Tag Archive for trials

Family Update and Book Recommendation!

How do you explain it when you are on the launch team of your friend’s newly released book “Gracelaced”, and through a series of unfortunate events and mail-mishaps, the MIA book lands straight in your lap two weeks “late”

the very week your doctor uses the dreaded word (cancer) and your child’s name in the same sentence and tells you that you’ll need to set up a biopsy?

How do you describe the ministry of paint mixed with scripture and gospel-words that flow off the page and straight into your hurting heart?

I call it a gift from God.

As I sat on my back patio last week, a bundle of nerves, fighting fear, God used Ruth’s book to comfort and challenge my thinking.

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I want to tell you about Ruth’s book because it is so jam-packed with truth on every page:
“Look past the thorn to how Christ is enough in the midst of it. His grace is sufficient for the thorn He chooses not to remove.”
“Joseph fixed his eyes on the ultimate purpose of his affliction: to know the Lord’s faithfulness to accomplish His will in and through a life dependent on Him.”
“You don’t have to be blooming to be growing, so don’t give up. God demonstrating His glory through your dependency is your real story…”
“I know from experience that it is loving for God not to leave me to myself. Ease, comfort, self-sufficiency, pride, love for self, and inattentiveness to sin will all prevent true growth if left unattended.”
“We call if forgiveness when we’ve moved on, but I think forgiveness is when you let tenderness move in.”

It want to recommend this beautiful book to you (it’s still on pre-sale for nearly half price on Amazon!) and THANK YOU for praying for our daughter. We went on Friday to the surgeon and received the best possible news: the spot in question is just plain gone, friends. No biopsy needed as it’s gone without a trace. No scarring. No remnant. Nothing. We are in shock and awe and so very thankful to God for answering our prayer.

*This post contains affiliate links at no cost to you. I received this book free and this review is my honest assessment.

For when you are not okay

Summer awakens my senses. After a cold New England winter, the warmth of the softened ground gives way to growth and I love everything about it. The smell of freshly cut grass, the sounds of Katydids and frogs in the pond on summer nights, the smell of sunscreen and salt water as we watch the ocean crash wildly in front of us. It soothes, mentally and physically.

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I’ve been alive long enough to know that some seasons are like this, full of robust growth. Kids are thriving, I am thriving. Life lessons sink in deep with grace. My inner man is aware of God. My heart is rooted in His word, grounded in truth, and the fruit is evident. Change is happening and I know it.

But other seasons, wilderness seasons, are different. Growth is hard. Appetites are dull. Senses seem unaware. Hearts are numb. Trouble abounds. The inner man is cold and soil of the heart un-tillable. Nobody seems to learn their lessons. Everyone is hurting and out of sorts. Life is plodded through instead of lived alive and joyfully, and getting through the day is the main goal.

Many of my friends are RIGHT NOW in the midst of trials, and it breaks my heart to know they are hurting. We can all struggle for a while and be “okay”, but when the struggle lasts for years on end, we get worn thin and depleted. Though I can’t write about specifics (nor would I) I am sobered by their pain, knowing we will all go through unbearable heartache at some point in our life. Sometimes husbands don’t pan out to be the knight in shining armor we married. Sometimes church members act dumb and hurt others. Kids rebel and make life altering choices. Health leaves. Money is short. Resources sparse. Sometimes people never change. Or maybe our own loved one is self-destructing and there’s nothing we can do about it.

For all my friends who are hurting and struggling, who are going through tough seasons and are basically non-existent emotionally, I hope this post is encouraging to you. Nobody wants to hurt or be depressed, and it’s torture when you know you just “aren’t right” and don’t want to be this way. What now?

I know you don’t want to feel this way. You are usually “fully alive” and this season is wearing you down.

For my friend who just recently told me that she doesn’t really desire anything right now,

and for the lady who wrote that her faith is wavering,

and for anyone out there who is waking up to their own foolishness and realizing that your own actions landed you in the place you are,

and for the woman who has been numb so long that she’s wondering if she’ll ever come through the hurt,

can I just encourage you to hang on a little while longer and to stop adding to your grief by beating yourself up for being human? To stop assuming that your grief is not okay with God, as though sorrow and mourning and downright lamentation is some sort of sin?

Can you believe me for a minute when I tell you that God was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief and that the brokenness of this life is sometimes just plain overwhelming?

Can you trust me when I say God is still good even when our life seems to be in disarray?

Can you believe that your performance didn’t matter before and He’s not disappointed in you or your situation now?

Can you hang on just a while longer to the fact that Jesus loves you first and best and longest and forever? That He’s always faithful even when we are faithless and faltering?

Can I just say that emotional dullness is part of life?

And can we all just admit that our culture’s “get over it”–grit your teeth and just move on–mentality is not helpful when you are truly hurting?

Remember, we are physical and spiritual beings. and feelings aren’t facts. Wilderness times are not always things we can control and obviously, these times are not always because of something we’ve done. However, even if you are where you are because of your own foolishness, please remember that in Christ, you are justified, which means that God looks on you and sees Christ, and that’s good news because it’s as if you’ve always obeyed His Word.

Can you just hope in the nature and character of God a little longer and realize that He’s going to hold you until this is over?

I’m so sorry you are struggling. I wish I could sit with you in your grief. I don’t have much else to say except to point you to Christ and the verses that help me when I am discouraged and fearful.

When you feel like God doesn’t care:

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me;
my Lord has forgotten me.”

“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.

Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continually before me. 

Isaiah 49:14-16

When you feel stuck:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
 He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
    out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure.
 He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord.

Psalm 40:1-3

When you feel like giving up:

The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
    when he delights in his way;

though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
    for the Lord upholds his hand.

Ps. 37:23,24

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

 

When you feel like God doesn’t like you

He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:10-12

When you self-justify and fall short:

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

Romans 4:4-5

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Romans 8:33-34

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Heb. 4:16

On a practical level, these are some things that have helped me during times of discouragement or heartache. They may or may not help you. Take or leave what you will.

  • getting extra rest or extra exercise, depending on how I feel.
  • eating healthy, small meals.
  • setting aside time to visit a friend.
  • purposefully slowing down to notice life around you: the smell of your child’s hair, listening to the noises of nature, watching the sunset or waves at the beach, feeling the warm water as you wash dishes.
  • doing something you enjoy at the moment. Antiquing, crafting, baking, drawing.
  • praying. When we pray, our voices go straight to the ears of God. It’s comforting to know that He hears our heart.
  • helping others. It always helps to cheer someone else up.
  • listening to Scripture, especially the Psalms. You’ll find lots of true prayer about every sort of struggle, and you’ll be refreshed as you see the Psalmist hope in God in his trouble.
  • meditate on one verse at a time.

I’m praying for you today. When you are weak, He is strong on your behalf. Rest in Him.

Measuring God’s Goodness, In Joy or Trials.

How do you measure God’s goodness to you?

If you are like me, you tend to equate material and physical blessings with God’s smile, and hardship and trial with God’s frown. When my kids are doing right, and we’re on top of the world (aka organized and on track for school) or when God provides ministry opportunities and we see fruit in our work, then God is blessing us.

But the dark side to this thinking is that when trouble strikes, we assume Satan is after us because we’ve been so righteous (pride) or that God’s somehow withholding blessing from us (self-pity…aka…pride).

Looking back at this past year, our family has had tremendous blessing. We’ve traveled more than ever, enjoyed health and happiness in our family, grown in size with a new son-in-law as our daughter married, and we’ve seen God provide in miraculous ways for our family. If I’m not careful, I can equate God’s goodness to us as a correlation to our performance or His happiness with our family.

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Our family has also known worries and trials that we’ve never experienced before with the care and keeping of our foster son. Emotional unrest, uncertainty, and fear were all very present in 2016. If I’m not careful, I can equate all of this to God’s displeasure or a reflection of our poor performance in our Christian lives.

The wonderful truth about God is that He is good to His children because that’s His nature. The end. It’s not based on how good we are. This is at the heart of the gospel. God seeks us when we are sinful and unlovable, and does all the work to save us. It’s not about us or about our performance. I don’t know about you but I need this reminder daily.

This small line of verse has been ringing in my ears for the last 6 months:

“Every joy or trial, falleth from above,

Traced upon our dial, by the Son of Love.”

“Works Christianity” can creep into my mindset so easily, even though I’ve fought that natural teaching my whole life, and worldly philosophy like Karma and survival of the fittest can jade my worldview, distort the truth of the gospel, and rob my joy.

Circumstances are not an indication of God’s pleasure or displeasure, love or coolness toward me. God’s act of sending Jesus to die for us on that bloody cross is the final indication of His love for us.

When we have plenty of money, lots of opportunities, when life goes smoothly and people treat us with love and respect, God does indeed love us.

But when God seems distant, and everything we touches falls apart, when money’s short, and hurt surrounds us, God also loves us.

Whatever comes our way, “every joy or trial”, comes from His good hand and it’s intended to bring us close to Him.

Whatever accomplishes that,

whatever makes us look up at Him, whatever strips us of our own delusions of goodness or self-sufficiency, whatever makes us realize how small and out of control we are apart from Him, whatever drives us to cling to Him as our only Hope, that is exactly when we can see the love and goodness of God despite the circumstances.

This past year, despite highs and lows like we’ve never experienced before, the goodness of God’s love has shined through the circumstances and God’s grace has shown us His presence.

In the end, dear friend, God is the goal and to know Him is the stabilizing factor in our lives.

Whatever your goals for 2017, don’t assume that God’s goodness is measured by the amount of ease, plenty, respect, happiness, approval, or health you’ll experience. Good or bad, come what may, be willing to embrace everything and anything as from the Father’s good hand, knowing He’s there with you and present, and that is the ultimate gift.

 

Unfair Ministry: Ministry Wives Edition

Last week I wrote about hard times in ministry. I received more email about totally ridiculous stuff that goes on in ministry, much of it unfair, and it’s horrible and hurtful and my heart goes out to you. A also received several inboxes saying that this series is not just applicable to the ministry but to all women, and I do agree.

But I specifically wrote to my fellow ministry wives because ministry wives often suffer alone and there are certain types of temptations that, although not “uncommon to man”, are often very commonly found lurking in the hearts of good, ministry-minded folks.

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And in order to lead from a position of grace, we need to be aware of the pitfalls that are common in ministry.For instance, because you are a leader, the desire to be respected can morph into a campaign to dominate, demand to be consulted, or to get your own way. Or perhaps, since you end up making many of the decisions about church matters, humility takes a back seat and you no longer consider the needs, sensitivities, or quirks of other congregants, taking the my way or the highway approach, when care and consideration would have been the prudent, others-minded way. And there are too many other temptations associated with ministry to even list.

Ministry wives, life is “unfair” and ministry life is often messy and wisdom would dictate that we keep ourselves in check. We are 100% responsible for our own actions and nobody elses. I suggest that we really *believe* that sin is harmful and that we are blind to our own sin, and we want to avoid it, we need to step back, take heed, lest we fall and “go our own way” becoming a law unto ourselves. Especially in the context of trials. Our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked. Do we believe this or do we believe that we’re a in a higher class of sinners than the people we serve?

On top of blindness to our own sin, we are often given opportunities or preference that other congregants might not receive, simply because we married a ministry guy. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this. God does assign us our portion and lot.

The trouble comes when we accept opportunities that we are not in any spiritual condition to perform or when we expect preferential treatment and get bent out of shape when overlooked.(pride)

Example: I’ve been offered speaking opportunities or other ministry related opportunities over the years simply because I am married to Peter and because of the blog and there are times when I’ve had just plain said “NO.”

Why? Well, sometimes it’s due to seasons of life or schedules, but other times its because I know the condition of my own heart. I know that life has been busy and I should be learning not teaching. I know that I have been unholy and stubborn and I need to learn submission to God before I step out again. Sometimes I forgo writing here because I need to obey more so that my words have meaning when I speak. Anyone can get up and speak, right? But if your life is not matching up, ladies, what’s the point? Anyone can open their home to strangers and serve, but if you’ve been mistreating your own kids and husband, where’s the authenticity and uprightness in that?

This ministry life is not a show or our stage. If you want to impact your home/church/sphere, let the words you speak and claim to love match your actions. That’s the best contribution/legacy/testimony we can give to our families, children, and church.

During trials, the Lord is concerned about my heart and this should my highest concern as well.

“Search me, Oh God” and inspect my heart, and don’t let me dare run ahead of you in speech, ministry.

Let’s face it, if you’ve been in ministry you know that all people are sinful, like the pastor who views pornography and brushes it under the carpet then gets up and preaches, or the ministry wife who makes jabs about one member and then is quick to get up and praise the Lord out of the other side of her mouth. Sin abounds in all of us and the church is not exempt.

Because sin can so easily go undetected, it’s helpful to ask, “If I were not the pastors’/evangelists’/youth pastors’/missionarys’ wife, would I be asked to do this ministry based on my godly reputation, humble interactions, faithful service, consistent testimony? If not, say no.

If you were not a leadership wife…if you were a lay person in the church…would people–

  • ask you for wise counsel based on your knowledge and application of God’s Word in your own life?
  • confide their troubles and assume that you wouldn’t gossip?
  • say that you know how to control your tongue and are consistent to use it to bless bless and not curse? Am I gushing fresh water one day and brackish the next? (James 3:10-12)
  • say my life is described as “moderate”–my appetites under control. AKA… I can say no to myself. Or do I swing the pendulum with my words,moods, weight, hobbies, spending, time, etc…Is moderation a defining quality or do I swing from one extreme or the other?

These are questions we should ask ourselves because others may not ask or enforce them upon us. Most people assume that you’ve got it all together and that makes it even more dangerous.

We know from God’s Word that true wisdom is seen by living out the gospel humbly, without mean-spirited ambition, boasting, or lashing out with the tongue. Passions and desires under the Lordship of Christ.

That’s why TRIALS are so invaluable to our lives. In my experience, it’s during trials when my guard is down that I can see the true nature of my heart. I get a glimpse of what’s ruling underneath and what motives are moving me to action.

How do you respond when someone says no to you or tells you to wait? How do you respond when confronted with your own sin? Are you still able to answer to/submit to other people or do you believe yourself above that? These are the MINISTRY MOMENTS when God is trying to draw you closer to Himself. He’s asking you to throw off your pride, stop demanding your rights, and humbly follow Him.

God uses UNFAIR ministry, ladies, for our good and His glory.

He allows that woman to give you the cold shoulder to test your humility. He allows that callous remark to see whether you’ll love that unlovely one or no. He wants us to obey His Word through it all of the hurt and unfairness.

Or we can respond by running ahead doing what we think will give us momentary satisfaction and, ultimately, happiness, or by running our mouth, causing a “wildfire” of trouble.

Let’s remember Sarah, Abraham’s wife, when we are tempted to run ahead of God and take matters into our own hands. Although Sarah had faith in God, we see that she doubted God’s ability to keep His promise to give her a son in her old age. That one thing she wanted so badly…and she allowed discouragement to linger and unhappiness to blossom until she took matters into her own hands.

That’s why we CAN’T look at our circumstances. To focus on our trials is to look away from our Faithful God.

Looking to our circumstances too long breeds doubt, despair, discouragement, depression, cynicism, and a sour spirit. Have you ever blurted something and realized how SOUR it was!? I have!

When we look to the Lord, and remember that HE IS OUR PRIZE AND GOAL, we experience the joyful anticipation of His PROMISES.

Scripture is full of examples of people in serious trials who reacted in a godly manner and God’s answers are always the same:

“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for Me?” Jeremiah 32:27 and

“Has the Lord’s arm been shortened?” (Numbers 11:23)

“Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14)

“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matt. 14:31)

Sarai took matters into her own hands and ran ahead of God because she ultimately doubted God and despised His timing.

We all know the disastrous result of that decision and can all take a lesson from her disobedience:

  • Whenever we take control of our circumstance in a way that is outside of the bounds of scripture, we are headed for trouble.
  • When we attempt to get what we want using sinful means, we’re showing that we are no longer hoping in God.
  • When we try to escape our problems, we’re saying that God put us here mistakenly and that we must master our own fate.

God’s timing and ways are good. “His way is perfect.”

When God is ready to act, He will.

Your job is to watch your attitude and heart.

Are you living out the gospel in joyful anticipation of what the Savior will do?

Are you trusting and obeying God’s word, staying inside the bounds of Scripture?

Do you see your gifts in life as coming from God or do you demand them for yourself, living life as though God’s short changed you somehow.

Ministry friends, this is the life of faith. Let’s not copy the “take it into your own hands” method of Sara. Let’s leave it in God’s capable hands.

“Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.” Heb. 11:11

When life’s not fair and ministry is hard, let’s choose to trust and obey!

Dominating Obsessions

“There are three things about us that significantly shape the course of our lives: what we think, what we feel, and what we want. They way in which we handle our thoughts, our feelings, and our desires determines not only our path but whether the path is joyful and fulfilling or fraught with discontentment” states Lydia Brownback in A Woman’s Wisdom: How the Book of Proverbs Speaks to Everything.

How we act upon our thoughts, what we do with our feelings (feelings aren’t facts!) and what we most desire will determine much about about our spiritual walk and growth.

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What do you think about, when you’re awake at night or day dreaming doing dishes? What hurt feelings do you nurse and coddle when people have failed you? What is your biggest desire when life is not what you planned?

What are you obsessed with?

 

Teenage girls says things like, “I’m obsessed with this gel or hairspray,” or “I’m obsessed with Starbucks Salted Caramel Mocha.”

And while that phrase may be meaningless to them, we are, in fact, obsessive creatures.

Our minds get fixated on one thing:

that problem, that person, that need, that solution, that if-only.

We’re “locked and loaded” with fierce focus on our one thing and our lives become dominated by the pursuit of that one thing. It’s all you talk about, all you think about, all you dream about.

We convince ourselves that we are helpless against it. That we’re made this way.

  • “I’m this way because years ago, so and so….”
  • “If only she’d accept me the way I am, then I wouldn’t be so….”
  • “My husband drives me crazy and until he changes his ways, I’m going to…”
  • “As soon as I reach this level of success, I’ll spend time with my family, but until then I have to…”
  • “I have to get good grades. Nothing else matters to me right now.”
  • “People like her better than me, so to gain popularity and acceptance, I need to be like this….”
  • “She hurt me so deeply, so now I’ll find every way I can to punish her from here on out.”

When we’re focused on stuff like this, it’s all downhill. And in this case, all down the spiritual, emotional, mental hill.

Our minds and hearts are meant to be fixated and focused on God’s glory and what He wants from us, and our life motive is to love/serve others well for His sake.

There is no place for sinful “obsessing” in the life of a spiritually healthy Christian woman.

On the contrary, our only healthy obsession should be towards God’s glory and knowing Him well so we can enjoy Him forever. On this we can be one-focus women.

One-focus women recognize that God is God and is in control. We can trust Him with the big hurts and the tiny details of our lives. He’s capable.

When we are struggling for clarity of thought and steadfastness of heart, we can cry out for help.

I was dreading a difficult meeting I had to have with a woman who was being unreasonable and acting harshly to others. Another friend saw me that morning and said, “What’s that written on  your hand?” I had scribbled in my palm A1, which is my memory prompt “Audience of One.” When tensions get high and women are prone to throw words that are hurtful, my goal is still to live for an audience of One (Not give in to name calling and hurtful jabs, as good as that might feel momentarily in the flesh.) What she says reflects her heart’s goals, and what I say shows what’s going on in my heart as well. 

One-focus women let go of having to be right. One-focus women let go of been wronged.

We know our God and we can trust Him. To obsess over trials and troubles is to become distracted, discouraged, disillusioned. Our God can handle our troubles and the people who inflict them. We don’t need to plan retaliation, worry about outcomes, protect our reputation, replay the wrongs done to us by others, or waste any energy worrying.

As a woman in pursuit of God’s glory, I can’t give in to temptations to worry, to play the mean girl, to use corrupting speech, to withhold love from that annoying person, to misuse the roles that God has ordained for me, to be lazy about opportunities God puts in my path, to gossip about the people God has called me to love, to avoid people who are needy, to give the cold shoulder to that hurtful woman.

When we do all those things, we are confessing that we are double-minded, unstable, content to try to make life work outside of the methods God has chosen and allowed for His people. (Thank God for 1 John 1:9!)

If you are content to use wrong methods to get what you want,

when you are willing to war, or neglect, or manipulate, or abuse others to chase that one thing,

when you play god, making life work your way and monitoring the moves of others to make sure they all play the life-game according to your rules,

be afraid, because you’ve made a choice and have chosen a course and have jumped on the spiritual roller-coaster of your own emotions, feelings, whims, and ways, and it’s gonna be a crazy ride all around.

But He gives more grace.

Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4: 6,7

God says that the only thing that the proud will get from Him is resistance and opposition. His grace is for the humble, who’ll submit to His Lordship in their life.

James 4:8 tells us how to jump off the crazy ride and to begin thinking soundly and acting purely:

“Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your heart, you double-minded.”

Cleanse your hands: stop doing what you are doing. Stop being disobedient. 

Purify your hearts: get rid of the “thing” that is making your heart purity dirty. Rid yourself of the sin.

What’s your one hang up? Or maybe, WHO, is your one hang up? Does it rule your thoughts and therefore your life? Do you obsess over it during the night and daydream about it during the day.

If yes, this sin has become your puppeteer, (and you’ve chosen it if you are saved because sin has no power over you unless we choose to allow it!) whether you realize it or not, entrapping you, yanking your chain, controlling you.

When it comes to mind, and you are tempted to obsess over it, see it as it is: a tool, a trick, an entanglement, an area of your life that you’ve allowed to become too big.

And ask God to forgive you for allowing it to reign for so long in the place that was God’s rightful place. Tell God what He already knows and ask Him to rescue you from the grip of this sin.

In faith, claim the promise that He can deliver you from the power of this sin when you choose to work in agreement with His plan and walk according to His ways.

The cure for obsessive thoughts is this simple truth: God is sovereign in all the affairs of men. God is in control, even when life seems out of control. AND I CAN TRUST HIM!

Do you have one area that seems to have you spinning your wheels spiritually? That one thing that trips you up every time? Be willing to open your hands to heaven and ask God to search them and cleanse them. He will. He promises.

 

How to Go From Pleasant to Bitter In A Decade

We all want to age gracefully, but that doesn’t just happen. In fact, in a decades time, we can go from sweet to bitter or vice versa. And although beauty is only skin deep, bitterness of soul goes straight to the bone and can poison you and everyone around you. Let me explain.

In times of trial, it’s easy to want to escape and get away from our problem. We want to make the emotional or physical pain stop. We can have many different reactions to trials:

  • We can play the Spartan and simply endure the trial–teeth gritted, keep a stiff upper lip– we grow bitter from focusing on the hardship. We end up being self-driven instead of Spirit-led.
  • We can try to escape the trial running for relief to friends, emotional outbursts, finding comforters in sleep, food, drink, spending, overindulgence or other “saviors.”
  • When we embrace the trial, we grow in grace because we know the Sender of the trial and His good intentions for us. We humbly accept good and bad from the hand of God. We know God is leading us THROUGH a trial and He’s promised to be with us.

Trials are always a wake up call and they are a good thing. It’s a mercy when we realize how much we crave self-rule in our own lives and how much we resist God’s rule when we are in the midst of something unthinkable, unplanned and unwanted. ruth I’m studying Ruth right now and it has been eye opening and refreshing. I was struck by this quote from Warren Wiersbe and have been mulling it over for days: “They exchanged famine in the land for three funerals.”

Famine is a pretty desperate situation, yet, God sent the famine as judgement for the sin of the people of Israel. (Lev. 26:14-20) He had a good purpose for the famine. However, Elimaleck, Naomi’s husband, decided that the best course of action was to leave the covenant community and go for help in the land of their enemies, the Moabites.

Matthew Henry: “It is an evidence of a discontented, distrustful, unstable spirit, to be weary of the place in which God hath set us, and to be for leaving it immediately whenever we meet with any uneasiness or inconvenience in it. It is folly to think of escaping that cross which, being laid in our way, we ought to take up. It is our wisdom to make the best of that which is, for it is seldom that changing our place is mending it.”

In a sense, they left their covenant God because they believed they needed bread and had to find it for themselves when in fact In God we live and move and have our being. (Acts. 17:28) This life–bread, food, water–the physical life– seemed so big when what they were used to was lacking.

Once in Moab, they assimilated. So much so that they let their sons marry two women of the Moabites, a practice forbidden by God. (Deut. 7:3, 23:3, 4)

Then all three men in the family died. Naomi found herself husbandless, sonless, and stuck with two Moabite women and no resources. She hears that there’s bread in Israel and decides to go back. “She was still primarily interested in food, not in fellowship with God.” says Wiersbe.

What she does next is strange and shows how far out of bounds her thinking was: She encourages her daughters-in-law to go back to their old gods and people. Oh, she prays for them and wishes them many children, but she cared so little about their souls that she encouraged them to return to false, forbidden gods. Instead of taking comfort in the God of all comfort, she’s so consumed by her own grief that her thinking is seriously off. “God has dealt bitterly with me!” was her testimony, when really God was doing something amazing and redemptive by putting her family in the lineage of Christ.

And we do that as well, when we’re not thinking right thoughts about our God or when we experience a “famine” or sorts in our own lives. When friends are sparse, money’s gone, health fades, children rebel, husband’s leave, we “charge God foolishly,” and accusations fly.

We complain that life hasn’t been fair, that God’s shortchanged us somehow. We emote that we deserved better, that people should recognize and appreciate us, that life should have worked this way instead of that way. We demote God from His place of prominence and praise on the throne of our heart. Our words condemn a perfect God, and malign His intents. Our sin proclaims that He’s not worth following. Hey, if it makes you happy, go back to your old gods as well, Ruth and  Orpah. You’ll be better off than where you are now. Really. God’s dealt so bitterly with me, you should try your luck with another god. 

Not the behavior of a woman who is fully in love with her own God.

How did Naomi, {whose name meant pleasant and sweetness} go from a sweet spirit to a sour spirit in less than a decade? What would make her announce “Just call me Mara! (bitter)” I jotted down a few ideas:

  • She focused on her trials.
  • She let her feelings rule.
  • She looked for help in places God forbid.
  • She ignored God’s clear commands.
  • She valued physical gain over spiritual gain.
  • She failed to go to God for comfort.
  • She blamed God instead of confessing their sin.

I’m wondering if she also tried to send Ruth and Orpah packing because she didn’t want the “evidence” of their sinful life back in Moab to be seen when she returned to Israel. Sometimes hiding sin is easier than confessing it and finding grace. Yet the Lord encourages us to “return to the Lord” and find mercy. It’s helpful when we are in times of trouble, to soul-search.

  • Am I wiling to trust God in my famine?
  • Am I content and thankful right now?
  • Do I believe God’s in control?
  • Where am I seeking comfort?
  • Am I doing what God has forbidden?
  • What do I love more than obedience to the word?
  • Is my life showing the fruit of the Spirit in this moment? If not, why?
  • Have I confessed my sin? Am I right with God and others? If not, why haven’t I?

Ruth is a redemptive book. It’s such a wonderful story of a loving daughter-in-law who chose to saddle herself to a bitter woman because she loved that woman and her God. And God honored Ruth, allowing her to be in the Messianic line. God was not dealing bitterly. He meant it all for good. And I’m trying to remember that today. My choices have consequences. My attitudes affect and teach others. My thoughts about God can center me or send me into despair. And whatever my thought life tells me, God’s Word is always accurate and His promises are true, whether I believe them or not.

Believing God In the Middle of the Night

It’s amazing how fragile our faith can be, especially during times of waiting or trials.

We teach our children that God is all-powerful, all-knowing and always present, but then we function throughout the day as though He’s dead. We’re Confessional Christians, yet practicing atheists for all intents and purposes.

At least I was last night.

Last night I woke with night terrors and couldn’t go back to sleep. My mind swirled, scenarios played out, and thoughts raged. I tossed and turned. Flesh-woman was alive and well at 2 a.m.

clock

My thoughts weren’t the thoughts of a Biblically sound woman. They were thoughts controlled by fear and doubt. Thoughts I had entertained during the day forgetting that sinful thoughts are sowing a harvest that I would surely reap.

Fear of the economy, money troubles, fears that my homeschooling attempts might short change my kids, and that I’m failing them. Failing. Because I had never heard of Manifest Destiny in History on one hand, and had missed a dentists appointment on the other. And let’s not forget Obamacare, and the economy. Yes, that’s important to remember at 2 a.m.

I finally got up to get a grip. I paced like a crazy woman. I had weeds to pull. I had to stop listening to myself and start talking to myself.

So, I began talking to myself, in my dark kitchen at 2:30 this morning, because I had to. I had soul clutter. It had to go. I recalled verses I had memorized:

“Trust in the Lord and do good, dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.”

“Commit your way unto the Lord, trust also in Him and He will act.”

“But I trust in You, O Lord, I say “You are my God.” My times are in your hands…”

My security does not rise and fall on the state of the United States of America. My security and safety is in God’s hands. 

“And God is able to make all grace about to you so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”

“The Lord is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing will He uphold from them who walk uprightly.”

My kids will not be ruined by my deficiencies. If anything, my shortcomings are a chance for God’s glory and grace to be seen in our family. My job is to trust and obey His Word. He’ll give me what I need to do this job.  

On and on, reminding myself of the promises that I’ve forgotten as evidenced by my fitful night of sleep.

Whenever I choose to think Biblically I’m embracing the fact that God is God, and I am a created being, dependent on such a great God. I submit myself to God again. I remember who I am and who He is.

When I choose to let my thoughts go out of “Biblical bounds,” I’m living as though God’s a liar and that I know better. I’m doubting His word and entertaining my fears. His Word is true, whether I feel like it is or not at the moment. I’m wise to sift my thoughts through the truth of scripture because as you think, you act and become.

I’m not alone. Scripture tells of another Sarah who struggled with doubt and thinking problems. She was the barren wife of Abraham who was promised a child. She struggled with doubt for so long that she took matters into her own hands and told Abraham to use her maid, Hagar, to be her surrogate mother.  Sarah had God’s promise. God’s promise. And she doubted it and manipulated life to work in the time frame she was comfortable with using methods that God forbade. She focused MORE on her circumstances than on GOD’S words to her. She got tunnel vision and we get it, too.

Doubt is the direct response to looking away from God. If your circumstances are what you focus on, they will dictate how you think…

Since discouragement comes when we allow doubt to dominate our thinking, it stands to reason that discouragement left to fester eventually leads to despair. Have you experience this downward spiritual spiral? Have you grown weary of waiting for one of God’s promises to come to pass in your life? If so, how are you handling your thoughts?

Have you tried to escape doubts or discouragements by racing ahead of God? Perhaps there has been something in your life for which you’ve waited for God’s provision for a very long time. While waiting, did you cling unswervingly to His Word, or did you become fixated on your problem, thus making room for doubt to creep in? Did you become desperate for a solution? Did you look around at what you could do to solve your problem yourself, to fulfill your dream…reasoning that a particular [sinful] course of action was within God’s will, even if that path contradicted Scripture?

 

Lydia Brownack, Legacy of Faith: From Women of the Bible to Women of Today

It always comes back to trusting God to be God. To wait for His timing. To rest under His watchcare and to know that He’s good.

Are you waiting today? In the middle of a trial? Are you discouraged in your own fight against sin? You’ve seen the enemy and it’s you! lol. Have you tried to manipulate life so many times that it’s hard to know what the next right thing to do is? I’d encourage you to read God’s Word for direction. We can’t do this alone. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into all truth and to give you the wisdom you need to rely on Christ. We need God’s grace, and that’s a great place to be. Don’t give up. Trust and obey.

Ever Feel Stuck? Critical Advice We Need to Grow.

I was encouraged this week by this quote from Stepping Heavenward,

God never places us in any position in which we can not grow. We may fancy that He does. We may fear we are so impeded by fretting, petty cares that we are gaining nothing; but when we are not sending any branches upward, we may be sending roots downward. Perhaps in the time of our humiliation, when everything seems a failure, we are making the best kind of progress. – (Elizabeth Prentiss)

elizabeth prentiss

During hard times, we have a critical decisions to make: Cling to Christ and saturate ourself in His word, or choose an easy path, finding comfort in spilling our guts to friends, complaining, mindless entertainment, over-eating {chocolate! lol} shopping {retail therapy!}, electronics or other escapes. {other gods. Who you turn to in time of trouble is your “reigning god.”}

As Christian women, we’ve got to choose to send down roots by digging into God’s word! Oh, I know that roots are not that impressive on the surface, but don’t you love to be around a woman who’s rooted and grounded in the Word of God? She’s scripture saturated, grace filled and spirit empowered? She’s allowed the “word of Christ to dwell in her richly” and because of it, like a tree with deep roots, she is personally stable, steadfast, producing fruit and providing shade and refreshment to other women! That’s the kind of woman I want to be.

Like Elizabeth Prentiss encourages us, send roots downward.

  • When life seems like it’s at a stand still and no visible progress is being made, send roots downward.
  • When you feel insignificant, under-appreciated  or unloved, send roots downward.
  • When children are unmaking the house as faster than you can clean it up, send roots downward.
  • When your husband is unsupportive or out of the picture, send roots downward.
  • When people fail and friends disappoint you, send roots downward.
  • When you’re lonely, send roots downward.
  • When your energy is gone and your health is depleted, send roots downward.
  • When money is low and bills are mounting higher, send roots downward.
  • When your calling is hard and you don’t see visible fruit, send roots downward.
  • When emotions are raw and your mind is confused, send roots downward.

See, all of these things were made to make us grow and how I respond determines if I grow better or become bitter.

I’ve learned that sometimes God strips away the things we value in order to give us something we should value more–>HIM.

What is that ONE THING, ONE SITUATION, ONE PERSON in your life you feel needs to change in order for life to be good again?

Those things are the very catalyst that God wants to use to refine me. It may hurt, but He’ll get rid of sinful tendencies, blind spots, any impurities or rough spots that don’t reflect His glory properly, and on the other side I’ll be more like Him. That’s why trials should be counted as “Joy.”

So that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:7

One of my favorite songs that we sing with our teens at church is God’s Refining Fire by Mac Lynch. The lyrics are a prayer for God to strip away whatever He sees fit.

God’s Refining Fire Lyrics

Oh Lord we pray thy will be done, or Master here am I.
We pray you’d do a mighty work, that to the flesh we die.
And when the answer comes to us in form of trial and test,
We fail to see your loving hand, refining fire is best.

God’s refining fire, God’s refining fire.
May it purge me now and make of me what you require.
Oh Lord feed the fire, your refining fire.
Now as gold and silver must be tried, Lord may my heart be purified.
Lord send your great refining fire.

That I may stand when you appear, abide till your return.
Oh place the fire perfectly that all my dross be burned.
Whether furnace of affliction Lord, or unfulfilled desire,
Bring forth a vessel pure and tried, by your refining fire.

I hope they encourage you to count your trial as all joy, and embrace what God is doing right now. It might not feel like joy, but DON’T trust your feelings. Feelings come and go and will tell you that you have the right to do and say all kinds of terribly sinful things. Don’t trust them. Go to God’s Word for your “reality” check, and put down roots there.

 

 

Why Having Nothing and Being Empty Can Be A Good Thing

I love studying the women of God in the Bible and here’s why: because they all have something in common, and it’s not glamorous, flashy or anything you’d ever covet.

What they have is some kind of emptiness. A need, a want, or a lack.

And I love to watch where they turn in their need, because I need their example in order to live my Christian life.

These women turn to God and trust Him.

Sometimes God meets their need just they way they asked Him to, but other times He meets their real need, their need for Him.

Exhibit A: The Widow in 2 Kings 4.

Elisha-Revealed-Gods-Power_final

“The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.”

The widow had lack. She had no husband, and no money, and the money-lenders were coming to take her children.

Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?” “Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.”

The pitiful truth was that all she had in the cupboard was olive oil. How desperate she must have felt. But she knew where to turn for help, the man of God, the prophet Elisha. Maybe she thought Elisha would organize a community food drive for her, or maybe request assistance from wealthier acquaintances in town, but that’s not what Elisha told her to do.

Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few.  Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.”

So Elisha’s plan was a the “clandestine-behind-closed-doors-oil-making” scheme. Now, you have to admit that this sounds strange. And what if she hadn’t had faith? She could have rolled her eyes, snickered at this request, closed the door, thank-you-very-much, and lost her boys to the creditors. But instead she obeyed and God provided for her.

 She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.”

But he replied, “There is not a jar left.” Then the oil stopped flowing.

 She went and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.”

The widow’s problem was a money issue. She’d run out, and there were no Visa cards in those days, no fall backs.

And you and I have our own set of needs. Maybe you’ve run out of energy to train or discipline your children. Maybe you’re at the end of your rope emotionally. Maybe you’re out of finances, health, friends or hope. Maybe your family is crumbling around you. Or perhaps your marriage has run clean out of love.

Maybe the only thing you do have is this ever-present burden, your awareness of this lack in you life. 

Can I just encourage you that sometimes, that is exactly when God will take over if we let Him? Our need can be a good thing. It can prompt us to begin searching again for the One who can bring Hope.

Sometimes when there’s nothing left, humanly speaking,

sometimes when problems seem impossible, insurmountable,

these are exactly the times when we can go to God and lay out our burden to Him. We give Him permission to take control. We throw our problem on him–> “Cast your burden upon the Lord.”

  • We see it with the Nicodemus who had everything going for him on the outside, religious respect, admiration, yet who was inwardly empty and searching for more,
  • We see it with the woman with the issue of blood who spent all that she had and was now reaching out in faith to touch the hem of Jesus garment
  • We see it with Mary and Martha who called, no begged, their friend Jesus to come back and heal Lazarus so he wouldn’t die,
  • We see it at the marriage feast in Caanan, where the newly-weds began their marriage with an embarrassing lack of wine for their guests which could have been seen as a social disgrace on the bridegroom

The place to go for help was the Lord. Not to girlfriends, not to food, or shopping, immorality, books, tv or the internet.

The Lord Jesus Christ. Our Help, Shepherd, Shield, Guide, Comfort, Savior.

And when you go to the Lord,

and relinquish control,

and admit that you are hopeless and that you need Him,

and hand him the reins to do as He will,

you’ll find that He will. He will meet our needs!

Sometimes — most times — our need is to know and trust Him more. Sometimes we must wait for His timing, submit to His plan, surrender our own sinful ways and embrace His.

And when we do, he’ll not only give us what is good and best,

He’ll fill us with His own divine self, so we can gather strength and love that comes from Him, hope that only He can give, and watch Him work on our behalf. While we’re waiting, studying His word, praying, meditating, walking by faith, we can go on doing what He has called us to do.

*What is it that is plaguing you today as a severe need? What have you run out of? Patience with kids or family members? Love for those around you? A desire to serve God where He’s put you? Hope that your kids ever never follow God? Can you bring it to the Lord and lay it at His feet to do with it as He will? Will you trust that He’ll do what’s best, right and good for you?

 

 

How to Survive the Wilderness

Today is one of those days where I woke up feeling fully blessed. We had a wonderful weekend full of blessing and answered prayer, and received good news from our daughter in college about some upcoming opportunities the Lord has given her.

But I don’t always wake up this way. Somedays, I wake up feeling lousy. Somedays, I wake up with an unresolved conflict hanging over my head. Sometimes circumstances are 100% out of my control. Those are the “Wilderness Days.” The days when you don’t think you can stand one more trial or irritation.

David, in Psalm 63, gives us wise counsel about how to survive in a wilderness and it’s instructive to note some of the qualities of this this God- loving, yet imperfect man, so that we can prepare ourselves for our wilderness days.

To survive in a wilderness takes forethought and planning. You don’t enter a trial and try to muster up spiritual strength on the spot. Inner spiritual strength comes from building up reserves before your trial hits you square in the face.

To survive in a wilderness:

1. You desire God alone. You seek Him. Your circumstances may be dry and horrible, but your soul is thirsty for God.

“O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (63:1)

2. You prefer God’s presence more than anything or anyone.

Our daily worship prepares us to meet the trials of life, not just our Sunday worship. What goes on in your heart all week defines you more than going to church on Sunday.

“I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.” (63:2)

3. You choose to praise God. 

When we go through trials, many times our lips betray our hearts by exposing our wrong thoughts. What’s going on inside of our mind eventually comes gushing out of our mouths! What are you known for? A life of praise? Or a life of cutting comments and complaints galore? Instead of complaining or protesting what God is allowing, remember all that He has done in the past and all that He will do in the future. Choose praise. Pray for lips that praise. If you can’t praise God, keep your mouth closed. Don’t infect your kids or neighbors with negative comments that make them question God’s goodness.

A thankful heart is at peace, because it’s content, not wanting more or less than what God’s provided.

A contentious, fretful, discontent heart always wishes, dreams and longs for different circumstances.

“Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.” (63:3)

4. Find your satisfaction in God alone.

We can thrive in a wilderness because we’ll always have God. Might I suggest that if you aren’t fulfilled in God, you read Ephesians and note all of the riches we have in Christ?

And if that still isn’t enough, maybe you are clinging to lesser things for your happiness? Those, “if only’s” can quickly become idols.

You know the thought process:

“If only”…

I had more money, more time, more children, less children, better behaved children, a more assertive husband, a less authoritative husband, more money, a bigger house, more respect, more love, more understanding, more opportunities, more health….

The list is only as long as our imagination.

The better way: “Be content in whatever state you are in.” That’s it. The big secret. Be content. Don’t wish for more. Be satisfied with what God has given. God. God. He is the giver. Let that sink in. When we rise up in complaint, it is to Him and his provision and providence.

“My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.” (63:5,6)

5. Cling to Christ.

I don’t know what to say about this, except that when we are allured and enamored by lesser things, we’ll never be satisfied with Christ. We forget what we have. We chase wood, hay and stubble. No woman likes a man with “wandering eyes.” They just kinda creep you out, don’t they? Well, that’s what we are like when we are constantly on the lookout for something better. We have wandering eyes, and it “ain’t attractive” to a woman who professes godliness.

Clinging to Christ sounds desperate, but honestly, clinging to Christ for dear life is what is necessary. “My soul cleaves after you” is the literal translation! It includes submissive faith in God’s plan and an active pursuit of God. If you aren’t clinging to Christ, you are clinging to the wrong things.

“My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.” vs. 8

I love how Elizabeth George uses the metaphor of a tree’s roots to describe the strength and support that our private time in scripture reading and prayer provides:

“Just like a plant with its roots hidden underground, you and I –out of public view and alone with God–are to draw from Him all that we need to live the abundant life He has promised His children (John 10:10) We must seek to live our lives near to God–indeed, hidden in Him!” A Woman After God’s Own Heart, pg 30

What we do today determines how we weather our wilderness! What steps can you take today to realign your heart to Christ? What lesser things need to go to make room for the most important relationship in your life? Whatever it takes, do it! :)