We all want to live in Hebrews 11—that is, the first part of the chapter! That is where people had faith and accomplishments, successes and victories resulted. We easily forget how many struggles some of these heroes of faith dealt with on the way to their shining moment. Then there are the “others.” They had faith—perhaps even more commendable faith—because they had faith when the results didn’t look good from any earthly perspective. They were afflicted, destitute and mistreated. Success and failure are how we rate things. God rates faith regardless of success or failure.

David Brooks wrote, “You build character by struggling against internal sins—not by accomplishing great external feats. If you don’t believe in sin, you won’t build great character.” I John 1:8 says “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Recognizing the truth about ourselves is essential to building character. The Pharisees could find fault in everyone else, but they were blind to their own sin. They sacrificed their own character pretending to be perfect. Outside challenges and trials build character because they often reveal internal sins we must overcome.

Our daughter, Rachel, keeps a verse from Isaiah 7:9 on our kitchen blackboard. It was a word to the wicked King of Judah, Ahaz. “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” On the heels of that comes the great sign and prophecy about the birth of Jesus being Immanuel “God with us.” The way we stand firm in our faith is not primarily through self-discipline and endurance as important as those are, but rather through clinging to and surrendering our lives to Jesus who is God with us.

In personal finance we talk about the difference compound interest makes. Even though one day is not significant, many days make the difference. Today I subbed at a school and worked with some children I haven’t worked with since last school year. Even though it was a “Friday,” I was impressed by how much these children had matured and grown up. Our spiritual growth may hardly be noticeable on a daily basis—and we may occasionally have a “Friday.” God takes a long view. As we cooperate with Him, He nourishes compound spiritual growth in our lives.

Sometimes we need to be told bluntly what we already know by experience yet refuse to admit. Life is an obstacle challenge. Quit expecting it to be easy. Without opposition there is no life. You don’t get to ride down the slide if you haven’t climbed the ladder to the slide deck first. The seed doesn’t become a plant unless it pushes through the ground first. Paul says we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. Even our thought life is an obstacle course to overcome! Every obstacle is an opportunity that offers growth and life.

At Thanksgiving, we give thanks as we should for things we once enjoyed or for things we currently enjoy. But, eventually, all good things come to an end! We should remember to give thanks for the imperishable things cannot be destroyed—things that cannot perish, spoil, fade, or burn. They can’t even get lost because they are kept in heaven for us (I Peter 1:4). Hebrews 12:28 says we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken. In Luke 10:20 Jesus told disciples who were elated because of their success, to rejoice that their names are written down in heaven.

In the last week of his life Jesus gives the Olivet Discourse in John 15. Jesus talks about being the vine and us being his branches. Jesus says the Father prunes the branches, so they become more fruitful. Then Jesus told his disciples that they were already clean because of his words to them. When I read the Bible, I tend to read it to add something to my life. But the way to fruitfulness is to read the Bible to prune something away from my life. The way to fruitfulness is less of me and more of Jesus.