God is near and that changes everything

Oh, how God wants you to hear his music.

He has a rhythm that will race your heart and lyrics that will stir your tears. You want to journey to the stars? He can take you there. You want to lie down in peace? His music can soothe your soul.

But first, he’s got to get rid of that country-western stuff. (Forgive me, Nashville. Only an example.)

And so he begins tossing the CDs. A friend turns away. The job goes bad. Your spouse doesn’t understand. The church is dull. One by one he removes the options until all you have left is God.

He would do that? Absolutely. “The Lord disciplines those he loves” (Heb. 12:6). If he must silence every voice, he will. He wants you to hear his music. He wants you to discover what David discovered and to be able to say what David said.

“You are with me.”

Yes, you, Lord, are in heaven. Yes, you rule the universe. Yes, you sit upon the stars and make your home in the deep. But yes, yes, yes, you are with me.

The Lord is with me. The Creator is with me. Yahweh is with me.

Moses proclaimed it: “What great nation has a god as near to them as the LORD our God is near to us” (Deut. 4:7 NLT).

Paul announced it: “He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27 NIV).

And David discovered it: “You are with me.”

Somewhere in the pasture, wilderness, or palace, David discovered that God meant business when he said:

“I will not leave you” (Gen. 28:15).

“I will … not forsake My people” (1 Kings 6:13 NKJV).

“The LORD will not abandon His people” (Ps. 94:14 NASB).

“God … will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deut. 31:6 NIV).

The discovery of David is indeed the message of Scripture—the Lord is with us. And, since the Lord is near, everything is different. Everything!


This article excerpted from Traveling Light.

Traveling Light is available on Amazon, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

This service is like Netflix for Bible Lessons. You pay a low monthly, quarterly or annual fee and get access to all the lessons. New lessons that correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines are automatically included, as well as a backlog of thousands of lessons. Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking, as well as answers from well-known authors such as David Jeremiah, Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado. For more information, or to sign up, click here.

Hope in a hopeless world

It’s a jungle out there.

And for some, even for many, hope is in short supply. Hopelessness is an odd bag. Unlike the others, it isn’t full. It is empty, and its emptiness creates the burden. Unzip the top and examine all the pockets. Turn it upside down and shake it hard. The bag of hopelessness is painfully empty.

Not a very pretty picture, is it? Let’s see if we can brighten it up. We’ve imagined the emotions of being lost; you think we can do the same with being rescued? What would it take to restore your hope? What would you need to reenergize your journey?

Though the answers are abundant, three come quickly to mind.

The first would be a person. Not just any person. You don’t need someone equally confused. You need someone who knows the way out.

And from him you need some vision. You need someone to lift your spirits. You need someone to look you in the face and say, “This isn’t the end. Don’t give up. There is a better place than this. And I’ll lead you there.”

And, perhaps most important, you need direction. If you have only a person but no renewed vision, all you have is company. If he has a vision but no direction, you have a dreamer for company. But if you have a person with direction—who can take you from this place to the right place—ah, then you have one who can restore your hope.

Or, to use David’s words, “He restores my soul.”

Our Shepherd majors in restoring hope to the soul. Whether you are a lamb lost on a craggy ledge or a city slicker alone in a deep jungle, everything changes when your rescuer appears.


This article excerpted from Traveling Light.

Traveling Light is available on Amazon, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

This service is like Netflix for Bible Lessons. You pay a low monthly, quarterly or annual fee and get access to all the lessons. New lessons that correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines are automatically included, as well as a backlog of thousands of lessons. Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking, as well as answers from well-known authors such as David Jeremiah, Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado. For more information, or to sign up, click here.

Worried?

Your ten-year-old is worried. So anxious he can’t eat. So worried he can’t sleep. “What’s wrong?” you inquire. He shakes his head and moans, “I don’t even have a pension plan.”

Or your four-year-old is crying in bed. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?” She whimpers, “I’ll never pass college chemistry.”

Your eight-year-old’s face is stress-struck. “I’ll be a rotten parent. What if I set a poor example for my kids?”

How would you respond to such statements? Besides calling a child psychologist, your response would be emphatic: “You’re too young to worry about those things. When the time comes, you’ll know what to do.”

Fortunately, most kids don’t have such thoughts.

Unfortunately, we adults have more than our share. Worry is the burlap bag of burdens. It’s overflowing with “whaddifs” and “howells.” “Whaddif it rains at my wedding?” “Howell I know when to discipline my kids?” “Whaddif I marry a guy who snores?” “Howell we pay our baby’s tuition?” “Whaddif, after all my dieting, they learn that lettuce is fattening and chocolate isn’t?”

The burlap bag of worry. Cumbersome. Chunky. Unattractive. Scratchy. Hard to get a handle on. Irritating to carry and impossible to give away. No one wants your worries.

The truth be told, you don’t want them either. No one has to remind you of the high cost of anxiety. (But I will anyway.) Worry divides the mind. The biblical word for worry (merimnao) is a compound of two Greek words, merizo (“to divide”) and nous (“the mind”). Anxiety splits our energy between today’s priorities and tomorrow’s problems. Part of our mind is on the now; the rest is on the not yet. The result is half-minded living.

That’s not the only result. Worrying is not a disease, but it causes diseases. It has been connected to high blood pressure, heart trouble, blindness, migraine headaches, thyroid malfunctions, and a host of stomach disorders.

Anxiety is an expensive habit. Of course, it might be worth the cost if it worked. But it doesn’t. Our frets are futile. Jesus said, “You cannot add any time to your life by worrying about it” (Matt. 6:27). Worry has never brightened a day, solved a problem, or cured a disease.

How can a person deal with anxiety? You might try what one fellow did. He worried so much that he decided to hire someone to do his worrying for him. He found a man who agreed to be his hired worrier for a salary of $200,000 per year. After the man accepted the job, his first question to his boss was, “Where are you going to get $200,000 per year?” To which the man responded, “That’s your worry.”

Sadly, worrying is one job you can’t farm out, but you can overcome it. There is no better place to begin than in verse two of the shepherd’s psalm.

“He leads me beside the still waters,” David declares. And, in case we missed the point, he repeats the phrase in the next verse: “He leads me in the paths of righteousness.”


This article excerpted from Traveling Light.

Traveling Light is available on Amazon, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

This service is like Netflix for Bible Lessons. You pay a low monthly, quarterly or annual fee and get access to all the lessons. New lessons that correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines are automatically included, as well as a backlog of thousands of lessons. Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking, as well as answers from well-known authors such as David Jeremiah, Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado. For more information, or to sign up, click here.

I will give you rest

I’ll give you the consequences of the burden; you guess the cause.

  • It afflicts 70 million Americans and is faulted for 38,000 deaths each year.
  • The condition annually costs the U.S. $70 billion worth of productivity.
  • Teenagers suffer from it. Studies show that 64 percent of teens blame it for poor school performance.
  • Middle agers face it. Researchers say the most severe cases occur between ages thirty and forty.
  • Senior citizens are afflicted by it. One study suggests that the condition impacts 50 percent of the over-sixty-five population.
  • Treatments involve everything from mouth guards to herbal teas to medication.

Any idea what’s being described?

Chemical abuse? Divorce? Long sermons? None of those answers are correct, though the last one was a good hunch. The answer may surprise you. Insomnia. America can’t get to sleep.

For most of my life I secretly snickered at the thought of sleep difficulties. My problem was not in going to sleep. My problem was staying awake. But a few years ago I went to bed one night, closed my eyes, and nothing happened. I didn’t fall asleep. Rather than slow to a halt, my mind kicked into high gear. A thousand and one obligations rushed at me. Midnight passed, and I was still awake. I drank some milk, returned to bed. I was still awake. I woke up Denalyn, using the blue ribbon of dumb questions, “Are you awake?” She told me to quit thinking about things. So I did. I quit thinking about things and started thinking about people. But as I thought of people, I thought of what those people were doing. They were sleeping. That made me mad and kept me awake. Finally, somewhere in the early hours of the morning, having been initiated into the fraternity of 70 million sleepless Americans, I dozed off.

I don’t snicker at the thought of sleep difficulties anymore. Nor do I question the inclusion of the verse about rest in the Twenty-third Psalm.

People with too much work and too little sleep step over to the baggage claim of life and grab the duffel bag of weariness. You don’t carry this one. You don’t hoist it onto your shoulder and stride down the street. You drag it as you would a stubborn St. Bernard. Weariness wearies.

Why are we so tired? Have you read a newspaper lately? We long to have the life of Huck and Tom on the Mississippi, but look at us riding the white waters of the Rio Grande. Forks in the river. Rocks in the water. Heart attacks, betrayal, credit-card debt, and custody battles. Huck and Tom didn’t have to face these kinds of things. We do, however, and they keep us awake. And since we can’t sleep, we have a second problem.

Our bodies are tired. Think about it. If 70 million Americans aren’t sleeping enough, what does that mean? That means one-third of our country is dozing off at work, napping through class, or sleeping at the wheel. (Fifteen hundred road deaths per year are blamed on heavy-eyed truckdrivers.) Some even snooze while reading Lucado books. (Hard to fathom, I know.) Thirty tons of aspirins, sleeping pills, and tranquilizers are consumed every day! The energy gauge on the dashboard of our forehead says empty.

Were we to invite an alien to solve our problem, he’d suggest a simple solution—everybody go to sleep. We’d laugh at him. He doesn’t understand the way we work. Literally. He doesn’t understand the way we work. We work hard. There is money to be made. Degrees to be earned. Ladders to be climbed. In our book, busyness is next to godliness. We idolize Thomas Edison, who claimed he could live on fifteen-minute naps. Somehow we forget to mention Albert Einstein, who averaged eleven hours of sleep a night. In 1910 Americans slept nine hours a night; today we sleep seven and are proud of it. And we are tired because of it. Our minds are tired. Our bodies are tired. But much more important, our souls are tired.

We are eternal creatures, and we ask eternal questions: Where did I come from? Where am I going? What is the meaning of life? What is right? What is wrong? Is there life after death? These are the primal questions of the soul. And left unanswered, such questions will steal our rest.

Only one other living creature has as much trouble resting as we do. Not dogs. They doze. Not bears. They hibernate. Cats invented the catnap, and the sloths slumber twenty hours a day. (So that’s what I was rooming with my sophomore year in college.) Most animals know how to rest. There is one exception. These creatures are woolly, simpleminded, and slow. No, not husbands on Saturday—sheep! Sheep can’t sleep.

For sheep to sleep, everything must be just right. No predators. No tension in the flock. No bugs in the air. No hunger in the belly. Everything has to be just so.

Unfortunately, sheep cannot find safe pasture, nor can they spray insecticide, deal with the frictions, or find food. They need help. They need a shepherd to “lead them” and help them “lie down in green pastures.” Without a shepherd, they can’t rest.

Without a shepherd, neither can we.


This article excerpted from Traveling Light.

Traveling Light is available on Amazon, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

This service is like Netflix for Bible Lessons. You pay a low monthly, quarterly or annual fee and get access to all the lessons. New lessons that correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines are automatically included, as well as a backlog of thousands of lessons. Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking, as well as answers from well-known authors such as David Jeremiah, Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado. For more information, or to sign up, click here.

The Lord is my shepherd and I need a shepherd

Couldn’t David have thought of a better metaphor? Surely he could have. After all, he outran Saul and outgunned Goliath. Why didn’t he choose something other than sheep?

How about:

“The Lord is my commander in chief, and I am his warrior.” There. We like that better. A warrior gets a uniform and a weapon, maybe even a medal.

Or, “The Lord is my inspiration, and I am his singer.” We are in God’s choir; what a flattering assignment.

Or, “The Lord is my king, and I am his ambassador.” Who wouldn’t like to be a spokesperson for God?

Everyone stops when the ambassador speaks. Everyone listens when God’s minstrel sings. Everyone applauds when God’s warrior passes.

But who notices when God’s sheep show up? Who notices when the sheep sing or speak or act? Only one person notices. The shepherd. And that is precisely David’s point.

When David, who was a warrior, minstrel, and ambassador for God, searched for an illustration of God, he remembered his days as a shepherd. He remembered how he lavished attention on the sheep day and night. How he slept with them and watched over them.

And the way he cared for the sheep reminded him of the way God cares for us. David rejoiced to say, “The LORD is my shepherd,” and in so doing he proudly implied, “I am his sheep.”

Still uncomfortable with being considered a sheep? Will you humor me and take a simple quiz? See if you succeed in self-reliance. Raise your hand if any of the following describe you.

You can control your moods. You’re never grumpy or sullen. You can’t relate to Jekyll and Hyde. You’re always upbeat and upright. Does that describe you? No? Well, let’s try another.

You are at peace with everyone. Every relationship as sweet as fudge. Even your old flames speak highly of you. Love all and are loved by all. Is that you? If not, how about this description?

You have no fears. Call you the Teflon toughie. Wall Street plummets—no problem. Heart condition discovered—yawn. World War III starts—what’s for dinner? Does this describe you?

You need no forgiveness. Never made a mistake. As square as a game of checkers. As clean as grandma’s kitchen. Never cheated, never lied, never lied about cheating. Is that you? No?

Let’s evaluate this. You can’t control your moods. A few of your relationships are shaky. You have fears and faults. Hmmm. Do you really want to hang on to your chest of self-reliance? Sounds to me as if you could use a shepherd.


This article excerpted from Traveling Light.

Traveling Light is available on Amazon, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

This service is like Netflix for Bible Lessons. You pay a low monthly, quarterly or annual fee and get access to all the lessons. New lessons that correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines are automatically included, as well as a backlog of thousands of lessons. Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking, as well as answers from well-known authors such as David Jeremiah, Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado. For more information, or to sign up, click here.

The prison of want

Come with me to the most populated prison in the world. The facility has more inmates than bunks. More prisoners than plates. More residents than resources.

Come with me to the world’s most oppressive prison. Just ask the inmates; they will tell you. They are overworked and underfed. Their walls are bare and bunks are hard.

No prison is so populated, no prison so oppressive, and, what’s more, no prison is so permanent. Most inmates never leave. They never escape. They never get released. They serve a life sentence in this overcrowded, underprovisioned facility.

The name of the prison? You’ll see it over the entrance. Rainbowed over the gate are four cast-iron letters that spell out its name:

W-A-N-T

The prison of want. You’ve seen her prisoners. They are “in want.” They want something. They want something bigger. Nicer. Faster. Thinner. They want.

They don’t want much, mind you. They want just one thing. One new job. One new car. One new house. One new spouse. They don’t want much. They want just one.

And when they have “one,” they will be happy. And they are right—they will be happy. When they have “one,” they will leave the prison. But then it happens. The new-car smell passes. The new job gets old. The neighbors buy a larger television set. The new spouse has bad habits. The sizzle fizzles, and before you know it, another ex-con breaks parole and returns to jail.

Are you in prison? You are if you feel better when you have more and worse when you have less. You are if joy is one delivery away, one transfer away, one award away, or one makeover away. If your happiness comes from something you deposit, drive, drink, or digest, then face it—you are in prison, the prison of want.


This article excerpted from Traveling Light.

Traveling Light is available on Amazon, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

This service is like Netflix for Bible Lessons. You pay a low monthly, quarterly or annual fee and get access to all the lessons. New lessons that correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines are automatically included, as well as a backlog of thousands of lessons. Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking, as well as answers from well-known authors such as David Jeremiah, Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado. For more information, or to sign up, click here.

The burden of a lesser deity

His pen has scarcely touched papyrus, and he’s urging us to avoid gods of our own making. With his very first words in this psalm, David sets out to deliver us from the burden of a lesser deity.

One might argue that he seeks to do nothing else. For though he will speak of green pastures, his thesis is not rest. He will describe death’s somber valley, but this poem is not an ode to dying. He will tell of the Lord’s forever house, but his theme is not heaven. Why did David write the Twenty-third Psalm? To build our trust in God … to remind us of who he is.

In this psalm David devotes one hundred and fifteen words to explaining the first two: “The LORD.” In the arena of unnecessary luggage, the psalmist begins with the weightiest: the refashioned god. One who looks nice but does little. God as …

A genie in a bottle. Convenient. Congenial. Need a parking place, date, field goal made or missed? All you do is rub the bottle and poof—it’s yours. And, what’s even better, this god goes back into the bottle after he’s done.

A sweet grandpa. So soft hearted. So wise. So kind. But very, very, very old. Grandpas are great when they are awake, but they tend to doze off when you need them.

A busy dad. Leaves on Mondays, returns on Saturdays. Lots of road trips and business meetings. He’ll show up on Sunday, however, so clean up and look spiritual. On Monday, be yourself again. He’ll never know.

Ever held these views of God? If so, you know the problems they cause. A busy dad doesn’t have time for your questions. A kind grandpa is too weak to carry your load. And if your god is a genie in a bottle, then you are greater than he is. He comes and goes at your command.

A god who looks nice but does little.


This article excerpted from Traveling Light.

Traveling Light is available on Amazon, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

This service is like Netflix for Bible Lessons. You pay a low monthly, quarterly or annual fee and get access to all the lessons. New lessons that correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines are automatically included, as well as a backlog of thousands of lessons. Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking, as well as answers from well-known authors such as David Jeremiah, Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado. For more information, or to sign up, click here.

What does it mean (spiritually speaking) to travel light?

What does it mean (spiritually speaking) to travel light?

Do more beloved words exist? Framed and hung in hospital halls, scratched on prison walls, quoted by the young, and whispered by the dying. In these lines sailors have found a harbor, the frightened have found a father, and strugglers have found a friend.

And because the passage is so deeply loved, it is widely known. Can you find ears on which these words have never fallen? Set to music in a hundred songs, translated into a thousand tongues, domiciled in a million hearts.

One of those hearts might be yours. What kinship do you feel with these words? Where do the verses transport you? To a fireside? Bedside? Graveside?

Hardly a week passes that I don’t turn to them. This passage is to the minister what balm is to the physician. I recently applied them to the heart of a dear friend. Summoned to his house with the words “The doctors aren’t giving him more than a few days,” I looked at him and understood. Face pale. Lips stretched and parched. Skin draping between bones like old umbrella cloth between spokes. The cancer had taken so much: his appetite, his strength, his days. But the cancer hadn’t touched his faith. Pulling a chair to his bed and squeezing his hand, I whispered, “Bill, ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.’” He rolled his head toward me as if to welcome the words.

“He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”

Reaching the fourth verse, fearful that he might not hear, I leaned forward until I was a couple of inches from his ear and said, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

He didn’t open his eyes, but he arched his brows. He didn’t speak, but his thin fingers curled around mine, and I wondered if the Lord was helping him set down some luggage, the fear of dying.

Do you have some luggage of your own? Do you think God might use David’s psalm to lighten your load? Traveling light means trusting God with the burdens you were never intended to bear.

Max Lucado, Traveling Light: Releasing the Burdens You Were Never Intended to Bear (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2001), 7–8.


This article excerpted from Traveling Light.

Traveling Light is available on Amazon, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

This service is like Netflix for Bible Lessons. You pay a low monthly, quarterly or annual fee and get access to all the lessons. New lessons that correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines are automatically included, as well as a backlog of thousands of lessons. Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking, as well as answers from well-known authors such as David Jeremiah, Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado. For more information, or to sign up, click here.

Traveling Light — Psalm 23

Traveling Light — Psalm 23

 I’ve never been one to travel light.

I’ve tried. Believe me, I’ve tried. But ever since I stuck three fingers in the air and took the Boy Scout pledge to be prepared, I’ve been determined to be exactly that—prepared.

Prepared for a bar mitzvah, baby dedication, or costume party. Prepared to parachute behind enemy lines or enter a cricket tournament. And if, perchance, the Dalai Lama might be on my flight and invite me to dine in Tibet, I carry snowshoes. One has to be prepared.

I don’t know how to travel light.

Fact is, there’s a lot about travel I don’t know. I don’t know how to interpret the restrictions of a supersaver seat—half price if you leave on Wednesdays during duck-hunting season and return when the moon is full in a nonelection year. I don’t know why they don’t build the whole plane out of the same metal they use to build the little black box. I don’t know how to escape the airplane toilet without sacrificing one of my extrem-ities to the jaws of the folding door. And I don’t know what to say to guys like the taxi driver in Rio who learned I was an American and asked me if I knew his cousin Eddie who lives in the U.S.

There’s a lot about traveling I don’t know.

I don’t know why we men would rather floss a crocodile than ask for directions. I don’t know why vacation slides aren’t used to treat insomnia, and I don’t know when I’ll learn not to eat food whose names I can’t pro-nounce.

But most of all, I don’t know how to travel light.

I don’t know how to travel without granola bars, sodas, and rain gear. I don’t know how to travel without flashlights and a generator and a global tracking system. I don’t know how to travel without an ice chest of wieners. What if I stumble upon a backyard barbecue? To bring nothing to the party would be rude.

Every travel-catalog company in the world has my credit-card number. I’ve got an iron that doubles as a pa-perweight, a hair dryer the size of a coach’s whistle, a Swiss Army knife that expands into a pup tent, and a pair of pants that inflate upon impact. (On one flight my wife, Denalyn, gave me a swat on the leg, and I couldn’t get out of my seat.)

I don’t know how to travel light. But I need to learn. Denalyn refuses to give birth to any more children even though the airlines allow each passenger three checked bags and two carry-ons.

I need to learn to travel light.

You’re wondering why I can’t. Loosen up! you’re thinking. You can’t enjoy a journey carrying so much stuff. Why don’t you just drop all that luggage?

Funny you should ask. I’d like to inquire the same of you. Haven’t you been known to pick up a few bags?

Odds are, you did this morning. Somewhere between the first step on the floor and the last step out the door, you grabbed some luggage. You stepped over to the baggage carousel and loaded up. Don’t remember do-ing so? That’s because you did it without thinking. Don’t remember seeing a baggage terminal? That’s be-cause the carousel is not the one in the airport; it’s the one in the mind. And the bags we grab are not made of leather; they’re made of burdens.

The suitcase of guilt. A sack of discontent. You drape a duffel bag of weariness on one shoulder and a hang-ing bag of grief on the other. Add on a backpack of doubt, an overnight bag of loneliness, and a trunk of fear. Pretty soon you’re pulling more stuff than a skycap. No wonder you’re so tired at the end of the day. Lugging luggage is exhausting.

What you were saying to me, God is saying to you, “Set that stuff down! You’re carrying burdens you don’t need to bear.”

“Come to me,” he invites, “all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28 NLT).

If we let him, God will lighten our loads … but how do we let him? May I invite an old friend to show us? The Twenty-third Psalm.

The LORD is my shepherd;

I shall not want.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures;

He leads me beside the still waters.

He restores my soul;

He leads me in the paths of righteousness

For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil;

For You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil.

My cup runs over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

All the days of my life;

And I will dwell in the house of the LORD

Forever. (NKJV)

Max Lucado, Traveling Light: Releasing the Burdens You Were Never Intended to Bear (Nashville: W Publish-ing Group, 2001), 4–6.


This article excerpted from Traveling Light.

Traveling Light is available on Amazon, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

This service is like Netflix for Bible Lessons. You pay a low monthly, quarterly or annual fee and get access to all the lessons. New lessons that correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines are automatically included, as well as a backlog of thousands of lessons. Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking, as well as answers from well-known authors such as David Jeremiah, Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado. For more information, or to sign up, click here.

Destroying Discouragement

First Response: Cry out to God. “Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their reproach on their own heads, and give them as plunder to a land of captivity! Do not cover their iniquity, and do not let their sin be blotted out from before You; for they have provoked You to anger before the builders … Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God …” (Nehemiah 4:4–5, 9).

I’m going to make a radical suggestion to you. Next time you encounter some major setback in your life, reverse your usual procedure—that is, cry out to God first instead of last. Most of us wait until we’ve exhausted all other alternatives before appealing to God as a last resort. I don’t know about you, but I grit my teeth when I hear someone say, “We’ve tried everything; now all we can do is pray.”

Don’t wait until last to look up. When discouragement comes, start at the top! Go to the Lord and ask Him to help you sort through all the issues. May I tell you what works for me in times of discouragement? I sit down with my computer and my journal and I begin to talk to God. I say, “Lord, I need to talk with You right now. Some things are going on in my life that I can’t understand, and I’m having a hard time with it. I need to tell You about it.”

For me, it helps to begin setting the issues down in writing as I verbalize my feelings to God. As I do this, something begins to change in my spirit.

First of all, I bring everything out of that dark “anxiety closet” into the light. Writing it down and reading it out loud brings clarity. I discover that things weren’t quite the way I thought when they were smoldering within me. I’ve imposed order on them, examined them in the light.

Second, I’ve done as Nehemiah did—I’ve cried out to God. This is the most important thing. Sometimes we just need to let go, be a child, and cry out to Daddy. That brings the innocence and dependence that are the beginning of wisdom. It cuts through our discouragement. If you don’t think this is a very spiritual approach, read through the psalms. When David was beset by worries (and he was beset by a multitude of them), he did exactly what I’ve prescribed above. He wrote them down and cried them out. He was brutally honest about his discouragement, and you can be, too.

Second Response: Continue the Work God Has Given You to Do. “So we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work” (Nehemiah 4:6).

Why is it that our immediate reaction to adversity is to quit? Like the angry little boy on the playground, we take our ball and go home. People leave churches; they quit jobs; they walk away from marriages—all because they’ve encountered the predictable season of discouragement. And of course, that’s the worst thing we can do. We always come to regret our emotional walkouts. Satan knows that if he can play on our emotions and get us to quit, he can keep the problem from being resolved. He can keep God’s work from moving forward. But take a look at Nehemiah. He felt all the discouragement of his people, but he never set down the trowel, never missed a beat in laying the next brick. He knew he had to keep on keeping on. Yes, there were problems to deal with—but he wasn’t going to set aside the mandate God had given him. “The people had a mind to work,” the Scriptures tell us. Nehemiah helped them see that productive labor is just what the doctor ordered sometimes. It’s healthy and therapeutic to work off our frustration.

Needless to say, it’s also a great way to bring a little discouragement to the enemy. Later on, Sanballat and Geshem tried one more stunt to make Nehemiah slow down on his work. They invited him to a conference. Anyone in the business world will tell you that conferences and committees are great ways to slow down productivity! And I’ve always loved Nehemiah’s comeback. “So I sent messengers to them, saying, ‘I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?’ ” (Nehemiah 6:3).

Modern translation: “Please accept my regrets, but God’s agenda outweighs yours right now.” The main thing is to keep the main thing as the main thing. We need to have a firm grasp on what God called us to do, put on the blinders, and keep plugging away. As we’ve seen, clear goals are the best preventive maintenance for burnout.

No matter how devastated you may feel, no matter how down in the dumps your spirit may be, keep up the good work. Experience leads me to believe that the times we least feel like working are the times we most certainly should. Emotions are treacherous advisers. We need to be disciplined and stay on task. Nehemiah knew his people didn’t need to bail; they needed to build. They didn’t need to walk; they needed to work. And our discouragement will have a way of sorting itself out.

Third Response: Concentrate on the Big Picture.

  Therefore I positioned men behind the lower parts of the wall, at the openings; and I set the people according to their families, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked, and arose and said to the nobles, to the leaders, and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.” (Nehemiah 4:13–14)

Nehemiah’s men were fanned out across the perimeter, working on little sections of the wall—and that was part of the problem. They were so separated that they couldn’t communicate and encourage each other. They could only see their own little hole in the wall, their own little pile of rubbish. It was very difficult to maintain any perspective.

We, too, tend to reduce the world to the cubicles we work in. “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world,” said John le Carré. Your cubicle may not have a window, but you can always keep one wide open in your spirit. Open it to God. Open it to others. Hold on to the Big Picture. Nehemiah’s workers were down and out. The muddy bricks and old debris made a discouraging picture, but only a few steps back and a little imagination upward revealed a portrait of the New Jerusalem. You may see nothing but drudgery in your life; you need to see what He is doing in you, with you, and for you. You need to hold on to that hope. It will help you prevail in the darkest of times.

David Jeremiah, Slaying the Giants in Your Life (Nashville, TN: W Pub., 2001), 27–30.

 


This article excerpted from Slaying the Giants in Your Life.

Slaying the Giants in Your Life is available on Amazon, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

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