Today we went to a local martial arts studio to see a friend take her black belt certification test in taekwando. The test lasted two hours. That's two solid hours of swinging nun-chucks, kicks, punches, jumps, push-ups, sparring, proper form, jumping jacks, leg lifts and sweat. Lots of sweat. I don't know what I was expecting, but that wasn't it. It was all about breaking down the candidates physically and pushing them to their absolute limits to see how they respond. Earning a black belt was more about perseverance than perfection.
I couldn't help but compare the experience to the walk of faith for a Christian. Here are a few comparisons:
1. The instructors and the spectators were there to cheer the candidates on, to encourage them to go farther and try harder than they would otherwise, and to bear witness to their expected success. The church is meant to do the same. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV, "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing."
2. One of the criteria that the candidates were being judged on was attitude. They could do the entire two hour workout perfectly, but if they refused to bow in respect, respond appropriately to their instructors, and show a level of enthusiasm for what they were doing, they would fail. The same is true for the Christian. I Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing."
3. The candidates were expected to yell back their responses to each of the instructors questions. We were in a small enclosed space and yelling seemed odd, but it was required. One of the instructors explained to the spectators that the reason they required the candidates to yell was that when you yell, it forces you to inhale deeply afterward, and breathing is one of the most important things for the candidates to do to keep them going. Rather than telling them to breathe over and over again, they train them to yell and allow the breathing to come naturally. Sometimes directions from a learned master don't seem to make sense, but we trust in our teacher who knows more than we do. It is the same for the Christian. Isaiah 55:8-9 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the .For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
4. Perseverance and stamina over the long haul are key to success. There will be moments of feeling like you can't go on for every black belt candidate - probably more than one over the course of two hours, but continuing on regardless of feelings, trusting that a second/third/fourth wind will catch up to you if you just press on. The same is true of the Christian. James 1:12 ESV, "Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him."
A black belt is just a white belt that never gave up.
A saint is just a saved sinner that persevered in the faith.
As I sit on the couch resting on LABOR Day, I started doing a little internet research on the concept of work (clearly I am more fun than a barrel of monkeys). Specifically, I was curious about what makes people WANT to work hard. Too many times, I'd rather take an easier way out and yet the call to hard work and dedication is ever present... nagging, really. *so rude*
I guess since it will always be the voice in the back of my head, so I might as well find ways to increase my "want-to" where hard work is concerned. Here are some of the positive things, other than the potential to make money, that I found which consistently seem to help make people willing to work harder than your average Joe:
1. A trustworthy leader.
2. Recognizing the importance of the fruits of your labor.
3. The collaboration and camaraderie of a great team.
4. A compelling vision of the future.
If there is an an area of your life where you, like me, want to increase your motivation to work harder, maybe you need to find someone trustworthy to follow who can point the way. Perhaps you need to remember all the good things that could be byproducts of your hard work. Maybe it is time to recruit some enjoyable teammates to join you in the pursuit, or perhaps it is time to imagine what the future could be like if you stuck to it and gave it your all.
If all of that fails, crank up some great music and just do the next right thing for 1 more hour... just one more hour. Maybe after that hour, we'll be too engrossed to quit, but even if we aren't we're closer to the goal than we were before!
Colossians 3:23 "Whatever you do,work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men." ESV
Proverbs 14:23 "In all toil there is profit, but mere talk only leads to poverty." ESV
Philippians 4:13 "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength."
NOTE: The quote in the picture above is questionably attributed to Thomas Edison. Check out this link for the history of the quote and to look into any other quotes you find online to verify who really said them first.
Today I was adding new music to my iPod for my commute to work and I started exploring the songs of JJ Heller. I'd heard a few, but I wanted to hear more.
One song in particular struck me immediately. It is entitled, "Who You Are." It describes the lives of individuals who are going through trying times; life isn't looking the way they thought it would, and they are in pain. In their sorrow and confusion, they admit that they don't know what God is doing. I can still hear the chorus ringing in my ears, "I don't know, I don't know what You're doing. But I know who You are."
We can get through a lot when we know who we are walking through it with. When we are sure. 100% certain. No doubts. We don't have to know everything in every situation, but we do have to know one thing for sure. Who is it that walks with me?
The most heart-wrenching time in any relationship comes when one offends the other to the point where the offendee begins to not only take offense at the wrong doing, but to go so far as to question whether or not he really knew this friend in the first place. This sense of betrayal is a common theme in movies. We've all heard lines like, "I never even knew you." or "Who are you, anyway?" It feeds into our innate fear of trust. Our fear of giving ourselves completely to another person. There is always the risk that the wool is being pulled over your eyes, that what you wanted to believe about your friend, or lover, or parent, or mentor isn't actually true. That's when the walls crumble down around you and the way out seems bleak.
BUT, what if you knew? What if you never had to wonder? What if you were absolutely certain that the character & capacity of the one you put your trust in was ROCK SOLID? How many more confusing times could you make your way through together? How many perceived offenses could you see past? How much deeper could the water get without you panicking? How much higher would the mountains be that you could climb with him beside you? It is almost impossible to fathom, if you have been repeatedly burned in your earthly relationships... that this kind of trust could exist.
When JJ Heller sings, "Who You Are," this is what she is singing about. She is reminding herself and all of us that we can know God. His character is described vividly and consistently in the Bible and we can count on him to be who He says He is. Every. Single. Time.
Circumstances will change.
God will not.
*This is cheating, because it is really better when you open your own Bible and pray your very own prayers and let God show Himself to you PERSONALLY, but - if you need a jump-start, a crash course in the character of God - this is a good place to start.
Not one moment that we spend reading the Bible, praying, listening to godly men and women teach and share, acting on what we learn, not one single moment is wasted. Over time, each of these acts becomes a building block in our relationship with Jesus Christ. His character IS rock solid. But in our fallen human state, having encountered unpredictable and untrustworthy people time and time again, we don't come to put our full weight on Him over night. It comes in time. It is built by experience. Give Him a chance. He will prove to be exactly who He says He is, and that knowledge can make the sun rise after even the darkest of nights.
On a recent trip to the National Zoo, we had a great time watching this meerkat. The other meerkats in the habitat were rolling in the dirt, playing, and digging, but this one climbed up on the highest rock in the enclosure and stood very still and just looked, systematically, in every possible direction. The educational plaque hanging on the wall nearby explained that this behavior is common for meerkats. Since they are such tiny creatures and generally walk on all-fours, meerkats will frequently pull themselves up on their hind legs to get a better, higher view of their surroundings and search for predators.
This week on my commute to work, I've been reading in Genesis about the life of Joseph. You remember Joseph - the coat of many colors, being sold into slavery by his brothers, being bought by the Captain of the Guard in Egypt, ending up in prison (unjustly), interpreting dreams beyond his own capability, being restored and elevated to the position of second in command to the pharaoh, saving his family from the effects of a severe famine, being reunited with his father who thought he was dead. AMAZING LIFE STORY to be sure. The thing that struck me this week as I read through the account of the life of Joseph again was that He was always experiencing God's favor, regardless of his circumstances:
1. His brothers threw him in a pit, but didn't kill him.
2. He was sold into slavery, but everything he did prospered and he was not treated like a slave in the home of Potiphar.
3. He was put into prison unjustly, but again everything he did there prospered and he was given responsibility and meaningful work even in prison.
4. He was offered a high position in the government of the pharaoh which he did not seek out.
5. Everything he did in Egypt prospered and his work there resulted in saving a nation from a devastating famine and in restoring his family to him.
As I read and reflected on Joseph's life, I was reminded that we cannot gauge whether or not we are living out God's will for our lives based on our circumstances. After all, Joseph was rejected by his brothers. a slave, and a prisoner, all while being right where God wanted him to be. A better gauge of living out God's will, it seems, is His favor. God's favor plays out in the smallest of ways and on the grandest of scales, but is of equal value regardless of the way it is displayed. Sometimes we have to be like that meerkat, and rise above our own limited perspective and try to catch a glimpse of what is really going on in the midst of our suffering. If we don't, we are destined to be enslaved to our current circumstances and our limited interpretations of them.
This is more than looking for a "silver-lining." This is about remaining faith-filled in our attitudes and faithful in our actions regardless of our situation. Refusing to despair when we know we are on the path God wants for us. Submitting to the route that He has deemed best and looking for evidences of His favor along the way to keep us going. When we are in the pit (rejected by those who are supposed to love us and protect us), in slavery (stuck in a difficult situation without any control over it), or imprisoned unjustly (falsely accused and punished without cause) - may we rise up to our full height (in his mercy and grace) and look for evidences of favor smack dab in the middle of the pain and difficulty. If they are there, then we have cause to rejoice in the midst of the mess and hold on for the deliverance that will surely come. If they are absent, we have cause to repent and wait for the restoration that God has promised never to withhold from His children.
Psalm 121:1-2 (NIV)
"I lift up my eyes to the mountains-- where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth."
Psalm 30:5 (NIV)
"For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning."
In my ongoing meditation on 2 Peter, chapter 1, I am currently dwelling on the list of qualities that we should have and that should be increasing in our lives:
in our faith supply moral excellence,
in moral excellence, knowledge,
in knowledge self-control,
in self-control, perseverance,
in perseverance, godliness,
in godliness, brotherly kindness,
in brotherly kindness, love.
Today's focus is on self-control and perseverance. The idea of stick-to-it-iveness and never giving up. This is not a strong suit of mine, and it is something that I can see will be a struggle for my son as well. I love the progression of these virtues in the verses in 2 Peter. How beautiful and true. It isn't enough to have self-control, you have to persevere. Mark Twain is quoted as saying, "Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know. I've done it thousands of times." That makes me giggle, and sigh. While I don't struggle with smoking, there are many things in my life that I have decided to do something about, with all the resolve in the world, only to have to decide all over again a few months later because I never followed through for longer than a few days. Ugh.
Thomas Edison once said, "Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time."
It is this knowledge and philosophy that I want to marry with this concept from Jan Denise: "When I'm tempted to do something that feels like giving up, I won't...because love doesn't give up (I Cor. 13). But, lest I push love aside, I will make sure that what I'm holding on to can coexist with love." Never, ever, ever give up... UNLESS, what I'm striving toward is not of God, for God IS love.
The next part of these verses in 2 Peter that humbles me to my core is that the attribute of godliness doesn't arrive on the scene until AFTER perseverance. Godliness isn't something that comes by half-hearted effort. The things that follow perseverance are the things that I find myself striving for and desiring the most in life: godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. The concept I've neglected all these years is that those attributes have to be "earned" in a sense, BUILT UP TO over time. We don't get to skip all the others and go straight to godliness! Though this is how I've lived much of my life in many ways. When I do this I end up with something very hollow that only echoes what true godliness is all about. Life is too short to settle for this kind of incomplete Christianity.
"If these qualities are mine and are increasing, they render me neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of my Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind and short sighted having FORGOTTEN his purification from his former sins."
What a slap in the face of God to forget all that Jesus has done for me...His sacrifice on the cross should be the impetus for my perseverance and self-control. Now THAT is something I can wrap my mind and heart around! It is time to PERSEVERE!
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!