Have you ever experienced some particular problem or pain that surprised you by how debilitating it was? Perhaps it was a sore toe or an earache that outwardly seemed small, but it made your day a major struggle. Then along comes someone who says, “I get infections in my ear all the time, and it’s uncomfortable but I don’t let it bother me. You just need to stay positive and keep going.” Well, though we do need to strive to “give thanks in all circumstances,”1 trying to keep your head above water may be difficult for you at these times.
You have encountered both high mountains and deep valleys throughout your life of faith. You have at times found yourself in what seemed like a deep pit and have had to climb out and start over. At times you have wondered why you have to face the low points and the times when you fail or fall. The falls can be painful, and it requires effort to crawl out of the low places and to once again continue on your journey.
We often hear our life of faith compared to running a race or being on a journey. Countless songs, books, and sermons are based on those concepts. As a runner, I find inspiration in the verse “run with endurance the race that is set before us … looking unto Jesus.”1 But recently it came alive to me from a whole new perspective.
There is a story, versions of which can be found on several websites, about the world-famous violinist Itzhak Perlman. It illustrates a beautiful principle about God’s grace and power, how He can take whatever we have to offer Him in this life and make it into something beautiful. I’d like to recount it for you.
Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton (1874–1922) was an Irish explorer who is best remembered for his Antarctic expedition of 1914–1915 in the ship Endurance, described in his book South. Less known is that Shackleton had an unseen source of strength to draw from—his faith.
Over the years, my backpack has taken a lot of abuse. I’ve taken it out in the blazing sun and in the pouring rain, around my neighborhood and on overseas trips. It’s gone with me to humanitarian projects and on holidays. In fact, almost everywhere I’ve gone, so has my bag.
It never ceases to amaze me how Jesus shows up in the dark and difficult places of our lives. One such example is told in Luke 8.
Jesus, already being thronged by crowds of people eager to hear His words, is begged by Jairus, a cleric and a man of some importance, to come to his home and heal his dying daughter.
I was sitting in a wheelchair in the lobby of the hospital, waiting for the taxi to come. My shoulder was still swollen from the operation, and my entire arm was mottled with black and blue marks.
To top it off, it was raining, adding to my dark mood. Great! Rain! I thought. Just what I need!
As believers, we can sometimes have unrealistic expectations about our lives. When things aren’t going smoothly, there’s a tendency to beat ourselves up about it, or feel that God isn’t answering our prayers because He doesn’t care enough or because we’re doing something wrong.
I remember memorizing Hebrews 11 as a child, which detailed quite a few gruesome ways to die: “They were stoned to death, they were cut in two, and they died by being murdered with swords. They went around wearing the skins of sheep and goats, needy, oppressed, and mistreated. The world didn’t deserve them. They wandered around in deserts, mountains, caves, and holes in the ground.”1