Have you ever had that feeling that something is wrong in the Spirit but not know what it was? That is how I woke up this morning. I also woke to a very heavy weight on me from a number of things that are pressing in at this time. I also knew I had to write this morning but not feeling like it or knowing what I needed to write. Yet the the Spirit just said to start. So here I am starting. For those looking for a quick 30 second read, this isn't it. I have a sense that something real is going to come out of it this morning.
Over the past 18 years as a pastor I have learned a lot of lessons in both my failures and my victories but the greatest thing I learned is that I hate failing. I hate it so much that I do everything, sacrifice everything, pay whatever price there is to pay not to fail. Maybe it is because of what my dad told me when I was just a boy playing hockey. My dad put a lot of time and money into me succeeding as a hockey player. It was an "okay" activity but I was not not an enthusiastic player. One year the practices got changed and suddenly they were interfering with my Saturday morning cartoons. It was in the day when the only cartoons were Saturday morning and again Saturday evening (5 or 6 pm) with the "Bugs Bunny.Road Runner Show". I decided to quit hockey. My dad simply said to me, "If you start quitting things now you will quit things for the rest of your life". In many ways my dad was right.
The easiest thing to do in life is to quit when things don't go the way you expect them to or when they become really hard. It is what we do with our jobs, our relationships and even our ministries. We have very little tolerance for pain, hardship, sacrifice, and hard work. Many of us expect it to be almost handed to us on a silver platter and when it isn't we walk away to find another place or someone who will serve it up on a silver platter. We have terrible expectations of bosses, of people, of life and of God. The problem is, as easy as it is to quit things, the consequences can be severe.
We have a lot of damaged people walking around out there (the world) and in here (the Church) because of the brokenness that comes from unfinished things. Quitting doesn't mean its over and we get to turn the page. Quitting means it is unfinished, loose ends, torn pages, broken parts, incompleteness, unfulfilled, feelings of being lost. It is not just you but those things and people you were part of before you quit and walked away. It is a terrible feeling and one that does not leave; it fades a bit with time but it never goes away. If you are a person who never completes anything then you are carrying a lot of brokenness around inside of you. I am no psychologist, only a man with too much experience in this subject.
Being a quitter is not always obvious to you or to those around you. It is not like we quit at the first signs of trouble; we hang in there and fight along side everyone else, always believing for a better day. Yet, as things get tougher, as the hope for a better day begins to fade, we lose our resolve so that quitting looks like the only option. After all, why should we throw our life away on something that is not successful? It is better to cut our losses and start over with something else so we can make that a success. It seems so logical in the moment. The thing is, success often only happens after we have survived the hard times and the sacrificial years. You can apply that to work, relationships, and ministries. Sometimes those struggles may last a lifetime or even generations but it requires that time of hard work and determination for success. Easy words to write but when you are a quitter by character then it is near impossible to live.
When I woke this morning with this feeling that there was something wrong I did what I always do, I turned to the Word. At first I was a bit confused but now I am beginning to understand it:
See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. As has just been said:
"Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion." (Hebrews 3:12-15)
I think what I woke to this morning was a spirit of defeat, of giving up, of quitting. The ministry I am part of is once again facing some real hardships due to this spirit of quitting as Christian people walk away instead of dealing with things. It is hard when you have partnered with people over something and then they just walk away from the partnership. That little spirit of quitting is contagious and it spreads quickly, especially if you already have a character that lends itself to it. Yet, as I read the Scripture this morning I am reminded that everything in the Body of Christ must have this same attitude: "We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first".
Now here is the thing, my character is no longer what it once was because the Spirit has been working on me, transforming me to be like Jesus. I am no longer a quitter but a mighty warrior who has been called to stand in the gap where Jesus places me. I have been told to stand my ground:
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6:13)
Here's the thing, God never leaves us alone and he never leaves us without encouragement; He is always encouraging us. However, there is something I have noted about myself and other people: once you have set your heart on a course of action, it doesn't matter how much encouragement is piled on you, you are going to follow that course. We are a very stubborn people when it comes to our own destruction. So this is the reason for the Scripture this morning:
We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. As has just been said:
"Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion."
Pay attention. Open your eyes. Let your ears hear. Allow God to encourage you to stay the course, even if it looks impossible, full of pain and demanding great sacrifices. He will give you hope so that you can see how he will help you through it all and if you stumble in the midst of it don't turn away because he will pick you up. Consider the alternative.
If you do turn away from the path you have been set upon you will meet with certain failure and heartache. The writer reminds us of the example of Israel:
Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. (Hebrews 3:16-19)
For me, as a leader in the Church, this is like a warning shot across my bow. God requires his people to walk in obedience in the tasks he has given us and to trust him. To turn away out of fear of the unknown, out of fear of hardship, out of fear of life is to say to our God that we do not belief he is mighty enough to save us. Belief is not just for sunny weather but for the storms of life and ministry as well. Again the Scripture this morning: We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.
Our failures of the past should not dictate our actions of tomorrow. Instead let our relationship of today determine our destiny of tomorrow. When it comes down to the bottom line, it is God who decides the outcome. In many ways we are only along for the ride. The real question is will we make it to the end with God? Will we hold on with the confidence we had in the beginning? Will we trust that God knows what he is doing, that we will have the confidence to do our part well, and then after we have done everything, to stand on the ground he has given us to stand?
When my dad spoke to me as a child he did not curse me as some may interpret it. My dad spoke wise words about a character flaw he saw in me. He did his best to correct that in me because he is a good dad. However, some flaws can only be dealt with by the Spirit of God. I was once a quitter but no more. I am determined to fight for those who do not even know they are in danger. I am determined to lose everything I possess for the benefit of those who would walk away. I am determined to carry my cross to the last day when I can say with Paul:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)
There is a price to pay in order to say those words. I hope we all realize that. As for me today, I have received what I have needed to receive. My heavenly Father has pointed out that I have not been paying attention to the blessings and encouraging signs he has been giving me. I am determined not to harden my heart to his voice and I will receive the encouragement he has been pouring over me. I refuse to allow past failures to determine my destiny. I will listen for his voice and obey because I know his blessings are found in obedience and belief.
I leave you with this. Take the time to read it; it may be his voice calling to you today:
Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.
So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while,
"He who is coming will come and will not delay.
But my righteous one will live by faith.
And if he shrinks back,
I will not be pleased with him."
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Hebrews 10:32-39)