Plod On Faithfully

A TRAIL HEADER IMG_2155Some days are ordinary.

Some days are mountain tops.

And some are just hard.

It’s the stuff of which life is made. And it is good…whether we feel like dancing through the day, putting one foot in front of the other, or just sitting down.

We are called to move forward, and there is joy in recognizing that His mercies are new every morning. It is our call to run our race with perseverance (Hebrews 12:1-2); but not just any race, “the race marked out for us.”

My life, my walk with Christ, my place in the world and the people in it will not be like any one else’s. It may be similar, but God has made me and each of us, in His image yes, but uniquely us; our circumstances are just what He intends for such a time as this.

And, He who has “marked out” a race for each one will not leave those He calls His own to run it alone but will prepare us for the journey, come alongside, even carry us at times, and use it all for His glory and our transformation!

A couple of months ago, we were in Colorado and decided to do what we thought would be a semi-short, fairly laid back afternoon hike in the mountains around the perimeter of the town close to where we were staying.

It began relatively easy and, early on, I found myself running up some parts of the path, exhilarated by the beauty and eager for the adventure. Rather quickly, however, we realized it was not all going to be a smooth, well-defined path with little elevation change. There would be places where the climb was grueling, the path beneath us rocky and at the same time, slippery, and the markings not so clear. The corridor would get narrow and the edges steep. We would grow thirsty, having not brought as much water as we probably should have.A TRAIL IMG_2086

It was soon evident that we would come to more than one crossroad where we had to decide whether we would persevere and finish the course or take a short cut and miss completing the much anticipated afternoon of exploring we had undertaken.

There was actually no way either of us would consider cutting it short; even if, when we grew weary from the varying conditions of the trail and the heat, we had to plod from time to time. That was part of the beauty and adventure of it.

In the end, it was closer to nine miles and the temps soared in the lower elevations; not particularly long but more rigorous than we anticipated.

Still, had we chosen the “easier” way, we would have missed the green pathways where we stopped to watch a young doe moving unafraid under the trees. We would have lost the opportunity to look out over the highest point of the trail at 8,557 feet, to watch a hawk catch the wind, sailing across a chasm, and to view the various peaks and valleys that declared the glory of God simply by their presence. A TRAIL IMG_2158

We would have failed to come across both the rushing waters and steady flow of different waterfalls and a cool mountain lake that alerted all our senses! Our encounters with a man who shared his story and a mom and dad with eager teenagers who joined us for a time would have been missed. The sheer joy of the journey and finishing what we had begun and endured would have been wasted as well!

It was not just the experiences from the hike that we remember and in which we have satisfaction but, in finishing; what it did “in” us and what it taught us about ourselves and, more importantly, about God and our relationship with Him. It was also a reminder that we need each other in this journey as we regularly encouraged each other to press on.

The paradox was that we were so tired yet so refreshed! And isn’t that part of what perseverance does in us?

“Let perseverance finish its work (in us), so we will grow, lacking nothing in Christ.” (James 1:4)

Perseverance isn’t dependent on the circumstances in which I live and breathe but upon whom I rest and find my ultimate satisfaction. And that One calls His people to be, as Joseph Wheat has said, “faithful plodders.” We are not called to be stoic in the face of sorrow, slap on a fake smile when our hearts are breaking, nor be arrogant in our demands that God answer every prayer in our timing and according to “our will.”

He knows our sorrows, allows us to weep, brings others to share our tears, and holds us in the darkest nights. He allows us to ask questions but then calls us to trust Him for the answers even when we can’t see and our hearts don’t understand.

He knows we live in an easily shaken world that defies Him and that can so easily distract us from a determined walk with Christ that is distinctively different and provides a firm foundation as it is grounded in His Word, Truth.

He knows we are continually faced with things and people that seek to rival our affection. He understands the enemy of our souls tempts us to satisfy our hunger and cover our shame, hurts, and loneliness with substances, experiences, and the noise of mindless activities rather than learning to be still, seeking that redemption, healing, and satisfaction in the only One that is not a temporary fix but a lasting transformation, and spending time with others who find joy in desiring the same so we are mutually encouraged to stay the course.

He knows we need the exhortation of one another so we “may not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13) nor overwhelmed by the sheer exhaustion of living in a world that seeks to call good, evil and evil, good.

And so, out of His great love and tenderness, He appeals to us not to neglect meeting together. Rather, give one another confidence…

“…to press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of (us)… forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead…” (Philippians 3:12-14)

Though my “hard” may be different than others, my temptations may not mirror another’s, and my places of rest might not look like yours – every redeemed child of God is called to that same perseverance because each of us is called to fix our eyes on the same endpoint – Jesus, the Author and perfecter of our faith.

We aren’t given a view of what is ahead or even just around the next corner.

God doesn’t call us to plow ahead, full speed, beating out every other runner nor hold back in fear.

Instead, He equips us for and calls us to an unwavering…

Endurance.

     Steadfastness.

          Diligence.

In order to run the race with perseverance without burning out, to be able to “mutually encourage,” and to be a “faithful plodder” who knows that our help comes from “…the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1), we must first learn to “Be still and know that (He is) I AM, God!” (46:10)

In fact, we have Jesus’ example to follow. Even He, God in the flesh, had to get away from the crowd! Spending time with others is a good thing, but getting away, talking to and hearing our Father’s voice; feeding on and savoring His Word as though our lives depend on it, because they do – is life-giving. Resting in our Abba, who stands ready to strengthen, equip, and just hold us when we are weary with the race or when temptation increases, allows us to take that next step.

As we grow in our understanding of what is needed for faithful perseverance, our longing should be for more of His presence and His Word for which Jesus commended Mary. While Martha ran around meeting needs, a good thing, Jesus said that Mary had chosen what was better and it would never be taken away.

At times, we may need to ask Him to restore that longing, but it is in those times when the hunger wanes, we must run even more intentionally into the arms of the One who is able to restore the joy of our salvation and our very souls!

The “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (none of which comes from the Father) but from the world” (I John 2:16) will distract us from keeping “our eyes fixed on Jesus” so we must also be deliberate about guarding that which has been entrusted to us; turning from “godless chatter and opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge” (I Timothy 6:20) that explodes all around us but is nothing more than the Deceiver whispering across the ages, “Did God really say?”

The more we idly engage the world, its ideas, and its systems in direct opposition to and defiance of the very character of God, instead of “renewing our minds” (by His Word), “taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5), and answering accordingly, the more we will soon realize we are no longer just “in the world” but “conformed to it.” (Romans 12:2)

In that conformity, the less we will persevere, the less faithful we will plod, the more we will turn our gaze from the Savior and soon find ourselves “sitting in the seat of mockers.” (Psalm 1)

There is nothing that robs us of joy more.

It is God’s mercy that the Bible warns us through the life of Demas, who was, at one time, in ministry with Paul as a faithful “fellow worker” in the gospel, but who, not being watchful, became in love with this present world” and deserted Paul. (2 Timothy 4:10) He quit running the race.

It is God’s grace and power, that gives us “everything we need for life and godliness, through our knowledge of Him who called us…” (2 Peter 1:3), that calls us to be diligent and devoted to His Word and sound teaching (I Timothy 4:13-15), that pursues us and infuses us with joy then beckons us to use every opportunity to encourage each other to the same.

There is joy in this journey on which God has called us – this life lived for Him. But there are times we won’t “feel” it and will, instead, have to choose it. It isn’t an emotion or a reaction as a result of a circumstance; it is an abiding rest in knowing who we are and whose we are. It is leaning into the One who has not only marked the race for us but runs it with us, infusing us with the very breath we need.A TRAIL IMG_2239

As we set our hope on Him, God will renew our strength that, at times, will falter, so that we will “soar on wings like eagles, run and not grow weary, walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

By the work of His transforming grace, don’t give up, flee to Christ and what is before us, that very race He has marked out for you and me!

Flee to redemption and His purposes for us rather than to the very things that are killing us spiritually!

Don’t miss the joy! Look up and see Him who is doing a “new thing” we can’t perceive!

Look up and see Him who is faithful!

Plod on Redeemed Followers of Christ and finish your race! But plod faithfully, purposefully, deliberately, intentionally bringing others along with you!

“He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” (Philippians 1:6) 

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of evil one.” Ephesians 6:10-11 

“I have hidden Your Word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” Psalm 119:11 

“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them…” I Timothy 4:16

Fight to Be Faithful…Refreshed and Ready

IMG_1337.JPGRecently, I read an article from Kevin DeYoung, from which the following led to more thought, “As a pastor, everything seems more important and more urgent than being in the word and prayer. We must fight to be faithful.”

Indeed, in ministry there is often the tyranny of the urgent and many expect the pastor to be available to them as needed. It is, without a doubt, the pastor who is faithful to cultivate his time in the Word and prayer that best nurtures his congregation, best ministers in his community, and best expounds on the Bible in teaching and preaching.

The same could be said for the believer in every sphere of life. Regardless of the age or level of activity, we often justify our “me” time, our “down” time, but that’s the irony of it all. For the believer, our greatest rest and reward is in His Word. Our best “me” time is nestling up to our Abba Daddy and hearing His heart. We are better equipped for all of life – for doing, thinking, discerning, and walking well – when we listen to our Lord’s heart and let Him hear ours.

The opportunity to revitalize, restore, and refresh is found in the presence of our Savior. And yet, we all succumb to satan’s whisper too often flowing from our own bent – “I just don’t have the time.”

I remember being so exhausted when I was the mom of young children, especially once I started homeschooling, that I didn’t think I could wake up early and function. And, if I stayed up late, it was to finish tasks undone during the day.  I just needed rest!

Yes, that is legitimate! Jesus rested and called his disciples to do the same, so that is good. But some of my sweetest times were either sitting alone quietly and letting God’s Word be a balm for my weariness or having a little one, even from infancy, snuggle up next to me asleep (or not) and having it open while I held them, sometimes reading aloud so it would also penetrate their head and heart as well. I was always amazed at the refreshment I got from it; so much more so than when, holding one of my sleepers, I turned on a mindless t.v. show for the noise factor.

And, then the days would get hectic again and I would forget how life giving it was as I got back to the demands that seemed to claw at me.

Today, there may be opportunities for a prolonged time to bask and there may be other times when I have to grab five minutes. But oh the strength gained regardless!

One of the ways I find to hide God’s Word in my heart throughout the day, both now and when I was busy with preschoolers all the way up to my high-schoolers was by way of music.  Music that is drawn from God’s Word – all genres from kids’ praise to bold music with solid truth to quiet praise and worship – has always penetrated its way into my heart in a manner that God often brings it back to my mind to refresh and even challenge me at just the right moment.

We can be sure of the promise found in Isaiah 55:11: “…so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”  Music has a unique ability to pierce through the noise of life and adhere to our hearts and minds.

Paul reminds believers, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (I Peter 5:8) Not only does disciplining ourselves to be in God’s word and prayer refresh us, it makes us ready for the inevitable clash; for truly every believer has times when life is fraught with discouragement and pitfalls – times when, in our weariness, we are more vulnerable to temptations and less likely to be “ready to give reason for the hope that we have,” let alone be salt and light. It is the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God that equips us to battle through those things that threaten to unravel our worlds.

The more we are in God’s Word, the Bible, the more we realize that it is our very life and breath. It is His gift of strength for our journey, for our conflicts, and sometimes for the tediousness of the everyday when we fail to see His beauty in the grind, the revelation of His glory in the commonplace, and His call for us to be His ambassadors of grace to the soul thirsty world among whom we live and move. The more we are in His Word, the more effective and content we will be in our individual lives and roles.

We soak in it and let it soak down into us not so we just “know” it but so that the Holy Spirit then transforms our hearts and our actions.

In Luke 10:38-42, Martha was busy doing good things; but Jesus said that Mary had chosen what was better and it would not be taken away from her. She was drinking in the Savior while Martha was serving and missing out on the refreshment. Her work of service was good, but Jesus knew that time with Him was better and was what she needed.

Work, service, recreation, and fellowship with others are right and even necessary; we were created for it all! We should nurture our families and enjoy them. We should care for our bodies and enjoy God’s creation. We should foster the talents and gifts God has given us. His Word calls us to be in fellowship with other believers and to be a conduit of God’s mercy and truth to the unbeliever. We can laugh at a funny movie and cry at a sad one. We can wisely tweet and Facebook and Instagram and enjoy it (as long as it does not control us nor lead us to compromise)!  We should make an impact in the places we call “our world” and abroad. And, yes, we need time to just be still or even nap.  All of this is good!

But, if you are anything like me then or now and, if we are honest, though there may be seasons of life where those things are hard to come by, it is often not that we have too little of those opportunities and have to fight for them. Rather, we often have to choose to pull away from some task that must be done “now” or some relaxation into which it is easy to settle and, instead, fight to be soul satisfied; not as a legalistic checklist but to enjoy our Redeemer and to “do” life well!

So we must, as Kevin DeYoung says, “fight to be faithful” – fighting our complacency and self-focus; facing and dealing with the broken places in this fallen world; pushing back against the “tyranny of the urgent” that we might rest in the shadow of the Almighty! Relying on God’s strength, we choose the self-discipline His Spirit provides that leads to fulfilling our true heart’s hunger, comforting our soul with the peace that will come, not from another triviality with which we often fill our time but from the Word that is living and active. It will come from pouring out our hearts to the One who is ready to take our burdens and give us rest.

Lifting hands of praise for the goodness He provides.

Laying before Him those things from our hands and head that draw us away from Him.

What will satisfy our true thirst? What will be the key to our discernment, to choosing wisely, to loving others well, to forgiving those who offend us, to enjoying God and His many gifts to us, especially that of our redemption, and to serving, but that the Word of God dwelling in us richly?

“Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I, for You have been my refuge, a strong tower…” Psalm 61:2-3

Like Mary, there are times we need to stop doing “Martha” things and sit at the Savior’s feet, soaking in His truth and basking in His presence. The journey will be sweeter and more delightful with the new perspective and we will be refreshed and ready!