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).