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).