Strengthened through Struggle

 

weightliftingI hate it when my kids hurt!

All moms hate it when their kids hurt. And the worst hurts are the ones we can do nothing about. All moms know the deep soul ache of watching a child suffer, desperately wishing we could take the pain on ourselves for them.

In the midst of painful storms, difficult hurts and big disappointments with our children, we find comfort in knowing “this happened for a reason.” There is hope in knowing there must be some purpose for the trials God allows in our lives. But what is the reason? What is that purpose? Especially when what comes is so not what we expected and so terribly difficult that, as Paul says, “we despair even of life itself.” (2 Corinthians 1:8)

“No pain, no gain” is what athletes are told. To get faster and stronger, athletes train through pain, working their muscles to fatigue and even soreness. The not-so-technical explanation for this is that as muscles are strained with greater intensity, small tears are made in the muscle fibers. As those fibers heal, the muscle tissue grows stronger and able to work at higher levels. Over time, as muscles are worked, they grow bigger and stronger, able to do more work than before.

The scriptures tell us that this same principle is true with our hearts- with spiritual training. No pain, no gain. God uses trials to shape and sharpen us. And like a potter working his clay on the potter’s wheel, the pushing and prodding needed to transform the clod of clay into a beautiful vessel does not feel very good to the clay. So trials don’t feel very good to us, but some of the pain is soothed knowing there is a greater reason and purpose for the pain.

It is helpful to cast our struggling feelings against a backdrop of what we already know to be true. I find three things help me hold on through the hard.

  1. He is working all things together FOR US.

And we know that in all things God works together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  Romans 8:28

We don’t need to see the good or know what it will be to trust God’s promise that that is what He is doing. He promises to work all things together- for those who love Him- for His purposes. As a weaver is working in different colors, textures and patterns, at times individual rows look quite ugly or out-of-place. But in the completed tapestry, all work together to produce a beautiful piece of art. We cannot see the completed work. We are only looking at this moment. But we can look at the Weaver and trust that He knows what He is doing.

  1. He is working IN US to make us more like His Son.

For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son. Romans 8:28

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:8

 The work God is doing in us – and in our children – is molding us into the image of His Son. And He promises to complete that work. He wants us to be like Christ – wise and strong, compassionate and overflowing with unconditional love.

  1. He is readying to work THROUGH US to bring others to His grace.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Compassion and the God of all Comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received.  2 Corinthians 1:3-4

 The struggles we face are not just for our good, but also for the good of those we will better serve in the future. We will greater offer grace and compassion when we have experienced them so greatly. Our hearts are softened to others’ struggles, and we more readily give comfort when we’ve been comforted. It may be years before we see this come to pass, but God will surprise us at the heart connections we will make with people facing similar trials.

God, show your mighty hand working for us, in us and through us. Even more, we ask you to show our children your mighty hand working for them, in them and through them in a way they can understand. May our hearts be strengthened through the struggles. Show your grace in the hard place. Write our story – and their story – for your glory.

 

 

 

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Crucified with Christ

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Good Friday.

As a teen, I remember coming to the realization of the gravity, and really the gruesomeness, of the crucifixion of Christ and wondering why we call it Good Friday. It certainly didn’t seem good that Jesus was put to death on a cruel cross. It didn’t seem good that the One who had the week before paraded triumphantly through a crowd shouting “Hosanna!” was now laid bare to suffer before a crowd hurling insults. And it didn’t seem good that God’s One and Only Son bore the fullness of our sin and was separated from His Father in death.

Now later, I see the goodness- the very good-ness- of our Savior’s death. It is good that He would choose to take on our sin and once for all pay its penalty. It is good that the sacrifice of this sinless Lamb of God brought us righteousness and reconciliation with God.

God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.  Colossians 1:19-20

Because He died for our sins, we are counted sinless before God- and that is good. It pleases God.

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.  Matthew 16:24-25

Yes Jesus died for us, but He also asks us to follow Him in that dying. He invites us to die with Him- not in a literal dying as He did on the cross (though some will be called to pay the ultimate price for their faith), but He calls us to die to our sinful nature.

Those who belong to Jesus Christ have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.  Galatians 5:24

Followers of Jesus crucify their sinful natures by (1) denying themselves, (2) taking up their cross, and (3) following Christ.

Denying myself- Clearly we sinners most naturally think of ourselves first. We like the world to revolve around me, myself, and I. Yet we are called to deny ourselves- for the sake of Christ. What I have found to be true through many different challenging circumstances, is that the Lord will set before me ways to learn to deny myself. Or as I call them, “flesh killers.” When I was planning a special “me” day shopping and getting a manicure, and my child turned up sick, He gracefully forced me to deny myself. When I thought I had a new direction, and my husband and friends agreed it was not right, I had to “kill the flesh” again.

While daily we face short-term interruptions and inconveniences that cause us to conform our will to His, many of us face “long-term flesh killers.” A chronic illness for parent or child, a child whose physical and emotional and mental needs are ongoing and long-term, a husband who is absent- either literally or figuratively. These extreme challenges force us to daily deny ourselves as they whittle away- sometimes gash away- the flesh within. I wonder if we can learn to welcome them more as we see their benefit in this war against self-centered sin.

Taking up my cross- As the cross was where our Lord suffered, so our cross represents the sufferings of this life that we are called upon to carry. He did not promise that we would be free from suffering, but promised rather to be with us through all the suffering that comes.

All in this world suffer much- in many different ways. What Christ promises, if we will deny ourselves, is the peace and the power to persevere. And in that we experience the joy of “sharing in His sufferings” (Philippians 2:10).

We can all think back through the most difficult seasons of our lives- and there we see God’s nearness was most evident. He is here in the hard. Though it would have been hard to say it then, I would not have traded those hard days, for in them I grew closer and more dependent on God. Lord, give us the faith to ask you- “Jesus bring the rain.”

Following Christ- Our Lord calls us to follow Him in daily Christ-likeness- in the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and faithfulness of His Spirit. (Galatians 5:22). His life as told in the gospels clearly displays this godly example. We are told in Romans 8:29, that we have been “predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” The beauty of sanctification is that Chris is making us more like Himself, and giving us a heart more ready to follow Him.

Denying myself. Taking up my cross. Following Christ. Here’s where I want the fullness of this Good Friday to settle into my mind and heart.

As we honor the crucifixion of Christ, may we join Him in the crucifixion of ourselves.

I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.   Galatians 2:20

 

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.

Resurrection Power

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I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection. Philippians 3:10

We celebrate Easter this week- a beautiful day! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!

The ultimate expression of Christ’s power was shown in His resurrection- His triumph over death, His victory over sin. And because of His payment for the penalty of our sin, and His Holy Spirit now living in us, we have His resurrection power available to us.

As I head into another full week, I want to be sure my power resources are on full.

With His power, I can follow His will. I can obey. Even before the resurrection had happened, Mary was tapped in to this supernatural power. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Luke 1: 35). To follow the specific calling God had placed on her life, Mary needed His Spirit to obey with heart, soul, mind and strength.  So too do we need His power to walk in submission to His perfect will for our lives. “God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called.” I believe our true callings are placed just out of reach of our own skills and experiences, to where we have to rely on His strength alone to live them out.

With His power, I can withstand life’s trials. I can endure. The storms of life come hard, and most often they come harder and last longer than we can withstand on our own. But Christ’s power keeps us standing, helps us see with eternal eyes, and gives that peace that transcends understanding.  We can endure difficult circumstances with His strength, and we can endure difficult people with His patience.  “…Being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.”  Colossians 1:11

 

With His power, I can battle my enemies. I can fight. What enemies threaten your peace? Your safety? Your faith? Are you armed with Christ’s resurrection power for the promised victory? He conquered death when He rose from the grave. His is the victory now and forever. If we will fight in His power, He will defeat our enemies and restore His eternal peace. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” Ephesians 6:10

I am reminded of the familiar story of a great master pianist who had gotten up from the piano to bow before the audience applause. When he did so, a small child wandered up on to the stage, climbed up and sat at the piano and begin plinking on the keys. Finding great humor in this, the master pianist came around behind the child, encircled him with his long arms, and began performing another masterpiece that far outshadowed the child’s continued plinking.

So, too, with us, the Master takes our feeble offering and turns it into a masterpiece. His power overshadows our own, and in the end, He receives the deserved glory for a life played out unto Him.

The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.

Christian artist Toby Mac has a hit song “Steal My Show.”

“If you want to steal my show, I’ll sit back and watch you go.

If you’ve got something to say, go on and take it away.

Need you to steal my show, Can’t wait to watch you go

Go on and take it away.”

When I live in resurrection power, my life brings glory to the One who resurrected. I receive needed strength and He receives the glory due His name alone.

Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen.  Revelation 7:12

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 Surrenders to God’s Will

HandsThough He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.  Job 13:15

Job surrendered to the will of God, even at the loss of his fortune, his family, and then his own health. His hope was in the God whose character He had known to be trustworthy for many years. He knew He could surrender to God’s will and God would prove faithful.  Job held on to God even in the hard. His example is a strong one for us as we try to hold on to hope in our own hard.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- his good, pleasing and perfect will.  Romans 12:2

Surrendering to God’s will begins in our minds, when we make a conscious choice to move from the world’s patterns to take hold of what He has for us instead. As that transformation happens, we are able to know God’s will for our lives. His “good, pleasing and perfect will” becomes clearer as we remove the old ways of thinking and “let this mind be in you which also is in Christ.” (Philippians 2:5) His Spirit makes His will known to us.

Many struggle with the idea of “God’s will.” If we are honest, we may ask questions like, “Was it God’s will for my child to get sick?” “Was it God’s will that she was born with this disability?”  “Did He will for my husband to leave us?” This can become a complex theological discussion that would take many pages. For our purposes, though, I think we start by asking the question “Is God sovereign?” Does the Creator reign over all His creation?  We can be sure from scripture, from history and from our own experience that He does. We can be sure that all power and glory and honor and praise belong to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Then as Job did, we can surrender to what He allows to come into our lives and trust His will to be best- for His glory and for our good.

The illustration I like best to help understand this is from the song, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” Picture God’s hands held together holding your life inside. As He protects and provides for you, any blessing or trial that comes your way must come through His hands first. What gets through to you has been allowed by Him, even if that be sin’s consequences or Satan’s schemes. And if He allows it through, it is according to His good, pleasing and perfect will.

We can be sure that God’s ultimate purpose is to glorify Himself as Lord of all. We have seen how that happens even in life’s most difficult circumstances. His presence, His power and His peace through our trials all bring honor to Him.

A second purpose we can be sure of is His will to conform His children to the image of Christ. “For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” (Romans 8:29). We can surrender to His sovereign hands allowing tests and trials to come our way to shape us into His image. As a potter pushes and prods his clay to conform to his beautiful plan, so does God push and prod His children to become more like His Son.

Jesus Christ demonstrated total surrender to God’s will through His death on the cross.  Knowing the great sacrifice of suffering He was near to enduring, He prayed this profound prayer.

Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”  Luke 22:42

The scripture goes on to tell us that an angel came to Him and “strengthened Him.” Then we learn how difficult that prayer of surrender was for Christ to pray:

And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.  Luke 22:44

If surrendering to God’s will was that painful for His Son, we can expect to struggle with it as well.  He understands the fight to surrender our own will for His. And He will be faithful to be near to help with the letting go. He knows that the letting go is the very best thing for us. He will give us faith to hold on for God’s good, pleasing and perfect will.

Because of Christ’s surrender, we can surrender to God’s will for our lives.

        

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

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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

To Be Like Mary

Mary

I woke this morning on a pillowtop mattress under the warmth of my down comforter. She woke that morning on a bed of scratchy hay, covered loosely in dirty stable blankets.

My first born was delivered under medical care in a sterile hospital room. Hers came in a crude barn into the rough hands of her frightened husband.

My marriage followed a lovely ceremony with family and friends. Hers began in private surrounded by confusion and controversy.

In many ways, Mary’s story and mine are incomparable, yet I have seen several ways they are alike.

She was given a task greater than herself, and I too am unqualified for the work God has called me to do.

She delivered the Messiah to a dark hurting world. God asks me to bring light with my words and deeds.

She knew mercy would be given to those who would receive it. “His mercy extends to those who fear Him.”

She knew her greatest peace would come in surrendering to God’s will. “May it be to me as you have said.”

Her soul found strength in glorifying God. “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

And she knew only God could understand all of her emotions. “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

These are all truths I long to be written on my heart as well.

Her journey was long with many challenges along the way. So, too, mine often feels overwhelming.

Her heart was fragile, yet fully trusting of God’s good will for her life.

Her faith was beyond her years, and her strength was from deep within.

I find in the Christmas story that I continually look to Mary. I want to be like her. I want my heart to trust like hers. I want my soul to be as strong as hers. I want my purpose, like hers, to be bringing Christ to a world in need.

May we share her humility and her simplicity.

May we have her faith.

May we follow her submissive heart.

May we find strength in rest and trust.

May we resign our will to God’s alone.

“For the Mighty One has done great things for me- Holy is His name.” Luke 1:49

In Everything Give Thanks

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In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. I Thessalonians 5:18

This week we are giving thanks. Thanks for family. Thanks for food. Thanks for faith.

For many of us the holidays are truly a time of thanksgiving. And yet at the same time, the stress and tension of family relationships or circumstantial difficulties can make this time a great challenge. Paul makes quite clear to us in this scripture that it is God’s will for us to give thanks in everything.

This is hard.

I’ve found on this parenting journey a great blessing comes in framing life’s challenges in thankfulness. I am learning to thank God in the struggle, even if I can’t yet thank Him for the struggle. Trials are easier to endure and find peace in if I can keep a close gaze on God. He is above and beyond the trial, yet chooses to come walk with me through the trial.

I will give thanks to God because of His righteousness. Psalm 7:17

In difficulty, there is always something worth giving thanks for. And we can start with the very character of God Himself. He is God no matter what we are facing. And He is still on His throne. He is still “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.” (Psalm 145:8). He is still light, and He is still love. When we focus on His righteousness, we see our circumstances through very different lenses.

With this new perspective, then, I find three reasons we can give thanks in everything.

Glimpses of His presence and glory– Even in the midst of the most difficult times, God will reveal Himself and make His presence known. Our first born daughter was born with a blocked intestine and had to have emergency surgery on her 8th day of life. All of our family spent Thanksgiving Day that year in the hospital with her. One of those nights we left to get good rest in our own beds, and as we got in the car, the Christian radio station there announced a prayer for “a new born little girl Katelyn having surgery on her intestines tomorrow.”  God gave us a glimpse of His presence that night- a glimpse we needed to keep clinging to Him and to each other to get through the hardest time of our lives. Look around and see the beautiful sunset, a friend’s encouraging phone call, a Bible verse hung on the wall, a caring doctor as glimpses of His presence and glory to keep you going. And be thankful.

Gifts of His love and strength- In moments of fear, frustration, helplessness and loss of hope, listen for the whisper of God’s love over your life. Remember again His perfect heavenly Father love that completely and unconditionally loves you, His beloved daughter. Remember His Fatherly protection and provision. The Christian group Plumb sings the lyric “How many times have you given me strength to just keep breathing?”  Clinging to His love we can find strength to keep breathing and to keep walking even just one small step at a time. “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). And we can be thankful.

Grace for today and hope for tomorrow- I’ve found on my hardest days that God’s grace comes in different ways. It is grace that brings comfort, wisdom and strength to the present, and gives peace in the midst of the raging storm. It is grace that reminds me who I am and whose I am. It reminds me that God has authored each day I face before time began. But it is also grace that gives me hope for a better tomorrow. Hope is holding on to the truth that this is not our home. Our eternal home is on high in the presence of God, and there with Him there is no weeping, no broken bodies, and no more sin. And we can be thankful- for the now and for the coming.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him and praise His name. Psalm 100:4

Of all the things we can give thanks for this week, we can give thanks for Him and to Him- for He created everything, He is over everything, He is in everything.

In everything, give thanks.