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

Stone, Bronze, Rock & Gold: Finding Strength To Hope

Man standing in strength atop massive rock in ocean.

From the end of the earth I call to you, when my heart is overwhelmed: 

Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

Psalm 61:2

I had no strength to hope and my mind wouldn’t rest. The tension from work wouldn’t let go when I fell into bed. After 20 years on the job, this kind of conflict is new, complex, and unique.

Hopeless And Sleepless

But I rest my head on the soft pillow of providence. So I should still able to sleep, right?

Because compared to Afghanistan and New Orleans and a friend who can’t eat because of radiation rampaging her mouth, my troubles are nothing. Because I believe to my core that my times are in his hands. And because I trust that in this messiness God is working for good.

But my anxious mind wouldn’t let my tired flesh sleep. Despite casting my cares and reciting a verse, two days in a row I awoke by a mind awash, weary and weak.

Then sometime in the third watch of the third night, totally unprompted, stones and a rock entered and settled me.

Strength Of Stones

I can’t explain how they came except to say, if you put God’s Word in your heart, the Spirit pulls it out.

He brought stones to mind first: What is my strength that I should hope? Is my strength the strength of stones, or is my flesh bronze?  (Job 6:10-11)

Job was my man. He felt my pain and I felt his. He was strong. I was strong.

I’ve been strong. My sisters and cousins and I joke about our strong genes and high tolerance for pain. After all, we milked kicky goats and weeded field gardens and bailed August hay. We Considine girls are strong.

Depending Strength

My flesh is strong, but it is not the durable strength of bronze. My heart is strong, but it it is not the staunch strength of a stone. It’s true: my flesh and my heart fail me. That happens when my hope dims, like it did in the dark this week when I couldn’t solve my way out of the tension at work. The truth is, I still don’t see the way out.

But I’m not alone. Centuries ago the Puritan Matthew Henry was also taken up by Job’s words.

He noted,

What is my strength, that I should hope? You see how I am weakened and brought low, how unable I am to grapple with my [moods], and therefore what reason have I to hope that I should outlive them, and see better days?

Is my strength the strength of stones? Are my muscles brass and my sinews steel? No, they are not, and therefore I … sink under the load […]

What is our strength? It is depending strength. We have no more strength than God gives us; for in him we live and move. 

The only real strength that we stones have is a depending strength. That is not a bug. It is a design feature.

Because, as Paul Tripp says, It is not your weakness that will get in the way of God’s working through you, but your delusions of strength. His strength is made perfect in our weakness!

God created us weak and needy, not with the unyielding strength of stones.

Strong Enough To Stay Upon

The truth is, I still don’t see a way out of the conflict at work. But my perspective is changing. This depending strength is giving me hope. I know He will be with me with the tension is high. Trusting Him for that brings peace.

Which is the second truth God sent in third watch of the third night. It was Isaiah 26:3-4,

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.

Stayed upon means my mind is fixed on, focused on, stayed upon Jehovah. That is the only way to perfect peace. The Hebrew word sawmak comes from the root “to prop.” A Bible dictionary says it has the idea of “to lean upon or take hold of … lay, lean, lie hard, put, rest self, set self, stand fast, stay (self), sustain.”

No sugarcoating: staying our minds takes work. It means first we press on to know God. Because we won’t trust what we don’t know. And we certainly won’t focus and fix and lean and stay our minds on what we do not trust.

But I’m here to tell you that there is perfect peace when this dependent stone stays her mind on the everlasting Rock.

Come Forth As Gold

I actually started this post nine years ago when as I first pondered those “strength of stone” words of Job. Infertility wearied me then. It took massive depending strength that I didn’t always have to hope in God’s goodness—whether it came through a third child (it didn’t) or by knowing Him more (it did).

To tell you the truth, most of my adult life feels like a series of tests. Maybe yours does too. And maybe that’s normal for every believer. Maybe it’s God’s way of testing us lumps of gold.

I’ve got some theology for that too. It didn’t come in the third watch of the night like the Rock and stones. But I know what Job knew (23:10): that he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.

No, my flesh is not bronze and my strength is not the strength of stones. But as I trust in the Everlasting Rock, I gain perfect peace and strength to hope.

And when he has tested us, we will come forth as gold.
 

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:6-7

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:26

He Staggered Not: How to Grow Strong in Your Faith

man of faith looking at stars

He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.

 Romans 4:20

I didn’t plan to write this post today. But then came a 1:30 AM wake up with another parenting struggle that nearly made my faith stagger and did keep me from falling back to sleep.

Then came new mercies: a text from a kind niece who mentioned my “strong faith” and these words from Romans 4—which just happened to be on the reading plan this day I woke up plumb-tuckered out.

And here we are.

How To Grow Strong

Now here is that text I read this morning. The last verse talks about how Abraham grew strong in his faith, giving glory to God. He trusted God would do what he promised. Another word for that is faithfulness.

In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver (stagger) concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised

Romans 4:18-21, ESV

It’s like the chicken and the egg. We grow strong in our faith as we give glory to God. We give glory to God by trusting him, by having faith.

So how do we grow strong in faith? In four words: Have faith in God. The missionary Hudson Taylor explained those four words in these seven: Hold on to the faithfulness of God.

And why?

Because it is in the midst of these trials that faith has stood out most gloriously. It is just when everything is going against them that would make them despair at the natural level that they most glorify God, because they still go on believing. They’re unshaken. They don’t stagger because of unbelief.

Dr. Martyn-Lloyd Jones, “Faith Glorifying God

In fact, the more severe the test, the more they give glory to God.

Then I heard how the strong men and women of faith are the very same people who endure so many trials and troubles and that no one more glorifies God than a person of faith (see Hebrews 11:6).

In all these things, you will grow strong. In them, I’ve shared before, not despite them. Because of our trials our strength grows.

Even if our trials are too tender and near for friends to know, God knows. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Hold On to the Faithfulness of God

Faith does not look at itself. It looks at God. People who grow strong in faith, to borrow Paul’s words, are “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” (Acts 4:21b) People with strong faith learn to glance at their troubles and the gaze at their God.

That’s exactly what Abraham did. God had promised that he and Sarah would have a son. Twenty-five years passed and in Romans 4:19 we read, Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.

Oh, sure. Abraham knew all about his age and Sarah’s wrinkly, dry body. He knew babies aren’t made in people at that age. But He did not stagger because of unbelief. Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

He knew that God had spoken. God had made a promise and because of that, as Lloyd-Jones puts it, Abraham said to himself, “Nothing else needs to be considered at all.” And so he gave glory to God. It’s like they put all their seemingly irredeemable weakness and trouble on one side of the balance and God’s faithfulness on the other. And the side with God’s faithfulness drops weighty, like lead.

So Abraham hoped against hope and glorified God and Isaac was born.

Trust Issues: How Faith Gives Glory To God

Faith in God’s promises, John Piper explains, glorifies him as supremely wise and strong and good and trustworthy. Conversely, Lloyd-Jones notes, There is nothing more insulting to God than not believing him.

Martin Luther would have agreed, for faith he wrote, honors him whom it trusts with the most reverent and highest regard, since it considers him truthful and trustworthy.All that to say, most of us say we’re here on earth and the “chief end of man” is to give glory to God. When we believe God’s promises we do exactly that.

I’ve told you before that I have trust issues. Maybe it’s a firstborn thing, but I really like people to trust me. If it hurts my puny fail-and-drop-the-ball-self how much more it must grieve the faithful God’s heart when His people don’t trust Him.

In “The Theology of Rest” Oswald Chambers imagines how that felt. 

“O ye of little faith!” What a pang must have shot through the disciples — “Missed it again!” And what a pang will go through us when we suddenly realize that we might have produced downright joy in the heart of Jesus by remaining absolutely confident in Him, no matter what was ahead. 

At rock bottom, our anxiety and fear are staggering in faith. They reveal that we distrust God.

Which means we don’t know him as well as he wants us to know him. 

2 Ways To Strengthen Your Faith

It’s not surprising then, that Lloyd-Jones identifies these as the main factors that determine the strength of our faith:

  1. Our knowledge of God.
  2. Our application of that knowledge.

So we’ve got to know God and his unflinchingly faithful character. Then we’ve got to apply that knowledge.

3 Go-To Promises

I am learning both: to know God better and to apply my knowlege of him. And from 1:30-2:30 AM last night, I felt like a failure at both. But I desperately want to help you press on, and grow strong, in your faith.

So after some anxious thoughts and tossing and turning and feeble prayer, here’s what finally came at about 2:30 last night:

  1. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:7) These parenting troubles are not futile or wasted. They are productive. They are producing glory.
  2. For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is steadfast toward him. (2 Chronicles 16:9) Even at 1:30 AM, God is looking to help me.
  3. The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love. (Psalm 147:11) I make God happy when I hope in his love. (I wrote about this before.)

I took God to the bank on these. They weren’t complete in my head with chapter and verse at 2 AM. But the essence was there: I trusted that the trial was productive, that God was looking to help me and that as I hoped in his love— for me and my son—God would be glad.

He brought them to mind and I spoke them and I fell back to sleep.

I staggered not, and slept.

What are your go-to, hope-against-hope promises?

A go-to promise is not, for the record, a talisman or lucky charm. It’s a way of getting hold on the faithfulness of God, of taking him at his word.

I just told you a few of mine. What are yours? What promise of God do you trust when you hope against hope?

Would you leave that promise in the comments? It might be a great distrust antidote for another JoyPrO reader.

Then maybe you’d like to insert your name in the blank below and say this one aloud:

__________________ staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God.

That’s you, friend. As you give glory to God, you grow strong in faith and stagger not.

All God’s giants have been weak men and women who have gotten hold of God’s faithfulness.
Hudson Taylor

Why He Wrote Is Why I Write: Patrick’s Confession

Ireland, Patrick's Confession, Cliffs of Moher

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I’m not sure if Patrick’s heart swelled like mine did at the sight of Cliffs of Moher, but I do know a few things that made both our hearts beat fast.

If you’ve followed JoyPro across the March 17th’s, you know that I’m quite taken with the “rustic” Saint. First, a quick recap then two more reasons why.

Making Patrick’s Confession Mine

Last year, I wove Covid-19 into the Patrick post. As I wrote, my acquaintance was Covid was five-days old. It feels strange looking back.

Then, a couple years back, I told you about his grateful side. Before that, I shared my own confession about a selfish choice to climb Croagh Patrick alone. Along came 5 Reasons Why Saint Patrick Is My Homeboy, and one more sun-loving reason Patrick is a kindred soul.

This year I connected with two more of Patrick’s Confessions. For the uninitiated, Patrick lived in the 400’s AD and has two surviving writings, the Letter to Coroticus and and his Confession. (Read the Confession here, in English—or Gaelic—for free!)

On St. Patrick’s Eve I’ve made it my practice to read the Confession. Each time, I find more to make mine.

Confession 6

First, is Patrick’s Confession 6. It’s the reason Patrick wrote and the reason I write.

Although I am imperfect in many ways, I want my brothers and relations to know what I’m really like, so that they can see what it is that inspires my life.

That’s why. I want to be real and vulnerable enough in the blog that you get a sense of what I’m really like, not because I’m worthy of your time, but so that you can “see what it is that inspires my life.” In other words, I want to make God look big.

I want you to know me, my struggles and failures, my disappointments and temptations enough so that when see my press on with some measure of joy, you know who alone is behind that.

Which brings us to that other connection I have with Patrick.

Confession 30

It’s all about strength. Confession 30 is another way to say what Confession 6 said. Because what “inspires me” is what empowers me and makes me strong.

For that reason, I give thanks to the one who strengthened me in all things so that he would not impede me in the course I had undertaken and from the works also which I had learned from Christ my Lord. Rather, I sensed in myself no little strength from him, and my faith passed the test before God and people.

Patrick knew God’s strength when he risked his life over and over to preach the Gospel in Ireland—the very land where he’d once been enslaved. He felt it when he dealt with the hurt of his “very dear friend” sharing decades old dirt (See Confession 32). Patrick wrote his Confession so that his readers would know the source of that strength.

That’s also why I write. I write because I sense “no little strength” from Christ. Any act of forgiveness or repentance, any evidence endurance or love is through “no little strength” from Christ. I want you, kind reader, to feel it in your life too.

Let’s celebrate today. Because Patrick knew what Paul knew and what you know and I know. He knew what all of us saints know.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

-Paul, in Philippians 4:13