A FOR EFFORT

There are times God asks us to do things that are hard, things that don’t make sense: to give something to others when we need it more than they; to take a step of faith when we don’t have the experience; to forgive someone that doesn’t deserve it. Our reason tells us, “This isn’t right. That’s too much. It’s not fair.” You’re being asked to go the extra mile.

Do what God’s asking you to do when it’s hard. Pray for your child even if they’re not changing. If you lose a client, business slows down, don’t complain, and get bitter at others. Do the hard thing instead. Keep seeing the best. Keep gratitude going. Hold on to your faith. David said, “I was young and now I’m old and I’ve never once seen the righteous forsaken.”

If we do the hard things, and step into our faith when it’s most necessary, you’ll see God’s handiwork in your life. If you could see what’s on the other side of your faithfulness, if you could see the renewed spirit, the joy, the growth, then you would stick with what you’re facing. The Lord loves to give A for effort!

A lot of high school seniors are doing a lot this time of the year. Our daughter Linnea is doing all her own college entrance requirements, all her essays and forms, emailing material to different schools, and of course doing her SATs. She’s still getting A’s during all this. She was also one of the lead supporting roles in Dreyfoos High School of the Art’s performance of Pride and Prejudice this past two weeks with months of rehearsals before. I know it sounds like I’m bragging. I’m not, not really, though I am very proud of her. I didn’t do all that and I couldn’t have I don’t think. I’m also not trying to make others feel less if they’re not doing as much. Perhaps this is just her level currently in her life. Someone else will be able to make this type of effort some other time. My point is there is reward for working like this. She knows she did all that and can handle all that. She built up her character in this busy time.

When we respond with the extra effort, we get the credit. We all want high credit scores financially. The same is true spiritually.

Jesus was on the Galilee seashore. So many gathered that he didn’t have room. He saw a boat and a man cleaning his nets. Jesus had never met Peter, but he asked to borrow the boat so he could stand in it right off the shore while he spoke. Peter agreed. When Jesus finished, he asked Peter to do something unreasonable. Peter had fished all night and caught nothing. He

was frustrated, tired, ready to get home as soon as Jesus was done with his boat. Jesus however had a different thought. He said, “Peter, launch out into the deep and you will catch a great haul of fish.”

I can imagine Peter thinking, “Excuse me, I’m a professional fisherman, you’re a teacher. I didn’t tell you how to teach. I’ve been doing this for years, so I know when to fish. This is not the right time.” Everything in his reasoning said, “Don’t do it. You’re going to be wasting your time.” He could have said, “Jesus, sir, I appreciate your suggestions. Thanks for your advice, but that doesn’t make sense.” He could have walked away, and we would have never heard of Peter. But even though Peter didn’t understand it, even though it went against his experience, to his credit, he said, “We’ve worked all night and caught nothing; nevertheless, we will go back out.” He threw out his net and caught so many fish his net began to break.

Peter did the hard thing. He practiced his faith and trusted Christ even if it didn’t make perfect sense to him, or at least to part of him. What a difference it made.

Many people often take the easy way out of, well, a whole lot. They take short cuts, but not to where they think they’re going. Yet, most know, as they look back, that if they had just stuck to it when things got tough, or kept a little more faith, or took what looked like the harder path at the time, it would have been for the better.

Do one hard thing every day. Some days, that may just mean getting up from the couch without using your arms! Other days, you may be ready for a bigger challenge, something you may define as “hard,” like cleaning out a closet or weeding out your filing cabinet. Of course, we have challenges naturally built into our days as we juggle personal and professional commitments while keeping sane. Getting through the day without screaming at your kids or partner makes it a good day often enough. You didn’t lose your cool and the payoff is obvious. Go ahead, do one hard thing each day.

It’s good to do the small things. They’re important. To be kind to a neighbor, to give to charity; when a co-worker is rude, you let it go. But is God asking you to do something that seems too hard, uncomfortable? Don’t just dismiss it. Yeah, you should break away from friends that’ll cause you to compromise. Yes, you could watch how much you need to be entertained vs doing something beneficial for others or the community. Yes, going back to school is the tough but right choice for you. Everything in your reasoning will tell you, “You don’t have time. It’s not going to work. Don’t rock the

boat.” Yes, it may be difficult, but if you could see the blessing, the gift that comes from giving, the joy attached to extra hard effort, then you would dig down and do it.

The truth is today a lot of people are doing hard things as if it were easy. Children are having to adjust and adapt to a world of masks. Parents worry about how this is affecting their children. Adults are anxious and depressed because life isn’t normal. We may say this is the new normal all we want, but it’s not a good normal. It’s taken a toll. I’m concerned doing these hard things is changing us.

If you’re having too tough of a time, let me know. Let someone know. Make sure you don’t put all your eggs in only your own basket.

Now the truth is it’s possible to be someone who’s always done the harder things. Perhaps you’ve been willing to sacrifice for others a lot. You’ve sacrificed for others and neglected yourself. You know someone who foregoes a lot of things that others don’t. There are plenty of people who aren’t into instant gratification but are in it for the long haul—and not even necessarily for themselves. They get the payoff when someone else cashes in. A lot of folks from older generations know what it is to save and scrimp, to delay and deny themselves, so that their children can have more than they did or something close to it. These are good people. Salt of the earth. Many of you right here or right there, digitally, are such people. My parents are two of these parents.

Let us all join in on this great good work—to do the hard thin—but let us do so in a way that builds us up too. What I mean is sometimes we work hard and get overworked. So, do hard things without becoming hard yourself. Do difficult asks without growing difficult. Do tough things without growing tough. Be willing to sacrifice but don’t get a victim’s mentality. Suffer for something and someone without developing a martyr’s complex. God loves a cheerful giver.

Jesus said, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.” He was referring to the common practice of Roman soldiers making Jews carry the soldier’s stuff a mile. It was the law. Jesus told them to take their stuff another mile, to go the extra mile. He told us to turn the check so as to offer the other cheek, too. If someone takes away your coat, perhaps the only one you have—and one that you would use to wrap yourself at night and one that the taker was legally obligated to return to the owner by nightfall so he or she could stay warm enough—Jesus said let them have

your shirt as well. Probably hyperbole, especially for a woman. But still, he’s making a point, a hard point.

Now, Matthew’s Gospel makes this sound like a commandment or a teaching that Jesus gave, simple as that, and that was why you should do it—”because Jesus said so.” No other reason given or needed.

Luke however gives us another perspective. His Jesus fills in the blanks that the human mind can’t help but wonder about or question. Why do we have to do such hard things? Because, Jesus says in Luke’s Gospel, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” It’s surprising if not shocking to think of things this way. How little difference there might be between people, some who think they’re doing great at being good and others who think they’re doing poorly and are bad.

To be Christian, Luke’s Gospel tells us, isn’t about being better than others. Not at all. You don’t get to be better. Being Christian is about doing tougher stuff than others aren’t willing to do. You get to do more good, and that’s to your credit. “If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.” Christians don’t receive as much. They give more, to their eternal credit.

In a world where so many want what’s theirs and also what should be somebody else’s; in a world where people can’t set boundaries between their wishes and reality; in a time when people give vent to their will to win or rather to defeat others while refusing to see the damage done—it’s hard to give away what’s rightfully one’s own or to choose to have less. But those who tear down, aren’t built up in God’s eyes. They’re defaulting on their account. Rather, those who can give and do build theirs. More than this, they are free. Those who share, share in God’s liberty.

Those who look not at what they’re supposedly owed, but to what is commonly needed, are doing the hard work, the holy work.

Do the good stuff, the hard stuff, to the glory of God, and for Jesus’ name, who did the hard part for all, and bought us the church and eternal life from his life and death.

Can the church say Amen?

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