Archive | Enduring

Only in God Do I Find Rest

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken. (Psalm 62:1-2)

I have reached multiple low points at multiple stages of life. None ever feels as low as whatever one I am in at the moment. Consistently, in my despair, God whispers again and again to me, “Be still.” At a particularly low, low time, He reminded me from Psalms 20:7 and Isaiah 31:1 that I can not put my trust in my 21st century version of horses and chariots. I tend toward putting my hope in such things all the time. These are the things that I think I can manipulate to bring resolution to whatever issue over which I am struggling. What can I DO to fix my situation? And, certainly, we are not to lay passively in struggle or trial, allowing ourselves to be run over unwisely. If we are sick, we call the doctor. If we are sinned against, we confront the sinner. Yet, regularly, my attempts at wise response in crisis fail to resolve my situation in the way I fully desire. I run out of things to try, sit staring morosely out of the window, and start to hear the still, small voice of God saying, “Rest, wait, and be still. Don’t trust earthly options to ultimately solve your problems. I am God. I am sovereign. I have not left you as an orphan. I have a plan that I will bring about.”

In stressful situations, our human fight or flight tendency wars with the repeated exhortation from Scripture to be still and trust God. Over and over again, I feel the need to DO SOMETHING. What should I do? Thankfully, I often don’t know how to resolve my situation. At first that feels hopeless – I guess I’ll just sit on the floor in despair unable to change. Then at some point, in faith, it transforms – I guess I’ll just sit on the floor waiting on God to change things, who regularly instructs me in His Word to do just that. And that place of waiting when I’m personally out of options to fix myself or my situation is exactly the place that God has brought me, so that He in His time can fix me and my situation. The 21st century version of horses and chariots are anemic resources for my struggles. Horses and chariots are easily thwarted by Satan. But God is not. He’s not anemic. And He is not defeated by Satan. And He does show up. ALL. THE. TIME. He shows up in big and small ways. He meets us in those moments of defeated silence, and He moves us from despair to strong hope in Him, His Word, and His Church. Whatever long term issue you are struggling with now, be still, and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10).

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! (Psalm 37:7)

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When the Mountains Crash into the Ocean

I wrote last year on when our fears become our reality. That article and last week’s Fruitful in the Land of My Affliction seemed to resonate with readers. I am still meditating on both suffering itself and the fear of suffering. Sometimes, the worst DOES happen. We fear the mountain falling into the ocean, and then, sure enough, it DOES fall into the ocean.

The problem of suffering is the number one issue, in my opinion, that challenges faith. Friends I know who are wrestling with trusting God mention this issue over and over again. The innocent father killed by a stray bullet in front of his kids (which happened near my neighborhood last year). The family mowed down by a drunk driver resulting in the death of two grandparents and serious brain injuries for the mother and newborn infant (which also happened near my neighborhood last month). Even closer to home is the pain of watching someone you love struggle with chronic health issues. Or watching someone you love – a child, a spouse, a parent – struggle with faith. “Where is God?!” we cry out. The silence that greets us is deafening.

Yet in the middle of our darkest wrestling, someone who has gone before us speaks into the silence. It is those moments that remind me of the profound value of the community of Christ. Oh, the Church gets on my nerves at times. There are aspects of the Church, God’s people, that bother me terribly. Yet, I need the community of Christ desperately. And there is no time that pronounces that need as clearly as times of suffering.

I Cor. 12  21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” … 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

I need those who have gone before me in suffering to speak of the God who emerges sovereign over the mountain that falls into the ocean. I can try to pretend that my life will be exempt from suffering. I can stick my head in the sand about its reality. Or I can become paralyzed by the fear and dread of that suffering that hang like an anvil over my head ready to crush me. But none of those options work long term. I have to get my head out of the sand (because suffering for all of us is going to be a reality at some point in this life) and face my fears head on by way of the Word. If you too are ready to do that, here are a few resources that have personally blessed me.

1) This short sermon by a former pastor of mine whose wife died of cancer really blessed and encouraged me.

2) After her husband died of cancer, Dee Brestin wrote The God of All Comfort which has been, along with Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow by Nancy Guthrie, one of the most important books I’ve ever read.

Psalm 46
1 God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.





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Fruitful in the Land of My Affliction

Fruitful in the land of my affliction. I’ve written about this phrase before. It comes from from Genesis 41:52, where Joseph names his second son after years of bondage in Egypt which led to his becoming the second in command to Pharaoh.
The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”
Joseph intrigues me, yet I resist his story at times as well. I have heard a number of sermons over the years from his life. He often becomes a moral lesson – be like Joseph when you are sexually tempted and unjustly accused, and God will exalt you as He did Joseph. I strongly resist that view of the life of Joseph. God’s not conforming me to the image of Joseph. He’s conforming me to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Joseph’s story is powerful because it reveals God, not because it reveals Joseph. My circumstances will be distinctly different than Joseph’s, but my God is the same.
Yet there is much to learn from Joseph’s story, particularly of our God. The naming of Joseph’s son is one such place. Many thoughts hit me as I meditate on why Joseph named his son Ephraim (which sounds like the Hebrew word for fruitful). First, it’s counterintuitive. Joseph was fruitful in the very place that should have sucked the life out of him. That paradox intrigues me. But, second, I resist the name, because I don’t want to be fruitful in the land of my affliction. I want God to END my affliction, and then I want to be fruitful in the beautiful land I imagined would be God’s best for His children. However, like Joseph, I am powerless to end whatever troubles plague me, and I get impatient waiting for God to move. It is in those moments that I wrestle with God, “How can I do what You have called me to do in THESE circumstances?!”
Once I calm down and take an objective look at Scripture, it finally hits me that no one in Scripture seems to be very fruitful EXCEPT in the land of their affliction. In fact, you can argue from Scripture that suffering, affliction, and death to self are essential to God’s plan for fruitfulness in His children.
John 12:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
I have situations in my life that plague me, that I would desperately love to see changed. God tells me to pray for His will to be done, for His name to be hallowed, and for His kingdom to come. I long for those things to come about in my home, in my neighborhood, in my church, and in the larger Body of Christ. But in the midst of waiting for the affliction to end and God’s kingdom to come, I am blessed by God’s story in the life of Joseph, and I meditate on what it looks like to be fruitful in the very places from which I would most like to be delivered.  Joseph’s story reminds me that affliction doesn’t end the possibility of fruitfulness but may instead be the very thing that prepares the ground for “fruit that remains.”
John 15:16 NAS “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain … “

I hope you will believe with me today that God has a plan to bear fruit in our lives not just despite the affliction and struggles we wish would leave our lives but through those very struggles, using them as the actual conduit for this fruitfulness. God uses the hardest parts of the story of believer after believer in Scripture to bear beautiful fruit for His name.  This is His calling card.  It is the God of Joseph’s story that causes me to hope in the midst of struggle.

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Forsaken by God — When Our Fears Become Our Reality

The older I get, the more I feel a need for God’s protection. I’ve been through enough things the first time to put all kinds of barriers around myself to keep me from experiencing it again. Miscarriage? Been there, done that. Do NOT want to do it again. Marriage struggles? Been there, done that. Do NOT want to do that again. Conflict with family? Been there, done that. Most certainly do not want to go through that again. Church conflict? Yes. Personal failures? Yes. And so forth.

I talked with several friends recently who each shared with me in separate conversations that God allowed them into EXACTLY the situation they were trying to not find themselves in again. I was struck that this was not a unique situation, but one in which many of my friends found themselves. We wrestled together with God. Why, Lord?! Why, when we know it’s a problem and we make wise choices in an attempt to avoid it and we pray for Your protection, do we find ourselves in exactly the same situation again? Why didn’t You protect us?

It’s a vulnerable question. Why didn’t God protect my friend from the very situation she did everything she knew to do to avoid? She had a more mature response to it than I did for her, and I started to note something forged in her character through that experience. 

Our pastor preached this week from Psalms 22, and I received it as a gift of God’s grace to us for exactly these situations. God doesn’t leave us to navigate such situations on our own. No, in His Word written and preserved for us, He acknowledges that these situations will happen and then gives us a model for engaging Him when it does.

Psalm 22 A Psalm of David. 

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

David cries it under the inspiration of God, and God preserves it in His Word for the generations that follow. It is finally and fundamentally fulfilled when Christ echoes it on the cross. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” By Christ’s final act on the cross, the issue of being ultimately forsaken by God is finally put to rest for good. God will NOT turn His back on us. He will NOT forsake us. He gives us these words to cry out to Him in prayer even as He reminds us that Christ was forsaken in our place that we would never be separated from God again.

Psalms 22 ministers to us when we struggle with a God who didn’t move for us as we expected, who didn’t save us from a painful road of life that we prayerfully tried to avoid. I have no simple answers otherwise for how to deal with such disappointment—disappointment in your circumstances as well as disappointment in your God who did not act as you expected. The only encouragement I have is that He invites you to stay engaged with Him, to wrestle with Him. He may very well touch your thigh so that you limp the rest of your life, yet like the wrestling of Jacob of old, you will emerge on the other side with something forged in your heart, some bond in your relationship with Him, that others of us who haven’t similarly struggled will note from afar. I do NOT like watching my friends struggle as their fears become their reality. I long to protect them (and myself) from such things. Yet, I have to admit that their faith afterwards as they limp forward in life has blessed me. Really, it has convicted me! Such enduring faith is a precious gift of God, to be valued highly, though it is not forged in easy ways.

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