No Dead Ends

Yesterday I walked out on the small balcony in my apartment on the 2nd floor of an apartment building, and I glanced down at all the dead foliage in the courtyard below that died recently from a “hard freeze” that came through this area right before Christmas when the temperature went down below freezing into the teens for two nights in a row. We rarely get temps that cold, but occasionally they do occur. I live about 80 miles from the Gulf of Mexico.

As I looked down at all the dead plants that only a month ago were beautiful and green, directly below my apartment was one green leaf popping up through all that dead foliage. I took the picture at the top of this post yesterday when I saw it.

Hope springs eternal! Let’s hear it for that leaf!

Talk about perseverance!

January can be a hard month to get through especially if one lives in an area where winter is filled with snow, cold temps, and winter storms. And, after all of the buzz that takes place between Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays, it suddenly all comes to an end as the new year begins in the dead of winter. Add to it any complicated situations, relationship issues, maybe even job loss, and it can start to feel rather bleak and hopeless.

Yesterday morning I read a devotion titled No Dead Ends that is published in a bimonthly devotional booklet from The Upper Room.” The devotion starts with a scripture reading from Matthew 7:7-12 (NIV). These verses are some of the words of Jesus found in his Sermon on the Mount”:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

In that short devotion written by a grandmother regarding a seemingly impossible situation her young grandson was facing at school, she was out taking a walk and pondering what to do when she came upon a “Dead End” street sign and a concrete wall. As she got closer to the wall, she noticed a metal door in the wall and she could hear traffic on the other side. She opened the door and found that it led to a sidewalk by a main street. What appeared to be a dead end at first turned out to have an opening where, on foot, she could reach anywhere in town. At that very moment she realized that God could make a way for her grandson even where there seemed to be no way.

As she mentions, we often encounter situations that appear to be dead ends, and we may slow our pace or turn around, fearful of what will happen when we reach that dead end. However, with God there are no dead ends. She states “when we have courage and keep walking, God will show us the way through our difficulty.” (Source: No Dead Ends” in “The Upper Room” devotion for January 16, 2023.)

That dead foliage all around the courtyard certainly resembles a “dead end” for all of those plants, yet one little leaf refused to give up, and it just so happened to be right outside my apartment on the ground below my balcony. When I saw that green leaf in the middle of all that dead foliage yesterday, I couldn’t help but smile. It reminded me of a story I read several years ago regarding a Pakistani woman who was accused of blasphemy after an argument with a group of women in her work setting in June 2009, and she was convicted of blasphemy by a Pakistani court back in 2010 and sentenced to death by hanging. The story is complicated, and she was moved from prison to prison. She was eventually freed from prison in 2018. I wrote about her story in a blog post published on November 1, 2018, titled, In Good Times, Bad Times, and All Times.” An article published in BCC News on February 28, 2020, titled Asia Bibi: I always believed I would be freed,” tells the rest of her story.

Most of us will never experience what Asia Bibi went through, but it is a very inspiring story about what often looks like a dead end or an impossible situation, God has a different plan. Asia Bibi persevered for 9 1/2 years in prison with a death sentence hanging over her head (literally), and she prayed and never gave up hope.

Her story reminds me of a parable that Jesus told in Luke 18:1-8 (NIV):

The Parable of the Persistent Widow

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

In an article titled, The Persistent Widow: How Prayer Changes Things,” by Peter Watts, pastor at The ROCK Church, and supervisor for Advocacy and Race Relations and coordinator for the African American Black Council of the Reformed Church in America, he writes:

The woman in this parable represents what it means to be a positive example of the persistence required of believers in prayer. Some of us may have experiences of the justice system analogous to the persistent widow. Recent events have shone an even brighter light on the disparities in experience of law enforcement and the justice system that flow along racialized lines. Thus, many do not trust in the justice system to provide the justice we seek. But, ultimately, this parable reminds us we must trust that God will bring about God’s justice on the earth. 

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue justice diligently as God’s ambassadors of mercy and peace. To the contrary! This parable is about those characteristics of resilience that develop when we decide never to give up, even in face of the insurmountable obstacles before us. Resilience is the strength of character to keep going even when we encounter challenges. It can be grown or developed, like a muscle. 

Resilience manifests itself individually and collectively. When we talk about being resilient and having the strength of character not to give up, being resilient can be done individually by encouraging yourself. You can find it within yourself to keep going, even when it seems that all odds are stacked against you. This is why Jesus tells the story “to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” Prayer cultivates perseverance. And, what is more, within you is the Spirit of God, who intercedes on your behalf. 

Resilience can also be experienced in the community. It’s the idea that those who are on your side and know your story can come to support you through prayer, words of encouragement, and by physically coming to your aid to help with your needs. 

The judge in the parable does not represent God. The judge is unjust and doesn’t care about what this widow needs. Jesus tells this parable to his disciples to help them understand that if this judge who is unjust finally listens to the woman’s request and grants her justice, how much more will a loving and just God answer the petitions of his own children who cry out for help. 

This widow’s persistence illustrates our need to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Prayer changes us more than it changes the people around us. It deepens our faith and trust in God and empowers us to wait with hope for God to act. It’s the reason why Jesus ends the parable to his disciples with the question of whether or not the Son of Man will find anyone faithful when he comes—which is to say, as Eugene Peterson put it, “will He find men and women who are still praying, who have not given up, who have not lost heart?”

This gospel passage thus challenges us not just to pray but to trust in God. Even when the justice that we seek does not come immediately, will we have enough faith to endure until change happens? (Quote source and the rest of his article are at this link.)

So if you’re feeling discouraged or starting to lose hope about something that you think will never change, or it looks like a dead end with no way out, look up and remember that God is God over impossible situations (and that includes your impossible situation). Jesus told his disciples to “always pray and not give up.” And he’s waiting . . .

To Hear . . .

From You . . .

RIGHT NOW . . . .

YouTube Video: “Pray About Everything” by Luke Bryan:

Photo #1 credit (it is mine)
Photo #2 credit here