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Archive for the ‘God’s Father Heart’ Category

4 Encouraging Truths for Christians with Mental Illness

SOURCE:  Lieryn Barnett

The apostle Paul speaks of a thorn in his side that he pleaded with God three times to remove (2 Cor. 12:7–10). Biblical scholars aren’t sure exactly what Paul’s thorn was, but I can tell you mine: bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed as an adolescent and have pleaded with God more than thrice to remove this from me.

It took me longer than Paul to hear God telling me that His grace is sufficient.

Mental illness can still be a highly stigmatized topic in the church. For those who do not have such struggles, suicidal ideations and the extreme despair that come with clinical depression can be difficult to understand. Although many Christians know the trial of occasional anxiety or depressed feelings, people with a diagnosed mental illness face unique challenges.

Charles Spurgeon once said, “The mind can descend far lower than the body, for in it there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour.” Mental illness is not a new phenomenon.

And the same biblical truths that have encouraged Christians for centuries can encourage those who suffer with mental illness today. Though we may continue to struggle daily in the “bottomless pit” of the mind, we can cling to four encouragements.

1. You Are Not Alone

God’s people have suffered—mentally, emotionally, and physically—since the fall. Even Christ himself cried out in despair on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46), echoing a psalm of lament (Ps. 22:1). When we suffer, we are not alone.

What’s more, mental illness is probably more common than you know. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 5 American adults lives with a mental illness. The World Health Organization says 1 in 4 people worldwide will experience mental-health issues.

You are almost certainly not the only one in your congregation dealing with issues arising from mental illness. Speaking openly about your mental-health issues will allow others to share their own struggles and will enable you to care for one another.

2. It’s Not Your Fault

Though mental illness is a result of the fall, my affliction—like that of the man born blind (John 9:3)—isn’t punishment for my sins or the sins of my parents. Mental illness may not be my fault, but it can be my opportunity to speak truth about Christ’s love to others.

Of course, sin can exacerbate mental illness, or stir up depression or anxiety. Sin spreads the infection of the darkness, which is why it’s so important to have people point you to Christ. If we repent and turn our focus to Christ, we can allow the light—however dim it may appear—to seep in. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8) is a promise for good days and for dark ones, too.

3. God Sees You and Is with You

We have a personal Savior who experiences emotions. As you suffer the effects of mental illness, you can remember the nearness of Christ. He weeps with you, as he wept with Lazarus’s family (John 11:35). He knew the resurrecting work he was about to do, but he sobbed with anger anyway. Likewise, he knows how he is going to work in and through your life, and he is with you in the midst of it.

By grace, he sent the Holy Spirit, our comforter and counselor, to be with you, to help you. The Holy Spirit intercedes for you (Rom. 8:27). He cries out for you when you can’t form words, but only sounds of despair (Rom. 8:26).

Remain steadfast, therefore, for there is great hope: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). We are all broken in our own ways, but Christ makes us whole. He lights up the darkest corners of my heart and mind (2 Cor. 4:6). He pulls me out of the deepest pit (Job 33:28Ps. 40:2; 103:4Lam. 3:55). And if he sees fit, he will use me to reach others (2 Cor. 4:7–10).

4. God’s Word Speaks to You

The Bible isn’t afraid to talk about mental and emotional anguish. Look at Job or the psalms of lament, which compose the largest category of psalms. These are songs of people crying out to God in despair:

  • “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted” (Ps. 25:16).
  • “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation” (Ps. 42:5).
  • “For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol” (Ps. 88:3).

Yet even most psalms of lament end positively, reminding their hearers of God’s faithfulness. Like God’s people throughout history, we often forget everything he has already done for us and the promises he continues to fulfill.

Keep these truths somewhere you can be reminded of them often. Share them with a close friend, family member, or accountability partner who can remind you when you forget or when you don’t have the energy or willpower to remind yourself. God’s Word speaks to you on even the hardest days.

My thorn may never leave my side, but I can rejoice in the greatness and sovereignty of my mighty God. This illness continues to remind me that God’s grace is sufficient for me. I pray that God would make known his strength in my weakness.

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4 Signs You Might be Legalistic

SOURCE:  BLAISE FORET /relevantmagazine.com

And how to escape the trap of trying to earn God’s love.

The Christian blogosphere and bookstores are filled with constant encouragements to be passionate for Jesus and “on fire” for God.

But in the midst of all of the encouragement to dive deep into a more passionate spirituality, many in our generation have found themselves burnt out by pressing in and getting bound up by legalism.

Every reformation throughout Church history focused on bringing people into a more effortless spirituality—where they find that the work of Christ more powerful and more effective than our own personal efforts. This doesn’t mean we do nothing as Christians, but it does mean we would do well to stop striving, slow down and find a renewed focus on the simplicity of the Gospel.

This very thing, in fact, is one of the hardest spiritual disciplines to accomplish. The Book of Hebrews says it clearly, “They failed to enter into my rest—because they would not believe.” It wasn’t a spiritual work that they lacked—but a spiritual rest. And that rest could have easily been gained through simple trust.

Things haven’t changed much. We, just like the ancient believers, have a hard time with simple trust and often find ourselves caught in the clutches of legalism. After years of following Jesus, I found myself stuck in legalism. Trust me, I know: the struggle is real. But, like most things, one of the first steps of becoming free from legalism is to realize that you’re stuck in it.

Here are a few signs that might help you identify whether or not you have been sabotaged by legalism:

1. Your Spiritual Disciplines Define Your Spirituality

Sure, there is something to having a disciplined life. In fact, it’s hard to get anything done if you don’t have discipline in your life.

But often, we base our worth and God’s love for us on whether or not we have spent time reading our Bible today, prayed for everyone on our prayer list, and attended the early service at Church this week.

But what if God’s view of us wasn’t based on our performance? What if He wasn’t keeping track of our rights and wrongs like we are, but is actually just looking at our hearts and our simple trust in Christ’s work on our behalf?

So of course, read your Bible and pray often, but not so that God will love you, but so that you’ll be reminded how much He already does.

2. You Separate Your Spiritual Life from Your Natural Life

Do you feel like you are doing something spiritual when you pray but something carnal when you watch a movie or hang out with friends? If so, you might be slipping back into legalism.

As Christians, we often find ourselves viewing Church activity as exclusively spiritual instead of seeing all things as spiritual. The Apostle Paul has this amazing quote in Colossians when he says, “All things are from Him and to Him and in Him.” I see this verse as an echo of David’s psalm when he says, “Where can I go from your presence and where can I escape from Your Spirit?” David says again, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it belongs to Him.” That means that there are no moments that are not spiritual moments. That’s why Paul says, “Whether you eat or drink do it unto the Lord.”

I see it like this: No matter what you are doing, do it as a spiritual activity, knowing full well that God is with you and loves you deeply in that very moment.

The way I see it, Jesus enjoys the fact that you hang out with friends. He loves it when you just have fun doing normal life. God finds pleasure in your natural talents just as much as He does in your spiritual gifting.

When we can find the presence and peace of God in all situations from the E-minor chorus of a worship night at church to the loud, off-key screams of the mom in front of us at a kid’s t-ball game, then we might be finding freedom from legalism into the liberty of the Gospel.

3. You Only Hang Out with “Saved” People

For so many Christians, being in church quickly becomes our only place of community and friendship. In our efforts to follow Jesus we often take the “no turning back, no turning back” approach to hanging out with non-believers.

Unfortunately, we find ourselves living as separatists (i.e. Pharisees) and judging those who have yet to have our level of spiritual awakening. Sure, it can be a challenge to have a deep connection with those who disagree with us on a fundamental level, but it doesn’t mean that we have to become judgmental and ostracize ourselves from them.

Jesus was often accused of being the friend of sinners. When was the last time you were accused of that?

4. You Live in Constant Condemnation for Your Mistakes

If you messed up today, well, welcome to the club. But your mistakes never have and never will define you. Sure, you can call yourself a failure, but God calls you a success. God doesn’t make failures. You can call yourself a sinner, but God calls you a Saint. Christ didn’t do a partial job when He died and rose again. He fully made you a Saint. That’s why Paul addresses Christians in the Epistles as Saints—regardless of the mistakes they have made.

Your feelings don’t define you. Christ’s work defines you.

C.S. Lewis once said, “You are what you believe.”

If you believe that your identity is “sinner,” you will live tied up and bound by sin. But if you believe what God says about you, then you might start seeing a difference in your attitudes and actions.

And even if you do sin, it doesn’t have to dictate your day. Repent, change your mind, and move forward. God’s not waiting on you to make it right before you can come to Him.

God wants friendship with you no matter where you are in your journey, so don’t let a legalistic mindset stop you from coming to Him as the clean, forgiven and loved child that you are. God’s not holding your mistakes over your head, so you don’t have to either.

Parenting Means Wrestling Demons

SOURCE:  DesiringGod · by Jonathan Parnell

I nudged the door open with my shoulder, hands holding carryout (again). I made my way through the dark living room and set dinner on the table. I could hear the kids playing in the basement as I peeked into the bedroom to find my wife lying there, doubled over with nausea. She felt too sick to think about eating, not to mention preparing food for the rest of us, and so for the fourth time in as many nights, dad was dishing dinner for the fam.

This is how it goes in wartime, and for a few months now at our house, we’ve been in the battle zone. My wife is pregnant with our fifth child.

As many mothers could attest, sometimes it’s not so much morning sickness as just plain sickness. She hasn’t felt well since the newest member of our family came into existence at the end of last year. But it’s okay — we get it. It comes with the territory. Nausea, in fact, is just one piece of the larger struggle. We’ve learned by now that wrestling demons isn’t supposed to be easy.

Satan Hates the Little Children of the World

In his book Adopted for Life, Russell Moore says that Satan hates children and always has. History would say the same. In Scripture alone, we see the slaughter of the infants in Pharaoh’s Egypt and Herod’s Bethlehem. Every time the demonic powers forcefully oppose Jesus, “babies are caught in the crossfire.” Moore explains,

Whether through political machinations such as those of Pharaoh and Herod, through military conquests in which bloodthirsty armies rip babies from pregnant mothers’ wombs (Amos 1:13), or through the more “routine” seeming family disintegration and family chaos, children are always hurt. Human history is riddled with their corpses. (63)

“There is a war on children, and we are all, in one way or another, playing some role in it.”

Whether we look back over the pages of world history, or just around us today, the point bears true. Children are so often caught in the crossfire, so often hurt, so often the victims of a larger conflict in which they have no say, no influence, no responsibility. It happened back when primitive peoples thought slaying their children would appease the gods, and when war meant burning homes and sacking villages. And it happens still today when deranged citizens carry guns into elementary schools, or when abortion clinics welcome terrified teenagers with open arms, or when Boko Haram pillages another Nigerian village, or a young couple decides Down syndrome will disrupt their life plans. Moore writes,

The demonic powers hate babies because they hate Jesus. When they destroy “the least of these” (Matthew 25:4045), the most vulnerable among us, they’re destroying a picture of Jesus himself. (63–64)

There is a war on children, and we are all, in one way or another, playing some role in it. Every time we move forward as faithful parents (or care for kids in any capacity, including advocating for the voiceless not-yet-born, and volunteering for nursery duty on Sundays), we are wrestling demons — because there is little the demons hate more than little children.

The Shift in Perspective

This calls for a shift in our perspective as parents. If we go into the work of parenting with a Precious Moments romanticism, it won’t be long before despair sets in. It’s just too hard if we think it’s going to be easy. It’s essential to know, especially when the going gets tough, that we are fighting hell.

When we begin to see our parenting through the lens of spiritual warfare, it reconfigures our work in at least five important ways.

1. We are more surprised when things go well than when they go badly.

You thought parenting would be easier than it is. Yes, you did. So much of this has to do with how the role of children has changed in our society. In past generations, children were mainly born into three contexts: (1) economic necessity (more hands on the farm!), (2) moral obligation (Christian influence), and (3) customary structure (part of the American Dream) (Jennifer Senior, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting).

Today, however, child labor is taboo, the church’s voice has waned, and the American Dream has increasingly become the celebration of the self-made successes of unconventional entrepreneurs. The “necessity” for children is not as intense as it once was — though children are obviously still being born. The question then becomes why. Into what context and mindset are American children being born in the twenty-first century?

Jennifer Senior says that today, rather than understood as necessary, children are more often viewed as a high-valued commodity. She explains,

[Parents] approach child-rearing with the same bold sense of independence and individuality that they would any other ambitious life project. . . . Because so many of us are now avid volunteers for a project in which we were all once dutiful conscripts, we have heightened expectations of what children will do for us, regarding them as sources of existential fulfillment rather than as ordinary parts of our lives. (emphasis added)

In other words, as a commodity, the majority of society says that children exist to make us happy, to boost our egos, to procure pats on the back by the watching world. We have children because we think children will make our lives better.

“It’s essential to know, especially when the going gets tough, that we are fighting hell.”

But if we push our strollers with these ideals in tote, we’re not quite sure what to do when things go sideways — like when our kids pee on the floor while we’re grocery shopping, or refuse to stay in their beds at night, or spray air freshener in their eyes after they broke into the bathroom cabinet, or when, in a much more serious event, the ultrasound discloses an abnormality.

None of these things is “fulfilling.”

Actually, these things are hard — they make our heads ache, and our hearts. And so we get angry about the circumstances, and we huff and puff that our children don’t obey everything we say — all because we had the mixed up expectation that they would.

But if we understand that spiritual warfare is taking place, we may not run as quickly from their rudeness, or at least not in the same way. Having expected it, we may enter into it with correction and kindness. We may not be annoyed that she took a swing at her sister; rather, we may be shocked that she shared her Skittles. When we know we’re wrestling demons, disobedience doesn’t surprise so much as obedience does.

2. We appreciate nuance in parenting strategies.

The spiritual warfare at work in parenting means that this is complicated work — much more complicated than the blanket approach of so many parenting models. There are so many moving parts in every family context, not to mention the differences in children. It is silly that we’d think there is a one-size-fits-all approach for how the details should go every time. Parenting models that suggest otherwise are full of reductionisms and overreactions, whether that means always letting the baby cry it out or always having them in the bed with mom and dad. When we seize onto one model over another, we are adopting its pros and its cons (which every system has) — and worse, we are often sucked into a tribal mentality that vilifies parents who do it differently than us.

Parenting is hard enough. We are wrestling demons. Rather than being a mindless evangelist for a certain model, offer help and your experience when you’re asked, and consider backing off when you’re not.

3. We understand the danger of the other extreme.

The knee-jerk response to the demonic message that children are worthless is to mistake children as everything. This response swings so far in the opposite direction of misopedia (the hatred of children) that we actually begin to worship children. This is when children become almost more than human, even angelic. Rather than seeing them as an interruption to our plans, or as an inconvenience to our priorities, we fall off the other side and make them the center of our worlds. This is part of a societal shift that started in the late twentieth century. Jennifer Senior comments, “Children stopped working, and parents worked twice as hard. Children went from being our employees to our bosses.”

When we see parenting in the context of spiritual warfare, we understand that the enemy has more than one way to wreak havoc. As hard as it may be to swallow, we learn that demons also take pleasure in those homes that are run by children, especially children whose hearts are so shriveled by selfishness and pandering that they lack any category of seeing themselves as sinners in need of a Savior.

4. We see children as gifts from God, not mistakes or idols.

Children are a blessing from God (Psalm 127:35). The implications of this truth are gloriously vast, including, first, that children are never mistakes and, second, that they’re never the object of our worship.

“Banish from your vocabulary the talk of your children being a ‘mistake.’ They’re not. They can’t be.”

Banish from your vocabulary the talk of junior being a “mistake.” He’s not. He can’t be. He’s no more a mistake than a college degree, a promotion at work, or your spouse saying “I do.” These are blessings. Blessings, not mistakes — and therefore, let’s call them that. Blessings, after all, are not so cookie-cutter. We understand that sometimes in God’s economy, blessings are not served on a silver platter. They are good — wonderfully good — but it’s not a microwavable good. It’s more like the long, tireless trek up a mountain, the kind that makes you stop and question whether you’ll actually make it but, when you do, fills you with a deep contentment only possible at the altitude in which you stand.

That kind of blessing is not a mistake, but neither is it an idol. If we put our children on the throne of our hearts, the clock is ticking before everything blows up. That is because idols are always a cover-up for self-worship. When children become our idols, it means they become the means to our meaning. The sad thing about the dad who won’t get off his son’s back at football practice is that the dad’s significance is so bound up in the success of his son that he can’t imagine failure. Under the guise of loving his son, he actually creates unbearable pressure and is using his son for his own advantage. Everyone loses.

Neither mistakes nor idols, our children are gifts — blessings for which to be thankful, and of which we are called to be stewards.

5. We know that God is in the fight on our side.

Once a crowd of people came to Jesus with their children. They had hoped that, upon seeing them, Jesus would lay his hands on the children and pray. The associates of Jesus, however, rebuked the people. The Master doesn’t have time for kids. They’re too beneath him. Get them out of here.

It’s not as harsh as it sounds. We might even have done the same.

But Jesus speaks the corrective word: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). And then, as Matthew tells us, “he laid his hands on them” (Matthew 19:15).

“In a beautiful way we can’t quite fathom, Jesus loves our children more than we do.”

When Jesus did this, both for his day and for our own, he marked himself as an advocate for children. Let the little children come to me. This means, in a beautiful way we can’t quite fathom, that Jesus loves your children more than you do.

It means, as God has told us in his word, that he is for the youngest and frailest among us. It means that he is in this fight on our side and has been fighting for years.

It means that when the nausea sets in, or when we’re wrestling the worst of demons, though it’s not easy, we are going to win this battle.

Adult Children: Praying for Your Prodigal

SOURCE:  Jodi Berndt from Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children

I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord. They will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with all their heart. — Jeremiah 24:7

Lauren stared at the photo on her phone, barely comprehending what she saw. It was a picture of her son, William, lying in a hospital bed, his head wrapped in a bloody bandage. He had been assaulted in what he said was a random robbery, and Lauren wanted to believe him. Given what they knew about their son’s current lifestyle, she didn’t know what to think.

Lauren and her husband, Mike, had been lukewarm about William’s plan to move to Chicago when he graduated from college. They understood why a guy from a small town in Alabama would want to spread his wings, but his idea — to launch a neighborhood-based classified-ad service to sell things like used furniture, cars, and household goods — sounded iffy. William had majored in business, but he knew very little about technology and even less about Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods. But after a six-month job search closer to home turned up nothing, she and Mike had gotten William a plane ticket and wished him well. Their son was hardworking, creative, and intelligent, so who knew? Maybe he’d be one of the success stories.

And if not, well, what was the worst that could happen?

Lauren had run through a dozen worst-case scenarios in her mind — maybe the business would flop or William would get sick from the city dirt and noise and pollution — but nothing had prepared her for the sight of her son lying in some unknown hospital, more than six hundred miles away. She wished Mike would get home soon; she needed to talk. An orthopedic surgeon, he was usually at the hospital all day on Thursdays, and she hadn’t been able to reach him.

Lauren thought back over the past several months. William had burned through most of his start-up money, and then in an effort to recoup his losses, he had started gambling. His drinking, which Lauren and Mike had hoped would lessen once he got out of college, had gotten worse. Lauren didn’t know much about William’s friends and business associates, but the words from Proverbs 13:20 kept coming to mind:

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.

Apparently, William had been walking with some fairly serious fools.

When had that started to happen? Lauren didn’t know exactly. William had given his life to the Lord at age twelve, and as he grew, so had his faith. He had been a youth group leader in high school, and when the time came to go to college, he elected to live with a Christian roommate. Lauren and Mike were thrilled when William joined a campus Bible study; surely, the friends and the teaching he’d be exposed to there would help guard him against some of the secular philosophies he would encounter in the classroom.

But things hadn’t turned out that way. Parties, football games, and study sessions with his classmates filled William’s calendar, and he began to drift away from Bible study and other fellowship opportunities. It wasn’t as if some atheist had talked him out of his faith; rather, the shift had come gradually as William spent more time with unbelievers than with his Christian friends. And then, almost as if he was looking for an intellectual reason to account for his behavior, William began to question some of the most basic tenets of his faith. Salvation by grace seemed far too simplistic. And the resurrection? Nothing he learned in any of his science classes made that even a remote possibility; it seemed (as William told his parents during his junior year) to be a story designed to bring comfort and hope to people who would grasp at anything to keep their faith alive. Which was fine for them — just not for him.

Mike and Lauren hadn’t wanted to alienate their son by revealing the depth of their concern or by arguing against some of his claims. Instead, they welcomed William’s questions, pointing him toward authors like Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and C. S. Lewis, apologists whose work they thought might appeal to him on an intellectual level.

“But honestly,” Mike had said, after one of their conversations, “I don’t think he is looking for evidence to support Christianity. I think it’s a moral issue, masquerading as an intellectual one. I think he wants to find a worldview to support his quest for independence and self-sufficiency as he runs away from God, something that will justify his rebellion.”

Prayer Principle

Ask God to work in your prodigal’s mind and spirit, demolishing arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

The kitchen door opened, snapping Lauren’s mind back to the present. It was Mike, home from the hospital where he had been making rounds. Lauren showed him the photo and filled him in on what little she knew.

“He says it’s nothing serious,” she said. “Some guys jumped him when he was walking home from work. He says they took his wallet…”

“Maybe they did,” Mike said, “but we aren’t sending him any more money.”

He picked up the phone and enlarged the photo. “It looks like a good bandage job at least. He’ll be okay.”

Lauren knew Mike wasn’t being callous or insensitive, and that he was hurting just as much as she was. He was just being practical. But for a mom, it wasn’t that easy.

“Mike, I want William to come home,” she said softly.

“I think he should,” Mike agreed, “but we can’t make him do anything. He’s literally living the life of the prodigal son — he got us to give him some money, and then he went away to a distant city and squandered it all in wild living. For all we know, he has been eating with pigs!”

Lauren knew the story Mike was talking about. It was a parable in Luke 15, one Jesus used to illustrate the heavenly Father’s love and the power of redemption. In that story, the son finally comes home, confessing his sins and giving up any claim he had on the family name. “I am no longer worthy to be called your son,” he says. “Make me like one of your hired men.” (Luke 15:19)

Lauren loved that parable — especially the part where the father sees the son in the distance and, throwing dignity to the wind, runs out to embrace his boy in a very public, very emotional reunion. It was perhaps the best illustration she knew of to show how God feels about us, and how utterly ecstatic He is when we acknowledge our own unworthiness and turn to him.

Missing from the story, though, was an account of the prodigal’s mother. Surely, she had longed to hear from her boy, to receive some word that he was at least alive. And certainly, when she heard the sound of his greeting, her heart would have leaped right along with her husband’s. Who knows? She might have even beaten him down the street.

Lauren knew the story wasn’t about a literal, historical family, one with a real mom and dad. But if it had been, Lauren knew one thing for sure: that mama would have been praying.

Prayer Principle

God knows what it’s like to grieve over a prodigal child — and to rejoice over his return.

Listening to Lauren and Mike, I was reminded of any number of similar accounts people shared with me as I worked on this book. Mothers and fathers told me about their kids’ faith; how they’d grown up in the church, attended Christian camps, or gone on mission trips; and read The Chronicles of Narnia at bedtime. These parents, like so many I interviewed, had done everything in their power to produce Christian kids — and sometimes, as one parent put it, “A plus B really did equal C.” But sometimes (a lot of times, actually), it didn’t.

I think my favorite comment came from a mom whose daughter has walked a path no parent would choose for a child. Looking at all of the bad decisions (and tragic consequences) the girl has experienced, and stacking those things up against verses like Genesis 50:20 (“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good”), this sweet mama summed up her perspective like this: “I don’t know what God is doing in my daughter’s life, or why she does the things she does. All I can figure is that she is working on her testimony. And it’s shaping up to be a good one.”

For parents who’ve staked their trust in the Lord (and for those who believe, as author Max Lucado puts it, that “we see a perfect mess; God sees a perfect chance to train, test, and teach”1), the idea that our kids are still “working on their testimonies” is a lifeline to hope. And it’s not just their stories that are still being written; Lauren and Mike don’t know what the future holds for William, but they’d be the first to tell you that his experience has shaped their own spiritual journey in a powerful way.

“We’ve prayed more than ever before,” Lauren told me, “and we’ve learned to wait on God. It’s hard not to let fear and worry cloud the picture, but the more we look into the bright light of God’s love, the more those dark things are obliterated. This trouble has been a gateway for us to get to know God better; our prayer is that it will also be a gateway for William.”

Prayer Principle

The light of God’s love is what scatters the darkness. Tether your prayers to the brightness of His promises.

“We’ve learned that we are completely helpless,” Mike added. “We cannot change or control our kids’ lives; all we can do is trust in a God who has given us great and precious promises.”

Mike is right. We are helpless, at least insofar as it comes to dictating the way our adult children think and behave. Many of them are out of our reach, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

But they are not out of God’s — and He invites us to join Him in the work He is doing, through prayer. We are not helpless there; even when we have no idea how to pray, God has us covered. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness,” Paul writes in Romans 8:26.

We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

——————————————————————————————————————-

Max Lucado, You’ll Get through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times (Nashville: Nelson, 2013), 10.

MY HEART CHRIST’S HOME

SOURCE:    Robert Boyd Munger-1954-InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

In Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, we find these words:  “That [God] would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.”

Without question one of the most remarkable Christian doctrines is that Jesus Christ Himself through the presence of the Holy Spirit will actually enter a heart, settle down and be at home there.  Christ will make the human heart His abode.  Our Lord said to His disciples, “If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him” (John 14:23).  It was difficult for them to understand what He was saying.  How was it possible for Him to make His abode with them in this sense?

It is interesting that our Lord used the same word here that He gave them in the first part of the fourteenth chapter of John:  “I go to prepare a place for you . . . that where I am, ye may be also.”  Our Lord was promising His disciples that, just as He was going to heaven to prepare a place for them and would welcome them one day, now it would be possible for them to prepare a place for Him in their hearts and He would come and make His abode with them.

They could not understand this.  How could it be?

Then came Pentecost.  The Spirit of the living Christ was given to the church and they understood.  God did not dwell in Herod’s temple in Jerusalem!  God did not dwell in a temple made with hands; but now, through the miracle of the out-poured Spirit, God would dwell in human hearts.  The body of the believer would be the temple of the living God and the human heart would be the home of Jesus Christ.

It is difficult for me to think of a higher privilege than to make for Christ a home in my heart, to welcome, to serve, to please, to fellowship with Him there.  One evening that I shall never forget, I invited Him into my heart.  What an entrance He made!  It was not a spectacular, emotional thing, but very real. It was at the very center of my life.  He came into the darkness of my heart and turned on the light.  He built a fire in the cold hearth and banished the chill.  He started music where there had been stillness and He filled the emptiness with His own loving, wonderful fellowship.  I have never regretted opening the door to Christ and I never will—not into eternity!

This, of course, is the first step in making the heart Christ’s home.  He has said, “Behold I stand at the door and knock: If any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20).  If you are interested in making your life an abode of the living God, let me encourage you to invite Christ into your heart and He will surely come.

After Christ entered my heart and in the joy of that new-found relationship, I said to Him, “Lord, I want this heart of mine to be Yours.  I want to have You settle down here and be perfectly at home.  Everything I have belongs to You.  Let me show You around and introduce You to the various features of the home that You may be more comfortable and that we may have fuller fellowship together.”  He was very glad to come, of course, and happier still to be given a place in the heart.

The Library

The first room was the study—the library.  Let us call it the study of the mind.  Now in my home this room of the mind is a very small room with very thick walls.  But it is an important room.  In a sense, it is the control room of the house.  He entered with me and looked around at the books in the bookcase, the magazines upon the table, the pictures on the wall.  As I followed His gaze, I became uncomfortable.  Strangely enough, I had not felt badly about this before, but now that He was there looking at these things I was embarrassed.  There were some books there that His eyes were too pure to behold.  There was a lot of trash and literature on the table that a Christian had no business reading and as for the pictures on the wall—the imaginations and thoughts of my mind—these were shameful.

I turned to Him and said, “Master, I know that this room needs a radical alteration.  Will You help me make it what it ought to be—to bring every thought into captivity to You?”

“Surely,” He said.  “Gladly will I help you.  That is one reason I am here.  First of all, take all the things that you are reading and seeing which are not helpful, pure, good and true, and throw them out!  Now put on the empty shelves the books of the Bible.  Fill the library with Scriptures and meditate on them day and night.  As for the pictures on the wall, you will have difficulty controlling these images, but here is an aid.”  He gave me a full-sized portrait of Himself.  “Hang this centrally,” He said, “on the wall of the mind.”  I did and I have discovered through the years that when my thoughts are centered upon Christ Himself, His purity and power cause impure imaginations to retreat.  So He has helped me to bring my thoughts into captivity.

May I suggest to you if you have difficulty with this little room of the mind, that you bring Christ in there.  Pack it full with the Word of God, mediate upon it and keep before it ever the immediate presence of the Lord Jesus.

The Dining Room

From the study we went into the dining room, the room of appetites and desires.  Now this was a very large room, I spent a good deal of time in the dining room and much effort in satisfying my wants.  I said to Him, “This is a very commodious room and I am quite sure You will be pleased with what we serve here.”

He seated Himself at the table with me and asked, “What is on the menu for dinner?”

“Well, “ I said, “my favorite dishes: old bones, corn husks, sour cabbage, leeks, onions and garlic right out of Egypt.?”  These were the things I liked—worldly fare.  I suppose there was nothing radically wrong in any particular item, but it was not the food that should satisfy the life of a real Christian.  When the food was placed before Him, He said nothing about it.  However, I observed that He did not eat it, and I said to Him, somewhat disturbed, “Savior, You don’t care for the food that is placed before You?  What is the trouble?”

He answered, “I have meat to eat that ye know not of.  My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me.”  He looked at me again and said, “If you want food that really satisfies you, seek the will of the Father, not your own pleasures, not your own desires, not your own satisfaction.  Seek to please Me, and that food will satisfy you.”  And there about the table He gave me a taste of doing God’s will.  What a flavor!  There is no food like it in all the world.  It alone satisfies.  Everything else is dissatisfying in the end!!

Now if Christ is in your heart, and I trust He is, what kind of food are you serving Him and what kind of food are you eating yourself?  Are you living for the lust of the flesh and the pride of life—selfishly?  Or are you choosing God’s will for your meat and drink?

The Drawing Room

We walked next into the drawing room.  This room was rather intimate and comfortable.  I liked it.  It had a fireplace, overstuffed chairs, a bookcase, sofa, and a quiet atmosphere.

He also seemed pleased with it.  He said, “This is indeed a delightful room.  Let us come here often.  It is secluded and quiet, and we can have fellowship together.”

Well, naturally, as a young Christian I was thrilled.  I could not think of anything I would rather do than have a few minutes apart with Christ in intimate comradeship.

He promised, “I will be here every morning early.  Meet with Me here and we will start the day together.”  So, morning after morning, I would come downstairs to the drawing room and He would take a book of the Bible from the bookcase.  He would open it and then we would read together.  He would tell me of its riches and unfold to me its truths.   He would make my heart warm as He revealed His love and His grace toward me.  They were wonderful hours together.  In fact, we called the drawing room the “withdrawing room.”   It was a period when we had our quiet time together.

But, little by little, under the pressure of many responsibilities, this time began to be shortened.  Why, I don’t know, but I thought I was just too busy to spend time with Christ.  This was not intentional, you understand; it just happened that way.  Finally, not only was the time shortened, but I began to miss a day now and then.  It was examinations time at the university.  Then it was some other urgent emergency.  I would miss it two days in a row and often more.

I remember one morning when I was in a hurry, rushing down the steps, eager to be on my way.

As I passed the drawing room, the door was ajar.  Looking in I saw a fire in the fireplace and the Lord sitting there.  Suddenly in dismay, I thought to myself, “He was my guest.  I had invited Him into my heart!  He had come as Lord of my home. And yet here I am neglecting Him.”  I turned and went in.  With downcast glance I said, “Blessed Master, forgive me.  Have You been here all these mornings?”

“Yes,” He said, “I told you I would be here every morning to meet with you.”  Then I was even more ashamed.  He had been faithful in spite of my faithlessness.  I asked His forgiveness and He readily forgave me, and He does when we are truly penitent.

He said, “The trouble with you is this:  You have been thinking of the quiet time, of the Bible study and prayer time, as a factor in your own spiritual progress, but you have forgotten that this hour means something to Me also.  Remember, I love you.  I have redeemed you at a great cost.  I desire your fellowship.  Now,” He said, “do not neglect this hour if only for My sake.  Whatever else may be your desire, remember I want your fellowship!”

You know, the truth that Christ wants my fellowship, that He loves me, wants me to be with Him, wants to be with me and waits for me, has done more to transform my quiet time with God than any other single fact.  Don’t let Christ wait alone in the drawing room of your heart, but every day find some time when, with the Word of God and in prayer, you may fellowship with Him.

The Workshop

Before long He asked, “Do you have a workshop in your home?”  Down in the basement of the home of my heart I had a workbench and some equipment, but I was not doing much with it.  Once in a while I would go down and fuss around with a few little gadgets, but I wasn’t producing anything substantial or worthwhile.

I led Him down there.

He looked over the workbench and what little talents and skills I had.  He said, “This is quite well furnished.  What are you producing with your life for the Kingdom of God?”  He looked at one or two of the little toys that I had thrown together on the bench and He held one up to me.  “Are these little toys all that you are producing in your Christian life?”

“Well” I said, “Lord,  that is the best I can do.  I know it isn’t much and I really want to do more, but after all, I have no skill or strength.”

“Would you like to do better?” He asked.  “Certainly,” I replied.

“All  right.  Let Me have your hands.  Now relax in Me and let My Spirit work through you.  I know you are unskilled and clumsy and awkward, but the Spirit is the Master-worker and if He controls your hands and your heart He will work through you.”  And so, stepping around behind me and putting His great strong hands over mine, controlling the tools with His skillful fingers, He began to work through me.

There’s much more that I must still learn and I am very far from satisfied with the product that is being turned out, but I do know that whatever has been produced for God has been through His strong hand and through the power of His Spirit in me.

Do not become discouraged because you cannot do much for God. Your ability is not the fundamental condition.  It is He who is controlling your fingers and upon whom you are relying.  Give your talents and gifts to God and He will do things with them that will surprise you.

The Rumpus Room

I remember the time He inquired about the playroom.  I was hoping He would not ask me about that.  There were certain associations and friendships, activities and amusements that I wanted to keep for myself.  I did not think Christ would enjoy them or approve of them, so I evaded the question.

But there came an evening when I was leaving to join some companions—I was in college at the time—and as I was about to cross the threshold, He stopped me with a glance.  “Are you going out?”  I answered, “Yes.”  “Good,” He said, “I would like to go with you.”

“Oh,” I replied rather awkwardly.  I don’t think, Lord, that You would really want to go with us.  Let’s go out tomorrow night.  Tomorrow night we will go to prayer meeting, but tonight I have another appointment.”

He said, “That’s all right.  Only I thought when I came into your home we were going to do everything together.  We were going to be partners.  I want you to know that I am willing to go with you.”

“Well,” I said, “we will go some place together tomorrow night.”

But that evening I spent some miserable hours. I felt wretched.  What kind of a friend was I to Christ, when I was deliberately leaving Him out of my associations, doing things and going places that I knew very well He would not enjoy?  When I returned that evening, there was a light in His room and I went up to talk it over with Him.  I said, “Lord, I have learned my lesson.  I cannot have a good time without You.  We will do everything together from now on.”

Then we went down into the rumpus room of the house and He transformed it.  He brought into life real joy, real happiness, real satisfaction, real friendship.  Laughter and music have been ringing in the house ever since.

The Hall Closet

There is just one more matter that I might share with you.  One day I found Him waiting for me at the door.  There was an arresting look in His eye.  He said to me as I entered, “There is a peculiar odor in the house.  There is something dead around here. It’s upstairs.  I think it is in the hall closet.”  As soon as He said the words, I knew what He was talking about.  Yes, there was a small hall closet up there on the landing, just a few feet square, and in that closet behind lock and key I had one or two little personal things that I did not want Christ to see.  I knew they were dead and rotting things.  And yet I loved them, and I wanted them so for myself that I was afraid to admit that they were there.  I went up the stairs with Him and as we mounted, the odor became stronger and stronger.  He pointed at the door and said, “It’s in there!  Some dead thing!”

I was angry.  That’s the only way I can put it.  I had given Him access to the library, the dining room, the drawing room, the work shop, the rumpus room, and now He was asking me about a little two-by-four closet.  I said inwardly, “This is too much.  I am not going to give Him the key.”

“Well,” He said, reading my thoughts, “If you think I am going to stay up here on the second floor with this odor, you are mistaken.  I will take My bed out on the back porch.  I’m certainly not going to put up with that.”  And I saw Him start down the stairs.

When you have come to know and love Christ, the worst think that can happen is to sense His fellowship retreating from you.  I had to surrender.  “I’ll give you the key,” I said sadly, “but You’ll have to open the closet.  You’ll have to clean it out.  I haven’t the strength to do it.”

“I know,” He said, “I know you haven’t.  Just give Me the key.  Just authorize Me to take care of that closet and I will.”  So, with trembling fingers I passed the key over to Him.  He took it from my hand, walked over to the door, opened it, entered it, took out all the putrefying stuff that was rotting there and threw it away.  Then He cleansed the closet, painted it, fixed it up, doing is all in a moment’s time.  Oh, what victory and release to have that dead thing out of my life!.

Transferring The Title

Then a thought came to me.  I said to myself, “I have been trying to keep this heart of mine clear for Christ.  I start on one room and no sooner have I cleaned that than another room is dirty.  I begin on the second room and the first room becomes dusty again.  I am so tired and weary trying to maintain a clean heart and an obedient life.  I just am not up to it!”  So I ventured a question:  “Lord, is there any chance that You would take over the responsibility of the whole house and operate it for me and with me just as You did that closet?  Would you take the responsibility to keep my heart what it ought to be and my life where it ought to be?”

I could see his face light up as He replied, “Certainly, that is what I came to do.  You cannot be a victorious Christian in your own strength.  That is impossible. Let Me do it through you and for you.  That is the way.  But,” He added slowly, “I am not owner of this house.  I am just a guest.  I have no authority to proceed since the property is not Mine.”

I saw it in a minute and dropping to my knees, I said, “Lord, You have been a guest, and I have been the host.  From now on I am going to be the servant.  You are going to be the Lord.”  Running as fast as I could to the strong box, I took out the title deed to the house describing its assets and liabilities, its situation and condition.  Then returning to Him, I eagerly signed it over to belong to Him alone for time and eternity.  “Here it is, all that I am and have forever.  Now You run the house.  I’ll just remain with You as houseboy and friend.”

He took my life that day and I can give you my word, there is no better way to live the Christian life.   He knows how to keep it in shape and deep peace settles down on the soul.  May Christ settle down and be at home in your heart as Lord of all.

Don’t Stuff Your Pain, Tell God About It

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

“Get up, cry out in the night, even as the night begins. Pour out your heart like water in prayer to the Lord” (Lamentations 2:19a NCV).

Think you’ve had a bad day?

The biblical character of Job had a Ph.D. in pain and loss.

In the very first chapter of Job, after everything fell apart in his life, “Job stood up, tore his robe in grief, and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground and worshiped”(Job 1:20 GW).

Job expressed his pain to God. When you have a major loss in your life, the first thing you need to do is tell God exactly how you feel.

This may surprise you, but God can handle your anger and frustration. He can handle your emotions. Why? Because he gave them to you. You were made in the image of God, and he is an emotional God.

When your 2-year-old has a temper tantrum and beats on your knees, you can handle that. In the same way, God is bigger than your emotion, and it’s okay to tell him exactly how you feel. When you prayed for a promotion but it didn’t happen, when a loved one walks out of your life, when you get the dreaded call saying, “It’s cancer,” you can tell God, “I’m mad. I’m upset. I’m sick. I’m frustrated. I’m ticked off. I doubt.” God can handle your complaints, your questions, your fear, and your grief. God’s love for you is bigger than all of your emotions.

My kids know I love them. They know that I’ve been on this planet longer than they have and that I’ve had more experience than they have. But my children sometimes question my judgment. Can you believe that?

I’d rather have an honest, gut-level conversation with them than have them stuff their frustration and disappointment inside. God is the same way! He would rather have you wrestle with him in anger than walk away in detached apathy.

The right response to unexplained tragedy is not “grin and bear it.” Lamentations 2:19a says, “Get up, cry out in the night, even as the night begins. Pour out your heart like water in prayer to the Lord” (NCV).

How to Love Your Kids Unconditionally

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

One of the most important things we can do for our children is to teach them that God loves them unconditionally.

It’s extremely important that we teach our kids that they are loved, not because they earned our love or are good enough to be loved, but that they’re loved because God put them into our families to be loved.

This is hard for many of us because we have had a hard time receiving God’s unconditional love ourselves. God wants us to spend some time with him, letting him love us, and in turn giving that unconditional love to our kids.

How can we show God’s unconditional love to our families? Here are two practical ways:

1. Forgive your kids as God forgives you.

Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and loving to each other, and forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ” (NCV).

I love that God forgives me, but I’m not always ready to give that same kind of forgiveness to other people. Parenting requires massive doses of forgiveness. You’re in a position all the time to forgive your kids for things that they do.

2. Never give up on your kids.

We’re told in 1 Corinthians 13:7a, “If you love someone . . . you will always believe in him, and always expect the best of him” (TLB).

From the Phillips translation, that same verse says, “Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything.”

We can face just about anything if we know somebody believes in us. Families are supposed to do that. We’re to give that kind of love to our kids.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God. It’s unconditional. It’s a forever bond. No stupid mistake on our part, no dumb decision, no period of rebellion, no overwhelming doubt — nothing can separate us from that forever bond with God, our Father.

As parents we are to develop that same kind of love for our kids. No matter what stupid thing our kids do, no matter how many times they walk away, we believe in them.

God wants you to treat your kids the way he treats you.

Parenting is an emotional roller coaster. One minute you’re so proud of them, you can hardly wait to squeeze them. The next minute you’re frustrated with them and fed up with their behavior.

You may be worried about your kids. You may be frustrated with your kids. You may be fearful about the direction one of them is going. You may be discouraged. If the truth were known, you may be disappointed in one or more of your kids.

Maybe the deepest hurt in your life is when you think of your child or your children. You feel like giving up sometimes, but you can’t resign as a parent. You signed on for life.

If you try to parent in your own power, you’re going to fail. It takes God’s love. Human love runs out. There is a limit to how much you can handle. There’s a limit to how much you can take.

There are days and there are nights when you don’t have any more to give, and you know it. You want to say, “Take care of yourself!” Because human love does run out.

What you need to do is get plugged into God. God is love. He’s the source of all love. When you’re plugged into him, he’ll give you power and energy and love that you didn’t know you had.

God will also give you the wisdom you need. So no matter how you feel emotionally about your kids today, Jesus is ready to help.

The key to becoming a great parent is to become a godly person. How?

First, you invite Jesus Christ into your life. “Lord, become the manager of my heart.”

Second, you pray and say, “God, I need your help daily. I need the wisdom and the love and the patience to be a wise parent.”

Third, you ask your kids to pray for you. I pray for my kids so I ask them to pray for me. Say, “I want you to pray that I’ll be a good parent.”

It may have to start with an apology. There may have to be a little reconciliation first. You may have to contact them, call them on the phone and say, “I wasn’t always the parent I should have been. I feel bad about that. But I want things to change. I want to be the kind of parent God wants me to be and that you need, so I’m going to ask you to forgive me. I apologize.”

It’s never too late to start showing God’s unconditional love and forgiveness to your kids. God never gives up on us. So never given up on your kids!

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