Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Living by Faith and Not by Sight

“We live by faith and not by sight” (II Corinthians 5:7).

This verse has become more real to me recently. Having fibromyalgia, I go through periods of dealing with pain in a specific location. When one pain disappears, another one replaces it. Right now my eyes are causing visual problems which affect my daily life.

With good vision I am able to be independent of others and, for the most part, can do what I want to do when I want to do it. I can see where I’m going as well as where I don’t want to go. I feel I am in control of my life and can plan accordingly. My current vision problem has changed some of those situations and I have become frustrated and fearful.

I can relate this physical situation to my spiritual life. When I live by sight only, I want God’s help and guidance for my life, but I am relying on what I see as well. I am more in control and may question God if I don’t care for the direction He is taking me. I prefer tangible signs to guide me, and I may even ignore His leading and go my own way at times.

Living by faith however means that I allow God to lead me, sometimes not knowing where I am going. The unknown can be a fearful place when I can’t see what lies ahead. Yet that is what God asks me to do – trusting Him completely, walking confidently with Him even when I don’t know where the next step will take me, and giving Him total control of my life.

I am praying that my physical vision will be completely restored soon. It would make my life easier and more enjoyable. As for my spiritual vision, I need only see far enough to find Christ – just one step ahead.

Prayer: All the way my Savior leads me – what have I to ask beside? Can I doubt His tender mercy, who through life has been my guide? Heavenly peace, divinest comfort, here by faith in Him to dwell! For I know, what-e’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well (Hymn). Amen.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Singing a New Song

“He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God”
(Psalm 40:3).

I have always enjoyed music and have been blessed to participate on worship teams at church for a good many years.  We began attending a new church several years ago, and we do not sing most of the songs that I sang in the past.  I miss those old songs greatly, yet I am learning to love the new ones.  Acceptance, however, has taken time.

I can compare my life to these songs.  I loved the “songs” of my past – my work, my children at home, and my physical abilities and activities.  Not every song was a joyous song of praise, but many of my tunes were positive rather than negative.  Now I have to move on to new songs not only in church but in my personal life as well.  Circumstances and health are different. 

There was a time when even my old songs were new to me.  They took time to learn and grow to love.  The same is true for my new songs.  It takes time, patience, faith and trust in God, and even some creativity to learn these new words and melodies.  Adapting to change is challenging, but just as I am learning to love and enjoy singing new musical songs, God is helping me adapt and adjust to new phases of life.  God’s great love and compassion bring at least a few beautiful notes to even the hardest of days.

One day I will sing the old, the current, and the yet unknown songs of praise, together with countless other believers, in my eternal home.  God only writes beautiful music. For now, may I see each new day and new stage of my life as an opportunity to sing new melodies.  It’s time to start learning the new songs He’s written just for me.

Prayer:  O God, give me the strength and the willingness to sing each new song You give to me, returning these songs to You as my gift of praise.  Amen.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Weaving a Basket of Faith

“Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” (I John 5:4).

One Sunday our pastor spoke on the Old Testament story of Moses and the basket that his mother Jochabed made for him. In faith she wove this basket to hide him among the reeds, hoping that the life of her son would be saved from Pharaoh’s death edict. Her basket ultimately saved not only her son but the entire Israelite nation as well when Moses delivered them out of Egypt.

I began thinking about my life of illness and pain and how it has affected my faith. When I first began dealing with these issues, my faith was quite weak. I doubted God’s wisdom in allowing many difficulties and disappointments. The faith basket I began weaving was very small – barely large enough to grasp during my times of turmoil – but it kept me from totally sinking. As I have continued on this journey with God over the years, my weaving skills have increased. I still have holes of weakness, but the weaving is tighter and my hands are tougher now than when I began. Through the years of suffering this basket has grown. It is still not large enough to keep me from falling out every now and then, but it keeps me afloat through the rapids and waves that pain and suffering bring.

Just as God used Jochabed’s basket of protection for deliverance from death, He is using my basket of faith for deliverance from my fears, discouragement, and hopelessness. Every aspect of my life is an opportunity to enlarge and strengthen this basket, provided I am willing to keep weaving. Many times I become tired and want my basket to be finished. One day it will be done. This basket of faith will carry me right to the shores of eternity, and I will go from faith to sight – into the arms of God. Until then, He and I will keep weaving.

Prayer: Gracious God, give me the strength as well as the desire to continue weaving and walking this life of faith, trusting You each and every moment until I see your face. Amen.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Waves of Doubt

“When he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:6).

Our family has always enjoyed the beach. In years past I loved riding a good wave in to the shore. On our last trip however, things were different. I tried swimming out in the ocean but was sucked under by a wave. I tried standing in the water but the strength needed to maintain my balance was too difficult for me. I spent the remainder of the trip looking at the ocean rather than being in it.

Many of us may know the sensation of being pulled under and tossed by a breaking wave. It can be frightening as well as dangerous. When I doubt or question God and His faithfulness, I may experience similar feelings. There are countless times when I am worried, anxious, fearful, or discouraged about my health or circumstances. I pray for peace or guidance but then continually dwell on my concerns, not leaving the results in God’s hands. This causes unnecessary turmoil within me, and I feel blown and tossed by the waves of my emotions and doubts. God will bring about what He has planned and give me the grace and mercy to handle whatever may come. I need to leave my requests with Him rather than continually taking them back.

On those beach trips years ago, I not only enjoyed riding a few crests in to shore but also swimming out beyond them to float on the gentle waves. That is where I need to be now - lifted up on the peaceful swells of faith and trust, rather than dragged to shore by the crashing breakers of my doubts.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me the faith to totally trust You for what is happening in my life and body, for You do not speak and then not act.  You do not promise and then not fulfill (Numbers 23:19). Amen.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Taste and See the Sweetness of God

"Taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8).

I have always been a tea drinker, but my cup usually consisted of a little tea with a large amount of sugar and cream . Because of developing sugar intolerances I stopped drinking tea for awhile since it tasted too bitter. Recently however I have discovered many different teas with unique flavors which I am learning to enjoy without the extras.

As I was reading this verse I realized some interesting truths. In my healthy years as a Christian I certainly loved God, but I was quite caught up in the “sugar and cream” of life – all the many things I could do and enjoy on my own without giving much thought or thanks to God. When those things were removed, life seemed very bitter. Just as I am learning to enjoy my teas and appreciate them alone, savoring their taste and aroma along with the peace and comfort they bring to my day, so I am also learning to savor God alone, without all the extras in life that I once had.

There are mornings when I do add a little sugar and cream to my tea, which I can tolerate in small doses. Those cups are so enjoyable! In the same way God gives me times when I enjoy a special outing, trip, or activity. I appreciate these sweet times even as I accept the fact that they are not daily occurrences.

Some teas and some days still seem bitter and I miss my “extras”. I may never lose my taste for sugar and cream completely, but as I continue to develop my new tastes and new attitudes, I am experiencing the sweetness of knowing that God is indeed good and He is enough.

Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to see all the sweetness and completeness that Your presence brings into my life, and to believe the truth that those who seek You truly lack no good thing. Amen.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Divine Power

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness, through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness”
 (II Peter 1:3).

Many times I put limitations on this verse, depending on the kind of day I am experiencing.
There are the great days – days when I feel well physically and emotionally and am able to enjoy life. These days are sometimes few and far between, and when they come, are very precious. There are the trying days - days when I feel well but circumstances are difficult, from the insignificant to the overwhelming. Then there are the hard days – days of pain and discouragement, when all I can do is to endure and breathe a sigh relief when it ends.

All of these days have a common thread – God’s power to get me through them well. I love the all-encompassing word “everything” in this verse. There is no day, no circumstance, no pain that His power is incapable of handling. In John 16:33, Christ said we would have trouble in this world, but He has overcome it. We forget that we have “his incomparably great power. . . which he [God] exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:19,20). That resurrection power is within believers every moment of every day through the Holy Spirit.

On a great day, we can praise God and sail along, enjoying the blessedness of it. On a difficult day, we can cling in faith to the fact that He will get us through, giving us a memory to draw upon the next time we are sinking. No day is too difficult for God. “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27). Praise God, there is not.

Prayer: Mighty God, thank you that all of my days are ordained by You and that nothing in my life is beyond Your control. Help me to live victoriously, relying on Your great power within me. Amen.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Deliverance or Survival

“The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine" (Psalm 33:18, 19).

This verse speaks to me of two possible scenarios - times when God totally delivers us from difficult situations and times when He brings us through them. I prefer deliverance, but that is not always best for my spiritual growth.

I recently visited one of my daughters. The five hour drive was challenging, but God enabled me to do it. Of course I was hoping to feel well during my visit since we had an agenda of activities. I developed a headache on my drive there. By the evening it was a severe migraine which stayed with me for my entire trip, despite medication. God gave me brief times of reprieve, but He never removed it. The headache left the day I came home.

In previous years, my plea during such an excruciating time would have been for deliverance only. I would have viewed this trip as a total loss, even though I was able to do all the activities I had planned and enjoyed them as much as possible. God did not deliver me, but He kept me alive through my “famine”. Surviving a famine may not be pleasant. This Scripture does not promise abundant food that is easily accessible, but it does promise provision.

I am learning to pray for endurance as well as deliverance. I must believe in faith that whatever method God chooses for each circumstance is best. This experience was another step on my journey of pain with the Lord and it was a victory, although not an easy one. The ultimate deliverance is coming. For now the ability to persevere and survive can be just as much of a miracle as deliverance. This was one of those times, and I will not forget it.

Prayer: O Joy that seeekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to Thee; I trace the rainbow through the rain, and feel the promise is not vain that morn shall tearless be (Hymn "O Love That Will Not Let Go"). Amen.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Positive Deposits and Temporary Negatives

“Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance. . .”
(Ephesians 1:13, 14)

“What is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:18).

Depression is an ongoing battle for me. I am unable to take antidepressants, so each new wave is a struggle to withstand. Friends have suggested that I have a pre-planned strategy to handle these depressive cycles.

As I was reading the above verse about the Holy Spirit, I began thinking of the concept of deposits. One definition of a deposit is a partial payment. I decided to keep a list of all the partial payments, or “little glimpses of eternity”, that God brings in to my life every day. These are my positives. I also remembered that my struggles are temporary, although right now they seem endless. I listed my trials as temporary negatives.

Keeping this daily list has been a tremendous help to my outlook. I am amazed at the many heavenly deposits I am given. Even small things can bring such joy if I allow them to -  a bird at my feeder, a rabbit in our yard, a good cup of tea, a phone call from my daughter, quiet time outside with God on a lovely morning, and many, many more.

Now when the suffocating heaviness of depression weighs me down, I think of my deposits and remind myself that the trials are temporary. Although I may struggle with depression here on earth, it is indeed temporary in the light of eternity. I do have to walk through fire in this life, but I have God’s word that I will not be consumed by it (Isaiah 43:2). His loving presence and comfort are shown in each sign of heaven on earth.

Prayer: Gracious God, thank You for the many ways You reveal yourself to me daily. Thank You for the hope of knowing that one day I will receive my full inheritance, and until that day, Your strength will carry me through my temporary earthly sufferings. Amen.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Like A Well-Watered Garden

“The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail” (Isaiah 58:11).

Despite my physical limitations I enjoy gardening. Most of it is container gardening and I can only work at it for short amounts of time, but enjoying God’s handiwork in plants and flowers is very satisfying to me.

The above verse is a wonderful word picture for life. Countless times when I wake up in the morning, I feel sun-scorched and dry rather than well-watered and fresh to meet a new day. Whether it is due to another night of limited sleep or just weariness from daily pain, many of us know the feeling of waking up more tired than when we went to bed the night before.

What a different picture a garden represents – alive, green, vibrant, easily swaying with the breezes, and fragrant. God’s Word says we will be like that. Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17 both state that those who trust in the Lord will be like a tree planted by a stream, whose leaves will not wither even when the heat comes. At times I ask, “Lord, how can that be possible?”

God is our bountiful reservoir of life-giving water. His Holy Spirit channels that water into us, renewing and rejuvenating us as it flows. According to God’s Word, He gives all of us this water, no matter how weak, insignificant, or useless we feel on a given day. Somehow today He can refresh us so that we can refresh others - through prayer, physical, or verbal encounters - making our lives gardens of praise for His glory.

Prayer: Father, when I am dry, water the garden plot of my life with Your Holy Spirit. May I feel your presence flowing through me, allowing me to be the fragrance of Christ to others. Amen.

Friday, May 7, 2010

My Water Supply

“They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water" (Jeremiah 2:13).

I love birds and enjoy watching them at my feeders and birdbath. One birdbath that I would like to own has a fountain in it, providing continual fresh water for the birds. The flowing water attracts them and is healthy for them as well. Cisterns, like birdbaths, store water. If a cistern’s walls are cracked or broken, it will not hold water. Any water it may hold temporarily becomes tainted with impurities.

There are many Scriptures associating God with water. Obeying His commands brings peace like a river and righteousness likes the waves of the sea (Isaiah 48:18). Those who trust in Him are like trees planted by a stream, bearing fruit even in times of drought (Jeremiah 17:8). Drinking of His living water brings salvation and eternal life (John 4:14).

Just as my birds need fresh water to drink, I need God’s living water to sustain me, particularly through the droughts which pain and illness bring. Yet many times I dig and drink from the untruths of cracked cisterns whose waters are bitter and unhealthy. I have chosen fear and worry over my circumstances, rather than trusting God and seeking His peace. I have believed that pills are the only answer to my suffering, looking desperately to them for relief. Although medications can be a tremendous blessing, my faith should be in God and not in them. I have placed unrealistic expectations on friends, family, and physicians, forgetting that only God will never disappoint or fail me.

Streams of love, mercy, faithfulness, compassion, joy, power, and strength are continually flowing from the fountain of God. Why would I not choose this fresh and living water rather than the bitter waters of my cracked cisterns? As I spend time in His Word, this water will fill me, satisfy me, and flow from within me (John 7:38).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to choose the life-giving truths springing from the fountain of Your Word, rather than the stagnant waters of my false beliefs. Amen.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gardened for God

“Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God” (Hebrews 6:7).

I have not had much experience with farming, but I know enough about gardening to see an interesting lesson for myself in this verse.

If the “land” of my life is going to produce crops, it must first be tilled. This involves using sharp tools, such as my pain and illnesses, to dig up and remove anything that would hinder my spiritual growth. I do not enjoy the process of being tilled and hoed, but God knows what needs to be removed, including the idol I sometimes make of good health. He then plants His seeds of perseverance, joy, patience, thanksgiving, faith, and others.

Once God plants these seeds, I face other challenges in order to grow. The rains do not always come in gentle showers but may also come in heavy floods, taking days to absorb. The sun does not always shine with comforting warmth but with an intense and scorching heat. Soft breezes can become fierce gales. Yet God controls the elements in my life just as He controls the elements in nature. He knows that by His power I am capable of producing these crops of fruit for Him, even in weakness and pain. If I allow whatever wind, sun, and rain He sends to bring growth, God will honor and bless that. Perhaps the blessing will not be in the form of my choosing at this moment, but He will bring it.

The Lord has called each of us to bear fruit that will last (John 15:16). The blessing that comes from being obedient to that calling, regardless of the obstacles we face, includes a peace and contentment that the world can neither give nor understand. He will sustain us through any conditions until He harvests us home.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, may I willingly allow You to be my life’s gardener. Use my weaknesses to produce fruit for You as I abide in You. Amen.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Fragrant Sacrifice of Praise through Pain

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him” (II Corinthians 2:14).

I recently re-read the New Testament story of Mary of Bethany (John 12:8), who annointed Jesus with expensive perfume before His death. I began thinking of how much I wanted to offer a gift to the Lord that would be as touchingly beautiful and fragrant as Mary’s was.

I thought of Mary’s gift. It was a sacrifice in several respects. The expense alone was worth a year’s salary. I imagine she had to give up some wants and perhaps even some needs to pay for it. Although our giving may not be of great monetary value, those of us with chronic health problems are continually giving up activities, hopes, desires, and dreams. We can give them up grudgingly and despairingly, or we can yield them willingly and gladly, even though our hearts are breaking in the process.

Mary also faced criticism and misunderstanding from those around her for her extravagant gift. We sometimes face the insensitivities and criticisms of those who do not understand our limitations. We do not need to feel guilty for what we cannot give. God knows our limitations. Praying for others, keeping positive attitudes, and having thankful hearts even as we are suffering are as honoring and significant to Him as the physical acts of service that healthier people may give.

When Mary poured out the fragrant perfume, the aroma spread to all those present. As we offer our willingness and perseverance to praise God through our pain, the fragrance of that sacrifice can reach others. They are able to see God’s faithfulness to His children through all circumstances as the mighty power of His Spirit works in us, bringing us comfort, peace, and strength. Pouring out our lives of suffering as a gift of love to the Lord may be as sacrificial to Him as the gift Mary gave.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, give me a willing heart to offer my sacrifice of praise through pain. May it become the fragrance of Christ to those around me. Amen.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

God Meant It for Good

"As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good"
(Genesis 50:20 NASB).

I currently volunteer with an English for Speakers of Other Languages program. I am thankful that I am physically able to do this despite my health problems. Communication, however, has been quite challenging. I questioned why the Tower of Babel had to result in language barriers. Couldn’t God have used another way to deal with man’s pride and arrogance? Then I realized that because of this language barrier, I have the opportunity to show God’s love and minister to other people, just as missionaries all over the world are doing. Joseph spoke the words in the above verse to his brothers after his years of enslavement and subsequent rise to power in Egypt. His wisdom brought Egypt through a devastating famine. In both of these examples, we see God bringing good out of what appeared to be bad situations.

I applied this concept to my health struggles. Satan has meant them for evil, knowing that they negatively affect my faith, hope, and trust in God. Yet God can use these trials for my good if I will allow Him to do so. This quote expresses that fact: “There is no situation so chaotic that God cannot from that situation create something that is surpassingly good. He did it at creation. He did it at the cross. He is doing it today” (Bishop Glyn Moule). I can also say He is doing it in my life. I am not the same person physically that I was twenty-five years ago, but I am not the same person spiritually either. I have a dependency on God and a depth to my faith that I might not have experienced were it not for my physical problems.

When I become discouraged, believing that my sufferings are victories for the enemy, I need to remember that nothing is ever a lost cause with God. Perhaps He is even using these struggles to help others, just as He did with Joseph.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to embrace the truth that everything You allow in my life is for my good and for Your glory. Amen.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spring Renewal

“You were taught with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires, to be made new in the attitude of your minds, and to put on the new self…” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Winter is a challenging season for me.  Cold weather and shorter days affect me physically and mentally.  I am always quite ready for the first signs of spring. The world becomes fresh and new as the cold, brown deadness of winter sprouts into the warm, green aliveness of spring.

Just as springtime brings hope to the earth, this verse brings hope to my soul. My old nature is controlled by many deceitful desires including envy, self-pity, anger, and despair. I am to be made new “in the attitude of my mind”. My mind is sometimes a greater enemy than my body. My mind dwells on past abilities and judgmental attitudes towards others. My mind tells me God is not always good or faithful. My mind says this painful life is too difficult to bear.

I need to renew my mind. God will give me the strength to do this, but it takes willing effort on my part as well. I must constantly monitor my thoughts, evaluating not only where they are coming from but where they are leading me. If they are not Scriptural I need to put them from my mind rather than dwelling on them, allowing them to pull me in a wrong direction.

God’s word says that the mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:6). I want life and peace. I want renewal.  When I see flowers blooming and grass growing, I want to remember that as a new creature in Christ, my old ways of thinking can be replaced with the new. Spring can happen within me as well as around me.

Prayer: O God, as You fill the earth with the freshness of Your beauty, fill my mind with the freshness of Your thoughts. By Your power may I be transformed by the renewing of my mind. Amen.

Friday, March 12, 2010

My Divine Comforter

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. . . you know him for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:16,17).

There are times when I have become very burdened by the trials that some of my fellow believers must endure. As I have prayed for God’s Spirit to sustain them, I have been reminded of the Holy Spirit’s work in my own life, and how pain and illness have brought me a new awareness of and relationship with Him.

In difficult times the Holy Spirit brings an appropriate Scripture song or verse to mind. In moments of extreme pain He brings endurance and encouragement. When grieving the losses of abilities or loved ones, He reminds me that my eternal future will be filled with glorious activity and freedom from partings. When I need to make decisions concerning my health or circumstances, the Holy Spirit gives wisdom and insight, either directly, through others, or through His Word. When growth and change come in to my life, He gives me the assurance that God’s grace will be sufficient to handle them. When I am pulled down into the mire of depression, He prompts me to reach out to others rather than dwelling on myself.

I cannot imagine going through life – particularly one of pain and suffering –without the wonderful presence of the Holy Spirit. Living on this side of the cross, we have His presence on a continual basis. He is a special gift from the Father and the Son to help us through this earthly life until we see our Lord face to face. I am sure His work will not end then, and it will be exciting to see His ministry throughout eternity. For now however, we can rejoice in knowing that wherever we go and whatever we are experiencing, His presence is with us continually.

Prayer: O Lord, thank you that You have not left me comfortless in this life, but have given me the wonderful indwelling of the Holy Spirit living in and through me. Whatever I face in this life, I know that Your Spirit is with me, holding me fast. Amen.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Heavenly Perspective on an Earthly Life

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has ever conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (I Corinthians 2:9).

I recently read the book  Heaven by Randy Alcorn. This topic can give me hope and encouragement for my eternal future. However, I can also focus too intently on “going home”. Initially I found myself doing that, yet as I continued reading, God changed my perspective on my earthly life while yearning for my heavenly one.

I constantly face negative thoughts and emotions concerning my limitations. I mourn the loss of old abilities and new activities. As I dwelt on those thoughts, God reminded me of a wonderful truth. I will have an endless eternity to enjoy those things and much more. When I think of the places I would like to visit now, they cannot compare to the beauty I will see daily on the new earth. When I think of the gardening I would love to do, I know that the flowers I grow on the new earth will be more incredibly beautiful than any here. I will experience all this and more in a perfect, pain-free body, and the Lord Jesus will be there enjoying it with me.

Everything that God brings into my life on this earth is for a purpose. There are lessons I need to learn, traits I need to strengthen and develop, and work I have been given to do here and now. God knows that all of these things are necessary training for the wonderful life that lies ahead.

There will still be moments when I struggle with my desires. Yet by God’s grace and power, I can move on to that eternal perspective. There will come a time when these days of suffering are only a distant memory. Now they are preparing me for an unending life with God that is beyond my most wonderful imaginings.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for the blessed hope of my eternal future. Remind me that the losses I grieve now are only shadows of the glories to come, and help me to willingly accept the ways You choose to prepare me for those wonders. Amen.

Inwardly We Are Being Renewed

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (II Corinthians 4:16).

What an encouragement this passage is! Pain ages me. Some days I feel that I’m wasting away more than others. Pain and trials have caused me to lose that light-hearted, optimistic, and youthful outlook on life. Cynicism, hopelessness, and drudgery can fill my days if I allow them to do so. Physical limitations make me feel older than I am. The latest magazines and books leave me feeling discouraged and disheartened, since I am unable to follow the regimen of physical activity and supplements to keep me “in shape” and “be a younger me.”

Yet God does a wonderful thing inwardly. As I look to Him each day, He restores peace; “May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way" (II Thessalonians 3:16). He renews hope; “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself . . . who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts" (II Thessalonians 2:16). He releases fears; “Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you" (Joshua 1:9). He reminds me of who and whose I am; “Look to the rock from which you are cut and the quarry from which you are hewn" (Isaiah 51:1). Although I am aging physically, my spirit is becoming younger and more alive than it has ever been.

We cannot stop the effects of illness and pain on our physical bodies, but by God’s power we can keep it from destroying our spirits. As our spirits are renewed, we understand an even deeper meaning to being a new creation in Christ. We can look forward with great anticipation to the new bodies that await us in eternity. Until then, we can continue to “be made new in the attitude of our minds, and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:23,24). That is worth far more than any gym workout, health supplement or beauty treatment could ever be.

Prayer: Uplift my spirit today Lord, reminding me that You see me not as I am now, but as I will be in eternity. As I wait on You, renew my strength to live for You in this season of my life. Amen.

I Will Always Have Hope

“But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.  My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long, though I know not its measure”
 (Psalm 71:14,15).

Hope is a dichotomous word to me. I have had positive experiences with hope – pleasant expectations fulfilled, desires satisfied, pain relieved, and my eternal future secured. I have also had negative experiences – another drug that didn’t help me, a new doctor who had no answers, another activity in which I was unable to participate, another cycle of pain/panic/depression. Sometimes I have felt as though my hope was gone and could never be brought back. I was too beaten down by this life.

The dictionary states that hope is to trust or rely on something, or a desire accompanied by expectation. In whom or what am I placing my hope? If it is a person, treatment, or pill, it may or may not be fulfilled. If it is in the Lord, it will always be satisfied. After days, weeks, or even months of no improvement or relief from struggles, it becomes easy to give up all hope. I may become fearful and despairing about the future during this earthly life. Recently a passage in the Old Testament came to mind. When God gave the Israelites manna, He gave them only enough for that day except on the day before the Sabbath. If they collected too much, doubting that God would provide the next day, it rotted and was worthless. God wanted them to believe that He would provide enough – daily. Daily is the key. God gives me hope for one day at a time. Each new morning, if I put my trust in Him for whatever the day may bring, the Holy Spirit will give me fresh hope.

When that happens I also experience another aspect of His salvation, which is His saving grace to bring me through the day. I realize I truly cannot comprehend its measure, but it is enough for today and that is all I need. It is all any of us need. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Prayer: Gracious Lord, how comforting it is to know that my hope will never be disappointed when that hope is in You. Renew and refresh that hope today.  Amen.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Choosing the Right Path

“Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left” (Proverbs 4:25-27).

Some time ago, I attempted a short hike with my husband. Although the path was not long, it was somewhat rocky and uneven.  After walking for a brief time, I began experiencing such back pain that I was unable to continue. We then tried another path, but became bogged down in mud. We ended our hiking and enjoyed a scenic drive instead.

This verse reminds me of that experience. My wandering eyes can draw me down paths of examining other people’s activities and abilities. I also have moments when I am tempted to look backward, getting pulled down into the memories of my past life and the health I possessed then.

These directions will not keep me on firm ground, but rather will lead me to envy, discontent, and discouragement. An annotation to the above verse reads, “Consider the paths for your feet”. Where I choose to walk is a choice I must make. Every day, I can choose the firm direction of God’s Word and truth, having the assurance that He knows what is best for my life and is guiding and sustaining me as I walk. If I choose the uneven paths of comparing myself to others or of looking back, I become more lame and disabled (Hebrews 12:13).

Although Christ’s path is level and firm, it is not always easy. Yet His Word says that though I stumble I will not fall, for He upholds me with His hand (Psalm 37:23).    He will broaden my path and keep my ankles from turning (Psalm 18:36).  I want to finish this walk of life and arrive at my heavenly destination in victory, not defeat. By fixing my eyes on Jesus, I’m going to make it (Hebrews 12:2).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me the faith to trust in Your direction for my life, rather than my own understanding. As I commit my way to You, You will direct my paths. (Proverbs 3:5,6). Amen.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Delightful Inheritance

“Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. . . surely I have a delightful inheritance”
 (Psalm 16:5,6).

The word “inheritance” brings pleasant pictures to my mind. I think of lovely antiques, heirloom jewelry, and perhaps an unexpected sum of money! Our spiritual inheritance is of far greater worth than any earthly one could be.

At times in this life, with this imperfect body, I am not content with my portion and cup. I would prefer something different. Yet Scripture says the Lord “assigned” this cup to me. If God chose the paths for my life, and if I truly believe in and trust Him for my ultimate good, then I should accept my cup willingly. He is all I need to satisfy my desires in every way.

This passage also states that the Lord has made my lot secure. He is in control of my destiny – past, present, and future. I know where my eternal future lies, but I also know He will be with me through everything I face in this life. I am not alone.

Truly I do have a delightful inheritance. Unlike an earthly one, I do not need to wait for someone’s death to receive it. The death took place years ago at Calvary. The gifts are mine, waiting for me accept them. God’s presence is with me daily - surrounding me, protecting me, guiding me, and loving me. In pain and pleasure, He is there to bring hope, joy, comfort, and peace. I can exclaim with the psalmist, “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure” (Psalm 16:9). As I go through this life, may I be reminded of all He has given me even now, and rejoice.

Prayer: Gracious God, You have shown me the path of life. In Your presence is fullness of joy and in Your right hand are pleasures evermore. Thank you that You are my most precious inheritance. Amen.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Keeping Our Lamps Lit

“You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light” (Psalm 18:28).

As much as I appreciate modern electricity, there is something very comforting and peaceful about old-fashioned oil lamps. I have a small one I purchased from a yard sale, and I enjoy simply looking at it. It does require some effort to keep it burning however. Without maintaining a full supply of oil in the base, the wick will not burn. Although shaped differently, Biblical lamps burned in the same way.

Just as these lamps need oil to continue burning, so I need the edifying and encouraging oil of God’s Word to keep my light burning. When I neglect to fill my life with His presence, through the reading of His Word and prayer, I eventually burn out. On those days, I grope about in the darkness of anxiety, fear, and despondency. I need to maintain that oil supply to see my way through life, particularly on painful or difficult days.

In Biblical times, these oil lamps were the only source of artificial light and often continued burning throughout the night. A darkened house was a sign of abandonment. If I do not keep my life filled with the truths of God’s Word at all times, I will feel abandoned and alone in my struggles. The oil supply is not lacking, but I have neglected to replenish it.

I have paraphrased the Eerdmans Commentary on this verse, because I thought the main concept was expressed so well: The key to David’s life was the Lord my God. The indwelling light and power of God’s presence maintained the burning glow of his daily life, as well as giving the power and motivation to overcome difficulties. The indwelling presence of our wonderful God truly is the continual light source we need for our everyday lives as well as for our intense times of trial. There will always be more than enough oil for our lamps if we continue to fill them.

Prayer: O Lord, thank you for the sustaining oil of Your Word and Your presence, which illuminates my life. Keep me faithful and consistent to remain filled with You. Amen.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Being Made Holy

“By one sacrifice, He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy”
(Hebrews 10:14).

It is difficult for me to understand that God sees me now as the perfect creation I will be in eternity. Yet because of Christ’s sacrifice, my eternal perfection has already been accomplished. Now, in this earthly life, I am being made holy. I would much rather be made perfect now and be made holy in the future, but that is not God’s plan.

The definition of holy is “to be consecrated, set apart, dedicated or devoted to the service of God”. The world is not too concerned about holiness. Many people do not even understand that concept. How can I grow in holiness as I live with health problems? Do I believe that God is using these physical challenges to increase my holiness? Scripture says I am being made holy now – it is an ongoing process in this life. Whatever God is allowing in my life must be working toward that end.

There are opportunities to increase my dedication and devotion to God even while facing health challenges. Christian music, movies, and books are all wonderful ways to promote spiritual growth and draw me closer to God. Limited abilities have the potential of changing my perspective on what is truly important in this life. Participation in any activities, regardless of how small or sporadic, provide opportunities for developing a more grateful and thankful heart. Enduring and growing in my commitment to the Lord while suffering may be examples of perseverance and strength to others, possibly spurring them on to greater dedication and faith.

Striving for holiness is an actual act of worship in which we can participate daily, even with our limitations (Romans 12:1). God uses different means in all believers’ lives to change them into His likeness. Our illnesses and pains may well be the tools He is using to bring about the holiness that He desires in us. Let us allow them to finish their work, so we may be mature and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:4).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me a heart that desires holiness. Help me to accept whatever methods You choose to conform me to Your image. Amen.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Going in the Right Direction

“May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance”
 (II Thessalonians 3:5).

One of the most difficult aspects of chronic pain and illness is that it is unending.  For every problem that is resolved, a new one seems to take its place.  Each time I experience this, I am tempted to go in  my usual directions of frustration, anger, and discouragement. This verse challenges me to do otherwise.

If I am directed into God’s love, I accept the truth that God loves me beyond my comprehension. He proved this love by sacrificing His only Son for me, and by giving me the indwelling comfort of His Holy Spirit. Enabling me to go through each new trial is one way God shows His love and faithfulness to me. He has not failed me yet, and I can release my doubts and discouragements, having total trust in His decisions for my life, including my physical struggles.

What of directing my heart into Christ’s perseverance? Jesus left His heavenly home, enduring the pain and discomforts of this earthly life. He did not give up in frustration or anger when the very ones He came to save rejected or misunderstood Him. Even knowing what lay ahead at Calvary, He continued on to His death – “Who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). That is the kind of perseverance God is working in me – “after you have suffered a little while (He) will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast” (I Peter 5:10). Every trial is another opportunity to draw me closer to Jesus, and His power will enable me to bear it.

In my own strength, I cannot possibly understand the depth of God’s love, nor can I remain as steadfast as Christ. But if my heart’s desire is to reach these goals, God’s power is strong enough to accomplish it. Then when the intense times of discouragement, pain, or hopelessness come, I will go in the right direction of meditating on these truths. There I will find my victory.

Prayer: My Savior and my God, use my trials to move me in the direction of drawing closer to You, rather than farther from You. Amen.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

God's Unshakable Love, Peace, and Compassion

" 'Though the mountains be shaken and the hills removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace removed,' says the Lord, who has compassion on you" (Isaiah 54:10).

In January of 2010, Haiti suffered a severe earthquake. Two of our church members were there, and thanks be to God, were kept safe. As I learned more about the total devastation and repercussions of this tragedy, I thought of this verse and its significance to those of us with chronic health problems.

Although I have not experienced a geological earthquake, there have been times when my life has been greatly shaken due to health problems. A new pain or questionable test result is a source of great concern. Loss of yet another ability is devastating. Sometimes it appears as though our world is literally falling down around us, and we may be tempted to give up all hope.

God’s Word says that even when we experience these “earthquakes” in our lives, He is still there for us. Nothing we are experiencing in our earthly bodies can remove His peace or love. God takes His covenants very seriously – seriously enough to have shed Jesus’ blood as a sign for us. We not only have His peace but His compassion as well. With each pain we experience – each tear we cry – God is pouring out His comfort and compassion in some way, though we may be unaware of it at the time. God’s compassion for us is greater than what we offer even to our own children (Psalm 103:13).

When we face these upheavals in our lives, we can know that regardless of how earth-shattering they may seem, God’s love, peace, and compassion will be there surrounding us. “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall in to the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46:2). We have His Word on it – literally.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, how thankful we are that Your mercy, compassion, peace, and love never fail. Give us the faith to believe the truth of Your Word at all times. Before we call, You answer; while we are still speaking, You will hear (Isaiah 65:24). Amen.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Progressing Toward Praise

“You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound”
(Psalm 4:7).

I noticed an interesting progression in this Psalm. David began with a cry of distress, asking God to answer him (verse 1). He acknowledged that God heard and answered his cries (verse 3), and then meditated in his heart, offering the sacrifices of praise to and trust in God (verses 4-5). He ended the Psalm being filled with joy. I also noted that in other Psalms of distress, whether joy was a byproduct or not, the authors reminded themselves of God’s faithfulness and ended with victorious words of assurance.

I began thinking of the way I handle my times of distress. Yes, I cry out to God, begging for relief, but do I continue as David did? Do I move on, meditating on God’s faithfulness to me in the past and committing myself to trusting Him for this particular moment? Do I give Him a sacrifice of praise in the midst of my turmoil? I must admit the answer is not always.

Not only did David receive great joy, but he also received peace which allowed him to sleep (verse 8). How many times have I lain awake at night worrying about the health or circumstances of myself or others? Of course there are nights of pain when praising God may not necessarily bring sleep, but there are many other times when fears and worries are my source of sleeplessness.

When I have followed David’s example, I have not always experienced joy afterwards.  Yet the Holy Spirit has never failed to bring peace and sometimes the joy has come later. Whether I am facing a new crisis or whether I am dealing with the same recurring issues, I would do well to learn from David. It will require some self discipline, for it is easier to give in to the ways of my old nature than to grow into my new one. But I have the power of the resurrected Christ in me, and the end result will be well worth the effort.

Prayer: O Lord, as I end my pleas with praise, fill me with Your joy, victory, and peace. Amen.

Ambassadors for Christ

"We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors,as though God were making his appeal
through us"(II Corinthians 5:20).

Our pastor once preached on this passage. I usually associate this verse with foreign missions, but as I listened, I was impressed with a new thought.

The word “ambassador” means having a mission or assignment to carry out. This verse does not say that Christ’s ambassadors are only the healthy, the strong, the mobile, or the mentally alert. It says that we – all believers – are on this mission for God.

Many days I may feel I don’t have any “assignment”– I may not be able to physically “do” anything from my perspective. I then thought about ambassadors to other countries. I’m sure there are times when every day is not packed with activity, yet they still remain as a constant presence, ready and prepared to represent their country.

I can do the same. There may be long periods where I feel there is no “mission” I am capable of carrying out for God, yet His Word says otherwise. We are God’s vessels on this earth. He has chosen us as well as the healthy and strong to represent Him. If nothing else, our continued perseverance and faith are an assignment which may have significant effects in someone else’s life.

An ambassador’s home is not where he is serving. He is living there temporarily until his mission is accomplished. I am actually doing that now on earth.  Some days I am ready to finish my assignment  and be sent home.  But the Lord knows what only I can do for Him, and until that is finished, He will keep me here. One glorious day I will be able to say, “Mission accomplished”. May I also hear the Lord say, “Well done thou good and faithful servant”.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you that You choose not only the whole and healthy but the weak and infirm as Your vessels, for when we are weak, then You are strong. May we look on every day as an opportunity to represent You and to do it well. Amen.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Keeping Our Vision

“Where there is no vision, the people perish, but he that keepeth the law, happy is he”  Proverbs 29:18 KJV).

I have heard this verse quoted many times and applied to many circumstances. I recently realized how applicable this verse is to those of us with health conditions.

Living with limitations, it is easy to lose vision for our lives. Having to give up a job, career, ministry, or daily household tasks, we can feel useless and unnecessary. It becomes easy to fall into depression and isolation, and we can indeed begin to “perish”. I found that happening to myself at one point. The more depressed and isolated I became, the more difficulty I had bringing myself back in to contact with others. I was denying the truth of God’s Word which says that He has a plan and purpose for my life, regardless of my physical condition.

The Lord has a vision and purpose for each of us at this point in time. Before my health decline, my only writing consisted of college term papers written years ago. Yet God had a vision for my life which I would not have thought possible – writing devotionals. The same is true for each of us. We may not all be called to write, but we can intercede for, encourage, and support others to the glory of God in various ways.

Although health problems may seem to limit our earthly usefulness, they do not limit our usefulness in God’s kingdom. God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8), and He will bring about all that He has planned (Isaiah 46:11). As we seek the Lord’s face, His light will guide and direct us in to the purposes He has for us, even in our infirmities. Every day, may we ask the Lord to see our lives with a thriving heavenly vision rather than a perishing earthly one.

Prayer: Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart; nought be all else to me, save that Thou art -Thou my best thought, by day or by night, waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light (Irish hymn). Amen.

For the Praise of His Glory

“In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we . . . might be for the praise of his glory”
 (Ephesians 1:11,12).

I once read the book Images of the Blue Ridge Parkway by George Humphries. Taking more than twenty years to accumulate perfect photographs for the book, the author succeeded in creating a glorious work of art and beauty.

I’m sure the author traveled at all hours, in all kinds of weather, and in all seasons of the year to acquire such perfect pictures. He probably had some days that were not successful and some photos that were disappointing. Perhaps when he first began taking pictures, he didn’t even know that the end result would be this beautiful masterpiece. It was an accumulation of hours, days, months, and years of perseverance and effort.

I began thinking of my own life. I continually struggle with my purpose here and ask God why – why must I deal with these limitations when so many others I know are leading such full, active lives? Just when I think I have come to total acceptance, I enter another round of questioning.

I realized that my life is like that book. I have had seasons full of activity and accomplishment – some nice photos. Now I am in a different place. Yet the entire sum of my life is producing a work of art for God’s glory. He is producing a masterpiece in me and in all believers, but it is one that takes many years and experiences to complete.

When I wake up in the morning and have that old familiar feeling of “why another day, Lord?”, I want to think of that lovely book and what it took to produce it. I’m traveling on my journey with God and need to ask myself how I can live another page of glory to Him today.

Prayer: Lord, give me the strength and desire to make Your glory reason enough to answer all my “whys”. Amen.