Friday, December 30, 2011

Courage to Face the New Year

“Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. Go out and face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you: (II Chronicles 20:15, 17).

For many people, the new year brings feelings of optimism and hope. For us with ongoing health problems that may not be the case. We may have a “vast army” of problems, and unless God performs a miracle, the new year will bring more of the same old battles and perhaps new ones. Trying to be optimistic is indeed a challenge.

I think the word “battle” is very appropriate to describe ongoing problems with pain. I experience exhaustion and depression from the battle of trying to stay on top of whatever problems are troubling me at the time. When I think of battle, negative words come to mind, such as fear, weariness, and fighting. But there is a positive word as well - courage. A few months back I read this quote on my daughter’s Facebook page: “Courage does not always roar; sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow’ ” (Mary Anne Radmacher).

As I look to this new year, I may feel I don’t have the strength to enter it with a “roar” of boldness and faith that I will triumph valiantly every day. Yes, God is more than able to bring me through in that way but many times my faith and trust in Him wanes. I can however choose to remember God’s omniscient grace, love, and power. I can say, “Yes, Lord, I begin this new year humbly and quietly looking to You for the courage to try tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. This battle is not mine. It is Yours, and no matter how overwhelming the year may look, I can face it because of Who You are – the Lord, mighty in battle.”

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I praise You and thank you that I can enter this new year with courage, knowing that along with Your blessings, You will bring me through every battle I will face. Amen.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Our Christmas Gift of Sacrificial Praise to God

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15).

I usually associate the word sacrifice with Easter, remembering Christ’s death on the cross for our sins.  At Christmas I may think of giving in a financially sacrificial way to an individual, cause, or organization.  However, reading the definitions of the word sacrifice changed my thinking this Christmas season.

To sacrifice may mean not only giving something up but also foregoing something valued for the sake of something else or permitting injury or destruction to.  The holidays are a mixed blessing for me.  I want to enjoy and appreciate all of the good things and yet I struggle with limitations such as being unable to do as much baking, socializing, or decorating as I would like, or eating all of the beautiful sweets that I love.  But I can forego these pleasures and give these desires up as a gift to God.

I also pondered the fact that God the Father made a huge sacrifice of love for us that first Christmas.  He willingly allowed Jesus to leave the splendor and majesty of His heavenly home to live in poverty and rejection.  This sacrifice involved 33 years of separation and a life of pain and suffering for His Son, culminating in death on the cross.  If Father and Son both gave so sacrificially for me that first Christmas, surely I can give up whatever desires I have this holiday season that will not be fulfilled.

God has allowed me, for whatever reasons, to have these physical trials.  I can become angry, depressed, or frustrated this holiday season and feel sorry for myself, or I can choose to willing yield whatever I must for the sake of His perfect will, knowing that the celebrations in heaven will more than compensate for my disappointments here.  And hopefully the gift of sacrificial praise that I give this Christmas will not be a one-time gift but an ongoing one, a small token of my thankfulness and love to Him who gave so much.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank you for all Your wonderful blessings.  I willingly choose to offer you my gift of sacrificial praise through this Christmas season.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Regardless of Our Weaknesses, We Are Important Instruments in the Body of Christ

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” 
(I Corinthians 12:27).

One seasonal tradition that I enjoy is attending our community orchestra holiday concert. I read an interesting analogy in the book Living above Worry and Stress by the Women of Faith series comparing our Christian lives to an orchestra.

During a concert some instruments are playing and others are at rest, yet all musicians keep their eyes fixed on the conductor. “The church is like that orchestra. At times, we work hard and the music of our lives is glorious. At other times, we are allowed to rest. Others take up the song. Whether you are giving your all right now, or are in a season of attentive rest. . . , you are an important part of a larger group. And the result of our woven lives is beautiful, and it all glorifies God”.

In seasons of pain and limitations it is easy to feel lost and insignificant, particularly during holidays. We may not be able to participate in church functions and ministries or serve our families and friends the way we used to. When I begin entertaining those thoughts, I think of the orchestra. At times in my life I have been more of a violin – in fact my family has been known to call me “high strung”! Now I see myself as more of a triangle. That instrument doesn’t play too often, but it still adds to certain songs.

We are all important to the work of God’s kingdom. We may not play as frequently as in the past and only God may hear our notes, but even our rests can be preparing us for the part we will play in the glorious eternal orchestra of praise to our God.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, keep me faithful in using the gifts you have given me to serve You as I am able. And when times come that I can no longer “play”, whether for a song or for a season, let me keep my eyes on You, resting in the truth that I am still a valuable part of the orchestral body of believers.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

“I remember my affliction and my wandering. . . and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:19-22).

When our girls were young, at Thanksgiving we started a Thankful Tree. We drew a tree trunk on paper and each of us had a branch on which to write what were thankful for that year.  Throughout many of those years my thanks related to activities involving our family or enjoyable personal blessings I had received. In recent years however, it has been more difficult and sometimes even depressing to evaluate my life. I seem to associate every season with a different health problem: in winter – ear and eye pain; in spring – severe allergies; in summer - major back relapses. And that doesn’t include emotional issues or family problems. If I continue this train of thought, I lose the entire purpose of the thankful tree!

Yes, it is true that physically my life has changed drastically over the past 25 years. But as I remember the difficulties of the past year, I also need to remember the blessings that God gave through them: medicines that gave pain relief, even if temporarily; a special honey that greatly reduced my allergy symptoms; a wise physical therapist who gave me just the right exercises; a cushion that allows me to sit for longer periods without pain. These may not be what “normal” people would write on their thankful tree, but they are definitely gifts from God that have brought me through difficult times. And I must not forget the wonderful support of family and friends.

As I remember my afflictions this Thanksgiving season, may I also see God’s constant faithfulness and compassion that have carried me through another year. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Psalm 118:1).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, through every season of my life You do not change and Your compassions do not fail. Great is Your Faithfulness to me. Amen.

Monday, November 14, 2011

God's Blessings of Unfailing Love and Wonderful Deeds

“He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, for he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron”
 (Psalm 107:14-16).

Sometimes my pain feels like a prison. Whether it’s physical pain or the mental anguish of anxiety and depression, I feel trapped and unable to escape. Then these words are of great encouragement to me. During one of my worst moments I made notes on this chapter listing all the things God does for me. I go back to that list continually.

God leads me and shows me where to “settle” when I’m wandering (verse 7). He gives direction on where to go or what to do when I need guidance. And if I choose unwisely, He can bring good even out of that.

He satisfies my hunger and thirst ( verse 9) when I feel dissatisfied with my life, pulled by the world, or longing for some unknown fulfillment.

He brings me out of the darkness and gloom (verse 14) of anxiety, despair and depression , bringing victory over these behaviors if I cling to the truths of His Word rather than my own thoughts.

He heals me by His Word (verse 20). Even when God does not physically remove my suffering, His written Word heals my heart and mind.

He stills my storm and guides me to my desired haven (verse 29-30). In the chaos and confusion of life, He brings a peace not of this world.

He turns my deserts into pools of water and my parched ground into springs (verse 35). He may use others along with His Word to bring me relief, and He may use my suffering to minister to others.

All this He has done and will continue to do. Let me give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and wonderful deeds in my life!

Prayer: My Savior and my God, whether You free me literally or spiritually, “Set me free from my prison, that I might praise Your name (Psalm 142:7). Amen.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Our Time Is in God's Hands

“Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of very opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15,16).

The King James Version of this passage says to walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time. One definition of walking circumspectly means to be heedful of potential consequences, being prudent, careful, thoughtful, and observant. Redeeming can mean making something acceptable in spite of negative qualities. I find this to be very wise advice as I walk this life of chronic pain.

I used to be quite good at multi-tasking. Everything was done as efficiently as possible to save time. As my health deteriorated, I learned to slow down and do less. Too much busyness overwhelmed me physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Increasingly over the past months, my family responsibilities with ageing parents and grown children are requiring a good bit of time and I feel very overwhelmed. Trying to help others while either in pain or exhausted is draining. I also become my own worst enemy by imposing my perfectionist standards on myself, thinking I need to be everything to everyone. I become frustrated and discontent at what I can’t do, yet also overwhelmed and fearful about what I need to do.

God has a plan and knows what I can and can’t handle. He has faithfully shown me that when He calls me to do something, He gives me the power to accomplish it, and when rest is best, I need to accept it. Every day I must seek the Lord’s plan for my time. Some days it may be best for me to rest and some days I may need to push through the pain and keep going. Whatever God’s plan of the day is, He will give me the grace to accept and even endure it if necessary. Whether I am in a season of plenty or want, God can redeem the time if I wisely yield it to Him.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, “teach us to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12 NAS). Whatever our days bring, whether seemingly too much or too little, help us to accept them as Your perfect plan for our lives. Amen.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Viewing Our Pain from Higher Ground

“You have not handed me over to the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place”
(Psalm 31:8).

I saw a movie once about a psychologist who helped people manage their grief over the death of a loved one. He took a group of people out into the middle of a busy city street and had them observe their surroundings. He then took them up to the roof of a tall building on that same street, look around again, and tell him what they saw. Their responses were completely different. Instead of flashing lights, noisy traffic, and harried people, they saw blue sky, sunshine, and rooftop gardens. He reminded them that they were in the same place as before only their perspective had changed.

I love that analogy. So many times I become overwhelmed by the entrapped feelings of despair and discouragement. I can’t see past my current pain and suffering. In those moments God can lift me up to a higher place – a place where I can see things differently, even if just for a moment.

Of course there may be times when the pain or suffering is so great that I feel I can’t see beyond the moment. Then I find it helpful to remember something I read once. Ask myself not what does this time of agony mean to me, but what does it mean to God? And if I have no answer, remember nothing is a lost cause with God.

In our most desperate moments, if we can mentally drag ourselves upwards to that higher ground, God may very well give us a glimpse - however brief - of His divine love, mercy and grace. We may see a bit of our eternal reward in a ray of sunshine through the clouds or a flower through a brick wall. And that different perspective may be what just what we need to keep hanging on.

Prayer: I want to live above the world, though Satan’s darts at me are hurled; for faith has caught the joyful sound, the song of saints on higher ground. Lord lift me up and let me stand by faith on heaven’s tableland, a higher plane than I have found: Lord, plant my feet on higher ground. (Hymn – Higher Ground).

Allowing God to "Pop" Us through Trials

“These (trials) have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold. . .may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed: (I Peter 1:7).

I enjoy popcorn in any season of the year, but for some reason I associate it with fall and winter the most. Interestingly enough, a recent children’s sermon I heard in church gave me some thoughts on popcorn and my life.

Popcorn must be heated to pop. We all know the sensation of biting down on an unpopped kernel. I have almost lost a few teeth that way! Kernels need to pop to be good. We have also probably tasted popcorn that has been heated too long. In my opinion, nothing smells worse than burned popcorn and it doesn’t taste too good either. The key to perfect popcorn is having it heated for just the right amount of time (and adding some salt and butter of course!).

The “heat” of my earthly trials is going to affect me. If I don’t allow them to “pop” me and accomplish their work, I will not grow in perseverance and maturity (James 1:2-4). Likewise, if I allow my trials to overwhelm me and become overly burdened by them rather than trusting in God’s wisdom, I may get burned.

God is in control of the heat in my life. Just as we should never leave our popcorn unattended on the stove or in the microwave, God never leaves me unattended. He never brings more than I can handle, even if that seems to be the case at the moment. God will sustain me through the pain and sufferings in my life, even when I feel the popping is too painful. And as others look at my life, they may even be able to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, may I believe these words in faith today: “When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply; the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine” (hymn - How Firm A Foundation).

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Glorifying God in the "Deaths" of our Pain and Illness

“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death”
(Philippians 1:20).

Although I love the fall, I experience mixed feelings during this season. I enjoy the beautiful colors and crisp days, but I physically feel the effects of the colder weather and know that winter is coming. A statement from one of my daughter’s friends impacted me greatly: “I wonder if fall is God’s way of inviting us to consider that the deaths he calls us to can be beautiful” (Alex Kirk).

This thought spoke to me in several ways. One relates to my physical death. When I die I will experience the wonders of my eternal heavenly home and perfect body. But I also realized that these words can apply to my current earthly life. Right now I am surrounded with trees whose leaves are a blaze of color. Yet those leaves will eventually drop off, die, and never return. The trees will appear to be dead but next spring there will be new buds growing in to new leaves. They will not be the same leaves, but they will be beautiful and useful in their own way. Sometimes I feel I am dying to things daily - hopes, dreams, activities, and abilities. I may have periods of what seem to be “deadness”. Yet I can accept these deaths willingly, believing God will bring new buds of purpose to my life - different leaves than before but still beautiful and useful to Him.

There is some sadness in any death, but the deaths that we die due to our pains and illnesses are not the end. As I see the peak of fall’s beauty and then the deadness that follows, I want to remember that a new spring will come. Rather than bringing hopelessness and despair, the deaths I yield to God can and will bring new beauty and glory to Him, now and in eternity.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, may I allow each death I die to bring glory and honor to You. Amen.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Purposeful Pruning

“He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful”
(John 15:2).

My husband and I recently took a trip to Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. Although I was more interested in the flowers, I did see the bonsai display in the huge conservatory. I didn’t know too much about bonsai other than the fact that it involves much pruning and training to achieve the desired appearance. As I looked at the tiny trees, I was amazed to discover that some of the pruning had begun as much as 80 years ago!

Two thoughts came to me as I looked at those incredible plants. As a bonsai tree grows, the pruner must vigorously cut off various branches to develop the right shape and size. Even healthy growth must be cut if is not going in the planned direction. There is also much waiting involved. Sometimes it takes decades for the plant to become what the pruner desires it to be. Once that goal is reached, there will still be maintenance pruning as long as the tree lives.

I realized that my life could be compared to one of those trees, and that God my Father is the patient pruner. He started me from a small seed and has watched me grow for decades. Many times He has cut off unhealthy branches in my life, but He has also cut off what seemed to me to be good growth as well. He will cut what is necessary for my life to take and keep the shape He has designed specifically for me.

Those bonsai trees achieved the purpose for which they were created – to display the creativity and patience of the people who shaped them, as well as to provide enjoyment to those seeing them. If and when I don’t like the pruning and shaping God is doing in my life through my pain, I want to remember that I am being conformed into the perfect image He has chosen just for me. And it is good.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, whether painful for pleasant, help me to trust Your pruning and shaping of my life. Amen.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Courage through the Storm

“Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (Mark 6:50)

We have experienced very severe storms here lately on the east coast. Watching the torrential rains and hearing the severe winds, I remembered a recent sermon our pastor gave.

The above verse is from the story of Jesus walking on the water to the disciples during a storm. Our pastor pointed out something new to me. Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him. The word “made” here means to compel or command. Jesus knew the storm would come, yet he made the disciples go out into the lake. Of course at the time they had no idea what was ahead of them, but Jesus did.

In the throes of this storm, when the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water they were terrified. Jesus’ words, “It is I”, are the same words used by God in the Old Testament when He revealed Himself to Moses as “I AM that I AM”. The Eerdmans Commentary defines this expression as follows: “God will prove himself to be ever dependable and sufficiently resourceful to meet every need.” Jesus was saying to them that He was there with them, in total control of everything – the Great I AM. They were to take courage and not fear.

At times we may question why God would deliberately send us out into the storms of ongoing pain or illness. We may feel He doesn’t care that we are sinking, beaten by the wind and waves. Yet God uses these storms of life to show us who He is. He is our Deliverer, our Savior, and in control of every crashing wave and raging storm that we face. He sometimes has a bigger plan than simply our comfort. He wants to change our hearts so that we will have the courage and faith to trust Him completely, regardless of our circumstances, perhaps impacting others in the process as well. Take courage! Whether He calms our storms or holds us through them, He is still the great I AM.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, give me the courage to trust You through each storm I face, knowing Your power and presence are with me through them all.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Complaints or Creativity

“You have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator (Colossians 3:9, l0).

Creativity and adaptability have never been my strong points but God is using my health problems to develop these character traits within me.

As my health has deteriorated I have given up various activities and responsibilities, and I am learning to accept these limitations. Yet I am also learning there may be creative ways to work around some weaknesses, rather than complaining and giving up hope.

Some of these adaptations are rather humorous. I have difficulty sleeping so have acquired quite an accumulation of pillows to keep me comfortable. Thankfully our bed is big and my husband is not, or he would be pushed on the floor by the mountain of pillows which varies nightly. Because of back pain, many times I either carry a heating pad or wear an ice pack under my clothes. Finding outlets and hoping I don’t develop leaks can be challenging! I play games with friends and do my computer work on my knees, and my pile of pillows are great knee pads.

These adaptations and others are a work in progress. At times I get very frustrated about all that I can’t do in a “normal” way. But God is using these circumstances to grow me in new ways. God is a God of creativity. We see that in the myriad species of plants, animals, insects, and humanity, ranging in all sizes, shapes, colors, and personalities. We as humans have been created in His likeness. We are not God or gods and never will be, but we possess the attributes and characteristics which He has chosen to give us.

Becoming more creative rather than complaining is one positive aspect of my pain. As I search to find new ways to manage my limitations, I quite possibly may find some God-given treasures along the way.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for renewing me in Your image. Rather than complaining, let me seek Your wisdom in finding the perfect balance of acceptance and creativity in my limitations. Amen.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Our Ebenezers - Signs of God's Faithfulness

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.”
(I Samuel 7:12).

In Scripture stones were sometimes used a symbols of God’s faithfulness. Whether it was deliverance from or victory over their enemies, stones were visual reminders of what God had done in the past and an encouragment to trust Him for the future.

I once experienced a great example of this concept. Our former church was celebrating its 25th anniversary. The pastor asked every family to bring in an item symbolizing some way in which the church had significantly impacted their lives for God. It was a beautiful thing to see all the “stones” that people brought and to relive great shared memories. As I look back over my own life, sometimes I am tempted to only dwell on the painful memories. But I can also choose to remember how the Lord has brought me through each of these experiences, using them to draw me into a deeper and more faithful relationship with Him.

Many times my old fearful nature still struggles within me. When I think of the future I wonder how I will survive my health struggles, and honestly - at that moment - may not even want to try. That is when I need to remember all that God has done for me. For a visual reminder I bought a bag of small stones. I have placed them in certain places to help me remember what the Lord has done throughout my life – on my nightstand, in my makeup drawer, in my wallet, in my car, on the kitchen windowsill. When I seem them I remember God’s faithfulness. He will not fail me now, regardless of what lies ahead. Taking one day at a time and remembering my Ebenezer stones, I am clinging to God - the Rock of my salvation.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, just as the Ebenezers in my life are signs of Your faithfulness to me, so may I be a faithful “living stone” in Your kingdom as I represent You to those around me (I Peter 2:5). Amen.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Speaking the Truth of Scripture to Ourselves

“It is written:
 ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’ With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak.”
 (II Corinthians 4:13).

Negative self-talk is a real weakness in me. Whether it’s fear about my “pain of the day”, discouragement about my inabilities, battling with depression, or countless other things, many of my thoughts do not fit the description of victorious Christian living.

I am currently working on the Beth Moore Bible study Believing God. She mentions the effectiveness of verbally speaking God’s Word. Of course God’s Word is active when we read or meditate on it silently, but there is something very powerful in verbally speaking His truths. Satan cannot read our minds but he can hear our voice. When God’s Word goes forth, Satan trembles and flees.

If I truly believe God’s Word in faith, speaking it out loud confirms that truth in my spirit. I have seen God work miraculously as I verbalize my faith through Scripture. If I am constantly speaking negative, untrue thoughts to myself, I actually contribute to my health problems and see myself as Satan wants me to rather than as who I am in Christ. Proverbs 15:4 says that the tongue of the wise is a tree of life but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit. Many times Satan’s deceitful lies have crushed my spirit – my life is hopeless, I can’t endure this pain any longer, I’m useless and insignificant. But speaking the truth of God’s Word does bring healing – perhaps not physical healing but a healing of my attitude, bringing hope and the ability to persevere with faith.

I have collected various Scriptures that apply to my most difficult struggles. When I am tempted to dwell on negative thoughts, I read aloud the verses that speak truth to that particular situation. God has accomplished mighty things through this action and I trust in faith that He will do more. “The Word that God speaks is alive and full of power (making it active, operative, energizing, and effective)” Hebrews 4:12 AMP. Thank God that His Word never returns void.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me the self-discipline to speak Your Word to myself, for Your Word is truth and Your truth sets me free. Amen.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

God's Unfailing Faithfulness through Pain

“He who called you is faithful; he will surely do it”
(I Thessalonians 5:24 ESV).

One of my biggest weaknesses in my walk with God is my lack of faith in believing that He will bring me through each new trial, regardless of how faithful He has been in the past. I have wanted to increase my faith and trust and recently God gave me two opportunities to do that.

I have had back problems for 25 years but this summer has been especially difficult with the inability to sit for very long. A friend of mine and I had planned a two-day trip and I was to do all the driving. I was very apprehensive, and yet after prayer, felt I should have faith that God would bring me through. I chose specific Scriptures to speak to myself throughout the trip. By the second day I was in a good bit of pain but wanted to trust Him in faith. God truly worked a miracle. He did not remove my pain but He gave me strength to persevere through it and still enjoy things immensely.

Six weeks later we had a trip with our daughters that involved 10 hours of driving in two days as well as sitting for a show. Our girls had planned their vacation times around this trip, and after much prayer, again I didn’t feel I should cancel it. Even after God’s previous provision I still struggled with fear and lack of faith. Once again I took Scriptures with me to speak aloud, reminding me that God is faithful and would bring me through. He did. Miraculously I had virtually no pain the entire trip.

God works differently in each new situation but He is continually performing miracles in our lives of pain. Whether it’s giving total relief for a time or giving the endurance to persevere through it, either way, we win. And perhaps these miracles are more meaningful to our spiritual growth than complete healing could ever be.

Prayer: Gracious God, to the faithful You show Yourself faithful (Psalm 18:25). Help me to see the miracles You work in my life every day and use my pain to increase my faith and trust in You. Amen.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Strengthened and Stretched by Suffering

“Strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.”
(Hebrews 12:12, 13).

This summer is not going as planned. We had hopes of taking some trips as well attending various local events, but my major regression with back problems has changed all that. So far my summer has consisted of more pain and physical therapy than pleasure.

My physical therapy includes various strengthening exercises to build up the back muscles since surgery and medications are not options for me. I see some spiritual applications in this process. Just as I am strengthening my back muscles, God is using the difficulties and pain in my life to strengthen my faith and walk with Him. If I continually apply the truths of His Word, reminding myself that He is in total control, has a plan, and will bring me through any and every moment, my “muscles” of faith, peace, hope, and others will be strengthened.

My back muscles are also tight in places so I have stretching exercises to do as well. In the same way, God uses trials to stretch my faith. I can grasp too tightly to the things I think I need, including certain abilities or enjoyable experiences and opportunities. God is stretching me to release these things, reminding me of what is truly important.

I will have to do these back exercises for the rest of my life. I will constantly have to monitor them and adjust them to my changing conditions. I also need to do my spiritual exercises daily, being consistent at staying in God’s Word, praying, and abiding in Christ. I am hoping and praying that before too much longer I can take some trips we planned and enjoy the remainder of the summer. But whatever happens, I know that if I allow God to strengthen and stretch me, I will be in the best shape to face whatever lies ahead.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, please use the pain and disappointments in my life to strengthen my walk with you. Thank you that as I am stretched and strengthened, I will not be spiritually disabled, but rather healed. Amen.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Some "R & R" from God's Word

“They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations”
 (Isaiah 61:4).

For many people, summer brings anticipation of vacations and long-awaited “r & r” – rest and relaxation. While reading this verse in Isaiah, I noticed some other “r” words that benefit me more than any vacation.

This passage describes what God’s redeemed people will do. They will rebuild, restore, and renew. Although I am very familiar with these words, I looked up the definitions again. To rebuild is to remodel extensively or reconstruct with new parts. To restore is to bring back to a former condition, health, or strength. To renew is make fresh or strong again or to revive.

How do these words impact my own life? There are ruinous old thought habits that need to be reconstructed- thought patterns of fear, despair, negativity, and hopelessness. They need to be replaced with the truth of God’s Word which reminds me that God’s Spirit and power are within me, giving me the courage and strength to fight old ways of responding to my problems. Although in this life my body may not be restored to the health of years past, God is able to restore my soul and give me fresh strength to endure my earthly trials until I receive my new and perfect body in eternity. I need God’s Word and Spirit to revive me when I feel I’ve had all I can take of pain, suffering, and disappointment.

Sometimes my health conditions limit my traveling abilities. A summer vacation may not always be a possibility for me. And many times my aches and pains keep me from really feeling restful and relaxed. But these words in Isaiah are truths I can claim regardless of how limited I am, how much pain I’m experiencing, or how devastated I feel my life is. Praise God for His wonderful “R & R’s”!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me hope and faith to trust You for the rebuilding, restoring, and renewing that I need in my life. Amen.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

God's Protective Canopy

“The Lord God will create. . . a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over all the glory will be a canopy. It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place form the storm and rain”
(Isaiah 4:5.6)

Each spring my husband puts up a canopy over our patio. It provides a lovely place for me to sit and enjoy my birds and flowers.

When I read the above verse, I think of this canopy. Our patio receives the afternoon sun. During the summer months it would be almost unbearable to sit there without the covering the canopy provides. And although it protects me from the intensity of the heat, I am still able to see and enjoy my surroundings. It is not a suffocating, imprisoning protection at all. God’s covering over me is much the same. He is my shelter and protection from Satan’s attacks of despair and depression. He covers me when I am afraid, gives me room to grow and learn while under His protection, and constantly gives me glimpses of His love and bits of heaven through His creation.

My canopy not only gives me protection from the sun but from the rain as well. When the storms of my life threaten to beat me down and drench me with many negative thoughts and emotions, God’s canopy is there to be my refuge and hiding place.

I think it would have been wonderful to have seen the visible signs of God’s presence in the cloud and smoke. Many times I long for a physical sign from God to encourage me. I may not be able to see my Lord face to face at this moment, but His presence is with me through my pain and suffering even as He was with the Israelites through their desert wanderings. Just as the glory of God’s canopy was their constant companion on their journey, His protective canopy will cover me continually until my longing to see His face is fulfilled.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to willingly accept and follow your path for my life, knowing your loving and protective canopy is always over me. Amen.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Child of the King

“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God”
(I Peter 2:9).

I recently watched the royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. Although I enjoyed the pomp and majesty of the surroundings, what struck me most was the couple themselves. They are a stunning couple – physically attractive and in seemingly excellent health. Part of me rejoiced with them and prayed for God’s blessing in their lives. Yet I must admit part of me struggled with envy, not simply for their surroundings but for their physical health and appearance as well.

As I dealt with these thoughts, God brought to mind some Biblical truths. I remembered that I have access to the throne room of God, who loves me in ways I cannot even comprehend; I am a daughter of the King of the Universe and the Prince of Peace is my constant companion; Buckingham Palace cannot compare to the splendors of my eternal home; the wedding feast of the Lamb will be beyond any earthly banquet I could ever imagine; when I meet my Bridegroom face to face, my body will be perfect and complete inwardly and outwardly.

Part of me still longs to look and feel like this royal couple. Pain, age, and medications have taken a toll on my earthly body. Yet I also know that even now I am clothed with the garments of salvation and arrayed in a robe of righteousness, and have been given a crown of beauty for ashes and a garment of praise for despair (Isaiah 61:3,10). God is enthralled with me (Psalm 45:11) and I am part of God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved (Colossians 3:12).

For those of us who know God, our royal wedding is still to come. Our days of pain and suffering are our preparation for that divine Marriage Supper of the Lamb. May we let perseverance finish its work so that we will be mature and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:4).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, no eye has seen the wonders that You have prepared for me in your eternal kingdom. As I await that day while facing my daily struggles, give me the strength and desire to live as a child worthy of the King. Amen.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Pruned by God through Pain and Suffering

“I am the vine, and my Father is the gardener. . . every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 14:1,2).

Spring has sprung beautifully here in Virginia and I am blessed that I am able to take part in a beginner gardening course. We recently discussed pruning and I was reminded of the above verse. As we studied the benefits of pruning, I realized how God’s pruning tools of trials and suffering are for our benefit.

Pruning redirects growth. I need to grow in directions of joy, contentment, hope, and peace , rather than envy, discouragement, bitterness, or self-pity. Pruning thins out extra branches and strengthens the main branches supporting the tree or plant structure. God may remove certain things in my life to show me that He is enough and my strength comes from Him. Pruning rejuvenates old growth. I sometimes need a fresh reminder that God is in control and has the best plan for my life, regardless of how it seems at the moment. I can adopt new outlooks and methods of coping with problems, remembering I am new creation in Christ. Proper pruning encourages fruit growth. God’s purpose is for me to bear fruit for Him whatever my circumstances, and He gives me the strength and ability to do that if I am attached firmly to Him. Pruning shapes the object. Everything that God brings in to my life has the potential of conforming me more to His image so that I am transformed into His likeness (II Corinthians 3:18).

Interestingly enough, a well-pruned tree or bush which is exposed to severe weather will build up stronger supportive tissue and more flexible limbs than those trees which are not under such stress. God’s Spirit helps us to increase in perseverance and endurance through suffering, so that we will become mature in Him (James 1:2-4).

Improper pruning can destroy a plant. Thankfully our God is not a harsh gardener. Our scars show the cuts of His love and care, and He is shaping us perfectly for eternity.

Prayer: O God, You are the perfect pruner. May I yield to Your pruning methods in my life as You shape me for Your glory. Amen.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Navigating the Maze of Pain and Illness

“You hem me in - behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me”
 (Psalm 139:5).

In Elizabeth George’s book, Loving God with All Your Mind, she uses the word picture of our lives being a maze through which God leads us. I found a picture book with photos of some lovely garden mazes. As I looked at the pictures, I thought of the above verse.

Mazes can be beautiful and enjoyable to walk in. Sometimes there are benches where we can rest and enjoy the scenery. The tall hedges can provide a feeling of safety and security. We may walk with others and enjoy trying different paths to see where they lead. Mazes can also be frustrating however. We may go around in circles or down many dead ends which we thought were the way out. We can feel closed in and trapped rather than protected.

For most of us, our lives are probably a mixture of the two experiences. Right now there are many who are experiencing very difficult times. This part of the maze is not enjoyable and it’s easy to feel that God has abandoned us to wander alone. We may feel trapped by our circumstances with seemingly no end in sight to our struggles. Yet God’s hand is still leading us. Sometimes we reach dead ends where He says “no” or “not now”, but He will turn us around and lead us down a new path. He will provide the benches to rest when we can’t take anymore, and He will bring others alongside us at just the right times.

God created the pattern for our individual mazes of life and He will not let us wander aimlessly without Him. He is with us just as He was with Adam and Eve in the garden – a very real, though unseen, presence. We can be confident that He will help us navigate our paths until we reach the exit to our eternal home.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, You have a plan, purpose, and pattern for my life. Thank You that there is no place where Your Spirit does not surround me (Psalm 139), and You will show me the way I should go (Psalm 143:8). Amen.

Apotheosis - Changed to Reflect God through Our Pain

“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord. . .”
(II Corinthians 3:18).

I first read the word “apotheosis” in an advent devotional last year. It means “changed to reflect God” so that we transform our outlook on everyday situations and experiences into opportunities for God to be revealed. I had expectations of living each day with that outlook, but I must admit I have many failures along with successes.

I recently had a medical procedure done and was hoping I would reflect God through it. I managed to make a positive comment on the cross necklace my nurse was wearing, but soon after that dissolved into tears over pain and problems with the IV’s. Such was the extent of my reflection of God’s glory for the day – certainly no great victory.

The next day however, I was praising God for bringing me through this procedure and thanking Him for all those people who touched my life that day. As I prayed, more and more people came to mind: those who developed this test; those who built the equipment and maintain it; the doctors and nurses who spent countless hours studying to perform this procedure; and those who have researched and developed anesthesia – a tremendous blessing for me. I was amazed at how many people in some way had touched my life that morning.

Years ago I would not have had these thoughts. But God has and is using my pain and illness to broaden my perspective and see His hand in ways I never would have seen otherwise. Did I reflect His glory that day at the hospital? Not the way in which I had hoped. But He is transforming my thoughts and that is a beginning. I am learning to see His goodness and glory in new ways because of my pain. By His grace, I pray that transformation will reflect His glory outwardly more and more, molding me into a living “apotheosis” for Him.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, may I see Your reflection in every aspect of my life, including my pain and suffering, and may I then reflect that glory to others. Amen.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

God's Loving Guidance

“In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling” (Exodus 15:13).

I have never been good at making decisions and my health problems make this even more difficult. I have trouble making decisions about medicines. I agonize over committing to activities. There are many things I either want to do or feel I should do. I need God’s guidance continually to make wise choices.

This winter has been especially challenging. Not only do I have my own ongoing health issues, but my parents have had some major life changes requiring my help. I am learning to walk the fine and somewhat precarious line of being a daughter as well as a parent to my aging parents. At times I feel completely overwhelmed.

This verse brings me great comfort. I am reminded that I am redeemed. God has delivered me and set me free, not only from the eternal consequences of sin and death but also from the fears and worries which I so easily bring upon myself. He redeems and saves me daily as well as eternally.

It is God’s strength which will enable me to make wise choices. If for some reason I make a poor one, His strength will bring me through that too, giving me an opportunity to learn and grow from it. And God will guide me – this verse states that fact. God’s strength as well as His love is unfailing. He will never let me down.

If I lift each decision before God in prayer asking for His guidance, then I must move forward, trusting Him for the outcome. At times even the right decisions are difficult to live with, but whatever the outcome, He is in control and can redeem any and every circumstance for my good. He is the sure foundation for my times, a rich source of salvation and wisdom and knowledge (Isaiah 33:6).

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

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

God's Wings

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge (Psalm 91:4).

I enjoy birds and this winter as I have watched them at my feeders, I have been reminded of some Scripture passages mentioning God’s wings.

God wings provide safety and refuge. In Psalm 17:8 David asked the Lord to hide him in the shadow of His wings, protecting him from danger and attack. I may not have physical enemies attacking me but Satan is continually attacking me with fears, despair, discouragement, and countless other negative thoughts. When I cry out to God for His protection, His Word and Spirit are my refuge.

God’s wings bring healing. Malachi 4:2 says the Son of Righteousness rises with healing in His wings. Although the Lord may not bring me physical healing from all my infirmities, He heals my soul and spirit. He replaces my earthly values and desires with His eternal heavenly ones. He brings me through my times of grief, pain, and suffering, and He restores my soul.

God’s wings offer protection, shelter, and provision. Luke 13:34 tells us how God longed to gather His people under His wings like a mother bird yet they would not come. Most of us have known the comfort and parental provision of food, housing, and other necessities of life. God will meet all of these earthly needs and more.

The wings of God not only provided David with these comforts, but they also provided a place for David to praise Him – “Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings”. We can sing our songs of praise to Him as well, knowing that the warmth and security of His wings covers us even on our most lonely or pain-filled days. They will carry us with the strength we need until He flies us home.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You that Your wings are always there to carry me, care for me, and catch me when I fall (Deuteronomy 32:10, 11). Amen.