Tag Archive | Strength

The “How” of Surrender

This week’s focus in the “I Give Up” Bible study on surrender focuses on the HOW of surrender. Laura Story says, “Surrender requires a willingness to change, it requires trust, and it requires active participation.”

But the truth that is central in this week’s teaching is that surrender isn’t about striving and human effort. Rather, it’s about GRACE and ABIDING IN THE VINE.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John‬ ‭15:5-8‬ ‭NIV‬‬

To abide in Christ means to intentionally remain in an ever-growing relationship with him. The result is over time being transformed to be more and more like Him. Abiding in Christ means not giving up, but continuing on despite our doubts or hardships. Abiding in Christ means allowing God to continue the work He is doing in us by staying attached to our source of life and strength.

Abiding in Christ is the key to living a fruitful life. Charles Swindoll wrote, “Jesus never commanded believers to produce fruit. Fruit is the purpose of the branch, but it is not the responsibility of the branch. The branch cannot produce anything on it’s own. However, if it remains attached to the vine, it will receive life-sustaining sap, nourishment, strength, everything it needs.”

As I was doing some research online I came across an article by  Laura Story on what it means to abide. Abiding, she says, is “learning to be a branch.” What does a branch do? It simply remains attached to the vine, and allows the life of the vine to flow through it. Without making any effort itself, it bears fruit.

Laura says, “First of all, Jesus isn’t against doing. He calls us to do a great many things, yet the source of the strength for the doing MUST come from abiding.”

She adds, “I took a moment to gaze out my living room window and noticed something about the trees.  None of the branches seemed to be struggling to connect with the trunks, or vines, if you will. It is the most natural thing in the world for these branches to stay attached to their source of life and strength and nourishment.”

So how do we walk in a lifestyle of surrender? It begins by acknowledging in ourselves we lack the ability to do this. We learn to be a branch. We remain attached to the Vine, which is Jesus Christ. We walk by faith, spend focused time daily with the Lord and abiding in His Word. And then we step out to do whatever He instructs us to do, expecting His life to flow through us.

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Giving Thanks As We Wait

Waiting isn’t optional, but waiting well is! I hope you learned some keys on how to wait well from Tuesday’s post. We learned that to wait well is to wait prayerfully, patiently, joyfully and expectantly. It is to wait with trust, believing what God says in His Word about His nature and His ways. It is to wait with strength and courage. It is to wait with worship. But I purposely left out one truth about waiting well. To wait well is to wait with thankfulness.

Psalm 13 is a short passage of Scripture, only six verses long, so take the time to read it. As you do, notice the question David repeatedly asks.

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”

In these six brief verses, we see the words “how long” four times. Have you ever cried out to God with those same words during a time of waiting that seemed to drag on and on and on? I sure have. We don’t know the exact circumstances that David was facing when he wrote these words. But we do know he was sorrowful, even despairing of life. His enemies were prevailing and he was feeling shaken.

During extended times of waiting, we may feel forgotten or even forsaken. But instead of allowing our feelings to determine our attitude and actions, we can choose to remember what we know about God. We can choose to believe the truths He reveals in His Word. I believe that’s what David did, and it provides a clear pattern for us to follow.

Instead of fixing his eyes on his circumstances, instead of acting on his emotions, David turned his eyes on the Lord. He acknowledges his adversaries, but he also gives thanks to his God.

“And my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’ And my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken. But I have trusted and relied on and been confident in Your lovingkindness and faithfulness; My heart shall rejoice and delight in Your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.” PSALM‬ ‭13:4-6‬ ‭AMP‬‬

Are you currently in a prolonged time of waiting? If so, are you willing to stop using your feelings as a guide? Are you willing to turn your focus off of your circumstances and onto the God who is bigger than your circumstances? Are you willing to look for what you can thank God for in the midst of your situation that still shows no signs of resolution?

On this Thankful Thursday, let’s learn from the psalmist David and reflect on the nature of our God. Where do you see His goodness? His faithfulness? His lovingkindness? Look at your situation and see where there is evidence that God is at work, even during this time of waiting. Then, let’s offer up to Him a sacrifice of thanksgiving for who He is and what He is doing.

“I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.” Psalm‬ ‭116:17‬ ‭

“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” Psalm‬ ‭50:23‬ ‭

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Learning to Wait Well

I am in a time of waiting. I have been in a time of waiting since shortly after I heard a call from the Lord last spring to write a Bible study for our small Bible study group at church and made a commitment to do so. I was preparing to get started on this project, even got an outline down on paper, when suddenly my health took a deep dive from which I still haven’t recovered.

Suddenly, my life was filled with one appointment after another, trying to figure out what was going on and come up with a treatment plan for hopefully getting back to where I was before things changed overnight. Unfortunately, since that negative overnight change, there have been no positive overnight changes. Instead, there have been a series of small and gradual steps forward, each including extended times of waiting.

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Waiting isn’t optional. It’s a part of life, some times moreso than others. But choosing how we will wait is up to us. Will we wait with complaining and discontentment? Or will we wait with trust in the One Who rules in our lives, remembering He is not only in control of our circumstances but also in control of the timing? Waiting well means continuing to look forward to the future we’re moving toward while living faithfully where God has us right now.

How do we wait well? God’s Word gives us several answers to this question. Let’s look at a few from the book of Psalms (all verses in ESV)

  • To wait well is to wait prayerfully.Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” Psalms‬ ‭25:4-5‬ ‭
  • To wait well is to wait with strength and courage.Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭31:24‬ ‭
  • To wait well is to wait with joyful trust in the Lord and in His steadfast love.Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.” Psalms‬ ‭33:20-22‬ ‭
  • To wait well is to wait patiently. “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭40:1‬ ‭‬
  • To wait well is to wait with hope and expectancy.Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he has mercy upon us.” Psalms‬ ‭123:2‬ ‭
  • To wait well is to wait believing God will do what He has said in His Word. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭130:5‬ ‭

One of the best ways to wait well is to turn a time of waiting into a time of worship. Worship causes us to shift our focus off of our limiting circumstances and onto our limitless God. Let’s choose to wait well, and let’s back up that choice by turning our hearts toward the Lord in worship.

 

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.

Our Anchor in the Storm

Many years ago, our daughter Amy had the opportunity to go on a cruise to the Yucatan Peninsula. What promised to be an exciting vacation turned out much differently than expected when the cruise ship was threatened by a hurricane, lost power to one of it’s engines, and had to skip most of the scheduled ports of call to make it to home port ahead of the hurricane.

As the hurricane resulted in a disappointing vacation for our daughter, the storms of life can bring disappointments and hardships into our lives. When that happens, we need an anchor to hold our souls steady until the winds and rain are behind us. God’s Word teaches us that hope is the anchor God has provided to keep us secure during the storms of life.

I recently completed a Bible study at our church on the unshakable hope God provides to hold us steady during the spiritual storms that touch our lives. This isn’t the world’s kind of hope, which is little more than wishful thinking. Biblical hope has as its foundation faith in God. It is the belief that with God anything is possible. Tony Evans has defined this kind of hope as “confident expectation that God is going to do what He says He will do.” Biblical hope doesn’t deny the difficult circumstances we are walking through, but it views them through the lens of God’s character and His Word.

Hebrews 6:18 encourages us to seize or take hold of the hope God has set before us, to grab it and not let it go. Hebrews 6:19 says, “We have this hope as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.

Without an anchor to keep us steady, when the storms of life hit, our souls – our minds, will, and emotions – will be tossed to and fro. Hope in God and in His promises is the anchor that keeps us steady regardless of what circumstances we might be facing.

Our family been through several intense storms in the past couple years. And in these difficulties our family has walked through, I’ve learned a little about holding onto hope as an anchor to steady my soul. Two things in particular have stood out to me.

First, I’ve learned that the character of our God is a sure foundation I can sink my anchor into. In our recent study, we focused on four characteristics of God which enable us to know He will do what He has promised.

  •  God is unchanging.Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James‬ ‭1:17‬ ‭‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬
  • God is faithful.Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering; for He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23
  • God is strong. He has the power to do what He has promised. “No unbelief made him (Abraham) waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” Romans‬ ‭4:20-21‬ ‭‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬
  • God cannot lie.So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.” Hebrews‬ ‭6:17-18‬‬‬‬‬‬

I’ve also learned that for any situation God asks us to walk through, there is a promise in God’s Word we can stand on.

  • Are you feeling overwhelmed with physical or emotional weakness? Hebrews 4:15 tells us Jesus understands what you’re going through. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews‬ ‭4:15-16‬
  • Are you feeling everyone is condemning you, that no one even cares enough to pray for you? That’s not true. “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” Romans‬ ‭8:34‬ ‭
  • Maybe you are in a trial that has lasted so long you’ve given up hope of anything ever being different. Grab hold of the promise in Psalm 30:5 and don’t let it go. “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

No matter what storm you are facing, God has an answer in His Word. Ask Him to lead you to the truth you need to hold onto about His character. Ask for a promise in His Word you can lean on. Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. Your hope in the character and promises of God is the sure anchor that will steady your soul until you are through the storm.

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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The Discipline of Memorizing Scripture

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.” Isaiah‬ ‭61:1-4‬ ‭NIV‬‬

As I began a study earlier this year of Breaking Free, by Beth Moore, one of the first assignments was to memorize the above passage. As I struggled phrase by phrase to learn this rather long portion of Scripture, I had no idea of what our family would be facing a few months later – or of how God would use several of the truths in these verses to bring comfort in the midst of sorrow. This whole situation with the sudden loss of our son has given me fresh understanding of the importance of memorizing Scripture so it will be available for God to bring to mind in our times of need.

This passage written by the prophet Isaiah describes some of the reasons Almighty God sent His only begotten Son Jesus Christ to the earth. Beth Moore wrote: “One of the primary reasons God sent His Son to this earth was to bring tender salve and relief to those whose hearts have been broken.”

As I’ve walked through many of the practical aspects of dealing with the death of our special-needs son David this week and of making preparations for his memorial service next Tuesday, this passage has taken on special meaning. I’ve experienced the Lord’s comfort in the midst of mourning, joy and a garment of praise instead of the deep despair I had always thought would be a part of this event which I have dreaded since David’s initial diagnosis as a three-month old. In those early days, we were told it was unlikely that David would live beyond early childhood, yet God graciously gave us thirty-four years with our precious son before He took him home to be with Him and to restore him to complete health.

So during this tough week of dealing with many of the practical aspects concerning David’s death, I’m grateful for the truths of Scripture that God has brought to mind and used to strengthen and comfort me. And I’m thankful that I didn’t give up when I was struggling a few months ago to commit these verses to memory.

Have you made memorizing Scripture a part of your daily walk with God? If not, I highly recommend making this discipline a part of your daily quiet time. I’ve personally found the Scripture Typer Bible Memory app to be a helpful tool for committing Scripture to memory and regularly reviewing those verses I’ve memorized. Our God can use many methods to speak truth to our hearts in our time of need, but as I’ve grown as a Christian I’ve learned that one method He uses repeatedly in my life is that of bringing to my mind a truth that I have already made the effort to memorize.