For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Have you ever been punched in the stomach? Hopefully not. I haven’t either. I have seen it plenty on TV though (ha ha). The character being punched doubles over, lets out a groan, and then needs time to regain composure and to gasp in the much-needed oxygen he lost due to the unexpected punch. The strong one recovers quickly and fights back; the weak one falls to the ground, unable to recover, and is in turn beat up even more.
Now as I said, I’ve never been physically punched, and I hope I never experience it, but yesterday I did feel spiritually punched. My husband told me something unexpected; he shared an e-mail he received which appeared ill-timed and “too little, too late.” The news took my breath away and caused me to double-over inside. Or as my mom said when I told her, “My heart just skipped a beat.” To have received this e-mail several months earlier would have caused rejoicing; receiving it yesterday felt like an evil practical joke–and I wasn’t laughing. In all honesty, the news made me want to cry.
But I didn’t cry. Why? Because God immediately began showing me that this spiritual punch was an opportunity. Would I take a deep breath, regain my composure, and continue marching forth? Or would I fall to the ground, thus allowing myself to go back to the way I used to be–weak and wounded?
I chose strength. I chose hope. Actually, what I have been learning lately–and what God is using this current situation to teach me–is hope not only does not disappoint but also it does not just wait around either. Hope marches forward as it waits expectantly. Hope trusts as it moves. Hope presses on.
Merriam-Webster defines pressing on as “to continue to do something, especially in a determined way” (find it here). To press on toward something then not only requires action, but determined action. Now to me, determination implies that whatever it is that is requiring me to press on is not an easy path. For instance, as a somewhat seasoned runner, completing a 5k on a flat road doesn’t require much pressing on for my part. I’ve run enough that a flat 5k is comfortable and relatively easy. I might even dare to say I’d enjoy it. However, a longer run on a hilly course would require me to press on toward the goal. I’d have to not only make sure I was dressed properly, but also I’d have to keep hydrated, eat properly beforehand, and continually remind myself along the way to keep going. There could be times I would want to stop and walk–maybe even quit the race altogether–but I’d press on toward the goal–toward the relief and joy of crossing that finish line. I would keep my eyes focused on the goal until I finished.
So yesterday, when I was given the unexpected news, even though I was indeed taken aback by it, and even though at first I wanted to curl up and quit the race, God quickly reminded me of Paul’s words in Philippians: I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).
If you haven’t figured it out by now, life is not an easy journey on a flat road. There are mountains. There are valleys. There are predators and storms that threaten our safety. We have to be watchful, on guard, and on the offensive all at once. We cannot be successful by just going forward listlessly day by day; we’d falter. If we didn’t march forth with determination, if instead we gave up at the slightest hill, valley, obstacle, or unexpected e-mail, we’d be tossed to and fro like waves of the sea. We’d not only be tossed by the waves, we’d drown in them.
Yet God did not call us to Himself to be swept away, He called us to victory and to freedom. And “if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).
Therefore, instead of submitting again to slavery (Galatians 5:1), I have decided to choose strength. To choose life. To choose hope. To choose pressing on with confidence. Yet I don’t choose my strength, for my strength would leave me struggling for breath. I choose His strength, for His “strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). I don’t breathe in my own understanding and my own thoughts about the way I believe life should go, I breathe in “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). I don’t place my hope in the things of this world, for “the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17).
I press on with confidence. Yet the confidence I use to press on is not my own. Sure, I can be stubborn and persistent. Actually, if you were to ask those who know me well, they will indeed tell you I am very stubborn and very persistent–maybe even annoyingly so. Yet my own stubborn determination will only get me so far. My human strength, although it may get me moving, will not keep me moving and it definitely will not enable me to finish the race. Confidence in me or in man is like building a house on the sand. The storms of life will knock it down.
Our hope and our confidence to press on must come from God. David–a man after God’s own heart and one who spent many years fleeing from Saul after God had already told him he would be king–says it so well in Psalm 62:
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
6 He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
7 On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
8 Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us. Selah
I will not be shaken. Say it out loud to yourself right now. I will not be shaken. Why? On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
God is our refuge. God is our strength. God is our very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1). In fact, because God is with us, we shall not fear the storms of life, and we definitely shall not fight them in our own strength–we must be still and know He is God (Psalm 46:10). Yet being still is not stopping; rather, it is just not striving. I don’t need to strive against the waves in my own strength. I don’t need to try to figure out my future on my own. I need only to continue moving forward in faith and in confidence that God will be the one who exalts Himself (Psalm 46:10). For “if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:30)
So I encourage you today in the ways God has been encouraging me. First, “do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself” (Matthew 6:34). Even more, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7). God knows your heart more than you know it. He knows the cries of your heart before they ever leave your lips (Psalm 139). So as you thank Him for all He has and continues to do–even the things you don’t understand–and then after you openly share your heart with Him, leave those anxieties and those fears at His feet. And “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
Also, in addition to surrendering your fears and your human understanding before His throne, you must also then get up, dust yourself off, and speak. But don’t speak your own words. Speak His Truth. For it is His truth that sets us free (John 8:32). Speak His Truth to that mountain. Speak His Truth to that valley. Speak His Truth to that giant. Speak His Truth to the future that suddenly became unclear. Speak. And Believe.
When Jesus tells us in Matthew 17:20, “if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you,” He is reminding us the object of our faith is more important than the size of it. All we need is a little faith as long as our faith is in our big God. If God calls us out of the boat to walk on the water as He did Peter, we must keep our eyes on Him, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). To place our eyes on the wind, the rain, the water, and the waves is to take our eyes off Him–and we’ll sink. Yet God promises us in Isaiah:
You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
4 Trust in the Lord forever,
for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.
God is my everlasting Rock. He is yours as well. So build your house on the Rock with me. And press on with me, my friend. Listen to that still small voice whispering confidently in your ear, “This is the way, walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21). Hear God speak to you each and every day, “Press on in the path I have set before you.” Press on through the pain. Press on through the fog. Press on knowing, “The Lord himself will go ahead of you. He will be with you. He will never leave you. He’ll never desert you. So don’t be afraid. Don’t lose hope” (Deuteronomy 31:8).
“Here is what I am commanding you to do. Be strong and brave. Do not be afraid. Do not lose hope. I am the Lord your God. I will be with you everywhere you go.” (Joshua 1:9)