I have to admit that one of the major struggles of my life and of my faith has to do with attitude. I have a tendency to get discouraged and downhearted. By nature, I notice the problems that surround me and feel overwhelmed by them.
Frequently, in the midst of my doldrums, I hear God challenging me through verses of Scripture not to fear but to hope in Him. Over and over again I find encouragement is the Bible to turn the focus of my attention from the problems that surround me to the God who is greater than all struggles and who loves me through them all.
I am reminded of a story shared by Bill Hybels about two prisoners in one small cell with no light except what came through a tiny window three feet above their heads. Hybels writes, “Both prisoners spent a great deal of time looking at that window, of course. One of them saw the bars—obvious, ugly metallic reminders of reality. From day to day he grew increasingly discouraged, bitter, angry and hopeless. By contrast, the other prisoner looked through the window to the stars beyond. Hope welled up in that prisoner as he began to think of the possibility of starting a new life in freedom. The prisoners were looking at the same window, but one saw bars while the other saw stars. And the difference in their vision made a huge difference in their lives.”
That’s why Scripture so frequently reminds me to lift my focus from my problems to the God who rises above them.
I also need to keep in mind David Pollay’s “Law of the Garbage Truck.” He explains, “One day I hopped in a taxi and we took off for the airport. We were driving in the right lane when suddenly a black car jumped out of a parking space right in front of us. My taxi driver slammed on his brakes, skidded, and missed the other car by just inches! The driver of the other car whipped his head around and started yelling at us. My taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy. And I mean, he was really friendly. So I asked, ‘Why did you just do that? This guy almost ruined your car and sent us to the hospital!’
“This is when my taxi driver taught me what I now call, ‘The Law of the Gargabe Truck.’ He explained that many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up they need a place to dump it and sometimes they’ll dump it on you. Don’t take it personally. Just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. Don’t take their garbage and spread it to other people at work, at home, or on the streets. The bottom line is that successful people do not let a garbage truck take over their day.”
I think that’s why the Bible invites us to throw all of our cares and anxieties on God (1 Peter 5:7), and why the Bible so often calls us to forgive those who have hurt us (Colossians 3:13 and many other verses).
I do not naturally or easily slide out of the doldrums when I feel discouraged by the problems that confront me. It takes help from God and certain actions on my part. I must turn the focus of my attention from my struggles to the God who rises above them, and I must throw my anxieties into God’s caring heart, and I must forgive those at whom I am angry. It is then that I begin to find a peace from above that surpasses my problems.
Carl Sandburg one quipped, “There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.” That’s how it is for me. When I feel discouraged, I am aware of that hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow. But fortunately there is also an eagle in me that wants to soar. It is the spiritual disciplines of focusing my attention on the love and capacity of God, and pouring out my problems to Him in prayer, and forgiving others that enable the eagle in my soul to soar.
—Tom Tripp is the Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Colusa.