Of Cows and Hardship

A friend of mine keeps a small herd of cattle on his farm. But before initially releasing the cows to his pasture, he noticed several patches of a weed, Canadian thistle, growing in the pasture. He immediately thought, “I’ve got to get rid of that weed!” Like most thistles, this one also has tiny thorns. Additionally, weeds tend to be invasive and could soon take over a whole pasture.

But as he researched the problem, my friend discovered something he hadn’t expected. While it’s true that cows initially find this thistle’s tiny thorns unpleasant, they toughen to the thorns and will eat it. And eating it yields two great results. First, this thistle contains much higher amounts of protein than the grass in the pasture, so it’s more nutritious. Second, by eating it the cows naturally keep the thistle from spreading. But the key is, they have to put up with the thorns.

Why am I writing about cows eating thistles? Because when faced with hardship, our immediate response is, “I’ve got to get rid of this problem!” But time and time again, hardships, challenges, and problems prove to be far more beneficial in helping us grow than when all is going smoothly and according to plan.

Obviously, there are some hardships or problems in our lives that we need to remove as soon as possible. But sometimes we try to extricate ourselves from a gritty challenge too soon. Perhaps we should at least stop and reflect on a few questions like:

  • What caused this problem? (What do I need to change?)
  • In what ways can I grow as a result of this hardship?
  • What are my peripheral responses to this hardship? (How am I holding up? What impact is it having on: my joy, the way I treat others, or my health?)
  • Where is God in the midst of this crisis? To what extent am I trusting Him?
  • Instead of running from this problem, how else could I respond to it?

Hardships toughen us, stretch us and enable us to grow in ways otherwise not possible. What are the thistles in your life right now and how can you profit from them?

©2017 Rob Fischer

Growing Old Like Caleb

I turned 65 this year. There are a couple of different ways to take that statement (which is true, by the way).

First, there are a lot of younger people who would think, “Wow! That’s old!” Some of those people might tend to write someone off as being feeble, senile, forgetful, fuddy-duddy, or something else useless.

Others more my contemporary might say with a sense of futility, “Sixty-five, huh? Welcome to the club. Now you can retire, live on a fixed income, take lots of medications, and sit around swapping stories about what ails you.” They see growing old as an inevitable bummer of life.

I’ve begun to realize that a lot of older people become nearly invisible. They no longer matter. They’re not the building blocks of a church, a business, or even a family. They’re consigned to a soft chair in the corner.

I have other plans for growing old when I do. I want to grow old like Caleb. Only Caleb and Joshua had a vision and faith for what God wanted Israel to do: go in and take the land of Canaan. Sadly, because they were in the minority, their votes didn’t count. And so, along with the entire vast company of Israel, Caleb and Joshua had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years—because of someone else’s sin.

But they apparently didn’t let that “minor” (40 years) setback change their view of God or of themselves. Here’s Caleb’s testimony at the age of 85:

Now then, just as the Lord promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the wilderness. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said. – Joshua 14:10-12

God did this because Caleb followed the Lord wholeheartedly (Numbers 32:12; Deuteronomy 1:36; Joshua 14:8). Also, Caleb’s words and claims were not those of a doting old man. He followed through with what he said he’d do and was successful (Judges 1:20). That’s why I want to grow old like Caleb.

Rob Fischer

When Change Is Thrust Upon Us

All change is a step into the unknown. Whether we choose a change for ourselves, or have some change imposed on us, change demands that we leave what we know and move toward what is not yet clearly defined. For this reason, change offers us an amazing opportunity for personal and spiritual growth—but we often miss it.

I remember vividly the day in 1971 when I received my draft notice from Uncle Sam informing me that I’d soon be a member of the US armed services. I admit that it didn’t catch me totally off-guard, but it was definitely imposed on me!

God helped me in my response to that life-changing event and the three years I spent in the Army enriched my life in many ways. But I can’t say that I’ve always responded to unwanted change so positively.

Often, when change is imposed on us, we miss these growth opportunities, or perhaps experience only a portion of them for several reasons.

  • We may buck or balk at the change. When we actively resist change that is unavoidable, we may fight, kick and scratch, or simply grumble and complain about it. If the change is truly inevitable, then such a response not only hinders our growth, but makes us difficult to get along with for others.
  • We may blame others for the change. If what we perceive to be a negative change is forced on us, it’s easy to resent it, become angry about it, and focus our anger on those responsible for the change. (We often view God as the culprit.) These responses are caustic and place us in a thick, dark smog that prevents us from seeing the situation clearly.
  • We may retreat from the change. We do this by passively avoiding the change, trying to postpone it, or denying the reality of it. This approach casts us into a fantasy of our own creation where no real growth or forward movement can occur.

Again, I recently had a significant change imposed on me. It would be easy for me to default to one of the responses above and let my mind go to dark places. But I don’t want to miss out on what God has for me in this change. I want to grab hold of it and squeeze every drop of benefit from it possible. How do we do that?

When Jesus was contemplating the monumental change that would soon be thrust on him in terms of the cross and the horrors that accompanied it, he said, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24 NIV)

Remarkably, in the very next verse, Jesus applied the same principle to us who follow him. A life following Jesus calls for change—constant change. Following Jesus means daily dying to self and pursuing him. In his presence, we cannot remain unchanged.

The application here is not that we die or submit to the change. Instead, we’re dying to the fleshly response to that change that we’re tempted to engage in and we willfully submit to Christ.

“So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’” Because, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:6 & 8 NIV)


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