Tag Archive | Hope in hard places

God’s Unfailing Love

For many years, Bible reading and study has been a major priority in my daily life. The primary way God speaks to us is through His written Word, and in the weakness of my flesh I need to hear from God daily to know how to walk victoriously through the many challenges of this life.

This past week was not an exception to my habit of beginning my days with time in God’s Word. But it was an exceptional week of hearing from God. It was a week where God’s message to me was coming through loud and clear. It was a week of hearing over and over again: “Trust in My unfailing love.

Unfailing love is how the New International Version of the Bible translates the Hebrew word checed. Other versions translate it steadfast love, lovingkindness, mercies, faithfulness, kindness, mercy, and love. Why so many different translations for one Hebrew word? Simply because there is no single English word that fully expresses the meaning of checed.

Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words says there are three basic meanings of the word, which always interact: strength, steadfastness, and love. This word is used 240 times in the Old Testament, most often in the Psalms. Vine’s says, “The term is one of the most important in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics.”

This single Hebrew word also includes the concepts of generosity and favor, of loyalty and mercy, of grace and faithfulness, of goodness and devotion, of protection and blessing. When used to describe our God, it applies primarily to God’s particular love relationship with those who are His chosen, those who have entered into a covenant relationship with Him. That includes you, if you have placed your faith in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins on the cross.

As I did my regularly scheduled Bible reading last week, each day it included this concept. God was obviously trying to show me something important about His character. Then the day after this began, we learned that we need around $40,000 in repairs on our home, due to damage from Hurricanes Ike and Harvey that was not covered by our insurance. I was feeling overwhelmed.

The next morning, one verse about God’s unfailing love especially stood out to me. It was Isaiah 54:10.

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”

‭‭As I read these words, I realized God had given me a promise to hold onto. What we are facing feels huge, but it isn’t bigger than our God. No matter what lies ahead, we can walk through it in confidence that His unfailing love for us will not be shaken and that His peace won’t be removed.

This week, I’m especially grateful for the special words God brings to life from His written word, when a verse or concept in the logos, the written Word, becomes a rhema word that we personally hear and receive as we spend time in His presence. For that to happen requires a commitment to open your Bible (or a Bible app) every day with expectancy that God will speak to you.

Is there a verse of Scripture or a concept taught in the Bible that God has used to encourage you recently? Give thanks to the Lord for being a God who speaks to His people. If God has spoken a special verse or passage to your heart that has encouraged you, don’t keep the good news to yourself. Share it with someone else. It may be just what they are needing to get through a difficult day.

A New Month, A New Topical Bible Reading Plan

For a couple years, I have been using the monthly topical Bible reading plans published by Rachel Wojo, and this month’s plan Perfect Peace: Planting My Eyes on Jesus is especially appropriate to where I’ve been walking in recent months. My desire is to do at least one blog post per week during June sharing some of the things I’m learning from this study. If anyone is interested in doing this study with me, here is Rachel’s June Bible reading plan.

In the midst of a time of trying to find answers to explain recent irregularities in my blood tests, walking in God’s peace has been a challenge. It’s been a daily battle not to give in to fear. Last July and again in February of this year, my alkaline phosphatase levels have been elevated. My doctor suspected this was due to a new bone problem, so she ordered a full body bone scan with contrast. The test revealed no new bone disease that would explain the lab results.

Then, she felt the next most probable problem was disease or obstruction in the liver or pancreas. So I had a barium and IV contrast CT-scan done of my liver and pancreas done last Friday. This was especially scary, because my doctor had mentioned the possibility of cancer. But again, I was given a clear report of health from this test. This was a huge relief, but at this point we still do not know what is behind the elevated levels.

Next Friday, I’ll be taking the next step in the diagnostic process, an appointment with my gastroenterologist to discuss the results of the CT-scan in more detail and to schedule a colonoscopy. And the following Friday, I’m scheduled for a bone density test, which my doctor said is due and should be done to rule out the one other possible area of trouble with my bones.

Unlike most of the health issues I’ve faced in the past, this new one isn’t causing any outward problems. But there has been a battle – a spiritual battle in my mind against fear. So this month’s topical study on the peace we find in God’s presence is especially fitting.

Day 1: Psalm 29:1-11 (I’m using ESV throughout this study unless otherwise noted)

“The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.” Psalms‬ ‭29:3-4

‭‭The voice of the Lord – and His very presence – is above the waters that threaten our lives. This reminds me of the first part of Isaiah 43:2.

“When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you…”

Psalm 29 ends with these words. They are a great reminder that God is still on His throne, that He has been and continues to be in charge.

“The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!” Psalm ‭29:10-11‬ ‭

Father, today I remind myself that these latest health problems I’m facing haven’t taken You by surprise. You are above these choppy waters I’m going through, still reigning on Your throne of grace and love. Thank You for a doctor who won’t let this go until she rules out all of the major issues that could be causing this irregularity in my blood work. Thank You that the two most likely and most serious problems have now been ruled out. Continue to teach me how to take hold of Your peace and rest in You as I walk through this storm in my life. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

Everything Beautiful Bible Reading Plan: Introduction & Week One

When I first saw the subject of Rachel Wojo’s March Bible Reading Plan, I almost decided to look for another topical study for the month. Why? Because honestly my life doesn’t appear to be filled with beauty. But then I prayed and read Rachel’s introduction to this month’s study. And I strongly sensed this was a study I needed.

Sometimes it’s difficult to see beauty in this fallen world in which we live. As Rachel says, the ugliness of life can steal our ability to see beauty from day to day. “The world is full of evil and having the wisdom to recognize it and yet embrace the beauty of life seems to be more difficult than ever. The only truth that will help is God’s Word.”

Day 1: Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

This study begins with a familiar passage, Ecclesiastes 3:1-11, including the well known verses that teach us there is a time for everything: (Ecclesiastes 3:2-8)

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.

God is not limited by time, but we are. Therefore, we need to use time wisely in order to accomplish the purposes God has for us. But today’s passage goes beyond the truth that there is a time for everything. Verses 9-11 continue:

“What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

When I read these verses, I am reminded that temporal life, life in this material world, is not all there is. Yes, time on this earth is filled with both good and bad, joy and sorrow, pleasure and toil, birth and death. But if we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, it is simply a prelude, a preparation time for eternity. Then we will understand why God allowed both times of planting and uprooting, of gathering and scattering, of tearing down and building up. Then it will all make more sense. Then everything will be made beautiful. In the meantime, look for the beauty God has already given, recognizing that this is just a foreshadowing of what awaits us for eternity.

Day 2: Psalm 16:1-11

One thing I do when I study Scripture is check the verses in different versions. I noticed this morning that the wording of verse 1 varies quite a bit according to the version, and this prompted me to do a Word study of the Hebrew word translated “take refuge” in some versions and “put trust” in others. I learned that the word in this verse refers specifically to taking refuge, not by changing my location, but by changing where I’m placing my trust and hope. When we face trouble or hardship, Scripture teaches us to flee to the Lord as our place of safety and protection, to put our trust and hope in Him. When we do that, the truths illustrated below are promises we can stand on.

Day 3: Isaiah 40:1-8

Are you walking through a wilderness season? These verses from Isaiah 40 refer to John the Baptist, who came to prepare the way for Jesus. But I believe they also indicate we can “prepare the way” for the Lord to come into our situation. That begins with repentance of any sin God reveals, and then it’s time to “build the highway” in our hearts that God can use.

In the natural, when a new highway is to be built, the first step is to assess the land and determine what needs to be done to provide a firm foundation for the road to be built upon. Long before concrete or asphalt can be laid, the surface needs to be leveled. God’s presence and His Word do this in our hearts, bringing comfort and direction in the midst of our wilderness. Psalm 119:50 says, “This is my comfort in my affliction, For Your word has given me life.” When we seek God with our whole heart instead of leaning on our own understanding, He promises to direct our path (Proverbs 3:5-6).

God has the power to raise up the valley so we don’t sink into despair and to lower the hills before us that look too high to climb. In His timing, He will make the rough ground level and the rugged places a plain. Our job is to trust Him and turn to His presence and His Word for comfort while we wait on Him to work on our behalf.

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And to close, a song to remind us of the Beautiful Things God is doing in our lives in the midst of the daily struggles we face.

 

 

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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.

Exploring Our Theme, Part 2: Still Anchored in Hope

As I sat in the hospital in September caring for our extremely sick special needs son David, I wrote what I fully expected to be part one of a two part series exploring the theme of my blog. You can read that post here:  https://readywriterbr.wordpress.com/2017/09/24/exploring-our-theme-part-1-anchored-in-hope/

Then life happened. David survived his life-threatening illness, but he returned home with a whole new list of medical problems. In October and November, my time was occupied with managing his care and with my leadership team responsibilities with God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness Facebook group. Other than a couple quick Five Minute Friday posts my blog was quiet. December has been filled with daily Advent posts on the names of Jesus.

As 2017 comes to an end, a year in which I chose Hope as my Word of the Year, I feel it’s time to reflect back on what God as taught me this year about Hope. 

What is Hope?

  • First, biblical hope is not wishful thinking. True hope – even when you look up the definition in a reputable dictionary such as Merriam-Webster – is closely tied with confident expectation of fulfillment.
  • There are two Hebrew words usually translated hope in the Old Testament. The first, yachal, is a verb and includes the idea of waiting (usually on God) with an attitude of hopeful expectancy. The second, tiqvah, is a noun and is used in reference to the ground of our hope or the things hoped for.
  • In the New Testament, the main Greek words translated hope are elpis (noun) and elpo (verb). Elpis is probably best translated expectation and can refer to expectation either of good (resulting in hope) or of evil (resulting in fear). When translated hope, the noun is used to refer to the object of our hope (the Author of hope, the One who is its foundation) or the result of our hope (especially the joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation). The verb form, elpo, means to anticipate, usually with pleasure.

What has God taught me about hope this year?

  • The most practical lesson I’ve learned is that hope is especially needed during seasons of waiting on the Lord. This year has been filled with lessons on waiting, and having hope during those times has made the difference between walking in victory and falling in defeat. When Isaiah 40 speaks of waiting on the Lord, the Hebrew word used is yachal, which is often translated hope. The two concepts cannot be separated.

Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah‬ ‭40:30-31‬ ‭ESV‬‬

  • Another concept which God has taught me this year is that biblical hope is one of the most important factors in not being shaken by difficult circumstances. When storms come against us, we need an anchor to hold us firm. According to Hebrews 6:19, Hope is that anchor.

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain,Hebrews‬ ‭6:19‬ ‭ESV‬

  • A quote by the late RC Sproul of Ligonier Ministries explains this better than I can.

“Hope is called the anchor of the soul (Hebrews 6:19), because it gives stability to the Christian life. But hope is not simply a ‘wish’ (I wish that such-and-such would take place); rather, it is that which latches on to the certainty of the promises of the future that God has made.”  RC Sproul

Many times this year, circumstances have felt overwhelming. I found myself in need of something stable to hold onto. I found that in reading and believing the promises of God’s Word and in trusting what Scripture reveals about the nature and character of God. By God’s grace, I would latch on to one of these and be strengthened to keep going. The storms didn’t go away, but by anchoring myself in God’s character and promises, the “boat” of my life did not capsize.

As 2017 comes to an end and I pray about a new Word of the Year for 2018, I still have much to learn about biblical hope. I’m sure God will continue revealing new truths to me in this area. My hope has grown this year, but I definitely still have room to continue growing and several still unresolved issues where increased hope is needed.

During this year of focusing on hope, there have been many songs which have encouraged me to hold on to hope. I’ll close by sharing my favorite, one that has repeatedly strengthened me during this difficult year.

Jeremiah’s Hope

This following devotional from Seeds of the Kingdom (https://www.seedsofthekingdom.org/) really ministered to my spirit this morning, and I wanted to share it with you. Written by Sue Griffiths, Ellel Ministries International.

Lamentations is Jeremiah’s book of weeping for the calamities that have happened to his country and his people. But tucked in there he suddenly spills out what has happened to him personally: ‘Those who are my enemies for no reason hunted me down like a bird. They forced me alive into a pit and threw stones on me. Water rose above my head. I thought, I am finished! (Lamentations 3:52-54).

Jeremiah tells us this story somewhere else – how he was taken and lowered on ropes down into a deep pit where he sank right up to his armpits in the mud at the bottom. His life was saved by an honourable Ethiopian army officer who personally confronted the king: ‘My lord, King! What these men have done to Jeremiah the prophet is evil! They have thrown him into the cistern; and he is likely to die there where he is, because of the famine, for there is no more food in the city’ (Jeremiah 38: 6-9). Thirty soldiers were sent to rescue Jeremiah and his life was saved.

This is the ‘public’ account of what happened and the rescue. But in Lamentations, Jeremiah is letting out his feelings about the experience. This is terror, trauma and torture. We’re hearing about the soldiers who tossed stones down the well on top of him, and how Jeremiah, totally trapped, nearly drowned.

We are often like Jeremiah: we have a ‘public’ account of what’s happening to us. When people ask how things are we might answer, “Well, things aren’t too good at the moment”, and the response is, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that!” End of conversation.

But inside, in that place where no-one else sees, we may be nearly overwhelmed by trauma and fear; terror of the future, despairing of ever getting out of the pit we’re in. That’s just where these verses come in: ‘But in my mind I keep returning to something that gives me hope’.

Jeremiah’s raw honesty about this experience means a lot to me. God has seen me and my family through times so bad I used to wonder whether they would ever come to an end. It took time – and it often does – and it needed God to be there ‘every morning’ for me. But God’s faithfulness and His love never come to an end.

We don’t have to have trauma anywhere on the horizon. Just day by day by day we can sing and look to God, who’s there day after day after day for us, every morning, with hope.

Prayer: Thank You, God, that You’re there every morning, day after day for me, with Your love and Your faithfulness. I welcome You today! Amen.