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.

Reset. Focus. Prioritize. Encourage.

Reset

When anyone’s cell phone seems to “glitch” as my oldest son calls it, my husband immediately says, “Did you turn it off and back on?” He knows that will reset the phone and usually result in a return to normal functioning.

In computer terms, a reset clears pending errors or events and brings a system to a normal or initial state condition, usually in a controlled manner. (Reset (Computing), Wikipedia)

Recently, I found myself reviewing the basics in every area of my life. A significant life trial has turned me back to the foundations of my operating system. I can’t exactly turn my whole life off and then back on again, but I can return to the basics in a way that sort of works like a system reset.

Focus

Every trial over the past 7 years has brought me back to a truth the Holy Spirit revealed to me when I entered what I call the beginning of the end of depression’s hold in my life.

“Do not remember the former things, or ponder the things of the past. Listen carefully, I am about to do a new thing, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even put a road in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

This verse serves to refocus me on what God is doing and is going to do. Yes, we need to remember what He’s done for us, but only in a way that reminds us of what He will do for us.

Prioritize

When life gets overwhelming (busyness, concern for loved ones, hard times financially, etc.) the basics provide stability. They exist as automatic priorities that can remain consistent even when all else seems unstable and falling apart.

For me, prioritizing involves letting three simple truths keep my mindset focused on what God desires.

As God reminds me of the power I am yet to see Him display, I return to these truths knowing they are guiding principles to give my life stability. All the details of my life flow through these basics.

Encourage

Let the basics guide and direct you. They provide a foundation on which you can build and move forward, and they can encourage you when you feel defeated. The basics provide a system reset that might not erase the trials you need to endure, but they will allow you to operate from a place of stability.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Even though I don’t fully understand why these basics serve to encourage me so much, especially during really tough trials, I choose to trust in the future God has planned.

Because he has faithfully brought me through so many trials already, I know he will do so again. Because he has done the impossible over and over again in my life, I wait for the impossible to spring forth again.

10 Character Building Lessons from Baseball

20160330_184712Baseball never fell on my radar let alone my schedule until my youngest son started playing little league. Since then, he’s played several years of travel baseball and now finds himself on the high school stage with JV baseball.

Regardless of the level of play, basic character building principles are inherent in the game of baseball. Advice shouted by coaches and parents on how to best play the game correlate well with how to live a life of excellence.

  1. Get dirty! While this may be a mother’s laundry nightmare, getting dirty in baseball generally means a player went “all out” to make a play. Sometimes in life, we need to “get dirty” in order to make a real difference.
  2. Make a play! Making a play can change the momentum of a game. When we find ourselves feeling stuck, sometimes the only way to break free is to do something out of the ordinary.
  3. Keep your eye on the ball! One of the most common mistakes in baseball comes when a player takes his eyes off the ball. When we lose focus, making progress and achieving goals becomes difficult at best and often impossible.
  4. Shake it off! While hopefully less common as the season progresses, mistakes do happen. Someone inevitably drops the ball or strikes out. The best approach when we make a mistake is to admit it, learn from it, and move on. Don’t let it snowball.
  5. 20160330_185001Down & ready! Some of the most embarrassing moments in a baseball game come when a player isn’t ready and sees a ball too late to stop it because he failed to pay attention. Life continually throws unexpected struggles at us, but many trials in life also come as surprises simply because we weren’t paying attention.
  6. Everybody moves! When the ball is hit, every player needs to move accordingly. Sometimes, just going in the right direction is all we need to do to move toward excellence.
  7. Put it in play! Hitting a baseball is probably the hardest task in all of sports, and a professional player who gets a hit half the time is considered productive. Simply putting the ball in play presents a solid chance at scoring. In life, some seasons are survived simply by putting yourself in play and seeing what happens.
  8. Get there! As fast as most players throw at higher levels of baseball, all out effort is required just to make it to first base. What would happen in your life if you gave all out effort?
  9. 20160423_122527Be a wall! One of the positions my son enjoys most is catcher. The catcher must stop every ball from getting by him to prevent base stealing. Hopefully, the mitt stops the ball, but often the catcher’s body must do it. Some seasons in life certainly require that we stand firm even as the hits of disappointment, fear and failure strike us one right after another.
  10. Smother it! Another phrase relating to catchers, this means covering the ball as it hits the ground in front of you. In life, some days come filled with needing to simply protect your time, your family and your faith. Some days, we just need to smother what’s important to keep it from getting away from us.

A teachable baseball player takes these foundational principles and builds on them in order to become a better player. Tommy Lasorda made the distinction this way…

“There are three types of baseball players. Those who make it happen, those who watch it happen, and those who wonder what happens.”

A person who realizes that baseball – actually, any sport – provides character building opportunity for a life of excellence, understands how watching or playing the sport really transcends the sport itself. The late, great Ernie Harwell brought the point home well when he said…

“Baseball is a lot like life. It’s a day-to-day existence, full of ups and downs. You make the most of your opportunities in baseball as you do in life.”

Harwell’s quote brings Ephesians 5:16 to mind.

“Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.”

Opportunities such as the character building lessons discussed above exist in every sport and in many other activities. Are you making the most of them?

Don’t Sleep Through the Storm

Gifted Sleepers

My husband has a gift for sleeping. He falls asleep within minutes of his head hitting the pillow, and he’s perfected the art of the power nap. He can also sleep on airplanes, even during turbulence. In fact, I’ve witnessed him fall asleep prior to takeoff and not wake until landing for shorter flights. I’m jealous. I do not have that gift.

I think Jonah had a gift for sleeping too. After choosing to deliberately disobey God, Jonah heads in the opposite direction of God’s leading. He boards a ship to Tarshish (the most remote location he could think of) and promptly falls asleep in the ships belly. In fact, Jonah sleeps so soundly that he fails to wake even when the storm hits.

“But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep. So the captain came to him, ‘What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.’” (Jonah 1:5-6)

In other words, “How in the world can you sleep in this storm?”

Now, maybe Jonah was just a good sleeper like my husband. Or, maybe he’s like so many of us who sleep (literally and figuratively) in order to avoid God-given responsibility (or responsibility of any kind for that matter). Regardless, it took a serious storm plus another person shaking him awake to finally get Jonah moving.

What can we learn from this single scene in the rather short story of Jonah?1100938_57493317

  1. Storms are sometimes from God. Whether he allows or sends them, storms (trials) are sometimes God’s tools for shaping our lives.
  2. God sometimes uses others to shake us into action. We often fail to have the right perspective during our own trials and need to hear another’s perspective to help us get moving.
  3. God sometimes uses unbelievers to direct believers. The captain was not a believer (yet), but he still implored Jonah to call on his God because the captain’s god (or gods) wasn’t getting the job done.
  4. God uses storms to get us moving in the right direction. The more determined the disobedience, likely the more powerful the storm. If there’s a raging storm in your life, consider how God might be using it to direct you.
  5. Even the best sleeper can’t ignore God forever. We can choose to dismiss Him, but no trick exists for completely and permanently avoiding Him. We will one day have to face Him (Galatians 6:7).

Try as we might, whether by literally sleeping or by “sleeping” in the form of busyness and distractions, we cannot avoid storms meant to set us on the right track. Over time, however, we may put our awareness of God to sleep and become less and less able to see and hear His directing. Let us each determine first not to be deliberately disobedient and to secondly not “sleep” during God’s redirecting.

DISCUSSION: How can we be sure to avoid “sleeping” and missing God’s directives?

Consider reading the following posts for helping answer this question:

Balancing Quietness & Confidence

scaleTwo Sided Struggle

There are those who seem to live in constant struggle. They’re confident of the coming victory God has in store for them, so they keep fighting, pushing and struggling toward it. There are others who quietly wait  for God to move. They surrender themselves fully to His will and purpose for their lives, seeming to continually wait in quietness and trust.

As I survey my life, I see both quietness and confidence existing. Usually though, I live in one or the other. But I am realizing that I can both live in confidence of the victory Christ has won and at the same time be journeying to full surrender.

Bob Sorge in The Fire of Delayed Answers expresses this idea as he questions those who seem to exist at both extremes. He explains that there are those who stress that “God is more interested in your character than in your miracle” and at the same time others who say, “He’s my Savior, my healer, my deliverer, my provider, my protector, my supply, my, my, my…. [producing] a self-absorbed focus.”

Instead, Sorge says, both can exist together, that we can “become more Christlike in our attitudes and also experience the power of His resurrection.”

Surviving Times of War

The development and also true test of this balance comes both through the trials we experience as we live out life this side of Heaven and the more severe times of testing through crisis. Sorge expresses the sentiment this way…

Sorge 1

Times of war are the proving ground for faith. In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers deepens this idea of our faith being proven in battle along with truly understanding that our battle is ultimately our own. Chambers says…

Chambers

War and Relationships

Our goal is to live lives that remain true to God’s character no matter what. And since the majority of our struggles and victories involve other people, relationships provide the ultimate proving ground for our faith.

Yes, our quiet confidence comes from our individual relationship with God. And yes, we are responsible for our own activity and not that of anyone else. Yet, at the same time, we struggle together even while we struggle alone. We gain victory together while we gain individual victory.

Because relationship play such an integral role in our faith walk, we’re detailing in on relationships during the month of February. To begin, let’s discuss how finding an individual balance with quietness and confidence help strengthen relationships. Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

This post is a part of a weekly book discussion of The Fire of Delayed Answers by Bob Sorge hosted by Jason Stasyszen of Connecting to Impact and Sarah Salter of Living Between the Lines. Be sure to check out their posts!

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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Other posts on trust:

Guest Post – In This World, You Will Have Trouble!

Welcome Chris Patton from Christian Faith at Work for our guest post today. Chris’ blog is “not as much about how to be a Christian in business, but more about how to run a Christian business.” After reading today’s post, take a minute to learn more about Chris and his inspiring story. You won’t regret taking the time to do so! I know Chris’ blog (and of course his post for us today too) will bless you as much as it does me!

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In This World, You Will Have Trouble!

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is found in John 16. Jesus and the disciples have just finished the Last Supper. Jesus is soon to be arrested. In between these two major events, He is teaching the disciples some of His most critical lessons. He knows He is near the end and I feel the intensity is climbing. Then He says it…

“In this world, you will have trouble.” – John 16:33

What Is Wrong With Me?

Am I sick or out of my mind? Why in the world would I see that as one of my favorite verses? I must be missing a screw somewhere, right? Wrong. Maybe I am very different from you, but I want to know the truth. I want to know what to expect. I don’t want it candy-coated.

Shoot Straight With Me!

When I was a kid and I asked if it would hurt when the nurse gave me a shot, I wanted to hear the truth. I wanted to be able to prepare for the pain. I did not want someone to tell me, “No, dear. This will not hurt at all.” I knew I would see stars. I just wanted someone to shoot straight with me!

I am not that crazy about surprises…at least not bad ones. I can handle surprise birthday parties or even, “Surprise, your wife is pregnant…with twins!” Those are good surprises and I can roll with that.

What I do not want is to be lulled into a false sense of security, thinking everything is okay. I do not want to be told that if I will just follow Jesus, then all of my problems will go away! I do not want to hear another preacher tell me that I simply need to pray this prayer and my financial struggles will disappear.

Jesus Is Clear

This is why I love these words of Jesus. He was straight with the disciples. He wanted them to know clearly that He was leaving them in a broken world and that trouble was a given. He did not want them relaxed or letting their guards down. Instead, Jesus wanted them to be prepared for what the world would soon throw at them.

Folks, Jesus wants us to know the same thing. In this world, we will have trouble. We will struggle. We will not breeze through this life simply because of our relationship with Jesus. In fact, as he says, the world will hate us. That hate will bring struggle. Please know this and do not be naive.

So Now What?

So, now that we agree that we will face trouble in this life, what are we to do to survive it? How do we prepare for these struggles and trials? How do we make sure we are not tempted to throw in the towel and drift away from God’s plans for us when life hits us in the face?

I believe the key to surviving the trouble that life will throw at us is to have the right foundation. If our view of the world is not based on a solid foundation of faith, then we will suffer significant damage when the storms roll through. With the right foundation, not only will we survive with minimal damage to our faith and our walk, but we will also be stronger for the next fight!

Foundational Truths

I think the foundation for our Christian walk can be boiled down into four truths. If you can internalize these four truths, then I believe God can accomplish great things through you. Internalizing these four truths will not eliminate opposition, rejection, struggle, or failure. In fact, I guarantee you will experience one or more of these issues in the process. At the same time, the final results will be greater than anything you could have accomplished or experienced outside of these truths.

  1. I am a child of God. (John 1:12)
  2. God has a plan and purpose for my life. (Psalm 139:13-16, Ephesians 2:10)
  3. God is good. (Mark 10:18)
  4. Therefore the plan and purpose God has for me is ultimately good. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Your Part

I urge you to memorize these four truths and the related Scripture. Internalize them in a way that, when you are squeezed, these come out. Repeat them to yourself when the storm is raging. Pray that God would show His faithfulness in ways that reinforce these truths in your heart.

And, last of all, commit my favorite verse to memory as well. But when you do, don’t forget the last part!

“In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

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Be sure to check out Chris’ blog! Here are three of my favorite posts from Christian Faith at Work.

Solomon’s 8 Steps for Discovering God’s Will

Why You Might Not Like Tim Tebow

Warning! Your Foundation May Be Defective

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If you would like to guest post on Struggle to Victory, please read Recommendations and Guest Posts.