Monday, August 20, 2012

OnFire #284 Peace and Joy Prevail

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #284 Peace and Joy Prevail

While we were on PEI for vacation this summer, friends of ours joined us and brought their motor boat. One day while on a cruise of the river a loud buzzer warned that the engine was overheating. As it turns out, a piece of seaweed had clogged the water intake. Once we cleared it, the pump was free to do its work, and we were soon speeding up the river once again.

It’s too bad we don’t have some sort of internal warning like that buzzer to alert us that we are anxious and fearful about something. Sometime in the middle of last week I realized that I was not a good judge of my own emotional state, but rather had been stressing about problems. In fact, I understood that I had been worried for some amount of time, distressed even, and had not realized it. I wonder how often in the past this has happened to me without realizing it....

In any case, perhaps it was in response to thinking about this week’s verses, which I have often used to help other people. Curiously, I was thinking about how to write about them for you, when I needed to apply them for myself.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7*)

These verses rate highly on my “everyone should know list” because they show us how to replace anxiety, stress and fear with joy and peace. Rather than “chewing and stewing” like we so often do, we can experience deep and genuine peace even though “the wheels are coming off the cart,” as people like to say here. When we have real peace, we feel joy and blessing instead of fear, and we can even pass it along to others instead of being grumpy and grouchy with the people around us.

I have come to believe that a lot of what we do when we’re afraid and anxious is about coping with our distress, not about actually taking it away. We tend to do things to make ourselves feel better, if only for a short time, but it doesn’t actually remove the apprehension we feel. 

Here we’re not talking about drugs and alcohol, although lots of people certainly resort to these measures. How many times do we turn to food, or a movie, or a cup of coffee because it feels good, and we need a break? How often do we pour ourselves into work or a project, to cooking or cleaning because it helps us forget our problems, at least for a little while?

What we have in these verses is not about coping, but an actual remedy for our restlessness about the future. “ prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” It must seem silly to God when we won’t give Him the things that are too big for us to carry. He is more than capable, and He is more than willing to lift the burden for us.

The word “petition” implies that we’re going to need to repeat the exercise of prayer. We are prone to worry and so we must be prone to pray. Like weeds creeping in the garden, we need to cut back worry with prayer.

“Thanksgiving” is important, too. Do we believe God will help us? We can thank Him for it even before we see the results because we know it is as good as done.

I have discovered I am a poor judge of my own state, but that doesn’t matter so much. Once I understand that I am agitated, I can take these things to the Lord, and I know that he will replace my fear with His peace.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.

OnFire is a biweekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. This letter published Aug 20, 2012. Scripture taken from New International Version, 1984. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Thursday, August 9, 2012

OnFire #283 Lessons from the Treadmill

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #283 Lessons from the Treadmill

While I was on PEI for vacation, I ran in a 5km “fun run,” a semi-competitive race organized as part of a local summer festival, the O’Leary Potato Blossom Festival, for those who are wondering. I had been looking for a 5km race to try and this one was close to my mother’s cottage, so at the appointed time I showed up, paid my money, stretched and finally lined up on the starting line.

My goals in the race were very modest - not to embarrass myself by tripping over my own feet, and to finish without walking. I set a comfortable pace under the warm morning sun and hoped I would be OK. Lots of people passed me, but I wasn’t running to compete, I was running to cross the line.

At about the half-way point, it was fun to pass some of the people who were now walking. I kept on plodding, one foot after another.

A fun thing happened at about the 3.5km mark. I passed a girl about 11-years-old who was walking. As I pulled up beside her I asked, “You’re not going to let an old, bald, fat man beat you to the finish, are you?” About 30 seconds later she passed me and I didn’t see her again until the end.

What a joy it was to see the finish line. People were gracious enough to clap. I made it, and actually managed a decent time for a first timer. I had never, ever, run that far before in my life, so 31:28 wasn’t too bad.

When I joined the gym back in January, the longest I could run on the treadmill was about 2 minutes. I went twice a week all winter, and gradually built it up until I could run a whole mile. I kept working on my endurance until I figured out that 5km was within reach. What a difference training all winter made in my strength and endurance.

Romans 5:3-5 says, “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” 

Paul reminds us that suffering is not in vain. We often think that our trials and difficulties are nothing but frustrations and problems which hold us back from what we hope to do in life. On the contrary, suffering can produce good things in our character.

There are character traits which we can’t develop without facing challenges and troubles. That’s not so different from my time in the gym. I would not have been able to run that race if I had not strained and tested those muscles all winter.

I want to be clear. God does not bring suffering into our lives to teach us lessons. However, God is a redeeming God, and He brings good from the bad by doing this work in our hearts.

I wish there was another way to strengthen my body to give me more power and endurance. Likewise, I wish there was another way to gain perseverance, character and hope. However, it helps me to know that my struggles are actually workouts for my soul, strengthening my faith and developing deeper levels of perseverance.

Some struggles seem hard at the time, but someday we’ll look back and see that we have gone on to handle even tougher ones. And that gives us character and hope to trust in God as we face the next challenges.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.

OnFire is a bi-weekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Aug 8, 2012. Scripture taken from New International Version, 1984. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at