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God’s Presence in Pain and Suffering

I received a free excerpt from Kelly Minter’s newest Lifeway Bible Study, Finding God Faithful, in my email on Tuesday, opening and reading it soon after I returned home from an appointment with a new orthopedic surgeon that morning. It looks like a great study on the life of Joseph, one I’d love to do sometime soon, but that’s not why I’m sharing it here. I wanted to share the following quote that began the enclosed excerpt from the study – which as soon as I read it “jumped off the page” as if if were on a neon sign.

“We can get through just about any pain or suffering if we know the Lord is in it with us. But when we feel forsaken or abandoned, our pain becomes unbearable. In a most trying circumstance, the psalmist expressed what the Lord’s presence meant to him with the imagery, ‘Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me’ (Ps. 23:4, emphasis mine).”

This last nine weeks have been very difficult physically for me. But they have also been some of the most encouraging in recent years as God’s presence has been amazingly near. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:16, this situation I have been walking through since the last week of May has been a reminder not to lose heart, for even though my outer self – my physical body – is wasting away, my inner self – my soul and spirit – is being renewed day by day. And why is that? God’s presence in these trying circumstances has been the one constant.

At least a couple times a week, I’ve heard a clear message from the Lord concerning how I was to walk through this difficult season. As I read the above quote early this afternoon, my eyes were opened to the fact that each message I’ve heard from the Lord had one central theme: His presence is what you and I need to make it through this and every season of suffering.

Never once has He given me a word that had to do with my symptoms or what I was to do about them. When I left for today’s appointment, none of my questions about what treatment was best in this situation had been answered. Each time, God’s message centered on His presence being the answer I was needing to make it through this difficult season victoriously. Each time I prayed and sensed a word from the Lord, it focused on Him.

There was the word that He was taking me on a detour from my planned route to my destination, but the message I heard emphasized His control over the detour and His purpose in it. Then the Lord reminded me through Deuteronomy 31:8 that He would go before me and be with me, He would not leave me or forsake me. I was not to give place to fear or discouragement. Instead, I was to fix my eyes on the Lord and not on my circumstances.

I was reminded of His perfect love that casts out fear (1 John 4:18). I was encouraged by the truth that His steadfast love and faithfulness go before me (Psalms 94:14). God brought to my mind the truth that I needed be still before the Lord so I could hear His still, small voice (1 Kings 19:12). And as I read the familiar verses at the end of Matthew 2811, three simple words stood out to me, “Come to me.” (Matthew 11:28).

On this Thankful Thursday, let’s give thanks to God for His sustaining and strengthening presence that enables us to make it through the tough seasons in our lives. No matter what we are currently facing, the Lord’s presence is what we’re needing above all else.

Perfect Love: The Antidote to the Poison of Fear

It never ceases to amaze me the things God uses to speak needed truths to my heart when I’m walking sthrough an emotionally difficult season. This morning, God used a book I’m currently reading, one that I’ve been interested in reading for a while but picked up at precisely the time I was needing its message.

I Still Believe: Discovering hope and healing in the midst of life’s deepest valleys, is an auto-biography of Contemporary Christian singer and song writer Jeremy Camp’s journey through the fire and anguish of the loss of his first wife Melissa to cancer, just a few months after their joyous wedding and honeymoon. It is a testimony of how to turn earthly sorrow into heavenly hope. I Still Believe is the source of an upcoming Christian film by the same title, currently in pre-production by the same production team that did the film I Can Only Imagine, with a planned theater release in March 2020.

This morning, as I was laying in bed reading a chapter in this book before getting up to begin my day, the Lord clearly spoke to my heart. The chapter I was reading is near the end of the book, around six years after Melissa’s death. Jeremy has remarried, to his current wife Adrienne, and they have two precious and dearly loved daughters, Isabella Rose and Arianne Mae.

In this chapter, Jeremy shares a personal battle with fear he walked through with the birth of his children. He wondered, “Would God possibly think of taking one of them home?” He continues, “These thoughts and emotions became so pervasive that I would hold my daughters extra close and pray extra hard for their protection.”

Jeremy took these fears to God and he says God spoke a gentle but firm word to his heart, one that was not what he was expecting to hear. “Do you not understand how much I love you, Jeremy? I love you perfectly, so much more than you could ever love your children.”

When I read these words that God spoke basically the same message to my heart. As most of you know, my husband and I lost our special needs son David last November. When I read this chapter, my eyes were opened to the source of the fear I’ve been dealing with in my current health-related problems. Like Jeremy, I needed a reminder of God’s provision for overcoming fear – His perfect love.

1 John 4:18 (NIV) says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” This morning, I added 1 John 4:18 to a list of Bible verses I’ve been memorizing and reviewing daily during this season of dealing with physical pain, unsteady emotion, and probable surgery ahead, a list I put on my Bible Memory App and entitled “Promises to Hold Onto.”

Like Jeremy, I’ve been struggling with fear, as I wait for an appointment next Tuesday with a new orthopedic surgeon to come up with a treatment plan for my left knee. I’m likely facing a major surgery, which is complicated by Complex Regional Pain Syndrome in that knee. And this morning the Lord showed me my fears concerning what lies ahead were rooted in the pain of losing our son David and in the need to truly understand God’s perfect love.

Christian Author Jerry Bridges said God’s love is “an objective fact affirmed over and over in the Scriptures. It is true whether we believe it or not. Our doubts do not destroy God’s love, nor does our faith create it. It originates in the very nature of God, who is love, and it flows to us through our union with His beloved Son.”

The perfect love of God toward us as His blood-bought children, everyone who has accepted the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the full payment for our sin and received Him as our Savior and Lord, is a love that is complete and committed. It is a love that is sacrificial and steadfast. Though our feelings may come and go, God’s love for us is constant and unchanging. Though we are imperfect, God loves us perfectly. Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Nothing in all creation—present or future – can come between us and God’s love!

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans‬ ‭8:38-39‬

On this Thankful Thursday, I’m grateful for God’s perfect love that drives out fear. If you are personally walking through one of life’s deep valleys, I encourage you to join me in memorizing this verse and in seeking for a new depth of understanding of God’s love for you and me.

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The Sacrifice That Pleases God

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me…

The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” Psalms‬ ‭50:14-15, 23‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Are you in a “day of trouble”? That would be a good way to describe the season I’m currently walking through, with a pending knee replacement surgery that I’ve been purposefully avoiding for several years because of the complexity of my knee problems.

In addition to having final stage osteoarthritis and meniscus tears in my left knee, I also have Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) in the joint. This was caused by the extensive damage to the joint and surrounding nerves from the automobile accident we had over forty years ago, so bad that the doctors told my husband they weren’t sure I’d ever be able to walk on that knee. The most common cause of CRPS is actually Knee Replacement Surgery. So while this surgery could relieve the pain and inflammation in my joint and restore the range of motion in that joint that the original damage took away, there’s also the possibility that another surgery would make the pain worse.

This troubling situation has resulted in lots of time spent crying out to God in prayer for wisdom concerning what I’m to do. My desire is to walk through this situation in a way that brings glory to God, so when I read the above verses this morning they really spoke to my heart.

Are you currently in “the day of trouble”? If so, join me in following the instructions given in the above verses.

  • OFFER TO GOD A SACRIFICE OF THANKSGIVING. The Lord no longer calls us to offer animal sacrifices for sin that were a part of the Old Covenant, since Jesus “appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Hebrews‬ ‭9:26‬) But there still is one type of sacrifice that pleases God. My Bible gives an alternative translation of this phrase: “Make thanksgiving your sacrifice to God.” That could include acknowledging your sin and receiving cleansing from it (1 John 1:8). It could be songs of worship to our good God. It could be simply giving Him thanks for the good things He’s doing in your life in the midst of this difficult season.
  • PERFORM YOUR VOWS TO THE MOST HIGH. Have you made any vows to God? A vow is a binding promise, made to men or to God. Vows made to God especially need to be kept. “If you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it…” (Deuteronomy 23:21a).
  • CALL UPON ME IN THE DAY OF TROUBLE. We call upon the Lord in the day of trouble by coming to Him in honesty, sharing our fears and concerns with Him, and then asking Him to intervene. We run to Him as our refuge and strength, our very present help in our times of trouble (Psalm 46:1).
  • TO THE ONE WHO ORDERS HIS WAY RIGHTLY I WILL SHOW THE SALVATION OF GOD. This is a promise we can stand on during “the day of trouble.” To order our way rightly is to make sure it lines up with the will of God, as revealed in His Word. For me, this means praying for wisdom concerning how I am to walk through the current trial, spending time in prayer and in the Word of God to put myself in a place where I can hear His voice, and then being a doer of the Word and not a hearer only (James 1:5-8, 22-25; 3:17-18).

On this Thankful Thursday, I encourage you to spend time sharing the troubles you are currently walking through with the Lord and possibly with a trusted friend. But also remember these clear instructions from Psalm 50 about how we are to walk through the “day of trouble.” What will you offer up to God today as a Sacrifice of Thanksgiving?

A Psalm for Giving Thanks

Psalm 100: “A Psalm for Giving Thanks.”

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!

Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

Other than Psalm 23, the above verses are some of the most often memorized from the book of Psalms. Many of us who have been attending church from childhood memorized at least some of these verses as young children.

I know for me personally, I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t familiar with the ideas expressed in these familiar verses. The idea of making a joyful noise to the Lord, even if I never had the best singing voice, was familiar. And the truth that we enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise were known, even if I had no idea what God’s gates and courts were. Now I understand these terms refer to entering the presence of God.

Psalm 100:4 says we “enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.” Do you sometimes find it difficult to connect with God? To stir your desire for Him? Then open the gates with words of gratitude for all the good things He has done for you. Find a song of praise, especially one that acknowledges His power, worthiness, and glory, and enter into praise.

Are you having a good day? Give thanks to the Lord. Lift your voice in praise.

Are you having a bad day? Give thanks to the Lord. Lift your voice in praise.

Remember, the Lord is good every day. Even if you’re not having a good day. He’s always loving, always faithful. And He’s waiting for your words of appreciation and praise.

As Ann Voskamp has said, “Gratitude is not only a response to God in good times – it’s ultimately the very will of God in hard times. Gratitude isn’t only a celebration when good things happen. It’s a declaration that God is good no matter what happens.”

On this Thankful Thursday, let’s practice using our mouths to speak out words of gratitude to God. Let’s take some time singing songs of praise or possibly reading aloud some Psalms as confessions of praise. Today and every day, God is worthy of our expressions of gratefulness and praise, regardless of what we may currently be facing. Remember, the gates into God’s presence swing open when we lift up our words of thanksgiving to the Giver of all good gofts.

When Life Takes a Detour

Have you noticed sometimes your plans and God’s plans don’t seem to mesh? You’ve been seeking direction from God, the path projected ahead of you is clear, and you’re ready to start moving forward. Then suddenly circumstances change and there’s a major detour in the road.

A few months ago, God had strongly impressed upon my heart that He had some work for me to complete before my time on earth was done and I went to be in His presence. I had recently celebrated my seventy-first birthday, so there was a sense of urgency to get started on what God was calling me to do. I had clear direction concerning my next writing project, putting together an original Bible study for our small group at church, and had made a commitment to do this. My health was the best it had been in years, and I was ready to begin moving forward.

Then suddenly overnight everything changed. One day I was able to walk for thirty minutes with little or no pain. I was able to do my part of the weekly housework without a struggle. Things were going exceptionally well, as they had been for several months. The next day even walking from my bedroom to the living room caused excruciating pain and swelling in my left knee. The housework wasn’t getting done. Pain was robbing my sleep several times a week.

I honestly thought this was just a flare in one of the long list of chronic illnesses I live with, and I expected it to turn around in a few days. It didn’t. I was facing a major detour from the path I had thought laid ahead.

The process started of trying to find out what was causing this drastic change in my level of pain and ability to function. It’s now over a month later, and I’m still waiting for a diagnosis and treatment plan. My circumstances feel out of control – they are out of my control, but I know they aren’t out of God’s control.

Facing Challenging Circumstances with the Right Attitude

Retired NFL football player and coach Tony Dungy shared an important truth about controlling our attitude toward difficult circumstances that God permits in our lives, in his book Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices and Priorities of a Winning Life.

“You can’t always control circumstances. However, you can always control your attitude, approach, and response. Your options are to complain or to look ahead and figure out how to make the situation better.”

My first challenge during this time of waiting has been to control my attitude and response to these unexpected changes. The natural response to unwanted change is to focus on the circumstances we don’t like and give place to a complaining attitude. The response that pleases God is one that acknowledges He is still in control, He has a purpose in this situation that just looks like an unpleasant detour in my limited understanding.

It takes strength – and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit – to respond to situations such as the one I’m currently facing in a way that pleases God. It takes purposeful effort to take our eyes off of the current disappointment and focus on what can be done to improve the situation causing us distress. Seeing this detour from my plans through the lens of God’s unchanging love, goodness and faithfulness has been a challenge.

Why Does God Sometimes Take Us On a Detour?

There are two main reasons for detours. Sometimes, our disobedience and lack of faith will cause God to place a detour in the path He has called us to walk. The story of God’s chosen people Israel is an example of this type of detour. As a result of their failure to trust and obey the Lord, they spent forty years wandering in the wilderness. One whole generation failed to make it to the land God had promised them. This type of detour is a call to repentance.

The second reason we face detours in our walk with the Lord is that we aren’t yet ready for the next thing He has called us to do. These detours are times of preparation for the future. Joseph is a biblical example of this type of detour. The Lord’s plan was to use Joseph to preserve His chosen people during a time of famine. But as a young man he lacked the needed maturity for this calling. So God walked Joseph through a series of difficult circumstances to prepare him for the work he would eventually do.

On this Thankful Thursday, let’s give thanks to the Lord for the truth that He is at work even in the circumstances we wish we could change. Are you facing a detour from the path you expected to be on at this point of your life? Seek understanding from the Lord concerning what’s going on. If He shows you a sin you need to repent of, be quick to respond. If He shows you this detour is to prepare you for the work He’s calling you to do, choose to cooperate with His process. Even though detours are usually difficult and for a season it seems as though life is getting worse, they are really part of God’s design to prepare us for our future.

Let’s hold onto hope in the midst of circumstances that seem to be taking us away from what we honestly believe are God-given purposes for our lives. He knows what He’s doing!

No Longer Ashamed: The Righteousness of Christ is Ours!

Is there some event in your past that causes you shame whenever it comes to mind? Do you battle condemnation every time you fall into that “sin that so easily entangles you” (Hebrews 12:1)? If so, today I have some good news for you.

For the last two weeks, we have looked at some of the less emphasized benefits of the fact that Jesus died for our sins, rose from the grave, and ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven. Because He kept His promise to not leave us alone and sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all who place their faith in Him, we are filled with and empowered by God to live the life He has planned for us. And because the veil separating us from God’s presence was torn in two by the hands of Almighty God, we have been given open access to His presence and the privilege of coming to His throne of grace in our time of need.

Today we’ll be looking at another sometimes overlooked benefit of the finished work of Jesus Christ: Being declared righteous because of Christ’s righteousness.

What Is Righteousness?

If you look up the word righteousness in a modern English dictionary, you find definitions such as “morally right” and “free from guilt or sin.” The Greek word includes this but goes beyond this. “Dikaiosune” speaks of whatever is right or just in itself. It includes always conforming to the revealed will of God. In essence, it means meeting the sum total of all the requirements of God 100% of the time.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said these words:

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew‬ ‭5:48‬ ‭ESV‬‬

If you’re saying “that’s impossible,” you’re right. Because of our sin nature, none of us are able to meet this standard. The only human who every met all the qualifications of perfect righteousness was Jesus Christ. Because Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit (therefore man’s sin nature was not in Him) but born of a woman, He was fully God and fully man. He and He alone was able to meet God’s standard of perfect righteousness.

So how does God expect us to walk in perfect righteousness? He doesn’t. And now we come to the often overlooked benefit of the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross and His resurrection from the dead.

Understanding Imputed Righteousness and Imparted Righteousness.

In simple terms, imputed righteousness is the righteousness of Christ given to us as a gift when we place our faith in Jesus Christ and make Him our Lord and Savior. It is Jesus transferring His righteousness to us. It is the fulfillment of the promise of 2 Corinthians 5:21, which says; “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Because of imputed righteousness we have been declared righteous in God’s eyes.

But God’s full work of righteousness in our lives also involves an ongoing process. We are righteous, but we also are becoming righteous. The second type of righteousness is often called imparted righteousness. It is the practical, day to day process by which we begin to look more like Jesus. It’s an ongoing process that begins the day we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ and won’t be completed until the day we see Him face to face. This is the kind of righteousness described in Romans 8:29, “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.

‭‭Imputed righteousness is ours in it’s fullness on our first day as a born-again follower of Christ. Imparted righteousness comes through the process of sanctification, as the Holy Spirit works in our lives to build practical righteousness. Neither type of righteousness is within our ability. We are now righteous by the gift of Christ’s righteousness, and we are growing in righteousness by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” 1 John 3:2-3

‭‭Do you sometimes struggle with condemnation for something you did many years ago? Do you feel ashamed for some recurring sin that you think you’ll never gain the victory over? If so, there’s an essential question you need to settle in your heart: Have you surrendered your life to Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and accepted His gift of forgiveness and new life? If your answer to that question is “no”, feel free to contact one of the ladies on the God-Living Girls leadership team. We’d love to help you in this area. But if your answer to this question is “yes,” then the condemnation you are battling is coming from the father of lies, the devil.

If you are in Christ, Romans 8:1 says God is not the one condemning you. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Most of us know the truth of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” But don’t forget the truth of John 3:17 and the first part of verse 18, which is equally important. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned…” Yes, God convicts of sin. Conviction is meant to lean to repentance, condemnation results in hopelessness. But He never condemns His blood-bought children.

On this Thankful Thursday, I’m grateful that I have been declared righteous in God’s eyes. The perfect righteousness of His Son has been imparted to me. And I’m also grateful that the Holy Spirit is at work in my life making me a little more like Jesus every day. How about you, do you think these truths from God’s Word deserve a prayer of gratitude to God? If so, I encourage you to share your personal prayer in the comments section below this post.

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Thankful For Access to God’s Presence

In a recent discussion in our iConnect Bible Study group at our church, we were reflecting on how blessed we are to be living during this time in history. Because Jesus came to earth as Immanuel, God with us, lived a perfect life, died in our place to pay the penalty for our sin, and was resurrected and returned to the right hand of the Father in heaven, life is entirely different for those who have placed their faith in Him as Savior and Lord.

Last week, our Thankful Thursday post was on one blessing that is ours because of the era in which we live, the indwelling Holy Spirit who empowers, teaches, and guides us – and so much more. This week, I wanted to focus on another blessing we have thanks to the finished work of Jesus on the Cross and our salvation by grace through faith in our Redeemer.

This often forgotten blessing is spoken of in Matthew 2:51, Mark 15:38, and Luke 23:45, as well as referred to in Hebrews 9 and 10. And it marks the end of life under the old covenant and beginning of the new covenant of grace.

“And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” ‭‭Mark‬ ‭15:38‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The curtain of the temple, also called the veil, was a curtain believed to be around 60 feet long and four inches thick (according to early Jewish tradition) and made of blue, purple, and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen (see Exodus 26:31). It’s purpose was to separate the part of the temple called the Most Holy Place, which held the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat – the earthly dwelling place of God’s presence – from the rest of the temple where men entered. This veil signified that man was separated by God because of sin. It marked the boundary between God’s pure holiness and the wickedness of mankind.

‭‭Only the High Priest was permitted to enter the Most Holy Place, going through this curtain, and even he could only enter once a year, on the Day of Atonement. Before entering, the High Priest was to bathe and put on special garments, then sacrifice a bull for a sin offering for himself and his family. The blood of the bull was to be sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant. Then the High Priest was to bring two goats for the sins of the people, one of which was to be sacrifices for their sins and its blood sprinkled on the Ark. The other goat was used as a scapegoat, which symbolically carried on itself all the sins of the people and was sent out and released into the wilderness.

If anyone else entered the Most Holy Place, or even if the High Priest entered on any day other than the Day of Atonement, that person would immediately die. It yearly sprinkling of the innocent sacrifice’s blood on the bowl on gold lid of the Ark provided atonement for the sin of mankind for another year.

The size and thickness of the veil and the fact that it was torn in two from top to bottom make it clear that no human being could have accomplished this. It reminds us that in Jesus the final and full sacrifice for sin has been paid. And it also signifies the end of the Old Covenant of the Law and the beginning of the New Covenant of Grace.

Hebrews tells us that this curtain or vail was symbolic of Christ Himself, that the veil was representative of His broken flesh on the Cross.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” Hebrews‬ ‭10:19-22‬ ‭ESV‬

On this Thankful Thursday, I’m eternally grateful that there is no longer a heavy curtain separating me from the presence of my Heavenly Father. I’m grateful that Jesus, through His substitutionary death on the Cross, removed the barrier separating us from God. I’m especially thankful for His invitation to draw near to the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace in my time of need.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 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 ‭4:14-16‬ ‭ESV‬‬

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