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Entries in faith (11)

Wednesday
Apr172013

good intendifications 

Good intentions. We all have them. Mine usually revolve around learning something new, applying it to my life, making myself better, and then using that growth to help other people. It sounds pretty simple when I put it down on screen like that. Makes me wonder why it sometimes feels so hard

The thing is, good intentions are essential to improving your life. You have to have a plan. It's unavoidable. You have to know where you're going if you have any hope of getting there. That's intention. And if you want your destination to be good, the steps you use to get there have to be good. Good intentions. No one makes a good meal from a bad recipe or bad ingredients.

The reason it sometimes seems so hard is because our own good intentions aren't enough. We can't see the road far enough ahead, and so we can't know when things are going to get dicey or go south or veer to the side. That's why it's important to temper our intentions with wisdom and faith and the strength of the Holy Spirit.

Wisdom will get you further than almost any other tool in your box. King Solomon was given a choice of anything he wanted. "Just ask," God said, "and it will be yours. No strings attached. Tell me." Solomon could ask for immortality, or the wealth of every nation, or control of all the lands of the Earth. Instead, he asked for wisdom.

God was so impressed by the request, He gave Solomon greater wisdom than any man who had ever lived, or would ever live. And funny enough, because of that wisdom Solomon got all of that other stuff anyway! Plus more and more and more than he ever could have imagined before.

One of the culminating works of that wisdom is the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament. It contains wisdom beyond measure, a treasure unequaled on Earth!

Dave Ramsey—radio host, author, financial and business leadership guru, and solid Christian man—says in his Financial Peace University course, "There are 31 chapters in the book of Proverbs. If you read one a day, in a month you'd have the equivalent of a Masters course in finance." 

Beyond that, Proverbs can give you a daily dose of wisdom that will change every aspect of your life, from money to relationships to running a business to achieving better health. Go to BibleGateway.com and type "Proverbs" into the search engine. You can pick any translation you want, including plain ol' modern day English, and start learning more and more and more about God's power in every aspect of your life. 

It should be noted, also, that Solomon's quest for wisdom was not limited to spiritual works. He not only studied the writings of Godly men, but the wisdom of other cultures as well. He poured over texts from ancient cultures, and used his "discerning heart" to find God's wisdom hidden there. And then he applied that wisdom to what he knew of God's Word, and used it to structure and live his life.

Remember, according to John 1:1-18, God's Word not only predates the written works, but was present in the very beginning of creation. In fact, God's Word was God Himself! And that Word became flesh, which we know to be Jesus Christ. 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

John 1:1-2

The Word isn't just contained in the pages of your Bible. You can look all around you, at the whole of the world, and if you apply your discerning heart through prayer and study, you can see God's wisdom everywhere. Learn and grow from it. 

Faith seems to be one of those enigmatic concepts that confounds and infuriates people (me included). My own struggle with faith is that I haven't had a clear definition of it in my head and heart. I want to believe, and I want that belief to empower me, but I seem to always forget about faith when it comes down to the grit and grime of my day. 

Faith is more than just "belief." It is belief, but also trust. Above all, though, faith is obedience. 

To start building more faith, you start with wisdom. Start looking at the world around you, studying books and films and even television shows with an intensity for digging wisdom out of every crevice where you can find it. 

The act of looking for and discerning wisdom in everything, studying everything and praying for increased wisdom, will feed your faith and bring some added benefits as well. Proverbs 21:21 says:

Whoever persues reighteousness and love finds life, prosperirty and honor.

Proverbs 21:21

As you start seeing God's Word all around you, and start seeing the results of it in your daily life, your faith starts to increase. And it only takes a wee bit of faith to do a great deal. It's a seed, and it grows as it is nurtured and cared for. That nurturing comes from pursuing righteousness and love. It comes from seeking wisdom.

The Holy Spirit is the ingredient I was missing most when I was struggling to get a grip on my life. And, when I find myself struggling again, I can usually trace the struggle back to my movement away from the Holy Spirit.

When Christ died, He told His disciples that he would be moving on, going back to His place in the Kingdom of God. But He would send another to be with us. 

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—

John 14:16

That advocate is the Holy Spirit. The third person of God Himself. He dwells with us, in us, all around us. The Holy Spirit is the source of wisdom and the power of faith. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can do anything!

But we have to invite Him in. He's there, waiting on the edges, waiting for us to say, "Take it. Take control. I surrender." And once He's invited, He smiles, rolls up His sleeves, and gets to work.

Trouble is, we can uninvite Him. We see all the good stuff happening and we say, "OK, great! I'll take it from here!" And we plow into His work, making a real mess of it all.

Or worse, we see things going a different way than we might have planned or wanted and we yell, "NO! This isn't what I want! I'm taking over!" And then we jump into the muck and get ourselves nice and dirty, and lose sight of the fact that God sees further down the road than we do. We're stuck here, wallowing in the mud puddle, when God was just trying to get us through it so we'd have a smoother, easier path on the other side.

We've been given free will, and it's been both a blessing and a curse. We're free to say, "No thanks, I'll take care of this on my own." Or we're free to say, "I surrender, God. Please, fill me with your Holy Spirit. Please lead me to your righteousness and your love."

It's an invitation we have to make over and over, because we keep revoking it over and over. 

As we search for wisdom, as we increase our faith, we must also remember to invite the Holy Spirit, to surrender to Him, to give Him the decision making power in our lives. We have to reaffirm it, over and over, because it's always our choice. 

It's not easy sometimes, to turn it all over. Especially since we often can't see what's going on, where it's all going, where the "good stuff" lies. All we tend to focus on is the bad, the hard, the painful. We forget that none of this lasts forever. We only see what's happening right now, and can't even imagine it getting better.

But it does. It can. It will. 

Good intentions aren't enough, though. Not ours, anyway. A remarkable life, filled with joy and prosperity, comes from surrender to the intentions of God. We can live our Intended Life. The steps are easy. They just look hard.

If you want to live your Intended Life (notice how I keep capitalizing it? almost like a brand or something), God has it all mapped out for you. If you need help, need a nudge, need advice or consultation or just someone to complain to, drop me a note. Use my Contact button, up top, or leave a comment below. We'll work through it together. I'll pray for you and with you. I'll give you whatever advice I have, and share with you whatever God has taught me. We can be a strength to each other. 

God has an Intended Life for you. His intentions are better than good. He has a plan and a power, and He's inviting you to be a part of both. 

Friday
Apr122013

self controlitude

In my reading and studying over the past couple of days, one of the topics that has bubbled to the top is "self control."

Oy.

I have not been the most reserved, self-controlled person in the past. I like to "reward" myself for a job well done or for being "diligent" about something. You know what I'm talking about here? "I've done pretty well on this diet, so it's OK if I eat this entire carton of ice cream in one sitting." Or maybe "I've been pretty good about sticking to my budget, so it's OK if I over-spend on this pair of shoes." Guys ... this isn't just a woman thing. I've been known to drop some chunky cash on a pair of Chucks. Ladies ... I'm not going to let guys pick on you for your shoes. Feet have to look and feel good. Solidarity.

Self control is one of those things that we know ... we KNOW ... we have to develop, and yet we can't seem to get past stage one. We can't seem to make self control a dominating habit in our lives.

I have this theory that it's because we are looking at it from too far out.

"You mean I can NEVER HAVE ICE CREAM AGAIN?!?"

"I can NEVER BUY ANOTHER PAIR OF SHOES?!?"

"I have to exercise MORE THAN TEN MINUTES PER WEEK?!?" Ok, that one is probably more of a Kevin thing.

And no, none of that is true. It's not even the goal. It's the thing our brain screams when we start projecting outward, looking into the future that we can't know, extrapolating from the present moment that "this is how life is now." 

Developing good habits takes time and effort, but we tend to get bogged down by the sheer volume and weight of it. It's too much! It's too overwhelming! No one can bear up under that kind of burden!

True.

What, you were expecting a pep talk? Words of encouragement? "Keep going! Keep pushing! Keep doing!" Nah, that's for suckers. Everyone knows that you can't overcome obesity or debt or potty mouth or lack of education. Impossible!

Right?

But we do know that these things can be done. We see examples every day of people who have accomplished the very thing we want to accomplish. We see folks who have dropped all the extra weight, who have paid off the debt, who have cleaned up their language, who have gone back to school and earned an advanced degree. Did they do that over a weekend?

No. They did it one bite, one dollar, one swear jar, one class at a time. 

The key to developing self control is repetition. Do the small things, the smallest chunk, over and over, and eventually that becomes your habit.

The usual analogy is eating an elephant.

"How do you eat an elephant? One bite at at time!"

I don't eat a lot of elephants. What I understand easier is books.

How do you write a book? One page at a time!

Maybe you're better with LEGO. 

How do you build the LEGO Death Star? One brick at a time!

Big stuff is made of small stuff.

Let that soak in for a second. Big stuff, no matter how big it is, will always, always, always be made of lots of small stuff. Your car is made of thousands of small parts. Your house is made of small bricks and bits of plaster and wood and tile. The whole UNIVERSE is made of teensy, tiny little atomssuckers are everywhere.

And habits, like self control? They're made of small stuff too.

You decide to take a bag lunch every day instead of buying lunch at a restaurant. That's self control, and it helps you control your calories and your budget.

You decide to take a course on household accounting at your local junior college. One class, once per week, for nine weeks, and suddenly you have more knowledge, more friends, and a firmer grasp on how to manage your household budget.

You decide to lose weight. You change one small thing at a time, take it day by day and week by week, and suddenly this massive goal turns into a whole bunch of tiny little goals that you can manage.

Losing 100 pounds sound daunting? How about doing 10 sit ups today? Now, maybe 10 more tomorrow? 

Paying off $50K in debt got you worried? Can you put ten bucks into a savings account? Can you do that once per week?

Eating an elephant looking a little tough to swallow? Don't eat an elephant. What are you thinking? That's not good for either of you.

Take a look at the big, scary thing you're facing, and ask yourself, "What is the smallest action I can take, right this minute, that could start chipping away at this?"

I remember hearing a story about someone asking Michelangelo how he carved his David out of marble. He replied, "I looked the marble, then chipped away all the parts that were not David." Chip, chip, chip. One chip at a time, until the huge block of formless marble becomes one of the most recognizable pieces of artwork in the world. Can you handle a chip at a time?

Self control is about repeating good habits. It's about committing to asking God and yourself what is right, and then doing that. Chances are, if you're questioning whether or not a choice you're making is the right choice, it isn't. So ask yourself, "What's the right thing to do?"

Tempted by chocolate? Me too. That's why I let myself eat a small piece of dark chocolate every evening, after dinner. It's also why I eat as much chocolate as I want during the weekends. Hey, don't give me that look. I have to wait all week for that chocolate! And frankly, by the time the weekend gets here I'm so stuck on the idea of skipping chocolate I tend not to even think about it. It helps, too, that I don't keep much of it in the house any more. Easy to avoid temptation when there isn't anything to be tempted about!

Set up some kind of automated process to help keep you honest. It's not cheating! It's winning! It's OK to park at the very end of the parking lot to force yourself to get in a little extra exercise. It's OK to set up an automatic draft on your paycheck to put money into savings each month. It's OK to give someone else your shopping list and money to do your shopping, to keep you from grabbing stuff that isn't on the list. It's OK to build some backup into your plan. That's self control, too.

Self control is a tough habit to develop. It only comes when you start using it. Kind of like faith, huh? It's there, waiting for you to start before it really kicks in. So the only real self control you need is just enough to make that first decision, to take that first step. Then you just need enough to take the next step. And then enough to take the next step. And enough to take the next step.

So really, on the whole, all you need is enough self control to do one small thing right. And repeat.

 

Monday
Apr082013

failureocity

You are a complete and utter failure. Me too, actually.

Ain't it great? Wow! What freedom! What a wonderful gift! Can you believe that we ... err ... some of you have that "look" on your  face. OK, let me back up a bit.

A while back I was thinking about my life. Mostly I was thinking, "Wow. I really haven't accomplished anything worthwhile, have I? And I'm overweight. And I'm in debt. And I tend to make some bad choices. I'm pretty sure God's unhappy with me."

Best. Thought process. EVER.

Because it was around that time I started to realize I have to actually change something if I want to live the life I want to live, and that God intended me to live.

Haven't accomplished anything worthwhile? Did I plan to do anything worthwhile?

Overweight? Was I adjusting my diet, and was I exercising more often?

In debt? Was I improving my financial education and making to changes to how I think about and manage money?

Bad choices? Was I learning from them, and consciously deciding not to repeat them?

God's unhappy with me? Can I blame Him? What have I done to please Him? What have I done to glorify Him? What have I done to be obedient to Him?

Thank God I finally woke up. I spent the first 40 years of my life vacillating about right and wrong, about wealth and poverty, about health and sickness, about all the aspects of my life I was unhappy with, and whether or not I was unhappy enough to CHANGE THEM. 

I wasn't. Or rather, I was, but I wasn't willing to change them. I hadn't made the decision to make changes in my life. I hadn't asked God to change me, because I was afraid of the pain that would come with change. But above all, I was afraid of failing.

Thing is, I actually made a thinking error right from the start. See, I made this assumption that God was unhappy with me based on the fact that I was unhappy with me. And sure, maybe God would have preferred I make better choices. Maybe He was displeased with the choices I was making. But "unhappy" is a long way from "not loving," which is how I was thinking of it. I was thinking, "I haven't done anything to earn God's love."

Brrrrt. WRONG! Back to zero. Re-read the rules. You are playing the wrong game. No wonder you're losing!

God may well be unhappy about your life and your choices. But that isn't the same as not loving you. He loves you, no matter what, because He made you to be loved. He sent Christ as a sacrifice, the embodiment of God and man, to die in our place for the evil and sin in our lives, and to be reborn to prove God's power over evil and sin and death. He did that so that He could just love us, straight up, without us having to do a thing to "earn it." 

We do not have to earn God's love. We have it. We do not have to earn God's forgiveness. We have it. We have only to accept Christ as the guiding force in our lives, the strength in our hearts, the rule for how we think and behave and decide. All of that, it's what Christ came here to make available to us.

And we fail.

Oh yeah, we fail. Big time. We lust. We envy. We lie. We steal. We cheat. We experience wrath and anger. We are gluttonous. If you don't fall somewhere in that list, I bet we can dig for a bit and find something that applies to you. Because we fail. It's what we do.

And God knows that. And He's OK with it. He loves you "even though."

That phrase has special meaning for me and my wife, Kara. When we were planning our wedding, our minister sat with us to counsel us about marriage and the decision we were making. And when he wrote our vows, he included something in them that he had brought up during those sessions. "God loves you even though." Even though you sin. Even though you become angry. Even though you doubt or disbelieve. Even though you fail. God loves you even though.

Look, we're all falling on our faces, all the time. It's going to happen. You should try your best to avoid it, try to make changes, try to be a better steward of the gifts God has given you. But you're going to fail sometimes. It's part of the package. 

God loves you, even though.

And God is your only way to improve. It starts by asking him to change you.

I recommend reading Lord Change Me, by James MacDonald. I first encountered this book when I started attending Sugar Creek Baptist Church in Sugar Land, and it was a great start for changing my life to the glory of God. It offers very practical advice and a structure for asking God to change your life, and for turning away from the sin that has dominated you in the past. 

Short version: Ask God to change you. Repent (turn away) from the sin in your life by proclaiming, "I'm dead to that. And Christ is alive in me." And act on what you know to be good while avoiding what you know to be sin. 

You're going to fail. God knows I do, every day. And when you fail, your first impulse will be to feel an overwhelming guilt and shame. Go ahead. Feel it. Then pray a sincere apology to God, and start again with "Lord, change me." Make the request every time you fall, and make your best effort to die to sin and live in Christ. The effort is worth a lot.

Failing does not make you a failure. In the end, every failure is just a chance to learn and grow and become stronger and better than before. When you pick up and keep going, the failures in your wake become the steps you climb to reach new heights. God is waiting for you at the top, but he's also walking along beside you, to help you get to where you're going. Trust that. Trust that even in failure, God has your back. 

You are amazing. God made you, so you know it's true. 

Friday
Apr052013

faithnicity

I was thinking about the atheist thing. You know ... there's a surprising number of people who don't believe in God. That always bothered me when I was younger, in high school or even in my early college years. I had a tendency to try to "convince" folks. I formulated complex but "unbeatable" arguments, as if I could somehow logic an atheist into believing. 

Shocker—you can't.

If someone doesn't believe, nothing you say is just going to magically convert them. But logic arguments, in particular, are going to fail. Because frankly, atheists have logic in their favor in an argument about God. They can point at hard evidence for anything they "believe," and all you have is "faith." 

Key words here. Read closer.

If you can point to something as a fact, you don't "believe" it.  You know it. You have evidence, concrete and verifiable. You can pick up the object of your knowledge, or touch it, or demonstrate it. Not so with God. 

Kicker for Christians—you either have "faith" or you don't, but if you do, then you don't just "believe." You also know. Logical arguments against the existence of God don't really work for persuading you, because even with the "evidence of your eyes" you still, deep down, somehow, know the truth. You've seen too much. You've felt too much. 

Some of the atheists in my life like to bring out this little gem: "You only believe because you were raised in a Christian household, here in the U.S. If you were born in another culture, you'd have different beliefs."

I think that's true. I think that being a Christian is in large part a matter of where you were born, how you were raised, what you encountered as you made your way through life. So you can pretty easily persuade me that my "Christian-ness" is a factor arising almost exclusively from my upbringing.

Don't know if you noticed, but the argument just shifted.

Go back. Re-read. You see it? It's right there in front of you.

We're no longer arguing the existence of God, but whether or not we'd be Christians in another culture. The argument changed, but the subject is close enough that most people shrug the change off as semantics. It ain't. 

Semantics would be arguing over the name of God. I say God, you say Jehovah, she says Jesus, he says The Eternal One, that guy says something else entirely (or says nothing at all ... some belief you can never utter the name of God ... so does not speaking His name mean he doesn't exist?). Bickering over how to refer to God is a semantic argument. It gets you nowhere. It's definitions of terms, nothing more. A rose by any other name would smell as omnipotent.

The logic trap from above is the subtle turning of the argument of existence to the argument of your particular flavor of religion. I'm a Christian because I was born into a Christian household, I was raised in a Christian home, I attend a Christian church and I participate in a Christian community. But I'm a believer in God and in the Word, and that is independent of my upbringing.

There's a reason that, universally, it is considered wrong to steal, bad to murder, unacceptable to hurt a child. "Human decency" is one of the semantic names we throw at these universal truths, but what makes them universal? What makes even the cultural "exceptions" to these rules somehow offensive to the rest of civilization? How many cultures were conquered and destroyed because they veered away from these universal truths, and why would that happen? Why should we care, we who live on this side of the globe, what people are doing to each other on the opposite side?

People are inherently good? Then what defines good? People are inherently a bunch of ignorant, angry jerks? Says who? Humanity? We're not fit to judge each other. We all have our hang-ups, right? How can I point at you and say, "You're wrong! You're evil!" and at the same time be unconcerned that someone else is pointing at me and saying the same thing?

So humanity isn't a good judge of good and evil, right and wrong. Those concepts are somehow outside of us, above us. And that's the rub for Christians, or people of any faith. We see that as evidence of God. Atheists see it as evidence of ... what exactly? Evolution of personality? We all spontaneously decided, as a species spread far and wide, at times with no contact with each other whatsoever for thousands of years (if ever), that "these are the rules by which we shall all abide?"

Ever heard of Occam's Razor? 

The principle (attributed to William of Occam) that in explaining a thing no more assumptions should be made than are necessary. (Pulled from Google, 5 April 2013. "Define: occam's razor")

Or put simply, "All things being equal, the simplest explanation is the most likely explanation."

What's simpler? Man evolved a universal sense of right and wrong despite little to no contact with each other across oceans and continents for thousands and thousands of years? Or universal rules for right and wrong exist because a higher intelligence established them?

Logic again. Sorry. That won't work to persuade anyone. It's just an exercise in showing how smart I am (Answer: Not very, when considered on the whole of my life). But there's a reason why logic doesn't win a faith argument. It comes down to "choice."

In Matthew 13:10-17, the disciples ask Jesus why he's always goin' about and speaking in parables. His reply reveals a lot about why logic can't win a faith argument, and what it takes, exactly, to believe in God:

10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;
    though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’

16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

Matthew 13:10-17

It's there. You can pray for wisdom to understand it and it will probably pop out at you. I'll do my best to nudge that along with my pitiful and inadequate summary:

God hides the truth in plain sight, but to believe in Him you have to choose to believe. Faith is, in the end, the choice you make to believe, even when all evidence and all logic tells you it can't be.

And suddenly, miraculously, this goes from being "choosing to believe" to "knowing the truth!"

Seriously. I can't explain it any better than that, because God actually designed the Word so that it cannot be understood until you believe.

You can logic it all you want. You can scoff and eye-roll and sneer. But it's right there in front of you the whole time, waiting for you to notice it. And the only way you can is to choose it.

It's a little like germs.

Bear with me, this works.

Germs are there. We know they're there. But how? We see their effect, sure. People get sick. We know a lot about germs, these days. But before their discovery, no one would have ever believed in the existence of tiny bugs that live everywhere and make people sick. Still, there they were, whether we believed in them or not. 

Then, one day, someone says, "I bet if I take this powerful set of magnifying lenses and start looking at stuff, I'll find all kinds of things." And they did. They chose. They took action. They built something that let them start looking closer, and then they saw them. Germs, never having existed before in all the knowledge of man for centuries, suddenly came into existence.

Now you can buy soap for a buck that helps you kill germs on contact. Thank you, science. We live because of your endeavors. But frankly, the majority of the Earth's population, throughout all of history, has never actually seen a germ. We believe they are there, and we take actions to prevent them from harming us. We make a choice to behave as if they are real, whether we can see them or not, and that protects us from their machinations. 

Believing in God is a little like believing in germs. Not the best analogy I've ever come up with, but let's put a little thought into it. 

God is there, whether we know it or believe it or not. Right now, we don't have the tools to see Him. No microscope. But even if we can't see Him, we can make a choice to behave as if He is real. We can study His Word, we can commune with His people, we can seek His will for our lives. And when we do that, something starts to happen within us. 

God responds.

Suddenly, we are watching a movie we've seen a million times and some small throw-away line takes on new meaning, maybe even shapes our life a bit. A book we're reading about the invention of the printing press suddenly opens our eyes to how people work together. We hear someone utter a Bible passage we've heard a million eye-rolling times, and suddenly WE UNDERSTAND IT.

Our tiny, insignificant, mustard-seed-sized act of faith is suddenly blossoming into the bud of a tree, and that bud is starting to grow, and suddenly it fills our whole life with the truth of what WE see but what otheres CAN'T see, even though it is RIGHT. THERE. IN FRONT. OF. THEM.

That's why logic doesn't work to convince an atheist about the existence of God. It can't. They're smart. They have that tool on their side, all sewn up. All we have is He who invented logic in the first place. They're arguing from within, where the rules are established and make no allowances for anything that doesn't fit. We're arguing from outside and above, where the one who made the rules is keeping the next level of knowledge, unbound by the rules of the system.

The Kingdom of God is hidden right in plain sight, and we can only see it when we choose to see it. That's why it's so hard, even impossible, for some people. They argue that if you have to "believe" something for it to be true, then it isn't true."The great thing about science is it's true whether you believe or not!" That's brilliant. I couldn't agree more! Science is about facts! Provable facts! 

That's right. It is. And Faith is about Faith. It's a paradox that people can't live with. Until they do.

And that's just about as plain as this Wordslinger can make it.

Tuesday
Apr022013

struggleation

Sometimes there's a whole lot of tough stuff hitting you at once. Money gets tight just when your air conditioner breaks down, and your mother calls to tell you her apartment is flooded and she needs a place to stay for a few weeks, and one of your cats gets injured and has to go to the vet, which ends up costing more than a house payment, and while you're coordinating all of this you get a flat tire. For a nice cherry on top, while trying to find a parking spot at the grocery store, someone zips in ahead of you without so much as a wave. 

I've always handled things like this very poorly. I get mad. I say things (paint-peeling things that could make a sailor blush). I make rash decisions and take stupid actions. More than once I have hopped out of my truck to confront the jerk that just cut me off, or the one who won't back up and let me get out of a parking space, or the one who was just minding her own business but happened to be in my way on a very bad day. 

Not good. Dangerous, even. But beyond that, so outside the scope of what God wants for us it's unbelievable. 

Here's a news flash—bad stuff happens. It's like it happens all the time, am I right? 

It's true. Even when we are fervently praying that nothing bad will happen, something always seems to go wrong. Scary stuff that makes us feel like we're alone here, like no one, but especially not God, is looking out for us. We're on our own.

And it's true. We really are on our own. 

What ... you expected something different?

Here's the truth—when we are focusing on the things that scare us, that make us angry, that make us worry, we are on our own. God is there, of course. Always. But he's more or less hovering just a bit away, waiting for you to realize that you're thrashing and struggling and trying to stay afloat in a situation in which you have no hope of surviving.

I like the lifeguard analogy.

I heard this from my pastor, Mark Hartman, at Sugar Creek Baptist Church in Sugar Land. Lifeguards are trained to scan the waters for danger, for swimmers who are struggling. And when they see someone, they leap into action. They grab their rescue board and dive in, they swim to the person who is struggling and drowning and then ...

They stop.

Whazzawhozitnow? Stop?!? Hello! Drowning victim here! Struggling, barely keeping my head above water, trying desperately to hold on to something, anything that will keep me firmly in the "living" category! And you choose now to take a break?!?

The thing is, if a lifeguard immediately rushes over and grabs the person who is drowning, panic will cause that person to resist and struggle even harder. They'll grasp onto the lifeguard, clinging for life, and end up dragging both of them down. There's a greater chance that they'll both drown out there if the lifeguard doesn't stop, assess, wait just a beat, and act only when the person has stopped struggling.

That's God. He sees us struggling, he knows that we're drowning and that we are scared, but until we stop the struggle He's going to wait. Until we realize that there's nothing we can do—that it was us that got us here in the first place, that if we could swim our way out we would have done so already—He's just going to wait, just out of reach. 

We can swim toward Him, of course. That means that we've calmed down enough to be rational. We're focusing less on the struggle and the danger and more on the positive things in our life. We've realized that our struggle is getting us nowhere, and if we don't get a grip we're going to go down. We can move toward God, and He will open up His arms and take us back to shore.

More often, though, we can't seem to get out of the struggle. We're focused on everything that's wrong about the situation. We can't find our footing, we can't find anything to grip on to, we can't seem to calm down enough to even out and take smooth, steady strokes, to follow a pattern that will get us back to safety. In those cases, God waits. He's not going to let us down ... He's still there, still cares, still knows exactly what to do. And eventually He acts to save us, because He loves us.

Of course, some of us keep strugglng for a long, long time. We've been treading water for so long, we have no idea how to stop. We're so afraid of sinking that we expend massive amounts of energy resources to keep our head above water. And it seems like it's working for a time. From the outside, from anyone swimming nearby or walking on the distant shoreline, we may not even look like we're struggling. "I'm OK," we say. "I can do this. I can keep kicking, keep paddling, keep struggling until I suddenly fly out of the water and glide safely to land on a cloud of my own making!"

Get real.

This is the kind of swimmer I've been for years. I struggle, but I largely keep it hidden. God sees me, though. He knows the truth. He's a trained lifeguard, able to see all the signs. And he's just waiting, waiting, waiting. Immortal, omnipotent deities seem to have way more patience than we mere mortals do, am I right?

If you're facing struggles in your own life, it's OK. It's OK that it bothers you. It's OK that it scares you. It's OK that you don't know what to do or where to turn. God's there, waiting. He won't let you down.

Sometimes we lose the things we're trying to hold on to—our home, our job, our pets, our family, our health. That's going to happen. Everything has its time in our lives, and when that time is over we have to deal with the grief of loss. God is there, too. He's waiting for you to come to him for comfort. We can't always understand the "why" of loss, but we can have faith that there is a reason for it, somewhere, somehow, and that it's tied to the love God has for us.

Our child playing with something dangerous—it could be fun for the kid, and it could hurt their feelings if they lose their toy, but we take it away for their good, whether they know it or not.

A student is punished for cheating on a test and has to miss out on after-school sports—no fun, and they don't get the benefits of being part of the team, but when they have to retake the test they learn and grow in a way they would have missed out on before.

A drowning man, struggling in the waves as a lifeguard floats nearby—he's afraid, panicking, and not thinking clearly, but someone is there to rescue him, once the struggling stops.

Lots of things happen that aren't pleasant, and that seem to bring no good at all. In the end it's about our perspective. What are we capable of understanding in that moment? Not much, really. That's why faith is so important. We have to know that God is aware of our struggle, and beyond that He knows how to use our struggles and pain to make us safer, stronger, better. 

Believe that, and act on it in faith, and the things that you struggle with become less frightening. Look for a way to learn and grow from every experience, and count all of the good that you have in your life, even during the hard times, and you will live a fuller life with less fear and pain. That's the point. That's the plan God has for you. Accepting it takes a leap of faith, but living it makes for a grander life than you ever imagined.