There’s nothing like the thrill of beginnings. Whether it’s a move, a new home, project or goal, the exhilaration of a fresh start fills us with exciting momentum. Often, God gives us a vision that keeps us moving forward, even when others don’t understand our objective. We can see how we want things to turn out in our mind’s eye, and this picture propels us.
But then, we reach the middle. Real, sometimes grueling work weighs us down. We might face adversity or interruptions that keep us from moving with the same confidence in God’s plan. How do we find perseverance to keep going when distractions are endless?
This is what happened to me several years ago, when I took a step of faith in a local preschool moms’ ministry. At first, my excitement was palpable. Other friends who were helping lead the group had limitless ideas and enthusiasm. Each of us anticipated how God would move in the attendees’ lives. And he did.
But then in came complaints and drama between moms who didn’t get along. One leader was bombarded with messages about things we should or shouldn’t be doing, and her stress level escalated. Before long, each of us grew tired and weary. We questioned whether we were making a positive impact or not.
What do we do when we reach the messy middle of our dream or goal, and the outcome doesn’t look like we envisioned? Where do we find the stamina to keep going, even we face doubt and uncertainty?
The Secret to Pressing through Distraction and Discouragement
When I think of the faithful men and women of Scripture who stayed strong in the face of overwhelming distraction, one name comes to mind: Nehemiah. This man had one goal, and it was to rebuild the wall surrounding Jerusalem. The wall was in complete shambles, so this was no small task. But what amazes me about this story is not the size of the project. It’s the determination of this prophet who the enemy tried to thwart night and day.
Nehemiah’s adversaries didn’t want his men to accomplish their goal, and they sought every opportunity to stop them. His men faced constant taunting, and Scripture tells us they stayed on their guard not only during the day, but also at night (Nehemiah 4:22-23).
So what was Nehemiah’s secret? How can this story of focus, courage, and dedication give us tools to keep pressing ahead? We may not encounter an actual army who seeks to overthrow our plans, but the resistance can often feel like an army is working against us.
When I look at this great success story, I see a shift in focus. Instead of looking at the forces trying to fluster him, Nehemiah looks at his Defender: God. Instead of looking at the all the reasons he has to quit, he keeps his eyes locked on his end goal. And in the end, the wall was just a tool. Yes, it served a purpose to protect, but his goal was to glorify God.
“So I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:3 NIV)
Here are three key things to remember when middle ground faithfulness is hard:
1. “Staying faith” requires recognition that the messy middle is just as important as the beginning.
When the adrenaline of newness wears off, we may face disillusionment over the contrast between what we thought would happen and what actually is taking place. Our plans rarely turn out exactly the way we predicted, and hardship can cause us to question God. Did we hear him correctly when we felt the nudge to act? Was it really him at all, or did we miss his direction?
During these moments, we need to remember that faithfulness in the middle ground is what will ensure victory at the end. Whether the end represents a specific goal or not, our commitment will serve as a living testimony to those who are watching us.
When Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, he reminded them that the struggle wasn’t a signal to quit, but a sign to keep going.
“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14 NIV)
2. When God calls us to do something, he doesn’t leave us once we reach the middle of the task.
He doesn’t call us to something and then say, “Well, it looks like she has it under control.” He is the faithful God of the beginning, middle and end. And when we rely on his strength to help us, his Spirit will give us fresh fire to help us persevere, even if our flesh tells us to quit.
Are we relying on our own set of tools, or are asking God to give us what we need? He will not force his way into our situation. But when we seek him with a heart thirsty for his guidance and wisdom, he will deliver.
3. Middle ground faithfulness yields unique, abundant fruit.
When we remain committed to the path God has us on even during seasons of waiting, he does something beautiful in us. He shifts our focus from end results and objectives to the God who meets us in all seasons. Whether our circumstances change quickly or remain the same, he meets us where we are.
As we choose to focus on his character instead of the answer we don’t yet see, he purifies our hearts and our motives. He reminds us that in the end, he is our goal. He sees each and every step we take to draw others to him, and he won’t let our efforts return void.
Often, the middle requires getting our hands dirty. It means doing things we don’t feel comfortable doing, but are willing to do because of a purpose bigger than ourselves. When we practice staying faith and let the same God who filled us with fire at the beginning continue to kindle our flame, lives are changed.
Don’t let the messiness of the middle keep you from doing the work God has called you to do. Keep looking for his presence in the details. Keep working as though he’s right beside you. And one day, you will see the fruit he brought forth from that place.
If we want to see God in the midst of our struggles, we have to change the way we look for him. My book, Shift: Changing Our Focus to See the Presence of God, is filled with practical tools and insights to help you do so.
Here’s what one reader said after reading it:
“Abby McDonald’s heart for her readers shows through in every word. Genuine and gentle, she leads us to a place where we can shift our lenses to see God’s presence in all the moments: good, bad, and—especially—in between. Because as much as we like to focus on the highs and lows, God longs to meet us in the middle. Shift’s practical approach will help you see Him there.” -Kelly S.
You can pick up a copy of Shift by clicking the image below.
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