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Posts tagged ‘transformation’

Change in Sexual Orientation is Possible

The Counseling Moment EDITOR’S NOTE:  Given all that is taking place in society along with all the information available via the media, much confusion exists about whether one desiring to explore and/or seek change from unwanted same-sex/homosexual desires and behaviors can ever hope for change.  One position emphatically says, “No Way!”  Another position says change is possible.  A Christian position lays claim that nothing is impossible for God who wants those who have a faith-relationship with Him through Christ to progressively continue to be transformed by Him into the very likeness of Christ.  This transformation includes movement toward holiness in thought, emotional responses, behaviors, and relationships.  Furthermore, this transformation includes aspiring to a holy, blameless, righteous, and pure life that increasingly exhibits the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  God desperately wants what is best for us as He loves us each so much–so much that He sacrificed His own Son on our behalf.  Our becoming like Christ is the best that God can offer us.  There is nothing better or of greater value.

Even a casual reading of Scripture makes clear that as God enables us to move toward Christlikeness, He empowers us to move away from a host of things that He declares counter to His plan for us and destructive to us.

These things counter to His will for us, as called out in Scripture, include anything that would “gratify the desires of the flesh” such as:  any hint of sexual impurity, homosexuality, sexual immorality, adultery, extra-marital sex, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, bitterness, anger, brawling, slander, malice, greed, filthy language, unforgiveness, idleness, love of money, deceitfulness, pride, lack of self-control, loving pleasure over God, enslavement to passions, conceit.  

God loves us and chooses to be in a personal relationship with us knowing that we are challenged with these types of issues in our lives.  And, He loves us too much to allow us to continue to embrace these things.  Therefore, God wants us to depend on Him to help us move away from any and all of these types of hindrances to becoming more holy like Christ.  And, He promises that freedom from these things is possible in His way and His timing.

So, yes, change is possible whether it is change from homosexual orientation or change from any of the other issues of life that God highlights as detriments to our being made into the likeness of Christ.  God wants change to take place concerning ALL of these!  We are all involved in God’s change process concerning whatever things we find in us that are on His “list.”  He will work uniquely and lovingly within each one of us to accomplish change in His way, in His timing, to the extent He determines until He carries it on to completion (Phil. 1:6).

As a result, it should be no surprise that solid, credible, truthful research as summarized in the below article supports what God, the Author of all truth, says and desires about change.

Finally, as Christians, it is important that we do not respond to those dealing with homosexuality (or any other less than Godly life issue) with ignorance and fear.  Nor should we ignore or uphold any lifestyle or life issue which is counter to God’s desire and will.  Either extreme fails to convey the divine balance of grace and truth which is so pleasing to God.  Blessings……..

ARTICLE SOURCE: NARTH/Reviewed by Christopher H. Rosik, Ph.D.

(October, 2011)

Change in Sexual Orientation is Possible, Harm Unlikely, according to New Evidence of Long-Term Outcomes

The best-designed study of sexual-orientation change efforts (SOCE) to date, has just concluded in a follow-up report that some people can indeed move from homosexuality to heterosexuality, and that harm is unlikely to result from such efforts.

The original study was published in 2007 by Stanton Jones, Ph.D., of Wheaton College, and Mark Yarhouse, Ph.D., of Regent University, in their book, “Ex-Gays?”. The follow-up study has just appeared in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy.

In the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapythe authors conclude:

Evidence from the study suggested that change of homosexual orientation appears possible for some and that psychological distress did not increase on average as a result of the involvement in the change process” (Jones & Yarhouse, 2011, p. 404).

Study methods

The authors followed 98 individuals (72 men and 26 women) who undertook SOCE through the assistance of a variety of  Christian ministries over a period of 6-7 years. The authors’ motivation for conducting this study was, in part, that the American Psychological Association had gone on the record indicating that change in sexual orientation was not possible, and that risks to those who engage in such efforts could be significant.

The authors note that the APA has moderated its viewpoint somewhat since then, fluctuating between statements that sexual-orientation change is “uncommon,” to the view that science “cannot yet” make conclusive statements about such change from the available literature.

The rigor of their own research standards, Jones and Yarhouse indicate, in fact meets many of the requirements that the APA itself has asserted are necessary in order to make reasonably definitive conclusions about the actuality of such change.

Participants in the Jones-Yarhouse study were first assessed at the beginning of their involvement in SOCE (from 1-3 years); again at 3 years, and again at the 6-7 year mark. Findings from the first two assessments were published earlier in the book, Ex-Gays? (2007).

Standardized and widely accepted measures of sexual orientation and psychological distress were administered at each assessment period. At the final time of assessment, attrition had reduced the available sample to 64%, which is not unusual for longitudinal studies.

Study findings

The results after 6-7 years of SOCE involvement, presented below, indicate that change does indeed occur, although not for
everyone.

  • Success: Conversion:  23% (n = 14) of the sample reported substantial reductions in homosexual attraction and subsequent conversion to heterosexual attractions and functioning.
  • Success: Chastity: 30% (n = 18) reported that homosexual attraction was still present, but only incidentally or in a way that did not seem to bring distress, allowing them to live contentedly without overt sexual activity.
  • Continuing: 16% (n = 10) reported modest decreases in homosexual attraction, but were not satisfied with their degree of change and remained committed to the change process.
  • Nonresponse: 7% (n = 4) reported no significant sexual orientation change; they had not given up on the change process, but some were confused or conflicted about which direction to turn next.
  • Failure: Confused: 5% (n = 3) reported no significant sexual orientation change, and had given up on the change process, but without yet embracing a gay identity.
  • Failure: Gay identity: 20% (n = 12) had given up on the change process and embraced a gay identity.

Jones and Yarhouse observed that from the point-of-view of the ministries involved in their study, 53% of the sample therefore had self-categorized as achieving “some version of success,” and 25% had self-categorized as failure.

As regards harm, the study participants on average did not report experiencing harm due to SOCE during the course of their pursuit of change.  In fact, two of the indicators of psychological distress actually improved significantly over the time of the study.

Discussion

Jones and Yarhouse conclude that “the findings of this study appear to contradict the commonly expressed view that sexual orientation is not changeable” (p. 425).  and that attempts to change are not likely to be harmful.

While the authors believe their research clearly contradict the pessimism regarding SOCE that has been promulgated by the APA, they do acknowledge that their study has limitations.

First, the average change in sexual orientation was modest, although they noted that this is likely to be an artifact of average change scores including some participants who made dramatic shifts away from homosexual orientation and fewer participants who reported dramatic shifts to a gay identity.  In other words, the dramatic changes toward heterosexual response clearly made by some participants may have been offset by changes toward homosexual response in others, so that the overall average change in sexual orientation for the sample appeared to be modest.

Second, participants who had begun the change process prior to the start of the study appeared to have disproportionately positive outcomes compared to participants inducted into the study early in their pursuit of change.  This may indicate that some weeding-out of individuals who were not successful in changing sexual orientation occurred in the time between the onset of pursuit of change and the initial collection of data.  Although there is no way to know this for sure, Jones and Yarhouse imply that it is probably wise to view their study’s success rate for the change process undertaken in Christian ministries as a somewhat optimistic figure.

A third limitation is the relatively small sample size, which makes any generalization of these findings to the population of individuals pursuing SOCE tentative.  That said, the size of the sample is not uncommon in the longitudinal research that has been widely accepted as representative of samples in other subject domains.  Finally, the authors note that, given the study design, it was not possible to determine which components of the participants’ change process were responsible for the outcomes reported.

Comment

No doubt this study will be dismissed by skeptics who for ideological reasons remain dogmatically unwilling to acknowledge the reality of sexual orientation change in some people. However, Jones and Yarhouse’s study of SOCE should go a long way toward putting to rest two extreme positions:  i.e., that change always occurs and is simply a choice, or that change never occurs and is generally harmful.

It is also worth remembering that this study did not examine SOCE’s  that occur in the context of psychotherapy.  The subjects in this study received their counseling in Christian ministries. It is certainly within the realm of plausibility that the inclusion of professional psychological care, over and above participants’ involvement in Christian ministries, would increase positive outcomes.

The hallmark of a scientific organization that is not beholden to socio-political interests is a heightened curiosity at unexpected findings, and a subsequent dedication to understanding how such findings came to be.  In the case of change in sexual orientation, which had been purported to be impossible, this implies a dedication to study those individuals who report change in order to identify the active ingredients of change and thereby maximize its potential among SOCE consumers.

Unfortunately, however, the major mental-health associations appear to be moving further away from a purely scientific approach and toward one apparently directed by activists, whereby the purpose of their science does not seem to be understanding those who report change, but rather debunking, dismissing, and ignoring them.  Thus while Jones and Yarhouse will win no accolades or awards from the APA, they will have the satisfaction of knowing that their research exemplifies the best in scientific curiosity and courage.

Reference

Jones, S. L., & Yarhouse, M.A. (2007). Ex-gays? A longitudinal study of religiously mediated change in sexual orientation. Downers  Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Jones, S. L., & Yarhouse, M. A. (2011). A longitudinal study of attempted religiously mediated sexual orientation change.  Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 37, 404-427. DOI: 10.1080/009263X.2011.607052

How Could God Let This Happen?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Gerald L. Sittser

Trusting God when you’re the victim of injustice

Sooner or later injustice happens to us all. Yet knowledge of that fact never really prepares us for the pain of unjust circumstances when we experience them.

I received a letter recently from a woman who recounted her experience of injustice. “When my son was two,” she wrote, “his father called me from work one day to let me know he would not be coming home. He had found another place to live: with his girlfriend, as I discovered later.” For several years she avoided the pain by staying busy. But eventually it caught up to her. “I began to feel angry at having been stolen from. I was angry at having to do it all by myself—raising my child, bringing home the money to pay bills, making all the decisions. I felt used up, rejected, and discarded. I felt rage on behalf of my son, who was an innocent in all of this.”

The Undeniable Reality of Injustice

Eventually, each of us will experience painful consequences caused by the foolish or malicious choices that people make. Some injustice is obvious, such as rape, robbery, or murder. At other times, it may be less dramatic. A hardworking employee is passed over for promotion because she is a woman. A young athlete sits on the bench because his coach does not like him. These mundane cases of injustice can be especially difficult because the victims receive little public sympathy and have no recourse to justice.

The issue of injustice is not simply an academic question to me. I have experienced it firsthand, and it has taken everything in me to keep my spiritual equilibrium as a result. In the fall of 1991, a drunk driver lost control of his car and collided with our minivan, killing my mother, my wife, and one of my daughters. Because of a legal technicality, he was found “not guilty.” I spent months trying to make sense out of the injustice of it all. You can imagine my surprise when a friend of mine admonished me to think less about my experience and more about the sovereignty of God. “Eventually,” he said to me, “you will have to make peace with the sovereignty of God. Either God is in control, or He is not. You must decide which you believe is true.”

All of us must decide what to believe about the sovereignty of God. Our experience with painfully unfair situations makes that decision both relevant and difficult. What we decide will in large measure determine how we respond to the unjust circumstances that force the question upon us in the first place. Is God in control or not? If He is, then we can trust Him as He works out His redemptive purpose in our lives, even in the face of injustice. If He is not, then we should abandon faith and find our own way through the hard times of life. The choice is stark and simple. But the struggle we may go through to make a decision of such magnitude is anything but simple. My friend was therefore right. I had to decide what I believed about the sovereignty of God.

Presence and Purpose

The Bible is clear: God is sovereign. He is the one who created us, provides for us, and directs the course of our lives (Psalm 139). God sees all, knows all, transcends all. As finite creatures, we are bound by space and time. He is bound by neither. “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. . . . For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night” (Ps. 90:2, 4).

If a single biblical story affirms God’s sovereignty, it is the story of Joseph (Genesis 37–50). Joseph experienced terrible injustice. He was betrayed by his brothers, who sold him as a slave to a caravan of merchants traveling to Egypt. They in turn sold him to Potiphar, a member of Pharaoh’s court. Joseph served Potiphar well and won his trust. But Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him. When Joseph resisted her advances, she accused him of attacking her. Joseph ended up in prison.

Eventually Joseph was released from prison. He was appointed second in command over all of Egypt because he correctly interpreted a dream that had troubled Pharaoh, a dream that foretold a seven-year famine. In addition to interpreting this dream, Joseph advised Pharaoh to establish a plan to avert the disaster. After Joseph’s appointment, he implemented a national project of storing surplus grain and then supervised the distribution of that grain when famine struck. The famine forced Joseph’s brothers to travel to Egypt to buy grain, where they were reunited and eventually reconciled. The story concludes with Joseph’s family settling and prospering in Egypt.

The account gives us two perspectives on the sovereignty of God. The author of the story provides the first perspective. Twice he writes, “The Lord was with Joseph.” Surprisingly, he makes the comment on two occasions when Joseph was the victim of gross injustice. The first occasion occurs just after Joseph was sold to Potiphar, the second just after Joseph was thrown into prison (Gen. 39:2, 21).

The author’s perspective was informed by his knowledge of how the story would end. He could write with accuracy and confidence that God was with Joseph in his darkest hour, though that did not appear to be the case. The author saw that God was working out a purpose that Joseph did not at the time understand.

Joseph himself provides the second perspective on God’s sovereignty. His comment to his brothers at the end of the story indicates that he believed God was with him, even after so much injustice. “You intended to harm me,” he said, “but God intended it for good” (Gen. 50:20).

God’s Redemptive Sovereignty

As Joseph made a decision to believe, so must we. But what exactly should we believe about God’s sovereignty? Should we believe that it is cold, calculated, and machine-like? Or is God sovereign in the way a good writer is, who creates characters in a novel that face enormous messes but in the end find great happiness?

God’s sovereignty is not manipulative; it is redemptive. When God created the world, He called it good. He mourns the evil that ravages the world, and He plans to restore the world to its original goodness. It is as if the world is a masterpiece, like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, upon which vandals have viciously painted graffiti. Now God, the artist, has decided to restore it to its original magnificence. God wants to redeem people so that His image, as reflected in Jesus Christ, is restored in them (Ro. 8:28–30, 2 Cor. 3:18). As a result, the entire universe will be set ablaze with His glory and holiness.

If God did not act in His sovereignty to redeem us, every human being on planet Earth would be doomed. If we were left to ourselves, imprisoned by our own sin, then we would be of all creatures the most to be pitied. There are many things we can do for ourselves, but salvation from sin is not one of them. Only God in His sovereignty can redeem us.

God has, in fact, already redeemed us in Jesus Christ. As Paul wrote, if any person is in Christ, that person is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). Jesus won our salvation through His sacrificial death and His bodily resurrection. He became sin for us so that we could become righteous like Him (2 Cor. 5:21).

Further, God is redeeming us every day by changing our lives. God takes the stuff of daily life and wields it as His tool to make us like Jesus. He uses the circumstances of everyday life to transform us. We can assume, then, that God in His sovereignty is always working in our lives. The tools He uses are immediately at hand—the relationships we have or lack, responsibilities we are assigned by choice or necessity, opportunities we are given, suffering we did not choose but must endure, problems we face, dilemmas we encounter. God uses these occurrences to perfect us. It is not in spite of, but by means of such life experiences that we grow into the fullness of Christ. Thus, the very circumstances that we blame for our misery are the things God uses to make us like Jesus. Nothing is wasted in God’s economy.

We must learn to trust God, even when there seems to be little reason to do so. There may be times when the way God leads us can seem unjust. Take Abraham as an example. After waiting 25 years for a child, Abraham finally witnessed the fulfillment of God’s promise. Sarah conceived and gave birth to Isaac. Isaac was God’s supreme gift to Abraham and Sarah. It seemed a cruel thing when God later commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his only son and heir, to God (Genesis 22). God seemed to be violating His promise and desecrating His gift, as if He had turned against Abraham. Abraham must have been utterly bewildered. Amazingly, he still obeyed. While journeying to the place of sacrifice, Isaac became curious. “Where is the sacrificial animal?” he asked his father. Abraham’s response is telling. “God will provide the sacrifice,” he replied. And God did. The book of Hebrews teaches that Abraham had such confidence in God that he believed God could raise Isaac from the dead.

Why this test? The text tells us that God wanted to know whether or not Abraham trusted Him. Abraham did not presume to know more or better than God. Neither should we. Again, it all comes down to a decision to believe.

Hard Questions

God is sovereign and worthy of our trust. Complete trust in Him, however, does not eliminate the pain we feel in the midst of injustice. The darkness will still be dark; hardship will still be hard. It does us no good to think otherwise. If Jesus cried in anguish, so can we. However sovereign God is, injustice still hurts.

These seasons of suffering may raise difficult questions in our minds. It is entirely human and understandable to question God when we do not understand what He is doing in our lives, or to cry out in agony even if we do understand. Job, for example, was never faulted for questioning God; the book of Psalms contain many psalms of complaint (e.g., Psalm 88). Even Jesus asked in desperation, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk. 15:34).

The crucifixion of Christ is the quintessential example of the mysterious and complex way in which God works. It was obviously a horrible miscarriage of justice, and the people responsible for the deed were wrong to do it. Yet God used that unjust event to accomplish the salvation of the world.

Pursuing Justice

It’s important to remember that belief in God’s sovereignty does not excuse evil or justify wrongdoing. Bad parents are still bad parents, though God will use bad parents in His sovereignty to make us better people. God uses injustice to accomplish His greater purposes. Yet the positive outcome of suffering unjustly does not nullify the painful nature of such experiences. God’s ability to accomplish His purposes through injustice does not erase the guilt of the one responsible for the suffering.

Nor does trusting in God’s sovereignty imply that we should never seek justice as a means of righting the wrongs done to others or even to us. It is possible and appropriate to pursue the two courses simultaneously.

On the one hand, we can and should trust that God is always working in our lives and cooperate with Him as He uses even injustice to transform us and advance His work in the world. Jesus commanded His disciples to absorb the wrong done to them and do good instead (Mt. 5:38–48). The Apostle Paul restated the principle by encouraging believers to overcome evil by doing good, leaving justice to the wrath of God (Ro. 12:17–21). Paul made it clear that believers belong to Christ and can, therefore, live in peaceful contentment, in all circumstances (Phil. 4:11–13).

On the other hand, we can also appeal to earthly institutions like the state to seek justice when we have been legitimately wronged. For example, Paul appealed to Caesar when he was falsely accused by the Jews and unjustly imprisoned by the Romans (Acts 25:10–12). Paul wrote Romans 13 to show that God establishes justice on earth, in part, through the state.

How can we live in such a tension? Say, for example, that I am treated unfairly by an employer. By faith I believe that God is sovereign. I look for signs of God’s gracious work in my life. I allow God to use the experience to change me for the better. At the same time, I recognize that what my employer did was wrong and that he should be held accountable. So I decide to appeal to a grievance committee to address the unjust way my employer has treated me. My submission to God, in other words, does not excuse the faults of my employer or prevent me from seeking justice through the appropriate channels of authority.

The Triumph of Redemption

Submission to the sovereignty of God, therefore, does not have to make us passive in the face of injustice, as if we were little more than victims. We should identify injustice and resist it as best we can, but always in a spirit of humility, contentment, and peace. For we know, whatever the outcome, that God is in control, that good will triumph over evil, and that God is working out His redemptive purpose in our lives. We do not have to get our own way. We do not have to win. In the end, whether justice prevails in our immediate circumstances or not, God’s sovereignty will triumph, and we will be redeemed.

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).

Disciplines of the Holy Spirit: Connecting to THE Power

SOURCE:  BILL BELLICAN

The disciplines (or tools) of the Holy Spirit provide us with practical and realistic means by which we become more like Jesus.  The Holy Spirit draws us to God through these different disciplines that enable us to better tune into and cooperate with what the Holy Spirit longs to do in our lives.   According to Dr. S.Y. Tan in Disciplines of the Holy Spirit, these disciplines include:

Solitude and silence. With these disciplines, we deepen our fellowship with God by drawing close to God in intimacy and vulnerability.

Listening and guidance. These disciplines become vital practices as we grow to love and trust God.

Prayer and intercession. Through times of prayer and intercession, the Holy Spirit works to grow us up into the very heart of Christ.

Study and meditation. Utilizing especially Scripture, these disciplines bring us into intimate knowledge of God’s character and purpose.

Repentance and confession. These strengthen God’s authority and Lordship in our lives.

Yielding and submission. Willingly giving up areas of our lives to the Holy Spirit’s control includes actively yielding areas that hold us back from the fullness of the Spirit.

Fasting. Surrendering our appetites for food and other things we hold too close or take for granted sets us free to experience more self-control and to take joy in our experience with God.

Worship. This is our deepest act of surrender to God where the Holy Spirit helps us to focus on God instead of ourselves.

Fellowship. Gathering together with other believers connects us with the power of the Holy Spirit and allows us to grow in faith, hope, and love.

Simplicity. Practicing a lifestyle that is increasingly free of excess, greed, covetousness, and other forms of dependence, the Holy Spirit works to release spiritual gifts such as hospitality, mercy, and giving.

Service.   Giving ourselves to God and others in different ways, this discipline leads us into sacrificial service for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom.

Witness.  The power to evangelize unbelievers and bring them to Christ also comes from the Holy Spirit.

In and of themselves, the spiritual disciplines are nothing.  Remember, they only help to connect us to the Source of all spiritual power—the Holy Spirit, Himself.  The disciplines are not a means of influencing God or winning His favor, but rather they are God’s gifts to us through which He can minister His grace and mercy.

Ephesians 5:18   Luke 11:10, 13   John 3:1-8  Romans 8:26-27

 

 

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