Strong Finish

A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.

Henry David Thoreau

Ever taken a 30-day challenge? Did it feel like it was three months long? I am involved in two challenges for the month of July that involve different aspects of writing. My first challenge is to finish a revision of my current novel in progress, and the second is to finish setting up my website. I want to end the month strong. I want the satisfaction that comes with completing something, knowing I have done my best.

And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men

Colossians 3:23

The Christian life is made up of seasons with unique challenges and blessings. We move from season to season like a runner completing segments of a race. It is a marathon that requires endurance and perseverance. But, we don’t run this race alone. We have a great cloud of witnesses, past and present, who run alongside us toward the prize.

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2

As we run the race, we need to remember whose name is on our jersey. As Christians we carry Christ’s name, and we shouldn’t do anything that brings Him shame or disgrace. No one is perfect, and we all fall short. God knows our hearts and our weaknesses as human beings, and He is full of grace and mercy when we come to Him.

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:13-14

Like, Paul, I don’t count myself as having apprehended, but I keep trying to move forward by the grace of God. One day we will all cross the finish line, and everyone who finishes gets a crown because Jesus has already won it for us.

So, to finish strong we just need to focus on the next leg of the race and on the author and finisher of our faith. Let’s help each other run the race so that we can hear God say:

Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

Matthew 25:23

Just Start

Part 1 of a Work in Progress (WIP)

The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. “Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?” he asked. “Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

My to-do list has lists at the moment. Sitting on my desk are ideas for four non-fiction pieces, an idea for a short work of fiction to use as a giveaway, and my blog post idea turned into a blog post series idea. Not to mention, today I began work on a website for my writing which has a to-do list of its ow,n along with sub-lists of lists. My head is spinning like the little blue circle on my computer that show up when I’ve asked it to compute more than it can compute. What’s a writer to do?

Just start!

That was the command Anne Lamott gave to her writing students in the book Bird by Bird. They wanted to know how to be published authors, and she said you have to start writing first. The thought of writing a novel, the thought of having my own website, the thought of spiritual growth and revival all sound great in theory. It is the working it out that slows us down. My first question is where do I start?

Just start!

The king in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland had it right when he said start at the beginning. You have to start where you are. No matter what path lies in front of you, start from where you are and take a step forward. One of the things I learned about anxiety is that action is one of the greatest weapons against it. If you sit and think about something, you will begin to imagine all the worst case scenarios and begin a negative spiral downward until you are frozen in place. However, if you just take action, you are literally and figuratively one step ahead. It frees you to keep moving.

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

If you are moving, then you are making progress, which fuels you to keep moving. Our spiritual walk is just that, a daily walk. We have to get out of bed every morning and decide to walk. We have to start from where we are: sinners saved by grace. Then, we move forward a step at a time through whatever the day holds, whatever life’s journey holds. But, we don’t walk alone.

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.

Isaiah 43:2

We have a guide and a companion who goes alongside us. So, there is no need to fear what might lie ahead. Our job is to take it one step at a time. With Christ as our Shepherd and Leader, we can’t get lost, although we might go down a rabbit hole or two. Just like Alice we get to the same place at the journey’s end, home sweet home. In the meantime… what is it you need to do?

Just start! Take it one thing at a time and enjoy the moment. It’s all a work in progress, including me.

Coming next week: Part 2 of Work in Progress… Stuck in the Middle

Gifts

“I have nothing to give but my heart so full and these empty hands.”

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Ever noticed a little thrill when you get a package in the mail or by a delivery service? Do you feel a sudden urge to grab a box cutter, scissors, or in a pinch just use your fingernails? The last one is a thought that horrifies the owner of my local nail salon, but sometimes you just can’t wait to open it, especially when you don’t know what it is. You tear back the tape and rip back the cardboard flaps and ooh and ah even if it is something mundane like a new duster. But, how often do we lay aside the contents, sometimes leaving it in the box it arrived in, and forget about it until we find it again a month later?

There is the thrill of the new and the excitement of the unknown in opening the package, but what good is our new arrival if it sits buried in a corner unused. This year I made it a goal to try and begin using a gift or package as soon as I get it. I don’t always achieve it but I am trying to do better. As a matter of fact, just this morning I found a purpose for a new journal I received at Christmas. I had set it aside looking for the right time and project and I found one on journaling about the cross in preparation for Easter. Since I just re-found another gift, Andrew Murray’s The Way of the Cross, I thought it was a sign.

But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.

Ephesians 4:7

We are all given gifts from God when we accept Christ as Lord, spiritual gifts. It sounds great. You know it’s there, but you don’t take it out of the box and use it. So, what good is it? Spiritual gifts were meant to be used. They have a purpose.

For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ

Ephesians 4:12

We are supposed to be using our gifts to help others. As Christians we are part of the body of Christ here on earth. Our gifts are how we function in the body. If we don’t do our part, the body may keep moving, but it is hindered from reaching its full potential.

So, break out the box and see what’s in there. There are studies and tests to help you figure out what your gifts are, but I dare say that you probably already have an idea. The key is putting the gifts to work. Look around your church and your community and I am sure you will find a need that you can meet.

Start with prayer. God is more than willing to give us an assignment if we will only ask. But you still have to take action even if it is only to raise your hand. You will be surprised what the Lord can do with a willing heart. Come to God with a full heart and empty hands and He will use them in ways we can’t even imagine now. God has already done His part. Now it’s your turn.

So, what’s in the box?

The Next Step

 “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.”

(Proverbs 13:12)

I recently entered a couple of writing contests, and I am about to send off a couple of proposals to publishers. I am reluctant to get my hopes up because being a writer, by nature of the beast, means getting rejected on a regular basis. Still, it can be tiring to get up and try again and again. It can make your heart sick, but when you do get published, it replenishes your spirit and the desire to keep working. The result is worth all the work I put forth, but it still requires effort on my part to reach my desired goal.

The book of Joshua tells the story of how the children of Israel have finally left the wilderness to take the Promised Land. The goal is in sight, but there are a long list of opponents between them and the finish line. They start out strong and have great success, but as they move into the land they lose momentum. Maybe the battles were starting to take their toll, or the people lost sight of the goal. So, Joshua tries to fire up the Israelites.

 “And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, How long are ye slack to go to possess the land, which the Lord God of your fathers hath given you?” (Joshua 18:3)

They needed to complete what they had started. This scripture was in my daily reading just as I was struggling with some writing deadlines. Starting a project is always exciting, but the difficult part is to keep plodding through the middle. I realized that if I ever wanted to see the desire of publication come to fruition, I had to keep moving forward. I couldn’t let fear of failure or apathy keep me from my goal. I needed to take the next step, complete the next task, until I finished the assignment.

We all have those days where apathy gets the better of us. There are days when we would rather be a sloth on the couch than a tortoise that moves steadily toward the finish line. On those days we need to stop thinking about all the things that need to be done to reach the goal. Instead, we need to just focus on the next step. If every day we take one step, then every day we are one day closer to the finish line. 

When you find yourself struggling to take the next step, imagine what it will be like when you cross the finish line. Then we will realize that all the days we struggled were worth the effort. So, as you look at the day ahead, what one step can you take toward your goal? Do that. The satisfaction that you get from completing that task will compel you forward to the next one until you see the finish line ahead.

Be Prepared

In a Bible study, we were talking about the old cartoons where the character has a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. Someone pointed out that you never have to invite the devil to whisper in your ear, but you have to be more diligent to commune with the Holy Spirit. The more you try to do God’s will, the louder the devil will shout, but the Holy Spirit is a still, small voice.

When the children of Israel first came to the Promised Land, they focused on the giants and refused to move forward. They listened to the enemy shouting in their ear that it was impossible instead of the confident voices of Caleb and Joshua who proclaimed that the land was theirs for the taking. Because of this, the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness until that generation had died before they tried again. This time they had Joshua as their leader.

“And Joshua said unto the people, Sanctify yourselves: for to morrow the Lord will do wonders among you.”

(Joshua 3:5)

Joshua told the people to prepare themselves mentally and spiritually for the battle ahead because God was about to do a miracle. Not only did they cross the Jordan on dry ground when it was at flood stage, but also they saw the walls of Jericho come crashing down a week later. They merely had to step out in faith to see God at work.

Whenever I try to intentionally persevere at writing, I am always bombarded with doubts, fears, and obstacles. In the past, I let those things get in the way, like the children of Israel staring at the giants. Now I am trying to move forward. The obstacles and the doubts are still there, but my perspective has shifted. I am focusing on God instead of the obstacles. I dipped my toe in the Jordan River, but I have to keep walking if I want to see walls of Jericho fall down.

10 And herein I give my advice: for this is expedient for you, who have begun before, not only to do, but also to be forward a year ago. 11 Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have.”

(2 Corinthians 8:10-11)

Now is the time to perform what I had willed to do before. In a sermon on James, a pastor pointed out that the biblical equation for success is as follows:

humility + hustle + Holy Spirit.

First, we have to realize that success will only come from God not ourselves, so we shouldn’t boast. We have nothing that was not given to us by God, and any success we might have also comes from Him. Second, we still need to do our part and do the work assigned to us. Waiting on the Lord does not mean sitting down. It means following His timing. Third, it is up to the Holy Spirit what the outcome will be. God decides what success means. What seems small to us may change someone else’s life.

So, let’s be prepared for God to do a miracle by doing the work assigned to us. Let God determine the increase. What we think of as success may not be what God has in mind, but what God has in mind is always better in the long run. Time to hustle.

The Next Step

I love maps, especially when I am going on a trip. I love to look at all the possible routes, and then highlight the way I want to go with a highlighter, old school or electronic. I like to decide where I am going to eat along the way or any stops I want to make. I am a planner at heart, and I like to plan way in advance. However, as Hemingway pointed out, “the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray” (John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men).

One year my sister, a friend, and I went on a tour of New England. My sister had plotted out places to eat based on a book of little known restaurants. Every place we had chosen was closed for repairs, closed for the season, or just closed. We then had to scramble for alternatives, which often turned out to be some of the highlights of our trip. Most of them we came upon almost by accident in the course of our journey. We could have missed some great experiences and great food if we had been looking too far ahead.

Currently, the world is in an uproar with the uproar topic changing on an almost hourly basis. People are trying to make long-term plans for the future, but circumstances make that almost impossible. This is unsettling, I admit, but God sees the big picture even when we can’t see a mile ahead. Maybe He has something special to show us that He doesn’t want us to miss.

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”

(Psalm 119: 105)

Many people have memorized this verse. It was part of our pledge to the Bible that we said every year at Vacation Bible School. But have you thought about what it means? If you have ever used a lamp to walk in the woods at night, or a flashlight for that matter, how far can you see? Basically, you can see a few steps in front of you. The destination is usually shrouded in darkness and the stopping points ahead are in the shadows at best. You have to pay attention to where you are and take it one step at a time.

“A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.”

(Proverbs 16:9)

God wants us to trust Him to take care of the future and to lead us in the right paths along the journey. They are not always the paths we would have chosen, but they are always the best paths. Sometimes the path is full of ruts and potholes, and we wonder what in the world could be waiting at the end to make the journey worthwhile. Yet, when we look back, we often find that those are the paths to the greatest blessings.

So, what do we do when we can’t plan for the future? We take the next right step. God shines his light onto the path through His Word and the Holy Spirit to show us the next step. Once we move, the light will shine on the next step. While we are praying for God to show us the way to go and lamenting that we aren’t getting an answer, it may be that He has already shown us the next step and is merely waiting for us to move forward. Ask yourself: What is the next right step? Then take it and watch what God will do.