The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
"The LORD is my portion," says my soul,
"Therefore I have hope in Him" (Lamentations 3:22-23 NASB).
We call the problem many things: dying with boredom, stuck in our rut, captured by the predictable, the daily grind, our fixed routine, the relentless cycle, the suffocating sameness, another lap on the treadmill of life, the endless pattern, being lost on the merry-go-round, or living the same ol' thing. No matter what we call it, there are times when life feels unchangeable. What will happen is what has happened. We can't escape it. We can't change it. We are bound to repeat it. We even have the words of Scripture to give voice to our stuck condition:
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9 TNIV).
When this predictable sameness involves loss, grief, heartbreak, illness, pain, or "a long run of bad luck," then the impact of this sameness on our heart, our spirit, our psyche, and our faith can be devastating. Joy is drained out of each day. Despair and depression rule our lives. Hope is lost. The will to live, or least the will to live with purpose, is sucked from our spirits and our souls turn brittle and dry as dust.
So how do we survive such times? How do we move beyond our rut so that it does not become our never-ending grave? After all, isn't that what a rut is: a grave without ends?
Over the years, several proven spiritual commitments have proved to be a blessing to folks who found themselves trapped in circumstances bigger than their ability to alter. These are not color-by-number "quick fixes" for tough times, but they are spiritual disciplines that have been practiced through the ages that brought blessing, change, and peace to those who practiced them.
Tell God Stories
One of the reasons God gave us the incredible treasury of the Bible is for us to tell the stories of our people and our heavenly Father who has been at work in us. Stories of relentless despair through which God works his great grace remind us that God changes things in the lives of ordinary people like us.
Read the Old Testament books of Ruth, Esther, and Daniel to see how God did amazing things in times when people felt helpless and had lost their hope. Remember the story of the miraculous catch of fish where Jesus changed the lives of Peter, Andrew, James, and John — and thousands after them — forever (Luke 5:1-10). Remember the story of a church caught in the relentless and ongoing fear of persecution and how God turned the church's greatest enemy into its greatest advocate with the conversion of Saul (Acts 9:1-22). These are our stories. This is our God. One of the reason God gave us these stories is to help us remember and to help us expect that the Almighty can do what no one else can do, even more than we can ask or imagine in us and through us (Ephesians 3:14-21).
Praying the Psalms
Most of us pray when things are tough, at least at first we pray then we often give up. Yet when we look at those prayers, frequently they are about what we want changed in our lives. "Please help ... please fix ... please give ... please heal ... please ..."
Clearly we are to pray what is on our heart. When we look at the prayer book of the Bible, the Psalms, we are given honest words, angry words, hard words, imploring words, and even anguished words to speak to God. This great storehouse of prayer should become our habitat for times both hard and great. The Psalms remind us that we can be gut honest with God.
At the same time, the Psalms teach us to pray with thanksgiving, praise, joy, and expectation even in hard times as we pray honestly before God. The Psalms remind us that the goal of our spiritual journey is not prayer or changing our circumstances, but it is God — to be in the Father's presence, to be shaped by our time with God, and have our hearts lifted by times in the presence of our Creator. When we spend time with God using the Psalms, we learn that we can devote ourselves to prayer being both watchful and thankful as we honestly share our hearts with God (Colossians 4:2).
Join with Others on the Journey
In an era of big churches and lonely people, we must remember that the journey of faith is primarily a journey of friends and family — a fellowship caravan of travelers. The wise man's words are still true:
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If they fall down, they can help each other up. But pity those who fall and have no one to help them up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 TNIV).
Jesus sent his followers out in pairs, not alone (Mark 6:7). The apostle Paul always traveled with several companions (Acts 16:1-6). Jesus' presence is with us in special ways when two or more of us share together in prayer, worship, or even a common meal together (Matthew 18:20; Luke 24:13-35; Acts 2:46).
For those who are alone or feel abandoned, such a blessing seems too good to be true and too hard for them to find. But as we move out of a focus on our needs and our loneliness, and begin to focus on serving others for their good, not ours, incredible things happen. Fellowship and friendship are established. Whether it's becoming part of a church and finding a place to help, volunteering with Big Brothers or Big Sisters or some like organization, or volunteering to help at a hospital, as we move outside the circle of our needs to bless the lives of others, God brings community, purpose and even joy to our lives. Jesus said it this way: "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). As we give and invest ourselves in others, we find a new community is formed and a new fellowship is begun.
Often when I share these three spiritual trajectories for people to live in their own lives, they are frustrated that these are not quick fixes. I will confess to you that these are not magic beans that sprout overnight and give you a stairway to heaven. But, I can assure you, these are the tried and true practices of the ages. They have sustained others like you and me, and those who faced far worse circumstances than most of us can imagine. And, these have opened up the hearts of God's people to see that our Father really is the God of new things (Isaiah 43:19), that our Father can make our world fresh and new again by remaking us (2 Corinthians 5:17), and with each day, we can say, "This is the day which the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it" (Psalm 118:24). He's still got the whole world — even our little piece of it — in His hands.
The following thoughts and questions are for your personal reflection, use in a Home Gathering group, or in small group discussion. Feel free to share your reactions to this article or to the questions on my blog:
What is your favorite "God story" — a story about God being at work in the lives of everyday people in Scripture.
- How did God "showing up" in their life change the situation?
- What is your favorite "God story" in your life?
- How did God "showing up" in your life change you even if the situation didn't immediately change?
Think through the prayers you've prayed recently:
- Were you honest with God about your current situation in life, your struggles, your sins, and your frustration?
- Did you praise God for Who He is and what He has done in the past?
- Did you thank Him for the good things and the blessings in your life?
- Why do you think it is so important to be honest about our emotions in prayer with God?
- Why do you think the Bible emphasizes that praise and thanksgiving are so important in prayer?
Who is a friend you could share the deepest struggles of your heart with?
- If you don't have that kind of friend, who would be blessed by having you be this kind of friend to them?
- What group would benefit from you being a part of their team — what volunteer group at church, in the community, at the hospital?
This is part of a series of messages called, He's Still Got the Whole World in His Hands:
Messages in the series:
- Ain't Nothin' New (9.24.09)
- Pray Till Peace Comes (10.01.09)
- Sure Hope in Uncertain times (10.08.09)
- What's In Our Hands? (10.15.09)