Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: failure

Trusting enough

Turn on a news broadcast or read through the headlines on any webpage, and it’s easy to get discouraged about the direction the world is heading in.  Despite humanity’s best efforts and good intentions, we continue to slide down the slope toward self-destruction. 

I am reminded of Jesus’ last words in the Bible, where He says

Revelation 22:20
“Yes, I am coming quickly.”

And I think how quickly is quickly?  How bad does it have to get?  How many more atrocities will God allow us to inflict on one another before He steps in and says “ENOUGH”?  How much more opposition will we have to deal with until God finally rescues us?

Despite warning Timothy about the difficulties, and instructing him on how to deal with them, Paul didn’t want Timothy to totally focus on how hard his task was or how long it would last.

1 Timothy 6:13-14
In the presence of God, who gives life to all, and before Christ Jesus, who gave a good confession before Pontius Pilate, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in His own time. 

Timothy’s “mission completed” point isn’t when he thinks Christ should be coming back, instead it is when God the Father decides…which [He] will bring about in His own time

And why could Timothy trust God’s timing?  Ephesus wasn’t an easy place, it was a melting pot of sinful cultures.  There were popular views about God that were completely false.  There were people in charge that didn’t even acknowledge God.  And there was plenty of opposition to Timothy defending the true gospel message.  I’m sure there were times when he would have thought “Ok, God…You can send Jesus back anytime time now…”

In the next sentence, Paul reminds Timothy of who God is.  Do you think this resume supports God sending Jesus back in His own time?

1 Timothy 6:15-16
He is
the blessed and only Sovereign,
the King of kings,
and the Lord of lords,
the only One who has immortality,
dwelling in unapproachable light,
whom none of mankind has seen or can see,
to whom be honor and eternal might.
Amen.

In addition to remembering our good confession, the way Timothy would keep going with his mission was to remember who gave him his marching orders. 

Since God gives life to all, do I trust Him with what He says I should do with my life?  When I read through the God’s resume in verses 15-16, do those attributes convince me that God also knows what He’s doing when it comes to the timing of Christ’s return?

Instead of wondering “How much longer?”, our question should be “How can I trust Him today?”.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The pressure of being young and in charge

New leaders often feel the pressure to “prove” they belong in their position.  New young leaders feel this pressure even more.  If left unchecked, this pressure will kindle a leader’s internal worries of public failure.  Their fear of failure normally manifests itself in a variety of bad ways – becoming bossy, refusing counsel, trusting only themselves, stubbornness, condescending actions, or even expectations of special treatment because “I’m the boss”.

A boss who behaves this way will undermine the aim and purpose of the organization they are supposed to lead.  Don’t think these fears and actions are isolated to just business leadership.  You’ll find them in any organization – volunteer groups, military, even your local church. 

When Paul left Timothy in charge of the church in Ephesus, he knew that he was leaving the congregation in capable hands.  However, Paul also understood some of the challenges that Timothy would likely face. 

Throughout his letter, Paul warns about the kinds of disputes Timothy will face as he leads the church in Ephesus.  When disagreements came up, it was certainly possible that someone would try to use Timothy’s age as a reason to discredit his leadership.  At this time, Timothy is likely in his late 20s, or possibly his early 30s.

So Paul gives this instruction to his protégé:

1 Timothy 4:11-12
Command and teach these things.  No one should despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.

Whenever I get the chance to encourage other fathers, especially fathers of young boys, I use phrases like “more is caught than taught” and “you must be the man you want them to be”.  In the long run, parenting is easier if we model the lessons we insist our children learn.  The same goes for leaders in the church.

Additionally, as Timothy did his best to emulate Jesus, there was a specific scene in Jesus’ life that he could have found reassuring.  Recall that at age 12 – still considered a child by Jewish society standards – Jesus was conversing with the teachers of the law in the temple, astounding them with his understanding and answers (see Luke 2:41-50).

Timothy couldn’t stop someone from questioning his position due to his youthfulness.  However, he could proactively prevent many concerns by how he conducted himself in his position.  The limitations other perceive in us are always overcome by our actions.  As Timothy modeled Christ-like behavior, his example would give him the credibility that his youthful age would not.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Practical application: parenting

In Colossians 3:18-19, Paul pointed out the oh-so-practical place to practice living like Christ – in our relationship with our spouse.  His next connection stays within the immediate family and is just as practical.

Colossians 3:20-21
Children obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing in the Lord.  Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so they won’t become discouraged.

As parents, we love this first sentence.  We secretly relish when the preacher or our kid’s group leader brings up teaching like this.  They need to hear this, we congratulate ourselves.  Maybe if they keep hearing from other adults, they’ll do it more at home.  Wouldn’t that be nice…

Paul gives the Colossian Christian children this command – obey your parents in everything – because it’s something they need to learn.  Let’s camp out on that thought for a moment…obedience is something that children need to learn.  They’re not going to get it right away.  Their entire focus is on their own needs, and not the needs of others.  Obedience is like any other skill we develop as we grow and mature…it’s going to take time, it’s going to take practice, and there are going to be failures along the way.

How we handle our children’s failures will heavily influence them…in their childhood for sure, but our actions will also echo throughout the rest of their lives.  We know this because we still feel the echoes from our own upbringing, but for some reason we tend to forget that reality the moment we’re dealing the shortcomings of our own kids.

More than any person in a child’s life, we fathers have the greatest influence in this area.  Apologies to all the moms out there, but we just do.  And the impact we fathers have on our child’s perspective is even greater than we realize.  Paul warns against discouraging our children, and the word he chose relates to feeling disheartened, dispirited, or broken in spirit.  A father’s reaction to his son or daughter’s failure is truly a make-or-break moment.

Paul says we push our children toward discouragement if we exasperate them.  When we push them to their whit’s end because of our insistence on “getting it right”, or when we bring them to angry tears just to make sure they understand and “get it” – whenever we take our authority too far, we run the risk of exasperating them. 

Unfortunately, I have been guilty of doing just that to my children many times over the years.  It typically happens when I’m rigidly demanding more than my son can give…and he cannot meet the standard I’ve set for him.  If my expectation was too high for his skill level, then he is doomed to failure even before he begun.  Instead of recognizing I set the bar to high, at times I’ve even doubled back and berated them for missing the mark.  I know when I’ve gone too far, too – I can see it in their eyes as they stare at the floor, their shoulders sink in despair, and their posture communicates that they’ve completely given up.

A child of any age can become exasperated and discouraged, but it is especially easy when they are young.  This doesn’t mean we don’t confront error or that we should only give easy challenges to our children; rather we need to actively match our expectations with our children’s abilities, and then be willing to be both gentle and firm as we lovingly deal with their failures.  Men, our ability to guard against this damaging practice is for us to apply the Christ-driven characteristics that Paul listed in the preceding context of 3:12-17

…put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…
…forgive one another…just as the Lord has forgiven you…
…above all, put on love…
…be thankful…
…let the message of the Messiah dwell richly among you…
…whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus…

Our children’s hearts and maturity depend on it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Interceding on our behalf

Most Christians are familiar with the story of Peter denying Christ three times.  This event happened at arguably the worst possible time – after Jesus had been arrested and then brought before the Jewish religious leaders at a secretive, illegal nighttime tribunal.  Even though Jesus being deserted by all of His disciples was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, none of them saw it coming.

During the Last Supper, Jesus had given this warning:

Luke 22:31-32 “Simon, Simon, look out!  Satan has asked to sift you like wheat.  But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.  And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

The “you” in Satan has asked to shift you like wheat is plural.  Sifting wheat was a filtering process that removed dirt, rocks, and chaff from the valuable wheat kernels.  Satan certainly wasn’t advocating that the disciples be purified and have the chaff of their lives removed – rather, Satan was accusing the disciples of being useless chaff, and he wanted the opportunity to prove it. 

The you” in the rest of Jesus’ words are singular.  The upcoming denial of knowing Jesus is going to severely shake the guy who has been known among the disciples as “the rock”.  Jesus is specifically telling Peter that He has interceded for him, not to the exclusion of the other disciples, but because he will need to know this information.  Later on, Peter will be able to look back and remember Jesus’ encouraging words.

When speaking of God’s unfailing love toward those who believe, Paul also mentioned a similar situation to the believers in Rome:

Romans 8:34 Christ Jesus is the One who died, but even more, has been raised; He also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us.

Christ’s prayerful intercession between Peter and God the Father wasn’t a one-time thing.  He now acts on behalf of all believers.  Jesus hears the accusations of Satan, knows our weaknesses, and then intercedes on our behalf to God the Father.

How incredible is that?

There are troubles on the horizon that we don’t see coming.  When our failures in those situations shake our faith, we need to remember that we have an advocate.  We haven’t been abandoned due to our mistakes.  We can take a lot of encouragement from remembering that Jesus is on our side…just like Peter did.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Prayer and victory

At one point during His ministry, Jesus had a mission for his disciples. 

Mark 6:7,12-13 He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out in pairs and gave them authority over unclean spirits…So they went out and preached that people should repent.  And they were driving out many demons, anointing many sick people with oil, and healing.

Sometime after they returned, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a mountain to pray.  While there, Jesus was transfigured and the three with Him saw him speaking with Moses and Elijah.  However, another scene was unfolding with the nine disciples who were left down below.

Mark 9:14-18 When they came to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and scribes disputing with them.  All of a sudden, when the whole crowd saw Him, they were amazed and ran to greet Him.  Then He asked them, “What are you arguing with them about?”

Out of the crowd, one man answered Him, “Teacher, I brought my son to You.  He has a spirit that makes him unable to speak.  Wherever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid.  So I asked Your disciples to drive it out, but they couldn’t.”

Jesus then casts out the demon and heals the child.  However, consider what has to be going through the minds of the nine disciples…What did I do wrong?...Why is this time any different from before, when Jesus sent us out two by two?...Did I approach the demon correctly?...Did I say the right thing?  These guys were dumb-founded while the crowd around them rejoiced at the miracle healing that Jesus had performed. 

In the ancient world, magicians would seek to hit the right combination of sayings, motions, and use of instruments to cast out demons.  It was all considered a matter of technique – and that’s likely what the nine disciples were arguing with the scribes about before Jesus arrived.  Their inability to cast out the demon bothered them so much that they had to find out why it didn’t happen.

Mark 9:28-29 After He went into a house, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”  And He told them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”

Jesus’ answer is both unexpected and instructive.  While the disciples were looking for something that they could do so they could cast out the demon, Jesus instead points them to how they can rely on the One who truly is casting out the demon.  Everything Jesus has demonstrated and taught them about prayer was God-focused, not self-focused.  The disciples were unable to have victory in this situation because they were looking to themselves for power, rather than looking to God.

I find this very instructive…there have been times when, by God’s grace and power, I’ve escaped from habitual sin or a sin-soaked situation.  However, when that same problem arises later, my first thought is something along the lines of “I’ve got this. I beat this before, I can do it again.”  Unfortunately, that’s when I am most prone to failure.  Previous results do not guarantee future victories.  That is because victory only happens when I am trusting in God’s strength and not my own.

Prayer is the way we stay connected to God.  God-focused praying ensures that we have the correct perspective on God as well as the situation at hand – so that when the battle is brought to us, we will act in His authority and power.  This isn’t just a one-time infusion either, instead each time we step out to do our God-given mission, we need to recognize that our authority and power flow from God.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Looking forward

As believers, how do we manage the battle that goes on inside us?  Paul made the perceptive observation in his letter to the Christians living in Rome:

Romans 7:19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.

It wasn’t just the Christians in Rome who struggled with this.  Paul also addressed how to deal with this inner turmoil in his letter to Titus:

Titus 2:12-13 [The grace of God] teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age

I think we all want to say “No” to the things we know aren’t good for us.  Living a life that is self-controlled, upright, and godly certainly seems like an attractive alternative…but we also have some doubts about that kind of life.  We wonder things like “Can I really live like that?” and “Is a godly life truly fulfilling?” and “What if it’s hard, or even boring?”

It’s at this point that many of us just try a little bit, lose the fight a few times, and then check out.  We entertain thoughts that sound a lot like “I gave it my best shot” or “I’m too much of a mess to have any significant change” or “Maybe I’m not cut out for this Christian life like other people seem to be”.

When we have discouraging times like these, we’ll find us glaring at ourselves in the moment.  We have a very limited perspective because we are narrowly focusing on a particular failure, or even characterizing our past as “bad” due to our present failures.  Instead of looking back, we need to look forward.  We need to broaden our view to include God’s future plan for us, both individually and for all of us who trust him as our Savior. 

But if I should look forward, then what I should look forward to?  What event am I waiting for, what am I hoping will someday happen that will actually be “good”?

Titus 2:12-13 [The grace of God] teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,

When we fail, when we say “Yes” to the ungodliness and worldly passions within us, the last thing we need to do is wallow in our sin and self-pity.  Instead, look forward to Christ’s coming.  God’s grace – the gift of Christ himself – continues to work in you even after accepting him as Savior.  In the very next verse, Paul reminds Titus that it was Jesus

Titus 2:14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. 

Jesus has not abandoned us to figure out this Christian life all on our own.  His mission is twofold – redemption of sinners and purification of his people.  Today’s failures do not negate his purpose toward you.

So, what do we look forward to, what event are we waiting for?  Keeping our eyes on his coming keeps us focused on Jesus, remembering that we are a people that are his very own, and that he is actively training us to be eager to do what is good.

Keep Pressing,
Ken