Are You Struggling With A Struggle?

struggle: to make strenuous or violent efforts in the face of difficulties or opposition; to proceed with difficulty or with great effort (www.merriam-webster.com)

When have you struggled with something? Have you stayed in the struggle?

It seems like a stupid question. After all, who would want to stay in a struggle? Yet how many things have you repeatedly or consistently struggled with? Thoughts of struggles tossed and turned in my mind recently, and I began to wonder if we sometimes begin to define a struggle as such simply because of the repetition or consistency. If we could deal with something and be done with it, we might not define it as a struggle, but when it consumes increasingly more time and energy, we define it as a struggle.

We can settle into the struggle because it becomes consistent in our lives. There’s a pattern, and even when we don’t like it, we can become somewhat accustomed to it. In a sense, we settle into or stay in the struggle.

The question is: Are you active in the struggle, or have you taken a passive role, expecting not to be able to change anything or becoming paralyzed to make an attempt to try anything?

The definition of struggle indicates action – a quite intense action: to make strenuous or violent efforts in the face of difficulties or opposition; to proceed with difficulty or with great effort.

What are your struggles?

Most will respond in one of two ways. Either they’ll indicate something acute going on in the current season of life or something chronic that seems to be repeated over a longer period. Perhaps you look back on your life and see consistencies, so you connect the dots and call it a struggle. You’ve made strenuous efforts to proceed through the difficulties. You’ve pushed against the opposing winds blowing into your face. You’ve set your eyes on forward progress and knocked barriers out of the way. Even if your situation hasn’t changed much, you’re struggling, and you’re not staying in the struggle because of the efforts you’re making.

On the other hand, if you’re labeling consistent issues in your life as a struggle but you’ve made little effort to change or move forward, you’re staying in the struggle. Actually, you might not be struggling at all. It might feel like you’re struggling, because you’ve become accustomed to thinking struggling occurs when nothing changes, but struggling involves change.

Struggling is active, not passive.

I’m not saying you can fix everything. You can’t rearrange all the messy pieces of your life and put them together into a beautiful mosaic. You can’t explain all the cause and effects, see the potential, and accept what’s going on in your life with complete understanding. You’re human. You have limitations.

God doesn’t have limitations. Whatever you can’t do, He can. He can rearrange all the messy pieces of your life and put them together into a beautiful mosaic. He can explain all the cause and effects and see the potential with complete understanding. However, as long as you live in this messy life on earth, you won’t be able to see the beautiful mosaic in its entire splendor. You won’t have complete understanding. He’ll give you glimpses, but there will always be a gap between God and you.

And that’s where faith comes in.

Faith is active. It’s giving everything, the good and the bad, to God…and trusting Him with it. It doesn’t stop there. It’s not a one-time “please fix this” request. Faith includes a trust that God can fix it as well as the acceptance that God wants you to be involved in the process. Faith involves listening to what action God wants you to take. It’s a delicate balance, because it’s tempting to declare:

I’ve given it to God, so all I have to do now is wait for Him to take care of it.

or

I know God wants me to be active in the process, so I’ll figure out what needs to be done next.

Either rationalization indicates an imbalance in the relationship between a person and God.

Faith isn’t the absence of struggle. Faith itself involves struggle. In faith, we must acknowledge God, give everything to God, listen to God, and respond to God. Faith requires trust and action.

Be cautious in how you’re defining and responding in struggles. If you tend to push ahead in determination and self-sufficiency, you’ll need to pull back. Replace your self-sufficiency with God-sufficiency. Give it all to God, including control, and let Him tell you what the next steps are. He’ll guide and provide.

On the other hand, if you tend to sit back and wait for something to happen, especially after you’ve given it to God, you need to take a step. There’s likely something you’re holding back from God: yourself. Place yourself in his hands, knowing He isn’t going to let you sit and mope. He doesn’t let spiritual muscles atrophy. He’ll get you up and moving even though you’d prefer to let Him do the work. Let Him tell you what the next steps are, and be obedient. He’ll guide and provide.

So…are you staying in your struggles? Are you struggling in your struggles?

Most important, are you faithful in your struggles?

To do this, I work and struggle, using Christ’s great strength that works so powerfully in me. Colossians 1:29

When Falling Behind Isn’t

Our bus dropped us off, so we could walk the narrow street to the Church of Annunciation in Nazareth. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, most walks in Israel involve an incline, and this one was a long one. As usual, our tour guide led the way, and I trailed behind to make sure if anyone got misplaced, I would be with her. As long as our guide could turn around and see me, he knew everyone was accounted for.

The steep inclines were rough at times, and anyone with any kind of breathing problem would have to slow down and pause. As the sidewalk got steeper on the way to the church, one woman slowed and took several breaks. Our group got ahead of us, but we could see where we were going. We followed a little girl with her mom and grandmother, and her cuteness distracted us from the effort of the walk. The little girl paused and turned around. We smiled and waved, and she smiled back at us. We didn’t share a spoken language, but a smile bridges all language barriers. The mom saw our smiles, and I imagine it was obvious we thought her daughter was beautiful. She smiled warmly at us. I motioned at my camera and asked permission to take a photo of the girl. The mom smiled and nodded and stepped aside, telling the little girl to smile (I assume).

@2014 PurePurpose.org
©2014 PurePurpose.org

Had we kept up with the group, we would have missed that beautiful smile. We would have missed the wordless exchange with the women. We got to have a brief, yet sweet exchange that bridged our cultures.

Sometimes, falling behind is worth it. We want to be at just the right place at just the right time. We don’t want to miss out on anything. However, the right place at the right time isn’t ours to decide. God knows best where we should be and why. People might say, “You should have been there! You missed out!” but we only missed what they experienced, not what we experienced because we weren’t with them at the time. We can’t experience it all. We can’t be at all places at all times.

I’m sure I didn’t hear every word our tour guide said throughout our journey through Israel. I was more often behind him than beside him. But it’s okay. God sent a smile through a little girl and her mom and grandmother to remind me to run, walk, pause, or stop in His timing. There is a time for everything, and that time is His to decide, not mine.

The NAGigator

I’m a good navigator, but if I don’t watch out, I can be pretty good as a nagigator, too. nag

How about you?

Even when our goal is to help someone get from one place to another, our encouragement, reminders, and direction can go from simple to complex-and-twisted-with-accusations-and-impatience with a single wrong turn. And I’m not talking about someone else’s wrong turn. I’m talking about our own.

In case you haven’t caught on yet, I’m also not talking about helping someone navigate a driving route. I’m talking about leading others through life. Ministry, parenting, friendships, mentoring, and so goes on. In any situation you have an influence on someone, and that person trusts you to guide him or her well…what starts as a respectful, helpful relationship can turn into…

What are you doing?

Why aren’t you listening to what I say?

You’re making this a lot harder than this has to be!

Maybe you haven’t said those exact words, but does the tone sound familiar? Does it match an attitude you’ve had, regardless of how you’ve masked it with your words?

Leading well isn’t about nagging well. People need help. They need encourage. They need to try and fail and get back on track. They need to know they’re not the only ones who get disoriented. They need to know you’re going to stay beside them.

Are you beside the people you lead? Really? Maybe you should consider what it looks and sounds like from their perspective.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)

The Perspective of Faith

Today’s post is excerpted from the Pure Purpose Bible study. Order a copy for yourself, a gift, or small group.

PureFaithCoverLowRes“When all is said and done, the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the spirit with every available weapon against the flesh.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

The perspective of faith is difficult and easy. Difficult, because faith requires us to assume and trust God’s perspective in all things, yet we’re limited in our perspectives, so we only get a glimpse of what God sees and knows. Easy, because faith grounds us in certainty…even when we’re uncertain about the certainty. Because God is trustworthy, we can trust him for his perspective and we can trust him with our lives. We won’t always understand, but we can always find certainty in faith, because faith inherently includes certainty.

All these people are known for their faith, but none of them received what God had promised. God planned to give us something better so that they would be made perfect, but only together with us. (Hebrews 11:39-40)

Our best effort to assume a godly perspective of faith is to know God and live his Word.

We cannot always know God’s will. We want the answers handed to us when we sometimes don’t even know what questions to ask. If we ask the questions we should ask, we sometimes don’t really want to hear and abide by the answers we get! God’s will is not a mystery if we search for it, but the question is: Are we willing to accept what God reveals as his will, or will we instead decide to hide behind pride and presumptions?

A common question when searching for God’s will is “What does God want me to do?” We can ask this question with sincere intentions, but it’s a question that too easily leads us down a path of what if, either/or, if/then, and so on. Our logic starts to kick in, and our preferences and assumptions can too easily get in the way and cloud our sight and hearing. Perhaps a better question to ask is “Who is God?”…with a follow up of “And based on who God is, how does he want me to respond?”

When we seek the “who” instead of the “what,” “how,” or “why,” we’re less likely to get discombobulated.  The answer still might not be clear, but it also won’t be clouded with the additional questions that can easily lead us down a rabbit trail tangled with our opinions, experiences, and pride.

When I was a young mom, it was difficult for me to put God first in a practical, everyday sense. I thought putting God first meant applying myself to spiritual disciplines, such as prayer and Bible reading and study. I absolutely loved spending as much time as possible in those areas, but I felt an urgent call to help when a daughter needed her diaper changed, meals needed to be prepared, naptime needed to start immediately (or was suddenly over), and many other things that, at times, seemed to nearly crush me under the to-do list. Plus, I was trying to be a good wife, which apparently was supposed to fall somewhere between putting God first and being a good mom. Because I couldn’t handle keeping even two of those in perspective, keeping three prioritized seemed disappointedly impossible.  I felt like a failure. Even on the days I felt like an adequate wife and a decent mom, I was still failing—at least, by my perspective—as a Christ-follower.

It wasn’t an identity crisis. It was a spiritual misapplication. I was setting myself up for failure by holding myself to a standard God never intended. I needed to stop seeing God at the top of everything and instead place him in the center of everything.

Perhaps it’s just semantics, but the shift worked for me. I stopped defining my efforts as failures of faith and began defining every role and responsibility as an opportunity for faith. It was the same basic concept, but a slight change significantly altered my outlook and faith journey.

When I placed God in the center of everything, I realized I wasn’t choosing my daughters over him when I played with them in the yard and walked to the library. I wasn’t choosing my husband over God when I helped him with a house project or watched football. When God is in the center, he touches everything. I consider God’s perspective no matter what I’m doing. I find significance in the most mundane tasks, because I acknowledge there is purpose in it even if I’m uncertain as to what the particular purpose is. When God is at the center of everything, I’m confident the purpose of what I’m doing is to follow and honor him. When I follow and honor him, I’m placing him in the center of everything.

It’s not simply that God is first in everything. He is the absolute foundation of everything. He is invested in everything. He is interested in everything. That is true whether I acknowledge his investment and interest or not. My distortion of God’s position in my life doesn’t change his position. He will always passionately pursue me. What can catapult me farther and faster in spiritual growth is my willingness to line up my life with his will. I can shift my perspective and priorities so that he seems to be off to the side, but he’s still in the center. I’ve simply distorted what I see as reality. God is the center, and when I line up my life with who he is and who he says he created me to be, I have the full assurance of him impacting the practical details of my everyday life.

No matter what I’m doing, God is in the center and emanates to reach every circumstance in the circumference of my life. Claiming God as the center of your life is what a perspective of faith is all about.

The will of God has more to do with controlling our hearts than planning and meeting goals. Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants. Then all your other needs will be met as well. (Matthew 6:33) God wants us to surrender our own plans and will, not because we’re giving up but because we’re giving him ourselves. When we place him in the center of everything, we’re declaring his way is better. We follow him, because he has a better perspective and, therefore, a better plan and will! We are limited; God is not. But Jesus said to them, “My Father never stops working, and so I keep working, too.” (John 5:17)

We must remember that we follow a person, not an idea. We have a relationship with Jesus. We don’t just believe in Jesus; we believe him. And it is because of that belief that we follow him. A problem arises when we think Jesus is supposed to give us the details of every single decision and direction we face. However, we don’t even need the details that we so desperately think we need. We want step-by-step directions, the same that we can print or depend on our phones to recite to us. But we don’t need those details. We simply need to follow Jesus. He will give us the details we need. What does that look like?

Consider a carrier pigeon. A carrier pigeon doesn’t have all the details. He can’t read the delivery address let alone have a wifi connection that gives him step-by-step instructions. He knows “home.” He knows where he belongs. He might fly in a circle a few times to get ready and make sure he’s properly oriented, but he’ll then hone in on the direction of home and fly in that direction. We need to be so intimately honed into Jesus that we know the direction we need to move. We don’t need to wait for the step-by-step. He’ll reveal what we need to know along the way. We need to trust that his perspective is the perspective we need—the perspective of faith.

“I do not know the way that I take but well do I know my guide.” (Martin Luther)

Where are you going to be a year from now, five years, or twenty years? If you’re honing in on Jesus, you’ll be closer to him as you journey in faith!

What would your life be like if you completely trusted God?

Where’s Your God Space?

whereisgodHow does God fit into your life? Of course, he can fit in any way he wants, but how do you intentionally fit him in the everyday? Consider your life as a book. Is God…

  • On the front cover?
  • In the table of contents?
  • A footnote?
  • A recurring header or footer?
  • A highly-focused, brief chapter?
  • Throughout sporadic pages?
  • On the back page?

And where do you want God to be?

Avoid quickly giving the Sunday School answer. It’s more important to be honest. God already knows. You will not assess where you are as accurately as God does, but you need to take off the blinders and let him give you a glimpse of where you really are. Don’t worry. He knows what you can handle. If you beat yourself up too much and judge yourself too harshly, you’re probably not letting God guide. If you place yourself on a pedestal and fail to see any room for improvement and growth, you’re probably not letting God guide. Be realistic. God is the best reality check.

So, ask him. Where have you placed him? Where does he want to be in your life? He loves you and wants the very best for you. And the very best for you is him. So, seek him. Let him invade your life. He’s written the book of life. And he’s the best author!

Those who win the victory will be dressed in white clothes like them. And I will not erase their names from the book of life, but I will say they belong to me before my Father and before his angels. (Revelation 3:5)

Listen With Respect

healingthehurtHow do you know what you think you know? It’s amazing how many times we jump to conclusions. We hear something through a third party, or we overhear a part of a conversation, or we hear something in the way we want to hear it and insist we know the intention behind it. We fill in the gaps between what someone actually said to make the entire story into what we want it to be instead of what it actually is. We omit the parts that contradict what we want to believe, and we ever-so-slightly embellish those areas that emphasize our points.

It’s important to go to the source, then listen with respect. Listening with respect isn’t the same as listening for ammunition. It’s listening for truth. It’s giving the person time to talk. It’s asking clarifying questions and briefly summarizing or restating every now and then to insure what you’re hearing is the same as what the person is trying to communicate. It’s listening more than you talk. It’s setting aside your personal agenda for the common good of the relationship. It’s putting others above self.

Active listening is a developed skill. It takes practice. Most of us talk much more than we listen. Even if you’re a quiet person, you can’t quickly take yourself off the hook on this one, because a quick word count comparing what you say and what you hear isn’t the same as active listening. Active listening involves investment in a relationship, which means you need to respond in order to show the person your respect. You need to engage, asking questions and restating the basics.

Listening with respect doesn’t assume you agree with everything being said. It’s not nearly as much about what is said as who is saying it. God instructs us to respect one another. It’s clear by the standards and expectations he sets that not every behavior, belief, and attitude should be respected, revered, accepted, or tolerated. But we don’t throw the person out with the behavior. It difficult to listen with respect when the person has done something we don’t respect, especially when we find out a person we’ve previously looked up to has gone against biblical principles he or she has previously personally revered and taught. However, it’s not about how we feel like responding. It’s about how God instructs us to respond. And there’s no doubt he commands respect among his followers.

To whom do you need to listen with respect today? Invite the conversation. Let God build your faith by trusting him through the process. He will guide you through what you think is impossible.

Show respect for all people: Love the brothers and sisters of God’s family… (1 Peter 2:17)

God’s family is certainly not exempt from hurt, including the hurts that come from within. People in churches are just as vulnerable to unjustly criticize, gossip, neglect, and offend one another as anyone else. It’s true that God sets us apart to reflect his image to the world, but to believe Christ-followers are perfect representations of Jesus will, to say the least, lead to disappointment. What (should) set Christ-followers apart from the world is how they deal with one another to heal the hurt. Will they do the hard work it takes to unite or will they further divide into quarreling, backbiting, judgmental factions? Which will you choose? Welcome to Healing the Hurt, a 10-post series to help hurting communities cope in biblical ways.

Guy Chat

I’m a girl, and I understand girl chat a lot better than guy chat.

I had a short layover in Kansas City and was sitting in a quiet corner enjoying a Starbucks drink. At the small round table not far away from me were two men. They were definitely in their stride of conversation when I slipped into the booth near them. They seemed to be a bit familiar with each other but as they shared about their kids, it was apparent they hadn’t known each other for too long. They were talking sports. Because I’m a college football fan, I quickly recognized some of the teams and terms they mentioned. They started talking about different divisions, especially referring to the schools where one of the men’s sons was playing and all the schools that scouted him. It sounds like he’s quite an athlete.

As one man commented on the apparent athleticism of the other dad’s son, the dad’s voice changed a bit as he said, “Yeah, he’s a good athlete. I’m proud of him. But it was really my younger son who was the great athlete. He was going to be something. There wasn’t much he couldn’t do.”

There was an awkward moment before the other man asked the dad, “How old is he?”

“Well, he was fifteen when we lost him. He would have really been something.”

There was a catch in his voice and a long pause before the other man quietly stated, “Sounds like you have reason to be a proud dad.” Then the conversation quickly returned to football and got animated again.

What just happened? If two women would have been sitting at the booth, that awkward moment would have been immediately filled with questions and consolation. There would have been an invitation to share as much as possible about the tragedy and healing process. There likely would have been tears from both women. And the conversation would probably have not returned to the former topic. They probably wouldn’t even remember what the previous topic had been! They’d part ways with a big hug as new friends, promising to keep in touch and check in with each other.

The way the guys handled it wasn’t wrong. I would have been shocked for them to respond in a girl-chat manner. Yet I felt a bit sad for them. I wondered if the dad needed to be able to process aloud for a moment. Maybe not. Perhaps he just needed a moment to be flooded with memories and to share that he has those memories even if he didn’t share the specifics.

It’s not really fair for me to draw a line between girl chat and guy chat. I know many guys that can talk a lot—in person and on the phone. I know some women who sit back and take in a situation before getting involved and sharing. Sharing isn’t always safe. Women benefit from pouring into others and being poured into, but they also get hurt more frequently. Some have learned that lesson and decided not to invest quickly or deeply.

Don’t rely on your default setting. You need to be investing in others’ lives (and them in yours). Consider there are better ways to share, whether that’s withholding or releasing. Either way makes you vulnerable. Vulnerability isn’t a bad thing as long as you’re discerning through the process.

Invite God to guide, revealing to you when and what you need to share and when and to whom you need to listen. When you’re vulnerable in God’s will, you will always heal, learn, and grow.