The headline caught my eye: “Rest Days Important for Runners.” In Tommy Manning’s article, the former member of the U.S. Mountain Running Team emphasized a principle that dedicated athletes sometimes ignore—the body needs time to rest and rebuild after exercise. “Physiologically, the adaptations that occur as a result of training only happen during rest,” Manning wrote. “This means rest is as important as workouts.”
The same is true in our walk of faith and service. Regular times of rest are essential to avoid burnout and discouragement. Jesus sought spiritual balance during His life on Earth, even in the face of great demands. When His disciples returned from a strenuous time of teaching and healing others, “He said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’” (Mark 6:31). But a large crowd followed them, so Jesus taught them and fed them with only five loaves and two fish (vv. 32–44). When everyone was gone, Jesus “went up on a mountainside to pray” (v. 46).
If our lives are defined by work, then what we do becomes less and less effective. Jesus invites us to regularly join Him in a quiet place to pray and get some rest.
Joop Zoetemelk is known as the Netherlands’ most successful cyclist. But that’s because he never gave up. He started and finished the Tour de France 16 times—placing second five times before winning in 1980. That’s perseverance!
Many winners have reached success by climbing a special ladder called “never give up.” However, there are also many who have lost the opportunity to achieve success because they gave up too soon. This can happen in every area of life: family, education, friends, work, service. Perseverance is a key to victory.
The apostle Paul persevered despite persecution and affliction (2 Tim. 3:10-11). He viewed life with realism, recognizing that as followers of Christ we will suffer persecution (vv. 12–13), but he instructed Timothy to place his faith in God and the encouragement of the Scriptures (vv. 14-15). Doing so would help him face discouragement and endure with hope. At the end of his life, Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (4:7).
We too can allow the Scriptures to strengthen us to press on in the race marked out for us. For our God is both a promise-making and promise-keeping God and will reward those who faithfully finish the race (v. 8).
“I don’t think God is good,” my friend told me. She had been praying for years about some difficult issues, but nothing had improved. Her anger and bitterness over God’s silence grew. Knowing her well, I sensed that deep down she believed God is good, but the continual pain in her heart and God’s seeming lack of interest caused her to doubt. It was easier for her to get angry than to bear the sadness.
Doubting God’s goodness is as old as Adam and Eve (Gen. 3). The serpent put that thought in Eve’s mind when he suggested that God was withholding the fruit from her because “God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v. 5). In pride, Adam and Eve thought they, rather than God, should determine what was good for them.
Years after losing a daughter in death, James Bryan Smith found he was able to affirm God’s goodness. In his book The Good and Beautiful God, Smith wrote, "God's goodness is not something I get to decide upon. I am a human being with limited understanding." Smith’s amazing comment isn’t naïve; it arises out of years of processing his grief and seeking God’s heart.
In times of discouragement, let’s listen well to each other and help each other see the truth that God is good.
In 1986, John Piper nearly quit as minister of a large church. At that time he admitted in his journal: “I am so discouraged. I am so blank. I feel like there are opponents on every hand.” But Piper didn’t walk away, and God used him to lead a thriving ministry that would eventually reach far beyond his church.
Although success is a word easily misunderstood, we might call John Piper successful. But what if his ministry had never flourished?
God gave the prophet Jeremiah a direct call. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” God said. “Before you were born I set you apart” (Jer. 1:5). God encouraged him not to fear his enemies, “for I am with you and will rescue you” (v. 8).
Jeremiah later lamented his commission with ironic language for a man with a prenatal calling. “Alas, my mother, that you gave me birth, a man with whom the whole land strives and contends!” (15:10).
God did protect Jeremiah, but his ministry never thrived. His people never repented. He saw them slaughtered, enslaved, and scattered. Yet despite a lifetime of discouragement and rejection, he never walked away. He knew that God didn’t call him to success but to faithfulness. He trusted the God who called him. Jeremiah’s resilient compassion shows us the heart of the Father, who yearns for everyone to turn to Him.
Normally she doesn’t move or make a sound, but lately she’s been pawing us gently in the middle of the night. At first we thought she wanted to go outside, so we tried to accommodate her. But we realized she just wants to know we are there. She’s nearly deaf and partially blind now. She can’t see in the darkness and can’t hear us move or breathe. Naturally, she gets confused and reaches out for reassurance. So I just reach down and pat her on the head to assure her that I’m there. That’s all she wants to know. She takes a turn or two, settles down, and goes back to sleep.
“Where can I flee from your presence?” David asked God (Ps. 139:7). David took this as an immense comfort. “If I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me,” he noted. “Even the darkness will not be dark to you” (vv. 9-12).
Lost in darkness? Grieving, fearful, guilty, doubting, discouraged? Not sure of God? The darkness is not dark to Him. Though unseen, He is at hand. He has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). Reach out your hand for His. He is there.
Christmas is the time of year when the pressure to be perfect intensifies. We imagine the perfect celebration and then put forth our best effort to make it happen. We shop for the perfect gifts. We plan the perfect Christmas Day meal. We choose the perfect greeting cards or write the perfect family letter. But our striving leads to discouragement and disappointment when our ability to imagine perfection exceeds our ability to implement it. The carefully chosen gift receives only a halfhearted thank you. Part of the meal is overcooked. We find a typo in our Christmas greeting after we’ve mailed the cards. Children fight over toys. Adults resurrect old arguments.
Instead of being discouraged, however, we can use our disappointment to remind ourselves of the reason Christmas is so important. We need Christmas because none of us is or can be all that we want to be—not for a month, a week, or even a day.
How much more meaningful our celebrations of Christ’s birth would be if we would give up our faulty concept of perfection, then focus instead on the perfection of our Savior, in whom we are made righteous (Rom. 3:22).
If your Christmas celebration this year is less than ideal, relax and let it be a reminder that the only way to be “made perfect forever” (Heb. 10:14) is to live by faith in the righteousness of Christ.
Roger had been through a lot. He had open-heart surgery to repair a leaky valve. Then, within just a couple of weeks, doctors had to perform the surgery again because of complications. He had just begun to heal with physical therapy when he had a biking accident and broke his collarbone. Added to this, Roger also experienced the heartbreak of losing his mother during this time. He became very discouraged. When a friend asked him if he had seen God at work in any small ways, he confessed that he really didn’t feel he had.
I appreciate Roger’s honesty. Feelings of discouragement or doubt are part of my life too. In Romans, the apostle Paul says, “We can rejoice . . . when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation” (5:3-4 nlt). But that doesn’t mean we always feel the joy. We may just need someone to sit down and listen to us pour out our hearts to them, and to talk with God. Sometimes it takes looking back on the situation before we see how our faith has grown during trials and doubts.
Knowing that God wants to use our difficulties to strengthen our faith can help us to trust His good heart for us.
Psalm 134 has only three verses, but it is proof that little things can mean a lot. The first two verses are an admonition to the priests who serve in God’s house night after night. The building was dark and empty; nothing of consequence was occurring—or so it seemed. Yet these ministers were encouraged to “lift up [their] hands to the holy place and bless the Lord!” (v. 2 esv). The third verse is a voice from the congregation calling into the darkness and loneliness of the night: “The Lord who made heaven and earth bless you.”
I think of other servants of the Lord today—pastors and their families who serve in small churches in small places. They’re often discouraged, tempted to lose heart, doing their best, serving unnoticed and unrewarded. They wonder if anyone cares what they’re doing; if anyone ever thinks of them, prays for them, or considers them a part of their lives.
I would say to them—and to anyone who is feeling lonely or insignificant: Though your place is small, it is a holy place. The one who made and moves heaven and earth is at work in and through you. “Lift up your hands” and praise Him.
A friend struggling with loneliness posted these words on her Facebook page: “It’s not that I feel alone because I have no friends. I have lots of friends. I know that I have people who can hold me and reassure me and talk to me and care for me and think of me. But they can’t be with me all the time—for all time.”
Jesus understands that kind of loneliness. I imagine that during His earthly ministry He saw loneliness in the eyes of lepers and heard it in the voices of the blind. But above all, He must have experienced it when His close friends deserted Him (Mark 14:50).
However, as He foretold the disciples’ desertion, He also confessed His unshaken confidence in His Father’s presence. He said to His disciples: “[You] will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me” (John 16:32). Shortly after Jesus said these words, He took up the cross for us. He made it possible for you and me to have a restored relationship with God and to be a member of His family.
Being humans, we will all experience times of loneliness. But Jesus helps us understand that we always have the presence of the Father with us. God is omnipresent and eternal. Only He can be with us all the time, for all time.