Saturday, December 28, 2013

A New Year's Prayer

Dear Readers,

This devotional is in a different format from my usual writings. Sometimes I like to use actual Scripture verses as prayers.  Psalm 90 (written by Moses) is one of my favorite Psalms. I am focusing on verses 12-17 as a prayer for the new year.

“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom”.  Lord, I will need Your wisdom for so many things in this new year, whether they are related to my health, relationships, circumstances, or simply life in general.  Help me to seek Your guidance daily and trust You for the outcomes.  Help me also to be wise in the use of my time, staying focused on what is truly important in this life, rather than being caught up in the priorities of the world.

“Have compassion on your servants”.  Lord, you know my struggles with pain and problems.  You know how much I can bear.  I pray for your compassion and mercy through any difficult times that lie ahead.

“Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days”. Father, as I begin each new day, open my eyes to Your presence around me. Remind me that no matter how intense my pain or problems may be, I can rejoice in knowing that You love me and will carry me through all things.  Make me aware of the countless ways that You show Your love and presence to me each day.

“Make us glad for as many days as we have seen trouble”.  Lord, You said this world would be full of trials, but to rejoice for You have overcome the world.  Thank you for the assurance that even if my circumstances or health do not improve in this life, the glad days of eternal health and happiness are coming soon.  Help me persevere until then, and make me thankful for the blessings and gifts You give now.

“May your deeds be shown to your servants”.  O God, make me aware of opportunities to display Your glory in the coming year.  May I be a testimony to others of Your power and strength in my weaknesses.

“May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us”.  Lord God, may pleasing You be the greatest desire of my heart this year. Whatever plans You have for me to accomplish, I pray that You would bless me through them.  Let me remember that no matter what my limitations are, I can still be used by You and am important to You and Your kingdom work.

I pray these things in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dear Readers and/
or Followers,

I just want to take a moment to thank you for taking the time to read my writings.  I hope and pray that somehow God is using my words to encourage you through whatever struggles you may be experiencing.

In the remaining days before Christmas, I am re-posting a few of my previous Christmas writings that were some of my favorites.  I wish you all a blessed and meaningful Christmas.

With God's Peace,

God With Us

“He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”
 (Isaiah 9:6).

This is a very familiar verse, but I have been thinking more about its significance in my life.

Wonderful Counselor.  Wonderful is defined as amazing, marvelous, excellent.  A counselor gives advice and guidance as well as listening to cares and concerns. Jesus is the most marvelous counselor of all.  Many times I need direction for life regarding medical decisions, financial decisions, or interpersonal relationships.  When I am discouraged, disheartened, or fearful, the Lord is there to hear my pleas and comfort my spirit.

Mighty God.  To be mighty is to be powerful, strong, and great.  The might and power of Jesus conquered sin and death.  That same power lives within me by the power of the Holy Spirit and will sustain me through any earthly pain and suffering.

Everlasting Father.  God is eternal and unchangeable.  His love and faithfulness are never ending.  He sees all, knows all, and controls all.  What comfort that brings to me in the uncertainties of life.

Prince of Peace.  Peace is an undisturbed state of mind or serenity and is something we all long for.  Ongoing health problems and the trials and turmoil of this fallen world constantly try to rob me of my peace.  Yet by putting my trust and faith in Christ, I am able to have peace under any conditions.

Matthew 1:23 also says that Jesus would be called Immanuel, meaning God with us.  That word alone brings me great comfort this Christmas season.  Regardless of my health or the chaos in this world, God is here.  He truly is with me - not in physical form as on that first Christmas Day so long ago, but in a powerful living presence within me.  A physical presence may leave me, but the Spirit of God remains with me until one day I see Him face to face.

“Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). 

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, as I rejoice in Your birth, may I also rejoice in the wonder of knowing Your presence within me.  Thank You for being my counselor, my might, my stability, and my peace.  Amen.

God - Our Ever Faithful Evergreen

“I will answer him and care for him. I am like a green pine tree; your fruitfulness comes from me”
(Hosea 14:8).

There are many visual signs of the Christmas season, and Christmas trees are one my favorites. I was surprised to find the above verse in which God likens Himself to a pine tree, and I found the analogy quite interesting.

The pine tree is an evergreen. It never loses its needles and remains green despite the cold of winter. Its foliage is always there to provide shade and shelter. How clearly this describes our Lord, who is there for us always, faithful in every season of life.

The pine tree produces cones in various shapes and sizes. Some cones yield more seeds than others, and some have fewer flaws. Yet they are all attached to and part of the tree, relying on its nourishment to grow. In the same way we are all God’s creation, regardless of our differing abilities. He designed each of us uniquely, and we live and grow according to His perfect plan, relying on His faithfulness to meet our every need.

The cones produce fruit, but only by being attached to the tree itself. The seeds within the cones are dispersed to grow new trees elsewhere. Our illnesses do not keep us from producing fruit for our Lord if we are abiding in Him. He uses us for His kingdom despite our weaknesses, and at times because of them. Our lives may impact someone else, who in turn will affect yet another. By His grace and strength, we too can spread seeds for Him.

New growth on a pine branch is sometimes referred to as a candle. Despite our chronic illnesses, we can grow and shine as candles in some way this Christmas season, scattering seeds of love and faith among those whose lives we touch.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for being my source of life, ever constant and unchanging. Remind me of Your faithfulness in the evergreens I see. Amen.

The Pain of That First Christmas

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son”
 (Matthew 2:6, 7).

Those few verses incorporate so much more than Christ’s physical birth.  They are impacted by events beforehand and afterwards, and they include pain.  Have you ever considered that everyone involved in that first Christmas experienced some kind of pain?

Mary experienced the pain of separation from family and endured months of ostracism and gossip beforehand.  She then faced the exhaustion of travel and painful childbirth in very uncomfortable surroundings.  Afterwards, she faced the physical trial of escaping with a newborn to new surroundings.

Joseph had to deal with the painful doubts and perplexing truths concerning Mary’s pregnancy.  He faced the humiliation of being unable to suitably provide for his wife and the danger of getting them safely to Egypt.

The shepherds lived lonely lives spent out in the elements, and they had no social or financial standing.  They were looked down on with as much contempt as tax collectors.  They knew pain - physical and emotional – on a daily basis.

The wise men traveled for months to see Jesus and then return home – a physically exhausting and dangerous trip.

And what about God the Father and His Son?  Both had known this day was coming, and yet how hard it must have been for Jesus to leave the glory of heaven and endure the separation of 33 years culminating in excruciating death on the cross.  And how difficult for the Father to send His Son into such poverty, suffering, and shame.

Yes, that first Christmas was full of pain. Whatever we are struggling with – being limited financially in what we can give, being unable to decorate, socialize, or eat foods we would like, being separated from those we love, or suffering great physical pain – God understands them all, because pain surrounded that first Christmas. 

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, you understand the pain I am facing this Christmas.  I want to rejoice in this season even if I am unable to enjoy all the pleasures that come with it, knowing that our eternal celebrations will more than compensate for my pain now. Amen.


Christmas Peace and Joy

“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:47).

As I prepare for Christmas, at times I am filled with conflicting emotions. I praise God for the celebration of Christ’s birth and for loved ones with whom to share it. Yet my heart is also heavy for those who suffer. Life is full of struggles - grief over the loss of loved ones, hurt from broken relationships, loneliness due to separation from family, and discouragement with physical limitations during the season’s activities.

There have been moments when I have wondered how I can possibly be joyful and peaceful when this world is so full of pain, yet I also realized that if the world were not hurting, there would be no need for a Savior. I reflected on that first Christmas. That time was far from peaceful and pleasant. Roman rule was oppressive and life was a struggle to endure. Mary and Joseph faced ostracism, pain, homelessness, and separation from family. Those who anticipated the birth of the Messiah were expecting to see a conquering king, which was not the case.

Yet we on the other side of the cross know the significance of that first Advent, and because of it, we anticipate the second one. With the second coming, all pain, suffering, and disappointment will end. We will truly be able to rejoice without sorrow, and perhaps my joy this year will be more in anticipation of Christ’s future coming than in His past one. Whatever we are facing this Christmas, may we remember the victory and eternal life that Christ’s birth and subsequent death and resurrection bring. May that knowledge bring us peace, and may we rejoice. “I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for coming to this earth so that I may one day live with You in heaven. May I truly rejoice in and celebrate Your birth this Christmas season, even as I long for Your return. Amen.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

One Celebration that Pain Will Not Cause Me to Miss

Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!”
(Revelation 19:9).

Traditionally holidays are a social time of sharing food and fellowship with family or friends.  But those of us with health problems know that holidays can be discouraging and lonely times.

We may not be able to visit family or have the ability to entertain them ourselves.  We may be in too much discomfort to go to social events that we would enjoy.  We may not be able to eat certain holiday foods because of allergies or digestive issues.  We may not have the ability or resources to buy gifts. We may not even be able to attend a church service.  Even though we rejoice in Christ’s birth and know that it’s not about all the traditions of the season, we can feel self-pity and isolation.

Last December my husband I visited Longwood Gardens. My favorite display was a huge and beautifully decorated banquet table.  It reminded me of that wonderful day when Scripture is fulfilled and all believers will join together in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  How I look forward to that day!

Christmas is not just about Christ’s birth – although that is certainly something to celebrate.  But because He came, lived, died, and rose, conquering sin and death, I have that wonderful banquet to look forward to.  No pain or problems will keep me from it, and all fellow believers I love or who I have lost will be there, along with countless other believers through the ages.

No earthly holiday celebration can equal the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, or the eternal joys that will follow.  So this Christmas, if there are things I must give up because of my pain, yes, I will be disappointed.  Yes, I may grieve and feel loss.  But then I hope I will move forward and focus on the true meaning of Christmas, rejoicing in what is to come because of it.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, whatever I may have to give up this holiday season, keep me focused on the full significance of Your coming to earth.  Let those truths replace all worldly expectations, and fill me with joyful hope and expectation.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Where Is Our Focus This Advent Season?

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ”
 (Titus 2:11-13).

The word “advent” means the coming or arrival of something important.  During December, advent refers to the time of preparing and waiting for Christ’s birth.

It may be easy for us as Christians to look at the world and see how this waiting time has become secularized.  We see signs of ungodliness and worldliness everywhere, tempting people to emphasize materialism, overindulge in food and drink, and stay focused on pleasure and entertainment rather than on the birth of Jesus. 

Because health problems can limit our involvement in even the good activities, we may have more time than most to stay centered on the holiday’s true meaning.  We may even feel we are doing fairly well in the “abstaining from ungodliness and worldliness” category.

But our limitations can tempt us to different ungodly passions, such as negativity, self-pity, discontent, and lack of faith and trust in God.  These attitudes are just as harmful as the world’s secularism.  We can become distracted from the true meaning of Christmas by being consumed with our problems.

As we go through the remaining advent season, let’s remember that Christ’s birth encompasses more than the salvation of our souls.  It also saves us from the daily despair, fear, and countless other harmful attitudes and emotions that chronic health problems bring.  As we say “No” to these temptations, we can wait with hope not only for this Christmas Day, but also for that blessed day when Christ returns again and all waiting and pain will be over.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, during this season of preparing and waiting for Christmas, help me to say no to any thoughts or attitudes that are not based on Scripture and Your power in my life.  Fill me with godly hope and joy that rise about my earthly problems, as I celebrate Your first coming and anticipate Your second one.  Amen.


Friday, December 6, 2013

How to Sweeten Our Holidays Without Harming Our Health

“Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening?”
(James 3:10,11 NKJV)

I have always had a sweet tooth and used to eat quite a bit of sugar.  It took almost 10 years of  trying various medicines and seeing many specialists before I finally discovered that sugar was a major contributor to my constant headaches. Avoiding sugar has been challenging, and it is an ongoing struggle to limit it. I try, but the holidays are particularly challenging.  All of the seasonal cookies, cakes, and candies look and taste so good, and I do make exceptions at this time of year and just deal with the headaches.

My Bible study group is currently studying the book of James.  As I was reading the above passage, I thought about the words that come out of my mouth, especially concerning my health problems.  Although I may not be cursing God or man, it is still very easy to complain or be negative in my conversations with others.

During the holidays I may spend more time communicating with people, and it’s natural for them to ask how I am doing.  I don’t need to downplay my problems, but they can be shared in a way that is sweet rather than bitter.  As I share my struggles, I can also share specific victories God has given me over them and the strength He gives me through them.  I can give praise to God for all the problems I don’t have, and rather than dwelling on my own issues, I can encourage and edify others.

As I monitor how many sweets go into my mouth this holiday season, I hope I will be just as careful as to what comes out of it – words that are filled with the sweetness of God’s goodness and mercy in my life.  And a bite or two of Christmas treats will be the perfect reminder.

Prayer: Heavenly Father,  as I celebrate this Christmas season, help me be a positive influence to those around me through my speech.  Let my words be an overflow of a heart that praises You (Matthew 12:34).



Saturday, November 30, 2013

Singing to God Through Our Pain This Holiday Season

“Sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).

A big part of the holidays is music, and it is one time of year that Christ-centered music is played in the secular world.

This verse in Colossians connects singing to God with thankfulness. This attitude can be hard to maintain when dealing with pain and problems, but oh how we need it, especially during the holiday season.

It is hard to be thankful when we are frustrated over the things we can’t do during the holidays or concerned about how we will get through those that we must do, all the while trying to maintain a properly joyful Christmas attitude!  Being thankful can be challenging if we focus on other holidays when we were in better health or our circumstances were different.

Singing songs of worship has carried me through some of my most painful times and has changed my attitude on difficult days.  Praise takes our focus off of our pain and reminds us of the loving and powerful God we serve and all the blessings that knowing Him brings, both now and forever. 

As we hear the well-loved Christmas songs of the season this year, let us not simply sing the words from rote memory.  Let us hear the words as they apply to our current lives.  We can sing with peace in our hearts no matter what we are facing because the Prince of Peace is here with us. We can sing with thanksgiving and joy because of the wonderful truth that since Jesus came down to us on earth, we will one day go to be with Him in heaven. And we can keep on singing when the holidays are over in anticipation of that glorious pain-free day when the object of our faith finally becomes sight.

Prayer:  O God, help us give back this gift of music to You in praise this Christmas season and beyond.  And let the hope of the words we sing fill us with peace and joy even in our suffering.  Amen.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Lord Has Dealt Bountifully with Me

“You brought us to a place of abundance”
(Psalm 66:12).

As Thanksgiving approaches, I like to focus more than usual on thankfulness, but this can be an effort when life is full of pain and problems.

This year has been a difficult one for me.  My father died, my daughter donated a kidney, I experienced setbacks with my back problems, and my future son-in-law is dealing with brain cancer.  None of these things have been easy, but I see blessings in them.  My dad is free from pain and died quickly.  My daughter’s kidney donation was a total success, and she saved a life.   God showed His faithfulness through another round of back pain.  Brain cancer is causing my daughter and her fiancĂ© to grow tremendously in their walks with God. Despite the exhaustion and pain I have felt through these and other situations, God has been incredibly faithful and given me the strength to keep going.

I don’t believe God expects me to downplay my sufferings.  He knows and understands my daily physical, mental, and emotional trials.  But I do believe He wants me to see the good as well.  My times are in God’s hands, and everything He brings into my life has the potential for my ultimate good and blessing, whether here or in eternity.

There have been and will be times when I don’t feel thankful.  In those moments, praise God I can rely on the truth that He knows my frame and remembers I am dust (Psalm 103: 14). He understands my human frailties and loves and accepts me even in my failures.  But as I seek the good in any and every circumstance, the constant goodness and bountifulness of God shine more clearly.

Prayer:  Dear Lord, I must confess I am not always as thankful as I should be.  Despite life’s pain and problems, help me to see all the blessings You give me, not only during this Thanksgiving season but throughout the year.  Amen.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Praying for Others When We Don’t Know What to Pray

“We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding,  so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,  and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light”
 (Colossians 1:9-12).

When we know someone with pain or problems - particularly ongoing ones - we want to pray for them.  But sometimes we just don’t know what to say.  We pray for relief. We pray for perseverance.  We pray for ability to still enjoy things in life.  But I think this passage in Colossians is the best prayer we could offer for anyone, including ourselves.

We all want to know God’s will as to how we should deal with our struggles, so prayers for wisdom and understanding are quite appropriate.  And we want to live lives worthy of God as a testimony to Him even through our suffering.

Regardless of how limited we are, we can all bear fruit until God calls us home.  We can continue to grow in our relationship with Him and our understanding of Him as much as our earthly minds will allow.  Of course we need patience and endurance to survive our pain and problems.  We all know (at least in theory) that giving thanks and maintaining joy through suffering is not only Biblical but beneficial to our minds, bodies, and spirits. And lastly, keeping a focus on the glorious inheritance we have yet to come can help us hang on during the worst of times here.

Yes, we can pray for healing and relief.   But perhaps our first and best prayer should be these verses.  I can’t imagine more comprehensive, beautiful, or God-pleasing words than these.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, as we pray for ourselves and others, we want to focus on symptom relief.  May we pray for these Biblical qualities as well, knowing that as we live them out, we can face our suffering here with much greater victory.  Amen.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Being “Missional-Minded” Through Our Pain and Problems

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (I Peter 3:15).

Our church leaders recently taught on the missional-minded church, which emphasizes sharing our faith with others through everyday life rather than specifically trying to draw them in to the church.  Part of the reasoning behind this is our culture’s declining interest in and understanding of Christian concepts and church participation.

Most of us with health issues would not even think about being missionaries.  We may not be able to get out to the store, much less participate in an outreach event.  But think about the “mission field” we encounter through our health problems.  We see medical professionals.  We share our problems with family, friends, and perhaps neighbors.  Not all of these people are Christians. What an opportunity for sharing the hope we have through our suffering.

A dear friend of mine has been legally blind for more than 25 years, yet having her sight restored is no longer an important emphasis for her.  She travels a good bit and uses special glasses to read.  Her vision problem has given her some wonderful opportunities to share the hope, power, and strength that Christ has brought into her life through her disability.  I hope to follow her example and do a better job of sharing Christ’s power through my weaknesses from now on.

As we think about who will cross our paths, particularly during the upcoming holiday season, what better way of showing our love and gratitude for all God has given us than to share this gift of hope with others.
Prayer:  Lord Jesus, help me see my pain and suffering as tools to bless and encourage others by sharing the hope I have in You, and may I make the most of the opportunities You provide.  Amen.


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Freedom from Fear

“When I am afraid, I will trust in you”
 (Psalm 56:3).

Fall is here, and along with fall we see signs of Halloween.  In American culture Halloween  is commonly associated with being scared, but regardless of what season it is or where, fear is something most people struggle with at some point.

Fear seems to be a hot topic lately.  This world is a scary place.  Natural disasters, government problems, financial instability, terrorism, and other issues are all contributing to world chaos, to say nothing of the increasingly anti-Christian world views.

Those of us with health problems are no strangers to fear.  Unexplained pain, worsening symptoms, side effects of medications,  loss of abilities, and fear of future illnesses can all cause us to panic.

In David Jeremiahs’ new book, What Are You Afraid Of?, he mentions Biblical ways to handle our fears, including committing our fears to God and memorizing Scriptures relevant to them.  We can be honest in confessing our fears to the Lord.  He understands our humanness.  But we also need to remember that fear is a lack of faith and confess that as sin.  Although the Bible may not include the specific names of our illnesses, there are many verses which can apply to our struggles.  Dr. Jeremiah says, “The command to not fear occurs nearly 60 times in Scripture, and some form of the word fear is mentioned more than 425 times”.  God understands fear.

In Edward Welch’s book, Running Scared Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest, he mentions  God’s future grace - a huge comfort to me.  Future grace means that when the time comes, whatever we are called to endure, God will give us the grace we need.  How He will do that and what it will look like we don’t know, but we will receive what we need.  We do not need to fear. 

This world is a scary place.  Our pains and problems can be frightening.  But we can be free from fear.  God is in control of it all.  His grace is more than sufficient, and His Word confirms it.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, You are in control of this world and my life.  Please help me trust You for my future and speak Your words of truth into each one of my fears.  Amen.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Perceiving Perseverance as Positive

“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4).

My initial response to the word perseverance is usually not a positive one.  Yes, I know it’s an important character quality and we are called to persevere as Christians, but part of me wants to groan and sigh when I hear the word.
One definition of perseverance surprised me because it had a positive connotation.  It was defined as cheerful or hopeful endurance.  I can’t say that many of my experiences with perseverance have been cheerful, but then I thought about the mindset I have had during those times – I wasn’t seeing it as something positive.
James connects perseverance with maturity, completion, blessing, and rewards. What Christian doesn’t want to reach those goals?  God is continually using everything in this life – pleasant as well as painful – to conform us to His image, so that we can attain those goals and be prepared for eternity with Him.
Perseverance is also defined in conjunction with endurance to win in the end.  We certainly want to win the crown of life that God has for us in heaven.  Hope and faith are positive concepts associated with perseverance as well, both of which we possess as believers in Christ.  And the more faith and hope we have, the stronger they become.
Viewing perseverance as something positive would help me handle my trials differently.  Instead of dreading them and feeling that I can’t or don’t even want to endure, I can rejoice that I am growing in maturity, knowing that each new trial brings me closer to perfection and eternity.
Life is hard.  Pain and problems are hard.  But God’s perspective of my trials is quite different from mine, and in His kingdom perseverance is positive and brings blessings. Viewing perseverance as positive may not ease my pain, but it can encourage me to keep going.  I want to win, and the sooner I mature the better.
Prayer:  Heavenly Father, please change my view of perseverance so that I see my trials as positive opportunities to grow and mature.  I praise You that no matter how weak I feel, I know that Your Spirit within me will give me the power to endure and win.  Amen.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Best GPS for Navigating the Roads of Pain and Illness

“As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless”
(Psalm 18:30).

I recently took a trip with my mother and we used our GPS.  We also took a map, but neither my mother nor I read it.

We totally relied on the GPS, which was fine until we were in a large city and lost all satellite reception. Without the GPS we were lost.  Thankfully the Lord guided us to helpful people and we made it to our destinations safely, but I learned an important lesson.  A GPS is great but I need to have a map as well – and read it!

Chronic health problems are a hard road to travel and it is easy to get lost.  A new pain or problem, the unknowns of future health, decisions about treatments, or making commitments can all leave me wandering around trying to find my way.

During those times I want answers from God, preferably through a voice or sign.  Sometimes He does that through advice from doctors, family, or friends, information from the internet, book, or magazine, or a prompting from the Holy Spirit - all of which are wonderful aids in guiding me when I’m lost.

But my one constant referral source should be the “map” of Scripture.  The Bible may not mention my problems by name, but if I examine the root of my concerns, they are all issues that God addresses in His word.  I need freedom from fear and anxiety.  I need wisdom to make right choices.  I need strength to fight against despair or hopelessness.  None of those are roads down which I want to travel.  They all lead to lostness.  The map of Scripture will keep me on the right road if I follow God’s routes.

A GPS is a huge help but nothing replaces a good map.  Likewise, we can appreciate and make use of the various tools God brings into our lives to help us navigate the roads of suffering, but His Word is the best positioning system.  Praise God that Word is always accurate and available, and the only way we will lose reception is if we choose not to read it. 

Prayer:  O Lord, Your Word is the best source of direction for traveling the difficult roads of this life.  Help me be faithful to read and follow it at all times.  Amen.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Maintaining Our Confidence in God Despite Our Suffering

“So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded”
(Hebrews 10:35).

People put their confidence in many things, all of which will disappoint them at some point.  God is the only one in whom we can have complete faith and trust.  As believers in Christ we put our confidence in Him, but how easy it is to forget that truth when we are continually faced with pain and suffering.  We may temporarily lose our faith and trust, doubting His ability to bring us through these trials.

In Hebrews 10, the author reminded his readers of their early days in the faith when they withstood their suffering with confidence (verse 23).  The Expositor’s Bible Commentary says, “They had experienced some form of persecution and had come through it triumphantly.  This should teach them that in Christ they had blessings of a kind they could never have had if they had given way to persecution.  There should be no going back on that kind of endurance now”. 

As the years have passed and my health problems have become more debilitating, I have been (and still am) tempted to lose my confidence in God.  How quickly I “throw away” the history of His faithfulness and forget how He has used these sufferings to grow me in my faith.

Reminding myself of the specific ways God has shown Himself faithful encourages me to hold on to that confidence. Verbally declaring my faith and trust in Him is a strong defense against the attacks of Satan. Reading testimonies of other believers who have endured great persecution also motivates me to hold fast to this confidence.

Our pain and sufferings are difficult and at times seem unbearable.  But we can pray for eyes to see the blessings we are receiving through our trials and persevere in our endurance as countless other believers have done and are doing, “holding unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, You have continually proven Yourself worthy of my complete faith and trust.  Let me triumphantly hold on to my endurance and confidence in You, knowing You will not fail, and my reward will be worth the suffering.  Amen.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Surviving the “Staging Area” of Chronic Health Problems

“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).

Each fall my husband takes some camping/hiking trips.  A few years ago as he was gathering all of his equipment in one room, he called it his staging area.  I had never heard that term before and teased him about it.  Now when we plan to go somewhere, we joke about our staging area.

I recently looked up the definition of a staging area.  It is “a place to gather in preparation on the way to a destination, or a temporary location to stay while awaiting transition to a new field of operations”.  Two words impressed me – preparation and temporary – and I realized that my chronic pain and health problems are a staging area for my eternal life.

Every aspect of this earthly life is preparing me for eternity.  Pain and suffering deepen my personal walk with and faith in God like nothing else can, causing me to rely on Him alone and reminding me that this life is not all there is.

Staging areas can be messy.  Our family room loses its neat appearance during these preparation times and that can’t be helped.  So it is with my earthly body and life.  I want my life to be neat and organized, but pain and illness are messy.  Life doesn’t go as planned, but this is only temporary.  I am on the way to a “new field of operations” – my heavenly home.  Right now God is preparing me for what lies ahead.  There are things He wants to teach me and aspects of Himself that He wants to reveal to me in this staging area of pain.

In many ways I’m ready to move on to my new location, but I pray that I can view this staging area as a valuable tool God is using to prepare me for this glorious new destination, and willingly live with mess until then.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, give me the perseverance and faith to accept this staging area of pain and suffering that You are using for my good, even as I keep my eyes fixed on my eternal destination with You, and all that awaits me there.  Amen.



Friday, August 16, 2013

Holding Fast to God through the Pulls and Tugs of Life

“But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now”
(Joshua 23:8).

Sometimes it seems my life is a tug of war.

When I am with healthy people, I sometimes feel that I can’t relate to their lives anymore.  I may be bombarded with feelings of insecurity and inadequacy.  Conversely, on my better days I sometimes feel guilty because so many people I know are still suffering.

Illness aside, life in our society is a constant pull between now and later.  We no sooner enter one season when the next one is promoted.  Fall and Christmas decorations appear in July.  Where did summer go? I am never able to fully enjoy the “now”, but am always being reminded of “the next thing”, and that it should be bigger and better than the present.

Perhaps the greatest tug of all is trying to live out this earthly life in a godly way while staying focused on eternity at the same time.  How do I manage these pulls and tugs?

I must begin each day yielding myself to God’s plan. I need not feel either inferior or guilty, but simply trust that God’s way for me is best.  I am to show His love to all those with whom I connect - healthy or sick - remembering that His plan for each person’s life is tailored specifically to them for His purposes.

While I can certainly enjoy anticipating and planning for the future, I must guard against discontent with the present and purposely stay focused on what God has for me right now - both the blessings and the trials.

Above all, as I rejoice in and long for heaven and a pain-free perfect life with God, as I remember that whatever in life is lacking now will be more than compensated for in eternity, I also need to see the glimpses of heaven on earth and know that God’s strength, mercy and grace makes each day not only bearable but purposeful.

God can and will keep me stable through life’s pulls and tugs, as long as I keep a firm grasp on Him and His truths.

Prayer:  O Lord, as I am pulled and tugged by the realities of both heaven and earth around and within me, give me the wisdom and strength to hold fast to You, this day and every day.  Amen.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

What a Trumpet, a Clay Pot, and a Light Taught Me about Fighting Pain and Problems

“Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he (Gideon) placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside”
(Judges 7:16).

When I think of Biblical warfare strategies, I usually think of the spiritual armor of Ephesians 6, but this passage gave me some more insights.

Gideon and his men were outnumbered by their enemies, but they followed God’s directions.  They blew their trumpets and shouted.  Their clay jars broke and their torches shone as they fought their way to a triumphant victory.

I see some great lessons for me here as I battle with pain and problems.  My trumpet is my voice of praise.  We are called to praise God regardless of our circumstances.  When we do, our spirits are encouraged and we are able to view things differently.  And for those times when nothing changes, we have the assurance of knowing we are being obedient to God and will be rewarded in eternity – which will be well worth the wait.

Scripture compares our physical bodies to jars of clay.  We are molded and made by God, but this earthly body is temporary.  Gideon’s jars were shattered in battle.  Each battle we fight with pain or problems causes another crack in our jars until we feel we can no longer hold together.  But what happened when Gideon’s jars were shattered?  The light was revealed.

When we allow God to break us through the pain and trials of life, then the light of His Spirit and Presence is able to shine through.  As we die to self and hopefully glorify Him in the process, His light guides us through our battles and on to victory.

Our pain and problems may seem overwhelming.  We may feel more outnumbered than Gideon and his men did.  But God’s battle strategies are better than ours.  So let’s praise Him while walking in faith and allow ourselves to be broken so that His power and light may be revealed in us. With God, we have the victory.

Prayer:  Lord God, so many times I feel outnumbered by my pain and problems.  May I not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not ours but Yours (II Chronicles 20:15).  Amen.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Moving Forward with God

“He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live”

Perhaps you have heard the expression “moving forward” in reference to letting go of something difficult and moving on to a healthier state emotionally or relationally.  Right now I am dealing with moving forward in a literal sense – to another state.

My husband is planning to retire next year and we want to move closer to our children.  We have lived in this area for 32 years so this will be a major adjustment.  We will soon be visiting various locations hoping to finalize where to move. 

Although I am more than ready to downsize, I am already becoming anxious about how I will survive this move.  I am concerned about finding the right grocery stores, doctors, and church. I am wondering how I can pack and unpack with my back and fibro issues.  So many anxious thoughts, and I don’t even know when or where we are going yet!

This verse in Acts is a great comfort to me.  Although we may not know where we are to go, God does.  He will guide and direct us.  It may be very challenging and require much patience and faith on my part, but God will bring me through it.

Even if we are not facing the difficulties of moving, chronic health problems bring other struggles.  The above verse says much more to me than the fact that God has chosen where and when I am to live.  It reminds me that there is no aspect of my life that is not under His divine control, including my pain and problems.  He has a plan and will direct me through it all.  I need to trust Him and move forward through whatever I am facing.

Life is not stagnant.  Some things improve and others become more difficult, but we are all walking out what God planned for us.  Each step is bringing us closer to the best location ever – our eternal home – so let’s keep moving forward.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, what a comfort it is to know that You have a perfect pre-ordained plan for my life.  As I give You all my fears and uncertainties, give me the faith to trust Your plan and move forward in my walk with You.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Colliding with God

“All your waves and breakers have swept over me”
(Psalm 42:7).

Our family spent many vacations at the beach.  I enjoyed the ocean, but I never liked being caught by a wave.  I still remember having huge ones crash down on me, sucking me under and dragging me along the ocean floor.

One of my favorite contemporary Christian songs is “The Hurt and the Healer” by Mercy Me.  It reminds me of my wave experiences and the words are very appropriate to my life of pain.  The song acknowledges that even though part of us seems to die as we collide with God in the midst of our pain, He restores us, and one day all will be made plain.

Through my years of pain, I have had many “collisions” with God over His plan for my life.  At times I have felt that the waves of physical and emotional struggles were so overpowering that I would be drowned by them.  They have dragged me along the ocean floor leaving me bruised and exhausted, but God has breathed life back in to me time and time again and He has been glorified.

There is one lesson I learned from my beach experiences - the best thing to do when facing a wave is to dive in to it rather than run from it.  When I try and outrun a wave, I get caught and pulled under.  However, if I dive in to it, I am lifted up with it and brought safely down again.

I want to have the faith to face and dive in to the waves God brings into my life rather than running from them, trusting that He will lift me up and carry me on them.  I may still be dragged around, but I don’t need to fear.  He will bring me back to life.  And one day I will ride one of those waves out – all the way to the shores of eternity. 

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, sometimes I feel that my collisions with You are too much for me to withstand, but I know in faith that is not true.  As I face my waves of challenges, give me the courage to dive in to them, knowing You love me and will carry me through each one.  Amen.




Monday, June 3, 2013

Hope – the Anchor of Our Souls

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure”
(Hebrews 6:19).

One of our favorite vacations spots is the beach, and I always enjoy watching the boats out in the water or in the harbor when we’re there.  My nautical knowledge is limited, but I do know the purpose of an anchor – to keep the boat in a certain location so that it doesn’t drift where it should not or does not want to go.

In order for an anchor to hold a boat fast it must be heavy and secure enough to hold the weight of the boat.  Many anchors actually have hooks which dig in to the ocean floor to keep the boat secure.  The anchor is attached to the boat by chains, ropes, or cables.

This verse gives a wonderful description of our hope as an anchor for our souls.  In the verses preceding and following this verse, we learn what this hope is.  It is the certainty of God’s promise that we are his heirs and that He is our great High priest, who even now is interceding for us before the Father.  We are also urged not to fall away from the truths of Scripture and to continue growing in maturity.

As we sail through our days – particularly those of pain and suffering - we need an anchor to keep us from drifting into wrong ideas and beliefs.  Our lives get quite choppy at times and it is easy to slip away and lose hope.  Our faith is the chain which secures us to the anchor of hope in Jesus.  And that anchor of hope in Christ will not fail us.  His promises are hooked deep into God’s eternal plan.

Many of our days may be overcast or stormy.  It can be tempting to pull up anchor and allow ourselves to drift away.  But placing our hope in who we are and what we have in Christ will keep us anchored securely until we reach the shores of eternity. 

Prayer:  Thank you Jesus, for the hope I have in You. Keep my faith firmly anchored in all You give me both now and eternally, despite whatever storms I must go through.  Amen.





Friday, May 24, 2013

Keep Calm and Carry On

“In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and confidence is your strength”
(Isaiah 30:15).

May is Military Appreciation month, and in David Jeremiah’s May devotional booklet, he relates the story of a signboard that was used in Great Britain during World War II to boost morale.  “Keep Calm and Carry On” was rediscovered a few years ago and is impacting people again.

We may not be in a physical war, but all believers are in a war against sin and evil.  Those of us with health issues also “battle” with our pain and its repercussions on a regular basis.  This signboard is appropriate for us as we relate it to our faith.

In my battles with pain, panic easily come upon me, and this verse in Isaiah is one I have repeated to myself many times.  When I become fearful, anxious, worried, or negative, I need to repent of that sin.  I am not trusting that God is in control of my life and will bring me through whatever I am facing.  I then need to rest in that truth.  The Lord has not only saved me eternally, but He also saves me continually from my lack of faith and trust in Him and the problems those weaknesses bring.

When I am losing my battle with pain due to stress and fear, I become an easy target for Satan and his lies.  But if I remain quietly confident in God’s love and power, I am filled with the same power that raised Christ from the dead.  When I keep calm in the Lord and His Word, I truly can carry on.   

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, I praise You that I can keep calm and carry on because:  “There is nothing – no circumstance, no trouble, no testing – that can ever touch me until first of all it has gone past God and past Christ, right through to me.  If it has come that far, it has come with great purpose, which I may not understand at the moment.  But as I refuse to become panicky, as I lift my eyes to him and accept it as coming from the throne of God for some great purpose of blessing to my own heart, no sorrow will ever disturb me, no trial will ever disarm me, no circumstance will cause me to fret.” (taken from Victorious Christian Living by Alan Redpath).


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Don’t Waste Your Exile

“How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”
(Psalm 137:4).

Many of us are familiar with the book Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper.  Our pastor recently began a sermon series related to this concept, and not wasting our “exiles” was one of them.

This verse in Psalms was written when the Israelites were captives in Babylon.  Their captors taunted them to sing, and they felt they could not do it.  Their joys, hopes, and dreams were left behind in their homeland.

Chronic pain and illness can feel like being exiled in a foreign land.  Our hopes and dreams have been crushed.  We may have been in this land of pain for so long that we don’t feel capable of singing.  The outlook for returning to our “promised land” of health may be bleak if not impossible.  This exile of pain may be our home for the rest of this earthly life – definitely not something to sing about.

In Jeremiah 29:4-7, the Lord told the Israelites to build homes, raise families, and even seek good for others living in that foreign land.  We can do the same.

Living in a land flowing with milk and honey is enjoyable, but it may not cause us to look to God for fulfillment.  Exile does.  Exile teaches us to adapt to change, to be thankful for even the smallest blessings, and to learn contentment in want rather than plenty.  Daily we see signs of God’s mercy and grace.  Exile also provides opportunities to help others in adjusting to this foreign land as we share lessons we have learned.

Our exile will end at some point.  When it does, will we be able to stand before the Lord and say we made the most of it for Him?  Even if we can’t literally sing, we can find other ways to bring praise and glory to God in this land of pain if we look for them.  And when our exile is over, our homecoming will be that much sweeter for the waiting.

Prayer:  O Lord, although I am in this seemingly exiled place of pain and suffering, You are still with me.  May I not let my exile defeat me or define who I am, but may I be refined by it and make the most of its lessons and opportunities.  Amen.


Saturday, May 4, 2013

Running the Race of Pain

“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.  They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever”
(I Corinthians 9:24).

Lately I have been reminded of the fact that I can’t run – or even walk well.  I have seen countless cars with stickers for running half or full marathons.  Two of my daughters ran in a mud run.  And our area is again hosting the Marine Corps Half Marathon race.

Years ago I exercised faithfully and enjoyed staying in shape.  Giving that up due to back pain was very difficult, and at times like these I still struggle with that loss.

As I noticed yet another marathon sticker, I realized that those of us with health problems run a race with pain every day.  Serious runners are in continual training mode and so are we.  This may involve our diets (because we can’t eat certain foods), our sleep (or lack of it), and our activities.  We are continually adjusting and reworking our lives to accommodate our limitations.  We live and breathe our training.

All of this is quite exhausting.  Yet at the end of each day, God enables us to win our race.  On less painful days the race may seem like a stroll through the park.  Other days it may be a marathon.  We may run this race on foot, with a cane, in a wheelchair, or in bed.  But whether we end the day standing up straight in victory or unable to stand at all, we have won.

I don’t need to envy any runners.  I am one.  One day I will be able to run a literal marathon and perhaps I will.  But somehow I don’t think that satisfaction will compare to the knowledge that right now I am persevering with God through my race of pain.  I want to keep running, regardless of how exhausted I am, until I run right up to God’s finish line and get that crown of life.  And because of His mercy and strength, I will.

Prayer:  Lord, you have chosen me to run in this race of pain.  Continue to give me the endurance and perseverance I need to run this race to the end, and to do it for Your glory.  Amen.