Crucible: a situation of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new (Merriam-Webster.com). What’s your crucible? Are you there?
My kids and I dove into a Bible story the other day, where God rescued his people from Pharaoh’s impending doom. He’d rescued them from slavery in Egypt, and Pharaoh allowed them to leave captivity. The people left, headed home, facing days and nights in the hot desert, following a pillar of fire toward the unknown. They ended up on the sands of the Red Sea, a body of water flowing for miles in both directions. And then Pharaoh and his 600 men and their raging chariots raced to recapture them. The Israelites freaked out then, as I think most of us would. They projected their fear, they cried, they whined. And God replied, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground” (Exodus 14:15-16). Essentially, God told Moses to tell the Israelites they couldn’t go over it. They couldn’t go under it. They couldn’t go around it. They had to go through it. And to stop whining.
Just like the classic picture book of “We’re Going On A Bear Hunt,” the adventurers had to face a challenge bigger than they understood.
You, oh incredible wayfarer, will face challenges bigger than yourself and bigger than you understand. It’s the plight of mankind. It’s your job. Don’t ask, “Why isn’t this easier?” Ask instead, “How can this make me better?”
The good thing about these challenges is that they make us into our best selves. Challenges aren’t just part of the story; they’re the story.
1) Challenges show us God’s bigness.
On this tiny planet, as this one tiny soul, I often don’t see the big picture. I’m one puzzle piece, you’re one puzzle piece, and sometimes we lose sight of the whole puzzle and all it entails. But God’s there, with this big love for us. In the fire, beside the wide sea, and under the grinding weight of the mortar’s pestle, God stands right there in the middle of the crucible beside you, with the strength, grace, and power to go on. He’s an endless source of strength, and he offers it to his people. In these challenges, we get a mere glimpse of how he can fuel us.
2) Challenges teach us gratitude.
“My struggles are my own unique manifestations designed specifically to give me the opportunities to love and accept myself fully” (Jill Coleman). Seeing a challenge, obstacle, or hardship as an opportunity to raise a hand in gratitude teaches stability. Accepting challenge as a chance to love is part of why we’re here. The apostle Paul mentored his friend Timothy with these words, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Being grateful in adversity proves faith. How much faith do you have? How grateful are you for the rain? How grateful are you for the wall you just hit? Are you grateful for who you are so that you can be in this place and time to face this challenge? Are you ready?
Practicing intentional gratitude exhibits a willingness to level up.
3) Challenges make us stronger.
“In the days of the sailing vessels, this is the way they chose a tree to make a mast: They did not go to some sheltered place where the trees were protected from the elements. They went up into the mountains where the soil was thin and rocky. They found a tree that had been buffeted by the storms and beaten by the winter winds. That tree, that hardened tree, they cut down for the mast of their ship. So suffering hardens and strengthens us” (Robert Shannon).
In being a wife and mom, I’ve found strength to be a power. Maybe that sounds silly, but I feel like there’s still a big train of thought out there than women should be soft and weak. And I’ve never been able to be that. I love lifting heavy weights and pushing limits, because when I lift those heavy weights, life feels simple and free (and super sweaty hot). I love the feeling of picking up my twenty-pound weights and not struggling to do so. I love being able to do interval sprints and not pass out dead on the ground. I love that with a consistent daily grind over the years, I’ve built up my strength in a tangible way that I can see for myself and nobody can take it away from me or deny it. I love that now the effort has proved itself. In the beginning of trying heavier weights in my work outs, I couldn’t hardly finish a twenty-minute workout, the fifteen-pounders made me just about fall flat on my face (maybe they did one time), and the idea of ‘sprints’ was absolutely laughable.
But now. Now I know that trying harder challenges means I win. If one of my kids ever needs to be carried? I can carry her. If I need to help someone carry something? I can help. If someone else cries out, frustrated, saying “I can’t do it,” well then I CAN say, “Yes, you can.” Because strength manifests itself. People are drawn to it. People want to overcome. People want to be the mast of the ship, carrying their people home. Or, at least I do. I bet you do, too. And I’m excited about tomorrow’s opportunity to try again.
Are you grateful for the workout?
4) Challenges teach us courage.
Being that mast on that ship? Where will it take you? Oh my friend, it carries you into the vast unknown. With each challenge you face, with each fear you mow down, you build up a portfolio of proven records. It all builds up.
Never once did the authors of the Bible instruct or show the necessity of fear and letting it win. No, in fact, the Bible displays the opposite. “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). God made you powerful. God made you loving. God installed within you a sound mind. He dwells within you, and you are worthy to take on this challenge. Maybe you just needed to hear that. Very often, the things you fear are the paths you need to take in order to be your best self.
5) Challenges offer us a life greater.
“You’ve got to try this new show!” “You’ve got to get this soap!” “You’ve got to visit Venice; it’s beautiful!” In this context, a friend will probably be recommending something to you because that friend cares, with enthusiasm.
You’ve got to take on this challenge, because on the other side awaits a life greater. You’ve got to do these hard things, so that you see the beauty in the madness. Don’t miss this opportunity for greatness. Don’t miss these steps, small or scary as they seem. “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
What’s your best life? Being in God’s will. What’s God’s will? For you to intentionally live a life grateful for the challenges he presents to you. No better path exists than the intentionally joyful path. You’ve got no reason to be sad or to complain or to give up. When you hit a wall, look up. Look around. Celebrate what IS, because it’s a glorious adventure.
There is only the journey toward God’s heart. And this journey is a life greater.
“You’re just like me, a big nobody!”
Her squeaky voice echoes through the cavernous hall as the “evil stepsister” and “evil stepmother” begin their new indentured servitude in the palace, dying cloth and washing laundry.
Lately, this remarkable phrase from the movie Ever After keeps ringing through my ears, rattling around in my brain, and prattling about before my eyes. I’m just a big nobody. I can’t make it. I can’t do it. I need to be satisfied with my small life. Just step away from the computer and go clean up the kitchen, as it is covered in a thin coating of grime. At times I’m unsure if my brain is lying or if it is being honest. Am I trying too hard? Am I wanting too much? Am I doing the right thing? Am I doing what God has planned for me?
Caught in a lie. I’ve been caught between a lie and a truth for most of my life. Too many speakers at too many podiums have made me think that God has a specific timeline for me to follow, a specific list of To Dos and To Not Dos, and I simply have to trust that the right thing will happen at the right time.
Well, I have decided I don’t believe this anymore.
I have decided to have a little faith in who I am. I have decided to take my faith in God’s sovereignty, my belief that he is good, loving, remarkable, and dwells in me, and have a little faith in myself, too.
And I’m sticking by my decisions.
By God’s grace, I was raised by loving parents, and have been well-educated. I pushed through four years at college, and then pandered around trying to figure out what I wanted from life, and after folding four billion and a half church bulletins, I noticed that I was inclined to daydream and dawdle, and just wanted to tell a good story. Whether the story was about real life or not, I didn’t care, but The Time seemed to slip to the side and Life truly felt real when I was engrossed in the slithering and sticking of words upon the page. By God’s grace, I was accepted into a Master of Fine Arts program for creative writing, and the words began to pile up. Here we are four years later. By God’s grace, I am what I am.
I falter and flail, but my God is near me all the time. I shared this message with my daughter this morning, because her memory verse from Bible Drill last night was Psalm 56:3, “When I am afraid, I will trust in God.” When I learned the verse as a sprightly twig, (ha, I wish I’ve ever been a twig. Let’s go with it.) I learned a rhyming version, “When I am afraid, I will trust in thee, Psalm 56:3.” Rhyme works, my friends. A friend told me recently that she thinks I am brave. This idea makes me laugh, and yet makes me hopeful. Am I brave? Can I be brave? Can I DO THIS?
Can YOU DO THIS???
There is this deep, inner tugging, a wrenching of my darkest hopes and fears, intermingled in a chewy, doughy pretzel. What does it take to Make It? And can I do it?
You will be left behind.
You will miss out.
You will fall.
You will say the wrong thing at the wrong time.
You will sleep in late.
You will laugh at the wrong time.
You will reject the wrong person.
You will forget what you promised yourself.
You will step in somebody’s old gum and, or, dog poop.
You will get a late start.
You will get fired.
You will lose out.
You will lose big.
You will be tempted to lose hope.
Don’t lose hope.
Be sure of God.
Be of good cheer.
Be who God can make you be.
You will be forgotten by ‘people’. You will be left behind and alone. You will feel small. You will sit in the dark silence and think there is nothing better and it cannot get better.
You are right.
The sentence continues on, my friend.
God is love. God is the beginning and the end. He is wider and deeper than we can even fathom or discover. That God made you, loves you, rescued you, and waits for you to dwell in his shadow and act in his power. There is nothing and no hope without God. If you believe that he is the great I Am, then you have his spirit in you. By pursuing his heart, your actions will give him glory. Yes, he has prepared some good works for you and I to do, and he placed those deep in the corners and essence of your heart. By fulfilling those good passions, you shine a spotlight on his person.
Whether he placed in you a desire to help people medically, scientifically, in a classroom, in a dentist’s office, in a cubicle, in a laboratory, at a lake, by a pier, on a mountain, on a weight bench, or under the ocean, those myriad talents make this world diverse and interesting, and a fully encompassing picture of his creativity that he has shared with us.
I want to tell a good story. I want to help you live on the brighter side of this shadowed universe.
Bigger than the “I can’t,” is the “I Am.”
Maybe your goal is small, maybe your goal is astronomical, but listen to the power rather than the doubt. I am royalty. Are you? It’s time to own that and act like that.
If He placed your talents and passions inside of you, then be assured you can use them for good, and for His glory. How do we ensure we are acting for God’s glory? We can’t always see that part of it. That’s where I struggle, because I am but one tiny part of the masses. God can take even my smallest efforts and make them flourish. He is the one who directs the lightning in its path, remember.
“Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal” (Isaiah 26:4). That Rock is in you, so let your heart be hardened to the doubt, yet open to the light.
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:6-7). Peter, also known as The Rock (do you think he looked anything like Dwayne Johnson???) was one of those people who had full confidence in himself and his Author. He struggled with humility, and I think we all do. I often have too much humility and then find myself behind proud of that. So silly. Now, that’s a twisted web. Don’t think about it too much because your head will begin to thud in a dull panic. Peter follows this strong sentence with another: “Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. Resist him and be firm in the faith” (1 Peter 8-9a). Even here, God reminds us to be strong. If you feel like you can’t achieve your goal, you may be trying to accomplish too many goals, may simply lack conviction, or just need to shiver off that dead outer skin of childish faith.
So chuck anxiety out the back door and toss a lit match upon that spurning lie. Then lock the door. Do what you can today to get another step closer to that dream, that goal. Instead of aching for more, be the lightning that crosses the sky.
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