Tag Archive | Spiritual growth

Teaching with Questions

Linking up today with Five Minute Friday. Today’s writing prompt: QUESTION

Jesus was a question asker! As you read the gospels, it becomes obvious that was one of His favorite ways of interacting with the people around Him. Questions make us think, they force us to make decisions. And without these important steps, we will never grow.

One of my favorite passages where Jesus asks a question is found in John 6, one of the accounts of the feeding of five thousand. A large crowd had been gathered to hear Him teach, and Jesus didn’t want to send the people away hungry. Verse 6 says Jesus already knew what He was going to do, but this was a teaching moment, a time to impart some truth to His disciples, and He began with a question which the text tells us was a test. He addresses His question to Philip,”Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”

Philip’s response makes makes it clear that his eyes were on their limited resources. His answer was in essence, “If we use all our money to buy bread, it still wouldn’t be enough for each of them to have a bite.” I think it’s easy to see he failed the test!

Andrew was nearby and he responded to Jesus’ question with another question, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Still not the response Jesus was looking for.

At this point, Jesus moves forward with His plan, involving the disciples in the process. The large crowd not only leaves with satisfied stomachs but they’ve witnessed another miracle, a sign that Jesus truly is the Messiah they had been looking for. The disciples left with twelve baskets filled with the surplus, one for each of them to enjoy. And they also left will a clearer understanding of who Jesus truly was.

As I listened to our pastor’s sermon this past Sunday on John 6, and as I read the entire chapter earlier this week, I learned my own lesson. If Jesus used questions so often in His teaching, what better example is there to follow when I’m teaching? Whether in our small group at church where I’m on the teaching team or in the online posts for a Christian chronic illness support group I help lead, I want to be more alert to using this important teaching method that Jesus so clearly modeled for us.

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.

Going “Gratitudinal” – Changing My Attitude to One of Gratitude

The final chapter in Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy, by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, is about change. When we are facing difficult circumstances, change sounds inviting. But this chapter isn’t talking about a change of circumstances. The change referred to in this chapter is a change in our attitude toward our circumstances.

An attitude is a set of emotions, beliefs, and behaviors toward a particular subject, situation, person or group of people. Attitudes are often the result of our experiences or upbringing, and they can have a powerful influence over our behavior. While attitudes are enduring, they can also change. Attitudes are a learned tendency to evaluate things in a certain way, and since they are learned they can also be unlearned.

Woodrow Kroll, evangelical preacher and radio host of Back to the Bible has said concerning our attitude about difficult circumstances, “Nothing is so sour that it can’t be sweetened by a good attitude.”

Author, speaker and pastor John Maxwell wrote in his book Developing the Leader Within You, “The greatest day in your life and mine is when we take total responsibility for our attitudes. That’s the day we truly grow up.”

While changing circumstances is a great goal, sometimes we are powerless to do this. For example, I can do nothing to change the fact that our special needs son David suffered for thirty-four years with profound mental retardation, spastic quadriplegia CP, seizures and fragile bones prone to fracture and then graduated from this world to heaven last November. I also can do little to change my personal pain and limitations from the chronic illness and disability I live with daily as a result of an auto accident in 1975 that also took the life of our first born daughter Teresa. But in both of these situations, I do have the power to change my attitude. I can choose to have a God-honoring attitude in whatever circumstances I’m currently walking through.

New attitudes start with new mind-sets and result in new behavior. Let’s take the two circumstances I shared above. In dealing with the challenging life and recent loss of our precious son, I could focus on how hard life was for David and the pain of our recent loss, or I could shift my focus to the truth that David is now in the presence of the Lord and whole after a lifetime in a broken body. In my chronic illness and physical disability, I could turn my mind on all the things I’m unable to do, or I could thank the Lord for the blessings in my life and all the things I am able to do. As Nancy says, “The pathway to personal transformation requires a change in perspective.”

She says, “I’d like to coin a new word for those who may be deficient in the gratitude department (which includes all of us from time to time).” Instead of speaking of “attitudinal change,” Nancy calls us to “gratitudinal change.”

Gratitudinal change comes from choosing “to live in the fullness of your relationship with God, not hindered and hamstrung and holding Him at arm’s length, but experiencing Him richly. Feeling at home in His presence.”

It results in rewriting our story “into a tale of God’s grace, one that He uses to help you be an effective minister of His hope and healing to those who are walking the same kind of path” He has helped us to walk. It’s being “so available to His Spirit’s leading, so aware of others’ needs, and so willing to be open and genuine, that God takes the things Satan meant for evil and transforms them into things of value.”

It’s living as God’s Word instructs us in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

‭‭The author gives several specific recommendations to get us headed in the direction of “gratitudinal change.”

  • Surrender your rights to God. If we are to bloom and flourish as children of God in this harsh and suffocating culture – shining like ‘lights in the world’ – we must pour ourselves out as a drink offering before the Lord.”
  • Commit to a set season of gratitude. “Like any other virtue, a grateful spirit is the work of God’s Spirit within the life of a believer who is purposeful about putting off fleshly inclinations and cultivating spiritual ones. And that takes time, effort, and focused attention.” 
  • Take stock of your gratitude accounts. “Who deserves (or needs) a word of thanks from you? Who in your life could use a bit of encouragement today?”
  • Write thank you notes. Remember, “the act of expressing gratitude breeds joy. In the sender and in the recipient… Don’t get hung up on the ‘technique.’ Do resolve to have a thankful heart and to take time to express your gratitude as frequently as possible, by whatever means possible, to as many people as possible.”
  • Do it together, as a Body-building exercise. As we bring this nine-week study of Choosing Gratitude to a close, I encourage you to share with the other members of our group how you plan to put these principles we’ve studied into practice.

Understanding the place of suffering in the Christian life is a key to walking through whatever God permits to touch our lives with a Gratitudinal attitude.

Joni Eareckson Tada became well acquainted with suffering when at age eighteen she suffered a cervical fracture when diving into some shallow water in the Chesapeake Bay and became a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the shoulders down. She has identified suffering as “God’s choicest tool in shaping the character of Christ in us... the gym equipment on which my faith can be exercised.” She adds, “God is more concerned with conforming me to the likeness of His Son than leaving me in my comfort zones. God is more interested in inward qualities than outward circumstances – things like refining my faith, humbling my heart, cleaning up my thought life and strengthening my character.”

Elizabeth Elliot was plunged into the world of suffering when her husband Jim was one of five missionaries killed while participating in Operation Auca, an attempt to evangelize the Huaorani people of Ecuador. She said, “This hard place in which you perhaps find yourself is the very place in which God is giving you opportunity to look only to Him, to spend time in prayer, and to learn long-suffering, gentleness, meekness – in short, to learn the depths of the love that Christ Himself has poured out on all of us… The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.”

Author Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth brings this study to a close with these words, “Some of the holy work we need to have done in us and through us can only come through the valley of shadow and suffering. Are you going to be resistant to that? Or are you going to be clay in His hands, knowing that He is intent on shaping you into the image of Christ and wants to use your life for something far bigger than you own comfort, convenience, and pleasure? He wants your life to be part of a grand, eternal redemptive picture that portrays the wonder of His saving grace.”

I encourage you to meditate on these quotes concerning the benefits we gain through suffering. And allow them to cause a change in your perspective concerning the difficult circumstances in your life.

Do you want your life to reflect the character of Christ? Do you agree that God is more interested in inward qualities than in outward circumstances? Do you want to know the depths of God’s love? Do you want to “go forward in ways that are pleasing to Him, ways that place us in the center of His great will and plan”? Then, make the decision to begin looking at your world through “gratitude-colored glasses.”

I want to close today with a song by Joni Eareckson Tada that perfectly expresses the attitude God desires us to have toward the suffering He has allowed in our lives.

Peace In Tough Situations

My devotional reading this morning in Breaking Free Day By Day, by Beth Moore, began with the following question.

“Have you had a time when you were surrendered to Christ in the midst of real difficulty and you found His peace beyond understanding?”

This immediately brought to mind the day in November 2018 when I was in a small room in the emergency center of St. Luke’s Hospital in the Houston Medical Center. We had already been told that our son David was in critical condition, and while the medical staff was doing their best to stabilize him, his private duty nurse and supported home living aide and I were taken to a nearby room to wait. As I sat in that room, it became a sanctuary of God’s presence. The Lord clearly spoke to me that He was ready to take our son to heaven to be with Him. The words brought no fear, no fight, simply a deep willingness to surrender our precious son to the Lord.

For years, as we battled through one life-threatening situation after another in David’s life, I had dreaded the time when God would take him home. Even in recent years, fear of David’s death had been my biggest source of anxiety. Yet as we faced the time of surrendering our special-needs son to the Lord, there was no fear, no dread.

Concerning situations such as this one, Beth Moore said:

“When we are in crisis and finally give up trying to discover all the answers to the whys in our lives, His unexpected peace washes over us like a summer rain… Peace comes only in situations that are completely surrendered to the sovereign authority of Christ.”

Elisabeth Elliot said in the deepest valleys we walk through, we gain the deepest insights about our God. This deep valley has taught me much about God’s peace. The Greek word translated peace, as used in Philippians 4:7, refers to the sense of rest and contentment that comes from living in harmony with God, accomplished through the gospel.

As I read this brief devotional this morning, my eyes were opened to truth of why God spoke to me that day in the hospital. God was not asking my permission to take David home, I already knew that. In reality, He was inviting me to walk through this very painful situation in His peace. Through surrender to His clearly revealed will, I’ve walked through one of the most painful seasons in my life with a deep sense of peace. Yes, we miss our son. Yes, we have grieved his loss. But if I had to find one phrase to characterize these last four months it would be supernatural peace, that peace spoken of in Philippians 4:7 that makes no sense in the natural, that surpasses our human understanding and is a gift from God.

Help for the Brokenhearted

My One Word for 2019 is FREEDOM, so when I looked for a devotional for the year I decided to use Breaking Free Day By Day, by Beth Moore. The theme of today’s reading was too good not to share.

During this season of growing through the pain of losing our special-needs son David, a time of both rejoicing that he is now in the presence of the Lord and whole for the first time and of feeling like a big chunk has been cut out of my heart and missing him daily, these words really spoke to my heart.

“God does not minimize the things that break our hearts. He is not looking down on us, thinking how petty we are because things have hurt us. If we are so “heavenly minded” that we grow out of touch with earthly hardships, we’ve missed an important priority of Christ.

“God left our bare feet on the hot pavement of earth so we could grow through our hurts, not ignore and refuse to feel our way through them. So surrender your hurt to Him, withholding nothing, and invite Him to work miracles from your misery. Be patient and get to know Him through the process of healing.”

It’s been a little over two months since our precious son David left the pain and limitations he experienced during his thirty-four years on earth to enter eternity whole and in the presence of the Lord. Our whole family definitely misses him, but we have peace in knowing where he is.

This is still a season of “earthly hardships” for my husband Mitch, our daughter Amy and myself, as we adjust to a new path. We are sensing God saying it’s time for life to take some turns, and we’re still uncertain as to all of what that means. For nearly three and a half decades, our lives revolved around meeting David’s needs. That no longer is true. So we are seeking God for clear direction concerning the future. Much needs to be done in preparation, so 2019 is getting off to a challenging start.

In the midst of all of this, the reminder to “be patient and get to know Him through the process of healing” had special meaning in my life. I don’t know what you are facing as we move into the middle of the first month of this new year, but I suspect this may also be helpful instruction for many of my readers as well. Surrender your hurt to Jesus – He cares about you and what you’re going through. Love Him and move forward into what He has for you and your family in 2019.

Understanding Wisdom and Insight

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As I was doing some study on wisdom this morning, trying to understand the difference between wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and insight as they are used in the Bible, I came across an article that used the well known verses of James 1:2-5 in the J.B. Philips paraphrase to explain this. The title of this section of Scripture: “The Christian can even welcome trouble.”

“When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence.

“And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God – who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty – and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him.”

Though I knew these verses were together in Scripture, I’ve always separated James 1:2-4 from verses 5-8 in my mind. These words stood out to me in our current situation because it was so clearly tied together in this paraphrase. If “in the process” of all kinds of trials, you need wisdom concerning how to meet any particular problem, don’t lean on your own understanding. Ask God for the necessary wisdom.

This immediately prompted me to pray for wisdom, not just in general, but in a specific area that has come up as we seek to move forward into what God as for our future. And as soon as I finished that prayer, another area came to mind for prayer.

Wisdom from God is available for us in the numerous daily decisions we face. Do you tend to handle the small daily decisions in your own understanding? I know often I do. God wants us to go to Him for wisdom in the small and not just the major decisions that need to be made. As my husband and I walk through this painful season after the loss of our son, life is full of changes. God cares about the decisions we make in even the smallest hour-to-hour situations that arise. And that’s a new insight – sight into something giving new understanding – for me this morning into the true biblical meaning of wisdom.

Changing the Wilderness into Rivers of Living Water

In the life of a Christian, a “wilderness experience” often involves emotional or financial drought, even spiritual drought, but is not necessarily a sign that a believer is walking in sin. God may seem far away, but in truth He is present and actively at work. These tough seasons of the Christian life are times of testing from God, seasons that God allows to help us grow to a new level in our faith.

As I look back on the final months of 2018 for our family, I think they could easily be described as a “wilderness experience.” From late August through December, we experienced great loss, including cancelled homeowners insurance due to the deteriorated condition of our home, financial stress caused by debt, the loss of our thirty-four year old special-needs son David, and new health problems that are still not resolved. This has been a very difficult season, one that has left me feeling weak and weary.

Isaiah 43:19, a Scripture that speaks of God “doing a new thing” is routinely used as we begin a new year. Yet the familiar message includes a promise I am standing on as we begin 2019. As 2019 begins, I am ready for God to do a new thing in my life. I’m in need of relief and refreshment. God promises to make a way in the wilderness, even bring rivers in the desert. And while I don’t know what you have walked through in recent months, in my current circumstances that is GOOD NEWS!

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Now it’s your turn. Is there a promise from Scripture you are holding onto for 2019? If so, let’s encourage one another by sharing them in the comments. Let’s begin this new year by holding onto God’s promises, in the confidence that He will be faithful to His Word.