Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Tyranny of 'Why'

Have you ever asked the Lord why He is allowing so much suffering or such great trials in your life? Do you think that knowing why these things are happening would help you to persevere and get through it? Sometimes when we ask ‘why,’ we are seeking to control our situation. We think that if we can just figure out why something is happening, then we can change it or do something to make it better. Sometimes when we ask ‘why,’ we are looking to redeem our suffering. We know that something good will come from our troubles, and we want to see it now. Sometimes when we ask ‘why,’ we think that God is being unfair, and we want justice. We want God to placate our sadness by explaining Himself to us. Today, I hope to convince you that lingering in 'why' is a form of bondage and sometimes you and I get caught in the trap.

Do you ask ‘why’ because you want to do something to make the pain stop, or to control the circumstance that you don’t like? Perhaps you believe that if you knew God’s reason for your trial, you could convince Him to ease up. Maybe it’s because you've sinned. You search your heart for some sinful attitude or action so that you can confess and get your ticket out of this mess. But then when you do find sin and repent, the situation doesn't change. Or you can’t find any sin, and you start heading toward legalism thinking that maybe, if you just led a more pure and holy life, God would not be so hard on you. Sometimes God does invoke His discipline on us when we are straying from the way He wants us to go. Sometimes that discipline is painful. But you must understand one thing: God NEVER punishes us! If you are a believer, the penalty for all of your sin--past, present, and future--has already been paid (2 Cor 5:21). Nothing you are going through right now is punishment for your sin!

Do you ask ‘why’ because you want to redeem your suffering? God has promised that “All things work together for good to those who love God and are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28 NKJV),” and you naturally want to see that good thing that He has promised to bring about. If you could just see a glimpse of the good that will come of it, you could endure and be joyful. But the truth is that we are called to persevere without any explanation of our circumstances. Scripture commands us to be patient in trials (Romans 12:12), and not to become weary in doing good (Gal 6:9). James 1:12 tells us that we are blessed if we persevere, because we will receive the crown of life that God has promised us. In all my searching of the Bible for verses on persevering in trial, I could not find a single one that is conditional on our knowledge of the reason for it. In other words, there is nothing in Scripture that says it’s ok to lose hope because of our circumstance if we can't see the reason for it. No, we must put on the full armor of God (Eph 6:10-18) and soldier on!

When you ask ‘why,’ is it because you think God is being unfair to you? I have struggled with this one as I compare the outcome of my medical procedure to that of others who had the same one. Most of them are much improved from before the surgery, and they are going on with their lives. I, on the other hand, continue to suffer with the effects of a botched operation. Why did they get the good outcome and not me, Lord? Why must I suffer, while they move on with their lives? So I ask you: Is God unfair? If so, upon what do you base your answer? If you are looking at your circumstances to determine your view of God, you are looking in the wrong place. God loves justice (Is 61:8). God will not act wickedly or pervert justice (Job 34:12). The God of all the earth always does what is right (Gen 18:25). Never use your circumstances as a gauge for God’s justice. Our view of God must always be based solely on the Word of God. When you begin to think that God is not being fair, go back to the Word and see if you can find anything to back up your theory. You won’t.

The condensed version of all this is that God is God, and He does what He pleases with what is His, and what He does is always good. We must place our hope not in our circumstances, but in the God of our circumstances. It would be great to know why these things happen, but when you begin to think biblically about it, knowing why becomes less important. If you get bogged down in the ‘why’ of your trial, it will eventually rule your thinking. You may begin to justify your anger at God because you believe you are entitled to know His plan. Bitterness will quickly follow and oh, what a long road it is back to peace! Spare yourself this pain, friend! Trust God with your circumstances, and tell Him that you will submit to them whether or not He shows you why. Humble yourself under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor (1 Peter 5:6 NLT).

Monday, September 29, 2014

Ya Gotta Have Friends!

I am so grateful for my friends. I don't have hundreds of them, but I have a handful that I could not do without. As I thought about friendship and exactly what Christian friendships should look like, it occurred to me how different my friends are from one another. Somehow, God put each of them in my life and together, they form a network of support that is obviously God-sent.

While each is unique, they share a few common characteristics. First and most importantly, my friends love the Lord. He comes first in their lives, and they know that they were created to glorify Him. While they know that they often fall short, they are continually striving to live lives that are pleasing to Him (2 Corinthians 5:9), while at the same time rejoicing in the fact that there is nothing they must do to gain His approval(Eph. 2:8-9)!

The second thing my friends have is an attitude of openness. If they are struggling or down, they are honest about it. When they are joyful, it is written all over their faces. I never have to pry anything out of them, or leave my time with them wondering what was wrong. They are willing to share their lives because we have developed a trusting relationship. When two people trust one another, there is no need to fake anything. Real, honest people have real, honest friendships.

Thirdly, my friends don't judge me. They hold me accountable. In humility, they are willing to point out areas of my life where sin has crept in. Some of them can even spot an attitude problem that I had overlooked, which we find out later is rooted in sin. In the same way, I always feel free to humbly point out areas of their lives that may be problematic. We can ask one another for help in dealing with heart issues and know that an objective, biblical response will be forthcoming. At the same time, we all have different opinions about Christian liberties in disputable matters, and we respect one another’s freedom in Christ.

I love my friends. They are my daughters, mothers, sisters and grandmothers in Christ. I know that God has placed each one in my life for a reason. He is the One who sustains our relationships because He is the author of trust, honesty, and accountability. He is the perfect model for all of these characteristics. 

A good friendship begins in Christ, continues by the Holy Spirit, and is superintended by the God of the Universe. Hallelujah! What a blessing! What a Savior!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Humility Leads to Joy

After hearing a sermon on humility recently, I found myself pondering the humility of Christ; specifically, the humility required to submit to death at the hands of His enemies. In searching the Bible for the reasons He did this, one reason stood out: According to Hebrews 12, He did it for the joy! Verse 2 tells us that “…for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame”. For Christ, the ultimate humility brought Him ultimate joy: To save His people, and to sit down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Thinking on this brought me to the realization that the greatest reward of humility and obedience to God is joy. I have not felt joyful for a really long time. Trouble seems to be piling up lately, and I have found myself more and more anxious and stressed by earthly events, becoming depressed and weary. But I have come to realize that humility and submission to God’s sovereignty will enable me to trust Him. And when I trust Him, anxiety, worry and fear make way for joy.

Joy: The emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation—Webster’s Dictionary

What could be more exceptionally good or satisfying for our Savior than sitting down at the right hand of God? I, too, will one day be in the presence of God. Will I have this joy? I believe I will, if I can be humble and obedient, as He was. I am now on a quest for joy through humility. Here are some observations to which the Lord has led me:

When I am humble, I can submit to God’s authority and providence in my life, even if His choices would not be mine. I can see myself in light of His holiness and perfection and understand that His ideas are better than mine. This gives me joy because I believe that everything He does is for my good and His glory—two things I desperately want, and could never bring about on my own.

When I am humble, I can trust God because I know he is much wiser than I am. As I seek to make decisions about my life, I know that there is one Great Authority who has written down everything I need for life and godliness. When I, in humility, point myself and others to the Word of God, I am relieved of the burden of worry about whether my decision/advice regarding the future is correct; and I have no regret about past choices because they too were directed by my sovereign, loving God. This makes room for joy.

Finally, when I am humble, I can have joy even if my children are unsaved. While my flesh would tend to despair over their eternal fate and worry about their unregenerate lives on earth, my heart and soul can rejoice in the knowledge that my children are in the hands of God. I know Him better each day, and each day I am more convinced of His love for me; His abundant mercy and pardoning grace; and ultimately, His sovereignty over the lives of those I love. Even (especially?) through tears of pleading for their souls, I can be joyful.

As I have applied this thinking to areas of struggle in my life, I have found my attitude changed in several ways: I love the Word of God more, because I find I must turn there more often to keep myself humble and submissive to God’s will in circumstances. My natural inclination is to fix, rescue and control. In humility, I can wait, pray, and trust. I am also less anxious about the future, because I know that my loving and wise God has it perfectly in His hands. Instead of worrying and “what-if-ing”, I can obey the Word of God that tells me to seek His kingdom first, knowing that all my needs will be supplied. If my loved ones are in trouble, I don’t worry and try to fix their problems. I pray for them, hoping that the Lord will use their trials to bring them to Him, just as he did with me.

Focusing on humility has brought me much relief from stress, and given me back the joy of the Lord that I had when I first met Him. What will keep me joyful as days and years go by? Continuing to focus on Christ, meditate on His humility, and eagerly look forward to the joy of being with Him forever.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

I Want What I Want...

I’ve read a lot of books about pain and suffering from a biblical perspective. I don’t want to obsess about pain, but I do want to get all the information I can from people who are knowledgeable in this area, both for my benefit and for yours.

I recently read a book by Dr. Jim Halla called, Pain: The Plight of Fallen Man. The subtitle is, “God’s Prescription for Persevering”. The basic thesis of the book is that there is something more we can seek in suffering than just pain relief. God can use our suffering for our good and His glory. Our desire as believers is to become more like Christ, and if we respond biblically to our pain, He will use it toward that goal.

You can read reviews of the book lots of places online, so I’m not going to do that here. What I want to share with you is one valuable piece of information that I got from this book, which really changed my thinking about my pain:

“A person does what he does and feels what he feels because he thinks what he thinks and, most often, he thinks what he thinks because he wants what he wants.”

This statement is loaded with information and implications that we need to consider carefully if we are to respond biblically to suffering, pain, or illness. What Halla is saying here is that our thoughts trigger our feelings and actions. How do you think about your pain? Do you hate it, resent the limitations it puts on you, and desire only that it would go away? Are you angry when the pain comes back after a few hours or days of relief? Do frustration and sadness always accompany your thoughts about your suffering?

You are having these thoughts, according to the book, because you “want what you want”. What is it that you want that you are not getting? Pain relief? A return to normal life? Another question to ask yourself is, what do you have that you don’t want? A body that doesn’t work the way you want it to? Side effects of medications you resent having to take? Loneliness and isolation brought on by disability? All of these things can bring on thoughts that lead to an unbiblical emotional response.

 Let’s look a little deeper. If our thoughts come because we want what we want, then where do those desires come from? According to the Bible, those desires come from our heart. The Bible addresses these desires as being of the flesh. In Galatians 5, Paul instructs us to walk in the Spirit, so that we will not fulfill the desires of the flesh. He goes on to describe how the flesh and the Spirit are in a constant battle, so that we do not do the things we wish. As believers, we wish to have a Christ-like response to all of our trials, including our pain. But often, we lose the battle against our flesh. We want what we want—pain relief—and when we don’t get it, we feel sad or mad, or frustrated, or whatever feelings are shouting the loudest that day.

But it can be different for us. If we go back to the point where the thoughts started—back to that original desire for pain relief, and change that to a desire to glorify God, then we don’t have to be disappointed. If I am in pain, and I have done what I can to get relief and it hasn’t helped, then I must set my desires toward Christ, and His glory. If I am hurting, and my desire is to glorify Him, then I am free and able to do so. By the power of the Holy Spirit, I can bring glory to God whether I am in pain or not. I can use my pain as a springboard to speak to others about Christ. I can be joyful and content in my disability or pain, inviting others to ask me how I do that. I can use my pain as a way to gain involvement with others who are suffering, so that I can give them godly counsel and encouragement.

There are many ways we can use our pain for God’s glory, but they all start with the desires of our heart, which lead to our thoughts, which lead to our feelings and actions! Do you want the Lord to use your pain for His glory? If so, then begin right now to ask Him to show you how He wants to do it. I am not saying you should stop looking for relief from your pain with whatever means the Lord allows. But, if there is no solution and you must suffer, then why not suffer well? Romans 8 tells us that all things work together for our good and God’s glory, so why not put that to the test in the case of your pain?! I hope you will consider this a challenge, and share in the comments how God is being glorified in your new attitude.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Pressing On

I have a friend who suffered terrible abuse as a child. As hard as she tries, she cannot seem to stop thinking about it. She is stuck not only in thoughts of the abuse, but also in anger toward those adults in her life who could have protected her. Each time this comes to mind, she tries to give it to the Lord and move on, but she would really like to know how to put it permanently behind her, and really get on with her life, unburdened by these sad memories.

I understand her dilemma. While I do not have abuse in my memory banks, I do have many regrets about things I have done or left undone, that cannot be changed now. When I allow my mind to dwell on these past sorrows, I can quickly become sad, angry and bitter. The key, at least for me, is in that word, “allow.” The Bible tells me that I do have control of my thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:15). I can take them captive and make them obedient to Christ. But what does that mean? What does our Lord tell us to do with these thoughts? There are three Scripture passages that I routinely go to when my mind goes to these dark places.

The first is Isaiah 43:18-19:

Do not remember the former things,
Nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I will do a new thing,
Now it shall spring forth;
Shall you not know it?
I will even make a road in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert.

The very first line of this passage is a direct command: “Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old.” While the context here is the redemption of Israel, I believe it applies to the ways that God will redeem our sins and those who have sinned against us.  Bad memories and regrets over past sins are former things. Believer, has God done a new thing in your heart? Are you the same as you were when these bad things happened to you? Even if you were a believer at the time, you are still different now, because God has used that event to mold and shape you according to His good plan for you. You are not the same. You are a new creation, and His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23), so why would you disobey this loving admonition not to think on those things? By His mercy, you will obey!

The next passage I turn to when regrets or sad memories haunt me is Philippians 3:12-14:

“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

The word ‘press’ in this context means to run swiftly, as in a race, to reach the goal. If you are running in a race, you will lose if you keep looking behind you. Do it enough, and you will stumble and fall. If all you do is look behind you, you will get stuck and never reach the goal. This is the picture Paul is painting for us in this passage. Several times in his letters, Paul uses the analogy of running a race, to help us understand our Christian walk. He exhorts us here to forget about what happened in the past, and start reaching forward. Think about Paul’s past. If you think you have regrets, imagine his! We must, like Paul, focus on the goal, which is the upward call of God in Christ. He has called us out of darkness and bondage into His light. Why would we purposely seek darkness in bad memories and anger about the past? While we will never forget the things that have happened to us, joy and freedom are ahead of us. Why would we look back? (Think about Lot’s wife in Genesis 19:26 here, too!)

Finally, John 8:32 ties it all together perfectly:

“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

There is no bondage like sorrow and regret. These emotions amplify the whispers of the enemy and feed the lies that we tell ourselves:

“God must not care, or He would have stopped it.”
 “I have a right to be angry and stay angry.”
Anything that starts with, “if only”

All of these thoughts have one thing in common: They deny the sovereignty of God. The truth is, God is God, and He does what He pleases with what is His. Romans 8:28-29 reminds us that everything that happened in our past—happy or sad—was ordained by our sovereign, loving God for our good and His glory. We can trust that this is the truth.

So, the next time bad memories bring up anger, sadness, and regret, take those thoughts captive by remembering the Word of God. He has richly supplied us with everything we need to win this race. Our victory has already been won! Our part is to keep facing forward, even if we are only crawling, and press on toward the goal.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Emergency Faith

“The secret of faith that is ready for emergencies is the quiet, practical dependence upon God day by day which makes Him real to the believing heart.” –Howard Taylor

The quote above is from a biography of Hudson Taylor, who was one of the first missionaries to reach China with the Gospel. His story is quite remarkable, and his son has written it for our encouragement. There are many inspiring quotes like this in the book, and it has been quite faith-building for me to read it.

Though biography is not my favorite genre, I do think it is important for us as believers to read them. Most of these missionaries accomplished far more, with far fewer resources, than we have. Hudson Taylor made huge inroads in China with almost no money or resources. He faced many moments of crisis when, had he not persevered in faith, his mission would have failed. But, by the power of the Holy Spirit, he was determined to keep going because he saw the desperate need of the Chinese people for the Gospel.

Hudson Taylor and others like him were ready for whatever came to them because of this “quiet, practical dependence on God day by day”. When the last bag of rice was emptying, he did not despair or go out begging people to help him. He did not cry out in the streets about his desperate need for food. He simply gathered his little band of believers together and prayed. Without fail, the needed resources would arrive within a day or so of their earnest prayer, and their faith was made real. They were truly dependent on Him for everything, including their practical, day-to-day needs. Housing, clothing, food, medical care—all were provided by the Lord’s sustaining hand.

Friend, what is your emergency today? Has the pain gotten to the point where you don’t think you can take it for one more second? Have your friends left you behind to go and do the things you used to enjoy together? Are you at the edge of despair over your diagnosis or prognosis? Then praise the Lord! He has brought you to a place where you can practice this same quiet, practical dependence upon God. Don’t call someone and complain about your woes. Don’t soothe your pain with food or escapism. Oh, believer, please don’t despair! Tell the Lord your troubles. Tell Him you are depending on Him to meet your needs, and that you trust that He will. Tell Him you are joyfully waiting on His answer, and that you believe that it will come, and that it will be good. Most of all, tell Him you desire His glory more than your comfort. Tell Him that you are thankful for His many answers to prayer in your own life and in the lives of the saints before you.

Now that your faith has been made real, go find someone else who needs that quiet, practical dependence upon God that you have found, and show them how to meet their own emergency. Though you never planned to be a missionary, when you reach a point of complete dependence on God for everything, He will make your life a gospel seed.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Every Thought Captive

Every Thought Captive

“For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…” 2 Corinthians 10: 4&5

I was talking with a friend this morning who is struggling with depression. She knows that she will not have victory over it until she gains control of her thoughts, but she has not yet learned to do that consistently. Thought control is a difficult battle, but it can be won. The Lord has commanded us to take control of our thinking. We know this because of passages like the one above, and Philippians 4:8, which gives us a list, then tells us to “think on these things.” Our God does not give us commands that he will not enable us to obey. That would be cruel and unloving, two things that could never describe the God of the Bible. So this instruction on what we should and should not think about has to be possible for us, but how?

As believers, we are told many times in the Bible that victory is ours. In 2 Corinthians 2:14, Paul assures us of this: “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.” God always leads us in triumph; not sometimes, not even most of the time, but always. This is a promise that we can claim whenever our thoughts threaten to take us down into sadness and hopelessness. Just because our circumstances are difficult does not mean that we have to become sad or depressed. Christ will lead us in triumph, but we must follow. Have you ever tried to lead someone to do something they don’t want to do? Even when you know that your plan is the best one for that person, you cannot force them to follow. Neither will Christ force believers to think rightly about their trials. He simply offers the victory. We choose whether to trust Him or not, and our thoughts follow.

Another promise of victory comes to us in 1 John 5:3-5. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world, our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” If we are born of God, we are overcomers of the world. That world includes our current trial, and any we will face in the future. We have the victory that has overcome the world: Our faith. We believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He died and rose again to give us that victory! My friends, this is the Gospel, and we need it every second of every hour of every day. It is the source and the outworking of our victory. Go to the Gospel. Meditate on it, proclaim it to yourself and anyone else who will listen, and you will have victory over your thoughts.

I could write all day about the many promises of victory that God has given us in His word, but I will share just one more passage of encouragement before I wrap this up: 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). 

There are certain passages of Scripture that we believers tend to gloss over because they are so familiar. This little gem in Proverbs is one of those. Will you take a closer look at it with me now? I would especially like to draw your attention to the word all. Trust in the Lord with all your heart. I know that you are trusting in the Lord for your salvation, and even for your life in general. But are you trusting Him in this particular circumstance with all your heart, or are you reserving a corner of your inner self to ruminate on your fears and worries? If you are having trouble controlling your thoughts, my guess is that you have not entrusted Him with this problem with all your heart. 

A follow-up question for you: Are you acknowledging Him in all your ways? You are probably reading your Bible and praying about your problem. You have likely sought out wise counsel. These are good and profitable ways that we acknowledge God. But what about your thoughts? Have you handed them over to the control of the Holy Spirit? Train your thoughts according to what you have read in the Word. When thoughts of your problems bring worry, fear, anxiety or sadness, claim the promises listed here, and search the scriptures for more. Even a simple Google search for Scriptures about controlling your thoughts brings up about 76,000 results!

God has promised victory in our thought life. We do not have to give in to negative emotions. When we claim our victory, we can lead others to triumph as well. This brings glory to God. He trains us for the battle against our flesh, teaches us to control our thoughts, and then leads us to others who are struggling as we are, so that we can comfort them with the same comfort we have received.  Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Spiritual Cobwebs

I enjoy reading my Bible in the patio room that we added onto our house a few years ago. Usually before dawn each day, I am out there in my comfy chair with my coffee and Bible, ready to receive God’s Word to me for the day as I listen to the birds sing to Him. I rarely miss this morning quiet time with the Lord, and I always look forward to it.

This is so regular for me that, this morning, I was surprised to find a fairly complex network of spider webs attached to my Bible, intricately woven to the table about a foot away from it. I had left my Bible open, and this spider had used the entire length of the top of it to form a trap for the many bugs that inhabit the room. I was quite shocked by this, because I had that Bible in my lap, studying and reading, just about 18 hours previous. I’ve heard people joke around about folks who have cobwebs on their Bible, it’s been so long since they read, but that does not describe my habit. How did this spider web get here so quickly?

As I pondered this question, it occurred to me that the connection between me and my Father has lately been a little "cob webby," too.  Though I do read and pray often, I don’t sense His loving care as I have at other times in this recent journey. I have allowed frustration and pain to come between us. I have distanced myself from Him. Though I speak to Him and read His Word; hear sermons and enjoy wonderful fellowship with other believers, I am not occupying that place that is near to Him, and the sense of distance proves that.

My point here is that today, I was alerted to how quickly this can happen. Though I was in the Word just yesterday, praying, thanking and petitioning the Lord, as the day went on, perhaps I forgot Him, at least practically. As I searched for solutions to my problems, I left Him behind, and the builders of cobwebs—the world, the flesh, and the devil—got between us. I fixed my mind on my problems instead of on Him, and I reaped what I sowed—worry, fear, and a sleepless night. Wow, how quickly this happened!

But God is so good to show me these things. He uses His creation often to reveal my heart to me. Just as His parables in the Gospels pierced the hearts of those who were chosen, so He uses little spiders in my patio room to teach me about His character and mine. What a creative, loving God we serve!
It was easy for me to clean the spider web off my Bible, and I never did find the creature who was responsible for it. It will not necessarily be easy to close the gap between me and the Lord. It will require putting down stubborn pride, submitting to what is obviously His will for me, and trusting Him with my physical problems. I will have to do all these things every moment of every day until the Lord heals me or takes me home. Meanwhile, He is gracious and patient to wait while I learn and grow in Him. He is ready to forgive my stubbornness and draw me near to Him once more, as I…

…focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. Then he received the highest position in heaven, the one next to the throne of God. –Heb 12:2, God’s Word Translation

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Dealing with Frustration Biblically

I have been a little frustrated lately, trying to sort out how I’m going to keep on going in a body that does not work as I want it to.  While I know that the Lord is working in and through this circumstance, there is no way to avoid frustration as life continues. I’m not able to do the things that I believe are my responsibilities—cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking, etc.—without pain. So, each time something has to be done, I must choose one of three options, none of which are all that appealing: Have my husband do it, and feel guilty because he has to do his job and mine; do the task, but use mobility aids like the motorized cart at the grocery store; or endure the pain of doing the task in the normal way, then spend the rest of the day icing various aching body parts.

I know that many of you share my frustrations, and while my intention is not to complain, I do want you to know that I understand and empathize with you. So I wanted to write today to encourage you to continue to trust the Lord as you wrestle with these troubles. I revisited a favorite passage of Scripture today, and found that it addresses our plight quite well.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
    for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
    my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
    pour out your heart before him;
    God is a refuge for us. Selah
Psalm 62:5-8

Basically, this Psalm is instructing us to wait for the Lord without complaining about the things we can’t do. We are to wait for Him in silence, because our hope is from Him. Our hope is not in pain relief or ease of life. We should not be shaken by these frustrating circumstances. Physical capability, strength, and painfree tasks are not our rock or our salvation. Christ alone is these things.

The tasks and chores of this world are incidental to our real life. This world is not our home, but while we live here, we must glorify Him in the way we handle these bodies that don’t work as we would like them to. We must remember that we were created to glorify Him (Isaiah 43:7), and ask ourselves, how can I glorify Him in my response to this frustration? Being angry because we can’t do the things we want to does not bring glory to God. When we become bitter and frustrated with our situation, we are not trusting in Him. He has ordained all things for our good (Rom 8:28-29). If we kick against those things, we show a lack of gratitude for His efforts to draw us nearer to Himself.

This passage tells us to trust in Him at all times, and to pour out our hearts before Him. While we must not complain about our situation, God does invite us to tell Him of our pain, our fears, and our frustrations. He is a loving Father.  He knows our needs and cares about our suffering (1 Peter 5:7). He is our refuge, and He will be our strength. Our job is simply to trust Him and desire what He desires.

So, what does that look like in day-to-day life? I do what I must do to accomplish the things that need to be done. I humbly take the motorized cart to get our groceries, thanking God as I do so that it is available; that I am able to drive to the store, and that I have money to buy what we need. I make dinner, sitting on a bar stool at the counter to chop and prepare, and moving it to the stove to cook, praising God that I have a sweet family for whom to prepare a meal.  I graciously accept my husband’s loving offer to do the dishes, replacing my frustrated, guilty feelings with gratitude and love for him. And, when things are tough, I silently wait for the Lord, crying out to Him in my heart, telling Him of my needs, and knowing that He is way ahead of me. Meanwhile, I seek out others who are suffering, to offer them encouragement and hope through the Scriptures.

Who will you encourage today? Here’s something to take with you:

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 5:3-5

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Getting off the Emotional Roller Coaster

How good are you at controlling and regulating your emotions? Do you find yourself on an emotional roller coaster much of the time, or are you more stable? Do those who are close to you need to walk on eggshells each time they encounter you, until they figure out whether you’re on a mountain top or in a valley? Some of us are literally worn out from the crazy train of our emotions, and we would like to be more stable for our own sake, and more predictable for the sake of those around us, but we just haven’t figured out how to do that yet. Today, I would like to talk about becoming more emotionally stable, and maybe figure out a plan to move toward that goal.

I believe there are several factors involved when a believer has trouble controlling her emotions. The first thing to check out is a physical or medical issue. Blood sugar, thyroid, nutrition, and hormone levels can all be factors in emotional instability. A thorough physical exam is the first thing to do when we desire to be more emotionally predictable. Lab tests can rule out many causes, and detect those that need to be treated. I have seen amazing results in friends, and even in myself, when more attention is paid to the physical side of things. Sleep is especially important in stabilizing emotions. I know few people who are steady emotionally if they are not getting adequate rest.

The second factor in emotional instability is that the battle is spiritual. Often, we follow our feelings up and down, wrongly believing that they are controlled by our circumstances. When this happens, we have been deceived. Circumstances cannot change your emotions. Circumstances are just that—Things that are going on around you, not inside you. Nothing and no one can make you feel a particular way. Though you may not like to hear this, the truth is that you can control your emotional response to your circumstance. When your child is disobedient and you become angry, that child did not make you angry. The child disobeyed and you became angry because his behavior inconvenienced you, or you have told him 100 times not to do that, or some other frustration resulting from his disobedience. While anger may be your natural response, it is not the godly response.  “The flesh wars against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are in opposition to one another… (Gal 5:17a).” It is clear from this passage that there is a battle. When you become sinfully angry or upset because of someone else’s behavior or because of a circumstance, you have lost the battle. Your flesh has overcome the Spirit of God in you and caused you to sin. Remember though, that although you may have lost a single battle, the war has already been won. Don’t forget that all of your sin has been paid in full. Though I do not want to minimize sin here, I also don’t think we need to beat ourselves up when we do lose a battle. Repent and get back in the game, with a plan to do better next time.

That brings me to my final point—the plan. Another reason we sometimes lose the battle in our emotions is because we don’t have a plan for what we will do when a circumstance threatens to overwhelm us. This is where Scripture memory becomes so important. “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man. And God is faithful. He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, so that you may be able to bear it (1 Cor. 10:13).” There is no temptation to sin that cannot be overcome. Ask God to show you the way of escape, and He will.
“For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ… (2 Cor. 10:4-5).” We have powerful weapons against our fleshly response, if we will only use them. They are mighty in God. As our emotions threaten to argue against the truth that we know, we call on the Lord to help us fight the temptation to lose control. He is faithful, and He will bring His might to bear on our response.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

His Thoughts, Our Thoughts

God is so good to us. He is patient and kind when we are stubborn and impulsive. We want what we want when we want it, but He knows what is best. His love for us causes Him to deny us some things that may seem good to us, but He knows better.

For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8&9

My question for you today is, do you believe in the truth of these verses? Do you believe that His ways are higher—Not just different, but actually higher? This means that His thoughts are better informed, more wise, and more insightful than ours. Our God knows the past, the future, and every detail of every eventuality of our lives.  How can we even begin to think that we know better than He, what is best for us? How can we question His goodness and mercy when we have all of the Scriptures to inspire our prayers?

Our belief should inform our patience. When things are not going as we would like them to go, we must remember these verses and trust in His superior thoughts and ways. No matter what we think should be happening, we can always be 100% sure that His plan is better. It may even be that His plan is not that much different from ours, but He wants us to wait for His timing in it.

Bottom line: We do not know what God is doing, why He is doing it, or when it will change. We only know God, and we know Him from the Scriptures. We simply cannot allow our circumstances to determine our view of God, or change Him into someone He is not, just so that He fits our ideas better. God is God, and He does what He pleases with what is His. Rather than dwelling on the first part of this statement, wondering and worrying about what God is doing, we should focus on the truth  of the last part of it: We are His. There is no better news we could get than this. We are His, and whatever pleases Him will be the absolute best thing for us. Praise the Lord!

Monday, September 15, 2014


Fear is a powerful thing. It can make our circumstances seem much worse than they are. Usually, when we experience fear, it has something to do with the future. When pain increases, we fear how far it will go this time, how long it will last, and how it will affect our plans. When we experience a new kind of pain, or pain in a new location, we fear what may be wrong this time.  Has our disease progressed? Have we put too much stress on already-weakened areas and done some kind of damage? What does this mean for the immediate future, and how will it affect our long-term prognosis?
While I am speaking here of physical pain, this is true of all kinds of trials. Most of us have at least one ongoing trial in our lives, whether it is physical, emotional, relational, financial, or some other area. Regardless of the source, any trial can produce fear. 

Fear is an emotional response to a real or perceived threat, so the first thing to consider is which of these two our current threat is— real or perceived/imagined? If it is a real threat, we must take action against it. In the physical realm, increased pain, swelling, and other signs are a pretty good indicator that the threat is real. Other types of trials have their clear indicators as well, and like chronic physical affliction, sufferers of these other kinds of trials usually have a pretty good idea of whether or not a threat is real. For instance, families facing ongoing financial problems who receive a foreclosure letter have a clear, concrete indicator of the threat of losing their home, and they may be fearful of that prospect.

But often, fear wells up in our hearts when it is an emotional response to an imagined threat. When we are weakened by ongoing pain or trials, our imaginations can run wild. Mild pain may be barely noticeable until, for whatever reason, we begin to dwell on it and ruminate about all the scary possibilities. A small twinge in the morning, mixed with a day of Googling, talking to others, complaining, and focusing on it, can become a full-blown panic attack by evening. This can happen regardless of whether the pain actually gets worse or not. Many of you have experienced this, and know that what I’m saying is true. It’s the same for other kinds of trials. A mother who fears her teen will make the same mistakes she did may worry and tremble every time he leaves the house, though she has seen no concrete evidence of rebellion.

These unfounded fears can have a very real consequence in our hearts: They can draw us away from Christ. When we begin to imagine all the bad things that our pain or circumstance may bring about, we have stopped looking to Christ for comfort. It is absolutely impossible to worry and trust at the same time. We are either trusting God, or we are feeding fear.  Psalm 55:22 says, “Cast your burden on the LORD, and He will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” When we worry, we are not casting our burden on Him, but keeping it ourselves, and adding to it by the minute. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).” Refuge, strength, help. Worry is none of these things, so why would we turn to it instead of God? “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. (Nahum 1:7).” Does the Lord know you? He does if you take refuge in Him. If you choose worry, He will not join you there.

Our only hope in these troubled moments is to choose to dwell on the promises of God. Psalm 119: 49-50 says,

“Remember the word to Your servant,
Upon which You have caused me to hope.
This is my comfort in my affliction,
For Your word has given me life.

It is indeed God’s Word that give us life, because in that Word are His promises: Promises of comfort, hope, healing, and help. So, when our hearts lean toward fear in response to an imagined threat, we must pull them back upright, so that they can cling tightly to the Truth. It is there, close to His heart, that our hearts will have peace.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Treasure in Broken Hearts

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels,
that the excellence of the power may be of God
and not of us.” –2 Corinthians 4:7

This verse fascinates me. It is just one example of how different God’s ways and thoughts are from mine (Isaiah 55: 8&9). When I think about where I keep my earthly treasure, I think of banks, safes, and fire boxes. Only strong, safe, insured places get to keep my earthly treasures. I would never place my valuables with someone as weak, sinful, and fallible as I am.
But here, Paul is talking about a totally different kind of treasure. He is talking about the Gospel. The sweet truth that our sins are forgiven because Christ has paid our debt is a treasure beyond anything of earthly value. Yet, God chooses to put it into our hearts—our sin-stained, weak, selfish hearts. Why would He do that? Why would he entrust His most precious gift to us?
There are many ways to answer this question, but my favorite is this: Because He loves us. He saved us because He loves us (John 3:16). He did a work in our hearts so that His treasure would be safe, because He loves us. It is He who sustains and carries our frail earthen vessel so that His gospel can shine through the cracks in it (2 Cor. 12:10). God has prepared our hearts to carry His precious salvation. All we have to do is trust Him to keep it safe.

He is not relying on us to carry His heart in ours. He strengthens, directs, and sustains our hearts so that they are the perfect vessel for His love and grace. There is nothing that we must do to ensure that this treasure is safe. He will do it for us. All we have to do is trust Him. Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Forgiveness, Part 3

For the last couple of days, we have been talking about forgiveness. First, we established the importance of forgiveness in general. We discussed the biblical necessity of forgiveness, and shared a little about how important it is for healing. Next, we talked about the sovereignty of God, which we all must understand if we are to forgive those who have harmed us. If you haven’t finished wrestling with those two truths—the importance of forgiveness and the sovereignty of God—then you probably should go back and do some study of your own until you are convinced. Then, come back and read this last post.

How will forgiveness help with our pain or physical affliction? Well, first of all, when we forgive, the anger we feel toward those who have harmed us will melt. We all know the physical manifestations of anger: Neck and shoulder pain from tense muscles; lack of sleep from adrenaline and other hormones that pump into our blood when we are angry; depression that results when our anger is turned inward can cause stomach problems, headaches, and more insomnia. When we don’t get good restorative sleep, pain is always worse. Also, my own experience and that of many others confirms that unforgiveness and anger increase inflammation in the body. My friends who have RA, IBS and other inflammatory and autoimmune diseases have shared with me that when they forgave, their symptoms decreased. The reverse is also true for most.  I’m sure there are many factors in this outcome, but you cannot deny the correlation when you talk with suffering believers.
Forgiving others releases us from the bondage of anger. While we hold them responsible, we cannot put what they did to us out of our mind. Every time we feel the pain, we are reminded of their wrong against us. For me, this is literally every time I take a step. A wise friend suggested to me that I begin to remember a particular scripture when I step into pain:

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.  —2 Corinthians 12:9

Instead of thinking about that doctor or therapist, or how sad I am about my pain and disability, I boast in my weakness. I remember that God’s grace is sufficient for me. This means that, regardless of my physical condition, I will always be able to bring glory to God. He will see to it, because His power is made perfect in my weakness. It is He who will orchestrate His glory in my pain. I don’t have to do anything except obey Him in it. Part of that obedience is to forgive those who have harmed me through deliberate action or neglect. When I do that, Christ’s power will rest on me, and I can rest in Him. What a relief! I don't have to harbor bitter feelings or resentment toward anyone, because ultimately, His glory is being worked out in my weakness. Really, it is a privilege to suffer as a believer, because regardless of the cause, my suffering and weakness give Him the opportunity to show His strength to a watching world.

The key is this: I must desire His glory more than my comfort. This is a tough place to get to, and few arrive there and stay until they are taken up to glory. With discipline and practice, though, any believer can get his mind and heart to this place, at least some of the time. It requires a full understanding (or as close as we can get this side of heaven) of the sovereignty of God. When we believe and cling to the fact that God is God and He works everything for his good purposes, the Spirit will help us to let go of anger, bitterness, and despair about our affliction. It is only then that we will be able to glorify Him in our suffering, boasting in our weakness and resting in Him.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Forgiveness, Part Two

Yesterday, I introduced the topic of forgiveness toward those who have done harm to us. I mentioned that forgiveness is important for physical healing, as well as spiritual and emotional healing. When we are suffering physically because someone has harmed us, our healing will be slow and incomplete if we hold on to anger and bitterness at those who are responsible. The mind and the body are interconnected, and when we keep nurturing bitter, angry, or resentful thoughts, we rub salt in our own wounds. I can testify that when I dwell on what that surgeon did wrong, or how that physical therapist didn't care, my pain becomes more pronounced, my sadness more intense, and my heart heavier.

Jesus asks me to bring my heavy heart to Him. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light . The only way I can receive His light yoke is to give Him my heavy one of unforgiveness and anger. But in order to do that, I must be able to trust Him with it. In order to trust Him, I must believe that He is sovereign.

But what does that word mean? Well, it means that Jesus, who is God,  is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-wise. The Bible has much to say about God's control over this world and the things that happen in it. A quick Google search produced several pages of references, but I will include just a few of my favorites here for our consideration:

Psalm 115:3
Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.
This means what it says: God does whatever he pleases. Since He is perfect, good, loving and just, the things that please Him are also perfect, good, loving and just. We can be sure that, no matter what happens to us, His purpose is good.

Job 42:2  
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted."
Note the author here, and that this statement is toward the end of the book of Job. Job suffered much, and experienced crushing loss. When it was all over, Job was certain of God's sovereignty.

Isaiah 46:9-10  
Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose...’
Here, the Lord calls us to remember the many examples He has provided in His Word of events that prove His sovereignty. For me, this brings to mind the "Hall of Faith" in Hebrews 11. We have many examples of God's faithfulness in ruling well. We need not fear that He will fail us.

Romans 8:28 
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.
Though our circumstances and our pain do not seem good to us, we must believe what the Lord is telling us here. If we have been called by Him, we can be sure that He will work it all together for good. He has a purpose in what He is doing, and that purpose is His glory. When God is glorified, it is always good for us.

Psalm 135:6  
Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.
When we are in rebellion against God's working in our lives, this verse will make us bristle. In our pride, we may be angry that the Lord is pleased to allow harm to come to us. But this is where we must think of Christ. Isaiah 53:10 says that "...it pleased the LORD to bruise Him..". We are so thankful that God was pleased to save us through Christ's suffering. Can we really say that we are unwilling to be bruised or suffer pain for His glory? We will never suffer as He did. Though His physical pain on the cross was unimaginably horrific, it was certainly not worse than the separation from God that He had to endure as He paid the price for our sin--even the sin of rebellion we are nurturing right now in our stubborn refusal to accept suffering as part of His good plan.

Isaiah 45:7 
I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.
Isaiah 14:24 
The Lord of hosts has sworn: “As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand
He makes light and darkness and everything in between; good times and bad, according to His plan and purpose, He does all things. This is the bottom line. We can cry, lament, resent, hate, and plot revenge all we want; but ultimately, it is God who has brought us where we are today, pain and all. What will we do with this? Will we accept and rejoice in His sovereignty, taking each precious day as it comes and thanking Him for all things? Or will we continue to harbor bitterness and resentment, refusing to submit to something we don't understand? Think on this question, and meditate on these verses. Tomorrow, we will talk about how forgiving those who have hurt us will speed our healing.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


Forgiveness is a very important part of healing. I don't mean just spiritual or emotional healing, but physical healing, too. Some pain sufferers can point a finger at someone who caused their life-changing condition. I am one of those. Without going into detail about who or why, I will confess to you that I have held some anger and unforgiveness against a couple of medical professionals. While I know that God was ultimately sovereign over everything that happened, I still believe that there is some human responsibility, and I have held on to anger against these individuals for years.

I would like to take a few days this week to wrestle with some questions about forgiveness. Why must we forgive those who have harmed us? Is it necessary that they ask for our forgiveness in order for us to let go of bitterness? What are the benefits of forgiving and letting go of anger and resentment?

First, we must forgive because we are forgiven. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells the parable of the unforgiving servant. This man was forgiven a huge debt, yet he refused to forgive the debt of someone who owed him very little. When his master heard about it, he was not pleased. He had forgiven the man so much, and expected him to be compassionate and patient with his debtors. God, having forgiven us all of our sin against Him, expects the same. How can we receive God's love, forgiveness, and mercy, and not offer it to others? We cannot. In fact, if we do not forgive our debtors, we need to search our hearts to see if we have truly received God's forgiveness for the debt we could never pay.

Must our debtors ask our forgiveness before we can give it to them? Well, maybe. In Luke 17:3, Jesus tells the disciples, "If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you saying, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him.(emphasis mine)." Here, perhaps Christ gives us a reason to hold back our forgiveness. But how does this help us glorify Him, and become more like Him? Look at the whole counsel of Scripture. Do you see grudges, anger and bitterness portrayed as godly things? Are believers encouraged to hold on to hurts, and withhold forgiveness? No. The overarching counsel of Scripture is, love as you have been loved. Therefore, even if my offender does not repent, I am free to forgive him in my heart, and if I want any peace, I must. If one day he does repent, admitting his fault and asking my forgiveness, I will be ready to give it to him.

So, how do we forgive someone who has not repented? This forgiveness must begin with meditation in the heart on how much we have been forgiven. Forgiveness is a heart attitude, and so preparation for it must begin in the heart. A heart that is ruled by the Spirit of the Living God will see things from His point of view. He is the sovereign creator of the universe, and His plan is better than mine. While He is grieved over my pain, the truth is, He could have stopped it. He could have guided that surgeon's hands to perform my procedure correctly. He could have healed my body so that no medical intervention was ever necessary. I will not know His reasons this side of heaven, but I must decide whether I believe that they are good. I must choose do desire His glory over my comfort, and seek His guidance in how to use my pain for that purpose. Only the Holy Spirit can give me this attitude, so I turn to Him, asking for His grace.

Tomorrow, we will talk about the sovereignty issue, and wrestle a bit with the tension between God's sovereignty and the responsibilities of people who harm us. I am no Bible scholar, but I have gleaned a few things in my searching, and I hope that sharing them with you will help me to solidify them in my own heart, and bring some encouragement to you.

Monday, September 8, 2014


The Lord is my strength and my shield; 
My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; 
Therefore my heart greatly rejoices, 
And with my song I will praise Him. 
Psalm 28:7 

I love it when I run across a "therefore" in the Bible. Whenever I see one, I know that I need to look at what came just before it, and figure out how the two are related. Psalm 28:7 is an example. The Psalmist tells us that the Lord is his strength and his shield. He doesn't say the Lord is part of my strength or somewhat protective. He says the Lord IS his strength and his shield. He finds all his strength, all his protection in the Lord. Think of that. When was the last time you acknowledged that ALL of your strength IS God. Not that it is in God, or that you get your strength from Him, but that it IS GOD!? My strength is God. What or who on this earth is stronger than that? This is a reason for praise!

Next he tells us that his heart trusted in Him, and he was helped. Why does my heart so often not trust Him? If He is my strength, and there is none stronger, why would I not trust Him? There is no reason. Have I not been helped? Has He been unfaithful? Even when I have been unfaithful, He never has. This is a reason to trust Him and to believe.

Why is it so hard to praise Him through our pain, even when we know all these things are true? Because we are stubborn, prideful people. If we can't see and agree that our trial is better for us than anything else, we dig our heels in and refuse to submit. Though we have no choice but to outwardly endure the circumstance, we refuse to submit our will and our hearts, and praise Him in it. We offer conditional praise to God: When things are going well, we are quick to shout out, "Praise the Lord!" But when circumstances overwhelm, old pains increase, or new pain springs up, our praises cease, and we are consumed with ourselves and our problems. This will never make us joyful Christians who draw others to Christ.

THEREFORE, my friends, you and I must change. Pride must go, and humble submission must take its place. There is no place in a Psalmist (a role to which God has called all of us) for pride, anger, entitlement, self-pity or bitterness. Is God our strength? Then we are strong! There is no reason for our hearts to do anything other than greatly rejoice, unless we allow our flesh to have the victory. Our God is the lifter of our heads. Today, let Him also be the lifter of our hands, as we sing praises to Him.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Decisions, Decisions

What do you do when you don't know what to do? Lately, I find myself wondering what to do about many things. My own intelligence has failed me at times, as has the counsel of others. When a decision that seemed right at the time turns out to have been terribly unwise, it does not mean that the choice was not the Lord's will. God ordains everything that comes into our lives for our good and His glory. This includes decisions that seem bad in retrospect.

I do think, though, that sometimes our decisions are too quick, and this can lead to trouble. When we fail to wait on the Lord in these times, He allows us to make decisions that may lead to trials. While He will use these trials for good, I believe there are times when, had we waited on Him, our decision would have brought Him even more glory. Of course, this is not always the case, but as I meditated on the Psalms today, a few of them seemed to really light up this truth. So today, I just want to share a few passages with you, and encourage you to dwell on them for a time. Perhaps, if you have a decision to make, this will be a simple reminder to you to be patient, waiting on the Lord, believing in His faithfulness.

Psalm 37:3-5; 8
Trust in the Lord, and do good;
Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.
Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass.
He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light,
And your justice as the noonday.
Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him;
Cease from anger, and forsake wrath;
Do not fret—it only causes harm.

Isaiah 40:31
But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.

 Lamentations 3:26
It is good that one should hope and wait quietly
For the salvation of the Lord.

Psalm 27:14
Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord!

These are just a few of my favorites. I hope they will encourage you, and I hope they will whet your appetite for more of God's Word as you wait for His leading. Our God is not typically a God of signs in the sky or voices from heaven, telling us what to do. We must trust in the wisdom He gives us, and we must be patient, waiting on His timing for all things. He is faithful.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Are We "There" Yet?

If I were a performance oriented Christian, I would have to say that this week was a total bust. I did not demonstrate the joy of the Lord most of the time, and I encouraged very few with my words. In fact, I suspect I brought a few people down, and maybe even fed some doubt in others. I got caught up in my troubles, and though I have repented and moved on toward what I hope will be better days, I can't seem to shake the nagging thought that I should be better than this by now. I should be able to catch these thoughts earlier and put them to death by prayer and the Word. But this week, I was not.

Here's my question for you today: Does there come a point in our lives as believers where we are just no longer subject to long periods of sadness over our circumstances? I once had a Christian friend who said, "You're allowed to have a pity party, but only till the pizza arrives." Fifteen minutes or less was her standard for stumbling. Is this right? As mature, seasoned believers, should we be reaching a point where we just don't struggle like we did in our greener days?

The first thing that comes to my mind is a list of very mature believers I know of who struggled terribly with depression and pain. Charles Spurgeon is the first one I think of. He suffered terribly with gout and other painful conditions, and I can see from his sermons and devotions, even very late in his life, that he struggled with depression. I can't be certain that it was related to the pain he suffered, but surely that played a role. Martin Lloyd-Jones is another great writer who struggled with depression. I have known many in my own life who are far ahead of me on the path to holiness, yet still struggle at times with sadness over their circumstances, sometimes doubting God's goodness or struggling to understand His ways. These times of sadness can go on for long periods for them, as they do for me.

So, it cannot be true that as we mature in Christ, we "should" no longer struggle with sadness, even the kind that lasts for days or weeks. As I look back on these last few days. I see that the Spirit's conviction of my sinful self-pity led to true repentance, which is always pleasing to the Lord, and always plants my heart deeper into His. The Lord allowed me to sink into the mire of sadness only so far--not too shallow, so that I would think I pulled myself out, but not too deep, that I might fall into despair. He knows all my thoughts, and more than that, he knows my heart better than I do. (Jer. 17:9) His ways are not my ways, nor are His thoughts my thoughts (Is 55:8). I am so thankful for this, because if I were in control, I would not allow a single heartache. Without these painful circumstance, I would be a shallow Christian, far from the cross and self-sufficient.

We need not be ashamed of our struggles. God has ordained some suffering for each of us, and it is He who orders our thoughts. Our only duty is to keep repenting of sinful self-pity, keep begging the Lord for mercy, and keep praising Him in everything. When we do these things, He will be faithful to answer, and to help us.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Do You Feel Sorry for Yourself?

Compassion is a godly trait. Jesus had compassion on the crowds as they flocked around Him, looking for hope. He had compassion on the Samaritan woman whose only son had died. Our God is compassionate and takes pity on us, replacing our filthy garments with robes of righteousness, saving us from our sin. And, if we don't become bitter or hopeless, we sufferers also tend to be very compassionate people, taking pity on those who are in pain. But sometimes, that pity can take a wrong turn, and become self-pity. This is bondage, and we must fight against it. If you read yesterday's blog post here, you know that I stumbled a bit in this area. I'm not proud of that, but this morning the Lord has made some things clear to me about the thinking I entertained that led me there.

It is easy to feel sorry for ourselves when we are aching, or when we are unable to join our friends in their activities. We can feel left out and abandoned. This is how I was feeling yesterday. The key word there, however, is feel. In reality, we have not been left out or abandoned by the Friend who matters most. Though we may feel lonely, we must not give in to that sense of being alone in our pain. The truth is that our God walks with us through everything we do (Joshua 1:9), so we are never truly alone. As I woke this morning and began to read the Psalms, God showed me where I slipped up yesterday: I let my feelings lead me instead of correct thinking.

The other thing He revealed to me today is that He is gifting you and me with a different kind of strength, another area of capability.  As we continually pore over the Word of God, seeking hope, help and strength in our pain, He generously gives us what we need. As we boast in our weaknesses, He makes us strong through the joy we experience when another sufferer is encouraged because of what we have learned. The truth is, we have been chosen (Is 48) to suffer for the good of others and the glory of God! Our suffering entitles us to speak into the lives of others who are experiencing all kinds of pain. As a biblical counselor, I often boast to my counselees of my infirmities, sharing with them the faithfulness of God, the comfort He provides, and my own testimony of His goodness to me. This is a blessing!

So, the question we must ask ourselves is this: Am I willing to submit to the Lord's will for me today, simply for the cause of His glory? Am I willing to do the work He has ordained for me, to suffer well for His glory? Will I accept the privilege of being one of those He has chosen to grow through suffering, so that others might benefit from what He is teaching me? Yesterday, my answer to those questions was no. Today, I had to repent of self-pity. As I did that, the Lord gently loosed the bonds of that sin, and showed me the way out of it as He has promised always to do (1 Cor. 10:130). Though that way out was also available yesterday, my stubborn, rebellious heart chose to linger in self-focus and sadness. Today, I am thankful that my God is patient, loving and compassionate! He takes pity on me, so I don't have to.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Sad Days

I am so weary today. So tired of pain. It is always with me, no matter what I am doing. I try to forget about it, try not to think about it, try not to worry, obsess and scheme about it, but it is so relentless in its demand for attention, that this is an almost impossible task. I do many things to take care of my body, and to maintain the function that the Lord has granted me. I am grateful that He has provided these modalities that help keep the pain at a level that allows me to function in the roles He has graciously given me. But these things seem burdensome at times. They eat up many hours each week. This is time that I would rather spend almost any other way. Yet, I dutifully perform these things, because I know that without them I would be in much worse shape.

I want to be thankful for these things the Lord has provided for me, and I truly am. But some days, like today, when I am weary of the pain and anxious about the future, I cry out to the Lord this question that seems to be always burning in my heart: "Why, Lord? Why are you willing to provide these things to help relieve some of my pain, but not the one big thing that would make them unnecessary?" That one big thing is, of course, healing from the cause of my pain. Why did He not prevent that surgeon from botching this procedure so badly? Why did He allow other injuries to happen along the way as I tried to rehab from it? Why not just let the surgery go well in the first place, so I could move on with my life without this pain, serving Him comfortably?  I will probably never get an answer to these questions in this life. Apparently, the Lord has ordained this suffering for me, for His own reasons. A wise friend once said to me, "God is God and He does what He pleases with what is His." I know that this is true, and I love my Father. He is good, merciful, kind, and loving. I don't doubt any of that. I also know that many good things have come from all of this, and that God has been glorified in them. But, I hurt. And today, I'm tired of hurting.

So, friend, what do we do with this ache in our heart, this unanswered question? How do we keep going when all we really want to do is find a position that doesn't hurt and stay in it? My honest answer to you is, I don't know. Sometimes, we just have to cry and be sad. We will not always be able to turn these weary days around. I have been in the Word this morning, and I have talked with the Lord about it, but there has been no epiphany, no sudden 180 degree turnaround in my thinking. I am simply sad today, and my Friend understands. Jesus was terribly grieved at the pain He saw all around Him. He understood grief better than anyone ever has. And He understands my grief. He weeps with me, and comforts me. He tells me in His Word about the many who have gone limping before me into eternity, and He shows me their example of faith. Best of all, He tells me of Heaven, where there will be no tears, no pain, and no grief. Today, I will think of Heaven, look forward to being with my Lord, and trust in Him.

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens,
 Jesus the Son of God, 
let us hold fast our confession.
For we do hot have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses,
but was in all points tempted as we are, 
yet without sin.
Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, 
that we may obtain mercy 
and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4: 14-16

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Do I Really Need This?

"Do I really need one more thing, God?" This was the cry of a woman I spoke with in the hallway at church on Sunday. So many things were happening in her life, that she felt overwhelmed. Now, another blow to her stamina and endurance had fallen, and she was ready to give up. She told me she had been praying but things would not stop piling up and she was feeling weak in her faith.

Her question echoed in my mind as she continued to lament about the difficult trials she was facing. I have asked God the same question many times: "Why do these things keep happening, just when I am regaining my confidence and getting stronger in my faith? Do I really need one more problem right now?" My story involves many medical interventions, some of which caused me more problems than I had before. In these times, I have asked the Lord, "Really, God? I was only trying to make it better, and now my problem is worse. Am I not sanctified enough? Do I really need one more thing added to all that I am already suffering? I do not understand."

The Bible says that the Lord knows all my needs, and He knows about them before I do. In Matthew 6:8, Jesus warns his followers not to be like the pagans and hypocrites, who babble and repeat themselves in their public prayers. He tells them, "...your Father knows what you need before you ask Him." Think about that. Your Father knows your needs before you do. Look back on the trials of your life that increased your faith and drew you nearer to the Father. Did you think at the time that you needed those trials? No, you probably didn't want them, and you certainly did not think of them as something you needed! But because of those trials, you grew in your walk with Him, and you are now able to encourage others who may be suffering as you did. You needed those times of difficulty.

What are you going through today? Whatever it is, you can be sure that you need it. It is intended to make you more like your Savior, and isn't this to be our goal as believers? First John 2:6 in the New Living Translation says, "Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did." And how did He live? He faced trial upon trial upon trial, trusting God, walking in obedience to Him, and encouraging others to do the same. We become more like Him when we ask not whether we really need one more trial, but how we can respond to the ones He has ordained for us in a more Christlike, God-glorifying way.  Remember Romans 8:28: "And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them." Never doubt that if you are going through a trial, you need it, God will use it for your good, and He will be glorified. Hallelujah!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Comfort One Another

If you have suffered with chronic pain for any length of time, chances are pretty good that most of the people in your circles know about it. Some of them are sympathetic and kind, remembering to pray for you often, and taking your abilities into consideration when they make plans with you. You are grateful for them. Some of them forget all about your pain or disability, and invite you to do things that, to you, seem obviously impossible. These are probably not your closest friends, but you still value them, and God gives you grace to forgive their forgetfulness. Then, there are the people whom you see very seldom, and when you do see them, because they are concerned, they want an update on your condition. They want to know how you're doing, and if you're getting any better. They are either unaware of, or have not accepted the fact that your pain, barring a miracle, is a permanent fixture in your life. Once you remind them that without divine intervention, you are in this for the long haul, then they want to express to you how terrible it is that you have to suffer so. They are kind, and their intentions are good. They want to offer sympathy, and lament with you about your condition. One dear man said to me recently, "That is such a shame that you are so limited at such a young age! I remember how you used to...", and he went on to remind me how active I was before, and how sad it is that I can no longer do the things I once loved to do. While this is all true, it is not helpful for me to be reminded of it. In fact it sent my emotions into a bit of a tailspin for several days. I began to dwell on my pain, and as always, it became worse, making me more depressed, increasing the pain, and...well, I don't have to tell you how that goes. This man was innocent of any wrongdoing. He was simply expressing his concern and trying to be sympathetic. It was my emotional response that got me off track and into trouble.

So, what is the proper response to such an encounter? Should I have agreed with my friend, and cried on his shoulder? That is one option, and it would not have been wrong for me to do that. Should I have interrupted him and said, "You know, this is not helpful to me. I know you're trying to be nice, but talking about it really brings me down. Could we talk about something else?" That, too, would have been an acceptable response. What I did do is begin to tell him how the Lord has been working in my life through the events of the last five years, but he kept saying,  "yeah but"', and then reiterating the unexpected outcome of the surgeries that were supposed to make me better. Finally, dinner was ready and our hostess called us away from the conversation.

So, what could I have said to my friend that would have turned this conversation around and stopped the downward spiral of my emotions, leading him to be a more effective encourager in the process? Since I know that many of you experience such encounters, I thought we could think through this together today, and perhaps be more prepared for the next one. There are several options I have thought of, that would change the outcome of such conversations:

Option number one: When he initially asked about my condition, I could have said something like this: "Well, that doesn't change, but my kids are sure growing!" (Or whatever else is new in your life that has nothing to do with your pain.) This would have completely changed the subject, launching our conversation in a totally different direction. But that would do nothing to edify him or to glorify God in my pain.

Option number two: "Well, I still struggle with pain, but the Lord has been good to me through it." I could   then proceed to tell him exactly how the Lord has helped me. This is what I attempted to do, but this kind man would not let it go. He desired to validate the sadness of my situation, and offer me sympathy. This is where I faltered in my reliance on the Holy Spirit. I should have shot up a secret prayer for strength and continued to redirect the focus of the conversation. Another lesson learned here is that I need to be always "prayed up" for such encounters, and ready to meet them with grace.

Option number three: I could try to educate him on how to build up and encourage  a brother or sister who suffers. I could have said, "Thank you so much for your kind concern for me. But it's more helpful for me if we focus on the good that God has done through my seeming misfortune. I know that His hand was on this whole process, and I have seen many good things come from it. Let me tell you about them..." Once I tell him sincerely about all the good work God has done through my pain, he can't help but forget all the negative. This approach will also gently inform him that recounting the sad realities of a sufferer's condition is not edifying, and can have the opposite of the intended effect.

This was an important learning experience for me. I am thankful that I had this conversation, because it showed me how desperately dependent I am on the Lord to reveal His working in me. While I will never be "happy" to have chronic pain, I know that I can be content, as I fix my thoughts on God and what He is doing in it. When I do that, there is no conversation that can cause me to lose sight of His goodness. When the Holy Spirit rules over my response to others' perceptions, we will both be edified, and He will get the glory!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Donuts and Coffee?

What would we do without true Christian fellowship? I'm not talking about doughnuts and coffee in the "fellowship hall". I'm talking about deep conversation about the struggles of walking through this life with Christ. What if we couldn't be real about our trials and difficulties? What if there were not other faithful brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we could share honestly? Of course, we would still go to the Lord with our trials, and he would be faithful to hear us, but there is just something about another human being in the room that is...well, it's just different.

When I have coffee with a girlfriend and tell her how I am struggling with life, I can see in her countenance that she understands and relates to what I am saying. As we confess our shortcomings to one  another, our common struggle strengthens us both as we point each other to the Lord and His word.

When my husband and I have dinner with other couples, we can share the trials and joys of marriage and life as a couple. We can encourage one another in our relationships, parenting, and work situations. We can help each other think through difficult decisions, and pray together for wisdom.

When our fellowship group gets together, we can hash out the tough points of the sermon, share understanding about theology, and encourage one another by sharing what we've read in our Bibles that week.

Today, I am just so thankful that God has put believers into His body, to build one another up. I am encouraged by His grace in doing this, and so grateful for His providence. How about you? I hope you'll share something in the comments about your Christian fellowship habits. Let's encourage one another today!