Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Lives-Pt. 2

Spiritual Lessons from the Apostles

 

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Part One of this series gave us an overview of the Apostles and discussed the lessons we can learn from Simon Peter in particular. In Part Two we will look at the inspiration that can be drawn from the lives of Andrew, James and John, Philip, Bartholomew and Thomas.

Andrew

Before meeting Jesus, Andrew and his younger brother Simon Peter, along with James and John, were partners in a fishing business. Andrew and John were disciples of John the Baptist; they were the first to follow Jesus when the Baptist pointed him out as “the Lamb of God” [John 1:36]. Later, Andrew brought Simon Peter to Jesus. Yet although Peter, James and John became part of the Lord’s “inner circle,” granted special confidences and privileges, Andrew did not. I often wonder how he felt about this. Was he hurt? Did he struggle to rise above jealousy and envy? Being human, he probably did.

Although perhaps not so strong a leader as his brother Peter, Andrew was active in bringing others to Christ. In contrast to the bemused Philip, he was resourceful enough to tell Jesus about the boy who had the loaves and fishes [John 6].

Andrew also helped the hesitant Philip inform Jesus that a group of Greeks wanted to meet him [John 12:2022]. This suggests that Andrew understood Jesus’ call to save all people, not just the Jews. It’s a safe bet that Andrew was a strong organizer and administrator among the Apostles.

Andrew traveled to Asia Minor, Scythia and as far as Kiev to preach the Gospel of Christ. He was crucified in Achaea in Greece, on an X-shaped cross, upon which he suffered for two days before he died. He is often pictured in art with the X-shaped cross as an identifying symbol.

Andrew inspires us to lead others to Christ and to conquer envy and jealousy in order to serve the greater good. In Andrew’s strong, quiet, solid character, we see a shining example of the humility that acknowledges that God can accomplish great good through those who don’t care who gets the recognition.

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James and John

These brothers were the sons of Zebedee, a respected and prosperous Galilean fisherman with an explosive temper. Because of this, Jesus nicknamed James and John “sons of thunder.” They apparently inherited their father’s temper: when the Samaritans refused to welcome Jesus and the Apostles, James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven to consume the whole village. This attitude, needless to say, was not appreciated by the Master.

Their ambitious mother, Salome, a close relative of  Mary, the Mother of Jesus, joined James and John in demanding that they be given positions of power in Christ’s kingdom. This caused resentment among the other Apostles. As Jesus pointed out, whatever we do in the name of God must be done for the purpose of serving Him and humankind, not for personal gratification or recognition. This teaches us to beware of the hunger for power that exists today, even within the Church, and to realize that along with God’s gifts and privileges come tremendous responsibility and sometimes great hardship.

James, believed to be the elder brother, was a fair-minded, modest man with a quieter nature than John. Although James and John were usually inseparable, James was not with his brother after Jesus’ arrest.

James later became a leading spirit in the early Church and was the first Apostle to suffer martyrdom. James was beheaded with a sword by order of Herod Agrippa around 44 A.D., making him the second martyr of the Christian church (St. Stephen being the first, in 34 A.D.). James did indeed “drink the cup that Jesus drank.”

John always referred to himself as the “disciple Jesus loved.” Of course, Christ loved everyone, but John may have been the “Teacher’s Pet.” The youngest, and perhaps the only unmarried one, John was treated with paternal affection. He was the only Apostle present at the Crucifixion. Affectionate and trustworthy, it was to his care that Jesus entrusted his precious Mother.

John is recorded as the first to recognize Jesus at the Sea of Galilee after the Resurrection [John 21:1-7]. However, it was Peter who jumped into the sea to get to Jesus as soon as he heard John’s exclamation, “It is the Lord!” These little anecdotes, so revealing of personality, are what make the Apostles so endearing.

From John we learn loyalty. Even when the chips were down and the other Apostles deserted Jesus, John remained with Him to the end. In caring for Jesus’ Mother, he is a fine example of how we should care for the grieving, the lonely, the needy, the elderly.

John’s greatest legacy is love. Under the tender tutelage of his beloved Master, John gradually learned to channel his assertiveness into an active and enduring charity for all. This fiery young man, who once wanted to stop someone from casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and who with James once called for vengeance on their enemies, came to be known as the Apostle of Love.

John refers to Christian love more than two dozen times in his Epistles. When we are tempted to strike back in anger and revenge against those who have hurt us, we can look to John and the lessons in love he learned from Christ, who was Love Incarnate.

Philip

In the Gospel of John, Philip is the first to whom Jesus says, “Follow me” [John 1:43]. Philip brought his friend Bartholomew to Jesus, thus recruiting another Apostle.

Although a devoted follower, Philip possessed a childlike nature and sometimes showed a weakness of faith. When Jesus told the Apostles to feed the crowd of five thousand, it was Philip who protested, “Two hundred days wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little bit!” [John 6:7].

Philip reminds us of how often in our own lives we, too, doubt God’s ability to take care of our needs. In John 14:8, Philip tells Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Even as we smile at this naïve request, we realize how many times we ask God for signs to bolster our own weak faith, how often we lack confidence in the gifts and abilities Jesus promised in answer to Philip: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father….Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these” [John 14:9, 12].

Bartholomew/Nathaniel

Early lore describes Bartholomew, also known as Nathaniel, as being tall, handsome and distinguished, with his clothing trimmed in fashionable purple. Born in Cana, Bartholomew worked as a vinedresser before joining Jesus. Both he and his friend Philip came from Bethsaida, the same town as Peter and Andrew. Bartholomew was inclined to meditate. Perhaps this is what he was doing when Philip found him under the fig tree.

He was honest and straightforward, though sometimes inclined to be critical and prejudiced. He never hesitated to say what he thought. When Philip told them about Jesus, Bartholomew retorted, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” [John 1:46].

Despite his initial prejudice, he was open-minded enough to meet Jesus, who called him “a man without guile,” and “a true son of Israel.”

Bartholomew quickly had a change of heart and was the first recorded as calling Jesus “the son of God and King of Israel.” After the Crucifixion, he was part of the group that went fishing and saw Jesus at the Sea of Tiberius.

From Bartholomew we learn to have the sincerity to speak our mind while being willing to admit our mistakes, the faith to see the Divine hand in the events of our lives, and the open-mindedness to look beyond our prejudices to see ourselves and our fellow humans in the light of truth.

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Thomas

There is little said of Thomas except in the Gospel of John. This is enough to bring out his skeptical and somewhat pessimistic nature. Although his given name was Judas, he was called by the Greek name “Didymus,” translated Thomas or twin, although nothing is known about any siblings.

Thomas had worked in Galilee as a stonemason and carpenter, so he and Jesus must have had a lot in common. Thomas, though slow to believe and quick to give up, was a brave and reliable man with an ardent love for the Master. He was ready to follow Him even to the grave. When Jesus proposed going to Judea to see Lazarus, Thomas exclaimed impulsively, “Let us also go, to die with him!” [John 11:16].

During the last supper, Thomas asked Jesus, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus replied, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” [John 14:5-6].

The most famous incident involving Thomas is, of course, his refusal to believe in Jesus’ Resurrection until he had seen and touched Him, at which time he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas asked questions before he acted. He wanted to understand why he was doing something. Jesus may have chosen him for that very reason. Thomas’ healthy skepticism would show the world that Jesus’ disciples were not just blind followers, but had minds that examined and weighed what was presented to them. When his questions were answered, Thomas was a man of devotion and courage.

Pope St. Gregory the Great said of him: “The disbelief of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other disciples. As he touches Christ and is won over to belief, every doubt is cast aside and our faith is strengthened.”

From Thomas we learn discernment, to challenge and evaluate the sometimes overwhelming information and opinions with which modern society bombards us. In spiritual matters, we need to understand the deeper meaning behind what we do, lest religion becomes for us a matter of empty ritual and boring routines.

Like Thomas, we must realize that no matter how great our knowledge of spiritual matters, we can never fully comprehend them all. Rather, our deep and enduring faith sustains us in times of doubt, helping us to believe even when we cannot see or fully understand the great mystery of God and his plan for our lives.

In Part Three: Matthew, James the lesser, Jude Thaddeus, Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot.

 

Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Lives-Pt. 1

Spiritual Lessons from the Apostles

JesusApostlesWhenever I feel discouraged by my own limitations, I find hope and inspiration in the lives of the Apostles. Each of these men called “The Twelve” had jobs, families, and ambitions, just as we do. But when they met Jesus, He transformed everything about them, giving them new lives, new goals. As writer/historian Daniel-Rops points out in his book, Jesus and His Times, one of the best proofs that the Gospels are authentic is their account of the Apostles, because no one could have invented such human, fallible characters! I’m glad Jesus chose them, rather than brilliant paragons of virtue with whom we could never identify.

Unfortunately, we have little information about some of the Apostles. Often, all we have to go on is popular tradition, because many of the facts are veiled in obscurity. But there’s nothing obscure about the timeless lessons we can learn from the Apostles. That’s what we’ll explore in this series.

Who were the Apostles?

The word apostle means “one who is sent”; the number 12 corresponds to the 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus called his Apostles at the beginning of his public ministry, along with a nucleus of 72 secondary disciples. This was the forerunner of the Roman Catholic Church’s present hierarchal structure. Before choosing the Twelve, Jesus went up a mountain and prayed and meditated all night, asking the Father’s guidance. Jesus did not require genius, wealth, or social prominence from His followers. He sought willingness, a loving, giving nature and total dedication. At the Last Supper, He told them, “It was not you that chose Me, but I who chose you.” This is true for all of us: God has chosen each of us to fulfill a particular purpose that no one else can fill.  No disciples of any other prophets or philosophers, including John the Baptist, were given the power and authority of their master as were Christ’s Apostles.

The traditional grouping of the Apostles given in Matthew is: Simon Peter and his brother Andrew; James and his brother John, sons of Zebedee; Philip and Bartholomew (also known as Nathaniel); Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; Jude Thaddeus and James, son of Alpheus; Simon the Cananean (the Zealot) and Judas Iscariot.

They were simple, ordinary men, typical of the people God usually chooses to do his work. Most were probably of average height — 5’6” inches for a man of that time – and approximately the same age as Jesus, who was 30 at the start of his public ministry. Like all observant Jewish men in those days, they wore untrimmed hair and beards. Most of the Apostles belonged to the social class we would call “blue-collar” workers. Only a few could read or write, but they were by no means stupid or totally uneducated. They knew Aramaic and Greek, and from earliest childhood had been orally taught the Hebrew Scriptures by their parents and the synagogue school. They were no more or less pious than the typical Jew of the day. Because they were not religious scholars, Jesus knew they would be teachable, open to new ideas, and able to understand the average person’s struggles.

None of the Twelve realized at first what their new life would entail. Christ’s followers had to give up everything: family and social life, occupation, familiar daily routine, orthodox ideas. For Jews in Christ’s time, religion consisted of countless rules and regulations. Proud of their status as the chosen of God, they longed for the day when God would wreak vengeance on their oppressors. Yet Jesus asked His disciples to embrace a religion of universal love, brotherhood, and forgiveness towards everyone – even enemies, oppressors, and those they considered “unclean.”

With these twelve humble men, Jesus experienced true brotherhood. Living together for three years as they did fostered a profound and intimate friendship. There were days spent walking the dusty roads, stopping in villages to preach and minister to the throngs; nights gathered around the campfire, sharing food and their deepest thoughts and feelings. The Twelve felt so familiar with Jesus that they often had a possessive, protective attitude towards Him, trying to tell Him what to do, where to go, whom to avoid. As is evident in the Gospels, their vying for Jesus’ attention sometimes generated envy and competitiveness among them. Ardent and emotional, they weren’t above petty squabbles as to who was more important and favored by Jesus, or who should get special honors. They gradually learned to overcome these shortcomings and truly love and support one another. This is a perfect lesson as to how we, as members of Christ’s body, the Church, should behave towards one another.

In their trials and weaknesses, we find encouragement for our own struggles to transcend our limitations and be transformed. They desperately tried to believe, but didn’t know how to trust; wanted to be courageous, but were cowardly. Aspiring to love others and renounce self, they were at times egocentric and manipulative. They wanted to be devoted, but didn’t always succeed. Often, they found Jesus’ words hard to understand and asked naïve, even childish, questions. Only after the Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost were they truly enlightened about the deeper meanings in Christ’s teachings.

Although Jesus told them repeatedly that He would have to die, they were still profoundly shocked, bewildered and despondent when it actually happened. In this we recognize our own tendency to ignore the inevitable and refuse to prepare ourselves, only to complain and despair when the inevitable finally happens.

Yet, despite all their flaws, Jesus saw their great potential. He knew that through their association with Him, these twelve very human, very ordinary men would someday become extraordinary.

Simon Peter

Born Simon bar Jona (son of Jonas), upon meeting Jesus he was given the nickname “Kephas” in Aramaic (“Peter” in Greek), meaning “rock.” This must have amused those who knew him well, because Peter was far from rock-like in those early days! He was a volatile man, constantly wavering between loyalty and inconstancy, faith and doubt, bravado and cowardice. Big and broad, rash and impetuous, he often tactlessly put his foot in his mouth and was admonished by Jesus for speaking out of turn. But as the natural leader and spokesman of the Twelve, Peter was quick to respond to whatever Jesus wanted. When the others were disconcerted by Christ’s teachings, Peter remained firm. Although he found it hard to comprehend the true meaning behind Jesus’ mission, he loved Him heart and soul.

Along with the brothers James and John, Peter was part of the “inner circle” who were greatly trusted and relied upon by Jesus and sometimes singled out for certain privileges. For instance, they were present at the raising of Jairus’ daughter, were the only Apostles to witness Jesus’ Transfiguration, and accompanied Him when He went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before His crucifixion.

When Jesus asked the Apostles who they thought He was, it was Peter who gave the touching, truthful answer: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” [Matt. 16:16]. At that point, Jesus made Peter the head of His new Church. Yet shortly after this extraordinary declaration of faith and loyalty, Peter tried to talk Jesus out of fulfilling His destiny of going to Jerusalem to die, and was admonished by Jesus with the shocking words, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” Peter had to learn, as we all do, not to question or resist the will of God or apply human argument to His mysterious ways.

My favorite story about Peter is Matt. 14:28-31, which recounts his famous, impetuous dash across the water from the storm-tossed boat towards Jesus on the Sea of Galilee. When Peter’s mind caught up to his heart, he realized what he was doing, panicked, began to sink, and had to be lifted up by Jesus. This shows us that with faith in God and the abilities He has given us, we can do marvelous things. It’s only when we stop trusting God and rely solely on our own resources that we fall apart. It’s also a reminder to focus on the present moment. While Peter was concerned only with answering Jesus’ call to come to Him on the water, he was able to accomplish the miraculous. But when his mind moved off the present moment to dwell on doubt and fear, this marvelous ability fled as quickly as it had come.

The most striking example of Peter’s vacillating nature is, of course, his denial of Jesus, whom he loved so dearly. Yet, as horrified and filled with remorse as he was over his disloyalty, Peter did not despair as Judas did. He trusted that God in His infinite mercy and love would forgive him. Peter put his sin behind him and went on to become the leader of Christ’s Church on earth. This is a lesson in perfect contrition: the honesty and humility to admit our failings and make amends, the confidence that we will be pardoned, as well as the ability to forgive ourselves and move on towards what God has planned for our lives.

After Pentecost, Peter became a powerful leader, but still sometimes wavered in his resolve. In Galatians 2:11-14, Paul admonishes Peter for separating himself from the Gentiles because of pressure from some Jewish members of the early Church. Peter learned to have the courage of his convictions despite criticism and opposition. In our own increasingly secular society, where our spiritual beliefs and moral values are constantly being challenged, we need to look to Peter’s example.

Peter was martyred in Rome by crucifixion during the reign of Nero in AD 64.  Popular tradition says he was crucified upside-down, although historic evidence of that particular detail is inconclusive.

Peter’s finest qualities were leadership, humility, devotion, faith, honesty, perseverance and hope. When first called by Jesus, Simon Peter protested, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” [Luke 5:8]. In our own lives we, too, often respond to God’s call by saying, “Not me, Lord – I’m not good enough!” But like Peter, we can put our past behind us and move forward, firmly believing that God can transform us into something greater.

In Part Two: Andrew, James and John, Philip, Bartholomew, and Thomas.

Photo courtesy of Waiting for the Word (no changes made). Creative Commons License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

“Seventy Times Seven:” The Challenge of Forgiveness

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Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Part 1

 

Are you having trouble forgiving someone? Everyone deals with the challenge of forgiveness at one time or another.

Then Peter came to [Jesus] and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

 “No!” Jesus replied, “Seventy times seven!” [Matt. 18:21-22]

Forgiveness is an integral part of living a spiritually mature life, yet it is a complex and distressing issue for many of us, Christian and non-Christian alike. This two-part series will explore this challenge and present steps to help us in the process of forgiveness.

                                                            What is Forgiveness?           

One big stumbling block is confusion over what forgiveness actually means. The dictionary defines it as “granting pardon without harboring resentment.” Forgiveness is an altruistic outpouring of love and compassion towards the person(s) who offended us. It does not mean ignoring or denying that we have been hurt; condoning, justifying, or making excuses for someone’s actions; nor does it mean that persons committing an offense should not be held accountable for their actions.

It’s normal to feel hurt, anger, fear, or betrayal when someone offends us. But when we dwell excessively upon the offense, nurse our wounded pride and ponder on revenge, our hearts become hardened with the unforgiving emotions of bitterness, resentment, even hatred.  That’s why we must take steps to transform these destructive emotions into positive ones.

We need to realize that forgiveness does not mean we allow someone to continue hurting us through abusive relationships, perpetual irresponsibility and disregard for our feelings, or persistent behavior that is destructive to themselves and others. In such cases, we may need to avoid future emotional entanglements until and unless serious steps have been taken to resolve the problems, but we can still let go of our bitterness. Even after forgiving someone, the relationship and your feelings for the person may never be the same. Forgiveness involves non-possessive, “agape” love [charity], not necessarily an intimate, personal, or physically-demonstrative affection.

The degree of difficulty in granting forgiveness does not always depend upon the gravity of the offense. We may be able to forgive certain actions, yet struggle with others because they injure our feelings more deeply or trigger memories of past hurts. Some people are openly antagonistic towards us for no apparent reason.  This blow to our ego is hard to take. But being spiritually mature means learning to forgive those who do not or cannot love us back.

 Why should we forgive?

Forgiveness is a recurring theme throughout the Scriptures. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” — Christians recite these words every time they pray the Lord’s Prayer. Forgiveness is one of the most compelling lessons taught, and perhaps the most challenging. Why is it so important to forgive others?

  1. It blesses the person who offended us.
  2. We have an obligation to forgive as we have been forgiven by God and by other people; for Christians, forgiveness follows Christ’s own example
  3. Forgiving others benefits us physically, mentally, and spiritually. Our emotions always turn back upon us. An unforgiving attitude makes peace of mind impossible, and some experts believe that harboring negative emotions like bitterness, resentment, and hatred for long periods of time can even lead to physical illness.

Forgiveness is a process that can be broken down into manageable steps.  As with any important undertaking, adequate preparation is essential.

                                                                    Preparation

  • Pray for the gift of being able to forgive: Prayer softens the heart, opening it to receive God s grace. Also pray for the person(s) who hurt you. It’s difficult to stay angry with a person for whom you are praying. Here is a suggested prayer:

“Lord, I want to forgive ______, who has hurt me deeply, but I feel no forgiveness, compassion, or charity in my heart. Every time I try to forgive, I just get more frustrated. I don’t want to honor only my human feelings and continue to live with heartache over this, so I’m asking You to help me. Give me a little of Your great capacity for love and compassion. Help me to act with high-mindedness, not just human emotion. Place within my heart the determination to be selfless and forgiving.

Please bless this person I am trying to forgive, and heal any pain or bitterness that is in his/her heart. If it is Your will that I continue to have this person in my life, heal our relationship and help us to work out our differences with mutual respect and charity. I promise that as You help me, I will help others; as You forgive me, I will forgive; as You believe in me, I will believe in the value of others; and as You love me, I will love others in return.  Lord, make me a soul who reflects Your Light. Amen.”

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Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  • Seek inspiration: Reading the Scriptures and other inspirational material can also open the mind and heart to forgiveness. Here are some relevant Scripture passages about God’s forgiveness of us, and our obligation to forgive others:

If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?  But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared [Psalm 130:3-4].

For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more [Jer. 31:34].

Where is another God like You, who pardons the sins of the survivors among his people? You cannot stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing mercy. Once again You will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under Your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean [Micah 7:18,19].

For if you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins [Matt. 6:12].

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but repay evil with good. [Romans 12:19-21]. 

  • Make a conscious effort to begin the forgiveness process. Don’t wait for a warm, fuzzy feeling towards your offender. You probably won’t feel like forgiving someone who has caused you pain, and it will take an act of will to take the first step.  If warm feelings toward the other person do happen, it will be the result of forgiveness, not vice versa.

(In Part II, we’ll examine the process of forgiveness as a series of steps, and explore some tips on how to follow through and sustain your resolution to forgive.)

Forgive Note

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Pentecost Sunday

 

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The Holy Spirit has His own personality. He therefore moves in at will when we least expect it, and sometimes when we are least deserving of it. ~ R.T. Kendall

As you spend time in God’s Word and understand his love, the Holy Spirit will create new desires within you to love and serve others like never before.   ~ Chip Ingram

Let this Pentecost Sunday be the day that you let the Holy Spirit unleash His great power in your life. Invite Him to reveal His great love and caring, wisdom and guidance. He is the best Friend you will ever have!

In my last post of a few days ago, I described how my life was changed when I let the Holy Spirit into it. Right now I am going through a period of anxiety and discouragement.  I find that I cannot bring myself to continue to pray about all the problems facing me and my family right now; it feels empty and pointless. So I am leaning on the promise of St. Paul in Romans 8:26: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Groan for me, Holy Spirit, as I cannot do it alone!

Related Posts:  The Smiling Man: With Love & Praise to the Holy Spirit

Image courtesy of dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

The Instrument

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I am but an instrument in the Master’s hands,
but that’s alright with me.
I am seeking praise for the Musician, not the instrument,
as if I were a piano being played on a concert stage by a virtuoso.

At the end of the concert, the applause and good reviews are for the pianist,
although the piano must be finely-tuned,
and the musician must have a good rapport with his instrument,
in order to produce beautiful music.

The instrument is important and serves a purpose in its way —
but without the musician, the instrument is silent — just a hunk of wood.
If the instrument is unsatisfactory, the musician can always get another; 
Pianos are numerous, but great musicians few.

Lord, make me a good instrument
through which You can produce your masterpieces and be praised!

From Setbacks to Success: Finishing the Race – Pt. 2

 

RunnerwithtitleThe first post of this two-part series examined how perception and attitude shape our experiences whenever we encounter obstacles to achieving our goals, and how keeping an open mind and asking for Divine guidance can keep us from giving up. Once you have quieted your mind and prayed for guidance, reflecting on the following 10 questions can help you gain a clearer perspective on your situation and turn your setback into success:

  1. Am I on the right path? If a goal is unrealistic, incompatible with your soul’s deeper purpose, your talents and abilities, or potentially harmful to you or others, the obstacles you encounter might be a way of detouring you to another, better goal. Consider constructive criticism and feedback about your goals from people whose judgment you trust. Don’t seek the opinion of people who might be envious and not want to see you succeed, because they will only discourage you, undermine your confidence and give you false advice. Conversely, people too close to you might not want to rain on your parade, or their feelings for you might cloud their own judgment. But an honest and objective third party might see things you’re missing because you’re too emotionally involved.
  1. Am I using the right tactics? Sometimes the goal is appropriate, but the approach is wrong. If you consistently meet with opposition and failure, it could mean a change in strategy is necessary. Brainstorm to see how many new tactics you can come up with, and then begin to implement them one by one until you hit the right formula. Look to the example of others who have accomplished what you want to do and try to emulate their process to the best of your ability.
  1. Is my timing off? The worthiest goals and the cleverest strategy will not succeed if the timing is wrong. Anxious to reach our destination, we sometimes rush ahead without adequate thought or preparation. When plans stagnate, it’s tempting to try to force results before the time is right, often with disastrous consequences. I have committed some of my worst mistakes when I tried to make something happen that wasn’t ready or able to happen. If you’ve given something your best effort but still encounter a setback, if it seems as though everywhere you turn you come up against a brick wall with no discernible way out, a waiting period might be necessary to allow the right people and circumstances into your life to help you achieve your goal when the time is right.
  1. What motivates me? Selfishness, greed, revenge, jealousy, egotism, or a desire for excessive power can spoil even the most worthy goals. Obstacles and setbacks can force us to examine our motives and determine whether they conform to the highest standards. When we have the wrong motives, even if we succeed we may destroy relationships, hurt other people, and even jeopardize our own soul in the process. As a result, although we might achieve our goal, we ultimately will not feel fulfilled.
  1. Do I need more education, expertise, or experience? If you are unable to compete successfully in your field of endeavor, it might mean you need to sharpen your skills, increase your knowledge, or obtain more practical experience before you can attain your goal. Take classes, or find a mentor or role model who is successful in the field you are pursuing to help you. Read books by and about people who have done what you would like to do. Search the internet for articles, webinars, podcasts and videos that will give you more information. It’s amazing how many people will launch themselves toward a goal about which they know nothing and have never bothered to do any research! Adopt as your motto the old saying, “Knowledge is power.”
  1. Is this setback necessary for my personal and spiritual growth? Obstacles, failure, and stagnation are not only inevitable, but essential to the soul’s development. Growth occurs by overcoming obstacles, not by sailing through life without challenges. No creature is capable of constant productivity. God uses our dormant times to nourish us on a deep level, enabling us to draw upon new sources of strength and ability. The Roman poet Horace said, “Adversity has the effect of eliciting talent, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.”
  1. Am I encountering resistance because I am undertaking something important? It’s a known fact that often when we are about to embark on an endeavor that will do a lot of good and help a lot of people, we will encounter obstacles and misfortune, at the beginning and also at various points along the way. Whether you believe in evil forces or attribute it to your own subconscious resistance, these setbacks are a supreme test of your faith and determination to carry on with your high ideals and goals despite the opposition you’re encountering.
  1. Does someone need my help? Our plans are sometimes halted simply because our spouse, children, parents, siblings, friends or neighbors need our attention. Christ often interrupted his preaching and teaching in order to serve people’s practical needs of food, healing, and comfort. This doesn’t mean putting our lives on hold indefinitely or using other people’s needs as an excuse to shirk other responsibilities. But we can rest assured that the time we take from our own plans to show love and caring to someone will never be wasted. It may even open doors to helpful contacts and new opportunities.
  1. Do I need more trust, detachment, or acceptance? Having initiative and determination to make our dreams come true is essential, but we also need the detachment and discernment to know when to let go. All situations, whether perceived as good or bad, are temporary. When we trust God, we know that if we don’t get what we want, it’s because God wants to give us something better. God is not the denier of good things, but the source of them. “When you call me, when you pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, you will find me with you… And I will change your lot” (Jeremiah 29, 11-14).
  1. Is the effort more important than the result? There is a saying, “Some goals are so worthy, it’s glorious even to fail.” The growth we achieve through our efforts will benefit us, regardless of the visible outcome.

Whenever you experience failure or frustration, remember that everyone who has ever done anything worthwhile has met with obstacles. “I am not discouraged,” said Thomas Edison, “because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” Edison’s teachers thought he was stupid, and he was fired from his first two jobs. It is a well-known fact that Edison conducted hundreds, even thousands, of failed experiments before successfully inventing the light bulb.

One of my favorite people of all time, Walt Disney, was fired in 1919 from a job at a newspaper because the editor said he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

If you do research into the lives of famous people from all walks of life, you will discover stories of failure, frustration, and opposition of all kinds. What makes these people extraordinary is their persistence and determination to achieve their goals in the face of all odds. So, if you currently are experiencing obstacles and setbacks, cheer up — you’re in excellent company!

Oh, yeah — you’re probably wondering whatever happened to our writer friends who couldn’t sell their stories: They finally found a small publishing house on the verge of bankruptcy that was willing to take a chance on their book. And Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen became what Time magazine called, “the publishing phenomenon of the decade.” To date they have sold over 500 million copies worldwide, with more than 250 titles in 43 languages – and still going strong!

From Setbacks to Success: Finishing the Race – Pt. 1

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Part 1 of a 2-Part Series

In 1990, two men collaborated on a collection of inspirational stories. They were sure they had a winner, but in the first month alone thirty-three New York publishers turned them down. “No one buys short stories,” they were told, “and your title stinks!” Even their agent dropped them; yet they refused to give up. But after 140 rejections, they seemed to be up against a brick wall. No one wanted what they had to offer.

At one time or another, we all face obstacles, setbacks, and failures. Whenever we make changes in our life or embark on a new venture, we meet resistance from outside sources and from within ourselves. Friends and family may question our goals, or maybe we are inwardly fearful of what lies ahead. Random events beyond our control can also disrupt our plans. Confidence fails; doubt and discouragement replace our initial feelings of hope and excitement. But obstacles are a natural part of progress. If we realize this from the beginning, we can gain insight into the possible causes, and learn from our experiences. We can find the courage to press on instead of giving up.

Few people experience as many obstacles as did St. Paul. He was shipwrecked, beaten with rods, whipped, stoned, suffered many sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, cold and exposure. On top of that, he experienced constant anxiety about the early churches who looked to him for leadership. In Damascus, the governor guarded the city so Paul could be arrested. He writes, “…but I was lowered in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped…” Now that’s persistence!

Undaunted by the innumerable obstacles he faced, Paul continued writing and encouraging the early Church even from prison. In his second letter to Timothy he wrote, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”

Perception

Events in themselves are not necessarily good or bad. It’s our perception of the situation that labels it, our reaction to it that determines the ultimate effect it will have on our life. “The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; the optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty,” said Winston Churchill.

When our plans go awry, the human tendency is to react with fear, despair, or anger. We are angry with ourselves for our perceived failure, with other people for getting in our way, or with God for letting us down. But doors are opening even while we think everything is hopeless; changes are occurring during even the darkest times. We cannot see this, because our earthly perspective is limited to our present circumstances. It’s only in hindsight that we understand how each piece in the puzzle of our lives is essential to the entire picture.

Attitude

The late comedian Flip Wilson had a character named Geraldine, who used to flaunt her charms with the announcement, “What you see is what you get!” Similarly, what we see when we envision our future is often what we get. Lacking self-confidence, doubting God’s care, and obsessing about everything that could go wrong, set us up for failure.

Equally impractical is the blind optimism that stubbornly clings to unreasonable goals and pie-in-the-sky dreams. People with a well-balanced attitude set realistic goals and focus on success, while still leaving the door open to God’s surprises. They’re confident that nothing happens that God cannot use for good. They know they are guided, even when they can’t see the road ahead or feel God’s presence

 “Make Room for Abba”

Set goals and make plans, but leave them open-ended. Remember, God might have an even better idea, so stay open to it! Jesus referred to God  as “Abba,” which translates into “Father.” If we think of God as our loving Father, it stands to reason that He would want only the best for us. “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” Jesus asked the crowd during his Sermon on the Mount, “Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” If God is our loving Father, we can trust that He will give us the very best!

“If you are discouraged, it is a sign of pride, because it shows you trust in your own power,” said Mother Teresa of Calcutta. “Your self-sufficiency, your selfishness, and your intellectual pride, will inhibit [God’s] coming to live in your heart, because God cannot fill what is already full.”

After Christ ascended to heaven, the apostles didn’t know what their next step should be. During this dormant time, they had to wait for God’s direction. “…They went to the upper room where they were staying…[and] devoted themselves with one accord to prayer…” (Acts 2:13-14). For ten days, they waited and listened prayerfully for God’s answer, which manifested at Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Brick Wall with slogan

Every one of us has experienced frustrating times when despite all our efforts, nothing moves forward. You leave voicemail messages, send emails, texts, letters, etc., but no one responds. You launch a new venture, but the people you counted on to support it are strangely absent, whether through thoughtlessness, self-absorption, or because they’re dealing with personal problems. Your new business seemed off to a great start, but now the phone is silent and no one seems to know you exist. Just as you seem to be advancing toward a goal, you’re hit with illness, a family crisis, or financial problems, and all progress comes to a screeching halt.

During times of stagnation or frustration, surrender your anxiety to a Power greater than your own. Quiet your thoughts and listen with an open mind to what Divine wisdom might be telling you. Gradually, guidance will emerge out of a seemingly hopeless situation.

In Part 2, we’ll examine 10 steps you can take to help turn your setbacks into success. (You’ll also find out what happened to the two authors who couldn’t sell their book!)

 

 

Staying Hopeful in a Troubled World

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You wake up in the morning, feeling hopeful and looking forward to your day. Then you switch on the TV or radio, or check out your favorite online news source, and there it is: another terrorist attack, school shooting, or other heinous, senseless act of violence. Disturbing images of death, horror and destruction instantaneously transform your hopeful, optimistic mood into one of sorrow, disgust and fear. Terrifying questions and scenarios fill your mind: Where will the next attack happen? What if my loved ones or I are the next victims? Will there ever be peace on earth? Is it futile to plan, hope and dream about the future?  Do we even have a future?

During these troubled times, especially following the latest deadly terrorist attack, we are naturally concerned about our own country and the world. We wonder what we possibly can do to help. It’s important to maintain the right perspective so that we don’t become frightened and discouraged, because excessive grief, fear and anxiety about the world’s troubles will keep us from functioning effectively. Each of us is on earth to fulfill a unique purpose, and unless we do, we will never feel peace, regardless of what is happening in the world. We need to stay hopeful, and open to God’s light and love, grounding ourselves in prayer and living our faith as completely as possible.  

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Prayer for Strength in Adversity

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Heavenly Father, I give you this day. Please get me through it, because I am not sure I can handle it on my own.  I don’t feel I have enough strength, enough courage, or enough staying power to do what I have to do today.  Help me to fight my sorrow and grief.  Help me do what I need to do in a better way than I did yesterday.  Help me to achieve my high ideals.  Give me hope, trust, and faith.  Be with me totally as I tend to business, and forgive me if I do not always do right. Give me hope about the future, the right attitude about my past mistakes, and strength to deal with the present.

My life is not going too well right now. It seems as though I have adversity at every turn, and giving You my trust is very difficult. At this time in my life, I don’t think I can drive myself any further, and I require Your help to give me the push I need to keep going. I have fears right now and don’t know how to overcome them. I don’t show enough faith. My soul is in a great struggle to fight its own fear and find true peace. 

I give my life to You for guidance; I give my body into Your Fatherly care; and I give You my soul, that You will provide it with the growth it requires. I give You all my personal relationships with others, asking You to give us enough time together to fulfill what we need in order to enjoy eternity with one another. You have given me great gifts, for which I thank You from the bottom of my heart. I want to honor You, Father. Help me to do this. Amen.

Consider It All Joy: Adversity’s Hidden Blessings

 

Consider It All Joy-Bird

A legend tells how, once upon a time, birds had no wings and couldn’t fly. One day, God handed them each a pair of wings, which He instructed them to carry. It was grueling at first, because the wings were heavy and cumbersome. But the birds obediently carried the wings at their sides and struggled along. Gradually, the wings began to merge into the birds’ bodies. Their resilience in dealing with this adversity that had seemed like a burden, soon freed the birds from their earthbound state and enabled them to experience the miracle of flight.

As the legend illustrates, God’s plan is always far greater in scope and better for us than anything we could imagine with our limited perspective. When we are too complacent, we can get lazy. Instead of seeking new opportunities for personal and spiritual growth, we cling to the job, routine, environment, and people that feel comfortable and safe. We are like children who fear the first day of school because it is a new and unfamiliar experience. But if children are to learn and mature, they need to trust and obey their parents, get an education, and face new challenges. Likewise, if we are to grow spiritually and reach our full potential, God has to “shake us up” a bit. This often involves adversity in the form of unwelcome changes, difficult situations, painful events, or the loss of someone or something we cherish. 

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