Despite the title, I wanted to write a note, expressing all the ways that 2020 has been good to me. But all I can do is sit and think about them and let them bring a smile to my face. I don’t really believe in “My Year,” philosophies, so part of me, no matter how small, chuckles at the memories of the memes splattered all over last year saying, “2020 Is Gonna Be My Year #hustle…” I mean, did anyone see that one coming? Yikes. You planned for your entire year… I really hope you weren’t too terribly disappointed with the outcome. (Photo: Awkward glance). Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for setting goals and bettering your life and the life of others, but we don’t know one moment from the next, how on earth are we going to claim an entire year as some pre-accomplished victory? (There’s only One person who has done that, ever.) I realize how bizarre and overthought this may seem, but it’s the reality. We have today. We’ve always had today. And sometimes those todays are HARD.
And sometimes those days become entire years. Lifetimes, even.
The reactions I’ve seen from those in the Body this year, the reactions I’ve seen in myself, have surprised me. And really, that’s all I’ll say about that. Because it’s loaded more than a baked potato, I’m telling you.
Yeshua said, “In this life you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world!”
In these two sentences, we can gain a myriad of pearls, but for now, I’m going to focus on three, maybe four of them.
- We will have trouble. A bold statement using an absolute. I’m afraid of absolutes being used in sentences. Words like “always,” and “never,” and “will” … They are rarely said by people who are using the actual definitions of these words. But God, He means those words when He says them. Means them and actually follows through. The Promise Keeper. So, when Yeshua says, “You will have trouble,” it is a clearly stated inevitable. A guaranteed, no-escaping-it, absolute of simply living and breathing. We WILL face hard things. (Queue “Time Only Takes,” Demon Hunter, & “Break Your Knees,” Flyleaf)
- Take heart. Internets tell me that “Take Heart” is an idiomatic expression used to simply say “Be Courageous,” and “To regain one’s courage.” It reminds me of Caleb and Joshua, who in the face of real obstacles in their way, remembered the promises of the Lord; that He would be with them, and strengthened themselves with it. They believed they would overcome the enemy because He fought ahead of them. I remember Joshua’s battle cry, “Chazak! Chazak!” Be strong! Be strong! “Chazak ve’ematz!” Be strong, and courageous.
To be honest, I’ve struggled with these passages for a while. All these commandments to be brave. How ridiculous, amirite? Well, I have to tell you I’ve never really been a courageous person. I run when I’m scared. Or when I’m faced with difficult, uncomfortable things. In terms of fight or flight, call me a bird. It’s true. But I’ve wanted to be brave for a long time. Praying for courage and strength is a regularly occurring event round these parts. We’re practically scheduling them at this point. Something I’m slowly (so slowly) learning is that sometimes our normal, everyday living, is a call for bravery. Sometimes choosing to open our eyes in the morning is the bravest thing we can do. Doing it with joy, braver still. Ten years ago, I did a very brave thing. I could only utter a silent three-word prayer over and over, “Courage, comfort, grace.” Over and over, I let those words wash over me. It was the bravest thing I had ever done up to that point. The strongest I had ever been. And equally the most terrified I had ever been. Every single year since, the call to be brave has grown. Stronger still. Be brave, girl. Be strong and very courageous.
Be courageous reminds me that we can do really hard things, even when we are struggling with fear, or weakness, or despair. In fact, I’d venture to say that every brave act ever performed in the whole history of the word was done in the face of the absolute madness of fear. Which leads me to point number three:
3.) Yeshua. The World-Overcomer. (Queue “Lower Still,” My Epic, “The Night Will Soon Be Over,” Dalton Thomas) The one who is living in us, guiding us, teaching us, and loving us. He overcame. He overcame the world and the troubles of this flesh. He overcame death and despair. He endured, so that we too, can endure. He was brave, so that we too, can be brave. He gave us life, and a way to live it more abundantly. Abundance in the ways that truly matter. More joy, more peace… more courage.
Fear is something the Father has been dealing with in me for a long time. Fear, anxiety, worry, doubt. All perfectly human experiences. Nothing to be ashamed of within themselves. But me… I like to be a little extra about stuff like that. As a result, I have spent a lifetime encompassed by them. I was completely crippled by anxiety. Every breath some days have felt like challenges. Every small step felt like I was climbing a mountain. It was exhausting. I wanted more. I needed more than that. And He wanted more for me too. To live my life constantly enslaved to fear has been… Brutal, quite frankly. It causes me to shut down parts of me needed for real connection with people. It causes me to run away from battles that need facing. I am battle-worn, but fearless warrior, I am not.
He’s also been talking to me about Warriors for a long time (Queue “Warrior,” Matisyahu) Normal, everyday people doing outrageous things for the greater good. Rescuing them, dying for them. I can’t take it. Heroes, man… so brave. Don’t even get me started on how I felt watching the warriors of Wakanda for the first time, okay? It was a lot and I may have cried in every one of the Avengers movies because they were brave people doing the right things for the right reasons, even if it meant they were going to die in the process. So, imagine what thinking about Yeshua does to me. The One who did ALL the right things, for all the right reasons, AND died. (Take heart, He Lives!) He was so afraid before He died that He was literally sweating blood. I’ve never sweat blood, but let me tell you, there have been times in my life where I genuinely wouldn’t have been surprised if I had. Fear is real. It’s natural. It is a God-given instinct to help make us a little wiser about things. It keeps us (well most of us) from doing crazy things like wrestling bears and jumping off of very high things. Also insert pain. Pain is another one of those perfectly designed responses to keep us from doing stupid things. It alerts us—avoid this thing. It is hurting/will hurt you.
Pain, fear, and death are three of the most unavoidable things about living, and yet… here we are always shocked when they happen. At their very root, they are a most terrible, unnatural thing. We weren’t made to die… but in the strangest paradox, we do. We have to. And almost in some desperate attempt to avoid our role and shame in the fall of this world, we do everything we can to ignore and outrun it. Avoid pain. Avoid fear. Avoid death. They are inescapable for each and every one of us. Our time here is temporary. This is all temporary… we have to acknowledge this… really sit with it and make peace with it. And then, as hard as it is, we have to get over it. Denial serves us nothing. Letting it drown us serves us nothing. The wonderful thing is that while pain and death are unavoidable, not all pain has to be bad. Pain after exercise is generally considered a good expected thing, sometimes even desired. It means you worked at something. You put in the effort of training muscles to do hard, strong things. This is the same thing the Father wants from us. Embrace the pain of living and allow it to strengthen those muscles we so desperately need.
So this is all temporary. It’s all passing away. What are we doing with the time we have left? What are we doing here, today… what are we doing right now, knowing not a single second is promised to us? We know that in this short pilgrimage, we do not have to live in bondage to fear; even when it’s fear of pain and death. (see above bullet points) Yeshua taught us that we can face them and overcome. We can face our troubles and have courage. We can face our fears and not be slaves to them anymore. He makes us brave. He gave us a way. A hope; hope of the Resurrection and the World to Come. He gave us a strength not our own. His strength and Spirit within us. And something that He’s really driving home in me lately is that He is our intercessor. Look at this:
“Simon, Simon! Indeed, satan has demanded to sift you all like wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith will not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” -Luke 22:31-32
Like… (Photo: exasperated confusion face) do we even realize that GOD prays for us? That the Almighty Creator of Heaven and earth is rooting for us, fights for us daily, and neither slumbers or sleeps? Do we realize that He would have each and every one of us as His own? How desperately He loves us? Has He ever failed? He wants to encourage us! He wants to be our strength and shelter! And let’s not forget that last part—when your faith has been strengthened, go, and strengthen your brothers.
Do you know how many in the Body need you? Like, need, need? God has given you an essential gift that someone out there needs in order to be healed. Scripture calls us living stones. These stones build one another up. Support one another. Lift up. Encourage. Serve. We need to be strengthened IN HIM, so that we can strengthen others. We are living in dark days that are only getting darker. We need each other, and sheep still need finding. Priorities.
We have got to learn to keep our eyes, and hearts, on Him, friends. He is the source for peace when surroundings and circumstance are telling us to have anxiety and fear. He is the source of identity and foundation when all around us is confusion. He is our strength. We need to trust Him. Do we really think He is going to let us starve in this wilderness? Or are we going to remember the promises of our Deliverer, Provider, and King? Are we going to remember what He has done, and what He has yet to do? I really do not think we’ll make it if we don’t. If we aren’t made new in Him, every day, and reminding ourselves of His promises, we’re doomed.
Powers of deduction say, “Our courage is because of His strength. Because He overcame.” His promises are our encouragement and our joy. He is our courage. We do not have to worry about tomorrow because, as a collective we have learned, we control nothing. Nothing but our responses to what life throws our way. Today already has PLENTY of worries on its own without us adding tomorrow’s stresses to it too. Focus on what we can do today. Start there, and acknowledge that we can control nothing but our reactions to everything. We can look at giants (who may or may not literally be eating one another in front of us) and run, spreading fear to others, or we can face it; see the scary things, and press on. We can endure and keep going, because He is our strength. Our courage, our comfort, and our grace.
We will have trouble. And years will be hard. But we have a hope so much greater than this flesh or this temporary life, friends. Certainly, a hope bigger than our planet going around the sun again. Years don’t punish and they absolutely do not save. Yeshua does though. And because of Him, we have promises of life eternal in the World to Come with our great God.
We cannot outrun time, death, or pain. We cannot outrun trials, troubles, or hard times. We can’t. But we can control how we see them. We can control whether or not we see light in the darkness. We can control our responses. We can choose joy in the pain. We can choose to sing when words fail us. We can run to Him. Lean into Him, and let His grace and perfection cover us. To let Him lead us to deeper waters. A deeper faith.
One of my all-time favorite quotes is from the late great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from his sermon, “Why Jesus Called a Man a Fool”
“God is still around. One day, you’re going to need Him. The problems of life will begin to overwhelm you; disappointments will begin to beat upon the door of your life like a tidal wave. And if you don’t have a deep and patient faith, you aren’t going to be able to make it.”
Another quote I lean upon heavily is this, “I have learned to kiss the wave that slams me into the Rock of Ages.” (I haven’t verified who said this originally, but it is commonly attributed to Charles H. Spurgeon.) The first time I read this quote, I felt like it crashed into me (Photo: Kool-Aid Man). How simple of a sentence, to hit so hard? Oftentimes, we take for granted the easy and small things in life. We don’t train our hearts in quiet days with simple things like gratitude, contentment, and joy. Even when times are good, we spend much of it complaining or feeling sorry for ourselves; entertaining one perpetual cycle of victimhood or another. Is it just me? Show of hands. Be honest. So, when the really hard stuff arises, we are too weak and completely ill-equipped to carry the weight of stormy waters. All we see is darkness, all we feel is misery. We get short-sighted, stuck, into our troubles instead of keeping our eyes on the bigger picture.
The bigger picture: He has overcome the world. We have Eternal Life with Him. We don’t have to worry and fret. We can choose to praise Him in it. We can choose to be and see the good. We can choose to see and be the light. We can see our troubles as a potential caveat for strengthening our faith muscles. Trials really are prime ground for refining. There’s nothing like the crucible of trial to show us what we’re really made of. That dross just loves to bubble up when we’re feeling the heat, you know? Impatience, unforgiveness, apathy, despair and complaining. Oy. It’s nasty stuff. And the scraping process doesn’t feel too great either. It hurts our ego. Makes us realize we’re not perfect yet. This glittering is not gold. If we are going to be refined, we’ve got to stay honed in on Him. We have to. I simply do not see how any of us will make it without Him and His strength. Life is hard. Days and years. All of living. It’s difficult. But my God, this is where the gold is made. This is where the really good stuff gets to shine forth.
The hard times are the waves. These waves that slam us into Him—into leaning on Him, depending on Him, and seeking Him with all of our hearts? Kiss them. They are a saving grace. That heat of tribulation? It is the smelters fire, raising within you, eternal treasures. Those treasures are knowing and having more of His character. Praise God for the heat. Ask Him to help you find the gold, and friend, hang on to that gold even if it’s just a speck and the only thing you can grip hold of. Hold on to it, and don’t ever let go. Praise God for it, and keep going.
I don’t believe we can claim years to be “our year,” and I’m a little weird about New Year’s resolutions in general, but I will say this; I believe that we can wake up every single day and see what a miracle living is. Every single day is a gift and an opportunity to be made new. We can say goodbye to our yesterday and just live, really live like tomorrow may not be here. Because let’s face it, for some of us, it won’t be. But we know, because of Yeshua, death is not the end. Death has been defeated. The moment we won was the day He died. And friends, He died so that we may live. Truly live. In this world and in the next. Every day we can open our eyes and take a deep breath and be new, really new. Every single day. We can choose to see the world through the eyes of love, grace, and compassion. In joy. We can choose a heart of thankfulness and praise and LOVE our God with all of our being. We can love and serve one another without resentment or obligation, but selflessly, from a pure heart with pure motive. We can choose to love how He loves us.
So… today is the last day of 2020. If today was your last day, how would you love?
Now ask yourself why you’re not already doing that. We are dying. All of us. Every single day. Yeshua says we are called to lay down our lives on the daily. To die, daily, so that we can really live. It’s when you’re living like every day is your last that you remember, love harder. Serve more. Worry less. Be present. Live intentionally. Have compassion and grace for one another. Grace and mercy, upon grace and mercy. None of us are making out of here alive. So… Go. Love. Be kind to one another. Take care of each other. Strengthen your brothers. Do the best you can do with what you’ve got, and remember Who our strength really is. Where it really comes from. Praise Him for it. He deserves it.
In the past year, good ol’ 2020, I have learned more about love and living than I have in all of my years combined. The amount of healing this has given me in my personal life; mental, spiritual, all the things, has been truly phenomenal. I cannot say enough to express what He can done in me. I feel free for the first time in my life.
I want things again. And none of those things are things. I want to learn and grow and stretch, and take the nourishment and bounty God has given me this past year to reach others. Fountains of living water. Shared. Given. Gloried. I want to feel and be capable of hard things. Of easy things. And all the in-between. I want to be strong; physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. I want to share this strength with others. To show them the source of my strength… our Yeshua. Adonai Tzva’ot. Commander of Armies. Trainer of Warriors. He is making me brave. He is teaching me how to do hard things, and to be courageous and joyful while I do them. To face them head on and overcome. He’s showing me that by pressing into HIM, I can do all things. The last 12 months have taught me that. HE has taught me that. And I am grateful.
Halleluyah. I love you, My God, and my Deliverer.
To 2021… For Grit and Grace. For Grace and Glory.
May we all gain hearts of understanding. Hearts of joy, courage, wisdom and perspective. May we grow endurance cultivated by a deep and patient faith, bearing good fruits for a starving world. And of course, may we learn to kiss the waves.
Chazak, chazak, ve-nit chazek!
Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened.
I love you all.
Yeshua Bless and keep you.