"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." -1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Man do I wish I'd kept this verse in mind in the last week and a half. Influenza had struck and kept me in bed and out of school for four days straight. Surrounded by mountains of Kleenex, too exhausted to even get out of bed except when absolutely necessary, I moped. All the issues that had been in the back of my mind for the past week rushed in and hung over me like a dark, ominous cloud threatening rain. I’d been trying to press into God for the past week and felt nothing. As I focused more and more on my circumstances I felt the willingness to endure slowly drain out of me. I found myself making a subtle agreement mentally: God’s not home right now. I guess life is up to me. I felt something inside me give way when I did that. It seemed that as I made the agreement my spirit of endurance died.
I’m always continually amazed at my mood swings towards God. On a day like today, when I’m healthy and it’s a gorgeous day out, not too hot and not too cold, I feel great and want to praise God. But insert a day with crummy weather or sickness or somehow disturb the equilibrium of my perfect little life, and I immediately assume that all is lost. I’m struck by how much my circumstances affect my mood and how I go about my day.
Yesterday, my pastor here at school gave a message on not hardening our hearts. My mind flashed back to the agreement that I made, and I repented, reminding myself to not let my circumstances dictate my response to life. Along these lines, my pastor back home routinely emphasizes taking our eyes off of our circumstances and putting them on Jesus. Recently he gave a message talking about being in covenant with God, and having reverence for Him. I’ve been meditating on both of these ideas a lot lately.
I seem to have this ridiculous expectation that everything has to be just so. Any deviation from that ideal and I assume my world is falling apart. I mope and complain and beg God to tell me what he’s up to.
One of many great lines in John Eldredge’s Walking with God goes like this, “It’s not what he isn’t giving but what He is giving.” Though this line may seem somewhat corny, it’s so true! I’m not trying to convey some sugarcoated, everything-is-dandelions-and-lollipops approach to life. Life definitely sucks sometimes. But, in those times we have a choice to either be a victim or a victor. We can either take it as an opportunity for growth and improvement and learning, or we can simply pout and mope and feel sorry for ourselves.
Bruce Lee once said, “To hell with circumstances, I create opportunities.” Here was a man who did pushups on two fingers and trained rigorously because he had fully devoted himself to the discipline of learning and improving the martial arts. His refusal to focus on his circumstances and his willingness to see every event as a learning experience put him head and shoulders above his peers in the martial arts world and earned him legendary status and recognition.
As Christians, we live for far more than temporal recognition. We serve a God whose purposes are eternal and enduring. We should approach life with the realization that God is continually conforming us to His image (Romans 8:29) and is working in our lives to help us realize our full potential as his followers (Philippians 1:6). With this in mind, let’s start to see the events that come our way, whether good or bad, convenient or inconvenient, as opportunities to learn more about and become more like our Savior.
In Christian circles we’ve somehow fallen prey to the idea that God owes us a perfect little life with no problems or hardships. However, Jesus tells us in John 16:33 that, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
We must beware of trying to do this in our own strength. Rising above our circumstances and choosing to see both the good and the bad as learning experiences doesn’t come simply by buckling down and striving as hard as we can. Instead, success in doing this comes through a realignment of our priorities. We must make a conscious effort to substitute Christ’s attributes for our own. How do we do this? We spend regular time in His presence (for the purpose of imitating Him and learning more about His character), pray to Him and meditate on His word, and surround ourselves with other people that sincerely follow Him.
Consider Solomon’s words: “When times are good, rejoice, but when times are bad, consider; God has made the one as well as the other.”
I want to leave you my readers with one last quote: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” -Winston Churchill
God Bless you as, with God’s help, you take your eyes off your circumstances and fix them on Jesus, and begin to see every event that comes your way as an opportunity for learning.