Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Week Thirty-Five - Hang In There

When my youngest son was in school, he participated in the annual Christmas play.  This was not your traditional Nativity, but one based around the children acting out a variety of nursery rhymes.  His group sang Three Little Devils.  Do you know that one?  “Three little devils, All dressed in red, Trying to get to heaven on the end of a thread….”  It had nothing to do with Christmas, and I was almost offended that they chose the preacher’s kid to be a devil.
   Many of us know how that little devil felt.  We, too, feel like we are hanging on by a thread.  Life is hard, challenging, and full of uncertainty.  It leaves us feeling like we might lose our grip as the whole thing implodes.  I know I have felt like that.  The housework, the demands of parenting, the trying to keep up of appearances, dealing with the spouse, ministry pressures, and trying to convince myself I am a valid person without letting others know I am hanging on by a thread is overwhelming.
    I found myself looking for help in any place I could find.  I’d read self-help books, gave myself a good talking to, took long walks, cried, hid in my room, blasted out in anger, became more demanding, even tried to run away, but none of that helped for very long.  It only created more problems and increased the guilt in my heart.
   I have only found one thing that kept me hanging on. Kandi Gallaty, in her book Disciple Her, states, “In a world in flux, it (God’s Word) is our one constant for direction, guidance, encouragement, motivation, inspiration, confrontation, conviction, and remembrance.  In John 8:31-32, Jesus said something interesting…He used the word continue, which means to remain, abide, to keep being present.  (“If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed.  And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”) It is an ongoing relationship, not a momentary one.  By continuing, you will know the truth, and that truth will set you free.  It will deliver you and liberate you.  I like to rhyme when I can, so I tell women I disciple, ‘In order to survive and thrive, you need to abide.’  We need to be grounded and rooted in the word of God.” (p 11)
   As I copied out her quote, I remembered a discussion I had with a dear friend about finding answers to the lies Satan whispers.  You know what they are.  They are the ones we hear when we are frantically trying to hang on—you’re not good enough.  Others are better than you.  You’ll never be a good enough parent, spouse, co-worker, etc.  As we talked about how to continue growing spiritually under pressure, we agreed that God teaches us as we keep our walk close to Him making His word a priority and using it to strengthen our grip.
     It is scripture that brings release from mental oppression as God’s truth clears the cobwebs.  Scripture’s light, shining in the dark places of our minds and hearts, gives guidance and direction.  Each time we take an honest look into the word, we find truth to break the bonds of Satan’s lies, experience grace, and increase our strength to hang in there a little longer.
     As a fellow traveler, let me assure you this idea of continuing in God’s word is a major secret to life’s success.  Only by continuing to hang in there will you be able to look back and see the hand of God in your life.  Only by a tight grasp of the word will you navigate the complexities of life and come out with a good reward.  When you are in the midst of grief, fear, worry, or whatever dart the enemy hurls at you, God’s word is your surest defense. So, keep your sword close and learn to wield it effectively, even if you can only use one hand!
    Let me give you one more way to look at this thread.  Remember the story of the prostitute, Rahab?  She hung a scarlet cord out her window as a memento of protection from the advancing Israeli army. Her life was literally hanging by a thread.  But what a secure thread!  It was the promise of God’s protection over her and her family. 
    We also have a part in that scarlet thread through the shed blood of Christ, the promises of God, and eternal salvation, so grab hold and hang on! 

Psalm 27:13, 14 is a favorite scripture that keeps me hanging on!
I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Week 34 - Creative Pain

Psalm 126:5 – “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.”

One dear friend suffers from constant physical pain.  Another knows the pain of broken relationships, while another is experiencing the pain of seeing her daughter facing serious health issues.  I am currently walking the painful journey of sorrow after the passing of my father.  So, when I read Dr. Owen’s article on Creative Pain, it struck on many chords.  If you are in a painful situation, my prayer is that these thoughts will help to lift a portion of your burden.  Dr. Owen writes:

    Pain manifests itself in so many ways, and in my day-to-day practice as a doctor, it is a frequent challenge for my patients. Pain can be difficult to treat – the nature of it can be elusive and resistant to medication. Sometimes the source of pain cannot be found. Does that lessen the pain the patient feels? Absolutely not. But it demonstrates that pain is not purely a physical phenomenon – it can be a psychological and spiritual entity. It can be the result of pent-up emotion; a physical hurt resulting from mental anguish.
    I remember attending a lecture prior to studying medicine. It was part of a course for A-level students who were interested in pursuing a medical career. One of the physicians boldly announced, ‘Pain is a good thing!’ As someone well acquainted with surgery and chronic pain, I initially scoffed at this statement. Good?! How can that be?!
    Throughout my life so far as a patient, as a doctor, and as a Christian, I have come to learn that he was right. Pain is not a bad thing. By all reasoning then, we should acknowledge that pain is good.

Pain has a purpose

C.S Lewis wrote his much-quoted book ‘The Problem of Pain’ on exactly this subject. As Christians, we struggle to marry up the physical and emotional pain we experience here on earth with the image of a good and loving heavenly Father who seemingly permits it.
Pain becomes a problem; something that separates us from God rather than drawing us closer to Him. We struggle to reconcile the idea that a loving God, who we are told cherishes us dearly, would sit by and watch us endure intense mental, physical, and emotional pain.

    “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” (C.S Lewis – The Problem of Pain)

    Sometimes, God needs to catch our attention because the world is so full of distraction. Does He enjoy watching us suffer? No, I don’t believe so. But does He ultimately want us to seek Him above all else? Absolutely. And if pain causes us to seek Him, to run to Him – is it worth it?
    It is important to make the distinction between God causing us pain in order to draw us closer to Him, and Him using the pain we experience to gather us under His wings. I don’t believe He takes pleasure in seeing His children suffer. Yet, pain is sometimes necessary for our spiritual wellbeing.

Pain is protective

In a physical sense, pain protects from further harm. If you injure your ankle running, you won’t be back out causing further damage by running on a sprained joint.  Pain stops you from doing that.   If you get chest pain when you exercise too much, your heart is saying ‘Stop!’, and you should seek a doctor’s opinion instead of overworking a malfunctioning heart.

    We don’t enjoy it, we don’t seek it out, but pain is sometimes necessary for our physical wellbeing.

Pain is creative

John 16:21 “ A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.”

    Here, we are taught that from anguish and sorrow come life and joy.
    Not only does pain have a purpose, not only is it protective, but it is creative. Our heavenly Father does not stop at drawing us close to Him and protecting us but loves us enough to create life and joy from our heartaches.
    In her beautiful book “Many Sons unto Glory” Eleanor Vellacot Wood writes in detail about the pain and grief she suffered after her only son, Patric, was reported missing during WW2. He never returned home.
    She writes, “What other solution can there be to this problem of pain, but His?
“The sorrow of the world worketh death!” cries St. Paul (2 Corinthians 7:10) Then, by all the law of reversals, the sorrow of the Christian – creative sorrow – worketh Life! So then, death worketh in us. But Life in you” cries St. Paul again (2 Corinthians 5:12). That was Creative Pain.”

    Creative Pain! Pain that has a purpose – pain from which life and joy are born!

    1 Peter 1:7 “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”

    The Christians of the early church looked on their pain and sorrow as something “more precious than gold.”  The scar of their pain and suffering for Christ was something imperishable; the hallmark by which they were recognised. Gold perishes, he said, but this trial of yours will be found unto glory!
    “It is only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ that our pain may become creative. It is only united with Him that our suffering can leap into life” (E. V. Wood).

    Pain and Christianity appear to belong together: Christ's pain stands at the centre of God's healing; his pain leads to the salvation of mankind (Markshies et al).

    This, surely, is the best example of creative pain. Through the pain of Christ, we can be healed. Through the worst suffering – physically, mentally, and spiritually - that anyone has ever endured, we can be forgiven, redeemed, and secure.

    Isaiah 53:5 “ But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities;
the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”

    Rest assured knowing that God loves you and has a purpose for your suffering. That He is using your pain to draw you in closer to Him. That He will bring life and joy from the sorrow you endure. We can be certain of this because pain was at the centre of His plan for us. Through the painful suffering of Christ, we are healed. The scars of your grief, your trials, your pain; give them to God and He will use them to create life and joy.
                                                                                                                                                      Dr. Owen

In my sorrow, God is using Psalm 147:3 “He health the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.”  I see Him at work in my heart and all around me as I walk my path.  He truly is the Great Physician!

If you would like some good reading material on pain, I have benefited from:

Some of you said you were having problems finding the link address to subscribe to the blog.  Here is the link for the subscription page.  I’m not that tech-savvy, so I’m not sure you can link from your phone.  Maybe you can!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Week Thirty-Three - Faded Pictures

person holding square black photo frameThis week’s passing of my father meant the end of a generation.  My sister and I are now the oldest in our family.  It seems so odd.  We haven’t even retired yet.  How can this be?  And with his passing, we lay to rest many memories and portraits of family times on the farm.  To write more seemed too emotional, so Dr. Owen has allowed me to use another of her devotions.  While she isn’t talking about the grief of losing a loved one, she is talking about the grief and crisis we face as we learn to lay aside our hopes and dreams to take up God’s perfect plan. She writes:

2018 has been a year of physical, mental, and spiritual trials. However, looking back, I can see that the darkness was interspersed with slices of heaven piercing the storm clouds and causing me to look upward.
     Through the darker times, God taught me some tough lessons in trust, submission, and love. He showed me that my hopes and plans were made without thought to His will for my life by bringing me to a place where I had no choice but to look to Him alone. He lovingly showed me that I was preoccupied with my desires, my pictures, my hopes. I was clinging on to a vision of a future that was conjured from my own dreams, which was distracting me from seeking His will and purpose for me.

This beautiful excerpt from one of my devotional books sums it up perfectly;

‘The thoughts of the son ran thus; “My hopes painted beautiful pictures, but they are fading one by one”.
Then, his Father spoke to him: “Thy hopes painted pictures? Destroy all those pictures. To watch them slowly fading is weakening to the soul. Dare then to destroy them. Thou canst if thou wilt.”
Thou must if thou wouldest be My warrior-son. I will give thee other pictures instead of those thy hopes painted. Look up, O thou son of My love.
Then the son looked up, and he saw a Cross raised high against the sunlight, then a darkness that might be felt. And he heard, as it were, an echo of a voice, “Father, glorify Thy name;” and a Voice that answered, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.” And he knew that strength and beauty were in the Sanctuary and would presently pour forth. Calvary was not the end of that day’s story. And his heart stayed itself upon this assurance: He shall choose our inheritance for us - no fading picture that, but the excellency of Jacob whom He loved.’
(Amy Carmichael ‘His Thoughts said… His Father said…’ page 92-93).

Such beautiful imagery and such a provoking thought! Why do we conjure up our own dreams and plans, paint our own pictures, without thought to God’s plan for our lives? Why do we make decisions before asking Him? Why do we plan, then seek approval as an afterthought – rather than seeking His will first and foremost?

Jeremiah 29:11 
  For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 

God has a plan for me, a plan that will enable me to prosper. He loves me enough to give me what I need, not what I want. He knows me better than I know myself.
I know this to be true from experience. Looking back, there have been times when things haven’t worked out how I wanted. At the time, I was frustrated and disheartened that my plans hadn’t come to fruition. Yet, with hindsight I see the hand of God guiding me along a path which ultimately led to a place more beautiful than I could ever have anticipated. He gave me a future and hope.

Matthew 6:10 
 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

I need to look past my own dreams and seek His path, His will, His way.

Proverbs 3:5-6 
  Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

I need to trust Him with all my heart. I cannot trust Him with one part while the other part longs for a romanticised future borne of my own desires. Half trust is distrust.

Proverbs 16:9 
The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.

“Thy hopes painted pictures? Destroy all those pictures. To watch them slowly fading is weakening to the soul. Dare then to destroy them. Thou canst if thou wilt.”

   Destroying the visions of how we believe our lives should look allows us to see the beauty in the future God has planned for us. If we stubbornly cling to our own ideals, then we are distracted from seeking the glorious reality of God’s perfect plan for our lives. His ways are not our ways. To catch sight of that beautiful future we must first submit to the Lord and hand Him those mental wish-lists, those flimsy dreams, those faded pictures. And our Father, in return, takes our hand and leads us down a different path. A path that enables us to walk closer by his side. A path that brings Him greater glory.  

He tells me, “It is not for you to plot your own path through life, my daughter. It is your job to navigate with obedience the path I have chosen for you. I know you grieve the loss of this future you imagined… I see your tears; I hear your prayers. But, my child, if only you could see the wonderful things I have planned for you.”

‘I will give thee other pictures instead of those thy hopes painted. Look up, O thou son of My love.’

I trust my God. I trust His superior plans. Even when circumstances are beyond my understanding and my heart is grieved, I trust that the inheritance my Father has for me is beyond anything I can imagine. He is painting brushstrokes of colour more vibrant and beautiful than the faded pictures of my hopes.

Thou hast not that, My child, but Thou hast Me,
And am not I alone enough for thee?
I know it all, know how thy heart was set
Upon this joy which is not given yet.

And well I know how through the wistful days
Thou walkest all the dear familiar ways,
As unregarded as a breath of air,
But there in love and longing, always there.

I know it all; but from thy brier shall blow
A rose for others. If it were not so
I would have told thee, Come, then, say
To Me,
My Lord, my Love, I am content with Thee.

-        Amy Carmichael (Rose From Brier page 50-51)

He who loves as no one else can love, who understands to the uttermost, is not far away. He wants us to say, He can give it to us to say, “My Lord, my Love, I am content with Thee.”

-        Amy Carmichael (Rose From Brier page 52)

With willing feet I tread the path He leads,
With eager hands I grasp His outstretched arm,
I cannot, dare not, lift my eyes to His,
And yet, I know, with Him I’m safe from harm.

Deep pools of magic fill His loving eyes,
Great joy and triumph, majesty and pain;
If I had strength to let them fall on mine,
Nothing on earth would come between again

-        Anon

Dr R Owen

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Week Thirty-Two - Face Your Fears

     Are you a scaredy-cat?  I am sometimes.  At other times, I’m almost too bold!  I once did a study on the meek and quiet spirit mentioned in 1 Peter 3:4 and found that those words indicate a woman/person who is not ruled by fear or anger.  Those definitions have stayed with me.  They help me to judge my reactions and create courage and balance in my heart.
     This past Christmas we got to spend a few days with our son and his family who had just arrived in Spain as missionaries.  My two granddaughters and I had great fun making sandmen (as opposed to snowmen) on the beach.  It wasn’t beautifully warm, but that didn’t stop us digging in the sand and enjoying time together. 
     There was a metal half-sphere climbing frame on the beach, so after we were done with our sand play, the girls took off climbing.  Up they went with no hesitation.  Then I got the call from Talli, “Grandma, Kyah is afraid to come down.  You will have to come up and get her.” 
    Well!  That was not going to happen.  I’m quite agile, but I’m not silly enough to risk falling with these old bones, so I called out to her, “Face your fears and solve your problems.” 
     They both glared at me like I had lost my mind, but after a moment the idea sank in and they climbed down with no problem.
    Suffice it to say, “face your fears and solve your problems” became our mantra for the remainder of the holiday as we faced new foods, new surroundings, and learned the joy of winning over fear.
     I know there have been times in my life when fear has paralyzed me.  You are probably the same.  You put off making that call to the bank because you are afraid to hear the answer.  You put off making the appointment with your child’s teacher because you don’t want to hear the worst.  You put off enrolling for further training because you fear failure or the pressure and energy it will demand.
     For whatever reason, we allow fear to stop us dead in our tracks.  We hesitate.  We fret.  We do everything but face it!  The strange thing about fear is that it will not go away until it is faced down!  Once you get brave enough to make that call, you find out it wasn’t so bad.  You make that appointment with the teacher, and find out she wanted to give your kid praise or that your child needs help and help is available.  You go ahead and enroll for the training, and find that because you are an adult student you excel better than those around you and you can carve out the time to study. Or you find out it really wasn’t for you, but you’re glad you tried.
    There are no promises in facing fear, but there is a resolution one way or the other.  Like tasting new foods, some you love and others you can say, “I tried it.  I know I don’t like it.”  But the fear is gone.
     Face your fears and solve your problems is a great mantra.  It challenges us to move forward.  It holds hope for the future.  It gives us a tool to defeat the fear that strikes us down and leaves us cowering in our room.  With every victory, we get braver!
    Is fear staring you in the face?  Does it seem like a wall you can’t hurdle over?  Well, step up! Take the risk! Climb down from your hiding place, face your fears and solve your problems!
     Don’t face the enemy without your weapon! Here are some scriptures. 

salm 118:6 - The LORD is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me? 
Hebrews 13:6 - So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.
 Psalm 56:3 -
What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.
 Isaiah 26:3 -
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.
Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
And one of my favorites – Psalm 34:19  Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.