Retaining Our Focus

“Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4)

My niece Meghan was an outstanding middle-distance track athlete in high school, frequently winning her events. At the team’s annual awards banquet her sophomore year, the coach said of her, “Meghan learned to run through pain,” a quality often distinguishing the best from the rest. She had grown in grit, exchanging comfort for excellence; she had matured as a runner and become a winner. Perseverance has a transforming effect all its own, and Meghan was named the “most improved” member of the team that season.

It was James, the Lord’s brother, who wrote, “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.”1 We know from Paul the test of physical persecution, of course, yet our trials also include worldly enticements that distract us and devilish deceptions that discourage us from growing up into Kingdom effectiveness. Jesus taught, for instance, when we let “life’s worries, riches and pleasures” choke us like weeds, we remain immature and unfruitful.2 Too, He said we can expect people to insult, persecute and falsely say all kinds of evil against us because of Him.3 These are meant to intimidate us, yet in reality they are but hindrances and entanglements we are called to “throw off” as we “run with perseverance the race mapped out for us.”4 For we run not just to reach a finish line: there is impactful work for us along the way. Indeed, Jesus said that by persevering those who hear the word and retain it produce a good crop.5 Paul summarized a life of purposeful pursuit this way: “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”6

Then we run with focus, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith,”7 and we “consider him who endured such opposition … so that [we] will not grow weary and lose heart.”8 “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,” we, like Paul, “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [us] heavenward in Christ Jesus.9 For “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”10 We mature as runners; we become winners.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:25)

Father, lead us in the course you’ve mapped out for us today. Strengthen us to throw off all that would hinder and entangle us. Grace us to fix our eyes on you and to run well in Christ. Amen.

1 James 1:2, 3
2 Luke 8:14
3 Matthew 5:11
4 Hebrews 12:1
5 Luke 8:15
6 Acts 20:24
7 Hebrews 12:2
8 Hebrews 12:3
9 Philippians 3:13, 14
10 2 Corinthians 4:17, 18


Rethinking Our Suffering

“Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”1 Paul, to Timothy

Now come the veterans. The parade has delighted us with bands playing, horses clopping, notables waving, and candy strewn to scampering children. And now come the veterans of war. We smile, wave, cheer and salute, all to honor those who battled to protect our freedoms. Yet our appreciation of liberty is faint compared to theirs, for who can identify with freedom as those who have risked everything, sacrificed dearly, and grieved deeply to preserve it? What words could they possibly speak to convey an understanding only they can know?

Though all of the apostles endured persecution for proclaiming Christ as Lord, Paul’s life was especially characterized by it. He was imprisoned more often, flogged more severely, exposed to death more repeatedly, thrice beaten with rods, and shipwrecked three times, as well; the list goes on.2 We naturally recoil at the extremes of his afflictions, quietly questioning, perhaps, our resolve to endure the same, yet it was in suffering for Jesus that Paul grew to understand Him more deeply, trust Him more completely, and rejoice in Him more fully. “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties,” reflected the battle-tested veteran, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”3 Recalling a time when he and his companions found themselves “under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure,”4 Paul ultimately realized, “this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God.”5 He had grown to “glory in [his] sufferings, because … suffering produces perseverance … character … and hope”6 in God whose “love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”7

Many believers have incurred at least some degree of rejection or ridicule for our faith in Christ, and in some parts of the world we endure terrible persecution. As we consider our journey, though, wouldn’t you agree it is not marginalization or ostracism for the sake of Christ we regret, rather the times we suppressed our faith to avoid it? We cannot “do-over” these weaker moments of our past, but we can let them remind us that the sting of opportunities lost pains us far more than any cost of opportunities seized. Wrote Peter, “It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil;”8 moreover, in these times, we identify more closely with Christ Jesus who endured rejection and wrath for us. So, “If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”9 “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”10 Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Father, however you call me today to share the gospel of your Son or to serve in His name, send your Spirit to lead me, and if I must suffer for doing good, sustain me with joy. Amen.

1 2 Timothy 2:3
2 2 Corinthians 11:23-29
3 2 Corinthians 12:10
4 2 Corinthians 1:8
5 2 Corinthians 1:9
6 Romans 5:3, 4
7 Romans 5:5
8 1 Peter 3:17
9 1 Peter 4:16
10 2 Corinthians 4:17


Remembering Our Call

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.” (Galatians 5:13)

Valuing input from local marketplace perspectives, our leadership team had convened a group of independent insurance agents who sold our company’s products in their respective cities and towns. When the conversation tangentially alluded to the regulatory climate in a neighboring state, one of the sales professionals quipped, “In [that state], a crooked politician is one who won’t stay bought!” We all had a good guffaw at the easy target of “politics as usual,” yet the story is reminiscent of a deeper purpose for us who have found full and forever life in Christ—our call to stay free.

The young Galatian church had found themselves infiltrated and influenced by those insisting on gaining God’s favor through legalistic means, and it showed. “Where is that joyful and grateful spirit you felt?”1 Paul asked of their fleeting joy. “After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?”2 Now, if anyone understood the end result of human effort, it was Paul, “a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees”3 and “extremely zealous for the traditions of [his] fathers.”4 “As for righteousness,” he once recalled, “I obeyed the law without fault.”5 Then what did human accomplishments and worldly accolades gain for the apostle? “I consider everything a loss,” he wrote, “because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”6 Paul had sought God’s favor through the merit of his own perfection, only to find it through the grace and perfection of Christ. There was no comparison, and there was no going back.

“Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.”7 Paul’s words speak as much to us as to the Galatians, so how do we remain in spiritual freedom, and where do we regain “that joyful and grateful spirit”? Personally, I have found that, whenever I find myself in despair, doubt, anxiousness and the like, the best thing to do is to savor what is true, that in His initiating love God called us to Himself—boldly and by name. “And having called [us], he gave [us] right standing with himself … he gave [us] his glory.”8 In Christ, we have God’s favor; we are free from the impossible task of earning it. May we then stay free, and may we freely live.

Father, though I know I cannot earn your love, I’m still tempted to try. Remind me of your boundless love for me, that I’d freely serve others in gratitude and joy. Amen.

1 Galatians 4:15 NLT
2 Galatians 3:3 NLT
3 Acts 23:6
4 Galatians 1:14
5 Philippians 3:6 NLT
6 Philippians 3:8, 9
7 Galatians 5:1 NLT
8 Romans 8:30 NLT