Hope – picturing a different cause or future

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We live and die by hope.  Without it, the people perish.

Wait a second, didn’t Solomon dictate that truth a bit differently, as you & I have read numerous times in Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision, the people perish“?

Well what does a vision do but paint a picture of a future.  A bright, encouraging in-color action scene, personalized to include you births energy-producing HOPE.

The opposite picture or vision, what I call ‘DIS-hope‘, automatically siphons off any happy expectation of good.  Without hope, we quickly plummet, weighed down by that heavy, ominous, foreboding vision of gloom. That sort of picture immediately births those dangerous twins, Dread and Discouragement.

This week through written texts I’ve read, podcasts I’ve heard, YouTube interviews I’ve watched and scripture I’ve pondered, I have noticed examples of the leveraging potential of a new idea. The empowering influence of a new suggestion or previously unconsidered FACT can throw open the door to possibilities.  Light streams into the mind, instantly transforming one of those gray ‘Bunyanian’ sloughs of despair into a light and airy garden of color where flowers delight the senses.  This shift can happen in an instant.

I predict that my recent experiences this month won’t surprise you.  Most of us have felt uplifted by good news about changing circumstances, such as an email notifying your teenager of the awarding of scholarship money to attend college after all. Suddenly, his and your vision of the future shifts.  What brought about this sudden change? NEWS!

News is not confined to events that have already taken place, as in the decision announced by a scholarship committee.  News that paints any hopeful picture with YOU in it, births energy just from a single THOUGHT.

The most potent provider of this kind of new thought is the Holy Spirit.  At least this is MY recent discovery, for He gifted me twice this way in the past two weeks.

Let me explain.  May 2019 presented me with numerous skirmishes with a couple of my worst enemies:  Mr. Worry and Mrs. Fretting.

I’ll share the first occasion where the Holy Spirit came to the rescue with a new thought, a thought that ended a severe 48-hour battle.  My last visit to the ophthalmologist before moving to Alabama left me with startling news.  Apparently, the pressures in my eyes were creeping upward toward the Glaucoma range. He recommended that as soon as I settled into life in Huntsville, I should make an appointment to be seen. The earliest I could schedule was for August.

One day last month, however, I realized that my right eye felt different, as though there were a light layer, a sort of fine haze covering it.  Barely perceptible and not noticeably affecting my vision, the feeling persisted.

Suddenly aware, I fell into worry about the Glaucoma pressures in my eyes and the long wait to see a professional.  I could NOT drop this anxiety.  It pestered me without ceasing. No matter how many times I cast it on Him, repented, fixed my thoughts on the Lord, recalled all that was beautiful and excellent and praiseworthy, the worry kept coming back. I fought and succumbed numerous times on day 1 and into day 2. Sometimes during Day 2 I’d find myself distracted and realized I hadn’t worried for 15 minutes.  But that night, lying in bed, without anything to occupy my mind BUT worry, enemy forces attacked as soon as I lay my head on the pillow.  Night # 2 felt relentless.  I couldn’t shake the thought of my worsening eye. I eventually fell asleep in the early morning hours. Drained, I awoke on Day 3 – a Sunday.

I prayed, asking God to unite my heart just to worship Him, at least during the Sunday service. Unbidden at the moment and totally unexpectantly, relief came! No, it wasn’t from a spoken prayer or any of the sung hymns or even the preached Word. A simple thought broke through.

  • “What if this ‘haze’ is actually a protective layer that God has placed on your eye?”

Oh!  You mean that a reason OTHER than degradation of vision was possible?  I had never considered anything but something negative and scary, something that portended worsening vision.

Now, it could very well be that my eye is in more danger.  But the very idea that an alternative reality was possible halted my incessant, debilitating worry.  RELIEF!

God repeated this experience just a few days ago when I was battling once again, in a different matter.  Another one of those independent, and very liberating thoughts ‘popped’ into my mind. Thank you, Holy Spirit.

So that is my recent experience.  You know what they say, two times in a row makes a habit.  Mike and I currently battle fear and anxiety regarding something else in our life these days.  And I am expecting God to prompt another one of those liberating thoughts to break through into our conscious minds and bring relief.

I thank God that His Word daily feeds and strengthens me to trust Him. I pray and try to bank ALL on His wisdom, goodness, power and intention to work this ‘suffering’ for our good.

AND I am asking our loving and merciful Father, in His sovereign time (but hurry up, please!) to give my husband that new idea, that new perspective, that kaleidoscopic thought or realization that will shift what he is thinking to something new and life-producing.  This slight but empowering change will be such that his subconscious feelings will immediately move out of the pit of despair and gratefully sink into the cool, relieving pool of hope.

British Anglican pastor and author W.H. Vanstone captures this explosive power of a new thought in his book, Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense – the Response of Being to the Love of God. This very seismic shift in thinking and then feeling happened to him.  He describes it on page 16 of his book:

  • The clarity with which I saw this (in his situation, the possible BENEFICIAL role of a new church plant in a community pleasantly indifferent to its presence) was an intellectual clarity.  I knew that I was not simply experiencing a change of feeling, but was seeing something that justified a change of feeling.

What about your experiences?  Have you been blessed by a small but powerful kaleidoscopic shift in your thinking?  Please share!

Do you dread anything?

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If you’re somewhat like me, there are certain things you dread.  They could be activities like doing laundry, sitting through meetings, resolving a hurt between you and someone else, packing for a trip, exercising or doing taxes!

What I’ve begun to see in my case is that when I ‘dread’ something, it’s because I have a pre-determined picture or scenario already fleshed out in my mind.  The imagined mini-drama is never fun, somewhat or majorly painful and an ordeal to ‘get through’ in order to arrive at an anticipated more pleasant activity that I enjoy.

At age 61, however, I have to admit that my actual experience of what I dread compared to what transpires is rarely in sync.  The dread is far worse than the event.

What helps me, these days, is to say to myself:  “Maria, who made you clairvoyant? You only THINK you can predict how something will be.  You don’t know at all.  And past experiences do not determine future experiences.”

This FACT should be obvious for Christians, when they actually reflect, for God teaches that He is sovereign over every molecule in the universe.  Remember, if He is NOT in control, then He is not God.

So now,

  • when I dread the army combat movie my husband has picked out for us to watch, I say to myself, “Who knows, maybe you WILL enjoy it tonight!”
  • when I dread doing my exercise routine in the morning upon rising, I say to myself, “Who knows, maybe you’ll feel really strong and finish encouraged!”
  • when I dread going back to school on a Monday morning, I say to myself, “Who knows, maybe a student’s eureka moment will leave you feeling grateful to be teaching French!”
  • when I dread a meeting, I say to myself, “Who knows, maybe I’ll acquire some new information that makes my work easier!”
  • when I dread being with someone who ‘always’ complains or adopts a negative or critical demeanor, I say to myself, “Who knows, maybe God has transformed his/her heart and I’ll be surprised!”

I find I can catch and correct my inner monologue more easily these days.  I also draw heart from God’s Word in Isaiah 43:19:

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland. (NIV)

 

What are you afraid of?

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You’ve probably heard about ‘disordered loves’.  That’s when you love something more than God.

If I’m honest, I struggle with THAT sin not only every day but also multiple times in a day.

What do I love more than God?  Theologically, nothing!  But functionally, I can rattle off probably 10, without pause:

  • my time
  • my comfort
  • my routine
  • speaking French
  • my ability to cook well
  • my appearance (being fit for my age)
  • READING
  • writing
  • sleep
  • long stretches with no obligations

And I haven’t even mentioned people I love!

Yes, I am aware that the Holy Spirit constantly is at work in this entire area of my life.  It’s called pruning, or sanctification, or suffering.

But the other day, something caused me to think about ‘disordered fears’.  I haven’t spotted that expression before, but books have been written about the disproportionate fear of man over the fear of God.  Or how we can become immobilized through fear of failure.

There are a hundred things to fear. And Christians and unbelievers alike battle fear.  Winston Churchill understood the evil of fear during wartime.

Here’s what prompted me to think about how our fears might be out of whack.

First I saw God’s emphasis on loving HIM above everything else.  This lesson has recently been reinforced as Mike and I journey once again through the Bible in a year. Today we finished the book of Joshua.  This successor to Moses is about to ‘be gathered to his fathers’ and he passes on his final advice and admonitions to the congregation of Israel at Shiloh.  He spends a good deal of time recounting God’s faithfulness to the Hebrew tribes, beginning with Abraham and mentioning this fact:

“Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.” Joshua 23:14 (NIV)

BASED on what God has done for them, Joshua explains their responsibility to LOVE God.  It’s a command.  If it’s a command, it must not be a feeling.  Because ephemeral feelings come and go.  Loving God turns out to be an action that looks like this:

  • serving God wholeheartedly
  • clinging to God
  • preferring the one true God to other Gods
  • obeying God
  • worshipping and sacrificing to this God only

But how did I connect this directive to love God to what we are to fear?  Well, you can’t read much of the Old Testament without picking up the importance of ‘fearing God’.  Proverbs 19:23 is just one of many verses: “The fear of the LORD leads to life, so that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil.”

Earlier in the week, I was wallowing in some non-God fears.   Kind of like Pilgrim mucking around in the Slough of Despond.  But thanks be to the Holy Spirit!  He brought me up short about the sin of fear.

I saw that these temporal fears (I’m gaining weight, some work-related circumstances might never get better, what if………….happens?) were occupying my thoughts and causing me to be despondent.  That was a slap in the face to God.  God brought me up short about my unbelief in God’s good (*good as HE calls good, that is whatever facilitates my eventual conformity to Jesus) plan for my life.  That realization led me to confess that I was fearing FIRST and FOREMOST something other than God.

I now see that if I shift my thoughts and energy to fearing, to pleasing, to caring about God’s reputation, then maybe my other fears will fall ‘into’ place and to their correct size. God doesn’t want us to deny our fear; He invites honesty.  BUT He is at work to place them in perspective.  Loving God leads to life.  Fearing God leads to life.  Loving AND fearing something over God leads to death.

It’s a new thought for me.  What about you?  Do you struggle more with disordered loves or disordered fears?  OR…..are they one and the same, two sides of the same sin?

 

 

 

Spiritual attack and renewal

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Before we moved to Asheville I wasn’t aware of being under spiritual attack.  As a lover of God’s Word, I should have been!

1 Peter 5:8

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.

My first years at my school in Asheville his weapon of choice took the form of parental complaints to the principal. This year, he dialed up the discouragement knob.  I’ve been aware for the past 3 years that complaining, gratitude and contentment are connected. When I complain, I invite unhappiness.  So recognizing the grumbles and replacing them by cataloging blessings has been the approach I’ve PRAYED to employ. Intuitively I knew that gratitude could defend me when mildly demoralized.

The enemy turned subtle; however, the attacks intensified.  He selected a foreign language departmental meeting to resurrect a familiar conflict between those who employ a grammar-based approach to teaching and those (me) who advocate a comprehensible-input method.  I felt like giving up.  The effort to advocate for proficiency over accuracy loomed exhausting.  And I fell into low-level depression.

But God….had sovereignly scheduled a fully-funded conference for me and 7 other colleagues to attend.  Zip enthusiasm. Nada!  I was seriously contemplating giving up teaching after this year.  Two nights before my scheduled departure, the demons descended in force. Could have been just one, but it sure felt like a host of them!

The effect?  I stayed awake most of the night, feeling the energy for any of my roles drain away. Whether managing the day-to-day family budget, facilitating a monthly women’s group at church, writing blogs, or especially my job. Fear filled me and sleep was alien.

But God….revealed the next morning during my time with Him that this was a new form of spiritual attack. That startling insight alone made the difference and carried me through the day.  My resolve to FIGHT grew back.  By the next night I actually felt some enthusiasm growing for the trip.  Then insight.  I could see that God had ordained this conference IN ORDER to refresh and energize me for the next phase of life.  And in order to remind me to depend on Him.

And energize me He did.  I sought out workshops led by advocates of the comprehensible input way of teaching foreign languages. The old mojo flooded back.

That vicious and evil feline tried once more that night of conference day 1. I awoke at 2 am and couldn’t fall back asleep. He repeated his destructive sword parry the following night as well. OVER-WHELM-ING did everything loom. All the changes to shift my lesson focus back on a proficiency track seemed impossible GIVEN the obstacles I played over and over in my mind’s eye.

But God….countered with Truth.  He reminded me that if He planned this trip and allowed me to undergo the attacks to toughen me up, then He will lead me each day as I create and plan new lessons.  I don’t have to have all the answers or specifics in place for the rest of the year.  He is enough.  After all He is my ever-present Provider.  So I do what any of us must do in this world, as temporary New Creation sojourners in a yet-to-be redeemed world:

  • we walk WITH Him, hand in hand, keeping our eyes on the One who creates and sustains

Whew!  Glad I’m not in charge.

Deut 31:8 The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

 

 

What Elijah and I have in common

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1 Kings 19: 3,4b, 5a –   Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.……….. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die.I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.

I was having an Elijah day.  Tired.  Leg and foot cramps at night degrade my sleep. So when I hop out of bed more than the customary once per night, I feel FOGGY and handicapped the next day.

As you know fatigue is NOT conducive to feelings that represent reality.

I had gotten up at my customary time, knowing that I needed time with the Lord on my walk and at the kitchen counter reading my Bible and praying.  If I didn’t set TRUTH front and center in my life, I would not make it through the day teaching school and interacting with colleagues.

Even with the reminder of our unchanging God, it was still HARD.  The feelings, which seemed to originate from WITHIN me, kept up their assault:

  • I don’t really care about kids!
  • I’m too old to be teaching in a Middle School
  • But where am I going to find another job that pays this much and frees up my summer for family and friends?

Finally, I chose to ignore the feelings and NOT yield to the temptation to draw any conclusion.

I found refuge in this promise from God:  My grace IS sufficient for you, because my power is made perfect when combined with your weakness, Maria.  2 Cor 12:9 (includes my personalization!)

The next day, after a better sleep (Thank you, Jesus!) I thought of Elijah and his emotional outburst and wrong conclusions.

If you read the entire passage in 1 Kings 19, you can clearly see God’s tenderness.  He doesn’t rebuke Elijah, but causes him to sleep, then sends an angel to feed him and to invite him to sleep some more. Only then does God dialogue with Elijah and set him straight with truth – that Elijah is NOT the only believer left, but there are another 7000!

So dear friends, I am learning (and RE-learning) not to agree with or even fight feelings when I’m tired, but just to lay them in Jesus’ lap and take care of my body.  There’s plenty of time to figure things out WITH God knowing that He has promised to give me perfect power for my needs.

 

 

Fighting discontent with prayer

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Father, you who SHOULD be enough, forgive my discontent!

You specifically command us NOT to covet. And I continue to disobey you. Coveting, wanting what I don’t have, is the very opposite of loving you with 100% of my mind. As the sun of summer passes over the yardarm, I find myself internally grumbling and focusing on the countdown to the end of my quiet mornings and longer evenings. As though Jesus’ purchase of eternal life were not enough, my disquieted heart is MORE focused on my dread of going back to school. To the point that:

  • not only am I not reveling in these pristine mountain mornings,
  • but I’m deliberately avoiding your will for me that I rejoice, pray and thank you in every thing.

But you have not left me to fight this by myself. If so, then as Martin Luther so rousingly portrayed:

a mighty fortress

Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing

So just how do you propose to help me, Father?  Your word to me in fear and anxiety has always been –  Armor-up, Maria!  Dread, that wicked picturing of a scary future, is simply a different flavor.  (And just as much a violation of your command to count ALL things as joy – whether trial or trove, since they come from You, for my good.)

I thank you, that your word in Ephesians 6 has taught me the following tactic:

  •  we’re to pick a weapon from the arsenal of your Word and fight the fear with spirit-indwelt force.

Here is what you gave me this morning during church and I’m going to make it mine in this battle with discontent:

James 5: 11-12 Take the old prophets as your mentors. They put up with anything, went through everything, and never once quit, all the time honoring God. What a gift life is to those who stay the course! You’ve heard, of course, of Job’s staying power, and you know how God brought it all together for him at the end. That’s because God cares, cares right down to the last detail.

When I personalize your encouragement I find it easier to remember your promise. But I need your Holy Spirit to prompt me, to remind me of your sure pledge each time I’m attacked by those Satan-suggested gloomy pictures of the coming school year.  Then I can substitute your word to me for the fear scenario I’ve assembled.

Just like Job’s assignment was not what he chose, but he stayed under your heavy hand, honoring your name, with your strength I will stay in the seat you have seen fit to assign me this day, this season. In return for his loyalty, you blessed Job more richly than he ever could have pictured. So I will look to my future blessings.  You’re more kind than I can imagine, so just maybe you have woven treasure into what I’m dreading.  But if nothing else, may my sure inheritance in the next life fill me with enduring energy to be faithful to your will.  Help me to savor and daydream about what full fellowship with you, and overflowing joy may be like.   

God, you KNOW that I can’t successful win the battle against fear and dread without your supernatural help. But woe is me if I don’t daily take up the spiritual weapons you’ve handed me and use them throughout the day and night as the enemy lobs in artillery shells of discontent.

In Jesus’ name, whose intercessions I’m counting on, I pray.  Amen!

Truth ‘trumps’ fear

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No, I don’t mean Donald.

Truth, God’s truth, is the only remedy against fear and foreboding.

Truth by TK

2 Cor 5:7    For we live by believing and not by seeing

Hebrews 11:13  All these people died having faith

A dear friend in his late 50s struggles with the reality of sharing life with an aging church family, many of whom daily face diminishing health and abilities.  Yes, he IS a believer and he DOES rely on the FACT of his salvation. He DOES depend on the GRACE of God throughout the day and he most definitely DOES exercise faith by asking God for what he and others need. Yet, he is afraid of his own physical and mental decline and eventual death.  He views his life here on earth as DECLINE.  And ‘heaven’ is nebulous.

I have NOT responded well.  Nearing 60 myself, I lack skill in showing empathy.

At one end of my response spectrum, I shine at’ arguing logically’ WHY people should not think or feel a certain way. I am practiced at exhorting friends and family to view X situation in the light of T, that is God’s Truth.

And I do know how to offer sympathy – sort of.

But empathy?  What’s that?

Thanks to our guidance counselor at my secular middle school (God’s common grace!), I’m learning this different response that actually spreads balm.  EMPATHY offers this to a hurting soul:

  • That must feel frightening (frustrating, draining….) or THAT must be a relief (a welcome response, a comfort…).

Empathy does nothing more; it simply holds out a non-judgmental and safe space for someone to communicate just how they feel.  And often, THAT is the best gift you can give to a friend.

And if the friend WANTS or ASKS for help, only then should you offer a suggestion.

But….next time if my dear friend asks me, as a Christian,  how I handle the prospect of physical and perhaps cognitive decline followed by death,  here is what I might say:

Me: You believe God saved you, right?  How do you know?

Friend: I know because I believe the Bible passages that lay out the requirements for salvation, specifically Ephesians 2:8 – For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.

Me: Good!  And how do you handle the daily challenges and needs of life?

Friend:  I pray and ask God for His help.

Me: And well you should.  How about applying that same act to THIS situation, THIS fear. Exercise the faith that God has given you and turn to Him for His help.  For here is the TRUTH about God:

Psalm 68:19 –  Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.

Since that is true, then we should…..

Psalm 55:22 – Cast on the LORD whatever he sends your way, and he will sustain you.

And since we know THAT fact, we then can turn to another promise….

Isaiah 46:4a – Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you

Therefore, we can confidently obey God when He commands:

Isaiah 41:10 – Do not fear [anything], for I am with youDo not be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, be assured I will help you; I will certainly take hold of you with My righteous right hand [a hand of justice, of power, of victory, of salvation]. (Amplified)

So, if we go back to the 2 promises at the start of this post about how we live and how we die, we are told and shown that ALL of life, breath to breath is by faith.

I know you would agree that we DON’T live by seeing the provision and direction ahead of time, but we trust by faith that the God of the Bible WILL come through and do what He promises to do.  That has GOT to be enough.

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