Soul-Care Articles: Christ-centered, Spirit-led, Biblically-based, Clinically-sound, Truth-oriented

Posts tagged ‘God’s goodness’

When God Does the Miracle We Didn’t Ask For

SOURCE:  Vaneetha Rendall Risner/Desiring God

Countless childhood surgeries. Yearlong stints in the hospital. Verbal and physical bullying from classmates. Multiple miscarriages as a young wife. The unexpected death of a child. A debilitating progressive disease. Riveting pain. Betrayal. A husband who leaves.

If it were up to me, I would have written my story differently. Not one of those phrases would be included. Each line represents something hard. Gut wrenching. Life changing.

But now, in retrospect, I wouldn’t erase a single line.

Honestly, it is only in hindsight that I can make such a bold statement. Through all of those devastating events, I begged God to deliver me. To save my baby, to reverse my disease, to bring my husband back. Each time God said no.

Instead of Deliverance

“It’s not about getting what I want. It’s about God giving me what I desperately need: himself.”

“No” was not the answer I wanted. I was looking for miraculous answers to prayer, a return to normalcy, relief from the pain. I wanted the kind of grace that would deliver me from my circumstances.

God, in his mercy, offered his sustaining grace.

At first, I rejected it as insufficient. I wanted deliverance. Not sustenance. I wanted the pain to stop, not to be held up through the pain. I was just like the children of Israel who rejoiced at God’s delivering grace in the parting of the Red Sea, but complained bitterly at his sustaining grace in the provision of manna.

With every heartache I wanted a Red Sea miracle. A miracle that would astonish the world, reward me for my faithfulness, make my life glorious. I didn’t want manna.

But God knew better. Each day he continued to put manna before me. At first, I grumbled. It seemed like second best. It wasn’t the feast I envisioned. It was bland and monotonous. But after a while, I began to taste the manna, embrace it, and savor its sweetness.

A Far Deeper Work

This manna, this sustaining grace, is what upheld me. It revived me when I was weak. It drove me to my knees. And unlike delivering grace which, once received, inadvertently moved me to greater independence from God, sustaining grace kept me tethered to him. I needed it every day. Like manna, it was new every morning.

“I have inexplicable joy not in my circumstances, but in the God who cares so fiercely for me.”

God has delivered me and answered some prayers with a resounding “yes” in jaw-dropping, supernatural ways. I look back at them with gratitude and awe. Yet after those prayers were answered, I went back to my everyday life, often less dependent on God. But the answers of “no” or “wait,” and those answered by imperceptible degrees over time, have done a far deeper work in my soul. They have kept me connected to the Giver and not his gifts. They have forced me to seek him. And in seeking him, I have discovered the intimacy of his fellowship.

In the midst of my deepest pain, in the darkness, God’s presence has been unmistakable. Through excruciating struggles, he speaks to me. He comforts me through his word. He whispers to me in the dark, as I lie awake on my tear-stained pillow. He sings beautiful songs over me of his love.

The Joy of His Manna

At first, I just want the agony to go away. I don’t rejoice in the moment. I don’t rejoice at all. But as I cling to God and his promises, he sustains me. Joy is at first elusive. I have glimpses of delight, but it is mostly slow and incremental.

Yet over time, I realize I have an inexplicable joy — not in my circumstances, but in the God who cares so fiercely for me. Eating the everyday, bland, sometimes unwelcome manna produces a joy beyond my wildest imaginings.

“In the midst of my deepest pain, in the darkness, God’s presence has been unmistakable.”

I have found that this joy, which is often birthed out of suffering, can never be taken away; it only gets richer over time. My circumstances cannot diminish it. It produces lasting fruit like endurance, character, and hope. It draws me to God in breathtaking ways. It achieves a weight of glory that is beyond all comparison.

I still pray earnestly for deliverance, for the many things I long to see changed, both in my life and in the world. That is right. It’s biblical. We need to bring our requests to God.

But as much as I long for deliverance, for delivering grace, I see the exquisite blessing in sustaining grace. It’s not about getting what I want; it’s about God giving me what I desperately need: himself.

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God Doesn’t Have to Explain Himself

SOURCE:  Chuck Swindoll/Insight For Living

Psalm 139:1–6

Even in the midst of disappointment, surprise, and mystery, you will discover an amazing thing. You will discover how very reliable and trustworthy God is—and how secure you are in His hands. And oh, how we need that in this day of relativism and vacillation, filled with empty talk and hidden behind a lot of semantic footwork.

In the midst of “Spin City,” it is the Lord who talks straight. It is the Lord who has preserved Truth in black and white in His Word. And it is the Lord who has the right to do as He wishes around us, to us, and in us.

Puzzling as the process may be to us, He stays with His plan. There is no need for us to know all the reasons, and He certainly doesn’t need to explain Himself.

If we’re going to let God be God, then we’re forced to say He has the right to take us through whatever process He chooses.

Let Him have His way with your life, for nothing is worse than resisting and resenting the One who is at work in you.

 

Persevering through Pressure

Hebrews 6:18

Doubts often steal into our lives like termites into a house. These termite-like thoughts eat away at our faith. Usually, we can hold up pretty well under this attack. But occasionally, when a strong gale comes along—a sudden, intense blast—we discover we cannot cope. Our house begins to lean. For some people it completely collapses. It is during these stormy times, during the dark days and nights of tragedy and calamity, that we begin to feel the destructive effects of our doubts—running like stress fractures through the structure of our lives.

For me, there are three times when the intensity of doubt reaches maximum proportions.

One such time is when things I believe should never happen, occur. There are times when my loving, gracious, merciful, kind, good, sovereign God surprises me by saying yes to something I was convinced He would say no to. When bad things happen to good people.

I once received a letter from a woman who heard a talk I had given entitled “Riding Out the Storm.” Little did she know how meaningful it would be to her. Just as she was entering into the truth of that message, she arrived at home to discover that her young, recently married daughter had been brutally murdered.

Why did God say yes to that? Why did that bad thing happen to that good person? The effect of such termites within our soul is great. They eat away at us, and doubt wins a hearing.

Doubts also increase when things I believe should happen, never occur (the other side of the coin). When I expected God to say yes but He said no. Numerous parents of young men and women have said good-bye and sent their children away to war, convinced God would bring them home again. But sometimes He says no.

Joni Eareckson Tada (and a thousand like her) trust confidently for awhile that the paralysis will go away—that God will say, “Yes, I’ll get you through this. I’ll teach you some deep lessons, and then I will use you with full health in days to come as I heal you completely.” But God ultimately says no. When we expect Him to say yes and He says no, doubts multiply.

The third situation in which doubts grow takes place when things that I believe should happen now, occur much, much later. Of all the doubts which creep into our soul perhaps few are more devastating than those that happen when we are told by God, in effect. “Wait, wait, wait, wait . . . wait . . . wait!” All of us have wrestled greatly with His timing.

These “pressure points” provide a perfect introduction to the verses in Hebrews 6. This is that great chapter that begins with a strong warning, continues with words of affirmation, and closes with words of reassurance and ringing confidence. It addresses the Christian hanging on by his fingernails as he feels himself sliding down the hill. It shouts: “Persevere! Hang tough! Be strong! Don’t quit!” Even when God says no, and you expected yes. Even when He says yes, and you anticipated no. And especially when He says to wait, and you expected it now.

If you’re in that painful space right now, my word for you is: persevere! Hope in God—this is not the end.

Give Thanks… for CONFLICT?

SOURCE:  Taken from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 84-85.   

As usual, Paul [in Philippians 4:2-9] urges us to be God-centered in our approach to conflict.

Moreover, he wants us to be joyfully God-centered.

Realizing we may skip over this point, Paul repeats it: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” What on earth is there to rejoice about when you are involved in a dispute?

If you open your eyes and think about God’s lavish goodness to you, here is the kind of worship you could offer to him, even in the midst of the worst conflict!

O Lord, you are so amazingly good to me! You sent your only Son to die for my sins, including those I have committed in this conflict. Because of Jesus I am forgiven, and my name is written in the Book of Life! You do not treat me as I deserve, but you are patient, kind, gentle, and forgiving with me. Please help me to do the same to others.

In your great mercy, you are also kind to my opponent. Although he has wronged me repeatedly, you hold out your forgiveness to him as you do to me. Even if he and I never reconcile in this life, which I still hope we will, you have already done the work to reconcile us forever in heaven. This conflict is so insignificant compared to the wonderful hope we have in you!

This conflict is so small compared to the many other things you are watching over at this moment, yet you still want to walk beside me as I seek to resolve it. Why would you stoop down to pay such attention to me? It is too wonderful for me to understand. You are extravagant in your gifts to me. You offer me the comfort of your Spirit, the wisdom of your Word, and the support of your church. Forgive me for neglecting these powerful treasures until now, and help me to use them to please and honor you.

I rejoice that these same resources are available to my opponent. Please enable us to draw on them together so that we see our own sins, remember the gospel, find common ground in the light of your truth, come to one mind with you and each other, and restore peace and unity between us.

Finally, Lord, I rejoice that this conflict has not happened by accident. You are sovereign and good, so I know that you are working through this situation for your glory and my good. No matter what my opponent does, you are working to conform me to the likeness of your Son. Please help me cooperate with you in every possible way and give you glory for what you have done and are doing.

 

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.

God, You Are Soooo Stubborn!

SOURCE: James MacDonald

GOD’S RELENTLESS LOVE

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

—Psalm 23:6

Are you experiencing a season of defeat and discouragement?

At times like these, God can seem far off and distant from your life. But if you are one of His children—if you have turned from your sin and embraced Christ by faith as the only basis for your forgiveness—you have this Psalm 23 promise in your pocket:

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”

Look at the two key words in this phrase.

Goodness means bounty or blessing. Mercy can also be translated loving-kindnessfavor, or steadfast love. It comes from the Hebrew word hesed, used 246 times in the Old Testament. Half of those occurrences are found in the Book of Psalms.  Hesed was David’s favorite word to describe the attitude of God toward His children.

In Psalm 33:5, David observed, “The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.” In Psalm 86:13, “For great is your steadfast love toward me.” In Psalm 98:3, “He (the Lord) has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness.”

The loving-kindness of God—His goodness and mercy—is eternal. It’s persistent. It’s a stubborn love God has for His children. He won’t turn His back on us. And He won’t give up on us or let us go.

God’s hesed love brings Jonah to mind.

Jonah could run, but he couldn’t hide or get away from God. The Lord used a storm to get Jonah’s attention and a very large fish to transport Jonah back to the shore where he had made his wrong turn. Even the hardship of Jonah’s experience was God’s loving-kindness. He could have wiped out the wayward prophet in a heartbeat. But, determined to show His loving-kindness to the huge city of Nineveh through Jonah, God kept him alive.

Likewise, God is relentless in His pursuit of you.

No matter what choice you make or where you go, He will come after you. God has a plan for your life, and He will go to great lengths to complete the work He has begun (Philippians 1:6).

If you have become a follower of Jesus Christ, God is all over you and your situation. He is pursuing you—relentlessly.

That’s the meaning of the phrase, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.”

It also means your very best days are ahead. As a child of God, it doesn’t matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done—your greatest days of usefulness and service to His kingdom can be in the future, followed always by His goodness and mercy!

The Explanation For Our Difficulties

SOURCE:  Oswald Chambers

. . . that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us . . .John 17:21

If you are going through a time of isolation, seemingly all alone, read John 17 .

It will explain exactly why you are where you are— because Jesus has prayed that you “may be one” with the Father as He is. Are you helping God to answer that prayer, or do you have some other goal for your life? Since you became a disciple, you cannot be as independent as you used to be.

God reveals in John 17 that His purpose is not just to answer our prayers, but that through prayer we might come to discern His mind. Yet there is one prayer which God must answer, and that is the prayer of Jesus— “. . . that they may be one just as We are one . . .” (John 17:22).

Are we as close to Jesus Christ as that?

God is not concerned about our plans; He doesn’t ask, “Do you want to go through this loss of a loved one, this difficulty, or this defeat?” No, He allows these things for His own purpose. The things we are going through are either making us sweeter, better, and nobler men and women, or they are making us more critical and fault-finding, and more insistent on our own way.

The things that happen either make us evil, or they make us more saintly, depending entirely on our relationship with God and its level of intimacy. If we will pray, regarding our own lives, “Your will be done” (Matthew 26:42), then we will be encouraged and comforted by John 17, knowing that our Father is working according to His own wisdom, accomplishing what is best. When we understand God’s purpose, we will not become small-minded and cynical. Jesus prayed nothing less for us than absolute oneness with Himself, just as He was one with the Father.

Some of us are far from this oneness; yet God will not leave us alone until we are one with Him— because Jesus prayed, “. . . that they all may be one . . . .”

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