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Running to the Lord in our Hopelessness

On May 31st, my husband and I had planned to join some friends from our church to celebrate the seventh birthday of a dear friend. But I woke up with extreme pain and swelling in my left knee and my husband ended up going without me. This was the first of a long list of changes in my plans that is still continuing. I now know a little more of what is causing the pain, but four months later I’m no closer to an answer concerning what to do about it.

Each path we have tried to go down has led to a dead end. First, knee replacement surgery wasn’t recommended because of the extensive nerve pain in my knee, which could potentially be made worse from any knee surgery. Cortisone injections did nothing to relieve the pain. And the latest disappointment, after two sessions of physical therapy the pain and swelling in my knee became so bad this weekend that my therapist is meeting to morning to talk with the therapy supervisor to make a decision about whether it’s even safe to continue the exercises she has been teaching me.

Today, my heart has been asking one question. When life with chronic illness is marked by one disappointment after another, when every recommended treatment option leads to another dead end, what are we to do? How do we hold onto our hope in the Lord?

Let’s look at the life of a man in the Bible who experienced overwhelming fear and hopelessness and see if there are any lessons we can learn. The story is found in 1 Kings 19:1-8.

“Now Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” He lay down and slept under a juniper tree; and behold, there was an angel touching him, and he said to him, “Arise, eat.” Then he looked and behold, there was at his head a bread cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank and lay down again. The angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you.” So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.”
‭‭1 Kings‬ ‭19:1-8‬ ‭NASB‬‬

So what did Elijah do in this passage? Other than feeling sorry for himself and asking the Lord to take his life, little worth mentioning. He ran away, but not from God. He was honest with the Lord about where he was emotionally, which was a place where he had lost all hope. And then he laid down and slept, only awakening when an angel touched him twice and provided food and water. Elijah was passive, all the work was done by the Lord. Elijah simply received from the Lord and was strengthened to continue the journey.

When chronic illness or any of the other problems we face in this life strip away our last bit of hope, all God asks of us is to come to Him. Remember, He made us with emotions, and therefore he knows best how to deal with them. If you are battling hopelessness today because of difficult circumstances that you can see no way out of, don’t pretend everything is okay. Run to the Lord and be honest with Him about where you are. Let Him meet the needs you have, and rest in His provision. He will strengthen you to face tomorrow.

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Never Alone: Three Benefits of Being Jesus’ Sheep

Today’s I Am Not Alone Scripture, John 10:27-30, has special meaning to me during this difficult season I’ve been walking through. In the midst of some of the biggest health challenges I’ve faced in several years, I’ve experienced the ability to hear the voice of God as clearly as I ever recall during my nearly fifty years as a believer in Christ. Yes, there have been times when God was silent. But overall, as I’ve spent time daily in God’s Word and seeking understanding of the path He is taking me down, His clear direction has given comfort that He is with me in all that I have been and still am walking through.f

Another important truth in these verses: No one is able to snatch us out of the Father’s hand! If we have repented of our sin, received Jesus as our Savior and Lord, we have been given eternal life and that’s not going to change.

Protection from the attack of wolves and other predators is one of the responsibilities of the shepherd, and our Good Shepherd will never fail to fulfill this responsibility for His sheep. We are safe and secure in Him. He will lead us by His voice, provide the Spiritual nourishment we need to keep growing through His Word, and protect us from the attacks of the enemy as we grow in our knowledge of Him.

What are you needing today from your Good Shepherd? First, make sure He truly is your Shepherd, that you are one of His sheep. And if you are secure in this truth, remember the benefits of being His sheep.

  • You are able to hear His voice. The main way He speaks to us is through His written Word, but sometimes He also uses other Christians, the still small voice of His Spirit within, and even circumstances to make His voice heard. Just be sure what you are hearing lines up with His written Word, because He never contradicts Himself. “Whoever is of God hears the words of God.” (John 8:47a)
  • He will lead you and you have the freedom to decide to be led. God doesn’t force us to follow Him. But if we have truly made Jesus both Savior and Lord, one of the fruits in our lives will be a desire to do what is pleasing in His eyes. “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” (Ephesians‬ ‭5:8-10‬)‬‬
  • He will protect us when the enemy comes against us. We have a part in this too, but by putting on the full armor of God (see Ephesians 6:10-18), we will be empowered to stand and keep on standing in the victory our Good Shepherd has already won on our behalf. “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians‬ ‭15:57‬)‬‬

Ten Essential Truths About The Goodness of God

Yesterday, I did a short “Thankful Thursday” post for God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness on Strengthening Ourselves in the Lord. It was based on 1 Samuel 30, where David and his men return to their home-base in Ziklag, only to find the city had been attacked by Amalekite raiders, burned to the ground, and all the inhabitants of the city, including the wives and children of David and his men, taken captive.

As if this wasn’t enough for David to deal with, the passage also tells us that his own men had turned against him and were talking of stoning him. To say David felt overwhelmed is an understatement. Yes, the passage says David (and those with him) “wept until they had no strength to weep.” But then David did something else. The final words of 1 Samuel 30:6 say, “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” After doing this, David had the courage and wisdom to turn this dire situation around.

This has been a difficult week, as I’ve dealt with the disappointment of no obvious improvement in knee pain well past the five days it usually takes to tell if a cortisone injection will be effective. But after reading this passage, I had to admit my bad days aren’t even worthy to compare with what David experienced in this chapter.

I also knew God had a clear message for me from this Old Testament historical narrative. I needed to spend some time strengthening and encouraging myself in the Lord. That was the “next step” God was calling me to take, before I was ready to face the uncertainties of the future and begin moving forward.

And the Lord went a step further and showed me a specific area where the enemy had been using difficult circumstances of the last nine months to chip away at my trust in one of the major truths of the Christian life, the goodness of God. Without a firm foundation built on the goodness of our God, difficult circumstances can result in a type of emotional paralysis that keeps us from moving forward.

I’ve spent some time yesterday afternoon and this morning studying what God’s word has to say about the goodness of our God. God is with us whether we have awareness of His presence or not. He is always loving, whether our circumstances are a clear reflection of that love or not. And God is good, in every situation, even when our emotions are making it hard for us to believe this.

The truths that God is with us and will never leave or forsake us, that He loves us with a steadfast and unfailing love, and that no matter what is going on in our lives God is still good are three foundational truths about the nature of God that we need to accept by faith to make it through the tough seasons of life.

Ten Essentials Truths About the Goodness of God

  1. The goodness of our God is with us always, whether we have awareness of it in our emotions or not.
  2. God both is good and does good, goodness marks His nature and His works. “You are good and do good…”(Psalm 119:68a)
  3. God’s goodness follows me daily through this life, and because He gave His Son for my sins – His ultimate act of goodness – I will spend eternity with Him. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:6)
  4. By faith I receive God’s goodness in the midst of daily trials. “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!” (Psalm 27:13)
  5. God’s goodness is tangible – we can “taste and see” it. “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8 ESV)
  6. Because of His goodness, He is a stronghold we can flee to in the day of trouble. “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.” (Nahum 1:7)
  7. Giving thanks to the Lord should be our response to His goodness. “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 107:1)
  8. God’s goodness is for all. “The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.” (Psalm 145:9)
  9. God especially promises to show goodness to all who wait on Him. “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”(Lamentations 3:25-26)
  10. While goodness is a fruit of the Spirit and a character attribute we are to extend toward others, no one is fully and truly good but God! “No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19)

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When God Is Silent

I spent some time reading and praying yesterday about today’s Teach Me Tuesday post. If there has been one key truth God has been teaching me recently it’s that life and encouragement are found in the lessons He is teaching, not in the ideas that spring out of my own understanding. And yesterday was a day of not sensing any new truths to share.

This month, I’ve been focusing on the truth that we are not alone. This morning, as I did some personal study on this subject, one truth seemed to stand out. God promises to NEVER leave or forsake us. But He does not promise we will FEEL His presence daily. He will go before us to lead the way, be with us in every circumstance we face, but there are times when our awareness of His presence will be missing. So what are we to do during such times?

As I prayed about this earlier today, three things came to mind.

1. When God is silent, remember He is still there. Keep seeking His face.

2. Go back to the last thing(s) He spoke to you, and be sure you are walking out the previous truths He has shown you.

3. Rest in the Lord as you wait for His next instructions.

One of the recurring messages I’ve heard over the past two and a half months is that faith doesn’t focus far into the future. Faith is walking in obedience to the steps God has already revealed. As Joni Eareckson Tada has said, “it’s simply taking God at His Word and taking the next step.” Sometimes, God is waiting for us to get moving so He can continue to lead us into the future He has for us.

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Receiving the Word with Eagerness – and Caution

“Now these Jews (from Berea) were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” Acts 17:11 ESV

As I work my way this week through Acts 17, I had an interesting study this morning in verses 10-15. This short section on Paul and Silas’ ministry in Berea included a helpful reminder of the attitude which pleases God whenever we hear a “new” teaching that is supposedly based on Scripture.

We live in a world where so much of what we hear on the radio, watch on Christian television, and hear or see on the internet raises questions in our minds. When that happens, we need to be like the Bereans, who “examined the Scriptures daily” to discern if what they were hearing was truth or error.

This isn’t talking about a casual reading but rather a curious and diligent search by looking at the Bible verse in it’s original context, maybe checking out some cross references and the meaning of some key words, done with sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit. And this wasn’t something the Bereans did occasionally. It was a daily practice.

Charles Spurgeon compared this to making “a strict, close, diligent, curious search, such as men make when they are seeking gold.” Psalm 119:72 compares God’s Word to gold and silver, and yet so often we approach it casually, based on how it makes us feel.

The following quote from Our Daily Bread, written by Dave Branon, especially caught my interest since I’ve faced a similar situation many times.

“‘A deadly jungle spider has migrated to the US and is killing people.’ This was the story sent to me and to others on my friend’s email list. The story sounded plausible—lots of scientific names and real-life situations. But when I checked it out on reliable websites, I found it was not true—it was an Internet hoax. Its truth could only be verified by consulting a trusted source.

“A group of first-century believers living in Macedonia understood the importance of confirming what they were hearing. The folks in Berea “received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so’ (Acts 17:11). They were listening to Paul, and wanted to make sure what he was saying lined up with the teachings of the Old Testament. Perhaps he was telling them that there was evidence in the Old Testament that the Messiah would suffer and die for sin. They needed to verify that with the source.”

Like the Bereans, when we hear teaching that raises questions in our minds, we need to verify what we’re hearing, in much the same way as I’ve learned to verify “news” I see online to make sure it’s accurate and not “fake news.” We need to search the Scriptures for ourselves, check out reliable Bible study resources to gain a better understanding of what was actually being said, and allow the Holy Spirit to give us discernment between truth and error.

Teaching with Questions

Linking up today with Five Minute Friday. Today’s writing prompt: QUESTION

Jesus was a question asker! As you read the gospels, it becomes obvious that was one of His favorite ways of interacting with the people around Him. Questions make us think, they force us to make decisions. And without these important steps, we will never grow.

One of my favorite passages where Jesus asks a question is found in John 6, one of the accounts of the feeding of five thousand. A large crowd had been gathered to hear Him teach, and Jesus didn’t want to send the people away hungry. Verse 6 says Jesus already knew what He was going to do, but this was a teaching moment, a time to impart some truth to His disciples, and He began with a question which the text tells us was a test. He addresses His question to Philip,”Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”

Philip’s response makes makes it clear that his eyes were on their limited resources. His answer was in essence, “If we use all our money to buy bread, it still wouldn’t be enough for each of them to have a bite.” I think it’s easy to see he failed the test!

Andrew was nearby and he responded to Jesus’ question with another question, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Still not the response Jesus was looking for.

At this point, Jesus moves forward with His plan, involving the disciples in the process. The large crowd not only leaves with satisfied stomachs but they’ve witnessed another miracle, a sign that Jesus truly is the Messiah they had been looking for. The disciples left with twelve baskets filled with the surplus, one for each of them to enjoy. And they also left will a clearer understanding of who Jesus truly was.

As I listened to our pastor’s sermon this past Sunday on John 6, and as I read the entire chapter earlier this week, I learned my own lesson. If Jesus used questions so often in His teaching, what better example is there to follow when I’m teaching? Whether in our small group at church where I’m on the teaching team or in the online posts for a Christian chronic illness support group I help lead, I want to be more alert to using this important teaching method that Jesus so clearly modeled for us.

Importunate Prayer

Do you ever go to a prayer meeting – or open our God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness Prayer Group page – and wonder why the requests seem so familiar? Why the same or similar requests keep coming up over and over again? In the case of our prayer group, one reason for this may be the fact that all of our members deal with chronic illnesses, which means new issues constantly need to be dealt with. Another, the fact that God uses our difficult circumstances to do a work in our lives that He counts as more important eternally than an immediate healing.

As I was praying about this characteristic of our times of prayer, I came across a concept I knew little about, that of importunate prayer.

In his book The Necessity of Prayer, E.M. Bounds defines importunate prayer and explains why it is important.

“He prays not at all, who does not press his plea. Cold prayers have no claim on heaven & no hearing in the courts above. Fire is the life of prayer, and heaven is reached by flaming importunity rising in an ascending scale.

“Importunate praying is the earnest, inward movement of the heart toward God. It is the throwing of the entire force of the spiritual man into the exercise of prayer. Forceless prayers have no power to overcome difficulties, no power to win marked results or to gain complete victories.”

Jesus spoke of the need for persistence in prayer in two parables that are recorded in the book of Luke. In Luke 11:5-8, immediately after teaching the disciples how to pray according to what we call the Lord’s Prayer, He shares a story about a person who goes to his friend for help feeding unexpected visitors.

“Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and from inside he answers and says, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

In Luke 18:2-8, He shares a second parable to encourage us to not lose heart in prayer. This time, the story involves an unrighteous judge who did not fear God or respect people, and a widow who is seeking legal protection, which he gives her, not because he cares about the widow but because of her persistence in asking.

“In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’ And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?'”

‭‭These parables don’t teach that God is reluctant to answer our prayers. He delights in answering the honest requests of our hearts. But at times, God’s timing is not the same as ours. At times, God wants to deal with an unconfessed sin in our lives before answering or to build some positive character quality in our lives that will only grow under pressure.

Importunate prayer is first and foremost prayer that keeps asking, that is persistent in asking a God who sometimes delays the answer, not because He is indifferent to our needs but rather because He wants us to learn how to walk in faith and consistency.

Importunate prayer is the opposite of lazy or lukewarm prayer. It is prayer that comes from a trusting and godly heart, a pure conscience, and a determination to keep praying until we have an assurance that God has heard and will answer. It is prayer that is built on the foundation of the goodness and faithfulness of our God, and persists in praying until an answer is received.