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“This is harder than I thought it would be.” We’ve all thought it at one time or another. Difficult tasks that require long seasons of effort can be exhausting. If we lose sight of the goal, we can face discouragement, depression or burnout. Many will veer off course before reaching the finish line. If we are going to persevere, we need to remember five keys to help us along the way.

Most great rewards demand long diligence before they can be seized. This is true in nearly every area of life. Family, work, sport, or cause: all require great patience and long toil before they yield results. In my current role, I am constantly reminding myself of these things and adjusting both my heart and my routine as needed. I hope you find these helpful as you engage in the battle to persevere.

As the saying goes, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself. 80 hour weeks don’t pay off in the long run. Get plenty of rest. For me, this means avoiding late night diversions that keep me from getting to bed on time. The Bible speaks of a time of sabbath rest, where we set everything aside for a day to recoup and refocus spiritually. When I say “set everything aside,” that likely includes cell phone, tablet and laptop. This is not easy, but God himself set this pattern of rest in order. In Genesis, after six days of creating, God rested from all the work he had done. And just in case you were wondering, God never tires. God did not need a siesta. No, this was an object lesson for our benefit. We need to incorporate this pattern into our weekly schedule. What 24 hour period per week have you marked on your calendar for sabbath rest? When I’m at my best, this rhythm of rest is a part of my routine.

Ever sprinted through a week or two on a project and suddenly realized you’ve barely connected with Jesus or your spouse? Have you started calling your kids by the names of your co-workers? Not good. The busier you become, the more important it is to prioritize your schedule.

In college, I read an article called “The Tyranny of the Urgent” by Charles E. Hummel. I’ve never forgotten the simple distinction it made between the truly important things in life and the urgent tasks that clamor for our minutes, hours and days. Hummel writes:

We live in constant tension between the urgent and the important. The problem is that the impor­tant task rarely must be done today or even this week. Extra hours of prayer and Bible study, a visit with that non-Christian friend, careful study of an important book: these projects can wait. But the urgent tasks call for instant action—endless demands pressure every hour and day.

Like the busy, distracted priest in Jesus’ story of good Samaritan, we become so busy with the urgent tasks at hand that we often miss the truly important stuff. If we are to weave perseverance into our lives, we must prioritize the important stuff so that we thrive over the long haul.

Trying to live as a Christian without prayer is like trying to live without air. You aren’t going to make it very far. Martin Luther famously said, “I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done.” Prayer confesses for us our dependence on God. Prayer sustains us during difficulties. Prayer provides strength to take the next step. Prayer humbles us in success, and prayer comforts us in failure. Prayer emboldens us to take risks. Prayer offers friendship with our most loyal companion. As we travel the road of life, prayer centers us on what, or who, is most important.

Have some fun. Find a hobby. Play some golf. Go to a movie (by yourself). Go fishing. Build something. Shoot something (but not someone). Go to a concert. During a season of life transition, a wise woman said to my wife, “Stop doing so much, and go read some fiction.” Pastor Tommy Nelson used to tell us to”go get some rocky road, and be sure you get two scoops.” Do whatever it is that you do when you are having fun.

A counselor friend once gave me an assignment to carve out an undisturbed three hour block each week to do something I enjoyed. This was harder than I thought it would be. In my college years, three hours of play would have been cutting back, but at this stage of life finding three free hours in a week meant saying a firm “no” to other things. For some, this may feel impossible or even selfish, but I’m learning that self-care is critical to staying power. Play promotes perseverance.

This last key will require a little more explanation, but I am currently finding this to be incredibly helpful. In a letter to a younger leader, the Apostle Paul wrote:

It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

Let me shoot straight with you: I’m a city boy, not a farmer. But I have been thinking lots about what Paul said, so I’m going to offer a few thoughts about it anyway. Farming itself is an act of faith. A farmer works long hours for a long period of time before he reaps any benefits from his labor. He shows up day after day and puts in a good day’s work trusting that it will all eventually produce an abundant crop. This requires a unique combination of diligence and patience.

There are two things I will point out about the farmer. First, stuff grows when it grows, and the farmer must trust his crops to appear when the timing is right. Second, there is nothing he can do to speed up the process. Working harder or faster or longer will not change the rate of growth.

What’s the point for us? When I remind myself to “plow,” it is a reminder to work hard and to trust the growth process, no matter how long and slow it seems. Show up like a farmer and do work, and then put your head on the pillow at night trusting something good will eventually grow. When I start to get overwhelmed with all that I have to get done, I find myself saying out loud “just plow the field today.” I can’t control the outcome, so I try to “do a good days work and leave the results to God.” Perseverance requires that we balance diligence with patience.


It is said that “in comedy, timing is everything.” The same is true of perseverance. Reminding yourself of these things before you are at the end of your rope makes all the difference. Otherwise, you will learn a life lesson the hard way. The athlete who becomes dehydrated during the match will find it impossible to rehydrate until after the game is over.

Personally, I am learning that the more my responsibilities expand, the more I must narrow my focus on these key areas. For me, these are not annual check-ins. They are daily and weekly reminders that help me persevere as I fight to fulfill my calling.

If you practice these five keys — pace, prioritize, pray, play, and plow, you will be more likely to persevere in the days ahead.

Which of the five keys grabs your attention? Which of the five keys do you find most difficult? Would you add anything to this list? What is your favorite quote about perseverance?


Nineteen years ago today, I married my college sweetheart. When we wed, we had dated for most of three years. I say “most of” because she occasionally got the jitters, but we worked that out (and the making up was always fun). Love grew deep roots in our hearts, and I tired of driving her home at night. She was a beautiful woman who loved Jesus, served others, liked to laugh, and challenged me more than anyone I had known. She still is.

I looked through some old pictures this morning, and I laughed when I saw this one. We are holding on for dear life, like the winds are going to blow us off the mountain if we let go of one another. Through nineteen years, our life journey has led us over beautiful mountaintops and through dark valleys. We have soaked up the sun and laughed some days away. We have weathered the winds and storms when they have come. Through it all, we still hold on to one another for dear life. I think that’s how marriage should be. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

JeffandNan_Wyoming1992Taken near Sheridan, Wyoming, where I served as a student minister during two college summers.

I like music. Why is that important? Well, it’s not particularly important, except to me (and my wife, who does our budget), but it does have some relevance to you. Because this is my blog, I sometimes post music here. If you don’t like music or have bad taste in music (kidding, of course), no big deal–just skip this post and wait for the next one.

Now, to get on with it…

I’ve been a huge fan of Mumford & Sons ever since I clicked a link to a youtube video when they first hit the scene. The British folk-rock group has talent to spare combined with lyrical depth that is rare. If there was any doubt of their greatness, 2011’s Grammy performance blew the world away with their passion and joy. It was as good as live performance gets. The kind of show that you want to pay for. They had so much fun getting to play in front of the world that you couldn’t help but cheer them on. I added a new item to my bucket list that night.

I’ve been waiting, along with many others for their sophomore release, so I thought I’d post a video of this song from their upcoming album. Enjoy.

Are you a Mumford & Sons fan? Have you seen them live? Love to hear your stories.

On a walk, my daughter, Kate, decided to chase her shadow and see if she could catch it. In this obviously unscripted moment, I did what all parents in the smart phone era do–I pulled out my phone to capture her chase.

For those with concerns about my parenting, she did eventually give up the chase and make her way back to me so that we could finish our walk. As much as I enjoyed the moment, it also got me to thinking about the things that we chase.

Two types of shadows appear in the Bible. First, the Bible points out the fleeting shadows of our lives which we spend in pursuit of wisdom, wealth, pleasure, significance and more. We read in Ecclesiastes:

All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied….Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind….For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? (Ecclesiastes 6:7, 9, 12)

We chase success for significance, health for security, sex for pleasure, vacations for fulfillment, wealth for comfort, body image for approval, good deeds for self-importance, morality for measuring up. We pursue so many things but never find real or lasting satisfaction. They are good things, but they are never enough to bring the fulfillment we want from them.

I love what these verses from Ecclesiastes say about our pursuit: “the sight of the eyes is better than the wandering of the appetite.” In our minds, we think these things will bring us happiness, but our actual enjoyment of them is short-lived. Maybe you’ve experienced this before. You chased after something until you got it, but then you found that you wanted something else. You can feast at a king’s banquet table, but you will be hungry again when the morning comes.

When I was a teenager, I had this experience. I had been living in isolation from God, ignoring him and pushing him away in my rebelliousness. At the time, I had what I imagined every teenage boy wanted, even though I always wanted more. I lived this way for quite some time, but one day I realized that I wasn’t happy. I knew that I had been chasing shadows that would never fulfill me. But I also knew where real joy was found. I returned to Jesus that day. In an instant, I sensed that things had changed. Repentance is like that. It didn’t mean everything was perfect going forward, but I did experience a sense of joy in life that had been missing.

We were made for more that the fading shadows of earthly pursuits. In these, we will never find our ultimate Joy and Satisfaction. Augustine famously said in a prayer to God, “The thought of you stirs [man] so deeply that he cannot be content unless he praises you, because you made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”*

May we be increasingly dissatisfied with shadow pursuits until our restless hearts find joy, rest and satisfaction in God.

Are you too focused on the fleeting shadow of your life’s earthly pursuits? What are you forever chasing yet never reaching your desired destination? Is your soul deeply satisfied with God?

In Part 2, I discuss our need to find joy and rest under the shadow of God’s protection.



*Aurelius Augustine, Confessions, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (New York: Penguin Books, 1961).


June 25, 2012 — 3 Comments

On the road with the family, we stopped at a hotel. Not a great hotel, but a recently opened and reasonably priced chain joint just off the highway. We crowded into the room–Nan and me with our two nine year old boys, our six year old boy, and our two year old little gal. After ten hours in the car, the kids did the most logical thing they could, which was to jump on the beds. This game was followed by stacking every pillow, chair and sofa cushion in the room to create a tower high enough that they could reach the ceiling. It was sort of a miniature tower of Babel right there in our room. With all the fun going on, little Kate yells over her brothers’ laughs and asks, “This our new home? This our new home?”

Apparently, Kate thought this was where we would live. This was home, and she was as excited as she could be about it. It made us all laugh, but it also got me to thinking. In Kate’s young mind, the highest value was being together. To share a single room with mom and dad and her brothers was the best possible world. Jumping on beds and building pillow towers put it way beyond her greatest dreams.

After a full-day of driving and unloading all of our stuff, I had been a little on the grumpy side. The room was fine for our one night stay, but it definitely did not feel like “home.” Kate’s perspective reminded me that sometimes I need to rethink the way I am looking at things.

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been thinking deeply about what it means that we have a joyful God. It’s been a good reminder for me that is shifting my perspective. I’m not talking about the theological categorizing of God in my mind. If you would have asked me several weeks ago if God was a God of joy, I’m sure I would have thought about it and answered in the affirmative, but I wasn’t fully appreciating the joyfulness of God in my day-to-day outlook.

There are many verses about joy in the Bible. We are commanded to “rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice” (Phil 4:4). He says it twice just in case we are a little slow. We are even told to “Count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). The Psalms tell us to “make a joyful noise to the Lord” (Ps 95, 98). You will find joy throughout the Bible. I could list verse after verse here, but I decided instead that I wanted to point you immediately to the place where joy may be found and then share a few implications for us to consider.

When God Enters the Room, Joy Comes with Him

The Bible tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5). These are the character qualities that are produced in us when the Spirit of God invades our lives. Just as a particular kind of seed will only yield fruit that is appropriate to that seed, we yield the fruit of the Spirit that has been planted in us. One aspect of the fruit is “joy.” Each aspect of the fruit of the spirit is important, but I’m going to focus only on joy.

What this means is that when God the Holy Spirit is present, joy will also be present. When God enters the room, joy comes with him. Think about that for a minute: wherever God is, joy is. When you let that truth take root in your heart and mind, it ought to shift your perspective.

People have all kinds of thoughts about God–some good and some bad. Part of maturing in the faith is casting off false thoughts about God and replacing them with true thoughts about God. However you tend to feel or think about God, you must now consider him to be a joyful God.

Faith in the Joyful God Makes Us Joyful

We also need to understand what this means for us. When we believe the joyful God, we are made joyful. Scripture says (1 Peter 1:8-9):

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Are you overflowing with inexpressible joy? When you are convinced that the most beautiful and glorious and good and holy and joyful and eternal being in the universe has come to you in love and grace, you can’t help but laugh at the joyous comedy of your good fortune. To make it downright hysterical, our God of Joy will eventually shove sorrow out of the way and shower us with a forever kind of joy: “Everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35).*

Though this joy is open to all, far too many people will not know this joy. We live in an often faithless, sarcastic and cynical time. The harsh reality is that those who snub, reject and deny the Joyful God will miss out on his forever joy. Rather, they fill their lives with temporary mini-joys that fade as quickly as they spring up. Giving testimony to the law of diminishing returns, they live in search of the next fix of mini-joy to bring a smile to their face. This is joy with a short shelf-life. But there is a stronger and deeper and better Joy.

For followers of Jesus, our spiritual development is in learning to exchange the mini-joys with the Ultimate Joy. Augustine described his journey from mini-joys to True Joy in his Confessions:

“How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose…! You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure…O Lord my God, my Wealth, and my Salvation.”**

This joy is a gift that God gives in his grace to us. Our God specializes in bringing the light of joy into dark places, and even when tough times come, our faith gives us hope for the ultimate vindication of joy (Psalm 30:5,11):

Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness.

When Joy Has Its Way

This brings to mind so many thoughts about the implications that faith in a joyful God might have for us. What would this mean for our churches? for our blogs? for our songs? for our testimonies? for our marriages? for our parenting? for our friendship? I’ve even wondered about how our embracing God’s joy might change the chemistry of our brains.

Ancient wisdom from Proverbs reminds us: “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Prov 17:22).

Would you stop for a minute and identify one arena where you need to let the God of joy disrupt your life? What is one thing that would change if your perspective shifted to faith in the Joyful God? Where should God-given joy begin to burst into your world?

Reminders of Joy

I recently came across a line in a book that stuck with me: the writer spoke of a man who received “another chance to face the sky.”*** I love the optimism and openness of this image. It is helping me to think differently about my days. A day is not something to be unwillingly trudged though or unwittingly trifled away. Today is a unique gift to be enjoyed, and there will never be another day just like it. When I wake, I remind myself that today is another chance to face the expanse of the sky. This helps divert my eyes from the troubles and details of the coming hours. It directs my attention to a universe that is bigger than I can comprehend, and more than that, it directs my attention to the God who made it all.

Each day is an opportunity to look with eyes of faith on the God who paints the sky blue and drops migratory puffs of white across its canvas. In case we are tempted to miss his glory in the sky, this Joyful God begins and ends each day with a warm soup of feathery yellows and blood reds and butterfly oranges and eggplant purples all blended together perfectly. The sky cries out to us morning and evening: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalms 118:24).

Of course, you could keep collecting mini-joys only to discard them as yesterdays toys; you could hold on to your hurt or bitterness or cynicism; and you could let your doubts rule the day.

Or, you might try a change in perspective.

As for me, I want to live for the Joyful God, squeezing joy into every minute I can. I want to enjoy every chance to face the sky that my Lord gives to me until the day I come face-to-face with Joy himself. My hope is fixed on that day, when the torrent of goodness and glory that washes me will overwhelm me with indescribable joy.


* For a wonderful look at the God who brings joy, read all of Isaiah 35.

** Aurelius Augustine, Confessions, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (New York: Penguin Books, 1961). Quoted in John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2000) 19.

*** Timothy Egan, The Worst Hard Time (New York: First Mariner Books, 2006).

For the past 20 years, I’ve sought to help people discover what it means to live for Jesus. The mission of Jesus has allowed me the privilege of connecting with many great people in many great places, and we want to let you know what’s next for the Lawrence family.

In God’s grace, we are planting a new church in the great state of Oklahoma! While details are still to be determined, we will locate in the Edmond / Oklahoma City area. Having grown up in Edmond, this is a return to a place I love dearly. With family and friends in the area, Nan and our kids are very excited about the move. We can’t wait to be there!

Oklahoma City is a great city with thriving churches. We are humbled to join that movement of God, doing what we can to help many people in the area experience life and hope in Christ.

Every life tells a story, and each of us need to encounter God in a way that rescues our story, restores our soul, and relaunches us to live for Jesus. I believe many people long for a authentic connection with Jesus and the life he dreams for us. We can’t wait to see who God brings to our community to walk with us in this journey.

We hope that many of you will jump in with us to help make this dream a reality. Like any start-up venture, we need to raise a significant amount of money in the initial stages of our launch. Would you be willing to partner with us?

I’ve included a description of ways you can help below, as well as links to our partner organizations who oversee our ministry and finances. We would love to meet with you to tell you more about the vision God is calling us to accomplish.

If you subscribe to my blog, I’ll send you updates so that you can stay engaged with our journey.

We can’t wait to see what God has in store for us all,
Jeff, Nan, Mike, Luke, Jake and Kate

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Please pray: (1) our house to sell in Chapel Hill, NC, (2) a smooth transition for our family, (3) a fantastic ministry team to come together, (4) hundreds of financial partners who catch the vision, (5) God’s glory to be made known every step of the way.

We are trying to raise three years worth of salaries and ministry budget so that we can do the hard work of missionaries. Please consider supporting us monthly for one to three years, or supporting us with a one-time gift.


We believe that God will lead many who already live in Oklahoma to join our new movement, and we also believe that he may prompt some people to move to Oklahoma to join us as missionaries on the ground. If this is you, email me at

Do you know anyone who would be interested in our work? We would like to make as many connections as possible with pastors, Christians and non-Christians, so please let us know if you think of someone who would enjoy a cup of coffee or a meal with us. Also, please share this news with your friends and followers via Facebook, Twitter, Email, and more.

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We are partnering with Fellowship Associates as I join their Church Planting Residency Program in August. This will provide us with great coaches and partners from fantastic churches like Fellowship Bible Church of Little Rock, The Village Church, The Austin Stone Community Church, Fellowship Church of Memphis, and Fellowship Church of Denver. Fellowship Associates will also oversee our finances.

We are partnering with the Acts 29 Church Planting Network. Part of our dream is to be a church planting church. By this I mean that we are committed to helping other new churches get started in the future. Acts 29 provides church planters with training, resources and a network of gospel-centered, missional churches across denominational lines.


In the world, you will have trouble.
But take heart; I have overcome the world.
– Jesus

The Coming Storm - Winslow Homer (1901) Source:

I was preaching recently on the topic of trials, and I was reminded of how frequently and honestly the Bible speaks to us on the hard seasons of life. This is a quick post to share with you one very important truth:

Some trials were meant to be so hard that
no one but God could get you through them.

Trials are unavoidable. We live in a broken world inhabited by broken people, and sooner or later that kind of world drags us into difficult days. This doesn’t mean that we seek them out, they find us on their own. People who seek out trials are usually in need of psychiatric care. Trials are not necessarily our fault either. Sometimes, it is our sin that brings hardship upon us, but the hardship of life comes to all of us apart from whether we’ve done anything good or bad. Storms blow in with the wind no matter what we do.

I am certain that some of you are fighting for your life, whether literally or figuratively, right now. I hurt for you that are suffering or struggling in this season, and this season may have no end in sight. The cruelty of people, a failed adoption, an incurable illness, a foreclosure on your home, a wayward child. Tough things happen to all of us. If you are not experiencing pain now, you will.

In no way am I minimizing the pain. It’s real. You might feel like you’ve had all that you can handle. In fact, it might be more than you can handle.

But maybe that’s the point.

C. S. Lewis famously said that pain is God’s megaphone.* He speaks loudly and deeply into our souls through hardship. In God’s work to renovate our hearts, it seems as though some places can only be strengthened by pain.

When we experience trials, it is like the scaffolding of our lives falls away so that we no longer can prop ourselves up with temporary supports. Pain forces us to the end of ourselves so that we have no where else to turn but to God.

One of Jesus’ followers named Paul described his trials this way:

8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11  You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 1:8-11)

Let me make a few quick observations on these verses.

When we face a trial, people are helpful, but God is better. Our friends and families and pastors can empathize with us (v.8), pray with us (v.11), and remind us to set our hope on God (v.9-10). But they can’t actually deliver us from the trial. As much as your mother wants you to have a child, she can’t overcome infertility. As much as a spouse wants her husband not to suffer, she can’t make him well. As much as your boss wants you to keep your job, he can’t change the economy.

Why is this Acknowledgment Necessary?

Over the last few years, I’ve experienced how tempting it is to stop short of the ultimate finish line of trials. I sometimes look first to those around me to help me when life goes bad. Some of this is healthy: I’ve learned to receive God’s grace extended through people he’s placed in my life. For a guy who wants to be resilient and strong, this has been a healthy correction to false self-sufficiency.

But it’s not enough. Paul shares his struggle with others, but he realizes that they can’t meet his deepest needs. When we look to others not just for help but for rescue, we put a weight on them that they cannot bear. It is unhealthy for them and for us. We ought to share our journey with others, but we need to do so in a way that encourages us both to seek Jesus more than anyone else.

If we don’t allow our trials to drive us all the way to desperate dependence on God, then we aren’t learning what God wants us to learn. Unless we turn our gaze to God, we fail to get enough out of our hard times. In a crisis, cultural christianity doesn’t amount to much. People will sometimes depend on their parents’ faith or the faith of a spouse, but trials teach us to look to God personally.

How Desperate Dependence Becomes a Place of Strength

Fact is that a life of great faith may also be a life of great pain. Sorry to the prosperity preachers, but, sometimes, your best life now is really hard.

I want to point out two phrases that Paul used in the verses above to describe his life and the lives of those with him:

  1. Burdened Beyond Our Strength. Some may take this as hyperbole, but I think it was straightforward. In his own strength, this was too much to handle. Paul was excessively weighed down. It was too much to bear.
  2. Despairing of Life Itself. I love that Paul was so honest. He is not just making a theological or theoretical statement. This is real struggle. Despairing of life means “I want to quit.” He wants to throw in the towel, to give up. This is suicidal language: I would rather be dead than face what I am facing.

This is what I mean when I say that “some trials were meant to be so hard no one but God could get you through them.” What this means, of course, is that trials are not meaningless. They have a purpose–they teach us to rely on God more than anyone or anything else.**

Look at Paul’s bold confidence in God (v.10): “He delivered us, he will deliver us, on him we set our hope that that he will deliver us again.”

Past, present and future: Paul trusts God in it all.

We mature and grow through our trials. We do not cease to hurt in tough seasons, but we grow more and more confident in the God who is with us. He has shown up in our trials and delivered us before, and we come to believe that he’ll do it again. Maturity is not the end of struggle; rather, it’s the confidence that God is with you in the midst of your struggle.

Are You Making the Most of your Pain?

Some people fail to redeem their suffering. My hope for you is that you will not waste a trial. Trust God now. In this moment. And in the next moment. And in the one after that. Until you reach that last great trial at the end of your life.

As you trust him in trials both great and small, you will have learn to trust him with it all. I think that’s the goal.

For it is only God who can “make all things new.” It is only God who can “wipe away every tear from their eyes.” It is only God who can be certain that “death shall be no more.” It is only God who can deliver on the promise that we will have no “mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” ***

Trials are not forever. God is. Let’s trust Him now. And let’s trust him whenever the next storm blows in.

How has God deepened your faith through the experience of trials? Are you in a trial right now? Let me know, and I’ll pray for you. 


* C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain.

** I am not saying that all of our circumstances are good. The point here is that one of the ways that God brings good out of the bad is to grow our faith and teach us greater reliance on him. Anything more is beyond the scope of this post.

*** Revelation 21


January 27, 2012 — Leave a comment

My preference is fast. I like to drive fast. I like fast internet connections. I like to work fast. I wish I could read fast. But fast isn’t always best. Sometimes, slow wins.

For someone who prefers to go fast, this reality is a necessary realization (even if it annoys my go-fast preferences). Slow is important in lots of ways, but let me first give you an example of why slow sometimes wins.

A Cutting Reminder That Faster Isn’t Always Better

I’m learning to shave again. It was one of my new year’s resolutions. I know, I know. That’s not very ambitious, right? But for a go-fast guy, this was a way to remind myself that slow wins. So, I got rid of my disposable junk, and invested in a new safety razor. The old school kind like my grandfather used. Metal, not plastic, so it’s got some weight to it. It holds double edged razor blades. I’m told that the classic wet shave is better for the environment and that it’s cheaper in the long run. But the real deal is that it’s just a much better shave.*

Fact: fast shavers end up with little patches of bloody toilet paper on their chins. On average, my new way of shaving takes about twice as long as my old way. But it’s twice as enjoyable and twice as good a shave. And my wife likes it (which is a very good thing).

Shaving is a relatively insignificant change in the big picture of my life, but it serves as a daily reminder that sometimes slow wins.

You may not be sold on a shaving upgrade, but what about the rest of your life?

When Slow Wins in Parenting

I know that none of you struggle with this, but sometimes my children act up. Of course, “act up” is a socially acceptable way of saying that they are depraved little people that disobey God and deserve to be disciplined. Meaning, they are a lot like their parents. We all agree that parents must discipline children. Otherwise, the monkeys are running the zoo. The only question is how we should discipline.

I don’t want to give a complete how to guide for parenting here, but I do want to suggest that discipline of children is one of the areas where slow wins.

Here is what normally happens in fast discipline. Your kid runs through the house with muddy shoes or screams while his sister is napping or dumps her milk on the floor. Clearly, these are things that would happen in your house, not mine (ahem…wink, wink).   When said criminal activity occurs, mom yells for kid to stop. Again, note that I said mom rather than dad, because dads don’t do this stuff (ahem…). But the parent yells stop at the child, the kid freezes in his or her tracks, and then the parent hurriedly threatens an unrealistic consequence like “clean that up or you’ll never eat dessert again” (which we know isn’t going to happen because dad likes hot chocolate chip cookies and it’s too much work to refuse a child a cookie on a regular basis).

What’s the point? Fast discipline involves only two steps: name the issue, name the consequence. Those are both necessary steps, but they are not enough. Fast discipline focuses on behavior modification but neglects the heart. It’s efficient in the short run, but deficient over the long haul. If you discipline fast, you end up skipping the most important stuff.

I’m trying to remind myself that, when it comes to discipline, slow wins. I want to shape my kid’s character, not just his or her behavior. I want them to love Jesus, not just love a clean house. This takes time. It takes time to talk things through. It takes time to talk about disobedience against God and repentance. It takes time to train your child how to talk to his siblings and ask forgiveness. It takes time to celebrate the grace and forgiveness that awaits them in Jesus.

I don’t always do this the right way, and there are moments (like rushing out the door on the way to school) when it seems almost impossible. So, we may have to be creative in those instances (delay the real conversation until later but then follow-up and talk things though). It takes at least twice as much time to discipline slow, but the benefits are infinitely greater.

When Slow Wins in Technology

Another way that I’m trying to slow down is in my use of technology. I live connected. Between twitter, facebook, email, and phone, it is easy to be connected all the time. The problem is that being connected to technology may mean that you are disconnected from everything else. Sometimes, our tech toys cause us to miss opportunities to connect with God, connect with our spouses, connect with nature.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dumping all of that stuff. I’m just managing it better. I’m turning it off sometimes. I’m creating a routine of leaving it behind in certain sections of my calendar (if you check yours regularly at family dinners, your wife should drop it in your chili).

For example, we got a puppy at Christmas. Puppies have to be walked. A lot. Sometimes in the middle of the night. One way I’m slowing down is to leave my cell phone inside when I walk the dog. I feel silly saying it, but it’s amazing to me how hard it is. But when I do, I enjoy the puppy more, and I notice the beauty of creation all around me. Without the light of my cell phone, I see the light of the night stars that God put in place to remind me of his glory and greatness. When I slow down to recognize that I have so many messages from God all around me, my twitter messages can wait a little while.

When Slow Wins in Ministry

I won’t take a lot of time to expound on this one, but two recent conversations also reminded me of how this applies to ministry. In one phone call with a fellow pastor, my friend said, “We’re growing, but I wish it was faster.” I know this friend well, and he’s an evangelist who loves to see people meet Jesus for the first time. He believes in a big God who can bring 3,000 people to faith in a single day, and he longs to see that happen. We have a world full of people who don’t know Jesus, so I hope it happens too. I pray that God moves in a remarkable way to bring people to Jesus through his church’s ministry. But I know that there are some seasons of ministry where slow wins.

In another conversation, some friends encouraged me to slow down. In my passion to see ministry happen, I wanted to get moving as quickly as possible. My friends wanted me to “move slow, go deep, dream big.” That stuck with me.  It takes time to build the right foundation, to instill the right DNA in the church, to get the right people on the team. You can start a ministry fast, but it takes time to launch a movement. When you are building something to make a significant impact over the next 25-30 years, there are some important areas where slow wins.

A Concluding Thought

For people who like to go fast, going slow is an act of faith. It can lead to a more rewarding life, a more significant life, and a greater enjoyment of the life God gave you–a life made up of fast and slow moments strung together to make up days and weeks and years. May we make the most of all our moments, and may we make some of those moments slow ones.

What are some other ways that slow wins? What helps you slow down in disciplining your children? Is it as hard for you to turn the cell phone off as it is for me? Any of you dudes enjoying the glory of a classic wet shave?


* For a great guide to a classic wet shave, see “How to Shave Like Your Grandpa.”

Note: The “Some Thoughts on ‘How to Talk to Little Girls'” post has generated a lot of interest and brought new people to the blog. I thought I would repost a previous favorite to share with all the new readers. Enjoy…

I recently read Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel made famous by the television miniseries many consider the greatest ever (starring Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall). McMurtry’s story follows a group of men on a cattle drive from Mexico to Montana. In many ways, the book is about men, their internal drives or passions, and the friendships they share along the way. This motley group assembled over time, but the core of the group served as Texas Rangers during the days when they fought real battles throughout the region. Through many eventful, often difficult, years together, the men had become “compañeros.”  These relationships weren’t perfect, but they were characterized by intense loyalty, sacrifice, honesty, and memories. Every guy needs relationships like these, but few have them.

As I’ve observed guys who become real compañeros, I’ve discovered four things that create movement toward meaningful relationships: props, plans, risks, and laughs.


Women seem to get together with other women and start talking deeply without effort, but guys aren’t like that. You put them together and all you get is something along the lines of “how’s work?” or “you playing fantasy football again this year?” Those two conversations can fill an entire evening.

In general, guys don’t talk openly and freely without an external prop. It may be a task, a mission, a hobby, a shared history or some other event that brings them together. Men become close on a three-thousand mile cattle drive. They open up during a long winter in the trenches of wartime. They are brought together by an adventurous road trip. It isn’t always something grand. It may be something as simple as a regular hunting trip, a golf foursome or mission trip. It may be group of friends from your college dorm or a church small group. There is not any “magic” prop, but there is almost always some kind of prop that brings the guys together initially.

My group of friends and I came together as friends during college, but those friendships expanded through a college road trip to bury a “time capsule” on the Texas-Mexico border (modeled loosely on the movie, “Fandango”). We each included something of great personal value and a list of spiritual commitments and life goals in the bottle. Ten years later, we returned to dig it up. That event become an annual long weekend together that has become a highlight in our lives.

If you want to find real friends, I suggest you grab a group of guys and initiate some unique activity. In male relationships, activity opens the door for conversation. Men start talking deeply after they’ve worn themselves out, made fun of one another or blown something up in a bonfire.


Past performance does not guarantee future success. Just because some prop brought you together for a unique time of relating as friends, you may not continue in that kind of friendship in the years ahead. Most guys who have not found life-long compañeros reflect on certain friendships with a nostalgic longing to go back, maybe even with a tinge of sadness. They are sweet memories, but they are just that: memories of something good that once was but is now gone. Friends rarely intend to lose touch with one another. If your experiences together are going to grow into deep, lasting relationships, you need to commit to a plan.

With my group, we decided to take an annual trip together. We pick a destination and a date, and we all fly in for a long weekend each year. My “Fandango” trip with this group of 6 men helps me hit my annual laugh quota in single weekend. This takes a real commitment, but it’s worth everything it takes to make it happen. Our wives sacrifice on the home front to allow us to go. We take time off work. We split the costs evenly to make it fair (sometimes, we pick up the tab for one another when finances are tight). This commitment propelled us from being college friends to becoming life-long friends.

The bottom line is that you won’t become compañeros without regular time to laugh, play, and goof off together. This usually takes one person in the group who initiates an ongoing plan for being together and gets a commitment from the group. A plan creates a path for deepening relationships as you journey through the ups and downs of life together.

Most of the time, a particular place or activity becomes a big part of the group’s identity. Guys seem to have a desire for a tradition that makes this time special. As men move from the free-wheeling college years to the responsibility of their 30s and 40s, they need time “away” from the normal routine of life. I’d encourage you to try something that allows for a break from your normal responsibilities and demands some real commitment from one another.


The third element I see is risk. If there is no risk, you will settle into a cycle of conversation that repeats itself over and over without taking you anywhere. Think about your relationships with your father or brother or co-workers for a minute. I bet you could write a script for most those conversations as they revolve around the same topics with each phone call. This is just what guys do. We are strange beings. We privately long for a deeper relationship but we almost never acknowledge it.

Friends must continually take risks by sharing life at a vulnerable level. It amazes me how risky it feels to share what is happening in my heart even with my most trusted friends. We’ve been sharing life together for twenty years, but it still feels threatening to let them see my hurts, my unhealthy desires, my anger, my dreams, and my joys. It also brings freedom. The more I share, the more I’m freed up to be myself around them.

Most groups need a guy with the guts to be honest in front of others. Sometimes, it means saying, “You know what guys? I struggle with ______.” Or, “You know what hacks me off about my life right now? It’s ______.” In our group, it seems to be a different guy who leads out each year with an honest and bold statement about his life. Each time someone opens the door to his heart, I think to myself, “OK, here we go.” It’s become my favorite part of our trip. I find out that I’m not that weird, or maybe that I’m just as weird as everyone else. Somehow, that’s one of the things guys need to know: we are all jacked up. That kind of vulnerable sharing is relational fuel for men. Like a car, you have to refill the vulnerability tank regularly or the friendship runs out of gas.


With men, laughter both precedes and follows relational risks. Guys need to laugh, and I’ve found that guys won’t share openly until they have laughed freely. If you want guys to open up, you’d better crack one another up first. Some men don’t know how to laugh. Because of this, people will rarely feel comfortable enough around them to be honest about what’s in their hearts. Be careful sharing too much of yourself with men that can’t laugh. The other side of this is that men who have shared openly laugh even harder. The trust and confidence gained in deep relationships lead to uncontrollable laughs that roll out until they bring tears.

For guys, friendship never happens as spontaneously as we’d like. It takes props, plans and risks, but the investment leads to a kind of laughter that is only shared by true compañeros.


As a father of a little girl who will have her second birthday in January, I was interested in the recent article titled “How to Talk to Little Girls.” The excellent Huffington Post piece by Lisa Bloom has created a buzz, with nearly 400,000 people “liking” the article on Facebook.

Bloom points out the dangers of highlighting a little girl’s physical beauty before or above other things. This is typified by the normal practice of strangers, or friends, who lead off a meeting with a little girl by saying something along the lines of “aren’t you the cutest thing ever?”

Kate, at the Beach this Summer

My daughter, Kate, is beautiful. I’m completely biased and entirely certain that she is adorable by any standard. When people meet her for the first time, I can affirm that they generally comment on how cute she is. Of course, I wouldn’t argue with their assessment at all, but I also see how this emphasis on her external beauty could shape her thinking over time. I would never want Kate’s joy in life or sense of self-worth to be dependent on man’s praise of her outward beauty.

We are a visually obsessed culture. I also have three boys, and I find myself flinching routinely during televised football games at the flaunting of female beauty on the sidelines and in the commercials. While I believe God created physical beauty to be enjoyed (God made female and male bodies unique for a reason), our society has obviously over-indulged the physical. This is a serious problem that most pastors and churches hesitate to address, usually because church-going folks are just as influenced by beauty-worship as non-church people.

The Bible signals a warning to us about overemphasizing physical attractiveness. Proverbs 31:30 warns, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain.” One of more blunt verses in Scripture, Proverbs 11:22 says, “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.” These warnings tell us that this is not just an issue for American women of the 21st century. There is something universal in this struggle that isn’t going away in our time.

I am thankful that Lisa Bloom sounds the alarm for us about how our words impress unhealthy values on our littlest ladies. But I also want to issue a warning of my own about Bloom’s solution to this problem.

The Mind is Not Better than the Body

Bloom’s answer to our beauty-obsession appears to swap physical beauty for intellectual capacity. She writes:

Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What’s missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.

While this sounds like a helpful corrective, I think it introduces a new problem. Notice what is important to Bloom? She directs us to the life she values more: ideas and books and thoughts and accomplishments.

Here is my question: Are these really better than beauty?

Perhaps they might make one more financially secure or more independent or more academically successful. It is certainly true that the life of the mind tends to outlast youthful beauty which inevitably sags with time. So, maybe it is better to some small extent.

But it is not enough.

Beauty and Intelligence and Performance and Morality Are Not Enough

So, here is my problem with Bloom’s solution to the beauty-worship problem: the mind-worship problem isn’t any better. A little girl does not need to hear that her value is determined by her boob size, but neither does she does need to hear that her value is determined by her brain size.  Intelligence and success and independence do not meet our deepest needs.

In fact, when we seek to find our value in our performance, it may be even more dangerous. It’s easy for someone who has accomplished much to take pride in their intellect or ingenuity or toughness or determination. A person who performs well may even demean beauty as “something you are born with” as opposed to accomplishments which they have “earned.” Dependence on performance can be just as crippling as dependence on beauty.

Of course, Religious people have their own spin on the performance problem. Rather than stressing beauty or intelligence or success, they put the emphasis on morality. Girls are taught that their value or goodness depends on their ability to keep the rules. This may be the most insidious kind of performance idol. Religious types construct their performance idols on the foundation of Scripture, which makes them even harder to detect. To the religious person, this moral performance trap feels righteous.

Why Little Girls (And Boys) Need the Gospel of Jesus Above All Else

I must recognize that I cannot control all of the voices that my daughter will hear. She will always live in a world that overvalues her beauty. She will also have to deal with pressures to measure up intellectually and educationally and financially. Countless voices will praise, or criticize, her according to unhealthy standards.

I cannot control all of the voices that my daughter will hear, but I do know which one I want to be the loudest in her ears. It is not the voice of her boyfriend, or the academic advisor at her college, or the CEO of her company, or even my voice as her father. It is the voice of Jesus.

Her deepest longing is not to be loved for her beauty, praised for her intelligence, or admired for her performance. No, the deepest longing of the human heart is to be loved, and this longing is so deep that only God can fill it.

The gospel, or good news, of Jesus says to us, “You are loved as you are. Regardless of how beautiful and smart and successful you feel, you are so broken that life on your own merits will never be enough. And regardless of how ugly or dumb or unsuccessful you feel, you are so loved that Jesus gave his life so that he could be with you forever.”

Most of us spend our lives working to prove ourselves. We exhaust ourselves as we try and try to convince people that we deserve to be accepted.* There is a cost to this kind of acceptance. It takes something out of us in the process and must be continually earned. The gospel frees us from this compulsion. When we operate from a place of gospel-security that is grounded in the love of God rather than in her own ability to measure up, we are truly free. Only then can we enjoy beauty and intellect and performance in freedom rather than compulsion.

I think that is part of what the Bible means when it says, “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Rev 22:17).

If you find yourself thirsty, come as you are to Jesus who offers you acceptance and love and life at no cost to yourself. He gave his life to free you from the beauty trap and the intelligence trap and the performance trap. It cost Jesus everything, but you were worth it.

So, how should we talk to little girls?

When I talk to Kate, I will say:

“I love you. I love the way your hair rolls into ringlets and falls into your eyes. I love the way you read yourself books, even though you can’t read. I love the way you dance and twirl around the kitchen. I love the way you wave at cars that pass on our walks. I love the way you scream “Dad” in the middle of the night. I love the way you  say “do it again” when we do something fun. I even love the permanent marker custom design you put on my new Mac. But as much as I love you, Jesus loves you more. I sacrifice a lot because I love you, but Jesus sacrificed everything because he loves you. So if somewhere along the way you fail a test or love a boy who does not love you back or have a mastectomy or develop Alzheimers or gain some weight or lose a job, you will still hold infinite value because Jesus loves you. No matter what. You are loved exactly as you are. Always.”

I’d love to read your comments…
What in this post resonates with you? Do you find yourself fighting against the beauty trap or intelligence trap or performance trap? How do you talk to your little girls about these things?


* Thanks to Tim Keller for this thought, which I once jotted down and then was unable to find as I wrote this post.