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Posts tagged ‘God’s plan’

When Anxiety Collides With Faith: Rough Waters Result

SOURCE:  From a blog post by Dr.Laura Hendrickson

Rats! Yesterday I had a chest x-ray, ordered by my doctor to follow-up last month’s pneumonia. Pneumonia in a breast cancer survivor can be the first sign of recurrence in the lung, so it’s important to check it out. I hated waiting for that second x-ray!

My Plan For My Life

I was counting on a negative result, so I could just forget about it, but there’s an anomaly in my right lung, just beneath the place where my breast cancer was. It’s probably nothing, but it could be serious. This means I need a CT scan, which involves waiting to have it and then waiting to be informed of the results.

My plan for my life included crossing the possibility of recurrent cancer off my anxiety list. God’s plan for my life is not yet clear, but it surely includes continuing to challenge me on this issue for a while. I don’t like it!

Amy Carmichael saw the story of Paul’s shipwreck in Acts 27 as a metaphor for the conflict between God’s will and our own hopes.

I can’t even get through on the phone to schedule it, which means I don’t even know how long I’ll have to wait. For that matter, more tests may be recommended by the results from this one or, even worse, the dreaded “re-test in six months to see if it’s changed.”

But striking the place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the prow stuck fast and was immovable, but the stern was being broken up by the violence of the waves (Acts 27:41 NKJV).

Here’s what she said about it:

Where the will of God and the will of the flesh are in conflict there will be rough water, and if the flesh does not yield to the Spirit there must follow the painful breaking up of hopes and expectations, even as the timbers of that ship were broken up by the violence of the waves.

Exactly! I’m experiencing this discomfort because I haven’t let go and trusted God to do the best thing for me. Even though I recently blogged about this, saying that my anxieties are my friends because they drive me to God in prayer, here I am again.

 My Rough Water

I struggled for a while this morning after I got the call from my doctor. I went to the web to see what the anomaly might mean. I begged God to give me the outcome I wanted. I searched his Word for evidence that I’d get what I hoped for.

Finally, I went to an older Bible to look at a note written during an earlier struggle with uncertainty over my health. Instead, I found an old prayer, written many, many years ago.

Lord, I give up all my own plans and purposes, all my own desires and hopes, and accept thy will for my life. I give myself, my life, my all to thee to be thine forever. Fill me and seal me with thy Holy Spirit. Use me as thou wilt, send me where thou wilt, work out thy whole will in my life at any cost, now and forever.

I prayed this 34 years ago, as a new Christian. God confronted me with it this morning.

Did I really mean it? Do I still?

God’s Peace

I acknowledged that I do, and the peace came. I don’t want to live with anxiety over my health, but God wants me to. This should be enough for me, because I know that he always brings good from the painful things he ordains for my life (Romans 8:28).

I’m sure that the anxiety will come back. As I mentioned the other day, that’s a good thing, because it drives me to prayer.

How about you? Any “rough water” in your life? Have you talked to God about it yet?

Suffering: God is there before you get there

SOURCE:  From a post at Counseling Solutions

All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt.Exodus 1:5

Whether or not you know where you are going, there is an abiding truth that is universal and applicable to every person:

Regardless of your destination, before you get there, you can know, rest and trust in the fact that God is already there.

You cannot go anywhere in this life where God is not waiting for you to get there. It is impossible to go ahead of him, to beat him to the punch or step out of his plans for you. In good times and bad, please know that God is ahead of you, waiting on you and ready to take care of you.

In Exodus, God was disrupting an entire nation. The Israelites were being made aware that things had to change. There was turmoil in their land. They were in dire straits. The famine had spread beyond discomfort and families were struggling to make ends meet.

From their perspective they were living in the moment and there was little hope for change of circumstance. It was not clear as to what they should do to resolve their problems. From their limited understanding they had no idea of the plans God had made for them. They could only see their trouble, their present situation.

In Exodus 1:5 the writer is letting us know that the Israelites are in process of leaving their homes and heading to an unknown place. Though the text does not say I’m sure some of them were struggling with the stirring of their nest. They were being made uncomfortable and most certainly some of them were wavering in their faith about these upheavals of circumstance.

  1. Have you ever been in a place where God was re-altering your life?
  2. Have you ever stood in the moment of difficulty and seemingly all perceived options seemed to be lined with personal suffering and difficulty?

If so, then you can somewhat understand what the children of Israel were going through. They were leaving all they knew. This was a total lifestyle change. People, places and things were being thrown under the bus and life was being radically altered and there was nothing they could do about it. They were being moved to another place by difficult circumstances.

It was in this time and place that the writer inserts five little words into the text: Joseph was already in Egypt! This is more profound than just placing a GPS on Joseph’s backside to let the other Israelites know where their relative was located. Most certainly Joseph was found and his new diggs in Egypt became their new diggs.

But it is more than that. This story is also about the how and why Joseph was in Egypt. As you begin to unpack Joseph’s prior circumstances, troubles and journey to Egypt you get the idea that something bigger than suffering was going on here. Then as you read about his rise to prominence and the ensuing famine in the land and the discomfiting of an entire nation, you begin to get a glimpse of God’s kindness to his children through their personal suffering.

  1. Can you see God’s kindness through your suffering?
  2. Are you aware that God is ahead of you?
  3. Do you know that your Father is planning, positioning, removing and inserting his necessary plans to take care of you?

It took the Israelites a long time to realize that Joseph’s relocation to Egypt was orchestrated by the divine and loving hand of God. Regardless of your situation, I can most assuredly tell you that God is already there!

With God, There is NO _____________

SOURCE:  Tolle Lege/J.C. Ryle

The pillow of God’s omnipotence” by J.C. Ryle

“Let us mark, in the third place, the mighty principle which the angel Gabriel lays down to silence all objections about the incarnation. ‘With God nothing shall be impossible.’

A hearty reception of this great principle is of immense importance to our own inward peace. Questions and doubts will often arise in men’s minds about many subjects in religion. They are the natural result of our fallen estate of soul.

Our faith at the best is very feeble. Our knowledge at its highest is clouded with much infirmity.

And among many antidotes to a doubting, anxious, questioning state of mind, few will be found more useful than that before us now,—a thorough conviction of the almighty power of God.

With Him who called the world into being and formed it out of nothing, everything is possible.

Nothing is too hard for the Lord.

  • There is no sin too black and bad to be pardoned. The blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin.
  • There is no heart too hard and wicked to be changed. The heart of stone can be made a heart of flesh.
  • There is no work too hard for a believer to do. We may do all things through Christ strengthening us.
  • There is no trial too hard to be borne. The grace of God is sufficient for us.
  • There is no promise too great to be fulfilled. Christ’s words never pass away, and what He has promised He is able to perform.
  • There is no difficulty too great for a believer to overcome. When God is for us who shall be against us? The mountain shall become a plain.

Let principles like these be continually before our minds. The angel’s receipt is an invaluable remedy.

Faith never rests so calmly and peacefully as when it lays its head on the pillow of God’s omnipotence.”

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–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1879), 1: 27-28. Ryle is commenting on Luke 1:34-38.

Are You Unexpectedly Pregnant?

SOURCE:  JoHannah Reardon

Are You Unexpectedly Pregnant?

Find courage in knowing this didn’t take God by surprise

Brandon and Aimee* were in crisis. The couple had met when Brandon was in the military and married during one of his furloughs. Now he was home and they were preparing for the future by pursuing their college degrees. These two people were motivated, and future success was written all over them. They felt that nothing could stand in their way until Aimee discovered she was pregnant.

Devastated, they met with me to discuss their options. Since they’d both grown up with limited funds, they were fiercely determined to change the trajectory of their lives. They did not want to be poor, and even more, they did not want a child of theirs to grow up poor. This pregnancy seemed to threaten all their dreams and even their future security. They couldn’t see any hope or reason for this radical blow to their plans.

As they told me their story, my mind drifted back to my own similar series of events.

When my husband was in his third year of seminary, we’d just about run out of funds. There was one week when we had absolutely no money left to buy groceries because of some unexpected expenses. I mean none—not even an extra dollar bill lying around the house. Just when I was starting to truly fret, I noticed a personal letter in our daily mail—a note of encouragement from an elderly woman I’d met only once before. She knew my husband was in seminary and things were tight, so along with the note, she enclosed a 20-dollar bill. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was enough to tide us over until the next paycheck. With that small amount we were able to buy some staples—oats, rice, milk, canned goods, peanut butter, bread. It was a rather boring week of food, but it made meal preparation really easy!

That gives you some idea of what our circumstances were like in those days. We struggled to cover our expenditures, not wanting to go into debt, so we lived as frugally as possible. One of the ways we decided to save money was to get rid of maternity insurance, since that added a lot of expense and since we had no intentions of adding a baby to our already precarious situation.

Famous last words (or thoughts).

A few weeks after the no-money-for-groceries incident, I found out I was pregnant. In spite of taking precautions to prevent pregnancy, there was no denying the facts. Not only did the pregnancy test confirm it, but I was experiencing all the symptoms, including acute morning sickness. In fact, it was so bad, I had to quit my job because I simply couldn’t get out of bed. For an entire month, I was lucky to keep soda and crackers down (which helped our grocery bill stay low!).

But, of course, it was a financial crisis. Not only did we not have insurance to cover the pregnancy, but I was no longer bringing in any income. When I told my husband the news with tears, he bravely said, “I don’t understand why this is happening now. All I know is that God is good.” So we clung to that fact over the next nine months as we saw God provide for us. My husband graduated a few months after our beautiful daughter was born. And he graduated debt-free.

I shared these things with Brandon and Aimee, and I also want to share them with you. If you are facing a similar experience, know that God was not taken by surprise with this pregnancy. He planned this child in eternity past and has a plan for this child in eternity future. Your present troubles will be put in perspective as life unfolds. And as you journey forward, keep the following things in mind.

Embrace this child by faith

Psalm 127:3 says, “Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him.” When we were unsure why we were experiencing this unplanned pregnancy, we clung to this verse. We understood that this child was a gift, even if she didn’t seem like it at the moment. So we accepted that fact by faith and waited for the understanding to dawn—which occurred far sooner than either of us would have expected. Once we embraced this child rather than fearing her, we began to experience all the joy felt by expectant parents who have planned their child.

Trust God’s timing

The timing seemed all wrong. We couldn’t understand why I would be pregnant at the worst possible time financially. But the extreme financial stress lasted only a few years. By the time our daughter was school age, we could afford her.

The whole experience also gave me compassion for others who were going through something similar. I began volunteering at a local pregnancy center, which was when Brandon and Aimee came to see me, wanting to abort, terrified that their child would grow up poor. I was able to tell them that their child wouldn’t know they were poor. They could continue their education and by the time their child was old enough to understand their economic situation, it would be greatly improved. No preschooler ever feels poor if he or she has enough to eat and is loved.

And even if they were poor, God would be faithful to meet their needs. The very act of trusting God for our daily needs is a powerful testimony to a child and can help them see how active God is in our lives. And that’s worth more than all the riches this world can hold.

Be assured that God knows more than you do

My husband and I are both planners. We both enjoy security and knowing that “all of our ducks are in a row.” It’s much more comfortable for us to see exactly where the money is coming from and to work out a budget. Neither of us is overly concerned if it’s a tight budget, but we both are a lot happier when the numbers line up. But God blew our budget out of the water so that it was unrecognizable, and there was nothing left but for us to trust him. That’s a great place to be.

With an unexpected pregnancy, we clung to the fact that God knew more than we did. Although it seemed like a disaster to us, we found courage in the fact that God chose to give us a baby, and that he chose to do that in the midst of our financial struggles. The message was long-lasting. God sees how things will turn out and superintends our circumstances. In our case, he overrode our attempts at preventing pregnancy, which made it all the more clear that this was a child he wanted in the world. Of course, we have no doubts about the wisdom of that now. Our daughter has been a delight and brought us more joy than we could possibly imagine. The days of struggle seem like a drop in the bucket compared to the years of happiness she has brought us.

*names changed

Is Suffering Inevitable?

SOURCE:  Chuck Swindoll

“There’s no getting around it, pain and suffering are inevitable.

Our parents did not escape it, you and I will not escape it, and neither will our children.

According to Philippians 1:29, suffering is here to stay:

For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.

“There are some today who say, ‘All suffering is wrong. All who suffer are out of the will of God. If you suffer, you are in sin. And since you are in sin, if you will deal correctly and sufficiently with your sin, your suffering will go away.’

That is simply not the truth.

Scripture does not support such teaching. To be sure, all suffering is rooted in the fact that sin has entered the human race; however, not only has it been granted that we believe in Christ, but it has also been planned that we suffer.”

What Works? What Doesn’t?

When we suffer, our problem solving skills seem to escape us like an evaporating mist on a spring-fed lake. We know the solution lies within the cleansing waters of Christ being poured into us from the depths of our souls.

But the surface is turbulent. We struggle to overcome, and we find ourselves fighting to take our next breath. While everyone is different, a few strategies help us to respond well in times of trial, and some simply leave us gasping for air.

What works …

  • An honest assessment of the trials and suffering in your life
  • Absolute trust in God’s sovereignty
  • Patience, perseverance, and persistence in the face of great difficulty
  • Confidence in God’s ultimate plan for your life
  • Prayer

What doesn’t work …

  • Quick fixes with one-size-fits-all solutions
  • Denial
  • Avoidance
  • Rejecting people who genuinely have our best interests at heart
  • Becoming angry with God

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Insight for Living. (2007). Counseling Insights: A Biblical Perspective on Caring for People (565). Plano, TX: Insight for Living.

Suffering Together

SOURCE:  Jerusha Ann Clark

Allowing pain to nourish your marriage

I’m not sure how long Jeramy and I sat in the hospital parking lot. It might have been fifteen minutes; it could have been forever. The bitter cold of Colorado winter wrapped its arms around our silver Jetta, scattering ice crystals on the windows. Maybe on a different night they would have been beautiful to me.

For me, any response to the world would have been a welcome relief. I hadn’t been able to carry on a normal conversation in weeks. Often Jeramy would catch me staring off into space, but when I “came to,” I could explain neither where I’d been nor what I’d been thinking. As far as I can remember, I only thought, breathed, and lived pain during those hellish days.

St. Stephen’s loomed in the not-so-distant foreground. It was one of those seventies-style concrete hospitals that looks more like a communist tenement than a place of healing. It was a psychiatric hospital.

I had been placed on a 5150, a psychiatric hold for people who are a danger to themselves and others. The social worker who did my intake evaluation told Jeramy that, based on her 20-plus years of experience, I was suffering from the most severe level of postpartum depression possible. At least they let Jeramy drive me from the ER to St. Stephen’s. Still, he had to leave me there—alone. Not until years later did he tell me that he wept for the entire 40-minute drive home.

Neither of us knew what to do. Neither of us felt the comfort the Bible promises for those in pain. Neither of us could pray with any conviction of hope. We knew God was there, but he seemed distantly cold. The pain was wreaking havoc on our marriage.

We were Christian authors, a pastor and pastor’s wife, a couple who wanted to honor God with life and marriage. We were in agony. Up to this point, we didn’t understand what it meant to suffer together, and—to tell you the truth—we didn’t want to learn how to let God walk us through the valley of the shadow of death…together. We would have traded what authors have deemed the “gift of suffering.” And yet we would have missed the very things that have shaped our marriage and ministry in the most powerful ways.

An Era of Pain

It seems as if every marriage is hurting during these difficult times. Several of our closest friends are facing financial ruin. Husbands and wives are looking at one another across the dinner table, wondering how their relationship dissolved into an endless string of loveless, lifeless days. Two couples we’re close to are going through divorce and custody battles. Infertility is robbing those we love of the joy they desperately want to experience. The children of our friends are straining their parents’ marriages with choices to live alternative lifestyles, to cohabitate—seemingly without guilt—to stridently abandon the faith of their youth. The death of loved ones, the news that it’s cancer, teen pregnancy, horrific violence in elementary schools—it’s hitting everyone we know. We live with the constant awareness of deep suffering.

Christians may understand this on an intellectual level: “When troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow” (James 1:2-3). We want to do this. But did anyone ever teach you how to suffer as a couple? Our premarital counseling didn’t address it, and we had the “best of the best” mentoring us. What we’ve come to realize is that the joy of suffering together can be won only by actually suffering together.

Since we fought the battle against postpartum depression, Jeramy and I have faced other pains: a best friend’s betrayal, suffocating challenges at work, confusion about the future of our work and ministry, my diagnosis with fibromyalgia, the murder of a family member. Life overflows with pain, doesn’t it? But what we’ve learned about suffering together has changed the way we face pain.

We choose—though we don’t always do it well—to let suffering together untie us and bless others.

The Hidden Invitations in Suffering

Although most of us have figured out there’s no perfect, one-size-fits-all formula for how to suffer with our spouses, we also know that our Father gave something far better—his Holy Spirit, the Comforter, God’s indwelling presence to guide and guard. The Spirit who walks alongside us picks us up when we stumble and screw things up and ache from the consequences of our sin or the awful, uncontrollable circumstances we never could have planned for.

The Spirit who guides us directs tenderly and compassionately. Suffering is an invitation to know the Spirit on a level more preciously intimate and real. Do you desire this? Will you walk with your spouse through pain to experience it?

Suffering together produces fellowship with Jesus, God the Son, who agonized here and understands well our pain. I love The message translation of Hebrews 4:15-16: “We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.” His mercy is there for you and your spouse. Do you ache for it? Will you reach out for it together? Jeramy and I have had to choose this. It hasn’t happened naturally. Every one of the pains we’ve faced together has extended us two invitations: draw close to one another through Jesus or allow the wedge of anguish to drive us apart.

Suffering together is likewise an invitation to know the character of God the Father, not as a list of Sunday-school attributes, but as the very life and breath of our marriage. Grace, peace, hope, goodness, faithfulness—these are not resources God metes out. They are the incarnation of his person within us. Love isn’t merely a characteristic of God; it is the very essence of his power and presence, pouring himself into you and through you to your spouse.

I realize that very few of us would opt to know God through the agony of suffering. But as A.W. Pink wrote, the truth is “the promises of God never shine as brightly as in the furnace of affliction.” You and your spouse, suffering together, can know the truth of who God is in a way that would not have been possible on a road unmarked with pain.

But how do we do that?

Okay, so we don’t have a formula. We’re invited to know God on a deeper level. But how do we walk—day by day—through the pain?

Jeramy and I, not only in our battle with postpartum depression, but also in the anguish of various broken dreams, unmet expectations, and delayed hopes, have discovered some practical helps for suffering together. Perhaps these three will encourage you.

1. Offer one another the gift of presence. Suffering often drives couples apart, and it’s far easier to stay a few extra hours at work than come home to a house in chaos, a house filled with pain. It’s easier to check out emotionally than to talk to one another about what you’re facing. But, just as Emmanuel— the God with us—models, we are called to be present to and for one another.

The Greek verb tense used in Galatians 6:2, “Share each other’s burdens,” might be better translated “Keep onsharing one another’s burdens.” You can share in carrying the burden only if you are present with one another.

It takes so little…holding her hand, speaking a word of respect to him, offering to serve in a way that enlivens and unites the two of you. I remember the night Jeramy came home from Wal-Mart with two movies I loved as a kid: The Three Amigos and Ghostbusters. All we did was sit on the couch together and watch. I could barely laugh. I’m not even sure—to this day—what Jeramy was thinking. But he was next to me; he spoke love to me without words. He was present with me.

After I was physically and mentally stable, Jeramy needed to work through anger, resentment, and confusion about what we’d gone through. I listened, trying as far as I was able to be present with him.

2. Choose to press in. All of us would like to end our suffering right away. Who wants to prolong pain? Often, we think that rushing through the valley of the shadow would be best for everyone involved. Instead of trying to escape or just “get through this,” what if you pressed into what the pain says about you, your spouse, your marriage, and your God?

Jeramy and I went through months of therapy—together and individually. During one of the sessions, my counselor asked that I read Matthew 5:4 aloud. “God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” I parroted the words, not feeling blessed in the slightest. She asked me what the verse meant. Seriously? I thought. I just got out of a psychiatric hospital. You want me to exegete Scripture? I looked at the words again, and it hit me with ferocity. Tears of illumination burned in my eyes. “I have to go through the mourning to get the comfort, don’t I?” Yes. Yes. We cannot escape the pain, but we can allow it to lead us further up and further in.

It didn’t happen all at once, but slowly, as Jeramy and I pressed into the pain rather than avoiding it, we found that we were not alone there. Jesus was with us and we experienced it, not just “knew it.” And as we grew in intimacy with Christ, we grew in intimacy with one another.

3. Remember the days of your suffering. Over the years, Lamentations 3 has become a beloved passage of Scripture for Jeramy and me. This portion of God’s Word is most famous for its declaration that “Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning” (Verse 23).

Perhaps it’s been a while since you read what comes before and after this beautiful assurance. In verse 1, the prophet Jeremiah wails, “I am the one who has seen the afflictions that come from the rod of the LORD’s anger.” You do not need to bury the memory of your suffering. Indeed, you cannot. The memory of his anguish was what allowed Jeremiah to shout, “Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness” (21-23).

This can be your experience, too. As you and your spouse allow the memory of your pain to nourish your marriage and spill out of your relationship into the lives of those around you, you will be able to help others see “No one is abandoned by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion because of the greatness of his unfailing love. For he does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow” (Lamentations 3:31-33).

Perhaps it’s difficult for you to imagine exactly how remembering your suffering as a couple can help anyone else. Here are a couple of ways that has worked in our marriage. Together, we actively remember significant dates. We choose to recall the day I was admitted to the hospital. We remember the moments in therapy—individual and couples—when God broke through our suffering in order to heal. We don’t try to erase those memories. We embrace them as ways to recall God’s faithfulness.

Letting God use your memory and your openness isn’t always easy. But it is true and good and beautiful. And, as is so often the case, allowing God to use us becomes every bit as significant a blessing and source of healing for us as it is for those we desire to bless. Picture this for a moment: how different might the world be if all of our marriages proclaimed the truth that pain can heal, can unite, can be transformed into praise, can bless the body of Christ, wounded in so many ways?

Our hope as a couple, and my prayer through these words you’ve read, is that God will comfort your marriage with the comfort he has given ours.

Indeed, in everything we can choose to say, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

May it be so, Lord, for Jeramy and me and for my brothers and sisters.

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Jerusha Ann Clark is a writer who lives in Escondido, California. She is the author of several books including The Life You Crave: The Promise of Discernment.

Is Anything Too Hard For ME!?!

SOURCE:  Living Free Ministries

“I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?”Jeremiah 32:27 NIV

Thoughts for Today
When we are facing difficult times, sometimes we begin to feel as though our situation is hopeless. If friends and family try to encourage us, we might respond with, “But you don’t understand.”

Our loved ones might or might not understand, but the Lord always understands. He always cares. And he assures us that nothing is too hard for him.

Consider this … 
What challenges are you facing? An illness? A rebellious child? Marriage problems? Financial challenges? Whatever it is, remember that God is bigger.

As you turn your problem over to God, remember that his answer might not be what you are expecting. And his timing might seem ever so slow. But he will be with you throughout the process. And his plan … and his time … are always the best plan and the best time. No matter how things appear right now, he will work all things together for good. He loves you … and nothing is too hard for him.

Prayer
Father, thank you for your promise that nothing is too hard for you. Thank you for your faithfulness … your understanding … your love … your grace. Thank you for the plan you have for me. In Jesus’ name …

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These thoughts were drawn from …

Stepping into Freedom: A Christ-Centered Twelve-Step Program by Jimmy Ray Lee, D.Min.

The “GIFT” of Suffering

Suffering: how to steward God’s most feared blessing

SOURCE:  Rick Thomas/Counseling Solutions

I think we can agree on this one:

Personal suffering is the thing we fear the most.

Think about it for a minute.

There are certain things that come to mind that cause or tempt you to fear.

Maybe you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about those things and that is probably a good thing.

However, if you do think about your fear, even if only for this article, you do fear something.

What if the thing you feared came true? What if personal suffering did come to your life? How would you respond? Job put it this way, For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. – Job 3:25 (ESV)

Prayers answered through suffering

Janice prayed for 13 years that her marriage would change. She prayed more specifically that her husband would change. Amos was a half-hearted husband and a half-hearted Christian. The main emphasis in his life has been to work hard and long hours. If you asked him, he would say he was a good husband because heprovided for his family.

The “providing for the family” card is one of the most over-used, sinful justifications for a man who is a lousy husband, but loves to get his love cup filled by finding his identity in his work.

As the years rolled on, his hours became longer and their marital distance grew wider. Jancie knew there was more to the story, but she could not put two and two together.

Then finally her suspicions were validated when a text from Amos inadvertently went to Janice’s phone. He meant it for a female colleague three states away.

Janice’s initial confrontation with her husband was met with denials. Amos was feeling her out. He was trying to discern how much she knew. Once he knew that the evidence was irrefutable he came clean about his 19 month affair.

Though the counseling took several months and there were many ups and downs along the way, the place we finally came to with Janice was a Gospel-centered, sovereign view of suffering that released her to freely forgive her husband and to pursue genuine reconciliation.

For Mature Audiences Only

The remainder of this article will be speaking to a high-level, mature Christian response to personal suffering. It could be that you have not come to this place in your Theology of Suffering. Do not be discouraged, but be prayerful and ask God to give you the grace to understand what is being said here so you can properly steward this most feared gift to you.

Your suffering, no matter what it is, did not come to you without God’s allowance. The primary place for you to work through suffering is between you, the sufferer, and God. If you don’t do this, then you’ll never have a right perspective on what happened to you.

Suffering is inevitable for every human on the planet. It is unavoidable. We all are going to die. Because of the imminent and painful reality of suffering, it is all the more important that we see suffering through the lens of God’s sovereign plan for our lives.

[W]hen pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all. – C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Progression through pain

John 12:24 – Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

The Savior is teaching us that the only way we can live is by dying. Fruit bearing comes through the door of death. There is no other way if you hope and desire is to be fruitful. I am not trying to be mean or unsympathetic toward what you are going through. This is hard. This is true.

Part of the maturing process has to include a purifying process because the truth is we have many sinful ways, attitudes, and patterns in our lives. It is a mercy of the Lord to love us enough to purify us, to remove the things from our lives that hinder us from knowing Him in a more profound way.

Philippians 3:10 – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

Knowing Christ is an expensive, challenging, and painful process. It will cost you your life. Do not be deceived about this. Do you really want to know Christ? He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He was despised and rejected of men (Isaiah 53). Do you really think that you can “know” Him in a detached and unaffected kind of way?

No, never, not in this life.

If you are a person who loves the Savior and your desire is to know Him more deeply, then there is no other choice for you but to share in the fellowship of His sufferings. You cannot and will not enjoy the power of His resurrection until you participate in His sufferings.

Philippians 1:29 – For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,

There are two gifts that you receive as a Christian. The first gift is the gift of salvation. When you first encounter God in a salvific kind of a way, He grants you the gift of salvation. It is a beautiful thing.

But salvation is not the only gift under the Christmas tree. Imagine gathering around the tree this Christmas and, to your delight, you discover that there are two gifts for you. You open the first and find out that you have been born from above. Joy!

Then you ask, “What is the second gift under the tree?”

That gift, my friend, is the gift of suffering. This is the point of Philippians 1:29. God gives all Christians at least two gifts: (1) Salvation; (2) Suffering. I’m well aware this is not a good Evangelism 101 approach: Hey, you wanna suffer? Become a Christian.

No…we typically leave the suffering part out. Sadly, we should not. We should be more forthright with what it means to become a Christian. The more serious you take your faith, the more you will suffer. The Bible could not be more clear.

1 Peter 2:21 – For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.

Part of the calling for every Christian is to suffer. Have you ever wondered what your calling in life is? I’m not totally sure all that God has called you to, but I do know this much: He has called you as a believer to suffer.

The word Christian means Christ follower. And what did you think following Christ was going to be like?

1 John 3:1 – See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.

My friend (doctor) put stitches in my face last week. Why did he do this? In part because he loves me. He cares about my health so he asked if he could cut a growth off the side of my face so he could have it checked out.

The process was a bit painful, though not nearly as painful as many other procedures that people have, but the point is that sometimes love means I need to hurt you before I can help you. You need to know this about our loving heavenly Father.

Sometimes the manner of love that He bestows upon us comes in a package that we might not initially understand as love and most definitely not embrace as love.

What did John tell us in another place? That God so loved us that He [executed] His one and only Son (John 3:16). Our Father is a radical lover.

Isaiah 53:10 – Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief;

If the Father believed it was necessary to crush His one and only Son in order to save you and me, do you think that His love for us will always be plush carpet, stocked pantries, and soft beds?

“You will not get leave to steal quietly to heaven, in Christ’s company, without a conflict and a cross.” –Samuel Rutherford

Sometimes the love of God will crush us. The billows will come over us and we’ll be so disoriented, that the love of God will be the furtherest thing from our minds.

Job 38-42 – Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding – Job 38:4 (ESV)

Though Job understood, to a degree, what was happening to him, he did not fully get it until the very end of the book named after him. Prior to the turning (or restoring) of his captivity, God stepped in and gave him some counsel.

God was lovingly hard on Job as he put him in his place. Job had become way too whiney, entitled, and disgruntled about what had happened to him. This is my danger also. At times I forget my place. I think that I deserve better than what I have, regardless of what I have.

I forget that I was a rebel before God, bound for hell. Sometimes I actually think that I am somebody, as my arrogance is unleashed and I begin to prance around like I deserve better.

It is a mercy of the Lord to put me in my place. I cannot say that anything that has ever happened to me was not a mercy of the Lord. Though there have been many harsh, hard, and unkind things done to me, I see the helping and loving hand of God in all of it.

Job 42:5-6 – I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.

Job got it. He finally understood. God stood on his neck for four chapters, hardly letting up at all and the scales finally fell from Job’s eyes. Formerly, he had heard of God, but now, in the context of personal suffering and stern counsel from the Lord, he finally found his place.

He was rightly and completely affected by God.

Like it or not, it was a divine beat down. He was put in his place by the power of God’s Words. Job was dead. The grain of wheat had fully fallen into the ground and Job had died. Though he did not know it, he was only a few moments away from incredible blessing. God was about to turn things around for His friend.

Job 42:10 – And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.

The big word in the text is “when.” God turned Job’s captivity (restored) “when” he prayed for his friends. The word “when” means an element of time. God turned Job’s captivity “when” Job came to that time in his heart where he could freely intercede for those who had hurt him. Can you do this?

This kind of praying is not intellectual ascent. It is purified praying from a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17).

Maybe you need to ask God to do a work in your heart. Ask God to give you the grace that will enable you to freely pray and serve those who have hurt you. “When” you can do this, then you can expect God’s inestimable favor to flood your life and soul.

Proceed with caution

Janice will not be able to process, understand, and most definitely apply what I have written here. She will be too hurt, too angry, and too un-forgiving. She will be too offended if you try to bring this up. Remember, this view of suffering is for mature audiences only.

You will have to be patient with her.

She will not be able to see that what is happening to her is a carefully prepared blessing from her loving heavenly Father. And even if she did see it, she would initially be unable to accept it.

Think about how difficult it was for the Savior to fully embrace the crushing from His Father, the crushing that had been planned for all eternity. We sing about it and call it “amazing love,” but it was amazingly hard for Him to die.

“My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” – Matthew 26:38-39 (ESV)

She will not be able to initially steward God’s most feared blessing.

Janice had been praying for a biblical marriage for 13 years, but she could never have a biblical marriage because her husband did not have a heart for God. He had a heart for himself.

Though Janice would have been happier if Amos would have repented without an affair, she needs to be careful not to overlook how God brought her husband back to Himself and to her.

Amos was not only dissing Janice, but he was trashing God’s name. God is a jealous God and Amos professed to be His son. God would not allow Amos to continue in the way he was going. Not only did God answer Janice’s prayer by giving her the biblical marriage she longed for, but He made a significant correction in Amos’ heart.

Amos did repent of his sin and began the long process of restoring his relationship with God and with his wife.

My hope and prayer for the Janice’s of this world is that they will embrace and appropriate God’s grace in their lives. They must come to the place of understanding that what happened to them in their horizontal world was not the main issue.

It was what God was doing in their vertical world that they need to address first. The pain of others can be profound, but the love of God working through that pain is the victory.

And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. – Matthew 10:39-40 (ESV)

Suffering is no doubt God’s most feared blessing. How are you stewarding the gift?

What does the Bible teach about Satan?

SOURCE:  Randy Alcorn/Eternal Perspective Ministries

Satan and angels are created beings; and, as such, are totally subservient to God and limited in all their powers compared with the Sovereign and Omnipotent Creator.

“For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created by Him and for Him” (Co. 1:16). “For I am convinced that neither death, no life, no angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height , nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39). “For the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).

Satan and his fallen angels (demons) are, however, powerful, crafty, intelligent, deceitful, and committed to (permanently sealed into) opposing God.

“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). “In which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

As created beings, Satan and angels (fallen or not) do not know God’s plan (except for that which is revealed). They do not know what God’s Decree contains, until it actually happens. “But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Mark 13:32).

Satan and the angels cannot read minds.

Nowhere does Scripture mention this capability for any creature. Yet, it specifically asserts God’s ability to know an individual’s mind. “Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, Thou dost know it all” (Ps. 139:4); “But He knew what they were thinking” (Luke 6:8)

Satan, demons, and fallen humans all know that God is real. 

“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.” (Job 1:6). “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder” (James 2:19). “Because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19-20).

This knowledge does not affect a fallen creature at all. Satan’s entire delusion is that he is “like God.” This is the reason he fell and introduced sin into the creation. “How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, you who have weakened the nations! But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High. Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol, to the recesses of the pit” (Is. 14:12-15).

This is the same delusion that he presented to Adam and Eve, and they chose it too. “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). This is an intoxicating delusion. Someone who is operating their life based on “illusions of grandeur” will act irrationally consistent with their mental (or spiritual) illness.

Thus, even though fallen creatures know the revealed truth, and know that God exists, it is irrelevant to them. Satan is convinced that he is free to act, smarter than God, and able to thwart God’s plan. “Then Satan answered the Lord, ‘Does Job fear God for nothing?… Put forth Thy hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse Thee to Thy face’” (Job. 1:911). At every point Satan is focused on opposing God (cf. the temptation of Jesus in Matt. 4:1-11). Fallen humans also oppose God: “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures” (Rom. 1:22-23).

Paul’s words in Romans 1 point out the primary way that Satan has opposed God.

He sometimes poses as an angel of light and offers counterfeit religions based on subtle misinformation: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:13-15). His other counterfeit religions are outright pagan. “They served their idols, which became a snare to them. They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons” (Ps. 106:36-37). “None of the daughters of Israel shall be a cult prostitute, nor shall any of the sons of Israel be a cult prostitute” (Deut. 23:17). “I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God; and I did not want you to become sharers in demons” (1 Cor. 10:20).

His final delusion will be with the Antichrist in a worldwide religion, and the only reason this will happen is because the Lord will remove the restraint. “Who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God…..And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he may be revealed….The one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders” (2 Thess. 2:469).

Satan considers himself successful in his opposing God. 

However, what he does not appreciate is that since he is created, even he and his demons are part of God’s decree. As such, Satan cannot do anything that is not allowed by God. And, everything Satan is allowed to do brings about the eternal plan of God, to His Glory. “Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.’ So Satan departed from the presence of the Lord” (Job. 1:12). “He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him” (Mark 1:27). “And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6).

Satan is so thoroughly deluded about his ultimate success over the Lord, that he actually attempts a physical over-throw. This same blinding delusion is reflected in the men whom he uses in the end times—”by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron” (1 Tim. 4:2). “And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. And the dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world” (Rev. 12:7-9).

Satan is so delusional that, in his blinding hatred opposing God, he willingly fulfills God’s decree as it is plainly revealed and known by him.

The devil cannot oppose God more vigorously than the way described in the final chapter of God’s plan in Revelation. He thus willingly charges into the face of sure defeat fully confident of victory. Such is the nature of evil. “And I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years” (Rev. 20:1-2).

Even after 1,000 years to contemplate the truth of the Scriptures, when he is finally released, Satan goes right back to opposing God exactly as described in Revelations. “And when the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations… And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:7-10).

Satan’s work is evil and suffering—exactly what the messianic promise ofGenesis 3:14-15 is said to ultimately defeat. From the beginning, God planned that his Son should deal the death blow to Satan, evil, and suffering, in order to reverse the Curse, redeem a fallen humanity, and repair a broken world.

10 Things Submission Is Not

Editor’s Note:  Submission is a topic that tends to be naively understood or, too often, grossly misunderstood.  The below article sheds light on this topic from God’s perspective.

SOURCE:  Jennifer Smidt

1. Simply or singularly a marriage issue

Submission is God’s design. It is a reflection of the interaction within the Trinity. Whether single or married, submission is a core heart issue revealing one’s dependence upon God. For a wife, it demonstrates her willingness to yield to her husband’s lead in obedience and belief of God’s covenant to her.

2. Degrading

Women have been lured into believing that submission is somehow humiliating. It does not bestow second-class status. It was Christ’s glory to submit to his father’s plan of redemption for his children; it is a wife’s glory to submit to God’s plan of provision and protection for her life

3. Silent

When submission is depicted as voiceless oppression, both men and women lose. God declared that men need help and to leave them without our prayerful input is to deny them help—the very thing God declared they need. Submission uses her voice to speak words of grace and life into her husband’s life.

4. Fearful

A fearful woman will have a very hard time submitting to her husband. A fearful woman isn’t actively trusting God with her life, which makes entrusting a man with your future nearly impossible. Submission to Christ frees a woman from fear as she rests in God’s character and provision for her, delivered through her husband.

5. Joyless

A joyless wife is an ungrateful wife. Submission says, as Jesus did, “Not my will but yours be done.” There is great joy found in doing the will of God. Even in the most difficult of circumstances, joy bubbles out of a heart that is thankful to God for who he is and what he gives.

Whether single or married, submission is a core heart issue revealing one’s dependence upon God.

6. Stifling

When submissive women are portrayed as stunted or limited in their freedom, they are being lied about. Submission is a safe place of protection where we are able to express our gifts and creativity for the glory of God and benefit of our marriages.

7. Dumb

It is not a dumb thing to do, nor does it make you dumb. There is no “I get to check my brain at the door because he is in charge” thinking as the world often portrays. Submission is the response of an intelligent woman who knows her Bible and believes that God’s design is best.

8. Weak

Submissive women are not mousy. They will not settle for doormat status. The posture of submission is strength willingly placed under the authority of another. Our husbands need our best. Our best is the power that comes from Christ alone as we depend on him to embody Christlikeness to our men.

9. Automatic

A submissive spirit does not kick in the moment you say, “I do”. It is a heart response that all women begin to cultivate as we submit to Christ first. Wives will have their hearts exposed in the area of submission to God. A wife who submits cheerfully and graciously to her husband will always have at her core a heart knelt in submission to Christ.

10. Self-Focused

A truly submissive heart doesn’t need to be concerned with taking care of herself. The submitted heart does not ask, “What’s in it for me?” but rather, “How can I serve God and my husband with my life?”

———————————————————————–

Jen is the wife of Pastor Phil Smidt and is a deacon at Mars Hill Church involved in teaching and counseling couples and women.

“YOUR will be done.” Do I really mean this??

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 . . . .”

Life-Controlling Problems: Let’s Make A Deal

SOURCE: Adapted from an article at Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Network

It’s common for people concerned about someone with a life-controlling problem (addiction), relational struggle, or health issue to try to strike bargains with themselves, with the person, with others, and with God. We might promise ourselves that we will be better. We will say the right thing next time. We will make things right. We will refrain from something enjoyable … or harmful. All these things in exchange for something we desire from others or ourselves.

We might set up deals with the loved one to reward them for refraining from their problem behavior. Or we might bargain with God and try to make a deal with Him … a promise to give to the church, to do some good deeds, to give up gossiping or a sexual sin, if only He will fix our or our loved ones’ problems.

If you are in this deal-making stage, you need to understand that help for a friend or loved one doesn’t depend on your performance. God has a specific plan for that person’s life and their change process is between them and God. God may want to use us in the person’s life and work through us. We all have some potential influence, but we have no power. We are in no position and have no leverage to bargain with God. When you think about it, what do we really have to offer in a trade with God?

Today, accept your powerlessness to change another person. Don’t try bargaining with God as if He is on another team. Learn to actually join God’s team and let Him be your captain, and then follow His instruction. Maybe He does want to utilize your influence on the person or situation. You need to view the experience as one of growth for you. If the other person is able to see God through you and engage with God more, again, that is between that person and God.

Prayer

Dear Father God, all my efforts have failed. No matter what I do, I realize now that I can’t fix my loved one’s problems. But I thank You that You can. Your grace is enough. Help me to let go and trust You. Saying that, let me know how you want me to engage with my loved one so I can grow in You and personally. Help me understand how You want to use me for my growth and help me leave the changing of my loved one up to You. I pray this and all prayers in the name of the One who can fix all things, Jesus Christ;  – AMEN!

The Truth

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

2 Corinthians 12:9

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