Is God behind all this global suffering?

Leave a comment

News agencies world wide report droughts, floods, murders, homelessness, job loss, disease and more.

Christian organizations such as Open Doors post pleas for prayer:

  • Unprotected, Christians murdered in Nigeria
  • West Africans suffering from Fulani, sickness and little food
  • Locusts in East Africa destroy crops
  • Daily assaults on Christians in Asian country

Is all this suffering from God’s hand?

I am a Christian who believes that the Bible is the true word of God. I thus accept as fact what God teaches, that nothing happens outside His sovereign will. (some thoughts about ‘two wills’ of God)

Isaiah 46:9-10  I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me.
 I make known the end from the beginning,
    from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
    and I will do all that I please.

I am thinking, thinking a lot these days and reasoning from what I know, from what God says in His Word. He doesn’t answer all my questions, but there is enough truth for me to ponder and think clearly.  He expects me, as one of His, to apply my mind. ‘Think on these things’, Paul exhorts in Phil 4:8.

I know that all that has befallen me in my 6 decades: the bad, the painful, the shameful, the sicknesses, the sin, the blessings, the rescues, the deliverances, the joys, the ‘pleasants’….all have been planned for my good, to bring me to Jesus (rescuing me from the right judgement of my guilt and fair eternal penalty) and to make me holy like Him.  If God is God and if He is good, wise, all-powerful, faithful and loving, then He has good reason, good purposes for what He does.  Whether I see His reasons. Whether I agree with them or not.

I don’t struggle with that anymore IN MY OWN LIFE. 

But recently I’ve been thinking those who are REALLY suffering in the world, in what we call the 3rd-world areas. (Is there a ‘second-world’ label??)

My pain and struggles have been those of an advantaged American born in the second half of the 20th century.  Past and present – far more people have been and are overcome by poverty, hopelessness, violence, hunger, sickness, disastrous weather and terrorism.  Does God work all those imagination-defying ‘awfuls’ to bring SOME to Christ and make THEM more like Jesus? Are these conditions His tailored will for their lives, just as my circumstances are for me?

That is what I have been wondering.  And it’s a new idea for me.

Not for a moment do I think this is merely an intellectual exercise, that God intends for me just to ponder logically when I read of 3rd-world suffering.   Why not? Because all through the Bible, God’s people are commanded to take care of and provide for the down-and-out in our reach.

  • Deut 15:11 For there will never cease to be poor in the land; that is why I am commanding you to open wide your hand to your brother and to the poor and needy in your land.

In just the week that this topic has been on my mind, my conclusion is that somehow, in God’s wisdom, those who are His, those whom He is calling from each people group, He has placed in the designed location, time and circumstances best suited for their hearing and responding to the Gospel.  No, He doesn’t condone violence and oppression of the poor. But He does ordain what is at the ‘moment’ an evil for a greater good since He KNOWS has PLANNED and will bring about the eventual outcome. All through the Bible we read that His hand is behind droughts (think Naomi and Ruth), slavery (Joseph to Egypt) leprosy (Naaman), murder plots (Esther and the Jews), imprisonment (Paul and the Philippian jailor).

I choose to hold fast to what I know is true about our God.  I have learned that He is trustworthy.  I don’t have to understand or see His reasons to accept that what breaks my heart will one day be the cause of my praise for the resulting beauty of his Grace revealed.

In the meantime, may He keep my heart soft both to call on Him for justice and relief and to be part of His provision.

Protection against Prosperity

1 Comment

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

Leave a comment

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.

How the Lord changed my mind

1 Comment

God still surprises me and I’ve VERY glad.  I am learning that He doesn’t tend to act in the same manner in similar sets of circumstances.  I should know that just through the two accounts of God’s instructions to Moses about how He, God, was going to provide water from the Rock to thirsty, wandering Israel in the wilderness:

In the first instance, Moses was to STRIKE the rock.

Ex 17:5-6 Then the Lord told Moses, “Go over in front of the people and take some of the elders of Israel with you. Take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.  I’ll be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. You are to strike the rock and water will come out of it, so the people can drink.” Moses did this in front of the elders of Israel.

But again, when the people had no water, God told Moses to TALK to the rock. Moses disobeyed.

Numbers 20:8 “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.”

The God who spoke our varied and intricate universe into existence IS creative and intent on teaching us obedience.

Now to my situation:

For almost two years I had been creating video content for my YouTube channel (videos and transcripts here)  to help English language learners acquire English through simple stories in slow English.  But as 2019 turned into 2020 I had been questioning whether I should continue.  The response and number of subscribers to the channel didn’t seem worth the time I was spending.  After much prayer and discussion with Mike, I decided to let my waning desire be my guide to a decision.  I stopped creating videos in early February 2020.  Relieved of that ‘task’ each week, I happily shifted more time to what was providing satisfaction:  acquiring Spanish!

This self-imposed lay-off coincided with the 5 weeks of work it took to move from a rental house here in Huntsville into a new house and get our household up and running.

To my surprise, God intervened about two weeks ago to direct my thoughts back to ‘English without Fear’.  Through Scripture, books on God and various prayers I read as well as devotions from my favorite teaching & praying pastors (John Piper, Scotty Smith, & Charles Spurgeon) God seemed to be saying that I had a duty to STEWARD my talents, gifts and experiences for the benefit of others.

I immediately thought about His gifts to me – the personal joy in learning and using French, German and Spanish as well as the ability to teach a second language.

“Huh,” I mused and pondered. “The Lord doesn’t seem to be working through my desires right now. He seems to be appealing to the responsibility I have to put to use for others more of my skills and experience.”  Since calling a halt to ‘English without Fear’ I’ve been using my growing, intermediate Spanish skills in my newish volunteer position as an intake counselor at our local pregnancy resource center.  Was God urging me NOW to add back into my week teaching English as a second language via my videos?

I pondered, reasoned, waited and prayed.  The message came again – “Maria, as a believer, you are called NOT to be idle nor hide your gifts, your light, under a bushel basket”

Maybe DESIRE alone should NOT be what determines how I spend my time. With that conclusion, I started back up creating content for ‘English without Fear’.

My resolve, for now, is to be faithful with what the Lord has given me. It matters not if few still watch.  If one or two are helped, then isn’t that enough? And if NO one watches right now, isn’t the bigger principle my obedience to Holy Spirit nudges?

Therefore, for the time being and with His grace, I will keep my hand to the plow, confident that He will signal me when and if it is time for a course change.

 

What do you see?

2 Comments

Matthew 6:33:  But SEEk first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

What are you looking at right now? Whatever it is, IT is feeding your mind RAW DATA.

And because we are human, our minds don’t leave raw data alone.  We try to make sense of it, to draw conclusions.

Another word for SEE is BEHOLD.  Both testaments use the Hebrew, Greek or Aramean term that translators have rendered as BEHOLD.  When I searched on line for the number of times the term BEHOLD is used, I found this website.

The author tells us BEHOLD appears 1298 times in the Bible.

Here’s why this is important. We choose.  We choose WHAT we see, what data we take in, what we focus on.

So which data stream do you want to allow into your mind?  What do you want to be the raw material of your conclusions which will

  • influence your feelings
  • guide your decisions
  • impact your body
  • color all your interactions with others?

This is no trivial matter.  You CAN choose what you focus on, what you SEE with your mind’s eye.

This day, I am exhorting myself:

  • Maria. SEE God!
  • Behold, that is recall, focus on all the details you know, Maria, about our triune, eternal, power-filled, good and living God.  If the details are from the Bible, then they are true. They are facts.
  • If you’re SEEing, looking at your earthly circumstances, you can’t be certain that they are what they seem.  You can’t be sure of the data, so be skeptical about your conclusions.

Why be skeptical?  Because, for one, we are finite. Moreover, we don’t know what God will bring about tomorrow.  But we can be sure of Him, the One who doesn’t change. He is the most important Fact in the universe.

So what are you looking at most of the time?

 

 

Feelings and facts – right ordering

Leave a comment

A new friend from our new church gave me a journal for my birthday.  She didn’t know, but gifts are my love language:) Really!

This morning, I inaugurated this beautifully-bound book with its inviting lined pages of such a quality that they will absorb the black ink of my favorite pen. Since it was Sunday, I had plenty of time early this morning.  I’m reading a book about Martyn Lloyd-Jones about how and why he taught doctrine as essential fuel for living the Christian life.  In a paragraph that grabbed my attention, he explained that if we want to be empowered by the Holy Spirit, we don’t focus on this third member of the Trinity.  Instead we look to Jesus and what He has done.  The more we study and meditate on our Savior, the more power we will experience.  Here is the money sentence:

  • The joy of the Spirit is the joy we FEEL from the promises of Christ.

That thought resonated deeply with me, so I decided to use my new journal to write down one promise at a time and then analyze it, suck on it, pull it apart, think about it to get as much as I can out of it.

The one I chose had nothing to do with today’s reading in the plan we follow (Nahum 1-3) but I think from now on, I’ll keep an eye out for promises in each day’s reading.  I didn’t go back to scan Nahum because a promise popped into my mind. It was Jesus’ last words to his disciples (and hence to us)

  • ….and surely I am with you always to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20

I looked at each word in this verse and thought, pulling out a few implications, such as:

  • He IS with me now, not he will be with me
  • No need to doubt to his intention to keep his promise: “most assuredly/for sure”
  • Never is there a time when he is not with me in this life/age
  • Jesus announced this FACT after giving his disciples and me an ‘impossible mission’
  • True – he is not physically present with me so I can touch him or hear his voice through sound waves, but scripture affirms that he is with me via his Spirit. (John 16:7 ……it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.)
  • From the previous fact, his presence through the Helper implies that he knows what I am going through and he won’t stand by idly. Why else would he be called the helper?

The last take-away or derivative benefit from Jesus’ presence that I jotted down is:

  • the more I talk with him and think about him the more I’ll be like him.  For we become like whom we hang around, for better or for worse.

After this leisurely time in my new journal, I pondered the relationship between feelings and facts, gospel facts.

With those thoughts swirling in my mind we headed off to church where our senior pastor, Joe, taught, explained and exhorted from Colossians 2:13-15.  Communion followed the sermon and somewhere in his instructions and encouragement Joe mentioned that we can’t use our feelings to determine facts.  We need to put Gospel facts at the top, first and foremost and THEN draw out conclusions and inferences from Truth.  He mentioned that we often (or for some of us all the time) DON’T feel saved, DON’T feel forgiven, or at peace with the Father, and probably not at all cherished by him.  Joe explained that this was an easy pit to fall into. Furthermore, since it was Communion Sunday, he also cautioned us NOT to expect to feel different when partaking in the elements. That was REALLY helpful to hear from a pastor!

But where do feelings fit in?  After all, the Martyn Lloyd-Jones quote at the top of this post said that we will FEEL joy as we think about Jesus’ promises.

There’s the key, the way to order feelings and facts/promises.  Feelings ARE important.  (Think about all the times we are told: Be glad!  Rejoice! Exult in! Have compassion for! Be tender-hearted!)

Here is the key:  If we are saved and are one of God’s children, then ALL the promises of God belong to us in Jesus.  Feelings flow from what we believe to be true.  The Word of God IS true!  So if we reason from Gospel fact, we can trust our feelings.

  • 2 Cor 1:20 For all the promises of God are “Yes” in Christ. And so through Him, our “Amen” is spoken to the glory of God. (Berean Study Bible)

The big ‘IF’ is, are we saved?  Just what is the grounds for being one of God’s kids?  Simply this: IF we have believed that Jesus lived and died in our place, with all our sins transferred to him and his righteous deeds accounted to us, and that we bring NOTHING, NADA, RIEN, ZIP to the judicial trial before God, then we are forgiven, loved, restored to a right relationship with the Father forever. We need to ACCEPT these truths as fact, as accomplished.

Meditating on those truths – who God is and what he and the other members of the Trinity have done on our behalf WILL produce correct feelings we can trust. They in turn will rightly, naturally motivate and fuel our deeds, the good works God has planned for us.

Yet, you and I know that we have an enemy.  We need to arm ourselves with truth to block his lies. Although thoroughly defeated and ‘pulverized’ as Joe said today in his sermon, Satan will STILL speak and breathe noxious, vile lies to us to discourage and destroy us.  His words, if we believe them, can cause us to FEEL guilty, FEEL burdened, heavy hearted, troubled, fearful, ashamed, etc.

So, how do we order feelings and facts?  They are both important. God created us in his image with a mind, a heart and a will.  Living whole-heartedly in union with Christ is our mandate and our privilege.  Our hearts are entitled to peace and joy and relief and rest.  But this kind of glad happiness has to be based on gospel facts.

What’s going to be YOUR promise to feed on this day?  Start with one.  Chew on it, share it with others, write it to a friend, look it up in another language you know or a different English translation.  Work it deep into your tissues. And let THAT be the medicine you take this and every day.

 

Hope – picturing a different cause or future

Leave a comment

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!

Who or what dominates your thinking?

2 Comments

Is it just me, or do you find that living by faith and not by sight grows HARDER and HARDER as the years go by?  The ‘pop quizzes’ that used to land on me every few weeks now seem to show up every couple of days.

Not one to spot my unbelief right away, I sense God gently but firmly taking my face between his hands (so to speak!) to make me look at my unbelief. My pride recoils at yet more evidence for my lack of trust in the Lord as Good Father, Faithful Shepherd, Wise Counselor.

This past week has been that kind of personal attention or ‘handling’.  I have struggled to let go of persistent worry. It’s not that I have been anxious about anything, rather I have OBSESSIVELY ‘angsted’.  My personalized version of Phil 4:6 is now “Do not OBSESS over anything!” rather than the tame ‘do not be anxious’.

I KNOW what I’m supposed to do and I do try!

  • Daily I hand over my needs à la ‘Cast your cares on Him….’
  • Hourly I pray with much fervor à la ‘The fervent prayers of a righteous man…..’
  • I recollect many blessings, the good things about God, who He is and what He has done and the promises laid up for me……

Yet, I feel bound up in worry.

So, it was no surprise to me that the Sovereign Lord, the One who reigns over all creation, used a portion of yesterday’s assigned Scripture from 2 Sam 19: 1-8 to show me exactly what happens when I make a created thing PRE-EMINENT in my life.

Just so you’ll know how I recognize something as being preeminent in my life, it’s those occasions when my thoughts ‘glom’ onto a created thing like sewing pins sticking to a magnet.

Here’s a synopsis of events 2 Samuel 19:

  • King David’s rebel son Absalom has been killed by David’s men and the coup squelched.  David acts ‘un-kingly’ as he indulges his natural grief in an unceasing, over-the-top inconsolable fashion.
  • He does not publicly thank the valiant ones who risked their lives and their homes to flee Jerusalem and side with him.  He does not acknowledge the cost to his loyal citizens who probably fought against some family members supportive of Absalom.
  • He obsessively wails to such an extent, to such a danger point that General Joab, his chief of the army, has to shock him into acting like a king.  Joab point blank tells him that if he doesn’t stop crying about his son and get back to doing his job as God’s anointed king, then he’ll find himself at the end of EVERYONE’s spear.

That’s the narrative in a nutshell. In what way did I see this biblical example as a gentle rebuke from God to abandon my anxious obsession?  Reading this account revealed the evil of disobedience. God had appointed David to shepherd God’s people for Him. David courted danger, almost to the point of no return, when he inverted God’s priorities. This observation is what convicted me.

The king harmed good people when he made his son more valuable, more meaningful than the welfare of those in his care.

I do the same when I place a created thing over the Creator.

Our pastor’s sermons on the preeminence of Christ have bathed my thoughts over the past several weeks (when I wasn’t anxiously obsessing!) The Greek word for preeminence ‘proteuo’ is described in two ways:

  • Ranking first
  • Exercising the most influence

So even as I have struggled with handing over a particular problem to God and then taking it back, I’ve been asking myself:

Maria, who or what is preeminent in your life?”

It’s a piercing question that demands honesty.  I have felt bound up in the time I’ve invested in trying to ‘solve this suffering’ of a loved one.  And God keeps throwing me reminders to ‘JUST STOP IT!’ (you’ll smile if you’re old enough to remember TV actor Bob Newhart as the UN-empathetic counselor). Our good Father gave me the very same counsel but from a different source.

Margin

Dr. Richard Swenson, an author whose book about regaining margin I’m re-reading, penned this arresting statement

The purpose of life is not to solve suffering but righteousness.

Bolstering that truth has been the realization that EVERY single human being on earth in every epoch has lived or is experiencing now a life of suffering.  The purpose of life cannot then be to ‘solve’ suffering.  I have known this but now I KNOW it more deeply. My purpose, your purpose if you belong to Christ, is to be content in Him, to enjoy Him, to seek to please Him, to sing new songs of who He is and what He has done.  In the midst of suffering.

I think we can fall into the trap of making an idol out of a problem-free life, a life without suffering.  At least I am beginning to see that about me. And if that is my or your goal, then we are setting ourselves up for misery.

May God help us all to be joyful obedient servants of our loving God.

 

 

 

What if I don’t FEEL any joy?

4 Comments

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Romans 12:12

We’re a feeling culture. We don’t ‘think’ anymore.

I often hear people say things like:

  • I feel that we must accept everyone’s religion as being equally valid.
  • I don’t feel like we’re going to make it to the end of the month!
  • I feel that if she made an effort to understand me, then our marriage would have a chance!

The above statements are not feelings; they are beliefs or thoughts.  Since it appears that we don’t even know how to frame our thoughts accurately, then should it surprise us when we struggle to understand feelings?

I came upon Paul’s exhortation above in a collection of R.C. Sproul’s sermons on Romans.  This is what he wrote regarding Romans 12:12 (page 424 of St Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, published by Crossway):

  • ….faith looks forward and finds its anchor for the soul in the future promises of God.  That is the foundation for our joy.

That reassured me that Biblical joy is based on facts.  Promises made by our God and recorded by the prophets for us.

You probably know from past essays that my natural bent is NOT first toward feeling something.  I have to think, ponder and work out thoughts and notions in my mind before I feel.  The feelings do follow I have observed.

Most of the time I don’t FEEL joy in God.  But that doesn’t bother me.  When I substitute the words:  “I’m glad that” for ‘I feel joy in’, then I understand the command to rejoice.  I THINK joy.

I am VERY glad that God’s promises are true and reliable.

I know that I am entitled to them as a follower of Christ.  For Christians are those folks for whom Jesus lived, died and was raised from the dead.  They know what Jesus and the Godhead did for them, OUT OF LOVE, and are VERY glad.  And that being VERY glad begins a deep, lasting and ongoing transformation into the likeness of this very God who has demonstrated His love for us.

So, what makes me glad each day?  That I have Jesus, that I am wedded to Him as part of the Bride.  And as Paul wrote, ….. all the promises of God are “Yes” in Christ. 2 Cor 1:20a

My response?  a grateful glad and hearty And so through Him, our “Amen” is spoken to the glory of God. 2 Cor 1:20b

Vitamins and minerals against anxiety

Leave a comment

You will keep him in shalowm shalowm* whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in You.  Isaiah 26:3 (*Hebrew for perfect peace)

Years ago, in our 20s, Mike and I sold Amway products.  One item that we whole-heartedly promoted was their top-of-the-line vitamin and mineral supplement named Double X.  I’m not sure what the X stood for, but whatever it was, twice as much good stuff was packed into those green little shapes.  Double X was pricey, even back then. We grew accustomed to budgeting for vitamins.  Daily exogenous micronutrients still form part of the healthy way we cook and eat.

With school starting this month, I’ve engaged in the ‘good fight of faith’, pondering how to resist the temptation to worry.  For me, it’s always about ‘having enough time’ to give to those extra-curricular activities important to me like writing this blog, reading and creating my ‘English without Fear’ videos.

One of my go-to-verses to battle fear and worry is the one above from Isaiah.  Original Hebrew or Greek words always draw me in.  So, when I read that ‘perfect peace’ is really shalowm shalowm, I rejoiced!  You all know that shalowm is far more than peace and tranquility; it includes welfare, contentment, soundness, health, quiet and safety.

Who doesn’t desire all that?

So, what’s the catch?

Oh….just the habit of keeping our thoughts FIXED on God.  That’s all.

Right!

But just as the Spirit of God brought my Isaiah fighter verse to mind, so, too, he brought a devotional that same night. The author penned almost as an afterthought that for every thought we invest in regrets or excitement or discouragement concerning earthly, transitory details, we ought to commit 100 times as much of our thought life to ALL WE HAVE IN CHRIST!

I have to confess that I don’t even apportion 2 to 1 of my thoughts and emotions to what Jesus has given me!  The writer’s exhortation not only pulled me up short but has stayed with me all week long.

So how do we DO what he recommends?

One technique I’ve used in the past, occasionally, is to go through the alphabet, letter by letter, and just praise God out loud for all the words I can think of about Him.  I do this on hikes with Mike when we can go for long stretches of time without talking.

For example:

A:  Father, I’m so glad that you are always available, that you have adopted me into your forever family, that you are always the same, that you have altered my reality by giving me new life, that you adore me, that you arrange all the details of my life, that Jesus argues with the accuser that He has taken care of my sin problem.

I just point out as many things to God as I can think of beginning with that letter.  And then I move on to the next letter.  Sometimes halfway through the alphabet, I’ll add another deed or characteristic that I’ve already prayed about. No matter.

What other ways can you think of that we can think about God’s good eternal gifts to us?

Of course, I haven’t mentioned ‘the trust you’ part, but I see my praises for his deeds and attributes as ASSUMING a trust in him.

Father, may you give us your grace to rejoice and be glad in who you are and who we are because of you.  Thanks to Christ, Amen!

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: