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Posts tagged ‘perseverance’

When Your Children Have Mental Illness

SOURCE:  Diane Ramirez

Keeping your stressed marriage healthy

After 35 years of marriage, serious thoughts of divorcing my husband took me by surprise. I never thought I would ever consider leaving James, as divorce is contrary to our Christian values. But when our contention over difficulties with our adult children escalated, I started to entertain thoughts of separation, and so did he.

Let me be real with you. I suffer with depression; it runs through my genes. Our son is diagnosed with mixed bipolar disorder, and our adopted daughter suffers with severe separation anxiety. Throw in a spouse who is an A-type personality, and you have a recipe for conflict.

The crisis peaked when our youngest daughter moved back home with an infant and a 5-year-old. Her husband was deployed overseas. Not only was she experiencing debilitating separation anxiety, she was making unhealthy choices and spending much of her time with old friends. Her checking out caused a lot of clashes. My mental and physical health disintegrated. Many times I had to leave our home for days just to get rest, as she expected me to pick up the slack of caring for her kids.

I felt alone, fatigued, and mad that my husband was not there for me. I discovered, through our many “talks,” that he didn’t like the way I was acting. He wondered why I couldn’t rise above the madness. He didn’t grasp the emotional and physical strain of day-to-day life at home because he escaped by going to work, school, or other activities away from us.

Differences Can Create Wedges

In a crisis, it’s typical to want to escape. The mayhem created by constant appeals for help from both of our adult children created a vacuum in our relationship. This is how my husband described it on our blog, “Not Losing Heart”:

“[My wife] seemed to have a different understanding than I at first. Our beliefs were at odds and it was putting a wedge between us. I believed that if our children would do this or that, or do things my way, they would get it right. When my wife challenged my thinking, I became angrier inside. I felt she was coddling them.”

A wedge is a good way to describe what can happen to a marriage when mental illness raises its ugly head. Parents tend to think a change in a child’s behavior is due to the normal developmental challenges of adolescence. Disagreements on what causes these behaviors or what should be done can create a wedge. These differences are even more apparent when dealing with an adult child who should be living independently.

A wedge creates a gap and a gap can create a chasm if a couple will not stop and assess what is happening. It is so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of chaos that mental illness causes.

In our marriage, these factors created our wedge:

• We had different perspectives on solutions. My husband wanted our children to be more independent. He wanted a “quick fix”; I wanted to nurture and stay engaged with them. Both of us felt we were supporting them, but with totally different styles.

• Our communication broke down. A difference of opinions is expected, but when those opinions keep a couple from reaching a solution, anger, anxiousness, frustration, and loneliness set in. It’s like a tug-of-war over who is right. Each is working against the other, and it’s exhausting.

• We neglected our marriage. When we were caught up in our separate whirlwinds of emotion, focusing on our marriage was impossible. Resentment, snapping at each other, and being easily annoyed were a few indicators that we had lost touch with each other. Our relationship suffered.

• Our emotional responses were different. My husband withdrew to escape the chaos and stuffed his emotions. I resented him for his lack of involvement and became overcome with sorrow and depression, which affected my physical health.

What happened to our desire to live as one in Christ? To allow the Lord to live through us, to be a godly wife and husband? The unexpected super-storm sucked away our purpose as a Christian couple, because we let down our guard. We prayed, but we each had choices to make about where we were going.

As you contend with the difficulties surrounding a child with a brain disorder, there is no “easy button” to push. The truth is, it will feel like pushing a 10-ton boulder up a slippery slope. Perseverance is a key. And awareness of what is happening can be a catalyst in the meeting of the minds.

“Should Haves” to Do Now

My husband and I are healing now, thank God. In looking back, we discovered our “should haves”—a little late, perhaps, but still in time to save our marriage and to shrink the gaps developed by our ever-increasing differences. I’m including them here for you, to help your marriage stay healthy while you weather the storm of your adult or young child’s life with mental illness.

  1. Acknowledge you and your spouse are on different wavelengths. You might find more clarity if you write down what you think are the points of disagreement concerning your child
  2. Seek help. Find a trusted counselor to help mediate your differences.
  3. Be honest with how you feel. Feelings are neither right nor wrong.
  4. Respect how your spouse feels, even though it may upset you. (This is not easy.) And don’t make assumptions about the ways he/she is reacting.
  5. Make up your minds that your relationship is a priority no matter what is happening around you. Set boundaries, which can guide you in which crises really demand your time.
  6. Talk and listen. Don’t assume your partner is wrong in his or her assessment of the situation.
  7. Get a diagnosis for your child, or if he or she is an adult, encourage the adult child to get a diagnosis. Knowledge is power.
  8. Most important, educate yourselves on what that diagnosis means for your child (adult or not) and for your family.
  9. Breathe.
  10. Pray.
  11. Don’t forget humor; it really helps.
  12. Above all, give each other grace to work through the crisis. God has a separate timetable for each of us. He makes all things beautiful in his time.

Again I’ll quote my husband: “I remember when my wife began to look for information and searched the Internet, the library, and any resource she could find, and then shared that information with me. Something clicked inside. To our relief, we eventually found NAMI (The National Alliance on Mental Illness). It was as though someone had thrown me a lifeline and given me the tools to make a difference in the life of our children, my marriage, and others. My wife and I needed to be on the same page as it came to giving compassion and finding empathy for what they were going through. She needed my support and I needed hers.”

It is my hope and prayer that if you’re in the kind of upheaval my husband and I experienced, these suggestions will aid you in getting a grip much sooner and arrive at the place where you can support each other. Don’t forget love. Love is the ultimate ingredient to stepping outside yourself. Love and perseverance will rekindle your marriage and reestablish your bond—keeping your connection intact no matter the how fierce the raging storm mental illness can cause.

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Diane Ramirez is a freelance writer, wife, mother of three adult children, and grandmother of five. She volunteers for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), co-facilitating a support group and the NAMI Basic classes for parents, and she blogs about this topic at NotLosingHeart.com.

Depression: Climbing Out

SOURCE:  Living Free/Donald G. Miles, Ed.D

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
Romans 12:2 NLT

 

Climbing out of depression is a process, and it requires perseverance.

We must persist in believing God’s truth instead of listening to our feelings.

We may have thoughts like “I’m such a failure. I never do anything right. What’s the use?” Instead of focusing on these negative feelings, we need to intentionally refocus on truths from the Bible: “I am special to God. God made me for a purpose. God loves me. He will never leave me. With God, there is always hope. I can do all things through Christ.”

Although change takes time, as we persistently choose to believe God’s truths instead of our feelings, those truths will become a part of us. Our thinking about ourselves will begin to change. Our relationship with God will grow stronger. And we will find it easier to build healthy relationships.

God gives us help for fighting depression: the truths of the Bible … the Holy Spirit to remind us of those truths … and the people of God to encourage us. We must persistently open our hearts and minds to all these wellsprings of help.

Don’t give up. You can climb out of depression. As you persist in trusting God, he will show you the way, step by step. And he will give you strength for the climb.

With Christ, all things are possible. (Philippians 4:13)

Father, it took me a long time to sink into this level of depression, and I know climbing out of it will take time as well. Help me not to give up. Help me to focus on the truths of your Word. Please transform me into a new person by changing the way I think. In Jesus’ name…

 

Persevering through Pressure

Hebrews 6:18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Prayer for Sufferers

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith

A Prayer for Bringing Broken Friends and Stories to Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Your Spouse Breaks Your Heart

SOURCE:  Family Life Ministry/Vicki Tiede

You have a choice—you can go through the experience or grow through it.

Dealing with one’s own sin issues results in voluntary brokenness or a contrite heart.  But when I dealt with the ramifications of my husband’s addiction to pornography, my heart was broken involuntarily.  And I needed to choose whether I would live as a victim or live in victory.

I’m telling you, I know how to throw a rip-roaring pity party! Put on your favorite gray sweat suit, grab a quart of Ben & Jerry’s, and prepare to do the B.E.D. boogie—blame, excuses, and denial. There was a time when I could have been a party planner for other wives of porn addicts because I had it down to a science. The problem is that pity parties are not well attended by others. In fact, they are usually a party  of one.

My pity parties came to a halt when I joined a secular support group. It’s not that I learned better coping skills, though they tried to teach such things. No, I looked around at the other participants, none of whom seemed to know Jesus, and I realized that many of them had earned lifetime memberships to the Pity Party Club. They had no hope. These women were toxic to one another. Like yeast poured into warm water, salt, and flour, they fed each other’s negativity. That’s where the metaphor breaks down, however, because unlike fresh baked bread, these people produced nothing worth savoring.

I remember coming home from the support group one night, dropping onto the couch, and asking aloud, “Lord, is that really what it looks like to get better? In my opinion, they all seem happy to wear name tags that say ‘Bitter.’ I want something more. I don’t want to go through all of this and end up bitter. I want to end up better than when I started.”

The choice

How about you? Have you ever known anyone who seems content to be a pit-dweller? Who is always blaming, making excuses, or in denial? Who emulates Eeyore with a low, hovering storm cloud that pours down bitterness and gloom? Who lives life as a victim? Does she bear any resemblance to the face that’s reflected in your bathroom mirror? I hope not.

No matter how your spouse broke your heart, you have the same choice that I did. You can either choose to go through this experience or you can grow through it.

In John 5:6 at the healing pool of Bethesda, Jesus asked the invalid who had been there 38 years, “Do you want to be healed?” He had a choice. So do you. Choose your role. Victor or victim? Better or bitter? Grow through it or go through it.

You can demonstrate a healthy, holy response and mature in your faith as a result of circumstances you would never have chosen. To grow through the experience and come out victorious on the other side, you need to make up your mind about a few things:

1. Make up your mind to seek time with God in solitude, because it will not seek you. Especially now, you need to let your knees buckle and give yourself over to God’s Word, His throne, His grace, and His glory. Accept His offer of solitude in the midst of tumult. This is a forging place where He will heat and reform your soul.

Solitude is where you are mindful about meeting Jesus. Just Jesus. Your heart, mind, and soul are fixed on Him alone, not on your present circumstances. Here you expose your fresh, open wounds to the healing balm of the Healer. You don’t deny the difficulties and pain, but you refuse to give in to their power. When you enter into solitude, you allow your thirsty soul to experience deep communion with the Living Water. He satisfies and fills you as only He can. Then He takes your malleable soul and shapes you into His image.

2. Make up your mind that God is the sole source of your identity and you belong to Him. When you have experienced involuntary heartbreak, it’s not uncommon to allow feelings of defeat to overcome you. If you aren’t careful, you can convince yourself that life will always be difficult and painful because God has abandoned you. This lie gives Satan the upper hand.

Our God is good. He offers you a firm place to stand. “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure” (Psalm 40:2). Choose to believe that He is protective of you. He is for you. He believes in you. He will not fail you. He will give you strength as well as rest. He loves you and longs for you to walk in victory with Him—not just for a little while, but forever. You are His witness to faith in the midst of your suffering and sacrifice. These are some of the things He wants you to know for certain.

Have you ever met someone who was cordial but clearly not open to a new friendship—leaving you just going through the motions of relating? You can do the same thing to God. You can go through the motions of meeting with Him, but not demonstrate a heart response or an openness to His work in your life.

If you are to grow through this experience, you must persevere through the pain until you find its purpose. There you will also find healing. You are His child, and nothing will ever separate you from His love.

3. Make up your mind to be thankful. Yes, thankful. Don’t worry, thankfulness does not minimize your pain; it magnifies the positive. Gratitude is a humble attitude of genuine faith.

Your pain is very real. You can be honest about that reality without letting it blot out the many blessings God gives you every single day.

4. Make up your mind not to look back with regret or guilt after repentance. Growing through this experience is a forward, upward movement. It is an ascent. Wherever you are right now is not where you will be when this is all over. Cling to the truth that you are just passing through, and commit yourself not to look back at past mistakes.

Remember what happened to Lot’s wife when she looked back (Genesis 19:16-26)? If God in His mercy has delivered you from past behaviors, choices, and attitudes, consider it your “Get out of Sodom free” card. Flee from the old life and don’t look back!

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

You have a choice to make. Go through it or grow through it?

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Adapted from When Your Husband Is Addicted to Pornography ©2012 by Vicki Tiede.

The Sweetness of Forgiveness

SOURCE:  Taken from  The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 209.

Have you ever been told words like these?

“Well, you know I’ve forgiven you. But I’ll never forget the time you …”

If so, what was your relationship like afterwards?

Was trust restored? Did you feel the warmth and intimacy of true friendship and a restored relationship? Probably not.

Why is such false forgiveness so incredibly unsatisfying? It is because this is not forgiveness modeled on the forgiveness we receive from God in Christ.

When someone claims to forgive you, but continues to remind you of your wrong over and over again, it is easy to feel ongoing guilt and shame. This is in contrast to the happiness–blessedness–and freedom we have knowing that when God forgives us, he removes our sin “as far as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103:12)

If the person you wronged constantly brings up your past offense and keeps you at a “distance,” it is incredibly hard to relax and be yourself around that person because of the sense of ultimate rejection.

Compare that to the sweetness of our loving relationship with “Abba Father” who grants us the gift of repentance and then runs to his prodigal children to lavish forgiveness on us and restore us into his family.

So what are we called to do?

First of all, we worship God and thank him for his amazing forgiveness.

Secondly, we pray for the grace to never say such harmful and unforgiving words to anyone ourselves.

And lastly, we are called to persevere in relationship with someone who claims to “forgive” us, but who consistently brings up our past offense, tells others about it, and keeps us at arms-length.

We look for opportunities to bless them, share Christ with them, and prayerfully strive to help deliver them from their bitterness and unforgiveness towards us.

“In this world you will have trouble.”

SOURCE:  Taken from  The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 63.

Left Ahead

In this world you will have trouble.” John 16.33

The fact that God is good does not mean that he will insulate us from all suffering.

Rather, it means that he will be with us in our suffering and accomplish good through it (Isa. 43:2-3).

J.I. Packer writes, “We see that he leaves us in a world of sin to be tried, tested, belaboured by troubles that threaten to crush us–in order that we may glorify him by our patience under suffering, and in order that he may display the riches of his grace and call forth new praises from us as he constantly upholds and delivers us.”

Imagine this scenario: Jesus is ascending back to heaven as his disciples are looking on and he tells them, “I’ve got to go now. Hang in there, and best of luck.” Sound ludicrous? It would be almost impossible to continue following someone who left you like that. Even those of us who have blood type D (duty) would eventually need a transfusion of something; something to give us hope in this broken world. If that had been the case, then Jesus would have truly left us behind. But that’s not how the story goes.

He left us ahead; he told us what it was going to be like, no surprises (John, chapters 14-16):

  • The world will hate you.
  • They will persecute you.
  • They will put you out of the synagogue.
  • They will think that killing you is a service to God.

And he told us right where he would be:

  • I will be with you.

As we suffer conflicts, insults, and other hardships, we must remember that Christ is our Emmanuel–God with us!

We press on through those valleys of the shadow of death, but we don’t press on alone; no, we have the presence of the living Christ guiding, encouraging, refining, strengthening, and protecting us all along the way. And as our faith matures, God does more and more of what God loves to do–display the riches of his grace and call forth new praises from us as he constantly upholds and delivers us.

7 Suggestions for Processing Pain

SOURCE:  Ron Edmondson

What’s a great way to process (emotional) pain?

Here are 7 biblical ways:

Expect God to use pain for good – Genesis 50:20, Romans 8:28

Use it to comfort others with similar pain – 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

Reconsider your perspective on the pain – Romans 8:18

Receive the honor of suffering pain – Philippians 1:29

Accept the normality of pain – 1 Peter 4:12

Celebrate His sufficiency during pain -2 Corinthians 12:8-9

Look for the reward in suffering through pain – 2 Timothy 4:7-8

How we respond to emotional pain is a choice we make.

The promises of God are real, even during our times of suffering. In the earliest days of any trial, we may not see any of these truths at work. That’s okay. We are frail people. The key is as we move forward, what we do with the pain in the days to come. Painful times are not going away in this earthly life. Jesus told us that. Learning to rest in Him is part of maturing as followers of Christ.

Suffering reminds us that His grace is sufficient for all our pain. In fact, though I don’t completely understand it, His power is perfect in our weakness, but only when I surrender the pain to Him.

We are not intended to handle pain alone. Thankfully, by His grace, we don’t have to.

Are you learning to “cast all your cares on Him because He cares for you”?

Learning To Love The Person I Married

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

How do I revive a wilting marriage?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Wise Ways: End The Misery — or — Strengthen Me In It?

SOURCE:  Charles Spurgeon

If He strengthens me

It may not please God to lessen the burden, but it comes to the same thing if he strengthens the back.

He may not recall the soldier from the battle, but if he gives him a greater stomach for the fight, and increased strength for its toils, it may be better still for him.

“The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity, but a wounded spirit who can bear?” Give a man health in his countenance, and he laughs at that which would have crushed him had he been in another mood.

There are times when the grasshopper becomes a burden, and there are other seasons when with undaunted spirit we can say, “Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubabel thou shalt become a plain.”

From a sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon entitled “The Secret Of Health,” delivered March 25, 1875.

Should Christians Have To Face Adversity?

SOURCE:  Adpated from Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Network

One of my struggles in life had to do with the idea of adversity.

For a long time, I believed that when I became a believer in Christ, a follower of God, actually one of God’s own children, I would have special privileges. One of these perks was all-powerful protection. No harm would ever come to me because I have the special security or covering of the Ultimate King of the universe. An unconditional pardon. My own personal “Get out of Jail – Free” card.

This is a major lie Satan tricks most Christians into believing: that being a Christian or following God correctly will deliver you from all adversity.

Consequently, when hardships occur in life, either

1. God doesn’t love you;

2. God really isn’t the all-powerful sovereign King of the Multiverse;

3. You really aren’t saved or a child of God;

4. You are defective and not leading a Godly life;

5. There are better ways to an adversity-free life, so dump God and jump on another faith system.

Our me-centered, comfort driven heart easily buys into the misconception that life without adversity is possible. It’s important to remember that Jesus was perfect, yet endured extreme adversity.

You see, we are not delivered from adversity, in fact, we should expect adversity. But there is nothing to fear if you are a child of God. The strain of life draws us closer to Him, makes us more dependent on Him, and builds our strength as we access the power of the Holy Spirit. Facing the strain actually gives strength. God does not give us an overcoming life … He gives us life as we overcome. This is how we are refined, purified so that we see Him and ourselves way more clearly.

But through each tribulation, we need to focus on God and see our circumstances through His eyes. This brings a calm and peace that is simply beyond belief.

Today, give some thought to the adversity you are facing. Try to think if you ever got better or stronger at anything without putting in work and effort … or experiencing some pain or adversity. I know I haven’t. Read the scripture below and be mindful that Jesus told us that we would have trouble, but also to “take heart” for He has overcome the world.

When you face adversity, look at it as opportunity. This Godly perspective will dramatically empower your next steps. Your decision, choose well.

 Prayer           

Dear Father God, I know that Your Holy Spirit’s work in my life offers deep and lasting peace. Thank You, Lord. Unlike worldly peace, which is defined by lack of adversity, Your peace offers confident assurance in all situations. Fill me with more of Your Spirit, Father. Help me to restrain the hostile forces of sin, fear, doubt, and uncertainty. I pray in the name of the one You sent to deliver me IN my biggest and most dangerous adversity, eternal separation from You, Jesus Christ; – AMEN!

The Truth

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

 …to him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

Revelation 2:7

 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:6

God’s Wisdom Shines In Darkness

SOURCE:  Deejay O’Flaherty/A Puritan At Heart  posting Thomas Watson

The wisdom of God is seen in helping in desperate cases.

God loves to show his wisdom when human help and wisdom fail.

Exquisite lawyers love to wrestle with niceties and difficulties in the law, to show their skill the more. God’s wisdom is never at a loss; but when providences are darkest, then the morning star of deliverance appears.

`Who remembered us in our low estate.’ Psa 136:63.

Sometimes God melts away the spirits of his enemies. Josh 2:24.  Sometimes he finds them other work to do, and sounds a retreat to them, as he did to Saul when he was pursuing David. `The Philistines are in the land.’ `In the mount will God be seen.’

When the church seems to be upon the altar, her peace and liberty ready to be sacrificed, then the angel comes.

–Thomas Watson–Body of Divinity page 75

[Thomas Watson (c. 1620—1686) was an English, non-conformist, Puritan preacher and author.]

Listen to Jesus’ Voice in the Storm

SOURCE:  Octavius Winslow/A Puritan At Heart

“Take courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.” Mark 6:50

Listen, then, to the voice of Jesus in the storm!

It is I who raised the tempest in your soul — and will control it.
It is I who sent your affliction — and will be with you in it.
It is I who kindled the furnace — and will watch the flames, and bring you through it.

It is I who formed your burden, who carved your cross — and who will strengthen you to bear it.
It is I who mixed your cup of grief — and will enable you to drink it with meek submission to your Father’s will.

It is I who took from you worldly substance, who bereft you of your child, of the wife of your bosom, of the husband of your youth — and will be infinitely better to you than husband, wife, or child.

It is I who has done it ALL!

I make the clouds My chariot, and clothe Myself with the tempest as with a garment. The night hour is My time of coming, and the dark, surging waves are the pavement upon which I walk.

Take courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.

It is I — your Friend, your Brother, your Savior! I am causing all the circumstances of your life to work together for your good.

It is I who permitted . . .
the enemy to assail you,
the slander to blast you,
the unkindness to wound you,
the need to press you!

Your affliction did not spring out of the ground, but came down from above — a heaven-sent blessing disguised as an angel of light, clad in a robe of ebony.
I have sent all in love!

This sickness is not unto death — but for the glory of God.
This bereavement shall not always bow you to the earth, nor drape in changeless gloom your life.

It is I who ordered, arranged, and controlled it all!

In every stormy wind,
in every darksome night,
in every lonesome hour,
in every rising fear,

— the voice of Jesus shall be heard, saying, “Take courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.”

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

Fruitful in the Land of My Affliction

SOURCE:  Wendy Horger Alsup/Practical Theology for Women

Fruitful in the land of my affliction. That phrase may sound poetic to some and archaic to others. Personally, I find it striking. I first wrote about it a few years ago when I was in a very dark place, and it is time for me to revisit it. The phrase comes from Genesis 41:52, where Joseph names his second son.

The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”

I have heard a number of sermons over the years from the life of Joseph. He often becomes a moral lesson – be like Joseph when you are sexually tempted and unjustly accused, and God will exalt you as He did Joseph. I strongly resist that view of the life of Joseph. God’s not conforming me to the image of Joseph. He’s conforming me to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Joseph’s story is powerful because it reveals God, not because it reveals Joseph. My circumstances will be distinctly different than Joseph’s, but my God is the same.

There is much to learn of God in Joseph’s story, and the naming of Joseph’s son is one such place. Many thoughts hit me as I meditate on why Joseph named his son Ephraim (which sounds like the Hebrew word for fruitful). First, it’s counterintuitive. Joseph was fruitful in the very place that should have sucked the life out of him. The paradox intrigues me. But, second, I resist the name, because I don’t want to be fruitful in the land of my affliction. I want God to END my affliction, and then I want to be fruitful in the beautiful land I imagined would be God’s best for His children.

However, like Joseph, I am powerless to end whatever troubles plague me, and I get impatient waiting for God to move. It is in those moments that I wrestle with God, “How can I do what You have called me to do in THESE circumstances?!”

Once I calm down and take an objective look at Scripture, it finally hits me that no one in Scripture seems to be very fruitful EXCEPT in the land of their affliction. In fact, you can argue from Scripture that suffering, affliction, and death to self are essential to God’s plan for fruitfulness in His children.

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

I have situations in my life that plague me, that I would desperately love to see changed. God tells me to pray for His will to be done, for His name to be hallowed, and for His kingdom to come. I long for those things to come about in my home, in my neighborhood, in my church, and in the larger Body of Christ. I talked about this in depth here. But in the midst of waiting for the affliction to end and God’s kingdom to come, I am blessed by God’s story in the life of Joseph, and I meditate on what it looks like to be fruitful in the very places from which I would most like to be delivered. And I receive hope that affliction doesn’t end the possibility of fruitfulness but may instead be the very thing that prepares the ground for “fruit that remains.”

John 15:16 NAS “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain … “

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

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian Counselors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONSIDER THIS:

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

Bounce back!

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

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

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

Bounce back! It just might turn your life around.

How to Be Happy in an Unhappy Marriage

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

After two failed marriages, Janice decided to try one more time for the relationship she dreamed of. Yet, just one year later, her marriage to Hank was crumbling. Defeated and confused, Janice cried out to God for some answers. “In that moment,” she says, “I began to realize that there is no perpetual honeymoon to any marriage. Sometimes it’s just plain hard work. It was then and there that God told me I could not depend on my husband to make me happy, I would only find my true happiness in God.”

Even as Christians, many of us have grown up with unrealistic expectations of marriage. Hollywood and Harlequin have taught us that we must find our perfect match—our soul mates—to be happy. When difficulties occur in our marriage, we may wonder, like Janice did, whether we have found the right person or may even think we have made a terrible mistake. After twenty-six years of marriage and over two decades of counseling couples I have learned that God created marriage to mature us and for us to enjoy, but it was never intended to fulfill us or make us happy.

Marriage is God’s great idea, but in every marriage there are seasons of difficulty and times of dryness where one or both partners may feel dissatisfied with the marital relationship. As we work to improve our marriage, sometimes our efforts don’t produce the changes we want. During these times, the question we need to ask ourselves is not, “Should I leave my spouse so I can find another person who will make me happy?” but rather, “Can I learn to find contentment and joy while in the midst of an unhappy marriage? And if so, how?”

Change Your Focus

Everyone I know wants to feel good inside but few know the secret to lasting happiness or even what happiness is. Is happiness a feeling of emotional ecstasy? Intense pleasure with life’s circumstances? An internal state of well-being or contentment? Happiness can comprise all of these things.

Several years ago my husband surprised me with a beautiful pearl necklace I had admired. I felt really happy—for about three days—until I began longing for some earrings to go with it. We all search for something to fulfill us and make us happy, whether it is people, objects, or positions of status. When we get what we desire, we feel a certain emotion we call happiness. This feeling, however, is always short-lived and, like Solomon with his 700 wives and me with my pearl necklace, we begin longing for the next thing we desire that will bring us more satisfaction.

While on a trip to Walt Disney World, I was struck by the number of cranky youngsters and frustrated parents. My children, like many others, were caught up in the excitement and wanted everything they saw. They felt elated whenever they got what they wanted but their happiness didn’t last. When the next thing they desired was denied, the thrill they felt just minutes before quickly deteriorated and they became miserable.

Soon after my Disney experience, I traveled overseas to do some speaking and teaching in the Philippines. I observed barefoot children merrily swinging on old tires, living in houses constructed from cardboard boxes. These children didn’t need lots of stuff to make them happy. Though maybe just for the moment, they were enjoying what they had.

Many of us feel dissatisfied in life because we are not content with what God has given us. We want more. How does this apply to our marriage?

Jesus tells us that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also (Matt. 6:21). If our treasure, or deepest desire, is in having a great marriage or a fat bank account or certain other things we deem essential to our well-being, then we will feel unhappy when we don’t get what we want. For whatever has our heart, has us.

No one is more concerned with our happiness than Jesus is. He just tells us a different way of obtaining it than the world does. He tells us that happiness is never found by pursuing happiness or pleasure or people, but only found by pursuing him. He says, “Blessed (or happy) are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). Too many of us hunger and thirst after happiness (or a good marriage or a big house), instead of hungering and thirsting after God. We forget that Jesus is the only one who can deeply satisfy our soul. Everyone desires unfailing love (Prov. 19:22); it’s just that we will never receive that kind of love continually from our spouses.

Created in his image, God designed us to experience happiness when something brings us great delight. For example, God is delighted when we find our greatest pleasure in him. But often it is not God that brings us our greatest joy but what he gives us. We desire his gifts but we don’t realize that our greatest gift is God himself. Oswald Chambers explains: “The great enemy of the life of faith in God is not sin, but the good which is not good enough. The good is always the enemy of the best.” We want and pursue good things, but often neglect the best thing. The Psalmist reminds us where lasting happiness is found. He writes, “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11). God’s love is the only love that never fails (Jer. 31:3).

Guard Your Heart

To find any joy in an unhappy or difficult marriage, we must learn to guard our hearts (Prov. 4:23). Many individuals who struggle in marriage get very good at guarding their hearts, but the walls they build to protect themselves are against their spouses instead of against their real enemy. In the midst of an unhappy marriage, our spouse may feel like the enemy, but God tells us that our real enemy is Satan and the Bible warns us that he is out to devour us (1 Pet. 5:8).

Satan’s goal has always been to get us to question God’s goodness and to doubt that what God says is true. Jesus tells us that Satan is a liar (John 8:44) and his strategy is to take something that seems true and twist it ever so slightly. In a difficult marriage, Satan may whisper lies like, “Why should you be the only one trying in the marriage? It’s not fair. Find someone else who will make you happy.” Or, “Don’t forgive, she doesn’t deserve it. You’re entitled to feel this way after what she did to you.” Or, “He will never be the person you want. You made a terrible mistake marrying him and God doesn’t want you to spend the rest of your life unhappily married to this person.”

Satan wants us to believe that God is not good and that he does not know what is in our best interest. Remember, he is not interested in our well-being or our happiness. He wants to destroy us and our families.

Guarding my heart not only requires me to be aware of Satan’s schemes, but to draw close to God and listen to truth. Don’t let Satan deceive you into believing that any lasting happiness can be found apart from God.

Live for the Eternal

In the midst of hardship, our natural response is to look for the nearest exit. That’s true of difficult marriages as well. Whether we exit in big ways like divorce or adultery or in small ways by shutting down and withdrawing emotionally, we want out. Yet the Bible tells us in James 1 that it is in the midst of difficulties that we have the opportunity to develop one of the most important disciplines we need to live life well—perseverance. Without this quality we will tend to live for what brings us relief or pleasure in the short-run.

I love to eat, especially sweets. I love tasting warm, gooey chocolate in my mouth, and I could be happy eating chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Yet when I over-indulge, I’m plagued with other emotions like guilt and regret. I’m angry that I’ve sabotaged the bigger goal I have of gaining self-control and maintaining good eating habits. I’ve also discovered that when I succeed in saying no to the chocolate temptation, I actually feel happier with myself.

We only understand what makes us truly happy when we have a long-term perspective on life. Living for the moment can fool us into thinking that temporal pleasures bring happiness. The writer of Proverbs warns us, “At the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent. You will say, ‘How I hated discipline! How my heart spurned correction!'” (Prov. 5:3,11,12). Many have discovered only too late, that what brought joy in the moment caused hardship and grief in the long run.

The apostle Paul reminds us that it was only when he kept the eternal lens fixed tightly to his spiritual eyes was he kept from utter despair in times of great difficulty (see 2 Cor. 4). Looking at the big picture gives us perspective in the moment and helps us see that God is good and is doing something good in us, even in the midst of a difficult marriage (Rom. 8:28, 29).

Knowing that you can find some joy the midst of an unhappy marriage will give you enough staying power to persevere until things change. You can experience a sense of well-being as you learn the secret of being content in whatever situation God allows in your life. When we take the high road in the midst of marital troubles it leads to growth and spiritual maturity. In addition to that, our children will watch an example of what it means to walk with God and to trust him in all things. And while enjoying these blessings you may discover that your marriage improves. However, the greatest happiness in all of life will come when we hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And in the end, that is all that counts.

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Leslie Vernick is the director of Christ Centered Counseling for Individual and Families and the author of How To Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong (WaterBrook). She and her husband, Howard, live in Orefield, Pennsylvania.

NOTE:  If your marriage consists of physical or emotional abuse, you may also need to take measures to protect yourself and your children in ways that are beyond the scope of this article. Please consult with your pastor or Christian counselor to find ways to deal with this situation.

The Painful Discipline of Our Heavenly Father

SOURCE:   a sermon by John Piper

Hebrews 12:3-11

For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart. 4 You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; 5 and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; 6 FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.” 7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Resting and Wrestling

There is a restful side to the Christian life and a wrestling side to the Christian life. “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest,” Jesus said in Matthew 11:28. “Be anxious for nothing . . . let your requests be made known to God . . . and the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). There is rest and peace in the Christian soul.

But there is also wrestling and struggle. Jesus said in Luke 13:24, “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” And the word “strive” is agonizo – to wrestle and struggle. At the end of his life, Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” Keeping the faith is a fight to be fought and a race to be run.

These two sides are not related in such a way that you rest one day and wrestle the next. They are interwoven in two ways. 1) First, the main aim of our wrestling is to rest – in God and not in money or position or looks or achievement; the aim of our wrestling is to rest in the promises of God and not the promises of sin. 2) Second, all our wrestling and fighting and running are done with a deep restfulness of spirit that Christ himself has already won the decisive victory for us and is sovereignly working in us and will bring us to glory.

The Mystery of God’s Providence in the Pain of our Lives

The book of Hebrews is a very mature and sober book when it comes to the pain and stress of Christian living and the endurance that it takes to run the race and fight the fight and finish well. It’s not a book that people (especially teenagers and strong young adults) gravitate toward – unless they have suffered and struggle for some explanation of how that relates to God. In other words, the more easy and pain-free your life has been, the less you will cherish the kind of spirituality taught in this book. And the more you have suffered, the more you will cling to the precious teachings of this book – if you are willing to believe them.

That is a big if. I was talking with one of our members at the baptism service Wednesday evening, and he was telling me about recent conversations he had had with people who simply do not believe what this chapter teaches. It’s not a little feel-good chapter about how to make the best of your troubles – or even about how God makes the best of your troubles. It is a massive statement about the gracious sovereignty of God over the evil that befalls his people. And the big IF is: will you believe this? Will you accept the mystery of God’s providence in the pain of your life, and be trained by it (as verse 11 says) for the sake of good and peace and holiness and righteousness and life? Or will you kick against this chapter and demand in the season of suffering that God give a greater account of himself than he does in this chapter?

I think it will be helpful to approach verses 3-11 like this: first we will notice the pain and sorrow in this chapter? Second, we will ask what kind it is and where it comes from? Third, we will ask if it has a purpose or design and what is it?

First, then, let’s notice the thread of suffering that runs through this section. Keep in mind what we saw two weeks ago and last week. Two weeks ago in Hebrews 11:35b-38 we read about Old Testament believers who were tortured, mocked, whipped, imprisoned, sawn in two, destitute, homeless. Then last week in Hebrews 12:1 we heard the call for all of us to lay aside sins and weights and run the marathon of radical love and holiness, while these saints witness to us along the route that it really can be done “by faith.” And then in verse two the writer tells us to look to Jesus who, like these Old Testament saints, endured a horrible death and was shamed, but set his eyes on the joy set before him.

Glimpses of the Suffering of the Readers of Hebrews

And now he brings this legacy of suffering up to date and applies it to the believers of his day. In verse 3 he says, “Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.” The first glimpse of suffering we see in this church here is that something is threatening to make them “grow wearing and lose heart.” It is normal for Christians to have experiences of stress and suffering that threaten their faith and press too hard, or last too long and feel almost intolerable. Losing heart is a great spiritual danger. And these Christians were in that danger, as are many of you.

Another glimpse of their suffering is the reference to the hostility against Jesus (v. 3): “Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself.” Why consider this? Because the same kind of thing is happening to you and you need to get strength from Jesus.

Another glimpse is in verse 4: “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin.” The point here is that things are bad, but not as bad as they could be. There is hostility and trouble and stress and suffering, but evidently no martyrs yet. We know from Hebrews 10:34 that some had been imprisoned and some had been plundered. But it is not yet martyrdom, though that could come. The stress level here is huge. How do you sleep at night when being a Christian may result in mob violence?

Another glimpse of their suffering is in verse 11: “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful.” In other words, the present experience of these Christians was sorrowful. Joy had been covered with a dark cloud of pain. The word “seems” (discipline “seems” not to be joyful) hints that there is a kind of residual joy of hope that hangs on beneath the cloud, but the tears and the sighs and the groans are so many that it looks like sorrow has the upper hand – at least for a season. As it does when a child cries after a spanking.

So I think it is fair to say that the believers in this passage are under tremendous stress; they are enduring some form of hostility; they are wrestling with great sorrow and are in danger of growing weary of the battle and losing heart. This whole book is written to keep that from happening.

The Suffering Is Coming from the Hostility of Sinners

Now the second thing to ask is what kind of suffering this is and where did it come from. The first answer is that the suffering is coming from hostile adversaries. This was true in chapter 10:32-34; and it was true of the Old Testament saints in 11:35-38; and you can see that it is true here in the connection between verses 3 and 4. “Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin.” The link with Jesus and the hostility shown against him shows that this is what the Christians are dealing with. He endured hostility from sinners . . . you too have resisted, but have not yet had to shed your blood. So the suffering in view is mainly persecution in various forms, short of martyrdom.

But where did it come from? Who is doing this? Who’s in charge of this? The first answer to that is seen in verse 3: “Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners.” This is what Jesus endured, and this is what you are enduring. The suffering comes from the hostility of sinners. The suffering is coming from the hostile will of sinful adversaries. That is the first answer.

It is not the main one, and it is not the decisive one. This whole passage is built on another answer to the question: Where does this suffering come from? And who’s doing this? And who’s in charge? The main answer of the passage is that God is in charge here, and that he is in ultimate control of these afflictions and that they are in fact the loving discipline of a perfect heavenly father. That’s the burden of this passage.

The Suffering Is God’s Discipline

Verse 5-7 says that one of the reasons you are growing weary and losing heart is that “you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, ‘MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.’ It is for discipline that you endure” (see Proverbs 3:11-12). In other words, what adversaries do to you out of sinful hostility, God is doing out of fatherly discipline.

This is extremely important for knowing your God and for living by faith through the suffering that is coming sooner or later into your life. Notice very carefully: this text does not say that God looks on while hostile sinners hurt his people, or while Satan ravages the elect, and only then steps in to turn all this evil for good. That is not what the text says. It has a totally different conception of what is happening to us.

It says that God is disciplining us; he is teaching us and correcting us and transforming us. In other words, God has a purpose and a design in what is happening to us. God is the ultimate doer here. Verse 6b goes so far as to say, “[God] scourges every son whom he receives.” Who is scourging? Who is whipping? (See 11:36). God is. God is not a passive observer in our lives while sinners and Satan beat us up. He rules over sinners and Satan, and they unwittingly, and with no less fault or guilt, fulfil his wise and loving purposes of discipline in our lives.

This is what I said earlier some Christians simply will not believe. They say that God is not in charge of the evil that happens to us. That he has given the world over to Satan and the free will of man. But it will not work in this passage. The hostility of sinners is real and it is wrong and responsible and guilty. But it is also – and this is a great hope for us – it is also the loving, painful discipline of our Father in heaven. God is not coming to his children late after the attack, and saying, “I can make this turn for good.” That is not discipline. That is repair. It’s the difference between the surgeon who plans the incision for our good, and the emergency room doctor who sews us up after a freak accident. This text says, God is the doctor planning our surgery, not the doctor repairing our lacerations.

Are Natural Calamities also God’s Discipline?

Someone might ask, does this principle of discipline apply to things like natural calamities and sicknesses that are not caused by the hostility of sinners? Should we see these things as part of God’s overarching discipline of his children for their good?

I would answer with a question: Which is harder to attribute to God’s design: the hostility of sinners against God’s people or the destruction of a hurricane? I believe the hostility of sinners is more difficult to attribute to God’s design. The reason is that in both cases – hostility and hurricanes – you have to deal with the pain caused by the event. But in the case of hostility you have the added difficulty that people’s wills are involved, whereas in the case of a hurricane you don’t have that difficulty. No human agent is causing the hurricane, but a human is willing the hostility. So if we say that God is governing the hostility of sinners against the saints, we imply that he governs not just natural effects but human wills, and what harm they bring to the saints.

And that is what this passage teaches. What hostile sinners mean for harm, God means for good. What they will as hurtful, God wills as helpful. What they plan as destruction, God plans as salvation. What they design as a deterrent to faith, God designs as discipline for faith.

The upshot then is this: if it is more difficult for God to govern the hostility of sinners against his people, and yet this passage teaches that he does just that, then why would we even think of denying the less difficult act of God’s rule over natural things like hurricanes and sickness? Especially when God himself says in Exodus 4:11 “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?”

So I see in this passage the precious teaching that God reigns over the hazards of our circumstances and over the health of our bodies and over the hostility of our adversaries and he designs all of life ultimately as a loving father’s discipline.

God’s Design is Love

Which leaves one last question: what is the design of God in this sovereign governing of our adversaries and circumstances? The text is wonderfully clear on this. Verse 6: “Those whom the Lord loves he disciplines.” The design of God is love. Our pain is not the effect of God’s hate, but of God’s love. Will you believe this? That is the question.

Or verse 7: “It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons.” In other words, in your pain, you are not being treated as a slave or as an enemy. You are being treated as a loved child of God. The issue is: will you believe this? Will you let the Word of God settle the issue for you, so that when the suffering comes, you don’t turn on God and put him in the dock and prosecute him with accusations? He probably will not tell you why it is your turn, or why it is happening now, or why there is this much pain, or why it lasts this long. But he has told you what you need to know: it is the love of an all-wise Father to a child. Will you trust him?

Our Good, Our Holiness, Our Peace, Our Righteousness

But he is even willing to tell us more. Verses 10b-11, “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” Four words: our good, our holiness, our peace, and our righteousness. This is the design of our loving Father that comes to us painfully and mysteriously through the hostility of sinful adversaries and the natural hazards of a fallen world.

Verse 9b poses our concluding question: Will we “be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?” Or will be rebel against the father of spirits, and die? Will we trust him? If we submit to this sovereign, loving, fatherly care, we will not “grow weary and lose heart,” but we will keep the faith, fight the good fight, and finish our course, and die well, and glorify our Father in heaven.

A few confirming texts:
Genesis 50:20
Amos 3:6
1 Peter 3:174:19
Acts 4:27-28

Sorrow: Prevent It or Protect Me In It?

Receiving Yourself in the Fires of Sorrow

SOURCE:  Oswald Chambers

. . . what shall I say? ’Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. ’Father, glorify Your name’ —John 12:27-28

 

As a saint of God, my attitude toward sorrow and difficulty should not be to ask that they be prevented, but to ask that God protect me so that I may remain what He created me to be, in spite of all my fires of sorrow. Our Lord received Himself, accepting His position and realizing His purpose, in the midst of the fire of sorrow. He was saved not from the hour, but out of the hour.

We say that there ought to be no sorrow, but there is sorrow, and we have to accept and receive ourselves in its fires. If we try to evade sorrow, refusing to deal with it, we are foolish. Sorrow is one of the biggest facts in life, and there is no use in saying it should not be. Sin, sorrow, and suffering are, and it is not for us to say that God has made a mistake in allowing them.

Sorrow removes a great deal of a person’s shallowness, but it does not always make that person better. Suffering either gives me to myself or it destroys me. You cannot find or receive yourself through success, because you lose your head over pride. And you cannot receive yourself through the monotony of your daily life, because you give in to complaining. The only way to find yourself is in the fires of sorrow. Why it should be this way is immaterial. The fact is that it is true in the Scriptures and in human experience. You can always recognize who has been through the fires of sorrow and received himself, and you know that you can go to him in your moment of trouble and find that he has plenty of time for you. But if a person has not been through the fires of sorrow, he is apt to be contemptuous, having no respect or time for you, only turning you away. If you will receive yourself in the fires of sorrow, God will make you nourishment for other people.

Will I last? Where should I look? Look to Jesus!

SOURCE: Based on an article by  Sinclair Lewis

“He’s going through a religious phase.” How often did you overhear that being said about you in your early days as an openly professing follower of Jesus Christ? Admittedly the sheer force of conversion on an untaught mind can lead to us drawing confused notions of exactly what has happened to us. Looking back on my own conversion I feel sure my parents must have thought I was going through a decidedly unbalanced “religious phase” as the golf clubs to which I had long been devoted (even at the tender age of fourteen!) were relegated to the cupboard for months on end. An unenthusiastically completed entry form and an ignominious second-round defeat in the national junior golf championships followed. What had happened to their relatively normal golf-adoring son? I am thankful for their love and patience with a young teenager who took a little time to realize that conversion called him to an ongoing life in and engagement with this world — not to monasticism!

Yet, when you are only three weeks old as a baby Christian, finding your feet in an intoxicatingly new world, whispers such as, “It won’t last!” can really hurt, and they can readily sow seeds of doubt that grow into the trees of mistrust and the forests of confusion.

Yet, whatever pressures we feel as contemporary Christians in the West, they pale by comparison with the obstacles that confronted the new converts to whom Hebrews was written. If indeed they were Jewish converts, each one became persona non grata in both family and community — big-time non grata — disinherited, ostracized, and alienated from the tight network that provided personal, educational, emotional, and financial support. They had joined the notorious “third race of men” that followed a claimant Messiah who had been roundly rejected, humiliated, crucified, and accursed. Now they too experienced reproach and the loss of family, property, and security (Heb. 10:32-4; 13:13). From now on they had to camp outside.

Would they last? Will I last? Where should I look (or point others to look)? The answer to this question, as indeed to virtually every question in Hebrews, is this: “LOOK TO JESUS.” For “he is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through him” (Heb. 7:25).

The phrase “to the uttermost” expresses the multi-dimensional saving ability of Christ. His adequacy is not limited by the breadth of my frailty, the depth of my sinfulness, or the ongoing nature of my need. In each of these dimensions Christ is “fitting for us” (v. 26). That is to say, Jesus is exactly the kind of Savior we need. That is why the words “he is able” are woven into the very warp and woof of His eternal high priestly garments. He intercedes for us “in the power of an indestructible life” (7:16). No wonder the refrain of the author is: “Look to Jesus” (3:1; 12:2)!

So what implications follow from the unique and everlasting priesthood of our Lord Jesus? Many, but for the moment notice these two implications: First, my security as a Christian does not reside in the strength of my faith but in the indestructibility of my Savior. How much I need to learn again and again the basic principle that I must walk in Christ in the same way I received Christ (Col. 2:6), not depending on anything that resides in me but on everything that is mine in Him. The reformed fathers and masters of spiritual counsel used to say wisely that the weakest faith gets the same strong Christ as does the strongest faith.

The second implication is that my perseverance as a Christian does not depend on the degree of my stoicism in the face of trials but on the perfection of the work of Christ and His perseverance with me.

Hebrews is an exhortation to persevere. We are engaged in an endurance test (10:36), running a marathon race (12:1). We feel the heat; we encounter periodic pain barriers, and at times the summit seems hidden in the clouds — the finishing tape miles away. This is why the perseverance of Jesus is an even more important biblical truth than the perseverance of the saints! He is with me now and will greet me there at the finishing tape and on the summit. He is in every conceivable way perfectly suited to my present needs. Recognize this and our hard daily work turns into a great journey of adventure shared with God’s people in every age (11:4–12:2).

So, “consider Jesus” (Heb. 3:1). The verb “consider” (katanoeo) is an intensive form of the verb “to understand,” and implies giving detailed attention to something (see its use in Matt. 7:3!). The author of Hebrews realized that Christians in his day (as in ours) are capable of giving detailed attention to almost everything (a football game, new clothes, our appearance, school studies) — often, sadly, with one exception: the Lord Jesus. Hebrews teaches that we must reverse that trend. More than that, it engages in reversing the trend by showing us how captivating our Lord really is. Let’s be captivated by Him — for He lasts forever as Savior (7:3; 8:16, 23, 25)!

Why Endure a Pain-Filled Marriage?

Editors Note:  The author of this article states he was inspired by reading a review of three new books about Abraham Lincoln (Books and Culture, Sept./Oct., 1995, p. 6).

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by John Piper

Lincoln’s marriage was a mess, and accepting the pain brought deep strength in the long run.

I write this not because it is wrong to seek refuge from physical abuse, but because, short of that, millions of marriages end over the agony of heartbreaking disappointments and frustrations. They do not need to, and there is much gain in embracing the pain for Christ and his kingdom.

Our culture has made it acceptable (and therefore easier to justify) divorce on the basis of emotional pain.  Historically, the misery of painful emotions was not a sanction of divorce in most cultures.  Marriage durability—with or without emotional pain—was valued above emotional tranquility, for the sake of the children and the stability of society.  In Christianity such rugged, enduring marriage, through pain and heartache, is rooted in the marriage of God to his rebellious people whom he has never finally cast off.

“Your husband is your Maker … For the Lord has called you, like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even like a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected,” says your God. “For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you” (Isaiah 54:5-7).

Lincoln brought debilities into his marriage to Mary Todd.  He was emotionally withdrawn and prized reason over passion.  She said that he “was not a demonstrative man … When he felt most deeply, he expressed the least.”  He was absent, emotionally or physically, most of the time.  Before his presidency, for years he spent four months each year away from home on the judicial circuit.  He was indulgent with the children and left their management almost entirely to his wife.

Mary often flew into rages.  “She pushed Lincoln relentlessly to seek high public office; she complained endlessly about poverty; she overran her budget shamelessly, both in Springfield and in the White House;  she abused servants as if they were slaves (and ragged on Lincoln when he tried to pay them extra on the side);  she assaulted him on more than one occasion (with firewood, with potatoes);  she probably once chased him with a knife through their backyard in Springfield;  and she treated his casual contacts with attractive females as a direct threat, while herself flirting constantly and dressing to kill.

A regular visitor to the White House wrote of Mrs. Lincoln that ‘she was vain, passionately fond of dress and wore her dresses shorter at the top and longer at the train than even fashions demanded.  She had great pride in her elegant neck and bust, and grieved the president greatly by her constant display of her person and her fine clothes.’”

It was a pain-filled marriage.  The familiar lines in his face and the somber countenance reveal more than the stress of civil war.  But the two stayed married.  They kept at least that part of their vows.  They embraced the pain, even if they could not or would not remove it.

What was the gain?  God will give the final answer.

But here are two historical assessments:

1) How was it that Lincoln, when president, could work so effectively with the rampant egos who filled his administration?  “The long years of dealing with his tempestuous wife helped prepare Lincoln for handling the difficult people he encountered as president.”  In other words, a whole nation benefited from his embracing the pain.

2) “Over the slow fires of misery that he learned to keep banked and under heavy pressure deep within him, his innate qualities of patience, tolerance, forbearance, and forgiveness were tempered and refined.” America can be glad that Abraham Lincoln did not run from the fires of misery in his marriage. There were resources for healing he did not know.   But when they fail, embracing the fire is better than escape.

Your Healing Is Coming: Perhaps Sooner, Perhaps Later

When God Doesn’t Heal: How do you respond when prayers for healing seem to be ignored?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Sheridan Voysey

“I’ve been in the church for 20 years, but in just a few minutes of prayer my decade-long marriage problem has been healed,” Patricia told me. “Why didn’t this happen sooner?”

Patricia had just returned from a conference on prayer and healing. Going forward during one of the altar calls, she received prayer from a member of the conference team who asked God to release her from past relational sins. The results were powerful. After those few minutes of focused prayer, Pat felt she’d been released into new intimacy with her husband. The two of them are now starting their relationship “from scratch” with long talks and regular date nights. As a reunited couple, Pat and her husband even pray for others’ wholeness.

Patricia’s newfound freedom raised questions. For years she had prayed faithfully with others, sought godly counsel, and received marriage counseling from professionals. Why had God waited so long to answer? And why was it this person’s prayer that succeeded?

The mystery over the miraculous remains. One infertile couple conceives while another remains in grief. One cancer patient receives the all-clear while another continues to suffer. When miraculous relief does come, the rejoicing of the blessed leads to mourning for the unchanged as they ask, Why hasn’t God healed me like He healed her?

Why God heals some and not others has perplexed His people throughout history. I continue to be baffled by it, and as much as I’d like to offer an answer, I cannot. But through listening to stories of those who seek healing, I have noticed three principles about how we might respond while we wait and pray. The first came from a personal wrestle of faith.

Responsible Change

My wife and I were completing a trip across Australia and had begun the three-day drive back to Brisbane, our home city. The trip had been filled with excitement. I had met with a Christian radio station and agreed to join them as their morning announcer. The prospect meant leaving family and friends within weeks to live thousands of miles away. It was a giant move, but I marveled at how God had opened a door to full-time Christian broadcasting—a calling I’d felt for years.

Then, on that drive back, I felt a strange itching in my throat. At first I thought it was due to thirst. Throughout the interstate trek, I drank often but found no relief. At home, I returned to the radio station where I worked and settled into my four-hour show. About halfway through the shift, it happened. Midsentence, with thousands listening, my voice broke. As I gasped and coughed, I reached in panic for the button that played the commercials. I struggled through the rest of the show, thoroughly embarrassed and fearful I’d done irreversible damage.

In the weeks that followed, speaking above a whisper was painful. My voice would crack like a pubescent teenager’s when I reached a certain volume. I grew fearful and confused. I was about to travel to the other side of the earth (or so it felt) to do a job that required me to use my voice—a voice that now resembled a raspy wheeze. Was this God’s way of saying I was to stay in Brisbane? Was it the enemy trying to stop a season of fruitful ministry?

I began to pray for healing—long and often. I also saw a speech therapist every morning before driving to work and struggling through my four-hour show.

Desperation set in after weeks of pain. Tired, sore, and in anguish, I went to my study one night and opened my Bible to Psalm 77. The psalm’s deep pathos connected with my confused heart:

I cried out to God for help. . . . I stretched out untiring hands. . . . My soul refused to be comforted. . . . My spirit grew faint. . . . I was too troubled to speak. —vv. 1–4

My questions were intense. Without a voice, how could I do the ministry I felt called to? What else could I do? Was preaching also over for me?

I, a man who has shed tears perhaps three times in the last 10 years, began to cry. The sobs carried my pent-up emotions as watery prayers to God. Another prayer for healing, for the confusion to end, and then I went to bed.

Describing the following morning is difficult. A dramatic change had taken place. I was able to speak with more freedom and less pain. The improvement continued throughout the day (my voice normally deteriorated as the day wore on). My voice was still prone to fatigue and strain, but the threshold had lifted markedly. God had touched me.

My partial healing allowed me to work on-air, but my costly speech therapy continued—and here is where the lessons came. My therapist showed me that I’d been forcing my voice into an unnatural pitch. Unsatisfied with my God-given sound, I had been trying to use a deeper voice. I also hadn’t been doing warm-up exercises or drinking any water during an entire four-hour show. In short, for six years I had been abusing my voice.

The experience taught me a powerful lesson. Had God healed me when I first asked Him to, I would have continued my voice-destroying habits. Like feeding sugar to a child with rotten teeth, the healing would have harmed me in the long run. What loving father gives his children a stone when they’ve asked for bread, or a snake when they’ve asked for fish (Mt. 7:9–10)? Yet, sometimes without realizing it, we ask for the stone or the serpent when we pray for instant healing. God wants to provide solutions that will nourish and sustain, not shatter and sting.

The complete restoration of my voice required change: new speaking habits, silly-sounding vocal exercises, an acceptance of my natural tone and timbre. These changes took time and effort. In fact, it took a couple of years for my voice to return to its full strength.

Since then, when I pray for healing, I consider what part of the healing God may be calling me to. Is my lifestyle involved? Is my illness due to poor diet or exercise? Am I seeking a supernatural shortcut when God wants a character-building personality adjustment? When God doesn’t heal, it may be that He’s asking us to make some practical changes. But we are called to spiritual action as well.

Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. —Jas. 5:14–15

Seeking healing prayer takes humility. We become vulnerable, exposing ourselves to others. We have to wrestle with our sense of self-sufficiency. Some Christians (myself included) have needed the gentle nudge of God to take up this offer of healing prayer by church eldership. Yet this scripture makes it clear who is to do the asking. Will we respond?

Patient Waiting

Perhaps you’ve taken responsibility, made lifestyle changes, and called the elders to pray for you as Scripture teaches. Or perhaps your infirmity is beyond any lifestyle choice. Multiple sclerosis can strike at random, and someone paralyzed by a drunk driver’s actions has little to take responsibility for. What sustains us in these circumstances?

One man’s story has helped me see a second principle related to our journey toward healing: God has arranged for us all to be made whole—in His special timing.

In 1997, accountant David McKenzie’s life came to an abrupt halt when he was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease (MND). This degenerative terminal illness affects the cells in the spinal cord that send messages to the body’s muscles. The muscles cease to respond as the neurons mysteriously die off, leaving patients increasingly paralyzed, affecting their ability to speak and reducing their capacity to swallow. Eventually, breathing stops and the darkness of death pervades. A slow and agonizing illness, MND has been dubbed the “thief of dignity” and is often used as an example by lobbyists for legalized euthanasia.

David was just 45 years old when the diagnosis came. He had a devoted wife and young family. When I spoke to him for a radio interview, he’d just “celebrated” his fifth anniversary since the diagnosis—two years longer than the doctor’s initial prognosis. Yet the effects of the disease were significant. By then he could not eat, get dressed, bathe, or go to the toilet without his wife’s assistance. When I telephoned, David propped the handset on a table so he could talk to me from his wheelchair. His voice in decay, he spoke as though his mouth were full of gravel.

David and I talked about a number of things, including the numbness he felt walking from the doctor’s office that day in 1997, and the fear and embarrassment victims feel throughout their wrestle with MND. We also talked about his quest for healing.

Like many suffering a chronic disease, David tried anything to find freedom. He experimented with wonder diets and special supplements. He considered the possibility that a curse had been put on him and wondered whether deliverance was required. Visiting Israel on a holiday, David was sprinkled with water from the River Jordan. He prayed at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, prayed again at the supposed site of Jesus’ crucifixion and while sailing on the Sea of Galilee. (The lack of results confirmed to David that should a miracle come, it would be through God’s power and not some geographical location.)

Some friends told David that if he just had faith, healing would come. On another occasion, he emailed a prayer request for healing to a well-known evangelist and healer. At a church meeting, a visiting minister foretold that David would be healed and would administer healing to others. While David acknowledges that he has experienced some emotional and spiritual healing through prayer, no physical change has come. He remains very ill.

Some, having gone through such experiences, would denounce God’s healing activity all together. David doesn’t. “I really don’t know what the future holds,” he told me. “Perhaps there is a cure, perhaps God will heal me miraculously, I don’t know. I’ve prayed for it, and there are hundreds of people who are praying for it. Some people have prayed every day since I was diagnosed.” David remains prayerful yet grounded in a certain hope. “I still dream of the future; there is some promise. But overall, I always take hope in the eternal life that I know will come my way.”

If we consider our lives as a pencil line on a page, our earthly years are quite brief, a momentary span in the larger time line of history (Jas. 4:13–15). For one person, physical healing may come at age 20, perhaps at age 40 for another. God may bring David’s healing at the 54-year point. Yet, as others blow his nose for him and wipe up food dropped in his attempt to bring fork to mouth, David McKenzie takes comfort that, whether it comes in this lifetime or not, total healing is planned into his destiny when he is ushered into eternity.

If you’re still plagued with pain and awaiting wholeness, there’s hope. Your healing is coming; perhaps later, perhaps sooner. God has a special moment, a season for everything (Ecclesiastes 3). Our lives are cupped in His hands without a day unaccounted for (Ps. 31:14–15). In the meantime, like the persistent widow, we persevere in prayer and continue in loyalty (Lk. 18:1–8). Like King David, we remain confident in God’s promised salvation as we experience our trials (Ps. 27:3). Like Isaiah, we wait patiently for our God:

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! —Is. 30:18

Faith-filled Expectation

God is going to do something on this healing journey of ours. If it’s healing in this life, He will bring it. If a season of suffering is to be withstood, He will use it for our ultimate good (Ro. 5:3–5), and He will help us toward the blessing that comes through ministering to others (2 Cor. 1:3–4). In fact, our suffering could be the very sign that God is using us in His redemptive plan. Thus, we watch and listen in faith-filled expectation.

I once spoke to Harry Leasement, a returned missionary who’d spent a good portion of his ministry working in Estonia. Harry shared a remarkable story of the gospel’s spread among Estonia’s hearing-impaired community. It all began when two young men applied for Leasement’s newly established Bible college. One had partial hearing; the other was completely deaf. Hesitant, but sensing the Lord’s guidance, Harry enrolled the eager students and began the lengthy process of adapting the curriculum to their unique needs.

From these small beginnings—just two obedient, deaf disciples—came a tremendous harvest for God’s kingdom. Within two years, more than 300 of Estonia’s deaf had converted. They began their own school and have since established a college especially for training deaf missionaries. The movement has spread into Russia, Mongolia, and the Ukraine. The number of deaf Christians now reaches into the tens of thousands.

Intrigued by the story, I asked Harry the obvious question: What about healing? He must have thought that through, I suggested. Harry smiled and replied, “We more than thought it through. Being Pentecostal in our leanings, we prayed it through, and we preached it! In fact, both of these guys are skinny from fasting and seeking God. They sought the Lord [for their healing] for several years.” Yet God didn’t heal.

Through this seeming silence from God comes another lesson about waiting for God’s healing. “Actually,” Harry continued, “one of our interpreters was healed of her deafness. Yet when she was healed, she found herself on the outs with the profoundly deaf. The two men received a grace from God to recognize their deafness as the key to reaching the deaf community.”

Harry quoted the statistics: There are 8.7 million profoundly deaf people in Russia and 75.2 million in China. “When the men received the concept that deafness could be a key to reach people no one else could reach, a joy came into their lives.”

The walk of faith is a life of expectation. We believe that God rewards those who seek Him (Heb. 11:6), and so we expect to see results. But sometimes our suffering has a redemptive benefit for others. The Estonian men remain deaf to reach their hearing-impaired brethren, the Apostle Paul suffered his “thorn in the flesh” so that God’s power would propel his missionary endeavors (2 Cor. 12:7–10), and Jesus Christ died so that we might live forever. Suffering is a bit easier to endure when we can see God’s purpose in it. Through such redemptive pain, we can experience an unusual joy. Joy came to the Estonians when they saw their deafness as a gift, Paul said that because of God’s grace he delighted in his difficulties, and Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before him” (Heb. 12:2).

I still have many questions about miraculous healing. I don’t know why God chose to touch Patricia’s marital problem after such a long time while leaving others unhealed. Yet, when our problems continue, I sense that our calling is to live in responsible, patient, faith-filled expectation.

Closing The Window To PORN!

SOURCE:  Tim Challies

Walt Mueller writes a brief review of Tim Chester’s book Closing the Window: Steps to Living Porn Free and then says this:

Chester offers up five key ingredients that must be present and in place for someone to win the battle with pornography.

1. An abhorrence of porn. You have to hate porn itself (not just the shame it brings), and long for change.

2. You must adore God. Why? Because we can be confident that He offers more than porn.

3. You must be assured of God’s grace. You are loved by God and are right with God through faith in the work of Jesus.

4. You must avoid temptation. Be committed to do all you in your power to avoid temptation, starting with the controls on your computer.

5. You must be accountable to others. You need a community of Christians who are holding you accountable and supporting you in your struggle.

Tim Chester never claims it’s easy. This isn’t a “take these five steps and everything will be just fine” treatment. No, life is messy. And Tim Chester is writing about a messy battle. It’s a battle we must understand, engage in, and fight with long-suffering intensity.

Suffering: When God Is At The Bottom Of It All

SOURCE:  Taken from an article at Counseling Solutions

Suffering is an expected, normal life for Christians living as aliens. God knew this and according to 2 Pe 1:3 we know that, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.

Samuel Rutherford on Suffering—

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

“O, what owe I to the file, to the hammer, to the furnace of my Lord Jesus.” –Samuel Rutherford

“Why should I be alarmed at the plough of my Lord that makes deep furrows on my soul? I know he is no idle husbandman; he purposes a crop.” –Samuel Rutherford

“I hope to over-hope and over-believe my troubles.” –Samuel Rutherford

Temptations—

  • Do you make too much of planet earth?
  • Do you over-think or over-worry your problems?
  • Do you live as though this life is it?
  • Do you strain (push) relationships further than God ever intended?

(Without a proper view of suffering, from God’s perspective, and if we do not embrace our alien status (we’re not of this world), we will strain our relationships. Rather than being a Gospel-centered, Gospel-shaped, and Gospel-motivated Christian, who is merely passing through this world to a better world, we may aggravate our relationships with others, rather than serve them.

I have found that when I am suffering and not dealing with my suffering very well, then the people in my immediate circle suffer the most. However, I have also found that when I am suffering and appropriating God’s grace in the moment, then His name is made great and others are inspired by our great God, who is working through me.)

Charles Spurgeon on Sovereignty—

When I was coming to Christ, I thought I was doing it all myself, and though I sought the Lord earnestly, I had no idea the Lord was seeking me. I do not think the young convert is at first aware of this. I can recall the very day and hour when first I received those truths [of the doctrine of election] in my own soul—when they were as John Bunyan said, burnt into my heart as with a hot iron, and I can recollect how I felt that I had grown all of a sudden from a babe into a man—that I had made progress in scriptural knowledge, through having found, once for all, the clue to the truth of God.

One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher’s sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me,

How did you come to be a Christian? I sought the Lord. But how did you come to seek the Lord?

The truth flashed across my mind in a moment—I should not have sought him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself,

How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures.

How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that he was the Author of my faith, and so the doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, “I ascribe my change wholly to God.” — Charles Spurgeon

Solution: No matter what you are going through remind your soul to anchor itself on this truth: God is at the bottom of it all. That which he has begun, he will see to the glorious end! (Philippians 1:6) He is working in you His good purposes, which is to conform you to His most beloved Son.

Perseverance: Simply Holding On OR Vigorous Confidence?

Editor’s Note:  When we must persevere, do we just endure until a circumstance is over?  Or, do we participate in a growing, dynamic, intimate experience with God as He tests and gives evidence of our maturing capacity to trust His goodness, love, and sovereignty over our lives?  Hopefully, more of the latter becomes the goal.

SOURCE:  Oswald Chambers

Because you have kept My command to persevere . . . —Revelation 3:10

Perseverance means more than endurance— more than simply holding on until the end. A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, but our Lord continues to stretch and strain, and every once in a while the saint says, “I can’t take any more.” Yet God pays no attention; He goes on stretching until His purpose is in sight, and then He lets the arrow fly. Entrust yourself to God’s hands. Is there something in your life for which you need perseverance right now? Maintain your intimate relationship with Jesus Christ through the perseverance of faith. Proclaim as Job did, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).

Faith is not some weak and pitiful emotion, but is strong and vigorous confidence built on the fact that God is holy love. And even though you cannot see Him right now and cannot understand what He is doing, you know Him. Disaster occurs in your life when you lack the mental composure that comes from establishing yourself on the eternal truth that God is holy love. Faith is the supreme effort of your life— throwing yourself with abandon and total confidence upon God.

God ventured His all in Jesus Christ to save us, and now He wants us to venture our all with total abandoned confidence in Him. There are areas in our lives where that faith has not worked in us as yet— places still untouched by the life of God. There were none of those places in Jesus Christ’s life, and there are to be none in ours. Jesus prayed, “This is eternal life, that they may know You . . .” (John 17:3). The real meaning of eternal life is a life that can face anything it has to face without wavering. If we will take this view, life will become one great romance— a glorious opportunity of seeing wonderful things all the time. God is disciplining us to get us into this central place of power.

Endure Suffering – Not Until Deliverance, But Because GOD is Worthy

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Wendy Alsup

There is a moment in the story of Job that disturbs me when I read it. In Job 23, Job is at his lowest point. His children have died, he’s lost all of his money, and he’s covered in painful boils. Everything to which he has given himself in this life has become dust. His comforters don’t bring comfort. He says his complaint is bitter and cries that he doesn’t even know where to look for God. Job, a righteous man by God’s own account, is in a miserable place not by his own foolishness. Really, if anyone deserved serious comfort, by my system of accounting, it was Job.

But, after a long silence, when God finally speaks to Job in chapter 38, His words don’t fit the profile of what I think Job deserves to hear.

1Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: 2″Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. 4″Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.5Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?

God continues on this way for four chapters. “I am GOD, Job! I hung the stars in the sky, created the oceans and every animal in them. Can you do that?! I am all powerful and all knowing. Don’t act like you could possibly know better on any issue than I do.”

I would expect God to say something more comforting–at least as I define comfort. Something like nothing can separate us from the love of God. Or that God works all things together for our good. Or that they who wait on God mount up on wings like eagles. Or that He who began the good work in us will be faithful to complete it. But none of those promises are emphasized here.

Instead, to the guy who was probably at the lowest point of anyone ever named in Scripture, God says, “I am God. I am all powerful. And I know what I’m doing!”

I have been wrestling personally with God over some things in my own life. Recently, I seriously prayed for a word from Him–“God, give me something to make sense of this time in life. Help me know how to think about all this and how to respond in obedience.” I don’t know what I expected, but His word was pretty clear. “Without faith, it is impossible to please Me.” (Hebrews 11:6).

God didn’t tell me that my troubles would soon end or that things would make more sense soon. Instead, He said pretty forcefully, “Trust Me! Believe in Me. I hung the stars in the sky and I know what I’m doing.”

I am reminded that God never explained to Job on earth (at least according to the Scriptural account) the purpose for his suffering. As far as we know, Job didn’t know until heaven what all was going on behind the scenes. In fact, Job’s suffering had no earthly purpose at all. It was fully about proving the trustworthiness of God’s character in the heavenly places to Satan and his minions.

I am beginning to see that the primary point of long periods of silence by God during our earthly sorrows and suffering is that we show His worthiness of our belief and trust based fully on who He is and not on what things He gives us. Satan can’t believe we would trust God just based on His character and not on the blessings on earth He gives us. That’s Satan’s taunt–“They only worship you because you are good to them. They’d never worship you if you didn’t answer their prayers and take care of them like they expect.”

The truth is that true faith doesn’t worship God because God is good but because God is God.

We don’t endure because we expect deliverance but because He is worthy. And we will never fully clarify this in our own hearts until God stops fitting our definition of goodness and requires us to sit patiently at His feet without answering our prayers for a season. And even if that season lasts the remainder of our lives, He is worthy.

The other truth is that for no one in Scripture did that season last the rest of their lives. God’s promises ARE that He will complete the good work He began in our hearts. He will work all the hard circumstances for honest to goodness GOOD in our lives. And when we wait on Him to work, He lifts us up on wings as eagles.

But that isn’t why we trust Him, have faith in Him, or worship Him. We worship Him because He alone is God. And He is worthy.

Oddly enough, until God actually moved again in my life (and He did), those counterintuitive words from Him did minister great grace to me.

… my righteous ones will live by faith.  Heb. 10:38

Drop The Full Weight Of It At HIS Feet

SOURCE:  Sandra Peoples

Love this from Nancy Leigh DeMoss in Choosing Gratitude,

“Tell Him you’re going to offer up to Him every situation and circumstance in your life, even the ones that are still sensitive to the touch, the ones that make no sense, the ones you just really don’t understand why you’re having to put up with right now. No matter how bad it gets, no matter what someone says to you, no matter how long it goes on or where it might lead, you will drop the full weight of it at His feet every night, be thankful for His strength that brought you through the day, and wait for His mercies that will be new in the morning (even though you may start needing them again at 12:01)!”

5 Myths About Suffering: See Your Pain From God’s Perspective

SOURCE:  Stacy Padrick/Discipleship Journal – NavPress

“Your blood pressure is fine,” said the nurse, leaving me to wait for the doctor.

“Oh, Lord,” I prayed, “please help the doctor find out what is wrong with my body.”

After leaving numerous doctors’ offices with no answers over the course of 18 months, I was desperately seeking a cure for the mysterious virus that often confined me to home and bed. I longed to reclaim my active lifestyle, resume working full time, and eventually return to the mission field.

“Hello, Stacey,” the doctor’s voice interrupted my thoughts. “How are you feeling?” As I began describing my symptoms, she nodded as if already suspecting the answer. When lab results confirmed her diagnosis, my hope of simply “getting over it” vanished, leaving me to live with the daily limitations of an incurable disease. As a previously energetic and ambitious 27 year old, I watched in fear as this illness crept into every area of my life, threatening my work, my ministry, my finances, my dreams, my relationship with the man I loved, and even my walk with God. I cried out to Him, groping to know His presence in the midst of my pain.

Suffering. Just hearing that word can make us cringe. Under the influence of a society that abhors even the thought of suffering, we seek to escape the reality of pain in our lives any way we can—television, busyness, entertainment, drugs. Suffering doesn’t fit with the world’s notion of success or with the theology of God’s goodness and victorious living in Christ we often espouse. Never mind that Jesus often spoke about suffering. Like Peter and the disciples to whom Christ revealed His imminent suffering and death, we, too, are tempted to respond, “Oh, that will never happen to you!” (see Mt. 16:22).

Yet is it possible that our view of suffering has been colored by pervasive myths we have unthinkingly accepted? As I’ve faced pain in my own life and turned to God’s Word for consolation, I’ve identified five myths that tempt us to shrink back, doubt God, or experience despair during times of suffering.

Myth 1: Suffering is negative and to be avoided at all costs.

How often do we pray to know Christ better? Quite often, most of us would say. How often do we pray to know Him better through suffering? If you are like me, seldom, if ever! Shortly after my diagnosis, I read Paul’s words in Phil. 3:10: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.” I passionately prayed, “Yes, Lord, I want to know You better!” But as I came to the words that followed—”and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings”—my tongue froze. The idea of praying for suffering made me shudder! Why would Paul pray for fellowship in Christ’s sufferings? I began to wonder if he knew something we unknowingly miss in our rush to avoid or “get through” suffering.

Scripture clearly teaches that affliction and tribulation work to make us complete and mature. James wrote,

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

—Jas. 1:2–4

For the believer, suffering works on the seeds of faith in the same way manure works as a fertilizer. We abhor the stench of manure and, similarly, the agony of pain. Yet though it seems like waste material, suffering nourishes and feeds the growing fruits of faith and maturity in the garden of our lives. God does not waste any experience in our lives when we willingly surrender it to Him. Even Jesus, although He was God’s Son, learned obedience from the things He suffered (Heb. 5:8).

Truth: The spiritual fruit for which we often pray is fertilized by adversity.

Myth 2: We can only experience joy and peace when we are not experiencing pain.

Knowing that suffering develops character only partially comforted me at times. Though I tried to “consider it pure joy” as James advised, my emotions often swayed from peace to anxiety when my body battled unpredictable symptoms. How could I experience joy when I was losing my health, my independence, my dreams of returning to the mission field, and a love relationship?

The psalmist wrote: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him” (Ps. 126:5–6). When God gave me the seeds of sadness and brokenness, I wanted to cast them aside and implore Him to give me seeds of joy and peace instead. But then it struck me that joy and peace are fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23), fruit which is often mysteriously born from seeds of suffering. Only as we willingly accept these uncomely seeds and allow Him to sow them in our lives will the lasting fruit of joy and peace bloom.

In 1873, Horatio Spafford, a prominent American businessman, waved good-bye to his wife and four daughters as they boarded a ship for Europe, where he was soon to join them. Days later, he received the shattering news that the ship had collided with another, and his four daughters had drowned in the Atlantic. Journeying to Europe to meet his wife, his ship sailed over the waters where his daughters had perished. As his tears poured forth, he returned to his cabin, committed his immense sorrow to God, and wrote the following: “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say: It is well. It is well with my soul.”

Not only did he experience God’s peace for himself, but with the seeds of his suffering, he sowed a five-stanza hymn that has brought comfort and peace to countless people in pain for more than a century.

Truth: Suffering and sorrow, when willingly accepted, become the seeds of joy and peace in our lives.

Myth 3: Suffering is a sign of God’s displeasure or judgment.

As months passed and God did not answer the many prayers of friends and family for my healing, I began to wonder, Did I do something to invite this? Is this a sign of God’s judgment of me? Then the enemy, prowling about for an opportunity to attack when my spirit and body had grown weary, tempted me to believe that God had condemned me or, at best, overlooked me. Yet turning again to Scripture, I found truth in Paul’s words: “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil. 1:29, NASB).

Rather than a sign of God’s disapproval or neglect, adversity is a sign of God’s work in our lives. My pastor once said, “In God’s economy, sometimes the measure of our hurt is the measure of our success.” Why? Because suffering makes us more like the Author of our salvation. Allowing us to suffer is actually a sign of His grace! He cares so deeply for us that He will do whatever is necessary for us to know Him better and to become more like Him. God does not test us, as the enemy would have us believe, simply to see how much we can stand. Earlier in this century, an anonymous writer penned these words:

The very fact of trial proves that there is something in us very precious to our Lord; else He would not spend so much pains and time on us. Christ would not test us if He did not see the precious ore of faith mingled in the rocky matrix of our nature; and it is to bring this out into purity and beauty that He forces us through the fiery ordeal.

Truth: Affliction allowed by God is a sign of His grace in our lives and His love for us.

Myth 4: Only voluntary suffering “for the sake of Christ” has spiritual value in the kingdom of God.

To sustain my spirit during the most difficult times, I meditated on Scripture about tribulation and claimed the promises and hope they offered. Initially, I found comfort in Peter’s words:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ.

—1 Pet. 4:12–13

However, the enemy soon began tempting me with thoughts such as, These verses don’t apply to you! They are for those who suffer voluntarily for the sake of the gospel. Your affliction just happened; it isn’t a result of your obedience to God. As I read verse 14—”If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you”—I had to concur that I was not being reviled for the sake of Christ. Perhaps the deceiver was right, and my affliction lacked real spiritual value.

Yet one night as I anguished over the apparent lack of purpose in my hardships, I stumbled upon a statement in C. S. Lewis’ Letters to an American Lady that challenged my narrow definition of suffering for Christ. Responding to a letter from a woman who laments about her many ailments and trials (from toothaches to budget problems), Lewis wrote: “Always remember that poverty and every other ill, lovingly accepted, has all the spiritual value of voluntary poverty or penance” (emphasis mine). What comfort these simple words brought!

As I committed my illness to God and asked Him to accomplish His will through it, my struggles no longer seemed in vain. Thomas À Kempis wrote, “Do not despair or be discouraged but accept God’s will calmly, bearing all that befalls you for the glory of Christ.” My disease, as frustrating and limiting as it was, could still be used for God’s glory.

Truth: All suffering can be used for God’s glory when we willingly accept and surrender our hardships to Him.

Myth 5: If God were truly good, He would remove this suffering from me.

As another year ended, I prayed once again, “Lord, may this new year be one of healing.” Even knowing the maturing benefits of affliction, I grew weary of the struggles. “Enough, Lord!” I wanted to say. “Haven’t I been pruned enough for a while?” How desperately I longed for Him to deliver me from the trials and bring restoration of the losses I had endured. If God was God, He could do that, right? If He were loving, He would do that, right? How tempted I was to believe that if God truly cared about me, if He were all powerful, He would take away the pain.

Yet as I continued praying, I stumbled upon a treasure I would have easily missed had I looked to healing as the only sign of His love. More often than not, God does not remove our suffering. He does something better: He enters into our suffering. The Lord Jesus enters into the fullness of our pain and bears it with us. He is the God who is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Ps. 34:18).

I finally understood why Paul prayed to know Christ and the fellowship of His sufferings. The path upon which we come to know Him better winds through the valley of suffering. If we seek a detour around the valley, we forfeit a chance to walk alongside the Suffering Servant. To know Christ more intimately, to more fully identify with Him, I must share in His sufferings by experiencing it myself. Whatever the nature of our affliction, sharing our pain with Him forges a deeper bond of intimacy. Nothing—not healing, not restoration, not success—compares with the comfort and sweetness of this fellowship.

The jewels of suffering abound: maturing faith, growing obedience, increased fruit. Yet the greatest treasure I have found is deepened intimacy with Christ as I fellowship with Him in the midst of my suffering.

Truth: Suffering helps us identify with the Lord Jesus more fully and deepens our intimacy with Him.

The Mythmaker

Where do these myths originate? I believe they come from none other than the father of lies. The tempter has thoroughly duped us into believing that suffering is negative, a sign of God’s neglect or of our own failure. Why would Satan be so determined to tempt us to avoid suffering (and sadly, sometimes to avoid those we know who are suffering)? Because he knows that suffering is one of the greatest means to draw us closer to Jesus and teach us increasing dependence upon Him. Thus, he will do whatever it takes to entice us to run from it  . . . until God, in His grace, allows suffering from which we cannot run.

When Peter refused to accept Jesus’ imminent suffering and death, He responded, “Get behind me, Satan” (Mt. 16:23). In the midst of our pain, we must refuse to accept Satan’s lies about suffering. When we believe that God loves us perfectly and that “perfect love drives out fear” (1 Jn. 4:18), we need no longer submit to the fear of suffering.

We live in a fallen world where the prince of darkness rules. Trials, hardships, and adversity are more normal in this life than abnormal. If this life were absent of suffering, we might begin to mistake it for the real thing. Suffering makes us hunger for heaven, our real home, where God will wipe away every tear. Though we may never fully understand our suffering, we can rest in the hope that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Ro. 8:18).

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