I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
Difficulties and disappointments are guaranteed to come to every life. The outcome of every situation is our choice. We can follow the path of the Overcomer, or we can choose to blaze our own way. Following Jesus will lead us to worship and the fulfilling presence of God. Going our own way will lead to greater devastation and paralyzing weariness.
The choice seems easy; who doesn’t want victory?! The reality is the path to victory demands stepping out in faith. That path demands knowing the Promises and ways of God…and walking in them even when they seem impossible. On the other hand, the weary path seems wise at first. We trust the knowledge we’ve accumulated; we rely on our natural abilities and intellect. It feels safer. It is a deception.
The passages that precede Jesus’ words above lead us toward the desire of God–intimate fellowship with Himself. Jesus explains the necessity of abiding in the vine–living in His love. We love the concept and in quiet times, our mental agreement feels adequate. But the power of the passage comes when we live it out in the dusty days of life. Living in the love of God gives strength when the people around us are unreasonable and unkind. Staying in the vine gives us nourishment when life is draining us with failures and insurmountable problems.
As Christians, we are on a mission to take the glory of God to the hurts of the world. We can’t idolize the quiet spots; they are to be enjoyed but we have work to do!
So, what do we do with those heartaches that come into our lives? First, we must remember that what we see is incomplete and in part, an illusion. We are to live the Word in the midst of the difficulties and enjoy the presence of God through intercessory prayer.
Intercession is so much more than taking God a to do list. He knows the burdens that weigh upon us. What He asks of us is to bring those burdens to Him and seek His view. God has a good purpose and plan in all things; He has the power to produce what He desires.
From the earthly perspective, our problems loom large and feel impossible. We often beg God to take them away. In those times, we are carrying loads here that He wants us to bring into His presence.
Intercessory prayer becomes worship as we see inside the Father’s heart and feel His powerful presence reassuring us. From the eternal perspective, problems relate to aweseom purposes we rejoice in when we seek His understanding.
The Truth of the Word is to be transformational–not tiresome. Just as intercessory prayer is not a ‘to do list’ for God, neither is obedience to God. Obedience is doing the will of God with a heart that trusts in His goodness in every situation. A heart that trusts in Him enjoys His presence so much, lists of sin are unnecessary–because sin separates from Him. Living Truth in the dust and difficulties of our days is not about getting everything right. It is about being transformed by the Truth of Love so we can rise victorious over every circumstance.
Weariness comes when our list of ‘do and do nots’ consumes us more than His beauty. “Love your enemy” is a burden until I see my enemy from God’s view. “Do not covet” is impossible unless I see the generosity of God who meets my every need. External measures of life tire us out; a heart resting in Him exceeds any ‘list’ and fills us with energizing life.
When we are growing weary, we are to take that as a reminder to WORSHIP!
Yesterday we looked at the Spirit of Wisdom. Today, enjoy a look at the promise in action from a friend of mine!
The lofty ideas of scripture may make our hearts soar in the pews on Sunday morning or in our morning devotion times, but those ideas brought into the trenches do even more: they allow the glory of God to blaze. Jesus did not come to delight our hearts; He came to give us abundant life! Last week we considered the Spirit of wisdom and revelation that infuses Christ’s character. Let’s walk today with a sister-in-Christ who allowed that Spirit to sustain her in the trenches of life.
The circumstances of our days can either block our view of Christ or lift us closer to Him. Elizabeth, a home school mother, felt overwhelmed as she faced the many tasks a new school year brought. Each responsibility felt weighty on its own: educating her own children, meeting her missionary responsibilities through Campus Bible Fellowship, editing a discipleship course, caring for the needs of family and serving in their church. All of us know the all-consuming weariness and despair the ‘simple’ tasks of life can bring. Sometimes it feels that survival is the best we can hope for in life: that is the lie of the enemy thrown up to block our vision of the risen Christ!
Early in the year, Elizabeth encountered a quote that God used to lift her eyes to the possibilities placed before her: “We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.” Throughout the year, Elizabeth embraced the challenge to view her ‘impossible situations’ as opportunities for God. Mid-way through the year, her pastor quoted a verse she had known for years: ‘Without me, ye can do nothing.’ The Spirit grabbed that truth and immediately brought another to mind: ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengthen me.’ Listen to how Elizabeth describes the ‘Spirit of wisdom and revelation’ that infused her with those words:
“For the first time I noticed the identical words in those two verses I had memorized years earlier. Without Christ I CAN DO nothing, but by His strength I CAN DO everything He wants me to do–even what seems humanly impossible.”
Elizabeth gives us a great example of the Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation instilling confidence and hope for her earthly walk! Often, our minds know truths but our hearts fail to connect the realities of our life with the spiritual truths of Christ. God has plans and purposes for each of us; we need only to look to Him to have those plans fulfilled. In our faith walk, as we grow more like Christ, the Spirit continually uses the circumstances of life to highlight the truths we have hidden in our hearts and reveal the glory of God. What truths are you storing up for the Spirit‘s use in your heart and for the revelation of His glory?
‘Don’t cry over spilled milk,’ says the old adage. ‘What’s done is done,’ we say. Is it true? Is there no hope in the past? I believe Scripture tells us differently.
The lens of faith transforms the darkest images.
In Joel chapter 2, verse 21 we read “the LORD will do great things.” Joel continues in verse 25 with:
“And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten,
the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you.”
There is nothing in our past that God has not allowed. It may not have been what He longed for us to have…sin and its consequences are never His desire…but He allows anything that can draw us closer to Him. The call of God is always “Where are you?” because the desire of God is always that we will choose to be where He is! Time does not confine God. He was, is and always will be. Taking the time to find Him in the hurts of the past brings healing to the present.
Nothing that happens—past, present or future—is devoid of the presence of God. When we purpose to look for Him in the difficult things of our lives, we find healing! Fear traps us in the traumas of life…faith frees us. God promises we are never alone. He is always faithful to His promises.
Living in the hurts of the past effectively nullifies the work of the Cross in today.
When we allow Jesus to walk in the depths of our pain, He touches us with love that brings peace. Many of us learn to isolate emotions, to pack them away because they terrify us; it feels as if the pain is a tidal wave that will drown us. Jesus walks on water…He quiets storms. Let him into those reservoirs of fear and He will transform them to rivers of living water for others.
In the Old Testament we read that curses last for three or four generations. We see generational curses all around us: legacies of shame, rebellion and violence. Every individual has opportunity to take the inheritances of yuck and let Jesus transform them into generational blessings. The curses are short-lived in comparison: blessings pass on to thousands of generations. Take the hard stuff you have endured to Jesus; let Him speak life into you that blessings might flow forth from you.
The account of Elijah in I Kings 19 encourages anyone who has ever suffered with discouragement, despair and despondency. The great prophet reveals to us that no one is exempt from depression. Followers of God—sincere followers of God—still err and still suffer. Wrong attitudes, misplaced focus and mis-understandings deluge all of us! May God give us insights as we examine some of this great man’s life. (Please note: This is one story of depression. While some work of the enemy is involved in every dis-ease, every story is unique. This is not a pointing fingers, diagnosis piece on depression. There is help; there is hope but there is no short-cut.)
His name is a great starting point: Yahweh is my God. Elijah lived at the time of history when Baal worship entered into the Nation of Israel. Often pictured with a belt around his waist, the Truth of the identity of God (Ephesians 6) defines Elijah. He courageously proclaimed the greatness of God with his words and way of life. Fed by ravens during a prophesied drought, sustained by miraculous provision to a widow in Zarephath and confirmed by God with fire that devoured a water-logged sacrifice, Elijah knew the power of God.
But he also knew despair that left him begging to die. What happened?
His crash into despair came after a major battle (and victory) against the prophets of Baal. Despite the clear testimony of Truth in that battle (1 Kings 18:20-40), Elijah ran for his life at the threatening words of Jezebel, the evil Queen. Leaving his personal servant, Elijah chose to flee alone. Both actions are common to those battling depression: running away and isolating oneself.
What happened? Clearly, Elijah turned his eyes from God and opened his ears to the lies of the enemy. Fear entered his heart. Fear is a foe we must recognize—and fight.
Running leads us to the pit of despair. We are created for fellowship. Self-doubt and self-pity then crushed Elijah’s spirit. He began to beg God to let him die. Here we see another common error that darkens our lives:
We forget that it has never been about our power or ability!
Our great and gracious God then revealed his tender care by sending an angel to bake food for Elijah. Nowhere do we read of God telling Elijah to set out on this headlong rush into the desert: the plan was all Elijah’s but God did not leave him alone. He cared for him and nurtured growth in this great prophet even as he failed to trust the One he served. When Elijah arrives at his self-determined destination of Mount Sinai, God asks Elijah a very important question:
“What are you doing here?”
It is a question God asks each of us when we wander from trusting Him. It’s not that God doesn’t know where we are; He wants us to recognize it. Confident he is totally right and filled with faith (he just vanquished the false prophets, didn’t he?), Elijah speaks from the same place we often live: blindness to his own self-centered perspective.
“I worked hard for you. They have been bad. I fought for you. I am alone and in danger.”
God did not defend His own honor; He did not chastise Elijah. God simply told Elijah to go stand on the mountain.
Waiting for God is part of the recovery process!
Elijah obeyed and witnessed the battering wind, the shaking of an earthquake and the devastation of fire. When all those passed, the presence of the LORD came in the quiet. Elijah stepped out of his hiding place but not out of his stubbornness. The holy presence of God left him unmoved from his place of self-pity and pride. Recovery (and repentance) take time. God is merciful: he gives us time to figure things out!
The life of faith is not without error and failings…nor is it without mercy & grace!
God did not demand an apology or upbraid Elijah for his struggle. It is in our weakness that God’s strength is perfected. God is not surprised by our failures; He has us covered! God simply gave Elijah the instruction, “Go.” Just as ‘wait’ is part of the recovery process, so is ‘go.’ Pressing forward from the hard times helps us get back to seeing God with clearer focus.
God was not done with Elijah. He is not done with us!
Elijah still had work to do. It was challenging work; work that would bring battering winds and earth-shaking events to the ones who were rebelling against God. Work that would bring the still small voice of God to those who were listening.
“Go back the way you came,” he told Elijah.
As Elijah obeyed, he found Elisha, the one he was to mentor and guide to greatness. Together, they nurtured many in the school of prophets. At the end of his earthly walk, God whisked Elijah away in a chariot of fire. Despair and failure are part of this life. We don’t need to run in fear. Walk back, face the things that blinded you to the Truth of God and then go on with life. Ask God to lead you to the help you need in the process. Don’t try to go it alone! We are made for each other. There is work to be done and glory to receive!
Do you have a situation–or a person–in your life who makes you face the ugly feeling of being ‘not enough.’ Maybe that feeling comes from your own view of yourself: you simply can’t rise up to loving yourself. Maybe it is something that you care desperately about–something you want to fix or do–but it is out of your control. Can you bring yourself to give thanks for that situation or person?
Before we look at the thanksgiving part, there is an important truth we all need:
You are enough. God says so! You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Walk outside on a starry night and look at the sky. The One who made all that, who keeps it in place knows your name–and He says, “That person is so special, I sent my son to suffer and die to save her/him.”
So whomever or whatever makes you feel that way–it’s a lie from the devil meant to stop you from living like your loved. Throw the lie out and prepare to give thanks.
In the midst of that feeling of being not enough are two truth treasures that can transform lives–our own and others.
First, none of us is enough for another person. We are not meant to be! If we–or they–try to live off the connection we have to each other, our personal relationship with God is threatened. The typical response generated by ‘not enough’ seethes with resentment and bitterness. Those things block our own connection with God. Our response comes from the fact that the person who is creating our ‘not enough’ feeling is pouring out their own resentment on us.
We don’t have to react that resentment; it is just their mistaken attempt to meet their need. We can respond with compassion because it is not our failing at all! Being a child of God gives us the option to resist the temptation to return unpleasantness with more unpleasantness. Being a child of God allows us to choose to let the life of Christ within us respond in love. What a joyful way to ‘fill up in the flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.‘
The second great thing about ‘not feeling like enough’ is that it reveals this truth:
we are never enough when it comes to living like Christ.
If mankind could have disciplined itself into holiness, Jesus Christ would never have needed to suffer and die. It is Christ in me that is my hope of glory. Sometimes we need a solid reminder that we are not enough in this Christian life. No one lives without sin. Jesus freed us from the penalty and the power, but the presence of sin–in us and around us–is part of the human experience. That piercing sorrow of not being enough to fix a problem or help someone–it is the time to fall in reverence before the One who has it all in control!
Humility is the key to the Kingdom of Heaven. A reminder that we are not enough serves to draw us to the One who gives generously and beyond anything we can think to ask.So, whatever it is that has you feeling less than enough, give thanks to God–and let Him be your sufficiency!
Jesus of Nazareth, the Nazarene, is our focal point today. Though the Old Testament does not mention the village of Nazareth, Matthew declares that Jesus dwelt in Nazareth “that the words of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Jesus referred to Himself as ‘of Nazareth, demons used the title and the cross of our Lord bore the reference. That Jesus was of Nazareth—was a Nazarene—has tremendous significance for us.
Nazareth was a small village in Galilee near the border of Samaria. Passing by the village was a well-traveled trade route that would have brought the ‘world’ into view for residents. In the eyes of those passer-bys, Nazareth was a community of backward, uncultured people. Devout Jewish people looked down upon this village almost as much as they despised Samaritans. In the eyes of the religious, Nazareth was a community of pagans. Very few saw the truth of Nazareth from God’s view. Even the people of Nazareth failed to recognize Truth—for they would reject the One who came from them. The disciple Nathanel conveyed the sentiments of the day toward Nazareth with his question, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
Indeed, we know great good came from this despised village! As the Crusaders of the 12th century inscribed on a church erected in Nazareth, “Here the Word was made flesh.” For centuries, the prophets proclaimed the coming Messiah. Some prophesies revealed His Kingly nature—some His Suffering Servant role. Our human tendency is to hear and see that which promises pleasure: preferring power to persecution is human self-preservation. It is comfortable for us to be blind to Truth when it does not fit our plans and pre-conceived ideas. Our Jesus, the Nazarene, calls us to seek the Father’s perspective and His acceptance above all else. Jesus of Nazareth reminds us that God’s ways our not our ways.
Just as man erroneously judged the village of Nazareth, so, too, man mis-judges Jesus. As Isaiah prophesied of the coming Messiah, Jesus was ‘despised and rejected of men’. The plans of man have no room for suffering. Yet, God chose Nazareth as the hometown of the Savior because rejection of the world is the path to acceptance of God. Embracing the Nazarene, the One the world rejects, is the only way of acceptance for each one of us. Only in Him–the Beloved–can God accept us. This world, though created, loved and redeemed by Him, received Him not. The world prefers the darkness of its own plans above the Truth and Light of the Father’s plans. Love of the world cuts us off from the love of the Father. May our hearts rejoice that Jesus, our Savior, accepted the path of rejection that acceptance would be ours.
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God answers “Why” questions. He is not angry when we ask them; in fact, I think He likes them. God wants to reveal Himself to us, and He is always the answer to ‘Why?’ There are special people in the world who help us see the magnificence of the ways of God. Mary Daly is one such person. Born with Cerebral Palsy caused by a traumatic brain injury, God provided her with an inheritance of faith. The precious gift of a loving family and a faith-filled mom and grandmother built a solid foundation for Mary. She understood from her earliest days that God had a great plan for her life; Mary knew that the promise of Jeremiah 29:11 did not exclude those with different abilities!
But that did not mean life was easy. Multiple surgeries and excruciating physical therapy assaulted her body. Doctors said she would never walk. Life in a self-absorbed world cut Mary in different ways. When her physical limitations inconvenienced others, she found herself tossed aside. “I was the friend who was always disposable, biodegradable and recyclable.”
Mary shares that she questioned why God chose her to bear such burdens. She wondered why God healed others and not her. She questioned if the CP was a punishment of some sort…was God mad? Did she deserve this? Did He really love her?
Those griefs tore into Mary’s soul; ‘deep depression and crippling anxiety worse than the debilitating orthopedic pain’ blocked her view of the goodness of God. In that darkness, He continued to work and give gifts that helped her through. A love for horses became the key that unlocked the mystery of the love of God!Therapeutic horseback riding had been one of the best parts of Mary’s physical therapy. She developed a love for horses from those experiences. A family trip to Yellowstone National Park that included horseback riding built on that love.
“I was free to soak up every ounce of God’s great beauty with each beat of the horses’ hooves,” Mary enthuses.
A desire for more of that freedom—and formal riding lessons–began building in Mary. Questions plagued her mind: Could she balance well enough to ride? Would her walker frighten the horses? Would others accept her? Would there be a stable willing to work with her?
Complicating (one might think) the whole idea, Mary had just moved 350 miles to a tiny, rural county to attend college. In God’s inimitable way, she found in her tiny town a stable owned by a physical therapist—with a trainer who welcomed the challenges presented by a rider with cerebral palsy. God began to reveal His loving watch-care.
At the stable, the trainer chose a quiet, thoughtful mare named Annabelle as Mary’s mount. The clouds of doubt about the love of God began to roll away. The very first day of riding lessons, the trainer invited Mary to try a trot just ‘like every other student!” Amazed and overjoyed, Mary soared around the ring. Annabelle helped Mary gain core strength, balance and stamina. Practicing the post strengthened her leg muscles and soon Mary joyfully proved doctors wrong by walking a few steps on her own!
Before long, Mary began to desire a horse that could offer more challenge. She loved Annabelle but wished for a bit more pep. The trainer suggested a beautiful black named Jett. Though Mary promised not to lose that special bond with Annabelle, she soon became a fond memory. God gently pressed on Mary: ‘remember those friends who left you? It was not you; it was part of life.’ Understanding eased the losses of the past and increased her ability to accept her own worth and value. It also helped Mary to see life from a fuller perspective, and relationships became easier.
The stable itself helped Mary began to develop a network of friends. The common bond of love for horses, the camaraderie of sore muscles, opportunities to encourage and be encouraged: all worked together, allowing Mary to be a participant instead of a spectator. All of life began to make more sense. For the first time, she understood her brother’s love of sports. In the midst of life, Mary understood: God wanted to be in the middle of her life too. God did not want to be outside looking in either! He wanted to be the center of her life, the answer to every Why?!
In the context of life, God began revealing Himself! Mary began to see beautiful answers to her questions; the answers had never been far from her. They had been waiting for Mary to work them out in the midst of the things she loved. The foundation gifts of faith, hope and love that she always possessed helped her move into the answers as she followed her dreams. The adventure had only just begun.
Just like the love of God that has no end, her dreams grew. First, it was a saddle. “Just having my own tack seemed like the greatest thing in the world,” thought Mary. Indeed, she did enjoy that, but a bigger dream kept nudging in: she really wanted a horse of her own. After much prayer—and plenty of research, Mary approached her mom:
“God shows me little glimpses of heaven on the back of a horse,” she pleaded.
Before long the search for a horse began. Visit after visit to farms with horses for sale produced no horse that matched Mary. She began to wonder if God was telling her to move on and find a new dream. As they looked, Mary continued with riding lessons and grew in confidence. Finally, her mom found a horse she felt was perfect! Mary and the trainer were not so sure.
Since there was one more visit already scheduled, they went to see the horse. He was a large, 15.2 hand black beauty named Eclipse. Mary fell in love with his looks and his personality, and the trainer agreed, but Mom struggled with the height—and her affinity for the previous horse. Mary won her over, and Eclipse became her new partner in the grand adventure of life.
Eclipse intuitively seemed to understand both Mary’s needs and her desires to take on new challenges. Pole patterns, dressage work and doing diagonals kept them busy. Mary, deeply desiring as much independence as possible needed Eclipse to have some additional training. Mary used a mounting block at the stable but had no option for trail rides. Her trainer suggested finding someone to teach Eclipse to lie down for her to mount. Excited by the possibilities that would open up, Mary and her mother began searching for the right trainer.
The loving watch-care of God soon became evident with another miraculous provision. In a chance meeting at a local family restaurant, the Daly’s learned there was a world-renowned trainer right in their community. Despite a typically packed schedule, Mary’s story moved him, and he made room for Eclipse. The question of God’s love continued to be answered as Mary realized: “Everything I had prayed God would bless with me was mine. God has sent ‘angels to watch over me along this beautiful journey. I really do have a wonderful life!”
Mary’s story is one of extreme challenge and extreme blessing; yet it contains truth we all can see. God works in our lives in whatever way will draw us closest to Him. Nothing is too hard for Him to transform. Nothing is beyond His love and care for us. His ways are not ours; they are better. His love in the midst of life gives the answer to Why.
Every life has a story, and every life has impact on others. Walk with my friend as he found his way from despair to hope–and seeks to help others do the same!
Proverbs tells us that without vision, the people perish: God used some interesting lenses to focus the eyes of Tim…lenses one might expect to give a bleaker picture. A long harsh winter, the financial stress of unemployment, a deadening lack of purpose and funerals were some of God’s magnifiers. As his own hope dwindled and he contemplated suicide, God pierced Tim’s heart through the deaths of friends. Attending the wakes, Tim saw a sharp contrast between the hopelessness of those who lived only for this life and the life-honoring celebrations of home-going saints. The common end of all focused his eyes on his own responsibility to live well—to leave a legacy of life and hope for those who would come behind.
With that desire in place, Tim was again ready and able to feel the love of God. After one funeral, Tim stopped by his brother’s home and mentioned that it had been some time since he had made it a point to go to a church for any reason. His brother replied ‘it’s been 14 years’, and then went on to tell Tim he had been praying all that time for Tim to return to God. It was a prayer heard by God and now received in Tim’s own heart. Shortly after, some Christian friends sought Tim’s help with some home repair projects. Their lives were their testimony: the true concern they had for Tim broke through the hard defenses he had built. Their genuine concern had a profound effect. God’s love was having its way.
During a walk with his dogs one morning, the Spirit broke through and called Tim to humble himself before God, agree with God about his mistakes and turn back to the Father’s love that had never stopped. The beauty and blessing of Tim’s obedience is best in his own words:
“The words were hard—not because of confessing, but because I was weeping uncontrollably. Weeping and thanking God for more than one chance; weeping for the years lost and behind me for the waste they had been…when the prayer was finished, the burden lifted. It was a relief I hadn’t had in years…not just figuratively or spiritually but physically as well.”
Today Tim is a beloved part of a local church…actively living and loving in Jesus’ name.
God’s promises are real. Forgiveness and cleansing restore us. Our prayers and our love for others matter. Sit at the feet of Jesus and soak in His goodness…let us join Tim in embracing the blessing of confession and rejoicing in God’s gracious presence!