Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Beginning to Sink

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2).

While growing up, my dad was an interim preacher for many churches. We traveled with him and sometimes would hear the same sermon for weeks. One of his favorites was entitled “Beginning to Sink”, based on the story of Peter walking on the water to Christ. Dad focused on one’s eternal future and dying. Now however, I relate the story to living.

Initially, Peter had enough faith to step out of the boat and  into the crashing waves, blowing wind, and darkness. Rather than viewing his situation from an earthly perspective, he looked with eyes of trust in and love for the One towards whom he walked. But when his eyes were drawn away from Christ and toward his surroundings, he lost his faith. The moment that happened, his fears became reality.

I am much like Peter. When I take my eyes off Christ for even a moment, I begin to sink. I look at others and am envious. I remember my past and grieve. I think of the present and despair. I look toward the future and am afraid. I lose my faith. Faith is total trust in God, believing that He is good, and that His plans for me are the best even now in my life of trials and pain.

Christ has said He will never leave me or forsake me. He is upholding me with His victorious right hand. He is greater than the one who is in the world. He is a God who works wonders. He is accomplishing His purpose for me. When I keep my eyes focused on Christ and His promises only, I too experience His miracles: endurance to press on during pain and discouragement, strength to touch others despite my weakness, and enjoyment and refreshment in the midst of struggles. He surely is worthy of my complete faith and trust, and will keep me from sinking.

Prayer: Lord, give me a steadfast faith that will not waver, fixing my eyes on You alone. Amen.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Setting Our Hearts on Pilgrimage

"Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca (Weeping), they make it a place of springs. . . They go from strength to strength, til each appears before God in Zion"  (Psalm 84:5-7).

The above passage is one of my favorites, and I recently noticed the word “pilgrimage” for the first time. A pilgrimage is a long journey. But what does it mean to set our hearts on it? We must realize it is indeed a journey. This walk of a pain-filled life is not brief and does not have easy resolutions. It will, however, have an ending, just as any earthly journey does. We must keep our eyes set on our heavenly destination, maintaining an attitude of faith, perseverance, and determination, regardless of what we encounter along the way. If our hearts are truly set on this journey with God, nothing will make us give up. We will stay on this road and keep going, trusting in the One who planned our trip.

As we persevere God turns our tears into pools of refreshment, not only for ourselves but for others as well. He enables us to go from strength to strength – not trial to trial or suffering to suffering. With any new obstacle we encounter – any pain, disability, or crisis – the Lord provides new strength to get us through and to continue on our journey.

Some days I enjoy my pilgrimage and other days I do not. But regardless of how I feel or what I encounter, He will be there with me until I see His face.

Prayer: Lord, may I set my heart on this journey with You, ready to accept whatever pain and trials You allow. I know that You are here and will continue to give the refreshment, comfort, and strength that I need to keep on traveling. Amen.

Standing on the Heights

“It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights”
(Psalm 18:32,33).

Although not athletic as a child, in young adulthood I discovered some physical activities I enjoyed and had a few short years to pursue them – bicycling, jogging, aerobics, and walking. Those activities left me feeling exhilarated, motivated and energized. I took the ability to do those things for granted, fitting them into my schedule as time allowed. As my health issues slowly started increasing, my physical activities dwindled. Little of those activities remain today. Although the losses were somewhat gradual, it was still extremely difficult to give up hope of them being restored.

On a visit to the mountains with my husband, we took a few short hikes.  I enjoyed that day immensely, but suffered repercussions of the walks for days afterwards and was tempted to begin my downhill spiral of self-pity. I realized, however, that although I live with physical limitations, I have opportunities to “exercise” my body and mind every day. I can endure physical as well as mental and emotional pain and do it well. God gives me strength to survive every day.  Each morning I can put on the spiritual armor and prepare to fight my battles, regardless of how tired or weak I feel. Psalm 18:29 says that with God’s help I can advance against a troop and scale a wall. My “troop” may be countless negative thoughts.  My “wall” may be the task of getting up, dressed, and ready to face the day. God can and will enable me to exercise faith and self-discipline in any circumstances.

My physical limitations are part of this earthly life, but one day in eternity I will be able to literally run with hind’s feet to the top of the mountain. How wonderful that will feel! For today, I can stand on the heights in my own way, praise God.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, remind me that whatever mountains I am facing in my life, they are not too high to climb with You. Strengthen my feeble arms and weak knees, and lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Amen.

Flowers from Flaws

"The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever – do not abandon the work of your hands"  (Psalm 138:8).

Every fall there are clusters of beautiful golden wildflowers blooming along many of our roadsides. They remind me of a story I once heard about a cracked pot. A woman owned several clay pots which she used to carry water from the well to her home each day. One pot was cracked and leaked, losing half of its water on the walk home.

The pot became very discouraged and finally told the woman how useless and discouraged it felt because of its flaws. The woman said that the next day she wanted the pot to notice the beautiful flowers blooming along the roadside. The pot did, and thought they were lovely, but still felt like a failure. The woman then told the pot that she knew it had cracks and flaws, yet she chose to keep it. She planted the flowers along the way, knowing that each day the cracked pot would water them on the walk home. The lovely flowers were there because of the pot's flaws.

I see similarities here in my own life. I look at other people and am sharply aware of the cracks and flaws in my body. The woman in the story did not choose to discard the pot, or even seal the cracks with mud or clay. Its very flaws were accomplishing her purpose. So it is with those of us who feel “flawed”. God is using us just as we are for His purposes. Some days He may allow us to see buds of our influence, but many days we may have no idea of the flowers we are watering along the roads we travel. Yet God knows, and one day all will be made plain. Until then, we are fulfilling His purpose here on earth, and He will never abandon us.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I am the work of Your hands - beautiful in Your sight, created for a purpose, and never left alone. Help me to accept my flaws and imperfections, that through them You may bring blessing to others and glory to Yourself. Amen.

Living through Changes

“We who are alive are constantly being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, that his life might be revealed in our mortal bodies” (II Corinthians 4:11).

I have realized that change is challenging for me. Perhaps it comes from the fact that I moved around frequently as a child and felt insecure in having to attend new schools and build new relationships. For whatever reason, I dislike change.

Each of us has changes in our lives that have been difficult to overcome. Some of my most challenging physical changes have been chronic health and pain issues and their resulting losses. An empty nest proved to be extremely difficult emotionally. I read something a few years ago that made an impression upon me. I do not recall who wrote it, but it said, “Life involves change. Change involves loss. Loss involves death. Every time we are delivered over to a death of any kind, we are challenged to allow the loss to bring gain for Jesus’ sake. We do this by allowing his life to be revealed in our mortal bodies.”

Changes in our health do bring loss and what could even be called dying to parts of ourselves - loss of abilities, activities, relationships, experiences, hopes, and plans. There is pain and grief in that loss. Yet the above verse speaks of the good that can come out of those changes. Somehow every “death” that we experience on any given day can bring glory to God. Perhaps it is by praising Him and trusting Him to get us through, rather than by listening to the voice of the enemy and giving in to fear and discouragement. Perhaps it is by sharing our experiences with someone else as a word of encouragement or empathy. Whatever the circumstances, in life or death, our ultimate reason for existence is to glorify God. If it takes change in our lives to do that, let it be so.

Prayer: O God, how thankful I am that in the ebb and flow of my life’s days, You remain the same. Remind me that regardless of changes taking place around me and within me, You give me strength to walk in newness of life with You. Amen.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Solid Rock

"Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn"
(Isaiah 51:1)

There are times in my life when I forget the spiritual roots of my new nature in Christ. When I am in the midst of a setback in pain, anxiety, or depression, how quickly I revert to my old nature of doubt and unbelief. I need to remind myself not only of Who lives within me, but of my Christian “family tree”. Hebrews 11 is the great Hero Hall of Fame in Scripture, bearing testimony to the believers who lived by faith, regardless of their physical circumstances and sufferings. Our Lord Himself was the perfect example of faith and trust in the Father’s plan, never fearing or wavering during times of trial and temptation.

We are “cut” from the solid rock of Christ. I see the stones in His “quarry” as representing the countless believers who have lived and will yet live through time. These stones vary in shape, size, and usage. Some of them may be crushed into finer pieces than others. Some may be more prominent than others. Yet they all are chiseled from the same block of stone – Christ, the Chief Cornerstone.

When I am tempted to fear and give up hope, I need to remember that I have the strength and solidarity of Christ, and that I am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses which includes my fellow believers in heaven as well as here on earth.  I’m not only standing on the solid rock, I’m part of it.

Prayer: Lord, when all around me gives way, help me to stand on You – my solid rock. Let me not forget my spiritual heritage, and may it be a source of comfort and inspiration to me today. Amen.

The Mountains of God

“I will lift my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1,2).

What is there about mountains that attract us? We enjoy climbing them, vacationing to them, and photographing them. Gazing up at an individual mountain peak or a vast mountain range is awesome to behold - beautiful and majestic in any season of the year. Whether they are bare, snow-covered, green, or golden, mountains evoke feelings of strength, protection, and peacefulness – wonderful visual images of God’s might and power.

Yet mountains can leave us feeling isolated and lonely as well. At times I associate mountains with difficult obstacles in my life, such as my daily pain and ongoing health struggles. In those moments when mountains do not seem so pleasant, I need to run to the Lord and His Word.

Psalm 97:5 says the mountains melt like wax before the Lord. Think about the weight of even one small hill and the power it would take to move it. This is the power of our God. The God who created, melts, and moves mountains is the God who loves me and lives within me. He is reigning over the entire earth, including my individual life. Nothing that comes my way can keep His power and peace from reaching me.

I can choose to allow the mountains in my life to build faith and trust in God rather than allowing them to leave me feeling desolate and alone. God created mountains – even mine. We will either climb them together, or He will remove them. Whatever He may choose, my help comes from Him.

Prayer: Father, as the mountains surround Jerusalem, so You surround Your people now and forevermore (Psalm 125:2). Surround me with the mountains of Your love, peace, and strength today. Amen.

The Lord Is My Light

"The Lord is my light and my salvation -  whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life - of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1).

My husband and I love lighthouses. While visiting our daughter in Maine one summer, we saw some of the northern lighthouses.  They were beautiful and impressive to behold.

Lighthouses have been vital structures for years. By night their shining lights have kept many ships from crashing onto rocks and sand bars, lighting the way through the inky blackness. By day they have been a welcome sign of land after many long days and perhaps months at sea. Their lights are visible at all times regardless of the weather, and they stand firm against the fiercest storms.

As I looked at the lighthouses in Maine, I was reminded that they are wonderful representations of our God. On sunny days we may enjoy this journey of life, looking to Him and knowing the eternal home towards which we journey. On foggy days of fear and uncertainty, His light is there to offer hope and strength. On our darkest days of pain and weakness, His promises keep us from crashing onto the rocks of discouragement and despair. There is no storm in our lives that He cannot help us withstand, no waves that He cannot still, no darkness so black that His light cannot penetrate.

The seas of our daily lives vary as much as the changing ocean, depending upon our physical conditions and circumstances. The lighthouse of God’s presence remains firm and solid. “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God” (Isaiah 41:10).

Prayer: Lord, thank You for being my light and salvation. Help me to keep my eyes focused on that light today. Amen.

Sorrowful Yet Rejoicing

"Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (II Corinthians 6:10).

Although fall is my favorite season of the year, it is a bittersweet time for me as well.  The golden days of autumn are lovely and I want them to linger. The mixed emotions that fall brings remind me of an incident that occurred some months ago.

We planned to visit one of our daughters to celebrate her birthday, and she lived five hours away. Unfortunately I was in the midst of a major flare-up with back pain. I knew that I could become anxious and fearful concerning the duration and intensity of my pain, and that starting my rounds of medications often resulted in a totally depressed and discouraged frame of mind. I also knew if I went down that path this time, the trip could be spoiled not only for myself but for my daughter and husband as well. I truly wanted my response to be different.

God had proved Himself faithful countless times before. Why would He disappoint me now? The Lord enabled me to have wonderful victory. I was in pain or discomfort the entire weekend, yet I can honestly say that I enjoyed the trip and did not allow my problems to dampen the visit. Would I have enjoyed it more without the pain? Of course! Yet I was given grace to enjoy it through the pain.

Very few things in this life will bring complete joy and happiness. There is usually some bittersweetness in every joyous occasion. If nothing else I know it will end. Yet God gives me the ability to find joy in the midst of sorrow, bringing me comfort for the moment at hand and giving me hope for the eternal future yet to come.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I praise You for the joy that will be mine in eternity. Now in this earthly life, give me the ability to rejoice even through sorrow, recognizing the good amidst the pain. Amen.

Songs of Joy

"Where morning dawns and evening fades, you call forth songs of joy" (Psalm 65:8).

I have always loved this verse because it reminds me of the early morning hours when the world is just waking up. It’s such a tranquil time before the rush of life begins. Enjoying the morning hours has become difficult over the last several years due to health issues, and the past few mornings have been especially hard for me. I have been dealing with another round of back pain, this time more severe than it has been in quite awhile. As I write this I am literally on my knees, unable to sit. My usual response to this kind of setback has been a cycle of pain, panic, and depression. But this time, I wanted to call forth songs of joy rather than despair.

Each morning, creation sings of the Creator through sunrises and birdsongs. I’ve noticed it even more lately with the approach of spring. I am reminded of the passages in Scripture describing the trees as clapping their hands and the mountains and hills bursting into song. I can almost imagine this as I watch the newly budding tree branches rustling in the morning breeze. The Lord’s presence can speak even through the rains of a cloudy morning. God is here and the earth proclaims this in any weather.

I want to do that too, despite my physical condition. Psalms 97:11 says light dawns for the righteous and joy for the upright in heart. I want that light and joy to dawn this morning, in the midst of this pain and incapacity. I don’t usually handle these setbacks righteously or uprightly, but the fact that He is giving me even the desire to praise Him through this is testimony to the fact that He is here - now - in this new morning. Our God is a mighty God who works wonders, and this time, perhaps He is working one in me.

Prayer: Thank you God that this is Your world and all nature sings to You. Let me hear it and see it today despite my circumstances, calling forth songs of joy in me. Amen.

Soaring with God

"Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint"(Isaiah 40:31).

In the past few years, I have developed an interest in birds. God used birds to help me through my own “empty nest”, and I have found that bird watching is something I can do despite my physical limitations. One of the things I appreciate most about birds is their ability to soar and glide so effortlessly. At times they seem to fly simply for the pleasure of it, and they are beautiful and entertaining to watch.

With my new interest in birds, this verse has become even more meaningful to me now than in the past. I have struggled with depression for many years, and on my most difficult days, the heaviness can be overwhelming.  All I can do is to trust in God, knowing that these feelings will pass and are not based on the truths of God’s Word.

In those moments I need to remind myself that God can lift me up out of this heaviness and into the heights, soaring just like my birds. That may be difficult to believe when the depression or pain is so intense, yet every word of God proves true (Proverbs 30:5 NLT). I must believe that He is faithful and can bring me out of the depths of despair and into the heights of renewed energy and hope.

My body may not be swift, agile, and graceful like the birds, but my spirit can be lifted as God renews my strength. When I see birds flying in the sky, I want to take heart and remember that I too can soar, for I have a God who performs miracles and displays His power among the peoples (Psalm 77:14).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You that Your Spirit lives within me.  You raise me to new heights of endurance and perseverance,bringing joy and peace in the process. Carry me on Your wings today. Amen.

Lacking Nothing, Possessing Everything

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (II Corinthians 9:8).

This is a tremendously positive and encouraging Scripture. Notice the choice of words. All– used four times – is defined as nothing being lacking, the whole extent. To abound is to be plentiful and filled to overflowing. Every includes all that there could be – the fullest possible amount. Examine how the passage makes use of these words.

“God is able to make all grace abound.” Countless times a day we need God’s grace to show patience, humility, kindness, and other qualities. We are incapable of doing that in our own strength, but He gives total grace.

“So that in all things.” God is present in all conditions and circumstances. No situation takes Him by surprise or is beyond His control.

“At all times.” Regardless of our pain level, irritability, or weakness, He is near. Whether at home or at work, with others or alone, He is there.

“Having all you need.” There will be constant provision of the strength, courage, and endurance needed to face life. The Holy Spirit and His power dwell within us as believers. Physical needs will be met as well. Nothing will be lacking.

“You will abound in every good work.” God is quite capable of continuing to use us for His kingdom and others’ good despite our restrictions.

How may we apply these words to our illness and pain? They remind us that no day will be so difficult that we can not survive it. There will never be a time when He is not there. They tell us that His sufficiency is all-encompassing and complete. They encourage us with the fact that we will still be able to serve Him in some way, regardless of our limitations. Rejoice today! El Shaddai – the All-Sufficient One – is here.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for being my Jehovah Jireh – my Provider. May I walk in the power of that knowledge this day. Amen.

Jars of Clay

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (II Corinthians 4:7).

I am fascinated by the making of pottery – the skill involved in molding, shaping, and baking it to produce either a work of art or a practical container. In Biblical times, clay jars were a necessity of life in which to carry and store things. They were vital yet fragile as well, for they were easily broken.

The Master Potter has molded each of us. He began before we were even aware of life. He knew as He was turning and forming the clay what our lives would hold, both the joyous and the difficult. Our illnesses and pain are no surprise to Him. Sometimes my jar cracks and chips. At times I’ve felt that I have been dropped from a great height, shattered into many pieces. But God lovingly picks up the pieces, adds His life-giving water, and patches me up, each time strengthening the weak spots with His promises and love.

Our imperfect jars of clay are still capable of holding things - the fragrant incense of prayer and praise for the One who sustains us and the flowering blooms of love and support for those around us. Last but not least, we are a visual work of art created by the Lord of the universe to enjoy. Let us ever be reminded of what we are and Whose we are, and of His all-surpassing power and strength that never fail.

Prayer: Lord you are my Creator and Designer. Thank you for molding me in to a vessel of Your choosing. Fill the container of my life with plantings of prayer, praise, and encouragement. Amen.

God's Workmanship

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

As an adult, I have always associated who I am with what I achieve. At the end of a day, if I could list various things I had accomplished, it was a good day. Days during which I accomplished nothing or very little seemed like wasted days. My self-worth was based on activities and accomplishments.

As my physical and sometimes mental and emotional limitations have increased, my “accomplishments” have decreased. At one point I had to give up everything for a time – my church ministries, my job, my social time with friends, and my hobbies. My three daughters also left home, thus I was facing empty nest as well.  I felt I had lost my identity and my reason for living. Life seemed meaningless, useless, and purposeless.

This verse opposes those thoughts. God created each of us knowing what our lives would hold. He knew the illnesses, pain, and circumstances we would face. The word “workmanship” speaks to me of great craftsmanship, care, planning and forethought, not something shoddy and imperfect. The second half of the above verse is also of great encouragement. Psalm 139:16 says that God planned our days before we were even born. Despite how limited we are in our abilities, there are things that only we can accomplish for God. No matter how small our sphere of influence, there is someone we can touch each day, whether through a prayer, an e-mail, or an actual encounter. We are all very special and necessary to God and His kingdom work, regardless of how insignificant or useless we feel on a given day. That thought is reason enough to start each day, remembering that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion, until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, let me not forget how precious I am in Your sight, and that You have created me for special work that only I can do for Your kingdom. Thank you for making me just as I am. Amen.

God's Name - A Strong Tower

“Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name” (Psalm 105:1).

Scripture is filled with passages encouraging us to call upon the name of the Lord. Psalm 18:3 says, “I call to the Lord who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies.” I have many enemies. These enemies are not physical human beings, but rather thoughts and feelings that rob me of my faith and joy in God. The enemies of fear, worry, anger, depression, and many others draw me away from believing that God is truly good and in control of my life. At times, these feelings are natural human responses, but Satan knows how to use them in such a way that they become enemies to my spiritual and physical well-being.

God has many names in Scripture and I have found it helpful to speak them. I may praise Him for being my Elohim (Creator) when I am able to enjoy the beauty of this world. I may cry out for Him to be my Jehovah-sabaoth ( Lord of Hosts) when I need His protection against the attacks of Satan’s lies. When I feel abandoned and hopeless, He is my El Roi (the God Who Sees). I continually ask Him to be Jehovah-rapha (Healer), and above all He is my Savior. God’s name is powerful. It is a strong tower – a place of safety and refuge (Proverbs 18:10). On the days when I am weary with pain and discouragement, I run to that strong tower where I find the grace and strength I so desperately need.

Just as I know God’s name, He knows mine: “He calls his own sheep by name” (John 10:3). How wonderful that we each can have such an intimate relationship with our Lord! He knows our names and our needs even before we ask. And how comforting to know that regardless of how often we call His name, He always hears our cry.

Prayer: Almighty Lord, Your Word says that because You love me, You will rescue me and protect me because I know Your name. When I call, You will answer (Psalm 91:14,15). Thank you for those wonderful and comforting promises. Help me to believe those promises today. Amen.

Fear Not

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind”
(II Timothy 1:7 KJV).

I have struggled with fear for most of my life. As a child, I feared pain and the unknown. As an adult, I have been fearful about finances, my children’s lives, and the health of loved ones. Now I fear my future – how severe and debilitating my health problems will become and how I will keep up with the daily tasks of life. I have had to face this weakness for what it is - a real sin in my life and a way the enemy has of attacking me and my trust and faith in God.

God’s Word says He has given me power, love, and a sound mind. I have the same power that raised Christ from the dead – resurrection power - flowing through me at every moment, capable of helping me face any circumstances.

The love I possess encompasses God’s love for me as well as my love for Him. Scripture says if God loved me so much that He sent his Son, He will surely give me everything else I need (Romans 8:32). His Word also says that if I love God, I will obey His commandments (I John 5:3), which include totally trusting Him and His decisions regarding my life.

The last part of this verse is most significant to me. I particularly like this translation of “a sound mind”. When I am in the throes of panic, fear, and worry, my mind is not sound. I am believing every lie Satan throws at me. I am thinking about vain imaginings – things that may or may not happen. I am taking on the problems of others and making them my own when they may not be what God has intended for my life.

God has specific plans for each of us. He knows exactly what is best and will bring those things to pass in His own way and time. To doubt that is to deny His sovereignty and His love. When fears assail us, we can claim these mighty gifts of love, power, and a sound mind as our own.  We are new creatures in Christ, and we can have a new way of thinking as well.

Prayer: Lord, help me to remember You have given me the ability to demolish the stronghold of fear in my life. Give me that victory today and every day, as I take every thought captive to make it obedient to You (II Corinthians 10:5). Amen.

At All Times I Will Bless Him

“I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. My soul will boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together”
(Psalm 34:1-3).

Many places in Scripture urge us to praise the Lord, and I have learned what power and comfort there is in doing this. We all know Job’s story and have felt at times like him. Whether our problems are health-related or circumstance-related, everyone has had to deal with struggles and trials. We know, at least in our minds, that we should give thanks in all circumstances. Yet it is not an easy thing to do.

When my struggle with pain and depression had gone on for a seemingly endless amount of time, I remembered the above passage of Scripture and a song we sang at church based on that passage. With tears streaming down my face, in desperation I cried, “Yes Lord, I will praise you even in this. At ALL times I will bless you; your praise will be on my lips.” About that same time, a song came out by Matt Redman called “Blessed Be Your Name” with the identical theme – praise God when things are good but also praise Him when they are not. I began trying to do that more and more, and I was amazed at how God took my tears of praise and brought peace and comfort. Was I healed? Not physically, at least at this point in time. Did I receive inner healing and strength for the moment?  A resounding yes! My response of praise is slowly becoming easier, and God continues to uplift me without fail.

When the heaviness, the depression, the overwhelming feelings of incapacity and pain come upon me, I know that the exhortation to praise is not only for His glory but also for my benefit. Despite how difficult it may be to mentally and emotionally drag myself to my feet, He gives me the strength to do so. And God comes. “Those who look to him are radiant” (Psalm 34:5). Exalt His name with me.

Prayer: Father, teach me to praise You at all times, regardless of my circumstances. Give me strength to do so, knowing that as I humble myself before You, You will lift me up in due time. Amen.

A Firm Foundation

“He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure” (Isaiah 33:6).

I have spent most of my years living in the south. I have seen numerous homes that are several hundred years old. In fact, in the early years of my marriage, we lived in a farmhouse that pre-dated the Civil War. Obviously these buildings must have solid foundations to have withstood the ravages of time.

We need firm foundations in our lives as well. If our foundations – where we place our trust and hope – are cracking or crumbling, our lives will eventually come tumbling down around us. This is even more true for those of us dealing with chronic health issues on a daily basis. How we need the strength and solidarity of the Lord to help us through our challenges!

As this verse states, the Lord is our source of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge. As sinners, we are in great need of a Savior. Many times a day we may react in anger, fear, or faithlessness concerning our health struggles. We need His wisdom to give us guidance concerning medications, treatments, and activity levels. We need the knowledge of Him that Scripture gives, so that we may speak the truth to ourselves in times of trial. The Biblical truths that God is good, loving, all-knowing, all-powerful, compassionate, and in total control of our lives will help us through our difficult days. Fearing the Lord is to trust Him, to be in reverent awe of Him, to give Him glory through all circumstances, and to yield our lives to Him, even when circumstances are not of our choosing.

I don’t want my foundation to be upon the sands of this life. I want my foundation resting on the mountainous rock of the Lord and His Word. Then when the rains come, I will still be standing (Matthew 7:25-27).

Prayer: O Lord, how firm a foundation is laid for me in your excellent word. You strengthen me, help me, and cause me to stand, upheld by your omnipotent hand. May I lean on you this day. Amen. (Hymn – How Firm A Foundation)

A Perfect Life

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ”
(Colossians 2:8).

I have always struggled with perfectionism. In order for something to be enjoyable, it had to be as close to perfect as possible. Before my health decline, if an event or activity was not “perfect”, it was a disappointment. I wanted perfect weather, perfect health, perfect activities, and perfect attitudes. Needless to say, not many things lived up to my expectations.

The world promotes the idea that to be truly happy, life must be perfect. If it is not, there are ways to reach that desired state. Television commercials and magazine advertisements are prime examples of this philosophy. We are constantly lured into believing that what we want is within our reach. We can attain it and even have a right to it.

As one with chronic health issues, this idea is one of the world’s “hollow and deceptive philosophies” that is a great temptation to me. If I believe that I can enjoy something only if conditions are just right (no pain or problems), then I will enjoy very few things. I will miss opportunities in which to persevere and grow. I will miss moments not only to increase my faith in God, but also to allow God to show His faithfulness to me.

The perfection I seek will not be found during this earthly life. We were originally created by God for a perfect existence with Him, and the desire for that is within us. Yet we have to accept the fact that it will not be realized until eternity. The world’s view of “the best” is a far different standard from God’s view and it can never satisfy us. Until then, why should I miss many moments of blessing that the Lord gives by saying they are not good enough? “As for God, his way is perfect” (Psalm 18:30). His way for me is perfect as well.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me endurance to wait for the glorious life ahead. While I wait, help me to see all the blessings You have given me in this imperfect world and to make the most of them. Amen.

Lovely Thoughts

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things”
 (Philippians 4:8).

Negative thinking affects my health. Upon waking in the morning, I am amazed at how many negative thoughts come to mind before I am even ready to meet the day! I may dwell on a difficult encounter with someone or on past hurts. I may be analyzing my pain and ability level for the day, remembering mornings when I bounded out of bed to walk, jog, or bike. This thinking pattern may stay with me throughout the day and can be a constant struggle.

Positive thoughts can also affect me. I can awaken praising God for the abilities I do have rather than those which I do not have. I can recall His constant faithfulness on other painful days, knowing His mercies are new every morning. I may think of an individual’s positive qualities rather than his faults. I can be thankful for opportunities to grow through difficult situations. These positive outlooks lift my spirits and cause me to dwell less on my pain.

As a believer I have many reasons to think positively. How easy it is for me to brush lightly over my eternal future and the gift of salvation when I am consumed with my current pain and struggles. God has given me many other blessings which I sometimes take for granted. I need to dwell on what I have rather than on what I lack.

My desire is to maintain a positive mental attitude throughout each day, regardless of my circumstances or pain. As I dwell on lovely thoughts, God’s loveliness will shine through me, and perhaps radiate to others. Let it be so today.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, may I take every thought captive, making it obedient to You. Help me to cast down anything that is not true to Your Word and to see Your loveliness in all things. Amen.