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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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Learning to Wait Well

I am in a time of waiting. I have been in a time of waiting since shortly after I heard a call from the Lord last spring to write a Bible study for our small Bible study group at church and made a commitment to do so. I was preparing to get started on this project, even got an outline down on paper, when suddenly my health took a deep dive from which I still haven’t recovered.

Suddenly, my life was filled with one appointment after another, trying to figure out what was going on and come up with a treatment plan for hopefully getting back to where I was before things changed overnight. Unfortunately, since that negative overnight change, there have been no positive overnight changes. Instead, there have been a series of small and gradual steps forward, each including extended times of waiting.

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Waiting isn’t optional. It’s a part of life, some times moreso than others. But choosing how we will wait is up to us. Will we wait with complaining and discontentment? Or will we wait with trust in the One Who rules in our lives, remembering He is not only in control of our circumstances but also in control of the timing? Waiting well means continuing to look forward to the future we’re moving toward while living faithfully where God has us right now.

How do we wait well? God’s Word gives us several answers to this question. Let’s look at a few from the book of Psalms (all verses in ESV)

  • To wait well is to wait prayerfully.Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” Psalms‬ ‭25:4-5‬ ‭
  • To wait well is to wait with strength and courage.Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭31:24‬ ‭
  • To wait well is to wait with joyful trust in the Lord and in His steadfast love.Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.” Psalms‬ ‭33:20-22‬ ‭
  • To wait well is to wait patiently. “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭40:1‬ ‭‬
  • To wait well is to wait with hope and expectancy.Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he has mercy upon us.” Psalms‬ ‭123:2‬ ‭
  • To wait well is to wait believing God will do what He has said in His Word. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭130:5‬ ‭

One of the best ways to wait well is to turn a time of waiting into a time of worship. Worship causes us to shift our focus off of our limiting circumstances and onto our limitless God. Let’s choose to wait well, and let’s back up that choice by turning our hearts toward the Lord in worship.

 

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.

Changing the Wilderness into Rivers of Living Water

In the life of a Christian, a “wilderness experience” often involves emotional or financial drought, even spiritual drought, but is not necessarily a sign that a believer is walking in sin. God may seem far away, but in truth He is present and actively at work. These tough seasons of the Christian life are times of testing from God, seasons that God allows to help us grow to a new level in our faith.

As I look back on the final months of 2018 for our family, I think they could easily be described as a “wilderness experience.” From late August through December, we experienced great loss, including cancelled homeowners insurance due to the deteriorated condition of our home, financial stress caused by debt, the loss of our thirty-four year old special-needs son David, and new health problems that are still not resolved. This has been a very difficult season, one that has left me feeling weak and weary.

Isaiah 43:19, a Scripture that speaks of God “doing a new thing” is routinely used as we begin a new year. Yet the familiar message includes a promise I am standing on as we begin 2019. As 2019 begins, I am ready for God to do a new thing in my life. I’m in need of relief and refreshment. God promises to make a way in the wilderness, even bring rivers in the desert. And while I don’t know what you have walked through in recent months, in my current circumstances that is GOOD NEWS!

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Now it’s your turn. Is there a promise from Scripture you are holding onto for 2019? If so, let’s encourage one another by sharing them in the comments. Let’s begin this new year by holding onto God’s promises, in the confidence that He will be faithful to His Word.

Passing Through the Valley of Weeping

Psalm 84:5–7 (NKJV):
“Blessed is the man whose strength is in You,
Whose heart is set on pilgrimage.
6 As they pass through the Valley of Baca (Weeping),
They make it a spring;
The rain also covers it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength;
Each one appears before God in Zion.”

Our family has been walking through “the Valley of Weeping” since the death of our special-needs son David in November. It has been a time of God’s grace and sustaining peace, but there have also been times of weeping as we’ve said goodbye to the young man who has been such a big part of our lives for the past thirty-four years.

So when I read this familiar psalm this morning as a part of my daily Bible reading, these verses jumped out at me. They were especially meaningful since this isn’t the first time God has used them as a rhema (spoken) word in my life.

When we were walking through a particularly difficult time early in David’s life, one of many where I had been repeatedly in the hospital with our son, our pastor at that time, Michael J. Cave, specifically shared it with me as a word from the Lord for our situation, after a sermon he preached on these verses. Since that time, the truths of these verses have been a clear reminder of God’s strength that is available to continue the “pilgrimage” of life on this earth and turn the difficult seasons into springs of life.

During our “pilgrimage” as believers in Jesus Christ, we will face seasons of weeping. But even in the weeping, our strength is found in God. And as we move forward in God’s strength, the valley experiences are turned into springs of life and blessing. Psalm 107:35 speaks of God turning the wilderness into pools of water and dry land into watersprings. The dry and weeping places in our lives are transformed as we move forward in God’s strength, keeping our eyes on the Lord and on our heavenly destination. When our pilgrimage is complete and we reach the eternal kingdom that is our final destination, our God promises to wipe away every tear, and “there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”‭ (Revelation 21:4)

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The Discipline of Memorizing Scripture

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.” Isaiah‬ ‭61:1-4‬ ‭NIV‬‬

As I began a study earlier this year of Breaking Free, by Beth Moore, one of the first assignments was to memorize the above passage. As I struggled phrase by phrase to learn this rather long portion of Scripture, I had no idea of what our family would be facing a few months later – or of how God would use several of the truths in these verses to bring comfort in the midst of sorrow. This whole situation with the sudden loss of our son has given me fresh understanding of the importance of memorizing Scripture so it will be available for God to bring to mind in our times of need.

This passage written by the prophet Isaiah describes some of the reasons Almighty God sent His only begotten Son Jesus Christ to the earth. Beth Moore wrote: “One of the primary reasons God sent His Son to this earth was to bring tender salve and relief to those whose hearts have been broken.”

As I’ve walked through many of the practical aspects of dealing with the death of our special-needs son David this week and of making preparations for his memorial service next Tuesday, this passage has taken on special meaning. I’ve experienced the Lord’s comfort in the midst of mourning, joy and a garment of praise instead of the deep despair I had always thought would be a part of this event which I have dreaded since David’s initial diagnosis as a three-month old. In those early days, we were told it was unlikely that David would live beyond early childhood, yet God graciously gave us thirty-four years with our precious son before He took him home to be with Him and to restore him to complete health.

So during this tough week of dealing with many of the practical aspects concerning David’s death, I’m grateful for the truths of Scripture that God has brought to mind and used to strengthen and comfort me. And I’m thankful that I didn’t give up when I was struggling a few months ago to commit these verses to memory.

Have you made memorizing Scripture a part of your daily walk with God? If not, I highly recommend making this discipline a part of your daily quiet time. I’ve personally found the Scripture Typer Bible Memory app to be a helpful tool for committing Scripture to memory and regularly reviewing those verses I’ve memorized. Our God can use many methods to speak truth to our hearts in our time of need, but as I’ve grown as a Christian I’ve learned that one method He uses repeatedly in my life is that of bringing to my mind a truth that I have already made the effort to memorize.