How You Can and Can’t Help Someone Who is Struggling.

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Charles Schulz’s famed character, Charlie Brown, tells his friend Linus this: 

I think there must be something wrong with me. Christmas is coming, but i’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. – Charlie Brown

The chances are very good and providential that at some point this Christmas season, you will be around someone who is struggling. You’ll notice it because Christmas has a way of making people vulnerable. These people struggling might be immediate or extended family, friends, co-workers, classmates or neighbors. 

Their struggle could be an addiction they keep succumbing to. It could be a sin they have been blind to. It could be a trial that weighs heavy on them. It could be the loss of something like a job or a marriage or a loved one. It could be loneliness. It could be they are struggling with how difficult this year has been and how little hope there is for the new year. 

But, you notice them and their struggle. And in your heart you have compassion and want to help them experience love and joy and peace. How can you help them? 

In the first century, in Jerusalem, there was a pool named Bethesda. In fact, the pool is still available to see today and has received an A+ grade for what it actually looked like 2,000 years ago. 

Anyone in the first century who was sick or lame or blind, they would lay near the porches of this pool because there was a mythical assumption that if you could just touch the water, it would heal them. 

Just like today, people in need of some kind of hope just about believe anything will help them. 

In the biblical book of John, chapter 5, there is a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. And just as you might find yourself around someone who is struggling, Jesus happens to cross paths with this crippled man. 

When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?” (John 5:6)  

That’s what Jesus asks this man? Would you like to get well?

Jesus does goes on to miraculously heal this man, because that’s what Jesus does, but I used to think this was such an unnecessary question.

Would you like to get well?

This guy has been crippled for four decades. He lays by a pool hoping one person on one day would pick him up and put him in the water because he thinks that will heal him, and no one has. He’s been ostracize from the marketplace. He’s been rejected by loved ones and strangers. If only he could be healed he could begin to build a life that gives him purpose and dignity and legacy. 

Of course he wants to get well. It feels like an unnecessary question by Jesus. 

But, let’s not forget Jesus never wasted one word He spoke. Nothing He did was unnecessary. The longer I am around broken people the more I see this is not a dumb question by Jesus. 

Wanting to get well is important. Some people don’t want to get better. 

When you have a loved one with an issue they are struggling with, you need to ask them this question, Do you want to get better? Human nature is that we will not change until the fear of the damage the issue is causing us is greater than the fear of changing our habits.

What’s also counter to human nature is humility. We have to admit we need help and we have to admit we are the ones that cannot change ourselves.

We were really crushed and overwhelmed, and feared we would never live through it. We felt we were doomed to die and saw how powerless we were to help ourselves; but that was good, for then we put everything into the hands of God, who alone could save us. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)

There is power in powerlessness.

That’s Christmas. How dependent Jesus was on Joseph and Mary that night in Bethlehem as he was laid in an animal feeding trough? Jesus had no power to display as an infant and yet what results in Jesus conquering over death.

When you and I admit our weakness and admit we can’t do it on our own, that’s when God’s strength has the permission to flow through us. 

This Christmas and next year your loved ones might continue to be great an image-management. They appear put together and great and that nothing is wrong. But if they’re ever going to be healed, if they’re ever going to change or be free or have joy, they have to admit they can’t do it and that God can. 

They have to believe there is power in powerlessness. 

The day after Christmas a few years ago I got a call from friends who were married to each other and they needed to meet with me right away. On December 26th we met at my office.

It came out that the wife had found pictures of her husband and a female co-worker of his in a hotel room, and you can fill in the blanks. The wife found these scandalous pictures on the family iPad. And she found these pictures on Christmas Day.

With me probing a bit for further context, it also came out that the wife had cheated on her husband a couple years earlier in their marriage. 

These were church-going people. They had worshipped God their entire lives.

The reason there was pain in their marriage was because they were masters of image-management. Neither one wanted to admit they were powerless to change and that they were going to be fine. 

I didn’t berate them. That’s not what friends do, it’s not what leaders do. I told them that God’s power could change them and heal them if they were willing to let Him. I simply wanted to see if they wanted to get well. 

Then I told them there is one thing in this world greater than the power of God.

There is one thing greater than the power of God. It’s the love of God.

If they wanted their marriage to heal, if they wanted to forgive each other, if they wanted to change, God’s power could do that. But until they saw God’s love for them in their mess, whether they wanted to change or not, they wouldn’t want to change. 

It’s why Jesus asks, Do you want to get well? 

It’s the double-edged sword of free will. If we choose to seek after God He will heal us but if we choose to not seek after God, He can’t heal us. He still loves us and He still will pursue us, but for change or healing becomes a reality – surrender needs to happen. There is power in powerlessness.

There’s a book called, Generation Me, written by Jean Twenge. Dr. Twenge has a PhD, does a lot of research, and her book is all about the ever-increasing growing epidemic of narcissism in our culture. She writes,

Our growing tendency to put the self first leads to unparalleled freedom, but it also creates an enormous amount of pressure on us to stand alone. This is the downside of the focus on the self. When we are fiercely independent and self-sufficient, our disappointments loom large because we have nothing else to focus on.” – Dr. Jean Twenge

This is how people without Jesus think. They either focus on themselves and how great they are or they focus on their problems and how bad things are.

The answer to being humble in our success and to be transformed in our trial is to focus our life on Jesus. It’s so easy to veer our thoughts to ourselves and to our problems.

Y’all know the movies that Jim Carrey and Steve Carrell did? Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty? – If not watched, I can think of myself as, Zach Almighty. I love talking about Zach. My theme song can be Toby Keith’s,  I wanna talk about me, I wanna talk about I, I want to talk about number one, me, my, oh-my. 

I can tend to sound like the annoying seagulls in the movie Finding Nemo: Mine. Mine. Mine Mine. 

I love the idea of Santa and how excited children get because as adults we lose some of that wonder and imagination, but, why are kids excited about Santa? 

He brings them gifts. They get presents.
Are we excited about Santa if he doesn’t brings us gifts?

This is why my family reads the entire chapter of Luke 2 on Christmas morning before anything else is done. Before stockings or presents. before coffee for mom or candy for myself, we read the Christmas account in Luke chapter 2 as a family tradition to remind our children that every day, even this Christmas Day, our focus in on Jesus. 

As a parent, if I permit my children to focus on themselves unchecked, they will, and then if/when they will fail, they will then focus on their problems. Their life will be a constant seesaw with a lot of pride,  look how great I am, and depression, look how bad I am.

For a couple years on Monday mornings I taught male inmates at the county prison. The curriculum I taught from was all about preparing the male prisoners to leave their life of bad desires and choices and pursue wise and life-giving desires and choices. 

You could tell a difference between the guys who wanted to be there, who wanted to change, and the guys who didn’t, but they had to be there because it looked good on their parole record if they attended the class.

I would start each class of about 20 prisoners reciting this equation,

Self-deception + Self-reliance = Self-Destruction

This equation runs true every single time. The common denominator is self – and I would tell the guys in prison that they have there choices.

  1. They can sit and think about how they are going to change themselves once they get out.  
  2. They can think how about how they blew it and how much of a loser they are.
  3. They can admit they were powerless and rely on God’s Spirit to bring love and power if they wanted permanent change. 

Your loved ones need to hear this. They are focused on themselves or their problems.

Christmas blows away the misperceptions of God that people have. 

He is a God who comes near to us.
He is a humble God.
He is a God who cares.
He’s not just loving – He is love.

I have seen what they do, but I will heal them anyway! I will lead them. I will comfort those who mourn, bringing words of praise to their lips. May they have abundant peace, both near and far,” says the Lord, who heals them. Isaiah 57:18-19

God knows all about what I’ve done, what I struggle with, what harsh times I’ve gone through and He still wants to heal me and lead me to the way that is free as He comforts me when I am broken. He longs to bring peace into my soul.

If I let Him. If I invite Him to do so.

If I feel guilty, He wants to forgive me.
I I feel lost, He wants to lead me.
If I am overwhelmed or anxious or stress out, He wants to comfort me.
If I can’t sleep – He wants to bring me rest and a peace that transcends rational explanation. 

If I let Him. If I invite Him to do so.

You might not need recovery from addition abuse or need AA or a 12 step program but the principle is the same if you or your loved ones want healing. They have one of three options.

  1. They can focus on themselves: I can do it! 
  2. They can focus on their problems: I can’t do it! 
  3. They can focus on Jesus. He can do it. And will. And does every day. 

We are used to making your own choices. We decide what time to wake up, what to wear, what to eat, what to do at work or at school, what to do at night, where to travel to, what hobbies interest us, what to spend money on. We rule our world. We’re so used to making choices on our own constantly. 

We’ve forgotten how to be dependent on God. As an infant is fully dependent on their mother we need to be fully dependent on God. That’s the ironic message of Jesus’ birth. As dependent and humble God became on two people He created, Joseph and Mary, we need to be that dependent on God daily.

The message of Christmas is this (and what you should tell all of your relationships): 

There is a God who has an unfailing love for you, and He wants to get really close to you. 

If they let Him. If they invite Him to do so.

Open your eyes and your ears and your heart to someone near you who is struggling. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

Changing Our Perspective in Hardship

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Many people right now are being asked by God to endure hardship. There are marriage problems, parenting issues, infertility heartaches, stress at work, addictions, loneliness, there’s financial problems, health issues –all around there is hardship.

Are you being asked by God to endure hardship right now? I hope this perspective helps:

Hardship isn’t punishment from God because He doesn’t love you. Hardship is discipline from God because He does love you. 

I’m going to bypass the endless amount of parenting analogies that apply here.

At times, when my faith is weak, I choose to primarily focus on the hardship and how things are really tough and I cry out to God, I thought You were a good and loving God?! Why are you allowing this to happen to me?!? Check out these verses:

Don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children? My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. (Hebrews 12:5-7)

God says, You have hardship BECAUSE I’m a good God. It’s discipline for you to become more like My Son Jesus, if you can endure humbly through it. This is an opportunity to grow your witness and add to your testimony. Rely on Me. There is purpose here. 

The goodness of God is that He will use the sin/pain/trials of life to bring eventual, permanent good. Another reminder verse:

God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God. (Romans 8:28)

With the trial we are asked by God to embrace and grow in, instead of thanking God, instead of trusting God, we ask, Why God? Why them? Why me? Why now? 

Let’s not forget that Jesus never used the word Christian. Jesus used the words follower and disciple.

Follower. Disciple.

In your hardship, will you still follow God? Or you could drop out.

The word disciple comes from the Latin root word discipline, meaning you can’t be a disciple without going through some discipline.

In your hardship, recognizing it’s not God punishing you, it’s God discipline, it’s God bringing love and purpose, will you still be His follower? Or you could drop out.

I am grateful God has allowed hardship and discipline to occur in my life. After hardship and discipline, I am more honest. I’m more hard-working. I’m more grateful. Because I hung onto God and saw His discipline as an act of love toward me.

We don’t automatically enter into this world with wisdom and theology and holiness. We grow up in this world with lots of folly and mess and sin. We choose to go toward death because we fall in love with rebellion. And because of grace and love and kindness, God is a Father who adopts us, makes us His, cleanses and frees us from our past, so that we can move toward true life and peace. After trusting and accepting Him, He will (not, He might. He will), in His perfect timing, allow trials in order to lovingly discipline us, hoping we hold onto Him and if so, become more like Him.

If you sit by an unbeliever at work, and you’re a believer, and both of you get fired, for YOU, it’s God disciplining you to trust Him more. I don’t know what it is for the unbeliever.

If a non-Christian gets cancer and you do as well, for YOU, it’s an opportunity to follow God more closely and not let go of Him. It will hone your character.

When hardship comes, we are asking the wrong question. When difficulty comes in our life, we’re asking, How can I change this? – whatever this is – a better marriage, better health, I want kids, I want to be married, I want more obedient kids, I want to pay the bills, I want to leave my addictions……….

We’re asking the wrong question if we’re primarily concerned with, How can I change this difficulty?

What I see from Hebrews chapter 12, is that we shouldn’t ask during our difficulties, How can I change this?

In every trial, we should be asking, How can this difficulty change me?

No matter how severe, how long, how devastating, how fatiguing the hardship is, for a healthy and biblical perspective, ask God, Lord, what discipline are you allowing me to have so this changes me for the better? 

Maybe it’s not about you fixing your difficulties as much as it is about your difficulties fixing you.

If we can have the faith in God to stop complaining about our hardships and start being thankful for them, then we can have joy. We can praise Him no matter what. We can rejoice. We can sing. We can declare that we are His followers and we will follow toward Him through anything this world throws at us. We will never let go of Jesus. If Jesus left heaven and resisted temptation for 33 years and died the death you deserved, and if there are faithful Christians on the other side of the world being murdered for their faith, then how can you, even as exhausted as you may be, whine about your current hardship?

It’s an honor to suffer. Do you not trust what God is doing by allowing the pain to occur in your life? If we trust God is our afterlife, then we can trust Him with this temporary trial in this life. Do not drop out. Seek His will in the trial. He’s allowing it to happen for a reason. To change you.

Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny. – C.S. Lewis

Thanks for reading. You are loved.

Z