Hang On

This morning I woke up with a question on my spirit, “Will you hang on ‘til breakthrough?”

It’s been a particularly difficult year. Not just because of the global upheaval from Covid and political unrest. Though these are definitely contributing factors, they are not the sole source of hardship and worry. I’ve been praying for breakthrough on multiple fronts, with no cracks in sight for months now. Actually, I’ve seen cracks, but they’ve been in me and not in what I’ve been praying into.

I’ve kept going, kept hanging on. But like every athlete that “played hurt” there comes a point where it’s time to stop and heal up. When is that point though? How long can I stay in the hang-on phase before complete breakdown? God has been walking with me through the stress and the loss that has plagued 2020, sending words of encouragement and moments of reprieve. However, the main strain has not lifted.

It raises the question, “Will God come through with breakthrough before that point of breakdown?” It raises doubts like, “What did I screw up so badly that has warranted such hardship?” I don’t think these are the right questions though. The first one questions whether God is good, and the second wonders if He’s unforgiving and judgmental.

In my experience and reading, it seems that a lot of the time breakdown and breakthrough come at the same time. Not always, but it happens. Either way, God is good. If things resolve before breakdown, He is merciful and greatly to be praised. If it is after a breakdown, He is loving and kind, and He will walk through the rebuild with me.

Secondly, though hardship can be a result of poor decisions, even poor decisions of others, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is God’s judgement. The bible says there will be a day of judgement when all our actions and our character will be brought before God and measured (Matt. 25:31-46). Even then, those who follow Jesus, even those who followed Him poorly, will not lose their salvation (1 Cor. 3:10-15). I recently heard Tim Keller talk about guilt and shame, and whether the things that go wrong in our lives were punishment, or judgement, from God. He pointed out that they couldn’t be, because Jesus took all the punishment for our sin and failure on the cross.

All condemnation, and existentialism aside, sometimes a valley is just a valley, and the real question is: how are we going to handle it? Pull over and wait it out? Breakdown halfway through? Crash and burn down to ashes? Or plod along ‘til we come out to the other side? Even if we’re running on empty, or losing bits along the way, or hurting the whole time. Just keep going, keep being faithful to the best of our ability.

Solomon points out in his book Ecclesiastes, “I returned and saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all. For man also does not know his time: like fish taken in a cruel net, like birds caught in a snare, so the sons of men are snared in an evil time when it falls suddenly upon them.” (Ecc. 9:11-12 NKJV) In other words, sometimes you can do everything right and still not get the outcome you expected. Sometimes you’re caught up in an evil time, just because it’s an evil time and you’re alive during it.

It reminds me of the prophet Jeremiah. He was righteous, he spoke the word of the LORD to his people. Yet he was heavily persecuted for it. He had to endure the fall to Babylon and the siege of Jerusalem, despite his faithfulness to God. He was caught in an evil time through no fault of his own. He was asked to continue to speak the word of the LORD, even when it cost him everything. When all seemed lost and hopeless, when there was no way out, but through, he was asked to hang on and endure.

About half way through the book of Jeremiah, Judah has fallen to the Babylonians, and the crème of the crop has been taken away as captives to Babylon. Jeremiah sends them a letter with a word from God for them in their time of captivity. In it is one of the most quoted verses of the bible (and it’s usually quoted out of the grave context that surrounds it). “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11 NKJV) In another translation is says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV) In other words, “I know you got caught up in an evil time. But I’m thinking of you, and making plans for you in this time so it’s not all for nothing.”

The whole of chapter 29 can be summed up as God telling the captive Israelites that He isn’t going to take them out of captivity for 70 years. So they may as well set up life, get married, buy a house, raise children. Be faithful in this season of intense hardship, because I am being faithful to you behind the scenes, and the plans are for your good. God goes on to describe how He sees their wounds and how He is going to heal them, and sustain them until they are fully restored.

Now, as Christ followers, we can read Jeremiah 29 with the assurance that not only is God thinking of us in these difficult days of 2020, He is present with us through His indwelling Holy Spirit. We know that even in the valleys full of pain and plodding, He is walking and crying right alongside us, we are not alone in any of it. And it won’t all be for nothing, but it will work together for the glory of God He will redeem every minute and every tear.

Not only is God walking with us, and making plans, He is interceding for us. In Hebrews 7, the author explains why we no longer need the priests of the temple, because Jesus fulfilled the Judaic Law and is now the high priest of heaven. We are able to find salvation through the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, and we are able to have direct access to God through Jesus because He is God.

One of the actions Jesus does as high priest is intercession, “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” (Heb. 7:25 NKJV) Jesus is praying for us. In the valleys and mountain tops. When we are lost and looking as well as when we are secure and grounded in Him. He is praying for our whole journey until it is finished, and we are saved to the uttermost.

On a day when I was out of my own strength and feeling low all around, I thought about an old comfort. I used to encourage myself with the knowledge that my grandmothers were praying for me every day, but they are both with Jesus now and that extra covering is gone. I started to think about my dad, a mighty man of prayer, but he died at the start of the year. Another covering gone. Not very encouraging, I know, but there’s a point.

In the midst of tallying the losses and feeling the weight of the world heavier in light of those losses I heard the whisper of The Spirit of Jesus in my spirit, “I am praying for you.” Jesus, who created everything, who became a man so He could live perfectly and die sacrificially only to rise again in victory. Jesus, who now sits at the right hand of the Father, on the throne of heaven, is praying for me. Not only is He praying for me, He took the time to notice I was crying and give me reassurance.

I may not have the prayer covering of my grandmothers or my dad, but I have His covering. I may be in the valley this year, but I have a companion who will never leave me nor forsake me. So I will keep going, stay as faithful as I can, and take care of my family. I will hang on until breakthrough, even if it means walking through a breakdown first. Because Jesus is praying for me, and one day the ground will change and I’ll be through this valley.

-Etta Woods

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