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Posts tagged ‘brokenness’

Pressing Through the Pain

SOURCE:  Lysa Terkeurst

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. — James 4:8 NKJV

Does it ever feel like the heartbreak in your life is trying to break you?

I understand. I really, really do. I’ve been in that place where the pain of heartbreak hits with such sudden and sharp force that it feels like it cuts through skin and bone. It’s the kind of pain that leaves us wondering if we’ll ever be able to function like a normal person again.

But God has been tenderly reminding me that pain itself is not the enemy.

Pain is the indicator that brokenness exists.

Pain is the reminder that the real Enemy is trying to take us out and bring us down by keeping us stuck in broken places. Pain is the gift that motivates us to fight with brave tenacity and fierce determination, knowing there’s healing on the other side.

And in the in-between? In that desperate place where we aren’t quite on the other side of it all yet, and our heart still feels quite raw? Pain is the invitation for God to move in and replace our faltering strength with His. I’m not writing that to throw out spiritual platitudes that sound good; I write it from the depth of a heart that knows it’s the only way. We must invite God into our pain to help us survive the desperate in-between.

The only other choice is to run from the pain by using some method of numbing. But numbing the pain never goes to the source of the real issue to make us healthier. It only silences our screaming need for help.

We think we are freeing ourselves from the pain when, in reality, what numbs us imprisons us.

If we avoid the hurt, the hurt creates a void in us.

It slowly kills the potential for our hearts to fully feel, fully connect, fully love again. It even steals the best in our relationship with God.

Pain is the sensation that indicates a transformation is needed. There is a weakness where new strength needs to enter in. And we must choose to pursue long-term strength rather than temporary relief.

So how do we get this new strength? How do we stop ourselves from chasing what will numb us when the deepest parts of us scream for some relief? How do we stop the piercing pain of this minute, this hour?

We invite God’s closeness.

For me, this means praying. No matter how vast our pit, prayer is big enough to fill us with the realization of His presence like nothing else. Our key verse (James 4:8) reminds us that when we draw near to God, He will draw near to us. When we invite Him close, He always accepts our invitation.

And on the days when my heart feels hurt and my words feel quite flat, I let Scripture guide my prayers — recording His Word in my journal, and then adding my own personal thoughts.

One of my favorites to turn to is Psalm 91. I would love to share this verse with you today, as an example for when you prayerfully invite God into your own pain.
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. — Psalm 91:1

Prayer:

Lord, draw me close. Your Word promises when I draw close to You, You are there.

I want my drawing close to be a permanent dwelling place. At any moment when I feel weak and empty and alone, I pray that I won’t let those feelings drag me down into a pit of insecurity. But rather, I want those feelings to be triggers for me to immediately lift those burdensome feelings to You and trade them for the assurance of Your security.

I am not alone, because You are with me. I am not weak, because Your strength is infused in me. I am not empty, because I’m drinking daily from Your fullness. You are my dwelling place. And in You I have shelter from every stormy circumstance and harsh reality. I’m not pretending the hard things don’t exist, but I am rejoicing in the fact that Your covering protects me and prevents those hard things from affecting me like they used to.

You, the Most High, have the final say over me. You know me and love me intimately. And today I declare that I will trust You in the midst of my pain. You are my everyday dwelling place, my saving grace. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

And with that I close my prayer journal, feeling a lot less desperate and a lot more whole. I breathe the atmosphere of life His words bring. I picture Him standing at the door of my future, knocking. If I will let Him enter into the darkness of my hurt today, He will open wide the door to a much brighter tomorrow.

Dear Lord, in this moment I draw near to You and I invite Your closeness. Help me to experience Your presence today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Excerpted from Embraced by Lysa TerKeurst

How do you know when someone is truly sorry?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

They do not cry out to me from their hearts but wail upon their beds.

Hosea 7:14

As biblical counselors, sometimes it’s hard to discern if someone is truly repentant.

Tears are often the language of the heart, but when one is crying in the counseling office, it’s important to hear what the person’s heart is really saying.  The apostle Paul speaks of two kinds of sorrow, worldly sorrow that leads to death and godly sorrow that brings repentance (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).  As Christian counselors, it is crucial that we learn to distinguish between the two especially when we are doing couples work.

Worldly sorrow is a self-focused sorrow. It may contain great emotion, tears, and apologies, but the grief expressed is for one’s self. The person mourns the consequences of his or her sin and what she has lost. This may be a marriage, a job, a reputation, friends and/or family, or can even be one’s own idea of who they thought they were. Here are some of the things we often hear a person say when they are sorrowing unto death.

·         I can’t believe I did such a thing.

·         Why is this happening to me?

·         Please forgive me. – Implying, please don’t make me suffer the  consequences of my sin.

·         Why won’t he/she forgive me? (In other words, why can’t reconciliation be easy and quick?)

·         I’m so sorry (sad).

·         I’m a horrible person.

·         I wish I were dead.

·         I hate myself.

Judas is a good example of this type of sorrow (Matthew 27:3-5).  After he betrayed Christ, he was seized with remorse yet it did not lead to godly repentance, but self-hatred and suicide.

It is natural that we feel compassion for the person suffering such emotional and spiritual pain. However, it’s crucial that we not confuse this kind of sorrow with the kind that leads to biblical repentance, especially when we are working with both the sorrowing sinner and the one who has been sinned against.

Godly sorrow demonstrates grief over one’s sinfulness toward God as well as the pain it has caused others. John the Baptist said, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8).

Below are eight things I have found that demonstrate those fruits of genuine repentance.

·         Accepts full responsibility for actions and attitudes, doesn’t blame others or situations.

·         Acknowledges sinfulness (instead of “I can’t believe I could do such a thing”).

·         Recognizes the effects of actions on others and shows empathy for the pain he/she’s caused.

·         Able to identify brokenness in detail such as abusive tactics, attitudes of entitlement, and/or areas of chronic deceit.

·         Accepts consequences without demands or conditions.

·         Makes amends for damages.

·         Is willing to make consistent changes over the long term such as new behaviors and attitudes characteristic of healthy relationships.

·         Is willing to be accountable and if needed, long term.

In my work with couples who have experienced grievous sin, I have found that it is not their sin that destroys most relationships. All couples experience sin. The destruction comes when we refuse to acknowledge it. It is our blindness to it and our unwillingness to humble ourselves to get help, be accountable, and repent that makes reconciliation and healing impossible.

7 Values I’ve Discovered in Brokenness

SOURCE:  Ron Edmondson

During times of trials and difficulty we often forget – or we never even understand- the value of brokenness.

Yes, I just wrote the previous sentence. And, I stand behind it.

Not many people would choose to be burdened with heartache or disappointment, but the way God uses suffering for good is rarely realized until after the trial has passed – often years later.

This doesn’t mean the loss from suffering doesn’t still hurt. It often does. And, some pain – such as the loss of a loved one – never disappears completely. I’m not necessarily writing about this kind of brokenness. I’ve written about those type losses in other posts – although God works in those times for good also.

I’m talking in this post about brokenness from things like the loss of a job, personal failure, the breakup of a significant relationship. The kind of brokenness, where we often played a part or someone else made decisions or choices which hurt us deeply. The kind we try to run from, forget, or hide from other people. The kind of which we might be embarrassed and people pray for us more than we list them as a “prayer request” at church.

Upon reflection, we can see how God worked even through these darkest days of life.

I was reflecting recently on some of my own times of brokenness.

I discovered 7 values to brokenness:

Brokenness keeps one humble. Humility is highly honored by God and is an attractive quality to others. We would never ask for humility. There are no steps to rid our life of pride. Humble people have been humbled.

It teaches valuable life principles. Honestly, I have learned more from the hard times in my life than from the good. Again, these are not lessons we seek on our own, but experience – even and perhaps especially the hard experiences of life.

It brings repentance. I often forget how much I need forgiveness. Brokenness, especially when caused by my own actions, reminds me I am hopeless apart from His grace.

It encourages a fresh start.  Starting over is not always as bad as it seems. It could even be a blessing we may not have sought on our own, but looking back we are so glad it came.

It invites God’s grace. Brokenness brings me to my knees. As sin increases, grace increases all the more. I long more for God’s favor and His protection. It’s never a bad thing when my heart longs heavenward.

It illustrates humanity. Brokenness reminds me frail people share the commonality of life struggles. We are in this together – all in need of God’s mercy and grace. We live in a fallen world. The only hope is Jesus.

It welcomes the heart of God. Psalm 34:18 says, “God is close to the broken-hearted.” I’m so thankful for this truth!

Has your story been shaped by brokenness?

Allow the molding energies of God’s hand to craft His masterpiece in you as you yield to His ultimate plan for your life.

There is value in brokenness.

To the Sons and Daughters of Divorce

SOURCE:  Paul Maxwell/Desiring God

Few things are more traumatic than a car accident — 2,000 pounds of steel and glass bending and scraping, with no respect for the limits or boundaries of the human body inside. There’s a path of healing that every victim of a serious accident must take.

Children with divorced parents have experienced a different kind of violent, traumatic collision. And every child of divorce must likewise walk a path of healing. It will, of course look different for different sons and daughters, but no one can deny that the emotional and relational bleeding needs attention, likely long after the papers are filed.

A chorus of adults with long-divorced parents will dismiss in unison: “I’m not broken, thanks very much. I’m not a project. I’m fine. It’s not even a big deal. I’m not a victim, and it certainly doesn’t deserve this much attention.”

I totally get that.  Depending on the day, I might say the same thing if I read my first two paragraphs.

My parents divorced when I was nine. I’m not a victim, but the break still broke me. It wounded me in ways I could not control. Years later, because I didn’t have the resources to work through things as a nine-year-old boy, certain forms of brokenness seem native and normal to me.

Divorce “attacks the self, because the self is formed within the belonging and meaning provided by the family. When it is destroyed, the threat of lost place and lost purpose becomes a reality. Without place or purpose, one becomes a lost self” (Andrew Root, Children of Divorce, 21). More than losing myself, though, I lost the ability to relate to my heavenly Father. I certainly didn’t think that God had anything to say, or even cared, about the mangled, overturned vehicle in our living room. I’m sometimes still tempted to think that way today. But he does. He speaks. And he cares.

Right now, we’re just focusing on what you (and I) experienced, and how you can heal. This isn’t meant to judge divorced parents, or to deter parents from getting divorced for legitimate reasons (abuse or adultery). The point is to see how, as children of divorce, Jesus Christ is a light in dark places, a hope for the broken, confused, and lonely. We will piece together some themes from Scripture to explain how God understands and relates to children of divorce, in ten points.

Divorce Does Affect You

1. Everyone in a family is organically, emotionally, spiritually connected.

Paul explains, “For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy” (1 Corinthians 7:14). While not the main point of the text (primarily speaking about marriage between a believer and unbeliever), we can note three things:

  1. The family is a unit — an organically connected singular entity (“because of his wife . . . because of her husband . . . as it is”).
  2. The child’s spiritual well-being is interwoven with the integrity of their parents’ marital well-being (“made holy . . . made holy . . . they are holy”).
  3. A broken marriage, therefore, has breaking effects on the child (“Otherwise your children would be unclean”).

2. For a child, experiencing a divorce is experiencing a violent storm.

Malachi argues, “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth” (Malachi 2:15). Ah, yes. “What was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.” In the Hebrew, “A child of God.” What does the child experience? The Lord enters the scene to explain what happens to a child when parents fail to guard their marriage “in the spirit”: “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless” (Malachi 2:16). There is always violence in divorce — a scary, violent, destructive storm within and all around the family.

Divorce Tears What Cannot Be Torn

3. Divorce does not just separate parents.

“So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6). “I know.” We use a metaphor for divorce: “It’s like getting gum out of a rug. It can’t fully be done.” Okay. We forget that the spouses aren’t the only ones who get “separated.” The gum metaphor certainly doesn’t capture what happens to a child of a divorce. A marriage can be separated, at least in some ways; A child cannot. A child is an irreducible unit — a singularity cannot be separated from itself. And yet, we are. What the parents experience relationally, the child experiences internally.

4. Divorce separates you from you.

So when your parents — your first example and measure of relational unity and security — were separated, you were torn in a way that a human is not built to be torn. There is no “gum” and “rug.” There’s just you. You’re one “thing,” and now you feel like you’ve been cracked in half into two things. Even if you don’t experience the emotion explicitly, you still feel and experience and respond to the tension, because the separation is real.

Regardless of whether the divorce was justified or biblical — completely aside from any of those questions — divorce was a violence you experienced. What man “separates” in divorce happens to you, too. What happens between Mom and Dad happens in you. “There is no soundness in my flesh . . . because of the tumult of my heart” (Psalm 38:7–8). The effects are far-reaching, often more than we are immediately aware. Depression, anxiety, addiction, anger, compulsions, and distractions, are all possible effects of being torn, and very often, we are not even aware that these things might be related to the “accident.”

Facing Brokenness is Freedom

5. Brokenness is not unrighteousness.

Scripture uses many different metaphors to speak ethically, but theologians have used at least two terms that are relevant here: the “forensic” and the “renovative.” The “forensic” is legal. It’s declarative. It’s right and wrong. Scripture uses the terms “righteous” and “unrighteous” for the forensic (Acts 24:15). The “renovative” is felt — it’s inside of you. It is helpful and hurtful. Scripture uses the terms “holy” (1 Timothy 2:8) and “broken” (Psalm 44:19; Psalm 69:20; Proverbs 29:1; Ephesians 4:22). To put it in a crass and reductionistic way, the forensic is the external evaluation, and the renovative is the internal state of affairs. In order to heal, we need to be able to distinguish between our brokennesses.

6. You didn’t do anything wrong, but you still have to heal.

Popular therapy for children of divorce will say again and again, “You didn’t do anything wrong.” That’s a forensic category. And it’s true. Your parents’ divorce is not your fault. But, unfortunately and tragically, it still breaks you. You are still, in a real way — in an on-the-ground, in-your-fibers sense — overwhelmed by weight too heavy to lift and twisted in knots too complex to untie in a single counseling session.

The choice given to the child of divorce is not whether or not they should experience the brokenness of their parents’ divorce, but whether they will consciously process or unconsciously suppress the breaking. Henri Nouwen explains, “What is forgotten is unavailable, and what is unavailable cannot be healed.” Likewise, to intentionally face the reality of being broken is not to face defeat, but healing.

Facing God After Divorced Parents

7. Marriage and divorce communicate something about God’s love.

Parents represent in a priestly and prophetic way, for good or ill, Christ’s attitude toward their children (Ephesians 6:1-4). This happens, not only in the direct relationship of parent-to-child, but in an exemplary and indirect way in the public, parent-to-parent relationship lived before the eyes of the child (Ephesians 5:25-33).

And so, in divorce, parents communicate a view of God’s love that speaks more powerfully than words. It is important to recognize, then, that there will always be a painful proverb in the back of your head that has its root in that experience. It’s not the same for everyone.

“Love doesn’t last.”
“Failure in love is always my fault.”
“I need marriage to escape my loneliness.”
“I will never get married.”
“God’s ready to leave me any moment.”
“My love isn’t enough to keep people together.”
“I’m not enough.”

All lies.

But lies are powerful when they have good material to work with. Divorce is a fertile ground for lies of justified self-hatred. Children of divorce, myself included, have always searched too hard for love. Like the song goes, “I fall in love too easily; I fall in love too fast; I fall in love too terribly hard for love to ever last.” We are searching for a sense of home, a way to convince ourselves the lies in our abandonment and loneliness won’t have the last word.

8. God’s has a special affection for you.

What do we see in the texts we’ve looked at so far? A condemnation of the divorced? No. It’s not even about that. What do we see? God’s caring hand for the child. For you. Even if you’re an adult. These texts are God speaking, and naming violence that you’ve experienced. Malachi 2:15 is God saying, “You’ve been in a car accident, and you need to heal.” He says, “I’m looking after you. My eye is on you. You are my child.”

We see God’s protective care for children of divorce. We see the structures that he has set up to care for the weak, and his grief over the violence that breaking these structures does. God is the lifter of weight. He is the untier of knots. His specialty is in redeeming — in healing, restoring, and strengthening. His forte is in trauma, and in complex pain — not always in fixing or explaining right away, but in being-with (Isaiah 43:2).

He has a singular and unique affection for you: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13). That verse probably means nothing to you. In fact, it may make God feel further away. The ‘father’ pictures in Scripture have never been anything but painful for you. That doesn’t change the fact that God does show perfect and intimate compassion to you the way a good father should. He does.

Facing Others After Divorced Parents

9. God is building you to help others.

Through sorrow and tragedy, God gives you an awareness of the world. A sixteen-year-old with divorced parents is, in a sense, more aware of the world around them than the same sixteen-year-old without divorced parents. We all fight through adversity, of whatever kind, so that we can fight for the weak down the road.

“If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter” (Proverbs 24:10–11).

These verses flip suffering on its head. If we had divorced parents as a child (and faint, because it’s too much for us), it is so that we can rescue others when we’ve been made strong. In the end (and even in the midst) of your healing path awaits a unique strength that will not only deliver you, but will allow you to carry others through the same journey, fighting the same voices, healing the same wounds, building the same faith and perseverance.

10. Reach out to others who have walked this hard path.

Ernest Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” To put it tritely, experiencing the divorce of parents is just really, really hard. There’s no escaping that. It comes with tears. It comes with being very afraid. It comes with anger. You carry the bitter weight of having divorced parents.

I don’t presume to know your situation, what your parents are like, or what your family has gone through. All I know is that it must be extremely painful, and that God knows your pain. By his grace, it will not destroy you, but make you stronger (Isaiah 42:3–5). Paul realized that he went through an affliction “so that [he] may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:4). He is a man who once “despaired of life itself” who now “[does] not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1). He learned to be strong because he was weak (2 Corinthians 12:9), and God is still using him to comfort Christians in chronic and excruciating pain all over the world.

I don’t think I have found more help in my own journey of healing than in seeking help from others who have walked the same paths — who have had to do the hard work of finding Christ through the weeds of having divorced parents. Look for other sons and daughters — of God, and of divorced parents — and walk with them.

You are not pathetic. You are not alone. You deserve to be deeply loved, and you are deeply loved by God. He will carry and keep you.

 

A Prayer for Sufferers

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith

A Prayer for Bringing Broken Friends and Stories to Jesus

     Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  Mark 2:3-5

Dear Lord Jesus, after sitting with a mom in crisis yesterday, I woke up this morning hurting for friends whose lives are marked by chronic illnesses—those with mental and emotional illnesses in particular. I come, very much in the spirit of this text, bringing you both the sufferers and the caregivers, confident of your great compassion.

Jesus, I cry out to you on behalf of the sufferers—these precious men and women whose capacity to think and feel is painfully distorted—those who are in early and later stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s. And I pray for those who suffer with various degrees of depression—from clinical to post-partum blues to bouts of paralyzing melancholia. And I pray for friends trying to make sense of hard providences and your promises—those who wonder how you can be good, when life is so hard.

I pray for those unable to grieve losses and betrayals in a healthy way. I pray for those who live in the angry vortex of despair and hopelessness—generated by old and new wounds. I pray for those whose war with self-contempt makes death, or at least self-harm, look like a good—even the only way out. You know the names and the details, and you alone have the grace.

Jesus, I know you are merciful and I know you are mighty. Only you know what’s going on in each story and heart. It’s not always easy to discern what’s physiological, psychological, demonic, or just the absence of vital relationship with you. As friends and caregivers, give us what we need to love and to serve these broken ones well.

When we’re fearful and confused, when we are fed up and used up, give us all the wisdom, compassion, and faith to love well. Jesus, it’s these kinds of sufferings that me wish for miracles on demand.

How we long for the Day when every form of brokenness will give way to the endless joys of spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional health. So very Amen I pray, in your holy and healing name.

Seven Things the Bible Says About Evil

SOURCE:  Johnathon Bowers/Desiring God

How can we reconcile God’s sweeping control over creation with the existence of such horrors as cancer, famine, genocide, sexual abuse, tsunamis, and terrorism? Voltaire sums up the issue nicely in his “Poem on the Lisbon Disaster,” written after the devastating Lisbon earthquake of 1755:

Ill could not from a perfect being spring,
Nor from another, since God’s sovereign king.

His point is that since God is good, he can’t properly be the source of evil. Likewise, if God is all-powerful, no one else can thwart his intentions. So we’re stuck, it seems. Who’s to blame for the suffering we experience? Though we lack the space here for an extended discussion, let’s consider seven biblical affirmations.

1. Evil is real.

That is to say, we distort the Bible and do ourselves a profound disservice by minimizing the existence of suffering. God invites us to acknowledge our pain. The Psalmist wrote, “I believed, even when I spoke, ‘I am greatly afflicted'” (Psalm 116:10).

2. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

In some ways, talking about a “problem of evil” is a false start. A better quandary to start with would be the problem of sin. How quickly we rush to raise a self-righteous fist while our other hand digs in the cookie jar. “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?” (Ezekiel 18:25).

3. God is good.

Whatever we say about God’s sovereignty over evil (and say we will; see below), we must never imply that God is corrupt, that he somehow nurses a dark side. “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13).

4. God ordains all things that come to pass, including evil.

God does whatever he pleases (Psalm 135:6). To be sure, this means he clothes lilies and feeds birds (Matthew 6:26, 28). But he also makes lightning (Psalm 135:7). He strikes down firstborn children and kills mighty kings (Psalm 135:8). Our God holds sway over the good, the bad, and the ugly. “I form light and create darkness,” he says. “I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

5. Man is responsible for his actions.

Lest we fall into fatalism, we should remember that God’s sovereignty never excuses wrongdoing. When a man commits murder, the blood is on his hands. “For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” (Luke 22:22).

6. God did not spare his own Son.

The cross speaks to our theology of suffering in at least two ways. First, it shows us that God can will something to happen that he opposes. Proverbs 6:16-17 tells us that God hates “hands that shed innocent blood.” And yet he sent his Son to suffer precisely that fate. Is this a mystery? Absolutely. But it is not nonsense. We can look at evil and with no contradiction say, “This is wrong, and God has willed that it take place.” Listen to how Peter describes the crucifixion: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23, emphasis mine).

Second, the cross demonstrates that God regards our affliction not as something strange to the palette, but as a cup he has drunk to the dregs. By giving up his own Son, God entered into our pain. He knows what it’s like to suffer loss. But he also did more. By putting his Son to grief, God turned grief on its head. “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). This brings us to the final point.

7. Heaven works backwards.

C. S. Lewis writes in The Great Divorce, “They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”

Lewis is not being novel here. He is simply restating what Christians have hoped in for centuries, the promise that gives all our suffering purpose: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Johnathon Bowers is Instructor of Theology and Christian Worldview atBethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis, MN.

How Should We Respond to Those Struggling With Homosexuality?

SOURCE:  RICHIE HUGHES/Charisma Magazine

When my brother—a fifth-generation preacher’s son—came out of the closet, I encountered one of the church’s biggest dilemmas of our time: How should we
respond to those who struggle with homosexuality?

The day was supposed to be the greatest of my life. I was 29, getting married and had arrived at a local eatery to meet my brother, Eddie, and ask him to be my best man. I couldn’t wait to see his reaction when I invited him to be the most important person in my wedding other than my incredible bride-to-be.

His reply changed my life forever. Thankfully he didn’t decline with a “No.” But neither was his answer a hearty, “Oh, yeah! Congratulations, bro!” Instead, my only brother’s reply was a tearful, “Richie … I’m gay.”

What? That definitely wasn’t the response I expected. My thoughts raced: That’s simply not possible! No way! How could a family like ours, so deeply rooted in church, have a member who isn’t following suit, who isn’t living the same lifestyle we’ve always lived?

You see, I’m a fifth-generation ordained minister. In my family, leading churches and doing ministry is a part of our heritage. But in a split second, one of the biggest issues of our time had hit home (literally) for my family and me. This person—my brother—became what many other Christians thought of as our dirty little secret.

Looking back to that moment 10 years ago, it’s easy to see that a lot has changed in the way society views homosexuality. States have legalized gay marriage. It seems that in every election this issue is on the ballot in California and other states, and probably will be until same-sex marriage is fully legalized.

But a decade ago, things were different. Through his series of poor choices, Eddie eventually contracted AIDS. When I learned about his condition, I was confident there would be a medical solution.

This is the 21st century, I thought. Unlike 20 or so years ago, there are medications that help control the virus now. My brother can live a productive life, and all should be great. Right?

It didn’t happen that way for my family.

A Dream Comes True

Fortunately, Eddie was welcomed into the L.A. Dream Center. Matthew Barnett, the center’s pastor, and his team ministered to him in a way he had never seen before. The Dream Center staff loved him, celebrated his creativity and didn’t judge him. My brother experienced the love of Jesus and, as a result, accepted His grace and forgiveness.

I’ll never forget his phone calls. He’d say: “Richie, God is so awesome. He doesn’t care what I’ve done. He loves me just the way I am.”

You see, it took a church—a group of Christians who loved Eddie just the way he was—to reach him for Jesus. The Dream Center team did not tell him: “Clean yourself up. Stop doing this and never say that or go there again, and we might let you come to our church.”

No, they said: “Come as you are. You are welcomed, loved and celebrated here.” My brother saw Christ in the people of that church. But I don’t think he would have seen Him at every church. (Would he have seen Him at yours?)

Church Attitudes 

Because my family had never discussed AIDS or thought it would touch us directly, and because I’d never been part of a small group at church where it was addressed, I was totally unequipped to deal with it.

How about you? Would you be ready for it? How about your church? Is homosexuality discussed openly? Most churches overlook it or ignore it. Worse, they are afraid to make an effort to understand how we should love others as God has commanded.

Wouldn’t God want us to pursue the gay community like we would any other people group? Wouldn’t He want us to go after them for Jesus with the same tenacity we pursue the family units we perceive are perfectly intact and capable of raising our churches’ monthly giving?

We should lead the way in welcoming gay attendees into the faith. We should assist them in their journey with God and in pursuing Him more deeply.

During my time as the executive pastor of Free Chapel in Orange Co., Calif., I vividly remember the debates and friction caused by Proposition 8 (the state’s same-sex marriage amendment). Tension in and out of the churches in California was at an all-time high.

Our strategy at Free Chapel for diffusing the tension was to invite and welcome homosexuals into our church body. Many ministries joined together and strategized on how to reach out to this community in love, while others regretfully chose the other path of exclusion.

This issue and so many others can be summed up like this: Until something attacks your family, it isn’t likely to be at the forefront of your concerns. But when it does, then it becomes real in your life, and your opinion about it changes.

How Did Our Story End?

My family lived through this HIV attack on my brother. We watched an incredibly talented and intelligent young man lose the physical battle. My brother passed away as a result of HIV at age 28.

My perspective toward the gay community was changed by my undying love for my brother. His life and struggles taught me to love in ways I never knew before.

Do I have any doubt about his eternity? No. One choice secured his eternity in Christ and removed past transgressions, just like it has for me—the guy who has just written a Christian inspirational book, who blogs and who stands in the pulpit of a great church on Sundays.

God doesn’t play favorites, and we can’t earn His favor with our good deeds. Since God is “no respecter of persons” (see Acts 10:34-35), my brother and I will one day reunite with my sister, who also passed away at much too early an age. My brother was gloriously saved, and through his life we’ve learned more about the Father’s love.

I have so much respect for the way Eddie lived his final months just waiting to meet his Savior face to face. He lived in almost total seclusion his last few months. It was his way of resisting the temptations that were on the other side of his apartment door. His flesh wasn’t strong enough to be out in public without wanting to participate in some of the things that took his life, so he stayed indoors and protected his eternity. How many of us could do the same to avoid our area of temptation?

What We Must Do

Chances are, you or someone close to you has a loved one who is living a homosexual life. God wants you to love them unconditionally. Here are three simple ways we all can do this.

1. Show them Jesus. Please love them, welcome them and minister to them. A church and its people “loved” my brother back into a relationship with Jesus that ultimately secured his destiny into heaven!

2. Get real about sin. Let’s realize that we all have a natural inclination to certain things that challenge our walk with God. On the sin scale, is homosexual fornication different than heterosexual fornication? No. Yet do we condone heterosexual fornication more readily than homosexual fornication? I would say most of us do. Sin is sin, wrong is wrong, and any sin breaks God’s heart.

3. Pour on the grace. Make no mistake; we are to follow the Bible in its entirety. The instruction manual is clear, and we are to resist all temptations. But we all fall from time to time (see 1 John 2:1-2). Even though Peter denied Christ three times (and yes, he walked on water with Jesus), he was not disqualified from a wonderful purpose. It was Peter who was used to preach on the day of Pentecost. God gave him a place to fit in.

My plea to the body of Christ is before you judge or form an opinion, before you shun or disqualify one of God’s own children, think about this: Where would this person fit in to Jesus’ group?

I’ve served as a church leader at many churches and heard every reason for why “We can’t let this or that happen, pastor!” But I know this as Eddie’s brother: If we had created a place for him to serve, to use his gifts and talents, and to be celebrated, he might still be with us today. Just maybe part of God’s plan for my brother was to open our eyes to his dilemma.

When looking at the gay and lesbian community, there are many factors that churches and organizations should research and understand. But when it’s all said and done, I hope our conclusion is one of love, compassion and an attempt to show Jesus to any and all who are outside the body of Christ, for any reason.

We must go after the Eddies of the world for Jesus. In doing so I believe we can make a difference to a community of people—and make them God’s people.


Richie Hughes is an agent/manager for authors and music artists, and an in-demand speaker for churches and businesses. He is the former executive pastor of Free Chapel church, pastored by Jentezen Franklin. His latest book, Start Here, Go Anywhere, released in August. For more information, visit richiehughes.org.

Engaging Our Gay Friends, Relatives and Colleagues

Source:  John Freeman/Harvest USA

It seems that homosexuality has embraced our culture and the culture has embraced homosexuality. It is a part of the fallen nature of things, that man has always been an expert at creating ingenuous ways to celebrate his brokenness. So, men and women in the gay life have no corner on this:. Apart from faith in Christ and submission to the authority of Scripture, we are all experts at rationalizing and justifying what we want to do. The more we live, in any way, outside of God’s design, the more we convince ourselves that what we are doing is OK. This happens on both an individual level and a corporate, cultural level. Homosexuality is not the only thing that was once considered unacceptable or immoral, but later is embraced by the culture (consider abortion and sex outside of marriage).

Scripture says we’re all a mess and that we all need forgiveness and cleansing. Biblically speaking, we’re all in the same boat. We all need the same medicine of the gospel to free us from whatever attachments or idols we cling to— from whatever we have decided “gives us life” apart from Christ. This realization about ourselves should bring to us a growing compassion for others. Believers in Christ should be the first ones to acknowledge that we still pursue our own personal idols, and it is only by the persistent work of the Holy Spirit in our lives that we become aware of our own sin and the need to repent of it.

Homosexuality is one of those topics that draws intense and passionate reactions. Complex issues of the heart usually do. Christians are in a sort of no-man’s-land here today.   Suggesting to those who have embraced the current cultural position that homosexuality is sinful and not part of God’s design for sexuality appears as uneducated, homophobic and ridiculous. On the other hand, though, suggesting to fellow evangelical believers that God loves and forgives sinners who struggle with homosexuality and that we should do the same may appear compromising and wishy-washy.

While we can oppose the advancement of a social movement that would encourage everyone to embrace this cultural shift by vocalizing our concerns and participating in the political process, for Christians a far deeper response to homosexuality and the gay community is needed. When believers proclaim the gospel of Christ both to gays and to the culture at large in a loving, redemptive manner, punctuated with “grace and truth,” this sets us apart and truly reflects the person of Christ. In such a heated and increasingly emotionalized debate, Christians have a responsibility to represent Christ to a fallen world in four ways.

Patiently Listen 

“Let every person be quick to hear” (James 1:9).  This doesn’t mean looking for loopholes in a debate or seeking a chance to criticize and find fault as you talk about this issue. We must listen in order to understand the “heart thrust” of what a person is saying. This is hard work, a relational skill to be learned. It’s not natural. It takes practice. Listen to what moves other people. Listen for their passions, what they value, what their experience has been (especially with other Christians) and what they fear.

The more you understand a person’s point of view, the more you can profit from it. Why do they think the way they do? What events have led up to their adopting their worldview? What’s been their experience of Christianity—of other Christians or the church in general? What wounds from their family of origin and from other people lie festering in the background? As adults, we’re a composite of all these things—upbringing, personal wounds, cultural norms and our own heart-generated responses to these powerful, shaping influences. Get to know the persons you are talking to so that you truly know who they are. Otherwise, we tend to conveniently lump them into a group, label them on the basis of what we read in the news, and think this is “knowing” them.

Personally Repent

“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans? . . . No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-5). Only a redeemed sinner, knowing he stands condemned apart from Christ’s death on the cross, can reach a sinner who doesn’t know he needs redeeming. What’s your motivation when you engage someone with the gospel? Is it to reach lost people with the enduring love that has found you out— a love that has exposed you as a cut-throat and depraved sinner and yet has embraced you with fatherly love? Is it your own awareness that, at heart, you’re a sham, a misfit, a counterfeit, a phony and that there is nothing good inside you to warrant God’s love, yet He still died in your place to make you whole? Do you really care about homosexuals, as men and women who need the love of Christ, or do you only want them to shut up and disappear? Remember that Jesus said, “He who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47). If you have no love for gays, then you have not understood the forgiving love of Jesus in your own life.

Patiently listening and personally repenting also means loving those who are different, who believe differently. Gays have long been “demonized” by Christians, held up as the examples of the worst kind of people. This is grossly unfair and unloving, not to mention grossly unbiblical. No single group of people corners the market on sinful behavior outside of God’s design. There is simply no place for believers to verbally demean or physically abuse gays. If your neighbor or colleague proclaimed to you that he didn’t believe in God, would you go around mocking him?

Gently Instruct

“The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone . . . correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Tim. 2:22-25). How do you talk to people who don’t believe what you do? An argumentative, win-at-all-costs approach does not conform to what Paul wrote to Timothy. You need to ask the Holy Spirit to instruct your own heart as you instruct others. Engaging someone “with gentleness” does not mean being weak or vacillating in your argument; it means treating everyone with respect and dignity even when they persistently disagree. An unloving and impatient heart is a hindrance to the gospel message. The Lord’s command to us through the words of Paul teaches us here: “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”

“Gently instruct” also means that your words must be grounded in the truth of Scripture, not your own opinion. The real issue regarding what Scripture says about homosexuality is not about whether the key passages are culturally relevant anymore, but whether Scripture in its entirety still has authority over all of life. It should always be the truths of Scripture, and not our demeanor or presentation of it, that people reject.

Do you really care about homosexuals — or do you only want them to shut up and disappear?

Talking to those who are blind to the reality of their hearts but who live in a world that applauds their sin is both a privilege and a challenge. They are victims of their own sin and the lies and sin of others. Therefore, they’re caught. But they’re also accountable before a holy God for their continued choice to live life on their own terms and not submit their lives to the Lordship of Christ. We must represent both aspects of the truth as we share Christ.

  Mercifully Pursue and then Engage the Heart

“Have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 22-23). God calls us to be neither reclusive nor rude, but to move boldly into confusing, high-stakes situations with the gospel of God’s mercy.

We bring the gospel where it is most needed: to the vocally anti-Christian pro-gay activistto the mild-mannered clergy who says the love of Jesus means affirming homosexuality as God’s gift; to the confused and scared teenager who fears he’s gay and there’s no other option. Showing mercy means practically caring for people. It means being patiently and persistently available to help those who live in a fallen world. It means lovingly holding our ground against those who say that our beliefs are hateful.  We must not wilt from the irrational heat of those who say that we are hateful bigots merely on the basis that we do not agree with their beliefs.

As we do this, we’re able to move into other people’s worlds. Engaging people by asking good questions, respectfully, is an important part of this.   I once approached a man who was marching in a gay rally. Subsequently, I had a two-hour conversation that ended with this man shaking my hand and thanking me for stopping him— in spite of the fact that I shared the gospel with him! I had listened to him, heard his concerns and engaged his heart with matters important to him. Didn’t Jesus do the same?

My approach appealed to his heart. Listening, asking questions, and engaging people with respect, even if we have fundamental differences, gets people into their story more quickly than anything else. When we take time to get people into their stories, they become more open to us and to the gospel.

Jesus, of course, was the master of all that I’ve just described. We should be, too. His methods are the most under-utilized and missed aspects of evangelism. They also make the deepest and most heart-felt impact, often leaving people wanting more!

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This article originally appeared in the May 2010 edition of Tabletalk magazine, but has been edited and expanded for this publication. We invite you to comment on this article on the Harvest USA blog, Sex, Lies and God’s Design at http://www.truthandmercy.wordpress.com

Broken Relationships

SOURCE:  Living Free Ministry 

“Be kind and compassionate to one another,forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32 NIV

Thoughts for Today
If you are divorced or have recently experienced a broken engagement or separation, you probably are having painful feelings of rejection. The sense of loss felt in these situations can be overwhelming. You thought you were secure and now you suddenly find yourself on your own. You might even have children to care for and inadequate resources of time and money.

Even though you have been rejected by someone very close to you, your attitude toward that rejection is your choice. You may choose to allow the pain of rejection to dominate and define the rest of your life, causing bitterness, depression and self-pity. Or you may choose to forgive the one who has hurt you, to accept your singleness—at least until God leads you in a different direction—and to move on with your life … making the most of each day.

Consider this … 
Even with positive choices, the pain won’t immediately disappear—but it will begin to heal. The time and money challenges will still be there, but you will be able to start dealing with them.

We live in a society of “quick fixes,” but recovering from this kind of hurt is a process. Learn to take one step at a time, trusting God to strengthen you and allowing him to love you.

Prayer
Father, help me to forgive. You have forgiven me of so much, even though I didn’t deserve it. Help me to forgive and to begin rebuilding my life. I know I can only do that with your strength, your love and your guidance. Thank you for freely giving me all this and more. In Jesus’ name …

30 Life Principles

SOURCE:  Charles Stanley/In Touch Ministries

Dr. Stanley’s 30 Life Principles

1. Our intimacy with God – His highest priority for our lives – determines the impact of our lives.
More about Our Intimacy with God

2. Obey God and leave all the consequences to Him.
More about A Life of Obedience

3. God’s Word is an immovable anchor in times of storm.
More about Our Anchor in Times of Storm

4. The awareness of God’s presence energizes us for our work.
More about Energized by His Presence

5. God does not require us to understand His will, just obey it, even if it seems unreasonable.
More about The Unreasonable Will of God

6. You reap what you sow, more than you sow, and later than you sow.
More about The Principle of Sowing and Reaping

7. The dark moments of our life will last only so long as is necessary for God to accomplish His purpose in us.
More about The Dark Moments in our Life

8. Fight all your battles on your knees and you win every time.
More about Fight Your Battles on Your Knees

9. Trusting God means looking beyond what we can see to what God sees.
More about The Thrill of Trusting God

10. If necessary, God will move heaven and earth to show us His will.
More about God Will Show You His Will

11. God assumes full responsibility for our needs when we obey Him.
More about His Promise to Provide

12. Peace with God is the fruit of oneness with God.
More about The Key to Continued Peace

13. Listening to God is essential to walking with God.
More about Listening to God – Walking with God

14. God acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.
More about God Acts on our Behalf

15. Brokenness is God’s requirement for maximum usefulness.
More about God’s Pathway of Brokenness

16. Whatever you acquire outside of God’s will eventually turns to ashes.
More about When Plans Turn to Ashes

17. We stand tallest and strongest on our knees.
More about Standing Tall and Strong Through Prayer

18. As children of a sovereign God, we are never victims of our circumstances.
More about Victim or Victor?

19. Anything you hold too tightly, you will lose.
More about Holding Too Tightly

20. Disappointments are inevitable, discouragement is a choice.
More about Overcoming Discouragement

21. Obedience always brings blessing.
More about Obedience Always Brings Blessings

22. To walk in the Spirit is to obey the initial promptings of the Spirit.
More about Walking In The Holy Spirit

23. You can never outgive God.
More about You Can Never Outgive God

24. To live the Christian life is to allow Jesus to live His life in and through us.
More about The Key to the Christian Life

25. God blesses us so that we might bless others.
More about Passing on God’s Blessing

26. Adversity is a bridge to a deeper relationship with God.
More about Burden or Bridge

27. Prayer is life’s greatest time saver.
More about Prayer: Our Time-Saver

28. No Christian has ever been called to “go it alone” in his or her walk of faith.
More about Together In the Christian Life

29. We learn more in our valley experiences than on our mountaintops.
More about The Valley Experiences In Our Life

30. An eager anticipation of the Lord’s return keeps us living productively.
More about Anticipating The Lord’s Return

Leaving The Past — Stepping Into The Future

SOURCE:  Adapted from Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Ministry

[Try] as I may, I find that my brokenness and past sin are sometimes like a huge stone hanging around my neck. Carrying that stone causes guilt, shame, weakness, and at times, causes me to avoid certain opportunities and experiences. I know and believe I have been forgiven, but I struggle with laying down that stone and walking away from it. Many people share this struggle, do you?

Our yesterdays hold broken and irreversible experiences for us. It is true that we have lost opportunities that will never return, but God can transform those mistakes and sins, the destructive guilt and anxiety, into constructive thought and hope for a transformed and transforming future. We don’t have to hold onto distorted lenses from past wounds and mistakes. But we do have to look back and re-examine them through Godly lenses, letting God into and heal our past so we can have clear lenses to see Him, ourselves, and daily experiences that He brings into our life today.

Trusting God’s forgiveness is a big and difficult stretch … for most, myself included, really receiving God’s forgiveness takes time. For me, I had to work up to this huge step of trust by practicing, implementing, and applying trust in much smaller areas of life and in my relationship with God. Then I was able to absorb His forgiveness in the bigger areas of my life. You can, too.

Trusting Him when there is an illness … a flat tire … change of plans … someone else is in charge … a deadline is changed … a random bill comes into your life … protection for your children is needed … feeling unloved or valueless. Like any skill, starting small, practicing, and then stretching it can lead to powerful capabilities. Trust is the same way. Trusting in His power of forgiveness is one of the richest skills you can develop. Let the past rest, but let it rest in the sweet embrace of Jesus Christ.

Today, leave the broken, irreversible past in His hands, and step out into your invincible future with Him. Start by trusting Him, His agenda, promises, character, and instruction in 3 small situations today. You probably already do, but acknowledge and identify it so you can apply it to bigger, tougher areas tomorrow. Your decision, choose well.

Prayer
Dear Mighty and Forgiving God, I can easily become paralyzed with shame, guilt, and fear over my past. I have hurt You … and I know I have hurt others. I am so thankful for Your promise of forgiveness – Thank You, Lord. I ask You, Father, to help me lay down the heavy stone of my past that I have been carrying. Let me remember and be accountable for my past brokenness and sin … but let it not keep me from moving toward You with freedom. I pray in the name of the one whom You sent to lift the burdens of my past, Jesus Christ –AMEN!

The Truth
But you will not leave in haste or go in flight; for the LORD will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard.
Isaiah 52:12

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9

I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me.
Jeremiah 33:8

Do You Want To Be Healed?

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian Counselors

38 years in a bed.

Next to a pool.

Sounds relaxing doesn’t it?

But as we read on, the story says the [broken] 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 [Jesus], 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.

Out Of The Darkness: How can you pray when your heart is broken?

SOURCE:  Taken from an article in Discipleship Journal/Robert Boardman

Pain!

Sometimes it feels like you’re drowning in it.

No matter how much we try to fight it, suffering is a part of life. It may be in the form of a broken body or a broken heart but, sooner or later, it will come.

Pain can make us or break us; When it hits full force we have two choices: to blame and reject the God who could have prevented it, or to trust that it is part of His perfect plan for our lives. Pain is the crucible in which real faith is formed.

In Psalm 77, Asaph shows us how personal anguish can lead to growth. His pilgrimage shows us four crucial steps that lead from despair to joy.

Asaph had an exceptional ability to be honest about spiritual struggles. His honesty shows in each of the eleven psalms he wrote (73–83), whether he is confessing his own failures (Ps. 73:2–3) or admitting his confusion over God’s strange ways (Ps. 74:1). He knows us. He understands our innermost struggles, our abject hearts. He puts words to our wretched feelings. Yet he perseveres by faith to praise, and from his perseverance we can take hope.

STEP ONE FOCUSING ON OURSELVES

It’s natural, when we suffer difficulty, to think first of ourselves, to pray first about our personal needs. And Asaph was no exception. In Psalm 77 he wrote,

1 I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. 2 When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. 3 I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint. 4 You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak.

Notice Asaph’s focus in these first four verses:   I cried out, I was in distress, I sought the Lord, stretched out untiring hands, my soul refused to be comforted, I remembered you, I groaned, I mused, my spirit grew faint, I was troubled. Some people condemn this kind of preoccupation with one’s own feelings as selfish, yet it can be the first step toward healing—if it leads us to seek help beyond ourselves. After all, God is thinking about us, too. He loves us. He desires our greatest good.

While God cares about our suffering, He is more concerned with molding our lives so that we will bring Him more honor, glory, and praise. But our private pain, at least at first, prevents our understanding that.

It is never easy to turn to God for help. By nature we are proud. We would rather maintain our independence, even as failures, than acknowledge our dependence on God. We will cast all our cares on God only when we are honest enough to admit that we are overwhelmed by them (1 Pet. 5:7). If we try to cover up the pain, or pretend it is not there, we are really relying on our own efforts to deal with it. So looking first within ourselves and becoming aware of the pain that is there is the first step toward growth.

In 1945, I had returned from war in the Pacific with a serious injury and a new hope: life in Christ. In the U.S. Naval Hospital in Farragut, Idaho, my spiritual life was beginning to grow as my body slowly mended. Then I met Jean. Her beauty, her personality, and her godly character captured my heart, and I was in love.

Then one day in 1947 a thick letter came. Even before I opened it, I knew instinctively that it was a “Dear John.” The heart I had given her, Jean had returned smashed, crushed seemingly beyond repair.

I cried out to God in anguish. And as I poured out my pain, confusion, and fear before His throne, over time, He began to collect the broken pieces and painstakingly accomplish His skilled repair work. (Interestingly, when God did finally give me a wife, her name was Jean, too.)

God is our refuge. He waits eagerly to take us in, to listen to our heart’s cry, to care, to comfort, to mend. But first we must admit that we are hurting. The feelings we attempt to hold within will someday burst like the walls of a dam, sending raging waters upon the unsuspecting in the peaceful valleys below and causing inestimable damage.

STEP TWO: ASKING QUESTIONS

Now Asaph shifts focus. No longer does he look only at himself and his troubles. He looks at God. And what he sees, he doesn’t like.

Shaken by what, from all appearances, is a failure of God’s love and faithfulness, he assails God with questions:

7 “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? 8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time?  9 Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

Asaph is in such turmoil that he questions the very character of God. Yet God does not destroy him. He recognizes the desperate cry of a wounded heart, a confused heart, and sees it as a necessary step toward faith. God is never angry or upset over a person’s honest questions.

In 1970 in Seoul, Korea, God saw best to take to himself the small daughter of our friends Paul and Sukja Yoo. During a severe water shortage in one of Seoul’s steamy, humid summers, the Yoos kept their tile bathtub filled with water in order to have a minimal supply. In an unattended moment, little Hiju, intrigued by the prospect of playing in the water, tumbled in and drowned.

Paul and Sukja asked God, “Why?” God understood and welcomed the question. In His own time and way, He answered their anxious hearts.

The cry of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross echoed Ps. 22:1:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?”  He questioned the Father, but trusted Him for the answers.

The glorious resurrection was an answer to His impassioned plea. And in time there came multitudes from every tribe, kindred, tongue, and nation whose sins were washed away in His sacrifice on Calvary.

For every believer, there are times of darkness when we do not have answers to our questions. But during those times we can and should ask God honest questions about ourselves, our circumstances, our ministry, our loved ones, family, enemies, our future . . . end then believe Him for amazing and wonderful assurances. “Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant? Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God” (Is. 50:10).  He teaches us to wait after asking our questions in order that we might learn to trust Him wholly, even without answers.

STEP THREE: REFLECTING ON THE PAST

Until this point, Asaph has been involved in a great struggle. He has wrestled with the deep problems of his own soul and the hard circumstances around him.

God’s seeming inactivity in response to the psalmist’s prayer brings bewilderment, but it does not prevent him from making a very important decision. He says,

10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.” 11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. 12 I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.

Beginning from verse 10, Asaph begins to come out of the darkness. Now the tempo of his outlook begins to change. Notice the “I will’s” in these three verses. Asaph is choosing to reflect on God despite his suffering, overwhelming circumstances, and the bewilderment of God’s silence. He is no longer carried along by the circumstances of his trial and his questions.

Asaph’s willingness to do this reveals a meek and lowly disposition. He stops fighting against God and opens his heart to His answers. His struggles in prayer begin to cease.

God honors this kind of humility; He responds to one who will think upon His mighty acts. “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word” (Is. 66:2).

And as Asaph begins to focus on the power and faithfulness of God throughout history—and perhaps even earlier in his own life—he gains the perspective he needs. He begins to see his own struggles in the context of a longer, larger work of God through history. He begins to anchor himself in the immovable foundation that will counterbalance present appearances.

Surely God brought salvation then, if He showed compassion then, if He fulfilled His promise then—surely He can do so now, for me, in the midst of my torment.  Such might have been Asaph’s thoughts as he clung to the reassuring facts of God’s dealings in history. He may not have had an explanation of his own sufferings yet; he may not have seen their outcome yet. But this he knew: God had delivered His people before; He could deliver him now.

So it is with us. Reflecting on the past faithfulness of God brings spiritual equilibrium to our lives. When we remember what God has done for us in the past, we know that once again, even in the midst of a great test, He could lift us up, bring solutions, and reveal Himself to us. Looking back gives us perspective on the needs of the present and the possibilities of the future.

STEP FOUR: FOCUSING ON GOD

Now, in answer to his own doubts and complaints, Asaph sets forth in praise the specific things God has done that give him hope:

13 Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God? 14 You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples. 15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.  16 The waters saw you, O God, the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths were convulsed.  17 The clouds poured down water, the skies resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth. 18 Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked. 19 Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.  20 You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Remember how self-centered the first section of this psalm was? Sixteen times in six verses Asaph had spoken of himself—”I,” “me,” “my.” Contrast that with his words in this last section. Not once in eight verses does he refer to himself. His focus is entirely on God: on God’s holiness, power, redemption, faithfulness, and tender mercy. Meditating on these things delivers Asaph from the bondage of depression and self-pity and ushers him into the liberty of exultant praise.

Warren and Ruth Myers say this about praise:

Prayer has been called the slender nerve that moves the mighty hand of God. Any form of sincere, believing prayer channels God’s power into our lives and situations, but the prayer of praise especially releases His power. Praise is “faith in action”—and faith brings victory that changes circumstances or victory in circumstances as they are.

One of the most dramatic stories of the power of praise is found in 2 Chronicles 20. When King Jehoshaphat of Judah learned that Moabite and Ammonite troops were advancing on Jerusalem, he stood before the people and acknowledged his powerlessness before God. God promised that He would deliver them.

So sure was Jehoshaphat of God’s faithfulness that he appointed a group of men to march in front of his army “to sing to the LORD and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness.” And “as they began to sing and praise,” God caused the enemy armies to turn upon each other. Every soldier of Moab and Ammon was dead before Jehoshaphat’s troops reached the battlefield.

Praise is the ultimate weapon against the forces that would defeat us, as well. If we would only praise God by faith, as Asaph did, it could lead us to amazing victories, both in our personal lives and in our ministries.

Taking our eyes off ourselves and choosing to praise God is the final step toward growth in the midst of suffering. Praise proves we are “sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1). Our spirits rise, God regains His place at the center of our lives, and we become “transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Cor. 3:18).

C. M. Hanson wrote, “Praise is like a plow set to go deep into the soil of believers’ hearts. It lets the glory of God into the details of daily living.” Let us say with the psalmist, “I will praise God’s lame in song and glorify Him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hoofs” (Ps. 69:30–31).

FOUR STEPS TO GROWTH

What worked for Asaph can work for us, too. In the midst of our greatest difficulties, we can be transformed from despair to adoration if we will be honest about our own feelings, ask the questions that haunt us, remember how God has worked in the past, and praise His holiness, faithfulness, and love.

We must not bury our feelings. Hiding them merely lets them fester end spread. Instead, we must expose them to the healing air of communion with God.

Neither must we hide our doubt inspired questions, however impertinent they might seem. They’ll be no surprise to God. We might as well get them out in the open where they can be objectified and answered.

But when we’ve asked our questions, we must be honest enough to listen for answers, too. And we will find those answers in the miraculous works of God recorded in Scripture, in history, and in our own past.

Finally, as we are reminded of God’s faithfulness and steadfast love, let us praise Him. And as we focus our hearts on God’s power to work on our behalf instead of on our own suffering, we will be freed from the bondage of despair.

In our deepest distress, when we cannot see the path down which God leads us, we can be sure that, as our Good Shepherd, He leads us by the hand. The reasons for our trials may not yet be revealed—may never be this side of eternity. But we know who goes before us, and by what He has done we can be sure of what He will yet do.

Where Are You, Lord? What’s really going on when God seems absent?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Tom Eisenman

I knew right away that Josh had called with the bad news we’d hoped never to hear: Jada, our 14-month-old granddaughter, had succumbed to the genetic disorder she’d battled so bravely throughout her brief life.

After hanging up the phone, Judie and I were too numb with grief to cry. We just held each other for what seemed an eternity.

That day was the final crushing blow in a long season of trauma and pain. In the months before, we had lost one of our best friends in a tragic automobile accident. The day after his funeral, I received word that my mother had suffered a massive stroke. The following day she was gone. Just prior to these heartbreaking losses, I’d had to resign from a long-term ministry position. Under financial stress, we sold the home we loved; then we were forced to move twice in less than a year. Now our beautiful grandbaby was dead. On occasions, we wondered if our grief would consume us.

This period was also spiritually confusing. Judie and I both struggled to relate to God. At times we felt as if He didn’t care.

“God, where are You?” we’d pray. “What are You doing?”

Too often there would just be silence.

God’s strange absence was one of the most jarring things we’d ever experienced. We were confident God was there. We knew He was at work in our lives. But He was not there and working in the ways we had come to expect.

I remembered at one point how King David had also experienced painful times when God seemed distant to him. We began to take some comfort in knowing we were not the first children of God to endure confusing periods of spiritual darkness.

The 16th-century priest John of the Cross wrote extensively about these wilderness journeys. He called them “dark nights of the soul.” John testified that these prolonged and painful periods of dryness—when received in faith rather than resisted—would eventually result in a truer, more profound intimacy with God.

The Soul at Midnight

If you look for “dark night of the soul” in your concordance, you won’t find it. But even if that phrase doesn’t come directly from the Bible, it’s clear that many people depicted there experienced what I’ve been describing. Few enjoyed as close a relationship with God as David, “a man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). Yet David often struggled to find God’s presence in the midst of painful circumstances.

In the Psalms we encounter his descriptions of the common dark-night feelings of suffering in isolation, losing one’s bearings, and having no solid place to stand.

 Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

—10:1

Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold.…I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God.

—69:1–3

David knew what it’s like to feel God withdraw His presence. Confronted with his sin of adultery and murder, David pleads,

 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

—51:11–12

 Painful, Yet Fruitful

The “willing spirit” David prayed for usually comes at a great price. The Bible makes it absolutely clear that God is for us and that nothing can separate us from His love (Ro. 8:31–39). But God is also deeply committed to our growth. The Scriptures describe three painful processes that God will use—often during dark-night periods—to remove from our lives that which does not honor Him.

Pruning.   Jesus teaches that pruning is at the heart of His Father’s transforming work: “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be more fruitful” (Jn. 15:2). In the California wine country where I live, we constantly see pruning’s effects. Grapevines look like dead stumps after they’ve been pruned. You wouldn’t believe anything good could again come from these gnarly hunks of wood. But by late summer the vines are flourishing, bending low under the weight of a healthy and abundant crop.

Refining. Another process is refining through fire. “See, I have refined you…,” God says. “I have tested you in the furnace of affliction” (Is. 48:10). And the Apostle Peter, no stranger to suffering, writes,

These [trials] have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.—1 Pet. 1:7

Shaking. Finally, the writer of Hebrews describes a process of shaking, telling us that God is removing…what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.…For our “God is a consuming fire.”

—Heb. 12:27, 29

At the heart of the dark-night journey is this place of reduction and humiliation where every twig marked “self rule” must be cut off and thrown in the fire. God’s fire burns away deadwood but also refines our characters, drawing the impurities from our souls. And where we have tried to rest our lives on pillars that do not reach bedrock, there will be a shaking, a divine demolition, until only that which cannot be shaken remains. Yet even then God promises,

Fear not, for I have redeemed you.…When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze [or, consume you].—Is. 43:1–2

When we encounter this work of God, we feel lost and out of control. We grope around, trying to find our bearings, confused by the upheaval in our souls. Yet God is profoundly shaping our faith. We are being dismantled at our core, then gracefully reconstructed from the inside out.

Road Signs

It is good to know when you might be entering a dark night. It is a comfort to know that this tough time is a work of God in progress, not some senseless series of ugly events. Here are some signs that I believe can help us recognize when we are experiencing this unique work of God.

A perceived change in God’s presence.  During the painful period Judie and I went through, we experienced God maintaining a more distant posture toward us than we had come to expect. I believe this is a classic sign of a dark night in progress. It can catch us off guard, because the shift will often follow a period during which we have felt close to God, dancing in His blessings. Then life suddenly changes. When we, like David, cry out to the Lord, He can seem unresponsive, indifferent, and aloof.

One subtle but significant clue that this is an authentic dark night is that, even though it appears God might have abandoned us, it’s common to have a still deeper sense that this unusual experience is a work of God. He may be absent in the ways that we have come to expect, but He is present in new ways. A shaking is going on; God is in the shaking.

Diminished ego.  Another clue is when we become aware that our egos are undergoing a major adjustment. The dark-night experience always disempowers us. The manipulative, possessive, controlling self must be broken down.

We may recognize this first in our prayer lives. We do everything we have always done to engage God in prayer, but nothing works. The harder we try to touch the face of God, the more we work at it, the less we seem able to achieve the experience of God for which we long. The key words here are try, work, andachieve. We are learning who is really in control. There is no way we can force God’s presence; it is always a gift.

What starts with prayer often bubbles over into other areas. During dark-night experiences we become keenly aware of our limitations. In this past year of brokenness and searching, I was surprised to find myself slipping at times into thinking the unthinkable: angry thoughts, sexual fantasies, strange doubts, even obsessive ruminating about who I really was. I struggled against temptations I had been certain were dead and gone.

We can begin to wonder whether we’ve really made any progress with God. It feels like regressing. Our Christian self-images may become part of God’s demolition and reconstruction. We may have become too attached to ideas of our effectiveness in religious work or of our strength of character. How quickly pride enters into every area! As God diminishes our egos, a more authentic humility grows in us. When we emerge, we will have new spiritual energy and fresh thinking that could not have come about if we had stayed where we were, with everything organized and securely in place under our old regime.

Distorted images of God.  Another area in which God works involves our worship of false images of Him. A common experience is to realize more fully how self-serving and immature many of our previously held concepts of God have been.

Letting go of favorite images of God is painful and can shatter our comfortable religious world. If we are attentive to God’s work here, the result will be a more authentic relationship with the one true God who has been waiting for us in the darkness from which we have likely been fleeing.

The Apostle Paul experienced this radical religious transformation. Paul was blinded by God on the road to Damascus; that’s darkness. After the return of his sight, believing brothers sent him off to Tarsus for several years of self-imposed exile (Acts 9:1–30). God set Paul aside until his entire set of images of God could be dismantled and then reconstructed on the solid foundation of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone.

Other signs.  In the dark night of the soul, God is teaching us utter dependence upon Him. For this reason, every aspect of our lives that we turn to for fulfillment, satisfaction, or security may be challenged.

Even physical illness or limitation can become part of the dark-night experience. I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s repeated plea for God to remove the thorn in his flesh. Paul finally learned that the thorn kept him from becoming conceited and taught him complete dependence upon the grace of God (2 Cor. 12:7–10).

Often our dark-night experiences will involve some of what Jesus suffered. We may have to endure acts of injustice or betrayal—even by close friends—that can bring profound disillusionment. Experiences such as these deepen our intimacy with the Lord and grow our compassion for what He did for us. A purification takes place when we cannot count on others; we are driven back to the Lord as the true and trustworthy friend.

A Willing Soul

Once we’ve identified what we’re experiencing as a dark night of the soul, the question remains: How do we position ourselves to grow from it? There are some important ways we can cooperate with God during this unique spiritual transition.

Honestly express your emotions to God.  Dark-night seasons are painful and disorienting. We may be hesitant to talk with God about what we’re really feeling, especially what we may be feeling toward Him.But this is no time for pretending. God can handle our honesty. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7).

Fight the temptation to run from your distress.  You may have been a goal-oriented, self-assured, and efficient Christian. Now, however, God has allowed a spiritual earthquake to occur. The temptation will be to recreate what you had before, much like the Israelites who wanted to return to slavery in Egypt rather than face future uncertainties with God.

During our recent testing, a wise friend said to me, “Tom, let it burn.” This was solid advice. A dark night is not just some emotional tremor after which you can get back to life as usual. God is transforming your entire being. You will eventually enjoy a whole new way of seeing, believing, and living. Open yourself to the new life the Lord is birthing in you.

Resist trying harder.  God may remove you from activity during the dark night. Perhaps you have been too busy, too results-oriented, too much in control. You have a sense that it is OK to withdraw from previous commitments and involvements. When you finally let go, you may have to battle feeling lazy or guilty. Concerned friends and family may also suggest that you get busy again: “Try harder,” they’ll seem to say, “and you can pull yourself out of this.”

Rushing back into a life of frantic activity, however, is likely the opposite of what God would want you to do. Give yourself space to experience God differently. Rest, solitude, and silence are your best friends.

Seek companions.  All change represents loss. Anytime we experience loss, we enter into grief. The emotions of grieving can include loneliness, self doubt, and anger—even anger at God for seeming inscrutable and uncaring in the face of our agony. This is a good time to reach out to spiritually mature friends who are good and patient listeners. You want people who will hear you without trying to fix you, who will listen long and hard with you for the true voice of God. These caring friends can offer encouragement and perspective as you endure the unpredictable emotions of the dark night.

Be faithful, but release your expectations.  When our experiences of God change, we may become anxious as we desperately seek the touch from God to which we’ve become accustomed. It’s good to remain faithful to our spiritual disciplines, but we need to let go of our expectations regarding how God may or may not respond to us.

Be patient with yourself and with God.  Dark-night periods can last for months, a year, or even longer. The deeper changes at which God may be aiming take time. You may see little progress according to previous patterns of God’s work in your life. This is new territory, new ground being plowed. Wait patiently, and pray for eyes to see inklings of the stronger future God is bringing about.

Call to mind God’s faithfulness.  Even though we’re not sure what God is up to in the present, recalling His provision and leading in the past can steady us in disorienting times. Hold on to the truth you know: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

TOUCHING BEDROCK
The dark night ultimately teaches us that we cannot control God, nor would it benefit us to do so. We need to die to ourselves in order to be transformed into people who can fully participate in the new order the whole creation is groaning toward (Ro. 8:19–22). So we give ourselves wholeheartedly to God who, in His goodness to us, often acts in ways that are surprising and unpredictable.

I’ve come to see, as John of the Cross did, that if we can stay open and spiritually aware during these unusual, searching times we learn truths about ourselves that we might never have discovered while living contentedly within our carefully constructed religious comfort zones.

Many times during our dark period, Judie and I cried out to God in pain, wondering what He was doing. We knew that God was not bringing these calamities into our lives. Nor was He punishing us. But now we see that He was using these hard circumstances to accomplish His deeper work of humility in us.

We had much to learn and to let go of before we could finally and fully rest where we are today: on the solid bedrock of God’s love. Now that we are emerging from this prolonged and painful time, we feel most fortunate. We have gotten all the way down to this richest place, a place where all that’s left is all we will ever need—God’s great faithfulness.

Healing Prayer: A Definition

SOURCE:  Adapted from Healing Care, Healing Prayer by Terry Wardle

Healing prayer can be defined as a ministry of the Holy Spirit, moving through a Christian caregiver, bringing the Healing Presence of Jesus Christ in to the place of pain and brokenness within a wounded person.

A ministry of the Holy Spirit: Healing prayer is thoroughly dependent upon the Presence and Power of the Holy Spirit. He initiates, directs and empowers the entire process.  Thus the recipient of healing and the caregiver must not only understand the work of the Holy Spirit, but be surrendered to His infilling and empowerment each step along the way.

Moving through the Christian caregiver: Healing prayer is not a technique controlled by the caregiver.  It is a transformational ministry of the Holy Spirit, with the caregiver serving as an instrument of His activity.  The spiritual vitality and emotional maturity of the caregiver are important and integrated aspects of this healing process, and must be submitted to the Holy Spirit.

Bringing the Healing Presence of Jesus Christ: People need more than solutions to their problems.  They need to experience the love and acceptance of Jesus Christ in every aspect of their lives.  His Transforming Presence strengthens and satisfies as nothing else, the one true Source of healing for broken people everywhere.  Through healing prayer, the Holy Spirit uses a caregiver to position hurting people for what Jesus alone can give.

Into the place of pain and brokenness: Life experiences often leave deep wounds that compromise personal well-being.  Left undressed, these hurts give birth to false beliefs, emotional upheaval, and behaviors that are ultimately destructive.  During the process of healing prayer, both the source and symptoms of core woundings are brought into the light of Jesus Christ, where He alone can set people free.

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