Hello again my good reader! Over the past couple of months on this blog I’ve been focusing on different aspects that we can learn and use to build our arsenal against the trials that life throws at us. It has been somewhat of a theme, but today I want to focus in on the reason behind why I’ve been writing about these traits. My reasoning is because I have seen that only you can strengthen yourself. Here’s what I mean, we as people can listen to inspirational speakers, read the best books, talk to the wisest of people, but there’s one thing that we all forget. All of these are good, but it comes down to the fact that only you can make the choice over your life. This is one of the most beautiful lessons that Jesus teaches us, a gift he gives us. We all have a choice, and this choice is the decision of life or death. Yeah, that serious. Paul gives us the two options in plain, clear, view. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life.” One of the things that is so good about the bible is that things are so simple, a choice of living in sin, or turning from sin and running into freedom. It’s the choice, meaning the only choice we need. Do we follow the world, or do we choose to follow Christ? Without choosing to have a relationship with Christ, you can still work on the skills that I’ve written about, but it isn’t sustainable. Think of it like an environmental standpoint, if we keep using a non-renewable resource, we are left with nothing. Things break down, we lose the ability to live like we once were. The same is true without Christ, without having a daily renewal, we break down. We need to make the choice.
Well, October is now over, the year is quickly coming to an end, and the Christmas creep is in full effect. November has come, it’s a great season to reflect on what we have been given, I’m sure you’ve already begun to see the Facebook countdowns of what people are thankful for (not knocking on that, just think it’s funny how we all know what I’m talking about). We reflect on the year that has happened and what is to come, but what happens when we’ve had a tough year, or even a tough life? For me the past year has been absolutely crazy, yet all throughout the hard times God has never given up on me, and I haven’t given up on him. I have watched the hardship of addiction, seen two people I called brothers pass away, and watched my family experience loss. I wish this post was about how life gets easier or how things don’t hurt, but that simply how it works. One thing through all of this past year, and even throughout all that I have been through in life, there is hope because Christ never fails us.
It’s true that I, and you, have experienced hardship. That’s the dark side of life, but be careful not to focus on that. Focus on what God has done. Look at what Psalm 136:1 says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” Or in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, which says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” That’s pretty serious, in everything, good and bad, give thanks. This isn’t easy, but that isn’t what God is saying, he is saying that when we rejoice in the hardship, we grow in wisdom and find peace. I say this because over the past year I have experienced hardship, but this has been one of the greatest years for me. As I typed that sentence it wasn’t easy, if I could change time I would, but I would never have experienced all the good. Today I want to share with you the way I have grown so that in whatever situation you are in, you can learn to give thanks and find true joy.
Perseverance produces character.
When I look at the lives of the great leaders in the bible, it astonishes me how many of them were just like us. They weren’t gods among men, they were human, each with their own struggles and heartaches. Noah was given a mission and berated every day for what he knew was right. Elijah struggled with depression, even when he had a strong gift of prophecy. Jesus suffered rejection and people spitting on him as he faced his death. There are hundreds in the bible, story after story of men and women who struggled, but God blessed them. Each of them made an impact on the world, they each had character. They were wise and they used this to help others. When we stand in Christ through our struggles, we can make the same impact. The reason I want to be a next generation pastor is to help kids like me to know that they are special, and that no matter what has happened, they can impact the world. So often I think we, meaning everyone, are told that we aren’t good enough or that we will never do something important. I don’t believe that. I never have. Call me crazy but I believe that God wants to use each and every person, whether you’re thirteen or eighty-three, God has a purpose for you. All we need to do is persevere through the storms, and focus on Christ.
You have a story.
Each one of us is unique, no two people are alike. No matter if you have a twin or are from quintuplets, you are an individual. If you want to understand this concept, at some point right now or later on, look around in a crowded place and think about each person. Each face, every little detail, every person you see has a story. It really puts you into perspective, and the cool thing is, our stories can encourage others. One of my favorite things about leading a small group is seeing each person share and help each other, and I don’t even have to say a word! Not because I’m lazy, but I don’t have to say anything because we all can build each other up. This is the whole point of the church, to stand together and grow together, laugh together, and even cry together. I say all this to encourage you that you are not alone in your struggle, and God doesn’t want you to go it alone (I wrote a post about this a few weeks ago that explains more of this idea), and the second is that your story will help others around you. Use your story to encourage someone.
Hardship gives vision.
All throughout history, great leaders see a problem or experience persecution and decide to make a change. There is nothing stopping you from doing the same. While this year has been hard, I have chosen to look at the good from it, because I know good comes from all things. Instead of thinking about what could have been, I try to make an impact today. I have grown with my family, and my spiritual family has grown even bigger. I have learned to value the small things. I chose to start a blog and developed a passion and a vision to become a writer. I have seen so much good, and I wouldn’t give any of it up, the godly friends, the incredible dreams, the beautiful girl, and the powerful relationship with Christ. It may seem bleak for you in this moment, and I know it’s hard when you can’t sleep, but choose to be thankful. God will use your hardship to give you a vision, a vision is simply anticipating something that is to come. So anticipate the power that will come from a passionate love and pursuit of God, then you will leave a legacy unlike anything else.
I hope this helps you. I know what you’re going through, and I know it hurts. Trust me when I tell you that there is so much more for you, you have dreams and aspirations, and these were given to you by an all-powerful creator. You are human, but more importantly you are a child of God. There is a quote from Doctor Who that I always think of when dealing with people who are struggling and it helps me. The Doctor says, “nine hundred years of time and space, and I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important.” You are important. We may not be world famous or be rich, but we all make wide ripples to everyone around us. So this month, think about all the things you have been given, cherish the memories of the people you have lost, and go forward to make even more. When we begin to change our perspective on the hard times, we find joy in the darkest of times. God made you, he made all the miniscule details about you, and he wants to do something in you and through you. You are a child of God, you are important, and you can change the world. Choose to be thankful in all things, and you will find true joy.
Change the world.
This past week I was back to full health and was able to go with the Elementary students at Daystar on the trip to Camp Kidjam. I not only was thankful to be healthy again, but I absolutely love being able to go as a leader on this camp. Each Sunday I am able to lead a fourth and fifth grade small group and I love it. The thing about the camp is that, as a small group leader, I have an extended period of time to get to know the kids and speak life to them during this time. I had a blast just being able to have fun, scream at the top of my lungs for our team, and see these kids take hold of their faith. It was so great to look at our leaders and kids during worship go all in and truly worship. I still get chills when I think about it. It was absolutely incredible to be there and have a part in the lives of the kids that will lead the world.
Throughout the week the main message was about the life of Paul. It began from his time as Saul who persecuted Christians and moved to when his name was changed to Paul and he became one of the most influential people in the bible. It was a great reminder to me about how even a man who committed horrible acts, could become a hero to so many. On the second to last night, the camp pastor asked the question, “What do I do when life doesn’t go as I planned?” That’s a powerful question, one that everyone deals with, even an elementary school child. We never plan for heartache, struggle, and pain, yet life often throws these at us. A job loss, parents divorcing, or watching someone struggle with addictions, all of these are big and many times are never seen coming until they hit. The pastor talked about in Pauls’ life, he was faced with prison and death, yet he still stood strong. He answered the question by saying that, “God will use every situation, no matter what it is.” To be honest, I wanted him to tell the secret to not having to face pain and get everything you want fast, but life doesn’t work that way. It struck me because so often I want God to fix my life so it can be the picture perfect life that I see in cheesy movies, but the thing is, when the movie ends, life goes on. After thinking about this answer and listening to my guys small group talk about this idea, I understood the importance of the answer. I’d like to share some thoughts on the question and help you see that there is always a plan.
Run towards God, not away.
If there is one important truth in life, it’s that when life goes crazy, run towards God. This isn’t the first reaction I have, when things go wrong or people close to me fall away, I want to crawl in bed and hide. We can’t do that! No problem was ever solved by running away from the issue, problems are solved when we stand brave in the face of the storm. When Paul was placed in prison, in Acts 16:25 it says, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” Not only did they praise God in the prison, but they used their situation to share God with others who felt hopeless. Paul didn’t curse God or try to pull off a Shawshank escape, he instead chose to praise and worship. Paul was brave because he put his trust in the one who would never fail him, we need to be brave. My fifth grade guys said that the best way to stand with God is by reading his word and praying in the moments where we are struggling. They get it, and we need to realize that when we face the storm, we need to stand with God.
Realize that God has a bigger plan.
Often in our heads we create a perfect idea of what we want our life to look like. We think about the job we may get, the spouse we may have, our kids and their perfect hipster names, but we forget one thing. None of that is guaranteed. This is something that I dealt with a lot after high school, I chose the perfect college and thought about the best job I could get, then I got a letter saying I had not been accepted, and my life completely changed. I’m so happy it did, I am doing things now that I love, I lead small groups, work with some really cool people, and started this blog! Did I go to the school I wanted? Nope. Do I have a super cool job? Not really. Do I love where I am? Absolutely. Nothing is promised, I may never get married and have a family, or I could have a wonderful family and a wonderful wife. No matter where my life ends up, I know that God will use me in that situation. I don’t understand why bad things happen, all I know is that God has a plan, and it will be incredible.
It starts with you.
We can do all the right things to try and survive the crazy, but until we own our actions, change will not happen. One thing we have to remember is that everyone has the ability to change, you hold that choice. The mistakes in your past have not defined your future. Last night I was Watching X-men Days of Future Past with my sister and there is a scene where Beast is talking to Professor X about how there is a theory that no matter what choice we make, we can’t change the future. The Professor says that he does not believe that theory, he believes that we always have a choice. This is from a movie that has nothing to do really with God, but the truth is still there. We always have a choice, we can choose not to change or we can choose to do better, to be better. Everything starts with you, how you choose to act when you face struggle, how you choose your words when you speak to those who’ve hurt you. There is always a choice, and it starts with you.
This past week was such a great encouragement for me. The past few months have been hard and definitely not what I had planned for my life, but I know that God will use it for good. It’s not ever going to be easy, but I will put my trust in God every time. I will choose to be brave in all situations. The best thing about leading a small group of kids, is being able to see their imaginations at work. They dream big and ask the questions of what if. What if it could be done? What if we could be heroes? What if we could change the world? We need to dream big like a child, to look at what’s happening in our lives and say, how could God use me in this? Know that God has a plan, and make the choice to run towards him. Look at the world around you and see how God has already moved in your life, rest on the fact that God will use you. When life doesn’t go as planned, rise up.
Ever been in a situation or moment in time where it feels like everything bad that could happen did, and it seems like no good will ever come? Well, I ask this because recently I have felt like I have been living this idea over and over again. Through a series of events this past year, I have been left to ask myself, what else could possibly happen? Even when the good things come, five more bad things happen. It’s like an insane hydra that just keeps coming back. I thought a lot about this while lying in a quarantine area of a camp in Nashville this past week. What I thought would be an awesome week as a camp counselor, turned into me feeling horrible with a case of strep throat and some crazy weird skin infection that made me look like a zombie. To be honest I felt like one too. Lying on a hard church floor, eight hours away from home, wanting to die. Not a fun week as you can probably imagine. During this day of boredom, I thought a lot, about a lot of different things. Some were crazy fever dreams, but some about this whole first half of my year. I initially thought of all the horrible moments, isn’t it funny how as humans we immediately think of the worst parts? I thought about my struggle against the feeling lonely, feeling as if I was walking through life as a lone wolf. I thought about the death of a dear friend that came so suddenly. Watching old friends seem to fade away. Walking through the struggle of addiction with family. All of this gave me a sense that frightened me and left me with a single thought. Satan is winning. In the exact same moment, I began to pray and read the word, which left me with a better thought. There is hope for the future.
It would have been easy for me to believe the lie, and still continue to believe it, but this new truth became more apparent. In every situation, good came through. My family was able to find help, even though it seemed impossible. Old friends faded away, but I also created bonds with those that didn’t. I saw the church come alongside of the family of my friend who died. I thought about the new community that I am forging with a few. Every situation turned from failure to victory. Satan didn’t win, God did. Through that struggle, I became stronger. The pain is real and I’m not sure if it will ever go away, but one thing is certain, I need to always find a new hope in every situation. God is so much wiser than I, and yet he freely gives us all we need to make it. I think God showed me a few things about how to find hope and how to make it through the darkest of nights.
Know that a bigger plan is waiting.
It’s a cliché to say that everything happens for a reason. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, you can figure it out if you want, but what I’ve learned is that God has a bigger plan in mind. Sure we do things to speed it up or get off track, but God designed you with an ultimate end in mind. Yes, you. Especially you. Whether you feel like a misfit or like a cookie cutter human, you are unique and can never be replaced by anyone. God made you to be exactly who you were meant to be, he is going to build you up and it’s going be hard. Trust me when I say I know what you’re going through, because I probably have walked through it or been close to someone who has. In the moments where life gets tough, I have wanted to run away from God, but every time I am shown a bigger plan. The first step into holding on to hope is knowing that God has a plan for you.
Run even harder towards Christ.
My first reaction is not this, but I want it to be. It’s so easy for me to hate God for what he let happen, but this is such a foolish thing for me to do! Proverbs 1:5 tells us that wise people seek wisdom, I would be foolish to run from true wisdom. So when we face strife, our reaction should be to run to the word. I think hope comes from relying on the power of God. So immerse yourself in the word, listen to music that fills your soul, meet with those who have gone before you, and you will find hope. In my life I have seen my mom and dad both follow this principle. All growing up, no matter what happened at my dad’s job or the struggles my mom faced against people that spoke death, they always came to the Lord first. I am so thankful that I saw a real example of what it meant to follow Christ even when the world seemed to be falling apart. Remember to run to God, rather than run away from him.
We have already won.
Say what? Yes, don’t take my word, take the word of scripture. John 16:33 says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” What this means is that, our hope is here because God has victory over all of it. God is like the cheat code for life, stick with him and you win. Simple. Now I know that it doesn’t feel simple, in fact, it often feels like we will never win. That’s because the loser is trying to bring you down with him. Don’t live chained down and feel like you can’t make it up for air, live in victory. Live in freedom. You may say, “My life is so much worse than you know.” Remember, I have walked through some of the worst things, but if you don’t trust me, think about Job in the bible. He lost everything he ever had and then some, God literally said the devil could do whatever. He chose Christ, and he was rewarded more than he could even imagine was possible. Live in victory, know that you have already won.
One of the many reasons I love comic books, is that every hero struggles. Spider-Man lost loved ones, Iron man struggles with alcoholism, Hulk has some anger issues, and Wolverine feels alone. Every hero struggles, but they all find redemption. They each save the world, and the world needs more heroes. You and me, we were each made for a bigger purpose. We were meant to be heroes, we need to hold onto that hope. You and I don’t have time to let fear control us. Fight for your future, fight to see the end. Walk through life following Christ and holding onto hope. Build a life that would honor others, stand up for what’s right. When problems come, and they will, run to God and follow him through all the pain. Then at the end of your life, you can look back and see how God used that pain and turned it into a masterpiece, I know that’s what I’m going to do. Hold on, believe in the hope, and follow Christ.