preparation, Spiritual Growth

Strength for the Journey

“Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you.” Isaiah 41:10

Hard work pays off. No one knows that better than those in the pursuit of success, especially high school and college graduates.

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An illustration of how God empowers us: My husband and me on a cruise to Bimini in 2013.

Lately, I have been noticing a lot of sentimental posts and pictures from recent grads on social media. I know that feeling of utter relief and satisfaction. Even though I haven’t been in school for quite some time, I still remember all those hours I spent reading, researching, writing, and discovering formulas for algebraic expressions like it was yesterday.

I thought those days would never end. There were times when I was tempted to quit…and there were times when I did, mentally. In a world where some things are dictated by time—like a four-year degree—it’s hard to escape the pressures of completing each semester with a passing grade. No one wants to arrive late to success and the real world, but in most cases, some people get left behind because they failed a few courses.

That can be discouraging, and this is also something I know full well. I didn’t graduate college with my class. It took me an additional three years to finish because of lack of preparation, concentration, and motivation. I almost gave up because I could not deal with the challenges (math was not my strong suit).

One Sunday morning, I attended church service and heard a guest pastor say, “Just because it’s difficult does not mean it’s impossible.” As simple as that sounded, I thought his declaration was profound. I repeated those words in my head in the latter years of my collegiate journey until it was time for me to cross the stage and receive my degree. I was empowered by them because they confirmed two biblical truths for me: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” and “Nothing is impossible with God” (Philippians 4:13, Luke 1:37).

The former verse was a direct quote from Paul, the apostle who was thanking the Philippians for their generosity. He was also sharing with them how he had been able to survive the worst and best parts of his journey because he knew he would be rewarded for his labor when it was all said and done.

The angel who had just told Mary that her cousin had conceived a son in her old age spoke the latter verse. Mary was still grappling with the idea that she would conceive a son through the Holy Spirit. The angel shared Elizabeth’s pregnancy to assure Mary that God would keep His promise.

Considering that we’re all on a journey, we all need divine encouragement to get us through the hard lessons of faith. Paul did not have a church to fund his missionary trips or a private jet to get him to different parts of the world. He relied on God to meet his physical and spiritual needs. Elizabeth did not have access to expensive fertility treatments to get pregnant right away, but her faith carried her through the ache and the wait.

Therefore, not everything that we desire in this life will come easy. In fact, some of our goals may end up unfulfilled. We need the power of God to endure the grueling process of maturity, but it takes discipline to commit to our spiritual progress or any endeavor in life for that matter.

Just as we graduate when we’ve worked hard and passed all the lessons entailed in our field of study, Scripture states that God will “establish” us after we have “suffered a little while” (or after we have passed life’s tests). As challenging as that sounds, it is refreshing to know that the God who is fully aware of our shortcomings, empowers us to overcome any obstacle.

Whatever challenges you are faced with today as you try to achieve your goals, I pray God gives you strength…and that you readily accept it.

preparation, Spiritual Growth

The Appointed Time

 A few years ago, my husband and I, including our cousins, missed our flight to the Dominican Republic. We pleaded with the airline to let us check in since our plane had not yet arrived, but they would not budge. I was appalled by their lack of grace. The nerve of them!

Okay, okay, the nerve of us. We knew the rules—arrive two hours before departure, no refunds for a missed flight unless you have insurance (does anyone really pay extra for that?), bags should be checked online to save time at the airport, etc. We broke all of those rules.

Needless to say, our designated chauffeur was my sister whose car had been giving her trouble all week! We should’ve just called a cab, which we ended up doing anyway because my sister’s car stopped on the road. We wasted half an hour pushing the cursed vehicle to the nearest gas station, ten minutes calling other family members and friends to pick us up, and another ten minutes waiting for a taxi because those family members and friends did not pick up their phone. We ended up spending more money (for cab fare and new plane tickets) than we wanted to all because we failed to prepare and manage our time effectively.

When the disciples asked Jesus about the signs of the last days and His return, He revealed to them that there would be wars, famines, earthquakes, persecution of Christians and other tragedies. He also told them that His return would be unexpected. He said, “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away” (Matthew 27:37-39, New Living Translation).

In true Jesus fashion, He backed up His response with a parable so that the disciples would not miss the spiritual lesson in His teachings. He told them a story about ten bridesmaids who had an important meeting with the bridegroom. When the bridegroom took too long to show up, the bridesmaids fell asleep. They were awakened by a loud announcement, “The bridegroom is coming! Come out and meet him!” All the bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. Five of them, who are labeled as foolish in the Bible, asked the other five for some oil. “Our lamps are going out,” they said. It’s important to note that these lamps were like torches. The others replied, “We don’t have enough. Go buy some for yourselves.” So the five foolish bridesmaids went out to buy some. But while they were away, the bridegroom showed up. The wise bridesmaids were ushered into a marriage feast and the door was locked behind them. When the other bridesmaids got back, they stood outside asking to be let in. They cried, “Lord! Lord! Open the door for us!” But He replied, “I do not know you!”

It may sound like the bridegroom was being harsh, but He gave them more than enough time to prepare for this meeting. It would have been unfair for Him to accommodate the latecomers since the others did what was required of them.

The five bridesmaids who were considered wise demonstrated their belief in Christ by keeping their lamps burning in a dark environment. The oil in their lamps represented their salvation. The five bridesmaids who were considered foolish had knowledge of Christ and His imminent return, but they did not have a relationship with Him, hence their lack of oil.

Jesus shared this parable with the disciples to teach believers like us the benefits of making the most of the time while we still have it. One way to do that is to let our light shine (or keep our lamps burning) for those who are still in the dark. Jesus was also stressing the importance of preparation. We may be able to make up for missed opportunities, such as an important flight, but we cannot redeem the time we’ve wasted on trivial things on the day of His return.

“Get ready; be prepared!” Ezekiel 38:7 (NLT)