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.