Hope Sufficient For The Daily Grind

Some mornings taking a pass and staying in bed seems like the better choice. As I lay in bed making a mental list of my responsibilities for the day, my motivation for the first one evaporates before my feet hit the floor. Instead of going for a run I jump in the shower. When I walk into the kitchen, I nag my zombie-faced kids to pick up the pace and blame them when I realize I am late for my first appointment. Before 8am my dream of being fatherly and fit has dissolved into ashes and I mock myself for failing the simplest goals. On my drive to work, anxious thoughts flash through my mind like shooting stars — How will my kids respect me or want a close relationship when they’re adults? Will high cholesterol leave my wife to fend for herself in this overwhelming world? Thankfully after a cup of coffee, my doubts and fears seem quite ridiculous.

My struggle is not unique. I am suspicious that failures of all shapes and sizes, not just the big ones, sideline others from living with joyful expectation. Many get caught in a death spiral of anxious worry. Regret creates insecurity. Insecurity feeds more fear and doubt. When they don’t pull out of their downward spiral they implode in helpless inaction or explode into a counterproductive frenzy.

Jesus understood people’s fears and doubts, and was a master of pulling them out of their death spiral so they could soar with joyful hope. We see this most clearly in Jesus’ interaction with the eleven disciples after his resurrection. Matthew records, “When they saw [the risen Jesus] they worshiped him, but some doubted.”  Clearly, some disciples wrestled persistently with anxious doubt even as others enjoyed spontaneous worship.

How did Jesus respond to the anxious doubters? He could have shamed them, but instead he simply reminded them of reality, called them to act on it, and promised to never leave them (Matthew 28:18-20).

  • He reminded them of reality: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  Jesus wasn’t bragging. He was stating the facts verified by each miracle and established at his resurrection. He really did have authority over every part of creation, including death. When certain disciples imploded with doubt and fear, Jesus redirected their attention away from themselves and toward Himself. Similarly if you want to overcome anxiety, stop worrying about your failures, focusing on your limitations, or ruminating on your disappointments. Refocus your attention on what is real — Jesus has authority over everything in your life. Like the disciples, you may not understand what Jesus is doing but you must know he cares about you and he is up to something very good. His love and power are real even when your exhaustion, pain, or discouragement blind you from seeing it. Trust Him even on the days you are sorely tempted to take a pass and stay in bed. Jesus has already proven he has authority over everything that scares you. One day he will relieve it, end it, heal it or restore it. His full authority over everything — the heavens, the earth, your life — is just as real as the air you’re breathing.
  • He called them to action: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Jesus calls us to act on the reality he has revealed. As we go about our lives, we are given the privilege of helping others know one transforming truth — Jesus lived, died, rose again, and will make all things new. It’s up to each person to either accept this reality and follow him or deny it and follow their own spiritual imaginations. Our call to make disciples isn’t primarily about religious duty. It’s about living aligned to reality which just so happens to be ruled by one God in three persons — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We may never understand God’s three-in-one nature any better than we understand light’s particle-wave duality. But seekers of truth accept reality for what it is even when it exceeds the limitations of human comprehension. When we live aligned to the reality revealed by Jesus, we rediscover peace and purpose for ourselves and others.
  • He promised his presence: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus walked this planet for 33 years. Before ascending to heaven, he promised his continued presence through his Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that empowered Jesus to resist temptation and endure every hardship now lives in His people. Even now during life’s worst seasons, we have all we need to thrive spiritually. But someday, at the final resurrection, we shall thrive in every way!

Your confidence to endure life’s daily grind will rebound as you redirect your attention from your difficulties to ultimate reality — Jesus is establishing a new kingdom (even during life’s most exhausting and frustrating moments). This hope exceeds whatever limitations you bring to the day — ignorance, fear, weakness, depression, bitterness, anxiety — because it is based on the fact that God came into the world to turn back the curse and make all things new. God will continue his work through His Spirit working in His people and we will enjoy the final product when Jesus returns.

So the next time you are tempted to stay in bed, take a pass, or ridicule your efforts to hold it together; try something different. Remember the greater reality Jesus reveals, align with it, and lean on Him each step of the way. He’s always near.

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Does God Give You More Than You Can Handle?

3963368371_095254caf0_z“God won’t give you more than you can handle!”  The promise sounds beautiful and encouraging — like poetry from a greeting card.  Many claim it as their favorite Bible verse.  The only problem is that it’s not in the Bible.  While Hallmark may make this promise, God does not.

As strange as this may sound, this should come as a relief to you.  First, history and experience vividly illustrate that it is not true.  Imagine making this promise to a Jew in Auschwitz, or a parent who has just lost their only child, or a person with stage four pancreatic cancer.  Who wouldn’t be tempted to punch a person in the face for giving such “encouragement”?  Second, it should relieve you that the Bible is for real people, not just those so sheltered from life’s hardships that they naively fall prey to sentimental well wishing.  Third, identifying this promise as false will help you more quickly recognize the real Jesus.  He came to earth precisely because we’ve failed to handle what God has already given us.

So yes, God gives us more than we can handle.  In fact, Jesus seemed intent on putting his disciples in impossible situations — way beyond what they could handle.  For example:

“Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side. . . [the boat was] beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them and in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.”  Matthew 14:22,24-25  and Mark 6: 45-52

When a dangerous storm hits, where is the last place you want to be?  Flailing about the sea in a tiny fishing boat might qualify.  Yet, that is exactly where Jesus sent Peter and the disciples after they helped him feed 5,000 hungry people.  Why would Jesus send his exhausted friends into a devastating storm?  Jesus even lingers on the shore until the LAST watch of the night before He walks by their sinking boat.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  Jesus intended to pass them by (according to Mark’s account).

Children’s Bibles gloss over these details.  As a child, that’s probably why I confused Mr. Rogers and Jesus.  Mr. Rogers would never give us more than we could handle.  But the real Jesus is not so tame or predictable.  He seems fine overwhelming us with more than we can handle so that we see our need for Him.

Think about Peter’s experience with Jesus in just one day.  After working all day, Jesus asked him to feed five thousand people.  With what?  Five loaves, and two fish!  Really?  Then Jesus sent him into an unyielding storm.  Peter strained at the oars all night long, unable to bring his boat to safe harbor.  When Peter realized he could not handle his situation, something dawned on him.  He cried out to Jesus in desperation and Jesus responded.  He enabled Peter to walk on water.  But Peter, habitually self-reliant, turned his gaze from Jesus.  As Peter sank into the depths, Jesus grabbed him.  Even in Peter’s best moment, he was clearly in over his head.

In a specific situation, we may never completely understand why God gives us more than we can handle.  We’ll feel frustrated and even terrified when it happens.  But God will use it to replace our self-reliance with a fuller reliance on Him.

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