Giving Up (but not really)

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to have all of you, to sift you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen and build up your brothers.”
Luke 22:31-32

What happens when we fail?

Last week I spent 5 days in Daytona Beach, FL with the high school upperclassmen from my church. We attended an incredible youth camp hosted by StudentLife, and of course we had a blast. It was a much-needed getaway for students and adults alike. However, there are some things you can’t get away from.

Here’s my disclaimer that this post is totally inspired by one of Louie Giglio’s sermons from that camp, so… no plagiarism going on here, right?

I have been really struggling lately. The last few months have been a roller coaster in my private life, and it is frustrating to get these glimpses of hope and then feel let down. Back in May, I started a journey with the Lord that was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. I obeyed a directive he gave me, my faith grew as I was strengthened by the Word, and I trusted God when it didn’t make any sense at all.

Then it all fell through. The miracle I expected didn’t happen. All that faith and prayer and time… for what? Let’s just be honest here: I was really angry. Brokenness consumed me as I grieved my “lost promise” (which, in fairness to God, he never actually promised, I just perceived it that way in my own ambition) and I wanted to give up.

The truth is, following Jesus is hard, and sometimes I want to give up.

I know Simon Peter felt that way. Jesus had called him “the rock” on which Christ’s church would be built, and he was one of Jesus’ closest friends. He thought he had it all figured out, full of faith in Jesus as the messiah. (Check out Luke 22:33, John 6:68-69, and Mark 8:29 for a few of Peter’s “right” answers.) But here in Luke 22, Jesus calls him out as a soon-to-be denier.

Peter is shocked. “No way, Lord!” he cries. And yet, just a few hours later, there Peter finds himself hearing the rooster crow as he claims not to know his best friend and mentor. It was just as Jesus predicted. How would you feel if that were you? I know I would be ready to just give up. I failed the Savior, right?

Look back at what Jesus prayed for Simon Peter: “that your faith should not fail.” Jesus knew Peter was going to mess up. He knows we are going to struggle and stumble in our walk too. But his prayer was not for Peter’s actions; rather it was for his FAITH. Jesus knew that the situation would feel hopeless, and Peter would be tempted to give up.

Fast forward 3 days to when Jesus is resurrected. Some women go to the tomb to check on the body, and instead they find an angel announcing Jesus has risen, just as he said he would. This is kind of a big deal, you might imagine, so the angel gives them some instructions:

“Now go and give this message to his disciples, including Peter…”
Mark 16:7

Wait, what? Peter was one of Jesus’ closest followers; why does the angel need to clarify the message is for him as well as the other disciples?

Because Peter felt like giving up.

Sometimes our situations and personal failures will leave us feeling like we don’t belong. Like it’s not worth the effort. Like we should just lay down and quit. But Jesus called Peter by name, because Peter needed to know he still had a place in God’s family. Yes, he failed personally, but Jesus knew that would happen. The prayer was for his FAITH to endure, and indeed Peter was the rock that founded the Jesus movement in the first century. (Check out Acts 2 for that amazing story!)

We all fall sometimes. Last month, I endured an emotional blow that really, really hurt. My failure was not sin or denial, it was the hopelessness that Peter felt. Is this really worth continuing? As much as I have struggled with my disappointment and continue to wrestle with my understanding of scripture, my faith endures. I know that God is good. I know that God is in control. I know that God is writing a beautiful story for my life. How do I know? Because he called me by name.

Your mistakes or disappointments or failures do not have to rob you of the future God has for you. Don’t let guilt about your past or fear of failure or loss cripple you from walking towards God. Jesus didn’t just die on the cross for the world; he died for YOU. My prayer is that you hear his voice calling out your name. You are not one lost in a crowd that he could never see. He sees you. He knows you. He loves you. You have a place and a purpose in his kingdom. And he is calling you.

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Road Rage

Happy July! This week I’ll share an article published in this month’s edition of The Evangel. This is the original edition I submitted; of course they made a few alterations for publication. Click here to read the final print version online. This was written before I wised up and let my child ride the free and punctual school bus. Praise God for public school transportation. Anyway, hope you enjoy!

ROAD RAGE
Recently I read an article from a woman who was cursed out in the Starbucks drive-thru. The story went something like this: the author and another car pulled into line at the same time, unsure who should go next. Apparently the other driver assumed the author was trying to cut her off and continued yelling copious expletives as she pulled forward. Rather than honking, yelling back, or praying God would smite her, the author tried to buy the offender’s coffee in hopes of brightening her day. This experience was especially poignant because the author had prayed to see people as God sees them – His children who may be tired, frustrated, even desperate for some coffee – and to respond with love.

I liked this story. I shared it on social media. It made me feel good… for a minute. Then I felt convicted. You see, the very day before reading this article, I found myself in nearly the same situation. I was in line to pick up my kindergartener from school. The traffic situation was a mess, as usual. I arrived at school 40 minutes early just to get in the line, yet I was still nowhere near the front.

When I finally got close enough to pull into the parking lot, another woman was ready to pull in from the adjoining cross-street. She looked like me, a young mom in a minivan, her children’s name cards resting on the dash to identify which students go to her car. She even had a pink card – the color for kindergarteners – and I wondered if our kids might be friends. Any other day, perhaps we moms would be friends… but not that day.

Now, common traffic laws dictate that the car turning right (me) has the right-of-way, while cars turning left (her) must wait until either traffic clears or a compassionate right-turning driver decides to wave them on. Usually I am the compassionate driver, because while the cross-street drivers have probably been waiting 10 minutes compared to my 40, I recognize that one or two cars hardly makes a difference as to when I see my kid.

However, when I saw her red van rush ahead of me – even as I pulled forward to indicate I was proceeding with my rightful place in line – I thought, How rude! I’m not going to let her snatch up my spot! I’ve been in this line for almost an hour! When she didn’t back down, I gave a little honk – not a long, loud honk that often accompanies unfavorable hand gestures, just a quick “beep” to let her know I was there.

Immediately the other driver threw her arms up in the air and mouthed an exaggerated “TAKE TURNS!” Feeling vindicated as I moved into position, I raised my eyebrows, shook my head no, and looked away. I know the rules, here, lady! I thought to myself. I have the right-of-way! Back off! The car behind me, probably a kind, godly person like the author of the Starbucks story, saw the woman’s frustration and waved her on. As the red van pulled up behind me, I admit I began to worry, and I prayed, “God, please don’t let that woman’s child be in my daughter’s class. I don’t want to face her at the Christmas party!”

THINGS UNSEEN
A few years ago I was moved by a song that said,

“Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like you have loved me
Break my heart for what breaks Yours”

I made that my prayer, and I have been praying ever since that God would allow me to see others through His eyes. Miraculously, He has answered that prayer many times, from rude cashiers at the grocery store to troubled teens in my youth group to exotic dancers I meet in the clubs. In many of them, I see myself before Christ intervened: broken, insecure, frustrated, or depressed. I also see the people God created them to be: healed, whole, at peace, joyful, and fulfilled. I thank God for that gift every day.

However, when I went through that car line, I chose to see with my flesh a rude, self-righteous, impatient mom who can’t hold her horses for a few more cars that earned their place in that line by arriving long before school even let out. Looking back on the situation with spiritual eyes, I missed seeing the precious child of God who was driving that van. Maybe there was a screaming baby in the back seat making that mom feel like every second counts to get this kid back home to sleep. Flashback to my own battle with post-partum depression: if a honk — even one like my short little “beep” to establish my presence — upset my colicky baby, I would be ready to scream and cry too. Maybe that’s the reason Jesus taught us to love our neighbors:

To quote a popular mantra, everyone is fighting a hard battle.

BACKGROUND
Sometimes I wonder about the battles and back stories of the people Jesus encountered in the New Testament. Consider Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector from Jericho featured in Luke 19:1-10. Zacchaeus was wealthy, held a prominent position in the community, and probably looked like he had it all together. Sure, he was known to the common people as “a notorious sinner,” but he probably brushed off those judgments as others envying his wealth or status, or perhaps they were bullies who picked on his small stature.

I imagine him strutting through the town proudly, as if to prove his confidence and security. But deep down, something troubled Zacchaeus. He was so dismayed that when Jesus passed through town, Zacchaeus was desperate to see him and climbed a sycamore-fig tree just to get a peek. When Jesus called to him, the scripture says he hurried down the tree and joyfully welcomed Jesus into his home.

Eventually, Zacchaeus promised to give his wealth to the poor and repay with interest those he may have cheated. Jesus responded by validating the Roman official as a “true son of Abraham,” an identity that probably seemed lost through Zacchaeus’ extortion and disobedience to the Law. Salvation came to this home because Jesus saw through Zacchaeus’ poised façade to his broken spirit and loved him right where he was.

Honestly, I don’t think Zacchaeus had planned to repent and reconcile his sin when he climbed that tree earlier in the day. Maybe he just wanted to look, to see if anything seemed different about this man, then he could approach Jesus later when no one was looking, like the Pharisee Nicodemus in John 3:1-21. However, when Jesus took the time to see Zacchaeus with divine eyes, loving him as a child of God rather than of sin, it changed Zacchaeus’ life.

CHANGED LIFE
How would our world be different if we viewed ALL our neighbors through God’s eyes rather than our flesh? The rude mom that cuts you off in the kindergarten pickup line is still a beloved child of the King, as are frazzled patrons who shout expletives in a drive-thru for no good reason. The love of Christ is life-changing; we should never forfeit an opportunity to share it with others. My prayer from the other day has changed: I do hope that mom’s child is in the same class as my daughter, and I hope to run into her again someday. She needs to hear about the hope that I have… and an apology for my traffic attitude is probably a good place to start.