Are You There God, it’s Me, Daisy

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
   I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
   for how should my name be profaned?
   My glory I will not give to another.
Isaiah 48:10

The holidays are here. Pretty lights, joyful songs, bright smiles from strangers, all create an expectation of joy and anticipation of presents and family and celebration.  Candy and baked goods are passed around with enthusiasm. Decorations fly across houses and yards and streetlights and shop windows. Trees full of lights and shiny ornaments fill up living rooms, and gaily wrapped gifts pile up beneath them.

But what if you’re not feeling it?

Holidays are hard. For so many of us, Christmas and Thanksgiving become a time of sorrow.  Loneliness, depression, past memories and expectations from others take our minds and hearts to a place of affliction and trial, instead of joy.

There’s so much pressure to smile, to laugh, to celebrate. Our lives become performances of their own as we travel to shopping centers, recitals, concerts, parties and religious services.  Music and movies demand our happiness and celebration. It’s exhausting.

In times like these it’s no wonder people get cynical. As the season progresses our “bah humbugs” get louder and louder in our hearts.

It’s an affliction of false promises.

Where are you, Lord, when I feel so terrible?  When the world is singing praise and I’m full of constant sorrow, where do You go?  

Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?
   Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!
24 Why do you hide your face?
   Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
Psalm 44:23-24

I feel so alone, Jesus!  Are you even there? Do You see my sorrow in this festival of light and joy?  Icons of trees and saints and presents and reindeer and lights, and You’re not in any of it.  It’s all a lie of faith. And Your name will not be profaned.

I see a baby in a filthy cave surrounded by animal dung and the sounds of lowing cows, snorting goats, and pecking chickens.  

In darkness and filth came the Light of the World.  

2 The people who walked in darkness
   have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
   on them has light shone.
3 You have multiplied the nation;
   you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
   as with joy at the harvest,
   as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4 For the yoke of his burden,
   and the staff for his shoulder,
   the rod of his oppressor,
   you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
   and every garment rolled in blood
   will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
   to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon[d] his shoulder,
   and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
   Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
   there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
   to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
   from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Isaiah 9:2-7

You are here.  You do understand.  Help me, Father, to receive the fullness of joy that comes only from Jesus. “The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will do this.”

 

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Adversity Brings Intimacy with God

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

As hard as it may seem to be to believe, adversity brings intimacy with God.  But it takes practice, trust, and faith. Throughout the Bible we are given a series of lessons regarding our response to suffering and adversity.  God wants us to know the fruit of what adversity brings. He wants us to learn to look beyond ourselves and find the joy in looking only to the Lord Jesus.  

When we catch glimpses of God’s plan to glorify Himself and us through our trials, we can see and experience the depth of trust and love we can have with Him.  We aren’t promised a life free of struggles, but we are ensured that as we love Him and follow Him with our whole hearts, He will exchange beauty for ashes.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
   because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
   he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
   and the day of vengeance of our God;
   to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
   to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
   the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
   the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.
4 They shall build up the ancient ruins;
   they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
Isaiah 63:1-4

There’s no better way to experience and receive God’s offer of renewal and intimacy than through that passage of scripture.  God has sent Jesus to restore all that has been lost and broken. He’s promised us that! He’s promised our trials and struggles will be repaired and restored.  What a wonderful way to know God better, than to meditate on those promises, especially when we are in pain.

Adversity draws us closer and closer to God. So when we read in James about counting our sufferings as joy, we can remember why! The Lord will be glorified and we will be drawn near to Him, and become stronger in our understanding and intimacy with Jesus!

2 Count it all joy, my brothers,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

Lacking nothing! We lack nothing when we are within the shelter and comfort of the Lord.  That’s the biggest, deepest intimacy there is! No wonder everywhere we look in scripture we are urged to trust in God, hide in the shadow of His wings, be protected in His fortress, and more!  These are all a call to intimacy with Him! When we have faith in Him, we have hope in His promise of Salvation and Love.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 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 5:15

There’s great comfort in those words.  Not that we are to enjoy our adversity, but in that we can see what adversity brings us: intimacy with God. And what Christian doesn’t want that?

Here’s another look at building our intimacy with God.

Love to Forgive

 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Colossians 3:12-13

Bearing with one another is hard.  I get so irritated with people. Someone parks too close to my car in the parking lot.  A customer service person ignores my multiple attempts to get her attention. My teenager talks back.  No one comes to the table when I tell them dinner is ready. Some stranger next to me at the movies is scrolling facebook while the movie is playing.  I could spend the next ten pages listing out examples of people who irritate me.

But God is telling me to forgive those people just as the Lord has forgiven me.  So, how do I do that? The answer is in that second part, “Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”  Forgiveness is the most beautiful example of God’s love, and the testimony of forgiveness tells the one forgiven that Jesus also wants to forgive them.  It’s like becoming an ambassador of God’s forgiveness.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
2 Corinthians 5:20

I’m not making this stuff up!  We are supposed to be representing Christ to a lost and broken world.  Does that mean we can’t be irritated? I don’t think so. I think it just means we don’t act on those feelings, but instead act on the righteousness of Christ that we have become.  We need to represent Jesus and His forgiveness. How else will people know His love?

Forgiving irritating people is hard enough.  What about forgiving people who have hurt you?  How do you forgive a rapist? How do you forgive a murderer?  How do you forgive yourself? These are harder questions, but the answer is still the same.

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
Colossians 3:14-15

Love is hard. Really, really hard.  But representing Christ by forgiving people is what makes His love most known.  

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Without love, we show the world nothing.  It is the ultimate embodiment of who God is and what He has done for us.  To share the love of Christ with the world, we must love the world. And if we love the world, we must forgive just as Christ forgave us.

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7

In the fullness of every Believer in Christ, is the Spirit of the Living God.  He is capable of doing more and more than we could ever even fathom. As Ephesians 3:20 says, “He is able to immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His great power at work within us”.

God doesn’t ask us to forgive on our own.  He knows we aren’t capable of that. That’s why He gave us His Spirit: to seal us as His own and to help us do the impossible.  It’s not by Power, Not by Might, but by the Spirit!

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:13

We have a promise from God to be able to forgive.  He doesn’t expect us to do it on our own. We’re not alone.  We have the Spirit of the Living God pulsing through us. And God can and does forgive all who would accept it.  Therefore, we can too.

Jesus, teach me to forgive.  Give me the power and courage to trust You to help me forgive people.  Help me forgive myself. Help me to testify to Your love through forgiveness. It’s so hard, God.  But You have promised me that I can do all the things You ask of me because of Your power at work within me.  So, help me get out of the way so You can work, God. Help me put aside pettiness and insecurity and anger, so that Your pure love and forgiveness can be channelled through me.  Shine Your light through me, Father. Amen.

Having A Broken Spirit Sucks

Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
   the Lord answered me and set me free.
6 The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
   What can man do to me?
Psalms 118:5-6

What can man do to me?  Well, in two words: a lot.  Especially when that “man” is yourself.  I’ve despised myself so many times. I’ve beaten myself up for the tiniest mistakes.  I’ve thrown up false humility in the presence of the Lord just to seem like a “good Christian”.  I’ve hated God in my heart because I didn’t get my way. I’ve thrown tantrums of fury over pure folly.  And, perhaps the biggest sin of all, at least in my own heart: I’ve hated myself.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
   a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalms 51:17

But having a broken spirit sucks.  What if depression, and scars from the past, and broken promises, and failed outcomes have you thinking that there is surely no one more broken in this world than you? What a horrible feeling to strive and strive and fail and then hate yourself for it.  What a horrible feeling to hate your past and your mistakes and your brokenness.

But if I believe the Bible, and I do, then God actually likes my broken spirit.  My broken and contrite spirit means I’m ready to repent. I’m ready to admit that I don’t know near what I think I do, especially in regard to God’s plan for me. God’s intimate knowledge of me is far better suited to make proclomations about my character than I am.  I’m not getting anything passed God. He KNOWS me. He made me. He knows my heart and my mind. He knows everything. I can’t fool Him or trick Him.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
   you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
   and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
   behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
Psalms 139:1-4

And even knowing every part of me, He chose to die for me, to give me life, and to make me His!  KNOWING everything about me, what I would do with my life, how I would fail, how I would succeed, how I would struggle, He still chose me. His response to knowing everything? He says triumphantly, “Daisy, YOU ARE WORTH IT! I LOVE YOU.  YOU ARE MINE!” We all are, when we have submitted to Him.

I guess that’s real love, isn’t it?  We always want to have someone love us unconditionally, and that is exactly what God has given us.  He loves us without restriction. Without remorse. And He’d do it all over again.

That brings me back to my self loathing and depression.  What am I supposed to do with these feelings when I can’t love or forgive myself?  I am weary. I am exhausted from the thought of one more step. I have been driven hard by my own expectations.  I’ve suffered and strained under the burden of life’s challenges, most of which I never had any control over in the first place.  

And yet, through my struggles, through my fear, through my self described failure, the Lord responds with victory.  Which is more real?  Which is more true?  My feelings of failure, or His proclomation of victory?  Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
   but the Lord helped me.
Psalms 118:13

Yes, I’ve been pushed hard.  Yes, I’ve been falling and holding on by the smallest thread of hope, and my fingers quickly began to slip from even that tiny shred of faith. How do I go forward?  How do I hold on? It is impossible for me.  Hopeless for me.  But not for God. Nothing is impossible for God.  Nothing is hopeless with God. Nothing. Not even me.

14 The Lord is my strength and my song;
   he has become my salvation.
15 Glad songs of salvation
   are in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord does valiantly,
16     the right hand of the Lord exalts,
   the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!”
Psalms 118:14-16

The Lord deals with me valiantly.  Valiantly! I’ve maintained the weakest grasp of that wisp of hope because the Lord has been my strength.  And He is infinitely strong. I can look back now and see the millions of times that His strength brought me through trial.  His strength, His faith, His love, His salvation. They saved me. They save me still.

I shall not die, but I shall live,
   and recount the deeds of the Lord.
18 The Lord has disciplined me severely,
   but he has not given me over to death.
Psalms 118:17-18

I can proclaim the Lord’s goodness.  I can proclaim that He has treated me valiantly!  He has given me victory. Though I have been disciplined, though I have felt the pain of unrepentant sin, He has brought me through it.  He has created in me a clean heart.  He has urged me lovingly, patiently, toward repentance and communion with Him without shame or fear.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
  and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
   and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
   and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Psalms 51:10-12

His discipline restores me.  It repairs my brokenness and brings me through to victory.  Though it is painful, it is transforming. Though I suffer for a little while, I will have my reward, both now and in the age to come.  Abundant life is mine to take.

Jesus is my righteousness. I am not hated for my sin.  I am loved despite my sin. The gates of righteousness have been opened for me, because the Lord has opened them.  He has become my salvation and I have no need to fear myself or my wickedness. I can proclaim His victory in me instead.  

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
   that I may enter through them
   and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord;
   the righteous shall enter through it.
21 I thank you that you have answered me
   and have become my salvation.
Psalms 118:19-21

For more on trusting God and being thankful, you can check out my blog post here:  On Being Thankful