There is nothing quite like the ache a parent or grandparent feels for their distressed little one. Whether the child is sick, wrestling with an emotional struggle or a physical challenge, our pain can feel overwhelming. It doesn’t matter how old your kids or grandkids are, you ache when they ache, and you suffer when they suffer.
That’s what love does.
I’ve wept over the struggles of those close to me. I would do anything to fix their situations. I’ve prayed over and over, “God, I beg you to intervene. Do something. Anything. Please come and fix this….” At times the heavens seem so silent.
But God feels every pain of every person in every moment of his or her life. God has seen our troubles and cares deeply about the anguish of our souls (Ps. 31:7); he is close to the brokenhearted (Ps. 34:18); and even when we walk through the valley of shadows, he is right beside us (Ps. 23:4).
Knowing that the Lord is aware of our distress brings me comfort.
I have no idea what is causing you to ache in this moment. I don’t know what is bringing angst and sorrow to your spirit.
You don’t get the promotion or raise you deserve.
Your spouse says, “I want a divorce.”
You have a miscarriage.
The doctor says, “I’m afraid this is going to require surgery and a long recovery period.”
An in-law becomes an outlaw.
I may not know what you are wrestling with right now, but I do know this: When life is hard, hang on to the truth, not what you feel. And understand this—God knows, he cares, and he is near even when we feel alone.
So what have I learned about life and hardship?
I’ve learned to expect the unexpected.
I’ve learned to stay the course no matter what the course may bring.
I’ve learned to be humble and dependent on the Father for everything.
I’ve learned to fix my eyes and heart on the One who has never left me.
I’ve learned that God can handle my questions.
Read this next part very slowly: God never promised us an easy life. He never assured us an answer to everything, not on this side of eternity. If that were the case, how would hope and faith play into the mix? The normal expectation for Christ-followers is faith in the face of the unknown and trust even when we are baffled by life.
Is it easy? No. However, though we have no guarantee of an easy life, we do have the Father. No matter what, we are never alone and never left to wade through the mud and muck in our own strength.
May I pray for you?
Father, this life is so hard sometimes. We have so little control and feel so overwhelmed by circumstances that baffle us at times. We know so little, and we ache so much. Please carry us. Please protect us. But most of all, please help us to keep our eyes on you no matter what. You alone are our hope.
“…Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.
But take heart, because I have overcome the world” John 16:33 NLT.
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I attended a picnic recently and noticed how uncomplicated and free the kids were. They didn’t worry about the meat on the BBQ or who brought what for a side dish. They made fun their only concern. It was a picnic after all.
I know as adults we have responsibilities. I understand the need to plan and prepare. But does life have to be so complicated? Let me give you six steps to keep it simple:
Remember what is and isn’t eternal. Only people live forever! That task or thing you’re stressing over may not have much (or any) eternal significance. The first step to a simpler life is remembering to focus on what matters most—people.
Identify and stay true to your core values. What six or seven things best define who you are, your ideals, and your purpose? For example, loving God and others is one of my core values. If an opportunity isn’t related to love at some level, I’m not interested. But if I can advance the cause of love, I’m in! Loyalty, faithfulness, and family are other core values to me.
Try to make a subtraction for every addition in your life. Have you noticed how easy it is to say yes and how hard it is to say no? One of the most effective ways to simplify your life is to stop something old whenever you start something new. This step is much easier when you’ve applied the previous two steps.
Practice sacrificial generosity. The more we have, the more we worry, and the more we worry, the more complicated our life gets. I’m not saying it’s bad to own stuff, but it’s a problem when our stuff starts to own us. The best way to guard my heart against distracting materialism is to give generously.
Determine which voices you’re going to listen to. Sometimes the multitude of other voices are nothing more than complicating distractions. Be humble. Be a good listener. But be wise too, and listen to the voices that matter most.
Live fully in the moment. It’s good to plan for the future. But sometimes we are so future-minded we are of no present good. We can’t spend all our time worrying about tomorrow. The simple thing is the present thing. Do it well. Do it now.
What have you found effective for de-cluttering your life? Pick one or two of the things above and start simplifying today.
May I pray for you?
God, our society values busyness. We feel worthwhile when we’re needed, and oftentimes add more to our plates than we can manage. Refocus our attention on the eternal. Help us simplify our lives. Amen.
“Don’t worry about tomorrow. It will take care of itself.
You have enough to worry about today” Matthew 6:34 CEV.
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Doug and I have been friends for a long time. Over coffee at Starbucks he said, “I’m afraid of growing old. It concerns me that I can’t do the things I used to love to do, and brain farts are becoming an annoying regularity!”
I smiled, knowingly nodded and said, “Me too, Dude! When did we get old?”
Now before I go on, if you’re not at least fifty yet, stop reading. Seriously, this post is likely to be a waste of your time because you’re not going to understand or relate to what I have to share. It’s okay; I didn’t get it in my youth either. Maybe file this away and read it in twenty years or so (if you can remember where you filed it when you’re old).
For the rest of you old dogs or aging queens, keep reading; you might find some comfort here.
Recently, a friend recommended tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. It’s been around for a while but never crossed my path before. It’s a book about an old professor (Morrie) who is dying of ALS, written by one of his former students (Mitch), and it’s a moving and insightful book about life’s greatest lessons.
One of the chapters deals with the fear of aging. In it Morrie says, “. . . the young are not wise. They have very little understanding about life. I embrace aging. As you grow, you learn more. If you stayed at twenty-two, you’d always be as ignorant as you were at twenty-two. Aging is not just decay. It’s growth. If you’re always battling against getting older, you’re always going to be unhappy because it will happen anyhow.”
I’m pretty sure I’ve not embraced aging, and I complain way too much about the decay and decline in my life.
I wish my bad knees and back didn’t keep me from downhill skiing.
I used to set two alarms to rouse me in the morning; now I can’t remember the last time I needed an alarm to wake up early.
What did I walk into this room for anyhow? Just a minute ago I got up to get something, somewhere, but can’t for the life of me remember what!
All of those things (and far more) are frustrating at times, but maybe I’m focusing on the wrong things. Perhaps it would be better to settle here:
I may not be able to do physically what I used to do, but I’ve had the gift and privilege of doing so much in my life. I’ve climbed mountains, surfed oceans, trekked the Himalayas, ran marathons, and thank God, I’m still moving.
I might not sleep as much as I used to, but I sure do get a lot done at 5am!
I’ve forgotten more than most twenty-somethings know, but wisdom does, in fact, makeup for a lot.
Besides these new realities in my life, I have the great joy of being a grandfather. I have the honor of mentoring an amazing group of young leaders. I pastor a church full of people who respect my wisdom (even when I can’t always remember their names). And best of all, I enjoy the depth of companionship with my wife, Laura, who has been my best friend for over forty years.
Morrie is right, “Aging is not just decay. It’s growth.” Frankly, when I think about how idiotic I was in my youth, I’m eternally grateful for the maturity I’ve experienced and for the spiritual development still to come.
My memory might not be what it used to be, but my memories are plentiful and sweet.
My body isn’t the epitome of studliness I once imagined, but I’m comfortable in my skin.
My heart doesn’t dream of adventure quite like it used to, but I’ve discovered the greatest adventure is found in the quality of abiding friendships. And I am rich with friends.
Yes, death is closer than it used to be, but perhaps the apostle Paul was on to something when he wrote, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” Philippians 1:21.
So let me gently encourage you today to embrace aging and to see it as a path that eventually leads to an even better life forever with Jesus. Being older just means being closer to a new body and mind in eternity, and there’s no downside to that reality.
May I pray for you?
Father, help us to remember that though our bodies grow weaker, and our days on this earth are numbered, this life is not all there is for us. Teach us to embrace each season of our lives with anticipation and joy.
“The glory of the young is their strength;
the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old.”
We’re all messed up. Yes, I know, that’s not a very positive statement to make. Some might suspect I’m a pessimist with a glass-half-empty perspective on life. I would argue that I’m a realist with a biblical worldview.
We all have sinned.
We all will continue to struggle with sin on this side of eternity.
We all have parts of our heart, mind, soul, and body that are not yet perfect.
Thankfully, the day is coming when we will be perfected and made completely whole, but that day is not yet known, and I’m not yet that person (and neither are you).
You’re probably thinking, “Thanks for pointing out my brokenness! Why can’t you just encourage me instead of bringing up my crap?”
Take a deep breath and read this next part very slowly: Your brokenness should encourage you.
“Dude, what are you smoking? How in the Hyundai can my struggle with sin be a good thing?”
What your brokenness can do for you:
It’s the messed up that discover God in the middle of their mess. He doesn’t run from the hurting; He runs to them with arms open wide.
It’s the weak that can find God’s strength.
It’s the sinful that recognize their need for mercy and grace.
It’s the needy person that empathizes with the other beggars standing in line.
It’s the sick and broken that realize they need help, and Doctor Jesus is always open for business.
It’s the humble person that forgives as they have been forgiven.
It’s the contrite of heart person that finds comfort and release from shame through the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
A while back, I had a long conversation with a young Christian man in Southern California who struggles with pornography. Consumed by guilt, he told me he felt disqualified to serve God because of his sin. He said he felt frustrated and unable to even sing in worship because of his failure. There was no joy in his life, and he was ready to give up and walk away from his faith because he believed Jesus was disgusted with him.
Does Jesus care about your sin? Of course, He does.
Does it matter when you are bound by unholy and unhealthy habits? Oh yeah.
Are there consequences for the poor choices you make? Often.
However, the answer to your struggle isn’t to give in to your sinful impulses without concern (abusing the gift of grace) or to quit your walk with God (abandoning grace). He understands you. He knows your human condition. He recognizes the spiritual war you face every day.
Regardless of any pattern of failure you might be trapped in, the answer is to learn to run to God’s throne of mercy and grace despite your sin. The answer is to fight in His power rather than yours. The answer is to yield continually to the Spirit as you learn to say yes to God, and no to sin more often than not. The answer is to let your sin and broken state remind you: You desperately need the grace and help of your Savior! Always have. Always will.
Maybe God expects you to struggle with sin more than you expect to wrestle with it. And maybe that’s why He provided His Word, His Spirit, His Church (you are not alone in your battle), and His ongoing invitation to continuously come to Him no matter what.
May I pray for you?
Father, sometimes we do well, and sometimes not. However, regardless of our success or failure, help us to remember that you are faithful, merciful, and full of grace even when we are not. Teach us to draw near to you no matter how messed up and broken we are, for You are the healer and redeemer we so desperately need. Amen.
“This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses,
for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.
So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God.
There we will receive his mercy,
and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”
Hebrews 4:15-16 (NLT)
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