Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Looking Forward

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!” (Isaiah 43:18).

Living with health problems, I sometimes struggle with remembering how life used to be.  Cooking and shopping are more difficult.  I am not able to accomplish as many household tasks as I did before. My travels must now revolve around my more limited mobility. It is understandable to mourn these losses, but if I really believe God is always good and always in control, then I should be looking forward.

I can appreciate my memories and be thankful for all I experienced “before”, but I must believe where I am now is for my ultimate good. Am I the same person I was before my health decline? Absolutely not. Are the changes for the good? Yes! I am a much more thankful person, becoming increasingly aware of even the smallest of blessings.  I am growing in endurance and perseverance as I learn to enjoy things in the midst of pain and still say they are good. I am more compassionate toward others who suffer, and I am learning to rely continually on God's strength rather than my own.

God says not to dwell on the past. He is doing a new thing in my life – a much better thing in the light of eternity. I want to remember that thought as I go through these earthly struggles and disappointments. I have no concept of the eons in eternity where I will be free of pain. Until then, “forgetting what lies behind, and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13.14).

Prayer: O Lord, You are the God of my past, present, and future. Help me to balance thankfulness for my past with faith for my future. Amen.

Springs from the Rock

“Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, . . . who turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water” (Psalm 114:7,8).

This passage refers to the time in the Old Testament when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, waiting to enter the Promised Land. They were complaining about lack of water and God provided water through the rock which Moses struck with his staff.

It is interesting that although the Lord provided what they needed and asked for, He did not necessarily do it the way they might have chosen. Quite possibly they could have preferred being transported immediately into the new land, settled comfortably with all they needed then and there. That was not God’s plan.

We may question God’s provision in our own lives. We would like to be completely free from pain and illness immediately and continually. God may do that for us at some point in this life.  For now however, He may give us freedom from pain temporarily or the endurance to survive the moment. The water He provided for the Israelites was enough to meet their need of thirst. He continued to provide as long as they had that need.

God’s provision for us is enough for today. It will always be enough. He will turn our rocks into pools if we allow Him to do it in the way He thinks best. As we accept the springs He gives us, our thirst will be satisfied.

Prayer: Father, You are my constant provision, meeting my needs as they come. Give me grace to trust You for the springs of living water I need today. Amen.

Purpose While Afflicted

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (II Corinthians 4:17).

There are moments when I believe the truth of this verse, but many times it is difficult to believe in and wait for that eternal reward.

Living with chronic pain and illness I often become self-focused. Daily thoughts can revolve around my discomfort level, medication choices, or limitations on my activities. My troubles do not seem light and momentary. In my relationship with God and what He is doing in my life, I see only my “square of the chessboard” - how my circumstances are affecting me now. I want God to be “all about me”. He is, but He is all about others as well.

If we allow God to do so, He may begin showing us how our pain and suffering can impact others for tremendous good. In the midst of our own struggles, whether we send an encouraging note, pray for someone we know who is struggling, or brighten someone’s day via phone or e-mail, we are all part of God’s bigger picture to touch the lives of others. Perhaps our pain is developing a stronger prayer life in someone we know who is praying for us or allowing them to be a giver rather than a receiver. Handling even one aspect of our suffering well may be a testimony and example to those around us, affecting their lives in a way no healthy life ever could.

When I become too focused on my pain and trials, I want to pray for a heart of thankfulness for all that they may be accomplishing in my life and in the lives of others - now and in eternity. God give me the grace to do it.

Prayer: Lord, give me the strength to stand firm in the faith, knowing that after I have suffered a little while, You will restore me, making me strong, firm, and steadfast (I Peter 5:9,10). May I be willing to endure my trials for Your eternal purposes. Amen.

The Battle Belongs to the Lord

“O Sovereign Lord, my strong deliverer, who shields my head in the day of battle” (Psalm 140:7).

The word “battle” evokes different images for different people. For my husband, who is interested in military history, it would bring to mind strategic moments in the Civil War or World War II - Gettysburg or the Battle of the Bulge. For myself, who enjoys medieval history, I might envision knights and castles, battering rams and catapults. In the Christian realm, we are reminded of our battles against the world, the flesh, and the devil.

For those of us with pain and illness, the word "battle" may take on an entirely new meaning. Every day may become a battle of some sort – battling depression, fear, anxiety, discouragement, weakness, pain, or disappointment. Just as with actual physical battles, our bodies feel the fight. War is exhausting and leaves its scars.

Scripture compares our Christian walk to a battle and reminds us that the battle is not ours but God’s (II Chronicles 20:15). In our own strength we are not capable of handling the daily barrage of attacks on our bodies and the mental anguish that comes with them. But the Lord is more than able. Note that in the above verse the head is what is shielded. How necessary it is for the Lord to guard our thoughts daily, keeping them focused on Him and His strength rather than the trials and struggles at hand.

Our Lord is a strong deliverer and will support us and carry us through every battle of each day. We may feel as though we have been slain and are lying in the dust, unable to get up yet again to fight. But God’s Word says He gives us His shield of victory and His right hand sustains us. He will be with us through every battle today and the next day and the next, until the ultimate battle is fought, won, and we are free. For today, “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10).

Prayer: God of power and might, You are my Jehovah-Nissi – my banner held high, going before me in my daily battles. I praise You for the victories You give and for being my strength when I am weak. Amen.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Burden Bearer

"Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Our God is a God who saves" (Psalm 68:19).

My daughters and I used to play the board game “Pilgrims Progress” based on the classic book of that title. We each had little plastic pilgrim playing pieces complete with knapsack burdens fastened to our backs. When we reached the cross on the playing board, we unfastened our burdens and left them there. We then continued on to the Celestial City, using our armor and the Word to fight the attacks of the enemy along the way.

I carry many burdens on my own back, my physical ones being the heaviest. I can also become overwhelmed by current events and catastrophes, or by the struggles of others I know and care for. My shoulders are not meant to bear those weights. Jesus bore them on the cross and He is now in control of the outcomes. What I may be viewing as burdens to be removed as quickly as possible are in reality opportunities for God to show His love, power, and might, working out His perfect will and building faith and trust in the process.

How differently I would handle the cares of this world if I maintained the Biblical view of trials – that they are good and positive tools, protecting me from my controlling nature and keeping me totally reliant upon and trusting in God. This fallen world will never be free from burdens. I need to lay mine down at the foot of the cross daily – sometimes hourly or more. The Lord Himself then picks them up and takes care of them, every day. Why do I keep picking those knapsacks back up and hauling them around when I can walk in freedom? O Lord, set me free from my prison that I might praise Your name (Psalm 142:7).

Prayer: Gracious and loving God, may I have the self-discipline to give You my burdens daily and leave them there. Save me from my cares, and let me say with the psalmist, “I run in the path of Your commands, for you have set my heart free” (Psalm 119:32).  Amen.