I’m thinking about hard times today. A dear friend moved in with Jesus a few days ago. She courageously fought cancer. I hate to say she lost that battle. I mean, that’s the perplexing nature of our faith in Jesus, right? When we must leave this world (as we all must) did we lose or gain? Today she dances with Jesus – healed, whole, singing (she sang beautifully) and maybe even playing the piano (another talent of hers). Such a paradox.
Other friends and family of ours struggle with cancer, amputations, paralysis, diabetes, chronic lung and heart disease – I could keep going. The question that bubbles up in my heart is, “How do they keep going?” How have you and I kept going when we want to say stop and let us off this merry-go-round?
Recently I was listening to Pastor Mark Batterson speak about surviving tough, maybe even horrendous situations. He spoke of Vice Admiral James Stockdale. Mr. Stockdale was a Vietnam POW who spent 7 1/2 years in the infamous Hanoi Hilton. The story he told was griping and filled with faith. He quotes Mr. Stockdale, “I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted that I would get out but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life. Which in retrospect, I would not trade.”
When asked about why some did not make it out. “They were optimist. They thought, ‘We will be released by Christmas.’ Then Christmas came and went and they we were still there. ‘We will be out by Easter.’ ‘Thanksgiving…’ They died of a broken heart.”
Then, Mr. Stockdale is quoted as saying this, “Never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality whatever they may be.” Here is where you find the Stockdale paradox – confront the brutal facts but never lose faith.
This reminds me of a few Bible characters. Joseph and Paul were in desperate situations but they believed they would prevail. They believed that God had a plan and He would see it through. It also reminds me of my sweet stepdad, Tommy. Tommy was a POW in the Korean Conflict (lets not kid ourselves, that was a war!). He rarely speaks about it but one day he talked about some of the ways he survived. And, why some did not. He said, “I did what it took to make it.” That statement included many things he wished he would have never faced. He fought to live but also disciplined himself to face facts.
Job said it like this, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him…” Jesus speaks plainly in John 16:33. Fact, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows…” Promise, “But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
Pastor Mark gives us 3 points to encourage us:
- This too shall pass. Trials don’t come to stay. They come to pass. Life is lived in seasons.
- It’s OK to not be OK. Be honest. There are times we can’t overcome alone. Moses needed Aaron and Hur to lift his hands. It takes courage to say, “I’m really struggling.”
- The obstacle is the way. We want to go around. Most of the time, we must go through. This huge obstacle in Jesus’ life (the Cross) was the way.
Recently Lary and I vacationed in NYC for our wedding anniversary. We walked, a lot. After hours I (I’m sure he did too) would begin to get so weary. I would want to stop. But, I thought, “You are almost there. Just a few more blocks. One more block. Just one more and you can rest.” Then I would get to that block and think, “Keep going. You are almost there.”
Faith is going just one more block. Then another. It’s not easy. Some things we face are so hard, we must fight for our faith. It will take a strength that we don’t posses on our own. But God…