The Struggle is Real

The end of January. To be honest, the zeal and enthusiasm with which I started the year have begun to wane.

Just three weeks ago, I was filled with hope and motivation. Filled with thoughts like, “This is my year!” “This year will be different!” “This is the year of big dreams and even bigger accomplishments!”

The burst of energy that surged with the beginning of the year has slowly faded and I’m in a fight. A fight to move forward. A fight to maintain some of the strides I made the first three weeks of the year.

My to-bed early, up-early, healthy eating, exercising, voracious reading aspirations aren’t what my flesh craves. My flesh wants to quit, throw in the towel, eat a box of Oreos, hit the beach, push the snooze button and gradually drift back to comfort.

But if I don’t give up, perhaps these tiny steps forward – if I keep persevering – will get me closer to where I hope to go.

There’s a story recorded in the Old Testament book of Zechariah that gives me great encouragement when facing the end-of-January weariness and staring at the long road ahead.

Many years earlier, the temple where God people worshiped had been destroyed and the people had been taken into exile. A man named Zerubbabel was given permission to lead a remnant of people back to their homeland.

Here’s what God spoke to Zerubbabel in Chapter 4,

Then he said to me, “This is what the Lord says to Zerubbabel: It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. Zechariah 4:7

I love this! In other words, you can try to do this on your own. You can fight, work, strive and strain and you may see a little progress. But if you will learn to trust God and tap into his unlimited power, you will discover a source of strength you’ve never experienced or even knew existed.

God’s message to Zerubbabel continues,

Then another message came to me from the Lord: “Zerubbabel is the one who laid the foundation of this Temple, and he will complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has sent me. Zechariah 4:8-9

If you study about the rebuilding of the temple detailed in the books of Ezra and Haggai, you’ll find the initial phases of the construction went slowly.

In fact, after 18 years all they had done was laid the foundation. Talk about being behind on a building project! They had work needs, family needs, distractions and opposition from other ethnic groups living in the area.

With all they had to do just to keep their daily life moving forward, when would they possibly find time to do what God was asking them to do?

The work was hard…long…not going as they planned. So they eventually stopped.

Isn’t this how we sometimes feel, too? Things aren’t moving as quickly as we hope. We’re not seeing the progress we wanted.

  • You’ve been exercising, but haven’t seen the weight loss
  • You’ve been eating healthy, but haven’t seen your health improve
  • You’ve been working faithfully at your job, but haven’t received the promotion or financial compensation you expected.
  • You’re trying to save money, but your debt is still growing.
  • You’ve applied everywhere, but still haven’t found a job.

It’s slow…tiresome. We want to give up. But before you do, listen to God’s encouragement to Zerubbabel,

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” Zechariah 4:10 NLT

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin,

Isn’t that exciting? The Lord rejoices to see the work begin! You’ve got to place one foot in front of the other, one stone upon another stone. You have to start where you’re at and keep moving forward.

God rejoices to see you be faithful and consistent in the small things.

Perhaps this is where you’re at right now. Whether it’s your diet, your exercise, your budget, your devotional life,…

The yearning to start something will always be greater than the desire to finish.

Here’s my encouragement to you,

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9

Don’t give up! Jesus is walking alongside you every step of the way. And I’m gonna guess that He gets greater joy out of watching us along the journey than the actual finish line.

Small consistent steps forward will eventually get you to your desired destination.

 

 

 

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Flourish!

The temperatures are creeping up a bit and the trees are starting to bud and look alive again. Spring is just around the corner. After months of barrenness, everywhere you look there’s evidence of new life bursting forth.

Spring is a vivid reminder for me of the powerful work that God desires to do in my life. Even in the seasons where I feel barren and unfruitful, God is still able to work and fulfill His purpose.

While God created us to flourish, there will be seasons in our lives – sometimes even very long ones –when the heat is turned up, the rain of blessing is sparse, and everything around us seems dry and desolate.

Even then, in fact especially then, God says we can flourish.

When something is flourishing, it is thriving and growing luxuriantly. To flourish actually means to grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way.

Doesn’t this sound like something we should to go after and pursue?

Most likely, you’d agree. You’re probably not hoping for a life that’s dry, desolate and filled with dead dreams. In fact, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that all of us want a life that’s growing and fulfilling – a life where we’re flourishing and thriving in the sweet spot God created us to live.

Imagine what a flourishing life would look like for you?

If this is something we all seem to desire, and it’s something God desires for us, what keeps us from experiencing it? What hinders us from really experiencing a growing life that is fruitful and flourishing?

Let’s look at this through the lens of the Old Testament book of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah is an Old Testament prophet who was speaking to the nation of Judah. These words from Jeremiah are called oracles – kind of like speeches given to the nation.

God was using Jeremiah to address the Jewish people about their continued tendency to look to other things and people as substitutes for their relationship with God.

He was warning them, calling them to repentance and preparing them for what God was about to do. They were living in the midst of political, social, financial, moral and spiritual decay. Babylon was rising in power and threatening to destroy Jerusalem, the temple and deport all of the Jewish people living in Judah.

The Jewish people were watching life as they knew it slip away and their hope for a future filled with health and prosperity for their children looked uncertain, even ominous.

God’s people were desperate, dominated by fear, worry, instability and uncertainty.

Jeremiah is letting the people know that although they’ve messed up, God still loves them and hasn’t forgotten them. In fact, he wants them to know that it’s not too late for them to return to him and follow him.

And when they do He promises to bless them and cause their lives to flourish. But in order for this to happen, the people of Judah are going to have to live differently. They’re going to have to have different priorities and make some different choices.

In this short passage, Jeremiah is giving the people the secret to living a flourishing life in the midst of desolate and desperate circumstances.

God is speaking through Jeremiah and making a contrast between two ways of living. God is saying, “You have two options to choose from. Two paths. Each has its own outcome. One will lead to a life despair and desolation; the other to a life of fruitfulness and flourishing.

Let’s start in Jeremiah 17:5-6…

This is what the Lord says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the Lord. 6 They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land. Jeremiah 17:5-6 NLT

I doubt you’re thinking, “Sign me up for that! I want my life to be like a stunted shrub in the desert with no hope for the future!”

This is quite possibly why Jeremiah didn’t have many friends.

He clearly lacks social skills. But he gets his point across.

Nothing grows in a salty land. Nothing grows in a hot desert wasteland.

Thankfully, Jeremiah doesn’t end there and he doesn’t want the people of Judah to end there either. In fact, Jeremiah continues on…

Flourish

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. 8 They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8 NLT

That sounds like a life worth living! That’s what I want for my life!

This is the modern day equivalent of an unlimited bank account, an orange tree that is always full of fruit, or, as my kids would say, great surf every day, 4-6’ glassy conditions with light trades.

The illustration Jeremiah is painting is one of an endless supply that never runs out.

Jeremiah is encouraging the Jewish people that although their life is going to be hard, they’re going to lose their homes, their possessions and their freedom, he is reminding them that…

The desert doesn’t have to be the place where you give up, wither up and die. Desolation is not how God created you to live.

Jeremiah is showing the people of Judah this tree that is growing and fruitful in an environment that should make health and growth impossible.

  • It’s hot but the tree stays green.
  • It’s the desert but the tree still grows.
  • It’s dry but the tree still bears fruit.

How is this possible? How can we bear fruit in an environment that is harsh and unwelcoming? How do we flourish in a season that is dry and seemingly barren? When we find ourselves in a foreign land of undesirable circumstances, how do we stay fresh and green?

When life turns up the heat, how do we keep from withering?

Perhaps an even better question to ask,

“When the heat is turned up, what comes out of my life?”

 The people of Israel had a choice to make. They had to decide how they were going to choose to live.

We have a choice to make as well…

Will we choose to live like a stunted shrub in the desert or as a lush, flourishing, fruit bearing tree? Will we wither away when the heat comes or will we flourish, staying fresh and green, and bearing fruit?

But how? How do we get our lives to the place where we’re flourishing and fruitful, even if everything around us is dead and decaying? How?

When you look at the references to flourishing in scriptures, they are almost always referring to some kind of plant and the way it’s cared for and growing.

There’s growth and promise. Planting, cultivating, budding, nourishment, growth, grounding, rooting, fruitfulness, health and vitality.

Nothing is stagnant. There’s activity. There are tangible results and it’s exciting.

Let’s go back to Jeremiah 17:7-8 and look at this a little closer…

Imagine what having this kind of strength in your life would look like for you?

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. 8 They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8

The tree can flourish in any situation. It can overcome and thrive in the heat and drought. It’s not withering when things get tough. It’s not being blown away when the storm hits. Even when it’s dry, the tree is going to continue to stand strong.

It’s strong, standing firm, growing, flourishing and bearing fruit. But how?

Here are a few cues we can take to tap into a flourishing life.

  • You flourish when you press in to God (verse 7). The man referred to isn’t trying to do everything on his own strength. He is tapping into the strength of God.
  • Note this tree was planted near a life-giving water source. It’s not a wild tree growing in a random place. It takes work and intention. You don’t just wander into a flourishing life.
  • Jeremiah also tells us this is a tree whose roots reached deep into the water. A tree’s roots will determine the health and size of the tree. Strong, healthy roots will make a strong, healthy tree.

The roots – the unseen part of the tree – are the most important part because they deliver the nutrients to the rest of the tree. As Christians, to live a strong, healthy, vibrant, flourishing life, we must dig our roots down deep into God’s Word – not once in awhile, but daily.

When we consistently press into God, plant our lives near life-giving sources and dig our roots deep into God’s Word, our lives will flourish. Not because of the lush environment around us, but in spite of our circumstances.

The result will bring glory to God and cause others to wonder about the tangible power and presence of God working through your life. Your life will be marked with a peace that passes understanding and a quiet strength that demands explanation.

Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.

When the heat is turned up in my life, what is the fruit that is being produced?

Dear friend, press into God and trust him. Plant yourself near life-giving sources and dig the roots of your life deep into God’s Word. Then, your life will flourish and never stop producing fruit.