Unbroken Perseverance

Unbroken

Toward the end of the movie Unbroken, Louis Zamperini is again being tortured by a Japanese prison camp officer. This man, known as “The Bird,” took a special interest in Louis.

Even after Louis broke his ankle, The Bird forces him to hold a railroad beam above his shoulders. The Bird ordered Louis shot if he dropped it.

When Louis’ strength waned after a half hour holding the beam, something clicked inside of him. His eyes gained a look of focused persistence, he took a new grip on the beam, and then he pushed it up as high as he could.

The rest of the POWs watched as The Bird falls to his knees with the realization that no matter what he does, he cannot break Louis.

Perseverance

This scene reminds me of the instructions the writer of Hebrews gives after talking about how God disciplines those He loves.

“So take a new grip with your tired hands and stand firm on your shaky legs. Mark out a straight path for your feet.” (Hebrews 12:12)

Scripture speaks in many places about perseverance. It even tells of the benefit believers gain from it.

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)

Perseverance also plays a significant role in our individual spiritual growth. It serves as critical in our progress toward what God promises.

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

Responsibility

Our perseverance isn’t only for our benefit though. After being told to take a new grip, stand firm and mark a straight path, the writer of Hebrews tells us our endurance also sets an example for others.

“Then those who follow you, though they are weak and lame, will not stumble and fall but will become strong.” (Hebrews 12:13)

We simply cannot live with just our own survival in mind. Others — our kids, spouses, friends, family, coworkers — see and follow our example. We have a responsibility to show them how to follow Christ.

This responsibility exists in our daily lives as we faithful serve Him. It exists when we refuse to let distractions consume us. And, it exists in the trials that would pull us into the muck and mire if we fail to take a new grip.

We fulfill that responsibility when we stand, even if on shaky legs, and focus our attention on Christ. We set an example when we follow that straight path regardless of what life sends our way. As we choose to persevere no matter what, others follow our example. In doing so, they discover new strength for their own efforts to persevere.

The Only Solution to Worry

Worn Out from Worry

Couldn’t sleep the other night. Worry consumed my mind. Racing thoughts kept me awake even though fatigue pulled at my eyelids.

The next day, worry destroyed my schedule. All-consuming thoughts stole my focus.

As a result, I became completely worn out from worry.

Worry Stones & Dolls

You can buy small, oval stones called worry stones. They’re smooth and just the right size to hold in your hand and stroke with your thumb. The idea is that this activity helps reduce anxiety and promote relaxation.

The Guatemalans created worry dolls as a remedy for worrying. Mayan legend says a person who couldn’t sleep would tell their worries to worry dolls, and then place the dolls under their pillow. The dolls supposedly took the person’s worries away to allow for restful sleep.

I get the idea behind worry stones and dolls. It fulfills the need to release nervous energy. While I don’t have a stone or a doll to easy my worries, I do turn to cleaning and exercising in an attempt to push them away.

Problem is, this activity only puts a band aid on the problem. They help, sure, but they do little to actually remedy my habitually worrisome mindset.

The Only Solution for Worry

When I am discouraged and bogged down by life’s cares, I begin to worry in an attempt to avoid or solve anticipated threats. As a result, I only meet with frustration and uncontrollable negative thoughts.

Eventually, though, I do hear the Holy Spirit’s voice through the noise and am led to the only solution for my worry.

“Do not be anxious (do not worry) about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6, NASB)

“Cast all your anxiety (worries) on him (Christ) because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7, NASB)

“Cast all your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” (Psalm 55:22, NASB)

In both the Old and the New Testaments, we find the only solution to worry (anxiety) spelled out. We’re told time and time again (also see Matthew 11:28-30 and Philippians 4:7) that we don’t have to carry the weight of our problems and cares.

We’re promised…

God will sustain us. He cares for us and will never let us fall.

Scripture tells us that God is able and willing to be our strength and support mentally, physically and spiritually. It also tells us that his care (love) for us is His motivation for doing so.

A Common Struggle

Though we often feel alone in our struggles, especially when worry runs rampant through our minds, we have to realize at some point that this simply isn’t true.

“No temptation has overtaken you but such is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NASB)

The temptation to worry is a common struggle.  Fortunately, we are given ways of escape and endurance. We simply do not have to succumb to the temptation to worry. And while we can’t directly change how we feel, we can change our thoughts. Our feelings, which are products of our thoughts, then change too.

“Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart]. ” (Philippians 4:8, AMP)

“Set your mind on things above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2, NASB)

We have a choice where we allow our thoughts to focus. We simply do not have to allow them to dwell on negativity and worry.

How to Cast Your Worries on Christ

The only way I know to truly cast my worries on Christ and to direct my thoughts towards that which is excellent and worthy of praise is to…

  1. Pray often. Often means frequently throughout the day.
  2. Read God’s Word. Fill my mind with truth daily, and more so as struggles amplify.
  3. Meditate on God’s Word. Let it become the compass for my thinking.

Worry pulls at your mind the more you give into it and let it consume your thinking. But as you take steps, however small, to direct your thinking toward God’s goodness, mercy and grace, your thoughts transform. And as thoughts transform, feelings do too.

Persevere & Refuse to Give Up

These small steps — praying, reading & meditating on Scripture — add up over time to make a huge — a transforming — difference in a person’s life. Keep taking those small steps.

Persevere through the temptation to worry. Refuse to give up and give in to negativity. Pursue truth and excellence and loveliness and purity and wholesomeness.

5 Habits for Getting and Staying in Shape

athletic-2

The New Testament uses a variety of athletic metaphors to describe the life of a Christian. These references were certainly understood by those to whom the letter was written since the Olympic games, along with the Isthmian Games, the Nemean Games and the Pythian Games, had been held for hundreds of years prior to any New Testament events taking place. And these metaphors are understood well still today in a culture where exercise and healthy lifestyles exist on a continuum from obsessiveness to belligerent avoidance.

These athletic metaphors were used in Scripture because many of the same habits for getting and staying in physical shape hold true for getting and staying in spiritual shape as well, not the least of which are similarities regarding the necessary mindset needed for both. Better understanding of these connections can lead us to effectively,

“run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24).

Perseverance. Discipline. Self-control. All essential elements, along with many others, in both physical and spiritual vitality. These elements, all laced within the athletic metaphors used in Scripture, work with other related habits to create a solid training program applicable both spiritually and physically.

athletic-1For me, the following 5 habits for getting and staying in shape are crucial for my continued physical and spiritual health, both continual struggles even within consistent victories.

  1. Accountability. Physically, a gym membership and/or an exercise partner provide accountability, a key component to staying physically active. Likewise, membership in a Bible-believing fellowship along with connection to individuals through deepening relationships establish the essential element of accountability needed for spiritual fitness. Surrounding yourself with others for support and encouragement goes a long way in remaining consistently strong, both physically or spiritually.
  2. Variety. Exercise can become boring very quickly without variety. For this reason, my workouts vary from running and elliptical to biking and boxing to weights and video workouts. Relating this idea to spiritual fitness, avoid limiting yourself to one way of serving or studying God’s Word. Yes, serve in your area of strength (play on the worship team if you have musical ability) and have systematic approaches to reading God’s Word daily, but be willing to go outside of your comfort zone too (work in the nursery even though you normally teach adults or do a key-word study once in a while). Healthy variety not only helps prevent boredom, but it allows space for God to work in weaknesses, which ultimately makes us stronger overall (2 Corinthians 12:10).
  3. Rest. Neglect adequate recovery time between workouts, and injury will eventually occur. Spiritually, this equates to regular quiet time with God as well as getting physical rest since lack of proper rest inhibits the ability to confidently say “Yes!” when asked, “Are You Giving Your Best?” Being tired physically as well as spiritually significantly impacts effectiveness in every area of life.
  4. Stretching. When was the last time you did something for the first time? Are you will to try new activities? Stretching physically means trying new activities as well as regularly stretching muscles to make them better able to handle activity without injury. Spiritual stretching might involve getting to know new people, especially if you’re an introvert like me, doing an in-depth Bible study if you always just do a short devotional, or joining the choir even though you’ve never performed in front of an audience. Be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading for opportunities to stretch physically, mentally and spiritually.
  5. Refueling. Our minds and spirits are like cars with regard to fuel; they need it in order to function. Physically, a healthy diet gives us the energy we need. Mentally, proper fuel (what we eat as well as drink) allows us to think and reason clearly and effectively. Spiritually, our spirits need filled up regularly on the truth of God’s Word. They need constant filling by the Holy Spirit through prayer, praise and submission. Life constantly asks more of us, which continually drains our energy. Refueling properly allows us to give without being drained and to do so on a consistent basis.

Adding to the connection between spiritual and physical fitness is the realization that both involve also ridding our lives of negative influences. Physically, this means avoiding unhealthy habits such as a poor diet, smoking and drugs. Spiritually, this means avoiding those things like that Paul tells us in Colossians 3:5-9 to “put to death.”

Developing positive habits and eliminating negative ones helps strengthen our perseverance, discipline and self-control, all essential elements of getting and staying in shape physically, mentally and spiritually. Development in this way increases our effectiveness and productivity in amazing ways.

“…make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)

What habits can you adjust to become physically and spiritually stronger?

Consider studying this topic further by meditating on the following Scripture:

  • Philippians 2:16
  • Galatians 2:2
  • Galatians 5:7
  • 2 Timothy 2:5

Character Determines Potential

Character

“Character reigns preeminent in determining potential.” (Laura Hildebrand, Seabiscuit)

Character involves the moral or ethical quality of a person, and preeminent means superior and surpassing all others. Potential determines what something or someone is capable of being or becoming, their possibility. Potential exists as a latent excellence or ability that may or may not be developed.

Combining these definitions gives us an amplified version of Hildebrand’s discovery about character.

“The moral or ethical quality of a person is superior to all other qualities in deciding the possibility of excellence that exists within someone or something and that may or may not be developed.”

We see this truth of character determining potential through the life of Seabiscuit as it intersects with his owner, Charles Howard, his trainer, Tom Smith, and his jockey, Red Pollard. Howard recognized Smith’s wisdom, and Smith saw the potential in Seabiscuit, who had not been trained properly. Pollard was the last piece in the puzzle that finally showed Seabiscuit’s potential to the rest of the country. These men brought out Seabiscuit’s character – his heart – with amazing results.

As a child, I remember desperately wanting someone to see my potential, but I too often just felt overlooked. Maybe that’s why stories like Seabiscuit inspire me. And maybe that’s why frustration overwhelms me when I see potential in others but struggle seeing the character necessary to make that potential show itself in meaningful ways.

Character does not simply involve the surface person. Instead, true character shows through under pressure and in our attitudes, actions and words, especially with how those play out when no one but God knows the truth.

“Good character is about making good choices no matter who is watching or who will know about it.” (Dan Black in The One Required Leadership Quality)

We’ve likely all known – or have seen on television – someone with immense potential but who failed to realize that potential because of faulty character. What begins as poor choices in private, a more accurate reflection of our character, eventually shows through in the public realm. Our true character eventually becomes evident to all.

Thinking about this idea of character and potential and remembering how it played out in the life of Seabiscuit, two application points emerge to focus on as we encounter potential.

  1. Potential means very little if character is not developed.
  2. Focus on character, and potential will take care of itself.

The Bible says character is developed through endurance of suffering (Romans 5:3-5). This truth was certainly seen in Seabiscuit, and we all know it’s true in our own lives too.

This idea of potential being determined by character exists as a life principle we can embrace at every stage and in every season. It’s why parents can’t shield their children from all of life’s struggles, but instead should focus on character development within whatever life hands their children.

We also must not estimate potential, others or even our own, simply by appearances (1 Samuel 16:7). The attitudes, actions and words that ooze out when under pressure are what best indicate the status of character and thus the development of potential, and we need God’s help in seeing and encouraging both.

This post was inspired by the book Seabiscuit by Laura Hildebrand.

Obtaining & Maintaining A Strong Core

core 1

In general, people exercise for one reason — to be healthy. Many take that further and aim for higher levels of fitness and strength. In addition, the types of exercises undertaken are many and varied both for an individual and from one person to the next.

However, one essential focus exists regardless of exercise type if the person hopes to avoid injury and increase strength and stamina. That focus? A strong core. Without it, back pain and lack of endurance — among other issues — limit activity.

The Real-World Benefits of Strengthening Your Core” by Harvard Health Publications confirms this truth. The article expresses the importance of a strong core well beyond exercise strength and stamina.

“A strong, flexible core underpins almost every thing you do.”

A Strong Spiritual Core

Core 2As essential as a strong core is to physical strength, even more so is it for spiritual strength. In fact, the first piece of God’s armor Christians are told to put on involves establishing a strong spiritual core.

“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist.” (Ephesians 6:14)

In a soldier’s armor, the belt holds the sheath, which holds the sword. This means a soldier cannot easily carry his weapon and have quick access to it without his belt being secure around his waist. Spiritually speaking, the belt of truth provides for properly carrying and quickly accessing the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The world’s approach to truth involves relativity based on opinions with no absolutes. God’s truth, however, involves eternal and unchangeable absolutes uninfluenced by opinion.

Having the belt of truth buckled around your waist means having God’s eternal and unchangeable truth providing you with core strength that influences everything you are, say and do. Many Scripture emphasize and clarify the role of God’s truth, but let’s look at one that gets to the heart of why a strong spiritual core is so important.

“Sanctify them in your truth [set them apart for Your purposes, make them holy]; Your Word is truth.” (John 17:17, AMP)

Obtaining & Maintaining A Strong Core

Both a strong physical core and a strong spiritual core take hard work to obtain and consistent effort to maintain. And both can make all the difference in a person’s overall health. One Scripture sums up this effort well.

“Study and do your best to present yourself to God approved, a workman [tested by trial] who has no reason to be ashamed, accurately handling and skillfully teaching the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15, AMP)

Other versions of this verse say to “be diligent.” This diligence involves basic habits all Christians need to keep their core strong.

  1. Regular Bible Study. My pastor says that in all the cases of Christian leaders he’s personally known who have fallen away from living how the Bible directs, all of them can be traced back to a neglect of regularly studying God’s Word. Knowing he has been in ministry for over 30 years emphasizes the powerful impact of that statement.
  2. Embrace Truth.  Making decisions in and living by faith based on God’s truth is where accurate handling comes into play. A simple question can help assess whether or not you embrace truth as revealed in Scripture in any given situation: Do you know what you believe and why you believe it?

God’s truth — his Word — provides a moral compass, something severely lacking in our world today. It keeps us secure in our faith, and it allows us to combat the lies of the enemy, who does not want that belt to be secure.

“… the devil… was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks what is natural to him, for he is a liar and the father of lies and half-truths.” (John 8:44, AMP)

A strong physical core increases stamina, limits pain and advances balance and stability. Spiritually, a strong core removes the limits of our own thinking, which causes pain, imbalance and instability in our lives, by establishing in us eternal and unchangeable absolutes — God’s truth — that will remain uninfluenced by man’s opinion.

DISCUSSION: How do you see the belt of truth applied for Christians today?

Mountaintop Experiences

Mountaintop1Skiing in Colorado always provides some pretty amazing views. The top of the mountain is the best, of course, and I often want to just stand there a while to enjoy the scenery and to rest. But the point of skiing is going down the mountain.

I’ve been hiking in Colorado too, and making my way to 11,000 feet took tremendous effort (getting to the top for skiing is easy) but was well worth the effort. For both skiing and hiking, though, getting to the bottom took effort.

Whether skiing or hiking, I simply could not stay on the mountaintop forever. Even though I kind of wanted to, and even though the view was amazing and I felt at complete peace, staying there indefinitely just didn’t make sense. The mountaintop is meant as a goal, not a dwelling place.

In Luke 9:28-36, we see that Peter wanted to capture his mountaintop experience and dwell there for a while too.

“…Jesus… took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what he was saying.)

Peter got caught up in the mountaintop experience just like I have on more than one occasion. He likely felt the peace of the moment and didn’t want to give that up for lesser views.

Mountaintop2Dwelling on the Mountaintop

When we have mountaintop experiences in life, we want to stay and enjoy the view for a while. We do this because…

  • We feel God’s total control of every aspect of life.
  • We feel certain about the reality of the supernatural.
  • We know the memories of the mountaintop tend to fade once we leave.

So we want to stay, and sometimes we do stay. We want constant reminders of who God is and the constant feeling of the peace He provides.

Unfortunately, we sometimes stay much longer than we should, and we end up missing God’s intentions when we dwell there too long. After all, the effort of life — of becoming holy and perfected — happens on the up and down and, of course, in the valley.

“… [with joy] let us exult in our sufferings and rejoice in our hardships, knowing that hardships (distress, pressure, trouble) produces patient endurance; and endurance, proven character (spiritual maturity); and proven character, hope and confident assurance [of eternal salvation]. Such hope [in God’s promises] never disappoints us, because God’s love has been abundantly poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5, AMP)

Leaving the Mountaintop

The mountaintop serves as a goal. It drives us forward. But once we reach it and experience the peace it brings, we must at some point return to the mission field. That’s why Jesus and his disciples had to leave. Jesus’ mission — His death and resurrection — could not take place if he stayed on the mountaintop. It was still before him. Likewise, the disciples mission, which Jesus gave them (and us) later at the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20), was still before them too.

What’s more, reaching a mountaintop does something inside us that can only work itself out in effectiveness as we traverse the side of the mountain and venture into its valley. That’s because mountaintop experiences…

  • Are a testimony to God’s work in our lives.
  • Continue to revitalize us in the valleys as we practice Active Remembering.
  • Point us toward ministry by helping us see God’s vision for what lies ahead.

We simply cannot dwell too long on the mountaintop trying to hold on to that experience if we want its effectiveness to spread to all areas of our lives. We can, however, take the feelings and lessons of the mountaintop experience with us as we journey down allow it to fuel the mission of our lives.

DISCUSSION: When have you dwelt too long on the mountaintop? When have you allowed a mountaintop experience to fuel your life’s mission?

Be Prepared

Prepared 1“Got your food bar and water bottle?”

“Yep.”

“What about your spikes?”

“Yep.”

So went the conversation just before my son left for school the day of his first track meet of the season. I wanted him to be prepared to do his best, and that meant not having to stress over forgetting something. This conversation really just represents one of the many I’ve had with my boys.

My husband, knowing I’m not a morning person, has told me more than once that he’ll see the boys off to school in the mornings while I get a bit more sleep. But, I just can’t release the need to make sure my boys are prepared for the day ahead. I remind them often to prepare the night before, but being teenagers and also boys, they usually don’t. While my husband is a terrific father, and good at many things, planning ahead is not his strong suit. Plus, he just doesn’t have mom radar.

Being unprepared can be frustrating and embarrassing. It can turn an ordinary day into a bad one very quickly. And too many unprepared days usually lead to an overwhelmed life as getting by consumes any best that might otherwise exist. A habit of unpreparedness eventually creates a reactionary, drama-filled life. And that sort of life comes characterized by relentless stress and exhausting overhwelm.

The Value of Preparedness

Prepared 2I want my boys to learn the value of being prepared because I know this habit sets them up for an effective and successful life. Vastly more important, though, is them knowing the concept of preparedness as it relates to their spiritual states. I want them to know that their heavenly Father also values being prepared and wants them to always stand ready.

Matthew 24 conveys God’s preparedness message aptly. In it, we have Jesus’ words telling us to not panic and to instead prepare to endure to the end. The idea of panic and endurance tells us the situation will be dire and feel desperate at times.

Jesus also tells us what to pay attention to and what not to let steal our focus. In that, he directs us to…

  • Know the Truth (His words, Scripture, prophecy, etc.)
  • Know what’s coming
  • Know what you don’t know (the exact timing)
  • Know your responsibility as these events unfold

This chapter in Matthew ends with a call to preparedness, to

“You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” (Matthew 24:44)

Jesus gave us what we need to be prepared, and called us to a continual state of preparedness.

A Habit of Preparedness

Living with a habit of preparedness based on the information you have creates the mindset necessary to be ready for THE event of all time — Jesus’ return. This is ultimately why I teach my boys the mindset of preparedness. My hope is that doing so will create a way of thinking that flows into every area of their lives, from the small events like track meets to the big ones later in life, but most importantly to the only thing that ultimately matters — their individual relationship with their Savior.

Seeing the connection of everyday habits to our eternal perspective helps us better see the truth in how all we do can truly be to His glory.

“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Preparedness is, for me, one of the most powerful examples of this principle.

DISCUSSION: How would you describe your level of preparedness, both in life and eternally?

Running With Weights

When getting ready to run a 5k last fall, I saw a man wearing a weighted vest at the start line. I’m assuming he wore it for the entire race, but I can’t say for sure as my view from the back of the pack did not include keeping track of this particular individual.

Supposedly, running with weights can improve running time and increase endurance. Wearing weights while running should also burn more calories without having to increase distance or speed. For those of us who already struggle to complete a run of 5k (3.1 miles) or more, the idea of running with added weight seems, well, simply crazy.

In fact, in all of the races I have run during my 25 years of being a runner, this is the first person I’ve noticed wearing extra weights during a race. Most of the runners, especially the really good runners, the ones who run to compete, run with very little on their body. In fact, the front-runner almost always has the bare minimum allowable based on the weather.

1-25-13 run

As I stood waiting to run this 5k last fall and watching this weighted man who seemed quite eager to begin, I couldn’t help but think of Hebrews 12:1-2.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

In our physical lives, the idea of running with added weight seems foolish to most people. In our spiritual lives, however, most of us carry extra weight that prevents us from running the best race possible even though doing so is not only foolish but can prevent us from a strong finish.

In Kick Off the High Heals, Day Two of Week 10 in God is My Refuge, Kathy Howard expresses this issue by saying:

“Like the heroes of faith who have gone before, let us rid our lives of anything that keeps us from complete obedience to Christ. Maybe a sinful habit or unhealthy relationship prevents us from fully submitting to our Savior. Perhaps pride or selfishness keeps us hanging on to our own will and way.”

The weights I commonly carry as I run “the race marked out” for me include comparisons, fear and pride. And really, those weights show my failure (sin) to believe that Jesus is enough. It’s my failure to believe that He created me for a specific purpose, and that He will make that purpose come to fruition. It’s fear over my kids not following God instead of my having faith to believe God for their security. And it’s my pride that keeps me from asking for help and from admitting my dependence on Him.

But that’s just me. Perhaps the weights that entangle you are quite different from mine.

Looking further into this scripture, Hebrews 12:2 tells us where to focus after we’ve cast off those weights that trip us up, a focus that allows us to endure the race of our lives.

“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish.”

What does a focus on Jesus do for our ability to run with endurance? Kathy Howard puts it this way:

“Let’s turn our full attention to Christ and consider what He endured for us. His example will help us throw off any sin that entangles us and run freely toward the finish line.”

Just like any runner wanting to improve her speed or endurance or any other aspect of her running will look to the experts who have successfully gone before her, so too must we look to Jesus as we seek to improve how we run this race of life.

DISCUSSION: What sinful attitudes or selfish motivations or activities hold us back from following Christ in complete obedience?

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Responsibility and Trust

Trust God

When your kids frustrate you. Trust God.

When your boss doesn’t agree with you. Trust God.

When a friend forgets to call you… again. Trust God.

If you’ve lost your job and can’t find another. Trust God.

When you feel overwhelmed. Trust God.

When your schedule is out of control. Trust God.

If you and your spouse just aren’t communicating. Trust God.

If you feel constantly work out and tired. Trust God.

If you lost your temper yet again. Trust God.

If life is just a constant struggle. Trust God.

The Blame Game

Unfortunately, our first reaction in these and other trials, tests and temptations isn’t usually trust. It’s blame.

We blame our kids for being disrespectful.

We blame our boss for not listening or micromanaging.

We blame our friends for being selfish or too busy for us.

We blame employers for being too picky about qualifications.

We blame the government for taking our job away.

We say life is just too demanding, others are constantly asking too much from us, and our spouses are just distant. Besides, we can’t help losing our temper… we’ve always had a bad temper, and we always will. Not our fault.

The blame game can be very easy to play. Too easy. And maybe, when blaming others doesn’t work, we blame God.

And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)

Blame avoids getting at the root cause, the desires that entice us. As a result, blame avoids us taking responsibility for our parts in any situation.

Responsibility

Responsibility is hard and uncomfortable. Taking responsibility means admitting we’re at least somewhat at fault. It means admitting the need for us to change. Focusing on blaming others also takes immense energy. It also holds off victory in our lives.

When we decide to take responsibility, we can finally experience true growth. We then discover true freedom as the chains of blame fall way and victory becomes a reoccurring reality.

Taking responsibility also shows integrity, which makes following Christ more appealing to non-Christians. It’s a conscious choice we must make over and over again but one that pays big dividends — freedom that leads to victory.

God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12)

When we take responsibility for the role we play in trials, tests and temptations, we show trust in God. We show we trust that He has equipped us with the gifts, abilities and experience needed to struggle to victory. We trust that He’s doing the same for others too.

Taking responsibility also shows trust in the testing of your faith. Trials, testing and temptations help us grow by first showing us how we’re doing, and then by increasing our endurance.

“…we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

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Sunday Reflections – Olympic Christianity

Why are we willing to stay up late night after night to watch the Olympics? Why do we sometimes get emotional and perhaps even tear up when someone wins and sometimes even when they lose?

Olympians inspire me, win or lose. Seeing the best competing with the best in the world gets me excited. They make me want to do better, to strive harder for excellence.

Olympians define excellence. They help the rest of us understand excellence & what must be done to achieve it.

Just as Olympians epitomize excellence in sports, Christians should set the bar for excellence in living a holy life. The elements that work together to create Olympic excellence hold striking similarities to those the Bible gives for living life with excellence.

What are some of the similarities between Olympic excellence and the bar of excellence set for Christians?

  1. Commitment has to be total and complete. A casual commitment won’t achieve victory. As Christians, we must be “all in” in a way that makes us stand out. (1 Peter 2:11-12)
  2. Coachability must exist. Olympians succeed in large part because of the guidance and direction of their coaches. Christians also must submit themselves to God and be accountable to one another in order to truly succeed in having an impact for the Kingdom. (Ephesians 5:21)
  3. The bigger picture provides motivation. Olympic athletes often talk about the motivation of representing their country as being one of the biggest driving factors for them. Christians, too, have a bigger picture – that of eternity – that should motivate them. (Philippians 3:14)
  4. Even the best can make mistakes. Remember Lolo Jones in Beijing? She fell when she was clearly on her way to Olympic gold. But she’s back this year for redemption. In fact, many Olympians have similar stories. As Christians, we can’t let ourselves be derailed by mistakes. We must admit them and ask for forgiveness. We must also learn from our mistakes, and then, like David, pursue the heart of God. (Psalm 32)
  5. Endurance is a necessity. Some sports clearly define endurance (think distance running and swimming for example). Others, even though the actual event is over in seconds, still represent endurance in the preparation necessary for excellence. Christians also need endurance as they live out life this side of Heaven and eagerly await eternity and the rewards promised. (Hebrews 10:35-36)
  6. What you “eat” matters. Elite athletes carefully monitor what they eat and drink because they know that proper fuel is needed to perform at a level that achieves excellence. A Christian’s “diet” must consist of the bread that gives eternal life. What’s more, he must actually “taste” the bread; looking and smelling won’t get him to the goal. (John 6:51)
  7. Passion fuels. Olympians must have a passion for their sport. Without passion, putting in the required hours for practice, committing the necessary funds, and making the many sacrifices won’t happen to the level needed for excellence. Christians must strive for a passion like Peter’s (Acts 3:11-26) when he preached to the people after the lame beggar was healed, a passion that fuels our attitudes, actions and words to reflect Christ within us.

While watching the rest of the Olympics this week, consider how your life as a Christian reflects (or maybe fails to reflect) the characteristics of excellence visible in the lives of the athletes. Look at how their lives personify excellence, and then ask yourself, “What changes can I make to live a more excellent life?”