accepting hardship and disappointment instead of discouragement and defeat

Sometimes we have to make the best of a hard situation. Instead of caving in and giving up, and often along with that, feeling sorry for ourselves. And unwittingly, or maybe not so unwittingly, accepting our demise.

There are all kinds of reasons for this in a broken, fallen world of which we’re a part of in our own brokenness. Even apart from our own problems and shortcomings, indeed even sins along the way, life itself can present us with issues for which there are no good or easy answers.

And there really are limitations in this life. As humans we all have to eat, drink and sleep. While we can do some difficult things for a certain period of time, there are limits. And not everything in this life succeeds or turns out well according to plan. So we have to live according to realistic goals, and set our sights on that.

But we will be in some hard, difficult, and potentially discouraging places. That is inevitable, and we will do well to accept it as a matter of fact part of life and living in this present sphere of existence.

The worst thing we can do is feel sorry for ourselves. That means our disappointment and discouragement has caused us to accept our defeat. No. We have to do better going forward, no matter what. The biggest part of that better is to learn to depend on God in the midst of everything, and not on ourselves. But not baby ourselves, either.

A good passage to help us through all of this, as we consider the rest of scripture as well is found in one of the most down to earth books in scripture, James.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

James 1

May God help us be aware and awake to this problem, and learn to address it well with his wisdom and help in and through Jesus.

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a good prayer when not knowing what to do

11 Teach me your way, Lord,
    that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
    that I may fear your name.

Psalm 86

There are times when we’re at a loss on what to do in a given matter. We might have inclinations, and we probably most certainly know what we would like to see happen. Though sometimes that may not even be the case.

Something important for us to learn is to pray, pray, and keep on praying. Psalm 86 is a prayer from beginning to end. The psalmist is in trouble; his very life being threatened by enemies. The psalm is attributed as a prayer of David, so that such circumstances are no surprise.

I usually know what I would like to do, and I’ve oftentimes done it, probably with mixed results at best. But I’m learning to hold back and simply pray, and keep praying. Maybe the answer from God will come sooner or later. And it likely won’t be an answer I would have come up with, or even be capable of coming up with. And with God guiding the process, God gives the grace to carry it out, something else not as true when we’re less dependent on God.

In the passage from the psalm above, that snippet of the prayer could be interpreted in reference to a specific situation, which actually was the case in the psalm. And it can also be an ongoing prayer for all of life. But in keeping with the psalm itself, it was offered when the psalmist was up against it in a particular situation.

For God to teach us his way means to do something in a different way than we ordinarily would do. It’s the desire to walk in God’s truth, or rely on his faithfulness, either one being true to the Hebrew in its translation. I’m not sure which one I would choose if I would study the text and context, and it’s never a matter (or might be rarely) of both being meant at the same time. To walk in God’s truth is so basic, yet not to be taken for granted. We easily deviate from that in our thoughts and attitudes. And to rely on God’s faithfulness is also crucial for us, because since we can count on God, why do we take matters in our own hands, even when it seems necessary to do so?

The prayer for an undivided heart that the psalmist might fear or reverence God’s name is also important. In the trial or whatever it is we’re facing, sins like pride might be uncovered. There might be a sifting, refining process going on. God might be just as concerned with the process as with the answer. Both likely go together, so that we’re changed, and therefore can live better in the outcome, even if it’s not what we would choose.

Something I’m working on, and trying to walk through. In and through Jesus.

trials as opportunities

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

Who likes trials? No one. And for me they often come in the form of thoughts, but about real life situations. And so I try to ferret everything out as best I can. I try to pray according to Philippians 4:6-7, trying to practice all that verses 4-9 include. Certainly in an imperfect, broken way, but sincerely.

And by and by the Lord somehow gives me relief. And in one way or another, either a sense of growth, though that usually takes some time, not just over one episode. Though if I can handle it well enough, that is cause for encouragement. And another way is  through a new thought that comes my way, which itself may have nothing to do with the trial itself, but more with the kind of reaction I need to have regarding it.

At any rate, as hard as it’s going to be at the time, we need to develop the mindset and attitude that sees trials of whatever sort as opportunities. Just like the passage quoted above tells us.

Of course there are the places of deepest darkness through which we may need to pass which I’m not sure qualify for actual trials, but are more like life changers. I think of a person losing a loved one through an unexpected physical malady or accident. Maybe in some sense that might qualify as trials, but I hesitate to place it here, in what James is referring to. Perhaps what might fit into what James is saying, during such times, would be when we are faced with new problems which indeed are trials as the result of such happenings. But I hesitate to see even that in this category.  God is certainly at work in all things for our good, but that doesn’t mean at all that those things God is at work in are good themselves.  But we can be confident, whatever it is, that God will bring us through to the other side. And will be with us the whole way, throughout our lives in our brokenness and loss.

Trials as opportunities. May we more and more learn to see them that way with God’s help, as God’s word tells us to, in and through Jesus.

a hard earned faith

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works,just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Hebrews 4:9-13

In the culture of praying the prayer and asking Jesus into our hearts, once saved always saved, the idea of a hard earned faith seems mistaken at best. It is interesting, considering Jesus’s parable of the sower, that one can believe with joy, but fall away when the trials come (Luke 8:13). In contrast to the one who perseveres, and by so doing yields a significant crop (Luke 8:15).

Trusting in God by trusting in his word and the sea-change that brings is at the heart of this. It is not just a one time thing, and it is not so much incremental. We can see in Jesus’s parable of the sower, that the person who ends up falling away, initially receives the word with joy, and for all intents and purposes looks genuine, believing for a while (Luke 8:13). But when testing comes, which we see in the other gospel can involve “trouble or persecution because of the word, they quickly fall away” (Matthew 13:21; see also Mark 4:16-17).

Back to the Hebrews passage, some of this might not fit all that well into our doctrine or what we’ve been taught in church. I think especially of churches which have taught once saved, always saved, though it all depends on all those churches teach. The point is that we can neither take faith for granted, nor be careless concerning it, just because we made some commitment once upon a time. That faith has to survive through all the rough patches and troubles life throws our way.  And according to Hebrews, that takes effort on our part. It seems like an oxymoron, but we’re to make every effort to enter into that rest. And this is an issue of obedience, whether or not we will obey God.

What we need is God’s word to help us along the way, by correcting us. We need to be committed to being under that word, to hear it and abide by it (Hebrews 4:12-13).

Sounds rather stark and threatening. But that’s not because God is that way, but rather because we are so prone to wander and get lost. God is faithful, and we can depend on God’s word. God will help us see what we need to see to keep going. And to learn to live in the rest God provides for us in and through Jesus.

trusting in the Lord when faced with difficulty

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
    In God, whose word I praise—
in God I trust and am not afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me?

Psalm 56:3-4

The Lord prayed the psalms, as is evident when he was on the cross. Perhaps this was one passage he prayed during the course of his life on earth. It is certainly apt for us, although our circumstances will likely be different than were that of the psalmist. But the crux of the matter, facing opposition, or something which threatens are well being can be the same.

Being afraid is a part of life. Our bodies when healthy feel pain through the nerve endings in place. That is protective. It’s not like all fear is bad. One evangelical evangelist said that to be afraid and trust in the Lord is good, but to trust in the Lord and not be afraid is better. Maybe so, but I don’t see the two that way myself. I do think we can go through them as stages, the first being the initial fear we naturally have over something overcome by trusting the Lord. The second simply being our disposition and choice, based on faith in God and God’s word, his promises to us.

How we face perceived danger might be the question. Faith insists that it will be alright in the end (see Psalm 23), no matter what we have to walk through. God is with us in Jesus, and will protect us.

Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

It may not be fun to walk through, but the Lord will be with us no matter what. The rod and staff in the Psalm was an instrument of the shepherd to gently guide the sheep, and to protect them from danger. We can gather from that thought that God will guide us and protect us from danger, from falling off the cliff, or going off by ourselves as if we can take care of it, or maybe simply out of fear. The Good Shepherd (John 10) will be present to keep us on track and comfort us.

Trusting in God must be our present and default position. I mean that whether things are okay, or not, we need to trust in the Lord. And at times we will need to renew that commitment, at other times simply grasp and hold on to it for dear life. But no matter what we face or ultimately have to walk through, we can know that God will be present with us to help us in and through Jesus to the very end.

being under it

Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

Romans 8:8

When you think about it, or simply just by living –you really end up not having to think about it at all– you will usually for one reason at a time have great cause for concern or anxiety, so that you’re “under it.” And we sort of get used to living there, hopefully learning to flourish and so in a sense no longer be under the circumstances.

In the midst of it all, I want to please God. And a life of pleasing God involves walking through whatever it is that we are facing in a way, obviously, that is pleasing to him. And what way might that be? The way of faith, in the Spirit, in and through Christ, and of course Christ’s death and resurrection.

So that no matter what we face, regardless of how difficult it is, we can set our goal to simply be pleasing to God whatever the outcome. Walking through it might well be difficult with no answers along the way, relatively clueless. But our confidence ultimately must be in God, and in nothing or no one else. That is the one hope for us, and for everyone. Whether in the midst of great loss, or whatever we are facing. All of this in and through Jesus.

breaking through from unbelief to faith in the trials of life

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

There are certain go-to texts we would rather not go to. But we live in the real world, with all of its issues, and we’re smack dab in the middle of it with issues of our own. I can’t think of a better example of that than this passage in James, though there are probably better examples I’ve essentially screened out.

Part of maturity, and specifically Christian maturity is to learn to accept each new situation or trying circumstance as an opportunity for growth in the Lord. That can get old and humdrum to us, but maybe that’s because we’ve not learned our lesson well, yet.

In this James passage, we find that difficulties, even trials or temptations can either end up working for our good or ill, depending on our own response. Maybe there’s some muddled up middle gray area since even with faith, we can still struggle in not really entering it as completely as we should. Scripture seems to make the case and it seems clear in this passage (click link above for the context) that we either enter into this blessing, or we don’t, one or the other. Ordinarily I think we might kind of live in the in-between realm, which means we don’t really enter into the “promised land” God has for us.

A side note, yet interesting, and surely pertinent in creation: neuroscience today is helping us understand the plasticity of the brain, and how it can be reshaped even in older age. And how it essentially is always being impacted by life.

This word of God from James puts forward to me a new challenge, maybe renewed, but coming across to me as new. I am personally weary of the same responses I have over and over again to trouble, especially in the form of threatening circumstances. My gut reaction is ordinarily always negative and I end up steeped in fear and anxiety. I am used to it. And I usually get over it more or less fairly soon, probably an improvement over the past. But that seems to indicate that I haven’t learned at least well enough to step past the line from unbelief to faith when it comes to such circumstances.

That is what by God’s grace I would like to change. Yes, according to this passage it’s up to me, not God, who has already done and is doing his part. God’s word of grace is present for me, God’s reality and truth. It’s up to me to learn to grasp and hold on to that. And thus be a doer of the word, and not just a hearer (James 1:19-27). In and through Jesus.