Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A New Year's Prayer

Dear Readers,

I posted this last year and haven't had a chance to write something new, so am re-posting this.  Forgive the repeat, and I pray your new year gets off to a positive start.

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.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Dear Readers,

I just want to take a moment to wish each of you a blessed holiday. I pray that you will be as pain-free as possible, and that you will be able to find joy and even happiness on this special day, regardless of what your circumstances or conditions are. 

I pray that if you do have moments of discouragement or difficulties, you will be uplifted and comforted and filled with hope in the knowledge that Jesus is coming again, and that we
have unimaginable eternal wonders and perfect health to look forward to.  Until then, He is our strength.

Blessings to you,

What Gifts Can We Give to Jesus This Christmas?

“Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh”
(Matthew 2:11).

In the Christmas movie, “The Bishop’s Wife” (1947), the bishop asked what gift we will we give to Jesus, because we remember everyone else but can forget about giving to the One whose birthday we are celebrating.  

Because of health problems, I sometimes feel I have no gift.  I can’t help out with preparing meals, providing transportation, or decorating, setting up, and cleaning up for church events.  There are places I would like to volunteer but can’t because of sitting and standing issues.

In the LifeGuide Bible study, The Cross, by John Stott, I came across a great list of Scriptural gifts which are not based on physical health.

Our bodies (Romans 12:1).
Praise, worship, and thanksgiving (Hebrews 13:15).
Prayer (Revelation 5:8).
A broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17).
Faith (Philippians 2:17).
Gifts and good deeds (Hebrews 13:16).
Our lives even unto death (II Timothy 4:6).

We can offer our bodies to Jesus through godly actions, speech, and thoughts.  We can bring praise and worship through sickness and health, even when alone or housebound.

We can pray for family members and others who are suffering, along with countless other situations and groups who need prayer.  When discouraged, discontent, or angry about our problems, we can acknowledge our weaknesses and ask for forgiveness.

We can use our challenges to increase our faith and share these lessons with others.  If we are financially able, we can support Christian organizations and our local church, and we can impact our doctors, family members, and friends through our testimony of God’s faithfulness.

And if our sickness or pain leads to death, we can let our faith shine until the end comes.

Our gifts may not as be visible as others’, but they are ones which God has specifically asked for, and we can continue to give them throughout the coming year. 

Happy Birthday Jesus – I think You will like Your gifts.
Prayer:  Lord Jesus, what can I give you, poor as I am?  If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb; if I were a wise man I would do my part; yet what I can I give you - my heart, and body, and mind - today, and every day (adapted from the hymn “In the Bleak Mid-Winter” by Christina Rossetti).  Amen.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What We Can Learn from the Magi

“We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him”
(Matthew 2:2).

Although Scripture does not tell us much about the magi, we know from historical information that they had been studying the stars and waiting for signs of the predicted king for a very long time. 

Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, Old Testament Scripture referred to the star the wise men would follow (Numbers 24:17).  These magi studied prophecies carefully. They did not forget what they read but sought to apply their knowledge as they watched and waited.   They never lost hope that the prophecy would be fulfilled.  And when it was, they were willing to take a long, arduous journey to worship the object of their waiting.

If we have chronic health problems, we know all about searching and waiting.  We research our illnesses and treatments in order to make wise decisions. We wait for appointments, tests, and results.  We watch for signs of improvement and decline.  And we go through discomfort as we wait.

We can learn some lessons from the magi.  We need to continually study Scripture and use it to refute untruths about God and our situations, holding on to the hope that the Lord fulfills His promises.

We need to notice signs of God’s presence in our lives through ways such as nature, His Word, answered prayers, the counsel of other believers, and the promptings of the Holy Spirit within us.

We need to be willing to suffer discomfort on our journey through this life, knowing that when we reach our final destination, it will be worth the wait.

And above all, as we journey, we need to bring gifts of praise, worship, and adoration to our Savior.

Prayer:  King Jesus, this Christmas season and beyond, help me to be diligent in my seeking, searching, persevering, and worshipping of You.  Amen.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Christmas Fears Which Led to Christmas Blessings

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4).

Over the past few months I have been living with the fear of possible shoulder surgery. In thinking about my fears, I realized that some key people in the Biblical Christmas story faced fear.

When Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, foretelling the birth of John Baptist, and to Mary announcing her pregnancy, they were tempted to fear (Luke 1:13, 30).  Joseph feared taking Mary as his wife (Matthew 1:20). The shepherds were told not to fear when angels appeared proclaiming Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:10).

Although Zechariah questioned the angel’s announcement, Mary replaced fear with faith and rejoicing in God.  Joseph replaced fear with obedience in marrying Mary. The shepherds replaced fear with worship at the manger.

These fears ultimately led to blessings.  The birth of John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus.  Mary and Joseph parented God’s Son.  The shepherds were the first to see the newborn Messiah. 

Some of our greatest blessings may begin with fear.  We fear pain and suffering, but they draw us to God like nothing else can.  We fear the unknown, but God’s mighty hand is working everything out for our good.  We fear loss of abilities and activities, but God replaces them with greater faith and dependence on Him, and perhaps even new areas of ministry and service.

I recently received word that I don’t need surgery.  My fear has been replaced with thanks and praise, but I hope I would have responded with trust and faith if given a different diagnosis.

Whatever fears may plague us this Christmas season, if we face them with faith, obedience, and worship, God will bring blessings, even if it is in ways we cannot see this side of heaven.

Prayer:  Dear Lord, You know how easily I am tempted to fear, especially regarding my health concerns.  May my fears be replaced with increased faith, obedience, and worship this Christmas season, and thank you for the blessings You bring into my life. Amen.



Monday, December 1, 2014

Magnifying the Lord Instead of Our Problems

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46, 47 RSV).

I want to enjoy special holidays and events as much as possible, but health problems can make that challenging.

Each year as the holidays approach, I am torn between what I want to do and what I can realistically do.  I want to go to special programs in the community and church but have trouble sitting or standing for very long.  I want to share food with friends and family but know that many foods will give me migraines and sleeplessness.  I want to enjoy decorating and shopping but know my back pain will be worse because of it.  I want to have company but know that the preparation and cleanup are exhausting.  It becomes easy to magnify my problems. 

Mary may not have had chronic health problems, but she certainly had the major cultural problem of being an unwed mother.  Although that scenario is no longer taboo in our society, she could have been stoned for it.  She was faced with a very challenging and uncertain future.  Yet her ultimate response to her situation was not fear or complaint, but praise.  Her soul magnified God.  When something is magnified, it is enlarged beyond bounds. Rather than enlarging the negative aspects of her situation, her spirit rose up in praise and rejoicing to God, trusting in God’s plan and humbled by His work in her life.

I would like to follow Mary’s example.  This holiday season, when tempted to enlarge my pains and discouragements, I hope to focus instead on the gift of Jesus and His presence, power, and provision in my life each day.  Those things are worth magnifying, during the holidays and for all eternity.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, give me a heart attitude like Mary’s - one that accepts Your plans for my life, even when they are not of my choosing or understanding.  And as I magnify You, I will receive far greater blessings and joy than any earthly holiday or tradition could provide.  Amen.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Thanksgiving Banquet We Can All Serve

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone”
(Colossians 4:6).

“Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks”
 (Matthew 12:34).

Two of the things I associate most with Thanksgiving are thanks and food. In my NIV worship Bible there is a prayer based on Colossians 4:6 which I think is very appropriate for the Thanksgiving season.

“O Lord, may my heart overflow with worship.  May my conversation be a feast of life:  May Christ be the bread and Your Spirit the wine, may praise be the fruit and grace the salt, may love be the table and wisdom the candle.  May I always be prepared to feed anyone who hungers for the hope that I have in Christ.”

This is a beautiful word picture of a meal we can offer to others, whether we are healthy or not.  It doesn’t require physical labor, but it may require labors of love, sacrifice, and self-discipline.  There is no monetary cost, but we may pay with patience, forgiveness, and acceptance of others.

The beauty of these elements surpasses any earthly holiday decorations, and they are appropriate for any season of the year. The food causes no allergies and is safe for any health condition – in fact it will strengthen the bodies and souls of those who serve it and those who receive it.

We can serve this meal from a banquet table or a bedside one.  If we are alone this holiday, we can send care packages of this feast to any location through notes, phone calls, and emails.  It is very well-preserved and can travel anywhere.

There are no shortages of these elements, and they are always accessible, provided we go to the right Supplier.

This Thanksgiving, may the thanks in our hearts overflow through our mouths, and may we find ways to offer this feast of blessing to others.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, regardless of how I am feeling or what my circumstances are this Thanksgiving, let my words be a feast of thanks to You and a testimony of Your presence in my life to others.

Friday, October 24, 2014

God’s Goodness and Mercy Pursue Us Each Day

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;” (Psalm 23:6 KJV).

We are all familiar with the 23rd Psalm, but I usually focus more on other verses of the chapter.  When I read this verse recently, I questioned whether I really believed it for my life, so I did some research.

Some commentaries said the verse literally means nothing but God’s goodness and mercy shall pursue us through every change and in every situation until our lives end.  What are goodness and mercy?  God’s goodness is the way He displays His attributes to us through His love, salvation, forgiveness, kindness, etc. His mercy is His compassion for us and not giving us what we deserve. 

On difficult days, I am sometimes tempted to doubt these blessings because the pain and the problems are still there.  But so is He. During excruciatingly painful days or severe bouts of depression, God either brings relief or sustains me through them. When I have difficult decisions to make, God gives me wisdom and direction.  When I blame God or accuse Him of not loving me or caring about my struggles, He forgives, convicts, and loves me.  When I feel I can’t go on, His goodness and mercy give me perseverance to endure.

As I reflect on my life, I truly can see that God’s goodness and mercy have faithfully chased after me and been poured out on me over and over again.  God’s character does not change, so I have the assurance that He will continue to pursue me each day with these gifts.  And when this life of pain is over, it will only be the beginning of seeing His goodness and mercy in whole new ways, as I dwell with Him forever.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, forgive me for the times when I have doubted your goodness and mercy in my life.  Open my eyes to them each day, and give me faith to believe that You will continue to give them through whatever challenges I have yet to face.  Amen.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

God's Waterfalls

“He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains”
 (Psalm 104:10).

This past summer we moved to a mountainous area of western North Carolina sometimes called the land of waterfalls because there are so many of them here. 

My husband has hiked to a number of them already.  Some are high and impressive, with volumes of water pouring over the edges. Some flow gradually with two or three drop-offs at various increments.  And some are small and unimpressive, with only trickles of water.  

These waterfalls remind me of answers to my prayers.  I want God to answer me with voluminous falls, pouring down what I think I think I need in great amounts.  And sometimes He does, such as giving me supernatural strength to get through this major move or a difficult bout of pain.  Sometimes His answers come gradually, such as when medical issues or other problems are resolved in increments.  And then there are times when His answers seem unimpressive – if noticeable at all – such as when I pray for pain relief or help that doesn’t seem to come.

All waterfalls, whether spectacular to me or not, are works of God.  The same is true for His answers to prayer.  When He answers with a trickle, He is still there.  The falls that trickle now have been filled with rushing water before and will be again.  God’s waters of love and support are still flowing powerfully even when He only displays a small portion of them.

I will continue to be surrounded by mountains of difficulties in this life, but God’s waterfalls will continue to flow over me through them.  So let me notice the quiet presence of the small ones, relish the power of the magnificent ones, and appreciate the miracle of them all. 

Prayer:  O Lord, I want You to answer my prayer requests in spectacular, powerful ways, but You don’t always choose to do that.  Help me trust in Your presence and power even when I don’t see any answers, knowing that Your source of life-giving water will never fail.  Amen.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Dealing with Defectiveness

“For the creation was subjected to frustration. . . in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.  We ourselves. . . groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8: 20,21,23).

A few months ago my husband retired and we moved to a new state to be closer to our daughters.  We found a house we liked and believed it was the right choice, but it needed much more work than we anticipated.  We have spent weeks renovating and repairing. We had to buy many new things, which I normally enjoy doing, but the defectiveness of countless items robbed me of that enjoyment.  I spent hours returning and re-ordering things.  I finally had to learn to live with some defects.

Defects aren’t limited to my possessions – they are in me.  I have a defective back and muscles that limit my walking, sitting, and exercising.  Pain and age are affecting my physical appearance.  My deteriorating memory can’t recall names of people in our new church and neighborhood or directions to new locations.  My eye problems limit my reading and computer work to minutes rather than hours.  And for now, I can’t exchange this defective body for a new one.

I long to be liberated from the defects of this fallen world and one day I will be.  For now I can choose to be frustrated by them or to accept them and make the most of what God has given me. 

Defectiveness is a constant reminder that this present world is not all there is.  The defect-free body and world I yearn for will come in God’s perfect timing.  In the meantime, I need to remember that my spiritual perfection is what matters most to God.  Having a godly outlook and striving to be Christ-like in my thoughts and actions should be my primary focus, and keeping a thankful and balanced attitude about the defects here is one of the tools God is using to achieve just that.

Prayer:  O Lord, when I am tempted to dwell too much on the imperfections of this world and body, remind me that these imperfections will not last forever.  Whether these defects are simply inconvenient or whether they are life-altering,  use them to grow me in patience, endurance, and hope.  Amen.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Redefining Wellness

 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’ ”
(John 5:6).

We hear a lot in the media today about wellness. What exactly is wellness?  Most definitions include the idea of being healthy in body and mind as a result of deliberate effort. defines wellness as “an active process of becoming aware and making choices toward a more successful existence.  Process means that improvement is always possible; being aware is to be continuously seeking how to improve; choices mean selecting the options which are in our best interest; success includes one’s collection of life accomplishments.”

This is a worldly definition, and as Christians we need to know and believe that the most important wellness is spiritual wellness, yielding our lives and hearts to God whatever our bodily condition.  Based on that truth, I think we can apply the definition to our lives from a Biblical perspective.

Process - although our health issues may not change, improvement in attitude and perspective is possible because we are new creations (II Corinthians 5:17).  Aware - we become aware of how to improve by studying Scripture and following it (Psalm 19:7-11).  When we are faced with health choices, the Lord will direct us wisely (Psalm 32:8).  Success – a successful life is one which lives life for God’s glory in any condition, healthy or well (Matthew 25:21).

In a recent sermon, our pastor said, “Kingdom plans and goals are being accomplished even in illness.  To really be well is to know Jesus, and true wellness is to experience kingdom purpose in every aspect of life”.  Yes, we would like to be well physically.  But knowing and living for Jesus brings a wellness that will last forever. 

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, thank you that I can serve You whether I am physically well or not.  Show me how to do this in my particular circumstances.  Help me be wise in pursuing any physical wellness You desire for me, but help me seek the wellness of my soul above all else.  Amen.


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Capturing the Wonder in Each Day

“For you make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the work of your hands”
 (Psalm 92:4).

Years ago I was part of a summer mission team to France.  We did some sightseeing while there, and another team member commented on my excitement and awe.  She had been there before and had lost some of her wonder.  My excitement helped her recapture it.

I was reminded of this experience as I read an article by David Jeremiah in the July issue of Turning Points magazine.  In referring to the importance and appreciation of little things, he said, “Not everyone can sail off on a whale-spotting expedition, but we can all gaze in wonder at a goldfish bowl or watch the fish in the dentist’s office”.

That comment impacted me.  My daily focus may be on what is hurting or not hurting, what I need to do and whether I will be able to do it, and what everyone else is doing that I wish I could be doing.  To capture something means to seize it, perhaps using force.  I may need to force myself to look for the wonder that God has put in my path - through creation, people, and His Presence - instead of always looking at the problems and potential sources of discontentment in my life. 

In his book Recapture the Wonder, Ravi Zacharias says, “Wonder interprets life through the eyes of eternity while enjoying the moment, but never lets the momentary vision exhaust the eternal”.

I will enjoy the special moments of wonder that God brings.  I will anticipate all the wonder of eternity that I long for. And I will pray to see wonder on the painful, mundane days, knowing that God can bring gladness and joy through them, even as I wait for the wonders to come.

Prayer:  Gracious God, sometimes I become so focused on my pain, the cares of this world, or envying others that I fail to see the wonders around me.  Increase my awareness and appreciation of all the gifts You give –whether great or small – and may my response be gladness and thankfulness to You.  Amen.


Friday, June 13, 2014

Differentiating Between Necessary Comfort and Selfishness

“Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain” (Psalm 119:36).

I have never liked being uncomfortable, and my health issues make me more aware of discomfort than ever before.  I don’t like being too hot or too cold.  I don’t like uncomfortable seats.  I don’t like staying up too late. I don’t like noisy places.  I like eating earlier rather than later.

My pain level contributes to my being self-focused, and that is understandable.  But sometimes self-focus becomes selfishness, and I need to differentiate between the two.

While on earth, Jesus made many sacrifices of discomfort for the sake of others.  He gave up a home.  He lost sleep.  He ate what others prepared.  He walked miles to minister to others.  Following His example, there may be times when I should take the focus off my comfort level and trust God with the results.

How do I determine whether I am being selfish or have a legitimate need?  I need to examine my heart in the light of God’s statutes.  Why am I making this choice?  Am I trusting God’s sufficiency?  Am I using my pain as an excuse, thus missing an opportunity to show His power in my weakness?  Am I so focused on my own needs that I am insensitive to the needs of others?

I know my limitations, but I also know God’s limitlessness.  Whether in little daily decisions or big life-changing ones, I need to seek God’s Word and wisdom.  There will be times when seeking my comfort level is quite legitimate.  But there may be other times when God wants me to endure some discomfort for the sake of others or for His glory.  If I have a willing and open spirit, God will show me the difference.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, You know how hard it is for me to enjoy and focus on serving You and others when I am uncomfortable.  Help me to continually evaluate my choices in the light of Your example and Word.  Show me when my choices are based on selfishness rather than necessary comfort.  Amen.


Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Gift of God’s Holy Spirit Revives Us

“He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior”
 (Titus 3:5,6).

This devotional is written in remembrance of Pentecost Sunday – the day that we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on believers after Jesus ascended to heaven – which falls on June 8th this year.

Have you ever thought about what life was like for believers before the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost?  Although certain individuals were anointed with the Spirit at various times, the gift of the Holy Spirit was not given to all believers until after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The Holy Spirit is our comforter.  He speaks the truth of Scripture into our minds and hearts.  He encourages us to keep going.  He gives us guidance and direction.  He is the presence of God in us.  And He has been poured out generously  - abundantly and unsparingly - within us.

Various Scripture passages associate the Holy Spirit with water, and I recently came across a good analogy of how the Spirit works in my life.  I am a tea drinker, so this analogy appealed to me. There is a certain kind of tea called flowering tea.  It comes in the form of a pod or ball and looks like dried up grass.  But when placed in a tea pot of boiling water, as the tea leaves soak up the water, they unfold into a lovely flower.

Just as the water causes the dry tea loves to soften and bloom, so the Holy Spirit revives our dry, hardened, or discouraged hearts.  The Holy Spirit renews our hope and speaks peace to our souls.  He fills us with power. 

I enjoyed watched my flowering tea pod unfold, but then the flower disintegrated into pieces and could not unfold again.  As I drank the tea, I thanked God for the way the Holy Spirit continually washes over and through me, reviving me, renewing me, and strengthening me for each challenge I face with my pain and problems.  What a precious gift!

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, when my spirit is discouraged and dry from dealing with my pain and problems, Your Spirit infuses me with comfort and strength to keep going.  Thank you for this wonderful gift of Your Presence within me.  Amen.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Running Our Marathons of Pain with Confidence and Perseverance

“So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.  You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised”
(Hebrews 10:35,36).

In May the Marine Corps hosts a half marathon in our community.  My mother’s apartment complex is on the race route, so this year we went out to watch. 

As I saw the waves of people come in to view, I thought about the appearance of the runners.  Many looked extremely fit and confident, but many did not.  I wondered if some of them were going to finish. Yet they made it the 13 ½ miles, some walking and some running.  I’m sure they had all been persevering through months of training.  I’m sure they all wanted to maintain confidence throughout the race that they would receive the reward of reaching the finish line.

As I looked at the shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities of the participants, I thought of those including myself who are running the marathons of pain-filled lives.  Some of us are able to walk or run on our own.  Some of us race with canes, walkers, and wheelchairs.  Some of us are being carried or pushed by others.  Whatever our abilities or disabilities, we are all persevering in faith toward our final finish line, trusting that God’s strength will bring us through.

Tears came to my eyes as I thought about this unseen race and how valiantly we are trying to run it.  Although it is not a race of our choosing, we are bringing glory to God and encouragement to each other as we run.  Our confidence and perseverance will be rewarded with the promise of an eternity of pain-free living with the Lord.  We’re in it together, we’re going to make it, and I look forward to seeing each of you at the race’s end.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, many days I feel I can’t keep running in this race of pain and suffering.  I don’t know how I will ever make it to the end.  I pray that I will not lose my confidence in Your power and grace in my life, that Your Spirit will enable me to keep persevering, and that I will stay focused on what awaits me at the finish line.  Amen.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Joy of the Lord Is Our Strength

“The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

During my most recent bout with depression I pondered what the joy of the Lord actually is.  I read a sermon by Charles Spurgeon on this verse in Nehemiah and gained some insight.

The joy of the Lord comes from knowing God and who He is.  He is our power, our protection, our wisdom, our guidance, our foundation, and our salvation.  He is loving, forgiving, compassionate, and faithful. 

This joy also comes from our personal relationship with God.  We are reconciled, adopted, loved, and have the privilege of fellowship and communion with Him.

Knowing that every aspect of our lives and circumstances are under God’s goodness and sovereignty brings joy.  Even through the most difficult times, God is accomplishing good for us.

The joy of the Lord also comes from serving and being obedient to Him. It can be very difficult to pray or praise or believe Scripture when we are suffering, but Jesus said when we obey we will have joy.

And how does this joy bring strength?  As we focus on these sources of joy our faith and hope in God increase, strengthening us for future trials.  Knowing all we have in God leads us to praise and thankfulness which also help carry us through dark times. 

John Ortberg wrote, “Joy is at the heart of God.  Joy is a command.  Joy is strength and its absence will create weakness. God is the happiest being in the universe.  And God’s intent was that his creation would mirror his joy.”

My depression and health issues may always make it challenging for me to feel joyful, but by God’s grace I want to keep striving for it.  And if the feeling doesn’t come now, I want to live in faith for the endless eternal joy that is coming.

Prayer:  O Lord, you know how hard it is for me to maintain joy through my sufferings. Regardless of my feelings, help me focus on all the reasons to be joyful in You and to remember that one day complete joy will be mine forever.  Amen.


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Climbing Our Mountains of Difficulties on God’s Strength Rather Than Our Own Steam

“But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength”
 (II Timothy 4:17).

You may remember the children’s story, The Little Engine That Could.  It’s the story of a small train that helped a larger train get up and over a difficult mountain.  The story emphasizes self-confidence, hard work, and a willing spirit, which are important character qualities.  But faced with the many problems of earthly life, we need something other than our own “steam”.  We need God’s strength.

Lately I have been trying to run on my own steam.  My husband is retiring and we are moving out of state.  It was overwhelming preparing our house to sell, particularly since my back and fibro issues kept me from being much help.  When our house sells, we will have to find a new home, pack up ourselves as well as my mother, and get moved in a short period of time. 

It has been challenging trying to downsize, gather medical records, fit in appointments, and see friends.  Packing and unpacking will be difficult.  When I become stressed and anxious, I am trying to chug up these mountains on my own strength rather than God’s. 

Chronic pain and illness are like continual mountain ranges to climb.  When we reach the top of one, we are faced with another.  We need steam to keep going, and our own is not enough.  Thankfully when we run on the fuel of faith, Scripture, prayer, and praise, God will provide the strength we need. 

Remember what the little engine said?  “I think I can, I think I can”.  Well I know I can’t, but God can.  So whatever mountains I’m facing today, I know God can and will give me the strength to keep climbing as I honor and trust Him.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, forgive me for the times when I try to handle my problems in my own strength, rather than trusting You.  Thank you for being at my side continually, strengthening me for every challenge I face.  Amen.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Because of Easter We Are Overcomers

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know . . . his incomparably great power for us who believe.  That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:18-20).

What are you overcome by?  Pain, anxiety, despair, loss?  What about happiness, excitement, thankfulness, or relief?  Life is usually a mixture of both, but pain and problems can leave us feeling overwhelmingly overcome with negative thoughts and emotions rather than positive ones. 

More and more, I am realizing the great significance of these verses in Ephesians and how they should be impacting my life.  As I think about the power that God exerted to raise Christ from the dead, my human mind can’t fully comprehend what that entailed.  But I do know that no other power is so great, and as a Christian, that power now lives in me.

There are countless times when we may wonder how we can endure another moment of pain, depression, grief, or loss.  Jesus understands our pain and distress.  He was overcome with sorrow in the garden of Gethsemane to the point of sweating blood.  He was overcome by grief because of friends that failed Him.  He was overcome by the agony of knowing He would be separated from God the Father as He bore our sins on the cross. 
But hours later He victoriously overcame sin and death, and now His power and Spirit live in us.  Regardless of how hopeless things may appear at times, we CAN endure and overcome whatever God allows in our lives because of His resurrection power.

Yes, life will still be painful, and we will not always feel or act victoriously.  But the Holy Spirit reminds us of that first Easter morning and what it means to us, now and eternally.  In faith we believe and declare that we are overcomers, and we will keep overcoming until our own resurrection day.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I praise and thank You for Easter and Your victory over sin and death.  Help me overcome each day with victorious thoughts and attitudes rather than defeated ones, knowing that Your resurrection power is alive in me.  Amen.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Making Music for God in Our Brokenness

“My heart is steadfast, O God:  I will sing and make music with all my soul”
(Psalm 108:1).

I have wanted to take violin lessons for years.  Now my health issues would make it too difficult for me to learn.  

I read an interesting story in Catherine Weber’s book, Flourish.  During a concert in the 1800’s, the violinist Niccolo Paganini broke a string but continued to play perfectly on only three strings and became a star.  He later wrote an entire musical piece for only one string.

Dr. Weber writes, “At some time in our journey, we all feel as if we are playing with fewer strings.  Parts of our lives get broken.  However, each of us can become more determined to play well with the strings we have left, in ways that bring cheers and glory to God rather than dismay from onlookers.  Whatever your instrument or the melody of your song, join the orchestra of the kingdom of God, crying or laughing, sharing the melody of your life music.”

Many times my health problems leave me feeling as though I am playing with very few strings, and even those seem stretched to the breaking point.  But God wants me to play with what I have left.  So I write, email, pray, socialize, play the piano, and live life as I can through the pain.

I may not be able to play an entire musical piece, and it may not be concert materiel.  But if I am willing to do whatever God has given me to do with my limited abilities, it will be a concert of praise to Him and hopefully an encouragement to others.  I look forward to the day in heaven when I will play a real violin with all the strings, but my music then may not be any more beautiful to the Lord than what I play now in my brokenness.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, show me what music I can make for You by serving and glorifying You, despite the weakness and brokenness of my earthly body, and then give me the strength to play it.  Amen.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

God Revives Our Hearts

“Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you?” 
(Psalm 85:6).
Where I live, this has been one of the hardest and longest winters we have had in a while.  My contacts with friends and other believers have been greatly limited because of bad weather.  I am tired of seeing only brown and white, tired of being cold and hurting, and ready for the warmth and colors of spring.
As I drove through town recently, I noticed the welcome sight of spring revival - flowers beginning to bloom. I literally felt like crying!  God revived my spirit with the hope that this long winter will end and spring is coming.
Chronic pain may seem like an unending winter, yet God is faithful to bring moments of revival even in the most difficult times.  It may be through encouragement from a friend, reading an article or Scripture passage, a reprieve from suffering, or one small flower in an otherwise bleak place.  His means of revival come in various forms, but they are there if I look for them. 
When something is revived, it is given new health, vigor and spirit. It may also be returned to effectiveness.  How many times have I felt like giving up or shutting down, totally incapable of maintaining my own faith in God, much less being an effective testimony to others? Yet God has faithfully and continually revived me with fresh hope, perseverance, and the ability to serve Him.
The flowers I saw that day were covered in snow the next, but I knew it wouldn't last.  Spring revival is coming. And in the same way, God will revive me in the midst of my most barren and hopeless times and will continue to do so until there are no more winters.  So I will look for that one small flower in the bleakness, and rejoice.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your Word says that You live within me, reviving my heart and spirit (Isaiah 57:15).  Thank you for faithfulness to do so, and make me ever more aware of the revivals You bring through my pain and suffering.  Amen.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

When I Am Faint-hearted, God Replenishes My Soul

“I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint”
(Jeremiah 31:25).

I have heard the expression "not for the faint-hearted" used to describe very difficult conditions, and I think chronic pain and illness fit this category quite well.  Ongoing health problems have a way of wearing me down until I feel I can’t handle any more. 

I particularly like the King James Version of this verse:  “For I have satiated the weary soul, and I have replenished every sorrowful soul”.  When I think of being satiated, I think of a plant so drenched with water that it cannot absorb anymore.  Being replenished reminds me of a water glass that is continually refilled the minute it is empty.  And this is what God promises to do for me.

I have been dealing with continual bad headaches and eye pain lately.  I am weary of persevering through the throbbing headaches.  I am sorrowful over the limitations my eye pain brings.  But as I cry out to God in faith, He gives me the strength to endure.  Sometimes His refreshment comes through pain relief.  Sometimes He leads me to websites or other sources of information that offer me fresh hope. The Holy Spirit may bring the words of a worship song or Scripture passage to mind that calms my anxiety.  Each day God enables me to keep going.

When my life springs are dried out by suffering, God drenches and satiates my soul with the waters of His love, mercy, compassion, and grace.  His strength carries me through all may pain and problems, no matter how intense or long-term they may be.  There has never yet been a time when He has not replenished my ability to endure, and I am clinging in faith to the truth that there never will be, praise God.

Prayer: Lord, you know how hard it is to keep enduring through my pain and trials.  But You have given me Your strength and refreshment until now, and You will keep giving it, no matter how faint-hearted I feel.  Let me press on today believing  that truth.  Amen.



Thursday, March 6, 2014

Renew a Right Spirit Within Me

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me” (Psalm 51:12).

We are entering the season of Lent in preparation for Easter, when many people choose to give something up as a sign of repentance and in memory of Jesus’ sacrifices for us. One message I heard suggested giving up or adding a behavior or attitude that would draw us closer to God, and I thought of this verse.

I am constantly battling negative attitudes related to my pain.  I’m tired of the cold, the headaches, the eye issues.  God understands my struggles, but I can express my feelings and still maintain a right spirit.

One commentary describes a willing spirit as constant, steady, determined, and yielding itself to God.   Many times my spirit is not constantly yielded to God, and I am certainly not focusing on the joy of my salvation.  So what do I do?

When my emotions cause me to doubt God’s goodness, power and plan for my life, I need to repent and ask for forgiveness.  I need to pray that the Holy Spirit will change my attitude to one of faith and trust.  This may mean keeping my focus only on the current moment, not worrying about how I will endure tomorrow or even later today.
I need to choose joy – “a contented resting in God”.  Joy and pain really can coexist if the focus of my joy is on the right things:  seeing God’s mercies and blessings even in my suffering, praising Him for His constant faithfulness, and placing my hope on an endless eternity of active and pain-free communion with and service for Him. 

I may not succeed at maintaining a right spirit every day, but by God’s grace I will keep aiming for it.  And my hope is that these changes won’t just be for Lent, but for life.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, as I think about Your sacrifices for me, I want my spirit to respond in gratitude, praise and trust, rather than in negativity and complaints.  Help me choose to be joyful for all that You’ve given me now and all that is yet to come.  Amen.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Dealing with the Construction Zones of Life

“But he knows the way I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).

We have lived midway between our nation’s capital and our state capital for more than thirty years. Traffic has always been challenging, but over the past decade it has gotten much worse. Construction is always going on somewhere.  A trip that should take thirty minutes can take two or three hours. 

I try to avoid construction areas whenever possible.  They cause delays. Sitting for long periods aggravates my back pain. I get frustrated and impatient. If I have to take a detour, I may get lost.  But there are times when construction zones are unavoidable if I want to reach my destination.

My health problems remind me of construction zones. My ongoing pain, discomfort, and problems cause delays.  I lose out on things I want to do. I sometimes have to take detours and follow new routes, such as trying a new medicine or exercise, eliminating a certain food, or changing my sitting or sleeping position.  I become frustrated and impatient.  I want to move on.

But what is the purpose of construction?  Usually to build something newer and better.  God has a purpose for the construction zones in my life.  He knows what thoughts, attitudes, and responses needs to be improved to conform me more into the image of Christ.  The changes He is making in me are part of His grand design and roadmap for my life, so that I will accomplish His purposes for me here on earth and for all eternity.

The Lord knows the difficult roads I must take now.  My patience and my faith are being tested. But by that same faith, I must believe it’s worth going through this construction in anticipation of the heavenly roads that lie ahead.

Prayer: Lord, this life would be easier without construction zones, both physical and spiritual.  Give me patience, perseverance, and a willing attitude to travel the roads You have planned for me, knowing the trials they bring are for my benefit.  Amen.







Thursday, February 20, 2014

Giving Our Anxieties to God

“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken”
(Psalm 55:22).

Anxiety is a well-known word in our culture.   One source I read said that it is the most common mental illness in America - affecting at least 40 million adults - and I am one of them.

Some definitions of anxiety state that it is based on unreal or perceived problems or circumstances rather than on conditions that are legitimately threatening.  I understand that differentiation, but sometimes I feel my anxiety is based on very legitimate possibilities. 

Right now I’m anxious about the logistics of our upcoming retirement and move out of state.  I’m concerned about health problems of friends and family that seem to be unending.  I’m anxious about my continual headaches and eye problems.  These may seem to be legitimate concerns, but when I am anxious for any reason, I am not trusting God’s sovereignty in my life.

In her book, Calm My Anxious Heart, Linda Dillow described a great visual way of dealing with anxiety.  She found a decorative box and called it her anxiety box.  Whenever she was troubled by a situation, she wrote the problem down on a piece of paper and put it in this box.  She then prayed about it, committing it to God. 
Afterwards, whenever she found herself becoming anxious or worried about that problem, her box was a reminder that she had given that situation to the Lord and it was in His hands.  Periodically she would re-read the papers inside the box, praising and thanking God for the situations He had resolved and recommitting the worrisome ones to Him.  What a great visual reminder to cast our burdens on the Lord, knowing He will carry us through whatever comes.

There was a popular marching song during both world wars that said, “Pack up your worries in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile”.  I would say, give God your worries in your anxiety box and pray, pray, pray – and then smile and keep marching forward in faith!

Prayer:  Lord God, I confess that many times I become anxious over circumstances in my life rather than trusting You for the outcomes.  Thank you for the wonderful comfort and privilege of being able to give them to You, knowing that I do not need to be shaken because You will sustain me through them all.  Amen.



Friday, February 7, 2014

Our God Is the Healer and Mender of Broken Hearts

“I am the Lord, who heals you”
 (Exodus 15:26).

We are all familiar with the term “broken heart” in reference to romantic relationships.  But our hearts can break over much more than romantic love, and they need to be mended.

The Hebrew word for healer means not only to make whole but also to sew together, mend, or repair.  When our hearts break over lost abilities, dreams, and hopes, or the possibility that our health problems may not end in this life, we can go to God and know He will mend our brokenness. 
God’s healing may or may not include physical healing now, but it will always include mending and repairing the damage to our hearts over our suffering, if we allow Him to.  He abounds in love – a love that is not only based on His strong affection for us but also on the steadfastness, faithfulness, and constancy of His character (Exodus 34:6).

Recently I mourned the physical inability to share in my youngest daughter’s wedding and her move to a new home.  My heart is breaking over major problems that extended family members and friends are experiencing and the fact that I can’t be there to support them. But God comes and mends the tears.  He reminds me that I will have all of eternity to be with those I love and to share wonderful experiences with them. He reminds me that praying for others is just as significant as being there.  He brings fellow believers alongside me to lift me up.  He brings appropriate Scriptures to mind that revive my mind and soul.

We will grieve and mourn in this life.  But whether our hearts are in pieces or only have a few tears, God the Healer can and will repair them.  He is the God whose power is as boundless as His love.

Prayer:  Loving God, I know that there is no tear in my heart over hurt or loss or pain that is too deep for you to mend.  Help me to continually bring my brokenness to you, resting in your abounding love, compassion, mercy, faithfulness, and power to heal.  Amen.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Our Eyes Are on You

“We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us.  We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you” (II Chronicles 20:12).

As we go through our days, we can keep our eyes fixed on many things, if not literally then figuratively.  We may focus on health concerns, financial difficulties, relationship issues, unfulfilled dreams and desires, and countless other problems.

The above verse reminds us of where our eyes should be. It was spoken by Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, when his people were under attack by enemy nations.  God told the people not to be discouraged, for the battle was not theirs, but His.  They were to face the enemy, stand firm, and trust the Lord.  The people responded in worship. They obeyed God, marched out singing praises to Him, and saw His mighty deliverance.

We can learn some lessons from this king.  Jehoshaphat kept his eyes on the Lord rather than on his problems. He acknowledged God’s power and might.  He presented his requests before the Lord.  He obeyed God’s commands. His army then faced their enemies singing songs of praise and faith, believing God would give them the victory He promised.

Our eyes can easily stay focused on our problems and pain.  Praise sometimes gets lost among all our requests.  We fall into our default modes of worry, fear, and control, rather than following God’s commands to be anxious for nothing and to remember that with Him all things are possible.  And we don’t always trust God enough for the outcomes to praise Him in advance for victory.

We may be attacked by a “vast army” of problems, and we may have no idea what to do.  But we can be sure that by keeping our eyes on the Lord, He will deliver us, either from them or through them.  He is our Jehovah-Nissi (Our Banner) – our source of strength and our assurance of victory.

Prayer:  O God, I can become so easily distracted by my pain and problems that I forget to look to You for direction, strength, and peace.  Keep my eyes fixed on You and Your promises throughout each day, and let me declare in faith that You will be my victory. Amen.

(There is a great contemporary worship song that ties in with this devotional – Exalted One by Elevation Worship -