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

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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.

 

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.

 

 

Vision

“Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not.
Jeremiah 5:21

I’ve been struggling with my vision lately.  I can’t see anything! It’s affected every aspect of my life.  I try to continue on with daily activity squinting and straining to see anything, and it’s made me an irritable mess.  I had no idea how much I needed my eyes!

Now, I know that people can get along perfectly well without their vision, but having been sort of gently thrown into this, I know that God has something He wants to do with me.

What am I missing, God?  What don’t I see? How am I being a fool today?

I don’t have any sweet answers today.  I don’t have any words of wisdom from scripture.  I can look at all the times Jesus spoke those words to people who couldn’t see the Messiah right in front of their face. They couldn’t see the truth or see the prophecy revealed in Jesus.  All they could see was their tradition, their religion, their philosophy.

Have I fallen so far, Jesus?  Am I relying on tradition or religion or philosophy?  

Maybe this teaching moment isn’t some great epiphany, but instead a gentle redirection, a space and time for Jesus to guide me in ways I’ve maybe not let Him before.  Or maybe it’s not. Maybe sometimes blindness is just blindness.

I don’t know.  And perhaps that’s part of it.  I don’t have to have all the answers.  I don’t have to see every detail.

Or maybe it’s just time to give my eyes a rest and stop looking at everything so closely.  

Only God knows.  I just need to have faith that He will continue to give me what I need.  

Use my eyes for Your glory, God.

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.

Suffering Sucks

Suffering sucks God.

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

It sucks, God.  I hate it, even though I know that You will use it.  I know what Your word says about suffering. I know Jesus suffered.  I know David suffered. I know the Apostles suffered. Paul suffered.  And God, I am suffering.

I’m tired from fighting.  It takes so much energy to cope with physical pain.  And, Lord, I feel like I’ve dealt with crisis after crisis for most of my life. I know that lots of people suffer, God, and I am no better or worse than anyone else.  But right now this is about me and You. And I hurt, God.

It’s not even just the physical pain, Lord.  Sometimes, I really think I can live with that stuff.  But the emotional pain is equally hard.  It’s exhausting. Therapy has brought so many horrible things to the surface.

It’s stuff I buried.  Stuff I didn’t want to see again.  Even though it’s festered and rotted inside of me.  Even though it has slowly been killing me, I still feel like it’s too hard to get it out sometimes.  

You showed me a vision of Your steady hand carefully cutting out the dead flesh within me.  Precision isn’t even a good enough word for what You showed me You were doing in my heart. But it hurts, God!  It hurts so bad.

Then there’s all the physical junk.  My knees hurt.  I can barely walk.  And I feel like I’m a breath away from being stuck in my wheelchair again. Why did You allow the doctor to take away my pain meds and my arthritis meds?  I know the medical reasons, God. I even know the spiritual reasons. It draws me closer to You. It helps me have compassion and empathy for others.  It teaches me patience. It shows me a deeper level of Your faithfulness and compassion.

But the process sucks.

I keep thinking about Jesus in the Garden.  He had a serious “it sucks” conversation with You that night.  What He was facing was beyond horrific. I can’t even imagine. You know, though, God.  You know my hurt, my frustration and my fear.  But like Jesus said, “Not my will, but Yours, Father.”  Help me with that, would ya?

I’m afraid.  I’m afraid of what’s next.  I’m afraid of what pain I may have in my future.  I’m afraid of what harder suffering may lie ahead.  I know a lot of people are thinking right now that You didn’t give me a spirit of fear, and believe me, I know it!  But I want to keep things real, God. Only when I acknowledge my fear can I give it to You to turn to courage.

You make strength from my weakness, God, and I am so weak. Take my weakness.  Take my fear. Take my pain and my suffering and my grief and my tears. Take them and use them for Your glory God.  Your glory and Your Kingdom are the only things that keep me going.

Father, my suffering is bringing more and more death to myself and my wickedness.  My suffering has brought me perseverance in You. My pain has taught me endurance. It’s built my character.  It’s done all the things that You said it would.

You are faithful God. My suffering builds my hope in You.  And hope doesn’t suck at all.

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
1 Peter 4:12-13

For my take on depression, see my post: Having A Broken Spirit Sucks