By BARB LOWNSBURY
What a roller coaster ride these last few months have been! Watching the world stumble through COVID-19, isolating from the people we love and do life with, walking around in face masks; it feels other-worldly sometimes. I have these moments where I can almost forget everything going on around me, moments where my life seems normal. But when I hear the news, or go out and see the face masks, or talk with another financially or emotionally struggling friend, reality marches in, demanding my attention.
I talk a lot about the importance of creating a God-given vision for our lives. I have witnessed and experienced the power that comes from letting the Creator of the Universe drive my ship versus take off in a direction that looks good to me. But how do I do that in the midst of a world-wide pandemic? How can I still find joy in the midst of financial, emotional and physical challenges?
Like many, I started out strong at the beginning. But as the days rolled into weeks and the weeks rolled into months, I came to the end of myself and landed squarely before the Lord. It is here, on my knees, that I am finally able to reach for His vision for me in the midst of COVID-19. I have three objectives He is working on within me:
#1 - Strength of Character: I’ve always thought I had a strong character. What time has shown me is that I’m strong-willed. Those two things are not the same. Character is more about the qualities that make up who I am, the thoughts running through my mind, and who I am when no one else is around. Being strong-willed has more to do with pushing hard no matter what, of being determined, regardless of whether or not the path I’m on is best. When I’m working on developing my character with God, He provides the strength I need to continue (not me).
God has profoundly changed me over the years. If I gave you the long version of who I was versus who I am now, it would be a fat book. Yet looming ahead of me are all the ways I still need to grow in my faith. I’m still entirely too selfish. My thoughts are still dominated by self-concern. I can still feel cowardly and cheated in the midst of opposition. I’m tempted to quit.
How do I deal with that big, fat upcoming novel of growth? I don’t. I don’t have to. God’s character vision for me is to keep running back to Him. To throw out the list and let Him do His work within me. To pray, and then release it back into His capable hands. And to not get off my knees or move from a posture of humility until fear, worry and anxiety turn to peace, trust and hope. As I do that, He produces within me the very thing I need. I find myself being able to focus outward again, ready to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
My character go-to scripture: “Being punished isn’t enjoyable while it is happening—it hurts! But afterwards we can see the result, a quiet growth in grace and character. So take a new grip with your tired hands, stand firm on your shaky legs, and mark out a straight, smooth path for your feet so that those who follow you, though weak and lame, will not fall and hurt themselves but become strong” (Hebrews 12:11-13, TLB).
#2 – Emotional Resiliency: Also known as perseverance or the ability to bounce back. I think this has become the hardest piece of growth for me, a pivotal piece of what God is trying to develop. Maybe it has to do with that fat book of what I’ve overcome, I don’t know. But sometimes I’m just tired. I get tired of fighting my thoughts. I get tired of having to face yet another trial. I start feeling sorry for myself or viewing change as impossible. I just want to hit the easy button and have life go my way. Unrealistic, of course, but tantalizing nevertheless.
On days when the bills are piling up but funds are low, when I wonder if I’ll ever be able to believe in myself the way God does, or when I wonder if I’m crazy for running after Jesus when it doesn’t always make sense, I’m learning to stop. Be still. Remind myself of who God is and how He’s blessed. I see Him moving and I know—I KNOW—God is faithful and He will bring His good work for each of us who seek Him into completion.
I do this by reading the Psalms. I listen to praise and worship music. I read through Hebrews 11, the “Hall of Faith,” to get inspired. I read through my prayer journal and look at all the answered prayers, all the fulfilled prophecies in my life. I remember the huge blessings that took decades to arrive, and the huge blessings that happened so quick they took my breath away. And I remember how perfect God’s timing has been in my life over and over again.
My resiliency go-to scripture: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters. whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
Which leads to #3 – Joy: There’s a byproduct that comes from reminding myself of God’s faithfulness: joy. The more I struggle, the more important it becomes for me to remember the good that is happening all around, to intentionally call it to the front of my mind. To surround myself with the scriptures just like the ones I’m sharing that remind me of what is true, of what really matters. I want to be able to face COVID-19 with joy in my heart not because it earns me anything with God; but because I know God continues to complete His great work in me for His glory as I go through it.
Peace that passes understanding. Joy in the midst of the storm. Running with purpose the race marked out for me. Only Jesus offers this to us. I had a hard time nailing this down to one scripture, and joy is conspicuously missing from the list, but I felt this one summed up God’s vision for me the best because it reminds me I already have all I need.
My joy go-to scripture: “We have everything we need to live a life that pleases God. It was all given to us by God’s own power, when we learned that he had invited us to share in his wonderful goodness. God made great and marvelous promises, so that his nature would become part of us. Then we could escape our evil desires and the corrupt influences of this world. Do your best to improve your faith. You can do this by adding goodness, understanding, self-control, patience, devotion to God, concern for others, and love. If you keep growing in this way, it will show that what you know about our Lord Jesus Christ has made your lives useful and meaningful” (1 Peter 1:3-8, CEV).
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT: I’m not discouraged today. Rather, I am a flawed human being trying to work through a tough situation with faith. It isn’t always easy, but I believe it's worthwhile. Take a look at the scriptures above, is there anything that really stood out? Maybe a promise you need to claim or a stance of faith you feel challenged to take? Pray about it with God today.
As we continue to move forward through all of the ramifications of this epidemic, my challenge for you is to craft your own vision with God. What is He trying to grow in you through this situation? Pick 2-3 areas to focus on through prayer and Bible study.
I’d love to hear about what you do and to pray for you, so please post!
PRAYER: Papa, I need you every hour of every day. I don’t always know what to do or how to do it, but I know you always do. Thank you for that, and for being my rock I can lean on. I know you hem me in from in front and behind. I know you stoop down to make me great, broadening the path beneath my feet so I won’t stumble. How kind you are! How mighty! May I find a way to honor and glorify you today, Lord, someone to serve and build into. Thank you for your lavish grace. Always, always you are good. In Jesus’ mighty name I pray. Amen.
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