Strength in Numbers


strongerLike many other Americans, I watched the Grammy’s last night. Since the early American Idol days, I’ve been a fan of Kelly Clarkson’s music. And last night her album “Stronger” won the grammy for Best Pop Vocal Album. The album, and single by the same name, were also nominated for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Solo Performance. The song has become an anthem of sorts for those going through difficult times, especially in the area of relationships, who believe that what doesn’t kill them will indeed make them stronger. And Kelly Clarkson is not the first to sing about finding strength through trying times. Kanye West had a song with the same theme. The saying has also been quoted in the movies Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Steel Magnolias (1989). The philosophy that we are strengthened by the situations we endure and survive originated from German philosopher and poet Friedrich Nietzsche in 1888 and it is a philosophy that many live by.

There is certainly some truth to the concept and there are many who have gone through major crisis situations in their lives that forever changed them for the better. They walked away with a resolve to use their circumstance to reinforce and strengthen their determination that nothing can or will destroy them. Based on the number of life difficulties some of my friends have been through, they should be nearly invincible at this point according to Nietzsche.

stronger 5Yet I have come to understand that while that may be true for some, it is most certainly not the case for all. I have encountered those who have lived through extremely challenging situations and the ensuing result is far from strength. What didn’t kill them made them hardened toward life and toward other people. It wore them down to the point that they found themselves no longer fighting their situations, but accepting them as the hand that they’ve been dealt. In some cases, what didn’t kill them has left them broken and mistrusting of others. It has made them bitter and closed off to the love and acceptance offered to them by those who attempt to reach out. What didn’t kill them has worn them down to the point that they are simply enduring life instead of living it. It has left them hopeless, weakened and lacking the will to fight through their circumstances. What didn’t kill them has nearly destroyed them.

I believe there is danger in looking to life’s difficulties for strength. When we do so, we come to rely on ourselves to get us through the hard times. And while there are those who seemingly are the exception, the majority of us need something so much more than our hardships to find strength. After a series of hard times early in my own life, I found myself beaten down and defeated. I was angry and resentful that I didn’t have it as “easy” as everyone else seemed to. My marriage was added to a list of personal failures and I was left feeling weak and hopeless. It was during that low point that I turned to God, who had been waiting for me all along. I sought God at my weakest point and in that moment I surrended control of my circumstances to Him. And when I turned the fight over to God when I no longer had any fight left in me, my life was forever changed. For me, my strength was never found in that which did not kill me. My strength was found in Christ.

stronger 2I found that when life gets hard and I feel beaten down, I find such hope in knowing I no longer must rely on my own strength to fight the battle. The battle belongs to my Lord who is my strength and my shield (Psalm 28:7). I trust in Him to be my strength and the bible promises that “those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31). What didn’t kill me taught me that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13) – not through the challenges I face, but through Christ. In 2Cor. 12:8 Paul asked God to take away a hardship he faced and God told him “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

In recognizing his source of strength, Paul concluded: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2Cor.12:10).

stronger 6It’s no easy feat to “delight” in our weaknesses, hardships and difficulties. But when we find our strength in Christ and not in how well we endure what life throws our way, there comes a point when we realize that finding delight through the tough times by relying on Him is a whole lot easier than relying on our own strength. We were never meant to fight alone. We were never meant to struggle through life in attempt to barely crawl across the finish line when our life is over. We were meant to soar on the wings like eagles!

What have you been through that hasn’t killed you but has made you battle weary and broken? Are you ready to surrender the fight to God and lean on Him to give you the strength to carry on? In battles of war, surrender is a sign of weakness. But in the battle of life, surrender is strength. Isn’t it time you wave the white flag?

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Executing the Play


superbowl 10SuperBowl 47 will be remembered for many things – a 30 minute power outage delay, the Harbaugh brothers coaching against each other, an epic comeback attempt by the 49er’s, and a couple of SuperBowl records for longest kickoff return for a touchdown and longest singing of the National Anthem. And today the internet is filled with opinions of how the Ravens were able to hold on to the win and with reasons the 49er’s were unable to finish the comeback on top. But the bottom line is both teams were well coached, had a well thought out gameplan, both came fully prepared to play and both faced the same adversity during the power outage. In most every game, the team who’s players execute the plays and trust in the coaches to know the best play to call in any given situation, end up with the victory. Yesterday it was the Ravens who simply executed the plays relayed to them onfield from the coaching staff better and more consistently than the 49er’s.

superbowl 3God knows and can see the big picture for our life. He is our coach who is there to direct us into His perfect will for our lives. He wants us to experience victory over sin and the things like unforgiveness, bitterness and anger that keep us from experiencing all He has planned for us. He gives us instruction or “sends in a play” to us from the sideline either through His word or through the wisdom and advice of others. He calls in to us the right “play” at the right time so that we may successfully move forward and grow in our faith. We get in trouble when we look at the situation on the field and decide that we know best which play to run so we change the play last minute at the line of scrimmage. Whether He instructs us to make a move in a new direction or to stay put where we are and trust in His timing, it’s our job to execute according to the His play call, not our own. When we fail to follow His lead we find ourselves stuck in circumstances without hope for a way out. Thank God He has an endless playbook and even when we fail, He continues to give us opportunities to follow His gameplan.

I remember a time in my life when I had prayed to be able to quit my job so I could be a stay-at-home mom. I waited on God and followed the path I felt He was leading me on. That path included staying put in my job for 2 more years after I began praying to be home. But when God opened the door for me to quit my job and stay at home, my lack of faith in the moment caused me to change the play He had called, to one according to how I thought things should go. I quit my job but instead of becoming a stay-at-home mom full-time, I decided I should work part-time so that I could continue to bring in income for our family. I didn’t trust God to be our provider and to meet our needs.

superbowl 5Within a month of working as a bank teller part-time, my cash drawer came up over $1000 short. I was given 3 days at home without pay while they investigated to determine where the missing money was. It was in those 3 days that God clearly showed me that He never told me to go to work part-time. He had fully opened the door for me to stay at home, which was my heart’s desire. He was trying to give me what I had asked for but I lacked the faith to receive it. I changed the play based on our financial circumstances I saw with my own eyes instead of trusting Him enough to execute the play as He had called it. I repented and knew when the 3 days were up the bank would call to tell me I was fired for not doing my job and causing my cash drawer to be short. And then I could start being at home full-time which I knew then was God’s plan for me.

To my suprise they called after 3 days and although they had been unable to account for the money, they offered for me to return to work because they believed it was an honest mistake and the money would turn up upon further investigation. God didn’t just shut the door on my mistake, He gave me the opportunity to run the play again and this time to execute it according to His plan. I returned to work and gave my notice thanking the bank for their confidence in me and explaining that I had decided to completely trust in God to provide for our family so that I could be at home with my children full-time.

superbowl 7If you are going through a difficult time, you are faced with a hopeless situation or you have prayed for a change in your circumstances – look to God for direction. And when He calls in a play through His word, through the counsel of other believers or through a gentle whisper to your heart, execute the play exactly as it was called no matter how things appear. Remember, He sees the big picture that we cannot and it’s in the times we choose to trust in Him and the play He’s called for our lives, that He reveals enough of that picture to give us hope to keep going and to grow our faith in Him alone. Stick to God’s gameplan and in His timing you’re guaranteed to receive the victory you seek.

Talk Is Cheap


I watched the Presidential Debates last night like many Americans. And according to Twitter, my go to “authority” on people’s reaction – I was not alone in my thoughts that both candidates can say things that sound right and good, but until they back it up with action, then their words are nothing but more empty promises. Both spent countless hours preparing for the opportunity to tell the American people what they believe will bring about change and both shared their action plan for backing up what they said. The problem is that much of what they say does not line up with what they have done or will do in the future. Sometimes there are unforseen obstacles that prevent them from keeping their campaign promises. Sometimes it’s other people not doing their part in the process. Sometimes they run out of time before they can accomplish what they set out to do. And other times they simply don’t believe what they say is even possible but they say it anyway because they think it’s what we want to hear.

As Christians, we are often like politicians – we talk a good talk but our words don’t line up with our actions. We too face challenges and timelines that we use as excuses to prohibit us from acting on what we say. Many times we choose not to act when we should be choosing to persevere in trusting God, like we say we do. We may say we trust God to fix our situation but then we do things in our own abilities to bring about the outcome that we believe is best. We tell God we trust Him with our finances but the first time we’re short on cash for the monthly bills the first thing we do is skip tithing to our church. We tell our co-workers we believe in and trust God but when the rumors of lay-offs surface we are among the first to display panic and worry. When our marriage begins to fall apart we pray to God proclaiming our trust that He can restore it. But when our spouse tells us they don’t want to try to work things out, we cry out to God and ask how He could let this happen and question whether He really cares or not. We attend church and read our bible saying all along we believe in the promises of God and we trust Him when He says all things are made new in Christ (2Cor. 5:17), that is until the moment the enemy whispers in our ear that nothing has changed and that we’re the same old person we’ve always been and our doubts and insecurities begin to once again consume our thoughts. Just like the candidates in the debate last night, we may believe 100% that what we say is the truth in the moment that we say it. But as soon as we come up against an obstacle or our circumstances change, we may find ourselves no longer having trust in the words we spoke when everything appeared to be going our way. We can suddenly find ourselves doubting the very truth we previously spoke with such certainty.

I read a quote recently that I can’t get out of my mind. It said “Believing God exists doesn’t make you a Christian, acting like God exists does.” It really make me think – when I say I trust God in a particular situation, do my actions show it? Do my thoughts align with the promises of God that I say I believe in? Is my life proof that I believe God is who He says He is, and that He can and will do what He promises in His word? When you say you believe in God and trust Him in all areas of your life, you can bet that there are people watching to see if the way you live your life reflects what you say you believe. Whether it’s your children, co-workers, family, friends or neighbors, they are watching and they see how you respond the moment something goes wrong. Our spiritual maturity is most effectively demonstrated to others when we act in accordance to God’s promises and not according to how we feel or what we think.

Non-believers, the lost and lonely are looking to those of us who shout out our beliefs to back them up with action. When we tell others they just need to trust God with their situation, we must show them what that looks like by staying the course and remaining faithful to our walk when the going gets tough in our own lives. When our paychecks are short our children must see our trust in God through our obedience to tithe even when the numbers don’t add up on paper. Our co-workers need to see authenticity in our lives so that they know that when we say we’ll do something, we mean it. Our closest friends and family must witness consistency in our lives by our being the same person around them as we are in public to others. Our neighbors don’t need to see our boyfriend leave our home on Sunday morning to head back to his own home just before they watch us drive off to church. The stranger in the store who recognizes us from their first-time visit to our church on Sunday should not overhear us gossiping about someone to our friend on the other end of our cellphone. If what we say we believe doesn’t line up with how we act, we are nothing more than a talking head to the lost.

How do your actions line up with the words you speak? Do people know you’re a Christian because you say so or does the way you live point others to Christ? As Christians it’s time for us to stop being all talk and no action. It’s time to put our money where our mouth is because if we can learn anything from the presidential debates it’s this – talk is cheap, people want to see that you’re for real. They want to see some action. It’s time to show our trust in Jesus by our complete surrender to Him as Lord in all areas of our lives. It’s time we let people see who Jesus is by living a life that glorifies Him and demonstrates that He is worthy to be praised. The advice is the same whether you are a Christian or you’re a candidate for the office of President of the United States – the time for talk is over, it’s time for action.