Hope Surrenders to God’s Whisper

Stillplace

Over the past two years, we have looked at hope- special hope- as it holds as an anchor for moms of children with many unique needs. We have seen that hope trusts and hope rejoices. And we have seen that hope surrenders- to God’s will, His way and His word. Now here we look at how hope allows us to surrender to His whisper. 

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”  Isaiah 30:21

 You’ve heard that voice before. In a moment of fear or uncertainty, you heard it. Or in chaos or confusion, it’s been there. In the loud, it has reached you. God’s whisper.

His Spirit comes near in our times of need and gently instructs us on how we should go. He speaks quietly, but clearly, to our souls, and we can choose to listen and obey, or go our own way.  With our hope secure in God, we can surrender to His whisper, even when it seems to go directly against our gut feeling.

The LORD said to Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  1 Kings 19:11-12

 We sometimes look for God to come in the loud thunder of the wind, earthquake, or fire. Send me a sign, Lord! Yet, often He comes in a gentle whisper, speaking softly to our heart and mind to assure us of His presence and direct us in His peace.

Can we listen for that whisper- even in the loud we often find ourselves in? Crying kids, fighting kids, even just laughing kids, can be very loud- bringing on “mommy” headaches that can be excruciating. We know we have to keep our cool even the crazy, or else we will all lose it, right?

Susanna Wesley was the mother of famous preacher John Wesley in the late 1600s and early 1700s. She birthed 19 children of her own, though 9 of them died in childhood. She was responsible for managing the household and all of the children’s education. Talk about crazy!

Susanna is known for her very strong faith and commitment to God. In their small and crowded  home, she would make time to sit in her rocking chair and lift up her apron to cover her face. This was her “prayer closet” time, and all of the children knew to leave her alone for those important moments.

How can we follow this example? We can be committed to our quiet time with God, even in the chaos. We can intentionally listen for God’s whisper even in the noise. That may happen for just a moment in the bathroom (yes, you have the right to go to the bathroom by yourself!), in the shower or in your car once the kids are dropped off (you will be amazed at what you will hear if you’ll turn off the radio!).

My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  John 11:27

 Jesus is the Good Shepherd, laying down His life to protect and provide for His sheep. We can hear His voice if we’ll listen above the noise of the other sheep. We can know His voice, as it is very different from the voice of the world or of Satan who wants to steal, kill and destroy.  He knows us, and we can follow Him.

Susanna Wesley was a woman full of wisdom, and thankfully, much of it has been passed down through the generations. One quote of hers that I find especially encouraging is this one:

“I am content to fill a little space if God be glorified.”

What little space has he placed me in? What small voice is He speaking to me with? Have I tried to make life more grandiose, glamorous and complicated? Have I surrendered to the whisper of His will, His Word, and His ways?

When I surrender, there is serenity.

When I pause, there is peace.

When I believe, I am blessed.

When I stop wrestling, I can rest.

 

Calf Muscles and a Reminder of Who’s in Charge

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Last night my husband was out of town, and my son asked if he could “have a sleepover.” At 5 foot, 5 inches tall and fourteen years old, he still loves sleeping in our bed when one of us is away. I love that!  Around 3:00am, I got up to let the dog out, and as I crawled back in bed, there was a very long, bony leg that had stretched over on to my side of the bed. That thing was hard! And big! As I grabbed ahold of his calf muscle to move the leg back to his side, I had a flashback that brought me to tears.

See, when Zach was about two weeks old, we flew to a family reunion. On that trip, I carried him in my front pack baby carrier (which, by the way, we had not had for baby daughters 1 and 2, but my goodness, did it come in handy for baby #3!). I very clearly remember wrapping my thumb and first finger around his teeny, tiny little calf muscle. My finger went around his leg and nearly as tight as it could get back to my thumb to encircle the calf. I asked God in that moment to help me always remember how little that leg was- and how little my son had begun.

The Lord was faithful to answer that prayer last night as my same thumb and first finger can no longer come even close to touching around that calf muscle. It is bigger and stronger, and runs faster and jumps higher.

And I have had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Now, of course, we have provided our son with food, clothing and shelter needed to grow. But I have not put any effort or resource into growing that calf muscle. God has just done it!

And isn’t it by God’s grace that we have provided the food, clothing and shelter anyway?

It is God who works in you to will and act according to His good pleasure. Philippians 2:19

 God is the Creator- and He is still faithfully working to shape my son into the man He made Him to be. He is working in him to grow him physically and spiritually and intellectually and emotionally. GOD is doing that, not me.

It is God who works in my son to will and act according to His good pleasure.

We as moms are pretty good “control freaks.” We are good at working hard to keep everything in control. We work to control our family’s schedule, our family’s meals, our family’s behavior and our family’s appearance. But we are also pretty good at forgetting who’s really in charge.

Last night as I held that giant leg, once so tiny in my fingers, I was reminded of who’s really in charge. God created my son just as he was born- fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together in his mother’s womb (Psalm 139: 13-14). And God is still the One working in Him to grow Him exactly how He has ordained. He invites me to be a part of this process, but I need to remember that this child is not mine to grow. He is God’s.

Of course, not one of my children is perfect- from a human perspective. Each has their unique challenges and weaknesses, strengths and gifts. Their uniqueness-es serve only to more magnificently glorify the great creative Creator. My power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). They also serve as reminders of who is in control- and who is not.

How can we better remember that God is in charge- working His will in our children’s lives?

Reflect on the past and the progress that has been made. Think back on where you were a year ago, five years ago, or where you were when your child was born. How has he or she made progress- even if only small steps- in the last week, month and year? Look at old pictures and reminisce together. Most importantly, look for God’s touch, His presence, along this journey- and give Him great thanks and praise!

Ponder the possibilities and dream big for what is to come. You know better than anyone else what all is packed inside each of your children. Imagine where God is headed with that! Don’t miss the forest for the trees. Glance ahead to the beautiful unfolding of all God brought this chosen child here to be and do.

And pause to be thankful and content for what is. Still your heart from all the rush and stress daily living can often bring, and be thankful. Make a list of things you’re thankful for today- even the littlest things. Rejoice always, pray continuously, and give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (2 Corinthians 5:16-18).

I’m so thankful God is in charge- and I am not. There is a deep peace that comes in the surrendering of my way, my control, my plan, to His. His is far better than I can imagine. He has wisdom and power and resources beyond all human knowing. And He is working all on our behalf- for our good and for His glory.

Take this scripture and fill in the name of your child- and remember God is working in him or her. (You can also try plugging in the name of your husband, or your frustrating coworker or family member, or anyone whom you need to remember is in God’s hand too).

It is God who works in ______to will and act according to His good purposes. Philippians 2:19

You Came!

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Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come!  Luke 1:68

He didn’t leave us here alone. He came!

A long-awaited father returns from war. A surprise guest makes it in for a special performance. A far-away grandparent travels in for a holiday. You came!

When we were scheduled to deliver our first-born daughter, we had this romantic idea that we wanted to do the whole birthing process by ourselves. Our mothers had both come in town, but we had politely asked them to stay home until the baby had come and we were ready for guests.

We did pretty well- for a while. But then the baby went into to distress, and I was really struggling to push through to deliver her. The doctor told us we would need to do an emergency C-section. As a first-time mom, I was scared to death! I remember tears streaming down my cheeks as I laid there with all the tubes and monitors on me, contractions still coming, completely frightened. (I’m guessing my husband was as afraid as I was in that moment too). Then, by God’s moving alone (since this was before cell phones), the door to our room swung open, and my mom walked in. She and my mother-in-law had decided to sneak on down to the hospital against our wishes, but what a saving grace they were for both of us.

I remember the rush of emotions when my mom appeared. All my fears released, and so did a greater flow of tears. I was relieved that we didn’t have to do this alone. I was comforted by her presence. Oh, thank God, you came!

The angel told Joseph to name the son Mary would bear Jesus, “because He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21). He came as a Savior- on a rescue mission to save the people He loved from the pain and fear of their sins. He knew they couldn’t do it on their own- as much as they may have thought they could. For years, the people had tried. Then, “when the fullness of time appeared,” He came!

At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus proclaimed prophecy from Isaiah, which put forth the true purpose of His coming.

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  Luke 4:18-19

He came to preach good news to the poor. Good news brings hope. And hope pulls the hurting forward one small step at a time. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” (Isaiah 9:2).

He came to proclaim freedom for the prisoners. Imagine the cold, dark, lonely, harsh conditions of an ancient prison. Imagine many that exist today, where captives are held by religious and political conflict. And then imagine the rush of a rescue mission making it in to set the captive free. Scripture tells us we were enslaved to our sin, held captive by our shame and fears, our pride and our hurts. But then our Rescuer, the promised Redeemer, made it in to set us free. He came!

He came to proclaim recovery of sight for the blind. I’ve been blessed with good vision, but my middle-aged eyes are beginning to fail at close distances- and it is really quite frustrating. I can’t imagine the frustrations and fears of total blindness. As my reading glasses bring clarity, surely the recovery of sight for the blind brings immeasurable healing and freedom and direction. We were blind in our sin- and He came with recovery. I believe some of the best clarity He brings is a greater glimpse of all that He is as Redeemer, and Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

He came to release the oppressed. One of the dictionary definitions of “oppressed” is “to make someone feel sad or worried for a long period of time.” God’s people had surely been sad and worried for the long period of time when He was silent. It’s hard to hold on to hope when the waiting goes on and on, without an end in sight. But Jesus came to release that waiting and renew the hope. The souls of the released leap into their restored freedom.

The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in His wings, and you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.  Malachi 4:2

He came to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. The angel and the great company of the heavenly host proclaimed to the shepherds,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to men, on whom His favor rests.  Luke 2:14

As I taught first graders this week, the word “favor” makes me think of “favorite.” The favor of God rests on us- His favorite children- because His Son has come to make us His own. He is due all the glory in heaven- and we are blessed with His peace here on earth. We are no longer under the curse of our sin, no longer slaves to our former selves, we have been set free in the year of the Lord’s favor.

This Christmas, may we be more aware of the lonely and dark, hurting place we were before Christ came into our lives. Not to further add shame but to greater realize the thrill of His coming.

I was alone. I was lost. I was restless to find peace on my own.

I was poor, blind and captive.  But then you came!

Oh, thank God, you came!

Not What I Expected

pregnant-woman-outsideParenting has not been what I expected.

I expected that I would roll smoothly into this new role as a mother, and begin to flourish in my new life of caring for this precious newborn child. What I didn’t expect was to learn how self-centered I was, and to become aware of how much of my motivation was to make me, myself and I look good. I had to completely switch gears, and turn my focus onto this little one who needed constant care. She began to draw me away from thinking only of myself, and that has been harder on some days than on others.

I expected to be able to implement ideas from our multiple positive parenting classes and produce perfectly-behaved children. I naively expected these discipline formulas to work flawlessly as the children began to assert their own wills contrary to mine. What I didn’t expect is that each personality and each behavior challenge and each situation would be different, and would require a different set of words and actions in response from me. What I didn’t expect is that some times that would go well, and other times it would be a complete disaster. I had to learn to give my children and myself a lot more grace to grow, and I had to rely more fully on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (My favorite parenting verse is John 14:26, “The Holy Spirit will teach you all things.)

I expected to bring a child into this world who would be healthy physically. What I didn’t expect is that she would be critically-ill and need major surgery just 8 days in. Or that her younger sister would have ongoing health and growth challenges. Or that their younger brother would need two sets of stitches in one week when he was only 2 years old. Or that their younger sister would need glasses. (And of course this list goes on…). No, I didn’t expect all the physical and mental health challenges we have faced. I didn’t anticipate how thankful we would be for health insurance. And as I pause to reflect on this, I guess I was not accounting for the fact that these four that I’ve been entrusted with were born into the same broken world that I was. And as much as I hate watching them hurt or struggle and face these difficulties in their lives, I know as God has been with me, so will He be with them to be the peace in the midst of the hard. As He is my Healer and Helper, I pray He will continue to be that even more for my children.

I expected that my husband, my parents, my friends and neighbors would always be there to support me on my motherhood journey, and that we would all be like-minded and share the same priorities. Since “it takes a village,” I looked forward to teaming up in harmony with the other adults in our world to raise these kids up right. What I didn’t expect was that we wouldn’t always agree on what is best for them, and things that are really important to me may not always be important to others. I can now testify to how much I’ve learned from others’ perspective, and also to how many times I’ve had to press in to hear God’s voice among the others to be faithful to what He has called me to do for my family.

And I also didn’t expect how much of this journey I would walk alone. Many times in raising my children I am the only adult around. And in those times I have to dig deeper to parent in a way that pleases God alone- my audience of One. Yes, wiping dirty bottoms, cleaning up vomit, caring for a sleepless child in the middle of the night, are all times my motivation and integrity are tested. Who will I be when no one is watching me? But, oh yes, there is someone watching me. God Himself is there- but also each of the four sets of eyes in my care are watching me too.

The expectations I had at the front end of motherhood were limited at best, and at times just flat out “off.” While some of those expectations were broken into disappointment, still many others have been surpassed with the surprise blessings that have come along the way. I didn’t expect that watching a child sleep (as newborns, and even now as teenagers) would bring such peace to my heart. I didn’t expect the full joy that would come wearing preschooler-made Mother’s Day jewelry. I didn’t expect the deep warmth of a child’s hug (and sometimes a slobbery kiss!). And I didn’t expect the relief and gratitude that comes with a doctor’s “We’re making progress.”

Watching each one grow, at their own pace, in their own strengths and challenges, physically and emotionally and spiritually, has been a great adventure. And true, it hasn’t been what I expected.

It has been so much more.

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.  2 Corinthians 2:9

Thankful for Dads

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I woke up this morning 750 miles away from my Dad. For the last 20 years, I have worked to celebrate him on Father’s Day, usually from my far away adult world, while also celebrating the great dad that my husband is to our family. The more years that pass, the more I realize what a gift I have in my dad. I realize that his faithfulness, kindness and unconditional love are rare. And I realize that his character has helped me better understand the character of God.

I’m thankful for years of special memories- hiking the Colorado mountains, fishing New Mexico streams, cross-country camper trips to my Grammy’s house, and always seeing him in the stands for my volleyball games. My dad was present, and very active in our lives. (And he still is). He took time to pass along wisdom and life tips to my sister and me. (And he still does). He always knew what to do in a crisis, and he always told too many “punny” jokes. For all he gave, and all he shared, and all he taught, I am very thankful.

Years ago I was in a Bible Study that looked at the influence our earthly fathers have on our understanding of our Heavenly Father. We filled out a chart with lots of characteristics, both positive and negative, and checked those that described our earthly dad. Then we turned the page and did the same for how we view God. And then on the third page, we laid the two sets of answers on top of each other. It was so insightful to see how similar the two lists were. People who had angry fathers tended to see God as angry, or people who had strong fathers tended to see God as strong, etc.

I am thankful for my own father, who wasn’t perfect, but had many God-like characteristics for me to experience, and for so many fathers I see that are living out the love, strength, wisdom and closeness of God for their families.

Thankful for dads who play. Dads are usually better than moms at play time- or at least that has been my experience. Dads communicate a lot of love through teasing and wrestling and joking and giggling. Moms tend to be more preoccupied with the “serious” things and taking care of all the details for daily living. Playing dads teach us to be happy and joyful, and not take life or ourselves too seriously.

May the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.  Psalm 68:3

Thankful for dads who pray. Dads who set an example and lead out spiritually for their families teach more by their actions, than by their wise words. Guiding their children with wisdom they have sought from God, and extending God-like compassion and grace, set a life-long impression of their Heavenly Father.

Fathers, do not exasperate your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.  Ephesians 6:4

Thankful for dads who stay. Several years ago I helped our church start an outreach for parents of children with special needs. I was expecting moms and dads to come, and share an encouraging Bible Study, and support one another on this hard journey. What I didn’t expect though, was that the parents who came would be primarily single mothers. Single moms raising one or more children with special needs on their own. Yes, I had read of the high divorce rates of these families, but I didn’t want to believe dads could actually leave their wives and children with so many challenges. Yet it happens more often than not.

Two things I would like to say in light of this. First, if you are a dad who is staying, thank you. And if you are a wife of a dad who is staying, be thankful. Be very thankful. Press in close to God for strength and cling tightly to each other through the hard. You will display the faithfulness of God as you do.

Second, if you are a mother raising children on your own, you too can press in close to God for strength. He is your perfect Heavenly Father, and He is that for your children. He loves each of them more than you do, and promises to take care of their every need. My God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:19

God is your heavenly husband: For your Maker is your husband, the LORD Almighty is His name. Isaiah 54:5 (Read the whole chapter for more promises).

God is their heavenly father: A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows. Psalm 68:8

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!  I John 3:1

As we honor fathers on Father’s Day, let’s be thankful for the dads who have been a part of our lives and our children’s lives. And let’s work to  trust our Heavenly Father to heal our hurts and meet our unmet needs with his perfect Fatherly love, compassion and care.

Is He not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?  Deuteronomy 32:6

The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  Deuteronomy 31:8

 

Praise from a Place of Pain

PraisingBeachMy good friend sings in our church choir. She always sings with all the strength of her beautiful voice, lifting the name of our Savior high in song. But tonight, she seemed to be singing with an extra depth, an extra vigor, and an extra true joy shining on her face. I could hardly watch her without some of my own tears springing forth. I am one of only a few who know the hard she is facing and the great depth of the pain from where she is coming to praise God the way she does. Difficulties in her marriage and with her child are almost insurmountable, and she is struggling with grief, betrayal, anger, anxiety, hurt and confusion.

It is easy to give God praise when life is beautiful, but how can we give Him praise when life is hard? He is pleased when we praise Him from a place of blessing, but I believe He receives even greater glory when we praise Him from a place of pain.

To bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of despair. Isaiah 61:3

Isaiah’s prophecy about the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord was proclaimed hundreds of years later by Jesus as He began His earthly ministry. He told the people “Today the scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  (Luke 4:22) He proclaimed Himself as the one who brings us a new garment in the midst of our ashes, mourning and despair. Christ covers our pain with praise.

The contrast of the light of praise to the darkness of our pain makes it shine even brighter. Light a candle outside in the afternoon sun and it can’t hardly be seen. But light it in the darkness of midnight, and its light shines forth enough light to comfort your fear and guide your feet.

Praising God in our pain is “heart” work. It is making a conscious choice to lift our hearts and minds above the pain to see God still reigning on His throne. And it is choosing to praise Him there.

Why are you downcast, I my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.  My soul is downcast within me, therefore I will remember you. Psalm 42:5-6

The Psalmist here speaks of a conscious decision to place his hope in God, reaching out from his downcast and disturbed soul to look for his Savior and God. He “remembers” God as he moves his mind from his pain to praise.

In times of great pain, our emotions can be all over the place. We have to allow our minds to lead out over our hearts seeking truth and perspective that move us towards Christ. We want to seek Him first and follow hard after Him even in our pain, and not be swept into even greater pain by letting our hurting hearts guide our decisions. “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9).

Praising God in our pain points others to Christ. God uses our pain and the hope we hold on to through it to draw others to Himself by faith. As they see us hurting, yet hanging on to Christ, they see genuine faith lived out. They see a hope that they want to have. Our pain has a purpose in our lives, yes, but also in the lives of those who are touched as we live through it.

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  1 Peter 3:15

Praising God in our pain calls Him in close. Psalm 22:3 says, “You are holy, and you inhabit the praise of Israel” (KJV). When we praise God, He inhabits, He lives in our praise. Psalm 75:1 says, “We give thanks to you, O God, for your Name is near.” He is near! He is here! He is pleased to dwell with those who are dwelling in His praise.

Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed. Save me, and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise. Jeremiah 17:14

It’s hard to describe in words, but we have a funny tradition at our house. If someone falls or trips or in some crazy way hurts themselves, they follow it by getting back on their feet, raising their hands and proclaiming a simple, “I’m okay!” Praising God in our pain is somewhat like this. Though we may be hurting, from our own shortcomings or someone else’s, we raise our hands and let God and everyone else know, “I’m okay!”

We can be more than okay as we choose to lift hearts to our God and Savior still seated on His heavenly throne. As we praise Him there, we shine His light to others and call Him in close to see us through. May God give us greater faith to praise Him from our places of pain.

Hope Surrenders to God’s Word

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(Continuing on with earlier posts- Hope surrenders. Hope surrenders to God’s will. Hope surrenders to God’s Word.)

Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands. May those who fear you rejoice when they see me, for I have put my hope in your Word. I know, O LORD, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me. May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant. Let your compassion come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight.  Psalm 119:73-77

Blessed is the man whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night.  Psalm 1:2

Hope delights in God’s Word, and surrenders to the commands and promises found there. We often run ourselves nearly to the ground, seeking answers and encouragement elsewhere, when all the while God’s Word holds all that we need. The richness of God’s Word and all it has for us await for us to take in. So often, it is a treasure yet undiscovered, waiting to bless and enrich our lives.

I rise before dawn and cry for help. I have put my hope in your Word.  Psalm 119:147

 With two testaments, sixty-six books and 1,189 chapters, the Bible can be overwhelming. Where do we even start? I think we all know we need to read our Bibles more and we all would like to read our Bibles more, but we can get stuck wondering where to begin. Having a plan for when, where and how to study can help get us on our way.

The psalmist here as in other places in scripture tells us to start our day off with prayer and Bible Study in the morning. Whether you are a morning person or not, a few minutes of devotional reading and laying out your praises and prayers for the day can make an incredible difference. For me the few moments I lose in sleep to get up before my children far makes up for itself in peace and direction for the day. My Bible and a cup of coffee in my comfy chair in the quiet before the chaos have become absolutely critical. Find a way to put time with Christ in your morning. “She gets up while it is still dark.” (Proverbs 31:15)

Where to read in your Bible can be a challenge. There are so many verses to take in. I suggest two kinds of reading- devotional reading and in-depth study. Devotional reading may be guided by a devotional book, or maybe a daily reading plan, and usually covers a short part of scripture. Some of the most popular books for devotional reading are Psalms, Proverbs (try reading one chapter a day), the gospel of John, or one of Paul’s letters like Philippians or Colossians.  In-depth Bible study may happen in a longer period of time later in your day. If you are a night person, you may best study at night. In-depth study takes one book or one passage and looks intently into its context, meaning and application. While we should read devotionally every day, we may only study in-depth several times each week. Consider working through a New Testament book, and then alternate with an Old Testament book.

How to read the Bible could fill a year’s worth of seminary classes, but what is helpful for us as we commit to daily Bible study? As we look at a verse, or several verses, we should always look for meaning in its context. Read the verses before and after to get a greater feel for its true meaning. Then see if you can find out who wrote the verses. What you can learn about the author and his purpose for writing will add further understanding. And most important of all, ask the question, “What does this teach me about God?” The Bible is a book about God, not me. I can be quick to jump to the question, “What does this teach me about me?” and look for a personal application, before seeing first all that I can learn about God, His character and His purposes.

Another great way to learn God’s Word is to teach it to our children. As we share the stories of Old Testament heroes and prophets, or the New Testament gospels of Jesus’ life and the early church, we learn them better ourselves. I learned the names of the books of the Bible singing children’s Bible songs. We learn as we teach.

Teach me, O LORD, to follow your decrees, then I will keep them to the end. Give me understanding and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart. Direct me in the paths of your commands, for there I find delight. Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things, preserve my life according to your Word.  Psalm 119: 33-37

Hope surrenders to God’s Word. Cling to His laws, delight in His decrees, and find freedom in the paths of His commands.

Sick Kids, Sovereign God

sickchildIn my book, sick kids always trump ministry or work.

On the days when I have a child come up sick, I know that whatever I was thinking I was supposed to do that day, I wasn’t.

We recently served with a group of high school students on an intergenerational mission trip to Honduras. Mid-week, my 15-year-old daughter became very sick. We had to miss out on that morning of ministry and an afternoon with a very special outing, and we were both very disappointed.

Several of the wisdom-seeking young girls had asked among the adults that week the question we all long to have answered, “How can we know God’s will for our lives?” Whether in choosing a college, or finding a husband, these girls were on a quest to know how to know what God wants them to do. The day my daughter was sick made for a good example of how God often uses the circumstances He allows into our life each day to show us His good, pleasing and perfect plan. For that day, my child was sick, and I needed to forego my ministry service role and fulfill my nurturing caregiver role with her.

Early in my motherhood journey, my mother said to me, “You’re only as happy as your saddest child.” And I think it has also gone like this: “You’re only as well as your sickest child.” A given mom-trait is empathy, the ability to share someone else’s (especially our child’s) feelings. When our children are sick, our hearts are broken, and we would rather take their place suffering than watch them suffer through.

Having a sick child is exhausting physically and emotionally, but are we able to see God’s hand in it? Are we able to sense His presence on those hard days? Are we able to tap His power for strength beyond ourselves? Are we able to trust that He is sovereign even over our child’s illness, whether it be acute or chronic?

In my not-so-theologically-equipped mind, I struggle to put my mind around the sovereignty of God, especially when it comes to the very difficult trials that come into our lives. A sick child is clearly one of those. And though this may be over-simplified, the question it comes down to for me is this: “Is He on His throne as King of kings and Lord of all the earth? Or is He not?”

Years ago a local youth group had a terrible tragedy on a weekend retreat. A pickup truck filled with sleeping bags and duffle bags was heading from the church to the home where one group of students was to spend the night. The students followed behind on the freeway, and all saw right away when one sleeping bag flew out of the pickup truck onto the freeway ahead of them. Apparently, they pulled over, and one student went out on the freeway to pick up the sleeping bag. Then, very tragically, the student was struck by an oncoming vehicle and killed.

I heard the senior pastor trying to offer counsel for the students and parents the following morning. And while it would be very difficult to know how to comfort those in the face of such a tragedy, I didn’t feel like his words went in the right direction. Some of the words he spoke were, “God didn’t plan this. This was not in His will. This is not what God wanted to happen here last night.”

Again, in my simple mind, it sounded to me like he was suggesting that God had taken a short break from His throne while the accident occurred. Which brings that question again, “Is He on His throne, or is He not?”

Remember the childhood song, “He’s got the whole world in His hands?” It gives me a picture of God as sovereign Creator of the universe, holding all of creation, especially man whom He created in His image, in His strong hands. If we are held within His strong hands, then only what He allows to come into our lives can get through to us. Whether He is the source of the difficulty, or if our sin, other sinners or Satan are the source, God allows it to come to us for a specific purpose that we may or may not ever know. We can know for certain, though, that His purpose is always to draw us closer into Himself, and shape us closer into the image of His Son Jesus Christ.

Does God know when my child is going to be sick?

Yes- He is omniscient, all-knowing. He knows everything about everyone.

Is God able to make my child well?

Yes- He is omnipotent, all-powerful. Whether He does or not, He has the power to.

Is God here to help me through this hard?

Yes- He is omnipresent, ever-present. And He draws near to the brokenhearted.

The gospels tell of us several parents whose children were sick. Where did they turn? They turned to Jesus. One father cried out to Jesus with a very simple, yet honest and profound prayer. “Help me overcome my unbelief!”

May we learn to trust God with our sick children. Whether our plan is interrupted for a day or for years, may He grant us greater faith to trust that He is sovereign, omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent through it all.

Hope Rejoices in the Triumph

victoryBut thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  1 Corinthians 15:57

We can have hope because we know we win!

We are on the winning team. God has proclaimed that the battle has been won in Christ’s victory over death. We can rejoice knowing the King of Kings and Lord of Lords is on our side. And though we may pick up some battle wounds along the way, we will reign with Christ in His victory in the end.

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.  1 Corinthians 15:19

Paul writes in length to the Corinthians about our lives being resurrected after death. He differentiates our natural bodies and our coming spiritual bodies, our perishable bodies that will become imperishable, our imperfect bodies to be made whole. Our hope is not only for this life, but for the eternal life still to come.

The hope of heaven gives great encouragement as we struggle with our own weaknesses, and the weaknesses of our loved ones. What is broken here will be restored in heaven forever. There are no wheelchairs, glasses, therapy sessions, or medications. There is no disability or disease, illness or injury, sin or sickness.

And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorified body.  Philippians 3:20

The flesh and bones that we dwell in for this life will be transformed to be like Christ in the life that is to come. And that brings us great hope. We can hold on through the difficulty of this lowly body- ours and that of those we love- knowing He will by His power bring every imperfection under His perfect control. Paul says, “We will all be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:51).

With God we will gain the victory, He will trample down our enemies.  Psalm 60:12

We face many enemies, all working to bring defeat into our lives. The enemies of fear, pride, ridicule, and shame seek to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10). There may be people in our lives who for any number of reasons can be counted as enemies. We may view our child’s disability or illness as an enemy as well. A friend of mine fighting cancer referred to her cancer as “the monster.”

Knowing that God promises to defeat all of our enemies brings a joy and strength for the present battle. We can know He makes good of the evil that comes our way. Joseph said “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20). We can know He is with us fighting for us. “The LORD will fight for you, you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:14). And we can know He will triumph in the end.

But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.  1 Peter 4:13

We rejoice that Christ holds victory in store for His children. He wins!  And we win with Him.

May we endure through the trials of this day, holding on to the hope of the triumph to come. May we strive to see the little victories He gives us along the way as glimpses of the great victory He promises for eternity.

If we endure, we will also reign with Him. 2 Timothy 2:12

New Every Morning

newyearcalendar

Walk through any grocery or department store and you know right away that it’s New Year’s Resolution time, isn’t it? The front displays all relate to weight loss and home organization.  Everyone seems to be exercising more, eating less and cutting the clutter.  Admittedly, I usually jump on the resolution bandwagon, and take the opportunity to renew some healthy habits left off a few months back when life’s busy days got the best of me. And admittedly, the commitment usually trails off a few months in and we’re back to where we started.

My husband has a different perspective this time of year, and it got me thinking this week. He adamantly refuses to make any New Year’s resolutions and resists the concept entirely.  Here’s why: he says if a change is that important, then it should be that important any day of the year. It shouldn’t take a change of the calendar year to get you to do it if it’s really worth doing.

I see great value in taking the turn of the year to reflect on God’s blessings in the year gone past. And I see value in renewing a personal vision and commitment with expectation for the coming year. But I think the key may be in Chris’ thinking that this level of commitment should sustain itself throughout the year.

Maybe the opportunity to reflect and renew should be taken every morning, rather than just at year’s end.

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  Lamentations 3:21-23

So maybe our New Year’s Resolution should be to make a “New Day’s Resolution” everyday.

And that new day’s resolution should start with a reflection on the LORD’s great love and compassion in the day before. Reflecting on God’s faithfulness for yesterday strengthens our trust to know He will be faithful for today. Then our response to His love, compassion and faithfulness becomes our vision and commitment for the day. We then go out to serve out of the overflow of our hearts, seeking His glory and not our own.

Our new day’s resolution may include a healthy eating and exercise plan, not to achieve body perfection, but to be better fit to serve God and others.

Our new day’s resolution may include a home organization project, not to achieve earthly praise, but to better serve our family and create order and peace in our home.

And our new day’s resolution should always include a time of prayer and Bible Study, not to check off a to-do list, but to better conform our hearts and minds to God’s will.

If you’re like me, the end of the day finds you pretty much beat. We’ve taken care of ourselves, our families (should we list all the laundry, carpools, and meals?), and our work and church responsibilities.  I love putting on cozy pajamas and climbing in my soft bed- and resting. Then, assuming no middle of the night dog or kid crisis, I awake in the morning ready to start a fresh day.

How about we try and make the refreshed start of the day a refreshed vision and commitment for serving Christ? Could we take our shower time and use it for drinking of the Living Water and letting Christ’s healing and forgiveness pour over us? Could we take our getting dressed and be reminded to put on our new self- clothed in His righteousness?

Be made new in the attitude of your minds and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.  Ephesians 4:23-24

Experts agree on the value of both short- and long-term goals. Maybe there is a combination of a New Year’s Resolution that sets a bigger direction for our lives and a shorter-term daily commitment renewal that keeps us moving towards that vision in realistic achievable steps.

I pray we would begin each day renewed- with a new song in our hearts and on our lips- ready to serve the Lord with fresh commitment.  I pray we would seek a fresh vision as this new year begins- watching on high for His guiding hand. And I pray we would rest at each day’s end to praise the One who is “making everything new.” (Revelation 21:5)

It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night. Psalm 92:1-2