Tag Archive | Focus

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.

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!

Beware of the Counterfeits, Embrace the True

In my walk with Christ, I’ve noticed that the world often presents us with alternatives, counterfeit versions of the spiritual disciplines we are taught in God’s Word.

For example, God’s Word clearly teaches the key to success in life is to meditate on and then obey God’s Word. Joshua 18 says, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.” The world promotes other types of meditation that have nothing to do with God or His Word.

The Bible also calls us to the discipline of giving thanks in all situations. One well known Scripture that teaches this is 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” The world likewise acknowledges the value of giving thanks.

Earlier this week, I received a video on a secular app I use to help me in my weight management entitled “Gratitude Meditation.” It basically combined the two spiritual disciplines of meditation and giving thanks, but in a strongly distorted way. And it opened my eyes to the truth that while the world sees value in the practicing gratitude, it isn’t the kind of gratitude we as Christians are called to express.

The world’s idea of gratitude often begins with looking inward and is little more than a form of positive thinking. It looks at blessings, but fails to see their true source.

Christ-centered gratitude begins with looking upward. It is centered in the unchanging character of our God and the promises of His Word. A life of gratitude without Christ misses the mark – it is still empty and purposeless, because it leaves God out of the picture.

It’s much healthier spiritually to turn our focus on Christ-centered gratitude. The best description I’ve found of Christ-centered gratitude comes from Bible teacher Kay Arthur.

“God is in control, and therefore in EVERYTHING I can give thanks – not because of the situation but because of the One who directs and rules over it.”

Therefore today I am grateful for…

☆ 1. Christ’s provision for today’s needs, even when I’m not sure how the overwhelming needs ahead of me will be met.

☆ 2. The strength I have in Christ to do the things He has called me to accomplish today, even in the midst of my physical weakness.

☆ 3. His grace and loving care, even in the midst of a day of physical and emotional pain.

Christ-centered gratitude acknowledges the reality of what we are walking through, but it also acknowledges and gives thanks to the Lord as our help in the midst of the storm.

Remember, Christ-centered gratitude is possible because no matter what you are going through, Philippians 2:13 reminds us we are not left to our own resources, “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”