My dad is 97 years old. I asked him, “Dad, what is the key to living a long time?” He said, “Son, you don’t get too high over your successes, and you don’t get too low over your disappointments. You just keep going and don’t die.”
During periods of tragedy, we can get down and not want to keep going. The list of tragedies is long and comprehensive — shootings in our schools, murders of law enforcement officials, racism, riots, questionable deaths of citizens by police, storms, war, drought, wildfires, disease.
In our younger years we may have been optimistic, hopeful, believing we could make the world better, but now our disappointments leave us cynical. You may remember that hit song from 1985, “We Are the World.” In that song Michael Jackson said, “We can make the world a better place, just you and me.” Yet as we look at the world today, we might ask, what happened?
Over time our mind begins to function as if it were a computer being attacked by a virus. We used to be able to hold three conversations simultaneously: one on the phone, one on the computer and one face-to-face and not forget a word. Now we can hang up the phone and forget what we were talking about. That is what pressures and stressors of life can do to our mind — slow it down, make it less efficient and make us not want to keep going.
Moreover, the pains of life can affect our vision. Circumstances can squeeze us like an anaconda snake. Hit us like a Mike Tyson right hook. Or pounce on us like a 450-pound gorilla crushing our vision. The Bible speaks of a lame man by the pool of Bethesda in John 5. His experiences for the past 38 years had demoralized him so much that he lay on his bed of affliction, paralyzed in pity, without vision. But Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be made well?” The man’s vision was so blurred and battered that he said, “I have no man to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up.” He was looking at man rather than looking at God. Jesus told him to rise, take up his bed and walk. The Lord called him to change his vision. We must do the same in order to keep going.
Tragedies and disappointments can also suck our physical strength to the point where we don’t want to do anything. Even spiritually, life can hit us so hard that we don’t want to keep going. Sometimes we are tired and don’t know why. We sit at home feeling trapped by spiritual burnout. If we are to keep going, we’ve got to believe that although weeping may endure for a night, as Psalm 30:5 says, but the sun is going to shine in the morning.
In Isaiah 11:1, the prophet was speaking to those who were spiritually drained due to sin. Isaiah declared that in order to keep going, one has to look for the “Rod” springing out of the stem of Jesse. The word “rod” comes from the Hebrew word “khoter,” which means twig or offshoot. It encourages us to look for a glimmer of hope in the midst of darkness. It means to look for evidence of life in the midst of death. The rod in this passage is a Messanic term that indicates that even though the tree is cut down to the stump, out of that stump springs forth evidence of another tree. Isaiah tells us a “Branch” shall grow out of the roots, indicating that the Messiah is coming and will be born out of the lineage of Jesse and King David. God specializes in bringing something, or in this case someone, out of what appears to be nothing.
The word of God reveals that we must keep going because something good is yet to come. Job 14:7 says, “For there is hope for a tree, / If it is cut down, that it will sprout again, / And its tender shoots will not cease.” That’s how we keep going over a long life — we look for the tender shoots growing out of the tragedy.