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 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 distractions that keep us from moving with the same confidence in God’s plan.
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, and each of us anticipated how God would move in the attendees’ lives. And he did.
But then 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 weary. We questioned whether we were making a positive impact.
What do we do when we reach the middle of our dream or goal, and the outcome doesn’t look like we envisioned? Where do we find stamina to keep going, even we face doubt and uncertainty?
When I think of the faithful men and women of scripture who stayed strong in the face of distraction, one name comes to mind: Nehemiah. This man had one goal, and it was to rebuild the wall surrounding Jerusalem. With the wall in shambles, this was no small task. However, what amazes me about this story is not the size of the project, but 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 every hour. (Nehemiah 4:22-23)
So what was Nehemiah’s secret? How can this story of focus give us tools to keep pressing ahead, even when we face discouragement? We may not encounter an actual army who seeks to overthrow our plans, but the resistance can often feel like it.
When I look at this success story, I see a shift in focus. Instead of looking at the forces trying to fluster him, Nehemiah looks at his Defender: God. He keeps his eyes locked on his end goal. And in the end, the wall was just a tool. Yes, it served a purpose, but his goal was to glorify God.
“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 to help you shift your focus when middle ground faithfulness is hard:
1. Staying faith requires recognition that the 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 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 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 testimony to those around us.
Paul reminded the church that the struggle wasn’t a signal to quit, but a sign to keep going.
“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 persevere, even if our flesh tells us to quit.
Are we relying on our own set of tools, or are we asking him 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 wisdom, he will deliver.
3. Middle ground faithfulness yields unique, abundant fruit.
When we remain committed to the path God has for us, he does something beautiful. He shifts our focus from end results to the God who meets us in all seasons. Whether our circumstances change or not, he meets us where we are.
As we choose to focus on his character instead of the answer we don’t see yet, he purifies our hearts. He reminds us that in the end, he is our goal. He sees each 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, because of a purpose bigger than ourselves. When we practice staying faith and let the same God who propelled us 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.