Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Hope In the New Year

Happy New Year, Friend!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 19, 2014

Good Medicine

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 18, 2014

It’s Beginning to Feel a Lot Like Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Deeper Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 8, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

Yet he says, in Philippians 4,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 1, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hallelujah! What a Hope! What a Savior!