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.

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Found and Remembered

It is truly a blessing to be loved and cared for, to be wanted and most importantly, to be remembered. Some of us just don’t know how good we have it.

I was recently browsing the Broward Sheriff Office’s website for a community event when I came across the link, “Found and Forgotten.” I clicked on it, opening a page with a list of dead people who had been profiled by BSO and had yet to be identified. Each victim was described by race, hair and eye color, height, estimated age and the clothes they had on. Many of them had been found in canals and wooded areas.

It saddened me to see that they were discovered decades ago, but still unclaimed. I wondered if their families had given up searching for them or failed to even notice that their loved ones were missing. Had these victims been disowned by their families prior to their disappearances?

The mystery surrounding their pasts and causes of death was overwhelming. The fact that they were in their early 20’s was alarming, as well. While we may never know their names and stories, it’s good to know that they mattered to God just as we do.

Ironically, those of us in the faith were once lost and dead (in our sins), but thank God, He found and saved us. Even when we have felt alone on our Christian journeys, “The LORD has remembered us” (Psalm 115:12).

Before Paul became an apostle — at the time he was known as Saul of Tarsus — he sinned against God by persecuting the early Christians and having them put to death. He was relentless in destroying the church. “Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison” (Acts 8:3).

One day, as Saul was on his way to Damascus in search of more Christians, he saw the light, literally. According to Saul, “A bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’” (Acts 22:6-11).

Saul learned that it was Jesus confronting him in a supernatural way, and he was immediately convicted. He repented from his sins and went about his newfound journey preaching salvation to sinners as Apostle Paul.

Paul’s conversion (and name change) from darkness to light is synonymous to the transition from spiritual death to eternal life, earthly gains to heavenly treasure.

The struggles he encountered throughout his ministry should have caused him to doubt God’s presence in his life, but his answered prayers (protection from a snake bite and deliverance from prison) assured him that he was remembered by God.

The same could be said about Apostle Peter. Before the launch of his ministry, he had a physical encounter with Jesus while fishing with his brother. Christ offered Peter an invitation he could not refuse — He called Peter out of darkness and into the light to become a “fisher of men.”

Instead of living his life in a dead-end trade, Peter now had an opportunity to do something meaningful. Jesus had chosen him to evangelize and enrich the lives of people who were lost and hopeless. Peter faced many challenges on his journey, but God remembered him, too.

Like the loving father in the parable of the prodigal son (read Luke 15), the Lord extended his welcoming arms to Paul and Peter, both of whom were part of a rebellious generation which had left God to pursue worldly wealth. Both men had turned from their hopelessness (darkness) after seeing the light. They had been found and made alive again; they had been remembered on earth and in heaven.

Today, God is still looking for the lost and seeking to make a claim on those who are “dead” in this cold and conflicting world. And for those of us who have been found, but are struggling in our faith walk, God hears us. Rest assured, He remembers us.

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Faith in Action

“You have stayed long enough at this mountain.” Deuteronomy 1:6

Have you ever felt stuck? Paralyzed? How many times have you talked yourself into doing something, and even envisioned yourself going after a dream only to find yourself in a standstill?

The inability to do something that you are fully capable of doing is the worst feeling in the world. It’s a feeling I know too well.

I can recall days when I literally felt bound. When I was in high school I was sitting in my geometry class feeling groggy from a cold I was just getting over. I folded my arms on my desk and put my head down. Before I knew it, I dozed off. The sound of the bell awakened me, and I opened my eyes, ready to grab my bags and dash out of the classroom. I was so embarrassed I slept through the entire period.

But when I tried to move, my limbs would not budge. I felt lethargic and frozen in place. I tried again, but I could not lift up my head. I panicked because from my peripheral vision, something dark and evil was looming over my shoulder. I could not even scream.

I could see my teacher looking at me. She had one arm on her hip and the other one in the air with a board eraser in her hand. “Well, aren’t you going to leave? I know you don’t love my class that much,” she said. She turned her back to wipe the blackboard. I could not reply.

I said a silent, desperate prayer to God. Please forgive me for not paying attention during lecture. I am sorry. Help me!

Finally, I was able to wiggle my fingers, then I sneezed. My head jerked and I lifted it up and all of sudden felt life throughout my body. I grabbed my stuff and left the room as fast as I could.

I don’t know what happened to me that day. But years later, after a couple of more episodes, I discovered through an online medical article that I may have had sleep paralysis. According to research, this phenomenon is the result of sleep deprivation or irregular sleep habits and affects half of the population. In some countries, people refer to it as “spiritual oppression.”

Thankfully it’s not uncommon and usually does not persist or cause bodily harm. Neither should fear of failure.

While sleep paralysis can evoke fear, fear alone is debilitating. It can cause you to not move forward when necessary, even if there is nothing physically stopping you and every single body part is functioning properly.

When the Israelites reached their window of opportunity at the Red Sea, they were filled with terror. How were they supposed to cross over? There weren’t any boats in sight. And it did not help when they noticed that the Egyptians were pursuing them. At that point, all they could do was cry out to God. Moses tried to calm them down, saying “Fear not.” But God’s children were not convinced. Moses himself felt uncertain.

The Lord said to him, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward” (Exodus 14:15). If you read the whole passage, you will find that God never once entertained their fears. You would think, with Him being powerful that He would have stretched out His mighty arm, gather them in His hand and carry them over. But instead He gave them instructions to follow. He made them put their faith to work so that they might be delivered from stagnation.

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So in a sense He did carry them over! Hearing from God restored the Israelites’ motivation and destroyed the power of fear over them. What looked impossible became effortless and they were able to overcome their obstacles. Why? Because they stopped standing and did something. They prayed and followed directions.

The Israelites’ journey is no different from our own. Just like them, we are all trying to get ahead in life, and sometimes that means breaking out of our comfort zones (dead ends) and trusting God all the way. We don’t only need faith (Matthew 17:20) to believe it can happen; we need clear instructions from God (Psalm 32:8) and a solid work ethic to make it happen (James 2:17).

Scripture to meditate on:

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. Matthew 17:20

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Psalm 32:8

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2:17