The other day I saw a t-shirt of a marathon runner that had this quote:
“The miracle is not that I finished, but that I had the courage to start”
As I thought about this quote, I began relating it to stepping out in faith and obeying God. Not too long ago I was convinced that taking that first step of obedience was the hardest part of any journey. Now I would say that ‘hanging in there’ and learning to thrive along the journey is possibly even harder. You’ve heard me mention it before, and it’s boldly obvious from scripture that oftentimes obeying God in certain areas takes much sacrifice on our part. So, what truths can we cling to after we’ve obeyed, and yet find ourselves in a place where our expectations are not being met? What can our encouragement be to finish the race that we’ve entered? Is it possible for us to hold our heads up and rock on in confidence even when we find ourselves in a situation that we didn’t foresee coming? Even when our expectations have literally been kicked, stomped on, and thrown out the window? Even when we encounter a little surprise that causes our innermost being to shout out “I didn’t sign up for this!” I myself often need a pep talk to regain my focus and keep rockin’ on. So this post is that.
I’ve been trucking through the gospel of Luke with a friend and we are now through the chapters of Jesus’ teaching ministry, and up to the part of His crucifixion and resurrection. In the first chapters of each of the gospels we watch and learn as Jesus picks out 12 disciples. These disciples step out in obedience and follow Him, though many have sacrifices to make in this change of lifestyle (for example Levi a.k.a. Matthew leaves behind his job and material fortune as a dishonest tax collector ~Luke 5:27-28). Much of the rest of the gospel of Luke unfolds Jesus ministry as he teaches the crowds and His disciples what it means to follow Him. Then, something unexpected happens. This leader and teacher that the disciples and many in the crowds had put their faith in is arrested, put on trial, and sentenced to death as a criminal. Even though Jesus had clearly predicted his death on three different occasions (Luke 9:22, Luke 9:44-45, Luke 9:31-34) the scriptures say that the disciples ‘did not understand what this meant’. In fact, all throughout the gospel of Luke we see that the disciples do not get a full grasp of what Jesus’ mission on earth was. My study guide goes as far to say that ‘the disciples have only grasped the happy part of the message’ meaning they are focusing on the rewards of kingship and Jesus’ promised kingdom, and have completely missed it when Jesus has said that first will come rejection and death. The point is that at the time of Jesus’ arrest, they found themselves in a place they didn’t expect to be. They had obeyed their calling to follow Jesus. And now their leader and Lord was going to be put to death on a cross. And you know what their response was? Mark 14:50 tells it loud and clear: Then everyone deserted him (Jesus) and fled.
I was struck by this. You know why? Because reading that was like a mirror into my own heart. In my own humanness, when things get tough my default is to throw in the towel. Escape the situation. Run the other way. Hide. Ugh. I hate even admitting that I am a quitter, but that is my heart. When things don’t go my way, I want a way out, even if I have to make my own way out. The funny thing is that these types of situations are the exact ones that we need to be in so that our faith will grow and mature. It’s so painful. But we can hope in this: God’s grace. This is what I am learning in my women’s bible study right now. Not only do we receive God’s grace as a gift of salvation at the foot of the cross, but as my study guide says, we are also utterly dependent on God’s grace to LIVE OUT the Christian life. Consider this verse:
2 Corinthians 9:8
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.
All sufficiency in all things at all times. I want that.
A few months ago, I was having a really hard time with Sam. I felt that he hadn’t met any of our expectations neither at school or at home, and that he wasn’t becoming a functional member of our family. His grades were bad, his attitude was bad, and my outlook of having him in our family was bad. I was ready to be done. That was my heart. Then something happened. I began to pray that God would teach me to love Sam unconditionally. No matter what sort of obstacle was on the radar next, I prayed that God would develop a love inside of me for Sam that no bad report card, no dirty look, no messy room, no careless attitude, no arguing, no undone chores would break. I started praying for this every day. And I had others pray this for me. And over the past few months God has totally transformed my heart. And I’m not the only one that He transformed. God has used other people that have come into Sam’s life who have pointed him towards a relationship with Jesus. And then, two weekends ago, God’s grace intersected our lives. At a youth retreat with his junior high group from church, Sam made the decision to put His faith in Jesus. And literally one day later I saw some pretty cool ‘evidences’ that confirmed to me that his profession of faith was genuine. This spoke volumes to me because I knew that if Sam hadn’t still been with us, he wouldn’t have gotten this opportunity to be at this retreat and have his life forever changed. And you know what one of the first things Sam said to me after 1 day of living as a follower of Christ? He said, “Being a Christian is really hard,” and he went on to share some reasons why. Smile. Oh how right you are!
And yet, there is encouragement for all of us in God’s grace. My study guide puts it best: God is fully aware that we are incapable of godly living in spite of our best intentions or efforts. His grace is His supernatural supply for all that we lack. He promises to equip and empower us to do whatever He requires of us.
Receiving a referral for a red-headed African to add to our red-headed family in the midst of a frustrating and exhausting adoption journey? God’s grace. Giving birth to a little boy on my birthday after I had suffered the emotional pain of a miscarriage in the pregnancy before his? God’s grace. The resurrected Jesus seeking out the disciples to ease their doubts after they had abandoned and disowned him just days before? God’s grace.
I don’t know how God’s grace will show up in your life. But it has shown up in mine when things were rough. If you’ve obeyed God in something hard, and are finding yourselves in a place that you didn’t expect to be, God’s grace is right there with you. And it is sufficient.
There was given me a thorn in my flesh….three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-9