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Letting Go of All the Things I’ve Hoped For

Written By Jiaming Zeng, USA

I finally got a late acceptance to present at one of the top conferences in my field this November. Ever since I’ve heard about this conference, attending it has been on my “life goals” list, a milestone in my PhD career. I was euphoric and exuberantly prepared for the trip. Yet, barely a month later, as I sat on my plane ride home, I felt only exhaustion from the week-long event.

Sure, it was a milestone and definitely a wonderful learning opportunity, but gone was the enthusiasm on my flight there. All I could think of now was the catch-up work from my absence and the grant proposal that was due in a week. If I can get this grant, I told myself, that would be amazing, a true milestone.

Every time I thought I’ve learned my lesson, the cycle resumes. Hope, anxiety, stress, relief, satisfaction, new hope, anxiety, and so on. I’m not sure this qualifies as a vicious cycle; it’s just a cycle, a cycle of life that I desperately wish to break.

In a way, all the things we hope for points to an idol we worship in our hearts. As David Foster Wallace said, “[T]here is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”

The problem is, everything else we worship, other than God, will crush under the weight of our expectations. It is precisely in the moment we’ve finally achieved our dream that we realize that the dream was not enough.

It is not that the dreams are bad. It is that we have put our hopes in the wrong things. Instead of fixing our eyes on the unseen, we have fixated on what is seen. We have disordered our loves, and though the things we yearn for may be good things, they will never truly satisfy us.

This December, I want to challenge myself and everyone reading this article to try another way of thinking. I want to reorder my loves, so that “we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). Instead of worshipping my idols by listing goals and resolutions, I want to worship God and thank Him for the gifts He has given me.

 

From Hoping to Receiving

Once upon a December, God gave us the greatest gift of all; He gave His one and only Son so that He can die for us and bring us salvation. Instead of constantly striving for satisfaction through our own power, we should receive the marvelous gifts God has given us.

In those moments, when the lists of January grip my heart, I must remember that I don’t deserve and am not entitled to the success I have or I wish I can have. Instead, as Apostle Paul said, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).

Relax and rejoice. The lists of January have constrained our minds and imagination. We hold onto it like a lifeline, as something we can see, but through our grip on reality, we lose sight of the unseen.

Although the lists seem so real to us, they are but a “mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14), a chasing after the wind. And as with mists and winds, the second we think we grasped it, it has slipped from our hands. Therefore, let them go. Instead, we should “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name” (Psalm 100:4).

For me, I want to thank God for the little things in life that we forget to delight in. For the spurts of progress I’ve achieved in my research. For the amazing friendships that I’ve built over the year. For a family who encourages and helps me even when I’m thoroughly aggravating. For the beautiful community of God that He has invited me into. For guiding me to understand His Word and wisdom. For the lessons He has taught me through my failures and mistakes. For the love and faithfulness He has shown me despite my doubts and anxieties.

This December, instead of sullying our year with our never-ending lists, let us enumerate God’s infinite blessings. Let us remember what God has done for us through Jesus Christ and in the everyday trenches of adult life. Through thanksgiving, let us let go of the hopes and fears that drive us to take control of our lives, putting idols instead of God at our center. Let us receive His gifts with a grateful and open heart. For “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

This December, to the idols of our heart, begone.

5 Things I Dislike But I’m Thankful For

Written By Hilary Charlet, USA

If I asked you to name right now five things you are grateful for, I’m sure you can rattle off more than that—family, friends, food, a home, a car, a job, sunshine, snow, coffee, and so on. They’re likely things that you care about, things that give you all the warm and fuzzy feelings, and things that you feel you probably couldn’t live without.

This year, I’ve learned to be thankful for the things that don’t give me these feelings—things that don’t go according to plan, things that challenge me, and things that bring me to the realization that I am not the author of my story.

The following five things typically cause us to feel down, defeated, and wanting to give up. However, as I have learned through my own experiences, it’s how we respond to these challenges that make all the difference in our stories. Do we allow them to break us, or to shape us into the person God wants to use in the world?

 

Rejection

Maybe you’ve been applying to different jobs and keep getting the same email over and over, which goes along the lines of, “Sorry but we are pursuing other candidates that more closely match our needs.”

There was a time when I’d apply to anything and everything, just because I felt that’s what I was supposed to be doing. I’d get rejected, but didn’t really care because I didn’t really want the job anyway.

After a period of doing this, I realized that wasn’t what God wanted me to be doing. I saw that I was being impatient and trying to rush His timing to find work. Philippians 4:19 was one of the verses that kept popping up to assure me that I would be just fine. “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”

I didn’t need to stress. I just needed to seek His will and not be afraid to step out in faith when the time came. I’ve since stopped applying to every job opening and instead only to things I know I would enjoy. I haven’t found the perfect job yet, but I can rest in His promise that He has the perfect plan for me.

If you’re in a similar situation, remember that God is protecting you. He isn’t going to let you settle for less than what He created for you. This “no” that you’re getting now is simply just a bump in the road that you’ve got to cross in order to reach the destination He has in store for your life.

 

Heartbreak

As we age, we become more certain of the type of person we want to spend the rest of our lives with. We can be confident we’ve found “the one”, only for everything to change drastically a few months later. We have our hearts broken or sometimes do the heart breaking ourselves. Regardless of who is to blame, the end of a relationship is usually a painful one. It can leave us feeling unloved, broken, and sad.

When my last relationship ended out of nowhere, it hit me hard. I didn’t understand it at the time, but what God showed me was that no matter how heartbroken I felt, He was still there and He wasn’t going anywhere. He wanted me to learn to recognize the true value of who I am to Him—loved and treasured—and not base my worth on how another person felt about me. He brought new friendships, new opportunities, conversations, and songs into my days that eased the pain and helped me see that right now, He’s the only relationship I need.

Instead of sulking in negative emotions, we can focus on the fact that in one moment (that’s right, a single moment), we are loved by a God who died to give us life, more than any other human being could love us in a lifetime. Know that you are loved endlessly, regardless of the hurt you feel.

 

Loneliness

We yearn for relationships, both romantic and platonic. We like to have someone to talk to, someone to lean on. We have an ache in our hearts that only God can fill, but we look elsewhere for satisfaction. Some rush into a relationship that isn’t right for them because they feel like they need someone, while others hook up with strangers because they want to feel some love in some way, even if that means they will be left feeling emptier than before.

Since my last relationship ended, there have been moments when I felt very lonely seeing everyone around me in a relationship, getting married, or having babies. It got me wondering when my turn would come. Though it was tough, it gave me the opportunity to grow as an individual.

It’s in the loneliest of times that I’ve become the happiest with who I am; I began to see myself as how God does, to know that I’m precious and I’m loved. I’ve taken spur-of-the-moment road trips, attended Bible studies, spent lots of time in nature, read books about relationships, and concentrated on growing my relationship with Christ, my family, and friends.

So yes, while loneliness is not a fun thing to go through, it’s what you make of it, and it can turn out to be the most enjoyable time of your life. Spend your time doing things that you might not otherwise do. Pick up a new hobby, spend time with your friends, volunteer, travel.

 

Sickness

Whether it’s the flu or something more serious, it’s scary when we face any sort of health challenge. What if it turns into this? What if that happens? What if I don’t get better? The list of questions, fears, and scenarios we rack up in our heads can be unending and overwhelming.

Last year, I was sick for a month and could barely leave the couch. I didn’t realize how much I took health for granted until I could barely eat, talk, or move around without feeling like I was going to pass out. For days, the thermometer read 101 degrees Fahrenheit and my tonsils were bigger than ever. I’d wake up with gunk in my throat, and have no appetite. I broke down more than once because I felt like it was never going to end.

Finally, the day came when the temperature broke and I started to feel okay again. I haven’t forgotten how that felt, and now I try to live each day with a grateful heart knowing that someday, I won’t be able to do the things I can do now. A sickness or ageing or something else unforeseen could easily take away the ability to do something I can do now. So while I’m able, I will do what I can and be thankful for every day that I’m able to move, jump, skip, eat, and so on.

When it comes to sicknesses, some of us will get better, but some will not, and that can be difficult to accept. But let’s remember that there’s a life coming where we won’t suffer anymore and there will be no pain or tears or sicknesses. Whether healthy or ill, we have a hope for a life that’s inconceivably better than this world we live in now.

 

Death

The second semester of my junior year of college is one that has stayed with me every day. It was the first time I experienced the loss of people I’d loved dearly. First in February, then in March. One was a man I called my grandpa; the other was a good friend that I’d gotten to know from my nephew’s hockey team. He was only 17. Both were men of God whose faith was evident in all that they said and did.

Though I felt sad, angry, and empty all at the same time, losing the both of them challenged me to the core and taught me two things. One, that life is precious and unpredictable—at any moment, anything and everything could change. We aren’t promised tomorrow, neither are we promised the next hour. Two, that what we do with our lives now can make a difference. Their lives inspired me to want to know God more, to live like Him, to love others like He did, and to be excited about His plan for me and those around me.

Death is inevitable. We can use our time now wisely and look forward to the life we’ll have together once we’re in heaven. I’m sure it’s going to be one big party with Jesus, and it’s going to be good.

Next time you’re going through a rough patch, remember it’s only a season, and seasons are ever-changing. Don’t let the season shake you and leave you feeling defeated. Try changing your attitude about it, how you react, and open your heart to being thankful for every moment—good, bad, challenging, easy.

Thank God I’ve Got Fingers and Toes

I will never forget pulling away from a leprosy colony in Southern India the summer of 2003. I was 13 then and had just helped my family conduct a worship service for a couple dozen Christians in the colony.

As our car bumped along the terrifyingly narrow, one-lane mountain road, I vividly remember looking at my fingers, studying them for a couple of moments and then letting my gaze fall to my feet, and then to my toes. That quiet moment felt like it lasted forever as I became lost in my thoughts. I softly whispered, “Thank you, God, that I have fingers and toes.”

My view of thankfulness radically changed that day.

 

It is a way of life

Thanking God isn’t just a prayer before dinner; it is a way of life. I realized that nothing is guaranteed to me—not even the limbs on my body. As we walked among the lepers in India, my 13-year-old eyes fell upon limbs rotting away as people still lived. My narrow, westernized view of what life owed me shattered, and I realized that I had never thanked God for the simple, beautiful blessings I have surrounding me each and every day.

To have the ability to stop within the craziness of life and thank God for the breeze, the trees, the beauty of sunlight, the ability to walk, even to see—it’s a life-giving spiritual discipline that can easily be overlooked. Chuck Swindoll, a well-known American pastor, said that thankfulness is a decision of the will—one which takes work.

God created us to live a life of thankfulness. 1 Thessalonians 5 calls believers to give thanks in every circumstance. This is not Jesus’ idea of a self-help theory. He knew that thankfulness does something to our very being, to our soul. It psychologically and spiritually decreases stress, anxiety, and worry.

 

It removes worry, fear and anxiety

I am currently working toward an advanced degree in counseling, and the more I study, the more I realize that training oneself to live a life saturated in thankfulness is one of the greatest ways to remove worry, fear and anxiety. This is not merely a psychological tool. It is a spiritual reality discussed in Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (emphasis added).

The passage doesn’t end there. It goes on to say that after we have presented our requests, worries and anxieties to God (which, by the way, shows a trust in His sovereignty and His will for one’s life), peace that transcends our understanding is promised! That is a beautiful, exciting and powerful promise.

 

It changes the way we see challenges.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian who was killed in a Nazi Concentration camp for opposing Hitler, once said, “It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” If a man persecuted and living in a concentration camp is able to utter those words, then may we all be prompted to remember all of the things—both small and large—that God has bestowed upon us, and thank Him for them.

Pastor and author John MacArthur sums it up aptly: “A thankful heart . . . stands in stark contrast to pride, selfishness, and worry. And it helps fortify the believer’s trust in the Lord and reliance of His provision, even in the toughest times. No matter how choppy the seas become, a believer’s heart is buoyed by constant praise and gratefulness to the Lord.”

Would you join me this month and intentionally thank God for something different each day? Try it out for a while—I guarantee it will forever change your ability to see beauty amidst pain, suffering, and even the humdrum of daily living.

ODB: Taking Notice

February 27, 2016 

READ: Job 40:1-14 

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?”

Job 38:4

 

When I clean my house for a special event, I become discouraged because I think that guests won’t notice what I clean, only what I don’t clean. This brings to mind a larger philosophical and spiritual question: Why do humans more quickly see what’s wrong than what’s right? We are more likely to remember rudeness than kindness. Crimes seem to receive more attention than acts of generosity. And disasters grab our attention more quickly than the profound beauty all around us.

But then I realize I am the same way with God. I tend to focus on what He hasn’t done rather than on what He has, on what I don’t have rather than on what I have, on the situations that He has not yet resolved rather than on the many He has.

When I read the book of Job, I am reminded that the Lord doesn’t like this any more than I do. After years of experiencing prosperity, Job suffered a series of disasters. Suddenly those became the focus of his life and conversations. Finally, God intervened and asked Job some hard questions, reminding him of His sovereignty and of everything Job didn’t know and hadn’t seen (Job 38–40).

Whenever I start focusing on the negative, I hope I remember to stop, consider the life of Job, and take notice of all the wonders God has done and continues to do.

— Julie Ackerman Link

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