Tag Archives: Christian

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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Filed under Decisions, Leadership Issues, Storms of Life

Peace in the Hurly-Burly

Every human soul longs for peace.  Ask fifty people their definition of peace and chances are you will hear fifty varied responses!  A short concordance definition gives these definitions for peace:

A state of tranquility or quiet;  a pact or agreement to end hostilities between those who have been at war or in a state of enmity; harmony in personal relations, especially with God;  a state of security or order within a community;  freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions.

Of all the above definitions “harmony in personal relations, especially with God” trumps all other forms of peace.  Although we desire them all, when we are at peace with our Creator, our perspective changes.  Although all the pieces of our lives may not fit the puzzle, it is still o.k. when we have God’s peace!  The people I look up to in life do not live lives of ease, rather they are those who have had great troubles, and have come to a place of peace in the midst of their trials of life.  My dear friends with cancer, a mentor whose faith burned brightly with a sharp and articulate mind, even as she faced death, my friend whose heart ached by unfair mistreatment from another, the couple whose adult child is currently in the grips of chemical addiction, the one who spoke of God’s faithfulness even when her world fell apart by choices she had made.  When she regained her faith she was able to point to this verse:

Jesus said,

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.

Take heart, be encouraged – there is a bigger picture that what we now see.  Perspective changes everything.

We experience God’s peace when we are able to give over the things in our lives that do not make sense, the things that trouble us, the circumstances for which we have no control.  These trials of life are not allowed so that we lose hope.  Rather in giving these over to God we grow in trust and faith in Him and His ability to make good out of what is now seemingly bad.

Not a few Christians live in a state of unbroken anxiety, and others fret and fume terribly.  To be perfectly at peace amid the hurly-burly of daily life is a secret worth knowing…People know you live in the realm of anxious care by the lines on your face, the tones of our voice, the minor key of your life, and the lack of joy in your spirit…Come, my soul, return unto thy rest, and lean thy head upon the bosom of the Lord Jesus.”   -Mrs. Charles E. Cowman, Streams in the Desert

The Serenity prayer points out that there are things under our control, and things that are not.  It is in the things that are not, that we can place into the hands of God in growing trust.  His peace is worth it all, and provides amazing strength for the next page of our life’s story.

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A Story, An Allegory, A Life Transformed

“O God, if there is a God anywhere, you must make yourself real to me.  If you exist and are really what people describe you to be, you can’t leave me like this,”

cried out a nineteen-year old Hannah Hurnard who was suffering both mental and physical anguish.

Hannah’s life was changed in that moment of crisis from someone who was contemplating suicide into someone who would develop the hope, faith and strength to help change many people’s lives through her writing.  A sweet friend gave me a copy of Hannah’s book, Hinds’ Feet on High Places, a powerful allegory of her life journey.  It is a story of a echoed theme of those who have  faced unbearable pain, in some form, and in their time of agony have turned to God and found that times of suffering become the foundation of understanding to their life’s meaning and the means of creating compassion for other people.

Hanna’s moment of crisis is not too far removed from David of the Bible when in Psalm 25:16-18 he writes,

“Turn to me and have mercy, for I am alone and in deep distress.  My problems go from bad to worse.  Oh, save me from them all!  Feel my pain and see my trouble.  Forgive all my sins.”

The thoughts and feelings are so common that at countless memorials with which I was involved chose Psalm 23 which declares:

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.  Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.”  Psalm 23:4

The good news that changed Hannah Hurnard’s life and the lives of countless others is that God listens and God cares and makes Himself real.  When in doubt of God’s love for us, we need look no further than the cross of Christ where Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice to save us both from those things which we suffer through on earth, and for life forever with Him in heaven.  Psalm 23 ends with:

Surely goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.”  Psalm 23:6

Lives are saved, restored and given new meaning and purpose when in that moment of crisis we turn in faith to God and cry out like Hannah did, “you must make yourself real to me.”  In the quietness of our hearts and the sincerity of our motives, God is faithful to not only make Himself real, but to turn our lives around, and give us the gifts of joy despite circumstances and peace of heart and mind.

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Filed under Book Recommendations, Depression

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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Why I Loved the Addicts

Why you ask?…in a word, honesty.  The answer seems so opposite of what one would expect.  Addiction by its nature involves lying.  Typically when caught up  in an addiction one becomes a good actor.  Some would say we are caught up in denial.  In the book of Jeremiah we are told, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things…Who really knows how bad it is?”

But my experience with the addicts came about through prayer meetings where a small group of people who were formerly enslaved to chemical addictions came together and said, “we want to start a Celebrate Recovery.”  Through the next few months we prayed together and I found myself sharing at a level with this group things I haven’t shared with any other Bible Study group.  Why?  Because this group of people had come to a place in their sobriety and more significantly in their relationship with Jesus that they had confessed it all to Him and at least another person.  In that confession and honesty they experienced a freedom they never knew before and an ability to share the real story of their lives.  We are all human, and we all struggle.  There were no “church faces” in this group.  Christianity was real and raw and very attractive because Christ met each person in this group at the point of their deepest need.  When they said “I’m a grateful believer in Jesus Christ,” they meant it, and it showed.

With that level of honesty came acceptance, understanding, encouragement, and a lot of support.  I never forgot the experience, and doubt I will ever “recover” from it either.

We tried to launch a Celebrate Recovery, and it ran for ten months.  In that time we saw many people come through our doors.  There were a variety of issues.  Someone was suicidal, another definitely under the influence, many newly clean and off alcohol, prescription drugs and meth, some that struggled with porn,  and some from broken marriages.  There were victims of domestic and sexual abuse and those who struggled with gambling and some who were just plain hurting.  We ate together.  We worshiped together.  Someone would share their life story, called a testimony.  We prayed, we confessed our sins and we talked about how Jesus was helping us and we shared real life together.

Once one experiences this kind of fellowship it leaves a lasting impression.  And so, I loved the addicts in that group.  They taught me some valuable soul lessons.  It is in the brokenness of life that we find the humility to admit, no, I don’t have it all together.  But I’m much better than I used to be because Jesus has rescued me from myself.  And I’m a grateful believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with…change.

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