Tag Archives: Christianity

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

How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?

Back in the day the Bee Gees sang “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?”  It’s a question we all have to answer at some point in our lives.  I’m in the middle of a season of the broken heart right now.   I certainly don’t have all the answers and my strength and resolve fluctuates as I go through a grieving process.  I’m quite sure that is normal.  We can grieve many kinds of losses in life.  Sometimes it is not a person who dies, but very often it is dreams that die, and we have to face that reality.

Some things that have helped me tremendously so far on this particular journey are:  the support of family, the loving care of friends and community, my church, cards in the mail, having lived fifty-five years and having survived other heartaches, the counsel of wise mentors, prayer (this is a big one), encouragement, practical assistance, kind words, hugs, reading the Bible, and feeling the peace of God which passes all understanding.

It’s a long journey, these seasons of the broken heart.  But we have tremendous promises in the Bible to hold on to and know that the storms of life come, and at some point they dissipate.  The intensity of pain will not always feel the same as it might feel today for you and for me.  Hold on to hope if this is a season of the broken heart for you as well.

Here are some encouraging words from Streams in the Desert by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman:

Poverty, hardship and misfortune have pressed many a life to moral heroism and spiritual greatness. Difficulty challenges energy and perseverance.  It calls into activity the strongest qualities of the soul…Many a headwind has been utilized to make port.  God has appointed opposition as an incentive to faith and holy activity….If for you He has appointed special trials, be assured that in His heart He has kept for you a special place.

And some comforting words from Christ:

I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”  (John 16:33,  The Message)

 

 

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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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Heart-to-Heart Fellowship

It’s so good to be home, we both agreed.  Each of us, in different circumstances, transitioned in our careers and found ourselves working from home and being an everyday participant in our grandchildren’s lives.  Neither of us were planning for this outcome, but looking back we realized God had orchestrated this timing and as we talked, our appreciation for this special season of life increased.  Before we left we clasped hands and prayed thanking God for this time in our lives, for our friendship and gave Him some practical ” I-need-you-Lord-today” requests.

Matti

Matti (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The sweetness of Christian fellowship means that we can talk about the reality, struggle and heart aches in our lives and we can also bear witness to how God has turned around bad circumstances for good.  We share joy, we laugh.  We encourage each other and strengthen one another’s faith.  It is heart-to-heart.  Fellowship – true fellowship in which we are sharing about what Jesus is doing in our lives today, yesterday, and in this season.  Much more than visiting or socializing, fellowship is a precious bond that can be described in terms of spiritual chocolate – it’s just “the best.”  We are designed for relationships and fellowship fills us up to the brim.

Because God is love, he treasures relationships. His very nature is relational and he identifies himself in family terms: Father, Son and Spirit. – Rick Warren

Pastor Rick Warren at Saddleback Church.

Pastor Rick Warren at Saddleback Church. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

God is active and working in our lives today.  By sharing what our Heavenly Father is doing, how we are responding, and what treasures we are finding in His Word, we speak on the level of “brothers and sisters”.  That special relationship we enjoy is worthy of celebration and thanks.  Fellowship is heart-to-heart.

 

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Filed under Fellowship, Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

Friends and Ministers

They had no idea how much their visit meant and that they “made my day.”  We talked about real things, not the weather.   They had suffered a significant loss this year and we all talked about how much we all missed her.  She asked kindly about my struggles.  I knew I could share, or not, and they would be ok with either way the conversation went.  We didn’t pray but we talked about prayer.  We talked about how God is working in our lives, today, yesterday and recently.  We all agreed that God was good.  He shared about how he asks God to be a blessing to someone each day and the marvelous “divine encounters” he has experienced.  She talked about a great message she had heard, but did so after she had evidenced how much she cared for me.  Listening to her was like drinking in cool water after being out in the hot sun all day without a drink.  Her words soothed my soul because she talked about Jesus and encouraged me.  It was real fellowship, the way it is supposed to be.  They had no idea how much they encouraged me.  They came as friends, but truly, they are ministers.

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Filed under Fellowship, Minister, Relationships

Morning Prayer

In the quietness of this morning I consider a new day and the contents of my daytimer.  It is time to increase my time of prayer.  Oh Lord, how I need You!

There is some time scheduled in a doctor’s office with someone I love.  Lord I pray for the decrease of anxiety, for peace and the flowering of faith and trust in You.  There are some errands to be ran, and some necessary shopping.  Lord, for the divine encounters in the ordinary passages of life, may You prepare my heart.  Help me not to be so focused on the incidentals that I miss the big picture.  Thank you Lord for providing for us in this season of change.  May I be thankful.

English: Speak Lord For Thy Servant Hears

English: Speak Lord For Thy Servant Hears (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is some art work to be done today.  Thank you God for the joy in this – for it is in creating that I catch a glimpse of the You, the Great Creator and the obvious delight You took in creating us!  Today there is ministry for someone that needs Your healing touch.  Lord, I pray for Your direction, Your mercies, Your guidance, and for Your Word to speak powerfully to my heart, even as I speak and listen.

Estelle's Irises - named for a godly woman of prayer

Estelle’s Irises – named for a godly woman of prayer

Lord, where I have been preoccupied, where I have totally missed Your plan in the moment or the people You have put before me, where I have missed an opportunity to speak as You would have spoken, or just plain failed miserably, please forgive me.  This is a brand new day, Lord.  In the many things that are before me, help me not to forget that this is the day which You have made, may I rejoice and be glad in it.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

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Accepting Help

It is much more comfortable to be the one giving help.  Accepting help is against our grain in several instances.  If one is the serving type and loves to make everyone else feel welcome – then accepting help can be hard.  If one is a leader type and feels a weight of responsibility than being the one who needs help doesn’t feel quite right.  And again, if we tend to be independent, then, help means dependence.  There are many instances where we can find ourselves resisting the love and concern of others through practical acts of care they want to do to help us.

While Christianity causes us to be “givers” instead of “takers,” there is a time and season for many things in life.  We are commanded to work hard and to be self-sacrificing.  But sometimes it is our turn to humbly accept help.  Humility is a Christ-like characteristic.

Elijah was a mighty prophet.  God worked through him tremendously.  Elijah stood against 450 false prophets of Baal and challenged them to a “bake-off.”  Really, it was about Elijah offering a sacrifice to the one and only true God and proving to the whole community that the worship of Baal was idol worship. The God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob was not pleased with the worship of other gods.  The results were amazing.  Then Elijah prayed for much-needed rain, and it poured.  Not only did God dramatically answer his prayer, Elijah ran a race with a chariot and won!  Talk about a spiritual high!  In all these events Elijah was a spiritual leader.

English: Elijah Resuscitating the Son of the W...

English: Elijah Resuscitating the Son of the Widow of Zarephath (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then it happened.  The evil woman Jezebel threatened Elijah, and Elijah freaked out.  Elijah fled for his life.  In a short amount of time he found himself alone, exhausted and depressed.  He asked God to take his life.

English: Jezabel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Na...

English: Jezabel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Naboth’s Vineyard Giclee. Print by Sir Frank Dicksee. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Elijah needed help.

The rest of the story is recorded in I Kings 19, but in short, Elijah needed some physical things to help him regain his emotional stability, his mental equilibrium, and strengthen his faith.  Elijah was encouraged to sleep, eat, drink water and sleep some more.  Then he went to be alone with God and pray.

Elijah in the wilderness, by Washington Allston

Elijah in the wilderness, by Washington Allston (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Elijah’s healthy perspective returned.

We all need help sometimes.  Followers of Christ are united into what the Bible describes as “the body of Christ,” meaning that although we all work in different ways, we are all important and needed.  Like a physical body, some parts are more prominent, but each has a function that is vital to the health of the whole body.  We help each other.  No matter what part of that “body” we play, in some season of life we will need to help of others and we do well to accept that help.

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God.  There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

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Filed under Crisis, Depression, Fear & Anxiety, Grief & Loss

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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The Class You Don’t Want to Take

As I paint in my artist studio I try to listen to uplifting music or messages from preachers and speakers I respect and from whom I am eager to learn.  Today, while I was working on a painting of a wedding portrait with a stained glass background, I took in a session of Beth Moore‘s Jesus the One and Only that was filmed in Israel.  Beth’s messages resonate with me because of her knowledge, the way she connects in a personal way with her audience, her humble nature and sense of humor.  She is a terrific communicator but does not water down the message to try to make it popular.  But popular, she is – and for good reason.

Today Beth talked about losing a following with an important person in her life because she wasn’t as funny as she used to be and did not shrink back from tough issues.  Life is difficult  and a lot of people are hurting.  I caught myself saying “amen” out loud several times as the video rolled on.

We live in a culture that loves to be entertained and we financially reward those who help us escape mentally for awhile be it through sports, films, or with popular music.  Nothing wrong with those things, but those who are hurting still need someone real with a sensitive ear to listen, some hope from the reality of faith in Christ and encouragement from the Scriptures.

Day 442: Precious

Day 442: Precious (Photo credit: amanky)

Jesus with little one

Jesus with little one (Photo credit: freestone)

God equips normal every day people for this task of listening, hope-giving and encouragement and His school for such ministry is called The Academy of Suffering and Sorrow.  Wouldn’t you know it, no one intentionally signs up for one of those classes.  But once they are in the academy something wonderful can happen.  The suffering and sorrow is not the wonderful part.  But those who have been trained by such are able to lend a hand, an ear and a heart to a hurting world and let others know that God is going to get them through this difficult time.  These academy graduates know because God was faithful to them in their time of need.  Their resolve was strengthened, their belief became more than intellectual and their faith made real.   Now their outlook is deeper and they can handle bigger punches from life, their attitude brighter and they are full of hope.  God can mould us by His “thundering velvet hand” and make us sweeter for the encounter.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.  He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.  When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.    II Corinthians 1:3-4

 

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Filed under Grief & Loss, Suffering

Rock Solid Identity

What is your identity?  Who are you?

We wrestle with those questions from Jr. High days on forward.  Our identity colors what we think about ourselves, how we choose to act and with what our hearts resonate.

We often think of a relationship when considering our identity.  A parent of, a child of, a spouse of etc.  Or we think in terms of our vocation, our occupation.  I am a ………..butler, a banker, a candlestick maker.  Or we may identify with our favorite pastime – a fan of a sports team, a “skater,” a “surfer,” a “blogger,” a quilter.”

When we identify ourselves in one of those areas our worlds can be quickly shaken if something goes a rye.  If our pride and joy is being a parent and our kids make choices that break our hearts we wonder if we are good at anything at all.  Or if we are very proud of our parents and they are our stability in life, then when one of them makes a decision that makes us ashamed, our world is rocked.   If we are all about our business ventures and they go south, again, an identity crisis.  If our self-concept has to do with our physical health and that changes then we re-evaluate who we are in this season of life.

The only rock solid identity is that of a child of God.  No one can take that away.  No life change can break the cement of that relationship made available through Jesus Christ.  Hear the words of David, when he was in trouble:

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and He turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire.  He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.  He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see what He has done and be amazed.  They will put their trust in the Lord.

Faith in the One who will never leave us or forsake us provides a strong foundation for our identity.  From Mrs. Charles E. Cowman, author of Streams in the Desert:

Faith rests on the naked Word of God.  When we take Him at His Word the heart is at peace.

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Filed under Fear & Anxiety, Identity