Jesus stated that He came so that people “may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). I love this stated purpose of bringing life-giving abundance along with His invitation to “Follow Me” (Matthew 4:19). And I cling to this happily—until life throws a wrench in my gears and I come to a grinding halt.
Has anyone ever told you to “get a grip”? I’m sure most of us, at one time or another, have either offered or been offered this blunt advice.
Usually, when that phrase pops up, it means matters aren’t happening the way we thought they would. But a starting point of wisdom is to realize everyone will be confronted with a measure of unexpected challenges not written out in our personal calendars. So here’s a big question to tackle: How much space have we allocated for our Heavenly Father to mold us—even in adversity—into the image of Jesus Christ?
How can we establish spiritual breakthroughs rather than remaining down in the dumps when life throws a curve at us? (And it will!) Let’s consider four specific action items that will help us to keep moving forward in response to Christ’s invitation to “Follow Me.”
1. Don’t wait—start making good changes today
Now is the time, today is the day, to start doing whatever must be done to mend your spiritual relationship with God.
Think of where you are in life right now. Think for a moment about what you’re reaching for or holding onto—whether it’s self-serving feelings or ageless, divinely oriented values. It may involve your marriage, another family relationship, your job or lack of one. Maybe there’s a situation that seems impossible to resolve—an impregnable barrier before you. Thinking you can’t really deal with it, you put off doing so.
Where I live in California, we say mañana—tomorrow. Tomorrow is one of the most hopeful words in the dictionary, but it can also be troublesome. There’s a double edge to it. Sometimes it’s better to wake up tomorrow and approach a problem with fresh perspectives that enable wise decisions not based on haste but patience. But sometimes you keep going to bed night after night with no results in heart or hand. You never come to a resolution as to how you are going to glorify our Father above, live like Jesus Christ and be a blessing to other people.
What are you putting off?
Notice James 4:13-15: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow, we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit.’ Whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills we shall live, and do this or that.’”
Get a grip! Look at the time—it’s ticking away. As the apostle Paul tells us: “Act like people with good sense and not like fools. These are evil times, so make every minute count” (Ephesians 5:15-16, Contemporary English Version). None of us can do time over, but we can do it better as we live our lives before God the Father and Jesus Christ.
2. Stop blaming others for your problems
Let’s look at a story in 1 Samuel 30 concerning David before he became Israel’s king. We read, “Now it happened, when David and his men came to Ziklag, on the third day, that the Amalekites [longtime enemies] had invaded the South and Ziklag” (1 Samuel 30:1). The account describes how the Amalekites totally laid waste to the city.
This was a devastating blow to David and his companions. Their families had been taken captive. David’s own wives were taken. The tragedy had a terrible effect on the people: “Now David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved” (1 Samuel 30:6). This is a classic case of fault-finding brought on by difficulty. When things aren’t going well, it’s human nature to lash out and blame others. It’s certainly against our nature to want to take the blame.
Let’s be honest: At one time or another we’ve all had our personal “stoning parties.” Throwing rocks at others, so to speak, is sometimes a way to make us feel better and to not have to bear guilt. Just ask the first man Adam, who effectively blamed God for making his wife Eve, and Eve who in turn pointed to the serpent (Genesis 3:9-13). When will we ever learn that, as an old adage points out, when we point a finger at others there are three fingers pointing back at us?
Of course, you can blame other people all day long, and some people do. Yet, while it’s not easy, owning up to our mistakes and giving our burden over to God and letting go is the only real solution. God isn’t going to simply take our frustrations and hurts and self-created problems from us. We have to give it all over to Him! In order to get a spiritual grip on life, we must move on and give God authority to rule our hearts and lives.
3. Stop blaming God—take responsibility for your life
The truth is, God can sometimes be the target of our “stoning parties.” After all, He’s in charge, isn’t He? Yet when we blame God, we’re not only assigning fault to Him but are implying that He doesn’t truly care about us. Blaming God is very dangerous spiritually. It ignores God’s great care and removes any personal responsibility from ourselves. How convenient!
Until we look at ourselves and recognize our corrupt nature as defiant of God, bent on blaming Him rather than ourselves, and until we take responsibility for our lives, God cannot actively work in us to help us as He wants to.
Let’s notice something from the story of Job, where things were not going as planned. Life became unbearable as one calamity after another struck. “Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!’” (Job 2:9). This was blurted out in desperation, but it seems that Job’s wife placed blame on him and God.
Job was a man who worked to overcome corrupt human nature, however. He said to his wife: “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10).
This is a powerful example for us. If we’re going to get a spiritual grip, we must look ourselves square in the face and recognize that we need to examine ourselves first and not last. Don’t blame others. Don’t blame God. The English poet Robert Browning summed it up this way: “When the fight begins with himself, a man’s worth something.”
4. Cast your cares upon God, for He cares for you!
Perhaps at times you feel God has gone tone-deaf to your prayers. That’s why it’s important to persist in seeking Him in prayer. Once you begin reaching for God and ask for His sustaining grace to be involved in your life, God does hear.
Allow God to create a new story—His story as personified by the Son of Man, Jesus Christ—in you by “humbling yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).
“But,” you might reply, “you don’t realize the mess I’ve created for myself and others!”
Let’s stop right here! Sometimes we feel that we have to be perfect before approaching God. Just ask Samson, who cried out to God in a tight squeeze, or ask the thief on Golgotha, who spoke to Christ and received a blessing. Consider David’s repentance before God in Psalm 51 after being confronted with his terrible sins. Perfection isn’t a prerequisite for asking God to give you the rope to hold onto Him. God is there during all the trials and seasons of life.
Psalm 23, also written by David, addresses these varied seasons of life. It’s not just soothing words—it’s life! Notice the anchoring statement in verse 1. This psalm starts with a masterful Shepherd in whom we “shall not want”—shall not lack—depicting His perfect ability to personally minister to our needs.
It takes us through the green pastures—the good times. It takes us through the still waters—the peaceful times. But it also takes us through the valley of the shadow of death—the dark and troubling times. Yet at the very end, it echoes what we’re talking about right now.
David wrote, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6). He maintained faithful trust and kept a “knowing grip” on the eternal lifeline even in the hardest of times.
Your Creator knows exactly where you are at this moment, and He knows what you need. In yet another psalm of David, Psalm 18, he wrote: “It is God who arms me with strength, and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of [a] deer” Psalm 18:32-33). “Deer” is a translation that doesn’t capture the sense of David’s understanding. The imagery describes the stunning grip of a mountain goat or bighorn sheep on a high crag, standing on a narrow, precarious ledge but never falling.
The psalm continues: “He sets me on my high places. He teaches my hands to make war” (Psalm 18:33-34). God gives us the ability to be champions within His faith and succeed in the hardest of times. His love and care are what enable us to “get a spiritual grip” on life and make it work.
“You have also given me the shield of Your salvation; Your right hand has held me up; Your gentleness has made me great” (Psalm 18:35). God sincerely desires for you to have an abundant relationship-oriented existence with Him forever. He has earnestly extended His hand to you to help you get a grip on what He’s offering beyond our moments of frustration.
Today, right now, God has not chosen to create new conditions for us to live in. When we wake up tomorrow morning, the world will be much the same as it is today. But God is creating new people today through His Spirit. These are men and women who by God’s sustaining grace embrace the realization expressed by author Victor Frankl, holocaust survivor, that “you cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you” (Man’s Search for Meaning, 1946). And, may I add, you are not alone in facing whatever happens!
The priceless invitation of Jesus Christ to “Follow Me” remains as we follow not only His footsteps, but also His “heart steps,” as we declare in thought, word and deed, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). That’s a grip worth holding onto!