Tag Archives: spirituality

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.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Broken Dreams, Storms of Life

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Storms of Life

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.

2 Comments

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

Tug of War

There’s a tug of war in the believer’s heart and one side wants what it wants when it wants.  That’s the self.  On the other side is the part of our heart that truly wants to please our Maker.  On our journey with Christ spiritual growth means that the side that wants to please the Lord is gaining the upper hand.  Oh, how our culture screams in the opposite direction!  We hear a lot about “me.”  “Me time,” “What’s best for me,” “What makes me happy.”  We tend to hear and “I love Jesus” rather than “Jesus loves me.”

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church http://www.stjohnsashfield.org.au, Ashfield, New South Wales. Illustrates Jesus’ description of himself “I am the Good Shepherd” (from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11). This version of the image shows the detail of his face. The memorial window is also captioned: “To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of William Wright. Died 6th November, 1932. Aged 70 Yrs.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How do we know if we love Jesus?  Is it primarily a feeling or an intellectual nod to the things He said or what we think about Him? Do we “love Jesus” because He is cool or fashionable?   A writer named John in the Bible said it pretty plainly:

But those who obey God‘s Word truly show how completely they love Him.  That is how we know we are living in Him.  Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.  I John 2:5-6 (NLT)

Obedience and following His example…two things that do not come “naturally” to the human heart!  It’s against our grain – contrary to our independent, seemingly “self-sufficient” nature!  But why should it surprise us that loving God means to be obedient to Him and follow His example?  Don’t we want this from our children?  As parents we want what is best for them, and we recognize being able to take direction even if they don’t understand it is for their own benefit and protection.  No!  Do not put your finger in that light socket!  No, do not run into the street!  No, do not drink that orange scented shampoo!

As parents having our children simply say they love us but reject our instruction and example would indicate that there is no real love at all – just maybe a warm fuzzy affection, at times.  God could have created us without a free will and made us completely obedient beings.  But genuine love cannot exist without the ability to make a decision of our own free will –  from the heart – to obey even when we don’t understand or feel like it.

The only reliable means of measuring our love for God is to examine whether we obey Him.  – From Seeking Him by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Tim Grissom

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Discipleship

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Fear & Anxiety

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.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Storms of Life

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.

2 Comments

Filed under Fear & Anxiety, Identity

Broken Dreams and Soft Hearts

When I was in Bible school studying Wisdom Literature, one of the assignments was to read the book of Job in three different versions of the Bible.  For my devotional times I am enjoying the New Living Translation which speaks pretty much like we do – with a certain casual cadence.

When we think of Job we think of broken dreams, and he had many.  The worst of course was the loss of his children.  It is said to be a parent is to forever have your heart walking around in someone else’s body.  We can’t control what happens to our children nor control what they do – but our hearts are so intertwined with their lives.  Job had a long list of things in his life to grieve.  Broken dreams can top most of our lists when it comes to grieving our losses.  It’s the “what could have been” in life that often sets us to plains of sadness.  What resolution is there for broken dreams?

Well, the last seven verses in the book of Job shed some light and give us hope.  After his time of great suffering Job found relief from his troubles.  It is important to remember our times of crisis have beginnings AND endings.  It won’t always feel so bad as it may feel today.  God directed Job to pray for his so-called friends.  They were the people who were great friends and grievers for seven days and then they started talking, which was their downfall.  All their advice was just salt in the wound of a hurting friend.  When Job was down his friends verbally beat him up.  But at the end, as part of His restoration of Job, God tells Job pray for his friends.  And as Job prays (it’s hard to be unforgiving when praying for someone) God restores Job’s fortunes.

The end of Job tells of the goodness that comes his way.  His life was blessed more than at the beginning.  There is an end to the story.  If Job had harbored any ill will against his friends, even though they were in the wrong, the happy ending could not have been accomplished.

As Job journeyed through his season of broken dreams he kept his heart soft, as difficult as it was, and lived to see great things.  In our season of broken dreams, keeping our hearts soft is sometimes the hardest thing.  It’s much easier to default to anger, depression or bitterness.  But this is not what God wants for us – He wants to “restore our fortunes” and heal our hearts.  The end can be better than the beginning, and the key to this is the condition of our hearts as we travel through some of life’s broken dreams.

Leave a comment

Filed under Broken Dreams