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.  

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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.

 

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

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.
Psalms 23:4

The thought of dying is scary.  Trust me, it is. No matter how much faith and trust in the Lord a person has, facing mortality is hard.  Fear of pain, compassion for the family and friends left behind, all the things you’ve left undone. It is a lot to carry.

As I’ve endured this very hard season in my life.  (Hard season is what I’ve been calling this tremendous trial of pain and suffering, by the way.)  I have cried out to God in anger, fear, frustration, hope, trust, love. A range of emotions that varies moment to moment.

Dying is that inevitability that we all face. And it still sucks.  I’ve been sick for so long, slowly bleeding to death and there have been no real answers.  Medications, transfusions, iron infusions, more medications. Tests and more tests. And it all points to the same outcome.

Now I’m being faced with the opportunity to have it come to an end without my death.  It would come in the form of surgery. But I’ve got a lot of risk factors that have kept it from being a viable option over the last few years.  Yet, now I’m being encouraged to consider this option in the hope that it will save my life.

But I don’t want surgery.  They can’t do it laparoscopically.  They can’t use the robot. They will have to cut through me the old fashioned way and it’s not going to be pretty or easy to recover from.  And the risks post operative are just as bleak.

The problem should be solved by surgery, however.  And I’m tired of slowly bleeding to death. I just keep finding myself praying for a miracle.  I know that God can heal me. And I want Him to heal me. He can stop the bleeding. He can make me whole and alive.

On top of it all, though, is this faith building journey.  I have had to walk through the valley of the shadow of death in order to find the comfort in Christ’s rod and staff.  

I’ve had to face all the emotional and mental torment that I have bottled up over the years.  I’ve had to face the horrific PTSD that has plagued my life. I’ve had to go places in my memory (with the help of a gifted Christian therapist) that I never wanted to go back to, but were a festering poison in my mind and body.

Will I live or die?  Will I be healed by God through miracle or man?  Only the prayers of the saints can fuel God’s decision.  Only the hope in the testimony that glorifies God’s victory can keep me moving forward.  

I have to have hope.  Lord, give me hope to trust You.

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

I Can Trust Him

I can trust Him.

If God is good
I can trust Him
If God is sovereign
I can trust Him
If God is faithful
I can trust Him
If God is righteous
I can trust Him
If God is Holy
I can trust Him
If God is Faithful
I can trust Him
If God is Savior
I can trust Him
If God is God
I can trust Him.

I can trust Him.

In My Own Strength

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
John 14:27

I’ve been told my whole life how strong I am.  How courageous I am. I’m a fighter. People say I’m tough as nails, that I have true grit, that I’m so brave. I even have Joshua 1:9 tattooed on my wrist.  To the world, I am so strong.

But I’m not strong at all.  I’m weak and fearful and tired.  And every time I try to fall back on my strength and grit my teeth to work through something, I fail.  That’s right. All my strength, all my courage, all my grit is nothing.

Without Jesus it is nothing.  I am nothing. My strength, my courage, my lionheart…they all come from Jesus.  He is my strength. He’s the one who made me this way. He’s the one who brought me through trials over and over again.  When I rely on Him to see me through my circumstances I somehow manage to make it through. He has made me strong.

I think for too long I’ve thought that God’s strength at work in me was actually me.  So when I tried to fight through things I struggled, I bruised my knees, I cried, I failed.  Ya. It sucks to fail. And it’s hard to admit that I can’t do anything in my own power. Even the air I breathe is dependant on God’s grace.

But when I look back on all the triumph, and all the times I made it through to the other side of whatever I was fighting, I see that the one thing they all had in common was Jesus.  When something was hard and I succeeded in pushing through it, I realize that the power came from asking Jesus to help me.

When you’re in the midst of trial it is so hard to rely on God’s strength because everything is hard when you are suffering.  It was hard for Jesus to carry that cross to Golgotha.

What I’m learning is that I don’t have to feel, see, or even trust that God is giving me His strength.  I know that sounds crazy, but because I love God and because He has a 100% track record with me, I don’t have to get it.  I don’t have to understand. It is a fact that is not dependent on my understanding, or even my faith. It just is.

Releasing my feelings, and releasing my worry, and just remembering that God always sees me through is enough.  God brings His strength and peace because He promised He would. And that is enough.

So, Lord, help me get passed myself and my feelings and my arguments.  Give me the strength that you have promised me and see me through this trial and the next by Your power.  I don’t have to understand. I don’t have to worry. I can trust You. Help me to trust You, Jesus. Help me to trust Your perfect record with me. Give me faith. Help me stay in Your arms no matter what battle rages around me.  Help me to know that You are God. I love You, Jesus. Thank You for Your strength.

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
   I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
   he makes my feet like the deer’s;
   he makes me tread on my high places.
Habakkuk 3:18-19

 

Hiding in the Right Place

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
   will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
   my God, in whom I trust.”
Psalm 91:1-2

I’ve discovered something recently.  I don’t dwell in the shelter of the Most High enough.  I let fear rule me and I make hiding places like two of the three little pigs.  

Mostly, I think I do it out of laziness, if I’m being honest. I know how to hide in Jesus, but I get comfortable doing things my way.  I want to hide in my work, or a delicious piece of chocolate cake, or a big shopping spree. Instant gratification. Physical reward.

Hiding in Jesus looks like nothing in the physical.  It looks foolish. It looks vulnerable. It looks very poorly planned to the outside world.  But I was reading in 2 Kings this morning and I got embarrassed.

15 When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” 16 He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
2 Kings 6:15-17

I was embarrassed because this is a story you learn in Sunday School.  This is the type of story we teach in Vacation Bible School and backyard Bible Club.  This is a familiar story to me. Very familiar. And, like Elisha’s servant, I revert to looking only at the physical, instead of seeing and knowing from experience that my God has power in the unseen as well as the seen.

This can sound like I’m beating myself up a bit, but I’m not!  I’m rejoicing that the Lord kept me from taking this truth for granted.  He reminded me again that He is my shelter and that there are things in the unseen that carry power in the world that we can’t perceive with our eyes. Power for good and power for evil.  And I need to make my shelter in the strong fortress of God if I want to be protected!

27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1:27-31

See, this isn’t about me.  It’s about God.

if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
2 Timothy 2:13

God is faithful when I am not.  I’m a fool. I lack wisdom. I see the world instead of looking with the eyes of the Spirit God gave me.  But He is faithful. He is happy to show me the angels camped around me with their stony eyed glares and their fiery chariots.  That’s our God. That’s my God.

Lord, help me take shelter in You, the unseen fortress of strength and courage that protects me amidst the flying arrows of the enemy.  Give me spiritual vision and deeper faith to trust You even when it’s hard. Let Your name be glorified in me, Jesus. Let Your name be my shelter. Amen.