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Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
A trek for the soul is ahead …
for you and I in 2018 – at times the path or “trail” we will find ourselves on may seem almost mundane, but at other times, it will seem nearly overwhelming, full of twists, turns, steep inclines and perilous ledges that are more than enough to put our “happy” to the test.
But the path itself is not our foremost challenge; rather, it is the two most diabolical weapons crafted by the Enemy that are launched in our direction as we seek to move forward in faith. These two weapons call for thoughtful preparation and grace-fueled determination to press ahead on the part of any and every Christ-follower.
So you ask – what are these weapons? Their names are known by all sooner or later, and oftentimes experienced simultaneously in time of adversity – yes, these bandits of the night and unwelcomed taunters of the soul go by the titles “fear” and “discouragement”.
Fear is about paralyzed faith and retreat from “opportunity next” and shows up through thoughts like “you’re outgunned, outnumbered – you’re on your own, you’re not enough, you will never prevail, just give up – you don’t have a chance”. Fear is also characterized by a serious case of the “what if’s” where an unholy attachment to all that is safe and known pushes back on the adventure in Christ that is waiting just ahead. Finally, fear is fueled by the demonic lie that you are all alone – nobody really has your back and God (if there is a God), is not interested and nowhere to be found.
Discouragement is about fractured faith and faulty perspective and shows up in moments and seasons of fatigue, testing and loss through thoughts like “there is a bulls eye on my back – I had this coming – something or someone will always hold me back – time is not on my side – it’s just not worth it – someone who really matters and is successful will get the nod, the breakthrough – I am a nothing, a not, a nobody”. Discouragement is almost always characterized by a soul-numbing case of “why try again?” where resignation to futility and frustration chokes the life out of heaven-inspired courage to press forward. Finally, discouragement is fueled by the demonic lie that you are undeserving – that hope is beyond reach – that your life is but one among billions and you really don’t matter to God (if there is a God), or anyone else for that matter.
If anyone had reason to succumb …
Johnny’s descent to poverty, joblessness and homelessness was not free of multiple poor decisions and faulty judgment on his own part, but his downward spiral was certainly propelled even faster by a series of bad breaks that took him from hero to zero in just a few short months.
But that is where his story took such an unexpected curve, for the “rescuer” in Johnny never died – instead, he was often found to be more concerned with the welfare of others and sharing much of the fruit of his panhandling with others. This pattern would eventually connect him with 29 year old Kate McClure, who ran out of gas on a freeway off ramp in one of the worst neighborhoods in Philly in the middle of the night.At the very moment Kate resigned herself to walking alone to the nearest gas station, Johnny came up to her and advised Kate to stay in her car with the doors locked and assured here he would be back shortly to help. Sure enough, Johnny would return with a can of gas he purchased with his last and only $20 bill. If fear were in charge, Johnny would have never allowed those last few precious dollars to slip through his fingers – if discouragement were in charge, self-pity would have trumped “self-less” . . but neither weapon would prevail.
Remarkably, Kate McClure would find her “refresh-forward” button and not only return the very next day with money and food for Johnny (which he shared among many), but would eventually decide to try and create just one “little break” that could help him achieve a fresh start in life. A GoFundMe page was created with the goal of securing resources for an apartment rental for a few months and food that would allow Johnny the time needed to secure new employment (including the obtaining of documentation due to the fact he had lost his driver’s license, birth certificate etc.)
Kate’s thoughtful gesture sparked by thankfulness and compassion led the way to more than $400,000 being donated and the services of an attorney and a financial advisor for Johnny. Today, Johnny now has his own (mortgage-free) home, the means to secure a used pickup and is on the path to getting re-certified as a paramedic . . oh, and by the way, he has a new friend he will never forget . . in one Kate McClure.
While I hope
that Johnny sees the goodness of God …
in his miracle restart and hopefully entrusts his life to Christ soon, his story provides a clear road map to all of us sojourners who read the wise counsel of the prophet Isaiah when confronted with fear and discouragement.
The prophet’s invitation? Take two very essential lanterns with you on your trail into and through 2018 – never lose track of them – keep them at full brightness.
The first is the lantern of presence – this lantern can pierce the dark shadows of fear when the Enemy screams out the lie that we have been left behind and instead assure our soul that God is close. This very lantern reminds us that God is not only with us . . but for us.
The second is the lantern of power, this is the lantern that refuels our courage and determination and reminds us that we are in the hands of the I Am who claims us as His own . . even when we have stumbled badly due to our own regrettable decisions.
Modern-day Christianity is chalk full of conferences, seminars, self-help books and 3 point sermons that offer a recipe or formula for faith, but God makes no such claim – instead He simply offers Himself and gives His word to us that He will provide strength, help – that He indeed will always have our back.
No wonder Jesus penetrated the pharisee and sadducee saturated religious culture of His day by starting His sermon on the mount with this “first-before-all -other” admonitions . . “Happy are the poor in spirit (those who know they are spiritually bankrupt and ill-equipped to face life and death on their own), for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. And for good measure, He immediately followed with “Happy are those who mourn (those who grieve their own pride and self-reliance that breaks relationship with God and makes room for fear and discouragement), for they will be comforted”.
And there it is . . is it not amazing grace-filled news to know that you are only one “I’ve got nothing” moment after another away from . . your happy new year.
But in that coming day no weapon turned against you will succeed.
You will silence every voice raised up to accuse you.
These benefits are enjoyed by the servants of the LORD;
their vindication will come from me. I, the LORD, have spoken!
How is God encouraging you today?