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Posts tagged ‘Jesus’

Listening and Guidance

(Adapted from The Disciplines of The Holy Spirit by Siang-Yang Tan)

We have been created to be in a listening relationship to God. As we draw near to God, we begin to hear His voice and receive affirmation, encouragement, correction, and direction for our lives. Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice (John 10:14-16). We listen in order to receive guidance! The outcome of a close relationship with God is guidance and invitation into partnership with Him.

Jesus didn’t get up in the morning and say, “What great thing can I do for God today?” He said, “Father, what are you doing today? Show me what you are already doing so I can do it with you. I will do only what I see what you doing” (see John 5:19, 30). Jesus’ secret of guidance was His relationship of dependence on the Father – listening for God’s voice, being observant of His Father’s work, paying attention to His Father’s leading in every circumstance of His life.

Do you believe God talks to people? That He wants to talk to you? Do you think it strange or unusual to hear His voice or to receive regular guidance and direction form Him? Jesus believed that listening was fundamental to the Christian life and a natural consequence of deepening relationship with God. He encouraged believers that if they belonged to God, they should expect to hear from God. He rebuked the unbelieving religious leaders of His day saying, “He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” (John 8:47). As we draw near to the One who comes to us to draw us to Himself, we enter into the disciplines of listening and guidance. We learn to hear the Shepard’s voice, to distinguish it from the many voices that compete for our attention, and to know and respond to his wooing and guidance.

Hearing from God is the work of the Holy Spirit, who makes God’s will clear to us as we engage in the discipline of listening and guidance. Jesus promised us His own guidance through the gift of the Holy Spirit. “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26). When the Spirit of Truth comes, Jesus says, “He will guide you into all truth. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you: (John 16: 13-14). The truth John speaks of here is not an idea, concept, or doctrine, but a true relationship. To be led into truth is to be led into the same relationship with Jesus that Jesus has with the Father.

G. Campbell Morgan encourages the believer to wait for guidance:

To the individual believer, who is, by the very fact of relationship to Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, there is granted the direct impression of the Spirit of God on the spirit of man, imparting the knowledge of His will in matters of the smallest and greatest importance. This has to be sought and waited for.

The Apostle Paul emphasized that it is the Holy Spirit who reveals the deep things of God to us. We are so affected by our sin and rebellion that we cannot understand the things of God unless the Holy Spirit reveals it. He is our teacher. In reading the Scripture, we must sit before the Holy Spirit and respond to His leading. As we pray, we must expect that answers will come as the Holy Spirit guides us to Scripture, or through circumstances or wise counsel, or through personal words or a divine encounter.

Our Part in Listening and Guidance:
* Let the Spirit build in you a desire to be yielded and obedient to God’s will and plans.
* Starting where you are, seek after God with your whole heart, striving to know him intimately.
* Resolve to want to glorify God and bring honor to His great name in all things in your life.
* Be alert and sensitive at all times for the Spirit’s promptings. Seek guidance from God; watch for it, expect it. Remember that the Holy Spirit is your teacher.
* Take time daily to listen and be in conversation with God. Get in the habit of asking questions like, “What are you doing, Lord? What do you want me to see and understand in my current   circumstances?”
* Wait for confirmation. “Test everything” (1Thess. 5:21). God isn’t in a hurry. Trust that He will confirm His will through Scripture, wise counsel, and circumstances.
* Take steps to respond obediently to the guidance you receive; trusting that God will provide confirmation and blessing (See James 1:22; 2:17).

Means of Guidance:
* The Bible, God’s Word – God speaks primarily through His Word, as we read and meditate on it. The Scripture is our standard of measure for all other forms of guidance. What the Spirit guides us into will always be consistent with the teaching of the Bible and will never contradict it. In addition, we must be careful to interpret the Bible accurately.

* Prayer – Conversation with God – Prayer is not just talking to God, but dialogue with God. We listen for, and hear, God’s voice in the midst of prayer.

* Godly Counsel – God often speaks to us through the wise counsel of mature Christian believers – pastors, church elders, leaders, accountability partners, counselors – people who walk closely with God and who know Him intimately.

* Providential Circumstances – God can work through even our most difficult circumstances to guide us in a particular direction.

* Sanctified Common Sense – As we think and engage in theological reflection, and weigh the pros and cons of options open to us, God works through our reason in bringing us to a decision. Even when it seems God has not spoken clearly, there may be times we have to choose an option because it is not possible to wait further. In such cases we need to use our best common sense to choose the alternative that will bring glory to God as the Holy Spirit leads us (1Cor. 10:31).

* Inner Witness and Peace – Generally, the Holy Spirit confirms God’s will to us by giving peace in our hearts (Col. 3:15). However, this does not mean we will always – or immediately – receive peace regarding God’s guidance. There may be anguish or struggle, such as Jesus experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane in the process of obeying Gods’ will to go to the cross and die for a sinful world. Jesus prayed and was obedient to God’s leading, but experienced peace only later (Mark 14:32-36; Luke 22: 39-44).

* Inner Promptings of the Holy Spirit – Based on 1Cor 12:8, 10, the Holy Spirit can guide us through factual truths we did not know before and through wisdom or the specific applications of God’s Word or Truth to a particular situation. Such words generally come in the sense of a subjective inner voice, but at times they can seem to be audible words (1Sam. 3:2-14). God has spoken to His people through visions and dreams in the past and certainly can do so in the present (Dan. 2:19; Acts 9:10-16; Acts 10:9-23; 18:9-10).

* Nature – God has revealed Himself generally through nature and His creation. However, there are times when God touches us afresh and guides us through some part of the beauty of His creation – the grandeur of the stars on a clear night or the colors of a sunset.

* Heavenly Visitation, or the “Hand of the Lord” – There are times when God reveals Himself by an angel or special manifestation of Himself (Acts 8:26, 29; 9:3-6; Dan. 9:20-23).

We are meant to be in a listening relationship with God. At any moment, anytime, day or night, in the midst of ministry or the most mundane tasks of living, God can and will speak to us.

Increasingly Aware of God’s Presence
We can grow in listening and guidance until we are “practicing the presence of God,” increasingly aware of His presence and gentle leading in all the circumstances of our living. This kind of living does not happen effortlessly. We must desire it and seek it with all our hearts. It requires choosing a course of action that will draw us into constant communion with God. It means entering strongly into the disciplines of listening and guidance as a crucial means of experiencing deeper intimacy with God and receiving His transforming power. Listening becomes a launching pad for effective service and ministry in partnership with God; guidance brings confidence and peace that we are indeed in relationship with the living God; and hearing God’s voice brings events of the Bible alive for us and allows our faith in the Truth of the Word to rise beyond abstract conviction to heart knowledge of the truth.

The Process of Guidance

Here’s how George Muller sums up the way he entered into a “heart” relationship with God and learned to hear and discern God’s voice:

I seek at the beginning to get my heart into such a state that it has no will of its own in regard to a given matter. Having done this, I do not leave the result to feeling or simple impression. If so, I make myself liable to great delusion. I seek the Will of the Holy Spirit through, or in connection with, the Word of God. The Spirit and the Word must be combined. If I look to the Spirit alone without the Word, I lay myself open to great delusions also. If the Holy Ghost guides at all, He will do it according to the Scriptures and never contrary to them.

Next, I take into account providential circumstances. These often plainly indicate God’s will in connection with His Word and Spirit. I ask God in prayer to reveal His Will to me rightly and fully. Thus, 1) through prayer to God, 2) the study of the Word, and 3) reflection, I come to deliberate judgment according to the best of my ability and knowledge, and if my mind is thus at peace, and continues so after two or three more petitions, I proceed accordingly.

We open ourselves to mistakes if we allow the opinions of others to sway us from the clear instructions of Scripture, or if we are impatient in waiting for God’s timing, or when our own wills are so strong we cannot get our hearts ready to respond to the guidance He gives. Guidance from God is seldom a simple occurrence; it is almost a process of listening, testing, and discerning that leads to confident obedience. F.B. Meyer describes the process of guidance as follows:

God’s impressions within and His words without are always corroborated by His providence around, and we should quietly wait until those three focus into one point.  If you do not know what you ought to do, stand still until you do, and when the time comes for action, circumstances, like glow-worms, will sparkle along your path, and you will become so sure that you are right, when God’s three witnesses concur, that you could not be surer though an angel beckoned you on.

The Holy Spirit seldom uses all the means of guidance, but usually does bring several together in a process that brings conviction to an individual or group along with confidence to respond in obedience.

Being Formed in Forgiveness

 

Perhaps no issue more quickly assesses the true state of our spiritual formation in Christ than how we respond to being sinned against. Forgiveness becomes concrete when we talk about how we deal with anger. How do you deal with your anger? Maybe a rude driver on the road cuts you off, Someone steals your credit card, A friend criticizes you, A family member continually mistreats you.

Most of us know that as Christians we should forgive in these cases. However, we may need to clear up some misconceptions so that our forgiveness will be genuine and result in healing for us and release for our offenders.

“Forgive and forget,” some say, but forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about not being resentful, but you can remember and not hold onto anger. It’s important that we remember our experiences in life so that we can learn from them.

“Just let it go to God and move on,” is a common approach. This advice may work for minor offenses, but to attempt to overlook deep wounds and repeated violations is denial. If forgiveness is to be real then it has to be honest about the violation against you that needs to be forgiven. Forgiveness in these cases is a process of working through hurt, anger, and other feelings. “You can’t heal a wound by saying it’s not there” (Jeremiah 6:14, LB).

“I’ll forgive when…” It’s easy to think that until your offender apologizes or stops mistreating you that you don’t need to forgive. It doesn’t work that way; forgiveness is a gift of mercy. No one deserves to be forgiven! The only way to forgive is to “Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13). By appreciating how fortunate you are that God has forgiven you of your sins then you are helped to share that forgiveness with the one who has sinned against you. “I can’t forgive,” some believe, “it’s not a safe relationship for me.” But this thinking confuses forgiveness and reconciliation. If you’ve been abused and are vulnerable to be re-injured then indeed you need boundaries to protect yourself. At the same time, you can learn to release your offender to God’s justice, refusing to hold onto a posture of angry judgment.

I’ve found that the acid test for whether or not I’ve forgiven someone is if instead of holding onto anger at those who sin against me I can pray for and sincerely desire God’s blessings on that person. Jesus taught us: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecute you” (Luke 6:27-28). We can’t do this by gritting our teeth and forcing it!

How do we learn to forgive and bless the one who curses us? “Train yourselves to be godly” Paul answers (1 Timothy 4:7). We each need to grow in grace to become the kind of person who, like God, forgives. We need to be formed in God’s forgiveness through a heart connection to God’s favor in which we’re thankful that God has blessed us though we don’t deserve it and his blessings are flowing through us to others. Then we can offer the gift of his mercy to those who sin against us, even if in some cases it takes some time to pray our way to that point.

 

A Wife’s Role Defined

(Adapted from Different by Design by H. Dale Burke)

A wife has a lot to learn as she tackles the daunting assignment of understanding and loving the man in her life. The average woman may be more sensitive to a man’s needs than he is to hers, but she faces some significant challenges. The primary concepts found in God’s Word to direct wives in loving their husbands in the servant-wife role include: a) Respect; b) Trust; c) Support; d) Acceptance; e) Admiration.

One issue that needs to be addressed and properly understood deals with submission. Scripture states, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph 5:22), and “As the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything” (Eph 5:24). It is clear that God calls on wives to submit, to be subject to their husbands. The very sound of the term submission is enough to offend many modern couples who so want to serve as equals on a team, pulling together to build a quality marriage. A thorough examination of the apostle Paul’s concept of submission is essential to understanding God’s unique blueprint to marriage, a design that transcends today’s culture.

Biblical submission is NOT: inferiority, intellectual suicide, without fulfillment, passivity, or silence.

Submission is not inferiority. Wives aren’t the only ones called upon to submit. The Scriptures are clear that even Jesus’ relationship to His Father was one of submission. At the height of His anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane He prayed to God, asking to be relieved of the assignment He had been sent to Earth to fulfill. His prayer concluded, however, like this: “Yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) This act of submission typifies Jesus’ relationship with God the Father, but there is never a hint in His words that He was in a position of inferiority. Biblical submission does not place the one submitting in a lesser, or inferior, position.

Submission is not intellectual suicide. Anyone who would suggest that a woman must blindly submit to her husband’s leadership needs to know that to make such an assertion is just as irresponsible as suggesting that Christ calls us to come to Him by blind, unthinking faith. The opposite is the case. Jesus challenged those around Him to think, perhaps more seriously than they’d ever thought before. Submission is a choice that follows serious, informed consideration. It’s not acquiescence to a second-class role in the relationship. It’s a choice to follow another’s leadership with your brain in full gear. Again, Jesus as the Son of God may be our strongest proof that submission has nothing to do with intellectual suicide. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are truly equal in Their divine omniscience. However, each has a role to play and each performs that role in perfect harmony and mutual respect. Likewise, a wife who chooses to honor God and love her husband with a submissive spirit should still be highly valued for her God-given wisdom and abilities.

Submission is not without fulfillment. Nothing promises or delivers a deeper sense of satisfaction than the assurance that you’re doing the will of God. Wives who submit to their husbands according to the command in Ephesians 5:22 can expect no less. The fact is that real fulfillment is found not in the pursuit of our dream but God’s dream. Fulfillment for the Christian man or woman is not being all that you can be; it’s being all that God calls you to be. Pleasing God is priority one. Supporting or encouraging your husband to take responsibility for leadership in the home should never, ever be labeled as boring or unfulfilling. The wife still can, and should, play a vital role in the direction of the family.

Submission is not passivity. The verb rendered “be subject to” in Ephesians 5:22 and “be submissive to” in 1 Peter 3:1 is in the present tense, which suggests a habit pattern. It’s imperative, meaning it’s a command. And it’s in the middle voice, meaning this is not something done to a woman but by her. She’s actively involved in every aspect of marriage, including this one. It’s action oriented with the distinction being that it’s done under another’s authority. God designed women to contribute fully and significantly to every aspect of the marriage and family.

Submission is not silence. One common misconception about submission is that it condemns wives to suffer in silence when their husbands fail to lead and love as Christ leads and loves His church. No man is perfect, and disappointment, frustration, and exasperation are part of every marriage in pursuit of intimacy. Still, the clear challenge to love with a submissive spirit is given to every wife, even to those wed to men who are missing the mark. In 1 Peter 3:1 God calls wives simply to imitate Jesus. To love that difficult, disobedient, even unbelieving husband without preaching to him, without demanding that he change, without threatening to leave if he doesn’t shape up. But does that mean total silence? No! Ephesians 4:25-27 says, “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” Honesty should never be abandoned in the name of submission. Whether leading or following, never stop being open and honest with your spouse. Silence is as dangerous to your marital health as ignoring pain is to your physical health. When it comes to marriage, silence is never golden.

What does it mean for a woman to submit to her husband as to the Lord? Submission is willingly placing yourself under the leadership of another. This is an “as to the Lord” type of submission. The psalmist was involved in this activity in Psalm 17:8-9 and 61:4. He was hiding, dwelling, taking refuge in the Lord. He was willingly placing his trust in another. He chose to follow his Lord and to trust in Him. That loving, trusting relationship became a place of shelter and refuge. Similarly, the wife’s decision to obey God and submit to her husband’s leadership is the ultimate expression of respect and trust. It is important to notice the extent of submission expressly stated in Ephesians 5:24 covers everything. This is not a part-of-the-way proposition; not 30 percent, 50 percent, or 99 percent. It’s 100 percent. Paul’s commands to the husband demand a similarly wholehearted response. He is to love his wife, sacrifice for her, and nourish and cherish her whether she having a bad day or good – 100 percent of the time. However, for those who would distort Scripture to say that a woman must obey her husband, period, note one significant exception. First Peter 3:1 challenges women to submit to their husbands even if they may be “disobedient to the word.” But, this is a far cry from submitting to a husband who tells you to disobey God. Paul and the apostles put that notion to rest in Acts 5:29 when they responded to the Jewish authorities who told them to quit teaching in Jesus’ Name: “We must obey God rather than men.” Coming under the authority of another is never a call to violate the Word of God.

Scripture continues to say, “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body (Eph 5:23). Indeed, “authority over and responsibility for” is the meaning of head, in God’s definition of marriage. Not the heavy-handed, harsh rule of the world, but the gentle, loving, sacrificial leadership of a savior. A leader who will give anything to care for his wife. One who takes his responsibility seriously, knowing he will give an account to God for the health and well-being not only of his wife, but of his entire family. Some have incorrectly thought that the statement in Ephesians 5:21, “Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ,” negates the following command. This command is actually a consequence of being filled with God’s Spirit and calls all of us, men and women alike, to exhibit a submissive spirit whether leading or following, whether husband or wife, whether parent or child, whether employee or employer. However, in each of these relationships someone is told to exercise loving leadership and someone is encouraged to follow. The concepts of submission and headship are anchored in truths that clearly transcend any culture or time in history. They are as relative today as they were in the culture of the time they were written about.

Christ is the Head of the church and the husband is the head of the wife. Jesus is the church’s Lord and Leader as well as its Source. He takes responsibility for the life and health of the church, just as the husband takes responsibility for the life and health of his wife. It is in light of this challenge for husbands to lead and love by sacrificially caring for every aspect of their wife’s welfare that God then calls the wife to follow. She will someday answer to her Lord in heaven for how she loved and followed her leader on earth.

A Servant-Wife Respects. As important a concept submission is, it is not the only issue or even the main issue contained in Ephesians 5:33 – And the wife must see to it that she respects her husband. Respect is the real issue for men. Submission is not the end; it is only one means to the end. The real target in God’s sights is to see wives shower their husbands with a gentle rain of respect. It is the gift that best says to a man, “I love you.” Just as sacrificial love is only a tool, a means of communicating to wives that we care, so submission is only a tool, a means of communicating respect to a husband. Respect, or reverence, is a gift that can be given to men, even imperfect men or ungodly men. First Peter 3:2 clearly calls on wives to win over their husbands by their “chaste and respectful behavior.” Moreover, these men are described in verse 1 as men who are “disobedient to the word.” That is often taken to refer to husbands outside the faith, unbelievers, but that’s not necessarily the case. All too often, it is the Christian who finds himself or herself with a spouse who is less than an angel. Many wives know the challenge of living with a mate who has little to no interest in spiritual things. It is to that wife that God says, “Give the gift of respect to your husband.”

A very common statement that floats around this subject is “Trust can be given, but respect must be earned.” Is that really true? If by respect we mean a feeling of respect or admiration, then it is true. However, respect used in reference to marriage is not just a feeling; it’s an action. It is something to choose to give whether I feel it or not. We do this all the time. A student may not like a teacher, principal, or coach. A citizen may not feel a lot of respect for a particular president, judge, or policeman. However, he or she had better learn to show those figures respect. How much truer this is in a marriage. A wife’s feelings of respect for her husband (or a husband’s for his wife, for that matter) will grow or diminish as she gets to know him, observing his character and skills. When she feels respect for him, showing it – expressing it – will come easily. However, God isn’t calling us to the easy thing, but the harder thing: showing respect whether it’s deserved or not. It’s the same challenge God gives to husbands. The call to sacrificially love, nourish, cherish, and honor our wives isn’t limited to their good days. It extends to every day!

Respect is not optional. It’s essential in a healthy marriage. What can you do if you don’t have a lot of respect for your husband?

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)

1) Focus on the positive. Stop and take time to identify the good instead of the bad. Tell him and others where he excels; talk about things excellent rather than things deficient. Concentrate on the actions worthy of praise, not criticism. Thank God for what is right about this man, not what is wrong. Every man has some areas that are honorable; talk to others about those areas. Dwell on the lovely, not the ugly; the true, not the false. This may seem hard at first, but trust in God’s help to do this, and just do it! Focus on the positive, and see if the negatives don’t begin to diminish. However, this takes time, so commit to the positive and stay there.

2) Focus on the position. God calls us to respect the fact that leaders may not always be right, but they are always responsible. God will hold the husband accountable for the condition of the home, so respect that position of responsibility. It is not so much an issue of authority as it is an issue of accountability and responsibility. Respect that position of responsibility and his calling as the leader in your home. Permit me to paraphrase another passage – one written to call the church to respect its leaders – and apply it to marriage.

Obey your leaders (husbands) and (respectfully) submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls (and your homes) as those who will give an account (to God). Let them do this (lead out in your marriage) with joy (sensing your support and respect) and not with grief (as you nag them about their shortcomings and poor decisions), for this (type of disrespectful relationship) would be unprofitable for you (and all those in your family). (Hebrews 13:17)

3) Focus on the Lord. Ultimately, our calling is to the lordship of Christ, not to any human being. We must not focus on a husband’s worthiness, but on Christ’s worthiness. It is our Redeemer, the Lamb of God, whom we serve. It is out of respect and worship to our Sovereign God that we give respect to those He places over us in life. Remember that fulfillment is not about being all I want to be, but about being all God calls me to be. What a difference it makes when my desire for holiness is greater than my desire for happiness. In the end, the desire for holiness is the key to real joy through all the days of my life and my marriage. God wants us to understand that giving a husband respect is not just about trying to please a man. It’s about trying to please the One who has showered us all with more respect than we could ever deserve.

A Servant-Wife Trusts. Trust means so much to a man. As a wife encourages and follows the leadership of her husband, that expression of trust becomes a powerful act of love. It says to him, “I believe in you.” Again, do not misunderstand the point. Women certainly need to receive trust from their husbands. Everyone, man or woman, yearns to be trusted. But for men that desire is much more intense. Remember, we are different by design. Just as the woman’s greater need is to feel that her husband truly cares about her, so the man’s greater need is to know that he is trusted by his wife.

A question many women ask is, “How do I trust when trusting isn’t easy?” That’s a legitimate question. Just as trust is a component of respect, so the solutions for repairing a lack of trust are similar to the solutions that apply to building up a spirit of respect. Just as in that circumstance, you need to focus on the positive, the position, and the Lord.

1) Focus on the positive. Begin by focusing on your husband’s strengths. Every man has areas in which he excels. Trust comes easier when you let your mind dwell on those things.

2) Focus on the position. God has called the husband to lead. Remember that God’s desire is not to enslave but to bless. The leadership envisioned is one modeled after Christ’s sacrificial love at the Cross. It is important that the wife remember that God has called her husband to a position of responsibility and accountability for his family. Just as church leaders will someday give an account for the souls under their care, so husbands will someday stand before God and be accountable for the health and well-being of their family. A wife must trust her husband, let him lead, and encourage him to grow as a leader, for he will someday stand in the presence of God and be held accountable for the decisions and direction of his home. He may not always be right, but he is always responsible.

What if you don’t agree with the direction or decision of your husband? Communicate! Share your input and observations. Every man needs help as he leads. Every wise leader seeks to utilize the strengths of his team, especially his number one assistant. Even the best of leaders blows it sometimes, but God still calls us to follow those leaders.

3) Focus on the Lord. It is only possible to trust your husband if your ultimate trust is in the Lord. God never expects a wife to follow a husband into sin. The highest authority and accountability in all our relationships is to our Lord and our God. But when decisions are not a matter of obeying or disobeying our God, that very God calls wives to respect and follow the lead of the man He as brought into their lives. The only way for any woman to do this is to recognize that her hope, ultimately, is not in her husband but in her God. To trust and follow a mere man is only possible as a wife deepens her trust in God. She must believe that God will be her true Source of security and hope. It is only then that she will be able to risk trusting the man in her life.

A Servant-Wife Supports. Another effective tool for loving your husband is to back him up. Every man loves to know that his wife not only believes in him and wants to see him succeed but is also willing to help make it happen. She supports him. She is proud to serve with him and be at his side. The Lord knew men need helpers. A man feels loved when his wife says, “Wherever you go and whatever you do, I’m in. I’m with you. You can count on me.” However, there is a fine line between supporting and mothering. Men love to sense support, but often pull away from unsolicited assistance. If you act like a mother, often telling your husband how to do it or how to do it the right way, he will withdraw and feel resentment. If you just can’t hold back, then at least give the advice as a suggestion, respectfully. Don’t act irritated that he’s approaching life or some challenge big or small from a direction different than the one you would have picked. Men do need to honor and listen to the wisdom of their wives. However, every man needs just one mother in his life. When we get married, we need a friend, a lover, a fan who believes in us, one who sticks closer than a brother, a soul mate, a helper who believes in us and loves us just the way we are. Men feel loved when they are supported.

A Servant-Wife Accepts. Acceptance flows from the gift of unconditional love. One of the most common complaints from men is “She keeps trying to change me.” The problem is, trying to “fix” a man begins to trigger resistance, even anger. A word that fits perfectly here is: nagging.

It is better to live in a corner of the roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman. (Proverbs 25:24)

A nagging wife is as annoying as the constant dripping on a rainy day. (Proverbs 27:15 NLT)

The nagging spouse is never happy, constantly complaining. A man feels like no matter what is done, he can never make her happy. Does this mean a wife can never mention a concern or a frustration or offer a suggestion for change to her husband? Submission is NOT silence. Submission is NOT passivity. God wants to use our spouses to help us grow. A man needs to know when his wife’s needs or expectations are going unmet. The key is communicate, but don’t nag. Share your ideas, concerns, fears, or expectations, but then leave it alone. Give God a chance to work and your husband time to change. Don’t bring it up time and time again. And always communicate acceptance. When the marital atmosphere is full of acceptance, approval, and affirmation, feedback will fall on receptive ears. But when a man feels he can never be good enough to please you, he will soon quit trying. Ultimately, the secret to giving such unconditional acceptance is not found in a wife’s relationship with her husband but in her relationship with God. As long as God is left out of the formula, she will think the responsibility to change her husband falls to her. Without acceptance and the respect that comes with it, the husband will most likely withdraw into passivity or flee to another woman who gives him that respect.

Again, what if the man is far from perfect. Scripture in 1 Peter 3:1-2 shows how God has it figured out. Nagging a man never gets the best result. It never draws him to you or to your faith. But a respectful spirit, full of loving acceptance, can draw the unbeliever or disobedient husband like a magnet toward his wife and her faith.

A Servant-Wife Admires, Appreciates, and is Affectionate. Admiration, appreciation, and affection. Men yearn for all three and love to know someone thinks they are special. This in no way minimizes the need for women to be and feel “cherished” by their husbands. But somehow, these qualities seem to mean even more to men than to women. And when it comes from their wives, the impact of receiving these qualities goes up dramatically. Keep the following unique differences concerning men in mind:

1) Men are turned on by praise. Praise is a powerful tool that means much to a man.

2) Men appreciate attention to physical beauty. Men are drawn to the physical far more than women are. When a man’s wife takes the time to make herself look good, it is an expression of love.

3) Men highly value physical affection. For men, affection begins with respectful admiration and builds with sincere appreciation. But it is the sexual relationship with his wife that best says, “I love you.” It is crucial for the wife to understand that most husbands value this physical act of love more highly than their wives do. God speaks to the importance of the physical relationship in marriage:

But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (I Cor 7:2-5)

Sex is a responsibility, not a right. It is about giving, not getting; about pleasing more than pleasure. Of course, the beauty of this mysterious act of love is that the more you give, the more you’re likely to receive. According to God’s blueprint, your body belongs to your spouse. Therefore, work at saying yes to one another. Focus on giving pleasure to your husband.

Does this mean you should do whatever he wants, not matter how you feel? Not necessarily. The application of this text must be keep in mind the rest of God’s directives for husbands and wives, such as:

1) “[Speak] the truth in love” (Eph 4:15);
2) “Be angry, and yet to not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph 4:26);
3) “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit” (Phil 2:3);
4) “Do not [just] look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil 2:4).

Keep in mind that just as the wife’s body is under the authority of her husband, so also the husband’s body is under the authority of the wife. God always provides for balance. God, knowing our differences, calls both, men and women, to be givers, not takers, in the sexual relationship. This may call the average husband to focus on greater patience and sensitivity and the average wife to take seriously the sexual needs of her husband. God’s advice to wives is “just say yes” as often as possible. Make your sexual relationship a priority. Don’t ignore the fact that in 1 Cor 7:5 Paul placed your sexual relationship right after your prayer life in importance. God says that if we really need to “just say no,” then we should follow these four guidelines from that verse:

1) “Stop depriving one another” – don’t say no often;
2) “Except by agreement” – talk about it;
3) “For a time” – make it the exception, not the rule;
4) “Come together again” – plan and keep it a priority.

HE FEELS LOVED SHE FEELS LOVED
He gives more care She gives more respect
He sacrifices She admires
He nourishes She accepts
He cherishes She supports
He honors She trusts
He understands She respects

The Husband’s Role Defined

SOURCE:  (Adapted from Different by Design by H. Dale Burke)

Husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church. (Eph 5:28-29) and Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband. (Eph 5:22, 33)

These Scriptures are saying simply that men feel loved when they’re respected and women feel loved when they’re cared for. These are the primary needs of men and women.

The question for men to answer is, “How are you to apply your servant-spirit on your wife’s behalf?”

For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her. (Eph 5:23-25)

To live out the high calling of a husband, you must assume the role of a servant-leader. The text clearly states that the husband “is the head of the wife.” Unfortunately, extreme interpretations of this text have obscured its intended meaning. Some have said that it has absolutely nothing to do with authority. This is not true. Paul was speaking here of a leadership role for the husband. His emphasis was on how that role is to be carried out. The appropriate model is Jesus Christ. The husband is to lead by following Jesus’ example, which means His leadership is not as a dictator, which is not the biblical model for leadership. We are to lead as He leads, as a servant.

Another misinterpretation is the suggestion that husbands and wives are co-leaders in the home. It’s true that teamwork is essential for success in marriage. Men and women were created as equals. However, the issue here is not one of equality. It’s a matter of responsibility. And the apostle Paul was making clear that responsibility is central to the man’s role as the servant-leader. Just as Jesus takes responsibility for the needs of the church, so He expects the husband to take responsibility for the needs of the home. In saying this, we’re also acknowledging the husband’s responsibility to exercise initiative. If things at home are not as they should be, it’s the man’s responsibility to get the ball rolling.

A Servant-Husband Sacrifices. A husband sacrifices for his wife. The American Heritage Dictionary defines sacrifice as “forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of someone or something considered to have greater value.” It is saying that we’re to incur a loss in the transaction as we give ourselves for our wives. Imagine how your love would grow and your marriage would strengthen if every day you looked for ways, large and small, to give up things you value for your wife. And I’m talking here about things that cost you something.

A Servant-Husband Nourishes. In verses 26-29 of Ephesians Paul explained why men are to love their wives sacrificially the way Jesus loved the church:

So that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for not one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church.

You love your wife by caring for her. Another translation indicates “to pamper” your wife. What Paul was talking about here is meeting the needs of the other person, helping that person grow to maturity. The idea is that you want your wife to blossom. A good husband is to be about the business of attending to the needs of his wife, of helping her become all that God wants her to be. If you tell your wife that your intent is to nourish her, to care for her as you own body, you’re making a statement of radical love to her. To nourish her is to do whatever is necessary to see her become all God wants her to be, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and physically. As husbands, our mission in life is to help our wife be “all that she can be. Bottom line, if she’s not healthy and growing as a woman of God, it’s our job to nourish that growth.

A Servant-Husband Cherishes. We must also cherish our wives. What does this mean? Nothing more or less than to hold dear and to value highly. Cherishing is saying to your wife, “You’re number one.” It goes beyond just meeting her needs. It’s also tuning in to who she is and saying with your words and actions, “You’re precious. You’re special.” If you tell your wife that you choose to cherish her, you’re saying she’s your top priority. Nothing means more to a man’s wife than to let her know there’s no one ahead of her on the list of people who matter most. What we are talking about here is the nature of your priorities in the daily world of relationships and the demands of life. Make sure your wife knows where she stands on that list. Tell her with your mouth – often – that you count it a privilege to have her as your wife. There’s a big difference between the special treatment a man gives something he deems to be of value versus the routine care he gives something he merely owns. We need both. Every marriage requires routine maintenance to stay in good working order. Part of it comes from the care that’s involved in nourishing your wife. But cherishing is essential as well, doing those special things, small and not so small, that communicate that vital message, “You, above all others, are special.”

A Servant-Husband Honors. Consider 1 Peter 3:7-

You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.

God says that if you don’t honor your wife, the effectiveness of your prayers will diminish. Honor signifies something you give to acknowledge value and worth. Something priceless. The idea is to esteem another person in such a way that you affirm their dignity. God wants our wives to be honored and praised. Every time you honor your wife with your words, follow them up with action. Just ask a simple question: “What can I do to help?”

How can you show honor? Consider:

*Praise her publicly
*Say “Thank You” often
*Open doors for her
*Wait on her joyfully
*Wait on her patiently
*Seek her opinion
*Take her advice
*Respect her feelings
*Bring her a gift
*Listen, listen, listen!

A Servant-Husband Understands. The phrase (in 1 Peter 3:7) as with someone weaker is not a signal of inferiority. The word weaker as used in this context means fragile. Peter was saying that a wife is more like fine crystal than a plastic container. The point is to handle your wife like fine crystal, not like cheap plastic. Be sensitive to her moods, feelings, and needs. She is different by design. She’s more fragile, delicate, and tender, often more aware of feelings and emotions than you are, and often more intuitive and interpretive of subtle nuances of communication that the average guy. We’re to work at understanding how they think, what their needs are, and how they most desire for us to meet those needs. We need to focus more on listening for the purpose of knowing and understanding our wives. That’s more important than listening so that I can fix my wife’s problems, which is the typical male approach. Most of the time, what a woman wants if for her husband to love her by listening in such a way that he hears exactly what she’s saying and seeks to know her better as a result. Our wives want to know that we care more about them than about their problems.

To sum up, a husband says, “I love you” by caring for his wife, by sacrificing for his wife, by nourishing his wife, by cherishing his wife, by honoring his wife, and by understanding his wife. The beauty is that love expressed like this has a profound impact on a man’s wife. It actually sets in motion a cycle of love that creates not only harmony but strength in marriage.

 

HE FEELS LOVED SHE FEELS LOVED
He gives more care She gives more respect
He sacrifices She admires
He nourishes She accepts
He cherishes She supports
He honors She trusts
He understands She respects

 

10 Reasons to Believe in a God Who Allows Suffering

SOURCE:  (Adapted from RBC Ministries )

1. Suffering Comes With The Freedom To Choose.

Loving parents long to protect their children from unnecessary pain. But wise parents know the danger of over-protection. They know that the freedom to choose is at the heart of what it means to be human and that a world without choice would be worse than a world without pain. Worse yet would be a world populated by people who could make wrong choices without feeling any pain. No one is more dangerous than the liar, thief, or killer who doesn’t feel the harm o he is doing to himself and to others (Gen. 2:15-17).

2. Pain Can Warn Us Of Danger.

We hate pain, especially in those we love. Yet without discomfort, the sick wouldn’t go to a doctor. Worn-out bodies would get no rest. Criminals wouldn’t fear the law. Children would laugh at correction. Without pangs of conscience, the daily dissatisfaction of boredom, or the empty longing for significance, people who are made to find satisfaction in an eternal Father would settle for far less. The example of Solomon, lured by pleasure and taught by his pain, shows us that even the wisest among us tend to drift from good and from God until arrested by the resulting pain of their own shortsighted choices (Eccl. 1-12; Ps. 78:34-35; Rom. 3:10-18).

3. Suffering Reveals What Is In Our Hearts.

Suffering often occurs at the hand of others. But is has a way of revealing what is in our own hearts. Capacities for love, mercy, anger, envy, and pride can lie dormant until awakened by circumstances. Strength and weakness of heart is found not when everything is going our way but when flames of suffering and temptation test the mettle of our character. As gold and silver are refined by fire, and as coal needs time and pressure to become a diamond, the human heart is revealed and developed by enduring the pressure and heat of time and circumstance. Strength of character is shown not when all is well with our world but in the presence of human pain and suffering. (Job 42:1-17; Rom. 5:3-5; James 1:1-5; 1 Pet. 1:6-8).

4. Suffering Takes Us To The Edge Of Eternity.

If death is the end of everything, then a life filled with suffering isn’t fair. But if the end of this life brings us to the threshold of eternity, then the most fortunate people in the universe are those who discover, through suffering, that this life is not all we have to live for. Those who find themselves and their eternal God through suffering have not wasted their pain. They have let their poverty, grief, and hunger drive them to the Lord of eternity. They are the ones who will discover to their own unending joy why Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor n spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:1-12; Rom. 8:18-19).

5. Pain Loosens Our Grip On This Life.

In time, our work and our opinions are sought less and less. Our bodies become increasingly worse for the wear. Gradually they succumb to inevitable obsolescence. Joints stiffen and ache. Eyes grow dim. Digestion slows. Sleep becomes difficult. Problems loom larger and larger while options narrow. Yet, if death is not the end but the threshold of a new day, then the curse of old age is also a blessing. Each new pain makes this world less inviting and the next life more appealing. In its own way, pain paves the way for a graceful departure.

6. Suffering Gives Opportunity To Trust God.

The most famous sufferer of all time was a man named Job. According to the Bible, Job lost his family to war, his wealth to wind and fire, and his health to painful boils. Through it all, God never told Job why it was happening. As Job endured the accusations of his friends, heaven remained silent. When God finally did speak, He did not reveal that His archenemy Satan had challenged Job’s motives for serving God. Neither did the Lord apologize for allowing Satan to test Job’s devotion to God. Instead, God talked about mountain goats giving birth, young lions on the hunt, and ravens in the next. He cited the behavior of the ostrich, the strength of the ox, and the stride of the horse. He cited the wonders of the heavens, the marvels of the sea, and the cycle of the seasons. Job was left to conclude that if God had the power and wisdom to create this physical universe, there was reason to trust that same God in times of suffering (Job 1-42).

7. God Suffers With Us In Our Suffering.

No one has suffered more than our Father in heaven. No one has paid more dearly for the allowance of sin into the world. No one has so continuously grieved over the pain of a race gone bad. No one has suffered like the One who paid for our sin in the crucified body of His own Son. No one has suffered more than the One who, when He stretched out His arms and died, showed us how much He loved us. It is this God who, in drawing us to Himself, asks us to trust Him when we are suffering and when our own loved ones cry out in our presence (1 Pet. 2:21; 3:18; 4:1).

8. God’s Comfort Is Greater Than Our Suffering.

The apostle Paul pleaded with the Lord to take away an unidentified source of suffering. But the Lord declined saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” “Therefore,” said Paul, “most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10). Paul learned that he would rather be with Christ in suffering than without Christ in good health and pleasant circumstances.

9. In Times Of Crisis, We Find One Another.

No one would choose pain and suffering. But when there is no choice, there remains some consolation. Natural disasters and times of crisis have a way of bringing us together. Hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, riots, illnesses, and accidents all have a way of bringing us to our senses. Suddenly we remember our own mortality and that people are more important than things. We remember that we do need one another and then, above all, we need God.

Each time we discover God’s comfort in our own suffering, our capacity to help others is increased. This is what the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4).

10. God Can Turn Suffering Around For Our Good.

This truth is best seen in the many examples of the Bible. Through Job’s suffering, we see a man who not only came to a deeper understanding of God but who also became a source of encouragement for people in every generation to follow. Through the rejection, betrayal, enslavement, and wrongful imprisonment of a man named Joseph, we see someone who eventually was able to say to those who had hurt him, “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20).

When everything in us screams at the heavens for allowing suffering, we have reason to look at the eternal outcome and joy of Jesus who in His own suffering on an executioner’s cross cried, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46).

YOU’RE NOT ALONE if the unfairness and suffering of life leave you unconvinced that a God in heaven cares for you. But consider again the suffering of the One called by the prophet Isaiah, “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3). Think about His slashed back, His bloodied forehead, His nail-ripped hands and feet, His pierced side, His agony in the Garden, and His pathetic cry of abandonment. Consider Christ’s claim that He was suffering not for His sins but for ours. To give us the freedom to choose, He lets us suffer. But He Himself bore the ultimate penalty and pain for all our sins (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2: 24).

When you do see the reason for His suffering, keep in mind that the Bible says Christ died to pay the price for our sins and that those who believe in their heart that God has raised Him from the dead will be saved (Rom. 10:9-10). The forgiveness and eternal life Christ offers is not a reward for effort but a gift to all who, in light of the evidence, put their trust in Him.

 

Biblical Principles for Stress Management and Reducing Hurry

SOURCE:  (Adapted from REST: Experiencing God’s Peace in a Restless World by Dr. Siang-Yang Tan)

  1. Romans 12:2; Philippians 4:8; Psalm 43:5. We need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds or thinking: to tell ourselves the truth from Scripture and focus on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable; to choose to think on these things that are excellent or praiseworthy.
  2. Matthew 6:25-34; 1 Peter 5:7; Psalm 55:22; Romans 8:35-39; I John 4; Isaiah 41:10; 43:1-4; Zephaniah 3:17; Deuteronomy 33:27; Psalm 23. These passages from Scripture emphasize God’s love and care for us and our preciousness and worth to God. Yet, in this fallen world, trials and difficulties, including stress, are part of our life. But we can grow through them as the Lord helps us (Jn 16:33; Jas 1:2-4; Phil 4:13). Even the stress or struggle of spiritual warfare against the devil (1 Pet 5:8-9) and spiritual forces of evil (Eph 6:11-12) can be an experience of victory and growth through submitting to God and resisting the devil (Jas 4:7), learning to be strong in the Lord and His mighty power, and using the armor of God, especially prayer and the Word of God (Eph 6:10-18). We can rest in the Lord, even in spiritual warfare, knowing that He has already won the spiritual victory for us (Col 2:15; Heb 2:14). The Lord reminds us that the battle is His, not ours: He will undertake for us and bring victory and deliverance (2 Chron 20: 15, 17; I Sam 17:47). Not by might nor by power, but by His Spirit! (Zech 4:6). As the Lord told Moses, so He reassures us afresh: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Ex 33:14).
  3. Matthew 11:28-30; Luke 10:38-42. Jesus will give us rest, but we need to have humility and meekness and come to Him and sit at His feet, spending or “wasting” time with Him, listening to His voice.
  4. Mark 6:31. We need to take time off to rest, as well as to keep the Sabbath weekly to cease from work so we can rest and worship (Ex 20:8-11; Dt 5:15; Mk 2:27).
  5. I Corinthians 13. Love is the key to what really counts in life from God’s eternal perspective and not from materialistic criteria of success. A correct biblical perspective on true success is crucial for managing stress and growing through it. It is essential for us to understand that God’s ways and standards are often different from our human ways and standards: His ways and thoughts are higher and better (Is 55:8-9). God judges the heart: internal motives are critical, and whatever is highly valued by the world is detestable in God’s sight (Lk 16:15)!
  6. Habakkuk 3:17-19. The true basis of life and fulfillment is the Lord Himself and Him only! Let us learn to rejoice in the Lord and be joyful in God our Savior, despite difficult or bad circumstances, and have our deepest satisfaction in Him. Praise and worship of God are powerful stress busters!
  7. Philippians 4:4-9. To overcome anxiety and stress, rejoice in the Lord always (v.4); be gentle (v.5); pray with thanksgiving (vv.6-7); think biblically (v.8); and act appropriately (v.9).
  8. Romans 8:28. Know and believe God’s blessed assurance that in all things, He works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. There is ultimate meaning and good in our lives. Our present suffering cannot be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us and in heaven to come (Rom 8:18; 2 Cor 4:16-18).

God’s Purpose Behind Our Problems

Article Source: Unknown

Life is a series of problem-solving opportunities.

The problems you face will either defeat you or develop you – depending on how you respond to them. Unfortunately, most people fail to see how God wants to use problems for good in their lives. They react foolishly and resent their problems rather than pausing to consider what benefit they might bring.

Here are five ways God wants to use the problems in your life:

1. God uses problems to DIRECT you. Sometimes God must light a fire under you to get you moving. Problems often point us in a new direction and motivate us to change. Is God trying to get your attention? “Sometimes it takes a painful situation to make us change our ways.” Pr. 20:30 (GN)

2. God uses problems to INSPECT you. People are like teabags… if you want to know what’s inside them, just drop them into hot water! Has God ever tested your faith with a problem? What do problems reveal about you? When you have many kinds of troubles, you should be full of joy, because you know that these troubles test your faith, and this will give you patience.” James 1:2-3 (NCV)

3. God uses problems to CORRECT you. Some lessons we learn only through pain and failure. It’s likely that as a child your parents told you not to touch a hot stove. But you probably learned by being burned. Sometimes we only learn the value of something… health, money, a relationship … by losing it. “… It was the best thing that could have happened to me, for it taught me to pay attention to your laws.” Ps 119:71-72 (LB)

4. God uses problems to PROTECT you. A problem can be a blessing in disguise if it prevents you from being harmed by something more serious. Last year a friend was fired for refusing to do something unethical that his boss had asked him to do. His unemployment was a problem – but it saved him from being convicted and sent to prison a year later when management’s actions were eventually discovered. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…” Gen 50:20 (NIV)

5. God uses problems to PERFECT you. Problems, when responded to correctly, are character builders. God is far more interested in your character than your comfort. Your relationship to God and your character are the only two things you’re going to take with you into eternity. “We can rejoice when we run into problems …they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady.” Rom. 5:3-4 (LB)

 

 

Father, Forgive Them: Why and How

(Adapted from Wounds That Heal by Stephen Seamands, Chapter 8)

Throughout His ministry, Jesus consistently stressed that as God has forgiven us, we in turn ought to forgive others. In the Lord’s Prayer, he taught us to say: Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors (Matthew 6:12).

On another occasion, He commanded His disciples, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone” (Mark 11:25). When Peter inquired how many times He was obligated to forgive, Jesus insisted, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). He then told a story about an unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-34). Although his master had forgiven his immense debt, the servant refused to forgive a minor amount owed to him by a fellow servant. When the master found out what the servant had done, he had the servant thrown in jail. Jesus warned His disciples, “So, my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).

Jesus not only consistently preached radically extending forgiveness to others, He also practiced it. And He practiced it when it was incomprehensibly difficult – as He was hanging on a cross. The victim of gross injustice, His body wracked with pain, the vicious taunts of His enemies ringing in His ears, He gathered His strength and cried out, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing,”

The Christian imperative to forgive those who have inflicted pain on us is a call to imitate Jesus. However, we are not called to imitate Christ in our own strength. We discover that as we will to forgive, He imparts His strength to us.

The Process of Forgiveness

I cannot overemphasize the importance of forgiveness in the healing of human hurts. Forgiveness unlocks the door to healing, restoration, freedom and renewal. Until we open that door, we will remain stuck in the past, destined to carry the hurt and burden forever without hope of a restored heart or a renewed future. There is no greater blockage to a person’s receiving healing from God than that person’s refusal to forgive others. We will never find healing for our hurts until, like Jesus, we say, “Father, forgive them.”

What then does true forgiveness – Jesus called it forgiving “from the heart (Matthew 18:35) – involve?

1. Facing the facts. Forgiveness begins when we are ruthlessly honest about what was done to us. We don’t cover up what happened, explain it away, blame ourselves or make excuses for the other person. Squarely and realistically, we face the truth: “I was violated and sinned against. I was hurt. What they did was wrong.” Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and, nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the person who has done it. In facing the facts, it is important to be specific. General acknowledgments of wrong followed by sweeping generalizations of forgiveness won’t do. For many, the first step in forgiving will involve getting out of denial. Truth can be hard to bear, and at times, we will go to great lengths to avoid it. Forgiveness begins by acknowledging the nails in our hearts hammered in by the actions of others and looking at them intently.

2. Feeling the hurt. Forgiveness begins with facing the facts but then goes further. More than “just the facts,” we must connect with the feelings bound up with the facts – feelings like rejection, loneliness, fear, anger, shame and depression that still reverberate in us today. For many of us, the emotions of past hurts are so painful and threatening we have simply disconnected from them. And so we have to persistently ask, “What was I feeling when that happened to me?” Answering that question can be extremely difficult. No one wants to reexperience such unpleasant feelings. Better then to deny them, it seems, or sweep them under the rug. But we can’t reach the threshold of forgiveness until we recover, at least in some measure, the feelings bound up with the painful facts.

3. Confronting our hate. Forgiving involves letting go of hatred or resentment toward the persons who have wounded us. But again, before we can let go of something, we have to acknowledge it’s there. We must admit we resent those who wronged us, for a part of us hates them for what they did. Forgiveness is not blaming ourselves for what happened. We may not be completely innocent, but what our victimizers did was unjustifiable. They are to blame for our pain, and there is a part of us that hates them for it. Forgiveness requires the courage to confront our hatred.

4. Bearing the pain. When others have wronged us, there is a demanding voice within us that cries out, “What they did isn’t right. They ought to pay for what they’ve done.” This is a God-given voice. The desire to see justice in our own – and all – relationships has been planted in our hearts by God. So, when we forgive, do we ignore the divinely implanted desire for justice and set it aside? No. The sin, the injustice, must be taken seriously. But instead of achieving justice by insisting the guilty party pay for the wrong, we choose to pay ourselves. Though innocent, we choose to bear the pain of the injustice. In forgiveness, as the Scripture says, “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). It triumphs, however, not by ignoring judgment, but by bearing it. Whenever we forgive, we bear pain. That’s why forgiveness is always costly.

The ultimate example of the costliness of forgiveness is the cross of Christ. The Scripture says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross” (I Peter 2:24). He took on Himself the guilt, punishment and shame of our sins. We deserved to suffer for them but instead, God in Christ carried them in His own being. God did not overlook our sins or pretend they didn’t matter but bore the pain and the judgment Himself. Christ, the Judge, allowed Himself to be judged in our place. To a much lesser degree, whenever we forgive others, we do the same thing: we take the punishment they deserve, absorbing it ourselves. We bear the pain.

5. Releasing those who have wronged us. Although forgiveness does not set aside the demands of justice, it still seems to run cross-grain to our natural sense of fair play. In part, our anger and resentment is our way of regaining control of an unfair situation and getting back at the persons who have wronged us. It’s our attempt to even the score. But forgiving means releasing our offenders and turning them over to God. It’s saying, “I know what they’ve done and I feel the pain of it, but I choose not to be the one who determines what is justice for them.” When we forgive we relinquish the roles of judge, jury and executioner and turn them over to God. When we forgive, we relinquish control of the persons who have wronged us. We quit playing God in their lives. No longer will we determine what is just for them or make sure they get what they deserve. Thus, forgiveness is an act of faith. We turn the ones who have wronged us over to God. We entrust them to God, saying, “Vengeance is not mine, but Thine alone.” And like all faith acts, forgiveness contains an element of risk. What if God doesn’t get even with those who have wronged us? What if God chooses to extend mercy to them?

By giving the people who have wronged us over to God, we also give ourselves to God. Parts of ourselves we have been holding are now entrusted to Him. No wonder there is such healing power in forgiveness. When we release others and ourselves to God, we give up control, and then His Presence and Power are released to us. Bearing the pain and releasing those who have wronged us constitute the heart of forgiveness. But I want to emphasize that forgiveness doesn’t ignore or set aside the demands of justice. One might conclude that when we forgive, we refrain from any effort to hold those who have wronged us accountable for their behavior, leaving that totally up to God and to others. However, that simply is not true. Forgiveness doesn’t mean tolerating injustice. “Unfruitful works of darkness” should be exposed (Ephesians 5:11). Actions have consequences that evildoers must be forced to accept. When crimes have been committed, offenders should be turned over to the judicial system.

Bearing the pain and releasing those who have wronged us have to do with our attitudes toward those who have wronged us; seeking justice has to do with our actions toward them. These attitudes and actions are not opposed to each other. In fact, practicing forgiveness and promoting justice go hand in hand. Having made a decision to forgive, our concern in promoting justice is not to avenge ourselves or destroy our offenders but to protect ourselves and others in the community from future injury at the offender’s hands. Furthermore, by insisting that offenders be held accountable for their actions, we are actually extending grace to them by offering them an opportunity to face the truth about themselves, admit their wrongdoing and turn from their wicked ways.

6. Assuming responsibility for ourselves. As long as we blame others for our problems, we don’t have to take responsibility for ourselves; they’re on the hook. By releasing them, however, we let them off the hook. Now, we’re on the hook. We must take responsibility and can no longer make excuses for ourselves. Often people hesitate when challenged to forgive because instinctively they know that if they do, they will have no one to blame for their predicament. Unfortunately, we live in a culture of victimization that encourages us to play the blame game. For many of us, portraying oneself as a victim has become an attractive pastime. Forgiveness strikes a blow at the root of one’s victim status. We may have been a victim, but we’re not stuck there. By taking responsibility for ourselves, we declare that what happened doesn’t define who we are. We have an identity apart from our pain. That can be risky and frightening, of course. We may have grown to depend on our excuses and become comfortable with our victim identity. Losing an enemy whom we can resent and blame may disturb us more than losing a friend. We may be meeting needs by our holding on to our pain and resentment.

Yet how liberating it is when, by forgiving, we do accept responsibility for ourselves. The persons who have hurt us no longer exercise control over our lives. When we forgive we not only release them, we also release ourselves from them and set ourselves free to determine our destiny apart from our wounds.

7. Longing for reconciliation. The ultimate goal and purpose of forgiveness is reconciliation, or the restoration and renewal of broken relationships. Thus, forgiveness is not only about letting go of bitterness and revoking revenge. It is about the coming together of persons who have been alienated from each other. From a Christian perspective, forgiving simply so I can get my hurts healed and get on with my life doesn’t go far enough.

Of course, the nature and extent of reconciliation depend on a number of factors, the most important of which is the offender’s willingness to be reconciled with us and to take the costly action necessary for its accomplishment. In many instances we won’t be able to achieve the measure of reconciliation we desire. What do we do, for instance, when the offender refuses to be reconciled with us or persists in offensive behavior? On occasion we will have to settle for less than the best. Still, forgiveness ought to put within us a longing for reconciliation. At first we may grudgingly say, “I’ll forgive them, but I don’t want to have anything to do with them ever again.” And that may be a sufficient place to start. But as forgiveness does its work, it will change our attitude. We will begin to see our offenders through eyes of compassion. One day we will even find ourselves wishing good for them. Our longing for a reconciled relationship may so intensify that we grieve when it fails to work out.

The process of forgiving someone who has wronged us brings us once again to the Cross of Christ. As we stand at the cross, we must remember that initially forgiveness is more about a decision than an emotion. First and foremost, it is a matter of the will. We come to a place where we choose to forgive. We might be struggling with negative feelings toward those who have hurt us, and we may continue to do so for a considerable time. What is most important at first is our willingness. In forgiving, we send our will ahead by express; our emotions generally come later by slow freight.

But what if we are unwilling to forgive? The hurt is so great, the anger and resentment so intense that nothing within us wants to let go of it. Then we should pray, “Lord, make me willing to be made willing.” As a Puritan preacher once advised, “If you can’t come to God with a broken heart, come to God for one.” So if you can’t come to the cross with a willing heart to forgive, come there for one.

On the cross, if Jesus bore both the wrongs done to Him and the wrongs done to us, then when He cried, “Father, forgive them,” could it be he was offering forgiveness not only to those who had wronged Him but also to those who have wronged us? If that is true, then in effect, Jesus has already extended forgiveness to the persons for what they did to us. So if we can’t will to forgive them, we can pray, “Jesus, You live in me. Therefore speak the words in me and through me. Help me to join you in saying, ‘Father, forgive them.’ Even though I can’t speak them myself, I can at least allow You to speak them in me.

We obtain grace in His Presence to release resentment and revenge. As we wait at the cross, Jesus will speak the forgiving words in us. The healing of our hurts and the transformation of our feelings toward those who have wounded us can then really begin. But often this part of the forgiveness process happens slowly – layer by layer. Sometimes after making the decision to forgive, our negative feelings toward the person actually intensify. Repressed emotions surface. Anger may burn more hotly than ever. Or we find ourselves overwhelmed with sadness. Choosing to forgive may cause the pain to intensify. Now that the lid is off, we begin remembering hurtful incidents. Agonizing pictures flood our minds. Old wounds open up all over again. We seem to be going backward, getting worse rather than better.

At this point, we may be tempted to think, I haven’t really forgiven so-and-so. If I had, I wouldn’t be experiencing such intense pain and resentment. The truth is, forgiveness is both a crisis (a definite decision) and a process (releasing hurt and resentment and receiving healing at ever-deepening levels). We have made the decision to forgive, but we are still engaged in the process where many emotional twists and turns lurk along the way. So we don’t need to start over. We simply need to reaffirm our will to forgive, asking the Lord to deepen it. We must also continue to offer our hurtful and hateful feelings to God, praying, “Lord, heal the hurt and cleanse the hate.” As we do, we discover that God, who has begun this good work in us, is faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6). But the healing and cleansing of our hearts is not a one-shot deal. In the crisis of a moment we can will to forgive, but working through our hurt and bitterness happens slowly. We may even find Jesus’ charge to forgive “not seven times, but, seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22) applying to the same offense. At the cross, however, grace awaits to see it through, to finish the good work of forgiveness begun in us.

Do you need grace to begin the process of forgiving someone who has wronged and wounded you? Do you need grace to continue as you struggle with feelings of hurt and bitterness? Come to the Cross. It is the Place to remember how we have been forgiven. It is the Place to forgive. Listen to Jesus as He says, “Father, forgive them.” He not only is asking the Father for forgiveness for those who have wronged and hurt us, but He is also asking for forgiveness for you and me.

Hope for the Depressed

by Ed Welch

Never has so much been crammed into one word. Depression feels terrifying—your world is dark, heavy, painful. Some days you think that physical pain might be easier to endure; at least the pain would be localized. Instead, depression goes to your very soul, corrupting everything in its path. Dead but walking is one way to describe it. You feel numb, but you still remember when you actually felt something. Somehow that makes it harder to bear.

You aren’t alone, of course. Depression affects as much as 25% of the population. But statistics offer little comfort. In fact, a depressive spin on them can make you feel worse: You wonder why so many people are depressed, and you’re afraid that means there is no solution to the problem. Yet there is another perspective. God tells us that he cares about one wandering sheep in a hundred (Matthew 18:10–14) and counts the hairs on individual heads. If he has this much compassion for a solitary, lost individual, he certainly cares for you and such a large group of suffering people. You may not understand how he cares for you, but you can be certain that he is.

SUFFERING MAKES US AWARE OF GOD

You are suffering, and suffering brings God into view. That’s the way it always happens. The soldier who escapes from a treacherous battle will instinctively thank God. The stock broker who just lost a fortune might instinctively curse him. When hardships come we either cry out to God for help, shake our fist at him, or do both. There is actually a picture of this in the Bible: throughout history God has taken his people out into the wilderness, and you are certainly in the wilderness.

The journey in the wilderness is intended, in part, to reveal what is in our hearts, and to teach us to trust God in both good times and hard times. Why does he do this? To show us those things that are most important. Don’t forget that God takes his children into the wilderness. He even led his only Son into the wilderness. We shouldn’t be surprised if he takes us there as well.

While you are in the wilderness what are you seeing in your own heart? How are you relating to God? Do you avoid him? Ignore him? Get angry at him? Do you act as though he is very far away and too busy with everything else to attend to your suffering? Are you frustrated that God is powerful enough to end your suffering but he hasn’t? In your depression, let God reveal your heart. You might find spiritual issues that contribute to or even cause your depression.

WHICH PATH WILL YOU CHOOSE?

You are on one of two roads: faith or isolated independence. On the road of faith you are seeking and following God. You are calling out to him. You don’t understand what is happening, but you have not lost sight of how the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ assure you that he is good. You feel like you are walking in the dark, but in your best moments you are putting one foot in front of the other as an expression of your trust in God. Whether you know it or not you are being heroic. On this path, although you are suffering, you are still able to notice and marvel that God’s Spirit is empowering you to trust him through darkness and pain.

The other path is the more common one, even among Christians. Even if you believe that God has revealed himself to you in Jesus Christ, it doesn’t seem to make much difference. You don’t feel as though you are consciously avoiding God. You are just trying to survive. But if you look closely you will notice that you are pushing God away. Look at the tell-tale signs:

  • You have no hope, even though Scripture, God’s words to you, offers hope on almost every page. Here’s just one example, “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21–23).
  • You think life is meaningless, even though you are a servant of the King and every small step of obedience resonates throughout eternity. This is God’s purpose for you today, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6).
  • You think God doesn’t care, even though Scripture makes it clear that we run from God, not vice versa. Listen to what God says to you, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6–7).
  • In other words, in many areas of life, you simply do not believe what God says.

Practical Strategies for Change

Depression tries to tell us what is true and what isn’t. For example, it says that you will never feel any different, and you can’t continue to live in such a condition. It says that God doesn’t care, and no one loves you. It tries to persuade you that nothing matters. Know, however, that depression lies! You have to tell it the truth, rather than listen to its interpretation of life.

Do you remember times when you were grouchy and everything in the world looked horrible? Or you had PMS and it colored your interpretation of other people? Our emotions are loud, but they do not tell the whole story.

TURN TO GOD AND LISTEN

Turn toward God, and instead of listening to your depression, listen to what he says about himself. The center of his message to you is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus, the Son of God, became the Son of Man. He obeyed the Father perfectly, emptied himself, and became your servant. He died to give you life. Now he is the King, and through his death he brings you into his kingdom. Here on earth the kingdom of heaven is riddled with suffering, but we know the King is with us and our suffering is only for a short while. We also know that the King takes our suffering, which seems senseless, and makes it profitable in his kingdom. Read all of Romans 8 and pay special attention to these words, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:28–29).

This is God’s message to you. Beg for grace and mercy so you can hear it over the din of your depression.

The Spirit of God speaks most clearly to you in the Bible, so take the small step of opening it and reading it. If you can’t, ask someone else to read it to you. Ask God to speak to you through his words in the Bible. Ask a friend to talk to you about the good news that Jesus lived, died, and rose again. Any friend who knows that good news would love to talk about it.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Read about Jesus’ suffering in Isaiah 53 and Mark 14. How does it help you to know that Jesus is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief?
  • Use the Psalms to help you talk to God about your heart. Make Psalm 86 and Psalm 88 your personal prayers to God.
  • Be alert to spiritual warfare. Depressed people are very vulnerable to Satan’s claim that God is not good. Jesus’ death on the cross proves God’s love for you. It’s the only weapon powerful enough to stand against Satan’s lies (Romans 5:6–8; 1 John 4:9–10).
  • Don’t think your case in unique. Read Hebrews 11 and 12. Many have walked this path before you, and God did not fail them.
  • Remember your purpose for living (Matthew 22:37–39; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 2 Corinthians 5:15; Galatians 5:6).
  • Learn about persevering and enduring (Romans 5:3; Hebrews 12:1; James 1:2-4).

Gradually a new goal will come into view. Without doubt you will still want depression to be gone, but you will also develop a vision of walking humbly with your God even in the midst of pain. When you read Scripture, you will find that many people have walked the same path.

CONSIDER THE SPIRITUAL CAUSES OF YOUR DEPRESSION

Next, consider some of the spiritual issues that might play a part in your depression. There is no one cause of depression, but there are some common paths that provoke a depressive spiral. Identifying these in your life may help you move out of depression and avoid it in the future.

Depression rarely appears overnight. When you look closely, you usually find that it crept up on you gradually. Take a closer look at its progression. Personal problems that are left spiritually unattended can, in susceptible people, lead to depression. Do you see any of these things in your life?

  • If you made someone besides God the center of your life, and you lose him or her, you will feel isolated and without purpose. Can you see how this can give way to depression? You made another person your reason for living and now, without him or her, you feel hopeless and unable to go on. You may not realize it, but the Bible tell us that this is idol worship—you are worshipping what God created instead of him.
  • If you feel like you failed in the eyes of other people, and your success and the opinions of others is of critical importance, you can slip into depression. Can you see the spiritual roots? Your success and the opinions of others have become your gods, they are more important to you than serving Christ.
  • If you feel like you did something very wrong, and you want to manage your sin apart from the cross of Jesus, depression is inevitable. We always want to believe that we can do something—like feeling really bad for our sins—but that is just pride. We actually think that we can pay God back, but this attitude minimizes the beauty of the cross and Jesus’ full payment for sin.
  • If you are angry and don’t practice forgiveness, you can easily slide into depression. The simple formula is sadness + anger = depression. What makes us angry shows us what we love and what rights we hold dear. Unforgiveness shows us that we are not willing to trust God to bind up our broken hearts and to judge justly. Deal with your sadness and anger by pouring your heart out to God. Use the psalms as your prayers. Ask for faith so that you can trust God to be your defender and your helper.

Even students of depression who reject the Bible acknowledge that anger, resentment, and jealousy can contribute to the beginnings of depression. So take a hard look. Look for sin patterns you can confess. This is hard, but it is not depressing. If punishment was on the other side of confession, it would be foolish to follow such a path. But get to the gospel of Jesus and on the other side you will find full forgiveness, love, hope, and joy. They are yours for the asking. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9).

TAKE ONE STEP AT A TIME

Now, take one small step at a time. Granted, it seems impossible. How can you live without feelings? Without them you have no drive, no motivation. Could you imagine walking without any feeling in your legs? It would be impossible. Or would it? Perhaps you could walk if you practiced in front of a large mirror and watched your legs moving. One step, wobble, another step. It would all be very mechanical but it could be done.

People have learned to take one step at a time in the midst of depression. It doesn’t seem natural, though other people won’t notice either the awkwardness or the heroism involved. The trek begins with one step, then another. Remember, you are not alone. Many people have taken this journey ahead of you.

As you walk, you will find that you must tap into every resource you have ever learned about persevering through hardship. It will involve lots of moment by moment choices: take one minute at a time, read one short Bible passage, ask for help, try to care about someone else, move outside yourself, ask someone how they are doing, and so on.

When in doubt, confess your unbelief, trust in Jesus, and look for someone to love. A wise depressed person once said, “The reason I get up—after years of depression—is that I want to love one other person.”

GUIDELINES FOR MEDICATION

The severe pain of depression makes you welcome anything that can bring relief. For some people, medication brings relief from some symptoms. Most family physicians are qualified to prescribe appropriate medications. If you prefer a specialist, get a recommendation for a psychiatrist, and ask these questions of your doctor and pharmacist:

  • How long will it take before it is effective?
  • What are some of the common side effects?
  • And, if your physician is prescribing two medications, will it be difficult to determine which medication is effective?

From a Christian perspective, the choice to take medication is a wisdom issue. It is rarely a matter of right or wrong. Instead, the question to ask is, “What is best and wise?” Wise people seek counsel (your physicians should be part of the group that counsels you). Wise people approach decisions prayerfully. They don’t put their hope in people or medicine but in the Lord. They recognize that medication is a blessing, when it helps, but recognize its limits.

Medication can change physical symptoms, but not spiritual ones. It might give sleep, offer physical energy, allow you to see in color, and alleviate the physical feeling of depression. But it won’t answer your spiritual doubts, fears, frustrations, or failures. If you choose to take medication, please consider letting a wise and trusted person from your church walk come along side of you. They can remind you that God is good, that you can find power to know God’s love and love others, and, yes, that joy is possible, even during depression.

DEALING WITH SUICIDAL THOUGHTS

Before you were depressed, you could not imagine dreaming of suicide. But when depression descends, you notice a passing thought about death, then another, and another until death acts like a stalker.

Remember, depression doesn’t tell the whole truth. It says you are all alone, no one loves you, God doesn’t care, you will never feel any different, and you cannot go on another day. Even your spouse and children don’t seem like a reason to stay alive when depression is at its worst. Your mind tells you, “Everyone will be better off without me.” But this is a lie—they will not be better off without you.

Because you aren’t working with all the facts, keep it simple. Death is not your call to make. God is the giver and taker of life. As long as he gives you life, he has purposes for you. One purpose that is always right in front of you is to love another person. Begin with that purpose and then get help from a friend or a pastor. Depression says you are alone and you should act that way. But that is not true. God is with you and he calls you to reach out to someone who will listen, care, and pray for you.

PERSEVERE IN HOPE

Will your depression go away? Perhaps. If you follow these suggestions, your depression will, at least, be changed. But to guarantee that you will be depression-free is like guaranteeing that you will never have suffering in your life. The cross of Christ is a sign to us that we will share in the sufferings of Jesus rather than be free of all hardships.

Your hope rests on something much deeper than the alleviation of pain. Depression can’t rob you of hope because your hope is in a person, and that person, Jesus, is alive and with you. The apostle Paul put his suffering on a scale and found that it was out-weighed by all the benefits he had in Christ. Of course, that kind of hope and vision doesn’t come overnight, but it does come. Set your sights high. You can set a course where you say “Amen” with Paul.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)

Edward T. Welch, M.Div., Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and faculty member at CCEF. He has counseled for over twenty-five years and has written many articles, booklets, and books including When People Are Big and God Is Small; Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave; Blame It on the Brain?; Depression: A Stubborn Darkness; Crossroads: A Step-by-Step Guide Away from Addiction; and Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest.

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BOUNDARIES – What Are They?

(Adapted from Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend)

Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom.

We are responsible to others and for ourselves. “Carry each other’s burdens, ” says Galatians 6:2, “and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” This verse shows our responsibility to one another.

Many times others have “burdens” that are too big to bear. They do not have enough strength, resources, or knowledge to carry the load, and they need help. Denying ourselves to do for others what they cannot do for themselves is showing the sacrificial love of Christ. This is what Christ did for us. He did what we could not do for ourselves; He saved us. This is being responsible “to.”

On the other hand, verse 5 says, “… each one should carry his own load.” Everyone has responsibilities that only he or she can carry. These things are our own particular “load” that we need to take daily responsibility for and work out. No one can do certain things for us. We have to take ownership of certain aspects of life that are our own “load.”

Boundaries help us to distinguish our property so that we can take care of it. In short, boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out. Boundaries are not walls. The Bible does not say that we are to be “walled off” from others; in fact, it says that we are to be “one” with them (John 17:11). We are to be in community with them. But in every community, all members have their own space and property. The important thing is that property lines/boundaries be permeable enough to allow passing in and out, but strong enough to keep out danger.

Examples of boundaries:

Words – The most basic boundary-setting word is “no.” Being clear about your no – and your yes – is a theme that runs throughout the Bible (Matt. 5:37; James 5:12). “NO” is a confrontational word. The Bible says that we are to confront people we love, saying, “No, that behavior is not okay. I will not participate in that.” The word “no” is also important in setting limits on abuse. People with poor boundaries struggle with saying no to the control, pressure, demands, and sometimes the real needs of others. They feel that is they say no to someone, they will endanger their relationship with that person, so they passively comply but inwardly resent. If you cannot say no to this external or internal pressure, you have lost control of your property and are not enjoying the fruit of “self-control.” Your words also define your property for others as you communicate your feelings, intentions, or dislikes. It is difficult for people to know where you stand when you do not use words to define your property. God even does this when He says, “I like this and I hate that,” or “I will do this, and I will not do that.”

Truth – Knowing the truth about God and His property puts limits on you and shows you His boundaries. To be in touch with God’s Truth is to be in touch with reality, and to live in accord with that reality makes for a better life (Ps. 119:2, 45). Satan is the great distorter of reality. Honesty about who you are gives you the biblical value of integrity.

Geographical Distance – Sometimes physically removing yourself from a situation will help maintain boundaries. You can do this to replenish yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually after you have given to your limit, as Jesus often did. Or, you can remove yourself to get away from danger and put limits on evil. The Bible urges us to separate from those who continue to hurt us and to create a safe place for ourselves. Removing yourself from the situation will also cause the one who is left behind to experience a loss of fellowship that may lead to changed behavior (Matt. 18:17 – 18; I Cor. 5:11-13). When a relationship is abusive, many times the only way to finally show the other person that your boundaries are real is to create space until they are ready to deal with the problem. The Bible supports the idea of limiting togetherness for the sake of “binding evil.”

Time – Taking time off from a person, or a project, can be a way of regaining ownership over some out-of-control aspect of your life where boundaries need to be set.

Emotional Distance – Emotional distance is a temporary boundary to give your heart the space it needs to be safe; it is never a permanent way of living. Sometimes in abusive marriages the abused spouse needs to keep emotional distance until the abusive partner begins to face his or her problems and become trustworthy. You should not continue to set yourself up for hurt and disappointment. If you have been in an abusive relationship, you should wait until it is safe and until the real patterns of change have been demonstrated before you go back. Many people are too quick to trust someone in the name of forgiveness and not make sure that the other is producing “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). Forgive, but guard your heart until you see sustained change.

Other People – You need to depend on others to help you set and keep boundaries. For many, a support system gives the strength to say no to abuse and control for the first time in one’s life. There are two reasons why you need others to help with boundaries. The first is that your most basic need in life is for relationship. The other reason we need others is because we need new input and teaching. Boundaries are not built in a vacuum; creating boundaries always involves a support network.

Consequences – Trespassing on other people’s property carries consequences. “No Trespassing” signs usually carry a threat of prosecution if someone steps over the boundaries. The Bible teaches this principle over and over, saying that if we walk one way, this will happen, and if we walk another way, something else will happen. Just as the Bible sets consequences for certain behaviors, we need to back up our boundaries with consequences. God does not enable irresponsible behavior. Consequences give some good “barbs” to fences. They let people know the seriousness of the trespass and the seriousness of our respect for ourselves. This teaches them that our commitment to living according to helpful values is something we hold dear and will fight to protect and guard.

What falls within our boundaries; what are we responsible for?

Feelings – Feelings should neither be ignored nor placed in charge. The Bible says to “own” your feelings and be aware of them. Feelings come from your heart and can tell you the state of your relationships. They can tell you if things are going well, or if there is a problem. But, your feelings are your responsibility and you must own them and see them as your problem so you can begin to find an answer to whatever issue they are pointing to.

Attitudes and Beliefs – Attitudes have to do with your orientation toward something, the stance you take toward others, God, life, work, and relationships. Beliefs are anything that you accept as true. We need to own our attitudes and convictions because they fall within our property line. We are the ones who feel their effect, and the only ones who can change them. People with boundary problems usually have distorted attitudes about responsibility. They feel that to hold people responsible for their feelings, choices, and behaviors is mean.

Behaviors – Behaviors have consequences. To rescue people from the natural consequences of their behaviors is to render them powerless.

Choices – We need to take responsibility for our choices. A common boundary problem is disowning our choices and trying to lay the responsibility for them on someone else. We think someone else is in control, thus relieving us of our basic responsibility. We need to realize that we are in control of our choices no matter how we feel. Throughout Scripture, people are reminded of their choices and asked to take responsibility for them. Making decisions based on others’ approval or on guilt breeds resentment. Setting boundaries inevitably involves taking responsibility for our choices. We are the ones who make them. We are the ones who must live with our consequences.

Values – What we value is what we love and assign importance to. Often we do not take responsibility for what we value. When we take responsibility for out-of-control behavior caused by loving the wrong things, or valuing things that have no lasting value, when we confess that we have a heart that values things that will not satisfy, we can receive help from God to “create a new heart” within us. Boundaries help us not to deny but to own our old hurtful values so God can change them.

Limits – Tow aspects of limits stand out when it comes to creating better boundaries. The first is setting limits on others. In reality, setting limits on others is a misnomer. We can’t do that. What we can do is set limits on our own exposure to people who are behaving poorly; we can’t change them or make them behave right. God sets standards, but He lets people be who they are and then separates Himself from them when they misbehave. But God limits His exposure to evil, unrepentant people, as should we. Scripture is full of admonitions to separate ourselves from people who act in destructive ways. The other aspect of limits is setting our own internal limits. We need to have spaces inside ourselves where we can have a feeling, an impulse, or a desire, without acting it out. We need self-control without repression. We need to be able to say “no” to ourselves. This includes both our destructive desires and some good ones that are not wise to pursue at a given time.

Talents – Our talents are clearly within our boundaries and are our responsibility. Yet taking ownership of them is often frightening and always risky. The parable of the talents (Matt. 25:23, 26-28) says that we are accountable — not to mention much happier – when we are experiencing our gifts and being productive. It takes work, practice, learning, prayer, resources, and grace to overcome the fear of failure that the “wicked and lazy” servant gave in to. He was not chastised for being afraid; we are all afraid when trying something new and difficult. He was chastised for not confronting his fear and trying the best he could.

Thoughts – Establishing boundaries in thinking involves three things.

  1. We must own our own thoughts. Many people have not taken ownership of their own thinking processes. They are mechanically thinking the thoughts of others without ever examining them. Certainly we should listen to the thoughts of others and weigh them; but we should never “give our minds” over to anyone.
  2. We must grow in knowledge and expand our minds. One area in which we need to grow is in knowledge of God and His Word. We must use our brains to have better lives and glorify God.
  3. We must clarify distorted thinking. We all have a tendency to not see things clearly, to think and perceive in distorted ways. Taking ownership of our thinking in relationships requires being active in checking out where we may be wrong. Also we need to make sure that we are communicating our thoughts to others. Many people think that others should be able to read their minds and know what they want. This leads to frustration.

Desires – Our desires lie within our boundaries. Each of us has different desires, wants, dreams, wishes, goals, plans, hungers, and thirsts. We all want to be satisfied, but too often we are not. Part of the problem lies in the lack of structured boundaries within our personality. We can’t define who the real “me” is and what we truly desire. Many desires masquerade as the real thing. We often do not actively seek our desires from God, and those desires are mixed up with things that we do not really need. God is truly interested in our desires; He made them. God loves to give gifts to His children, but He is a wise Parent. He wants to make sure His gifts are right for us. To know what to ask for, we have to be in touch with who we really are and what are our real motives.

Love – Many people have difficulty giving and receiving love because of hurt and fear. Having closed their heart to others, they feel empty and meaningless. We need to take responsibility for our God-given loving function and use it. Love concealed or love rejected can both kill us. Many people do not take ownership for how they resist love. They have a lot of love around them, but do not realize that their loneliness is a result of their own lack of responsiveness. Often they will say, “Others’ love can not ‘get in.'” This statement negates their responsibility to respond. We maneuver subtly to avoid responsibility in love; we need to claim our hearts as our property and work on our weaknesses in that area.

Considering all of the above, setting boundaries and maintaining them is hard work. But it is worth it!

We Are at War

The Counseling Moment Editor’s Notes:  Yes, as the author of the article below states, “We are at war.”  That is a fact of life this side of heaven.  At the same time, we, who have a personal faith in Christ, are aligned with and belong to the One who has overcome Satan, death, sin, and the world and is the Victor in the war (Rev 3:21). 

SOURCE:  John Eldredge

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

Have you ever wondered why Jesus married those two statements? Did you even know he spoke them at the same time? I mean, he says them in one breath. And he has his reasons.

By all means, God intends life for you. But right now that life is opposed. It doesn’t just roll in on a tray. There is a thief. He comes to steal and kill and destroy. Why won’t we face this? I know so few people who will face this. The offer is life, but you’re going to have to fight for it, because there’s an Enemy in your life with a different agenda.

There is something set against us.

We are at war.

I don’t like that fact any more than you do, but the sooner we come to terms with it, the better hope we have of making it through to the life we do want.

This is not Eden.

You probably figured that out.

This is not Mayberry, this is not Seinfeld’s world, this is not Survivor.

The world in which we live is a combat zone, a violent clash of kingdoms, a bitter struggle unto the death.

I am sorry if I’m the one to break this news to you: you were born into a world at war, and you will live all your days in the midst of a great battle, involving all the forces of heaven and hell and played out here on earth.

Where did you think all this opposition was coming from?

(Waking the Dead , 12-13)

Where Have I Really Put My Faith?

SOURCE:  Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Network

Security means different things to different people. Some people feel secure if their health is good, many experience security if their finances are strong, and others if they’re surrounded by a loving family. But depending on people or things for your ongoing and complete security will eventually result in disappointment, as all the things of this world are limited and fallible.

Suppose you work for a company many years, building up a healthy retirement fund that you are depending on for security in later life. Soon after your 60th birthday, the company falters and the retirement fund is no more. If your faith has been in that retirement plan for your security, you are devastated and will now experience fear and anxiety as you face the future.

But if you recognize that God, not the retirement fund, is the real source for all your needs, you can rest in the assurance that He has a plan … and that He will take care of you. Nothing takes God by surprise. You might not see His plan, but you can be confident that He has everything under control.

The same principle applies when you lose a job, a friend moves, you get a scary diagnosis, your child has a special issue … really, when any part of your agenda doesn’t go as you planned. If your confidence, your security, and thus, your faith is in the job … friend … health … agenda, you will lose hope. Or at the very least, you’ll have a fragile hope.

But when your faith is in Jesus, you know that He never changes. Nothing can separate you from His love. And He will provide a way as He promises. Often times, He provides through a way that is foreign to me to “prove” that He is at work in my life. That is why we need to keep our eyes open throughout the day. Peace and other provisions from God may come in ways we are not expecting.

Today, examine what you fear losing. It’s ok if you would feel sadness for that loss. But if you would have fear, anxiety, or lose sleep if it were taken away from you, then you are probably depending on that particular element too much to meet some of your needs. Ask God to show you how He will meet that need and lessen your grip on that thing you fear losing. He is your rock, so rest on and build your life on Him. He will be the solid foundation on which to build all the elements of your life.

Prayer

Dear Father God, forgive me for the times I have depended on other people and things, and then lost hope when they let me down. Help me to use the knowledge and truth of Your word to utilize the blessings You have provided me, but not to become dependent on them. Help me to remember that You are my ultimate source of comfort and provision, and that You are unchanging and totally trustworthy. Thank You for supplying all my needs. I pray this and all prayers in the name of the One who died for my biggest need, Jesus Christ;  – AMEN!

The Truth

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19

Are “Inner Voices” Real? Yes!

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Radio Bible Class

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:27

Hearing voices has to be the most haunting of all the mental disorders. After all, which voice do you listen to? Talk about massive confusion! But before you think that you are among the blessed ones who don’t hear voices, think again. Today will be full of voices that compete for a piece of your life. Your boss, your spouse, your children, close friends, advertisements, and talk shows all will bombard your psyche with conflicting advice or demands.

It’s not just the voices on the outside. No matter how sane you think you are, we all have inner voices that compete for control; voices that are not always positive. I confess to hearing the compelling whispers of the dark side of my heart on a regular basis. Whispers that advise and plan ways for me to live for my own advantage. Whispers that convincingly argue that a life lived by the lure of my desires is life at its best. Whispers that tell me I am clever enough not to get caught, that nobody is perfect, that God understands my weakness and will forgive me. Tell me that I am not alone and that you can identify!

I have learned that when those kinds of inner voices dominate, I often look back in regret and shame for letting them grab the control levers of my life. They promise me life at its best but consistently leave me empty, disappointed, guilty and embarrassed.

That’s why I am forever grateful that there is a voice within that I can trust. A single voice that puts all the other voices into perspective. A voice that speaks wisdom clearly and confidently. A voice that has my best interest in mind and wants to lead me to life at its best.

Over the years as I have followed the advice and counsel of that voice, I have never been disappointed. It hasn’t always been easy advice, and sometimes it hasn’t made a lot of sense—like telling me that I should forgive someone who has hurt me or that I need to die to myself—but it has reliably been the right advice.

It’s the voice of Jesus. When you get on line in your heart to hear His voice and His alone, you will be liberated from the conflicting voices that in the end you really can’t trust. Thankfully, He has given you all the equipment you need. Talk about high tech! The indwelling Holy Spirit actually lives within you to decode God’s Word as you read it. He speaks to your mind, heart, and conscience as your eyes scan the lines of the bestselling how-to-live book ever written.

So put the “earbuds” in and tune to the one frequency where you are loved and led to life as God meant it be—life at it’s best!

Remember, His is the only voice you can finally and fully trust. He loves you and died to prove it!

GOD “ABANDONED” GOD FOR ME

Based on: The Doctrine of Divine Abandonment by John MacArthur – Matthew 24-28 Commentary

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46)

A second miracle occurred at about the ninth hour, or three o’clock in the afternoon, through an inexplicable event that might be called sovereign departure, as somehow God was separated from God.

At that time Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” As Matthew explains, the Hebrew Eli (Mark uses the Aramaic form, “Eloi,” 15:34) means, My God, and lama sabachthani means, Why hast Thou forsaken Me?

Because Jesus was quoting the well-known Psalm 22, there could have been little doubt in the minds of those who were standing there as to what Jesus was saying. They had been taunting Him with His claim to be God’s Son (v. 43), and an appeal for divine help would have been expected. Their saying, “This man is calling for Elijah,” was not conjecture about what He said but was simply an extension of their cruel, cynical mockery.

In this unique and strange miracle, Jesus was crying out in anguish because of the separation He now experienced from His heavenly Father for the first and only time in all of eternity. It is the only time of which we have record that Jesus did not address God as Father. Because the Son had taken sin upon Himself, the Father turned His back. That mystery is so great and imponderable that it is not surprising that Martin Luther is said to have gone into seclusion for a long time trying to understand it and came away as confused as when he began. In some way and by some means, in the secrets of divine sovereignty and omnipotence, the God-Man was separated from God for a brief time at Calvary, as the furious wrath of the Father was poured out on the sinless Son, who in matchless grace became sin for those who believe in Him.

Habakkuk declared of God, “Thine eyes are too pure to approve evil, and Thou canst not look on wickedness with favor” (Hab. 1:13). God turned His back when Jesus was on the cross because He could not look upon sin, even-or perhaps especially-in His own Son. Just as Jesus loudly lamented, God the Father had indeed forsaken Him.

Jesus did not die as a martyr to a righteous cause or simply as an innocent man wrongly accused and condemned. Nor, as some suggest, did He die as a heroic gesture against man’s inhumanity to man. The Father could have looked favorably on such selfless deaths as those. But because Jesus died as a substitute sacrifice for the sins of the world, the righteous heavenly Father had to judge Him fully according to that sin.

The Father forsook the Son because the Son took upon Himself “our transgressions, … our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5). Jesus “was delivered up because of our transgression” (Rom. 4:25) and “died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3). He “who knew no sin [became] sin on our behalf” (2 Cor. 5:21) and became “a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross” (1 Pet. 2:24), “died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust” (1 Pet. 3:18), and became “the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Jesus Christ not only bore man’s sin but actually became sin on man’s behalf, in order that those who believe in Him might be saved from the penalty of their sin. Jesus came to teach men perfectly about God and to be a perfect example of God’s holiness and righteousness. But, as He Himself declared, the supreme reason for His coming to earth was not to teach or to be an example but “to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).

When Christ was forsaken by the Father, their separation was not one of nature, essence, or substance. Christ did not in any sense or degree cease to exist as God or as a member of the Trinity. He did not cease to be the Son, any more than a child who sins severely against his human father ceases to be his child. But Jesus did for a while cease to know the intimacy of fellowship with His heavenly Father, just as a disobedient child ceases for a while to have intimate, normal, loving fellowship with his human father.

By the incarnation itself there already had been a partial separation. Because Jesus had been separated from His divine glory and from face-to-face communication with the Father, refusing to hold on to those divine privileges for His own sake (Phil 2:6), He prayed to the Father in the presence of His disciples, “Glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was” (John 17:5). At the cross His separation from the Father became immeasurably more profound than the humbling incarnation during the thirty-three years of His earthly life.

As already mentioned, the mystery of that separation is far too deep even for the most mature believer to fathom. But God has revealed the basic truth of it for us to accept and to understand to the limit of our ability under the illumination of His Spirit. And nowhere in Scripture can we behold the reality of Jesus’ sacrificial death and the anguish of His separation from His Father more clearly and penetratingly than in His suffering on the cross because of sin. In the midst of being willingly engulfed in our sins and the sins of all men of all time, He writhed in anguish not from the lacerations on His back or the thorns that still pierced His head or the nails that held Him to the cross but from the incomparably painful loss of fellowship with His heavenly Father that His becoming sin for us had brought.

Handling Stress Like Jesus

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Jan Johnson

When you’re nervous or intimidated, do you struggle to think clearly?  How about when you’re being questioned or even bullied?  That phrase, “Stress makes you stupid,” describes the way we struggle to answer the easiest of questions when we feel inadequate or challenged.

Because of this, I’ve always been mesmerized by Jesus’ clarity and peace during the “day of questions” of the final week of his earthly life.  Group after adversarial group came to him trying to trick him.  He knew what they were up to, yet he was not intimidated.  He gave answers that showed not only showed his clarity of thinking (as opposed to our muddled thinking when stressed) but also his brilliance in sorting out complex questions (“Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s . . .,”). I picture him that day with his shoulders relaxed, his voice calm, not indulging in dramatic or overstated questions, completely himself under fire.

Nor was Jesus combative.  He didn’t try to silence his questioners or play one-up games with them.  He took every question seriously and then spoke back to the deeper issues behind them (usually the Great Commandment:  love God; love others).  Even when he answered their question with another question (Matt. 21:23-26) it wasn’t out of irritability, but to point them to the answer.

In order for Jesus to respond to these testy intimidations with calmness, clarity, and depth, he must have lived with a deep peace inside him unknown to most of us.  His OKness was not about who liked him or didn’t like him, about who approved of him or didn’t approve of him, about whether bad or good things were about to happen to him. He walked this earth in complete peace – I think of Jesus as “peace on wheels.”  He had the kind of peace I begin to taste when I move through the day saying, “The Lord really is my shepherd;  I do have everything I need;  I can be like that crazy sheep, lying down satisfied in the green pasture. I can face shadows and darkness without fear because God really is me. can even sit across the table from a difficult person and remember that I am an anointed one of God with my cup full of whatever I need at this moment. My body really can be God’s dwelling place every minute of my life.”  As I do this, I taste the inner life of Jesus.

Jesus genuinely loved people, including his questioners.  So he didn’t see them as opponents or adversaries but as people standing in front of him that he had the opportunity to love.  This was how Jesus lived and breathed, loving God and loving others. We, too, can move into such a life, loving God and others even if it’s only for the next ten minutes throughout the day.

Five Key Things To Know About Marriage

#1: Marriage is not all about you. It’s not about your happiness and self-fulfillment. It’s not about getting your needs met. It’s about going through life together and serving God together and serving each other. It’s about establishing a family. It’s about committing your lives to each other even though you may be very different in 10, 20, or 40 years from the people you are now. 

#2: You are about to learn a painful lesson–you are both very selfish people. This may be difficult to comprehend during the happy and hazy days of courtship, but it’s true, and it shocks many couples during their first years of marriage. It’s important to know this revelation of selfishness is coming, because then you can make adjustments for it, and you will be a lot better off.

#3: The person you love the most is also the person who can hurt you the deepest. That’s the risk and pain of marriage. And the beauty of marriage is working through your hurt and pain and resolving your conflicts and solving your problems.

#4: You can’t make it work on your own. It’s obvious that marriage is difficult–just look at how many couples today end in divorce. This is why it’s so critical to center your lives and your marriage on the God who created marriage. To make your marriage last for a lifetime, you need to rely on God for the power and love and strength and wisdom and endurance you need.

#5: Never stop enjoying each other. Always remember that marriage is an incredible gift to be enjoyed. Ecclesiastes 9:9 says, “Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.”

Enjoy the little things of life with your spouse: the food you enjoy together at home or in restaurants … the movies you like … the little inside jokes nobody else understands except for you … the times you make each other laugh … the games you play together.

And focus on making memories together: Plan special dates and weekend getaways. Make sure you reserve time for each other after you have kids. When you are old, you won’t look back and remember how great it was to buy that new furniture or watch that great show on television. You’re going to remember what you did together and saw together and created together.

The Safe Place

(Adapted from Strong Winds & Crashing Waves by Terry Wardle, 83-85)

A Spirit-led exercise to practice the presence of the Lord

Communicating truth by creating word pictures is employed all through Scripture. Isaiah said that God gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart (Isaiah 40:11).  The Psalmist talks about being covered by the wings of God and finding refuge under his feathers (Psalm 91:4).  In both cases, the Lord was speaking metaphorically, creating a picture in the reader’s mind so that he or she could better comprehend God’s protective care.  Creating a safe place within is a way that the Spirit communicates truth through a surrendered and sanctified imagination.  When the Spirit does speak, the truth will always be consistent with the teachings of Scripture, which is in itself the test for what one is seeing, sensing, and hearing during the exercise.

The safe place exercise is a follows:

* Sit quietly in a comfortable position.

* Take several deep breaths, letting them out slowly.

* Begin to whisper words of thanks and praise to the Lord.

* After a few moments, invite the Holy Spirit to take over your imagination.

* Ask the Spirit to create within your mind a safe place where you can meet the Lord.  It may be an imaginary place or somewhere you have actually been before that is special, like a cabin, beach, or spot along a quiet stream.

* Rest there for as long as you like, enjoying all the surroundings.  If you experience some dissonance or distraction, ask the Holy Spirit to take it away in the name of Jesus.

* When ready, invite the Lord to join you in that place.  If that frightens you, ask him to come as the Lamb, or simply allow you to feel his presence.

* Once there, notice the warmth of his love.   Let it soak into your being.  If you are allowing Christ to be there, notice his posture, eyes, and extended arms.  Draw close to him if you desire.

* When ready, tell Jesus how you feel about him.  Then ask how he feels about you.  He may respond with words or maybe actions.  Either way, experience his acceptance and delight.

* If you are ready to conclude the exercise, simply spend a few moments in thanks and praise.

* Take a few deep breaths, letting them out slowly.

* Amen

The Safe Place exercise may take time to develop as a [spiritual] skill.  Many believers, accustomed to a more cognitive expression of the Christian life may have never experienced the Lord in this way.  The idea of giving the Lord access to their “creative imagination” might seem like a foreign concept.  It is important that the believer practice this spiritual exercise every day.  This will be not only a place of peace with the Lord, but it also will be the entree into experiencing the Lord in the healing of past traumatic woundings.

When Bad Things Happen

(by Billy Graham Rapid Response Team)

In the wake of the Haiti earthquake and the remaining devastation, many people ask, “Where was God?” Through life, there are many of our own personal “earthquakes” and other disasters, whether it be the death of a loved one, an unwanted divorce, a wayward child, or a terminal illness, to name a few. Read below for some of the most commonly-asked questions about life’s challenges and get biblical answers.

What does the Bible say about why we suffer? God created us because He loves us. God never intended for tragedy and prejudice, wars and hatred, lust and greed, jealousy and pride. God meant for Earth to be a paradise, a place where here would be no death.

But a man and a woman, Adam and Eve, rebelled against God. This act of rebellion said, “I don’t need you, God. I can build my world without you.” As a result, mankind must suffer and die. Physical death is just the death of the body, but the spirit lives on. If your spirit is separated from God for eternity, it will be lost forever.

God has provided a rescue in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Gen 3; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4; Psalms 46:1-2

Is God angry with me?
No, God is not angry with you. In John 3:16, the Bible says that He loves everyone. However, because we live in an imperfect world, we all deal with good and bad. God is aware of everything that happens and has the ability to take what was intended for evil and use for good. The evil in this world does not render God powerless. It is quite the opposite. He promises to not only be with us but, if we are willing to live life as He created it to be lived: in relationship with Him, to guide us into a life where we can have peace and live without fear.

John 3:16-17; Romans 8:28; James 1:1-4; John 10:10

Why me?
It often feels like difficult circumstances are directed at us. We live in an imperfect world, and the Bible says that it rains on the just and the unjust. We all live through painful and uncomfortable things. Who are we trusting when those things happen to us? Are we self-reliant or do we rely on God? If we reach out to God in time of need, then we are accessing the One who created the universe. The Bible says that He is waiting for our response. He has already made the invitation through His Son Jesus. Why you? Because He loves you. He wants you to look to Him so He can rescue you and bring you peace.

Romans 5:8; John 11:1-44

What good can come out of this?
There are no easy answers, just simple ones: growth and glory. We grow because when life hurts, we pay attention and we find out what is real and whom we can trust. In the Bible, in James 1:1- 4 tells us when we face trials, we can see it as a positive thing in our life because ultimately we are going to grow from it. That’s hard to realize when our pain is all we can see and feel. But, after you’ve experienced life as a follower of Jesus, and you’ve experienced His faithfulness, then you know it’s true.

The other answer is a bit more complicated, and it is found in a Bible story about a blind man that Jesus heals in John 9. The man didn’t do anything to deserve to be blind, and when asked why the man was blind, Jesus answered, “So you can see who I am.” He healed the blind man so that the blind man and everyone around him would be amazed by the supernatural power of Jesus and know that He is Who He say He is. It was the best gift He could give them, and us. We are attracted to greatness. God is the greatest of them all and He desires to be with us.

James 1:1-4; John 9; Romans 8:28

How do I recover spiritually from this?
The natural response is to deny that you are affected by the crisis. The truth is that crisis affects everybody it touches, but it affects each person differently. David, in Psalms, tells his soul to praise the Lord. He was in a dark place emotionally, but he knew that praising God was necessary and that calling on Him could effect the outcome of the situation. Psalm 42 and Psalm 88 are Psalms of lament. The writers were despondent, yet they sought God in spite of feelings. Counselors will tell you that feeling will follow fact. So, there are some things that we should do to recover:

” Acknowledge your need for God.
” Read God’s Word, the Bible (or listen to it on tape or DVD. Psalms is a good place to start).
” See if there are others who will pray with you.
” Look for ways to serve others.
” Stay connected with a body of Christ followers (small group, activity group, service group, church).
” Find small ways to be thankful and ways to express that to God and others.

Psalm 9:10; 34:17; 50:15; 145:18-19; James 5:13-16

How can I be strong when my life is falling apart?
When life is difficult, we look to God and find out that He has grace. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, the Bible tell us that His grace is sufficient for you, for his power is made perfect in our weakness. First, we must give our situation and life to God; this is the hardest part, because we feel more secure of we think we are in control of things. Once we give these things over to Him, He is going to give us the ability to stand up and endure.

It is hard to admit weakness. That is what it takes to act in humility and allow God to take control of your situation. Acknowledge to God that He needs to bear your burdens because you can’t anymore. Jesus longs for you to come to Him and know Him personally.

Matthew 11:28-29; 2 Corinthians 12:9; 1 Peter 5:7

The Prayer of Jesus: How to Talk to God

Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:1-4

by Robert W. Kellemen, Ph.D., RPM Ministries (www.rpmministries.org)
 
 

Learning How to Pray in Christ’s School of Prayer

– Prepare to Pray: Meditation—“Our Father Which Art in Heaven”

1. Meditate on the perfect fatherly character of God: Our Father in heaven.

2. Contemplate the nature of God’s fatherhood: Our Father of holy love.

3. Reflect on the Body of Christ: Our Father, not only my Father.

4. Enjoy God the Father’s full attention and acceptance: Bask in His fatherly grace.

– Commune with God: Adoration—“Hallowed Be Thy Name”

1. Praise God for Who He is: Worship, magnify, exalt, and glorify your heavenly Father.

2. Thank God for what He does: Express your gratitude for all His grace-gifts, for His works.

3. Pray that the whole world would be in awe of God: All the earth grasping, enjoying, and exalting the character (name) of God.

4. Set apart God as the supreme desire of your heart: Let your daily mission statement be to exalt God by enjoying God.

– Honor the King: Intercession—“Thy Kingdom Come”

1. Pray for a deepening of God’s rule in your heart: Surrender to God’s governance.

2. Pray for a widening of God’s rule in all people’s hearts: Salvation.

3. Pray for a deepening of God’s rule on planet Earth: Christian living (make a difference).

4. Pray for the soon return of Christ: Second Coming.

5. Pray that you will live for God’s kingdom and not for your own: Total allegiance.

– Radically Commit: Submission/Direction—“Thy Will Be Done”

1. Pray for the right pleasure: That everything you do is motivated by the desire to bring God pleasure.

2. Pray for calm assurance: The understanding that God’s glory and your good are inseparable, that the Father’s will is always good and best.

3. Pray for clear discernment: That you will know God’s will for your personal life, family, church, work, community, country, and world.

4. Pray for radical obedience: That God would grant you the courage to do His will.

5. Pray for supernatural power: That God would empower you to obey His will.

6. Pray with brutal honesty: Share the desires of your heart, any confusion, doubts, and perplexity with your heavenly Father.

7. Pray with other-centered focus: That family, church, community, national, and world leaders would know and do God’s will.

– Invite God-Rescue: Supplication—“Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread”

1. Confess humbly (Give): Acknowledge your spiritual poverty, admitting that without God you are and have nothing. Pray for the faith to believe that all you need is God and what He chooses to provide.

2. Asks unselfishly (Us, Our): Pray for others and for yourself.

3. Request wisely (This Day, Daily): Pray for today’s needs. Trust God for today’s supply. Ask God to give you nothing more and nothing less than exactly what you need and can handle.

4. Entreat practically (Bread): Pray for physical, material, emotional, mental, relational, and spiritual needs. Pray for freedom from worry as you trust God to supply your every need.

– Savor the Savior’s Grace: Confession—“Forgive Us Our Sins As We Forgive Those Who Have Sinned Against Us”

1. Seek enlightenment: Specifically confess known sins and ask God to reveal hidden sins.

2. Repent humbly: Your debt is immeasurable; His grace is infinite.

3. Enjoy forgiveness: Claim Christ’s forgiveness and acceptance. Your slate is wiped clean!

4. Grant forgiveness: Forgive all those who have hurt you/sinned against you physically, emotionally, mentally, relationally, and spiritually.

5. Seek reconciliation: Go to anyone who you have sinned against to restore the relationship.

– Triumph Over Temptation: Petition—“Lead Us Not Into Temptation, But Deliver Us From Evil”

1. Seek protection: Ask God not to allow Satan even to tempt you to sin.

2. Seek boundaries: Ask God to keep you from situations where you are most prone to sin— your besetting sins, areas of vulnerability, temptations, etc.

3. Seek victory: Ask God to defeat sin, the world, the flesh, and the devil in your life.

4. Seek faith: Ask God to help you to trust His awesome power as your only hope for triumph.

– Confidently Trust God: Glorification—“For Thine Is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory Forever, Amen”

1. Trust God (For): Believe that since God is the Almighty, Eternal King that He can answer.

2. Glorify God (Thine): Pray that God will be glorified by your prayers.

Depression: Lamenting Our Losses to God

by Bob Kellemen, Ph.D.
 
When experiencing grief, sorrow, or depression, one of the most important responses is to face our suffering face-to-face with God. To do this deeply, we need to understand and practice biblical lament.

The biblical genre of lament expresses frankness about the reality of life that seems inconsistent with the character of God. Lament is an act of truth-telling faith, not unfaith. Lament is a rehearsal of the bad allowed by the Good. Lament is vulnerable frankness about life to God in which I express my pain and confusion over how a good God allows evil and suffering.

When we lament, we live in the real world honestly, refusing to ignore what is occurring. Lament is our expression of our radical trust in God’s reliability in the midst of real life.

According to Psalm 62:8, if we truly trust God, then we’ll share everything with God. “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”

Drawing Near to God

Psalm 73 is a prime example of Lament. Asaph begins, “Surely God is good to Israel” (73:1). He then continues with a litany of apparent evidence to the contrary, such as the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the godly (73:2-15). When he tries to make sense of all this, it’s oppressive to him (73:16). He then verbalizes to God the fact that his heart is grieved and his spirit embittered (73:21).

His lament, his complaint, drew him nearer to God. It did not push him away from God. “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand” (73:23). He concludes, “But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge.” (73:28).

It was Asaph’s intense relationship with God that enlightened him to the goodness of God even during the badness of life. “Till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. . . . As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O LORD, you will despise them as a fantasy” (73:17, 20). Spiritual friendship with God results in 20/20 spiritual vision from God.

Asaph illustrates that in lament we come to God with a sense of abandonment and confusion (Isaiah 49:14; Jeremiah 20:7; Lamentations 5:20). We then exercise a courageous, yet humble cross-examination. Not a cross-examination of God, but a cross-examination and a refuting of earth-bound reality with spiritual reality.

Being Real and Raw

That’s exactly what occurs in Jeremiah 20:7; Lamentations 5:20; and Psalm 88:18. In all three passages, it appears by reason alone that life is bad and so is God. Yet in each passage, God responds positively to a believer’s rehearsal of life’s inconsistencies.

In Job 3, and much of Job for that matter, Job forcefully and even violently expresses his complaint.

What’s the point of life when it doesn’t make sense, when God blocks all the roads to meaning? Instead of bread I get groans for my supper, then leave the table and vomit my anguish. The worst of my fears has come true, what I’ve dreaded most has happened. My repose is shattered, my peace destroyed. No rest for me, ever—death has invaded life.

In Job 42:7-8, God honors Job’s complaint saying that Job spoke right of life and right of God. God prizes lament and rejects all deceiving denial and simplistic closure, preferring candid complexity.

You Are Never Alone

Depression, by its very nature, causes us to feel alone, separated, alienated. Lament, by its very nature, helps us to feel connected, in relationship, in communion—with God. Never suffer alone. Never battle depression without God. Lament to God. Tell Him your painful external circumstances and your internal hurts and agony. God invites you to make use of your suffering, to admit your need for Him in your pain, and to rehearse your feelings of depression (external and internal) before Him.

Psalm 72:12 assures us, “For he will deliver the needy who cry out” (KJV—when he crieth). Psalm 34 reminds us, “The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:17-18). God’s good heart goes out, especially, to the humble needy. When crushed in Spirit, turn to the Holy Spirit. When battling depression and feeling comfortless, lament to the Comforter.

Help for the Suicidal

By David Powlison, CCEF Faculty
Are you having suicidal thoughts and feelings? Perhaps you are convinced that life is not worth living. You feel like your world is collapsing in on you. Your life seems hopeless – like a black hole with all love, hope, and joy sucked out. If you are contemplating suicide, you have already done a lot of thinking about your life. But have you thought about how God views your life?

Your Life Matters to God

Right now you are living in a world of despair. You can’t see any solution to your problems. You’re not looking forward to anything. The future seems empty. But God’s perspective on your life is very different. Your life is precious to him. He knows everything about you – even how many hairs are on your head (Matthew 10:30). Your life is so significant to him that he forbids you to take it. God says that all murder is wrong, and that includes the self-murder of suicide (Exodus 20:13).

Bring Your Hopelessness to God

God is not surprised or put off by your hopeless feelings. He wants you to bring your despair to him, and cry for help right now, in the middle of your darkness and pain. Throughout history God’s children have cried to him and he has helped them. Listen to the voice of David who cried out his despair to God thousands of years ago: “In the day of my trouble I will call to you, for you will answer me” (Psalm 86:7).

Today is your day of trouble. Tell God all your sorrows, all your troubles, and all the reasons suicide is on your mind. Do you feel, like David, that you are in the “depths of the grave”? Ask God to hear your prayer and listen to your cry for mercy (v.6). On this day the living God promises to listen to you and help you.

Your Reasons for Despair; God’s Voice of Hope

Why are you feeling hopeless? Are you struggling with physical suffering? A broken relationship? Shame and guilt from mistakes and failures? An unrealized dream? What problem do you believe suicide will solve?

Your suicidal feelings and actions don’t come out of the blue. They have reasons you can discover and understand. Your particular reasons will show you how you’re experiencing, interpreting, and reacting to your world. When you discover your reasons, you will also be describing what is most important to you. The loss or pain that makes you feel like your life is not worth living points to the thing that you believe would make your life worth living.

We will look at four kinds of reasons for hopelessness. As you read, look for the specific reasons you are feeling hopeless. And then listen to what God says to you about your particular troubles that brings hope.

Unrelenting Suffering

Your hopelessness might stem from overwhelming suffering. The death of someone close to you, your own chronic pain and illness, postpartum depression, a broken relationship, poverty, racial prejudice, etc. are all situations that can fill you with despair. If this is why you feel hopeless, read through Psalm 31. This psalm, written by David, vividly captures the feeling of wasting away with grief.

“Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing” (Psalm 31:9-10)

Is this what your life is like?

But this psalm is also filled with hope. David remembers that God sees him in his affliction and knows all about his troubles. He remembers that in God’s presence he is safe.

“Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind! In the cover of your presence you hide them from the plots of men; you store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues.” (Psalm 31:19, 20)

David’s life, like yours, was full of troubles and discouragement, yet because God was with him, he has hope. He says, “But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help” (Psalm 31:22). And he ends with this call, “Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord” (Psalm 31:24). David is able to endure with courage because God is with him.

God is calling you to persevere in your suffering, but not by simply gritting your teeth. Persevering through suffering is only possible when you put your hope in the living God. He promises to come near to you, to be present with you, and to let you experience his goodness right in the middle of your pain and difficulty

Personal Failure

Your suicidal thoughts and feelings might be related to your mistakes and failures. Is your hopelessness an attempt to atone for your sins, to punish yourself, to avoid feelings of shame? Perhaps you are so full of guilt and shame that you don’t want to be around people or even continue to live. Can you find hope when you’ve blown it so badly that you think you will never be able to hold your head up again?

The amazing thing about the Bible is that it is full of real people who made serious missteps-just like you. David wrote Psalm 32 after he committed adultery, the woman became pregnant, and to cover things up he arranged to have the women’s husband murdered. You can read the whole story in 2 Samuel 11 – 12.

In Psalm 32 he vividly describes his experience of despair. Perhaps you are also feeling like this:

“…my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3, 4)

David’s experience of guilt and failure comes partly from God and partly from his own conscience. But why is this psalm full of joy instead of shame? Because of what God has done for him in the middle of his nightmare of guilt. His joy comes from God’s forgiveness of him and from God’s promise to guide him (Psalm 31:1, 2, 8).

Here’s someone, like you, who is living with terrible personal failure. But instead of meditating on his failures and turning his sins and mistakes over and over in his mind, he chooses to remember who God is. He knows the God who forgives. He trusts the God who promises to keep his eyes on him, who will personally instruct, lead, and counsel. So he ends like this, “steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord,” and adds a call to joy, “Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:10, 11).

What an amazing turnaround! Someone who knows his sinfulness, but also knows God’s mercy, can be called righteous by the grace and mercy of God. You, too, can experience what David experienced. But to do so, you must seek this Lord. David described how he felt after his sin was exposed, but he hadn’t confessed his sins to God. His vitality drained away, he felt hopeless and lifeless. If that is how you feel, then do what David did: go to God with your sins and failures.

Here is a wonderful description of seeking God in the middle of your failure and guilt. David says, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Psalm 32:5). Notice that David is turning to God with his failures, not to those around him. He doesn’t live in shame anymore because he is forgiven. He can hold up his head, even though everyone knows about his failures, because God is with him.

And then David gives the key to having God with him. “Therefore, let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you.” He knows that prayer brings him into God’s presence where he is safe from trouble, even the trouble he brought upon himself.

Failed Dreams

You can also struggle with hopelessness when the thing that has given your life meaning is taken from you. Perhaps it’s a job you didn’t get, an unrealized life goal, or your children turning out a certain way, but whatever you have organized your life around, its absence can leave you feeling empty and despairing

Perhaps you didn’t know how important your dream was to you until it didn’t happen. Now you are experiencing the hopelessness of a failed dream. But what does your failed dream reveal about where you find meaning? When what you have lived for is taken from you, it can feel like you are dying. You are in so much pain that suicide seems like your only alternative. But God has a better way. He will give you true, lasting hope that can never be taken away from you.

God says, in Psalm 33, that it is he who “frustrates the plans of the peoples” (Psalm 33:10). Later in the psalm he says why-because all those hopes are futile. “The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue” (Psalm 33:16, 17). These are things that people trusted in thousands of years ago. What you trust in – those things on which you built your life, your identity, your success – are different, but the result is the same. Anything you trust in besides God’s steadfast love for you is futile. When you put your hope in God’s love, he will deliver your soul from death (Psalm 33:18, 19).

Let the death of your dreams be the door into putting your trust in God’s love for you. He will be your help and shield. As you “trust in his holy name,” he will deliver your soul from death, from thoughts of death, and from trying to take your own life.

False Hopes

Perhaps your suicidal thinking is not from hopelessness, but from false hopes. Dreaming about and planning your suicide is what brings you hope. You believe that killing yourself will bring about some wonderful answer or solution to your problems. If you have been deeply hurt by someone, you might see suicide as a way to make others suffer. You might hope that suicide will bring an end to your suffering and those you love will be better off without you. Or you might hope that your suicidal gesture will get you what you want: attention, love, or even a break from the pressures of life. But whatever your hopes are – “I’ll be in a place of peace,” or “Then everyone will know how much they made me suffer” – if they include suicide as a solution they are a false hope

Suicide is never an answer. Two wrongs never make a right – don’t forget that suicide is a great wrong. If you have been wronged, please don’t think that suicide is the way to make that wrong better. God offers you true, living hope, not a false hope based on your death. Hope from God comes in the midst of evil and trouble and it is a hope that will never end.

Paul talks about true and living hope in the second half of Romans 8. True hope comes from knowing God as your Father and receiving his Spirit as a gift. Living as a child of God means that instead of responding to trouble by hurting yourself, you go to your heavenly Father for help. He gives you his Spirit to help you in your weakness and even teach you how and what to ask for (Romans 8:15, 16). It’s the Spirit of God that will teach you that your present sufferings “are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed” in you (Romans 8:18).

We live in a world where bad things happen. But you have received the best gift of all: the Spirit of life, the Holy Spirit of Jesus. You have been given the gift of a relationship with God now that will lead to an indestructible life forever. There is nothing in this world that can separate you from God’s love-not trouble, distress, hardship, or anything in all creation (Romans 8:35). God’s love will keep you safe, and it’s yours for the asking.

It’s easy to see the risk factors for suicide – depression, suffering, disillusioning experiences, failure – but there are also ways to get your life back on track by building protective factors into your life.

Ask for Help

How do you get the living hope that God offers you in Jesus? By asking. Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).

Suicide operates in a world of death, despair, and aloneness. Jesus Christ creates a world of life, hope, and community. Ask God for help, and keep on asking. Don’t stop asking. You need him to fill you every day with the hope of the resurrection

At the same time you are asking God for help, tell other people about your struggle with hopelessness. God uses his people to bring life, light, and hope. Suicide, by definition, happens when someone is all alone. Getting in relationship with wise, caring people will protect you from despair and acting out of despair.

But what if you are bereaved and alone? If you know Jesus, you still have a family: his family is your family. Become part of a community of other Christians. Look for a church where Jesus is at the center of teaching and worship. Get in relationship with people who can help you, but don’t stop with getting help. Find people to love, serve, and give to. Even if your life has been stripped barren by lost relationships, God can and will fill your life with helpful and healing relationships

Grow in Godly Life Skills

Another protective factor is to grow in godly living. Many of the reasons for despair come from not living a godly, fruitful life. You need to learn the skills that make godly living possible. What are some of those skills?

” Conflict resolution. Learn to problem-solve by entering into human difficulties and growing through them.

” Seek and grant forgiveness. Hopeless thinking is often the result of guilt and bitterness.
” Learn to give to others.
Suicide is a selfish act. It’s a lie that others will be better off without you. Work to replace your faulty thinking with reaching out to others who are also struggling. Take what you have learned in this article and pass it on to at least one other person. Whatever hope God gives you, give to someone who is struggling with despair.

Live for God

When you live for God, you have genuine meaning in your life. This purpose is far bigger than your suffering, your failures, the death of your dreams, and the disillusionment of your hopes. Living by faith in God for his purposes will protect you from suicidal and despairing thoughts. God wants to use your personality, your skills, your life situation, and even your struggle with despair to bring hope to others.

He has already prepared good works for you to do. Paul says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). As you step into the good works God has prepared for you – you will find that meaning, purpose, and joy.

Don't Waste Your {Cancer}

by John Piper (June 25, 2007) (adapted by Bill Bellican)

NOTE: This excellent devotional by John Piper gives us a higher view of life and our circumstances no matter what we might insert in place of cancer. In no way is the intent meant to minimize the magnitude of the seriousness of what you are facing. However, it does call us to look at our situation from an eternally caring and wisel God’s point of view to enable us to transcend our present life difficulty. Bill Bellican.

I write this on the eve of prostate surgery. I believe in God’s power to heal by miracle and by medicine. I believe it is right and good to pray for both kinds of healing. Cancer is not wasted when it is healed by God. He gets the glory and that is why cancer exists. So not to pray for healing may waste your cancer. But healing is not God’s plan for everyone. And there are many other ways to waste your cancer. I am praying for myself and for you that we will not waste this pain.

1. You will waste your cancer if you do not believe it is designed for you by God. It will not do to say that God only uses our cancer but does not design it. What God permits, he permits for a reason. And that reason is his design. If God foresees molecular developments becoming cancer, he can stop it or not. If he does not, he has a purpose. Since he is infinitely wise, it is right to call this purpose a design. Satan is real and causes many pleasures and pains. But he is not ultimate. So when he strikes Job with boils (Job 2:7), Job attributes it ultimately to God (2:10) and the inspired writer agrees: “They . . . comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him” (Job 42:11). If you don’t believe your cancer is designed for you by God, you will waste it.

2. You will waste your cancer if you believe it is a curse and not a gift. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). “There is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel” (Numbers 23:23). “The LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11).

3. You will waste your cancer if you seek comfort from your odds rather than from God. The design of God in your cancer is not to train you in the rationalistic, human calculation of odds. The world gets comfort from their odds. Not Christians. Some count their chariots (percentages of survival) and some count their horses (side effects of treatment), but we trust in the name of the LORD our God (Psalm 20:7). God’s design is clear from 2 Corinthians 1:9, “We felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” The aim of God in your cancer (among a thousand other good things) is to knock props out from under our hearts so that we rely utterly on him.

4. You will waste your cancer if you refuse to think about death. We will all die, if Jesus postpones his return. Not to think about what it will be like to leave this life and meet God is folly. Ecclesiastes 7:2 says, “It is better to go to the house of mourning [a funeral] than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” How can you lay it to heart if you won’t think about it? Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Numbering your days means thinking about how few there are and that they will end. How will you get a heart of wisdom if you refuse to think about this? What a waste, if we do not think about death.

5. You will waste your cancer if you think that “beating” cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ. Satan’s and God’s designs in your cancer are not the same. Satan designs to destroy your love for Christ. God designs to deepen your love for Christ. Cancer does not win if you die. It wins if you fail to cherish Christ. God’s design is to wean you off the breast of the world and feast you on the sufficiency of Christ. It is meant to help you say and feel, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” And to know that therefore, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 3:8; 1:21).

6. You will waste your cancer if you spend too much time reading about cancer and not enough time reading about God. It is not wrong to know about cancer. Ignorance is not a virtue. But the lure to know more and more and the lack of zeal to know God more and more is symptomatic of unbelief. Cancer is meant to waken us to the reality of God. It is meant to put feeling and force behind the command, “Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD” (Hosea 6:3). It is meant to waken us to the truth of Daniel 11:32, “The people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.” It is meant to make unshakable, indestructible oak trees out of us: “His delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:2). What a waste of cancer if we read day and night about cancer and not about God.

7. You will waste your cancer if you let it drive you into solitude instead of deepen your relationships with manifest affection. When Epaphroditus brought the gifts to Paul sent by the Philippian church he became ill and almost died. Paul tells the Philippians, “He has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill” (Philippians 2:26-27). What an amazing response! It does not say they were distressed that he was ill, but that he was distressed because they heard he was ill. That is the kind of heart God is aiming to create with cancer: a deeply affectionate, caring heart for people. Don’t waste your cancer by retreating into yourself.

8. You will waste your cancer if you grieve as those who have no hope. Paul used this phrase in relation to those whose loved ones had died: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). There is a grief at death. Even for the believer who dies, there is temporary loss – loss of body, and loss of loved ones here, and loss of earthly ministry. But the grief is different; it is permeated with hope. “We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Don’t waste your cancer grieving as those who don’t have this hope.

9. You will waste your cancer if you treat sin as casually as before. Are your besetting sins as attractive as they were before you had cancer? If so you are wasting your cancer. Cancer is designed to destroy the appetite for sin. Pride, greed, lust, hatred, unforgiveness, impatience, laziness, procrastination – all these are the adversaries that cancer is meant to attack. Don’t just think of battling against cancer. Also think of battling with cancer. All these things are worse enemies than cancer. Don’t waste the power of cancer to crush these foes. Let the presence of eternity make the sins of time look as futile as they really are. “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:25).

10. You will waste your cancer if you fail to use it as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ. Christians are never anywhere by divine accident. There are reasons for why we wind up where we do. Consider what Jesus said about painful, unplanned circumstances: “They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness” (Luke 21:12 -13). So it is with cancer. This will be an opportunity to bear witness. Christ is infinitely worthy. Here is a golden opportunity to show that he is worth more than life. Don’t waste it.

Remember you are not left alone. You will have the help you need. “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
By John Piper.  Desiring God. Website: www.desiringGod.org. Toll Free: 1.888.346.4700 .

Also see:

f.a.i.t.H., Facing an Illness through Him (a ministry connected to Central Church)

Gutsy Guilt

(Adapted from Christianity Today online 10/19/07 – John Piper )

False Hopelessness

Being armed with biblical knowledge of God, Christ, the Cross, and salvation can give such ballast to the boat of your life that the wind of temptation will not be able to tip it over easily. The reason this is not a popular remedy for temptation today is because it is not a quick fix. It’s the work of a lifetime. You have a tremendous weapon against the Devil when you know your punishment for sin has already been paid in Christ and your righteousness before God has already been achieved in Christ, and you hold fast to these truths with heartfelt passion.

With this passionately embraced theology-the magnificent doctrines of substitutionary atonement and justification by faith (even if you don’t remember the names)-you can conquer the Devil tomorrow morning when he lies to you about your hopelessness.

I Will Rise

What will you say to him? Micah 7:8-9 is a picture of what you say to your enemy when he scoffs at your defeat. I call this practice “gutsy guilt.” The believer admits that he has done wrong and that God is dealing roughly with him. But even in a condition of darkness and discipline, he will not surrender his hold on the truth that God is on his side. Pay close attention to these amazing words. Use them whenever Satan tempts you to throw away your life on trifles because that’s all you’re good for.

Micah 7:8-9 is what victory looks like the morning after failure. Learn to take your theology and speak like this to the Devil or anyone else who tells you that Christ is not capable of using you mightily for his global cause. Here is what you say.

“Rejoice not over me, O my enemy.” You make merry over my failure? You think you will draw me into your deception? Think again.

When I fall, I shall rise. Yes, I have fallen. I hate what I have done. I grieve at the dishonor I have brought on my King. But hear this, O my enemy, I will rise. I will rise.

When I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. Yes, I am sitting in darkness. I feel miserable. I feel guilty. I am guilty. But that is not all that is true about me and my God. The same God who makes my darkness is a sustaining light to me in this very darkness. He will not forsake me.

I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. Oh yes, my enemy, this much truth you say: I have sinned. I am bearing the indignation of the Lord. But that is where your truth stops and my theology begins. He-the very one who is indignant with me-will plead my cause. You say he is against me and that I have no future with him because of my failure. That’s what Job’s friends said. That is a lie. And you are a liar. My God, whose Son’s life is my righteousness and whose Son’s death is my punishment, will execute judgment for me. For me! And not against me.

He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication. This misery that I now feel because of my failure, I will bear as long as my dear God ordains. And this I know for sure-as sure as Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is my punishment and my righteousness-God will bring me out to the light, and I will look upon his righteousness, my Lord and my God.

The Movements of Grief as a Healing Journey

C.S. Lewis wrote, in A Grief Observed, following the death of his wife, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I loathe the slightest effort. Not only writing but even reading a letter is too much. Even shaving. What does it matter now whether my cheek is rough or smooth?” From intense mental anguish to acute sorrow and deep remorse, grief is a unique human suffering. It has been described as an amputation of the heart, a never-ending pain that reaches to the marrow of one’s soul, a sorrow that leaves no part of the bereaved life untouched.

Jeremiah was a man deeply touched with such pain (Lamen. 3:1- 5). “I am the man who has seen affliction; He has made me walk in darkness and not in light. Surely he has turned his hand against me, He has aged my skin and broken my bones. He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and woe; You have moved my soul far from peace; I have forgotten prosperity.”

While grieving is unavoidable, healing in and through grief is optional. We must learn to grieve, to prepare for grief, and accept-if not welcome-it into our lives for a season. The intensity of our grief depends on a combination of three variables: (1) our attachment to the person or loss (how close we were to them), (2) the way the loss came about, and (3) whether it was sudden, premature, or violent. Anyone who has lost a loved one may recall the harsh announcement of death, hitting like an avalanche, with heartache, shock, numbness, and disbelief.

Not long ago I (Tim) had to tell my children, Megan and Zachary, that one of their beloved ‘papas’ (Julie’s dad) had died of cancer. Oh, the hurt that sliced through them. There are few blows to the human spirit so great as this. At no other time in life are we so acutely aware of how fragile life is and having to put one foot in front of the other in order to get through the day. Life can move in an extremely painful slow motion and can feel like a horrifying nightmare from which we do not awaken.

Grieving involves sorrow, anguish, anger, regret, longing, fear, and deprivation. Physically it produces exhaustion, emptiness, tension, sleeplessness, or loss of appetite. If we fail to express our grief at the time of loss, the pain can remain constant, because it takes so much energy to manage our feelings. In order to begin healing, we must come to accept grief as normal, inevitable, unavoidable. As Barbara Baumgartner put it, “Grief is a statement -a statement that you loved someone.” When we allow ourselves to share our grief with God and others, we release our pain, fears, and heartache. As this occurs, our pain begins to subside. From time to time, grief will wash over us-sometimes surprise and catch us in tears of sorrow, but the healing has begun.

Dispelling Myths

“Jesus wept.” John 11:35 is the shortest and one of the most powerful verses in the Bible, for it reveals that Jesus grieved-He was well acquainted with it, in fact (Is. 53:4-6). Too many of us, however, hang on to various myths that block the healing process.

Myth #1: Don’t grieve. An especially harmful belief is that God doesn’t want us to grieve, or has saved us in order that we might avoid grievous suffering. We are led to believe that it’s morbid or even offensive to sorrow in loss or to talk about death, and therefore it should be an avoidable subject. Public displays of emotion are not considered appropriate in our society, nor is loss of composure. Although few people say it directly, many tend to think that we are to simply let go and move on quickly. This is contrary to our God-given need to express our emotions, and when we fail to do this it causes further stress.

Myth #2: Grief harms our faith. Another lie is that grieving and working through the loss of a loved one damages our Christian testimony, and diminishes our faith. It is a sign of weakness for those who falsely believe that they must always be strong, or at least look strong. Quite to the contrary, sharing with, giving our heartache to the Lord will build a deeper, sweeter, and more intimate relationship with Him. Our weakness becomes His strength (Phil. 4:13). Honest grieving that seeks and leans on God nearly always helps our faith to grow as we depend on Him to heal our brokenness.

Myth #3: Always be positive. Another Christian myth is that we should only express joy and positive emotions. But who better than our Father in heaven knows the anguish of losing a loved one. Jesus Himself was prophetically revealed as ‘a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering’ (Isaiah 53:3).

Myth #4: God is absent. If you grieve, Where is God? Go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is in vain. Some think they experience, however, a door slammed shut and the sound of bolting locks-after that, silence. What can this mean? Why is He so present as God in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble? Not all who mourn feel this type of aloneness. Some individuals report a stronger sense of God’s presence following their loved one’s death. This clearly reveals that the grieving process -a lamentation of the soul in five movements-is as unique and individual as the person experiencing it.

The First Movement: Joining

Some people think God allots pain and suffering that He Himself doesn’t know or understand. The Bible provides a different view. Genesis 6:6 reveals that God was grieved in His heart. Pain and grief are found on the eve of our Savior’s crucifixion in the Garden of Gethsemane, and then again later at the cross. Anyone who has lost a loved one has felt the same excruciating sorrow and pain as Jesus when He said to His disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” And who in the midst of loss hasn’t begged our Father in Heaven, as Jesus did, “My Father, if it is possible may this cup be taken from me.” In our darkest hour, as we stood at the grave of a child, parent, or spouse, who hasn’t cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  

If Jesus is our supreme example- the One who shows us best how to grieve-we must then trust that sharing our innermost pain and sorrow will bring us healing, as well as a deeper intimacy with God. Hiding or denying our feelings only suppresses our ability to heal and oppresses our spirits. It is completely normal to long for those you love, and weep over their absence. It reveals our Christ-like nature of compassion, love, empathy and concern for others. When Jesus arrived in Bethany following Lazurus’ death, death, He wept (John 11:35). 

Ken Gire beautifully describes this scene in his book, Incredible Moments With the Savior: “Jesus approaches the gravesite with the full assurance that he will raise his friend from the dead. Why then does the sight of the tomb trouble him? Maybe the tomb in the garden is too graphic a reminder of Eden gone to seed. Of Paradise lost. And of the cold, dark tomb he would have to enter to regain it. In any case, it is remarkable that our plight could trouble his spirit; that our pain could summon his tears. The raising of Lazarus is the most daring and dramatic of all the Savior’s healings. He courageously went into a den where hostility raged against him to snatch a friend from the jaws of death. It was an incredible moment. It revealed that Jesus was who he said he was-the resurrection and the life. But it revealed something else. The tears of God.” And who’s to say which is more incredible -a man who raises the dead or a God who weeps.” A God who weeps, grieves, and knows sorrow is a God who loves us so much that He subjected Himself to the cross, to the worst pain that we endure. He did this so that He could be there to take us into His arms, cradle our weak and emotionally lifeless bodies, and nurture us back to spiritual health with the assurance that He loves us and will never forsake us.

In the worst cases, it may be necessary to seek medical care to work through this stage. Some do wallow in denial, reinforcing it-sometimes for years on end- with drugs, alcohol, and addictions of various sorts. Many people who enter counseling do so because they have become stuck in grief, even when they present something that may seem entirely unrelated. It is important, therefore, that counselors query about death and grief in the intake process. Helping someone finish grieving a death that happened years ago is a case formulation that it too often overlooked by helpers. Some individuals rationalize that their pain isn’t really all that intense. This denial is fairly straightforward-it seems honest to those who work hard at it. When asked, “How ya’ doin’?” the stock answer is, “Fine, thanks.” If a person denies and rationalizes too long, however, they begin to believe it, and will angrily defend it if challenged.

Idealizing the dead is an additional defense against the harsh reality of death. Any flaw of the deceased is denied or easily overlooked. A woman who lived with an abusive spouse might say, “Harold was a really good provider for all of us, and in his own way he really loved us.” Sometimes idealization is so extreme that the grieving person will not allow anyone else to say anything bad, or even make a realistic assessment. Others will vividly dream about the deceased, as what we cannot deal with while we are awake is worked through in our dreams as we sleep.

Another defense is regression. We avoid pain by retreating to a previous, more primitive and less mature way of behaving, feeling, and thinking. The child who has been potty-trained may wet their bed, or insist on having a bottle when they’ve been drinking from a cup. The teen-ager may sulk and throw tantrums like a ten-year-old. A sober adult may start drinking again. But if regression takes hold, the pain is not eliminated. It is simply locked away.  

Soul-prayer on joining

Be still, O my grieving, hurting soul. Be still and know that God is near. Be still to tell Him we want-we need-Him to come near. O God, come near to me and still my aching soul. Come and soothe my broken heart, heal the awful pain inside. Please God, let me embrace you-know your presence -as I confess that I cannot face this alone.

Second Movement: Normalizing Stormy Emotions.

 The world-renown psychiatrist, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, defined numerous stages through which the bereaved must travel through in order to resolve their loss. In some cases, not all stages are lived; in others, they are experienced in different order, cycled in different ways.

Shock and denial are often the first stages of grief. Like the shock of physical trauma, the shock of first knowing the death of a loved one assaults us from top to bottom. Our denial of death is described as a dazed numbness that embraces a refusal to accept the loss. “No, NO! That’s not true. It can’t be true!” Denial is a common companion to loss and comes in different shapes and forms.  Many people try to return to a normal routine and intellectualize the loss. Many know intellectually their loved one is gone, but emotionally they reject that it’s happened. Another variation of denial is admitting the loss and feeling it, but behaving as if it had never occurred.

Denial is normal-it is not initially bad. It is a way we work to lessen the initial impact of the loss. Experiencing loss all at once could overwhelm and consume us. Author Joyce Landorf agrees that denial has a divine purpose: “We need denial but we must not linger in it. We must recognize it as one of God’s most unique tools and use it. Denial is our special oxygen mask to use when the breathtaking news of death has sucked every ounce of air out of us….” Denial can be sweet for a short time-it can produce a numbness that acts like a pain-killing drug to a broken heart. Eventually, as reality intrudes and the numbness fades, the intense grief of this early stage may produce physical symptoms such as chest pains or a sense of suffocation.

Fear and anxiety sometimes takes hold and can overwhelm, thus preventing growth and recovery.  Recovery occurs when we face our loss and give ourselves permission to grieve. Denial may be a necessary short-term strategy that helps us ease into grief without being crushed by it. As a long-term strategy, however, it is deadly. As we grow out of denial, it is common for people to begin asking questions. We search for answers and want to know details. We often ask to see an autopsy or police reports. As we search for answers, we suddenly come face-to-face with stark reality-with the factual details of the death. We sometimes find ourselves consciously or unconsciously looking for our deceased loved one in a crowd or a location where we often spent time together. We see someone who looks like the deceased and we’re transfixed by a flood of emotion. This is all part of the process of coming to terms with our loss.

Anger is also a part of grieving. Mourners typically experience anger as they grieve. The early stage of anger often feels like hurt. Sometimes we’re sad, other times we’re disappointed, or frustrated, and still other times we’re depressed. Anger is a response to our pain and it’s often directed at God. When we suffer, it is not uncommon to believe that God has forsaken us and broken our trust in Him. When others tell us to ‘trust in God’ during this time, the words suddenly make no sense. They sometimes sound absurd, like a huge cosmic joke. How can we trust God when our hopes and dreams with our loved one have been unexpectedly shattered? How can we trust the One who took our loved one away? How do we trust someone with the very power of life and death in their hands? These are common questions-questions we must eventually take to God. At some point we will realize that God wants us to trust Him even when we don’t understand why.

Since God is the only One who can fix the problem, He often becomes the focus of our anger. The more intimate our relationship with God, the more betrayed we may feel by the One who was supposed to intervene in our hour of need. Lazarus’ sister, Mary, is an excellent example. She was angry at Jesus when He failed to prevent her brother’s death. “If you had been here,” she admonished Him, “my brother would not have died!” We assume that Mary’s trust in Jesus had definitely diminished. Death makes us feel small, vulnerable, insecure-we come face-to-face with our own mortality. Grieving the death of a loved one challenges us-to our very core-to believe and trust that God’s eternal perspective is better, even superior to our own. We wrestle with the holes in our faith-Will God take me? Will I be privy to His plan? We wrestle with faith in God’s goodness- uncomfortable in the awareness that our faith is so weak in the face of such tragedy. Psalm 130:5 tells us; “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His Word I put my hope.”

Better or bitter

Grief forces us to face this dilemma-I am going to get better or become bitter. Too many get embittered. A long-term study indicated that the death rate of widows and widowers is 2-17 times higher during the first year, following the death of a spouse. Another study discovered that about 25% of those who mourn experience a dramatic decrease in the body’s immune system, six to nine months after their loss. This is one of the reasons why grieving people are more susceptible to illness. However if the grieving process in handled in a healthy manner-if the bereaved one pursues God’s design to get better-this immune deficiency is avoidable. And in order to believe Him, to put your faith in His Word, we are driven to search Him out in prayer, in the Bible, in the hands and faces of others. We are compelled to seek Him in order that He may reveal Himself more than ever before.

Soul-prayer on normalizing

O my soul, loss is inevitable, and grief wants to escape this, but I know deep inside that I cannot. O God, please let this cup pass; but if not, give me the courage to face this honestly, the strength to endure it until your light dawns again on the other side of this sorrow. O God, help me do what I know I cannot, what I don’t want to do.

Third Movement: Understanding

While you may be ready to accept that God is not your enemy because of your loved one’s death, you still may not understand why He chose to take them. Our questions may not find answers while we are here on earth. But we have chosen to walk by faith, believing that God was, is, and will be with us on earth and in heaven. And though grief is an inescapable part of the human condition, He demonstrates His love for us through His loving compassion. At some point we arrive at a partial understanding of grief: to grapple with overwhelming loss and eventually adapt to it.

During this time, necessary changes must be made so that we can live with our loss in a healthy way. This occurs when our questions changes from, “Why did this happen to me?” to “What can I learn from this and how can I best proceed with my life?” As we begin to grow again, we will experience days that are more difficult than others. Tears, fears, anger and confusion are still ahead, but God gives them to us to help release our feelings. We slowly begin to understand, to accept this death. We also realize that grieving is a two part process: the loss of a loved one, and the recovery of our spirit. It is natural to want to return to the life we knew before this traumatic event occurred, but it’s imperative we live a new “normal.” We do this by refusing to be locked away in a tomb of agony for the remainder of our lives, and instead, come to a place of surrender.

Soul-prayer on understanding

O my soul, do not blame God. He is not at fault for the evil of this world or the suffering of life. He is big enough to handle any blame, shame, confusion, and fear that I carry. O my God, help me cope, help me cry, help me learn, help me grow through this. Draw me close to yourself and fill my heart with your love, my mind with yourself. You are able; enable me, O God.

Fourth Movement: Surrender

God promises to deliver those who seek Him. Surrender comes when we finally accept that we could not have changed our loved one’s death. We accept that we are unable to turn back the hands of time-we cannot bring them back, nor are they coming back. We can get angry at God and remain stuck there. I’m sure you know some, still angry over events that transpired decades ago! On the other hand, we can surrender to God and seek His comfort, healing, and direction. In the midst of grief’s pain neither choice seems attractive or acceptable. However, it is inevitable as we choose one or the other. Most believers, at some point, surrender their grieving to the Lord. In so doing, He comes to our side and answers our cries. God comes to our rescue.

Surrender occurs when the bereaved accepts the loss of their loved one, re-adjusts their bond on a more spiritual level, and re-organizes their life. Death is a life changing event- one that alters our view of life, our priorities, our perception of God and His goodness, and every other aspect of our life. Additionally, there are secondary losses that need to be acknowledged. For the woman who suddenly becomes a widow, the loss extends beyond her mate to the hopes and dreams they had together. She has not only lost him, but dreams for the future, and his involvement as her friend, lover, encourager, confidant, prayer partner, protector, tax preparer, business partner, and everything else. She must find new ways to have these needs met. Trusting that He will provide, she must ask the Lord to give her strength to seek help from others, believing that He will provide for her.

Shakespeare’s Macbeth said, “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o’er wrought heart and bids it break.” Some people find that keeping a journal helps them work through their difficulties. “What we work out in our journals we don’t take out on family and friends,” is an old and wise saying. Another common healing step is to join a grief group in your church or community-bringing that pain to others who know and share the same grief. Resolving our loss and surrendering it occurs when we accept the hurt and the memories, but we can move on with a focus when we accept God’s promise: “I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy” (John 16:20).

Soul-prayer on surrender

O my soul, remember that our beloved one is merely asleep in death, and wild with joy right now in the presence of God. Remember that God wants touch my broken heart. In Christ, on the cross, He knows my pain. In His resurrection from the dead, He is my only hope. O God, let me know that your thoughts toward me have no harm in them at all, but that You are full of plans to give me a future and a hope. Deliver me from this unspeakable sorrow, heal me from this merciless pain. O God, into your hands, I give my life. Take it and do what You will with it.

Fifth Movement: Praise

Again Peter was a genius on suffering. He knew the secret of the power of praise. “In this you greatly rejoice though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7). How does one move beyond pain to the point of praise? It is impossible by our own strength; but miracles happen when we ask God to empower us. By now, we understand the loss, have surrendered to God, and have changed our relationship with our loved one. Unable to see or talk with them as we once did, we learn to develop new ways of remembering and relating to this precious person. Good and bad memories will remain. You now say, “Yes, unfortunately this did happen.” But you also don’t postpone the pain, you don’t deny it occurred, and you don’t minimize your loss.

The next step is to find new ways to exist and function. This involves developing a new identity, but without forgetting your loved one. You discover new ways to re-direct the emotional investments you placed in the person now gone. You learn how to take care of yourself, by yourself, and with the help of others, who become precious in your new life. Admit and accept you need the support, help, and comfort of other people during your time of loss. Isolation can be deadly. A friend or even an acquaintance can help you through this difficult time, remove your fear of abandonment, and assist with your depression. Other people can encourage you to continue to function. They offer you their hope and faith when yours has vanished.

Finally, open your mouth and sing again. Choose to praise and thank God as a spiritual discipline. Don’t depend on your feelings to praise, but do rejoice when your feelings reinforce such action. God is worthy of praise because He has poured out on you “the faith and love from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven” (Col. 1:5). Therefore “set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col.3:1b-4). Imagine it-and stay with it until your imagination breaks through with the glorious views in your mind’s eye of being with Jesus in His heavenly Kingdom.

Imagine your loved one with Jesus right now-full of joy and peace and glory from the nearness of His glory. John envisions the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 as “the dwelling of God with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who is seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!'” (vv.3-4). O wonderful day, come soon. O wonderful King Jesus, come quickly!

Soul-prayer on praise

O my soul, sing to the Lord! Praise his mighty ways. Shout out how great and wonderful is His love-there is no greater love. O God, bring me into your heavenly presence. Heal me of the darkness in my soul, the grief that crushes my heart. Thank you god, you are the captain of my soul. Nothing is impossible for you. In you, I truly can do all things, even this.

Concluding Thoughts

 There is no prescribed timetable for grieving. For most, it takes 2 to 3 years to work through the loss of a close loved one. Sometimes it is a lifelong journey. It encompasses peaks and valleys that are initially intense. The peaks eventually become less severe and the valley’s level out after time, but they do not disappear. Be extra kind to yourself during this time, and diligent about your health. It’s OK to go to bed earlier than normal, to take naps, and spend more time in a long bath. Grieving takes enormous energy, and your body needs more rest.

Setting goals for your future may be difficult at this time. You probably feel that part of you also died, but it will help you work through the grief. Answer these questions in a journal: What do I want to be doing this time next year? What is it I’ve always wanted to do but haven’t gotten around to doing? Who is someone I’d like to visit that I haven’t seen in years? Goals are important because they force us to invest current energy in a long-term project.

Others around you may be uncomfortable with your grief, wanting you to return to “normal” as soon as possible. If you are not ready, don’t let others determine it for you. This is your loss and no one else’s. It is all right for you to take charge and let others know what you need. Consider telling others: “When I am crying, I don’t need to be fixed. Tears are necessary for me to work through the process of healing.” Tell them they don’t have to avoid mentioning your loss. Encourage them to call and see how you are doing, and not to be put off by your fluctuating emotions.

In the Beatitudes Jesus promised that the needs of the bereaved would not go unmet. “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). The word for comfort is taken from the Greek word, “parakaleo,” which means “one who stands alongside.” Mourning openly is a form of self-disclosure. We do not have to hide from God. He is walking along side of us right now as we experience our grief. We need to reveal ourselves to Him and He will strengthen us with His divine love.

Meditating on God's Word

(Adapted from The Disciplines of The Holy Spirit by Siang-Yang Tan)

Without meditation, the ways for appropriating God’s Word will be futile and unfruitful. Prayer, as well, can be empty and devoid of the Holy Spirit’s power without meditation on the Bible.

George Muller made a significant discovery about the critical importance of meditation and the crucial connection between meditation and prayer that revolutionized his spiritual life.

Now, I saw that the most important thing was to give myself to the reading of God’s Word, and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warmed, reproved, instructed, and that thus, by means of the Word of God, whilst meditating on it, my heart might be brought into experimental communion with the Lord�.Now what is food for the inner man? Not prayer, but the Word of God, and here again, not the simple reading of the Word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water passes through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it and applying it to our hearts.

Meditation is pondering over Scripture verses or passages in such a way that the written Word of God becomes a living Word of God applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The two primary words for meditation in the Bible mean “to murmur or mutter” and “to speak to one’s self.” Meditation is a process of thinking through language that takes place in the heart or inner life. The truth being meditated upon moves from the mouth (murmuring), to the mind (reflective thinking), and finally to the heart (outer action).

This process is sometimes referred to as lectio divina (divine reading) where we listen to Scripture deeply with the ears of our hearts. We are like Elijah, listening for the still, small voice of God, the faint murmuring sound that is God’s Word for us, the voice of the Holy Spirit touching our hearts. This gentle listening is an attunement to the Presence of God in Scripture. Once a word or passage in the Bible speaks to us in a personal way, we can take it and begin to ponder it in our hearts, soaking ourselves in the passage. We can ask, “What is happening here? What are the sounds, smells, feelings? Why is God focusing me on this verse or idea? What does He want me to understand? Why do I need this word from God? How do I respond? Is there an example for me to follow, a sin to avoid, a command to obey, a promise to claim?” In meditation, we seek to enter into the Scripture and live in it. As we move from detached observation to active participation in the Scripture, our imaginations become active. Some have objected to using the imagination out of fear of its “subjective” focus and potential for self-deception or use by the enemy. But Jesus appealed to the imaginations of His listeners as He taught and told parables. While there is reason for caution and safeguards, we believe God can sanctify the imagination, just as He does our human reason, and work His good purposes through it.

Here are some simple steps we encourage for meditating or “living into Scripture”:

1. Pray for the Holy Spirit to speak to you and guide you as you read a passage of Scripture.

2. Read through the passage you are meditating on several times, listening for the still, small voice of God and waiting upon the leading of the Spirit.

3. Ponder the verse or two that grabs your attention or touches you in some way. Picture what is happening.

4. Put yourself in the picture. Ask questions. Allow a dialogue to unfold inside of you; let your imagination and senses be instruments for revelation from the Holy Spirit.

5. Be open to the ways God may want to speak to you directly through His Word through a personal encounter as you ask questions as you place yourself in the scene, even perhaps as Jesus comes directly to you in the scene in which you have entered.

6. Take time to share what God has said to you with an accountability partner or wise friend. This provides protection by checking what comes from your time of meditation, helps to reinforce God’s Word to you, and encourages and blesses others in their journey of faith.

The Holy Spirit can speak the living Word of God to your heart. The Holy Spirit is the One who enables us to understand the thoughts and things of God. Without His ministry as Teacher of truth and Revealer of God’s mind and heart to us, we will not be able to know or understand God or spiritual things (see 1 Cor. 2:6-16). With this in mind, always begin your reading, study, and meditation by asking for the Spirit’s illumination and guidance, and throughout the process of getting into God’s Word, be sensitive to His voice speaking to you!

The Spirit Filled Life

(Adapted from The Disciplines of The Holy Spirit by Siang-Yang Tan)

The Spirit-filled life is the Christ-directed life by which Jesus lives His life in and through us in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised His followers they would have powerful, loving, abundant, and fruitful lives as the result of being filled with the Holy Spirit.

First, it is important to understand that a person initially becomes a Christian through the work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:1-8). From the moment of conversion, or spiritual birth, the Holy Spirit dwells in a person. In this sense, all Christians, at the point of conversion, receive “the baptism of the Holy Spirit,” or as Paul says, we are all baptized by one Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). However, though the Spirit is present in all Christians, this does not mean all Christians are filled – empowered, released, guided, and controlled – by the Holy Spirit.

The filling of the Holy Spirit is an ongoing reality. Paul says in Ephesians 5:18, “Be filled with the Spirit.” In the original language, this verse actually means “continually be filled with the Spirit.” Renewal and a release of the Spirit’s presence and power are needed on a daily basis.

Most of the time, the filling of the Spirit is experienced in a quiet way, with a deep sense of peace or joy, perhaps bringing clarity of insight or understanding regarding present circumstances or future plans. These times of filling may not involve intense emotions, and there may be a few days or weeks of “lag time” before it is apparent that the Spirit is at work in new ways. Other times the filling of the Spirit happens with dramatic power and can include outward manifestations such as laughing, crying, feeling warm all over, or even experiencing a power surge like electricity. Dramatic manifestations in and of themselves are not necessarily signs of the Spirit’s Presence. God created us as unique personalities with different needs, so the Spirit touches us and empowers us in ways appropriate to our uniqueness. What is most important is to be filled with the Spirit and to leave the manifestations to the sovereignty of God and the work of the Spirit.

The apostle Paul, who encourages us so strongly to be continually filled with the Spirit, also cautions us not to grieve the Holy Spirit, especially by sins of the flesh such as bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, and every form of malice (Eph. 4:30); and not to quench the Spirit or put out the Spirit’s fire by our unbelief and evil (1 Thess. 5:19). When we are open to the Spirit – continually filled and seeking to be filled – we are less likely to quench or grieve the Spirit in our daily living.

Some of the blessings of the Spirit-filled life are:

*greater love and intimacy with God
*exaltation of Jesus as Son of God and Savior
*power and boldness to witness and preach
*greater wisdom and faith
*deep joy (singing and worship)
*release of spiritual gifts for ministry
*victory over sin and temptation
*effectiveness and power in prayer
*quiet confidence during opposition
*deeper trust in Scripture as the Word of God
*renewed zeal for evangelism
*fresh love of Christ and others

The blessings of being filled with the Spirit are tremendous! That’s why God tells us to be filled. He gives us the power we don’t have, so that we can become more like Jesus and do the work of Jesus.

How then can one be filled with the Spirit? By asking! God is a good and generous Father who desires to give good gifts to His children.

First, confess your sins and receive God’s cleansing and forgiveness by the Blood of Christ (1 John 1:9). We are lost, needing to come to ourselves, to repent and confess our sins and return to the loving arms of our Heavenly Father.

Second, yield every area of your life to the control of the Holy Spirit, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ (Rom. 12: 1-2). We must give up the things we hold so close: known sin, anger, brokenness, rebellion, control, and pride so that God has authority over everything in our lives. As C. S. Lewis puts it: “Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You.”

Third, ask! In obedience to the command in Ephesians 5:18, ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit. God’s purpose is to give you Himself. “For everyone who asks receives,” Jesus says. It is the will of our Father in heaven to “give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Luke 11:10, 13).

As you ask for the Spirit’s filling, pray specifically for His power and the release of His gifts so that you can live a more Christlike life and be more effective in building up the Body of Christ and reaching out to a lost world with the Gospel.

Fourth, give thanks! Thank God by faith for His answer to such prayers because they are in accordance with His will (1 John 5:14-15). We live in constant dependence upon the love and mercy of God, and our thanksgiving is a constant response to His help and guidance that comes to us at every moment through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Fifth, expect great things to happen. Anticipate that the Holy Spirit will work deeply and powerfully, whether in dramatic or in more quiet ways. God wants you to let Him do through you whatever He purposes. He is able to do anything He pleases through any ordinary man or woman who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him. If you feel weak, broken, limited, or ordinary, you are just the kind of person through whom God likes to work.

Obedience: Created to Become Like Christ

(Adapted from The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren – chapter 22)

You were created to become like Christ. Like God, we are spiritual beings – our spirits are immortal and will outlast our earthly bodies; we are intellectual – we can think, reason, and solve problems; like God, we are relational – we can give and receive real love; and we have a moral consciousness – we can discern right from wrong, which makes us accountable to God.

The Bible says that all people, not just believers, possess part of the image of God. But the image is incomplete and has been damaged and distorted by sin. So God sent Jesus on a mission to restore the full image that we have lost. The Bible says, “You were created to be like God, truly righteous and holy” (Eph. 4:24).

Many religions and New Age philosophies still promote the old lie of Satan that we are divine or can become gods. This desire to be a god shows up every time we try to control our circumstances, our future, and people around us. God doesn’t want us to become a god; he wants you to become godly – taking on His values, attitudes, and character (see Eph. 4:22).

God’s ultimate goal for your life on earth is not comfort, but character development. He wants you to grow up spiritually and become like Christ. Every time you forget that character is one of God’s purposes for your life, you will become frustrated by your circumstances. You’ll wonder, “Why is this happening to me? Why am I having such a difficult time?” One answer is that life is supposed to be difficult! It’s what enables us to grow. Remember, earth is not heaven!

Many Christians misinterpret Jesus’ promise of the “abundant life” to mean perfect health, a comfortable lifestyle, constant happiness, full realization of your dreams, and instant relief from problems through faith and prayer. They expect heaven on earth. This self-absorbed perspective treats God as a genie who simply exists to serve you in your selfish pursuit of personal fulfillment.

Never forget that life is not about you! You exist for God’s purposes, not vice versa. God gives us our time on earth to build and strengthen our character for heaven.

It is the Holy Spirit’s job to produce Christ-like character in you (see 2 Cor. 3:18b). You cannot reproduce the character of Jesus on your own strength. Only the Holy Spirit has the power to make the changes God wants to make in our lives (see Phil. 2:13). Most of the time the Holy Spirit’s power is released in your life in quiet, unassuming ways that you aren’t even aware of or can’t feel. He often nudges us with “a gentle whisper.”

We must allow Christ to live through us. How does this happen in real life? Through the choices we make. We choose to do the right thing in situations and then trust God’s Spirit to give us His power, love, faith, and wisdom to do it. Since God’s Spirit lives inside of us, these things are always available for the asking.

We must cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s work. The Holy Spirit releases His power the moment you take a step of faith. Obedience unlocks God’s power. God waits for you to act first. Don’t wait to feel powerful or confident. Move ahead in your weakness, doing the right thing in spite of you fears and feelings. This is how you cooperate with the Holy Spirit. While effort has nothing to do with your salvation, it has much to do with your spiritual growth. At least eight times in the New Testament we are told to “make every effort” in our growth toward becoming like Jesus. You don’t just sit around and wait for it to happen.

According to Ephesians 4:22-24 we have three responsibilities in becoming like Christ. First, we must choose to let go of old ways of acting. Second, we must change the way we think. The Bible says we are “transformed” by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2). We must allow God to direct our thoughts. We are changed from the inside out. Third, we must “put on” the character of Christ by developing new, godly habits.

Many people assume all that is needed for spiritual growth is Bible study and prayer. But some issues in life will never be changed by Bible study or prayer alone. God uses people. He usually prefers to work through people rather than perform miracles, so that we will depend on each other for fellowship. He wants us to grow together.

Becoming like Christ is a long, slow process of growth. Spiritual maturity is neither instant nor automatic; it is a gradual, progressive development that will take the rest of your life. You are a work in progress. Your spiritual transformation in developing the character of Jesus will take the rest of your life, and even then it won’t be complete here on earth. It will only be finished when you get to heaven or when Jesus returns.

Much confusion in the Christian life comes from ignoring the simple truth that God is far more interested in building your character than He is anything else. God is far more interested in what you are than in what you do.

Jesus did not die on the cross just so we could live comfortable, well-adjusted lives. His purpose is far deeper: He wants to make us like Himself before He takes us to heaven.

Whatever Happened to Sin?

(Adapted from Healing Care, Healing Prayer by Terry Wardle)

Dysfunctional behaviors are largely rooted in deep pain and unaddressed needs. We must also accept that much of our unhealthy behavior is at some level symptomatic of horrible wounding and loss, suffered at the hands of others &/or tied to harsh life events.

But, it is also important for us to consider that our dysfunctional behaviors must be identified for what they are: sinful responses to pain and unmet needs in our lives. Whenever we kill pain and try to meet needs in unhealthy ways, we are falling short of God’s desire for us. And the simple definition of that set of choices is sin. Failure to identify this truth takes away the personal responsibility for our actions that we must accept. Even when we are in pain or facing a genuine need, choosing to address it in a way that is hurtful to ourselves or to others is a sinful response. The presence of underlying wounds does not absolve us from responsibility for the unhealthy choices we make. Having been wounded by others does not give us the right to react in a way that wounds anyone else, even ourselves. Sin must be recognized and dealt with before the Lord as an integral part of the inner healing process.

We need to be overwhelmed by God’s good grace and experience His unbelievable acceptance, forgiveness, and hope in the midst of our own problems. However, the starting place for experiencing His matchless grace is recognizing why we need His mercy in the first place. We are like straying sheep, wandering away from God’s best, feeding in places that ultimately lead to our own destruction. Many times this happens because we do not know better. At other times we make bad choices consciously, either unconcerned or unconvinced that the consequences are really that serious or sinful. But they are, and there is no responsible way to detour around that reality on the path to inner healing.

What precisely is sin? It is a transgression of the law of God: disobedience of the divine will; moral failure. Sin is failure to realize in conduct and character the moral ideal, at least as fully as possible under existing circumstances. In other words, sin is the failure to live according to what God expects. This involves not doing what God has told us to do, and/or doing what He has expressly forbidden. God has set before us a standard of character and behavior and to fall short of that is to miss God’s mark. And to miss the mark is to sin. Dysfunctional behaviors aimed at killing pain or meeting needs in unhealthy ways do in fact miss the mark.

The Words of Jesus are most helpful and pastoral on this topic. He defined the purpose of life as “loving the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:37-39). He said that all of the rules and laws contained in the Bible hang on these two commandments (Matt. 22:40). Expanding on an Old Testament text, Jesus was telling all His followers that they are to live according to the rule of love. How does one know what is right and wrong? According to Jesus that is really quite simple. Do what is loving to God, loving to other people and loving toward oneself. Every action that is rooted in the law of love hits the mark of God’s expectation, dead center. Conversely, if any thought or action is not loving toward God, another person, or oneself, it is sinful. Therefore, painkilling and meeting needs in any way that is unloving toward God, hurts another person, or which at any level compromises the well-being of an individual – even ourselves – is sin. For example, let’s look at one’s need to obtain acceptance and worth through performance in light of Jesus’ teaching regarding the law of love. First, by turning to performance in order to gain a sense of worth, I am in fact creating an idol. God has made provision for that need through the work of Christ. To seek worth apart from Him is unloving toward God and clearly misses the mark He set before me. As for others, it is very easy to subconsciously use people to meet my own deep needs. They become an unhealthy means to an end, which devalues and invalidates. That is not loving either. An as for myself, continuing to rely on this behavior is both damaging and depressing.

I believe it helpful to be reminded yet again about the seriousness of sin, as described by Paul. In Romans 6:19-23, Paul writes:

I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness, leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap from the things that you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wage of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Consider what Paul is saying about sin in this text. First, he repeatedly used the term slavery with reference to sinful actions. Paul was well aware of the practice of slavery and knew its terrible cost. Slaves had no freedom to go where they wanted to go, do what they wanted to do, or become what they wanted to be. They were in bondage, forced to live according to another person’s demands and desires. They were often mistreated, dehumanized and devalued. They had become the property of another, enslaved to spend their lives serving people who had little care or concern for them as human beings.

Sin leads to slavery. When hurting, we have a pain and need deep within that becomes too much to bear alone. Misguided, the thought can come to us to try some way to alleviate the ache inside our souls. Whether out of ignorance or rebellion, we stumble upon a short-term solution to our problem. Initially it is a conscious act that we initiate and control in order to feel better. But over time, the action turns into a habit, less conscious, more impulse driven. Slowly the habit sets deep talons into the flesh of our wounded soul and we become enslaved to a behavior that begins to rip and tear at our life on every level. The behavior has turned into the beast, and we become a slave to sin’s dark design. This slavery is a constant result of sinful choices, and we need to call it the ugly taskmaster that it is.

Paul also challenges us to consider the results of the sins for which we are now ashamed (Rom. 6:21). As broken men and women, we often wear shame like a dead skin that should have been shed long before. It is ugly, heavy and carries with it the most horrible feelings of self-contempt.

Shame has been defined as:  A soul-deep sense that there is something uniquely wrong with me that is not wrong with you or anyone else in the world. Because I am not perfect and problem free, I feel hopelessly, disgustingly different and worth less than other people. I view myself as, literally, worthless. It isn’t that I make a mistake when I make a mistake; I am a mistake when I make a mistake.

This definition cuts to the core of shame’s dark nature. Inevitably, we who are caught in sin wrestle with its suffocating presence. Often that battle occurs in silent hiding because we don’t want others to see what we live with day in and day out. While sinful choices seem at first to offer some relief to deep need, in the end they bring a covering of shame that only heightens an already difficult inner battle.

Paul does not end there, but speaks to a third consequence of sin: death. He says quite clearly that the ultimate and most devastating consequence of missing God’s mark is destruction. Paraphrasing his words, “death is the final payoff of sin” (Rom. 6:23). Enslavement to dysfunctional behaviors has the potential to emotionally, mentally, relationally, spiritually, and at times, physically kill. Though we may think such choices are harmless, long-term bondage rips and tears at us until we begin to die deep within our souls. It is often a slow demise, as dark forces, bit by bit, steal the life that God intended for us.

Given this reality of sin and its deep and devastating consequences in our lives, there is good news that has come to us through Jesus Christ. God the Father’s unconditional gift of love, Jesus Christ, has provided a way for us to be free from sin and its devastating consequences. Through the Cross, each of us has the opportunity to experience forgiveness and reconciliation with God. Sinful choices need no longer plague us with slavery, shame, and death. Jesus gave His Life so that all who believe can be saved. And that salvation definitely includes the element of healing, reconnecting lost people with God, and empowering them to move forward in spite of the past, present, or future in the Power of the Spirit.

The Apostle Paul has clearly revealed all that is possible for us in our brokenness because of the Work of Jesus on Calvary. In Colossians he wrote:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col. 2:13-15)

To call this good news is an understatement. As Christians, we have been forgiven all our sins. Jesus fulfilled all the requirements of the law and paid for sin at the cross. Through His shed blood, Jesus has disarmed all the dark forces aligned against us, giving us authority by His powerful Name to defeat our evil foe. Because of this, we are now alive with Jesus, held securely in His eternal embrace.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul assures believers that they receive every blessing they need through Christ, and that even as they struggle, Jesus has made a way for them to be holy and blameless in God’s sight (Eph. 1:3, 4). He assures us that, as Christians, through Christ we are sons and daughters of God, recipients of great gifts, redeemed by His blood, and heirs to glorious riches of God’s grace (Eph. 1:5-8). And let there be no question about the grace-based faith that Paul declares. All of this comes, not because someone has worked hard or lived right, but as gifts, freely given to all who believe in the wonderful work that Jesus did on the Cross. They are not, according to Paul, given stingily, but instead lavished upon those whom God calls into His eternal family (Eph. 1:8).

Sometimes we come fearing the Lord’s rejection and punishment for what we have been doing. Granted, we must know that our choices are sinful and ultimately destructive. But we must also remember God’s steadfast love and acceptance in spite of our actions. He has no punishment left for us, having poured it out upon Jesus who died on our behalf. No behaviors could qualify us for God’s love, and none can cause Him to stop loving His own. He looks toward our brokenness with Divine compassion and understanding. While He in no way minimizes sin, God offers us the power to be set free and thoroughly forgiven. He longs to love and touch His sinful, wounded children.

We need to hear that nothing can separate us from His love, and that even on our worst day, He is thoroughly crazy about us. God rejoices as we turn home. He meets us long before we expect Him to be there. He welcomes us with great joy and provides the healing we need. As he calls us to set aside our painkillers and dysfunctional behaviors, He opens the way for us to have our deepest needs met in Him. And where pain continues to be present, He comes to strengthen and equip us to move forward in the Power of His enabling grace. So, while on the one hand, we need to see the seriousness of sinful choices, on the other, we need to see the matchless love of the God who desires to free us from all that is dark and evil.

In a practical way, how do we seriously deal with both known, unresolved, and unknown sin?

1) First, I need to meet God in prayer and ask Him to define obvious, known areas where there are sinful responses to pain and unmet needs in my life. I need to be open and honest before the Lord, allowing the Holy Spirit to show me where I have gone astray. I need to see my life from His point of view. Prayer-time like this may take place over days, weeks, and even months.

2) Next, I must spend time in prayer to seek the Lord regarding unresolved past sin. As a believer, it is a fact that all my past sin has been forgiven by Christ. But, even though I may have moved away from certain sinful behaviors, I may have done so without ever dealing with them before the Lord. Not only is that a matter of confession, but also an issue of closing the door completely on what has happened.

3) Finally, I must pray about unknown sin. I must seek the Lord and be open to the Spirit’s work of convincing, convicting, and revealing what I am not aware of.

As the Lord begins to reveal, define, and remind me of thoughts and behaviors He wants me to bring to Him, I can follow the following steps:

*Recognize. I acknowledge and admit that specific choices and actions that the Holy Spirit has identified are sinful. I declare to the Lord the destructive results and all that these actions have cost, and I admit that these short-term solutions bring long-lasting devastation to my life. I lay before the Lord all the ugliness that I feel, have done, have failed to do, whatever.

*Repent. I choose to tell God that I want to turn away from these sins and turn toward Him for help and healing. I invite Him to do whatever He must do in my life to break me free of what enslaves me. I tell Him that I can ask Him to this because I believe He will only do what is Good, Loving, Just, Wise, and Best regardless how I feel about it.

*Renounce. Sinful choices open the door for the oppressive and harassing work of the evil one. I tell the Lord that I choose to renounce any involvement the evil one may have in my problems, and that I desire to bring myself and my problems entirely under the Lordship of Christ. I ask the Lord to demolish any strongholds to which I have, in any way, given myself over to resulting in slavery and bondage. I further state that I desire only to be enslaved to Jesus Christ.

*Receive. I allow myself to freely (and even audibly) accept the forgiveness and cleansing that is mine in Jesus Christ. I ask the Lord to give me the emotions He wants me to accurately experience that represent the cleansing He has released within me.

*Realign. I seek the Lord’s help to have the desire and ability to make specific changes in my lifestyle related to the sin I am confessing. Also, I ask the Lord to empower me to look to Him as the Strength of my life and the true Source of all that I need.

*Rejoice. I ask the Lord to enable me to praise Him. I seek to have His ability to wait on His timing to bring solutions to my problems in the way He knows is best. I also ask for the supernatural ability to continue to trust in Him and praise Him no matter how differently He answers my prayers, or even if He should not answer them at all. As bad as I want answers to my problems, I ask for His help to be able to love Him, trust Him, and praise Him even more than I want answers to any of my requests.

Taking Captivity Captive

(Adapted from Wounds That Heal by Stephen Seamands, Chapter 5)

Recurring themes run through the stories of us all. We are certainly a fallen people that live in a fallen world. We sin. We are affected by the sins of others. The world system is evil. The Enemy of our souls seeks our destruction. And, yet, we are not without Hope.

These themes can be labeled as: 1) Compassion Deficits; 2) Behavioral Narcotics; 3) The Two Selves.

Compassion deficits result when compassion and unconditional love are in short supply especially during our early formative years. These deficits can be devastating; not being loved enough damages one’s soul. We somehow keep going, but how do we cope with the pain and emptiness? The answer is that we turn to “behavioral narcotics.” We rely on them as pain relievers for compassion deficits and anesthetics for a lack of unconditional love. For some, the narcotics are actual chemical substances like drugs or alcohol. But for many, the narcotics are not chemical at all but are “patterns and habits of behavior, relating, or coping. These include:

* Habits of workaholism – filling the mind so full of thoughts, dreams, and activities of success that there is little room left to feel pain caused by irrational, underlying feelings of inadequacy.
* Habits of control – constantly striving to maintain control of others, making their will the servants of our own, and binding the hands we secretly fear will strike us.
* Habits of people pleasing – constantly monitoring what others expect from us so that we can avoid the pain of their rejection by minimizing its likelihood, becoming in the process slaves of our servanthood.
* Habits of dependency – always surrendering our will to the will of another (even to God) for reasons of fear and self-diagnosed inadequacy, instead of enjoying the freedom to follow the advice of love.
* Habits of perfectionism – wearing the mask of perfection and rightness to cover inner turmoil and ambiguity.
* Habits of escape – taking emotional vacations from pain through the use of alcohol, drugs, or self-destructive patterns of pain-delaying behavior.

Such behavioral narcotics may temporarily deaden the pain of compassion deficits, but they can’t provide permanent relief because they don’t go to the heart of the problem. As false substitutes, they also keep us from experiencing love and intimacy.

Considering the “two selves,” there are always two “people” within us, and they are battling for occupancy. The false self and the true self vie for the throne of our lives. The false self wants to remain in control. Its antidote for the agony of compassion deficits is always the same: “Turn to behavioral narcotics you are familiar with, and at all costs, stay in control.” The true self, however, desires more. It wants to restore the rightful order and to assume its proper identity. When the true self reigns, love is king. Its rightful reign is the only true solution to compassion deficits and the substance abuse problem of behavioral narcotics.

To numb the pain of compassion deficits and find substitutes for unconditional love, many have fallen into unhealthy behavioral and relational habit patterns. In fact, for so many, these patterns assume a life of their own. When they become compulsive, unmanageable and out of control, we label them as addictions. Experts agree that significant compassion deficits resulting from an unhealthy family life and personal trauma are the root of addiction. During childhood, the needs for intimacy, identity, and adequacy are largely unmet. In fact, adult addicts have been described as “essentially children hiding out in grown-up bodies, hungrily seeking parents to love them unconditionally.”

Out of this addictive root, an addictive mindset develops, revolving around the core beliefs to which addicts usually subscribe:
* I am essentially a bad, worthless person and therefore undeserving of love.
* No one would love me if they really knew me.
* If I don’t meet my needs, they will never get met.

All three of these core beliefs directly contradict the Bible’s revelation of God’s evaluation of us. We are deeply loved by God. When at our worst – hostile, rebellious sinners – God loved us the most. Christ’s death on the cross demonstrates our inestimable worth to God and the extent of his love. And Paul boldly affirms in Philippians 4:19, “My God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

In addition to fostering an addictive mindset, compassion deficits also fuel anger. Behind the addict’s smiling face stands a person who is bitter and judgmental.

Prompted by their core beliefs and fueled by anger over unmet needs, addicts choose to listen to the voice of the false self. No longer do they depend on others to meet their needs, for when they have in the past, they felt powerless and out of control. Instead, they look out for themselves; they seek power and control by taking charge.

Lacking love and intimacy from significant others in their family, addicts turn to substitutes such as drugs, alcohol, spending, gambling, romance, work, food, or relationships to dull the pain and fill the void. At first these substitutes seem to work. They offer “relief” and a pleasurable “high.” They reinforce the lie, “I really don’t need anybody; I can take care of myself. I’m the master of the universe.”

Instead of depending on others or God to meet their needs, addicts learn to depend on their substitutes. Having turned to their substitutes for power and control, eventually they become enslaved to them and, ironically, once again stand powerless and out of control.

When does something that may have functioned as a behavioral narcotic turn into an addiction? The presence of the following characteristics indicates that a behavioral narcotic has become an addiction:

1. Tolerance. Addicts continually need more of the behavioral narcotic to feel satisfied. Their system develops a tolerance for the behavior or substance, thus diminishing its desired effect. Hence it takes more and more to get the pain relief or the pleasure they need.

2. Withdrawal symptoms. When addicts are deprived of their behavioral narcotic, their system responds in two ways. First, there is a physical and emotional stress reaction as the system cries out for the narcotic. Then there is a backlash reaction marked by the exact opposite symptoms of those caused by the addictive behavioral narcotic itself.

3. Self-deceptions. Addicts go to great lengths to justify their behavior and to convince themselves they are still in control. They are masters of mental trickery, adept at denial, rationalization and various other defense mechanisms.

4. Loss of willpower. Despite their firm resolutions, addicts can’t stop the addictive behavior because their will is divided. Although one part sincerely desires to quit, another part tenaciously clings to the addiction. Their determination to quit is always short-lived.

5. Distortion of attention. Addicts become so preoccupied with the object of their addiction, they are unable to fix their attention or love on anything else. The particular object has become their ultimate concern; it is their god. Idolatry is present in every addiction.

The litmus test for whether a person suffers from an addiction is the absence of freedom -when addictive desires and behaviors have become habitual and compulsive, enslaving the addict. Their wills are bound. They cannot stop. Having exchanged the truth for a lie, they have been given over to their addictive thoughts, their lust and desires, and the idolatry of their false gods (Romans 1:25-28).

Powerless – describes the addict best. By turning away from God and others and turning to substitutes for unconditional love, addicts hope to gain power and control over their lives. Yet in the end they are powerless, slaves to the very substitutes they thought would free them.

What does the Cross say to those shackled by the chains of addictions? First, we must admit we are powerless over our addictions. Jesus won victory over sin, death, and the devil by becoming powerless. He overcame not by launching an all-out frontal attack on his adversaries or by beating them at their own game but through the power of suffering love. He chose the way of forgiveness, not retaliation; meekness, not self-assertion. He took everything the powers of evil could throw at him yet remained free, uncontaminated, uncompromised. The devil could gain no hold on him and therefore had to concede defeat. Now the tables have been turned. Death is under His feet; so are the devil and all dark powers. “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive” (Ephesians 4:8).

We will never overcome our addiction until we realize and confess we are powerless. We are not in control; we are not the master of the universe. We can’t quit anytime we please. Our willpower is no match for the power of our addictions. The only power we have is the power to admit we are powerless. Only by confessing our absolute weakness will we find strength to overcome.

Pierre D’Harcourt, who was in the French underground during World War II, discovered this principle of power through powerlessness when he was captured by the Nazis. He was thrown into a prison and handcuffed to the iron frame of the bed. The first hour in his cell was one of the worst in his life. As he lay on his bed feeling utterly alone and hopeless, he turned his face to God and cried out for help.

Beneath everything, beyond everything, I felt myself humiliated and defeated. I knew I must make the gesture of complete humility by offering to God all that I had suffered. I must not only have the courage to accept the suffering He had sent me; I must also thank Him for it, for the opportunity He gave me to find at last His truth and love. Then the inspiration came to me to kiss the chains that held me prisoner, and with much difficulty I at last managed to do this. Once my lips touched the steel I was freed from the terror that possessed me. In the blackness of that night my faith gave me light.

To be set free from the bondage of addiction, we too must discover this liberating principle. Instead of fighting the chains of our addiction, let’s kiss them and acknowledge our powerlessness. We cannot deny or despair over it but must rather embrace it. Our honest acceptance is the first gigantic step on the path to freedom.

Next, in our powerlessness we must cry out to Jesus, for his strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Our powerlessness releases His power. The Lord can break the chains of our addictions. So we must call on Him to deliver us and give Him permission to do anything necessary to set us free.

Finally, in our powerlessness we must reach out to others for help. Make no mistake, achieving freedom from addiction will involve a long, difficult process. To break an addictive behavior cycle alone is a major accomplishment, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. We still must deal with an addictive mindset (the lies we have believed about ourselves) and an addictive root (our wounds and compassion deficits). A determined, personal commitment to change coupled with involvement with others in a recovery program and group support, individual counseling and spiritual disciplines (such as worship, bible study, prayer, meditation, service) are necessary to reach that goal.

My Lord, Jesus, I’m in trouble. I see no way out. I am miserable. I am held totally captive by _________________. It masters me, my life, and all I hold important and dear. It is destroying me and everything of value to me. I don’t understand all the complexity about how I got here, and I can’t honestly see a way to freedom. But, I know that You can somehow lead me to freedom and break the bondage I am in. I admit that I need You so much more than I have ever allowed myself to realize. I admit that I have let _________________ become my god. I am guilty of idolatry. I have turned to it instead of turning to You in the way You require. I admit I want to let go of ______________, and at the same time, I am scared to turn it loose. I can’t even say that I know how to trust You, nor that I really believe You will supply all my needs. But, You are all that I have. You are my only Hope. You offer the only possibility of healing, health, holiness, freedom, and restoration for me. You, Lord, will have to give me the ability to trust you and exercise my faith in You. Make me willing for you to do anything that You know is necessary in my life to break this bondage. With fear and trembling, I do invite you and give you permission to have complete freedom to do whatever You have to do. Help me to trust in Your Goodness to do only what is right and best for me. Help me to even see Your Sovereignty and Wisdom in the way that you have allowed me to suffer with ____________________. Although I hate what I am experiencing, I give You thanks for the way you use even this terrible stuff in my life to make me the person You want me to be. Forgive me! Continue to cleanse me! Heal me! Restore me! Bring me to an end of myself so I can have a new, fresh beginning with You! Thank You, Lord Jesus!

Ten Guidelines From God

(Author: Unknown)

Effective Immediately, please be aware that there are changes YOU need to make in YOUR life. These changes need to be completed in order that I may fulfill My promises to you to grant you peace, joy and happiness in this life. I apologize for any inconvenience, but after all that I am doing, this seems very little to ask of you. Please, follow these 10 guidelines

1. QUIT WORRYING:
Life has dealt you a blow and all you do is sit and worry. Have you forgotten that I am here to take all your burdens and carry them for you? Or do you just enjoy fretting over every little thing that comes your way?

2. PUT IT ON THE LIST:
Something needs done or taken care of. Put it on the list. No, not YOUR list. Put it on MY to-do-list. Let ME be the one to take care of the problem. I can’t help you until you turn it over to Me. And although My to-do-list is long, I am after all… God. I can take care of anything you put into My hands. In fact, if the truth were ever really known, I take care of a lot of things for you that you never even realize.

3. TRUST ME:
Once you’ve given your burdens to Me, quit trying to take them back. Trust in Me. Have the faith that I will take care of all your needs, your problems and your trials. Problems with the kids? Put them on My list. Problem with finances? Put it on My list. Problems with your emotional roller coaster? For My sake, put it on My list. I want to help you. All you have to do is ask.

4. LEAVE IT ALONE:
Don’t wake up one morning and say, “Well, I’m feeling much stronger now, I think I can handle it from here.” Why do you think you are feeling stronger now? It’s simple. You gave Me your burdens and I’m taking care of them. I also renew your strength and cover you in my peace. Don’t you know that if I give you these problems back, you will be right back where you started? Leave them with Me and forget about them. Just let Me do my job.

5. TALK TO ME:
I want you to forget a lot of things. Forget what was making you crazy. Forget the worry and the fretting because you know I’m in control. But there’s one thing I pray you never forget. Please, don’t forget to talk to Me – OFTEN! I love YOU! I want to hear your voice. I want you to include Me in on the things going on in your life. I want to hear you talk about your friends and family. Prayer is simply you having a conversation with Me. I want to be your dearest friend.

6. HAVE FAITH:
I see a lot of things from up here that you can’t see from where you are. Have faith in Me that I know what I’m doing. Trust Me; you wouldn’t want the view from My eyes. I will continue to care for you, watch over you, and meet your needs. You only have to trust Me. Although I have a much bigger task than you, it seems as if you have so much trouble just doing your simple part. How hard can trust be?

7. SHARE:
You were taught to share when you were only two years old. When did you forget? That rule still applies. Share with those who are less fortunate than you. Share your joy with those who need encouragement. Share your laughter with those who haven’t heard any in such a long time. Share your tears with those who have forgotten how to cry. Share your faith with those who have none.

8. BE PATIENT:
I managed to fix it so in just one lifetime you could have so many diverse experiences. You grow from a child to an adult, have children, change jobs many times, learn many trades, travel to so many places, meet thousands of people, and experience so much. How can you be so impatient then when it takes Me a little longer than you expect to handle something on My to-do-list? Trust in My timing, for My timing is perfect. Just because I created the entire universe in only six days, everyone thinks I should always rush, rush, rush.

9. BE KIND:
Be kind to others, for I love them just as much as I love you. They may not dress like you, or talk like you, or live the same way you do, but I still love you all. Please try to get along, for My sake. I created each of you different in some way. It would be too boring if you were all identical. Please, know I love each of your differences.

10. LOVE YOURSELF:
As much as I love you, how can you not love yourself? You were created by me for one reason only — to be loved, and to love in return. I am a God of Love. Love Me. Love your neighbors. But also love yourself. It makes My heart ache when I see you so angry with yourself when things go wrong. You are very precious to me. Don’t ever forget……

REST: Experiencing God’s Peace in a Restless World

(Adapted from the book Rest: Experiencing God’s Peace in a Restless World by Dr. Siang-Yang Tan)

We are truly living in an age of anxiety. Anxiety has become the leading emotional problem of our day. Common responses to the questions, “How are you doing?” include: “I am really busy.” “I’m exhausted.” “There’s just too much to do.” “I’m tired. I need a vacation.” “I’m burned out.” “There’s too much going on.” “I’m so stressed out, I can’t keep up anymore!”

The buzzwords of our lives today are: Busyness. Stress. Overload. The demands of life have far outgrown the resources we have to meet them, leading to what has been termed, “The Overload Syndrome.” People are exhausted.  People are stressed.  People are overloaded.  We need more time.  We need more space.  We need more reserves.  We need more buffer.

Closely related to overwork and overload is our preoccupation with speed. In our embrace of speed, we are obsessed with efficiency and productivity. We are horrified at the thought of wasting any time. Bill Gates recently wrote a book entitled Business at the Speed of Thought. In trying to beat the clock, we walk faster, drive faster, work faster. But at a great cost. Levels of stress and anxiety are increased exponentially. Unrest is the result. Unrest is feeling fearful, anxious, panicked, scattered, harried, hurried, overwhelmed, exhausted, discontent, driven, stressed. It’s the opposite of what we most deeply long for: rest.

People are seeking rest today with a vengeance! They are doing things such as taking stress management classes, going on retreats, and trying hard to change their lifestyles so they can find some peace and rest again. Ironically, more and more people are stressed out trying to overcome stress. We try too hard to find rest, and the hard work of rest often leads to further unrest and restlessness. We need to have a deeper, more biblical understanding of rest and how to experience or enter into rest – God’s rest, in God’s way.

Rest can be described as a state of peace, contentment, serenity, refreshment, stillness, tranquility, or calm. The qualities of rest include: quietness of heart; a sober awareness of who we are and who God is; an ability to let go (and not try so hard, even at resting); an ability to enjoy leisure, nature, and things that do not involve performance; reflection; trust; an ability to live from our higher or true self -to determine our values and live by them, enjoying the moment, not living in the past or the future; breathing easily and deeply; waiting without impatience; not being impulsive or rash.

What is the difference between rest and leisure or amusement? Rest is found beyond leisure. It is God who instituted and commanded rest – true Sabbath rest – for humankind (see Ex 20:8-11; 34:21). He is also the first “rester” Himself (see Gen 2:2-3; Ex 31:17). This rest was not meant to be a luxury, but rather a necessity for those who want to have growth and maturity. Since we have not understood that rest is a necessity, we have perverted its meaning, substituting for the rest that God first demonstrated things called leisure or amusement.  Leisure and amusement may be enjoyable, but they are to the private world of the individual like cotton candy to the digestive system. They provide momentary lift, but they will not last.  The world and the church need genuinely rested Christians (and families): Those who are regularly refreshed by true Sabbath rest, not just leisure or time off. When godly rest is achieved, you will see just how tough and resilient Christians (and families) can actually be.

Taken from three main words that are used in the Old Testament to describe rest, we can conclude these terms paint us a rich and multifaceted picture. Rest involves something we do, something we experience and something God gives us. We see that we must regularly cease from our work and become still before God to gain a sense of tranquility and to loose the shackles of stress. God provides supernatural security and peace.

Also, we should not think of work versus rest but work and rest. God invented both at virtually the same time; they are meant to complement, not fight against each other. A godly life is a life of rest. A godly life is a life of work. Scripture places rest and work side by side and sees them both as good.

Despite our deep desire to experience true Sabbath rest, many of us, ironically, are afraid of rest. There may be various reasons. First, we may be addicted to the adrenaline rush of busyness. Second, we may be afraid of rest because we are fearful of facing our true state of being: our emptiness, our bad feelings, our painful memories. It is easier and more comfortable to keep busy, to keep going on without stopping to rest. Resting and reflecting may bring us face to face with painful inner feelings and struggles we would rather avoid or keep out of our consciousness. Third, we may be fearful of rest because we tend to define ourselves by what we produce or how we perform. We have a tendency to use external criteria of success to define our self-worth and the worth of our families. Many of us feel we must continue to produce, perform, excel, and keep up. We are afraid to slow down and rest because we may be left behind in our business, careers, and comparisons to others. Fourth, closely connected to the previous reason, many of us may feel that it’s all up to us to “make it” in life, believing that if we slow down or change, things will simply fall apart. Many of us are afraid of rest because we are afraid of losing speed, losing ground, and losing our lifestyles. Finally, we may be afraid of rest because we feel trapped in our ever-increasing cycle of activity and accelerated busyness. We can’t see a way out. The situation may appear so hopeless and helpless that we give up trying to rest at all. In fact, to stop and rest makes us feel more anxious about all the things we are leaving undone. We end up avoiding rest and trying to do even more in the time-starved days of our lives.

We continue to suffer from the disease of “hurry sickness.” As has been written, “hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. Hurry can destroy our souls. Hurry can keep us from living well.” “Hurry is not of the devil; hurry is the devil.” The enemy of our souls knows full well how hurry sickness or unrest can ultimately destroy us. He will do his best to keep us from God’s rest. He entices us to drive ourselves onward, create ever more activity, fill our emptiness with external stimuli to avoid the disquiet in our soul. Consequently, we often clutch at people and things that keep us engaged in the cycle of a hurried and harried life.

There are four aspects of rest that are necessary to understand:

Physical: Many of us suffer today from heart disease as well as other stress-related illnesses, including addictions, panic attacks, exhaustion, insomnia, headaches, muscle tension, and high blood pressure. Such physical suffering often stems from our inability to manage our lives and to learn how to rest.

Physical rest includes time for leisure and sleep, especially taking a Sabbath day off each week and sleeping at least eight hours a night. It also involves good nutrition, regular exercise, and practicing at least one good relaxation technique as part of stress management. We protect our physical rest by refusing to overwork and making sure we have enough of a time buffer.

Emotional: Many of us feel as if we can’t keep up with the demands and stresses of our lives. The results often include depression, anxiety, panic, fear, confusion, and feeling trapped or overwhelmed.

Emotional rest means experiencing peace, quiet, tranquility, contentment, serenity, and refreshment instead of anxiety, fear, panic, tension, discontent, depression, exhaustion, and fatigue. Intellectual or mental rest is part of emotional rest. If our minds are at rest, our emotions can relax. Emotional rest also comes from spiritual rest.

Relational: Many of us experience “restless relationships” or “fractured relationships.” Whether in the home, church, school, workplace, or the larger community of which we are a part, the presence of unresolved conflicts, broken relationships, misunderstanding, contention, bitterness, strife, and especially an unforgiving spirit can cause much unrest and pain.

Relational rest can be found in the context of our caring and loving relationships with other people. Such relationships don’t work without a heart of love and a soul that is experiencing some level of spiritual and emotional peace deep within. Our spiritual, emotional, and physical rest are all deepened when we receive the gifts of loving and caring relationships in a family of people who believe in Jesus Christ.

Spiritual: Many of us find it difficult to trust God, to hear His voice, to sense His presence. God seems far away, and the weight of the world rests on our shoulders. We may have an exaggerated sense of self, leading us t believe it is up to us alone to free ourselves from this burden. We may go through the motions of trusting in God but do not reap the rewards or blessing.

Spiritual rest is by far the most crucial type of rest, although many of us miss it. We need rest from our guilt, doubt, confusion, emptiness, dryness, and despair. We long for the peace of God that transcends all understanding (see Phil 4:7). Such supernatural peace comes when we learn to pray with thanksgiving (Phil 4:6) and to cast all our cares or anxiety upon Him because He cares for us (I Pet 5:7). The writer of the book of Hebrews specifically deals with spiritual rest – God’s rest – in Hebrews 4:1: “Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.” The promise of entering into or experiencing God’s rest – true spiritual rest in Him – is still true for the people of God. God’s rest is available today to those of us who believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ and receive His rest by faith (Heb 4:2-3). We can still enter into His rest experientially now by maintaining an active faith relationship with the One who invented rest in the first place.

F. B. Meyers called the theme in Hebrews 4 the Gospel of Rest:

When we once learn to live by faith, believing that our Father loves us, and will not forget or forsake us, but is pledged to supply all our needs; when we acquire the holy habit of talking to Him about all, and handing all over to Him, at the moment that the tiniest shadow is cast upon the soul; when we accept insult, and annoyance, and interruption, coming to us from whatever quarter as being His permission, and therefore, as part of His dear will for us – then we have learned the secret of the Gospel of Rest.

 

God's Reason For Our Suffering

(Adapted from an article, “Praying Through Problems,” by Stormie Omartian)

There are different reasons that tough times happen, and if we can gain an understanding of the reason for our suffering, it will help us overcome our pain, rise to a place of peace, and see our faith grow in the midst of it.

Sometimes difficult things happen to us so that the glory and power of God can be revealed in and through us. Jesus’ disciples asked Him if a man’s blindness was because the man’s parents had sinned or he had sinned. Jesus replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (John 9:3 NKJV). We may not be able to understand why certain things happen, and we may never know the whole story until we go to be with the Lord. However, when we turn to God in the midst of these difficult situations, God’s glory will be seen in them.

Sometimes God uses difficult times to purify us. The Bible says, “Since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin” (I Peter 4:1 NIV). Sometimes suffering will burn sin and selfishness out of our lives. God allows suffering to happen so that we will learn to live for Him and not for ourselves-that we will pursue His will and not our own.

Sometimes our misery is caused by God disciplining us. “No chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). The fruit that this godly disciplining and pruning produces in us is worth the trouble we have to go through to get it, even though it doesn’t seem like it at the time. Be careful not to resist it or hate it. “Do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:5-6).

Sometimes we are caught in the middle of the enemy’s work. The enemy would like to make you miserable and destroy your life. Often the reason for the anguish, sorrow, sadness, grief, or pain you feel entirely is Satan’s doing and no fault of your own or anyone else’s. Your comfort is in knowing that as you praise God in the midst of the attack upon you, He will defeat the enemy and bring good out of it that you can’t even fathom.

How do we pray through difficult times?

Regardless of the reason for your difficulty, your prayers will make a positive difference on the outcome. Every day you have another opportunity to affect your future with the words you speak to God. Don’t worry about how many times you feel you are praying the same prayer over and over. God freshly hears your words spoken to Him each time. Your prayer has new life every time you pray it.

Even if you don’t see answers to your prayers right away, each prayer sets something in motion. There is so much happening in the spirit realm that you don’t see. Along with telling God your specific needs, here are some ways to pray that will help you get through the difficult times:

Pray for wisdom. Whenever we don’t make good choices in our lives, there is a price to pay. And we are never more in danger of making wrong decisions than when we are stressed, in pain, or suffering in some way. During those times it’s easy to make a decision born out of desperation, so it’s always good to ask God for wisdom and discernment. And this needs to be an ongoing prayer because too often we have to make quick decisions. On those occasions we don’t have time to seek the will of God. We need to already know it.

Pray for the Holy Spirit’s help. When we’re in the midst of tragedy, loss, devastation, or disappointment, we hurt terribly and find it impossible to think beyond the pain. But we don’t have to go through those difficult times alone, because the Holy Spirit is there to help us. When we turn to Him for help and comfort, we will find it. He will give us revelation and power, the very things we need most when we are struggling.

Pray to have the mind of Christ. The Bible says you “have the mind of Christ” (I Cor. 2:16), and you are to “let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). It also says, “since Christ suffered for you in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (I Peter 4:1). If you ask God to help you arm yourself with the mind of Christ, He will enable you to endure the suffering for the glory set before you. In other words, He will help you focus on the good that He will bring out of the situation instead of the misery you are experiencing.

Pray for a greater sense of God’s Presence. In times of suffering, ask God to help you sense His Presence in a stronger way every day. Feeling God’s Presence around you will help you increase your faith and not be overcome with doubt. It will give you strength to stand strong in God’s truth and not be swept away by your emotions or lies of the enemy. It will help you be content in your current situation because He is there. We can come to the place where we don’t have to be afraid of bad news because our heart is steadfast, trusting in Him (Psalm 112:7).

Pray that you will stay in God’s Word and obey it. Nothing is more solid than the Word of God. Even when so incapacitated with life situations, reading or even hearing God’s Word will lift the spirits and provide strength. The Word speaks of God’s promises and gives hope. It will allow you to feel that somehow everything will be all right.

Pray to see the good in the bad. None of us likes pain or uncertainty – we want things the way we want them. But the challenging and miserable times are not without their aspect of good. There are things that happen to us in those times that are as precious as diamonds. It’s during the difficult times that we have the opportunity to experience the Lord’s Presence in a deeper way. When we cling to Him, He will reveal the good things that are right in front of us.

Pray that all your expectations will be in God alone. Disappointment and suffering are inevitable because life can never consistently met our expectations. But when we put our expectations in the Lord and acknowledge that our help comes from Him, it takes the pressure off others to meet our needs. We make a mistake by expecting too much from people, life, and ourselves when our expectations should be in God. It pleases Him when we have faith enough in the midst of our disappointment to put our hope and expectations in Him. Don’t run to bitterness or unforgiveness. Run to your father’s arms instead, so He can hold and sustain you.

Pray that you will forgive others. Often our greatest times of hurt and disappointment occur when someone fails us – or we feel they have. People can hurt us deeply. But our fulfillment and happiness don’t depend on other people – they depend on God. Of course, we rely on other people for certain things, and it’s painful when they let us down. But the ultimate success or joy of our life doesn’t depend on them. We have to forgive and release them and not continue to suffer over what others do or don’t do to us.

Pray that God will help you forgive yourself. It’s devastating when we have failed others. Or we think we have failed when we really haven’t, but we torture ourselves, allowing our regret and condemnation to pound our souls like a giant sledgehammer. It’s a weight we can’t carry and were never meant to. Even when we have to bear the consequences for the wrong choices we’ve made, God is still there to bring good out of it. Even in our greatest depth of failure, God redeems everything when we reach humbly to Him. While it is good to examine our motives, thoughts, and actions, it’s counterproductive to beat ourselves up with a constant battering of, “If only I hadn’t…,” “If I just would have…,” Or “Why didn’t I ….”

Pray that you will not get discouraged. Discouragement can descend on you like a flood. You think you are standing strong, and in a weary moment, you get washed away by discouragement. Even though it may seem like forever as you wait for your difficult time to end, and you feel like you don’t have the strength to withstand any longer, tell yourself that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you (Phil. 4:13). Declare that you will “rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him” (Psalm 37:7). Keep in mind that God has been known to do a quick work for which He has been preparing a long time. It could be today!

Regardless of your present situation, know that God has an abundance of blessings for you. He is working powerfully in your life right where you are; don’t stop praying. Close your eyes, call His Name, and sense His Presence. He wants you to trust that when you are afraid, you can turn to Him and find peace. When you are weary, you will find His strength. When you are empty, you will find His fullness. When you are sad, you will find His joy. And when you are in the middle of a raging storm, you will find His shelter and provision. Don’t let yourself be blinded by circumstances, afraid of what’s happening, easily discouraged, drawn toward bitterness, or quick to complain. Instead, look for God in the midst of your circumstances.

A Servant's Heart In the Home

(Adapted from Different by Design by H. Dale Burke)

After the Garden of Eden, both man and woman, as different as they are, have had to learn to live together on a sin-scarred planet. The Creator not only understood Adam and Eve in all their glory and perfection, He knew the implications of their tragic fall into sin. Yet even with that knowledge, He wasn’t about to quit on mankind or on marriage. Just as He had a plan to save and restore their souls, He had a plan to save and restore the joy of marriage.

What is the element that’s so essential to the success of our marriage? Servanthood. Our model is Jesus Christ. By applying servant-love, husbands and wives can be freed to welcome the undiluted blessing of God on their marriage. Nowhere is the lofty desire to serve another person brought more quickly down to earth than in marriage. Nevertheless, the success of a marriage rests heavily on a couple’s ability to put this bit of wisdom into practice. The more intimate the relationship, the more important a servant-spirit becomes. As you read these verses, envision your marriage through this new paradigm for love –

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil 2:3-4).

It is in the heart – the seat of our intellect, our feelings, and our will – that we invite the Lord of the universe to do that special work which will equip us to launch into a life of service to the one we love. When it comes to living in marriage, what husbands need in themselves and at the center of their marriage union is the heart of a servant. And, yes, the same holds true for wives.

No matter how the husband looks and acts in his role, he’ll only be effective if he has the heart of a servant. Likewise for the wife. A servant’s heart is the prime directive no matter what shape her roles and responsibilities take day by day. To be what God demands, spouses must first be servants. This requirement is at the core of both of their job descriptions. Your goal in serving is to meet the other person’s needs. To do that, you must first identify and understand those needs. Moreover, the servant-lover sees a need and simply does it. It consists of daily little acts that sweeten the relationship a little at a time.

Remember, Jesus the One who did not come to be served but to serve, is the example we need to follow (see Phil 2:5-11). Jesus Christ was both a real man and a servant, the model servant of all time. In His example, we can see that the word servant is not synonymous with terms like fake, wimp, insecure, indecisive, people pleaser, or victim.

To begin to serve, don’t focus first on behavior. Check the attitude that’s driving how you behave. The servant who honors God is real, genuine, authentic, and serving from the heart of humility.

Despite modern misconceptions, being a servant does not mean relegating yourself to a position of weakness. As a servant, you operate from a position of strength because you’re following the example of the all-powerful One who “existed in the form of God.” The best servants are those who know their strengths and know what they have to offer their spouses. The goal of a servant-husband or wife is to use whatever gifts, abilities, power, or position you possess to support and serve your spouse.

To serve well, a servant must be secure, not second-guessing, not perpetually wondering or worrying about what others are thinking. The secure husband can humbly serve his wife and not worry about what the world thinks of him. Likewise, the secure wife can respectfully follow the leadership of her husband even if her friends don’t understand or agree.

A lot of people think serving is analogous to being taken advantage of, that it’s a decision to become subservient to someone else. Serving is not about being taken; it’s about choosing to give. Servants like Jesus willingly suspend their rights, privileges, time, and agendas to meet their spouses’ needs. Unlike slaves, whose lives of servility are forced upon them, spouses who follow Jesus’ example make a deliberate decision to serve. And, in so doing, servants learn to make tough choices.

Too often we fail to serve our spouses because we don’t take the time to learn their language. The way men and women think and process things can be dramatically different. You need to enter your spouse’s world and learn about those differences. Become a student of your spouse.

A common concern voiced is that my husband/wife is “going to walk all over me. I will be just a doormat.” But serving Jesus’ way does not demand that you become a doormat. Jesus became a willing sacrifice. What’s even more remarkable is that He came obediently to serve, knowing that this outcome (death on the cross) awaited Him. By becoming a willing sacrifice, He secured victory for those He came to serve. Always remember – the difference between a victim and a servant is as pronounced as the contrast between a doormat and a sacrifice. The doormat is a loser, but the one who willingly lays down his life for another is a hero. When we as men and women choose to lay it all on the line to serve the one we love, God honors our sacrificial, servant-love.

When you try to be a servant in marriage, the question of motivation comes up. If I’m serving strictly to please my spouse, or if my motive in serving is simply to get my mate to serve me, I’m in trouble over the long haul. What happens if I give and don’t get back? Chances are better than even that pretty soon I’ll stop giving. If, on the other hand, my primary motive is to glorify God through the way I love and serve my spouse, then even if he/she doesn’t respond, I keep serving. I know my Father in heaven is pleased with how I’m treating my spouse. And if my greatest motivation is to please my God and Savior, then I can keep on serving, keep on loving, keep on giving, knowing that my reward may never come on this planet. My perseverance also boosts the likelihood that my spouse will eventually take notice and respond in kind.

Truthfully, we are to serve one another in the marriage relationship even to the point of radical sacrifice!

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