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Posts tagged ‘hopelessness’

Forgiveness: Doing what Christ does

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article in  Discipleship Journal/Jack & Carole Mayhall

She looked at me defiantly.  Hope, hurt, pain, and anger were mingled in her eyes and in her tone as she said, “I can’t do it, Carole. Could you?”

She had just told me her problem—and it was a giant one. Her in-laws had physically and verbally attacked her in front of her husband and children. And her husband had not only failed to come to her defense, but had sided with his parents. How could she forgive such a thing?

“No,” I replied, “I couldn’t forgive him. But God can—and will through and in you, if you’ll let him. There is no hope for your marriage if you don’t forgive.”

I could have added that there would be no hope for her, either. The lack of forgiveness produces a poison that will eat away one’s very existence, especially the existence of any joy or peace in our lives.

What heartache!

There is no easy answer. But this I know: God does have a solution. It is somehow tied in with the solemn warning in Hebrews 12:15—”See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” I would paraphrase that first part, “Make sure no one fails to receive enough of God’s grace.”

If we don’t have enough of his grace, it isn’t God’s fault. His grace is sufficient for our every need (2 Corinthians 12:9). The fault is ours, because we haven’t really asked for his grace with an accepting heart.

What is forgiveness? One dictionary defines the verb forgive as “to cease to feel resentment” against someone, “to pardon,” “to give up resentment,” or “to grant relief from payment.”

I was struck with two things about this definition. First was the feeling involved—”to cease to feel resentment.” This statement rules out attitudes such as “I forgive him, but I can’t forget it,” or, “I forgive him in my head, but not in my heart.” Our hearts are free only when we cease to feel resentment.

Many times we don’t really want to forgive, for if we do we become vulnerable to be hurt all over again. So we build our walls of resentment and unforgiveness in order not to feel pain again.

Logically this makes some sense. But emotionally it is deadly poison. And it poisons the person with the unforgiving heart first of all. When a person hardens his or her feelings against pain, all feeling can be deadened.

The second thing that struck me about the dictionary definition was the verbs that are used: “cease,” “give up,” and “grant.” An act of our will is involved in ceasing to feel resentful, in giving up a claim, in granting the offender relief from paying for his offense. But to do this is not easy.

David Augsburger, radio speaker for “The Mennonite Hour,” put it this way in Cherishable: Love and Marriage

Forgiveness is hard.  Especially in a marriage tense with past troubles, tormented by fears of rejection and humiliation, and torn by suspicion and distrust.

Forgiveness hurts.  Especially when it must be extended to a husband or wife who doesn’t deserve it, who hasn’t earned it, who may misuse it. It hurts to forgive.

Forgiveness costs.  Especially in marriage when it means accepting instead of demanding repayment for the wrong done; where it means releasing the other instead of exacting revenge; where it means reaching out in love instead of relinquishing resentments. It costs to forgive.

Forgiveness, Augsburger says, is when the injured person chooses “to accept his angry feelings, bear the burden of them personally, find release through confession and prayer, and set the other person free.”

This is what Jesus Christ did for us.

He forgave us unconditionally, bearing the burden, setting us free. “In him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us” (Ephesians 1:7–8).

Many times it is the little, picky matters that stick in our throats and cause us to choke when the need arises to forgive. When we do not deal with the seemingly inconsequential things, we fail to “walk in the light.”

If we walk in the light as he is in the light we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin. (1 John 1:7)

Are you walking in the light with your mate?

In Christ, there is “no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5), no hidden, secret resentment, no anger or self-pity, or criticism. If we are walking in the light as he is in the light, then we will have true fellowship with one another. We will be best friends in open, honest sharing.

We must forgive, and forgive immediately.

Listen again to David Augsburger:

Forgiveness is smiling silent love to your partner when the justifications for keeping an insult or injury alive are on the tip of your tongue, yet you swallow them. Not because you have to, to keep peace, but because you want to, to make peace.

Forgiveness is not acceptance given “on condition” that the other becomes acceptable. Forgiveness is given freely. . . .

Forgiveness is a relationship between equals who recognize their deep need of each other, share and share-alike. Each needs the other’s forgiveness. Each needs the other’s acceptance. Each needs the other.

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!

Depression: How to Fight for Faith in the Dark

SOURCE:  Stephen Altrogge/Desiring God

Three Lessons for Depression

I’ve often said that depression is like wearing tinted glasses. Everywhere you look, things look dark. Bleak. Black. Hopeless. Helpless. The waiting room for depression says, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”

Depression is both a physical and spiritual affliction. Neurons and synapses fail to fire properly, leading to chemical imbalances in the brain. These imbalances cause the depressed person to feel awful, like their entire world is a raw catastrophe hovering over the depths of despair. When everything is a catastrophe, it’s easy for faith to falter and stumble.

“Depression causes a person to feel only gloom and despair, no matter what they’re thinking.”

Normally, the prescription for faith is somewhat straightforward. We read the promises of God, let them diffuse throughout our hearts, and then embrace them fully. As we embrace these promises, our faith rises. When we have more faith, there is often a physical feeling of encouragement and hope.

But with clinical depression (and most other forms of mental illness), things don’t work quite that way. Depression usually causes a person to feel only gloom and despair, no matter what they’re thinking. Filling your mind with God’s promises is necessary, but it doesn’t usually alter the way you feel. It’s like having a migraine. Believing God’s word is essential, but it won’t take away the migraine (usually).

From Gloom Toward Gladness

When all you feel is gloom, it becomes very hard to have hope, no matter what you read in Scripture. As someone who labored under a lot of depression and anxiety throughout my life, I know that it usually doesn’t help a depressed person to say, “Just believe God’s word more!”

So if you’re depressed, how can you fight for faith? How can you believe while also stumbling through the dark? Here are some things that have helped me.

1. Distinguish between fact and feeling.

The most important thing I’ve learned is that 90% of the time in the midst of my depression, my feelings have zero connection to reality. This is key when you’re in the morass of mental illness.

I feel bad because something is seriously wrong with my body. Because my brain is rebelling — not because everything is really going to pieces. Reality is outside of my broken brain. It is defined by God’s word. It’s solid. Objective. Unchangeable. If I try to process my life or circumstances through the dark lens of depression, I will be terrified.

“Depression turns our brain into a swirling mass of half-truths and distorted perceptions.”

If you’re depressed, it can be dangerous to evaluate anything in your life. Don’t scrutinize your circumstances or friendships or prospects for marriage. I can assure you that you will misinterpret reality.

Instead, simply say, “I’m leaving that to God for now. I’ll think about it later and trust him to handle it.” God is good. He is faithful. He loves you even though you don’t feel it. He can handle your life even when you can’t.

Remember, faith is not a feeling. Faith is simply believing that God will do what he said, even when it doesn’t feel like it. I can guarantee that when you’re depressed, it won’t feel like God is faithful. But that feeling simply is not true. Don’t believe it.

John Calvin, a pastor acutely sensitive to the imperfect feeling of our faith, says that true faith “clings so fast to the inmost parts that, however it seems to be shaken or to bend this way or that, its light is never so extinguished or snuffed out that it does not at least lurk as it were beneath the ashes” (Institutes). Like David prays in Psalm 139:11–12our faith may often slip away from our sight, but it does not slip away from God who gave it in the first place.

Separate your feelings from the truth.

2. Find a friend to remind you of the truth.

Depression gets you stuck inside your head. Your brain becomes a swirling mass of half-truths and distorted perceptions. Up seems down; truth seems stranger than fiction. It’s impossible to think straight. It’s like looking upside down in a hall of darkened mirrors.

During these times, I need someone to tell me the truth. Not in a corrective way or as an exhortation, but simply as an anchor. I need someone to say, “Listen, here’s what’s true. I know it doesn’t feel true, but it’s true. Right now, you feel like you are doomed. But God is with you. He loves you and won’t let you go.”

“Just twenty minutes in the sun can do wonders for the darkened brain and the sunken soul.”

If you’re depressed, one of your greatest temptations is to shut people out. And I get that. It’s really hard to let people into the cage of your life. But you need someone to gently remind you of what’s real; a faithful friend to walk through the valley of depression with you.

When your friend speaks the truth to you, it gives you something to grab onto. In the moments of darkness, don’t believe what your mind is telling you. Believe the words of your faithful friend.

3. Give sunshine to the soul.

There is an intimate connection between the body and soul. The body often charts the way forward and the soul follows in the wake. When your body is deeply sick, it pulls your soul downward, like a weight tied around the ankle.

I’ve found that one of the most effective methods for increasing my faith begins with my body. When I exercise or go for a walk or sit in the sunshine, my body feels better. Blood and oxygen pump through my body, refreshing and nurturing it. When I feel better, I think more clearly and see things more accurately.

When I think more clearly, I can more easily process and embrace God’s promises.

When I embrace God’s promises, my faith surges.

Charles Spurgeon, who often fought depression, said,

A day’s breathing of fresh air upon the hills, or a few hours’ ramble in the beech woods’ umbrageous calm, would sweep the cobwebs out of the brain of scores of our toiling ministers who are now but half alive. A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in the wind’s face, would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is the next best.

“God loves you even though you don’t feel it. He can handle your life even when you can’t.”

If you’re depressed, embrace the sunshine. Go for a walk or a jog. Sit on your porch and feel the warmth on your face. Drink your coffee and watch the sun rise.

You won’t feel like it. You’ll want to hole up in the darkness of your room or stay in bed. But just twenty minutes in the sun can do wonders for the darkened brain and the sunken soul.

A Grip Stronger Than Your Own

Ultimately, your hope in depression hinges on Jesus. He’s holding onto you even when it feels like you’re free falling. You may be in the dark, but your Shepherd is walking right beside you. He knows what it’s like to be overwhelmed by grief and swallowed by bleakness.

Your grip on life may falter, but his grip on you won’t.

15 Subtle Signs Of Depression That Everyone Ignores

SOURCE:  Silouan Green/Lifehack

Depression begins its terror in subtle ways that can go unnoticed to others. I spent years there myself recovering from a terrible jet crash and some other unfortunate events. The perceived isolation and hopelessness can be numbing, the inevitability of a horrible fate as real as the sun rising.

I have spoken hundreds of times on depression and PTSD and I’m always asked something like, “I want to help, but people don’t always tell you when they are suffering and need help.” That is true, but there are still signs, and you can use these signs as a signal to respond.

Reach out to those who seem depressed:

You should never be afraid to engage with someone who is depressed. Your hand might be just what they need to begin the process of coming out of the dark and healing. Remind them that they are not alone. Follow your gut, and to help with that, here are 15 things you can look for if you are concerned someone you know might be depressed.

Look for these signs of depression:

  1. Sadness – An overwhelming mood of sadness. You see it in their faces. Often it is unexplainable. Don’t be afraid to let them know how they look and that you are concerned.
  2. AnxietyMind numbing anxiety. They go to sleep and their head won’t stop spinning. Waking up, they look just as anxious as they did when they went to bed.Be patient with them, just sitting and listening can help to calm them.
  3. Poor Concentration and memory – “Where did I put that list, I forgot that appointment, what was their name?” Let them know you forget things sometimes too! Encourage them to write down and make lists. Writing itself is therapeutic.
  4. Guilt and Bad thoughtsLife seems to come in waves, all the bad things and disappointments in life feel immediate. Talk to them about your own guilt. Guilt is worse when we think we are alone with it.
  5. Emotions of lossThere is a hole in their heart, they are missing something that they don’t know how to fill. Remind them that the best way to make sense of loss is by how we live. Some things can’t be replaced, but we shouldn’t let loss stop us from living which only makes the hole deeper.
  6. InsomniaThey try everything – white noise, the couch, warm milk, – yet all they do is get deeper and deeper into the numbness of Insomnia. Encourage routines, no late night eating or drinking, turn off the TV, phone, etc.
  7. Hopelessness – “Hope, what hope! Life is what it is and will only get worse.”The best way to bring someone hope is to engage with them.
  8. Eating ExtremesFrom starving themselves to gorging, food can become a drug for the depressed. Keep a good eye on this, don’t let them keep this habit in the dark. Confront them.
  9. FatigueThey are tired all the time. Help them with a sleeping and waking routine. Encourage a healthy diet, and a curb in the TV watching and internet browsing.
  10. Pessimism – “You can’t help, I’ve tried everything, this is all I’ll ever be.”Encourage them to get it out, write it down, and see it for what it is.
  11. Suicidal ideations – “Death would be better than this, death would solve my problems, everyone would be better off if I was dead.” One of the best ways to lower the risk of suicide is to encourage someone to tell you when they are thinking of suicide. Don’t be afraid, talking about it lowers the chances it will happen.
  12. IrritabilityThe smallest things can set off a flood of emotion. Again, show patience. A willingness to just sit and listen while the storm passes.
  13. Aches and PainsBack hurts, legs hurt, headaches, and no amount of massages help. Go see a Doctor! Find out if the pain is coming from an acute condition or from the stress of the depression.
  14. RecklessnessDrugs, sex, speed, life without restraints because we don’t really want to be there. Put a mirror to their actions. Ask questions. Help them set limits.
  15. Isolation – “I’d rather be alone, leave me alone.” Find ways to interact with them – coffee, a walk, a movie together – whatever it takes to regularly engage with them so at least they can count on you.

Act Today!

The signs you see may be nothing, or they could be a clue to deeper problems. Regardless, life is better when we look out for each other and remind ourselves that all of us have experienced those moments of despair and hopelessness. Reach out to someone today.

It’s Never Too Late for Jesus

SOURCE:  desiringgod.org /Constantine Campbell 

Death is the great enemy, though many of us live in denial of it.

Our culture tries to hide death. We don’t see bodies in the streets, as in some parts of the world. Corpses go straight to the morgue or the funeral home — out of sight and out of mind. Many of us have never seen a dead body. Fewer have witnessed a person actually die. We would rather not think about death, we don’t like to talk about it, and we’d prefer to pretend it won’t happen to us.

But it will happen to us. In fact, in one hundred years from now, everyone reading this will be dead. Does that sound harsh? That’s because it is harsh! But it is also true.

Only as we confront the reality of death will we appreciate the hope of resurrection. There is nothing like death to make us desire resurrection.

John 11 begins with a sick Lazarus. His sisters Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus to come to Bethany (John 11:1–3). But Jesus does not go right away. He delays. In fact, he waits two days — until Lazarus is dead (John 11:4–7, 11, 14) — because he knows exactly what he is about to do.

Grieving with Hope

As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was approaching the village, she went to meet him, while Mary remained seated at the house (John 11:20). This is a little strange, isn’t it? Why does Martha go out to meet Jesus while Mary stays put? Is it simply that Martha is the more active of the two? Is it because she is the one who gets things done, while Mary likes to sit (Luke 10:38–42)? Maybe. Or maybe there is something else going on.

Martha’s words to Jesus must have been hard to hear: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). Given his great power and the signs he has performed already, Martha believed that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’s death. But what she says next is extraordinary: “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:22). Martha does not know the end of this story, as we do. She has no idea what Jesus is about to do and she does not expect him to raise Lazarus from the dead. And yet she expresses hope even after death has occurred. It is as though she is saying, “I don’t know what you can do now, Jesus, but I have hope that you can do something.”

Jesus immediately comforts Martha by saying, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23). He tells her exactly what he plans to do, but Martha misunderstands: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24). While she misses Jesus’s direct meaning, her response is a good one. She expresses hope through theology. Martha holds to the Jewish belief in the resurrection of the dead that will occur on the last day (Daniel 12:1–2; John 5:28–29).

The Resurrection and the Life

Jesus takes Martha’s belief in resurrection at the last day and redirects it toward himself.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26a).

I don’t think Martha understood at that moment what Jesus said. How could Jesus be the resurrection? What does that mean? Why does resurrection occur for those who believe in Jesus? While she may harbor such questions, she responds again with belief when Jesus asks, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:26b). “Yes, Lord,” Martha says, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (John 11:27).

But why does Martha respond this way? Jesus says he is the resurrection and the life, and Martha says yes, you are the Christ. What is the connection between the Christ and resurrection? Again Martha shows herself to be a theologian as she seems to understand the connection. In 2 Samuel 7:12–13, the LORD promises David that one of his offspring will rule on the throne that God will establish forever. If this Messiah is to rule forever, then surely he will not be ended by death. Either he will never die, or if he does die, he will not stay dead. There is thus a connection between resurrection and the Messiah, and Martha seems to understand that.

Grieving Without Hope

While Martha exhibits hope through theological insight, Mary’s interaction with Jesus is noticeably different. While Martha immediately went out to meet Jesus, Mary doesn’t go until Martha gets her (John 11:28). Then it is striking that Mary says the exact same thing that her sister said to Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32).

Mary utters the exact same words as Martha. But do they mean something different? Notice what Mary doesn’t say. She does not follow up this statement the way Martha did, with the words, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:22). No, Mary just says that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’s death — period. But now he’s dead, so that’s that. There is no hope expressed.

It seems like Mary did not entertain the idea that Jesus could do anything now that death has come. Death, after all, is the great enemy. Jesus might be able to heal the blind (John 9), turn water into wine (John 2:1–12), and prevent death (John 4:46–54), but no one can do anything about death once death comes. Right?

Mary’s lack of hope in the face of death is understandable. Sure, Jesus is powerful and can do amazing things, but even today no one can do anything about death. With all our advanced science and medicine, the best we can do is delay death. We can put it off a while. But we cannot prevent it from happening in the end. And once it happens, there is nothing we can do about it. The finality of death is clear to all humanity — past and present. Mary accepts this finality and there is no hope.

Jesus Can Always Do Something

Jesus’s response to Mary also contrasts Martha. After Martha expressed hope, Jesus comforted her with the amazing words that Lazarus would rise again and that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. But what is his response to Mary? There is no word of comfort. There is no theological promise. He just says, “Where have you laid him?” (John 11:34).

But it’s also interesting to note Jesus’s nonverbal response to Mary: “When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, he was angry in his spirit and troubled” (John 11:33). Most translations smooth out the phrase, “he was angry,” but this is what the text literally says. It is smoothed out because it is not clear why Jesus is angry. Why is he angry when he sees Mary’s grief?

The usual explanation is that Jesus is angry at the tyranny of death. He is angry to see what death does to relationships and to those left behind. It is awful. It is wrong. This reason for Jesus’s anger makes sense, but there might be another explanation. Could it be that Jesus is angry and troubled because Mary grieves as one without hope? After all, he was not angry in his encounter with Martha, who expressed hope.

In fact, Jesus gets angry a second time (John 11:38), but this is in response to what Mary’s fellow mourners say: “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37). Ignoring the paragraph break, Jesus’s immediate response is again to become angry. Could it be that he is angry because they too lack hope in the face of death? Yes, the crowd knows Jesus is powerful — he opened the eyes of the blind man — he could have prevented Lazarus’s death. But once death has occurred? Not even Jesus can do anything about that, right?

Wrong.

Neither Martha nor Mary knew that the story would end with a resurrected Lazarus. Mary saw death as the end, and not even Jesus could fix that. But Martha put her theology to work together with a trust that Jesus could always do something.

We should be more like Martha.

“In our dying hour, Christ lives.”

SOURCE:  J.C. Ryle/Tolle Lege

“The day may come when after a long fight with disease, we shall feel that medicine can do no more, and that nothing remains but to die. Friends will be standing by, unable to help us. Hearing, eyesight, even the power of praying, will be fast failing us. The world and its shadows will be melting beneath our feet. Eternity, with its realities, will be looming large before our minds.

What shall support us in that trying hour? What shall enable us to feel, ‘I fear no evil’? (Psalm 23:4.) Nothing, nothing can do it but close communion with Christ. Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith,—Christ putting His right arm under our heads,—Christ felt to be sitting by our side,—Christ can alone give us the complete victory in the last struggle.

Let us cleave to Christ more closely, love Him more heartily, live to Him more thoroughly, copy Him more exactly, confess Him more boldly, follow Him more fully. Religion like this will always bring its own reward. Worldly people may laugh at it. Weak brethren may think it extreme. But it will wear well. At even[ing] time it will bring us light. In sickness it will bring us peace. In the world to come it will give us a crown of glory that fadeth not away.

The time is short. The fashion of this world passeth away. A few more sicknesses, and all will be over. A few more funerals, and our own funeral will take place. A few more storms and tossings, and we shall be safe in harbour. We travel towards a world where there is no more sickness,—where parting, and pain, and crying, and mourning, are done with for evermore.

Heaven is becoming every year more full, and earth more empty. The friends ahead are becoming more numerous than the friends astern. ‘Yet a little time and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry.’ (Heb. 10:37.) In His presence shall be fulness of joy. Christ shall wipe away all tears from His people’s eyes. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is Death. But he shall be destroyed. Death himself shall one day die. (Rev. 20:14.)

In the meantime let us live the life of faith in the Son of God. Let us lean all our weight on Christ, and rejoice in the thought that He lives for evermore. Yes: blessed be God! Christ lives, though we may die. Christ lives, though friends and families are carried to the grave. He lives who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light by the Gospel.

He lives who said, ‘O death, I will be thy plagues: O grave, I will be thy destruction.’ (Hos. 13:14.) He lives who will one day change our vile body, and make it like unto His glorious body. In sickness and in health, in life and in death, let us lean confidently on Him. Surely we ought to say daily with one of old, ‘Blessed be God for Jesus Christ!’”

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–J.C. Ryle, “Sickness” in Practical Religion: Being Plain Papers on the Daily Duties, Experience, Dangers, and Privileges of Professing Christians (London: Charles Murray, 1900), 372-374.

Do You Want To Be Healed

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian Counselors [AACC]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus asked him — Do you want to be healed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Just Don’t Have What It Takes….

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

When we are dealing with a life-interfering problem … whether it is a behavior, thought pattern, or feeling … we may begin to think, “What’s the use? I’ll never overcome this. I’ve tried a number of times, and failed … again and again. I just don’t have what it takes to get things right.” Or “After all this effort to do something about my issues, I haven’t made any progress.”

Two common explanations I hear when patients come into my office for a psychiatric evaluation are, “You know doc, I’ve tried to change so many times, but I guess this is the way God made me and I am stuck like this,” or “This is the way I was born and there is no escaping it.”

Here’s the Bad News. Do you know what? All these statements are true to some extent.

We probably don’t have what it takes. Step 1 of AA got it right: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol (you insert whatever habit or life-interfering pattern you struggle with) — that our lives had become unmanageable. Then follows Step 2: We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Now the Good News! We know this Power.

It’s Jesus.

The real Big Book (This is what the AA Book is called), The Holy Bible, promises us that we can do all things … through Christ who strengthens us. If we are willing to commit our lives to Him, He will give us the wisdom, strength, and most of all, the courage we need to do what is right. He will guide us on the right path. And we are rarely alone as He often sends other people to us, to help in these various areas of support, along the way.

But growth doesn’t just happen overnight and growth never happens randomly. Satan has a strategy to defeat us. So, in order to experience growth, we need a strategy to defend ourselves and fight back. This is what we call the sanctification process … our spiritual journey. Putting on the Armor of God. What strategy do you usually tap into each day? How intentional are you at implementing your plan throughout the day? How is your strategy working?

To receive this power from Christ, we need a strategy. First, we need to admit that we need help. Knowing we are in trouble and admitting we will accept help are two different things. Many see they are struggling, but few are willing to relinquish control to someone else. We need to be honest with ourselves, with Him, and with others. We need to take off the mask of self-sufficiency and get real. We must quit using our own instruction manuals and start using His for all of life’s situations. We must start seeing life through the Godly lenses of His Holy Bible. That’s what transformed my life, and it can certainly transform yours.

Today, if you’re dealing with a problem that seems hopeless … take the first step. Admit you need help. Then, ask God for His plan. Ask him for strength through Christ. Admit to safe and caring people that you need help.  Whether you apply the Bible (Best Instruction Book for Living Everyday) to develop your daily strategy or you use the instruction manual you are making up on the fly is your decision, so choose well.

Dear Father God, I’ve been trying everything I know to overcome my problem with short spurts and shortcuts, but nothing seems to work for the long run. I need … and desire Your strength and guidance. Help me to be honest about my need for help by sharing with those You send to help me. Help me remember that I can succeed … through Christ. Next I need to know how to apply that. Help me learn to apply Your word to my life, minute by minute, instead of using my own understanding. I pray this and all prayers through the One whom You sent to compensate for all my shortcomings, Jesus Christ;  AMEN!

The Truth
For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. Proverbs 3:5-8

The Depression Epidemic

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

Twenty five percent of the US population, 75 million people, will suffer from clinical depression at some point in their lives.

Most people suffering from chronic depression feel so utterly unlovable, that they cannot bear the pain of even trying to experience love in a relationship with God, with themselves, or with others. They feel like a failure and think that anyone who disagrees with their assessment, just doesn’t understand. Even if you are not suffering from chronic depression, you may experience feelings like this at momentary low points in your life … almost every person does.

If that’s how you feel, think about this good news: God knows you better than you know yourself, and He still loves you. He knows you are not perfect, but He loves you anyway … unconditionally. He loves you so much that He sent His only son, Jesus, to die on the cross for your sins because He wanted to provide a way for you to be with Him … forever … no matter how sinful or worthless you think you are.

God loves you so much, He has even promised never to leave you. The Bible tells us that He is full of compassion for you … He takes pleasure in you … He loves you and gives you honor … You are precious in his sight. He promises He will love you forever.

If you suffer from depression, seek professional help. Even though they don’t cure depression, medications are incredibly helpful for the symptoms of depression. This will allow you to work on some of the underlying foundation cracks and issues that fuel your depression.

If you aren’t depressed, give thanks and then work on strengthening a solid spiritual and psychological foundation of understanding who God is, who you are, and how to be a Godly decision-maker in all you do. This will renew your mind, the actual biology of your brain chemistry. It is the most effective strategy to prevent and protect you from depression and other mental health and addiction struggles when the storms of life come your way. The Bible calls them trials and tribulations, or times of refining and purification.

Today, help yourself by reading the short bible passages below. Let His message sink deeply into you. The Bible says Jesus loves you so much that He seeks after you. You are never alone. Right this very moment you may feel alone, but you are not. Jesus is there with you, seeking to help you. Say yes. Yes to his love. Yes to his help. Yes to Jesus. The Holy Bible is true. You can believe it. He is the Word and the great healer, so His word does heal. Pass this Stepping Stones onto someone you know who is struggling. God has help for you. Whether you engage God to change your lenses and improve your mood or you keep your same lenses is your decision, so choose well.

Dear Father God, I thank You for loving me no matter what. Thank You for promising to be with me … always … and for honoring that promise, even though I don’t sense it sometimes. Help my radar tune in strongly to know You are always there. Thank You for showing me reminders of your presence each day. Help me not to overlook them. When I start to feel alone, help me rely on Your instruction book and not my own. I pray this and all prayers in the name of the One who bled every drop of His blood for me, Jesus Christ;  – AMEN!

The Truth
God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”  Hebrews 13:5-6

The LORD is gracious and compassionate; slow to anger and rich in love.                Psalm 145:8

For the LORD takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation.  Psalm 149:4

Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life.  Isaiah 43:4

The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”  Jeremiah 31:3

I Can’t FIX… It…Him…Her………

SOURCE:  Living Free/Dr. Jimmy Ray Lee

“Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken.” Psalm 62:5-6 NLT

Some of us—if not all of us—have known the frustration of being caught up in a situation we can’t control and can’t fix.

Are you suffering pressures, stress and pain from dealing with the consequences of a loved one’s problem?

Those pressures are very real, but even in the middle of that frustration and tension, you need to believe that there is hope.

This kind of hope can be described as the confident expectation of something good. It is hope based on our knowledge of God and his willingness to meet us right where we are. He is here now and is ready to work in us and in our difficult circumstances.

If you are not already doing so, determine to begin spending regular time praying and studying the Bible. When feelings of hopelessness fill your mind, go to God in prayer. Ask him for his strength. Ask him to bring to mind the promises you have studied from the Bible. Ask him to work his will and his plan in your life and in the life of your loved one. He loves you and he will meet your need.

Lord, thank you for this reminder that there is always hope if I am willing to trust in you. You alone are my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken. In Jesus’ name …


These thoughts were drawn from …

Concerned Persons: Because We Need Each Other by Jimmy Ray Lee, D.Min.

Do you want to be healed?

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC)

[John 5:1-9]

38 years in a bed.

Next to a pool.

Sounds relaxing doesn’t it?

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

Suddenly a commotion just inside the gate caused everyone to turn and look. A Man, followed by a large crowd, walked through one of five alcoves. With humble determination, He moved to the crippled man’s side. Whispers fill the air. “Is it Him?” some ask.

Every ear strains to hear what He might say as He kneels tenderly next to the man. And then, with a quiet strong voice full of power and grace, He asked, “Do you want to be healed?”

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

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

Jesus asked him — Do you want to be healed?

Each of us, at some point in our lives, have heard Him ask us the same question. Whether it’s physically… emotionally… relationally… or spiritually.

Too often, we answer with the same timidity he did. Our pain is too deep. The hurt has been lodged in our heart for way too long. The doctors have tried everything. Hopelessness fills our souls…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you want to be healed?”

The next time He asks you that heartfelt question, reflect on these verses before you answer.

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

When Suicide Comes Close

SOURCE:  Ed Welch/CCEF

I will never forget the first time suicide came close to me.

I met with a young woman who was leaving her mission work in Eastern Europe. She was haunted by an experience but could not even talk about it—my guess was that she was burdened by an inappropriate relationship with a
young man who lived there.

Two months later I received a letter from her parents. “We want to thank you for your kindness toward our daughter and let you know that her misery is now over. She took her own life two weeks ago.” The letter was full of faith, grace, hope and grief. I kept it in the top drawer of my desk for over a decade, though I did not need either the reminder that those we care about can take their own lives or the added injection of guilt and endless “what if’s.” They were already inscribed in me. The only reason my regrets from her death don’t linger is that they have been replaced by other suicides.

Suicide has come close to most of us. We have read of the recent suicide of a beloved pastor’s son. We know that military veterans take their own lives every day, and even children can speak about an internal darkness that once was only found in those with accumulated years of trouble and pain.

What have we learned?

  • Most suicide is connected to depression. Somehow, depression is even worse than chronic physical pain. Perhaps this is because people in physical pain can still see the good in life and can still hope, while those who are depressed are handicapped at seeing either.
  • Those who are depressed can seem to be doing better before they take their own life. This does not always happen, and a lifting of depression is not evidence that suicide is sure to come. It simply means that a sure prediction of suicide is only possible after someone has taken his or her life, not before
  • Suicide leaves a broad wake of regrets. Hindsight causes us to think of dozens of things we could have done differently. The reality is that we are people who can control very little.
  • When we notice a loved one withdrawing from things once enjoyed, such as people, hobbies, work or even aesthetic pleasures, we move toward that person and ask the questions that are on our hearts. “How are you? I have been wondering if life has been hard for you recently.” “You have been on my mind. Maybe that’s because you seem a little more withdrawn and sad. How can I pray for you?”
  • When we are concerned for another person and don’t know how to help, we ask wise members of the community to partner with us.
  • When hope wanes, human life is in jeopardy. The two are inseparably linked. So we set out to become people of hope, which just happens to be a dominant message throughout the New Testament. The early church had an intimate knowledge of human suffering. They knew something of a life that seemed devoid of the good. They had to practice seeing eternal realities by faith or they would not last the day. You can almost hear them talking among themselves after reading an apostolic letter: “Brother, sister, let’s endure together, let’s set our eyes on Jesus, let’s reach out and taste the joy that is just up ahead, and let’s pray that the Spirit would give us these things.”

Lord have mercy on those besieged by depression. Don’t let the darkness talk to them. May they hear words of a deeper reality and the genuine hope we have because Jesus is alive.

You Matter To God

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

We’ve all read the story of the woman who had an issue of blood for 12 years.

You know her; she touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, hoping to be healed. Let’s look more closely at her story to understand how deeper healing takes place. (Read Mark 5 and Luke 8 for the story.)

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

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

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

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

Jairus was a person of influence and importance. He was a leader: he spoke and people listened. He risked everything to beg for Jesus’ help and now Jesus was wasting time asking who touched him while his daughter lay dying.

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

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

Jesus wanted her to know that she mattered to God.

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

How about you? Perhaps your mother abused you. Maybe your husband rejects you, or people don’t understand you. You feel like an unclean women, like damaged goods. If only you could touch his cloak, you’d be well. I have good news for you. Daughter, go in peace and be freed from your suffering. God wants to help you. He wants you to know that you matter. You are important to him. He sees you and knows you and he is never too busy with more important people to meet your very personal need. You are not nameless, or worthless, or hopeless. You have a daddy, he’s called Abba (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). Believing that is the beginning of your healing.

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

What is Jesus saying to you right now, even in the midst of sorrow, heartache, broken dreams and shattered promises? Can you trust what he is saying and continue to walk in faith? That is healing.

He says to you right now, “Honey, wake up”.

Learning To Love The Person I Married

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

How do I revive a wilting marriage?

Question: My marriage isn’t terrible, but it isn’t great either. I often think I married the wrong person and that I would be happier with someone different. How do I learn to love the person I married instead of always dreaming of what might have been?

Answer: Believe it or not, your situation is not all that uncommon. I’ve talked with many women who do not have a bad marriage but are unhappy with the person they are married to. The love they once felt toward their husband, they no longer feel. Or, as they look back, they realize that they married their husband for the wrong reason like wanting to get out of their parent’s home or to have children.

That said, you are married, so what do you do? You have a couple of choices, none of which may feel very appealing to you right now. One is you can continue to regret your choice, live in “what if” and be unhappy. Sadly, if you continue to do that, your marriage will get worse. You cannot change the past. You cannot relive your decision. Living in regret is a waste of time and energy. You did it, it’s done. Move on.

That brings you to your next two choices. One is to give up. You can choose to end your marriage. I don’t say that lightly nor do I believe that is the best choice, but it is a choice. God allows us free will even if we choose poorly. But divorce is not an easy decision and is not without serious consequences relationally, spiritually, emotionally and financially.

I’m glad your question is really about the third choice. How might you learn to love the person you married? I have some friends who are in an arranged marriage. When they married, they were virtually strangers. But they have learned to love each other. It is probably not the Hollywood, romantic version of Valentine love, but a deep trust, a safe harbor type of love which endures over the ups and downs of family life.

Here are some things you can do which will help you come to better love the man you’re married to. I call them the five A’s of relationship revival: Acceptance, Attention, Affirmation, Admiration and Affection.

1. Acceptance: No one has a perfect marriage or perfect spouse. Learn to be content with the person you married instead of trying to remake him into the person you think he should be.

You said that it is not a bad marriage. What’s good about it? Is your husband faithful? Good with the children? Does he provide for your well-being financially? Is he handy with house repairs? No one gets all 52 cards in the deck when they marry. All of us have strengths and weaknesses, and the things that bug us the most after marriage are often the things that we loved the most while dating. For example, I love that my husband enjoys doing things with me and talking, however he’s not crazy about tackling work around the house. I can focus on what he doesn’t do, but when I do that I feel more and more upset, lose sight, and forget to give thanks for all the good things he does do.

2. Attention: In all of life, what you don’t maintain deteriorates. This is true with your nails, your body, your home, your car, and it’s true with your marriage. Make time for your husband and marriage. Take the time to talk, to play, and to have romance together. Even if you’re not always in the mood, being intentional about giving attention puts the structure in place to build on the other things in your marriage. When you were dating, you probably spent lots of quality time together. That’s what helped bond you together. When you don’t invest the time, don’t expect to get the results.

3. Affirmation: Think about the things that drew you to him in the first place. Was he a strong leader? Perhaps he was very kind and generous, funny, or a good money manager. Let your mind remember his good qualities. When he gets home, tell him how much you like or appreciate those qualities in him.

4. Admiration: Affirmation is more external, it is something we do. Admiration is more internal. It is something that we feel towards another person. But our feelings are linked to our thoughts, and so we must train our mind to give thanks and dwell on our husband’s good points, not his weaknesses. The apostle Paul tells us to think on the positive things in life, not the negative things (Philippians 4:8). In this passage, Paul’s not pretending that there aren’t negative things, but if we dwell on them we will make ourselves unhappy.

5. Affection: Every human being needs touch. Put your arm through your husband’s arm during a movie or church service. Hold hands. Rub his back. If you’re wary that you’ll be giving your husband the message you want sex, (and do not) then do it in a more public place or at a time when more romance is not possible. However, good sex is a way to improve marital intimacy. Remember, talk and touch are the primary ways we build intimacy.

8 Lies That Destroy Marriage

SOURCE:  Bill Elliff/Family Life Ministry

Imagine meeting with an engaged couple a few weeks before they are married. With excitement they describe how they met and how their relationship developed. The husband-to-be proudly describes how he set up a perfect romantic evening so he could pop the big question.

Then they surprise you by saying, “We want to get married and have some children. At first we will feel a lot of love for each other. Then we’ll start arguing and hating each other. In a few years, we’ll get a divorce.”

Who would enter marriage intending to get a divorce? And yet, divorce is occurring at alarming rates. A large number of people in my church have been hurt deeply by divorce—they’ve been divorced themselves, or they’ve felt the pain of a parent or relative divorcing.

As common as divorce is, I’m convinced that most of them could be avoided. Mark this down on the tablet of your heart: Every wrong behavior begins with believing a lie. Our culture promotes many deceptions that can quickly destroy a marriage. Here are eight:

Lie #1. “My happiness is the most important thing about my marriage.”  

As a pastor, I can’t tell you how many people have justified breaking up their marriages by saying, “I have to do this. God just wants me to be happy.”

But according to God’s Word, a spouse’s individual happiness is not the purpose for marriage.

The Bible says in Colossians 3:17: “Whatever you do in word or deed,” do for the glory of God. While all parts of creation are to glorify God, mankind was made in God’s very image. Through marriage, husbands and wives are to reflect His character and have children who will reflect His character … all the way to the end of time.

Every marriage knows unhappiness. Every marriage knows conflict. Every marriage knows difficulty. But everyone can be joyful in their marriage by focusing on God’s purposes and His glory instead of individual happiness.

Lie #2. “If I don’t love my spouse any longer, I should get a divorce.”   

It’s a tragedy to lose love in marriage. But the loss of human love can teach us to access a deeper love—the very love of God Himself. That love is patient and kind … it never fails (1 Corinthians 13). It even cares for its enemies.

When human love dies in a marriage, a couple can enter into one of the most exciting adventures they’ll ever have: learning how to love each other with God’s love. Romans 5:5 tells us that this very love “has been poured out within our hearts, through the Holy Spirit.”

Lie #3. “My private immorality does not affect my marriage.”

A lot of people think, I can view pornography in the privacy of my home. It’s just me and my magazine, or computer … it doesn’t affect my marriage.

Oneness in marriage is hijacked by sexual immorality. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:15, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?”

In the 21st century, there are many ways to join oneself with a prostitute: physically, through the pages of a magazine, on a computer’s video screen, etc. Paul’s advice is the same today as it was thousands of years ago: Flee immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18).

If you take your emotional and sexual energy and spend it on someone else, there will be nothing left for your spouse. Those who continually view pornography or engage in sexual fantasies are isolating themselves.

Lie #4. “My sin (or my spouse’s sin) is so bad that I need to get a divorce.”

The truth is God can fix our failures—any failure. The Bible says to forgive one another, just as God in Christ has forgiven us (Colossians. 3:13).

“But,” you ask, “Doesn’t Matthew 19:9 say that God allows divorce in the case of sexual immorality?” Yes. I believe that it does—when there is an extended period of unrepentance. Yet, nowhere in that passage does God demand divorce. When there is sexual sin, we should seek to redeem the marriage and so illustrate the unfathomable forgiveness of God.

Some of the greatest life messages I know are the marriages of people who have repented from sexual sin and spouses who have forgiven them. Their lives today are living testimonies to the truth found in Joel 2:25: “… I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten.”

Lie #5. “I married the wrong person.”

Many people have told me, for example, that they are free to divorce because they married an unbeliever. “I thought he/she would become a Christian, but that didn’t happen. We need to get a divorce.” They recall that they knew it was a mistake, but they married anyway—hoping it would work out. Others claim that they just married someone who wasn’t a good match, someone who wasn’t a true “soul mate.”

A wrong start in marriage does not justify another wrong step. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good,” says Romans 8:28, “to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

God tells us not to be poured into the world’s mold. Instead we are to be transformed and that begins in our minds. By doing this, God will give us exactly what we need for our lives. God’s will for us is good, acceptable, and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).

Here’s the key for those who are now married: The Bible clearly says do not divorce (with the exception for extended, unrepentant sexual immorality). God can take even the worst things of life and work them together for good if we will just trust Him.

Lie #6. “My spouse and I are incompatible.” 

I don’t know a lot of husbands and wives who are truly compatible when they get married. In marriage, God joins together two flawed people.

If I will respond correctly to my spouse’s weaknesses, then God can teach me forgiveness, grace, unconditional love, mercy, humility, and brokenness. The life of a person who believes in Jesus Christ is developed by responses to not only happy things, but also to difficulties. And those very difficulties include weaknesses.

That is why we are told in Colossians 3:12-13 to “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other.” My spouse’s weaknesses are not hindrances. Instead, they are the doorway to spiritual growth. This is a liberating truth.

If I will respond to my spouse’s shortcomings with unconditional acceptance, my love won’t be based on performance. I won’t say, “You need to live up to these expectations.” I will be able to accept my spouse, weaknesses and all. And that acceptance will swing open the door of change for not only my spouse, but also for me.

Lie #7. “Breaking the marriage covenant won’t hurt me or my children.”

When divorce enters a family, there are always scars. I know this firsthand; although I was an adult when my father committed adultery and divorced my mother, decades later there are still effects. Many consequences of divorce never go away.

Blake Hudspeth, our church’s youth pastor, also understands the pain of divorce. He was 5 years old when his parents divorced, and it was hard for him to understand God as Father and to trust people. “The people I trusted the most split up.” He also found it difficult to accept love from others “because I didn’t know if they truly loved me.” And Blake developed a fear of marriage. “Am I going to follow the trend of divorce, because my parents and grandparents divorced?”

Blake’s father even wrote him and said, “This was the worst decision I made in my life. It was bad. It hurt you. It hurt our family. When I divorced your mom, I divorced our family because I broke a covenant that we were a part of.”

Blake says that his parents (who both remarried) have embraced the gospel, resulting in him readily accepting advice and encouragement from them. “Watching the gospel play out … with my mom and dad was huge,” he says.

Lie #8. “There’s no hope for my marriage—it can’t be fixed.” 

This may be the most devastating lie of all. Because in more than four decades of counseling couples, I’ve seen God do the seeming impossible thousands of times. In a dying marriage, He just needs two willing parties. God knows how to get us out of the messes we get ourselves into.

I tell these couples about people like Chuck and Ann, who were involved in drugs and alcohol before God restored their home. Or Lee and Greg, who were engaged in multiple affairs. God brought them back to Christ and to each other. Now they have six children and a marriage ministry. Or Jim and Carol who had taken off their wedding rings and were living in separate bedrooms and about to live in separate worlds when God redeemed them.

If you begin to think, There is no hope for my marriage, realize that, “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

We must combat the lies about marriage. The truth will set us free (John 8:32). God can fix anything!

Oppressed and Burdened — Ready to Give Up and Sink?

SOURCE:  Octavius Winslow as posted by Deejay O’Flaherty 

Come All Ye Burdened Ones

Come, oppressed and burdened believer, ready to give up all and sink!

Behold Jesus, the Almighty God, omnipotent to transfer your burden to Himself, and give you rest!

It is well that you are sensible of the pressure — that you feel your weakness and insufficiency — and that you are brought to the end of all your own power. Now turn to your Almighty Friend, who is the Creator of the ends of the earth — the everlasting God, who does not faint, neither is weary.

Oh, what strength there is in Jesus for the weak, and faint, and drooping of His flock!

You are ready to succumb to your foes, and you think the battle of faith is lost. Cheer up! Jesus, your Savior, friend, and brother — is the Almighty God, and will perfect His strength in your weakness.

The battle is not yours, but His!

Jesus . . .
sustains our infirmities,
bears our burdens,
supplies our needs, and
encircles us with the shield of His Almightiness!

What a Divine spring of consolation and strength to the tired and afflicted saint, is the Almightiness of Jesus.

Your sorrow is too deep — your affliction too heavy — your difficulty too great for any mere human to resolve.  It distances in its intensity and magnitude, the sympathy and the power of man.

Come, you who are tempest-tossed and not comforted. Come, you whose spirit is wounded, whose heart is broken, whose mind is bowed down to the dust. Hide for a little while within Christ’s sheltering Almightiness! Jesus is equal to your condition.

His strength is almighty!
His love is almighty!
His grace is almighty!
His sympathy is almighty!
His arm is almighty!
His resources are infinite, fathomless, measureless!

And all this Almightiness is on your side, and will bring you through the fire and through the water.

Almighty to rescue — He is also your Brother and Friend to sympathize. And while His Divine arm encircles, upholds, and keeps you — His human soul, touched with the feeling of your infirmities, yearns over you with all the deep intensity of its compassionate tenderness!

“Yes, He is altogether lovely! This is my Beloved, and this is my Friend!”

Song of Songs 5:16

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Octavius Winslow (1808 – 1878), also known as “The Pilgrim’s Companion”, stood out as one of the foremost evangelical preachers of the 19th Century in England and America.

When we can’t count on anything else

SOURCE:  Ray Ortlund

What do you have going for you when everything is against you?  What will not fail you when what you thought was true and solid and real collapses beneath you?  Who will stand by you when friends forsake you and enemies see their opportunity?  What works when everything is on the line but nothing else is working?

This experience is inevitable.

We don’t have to go looking for it.  It will come find us.

God himself wrote it into our scripts.  But when this happens, we are forced to ask the basic question: What can I count on when I can’t count on anything else?

Psalm 139 is where to go for the answer.  When David found himself in that catastrophic place, he dug down into the foundations of his very existence.  This is the unchanging bedrock he found there:

God, you know me (verses 1-6).

God, you are with me (verses 7-12).

God, you made me (verses 13-18).

The psalm then turns on the hinge of verse 18b: “I awake, and I am still with you.”  David wakes up from his contemplations, lost for a while in his thoughts, and he is still with God as he returns mentally to “the real world” where nothing has changed.  But he has changed.  He has been renewed by meditating on God’s intensely personal care for him.  His boldness returns:

God, I am wholeheartedly for you (verses 19-24).

“How precious to me are your thoughts, O God” (Psalm 139:17).

“I’ve Got A Hole Inside Me”

Editors Note:  The following article is about the topic of  homosexuality.  In reality, what the author writes about could pertain to any life-controlling problem any of us is affected by.  Regardless of whether your life struggle is with homosexuality or not, read this article keeping your particular struggle in mind and know that your Heavenly Father  relates to you in the same way that this author experienced.

SOURCE:  Anonymous/Discipleship Journal

The reasons people develop a sexual attraction to persons of the same sex are varied and complex. One thing is certain: becoming a Christian does not automatically take away those wrong desires. Many, many homosexuals are able to change their orientation with the help of caring ministries and God’s power. But the battle is seldom easy.

A Christian man wrote the following testimony to read at his church’s support group. You may disagree with some of his perceptions. Nevertheless, we hope it will help you understand and develop compassion for those who struggle with homosexuality.

I’ve got a hole inside me. I’m not sure where it is, but I know it’s there. It’s deep, wide, and ugly, and if I don’t find ways to let God heal or fill it, it will continue to grow until I am all hole and no me.

My father helped dig the hole. He was a minister who loved his congregation and God more than his family. He wasn’t there for me. Because of his relationship with his father, he probably wouldn’t have known how to love me even if he had been there.

My mother helped dig the hole. She was alone while my father ministered, and I was cast in the role of her best friend, always there to keep her company.

Once when she travelled with my father, I was sexually abused by the oldest son of the family with whom I was staying. I tried to tell my parents, but I was five and I didn’t have the words. I dug the hole deeper. I was bad and dirty because I had allowed the older boy to touch me.

In early grade school, I knew I was different. I followed boys I admired home just to find out where they lived. In school I couldn’t look at them enough. If only, I thought. If only I could be like them in every way, maybe … maybe I would be whole instead of a hole.

I learned I could check out these boys in the school washrooms. Then in sixth grade, I discovered that in the downtown washrooms there were curious men like me. I thought I had come home.

I didn’t fit with the kids who went to church. I wasn’t concerned about whether it was wrong to go to movies. I wanted to know why God didn’t save me from my differentness and my desires. I tried to explain myself to our assistant pastor, and he said I had to resist sin or else. My hole got bigger.

As a teen, the hole was filled with pain. I knew I was a wretched sinner, and I had to keep up the appearance of being a nice person. I landscaped my deep hole—tall trees, low shrubs, even a weeping willow. Everyone loves weeping willows. I spent two semesters at a Christian college majoring in Bible, but I couldn’t keep up the pretense.

In desperation, I quit school, ended a long-term relationship with a male friend, and started attending a new church. There I heard about healing for homosexuals. I got busy in the local body of believers, but all my activity was like a shovel or two of dirt into my bottomless pit.

I started to date women—more shovels into my crater. Eventually I met a woman I thought I could commit to. I told her my homosexual behavior was in the past. On one level I thought I was being honest. Now, I know that, on a deeper level, I was aware of the deception.

I wanted to believe I could replace a bad habit with a good one. Perhaps marriage would be God’s ordained lid to fit over my chasm of pain. It was … for a while.

But my emptiness was too great. I started visiting forest preserves where I could meet others who were in pain. I would feel temporarily refreshed after these sexual encounters, but I knew they were wrong. When I tried to stop, the pain would become too much.

One day a forest ranger caught me and called the police. I was arrested for indecent exposure. I knew I had to deal with my problem: I had a compulsive habit.

I started attending Sexual Addicts Anonymous and Homosexuals Anonymous and Overcomers, all held in Bible-believing churches and attended by men like me who had grown up naming Jesus as Lord. I found a group of married Christian men whom I could talk with, pray with, and depend on, because we were all struggling.

I was surrounded by people who were incredibly gifted pray-ers. They made me accountable. They allowed me to call them night after night when I traveled for business.

All of their efforts helped to make my problem … worse!

I couldn’t stand it. Everyone else was getting it together with God, and I was actually going backwards. God was not supposed to work that way. I thought He had promised to make it all better.

What He really promised, of course, was that He would be with me. Big help that was! I wanted Him to fix me. The least He could do was fill up my horrible pit, right now! I had prayed, hadn’t I? He was the Mighty One, wasn’t He?

I felt hopeless, deserted, and alone. Something was wrong here. I hadn’t prayed right. I hadn’t done morning devotions correctly or long enough or early enough.

The only thing that comforted me was the psalms. David was a man in pain, and I was too. He cried as I did: “God, where are You?” There was no hope. I had tried everything I could think of. All the landscaping around the hole was uprooted and I stood staring down into the crater.

“God, where are You?” I cried. This time, instead of a hollow echo over my hole, I thought I heard Him answer, “Wait.” No! I couldn’t do that. I had to get healing. I had books to read on healing the homosexual. I had intense spiritual people to pray me out of this. But Jesus said, “Wait. I will be your good Shepherd, but you have to wait on Me. And I want you to learn to listen for My voice while you wait. Do you think you can handle this? It will not be easy.”

Wait! Learn to listen! I had exhausted all the alternatives. I had to do what God asked.

I’m gaining confidence in my Shepherd as I learn to wait. I’m learning to recognize His voice. At times, I feel His love wash over me. I’ve started to journal our conversations. I write what I think He is saying. Then I write my responses. I say, “Thank you, Lord.” He answers, “You’re welcome, special man.” Sometimes I think I will never stop crying, but He is crying with me.

Jesus never said He would just ZAP! and my hole would be filled, leaving the ground of my being unmarked. He said He would always be there for me. I am learning to wait on Him.

I’ve learned to see Him on the Cross. Sometimes when I ask for forgiveness, I see my sin go into Him as if it were lightning. Sometimes I see Him cutting the connections I’ve made in past unhealthy, sinful relationships. I see those bonds disappearing into the slash in His side.

My prayer: Thank You, Father, that You are using the pain in my life to teach me to stand before Your Cross and wait and listen. Thank You for my tears and Yours, which are just beginning to fill my crater. I’m vulnerable and scarred. You are the Master Landscaper who can take my internal disaster and create in me a garden for Your use, in Your time.

—Anonymous

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The author and his wife have been married for eleven years and are best friends. Although their relationship is platonic, they support and care for one another, openly discussing their feelings and struggles.

A Prayer about God Working in and Through Our Pain

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

Heavenly Father, the story wrapped around this one verse demonstrates there’s simply no other god as merciful, gracious, and engaged as you. Your forbearance is immeasurable; your kindness is inexhaustible; your plans are irrepressible. We worship and adore you.

When your people received this letter of encouragement from Jeremiah, they were in exile in Babylon. How could they not feel bereft, bewildered, even betrayed by you? Yet, by your own testimony, Father, when you lead us into difficult seasons, it’s not to punish us but to prosper us. When you send hardships, it’s not to bring us harm but to give us hope. When you discipline us, it’s not to send us into the “dog house” of your displeasure, but to free us from the consequences of our foolishness… and to guarantee our good future.

You’re not a God who reacts out of irritation, but one who always acts out of great affection. You know the plans you have for us, individually and corporately. There’s no happenstance in heaven; no randomness in redemption; no coincidences, just providences. You don’t make up things as you go along. You never engage in “trial and error.” “Stuff” doesn’t just happen, sovereignty is always happening.

Father, this way of thinking would be utter madness if you never sent Jesus—a big time spitting into the wind; the spin of all spins; delusional at best, demonic at worse. But Jesus is the “Yes” to every promise you have made. His life, death and resurrection are the guarantee of our gospel-prosperity, living hope, and glorious future. Apart from Jesus there is only hopelessness unimaginable. Because of Jesus there is joy unspeakable.

So bring the truth, grace and power of this gospel into our current situations; into our personal stories of pain; into the brokenness our local churches; and into the needs of our communities. Turn our sighs into songs, our cynicism into servanthood, and our grumblings into the rumblings of a coming visitation of the Holy Spirit. Comfort us that we might comfort one another. Bless us, that we might bless others. Mercy us, that we might mercy others. So very Amen we pray, in Jesus’ triumphant and compassionate name.

When life isn’t the way it is supposed to be…BOUNCE BACK!

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian Counselors

“The test of success is not what you do when you are on top. Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.” -General George S. Patton

“bounce /bouns/ verb – to cause to bound and rebound — to spring back in a lively manner…”

To “bounce” means the ability to fight through an issue, to be resilient, to be able to stabilize after adversity. To recover — and to thrive.

In 2009 Rick Hoyt completed the Boston Marathon. This race was officially his 1000th race. Since 1977, Rick has competed in marathons, duathlons, and triathlons (6 of them being Ironman competitions). In 1992 Rick “ran” 3,735 miles in 45 days. Coast-to-coast.

Rick was born in 1962 to Dick and Judy Hoyt. As a result of oxygen deprivation to Rick’s brain at the time of his birth, Rick was diagnosed as a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy. He would never walk or communicate as we do. He would never be “normal”. His life would be lived in a wheelchair.

In 1977, through the use of a special computer, Rick “told” his father that he wanted to participate in a 5-mile benefit run for a Lacrosse player who had been paralyzed in an accident. Not being a long-distance runner, Dick agreed to push Rick in his wheelchair. They finished all 5 miles, coming in next to last. “Team Hoyt” rose up from seemingly insurmountable odds and adversity. That’s “Bounce”!

When life simply isn’t fair. Filled with sickness… debt… or abandonment…

When the walls are pressing in… and you don’t even know your own name.

When you feel like you can’t breathe — or see. And there is absolutely nothing you can do.

When life isn’t the way it is supposed to be…

CONSIDER THIS:

  1. He understands. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that “…we do not have a high priest (Jesus the Son of God) who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses(frailty — feebleness — sickness — infirmities — troubles), but one who in every respect has been tempted (the trying and testing of our faith, virtue and character)as we are …” (4:14 ESV) He’s been there. He goes before you… and with you!
  2. He will strengthen you“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace… will Himself restoreconfirmstrengthen, and establish you.” (1Peter 5:10 ESV)

Bounce back!

Put the devil on notice in your life… It’s time to get your dreams back… Get your family back… Get your marriage back… Get your anointing back… Get your strength back… Get your step back… Get your confidence back… Get your fight back!

Claim the life changing principle in Genesis 50:20. What satan, or even other people in your life, meant for evil, God can turn it for your good.

“You are from God and have overcome them, for He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4 ESV)

Bounce back! It just might turn your life around.

Seeing God In The Dark

How do you find strength in God when your world is in ruins?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/J. I. Packer

The scene is familiar: You see it with heartbreaking regularity on TV.

A strong, rugged man stands beside a pile of burnt-out rubble that was once his home. He is in tears. He does not know where his family is or even if they are still alive. He has nowhere to turn for food or help. We find him pitiful and pathetic, but we are glad we are not in his shoes.

Where is this scene? Beirut? Baghdad? Dubrovnik? No, we are in Ziklag, a little Philistine town some forty miles southwest of Jerusalem. It is just over three thousand years ago, about 1015 B.C. The man is David, who later will be Israel’s king.  But at this point he is in his late twenties—a refugee, an outlaw, and a failed leader who seems doomed.

What has happened? The story is this. (See 1 Samuel 30:1–6.)

David, fleeing for his life from King Saul, had offered his services and those of his six hundred men to King Achish, a local Philistine potentate, as a kind of Foreign Legion. Achish had given them Ziklag for their home, and they had all brought their families and settled there. They had marched with the rest of Achish’s troops to a pan-Philistine muster against Israel. But Achish’s colleagues had refused to trust David and his men in a battle against their own people and had sent them packing.

Already depressed (for no army can be told it is not trusted without damage to its morale), they had trekked back to Ziklag and found it a smoking ruin. Desert raiders, Amalekites, had sacked it, burned it, and taken captive as slaves everyone they had found there. Six hundred homes and families were simply gone; hence, the tears of fury and pain. “David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep” (1 Sam. 30:4).

When people are smarting under an unexpected hurt, they want to relieve their feelings by finding a scapegoat, someone to blame. It was so here. David’s men got ugly and turned on their leader. They blamed him, one supposes, for being so preoccupied with pleasing Achish that he had marched every single able-bodied man to the muster, thus failing both them and their families by not leaving a guard to fend off raiders. Think of living in the old Wild West where Indians and bandits roamed; men went armed; and women and children never traveled save in the company of someone with a gun. It was that sort of world, and David’s error of judgment had been real. So we move to the point where “David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters” (v. 6).

Despair among the Ruins

We can see what was going through David’s mind as he stood, alone and tearful, by the ruins of his house. His great distress was compounded by several things.

There was personal loss: His own home and his own two wives were gone. But that was only the start of it.

There was, for sure, the recognition that through lack of forethought he had failed his men and their dependents. Nothing is more distressing to a good man or a real leader (David was both) than knowing you have let down those who trusted you.

There was his total isolation. Now not only Saul and the Philistines but his own men, too, had turned against him. Universal hostility, leaving you with no one to whom you can even talk on equal terms, is hard to bear.

There was the apparent hopelessness of the situation. The Amalekites had come on camels, and David and his men were on foot. They were already exhausted from their three-day, forty-mile march. What hope was there of catching the raiders, even if David could be sure where they had gone?

Also, there was, quite certainly, a crushing sense of God’s judgment. For David had played a double game with Achish. To curry favor with his Philistine patron, he had plundered villages, massacred their inhabitants, given Achish the booty, and told him the raids had been made in Israelite territory. In fact, the raids had been against people who had nothing to do with Israel, including—yes!—Amalekites (1 Sam. 27:8). While the deception prospered, David had doubtless assured himself that he was being super-smart and that killing Amalekites was the Lord’s business anyway (see Deut. 26:17–19). But deep down, he knew that this callous, Machiavellian banditry—for banditry is what it was—merited God’s vengeance. And when he saw what the Amalekites had done to Ziklag, his conscience told him that this poetic justice was in fact the vengeance he had provoked.

David, then, was in a state of distress of a kind that might well have destroyed him. The shock of disaster, grief at one’s loss, collapse of one’s life-strategy, and a sense of undergoing just retribution can each of them have paralyzing effects, and here they were all together. “Heartache crushes the spirit” (Prov. 15:13); “a crushed spirit who can bear?” (Prov. 18:14).

Misery is the natural consequence of calamity, and apathy is the natural child of misery. David’s surrender to grief was an entirely natural reaction to what had happened. In his shoes, we would have done the same, and many can testify that in similar circumstances they did exactly that.

Had David stopped there, however, it would have been the end of his career as a leader and probably of his life. But he did not stop there. Challenging and finally overcoming the paralysis that grief was generating, we now see in David the spiritual reaction of faith. “But”—it is one of the great Bible “buts”—”David found strength (RSV, “strengthened himself”) in the LORD his God” (v. 6).

How did he do it?

The Secret of Strength

“He prayed,” suggests someone. Yes, in due course, he did. But that, I am sure, was not what came first. When feelings of despair overwhelm you, rational prayer is beyond you. You are like a person being swept downstream towards the falls; you must recover your footing on the stream bed or you are lost. The secret of recovering your footing spiritually at such a time lies in the little word think, and that was undoubtedly where David began. He thought. He did not wait to feel better, but argued with the emotions that were telling him all was lost. He made himself recall what he knew of God and thought out how it all applied to him at that moment. Thus he “found strength” in the Lord; thus he calmed his soul; thus he prepared himself to pray.

“Strengthened by thought” is the formula that fits. The medievals would have called David’s action meditating, and the Puritans would have described it as preaching to oneself. Less important than deciding what to call it is learning to do it. It is a discipline we all need to master.

Every time we pray, it is wise first to remind ourselves, deliberately, of who and what God is and how we stand related to Him through His covenant love. Never is this more necessary than when we are reeling under the impact of some shock or being deafened by the inward screams of desire or panic or pain. David acted on this wisdom. Setting himself to think, he made his rational faith reassert itself over his runaway feelings. He let his faith tell him what to think, and when he knew what to think, he could see what to do. He was a model of godly wisdom.

Five Steps to Recovery

I now offer a reconstruction of the series of thoughts that he forced into his disoriented, despairing heart as he stood in lonely isolation in ruined Ziklag, surrounded by men who, he knew, had mutiny and murder in mind. It is, of course, guesswork, but it is not wild guesswork. The psalms show us the logic of David’s faith clearly enough to warrant every suggestion I shall make.

I believe that David ran before his mind five thoughts, as follows:

1. My God reigns.  He thought of God’s sovereign power. He reminded himself that God is in total control of all that happens on earth, and that having brought him into this extremity, God was certainly able to bring him out of it. Remembering God’s omnipotence was the first step in recovering his footing.

The psalms are strong on God’s sovereignty and dominion. “The LORD does whatever pleases Him” (Ps. 135:6; cf. 115:3). “The seas [emblem of chaos] have lifted up, O LORD  . . . their voice  . . . their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea—the LORD on high is mighty” (Ps. 93:3–4). Or, more simply, “The LORD reigns” (Ps. 93:1, Ps. 96:10, Ps. 97:1, Ps. 99:1, Ps. 146:10). All Scripture agrees that a God who is only in control of things half the time is a figment of a disordered imagination. The beginning of stability for us all is to know that God is on the throne, that His eye is on us and His hand over us all the time. Nothing comes our way apart from His will. In the deepest sense everything is under control.

2. My God forgives.  David thought of God’s pardoning mercy. He recalled that “with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.” In other words, right-minded reverence is rooted in a knowledge of God’s mercy in the remitting of one’s sins (Ps. 130:4). My guess is that David’s first breath of prayer was a plea for forgiveness for the callous killings involved in his bamboozling of Achish. Certainly, he dwelt on the truth that it is God’s glory to forgive the penitent and that no sin is too great to be forgiven. He knew that no chastened transgressor need ever forfeit his hope of restoration and a future with God. And as David thought along these lines, his footing grew firmer.

All Scripture confirms what David knew. “The blood of Jesus  . . . purifies us from all sin . . . If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just [in keeping His word both to us who sinned and to the Son who died to save us] and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness . . . He [Jesus] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn. 1:7, 1 Jn. 1:9; 1 Jn. 2:2). For any who feel themselves under God’s judgment, there is forgiveness just as soon as they confess and forsake the acts that provoked the judgment.

3. My God cares.  David thought, too, of God’s covenanted protection. “The LORD is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1). Himself a shepherd, David knew that the shepherd’s job is precisely to look after the sheep, keeping them well-fed and safe at all times. So he must not suppose that men’s alienation from Him meant that God had abandoned him. Even in ruined Ziklag, God was with him to love and bless him. As David dwelt on this, his despair (I am sure) dissolved like melting snow.

All Scripture confirms what the Shepherd Psalm proclaims, namely the covenant care of God for His servants. “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Ro. 8:28). God’s shaping of all that happens to believers so as to promote their “good”—that is, their holiness and joy—is a fact, even when it does not look or feel so. “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life” (Ps. 23:6). God’s commitment to me, to be my God who shepherds me home, guarantees that.

4. My God is consistent.  Having proved His love to me in the past, He will do so again. David thought of his previous experiences of God’s goodness and reasoned that, as John Newton puts it in his sublimely straightforward way,

His love in time past

Forbids me to think

He’ll leave me at last

In trouble to sink;

Each sweet Ebenezer

I have in review

Confirms his good pleasure

To help me right through.

David had reasoned this way before Saul—”the LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam. 17:37). So now he told himself that his God, who saved him from the lion, the bear, Goliath, and Saul’s spear (1 Sam. 19:9–10) would surely act again on his behalf in his present nightmare situation. For God does not lose interest in those He has once begun to love and bless.

Ebenezer was the name of a stone memorializing God’s past help (1 Sam. 7:12). Every Christian should live by the Ebenezer principle—storing up memories of past mercies and bringing them to mind whenever reassurance about God’s love is needed, as does the exile of Ps. 42:4–6 and the invalid of Ps. 77:4–12. In this way, David found strength to face the pressures of the present, and so may we.

5. My God is faithful.  He keeps His word. David thought of God’s explicit promises, such as (perhaps)Ps. 91:14–15:

“Because he loves me” says the LORD,

“I will rescue him;

I will protect him, for he acknowledges My name.

He will call upon Me, and I will answer him;

I will be with him in trouble,

I will deliver him and honor him.”

David found strength in trusting the fidelity of his promise-keeping God.

Mapping the Christian life in Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan pictures despair as a giant imprisoning believers in Doubting Castle; but the Christian gets out of despair by using “a key called Promise.” Exactly! Knowing that God’s promises to us in Scripture are certain of fulfillment frees us from doubt and gives us strength to face the future.

God My Strength

The strength (power) of God (Ps. 24:8, Ps. 31:2, Ps. 62:11) is what theologians call a communicable attribute—that is, a quality of God that in exercise imparts its own analogue or image to man. Thus, God’s wisdom makes us wise; God’s strength makes us strong. “The LORD gives strength to His servants” (Ps. 29:11, cf. 84:5). The strength given is a capacity “to do and to endure,” as the hymn puts it; a capacity that without God’s empowering we would not have. As Giver of this strength, God is called “my” or “our” strength (Ps. 28:7, Ps. 46:1, Ps. 59:17, Ps. 73:26, Ps. 118:14, cf. Is. 12:2).

We have been watching God give David strength at Ziklag by stirring him to the resolute thought through which he “found strength.” It was gratitude for such experiences that David was expressing when he declared, “I love you, O LORD, my strength” (Ps. 18:1). And one way in which we in 1992 learn to love God is through being strengthened at crisis times in this same manner.

Just for the record, after David had “found strength,” he got guidance that enabled him, against all expectations, to restore the situation completely (see the rest of 1 Samuel 30). God does not always resolve our crises this way, but He always gives strength to cope to those who will learn to think as David thought. And that, for us, is what really matters.

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.

Spiritual Depression: Who is doing the talking?

SOURCE: Taken from an article by  Steve Cornell

“I say we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us.

Do you know what that means?

I suggest that the whole trouble of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow ourselves to talk to us instead of talking to our selves. Am I just trying to be deliberately paradoxical? Far from it. This is the very essence of wisdom in this matter.

Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you when you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Yourself is talking to you.

Now this man’s (David in Psalm 42:5, 11) treatment is this:  instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself.  ‘Why art thou cast down, oh my soul?’ he asks.  His soul has been depressing him, crushing him.  So he stands up and says:  ‘Self listen for a moment and I will speak to you.’

“The whole art in spiritual living is knowing how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say ‘Why art thou cast down? What business do you have to be disquieted?’ You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself and say to yourself  ‘Put your hope in God!’ – instead of muttering in this depressed and unhappy way.

And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, What God is and What God has done and What God has pledged Himself to do. Then, having done that, end on this great note – defy yourself and defy other people and defy the devil and the whole world and say with this man, ‘I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance and my God.’”   (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones)

Great words to speak to yourself:

Psalm 42:1-6

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’ These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng. Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him my Savior and my God.”

Face Down or Face Up?

SOURCE:  Taken from American Association of Christian Counselors

Have you found yourself in the gutter of life? Wondering what happened? Asking yourself, “How did I get here?”

Plain or pretty. Young or old. Rich or poor. Job reminds us that “Man who is born of woman is few of days and full of trouble.” (Job 14:1) Trouble will find you. It is inevitable. When you are down and out, there are only 2 types of people. You are either lying in the gutter face down…or face up. Face down with your nose in the murky muck. Stuck, staring into the muddy mess of your mistakes. Feeling like there is no hope…no future. Your breath won’t come and you feel like there is no air. Or, you are flat on your back looking up. Looking up into the sky viewing the dreams God still has for you. When you’re face up, you can declare with the Psalmist David that, “The heavens declare the Glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1).

How do you turn it around? Jesus shares in John 16:33 that, “In the world you will have trouble…but take courage; I have overcome the world.” You are not alone. You can overcome…even the in the most dire circumstances. Even in mistakes of your own making. The Savior who walked on water will lift you out of the mire and set your feet on solid ground.

A person usually winds up going in the direction they are facing. Cast your eyes upon Him. See Him. Reach for Him. Admit where you are. Realize whose you are. Your freedom is at hand. And by the way…winners always look up!
 

“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for Righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6

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