Tag Archive | Character

Facing the Unknown With a Known God

Youth With A Mission, better known as YWAM (pronounced “WHY-wham”), is an interdenominational Christian missionary organization founded by Loren Cunningham and his wife Darlene in 1960.

While on a beach in Hawaii, looking out at the waves, Loren Cunningham saw a vision of a different kind of waves – waves of young people taking the gospel message to the ends of the earth. YWAM was founded as a result of that vision. Fifty-nine years after it began, YWAM continues as an effective tool for fulfilling the vision He gave Loren and the Great Commission of Acts 1:8 upon which it was based and of Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19 to “go and make disciples of all nations.”

YWAM has had a special place in our lives. Some close friends of ours, Billy and Lyn Littlefield, went through the YWAM discipleship training program in the 1970s, and their training became the catalyst for a discipleship training program my husband Mitch and I were a part of in the early years of our marriage. A few years later, Mitch’s sister Shirley also spent time with YWAM.

I think the thing that has stuck with me more than anything else from these early years of our marriage and our indirect involvement with YWAM is the stated purpose of this Christian organization: To know God and to make Him known. I can’t think of a better description of the effective Christian life!

To Know God

John 17:3 says, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” The Christian life begins with a personal relationship with God. Through faith in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, we receive forgiveness for our sins and come to know God and His Son Jesus Christ. J. I. Packer, author of the book Knowing God, said:

“There’s a difference between knowing God and knowing about God. When you truly know God, you have energy to serve Him, boldness to share Him, and contentment in Him.”

Knowing God begins when we become a part of His family through faith in Jesus Christ. But it is also a growing process as we come to know Him more fully through His written Word. As we read and study the Bible, we learn what He is like – a faithful God, loving us with a steadfast love, showing us mercy by not giving us what we deserve and grace by giving us what we don’t deserve. His names, attributes, promises and the total of Scripture progressively reveal the fullness of Who God is. This kind of knowing is a lifelong process.

To Make Him Know

Once we know God through a personal relationship with Him, Jesus has commissioned us to go into all the world and share that knowledge with others. Starting with our “Jerusalem” – the neighborhood, town or city where we live and moving out from there, we begin sharing the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. As disciples, our call is two-fold, to grow personally in our knowledge of God and to be disciple-makers, introducing others to the good news that has changed our lives.

When An Unknown Future Looms Ahead

At no time in our lives is truly knowing God more important than when we face an unknown future. When things feel totally out of our control, knowing God gives us confidence that our circumstances aren’t out of God’s control. God has not promised to shield us from trouble. He has promised to be with us, whatever we must walk through.

Peter Marshall, pastor and chaplain of the United States Senate from 1947 to 1949, said: “God will not permit any troubles to come upon us, unless He has a specific plan by which great blessing can come out of the difficulty.

Corrie ten Boom, survivor of Ravensbruck German concentration camp and Christian speaker and author of The Hiding Place, a memoir telling the story of her family’s hiding Jews from the Nazis, said: “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

As I write this Teach Me Tuesday post, I’m preparing for an MRI on my left knee that has been swollen and extremely painful since the end of May. As I await this test, scheduled for today, I don’t know what lies ahead. So I’m choosing to focus on what I do know.

  • I do know God has promised to go before me and be with me, no matter what lies ahead, and He always keeps His promises. “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deuteronomy‬ ‭31:8‬ ‭
  • I do know God promises to work all things together for the good of those who are called according to His purposes, and I am one of the called. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans‬ ‭8:28‬ ‭
  • I do know that God uses the circumstances He allows to touch my life for His purposes, specifically, to conform me to the image of His Son. “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 ‭8:29‬
  • I do know God is good and I believe I will see God’s goodness while I’m still on this earth. “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!” Psalms‬ ‭27:13‬ ‭
  • I do know God is faithful. He never promises and then fails to deliver. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews‬ ‭10:23‬ ‭
  • I do know God is love. God’s love is so great that He gave His only Son to bring us into fellowship with Him. With His love, He embraces each of us personally. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John‬ ‭4:9-10‬
  • I do know when this life is over I have an inheritance awaiting me in heaven. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,” 1 Peter‬ ‭1:3-4‬

As Corrie ten Boom said, if we know God we have no reason to fear the future. If we understand His love for us, we can know the difficulties we’re currently walking through will produce blessing, both in this life and in eternity when we go to be in His presence forever.

Diamonds

When I’m hurting, as I have been over the past four weeks with intense pain in my knee and digestive problems also making it difficult for me to eat regular meals, my prayers have been primarily for two things, for some answers concerning the cause of symptoms I’m dealing with and for some relief from the pain. But as I laid in bed early Sunday morning, after a painful night with little sleep, the clear word I heard from the Lord had nothing to do with these desires of mine.

The words I heard, as clearly as any message I’ve ever heard from the Lord: “I’m forming you into a diamond, created and cut perfectly to be a reflector of My light to those around you.”

Even if this wasn’t the message I was desiring from the Lord, after walking with Him for almost fifty years I know better than ignore a word from Him. So I decided to do some research on how diamonds are formed and prepared. It was eye-opening.

Diamonds are pieces of pure carbon. Contrary to popular belief, they do not come from coal, although they may be similar in chemical composition. They are formed deep within the mantle of the earth, but only where the conditions are right since they need a lot of heat as well as pressure to form.

The only producing diamond mine in the United States is located near Murfreesboro, Arkansas, with around fifty commercial diamond mines around the world. The rough diamonds come out of the mines looking like worthless pebbles, which must be carefully cleaned to remove all the impurities.

To prepare them for use as gemstones is the job of skilled diamond cutters. Since diamonds are made of the hardest material in the world, only a diamond can be used to mechanically cut another diamond. Precision in cutting is key, both for the larger rough diamond and for the individual cut diamond in getting the exact angles needed for the best result. The more the diamond is cut, the brighter it sparkles.

As I tried to imagine the extreme temperature and pressure under which diamonds are formed, and the detailed process of turning a rough diamond just out of the mine into a valuable gemstone, I began to see why God had brought this object lesson to mind. I suddenly wasn’t surprised at the fiery trial I’ve been going through during this last month… or all the other trials our family has been through over the last few years.

John 1:9 identifies Jesus as the light of the world, but in Matthew 5:14 Jesus said the same of us. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” We are called to be reflectors of the true light, Jesus. And for that to happen we need to go through a similar process to the one that turns a rough diamond just out of the mine into a valuable gemstone.

‭‭1 Peter 1:6-7 describes the positive outcome of being tested by God’s fire. I especially appreciate the wording of these verses in the New Living Translation. Though these verses compare the process we go through as Christians to that of purifying gold, fire is a common factor in both gold and diamonds becoming what they were meant to be.

“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.”

‭‭So don’t be discouraged at the trials and pressures in your life. God is using them to create something beautiful from our lives. Something that will cause us to be light in the darkness of this world, and then result in praise and glory and honor on the day Jesus returns.

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.

Only Because of God’s Mercy: God Uses Imperfect People

Hebrews 11 has been called the “Hall of Faith,” but have you ever really examined the lives of the people listed there? These are the people God used to change history, but Max Lucado has described the men and women listed in this chapter as “a rag-bag of ne’er-do-wells and has-beens who found hope, not in their performance, but in God’s proverbially open arms.”

Let’s examine a couple of these men of faith. Abraham, the Father of the Jewish people, lied about his wife Sarah, as recorded in Genesis 12:11-20, saying she wasn’t really his wife but his sister – a half-truth – even asking her to join in the lie because he was afraid the Egyptians would notice her beauty and kill him to take her as their own. And then a little later, he did it again. Not what I would call a man of integrity! And yet he has a major part in the Hall of Faith. God forgave Abraham and continued to use him for His purposes.

Then let’s look at David, whom God called a man after His own heart. 2 Samuel 11 gives us a dark picture of an episode of his life when he saw a beautiful woman and decided he wanted her, even if she was married to one of his faithful soldiers. He not only took Bathsheba for himself and got her pregnant, but when his scheme to cover up his sin failed, he came up with a plan to have her husband killed on the battlefield. Again, not exactly the kind of man I’d look up to. Yet David repented and was forgiven for these sins, and God continued to work through him in spite of his huge failure in this situation.

And there are lots of other imperfect people listed in this chapter, men who had genuine faith in God and were used by Him but still had major flaws in their character. And unfortunately, this wasn’t limited to the men God used in Biblical times. Even the genealogy of Jesus includes some women we definitely would not look up to as examples of godly women: Tamar was guilty of adultery, and Rahab was a harlot, just to name a couple of the women who are discussed in the Bible.

As I read a devotional from Max Lucado’s book Chronicles of the Cross earlier this week that spoke of the men and women God used in the Bible, the message was clear. God uses people to change lives and to change the world – and the only kind of people He has to choose from are imperfect people. He did this during biblical times, and He still does it today. God never condones sin – and there are consequences when we make wrong choices. God allowed Abraham to be chased out of Egypt because of his sin. David repented, yet he faced serious ramifications as a result of his sin. But what a clear picture of the loving and forgiving nature of our merciful and gracious God.

On this Thankful Thursday, lets give thanks for our God who doesn’t treat us as we deserve to be treated, but who gives us both mercy – not punishing us as our sins deserve, and grace – blessing us in spite of the fact that we fail daily to live up to His standards. And let’s remember that God uses imperfect people – the only kind He has to choose from. In light of the amazing love and mercy of God, make yourself available to serve Him.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian who served God faithfully in the midst of intense persecution by the Nazis that led to his martyrdom, said “Once a man has truly experienced the mercy of God in his life, he will henceforth aspire only to serve.”

Battling Anxiety by Prayer with Thanksgiving

“BE ANXIOUS FOR NOTHING , but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians ‭4:6‬ NASB

The above Bible verse has been one of my favorites for many years. I memorized it at least ten years ago. I’ve tried to live it out whenever circumstances came that caused anxiety, even studied Max Lucado’s book Anxious For Nothing last year and found help in overcoming some anxiety I was battling during that time.

Yet when I learned about three weeks ago that our home was no longer insurable due to extensive damage during the last two hurricanes that hit the Houston area – that to have continued insurance coverage on our home we had an estimated $40,000 of repairs (not covered by our insurance company) that we needed to find a way to cover – I still had a major battle with anxiety. Yes, I tried to cast my burdens on the Lord, but the anxiety remained. I prayed, but I still was waking up in the middle of the night feeling so anxious about this situation that I couldn’t get back to sleep.

Knowing I needed to find a way to deal with this before it started causing major problems with my health, I prayed and sensed the Lord speaking to my heart that I needed to reach out for help. We had already shared some of the details of what we are facing with the couple who lead our iConnect Bible Study class at church, so I made a call and explained the problem I was having to my friend Donna.

After listening patiently to my explanation of what had been happening, my friend gave me several practical suggestions to use to conquer my fears. First, she reminded me of the above Scripture. We discussed some of the specific fears that were keeping me awake at night. Donna asked me to make a list of those fears and others that came and then find Scriptures I could use in prayer to combat the nighttime fears. And she reminded me of the second action called for in Philippians 4:6, giving thanks to the Lord in the midst of our current circumstances. She also gave several other practical suggestions, which I’ve been putting into practice.

This was nearly two weeks ago, and nothing in our circumstances has changed. But my outlook on the circumstances has turned 180 degrees. Yes, I’m still having an occasional battle with anxiety keeping me from getting a full night of sleep some nights. But the combination of identifying my fears, reminding myself of what God’s Word says about the things I’m fearing, and looking for things to thank God for in the midst of this situation has made a big difference.

Dr. David Jeremiah, founder of Turning Point Radio and Television Ministries and senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church, said:

“No matter what our circumstance, we can find a reason to be thankful.”

I don’t believe Philippians 4:6 is telling us to give thanks FOR the problems we are walking through but rather IN the troubles that are causing anxiety. Frankly, I’m not thankful about the damage that happened to our home or the fact that neither the government disaster relief agency nor our insurance company did anything to help after hurricane Harvey last summer. I’m not thankful that our attempt to find a new insurance company that would actually do more than take our money ended up causing our insurance to be cancelled because my husband was honest about the current condition of the house. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing to give thanks for in this situation.

I am thankful that the damage to our home last summer did not mean we had to move out, which would have been a huge problem with the medical needs of our son David. Many in the Houston area were not so fortunate. I’m grateful that God provided enough money to repair the leak in the roof so that future rainstorms did not result in even more damage. And I’m thankful for supportive friends who are helping us through this difficult time in a way that encourages us to honor God and His Word. And above all, I’m grateful that God has been with us as we walk through this difficult season, doing a work in both my husband’s life and my life.

Prayer is an important key to getting past our anxious thoughts. But remember when Philippians 4:6 gives us counsel on how to overcome anxiety it adds something to prayer. Thanksgiving.

My husband and I have prayed about our situation, reminding God that without His help there is nothing we can do to turn this around. We are doing the things He has shown us to do. And we are thanking Him daily for His blessings in the midst of the hardship.

Are you currently battling anxiety over some circumstances beyond your control? If so, I want to remind you that they are NOT beyond God’s control. He loves you with an everlasting, steadfast love and He has a track record from Creation till now of faithfulness. So instead of giving in to anxious thoughts, pray. Tell Him what you need. Praise Him for who He is. Thank Him for how He has come through for you in impossible situations in the past. And even look for something you can thank Him for in your current stressful circumstances.

The situation may not change overnight – but I suspect YOU will begin to change. And according to Romans 8:28-29, that’s one way God uses everything we face for our good and His glory, as we are conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Add giving thanks to your prayers and see what happens.

 

Learning to RALLY

Life with chronic illness – or any of a variety of the many trials we face as a part of life on this fallen earth – can be difficult. And poor choices that open a door to the enemy make it even harder.

I’m currently doing a study of Rally: A Personal Growth Bible Study, written by Barb Raveling, with a Facebook group I’m a part of. I highly recommend this book.

“Do you ever wish you could escape your problems? Just jump on a ship and sail across the ocean?” If your answer to this question is yes, this study may be just what you’re looking for.

From the back cover of the book:

“The Bible tells us to count it all joy when we encounter trials, but that’s hard to do. It’s easier when we remember that trials have the potential to help us grow. Unfortunately, we’re often so busy stressing and obsessing that we miss out on growing.”

The focus of this Scripture based study is on learning to “slow down, take a deep breath, and spend some time visiting with God about your current struggles.” Barb gives five steps God’s Word teaches us, which form the acronym RALLY.

R – Renew your mind.

A – Ask Him for help and accept what you need to accept.

L – Let go of your have-to-haves.

L – Let go of “if only” and make a plan.

Y – Yay God! Thank Him in all situations.

I Am Doing A New Thing

For the last two years, God has clearly put a specific word on my heart for a Word of the Year. In 2016 it was JOY. I learned that JOY is found in our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. And I began forming a new habit of CHOOSING JOY when I didn’t always feel it in my emotions.

In December 2016, I again received clear direction from God for a Word of the Year for 2017. HOPE was the word I heard repeatedly in prayer, as 2016 came to an end. Again, it proved to be a very appropriate choice, during a year that turned out to be one of the most difficult we’ve recently been through. I shared some of the things God has taught me this year about hope in my recent blog post: https://readywriterbr.wordpress.com/2017/12/26/exploring-our-theme-part-2-still-anchored-in-hope/

As December 2017 began, I again began asking God what word He wanted me to focus on for 2018. For the whole month I prayed, but no one particular word stood out to me. Then as I was reading my Bible and praying this final morning of 2017, I sensed God speaking not a word but a phrase to my heart: A NEW THING. I did a search using one of my Bible apps, and Isaiah 43:19 jumped out at me as a clear word from the Lord.

I’m not sure what lies ahead of us in 2018, but there are definitely some signs that God is at work. My husband has an appointment on New Year’s Day that has the potential of being a major breakthrough in his dream of producing Christian movies – or possibly a total detour from God’s plan. We are moving forward with expectancy that the Lord will make His will clear.

Some of the major issues we have dealt with in 2017 are now behind us, others should be behind us in the next few weeks, and still others present longterm issues that are unlikely to be resolved any time soon. 2017 has definitely been a year of walking through the wilderness, but at no time have we been alone. God has clearly led us through this year, bringing us into a place of increased obedience to the precepts of His Word and a deeper knowledge of His nature. As 2017 comes to an end and 2018 is on the horizon, I’m taking hold of this promise that the Lord is making a way in the wilderness and will provide streams in the wasteland.

And as the new year draws closer, God is continuing to speak to my heart. REST. My new Word of the Year. This is a year to learn to REST in the Lord and in His work in my life. To REST in His promises and His character.