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Hope in the Darkness: Dealing with Discouragement

Part of my scheduled Bible reading for today was Psalm 42, which begins with a superscription identifying it as a Maskil of the sons of Korah. What is a maskil?

Easton’s Bible Dictionary describes a maskil as a song enforcing some lesson of wisdom or piety, a song intended to give instruction. So as I read this psalm, the first question I asked myself was what is the intended instruction? I think the answer to that is found in the following verses.

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I believe the lesson God is seeking to teach us through this psalm is how to deal with circumstances that cause us to feel “cast down,” to experience discouragement or even despair. When we walk through problems that seem to stretch on and on, one of the biggest struggles we face is holding onto hope. In this psalm, the message is clear. God is our source of hope, so to experience hope we must shift our focus off our circumstances and on to the Lord.

Corrie ten Boom said, “If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. If you look at God you’ll be at rest.”

When we walk through on-going trials, the key to victory is fixing our eyes on the One who reigns over everything that touches our lives. God alone can bring peace and rest in the midst of circumstances that bring tears to our eyes and sorrow to our hearts.

Or as Hebrews 12:1-2 says, to find renewed strength to continue the race God has set before us, let’s fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Our Savior was strengthened as He turned His focus beyond the Cross He was facing to the joy to come after, when His death and resurrection would provide the way for us to be forgiven and restored to relationship with the Father.

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God’s Purposes Will Be Accomplished!

I came across an interesting story today as I was preparing my lesson for this week’s Sunday school class, one that was such a good example of how God uses situations we see as negative to accomplish His purposes in our lives.

Chris, a rambunctious, athletic nine-year old was diagnosed with mononucleosis. His doctor ordered him to stay indoors for the entire summer, which was like a prison sentence for the young boy who was looking forward to Little League baseball, fishing trips, and bike rides.

Chris’s dad was a man of faith, and he resolved to find something good in the quarantine. He personally enjoyed playing a guitar, so he got one for Chris. Every morning, before he left for work, he taught young Chris a new chord or technique and told him to practice it all day. They soon learned that Chris had a knack for playing the guitar. By the end of the summer, Chris was playing Willie Nelson tunes and beginning to write some songs of his own. Within a few years he was leading worship in churches.

Today, he is regarded as the “most sung songwriter in the world.” I’m sure you’re familiar with some of his original songs – like “How Great is Our God” and “Good Good Father.” And God’s purpose in Chris Tomlin’s life may never have been fulfilled if God had not allowed him to be diagnosed with mononucleosis at age nine.

Understanding Wisdom and Insight

As I was doing some study on wisdom this morning, trying to understand the difference between wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and insight as they are used in the Bible, I came across an article that used the well known verses of James 1:2-5 in the J.B. Philips paraphrase to explain this. The title of this section of Scripture: “The Christian can even welcome trouble.”

“When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence.

“And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God – who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty – and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him.”

Though I knew these verses were together in Scripture, I’ve always separated James 1:2-4 from verses 5-8 in my mind. These words stood out to me in our current situation because it was so clearly tied together in this paraphrase. If “in the process” of all kinds of trials, you need wisdom concerning how to meet any particular problem, don’t lean on your own understanding. Ask God for the necessary wisdom.

This immediately prompted me to pray for wisdom, not just in general, but in a specific area that has come up as we seek to move forward into what God as for our future. And as soon as I finished that prayer, another area came to mind for prayer.

Wisdom from God is available for us in the numerous daily decisions we face. Do you tend to handle the small daily decisions in your own understanding? I know often I do. God wants us to go to Him for wisdom in the small and not just the major decisions that need to be made. As my husband and I walk through this painful season after the loss of our son, life is full of changes. God cares about the decisions we make in even the smallest hour-to-hour situations that arise. And that’s a new insight – sight into something giving new understanding – for me this morning into the true biblical meaning of wisdom.

Walking By Faith into an Unknown Future

This Christmas, our family is preparing to enter a new phase of life. As a new year approaches, we are adjusting to no longer being caregivers for our special needs son David, who is spending this Christmas whole and in the presence of Jesus, and looking ahead to a much different year.

To prepare my heart for what lies ahead in 2019, I decided to end 2018 by doing a devotional study called Life Journey, aimed at those who are facing major changes in life, written by two of my favorite writers, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, authors of the Boundaries series of books.

Today’s devotion focused on the life of Joseph. If you aren’t familiar with the story of Joseph, Genesis 37 tells of his jealous brothers selling him in slavery, and the story picks up in Genesis 39, which begins with these words: “Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there.” (‭Genesis‬ ‭39:1‬) From there things went downhill, as a series of difficult circumstances begin to change Joseph into the man God was calling him to be, second in charge over the land of Egypt and a key character in the preserving of God’s chosen people through a worldwide famine.

The following quote stood out to me from this devotional reading.

“Joseph’s fruitfulness, or success, came from putting his faith into action. He trusted God to do the divine part, then invested himself fully to do his human part.

Joseph didn’t try to manipulate the pieces of his life that were out of his control. He entrusted those to God. Note what Joseph didn’t do: try to escape slavery or prison; despair and forfeit his identity and integrity; resent and hate the ungrateful cupbearer; or develop a victim mentality. Knowing what circumstances were out of his control, Joseph handed them over to God and focused on his responsibilities.

Joseph embraced the tasks he could do: He waited patiently on God for his vindication and reward (see Psalm 37:6–7); worked hard for his master, Potiphar; resisted Potiphar’s wife; managed the prison for the warden; interpreted dreams for his fellow prisoners; respected God’s warning of famine; stockpiled food and grain for the lean years; married and raised two sons.

Joseph couldn’t possibly have foreseen how God would orchestrate the pieces of a worldwide famine to reunite him with his family. He simply did what was in front of him at that moment and trusted God with the big picture of his life. And God made him fruitful (see Genesis 41:52).”

Good advice for how to walk into an unknown future!

God’s Unfailing Love

For many years, Bible reading and study has been a major priority in my daily life. The primary way God speaks to us is through His written Word, and in the weakness of my flesh I need to hear from God daily to know how to walk victoriously through the many challenges of this life.

This past week was not an exception to my habit of beginning my days with time in God’s Word. But it was an exceptional week of hearing from God. It was a week where God’s message to me was coming through loud and clear. It was a week of hearing over and over again: “Trust in My unfailing love.

Unfailing love is how the New International Version of the Bible translates the Hebrew word checed. Other versions translate it steadfast love, lovingkindness, mercies, faithfulness, kindness, mercy, and love. Why so many different translations for one Hebrew word? Simply because there is no single English word that fully expresses the meaning of checed.

Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words says there are three basic meanings of the word, which always interact: strength, steadfastness, and love. This word is used 240 times in the Old Testament, most often in the Psalms. Vine’s says, “The term is one of the most important in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics.”

This single Hebrew word also includes the concepts of generosity and favor, of loyalty and mercy, of grace and faithfulness, of goodness and devotion, of protection and blessing. When used to describe our God, it applies primarily to God’s particular love relationship with those who are His chosen, those who have entered into a covenant relationship with Him. That includes you, if you have placed your faith in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins on the cross.

As I did my regularly scheduled Bible reading last week, each day it included this concept. God was obviously trying to show me something important about His character. Then the day after this began, we learned that we need around $40,000 in repairs on our home, due to damage from Hurricanes Ike and Harvey that was not covered by our insurance. I was feeling overwhelmed.

The next morning, one verse about God’s unfailing love especially stood out to me. It was Isaiah 54:10.

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”

‭‭As I read these words, I realized God had given me a promise to hold onto. What we are facing feels huge, but it isn’t bigger than our God. No matter what lies ahead, we can walk through it in confidence that His unfailing love for us will not be shaken and that His peace won’t be removed.

This week, I’m especially grateful for the special words God brings to life from His written word, when a verse or concept in the logos, the written Word, becomes a rhema word that we personally hear and receive as we spend time in His presence. For that to happen requires a commitment to open your Bible (or a Bible app) every day with expectancy that God will speak to you.

Is there a verse of Scripture or a concept taught in the Bible that God has used to encourage you recently? Give thanks to the Lord for being a God who speaks to His people. If God has spoken a special verse or passage to your heart that has encouraged you, don’t keep the good news to yourself. Share it with someone else. It may be just what they are needing to get through a difficult day.

Thanking God in the Midst of Uncertainty

Last Friday, I had an unusually healthy day. I woke up feeling well rested and with very little pain. After spending some time reading my Bible, my husband and I left for what I expected to be a routine doctor’s appointment.

At my last appointment a month earlier, my doctor had stopped both of my high blood pressure meds, after losing a few pounds had put my blood pressure in the ideal range. Today’s appointment was to see how I was doing after a month off these meds and to go over the results of a full body bone scan she had ordered when recent blood work had shown some abnormalities which she thought were related to my bone health. I received a great report in both of these areas. My blood pressure was still in the ideal range and the bone scan ruled out the bone problems she was most concerned about.

After she went over the positive results, my doctor asked and I answered a long list of questions concerning my health. Yes, I had been purposely trying to lose weight. No, I wasn’t having any digestion problems. No, I wasn’t having a problem with bloating or abdominal pain. No unusual weakness or fatigue.

In essence, my doctor was trying to rule out all the things that could have caused the abnormality in my blood work, which she now told me was even worse with the last lab results. She ordered new blood work and talked about some possibilities of what might be going on. Basically, she had ruled out just about everything that would explain the worsening results except for major problems with my liver or pancreas, mentioning cancer as one of the very real possibilities.

I came home that day suddenly facing a future filled with unknowns. Now that I have the results of last Friday’s blood work, which didn’t show any improvement, I know the next steps, a CT-scan of my liver and pancreas and a bone density test, both scheduled for next Friday. I’m taking the steps medically that seem wise at this point. But I’m placing even greater attention on taking what I’m facing to God’s throne of grace, asking for His mercy and grace in my time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

This past week, I’ve been doing lots of praying, asking God to help me see this situation from His perspective. And God reminded me that this situation was out of my control – but it wasn’t beyond His control. Nothing could touch my life without His allowing it, and anything He allows is for my good and His glory. I heard, “Don’t be afraid. Trust Me.”

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Last week, my blog post was on giving God thanks in everything we face, and I’ve been trying to take my own advice this week. How do you give thanks for a new health crisis? For a season filled with unknowns? It all comes down to truly knowing the God we serve. As Kay Arthur said, “God is in control, and therefore in EVERYTHING I can give thanks – not because of the situation but because of the One who directs and rules over it.

One of my favorite ways to give thanks in the midst of uncertainty is by writing Scripture-based prayers of gratefulness to God for who He is. The following passage was in my scheduled Bible reading for Wednesday, May 16 (the day I was writing the first part of this article, for a Thankful Thursday post with God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness), and it was a perfect Scripture to turn into a prayer of gratefulness.

Thank You, Lord, that You are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace. In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you will answer me. (Psalms 86:5-7 ESV)

This morning, as I began my regular quiet time by reading today’s devotional in Praying God’s Word Day By Day, by Beth Moore, the two-fold message I’ve been reflecting on all week was again repeated: This situation is under God’s control, and my focus right now needs to be on God’s character, especially on His steadfast love for me.  Beth’s Scripture prayer based on Psalms 116:15 was,

“Lord, sometimes my only answer will be that You are sovereign… One day I will have all the answers. But until then, I must trust that You have power and dominion over all things and that You know best. Help me to believe this even when I don’t feel it.”

And the other half of her message, based on Psalms 119:76-77, 81 was,

“May Your unfailing love be my comfort, according to Your promise to Your servant. Let Your compassion come to me that I may live, for Your law is my delight. My soul faints with longing for Your salvation, but I have put my hope in Your Word.”

Reading this led me to a shift in my Bible study plan for the day, as I did a topical study on God’s steadfast love. Here are a few of the verses that encouraged me this morning (all verses in ESV):

  • Turn, O Lord, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love.” 3‭‭Psalms‬ ‭6:4‬
  • But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.”‭‭ Psalms‬ ‭13:5‬ ‭
  • All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.”‭‭ Psalms‬ ‭25:10‬ ‭
  • Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love,” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭33:18‬ ‭
  • But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.” Psalms‬ ‭59:16-17‬ ‭‬‬

And as the last verse above encouraged me to do, I closed my quiet time by singing aloud of God’s steadfast love, using several songs including this one.

When We Face Circumstances Beyond Our Control

All of us know what it is to feel overwhelmed by things that are happening in our lives over which we have no control. I was there yesterday, from some relatively simple circumstances that caused me to feel out of control.

It was time to file the quarterly sales tax report for my husband’s video production and editing business, a task this month that simply involved paperwork since during this quarter all of our projects were for tax exempt organizations. No big thing. A simple matter of logging onto Quickbooks, running off the income report for the past three months, then filling in the report and sending it.

Simple, and not a problem to fit it in my already busy day. I thought. Not so. Thanks to Microsoft’s recent Windows 10 update on my computer that has a very annoying feature of running updates whenever it wants to do so.

I had logged into Quickbooks, loaded the needed report, and was about to print it so I could file the sales tax report when Windows locked up Quickbooks and started uploading updates. Over three hours later, I finished a project that should have taken fifteen or twenty minutes at the most.

Situations that cause us to feel out of control, whether a relatively minor one such as the one I faced yesterday or a major problem for which we have no solution without God’s help, can cause us to feel frustrated and overwhelmed and make unwise choices. Yesterday, I dealt with the frustration I was feeling by setting aside the diet boundaries I’ve been using to lose some weight and comforted myself with some cookies. Only a small detour from one of my goals for 2018, but not one I wanted to repeat.

So I took some time this morning to prepare my heart so I wouldn’t repeat the poor choices I made yesterday. I knew the proper response in such a situation was to turn to the One who is in control, to the Lord, and receive His help and strength. In the process, I came across the following list of Bible verses from one of my favorite bloggers, Rachel Wojo, which I found helpful to meditate on when we feel frustrated and overwhelmed with circumstances beyond our control. I invite you to join me in using these verses to help you respond with wisdom to the next overwhelming situation you face.

http://rachelwojo.com/10-bible-verses-for-when-you-feel-overwhelmed/