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.


Friday, October 3, 2014

But What Will They Think of Me?


Do you ever get concerned, as you live day to day with your pain or disability, about what people may think of you when you can’t do the things they can do? Maybe you have family members who have unrealistic expectations of the things you can all do together. Maybe you have a coworker who is resentful because he or she sometimes has to take up the slack for you, or put in more hours than you. Perhaps no one has said anything to you, but in your own mind you worry about what they think of you. Do they think I’m being wimpy? Are they whispering about how needy I am, or that I should toughen up?

If you’ve dealt with a chronic physical problem for any length of time, and you’re honest, you will admit that these things have crossed your mind. So, what are we to do when these worries plague us, or we feel bad because of them? Well, I think the first thing we need to do is really examine ourselves. Ask yourself: Could I indeed do more than I am doing? Am I using my condition as an excuse to be lazy? Am I seeking attention or special treatment? Do I just want to get out of my responsibilities, or is my need legitimate? Be honest. The Lord knows your weakness, and He is ready to forgive. If you have needlessly and selfishly burdened someone, you must confess, repent, and change. 

But if, after careful self-examination (and maybe even a chat with an accountability partner), you find that you have not sinned in this area, then you must deal with your fear of man. What the world calls peer pressure, low self-confidence, and people-pleasing, the Bible calls fear of man. God’s Word has much to say about this subject. Proverbs 29:25 in the New Living Translation says, “Fear of people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the LORD means safety.” The way this is worded tells me that these things—fearing people and trusting the LORD—are opposites. If I am concerned about what people think of me, I will become consumed with trying to please them, and I will lose sight of the purpose for which I was created. Isaiah 43:7 tells me that I was created to glorify God. How can I do that if I’m seeking to please people?
So, how do we get past these fears as we try to make decisions about whether to commit to things we’re not certain we can do, or whether to bow out of a commitment on a really bad day? The first step is to pray. Ask the Lord for wisdom and guidance as you work through your decision. Ask Him to restrain you from fear of man in the situation, and to help you think clearly, just about the situation, not the response of the people involved. Ask Him to show you how you can best glorify Him in it.

If, after prayerful consideration, you decide that you are not able to do what’s being asked of you, then you must be honest. Going and doing it anyway may cause a setback that could require a longer period of rest down the road. Do you know your limits? Then you must respect them, regardless of what others may think. Remember to ask yourself who put the limits in place. It is God who has ordained your pain or disability, for your good and His glory. Why should you continue to press on beyond the limits He has set? What can man do to you? Psalm 118:6 says, “The LORD is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” Your top priority and main concern must be what God thinks of you. After all, He set the limits of the oceans! Job 38:8-11 says,

“Who kept the sea inside its boundaries as it burst from the womb, and as I clothed it with clouds and wrapped it in thick darkness?
For I locked it behind barred gates, limiting its shores.
I said, ‘This far and no farther will you come.
Here your proud waves must stop!’”

Our God is the setter of all limits, from the greatest ocean to the most disabled individuals. The last line of this passage brings me to my final point. Is it your pride that makes you want to push your limits beyond what you know you can handle? This is tied in with fear of man too, but pride has its own ugly head that it likes to raise in these situations. Our pride can make us want to do as much as others who are more physically able than we are. It makes us embarrassed to have to say, “No, I can’t do that.” We are ashamed of our weakness, and we don’t want to admit it. But we must remember once again, when these feelings come on, that it is God who set the limits, not these individuals. What God has deemed perfect for us has nothing to do with anyone else. Each of us is accountable to God for our choices. Romans 14:4 says to those who may judge us:

“Who are you to condemn someone else's servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord's help, they will stand and receive His approval.”

If we are doing our best, and are sincerely able to work and do only within the limits that God has set for us, we can be free of condemnation, embarrassment, or shame. We may have to wrestle with our submission to the limits God has placed on us, but when we get to that point of joyful obedience and willingness to embrace our condition, God will bring us through it in triumph.

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.—2 Corinthians 2:14