To carry some of the baggage we carry every day can be exhausting. Everyone's problems differ, but each burden we hold has a weight that only the person carrying it knows. The battles we have been fighting, the feelings and emotions we have had trouble controlling, the goals, hopes, and dreams we haven’t seen come to fruition… All kinds of things trouble us.
Many times it is through relationships with people that we find these hardships: broken hearts, severed friendships, estranged family members. The conflicts we face are nothing new, and how we react to them is nothing new either: a distancing in the relationship, the cold shoulder, bitterness, a villainization of the person, a victimization of ourselves… This is the natural order for us.
There have been many moments when I reacted badly to something someone did to me, that I thought was wrong of them--and vice versa. I still make mistakes doing this, and I probably will continue to do so. It can be difficult to choose right
But what we often fail to realize in these moments is the power of perseverance. I’m not talking about persevering in our own agenda and our own pride; this will only lead to deeper resentment and destructiveness--not only to others, but also within ourselves. When we look at problems in our life from our own perspectives and from our own pride, we fail to look at the situation with God’s eyes; and God’s eyes always see better than our own.
Assuredly, our own thoughts and actions are instinctual, carnal--something we shouldn’t rely on. When I think about a conflict I might have with someone in my life, is what I’m saying to them centered on my own feelings and ambitions; my own pride and understanding? Am I attempting to look at the situation from a perspective that wants the best for those involved, or simply just my own agenda and self-interests? Can I look at the person or people I am in conflict with and still have love for them in my heart? The usual answer we provide through our thoughts and actions is oftentimes no.
It can be insurmountably difficult to overcome tensions between people, along with the tensions within ourselves. These tensions are many times linked to the troubles found in our own hearts, and it's about the heart that Jesus’s words speak of, “And He said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20-23).
1. Perseverance begins with the heart
To overcome difficulties in ourselves and in relationships with people, we must first begin in our heart. To stop judging others comes from a standpoint of judgement towards oneself. Like in Matthew, “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).
Removing the plank sounds painful, and to do it you have to address the huge piece of wood in your eye. This requires a posture of submission and humility; who am I to judge others when I myself am so blind? This submission and humility is not just for our own sake. By addressing our own faults, we are assuming a posture of humility, and are then equipped to address the problems we face with clarity.
True submission and humility, however, can only be fully found at the feet of Jesus Christ. Once you realize how much you have fallen short compared to the holiness of God, it makes it a lot easier to submit your pride and self-righteousness before Him. And once we have cast our crowns before the only One deserving, we can then look at our fellow brothers and sisters with eyes that are set on God’s Kingdom. And God’s Kingdom is this: “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).
And what is righteousness? It is seeking God’s will and simply saying yes. And what is God’s will? To love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30). By choosing Christ, and continuing to persevere in Him, our tendency to love others will grow--He is the only One worthy of our efforts, and the only One who can truly produce good fruit within us. And it is this process that will continually transform our hearts to be more like Christ’s, and therefore, fully equip us to mend relationships and overcome burdens. The answer is Christ in you.
So this is all great… but what do we do when we start feeling worn out from a situation, relationship, or circumstance? How do we deal with a faith that is getting tired, or just demoralized from burdens we hardly understand? We all have to walk through deserts sometimes--and if you haven’t yet, you will. But rest assured, God is equipping us for our next season in the desert.
God can change our heart no matter where we are:
2. We need community in our walk with Christ
A powerful and simple way of dealing with these droughts is letting others walk in community with you. When we go through difficult times, or when we feel uncertain in life, it is important to plug into our communities rather than isolate ourselves from others. By tapping into the faith of those close to us (family, friends, churches), our cups can be refilled and our walk of faith encouraged. This then translates into refreshing our prayer lives and faith, which is essential to walking with Christ.
Taking the step to walk in community can be intimidating sometimes, but it is so important for a healthy relationship with Jesus. We won’t always have the will to press on by ourselves, and that is why God gives us community, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). When we gather in the name of Jesus, He is with us there; He is with us in community. It requires courage to step out and pour into other people. It requires a step of faith to reach out and find others who can walk with you through the good and the bad.
God is not an anti-social God, and He is most certainly not a God of isolation. When we seek the Lord in truth, not only will we find Him, but we will also begin to find other people. And through the renewal and encouragement of our faith through this love, we can resume our task of glorifying and following Jesus Christ, along with trying to bring others into our family.
Community is important, and like all manners of faith, to walk with Jesus will require you to continually choose between saying yes to Him, or saying yes to something else. Paul reassures us, “So do not throw away your confidence; it holds a great reward. You need to persevere, so that after you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised” (Hebrews 10:35-36).
3. Time spent on God is never wasted
The constant trudging of life can sometimes get us to a place that feels monotonous or boring--especially when we have our own expectations of what our life should look like. Lately, I’ve been going through a very interesting desert myself. I am in a place where my faith has never been stronger, but at the same time I am more uncertain about where my path in life is leading than ever before. I do not think this uncertainty is a bad thing--I am not anxious about the future, however, and any anxieties that do arise I set at the feet of Jesus.
Nonetheless, I pray and walk with Christ each day and am patiently looking for where God wants to take me. Of course, I have not received a clear answer yet… the job search has not been the most successful so far, and doubt creeps in and attempts to bring anxiety and fear into my life.
But then I look at how close God has brought me to Him in such a short time, and I see the workings of His hand in my heart, and I realize how much He is at work in my life. I am pouring into Him, and I know there is no better place to be spending my energy. Because for as much as I am pouring into Him with my time, effort, and heart, God is pouring back into me infinitely more than I can comprehend.
We must realize this incredible reality, that no amount of time, energy, or thought spent on God is wasted. Even further, God takes that effort we put into Him and rewards us with His boundless grace, His Holy Spirit--even when it doesn't feel like anything is happening, more work is being done within you then you know. And we know the Spirit is, “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).
In return for our perseverance in seeking God, we are rewarded with this Spirit--and it’s these attributes of the Holy Spirit that will overcome the dryness of faith that we encounter, and the conflicts with people that we have.
4. Persistently choose Christ in both the highs and the lows
To persevere is to actively choose God of your own free will, time and time again. Even when life looks it’s darkest, you do not give up. Because when we are in the deepest valleys, and when the shadow of death seems looming most ominous above us, and hope and joy seem as distant as the stars, we must remember that in these moments we have an opportunity to forge a faith that can move mountains (Matthew 17:20). Not to move the mountain and cast it into the sea of our own power or will; but rather, to call upon the only One who is capable: the Lord Almighty, the God Most High, Yahweh, the Beginning and the End--Jesus Christ.
Therefore, by first persevering in and seeking Jesus, we will grow in relationship with Him. And from here, once the seeds of faith are sown like the mustard seed, we must continue to choose Him when the rains come and the storms fall. For God, “... makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust,” so it is not a matter of if it will rain, but when. And though the periods of rain and darkness can feel so heavy at times, it would be good for us to remember that the mustard seed could not grow if it didn’t receive water.
God gives us the opportunity to grow into a mighty tree of faith when we encounter the valleys and the pits of life (Matthew 13:31-32). For it is through these moments when God feels the farthest away, that we will have to rely on our faith the most. Can we be people of persevering faith? We know that “small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14).
Let us not fall from faith because we lacked perseverance; let our eyes not be darkened by the world we live in. “Not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (Romans 5:3-5).
Will Christ find faith on the earth when He returns (Luke 18:8)? If He does, it will be the faith of those who persevered. If you are struggling with faith or your belief in God, reach out first to Jesus Christ, but then also reach out to others. Even if you just need someone to listen to you, send me an email and we can figure out a time to talk. But as good of a listener that I can try to be, the best one is God alone. Persevere in pursuance of Him, and truly He will make straight all your paths (Proverbs 3:5-6).