Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lenten Thoughts

"I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things"
(Philippians 3:8)

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endure the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).

While homeschooling my daughters one year, I had the opportunity to learn more about Lent. What I learned enriched my walk with God and I would like to share it.

The first day of Lent this year is Wednesday, February 22nd - Ash Wednesday. Lent originally meant spring - new life in nature. But for Christians it is a time of spiritual renewal as well. The date for Lent is determined by the date for Easter. Easter is always the first Sunday after the full moon that comes on or after March 21st. This year it falls on April 8th.

Originally Lent was 40 hours - the time Jesus was in the tomb. In the 200's it became 6 days called Holy Week. The 6 days became 36, being a tithe or 10th of the year, and then in the 700's under Charlemagne it became 40 days including Ash Wednesday. When we count the 40 days in Lent, we don’t count the Sundays of each week - only weekdays. One article I read also mentioned that Lent owes some of its spirit to the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert preparing for ministry. During Jesus’ time in the desert He left behind all others but the Holy Spirit and the Father. He experienced deprivation and temptation, but the Father and Holy Spirit sustained him.

Ash Wednesday is called that for several reasons. People put ashes on their foreheads in the form of a cross to show they belong to Jesus and are sealed in Him. Ashes are used because in Bible times they were a sign of sorrow and repentance.

Lent is a time of preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus, just as Advent prepares us for Christmas. Lent can be a time of looking at ourselves, thinking about our need for God and sometimes giving up something for a while as a sacrifice to God. We “deprive” ourselves through a “desert” experience of some sort. Some people fast or give up other things besides food - perhaps television or computer games. Lent is also a time for special prayer as we examine ourselves and meditate on what the Lord has done for us. The traditional symbol for Lenten prayer is the pretzel. In the 400's Christians made dough in the shape of two crossed arms to remind them to pray. They were called “Little Arms” or bracellae - later brezel or pretzel. They were eaten only during Lent.

Lent should not be a time of gloominess. It should be a time of self-reflection, yes, but also a time of joyfulness for what Jesus did for us. And if we give anything up, the purpose is to either strip away things that clutter our lives and keep us from a close relationship with God or remind us of the sacrifices He endured for us. For those of us with chronic pain and illness, the thought of intentionally giving up something may be difficult because of all we already give up out of necessity. Rather than giving something up I sometimes add something – such as praying daily for a particular cause or person or reading a book on Christ or other spiritual disciplines. I may also give up something different each week rather than one thing for the entire 40 days, which makes things easier to manage.

Through prayer, penitence, and preparing, Lent is a time of spiritual growth and renewal. It reminds us that Jesus has already been where we are and it reminds us of His suffering. But it especially reminds us of His love. Lent can be a very meaningful time. The Lord knows our pain and sufferings and understands that we may not be able to endure yet another discomfort or sacrifice. Yet whatever God leads us to do or not do during this season, we can ponder God’s great love and sacrifice for us, and perhaps be strengthened in endurance of own suffering, knowing these trials are conforming us more into the image of Christ Himself.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, as we enter this season of Lent, may I remember that You understand the meaning of sacrifice, for You made the greatest one in dying for me. Draw me closer to You during this time, and may any sacrifice I make deepen my love and commitment to You. Amen.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Seeking the Sonshine

“Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always” (Psalm 105:4).

I love gardening, and although I am limited in what I can physically do, I greatly miss my flowers during the winter months, so for Christmas a friend gave me an amaryllis plant to grow. I appreciated it but had difficulty in deciding where to put it since direct sunlight is filtered through the large trees in our yard. I finally decided to place it in front of the sliding door in our dining room each morning and move it out of the way each night. I wasn’t sure if it would grow, but I am thrilled that the plant is now much higher than my hopes and ready to bloom!

As I happily watch my plant’s progress, I am reminded of how much I need not only the earthly sun but also the heavenly Son. The warmth of God’s Spirit is my comfort on many emotionally dark days. My plant is very tall and I must keep rotating it so that it will grow evenly. I need the rays of God’s Word to help me grow in all areas of my Christian life. His Word and Spirit speak to any and every situation I face. If I move my plant away from the sun its growth will be stunted. I want to see this beautiful bud bloom. God wants me to bloom as well and I can only do that by seeking Him constantly. Even a few days without Him can cause me to droop. He truly is my source of light and life and seeking His face through the Word, worship music, prayer, and other means of support needs to be a daily priority for me.

It is wonderful to see the beauty of my amaryllis plant in the deadness of winter. And by faith, I am believing God will enable me to bloom even through the winters of my pain as I continually seek His face.

Prayer: Lord You are the light of my life. I want to remain in Your light so that I will grow and bloom not only on bright days but on cold dark days as well. Amen.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Living Within the Limits Which Our Loving God Has Given Us

“I know, O Lord that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me” (Psalm 119:75).

One of the hardest aspects of my health problems is the limitations which they bring. With each restriction, I have had to go through a cycle of frustration, grieving, and fighting before coming to acceptance. Although sugar has given me headaches for 20 years, I still struggle with giving it up; it has taken me years to accept that my perfectionistic vacuuming is not worth days of back pain afterwards. I am currently adjusting to limited reading and computer time because of eye problems. There are activities I can no longer do with friends or family. I realize these issues may seem insignificant to those whose problems are much more severe than mine, but they are still difficult for me to face.

In faith, I am gradually learning to accept God’s limits. Even Jesus allowed limitations in His life. He limited Himself to earthly poverty rather than the majesty of heaven. He willingly dwelt with frustrating, sinful, and disappointing humanity rather than heavenly hosts. He did not reveal His power through miracles until appointed times. He limited Himself for the sake of our eternal salvation and freedom.

I believe God is using limits in my life for at least two purposes – to rid me of my controlling nature and to teach me the blessings of sacrifice. Limitations force me to give up the control I desperately cling to at times, as well as giving me the opportunity to sacrifice the desires of my heart to the Lord. The more control I yield and the more I sacrifice, the more I experience true freedom in Christ.

Limits will continue to come, either through ageing, illness, or circumstances. Praise God, I have the assurance of knowing that they are ultimately achieving an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. “It is in limiting that God reveals the limitlessness of His power and grace and purposes” (Elizabeth George, Loving God with All Your Mind).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to willingly accept the limitations you place on my life, knowing that “You are good, and what you do is good” (Psalm 119:68). Amen.

Monday, February 13, 2012

God's Love and More

“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word” (II Thessalonians 2:16).

I always enjoy seeing the colorful Valentine’s Day decorations at this time of year, and it’s an appropriate time to meditate on God’s priceless love. This verse is a favorite of mine because it reminds me not only of His great love for me but of the other blessings I am given as well.
Love and grace: God loved me enough to send Jesus to the cross for me, though I did nothing to deserve or earn this (Ephesians 2:5). His love is everlasting, and no pain, illness, or difficulty can separate me from it (Jeremiah 31:3, Romans 8:39).
Eternal encouragement: God’s support and help will never end. They are as eternal and boundless as He is, and He always hears my cry (Psalm 10:17).

Good hope: When my hope seems gone, He miraculously restores it through Scripture and the comforting power of the Holy Spirit within me (Romans 15:4,13). I have hope for my eternal future, and I am given continual daily hope as I face the frustrations and disappointments of my disabilities.

Strength: I am given God’s divine power to live this life, even in weakness, trials, and pain (II Peter 1:3), and I am constantly protected against Satan’s attacks (II Timothy 4:18).

When I feel overwhelmed and unable to keep going, I remind myself of what I possess. Just as the cheerful reds and pinks of February are a bright spot in the midst of a gray winter, so the comfort of these divine gifts lifts me up on my darkest days. I can make it - through this day and through this life - because of God’s love and more.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, how I praise You for Your unending love, grace, encouragement, hope, and strength. Teach me to live my days in the power of these truths. Amen.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Your Love Is Ever Before Me

“Your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth” (Psalm 26:3).

I believe God loves me, but at times I have wanted Him to show His love for me in a way of my choosing – namely giving me relief from pain and restoring some lost abilities. Then I noticed this verse for the first time.

During a heavy snow storm I realized that God’s love was literally before me in the beauty of the snow-covered scenery. His love is before my eyes in the comforts of my home and in the faces, voices, and e-mails of those I love and who love me. His love is revealed on the pages of His precious Word, not to mention the strength this love brings to help me through each day. I was amazed at how blind I can be to the myriad of ways in which He shows his love.

I looked at the second half of this verse and was challenged again. If I am walking continually in His truth, I will take every thought and hold it up to the light of His Word. If a thought is not based on Scripture, I need to cast it aside and replace it with His truth. Being aware of His love and basing my thoughts on His Word, I will be filled with peace and contentment even amidst my pain and yearnings.

God does love me – more than I can comprehend with my limited earthly perceptions. May I trust that love enough to let go of my demands and begin to grasp how wide and long and high and deep His love is, that I might be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:18,19).

Prayer: Lord, may I say with the Psalmist, “Thy steadfast love is before my eyes and I walk in faithfulness to Thee” (RSV). Open my eyes and increase my faith. Amen.