It’s been said that life is like driving down a road at night. That’s what I was thinking as I was driving home last night, seeing that white line stretching out in front of me. I suddenly realized that I was both absolutely certain & completely clueless, at the same time, about my drive, and about my life.
I realized that when I’m driving at night, I’m ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN about what I need to do RIGHT NOW, in the moment. That white line tells me whether I need to veer right, veer left, or keep it straight. A red light ahead tells me to stop; a green light tells me to go. As long as I keep my headlights on, the guidance I need for the present moment will always be there.
That’s just like my life. In my moment to moment living, I have “headlights” that infallibly guide me. As long as I’m walking in step with God, listening to Him, being mindful of myself, my circumstances, & others, I can be confident that I will know what to do RIGHT NOW, in the moment. God won’t fail me. He never has.
I also thought of the Biblical story of Joseph. Throughout his life, he was always guided as to what he needed to say & do at the right moment: he knew he had to refuse his master’s wife; he knew what to say to the imprisoned butler & baker; he knew how to save Egypt from starvation.
But even though I’m absolutely certain about driving in the present moment, I’m also COMPLETELY CLUELESS about WHAT LIES AHEAD. If you ask me if the road will head northeast or southeast, whether in the next mile I’ll go up a mountain or go across a bridge, whether there’s a lake up ahead or a desert— I’m (literally) in the dark. I’ve never traveled this road before.
Isn’t life like that too? I’ve never traveled the road of my life before, so I don’t know what lies ahead. I don’t know whether my job will prosper or end; don’t know whether I’ll live to 100 or die while typing this post; don’t know what joys or sorrows, victories or defeats I will face tomorrow. And guess what? If I try too hard to control my destiny, to make sure my life doesn’t take a sharp turn or go into a dark tunnel, I’m liable to run off the road completely.
The same was true of Joseph. Even though he saw visions and interpreted dreams, he never saw his own brothers trying to murder him, never saw being sold as a slave in a foreign country, never saw spending years in a prison. But he also never envisioned being the regent of the richest country in his world, having wealth and power beyond his comprehension, and being responsible for not only saving his family, but an entire country, from starvation.
That’s where faith comes in, for Joseph and for me. When I’m driving an unfamiliar road at night, I may be clueless about what’s around the bend, but I remain confident that I will reach my destination. I know the road was built to take me there, and I know I can trust my map.
Life’s the same way. I know that the path that God has lovingly chosen for me will succeed. Although there is much about it I can’t understand right now, and I’m completely clueless about what’s around the bend, I know that my final destination is secure, and that it ends with the One who loves me more than I can possibly imagine.
Ever have “one of those days”— one where you seemed hammered in every direction by things that seemed expressly designed to discourage you?
Sure, we all have had those days, where our spirits took a beating.
So, how do you respond when you get blindsided by discouraging thoughts and situations?
Well, you don’t need silly cliches. (Anyone remember “Don’t Worry, Be Happy“?)
You don’t need a 238 page doctoral dissertation on the causes of discouragement and how to overcome them.
But….. what would come in handy would be a few easy to remember truths that you can use to immediately shore up your battered spirit. Something direct, to the point, to turn your mind away from what’s trying to seize control of your thoughts, and set yourself back on the road to both positive thoughts and actions.
So, the next time you are attacked by discouragement, just pull out these four quick and easy discouragement busters and turn yourself around!
#1 God Loves You
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1 John 3:1)
This is the most simple, yet most important discouragement buster in the universe– to focus your mind on the incredible fact of God’s love for you. I’ve written before that there is no greater reality in the universe than Christ & His love. Every pain, hurt, nuisance, and discouragement fades away if we simply focus on God’s love.
As we focus on God’s love for us, our natural response is to respond in love to God. Telling God “I love you!” has tremendous power to lift your spirit out of discouragement.
#2 You Are God’s Poem
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)
The Greek word for “workmanship” here is poiema. Yes, it’s the original word from where we get our English word poem. As a child of God, you are His workmanship, His masterpiece, His poem of strength and beauty that He is crafting for eternity.
When we are discouraged, we think that things don’t matter, that we don’t matter, and we often stop taking care of ourselves and stop taking care of others. We cease from the good works that God created us to walk in. But the truth is that we do matter to God, that we are special in His sight, and that we can bask in the light of His love and care. With this focus we can regain the strength to once again treat ourselves and others around us like the poiema of God.
#3 God Will Reward You for Your Faithfulness
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)
And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. (Matthew 10:42)
When we get discouraged, one thing that frequently happens is we lose hope and give up on doing good. We think, “What’s the use?” That’s why both Jesus and Paul remind us that no good work goes unrewarded. Even if it seems like we are getting nowhere, we can still be confident that God is seeing our acts of love, kindness, and courage, and that He will pay us in full.
When you get discouraged, keep trying, keep giving, keep loving, keep doing good, looking to God’s sure reward.
#4 Heaven Is Your Home
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:1-4)
No matter how bleak our situation, we can take heart that every letdown, every pain, hurt, illness, heartbreak, or even death, is only temporary. This world, with all its discouragement, truly is not our home. God will one day remove every imperfection that could ever cause us to be discouraged, and our joy with Him will be unbroken, forever.
God loves you; you are His poem; He will reward your faithfulness; Heaven is your home. Encourage your heart with these wonderful truths today.
This month’s edition of the devotional magazine Tabletalk is on the topic of grief. Because of the recent tragic shooting at Virginia Tech, Ligonier has put the main articles from this issue on their website here.
All of the articles are superb and tackle different aspects of grief, but the most personal is from R. C. Sproul Jr. simply entitled Hope. Here is a quote:
Whatever sorrow God calls me to go through, He calls me to go through for the express purpose of remolding me into the image of His Son. Every cancerous cell growing in my body, every deadly chemical that the nurses pour into my body to fight the cancer, all of it exists to make me more like Jesus.
That is gutsy grief, to be able to personally face tragedy and hardship in your life with a firm resolve to view it through the eyes of faith. Would we all be able to walk with God thusly.
You can spend your whole life building something from nothing
One storm can come and blow it all away
Build it anyway
You can chase a dream that seems so out of reach and you know it might not ever come your way
Dream it anyway
God is great, but sometimes life ain’t good
And when I pray it doesn’t always turn out like I think it should
But I do it anyway, I do it anyway
This world’s gone crazy and it’s hard to believe that tomorrow will be better than today
Believe it anyway
You can love someone with all your heart, for all the right reasons, and in a moment they can choose to walk away
Love ‘em anyway
You can pour your soul out singing a song you believe in that tomorrow they’ll forget you ever sang
Sing it anyway, sing it anyway
I sing, I dream, I love, anyway
I’ve been listening to this song over and over the past few days since I first heard it. Wow. I think all good art is something that passes from one soul to another, and says something both true and important about the nature of being human and/or the nature of God. This song is good.
We all tend to lose heart, become discouraged, and wonder “Why bother?” sometimes. Why? Because we live in a fallen world, because “this world’s gone crazy” and “life ain’t always good.” She speaks of reaching for personal goals, looking ahead to the future, commiting your love to another, and trying to touch people’s hearts. In all of these quests of the heart, there’s no guarantee of success as we define it, even if we petition God (“when I pray it doesn’t always turn out like I think it should”).
But the hingepoint of the song is that “God is great.” This is the same conclusion that Job came to in the midst of his confusion and distress, and the conclusion that David repeatedly came to in the Psalms. The greatness and justice of God is also the foundation Jesus gives in Luke 18:1-8 as He encourages us to pray and not lose heart.
Listen to this song, and remember that because of God’s greatness, we have a firm foundation, an unwavering reason to continue to sing, to dream, to love, anyway.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:3-4
I love the life that God has so graciously given me. But I am reminded daily that in a fallen world there is always bitter with the sweet. There is the sweetness of love & friendship, but always tinged with sadness of sins committed against that person and sins committed against us. There is the sweetness of blessings received, but always tinged with the dreams that God in His wisdom denied us. The sweetness of new birth tinged with the grief of loved ones who have died.
I’m so thankful that God does not leave us alone to live in this world. We have the Spirit to comfort us, to guide us, to help us forgive the sins that have been done to us and to cleanse our hearts of the guilt of the sins we have done to others.
And we have the hope that this mixture of bitter and sweet is only temporary. We will one day be delivered from this “bondage to corruption” into glorious freedom:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Romans 8:18-21
All things made new. No more tears or death or suffering. Only sweetness. Why not read Revelation 21-22 today and hope and rejoice and praise our God and say as the apostle John, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
A long time ago I read a science fiction short story about a world where the government enforced “equality” by making people with good eyesight wear glasses with smudges, people who were beautiful had to wear masks (so not to make ugly people feel bad), people who were smart wore a hearing aid that buzzed loudly so they couldn’t keep track of what they were thinking, people who were strong had to wear weights on their arms and legs. Finally one man ripped off his mask and weights and a ballerina’s mask and weights and they were finally free to dance with the grace and freedom and joy that they had always longed for.
Although that writer was probably just wanting to make a satirical political statement, he actually was describing our world. All of us are born enslaved to sin (Romans 6:17), and even after we receive the new birth we still struggle with sin. I have wounds, clouded thinking, selfish desires, & sinful patterns of behavior that are just like the masks and weights and smudged glasses of the protagonist of that story. And unfortunately, so do you, and so does everyone else on this planet. And as we try to relate to each other, whether in business or church or as friends or spouses or parents, we stumble and trip and often end up knocking each other down instead of dancing with freedom and grace.
That’s why the perichoresis is precious to me. Perichoresis is an ancient theological term that I have written about before that describes the perfect love and harmony and relationship that exists between the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit as like a dance. Before the universe was created, God both knew and experienced life— a life of perfect community and relationship. The Trinity perfectly knew, perfectly loved, perfectly related, perfectly experienced. And this experience was not just some static frozen stare, like three statues cast for eternity in cold concrete. The experience of the Trinity was and is and forever will be the most dynamic, joyful, and expressive relationship not only that is, but that could ever possibly be. There is no human way to imagine it, but dance probably does come the closest.
Why is knowing this about God so precious to me? Because God has invited me into His eternal dance. That is why God created the universe, to create children that could see His glory and His love and His perichoresis, and in seeing Him would treasure Him, and could become one with Him and one with each other. This was Christ’s prayer for us before He was crucified:
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:21-24)
This is the hope that the apostles have also given us, that one day we will be stripped of all the weights and sins of this life and be able to see and love Christ and see and love each other in ways we now can not even dream of:
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:49)
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. (1 John 3:2)
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3-4)
Every relationship that I experience now is a mixture of sweet and bitter, as misunderstanding, mistakes, hurts, and selfishness are always present to some degree. But one day that will all be past: all relationships will be healed, and not only healed but experienced in a freedom and grace and joy that we can now not even conceive. And the dance will continue to grow in sweetness forever, relating to the Trinity and to each other. That, truly, is the hope of heaven.
But there is more than heaven that is precious about the perichoresis, for God wants us to start dancing now. Through being one body in Christ, through the regeneration and empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we can start today to dance. We can love, we can forgive, we can serve, we can laugh, we can grow in holiness, because we know who we are, who God is, and what heaven will be like. The verse after 1 John 3:2 says “And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.” And the verses after 2 Peter 1:3-4 tell us:
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
“For this very reason”— because we have God’s promises, we have the desire and the power to grow in love and holiness as we dance the never-ending dance of being the children of God. Hear the music. Dance today.
Note: The following is article #9 in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series so far is available here.
I don’t know about you, but life isn’t a walk in the park every day. The hard and narrow way (Matthew 7:13-14) is, well, hard and narrow. How do we keep going? What rock (Matthew 7:24-27) will withstand the strongest storm that can batter us?
For John Piper, that rock is the truth found within Romans 8:32:
He who did not spare His own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
Faith’s greatest foundation is that God “did not spare His own Son.” God did the hardest thing, not only that has ever been done, but the hardest thing that could ever even be conceivable to be done, in the universe: He allowed His Son, the being He loved more than anything else in the universe, to suffer and die. Why? The verse says it— “for us.” So Paul is saying that if God has already done the hardest thing in the universe, it is an easy thing, a simple thing, for Him to “graciously give us all things.”
Meditate on this. The hardest thing in the world to you, is a simple, easy thing for God. As Piper says, “Think on that every time you fear being denied something that would be good for you. You think it is a hard thing. You see many obstacles. It looks impossible.” But it’s not— it is an easy thing for God.
This truth, that God really will give us everything we need and not deny us anything that is for our good, is so vital and yet so hard to REALLY BELIEVE. But we have to keep going back to Romans 8 and see God’s explanation, and how absolutely certain we can be of God’s promise. Piper says:
You must believe this or you will not thrive, or perhaps even survive as a Christian, in the pressures and temptations of modern life. There is so much pain, so many setbacks and discouragements, so many controversies and pressures. I do not know where I would turn in the ministry if I did not believe that almighty God is taking every setback and every discouragement and every controversy and every pressure and every pain, and stripping it of its destructive power and making it work for the enlargement of my joy in God.
So, today, what painful area of your life are you struggling to believe that God is actually giving to you for your good? What promise of God that seems so long in coming are you struggling to keep believing that He will fulfill? Bathe your soul in the sweetness of Romans 8, and take both comfort and strength for your walk with Christ today.
Larry Crabb recently penned an email entitled “Emptiness: Your Friend or Enemy?” In it he explored the difference in being confident that God will one day fill all our emptiness versus demanding that God fill our soul emptiness NOW, on our terms. Here is a quote:
The Colossian Christians were being seduced by the promise of fullness now. It’s the same today. Exciting worship and stirring messages that promise the abundant life of feeling full now attracts large crowds. But “getting high on Jesus” does not fill our emptiness anymore than cotton candy fills our stomachs. Getting high on Jesus is very different from living by faith in Jesus when we feel empty, of loving God and others when we feel desperately alone, of hoping for an experience that is not available now in the measure or with the consistency we desire.
What are you expecting from God, from prayer, from worship, from service, from Bible study, from community? All of those things are good things, and things that God uses to bless our souls. But are you expecting those blessings to fill every cavity in your heart, all the time? And when they don’t, do you seek out more and more “spiritual highs” under the guise of piety to fill your soul? Or do you give up on God and seek out something else to fill your heart? Why not instead determine to allow the hope of God’s future goodness to fill and guard your heart?
…because of the hope laid up for you in heaven… Colossians 1:5
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. ( 1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV )
“Therefore”—Paul has spent chapter 15 showing that believers possess eternal life and will one day be given glorified bodies, and so in this last verse he states that because we know this is our destiny, it should change our attitudes and actions. He knows how easy it is for us to accept compromise in our morals, to be wavering in the truth, to be lackadaisical in our works. But if we are always keeping in mind our eternal destiny, our normal pattern should change to being “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,” even though it is hard, because we know our labor “will not be in vain” that there will eternal results and rewards. Knowing we have eternal life should make an eternal difference, both in our lives and in the lives of others.
That’s the question posed by a commentator at Entertainment Weekly concerning the frenzied finale to season 5 of the TV show 24 last week. And a mixed bag it certainly was, with Jack and his buds finally bringing down the corrupt president, but not before a lot of innocent (and not so innocent) lives had been lost, and not before a lot of scars had been etched on the souls of all the major characters involved. Of course, Jack himself for all his work and sacrifice has to look forward to a lifetime of Chinese water torture. No wonder the commentator summed up his impressions thusly:
(The finale) validated the central theme of the season, which was, at bottom, the contradiction at the heart of this series: Can one man make a difference? Unlike any other series on TV, 24 suggests that the answer is probably no. It’s been great to see Kiefer Sutherland run, shoot, and outwit so many foes, but the layers of evil, corruption, and rot, fanned out last night to include the entire globe, seem for now at least to have defeated him. It takes guts to go out in a blaze of…defeat.
Whoa…enough with the nihlism already. He’s almost right: the layers of evil, corruption, and rot do permeate this planet, and it does take guts to buck it, and reality demonstrates that life is messy, that often a man does go out in a blaze of defeat, that life sometimes is more like the final scene of Saving Private Ryan than the final scene of Return of the Jedi.
So what’s wrong with this final conclusion, that one man can’t make a difference? Because this isn’t a universe on autopilot. This isn’t a universe whose fate is still undecided, or whose fate is being manipulated by some impersonal force. This universe was created by and for an omnipotent, omniscent being who is still running the show and calling all the shots. He came down into the story and became the main character, the one Man who truly did make a difference, and by his life and death and resurrection proved that He truly was the author of the story, and had already written a really great ending for the final season.
And what’s the bottom line for us? That if we have truly received the new birth through faith in Christ, we can be just as confident in defeat now as in victory, for there will one day come a “season” where all the Hendersons, Bierkos, and Logans will meet perfect and final and inescapable justice, and we will no longer count the minutes or hours or centuries, but see that some hard “24 hours” in our lives now will mean nothing in the scope of eternity.