Tuesday, May 31, 2016

New Every Morning

If you suffer with a chronically painful condition, you are probably familiar with this routine: The alarm goes off, you instinctively begin to move and stretch, but then are stopped short by pain, either in a muscle or a joint, and you are once again reminded of whatever painful condition you are dealing with. Now fully awake, you gingerly move those painful joints and muscles until you can get your feet onto the floor and make your way to the bathroom or the coffee pot, or whatever your first task of the day may be. Once you get moving it’s a little easier, but those first few movements and steps are rough.

Now, this kind of painful daily wake-up call can be looked at in a couple of different ways. When I first began dealing with it, it really got my day off to a bad start. “Here we go,” I would say to myself. “I don’t even get to have one minute’s break from the pain. I have to deal with it from the second I open my eyes. Poor me.” That, obviously, is not the biblical response. I knew that it needed to change, so I began to search the Scriptures for something that would address this exact issue for me. It needed to be specific to the morning, and it needed to be full of hope.
God is faithful, and He led me to Lamentations 3:21-23.

This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.

These are the words of the profit Jeremiah, as he suffered in exile with the people of God. I strongly recommend that you read the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations, if you haven’t done so lately, so that you can understand the depth of the grief that Jeremiah was feeling. Though I am certain that he was suffering some physical pain when he wrote this, the majority of his grief was brought on by the disobedience of the people to God’s Word.  Yet, even though he knew he was writing about a stubborn and rebellious people who were being judged by the great and powerful Creator God, he still writes beautifully about God’s compassion and mercy toward that same rebellious people!

Now, as I think back to my “poor me” wake-up call, I realize that I was just as stubborn and rebellious as the Israelites. I believed that I was entitled to have a few pain free moments—at least long enough to get my mind awake and ready to deal with the pain all day. So, what was I recalling to mind in that moment? My perceived rights, focus on self, and rebellion against God’s plan to make me more like Himself are a few things that come to mind. What should I have been recalling to my mind? God’s mercy, compassion and faithfulness. I needed heart change in this area!

So, what does this process of heart change look like in practical terms? Well, for a while I had Lamentations 3:21-23 on a 3x5 card next to my bed, so I would read it before I fell asleep, and it would be one of the first things I saw in the morning. After a time, my mind had been trained to think of this verse each evening and morning, so it became easier to get my focus off the pain and onto the Lord. Now, when I wake up in the morning, I begin my day with the assurance of this passage, along with a prayer of thanksgiving to God, for giving this rebellious heart new mercies every morning.

Though certain joints are very stiff and painful to move when I first wake up, that pain has a different effect on my heart these days. Now, instead of that pain acting as a cue to self-pity or complaining, it is a cue to remember God’s mercies, and remind myself that the morning stiffness and pain come right alongside the compassion and mercies that God has provided for me to deal with them biblically. First Corinthians 10:13 says that the way of escape from sinful temptation comes with that very temptation! For me, this passage of Scripture is my way of escape from temptation to feel sorry for myself when my alarm goes off each day.

How about you, my suffering friend? Have you thanked God for His faithfulness and mercy lately? If not, I’d like to challenge you to do so tomorrow morning. Tomorrow, when your alarm goes off, or your children wake you up, or the sunrise interrupts your slumber, even if your first movements bring pain, remember that, with the pain, God’s mercies are new. He is faithful, and will provide that escape from self-pity or despair. Great is His faithfulness. Hallelujah! What an awakening! What a Savior!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Responsibly Dependent

Dear Readers,
This is a previously posted article that garnered a good deal of positive response. I hope you will find it encouraging today!

“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!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Christ Is My Life?

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)

I have been pondering this verse lately, rolling around in my mind what it might mean, and what the application might be for those of us who suffer with ongoing physical pain or disability. From our perspective, the second half of this is kind of a no-brainer. Of course, we would gain much if we died. While our loved ones might grieve, we would gain relief from our pain, a return to a fully functional, perfect body, and eternal fellowship with the Lord. What greater gain could there be?

But the first half of the verse is the puzzler. To live is Christ? There are several other verses that speak of Christ being our life. Colossians 3:3-4 says,

For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

This says that Christ is our life. What does it mean that Christ is our life? Well, it means that He is ruler of our life, and our sustainer. Ideally, it means that He is at the center of our hearts, and that our thoughts, beliefs, and desires are under His command. Our sin nature, our fleshly desires, and our inability to overcome these things are no longer in control of our hearts. Christ is.

Or how about Galatians 2:20:

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

This one sheds a little more light on the subject. We live this new life by the faith that He supplies to us, because of His loving sacrifice. Christ has chosen this broken body to dwell in. Because He lives in me, my heart is transformed and new, so I can resist the temptation to complain or dwell on my pain. Clearly, having Christ in me gives me a choice as to how I respond: I can respond according to my old nature, or according to Christ. Not only do I have a choice, but I have the ability to make the right one (1Corinthians 10:13; 2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

Ok, so my life is Christ, and I live it by the faith He supplies. So what? How does this help me with my pain? Well, Colossians 1:27 wraps up the principle here:

To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Christ in me is the hope of glory! When I choose to obey the Spirit rather than the flesh, I present the hope of glory to a watching world. When I choose to obey Christ, my hope is built up, and my heart is encouraged, because I know that I’m not capable of doing so in my flesh. This is confirmation for me that He is living in me, working in me, and preparing me for that glorious day when I will meet Him face to face! As I respond rightly to my pain or suffering, I am reassured of the hope that I have, and others who are watching are encouraged, too!

To live is Christ, my dear sisters. Please share in the comments how you are living differently because Christ is in you, and because you are living by faith in Him. Let’s encourage one another!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Come, Weary Saints

My grandma was an amazing lady. I spent a week with her several summers in a row, and it was always a learning experience. She was born and raised in what she called the “hillbilly holler” of southern Missouri. I don’t know a lot about her childhood, but I’m pretty sure she grew up without much in the way of material things, and I got the impression that her life was pretty difficult. She thought nothing of wringing a chicken’s neck or skinning a squirrel (yes, we ate squirrel), and she worked very hard in her garden, and at canning its produce. The coolest thing about my grandma was that she could cut a wasp in half with her sewing scissors, mid-flight! I’m not kidding, I saw her do it more than once.

Grandma was tough. I always admired her strength and endurance, but every now and then, she would sit down beside me on the porch swing and say, “Suzy, I am bone weary.” I didn’t really understand what she meant back then, being nine or ten years old and unfamiliar with such weariness. But, as this life goes on, I hear her voice in my head pretty often, as I now understand what it means to be bone weary. Do you?

We who suffer with chronic pain know at least as well as anyone else what weariness is. Sometimes, we begin the day already weary, from a night of tossing and turning, trying to ease aching joints or the pain of disease. Being weary is different from being tired, though. Sometimes, being tired can mean a day well spent doing the work of life, having a sense of productivity or accomplishment. Weariness, though, has an element of emotion. Weariness is more than tired. It is tired and drained. Tired and worn. Tired and weak. Weariness is spiritual.

There is a beautiful song that I often sing to myself, called Hide Away in the Love of Jesus. Here are a few of the words:
Come, weary saints, though tired and weak
Hide away in the love of Jesus
Your strength will return by His quiet streams
Hide away in the love of Jesus

I love these lyrics! Weary saints don’t get their strength back by sleep or physical rest alone, as much as we do just by being near to Him. While sleep is good and necessary for those who are tired, weary ones need those quiet streams: To get off alone with the Lord, to hide away in His love.

Come, wandering souls, and find your home
Hide away in the love of Jesus
He offers the rest that you yearn to know
Hide away in the love of Jesus

Like it or not, we are prone to wander. When pain is intense and the pressures of life threaten to overwhelm us, we may be tempted to drift from the Lord, disappointed in what seems to be unanswered prayers for relief. This beautiful lyric invites us to return to the Lord, finding our home once again in Him. He knows our yearning for rest, and He wants to satisfy it with His love.

Hear Him calling your name
See the depths of His love
In the wounds of His grace
Hide away

Just as He called you at the moment of your salvation, He is calling you now in your weariness, dear reader. He loves you with an everlasting love, and He calls you His own. Just as my dear grandmother used to call me back home when I had wandered too far down her gravel road, our Lord calls us back to His side, and reminds us once again of the depth of His love, and of the price He paid for our weary soul. So come, hide away in His love, and rest. Your weariness will be turned to worship, and your wandering to rest. Hallelujah! What a Renewer! What a Savior!

Monday, May 2, 2016


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about submission, particularly in the area of submitting to God’s will for me in the pain that I experience. As you and I wrestle with pain as believers, our desire (ideally) is to be submitted to God’s will for us. We pray for a heart that is submitted to His perfect plan for our lives, and we long to have peace about that plan. Some days, even sometimes for weeks or months at a time, we experience that sense of peace, and believe that we have “finally” submitted our will to His, and can move past the sorrow and grief over what has become our lives.

But then, as it happened for me this week, something new or different comes up. Our pain increases or our disease progresses, and the increased suffering refreshes the grief, and makes us wonder if we were ever really submitted at all. Perhaps that was a false peace that was produced, merely by getting used to the pain or having some sense of control over it. I am back in physical therapy, trying to overcome the regression in my condition since the last round of PT. Scar tissue has thickened, and my knee has stiffened considerably since the last time I was in therapy. The practitioner is working hard to get me back to a more functional range of motion, but the process is extremely painful and I have been struggling with contentment and submission these last few weeks.

This morning, I talked with a friend about my frustration: “Why do I still get such a deep sense of grief and sadness about this physical situation? When will I ever finally make peace with God about it, being totally submitted to Him in the circumstance? At this point, I am almost more frustrated about what seems to be an unwillingness to submit my heart to His will for me, than I am about the pain and dysfunction of the leg!”

My friend asked me some very good questions, which had me thinking and wrestling for the rest of the day with this: What does submission look like? Is it walking around all the time with a big smile on my face, never feeling sad about the losses I’ve experienced because of this pain? Does it mean that I would never revisit the grief of knowing that things could have been different “if only” I had known in the early days after that surgery, what I know now? Does it mean that, when these things do come up, I can bounce back in ten minutes or less? I believe the answer to all of these questions is no.

I do not believe that the Lord expects us to turn some kind of spiritual corner, after which we never feel sad about our loss again. Paul asked the Lord three times to remove the thorn in his side. Some believe this thorn was a physical problem, while others say it was persecution. Regardless, Paul clearly desired to be rid of it. I don’t believe he asked only three times, either. Maybe up to the point of that writing he had only asked three times, but there’s nothing that says he never asked again, or that he never grieved over that particular thing again. Even a cursory look at the Psalms confirms that committed followers of God ache, grieve, and cry over their pain. Our dear Savior Himself also grieved much. He lamented over Israel; wept over the death of Lazarus; and cried out to God in the Garden of Gethsemane, that he might be excused from His ultimate suffering.

So, if the evidence of submission is not a complete forgetting and never feeling sad again, then how are we to know whether or not we are submitted to God in our pain? As I have pondered this, the Lord has brought to my mind three questions that might help us sort through the many emotions and responses that our pain produces, and figure out if we are submitted sufferers or recalcitrant rebels:

1. Do you desire contentment in pain, and do you long to be fully submitted to God’s will, or is there a part of you that is still nursing resentment toward God about your situation? You will need the Lord’s help to discern the thoughts and intents of your heart, because it is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). If you’re not sure, commit yourself to prayer, asking the Lord to reveal to you the truth about your heart. He is faithful, and will do it.

2. Where are you taking your feelings of frustration and sorrow? Are you complaining to friends and snapping at family, or are you crying out to the Lord for His help and comfort? Again, examine your life lately. Think about your relationships. If you’re not sure, ask your friends and family what they are experiencing as they relate with you. Give them permission to be honest, and ask the Lord to prepare you to humbly receive their answers.

3. Have feelings of hopelessness begun to creep into your heart? This is a sure sign of two things: Your focus has shifted from Christ to your pain, and you have planted your hope in physical healing instead of in Christ. Colossians 3 tells us to think on things above, not on things of the earth. I believe that God inspired Paul to write this passage because He knew that we would be tempted in exactly this way. There is nothing like a painful condition to tempt us to fix our minds on earthly things, and if we are consumed with our pain, then we are not submitted in it.

I’m sure there are other heart tests to diagnose whether or not we are submitted to God, but the bottom line is this: Even if we are fully submitted to God’s will for our lives, we are still frail, human creatures with weaknesses of which our Creator is fully aware. His expectation of us is simply that we look to Him in our pain, and trust Him in the process. He does not require plastic smiles, emotionless suffering, or complete self-forgetfulness. He wants us to want to submit to Him in all of our circumstances, both happy and otherwise. The good news is that even that desire to submit is a gift from Him, not something that we can muster up on our own.

So, take heart, my dear sister. Even if our little submission test today has revealed sin issues, remember that it is God who grants repentance and hope. Take your pain, your sorrow, and your grief to the Lord in prayer. Never hesitate to beg and plead for healing, but if physical healing doesn’t come, never doubt that He can heal your heart, soften your stubborn will, and bring you into joyful submission to His plan. 

But remember, joyful submission may look like tears, sadness, and sorrow at times. Get rid of the misconception that, once you are submitted, you will never cry over your loss again, and embrace the truth that you are human, with feelings and emotions that will sometimes spill over when pain brings them to the tipping point. And when that happens, trust the Lord to collect those tears in His bottle, and to offer you the comfort and love of His gracious heart. Hallelujah! What a Comforter! What a Savior!