Category Archives: Storms of Life

The Fuel of Suffering

Family watching television, c. 1958

Family watching television, c. 1958 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imagine if you will that we are in the studio audience for a game show.   Now look on stage at the three doors you and I could choose – consider this:

  1. 1.     Behind door number one – an extreme makeover for your house – your dream home right here.  It could be in the most wonderful, as they say in real estate, location, location, location.  It comes complete with choice of style, the most amazing appliances in a dream kitchen, a garage-workshop lined with the best power tools, and curb appeal to impress any and all guests.
  2. Behind door number two is the perfect family.  Everyone is on their best behavior, everyone gets along and they are your pride and joy.  Enough said.
  3. 3.     And behind door number three is a simple sign that says, “Suffering that you might grow closer to Christ.”

Our human natures wouldn’t let us to choose and open that third door.  We wouldn’t.  As much as we would like to think we would, none of us wants to suffer.

As difficult as it is to consider, here are some positive things suffering can do:

  • Suffering establishes a common denominator with others who suffer in different ways.  It might be health issues, an aggressive cancer, a financial reversal, a job loss, the loss of someone close to us through death, the end of a treasured relationship, the list goes on….but when we accept suffering, unjust as it may be, we “get” the suffering of others and can give and receive sympathy on a whole new level.
  • Suffering can make us more tender-hearted and compassionate and use the fueled energy for something good.  Many powerful society-changing movements are birthed out of suffering.  We are seldom moved to sacrificial action when life is easy.  It takes those circumstances that tear us apart inside to give us the courage, determination and energy to make a difference. 
  • Suffering saves us from living a superficial mediocre life. 
  • Suffering helps us understand what is important, and what is not.
  • Suffering shines the light on what position God holds in our lives.
  • Suffering helps us to identify with Christ with the realization that He suffered more and so He understands on a level of no one else.  What Jesus willingly took on in submitting to a crucifixion is described as excruciating mentally, physically and spiritually.  Jesus “gets” our suffering.
  • Suffering can increase our thirst to know Christ more intimately.
  • Suffering refines us.  It is a tough process, but suffering is able to burn away things like pride, a self-sufficient attitude, a tendency toward resentment and a host of other things that can cause war within our souls.
  • Suffering enlarges our ability to trust in God alone for our future.
  • Suffering makes us long for heaven.  Suffering helps us understand it’s not all here and now and that some day in His timing, God will have the final word on everything.

We would never in a million years choose suffering.  But when it chooses us we can purpose ourselves and encourage each other to search out those silver linings to the dark clouds on our horizons.  How grateful I am for the kind words, selfless work and encouragements given to me.  They have made many days endurable, comforting and even hopeful.  Maybe our suffering will be used – somehow in someway – to make a brighter day for someone else.   Just perhaps something significant will grow out of the unlikely soil of anguish.  That gives a sense of hope when we are deep in hurt.  We all want something that outlasts us and our suffering, painful though it is, is an oft-used vehicle for powerful positive change.

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Filed under Broken Dreams, Storms of Life, Suffering

Musings on Troubles, Faith and the Goodness of God

Are you weighed down by troubles?

The journey of faith for a believer in Christ is, it seems, a series of mountains that we climb.  We would like to think that the life of “following Him” makes life easier and we sometimes find ourselves perplexed at having trials.  Or perhaps we are perplexed at the kind of trials we endure.  They seem random, or the perfect “non-fit” for us.  While we are promised that God desires to give us an abundant life, the implications of “full and meaningful” seem contrary to the troubles we sometimes experience.

FAITH

FAITH (Photo credit: cacigar)

To be sure everyone in the human race has ups and downs.  For the believer, the “mountain top experiences” can be so exhilarating that their memory propels us on even as we go through a season bombarded with troubles.  I don’t believe the only purpose of good times is to get us through bad times, but they often help.  They are memories of God’s faithfulness and what gets us through is not the going back in our mind to good and pleasant times so much but the reminder that  God was good to us then and He will continue to be good to us in the future.  We learn to think on a deeper level about what “good” means.  We would prefer an existence without anxiety, but we find it is very human to experience such.  Some chapters of life can become overwhelming, especially if our focus is on the problems without a vision beyond them.

God, the Master Artist is working out a Masterpiece in our lives not only for our benefit, but for those around us. Like the pain-staking work of Michelangelo, and infinitely more, sometimes the sculptor’s tools have to break off some sharp edges to make the God-given potential within us fulfilled.  His divine purposes, though often not easy, are infinitely good.  The building up of our faith has great meaning to Him, and vital to the final picture.  We cannot possibly envision the unveiling and that’s where we get caught up.  We just want to understand, but faith is not about understanding, it is about trust.

The author of Streams in the Desert quotes spiritual giant George Mueller in responding to the question as to the best way to have strong faith:

The only way to learn strong faith is to endure great trials.  I have learned my faith by standing firm amid severe testings.”

A “severe testing” carries with it a temptation, and that temptation is to give up.  Giving up can mean many things.  It can be as seemingly subtle as becoming cynical, to forfeiting the hopes we have based our lives upon and worse.  Instead of placing our broken dreams in God’s hands we elect to hold it tight which can make us bitter.  At many levels giving up is dangerous to our souls.  If we believe our troubles serve no eternal purpose or of trivial meaning then we are in a fragile place that can cause us to give in to depression or despondency.

Madame Guyon said,

I entreat you, give no place to despondency. This is a dangerous temptation – a refined, not a gross temptation of the adversary.  Melancholy contracts and withers the heart, and renders it unfit to receive the impressions of grace.  It magnifies and gives a false coloring to objects, and thus renders your burdens too heavy to bear.  God’s designs regarding you, and His methods of bring about these designs are infinitely wise.”

It is in that infinite wisdom of God that we see colors that are true-to-life.  This requires the spectacles of faith. An intense focus on our troubles make them appear larger than life.  Large though the testing may be, within the scope of God’s purposes, personal pain can carve and craft our souls like an exquisite sculptor until every perfect detail is in place.  We cannot see the image in the Great Sculptor’s mind, but we can trust in His goodness, His vision, His perfect artistry and the promise of tumultuous joy after a long night of tears.  And that kind of joy is not trivial but magnificent.  For if we have been educated in the school of tears we see more clearly and have developed a capacity to experience joy and contentment on a level never before experienced.  Truly the storm clouds develop the most brilliant silver lining before our eyes when we least expect it!  When we see a glimpse of the purposes revealed, there is great cause for celebration!

Child of God, there is hope ahead.  As much as we would like it to, it is human to see our hope in the solving of our problems.  But when we experience the peace of God, right in the middle of the unsolved riddles of life, therein is a soul and rest with a capacity to receive all good ahead that God has planned.

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Parable of the Plum Tree

But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God…II Corinthians 1:9b

The mature flowering plum-tree in our front yard, with its dark maroon leaves and divided kid-friendly trunk, stands in high contrast to the white Victorian picket fence and white-barked birch next door.  Driving from either way down the street it is the way to spot our house.  It’s a landmark.  But it wasn’t always so.

Twenty-two years ago we picked out the rather long overgrown twig at Dorothy’s nursery in Carlotta.  We planted it on a mound in the front of our newly constructed home and had to tether it to large wooden poles to keep it from blowing away or being damaged.  On its own it was still fragile.

Decorative blooming of a plum tree

Decorative blooming of a plum tree (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Months passed.  The day came to remove the poles.  The tree had grown to a place where it could stand on its own. and to keep the poles there would mean that the tree would not gain the internal strength it needed to stand against the wind and rain.  For it to continue to mature, the supports needed to be taken away.

Sometimes in life our supports, either willingly or against our will, are taken away.  It may because of a change in health, the loss of someone important in our inner circle, a move, a job change, or a variety of other life circumstance.  We find that the people we leaned on for spiritual strength are no longer available in the same way they once were.

This is a time of decision.

Do we frantically try to find support replacements, or do we allow God to take away those “poles” so that we might fully lean on Him?

While Christianity is lived in community, there are some deep and shadowed passages of the soul that one can only walk with Jesus alone.  In those times we either made daily decisions that will result in either cooling off spiritually or embracing Him more fully.

When we come to a place where God is all we have, we find that God is all we need.

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No Business of Mine

Personality tests come in various shapes, sizes and colors, so I’ve learned.  At a Christian women’s retreat a couple of years back the leadership team decided to use a short, fun, colorful personality test both as an ice breaker and way to divide into teams.  This particular quiz divided the room full of women into “reds,” (outgoing, take charge individuals), “yellows” (conscientious rule-followers and hard workers), “blues,” (tender-hearted harmony seeking people) and a minority of “greens,” (thinkers, learners and problem solvers).  While all these tests are just indications, and it is pointed out that most people have more than one “color,” this quiz indicated a predominance toward these characteristics.  I was a green.  Greens like logical approaches and need to know the “why” behind decisions and like to think of helpful solutions.

This image (when viewed in full size, 1000 pix...

This image (when viewed in full size, 1000 pixels wide) contains 1 million pixels, each of a different color. The human eye can distinguish about 10 million different colors. Judd, Deane B. Wyszecki, Günter (1975). Color in Business, Science and Industry . Wiley Series in Pure and Applied Optics (3rd ed.). New York : Wiley-Interscience. p. 388. ISBN 0471452122. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The life of faith in Christ has a particular challenge for the “greens” among us.  The very essence of faith means we usually don’t know the “why” and we don’t get to create the helpful solution.  We place much in God’s hands and trust that He is indeed working all things together for the good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose (reference:  Romans 8:28).  Then we trust, wait and obey.

In the classic devotional, Streams in the Desert, a verse from Joel is the basis for a great comment by C.H. Spurgeon.  First the verse:

And it shall come to pass that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered.  (Joel 2:32)

All of us, no matter what personality “color” we lean towards can find ourselves in that “whosoever.”  When we come upon troubles and trials and perplexing situations we can take these words of C.H. Spurgeon to heart:

Charles Spurgeon (C.H. Spurgeon)

Charles Spurgeon (C.H. Spurgeon) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My case is urgent, and I do not see how I am to be delivered;  but this is no business of mine.  He who makes the promise will find ways and means of keeping it.  It is mine to obey His commands;  it is not mine to direct His counsels.  I am His servant, not His solicitor.  I call upon Him, and He will deliver.  C.H. Spurgeon

Even as a “green,” is so comforting to know the final outcome of that which concerns me is not my deal, it’s His business.

 

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Unanswered Prayers

Some of God’s greatest blessings may be in unanswered prayers.  That may not be theologically correct…exactly.  Unanswered prayer is what we are feeling sometimes, not the reality of what is happening in the heavenlies.  There are many Biblical references that substantiate that God hears every prayer and knows every intent and motive in our hearts.  It’s just that when we do not experience any outward sign of our petition that we think that perhaps God did not hear.  But because He loves us in a deeper way than we can comprehend, sometimes He holds back.  It is restrained grace.

God the Father 16

God the Father 16 (Photo credit: Waiting For The Word)

Sometimes our prayers are focused on the surface – changes that we believe would make our lives go on a little easier.  The requests no doubt line up with God’s will.  We pray for people in our lives and the choices made that cause them harm, ourselves included.  But sometimes it is in the waiting, the longing, even the suffering that His restrained grace has it’s full effect.

The Apostle Paul, when going through a troubling time wrote these words:

We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia.  We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it.  In fact we expected to die.  But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves, and learned to rely only on God…We placed our confidence in Him, and He will continue to rescue us.  II Corinthians 1:8-9a,10b

 

English: Saint paul arrested

English: Saint paul arrested (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Our lives are messy.  God is not any less loving than the parent or grandparent that steps back and allows the learning to take place, knowing it is for our ultimate good.  God’s plans and purposes are so much deeper than ours, and His restrained grace is always full of meaning and care.

In Psalm 77 the writer lamented:

When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord.  All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted.”

But later in the Psalm when the writer regained his composure and insight he wrote:

But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;  I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.  They are constantly in my thoughts.  I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.

Both the Apostle Paul and the Psalmist recognized the mind game that unanswered prayer seems to be.  However God doesn’t play mind games.  It is a mental and emotional challenge for us and step of obedience for us to accept with trust His restrained grace for our good and His glory.  Paul in his troubled time learned to rely on God.  The Psalmist comprehended the importance of mentally reviewing how God had been faithful in the past and his thought patterns changed as a result.  He was able to see that, this too, is still in the hands of the Almighty.

May that which concerns your heart be committed to His restrained grace, and may you experience that day when the tears are ended with the night and you know the full joy of the morning.  Hang in there.

 

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Tenderhearted

As we lay down for a bedtime story my little five-year old granddaughter listened as I told her about the anointing of David to be King of Israel, even though he was just the baby in the family and not even thought worthy of consideration.  God looks at our hearts, I explained to her.  People just look at our outsides, God sees everything within.

Israel

Israel (Photo credit: tamar_levine)

The human heart can only be judged by God alone.  We sometimes think we know another person’s motives, but truly, God alone knows motive.  Oh, for the ability to see people as God does – from the heart perspective!  How thankful I am that God deals with me according to my heart – not my popularity, looks, financial situation, fame or any such external.

God the Father 05

God the Father 05 (Photo credit: Waiting For The Word)

It is so easy to get caught up in the way others view us – and that can have an effect on the condition of our hearts.  We ought often to remember that we play to a “one man audience,” and His opinion of us is the one that counts.  God knows how prone we are to allow other people and situations and things to become more important to us than they should.  The Old Testament speaks a lot of about the worship of idols which seem unrealistic and bizarre to us now, but the heart of people remain the same.  We tend to put other things in the place in our heart reserved for God alone – and that always causes trouble.   It starts spiritual heart disease, and changes our spiritual health.  It solidifies our hearts when they were meant to be soft and tender.  David was called a man after God’s own heart – because of the condition of his heart.  He still did things wronged and committed some devastating sins.  But when he repented he did it with his whole being and his heart condition returned to a gentle state before the Lord.

The prophet Ezekiel gave us words of hope for the human heart:

And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new Spirit within them.  I will take away their stony stubborn heart and given them a tender responsive heart so they will obey my decrees and regulations.  Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God.  Ezekiel 11:19-20.

God the Father 01

God the Father 01 (Photo credit: Waiting For The Word)

There are many things that can be instruments to harden our hearts – disappointments, hurts, betrayal, rejection, financial reversals, tragedy, and the list goes on.  A human heart either becomes harder or softer one tiny decision at a time.  Turning to God exactly at that moment when our hearts hurt allows positive change to take place.  It’s a daily surrender.  Being able to trust God even when life is hard restores our hearts to its tenderness, giving us supernatural peace to face our circumstances and genuine hope to help others along the way.

 

 

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Eeyore and the Psalms

I had two friends that both underwent a similar medical procedure.  Afterward they both described their experience to me in detail, with one important difference.  One, who viewed life with an optimistic flare accentuated her report of her medical experience with “it was cool!”  The other, whose life outlook relates to Winnie the Pooh’s friend, Eeyore, kept saying, “it was terrible.”  Same procedure, different perception.  One approached the situation with a sense of wonder, the other thought the sky was falling.

“Storms of life” come to all of us.  My pastor has often said, we are either going into a storm, in the middle of the storm, or coming out of a storm.  In reading through the Psalms we see this truth in the life of David.  And sometimes David was like my optimistic friend and other times he had his “Eeyore” moments.  But what I like about David is though at times he starts a Psalm with an Eeyore voice, he interrupts himself, reminds himself of God’s faithfulness and goodness in the past and ends the Psalm with hope and trust in God.

From Psalm 61:1-4 (NLT):  “O God, listen to my cry!  Hear my prayer!  From the ends of the earth, I cry to You when my heart is overwhelmed.  Lead me to the towering rock of safety, for you are my safe refuge, a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me.  Let me live forever in your sanctuary, safe beneath the shelter of Your wings!”

Lord, if my mind starts going down a negative road today, please interrupt my thoughts and help me to remember that You are the rock of my life and help me to cling to Your promise that You are working out all things in my life for good.  Amen.

 

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