When your about to give up and give in to despair… DON’T!

We all know the struggle is real as a parent. The struggle to keep hope alive. To choose to ‘believe’ that God is up there and watching, engaged in our lives and actively seeking our good.

But there are days when that belief is strained to the breaking point.

There are dozens and dozens of days that I look back on and wonder how I made it through. How did I not just chuck it all and bail? How in the world did I stick it out and not give up?

Simple answer… GOD’S GRACE.

It’s always a temptation to give up – throw our proverbial hands in the air and just surrender to despair and doubt and walk away. For parents you can do everything right and still seem like you’ve failed.

Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

For parents who are raising teens, this can be a daily or weekly event. Those promises of God you scribbled down on sticky notes and taped to your desk or fridge, don’t forget them. The word of God highlighted in your bible until the pages tear… it’s real.  The faith we’ve so carefully nursed along through missed mortgage payments, cancer,  and marital strife, it’s true and tested no matter how we feel.

Yet…it can seem so fragile.

But hang on a sec. Our lives and circumstances are usually crazy. The forces that push us around can seem overwhelming and dark, but that’s only if we forget whose we are. Our strength was never based on how well we performed, never built on a foundation of self reliance and personal will power. If we’re a Christ-follower, a believer in the savior and Messiah – Jesus, then we’re supposed to rely on HIS strength.

That means we’re NOT the key ingredient in our lives or our faith. HE IS. Our eternal destinies and that of our kids are NOT dependent on us. It is the irresistible pull of God to align us and our families into perfect sync with His Kingdom. In His time, and in His way. 

So… unclench your fists. Take deep – slow – breaths… God is still GOD. HE is still at the helm of our lives. His will is going to occur and His plans are going to succeed. We are not victims lost in the floods of life, we are protected and purposed by Him.

Go get your promises out and lay them before God in prayer, remind Him of your need for hope, for encouragement, for peace. Make it a regular habit to ask Him to show up in your despair, to believe He’s going to miraculously realign your life and circumstances according to His will.  As you ask for help remember to choose to praise Him for the answer. To look forward in anticipation for His perfect solution… even before you see it.

It is the ‘goodness’ of Gods character that we are being trained to trust in.  The outcome of our lives is not depending on our merit or hard work, just HIS GOODNESS.

For our mental perspective to shift all we have to do is recall to mind and more importantly our hearts, the faithfulness of God to meet ALL our needs. He was God over the impossible in the past and He will be God over the impossible today.

 

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Remember we are but dust, and when our faith is only an ember, it is HIS strength that will carry the day.  St. Paul said it this way… “His strength is made perfect in our weakness”.

So parents – what could be more reassuring than that?

Peace out!

Pastor B.

Suggested link: Here is a great interview with one of my spiritual fathers, Pastor Duane Sheriff. He and his wife Sue have a fantastic perspective on parenting when we feel like a failure. Available at Brilliantly Brave Parenting on Soundcloud, iTunes, and YouTube.

Teen Stress Today

Teen Stress: One Powerful Way to Help Your Child Stand Strong

Today, I welcome Pastor Brad Mathias of Bema Media, Road Trip Parenting, and the Brilliantly Brave Parenting Podcast.  (You can catch my interview HERE!) His latest work, Storms of Life, is a study for students. And friends, it’s a tool we want and need in the hands of each of our young people today.”

Teen Stress Today

How we see ourselves is a huge struggle for most people, no matter our age or stage of life. We are naturally critical, especially of our own lives. Our self-image or self-esteem is the third highest stressor for students according to surveys and recent studies.

The Age-Old Struggle With a Twist

Statistically, self-esteem ranked as our third highest stressor for students in college or high school and higher for adults. We know that many are struggling with the way we see ourselves and how we perceive others see us. The pressure to achieve and be successful is a huge unspoken stressor for any stage or age of life.

From well-meaning high school counselors to your aunts and uncles, everyone is asking the question; “What do you want to be when you grow up?” or “Where are you going to attend college?” As we get older, the questions get more obvious, where do you work? Where did you go to school, where do you live?

The demands of our society push unbelievable expectations on us.

The additional pressure of fitting in, finding somewhere to belong and be accepted is just a part of our journey. School and culture have already created specific stereotypes for us to pick an identity from. For parents and adults, the struggle continues on with new names and places, but the same old sense of ‘not-fitting in’.

And each identity has a specific clique or club with its own rules and hierarchy in how to belong.

Finding the group that accepts and affirms you are uncertain in the fickle world of social popularity. No one really has a chance to relax and assume they are “in” for long. The ongoing and daily battle of social media is unprecedented and the allure to be accepted and liked offsets the risk of rejection for most. From what you wear to the color of your hair, everything you say or do is on display for anyone to like or dislike. The social media culture of today puts our identity on trial each and every post.

Perfection Required

This daily demand to be perfect is impossible to sustain especially when we add in the pressures of a society that is visual and we feel the need to be beautiful and handsome 24/7/365 to be acceptable. Here is where the dissatisfaction with our appearance grows from an annoyance to an obsession for some. We fret about the smoothness of our skin and the thickness and texture of our hair to how we look in jeans. We seek to adapt ourselves to fit the mold of our society. How others respond to our appearance has the capacity to make or break us, and we truly aspire to be the very best we can be, not for our own health, but to simply survive without total humiliation and shaming.

Many are so worried about their size and shape that they are actively measuring and managing their diets to manipulate their basic body types, height, and weight to fit the norms of the local style. We no longer know who we are or what we want. We just hate to be bullied or demeaned by those who are skinnier, prettier, and more popular. And we live unsure of anything but the fact that we don’t measure up.

The struggle for our identity and value is a struggle for the truth

We have voices that are talking to us all the time. Some are predictable and hopefully encouraging. Some are our insecure peers at school or work who are immature and selfish, critical and demeaning. Those we can ignore. Their opinions, although vital for popularity, are not truly meaningful in the long run. And then there are the voices we hear when we look in the mirror. Those demeaning and ugly voices that tell us we’re ugly or worthless. Those are lies.

God’s voice is the one that:
  • We have to learn to hear and trust.
  • Will never condemn or demean us. He will never reject or ridicule us. Never, ever.
  • Reminds us of our priceless value, of how He traveled across the universe to meet us, how He chose to suffer and die for sins we committed.
  • Resonates with the warmth and joy of a proud Papa who can’t wait to tell us how much He loves us and longs to see us again.

The voice we hear is the one we will follow.

It’s imperative we learn to hear God’s voice above all the other voices in our lives. He will not disappoint, lie, or pretend with us. He tells the truth and knows what we need and truly want. If we trust His voice, we will follow Him.

As you grow in your faith, believe that God:
  • Can patiently stick with you through all the ups and downs of your day. He does and He will
  • Doesn’t grow closer when you do good and pull back when you do bad
  • Stays near you all the time
  • Will provide you with strength when you’re tempted to compromise
  • Gives you courage when you’re afraid
  • Will provide wisdom when you are uncertain

Teen stress is more prevalent than ever before and social media has a lot to do with that. How do we help them stand strong in their faith? How do we help them navigate beyond stress and overwhelm? #teens #teenstress #stress #socialmedia #parenting #biblestudy #hope #stormsoflife #identityinchrist #identity

Take your prayers with you.

Don’t just pray at home in the morning and before bed but pray all day long. As long as you can pray silently in your mind, you can pray at school all you want. Start asking God for help in the moments you need Him. When those “trigger moments” occur, He can be right there with you, providing you with the help you so desperately need.

Jesus has gifted us with unique and beautiful attributes.

His gifts of personality and skill make us irreplaceable to Him. We don’t need to follow the pack because we can be our own individual person, seeking after the One who knows us best for our satisfaction and value. Young women tend to struggle with self-esteem issues more than young men. We know our society puts enormous pressure on ladies to look a certain way, to be loved or treasured, but Christ has a different perspective. It’s essential for us to model that acceptance and love of the uniqueness we each have.

We cannot let the world define our worth in possessions or sex appeal. As Christian, we can invest our energy and personal affirmations in the people in our lives. Pointing our peers and families to the One who holds the keys to life is providing them with a lifelong anchor for their soul.

Summary and Closing

We live in a time of instant criticism or admiration where social media can make or break us in a moment. We will need to learn how to fight for our identities and encourage each other using the devotional power of daily prayer and Scripture to give us added perspective on our value and identity in Christ. The world is restless and unsettled, but we can live with confidence and at peace. We don’t have to be condemned to living stressed out and overwhelmed!

Blog post is an adapted excerpt from the Storms of Life Study available now at iShine Live.


About the Author:

Author of Storms of Life: Living Beyond Stressed Out & OverwhelmedPastor Brad Mathias is the president of Bema Media and a pastor for over a decade. He and his wife were survivors of a near divorce, and now are actively engaged in public ministry to families and students in crisis. Brad and his wife Paige have been married for over 28 years and are the parents of three adult children and two grandchildren.

His blog Road Trip Parenting.com (WordPress) and book, Roadtrip to Redemption(Tyndale/Momentum) have laid the groundwork for his latest project, a new study on Life and how to navigate the storms we will all face. He is also the Co-Host and Executive producer of “Brilliantly Brave Parenting” the podcast.

The Choice to trust…

It’s always a temptation to doubt.

Life often doesn’t go like we planned, relationships get tough, finances strained, our work fails… we wonder where we’re going.

The struggle gets real with the news of cancer, loosing your job, a spouse who considers walking out, life can seriously strain one’s sanity at times. Parents get caught in the middle of this all the time, juggling one or more of these major stresses, yet needing to keep the ship balanced at home. The question becomes…how do we make sense of our faith when nothing makes sense anymore?

We get to decide what we’re going to do. The truth is, we’re not victims caught in the rush of water and helpless before the flood. What we can do is choose to ‘trust’. But when we can’t ‘see’ or ‘feel’ God, when our circumstances push us to the limits of our logic, God is near. 

How do I know that? Many – Many – Many times I’ve been caught in desperate moments. I have struggled ‘wondering’ where God was in my hurt and loss. I’ve not always trusted God in those moments of confusion and pain, I’ve often allowed myself to ‘thrash’ emotionally, blaming myself, others, and God for the struggle or issues at hand. It’s exhausting and unnecessary.

Photo by Ali Arapoğlu from Pexels

But no matter how overwhelmed, shocked, or stressed out I may feel, I still retain the consciousness to recognize my free will. I have a choice to make. A decision for how I will respond. I’m not caught in a one way tunnel of darkness, I can still pull my gaze away from the nasty stuff around me and focus on the light of God’s word, and remember the power and love of my Savior.

It takes a massive effort to deny myself the satisfaction of being a victim, of living in the gutter of self pity. Instead I have to choose to remember God’s faithfulness. I have to deny my emotions and not allow them to rule over me. I have to embrace my faith within my own mind and heart. I have to decide to trust God, to acknowledge He is ‘good’. 

These moments of choosing are the moments that build our faith. We can’t avoid our struggle, we can’t always flee or run and hide, we have to face it and we can do it in our own strength or in His. The struggle is to allow God to lead us when we can’t see or feel His presence… that takes ‘faith.

The choice is only ours to make. No one can do it for us, it’s deeply personal and painfully intimate. Once we make our choice, we can experience ‘peace.

My prayer for you and myself is this… “Lord give us the grace to hang on to the words you spoke to us, to remember the special promises of your scripture, to look for your salvation in this moment. Lord provide me the strength and wisdom to move forward in faith and open the doors you want me to enter and shut the ones not good for me. I trust your goodness, I believe in your sovereign power, and I look forward to seeing your miraculous solution to my impossible problems.” 

Psalm 100:5 “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

Pastor Brad.

Moving through the Wilderness is Moving Past Me.

Moving past Me

We may be starting to appreciate the design in our wilderness circumstances, even begin to understand the strategy in all our struggles, but the battle to survive the process we’re caught up in will require us to lift our gaze further than we have before.

The journey of faith we’ve been invited into cannot simply be focused on our situation, it’s larger and bigger than us. His presence in our lives is meant to be more than a means to an end. He cannot be approached without shrugging off our selfish and ambitious nature.

We cannot proceed any further in our upward ascent to following God if we insist on retaining what remains of our old self and sense of control. Thus the need for us to be driven into a desert / a wilderness moment of life, a place of being sorted out from the contamination of our world and the sins that so easily clings. (Hebrews 12:1-3) (Romans 12:1-3)

Pexels.com

The maturing focus of our spiritual journey requires a shift from our plans and promotion, to the relationship behind the entire belief system. Christianity is not a path for personal enlightenment or purification for our own merit – but rather as a process of being sanctified and consecrated for the creators presence. We are not our own.

Our relationship with God must become greater than any other preoccupation of our hearts. We can’t simply pursue His favor and blessings, we won’t progress any further than we are. To move deeper and higher we must relinquish our very identities to Him. Finding our strength and value and purpose in our time we spend within His presence.

He is not a means to an end… HE IS THE END.

Tozer quote: “We must be concerned with the person and character of God, not the promises. Through promises we learn what God has willed to us, we learn what we may claim as our heritage, we learn how we should pray. But faith itself must rest on the character of God.

 Is this difficult to see? Why are we not stressing this in our evangelical circles? Why are we afraid to declare that people in our churches must come to know God Himself? Why do we not tell them that they must get beyond the point of making God a lifeboat for their rescue or a ladder to get them out of a burning building? How can we help our people get over the idea that God exists just to help run their businesses or fly their airplanes?

 God is not a railway porter who carries your suitcase and serves you. God is God. He made heaven and earth. He holds the world in His hand. He measures the dust of the earth in the balance. He spreads the sky out like a mantle. He is the great God Almighty. He is not your servant. He is your Father, and you are His child. He sits in heaven, and you are on the earth.”

 From his book; Faith Beyond Reason, 44.

The Stillness of Intimacy – a gift from the wilderness

 

In the Wilderness… we can grow into a deeper ‘Intimacy” with God. 

The process of the Holy Spirit is persistent and subtle in our wilderness season.

  • He asks us to follow the voice of God – to walk the path we have been shown despite our limited insights and understanding of the “purpose” or plan.
  • We are gently forced to let go of our stuff – our crutches that have propped us up. (Career – intimate relationships that hold us back from growing in faith – confidence in our financial strength – friendships – ministry roles) things that affirm us or give us perceived value. Things “other” than God.
  • We must willingly surrender these “other” things as we choose to “stay” in the place and path Gods spirit has led us. We cannot run away or hide – we must allow the work of the Holy Spirit to persist in our weakness.
  • Our dependence on the flesh for support and affirmation is reduced the longer we allow ourselves to be reduced. Our need for the flesh is weaned – and we grow in hunger and interest in the things of the Holy Spirit.
  • The loss of self is astonishingly difficult, but it removes our false confidences and pseudo identities and replaces them with a transparency of the soul. We block less of the Spiritual light within and begin to assume more and more of our identity from the one who inhabits our heart.
  • Here habits can be broken and false assumptions revealed. Here in this place we can be changed and transformed from what we were to who we are destined to be.
  • It’s also here that we can begin to hear and understand the work of the Holy Spirit within much better than we could otherwise. We can gain insight and wisdom from the suffering we’re experiencing.

The process* of growing in Intimacy requires us to become “still”. To learn to stop doing things to change our circumstances. God wants to teach us how to wait. He wants to train us to trust His plans more than our own.

2 Chronicles 20

This battle is not for you to fight; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.”

 The struggle to draw near to the creator is real – everything in us resists approaching His presence. Our minds endlessly inventive for finding “other” options to pursue.

Photo by Lucas Campoi from Pexels

Apprehension at His knowing gaze tempts us to run, to avoid being exposed for what we truly are. Our external and superficial defenses are powerless before Him. We desperately assemble something to prop ourselves up… we use our self invented identities and lean on personal successes to offset the weakness His gaze is revealing about ourselves. Lacking the strength to withstand or endure the penetrating power of His words to us, we are tempted to just keep retreating and hiding from the painful truth. Just like our forefathers we look for whatever fig leaves we can find to cover our nakedness.

The active effects of our wilderness circumstances and of His approach are effective in forcing a “sorting out” of our past presumptions and false assumptions.

We cannot retain our pride and false bravado for very long in the definitely engineered circumstances of His will. There is no room for the baggage of our past in the present, we are unable to deny the truth of our weakness and incompleteness. We must admit our need – accept His conditions or we must flee forever.

This process of growing in Intimacy requires a form of “sorting out” or refinement. Consider your life as you would a precious metal like Gold, Platinum, or Silver, this is how God sees us. The purification of this treasured substance (our hearts) is a large part of the human condition as experienced in Christ.

We are in nearly constant transition as we experience the fire and flames of being heated and then the abrupt change of being thrust into the icy waters. The repeated heating to the point of melting and then being plunged into one more baptismal trial after another is the tempering way for every believer to proceed in their faith. No other path will prepare us adequately for the prize we seek.

Pexels.com

It’s in this season of refinement, in the pain and suffering of our fearful transitions and abrupt life changes that we risk giving ourselves over to the darkness of despair and discouragement. Make no mistake, this is a choice! We have the capacity to chose life or death, Hope or despair and it’s in this that our life trajectory will rise or fall.

No one of us can endure the strain indefinitely, we are subject to the mortal nature of eventual fatigue and exhaustion, but this too serves the masters purposes and realign’s our understanding from fantasy to faith. We cannot continue to pretend or fake our way through the Christian life, we must dig in or bug out.

Despite all of the insight and growing personal awareness of our condition, we cannot remain myopic and self obsessed for long if we are to move forward. The journey is “upward” and if we keep clinging to Jesus, we will wind our way to greater heights and better perspectives than we have ever yet experienced. This isn’t a test of our strength, but rather our wills. Surrender is hard.

The Wilderness isn’t about being abandoned by God, it’s all about learning to be more intimate with Him.  An unavoidable place and space in every Christians story, the journey of faith expands for those who choose to stay in His presence, for those who trust enough to be still. 

Pastor B.

 

Life in The Wilderness

 

  1. A classic setting – The Wilderness
  • God moves us away from our fleshly support and natural strengths = isolation
    • This process of removal from all things “familiar” is an essential part of deconstructing our old identities and allows for the reconstruction of the new and true identity we’ve never fully realized from our own effort and ambition.

Source – Pexels.com

* He allows us to be left out of the normal flow and function of our world = leaves us feeling discarded or in a ‘time out’, but we’re not.

* He allows our circumstances to be uncomfortable and difficult = suffering

  • He prevents us from seeing beyond our day, no vision for tomorrow, no clarity of our path forward = dependence
  • Our activities are mundane and seemingly irrelevant, we feel insignificant and ineffective at best = reveals motives
  • Our hearts feel alone and unsupported, our minds are anxious and we sense only ourselves and no one else. = Faith vs. feeling
  • In our despair we are forced to choose, we can turn to our past or trust God for our future. Our flesh aches to find meaning, value, purpose in our old ways and habits. The spirit urges us onto deeper intimacy with God. = spiritual growth
  • The longer and deeper the struggle lasts, the more profound and enduring the lessons and transformation we experience.

This isolation and instability is awful. It removes all manner of old affirmation and familiar encouragements, this is exactly as intended by God to lead us deeper and further into our intended purpose.

Psalm 27 is / has been a significant strength to me.

1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;

whom shall I fear?

  The Lord is the stronghold of my life;

of whom shall I be afraid?

 4  One thing have I asked of the Lord,

that will I seek after:

  that I may dwell in the house of the Lord

all the days of my life,

  to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord

and to inquire in his temple.

 5  For he will hide me in his shelter

in the day of trouble;

  he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;

he will lift me high upon a rock.

 7  Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;

be gracious to me and answer me!

 8  You have said, “Seek my face.”

  My heart says to you,

“Your face, Lord, do I seek.”

 9  Hide not your face from me.

  Turn not your servant away in anger,

O you who have been my help.

  Cast me not off; forsake me not,

O God of my salvation!

 10  For my father and my mother have forsaken me,

but the Lord will take me in.

 11  Teach me your way, O Lord,

and lead me on a level path

because of my enemies.

 12  Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;

for false witnesses have risen against me,

and they breathe out violence.

 13  I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord

in the land of the living!

 14  Wait for the Lord;

be strong, and let your heart take courage;

wait for the Lord! (ESV)

Life in the Wilderness – Biblical Examples:

* Abraham in the promise land – experiencing famine and leaving the promise land to go down to Egypt. (Foreshadowing)

  • Abraham and Sarah – living in the land of promise without the promise and creating Ishmael in an effort to force the promise of God
  • Jacob and his servitude to his father in law
  • Joseph and His imprisonments
  • Moses and his 40 years in the desert wilderness
  • The nation of Israel and their wandering generation of 40 years in the wilderness
  • David as the future anointed King and his 15 years of running and hiding in a wilderness exile and under threat of persecution by King Saul
  • Jesus in the desert for 40 days and nights before his ministry begins
  • Saul / Paul in his desert time in Arabia – 14 years

These ‘examples’ should bring us comfort and perspective. Each of us will enter multiple seasons of wilderness life, each will need to move from anger and doubt to acceptance and trust. The wilderness in scripture represents a time of testing and teaching. God was not punishing, He was preparing.

So it is with us.

Seriously though…

What’s so important about all this Christianity stuff, does it really matter? I mean, people have the freedom to choose whatever they want to believe.

Evidently this is the case as almost half—47 percent—of practicing Christian millennial’s believe “it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hope that they will one day share the same faith.” (Barna defines as “practicing Christian” those who identify as Christian, agree strongly that faith is very important in their lives, and have attended church in the past month. – Source: Barna research group)

Today our society is all about tolerance. We’re being trained by our culture to be a ‘kinder, gentler, and more tolerant”, generation of Christians. Don’t get me wrong, we should be gentle and kind, and this is not advocating a license to be a jerk, or to act without respect… but the middle road (Via Media) is where I’m heading here.

It would be so nice to avoid the uncomfortable discussions, to remain aloof from the world and it’s controversies. It would be so much easier to just coast along life watching and observing the flow of pop culture as it diverges from the traditional values of two millennia of Christian orthodoxy. But I believe we’re called to be more than ‘critics’ of our culture, we’re called to be an influence within it.

pexels.com

Granted over the years the church has waxed and waned in its role as Gods ambassadors to the world, but on the whole the message of the Gospel has emerged as direct and brilliantly clear as when it was first shared with us.

Sin. Grace. Forgiveness. New Life. Purpose. Hope and a coming Kingdom. 

God’s rescue plan was daring, out of the box, and completely successful. No detail was overlooked and no generation left out, He thought of everything and everyone as He saved the world and all creation.

But saved us from what? I mean what was the big deal, the alarm that seemed to cause such a cosmic fuss? According to the bible, it was eternal death.

Not just physical death and decay, but something so awful and destructive it stretches across time and space to confront all mankind with the despair of losing our entire existence. Not just this life, but all the intended pleasure and purpose of the divine eternity.

Pexel.com

The whole construct of the Christian faith centers around the ‘salvation’ of the soul and the Resurrection of the dead. Nothing else matters! 

We need to seriously consider that as we navigate our lives, we need to really and truly wonder at the seriousness of the situation we find ourselves in. If the gospels are accurate about this spiritual death that threatens us all, it should affect us.

We are entrusted with more than blending in. Our lives are meant to be risked, our popularity and acceptance is irrelevant. People are dying. Lives are being lost for eternity. Hell and separation from God are a real possibility. Stuff that’s uncomfortable to talk about, stuff we try to deny and avoid at all costs, but if there is anything more important to sort out… I don’t what it would be.

What about our soul? What about our faith and relationship with the only person who actually matters? Jesus. 

Lent is this week. A time of introspection and mediation. What am I here for? What’s the point of my existence and what is it God has offered me? Ideas that are worthy of our consideration and self-examination.

backlit-black-cross-161089

Source – Pexels.com

Let’s not waste our chances…

Pastor B.

Links:

Tim Keller on why Evangelism is so hard. (Relevant Magazine Source)

Ash Wednesday (Free)

Lenten Devotional (Free)