Endurance (Part 4): Keep Moving Forward

“But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus–the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.” Acts 20:24

I am completely fixated on the life of the Apostle Paul. Here is a man that began his life in pursuit of persecuting followers of Jesus and ends up becoming one of the greatest Apostles that ever lived. I began reading in the book of Acts a couple of weeks ago and it covers how Paul was transformed into a follower of Christ. As I was reading this, I could not stop asking myself, “Why Paul? What was so special about him that God hand-picked him to be such a vital instrument to expand the Kingdom of God?” I wrestled with this thought for quite a while before I flipped my mindset from ‘Why Paul?’ to ‘Why not Paul?’

When God met Paul on the Damascus Road, he took his sight and forced Paul to rely on faith. He gave him an assignment and Paul kept moving forward. He walked into the unknown and allowed God to be his guide. This meeting between God and Paul became his testimony that he used time and again as he went from city to city proclaiming the name of Jesus. His testimony became one of the most powerful tools that he used to bring Gentiles to Jesus. If you remember, Paul was a Pharisee. They persecuted followers of Jesus because they were teaching outside of the Law of Moses. Paul was a self-righteous hypocrite, and yet God still had a plan for him!! This man watched people get beaten and killed and he approved of it, but God saw what Paul could become.

Now, Paul’s journey was not easy. He was told that his life would be full of suffering and imprisonment, but he did not care because he knew what his purpose was (Acts 20:24). Every time he found himself in a situation that looked impossible, he KEPT MOVING FORWARD and relied on his faith because that is what radically changed his life in the first place. Paul was able to endure so well because he accepted the will of God for his life and knew what his purpose was and nothing was going to stop him from accomplishing that. There is a particular part of Paul’s journey that got my attention as I was reading. While Paul was being transferred from Jerusalem to Rome as a prisoner awaiting trial, he had to endure so much over that time. He was bound on a ship that had to sail across the Mediterranean Sea in order to get to Rome and ended up shipwrecked on the island of Malta (Acts 27). Paul’s ability to endure in all of this seems supernatural, but his faith in God is what caused him to keep moving forward.

Shipwrecked

As the ship was sailing across the sea during the winter season, there was a massive storm that did not end for fourteen straight days! The captain of the ship could no longer keep its heading and finally succumbed to the strength of the storm.

“The terrible storm raged for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone.” Acts 27:20

Everyone on board lost complete hope and figured death was inevitable. Paul, as a prisoner, never waivered and reminded the crew of what God told him. Paul used that moment to magnify God and bring hope to a hopeless situation. During this shipwreck, not a single crew member or prisoner died, just as God had promised. After landing on the island of Malta, Paul was gathering sticks to make a fire and was bitten by a poisonous snake. Are you kidding me? As if he has not had to endure enough on this journey? A demon-possessed (all snakes are demons to me because I hate them) snake bites Paul and does not let go. The crew sees this happen and watches as Paul shakes the snake off of his hand and throws it into the fire. They thought that Paul was going to fall over dead, but realized, after a while, that he was going to be just fine.

What happened next is a pivotal moment. The crew determined after the snake incident that Paul must be a god, but they completely missed that the entire time they were on that journey that Paul was pointing to God the entire time! That was the only reason he was able to endure!! Paul gave all glory to God and realized that the persecution he would have to endure was nothing compared to the glory that was brought to God through it! He does all of this, still being a prisoner, and still awaiting trial in Rome.

“Paul did more for the Kingdom of God while in prison than most of us do with a lifetime of freedom.”

Why not you?

I don’t know about you, but when I read through Acts and read about how much Paul endured for the Kingdom, it made me realize that my problems are not that bad and it inspired me because I want to be able to have enough faith to endure like Paul. You see, when I asked myself the question of why did God select Paul, I was also asking God the same question about me. How could God use me after everything I have been through? How can God use me after all the mistakes I have made? How can God use me when I have so little faith? Then, at the same moment I flipped my thinking about Paul, I flipped my thinking about myself.

Why not me? Why can’t I be used by God and make such an impact for his Kingdom? What I have come to find out about myself is that I stand in my way more than anyone else. I am not going to give the enemy credit for standing in my way because my own thinking beat him to it! The enemy just took advantage of that situation and try to confirm my thoughts about myself. See, the enemy we have is smart. He didn’t dig the hole that my thinking put me in, all he did was give me the shovel. So how do I overcome this thinking? Where do I start? What kind of a journey do I need to go on? Well, I figure that it is similar to what happened to Paul. First off, I just pray the name of Jesus CONSTANTLY. Did you know that the name of Jesus is so strong that the enemy HAS to flee when Jesus’ name is proclaimed? Are you tired of being chastised and put down by the enemy? SCREAM the name of Jesus and the devil MUST flee.

God had to make Paul blind to force him to rely on faith to keep moving forward. I needed God to take the blinders off of my eyes so I could see the promises he has in front of me. The only way to keep increasing in faith is to keep moving forward. Keep moving into the unknown and let God work. Wouldn’t you rather be bound by the Holy Spirit than allow your own thoughts keep you captive? That is why Paul writes in Philippians to fix your thoughts on what is true, honorable, right, and pure. But it has to be intentional. I have to want to fix my thinking. This is extremely hard to do when going through trials and having to endure because I doubt my faith so easily. I start asking ‘Why God?’ way too soon. Instead of knowing that God is in control, I want to know why the heck life is so hard right now and what is the quickest way out. Ouch…. That is like a trial within a trial. When you are enduring and God wants to test your faithfulness to him. I will admit, when Paul was in prison the first time in Philippi, the minute that earthquake happened and the jail cells opened up, I would’ve been like ‘Bye Felicia I am free!’

In all seriousness though, how quick are we to put on our blinders in trials that we become so self-centered and miss what is going on around us? I know that I lack in this area and I need to start seeing what is going on around me and how I can use my circumstances to bring glory to God. Ultimately, I want to be used by God just as Paul was used but if I cannot simply endure for a time, then how in the heck do I expect God to use me for greater things? I am not saying that greater things only happen when we endure but being able to endure through some hard circumstances grows our faith and brings glory to God. God, I want to be better than this!! I want to know that when troubles and trials come my way, it is always an opportunity to bring glory to God. Don’t let your circumstances derail your faith.

If you want to be used by God to do great things for the Kingdom, then expect opposition and being driven far outside your comfort zone. God is not going to oppose our willingness to let Him work in our lives, but the enemy will. So expect a storm. Expect that trouble is coming. Don’t put the blinders up, but keep your eyes open to what is going on around you and know that God is taking care of it.

If you would like to learn more about what having a relationship with God is like, please reach out to me via the email link at the top of this page or through the contact tab found on the home page on this website. There is nothing that you have done in your life that can separate you from God. God longs for a relationship with you, but it requires us to surrender to his goodness. So, if you are on the fence about this whole God thing, I encourage you to take the leap, because a life with God is so much better than a life without God. Just know that your life is a life that is worth living!!

Endurance (Part 2): Becoming more like Paul

“But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus–the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.” Acts 20:24 NLT

Part one of this two-part series on endurance was very powerful for me personally. I write these blog posts because I am learning and applying these principles in my own life and I want to share with others what God is revealing to me. I can genuinely say that I am always excited when I am able to write about what God is revealing to me and I feel like it is a shame to not share that with others. If you did not get a chance to read part one of endurance, then STOP reading this right now! Go back and read it so you are not missing out on how these posts are built together.

What I am going to share with you today is building off of those principles mentioned in the first post through the life of one of the greatest Apostles: The Apostle Paul.

To be honest, I did not even plan on having another post about endurance, but God laid on my heart to read about the life of Paul, also known in the New Testament as Saul. Paul is probably most well-known for his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road that radically changed his life from a persecutor of believers to becoming an Apostle and leading so many others to Christ (Start reading in Acts). As great as that encounter was, that is not what jumped out to me when reading through the book of Acts. What stood out to me was when Paul and Silas were put in prison in Philippi. I have probably read these Scriptures numerous times and never even thought about stopping to understand the significance in this situation, but God obviously was showing me something that I needed to understand. I am going to post the Scripture and it is kind of long, but bear with me, it will be worth it I promise! Starting in Acts 16:25:

“Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. But Paul shouted to him. ‘Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!’

The jailer called for the lights and ran to the dungeon and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.’ And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household.” (Acts 16:25-32 NLT)

Now, the first thing that was brought to my attention was the fact that Paul and Silas were not complaining and asking God why they were put in prison, they were praying and worshipping to God! Why were Paul and Silas doing this? It was almost as if they were prepared to endure in that situation. If you go back and read about Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road, you will see that God CHOSE Paul to deliver the Good News and that he MUST suffer for proclaiming it.

“But the Lord said, ‘Go, for Saul (Paul) is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15-16 NLT)

Paul understood what he faced and still pursued it anyway. He was informed many times that he would be imprisoned but he kept pushing forward because he knew that his endurance would not be for nothing, that there would be good that would come out of it. This brings me to the rest of what stood out to me and it completely shook me to my core. After praying and worshipping to God, there was a massive earthquake that freed them and gave them a way out of the prison. But Paul and Silas STAYED PUT. Let me ask you this question, and it is the very question that I asked myself the minute this was revealed to me:

Have you ever been praying for God to create a seismic shift in your life to change the course that you are on because you did not understand why you were in a current situation?

This question hit me like a ton of bricks. Paul and Silas were in prison, praying and worshipping God, not complaining and asking why like some of us would (I know I would be). They knew they were right where they were supposed to be for a reason. They had a way of escape and could have walked out of that prison and been free to continue on their journey, but they stayed because being in that prison was apart of their journey.

Maybe the seismic shift that you have been needing to happen in your life is the same seismic shift that creates complete chaos in someone else’s life.

So what about the jailer? How does he fit into this? This seems like a rather insignificant part of the journey, but it turns out that this was the most important part, the very reason Paul and Silas were in that prison. You see, the earthquake that freed Paul and Silas was the same earthquake that made that jailer want to kill himself because immediate chaos occurred in his life and he lost all hope. But Paul and Silas never wavered from what their purpose was and PURSUED the jailer instead of fleeing from the confines of the prison cell. They understood that their situation was not about them and God was going to bring them through it no matter what, even if suffering had to occur. Paul and Silas were so intent on spreading the Good News and because of their unwavering faith and courage, they SAVED the jailer and his entire household.


But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus…

This is an extremely powerful passage of Scripture that revealed so much about myself that I need to work on. I want to become like Paul, to know that living a life for Christ is not easy and there will be times of enduring, times of suffering, but also times of celebrating and great joy because nothing is greater than knowing that our lives can be used to finish the work assigned to us by Jesus Christ, which is to bring hope to the lost, spread the Good News of eternal life through believing in Jesus, and making heaven more crowded.

If you are reading this post and you identify more with the jailer and are experiencing a seismic shift in your life that is making you contemplate everything, please DO NOT GIVE UP HOPE. Jesus Christ is alive today and we have that same hope of eternal life that the jailer chose when Paul pursued him. If you have more questions about Jesus or want to know about committing your life to Christ, please feel free to email me using the link at the top of this page, or by going to the contact page on the Home menu. I hope that this message inspired you as much as it inspired me to become more like Paul, enduring through my circumstances to understand that my purpose is not about me, it is about something greater than me.

Endurance

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, CONSIDER it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a CHANCE to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” James 1:2-4 (NLT)

In my last blog post, I spoke about how hard it is for me (and I am sure many others) to relinquish control to God. I develop so many worries that consume my mind when I try to control every detail and every situation of my life. It is exhausting and, most of the time, depressing. It is depressing because I can believe I have total control of a situation or a season of my life, only to have it completely unravel in a matter of seconds when things do not go according to MY plan. For me, relinquishing control does not mean letting go of the wheel and hope the car still steers straight, it means that I am still holding onto the wheel, but allowing God to guide my hands. It is working with God through OBEDIENCE not fighting for control.

“For wherever there is jealousy and SELFISH AMBITION, there you will find DISORDER and evil of every kind.” James 3:16 (NLT)

If I allow God to have complete control in my life, I better make sure that my faith is only in God and not divided between God and the world. Am I going to mess up? Of course. But I need to recognize my inadequacies without God and continue to relinquish control to Him on a daily basis. If I constantly have divided loyalty between God and the world, my life will be full of disorder and instability (James 1:6-8).

So what is relinquishing control?

Simple. Allowing God to have FULL control of my life is faith. If you can recall from my last post, faith is trusting that God has all of the details figured out in our lives and is working all things together for our good. If you did not get a chance to read that post, I encourage you to do so because I am going to be building off of each post and missing some posts may make this process confusing and difficult to follow. Out of everything in that last post, the one point that we all must understand is the purpose of God and the purpose of the enemy.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10 NASB

It is important to understand the role of the enemy and how God works in our lives because being able to identify temptation versus testing is vital in the process of building faith and endurance.

Testing or Temptation?

How do we distinguish between these two? How do we know if what we are experiencing is a test of our faith or if something is tempting us? Well, for me, a good way to distinguish between the two is to think of testing my faith as a trail and temptation as trouble. When we look at John 10:10, we can understand that the enemy’s sole purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy which is similar to causing trouble in our lives. On the other hand, Jesus came so that we can have life and have it abundantly. God tests our faith in order that we can endure through those trials and become better versions of ourselves by developing our faith in God.

Trial = Test

Trouble = Temptation

When going through trials or troubles, one thing to completely avoid is making hasty decisions or have quick reactions. This is why it is so important to recognize what exactly is happening in a given situation. Whatever the situation may be, God wants us to endure through it PATIENTLY (James 1:12). This is hard for me because I am not exactly what you would call a patient person and we do not live in a patient society. But developing patience in key moments gives me the opportunity to think clearly and go through the process the right way. Whatever your method is for distinguishing between trials and temptations may not be wrong, I am just sharing what has worked for me.

Endurance is a process…

Be patient. Step one. It is important to not allow my emotions to get the best of me in critical moments. Choose wisely. Step Two. I first pray and ask for wisdom in these situations in order to distinguish what is exactly going on. Most of the time, being able to understand testing from temptation is easy, but sometimes, it is very difficult and can hinder my growth if I am not careful. One thing that I am for certain about is that temptation never comes from God (James 1:13-15). Temptation comes from my own personal desires and the enemy will do everything to make those desires seem so attractive to lead me away. When I am able to recognize when I am being tempted, I FLEE. I do not want those desires to take root in me and cloud my decision-making. Personal desires birth sinful action and as that sin grows it eventually leads to death. So, just to be clear, temptation comes from an attraction to personal desire which can lead to sinful actions and as that sin grows it leads to death.

What is ironic about distinguishing between trials and troubles is that my process is literally the exact same. In both situations I try my best to be patient and pray before anything else. The difference in this distinction is knowing when to flee and when to endure. When I know God is testing my faith, I pray for wisdom and strength because I want to develop my faith in God and become more and more of the person he created me to be and less and less of the person I think I want to be (personal desire). This is such an important distinction because I can easily flee from the testing of my faith and fall into the trap of my own desires. So, I must remain alert to what is going on in these situations and seek God first before making any decision that I will more than likely regret.

The beautiful thing about going through this process of recognizing trial from temptation is the ability to also recognize my personal desire. This is huge because these desires can remain in our subconscious for a long period of time and be the catalyst behind some decisions that we may regret. However, when these desires are exposed, we can ask God for the strength to rebuke those desires and pursue righteousness in Him.

“Developed endurance builds self-discipline and makes personal desires less desirable”

This process is what it looks like to endure through trials and temptations for me. I continually want to develop my endurance and faith in God because there is no destination in God’s plan for me. However, there is always going to be something greater in store. I want to stay in line with what God has planned and want to be able to withstand the testing of my faith so I can deepen my relationship with God.

If none of this post makes any sense and you have no clue what it looks like to relinquish control to God but are curious about it, please reach out to me via the email link at the top of this page to talk more about it. A life with Jesus is so much better than a life without Him!