Tag Archive | Trials

Giving Thanks for Fleas?

It’s easy to rejoice and give thanks when we pray and God answers in the way we hoped He would. It’s also pretty easy to thank Him when we can look around and see many blessings in our lives.

But when our situation seems unpleasant and we’re struggling through tragedy or just plain hard times, it can be difficult to hold onto the truth that God is still in control and He is always loving and kind toward His children. Giving thanks in such circumstances is a step of faith in the character of our God.

In her book The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom, imprisoned with her family for hiding and helping many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II, shares an incident that God used to teach her this important principle of giving thanks in all circumstances.

Corrie and her sister Betsie, had recently been transferred to the worst German prison camp they had seen yet, the all female camp Ravensbruck. As with all newcomers, they were placed in the quarantine compound, located next to the punishment barracks. From there, all day long and often into the night, Corrie says they heard “the sounds of hell itself” as the prisoners were cruelly beaten.

It grew harder and harder. Even within these four walls there was too much misery, too much seemingly pointless suffering. Every day something else failed to make sense, something else grew too heavy.”

A short time later, they were moved to Barracks 28 and Corrie was horrified by their reeking, straw-bed platforms. But she soon learned things were even worse than she had realized.

“‘Fleas!’ I cried. ’Betsie, the place is swarming with them!

“‘Here! And here another one!’ I wailed. ‘Betsie, how can we live in such a place?

Corrie wrote, “I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room…”

And Betsie said, “‘Show us. Show us how.’ It was said so matter of factly it took Corrie a second to realize she was praying.

“‘Corrie!’ she said excitedly. ’He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!

Corrie continues, “I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. ‘It was in First Thessalonians,’ I said.”

In verses 16 – 18, Betsie’s question concerning how they were to survive in this place was answered. “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.’

“‘That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. “Give thanks in all circumstances!” That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!’ I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.

They thanked God for the fact they were together. They thanked God they had a Bible. They even thanked God for the crowded conditions, making it so that more women would be able to hear God’s Word. And Corrie went along with what Betsie was saying… until Betsie thanked God for the fleas.

The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’“

“Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”

“And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.

Later they learned that Betsie was not wrong. Yes, the fleas were a nuisance, but they were also a blessing. Because of the fleas, the supervisors avoided Barracks 28, making a way for the women to have Bible studies in the barracks without harrassment. Dozens of desperate women were free to hear the comforting, hope-giving Word of God.

Barracks 28 at Ravensbruck became known as “the crazy place where women have hope… Hope in the midst of darkness. Hope in the midst of persecution. Hope in the midst of unimaginable evils.”

Many women in Barracks 28 came to know the hope that only can be found in a relationship with Jesus. They learned that (as Corrie put it), “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”

I doubt any of us are facing a situation as devastating as this one Corrie and Betsie ten Boom faced. Are you willing to trust that God has a good purpose in your difficult circumstances, and thank God in the midst of them? We may not know why God has allowed the difficulties we face, but we can know that God is good and He will use the painful situations we walk through for our good and His glory.

Amazing Peace

Yesterday was the six-month anniversary of the day our precious son David graduated to his heavenly home.

The one thing that I dreaded above all others has been a lesson to me that with God peace is possible in even the most heartbreaking situations. If I had to choose one thing to characterize this difficult season of loss, it would definitely be God’s peace. Yes, I’ve grieved the loss of our son, and having him no longer in our lives has resulted in major changes for our family. But beyond all of that, this has been a season of experiencing God’s peace.

Today, Father, I want to thank You for the supernatural and unexplainable peace You have given me during this time I’ve dreaded from the time David was diagnosed with massive infantile spasms at three months of age and we entered the world of being parents of a special-needs child with a limited life expectancy.

I recall all the hospital visits when it didn’t appear David would survive to see another day. When we battled one life-threatening health issue after another, and You brought us through by Your grace. For over thirty-four years, David’s well-being was our primary focus. You provided for his needs miraculously time after time.

We saw David enter his teenage years, which the doctors most acquainted with his extensive medical needs didn’t expect. Then he was approaching age twenty-one and we faced a legal battle so big we couldn’t see a way out, but You made a way. He lived through his twenties and into his thirties, and You never once failed to meet his needs. I’m amazed as I look back on Your goodness in our lives over the past thirty-four plus years.

Yes, Father, we still miss our special son. But this has been a huge lesson in the truth that no matter what You ask us to walk through, Your grace is sufficient. Thank You, Father, that even now I can with confidence confess the promise You gave me when David was admitted to the hospital for testing because his pediatrician was concerned that something was wrong. Yes, the pediatrician was right, but Your Word has sustained me from that day until now.

“Indeed, none of those who wait for You will be ashamed…” Psalm 25:3a NASB

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.

A Different Kind of Gratitude

As I shared last Thursday, at the beginning of this year I felt the Lord prompting me personally to do a study of Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy, by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. Since that time, several ladies in God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness which I help lead have decided to join me in this study. I will also be doing a weekly post on this personal blog based on the chapter we are currently studying from the book.

Nancy DeMoss calls gratitude “a vital transformational life preserver amidst the turbulent waters of runaway emotions,” and because that’s where I’m frequently walking during this season of my life it seems like the perfect time to do this study. As we begin our study, this has for me personally been a week of battling runaway emotions. Between the skin rash I first noticed on December 4th (the day of our son David’s memorial service) that has not responded to treatment, a long list of tasks that needed to be done following David’s death that is taking much longer than we expected to complete, and the adjustments to all of the recent changes in our lives, this has been a challenging and emotional week.

Christ-centered and grace-motivated gratitude is the focus of the teaching in this book. The world acknowledges the importance of gratitude, but without a relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ, this gratitude usually lacks an object of gratefulness or becomes people-based. The kind of gratitude we need to enter the joy-filled Christian life is different. It is an expression of gratefulness to God that is both a byproduct of and a response to the redeeming grace of God.

A call to this type of intentional gratitude is a call to transformation through God’s grace and spiritual discipline. Change is a process that takes time and ceaseless vigilance. In this area, it will require both confronting the “stubborn weeds of ingratitude” – which manifest themselves in fretting, complaining, and resenting – and choosing gratitude in every situation until a grateful spirit becomes our reflexive response to all of life.

Nancy DeMoss says eventually choosing gratitude results in choosing joy, a quality we all desire to experience in our lives. But getting there will require each of us to constantly renew our mind with the truth of God’s Word, set our heart to savor God’s good gifts above all the world has to offer, and discipline our tongue to speak words that reflect His goodness and grace.

Choosing gratitude involves elevating it to a place of priority in our lives. Nancy DeMoss talks about how Christians tend to view gratitude as an inferior Christian virtue – one near the bottom of the long list of “important” qualities such as faith and love. There is one major problem with that reasoning. A grateful heart is a major key to effectively living out these virtues. Without gratitude, faith eventually deteriorates into a practice of religion that’s hollow and ineffective. Love without gratitude will over time “crash hard on the sharp rocks of disappointment and disillusionment.” Nancy adds,

“True gratitude is not an incidental ingredient. Nor is it a stand-alone product, something that never actually intersects with life… It is one of the chief ways that God infuses joy and resilience into the daily struggle of life.”

Christ-centered, grace-infused gratitude has the power to change lives – our lives and also the lives of those who observe and receive the benefits of our expressions of gratefulness. It is fitting in every situation and all the time, even in life’s most desperate moments and difficult situations. It gives hope and has the power to transform overwhelmed strugglers to triumphant conquerors. Nancy DeMoss says it has the “effervescent power… to freshen the stale air of everyday life.”

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.

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.