This school year while we are distance learning online, many of our high school students haven’t met staff members who are not a part of their daily classes. So to help our students get acquainted with them, the student leadership team has started interviewing staff remotely and recording the video calls. Yesterday a student interviewed me. She asked several probing questions. One that stuck with me is, What do you think about often? In formulating my answer, I realized I spend a lot of time analyzing whether I am pleasing God and helping people. I ask myself: Am I doing the right thing, does it matter, is it working, could I be more effective, what could I do now to prepare for what’s next, am I too focused on tasks and not enough on relationships, what do I need to learn, and what do I need to change?
During difficult and challenging times like this pandemic, social unrest, moral decay, political division, natural disasters, international conflict, and economic uncertainty, I need to remind myself that because I trust and obey Jesus, my life is firmly founded on him, the Rock, and not the shifting sands of this world (Matthew 7:24-27). I need to be encouraged that God is greater than my circumstances and he is always working to bring everything together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). Maybe you are discouraged by all that is going on in your life. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by circumstances whether they are thrust upon you or whether they come as a result of your choices. I have learned (and am still learning) to walk by faith and not by sight. Here are six lessons I want to pass on to you. I hope they bless you.
Don’t Mistake Your True Goal
Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal. When Jesus’ disciples were in a boat at night battling against the wind to cross a lake, Jesus came to them walking on the water. Some of the disciples were afraid of what seemed like a ghost, but Peter had enough faith to venture out of the boat when Jesus called him. Peter’s goal was to be with Jesus. As long as he stayed focused on Jesus he was fine. But as soon he took his eyes off Jesus and feared for his life from the waves and wind, he began to sink. He cried out and Jesus saved him. Make God your goal, above any other relationship, achievement, status, aspiration, or dream. Specifically, desire to bring glory to him by becoming like him and showing him to others. That makes every other pursuit pale in comparison. Don’t settle for less than what God has for you, just because it is easier, more comfortable, or seems more pleasurable and fulfilling at the time.
Don’t Expect It to Be Easy Going
We live in a fallen world and, in general, people desire to please themselves before others. We are all broken and at times make mistakes and unwise choices which adversely impact ourselves and others. Doing what’s right many times is harder than embracing what’s wrong or doing nothing. If you follow Jesus you will feel like an alien here on earth, because your home is now in God’s kingdom. Jesus experienced this and told his disciples that some people will hate you because they hated me. Also in this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer I have overcome the world (John 15:18-25, 16:33).
Don’t Grow Weary in Doing Good
You are blessed to be a blessing. Use your time, talents, and treasure for good. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17-18, 21). “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8). We don’t do this very well on our own, we need God to help us. Fortunately to anyone who trusts and obeys Jesus, he gives his Holy Spirit to guide and empower them. Therefore, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). If you follow Jesus, the greatest good you can do is to share his love and salvation with others. Although they may reject or persecute you, God works through your effort to reach people. “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 an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Don’t Be Discouraged by Disappointing Results
If your identity and goals center around achievement you will likely become unsatisfied because you didn’t achieve them for some reason, or you did and now you are left wanting for something more. If your success and fulfillment center on relationships, people won’t be able to consistently fill your needs. Fortunately, you can uniquely satisfy your desire to achieve and your longing to love and be loved by making God your goal. Growing in relationship with him and following his lead as he works with you and through you to save others exceeds any other pursuit. Find joy and peace in God and leave the results of your efforts to him. This is important because sometimes you will feel like the prophet Jeremiah who spent 40 years trying to get the nation of Israel to listen to God, but they refused. After Jeremiah died, Israel did turn back to God for a time, but he did not see those results. At the time of Jesus’ crucifixion if we were to evaluate the effectiveness of his ministry it would seem like a failure. He performed some powerful miracles, but the number of people who initially put their faith in him was small. All but one of his closest disciples deserted him, one denied him, and one even betrayed him. Although innocent of any wrongdoing he would be beaten beyond recognition, executed on a cursed cross alongside two thieves while a murderer would go free instead of him. Not very successful. Yet when we step forward just a few months after his crucifixion, we see glorious results. Because of Jesus’ humble obedience and self-sacrifice, God raised him from the dead bringing forgiveness, salvation, restoration, and transforming power to anyone who trusts and obeys him. Jesus’ followers would no longer cower in fear, but would become the greatest change agents for good that the world has ever seen. This supernatural impact has continued for over 2,000 years. Ever since Jesus’ death and resurrection, billions of people have come to receive eternal life in God and will reign with him when he returns from heaven to consummate his kingdom on earth.
Don’t Expect a Continual Emotional High
As you walk by faith with God, at times you will feel an emotional happiness and inspiration from encountering the greatness and closeness of God. As wonderful as this is, realize it will ebb and flow. You won’t always have mountaintop experiences. Sometimes you will feel like you’re in a valley. Yet you can still have joy, contentment, confidence, hope, and steadfastness in journeying with God through all terrain. Peter wanted to stay at the mount of transfiguration where Jesus previewed his divine glory. Instead Jesus led Peter down the mountain to join him in ministering to others (Matthew 17:1-11). Someone once said, “You can be so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good and you can be so earthly minded they you are no heavenly good.” Strike a wise balance by finding your greatest pleasure in pleasing God and sharing him with others. As you look for Jesus to return and set things right, be busy with bringing him glory, proclaiming his truth, serving, and training others. In the process, God will reveal more of himself to you, prepare you for what he has next, and train you to become more like Jesus. That’s exciting and fulfilling.
Don’t Think You Are Alone
God is always near. If you turn to him you will experience the blessing of his presence and providence, as well as, the support of fellow believers. Of course, that doesn’t mean you will not experience difficulty. You certainly will as we explained earlier, but God is with those who place their faith in him. Countless people throughout the Bible and all of human history have experienced this. For instance, after winning a tremendous spiritual battle over the false prophets of Baal, the prophet Elijah feared wicked queen’s Jezebel’s threat to kill him. In addition, he felt alone like he was the last person who desired to serve God, so what was the point in living. God graciously affirmed him, consoled him, and showed him there were still 7,000 other faithful people in Israel (1 Kings 18:16-46, 19:1-18). As Joshua led Israel into the promised land where they would have to fight hostile, foreign nations to re-occupy it, God assured him, “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:7-9). When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were throne into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship Nebuchadnezzar, God sent one like a son of god to join them and preserve them from any harm (Daniel 3). In Psalm 23, David, king of Israel, summarized well how God comes alongside and cares for the faithful. “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:1-4). Note that a shepherd’s rod protects and the staff supports, corrects, and guides. God promises to never leave or forsake those who trust and obey him (Hebrews 13:5). He even gives his Holy Spirit to them as a helper, counselor, comforter, and trainer (Luke 11:9-13; Ephesians 1:13-14; John 14:17,26; 15:26; 16:8-15).
So don’t give up. Keep going. When you run in to an obstacle look to God for a way to go around it, over it, under it, or if needed, through it. Then, one day at a time confidently persevere as you rely on God. He is always faithful and victorious. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble…He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.'” (Psalm 46:1, 10).