Life’s Hard Classroom

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Adult life is filled with illusions that die hard.

As a younger person, I somehow got the idea adults had it all together. I assumed that by a certain age, (probably 40 or so) you knew what to do, had what you needed, and had life all figured out.

If a wry smile comes to your face because of my naivete, I don’t blame you.

It’s likely I was shielded (or simply oblivious) to the sufferings and trials experienced by my parents and other adults around me. And that’s probably God’s mercy.

But then came the time (the first of many!) when I realized it’s not like that at all. Life is hard, a puzzle, an adventure, a roller coaster, a disaster (at times) and all together uncertain and unpredictable.

There are many amazing blessings in life, to be sure. But if we expect to figure life out and get everything “all settled,” we’re in for huge letdown. If we tie our hopes and security to this thing called “earthly existence,” we are in for devastating shocks and crushing disappointments.

One of the most constructive responses to a hard time is to learn from it. We can ask questions like: What is this teaching about myself in terms of my expectations, inner strength, and readiness? About others? About life in this broken world? About God?

There are some situations, however, where we will never find the answers in this life. Especially to the question, “Why?” But there is a way to find strength to press on.

During one tough season I confessed to the Lord that I was tired of “learning lessons.” Enough already! And as I was journaling, it was like the Lord said to me, “Life in this fallen and failing world is the Hard Classroom. That will never change until I return. But be thankful you have me as your Master Teacher to tutor and train you step by step by step.”

That led me to search the Scriptures for passages with the word “instruct.” Here are a few that encourage me greatly.

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you” (Psalm 32:8 NIV).

God is a compassionate instructor. “With my loving eye on you” reassures us that the Lord does not scorn us for our lack of understanding. Instead, the Lord renews our minds and directs our steps (Proverbs 3:5-6), often in the very moment.

“I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me” (Psalm 16:7 NIV).

God meets us in our sleepless nights. When we can’t sleep, we can pray. And we can learn to listen. Don’t dismiss those encouraging thoughts that come, those insights, those memories and scriptures. I often get out of bed for a moment to write them down. I then consider them more carefully in the light of day.

“Good and upright is the Lord; therefore, he instructs sinners in his ways” (Psalm 25:8 NIV)

God does not require we be perfect in order to receive his teaching. He teaches us in the midst of our sin and brokenness, leading us to life.

When we live as disciples (a word meaning “students”) of the Lord in all that life brings, we discover a growing resilience, a deepening wisdom, a more realistic set of expectations, and, above all, the peace and power of God within that pass all understanding.

“So do not fear, for I am with you;

    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you and help you;

    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)

Consider this again, as if the Lord is speaking to you, “Life in this fallen and failing world is the Hard Classroom. That will never change until I return. But be thankful you have me, the Lord your God, as your Master Teacher. I will tutor and train you step by step by step.”

May it be so, Lord, may it be so.

Starting Again– Again

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By Gajus Shutterstock
You may not have noticed, but I haven’t posted a new blog since February 2019—a full six months. I’ve wanted to. I’ve thought about it—a lot. (Some people did notice). But I just didn’t.

I confess I’ve been disappointed in myself, embarrassed I didn’t keep up with my goal of a weekly post. Most of all, I feared I’d lost momentum. Why bother starting again? I mean, what if I hit another long pause in the future? Then I’d have to start again—again!

That got me thinking: How many times have I started strong, but failed to persist? It ranges from practicing both classical and jazz guitar, to commitments to prayer lists, to discipleship projects, to reading the entire Bible yearly, and to a lot more.

We have this idea that stopping means failure. We think beginning again after a long pause will inevitably lead to another time when we’ll stop. Why bother?

But grace doesn’t leave us stuck in feelings of regret, embarrassment, perfectionism and self-depreciation. Three thoughts have helped me start again—again, many times!

Life is about rhythms and seasons.

For example, during my “blog pause,” my wife and I led a 12-day tour to Israel and Petra and a 2-week mission trip to Kenya. We attended our son’s graduate school graduation in Nashville and had visits from out-of-state relatives. We also had 1 week with each of our granddaughters individually (3 weeks total) and a 2-week vacation. OH, (almost forgot), and I preached, led our staff and board of elders, and provided pastoral care and spiritual direction…

I don’t expect you to be all that interested in my activities. But I do invite you to give yourself grace when life gets full, really full. Give yourself grace to “slack off” without condemnation.

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2 RSV).

There are many dimensions to this verse. The primary message is God’s amazing gift of grace in Christ that frees us from eternal condemnation. But there are valid reasons to apply the release-from-condemnation to other aspects of life, including our response to falling short of our goals and intentions.

Consistency is admirable, but not essential.

Jesus said, “Those who endure to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 10:22 and 24:13 NIV).

It’s not about pausing; it’s about persisting. Pauses are part of life. Even long pauses. What’s important is starting again.

This isn’t an excuse for stopping. It’s the recognition that life happens, things go on “pause,” and that isn’t the end of the world.

Persistence, as many have observed, can be far more significant than raw talent or ability.

Vince Lombardi, superlative football coach of the legendary Green Bay Packers, said, “Press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful individuals with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

A pause often leads to a rediscovery of grace.

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end;  they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23 RSV).

God’s grace and mercy are new every day– and any time of day. I’m continually learning that grace is not the reward for my accomplishments. Grace is God’s gift in Jesus Christ simply because I belong to the Lord.

Our greatest examples of persistence in grace are the faithful who have gone before us and, ultimately, Jesus Christ.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV).

Where are you stuck? Do you need to begin again—again? Don’t be embarrassed. Don’t be defensive. Don’t be stopped by the fear you may not continue. Embrace grace– and go for it.

Start again—again—and again and again and again…