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Posts Tagged ‘steadfastness’

FranzeseThis past weekend, our church had a guest speaker, Michael Franzese, a former Mob Captain (just below an UnderBoss) with the Colombo Crime Family. His testimony included many memorable moments but among them this was the most memorable for me, “Don’t ever let your past be a deterrent for what God will use it for in the future.” There was nothing in Michael’s former life that would make him a candidate for ministry, he was a thug and a criminal, a truth to which he confesses. And yet, he is now even more passionate about the things of God.

A person’s steps are made secure by the Lord
    when they delight in his way.
Though they trip up, they won’t be thrown down,
    because the Lord holds their hand. [Psalm 37:1, CEB]

In another part of Michael’s story, he shared how gradual the shift was from one life to another. He did not hear an audible voice of God or experience a single epiphany that turned him by 180 degrees, not in a minute or an hour or a day, but over years, many of which he spent incarcerated. His other strength came from his wife who endured his years of vacillation and uncertainty, not to mention the pressures of both the government for his cooperation and his former mob family who had put a contract out on him. This was the atmosphere in which he engaged a pursuit of God, challenging God the whole way to prove Himself worthy.

What message does this story amplify within me? Steadfastness. Patience. Grace. Forgiveness.

Photo by Chris VenHaus

Photo by Chris VenHaus

I was not a criminal, but I walked a dark line and toyed with a downward spiral back in my twenties. Sure, that’s a long time ago and although I had a more lightning conversion that Michael, the way has not been straight. A passionate believer, I have missed the mark many times all the same. I have been less than loving, judgmental, assumptive, and intolerant. I have been narrow-minded, inconsistent, and untruthful. I have manipulated the faith for my own desires and put on a veneer of holiness.

But I am still here. And God is still God and sovereign. And there is still a way I am to go.

If me, then you. If Michael Franzese, then me. Today, we can choose to walk worthy of the life God lays before us. We can respond to the circumstances in a confidence of faith that God never forsakes a heart intent on growing in Spirit.

Today and now. Let tomorrow be what it will. For “I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. 13 When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me.” [Jeremiah 29:11-13, CEB]

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keep walkingAnd yet, there are times–in fact, many times, when our hearts are full of hope, our spirits are at rest, and our eyes are looking forward, but the way does not clear. And despite these words:

Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
    they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; . . .

[Psalm 112:6-8, NIV]

We are shaken and we fear and we hesitate. That’s right. It happens.

I know these things for I lived them. I have walked with confidence and I have seen the glory of the Lord, like a true Shekhinah. I have shaken in the Presence and I have heard the voice of God. I have trusted when there was nothing to trust and I have known steadfastness. My faith is strong.

But that doesn’t mean I am not human. Nor does it mean that I do not fall in my faith. I weep and I call out to God, who has seemed to forsake me. I have walked the lonely corridor where no door is open and no light shines ahead.

Why do I write this? Because I was reminded yesterday in service, to keep going. Just keep going. There is something in the going that eventually reveals the underlying truth. Only when I have stopped, even briefly, have I seen the effects of fear grow roots. And to move, after stopping, gets harder and harder, the longer I delay.

I walk. I go. And my confidence in the Presence of Christ Jesus returns. First as a whisper, but eventually as a song.

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Intriguing instruction to be watchful and thankful in prayer. I mean, these aren’t two words one would normally put together for something as benign-seeming as prayer. And yet, it’s not the first time Paul speaks of danger in the prayer closet or the necessity for alertness.

Colossians 4:2
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

But is there danger in my prayers? Not hardly. At least, not at first blush. I rarely consider myself to be in deep spiritual battle. Or am I?

Is it possible that mere steadfastness, faithfulness, and consistency can make waves in the spiritual realm? Is it possible that I am part of the “transformational” by holding up my friends and family in the Light of the Christ? Is it possible that my quiet moments of deep connection to the Spirit have resounding impact? And if that is so, is it possible that there is push back that manifests in ways I do not realize?

Perhaps this is what it means to be watchful in prayer: becoming aware of the imprint of God. Watch for movement in the spirit realm. Allow the spiritual senses to become alive in prayer: not just seeing with the inner eye, but also hearing, tasting, smelling, and feeling.

One of my all-time favorite devotionals is You Set My Spirit Free: A 40-Day Journey in the Company of John of the Cross, arranged and paraphrased by David Hazard [1994]: “He creates in you the desire to find Him [the Spirit] and run after Him–to follow wherever He leads you, and to press peacefully against His heart wherever He is . . . Press, and keep pressing into His heart, until you have pressed the image of His invisible nature into the substance of your soul.”

Be watchful. When this happens, there could be fireworks.

We are told in various places throughout the New Testament to give thanks, from Romans 14:6 to I Thessalonians 5:18 to Revelation 11:17. Give thanks.

I have always thought of this as something I must do willfully and consciously, but today I imagine what it would be like to be overcome with a spirit of thanksgiving. To give thanks out of a heart overflowing with an appreciation for the presence of God.

So then, the essence is to “be watchful” in order to experience the fullness of the Spirit which automatically leads to thankfulness. That’s good.

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There is a perseverance that comes with our roles in life. As parents, we must be steadfast in our desire to train up our children or our failure to persevere will affect them adversely. For instance, to teach a toddler simple courtesies like “please” and “thank you” takes, at minimum, 10,000 repetitions. Think how many more repetitions it takes for other fundamentals of living.

But for the sake of their ability to survive and thrive, we do it. We tell them again and again and again. Hopefully, we also model these behaviors… and model our faith.

Perseverance is not just for us. We must remember that we are all intertwined in a great fabric. Our children, our grandchildren, our brothers, our sisters, our parents, our neighbors and so on, are impacted by our actions, our decisions, our beliefs.

So, now, what do we do in the face our failures? What do we do when we realize we have not persevered? I say, “we begin again.” It is never too late. In God’s eyes, there is no time. We can always start over. God can redeem anything and everything. Perseverance includes beginnings.

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Sometimes we have to back into this process. What I mean is that there are times when circumstances drop into our lives and we are faced with learning perseverance the hard way. It can be done, but it’s not God’s best for us.

For instance, you might become ill with a serious disease that will take months or even years to battle. If you have not built on the phases Peter lays out in II Peter 1:5-7, you will probably discover that you must go back and pull them into the equation. If you want to live, you’ll do whatever it takes. And so, you endure. But as you endure, you discover you must control yourself, your anger, your frustrations. Careening emotions do not help the process. And then, you discover that the more you know about your disease and how others have handled it, the more knowledge you have, the more understanding you have of your circumstances, the stronger you feel. And then, you may find a desire to share that knowledge with others in the same situation. You may actually find that you feel better when you reach out beyond yourself and “do some good.” And finally, your faith in God is re-kindled!

And then, you head back up the chain and you are amazed to discover that you are stronger in each area and you are able to endure another day … another hour … another minute.

I discovered some of this backward/forward movement when Mike and I were in the adoption process for Lily. Being steadfast in our determination to adopt her was foisted upon us for a full two years. We did not go gently into this period of perseverance!

Perhaps it’s more accurate to call this process cyclical. It wasn’t a straight path from faith to virtue to knowledge to self-control to perseverance for me … it felt more like a circle and often there were times when I felt like I was on a race track going round and round and round with no progress; suddenly, a ramp would open up and we would be on another level. Yes, it was still going round and round but the view was different, the road was different, the goal was more clearly in sight, and the fire of hope was fanned into flame again.

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Here’s what comes to mind before anything else: the tortoise and the hare. This story has, by far, gotten the most mileage in my life… I suppose it’s because I’m the hare trying to learn the lesson of the tortoise. There are lots of spiritual applications, but perseverance is the dominant one. It’s the slow, methodical tortoise who holds fast to his goal. All of the circumstances and “common sense” say that he will lose the race and yet he wins. He’s good for the long haul. He knows how to keep on going no matter what. This is just one more paradox in Christianity and all true.

And let us not forget, this perseverance is grounded in the other elements of our plan to not fall away: self-control, knowledge, virtue & faith. I’m thinking that some of us “hares” are trying to do the perseverance dance without the grounding of the other elements.

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    Today, as part of my daily devotion, I read Mark’s account of the crucifixion and these verses stuck out to me: “Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

    And I was confounded… having for so many years thought there were only 3-4 women at the cross, but now I think there were many more women “disciples” than men. And the thing that kept them there was their FAITH! Their faith despite the circumstances… their faith despite the pain and disappointment… their faith despite the loss. This is my goal: steadfastness. [Special thanks to Chris Gollon for the use of his painting, Stations of the Cross VIII, Jesus speaks to the Women of Jerusalem, used by permission.]

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