Friday, March 27, 2015


There’s a song on the radio that I really like. It’s not a Christian song, or even really a very meaningful one on the surface. It’s peppy and upbeat, and to be honest, it lightens my mood when I hear it. It’s called “Happy,” and as I listened to it the other day, I was thinking of my own happiness (or lack thereof) and the reasons for it. I began to muse on why I’m happy, and also on why there are times when I’m not. Let me share with you some of the lyrics to this song: 

Here come bad news talking this and that,
Well, give me all you got, and don't hold it back,
Well, I should probably warn you I'll be just fine,
No offense to you, don't waste your time
Here's why
Because I'm happy…
Now let me say right up front, that I don't believe in putting on a happy face and faking it. There are times when we should express our sadness. The death of a loved one, and other times of serious loss or heartache will certainly take us down for a time. I would never encourage anyone to fake it when they are grieving or experiencing traumatic circumstances. With those exceptions though, Christians should be some of the happiest people on earth. Regardless of tough days or difficult circumstances, we should be happy because we have Christ. We have eternity to look forward to! We have the love of Christ in our hearts, and the blessed assurance that Jesus is ours forever. Psalm 32:1 says,
“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” 

Would you say that blessed people are happy people? It seems logical, doesn't it? But maybe you’re thinking the same thing I was thinking as I mused over this: If this is the case, then why are there so many unhappy Christians? Why am I, a professing Christian, so often unhappy? After meditating on Psalm 32 for a while, I have come to a couple of conclusions. First, and I'll speak for myself here, I don't confess my sins. 
"When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer (vs. 3&4)."

Unconfessed sin can certainly dry up our vitality and make us unhappy. Much of the sin in my heart is related to my response to my physical pain. My default response seems to be self-pity. I’m not saying I indulge or feed those feelings 100% of the time. I am saying that, when something hurts, I automatically feel sorry for myself. I don't always speak and act out of those feelings, but I do feel them. What I ought to do is go immediately to the Lord in prayer, confessing the sins of self-focus, ingratitude, discontentment and all the other building blocks of self-pity. I am getting better at this, and I hope you are, too. You and I must train our minds to use the pain as a cue to pray, and to receive His forgiveness and help. 
Second, I often fail to put my thoughts through the filter of Scripture. Philippians 4:8 gives us just the right tool for judging whether our thoughts will lead us to a happy place:
“Finally brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” 
Most of my thoughts don’t get past the first word in that filter, true. My fearful thoughts of the future are not true. Only God knows how the rest of my days will play out. My hopeless thoughts are not true: My hope is in Christ, not my circumstances, so I always have hope. My “I can't” thoughts are not true, either: I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me (v. 13). Once I see that my thoughts don't pass the test of truth, it's pretty clear that they don't pass the rest of the standards for what I should think on, either. It is vital that you and I learn to think biblically about our circumstances. If we don't, we will never be happy in Christ.

The artist who sings this song says that happiness is the truth, and I agree! Happiness is the truth of the Gospel. Happiness comes when we line up our thinking with that truth—when we believe that our trials are, as Paul says, light and momentary, and that their purpose is to prepare for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:16-17)! Do you believe this, my friend? Are you a happy Christian? If not, I hope you will take the time to pray, meditate on some of the Scriptures I've mentioned, and really examine your heart in this area.

Here’s a link to the song
 on YouTube. Clap along if you know what happiness is to you!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Givers And Takers

The Lord has arranged a couple of very interesting, and highly contrasting circumstances for me over the last couple of days. Both involved encounters with believing friends, and both revealed to me something about these individuals, about myself, and most importantly, about God.

The first was a coffee date with a friend who is going through a very difficult time. As she shared her struggles with me, it was very clear that she loves the Lord and wants to please Him with her response to the trial He has brought to her. As our conversation progressed, I noticed that she asked me questions about my own life, and was interested in the answers. I had invited her out so that I could encourage her in her trial, but I left feeling very encouraged in my own walk. I was amazed at her other-centeredness and her sensitivity, even in the midst of what must be one of the hardest things she’s ever been through.

The second encounter was at the library this morning. I was studying and doing some research when a lady I’d become acquainted with on other library visits showed up. I had gotten to know her a bit, and we had become friends after discovering that we are both believers. She struggles with sin, as we all do, and I have offered her counsel on several occasions. This relationship is quite one-sided. She usually does most of the talking, and it is usually about her problems. Our last couple of conversations had been completely centered on her and a particular problem she was having. I had not seen her for a while when she showed up at the library today.

My first thought was selfish. I did not want to stop my research and talk (or more likely listen) to this woman. As expected, she sat down at my table and immediately began to tell me the status of her current problem. I politely let her know that I was almost finished with my work, and would be happy to talk with her in a few minutes. She tried to cooperate, but it was just too hard, and after a minute or so, she began to talk, wanting to tell me “just one thing, real quick.” You can imagine how it went from there. Suffice it to say, my productivity ended at that point, and I learned more about the details of the last week or so of her life than I really wanted to know. Finally, it was time to go, and she was still talking as I gathered my belongings to leave.

Now, my point in sharing this with you is not to glorify the woman in the first story, nor to criticize the one in the second. My point is for you to see the difference between these two believing women: The first is focused on God, her responsibilities to Him, and the needs of others. The second is focused on herself, her own problems, and her needs.

These ladies sit at the two ends of the spectrum of fellowship in the Body of Christ: The givers and the takers. Friend, my question for you today is, where are you on this spectrum? Those of us who suffer with chronic pain and disability often find ourselves in the needy chair. If our physical problem is permanent, there is a danger of becoming attached to that chair. But we need to be careful that we are becoming more like my coffee friend, and less like my library friend. It is easy to become needy, self-centered, and forgetful of others when we are suffering. We must guard against this tendency, and check ourselves often. When was the last time you reached out to someone who was suffering? Can you recall the last conversation in which your physical issues did not come up, or you changed the subject from yourself to the other person?

Pray, and ask the Lord to reveal to you whether you are a giver or a taker, regardless of your physical problems. If you find yourself convicted of creeping toward the library of self-focus, ask the Lord to help you check out of there! If you examine yourself and find you are a giver and an encourager, invite a suffering sister (maybe from the library?), to taste and see the Lord’s goodness with you.

 I’m so glad the Lord provided both of these encounters for me. The sharp contrast revealed something about my own heart, and gave me inspiration to work hard at becoming more like Him in my relationships and thoughts of others. While I want to be more like the first friend and less like the second, I know that my true goal is to be more like Christ. As you think on my challenge, meditate on Philippians 2:1-11.

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus...”

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Embracing The Thorn

“You’re just going to have to accept it!”

This was the last sentence of a recent conversation I had with myself about the ever-present pain and dysfunction that has become a part of my life. Believe it or not, after 5 years of ups and downs on this yoyo of health issues, I still struggle to accept the fact that, unless God chooses to heal me, I will deal with pain and problems, difficulty and expense related to it, for the rest of my life.

The physical issues have been tough, but the spiritual issues are on a whole other plane of struggle. The physical pain pales in comparison to the emotional and spiritual struggle that has ensued. Wrestling and fighting against my flesh, to trust the God who allowed this, has been the hardest thing I have had to do as a believer. Yet, the Lord has been so patient and so strong, sustaining me through it all. I love Him, and I know that He loves me. But oh, how I long for healing!

I believe that this is a struggle I will have for the rest of my life. I will not give up hoping for improvement, and I will never stop trying new things. I don’t think trying to get better tells the world I haven’t “accepted what God has for me,” as some have suggested. I believe the Lord has given me a brain and discernment, and if He puts something in front of me that could help, I will get wise counsel about it and consider it. But, while I won’t stop trying to get better, I must learn to keep my heart from sinful focus on the pain and the ways that it limits me.

So my question today is, how do I get to the place where I am content and satisfied in Christ, even as I am suffering and working to improve my current circumstances? How do I move on from my mental whining and complaining, and gain peace and whatever measure of happiness a believer in this world can have, while at the same time refusing to give up on healing? I believe the answer can be summed up in one word: Gratitude. As a believer, I’m sure that you are thankful for the many mercies the Lord has shown you in your pain and suffering: medicines that help with pain, a soft bed, comfortable shoes, a dear friend—there are thousands of provisions the Lord has made for you as you have struggled with your health problem.

But I’d like you to consider being thankful for something else. I want you to be thankful for your suffering. Grateful for your pain, your problems, your sickness. If this is the first time you've received this challenge, you might think it is one that is impossible to meet. Be thankful for the thing that has ruined my life? Grateful for the condition that has forever changed me, my family and my future? Can I really thank God for something, and pray that He would take it away, at the same time? Wouldn’t it seem insincere to thank the Lord for my pain, and ask Him to heal it at the same time?

As I pondered this prospect, I discovered that I could indeed be thankful for my pain, even as I begged the Lord to take it from me. How did I do that? By meditating on the mercy of God. Would you believe that I discovered that God was merciful in allowing my suffering? He provided that suffering for a number of purposes, I’m sure, but the one that is most evident to me is the way it has drawn me to Him. As I have gone through these past 5 years of ups and downs, one thing has been constant: The Lord has been with me. Psalm 32:8 promises the Lord’s guidance, and I have not been disappointed. He has led me through many peaks and valleys, and because of that, I have grown to trust Him more. Though attempts to strengthen physical muscles have been futile, I am stronger spiritually than I have ever been in my life.

There have been many days when I felt that I could not go on, yet He was there, urging me along through His Word, even giving me the desire to read it in the first place! I am a better, stronger Christian today because of this thorn in my flesh. And though I have asked Him many more than three times to remove it, His reply is always the same: “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9). So far, that has proven to be a trustworthy promise. By His grace, I am still walking today. By His grace, I have many undeserved comforts in my pain; many human representatives of Christ to encourage me; and a rich history of His faithfulness, just in my own life, just in these past 5 years; not to mention the entire Bible full of evidence and documentation of that same faithfulness.

Because of His mercy, I was afflicted. He knew exactly what it would take to make me the person He wants me to be. So, I will thank Him for this bittersweet provision. Though I would not have chosen this particular affliction, I see now that it has been, and continues to be, the perfect tool for breaking down my pride and my self-reliance. It has humbled me, and I’m sure it will continue to do so. I am not the same person I was before all this happened, and I must tell you today, I’m glad: Glad to know that I am not entitled to perfect health, or even my next breath. Glad to see that it really is true that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, even as He shows me my weakness. As Job 5:17 and 18 so clearly states,

“…blessed is the man whom God corrects,
so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.
For he wounds, but he also bandages;
he strikes, but his hands also heal.

While I don’t believe that my physical pain was directly brought on by my sin or anyone else’s, I do believe the Lord uses it to correct many sinful heart attitudes, and I am thankful for that correction. I have a big, ugly scar from the surgery that was the start of all these physical problems. That scar will be there for the rest of my life. It could be a sad reminder of that fateful, life-changing day. But I choose to let it represent the wound of mercy that my creator granted me, so that I could glorify Him, fulfilling the purpose  for which I was created. By His mercy He has wounded me, and by His mercy He will heal my sinful heart through those wounds.

So, how do I answer that statement at the beginning of this post? Must I accept this affliction? No. Much more than that, I  must embrace it as God’s perfect tool to mold and shape me into the believer He wants me to be. I am far from perfect, but because of His mercy that brought this thorn, I am more like Him than I was before it came. Oh my friend, won’t you consider the mercy and love of God in your physical pain, and begin to thank Him for His work in you? I hope that you will say with me, Hallelujah! What a mercy! What a Savior!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Strength Made Perfect

We are coming up on the time of year when, at least in my area, the weather is beautiful. The trees begin to bud, the grass becomes green again, and the sun shines at last, warming up our dark, cold winter world. When spring comes, it means that winter has passed. We have survived the long months of cold and snow, and are now to be rewarded with warmth, sunshine and flowers. 
As I wrote a few weeks ago, this time of year is especially difficult for me, and maybe for you too, if you suffer with chronic pain. In that recent article, I wrote about the importance of preparing for these seasons of difficulty. But, no matter how prepared we are, we are still made of flesh, and feelings of sadness can still overtake us. This is where I found myself today.
After spending a few days away from home at a conference, I was very tired. All the regular pains were flared up, along with a few other aches and issues from sleeping in a different bed, diet changes, and all the other things that go along with being away from home. All this made me somewhat weak in fighting the feelings that came upon me Monday morning as my friend shared about her weekend. “We got lots of yard work done. It felt great to have the yard looking so good.” The right response to that would go something like this: “Good for you! That is a great feeling to be all caught up, isn't it?” My heart response: “Yeah, my yard is a mess, but I can’t do anything about it. I am jealous of your physical strength and health, and I don’t understand why I have to be in this condition while you carry on doing everything without physical pain, and you’re older than I am!”
Another friend couldn't wait to tell me about all the fun she had with her grand kids, walking the trails and playing at the playground. The right response? To be happy for her, of course, and glad that she is making such wonderful memories, both for herself and for them. I mustered up an appropriate response, but in my heart, I felt jealousy and bitterness. I don’t have grandchildren yet, but one of my greatest fears is that, by the time they come, I will not be able to play with them in the ways my friend described. In my mind, I have already been cheated out of that experience, and my own children are not even married yet!
What has happened here? This is not my typical thinking any more, and hasn’t been for a long time. I have worked hard at training my thoughts to feed biblical fuel to my emotions. I am usually very quick to snatch those thoughts that are circling the drain, out of the whirlpool before it’s too late. But today, I was too slow. I allowed those old thinking patterns to have the rule over my mind, instead of what I know are the right, biblical, God-honoring thoughts. Why did I do this? Do I enjoy feeling sad, or do I long for despair? Did I just need a good cry to “vent out” all my feelings? How did I get here?
As I pondered these questions, 2 Corinthians 12:9 came to my mind:
“Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness...’”

That last word echoed in my mind and heart. Weakness. Vulnerability. I recognized myself in that moment. I had become so tired, both physically and emotionally, that I’d let my guard down. Now I was thinking I shouldn’t be a counselor, and maybe I’m not even really a Christian. How can I ever counsel anyone when I am so quick to give in to despair and hopelessness? How can I be a Christian if all it takes is one weekend away from home to make me forget the goodness and love of God?

In that moment, I realized that it is just that—the goodness and love of God—that was making me aware of the nature of my thoughts. Had the Spirit of God not intervened, I would have continued to spiral downward in my thinking, and I certainly wouldn't be writing this post right now. This is why and how His grace is sufficient: It is sufficient to sustain my faith through any kind or amount of pain, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual. It is sufficient to keep me serving Him in whatever He calls me to do. And it is sufficient to bring my thinking back into line with His.
So what does His strength being made perfect look like, from a practical standpoint? Does it mean that I will never give in to feelings of sadness or despair? Does it mean He will enable me to fake a loving response to my friends when they tell of how they are enjoying their health? No, I don’t think so. I think it looks like the goodness and love of God coming to me at just the right time: When I’m tired, when I’m weak, when pain levels are up; when I cannot depend on myself and my own strength to bail me out of the deep waters of sadness; when I can’t snatch my own thoughts out of the circling vortex of despair, He Himself will swoop down in His strength and catch them and me.  

I often depend on the Amplified bible to clarify the application of Scripture, and once again, it does not disappoint with this verse. Here’s how it goes:

“But He said to me, My grace (My favor and loving-kindness and mercy) is enough for you [sufficient against any danger and enables you to bear the trouble manfully]; for My strength and power are made perfect (fulfilled and completed) and show themselves most effective in [your] weakness. Therefore, I will all the more gladly glory in my weaknesses and infirmities, that the strength and power of Christ (the Messiah) may rest (yes, may pitch a tent over and dwell) upon me!”
I want to draw your attention especially to that last line. In my weakness, the strength and power of Christ will pitch a tent over me and dwell upon me! What a glorious picture of our Lord’s grace! Though we are weak, exposed, and vulnerable, the Lord brings down his protective “tent” and dwells with us in it, strengthening us and bringing us into His rest. Here, He reminds us through His Word that we are not alone in our pain and weariness.
My dear friend, are you tired today? Weary of pain and weakness? Don't fret about it, and don't let it cause you to doubt whether you are useful the Lord. Remember this passage. Crawl into your “tent” with the Lord and His Word, and let Him show you the sufficiency of His grace in your weakness. Stay there until you are strengthened. And when you are once again full of His grace, love and power, go find a tired sister and invite her to your campground. You will see that you are able to do all that He calls you to do; that His grace is indeed sufficient; and that your weakness has a purpose: To make His strength perfect, and to show His love and goodness to others, not in spite of your weakness, but because of it. Hallelujah! What a Rescue! What a Savior!