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,
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.*
One of the joys of Student Ministry is seeing the interests, talents, and dreams of students develop over time. I have seen students begin 7th grade with ambitious (and often unrealistic) dreams, only to see them set their hearts on a God-given mission in high school or early college. Likewise, I’ve also seen two other groups of students. One group simply wonders aimlessly into their college experience or work-force career after high school. They have no sense of purpose or desire. They simply do a job to get a paycheck. The other group has purpose and desire, but it is their own sense of purpose and desire. They have set their own course and have a desire in and of themselves. Of these three groups, the first—the group who sets their hearts on a God-given mission—is the smallest and most overlooked of the three…yet it is also the most desired group…sorta.
When I was a student, my Youth Pastor would often encourage us to consider how God might use us should we set our hearts on his kingdom. He would also say that “everyone wants students to set their hearts on God’s mission…until it’s their own children who set their hearts on God’s mission.” I now better understand this statement.
The call of God is always to follow Jesus (Remember the old hymn, “Wherever He Leads I’ll Go”?). The way the call is fulfilled will look different for everyone, but the call is always to follow Jesus. That might mean abandoning the desire/goal/plan to pursue a Medical Degree, Education Degree (as was the case for me), a career that brings in six-figures, and the list goes on. It means that one might be called to move to an impoverished country to live a life on mission for the glory of God. It might mean leaving behind family and friends to move to a new city/town in the US to live missionally in a community deprived of the Gospel.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be a doctor, or teacher, or the CEO of a company. However, there is something wrong with it when we remove God from the equation. I have talked with countless students who have a plan and a desire for what they want to pursue after High School. Their dreams are as magnificent as they are grand. As they tell of their dreams, I sit and listen with enthusiasm. I ask questions and encourage them to dream big. Sadly, the dreaming cannot go on forever and so I ask what is generally a bubble bursting question: “That’s awesome! Just one thing. Have you ever consider that God might want to do something different with your life or use those skills and dreams in a much different manner than what you’re talking about?”
The look that usually comes to their faces is one of disappointment, shock, intrigue, and even perplexity. For some, they know God is not calling them to pursue all that they have talked and dreamed about. For others, they simply have not considered it and are disappointed that they might be called to pursue a different path but are intrigued by the possibilities. Still others are simply perplexed and shocked by the very notion that God would want to use them.
As we approach the start of preparations for high school graduation, it is not too late to help students reframe the dream. This is not the sole job of student workers, but rather a cooperative effort between parents, student workers, and godly mentors to simply ask our students: “What if God would use _________ for his glory? What could that look like?”
What might these conversations look like as we have them? Well, I think they could go something like this:
Student: I want to be a doctor and practice medicine in New York City (where I know I can make lots of money).
Adult: Okay. That sounds like a good plan. But what if God would want to use you and your medical degree full-time on the mission field for his glory?
Student: I want to be a teacher in a high-end private school where I know I’ll be taken care of and will have great students.
Adult: Teaching is great! But what if God would want to put your skills and ability to work in a public school where Gospel-influence is basically non-existent so that you can share Jesus with students, parents, and faculty/staff?
Student: I want to get an education and poly-sci degree and then become a politician and make real change.
Adult: That’s an idea. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to do politics. But how long will that change last, really? What if God would want to use you and your skills and abilities in the local church to proclaim his gospel, which will bring eternal change to lives of people.
Student: But I can do that [make change] in politics.
Adult: Yeah, you can make change. But what good will that do for the Kingdom?
Student: *sits in disappointed silence. *
Today, I’m answering God’s call because a Godly influence was willing to have the last conversation you just read with me (Both my youth pastor and I knew what God was calling me to do, but I was hesitant.) As we help students look toward the future, we must be careful to not only dream with them, but to remind them that God has a plan and purpose for their life (Jer. 29.11; Mt. 28.18-20; Acts 1.8; Phil. 1.27-30; 1 Thess. 5.16-18, Jude 3). We must help them reframe the dream in light of God’s eternal glory and purpose. We’ve been commanded to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Mt. 6.33) and that applies to all of our pursuits, whether it be marriage, education, career, family, and the list continues.
As we help reframe the dreams, we might discover that God would use our students the exact way they have been talking about, and that’s okay. Whatever he might call us to, he has called us to reflect his love, grace, and mercy to a world that is in desperate need of it. So yes, God can (and does) use Construction Workers, Waiters, Managers, Garbage Men, Delivery People, Doctors, Politicians, Teachers, and countless others for his Kingdom and His glory.
Whatever our students might be called to, may we remind them that God will use their skills, abilities, and desires for his kingdom and may we be found to be their cheerleaders as they answer God’s call.
P.S. If your student is called to ministry and is called to pursue theological education, I recommend Leavell College of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. I am thankful for the influence of the professors and I know that they will provide sound theological education and practical training for ministry as your actively serves Christ and His Church