It was late December in the Smokies. I had taken a handful of College Students on a Winter Trip for the sake of a Winter Trip. The weather was unique—at times it was warm and humid and at others it was cold and wet. I packed for each option but did not fully understand the weather tendencies in Tennessee. On that trip, we hiked a trail in the National Park in Gatlinburg. My Pastor led this expedition, and I was excited (at first). However, as we hiked and the elevation increased, I realized just how unprepared I was. It was hot and humid. I was drenched in sweat. I could not breathe well. Yet, we kept going, and with each step, I grew more weary.
Eventually, we finished the hike, but not without me being totally exhausted. In a similar vein, the disciple’s journey can become weary. When it does, we are often tempted to throw in the towel and quit, or just stop trying all together and go through the motions. If that’s you, weary disciple, keep reading and be encouraged.
When you find yourself wearied by the journey, remember these things…
Your help comes from the Lord (Psalm 121).
The Psalmist begins by writing, “I lift my eyes toward the mountains,” and asking, “where will my help come from?” This is a statement of humility, dependency, weariness, and of finiteness. Yet, he also answers the question. His help “comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” The psalmist declares that God is our sustainer and protector (v. 3), our shelter (v. 5), our source of life (v. 7), and our guide (v. 8). And how long is God these things? Well, “both now and forever” (v. 8).
When you are weary from the journey, remember your help comes from the Lord and his power knows no end.
Your strength is found in the Lord (Eph. 6.10).
Paul begins his exhortation on Christian warfare by telling the Ephesians to “be strengthened by the Lord and by his vast strength” (Eph. 6.10). Now, in the immediate context, we know that we are empowered by God the Holy Spirit to kit up and put on the armor of God, but the application does go deeper. Notice that Paul says God’s strength is “vast” and that he strengthens us. When we are tired from the journey, we must remember that we have never been called to follow Jesus in our strength. At no point has God ever said to us that we are to follow in our own abilities and power. Rather, he said we are to trust him (Prov. 3.5-6).
Here’s the reality: We do not have the power in and of ourselves to follow Jesus. We must be empowered by God the Holy Spirit to do so, and for those who are in Christ, the empowering never ends.
Your weakness is no obstacle for the Lord (2 Cor. 12.9).
Some attempt to belittle Christians as weaklings, who simply use religion as a crutch. Well, the truth of the matter is that Christians are people who realize they are weak and must rely on the one who is not weak. Yes, it is a humbling thing to admit your weakness to God. But he already knows our weaknesses. Yet, he invites us to come and be honest with him (more on that next). Understand this: Your weakness is no obstacle for God.
When Paul wrestles with this idea, he finally settled on the reality that God’s “power is perfected in weakness.” He did not conjure this up himself. No, rather God the Holy Spirit led him to this conclusion. Your weaknesses and my weaknesses drive us to a greater dependency upon the Lord. Paul knew this. So, he boasted even more, knowing that in his weaknesses, Christ’s power resided in him.
Friend, embrace your weaknesses and know that God will never waste your pain.
The truth is no shock to the Lord (Ps. 51.6, 139.2).
God knows and understands our “thoughts from far away” (Ps. 139.2) and desires us to be honest with ourselves and with him (Ps. 51.6). You cannot be honest with the Lord until you are honest with yourself. Are you weary? Frustrated? Angry? Confused? Hurt? What are you and why? Do you not know what you feel and why you feel? That’s okay. Tell the Lord either way. Your thoughts and emotions will never shock God. Know that. Embrace it. Live it. There are countless times that I have said to the Lord: “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what I feel, but I do feel some type of way.”
Be honest with the Lord. Yes, he already knows. However, we must tell him so that we can be healed. Emotions are not always right, but they are real. When we keep silent about them, our body grows weak (Ps. 32.3-5*).
You are cared for by the Lord (1 Kings 19; Mt. 6.25-34).
How many Saints have been ready to throw in the towel? Elijah wanted to die (1 Kings 19). Yet, the Lord cared for him. He told him to take nap and to eat and drink. God did this two times before telling him to get up and continue the journey.
God knows when we’re weary and how to meet us in our weariness. Know this: You are cared for by your Heavenly Father.
If you’re weary, keep going. If you’re ready to quit, don’t. If you’re weary, do rest in the Lord. Keep your head up and keep your eyes fixed on the mountains, knowing that your help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.
On the journey,
P.S. Are you weary and need prayer? If you’d like me to pray for you, fill out the “Get In Touch” form. If you submit a prayer request and want to remain anonymous, simply put "John Doe" as the name and "NA@na.com" in the email line.
*While Psalm 32 is written after Psalm 51, the principle is the same. David’s unconfessed sin (and the emotions that came with it) took a toll on his body. When we remain quiet about what we feel, our body does tell truth, even if we won’t admit it.
I had several hurricane experiences growing up in Louisiana. Of the many, Hurricane Katrina was by far the worst and most memorable. Recently, Hurricane Ida came through and made landfall the same day Katrina did 16 years ago. Surprisingly, while the models were exceptionally accurate for Ida, that is not always the case.
The reality of any weather prediction is this: We can only predict. We cannot direct. We cannot force weather systems to do our bidding—to come or go, or to increase or decrease in intensity. We cannot direct it to do anything.
In fact, leading up to Ida, my neighbor (who is also from Louisiana) and I made predictions about the damage to come in the neighborhood. Our predictions were wrong and much worse than reality. We can predict, but we cannot direct.
In the same way, we cannot direct the events in our lives. We can predict what might happen, but we cannot force events. Granted, we can attempt to manipulate situations and circumstances, but we cannot direct them. Any attempt to direct (or manipulate) is folly.
Hurricane season is a simple reminder that we do not control as much as we’d like to think. However, while we cannot control events, we can control our response. So, what must our response be when faced with situations and circumstances that are out of our control?
We lean into God even more. We rest in him, knowing that he has all things under control. The one who is infinite can care for the one who is finite, but not the other way around. The one who calms the winds and waves is the one who calms the anxious mind and heart.
As followers of Jesus, we are often reminded that we are not in control. I look back on my journey with Jesus and see areas of my life that I believed I controlled, and I found myself in an absolute mess. My pastor has often said that we try to sit on a throne that is way too big for us and wear a crown that doesn’t belong to us. When we do this, we take “control” and make a mess of things.
Friend, what area of your life are you trying to control? Why not lay it down at the feet of Jesus? He never told us to sort it out, but rather to trust him. You cannot live a victorious, crucified life when you seek to call the plays.
On the journey,
A person’s own foolishness (folly) leads him astray, yet his heart rages against the LORD. -Proverbs 19.3 (CSB)
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. -Isaiah 26.3
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your cares on him, because he cares about you. -1 Peter 5.6-7
When I am filled with cares, your comfort brings me joy. -Psalm 94.19
When I’m not at the office, I like to spend my time building things. Currently, I have multiple building projects going on and each one is vastly different. I enjoy each project and I get excited when I begin to enter the final stages of a project because I’m able to admire the work and move on to the next job.
While I get to enjoy this luxury [finishing projects] in my workshop, I do not enjoy this luxury in my walk with Jesus—and neither do you. I often find myself annoyed that I am not yet perfect. Now, I am not talking about perfectionism. No, no. Rather, I am talking about the struggle with sin. It is a continual battle that hardly ever relents! I walk with Jesus and yet I still sin. I walk with Jesus and yet still say and do dumb things. I seek to walk in humility and then stumble into pride without noticing. And my list (and yours) goes on.
As I have thought about this, I have realized a few things, and a few things that I hope will be an encouragement:
I am not who I was.
In 1 Cor. 6.9b-11, Paul wrote this: “Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or males who have sex with males, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom. And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Notice what Paul said: “Some of you used to be like this [drunkards, adulterers, sexually immoral, etc.]” But, for some of his readers, his preceding list of unrighteous people no longer applied to them. Why? Simply put: Jesus. They surrendered to Jesus and were changed. No longer were they enslaved to sin but were now at war with sin. Understand this: Sinners do not war with sin—only Saints do (Col. 3.1-17).
When I look at my life and my ongoing sanctification process, I often get annoyed and discouraged. However, by God’s grace, I am reminded that I am not who I was and that I am a new creation in Christ.
I am a new creation in Christ.
Talking about the new life in Christ, Paul wrote “the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5.17). In Christ, I am new and I am free. I am free to do that which I ought to do and am no longer captive to sin and darkness. What does this look like? Well, for starters, I also have a new mind—the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2.16). I can understand spiritual things and I can know God and be known by God (Gal. 4.9). I also have an eternal hope because Jesus is hope and is eternal (John 1.1; 1 Pt. 1.3). Therefore, I can walk the disciple’s journey regardless of how difficult it may become because he is the one who leads (Ps. 23).
I am not who I will be.
And this is the reminder I often give myself when I’m discouraged by the battle: I am not who I will be. Yes, I am a new creation in Christ, and nothing can ever change that. However, I have yet to fully realize the extent to which I am a new creation—that will come in the next life. Even so, here’s the hope: Because I have been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the spirit of our God (2 Cor. 6.11), and am a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5.17), with the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2.16), I am now, “with [an] unveiled face, looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and am being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3.18). And in the words of John: “Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when he appears, we will be like him because we will see him as he is” (1 John 3.2).
Maturing in Christ is a process you and it will be in until we die or the Lord comes back. May we look to him to find our strength for today and the power to keep pursuing him. May we all commit to the pursuit of God and make it our life’s mission to “know him and the power of his resurrection from among the dead” (Phil. 3.11).
On the journey,
Gen Z (2000-2015) is an interesting generation. They have never licked a stamp and Google has always existed. 41% attend religious services at least weekly and 78% profess a belief in God (though not necessarily the Christian God.) They grew up with the internet, social media, and so much more.
With social media, they receive both positive and negative affirmations from society and the problem of “Keeping up with the Joneses” has been totally revolutionized. No longer do you see your neighbor’s new car when you pass by his house, you also see his new ride in pictures on Facebook, Instagram, and SnapChat.
For Gen Z, keeping up with their peers is a big deal. Losing a SnapChat streak can be devastating and not getting enough “Likes” on an Instagram post can be discouraging. The problems Gen Z face, whether it be from social media, schedules that are too busy, the need to perform well in school, or to keep up with their peers are unique challenges for them, as they are experiencing it for the first time.
While we have experienced similar battles (and continue to experience these battles), we are not immune to trying to keep up with the Joneses. We are in the same rat race as our students, though we have a bit more experience with dealing with the problem. Since this be the case, we have a responsibility to help our students work through the challenges they face. When they feel like failures, outcasts, anxious and worried, or overcome with stress, what can we do?
First, we do not need to dismiss their feelings. While we may not see the number of followers (or lack thereof) as a big deal, it is often a big deal to our students. We need to listen to their concerns and then remind them that while “heaven and earth will pass away, [God’s] words will never pass away” (Mt. 24.35). God is much bigger than the number of followers we may (or may not) have on social media. He defines who we are in Christ…not another person. In other words, their worth and value is not connected to the number of followers they have on social media. What’s more, if they are stressed or worried because of overloaded schedules, the fix is simple: Consider their schedule with them and determine what can be cut out.
Second, we must pray for them and with them. We do not pray on them (i.e. “God jerk a knot into little Johnny and get him back on track so he doesn’t burn in hell.”) Rather, we pray for them. We pray that God would grow them in wisdom and in stature (Lk. 2.52) and that he would bless and guide them (Num. 6.24-26; Ps. 32.8). We must pray for them in their presence. May they know what it’s like to be prayed for by Mom and Dad, and Papaw and Mamaw. (While we do not need to “pray on them” in their presence, it may be necessary that we pray for the Holy Spirit to convict them of sin, righteousness, and judgement (Jh. 16.9). When that be the case, pray that God would bring them back to the fold.)
Furthermore, the Pastors of your local church do not need to be the only ones praying for and with your students. While we are more than happy to pray with people, students need to know that you are praying for them because as the parents, you are the primary influence (and disciple-maker) in their lives.
Finally, we encourage them to embrace their identity in Christ, as we embrace ours. It was once said, “we teach what we know, but reproduce who we are.” We cannot help mold and shape students into faithful disciples if we ourselves are not faithfully following the Lord Jesus. Granted, we are not a finished product either (Phil. 1.6), but we are to model a life of ongoing obedience and repentance.
In the end, Gen Z is an interesting generation and I love them deeply. As a Student Pastor, it is a joy to be able to serve and love on Gen Z students. If you’re reading this as a leader of Gen Z students (teachers, youth workers, coaches, etc.), then know you have an awesome responsibility. If you’re reading this as a parent, then know I am rooting for you as you get to experience the joy that is parenting.
On the Journey,
Interested in knowing more about Gen Z? Check out my PowerPoint: Gen Z: A Field Guide to the American Teenager.
Our lives are often marked with defining moments and extraordinary people that God uses to shape who we are. For me, there is one man who stands out above all the rest: Bro. Joe Blackwell. Bro. Joe passed away last summer at the young age of 94. He was a man who loved the Lord Jesus deeply and was a hero of mine. Allow me to tell you the story of his faithfulness that captured my admiration for him…
In 2018/19, I was going through a dark and difficult season of life. I often felt confused and alone. Life was not going as I had hoped and I was tired…tired of the pain and tired of being tired. On Thursday, March 7, 2019, Smoky Gibson (a friend and the Pastor of FBC Biloxi) preached in Leavell Chapel at the New Orleans Baptist Seminary. Though I did not attend that service, I did listen to the sermon as I drove back home that afternoon. I was northbound on the Causeway when I heard him say: “People are praying for you every day. Are you living like it or are you wasting their prayers?” I was angry that Smoky would say that, and I began to weep.
In my weeping and frustration, I cried out to the Lord: “Lord, there is not one person who is praying for me every day!” What I did not know is that God had a message for me the next day. Bro. Joe had asked earlier in the week to meet with me on Friday, to which I agreed (A general rule of thumb: If a retired Pastor asks a young Pastor for a meeting, the young Pastor would be wise to make the meeting.)
The meeting was at 10 AM and when Bro. Joe walked into my office, he said these words: “I am a messenger from the Lord, who has been sent to tell you that I have been praying for you every day, for the past three months.”
I do not remember how long Bro. Joe and I talked for, but I do remember that I wept and poured my heart out to this brother. He listened and he responded with compassion and grace. He prayed for me in those moments and shared some great insight with me, insight that I hope I never forget. Of the many things we discussed, he told me this: “Never forget the Holy Spirit.”
There were other things that Bro. Joe shared with me, and I’ll share those things eventually; until then, here is one lesson that God has reminded me of these past few days and was demonstrated in Bro. Joe’s faithfulness: Be the person who is faithfully praying for someone else. Granted, it is impossible to faithfully and specifically pray for everyone you know. However, for those whom God has given you a burden, you can pray for faithfully. In my immediate context of Student and College Ministry, I recognize, as Richard Ross has noted, that the adult leaders in youth ministries may be the only adults who are faithfully praying for students by name.
So, dear friend, who can you pray for faithfully and by name? May we be a people who emulate Bro. Joe’s example of faithful intercession—albeit our prayers may never be known by anyone other that God himself.
Thank you, God, for Bro. Joe.
On the Journey,
*Article updated for typos on Wednesday, March 10, 2021.*