It’s human nature. We tend to see the negative. We can quickly identify the areas in which we’re falling short. We’re not growing enough. We’re not praying enough. We could be doing more. We can quickly begin to beat up on ourselves and give up in discouragement.
For sure, it’s helpful to acknowledge reality. There’s no use pretending we’re farther along than we really are. Maybe we are falling short in some areas. In fact, I guarantee it! But there’s hope for us at every stage, even when we feel discouraged.
Jesus Meets Us Where We Are
I can’t think of a single example in which Jesus hesitated to meet a person right where they were. In his life, Jesus met all kinds of people. He was quick to confront them, comfort them, teach them, ask questions. But he always began where they were. He has no problem meeting us in our current state.
I’ve noticed something surprising. Jesus was often harsh with those who pretended they were farther along than they were, and he was often gentle with those who admitted their need.
The lesson: Jesus is willing to meet us where we are. Be honest with him. If you’re struggling, tell him so. He’s willing to help us in our need.
There's Grace for This Moment
We tend to think that God meets us when we’re doing well, and that he shuns us when we struggle. The reality: God is gracious to the struggling. He isn’t as impressed with our successes as we are, and he never turns away when we come to him looking for grace.
God welcomes us to come. When we take the low place, acknowledge our need of him, and ask for his help, he gives more grace. There’s grace for this very moment if you ask for it, even for — especially for — those in need.
We Can Take the Next Step
The essence of hopelessness if feeling like there’s no hope for improvement. People tend to do okay when they’re in a tough situation but know it will get better. What’s hard is when we’re in a tough situation and don’t see any hope for change.
The gospel gives us hope: God is at work in us, even in our weakness. He transforms sinners into saints. He takes those who have lost all hope and fills them with his Spirit. God gives up on nobody. All who trust in him can take the next step in trust, knowing that God welcomes all who cast themselves on him.
Take hope, not in yourself, but in Jesus. He gives more grace. He will never turn you away when you come to him. There’s hope for us at every stage.
There are a couple of verses that we’ve been misapplying for far too long.
Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:7-8:
Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
The King James Version translated this passage:
For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.
Based on this translation, some people have concluded that Paul doesn’t want us to spend time exercising. Take that time and use it for spiritual growth, they think. That’s a far better use of that time.
That’s not a good application.
Paul affirms: bodily training is of some value. It’s part of our stewardship of our bodies. We are not disembodied souls. God has given us bodies, and we must care for them. Eating well, sleeping, and exercising are all ways to look after our bodies so that we can better love God and others. Because we’re interconnected, we won’t be able to train for godliness if we aren’t looking after our bodies.
So exercise! Get enough sleep. Manage your stress. Eat right. All of this is important, even crucial, for how we live.
But Paul also reminds us: godliness is even better than physical health. Don’t become so preoccupied with your body that you neglect your soul. The condition of your soul will matter for eternity, so don’t forget to care for your soul too.
Your body matters. Don’t ever believe someone who says it doesn’t. Care for your body, but care for your soul too. Both matter, even though the latter is more important. Steward bth your body and soul for God’s glory and for the good of others.
We struggle. Not just some of us, but all of us. There are days when we wonder if we have grown at all.
James, the half-brother of Jesus, speaks bluntly about the danger we face in the middle of our struggles in James 4:1-5. Addressing one issue — interpersonal conflict — he is blunt. The real problem isn’t out there; it’s in us. He then warns us of that sin is like spiritual adultery against a jealous God. It’s quite a passage!
The message is clear. Our struggles are signs of a serious problem, and the problem is us. We shouldn’t take this lightly, because God doesn’t.
So what’s the solution?
He Gives More Grace
James gives us hope when we struggle:
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:6-10)
“He gives more grace” is one of the most encouraging sentences in the Bible. Struggling? Failing? Take it seriously, but remember: God will never run out of grace. He always has new supplies for our every need. Charles Spurgeon says, “Grace is like a river; its waters are ever sweet and fresh as it comes rushing from the eternal hills. Like the sunlight, it never sends the same beams twice: it is always fresh, always new. Blessed be God for this! There are perpetual streams of grace.”
The best news for those who struggle is that God gives grace to those who turn to him with their need.
What to Do When We Struggle
In light of our weakness and God’s grace, James tells us what to do when we struggle:
Submit to God. To submit means to yield to him and admitting that he has the right to call the shots in our lives.
Resist the devil. Don’t believe his lies. When we resist him, he will flee from us.
Draw near to God. James reassures us: God always draws near to those who draw near to him. When we turn to God in the middle of our struggles, we never have to wonder if he’ll take us back.
Take sin seriously. Grieve over the sin you’ve committed — a joyful grief, because it’s forgiven, but grief all the same.
Humble yourself. Grace flows to the humble. As Sam Allberry notes, “The lower we are, the more lifted we are.”
Bad and Good News for Those Who Struggle
James gives both bad and good news to those who struggle.
The bad news: Sin is dangerous. Don’t take it lightly. Deal with it before it deals with you.
The good news: God gives more grace. He never runs out. There’s a fresh supply for every need. He will never turn us away when we turn to him.
God’s grace is our greatest hope. It’s good news for us when we struggle.
Our lives are busy. It seems that we don’t have much time to linger, to just spend time doing nothing. We are often caught in a perpetual rush, feeling increasingly behind. We wonder if we will ever catch up.
That’s why I’m interested in Laura Vanderkam’s new book Off the Clock, which is about how to feel less busy while getting more done. In the book, Vanderkam reveals the seven counterintuitive principles the most time-free people have adopted.
I’ve been listening to the book. One of her findings: people who feel like they have more time don’t pick up their phone as often. “Put down the phone,” she advises, “and reflect instead…The most relaxed people checked their phones about half as often as the people who felt most rushed.”
We have more time than we think!
Want to feel less busy? Don’t pick up your phone as much. Instead, use that time to reflect, or even to pray.
Of course, we don’t pray just because we want to feel less rushed. It is a nice side benefit, though. It’s okay to keep using our phones, of course, and we shouldn’t feel guilty when we fail. But prayer is usually going to be a better choice than checking Facebook one more time. Not only that, but our souls will flourish more and we’ll feel less rushed. I like the sound of that!