Dealing With Discouragement

 

My wife, Sheila, is not just a writer she is a very good writer.  She has published lots of articles and is in tons of anthologies but she hasn’t been able to get a book published yet.  I have to tell living with a writer is a lesson in dealing with rejection.   It is easy to become discouraged.

A fifty-something writer  had written a manuscript for a book and sent it to publisher after publisher without success.  He grew so discouraged by all the rejections that he threw the manuscript into the wastepaper basket.  As his wife tried to salvage the manuscript, he told her sternly. “We’ve wasted enough time on this book. No one wants it.  I’m through with it.  I forbid you to remove it from the wastebasket!”

 Well, if you had been married as long as I have you would know how well forbidding your spouse to do something works!  She wanted to obey her husband but she ultimately decided that this manuscript had to be seen by at least one more publisher.  They lived in New York City so she made an appointment with a prominent publisher through a contact she met in church.  She arrived at that publisher’s office with a most unusual looking package.  She tore away a covering of brown paper from the cylindrical package and underneath it was her husband’s wastepaper basket still holding his manuscript.  She told the publisher that her husband had thrown his manuscript into the wastepaper basket and forbidden her to get it out.  Her reasoning was that she would not technically be going against her husband’s wishes if she did not retrieve the manuscript herself so she asked  the publisher to retrieve it for her.  He did.  He read it.  He loved it. He published it.

The writer in this story is Norman Vincent Peale; the manuscript was The Power of Positive Thinking.  The book that Peale tossed in the trashcan eventually sold 30 million copies.

 It’s hard to imagine that the grandfather of the Positive Thinking Movement was ready to give up on the book that launched his career – but he was.  I read this story when I’m ready to throw in the towel.  I share this story with Sheila when she feels like throwing in the towel.  It is an ironic reminder that no one is immune to discouragement!  Everyone wants to throw in the towel on occasion.  Fortunately for Norman Vincent Peale, Ruth Peale knew Galatians 6:9:

 “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest IF WE DO NOT GIVE UP.”

 When our efforts don’t yield immediate results, we may be tempted to call it quits.  Paul reminds us not to focus on the results, but to focus instead on the process of doing good.  What a difference that makes!  Most of my discouragement comes when I am so focused on the destination that I forget to enjoy the journey.  The joy is in the journey! 

If we do not give up….if we do not become weary in doing good…if we focus on the work…if we do not stop writing (or doing whatever has been given you to do) we have the assurance from God’s word that ultimately we will reap the harvest. 

What makes you want to throw in the towel?  Whatever it is, I hope you have a Ruth Peale in your life that picks up the towel and brings the harvest!

Criticism

The beginning of a new year is always a time of reflection for me.  I reflect on the year past but mostly on the year stretching out before me.  Each year brings new challenges, new opportunities, and new criticisms.   Ah, criticism!  Just take on a challenge, exploit an opportunity, or even do something big enough to get you noticed and believe me – criticism will come.

I was a fan of the sacrificial service of Mother Teresa so naturally I watched the TV coverage of her death (which was largely eclipsed by the death of Princess Di) and picked up several magazines to read about what her life had meant.  Mother Teresa died some 13 years ago but I’m so old that it seems like just yesterday that I picked up Newsweek the week of her death and read an ugly editorial entitled “Unmasking the Mother”.   ABC hired Christopher Hitchens (author of Hell’s Angel — a book attacking Mother Teresa) and gave himairtime to criticize her during the broadcast of her funeral. Can you believe there are people who spend their time and energy looking for things to criticize about Mother Teresa?

Unfortunately, this is typical instead of exceptional.  I was at a campus ministry conference a number of years ago where Tony Campolo was a main speaker.  One of the national campus ministries there distributed “anti-Campolo” packets before his session — warning us of Tony’s “liberal” views.  But don’t take my word for it.  Google “Rick Warren” or “Rob Bell” and  you’ll find a number of sites dedicated to “anti-Warren”  and “anti-Bell” agenda. 

Neither Mother Theresa,  Campolo,  Warren, or Bell were or are perfect – I have disagreements with some of their positions and views myself. However, there’s a pattern here. It doesn’t matter if you’re liberal or conservative, Catholic or Protestant, young or old —when you resolve to accomplish something worthwhile, you become the target of critics. They question your motives and they challenge your methods. When it happens, it is tempting to go on the attack. If you do, you’ll only become as sidetracked as they are.

About 2000 years ago, Paul faced the same problem. He dedicated his life to proclaiming the radical message of the gospel of Jesus.  He preached spiritual renewal, racial reconciliation, family respect, and social responsibility. In spite of all the good he accomplished, many opposed him. While Paul was busy saving souls, his critics watched him suspiciously. They challenged his theology, they questioned his integrity, and they celebrated his imprisonment.

So Paul said “To heck with this.  Life’s too short.  I quit.”  Thank God that is not at all what he did.  Criticism didn’t slow him down! Instead he took it as an affirmation that he was doing what he should be doing. Paul continued to do the work that God had called him to do and he expressed his philosophy of criticism and critics in Galatians 1:10

 “Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Paul cut’s to the heart of the matter.  Who are you seeking to please?  God or men?  Seek to please men and you’ll eventually cease to be a servant of Christ.  That’s brutal!  But it is 100% true.  I can not tell you how often I have literallly said aloud to myself  “Which is it Tim?  God or men?  Whose approval really matters to you?”  In fact that is one of my annual reflection questions.

Let me share with you something about criticism that I wish I had learned much earlier in my life and ministry:  The nature of criticism is that it sounds much louder than praise.

That’s ok IF your heart is right with God, and you’re honestly seeking to do His will.   IF not criticism can become deafeningly loud. Don’t get me wrong.  There is a time to listen to criticism.  I have learned much from my critics over the years.  

But I have also learned this: Criticism is often just confirmation that you’re on the right track.   If I have a philosophy towards criticism and critics this is it.

What about you?  Any lessons you have learned about handling criticism?  I would love to hear them.

Thank God for True Freedom

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”  Gal 5:1 NIV

Everyone wants to be free.  The oppressed want to be free from their oppressors.  Employees what freedom from unfair employers. Employers what freedom from unfair employees.  Jesus followers don’t have to want freedom – we have already been set free!

This morning for this verse set me to pondering the question “What does it really mean to be free?”.

A woman was once married to a man she did not love.  He made her get up every morning at five, cook his breakfast, serve it at six o’clock sharp, and then wait on him hand and foot.  He was so exacting that her life was a miserable one of  trying to satisfy his his every wish. He died and eventually she married again.  This marriage was to a man she truly loved.  One day she was cleaning out some old papers from a desk and came across one of the many lists of strict rules her first husband had given her.  Sitting down, she began to read them.  Gradually it dawned on her that the list of things she hated doing for her first husband she was still doing  for her new husband.  But she no longer hated doing them because she was no longer doing it out of fear of  her husband but instead out of her love for him.

She had been set free.  Jesus followers have been saved and the fear of the “letter of the law” has been nullified.  In its place is the peace and power of freedom which generates within our hearts a burning love for Jesus.  We  joyfully serve Him by serving others. We have true freedom.

To be truly set free is to have your orientation changed from “What do I have to do?” to “Really, I get to do that!”   The freedom that Jesus gives to His followers is not so much freedom “from” as it is freedom “to” … Freedom to be ourselves … Freedom to serve others … Freedom to be like Jesus … Feedom to live life without the fear of death … Freedom to truly live!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day!

Thank God for Meaningful Love

Following up on yesterday’s blog theme of  Thanksgiving.  Another great gift from God for which we should be thankful is meaningful love.  Especially when we consider the confused self-defeating meaningless love that is popularized in the media today. J udging by most movies and TV characterizations love has become just a synonym for pleasure. But pleasure is fleeting and love is permanent.  Meaningful love is permanent, self-sacrificing and active.   

Stephen Moore, in his poem entitled “The Second Mile,” states it this way:

Stern Duty said, “Go walk a mile
And help thy brother bear his load.
I walked reluctant, but meanwhile,
My heart grew soft with help bestowed.
Then Love said, “Go another mile.”
I went, and Duty spoke no more,
But Love arose and with a smile
Took all the burden that I bore.
‘Tis ever thus when Duty calls;
If we spring quickly to obey,
Love comes, and whatsoever befalls,
We’re glad to help another day.
The second mile we walk with joy;
Heaven’s peace goes with us on the road,
So let us all our powers employ
To help our brother bear life’s load.”

Paul says it best in GAL. 5:6 “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Jesus  is the ultimate expression of love because he is the ultimate expression of self-sacrifice. 

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote,

“Do not waste your time bothering whether you `love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.”

“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”  That really says it all.  Love is not just sentiment, it is action.  Love is not just loving those like us or those we like, it is also loving those who are unlike us and even those that disgust us.  Love is faith expressing itself in acts of love.  Meaningful love, though often pleasurable, is not for our pleasure but is a way of actively expressing our faith.  Actively expressing our faith by being loving and unselfish has a wonderful by product: happiness.  That’s right happiness is a by-product of loving actively and unselfishly. 

In a world where love means less and less we should be very thankful that Jesus showed us meaningful love.

Thank God for a Meaningful Life

“But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.”  Galatians 4:4-7

 Thanksgiving is the time of the year when we thank God for external blessings. The problem with that focus is that it is constantly changing, giving us an excuse for comparing our situation to others and as often as not feeling justified in our ingratitude. Thankfulness should not be based on an inventory list.

True thanksgiving is opening our eyes to the internal blessings that God gives us. Thankfulness then becomes a window through which God’s love shines through.  By contrast to exterior blessing, internal blessings are constant, unchanging. Of course the obvious internal blessing Jesus followers have received is eternal life. But that great blessing has several by-products of which we need to be aware and for which we need to be thankful: Jesus followers have received a most precious internal blessing that is often taken for granted: a meaningful life!

I saw a bumper sticker that said “THE ONE WHO DIES WITH THE MOST TOYS WINS.”  Even though glib it is a goal for many in our comsumerist society.  But is acquiring more ultimately meaningful?

A Gallop Poll survey was distributed to people of various ages and occupations. The key question was this: What are you looking for most in life? When the results were compiled, the analysts were surprised.  Most of them had expected answers that would suggest materialistic goals, but the top three things that people wanted in life were love, joy, and peace–the first three fruit of the Spirit!

Purpose or meaning is important to human beings because we are created in the image of God  Though fallen we still retain the intuiton that we are created for something.  We can fill that  something’ with many things but all except the truth will ultimately fail us.

Peter Sellers, the noted British actor who died in 1980, was troubled throughout much of his adult life. Although he had gained wealth and fame, he was restless and dissatisfied. In his later years he revealed a loss of personal identity by resorting to using the voice and accent of Inspector Clouseau, a fictitious character he had played. Then too, his multiple marriages were symptomatic of the fact that his mind was, as one of his wives put it, “in a constant state of turmoil about his purpose on this planet.”

Stories like this make me sad because the something we are created for is to be found by turning our lives over to Jesus!  The problem is that the struggle of life often obscures the truth about life. Why can’t people see the obvious? Because it is obvious only to those who have a proper perspective: life is Jesus!  “I am the way, the truth, and the Life”

I once saw a reproduction of the Constitution of the United States which had been skillfully engraved on a copper plate. At first glance it seemed to be nothing more than a piece of noble writing. When I looked at it from the proper perspective, however, I could discern the portrait of America’s first President George Washington artistically etched in minute detail. His face was revealed in the shading of the letters and I saw his person, not just a flow of words or lofty principles.

To understand the deeper meaning to life we must look at it from the right perspective.  We must see in it not merely activities, goals, ideas, family, friends or even Biblical doctrines, but Jesus Himself – sufficient for all our needs.

Even Jesus followers are often guilty of not seeing life as Jesus. Instead we often see Jesus as one of the many compartments of our lives.  When we fall into this error we diminish the meaning and purpose of life and boredom or anxiety sets in.  When Jesus becomes our life only then do we begin to live an exciting, adventurous life.  To live life on the edge start living out the paradoxes of our faith!

A paradox is an apparent contradiction which in reality may conceal a profound truth. The paradoxes of our Faith are a great proof that Christianity was not devised by men.  Our Faith contains many unpopular doctrines and mind-baffling concepts which would not exist if it had been composed by men and had not been uniquely inspired by God.  The fact that these do appear shows me that “God’s ways are not our ways.”

Just look at these paradoxes:

  • Faith is seeing unseen things;
  • We conquer by yielding;
  • We find rest under a yoke;
  • We reign by serving;
  • We are made great by becoming little;
  • We are exalted by being humble;
  • We become wise by being fools for Christ’s sake;
  • We are made free by becoming His bond servants;
  • We possess all things by having nothing;
  • We become strong by being weak;
  • We find victory by glorying in our infirmities; and
  • We live by dying.

To  live a rich full purposeful life don’t be afraid to do many things that the world will consider really strange, even weird!  Living out our paradoxical faith is exciting because it never allows us to just drift with the tide.  So, get used to swimming upstream … but remember that the one swimming by you is the giver of of a meaningful life.  Jesus gives life purpose.