashing in on us unexpectedly; at other times we bring it upon ourselves. Whatever the case, the toll on a person can be significant in every way.
Job didn’t have just a single problem that stressed him; instead, he dealt with compounding heartaches—financial ruin, the tragic deaths of his children, a hideous and disfiguring disease, and the loss of a supporting wife. We need not wonder about the toll it took on him because he tells us: “May the day of my birth perish and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’…may it turn to darkness” (3:3-4).
How to Help Others
Fortunately, Job had people who cared enough to come see about him, folk who let him know that he didn’t have to face his cares alone. And thousands of years later, the necessity of a ‘crying shoulder’ or person to lean on hasn’t changed. No matter how spiritual we may be or how much faith we possess, we have limitations and will experience emotional pain. But hardship is eased by meaningful relationship.
Here are some pointers I’ve learned helping others and needing that help.
Don’t be silent. In high school I had a friend whose mother was killed in a car accident. I never spoke to him about the situation, although I really wanted to but didn’t know how. The problem with silence is…it’s so loud. It becomes the evidence that everything is known, but for some reason you’re not acting; and then it becomes stigmatizing. It shames the one who is hurting, the one who wants to be heard and have his burden shared. Find a way to show care, even if it seems awkward at first. You’ll find your feet as you go.
Don’t pity people. Pity makes us feel sorry for folk and glad that we don’t have to live as they do. It is love from a distance, which is no love at all; and it keeps us from feeling people’s pain. Pity disgraces people and makes them feel bad about themselves. It is not the love of God, and it restrains us from getting involved.
Don’t turn people into their trouble. Regardless of an individual’s predicament or how they got into it, they are still persons whom God loves and those he requires us to love. If we’re not careful our moral stances can make us calloused toward folk we identify as offenders. But people are not their problems and they can change. If we don’t believe this, then we don’t have authentic Christian faith.
“In my alarm I said, ‘I am cut off from your sight!’” (Psalm 31:22)
The psalmists confess what many of us won’t: that we don’t have it all together.
Have you ever read Psalms—I mean really read it? It has to be the most relatable book in the Bible. I am floored by the range of emotions we see from these God-fearers, their intimacy and sincerity, their indignation and rage.
And I love it. It makes me feel a little more normal when I’m stressed or tempted or miffed with God.
Peering Into Our Hearts
The tones of cheer and praise in Psalms are as obvious for the dark and gloomy ones that ensue. In Psalm 42, for instance, we detect signs of the speaker’s depression and frustrated search for God: “I say to God my Rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me?’” (v. 9). I love the nuances and implications that often arise from a text because they add color and depth to a scene and teach us by training our eyes on the unapparent. One thing I learn from Psalms is to really understand myself, how I respond to circumstance, how to feel and manage my emotions, how to submit them to God.
It’s important because what we can fail to notice is how impacted our emotions are by events and circumstances, the stress of them, although they may not be critical at all. You see, it’s the emotional aspect of our lives that often waylays us. Situations can be handled—we pray to God for as much—but we, the caretakers of our souls, are slow to anticipate and prepare ourselves for the emotional toll that can follow.
We never thought our circumstance would cause us to make rash decisions or to become temperamental. We didn’t expect to be crept upon by a sneaky depression. We surprised ourselves with our excesses, blinded by pleasure and glee.
Our emotions will trip us and Satan…well he watches unguarded doors.
Healing Our Souls
We’ve witnessed too many times of late the tragic consequences of people living life bottled up. It is necessary to acknowledge our feelings and give them healthy expression; it is also important to share our feelings with others.
I reject the triumphalist spirituality that suggests I keep happy and overcoming, or that it’s a sin or faithlessness for me to feel pain or experience sorrow. I also reject those on the opposite end, the hill climbers, whose faith only identifies with plight. They seem to start every conversation with “Hey, bro, what are you struggling with?”
I haven’t quoted a bunch of scriptures here, or said Jesus twenty times, yet this might be the most freeing news for some people, Christians included. We don’t lose our faith because we agonize; we just must not let pain cause us to lose our contentment in God.
“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Ps. 42:11)
This post is inspired by Kate Bortell’s “Wearing Wellies in the Rain”. I hope you’ll acquaint Kate, a truly delightful person, and kick back with some tea and enjoy her folksy, whimsical posts.
I worked on the railroad for a brief time. It’s an experience that never bores, although there are aspects about the job that are truly unenjoyable: the harsh schedule, work at any hour of the day or night, and the dangers of being in the thick of nowhere not knowing who or what is watching. Oh yeah, getting run over or crushed isn’t consoling either.
Trainmen also have to work through any weather condition, so it’s important to know the forecast and not lack proper gear. I was lucky enough to forget rainwear on the one day of the year Noah decided to return for a visit. The most important required gear, however, is footwear, work boots. They’re crucial for riding the cars and walking on the ballast, among other things.
Working on the rail was the first time I ever donned work boots, and it was a new experience for me. Further, I bought a pair of loggers—you wit me? Anyway, I knew what Justin (the manufacturer) told me about my boots and assumed that my $170 meant I had a good pair that met railroad guidelines…that’s that.
During a job one day following nearly two weeks of rain, we had to stop the train and figure out a move. I had to exit the engine and get over to the other side of a gully that was swollen with water; it was a virtual pool. The only way I could reach the other side was by jumping far enough and landing on as much soil as possible without soaking myself. It was doable.
So I leapt.
Nevertheless, I still ended up in some water. In fact, I stepped so far down into the pool that I waited to feel my precious boots filling and my feet swimming. But nothing.I got up on the hill and still nothing. My thick, heavy, waterproof work boots were so well-made that six or seven inches of water didn’t matter. I couldn’t believe it.
Dry Feet in Wet Places
This story makes me think about the Hebrew boys: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And what it causes me to reflect on are the hard places that we’ll inevitably encounter in life and the tough choices that will attend them. We’ll even make the right decisions but still come up short.
There are going to be situations that you know will be as the cliché goes—“all over but the crying.” But it will be in those moments that God will let you see and experience all the prayers prayed on your behalf, all the worth of your service, the full backing of Heaven that has always been yours. For every protection was built-in and has been with you from the start.
Your feet will keep dry; your clothes won’t burn.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isa. 43:2)
Isaiah begins his 40th chapter with prophetic words of comfort detailing the deliverance of God’s people from impending captivity. “The Sovereign Lord is coming in power,” he says; then he transitions into a marvelous exposition on God’s omnipotence.
Starting with nature, he compares the greatness of God and the weakness of humans—“Who has measured off the heavens with his fingers?” (v. 12, NLT). “Has the Lord ever needed anyone’s advice?” (v. 14).
The nations are nothing to God, for he can lift the earth like a grain of sand. His worth is incalculable: “All the wood in Lebanon’s forests and all Lebanon’s animals would not be enough to make a burnt offering worthy of our God” (v. 16).
Idols are laughable and only speak to the foolishness of human hearts—“at least choose wood that won’t decay and a skilled craftsman to carve an image that won’t fall down!” (v. 20).
For the Lord sits atop the earth as upon a throne, the King of every king.
A Sobering Indictment
After this illustrious oration, Isaiah directs a pointed question to God’s people: “O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles? O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?”
It is the prophet bringing correction: “You’ve stood in awe of this boundless God, but you have not understood him.”
Do we not act the same way when our cares have us submitted and down for the count? We feel the Lord doesn’t see. In our dark moments we miss God’s intentions with our trials and sometimes forget that he is for us. But he never forgets us.
Strength to Run
What comes next is truly grand:
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (vs. 28-40, NKJV).
Isn’t this moving?
We get excited about the “they that wait” part. But the really exciting truth is why those who wait renew their strength—ever stop to consider that? Is it merely because they…wait? We find it at the start of the passage: “Did you not hear or know that the Lord doesn’t faint or get weary?” When I finally saw this—WHAM!
Our strength can be renewed because his strength never fails.
I realized how I could wait on God through trials completely confident of his onrushing aid.
The visual is easy: if you and a friend are holding candles and yours goes out, you will relight your candle with the one that still burns. Well God’s fire never goes out! There’s no good or logical comparison for God—match-to-Sun?—but you get the picture.
Perhaps you’re waiting on God right now with every ounce of your strength. You’re fainting or have fallen to a knee; your flame has gone out. I want to assure you that your renewed strength is guaranteed and imminent because the One you trust never loses his strength.
Have we not all at some point envied wealthy persons, their lives or possessions? I know I have. Everyone desires a comfortable life, and the more comfort always seems the better.
Now it doesn’t take a change in status to be comfortable. People who, in the eyes of the government, live at the poverty level can and do live comfortably because how one manages their income matters greatly. Unfortunately, poverty stigmatizes people as lacking restraint, but that’s not necessarily true.
The bottom line about true wealth and poverty has nothing to do with dollars and cents. Instead, it has everything to do with inner happiness.
Humans have a tendency to romanticize wealth. And let’s be clear: there is nothing wrong with being rich. The scripture nowhere condemns it. Everyone has a responsibility to work and wealth is a possibility for all.
I must be careful here lest I paint a stereotype about wealthy people; and I do not wish to spurn them or their wealth. But I do intend to express how often erroneous is our conjecture about riches and rich people.
If only at the nether reaches of our minds, we sometimes think people with lots of money…
Experience no hardship
Possess the power to do as they please
Deserve recognition and honor
Know more than less wealthy individuals
Are people of integrity
That is how television often portrays the wealthy—right before you see that they deal with the same life issues common folk deal with. And you notice how their wealth and power influences their choices and decisions, not unlike how poverty affects the choices and decisions of others. The test of struggle is to survive its dearth; however, the test of prosperity is to survive its flood.
America has increasingly become a society of people chasing after riches. But many people are only discovering disappointment when they find them. It’s not because they don’t enjoy the many ways money makes their lives easier; instead, it’s because they realize how it makes their lives harder.
I can never escape Asaph on this topic. He paints a lucid picture of impious wealthy people who do not realize the toll they’ve allowed their wealth to take on their hearts.
“For they seem to live carefree lives, free of suffering; their bodies are strong and healthy. They don’t know trouble as we do; they are not plagued with problems as the rest of us are. They’ve got pearls of pride strung around their necks; they clothe their bodies with violence. They have so much more than enough. Their eyes bulge because they are so fat with possessions. They have more than their hearts could have ever imagined. There is nothing sacred, and no one is safe. Vicious sarcasm drips from their lips; they bully and threaten to crush their enemies.They even mock God as if He were not above; their arrogant tongues boast throughout the earth; they feel invincible” (Psalm 73:4-9, VOICE).
Asaph describes people who having trusted their wealth don’t notice the side effects of doing so. They never realized how their privilege allowed all their desires and inhibitions to surface and take control of their lives. (Again, I do not generalize.)
What we often don’t see with these folk are the effects of vice on their hearts. Plastered smiles and a pompous glow only go so far before the pain of inner distress and sadness causes you to buckle.
You may have heard the stories of those who evangelize or make prayer visits to astute communities; they sound much like the stories told of those on the other side of the tracks, sometimes worse. We don’t readily assume that wealthy people are hungry, violently abused, bound in addiction, drowning in debt, or suicidal, yet many live this way behind closed doors.
Sometimes it’s real tough for these people to find freedom because they can get buried beneath the trappings of their lifestyle. Issues of pride, image, reputation, dignity, etc., keep their problems shut out of view and keep them away from help, which only allows trouble and vice to run rampant.
Folk with lesser wealth often have less of their life invested in their reputation to allow such a thing to threaten their well-being.
Perhaps too some wealthy people don’t know how to call for help. They’ve always been in a position of control and security, the ones making decisions and helping everyone else never expecting that they would ever need rescuing. That role reversal must surely be difficult.
All Things are Possible
After the rich young ruler walked away from Jesus, the Lord twice exclaims to the disciples how difficult it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. It doesn’t mean that they won’t or that it’s impossible; if you will, this was Jesus telling them, “I’m just saying…”
He’s really pointing to those weeds he speaks of in his parable of the sower. They represent all the fineries, gaieties, and pleasures of life but leave one bereft of spiritual wealth, stymied in his spiritual efforts and bankrupt in the life to come.
But a powerful truth he speaks next—“With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27). For all of us the leap from folly to faith is impossible without God. But hopefully you didn’t miss what was so plain to Jesus and remarkable that we don’t see: just how burdensome wealth can be on the soul, the one place that never factors into our dreams of being rich.
Yet God, he says, can give even the wealthy the grace to make the leap into kingdom life.
I trust that you pray for the lost. The next time you do, say a prayer for those who are wealthy. Pray that they be good managers, even stewards, of their wealth. Pray that God would rebuke the Evil One who desires to drag their souls to hell. Pray that they will know the rich love of Jesus, that God would dispel all religious exoticism and foolish revelry so they would know Truth.