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Mine Eyes: Spiritual growing pains

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("Mine Eyes" is an ongoing blog-post column regarding how we as Christians relate to God.) As a kid, did your parents tell you to stand next to a doorpost each year so they could mark your height with a pen? Very few things are more exciting to children. It's almost unparalleled--the thrill of looking at the latest mark on the wall and saying, "See? I've grown!" But what about spiritual growth? How can we measure progress in THAT area? One person that had the question pretty well answered was Nehemiah. You can't find too many examples of people in Scripture who were more hard-pressed than Nehemiah. He was given the daunting task of returning the exiles--the diaspora--of Israel to their homeland while they were surrounded by enemies. He had to keep an entire nation's morale high while they rebuilt the wall to their capital city, Jerusalem. Meanwhile, those who hated the Hebrew people circled like vultures, trying to dishearten the Israelites and threaten their safety. Nehemiah's plight was so distressing that at times he had his men building the wall with one hand while they held a weapon in the other! Even despite Nehemiah's single-minded devotion to the work, the Israelites turned from the Lord's commandments often and disobeyed Him. It would be natural for Nehemiah to feel frustrated when so little progress gave him hope. Similarly, in our lives it's easy to feel like our work is in vain. At this time in the semester, when papers are coming due and finals must be studied for, stress is not the exception but the rule. But for some, the stress may come through different areas of our lives. Perhaps you are struggling to invest in one person-pouring energy and love into their life-but you never see your efforts rewarded, much less reciprocated. Or perhaps you feel intimidated, either by actual people or just by troubling circumstances. However we might feel on a particular day, it's important to remember that our emotions are very poor indicators of how our spiritual lives are going. There is no correlation between feelings and spiritual health. One can be following the Lord's will and still feel discouraged emotionally and spiritually. A vivid example of this was Elijah, who at one point was so discouraged he wanted to die. Rather, we need to fix our eyes on God for our encouragement and strengthening. When Nehemiah was troubled, he turned to the Lord. As Nehemiah 6:9 states, "They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, 'Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.' But I prayed, 'Now strengthen my hands.'" Taking Nehemiah's example, we shouldn't look to our own problems, or lack of problems, or external validations as a way to measure our spiritual success. Instead, we need to fix our eyes on Jesus, and recall the truth that David penned in the book of Psalms: "My help comes from the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth."
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