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Resting in the Strong Arms of God

Have you been feeling restless because of the current circumstances we are walking through? Are you longing for the lifestyle changes due to the coronavirus outbreak to be behind us so we can get back to life as usual? These thoughts have definitely crossed my mind several times recently.

Unfortunately, it looks like the “new normal” we’ve been living with the past few weeks will not be going away anytime soon. So how do we overcome the feelings of restlessness that only steal our peace and joy and live a God-pleasing life during the coming weeks or months? How do we walk in peace and contentment as we move forward in this season?

This is what was on my mind as I sat down to spend some time this morning being quiet before the Lord. I was asking God to show me His purposes during this time unlike anything any of us have faced before. His answer was not one I was expecting.

The following words came to my mind, “You are loved with an everlasting love. And underneath are the everlasting arms.” I recognized this as the signature line for Elisabeth Elliot’s daily radio program, something I hadn’t heard since she passed away in 2015.

EVERLASTING LOVE
In Jeremiah 31:3, we learn that the Lord loved Israel with an everlasting love, a love that was constant and unconditional. That love was seen in His continued faithfulness to His rebellious and idolatrous people. God used the imagery of a green and fruitful olive tree as a symbol of the covenant relationship He has with Israel. (Jeremiah 11:16)

God’s heart toward His chosen people hasn’t changed. But one thing has changed. God’s chosen people still includes the offspring of Abraham, the Jewish people, but as Christians we also are included among His chosen, in those upon whom He pours out His everlasting love. Galatians 3:29 says, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” We have been grafted in and we “now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree.” (Romans 11:17)

HELD IN HIS EVERLASTING ARMS
‭Deuteronomy 33:27 says, “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms…”

The Bible in Basic English says it this way, “The God of your fathers is your safe resting-place, and under you are his eternal arms…”

The message I heard from the Lord this morning is simple. Though we are in a season of “social distancing” we are not alone. God is holding us in His everlasting arms, which have the strength to hold us safely even in the strongest storm.

Elisabeth Elliot wrote,‭‭‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ “Restlessness and impatience change nothing except our peace and joy. Peace does not dwell in outward things, but in the heart prepared to wait trustfully and quietly on Him who has all things safely in His hands.”

Today, I want to encourage you to draw close to the Prince of Peace, to our Savior Jesus Christ.  Rest quietly in the presence and everlasting love of the Lord, and to wait trustfully in the truth that we are safe in His hands. He truly is our resting place in this storm.

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Overcoming Fear With Faith

“Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’” Matthew‬ ‭8:23-27‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬

SUDDENLY! One minute the lake was calm. The next angry waves were battering the boat, and the disciples were filled with fear. Yes, Jesus was with them, but why was He sleeping? Didn’t He care if they perished? These may have been some of the thoughts going through the minds of Jesus’ disciples as they went to wake up their Teacher and Friend.

As I look back over the last couple weeks, life feels like being in a boat tossed around in a storm. Coronavirus – COVID-19 – has now been declared a pandemic, rapidly spreading around the world. This tiny virus of only 125 nanometers (a nanometer is one billionth of a meter) has literally changed our daily lives. A comment from an email from one of my nieces says it well: “Life as we know it is changing dramatically.

Each of us probably have our own list of the changes this pandemic has already caused, so I’m not going to share my list. What I’ve been holding onto during this time is the truth that our God has power over every storm.

We can be like the disciples and turn our focus on the waves sweeping over our “boat.” Or we can choose to fix our eyes on the One who is Lord over the storms that touch our lives. We can give place to fear and panic like those who don’t know Jesus are doing during this time of uncertainty, or we can remind ourselves that our God is bigger than any storm and choose to keep our eyes on Jesus and walk in faith.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27 NIV

The peace that will carry us through the uncertainties of life, what we are facing now and anything that may lie ahead, is a supernatural peace. It is the peace of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. But a small 3-letter word in the above verse is important. Will we LET our hearts be troubled? Or will we choose to turn our eyes on the Lord and walk in His peace?

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” Isaiah 26:3

We normally live with an illusion of certainty, and that has been removed by the unknowns that lie ahead. We don’t know what lies ahead, even our leaders and experts aren’t sure what to expect during the coming months. And this makes us feel vulnerable.

But there is One who does know the future, and He lives within us if we have surrendered to Jesus as Savior and Lord. He is still in control, and His perfect love has the power to cast out fear. By the strength He gives, we can walk in His peace and have victory over fear and panic.

Remember, Jesus still has power over the storms that we go through. Fix your eyes on Him. Remember you are not alone. Walk in wisdom and take every precaution advised by health authorities. But remember God has not given us a spirit of fear. He has given us power to overcome fear, assurance of His love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).

Remember to wash your hands well. And every time you do, remember Whose hands you are in. Today and each day until this difficult season is behind us, CHOOSE FAITH OVER FEAR!

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Fixing Our Eyes On Jesus

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews‬ ‭12:1-2‬ ‭NASB‬‬

Ginny Owens, a Dove Award-winning Contemporary Christian singer and songwriter, began losing her sight at age two from a congenital eye disease. While physically blind, she has beautifully expressed the message of the above verses in both her testimony and her songs.

As I thought about an effective way to get across the message God had put on my heart for this week’s Teach Me Tuesday post, I could think of no better example of what it means to fix our eyes on Jesus and willingly run with endurance the race God has set before us. Ginny shared this testimony on her website after the release of her album Love Be The Loudest.

“Most people think my greatest life challenge is blindness; I’ve been blind since age three. But that simply isn’t true. My greatest challenge is doing battle with the critical voices in my head that distract me from what’s most important. It’s the whispers of those who feel sorry for me because of my physical challenge and don’t think I hear their comments. It’s the shouts of my own doubts and insecurities, asking, ‘Do you have anything valuable to contribute to society?’ It’s the mindless chatter of our culture, inviting me to believe that any voice, as long as it’s loud, is fine. Every song on this album is an invitation to my heart, and the heart of the listener, to allow God’s perfect voice of love and truth to be irresistible to our hearts, drowning out all other voices, and moving us to action.”

Where we fix our spiritual eyes – and where we tune in our spiritual ears – determines how we run the race God has set before us! This is never more true than when we are facing difficult circumstances, an unexpected “detour” from our intended route to our destination.

This has been one of the main lessons God has been teaching me during the past week. Some days have been encouraging and my heart has been at peace. Others have been just the opposite. And when I asked God what was causing this, He reminded me of the above Scripture. The only way to run with endurance the race God has currently set before me is to fix my eyes on Jesus.

The Greek word translated “fix our eyes” in Hebrews 12:2, aphorao, comes from apo meaning “away from something near” and horao meaning “to look away from all else and to look steadfastly, intently toward a distant object.” The idea is to direct our attention without distraction as we choose a forward-gaze. This verse is talking about inner, spiritual vision that overcomes all distractions and looks ahead with confidence in the lovingkindness and faithfulness of our God.

DISTRACTIONS FROM A SINGLE FOCUS

On the surface, this may not seem like a challenging assignment, but this past week it was the biggest struggle I faced. I learned that fixing my eyes on the Lord in the midst of my current circumstances wasn’t going to be an effortless task. Ongoing pain in my left knee, fears about the possible complications if I move forward with the surgery, a delay in getting a referral to a orthopedic surgeon, then a further delay in getting an appointment once the referral finally came joined together to make it a difficult week.

The distractions from fixing our eyes on Jesus fit in four main areas:

  1. Our circumstances – When we are in the midst of circumstances causing physical pain or emotional stress, it’s easy to fix our eyes on our problems. This is the first distraction we need to overcome.
  2. Our emotions – Fear and anxiety about the future, dread of what lies ahead, doubts about our ability to do what we believe God is calling us to do for His Kingdom – all of these have the potential of paralyzing us spiritually and keeping us from continuing the race God has called us to run.
  3. The voices of those around us – What Ginny called “the mindless chatter of our culture,” or closer to home the discouraging words of family members and friends, can become major distractions from finishing the race. But we need to keep in mind that other people are not our real enemy.
  4. The lies of the enemy – Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” We have a spiritual foe whose greatest desire is to cause us to doubt God and turn out back on Him. He uses such tactics as saying “did God say?” as he did with Eve and by planting thoughts in our minds that cause deception, discouragement and doubt to take root. To finish the race successfully, we need to put on the full armor of God and stand against his attacks. We need to learn to take our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. When we submit to God and resist the devil, James 4:7 says he will flee.

Jesus gave us an example to follow when He faced the Cross. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew‬ ‭26:39‬‬‬) Jesus didn’t want to face the suffering of the Cross, but without the shedding of His blood we would all still be lost in our sin. So He submitted to the will of His Father. Hebrews 12:2 gives us some insight into how He endured the suffering – by focusing on the joy set before Him. This is also one way we are strengthened to face the hardships that are a part of life of this sin-stained earth.

When we fix our eyes on Jesus, we are setting our inward gaze on One who understands suffering. Hebrews 4:15 reminds us, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” And He invites us to “draw near” to “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” https://www.bible.OverDcom/100/heb.4.15-16.nasb

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!

Importunate Prayer

Do you ever go to a prayer meeting – or open our God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness Prayer Group page – and wonder why the requests seem so familiar? Why the same or similar requests keep coming up over and over again? In the case of our prayer group, one reason for this may be the fact that all of our members deal with chronic illnesses, which means new issues constantly need to be dealt with. Another, the fact that God uses our difficult circumstances to do a work in our lives that He counts as more important eternally than an immediate healing.

As I was praying about this characteristic of our times of prayer, I came across a concept I knew little about, that of importunate prayer.

In his book The Necessity of Prayer, E.M. Bounds defines importunate prayer and explains why it is important.

“He prays not at all, who does not press his plea. Cold prayers have no claim on heaven & no hearing in the courts above. Fire is the life of prayer, and heaven is reached by flaming importunity rising in an ascending scale.

“Importunate praying is the earnest, inward movement of the heart toward God. It is the throwing of the entire force of the spiritual man into the exercise of prayer. Forceless prayers have no power to overcome difficulties, no power to win marked results or to gain complete victories.”

Jesus spoke of the need for persistence in prayer in two parables that are recorded in the book of Luke. In Luke 11:5-8, immediately after teaching the disciples how to pray according to what we call the Lord’s Prayer, He shares a story about a person who goes to his friend for help feeding unexpected visitors.

“Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and from inside he answers and says, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

In Luke 18:2-8, He shares a second parable to encourage us to not lose heart in prayer. This time, the story involves an unrighteous judge who did not fear God or respect people, and a widow who is seeking legal protection, which he gives her, not because he cares about the widow but because of her persistence in asking.

“In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’ And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?'”

‭‭These parables don’t teach that God is reluctant to answer our prayers. He delights in answering the honest requests of our hearts. But at times, God’s timing is not the same as ours. At times, God wants to deal with an unconfessed sin in our lives before answering or to build some positive character quality in our lives that will only grow under pressure.

Importunate prayer is first and foremost prayer that keeps asking, that is persistent in asking a God who sometimes delays the answer, not because He is indifferent to our needs but rather because He wants us to learn how to walk in faith and consistency.

Importunate prayer is the opposite of lazy or lukewarm prayer. It is prayer that comes from a trusting and godly heart, a pure conscience, and a determination to keep praying until we have an assurance that God has heard and will answer. It is prayer that is built on the foundation of the goodness and faithfulness of our God, and persists in praying until an answer is received.

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.

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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