Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Propulsion of Hope

I often wonder what makes people tick. What pushes the athlete to exercise relentlessly to the point that his or her body gives out from exhaustion? How do some individuals wake up at 4:00 am every morning only to a tackle a 15-hour day and then repeat the cycle the next morning? What keeps a pastor going with the ups and downs of ministry, the spiritual attacks and the persistent people problems? What pushes a parent to carry on after weeks, months or even years of sleepless nights, dirty diapers and temper tantrums? I find myself looking at different people with various hurdles in their lives, all the while wondering, “How do they do it?”

For every person who keeps going, there is a source of strength - an inner fire similar to that of coal in the heart of a locomotive. For some, it is a push to outdo themselves or to outdo others. For some, it is a love for money or popularity. For some, it is an insecurity that they are trying to compensate for or life frustrations that they are trying to run from. Some are simply after another adrenaline rush. Some are sustained by a genuine love for people and/or God. For every driven person, there is a goal that is worth the push.

Running on Empty
Like many, I am a driven person, but recently, I’ve been feeling burned out. I find that no matter how good life is, something isn’t the way I want it to be. When there’s more money, there’s less time and ironically, more bills. When there’s more time, there isn’t enough money. When there’s time, there isn’t always motivation (sleepless nights with sick kids don’t help). When there is finally free time, there isn’t enough free time. With every one thing I accomplish, there are a hundred other things to do.

This dissatisfaction has caused me to re-evaluate the source of my strength and even the direction of my life, and the Bible is certainly a good place to look for inspiration. It’s comforting to know that my predicament is nothing new. In fact, it mirrors the experience of Solomon. In Ecclesiastes 2:22, he wrote, “What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.

Often, when I come to this place of restlessness, I can sense God telling me that I am searching for fulfillment in the wrong places. It’s in these moments that I am pushed to refocus on Jesus, the One who provides living water that will never leave me thirsty (John 4:14).

It’s All In Perspective
As a Christian, what should my ultimate goal be? Maybe I wouldn’t become burned out if I had my eyes on the right trophy? What if I set my striving for comfort aside and I found peace in knowing that God is refining me and making me more like Christ through the uphill expeditions of this life? What if I took joy in the reality that God is using my life story, struggles and all, to benefit others? What if I asked the question, “What can I learn from this situation?” instead of “Why am in the situation?”

Recently, Joshua was given a kid’s worship CD and one of the songs is taken from Romans 5:3-4. It’s fun to hear him to sing his own interpretation of the lyrics. The verse reads, “… but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” It is an awesome reminder that every battle and every holding pattern has a purpose.

Ultimately, the best thing we can have in this life (besides love) is hope. Hope that God has a bigger plan. Hope that God has a future for each of us. Hope that we are moving even when we feel stuck. Hope that each surrender of faith is a step closer to His heart and that is the best place we could ever hope to be.

I may never brave a marathon. I’ll probably never have the energy to wake up at 4:00 am every morning. I doubt I could handle the pressures of being a pastor, and parenting is a work in progress. What I do know is God won’t give me anything I can’t handle (I Corinthians 10:13) and He will finish the work He has called me to complete (Philippians 1:6), regardless of how ill equipped or unmotivated I feel. It’s with this hope that I press forward. It’s with this perspective that I approach the desert or the mountain with confidence, knowing that I am being carried by the God who never grows weary.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Whose Dreams Are We Behind?

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about dreams. I wonder what God thinks about our hopes and aspirations. Is it wrong if we desire to be in a “better place” in life? Can we be both content and ambitious at the same time?

From a young age, most of us are taught to “make something of ourselves.” We’re pushed externally and internally to take risks and follow our dreams. Some of us prefer a safe and predictable existence while some of us abandon everything we know in hopes of finding a more desirable life. Some of us grow up longing to be doctors or teachers and others feel drawn to the mission field or to ministry work at a church. The risks of less pay, financial debt or separation from family are worth the fight. We keep telling ourselves that we are pursuing a greater good. It will pay off in the end, or so we hope.

Sometimes, it can be hard to tell if this push to do more with our lives is from God or fueled by our own selfish desires. So how can we distinguish if we are following God’s path for our lives or our own path? If we are listening to the Holy Spirit and attempting to obey God in all areas of our lives, can we really make a wrong turn? Does God care if one of His children chooses to be a doctor or missionary? Will He bless either choice if that person is living in obedience to His truth?

Nehemiah had a dream to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. His desire to rebuild the wall was all consuming and he spent a lot of time praying that God would “remember him with favor” (5:19) and grant him success. Despite much opposition (Nehemiah 4), Nehemiah carried his dream through until its completion.

Are our dreams as relevant and important to the Kingdom of God as Nehemiah’s dream and if so, how do we know if God is behind our dreams? Maybe a better question might be, are we behind God’s dreams and how do we find those dreams?