Welcome to this edition of Ezer Equipped!
It’s hard to believe that it’s already October. In some ways, it seems like we just celebrated the anticipation and promise of a new year, but in other ways, it feels like 2020 is the visitor who has long overstayed her welcome. Covid, quarantine, unemployment and financial stress, disruption to school and work schedules, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, racial unrest, and ever-growing political division. The effects of this year are taking its toll on us, leaving us weary and wondering, “How long, O Lord?” But there seems to be no end in sight. What do we do when suffering or hardship is prolonged and deliverance is delayed?
The movie, Master and Commander with Russell Crowe, set during the Napoleonic wars, follows a British warship in relentless pursuit to take down a French war vessel. In one scene, just as the two ships square off, the camera pans to a young boy who is assuming his station for battle. Obviously nervous, the boy glances at a toothless old man beside him who, with a knowing nod, points to the tattoo across his knuckles which says, “Hold fast.”
Hold fast is a nautical term sailors would often tattoo on their hands to remind them to bear down and fight through the storm—dedicating one hand to the ship and leaving one hand free to help shipmates. I couldn’t help but think that’s the message we need too! We are in the midst of a doozy of a storm that’s been disorienting and destabilizing in so many ways. How do we, as believers, hold fast so that we not only weather the storm but also have a hand free to help those around us?
I think this season has revealed that much of what we’ve been holding onto—money, politics, routine, man-made systems, our own worldview, comfort, control, clarity—isn’t substantive enough to keep us steady in the storm. We are learning how fragile we are and how fragile the world is. We don’t know when—or if—things will return to the way they used to be, and that is not the kind of stabilizing hope we need to weather the storm. If we are holding our breath waiting for the new year, or the election, or a vaccine, then we may just miss Jesus in our midst.
So what do we hold fast to? What is it that can not only enable us to weather the storm, but to also do so in such a way that we are helpful to those around us? The book of Hebrews tells us to hold fast to our confident hope in Christ and his work to establish us as the people of God (Chapter 3), to our confession (our belief) in Christ as our great high priest (4:14-16), and our certain hope in the unchangeable character of God’s purpose (6:13-20) and faithfulness (10:19-25). The book of Revelation also reminds us to hold fast to his name (his revealed character and reputation) and our faith in the midst of false teaching, temptation, hardship, and evil (2:12-17). God’s character, purpose, power, faithfulness, and work through Christ are what we must hold fast to in these days!
In order to equip you, we’ve provided some resources for you to read, watch, and interact with this month in order to help you take your eyes off the wind and waves, and instead fix them squarely on Christ and hold fast to him that you may endure.
Grace Church Women’s Discipleship Advisor
Charles Spurgeon described this as “one of the shortest psalms to read, but one of the longest to learn.” Calming and quieting ourselves might feel like a small step, but it will greatly increase our capacity to endure.
“Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself,
like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk.
Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.”
When we are in extended periods of suffering, we are tempted to believe that God doesn’t know, doesn’t care, or can’t do anything about it. Yet in this passage, we are reminded that the formative discipline obtained through hardship is actually proof of his love for us. Our job is to reset our focus so that we can endure despite our weariness.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.”
Pause and Reflect:
- Are there ways in which you have been suspicious of God in this season and/or misunderstood his posture toward you?
- What is a specific sin and/or obstacle that has weighed you down in this season and impacted your ability to endure well?
- What steps can you take to fix your eyes on Jesus and attach yourself securely to him?
No doubt we are in a season where our faith is being tested and we are feeling a bit fragile. It seems counterintuitive to welcome it, yet this passage reminds us that embracing our weakness creates opportunities for growth.
“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”
Pause and Reflect:
- How has your heart felt divided in this season?
- What kind of spiritual and emotional instability has that created for you?
- How have you grown as a result of the hardships in this season?
Video from Chrystie Cole
Chrystie Cole walks us through the story in Matthew 14:22-33 where Jesus walked out to meet the frightened disciples in the midst of the storm and invited Peter to join him. She offers timely reminders and encouragement for us as we seek to hold fast to Christ in the midst of our current storm.
“They were able to see him in a new way that they would not have been able to see apart from that storm they were going through. Because of that experience, they worshipped him more fully, more wholly, more completely because they saw him as bigger than they had seen him in the moments leading up to that.”
We encourage you to use these conversation starters as a means of self-reflection and for discussion within your community.
- The challenges of the last seven months have disrupted what we have often depended on for comfort, security, control, and peace. What have you previously relied on that is not currently strong enough to hold you now?
- How would you describe your need for Jesus now versus a year ago?
- How have you allowed the circumstances of today to cloud your vision so that the storm feels bigger, more powerful than the ruler of the universe?
- If you could attach yourself securely to Jesus in a way that allowed you to persevere, how would it free you up to be a steadying force for others?
Scripture tells us to fix our thoughts on what is true, honorable, right, pure, admirable, excellent, and worthy of praise. And that when we do so, the God of peace will be with us (Philippians 4:6-9). In order to do that, we will need to create margin in our hearts and minds. Normally, in response to what we have learned, we offer several options for next steps. But this month, we actually want to challenge you to do both of these: decrease and increase.
Decrease: The noise of the culture has induced fear, despair, and anxiety. We need to actively take steps to reduce our consumption and silence the toxic input that is fueling our fear and division.
- Social media intake
- Reading and sharing disputable, unreliable, divisive, or quarrelsome content
- How often and what type of news you are consuming
- Influence from existing echo chambers you may be in: An echo chamber exists when we only listen to or surround ourselves with others who think like us, believe like us, align with us. Echo chambers contribute to and increase fear; anxiety; division; an "us vs. them" mentality; lack of compassion for those different from us; bias; anger; hostility; feelings of pride, self-righteousness, and superiority; and an inability to listen to, learn from and empathize with others.
- Intake of or engagement in conspiracy theories
- Foolish arguments and speculation (2 Timothy 2:23-26)
Increase: Our only way through this is to hold fast to Jesus. We have no other hope. He is it. And he is enough. We need to actively take steps to increase our consumption of that which will enable us to endure with confident hope and peace and equip us to share that same source of hope and peace with others (1 Peter 3:13-17). Here are some suggestions:
Intake of Scripture:
- Memorize Psalm 131.
- Start a Bible reading plan: Use the daily Grace Church Reading Plan available here or on the Grace App to prepare for Sunday’s message. The Bible App has several plans to choose from and you can invite friends to join you for accountability and encouragement. Two options are The Bible Recap, and Every Word: A 90 Day Guide to the Bible.
- Study the attributes of God or pick one to focus on.
Worship as a means to nurture your soul:
- Create a playlist of songs that help you rehearse the promises of God.
- Or, use this one that we especially curated for this season.
Connection to community:
- Who in your life really knows how you are doing right now?
- Acknowledge when you are struggling and share it with others so that they can help remind you of what is true. A true friend will help carry you to Jesus when you are too weak to carry yourself.
Enjoyment of Creation:
- How can you make getting outside a priority right now? Being in nature gives us a physical way to connect with God. His creation quiets us by restoring our mind, soul, and body.
- Set aside some time to do something creative, to cultivate beauty. Write a poem, paint, journal, take a pottery class, learn a new creative skill, or make something beautiful for your home. Taking time to do something creative is a way to quiet the mind and participate with God in the beauty of creation.