Episode 45: Our Determination in Difficult Times

Peace to Live By Episode 45: Our Determination in Difficult Times - Daniel Litton
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[Transcript may not match broadcasted sermon word for word, and contains extra material that was cut from the broadcast due to time constraints]

       Just outside of Maine is Campobello Island, a Canadian island, which, sometime ago, in a different time, Franklin D. Roosevelt would frequent during the Summer time. He was spending time at the family’s rather large cottage, trying to get-in some time of recreation and rest in the August of 1921. After a day full of activity, Franklin took on a fever, and his legs weren’t feeling quite right. It didn’t take Franklin very long at all before he realized he had a problem. By the next morning, his left leg wasn’t responding to his movements correctly, and after another day, he was paralyzed from his chest downwards. In a short matter of time, he had gone from being a very active 39 year old, to a person who couldn’t move his legs.

       In the year prior, Franklin Roosevelt had become famous nationwide as he had been on the Democratic Presidential ticket as Vice President. Being a distant relative by blood, but a closer one by marriage, Franklin too had gained a lot of his popularity from his relation to once President and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt. And interestingly enough, Theodore was a Republican. However, by 1920, Theodore was gone, really at an early age, and it was up to Franklin to carry on the Roosevelt name—though Theodore Roosevelt Jr. wanted to do the same. And this election in 1920 had been the first one of which women had the right to vote. Louie Howe, Roosevelt’s political advisor, had tried to get Eleanor, Roosevelt’s wife, involved in the campaign. She was naturally quite shy. But regardless, it didn’t seem to matter much, as James Cox and Roosevelt lost the election to Warren G. Hardin.

       Thus, after the defeat, Franklin had time to kill until the 1924 election, in which he hoped to capture the Presidential nomination himself for the Democratic Party. He returned to New York City and practiced law at the Fidelity and Deposit Company. But in August of 1921, Franklin was ill. It took sometime for a doctor to finally figure out what was wrong with him. And as most of us know, he was diagnosed with Polio, which was much more common in infants and children than full grown adults. There was no cure. Franklin would live the rest of his life with the inability to really use his legs as God had created them to be used. For a brief time, he questioned why God had allowed this to happen to him. And after regaining his faith, he realized that he must press forward. He knew he had to live, and never give up.

       By summer of the next year, Franklin had been fitted with a brace in which he could place both of his legs, and he would wear a brace in order to try to walk, the rest of his life. It wasn’t as simple as putting on the brace, however, that made Franklin able to seemingly walk. After getting past the fact that it was 14 pounds of steel weight, he had to develop ways to get himself to move about while wearing the brace. Back home in Hyde Park, Franklin mastered a way to walk with the brace. It wasn’t really a walk, though, but more of a hobble. Yet, he spent a lot of time trying to perfect his newfound walk, and would even try to make his way down the long driveway that was there. He would spend the next couple of years working toward walking again.

       Indeed, most Americans would never even know that Franklin Roosevelt wasn't able to ‘really’ walk. As many of us know, he went on to be Governor of New York, and even President of the United States, serving longer than any other President. Personally, I would venture to call him the most important President of the Twentieth Century, and I'm sure many would agree with me. Above the chalkboard, or now dry-erase board, in the classrooms across America should be the pictures of Washington, Lincoln, and now surely Roosevelt. And not to mention that Eleanor Roosevelt has probably been the most important first-lady of all time.

       What was interesting about Franklin’s reaction after his Polio, was that he never gave up. He always had hope. Even facing such a blow as Polio, and all the conventional wisdom available at that time would have said that Franklin was finished with any kind of public life. But he didn't see it that way. He was always trying to figure out a way to cure himself for the rest of his life, and to be sure, he figured out a way to move around, appearing to walk, despite the enormous odds. Giving up wasn’t in his vocabulary. It reminds me, from time to time, that there is no excuse for giving up. If Franklin Roosevelt could live as well as he did with what should have been a great and career-ending disability, then we have no excuse—those of us of face smaller obstacles in life. On one occasion, later in his life, Franklin would say, “The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.” He knew the truth behind that statement all too well. Now, there are a few out there who are facing a similar type of challenge, and today, I want us all to learn the importance of determination in difficult times.

       It would be so easy in face of the type of challenge that was set before Franklin to be cynical, to have a negative and complaining attitude. It reminds me of a quote from his distant cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, about our determination in life. He said: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” Undoubtedly, how these words must have helped Franklin in his time of need. When we make no choices in life, no decisions to do anything or be anybody, we never progress. And if we are like this as Christians, we will never see ourselves growing to become more like Jesus.

       Most, if not all of us, in this life will face enormous difficulties. For some it will be health challenges, for some money-related issues, and even for some the great need of a fellow loved one. Some people will spend a lot of their lives in the care of another person more in need than themselves. This is uncomfortable to think about. And with all the escapes available to us in our world today, it would be so easy to give up and check out. Many don't have the proper care for life, or take life seriously when they don't want to. But I think that if we really want to live good and successful lives, we need to face our challenges head on. We need to face boldly, strongly, and courageously whatever God sets before us. It is written “Then David said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (1 Chronicles 28:20, ESV). Really, there are no excuses.

       It is true that whatever we face in life, God knew it was going to come, and he allowed it to come. While there is great peace in that realization, there is also great mystery. Sometimes we just don't know why certain things come to us, certain problems and difficulties, and why certain things happen to others whom we love. The good news today is that God is always with us, no matter what, and he never abandons us. That basic truth is so important to us. And God also promises us that he will never give us trails or temptations which are greater than we can handle (see 1 Corinthians 10:13). That truth alone can comfort us. Even if something deep downs feels like its too much, know that somewhere in our character, deep down, he have the ability to handle whatever we need to handle in life (see 2 Corinthians 5:17).

       This also reminds me of a challenge that Theodore Roosevelt faced when he was on a South American expedition, which began in December of 1913, some hundred years ago. Both Theodore and his son Kermit had decided to go on this adventure through thick forests and a land filled with Natives. Of course, they had a group of people with them, and the excursion would include a lot of boating. In fact, when making their journey down what was called, at the time, the River of Doubt, a small leg-wound Theodore had obtained ended up infected and then he appeared to have contracted Malaria. The infection in his leg got so bad that he was not able to walk any longer under his own power. When he saw that he was holding the rest of his group back, Theodore offered to sacrifice himself for that sake of the others. But his son wouldn't have it. And Theodore noted in his diary that he believed that if he did not stay alive, then his son would certainly perish.

       Of their group of nineteen men, three did perish along the journey. But after all the hard traveling, the group was met by a relief party in late April of 1914, and Theodore's needs were tended to—and certainly just in time. Certainly, he had almost died on this bold adventure. But nothing had ever stopped Theodore; he kept his determination to make it through to the end. In the past, not the wild-west, Washington politics, or even an African-safari had stopped him in his tracks. Roosevelt was a determined individual, and was even able to overcome the plights of a South American jungle. He was welcomed back home, in New York City, with a parade of great honor. The people admired and loved him for his bravery.

       So, we have here in Theodore and his son's adventure another example of determination, and really, endurance. The two assuredly go hand-in-hand. First you have to have the determination to overcome an obstacle, and then you have to have the endurance to see-through your original determination. The Apostle Paul said on one occasion: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him [Christ] who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13, ESV). Just like the Apostle Paul, we too will face times of varying circumstances. But, just like Paul did through Christ, we can face whatever comes to us with the same determination, endurance, and a good attitude. We can face all things in life by counting on Jesus to be our strength and to give us the strength we need.

       The two examples both from the lives of Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt go to show us that we cannot let our difficult situations in life hold us back. We must press forward. If we are afraid, we need to learn not to be afraid, to remember God is with us. And if we are afraid of what other people will think if we do this or that, again, we need to learn not to care. So many people are held back in life because they care too much, and are worried, about what other people may be thinking. If I cared what about other people think, I wouldn't have come as far as I have in my own life, and neither will anyone else go far if they care too much about what others think. Listen! People who are looking to judge, those coming at you with negatively-focused eyeglasses, are going to find fault with you anyway, no matter what you do or say. Indeed, a fault-finder will always find fault; that's what he or she does.

       You don't have to be the best person at something in order to do it. Any of us can be determined individuals. For leaders, often the most important thing that they need is boldness. They have to be bold in order to even be a leader. God tells us many times in the Bible to be strong, brave, and courageous. If we don't have confidence in whatever we are doing, we aren't going to go very far. As Theodore Roosevelt taught us in the quote I read just a little bit ago, it is better for us to try and be wrong, than to not try at all. If we don't try, we will never know when we are wrong. Indeed, we won't know anything because we never took a bold step of faith. None of us are perfect in our actions, no matter who we are. Understanding that should encourage us, and be helpful for us at the same time.

       Before we are determined to do anything significant in our lives, we should be praying to God asking him what his will is, or whether the idea we have come up with lines up with his will. And when we get God's go or approval, we are then determined to do something in life, something that God is leading us to do. We can have confidence in the fact that God promised he would be with us. Jesus has told us, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20, ESV). This promise allows us to not become afraid in our circumstances and challenges. We may not even have the resources that we need to accomplish whatever it is we want to accomplish, but it doesn't matter. God will provide the things we need, when we need them. In fact, our trust in God is all that we really need. And our trust in him pleases him.

       We shouldn't be a person in life who doesn't finish what he or she starts—doing that is not remaining determined in life. We should want others to have faith in what we say we're going to do, and not say things that were going to do and then not do them. Jesus said to let our Yes be yes and our No be no (see Matthew 5:37). We want to be dependable people, as Christians. We also want God to be proud of us, well-pleased with our behavior, and we cannot accomplish this standing with Him if we do not remain determined. We shouldn't be double-minded in our decisions, but stick with whatever we decide to do and see it through to its end. Now, sometimes we are shown that the decision or path we are on isn't the right choice, and in that case we should change our direction.

       Remember, determination toward anything will require patience, right? One of the fruit of the Spirit is patience of course (see Galatians 5:22-24). I believe we already have the fruit of the Spirit, and we can access that fruit, cultivate it, and develop it, as we continue to live out our Christian lives. God will bring it out in us as we grow into becoming more like Jesus. Our growth is a process, and we are a work in progress. That's why no one should expect absolute perfection from any of us. Nonetheless, it is our attitude of patience, that is, having a good attitude toward being patient, that keeps us determined and is pleasing to God. The mere fact that we are being patient means we haven't reached our end goal. Patience means enduring our time joyfully and with a good attitude while we wait to reach our goal. We don't always get everything in life when we want it. There are times we have to wait, but waiting is in fact good for us.

       If we are complaining about waiting on something in life, we aren’t being patient, are we? We can choose to operate out of the patience God has given to us, to have a joyful mindset as we trust in God to provide our need at the right time. If we always received things right away, with no wait, there would be no need for patience. The very existence of patience and the fact that God asks us to have patience means we are not going to get everything we want in life right when we want it. Now, that’s very opposite to what a lot of us have been geared in our minds toward. Our culture says you should get what you want now, that you shouldn’t have to wait for what you desire. But that’s not the way life really goes. Besides, if we wait, we will end up with the best of whatever it is we are waiting for.

       In life, there is a time to zoom in and a time to zoom out; both perspectives can help us. Sometimes, we need to focus on the big picture. I've talked about this in the past. When we zoom out and look at things from a perspective that’s in the sky looking downward, we can see what we want to accomplish in our task. And then we should keep this 'end goal' in perspective throughout our determination at something. The writer of Hebrews said, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV).

       We shouldn’t let unimportant things cloud the vision of our future goal. Don’t get caught up focusing on small, insignificant things in life, which weigh us down. If we are constantly worried about unimportant things, we will never get past them to focus on what really matters. We should not make mountains out of mole-hills. When an insignificant obstacle comes or tries to stop us, we need to deal with it and move on. We should not overreact to things and be a person who is quick-tempered. Rather, we should be slow to anger. When we do this, we won’t get caught up with the insignificant matters but rather we will move forward.

       Don't misunderstand me, though, because surely we are going to have bad days, days when we don't stay determined and lose our stability. There will be times when we are tempted by Satan to give up in reaching our goal. And he will try to convince us that we have been on the wrong path, when we haven't, or that all of our work up to this point has been useless. But just because we have a bad day, this doesn't mean that we should throw in the towel and give up. Sometimes we throw the towel, and we need to quickly grab it back. Most things we do will have some sort of trial and error, guess and check. That's just the way things often work. And this is another reason why having a proper perspective is necessary for better success. If we lose track of an overall, big-picture’ perspective, it can become easier to give up because all we see is our one failure on this particular day.

       And then, if we don't have a proper attitude toward our failures but continue to dwell on them, we can become discouraged, and discouragement will kill any hopes of sticking with our objective. It's hard, if not impossible, to remain discouraged and yet determined at the same time, right? We have to get our failures out of our minds, and not continue to ruminate on them or go over them time after time again. Actually, this is exactly what Satan wants us to do. But this kind of negative thinking, this negative focus, will drag us down and cause us to become discouraged. And, some of us know that discouragement leads to depression. It is a downward spiral. It is much harder to deal with our problems later than if we deal with them upfront as they come. King Solomon has told us, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23, ESV). We shouldn't procrastinate, kicking the can down the road.

       When leave this world and stand before God on our great Judgment day (at the Bema Seat of Christ), hopefully we will be able to look back and know that we stayed determined toward our work for God. It will feel good when we know that we kept our faith, that we were bold, and did the right things for God. We don't want to find ourselves like the man in the Parable of the Talents who went out and buried his talent in the the field because he was afraid (see Matthew 25). We want to multiply our talents like the good stewards in the parable. And the only way we are going to accomplish this in our lives, is if we keep our determination. The Apostle Peter has told us, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:10-11, ESV).

       In conclusion today, perhaps today, you have tried all that you can to live the best way possible, and to do your best in living life, to keep your determination. Perhaps you're tired of trying. Well, today, I am here to tell you that you can stop trying to be a good enough person because you’ll never be a good enough person, at least in God's eyes. No, friend, in God's eyes, the only person who is good enough is the person who knows Jesus Christ as his or her personal Lord and Savior. And that’s not because the person is actually ‘good,’ who has accepted Jesus, but because God sees the person as good because he or she has repented and accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for their sins.

       If you don't know Jesus, you will never measure up to God's standard for goodness, for righteousness. God wants to give you today his righteousness so that you can be in right relationship with him. He wants everyone to come to know him—to be in relationship with him. God loves everyone in the world, and wants people to believe in his Son, Jesus' perfect sacrifice of himself on the cross, in your place, as a payment, acceptable to God, for your sins. You can be made right with God today, and have peace with Him, which includes escaping any of his wrath to come, and having eternal life forever in peace. And God promises to help you in life where you need help, and you can anchor your determination in Him.

       If you would like to accept Jesus today as your personal Lord and Savior, then follow my lead in this prayer:

God, I have sinned my whole life, not following your will, but doing the things that I have wanted to. I believe Jesus died on the cross for my sins, and that he rose from the dead so that I might have a new life beginning in you. I surrender my life over to you so that you will make me righteous, and make me a better person—make me like your Son, Jesus. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.

-Daniel Litton