Our Valleys Are God’s Peaks

In Vaneetha Rendall Risner’s book, The Scars That Have Shaped Me , she shares an illustration that friends had shared with her. A counselor had asked her friends to make a timeline of the high and low points of their lives, briefly describe each one, and then connect them into up and down graphs. After spending some time on this project, the friends finally finished. Then the counselor asked them to turn their charts upside down. Why? To point out that what we consider the “low” times of life are often the times God is most at work in us, or when we come to know Him significantly better.

“God sees our lowest moments as our spiritual highs because that is when he is doing the deepest work in us…from them come our most significant growth and our greatest dependence on God.”

It’s not that God doesn’t work in the “good” or “high” times: He does, and those are blessings from Him. But it’s usually when we’re experiencing hardship, doubt, pain, need, or other trials that we most seek Him, and, as He promised, find Him. It’s in our weakness that we turn to and depend on His strength.

Vaneetha tried this exercise for herself and found the same observation to be true. She writes:

I often reflect back on that exercise when I’m struggling. Because when I’m in the pit, I’d like to eliminate all the valleys on my graph. I’d be thrilled if the line of my life story featured frequent upward peaks—times of success and fulfillment—but otherwise be mostly flat. That way there would be no more valleys, no more anguish or tears or pain. Just happiness. And that sounds wonderful.

But turning that graph around, I would see a boring, unexamined, and unfruitful spiritual life. An untested life marked by superficiality and entitlement. A life filled with temporary happiness but little lasting joy.

Suffering and trials are gifts. They refine my character, draw me to God, deepen my faith. They have shaped my theology and carved into me the capacity for great joy. In many ways they are God’s greatest blessings.

This gives a new perspective to the phrase “mountaintop experience.” That phrase comes from the time Peter, James, and John accompanied Jesus to a mountain and saw Him wondrously transfigured, talking to Moses and Elijah. Right on the heels of that glorious, once-in-a-lifetime experience, they descended the mountain to find the other disciples unable to help a demon-possessed boy. Often right after we experience some kind of glorious high point with the Lord, we run into a low point, and we wonder what happened and why we can’t feel those “highs” all the time. Vaneetha comments:

In the midst of trials, I rarely feel that spiritual growth is happening. Often I’m depressed and just trying to hang on. Life is gray, and I don’t see God’s work at all. But in retrospect, it is in the hanging on, the trusting in the dark, the waiting patiently for God, where real growth occurs.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9, ESV). What we would consider the lowest points of our lives He might consider the highest points, because those are the times we most turned to Him, leaned on Him, learned of Him, and grew in our experience and love of Him.

And you just can’t beat the view from the mountaintop.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

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Remembering…

It’s hard to believe it has been 17 years since the horror of 9/11. Though the days that followed were grief-stricken, I miss the coming together as a nation and the expression of faith from those days.

I saw the following on a couple of different places on Facebook. I don’t know who originally put it together. But it’s a poignant reminder that we never know what a day may bring forth.

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It also reminds me of a quote from Jim Elliot, who died just before the age of 30 at the hand of others: “When the time comes to die, make sure that all you have to do is die!”

Enjoy every day as if it were your last, and be ready in case it is.

I am not sure how many of those we lost on 9/11 had made arrangements for eternity. I hope they all did. If you have not, please read more here.

Disappointment

No one likes to disappoint others. We’ve experienced disappointment when others have failed to live up to our expectations, and we don’t want to inflict that on anyone else. Too many people only give half an effort, or are too self-absorbed to extend themselves to others, and we don’t want to be like that. We want to do what we can for others, and we want the important people in our lives happy with us.

Those perfectly natural desires can become an unhealthy obsession, leading us to become frantic “people-pleasers” motivated by self-love due to how good we feel when we meet others’ needs.

But aside from that lopsided perspective, it’s certainly not wrong to want to please others in whatever legitimate way we can. Yet we soon find that we just can’t do everything that everyone would like for us to. Randy Alcorn wrote once that he had to say no to about 99% of the requests that came his way. The standard reply his assistant sends to most requests is, “Randy has to say no to the great majority of good opportunities so that he can say yes to the very few God wants him to do.”

It’s a hard balance to maintain, to be available to minister to others as God wants us to, even to the point of pain and self-sacrifice sometimes, yet not to spread ourselves so thin that everything suffers. Randy honed in on the key: finding out what God wants us to do. You’ve heard the old illustration of the professor showing his students that pouring in the small things into a jar first left no room for the big ones. But when the big items were put in first, and then the smaller ones fit around them.

And we can trust God for the disappointment this will cause others. If He does not want us to meet their request, He has another person or plan in mind. Maybe your lack of availability will be the catalyst someone else needs to step up. Maybe a lack of someone to fill that need will lead those involved to see that that program or ministry or whatever needs to be set aside or changes need to be made. During the few short years we home-schooled, we were part of a large home school support group that had grown from a handful of moms. When the lady in charge of it had to step down due to the birth of her seventh child, the group floundered for the next year. But in the meantime, the moms decided they really did want the group to continue, and several different ladies took different aspects of it. It had gotten too big for one person, but no one really realized that until that person had to step down.

One thing we learn when others disappoint us or have to say no to a request is that they are not God. Only He can meet all of our needs. I can’t meet all of anyone else’s needs, either. I don’t have to feel guilty that I can’t.That lack may cause them to lean more on Him.

But even He disappoints people. When Jesus lived in Earth, other people had certain expectations of what the Messiah would do, but Jesus did not meet them. Once, after healing and casting demons out of people the day before, Jesus went out alone to pray. When the disciples found Him, they told Him everyone was looking for Him, presumably to come back and keep healing. But He said, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” Though He did heal as part of His ministry on earth, His main purpose was to preach.

In those cases, Jesus didn’t disappoint them deliberately, but He couldn’t do what others wanted because it wasn’t in line with His and the Father’s mission. Sometimes those people were seeking their own desires or they misunderstood His purposes and character. Part of their adjustment to right understanding was having wrong expectations unfulfilled.

Other times, he disappointed people temporarily because He had a greater purpose in mind. Mary and Martha grieved when Jesus did not respond to their summons that Lazarus was sick until it was too late. But a greater miracle than healing awaited them all, and a greater demonstration of who He was. If He had come at their first request,  everyone would have expected Him to heal Lazarus. And if Lazarus had died while Christ was present and then Jesus resurrected him, there may have been some accusation of collusion or trickery. Sometimes He has to say no to this request because down the road He’s sending that.

In Paul’s case, God said no to his request that his thorn be removed because God wanted Paul to know His grace in a special way, and that example has provided comfort for countless readers even hundreds of years later.

Parents understand that they have to disappoint their children sometimes. Though they’d dearly love to meet every request, to do so would be unhealthy and unwise. Children don’t always understand why they can’t eat candy for breakfast, or why they need a nap, or why they can’t play in the street or go to the zoo. Learning that we can’t have everything we want when we want it is is a life lesson we all need and a step toward maturity. Then we understand that everything we want isn’t good for us and it’s a mercy we don’t always get it. Likewise, though we don’t always understand what our heavenly Father is up to, we trust His love and wisdom when He delays or refuses a request.

Sometimes we disappoint people without even realizing it. We didn’t know they had certain expectations. We won’t know unless they tell us. Newly married couples experience this as they adjust to living with each other and getting to know each other better, and of course people interacting in almost any way can experience this. If someone disappoints us in that way, we don’t sit back and fume or withdraw from them because “they should have known.” We have to decide whether we should just overlook the issue and manage our expectations or have a talk with the other person, but we don’t expect them to be mind readers.

There have been times I firmly believed the person telling me “No” was in the wrong. Someone instilled in me a long time ago the principle that “You can’t say no until you pray about it.” Sometimes I have faced opportunities that were too big for me, yet I did not feel the liberty to say no to them, and I saw God work and provide in marvelous ways that I would have missed if I had followed my first inclination and said no. But it was not my place to convince others that God really wanted them to do what I asked. As I appealed to God, He could either change the other person’s heart or supply someone else to meet the request.

If disappointment is a feeling that results from someone else failing us, Jesus experienced that every day. But the time that most touches my heart was in Gethsemane. Many times Jesus went out to pray alone, but that time He wanted the companionship of His friends to watch with Him before the events leading up to the cross were going to start. But they fell asleep instead.

If we’re in authority over someone else, as a parent, supervisor, teacher, mentor, etc., sometimes we have to deal with their failure to meet expectations in more stringent ways. Sometimes a rebuke, reminder, further instruction and training, or even punishment is needed. Jesus certainly employed each of those when dealing with people. But sometimes, as in Gethsemane, He extended grace, acknowledging that those who disappointed Him were only human. “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14, ESV).

And if someone actually sins against us, the Bible prescribes methods of confronting them and admonitions to forgive them.

So, to come full circle: when others disappoint us, we respond in whatever way is needed. If it is a matter of actual sin, we may need to take other action. If we’re in a position of authority over them, we don’t let them get away with laziness or lack of effort, but we understand that no one is perfect. If we’re not their authority, we may try to persuade them to take the matter to God before saying no. But if they still say no, we leave it with the Lord to change their hearts or to provide another way.

And because we want to treat others as we want to be treated, we don’t say no to others callously or lightly. We seek the Lord to see whether this request is from Him, even if it seems beyond us, and we depend on Him to enable us. But we understand that we cannot meet the needs of everyone in our sphere of influence. We are not God: only He is. If we have to say no, we do so kindly and encourage others to seek Him for their needs, trusting that He will either meet their needs in another way or give them the grace to do without. If we’ve sinned, we confess that to the Lord and the other person, repent, and do what we can to make restitution. If we have disappointed someone unwittingly, we apologize, talk out the issues, and correct our actions accordingly as much as possible.

But on either side of disappointment, we come to know that no one loves us as thoroughly as God does, no one else is as wise, no one else has the power and provision to meet all our needs. And even if He seems to disappoint us sometimes, we trust that in His love and wisdom, He has something better in mind than what we originally wanted. And sometimes He teaches us, grows us, shapes us, matures us through lessons of disappointment.

And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.
Psalm 39:7, ESV

What have you learned from disappointment?

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The Ministry of the Mundane

One morning I chafed over having to go to the grocery store – again. I had just gone the day before, but that store didn’t have everything I needed, plus we were getting ready for company and needed a few extras. I groused inwardly about spending way too much of my life in stores and how I had other things I’d much rather be doing.

All of a sudden the thought came to mind, “She bringeth her food from afar.”

You might recognize that as part of the Proverbs 31 woman‘s description. In fact, a lot of what she did was everyday, seemingly mundane stuff: planting, cooking, sewing, weaving, buying, selling. In those days, with no Amazon, super Wal-Marts, or even grocery or clothing stores, most of what she made for herself, her family, and her home was done by hand, from scratch.

Thankfully I don’t have to weave my own cloth. I don’t even have to go too much “afar” to gather my food. We have four grocery stores within a ten-minute drive, and all but one of them lets customers order online and pick up their groceries curbside. So I really don’t have anything to complain about.

It helps me to realize, or remember, that gathering and preparing food is part of what I am supposed to do. Somebody has to do it. My husband doesn’t mind going to the store for me sometimes, but I don’t like to ask him since he already works more than 40 hours a week and then has yard work and house maintenance on top of that.

But realizing it’s part of my job helps me not to chafe: this is just as important as anything else that seems more valuable. It’s part of my ministry to my family.

I’ve wondered why so much of life is made of the mundane. A friend who was a missionary said that when she first went to the field, she had no idea she would be spending so much time in the kitchen. I remember Elisabeth Elliot writing about dealing with a recalcitrant stove or heater and wondering at how much time, especially in a third world country, is made up of such activities. I remember hearing a missionary lady once say that in her country, they still had milkmen pick up their empty milk bottles, and part of her testimony and reputation involved having clean milk bottles out on her porch at the appointed time.

As I have been pondering these things the last few days, I came up with a few possible reasons so many mundane tasks.

The rubber meets the road in those everyday duties. It’s easy to think about loving and serving our fellow man or woman while at home in a quiet, pleasant room with our Bibles. It’s another thing when our fleshly nature bumps up against each other in the real world.

A good work ethic is a testimony to others. Luther was purported to have said, “The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes.” This article disputes that. I understand the article’s view that it’s not something Luther would have said, but I don’t totally agree with their logic. Perhaps you’ve known someone who thought they served God better by witnessing to people than by doing their job. But we’re admonished to do our work “heartily, as unto the Lord.” We’ve all experienced the pangs of faulty workmanship, employees or even ministry partners who do a slipshod job, creating problems and frustration for fellow-workers, bosses, customers. Sure, we have Mary and Martha‘s example, and we know it’s possible to have wrong priorities, and we need to set aside the earthly for the heavenly sometimes. But when it’s time to work, it’s time to do it well and efficiently.

These tasks teach patience, endurance, perseverance, fortitude, service, thoughtfulness of others.

I can’t do even these things in the right way and spirit without God’s help and grace. I just stumbled across this quote in my files from Oswald Chambers (source unknown): “The things Jesus did were the most menial of tasks, and this is an indication that it takes all of God’s power in me to accomplish even the most common tasks in His way. Can I use a towel as He did?” God filled the workmen of the tabernacle with “the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship.” He goes on to say, “I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you” (Exodus 31:1-6, ESV).

Ministry to others can be shown through the mundane. Someone said of Francis and Edith Shaeffer, “As many people were brought to the Lord through Mrs. Schaeffer’s cinnamon buns as through Dr. Schaeffer’s sermons!” Practical help is just as needful as spiritual help.

When Amy Carmichael’s ministry began to change from evangelism to caring for children, she questioned whether God had really called her to be a “nursemaid” when there were so many other needs and ways she could be used. “It was then that she read the words from John 13, how the Lord of glory ‘took a towel and girded Himself.’…never again did she question whether her gifts were being wasted. She knew that the Master never wastes the servant’s time.” (Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur by Frank Houghton)

Mr. Houghton also writes that, “Occasionally someone suggested that character-training of boys and girls…or, still more, the erection of buildings to house them, was not evangelistic work, and therefore not worthy of support.” Amy wrote, “Well, one cannot save and then pitchfork souls into heaven…and as for buildings, souls (in India, at least) are more or less securely fastened into bodies. Bodies cannot be left to lie about in the open, and as you cannot get the souls out and deal with them separately, you have to take them both together.”

We don’t always necessarily have to be doing anything “spiritual” to show forth the fruit of the Holy Spirit. One of my favorite blogger friends writes about what’s going on in her home and family, but even in her homemaking tasks she reflects the spirit of a woman who walks closely with God. She’s not trying to show that: it just shines through her. In everything she shows “a sense of Him.”

Perhaps, too, the weight of physical, everyday tasks is a reminder that we live in a physical world with limitations and constant needs. That reminder increases our anticipation and longing for the day we’ll be released from these bodies and this world.

At any rate, my perspective changed that day. I had no thought of Labor Day when I first started compiling these thoughts, but perhaps it’s appropriate on this particular day to remind ourselves that “In all labor there is profit, But mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23, NASB).

I still need to remind myself frequently that my physical tasks are as needful and important as any type of ministry task. I can do them as unto the Lord. Sure, there are ways I can improve: e.g, planning better can help reduce the number of trips to the store. And I still have plenty of time for things like reading and writing – much more time than the Proverbs 31 woman had. But I can serve, as she did, with strength, dignity, industriousness, kindness, and reverence. Even at the grocery store.

(Sharing with Inspire Me MondayLiterary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

Goals for the Second Half

There’s always something to look forward to just beyond the horizon.

When we were children, we looked forward to high school and driver’s licenses. Then we couldn’t wait for dating and college. Then we longed for marriage and children.

Perhaps your life track has run a different course: perhaps your goals were tenure at your university, or making partner at your firm. Personal and professional goals intertwined.

And if God grants all of those gifts, we look forward to still more.

When we reach somewhere between age 40 and 50, we realize we’re at about the halfway point, if everything goes well. Soon we’ll be in the “second half” of life, with more days behind us than ahead of us. But there are still things we want to do. Some look forward to traveling during the “empty nest” years. Others finally projects off the back burner. We want to see our grandchildren grow, develop, learn, marry, and have children. We want to be here to have a part in influencing them for the Lord.

A few weeks ago, I was arrested by a couple of verses in the psalms reflecting the writer’s purpose for his remaining years:

O God, from my youth you have taught me,
    and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to old age and gray hairs,
    O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
    your power to all those to come.
Psalm 71:17-18, ESV

I recently read of a man who was active in public ministry all his life. When his wife developed Alzheimer’s, he took care of her as long as he could at home. When she needed more care than he could give, she went to an assisted living facility. But he did not want the two of them to be separated: he joined her. He has an active ministry there leading Bible studies and services and talking with residents.

When my mother-in-law was in a memory care unit, I would feel somewhat down long after leaving the facility after visiting her. I can’t imagine voluntarily living in such a place while still in your right mind.

I think of this man’s national and even international ministries contrasted with his life now. His ministry is not evaluated by how many people he is reaching. He is faithfully serving the Lord right where he is supposed to be.

Many of us find that our “older years” turn out quite different from what we had expected due to illness (ours or our spouse’s), parents’ or children’s needs, financial considerations, or any number of issues. But wherever He has put us, we can proclaim His might and His power. We can share those with everyone, but the psalm above particularly speaks of “another generation…those to come.”

One generation shall commend your works to another,
    and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
    and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
    and I will declare your greatness.
They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness
    and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.

Psalm 145:4-7, ESV

Psalm 78 also speaks of “things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us,” telling “to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done,” “that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (verses 2-7).

We can tell the next generation (whether our own descendants or others God brings across our path) the history of how God has worked in the lives of His people, as Psalm 78 goes on to do. We can share His Word, His law, His grace. And we can also share our Ebenezers, testimonies of how He ministered to us and provided for us. We can assure them that He is not just a God afar off in history, but He is God here and now, active in our lives and theirs.

Moses’s prayer in Psalm 90 asks God in the midst of the flying years (verse 10) to “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (verse 12). Moses concludes:

Let your work be shown to your servants,
    and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
    and establish the work of our hands upon us;
    yes, establish the work of our hands!
Psalm 90:16-17, ESV

It was down at the feet of Jesus,
O the blessed, happy day!
Where my soul found peace in believing,
And my sins were washed away.

It was down at the feet of Jesus,
Where I found such perfect rest,
Where the light first dawned on my spirit,
And my soul was fully blest.

It was down at the feet of Jesus,
Where I brought my guilt and sin,
That he paid my debt and forgave me,
For He died my soul to win.

Refrain:

Let me tell the old, old story
Of His grace so full and free;
Let my heart keep giving Him the glory
For His wondrous love to me.

~ Original words by Elisha Hoffman

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire)

“A Heart at Leisure From Itself”

We all need encouragement some times. We all occasionally feel down in the dumps, or inadequate, even ugly. We have an enemy of our souls who specializes in tripping us up and bringing us down.

The KJV rendering of Proverbs 12:25 says, “Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad.” We know the blessing of that “good word” that meets us just at the right time in our moment of need. I am thankful for the encouragers among us who, sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading, specialize in thoughtful observation and uplifting words.

However, I have seen women Bible teachers express concern over the plethora of material for Christian women which is based on emotion and self-esteem: “You are beautiful.” “You are wonderful.” “You are enough.” There are a handful of blogs I only read occasionally because every single post seems to espouse these messages.

I share that concern, for a few reasons. As I said, we all need a boost every now and then. But this kind of encouragement focuses on self, and the sheer volume of these messages makes me wonder whether we are altogether too preoccupied with self. And if Christian leaders and teachers are constantly feeding us esteem-building maxims, we’re lacking the teaching we most need: that which turns our attention to God and His truth. And, just occasionally, these kinds of message are wrong: for instance, as we discussed last week, we are not enough in ourselves.

Please understand: I am not trying to heap guilt on top of other negative feelings. I’m just turning our attention to a better focus and message. When we’re bombarded by self-defeating thoughts, we need to take them captive and apply God’s truth to them.

I am ugly. “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” Psalm 139:14, ESV.  “And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord GOD.” Ezekiel 16:14

I am worthless. “Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” 1 Peter 1:18-19

I am inadequate. “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God. 2 Corinthians 3:5

I am not enough. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5

I am not lovable. God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

Personally, a lot of my self-esteem issues were solved once I truly got hold of the KJV translations of Ephesians 1:6: “He hath made us accepted in the beloved.

Some years ago at a leaders meeting for a church ladies’ group, the pastor’s wife was encouraging us to speak up when we each did our various parts during the meeting. She mentioned almost offhandedly that “Self-consciousness is consciousness of self, and we are supposed to forget self.” That was another concept that helped me turn from my preoccupations with self (which increased anxiety about messing up in some way) to forgetting self in doing what God wanted me to do in the moment, trusting Him for the grace and ability.

Last week I caught a couple of Elisabeth Elliot’s radio broadcasts, replayed now on BBN Radio, in which she was talking about these very ideas. When I stopped the car, I jotted down some notes from her broadcast before I got out to run my errands. I was so hoping I could find a transcript of the program online, but I have had no luck so far.  In searching, however, I did find the September/October 1999 copy of her newsletter in which she discussed related issues. She quotes C. S. Lewis as saying:

The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new
self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him…The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up your self, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it.
Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in. (She quotes from Beyond Personality, but a similar quote is in Mere Christianity as well).

She also includes a few stanzas of this poem/prayer by Anna Laetitia Waring. Two lines which most stood out to me are the author’s request for “a heart at leisure from itself, To soothe and sympathise” and “And a life of self-renouncing love Is a life of liberty.”

I also have in my files a quote from one of Elisbaeth’s old email devotionals that were sent out by Back to the Bible years ago. This one is also from her book Keep a Quiet Heart:

“His purpose in dying for all was that men, while still in life, should cease to live for themselves and should live for him who for their sakes died and was raised to life. With us therefore worldly standards have ceased to count in our estimate of any man…. When anyone is united to Christ, there is a new world (or a new act of creation); the old order has gone, and a new order has already begun” (2 Corinthians 5:15-17, NEB).

That new order is a far cry from the notion of self-acceptance which has taken hold of the minds of many Christians. Any message which makes the Cross redundant is anti-Christian. The original sin, pride, is behind my “poor self-image,” for I felt that I deserved better than I got, which is exactly what Eve felt! So it was pride, not poor self-image, that had to go. If I’m so beautiful and lovable, what was Jesus doing up there, nailed to the cross and crowned with thorns? Why all that hideous suffering for the pure Son of God? Here’s why: There was no other way to deliver us from the hell of our own proud self-loving selves, no other way out of the bondage of self-pity and self-congratulation. How shall we take our stand beneath the cross of Jesus and continue to love the selves that put Him there? How can we survey the wondrous cross and at the same time feed our pride? No. It won’t work. Jesus put it simply: If you want to be My disciple, you must leave self behind, take up the cross, and follow Me.

I also remember Elisbaeth commenting on the radio program that what we sometimes think of as self-hate is actually self-love, because so much of our thought and time is still caught up with self.

Please understand, again, all this talk about forgetting self and dying to self doesn’t mean we neglect self-care. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and we take care of them in thankfulness to Him and for His usefulness. He wants us to glorify Him in our body and spirit. Sometimes we need help with twisted or negative self-talk or self-concepts due to abuse, or a lifetime of put-downs, or other reasons. But the best way to heal from these things is to see what God’s Word says about how He made us and how much He loves us and how He longs to work in and through us. As Robert Murray McCheyne said, “For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ.”

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(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Inspire Me Monday, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories)

Book Review: More Than These

More Than TheseWhen I saw More Than These: A Woman’s Love for God by June Kimmel featured at By the Book, my interest was piqued for three reasons: JustRead Publicity Tours was sponsoring a giveaway of the ebook; I had used some of June Kimmel’s Bible studies before; June’s son-in-law was our youth and music pastor at the church we attended when we first moved to Tennessee, and he and his wife are some of the dearest people on the planet. Fortunately, I won a copy of the book!

The premise of the book is that we have multiple facets of our lives that vie for first place in our hearts, crowding out our first love for God. Some of these are God’s good gifts, like family, friends, and ministry. But when they take His place, we’re not loving either Him or them in the best way. Others are sinful aspects that we need to put to death. So June examines several of these issues, couching them in a time when she and her husband felt led of the Lord to move from South Carolina, where they were near all of their grown children and grandchildren and had jobs and ministries they loved, to Wisconsin for a new ministry opportunity.

A few quotes from the book that stood out to me:

Without love, our good efforts are empty and hollow. We are useless and unprofitable if our service, however noble, is done without supreme love for God.

We must be in the Word to know God’s promises. Sometimes people expect God to do what he never promised to do.

May we see beyond the circumstances of the moment and praise God continually. May our fear never exceed our love for God.

Do you have goals for tomorrow? Did that ambition begin at the feet of the Lord Jesus? Our plans may be exactly what God has for us, but is it the dream we long for or the Master?

We all have positive and negative experiences to recall, but God doesn’t want us living in the past or focusing on it instead of Him. God simply wants to use our past as a tool to shape us into His image.

Unless we surrender our fearfulness to the Lord, it will draw our focus off the Savior by consuming our thoughts. The circumstances intended to draw us closer to the Master will attempt to capture the throne of our heart.

June encourages us to “diligently study His Word and endeavor to take the truths we learn and turn them into daily actions that demonstrate the goodness of our God.” The more we get to know Him, the more our love for Him grows.

I would have preferred the study questions at the end of each chapter rather than all together at the end of the book, but that’s just a matter of personal preference.

Thanks to June, By the Book, JustRead Publicity Tours, and Ambassador International for the giveaway and for sending me a copy of the book!

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Rethinking Spiritual Gifts

Lately I’ve been rethinking what I thought I knew about spiritual gifts.

Spiritual gifts are those particular abilities that the Holy Spirit gives people when they are saved by which He wants to work through them to edify the body of Christ. You can find lists of them in Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28-30; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Peter 4:9-11.

Some years ago “spiritual gift tests” were all the rage: questions and multiple choice answers recorded on “fill in the bubble” sheets which were then tabulated to reveal what your spiritual gifts were.

The idea was to help people identify their spiritual gifts so they’d know how they best fit into the ministry of the church and not waste their time frustrated and ineffective in an area where they’re not gifted. And that can be helpful. In my more trial-and error path, I’ve participated in ministries that left me frustrated, and I thought the problem was my attitude. Then when I was asked to take a different position, I felt I had found my niche, and it was a completely different experience.

But I always felt those tests were more about personality and natural aptitude. I think God does give us our personality and tendencies, but are they different from spiritual gifts?

Sometimes God drops us into a situation that we don’t feel gifted for at all: in fact, we feel totally inadequate. When Moses said, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue,” God did not contradict him. God didn’t reassure Moses that that of course Moses could speak and only needed was a little confidence. No, God said, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” God’s call for Moses had nothing to do with the natural ability which which He created Moses and everything to do with God’s enabling Moses for a task for which Moses felt totally unsuited.

Gideon, Jeremiah, Jonah, and others didn’t greet God’s call on their lives with “Sounds great! That’s just the kind of opportunity I was looking for!”

That’s where I am with caregiving. Someone I knew said of their daughter, who was training to be a nurse, that she was a “natural caregiver.” Another friend who is a nurse spoke of loving to use the talents God had given her to minister to people in that way – another natural caregiver. That’s not me. I want people to be cared for, particularly my mother-in-law. But I have never been good with or felt inclined to the hands-on type of caregiving she is in need of now, except with my own children.

Yet here we are. Do I tell God, “There must be some mistake. Not only am I not gifted for this, but it’s keeping me from what I feel I am gifted for.” Probably not a good idea. Spiritual gift tests can sometimes foster a “That’s not my job” syndrome when we’re asked to do something outside of our comfort zone.

Though we need to rely on God’s help, grace, and strength even for those areas where we feel He has gifted us, there’s nothing like being totally out of our element to make us lean on Him and plea for His enabling like never before. And though the main point of caregiving isn’t about me, but rather about showing love and ministering to my mother-in-law, perhaps one reason He has allowed this opportunity is to teach me lessons about my own selfishness as well as serving and loving others in the way they most need it, not in the way I am “comfortable” showing it.

There have been other opportunities through the years for which I did not feel suited, yet did not feel the freedom of conscience to say no. I’m not talking about being a doormat and saying yes to everything I was asked to do because I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I’m talking about seriously considering and praying over an opportunity, dreading it, locking myself in the bathroom to cry over it, yet still feeling like it was something God wanted me to do. And I have seen God turn the dread into excitement, provide ideas, enable me to my own amazement. Afterwards I have looked back and thought, “I can’t believe I did that! Only with God’s help!”

So which ones are the truly spiritual gifts? The God-given aptitudes with which we minister every day? Or the out-of-our-element opportunities that cast us on the Lord in desperate need? Maybe both in their own ways. In either case, “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7, ESV).

(Revised from the archives)

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Glimpses, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Coffee For Your Heart, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire)

“Let patience have her perfect work”

Sometimes when people are going through a hardship or loss or suffering in some way, we want to “fix” it. And that can be good: sometimes the very reason God allows something to come to our attention is so that we can help in whatever way He has prompted us and gifted us to help.

But sometimes in our attempts to fix or set things “right,” we can seem to minimize someone else’s concerns or brush off their situation as not really that hard. Many of us are familiar with Romans 12:15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Too often we want to make those who are weeping rejoice instead. That’s not wrong in itself: there’s certainly time for encouragement, for gently helping someone restore their focus, for cheering someone up. But there are also times to just sympathize.

We run a few risks when we don’t take that time to sympathize. The person might not feel heard and validated, and in that case, nothing we say is going to register. Or, we might make them feel somehow “less than” an ideal spiritual Christian for having such a struggle. We not only fail to help them, but also they’re sure not going to open up to us next time.

Here is an example: a single person says she sometimes struggles with loneliness and discontentment. Most Christians rush to point out that we need to find our contentment in Christ and not a human being, that no human being can totally meet our needs, that Paul says being single provides many more opportunities to serve the Lord. And those are all true. But we’re bypassing the cry of her heart: loneliness is hard. And it’s not unspiritual to feel lonely. God is the One who said it wasn’t good for man to be alone and who inspired Solomon to write “two are better than one.” He knows the hardship, yet He allows it for other purposes.

Or someone’s husband dies. We rush to assure that her loved one is in a better place. True, if they’ve believed on Christ. And we’ll see them again. True. But it hurts like everything until that time comes. It hurts when a loved one is away for a week, even with smartphones and Skype and texts and all the ways we have to keep in touch: how much more when they’re away for years with no contact? The Bible calls death an enemy. So while death has lost its sting and we don’t sorrow like those who have no hope, we do still sorrow.

Sometimes we find grace by acknowledging the pain and working through it rather than by downplaying it. I so appreciated the pastor speaking at a funeral of a young mom of five children: he said publicly to her husband, “I don’t know how you’re going to do it. You’re going to need God’s grace.” The husband was probably thinking the same thing, that he had no idea how he was going to carry on parenting five children without his wife while also missing her companionship. How refreshing to have someone acknowledge that rather that quote Romans 8:28, pat him on the back, and go on his merry way. The pastor pointed to the available and needful grace of God without minimizing the hardship.

James 1:3-4 says, “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. The ESV says, instead of patience, steadfastness: the NASB says endurance. If God allows trials to help us grow and strengthen our faith, among other reasons, we need to let it do its work, to work through grief and pain rather than bypassing it. We need to offer comfort and assistance, yes, but without short-circuiting or brushing away the depth or effect of it. Acknowledge it. Empathize with it. Someone once said Job’s friends did more for him when they sat in silence with him for a week than by saying all that they said to him.

True, sometimes we whine or wallow and need to adjust our perspective. Sometimes our thinking is wrong and needs adjustment. James even says to count it joy when we experience trials, not that the trial is joyful, but that God is using it to do a work of some kind in us. Sometimes as a friend or counselor, it’s not easy to know just what to say or how to help. That’s why I am so glad the next verses in James assure us that we can ask God for wisdom. He also reminds us a few verses later to be swift to hear and slow to speak. We need to hear people out and seek God’s wisdom rather than presuming or assuming or rushing in to “set them straight.” Sometimes God does guide and give us something to say in the moment. Sometimes all we can say is, “I don’t know why God is allowing this, but I know He has a reason. It’s hard. I don’t know how to help. But I can listen and pray with you.

When we go through a trial of some sort, usually we just want relief, preferably from a change in circumstances, or at least by finding some way of making the situation easier. And that’s fine, both to pray for and seek for relief. And when people sometimes say the wrong thing, we can avoid bitterness and appreciate that at least they were trying to help. When people don’t understand, we can encourage ourselves in the Lord. Sometimes that lack of understanding is part of the trial. But in the midst of all of that, we need to remind ourselves that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 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). We can let them do their work; we can trust in and work with God’s processes and purposes; we can ask Him what He wants us to learn through it all. And knowing that God is working something in us, even when we don’t understand, we can “rejoice in our sufferings” (verse 3).

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Writer Wednesday, Coffee For Your Heart, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

When I Don’t Get What I Need

I’ve always known I was an introvert, preferring small groups (or, better yet, home!) to big crowds, having a few close friends rather than being the social butterfly, needing time alone to process and think. Reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking helped me understand myself better and understand that these issues aren’t just preferences, that introverts’ and extroverts’ brains are wired differently. When she pointed out that introverts are drained by social interaction and need solitude to recharge whereas extroverts thrive on social interaction, the proverbial light bulb went off in my mind. “That’s it!” I thought. I had never heard it put that way before, but it just fit my experience so perfectly. I don’t want to be a hermit; I do value social interaction, but it does drain me and I function better overall with some degree of time to myself.

When my kids were in school, I had about seven hours a day to myself. Oh, that wasn’t all spent curled up reading a book or thinking: housekeeping, grocery shopping, errands, and different ministry responsibilities kept me busy. But I did have a good bit of quiet time. I thought once my kids grew up and left home, that time would naturally increase. I’d miss them intensely, but I had plenty of things I looked forward to accomplishing when that time came.

Instead, I have less solitude than ever. One child is still home but working and taking classes online at home. We’re taking care of my mother-in-law in our home, and we have a lady who stays with her in the mornings plus hospice people coming in and out throughout the week. My husband’s job has him working from home a few days a week now. I am not complaining about any of that: this is the home of all of us, not just me, and of course they all have a right to be here. But some days quiet moments are hard to come by except for early morning and late evening.

I imagine some extroverts have the opposite problem: an intense need for companionship and struggles with too much alone time.

So what do we do in such cases? Allow ourselves to get cranky because our needs aren’t getting met? Whine and complain to God about it? I’m afraid I have done both of those.

Recently, though, I was arrested by Philippians 4:11-13: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Paul mentions hunger there. He didn’t thrash around before God and say, “You made me to need food. So why don’t I have it? What are you doing?” He trusted that God would help him in any circumstance. He would either meet his need for food or take him to where there is no more hunger and thirst. He will sustain us until the time that He provides. Paul says he learned this contentment, which encourages me that it’s first of all a process, and secondly, that it can be learned.

But why would God create us to need certain things and then not provide them for a time? Just to teach us contentment? Well, one other time that God allowed His people to hunger comes to mind:

And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Deuteronomy 8:2-3.

A few reasons are mentioned there:

  1. To humble us.
  2. To test us (the KJV says to “prove” us). He knows what’s in our hearts, but sometimes our reactions to unmet needs are a revelation to us of just how sinfully self-centered we are. This also tests the depths of our love and commitment: that was one of Satan’s challenges to God about Job: “He only serves you because You bless him. Take away some of those blessings, and You’ll see how fast he turns away from You.” Do we only serve God with a right heart when all of our perceived needs are being met?
  3. To teach us dependence on Him to meet our needs.
  4. To remind us of what’s most important.

These are not meant to be explanations for famine: that would be a completely different study. And God may have other reasons for not answering prayers. And this doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t take means sometimes meet our needs, but sometimes those needs surface despite our best efforts. Back to the need for solitude, Jesus many times went away from the crowds and His own disciples to be alone to pray – and He also had the experience of people seeking Him out during those times and interrupting His time alone, another way in which He was tempted in all points like we are, yet without sin.

But God has been working with me for a while on changing my attitude from one of demanding what I think I need or lamenting the lack of it to trusting that He knows what I need and will provide it. And He has, many times over, in unexpected ways. Plus that restful, trustful demeanor helps me not only inwardly but outwardly. Not only is my spirit at peace, but instead of focusing on myself, I can turn my attention to others and try to minister to them for whatever purpose God brought them into my life. I confess I have failed in that more often than I like to admit, but I am trusting His grace to change.

So whatever our need, whether for solitude or companionship, affirmation or humbling, inward or outward, we can trust that God has a reason for allowing it, will give us grace while it is unmet, and will meet it in His own time and way.

Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:32b-33

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.  2 Corinthians 9:8

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Glimpses, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Writer Wednesday, Coffee For Your Heart, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire)