Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Week Five - Life's Hard

My husband says, "Life's hard, and then you die," trying to remind me, and probably himself, that hardness is a part of this earthly life; we can't escape it. And certainly, it is true! But we needn't live focused on the hardness and allow it to drag us down. Life is hard, yes, and Jesus knows that. That's why He invites us to come to Him, lay our burdens at His feet, and allow Him to comfort our little souls. He is our refuge in times of distress.

When you begin reading the book of James, it will catch you off guard. After he does the customary epistle greeting, he jumps right into his subject of trials with an attitude of joy and positivity in the face of hard times. He actually says to count them all joy. Have a different mindset. Instead of moaning and being negative, look beyond the difficulty to see the outcome. Why? Because hard times have a process and a purpose.

James 1:3, 4a reads, "Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work." Of course, we might not like the process of having our faith tried. We might even detest learning patience, but that is how God designed growth during trials.

Let's skip to the purpose. Verse 4b reads, "That ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." Now that gives me hope. The process might be arduous and uncomfortable, but the outcome is so beneficial! 

When the various temptations of verse 2 or the trying of my faith in verse 3 grab me, I focus on the word work in verses 3 and 4. God is at work in my life to produce the result found in verse 4. I will be perfect, meaning more mature. Entire means complete. And, wanting nothing? I will have learned a valuable lesson about God that better equips me for my faith journey.

It takes me back to Philippians 2:13, "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." Am I allowing Him to do a work in my life, even through trials? Am I yielding to Him or fighting against Him? Am I angry or rebellious?

I certainly try not to be! Because I have found the most incredible peace and blessing come from bending my will to His.

So today, if life is hard, look to see where God is at work around you. Set your heart to yield and allow patience to have her perfect work. Then, you will start to see the maturity God is planting within you. You'll learn a valuable lesson, making life seem less hard and more joyful.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Week Four - I Will Not Doubt

I've been studying the book of James in preparation for teaching the ladies' group here at church, and I wanted to share with you a poem I'll be sharing in the first lesson. I came across it when I was using Streams in the Desert as my devotional many years ago. It so spoke to my heart that I made a copy and keep it taped to the inside flap of my Bible. I hope it will be a blessing to you.

I will not doubt, though all my ships at sea
Come drifting home with broken masts and sails;
I will believe the Hand which never fails,
From seeming evil worketh good for me.
And though I weep because those sails are tattered,
Still will I cry, while my best hopes lie shattered:
'I trust in Thee.'

I will not doubt, though all my prayers return
Unanswered from the still, white realm above;
I will believe it is an all-wise love
Which has refused these things for which I yearn;
And though at times I cannot keep from grieving,
Yet the pure ardor of my fixed believing
Undimmed shall burn.

I will not doubt, though sorrows fall like rain,
And troubles swarm like bees about a hive.
I will believe the heights for which I strive
Are only reached by anguish and by pain,
And though I groan and writhe beneath my crosses.
I yet shall see through my severest losses
The greater gain.

I will not doubt. Well anchored is this faith,
Like some staunch ship, my soul braves every gale;
So strong its courage that it will not quail
To breast the mighty unknown sea of death
Oh, may I cry, though body parts with spirit,
'I do not doubt,' so listening worlds may hear it,
With my last breath.

Friend, as the day approaches, let's not be doubters but be grounded in faith with our hearts fixed solidly on Christ.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Week Three - You're Not Alone

Immanuel, God with us, is one of my favorite meditations, especially at Christmas. As I was reading the book of John, I noticed Jesus building more on this truth and using it as a source of strength on His road to the cross.

In John 14, Jesus begins by saying, "Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in me." You might know that passage. 

Then, in verse 17, He speaks of the Spirit of truth that would indwell the hearts of believers, saying the Spirit "dwelleth with you and shall be in you." Isn't that a blessed promise? 

Then, 16:32 reads, "I am not alone, because the Father is with me." And there is it - God with us. God with Jesus. He was not alone in the things He was about to face, and neither are we!

I had to go back and pick up John 15:27, where Jesus says, "he hath been with me from the beginning." Jesus drew strength from the promise of God's presence. An excruciating road lay before Him and would end in death, but He looked beyond that to the promise of reunion with the Father. That reunion was on the other side of His obedience. 

Facing the cross was a heavy calling, yet He knew God would remain with Him through the trial. Maybe that's why His comment on the cross, "My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me, " is so poignant. 

In order to make the ultimate sacrifice - which was not only death but separation from God, Jesus had to "taste death," He had to experience the meaning of separation (Hebrews 2:9). He was made perfect - the perfect sacrifice - through suffering (Hebrews 2:10). It was by this death, this separation, that He destroyed the power of death, delivering us from bondage (Hebrews 2:14, 15), and becoming our merciful and faithful Saviour (Hebrews 2:1,7,18). 

He suffered the feeling of separation, or might I even say, the fact of separation to complete His calling - to be made like us, to suffer as we do, so that "he is able to help them that are tempted (Hebrews 2:18) and to confidently say, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee (Hebrews 13:5).

We, too, can rest in God's promise and use it, as Jesus did, to give us strength to carry on, face difficult times, and yet look forward with hope when we remember that the blessing is on the other side of obedience and God is beside us with every step.

Friend, you are not alone in your trials or needs; God is with you. He sees you, and He cares. Allow the presence of God to be the comfort and strength for your heart today. You are never alone.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Week Two - Out of the Saltshaker

Jesus lovingly met people where they were, drew them with kindness, and went about doing good. Consequently, they came seeking Him, and He spoke truth to them. Oh, how we need to learn His skill.

I started reading Rebecca Pippert's book, Out of the Saltshaker and into the World, just before Christmas. I found it so refreshing, challenging, and instructive on evangelism. 

She reminded me to see people as divine appointments and take the risk to speak for Christ. If I look beneath the crust to hear the cry of their hearts, I will see their need. 

So many people are "frantically looking for the right things in all the wrong places." We miss opportunities if we wait until we have all the answers or find healing for our hurts, "It may well be that one of the first steps toward our own healing will come when we reach out to someone else."

Isn't she right? Many people are hurting and looking for answers in all the wrong places. It is easy to sit complacently and take care of number one without concern for those around us, but we must "love them with the baggage they bring." God loved us that way, didn't He? 

Even this morning, my heart was pricked as I prayed for a dear friend who has yet to come to Christ. I pray for his salvation, but at the same time, I sense a fear of speaking up. Why? Because it could be embarrassing? Because I don't want him to feel uncomfortable? And yet I sit in my little corner praying and rejoicing for all God has done in my life and withhold that blessing from him? Surely that is wrong!

Coming to Christ was the most significant that ever happened in my life. Knowing Him makes me fully me in a beautiful Spirit-filled way. So why would I not rejoice to invite others into the same relationship?

"To have no time (or motivation) to be the aroma of Christ to an unbelieving neighbor, friend, or colleague means we aren't taking seriously God's command to go and make disciples." We can't remain insulated and isolated when commanded to penetrate the world with the gospel (Matthew 28:19, 20).

So the challenge ahead of us is to get out of the saltshaker, dear friend. Don't be afraid to be different, to be salt and light. Speak up and see what God can do through you! Let your little light shine. Look for ways to naturally bring Christ into conversations. Don't push and shove; just let them see a difference in how you love others, use kind words, control yourself, and show up for those divine appointments, those opportunities to shake a bit of salt about!

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Week One - Adjust

Every year I have a word, and this year is no exception.

My word for 2023 is adjust. In the Christmas story, we see Mary adjusting her life, allowing God to move her plans around. She shared her unexpected joy with Elizabeth, who was also adjusting. Joseph faced adjustment, and even Jesus adjusted his life to the Father's will by taking on the form of man. I'm sure they each had moments of hesitation and questioning, but they accepted their calling and moved forward in obedience to cooperate with God's plan. Adjusting takes a great deal of cooperation if we are to do it well!

When we know God is calling us to a measure of obedience or opportunity of service, do we adjust our lives and cooperate? Or do we keep trying to make God fit into our plan, wanting to desperately hold on to what  we have instead of releasing it and adjusting to the new normal? We miss God's best when we refuse to change or yield. 

Mary adjusted - and we can be so thankful she did. Her obedience affected history! Maybe we should ask ourselves who might be affected by our obedience? Or - to whom is our disobedience a stumbling block? That’s something to consider, isn’t it?

I am facing a 2023 that will challenge my level of adjusting. We are preparing for a 12 month furlough and hoping we cover all our bases, while we try to figure out housing, transport, and schedule for months of travel ahead. 2023 will take a lot of adjusting. Experience has taught me that I come through best when I cooperate with God and obediently adjust my will to His.

This challenges me to remember my word from 2022 - purpose. All things happen according to the purpose of God's will. If I truly believe God is the planner and designer of my life, if I believe He works all things for my good and according to His will, then adjusting shouldn't be such an effort but a joyful anticipation of what He has in store.

2023 is unknown for all of us. Let's pray we can cooperate with God and set our hearts and attitudes to adjust in joyful obedience.