Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Hope In the New Year

Happy New Year, Friend!

As you read that greeting, what comes to your mind? Is your heart filled with excitement and anticipation about all that God will do in the coming year? Or do you think of the disappointment of unfulfilled dreams that you had at this time last year? Your answer to this question reveals something about you. If your expectations for this year were based on biblical assumptions about God and what He can do, then you are probably excited for the New Year. If your expectations were based on anything else, you were probably disappointed.

Those of us who suffer long-term or chronic conditions often become pessimistic. We have dealt with pain and disability for so long that we have stopped hoping for improvement, and have fallen into a miserable—though somehow comfortable—habit of slogging along and “doing our best.” This happens when we base our expectations for life on our condition. If it improves, life will improve. If it doesn't, life goes on but we live numb or depressed. My friend, it does not have to be this way!

I would like to challenge you today to begin to base your expectations for the future on the invisible! This may sound crazy, but think about it. Up until now, you have sunk the roots of your hope in things you can see, feel, or touch. On good days, when pain levels are low and function is high, you're happy and optimistic. On bad days, you dread the future and you feel sad. But what if you changed your thinking about these things? What if, every day before you put your feet on the floor, you made a decision that you would place your hope only in Christ, and tell him that? It would go something like this:

“Good morning, Lord. I love you, and I know that you love me. Today, if it is a bad day for me, I am going to walk with you, and trust in your goodness and love for me. When I have pain or weakness, I will use it as a reminder of Your strength (1 Corinthians 12:9). When I feel anxious or worried about the future, I will remember that you will always supply my need (Philippians 4:19, Matthew 6:33). If my pain or disability makes me feel sad, I will remember how You suffered for me, and I will try to use my suffering as a tool to show others your grace. I will tell them how you help me, encourage my heart, and love me through my hard days. And I will praise you!

“If it is a good day, I am going to walk with you, and trust in your goodness and love for me. As I enjoy more function in my body, and less pain, I will praise you for that, and remember to be grateful instead of wishing for more good days. I will use this good day for your glory, to catch up on my regular responsibilities. I will tell those I love, who often feel so helpless on the bad days, how well I feel today, so they can enjoy the blessing, too. And I will praise you! Whatever this day brings, dear Lord, I will trust you to walk me through it.”

So, my friend, this is my New Year’s challenge to you. Tomorrow morning, when you wake up, pray a prayer something like the one above. Let your Father know that you are placing your hope in Him, not in improvement of your condition. No matter what the day may bring, make a commitment each and every morning to trust the Lord, and to put your hope completely in Him. Decide right now that you will no longer ride the roller coaster of hopes and expectations that are based on how you feel physically, but you will place your hope in Christ and His perfect plan for you, regardless of how the day goes. You may find that, as the weeks and months of this New Year pass, you are more optimistic and hopeful about the future. And next December, when people start spouting off that “Happy New Year” phrase, your response will be excitement and anticipation of what God will do in yet another new year of this blessed life He has given you!


Friday, December 19, 2014

Good Medicine

What’s on your mind today, my suffering friend? If you are hurting, chances are that your pain is on your mind. It is very difficult to get outside of that pain when it is intense, constant, and disabling. But the mind/body connection is a very real thing, and as humans, we cannot get around it. The fact is, when we are hurting, our default response is to think about our pain.

But what if we could change that default? What if, instead of thinking about our pain, we thought about our weakness? You may ask, how is that better? How will thinking about how weak I am in my pain get me out of my funk? Well, the Bible says that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). So, when I am in pain, though that pain may make me feel physically and emotionally weak, I can be spiritually strong because of Christ. He lives in me, regardless of the state of my physical body. In fact, His presence within me becomes more profound as my body suffers and His strength increases. As I trust in His goodness and sovereignty, I can begin to tap into that strength to combat my emotions.

When I do this, my heart can rejoice. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”  Those of us who suffer chronic pain or disability know that this is very true. When our hearts become depressed or despairing, our pain increases. Everyone I know who suffers physical pain can attest to this. The more we think about our pain and feel sad about it, the more it hurts and disables us. Our crushed spirit dries up our bones! Pain medications are sometimes necessary, but the best prescription by far is to have a joyful heart. Impossible, you say? No! With God, all things are possible! Psalm 16:11 says that in God’s presence there is fullness of joy. Good news, my friend: You are always in the presence of God! At His right hand, there are pleasures forevermore!

Even when you are crying out to God, offering biblical complaint, lament and grief, you are worshiping Him. After all, if you did not believe in His power and strength to help you, you would not be at His throne asking for His help! As your tears fall into His bottle (Psalm 56:8), you are expressing your faith and belief that He is who He says He is. This is true worship.

My dear friend, you and I must rejoice in our suffering, not because we like it but because it reminds us of our weakness, through which His strength is made perfect. Hallelujah! What a faithful Friend we have in Jesus!






Thursday, December 18, 2014

It’s Beginning to Feel a Lot Like Christmas

Well, it’s back again—the Holiday Season, and all of the expectations that go along with it. For those of us who deal with pain and mobility challenges, this time of year is particularly difficult. I don’t know about you, but I really struggle with wanting to go out and shop for gifts for the people I love. I want to go to the clothing store and pick out just the right sweaters for my boys—the ones that will bring out their eyes, and show off their handsome looks. My dear husband always says he doesn't want or need anything for Christmas, so I want to go out browsing the stores for inspiration for the perfect gift. I long to be able to go on social shopping trips with friends, strolling through the mall and window shopping.

But that is not how this Christmas shopping season will play out. I’ll do most of my shopping online, and for the things I can’t get online, I’ll buy gift cards so they can go and pick out what they like. I am tempted to be saddened by this. A part of me wants to lament the loss of my ability to do even the simplest of shopping. If I allowed myself, I could get pretty angry about this inability to do even a short shopping trip without pain. Even now, I am dealing with increased pain because I couldn't resist a day of shopping last weekend. It is very frustrating to have to pay so dearly for a simple outing like that. This is the reason I say, “It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.”

Are you also feeling increased pain and the sadness, anxiety and grief that come with it? If so, I have good news for you! Though the pain is real, and we must deal with it, the emotional part is optional. I don’t have to feel sad or anxious about my pain if I direct my feelings by controlling my thoughts. Instead of thinking the thoughts that come naturally—“This is so frustrating. All I wanted to do was buy a few gifts for my family! Now I will suffer for a week because of it. It’s not fair. Everyone else can do this easily. Why must I suffer?”—I can think biblically: “God has been so generous with me, to give me the means to purchase gifts. How wonderful that I live in an age when I can get practically anything online, and have it delivered right to my door! What a blessing it is to have a family for whom to purchase gifts, when there are many who are alone this year. I think I will reach out to one of them right now…”

Do you see how this kind of thinking would change one’s feelings? Remember, friend, your feelings and emotions are always, always, always, 100% of the time, tied to your thoughts. There is no such thing as a feeling that “comes out of nowhere.”  If you are feeling happy, sad, blue, or somewhere in between, there was a thought that preceded it! Believe it or not, you are in control of your thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:5; Philippians 4:8). You can choose to think thoughts about your pain that lead to sadness and self-pity, or you can choose to think thoughts that lead to a godly response, and service to others.


I’d love to write more, but I have to go and visit my widow friend, who is homebound and loves the company of others. As I drive to her house, I will think thoughts of gratitude for my ability walk and to drive, for my friendship with her, and for the wonderful way our Savior has knit us together in His love. How about you? Are you taking your thoughts captive as you feel Christmas this year? Let any pain or mobility issues be reminders to be grateful instead of cues to feed your flesh. God is God, and He does what He pleases with what is His. Hallelujah, we’re His! He will give you the power to take your thoughts captive, as you trust in Him!

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Deeper Life

I was visiting with a friend of mine today, and we were talking about how hard it is sometimes to get our thoughts off ourselves and onto the Lord. As believers, we desire the deeper life of faith—the kind of life where we are always cognizant of His presence in us. Not just with us, but in us. Christ dwells in us, and so we have the Christ life, freely given by Him, if we will only embrace it. If Christ is in me, I have the power to resist the temptation to sin (Hebrews 4:15, Galatians 5:16), I still give in to it every day, sometimes many times each day. So, what is the reason for this? Is there some sort of disconnect between the truth that I know and the actions I take?

Yes and no. Maybe something is missing if I have the power of the Holy Spirit—the same power that raised Christ from the dead—yet still fall to temptation. On the other hand, the fact that I have the Holy Spirit does not preclude human failure, or guarantee a sinless life. If it did, the Bible would not be full of admonitions to resist temptation and repent of sin! I know I'll never be perfect, but I do desire to have victory over self and sin, and to truly live as a slave of Christ.

As we discussed this, my friend and I tried to encourage one another toward this deeper life that is available to all believers. Second Corinthians 5:17 says that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. My old self is dead, and I have been born anew in Christ. I am no longer a slave to sin, but I am now a slave to Christ. So, how can I remember and apply all this truth? As we discussed it, my friend and I came up with a few things we had been neglecting in our quest for a more Christ-centered life.

The first thing that was missing for me was prayer. Not that I don’t pray, but perhaps I don’t pray in such a way as to gain that deeper life that I desire. Every morning, as I’m reading, I pray and ask the Lord to help me understand and apply His Word. I pray for my family and friends, for my pastor, my counselees and the missionaries. But I don’t cry out to the Lord, pleading for a deeper walk with Him. I don’t beg Him to change my heart and help me to resist temptation to sin, as David did. I need to spend time in meditation on the glory and beauty of the Lord, just enjoying His perfection, and basking in His grace and love for me.

My friend discovered that what might be missing for her was time in the Word. She reads lots of books about theology, listens to sermons, and talks about the Lord all the time. She has a great deal of Scripture memorized, but she doesn’t spend much time actually reading the Word of God. She decided that she will set aside time each day, just to meditate on and study Scripture.

Finally—and this was not a new discovery for either of us—we are much too focused on ourselves and our circumstances. We both deal daily with pain, limited mobility, and the frustration that comes with that. It is difficult to focus on Christ when you are in pain, and we both often give in to the distraction. But our bodies belong to the Lord, and He has the right to do with them whatever he pleases. As my friend says, “If he thinks it best to increase my pain today, that’s none of my business!” That’s not the natural response, but it is the truth.


How ‘bout you? Have you also experienced this craving for the deeper life we all are offered in Christ? What do you think is holding you back?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Contentment

I’ve been thinking a lot about contentment lately. Most of my counselees struggle with it, and so do many of the people I love. Are you content? The first step in answering that question is to agree on a definition of the word. The dictionary says that it means,

“Satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else.”

When was the last time you felt satisfied with what you have? When was the last time you didn’t want anything else? Most of us, if we're honest, would have to think about that one. Maybe there was a goal toward which you worked very hard, and when you succeeded, you had a sense of satisfaction in having accomplished it. Or, perhaps you finally were able to afford the house, car, or outfit you had wanted for a long time, and once you got it, you were sure you didn't need or want anything else.

But, inevitably, new desires began to creep in after the accomplishment or the purchase. The thrill of the achievement began to fade, and you started to desire something else. This is the condition of the human heart. We want what we want, when we want it. When we don't get it, our hearts become discontented, and our minds begin to dwell on those desires. The good news is that God can use these sinful desires to test us, and to reveal the errors in our thinking. 

What is God using today to test your heart and mind? What do you want that you don't have? What do you have that you don't want? Paul has something to teach us about contentment. He lacked many things, even the necessities of life at times. He suffered greatly, at the hands of many:  Beatings from the Jews and abuse and imprisonment by the Romans; betrayal by His own friends and co-workers; he was shipwrecked, stoned, beaten with rods, abandoned, hungry, cold, and often in pain. You can see a detailed list of Paul’s excuses not to be content in 2 Corinthians 11.

Yet he says, in Philippians 4,

“I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”

What is Paul’s secret? If you're at all familiar with this passage of Scripture, you know it. Paul’s secret to contentment is Christ. Paul puts it very simply in Philippians 4:13:

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

The secret to Paul’s contentment was his relationship with Christ. It didn't matter whether the Philippians sent him money for food, or if he even had a place to stay. It didn't matter if he had the praise of people, or if he accomplished great things in the eyes of man. All that mattered to Him was to preach the Gospel, and to share the secret of his success with people who needed it. Paul’s greatest desire was that Christ would be glorified.

So, with Paul in mind, I will ask you the same question I'm asking myself right now: What is your greatest desire? Do you want people to like you? Do you want to be rid of some pain or problem that you don't like? Is your life difficult, and you wish you could change it? I challenge you to defend your discontentment in the face of Paul’s trials. He asks us here, “who is weak, and I am not weak?” It’s not likely that you have suffered for Christ in the ways or to the degree that Paul did, yet he was content and you are not! What is the problem?

The problem, at least for me and maybe for you too, is that our focus is on ourselves and our own desires, and not on Christ. We are more concerned for our own comfort and happiness than for the kingdom of God. When we are discontented because of our circumstances, we are poor witnesses for Christ. How many lost people will look at us and say, “Wow, I want what she has! What’s her secret?” when we are always sad, discontented, irritable, or depressed? We are called by the writer of Hebrews (13:5) to “be content with such things as [we] have, for He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’”

So, how do we become content in Christ? By taking the focus off ourselves and putting it onto Christ and others. We can meditate on the mercies of God, and cultivate a thankful heart instead of dwelling on what we lack. We can reach out to someone who may be suffering and offer to pray with them, or just listen and help them to think biblically about their trial. We can spend time in prayer for our lost loved ones, begging the Lord to save them.

Are you content today? If you know Christ, you can be. Ask the Lord to give you a godly perspective on your life. You were created to glorify God (Is 43:7). How are you doing right now?



Monday, December 1, 2014

Stand

My biggest complaint about my current physical state is the difficulty I have with standing. I can walk pretty well, though not far; but standing is painful and difficult. There are lots of times I miss this ability, especially in church when everyone rises to sing together, and during social occasions when people are milling around, standing in small groups chatting. It’s not a big deal though. I can sit in the front row at church and see the screen, and if I find a chair at those social events, someone will usually come and join me.

Having to sit when others are standing used to make me feel sad and left out. But, by God’s grace, I usually don’t experience that any more. Now, when others are standing and I must sit, I use it as a reminder to think about another kind of standing for which I have been divinely enabled:  I stand in grace, through faith in Christ:

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself. Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.”  --Phil 3:20-4:1

I really love this passage of Scripture, because it speaks so clearly to my heart. It even includes the truth that this lowly, broken body will one day be conformed to His glorious body, just as my sinful heart will one day be conformed to His perfection. This reminder that He is able to subdue all things to Himself brings me great comfort. I know that nothing can come to me that has not been ordained and deemed perfect for me by my loving heavenly Father. Whatever pain or disability may be in my future, God already has a plan for how he will sustain me so that I can stand, never wavering in my faith:

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 
--Eph 6:10-12

My Father has fully equipped me for this battle against my own fleshly desires to have what others have, and to decide how my own body should function. When I have put on the full armor of God, I will be able to stand, not only against my flesh, but against the most powerful spiritual forces that exist! Nothing can steal my joy when I remember my helmet of salvation. No lie can convince me that God is not good when I apply the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. My resolve is sometimes weak, but even if my enemy’s arrow pierces through that shield of faith, my breastplate of righteousness is there to keep it from getting to my heart.

Yes, dear friends, there is a far more important kind of standing than physically being on our feet. We can stand in the grace of God, through faith in Christ, safe from the fiery darts of the enemy, the world, and our own flesh. We can do this because…

…we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.--Romans 5:1-2

Hallelujah! What a Hope! What a Savior!

Friday, November 28, 2014

I Want it Now!

Some people really love their sin. Are you one of them? If someone were to ask me this question, I would immediately respond with an emphatic No! I love the Lord, and I struggle against sinful attitudes and actions every day. My flesh is relentless in its desire to be satisfied, but I am battling it daily, with some success. I’m sure that I don’t love my sin!

But wait. If I don’t love my sin, then why does it seem I’m unable to uproot it from my heart?  I’m not talking here about the sin nature, or the flesh or the influence of the enemy. I’m talking about what we Christians call besetting sins. These are the sins that seem to be constantly tempting us. Like the child’s game of Whack-a-Mole, we think we’ve got it beaten, and it pops up somewhere else. It seems we are in a constant, life-long cycle of sin-consequence-repentance-forgiveness. This is very discouraging, and we wonder if we will ever overcome this sin.

These besetting sins seem more deeply rooted than others. If you think about it, you can probably remember other sins that used to be problematic for you in your early Christian days, but no longer seem to be much of an issue. For example, I used to have a significant anger problem. I was very impatient and easily annoyed, which would quickly turn to anger and frustration. I had to confess and repent many times, but eventually I seemed to get a handle on that, and it doesn’t control me anymore.

But there is another sin habit that really seems to have a death grip on my heart. My awareness of this particular issue has been keenly sharpened over the last few years as I have struggled with chronic pain and disability. That issue is self-pity. I am always amazed at how easily I can fall into this mode of feeling sorry for myself because I can’t do the things I want to do. I was watching an old Willy Wonka movie yesterday, and I saw myself in the character of Veruca Salt, who was terribly spoiled and petulant. As I watched her demand that her father buy her everything she wanted, I became convicted of my own discontentment.

But for me, it’s more than just discontentment. When I can’t have what I want, and my Father won’t get it for me, I begin to feel sorry for myself. As I watch others who seem to have a better life than I do, I become jealous, and this compounds my misery. I become a spoiled brat who believes she is entitled to whatever she wants, just because she wants it! This is not acceptable for a child of the living God! But how can I change? “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:24). Thank God indeed, I already have the answer to my problem! I have been freed from this sin. Now, I must receive the pardon and break free of the bonds of besetting sin.

The truth is, I am not a slave to sin, but a slave of Christ. I owe Him my life, my every breath, my very soul! How can I possibly feel sorry for myself when I have eternal life? This time here on earth, in this broken body, is a vapor (James 4:14). Besides that, there are many who are living in much greater difficulty than I am. Some of them would probably give anything to have what I have. The key to uprooting this sin in my life is to open my eyes to these truths, and to the people all around me who are suffering. Ministering to others is the absolute best cure for self-pity. I have experienced this many times as I am working on this sin pattern in my own life. As I reach out to help others, my own problems are diminished, I am more grateful, and I begin to move toward that contentment that seems so elusive.

Veruca’s father repeated something to her over and over as she sang about all her demands. He said, “You can have all that when you get home.” This is the refrain I must keep in mind, to combat these feelings of self-pity, jealousy and discouragement. All these things I desire and cry out to God for, will be mine when I get Home to Him. There will be no pain, no sorrow, and no limits on what I can do. But I must be patient. My contentment rests in trusting God to enable me to do all He has called me to do here, nothing more and nothing less. I can be satisfied in knowing that He will bring me to perfection in Him on that day when I arrive at Home.

If you haven't seen the Willy Wonka movie, and you'd like to meet Veruka, click here. You may see a little bit of yourself in her, too!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Painful Price of a Stiff Neck

“Now, do not be stiff-necked…, but yield yourselves to the LORD; and enter His sanctuary, which He has sanctified forever, and serve the LORD your God…” 2 Chronicles 30:8

I have had a painful, stiff neck lately. This usually happens when I get stressed out, and I’m sure you’ve experienced the same thing. I don’t know too many people who haven’t had a physiological response to stress, so you can probably relate. As I’ve been nursing my stiff neck, I can’t help but think of all the references in the Bible to stiff-necked people. Just this morning I was reading Stephen’s speech in Acts 7. As he confronts the high priest and his cohorts, he calls them stiff-necked because they “always resist the Holy Spirit.” As I read this, I felt one of those Holy Spirit jabs that happen occasionally when I know that things aren’t quite right in my heart.

What does it mean to resist the Holy Spirit? My go-to Scripture for the answer to this question is Galatians 5:17:

“The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.” (NLT)
Even though I have been saved, I still have a sinful nature that wants to do evil. At the same time, I am indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and that Spirit in me wants to do good. Because I am His, I want to glorify Him with my thoughts, words and actions, but my sinful self wants to disobey. This tension results in stress!

Back to our 2 Chronicles verse, we see the admonition not to be stiff-necked, but to yield ourselves to the Lord. So, instead of insisting on and pursuing our own way, we are to submit to what God has planned for us. The high priest, the Israelites, you, and I have something in common: We are resisting the Holy Spirit. Maybe our pride has got us taking on more than we are really able to do. Maybe we are covetous, and want to work harder to make more money to have what the neighbors have. Maybe we are perfectionistic, and insist that everything and everyone meet our standard.  Whatever the reason, if you find yourself with a stiff neck today, it’s possible that you are resisting the Holy Spirit in some way.

My own current stiff neck started when I was exhorting (for the umpteenth time) a friend who was caught up in sinful thinking about her life. As I listened to her, I thought, “Why doesn’t she get it? I’ve told her this a thousand times! She keeps coming back with the same issues! Ugh, when will she ever repent and change? I don’t have time for this!” I had become frustrated with my friend because I thought she should be past this by now. My timetable for heart change had expired, and she was not cooperating!

If I were submitted to God and His plan, I wouldn’t have a timetable for her. I would be trusting the Lord, graciously and patiently waiting for His work on her heart, understanding that I am nothing but a tool in His hand to help my friend and sister in Christ. I would also be thinking about how patient God is with me when I am stubborn and prideful; or how patient he was when He waited for me to cry out to Him for His saving grace. Out of love for the Lord and for her, I would be able to offer patience, kindness, and all those other wonderful fruits of the Spirit that are listed in Galatians 5.

This brings me back to the jab. God is so good to reveal my sin to me, and to offer me repentance and hope, and He almost always does it through His Word. As I read Stephen’s speech, I realized how much I have been resisting the Holy Spirit lately. I want to be physically stronger. I want to do the things I used to do, but I can’t. I want people to learn from my mistakes, so they don’t have to go through what I’ve been through, but they each must endure their own sanctification process. If I want to avoid being both literally and physically stiff-necked, I must do as I was told in 2 Chronicles and yield myself to the Lord to serve Him.

What will this look like for you and me? There are as many circumstances as there are moments in the day, so I don’t know for sure what your particular yielding will mean. I do know, though, that it always means a dying to self and a willingness to live for the Lord. Paul boils it all down for us here: “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5: 24 &25).  How will you apply this truth today?  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Jinx Factor

I’ve just come from another therapy session, and I am in shock! The biggest problem with my leg has been the extremely limited range of motion in my knee, and this latest therapy was intended to improve that. Today was the dreaded measuring day, to see if I have improved. I’d asked the therapist not to tell me any numbers, because so many times I have had my hopes up, then been disappointed. After she measured, she was bursting with excitement, and begged me to let her tell me. I finally gave in, and heard the wonderful news that I have gained nine degrees of extension in my knee!

Now, that may not sound too exciting to those of you who take straightening your leg for granted, but to me, it is nearly a miracle. I knew that things had improved because I've been walking more comfortably and have had less pain overall since starting the therapy. But I never imagined I would gain so much in such a short time, and with relatively little pain or effort on my part. Many have been praying as I’ve gone through this therapy, and I know that the Lord has heard their pleas on my behalf.

But I find myself only cautiously optimistic. Why am I not full of joy and excitement about this new development? Why am I responding to this answered prayer with such skepticism? Is it because I am not thankful for this improvement? I don’t think so. I am so very grateful for the Lord’s mercy and goodness to me in this way! I know that it is only by His grace that I am feeling better, and out of His love for me He has granted these prayers. So why do I hesitate to celebrate? Why can’t I just let go and do a full-on Praise the Lord and shout to the rooftops? I believe my problem is the Jinx Factor.
Some of you know what I am talking about. When something good happens after you’ve wanted it for a long time, you shouldn't get excited about it or tell too many people, because you might “jinx” it. Enjoying a positive development or sharing news that seems too good to be true may cause the happy circumstance to reverse itself. Of course, this is a silly superstition with no truth in reality at all, yet it seems to be affecting me today as I receive this news.

I have been a Christian for most of my adult life, yet this silly superstition still hangs on. As I pondered why this might be so, it occurred to me that there is another truth that I wholeheartedly believe, that definitely seems too good to be true: God sent His only son to die for my sins so that I could be with Him forever. There is absolutely nothing about me, no merit or goodness that would have caused Him to do that. It makes no sense. Yet, I believe it to the core of my soul. God has granted me faith to believe in His love, grace and mercy toward me. I honestly do not question it, even when I lose the battle against sin. There is no danger of jinxing this great news! I never hesitate to tell of the glory of my Savior, and the changes He has made in my heart. When I think on His attributes, peace and joy fill my soul and I know that nothing can ever take that from me.

So, what’s the difference between my response to the Gospel and my response to this latest good news? I believe the difference is that I am not applying my God-given faith to this God-given answer to prayer. Because it is circumstantial, I immediately apply a worldly response: “Don’t get too excited. It will probably go backward when you’re done with PT, as it has before. Maybe her measurements were off. It can’t be that much better. You’ll only be disappointed again if you get your hopes up.”


God saved me years ago in answer to my prayer, and probably the prayers of many others. Lately, I have prayed for this healing, as have many others. Answered prayer is answered prayer! Who am I to question God? When He says yes, He means yes (2 Corinthians 1:20), whether in the spiritual or physical realm. So I will enjoy this new development, and I will praise Him for this gift (James 1:17). If it doesn’t continue to improve, or goes backward, I will praise Him still, because that too will be a gift. My hope is in Christ, with whom there is no shadow of turning…and definitely no jinx factor!

Friday, November 14, 2014

I'm Walkin', Yes Indeed!

What does it mean to walk with the Lord? As I finished my last blog post, thinking about walking in eternity with Jesus, it occurred to me that He calls me to walk with Him right now, too. But how do those two thoughts compare? Walking with Jesus, talking with Him about His Word, worshiping Him, basking in His grace, enjoying His glory—these are all things I’m looking forward to when this life is done. Thinking on eternity with Christ brings unimaginable joy to my heart. The thought of walking with Him in my perfected body brings wonderful feelings of peace and happiness. But plodding along the earth in this broken body? No, there is no great joy in that thought.

Yet, in a sense, the Lord calls me to walk with Him in that same light, even now. He expects me to be joyful (1 Thessalonians 5:16); to bask in His grace (2 Corinthians 12:9-12); to glorify Him (1 Corinthians 6:19-20); and to delight in His Word (Psalm 119:35) even now, while I am still here experiencing the pain and frustration of life in a fallen world. Is it possible that I could experience, at least to some degree, that same joy that I will have with Him in eternity? I believe that it is possible to delight in the Lord in this life, in this body, even on this day.

But how do we do that? How do we walk with Him here on earth in contentment and joy, when what we really want to do is complain and cry? The key is to focus not on the walk, but on Him. As we are walking and moving and doing life in this body, we can focus on our circumstances, our pain, and the vain hope of this world. We can become obsessed with getting better, regretting the choices that brought us here, or envying those who are physically stronger. Or, we can make a better choice. We can turn to the One who is walking beside us.

Imagine that you are already in heaven, walking beside Jesus in that beautiful place. How often do you think you will take your eyes off of him, to look at yourself? My answer to that question is, as little as possible. If that is my eternity, and that is what I am longing for, why am I not doing that now? If I can’t wait to get my eyes on Christ, to be near Him always, then why do I so easily turn from Him here? Because I have developed a pattern of thinking that is self-focused and not God-focused. As I work to change my thinking, I am beginning to have more of that joy and contentment that God’s Word promises.

Romans 15:13 says that when the God of hope fills me with all joy and peace in believing, the power of the Holy Spirit will cause me to abound in hope. Did you catch that? The God of hope will cause me to abound in hope because He fills me with joy and peace in believing! None of this is my responsibility. He is the God of hope, He causes me to hope, and He fills me with the joy and peace I long for. All I have to do is abide with Him, walk with Him, express my heart to Him, and hear His voice through the Scriptures. As I fix my eyes on Him, He will lead and direct my heart. What an amazing God we have! The more closely I walk with Him here, the more real our eternal walk becomes in my heart. My hope is that, as He leads and teaches me, my heart will become so bound to His that walking here and walking in heaven will be barely discernable!


There is no circumstance that can steal the joy of a child who is walking beside her loving Father. With Him, I am safe, I am protected, I am loved, cherished, treasured. No pain, no disability, no regret will ever change that. Because He loves me, I can walk with Him into any circumstance without losing my joy, and best of all, I can take the hand of another broken child and bring her with us. I can show a lost soul the glory and wonder of being found, and I can lead a sister who has lost her way, back to the path of joy. Oh, to be used of God in this way. What a privilege! What a hope! What a Savior!

Monday, November 10, 2014

It Doesn't Get Better Than This

“No one wants to hear, ‘That’s it for you; this is the best it’s ever going to be,’ right?”

These were the words of my physical therapist, as she worked on my leg last week. You may have read the blog post  in which I shared my decision making process when offered a new treatment. Well, I decided to go ahead and try the treatment, and that is what brought me to this conversation. As she was working on my leg, I asked my PT some questions about what my options might be, going forward. At some point, I will probably need some kind of surgical intervention again, and I am always interested in the knowledge and opinions of rehab professionals as to how soon that might be. In her attempt to be encouraging, she shared with me some strategies for “putting off the inevitable” in my case, and the sentence at the beginning of this post was basically her way of saying that there is always a chance it could get better.

For a brief moment after those words, I felt despair. No, I don’t want to hear that I’m never going to get better, have pain relief, or enjoy full mobility again. On the other hand, I don’t really appreciate a sugar coating on a bitter truth, either. My heart sank for a split second as her words sunk in, but thankfully, the Holy Spirit, who is always busy in my heart, was quick to lift me up again. He reminded me about the truth of “the best it’s ever going to be.” He brought to my mind the glorified body I will have when I am with the Lord. There will be no pain there, no limited mobility, no regret, no anger, sadness, or tears. I absolutely cannot wait for that day when this broken body is renewed, perfected, and made far better than it ever was in my lifetime.

Philippians 3:21 says that He “…will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Wow! My body will be like His, transformed by the power of His sovereignty! How can the words of any human being bring me down, when God’s Word says that I will not have to suffer this way much longer? This life, however painful or problematic, is a vapor (James 4:14), but my glorified, perfect body will be mine for eternity! When I imagine the things I will be able to do, I am so excited I can hardly contain it! Running and jumping come to mind, and I always loved skipping, even as an adult!

But do you want to know what I am looking forward to the most? Walking. Not just because I love to walk, or miss it, or wish I could do it comfortably. I want to walk because I want to walk with Him. I can imagine us walking side by side on the New Earth, strolling over beautiful hills and through quiet valleys. As we walk, I am telling him all the things that I love about Him, and thanking Him for all the many blessings He has poured out on me. We are talking about His Word, and how powerful it was in my life. He is telling me all about His glory, His goodness, and His perfection, much of which I could not see or understand when I was still living in my fallen state. We walk for miles and miles, never tiring. Sometimes we are silent, just enjoying the beauty and glory of perfection.

As I think on these things, the voice of the physical therapist fades into the background, and I am filled with joy instead of despair, confidence instead of fear, and hope instead of dread. My dear Savior is waiting for me in paradise, planning our eternal walk together. He has gone to prepare a place for me (John 14:3), and that place has more beautiful walking trails than any place on this broken planet. In a moment, in the blink of an eye, I will be healed, perfected, pain-free. Never again will I suffer the consequences of my sin or anyone else’s!  

There’s a song my mom used to sing that is playing in my mind as I write this today. It’s called “In the Garden,” and it was written by Charles A. Miles. The chorus goes like this:

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

Friend, even as you suffer today, ask the Lord for a glimpse of that eternal walk. Look forward to the glory He has in store for you in just a little while. You will be healed, you will be restored, and you, too, will one day walk with Him. Hallelujah! What a Healer!


Friday, November 7, 2014

Back to the Present

Back to the Present

Those of us who struggle with painful or debilitating conditions sometimes worry about our future. What will become of us as our disease or condition gets worse, and we need more and more help with the activities of daily living? Well-meaning medical professionals will often mention casually that this will get worse, or that there are other consequences of the current issue, that won’t manifest until later. It is easy to dwell on what we may have to look forward to, and to worry or become disheartened by these potential problems. Even individuals without health problems know that these bodies are not ageless, and it is certain that they will grow old and decay.

So, what are we to do when these worries and fears come upon us? Well, the same thing we do when other kinds of worries tempt us. We take them to the Lord. Psalm 46:1 says that He is a very present help in trouble. Sometimes, we don’t sense His presence, but we know that His Word is true. So, what’s the reason we think He’s not with us? As I studied this question, I came across Matthew Henry’s commentary on this Psalm, and found some very good information about that word, “present.” It can have several subtly different meanings in the Hebrew, and they give us insight into the mystery of His presence.

First, according to Matthew Henry, when the Psalmist says that God is a very present help in trouble, the word He uses implies that He is a “help found.” In other words, he is a help that we have found to be faithful in the past. He has a reputation and a history of helping His children, and this is part of our confidence that He will help us now. Even if your thinking is so far gone that you can’t remember a single good thing He has done for you, you have only to look back through your Bible to find many accounts of His faithfulness to His children.

Secondly, the writer of this Psalm uses this word to imply that He is a help at hand. He is near, always watching, waiting for our call upon Him. He does not require us to go seeking or looking for Him. He is always there in our hearts, always available to us (Psalm 145:18).

Finally, this word means that our God is a help sufficient. There is no trial you will encounter, no temptation to sinful worry, that cannot be resolved with His help (1 Corinthians 10:13). His grace is sufficient for all your needs (2 Corinthians 12:9). His power has provided everything you need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Rest assured, my friend, that you are in the hands of the God of the Universe, and He is able to bring you through anything this world, your own flesh, or the devil can imagine.

Are you worried about your future? Do you see your body failing, and longingly remember those times when your health was better? Don’t despair! Your God is a very present help in trouble! He is near, He is faithful, and He is sufficient. Lasso those runaway thoughts that lead to dread of the future and fear of the pain or sorrow it may hold. As you take those thoughts captive, bring them to your loving Savior, your Divine Healer, your faithful friend. He will lovingly exchange them for hope, peace, and joy.  Tell Him once again that you trust Him with your future, and come back to the present.



Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Overwhelmed

Recently, a counselee said to me, “I just don’t know what to do. I’m completely overwhelmed.” As I tried to help her sort through all of the responsibilities, trials, and problems she was faced with, I began to see a pattern: For every issue of her life, there was at least one corresponding blessing God had granted in relation to it. For most, there were many provisions made by God to help her with the respective problem. I grabbed some paper and a pencil, and began to make a chart, kind of like the factor trees we used to make in grade school to break down multiples. As the charts began to fill the page, we were both amazed at the beauty and wonder of God’s providence.

How about your life? What would your charts look like? Do you have pain? What blessings has God given you to make that pain more bearable? Do you struggle with disability? How has God sustained you? Have you experienced a loss? What has the Lord added that has enriched your life and softened the blow? If you begin to meditate on all the blessings in your life, instead of the pain and losses, you will see the love of your sovereign God there. It is easy to dwell on things that are in your face all the time. If every breath brings pain, or you must count and conserve every step, you will naturally be focused on those things. It takes effort and discipline to switch a one-track mind to another track, but it can be done.

Maybe you are thinking, as many believers will confess, that God wouldn’t have to give you all those little things, if he would just give you the one big thing that you really want. But this is flawed thinking, for at least a couple of reasons. First, God doesn’t have to give you anything. He could just allow you to suffer for His glory, never giving you any blessing other than the knowledge that you responded biblically to whatever he ordained for you. But that is not usually how He works. God rewards the faithful, as we read in Lamentations 3:19-25:

The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words.
I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:
The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”
The LORD is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him.

As we depend on Him, he is faithful to bless our faithfulness. As we respond to our trial in a way that is pleasing to Him, He gives us hope.

Secondly, you need to ask yourself, what is that “one big thing” that you really want? What do you need that you don’t have? If we are thinking rightly, we know that we have only one real need, and that is the love and salvation offered to us in Christ. Without this, we are lost, and eternally hopeless. As believers, our greatest need has already been met. The trials and suffering we have now are the methods God uses to help us become mature in our walk with Him. As we turn again and again to Him for help in our pain or problems, we gain a deeper knowledge of His love.

Are you overwhelmed today? May I suggest that you begin to examine your life for the answered prayer you have experienced in your trial. Maybe you could even make your own “factor trees” to see all of the many blessings God has poured out on you through your troubles. As you do this, you will be overwhelmed in a new way: you will be overwhelmed by your God, His love, and His mercy that has been poured out on you. Here is some background music to start your thinking on the right path.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Monday, Monday

“I am a complete fraud.”

I said these words to my friend yesterday morning, as I tearfully shared with her how hopeless I felt. For some reason, my pain issues have intensified over the last few days and when that happens, the battle in my mind to keep thinking biblically about it becomes furious. I struggle against weariness, hopelessness, and sorrow when pain keeps me from doing things with my family. It is easy to become sad or bitter about the past, and fearful about the future when even the least amount of activity causes great discomfort.

Sometimes, I lose that battle and yesterday was one of those days. Interestingly, they often happen on Mondays. Maybe it’s because there are more missed opportunities on the weekends, or I overdo because I just want to be with people and do what they’re doing. Whatever the reason and whatever the day, when I lose the fight against unbiblical thinking; when I feel crushed and abandoned by God; and when I just can’t keep fighting any more, I really do feel like a big faker. I write about thinking biblically here on the blog, and I point out to my counselees the “stinkin’ thinkin’” in which they’ve gotten stuck. But then, when it comes to my own life, I can’t keep it together. Maybe I shouldn’t be counseling other believers, writing a blog, or trying to encourage anyone if I can’t even apply my own counsel!

But then the next day comes, or the day after that, and I’ll wonder what got into me as I cried to my friend. Even if the pain doesn’t improve or is worse, I know that my heart will line right back up with Scripture, and I will have joy and peace again. How do I know this? Because Christ lives in me. I am not the same. I am a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). It is He who will direct my thinking back into truth. Philippians 4:6 tells me that if I pray and ask the Lord to help, He will guard my heart and mind and give me peace that surpasses comprehension. Proverbs 3:5 and 6 tells me that if I trust in the Lord with all my heart, not trying to figure things out for myself, acknowledging His right to reign and rule in my life, He will straighten out my thinking. My only obligation is to be in the Word often, so that He can use it to help me. Countless times, He has brought back to my mind those verses and passages that are so comforting to me and are etched in my mind. It is the power of His Holy Spirit that will draw me out of my own “stinkin’ thinkin,’” and back into His truth. Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

So, I will continue to counsel other struggling Christians. I will continue to write here on the blog about my own struggle, honestly sharing my battle against the flesh, and hoping to encourage some. Praise God, I do not have to be perfect to be useful! His strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), so I will boast often about my weaknesses. And I am very hopeful that, on that day when I meet the Lord and He gives me my glorified body, I will hear with those glorified ears, “Well done!” On that day, I will raise my glorified arms, jump for joy on my glorified feet, and fall to my glorified knees in praise and adoration of my dear precious Healer.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Promise!

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,  as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.  2 Corinthians 4:16-18 

Our pastor is teaching through Romans, and this week we were in Romans 4. What really stood out to me was verse 21: “…and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform…” I had to ask myself if I am fully convinced that what He has promised He is able to perform, in my own life. But first, I needed to sort out exactly what His promises are. There are so many, I could probably never list them all without pretty much copying down the whole Bible! So, I thought I would narrow it down to just one promise, and meditate on its truth. The one I chose is up at the top of this blog post, and I think it is my very favorite promise of all. If you suffer with physical pain or disability, you may agree with me.

So, what is so special about this particular promise? First, it acknowledges the truth that when we suffer, we are tempted to lose heart. It is comforting to me that God knew that suffering and trials would be wearisome for us. After all, He knows our weaknesses (Psalm 103:14), and understands that we do tend to grow weary. He immediately follows up this fact though, with the truth that our inner self is being renewed! The best news here is that it is He who is renewing it! God does all things well, and there is no better renewal we can experience than the inward renewal of our mind and spirit that is promised here. While I may feel old and tired, the unseen truth is that my spirit is as youthful, vital, and vigorous as He can make it, as long as I am submitted to His will and determined to bring Him glory in my pain.

Is my affliction light and momentary? Most days it doesn't seem so, but God’s Word is always true, and that is what He is saying. How do I reconcile my pain and struggle with this fact? Well, if I read on, I find the answer. I have an eternal weight of glory ahead of me! As I look forward to this, my pain and suffering seem less overwhelming. My desire to bring more glory to God dwarfs my desire for relief in this life. I can’t even imagine the perfection of my glorified body. There’s no comparison to anything on earth that could even give me an idea of the wonder of my eternity!

All of God’s promises are Yes and Amen in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). If His glory is my goal, then I know that He will keep renewing my spirit, so that I will not lose heart. Though I may have days when pain is increased and my activity is limited, I can always know that through Christ, I don’t have to become discouraged. As I focus not on things that I can see or feel, but on those unseen realities of eternity, I can be joyful and happy in my heart, because I know that God is able to do all that He promises.

It is hard when we hurt, and we long to be able to do the things we want to do. “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere (2 Corinthians 2:14).” Hallelujah! What a Savior!


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

By the Book

There are many books that have been written about living the Christian life. Those of us who suffer physical pain, and desire to honor Christ in it, are often thirsty for words that will encourage, strengthen, and help us to persevere. When pain is relentless and our limitations frustrate us, we can be tempted to believe authors who tell us that we can have our best life now, or offer us a 7-step process to get out of that pit! So, what is a suffering believer to do in these difficult times? What author or book should be our go-to source of encouragement?

You probably already know the answer to this question: The Bible! So often though, we overlook it, and we seek the words of man. Maybe we do this because we think Jesus can’t truly relate to our fully human experience. Though He was fully human, He was also fully God, so that somehow gives us a pass on following His example. We can’t possibly be perfect like He is, so we look for another human being, someone who has been where we are, to give us encouragement. But this is not what the Bible says. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that our Jesus was “tempted as we are, yet without sin.”  He can indeed sympathize with our weakness, so we can “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” This is the truth we must cling to as we live out our calling from day to day.

So, the first place we go for encouragement is to God’s word. Once we are saturated in truth, we can use it as the lens through which to evaluate the many books and articles that have been written about suffering for Christ. We must ask the Lord for discernment as we browse through the titles that promise encouragement, and there are some good ones out there. But what are the criteria that make this genre of books good for us? I believe there are a couple of deal breakers when it comes to extra-biblical resources.

First, they must be true to the Scriptures. For example, if a book tells you that you can live your best life now, you should put it down immediately. The Bible tells us that we are aliens and strangers in this world (1 Peter 2:11). How can this possibly be the best that is to come? We are unwelcome foreigners here! Our home is with Christ, and that is where our best life will be. This life is a vapor (James 4:14), and most of what we do here is meaningless (Ecclesiastes). There is no way that our best life is now!
Second, any book that says that God wants you to be happy, or that you deserve a positive outcome to your trial, is useful only as a paperweight, foot rest, or door stop. It is you who wants happiness and pain relief. God wants to use your pain for His glory. You belong to Him, because He purchased your soul at a very high cost to Himself. It is He who is deserving, not you. He deserves your love, devotion, submission to His will, and complete surrender. Trust me friend, you don’t want what you truly deserve. In fact, that price that God paid released you from that very bondage. And that is exactly what the pursuit of worldly happiness is: Bondage. You will never find happiness on this earth, and seeking it will keep you shackled to yourself. It was for freedom that Christ set us free. Therefore, keep on standing firm, and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1). Seek Christ’s glory, and your happiness will be the result!

There is always much talk and debate about books by human authors. These will come and go as long as people suffer. But the Word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword Hebrews 4:12). It is the filter through which all other words must come to us, and the light by which we must read everything written by men. Humans are fallible. God is not. We are not to lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5&6) or anyone else’s, but on God, whose Holy Spirit gives us discernment and wisdom. As we trust Him, He will lead us to those authors who represent Him best.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Do You Really Mean That?


Last Sunday in church, we sang one of my favorite songs from Sovereign Grace Music, called “All I Have is Christ.” This song is always deeply stirring for me, for several reasons. First, it is a sobering reminder that, in this world of change, the only sure thing for believers is Christ. He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8), and we can always be sure of His love and faithfulness to us. There is never any reason to doubt that His sovereignty is real, or that He will always do the absolute best thing for me, no matter what. In this world of uncertainty, He truly is all that we really have.

But the line that really got to me this time was, “Oh Savior, use my ransomed life in any way you choose.” Honestly, I must confess that I didn’t actually sing those words this particular time. I don’t like to sing words that I’m not 100% sure that I mean, and this one gave me pause. Can I really sing that, and mean it? Can I tell the Lord that since He has paid for my freedom, He can use me however He wants to—less pain or more pain; able to walk or unable to walk; mobile or house bound; Wow, that is a pretty serious statement to make! Can I say it, and truly mean it?

As I wrestled with these questions, one thought kept returning to my mind: It makes no real difference whether I want to cooperate with Him or not. I belong to Him, and He will indeed use my life in whatever way He chooses. It will be easier on me if I am submitted to what He chooses but, regardless of my selfish desires, He is the One who does the choosing, and He does all that He pleases (Psalm 115:3). The best thing for me to do is to trust in His goodness and mercy, and cling to the promises He has made, trusting that He is able to fulfill them.

So how do I get myself to the place where I can sing the words to this song and really mean them? Well, for these words to ring true from my lips, there must be a joyful and willing submission. This requires some careful thinking. I must be focused on His glory, not my comfort. I must think on my eternity with Christ, not my earthly troubles. And I must reach out to others, sharing the hope and strength that my God has shown me in my own weakness. I must glory in my weakness, thanking my Savior for it, and knowing that in my suffering, Christ is made glorious.

Providentially, the answer to whether I really mean those words about using my ransomed life in any way He chooses, lies in my response to the verse just before:

But as I ran my hell-bound race
Indifferent to the cost
You looked upon my helpless state
And led me to the cross.
And I beheld God’s love displayed.
You suffered in my place.
You bore the wrath reserved for me.
Now all I know is grace.

Friends, we were lost in the deepest darkness. Christ suffered and died so that we would know this amazing grace in which we now stand. How could we possibly offer anything less than complete submission and joyful surrender to any light and momentary trouble we may experience in our brief journey here? If we are thinking rightly, there really is no other answer than:

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ!
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life!


Monday, October 20, 2014

Ten Minutes or Less


Recently, I was asked to give my testimony to a group of ladies at my church. The person who asked me to do this said that I would have about ten minutes to share what the Lord has been teaching me through my physical suffering. These last five years have been such a journey, and it seems I have traveled so far, that I don’t know how I will really share all the depth of my experience with Christ in just ten minutes. I will have to do a big-picture overview that somehow expresses all of the ways the Lord has worked in my heart. I will have to hit the highlights.

So, what are the highlights? What are the main and plain things that the Lord has taught me in these last five years of suffering and struggling to trust Him? I find myself always coming back to the phrase that first opened my eyes to the total, absolute sovereignty of God and what the implications of that sovereignty are for me. I’m indebted my friend and mentor, Julie Ganschow for teaching me this phrase. 

“God is the sovereign God of the universe and He does what He wants with what is his and what He does is always good; no, it is very good."

What does this mean? It means that my God is the God of the universe, and He is sovereign over all of His creation. There is nothing that can happen to me outside of His sovereign will. He is never surprised by anything, and He is never unaware of my pain. In His wisdom, He knows what is best for all that He has made, including me. Psalm 115:3 says, “Our God is in heaven, and He does whatever He pleases.” What is pleasing to God is whatever will bring glory to His Name. I was created for His glory (Isaiah 43:7), so I know that He will enable me to respond rightly to the pain or dysfunction that He has ordained for me. If I truly love and desire to serve Him, He will give me the strength to respond to my pain with humility.

What does that look like? It doesn't mean that I joyfully proclaim how much I love my pain. Indeed, that would be completely fake. No, what it means is that I continue to praise the Lord for who He is, trusting that He will sustain me in the pain, and that He will enable me to continue to do all that He calls me to do, even in the midst of suffering. While I may not be able to do all that I want to do, I can be certain that He will enable me to do all that He calls me to do (Phil 4:13).

Since God is the sovereign creator and sustainer of the universe, He has all rights to do whatever He pleases with what belongs to Him. I am not my own. I was redeemed by the blood of Christ, and I belong to Him now. Who am I to say what kind of body is best for what He has called me to do? This is where my faith meets its test: Do I really desire God’s glory more than I desire my own comfort? If I do, then I must be willing to accept and embrace whatever limitations He has ordained for my life. God does what He pleases with what is His. God was pleased to bruise His own son (Isaiah 53:10), and look at the glory He is receiving now! Surely He can sustain me through this light and momentary trouble I am experiencing now, and give me strength to bring Him glory in it.

Everything God does is good. All things work together for good to those who love Him, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). But whose good are we talking about here, when we say all things are working together for good? Are we talking about God’s good, because He is glorified? Or are we talking about my good because I am the called? The answer to both questions is, “yes.” Here is the key to contentment in pain: God’s glory is my good. Anything that glorifies God is good for me. If my pain brings more glory to God, then that is for my good. When God is glorified, the whole body of Christ benefits. Friends, this is the key to contentment in suffering. It is not my body that matters, but His. Though I have pain, when I respond to it biblically, God is glorified and those who love Him benefit. My contentment in suffering, which comes from my hope in Christ, encourages other believers, and might make a suffering unbeliever want to know the source of my contentment.

God is God, and He does what He pleases with what is His. I am so glad I am His, and so thankful for the privilege and opportunity to glorify Him in my trouble.

“But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and who makes known through us the fragrance that consists of the knowledge of him in every place.” 2 Corinthians 2:14

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What Does This Mean?

Sometimes you and I, in our quest for pain relief, stumble across new medical procedures, medications, and modalities that promise healing and hope. Some new technique, supplement, pill or process has claims of studies to back its efficacy, followed by reams of testimonial and anecdotal evidence that it works. We get excited that maybe this is the answer to our prayer for pain relief, or this is the healing for which we have begged the Lord. But maybe you have a history of hoping, and then being disappointed in such things, and so you are waffling on whether to try to take advantage of it or not. You've been on this roller coaster of hope and disappointment too many times to count, and you just don’t think you can do it again.

This situation happened to me recently. God, in His sovereignty, has allowed me to come across something new that might actually give me some relief. Interestingly, I have lately become quite content in my situation. Having seen the many ways God has worked through my pain and limitations, I am convinced that His way is best, and this “new normal” is not a bad place to be. I would be lying if I said I was thrilled with my limitations, but for the most part, my heart has reached that place of contentment that has been so elusive to me all these years. Now, He has sent this small glimmer of hope that physical, earthly relief may be in sight.

So, what is the godly response? Should I try it? Everything is spiritual, and this is no exception. My first thought, as I considered this, was that this is a ploy by Satan or my flesh to try to tempt me back into discontentment. I have begged the Lord to grant me joy and contentment in the midst of this trial, and He has done it. Now comes the temptation to try something else; to put my hope in yet another attempt to make this better. It is impossible to try this option without feeling any sense of hopefulness or anticipation of relief, so how can I do this without setting aside that contentment?

The other spiritual argument is that maybe the Lord has withheld relief until such time as I submitted to His sovereign will for me, becoming content and humbling myself under His plan. Maybe this healing opportunity is my reward for finally coming to a place of peace with a situation I don’t like. Perhaps he is saying to me, “Ok, Suzanne, now that I know that I am Lord of your life, I’m confident that you will not put your hope in anything else, so it’s safe for you to try this.” Maybe he was waiting for me to put all my hope in Him before He would allow any earthly measure to succeed.
These two possibilities are polar opposites. If the first is true, I should decline this threat of temptation to become discontented and to put my hope in things of this world. If the second is true, then I should rejoice in this great reward for my faithfulness, certain that this one is going to work, and I am going to have the healing I have so long desired.

But, as you probably know, there is no way to be certain of what God is doing in any given situation. Once again, as in every decision we make, we must go back to what we know for sure: Our hope is in Christ. Our hope is not in pain relief, full mobility, or activity without limits. It is not in sleep, or comfort, or physical healing. Our hope is in Christ. As long as I remember this, I am free to try or not try anything I want. I can sign up for this therapy, remembering that regardless of the outcome, my hope remains exactly where it started. I can also choose not to try the therapy, and remain just as content as I am now, knowing that, as long as I am trusting the Lord, he will continue to meet my needs.

I’m not sure what I’ll do about this, but I have committed it to prayer, and have asked others to pray, also. I will go to Him with a quiet heart, trusting that He knows what is best, and remembering the words the Psalmist wrote about our faithful God and His guidance:

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you. -Psalm 32:8





Thursday, October 9, 2014

Hold Fast!


 “And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.”  --Hebrews 10:19-23, New Living Translation

What a blessing this passage was to me this morning! Yesterday was a full day of counseling for me. The first was someone I’ve been seeing for a while, and she is making good progress. Next came a new counselee whom I had never met before, but I had a general idea of the challenges she was facing, and was prepared to help her. We had a wonderful time of fellowship and challenge, and we both were refreshed by the word of God. My last appointment, however, was quite different. I left feeling somewhat discouraged, and wondering if I am really qualified to become a Certified Biblical Counselor.

The person God placed before me yesterday is in a place of great desperation. While she is a believer, her problems are so overwhelming that she sometimes questions whether she is truly in Christ or not. While I had read her information, it had not accurately reflected her level of despair and hopelessness. I was somewhat surprised by the intensity of her difficulties, and by the sinfulness of her responses so far.

But this morning, the Lord brought me this truth in Hebrews 10, and I was greatly encouraged. The reminder to hold tightly to the hope I affirm was especially helpful as I asked myself whether or not I had affirmed for that counselee the hope that we both hold. Though I did not yet know how we would specifically deal with her issues, I know that I had indeed affirmed that hope for her. I never wavered from the truth as I spoke with her, even though her response to it was not what I wanted it to be. The important thing is that I never wavered from the truth in my counsel to her, regardless of her response.

Here’s what I've learned from this: No matter what we are facing, if we hold fast to the Truth that we know, and respond accordingly, there is no problem that is insurmountable, and no valid reason to despair! Why? Because God can be trusted to keep His promise! The Bible affirms this on every page. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8); and the same holds true for His promises. All of God’s promises are Yes and Amen in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20)! Why should we waver? He has promised to walk with us through whatever trial we may encounter (Deut. 31:6), so we can take great courage in Him. As we read the accounts of Daniel, Joshua, Gideon, Joseph and Israel in the Old Testament, we see the pattern of His faithfulness. As we read the letters of Paul and Peter, and study the life of Christ in the Gospels, we see that He can be trusted.

Friend, what are you fearing today? By what in this world are you overwhelmed? Rest assured, God is not surprised by it. Do you have a guilty conscience because of a sinful response to that circumstance? There is a new and living way that has been opened for you by the blood of Jesus Christ. He stands ready to forgive (1 John 1:9), strengthen (Is. 41:10) and encourage you (2 Cor. 3:12). Hold fast to the hope you affirm, and walk in obedience to His commands. He CAN be trusted!


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Circling the Drain, Part II

Yesterday, I wrote about an analogy that has been helpful to me when I begin to entertain the thoughts that lead to depression. If you haven't read that one, go back and look it over. Today, I want to write about the last sentence of that post: Hope is a decision.

What do I mean by that? Isn't hope just an emotional thing? We hope for a cure for disease and pain; we hope our favorite team will win; and we hope that our children will be successful adults. But the hope I’m talking about is a totally different kind of hope, and I’d like to share that hope with you today. The hope that I speak of is the hope that we as believers have in Christ. When we put our hope in Him, it means that we trust that He will be glorified in whatever circumstance we are dealing with. This hope is pretty much summed up in the following passage:

Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:2-5 ESV
Let me see if I can break this down for you. Basically, it breaks into three parts: The hope of God’s glory; the hope of our sanctification; and the hope of heaven.
First, as believers, we hope and desire that God would be glorified in all of His creation, and especially in our own lives. We love Him, and are grateful that He saved us from our sin, and so we want to glorify Him with our lives. That is the purpose for which we were created, according to Isaiah 43:7. When God is glorified, we fulfill our purpose. The only thing we have to do to reach that fulfillment is to strive, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to glorify God with our responses to the trials and joys He places in our lives. This is a hopeful thing!
Second, we have the hope of our sanctification. This means that our trial will make us more like Christ. If we respond rightly, it will produce in us endurance and character. The literal meaning of this word, character, is “a proof of tried worth.” In other words, when we respond rightly to our trials, we prove our worth in Christ, and His worth to us. We show the world His goodness and His glory. We show them that any sacrifice is worth knowing Christ, because we value His love so highly. We show them what a great God He is by trusting Him in our circumstance, and persevering with joy.
Finally, the hope of heaven gives us the strength to persevere. We are all sinners in the hands of a just God. He would have been perfectly just to leave us in our sin, ultimately leading to an eternity separated from His love. But that is not your story, my friend. By His mercy He saved you, not by works of righteousness that you had done (Eph 2:8&9). There was nothing you could do to save yourself. You would have had no knowledge of your sin, nor desire for a Savior, if your loving Father had not swept in at just the right time to stir up your heart toward repentance and to provide atonement for your sin. He gave you the great gift of the Holy Spirit to draw you to Himself and to strengthen you to submit to this trial you are facing right now.
Are your emotions circling the drain today? Have you allowed yourself to become so focused on your circumstance and yourself that you have forgotten where your true hope is? Be reminded of it today, and allow yourself to be scooped out of that vortex by the love of your gracious Heavenly Father. Make a decision right now that you will not give in to your fleshly bent toward self-pity and depression. Remember that you have the hope of glory: Christ in you!



Monday, October 6, 2014

Circling the Drain, Part 1


I was talking with some friends about how to control our thinking the other day. There are so many good Biblical Counseling articles online about this, and I don’t presume to try to tell you anything new here. But, as my friends and I were talking, I began to examine how I have learned to keep my mind from going to dark places. I’m not always successful at this, and I do have my bad days. But for the most part, I am usually able to avoid the vortex that leads to depression

I like analogies and word pictures a lot. When I am struggling, if someone can give me a visual of the solution, it is much easier for me to make sense of their wisdom. I think this is why Jesus used so many parables and stories. Many of His were agricultural in reference, because most of his listeners were farmers. The world I live in is quite different, but there are still simple analogies that are helpful to me, and today I want to share one of those with you.

Have you ever watched a bathtub as it drains? At first, you can’t really see the vortex near the drain, but as the water gets lower, it is visible. If you drop a speck of anything into it, you can watch it swirl around the drain. It doesn't go directly in at first, but stays on the outer rim of the circling water. As it gets closer to the drain, though, it begins to spin faster, and soon disappears. Now, imagine that the speck is your dark thought, and the drain is depression.

You begin to entertain a thought that makes you sad. I’ll use an example from my own life: I recently saw a video of myself before my surgeries. I was playing with a friend’s children at the park, running, climbing, and basically doing whatever I wanted to. My first response to this was to feel sad that I can no longer do those things. This is the speck, and depression waits at the other end of the tub. The best thing for me to do right now is to pray, and ask the Lord to comfort me and help me to remember that He is good and sovereign, and think on the many good things that have come about as a result of this providential event.

But let’s say I choose not to do that. I choose to continue drifting closer to the drain, feeding my sadness by nurturing angry, resentful thoughts about all that I've lost. I begin to ruminate on all the things I used to do that I can’t do any more. The best thing for me to do now is to remember the Word of God and His promises. He is a high priest who understands my weakness (Heb. 4:15). He loves me, I love Him, and He has a plan to bring good from this (Rom 8:28-29). God can provide a way out of this sadness (1 Cor 10:13).

But I choose not to do that. Instead, I continue thinking on how sad it is that I can’t play with those kids any more. I begin to worry about what will happen when my own grandchildren come along. If I’m this bad now, how will I be when that times come? And then, I’m sad and anxious about that. The best thing for me to do is pray, remembering the Scriptures that tell me I don’t have to worry or be anxious. Philippians 4:6-8 comes to mind, as does Matthew 6:33.

But I quickly shove those Scriptures aside so that I can entertain my own thoughts that I have now made bigger than God’s Word. As the video ends, I am left feeling very sad. The speck has moved from the far end of the tub, into the vortex, and is now circling the drain. The best thing for me to do is to call an accountability partner and tell her what’s going on, so that she can help me with my thinking. She knows me well, and has been in this “tub” with me many times. She knows all the Scripture I need, and will pray with me.

But I choose not to do that. Now, all I want to do is escape. I’m able to hold up my fa├žade until I get home, and I turn on the TV and flop down in front of it. My Bible is on the table beside me, but it is no longer appealing. Instead, I start channel flipping, watching scenes from old sitcoms through tears of hopelessness.

Do you see how that happened? Did you notice what each step had in common? A choice. At each point on the ride from the shallow end of the tub to the drain, I made a choice. I chose to think on my problem instead of thinking on Christ. I chose to allow worry, fear and anxiety to overtake the peace God has promised me. And I chose escape over fellowship.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? If so, remember this analogy the next time you find yourself entertaining thoughts that make you sad or worried. Will you continue circling the drain until you are pulled down into the vortex of depression, or will you choose to take that speck captive before it’s too late? God has shown us, in no uncertain terms, that we have a choice (1 Cor. 10:13; 2 Cor. 10:5). He is able to rescue us from the vortex of depression. His Word can scoop us out, even at the last minute. But we must be willing to be rescued! Hope is a decision. More on this tomorrow.