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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Leaking Peace? Plug the Drain with Gratitude

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  (Phil. 4:6-7)

This verse promises an unfathomable, divinely empowered, peace that guards the hearts and minds of Christians.  Why then, does God’s peace elude so many of us?

First, notice that the promise comes with a prohibition: “Do not be anxious about anything”.  Nothing drains peace like worry.  And nothing is as useless as worry.  That’s why Jesus said,

“Do not be anxious about your life… Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more valuable than they?  Who by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Matthew 6: 26-27.

Birds have a lot to teach worrywarts.  This fact sheds new light on the derogatory term “bird brain”.  Some of us should consider the term a compliment.  At least birds have the wisdom to trust God. But a worrywart only trusts himself and that becomes his undoing!

Second, the peace God offers is inseparably linked to gratitude.  Nothing sustains peace better than genuine thankfulness toward God.  Unfortunately thankfulness doesn’t come naturally, and people are as unaware of their ingratitude as they are of their bad breath.

Recently, I was complaining to my wife about having to wait too long on the phone (I mean my new iphone) for the greedy drug company to put me in contact with a real person (The company had developed a new medicine, without bothersome side effects, for our son). And even though I remember sending in correct paperwork twice already, (actually email saved me postage and time) the drug company failed again to update our health insurance information (to reflect the new, cheaper rates).  I could only see every annoyance, so as I lay down that night I offered a vague thanks to God. But, I failed to notice that my “thanksgiving” list was functionally empty.  I was too focused on thinking through my “to do” list for the next day.  Thanklessness and anxiety had drained my peace dry.

2682157559_c49267be69_b-2So how can you keep peace from leaking down the drain?  The good news is that God provides a constant stream of peace.  So, it shouldn’t take long to fill up when you follow Philippians 4:6-7 and plug your leaks.

First get serious about giving thanks to God. If you’ve felt melancholy for some time, its likely you need to change your perspective from worry to thanksgiving. When you fail to appreciate your blessings it will result in only feeling exhausted by them. So, slow down! Pause longer than you think reasonable and thank God for every little thing. Get specific. You’ll discover untapped joy, and renewed energy special gifts God reserves solely for thankful hearts.

Second (and more importantly), remember God is for you.  Jesus is proof!  When he died on the cross, he paid the ultimate price to guarantee your peace forever.  His resurrection establishes that he really is who he claims to be — so there is nothing to worry about. Get busy thanking God for all the good things coming to you, simply because you are connected to Jesus. The more specific you can get in your thanksgiving, the more leaks you will plug.

  • Feeling overlooked, or forgotten? Thank God that He has tattooed your name on his hands (Isaiah 49:16).  You are precious to Him.
  • Feeling overcome with grief? Thank God, Jesus knows what it’s like to suffer intense grief (Isaiah 53:3). He is with you in the darkness and he will bring you through it.
  • Feeling exhausted with anger? Thank God that He endures your anger with patience and he responds with loving kindness (Exodus 34:6). He’ll bless you as you wrestle with Him (Genesis 32: 26-29).
  • Feeling hopeless to change? Thank God you are discovering your need for Jesus. Let your skepticism drive you away from self-reliance and toward a greater dependence on Jesus (John 15:5)

As you plug the leaks caused by ingratitude (and worry) expect your peace to overflow its normal reservoir and become a “peace that passes all understanding.”

Featured Slider Picture Credit and Drain picture credit