On Being Real

Many of us grew up singing “Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before,” a popular testimony hymn, composed by Percy Crawford eighty years ago.

Now that I’m older, I think, Oh, really?

People’s lives are filled with emotional ups and downs, including the lives of Christians. Yes, there are sweet days, but there are also bitter days—those that are filled with deep heart-rending grief, or boiling over with frustration and anger, and days of freezing fears and doubts. Bible believing, Jesus following Christians are not exempt.

Yes, but
Now it is true, that when a Christian suffers loss, pain, grief, frustration, fears or doubts, he does have the choice of turning to Jesus who has promised to go through every experience of life with him. In that sense, every day with Jesus can be made sweet, even joyous, or at least less bitter. But let’s not say that we Christians can go through our whole lives with a smile on our faces and a consistent stream of happy words coming from our mouths. We cannot. Not if we are honest. Not if we are real.

Faking it
I talked with a missions minded brother some time ago who told me he has gone to numerous conferences and had heard scores of speeches by leaders of Christian organizations. “They make serving God sound so wonderful,” he said, “but, in my opinion, only a few were honest and real, the rest were faking it, and they turned me off.”

I have spoken at hundreds of Wycliffe promotional banquets during which I tell the story of how God used my wife and me to learn the Canela language and translate the Bible into it. I do not omit stories of the hardships and frustrations we suffered—once even to the point of severe depression and turning my back on God. It took six months of weekly counseling on furlough to get me back on track.

Depression cropNearly every time I tell that story someone will come to me afterward, shake my hand and say, “You told about your deep discouragement, and being so frustrated with God you turned your back on Him. Thank you for not leaving out that part of the story. I too have felt that way. You encouraged me.”

Everyone knows that not every day is sweet. This world is full of trouble, especially for Christians who are passionate about living out our faith by opposing injustices and unfairness around us. We sense bitter sadness and helpless frustration in other believers, and within ourselves. We see anger and resentment, yes, even among Christians. We should not be surprised. Jesus himself promised that in this world we would have trouble.

Jesus Alongside
Although trouble in itself is not sweet; when Jesus helps us overcome the trouble we do sense a sweet satisfaction. Jesus also assured us that He overcame this world with all its trouble. He can help us to endure. We can choose to go through the trouble with Him by our side as we endure pain or illness, or opposition when we stand up for what is right.

Because of what the lyrics imply I still don’t like singing, “Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before,” but I have experienced Jesus making bitter days sweeter, eventually.

In the meantime, I’m for telling it like it is.

Discouraged? Check This Out.

This is terrible, I thought, I have only three published paper books and one ebook to my credit while these writers have published twice as many, and they’re only half my age!

I was participating in the annual writers’ conference of the Inscribe Christian Writers Fellowship. As I walked by the book tables, it was discouraging to see how unfavourable my output was compared to that of my fellow writers. One young woman had published thirty books. Mind you, they were small, illustrated children’s books, but still—thirty books!

That weekend, I was home clearing up my study when I picked up a book I had published decades ago but had forgotten about. That got me started on a little self-encouragement project. I made a list of all the books I had published while working with the Canela people. Some were illustrated learn-to-read books and had only 45 pages, but hey, they had covers and were professionally published by the Brazilian government. That counts.

23 out of the 37 total books published

23 out of the 37 total books published

It started slowly in the 1970s when I, with Jo’s help, wrote and published four easy reading books in Canela totalling 280 pages. Then production exploded in the 1980s with 23 books totalling 1,273 pages. One was in English on Canela linguistics, the rest in Canela. In the 1990s only two books were published, one a small song book, the other a large partial Bible, a total of 777 pages. In the 2000s, four books totalling 561 pages including the Poke in the Ribs and Kick in the Pants books. Thus far in the 2010s, three books: the Bonk on the Head book, the ebook, A Tickle in the Funny Bone, and the ebook just published this week, The Why and How of Bible Translation: What Every Christian Should Know (but few do, very few).

I was pleased to see a grand total of 37 books with about 3,200 pages and well over 750,000 words. Hmm, that is as much as ten Romance novels or seven John Grisham books.

Oh, and I also wrote over 500 article length blog posts that I didn’t publish in my printed books, as well as scores of articles for magazines

Okay, now I’m encouraged. Especially as I have another ebook in production right now.

Of course, as a Christian I realize all this is nonsense! I am a child of God! That is all I need to remember when I am discouraged for any reason.

I could be lying flat on my back in bed, unable to hear, see, or speak and my heavenly Father would not love me any less than He would if I had written ten million words of God-glorifying stories.

My greatest problem, How can I have my sins forgiven and enjoy a totally new life? has been solved by Jesus’ death in my place and resurrection. Because of what Jesus did for me, I am rightly related to God, and that is all I need to remember.

When Jesus’ disciples returned elated from a productive ministry trip, He adjusted their priorities by saying, “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” Luke 10:20 (NIV).

In that spirit I say, “I am a child of God and He loves me. That’s all I really need. Everything else is details.”

Why Should Christians Need Encouragement?

“Working vacation” and “original copy” are oxymorons:  the words cancel each other out. “Discouraged Christian” should be an oxymoron, but it isn’t. Why?
Before Joshua started his invasion of Canaan, God told him, “Be strong and courageous.” These words were passed on seven times to Joshua, to Moses, to the leaders, and to the people. David repeated the theme in the Psalms, saying, “Be of good courage.” Jesus, after telling his followers they would have lots of trouble in this world encouraged them by saying, “But cheer up, I have overcome the world.” The apostle Paul constantly urges his readers to encourage each other.
Why do you think the encouragement theme is so pervasive throughout the thousands of years of human history as recorded in the Bible? Could it be because we human beings are very often dejected and discouraged, disappointed and depressed, dispirited, downcast, disheartened and in the dark?
But why should Christians need encouragement? It is easy to understand discouragement in selfish people who constantly want more and can’t get it. But discouragement and depression don’t just happen to them, people who live serving God also suffer every form of discouragement. We are not exempt. Why not?
Here we are, children of a loving Father-God. We know He is Love, He is Light, He is just and all-knowing, all-powerful, all-wise, and present everywhere. The more these truths about God soak into our minds, the more we set ourselves to live right, love others, speak kindly, and think pure, uplifting thoughts.
And what is the result? We, His children, the ones He says He loves suffer the same sudden disasters that fall on those who live selfishly without any thought of God. We also experience deep disappointments, car accidents, killer cancers, botched surgeries, and financial failures.
What should be our attitude when these bad things happen to us? Here are a few things to consider:
1) It may be too soon to judge if something that happened is good or bad. We may only be halfway into the story.
2) Even if the story ends badly in this life, God is no one’s debtor. He is just, and will reward suffering in this life with glory in the next.
3) We can turn stressful situations into an opportunity for personal growth.
4) God wants each of us to live bringing glory to Him. Some will do this by being highly successful in public ministry, others by suffering in private under multiple physical and emotional stresses.
5) We are all involved in a spiritual battle and some of us will be wounded.
6) God has given every person on earth the ability to make choices. Every choice, good or bad, has far-reaching consequences which affect other people, even Christians.
7) When we receive comfort and encouragement in hard times, we are better able to sympathize with others and to comfort and encourage them.
8) A well-known poem tells us God answers our prayers, although not always in the way we expect:
I asked for strength and God gave me difficulties to make me strong.
I asked for wisdom and God gave me problems to solve.
I asked for patience and God placed me in situations where I was forced to wait.
I asked for courage and God gave me dangers to overcome.
I asked for love and God gave me troubled people to help.

We can’t help but get discouraged at times, but we don’t have to stay discouraged. We can be like David after raiders had kidnapped his family and those of his followers and his own friends wanted to kill him. David “encouraged himself in the Lord” and went on to win a great victory with God’s help. (1 Sam. 30:6)