Sunday, September 11, 2011

Running Into the Wind Makes You Stronger: Part 2

Prayer is such an important part of facing the challenges of life. Here is a poem I wrote about prayer. 

On Prayer

I went to prayer the other day
I traveled along a familiar way
On my knees I began to start
To open to my God my heart
The words began to flow with ease
My Father in heaven I sought to please
Then in my heart I heard a voice
To listen I had no choice
Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know I’ve traveled life’s sod
Be still and know that I’m aware
Of all the things that cause you care
Be still and know my love is pure
Be still and know my grace is sure
Be still and know that I am God
Together let us walk life’s sod
I went to prayer the other day
I returned home another way 

Running into the Wind Makes You Stronger: Part 2

James teaches us to embrace the tests of life. Just like when you are running into the wind, James challenges us to lean into the trials of life. James 1:2 “Consider it pure joy my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance”.

            We got a letter from school the other day for my daughter Elizabeth. It talked about taking advanced classes.  The school was giving certain kids an opportunity to do extra work.  I don’t know why any kid would want to do that, but some do. The letter came from the office of Student Development. Attached to the letter was another sheet of helpful hints. Across the top of the hints sheet it said, in big, bold letters, Overcoming Text Anxiety.  I thought, how fitting.  I have text anxiety all the time: whenever I am working on my computer. I guess the author of the letter had text anxiety because it should have said TEST anxiety – Overcoming Test Anxiety. 

            We all face test anxiety when we are confronted with the challenges of life. In light of James’ words maybe it is fitting to talk about text anxiety also. His words are hard to comprehend. It doesn’t seem reasonable to be joyful in the face of difficult situations.  Yet it is in embracing the test that we grow strong. 

            Trials are the testing ground of our faith; the place where we become strong.  We often test things in order to discover more about them.  We test things to discover their limits and their strengths.  If you’re a parent and you have an elementary age child, you have had the joy of going through Science Fair at least once. We have done many Science Fair projects in our house.  On one occasion we tested the tensile strength wire.  We took different kinds of wire and tested how far we could stretch them before they would break. That’s tensile strength: how far something will stretch before it breaks.

            The trials that we face are like that Science Fair project on tensile strength.  God stretches our faith to test it. He wants to show us that our faith is much stronger than we think it is. It is during times of trial that we learn about our strengths and weaknesses.  Our God given gifts and talents are revealed and refined by testing. We learn to trust others to come along side of us. These important lessons can only be learned through times of testing. Without trials many aspects of our faith remain dormant. Trials have a way of clarifying our faith like nothing else can. 

            Several years ago I took a group of youth to work at a camp for inner-city youth. Every evening there was a chapel service, which concluded with an invitation for kids to accept Jesus' offer of salvation. Those who responded were paired up with a counselor who would share the gospel with them. In preparation for our trip I had talked about how to do this with our youth. I told them that they needed to be ready to share the gospel with the campers. I gave them some resources to help them be prepared. Most of the youth didn’t take me seriously. The very first night at the camp the altar call was given. Several kids came forward. When they called for the counselors to come forward, one of my guys, like a deer in the headlights, walked up front. He was given four young boys to counsel. He was in a panic. He had no clue what to do. Maybe for the first time his faith was being put to the test.  How was he going to share his faith with these eager boys?  It didn’t seem so important to be able to articulate his faith before but all the sudden it seemed very important. He was being put to the test.

            Testing clarifies our perspective and leads us to perseverance.  Testing is God’s way of making us strong in our faith so that we can continue to run the race.  We don’t like tests, but they are essential if we’re going to grow.  Hebrews 12:11 says it this way: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” 

            Testing is uncomfortable. It’s hard to run into the wind but it’s running into the wind that makes us strong. When the wind is against you, you lean into the wind.  As you lean into the test God does His work in you. The trials of life are a spiritual adventure not to be escaped but to be embraced.  Adventures always include a certain amount of difficulty. That is what makes them an adventure. An adventure is an uncharted journey with great potential.  Along the way a person will face all kinds of difficulties, but she is willing to do it for the sake of the adventure.

            Living for Christ is a life-long adventure into uncharted territory.  God does not give us a detailed map to follow; instead he gives us a guide, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit uses the trials of life to teach us valuable lessons about God and ourselves. Sometimes we overcome our trials and sometimes we fail. God uses both our successes and our failures to shape us. Often our failures are more productive than our successes in shaping our lives.

            I remember vividly an experience I had in Inorganic Chemistry class. We were given the assignment of doing a distilling project, which took several hours. I carefully assembled my apparatus and began the long process. Step by step I worked my way through the assignment. I eagerly awaited the product that was to emerge from the end of my elaborate contraption. I waited and waited but nothing came out. After several hours of work I had produced no results. What do I do now, I thought? Sheepishly I wrote up the experiment just as it happened. I explained that something had gone wrong along the way and I gave several possible reasons. To my surprise I received full credit for the assignment; not because I got the right product, but I did the right thing.  I did exactly what the professor expected of me.  When it didn’t turn out right, I tried to figure out why.  When things in life don’t turn out right, instead of complaining, we should take the time to learn what went wrong. Failure teaches us what not to do the next time.  

            God puts trials in our lives for our good. They have a purpose. We often quote Romans 8:28 too glibly. It is a powerful statement about God’s grace. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called to his purpose.”  When we find ourselves running into the wind remember that God is using that situation for our good and His glory.  .

            Perseverance is an essential quality of our faith. It is an active quality, not a passive one. No one develops perseverance by sitting at home and doing nothing. James 1:4 says, “Perseverance must finish its work so you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”.  Then in verse 12 James continues, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him”. 

            Hudson Taylor spent most of his life running into the wind.  Hudson Taylor was a missionary to China in the 1800’s. He went to China with a passion to reach the Chinese people for Christ. When he arrived in China what he found disturbed him. All the missionaries were living along the coast in missionary compounds inside of walled cities. They maintained all of their European customs, living totally separated lives from the Chinese. Consequently they were not making any headway in reaching the Chinese people.

            Hudson Taylor did a crazy thing.  He got rid of all his European clothes and began to dress like a Chinese person. He routinely left the walled city to penetrate the interior of the country. Instead of being applauded he was met with skepticism and resistance. He was viewed as a rebel. Other missionaries complained about him and put obstacles in his way. In spite of the resistance he kept pushing into the wind.  Eventually he founded the China Inland Mission. He recruited other missionaries to follow him into the interior for the cause of Christ. Thousands of people came to faith in Jesus Christ because he was willing to persevere in the face of stiff resistance. Like Hudson Taylor, we are called to persevere through the trials of life.  Perseverance is part of God’s refining process.  God uses perseverance to purify our faith and move us closer and closer to the goal.  It leads us toward both maturity and completeness in Christ. 

            Maturity is a moving target. It is relative to where a person is in life.  Being mature at age 5 is very different from being mature at age 35. Maturity is not static. It is dynamic. The goal of maturity is constantly advancing. It changes with every stage of life.  Maturity can be defined as being at the right place in life at the right time. The truly mature person knows that they have not arrived.

            In addition to moving us toward maturity, perseverance makes us complete. The word James uses does not mean to be perfect; it means to be without any missing parts. Think about it in terms of a car. A Model T Ford was a fully functioning, complete car.  A BMW is also a complete car but very different from the Model T. Each car has all the parts it needs to be fully functional.  For us to be complete is to have all the parts of our lives in place, with nothing missing.

            God rewards those who faithfully run into the wind with the crown of life. Ultimately the crown of life refers to our eternal salvation. Ultimately it means life everlasting with God. But we don’t have to wait for some undisclosed time in the future to experience that life.  We can experience that life right now. God does not want us to just endure until the end of our earthly life. He wants us to live life to the fullest. In fact, Jesus said that’s why He came. He didn’t come just for eternity, He came for the present. John 10:10 says it clearly, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, but I have come that they may have life and have it to the full”.  Jesus’ desire for us is that we would experience the fullness of life right now. As we persevere through the trials of life we move closer to Christ.

            I installed an epoxy floor in my workshop.  What seemed like a simple project turned into a major affair. Before I could actually begin working on the floor I had to move everything out of the workshop.  Then I had to clean the sawdust out of the corners and get the floor prepared. Once I got the floor clean, I noticed how bad the walls looked so I decided to paint them before I put in the new floor. After a number of days I finally got everything painted, the floor put in and everything back in place. It took perseverance; tackling one thing at a time until the project was complete. Perseverance is what moves us toward the goal.

            We cannot let the trials of life stop us short of the goal.  Paul reminds us that our trials serve an important purpose.  II Corinthians 4:16-18 says, “Therefore we do not lose heart, though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day for our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us eternal glory that far outweighs them all; so we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal”. Paul reminds us that the goal is out in front of us.  As we persevere through the trials, it allows us to rise above the norm.  It allows us to see beyond where we are today toward the ultimate goal. Persevering through the trials enriches our lives.  It solidifies our faith, making us strong so that we can accomplish God’s purposes.  

            Recently I was running into the wind and found myself uncontrollably smiling. I thought, this is weird, why am I smiling?  As I ran I experienced an overwhelming sense of joy, God’s joy. As I was running into the wind, I realized that all the trials I have faced in ministry are like running into the wind.  The things that I have faced have moved me one step closer to the goal.  They’ve made me much stronger in my faith and in my ability to do ministry because I have been running against the wind.

Do you feel like you’re running into the wind?  Don’t give up the race. The more you learn to trust Christ in the midst of your struggles the more God will transform your struggle into joy.  For when you run into the wind with joy, God can do great things in your life.

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