Archives

Gratefulness and Peace Always

In last week’s Thankful Thursday post we looked at how the joy of the Lord and thankfulness are related (https://wordpress.com/post/hopeandlight.blog/4208).

This week we’ll be studying a verse from Colossians that links gratitude and peace.

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” Colossians‬ ‭3:15‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Or as the same verse says in the Amplified Bible:

“Let the peace of Christ [the inner calm of one who walks daily with Him] be the controlling factor in your hearts [deciding and settling questions thatul arise]. To this peace indeed you were called as members in one body [of believers]. And be thankful [to God always].”

‭I especially like the Amplified version of this verse, because it defines “the peace of Christ” as an inner calm that comes to those who daily walk with the Lord. This is the kind of peace God has made available for us as followers of Jesus Christ, and this walk is the key to being thankful to God at all times.

God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness, a group I work with, it currently doing a study written by Jodie Barrett and Donna Fender of Faithfully Following Ministries and entitled Verse By Verse, Growing Closer to God. One of this week’s lessons was on the importance of having an on-fire relationship with God.

A relationship with the Lord that is not vibrant and alive does not provide the peace or thankfulness we desire. Just walking through the motions of picking up our Bible once a day, reading a few verses, and then putting it down and not applying what we read to our daily lives is of little benefit. But an on-fire walk with our Savior, where we abide with Him and stay attached to the Vine for nourishment and strength to do what He asks of us is the type of relationship that brings peace and gratitude.

The peace of Christ is not only the peace we experience when there is no conflict. It includes a sense of wholeness and well-being, completeness and totality, even in the midst of overwhelming trials. Ultimately, the peace of Christ in its essence is the very presence of Christ. It’s the peace that accepts the truth no circumstance is too big that it is beyond God’s control.

And with this inner peace that is born in relationship with God and grows as we walk close to Him through whatever circumstances that touch our lives, comes an attitude of gratitude. I saw this in my own life last November, when in the midst of a situation I had dreaded for years, the loss of our medically fragile son David, God gave supernatural peace.

That peace produced a gratefulness for the Lord in my heart, even in the midst of the deep sorrow and grieving in releasing our son to God’s plan. While the peace was a gift of God’s grace as I spent time in His presence daily, the gratitude began with a choice to be thankful in the midst of the pain. But with that choice, gratitude became a natural fruit of the inner peace.

Do you want to experience both peace and an attitude of gratitude that isn’t shaken regardless of the circumstances that touch your life? If so, the key is to make sure nothing blocks your view of God. Sin does that in our lives, so if the Holy Spirit convicts you of a sin that needs to be confessed and dealt with, don’t ignore it.

As Paul David Tripp said, “Our sin is what separates us from God, but it’s our self righteousness that keeps us from running to Him for the grace He willingly gives to all who come.” Humble yourself and confess any sin God shows you, receive His forgiveness and grace. And you will be set free to walk in God’s peace and with a grateful heart.

Joy From Abiding in Christ

In recent weeks, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I have been doing a study on the book of Acts. This week, I’ve been looking at Acts 8. The previous chapter focused on the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and Acts 8 begins with persecution spreading and many believers, both men and women, being dragged off to prison. The result was the dispersion of many of the believers from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria – which was God’s plan to begin with (see Acts 1:8). God used this difficult situation to begin spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the non-Jewish world.

As I was reading Acts 8:4-8, which talks about Philip going to the city of Samaria and proclaiming Christ to the crowds gathered to hear his message, verse 8 stood out to me. “So there was much joy in that city.

Facing severe persecution, being forced to leave my home and flee to a city of strangers that I really had nothing in common with doesn’t sound to me like the ideal soil for producing joy. But when God is in control, even the most difficult circumstances can be fertile soil for the growth of biblical joy.

The Greek word translated joy in Acts 8:8 is chara, which refers to “an inner gladness; a deep seated pleasure. It is a depth of assurance and confidence that ignites a cheerful heart. It is a cheerful heart that leads to cheerful behavior. Joy is not an experience that comes from favorable circumstances but is God’s gift to believers. Joy is a part of God’s very essence and as discussed below His Spirit manifests this supernatural joy in His children. Joy is the deep-down sense of well-being that abides in the heart of the person who knows all is well between himself and the Lord.” (from http://www.preceptaustin.org, Greek Word Studies)

Alfred Plummer, pastor and professor at Columbia Theological Seminary during the late 1800’s, wrote that joy is “the result of conscious union with God and good men, of conscious possession of eternal life…and which raises us above pain and sorrow and remorse.

Donald Campbell, former President of Dallas Theological Seminary, has defined joy as “a deep and abiding inner rejoicing which was promised to those who abide in Christ. It does not depend on circumstances because it rests in God’s sovereign control of all things.”

Jesus taught that abiding in Him is the secret to being filled with joy. Pastor John Piper explains what it means to abide in Jesus. He said, “active abiding is the act of receiving and trusting all that God is for us in Christ… It is trusting in Jesus, remaining in fellowship with Jesus, connecting to Jesus so that all that God is for us in him is flowing like a life-giving sap into our lives.”

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing…These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” John‬ ‭15:5, 11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Even in the midst of suffering and weariness, abiding in Jesus is a key to walking in joy. And as Swiss theological Karl Barth has said, “Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”

Giving Thanks for Fleas?

It’s easy to rejoice and give thanks when we pray and God answers in the way we hoped He would. It’s also pretty easy to thank Him when we can look around and see many blessings in our lives.

But when our situation seems unpleasant and we’re struggling through tragedy or just plain hard times, it can be difficult to hold onto the truth that God is still in control and He is always loving and kind toward His children. Giving thanks in such circumstances is a step of faith in the character of our God.

In her book The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom, imprisoned with her family for hiding and helping many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II, shares an incident that God used to teach her this important principle of giving thanks in all circumstances.

Corrie and her sister Betsie, had recently been transferred to the worst German prison camp they had seen yet, the all female camp Ravensbruck. As with all newcomers, they were placed in the quarantine compound, located next to the punishment barracks. From there, all day long and often into the night, Corrie says they heard “the sounds of hell itself” as the prisoners were cruelly beaten.

It grew harder and harder. Even within these four walls there was too much misery, too much seemingly pointless suffering. Every day something else failed to make sense, something else grew too heavy.”

A short time later, they were moved to Barracks 28 and Corrie was horrified by their reeking, straw-bed platforms. But she soon learned things were even worse than she had realized.

“‘Fleas!’ I cried. ’Betsie, the place is swarming with them!

“‘Here! And here another one!’ I wailed. ‘Betsie, how can we live in such a place?

Corrie wrote, “I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room…”

And Betsie said, “‘Show us. Show us how.’ It was said so matter of factly it took Corrie a second to realize she was praying.

“‘Corrie!’ she said excitedly. ’He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!

Corrie continues, “I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. ‘It was in First Thessalonians,’ I said.”

In verses 16 – 18, Betsie’s question concerning how they were to survive in this place was answered. “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.’

“‘That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. “Give thanks in all circumstances!” That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!’ I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.

They thanked God for the fact they were together. They thanked God they had a Bible. They even thanked God for the crowded conditions, making it so that more women would be able to hear God’s Word. And Corrie went along with what Betsie was saying… until Betsie thanked God for the fleas.

The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’“

“Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”

“And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.

Later they learned that Betsie was not wrong. Yes, the fleas were a nuisance, but they were also a blessing. Because of the fleas, the supervisors avoided Barracks 28, making a way for the women to have Bible studies in the barracks without harrassment. Dozens of desperate women were free to hear the comforting, hope-giving Word of God.

Barracks 28 at Ravensbruck became known as “the crazy place where women have hope… Hope in the midst of darkness. Hope in the midst of persecution. Hope in the midst of unimaginable evils.”

Many women in Barracks 28 came to know the hope that only can be found in a relationship with Jesus. They learned that (as Corrie put it), “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”

I doubt any of us are facing a situation as devastating as this one Corrie and Betsie ten Boom faced. Are you willing to trust that God has a good purpose in your difficult circumstances, and thank God in the midst of them? We may not know why God has allowed the difficulties we face, but we can know that God is good and He will use the painful situations we walk through for our good and His glory.

Our Anchor in the Storm

Many years ago, our daughter Amy had the opportunity to go on a cruise to the Yucatan Peninsula. What promised to be an exciting vacation turned out much differently than expected when the cruise ship was threatened by a hurricane, lost power to one of it’s engines, and had to skip most of the scheduled ports of call to make it to home port ahead of the hurricane.

As the hurricane resulted in a disappointing vacation for our daughter, the storms of life can bring disappointments and hardships into our lives. When that happens, we need an anchor to hold our souls steady until the winds and rain are behind us. God’s Word teaches us that hope is the anchor God has provided to keep us secure during the storms of life.

I recently completed a Bible study at our church on the unshakable hope God provides to hold us steady during the spiritual storms that touch our lives. This isn’t the world’s kind of hope, which is little more than wishful thinking. Biblical hope has as its foundation faith in God. It is the belief that with God anything is possible. Tony Evans has defined this kind of hope as “confident expectation that God is going to do what He says He will do.” Biblical hope doesn’t deny the difficult circumstances we are walking through, but it views them through the lens of God’s character and His Word.

Hebrews 6:18 encourages us to seize or take hold of the hope God has set before us, to grab it and not let it go. Hebrews 6:19 says, “We have this hope as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.

Without an anchor to keep us steady, when the storms of life hit, our souls – our minds, will, and emotions – will be tossed to and fro. Hope in God and in His promises is the anchor that keeps us steady regardless of what circumstances we might be facing.

Our family been through several intense storms in the past couple years. And in these difficulties our family has walked through, I’ve learned a little about holding onto hope as an anchor to steady my soul. Two things in particular have stood out to me.

First, I’ve learned that the character of our God is a sure foundation I can sink my anchor into. In our recent study, we focused on four characteristics of God which enable us to know He will do what He has promised.

  •  God is unchanging.Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James‬ ‭1:17‬ ‭‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬
  • God is faithful.Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering; for He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23
  • God is strong. He has the power to do what He has promised. “No unbelief made him (Abraham) waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” Romans‬ ‭4:20-21‬ ‭‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬
  • God cannot lie.So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.” Hebrews‬ ‭6:17-18‬‬‬‬‬‬

I’ve also learned that for any situation God asks us to walk through, there is a promise in God’s Word we can stand on.

  • Are you feeling overwhelmed with physical or emotional weakness? Hebrews 4:15 tells us Jesus understands what you’re going through. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews‬ ‭4:15-16‬
  • Are you feeling everyone is condemning you, that no one even cares enough to pray for you? That’s not true. “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” Romans‬ ‭8:34‬ ‭
  • Maybe you are in a trial that has lasted so long you’ve given up hope of anything ever being different. Grab hold of the promise in Psalm 30:5 and don’t let it go. “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

No matter what storm you are facing, God has an answer in His Word. Ask Him to lead you to the truth you need to hold onto about His character. Ask for a promise in His Word you can lean on. Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. Your hope in the character and promises of God is the sure anchor that will steady your soul until you are through the storm.

Amazing Peace

Yesterday was the six-month anniversary of the day our precious son David graduated to his heavenly home.

The one thing that I dreaded above all others has been a lesson to me that with God peace is possible in even the most heartbreaking situations. If I had to choose one thing to characterize this difficult season of loss, it would definitely be God’s peace. Yes, I’ve grieved the loss of our son, and having him no longer in our lives has resulted in major changes for our family. But beyond all of that, this has been a season of experiencing God’s peace.

Today, Father, I want to thank You for the supernatural and unexplainable peace You have given me during this time I’ve dreaded from the time David was diagnosed with massive infantile spasms at three months of age and we entered the world of being parents of a special-needs child with a limited life expectancy.

I recall all the hospital visits when it didn’t appear David would survive to see another day. When we battled one life-threatening health issue after another, and You brought us through by Your grace. For over thirty-four years, David’s well-being was our primary focus. You provided for his needs miraculously time after time.

We saw David enter his teenage years, which the doctors most acquainted with his extensive medical needs didn’t expect. Then he was approaching age twenty-one and we faced a legal battle so big we couldn’t see a way out, but You made a way. He lived through his twenties and into his thirties, and You never once failed to meet his needs. I’m amazed as I look back on Your goodness in our lives over the past thirty-four plus years.

Yes, Father, we still miss our special son. But this has been a huge lesson in the truth that no matter what You ask us to walk through, Your grace is sufficient. Thank You, Father, that even now I can with confidence confess the promise You gave me when David was admitted to the hospital for testing because his pediatrician was concerned that something was wrong. Yes, the pediatrician was right, but Your Word has sustained me from that day until now.

“Indeed, none of those who wait for You will be ashamed…” Psalm 25:3a NASB

The God of the Impossible

Tomorrow will be the five-month anniversary of the day the Lord took our son David to his heavenly home. When David was born, my husband and I entered an unknown world of being the parents of a child with extensive medical needs that our lives centered around meeting his needs.

During David’s short lifetime, we’ve faced a long list of diagnoses with diseases we had never even heard of before, fragile bones which resulted is numerous fractures, evaluations by doctors that put David’s life-expectancy at twelve years or less, dozens of hospitalizations which could have ended in death, and even a legal battle to not lose all his essential nursing care when he turned twenty-one. In the midst of all of this, the Lord graciously gave us thirty-four years with David.

On this Thankful Thursday, I’m grateful for the work God has done in my husband’s and my life over the last thirty-four plus years to bring us to the place where the attributes of God’s character have moved from being words in a book to being truths we now know by personal experience. Trials are rich soil in which our knowledge of God has the opportunity to grow.

  • I now know our God is a loving and compassionate Father, because I’ve seen His love and compassion in innumerable situations in our lives.
  • I now know God is faithful to keep His promises, because in one circumstance after another God has given us promises and then done exactly what He promised.
  • I now know God has the power to do what looks impossible in my eyes, because I’ve seen Him turn around several situations that looked impossible.

The one situation that stands out to me above all others was what God did when David aged out of the children’s services program that provided him with sixteen hours a day of private duty nursing care. When David’s twenty-first birthday was approaching, the state offered us only two options. We could choose to keep David at home and meet his extensive medical needs without any nursing care, or we could institutionalize him in a state school. We went to visit the nearest state school for the disabled, and they told us they really hoped we would not enroll him there, because they were not able to meet his extensive medical needs. We’ve never faced a situation that looked more impossible!

God gave us a promise: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew‬ ‭19:26‬ ‭ESV)‬‬ As I was praying, the Lord brought to mind the name of a legal assistance program, Advocacy, Inc. (now known as Disability Rights Texas). I made a call to the local legal office, but this was such a major case that we ended up being represented at the Federal District Court by the top legal team for disability rights in the state of Texas, at no cost to us.

Through a legal settlement, God made a way for us to continue to meet David’s needs in our home, with no reduction in the level of services he received as a child, until the day the Lord took him home. And He provided the added benefit of setting a legal precedent through our case that has helped numerous other families who have faced the same situation when their son or daughter turned twenty-one.

Now that our son is safely in God’s presence, no longer suffering but whole for the first time, our family is walking in a season of transition. The past is behind us, the future uncertain. In this situation, a quote I heard many years ago has come to mind. While I don’t have a clear picture of what lies ahead, I do know the One who does. As Corrie ten Boom said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

Today, I want to encourage you to look at your current circumstances through the lens of God’s attributes. How has He shown Himself to you through the struggles you’ve walked through? What characteristics of God have moved from simply being something you’ve read about in the Word of God to something you now know by personal experience? Let’s encourage one another today by sharing how your battles with chronic illnesses and whatever other difficulties have been a part of your life have helped you grow in your knowledge of God.

The Antidote to Poisonous Words

“Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.” ‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭18:21‬ ‭MSG‬

What were the first words out of your mouth when you woke up this morning? Whether they were spoken aloud to someone or simply words that went through your mind, your words are important. They have the power to give life or destroy, to encourage and strengthen or to demoralize and cause distress.

Last Thursday, we completed the study of Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy, by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth. As I was praying this week about where to go from here,  one word came to mind. Negativity. Conquering this habit in both our thinking and our speaking is an essential for a lifestyle of gratitude. And why is this so important? Negativity is like adding poison to your mind and thinking you’ll be okay. It will lead to spiritual decay and even death.

We live in a world where negativity is common place. Add the challenges of life with chronic illness, and our lives can easily be the perfect soil for seeds of negativity to take root and start growing. Did you wake up with pain this morning? After a poor night’s sleep? With anxious thoughts about the future? Our initial thoughts and words each day have the power to set a pattern for how our day will go. If we allow circumstances and emotions to determine how we begin our day, it starts us off in a direction that will rob us of thankfulness and vitality.

The epistle of James, believed to be written by a half-brother of Jesus, has much oneto teach us about the importance of taming our tongues – and the total impossibility of doing this in our human strength.

“For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” James‬ ‭3:2-6*‬ 

The tongue is like a rudder that determines the direction of our lives. An out-of-control tongue will lead to a life of unrighteousness and constantly falling short of the will of God. Yet in the next two verses James says, “For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” So what can we do to turn this area of our lives around?

Jesus said, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke‬ ‭6:45‬

So changing the words that come out of our mouths begins with a changed heart. That is a work of the Holy Spirit, but also a process we have a part in.

  1. Begin with prayer. Dedicate your heart, mind and tongue to the Lord daily. Pray specifically for a changed heart that reflects the heart of God. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me… Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” Psalms‬ ‭51:10, 12‬ ‭‭
  2. Make a commitment to be a doer of the Word. Agree that you will “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians‬ ‭4:29‬ ‭ The Greek translated corrupt or corrupting (depending on what translation you’re using) means “to produce rot or decay.” If the words in your mind will have this effect in your life, make a commitment to not give them utterance.
  3. Rely on God’s strength to follow through on this commitment. Remember, “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Philippians‬ ‭2:13‬ ‭‬‬ Stand on God’s promise in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
  4. Begin each new day by dedicating your heart and tongue to the Lord. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14
  5. ‭‭Put your heart in tune with God’s Spirit by reading your Bible daily. When God speaks to you through a particular verse, slow down and pay attention. Memorize and meditate on the verse. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17
  6. ‭‭Accept responsibility for every word you speak. Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew‬ ‭12:36-37‬
  7. Give thanks to the Lord for the good work He is doing in you in this area. Remember, we are still in process, but God will finish what He has started in our lives . “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians‬ ‭1:6‬ ‭‬‬

‭‭Let’s keep moving forward in this journey to a consistent attitude of gratitude. Don’t allow yourself to be derailed by poisonous words that lead to spiritual rot and decay. Ask God to do the needed work in you to tame your tongue, to rid it of words that are negative and don’t line up with His ways and His Word. God wants to change our hearts in this area. Let Him do the needed work to make us willing and able to bring this area of our lives under His Lordship.

*All verses in ESV unless otherwise noted

img_8158