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Archive for the ‘Disappointment’ Category

5 Things to Remember when Someone Keeps Letting You Down

SOURCE:  Wendy Redden/Lifehack Magazine

If you have ever experienced disappointment from another person, here are 5 things to remember when someone keeps letting you down. It could be a friend, a parent, a son or daughter. It could even be your significant other or a co-worker.

It is often hard to not harbor sadness, anger or resentment when someone keeps saying they will do one thing and then does another. The situation could be someone that you just cannot count on for any help or requests you may need.

It is not easy when dealing with someone that is unreliable, or someone that could possibly be over committing themselves. Here are 5 things to remember when someone keeps letting you down so that you can protect yourself from further harm and also maintain your peace.

1. Avoid Assumptions

You might have someone in your life who often says they want to do certain things with you and you invite them, but then at the last minute they cancel or do not show up at all. It is easy to go into a flutter of thoughts as to why that person did what they did. It is also really easy to take it personally and believe they didn’t show up to intentionally hurt you. The truth is we will never fully know what is going on with someone else’s thoughts or motives. That person could be one that doesn’t like to say no to anyone but in reality they do more damage because the ultimately become an unintentional liar.

That person could be a people pleaser and they want to make everyone happy but they cannot so they end up being out of integrity. When we avoid assumptions it’s easier to stop ourselves from forming resentment and anger at the person or situation. We don’t know the truth as to what the other person is truly experiencing. In my past when I was going through some pretty serious personal issues, I became so wrapped up in my own life, I was not very reliable to my friends and family. Once I became more aware of that fact myself, I was able to reset my priorities and not over commit myself to others.

2. Accept the Other Person for Where They Are

Once we accept that someone is not consistent in their words or actions and we realize that a sporadic relationship exists, we learn to take it for what it is. We can’t control others or somehow force them to be in integrity, even though the thought of that new reality would be nice. We also can’t expect them to all of a sudden change or believe that the next time will be any different from the last disappointment. Once we accept the other person for where they are in life, it’s easier as the broken promises and inconsistent behavior we do not take personally any longer.

If we also have no expectation of future outcomes, it is so much easier to accept the disappointment. The broken promises will still end up hurting our feelings, but we have the choice whether to allow them to hurt us or allow them to turn into bitterness and negative feelings. Once we stop taking things personally, we can still maintain our peace even when others disappoint us.

3. Let Them Know How You Feel

It is never easy to talk about serious things. I was a severe conflict avoider in my past because I did not want to hurt other people’s feelings. I would rarely talk about what bothered me which caused me to live a very unhappy and chaotic life for a while. Now I welcome others to come to me with the hard topics because that means the other person desires conflict resolution and really wants their feelings to be made known. My best friends are those I can trust to come to me with issues so we can quickly resolve conflict if we have an issue.

I now reach out and share my hurts with people I care about. I want the relationship to become better if possible so I am willing to talk about the hard issues. If we do not tell someone that what they are doing hurts our feelings, how would they know? It is our responsibility to confront the issue without anger or emotion involved so that the other person is aware of our feelings. We need to let them know that we feel unimportant when they say they will commit to something but never actually show up or follow through.

4. Stop the Bleeding

Once you have shared your feelings with the other person and let them know their actions are hurting you, and nothing changes – it’s time to stop the bleeding. Why would we keep allowing more let downs and disappointments to occur when we have made our feelings known? If you still want to maintain the relationship, it is time to set boundaries. If you truly care about the person, you can let them know you are no longer extending invitations. If they would like to maintain a relationship with you – it is now their responsibility to make the effort.

That way you can still be involved in their lives but you can choose whether to accept their invitation or not. If the new situation does work for all that are involved then a compromise or solution has been made and we can maintain our peace. We are still able to continue the relationship even though the dynamic has changed a little. If the person never contacts you again after boundaries were set or feelings were made known, at least you know it was a forced relationship and one that needed to end.

5. Move On

If you have made your feelings known and nothing has changed, then it is time to move on. If the relationship is unsafe or abusive, it is definitely time to end it. Regardless of who the person is (it could be a loved one or close family member), it is never alright to stay in a relationship that causes you emotional or physical harm. Sometimes, we need to compromise to maintain a relationship with a family member and sometimes we need to stop seeing someone altogether because there is too much hurt surrounding that relationship.

Ultimately, we can somewhat control how we allow others to treat us by setting firm boundaries and knowing when to move on. If there are a few relationships in your life that are strained or causing you emotional turmoil, it’s time to evaluate them. Then you can decide what you are willing to accept in those relationships. What we allow in any relationship is what will continue. Life is short and it is exhausting to try and maintain a forced relationship that is not mutually beneficial.

Surround yourself with people that encourage, lift up and support you in all that you do. Real friends will bring up the hard issues and will work together to resolve conflict with you quickly so that you can maintain a lasting and authentic relationship with them.

How to Deal With the Grief of Infertility

SOURCE:  Eddie Kaufholz/Relevant Magazine

When you or someone you know is hurting.

My wife and I have been trying to have a child for almost two years and we fear, due to some issues surrounding infertility, we will not be able to. We are beside ourselves with grief and need help—from anywhere. So I’m writing to see if you have anything to offer us. Sorry it’s not a more clear question, I don’t really know what I’m asking.

Normally I’d give the person who asked this question a playful alias just to lighten the mood a bit, but today, that doesn’t seem right. Not with this question, and not with the countless people who will be reading this and hoping—longing—for an answer that provides some respite from the grief.

I bet today and the many yesterdays haven’t been what you expected them to be, have they? Of course not. A few years ago, you and your significant other were eating a lovely dinner at your favorite Thai place. One of you looked at the other one and said, “Hey, do you think we should start trying?” And in a moment, you both realized you were on the road to parenthood. Jitters, fear, excitement, nursery Pinterest boards—it all flooded over your pad Thai and into your relationship. Weren’t those fun days? Wasn’t it nice to have hope?

And then something happened. Month after month, when there was a blue line instead of a pink plus, hope started to fade—and dread took its place. Then one of you said—again at the same Thai place which now feels more like a tragic reminder of some distant happiness—“Should we see a doctor?” So you did. And the doctor said there may be “some complications.” And the walls of the sterile doctor’s office blurred and the words began to jumble. You realized your hope had succumbed to infertility.

It is the worst. Just the worst.

Which leads us to the fundamental question: What can make infertility less terrible? Not, “What can make it better?” because “better” to you, right now, looks like a child in your home. And while I could give you Christian truths and platitudes about how there are many people who, for one reason or another, never had children via biology or adoption and are living happy lives, that’s not helpful for you right now. You want your babies. I understand.

But I would like to submit four quick thoughts for you to hold onto while you traverse the uncertain road ahead:

Let People In

One of the mistakes everyone makes in life is believing if we say nothing, problems will go away or somehow get better. We do it all the time. If there is ever even a distant, faint whisper of shame or embarrassment, we go M.I.A.

Unfortunately, with couples who are having a difficult time conceiving, sometimes shame somehow enters the equation and they silently suffer. Maybe they feel there is something “wrong” with them physically or that God is smiting them for previous indiscretions. Or maybe they just don’t want to be a burden to others. Whatever the case, so many suffer in silence. This cannot continue.

If you are experiencing infertility, you have to tell people you love and trust. Not because it will make it all better, but because you can’t take the hit of a monthly funeral alone. People need to cry with you and shoulder the burden with you. People need to bring you food and help you take your mind off of it for a night. You and your significant other can’t do this alone. Those who love you want to do so not just in thought but in deed. You won’t overwhelm them. They want to be there for you now, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon.

Try Not to Strategize

I fear I may be overstepping with this point, but I’d like to float this idea past you. What if you all stopped thinking about tomorrow (as much as is realistic)? The nature of infertility is that you’re making decisions on a daily basis that are massive, overwhelming and life-changing.

However, these decisions are not everything. Ultimately, we have no control over children being brought into this world. The best doctors and adoption lawyers can’t simply will your child into existence. Truthfully, any child showing up in someone’s home via adoptive or biological means is nothing short of a miracle.

So, because it’s a miracle, and because it’s really out of your hands, what if you tried (again, as much as is realistic) to stop. Stop worrying that today’s shot of medication may or may not result in future complications that even further complicate a confusing situation—yuck. Who could possibly know what’s right and wrong? Well, God knows (more on that in a moment). But you don’t, so make the best decision you can for today and accept that you can’t control the entire road ahead.

I acknowledge, even as I’m writing this, that what I’m asking you to do is impossible. You may even be slightly frustrated with me suggesting that you loosen your grip a bit on all the strategizing. But what if for one moment of one day you weren’t as riddled with fear and dread over a decision? I’d love that for you. And I’d love for God’s narrative to take a front seat to your thinking.

Get Real With God

The relationship between those who are suffering (you) and He who is in control (God) can get very complex. To that end, Here are two articles over the past weeks that I hope will fill out this section. In summary:

1. You can get angry with God. For real. You can, and you should. It’s not helpful to pretend that it’s all OK, and it’s helpful to get into a real tussle with Him. Be with God exactly where you are, and trust that He can handle your worst (and love you through it). You’re His child, and your pain is His.

2. If you’re too hurt to pray, it’s OK. Really, it is.

This Isn’t Your Fault

Finally, in the quiet moments of infertility, the darkness creeps in and the reasons for “why” begin to point to you. This is a lie. The abortion, the physical abuse on your body, etc., etc. begin to be the reason for all of this infertility pain (in your mind).

Hear me say this: What you’re going through isn’t your fault. Yes, a doctor’s report may point to a specific issue with someone’s family history or bodily functioning. But really—really—those issues are not what makes or prevents babies from coming into this world. What makes it happen is a miracle. An everyday, common and not at all common, miracle.

Numbing Out The Voice of God

SOURCE:  John Taylor/Relevant Magazine

Confessions of a Drunk Worship Leader

One man’s story of overcoming his secret alcohol addiction.

Hungover and leading worship on Easter Sunday, Seth Haines felt a sharp, nauseating pain in his stomach. Two thousand churchgoers sang along, unaware, as he, nervous about hitting high notes, struggled to keep from vomiting. He led the congregation in singing:

He has cheated hell / And seated us above the fall / In desperate places / He paid our wages / One time once and for all

After the service, a couple of friends caught Haines as he exited the stage. “You have a special anointing,” they told him, with their hands placed on the worship leader’s shoulders.

Haines forced a smile before stumbling back to his seat.  “Anointed?” he thought. “What are you talking about? I’m hungover. I was probably still drunk when I got here this morning.

It all began with a Nalgene bottle.

Two years before that Easter Sunday, Haines sat in a hospital waiting room, trying not to think about Titus, his infant son born with a hole in his heart and a rate of respiration that jogged a little faster than most.

“You get enough alcohol in your system and you don’t feel anymore.”

Friends, family members and strangers visited in rotation. They offered prayers for swift recovery.

Haines and his wife, Amber, watched as doctors squirted blue liquid into Titus’ mouth through a syringe. The 6-month-old gurgled, squirmed and wailed as plastic tubes entered his nose and reached down into his still-developing intestines.

The doctors shook their heads when they found clumps of blood the size of popcorn kernels. The Haineses discussed what songs they would play at Titus’ funeral.

That was when Haines called his sister and said, “I need you to bring me gin to the hospital. Smuggle it in.”

Hours later, a Nalgene bottle arrived, filled to the top with Tanqueray. Haines unscrewed the cap and poured its contents into a plastic cup filled with ice.

In that moment, Haines—the believer, husband, father of four, full-time attorney, worship leader, home group host and editor of the blog “A Deeper Church”—was becoming an alcoholic.

Because, as Haines would say later, “You get enough alcohol in your system and you don’t feel anymore.”

***

“I think everyone’s story of belief is pretty complex,” Haines says. “Mine is no exception to that rule.”

About two years ago, in that hospital room, gin and tonic became “more gin than tonic” for Haines.

He started with casual single shots. Then doubles. Then triples. And eventually, regardless of the pour, he consumed as many as 10 drinks daily.

Before long, and almost unwittingly, he found himself hiding his drinking from his wife, Amber.

To keep her from noticing his rapidly growing addiction, Haines says he would store empty bottles in his car, then drive garbage bags of them to the dumpster behind his office.

When he and Amber hung out in their living room—talking and usually listening to worship music—Haines would wait for his wife to go to the bathroom, turn up the stereo volume and run to the kitchen for another drink before Amber could get back.

Despite his efforts, Haines couldn’t hide from his wife.

“Do you think you’re drinking too much?” she asked one afternoon about a year into Haines’ downward spiral. “When’s the last time you went without drinking?”

“I just knew, ‘All I have to do is plod away at my desk, keep my Christian facade up, then get home at night and drink away the voice of God.’”

He couldn’t remember. “Last…” he looked away, trying to think of a day Amber would believe.

“Thursday,” he lied.

***

A few months later, Haines was out-of-town attending a Christian conference and staying with some friends. As usual, on one of his nights away, he’d “had a good bit to drink.”

“It was 3 a.m. and there were these college kids who came across the yard and introduced themselves,” he explains. “I started talking to them about church. Before long, I was pretty much witnessing to them.

“The next morning, when I sobered up, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I doing?’”

That same weekend, as he describes it, the voice of the Holy Spirit spoke to him through a concerned friend. Somehow, she’d guessed that he had a problem. He says their conversation was revealing.

“I would say things like, ‘Yeah, but I’ve never been pulled over for a DWI.’

“And she would say, ‘Well, you know that doesn’t matter, right?’

“I said, ‘Well, I’ve never hit Amber.’

“And she said, ‘You know that doesn’t matter either, right?’”

Later that day, Haines dialed Amber’s number and said, “I think I have a problem, and I don’t really know what to do.”

When he arrived home, the Haineses started a long journey of drying out.

***

In his first therapy session, Haines tried to answer tough questions: “Were you drinking to pass out?” “Do you have the shakes?” “Have you been drinking and hiding the evidence?” “Is it starting to interfere with your job?” “What are you covering with the alcohol?”

After he admitted his problem, Haines needed to discover the reasons behind it.

Titus wasn’t getting any better, he explained to his therapist. He and his family prayed for Titus’ recovery for months, but those prayers seemingly went unanswered. Haines feared losing both his son and his faith, in that order.

“Sickness, I fear, is the permanent plague of my son’s life,” he said to his therapist. “Of my life.”

A breakthrough came while Haines and his therapist discussed the initial source of the pain that first drove him to that Nalgene bottle.

Throughout his life, Haines has suffered from asthma, and it was particularly severe when he was young. As a child, he regularly spent time in the hospital for it. And it seemed after a while that his parents exhausted their options. In a kind of last-ditch effort, the elder Haineses turned to a faith healer.

Haines remembers the experience vividly. The healer marked a cross on young Haines’ forehead, his finger dipped in olive oil bought from a nearby grocery store.

“With enough faith, all things are possible,” the man said. He prayed so loudly that he was nearly shouting.

It didn’t work, and Haines still struggles with asthma today.

“That moment, more than any other moment in my life, has haunted me,” Haines says. “It was the moment where my faith was put to the test, when my faith as a 6 year old didn’t measure up. And if my faith as a 6 year old didn’t measure up, it’s definitely not going to as a 37 year old.”

The experience drove doubts into Haines’ faith, and it continued to “undermine the good seasons” in his life. Off and on during the next three decades, he would question just about everything about God: “Is He really there?” “Does He really intervene?”

“I would have those seasons of intense thoughts,” he says. “But I always seemed to come through them.”

Then Titus got sick. Haines was back in a pediatric ward, this time with his son.

“Today, I’m dry. Tomorrow I’ll be dry. And then we’ll see what happens. ‘One day at a time’ is a real thing.”

“We were visited by a person who comes to the room and says to me, ‘I know Titus is going to be fine, because you’re a man of great faith. Through your faith, God is going to heal your son’,” he remembers.

That was the last thing Haines wanted to hear.

In therapy, Haines realized that Titus was a constant reminder of the loss of his childhood faith. From his experience with the faith healer, Haines internalized the idea that his faith wasn’t good enough for God. And with Titus, Haines was seeing that his faith—and all of his church involvement—again wasn’t good enough. Slowly, he stopped trusting in God.

Cognitively or not, Haines thought God abandoned him. More than fear for his son or any kind of parental stress, that’s what drove him to the bottle.

“For me, it was, ‘If I drink enough, I don’t have to hear the voice of doubt in my head,’” he explains. “I just knew, ‘All I have to do is plod away at my desk, keep my Christian facade up, then get home at night and drink away the voice of God.’”

***

The same friend who identified Haines’ addiction suggested he journal as a part of the recovery process. On one particular night, well into his dry-but-searching phase, Haines read through the passion of Jesus—the suffering Christ endured in the hours leading to His crucifixion.

A familiar story took new life.

“In the Luke account, one of the last things Jesus says to His crucifiers is, ‘Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing,’” Haines recalls.

That moment became the “touchstone” in Haines’ recovery. He knew what he needed to do. And so he journaled, “Father, teach me to forgive the faith healer.”

This September marked a full year since Haines’ last drink. And, yes, he’s a little nervous.

“I don’t like to think about what this looks like in five years,” he says, “because today, I’m dry. Tomorrow I’ll be dry. And then we’ll see what happens. ‘One day at a time’ is a real thing.”

The key, he says, is to believe God, and then to lay his anxieties at the Creator’s feet: Titus. The thirst for alcohol. The desire to be a better husband, a better father to his children.

As a part of his daily recovery, Haines says a simple prayer: “Lord, forgive my unbelief.”

God Doesn’t Want You to Always Feel So Guilty

SOURCE:  relevantmagazine.com/Jason Jones

After my son, Jacob, died in an accident while I was asleep in the house, I struggled with debilitating guilt.

Guilt can be powerful.

For the first few years after the accident, it felt like an all-consuming force that I couldn’t let go of but one that I wanted desperately to run away from. I hated myself so much for all the things I could have done differently that day.

I felt so ashamed, angry, stupid and unworthy. I felt like a failure as a dad and a husband. The weight of carrying the guilt was something my therapist and I worked on for quite some time. Session after session, we would talk through it. There were a lot of tears and painful discussions.

Eventually, my therapist was able to help me realize some truths that slowly started to sink in over time. None of it was overnight. And none of it was like a light bulb moment to point to that instantly made me feel better.

While I refused to talk openly about these fears, the guilt started feeding shame, and shame fed more guilt, and on and on.

Therapy is like a farmer tending to his garden. You keep watering and picking weeds, and one day you show up and something starts sprouting out of the dirt. You just have to keep showing up to do the work. During that time, I learned some really important realities while working on my guilt:

We Aren’t Defined By Our Mistakes

Early on, I beat the heck out of myself over what happened. I felt like I had failed my family. Most of all, I felt like I had failed Jacob.

The shame was permeating my entire identity. This caused unhealthy behavior, added stress and was a strain on my marriage and my ability to be a father to my daughters.

Through therapy, though, I was able to realize that one accident or mistake doesn’t define who I am. I’m still a good person, husband and father.

Healing Can Start When You Accept Responsibility

This step was incredibly difficult and took a very long time for me to work through. Although I definitely felt it, I was scared to death to say that I had any responsibility in Jacob’s accident. I fought as hard as I could and as long as I could to not accept it.

I was terrified to think what it meant about me that my decisions may have led my son’s death. What does it say about me as a father? Does it mean I am a bad person? Am I a terrible father? Did I fail my family? Am I worthy of being loved?

While I refused to talk openly about these fears, the guilt started feeding shame, and shame fed more guilt, and on and on. This put me on a hamster wheel of personal torture that I couldn’t figure out how to get off of.

Thankfully, with hours upon hours of working with my therapist, I was able to get to a place where I could bear the guilt without it continuing to rule my life. Bearing the guilt meant I had taken and accepted responsibility for what I could have done to prevent this accident. There were things I could have done differently. I accept that. I bear that guilt, but it doesn’t control me anymore.

Giving Up Is Not an Option, No Matter How Bad It Gets

There were times when I wanted to die because I felt like such a failure in my guilt and shame. I thought about how I wouldn’t have to feel this way anymore and I would be with Jacob.

But, then I would quickly realize the amount of pain I would leave the rest of my family in. What a wreck I would leave behind. My therapist would tell me, “All you have to do is think about getting through each minute, each hour, then each day. Get out of bed and put your feet on the ground. Take a step, then another step. One foot in front of the other and keep breathing.”

It felt like torture at times, to keep going, but I knew inside that I could not give up. I couldn’t give up on my wife and my daughters. And I couldn’t give up on myself. No matter how hard it gets—you can’t give up.

This summer, I stumbled upon a song from a band called Colony House that really resonated with me.

Two of the members of Colony House, Will and Caleb Chapman, are sons of Steven Curtis Chapman and Mary Beth Chapman. Back in 2008, one of Mary Beth and Steven Chapman’s daughters was killed when she accidentally ran out in front of Will’s car when he was driving up the driveway at their home. It was a total accident and terrible tragedy. From interviews I’ve seen, Will struggled with a deep sense of guilt after the accident.

In the song “Won’t Give Up,” Colony House sings about those feelings. The song starts:

I wear the guilt upon my chest
Cause I feel like I’ve earned it
And keep the bloodstains on my hands
To show that I’ve done this

Oh how I wish I could escape that day
Take back time and make everything OK
But I can’t

Oh, the pictures in my head
They roll like the movies
I shut my eyes to cut the thread
But my memory shows no mercy

It was like someone climbed into my head and pulled out how I felt and then wrote a song about it.

It ends like this:

Too many dreams I didn’t want to dream
Too many nights alone where I can’t sleep
I’ve got the devil on my back
Trying to take home from me
But I see Jesus out in front
He’s reaching back for the lonely
Reaching back cause He loves me
I take His hand because she loved me

No I won’t give up now

Sometimes our guilt feels like it’s taking a hold of us and dragging us into hell. It’s like our past mistakes are yelling at us through a megaphone, constantly reminding us of what we’ve done.

But I can tell you it is possible to find freedom from what can seem overwhelming and paralyzing.

Healing can begin when we accept that we are human and we all make mistakes. And the transformative healing takes place when we accept that our mistakes don’t define who we are as a person.

Dealing With Doubt

SOURCE:  Randy Alcorn/Ligonier Ministries

In times of doubt, difficulty, and trials, our fundamental beliefs about God and our faith are revealed.

So how can Christians find faith in the midst of doubt?

How can they trust God’s plan when their lives seem out of His control, and prayers seem to go unanswered or, as it sometimes feels, even unheard?

If you or someone you love has been there, these questions may be far more personal than theoretical. You might ask questions like these: Is God good? Is He sovereign? Does He care?

When we’re assailed by trials, we need perspective for our minds and relief for our hearts. It’s essential that we realign our worldview by God’s inspired Word: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).

The Foundation of Our Faith

The sovereignty of God is a solid foundation for our faith. God’s sovereignty is the biblical teaching that all things remain under God’s rule and nothing happens without either His direction or permission. God works in all things for the good of His children (see Rom. 8:28), including evil and suffering. He doesn’t commit moral evil, but He can use any evil for good purposes.

Paul wrote, “In [Christ] we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). “Everything” is comprehensive—no exceptions. God works even in those things done against His moral will, to bring about His purpose and plan. We can follow Scripture’s lead and embrace the belief that a sovereign God is accomplishing eternal purposes in the midst of painful and even tragic events.

The Testing of Our Faith

Suffering and life’s difficulties either push us away from God or pull us toward him. Though he did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah, Auschwitz survivor Viktor Frankl wrote in The Unconscious God, “Just as the small fire is extinguished by the storm whereas a large fire is enhanced by it, likewise a weak faith is weakened by predicaments and catastrophes whereas a strong faith is strengthened by them.”

Only when you jettison ungrounded and untrue faith can you replace it with valid faith in the one, true, sovereign God—faith that can pass, and even find strength in, life’s formidable tests.

The devastation of tragedy is certainly real for people whose faith endures suffering. But because they do not place their hope for health, abundance, and secure relationships in this life, but in an eternal life to come, their hope remains firm regardless of what happens.

Faith means believing that God is good and that even if we can’t see it today, one day we will look back and see clearly His sovereignty, goodness, and kindness.

The Nurturing of Our Faith

In our times of doubt, God promises never to leave us. Paul Tournier said, “Where there is no longer any opportunity for doubt, there is no longer any opportunity for faith.”

Trusting God is a matter of faith. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). We must immerse ourselves in God’s Word. As a solar panel stores energy from sunlight, faith is established only by regular exposure to the truth and application of that truth to the events we confront in our lives. This is why it’s essential that we attend a church that teaches God’s Word and that we study it daily ourselves. When our beliefs are established on the truth, we are more likely to stand during times when doubts assail us.

The Hope of Our Faith

We should ask God to deliver us from Satan’s attacks of unbelief and discouragement. We should learn to resist them in the power of Christ (see James 4:7). Trusting God for the grace to endure adversity is as much an act of faith as trusting Him for deliverance from it.

God promises in Hebrews 13:5 (NIV), “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” This unusual Greek sentence contains five negatives. Kenneth Wuest translates it: “I will not, I will not cease to sustain and uphold you. I will not, I will not, I will not let you down.” When we languish in the deepest pit and wonder if God even exists, God reminds us that He remains there with us.

We can trust that God is refining us through our trials—and that one day He will bring us into His glorious presence.

The Lord says to us, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you…. When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (Isa. 43:2).

God’s presence remains with His children whether we recognize it or not. In periods of darkness, God calls us to trust Him until the light returns. “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold” (Job 23:10).

In this world of suffering, I have a profound and abiding hope, and faith for the future. Not because I’ve followed a set of religious rules, but because for forty-some years, I’ve known a real person, and continue to know Him better. Through inconceivable self-sacrifice, He has touched me deeply, given me a new heart, and utterly transformed my life. To Jesus be the glory, now and forever.

Your Shattered Dreams and Shaken Faith

SOURCE:  Vaneetha Rendall/Desiring God

Sometimes my faith is shaken when my dreams are shattered.

I wonder where God is in the midst of my suffering. I cannot sense his presence. I feel alone and afraid. My faith wavers.

I question what I have long believed. I wonder what is real, especially when my experience doesn’t match my expectations.

This wavering deeply troubles me. I have tasted God’s goodness, enjoyed close fellowship with him, rested in his tender care. I have known both his power and his love. Yet in the midst of profound struggle, I have no answers. Just questions.

John the Baptist understood this struggle as he waited in prison. He, above all men, knew who Jesus was. Even in the womb, he leapt for joy in the presence of the unborn Savior. At the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, before any of his miracles, John declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). He baptized Jesus and saw God’s Spirit descend on him, testifying that he indeed was the Son of God.

And yet, at the height of Jesus’s ministry, John sent word to him from prison, asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2–3).

At one point, John was sure that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus further confirmed his divinity by performing miracles, yet now John was wondering what was true.

Why?

Unfulfilled Expectations

John knew from Scripture that he who gave the blind sight, made the lame walk, and preached good news to the poor could surely “open the prison of those who were bound” as prophesied in Isaiah 61:1. But Jesus didn’t do that for John.

So perhaps at this point, John doubted what he knew. If Jesus was indeed the Messiah, John probably expected to have a role in his earthly kingdom. He wouldn’t have expected to start with such a high calling, preparing the way of the Lord in the wilderness, only to end his life and his ministry in a small prison cell. Besides, John preached that the Messiah would come with an unquenchable fire. With judgment. With power. He likely expected that to be in his lifetime.

None of those expectations coincided with reality. And that may have caused John to doubt. Unfulfilled expectations often elicit that response in me. Especially when I’ve been faithful.

Jesus doesn’t condemn John for his doubts. He even says that no one greater than John has ever lived. He understands why John is asking the question. And Jesus’s response to him reinforces what John already knows: that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.

At the same time, Jesus knows that John’s public ministry is over. Just like the saints in Hebrews 11, John wouldn’t receive all God’s promises but could only greet them from afar. He would not serve with Jesus or see the fulfillment of God’s kingdom. But one day he would. One day he would see his glorious part in God’s magnificent plan. He, the last of the old covenant prophets, would see how God used him to prepare the world to receive Jesus.

And John would rejoice.

But for now, John has to accept the Messiah’s plans for his life. Plans that are different than what he envisioned. He has to dwell on what he knows to be true rather than fixate on his circumstances. He has to remember who God is and trust him from a dark prison.

And so it is with me.

When Your Plans Crumble

When my plans crumble and God takes me away from my dreams, I must trust in God’s infinite wisdom. When my cup of suffering seems too much to bear, I need to rest in his immeasurable love. When my life spins out of control, I need to remember God’s absolute sovereignty.

I may not understand what is happening. But I cannot stop talking to him. Or turn away in fear. I must simply go to Jesus and tell him my doubts. Ask him to help me see.

John’s doubts are the same as mine. I wonder if God is who he says he is. And if everything is under his control. And if he truly loves me.

And when I doubt, God calls me, as he did John, to trust what I know to be true. To trust the bedrock principles that I know from Scripture and from experience. That God is completely sovereign. And loving. And wise. Not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from his will.

In this life, I may never see how God is using my trials. But one day I will be grateful for them. All I can do now is trust that he who made the lame walk and the blind see, who died on a cross so I could spend eternity with him, is going to do the very best thing for me.

It all comes down to trust. Will I trust my circumstances that constantly change? Or will I trust God who is unchanging?

On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.

What’s Wrong With Me? I keep On Sinning !!

SOURCE:  R.C. Sproul

If the Holy Spirit lives in us, why can’t we live perfect lives?

Let me suggest to you that we can live perfect lives.

Now that may sound like the most outrageous thing you have ever heard, because one of the few things you’ll get both Christian and non-Christian to agree on is that nobody is perfect!

What the New Testament teaches, as I understand it, is that once the Holy Spirit comes into my life, once I’m indwelt by the Holy Spirit, I have living within me the power to obey God. The Holy Spirit gives me the power to obey the commandments of God, and the New Testament says there is no temptation that has ever befallen me that isn’t common to every person, and with the temptation God always provides a way of escape.

I don’t think anybody does, in fact, live a perfect life. But I think that God’s grace makes perfection a possibility.

I would say that I have opportunities to sin literally thousands of times a day. Every time I’m confronted with an opportunity to sin, there is a battle within my soul.

The indwelling Holy Spirit is inclining me toward righteousness and obedience. But remember that the Holy Spirit is living in me, in R. C. Sproul; he’s indwelling an imperfect creature, one who has not been totally cleansed of evil inclinations. So given the manifold opportunities to sin that I have and knowing that there’s warfare with every one of those opportunities between what the Bible calls my flesh and the Spirit, statistically it’s virtually inevitable that I’m going to sin and be far less than perfect.

If we look at them one at a time, we realize that in each single circumstance the power has actually been provided by God to resist that temptation. That’s why I can never stand before God and say, “God, you will have to excuse me; the devil made me do it” or, “The Holy Spirit was not powerful enough within me to have resisted that sin.”

So even though I believe that not even the apostle Paul ever achieved perfection in his life, it’s not because of any lack of power or ability or inclination of the indwelling Spirit.

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Tough Questions with RC Sproul is excerpted from Now, That’s a Good Question!

A PRAYER FOR BROKEN HEARTS, CRUSHED SPIRITS, AND WEARY FRIENDS

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith/The Gospel Coalition

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

Ps. 34:18

     Dear Lord Jesus, there’s no Savior like you—none so merciful and kind, present and loving. The brokenhearted don’t need to “buck up” and be brave when they see you coming. The crushed in spirit don’t need to pull themselves together, as though you would be greatly disappointed to find us less than conquerors.

     We praise you that the gospel frees us from posing and pretending, spinning and hyping. Jesus, you have no need for us to be anything other than we actually are. You are nearer than the next breath to those who are in need of fresh grace. That’s why we bring a wide array of weary friends, including ourselves, to you today.

     Jesus, we pray for friends struggling with dashed hopes and unfulfilled longings. Whether the dream was for a loving marriage, emotionally healthy kids, the “good-health gene,” or a longer career, you meet us right where we are, no matter what the disappointment is. Show us how to encourage our friends, without minimizing their pain. May your grace prove to be sufficient, and our friendship helpful, over the long haul.

     Jesus, we pray for weary friends serving on church staffs or in vocational ministry. Many of them wake up today disillusioned, depleted, and despondent. Though all of us are targets of spiritual warfare, those who labor in the gospel bear unique challenges. Show us how to wrestle in prayer for our friends, and to encourage them in practical ways.

     Jesus, keep our betrayed friends from bitterness, our wayward friends from disaster, and our depressed friends from harmful non-solutions.

     Jesus, for those of us who don’t feel crushed in spirit but rather feel disconnected in spirit, help us sort through the issues. Show us what is repent-able and what is repairable; and bring quiet to our noisy hearts so we can hear you speak. Convince us, yet again, that we need your presence much, much more than we need circumstances and people to change.

     Jesus, today and every day, we declare that our hope is built on nothing else, nothing less, and nothing more, than you and your finished work on our behalf. So very Amen we pray, in your near and compassionate name.

Don’t Surrender To Hard Times

SOURCE:  Charles R. Swindoll

Going On

1 Samuel 30:1–6

Flying ace Chuck Yeager has written a book with an inviting title: Press On! A guy with his adventurous background, plus a chest full of medals to prove it, probably has a lot to say about “pressing on.” Few will ever know the thrill of breaking sound barriers, but all of us live with the daily challenge of pressing on.

The question is how?

How does the patient go on after the physician breaks the news about the dreaded biopsy?

How does the divorcée go on after the divorce is final?

How does anyone press on when the bottom drops out?

I have recently discovered some principles from Scripture that have certainly come to my rescue.

They emerge from the life of David when he and his fellow warriors were returning from battle. Exhausted, dirty, and anxious to get home, they came upon a scene that took their breath away. What was once their own quiet village was now smoldering ruins; their wives and children had been kidnapped by the same enemy forces that had burned their homes to the ground.

As if that were not bad enough, David’s own men turned against him, and talk of mutiny swirled among the soldiers.

If ever a man felt like hanging it up, David must have at that moment. But he didn’t.

What did he do instead? Read this very carefully: “But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God” (1 Sam. 30:6).

He got alone and poured his heart before the Lord . . . got things squared away vertically, which helped clear away the fog horizontally. He did not surrender to hard times.

Why not? How did he go on?

By refusing to focus on the present situation only.

What happens when we stay riveted to the present misery? One of two things: Either we blame someone (which can easily make us bitter), or we submerge in self-pity (which paralyzes us).

Instead of retaliating or curling up in a corner and licking his wounds, he called to mind that this event was no mistake. The Lord wasn’t absent. On the contrary, He was in full control. Bruised and bloody, David faced the test head-on and refused to throw in the sponge.

When we get things squared away vertically,
it helps clear away the fog horizontally.

 

Is Trauma Terminal?

SOURCE:  Chuck Swindoll

Matthew 11:28–30

The definition reflects devastation:

Trauma: An injury (as a wound) to living tissue caused by an extrinsic agent . . . a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from mental or emotional stress.

Like potatoes in a pressure cooker, we twenty-first century creatures understand the meaning of stress.

A week doesn’t pass without a few skirmishes with those “extrinsic agents” that beat upon our fragile frames. They may be as mild as making lunches for our kids before 7:30 in the morning (mild?) or as severe as a collision with another car . . . or another person.

Makes no difference.

The result is “trauma”—a two-bit word for nervous. You know, the bottom-line reason Valium remains a top seller. Our emotional wounds are often deep. They don’t hemorrhage like a stabbing victim’s, but they are just as real and just as painful . . . sometimes more.

Years ago, a stress test carried on by Dr. Thomas Holmes and his colleagues concluded that an accumulation of two hundred or more “life change units” in any year may mean more disruption—more trauma—than an individual can stand. On their scale, death of a spouse equals one hundred units, divorce represents seventy-three units . . . and Christmas equals twelve units! That helps explain the idea behind “something snapping” inside certain people when the final straw falls on them. Our capacity for trauma has its limits.

Joseph Bayly could certainly understand. He and his wife lost three of their children—one at eighteen days (after surgery); another at five years (leukemia); a third at eighteen years (sledding accident plus hemophilia). In my wildest imagination, I cannot fathom the depth of their loss. In the backwash of such deep trauma, the Bayly couple stood sometimes strong, sometimes weak, as they watched God place a period before the end of the sentence on three of their children’s lives. And their anguish was not relieved when well-meaning people offered shallow, simple answers amidst their grief.

Eyes that read these words might very well be near tears. You are trying to cope without hope. You are stretched dangerously close to the “200-unit” limit . . . and there’s no relief on the horizon. You’re bleeding and you’ve run out of bandages. You have moved from mild tension to advanced trauma.

Be careful! You are in the danger zone, emotionally. You’re a sitting duck, and the adversary is taking aim with both barrels loaded, hoping to open fire while you are vulnerable. Bam! “Run!” Boom! “Think suicide.”

Listen carefully! Jesus Christ opens the gate, gently looks at you and says:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
(Matthew 11:28–30 MSG)

Nothing complicated. No big fanfare, no trip to Mecca, no hypnotic trance, no fee, no special password. Just come. Meaning? Unload. Unhook the pack and drop it in His lap . . . now. Allow Him to take your stress as you take His rest. Does He know what trauma is all about? Remember, He’s the One whose sweat became like drops of blood in the agony of Gethsemane. If anybody understands trauma, He does. Completely.

His provision is profound, attainable, and right. He’s a master at turning devastation into restoration.

Look again at His invitation in Matthew 11:28–30, and accept it with all your heart.

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Excerpted from Come Before Winter and Share My Hope, Copyright © 1985, 1988, 1994 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc.

Q&A: How Do I Heal From Emotional Abuse?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: My physical injuries have healed from people who’ve abused me, but the negative feelings are still there. What can I do to find deeper healing?

Answer: Emotional wounds can be much more damaging than physical wounds can be and usually heal very slowly. I’d highly recommend that you read the last section (Surviving It) of my book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship as well as How to Live Right When Your Life Goes Wrong for specific steps that you can take for your emotional growth and healing. But let me share with you a meditation I’ve been pondering that will give you a good start.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the story of the women who had an issue of blood for 12 years. You know her; she touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, hoping to be healed. But let’s look more closely at her story to understand how deeper healing takes place. (Read Mark 5 and Luke 8 for the story.)

Here is a woman who was an outcast. She was labeled an unclean woman, socially unacceptable, undesirable, and dirty. Jewish law mandated that if someone touched an unclean person, they would need to go through the Jewish purification ritual in order to regain their rights to enter the temple. She was an untouchable woman and people kept their distance. She had spent all her resources to find help, but she only got worse. This woman heard Jesus coming and thought to herself, “if only I can touch his cloak, I will be healed” ─ and to her surprise ─ she was.

Immediately she tried to escape the crowd unnoticed. Remember, she touched Jesus and according to Jewish law, that made him unclean. How embarrassed and scared she must have felt when Jesus turned and asked, “Who touched me?” If she identified herself then everyone would know what she had done.

Let’s step back for a moment and look at the larger story here. Jesus was heading to Jairus’ house. Jairus was a Jewish leader, a ruler of the synagogue. Yet he approached Jesus for help because his young daughter lay dying. Jairus was a daddy before he was a religious leader and so he fell at Jesus’ feet begging him to heal his daughter.

It was on the way to Jairus’ home with the crowd pressing on that Jesus stopped to ask who touched him. I wonder in that moment what Jairus thought and felt. Did he feel impatient, anxious for Jesus to hurry up and get to his house? His daddy’s heart wanted his daughter healed. I wonder if he also felt a bit angry at this woman for distracting Jesus and taking valuable time away from a more pressing need. I suspect he might have even felt angry that Jesus did not prioritize his daughter’s life threatening illness over this woman’s chronic bleeding problem.

Jarius was a person of influence and importance. He was a leader; he spoke and people listened. He risked everything to beg Jesus for help and now Jesus was wasting time asking who touched him while his daughter lay dying. Now Jesus himself was unclean too.

Do you ever feel like Jairus? God isn’t moving fast enough for your emergency? Angry and impatient that other people’s prayers are getting answered while you are still waiting?

Jairus was a daddy and wanted to see his daughter healed. But dear readers, one of the lessons of this story is that this unclean woman had a daddy too, and her daddy cared about her needs and he knew she had no one who begged for her healing. Jesus stopped and called her forth because he wanted her to know something very important. Listen to what he told her. He said, “Daughter, Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” He wanted her to know that her daddy (the Heavenly Father) saw her suffering and told Jesus to help her too.

Jesus wanted her to know that she mattered to God. Although her culture rejected her, God did not. Although she was judged to be unclean, Jesus declared her whole. He wanted her to know that she was a person of value and worth. Even in a pressured moment, Jesus took the time to have a conversation with a nameless women who felt unclean, unloved and unimportant. He wanted her to know who she was. She was a daughter and her Daddy loved and cared about her.

How about you? Perhaps your mother abused you. Your husband rejects you. People don’t understand you. You feel like an unclean women, damaged goods. If only you could touch his cloak, you’d be well. I have good news for you. Daughter, go in peace and be freed from your suffering. 

God wants to help you. He wants you to know that you matter. You are important to him. He sees you and knows you and is never too busy with more important people to meet your very personal need. You are not nameless, or worthless, or hopeless. You have a daddy, he’s called Abba (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6).

Knowing and believing that, is the beginning of your healing.

As for Jairus, Jesus didn’t forget about his concern although he probably felt that way once he got word that his daughter died. But Jesus turned to Jairus and said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.” What did it take to walk those next miles home, heavy with sorrow yet clinging to faith? Perhaps that’s where you are right now. You feel hopeless or angry or disappointed. But Jairus trusted what Jesus said to him, and because he did, he got to see a miracle. Jesus took his precious daughter’s hand and said, “Honey, wake up.”

What is Jesus saying to you right now, even if the midst of sorrow, heartache, broken dreams and shattered promises? Can you trust what he is saying and continue to walk in faith? That is healing. He says to you and to me, “Honey, wake up”.

THE DARKNESS OF CHRISTMAS

SOURCE:  Courtney Reissig/The Gospel Coalition

Until one year, when it didn’t.

I had been married a little more than a year when my first dark Christmas hit. I had every reason to think I would be bursting out of my normal clothes and growing a little baby. But I wasn’t. There were no food aversions, no bouts of nausea, and no need for stretchy pants. The baby inside me had stopped growing weeks before. I was devastated. I felt little Christmas joy that year; there was only Christmas ache and a longing for what might have been. It wasn’t my last sad Christmas, as we waited for God to provide us with children. What was once such a happy family time for me, suddenly became a stinging reminder of the very thing I wanted most but still lacked—a family filled with children of my own.

Whenever we talk about Christmas we think about happy, joyous times, and that is most certainly the case for many. In the years since our first loss, we’ve had Christmases of joy and Christmases of sorrow. We know the feelings of both. But for others, Christmas can carry a dark cloud of sadness, a sadness that never seems to let up and is only exacerbated by the happiness swirling around you. For some, Christmas is a reminder of the darkness of painful circumstances. It carries no tidings of great joy. Maybe you are facing your first Christmas without your spouse or parents. Maybe you are reminded every Christmas season of your longings for a spouse. The loneliness can make celebrating the holidays too much to bear. Maybe your table is missing a beloved child who is wayward, and things never seem the same without him. Maybe your parents are divorced and you shuffle between two houses on Christmas day, while your friends spend family time together. Christmas feels isolating and meaningless when all is not as it should be.

Whatever darkness you are facing this Christmas, know this: with all of the songs and festivities that point to good cheer and great joy, Christmas recalls darkness unlike any we will ever experience, but a darkness that brought light into a fallen world.

Mary’s Soul-Piercing Pain

While Christmas is about the dawning of great joy in the coming of our Savior, it also foreshadows the darkness of his crucifixion. Simeon told Mary of her son’s purpose, that a sword would pierce her own soul (Luke 2:35). Mary, the woman whose heart warmed for her son with every kick in the womb. Mary, the woman who nursed and diapered the very Son of God. Mary, the woman who loved and raised her son like any other mother would do. And while he was no ordinary son, he was still her son. Bearing the Son of God did not make her numb to the often painful realities of motherhood, and her pain would be excruciating. No earthly person felt the weight of Christ’s purpose like she did. While many were rejoicing at his coming, she would one day face the agonizing grief of watching her son suffer on the cross for her sins and our sins.

It’s easy to idolize Mary as a super-human vessel, ready to do whatever was asked of her. While she was certainly godly, she was still human. She was still a mother. This is what Simeon is getting at in his prophecy. With the atonement for our sins came the motherly pain of Mary. As she stared at that little baby in the manger, she may not have fully understood all that was going to take place, but God the Father did. The birth of our Savior carried an ominous shadow of the darkness to come.

God’s Chosen Pain

Mary may not have fully understood what Jesus was sent to do, but God the Father knew of this imminent grief and ordained it to be (Isa. 53:10). Jesus knew what was expected of him, and he agonized over the grief and suffering waiting for him at Calvary (Luke 22:39-46). With every shepherd’s praise and magi’s gift, the Father knew that the perfect fellowship would soon be momentarily broken for sin. In her book When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty, Joni Eareckson Tada wrote of the Father and the Son’s grief at the cross:

The Father watches as his heart’s treasure, the mirror-image of himself, sinks drowning into raw, liquid sin. Jehovah’s stored rage against humankind from every century explodes in a single direction. “Father! Father! Why have you forsaken me?!” But heaven stops its ears. The Son stares up at the One who cannot, who will not, reach down in reply. The Trinity had planned it. The Son endured it. The Spirit enabled him. The Father rejected the Son whom he loved. Jesus, the God-man from Nazareth, perished. The Father accepted his sacrifice for sin and was satisfied. The Rescue was accomplished. God set down his saw. This is who asks us to trust him when he calls on us to suffer.

With the joy over this little baby in the manger came the promised reality that the joy would soon turn to momentary grief. We have a perfect heavenly Father who knows what it means to grieve over loss. The darkness of our Christmas is not foreign to this God. He is not aloof. He is present with us, because he knows us deeply and walks with us in our pain. He has endured deep pain, too.

When we think about Christmas and are heartbroken to face another holiday with tears, we have hope. While Mary faced heart-piercing grief as she birthed her son, this grief was for the good of us all. While God the Son suffered at the crucifixion, by this suffering we are healed (Isa. 53:5), and he is a great high priest who can sympathize with our sufferings (Heb. 4:15).

Whatever darkness you face this Christmas, it is not the final word in your life. It may be lifelong. It may feel like it will never let up. It may threaten to undo you at times. And it is real. But we can grieve this holiday with hope that one day the baby who came in a manger will wipe every tear from our eyes and make his blessings flow for us forever (Rev. 21:4). The darkness that hovered over his cradle did not win. And it won’t win over us either.

Success Through Failure

SOURCE:  June Hunt

CAUSES OF FAILURE

He gets in the way again!

Peter, with his impetuous behavior, attempts to interrupt the Father’s plan for the Son. Peter cannot possibly see how the death of Jesus would accomplish anything good or positive. In fact, His death seemed to be the death of the disciples’ dreams.

Previously, Peter had rebuked Jesus for even talking about being crucified. Now in the Garden of Gethsemane, he tries to block Jesus’ arrest, the triggering event that would lead to the Crucifixion, by using violence. With sword in hand, Peter strikes off the right ear of the high priest’s servant. Immediately Jesus picks up the ear and fully restores it.

Obviously Peter didn’t “get it.” He failed to see the big picture—even though Jesus had tried to tell him. But Peter wasn’t listening.

“Jesus commanded Peter, ‘Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?’ ”
(John 18:11)

A. What Are Rungs on the Ladder of Wrong Thinking?

With Peter or with any of us, wrong assumptions always lead to wrong conclusions.

All inventors are well aware of the mockers and scoffers—those who just don’t “get it.” But if our mindset is correct, we won’t be controlled by naysayers. We’ll press forward with God’s perfect plan, even if it may not make sense at the time. Stopping short means missing out on the best part of all … which for Jesus was resurrection!

In 1978 the first successful transatlantic balloon flight was accomplished by the Double Eagle II. It was not the first attempt. In fact, thirteen attempts had been made from 1873 through 1978. What was the difference? Lessons from previous failures!

Success can be defined as the intelligent application of failure. Failure is a fact of life. It can lead to despair—or it can lead to increased efforts with the possibility of success.

Steps to success are usually marked with many failures. That is why your attitude regarding failures will greatly influence your future.

“God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self discipline.”
(2 Timothy 1:7)

The result of wrong thinking often manifests itself in fearfulness.

• Fearful of Ridicule “They’ll make fun of me if I fail.”
— People laughed at Robert Fulton’s strange, smoking craft chugging down the river, yet “Fulton’s Folly” became the first steamboat in 1807.

• Fearful of Inexperience “No one will believe in me.”
— When the great tenor Caruso first sang for his instructor, he was told that his voice sounded like “wind whistling through the window.”

• Fearful of Failure “I told you I would blow it.”
— Albert Einstein failed his university entrance exams on his first attempt.

• Fearful of Inadequacy “I shouldn’t try.… I may not know everything I need to know.”
— The first car Henry Ford invented and marketed did not have a reverse gear.

• Fearful of Change “It’s never been done—it won’t work.”
— The Wright Brothers first offered their flying machine to the United States government but were not taken seriously. A few years later they closed a contract with the United States Department of War for the first military airplane.

• Lacking Confidence “I don’t think I can do it.”
— Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times, but he also hit 714 home runs.

• Lacking Conviction “It really doesn’t matter that much.”
— Thomas Edison had over 1,000 failures before he found the right combination for the light bulb.

• Lacking Perseverance “I can’t run the risk of failure.”
— R. H. Macy failed seven times in retailing before his New York store was a success.

• Lacking Trust in God “I really don’t have what it takes.”
— When the great pianist Paderewski first chose to study the piano, his music teacher told him his hands were much too small to master the keyboard.

B. How Does Faulty Thinking Produce Failure?

He was right in his motives but wrong in his timing. Peter was in an exclusive group of three, along with James and John, who were led by Jesus up a mountain for a glimpse into the heavenly realm.

Suddenly, Jesus was transfigured before them, His face shining like the sun and His clothes becoming white as light. He began talking, not with the trio of disciples, but with Moses and Elijah!

Peter gets busy, concluding that the fulfillment of the Kingdom has come and making preparations in conjunction with its arrival. “Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah’ ” (Matthew 17:4).

The Father interrupts Peter from a voice in a bright cloud, expressing love and pleasure toward his Son, Jesus, and evoking great fear in the disciples. Jesus touches them and tells them not to be afraid, and when they got up after falling prostrate in fear, they were alone with Jesus.

Obviously, there was “kingdom work” yet to do. Because Peter had faulty thinking, he therefore had faulty conclusions.

Answer the questions below to determine whether you are telling yourself lies about failure …

FAULTY THINKING TEST

• Do you think you must avoid the hurt that results from having failed?

Truth: Hurt cannot be avoided in life. It gives opportunity for mental, emotional, and spiritual growth.

• Do you think taking “chances” almost always leads to calamity?

Truth: Taking chances can lead to opportunity.

• Do you think it is imperative to do only what is “safe,” that within your comfort zone?

Truth: Your concern for safety should be secondary to following God’s leading, following your heart, and satisfying your desire to grow and learn.

• Do you think it would be terrible if you made a wrong decision?

Truth: Every wrong decision can teach you something of value and can be a stepping stone to making right decisions.

• Do you think you must never make a mistake?

Truth: Mistakes are common to everyone.

• Do you think God will reject you or be angry with you if you fail?

Truth: God knows you will fail and is pleased with your fortitude and persistent acceptance of challenges that stretch your abilities and strengthen your reliance on Him.

• Do you think failure is an indication that you are stupid or weak?

Truth: Failure is universal, experienced by both the literate and the illiterate, the strong and the weak.

• Do you think others will think less of you if you fail at something?

Truth: Others value you for your character traits and Christlike attitudes and actions rather than whether or not you fail at something. And remember, they, too, have failed.

• Do you think it is a bad reflection on Christ when you fail?

Truth: Your failures provide a platform to show others that your security is in Christ, not in your successes.

• Do you think failure is shameful and sinful?

Truth: Failing does not make you a failure. Failure is sinful only when it is a result of disobedience.

• Do you think you must plan every action and, thus, avoid loss, pain, or disgrace?

Truth: You cannot control life, but you can trust the sovereignty of God when He allows loss, pain, and even disgrace in your life.

“ ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ ”
(Isaiah 55:8–9)

C. What Facts Make You a Failure or a Success?

Following a serious failure, what makes one person continue to fail and another to become a success? The answer is twofold: Who is willing to take responsibility for the failure? Who learns the valuable lessons that can come from the failure?

Peter becomes a success because his self-brashness is replaced with a heart of humility. He is able to say to fellow sufferers from his own experience, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).

Success through failure. The same words can be said about Peter’s spiritual counterpart, the apostle Paul. Prideful Paul learned this lesson well: Take responsibility for the wrong and gain a heart of humility. He writes, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).

THE APOSTLE PAUL

Facts about Paul that could have caused him to see himself as a failure …

• Fact: He labeled himself the worst of sinners.

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

• Fact: He strongly embraced and actively promoted wrong priorities and values in his young adulthood.

“I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8)

• Fact: His life was filled with disappointments, trials, and hardships.

“Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned.” (2 Corinthians 11:24–25)

• Fact: He did not consider himself to be an eloquent orator.

“I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words.” (1 Corinthians 2:3–4)

• Fact: His prayers were not always answered according to his desires.

“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ ” (2 Corinthians 12:7–9)

• Fact: He was hindered by an unpleasant bodily ailment.

“It was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you.” (Galatians 4:13)

• Fact: He experienced resentment and rejection.

“After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan.” (Acts 9:23–24)

• Fact: He was imprisoned and kept in chains for his faith.

“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal.” (2 Timothy 2:8–9)

Facts about Paul that prevented him from considering himself a failure …

• Fact: He realized that God was the source of his strength.

“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)

• Fact: He refused to allow circumstances to crush his heart or control his life.

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed …” (2 Corinthians 4:8)

• Fact: He trusted God and accepted his own limited understanding of all of God’s plans and purposes.

“[We are] … perplexed, but not in despair …” (2 Corinthians 4:8)

• Fact: He knew that God was with him in the midst of tough and trying times.

“[We are] … persecuted, but not abandoned …” (2 Corinthians 4:9)

• Fact: He understood and fully embraced the fact that Jesus had called him to suffer for the sake of the Gospel.

“[We are] … struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:9)

• Fact: He knew that things are not always as they appear and that according to God’s standard, he was strongest whenever he appeared to be weakest.

“For Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)

• Fact: He had learned from experience and his knowledge of the character of God that his joy was in God, not in his so-called successes.

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:12)

• Fact: He knew his life was hidden in Christ and that whether he lived or died … whether he was considered a success or a failure, he was loved by God.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

D. What Is the Primary Cause of Failure?

Cocksure of himself—that’s what he is! Peter proclaims his undying loyalty to Jesus only to betray Him hours later. He then is flabbergasted at his own failure, and the characteristic cocky spirit is replaced with a crushed spirit.

It is amazing how little we know about ourselves. God has to take us through all kinds of failures to reveal the self-focused pride that lies dormant in the corners of our character. The only way we can be of any use to God is to respond with discernment to our disappointments. Discernment leads us to truth—and truth punctures our pride … all for His purpose of molding us to the image of His Son.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
(James 1:2–4)

The following acrostic on PRIDE can help you discern the truth about yourself. Are you …

Preoccupied with the opinions of others?

“They loved praise from men more than praise from God.” (John 12:43)

Refusing wise counsel?

“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22)

Ignoring the power of prayer?

“You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.” (James 4:2)

Depending on self-effort?

“Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Galatians 3:3)

Expecting praise and personal recognition?

“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)

E. Root Cause of Wrong Responses to Failure

With absolute confidence he crows, “I would never do that! I would never stoop to that.… I’m stronger than that!” Then the day comes when the very act he said he wouldn’t do, he does. And sadly, not just once. Here is Peter, who stumbles and falls … Peter, who feels the piercing pain of his own failure.

“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
(Proverbs 16:18)

Can you relate to Peter? Although he was a disciple within the inner circle of Jesus, he suffered self-centered setbacks that devastated him. He could have become paralyzed with despondency and despair, but one of the hallmarks of maturity is to evaluate our mistakes and wrong mindsets and learn invaluable lessons from them. This way, our stumbling stones of failure can become stepping stones of success.

The root cause of an inability to accept failure and to learn from mistakes is a wrong belief system.

WRONG BELIEF:

“Failure is a sign of personal defeat. I must accomplish my goals and be successful in the eyes of others to feel good about myself.”

RIGHT BELIEF:

“Failure is God’s way of deepening my dependence on Him. Success is submitting to God’s goal of Christlikeness for my life—regardless of the outcome.”

“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:28–29)

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Hunt, J. (2008). Biblical Counseling Keys on Success through Failure: From Stumbling Stones to Stepping Stones (pp. 10–15). Dallas, TX: Hope For The Heart.

How Will I Ever Overcome My Failures?

SOURCE:  Taken from the work of  J. G. Kruis 

Overcoming Sin

     1.  The truth sets us free.

John 8:32. “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

  1. By nature we are all slaves to sin, but Jesus sets us free.
    John 8:34–36. Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”
  2. A believer can overcome sin because he is a new creature.
    2 Cor. 5:17. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
  3. God has given us all we need for life and godliness.

2 Peter 1:3. As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue.

  1. God requires you to work out your salvation in every area of life.
    Phil. 2:12. Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;
  2. God enables you to do so; you need not go it on your own.
    Phil. 2:13. For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
  3. God is able to make all grace abound to you, to enable you to overcome any specific sin.
    2 Cor. 9:8. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.
  4. We are being transformed more and more into the likeness of Jesus.
    2 Cor. 3:18. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
  5. You must keep working at breaking sinful habits and developing new and godly ways.
    Eph. 4:22–24. That you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
    Col. 3:9–10. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.
  6. Like a runner in a race, keep pressing on until you have gained the victory.
    Phil. 3:12–14.
  7. Don’t keep dwelling on past failures; nor should you get discouraged and give up after you have failed. Hang in there!
    Phil. 3:13–14. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
  8. Get rid of everything which might hinder you. Persevere!
    Heb. 12:1. Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
  9. One who is saved by grace must no longer serve sin. Keep working at overcoming it, using your body to serve only the Lord.
    Rom. 6:11–22. (Romans 6 contains much good instruction concerning how a Christian must and can overcome sin through the grace and power of God.)
  10. Don’t be mastered by any sin.
    1 Cor. 6:12. All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
  11. Christ, dwelling in us, enables us to overcome sin.
    Gal. 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.”
  12. Drunkards, homosexuals, idolaters, and others caught up in wickedness can overcome sin by God’s power and grace.
    1 Cor. 6:11. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
  13. Paul, Titus, and others were set free from the power of sin. God gave them victory through the Holy Spirit.
    Titus 3:3–7.
    Titus 3:5–6. Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior.
  14. Use the infallible Word of God.
    2 Tim. 3:16–17. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
  15. A true Christian will not live in sin.
    1 John 3:6. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.
    1 John 3:9. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.
  16. Jude mentions three things that are necessary to remain faithful to God.
    Jude 20–21. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

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Kruis, J. G. (1994). Quick scripture reference for counseling (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

 

Marriage Q&A: What If I Really Try, But Things Don’t Get Better?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Are You Living by Faith or by Fear?

Today’s Question:  I have read some of your blogs and done some of your suggestions. But what I experience from my husband when I act in the ways you describe is rage, anger, bitterness and resentment and it’s not because I didn’t say it right.  It’s because he’s not getting his own way and it’s becoming too much for me to handle (it’s been 25 years).

I believe the next step is to seek a counselor who can help us both communicate better, respect each other and then allow my husband the gift of consequences if he chooses not to work on these issues.  I signed up for a mutual relationship, not a servant master relationship and I plan to hold him to his word, lovingly.

I believe from my experience with my husband that he will not cooperate with anything and will give me the ultimatum, “Take it or leave it. You have the problem.”

What do you think?  Speaking up terrifies me because I don’t know what could happen and rocking the boat causes a lot of anger, not just in our marriage but in the whole family.

Do you have anything to offer besides trust in the Lord, pray, don’t be afraid or be anxious for nothing.  I know these wonderful truths, but even Jesus cried and exuded blood from his pores, even Moses was scared, even Abraham doubted when he walked the journey to place Isaac on the altar.  All of these emotions are part of being human, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have faith. My family is very dear to me and I’m afraid that if I put my foot down it will only get worse.  Is it wrong to just want peace and rest?  I know God won’t give us more than we can handle, but I am so very tired and I’m afraid of the outcome.

Answer:  You are right – we are human and we all have real and raw emotions when we live in stressful situations where there is continual conflict, bullying and disrespect.

Your letter indicates you are conflicted about this change you want to make.  On the one hand you say you are very tired of living this way and are ready to make a serious attempt at real change. On the other hand you are very afraid that the change you desire won’t occur and by standing up to him, things could get worse.

I was just reading today in the psalms. It said, “My soul has dwelt too long with one who hates peace. I am for peace; But when I speak, they are for war” (Psalm 120:6,7 NKJV).  Your situation reminds me of many marriages where one person wants peace, but when she or he finally speaks up, it just causes more drama, more hatred, more conflict.

You’re right. Just because you finally take a stand and say “I didn’t sign up for a slave/master relationship” doesn’t mean that your husband will be willing to move toward a more mutual marriage. As long as he’s the master and you’re willing to be the slave, it works for him.  However, perhaps he’s just as frightened of change as you are or just as unhappy.

So you ask if there is anything I can offer besides the standard trust God and don’t be anxious?  It’s sad to me that we don’t find the comfort and healing in God’s word that he wants us to but I understand what you are saying.

But here’s what I want you to know.  God designed marriage to be a mutually loving and respectful relationship, not a slave/master one. Because that is God’s will for marriage, know that he is on the side of the oppressed when one person takes power over another and uses words, money, physical force or the scriptures to dominate and control the other.

When you respectfully speak up against injustice and oppression in a marriage (or any- where else for that matter), know that God is on your side.  If the other person refuses to listen, the gift of consequences can be a painful but helpful reminder that he or she will not reap the benefits of a good marriage when they sow discord and selfishness.

Sadly, when we are in close relationship with people (as in marriage and family) when one person receives painful consequences, often the entire family also suffers.  That’s what you fear and rightly so.

So I think the next step you’ll need to ask yourself in this whole process is do you want to live in fear – fear of staying or the fear of leaving, or do you want to live in faith (whether you think it wise to leave or stay)?  Faith that God knows your story. Faith that God is bigger than your story. Faith that God has a plan for your life and he is your helper in times of trouble.

It’s interesting to me that the psalmist says both, “I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?” (Psalm 56:11), and “When I am afraid, I will trust God” (Psalm 56:3). There are times our faith is so big we don’t feel fear. Other times, we are so filled with fear we will be overwhelmed by it if we don’t trust God.

I pray you choose faith, even when you feel fear.

The Hopeless Marriage

SOURCE:  Ed Welch/CCEF

Most marriages have times when one spouse does not like the other, and the dislike is usually mutual—at least my “friends” tell me that is accurate, though I’m confident that even when my wife thinks she doesn’t like me, she secretly—very secretly—likes me.

For some of us, these times happen less frequently and we manage them with more skill and grace. For others, mutual dislike is chronic rather than acute, and marital hopelessness becomes the rule.

I hate that hopelessness. The choices are to persist in the relationship and see who dies first or to craft an independent life and try to pretend you don’t care. Either way, your soul withers. It is hard to have a vibrant life with God when your primary relationship is in the dumper.

So, what can you do?

1. I don’t know. That might not seem too helpful but, at least, it shows you some respect. I am saying that there is nothing easy about your situation. If any friend or counselor has the answer for you, that person probably doesn’t understand that you have tried all the answers and they don’t work.

The blessed feature of this is that the only thing we can do is cry out for mercy to the God who hears, understands, has a unique interest in relational unity, and has the power to raise the dead. The ever-present danger in counseling is that counselors figure out ways to “fix” people, which means that we might bypass our spiritual neediness and constant dependence on the Spirit.

In this sense, “I don’t know” means “in your hopelessness, you are at the end of yourselves and need divine intervention.” Such humility is both attractive and hopeful.

2. Volunteer to go first. When both spouses have their guns loaded and aimed, it takes a good bit of spiritual courage to lower your weapon first.

But, assuming that you are not in a physically dangerous situation, it is the only way to win. The Sermon on the Mount codifies the way of power and prestige (Matt. 5:1-10). Imagine how good it would be to be disliked by your spouse for doing righteousness rather than selfishness. Imagine setting your goal to love your spouse more than you want to be loved by your spouse. The worst that will happen is that you will be blessed and know Jesus better than ever. The best thing that will happen is that you will know Jesus better, spiritual beings will be stunned at the power of God in weak people, and, somehow, you will have contributed to the Kingdom of God in ways that will endure far beyond death.

Anyone willing to drop their weapons? It gets boring to fight with someone who doesn’t fight back with worldly strategies.

3. Remember that your battle is not with flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12). If we know anything, it is this: Satan is invited into every divided relationship (Eph. 4:26), and, once invited, he will not leave unless his invitation is revoked.

Every divided relationship—all hopelessness—has demonic fingerprints all over it. It is as if hopeless spouses are aiming their bb guns at each other; meanwhile, Satan’s rocket launcher is ready to destroy husband, wife, and anyone who is close by, such as children.

Somehow, at least one spouse must see that Satan is a much greater threat than the other spouse.

You will receive little consolation to know that there are other Christians who are in hopeless relationships that look quite similar to your own. But you should be encouraged that hopelessness is a small step from spiritual neediness, which is the foundation of all change. And you should be encouraged that the impossible—think  of the Israelites being cornered by Egyptians at the Red  Sea—is an ideal venue for God’s power.

Does God Ever Say, “I Am Disappointed In You?”

SOURCE:  Ed Welch/CCEF

“I Am Disappointed in You”

Be angry with me, call me all kinds of names, but, please, don’t be disappointed in me.

As a general rule, the older you get, the more oppressive the word.

Disappointing other people

If my wife says, “I am so angry with you.” I can live with that. But if she says, “I’m not angry. I am just disappointed in you,” that is unbearable. I feel like a scolded puppy. My tail goes between my legs, I retreat to the corner, and . . . I feel helpless because I am not sure what I can do to change her opinion. I could ask forgiveness, and she would be quick to forgive, but I would still be left feeling like a disappointment.Forgiveness does not remove disappointment. Maybe I would make vows to do better and spend the rest of the day living out those vows, but it would still be unbearable.

One reason being a disappointment is so hard is that it makes you feel less than—lower than—the person you disappointed. That’s why it might be harder the older we get. Kids already feel like they are not quite in the same category as adults, so they don’t fall very far, but other adults and spouses are peers, and now you have slipped down the ladder into the child category, or that of the family dog.

It is not wrong to be disappointed with someone. The Apostle Paul certainly was disappointed with the churches in Galatia and Corinth (e.g., 1 Cor 3:1). My point is simply that the experience of being a disappointment to someone close to you, especially a peer, is a tough one to shake off.

And, of course, what we find in our relationships with human beings we can typically find in our relationship with the Lord.

Disappointing God

Most people I know, when they think about seeing God face-to-face, would love to hear, “well done, good and faithful servant.” But most only hope for this. They are fairly certain that God will say, “You are such a disappointment. Forgiven, but a disappointment.”

Ugh. And how long does it take to unwrap your tail from between your legs in that relationship?

Can you sense how dangerous this is? If I am a disappointment, I turn away until I can somehow be a little more acceptable. In human relationships that means that we hope the urgent matters of daily life will distract the other person from the disappointment and we can soon act like nothing ever happened. But we don’t think that God is so easily distracted or quite as forgetful.

Don’t turn away from God

Since this identifies a common human experience, then we can be certain that Scripture says much about it. Here is just one way the Lord speaks to us about this essential matter.

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”(Numbers 6: 22-27)

This is how God deals with disappointing people. And remember that Israel by this time was supremely disappoint-ing. You might rival them in being disappointment-worthy but not top them.

The Lord turns his face toward them and delights in blessing them. In doing this he invites them to turn their face toward him. There are no doghouses in the Kingdom of God.

So when you feel like a disappointment to the Lord, hear his blessing and turn toward him. If you are looking for words to say to him, “thank you” is usually a fine place to start.

Don’t turn away from other people

Now, back to those times we disappoint others. The answer is the same: don’t turn away. They may not be so quick to pronounce an enthusiastic priestly blessing in our direction, but once we realize that disappointment is not a word that our Father uses with us, we might be bolder when we disappoint mere humans.

So instead of turning away from someone who is rightly disappointed with you, imagine going toward the person (probably after you have asked forgiveness), and saying: “I know I disappointed you, and I hate that, so I want to understand your concerns—I want to really hear them and take them seriously—because my relationship with you is important to me.”

Move toward people with humility rather than humiliation. That’s what we are after.

It Hurts to Be a Child of Divorce

SOURCE:  Tricia Goyer/Family Life

The best thing you can do for yourself, for your children, and for our culture is to make your marriage work—and encourage others to do the same.

I remember the first time I heard that a friend’s parents were divorcing. I must have been 7 at the time, and I didn’t understand. Was that possible? People were allowed to do that?

It didn’t seem right. More than that, it seemed wrong.

Growing up, I didn’t know my biological dad, and my mom married my stepdad when I was 4 so I remember little before him. They had a fine marriage, but there were always issues. Even as a kid I was aware of that. Money, church, friends, attitudes, other attractions, the chore of children … these things weighed on my parents. There were times I thought their marriage was over, but then they’d come back together again—until the time they didn’t.

I remember the moment my stepdad told me that he had filed divorce papers. My parent’s divorce wasn’t unexpected, but my heart ached all the same.

He’d been waiting to tell me because I was planning my own wedding. But the day he chose to tell me was my wedding day. Yes, my wedding day. He didn’t want me to be surprised, when I returned from my honeymoon, that he was living someplace else.

I can picture your dropped jaw … and I felt the same shock and disbelief as I drove away later that day with my new husband. I was 18 years old and newly married, but something still felt wrong about my parents getting a divorce. I felt like a hurt kid inside.

For a child, things never seem “right” again after your parents divorce. It was weird to see my mom without my dad there. It seemed weird to have to go to two Christmas gatherings, two Thanksgivings. It’s the most unnatural thing in the world.

Another thing you can’t shake as a child of divorce is the feeling that it’s partly your fault.

I went through some very rocky years as a teenager, and I caused a lot of stress for my parents.  During my junior year of high school, when my mom wondered if she should leave my stepdad and get her own apartment, I told her I thought she should. Even though my input had very little effect on their decision, I still feel guilt.  It’ll always be there. There’s always a feeling that if I’d been a better kid it would have been easier for my parents to work it out.

The truth about being a child of divorce is that it hurts no matter how old you are. This is not how God created things. A commitment is a commitment, especially one made before God.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because if my generation has anything in common, it is our universal exposure to divorce—not only with our parents, but in our marriages. If you’re alive today, divorce has had a profound effect on you—financially, emotionally, morally, spiritually. Our lives are different because of what has happened in our country’s marriages.

And where does that leave us? As people who understand the pain and struggle, it’s our job to help strengthen marriages—those around us and our own. Sure, you might think your friend has a good excuse for divorce, but don’t encourage it. Encourage forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation. Pray. Pray hard.

Pray for the couples out there, and pray for their children. We’ve seen enough hurting kids grow into hurting adults.

And if you’re considering a divorce yourself … I beg you to reconsider. The grass is not greener. Happiness is not found in someone else. Love can be rekindled.

The best thing you can do for yourself and for your children is to give your marriage a second chance. Don’t think that walking away from your commitment will come without consequences. Don’t think you’re not going to break your children’s hearts.

If you don’t want to try again, take your hurt and pain to God. Tell Him that the love is gone and seek His help. Love can sprout where you think there is only dead, dry ground. God can do miracles, and He wants to start in your heart.

I promise.

God promises.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10

What Is the Father Wound?

SOURCE:  Jeff Eckert

Jack is a 42-year-old who entered my office for counseling after his wife discovered his long history of Internet pornography, and trips to local massage parlors. As I began to explore his history in an attempt to understand the deeper issues involved, I was struck by one of Jack’s statements: ‘My father always provided for us and was home every night after work. But even though he was there, he was never really present.’

Thus begins an exploration of the question: What is the father wound?

Andrew Comiskey, in his book on sexual and relational healing entitled “Strength in Weakness” writes, ‘Though the Father intended for us to be roused and sharpened by our fathers, we find more often than not that our fathers were silent and distant, more shadow than substance in our lives.’ This kind of a ‘shadow’ presence is not what our heavenly Father intended for our relationships with our earthly fathers. Unfortunately, few fathers follow the injunction of Proverbs 27:17: ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.’

Like Jack, then, many men grew up with fathers who returned home after work, but were never really active as sharpening agents in the lives of their sons. These fathers provided for their sons’ material needs, but they were strangely absent when the time came to satisfy the needs of the heart, such as intimacy and connection. Fathers like this may have been available to coach their sons’ baseball teams or supervise yard work. However, they were less likely to model intimacy in relationships, or to be an active presence when their sons were dealing with the pain of rejection by peers.

In his soul, every man craves deep, intimate connections with other men, but men are often left without the tools for creating these loving, nurturing relationships. A big reason for this has to do with the primary role fathers typically play in families. Rather than nurturing their sons or developing intimacy with them, fathers often spend the majority of their time enforcing the rules. Patrick Morley, in his classic book “Man in the Mirror” states, ‘Mothers love and stroke their children. Angry fathers handle the discipline.’ While this statement may seem unfair to fathers, it is a fair assessment of the father’s role in many families. Not only do fathers interact with their boys in a primarily disciplinary role, but boys are taught to absorb that discipline with a stiff upper lip. Boys learn the lesson very early on that they are not to display any sense of vulnerability. When life gets tough, negative feelings are to be stuffed and internalized.

This stoic, unemotional approach to life is often accompanied by a seemingly unreachable set of expectations from fathers. Countless men enter my counseling office with stories of fathers they could not please: ‘All my life I have felt as if I just couldn’t cut it in my father’s eyes. It always seemed like the bar was raised just above my reach.’ Some of the deepest wounds lie in these feelings of inadequacy, which can then poison other relationships and make true intimacy difficult. Men that grew up with fathers they were unable to please often carry around a suffocating belief system: ‘I can never cut it. And if I’m not cutting it, then why would others want to be around me?’

Another reason men may feel inadequate is because their fathers did not support or affirm them as they moved into manhood. Jack Balswick, in his book “Men at the Crossroads” writes, ‘Tragically, many young men are growing up without a father who will affirm their leap into manhood’Often the voices they do hear are distortions of true manhood.’ Because so many boys do not have a father affirming their ‘leap into manhood,’ that transition is often filled with feelings of fear, anger and frustration, instead of confidence and security. Lonely and discouraged, boys become isolated and alienated men. In this isolated state, men continue to desire closeness and connection, but they often have no concept of how to achieve it.

It is because of this quandary that many men seek out sexual fantasy in an attempt to find some sense of intimacy. Many men feel a void in their lives, often created by the wounds of the past, and some men attempt to fill that void with illicit sexuality. Men’s desire for intimacy and connection is real, powerful, and appropriate. But when men try to satisfy that desire in the form of sexual fantasies and acts, they find merely approximations or shadows of true relationship and connection.

However, a healing balm for men’s wounds, including their father wound, can be found.

By obtaining a biblical understanding of what a father truly is, and through a relationship with Jesus Christ, men can begin to experience healing. More healing can occur through accountability and community with other Christian brothers. As Jack began developing relationships with others who were truly present, and experiencing relationship with a heavenly Father who is always present, his need to escape into the world of sexual fantasy was diminished. Sharing our wounds with fellow sojourners in the journey can provide immeasurable healing. It is in coming out of our own woundedness and brokenness that we can most clearly see the essential nature of relationship with Christ and others.

I Deserve Better Than This! Don’t I?

SOURCE:   Adapted from an article by Karl Benzio/Lighthouse Network/Stepping Stones

Even in Darkness, Light Dawns

When I talk to patients or workshop attendees, they often express a desire for a trouble-free life. And even if they don’t feel they actually deserve it, they desire that problem-free life anyway. It’s true for all of us, isn’t it?

The real question is, “What do we actually deserve?” I’m just trying to keep things real and be straight with you. The answer we all know deep down is: the wages of sin is death. If we really want to accept responsibility for our actions, death is what we deserve.

By choosing “self” over God, Adam and Eve reaped the consequences of separation from God, shame, pain in childbirth (and child-rearing) and difficulty working in the field. Our own sins bring consequences to others and ourselves. We are constantly paying for our sins. And, as we established, when we sin, we deserve death.

Everything we get in this life—breathing, walking, thinking, a home, family, heat, food, or even the ability to read or listen to this devotional—is more than we deserve. What we receive in life is given totally from God. It is His amazing grace-gift to us.

When we think that His provision isn’t enough, it reveals an unbelievable level of immature entitlement, that we feel we actually deserve all the blessings we get. The icing on the cake is that we really believe we deserve more than we already have, despite how much wrong we have committed throughout life.

Instead of being happy about the 38 cancer-free years we enjoyed, we are bitter, believing we “deserve” better than cancer. Instead of being happy about the eight years we had with our son, we ruminate and believe we are entitled to more time with him when he dies. I know this sounds harsh, but we have to get over our level of entitlement, thinking we are the almighty Oz who knows and sees everything.

Just because we had something yesterday, we feel entitled to have it again today (job, finances, college, friendship, health, family, etc). Jesus tells us clearly in John 16:33 that we will have trouble in this world and that we will find peace only in Him. No pain, no gain. When we are weak, He is strong, but we have to believe and apply these time-tested principles.

Today, let go of the illusion of the trouble-free life and begin turning your focus toward your Lord during the dark times, for “even in darkness, light dawns.” Show God you trust His prescription and provision for your life more than your own plan. Remember the grace God extends when you sin. He has a plan for you. Adversity is a necessary component to get your attention and grow you.  Whether you control your reaction to the times of darkness and pain or you let them control you, it’s your decision, so choose well.

Dear Father, please help me give up the belief that I deserve a problem-free life. I remain constantly hungry for solutions for all the difficulties in my life. I know now that this is false hope. You tell me through Your Word that in this world I will have trouble. Help me focus my energy on seeking You—the only perfect One—instead of seeking perfection in this fallen world. I know and believe that it is possible to enjoy You and glorify You in the midst of adverse situations and circumstances. In fact, You have taught me that Your light shines most brightly through believers who trust You while they are in the dark. I thank You, Lord, for the Christians you have placed in my life. The kind of trust they have in You is clearly supernatural, possible only by Your Spirit living within them. It’s so beautiful and encouraging to see their steadfast hearts, trusting in You, Lord. I pray this in the name of the One who was perfect and who deserved the trouble free-life, but who instead suffered for me, Jesus Christ.  AMEN!

The Truth

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.  John 16:33

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 6:23

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man. He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.  Psalm 112:4 and 7

Do You Want To Be Healed

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian Counselors [AACC]

38 years in a bed. Next to a pool. Sounds relaxing doesn’t it?

But as we read on, the story says the man was alone and horribly crippled. Probably twisted feet, pencil thin legs and atrophied muscles barely covered by a thin blanket. Why? Because this was the pool of Bethesda near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. There was something miraculous about this pool. Periodically the water stirred, and the first one into it was instantly healed.

Suddenly a commotion just inside the gate caused everyone to turn and look.

A Man, followed by a large crowd, walked through one of five alcoves. With humble determination, He moved to the crippled man’s side. Whispers fill the air. “Is it Him?” some ask. Every ear strains to hear what He might say as He kneels tenderly next to the man. And then, with a quiet strong voice full of power and grace, He asked, “Do you want to be healed?”

The broken man feebly hangs his head and utters an interesting reply, “Sir, when the water is stirred, I don’t have anybody to put me in the pool. By the time I get there, somebody else is already in.” His answer only goes to affirm the depths of his hopelessness. Not “yes” or even “no”. Just discouragement and despair…

Even more interesting is the edict He gives in response. “Get up, take your bedroll, start walking.” The man was healed on the spot. He picked up his bedroll and walked off. (John 5:1-9 MSG)

Jesus asked him — Do you want to be healed?

Each of us, at some point in our lives, have heard Him ask us the same question. Whether it’s physically… emotionally… relationally… or spiritually. Too often, we answer with the same timidity he did. Our pain is too deep. The hurt has been lodged in our heart for way too long. The doctors have tried everything. Hopelessness fills our souls…

When you really think about it, healing starts with a choice. And it is always for His glory.

Meditate on these words. Treasure them up and ponder them in your heart:

“But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5 ESV)

“O LORD, my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.” (Psalm 30:2 ESV)

“Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise.” (Jeremiah 17:14 ESV)

“And many followed Him. And He healed them all.” (Matthew 12:15 ESV)

“He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV)

“Do you want to be healed?”   The next time He asks you that heartfelt question, reflect on these verses before you answer.

And yes, He is always waiting and willing to turn our lives around.

What To Do When Your Dreams Stall

SOURCE:  Bonnie Gray/Relevant Magazine

She told me I was selfish to try to be a writer.

My mother said other people can afford to go off to become journalists, but God gave me gifts for a reason. Not so I could do whatever I wanted. Writing was good hobby, she said, but it doesn’t pay the bills or move us out of our low-income housing.

So I shoved my applications to Boston U and Columbia into the garbage can. I applied to become a computer science and engineering major and stayed close to home. I never told anyone about my broken dreams because it always felt like I was being ungrateful for the opportunities I was given to get an education.

I let go of my dream of becoming a writer. I lived separated from my heart.

I eventually found healing, but only after I took the painful path to re-awaken the dreams I tried to deny my whole life.

Maybe you too have given up on the dreams you felt called to when you were younger. Maybe you’re discouraged and think it just isn’t meant to be. I had to learn the hard way that God-given dreams are worth pursuing, even when it’s difficult.

Here are a few things to do when your dreams stall.

Feed Your Soul Instead of Ignoring it.

When your soul is free to be real, you can receive the comfort and strength from God to dream again.

We often think of the action-figure Jesus, but the Bible tells us, “Jesus would often slip away to the wilderness for prayer” (Luke 5:16).

Jesus took time to rest because nurturing His soul with His Father was more important than what He could do.

We need spiritual whitespace to feed our dreams.

Whitespace is the space on a page left unmarked in the world of art and design. Without whitespace, a composition goes from being fine art to commercialization.

Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s poeima — poetry translated as “workmanship”—created in Christ Jesus to do good works.”

Are our lives more like art or cluttered advertisement?

Make Rest Your Ambition

Rest sounds inactive, doesn’t it? I was surprised to find that rest is one of only three ambitions that God explicitly calls out in the Bible. Rest is as important as preaching the gospel and pleasing God (Romans 15:20, 2 Corinthians 5:9).

“We urge you, brethren, to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet (restful) life” (1 Thessalonians 4:10–11).

Downtime puts us in touch with our passion instead of numbing ourselves by managing our inboxes, Facebook updates, TV or achievement-oriented productivity.

Rest rejuvenates our dreams with creativity, deep relationships and adventure.

Cast Your Net On The Other Side

It’s too late, you tell yourself. You’ve moved on and gained strength by helping others. But Jesus sees the nets you’ve left.

Jesus says, “Cast the net on the [other] side of the boat and you will find a catch” (John 21:6).

Jesus sees the empty nets. Put out where it is deeper and let down your nets.

It’s not too late. Try something radically different. Maybe even the opposite direction you’ve been heading.

Confide in God.

It’s soul wearying to constantly hide your dreams. To deny our desires and the pain of loss. We feel guilty for not moving on and beat ourselves for not being thankful.

Instead, Jesus whispers,“Come to me, all those who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Confide in God about how you really feel. Make space to ask the hard questions. When your soul is free to be real, you can receive the comfort and strength from God to dream again.

Journey To Find the Open Door

You’re ready to give up. But no matter how long the journey or how broken you feel your story has become, none of it can change who God made you to be.

It’s not too late. Try something radically different. Maybe even the opposite direction you’ve been heading.

The door to your dreams God has intended for you can never be lost, closed or destroyed by anyone or anything.

“I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name” (Revelations 3:8).

Sometimes, it’s easy to give yourself away when you no longer carry any hope for the dreams you once held.

Sometimes it takes more faith to revisit dreams that have stalled than asking for faith to forget about them.

I went on to finish my book and find my voice. I hope you will take the journey to recover yours with God too.

The Right Way to Respond to Failure

SOURCE:   Peter Bregman/Fox News

My wife Eleanor and I were visiting some friends on a Saturday when their nine-year-old daughter, Dana, came home. She was close to tears, barely holding it together.

“Oh sweetie,” her mom said. “What happened at the swim meet?”

Dana is an excellent swimmer. She trains hard, arriving at swim practice by six most mornings and swimming some afternoons as well. And her efforts are rewarded; she often wins her events, scoring points for her swim team. It is clear she is very proud of these wins.

It isn’t like that for all her endeavors. She struggles with some subjects in school, doing extra math homework to keep up with the other kids and getting special help with her reading. But she always works hard.

“I was disqualified,” she told us. She swam the race well, but dove in a fraction of a second before the starting gun went off: a false start.

We were in the foyer of the house and she sat down on the bottom stair of the staircase, her swim bag still on her shoulder, staring into space, almost expressionless.

“Honey,” her dad said, “there are a lot more swim meets in the season. You’ll have other chances to win.”

I told her, “The fact that you left the block prematurely means you were at your edge. You’re trying not to waste a millisecond in hesitation. That’s the right instinct. You misjudged the timing but that’s OK. The more you do this, the better you’ll get at it.”

“Every swimmer on every team has been disqualified at some point,” Eleanor said. “It’s part of the sport.”

“I’m sure your coach will help you practice your starts before the next meet,” her mom said, “and you’ll figure out exactly when to spring off the block so that you don’t waste a second but you don’t dive too early either. You’ll get it.”

Nothing we said seemed to have any impact on her. Nothing changed her expressionless stare. Nothing helped.

Then her grandmother Mimi walked over.

We were all standing over Dana, when Mimi moved through us and sat down next to her. She put her arm around Dana and just sat there quietly. Eventually, Dana leaned her head on Mimi’s shoulder. After a few moments of silence Mimi kissed Dana’s head and said, “I know how hard you work at this, honey. It’s sad to get disqualified.”

At that point, Dana began to cry. Mimi continued to sit there, with her arm around Dana, for several minutes, without saying anything.

Eventually Dana looked up at Mimi, wiped her tears, and said, simply, “Thanks Mimi.” And I thought, every leader, every manager, every team member, should see this.

All of us except Mimi missed what Dana needed.

We tried to make her feel better by helping her see the advantage of failure, putting the defeat in context, teaching her to draw a lesson from it, and motivating her to work harder and get better so it doesn’t happen again.

But she didn’t need any of that. She already knew it. And if she didn’t, she’d figure it out on her own. The thing she needed, the thing she couldn’t give herself, the thing that Mimi reached out and gave her?

Empathy.

She needed to feel that she wasn’t alone, that we all loved her and her failure didn’t change that, She needed to know we understood how she was feeling and we had confidence that she would figure it out.

I wanted every leader, manager, and team member to see that, because the empathetic response to failure is not only the most compassionate, it’s also the most productive.

Empathy communicates trust. And people perform best when they feel trusted.

When I sit with you in your mistake or failure without trying to change anything, I’m letting you know that you’re okay, even when you don’t perform. And, counter-intuitively, feeling okay about yourself — when you fail — makes you feel good enough to get up and try again.

Most of us miss that. Typically, when people fail, we blame them. Or teach them. Or try to make them feel better. All of which, paradoxically, makes them feel worse. It also prompts defensiveness as an act of self-preservation. (If I’m not okay after a failure, I’d better figure out how to frame this thing so it’s not my failure.)

Our intentions are fine; we want the person to feel better, to learn, to avoid the mistake again. We want to protect our teams and our organizations.

But the learning — the avoidance of future failures — only comes once they feel okay about themselves after failing. And that feeling comes from empathy.

Thankfully, the expression of empathy is fairly simple. When someone has made a mistake or slipped up in some way, just listen to them. Don’t interrupt, don’t offer advice, don’t say that it will be all right. And don’t be afraid of silence. Just listen.

And then, after some time, reflect back what you heard them say, what you feel they’re feeling. That’s it.

I said simple, not easy. It’s hard to just listen and reflect back. It’s hard not to give advice or solve a problem. Hard, but worth the effort.

After some time, Dana got up from the stairs, we all had dinner, and then she went to watch some TV.

We were talking in the living room when she came in to say good night.

“How are you feeling?” I asked her.

“OK, I guess.” She shrugged. “I’m still bummed.”

I almost told her not to worry, that it would be OK, that she would feel better in the morning, that there was always the next race, that she had lots of time to practice.

Almost.

“I understand,” I told her. “It’s a bummer.”

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Peter Bregman is a strategic advisor to CEOs and their leadership teams. His latest book is 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done.

“God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Really!?

SOURCE:   Sue Birdseye/AACC

 

Just Enough Too Much

There was a time when I thought I knew stress. Golly, was I mistaken!

That was before adultery, divorce and single parenting. Now I believe I can safely say, “My life is stressful” without fear of later thinking I was naïve.

Thankfully, this divorced, single parent life, although tough, has revealed God’s faithfulness, love and strength to me in ways I wouldn’t trade for nothin’. And believe me there are definitely lots of things I’d be willing to trade for a long nap!

I’ve been told a bazillion times in the last 4 years that, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Really!? Because it certainly feels like He just did! But I’ve discovered that He gives me just enough too much so that I have to turn to Him. He takes me to the point of having nothing left of myself, so He can give me Himself.

When my husband revealed his betrayal to me, my world tilted dramatically, but God didn’t let it crash. He provided me grace and strength to fight for my marriage, and friends who prayed and fought alongside me.

When my divorce was finalized and my husband married his mistress, my world again seemed on the verge of collapse, but God held it together for me. He revealed His love through His word and His people, and gave me a vision for my future – one filled with hope.

When life as a single parent to five children seems beyond challenging, God continues to strengthen me and love on me. He shows me every day that His grace is sufficient. And believe me, with 5 children grace is an absolute necessity.

I’ve spent many late nights crying out to God for help and many days grumbling about this life. I’ve struggled mightily with the hurt my sweet children have suffered.

Through it all God has been my constant.

He constantly loves me through His word, His presence, and His people.

He’s constantly faithful even when I‘m less than stellar in my faithfulness to Him.

He’s constantly forgiving when I struggle with anger, bitterness and trust.

He’s constantly providing for my family even when I see no way.

I’d think those were mere Christian platitudes if I weren’t experiencing God’s profound love and faithfulness daily. My life’s challenges are just enough too much so that I completely understand that I can indeed do all things through Christ who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)

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Written by Sue Birdseye, author of  When Happily Ever After Shatters.

10 Tips for Recovery after a Major Loss or Disappointment

SOURCE:  Ron Edmondson

Sometimes life throws curves at us that take the wind from our sail. If we aren’t careful we can allow the injury to haunt us for life; never regaining what we have lost.

  • Have you lost a job recently?
  • Have you had a business failure?
  • Did you suffer from divorce?
  • Has the person you trusted the most hurt you the deepest?

What steps should you take to get back on track after a significant loss?

Here are 10 suggestions to consider during a recovery process:

(Choose the ones that apply to your situation)

Reconnect with God – This is always a wise idea, but it becomes necessity at times like this. Some people grow closer to God during a trial (that’s the best approach). Some, however, allow a trial to distract them from their relationship with God. If that’s your story, be like the prodigal and return to a waiting Father.

Evaluate your life – Use this time to reevaluate the decisions you have made in life and, if appropriate, what got you in the situation you are in today. Are there changes that you need to make? If so, be willing to change. If you did nothing wrong in this case, release yourself from responsibility.

Create some new dreams – Don’t allow past mistakes to keep you from discovering your passions in life. Keep those creative forces going in your mind so you’ll be ready when the next big opportunity comes along.

Call in the advisors – Others can usually see things we cannot see. They approach our life from a different perspective. Give someone you trust, who has your best interest at heart, access to the painful part of your life.

Don’t take your pain and anger out on others – It doesn’t make things better (usually worse) and it hurts people who did nothing to deserve it. Don’t hold your past experiences against others who weren’t even there.

Take a break – Don’t expect to recover immediately. Your struggles probably didn’t start overnight and they will not end overnight. Give yourself time to heal. Rest.

When it’s time, be willing to risk again – Yes, you may get hurt again, but just as life is full of disappointments, it’s also full of joy and discovery. Remember that everyone is not the same and every situation is different. Your next great opportunity may be waiting for your next step of faith.

Don’t let failure or disappointment in life define you – Be defined by God’s love for you and His plan for your life. He has one you know!

Do something – Rest yes, but at some point, just do something to stay busy and occupy your mind. It’s true that the “idle mind is the devil’s workshop”. If you lost your job, find somewhere to volunteer until you find another job. If you lost a relationship, find non-sexual relationships through church or civic activities to keep from being alone.

Get back in the game – Choose your next steps carefully and don’t keep repeating the same mistakes, but at some point it will be time to enjoy life again. Life was not meant to be lived on the sidelines.

“BUT”

SOURCE:  Tim Clinton/AACC

“You face your greatest opposition when you’re closest to your biggest miracle.” Bishop T. D. Jakes

“And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.” G. K. Chesterton

Often, the most powerful, life-changing miracles seem to happen in the “buts” of life.

Consider the story of Naaman. 2 Kings 5:1 describes him with glowing accolades.

Commander of the army of the king of Syria.

A great man with his master.

High favor.

A mighty man of valor.

Then out of nowhere – life-altering words.

But…he was a leper.

Think about that. Leprosy. The most dreaded disease of his day. A visible outward malady that in reality defined who he was. Putrefying infected sores that in time caused loss of fingers, toes, nose. Everyone who came in contact with him saw the miserable condition he carried with him everywhere he went. There was no hiding it.

Many Christ followers understand this reality in their own journey. No doubt, many of you are living there right now.

You love God, and you really do believe that God loves you. You read the Word, pray, give your tithes and offerings, attend worship services, desiring to obey and walk in His Spirit.

But…

The doctor gave you terminal news.

But…

Your spouse left, and the hole in your heart grows deeper and wider by the hour.

But…

Your position at work was eliminated, as was your pay check, and you find yourself in the unemployment line.

But…

A son or a daughter rejected a lifetime of nurture and admonition and the relationship is strained, broken and seemingly destroyed.

“Buts” that now seem to define who you are. “Buts” that perhaps even cause you to question God and His plan, much less His goodness. “Buts” that understandably cause you to ask “Where are you God?”

Let’s look again at the well-known Bible story of Naaman. At the recommendation of a young slave girl, he travels to find the prophet Elisha. Elisha sends a servant out to instruct Naaman to go and wash seven times in the Jordan. Albeit reluctantly, and even with quite a bit of raging about how irrational the command is, he obeys.

I wonder how Naaman felt after he dunked himself the first time. No change. The second time. No change. Third time. No change. After number six, he might have been thinking that this was a horrible joke and a waste of time. The anger he had initially felt was returning. Someone was going to pay for this public act of embarrassment.

Have you been there? Faith…trust…obedience…and seemingly no change. You find yourself confused, distraught, and perhaps even a bit angry at God.

Then Naaman dipped the seventh time and “his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” 2 Kings 5:14 ESV

He went back to the “man of God,” stood before him and declared, (now) “I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel…” 2 Kings 5:15  ESV

God was in the midst of his pain. Faithfully at work in the “but” of Naaman’s life. Steadfast in His in plan in Naaman’s journey, which ultimately brought Him glory.

And God is in the midst of your pain also. He hasn’t forgotten you. He hasn’t forsaken you. He is faithfully working in the plan of your life, and He will ultimately get glory by taking your storyand making it His story.

Don’t be defined by the “but” in your pilgrimage. Don’t give up. Keep believing that He is God, and that He is good.

Your miracle could be just one more “dip in the Jordan” away.

A miracle that will turn your life around.

Personal Failure: Defeat or Opportunity

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Karl Benzio/Lighthouse Network/Stepping Stones

Failures: Let God In More or Else

The 3-time All-American basketball player, greatest college basketball coach of all time at UCLA, and incredibly mature disciple of Christ, John Wooden, was a tremendous motivator and teacher. He shared many quips of simple but deep wisdom. One of my favorite Wooden quotes is, “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”

Failures in my life sometimes led to periods of paralysis … unable to do anything. I felt and acted as if I were defeated by my failures and disasters. Obviously, failures can have consequences and can adversely impact our lives. But their biggest and most harmful feature is their propensity to distort our lenses when we don’t process failures diligently and accurately. Often, when we struggle, our natural response is fear and then run for safety. Instead, we should be digging in, assessing, processing, and battling our way back to victory.

On the positive side, when I look back on most of my mistakes, I see they created great opportunities for growth and often led to positive changes in my life. In fact, my life has really taken off since I began learning how to respond to failures by looking more deeply into my heart, seeking God and His instruction more, and applying what He is teaching me at that time.

What about you? Have you learned from your failures? Or have you let your failures defeat you, sending ripples of paralysis or fear even after the incident? Since nobody is perfect, we all experience failure. But God wants you to trust, learn, and try again with more of His help and less of your limited understanding. We often look at failure as the last step in a situation. Instead, it is just one of many steps in a long process of growth. It is part of the refining process, letting us know where we need to work. Most importantly, God wants us to invite Him in so He can help us in each situation.

Our need for immediate positive results and affirmation often prematurely push us to catastrophize an outcome that’s less-than-ideal. Then our pride and lack of humility interfere with a willingness to seek help from a Higher Authority. But where has this me-centered strategy really gotten you? Don’t you think it is time to change this strategy?

Today, assess areas where feelings of failure leak into your heart. Ask God in. Reflect on what you need to work on. Seek God’s instruction. Be open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Most of all, don’t make that area of struggle more important than your relationship with God. See yourself through His lenses, as one of His very own children, covered with the blood of Christ. Don’t let failure continue to defeat you. As a Christian, your war is won and eternity is secured. Failure isn’t even a possibility. We do have daily battles and He will equip us for victory if we let Him. Whether you grow through failure or you let failure shrink you is your decision, so choose well.

Dear Father God, You know, Father, I have a string of failures … and I continue to fail each time I sin against you. I thank You, Father, for sending other believers to me to serve as guides and teachers. Thank You especially for Your Holy Spirit that empowers and guides me. Help me, Father, to learn from each failure. I thank You for picking me up when I fall, and for sending Jesus Christ at my most fallen state, to forgive my sins. I pray this in the name of the One whom You sent to give me and all believers victory, Jesus Christ;– AMEN!

The Truth
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  1 Corinthians 15:57

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  1 John 1:8,9

God Meets Us in the Ache

SOURCE:  Ransomed Heart/Stasi Eldredge

We women were given a huge capacity and need for relationship.  It is our glory and a beautiful way that we bear the image of God, who enjoys perfect, intimate relationship.

But our glory has been tainted.

Because of human brokenness and sin, there is not one relationship in your life that is not touched at some level by disappointment. There is an undercurrent of sorrow in every woman’s life.

Oftentimes, when I feel this sorrow, this loneliness, I think it is revealing something deeply wrong with me. I think that if I was “doing it right” or if I was all right, then I wouldn’t experience this grief. And yes, like you, I am not all that I am meant to be yet. I am becoming. But when I ache, if I believe the cause rests solely on my failures, it is overwhelming. I must run from it. Hide it. Manage it. Sanctify it. Ignore it. Numb it. Or better yet, kill it! Because when I am awake to it, it hurts. And I can feel bad for feeling bad.

Sound familiar?

The undercurrent of sorrow that we feel is not all our fault. Maybe a part of it is. Maybe God is using it to expose a style of relating that he wants us to repent of. Maybe. But it’s also possible that none of the sorrow we are feeling at a given moment is rooted in our failings.

When we become aware of sadness or disappointment, we do not have to run. Sorrow is one of the realities of life. To be mature women, we have to be awake to the ache. Let it be a doorway for us to walk through to find deeper intimacy with God.

We ask God to meet us—right in the ache.

Death: Shall We Weep or Rejoice? (or both?)

SOURCE:  John Piper

When a Christian dies, shall those of us who remain weep or rejoice?

The biblical answer is both, even simultaneously.

I saw this in a new place as I was memorizing my way through Philippians again. I had never noticed before the emotional contrast between Philippians 2:17–18 and 2:27.

An Invitation to Rejoice

In Philippians 2:17–18, Paul is describing the possibility of his own death as “drink offering on the sacrificial offering” of their faith. He is willing to die in the service of strengthening and purifying their faith.

Then he says, if that happens, “I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me” (verse 18). Not only does he rejoice at the prospect of his own death, but he tells them to rejoice with him.

He already told them why he rejoices at the prospect of his death: “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23). Presumably, that is why he thinks they should rejoice also. They love Paul. So when Paul is “with Christ” that will be “far better.”

Jesus spoke this same way to his disciples: “If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). The Father in splendor is greater than the Son in suffering. What a liberation was coming when the Son’s work here is done and he returns to the Father’s glory! So, he says, if you love me, rejoice at my departure.

Experiencing Intense Sorrow

But that is not the whole story. Ten verses later in Philippians 2 Paul praises Epaphroditus because “he nearly died for the work of Christ” (verse 30). But then he did not die. And Paul is glad. Here’s what he says: “Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow” (verse 27).

God had mercy on Paul, lest he should have sorrow upon sorrow. In other words, he did not let Epaphroditus die so that Paul would not have that grief on top of all his other burdens.

So when Paul said, “Rejoice with me,” at the prospect of his own death (Philippians 2:18), that was not the whole emotional story. Paul would have experienced “grief upon grief” if Epaphroditus had died. And this is not because Epaphroditus was unprepared to die. He was as ready as Paul: “Honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ” (2:30).

The Complex Harmony

What should we conclude from this?

We should conclude that our sorrows at the death of a believer are joyful sorrows, and our rejoicing at the death of a believer is a sorrowful rejoicing. There is nothing hopeless about the sorrow. And there is nothing flippant about the joy. The joy hurts. And the sorrow is softened with invincible hope.

This is why one of the most common watchwords of the Christian life is “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). Sorrow and joy are not merely sequential. They are simultaneous. This is not emotional schizophrenia. This is the complex harmony of the Christian soul.

Therefore, when a Christian dies, don’t begrudge the tears. And don’t belittle the joy in the lover’s eyes.

Handling Your Personal “Jericho”

Source:  Taken from an article by Living Free/Dr. Jimmy Rae Lee

“For I hold you by your right hand—I, the Lord your God. And I say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.'” (Isaiah 41:13 NLT)

It takes tremendous courage to persevere in the face of overwhelming problems.  And faith in God is the only thing that makes that kind of courage possible.

Joshua, a godly hero in the Old Testament, persevered by holding on, standing firm, keeping his course, and being patient. His persistence was based on his faith in God’s promises.

The city of Jericho blocked the entrance to the Promised Land for the children of Israel. This land belonged to God’s chosen people. He had promised it was theirs. However, there was an obstacle: the daunting fortified city of Jericho.

Joshua turned to God for guidance. What did God tell him to do? March around Jericho for seven days, then shout and blow horns! This may have seemed strange to Joshua, but it was God’s plan. God’s wisdom versus human wisdom.

Joshua chose God’s plan . . . and the Israelites won the victory.

Every Christian has to deal with a personal Jericho from time to time. Sometimes these obstacles seem impossible to overcome from a human perspective. But with God . . . all things are possible.

Are you facing an obstacle? It could be anything. Debt. Health. Relationship. A habit or addiction. The list of possibilities is endless, but the answer is always the same: Jesus.

[The above] scripture, God says not to be afraid. He is here to help you.

Turn to God. Turn to his Word. Place your faith in him. He will give you the strength to persist. As you trust in him and him alone, be persistent as you wait for the walls of your Jericho to fall. In his way. In his time.

Father, I feel overwhelmed by this problem in my life. Thank you for reminding me that you are with me. Help me stop focusing on the problem and turn my focus to Jesus. To your Word. Help me overcome fear by trusting you. In Jesus’ name . . .

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————


These thoughts were drawn from …


Godly Heroes: A Small Group Study of Hebrews 11 by Jimmy Ray Lee, D.Min. 

10 Suggestions for Healthy Grieving

SOURCE:  Ron Edmondson

Part of my work is helping people grieve. Or at least learn how to grieve. It’s not one of my favorite parts, because it always stems from the reasons why they need to grieve. It means hurt. Brokenness. Pain. Disappointment. That never feels good.

Yet the fact remains…part of living in a fallen world…is living among the thorns. We must learn to grieve because there will always be reasons to do so.

As much as we need to know how to grieve, however, I continually meet people who either don’t know how or refuse to allow themselves to grieve. I’ve even met well-meaning believer who believe they shouldn’t. The Scripture is clear. We do grieve. We simply don’t grieve like the rest of the world.

So, here are 10 suggestions for healthy grieving:

Don’t deny the pain – It hurts. Admit it. Be honest with yourself with others and especially with God. If it’s anger…tell it. If it’s profound sadness…say it. You’ve got to grieve at some point to move forward, and you’ll grieve sooner and better if you’re honest about the need.

Learn to pray – Grieving can draw you close to the heart of God. See that as one blessing in the midst of pain. The Scripture is clear…draw close to God and He will draw close to you. He is close to the broken hearted. Use this difficult time to build a bond with God that you’ll never regret having.

Remain active – You may not feel like being around people, but if you’re normally a very social person, discipline yourself in this area. Granted, some people were never very social, even before their grief. We shouldn’t expect much more from them in grief, but even for them, community matters. Don’t shelter yourself from others.

Stay healthy – Eat well and exercise. Sleep as regularly as you can. Stick to a schedule. You’ll need the strength to carry you through this time.

Help others – There is a special blessing that comes from serving others that can help you recover from your own pain. Serve at a soup kitchen. Deliver toys to needy children. Find a way to give back and you’ll invest in the health of your own heart.

Journal your thoughts and feelings – One day you’ll be glad you did. You’ll see the process God has taken you through and the healing He has allowed you to experience. You’ll need these reminders again some day.

Give it time – Grieving doesn’t complete itself in a day…or a week…or even a year. The depth of the pain always is relative to the time of a sense of recovery. And, some pain never leaves us. We simply learn to adapt to it. We learn to find contentment and even joy in the midst of sorrow and loss.

Share your story – You help others when you allow others to see you share and understand their pain. When you hide your story, you deny others of the privilege of healing through your experience.

Get help when needed – Don’t suffer alone. There are times all of us can use professional help. Don’t be ashamed to seek it.

Remember hope – If you are a follower of God…the best days are still to come. Even in your darkest days, remember, one day…every tear shall be wiped from your eyes.

You can get up, recover and move forward again even stronger than you were before, but please don’t fail to grieve.

It’s necessary. Vital. Healthy. Natural. Even Biblical. (1 Thessalonians 4)

7 Suggestions When God Is Silent

SOURCE:  Ron Edmondson

Elijah had been used of God to hold back rain from the people for over three years, because of their sins. Obviously, he was not well liked as a preacher. I can imagine the stress he experienced during those years.

Something strikes me, however, that seems to further complicate Elijah’s situation.

Consider 1 Kings 18:1:

“After a long time, in the third year, the word of the LORD came to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.”

According to a couple New Testament passages, this “After a long time” was actually three and a half years. The famine was three and a half years long. For three and a half years, the people apparently continued to sin, Elijah continued to hold on by faith, but God said nothing. God was apparently inactive…not speaking…even to His great servant Elijah during this time.

Have you ever been there? Has the silence of God in your life ever been eerily strong?

Imagine you had been faithfully serving…God is using you…you are in constant communication with Him…and then suddenly…everything is quiet. You have to wait.

The separation must have seemed unbearable. Elijah is not liked and unpopular. He’s an outcast from the people and the One he trusted most was seemingly absent.

God would soon do a miracle through Elijah…one he couldn’t even imagine…certainly not script, but during this period all Elijah could do was wait.

If you have been follower of Christ very long, you have had periods where it seems God is nowhere to be found. We often call them periods of spiritual dryness. Sometimes I refer to it as being in a spiritual funk.

What should we do during the times of silence, before the miracles of God come through for us?

If you are like me, you can figure out how to celebrate a miracle. You don’t need much help doing that. The tough part of life is figuring out what to do during the years of silence…during the years when miracles are seemingly nowhere to be found.

What do we do during the spiritually dry periods of life when we don’t hear clearly the voice of God?

Here are 7 suggestions for those times:

Don’t ignore the silence… – Some of the biggest moves God has made in my life have come after a period of spiritual dryness…when it seemed like God was doing nothing in my life. Stay very close to God and watch for Him to eventually display His power. He will in the fullness of time.

Confront known sin in your life – This wasn’t the problem of silence for Elijah, but the problem for the Israelites was that they were chasing after other gods and living lives in total disobedience to God. Sin may not be the reason you don’t sense closeness to God right now, but if you have known sin in your life it will affect your intimacy with God.

Go back to what you know – Get back to the basics of the faith that saved you. You’ll do it 100’s of times in your life, but you must remind yourselves of the basis of faith…which is the very character and promises of God. God is in control. He really is…even when it doesn’t seem that He is anywhere to be found.

Make a decision…Choose sides – You can’t adequately serve God and the world. (Consider Joshua 24:15) Something happens in life, often sin, busyness, boredom, or a tragedy…but if we are normal, we have periods where we grow away from our close relationship with God. God hasn’t moved, but if you’ve shifted in your obedience, get back securely on the right side.

Trust More…Not less – Times of silence may be filled with fear, but ironically, these times require more faith. Times come in our spiritual life when our enthusiasm isn’t as real as when we began our walk with God. That’s not an indication to quit…it may be that God is using that time for something bigger than you could have imagined…but whatever is next will most likely require a deeper level of trust.

Listen and Watch Closely – Some day God is going to make His plans known to you. Don’t miss them. He may come to your personally, through His Word, circumstances or another person. You’ll need to be in a position to know that God is moving.

Get ready to receive – God will break the silence some day…and when He does it WILL be good. If you mope around in your sorrows, you’ll be less prepared to receive the good things to come. Not because of your circumstances, but because of your faith, clothe yourself in joy as you wait for God to bless you after the period of silence.

Even when our souls are barren, God is at work.

SOURCE:  David Henderson/Discipleship Journal

The Surprising Fruit of Spiritual Drought

A beautiful lake spread out before me, frosted with ice and rimmed with pines. All around was bright snow and sunshine. But I trudged unseeing from my car to the lakeside cabin, my heart even heavier than the bookbag I dragged along.

Five days before, I had written this in my journal: “Lord, where is my joy? I’m not happy. I’m sighing a lot, wanting to sleep. ‘How the gold has lost its luster’ (Lam. 4:1). What a perfect description of the state of my heart. All is dull and flat. Lord Jesus, have mercy.”

I was on a retreat of desperation. Yawning behind me were six months of spiritual dryness. God was remote, and my heart seemed as cold and hard as the winter ice. I could see no way out of the soul slump that enshrouded me.

Though it was winter in my soul, God was not hibernating. I see now that He was busy even when I was floundering; I’ve learned that He has gifts for us even in the soul’s December.

Hard Ground

More than we can count—or would care to admit—are the times in our spiritual lives when winter sets in and our souls, like farm fields in December, fall idle. Where life and growth once blossomed, we now have only the frozen remnants of yesterday’s harvest to show.

My experience over the past year is an example. Last summer brimmed with opportunity for me to flourish spiritually. In May, my wife and I jumped at the chance to go with Ray VanderLaan to the Bible lands. You can imagine what an enriching adventure that was, stomping for two weeks through the thistle and scree of Israel behind such a renowned teacher.

In June, I brought my oldest son with me on a mission trip to the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. With two teams from our church, we mixed cement and slung boulders and spoke fractured Spanish to the glory of God.

In July, our family headed west, pitching our pop-up under the shadow of some of my favorite peaks on the planet, the mighty Tetons. Joining up with close friends, we spent a joyful week rafting and hiking and wildlife-watching.

Yet just days after our return from the Tetons, I wrote: “I feel as though I were looking out on life through a window from somewhere else. Why so lifeless, O my soul? Why so thin and spare? Spirit of the living God, awaken my sleepwalking soul.”

What rich, God-filled experiences I had had. Yet even with the fresh air of the mountains still in my lungs, I was scraping bottom spiritually. I felt sullen toward God, flat in the faith, and grumpy about my call. My life in Christ had become dull and mechanical, the joy of ministry seemed an oxymoron, and my vision receded to a small circle compassing my immediate needs and circumstances.

Fallow Fields

Spiritual dry times accompany many and diverse situations. Sometimes those droughts have nothing to do with us. A dust bowl descends, and all we can do is remain faithful, waiting upon God. At other times, however, spiritual dryness can be traced back to something for which we are responsible.

Sometimes sheer soul-neglect is to blame. Perhaps we have let the busyness of life or the blur of entertainment squeeze out margins for quiet reflection, regular prayer, and Bible study. Whether out of fear or laziness, pride or sin, we squander our best on lesser things.

At other times, difficult life circumstances disrupt our routines and send our spiritual life into disorder. A move plucks us from the embrace of friends. Cancer claims a parent without warning. Unexpected bills force us into the daze of a second job. Whatever the circumstances, life is upended, sending the spiritual furniture of our souls spinning across the floor like deck chairs on the Titanic.

Sometimes it is not neglect of our spiritual habits but slavery to them that brings spiritual famine. We may dutifully carry out spiritual practices yet still have a heart as sluggish as a car in a Minnesota winter. In these moments of grace-amnesia, we turn our disciplines into displays, forgetting our efforts are utterly incapable of earning God’s favor. Neither daily prayer nor study makes us holy; these disciplines merely put us within reach of the one who can.

Some dry times are not our doing at all; we may have as little to do with our spiritual drought as a meteorologist has with the weather. For reasons beyond our knowing, dust storms whip up or arctic winds descend, and all we can do is hunker down and hold on.

Whatever the circumstances, we find ourselves with a fallow field: nothing growing in the soul but a few weeds. Where once was vibrancy, all is flat. We are dull toward the things of God.

What was behind my drought? A friend whose counsel I sought said: “I think you have let something become more beautiful to you than Jesus.” Zing! He was right. God’s Spirit confirmed that over the previous year I had become more concerned with trying to please my congregation than pleasing God. My misplaced devotion nourished the spiritual weather patterns that led to my soul famine.

Winter Yield

God is astir midwinter. He has gifts for us even in the seasons of spiritual dryness, whether born of our neglect or not. For “if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). In our failures and struggles, God is most keen to meet us, to receive us, to reestablish us in His love. He is always at work, not merely when we are working as well. Such is the gracious nature of God.

But the place to look for God’s fruit in spiritual dry times is not in the limbs of plant and stalk. In these more visible parts of our lives—our attitudes, our relationships, our decisions, our priorities—little yield will be found. No, it is lower, at ground level, that we should look for a harvest in our spiritual winters. Through the cycles of growth and dormancy, freeze and thaw, God works the soil and strengthens the plant.

John Newton, author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” once encouraged a parishioner who found herself in a time of spiritual dryness. He wrote:

[Such seasons] are like winds to the trees, which threaten to blow them quite down, but in reality, by blowing them every way, loosen the ground about them, circulate the sap, and cause them to strike their roots to a greater depth, and thereby secure their standing.

Surprise Harvest

In a similar way, the prophet Hosea used agricultural images to describe three unexpected treasures God gives when our fields fall barren.

Spiritual drought exposes our need for God. For some time, I have pondered why my prayer life is so spotty. During my drought, God revealed the answer: Prayer is fundamentally an act of God-reliance; I, however, am fundamentally a self-reliant person.

It is our centermost human impulse to rise up from our proper place before God’s throne and wander off in search of a throne upon which we ourselves might sit down. What lies behind the bulk of our spiritual sluggishness if not this: the laughable idea that we can do without God, that we are gods ourselves? How readily we embrace the myth of self-determination. Ludicrously, we convince ourselves that we are competent, capable, and in control.

How God delights in showing us otherwise! Ever so gently, He gives us a taste of the disordered chaos that would mark our lives apart from His ever-sustaining presence. In Hosea, God decries this propensity to forget Him:

She has not acknowledged that I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil. . . . Therefore I will take away my grain when it ripens, and my new wine when it is ready. . . . I will ruin her vines and her fig trees, which she said were her pay from her lovers; I will make them a thicket, and wild animals will devour them.

—Hos. 2:8–9, 12

God uses spiritual dry times to check our repeated drift toward functional atheism and to awaken again a mindfulness of our moment-by-moment need for Him. He exposes our spiritual poverty, bringing us to the end of ourselves and throwing light upon our utter inability to sustain a meaningful life apart from Him.

“My soul’s veins run with depleted blood,” I wrote last fall, painfully aware of the depth of my need. “I breathe my own wasted air. My soul is dying faster than it is being replenished. I need Your rest.” And later, on my retreat: “These days of spiritual depletion and weariness have given me a glimpse of life without You: ‘Things fall apart; the center does not hold’ [W. H. Auden].”

Crop failure—”The stalk has no head” (Hos. 8:7)—is the end of our own effort . . . and the gift of God to those who have forgotten that He has made us for Himself.

Spiritual drought awakens our longing for God. More than once I have trudged down the side of a mountain with one gripping thought engaging the whole of my attention—and it wasn’t the view. After hours of hiking at high altitude in dry air under a hot sun, my body begins to dehydrate. Weak and parched, I feel as if someone stuck a hairdryer in my mouth and turned it on high. My skin wrinkles into dry folds and emanates heat like a radiator. All I can think of is water.

Like body, like soul. Coming up against the end of ourselves awakens not only an appreciation of need but longing as well. When I enter a spiritual dry time and begin to register thirst, God is my water. He is all I can think about. I miss Him. I need Him. I search for Him. I plead for Him. I want Him back. With a passion and singlemindedness that is uncharacteristic of other days, I long for God in famine. Lesser loves recede, and God dominates my field of vision, becoming the sole object of my attention.

Again Hosea speaks, capturing the single aim of a parched soul:

Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.

—Hos. 6:1–3

Journal entries in the midst of my dry time reflect this acute longing. One example is “Hearth Untended,” a poem comparing my early morning efforts to rekindle a fire from the previous night’s coals to my desire to bring my soul back to life.

Blue-grey dawn, invasive chill, yet in the ring there quavers still a spark.

Kindling laid with fingers lame and hasty prayer to set aflame the dark.

Forgive, O Lord, my heart untended. Bring fire into this night just ended. Fan to flame my heart fresh-rended. Spirit, make your mark.

“Break up your unplowed ground,” pleads Hosea, “for it is time to seek the Lord, until he comes and showers righteousness on you” (Hos. 10:12). For dry ground, nothing matters but the rain.

Spiritual drought restores our fruitfulness for God. During a recent sermon series, I unearthed an interesting bit of information. A typical wheat field will yield four or five times what is sown. After several years of planting in the same field, the yield gradually drops. But after a field is allowed to lie fallow for a year, then plowed several times and replanted, the yield jumps to twice the normal level, producing 8 to 10 bushels of wheat for every bushel sown.

The parallel to our spiritual lives is striking. When once again the dry soil of our soul has felt the patter of rain, our lives take on a vibrant urgency and fruitfulness uncharacteristic of prefallow days. We remember what is amazing about grace, what is Holy about the Spirit, and what is good about the news we have for the world.

Listen to God’s word of grace through Hosea:

I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily. Like a cedar of Lebanon he will send down his roots; his young shoots will grow. His splendor will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon. Men will dwell again in his shade. He will flourish like the grain. He will blossom like a vine.

—Hos. 14:5–7

My spiritual famine ultimately drove me to a 72-hour retreat. I prayed, read, walked, thought, pleading that God would visit me anew. And He did. On the third day, miraculously, I found myself whistling again. God had broken in.

Robert Murray McCheyne was a broken pastor who tended to everyone else’s spiritual needs to the neglect of his own. He died at 28. Before his death, he wrote, “Your own soul is your first and greatest care.” Mindful of the admonition, I came home with a fresh resolve to tend to my fields. God reminded me that certain practices keep me spiritually fit and ready to serve, and that I must see to them faithfully. Among them: daily quiet times, monthly spiritual retreats, time with friends of the soul, and time in creation.

His Fruit

The five months since my retreat have been intense ones. Key staff people have left the church I pastor, and ministry demands mount up like snow in Siberia. But I have held true to my resolve, clinging to God and tending my soul. He, in turn, has proven Himself faithful to me. I have experienced more peace and trust—and, by His grace, I have been more effective in ministry—in the past five months than at any other time in the past four years.

Does this mean I will never experience another dry season? Hardly. But now I know where to look for fruit, even when the leaves turn brown. “I am the one who looks after you and cares for you,” God says through Hosea. “I am like a tree that is always green, giving my fruit to you all through the year” (Hos. 14:8, NLT, emphasis mine).

I may fall fallow, but, thankfully, God never will.

Rejoice When Suffering? Really? Really!!

SOURCE:  Living Free

“We can rejoice too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” Romans 5:3-5 NLT

It is usually easy to rejoice when things are going well in our lives. But how about when we are having problems … and suffering? The Bible says even then we are to rejoice!

None of us likes to suffer, but experiencing problems does not have to be destructive to our relationship with God. We need to trust God and see the good that can come through our experiences of suffering. Suffering teaches us to endure patiently . It also teaches us that our comfort is not the most important thing in life. Suffering builds character. It strengthens our hope because when we have to face another tribulation, we can look back on how God helped us in the past.

Although we would all prefer to be exempt from tribulations, God uses them to deepen our relationship with him. They are still painful, but we can be comforted with the knowledge that our sufferings do not mean God is displeased with us. And we can rejoice because God will bring good even from the most difficult times … if we will continue to trust in him and his great love.

Father, teach me to rejoice even when I am suffering … to see the good that can come from these struggles … and to remember your great love for me. In Jesus’ name …

Giving thanks……in the MIDST of ………

SOURCE:  AACC (American Association of Christian Counselors)

Thanksgiving in the Midst

“This way of seeing our Father in everything makes life one long thanksgiving and gives a rest of heart, and, more than that, a gayety of spirit, that is unspeakable.” -Hannah Whitall Smith

“As I look back over fifty years of ministry, I recall innumerable tests, trials and times of crushing pain. But through it all, the Lord has proven faithful, loving, and totally true to all his promises.” -David Wilkerson

“In Everything Give Thanks.”

A verse so familiar we recite it almost without thinking as an encouragement to one another in our everyday walk.

However, like a woodman’s axe, the reality of life has a way of splitting “everything” into opposing halves.

Good and bad.

Pleasure and pain.

Joys and sorrow.

The front half of the “everything” is easy. Thankful for the birth of a child. For great health. Family. A good job.

The backside of the “everything” is more difficult. The death of a loved one. Cancer. Divorce. A job lost. The empty chair at the head of the table from which dad said the Thanksgiving prayer just last year.

It’s hard to get our hearts and emotions around thanking God for the dark days, for pain, or overwhelming loss.

What’s interesting is that our Father does not ask us to. He asks us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to be thankful “in” the midst of those things.

Consider the life of Jeremiah. His autobiography recorded in Lamentations chapter 3 paints a dismal portrait of his journey.

Affliction. Darkness. Flesh wasting away. Broken bones. Bitterness. Hardship. Chains. Crooked paths. Bears. Lions. Arrows. Mocking. Rejection.

Reflecting on all of this, Jeremiah bemoans, “I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.” (Lamentations 3:20 NIV)

Too often, the tapestries of our own lives have the same threads woven through them.

But, in the midst of despair — Hope always emerges.

Jeremiah calls to mind an eternal truth upon which all thanksgiving has its foundation… “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end.” (vs. 22 ESV)

Every trial that enters your life comes through the doorway of the steadfast love of the Lord. It involves love that emanates from an eternally wise Father. “It is He who made the earth by His power, who established the world by His wisdom…” (Jeremiah 10:12 ESV).  Isaiah adds that the Lord of Hosts is “wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom” (Isaiah 28:29 ESV).

God is infinitely wise. His steadfast love endures forever. Separate truths, which are inseparable.

And they are truths that transform trials into thanksgiving.

When life is not the way it is supposed to be, when the wheels come off…when looking up is the only choice you have, because you are flat on your back…be thankful.

Be thankful that God is infinitely wise. Be thankful that His steadfast love never ceases and endures forever.

In the midst of everything — give thanks. It will turn your life around.

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