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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.

Letting Go of the Old, Embracing the New

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah‬ ‭43:18-19‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Each year about this time, as Christmas is behind us and the new year almost here, we begin looking ahead to a new beginning. As I was praying yesterday about the subject for this week’s Thankful Thursday post for God-Living Girls with Chronic IllnessTr, I sensed God speaking to my heart that it was to be on letting go of the successes and failures, the joys and sorrows of 2018 and moving forward to embrace the will of God for 2019.

Another of my favorite Scriptures this time of year is the last part of Philippians 3:13-14.

“… forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Both Isaiah 43 and Philippians 3 speak of two things: forgetting or letting go of the past, and embracing the new thing God has planned for us. As we prepare our hearts for the new year that begins in just a few days, I encourage you to prepare your heart for what lies ahead in the coming year. And to be ready to embrace the new thing God is desiring to do in your life in 2019.

Remember, God is sovereign, He is in control and His will is good, not to be feared. As 2018 comes to an end, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, surrendered to the will of God for your life, and prepare your heart to willing move into the new thing He has for you in the New Year.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans‬ ‭12:1-2‬ ‭

Today, let’s give thanks for what God has done in our lives during 2018, and embrace what He has for us in 2019.

  • Thank you, God, for the uncertainties I’ve experienced in 2018. They have deepened my trust in You as we prepare to walk an unknown path in 2019.
  • Thank You, God, for the doors You have closed during this year. They have prevented me from going where You would rather not have me go. Help me to be sensitive to your leading in 2019 and to not resist Your good purposes.Thank you, Lord, for the alone times as I’ve walked through 2018. They have forced me to lean in closer to You as I face a new year of unknowns.
  • Thank You, Lord, for the losses I have experienced this year. They have been a reminder that You are my greatest gain. With Your presence and Your strength, I can embrace the future You have for me.
  • Thank You, God, for the times during 2018 when I haven’t been able to control my circumstances. They have reminded me that You are sovereign and on the throne. And that will not change in 2019. Your purposes will be accomplished, and I can trust they will be for my good and your glory.

Now, it’s your turn. Feel free to share one or more things you are thanking God for as 2018 comes to an end and you embrace what God has for you in the coming year.

Receiving God’s Truth When It’s Uncomfortable

Today I am grateful for…

Truth God speaks to me through His Word, even when it’s not the specific truth I’m wanting to hear. Receiving God’s truth – not my hand-picked, preferred truth, but what my loving heavenly Father wants to teach me through my circumstances – is a blessing even when it may cause some temporary discomfort.

Earlier this week, I was hurting emotionally. During the same week as our son David’s memorial service, I was diagnosed with an infestation of scabies, with over thirty-five itchy bites around my body, caused by microscopic “human itch mites” (Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis). I was feeling overwhelmed by yet another problem to deal with on top of working through the grief of losing our beloved son David.

In the midst of agitated emotions, I asked God to speak to me through His Word. He spoke and I almost missed His message because it wasn’t what I was wanting to hear.

  • I wanted a comforting word. God wanted to teach me that He is in charge, He’s sovereign and I need to yield to His decisions.
  • I wanted relief. He wanted spiritual growth.
  • I wanted encouragement. He wanted me to accept responsibility for responding to my circumstances in a way that honors Him.

Father, thank You for speaking the truth to our hearts that is tailor-made for where we are currently walking. When Your truth is uncomfortable, please give us the grace to embrace it and grow.

So how do we walk in an attitude of gratitude when we don’t like what God is doing in our lives? When we wish our circumstances were different? When in our emotions we are anything but thankful?

This requires us to look for God’s truths that apply to what we are walking through. Then it calls for us to A. C. T. (All verses in ESV)

A. ACKNOWLEDGE God is God and I am not

“Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’” (Isaiah 46:9-10

C. CONCEDE that His purposes in my situation are for my good.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans‬ ‭8:28-29‬)

T. THANK HIM for His character attributes that apply to my circumstances.

For the last five months, as our family has walked through one trial after another as God does a deep work in our lives, one attribute of God has been central in my understanding of what God is doing in my life: the Hebrew word “checed” (חֶסֶד), for which there is no one English word that fully explains it’s meaning. This one Hebrew word includes the ideas of God’s strength, graciousness, loyalty, steadfastness, mercy, love and devotion to His people. The NIV usually translates it “unfailing love,” NASB “lovingkindness,” ESV “steadfast love.” This single Hebrew word is one of God’s most central characteristics, used 240 times throughout the Old Testament.

“All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.” (Psalms‬ ‭25:10)‬ ‭‬

Is God wanting to speak truths to you through His Word, possibly truths that aren’t really what you’re wanting to hear? Are you facing a situation that makes it difficult to give thanks to God? Embrace what the Lord is speaking to you. Then A.C.T. on what you are hearing.

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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.

COUNTING OUR BLESSINGS

Thanksgiving is a good day to pause and take some time to count your blessings.

Dr. Tony Evans gives the following definition of a blessing in his book Victory in Spiritual Warfare.

“A blessing is your capacity to enjoy what God has given you with a spirit of contentment, ease, and satisfaction while simultaneously being a blessing to others.”

James says, “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 ‭ESV).‬

Some of the good gifts God gives are material. Others are spiritual blessings. One of my favorite songs during this Thanksgiving season is Counting Every Blessing, by Rend Collective. This song makes it clear that God sends blessings in every season and reminds us to look for the signs of His goodness no matter what we are currently walking through.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this year, let’s pause and ask ourselves if we are receiving what God has given us with intentional gratitude. In other words, are we grateful for what God has given, satisfied that it meets our needs and content with the provision? If so, even little things provided by God are received as evidence of His goodness.

 

Gratefulness and Grace

“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians‬ ‭15:57‬ ‭ESV‬‬

During one of my times studying God’s Word this week, I made an interesting discovery. The Greek word translated “thanks” in this verse from 1 Corinthians 15 is “charis,” the same word that is translated “grace” throughout the New Testament. This was a reminder to me of how closely related grace and gratefulness are in the life of a Christian.

Grace has been defined as “the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.” (Blue Letter Bible)

In simpler words, God’s grace is the kindness He shows daily to the unworthy. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s grace. It is a free gift, given to us because God is benevolent. Giving good gifts is a part of His nature.

Grace is what saves us. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (‭Ephesians‬ ‭2:8-9)‬

Grace‭ trains us how to live lives that are pleasing to God. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,” (Titus‬ ‭2:11-12‬)‬‬

Grace gives us access to God in our times of need. “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 ‭4:16)‬ ‭‬‬

Grace gives us comfort and hope. “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.” (2 Thessalonians‬ ‭2:16-17‬)

Grace gives us a future inheritance to anticipate, “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians‬ ‭2:7‬)

As believers in Jesus Christ, giving thanks for the many blessings we receive through His grace should be a daily practice.

Recently, God has been doing a good work in my life, one that has sometimes been painful but one that has always been by His grace. As a result, I’m beginning to walk in victory in several areas of my life where victory is a new experience. And for that, I want to give Him thanks. Will you join me today in giving thanks for what He is doing in your life?

 

Grateful For Grace

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew‬ ‭7:11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“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 ‭ESV‬‬

These two verses have taken on new meaning in my life this week, each time I glance out the window or walk out the front door of our home and see one of God’s good gifts sitting in our driveway! After over a year of praying for the Lord to make a way for our family to replace our vehicle that stopped running over a year ago, His gift of provision is a daily reminder of two important truths of Scripture: that our God answers prayer in His own way and His perfect timing, and that His gifts are given because He is a God of grace and goodness, not because of anything we have or ever could do to earn them.

When the Lord provides for a major need in our lives in a way we would have never come up with in our wildest imagination, being grateful comes easy. The words on a neighborhood church sign that we drove by on our way home from the car dealer with our new mini-van last Friday said it perfectly: “God works in unexpected ways!” I never would have come up with the idea of meeting this need through a retired widow living on a fixed income, one who has been a prayer warrior for our family for many years.

The provision to purchase a vehicle without adding to our debt came on the very last day of a month when God had been speaking many life-changing truths to my heart through an e-book by Andrew Murray entitled Waiting On God: A 31-Day Study. This timely study had reminded me that God works in His timing, that as we wait for Him to work in our circumstances He is first doing a needed work in us, that we must wait patiently as we focus on losing our will in His perfect will, that the Giver is greater than the gift and our waiting on Him is the only way to learn to find our life and joy in Him. These truths and a long series of other important reminders of God’s ways during the waiting have been a source of strength during the painful and stretching month of September.

But of all God has spoken to me in this amazing provision, what has stood out above all else are six short words spoken by the leader of our church iConnect Bible study class last Sunday morning, a dear friend who along with his wife has been walking with my husband and me through a situation that is still very much in progress, one where God is doing a major overhaul on our lives. The simple words, “What a gift of God’s grace!”

The very nature of God’s grace is that there is absolutely nothing we can do to earn it. It is an undeserved gift from God. Faith is a part of the progress, but even that doesn’t earn us anything good from God. Scripture teaches a pathway to grace that God has been walking us down during this past six weeks, the pathway of humility. As James 4:6-10 says, “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”

This week as I rejoice in the good gift God has given our family since my last Thankful Thursday post, I am equally grateful for the spiritual truths He has reminded me of during this situation we have been and still are walking through. As we move forward from here, the turning around of the overall situation we are dealing with is still definitely a work in progress. The work in my husband’s life and in my life are also still very much works in progress. But the lessons God has been teaching us about His character and His ways are settled a little deeper in our lives. And they are unchanging. ‭‭We don’t know what lies ahead of us in the coming months. But we do know our God and His ways a little better than when this season first began.