The bad news kept coming. A friend is battling for his life, a low tire ended up meaning I needed two new tires at the cost of $400.00, my wife was having some health issues that were bothering me, a ministry that I am mentoring is having some relational difficulties and I am really tired from a month of strong travel and ministry. I was not feeling particularly strong in my faith on Monday. The last of the bad news came when I had to spend another $50.00 to get my car aligned. Deb and I were in the alignment companies lobby when I stepped outside to make a phone call that I didn't want to make (my attitude told me I was not strong). After the call, I stepped back into the lobby to find Debbie and three men talking about Jesus. What should I do? Should I put on a fake, 'christian' attitude? Should I just sit down and ignore their discussion (rude)? Should I politely listen and nod? Should I pretend to make another call?
In times like these, we really don't feel strong and probably are not strong in our faith. For all of us, our faith can take radical turns for better or worse when life goes in unpredictable ways. These feelings can last for seconds or years. If we let the curves of life control us, we will be mostly out of sorts much of the time. Staying strong and consistent in our faith and lives is the best answer, even when things are rough. A question many will ask at this point is how can we stay strong and focused?
Here are five helpful principles that I apply to my life to help me stay strong when I don't want to be strong;
1. Stay Faithful
Remain faithful when things are smooth so that you'll have plenty of reserves when things get rocky! This is more of a prevention against the temptation to wallow in bad times. Staying strongly engaged with Jesus through prayer, the Bible and in community with others is vital. Jesus told us to 'remain' or 'abide in me' (John 15). When these basic Biblical disciplines are maintained in ones life, it will serve as an anchor when the seas of life begin to swell. Many believers choose to 'coast' when things are smooth only to drain them of their strength instead of building up reservoirs of faith that will need to be called upon at some point.
The years of 2009 and 2010 were really awful for my family and I. My wife went through breast cancer (she has no evidence of disease today!) and our church community went through hell (no other word for it). These two events happened simultaneously. The only way I made it through with strength, grace and faith is by accessing the years of strength and provenness that I built up in my life.
2. Embrace Realities
People who come to Jesus often think that everything (or most things) in their life should go smoothly. Somehow this false doctrine has crept into the minds of saints especially in the Western church. Many believe that if they read the Bible enough, pray enough, fast enough and do enough christian things that God is then obligated to takes the bumps out of life. This is really bad theology. You cannot come up with one person in the Scriptures whose life went smoothly. When you add to your life the desire to live fully for God, well, the heat seems to be turned up a notch or more. Quick cures never resolve deep damage that has been done to our souls. Life is often laced with confusion, doubt, fear and a variety of struggles. Believers need to know that God is good even when things are bad or confusing. God is in control even when life seems to be out of control. We would do well to embrace the realities that invade our lives and know that the path to life comes through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23). Dan Allender puts it this way, "The obstacle to life is the conviction that God will damage us and destroy us. The problem is that the path [to life] does involved His hurting us, but only in order to heal us." (italics are my addition).
Why not begin a journal and jot down a sentence or two a couple of times week. Write down what you are feeling, and some of the prayers that you are bringing to God. Be honest and transparent in your writing and you will probably see more and more realities being embraced by your soul. Know that living spiritually strong lives is costly and will be challenged by your flesh, the world's values and the enemies lies. The reality is that you are in a war and you are on the front line. The war is for souls and an allegiance to Jesus. Expect opposition when you choose to live for the King.
3. Believe the Truth.
For too many people, believing lies and doing little to dismiss them is the norm. The truth is that people get comfortable beating themselves up, allowing excuses to keep them down and feeling like the whole world is against them. When this cycle happens, selfishness sets in people begin to live out the lies about themselves that they willingly entertain. Instead, we should believe the truth that God says about us. Some of these truths are that He loves us, He created us in His image (and God said it was good), that we are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ, that Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil, that Jesus will never leave us nor ever forsake us, that Jesus came to gives us life etc.
Jesus has taught us that the truth will set us free. If you find you are one who dwells on negative things, find a friend and confide this habit and ask them to help you to begin the process of changing your thinking. Find out together what the truth is that you should believe and dismiss the lies when they creep in. Ecclesiastes teaches that 'two are better than one'. Philippians 4:8-9 gives us some good things to dwell upon.
4. Be Selfless
When people are not feeling strong in their faith, the last thing usually on their mind is being selfless and others centered. When we are not feeling strong the temptation is often to become self-absorbed in our own world (entertainment, work, sleep, rest, complaining etc.). Being self-absorbed will only serve to take you down a few more notches in your spiritual vitality. The Scriptures teach us to treat others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2). When we aim to be others centered, we find meaning or purpose outside of our selves. The giving of our self in being others centered actually breathes new life into our spiritual lungs.
Be bold and start with a small step like a phone call, an e-mail of encouragement, a text or a short cup of coffee with a friend. Ask God who could use some encouragement and then serve it up! Ask about how they are doing and reserve your story to when they ask and then be brief. I know you'll find that Jesus will fill your soul and strengthen your weak knees.
5. Christ is our Life
I saved the best for last :-) Over the past couple of years, I have had to make a conscious decision to believe that God is good all of the time. Life often doesn't make sense. It is in times like these that I find I must remind myself and be reminded by others about all that Christ has done. My wonderful wife often reminds me with statements like, "Which of God's provisions have not been adequate?" In 2 Timothy Paul says that "If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself" (2 Tim. 2:13). The next verse says, "Remind them of these things...". In Colossians 3:4 Paul tells us that Christ is our life, He is our true identity. Our faith and journey is all because, and all about Jesus. He is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12). The more intimate and trusting we become with Christ, the more He will become our life.
Stay faithful, embrace realities, believe the truth, be selfless and allow for Christ to really be your life! What if every believer engaged life's challenges with these concepts? How would the world be different? Christ is our leaning post, the only one who can keep us strong when we don't feel like we are. Christ is before all things and in Him all things hold together (Col. 1:17). You can be strong through Christ, even when things are really hard. That is what the world is desperate to see, the strength of God flowing through people and being different enough to make a difference.
I would love to hear your thoughts if you would like to share them.