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Handling Life's Problems

Before, During, and After

“The end of a thing is better than its beginning…” (Ecclesiastes 7:8)

So many seasons of life can be divided into “before,” “during,” and “after.” We can point out the time before we lost the job, the uncertain time during the job hunting, and the time after starting the new job. A mountain climber has the before time of preparation, the during when they need every ounce of their skill and strength for the climb, and the after, when they stand top of the mountain and enjoy the breathtaking, panoramic view.

The before is comfortable. It’s familiar. It’s easy. The during can be challenging, confusing, scary, and painful. But, ahh—the after! That’s the exciting part when we see how the before and during led us to the place we needed to be.

Jesus’s life on earth had a before, during, and after. The before was amazing. His three years of ministry were filled with miracles, healings, victories over demons, and throngs of followers. On what we now call Palm Sunday, he entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey, to the acclaim of the crowds, who called out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9).

Less than a week later, the during began. Jesus was betrayed by one of those closest to him. The adoring crowds disappeared. He was arrested, beaten, tormented, and mocked. He was falsely accused and unlawfully sentenced to die. Jesus was actually forced to carry the cross upon which he was murdered.

The during was frightening and painful, torturous beyond imagination. But the during wasn’t the end of the story.

We know what happened after the crucifixion. The power of God was manifested by raising Jesus from the dead. Our salvation was procured. The bondage of sin and death was broken.

Hebrews 12:2 says, “Keep your eyes on Jesus, our leader and instructor. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterwards; and now he sits in the place of honor by the throne of God.” We are to emulate Jesus, to keep watching what he did and do the same. He endured the cross because he knew the joy that would come after.

We’ve probably heard people say, “It didn’t come to stay, it came to pass.” The during doesn’t come to stay. It will pass. The struggle is for a season. During that season, we learn, we grow stronger, and we gain a testimony to share with the world about the faithfulness and goodness of God. The end is better than the beginning. If it isn’t better, it isn’t over.

Dear God, I know you’re the God of every season of my life, the good times as well as the bad times. When I’m walking through a challenging time, give me faith to follow your plan and peace during the struggle. You’ve promised to never leave me alone. Whether I’m in an enduring season or enjoying the ease of the “after,” let me always be aware of your presence, your protection, and your peace. In Jesus’s name, amen.

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Handling Life's Problems

Refuse to Stay Stuck

“He lifted me out of the pit of destruction, out of the sticky mud. He stood me on a rock and made my feet steady.” (Psalm 40:2)

In his book, Victory in Spiritual Warfare, Dr. Tony Evans relates the story of being trapped in an elevator between floors in a high-rise building. It’s easy to imagine the fear and panic that could result from being stuck in an elevator. Dr. Evans said, “When it happened, some started crying, some yelled for help, and some started banging hard on the door.”

Maybe you’ve never been stuck in an elevator, but you may be stuck in some area of your life right now. Let’s stop for a minute here and define what we mean when we say, “stuck.” Being stuck doesn’t mean having a routine. If we put our keys in the same place every night, that’s a helpful routine. If we’ve had the same job for many years, we may tire of it, but that’s not being stuck—that’s a blessing.

Being stuck is when thinking of a past wound still causes sharp pain and thinking of the one who inflicted it still makes us angry. That’s being stuck in unforgiveness.

Being stuck is when we’ve promised ourselves a dozen times to stop looking at inappropriate websites, but we still pull them up. That’s being stuck in lust.

The examples could go on and on. Being stuck is when any destructive or negative habit, emotion, or action becomes a repetitive pattern and we feel unable to control it and move past it. It’s when feelings of hopelessness and helplessness cause us to believe we will never be victorious—that we will always be angry. Always be addicted. Always fail. Always hurt others.

Like those stuck in the elevator, we may try ineffective ways of getting ourselves unstuck, and find no success. Banging on the door would never cause the elevator to start working again. Neither would crying or shouting. Those trapped in the elevator needed help from outside.

To accept being stuck in an elevator as their new, normal life would be ridiculous. Psalm 30:5 tells us that, “…weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

We aren’t meant to be stuck in the mess; we’re meant to travel through it to the other side.

Dr. Evans noticed a telephone in the elevator. He picked it up, and someone answered. He told the person that he was stuck in the elevator. They sent help, and the people who once were trapped moved out of the elevator and moved on with their lives.

Friend, when we’re stuck, we’re stagnant. Being stuck prevents forward movement. Satan would love to keep us stuck but God wants to set us free. God wants to take us from where we are to the other side, the place where we grow, minister, and walk in freedom. Our own efforts may not be enough to free us, but just as Dr. Evans called for help in the elevator, we can call out to the one who can help us.

Refuse to accept being stuck. Call out to God for the help you need. Reach out to brothers and sisters in the Lord who can support you. Saturate your soul in God’s word. You’re not meant to be stuck. Take a step toward freedom. You won’t take that step alone—God will meet you there.

Dear God, I have struggled with my problems far too long. I’ve almost stopped believing that change is possible for me. I don’t want to be stuck and stagnant any longer. I want to be free and move forward. My efforts to fix this myself haven’t worked. I turn this situation over to you. Help me move from where I am to where you want me to be. Take me to the other side. I rely on your strength, your mercy, and your love. In Jesus’s name, amen.

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Handling Life's Problems

The Other Side

“Later that day, after it grew dark, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.’” (Mark 4:35)

It’s not always easy to get to the other side of something. Ever try crossing a busy avenue in a bustling city at rush hour? Or traversing twisty roads to get to the other side of a mountain? Getting to the other side can be scary.

In Mark, chapter 4, Jesus had been ministering for some time on the shore of a lake, healing people with diseases, rebuking evil spirits, and teaching the truth of God’s kingdom to multitudes of people.

One night, Jesus told the disciples it was time to move to the other side of the lake. The group of disciples included some first-rate sailors. They knew the lake, they knew boats, and they probably weren’t worried about Jesus’s instruction. They pulled up the anchors and set out to cross the lake.

That’s the beginning of the story. Before we talk about the middle, let’s fast forward to the first verse of Mark, chapter 5, and hear the end of the story. “As Jesus stepped ashore, a demon-possessed madman came out of the graveyard and confronted him” (Mark 5:2).

As soon as Jesus stepped off the boat on the other side, a madman sprang out of the cemetery. This guy lived among the graves, howling and cutting himself with sharp stones. The townspeople tried to chain him up, but he snapped off the chains like threads. He had almost supernatural strength and no one could subdue him.

This man desperately needed help—help he could only receive from Jesus. Jesus sent the evil spirits into a herd of pigs. Suddenly, the man put on normal clothes. Instead of howling, he spoke in his right mind. The madman turned into a minister, telling his town and his family what God did for him.

And that’s the end of the story. The story began with miracles and ministry. And it ended with miracles and ministry. But in the middle, there was a storm.

Middles are often stormy. Middles can be messy. When Jesus instructed the disciples to sail to the other side, he undoubtedly knew a storm was coming. Jesus wasn’t surprised by the stormy, messy middle. He knew the life that would be transformed when they reached the other side. He also knew how the disciples’ faith would be strengthened, and that, thousands of years later, our faith would also be strengthened by this storm.

You see, on the other side, we grow. We are encouraged. We are able to help others with their problems. Everything is different on the other side. If we become fearful, discouraged, or hopeless during the middle, we miss the ministry, miracles, and growth on the other side.

Andy Stanley said, “Christians have never believed in a God who doesn’t allow bad things to happen to good people. Christians believe the worst possible thing happened to the best possible person.” Yes, your journey will take you through storms. Yes, your journey will sometimes be messy. But stand with God during the messy middle. Storms still obey him. You will come out transformed and triumphant on the other side.

Dear God, I know what it is to be in the middle of a mess. When I face difficulties in life, help me to remember that you are still in command of the storms, and you are still in control of my life. Build my faith. Increase my trust. Help me to focus less on the wind and waves and more on the one who commands them. In Jesus’s name, amen.

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Handling Life's Problems

Let’s Talk About Mental Health

“For we are the product of his hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives, created in the anointed Jesus, to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10)

According to 2017 research by the National Institute of Mental Health, 18.9% of adults in the U.S. have a mental illness. For those of us doing the math, that’s about two out of every ten people. It could be us, someone in our family, our co-worker, or someone we serve with at church. As Christians, how do we deal with mental illness?

Those who haven’t struggled with mental illness can find it hard to understand the depth of pain experienced by those who do. Charles Spurgeon, a great evangelist who suffered from depression, said, “The mind can descend far lower than the body, for in it there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour.” The pain is real. The struggle can be daunting.

Let’s look at this issue from two sides. First, if you have a mental illness, God’s word points the way to hope:

  • Ephesians 2:10 says God created you with his own hand. Heaven’s poetry is written on your life. No mental health issue can ever change that. God created you deliberately, loves you unfailingly, values who you are, and has a plan for your life. “Before I made you in your mother’s womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I chose you for a special work…” (Isaiah 1:5). You are God’s beloved, the apple of his eye.
  • God is a “wonderful counselor” (Isaiah 9:6) You can talk to God about your mental illness. Many of the Psalms deal with depression, anger, or fear, and can be used as prayers. Remember, no one knows what you are going through better than the one who created you. Feel free to pour out your heart, your emotions, and your pain to God—he understands.
  • Don’t hesitate to get professional help and medication. When a person has a physical illness, they feel no shame about seeing a doctor and taking medicine. If you have a mental illness, you should feel no shame about seeing a professional and taking needed medicine. Jesus himself said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do…” (Mark 2:17).

Second, how should Christians react to people who have a mental illness? Matthew 7:12 says, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” What if it were you? What if it was your son or your daughter? How would you want them to be treated? We treat others as we want to be treated—with kindness, empathy, and grace.

Dear God, I come to you as your beloved child. Thank you for surrounding me in your love and mercy. Help me to remember your faithfulness and to trust in your plan. You have promised that your grace is sufficient, both for my current circumstances and for every day of my future. Bring strength out of my weakness. In Jesus’s name, amen.

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Handling Life's Problems

Ready to Build, Ready to Battle

“Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens loaded themselves so that everyone worked with one hand and held a weapon in the other.” (Nehemiah 4:17)

Have you ever tried to do two things at once? It can be tough. In Nehemiah, the people working on rebuilding the wall in Jerusalem had to be ready at all times to build or to battle.

Their city was in shambles. The wall that should have protected them and their families was nothing but ashes and rubble. They were surrounded and regularly attacked by enemies who would like nothing better than to see them fail or see them destroyed. For generations, no one did anything about the dangerous condition of the walls of Jerusalem. Until Nehemiah showed up.

But what to do first? Build the wall? Or fight the enemy? Spoiler alert: They did both.

They didn’t stop building because there was an enemy. No, in the face of the enemy, they began digging out the rubble. They began setting stone upon stone. And, they didn’t ignore the enemy because they were building. They built, but they also remained constantly ready to battle, weapons in hand. We too must build, and we must also stay ready to battle an enemy attack.

Nehemiah 4:13 says, “I stationed the people to stand guard by families…” Nehemiah assigned the people to work as families. He told them to stop being afraid of the enemy and, instead, to remember the greatness of God. He said, “Fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses” (Nehemiah 4:14). They were building for the safety of their family. They were fighting for the future of their family.

Friend, we’re in the same situation. We’ve got an enemy who would love to see our family fail or be destroyed. We’re building and fighting for the salvation and future of our family. Our family may not look like what we expected. Difficult circumstances may have left our families with broken places that need rebuilt. We may be afraid or discouraged, but we can choose to remember the greatness of God and turn our hearts and hands to doing the work needed to rebuild and fight.

Where we find weaknesses in our ourselves or our family, we rebuild. We listen and pray. We adjust and make changes. We seek counseling. We put down our screens and interact with our family. We read the Bible and we apply what we read to our lives. Rebuilding requires effort. It can be tiring, but the end result is worth the work.

When we encounter attacks from the enemy, we fight. Our weapons are the Word (Ephesians 6:17), our worship (2 Chronicles 20:21), and resistance (James 4:7). Our enemy isn’t our spouse or our children. Our enemy is Satan, who wants to destroy our families. If our family is under spiritual attack, we rely on the Word, worship, and resistance to defeat our enemy.

Here’s some good news: If you fight for your family, God will fight for you! (See Nehemiah 4:20.) That ought to put a spring in your step and confidence in your soul. Friend, don’t give up on your family without a fight. If you fight for your family, God will fight right beside you. You won’t fight alone. God is with you. He loves you. He loves your family. And he promises he will fight for you.

Dear God, thank you for my family. Make me an example of a Godly person to everyone in my family. Give me discernment to see where there are weaknesses in my family and give me strength and wisdom to rebuild. When my family is under attack, give me courage and determination to fight. I give you my family. I give you my life. Let my life lead the next generation to you. In Jesus’s name, amen.

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Handling Life's Problems

Hide It or Handle It?

“For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.” (Luke 8:17)

Once there was a child with a very messy room. The child’s mother instructed him to clean the room, to put all the dirty clothes in the laundry room, all the toys in the toy box, and to sweep the floor. Soon—too soon—the child came back and told the mother the room was clean.

The mother was surprised to find the room looking neat and in good order. But closer inspection revealed all the clothes, both clean and dirty, shoved under the bed. The toys were pushed in the corner of the closet. Suspecting the worst, the mother picked up the rug and found all the dirt had been swept under it.

You see, the child didn’t want to handle the mess in the room; he just wanted to hide it.

We can fall into a similar situation. Often, we don’t want to deal with the issues in our lives. We also don’t want others to know about them. So, we hide them. We conceal depression, loneliness, or pain behind a smile. We go to great lengths to keep our addictions, guilt, or even thoughts of suicide secret. Instead of handling our issues, we try to hide them.

We may think we’re hiding it well. We may even take pride in how well we hide our issues. But, friend, we can’t hide our issues from God. He already knows all our issues. Nothing is hidden from him, and all the things we think we’re hiding will eventually be brought out into the open.

God doesn’t want us to hide our issues. And he doesn’t want us to handle them alone. He already knows our issues, loves us anyway, and longs to step into our lives and heal the issues we so desperately try to hide.

Revelation 3:20 says, “Look! I have been standing at the door, and I am constantly knocking. If anyone hears me calling him and opens the door, I will come in and fellowship with him and him with me.” Jesus is ready and willing right now to enter into your situation. He’s knocking. But he waits for your invitation.

Inviting Jesus into your situation is the beginning of change. Do you really want to keep dealing with those issues in your life? Do you want to be free of the pain, released from the oppression, and healed of the hurt? Would you like to stop pretending you’re OK? The first step is to invite Jesus into your situation.

He’s knocking right now. Will you invite him in?

Jesus, thank you for continuously knocking at the door of my heart. I invite you into my situation right now. I’m tired of pretending I’m OK. I’m tired of hiding what I’m actually feeling in my heart and dealing with in my life. I’m ready for a change. I invite you to step into the middle of my mess and help me move toward healing and wholeness. In Jesus’s name, amen.