Complete Joy

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Matthew 11:28

Sometimes I just get tired and defeated and I want to give up.  It hurts. I have war wounds that never seem to heal. I get delivered from one thing only to be devoured again by something else.  What’s the point of fighting? 

I say these things to remind myself that it’s okay to fall short.  It’s okay to be broken and sad about it. Really. It’s okay. This isn’t actually about you.  At least not in the ways you might think. The suffering of the Christ follower always has purpose.

10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10

I stumble and fall, but I get back up again, even when I don’t want to.  I get up because I am weak and broken and yet I am triumphant. Yes, you heard me right.  It’s about triumph. It’s about trust in that triumph. Pain and failure are always an opportunity to need God desperately and find that He is utterly faithful, utterly strong, and utterly victorious.  Always.

39 The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
    he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;
    he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
    because they take refuge in him.
Psalm 37:39-40

Jesus looked really, really defeated on that Roman cross.  I think Satan thought he’d actually done it: defeated the King of Kings.  But we all know what happened next. After suffering horrifically, after scourging and mocking and humiliation, after slowly bleeding out and getting weaker and weaker, after agonizing asphyxiation, Jesus allowed himself to die. 

And that looked like the opposite of deliverance. Especially when we recall Psalms 37  “…he delivers them from the wicked and saves them…” 

Jesus couldn’t have victory over death until he’d experienced it.  

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
1 Peter 2:21-24

Death wasn’t the end for Jesus, and it’s not the end for us.  

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”
Luke 24:1-7

That pretty much says it all, right?  

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:29-31

So when the time has come to suffer again, and I’m feeling weary from the pain, I will look to the cross of Christ and find my strength.  I will remember the suffering that leads to victory, and my joy will be as Christ’s.  Death isn’t the end.  

john-1511

I Changed my Mind, Let’s Talk About Suffering

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:14-17

I was going to talk about being joint heirs with Christ.  I was going to talk about how Jesus elevates us to an equal place with Him.  I might have even talked about how the Lord sees men and women equally, and calls us all “sons” with the same privileges that entitles us to.  But I changed my mind. 

I changed my mind when I got to verse 17 in Romans Chapter 8.  

17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:17

Did you catch that last bit?  The part about suffering? Ya, the hard part.  How did Christ suffer? How do we suffer with Him?  Why do we have to suffer? 

Admittedly, this is a subject I’m well acquainted with.  I’ve suffered a lot. I’ve suffered with severe depression.  I have PTSD from past trauma I have endured. I’ve had one physical ailment after another: cancer, Guillain-Barré syndrome, chronic blockages of my intestines, sepsis (more than once!), pneumonia, hospitalizations, severe arthritis. The list endures as Christ endures.  Because of Christ I endure.

Suffering is not fun.  But there is peace in the suffering when we suffer with Christ. Because I’ve suffered a lot, I know this peace well.  Retrospectively, I consider it a gift well earned. I’ve seen things. Felt things. Learned things. All from suffering.

2 Count it all joy, my brothers,[b] when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

Who ever wanted to count suffering and trials as joyful?  Joy is for celebrations, for victories, for fun times. It certainly isn’t a go to feeling for suffering.  And yet, there it is. Right there in the Bible. In the Holy book of Jesus. In the inerrant Word of God.  

But here’s what it doesn’t say: We won’t have pain, we won’t struggle, we won’t anguish over it, or feel afraid. Think back to the Garden of Gethsemane.  That’s that time before the cross where Jesus sweat drops of blood. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never sweat drops of blood. 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

For the joy set before Him, Christ endured the suffering.  He looked beyond His current circumstances, beyond the pain, beyond the fear, beyond the shame.  He focused on the outcome.  

Suffering is a tool for perfecting our faith.  It refines us and tempers us. In the suffering we see the endurance and peace only Christ can give us.  But we also receive the greatest gift in suffering, the gift of hope.

3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5

Hope is a powerful thing!  The hope of what will come from our suffering  creates such a faithful witness to the world! When we hope in Christ’s enduring love, we can accept the enduring suffering that comes from this evil world.  

We can endure, because we have hope!

Lord, help us to endure the suffering that the world brings us.  Thank you for being the perfect example of what suffering looks like, and also the ultimate example of victory that You are.  We have been promised Your victory, Jesus. We are your joint heirs. We will endure for the joy set before us, because we have your Holy Spirit.  We have Your love and your freedom to endure whatever suffering this broken world pours on us. Let us drink from your cup of suffering and receive the supernatural peace that only You can provide.  We love you, Jesus. Help us rejoice in our suffering for what it will teach us and train us for. Amen.

 

Just Show Up

I can really get frustrated when God doesn’t tell me His plan.  Doesn’t He understand that I need to know? I’ve got things to do, people to see!  How am I supposed to do that effectively if I don’t know the details of His plan?

God has a chuckle every time I talk to him like that.

The sad thing is, I know full well I don’t need to know every detail of His plans for me.  I just don’t. How would I ever learn to trust Him if I always knew what was going to happen?  But I’m ornery. I’m stubborn. I wanna know, dangit!

God is so gentle, though, isn’t He?  He’s patient and kind. He knows how much I love Him and how much I struggle with trusting Him.  So He shows me love instead of wrath.

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands,[a] forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:6-7

When I was in the hospital, God did something that I can’t stop thinking about.  (To be honest, He did a lot of things I can’t stop thinking about!) He showed up, faithful and true, while I was sedated and saying all kinds of weird stuff.  

I wasn’t really there in my mind.  I was intubated, sedated, in terrible pain, and I definitely didn’t know the plan.  But God did. And He showed up. 

Over and over again, people have been telling me how the Glory of the Lord was there with me in the ICU.  It overwhelmed people with love and peace and light.  

I didn’t need to know all the details.  I still don’t know them all. I will likely never know.  Propofol and Fentanyl did a great job in handling my pain (apparently) and giving me solid amnesia for two weeks.  Like John Snow, I knew nothing.

And God showed up. 

That was all I had to do, too.  I showed up. I showed up in delirious pain, full of drugs to keep me “comfortable”, and I demanded nothing.  I was just there.  

God is so good.  All we have to do is show up.  Really. We don’t need to know anything else.  I’m learning this slowly. But God is patient with me.  I will forever worship Him for His love is enduring and patient and kind.  

 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. 9 And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.” Exodus 34:8-9

Stiff necked as we are, God shows up.  Why should we try do anything more?

 

I Will Declare What the Lord has Done

My doctor told me I was going to die if I didn’t have surgery. He said that the surgery was very risky and there was a high risk of complications and even death.  What I heard was: it was likely death either way. Surgery was scheduled less than a week later.  

The day before the surgery the pain in my abdomen became excruciating.  An ambulance took me to the hospital. My daughter said she could hear me screaming from the waiting room as they wheeled me upstairs after being admitted.

I woke up two weeks later still in the ICU.  There had been complications. I’d been on a ventilator for ten days. My lungs failed. My kidneys failed.  I got pneumonia. And finally sepsis. From what I understand from the story, I should have died multiple times.  But instead of dying I lived. Miraculously. Doctors were flabbergasted. 

My poor husband.  It had to be so hard to be pulled into a private room and told I likely wouldn’t survive the night multiple times.  How horrible.

Our God had different plans.  People began to rally prayer for me.  I had people praying on six different continents!  As I’ve recovered, multiple people that I didn’t even know have come to me to introduce themselves and tell me how God had laid me on their heart in a powerful way to pray.  

A friend of mine at church organized prayer in her home and enlisted people to pray everywhere she went.  There was a 24 hour prayer vigil. They put my picture on the screen at church and had a special prayer time for me every week.  Streams of concerned people came to the hospital to pray over me and my family. A doctor even asked my husband who I was that so many people kept coming to pray for me.

Who am I? I am loved by the Creator of the Universe.  I am His.  

I’m recovering well now that I’ve been home for a few weeks.  My wounds have been healing at a miraculous rate. The wound care doctor was blown away by the speed of healing.  And my strength has returned quickly. That’s God for you. Because of God’s mercy and because of the prayers of the saints, I am alive. When, at the Lord’s leading, people come together to pray, miracles happen.

I am so thankful for the Lord’s mercy and for His hand over me.  And I am humbled by all of those who prayed for me without ceasing.  Thank you. I’m alive.

I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.
Psalms 118:17

Oh Mighty Man of Valor

And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.”
Judges 6:12

I’ve had a lot of people tell me I was courageous.  At times in my life I’ve felt like I was. I even have “Be strong and courageous” tattooed on my wrist.  But there are times when I just want to hide away from the world and stay “safe”, afraid and in the dark, but safe.  

But as I was praying this morning, the Lord reminded me of this verse from Judges.  Poor Gideon was hiding in a hole, afraid of getting killed, when he had a visitation and a calling from the Lord.  

Gideon felt and acted like a coward.  And that’s sometimes what I do. We all do it, right?  But that’s not what God sees. He doesn’t see our fear or failings.  He blotted out our transgressions, our fears, our cowardice, our doubt.  

Our God defined Gideon as a mighty man of valor before he’d done anything valourous at all.  But if you are familiar with the story, you know what happens with Gideon. God patiently, pleasingly, persistently guides Gideon into discovering who God made him to be.

We need to remember that.  We aren’t who we think we are.  We were made with a purpose, to be God’s ambassadors.  We were made to be strong and courageous, not by overcoming our fear and doubt, or fighting through our circumstances, but by God.  God made us strong and courageous. We walk confidently into battle because of Him.

As David said so confidently, as a kid with a slingshot against the world’s definition of a “mighty man of valor”:

“You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”
1 Samuel 17:45

I think that one of the most important things we can learn from scripture is that we don’t have to rely on ourselves.  God is with us. And what a great relief that is. I don’t know about you, but I’m really done relying on myself. I put all my money on God’s power within me.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
Romans 8:31

Breaking Bad

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 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. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5

It can be so easy to lose trust in God’s comfort.  A bad day. Bad decisions. Bad news. Bad memories.  Bad cold. Bad cramps. Bad paycheck. Bad Chinese food.  Sometimes life just hurts. And sometimes it hurts really bad.

It’s great to know that our pain might someday be an opportunity to encourage and empathize with someone else.  But what about now? What about in the midst of your “bad”.

I wish I could say I had a good answer.  I’m in the middle of my own bad right now, and if I’m being honest, I’m feeling too bad to see the good.  

Yet, somehow, because God is so good, there is always an answer, even when I have nothing.  I can trust God. I can trust His promises. I can trust His Word and speak it out.

17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
   he delivers them from all their troubles.
18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
   and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:17-18

When I’m feeling brokenhearted.  When I’m feeling bad. I can trust that God is near to me.  He is drawing close to me even in the midst of my pain and suffering.

When I don’t know how to draw close to Him, He draws close to me.  

“The God of all comfort, who comforts us in all affliction” will comfort me.  He will pull me close and kiss my tears away. I don’t have to understand. I don’t have to believe.  I don’t have to do anything.

The God of all comfort does it all.

 

Loneliness

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
   for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
   bring me out of my distresses.
18 Consider my affliction and my trouble,
   and forgive all my sins.
Psalm 25:16-18

Last night I had a friend call me.  She’d had a vivid dream/vision of me and she wanted to share it with me.  I know this friend to be prophetic and full of unadulterated joy and confidence in the Spirit, so I was excited and intrigued by what she had seen.

Retelling the details of the dream isn’t as important as what the Lord said to me through it.  He didn’t want me to be lonely. He wanted me to know that if I dwell in a place of loneliness I will begin to feel desperate and trapped, but He has opened the doors wide to green pastures and He is leading me gently by the hand.

Of course this has great value for me, especially since my husband travels internationally regularly to share the Gospel.  But I also can’t help but see that the Lord wants us all to know the freedom of His leadership and companionship.

I’m often guilty of putting my hope for fellowship in the presence of my husband and friends.  And when I do that I am satisfied for the moment, but sorely lacking when those people are not accessible.  Not so with God. He is always there. He adores me and longs to spend time with me. He wants to lead me beside still waters and restore my soul.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3     He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
   for his name’s sake.
Psalm 23:1-3

He wants to restore me, comfort me, and BE WITH ME.  And yet my heart strays away, in search of worldly comforts, and worldly desires, even though those comforts and desires only lead to death.

Now, in the midst of loneliness, praying for my husband as he brings the Gospel to dangerous places and I go to bed alone, I am reminded that God is longing for me.  His graciousness and enduring love are infinite and yet they are fully personal to me. When my heart is heavy with the affliction of loneliness and fear, God hears me and hungers for me to draw closer to Him.

When my friend called me last night, she encouraged me to reach out to my friends so that I could receive the gifts of blessing the Lord has for me through them.  But as I meditated on the words she had given me, all I could think of is the longing the Lord has for me, and I’ve pushed away the idea of fellowship with Believers.

I want to put my focus on communion with Him, first and foremost, but I seem to do it at the expense of community with my brothers and sisters.  Only in Him are my troubles settled and my sins forgiven. My sin of dependency of other things besides God. My sin of fear. My sin of doubt. My sin of defeat.  All of them keep me from trusting in the Lord with all my heart.

I am victorious in the Lord!  I have been promised abundant life.  I have been given victory over my enemies.  

Even though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death,

   I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
   your rod and your staff,
   they comfort me.
Psalm 23:4

I have been promised comfort in the midst of my trial.  I have been promised courage and not fear. Jesus brings comfort when I let Him lead me.  So often I don’t let Him!

I have everything I need when I am in the Presence of the Living God.  

But seeking out friends for fellowship and encouragement also has so much value.  Too often the Lord reminds of the truth of peace in His Presence and so I proclaim it over myself and don’t see results.  Now I know why. God doesn’t want us to be lonely. He made us to dwell in unity.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
Psalm 133:1

Sure, I need my alone time with the Lord, but I also need my fellowship with the Body of Christ, so that my family and I can share our gifts from God with one another, so that we can be encouraged, healed, inspired, and exhorted, just to name a few. There is a happy balance between the enduring and constant fellowship the Lord wants to have with us, and also in the fellowship that we should have together.

Jesus even prayed for us to be in unity with our brothers and sisters in Him:

15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

Therefore my prayer is this:

Lord lead me beside still waters, restore my soul, turn to me and be gracious to me.  And help me to be in unity with You AND with the body of Christ here on Earth. As you so aptly said, “It is not good that man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18)

When I’m lonely I will seek Your Presence as well as the fellowship of believers.  Both are important, and I’m sorry that in the past I have forsaken the body of Christ when I am lonely. Help me in my loneliness, Jesus.  Help me in my fear.

Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me!
   Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness preserve me,
   for I wait for you.
Psalm 25:20-21

Amen