Friday, December 28, 2012

God’s Light Will Shine through the Pain of a New Year

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned”
(Isaiah 9:2).

Lights are an important part of holidays, particularly during the Christmas season.  We put lights on Christmas trees and candles in the windows.  We enjoy looking at outdoor light displays.  We light advent candles at church and sing Silent Night by candlelight on Christmas Eve. We may even welcome New Year’s in with fireworks.

God is associated with light throughout Scripture.  His light began the creation of the world. The light of a star led the wise men to Jesus.  The light of angels announced His birth as well as His resurrection.  Jesus called Himself the Light of the world, and this Light has been given to us.

Living with the uncertainty of health struggles or other problems, this coming new year may appear more dark than light.  “Living in the land of the shadow of death” may seem an accurate description for the fear of our unknown future or the grimness of our ongoing battles.  Yet we have seen a great light.  We just celebrated the coming of that light to earth, and the repercussions of that light give us the hope and perseverance to enter another year.

Isaiah wrote these words during bleak times for Israel.  They had endured much suffering and captivity.  In the preceding chapter of Isaiah, he says that people saw only distress and darkness and fearful gloom.  That may be an accurate description of how we see our personal lives as well as the world in general.  But God’s answer to that is the light of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection.

That light will give us the direction we need to face whatever the new year holds.  There is no darkness of pain or the unknown that God’s light will not reach to offer us hope and guidance.   So light a candle this New Year’s Day and rejoice in knowing that the coming year is already illuminated with the loving light of God’s comforting and eternal presence.

Prayer:  Lord, give me hope as I begin this new year, praising You for the assurance that Your light will guide me through whatever my come.  Amen.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Seeing Glimpses of God this Christmas

“Do not I fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.”
 (Jeremiah 23:24).

We all want Christmas to be a joyful, happy time, but that may be difficult.  Pain can dampen our spirits and limit activities.  The self-absorbed mindset of our society tries to rob Christmas of its true meaning long before the month of December.  Finances, relationships, or circumstances can contribute to a less than joyful mindset.  When bombarded by these negative conditions, it is easy to feel not only a loss of joy but even a loss of God’s presence during this special time of year.

I came across a quote from C.S. Lewis that prompted me to look at things differently:  “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God.  The world is crowded with Him.”  I started looking for signs of God’s presence even through the commercialism and pain, and I found them.

I heard sacred Christmas songs playing throughout the mall and in other secular settings.  People who may speak God’s name only in cursing were proclaiming Him Savior – a foretaste of the day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord.  A major store set up a huge nativity display on a heavily trafficked road in our city.  Although in discomfort, I was able to see God’s handiwork in nature while visiting some spectacular Christmas gardens and to take a walk one night under a gorgeous full moon.

Our world may be crowded with pain, suffering, and materialism, but God is still here.  As I make a conscious effort to see signs of Him during this holiday season, His Spirit revives my joy.  It is not a joy based on how I feel or what I have. It is a joy based on the wonder of an eternal God who visited this earth in human form, whose Spirit now dwells in His people, and who will one day return in glory to reign in that perfect world I so long for now.  So look for Him - if you seek Him you will find Him when you seek Him with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13).

Prayer:  O Lord, wherever I am and whatever I am experiencing this Christmas season, give me eyes to see glimpses of You.  Amen.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Keeping Christmas in Perspective

This post is a repeat from last year, but I thought it was an appropriate one to begin the holiday season.

“Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, and revive me in Thy ways: (Psalm 119:37 NASV).

As much as I rejoice in the meaning of Christmas, I also have a hard time with what is has become in our society. I can feel exhausted and even offended by the constant barrage of materialistic glitz and glitter of worldly commercialism.  On the other hand, I myself am guilty of being lured into that mindset as I prepare for the holiday.  I can become discontent over what I can’t or shouldn’t do or buy for others.  Food and decorations can be a trial rather than an enjoyment.  I feel overwhelmed by the magazine covers showing the perfectly decorated Christmas tree and holiday table settings.  New recipes make festive foods look so simple, yet I know otherwise.

Although all of these things can be good and enjoyable aspects of the holiday season if kept in perspective, it is especially difficult for me when all things must revolve around my pain and energy level.  I may end up feeling depressed, tense, and discouraged rather than anticipating the celebration of Christ’s birth.

During the holidays more than ever I need God’s Word to revive me and keep my eyes and heart focused on eternal things rather than worldly ones.  Satan has a way of turning even the good things into temptations and struggles.  I need to prepare and guard myself against these attacks.  Christ’s birth can and will be celebrated with or without the glitter.  Whether I am in plenty or in want financially or physically  this holiday season, my focus should be on knowing that because of the gift of Jesus, “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (I Corinthians 2:9).  And amidst the pulls of commercialism and pain, God is giving me gifts even now if I keep my eyes on Him.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, during this blessed season of celebrating Your birth, help me to put aside the vanities of the world and to seek You above all else.  As I do, You revive my heart (Psalm 69:33 NAS) bringing me true peace and joy. Amen.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sowing Seeds and Harvesting Sheaves for God through Our Pain

“He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:6).

Sowing, reaping, and harvesting are all words that may be associated with the Thanksgiving season.  We may not farm for a living, but even if we aren’t planting literal seeds in the earth, as believers we are called to plant seeds for God’s kingdom in the world around us.

Living with pain, virtually any seeds we sow - any services we are able to render - are probably done through some tears.  Pain may limit us in helping with hands-on physical ministries. When we do push through we may pay for it later and wonder if it was worth it.  But there are different seeds we can plant through pain. Our examples of showing patience, love, encouragement, faith, and others through our suffering reap a harvest in our lives and in the lives of others.

I think especially of the seeds of perseverance. At times these seeds may be quite literally watered with our tears of pain.   Yet at some point they will yield sheaves which we will harvest in joy rather than sorrow.

Only God knows every seed we are planting for Him through our pain.  Although our acts of service may not be out in the fields of the physical world, a few words through an email, phone call, prayer, or note may have a ripple effect of which we have no concept.

As Thanksgiving approaches we can look for opportunities to sow even a single small seed.  It may be painful to the point of tears to do so.  But the Lord promises that one day – whether now or later – we will see the sheaves grown from those seeds, and the joy we experience will make the pain worth every tear. 

Prayer:  O Lord God, thank you for those who have sown Your seeds in my life.  Help me seek ways this Thanksgiving season to sow your eternal seeds in those around me through my pain, clinging to the promise that one day my tears will be turned to joy when I reap the sheaves of those seeds.  Amen.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Blessing and Thanking God through the Pain and Devastations of Life

I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth”
(Psalm 34:1 KJV).

As November begins, the east coast is suffering the overwhelming aftereffects of Hurricane Sandy.  Praise God, we did not experience much damage this time, but my heart is heavy for those who did.  I wonder how hard it will be for Christians in those areas to be truly this thankful this Thanksgiving season, having suffered such great devastation.

I was reminded of these words from the contemporary worship song “10,000 Reasons” by Matt Redman -  “whatever may pass and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the evening comes”.  How hard it is to do that through crises like these natural disasters.

Those of us with ongoing pain and illness can relate to that difficulty.  We know the devastation that pain has caused and how it affects every aspect of our lives.  Unlike the destruction from natural disasters however, the effects of our problems may be irreparable.  Our bodies may not undergo reconstruction until eternity.  Are we still able to bless the Lord and praise Him at all times?

David, the author of this Psalm, saw much destruction and devastation in his own personal and public life.  Although physical pain may not have been a problem for him, we know he experienced many tragedies, yet he admonished himself to bless the Lord at all times.

As Thanksgiving approaches I want to acknowledge all the many blessings God has given me, but I also want to bless and thank Him through my pain and problems.  Those are the tools He is using to reconstruct me into the eternally new creation that is coming - one that will never suffer the devastating effects of this fallen world again.  So whatever difficulties come this Thanksgiving season, may I bless God through them and be thankful.

Prayer:  Lord, I know that no suffering You allow in this life is sent without Your great love and divine purpose for eternal good. I thank You for all the blessings in my life.  I also pray that through the hard times, by Your grace, all that is within me will still bless Your holy name.  Amen.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pain Teaches Us to Expect the Unexpected

“The Lord of hosts has sworn saying, “Surely just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand” (Isaiah 14:24).

A fellow writer sent me a picture she took on a vacation of some camels walking up from the ocean shore.  I was quite surprised to see camels by a sea of water rather than sand! The picture made me smile.  Life is full of the unexpected, and those of us with pain and illness know this truth quite well.

One day I may feel fine doing an activity and the next day it may cause pain and setbacks.  Other times I’m surprised at what doesn’t cause issues. 

The day before we left on a recent trip I was punching out shapes of paper for cards. I was sitting on the floor and my position triggered  bad back pain.  Who would have thought something so simple could cause such problems, but praise God I was still able to take the trip.

Then on the way home I fell.  My last fall caused some serious flare-ups with my back requiring physical therapy so I was very concerned about this fall, but praise God I had no bad aftereffects.  Why was it that punching paper caused such repercussions and a serious fall did not?  I never know what to expect. 

Life in general is full of the unexpected.  But if we allow it, living with chronic pain and illness can teach us to be more flexible and see the good amidst the bad.  When we are faced with unexpected negatives in life, we have the assurance of knowing that God is not taken by surprise.  He has a sovereign plan for each of us.  The negatives are accomplishing His divine purposes in our lives, and we can cling to that truth during our hardest disappointments.  Perhaps through one of those hard times, God will unexpectedly move us from the desert to the ocean, and if not, He will provide an oasis when we need it.

Prayer:  O Lord, as I face the unexpected things that pain and problems bring, how thankful I am that nothing is unexpected to You.  Teach me to adapt to the surprises, trusting in Your plan for my days. Amen.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

God’s Plan and Purpose Are Present in Every Season of Life

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1 KJV).

My husband and I just returned from a huge antique car show in Hershey, Pennsylvania.  We were there 30 years ago, when I had carried my oldest daughter around in a “Snuggly”.  My how things change!

Seeing those antique cars, part of me longed for the world to be as it was then -  less chaotic and simpler than today.  But even then the world was dealing with major wars and economic issues.  It is easy to look back on past times and forget that they had their problems too.

The same is true in my personal life.  I look back over those 30 years with some longing, but they were not easy either.  My health problems were beginning, and we had financial and child rearing challenges.

God has a purpose and plan through every season of life. Without experiencing winter, I would not appreciate spring and summer.  Without experiencing the exhaustion, frustration, and joys of motherhood, I would not have the blessing of my daughters.  Without pain, I would not appreciate God-given good days and brief moments of heaven here on earth.  Without death, there is no eternal life.

Looking at those beautiful old cars, I remembered years gone by with thankfulness for God’s sovereignty and blessings of the past.  I look at the present and thank Him for all He is accomplishing now even through my pain, conforming me to His image.  I look to the future for all He has yet to do in His divine plan, for me and for the entire world. Praise God for His purposes and seasons, for His presence and provision are with me through them all.

Prayer:  O Lord, sometimes I don’t understand Your purposes in my life and some seasons are harder than others.  Give me eyes of faith to see glimpses of You in every season, knowing that Your purposes and plans are moving all of creation toward our glorious eternal life with you.  Amen.



Saturday, September 29, 2012

Even When My World Changes, God Remains the Same

“I the Lord do no change”
(Malachi 3:6).

I know many changes are good and keep life from becoming monotonous, but I usually don’t handle them too well. 

One of my favorite department stores has been completely remodeled, moving different sections around and displaying an ultramodern look.  It may be more up-to-date, but I don’t like it – at least not yet!  My nearest grocery store no longer carries many food items that I buy, which means more trips to other stores.  Fall is here and that’s a mixed change for me as well.  The weather and colors are lovely but I can become down about the upcoming bleakness and coldness of winter.

Of course these changes don’t compare to the physical ones experienced through ongoing pain and illness.  Chronic health problems require major life changes and are difficult to face.  Even though I have lived with my problems long enough to have adapted, I still have moments each season when I struggle with changes.  Many of them revolve around physical activities but some are also based on my environment and relationships.

The one constant in my life that is always positive and never monotonous is God.  His character is eternally consistent and amazing.  Although He experiences emotions, He is not controlled by them.  He is the One I can always run to when sorrow or emptiness overtake me.  And just as He is faithful in being there to love and listen, He is also there to lift me up and help me become more flexible and positive about new situations.

There are some things about my pain that will always be difficult for me on earth.  Yet God’s unchanging compassion, grace, strength, mercy, love, and forgiveness will always be there to carry me through.  And I have the hope and certainty of knowing that whatever changes I experience throughout eternity will be good ones, praise God!

Prayer:  Dear Lord, what a comfort it is to know that no matter how unstable my life or this world becomes, You remain unchanging.  As I learn to adapt to difficult changes help me see the positive aspects of them, knowing that all change is under Your constant, divine control. Amen.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

We Are the Apple of God's Eye

“Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings (Psalm 17:8).
I love apples – the taste, smell, and feel of them.  Although I eat them year round, I especially connect them with late summer and early fall because of various apple-related events here in Virginia.

What does it mean to be the apple of God’s eye?  A few possible meanings are to be cherished above all others, to be very dear to someone, or to be the focus of someone (since the pupil is the center of the eye and focuses on objects).  It means we are very special and precious to God.

Many times I feel that to be true, but other times my pain and trials cause me to doubt. It is interesting to note the contexts in which God says we are the apple of His eye.  In Zechariah 2:8,  Israel had been plundered by enemies because of their faithlessness, yet God said He would be merciful to them and rebuild them (Zechariah 1:17).  They were “His most precious possession” (New Living Translation).

In Deuteronomy 32:10, Moses was recounting Israel’s wilderness wanderings because of their faithlessness, yet God found them in their barren and howling waste and cared for them.  In Psalm 17:8, David believed He was the apple of God’s eye despite his life-threatening experiences not only with pagans but Israelites as well (King Saul).

Being precious and greatly loved by God may not keep us from unpleasant, difficult, or even dangerous circumstances.  But regardless of how our lives and struggles appear to us, we must keep believing in faith that God’s loving and watchful focus is always on us, working out His perfect plan for us.

The next time I bite into an apple, not only can I thank God that I am the apple of His eye, but also pray that I will maintain faith in Him and His commands as the apple of my eye (Proverbs 7:2).  Then I will enjoy physical fruit as well as spiritual fruit!

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, how comforting it is to know that I am so precious to You.  May my earthly sufferings not cause me to doubt this wonderful truth.  Amen.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Even through Pain and Suffering, God’s Eyes Are Always on Us and His Strength Is Always with Us

"The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him" (II Chronicles 16:9).

Modern technology is quite amazing.  Have you ever used a search engine on the computer that can find any location on the planet and show you pictures of that location?  You can begin by viewing the entire earth and continually zoom in until you reach your desired destination. 

Satellites may be able to see many things, but they can never compare to the eyes of God.  In Scripture passages such as Ezekiel 1, visions of God’s glory include many eyes, symbolic of His omnipresence and omniscience.  Our human minds cannot comprehend the ability to see everything and everyone at all times, but our great God does just that.

God is always completely aware of our every move.  Not only does He see us but He also knows what we are feeling and experiencing.  He knows the times when we need His strength simply to lie in bed, enduring physical pain.  He knows when we need His strength to accomplish things we must do as a part of our earthly lives.  He knows when we need strength to keep going even when oppression and depression weigh us down.  He knows when we need His strength to serve others, even when it seems physically impossible.

The Revised Standard Version of this verse says that God’s eyes run throughout the whole earth to show His might on our behalf when our hearts are perfect toward Him.  In our own strength we can do nothing, especially when we live with consistent health problems.  Yet if we fully commit our days to Him, trusting and believing that His all-seeing eyes are continually on us and His all-sufficient strength is continually working within us, we truly can do all things.  Great is the Lord; His greatness no one can fathom! (Psalm 145:3).

Prayer:  O Lord, how we thank you that we have the assurance of knowing that Your eyes are always on us – protecting us, loving us, and sustaining us with Your strength.  Let that assurance bring us comfort and victory as we go through each day.  Amen.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Encouragement of Prayer - Being Prayed For As Well As Praying For Others

“Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints”
(Ephesians 6:18).

Recently I had a particularly grueling time battling a migraine for four days. I had been trying to remain faithful and focused on the positive but was losing ground.  Then God blessed me with some wonderful encouragement from other believers.

I received a text message from someone I had not heard from in a while, saying she was praying for me.  I received an email from someone else I had not heard from recently, updating me on her life and saying she was praying for me, and I received a phone call from another friend. This support gave me the strength I needed to keep fighting the good fight until that particular battle was over.  Of course this does not happen every time I am in a crisis, but knowing that others are lifting me up in prayer, even occasionally, is a great encouragement and reminds me I am not alone in my struggles.

A few people have told me that they want to pray for others but they have difficulty staying focused. I face the same problem and was becoming frustrated, but I realized I needed to be realistic in my expectations.  Although it would be wonderful to have in-depth prayer times for others, including praying specific Scriptures for their needs, that may not be possible for me.  Yet whenever the Holy Spirit brings someone to mind, I can take a minute or two and lift them up in prayer. God already knows their needs and He knows my mental and physical limitations as well. 

We may never know the total impact of our prayers until eternity, but we can be sure that as we pray for one another, we are participating with God in accomplishing His divine purposes - in their lives as well as ours.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank you that we can freely come before Your throne in prayer.  Lord Jesus, just as You are interceding for us before the Father, strengthen us to intercede for others even in our own weaknesses.  Amen.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Traveling through Life with God’s New Luggage instead of Our Old Baggage

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self. .  and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness”
 (Ephesians 4:22,24).

I don’t do a tremendous amount of traveling and most of what I do is done by car, but I have traveled by plane in the past.  Fortunately I never had the experience of  losing my luggage. Retrieving and holding on to my physical baggage is a good thing when traveling.

There is another kind of baggage that is not such a good thing, particularly if it impacts the way we handle our pain and problems.  Most of us carry around some mental and emotional baggage that we would do better to let go of.  This might include views and beliefs about others, ourselves, and God. We may be carrying the baggage of beliefs that God doesn’t care about suffering, is not hearing our pleas for help, and His strength will not be enough to carry us through our pain.  We may have a suitcase of lies about ourselves – we are useless, we can’t do this anymore, or we are unimportant and insignificant.  Our baggage may include fear, worry, and many other negative emotions and beliefs.

As new creations in Christ this baggage is not something we have to claim anymore.  At least some of the people Paul was addressing in the above passage had been caught up in many negative behaviors  (II Corinthians 4:1), yet they were able to change because of God’s renewing power.

We have that same power within us.  We can let go of our old baggage and respond differently to our trials.  When we are tempted to reclaim that old baggage, we need to let it pass by and claim the new wardrobe God has given us.  What’s inside – a garment of praise and salvation, a robe of righteousness, and other blessings – is a much better fit.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, I want to let go of the baggage of negative and faithless beliefs belonging to my old self .  Thank you for the power You give me to change and let me appropriate that power today. Amen.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Reality of Heaven Makes Our Losses Worth the Wait

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first earth had passed away”
 (Revelation 21:1).

At the beginning of the summer I had a bicycle accident.  Although no permanent damage was done, I did aggravate my back and fibromyalgia problems.  All summer I have debated whether to ride again and finally decided it wasn’t worth the risk.  I grew up on a bike so letting go of it will be losing one of the last remaining links with my old life. 

Not too long ago I heard something that changed my response to this parting.  A woman had hoped to attend a Bible study at her church but her sick aunt came to live with her.  Her aunt was very demanding and not a believer.  Finally one day when this woman was trying to do her Bible study at home, the aunt asked what she was doing and said she might as well read the study out loud.  In that process the aunt became a Christian, and she and her niece became quite close.  Some time later the aunt was dying.  After several hours of being in and out of consciousness, the aunt opened her eyes and said in a very clear voice, “It’s all real!”, and then died.

That statement brought tears of joy to me.  Of course I know heaven is real, but to hear it from someone who actually saw a glimpse of it and shared it before leaving this life gave me greater hope and ability to keep persevering.

With that story in mind I thought again about losing my bike. I can honestly say that the first thought that came to mind was, “The next time I ride a bike will be in the new world.”  And that is exciting to me!  I don’t know what bikes will look like in heaven – maybe we’ll have something even better.  What I do know is that everything Scripture says about the new life is real, and as I live with the losses of many things, my hope is in all that is to come. 

Prayer: O Lord, how I look forward to the joys of eternity – a new and perfect world with You!  Help me to persevere in patience and maintain hope while I wait.  Amen.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Moon Waxes and Wanes, but God’s Presence with Us Does Not

“My salvation shall be forever, my righteousness shall not wane”
 (Isaiah 51:6b NASB).

During the summer I love to sit outside in the evenings and listen to the sights and sounds of nature. I haven’t been able to do that much this summer because it has either been too hot or I’ve been too tired.  But one night a few weeks ago the moon was bigger and more beautiful than I have ever seen it.

When I read this verse in Isaiah I remembered that moon. The moon waxes and wanes in earth’s sight depending upon its astronomical position, but it is always there.  I thought about my view of God.  There are times when I am struggling with a pain or problem and God shines forth in hugeness and greatness like that glorious moon I saw.  There are other times when His presence seems to wane and He is not as visible to me.

But He IS there, just as the moon is there.  God’s salvation - His saving power in my life to bring me through any and everything - does not wane.  I may not see it clearly all the time.  He may be hidden by clouds or my position may be such that He is not visible for a time, but He is always there.

In eternity God’s presence will be revealed completely - more beautiful and bright than the most spectacular moon here on earth.  Until then I treasure the moments when He shines in huge and visible ways to me here.  When His presence seems to wane, I know it is only a passing cloud or my position that is blocking my sight of Him.  Afterward I will appreciate the light and beauty of His presence even more, and hopefully will have grown in the assurance of that presence even during the waning moments of my life.

Prayer: Give me faith to believe You are there when the clouds and darkness of life seem to hide You.  Thank you that Your presence is constant and unchanging, even when my perception of You may wane.  Amen.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Is Our Self-Talk Contributing to Our Pain?

“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18).

“The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit” (Proverbs 15:4).

We all are aware of the fact that we should speak kindly to others, encouraging and edifying them through our words.  But what about speaking to ourselves?  Even though we may not actually speak out loud to ourselves (which I do at times but don’t always want to admit it!), most of us probably do some mental self-talk.  We may not realize how harmful these words can be.

I read an interesting book recently entitled The Gift in You, by Dr. Caroline Leaf.  She gives much scientific information proving that if our thoughts and words have harmful or “toxic” emotions attached to them (such as saying something negative to ourselves), harmful chemicals are released into the body which negatively impact our health.  We hinder our abilities to use the gifts God has given us.  She asks a very thought-provoking question:  “Are you paying attention to what words you are saying and what words you are receiving into your spirit?”

When I examine my self-talk, much of it is untrue and is not based on Scripture at all.  My “deceitful tongue” says, “I can’t do this; This is too hard; I have no purpose; It’s hopeless.”  These words crush my spirit and deny Scriptural truths.  No, I can’t handle my pain and problems alone, but I will persevere through them by God’s power.  I do have a purpose – God created things for me to do before I was even born.  Yes, my life is very hard at times, but God has blessed me with His presence, power, and victory.

Although our self-talk will not completely heal all our physical problems, it does bring benefits.  Aside from releasing positive chemicals rather than negative ones, positive words develop more joy, peace, and other fruits of the Spirit in us.  We benefit physically and spiritually, and we may become even better at encouraging others as well.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, make me more aware of the words I speak to myself.  Help me speak words that are encouraging rather than harmful, to myself as well as to others.  Amen.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Flourishing Like a Palm Tree Even through Pain

“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree”
 (Psalm 92:12a).

One of my favorite trees is the palm tree.  I like them so much because I associate them with warm, sunny weather, and places of beauty and relaxation.

I did some research on palm trees.  Knowing how they will be used in the landscape is an important planting factor.  While some require humidity and heat, others can survive even in frost.  Some prefer full sun while others tolerate shade.  Some grow fast and others more slowly, and they vary in size and shape.  A flourishing palm tree sustains continuous, strong, steady growth because conditions are right. 

One devotional book I read mentioned that in Biblical times palm trees were used for shelter and food and were symbols of righteousness, beauty, and victory. We are probably most familiar with them being used to worship Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Palm trees were connected with places of rest and refreshment in the desert during the Israelites’ wanderings (Numbers 33:9). The branches were also used during the Old Testament Feast of Tabernacles as a means of praise (Leviticus 23:40), as well as for constructing temporary shelters during the Feast of Booths (Nehemiah 8:15).

How can I flourish like a palm tree in my life of pain?  I can be consistent in praising God even on the worst days.  I can grow steadily in my walk with Him, finding my rest and refreshment in Him and sharing that refreshment with someone else.  I can be strong in claiming my victory through Christ even on the days that I fail.  I can continue having faith to believe that regardless of how this earthly body is deteriorating, my eternal perfection is coming.

We are all different, yet we share the same God-given purposes and promises.  Our physical conditions may not be optimal, but we have been divinely planted to flourish where we are.  By God’s grace we can still bear fruit, proclaiming the Lord is upright (Psalm 92:14, 15).

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, give me the faith to believe that Your power and strength will enable me to flourish even through my pain and problems.  Amen.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Staying Plugged in to God's Power

“Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power”
(Ephesians 6:10).

We recently experienced a severe wind storm called a derecho and were without power for almost three days.  Temperatures in the 90’s and 100’s made the situation even more uncomfortable.

I did not handle those three days too well.  I was thankful for the generator giving us fans and refrigeration.  I also had the option of going to my parents’ apartment to stay cool.  But one thing I did not do was to stay plugged in to God’s power.  I was hot and irritable.  I was frustrated that   I couldn’t be of more help. I didn’t feel like reading Scripture or praying, other than sending up prayers for power to be restored and thanking God for my wonderful husband and a generator. 

Without electricity our modern lives come to a halt – no refrigeration, no email, no cable TV, no air or heat, sometimes no water, and no Facebook J!  In order to benefit from electricity we must be plugged in through electrical wiring.  Otherwise the power is useless.  But what a blessing that power is when we are connected. 

Without staying plugged in to God’s Word and communication with Him, I lose important blessings as well, such as strength for difficult situations, a peaceful, positive attitude, patience, and less anxiety and stress. I didn’t experience many of those blessings because I didn’t maintain an ongoing connection with my power source.

Living with pain and problems is a continual test and life in general brings many additional trials.  I can only survive by God’s power and strength, not my own.  But I must stay plugged in to Him to benefit.  I imagine there will be plenty of other opportunities for me to practice what I have learned.  I hope the next time I’m faced with such a difficulty, I will stay connected with God whether I feel like it or not.  I do hope and pray though that it will be awhile before God tests me again with lack of power in the summer heat! 

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, You are my source of strength and power.  Give me a willing and obedient spirit to maintain my connection with You, especially through the difficult times.  Amen.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Thoughts on Non-medical Ways to Handle Depression

"He brought them out of darkness and deepest gloom and broke away their chains" (Psalm 107:14).

This is not a typical devotional but I wanted to share this information.  Chronic health problems and life struggles in general can trigger depression, whether it's sporadic or ongoing.   I struggle with depression on a regular basis and am unable to take medication for it.  This has led me to continually seek God for other options in dealing with it.

Of course one of the biggest challenges with depression is that I don't feel like doing anything, so these suggestions do require that I make the effort even though I may not want to. But this is being obedient to God and He will reward the obedience. He never fails to bring comfort and help, although it may not always be immediate.

The plethora of books available on this subject can be overwhelming.  I believe the following suggestions are helping me in this battle, and I pray someone else may benefit from them as well.  Much of this information is taken from the book Depression:  Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness, by Edward Welch.  Putting even one of these suggestions in to practice can bring some victory.

Possible Contributing Factors to Depression

1.     Circumstantial
2.     Chemical
3.     Emotional
4.     Physical
5.     Spiritual

How Depression Can Be for My Good

1.     Teaches me to take every thought captive.
2.     Increases my faith and teaches me that faith can exist without feelings –     feelings don’t define faith.
3.     Helps me focus on eternity.

Non-medical Suggestions for Depression

1.     Read certain Psalms (22, 130) out loud and claim them as my  own. Speaking Scripture is “doing” faith and it becomes evidence of Christ in me.

2.     Evaluate why I am depressed (causes at that time) and see what I am saying to myself and how Satan is attacking God through it.

3.     Remember I am in a battle.  Put on the armor every day and claim God’s love for me every day, whether I feel it or not (speak Ephesians 6 and Psalm 90). 

4.     Learn more about Jesus and imitate Him. I imitate Jesus by doing the next thing – whatever that is at the moment: serving others when I don’t feel like it, loving others when I don’t feel loved or feel hurt, angry, or rejected, not looking for self-oriented purposes but rather God-oriented ones.

5.     Humble myself before God – acknowledge He loves me, knows what’s best for me, and has good plans for my life.  Be on guard against self-pity and complaining.

6.     Acknowledge and confess my sin – a desire to be loved rather than love, selfishness, envy, discontent, lack of faith, etc. Pray for my heart to be free from theses sins.  Keep at my confession until I have inklings of joy and hope.

7.     Remember my purpose.  I am called, forgiven, adopted, given gifts, given a mission, given a future.

8.     When I think, “Why bother?” say “because of Jesus”.  Persevere in fighting depression because God persevered with me.

9.     Talk to my depression.  Fight it rather than listen to it.  Speak God’s truth to it.  I can’t always change the way I feel but I can change the way I think. If I am thinking lies, say, “STOP!”

10.  Realize how much I have already persevered, be encouraged by that, and articulate my purpose and hope.  Pray for the ability to see and believe there is contentment and even joy in long-term, small steps of faith and obedience.

11.  Identify any fears I may have at the moment.  Confess them as unbelief, examine Scripture, and be confident in the love and faithfulness of Jesus.

12.  Remember God created and called me to trust Him and let that trust express itself in loving others.  Ways I can love others even when depressed: thank them, greet them, pray for them, listen to them.

Prayer:  God, Your Word says I have divine power for anything I need for life and godliness (II Peter 1:3), and that includes battling depression and other problems.  Thank you that with You nothing is impossible.  Give me the strength to speak and act in Your power even when depressed.  Amen.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Living Up to What We Have Already Attained in Our Walk with God

“Only let us live up to what we have already attained”
 (Philippians 3:16).

Each summer I have the same struggle.  As I see people enjoying more physical activities and travel, I want to mourn what I have lost. Ungrateful as it sounds, I feel I am missing out on what summer is all about.

The Holy Spirit brings conviction and truth about these negative thoughts.  I work through them and get over it – until the next time.  This verse in Philippians challenges me.

Paul talks about pressing on to receive the prize and then he tells us to live up to what we have already attained.  God’s Word translation says, “We should be guided by what we have learned so far”.  I need to remember what I have learned and the victories God has given me in this struggle before.

We build and move forward on what we learn through experience. In order to cook I must remember what I learned about boiling water, browning meat, etc.  If I had to start from square one with each meal, we wouldn’t eat much!  The same is true in my spiritual life. 

We are all at different stages in our walk with God, but we have all attained something on our journey.  God has taught me many things thanks to His patience, mercy, grace, and love.  When I forget those lessons, God brings opportunities for me to remember.  The sooner I remember, the more I can move on to a deeper spiritual growth and walk with Him.

Summer will never be what it once was for me.  But God reminds me of the truth that one day there will be no losses to grieve, and no temporary earthly pleasure can compare to what lies ahead with Him in eternity.  I want to be thankful for all the blessings I do have.  And as I keep moving forward, I know my heavenly prize far outweighs any loss here on earth.

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for enabling us to learn and persevere in our walk with You.  Strengthen and encourage our hearts to remember and act on what we have learned, yielding our losses to You even as we push on toward what lies ahead.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"Letting Go of the "Whys" of Our Pain

“Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”?  The Lord is the everlasting God . . . and his understanding no one can fathom”
 (Isaiah 40:27,28).

One of my weaknesses is in wanting to understand the “whys” behind something before I accept it.  This need to know has created problems in many areas of my life including my relationship with God, particularly where my health problems are concerned.

In his book Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby suggests that God’s refusal, silence, or doing something we don’t understand are not rejection.  They are opportunities for God to disclose to us more of Himself than we have ever known.

I experienced this truth before our recent vacation.  Two weeks before we left I had a bicycle accident which aggravated my back and fibro problems.  I questioned God.  He knew I was being careful and that we had been planning this trip for months.  But God used that experience to reveal more of Himself.  He enabled me to enjoy the trip despite pain and discomfort - an attitude adjustment which I am continually dealing with.  He also worked a huge miracle in allowing me to take a pain medication every day which normally causes severe depression but did not.  God revealed Himself in powerful ways and my faith grew.

On this vacation we were blessed to visit the Billy Graham library in Charlotte, North Carolina.  We saw Ruth Bell Graham’s grave, and I was reminded of something she wrote when questioning why.

“I lay my ‘whys’ before your cross in worship kneeling,
My mind too numb for thought, my heart beyond all feeling:
And worshiping, realize that I
In knowing You don’t need a ‘why’.” 

Rather than questioning God when I don’t understand something in my life, I pray that I will look for new ways He is revealing Himself and His great power through it, and maybe even be thankful that I don’t understand – because He is the Almighty God, and I am not.

Prayer:  Lord, I praise You for being beyond my human understanding.  Help me see my “whys” as opportunities to see new aspects of Your power and grace in my life.  Amen.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Treasure the Small Harbors God Provides

“He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.  They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven” (Psalm 107:29, 30).

A few summers ago we took a trip to Maine. I enjoyed the beauty of the coastal towns, particularly the many boats in the harbors or out on the water.  The weather was much different than my previous visit there, when a northeaster was passing through.

I came across a quote in a devotional book that reminded me of the beauty of those harbors.  “We may not always have time for grand departures to wonderful retreats or resorts where we can be refreshed.  That is why I treasure small harbors.  They are all around us waiting to let us catch our breath before the next wind carries us away” (Sheila Walsh).

Chronic health problems are like storms in my life, tossing me on the waves of pain and fear.  Sometimes they only cause ripples but other times they crash over me, pulling me under.  How I would love to escape to some quiet haven of respite, free from these struggles. 

I am becoming more aware of the small harbors of peace that God brings in to my life.  Whether they last minutes or days, they help me renew my faith and trust in God and prepare for the next wind that comes.  These small harbors can come in many forms – a verse of Scripture, a church service, a support group, a talk with a friend, time spent in nature, a book I read, a song I hear, times with family, day outings, or vacations.  Any of these can be God’s little retreats where He restores and strengthens me.

One day I will reach the desired haven for which I was created – the final harbor of eternity.  No more storms of pain and suffering.  Until I reach that harbor, how thankful I am for the small ones He provides here. 

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, open my eyes to the small harbors of refreshment You bring into my life.   And when I am trying to hold on during the storms of suffering, thank you that You are in the boat with me.  Amen.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Lessons Learned from a Woodpecker

“He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed” 
(Isaiah 50:4b).

Most of us probably long to hear God’s voice speaking directly to us.  In our lives of pain we want answers.  I believe God does speak to me but not always in the ways I expect, and I had a humorous example of this recently.

Each morning I pray for the Lord to satisfy me with His unfailing love, because I quickly allow the fears and concerns of my health to rob me of this Biblical truth as well as others.  One morning I was apprehensive about some dental work to be done that day as well as some ongoing concern about my eyes. 

I love hearing the birds in the morning and I open my window while praying.  We have a red-bellied woodpecker that comes to my feeder.  Each spring he also enjoys drilling on our drain pipes, and this year he is drilling more often than usual.  Sometimes I get quite annoyed with him!  That morning as I was praying rather desperately about my teeth and eyes, he began drilling loudly. 

In that drilling God spoke very clearly to my spirit - “How many times do I have to drill into your head the truth that I love you, that you don’t need to fear anything because I will be you through it, that my grace has been sufficient for 54 years and always will be?  These physical problems are my ways of drilling these truths into your head until you learn to trust me completely.”

I laughed out loud.  God can be quite creative in His teaching methods.  I was still not looking forward to the dentist but I knew I would make it through.  I also knew God would direct me concerning my eyes.  Now I am praying I will learn my lessons completely and move on.  I am ready for a break from the drilling and God probably is too!

Prayer: Lord how thankful I am that You love me enough to keep teaching me even when I am a slow learner.  Help me be aware of the ways You reveal Your love and grace to me and may I learn my lessons well.  Amen.

Monday, May 14, 2012

"What You Don't Know Can't Hurt You" May Not Be True, Physically or Spiritually

“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
(II Peter 3:18).

I have intolerances to many things so I have started examining food labels carefully.  Recently I was going to make something for company and discovered an ingredient that was not good for me.  I was telling my mother how hard it is to find things that I can eat.   She laughingly said maybe I should not check the ingredients and what I don’t know won’t hurt me.  She wasn’t serious of course, but it made me stop and think about that expression in relation to my physical and spiritual health.

There are times when what I don’t know won’t hurt me, but when it comes to food, that is not the case for me.  Checking labels on everything I buy requires time.  Not buying and eating certain foods requires self-discipline.  When I do these things though, I feel much better.

I can apply this concept to my relationship with God as well.  Of course there are aspects of God that my finite mind can’t comprehend, but not learning and growing in my knowledge of Him will affect me negatively.  If I don’t take time to study God’s character and attributes I will experience unnecessary doubt and fear, because I will not be viewing my problems in the light of His goodness, mercy, and sovereignty.  If I don’t learn more of Jesus and the way He lived, I will not grow in becoming more like Him.  If I don’t practice self-discipline spending time with God and making godly choices, I won’t have the knowledge and strength to fight my battles. 

What I don’t know can hurt me.  Conversely, what I do know can help me, and spiritually I can never know enough about God.  I will have all eternity to keep learning, but I can get a good start now.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank you for giving me the ability to learn and grow. Thank you for Your Word and the wealth of other Christian resources available to teach me more about You.  Give me the wisdom and self-discipline to keep growing and to make wise choices for my physical and spiritual health.  Amen

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

As We Refresh Others, We Are Refreshed

“He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed”
(Proverbs 11:25b).

There is a lovely home in my city that lifts my spirits each time I see it.  I drive by it intentionally because it makes me feel happy and refreshed just by looking at it.  It is separated from the street by a white wooden fence, and each summer this fence is covered with beautiful flowers.  The house is very neat and cozy-looking, giving the impression that anyone is welcome to stop by for a visit.

I also know a lovely, godly woman who reminds me of this house.  She is a delight to be around, and although I’m sure she has problems, the joy and refreshment of her presence is like those cheery flowers.  She is a model I would like to imitate. 

Living with pain can dampen my joy for life and even for the company of others at times.  My personality has also never been an outgoing one and tends to be more pessimistic than optimistic.  Yet God has the ability to enable me, and each of us, to refresh others.  He is not limited by our limitations.  Sometimes it may simply mean a kind word of blessing to a store clerk or an encouraging Facebook or email message.  Other times we may have the strength to minister to someone in greater depth.  Whatever refreshment we give though will yield returns to us as well. 

Interestingly enough, the King James Version of this verse says that he that waters shall also be watered.  When we willingly pour out the water of God’s encouragement and love to others – no matter how briefly - He revives our spirits and fills us with more of His life-giving water to give.

Even during the winter months the memory of those flowers at that house seems to linger, continuing to give a delightfully welcoming impression.  In the same way, during times when we have nothing to give, the memories we have given may linger and leave lasting impressions of blessings to others. 

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, we are all Your vessels of refreshment to someone, somewhere, at some time.  Thank you that when we allow You to refresh others through us, we are in turn refreshed by You.  Amen.