4 Reasons You May Be Feeling Stuck

Stuck

The longer I live, the more convinced I am that most people are paralyzed or imprisoned in some way. No wonder the Bible tells so many stories about those who got healed of paralysis or set free from bondage and imprisonment.

When we read such Bible stories today, it’s easy to miss how these events apply to our lives. If we’ve never been physically paralyzed or lame, we can struggle to relate to the paralyzed man in Mark 2:1-12 or the lame man in Acts 3:1-12. And if we’ve never done jail time, we can assume there’s not much we can learn from Joseph’s release from an Egyptian dungeon (Genesis 39-40) or the supernatural prison breaks of Peter (Acts 12:1-19) and Paul and Silas (Acts 16:16-40).

But, you see, the imprisonment most people face today is emotional and spiritual rather than physical. They’ve been traumatized by their journey through life, whether through the consequences of their own bad decisions or through the unkind actions of others.

In John 20:19-29 Jesus’ disciples were locked in a self-imposed prison after experiencing the trauma of their Master’s unjust arrest, brutal beating, and horrific crucifixion. Today we sometimes call those events “Good Friday,” but there seemed nothing “good” about the cross of Calvary at the time. The disciples were understandably devastated, gathered together behind locked doors because of fear of the Jewish leaders.

Suddenly Jesus appeared to these shell-shocked men. Although preachers sometimes say, based on Revelation 3:20, that Jesus always knocks before entering our situation, that’s simply not true. This time He just came right on in, bypassing every defense mechanism in order to release these traumatized followers from their emotional bondage.

This is one of the most pivotal scenes in the entire Bible. It’s not an overstatement to say that the whole fate of the church and the expansion of God’s kingdom rested on what would happen in the lives of these shattered men.

The disciples had left everything to follow Jesus, believing that their lives would ultimately change the world. Now their dreams seemed to have reached a cruel dead end. Dazed and confused, they were very unlikely candidates for any kind of heroic, world-changing mission.

So how did Jesus turn the worst of times into the best of times for these emotionally damaged followers? He addressed four different snares that were holding these men in spiritual captivity:

  1. FEAR – Not just once, but twice, Jesus told them, “Peace be with you.” And when they “saw the Lord,” their fear and anguish were replaced with great joy. If you are feeling “stuck” in some area of your life today, it’s likely that fear is one of the things holding you back. Just as He did for the disciples, Jesus wants to penetrate your closed doors and replace your fear with faith, and your anxiety with His peace and joy.
  2. PURPOSELESSNESS – These men who had taken such bold steps to leave their careers and families in order to change the world with Jesus were now left without a purpose or a vision. They had abandoned and denied their Savior in His hour of need, and now their traumatized condition seemed to disqualify them from any significant usefulness in His plan. Nevertheless, Jesus re-commissioned and affirmed them with fresh vision and purpose: As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”What an encouraging story for us today. Even when we feel like failures, unusable by God, He can reaffirm our calling and give us a new commission to impact the world.
  3. WEAKNESS – In addition to a lack of purpose, Jesus’ disciples were suffering from a lack of power. A new commission would have fallen on deaf ears unless they also received new empowerment. Recognizing their need, Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In their own strength, they never would have been able to fulfill His majestic plan for their lives—nor can you or I. But, empowered by the Spirit, we can transform the world (Acts 1:8, Philippians 4:13).
  4. FORGIVENESS ISSUES – Jesus showed them His wounds, proof that they had been forgiven by His shed blood. But then He talked to them about their calling to extend His forgiveness to OTHERS. If you are in some kind of spiritual prison today, there’s a good chance that forgiveness is one of the keys needed to set you free. Perhaps you need to RECEIVE God’s full forgiveness of your past, releasing you from any guilt, shame, or condemnation. Or maybe you are still locked in emotional bondage because you’ve not yet forgiven someone who has hurt you. Either way, forgiveness is an indispensable key to your spiritual and emotional freedom.

I encourage you to read this list again, asking God to show you which of these four keys are needed to help you get unstuck and ready to fulfill your destiny as a follower of Christ.

Perhaps you’ve been hiding out behind closed doors for a long time now, traumatized by some experience that has been hard to shake. But if Jesus could take these distraught men from the shadow of the cross to the glory of resurrection life, surely He can transform your life and give you a new beginning.

Like Jesus’ disciples, you may seem like an unlikely world-changer today. But once He has freed you from fear, given you fresh vision, empowered you by His Spirit, and dealt with your forgiveness issues, your life can be amazing. You don’t have to wait any longer!

 

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I Need My Second Wind…How About You?

tired-runner

“Second wind is a phenomenon in distance running, such as marathons or road running, whereby an athlete who is too out of breath and tired to continue suddenly finds the strength to press on at top performance with less exertion.” – Wikipedia

I meet lots of people who are weary today. Many of them are fellow baby boomers, who get tired more easily than in their younger days.

But weariness is an epidemic affecting people of all ages, and often it has little to do with physical stamina. The weariness is typically more emotional, spiritual, and relational than physical.

I’m referring to a weariness that goes beyond anything Starbucks or Red Bull can cure. Can you relate?

When that kind of weariness hits, it makes us want to quit…give up…throw in the towel…or simply curl up in the fetal position. As General George Patton once observed, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

Marathon runners experience this. Usually around mile 20 they “hit the wall,” feeling like their energy has vanished and they can’t possibly run another step. There seems no hope of making it to the finish line at mile 26.2.

Yet long-distance runners often testify that something magical happens if they press on a little farther. Just when it seems the race has been lost, they suddenly get their “second wind.”

I need a second wind today, don’t you?

Some days I just want to quit. Other days I think I have just enough energy to sprint a little further until I keel over. But what I need is simply a second wind—energy enough to complete the race, all the way to the finish line.

Fortunately, Jesus understands that life is a marathon, and He offers a second wind to those who’ve hit the wall:

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

Whenever I read this beautiful promise, I’m struck by Jesus’ offer to provide “rest for your souls.” When my body is tired, I can simply take a nap or a vacation. Although those solutions may be helpful, they fall far short of what I truly need: rest and refreshing that penetrates all the way to my soul.

Another stunning thing about Jesus’ offer is that it’s not a 3-point or 5-point self-help plan, so common today in our sermons, articles, and books. Instead, it just has ONE central point, on which everything else depends: “Come to me…”

This promise of Jesus was foreshadowed by another great Bible passage about what we can do when we hit the wall and are weary of life:

The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary…
He gives power to the weak
and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired,
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint
(Isaiah 40:28-31).

Notice that “even youths”—not just the elderly or baby boomers—“will become weak and tired” and “fall in exhaustion.” But the good news is that God offers us a second wind, “new strength,” when we cast our burdens on Him and spend time in His presence.

Too many Christians are relying upon the “wind” they received at their conversion, often several decades ago. No wonder we run out of steam when we do that.

What we need, instead, is a fresh infilling with the wind of the Holy Spirit. That kind of “second wind” will change everything.

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Can You Pass the LOVE TEST?

LoveTest 3

The Beatles weren’t far from mark when they declared, “All You Need Is Love.” The apostle Paul said practically the same thing in Romans 13:10, saying that love is the fulfillment of the law.”

So, are YOU in love? That’s an important question, and not just in the days surrounding Valentine’s Day. If you’re married, I certainly hope you can say yes to this question, but I’m referring to a love that goes even beyond that—an “in love” state of mind that every follower of Jesus is supposed to experience, whether married or single.

My curiosity about being “in love” was sparked recently when I found myself humming an old song originally introduced in the musical Brigadoon:

What a day this has been

What a rare mood I’m in

Why, it’s almost like being in love.

There’s a smile on my face

For the whole human race

Why, it’s almost like being in love.

As this song suggests, love will cause you to see “the whole human race” differently, not just the person you’re in love with. This should be a real challenge to us who claim we’re in love with Jesus. If our love for Him is genuine, there should be a smile on our face for people too.

But how can we go deeper than the world’s superficial concept of being “in love”—typically a phrase used just in the context of romantic or emotional love?

I decided to do a search on BibleGateway.com and found some fantastic “in love” passages. Here’s a small sample, including my observations about how the principles apply to our lives today:

“Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Ephesians 5:2).

  • Love is not just a feeling or even just a matter of words—it’s something we’re called to walk in and live out. When we do this, our lives will emit the sweet fragrance of Christ instead of less-appealing odors.

“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16).

  • Since God is love, there’s no way to maintain an intimate relationship with Him without abiding in love. And the word “abide” means that love is not meant to be a sporadic series of emotional, spiritual, or physical encounters, but rather a continual, unending connection.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love (1 John 4:18).

  • Fear and love are mortal enemies. Fear tries to undercut love, but God’s love can destroy our fears. Let’s not allow fear to hold us back from reaching out in love to others.

“May the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another” (1 Thessalonians 3:12).

  • Our love is not supposed to diminish over time—it’s supposed to “increase and abound.” Is that happening with your love?

Of course, there are many other Bible passages about love. I even noticed this verse saying that “older men” (like me!) are supposed to be in love: “…that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience” (Titus 2:2).

So let me ask you again…

Are you in love? If you still aren’t sure how to answer, I encourage you to take the LOVE TEST in 1 Corinthians 13 (MSG paraphrase). From what we read in the book of Acts, walking “in love” doesn’t seem to have been easy for the apostle Paul. But he realized its importance nevertheless: “No matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love” (v. 3).

What an incredible statement: Without love, our lives are surely “bankrupt.”

Paul goes on to give us a very detailed description of love’s characteristics:

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies (vs. 4-8).

How did you do on this LOVE TEST? If you’re like me, you still fall short in many ways. But that’s another thing I like about the song from Brigadoon. Instead of saying we’ve fully mastered this thing called love, it only describes our experience as “almost” like being in love.

The LOVE TEST ends with Paul’s conclusion at the beginning of the next chapter: Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it—because it does.” So true, Paul. So true.

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Love & Other Mysteries

V Heart

It seems a person of my age should have figured out everything by now. But in some ways the opposite is true—I’m more aware than ever of life’s mysteries.

The writer of Proverbs 30 seemed to have a similar experience, marveling about the things he couldn’t really understand:

There are three things that amaze me—
no, four things that I don’t understand:

how an eagle glides through the sky,
how a snake slithers on a rock,
how a ship navigates the ocean,
how a man loves a woman
(vs. 18-19 NLT).

This man was humble enough to recognize he didn’t “know it all.” He was still in awe of God’s wonder-filled creation.

First, he watched an eagle soaring high in the sky, without even flapping its wings. That’s impossible! the writer thought to himself. The eagle is flying higher and higher, without exerting any effort at all.

Of course, eagles are a picture of our lives as believers. The Bible says we can gain new strength and rise up as eagles when we wait on the Lord, relying on His power rather than our own (Isaiah 40:28-31). Just like the mystery of an eagle’s flight, the Christian life is meant to be supernatural and amazing, rather than a matter of strain and struggle (Colossians 1:27).

Next, the writer of Proverbs 30 sees a snake rapidly slithering across a rock. How does it do that?! he wondered. Snakes have no legs, after all. Like the effortless flight of eagles, the movement of a snake seems almost magical.

The ability of ships to navigate the oceans was also bewildering for the writer. If ships could only go in the direction of the winds, that would be understandable. However, he observed that ships frequently travel against the headwinds and the ocean currents. They are able to make progress toward their intended destination even when circumstances make matters difficult.

This is another great picture of the Christian life. We don’t have to drift helplessly in the water, nor must we be blown about by the shifting winds of our culture. Against all odds, we can set our sails to catch the breeze of God’s Spirit, and we can set our rudder to achieve our life’s purpose.

Finally, the writer comes to the most humbling, most baffling, most incredible mystery of all: love between a man and a woman. Even if you can figure out the wondrous mysteries of eagles, snakes, and ships, only a person of extreme hubris claims to fully understand the dynamics of male-female relationships.

Well, actually, I used to understand women pretty well—when I was in my twenties and still single! I even recorded a Bible study message explaining it all. Yes, I had women figured out back then, and I was happy to tell anyone who would listen.

Oh well…

Hopefully I’m not the only one who is still struggling with life’s mysteries. Are there still some things “too wonderful” for YOU to understand? If so, that’s fantastic! May you never lose your sense of wonder and amazement. And may you always recognize your need to rely on the Lord rather than on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Remember: In this life we’re destined to merely know “in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9). Someday in heaven, though, we’ll be able to ask God about all the mysteries we were never able to figure out.

 

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One Thing That Changes EVERYTHING

What if I told you there’s ONE simple step you can take that would change EVERYTHING else in your life? I know, you probably would think I’m either crazy or getting ready to launch an infomercial.

But stay with me for a few minutes…

For many years, I’ve known that just about everything we need to know about God, people, or life can be gleaned from the first few chapters of Genesis. But I’ve recently come across a life-changing principle I had previously overlooked there.

Before I share this incredible principle from Genesis, let me point out an indisputable fact of life: Whatever you focus on will grow.

With this principle as a backdrop, we can see that it’s no accident God placed the Tree of Life in the very MIDDLE of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:9). This tree foreshadowed Jesus Himself, the life-giving one. To study this further, go to the Gospel of John and look at the numerous “life” references about Jesus: water of life, bread of life, resurrection and the life, etc.

And notice this: No matter how many interests and responsibilities you may have, there can be only one MIDDLE in your life. Everything else must take its place in relationship to that inner core of your being. And while Adam and Eve’s focus was on the tree God had placed on center stage, everything else was wonderful in their paradise.

As many Bible teachers have noted, when the serpent entered the picture in Genesis 3, he immediately called into question God’s love and truthfulness. But I had never noticed something else the serpent did: He succeeded in shifting Eve’s focus!

We see this in Genesis 3:3, when Eve tells the serpent, God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

Do you see how profound this shift is? Eve is now focusing on an entirely different tree in the MIDDLE of her world—the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

It seems from Genesis 2:9 that this second tree was very near the Tree of Life, so Eve wasn’t totally wrong in her statement. Yet the consequences of her shifted focus were catastrophic, not just for her and Adam, but ultimately for the entire human race.

Why does it matter which “tree” we focus on? Entire books have been written on this, but here’s the answer in a nutshell: The Tree of Life represents dependence on the Lord as our source, while the other tree represents reliance on our own senses to navigate life and determine right and wrong (e.g., see Proverbs 3:5-8).

So let’s get practical…

What is in the MIDDLE and CENTER of your  world right now? I meet many people who are centered on the problems  they’re facing in their health, finances, marriages, children, careers, emotions, or some other area of their lives. I’m sure we’ve all had that kind of focus at one time or another. But as we see from Eve’s tragic mistake, the things we put in the MIDDLE of our world will inevitably grow until they consume us.

Instead of allowing problems, people, or idols to become our focal point, the Bible repeatedly tells us we need to go back to putting Jesus (the Tree of Life) in the CENTER of our personal world. When that happens, we are promised “perfect peace” (Isaiah 26:3). And we can “cease striving” (Psalm 46:10 NASB), because He is “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

But perhaps you are wondering…

What about the problems…the serpent…and the toxic tree that still inhabit parts of your personal paradise? Great question!

When Jesus is once again in the CENTER of your world, He begins the process of making “ALL things new” (Revelation 21:5). When your focus is no longer on your problems, the devil, or other people, you’ll be amazed by the new level of paradise you can experience.

Yes, everything begins to change when that one thing changes. And even before your outward circumstances have been transformed to any great degree, your new perspective will provide peace and hope you haven’t experienced in a long, long time.

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