Protection against Prosperity

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The Lord has done great things for us, whereof we are glad! Psalm 126:3

God has come through with an extraordinary mercy to us in answer to much fervent prayer – our own cries for help along with sustained prayers offered up by family and faithful friends. I’ll tell you more in a bit.

I’ve been reading in Scripture examples about the dangers that ‘good’ times can present. King David gives us many examples. His most notorious is his complacency (leading to the Bathsheba incident) after God’s divine help in driving away Israel’s enemies. Were it not for Biblical narratives of his downfall and his own writings in the psalms we would not be warned. Yet despite his astonished and grateful joy in God’s forgiveness, over time, David’s gladness waned. He grew distracted by comfort, helped along by an increasing lack of attentiveness to his Master, the LORD.

Merriam-Webster explains complacency this way: “self-satisfaction, especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.” Com means ‘with’ and if you recall the verb ‘to placate’ (to please) the idea of being pleased with oneself is obvious.  But self-pleasure can be dangerous, especially if we grow über-SELF-confident.

But what does prosperity in the title of this post have to do with complacency?  We can see that it was God who had made King David prosperous. And in the beginning, David’s gratitude over his ‘prosperity’ or successes was real. But he didn’t nurture that spirit of thankfulness. As life grew easier after years of hardship, his attentiveness to God slackened. He let himself get preoccupied with the gifts.  Not only was David wealthy he enjoyed multiple blessings of regional peace, family, friends. For sure during those painful, difficult years he had followed Moses’ advice to Joshua about how to be ‘prosperous’:

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Josh 1:8

But once God was gracious to him, David FORGOT the part about ‘meditate on God’s law day and night.’ A change came over the prosperous David. Enjoying God’s bounty, he let down his guard. 

I don’t want that to happen to us! 

As Mike and I have come to know our Bibles, we understand how to please our Father.  Ultimately it’s because He has changed our hearts that we WANT to obey Him. We also have grown to realize that afflictions are gifts from God that keep us clinging to Him.  They keep us needy and very close. Desperation keeps us ‘meditating on God’s Word night and day’.

Since June 2013, when we left Virginia and moved to the Asheville, NC area, we have been especially needy.   How so? through hardships right and left, one after the other. Like what, Maria?

  • a blatant closed-door, dead-end to Mike’s plan to work from home in NC as an operations research analyst
  • no open doors to other significant work for him during our time in NC
  • perplexing difficulties for me in a new school teaching French – each year in that school was laden with painful experiences. Nor could I couldn’t find another teaching position
  • Mike’s frightening heart crisis that lasted some weeks
  • his slide into depression during our 6 years in North Carolina, alienating some people
  • a surprising decision to leave mountains we loved for Mike to go back into full-time engineering work
  • then after God’s good gift of a job and sale of our house in NC, a recurrence of a physical stress symptom that had dogged Mike for 25+ years but had been absent during the previous 7-8 years. ‘Complacently’ we had assumed it would never come back.

The return of this latter affliction seemed to be the most painful of all the above. It colored Mike’s world and spilled over to me.  He could hardly avoid noticing it, because it affected his body, every day and all the time. I prayed fervently.  We both did. As did friends and family.

What else did we do?  We journaled, we tried functional medicine, Mike met with a Christian counselor.  Friends and family continued to pray and stay connected. Most of all we went deep into God’s Word. As we did, He began to change our thinking to align more with His Word. Whether you believe that He ‘allows’ or ‘sends’ suffering, in God’s hands He wills all things for our good.  We began to ask God to change our desires – that we would desire HIM more than an affliction-free life.

Then, about 4 months ago God seemed to be directing us to have Mike go back on a medication that had ‘stopped working’, one he had gone off of.  He visited his doctor, asking for a higher dose. We prayed on, willing to live with this suffering if it were God’s best for our holiness and ultimate joy.

It took a full 10 weeks for any relief to be evident.  His body started slowly to respond, in fits and starts.  Mike kept meeting with his Christian counselor.  We continued to pray, to journal, to study God’s Word. 

It is now almost the end of May 2020 and we rejoice. Mike DOES have relief. The symptoms have subsided. His body feels normal. He is visibly relaxed and cheery.  I can tell he is enjoying life in a new way. 

I check in with him each evening as we write down our God-directed thank-you’s in our prayer journal.  Then we pray for one another mentioning the next day’s needs. We don’t hesitate to ask Him for another day of relief for Mike.  Just as we ask Him to grant me a good night sleep. We take NEITHER gift for granted. We also know that God has the right to withhold both. They are not our due.

Hence my meditating on the ‘danger’ that comes with answered prayer, when the pressure lets up.  Not that God is dangerous, but that a cavalier attitude on my part can easily endanger my heart. I want to lay in place good habits of thinking. Yes, our Father IS good and He delights to give us rest and periods of joy-filled relaxation.  Mike and I are grateful for these broad or open spaces where ‘enemies have been driven back, bodies have healed, children have been born, and the harvest is plentiful.’ 

Psalm 18:9 He also brought me out into a broad place; He delivered me because He delighted in me.

So how DO I guard against complacency?  I have landed on two ways: 

  • Gratitude and
  • Humility

Gratitude looks like this for me:

  • recognizing and chattering my thanks to my Father throughout the day for all the gifts I can see 
  • mentioning His kind provision of what I might not even think to ask for, like safety or how loving my friends are

Humility looks like this for me:

  • Recognizing that I am a contingent being, that I cannot do ANY thing on my own.
  • Acknowledging daily that God, the Creator and Sustainer, gives me life moment by moment. Unless He wills that I KEEP LIVING, I am but dust molecules
  • Talking out loud to Him about what I need Him to provide NEXT in order to do the task at hand

This, then, is how I am trying to ‘walk humbly with my Lord’.

Friends and family, we want YOU to know how glad we are for the great things He has done.  Thank you for your prayers and years of encouragement throughout these past years. This new broad and fertile time is refreshing us.  We are savoring it.  It feels sweet.  We don’t deserve it, and we are grateful.  May we continue to keep our eyes on Him!

 

When God doesn’t answer

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Are you waiting for God to show you what to do? Who among us is not living with uncertainty or facing an impending decision?

One of my daughters-in-law is considering ‘officially’ homeschooling her 3 kids in the fall when the new school year begins.  Currently supervising and experiencing poor on-line assignments planned by classroom teachers has prompted her to provide alternative educational activities that enrich and suit each of the three children. The kids have settled in nicely to the new content and its rhythm.  All should be tranquil, right?

Unfortunately, at times, like we all do, she falls into churning about the future, details swirling unsettled in her mind. No peace and no answers, yet!

I’m experiencing similar quandaries:  what should I do about the English without Fear videos I create? Continue, produce fewer, abandon?  And what’s with my Spanish experience?  Daily I work on my own language acquisition. Beginning Spanish lessons for my grandkids via Zoom continue. But, but….what does God have in mind for me, ultimately?

Even though I KNOW that there is a time for everything, even though I KNOW that no one is forcing me to decide the future of my English and Spanish activities, I find myself indulging in analyzing pros and cons of how I spend the time God allots me.

Aren’t we two gals a microcosm of the world, both now during Covid19 times and in the past.

Reading Psalm 77 (NLT) this morning showed me a better way to face all our unknowns and handle decisions.  The psalmist Asaph is in a bad way.  He needs God for some dire situation:

  • I cry out to God; yes, I shout – v 1
  • I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help – v 3
  • I’m too distressed even to pray – v 4b
  • Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be kind to me? – v 7
  • Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed? – v 8

No answer.  God is silent.

But Asaph doesn’t give up. Nor does he continue to stress himself out with: What about this, what about that? What shall I do, especially since God doesn’t answer me?!!!!!

Through the Holy Spirit, God mercifully prompts Asaph to start thinking about all the ways God has come through for him in the past:

  • But then I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. – v 11
  • They are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works. – v 12

And off he goes.  Asaph never returns to his issues, his problems and the decisions he needs to make.

You know what this sounds like?  It’s just what Paul tells us WE should do in Philippians 4: 4-8.

In encouraging the Philippian believers, the apostle Paul assumes they all have problems and decisions to make that could weigh them down with anxiety. After reminding them to name what they are glad about in Jesus who is near them, he says:  openly present all your needs to God, thanking him for his care.

Notice that Paul does NOT explicitly say: ‘God will immediately give you the answers and resources you need.’

I think Paul would say if you asked him: “But what about…..?”:

  • ‘But of course, God will provide. But until he does, his immediate answer and gift to you is supernatural, unworldly peace. Not a peace based on answers for your particular situation.’

Yet, Paul does not leave them to fight deep groove of worry.  He offers a practical way to PROTECT these anxious, weak and struggling Christians.  Paul commands them to shift their thoughts to all that is TRUE, NOBLE, RIGHT, PURE, LOVELY, ADMIRABLE, EXCELLENT and PRAISE-WORTHY.

Isn’t that what the psalmist Asaph shows us by switching his wakeful thoughts to God’s past actions?

Psalm 77 is great because we don’t know the dire circumstances burdening his life.  Therefore, we’re free to adapt it to our own peculiar churn and inner distress.

I admit though, that this is hard for me to do!  I seem to prefer the familiarity of worry even though I know it harms me.  Shifting my thoughts takes an act of the will.  I have to turn my back on temptation, pray for help and set my mind to reflect on all the ways God has come through for me and my family in the past.

Yes, I still don’t know about my ‘future when it comes to teaching English and Spanish.  My daughter-in-law doesn’t have answers TODAY about homeschooling in the fall.  But we don’t have to be slaves to our as-of-yet unmet needs.  We have a good Father who doesn’t change. He’ll provide wisdom when it’s time. We can’t imagine or picture WHAT new information he’ll send our way, at the RIGHT time, that time when we SHOULD choose a course of action.

For now, for today, I want to remember that my Father’s will for me is a peace that goes beyond having answers and information.

Discounting the current gifts from God

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There’s this ONE prayer and request that I keep asking God for.  It’s the ‘tugging on the Father’s sleeve’ kind.  That heart-filled longing that would consume me if I let it. Over the many years, I’ve learned to compartmentalize it somewhat.  Allotting it very specific time in my prayers each morning.  But I also pray when the occasional acute detailed need arises.

When I’m feeling strengthened by God, my prayers are statements of faith, attesting to God’s goodness and His sovereign control over all events. I KNOW for a fact that our Triune God is:

  • sovereign
  • loving
  • holy
  • wise
  • all-powerful
  • good
  • merciful
  • faithful

Those characteristics of our Father sustain me most days and nights.  I can leave this need in His hands.  But on occasion, there are those tearful prayers when along with David, I cry out:  How long, O LORD!

Like yesterday morning. I felt depleted and discouraged.  Will God EVER answer this request?  The tears flowed.  I had my notebook open and penned my lament. But as I dried my tears, a new thought arrived.

What if I am SO fixated on this one thing that God has not yet provided, that I miss the good gift He already has bestowed?

Like my sweet husband.  We’ve been married 38 years.  And ever since our crisis at the 20-year point, our relationship has been on the upswing.   That in itself is a gift from God.  But over the past year, Michael’s expressions of love for me have distilled into something even more pure and tender.  The notes he leaves me on our frig whiteboard are enough to make any wife cry with humility and gratitude.  How did I end up with such a choice life partner? Only by His grace, for sure.

So here is the new thought that I believe the Holy Spirit of the Father brought to mind yesterday after my Godward plea. I’m going to put words in His mouth:

  • Maria, are you SO fixated on wanting this one thing that you are missing My many gifts designed specifically FOR you, my beloved daughter?

That thought startled me!  What if God is answering my request for X with this other gift because that is what He KNOWS is best for me RIGHT NOW!  In fact, could all His gifts be what He has decided I actually need at this Kairos moment in my life, while I’m seeking X?

Does that mean He won’t ever provide my X?  Not necessarily, but that answer is beyond my ‘ken’ or knowledge.  I can’t predict if He will bring about my desired circumstance.  But He is my good and wise Father.  I can trust Him.  For right now, what He gives is enough.

The Holy Spirit left me with this final realization:

  • Maybe THAT is why our Bible teaches and reinforces gratitude over and over.

Since then, I’ve been pondering and reflecting on what I might have already missed or discounted from God’s hand.  What OTHER gifts has He given me that I have not even VIEWED as gifts, nor as an answer to my Big Request?

How about you?  How is God answering your heart prayers?

Psalm 107:1 ESV – Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!

 

 

Love my boundary lines!

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Sheep in a pen

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Psalm 16:6a

My thorn in the flesh that keeps driving me back to God in desperate need is my tendency to overeat and then get down on myself. I thought I had been liberated from that vicious cycle back in December.  It was then that I renounced once and for all slavishly weighing myself and tracking my exercise day by day.  But then, 10 days ago, I noticed that a certain pair of pants felt tight.  Immediately I spiraled into fear and loathing.

In a nutshell, I suffer from conflicting desires of wanting both to be lean AND to eat as much as I want.  I also fear future hunger and despise feeling stuffed. Taking liberty with the apostle Paul’s cry,

Oh wretched woman that I am! Who will deliver me out of this ….(ceaseless struggle!) – Romans 7:24

As I went round and round with God both in prayer and reading my Bible, He brought to mind that psalm snippet above about limits.  Yes!  I NEED boundaries, both to feel safe and to forget about myself. I’m not much different from a dog that escapes from his restrictive yard only to find himself in a big, scary world on the other side.  Once he’s back home on the safe side of his fence or wall, he might then trust his owner’s wisdom and leave off future waywardness.  Actually I bet a dog needs far fewer repeat lessons than I do! After all, I’ve been fighting that wall with God since I was 16.

The Holy Spirit also reminded me what I have recently absorbed, that as Christians, our primary ministry is to our family. For me, my husband must be my focus. And if I am sucked inward, feeling bad about MY body, MY choices and MY satisfaction, I am NOT ministering to this man God has lovingly brought me.

Quickly my plea for guidance, “What am I to do, Lord?” turned into thanksgiving and praise for His Truth revealed in my heart.

Yes, I DO need limits and they DO make me happy.  Once THAT fact was settled, what I was to do fell into place.  No, I would not go back to weighing myself each day.  But I could cut out certain foods and reduce my portion size of others.

And if those parameters are what allow me to forget myself and focus on Mike and others in my sphere, then they truly ARE my happy limits.  Staying INSIDE the parameter is best.

Well, what about this fear of hunger and desire to eat abundantly?  I MUST ‘risk’ taking God at His Word and rely on His promise that I can do ALL things through him (Christ) who strengthens me – Phil 4:13. And all things means happily living with limited portions and occasional hunger pangs. For ifGod is leading me to stay within my boundary lines, then what He commands me to do, He will likewise enable me to do with Holy Spirit power.  As a Christian, it’s a fact that the Holy Spirit resides IN me. 2 Timothy 1:7 – For God has NOT given us a spirit of fear, but One of love, power and integral/sound thinking.

Thanking God for a sleepless night

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Romans 8:28:  And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, that is for the good of those who are called according to His divine plan.

Sleepless

Like many of you, I don’t take a solid night’s sleep for granted.  Each morning when I arise after a night with only ONE visit to the bathroom, I consider that God has given me a gift.

But Monday night last week included 3 interruptions due to foot and leg cramps. As a result, I arose the next morning knowing I was going to be drawing on God’s energy for my commute to school. (I drive 50 minutes each way by interstate).

But two events occurred as a result of that sleepless night that have caused me to thank God FOR it.

I’ve been puzzling over how NOT to be anxious after praying for something I want to happen.  Here’s the situation.  My mother worried a lot about family when they travelled. Yes, she was a Christian, but old patterns of thought linger.  I absorbed her angst and it has fed these fears even to this day.  Last weekend, one son and his wife had been driving back from a late-night wedding and I had prayed for their safe arrival all day long. Even though I asked God to protect them, I still struggled with how to be free from anxiety after praying.

During my sleepless night when I was awake from 12:30 to 3:30 am lying in bed thinking about EVERYTHING, God brought Romans 8:28 to mind as the remedy for anxiety and fear once you’ve prayed.

Here’s how my mind processed this promise of future grace.  Yes, we are to pray for situations. Then we are to let them go and trust God when He vows emphatically to work ALL circumstances (even if the ‘worst’ outcome happens that I’m praying against) together for the good of ……. 

In the darkness of the night, God shone light on His Word and gave me relief.  It’s like He sprung me from my self-imposed prison cell of fear.  Yes, I want my kids to be safe and I will pray for that.  But I will let go and rely on God’s better promise to guide and direct even the ‘bad’ stuff for the good of my loved ones and for His glory.

That in itself was worth the sleepless night.

But then God answered another prayer of mine.  I’ve been having stomach problems and googling remedies for feeling bloated and nauseous each day. Here’s how God took care of that!  The evening after my sleepless night, after I had arrived safely home but foggy with fatigue, I was fixing Mike’s and my yogurt mixtures for the next day.  I put certain colon-friendly fruit in his and certain low-fiber fruit in mine.  Because I was ‘punchy’ with fatigue, I mistakenly switched the yogurts, leaving mine in the frig and putting his in my lunch box for the next day.

At 10 am the following morning when I opened up my snack, I spotted the ‘wrong’ Greek yogurt mixture.  Besides feeling bad for Mike, I was bummed that I had brought the high-fiber version.  I decided to put it back in our teachers’ frig and rummage for a Zone bar I could eat instead.  Not consuming that ‘dairy’ – well, you guessed it, eliminated my stomach problem for the day. Bingo!  All of a sudden it hit me that I might be dairy-intolerant.  Sure enough, a few days without the yogurt confirmed my hypothesis.

Dairy intolerance

Here’s the remarkable take away, though.  And this is HUGE for me.  It seems that God is sovereign even over OUR mistakes. Do you know how freeing that is?  Even when you mess up, God works all things for your good (if you are His son or daughter by the new birth).  Yes, we want to do what’s right, but we don’t live by karma. We live by grace and in a Kingdom ruled by a loving and good God who has ALL the power and ALL the wisdom and is ALL perfect and righteous.

So I’m saying to you and to me – give up the ball and chain of striving for perfectionism.  We are imperfect creations.  We are going to make many mistakes.  But mistakes are not sovereign.  God is.  We don’t have to carry the burden of being good, of being right. Jesus beckons us to trust Him and give up that yoke.

Matt 11:28 – Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

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