Buck up, Buttercup: On Running With Horses & Our Non-Coddling God

run with horses

If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?

Jeremiah 12:5a

Our culture is getting so soft. No one can handle criticism. People just wilt. I can’t tell you how many times that gist has come up in conversation lately.

I’m no expert on culture. So correct me Mom and Dad if you think I’m wrong: You weren’t much for coddling. And correct me sons if you think I lie: I’m not much for coddling.

Which is probably just fine. Here’s why.

I Thought I’d Be Wrecked

No bright pink line. Another stinging sign of my empty womb. I thought I’d be wrecked at the next fruitless month. Little did I know there would be more than two hundred empty months (and nine full months) ahead. But here I am. I’m not wrecked.

I was looking for dirty socks under his bed. But there it was, my clue that something was off. I thought I’d be wrecked if we didn’t fix this now. But the rascally habit grew. It got more entrenched and bore bitter fruit. But here I am. I’m not wrecked.

They walked out of our house in silence. We’d have to meet again and try again to patch things up. I thought I’d be wrecked by year’s end if we couldn’t mend. But it would be ten long years before hugs. But here I am. I’m not wrecked.

If anything I’m stronger. Because sufficient grace kept flowing as all those ruins fell.

God gave compassion and comfort and care. But there was not coddling.

Warm Mush & Helicopter Moms

So what is coddling?

To coddle means to overprotect. Not to protect, but to overprotect. As in helicopter mom. As in Ashley and her twelve year-old daughter Lacy, A girl was mean to Lacy at lunch, so I called her teacher and messaged the girl’s mom. As in, It’s 50 degrees so wear your hat and mittens and coat, Lacy, or you can’t go outside.

But I know many of you enjoy word study and a few love Latin. So here’s the quick etymology of coddling:

Coddle is probably a dialect variant of obsolete caudle: ‘administer invalids’ gruel’, based on Latin caldum: ‘hot drink’, from calidus: ‘warm’.

Oxford Languages

God protects us. It’s what my friend Kat calls life under the wing. She’s right. When God is our refuge, no evil will befall us.

But that doesn’t mean he spares us grief, trouble and pain. While God is absolutely compassionate and merciful and comforts us in our sorrows (2 Corinthians 1:3-4), our Heavenly Father does not coddle his children.

He doesn’t overprotect us or spoon feed his adult children mush. God wants us to grow up (Ephesians 4:13, Colossians 1:28). But solid food is for the mature.

Anti-fragile: Children Prepared For The Road

I probably wouldn’t have had coddling on my mind if our book club hadn’t just read The Coddling of the American Mind. In it, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt take on some great cultural “untruths,” like human fragility: the untruth that what doesn’t kill us makes us weaker. The truth, they say, is that humans are anti-fragile.

While that is true now and then—the greater truth is that human beings need physical and mental challenges or we decline. Stress actually makes us stronger, not weaker. For example, muscles and joints need stressors to develop properly. Without stress, our muscles to atrophy, our joints to lose range of motion, our heart and lung function to decline, and blood clots may form.

This is not mere resilience as when when we bounce back from a fall like a rubber ball. It’s more. Anti-fragile means we actually get stronger, we move past baseline, because of the stress.

The foolishness of overprotection is clear as soon as you understand the concept of anti-fragility, Lukianoff and Haidt explain. Given that risks and stressors are natural, unavoidable parts of life, parents and teachers should be helping kids develop their innate abilities to grow and learn from such experiences. There’s an old saying: “Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.”

In other words, the trials you’re facing now will prepare you for bigger ones later. Running against men will get you ready to race horses.

Not the Exception, the Rule

Time to explain the horses. A little background might help.

I’ve been reading Jeremiah lately. It strikes me again that God doesn’t coddle his children. He doesn’t overprotect the ones he loves. Rather, he prepares them for the rocky road ahead with smaller bumps now.

The more I read the Bible the more I see this not as the exception, but as the rule. Job and Jeremiah and Elijah and Paul and 11 of 12 apostles who died martyrs deaths prove it. Recall Jesus’ words to Peter, What is it to you? You follow me. God often turns up the heat before he turns it down. He prepares his children for the road.

Here’s what I mean, spotlight on Jeremiah. As chapter 12 opens, the weeping prophet takes God to task.

You are always righteous, Lord,
    when I bring a case before you.
Yet I would speak with you about your justice:
    Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
    Why do all the faithless live at ease?

We get that, don’t we? How many of us would have a word with the Lord about his justice? Why is it bad guys thrive and honest, decent folks barely survive?

While it is grand to pour out our hearts to God, it doesn’t guarantee that we’ll like his reply. When Jeremiah inquires about the mistreatment he’s receiving in his own hometown (see 12:6), from his own brothers, God gives a shocking response.

You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet

So what is God’s answer to Jeremiah‘s questions? God comes back with a couple questions of his own:

If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?

Jeremiah 12:5

You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. It’s as if God takes Jeremiah down to a track meet and has him run the 400 meter, the 800 meter and the mile. Then, as he stands doubled over in the infield, God asks, Jeremiah, you all set to race in the derby? You’re in lane five, against Secretariat.

The second question is like asking, If you fall down in the Great Plains how are you ever going to make it over the Rocky Mountains? Things will get worse before they get better. If the hometown crowd is mean to you, get ready for the toughies in Jerusalem.

Buck up, Buttercup. How will you compete with horses?

Prepared For The Road Ahead

In a message on Jeremiah 11-12, Phil Ryken says, God did have great things in store for Jeremiah, but he could never achieve them unless he was willing to persevere in little things. There were greater challenges to come.

By analogy, Jeremiah could expect to run against horses in the future. He needed to learn how to trust God and to draw on His strength in his present challenge, in order to prepare him for the greater challenges in the future.

If Jeremiah was foundering at his mild mistreatment in Anathoth, how would he fare in big-hostile Jerusalem? Before long, he would be locked in stocks (Jeremiah 20:1-3), thrown into a muddy cistern (Jeremiah 38:6), and imprisoned in the court of the guard (Jeremiah 28:13). The troubles he was having in Anathoth, Ryken says, were nothing compared to the troubles he would have later in Jerusalem, Babylon, or Egypt.

In order to our preparation for further and greater trials, we are concerned to approve ourselves well in present smaller trials, to keep up our spirits, keep hold of the promise, with our eye upon the prize, so run that we may obtain it.”

That is 17th-century Bible teacher, Matthew Henry’s take on Jeremiah 12:5 and our non-coddling God. Our non-coddling, deeply-compassionate God who lovingly trains us for more difficult roads ahead.

Our Strength

So where’s the good news in this, Abigail? Good question.

Jeremiah never saw the hard road coming. But I want us to see it. I want you to learn what it’s taking me so long to learn. In the decades since that first negative pregnancy test and that wrapper under the bed and those hug-less years, I’m learning to feel God’s love in the trials, to know his purpose, that the Lord is compassionate and merciful (see James 5:11).

But believing that takes frequent reminders. Reminders about running with horses. Reminders that God is a loving Father but not a coddling grandfather.

Jeremiah’s little exchange with God reminds me again that our God is not safe— if safe means he keeps us from hardship and trouble. No, as Mr. Beaver said of Aslan, Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.

Good parents prepare their children for the challenging roads ahead. Our Heavenly Father is doing just that. Which, I hope you’ll agree, is good news.

As I close, I ask, Who’s running against you? What troubles could wreck you? What is the long, hard road you’re on?

Now stop.

Just look at you. Here you are—running with horses, bucking up. You are strong.

And you are definitely not wrecked.

The LORD is the strength of His people, a stronghold of salvation for His anointed.

Proverbs 28:8

Sufficient Grace: Fish in the Ocean or Running on Fumes?

sufficient grace

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

-God, to Paul

Is Sufficient Enough?

Sufficient.

Do you like that word? How does it sound in your ear? Does it sound sort of meager, barely enough, and just scraping by? We prefer different words—words like abundant and lavish and great—to describe grace. Thankfully, there is biblical warrant for all three.

But sufficient is a grace word. And as such, a word we embrace. But outside of that one phrase in that one verse, who cites sufficient?

If I do, it’s only as a concession. Because I’m hungry for more. I prefer excess. If a 220 thread count percale is good, a 500 thread count sateen is better. If one scoop of ice cream is good, two scoops are better. And a three bedroom ranch is good, a split four bedroom must be better. If two kids are good, three or four are absolutely better.

Lavish, abundant, great—but most of us don’t want sufficient. We want better. We want more than enough.

But when God answered Paul’s thrice-repeated plea to remove his thorn in the flesh (see 2 Corinthians 12) the word the Word chose—of all the possible words and he knows all of the words—the word he chose was sufficient.

Sufficient for the Day?

In Greek, the word for this kind of grace is ἀρκέω. It’s used only eight times in the Bible and it’s always translated as one of three English words: sufficient, content, or enough.

These are three examples of how ἀρκέω (arkeo) is used:

  • Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” (John 6:7)
  • But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. (1 Timothy 6:8)
  • But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9a)

Sufficient. Content. Enough.

A man can no more take in a supply of grace for the future than he can eat enough today to last him for the next 6 months, D.L. Moody said, nor can he inhale sufficient air into his lungs with one breath to sustain life for a week to come. We are permitted to draw upon God’s store of grace from day to day as we need it.

As we breathe it in, God’s grace sustains us, day by day. Grace enough like manna, like mercy to match tomorrow’s trouble.

But sometimes it feels like fumes.

Even When It Feels Like Running On Fumes

Fumes were enough to get Dad’s little yellow Chevy Luv truck through the intersection and into the gas station lot. That was a white-knuckle, “Will we make it there?” trauma, running on fumes. At least to the ten-year old daughter riding shotgun.

But fumes were enough. They were sufficient to get us to the pump and fill up the Luv tank.

And they were enough this week when our plans got highjacked by serious sickness in a son.

I really don’t feel good. My stomach hurts and I am sweating really bad. I want to go home, the first text said.

This, after a day home from school, a pick up at school after 90 minutes there and a call from the nurse, and then a third day at home.

It’s horrible. A cramp in my lower gut, I am sweating really bad. And on and on, five days like this with a sick boy weaker and weaker.

But He gives more grace. I breathed it in. God provided help and helpers. We adjusted our plans.

Isn’t that what this life is? Trusting God to power us through trials? To fill us with His strength when we are running on empty?

We’ll Never Drink Grace Dry

But I could be all wrong about sufficient grace like running on fumes. It could be that the Lord is massively understating.

British author Alan Redpath thought so, As if a little fish could swim in the ocean and fear lest it might drink it dry! The grace of our crucified, risen, exalted, triumphant Saviour, the Lord of all glory, is surely sufficient for me! Do you not think it is rather modest of the Lord to say sufficient?

The God of all grace may have been rather modest when he told Paul his grace was sufficient. I don’t know.

But I do know that until we meet Him face to face, our trials will endure and his sufficient grace will endure.

Until then, enough is as good as a feast. Whether it feels like drinking the ocean or running on fumes.

This sufficiency is declared without any limiting words, and therefore I understand the passage to mean that the grace of our Lord Jesus is sufficient to uphold thee, sufficient to strengthen thee, sufficient to comfort thee, sufficient to make thy trouble useful to thee, sufficient to enable thee to triumph over it, sufficient to bring thee out of it, sufficient to bring thee out of ten thousand like it, sufficient to bring thee home to heaven… 

-C.H. Spurgeon, on 2 Corinthians 12:9

But Hypocrites We’re Not

Actor's Mask held in hand, hypocrite

We get stronger by lifting others up. The words on my friend’s shirt caught my eye, and I mentioned it.

Yeh, John looked at it and said, “Really?”

My friend is not a hypocrite for wearing that shirt even if her “domestic encouragement” lapses — even if she’s not constantly lifting, as on mother eagle’s wings, her entire family up. I’m not a hypocrite when I join the meeting because I gave my word, even when when something better came along. And you’re not a hypocrite when you smile at me, I tell my sons, even if you don’t feel the love.

Fake it till you make it might be more right than you think.

Hypocrites Are We. Or Not.

Don’t get me wrong—there are hypocrites inside the church and there are hypocrites outside the church and the best argument for Christianity is Christians and the best argument against Christianity is Christians—hypocritical Christians. Jesus saved his most scathing words for hypocrites. See Matthew 23. (Extra credit if you can count how many woes Jesus pronounced on hypocrites.)

Like this woe, in Matthew 23: 25, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”

But this post isn’t to pronounce woes on hypocrites. It is to correct one misunderstanding about hypocrites. Because we might get confused and think we’re hypocrites when we’re not. And it’s hard to grow up and mature when we’re mixed up and confused.

So what exactly is this word “hypocrite”?

What is a Hypocrite?

The Greek word, hupokrites, from which comes our English word hypocrite means a play actor. In ancient Greece, hypocrites literally put on masks to play the various parts. A hupokrites is someone who pretends to be something that he is not. He plays the part.

Hypocrites profess to believe one thing but actually live a completely different way. For example, if you are a vegetarian spokesman who eats a burger every lunch, you are a hypocrite. If you are an opponent of alcohol and you drink a bottle every night or if you’re a force for family values who enjoys strip clubs on the weekend, you’re a hypocrite.

Those are blatant examples of pretenders whose aim is to look good and get applause. Hypocrites might be slaves to praise.

More Natural, More Hypocritical?

But too often Christians confuse hypocrisy. And whenever we do, it’s to our loss. We lose confidence, and we feel shame. Or, more dangerous still, we may feel emboldened to sin because it feels more natural, less hypocritical.

Here’s what I mean. In Galatians chapter 5, Paul wrote, For the flesh craves what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are opposed to each other, so that you do not do what you want.

It’s a duel till the death between the Spirit and the flesh.

Which means that when my friend wore the Lift Others Up shirt, even though as her husband teased, she didn’t always to live up at home, this was not hypocrisy. Rather, she was a fallen human living out the battle. She shrugged, I wear the shirt to remind me to live it out. When I sent birthday wishes to someone who annoyed me, this was not hypocrisy. It is the Spirit in me.

Now you try it. Fill in the blanks:

When I [pray, say kind words, or do acts of service] for [someone who hurts, annoys, disappoints me], this is not hypocrisy, it is love.

No doesn’t that feel good?

Hypocrisy Or Maturity?

Hypocrisy is not when we do one thing but feel another. That is not hypocrisy.

Hypocrites publicize one set of beliefs but live by a different set of beliefs. When you come to church but you don’t feel like it, that’s not hypocrisy. That’s faithfulness. When you do the right thing in your marriage even when you don’t feel in love, that’s fidelity. 

And I underscore this because I’ve heard this before, as a pastor, “Well, Pastor, I would be a hypocrite to stay in this marriage because I’m not in love anymore.” Or “I would be a hypocrite, Pastor, to give to the offering when I don’t feel like doing so.” God loves a cheerful giver, as you’ve heard me say before. Yes, He does, so keep on giving until you’re happy. 

Listen very carefully, doing what is right when you don’t feel like doing what is right is not hypocrisy, it’s maturity.

Kevin DeYoung, “The Lord’s Prayer: When You Pray

God wants his kids to grow up. So send the note to the annoying friend (he may already have sent one to you). Do the deed when you don’t feel like it. Pray for your enemies. Love on.

It’s the nature of life in a tent. We must fight our sinful flesh and selfish feelings (Romans 8:13) and even still, we will fall (Proverbs 24:16). This makes us strugglers and sometimes sufferers and only proves again that we’re sinners who daily need the Gospel to free and empower and forgive.

But it does not make us hypocrites.

So while we are in this tent, we groan under our burdens, because we do not wish to be unclothed but clothed, so that our mortality may be swallowed up by life.

2 Corinthians 5:4

Rejection, Crickets & How To Fight Loser-itis Right

Man holding up thumb fighting loser-itis

Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.

Winston Churchill

I heard an expert say that you are qualified to teach a “master class” if you know 10% more about something than others. A handful of scintillating course topics I could teach crossed my mind when she said that. Then Sorry, can’t make it, lit up my screen. I knew my topic: loser-itis.

Actually not loser-itis, even though I’ve got some experience there. But who’d take that class? No, my masterclass would not be about loser-itis, but about how to fight loser-itis.

Fight Loser-itis Right 101

The next text confirmed my topic, Something came up. See you next week. A couple friends declined my invites and my husband rejected my plan, and someone unsubscribed from my Facebook group all on one day last week.

But even worse than outright rejection are those soul-desolating, joy-decimating crickets that come when you pour your heart out and not. a. peep. For souls who long to influence, those chirps are deafening.

This all was inflammatory. It triggered my loser-itis.

But recall, while I am a certain expert on loser-itis, I’m fairly sure I know 10% more than many about how to fight loser-itis. I don’t have a syllabus or slide show yet, but I’d love to share three fight tips that help me beat loser-itis— and they’re all 100% free!

Belt On: Fight Loser-itis With Truth

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist. Ephesians 6:14

No one has a chance against loser-itis—that discouragement that comes with failure, rejection and being ignored—unless truth undergirds.

Truth number one for every Christian is that in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. That’s Romans 8:37 and it deserved its own post. If you’re in Christ, you are not a loser. Period.

Here are the three other truths I’d unfold with those enrolled in my master class.

1. Sow On: Forget The Weather App

He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap. Ecclesiastes 11:4

Failure is part and parcel with with trying. You can’t have one without the other. As Christians we are called to sow generously. We are to invite and initiate and bare our souls for the sake of the Name, even if no seed grows—or grows now, or grows where we can see it.

Because, you do not know if it will grow, but you will not reap if you do not sow.

You do not know if it will grow, but you will not reap if you do not sow.

This I know. There will always be excuses not to take a risk, and good reasons for caution, too. But if we observe the wind, we will never sow. At some point we must take that step into the river and stop looking at the weather app.

So when loser-itis bites, remind yourself that failure is part of success. Because not all seeds will grow. But none will grow if you don’t put yourself out there. Which leads straight into truth number two.

2. Love On: Accept No

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

This is a proven winner in the fight. Hard as it is, we’ve got to give others the grace to say no, or even to say nothing. We are not entitled to a response. And if the rejection is personal and a downright outright rejection of us or our message, it is still for us to give grace.

Because everyone we meet has struggles we don’t see. And sometimes the healthiest thing is to say no.

Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

John Watson

We all say no. And when we do, we want others to receive it well. Do unto others, as you’d have them do unto you. But it’s only the blessed meek who can go bold—can ask and invite and sow— and graciously take “no” for an answer.

So go meek, love on, and be kind. For everyone is fighting a hard battle. Which brings us to truth number three.

3. Keep On: Tend Your Little Patch

Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we don’t give up. Galatians 6:9

Don’t look past your front door for a cure for loser-itis. Odds are, there are people inside your house could use some TLC. Thirty years after she gave it to an insecure 7th grader, pining away on a Friday night, Mom’s advice to me is evergreen.

To have a friend be a friend.

I can’t count the times I’ve fought off loser-itis by texting or writing or phoning a friend. Maybe I can’t pick the circles I run in, but I can love the ones in the circles I’m in. Love the ones you’re with.

Jonathan Rogers helps me here. I mentioned his words before. Rogers says we all have a territory, —a little patch of ground that is yours to cultivate. Your patch of ground is your unique combination of experiences and perspective and voice and loves and longings and community. Tend that patch of ground.

Serve them. Keep on. Tend that little patch.

Rejected, Victorious, and Lover to the End

That would be my master course, three truths to help fight loser-itis.

But I’d have to bring it all home with Jesus. Jesus, the arm of the LORD, who was rejected of men and loved to the end.

Then at the end of the hour, I’d say to my class, Ya’ll, let’s go learn from Him. There’s victory in Jesus.

He was despised, and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief:

and as one from whom men hide their face he was despised; and we esteemed him not.

Isaiah 53:3

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:57