A New Thing

Happy New Year!  I cannot believe that we’re already eleven days into January 2014.  Oh, how swiftly the time passes by…

Our new year’s blog post is a little late…obviously! We enjoyed some extended travel with family over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, and are just now settling back into our normal routines (and time changes!) with work and ministry.

Last year, I started keeping a Blessings Jar.  Colorful slips of paper capturing a brief praise, answered prayer, blessing, or thought written on them were deposited into the jar and were to remain there until after 2013 had passed.  I loved the intentionality of this exercise, as it caused me to stop in the present moment and acknowledge God at work in our lives and circumstances! While there were many blessings and events that I failed to record in the jar for last year, my heart was overwhelmed this past weekend when I finally spent a few minutes reading and reflecting on each thought that had been recorded…

  • Specific answered prayers for our children, extended family, friends, business and ministry.
  • Blessings of safe travel, stability of my pineal brain cyst, and the arrival of our grand-angel in May.
  • Moments of grace and comfort during the loss of loved ones.
  • Days of joy through accomplishments both personally and professionally.
  • Opportunities of gratitude for God’s divine hand in ordering impossible circumstances.

Reflecting on the year of 2013 brought with it a myriad of emotions, and rather intuitively, my mind and emotions began to cling to those experiences that were challenging or painful.  Immediately, my perception of the New Year that God had blessed us with was shrouded in events from the past.  Rather than embracing what new things God might desire to accomplish in and through me in 2014 with a spirit of anticipation, expectation, immovable faith and surrender, I began meditating on anxiety, doubt, fear, insecurity and worry.  Why?  Our human tendency is to view an unknown future through an intimately known past.  We project yesterday’s disappointments, failures and heartaches onto tomorrow’s anticipated outcomes.  Assumed predictability overshadows hopeful optimism.  And thus, we reduce God’s unmatched abilities and unlimited resources to those of our own human capabilities and convince ourselves that based on past experience, God couldn’t possibly do a “new thing” in our life.

Or could He?

There’s much insight to glean from chapter 43 of the book of Isaiah, verses 16-19, and 21:

Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old.  Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth ; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.  This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise. (KJV)

The Message Translation paraphrases this passage beautifully:

Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.  Because I provided water in the desert, rivers through the sun-baked earth, drinking water for the people I chose, the people I made especially for myself, a people custom-made to praise me.

Glory, hallelujah!  I pray that your perspective on this new year is beginning to take divine shape in light of what God says…no, promises…that He will do!  To fully embrace the richness of this passage, it’s necessary to chip away at the surface of numerous words to truly mine the gems buried therein.  So hang with me; I am confident that at the end of our Hebrew excavation, these discoveries will leave you empowered, enthusiastic for what God has in store for you this year, and find you shouting a holy “Eureka!” in Jesus name! And if I’m wrong, I’ll pack up my bag of Bible mining tools, dust off my dirty knees, and go home!

Hebrew Words and Definitions (from KJV Translation above):

  • Remember: (“Zakar”) – recall; call to mind; keep in remembrance; to mention; make a memorial; choicest; best.
  • Things: (“Ri’shown”; from root words “Ri’shah” and “Ro’sh”) – summit; sum; height; to shake
  • Consider: (“Biyn”) – know with the mind; observe; give heed to; distinguish; teach or instruct, regard
  • Do: (“ ’asah”) – fashion; accomplish; put in order; celebrate; ordain; to be observed; to press; squeeze
  • Thing: (“Chadash”) – renew; repair; make anew
  • Forth: (“Tsamach”) – spring up; grow up; to grow abundantly or thickly
  • Know: (“Yada”) – know by experience; be skillful in; to be made known; to be revealed; to make oneself known; to be instructed; declare
  • Make: (“Suwm”) – to put; place; set; appoint; direct toward; establish; transform into; to set or make for a sign
  • Way: (“Derek”; from root word “Darak”) – distance; journey; manner; path; direction; course of life; to tread (bend with the foot)
  • Wilderness: (“Midbar”; from root word “Dabar”) – pasture; uninhabited land; large tracts of wilderness; promise; warn; sing; to speak
  • Rivers: (“Nahar”) – underground streams; be radiant; to flow
  • Desert: (“yĕshiymown”; from root word “Yasham”) – waste; desert; desolate place; to ruin
  • Formed: (“Yatsar”) – form; fashion; of divine activity; to squeeze into shape; to bind; be distressed
  • Forth: (“Caphar”) –to recount; declare; to talk
  • Praise: (“tĕhillah”) – praise; adoration; thanksgiving to God; general or public praise; deeds or attributes of God

Whew!  Now that was some digging into the Word!  What we now hold in our hands are sparkling gems of truth – seemingly small nuggets of encouragement, freedom, hope, peace, purpose, and redemption that permeate the darkness of our life and illuminate it with the radiance of God.  As I prayed over these words and their God-inspired intentionality and meanings, He began to write upon my heart a personalized translation of this passage…

My precious child, why have you fashioned such gloomy memorials in your mind, remembrances primarily composed of only painful and toilsome affairs?  Why do you continually dwell upon, talk about, and submit yourself to the challenges, fears and trials of the past?  Could it be that, contrary to your recollection, these experiences are in fact the choicest, most divine summits upon which we’ve met; heights where I have chosen to intimately fellowship with you in order to impart my discernment, instruction and understanding upon you?  Is it possible that it is in these seasons of your life – when you were confused, disappointed, grieving, lonely or suffering – that I was intentionally using them as a means of confronting your enemy by going before you to prepare the way for greater blessings to come, and in anticipation of you accomplishing the good things that I’ve prepared for you to do?  At the end of your life, these are the moments that will shake out with significance – moments that illustrate My character development within you; and My faithfulness, grace, kindness, love, mercy, peace, provision, redemption and victory bestowed upon you in surpassing proportion to your need.  Oh child, how my heart is overwhelmed with love for you!

Look, now!  Don’t miss it!  A time of celebration is coming!  Stop viewing the future through the lenses of hindsight; instead, look forward to Me and focus on My unlimited abilities and resources.  I have been putting every moment of your life in perfect order in preparation for what I’ve ordained for you to accomplish.  Though pressed down and squeezed like an olive in a press, I’ve watched you become a beautiful offering in which I take great delight!  And in return for your gift – the giving of yourself – you’ll see that all along I’ve been fashioning you for something far greater than you could ever imagine: an abundant harvest where all things that have been sown in tears will be repaired and made new!  Trust Me; the life you’ve lived has not been for nothing.  Rather, your personal experiences of walking in relationship with Me have been purposed to sharpen your skills for discerning My hand at work in your life, and serve as my declaration and revelation of Who I have been, Who I still am, and Who I will be in the days to come.  You can confidently walk in the knowledge that the course of your life has been set in place as a sign for the world to see Who I am through you.  I will transform your wilderness journeys into songs of praise and promise, for you can rest assured that from the expansive wasteland encircling your Promised Land, rivers of life will miraculously spring forth from underground and flow radiantly for My glory!  The soil you see as ruined is a holy stomping ground, where together we will warn the enemy of his eternal defeat as you victoriously tread over him because you, My child, have been appointed by Me, set apart for Me, and you are Mine!  Beloved, I’ve been cultivating your desolate soil from the abundance and unseen overflow of My love all along!

Trust My heart.  While your life has often been perceived as a sequence of meaningless circumstances and events, hold fast to the truth that I have a divine purpose in every situation.  That which has caused you distress, heartache and pain has also been molding you into the very shape necessary for My renown through you in your sphere of influence as you courageously live out My calling on your life.  See, I have been custom fitting you to wear My attributes in every thought, word, and deed.  I have been binding you to Myself so you would willingly relinquish your self-sufficiency to daily dependence upon Me for everything.

Follow Me.  Trust Me.  Enjoy your journey with Me.  Be fully present and immersed in the work I’m doing now, rather than distracted by the past or consumed with the unknown details about how the future will materialize.  Be expectant!  There are miracles awaiting you today, but they cannot be found by lingering in the shadows of your broken yesterdays.

Come with Me, child.  I’m doing a new thing!

PROMISE:

“Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.  Because I provided water in the desert, rivers through the sun-baked earth, Drinking water for the people I chose, the people I made especially for myself, a people custom-made to praise me.” – Isaiah 43:16-19; 21 (The Message)

REFLECTION:

1.  What thoughts and feelings surface when you reflect upon last year…is there anxiety, fear, or regret?  Are there ongoing circumstances that have overflowed into the New Year?  Or imminent situations looming on the horizon?  Spend time in God’s presence sharing your heart with Him.  Tell Him your concerns, frustrations, and insecurities.  Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you (Psalm 55:22; 1 Peter 5:7; NIV).  Choose not to worry about anything but instead, to pray about everything, telling God what you need and thanking Him for what He has already done.  Then, claim the promise of God’s peace that far exceeds anything you can comprehend and guards your heart and mind so that you can abundantly live in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-8; NLT).

2.  Consider how God might be using your unique life story to impact the lives of others for His namesake.  Identify what attributes of His character He might be cultivating in you through your experiences. How have you grown in Christ-likeness? Now, inventory by name whom God has divinely placed in your sphere of influence and how God may be using the overflow of Himself through you to draw them to Him. Perhaps you, and your circumstances, are the essential elements God has hand-picked to use to foster a life-changing experience in their life! You, my friend, may very well have a front-row seat for watching God’s kingdom agenda unfold in the life of someone else, simply because you’ve chosen to embrace your circumstances as an opportunity to share the reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:13-17).

3.  Do you believe God’s promise to use your wilderness journey as a song of praise and segue to blessings, as “an abundant harvest where all things that have been sown in tears will be repaired and made new”? What thoughts and feelings arise from entertaining that possibility? Ask God to help you look beyond your limited human perspective and consider His omniscient view of your circumstances. While it may seem that your present situation is unnoticed by God due to the sameness from day to day, take heart that even at this very moment, He may be orchestrating the people, places, and things required for bringing the next step of His plan to fruition for His glory and your blessing! Trust the heart of God. He made you, He will carry you, He will sustain you, and He will rescue you (Isaiah 46:4).

WORSHIP:

Are you ready for God to do a new thing?  Often, the blessed outcome of His hand at work isn’t necessarily an external change in our circumstances, but instead in the transformation that occurs in the depths of our heart as we surrender everything to Him.  Whether your “new thing” is found in relinquishing a long-term burden to God’s authority in your life, or in a courageous step forward into an unknown season of life, take time to abide in His presence and worship Him for Who He is – a loving and redeeming God Who makes all things new!

Worth It All” by Meredith Andrews: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dg7h6GiNTLg

Lift My Life Up” by Unspoken: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5KmkdWdRQU

Oceans” by Hillsong: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLqTZ07ja7g

Reckless” by Jeremy Camp: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wThyGZXJDYo

Learn more about the ministry of One Voice Worship by visiting www.onevoiceworship.com.

A Matter of Perspective

Perspective.  It really is everything.  And our mind is the filter for it.  Do you have a Kingdom mentality, or an earthly mentality? Jesus Himself said that we would indeed have trouble in this world, but to take heart, because HE has overcome the world (John 16:33)! Too often, we become consumed with our circumstances, our trials, our insecurities, our dreams and desires, and even the blessings and trials in the lives of the people around us.  Rather than throwing off that which so easily entangles us on earth and fixing our eyes solely on the eternal – Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2), we fix our eyes on the things of the flesh which, as Scripture says, so “easily entangles us.” 

So what does this mean to you and me? We need a change of perspective, and this happens from the inside out, through a transformation of the mind. 

Did you wake up inside this morning protected from the wind and pouring rain? Someone slept under a bridge last night and their only set of clothes, the ones they were wearing, are soaked from the elements. Did you have something to eat or drink for breakfast? Someone has gone hungry for days because they are giving up their physical needs so that their children’s bellies don’t go hungry. Do you have a few dollars in your bank account? Someone has no idea how they will pay their mortgage or utility bill, let alone buy groceries or Christmas presents. Do you have a spouse, children, family or friends you share life with? Someone is grieving their broken home or the unexpected loss of a loved one and wondering how they will cope with living life alone. Did you go to work today? Someone would jump at the chance to sit at your desk and work at the job that you daily loathe. Are you in decent health? Someone is facing another day today with a terminal diagnosis or prolonged recovery from illness. Do you have hopes and dreams for your life? Someone would love to be living your current reality, for to them, your life IS a dream, one that may never come true for them.

Although we each live our own unique lives characterized by obstacles and trials that are exclusive and significant to us that aren’t to be minimized through rose-colored glasses, we must also balance them with the blessings given us by God in equal measure. Though the weight of our challenges may overcome the weight of our blessings, they are small in comparison to the measure of them. So while our circumstances may not change, our answered prayers may seem slow in coming, and our mountains seem impossible to be moved, rest assured that we have at our disposal Jesus’ resurrection power and the equipping of the Holy Spirit to change the one component of our lives we do have the ability to impact – our perspective.

Romans 12:2 (NLT) says, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”  And 2 Corinthians 10:4-6 (MSG) says, “The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way—never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.”

 PROMISE:

When our thoughts are taken captive unto Truth and our mind has been transformed by God, our words, attitudes, behaviors – and perspectives – will all be transformed as well.  While everything around us might not change, and we are still living life amidst obstacles and trials, everything appears differently to our mind’s eye…because amidst the chaos, WE have been changed.  And sometimes that’s exactly what He desires to accomplish.

 “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” – Romans 12:2 (NLT)

“The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way—never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.” – 2 Corinthians 10:4-6 (MSG)

REFLECTION:

What thoughts are repeatedly damaging your perspective? What emotions threaten your Kingdom mentality? Spend a few minutes surrendering them to Christ’s authority, and notice the heavy yoke upon your shoulders growing instantly lighter. Then, take an inventory of God’s blessings, faithfulness and provision in your life in spite of your circumstances, and in spite of your usual perspective.  Our God is a good God, and through Him, we have already overcome all that the enemy strives to entangle us with!  May you walk through today with a fresh perspective of all that God is able to do through, and in, your life!

WORSHIP:

Are you ready to change your view? Spend a few minutes worshiping as you listen to a song by Meredith Andrews and today, become a catalyst for change in your own life and the lives of others.  As you worship, declare to God, let it “start with me!”

“Start With Me” by Meredith Andrews: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4izl8DjGHQ

Thankful In, Not For

Thanksgiving.  What comes to mind when you hear that word?  What thoughts and feelings do you associate with Thanksgiving?  Perhaps it’s a treasured family recipe that has been passed down for generations and is a staple on your Thanksgiving menu.  Or the energy found in a house bustling with life and conversation with loved ones and friends.  For some, the mere mention of the word “holiday” triggers an immediate stress response and anticipation of drama due to challenging family dynamics.  Still for others, Thanksgiving pricks the heart, leaving a painful sting of grief, loneliness, or regret. 

For me, Thanksgiving is an emotional buffet of sorts.  Initially though, the thought of Thanksgiving initially transports me back in time to my youth.  Thanksgiving was my Daddy’s favorite holiday.  While he loved celebrating Christmas because of the birth of our Savior, and he rejoiced celebrating Easter and his hope of salvation found in the resurrected Christ, Daddy loved Thanksgiving because it was a holiday where instead of him receiving something from God, he offered a gift back to God – an overflowing heart full of thankfulness and gratitude.  Of course, I’m sure that my Mama’s famous stuffing and gravy had a little something to do with his affinity for the holiday…!  Thanksgiving embodies the essence of the life Daddy strived to live for God’s glory, in spite of adverse circumstances.  Whether he and Mama were enduring a season of financial hardship, ministry uncertainty,  chemotherapy, or any other gratitude-threatening situation that was possible, Daddy always found it within himself to be thankful in all circumstances.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (KJV), we are encouraged by Paul (who had previously been imprisoned for his faith and at the time of this writing, was fleeing Thessalonica under threat of persecution), to “Rejoice evermore.  Pray without ceasing. In every thing, give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

Is it really possible to be thankful…in every thing?  Even when there’s more month at the end of the money?  When your marriage is struggling?  When your family is falling apart?  When the diagnosis is terminal?  When you are miserable in your job?  Or when you have no job?  When the children are out of control?  When you’ve incurred the consequences of others’ destructive behaviors and decisions?  When the grief of the loss of a loved one is overwhelming?  When you are searching for direction and purpose in life? 

Yes, gratitude and strife can co-exist.  They are not mutually exclusive, lest we choose for them to be.  Gratitude in spite of the lack of a happy ending (or happy intermission, for that matter!) is indeed possible in your life and not found only in the make-believe script of a tear-jerking Hallmark movie.

The life-changing truth is this: While we may not be thankful for all things, we can be thankful in all things.

Digging into the original language of God’s Word, I’ve discovered a deeper meaning to the aforementioned passage, one that is far more significant, and practical, than I’d ever anticipated.  To soak in the application, we must examine the definitive elements of the passage:

Rejoice: (Greek=Chairo) meaning “to rejoice, be glad, be well”

Evermore: Greek (Hote; root words Hos and Ho) meaning “whenever, while, as long as“

In: Greek (En; root words Eis and Ek) meaning “in, by, with” as in denoting a fixed position (in place, time or state); towards, among, for (as in an action in the past); out (of place, time or cause)

Thing: Greek (Pas) meaning “individually, each, every, any, all, the whole, all things”

Thanks: Greek (Eucharisteo; root words Eucharistos, Eu and Charizomai) meaning “to be grateful, feel thankful; agreeable; well off; to do something pleasant, kind, grant forgiveness, pardon, give graciously and freely, restore one to another”

Will: Greek (Thelema; root word Thelo) meaning “what one wishes or has determined shall be done, of the purpose of God to bless mankind through Christ, desire, pleasure, take delight in; to be resolved or determined”

Piecing together these definitions brought new life and depth to this familiar passage and its application soaked into my soul, past my shallow exterior and temptation to scoff and half-heartedly remind myself to “just be thankful”.  After much prayer, the Lord seemed to write this summary on my heart:

“Be well as you live life!  Be glad!  Wherever you are in life, whatever situation or circumstances in which you find yourself – past, present, or future – be grateful for the individual and collective blessings I’ve given you in spite of the current challenges and struggles you face, and without knowing when – of if – those trials will ever be lifted this side of heaven.  Be resolved in sprit, determined to see the blessings I’ve given you throughout your life, and in faith receive the blessings yet to come because of your endurance through your present set of circumstances.  How can you exhibit such gratitude? Lift your eyes off of yourself and set your gaze upon Me, so that you can look upon others.  Present an offering of thankfulness to Me by being kind to others, granting forgiveness and extending grace with abundance just as I have to you, and providing encouragement and restoration to those who are weary.  Why?  Because I take great pleasure and delight in your thanks offering.  Just as I purposed to bless mankind through the offering of My Son, Jesus Christ, so have I purposed you to bless people in your sphere of influence for My glory and namesake.  And through your offering of thanksgiving, you will reap joy and gladness as you choose to worship Me for Who I am, trusting My heart towards you, rather than focusing on your struggles and circumstances and only seeking My hand.”

I can come before God with all of my challenges, struggles and tears and simply offer Him my hallelujah – “God be praised”.  Even if it means my offering is a broken hallelujah.

As Daddy would say, “God is good, ALL the time.  ALL the time, God IS good.”

PROMISE:

  • When challenging family dynamics arise…I can exchange my “ideal” for the “real”, choose to find contentment and security in the peaceful relationships I have in my life, and allow the peace that comes from Christ to rule in my heart and mind. (Romans 8:6; Colossians 3:15)
  • When financial struggles surface…I can exchange my worry for God’s wealth, and trust that His resources will meet my needs in the present and future as they have in the past.  (Matthew 6:25-34; Philippians 4:6-7; 19)
  • When health issues are ongoing…I can exchange the pain for God’s promise of grace according to my need and healing according to His sovereign will on earth, and in heaven. (Psalm 103:1-5; 2 Corinthians 4:7-12; 16-18; 1 Peter 5:6-10)
  • When I feel orphaned…I can exchange abandonment for God’s assurance that He will never leave me nor forsake me, and that I am forever His child. (Joshua 1:5,9; Psalm 139: 7-10; Matthew 28:20; John 10:27-30; Romans 8:38-39)
  • When I feel hopeless…I can exchange my despair for God’s enduring hope against all earthly odds. (Psalm 10:17; Psalm 34; Psalm 71; Isaiah 43; Romans 15:13; Ephesians 3:20-21)
  • When I feel aimless…I can exchange my desperation for God’s direction and walk toward Him with confidence that He will order my steps in the way I should go. (Psalm 37: 1-9, 23-24; Proverbs 3:5-6; Isaiah 42:16; Jeremiah 29:11-14; Jeremiah 33:3)
  • When I am consumed with my human perspective of my circumstances and challenges…I can exchange them for the truth of God’s Word that says He will cause everything to work for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purposes for them. (Romans 8:28)

REFLECTION:

1. What circumstances or challenges are you currently facing?  Which one(s) weighs heaviest on your heart, threatening to steal your thankfulness?

2. Identify which of the promises above are most appropriate to your circumstances, and spend time reading and praying over the Scripture verses. 

3.  Claim the truth of God’s Word that counters your challenging situation(s).  Select at least one of the Scripture verses as your personal promise and commit it to memory.  Then, continue to read, pray and recite this verse daily as your thanks offering to God. 

4. Identify the blessings that you have been given, and take time to thank the Lord for them specifically, one by one.

WORSHIP:

How is your hallelujah this Thanksgiving holiday?  Is it weak, or even broken?  Spend a few minutes in worship as you listen to this song titled “Broken Hallelujah” by The Afters.  Allow this song to minister to your spirit and put words to the prayers you’ve been unable to articulate.  Reflect upon His faithfulness, His goodness, and His worthiness to be praised every day, in all seasons, in every thing.

“Broken Hallelujah” by The Afters: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFDAyyFn3WY

Nothing Is Wasted

DEVOTION:

OUCH!  Have you ever wondered why God designed many of the most beautiful and fruitful plants and flowers with thorns on them?  These thorns, though unattractive to the eye and painful to the touch, are of great value and use to the thorn-bearing plant.  Not only do these thorns provide protection by warding off impeding harm from herbivorous predators, but they also reflect the dependency of the plant or flower on its caregiver for the necessities of life.  You see, without these thorns, the plant or flower would be self-sufficient and unprotected, vulnerable to the threats of its environment.  With this literal hedge of protection, the plant can comfortably and securely rest in the assurance and dependability of its caregiver to provide for its needs.  What this unpleasant, thorny armor lacks in aesthetic beauty is redeemed exponentially in its magnificent purpose of offering protection, for only that with inestimable significance and value requires such a daunting shield from harm.

You and I are no exception, for we are priceless treasures to the Lord.

Much akin to these plants and flowers, we too are thorn-bearing creations.  God knows our human nature is rooted in pride and self-sufficiency, separating us from recognizing our need for salvation through Christ and our need for sole dependency upon His grace for daily sustenance as we strive to live fruitful lives for His glory.  Thus, our thorns of the flesh are not intended for harm or discomfort.  Rather, they serve as reminders of our desperate need for God alone to provide for our needs, to protect us from the temptations and snares the enemy has awaiting us, and to equip us to live effectively for God and serve Him more impactfully, with humility, as His all-sufficient grace increases in power and is manifest in our life in spite of our weaknesses.

You see, everything has divine purpose.  Nothing is ever wasted.

Over four months have passed since our last health update and blog post.  Glory be to God, I’ve been blessed with more asymptomatic moments than those plagued therewith.  I’ve learned to speak in momentary terms, as one of the primary curiosities of living with a pineal cyst of the brain is its unpredictability from moment to moment.  I can greet the day feeling terrific, and later experience a sudden onset of symptoms that will linger for hours or days, then peculiarly resolve just as mysteriously as they initially appeared.  The only element of consistency is God’s grace in direct proportion to my need as I walk in faith moment by moment, day by day, in the security of His perfect provision.  And while some days it’s easier to do than others, I’m learning to live with this “thorn” and continually seek the beauty of its presence in my life.

Being overly appreciative of organization and meticulous about planning, this lack of predictability definitely cramps my style.  I often find myself asking questions such as, “Can I make it through the day with minimal discomfort?  Should we schedule that trip or book that ministry engagement…how will I feel that day?”  In retrospect, it’s undeniably clear that the Lord has never failed to show up in the past in an overflowing portion for my need, so why would I question His ability to do so in the future?  Why would I choose to allow tomorrow’s doubt to overshadow God’s faithfulness yesterday and today?

Perhaps this is precisely the enemy’s agenda – to render me ineffective for the Kingdom.  John 10:27-30 says, “My sheep recognize my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them real and eternal life. They are protected from the Destroyer for good. No one can steal them from out of my hand. The Father who put them under my care is so much greater than the Destroyer and Thief. No one could ever get them away from him. I and the Father are one heart and mind.”  Thus, while my salvation is untouchable to him, the enemy can certainly work to cripple my witness and ministry by attempting to disable me physically and discourage me spiritually.

As if my physical circumstances weren’t valid enough evidence, consider the last few weeks’ events to substantiate my claim.  And let me preface this account by stating that prior to these events, Greg and I radically changed how we’ve been seeking God’s will, pursuing His dreams for us, and have been audaciously praying for God to make His glory known through our lives.  So, without further delay…

Three weeks ago tomorrow our house was hit by lightning during an epic thunderstorm, much to the demise of many appliances, computer hardware, internet and phone equipment, and random other pieces of technology that we continue to find on a daily basis.  The running joke in our home has become, “So, I wonder what surprises we’ll find today…!” as Greg and I daily muse over what time-consuming or life-interrupting discovery we’ll make.  And each day since the strike has not failed to disappoint us, you can rest assured of that!  Two days later, we found out that a dear friend and ministry colleague (who helped kick-start our ministry) unexpectedly suffered a stroke, only to be called home to glory two days after that.  The following Monday (a week to the day of the lightning strike), a large piece of retreaded tire was ejected from the vehicle in front of me on the highway and smashed into my car’s hood and windshield, completely destroying it, landing it in the body shop for almost two weeks.  It is no understatement that the Lord’s own hand restrained my windshield from completely imploding into the car, and the tire from breaking through the glass where serious injuries could have been inflicted.  Three days later, our friend’s son (and another ministry colleague to us) was shockingly diagnosed with a brain tumor that demanded necessary surgery, and on the same day, Greg’s father was admitted to the emergency room where it was diagnosed that a blood clot from a previous heart surgery had broken loose and had it gone undetected, could have traveled to his brain and caused a stroke.  A week later, Greg discovered a frighteningly significant appliance fatality in our garage from the lightning strike…complete with billowing smoke, as an electrical fire nearly broke out.  Thank you, Jesus, for your protection!  And this past weekend’s surprise was anxiously awaiting our arrival home from church – a sump pump back-up in our basement due to equipment malfunction from…wait for it…the lightning strike, of course!  How fitting that the sermon was from Psalm 13; we can empathetically relate to David’s lamenting and questioning God, “How long, Lord?”  Heaven knows that three weeks has been long enough for us!

Now, before you offer us your sympathies, understand that soliciting them couldn’t be farther from our intent!  Rather, we want to reiterate that the enemy knows well our Achilles heel, and he desperately wants to disable us from bringing glory to God, be it through the fire of physical affliction, or his fiery darts of discouragement and interference.  For us, time and technology are sure-fire areas of our life and ministry where the enemy has become quite the maverick in his target practice!  Further, we want to expose the reality that there is unfathomable spiritual warfare raging all around us.  The enemy attacking us; our Savior defending us.  The enemy’s legions scheming to ambush us; God’s angel armies surrounding us as He goes before, beside and behind us.  Having experienced and witnessed the warfare engaged this side of heaven, I shudder to think about the ensuing spiritual battle in the unseen world!  We have to trust that God has “got our 6”, as Greg says, lest we yield to the doubts, fears, anger or frustration brought on by challenging circumstances and afford the enemy a victory that he didn’t earn, a victory already won by Jesus Christ!  By no means are we advocating a denial of reality or superficial gratitude for life’s thorns; however, we can choose to believe that what the devil intends for harm, the Lord will intend for good (Genesis 50:20).  Surely the Lord could prevent that which we encounter, but He sees the divine potential for our spiritual growth and His glory through such circumstances.  As our Pastor said at church today, “God is more concerned with our character than our comfort.”  These painful thorns provide the opportunity to intentionally look to His strength, seek His face, recognize His provision and protection, and experience His presence in ways that are often overlooked and taken for granted during seasons of simplicity and peace.

Still need convincing?  We do too.  These last few weeks have been wearisome, and in the spirit of transparency, we’ll be honest and say that our responses to these circumstances have been, at times, anything but stellar.  But thanks be to God for His grace, and for His Word that has much to say about our thorns in the flesh!

Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (MSG) says of his own thorn in the flesh:

Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees.  No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,

‘My grace is enough; it’s all you need.  My strength comes into its own in your weakness.’

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

Glory to God!  This passage fills my heart with a holy confidence and peace that only comes from Christ!  Let’s briefly revisit a few significant phrases in this passage:

“…I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations.  Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees…Now I take limitations in stride—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks.  I just let Christ take over!  And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.”

First, consider how vastly different life would be if adverse circumstances were received in light of God’s sovereignty as blessings, even gifts, instead of resisted as inconveniences.  Please do not misunderstand that statement.  As previously stated, in no way is it being suggested to adopt a manufactured response of falsified joy and peace in the face of life’s challenges and trials.  Avoiding the reality of our circumstances invites the enemy to quickly call our bluff and weaken our faith by replacing God’s truth with deceitful lies.  I do believe, however, that the Lord can minister to and through us in powerful ways when we choose to trust the motive behind His omniscient will: His incomprehensible love for us.  And, we can rest assured that He will be faithful to the promise made in Romans 8:28, that while all things aren’t inherently good, they will be worked for good.

Now ponder this: our thorns are purposed reminders of our human limitations, God’s unlimited capabilities, and our potential through Him.  In the original Greek language, the word “thorn” (or “handicap”, as used in verse 7 of our passage) is derived from two word origins: “the leg, from the hip to the toes” and to “look at; to allow oneself to be seen; to become acquainted with by experience.”  How ironic that the very thorn(s) in our lives we so desperately want to disguise, diminish and dissolve are actually meant to be disclosed, discovered, endeared and drive us to our knees!  Moreover, they are meant to be exposed to the watching world as a testimony to God’s supernatural strength at work in and through us!  I don’t know about you, but this revelation was like releasing the steam from a pressure cooker for me!  Not only can I be unashamed of my weaknesses and trials, but I can drop any excuses or pretenses rooted in conceit, fear, and the pursuit of perfection and instead invest my efforts into living dependently on God, with transparency and authenticity, expectantly waiting for my God to show up in my time of need.  This, my friends, is empowerment to live confidently in the life-giving, resurrection power of Jesus Christ!

Finally, meditate on this thought for a few moments…what if adversity is the essential component to living out our life’s calling?  While we may not be able to choose every life circumstance we encounter or every thorn we bear on a daily basis, we do have control over how we choose to respond to them.  We can choose to be either a victor or a victim, embittered or empowered, fearful or fortified, defeated or determined.  In verse 10, we learn that it is in our weaknesses that we become stronger.  We can certainly choose to become weaker, but doing so is also choosing to live apart from God’s purpose for our life.  In fact, the word strong in verse 10 means, in the Greek,”to bear calamities and trials with fortitude and patience; strong in soul; excelling in something; having power for something; mighty in influence.”  Please re-read that last definition, for it’s too significant to simply gloss over….strong means “mighty in influence.”  Need you any more convincing that our thorns are vital to living with abundant purpose?  Our human tendencies and social culture encourage us to succumb to self-pity, resentment, and spiritual apathy.  But when surveyed in light of God’s Word, obstacles and challenges poise us for embracing a platform of Godly influence that surpasses our most daring dreams, and are tools of divine equipping for the ministry of living the Christian life.  In earthy terms, are they painful?  Indescribably.  Frustrating?  Without a doubt.  A hindrance?  You bet.  Untimely?  Of course.  Defeating and discouraging?  All too often.  But from God’s perspective, the possibilities for good are limitless because He specializes in redemption.  He makes all things new.  He repurposes that which was meant for harm.  With God, no circumstance, loss, misfortune, sickness, or trial is a loss.  With God, nothing is wasted.

Maybe your thorn is physical, a challenge you have lived with since birth or an ailment that has developed later in life.  Perhaps it’s mental or emotional, manifesting itself in addiction, a broken relationship, the death of a dream, depression, the pain of failure, the loss of a loved one.  Your thorn might be spiritual, such as a fear of fellowship with God or fellow believers due to painful experiences in the past, or a struggle with surrender and obedience to God’s Word.  Whatever your thorn, consider the purpose that that lies therein and claim that promise as your encouragement and inspiration to press on through it, or in spite of it.  Your long-awaited breakthrough, desired spiritual growth, or greatest dream materialized is waiting on the other side of your circumstances.  Sure, the outcome may look differently than you’d imagined it to, and you most likely won’t make it out of the battle unscathed, but you can stand firm on God’s faithful promises and redemptive character that the experience wasn’t without lacking in significant purpose.  You can be assured that your unique story, cloaked in thorns, has the potential to inspire others struggling with similar situations to live a fruitful life for Christ, and plant seeds of faith in unbelieving hearts.  There is only one you, and God has a story for you to tell through your life’s experiences – the story of His redemption, and of His goodness and greatness.  No one can live out your purpose but you. 

In God’s grand design for life, nothing is wasted, unless we choose for it to be.  What will you choose?

PROMISE:

 “Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees.  No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, ‘My grace is enough; it’s all you need.  My strength comes into its own in your weakness.’

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.” – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (MSG)

REFLECTION:

What is/are your thorn(s) of the flesh?

Identify one way your thorn could be:  a gift; a reminder of your human limitations and need for God’s unlimited strength and resources; a means of divine equipping for mighty influence.  Ask God to help you identify your Achilles heel and how this area in your life can be better safe-guarded to offensively stand firm against the enemy.

What thoughts, attitudes and actions need to be surrendered and transformed to start living forward with purpose?

How can God use these challenges for His kingdom agenda in your life and in the lives of others?  Name one person God has placed in your life with whom you can share the love of Jesus and your testimony of God’s goodness and greatness through your challenges.

WORSHIP:

Spend a few minutes worshiping the Lord through this powerful song by Elevation Worship called “Nothing Is Wasted”.  Ask Him to write the lyrics on your heart and seal it with the promises of His Word that the weaker you become the stronger you become because of Christ in you, and that He will work all things in your life for good.

“Nothing Is Wasted” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrgmjZU1ivI

We would love to hear how you have been encouraged through this post, what the Lord is doing in your life, and how we can pray for you.  Feel free to comment or send us a message at greg@ovworship.com or heather@ovworship.com.  And if you’ve been encouraged, we would be grateful for you to share this blog with others.  Thank you!

In Spirit & In Truth,

Greg & Heather

One Voice Worship Ministries

Learn more about the ministry of One Voice Worship by visiting www.onevoiceworship.com.

One Thing Remains

Tuesday was the day – March 5, 2013, and my one-year MRI appointment.  A flurry of emotions carried us into the day, and even more ushered us out of it and into the peace of today.

To cut to the chase, the MRI results came back early Tuesday evening, revealing no change in the pineal cyst in my brain.  Same size, same characteristics.  Not exactly what this expectant heart was hoping to hear.  Yet wasn’t the desire of my heart for God’s will above my own desires?  Didn’t I profess that I would celebrate results showing stability, devoid of sizeable growth, and praise God regardless of the test results?

It was time to put feet to my faith.

Waiting 7 ½ hours for the results felt like an eternity.  Heaven bless the office staff at the imaging center for their willingness to place a rush on the results, and for releasing the preliminary report before the final transcription was complete.  With much anticipation, I picked up the report after work, called Greg from the parking lot, and together we reviewed the results.  Waiting to read them together in person once I was home simply wasn’t an option!

The drive home was long.  And slow.  And tearful.  And ridiculously thoughtful.  It was as if a mental cyclone suddenly appeared, destroying everything in its path, especially that which I knew in my spirit to be truth.  And the devastation from the storm didn’t stop there; it manifested itself in a hysterical meltdown that made the dog tuck her tail and hide…and I’m fairly confident that Greg would have been right behind her, had I not buried my soggy face in his chest.  If Jesus could sweat drops of blood while wrestling with God’s will for Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, then surely I had permission to wrestle with my own circumstances in my own daunting garden of life, right?

The moments that followed weren’t very attractive, but they were real, and my God is more than big enough to handle whatever is thrown His way, as ugly as it may be.  Oh, how I’m thankful for the constancy and faithfulness of His love for me, even when I’m so unlovable!  Without fail, the Lord began to calm the emotional turbulence and gently remind me of His unwavering presence.  A Scripture verse here, a text there, an email or Facebook message offering the peace of Christ, the soothing balm of the perfect song at just the right time.  God is so very, very good.

Admittedly, it was difficult not to set up camp in the enemy’s territory where tent stakes are planted in the soil of discouragement and doubt, and stories told around the campfire are largely exaggerated and steeped in false truths and fear.  You see, the testimony that Greg and I share has consistently been written through painful and challenging circumstances and extended seasons of trial, yet at the same time these experiences have afforded us the blessing of knowing the peace, provision, and perfection of God’s will in an incredibly intimate way.  And while we tried to remain optimistic for the possibility of a miracle, we couldn’t deny our acquaintance with everything but a miraculous outcome based on our life experiences, especially when it comes to physical healing.  Maintaining both reverent expectation and shrewd reality is a very delicate balance.  Slowly, I’m discovering that miracles aren’t necessarily defined by their outcome, but instead by the transformation of our attitude, character, and our willingness to delight ourselves in the Lord and His will above our own for the sake of His glory and impacting the lives of others for Christ.  Perhaps the miracle we’re fervently seeking lies within our spiritual growth and increasing resemblance to Christ as a result of pursuing Him with reckless abandon within our present circumstances, not in deliverance from them.

As I began to reflect on the day’s events and outcomes, I started asking myself probing questions, such as, “What’s different from yesterday to today?  What if my MRI hadn’t occurred today but was scheduled months from now?  Haven’t I been feeling better, and experiencing fewer symptoms?  Isn’t our calling to ministry the same today as it was yesterday?  Isn’t God accomplishing amazing things in our ministry and bringing a decade’s worth of dreams to fruition?  Isn’t God’s love the same today as it was yesterday?  Is His sovereignty not the same?  Are His provisions now suddenly lacking?”

What followed were the most poignant questions and convicting realizations: “Isn’t my cyst the same today as it was yesterday?  Hasn’t God been faithful in answering our prayers by blessing us with its stability as opposed to its pattern of growth?  So really, if my circumstances haven’t changed and God hasn’t changed, what has changed?”  The answer was glaringly simple.  The variable that had changed was me.

Although my motives for desiring that the cyst be smaller or completely gone were well intentioned, they were out of focus.  I yearned for my husband and two daughters to know the mystery of God manifested through physical healing after enduring years of suffering alongside of their precious Tara, Greg’s first wife and our girls’ first Mom, who passed away from brain cancer in 2001.  My heart aches at the thought of them walking a similar, yet different, path with me due to my current health issues and potential surgery.  It’s simply too familiar for them and I want to spare them from having to somewhat relive their past.  I wanted to spare Greg from any financial burdens associated with surgery, not to mention the responsibility of caring for me during my recovery.  He has beautifully fulfilled his marriage vows “in sickness and in health” as a husband once already in his lifetime and I prayed that God would refrain from allowing him to do so again with such familiarity.  And, I longed for God to reveal His wondrous power through my healing to the people in my life who have never accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior.  What glory He could be given through a testimony of healing!  While these reasons are good, they aren’t focused on what is best – delighting myself in the Lord.

Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  But what exactly does that mean?

Quite simply, it means to delight in Him alone.  To find pleasure in His heart, rather than in His hand.  As the Matthew Henry Commentary says it, to delight in the Lord means “to know, and love, and live (for) God; to please Him and be pleased in Him” and that with this command to delight in Him comes a gloriously rich reward – that in return for our obedience, including the “hardest services” unto Him, the Lord will “satisfy the cravings of our renewed soul.”

The Message translation of this verse is mind-blowing:  “Keep company with God, get in on the best.”  Stop for just a moment and let that rest upon your heart and sink into your mind.  “…Get in on the best.”  God’s best!  When we delight in God alone, in Who He is and trust His heart, we no longer have to worry or analyze or manipulate that which comes from His hand, because we can confidently lean into the promise that it is His best!  God’s ways are certainly not my ways, nor His thoughts my thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).  But I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that His plans for me are good and bursting forth with hope (Jeremiah 29:11-13) and that if I refuse to look backward and press on towards the goal – Jesus – my heavenly prize awaits me (Philippians 3:14).  And although here on earth I’m guaranteed to encounter obstacles and challenges, trials and sorrows, I can find hope to persevere through them because Christ has already overcome the world (John 16:33).  And….He promises that nothing we experience in life is wasted, for He works them all together for good to fulfill the purposes we have been called to, prepared in advance for us to do (Romans 8:28 and Ephesians 2:10)!

Somebody please join me in shouting a hearty “AMEN!!!!!!!!”

Did the Lord turn a deaf ear to my cry?  Quite the contrary – He promises to perfect that which concerns me (Psalm 138:8).  Did He not answer my prayers?  Of course He didn’t – He withholds no good thing from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84: 11).  Does God not love me enough to give me physical healing?  The opposite couldn’t be more true – God’s love for me is boundless, limitless, and beyond human comprehension (Ephesians 3:14-19).  Was the source of my disappointment a lack of faith, or too little expectation in God’s unlimited capabilities to bring healing?  Simply put, no.  Disappointment came because I wasn’t delighting in His will above my own.  My sights were set on my circumstances from my limited, human perspective and not God’s omniscient view.  My hope began to sink on Tuesday because my expectations were just that – mine – and not God’s for me.  Though the desires of my flesh were good and had they been brought to fruition, the Lord would have been glorified, but they weren’t keeping company with God’s best for me.  Only God and His love will never disappoint or fail!

Yesterday a dear friend told me that she spent much of her lunch hour praying over me and Greg; what a privilege to be on the receiving side of her sweet fellowship with the Lord!  In her email, she said that she was so thankful to God for answering our prayers by holding back the cyst from growing any larger, and that He was “just getting started” in His work in this situation.  Countless others have poured this same truth into our lives over the last two days, celebrating a victory and imparting a heavenly point of view to what we’ve seen as a dismal outlook.  And our oldest daughter, having no idea about what God has been speaking to my heart, just sent words of encouragement that will forever be cherished in my Mommy heart: “I know you might be feeling a little disappointed about your results… I know you already know this but I feel like saying it helps me too…God has a plan and purpose with this situation and for all the pain and suffering you are experiencing you will receive blessing and rewards someday (whether here on earth or in heaven or both) that will be much greater.  Keep up the good work!”  Whew!  I could have reached through this computer and squeezed the life out of her (although my grandbaby she’s carrying might not have appreciated that hug from Gigi!)  Oh, how thankful we are for each one of you who have chosen to walk this journey with us (Philippians 1:3).

Tonight I’ll be preparing my new patient paperwork, MRI films and reports to send to the Skull Base Institute for evaluation.  God not only blessed us with the cyst’s stability, but He also has provided direction that this is the next step in our journey since there wasn’t any reduction in size.  A double blessing from God’s perspective since He answered two of our prayers!  Only He knows what the days, weeks and months ahead have in store for us, but we have the choice to set our eyes on what is seen, or on that which is unseen and embrace each new day with the strength and peace found in this passage:  “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes” (Matthew 6:34, MSG).  Perhaps there are doctors and nurses who need to hear about the Great Physician and God has chosen us to be the ones to share Him with them on this next phase of our journey.  Or maybe He is preparing a grand audience to witness and testify to healing that is yet to come in the days ahead.

One thing remains constant, however – His love never fails!

One Thing Remains – Kristian Stanfill  

Listen to the song here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xY7OtDJLWlg

Higher than the mountains that I face

Stronger than the power of the grave

Constant through the trial and the change

One thing remains…

Chorus:

Your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me

Your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me

Your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me

And on and on and on and on it goes

It overwhelms and satisfies my soul

And I never, ever, have to be afraid

One thing remains

Chorus:

Your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me

Your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me

Your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me

Bridge:

In death, In life, I’m confident

And covered by the power of Your great love

My debt is paid, there’s nothing that can separate

My heart from Your great love…

Chorus:

Your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me

Your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me

Your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me

Not For A Moment

This morning I awoke after a wonderfully long sleep – it is Saturday after all – to a mental rush of thoughts that were so intermingled that even the finest sieve would struggle to separate them one from another.  What was consuming my thoughts, you ask?

A date on the calendar.  March 5th, to be exact.  Ten days from today, not that I’m counting.  And no, I don’t know how many hours and minutes away that date is….not yet anyway!

March 5, 2012 marked the start of a very unexpected journey with the MRI diagnosis of a pineal cyst in my brain.  And March 5, 2013 is the scheduled date for my next MRI, its results significantly impacting the course of our lives for the rest of this year.

My migraines and symptoms have been noticeably less frequent for nearly two months now, with the occasional, unforeseen flare up, such as what I’ve been experiencing yesterday and today, but usually resolves after a day or so.  Has the cyst grown?  Stayed the same?  Could it be shrinking?  Is God in the process of removing it?  Or, dare I ask, could it be gone?

My personality composed of a peculiar mix of organizational preparedness and “type A” tendencies that some would argue borders on being slightly neurotic, the aforementioned questions, and the ones that followed, began to cloud my mind like a thick fog after a heavy rain on a steamy, summer morning.  All I see is fog, and I can’t see what’s around the bend.  And I have to know what’s coming ahead!

As I mulled the questions over, rehearsed scenarios, and conjured potential solutions with their succeeding outcomes, the Lord began to heap overly generous portions of truth upon me.  For every unstable question I threw His way, He responded with a secure answer from His Word.

Me:  “Lord, what is this year going to be like….???”

God:  “This is what the Lord says, He who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it—the Lord is His name: ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” – Jeremiah 33:3  (NIV)

Me:  “What if I must have surgery?  How will we afford that?  What will recovery be like?  What if there’s no improvement post-procedure or………what if I feel worse?”

God:  “I (He) will perfect that which concerns you.” – Psalm 33:3 (KJV)

Me:  What about our ministry plans?  The dreams and goals you’ve given us for this year?  The commitments we have in the months ahead?”

God:  “Give your entire attention to what I am (God is) doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. I (God) will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” – Matthew 6:34 (MSG)

Me:  I’m sorry God, that I’m freaking out over all of this.  But… I am.”

God:  “Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for I (the Lord your God) will be with you wherever you go.”

Me:  “What can I do to fix or help the situation?”

God:  “Be still and know that I am God.” – Psalm 46:10 (NIV)

And then, He proceeded to drop one final, priceless nugget of truth from the book of Psalms into my mind and spirit:

“I have set the LORD always before me.  Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.  Therefore my heart is glad, and my tongue rejoices.  My body shall also dwell in safety.” – Psalm 16:8-9 (NIV)

These promises assure me of this:

  • While the circumstances of tomorrow, let alone the months ahead, are completely unknown to me, God is already there, holds every detail in His hand, and will reveal them according to His timing.
  • The Lord will perfect, or bring to completion, any and every thing that concerns me today and in the days to come.  I needn’t fret about solutions or outcomes, because God already has them determined according to His will.
  • I need to give my utmost attention to what God is doing in my life today, lest I allow the enemy to distract and disable me from bearing fruit for the Lord and pursuing that which I’m called to do.  I’m called to be obedient today, and today’s obedience doesn’t include worrying about what may or may not happen tomorrow.  Today, I have a husband to love, experience life with, and serve alongside in ministry.  I have two daughters to love and encourage in their walk with the Lord.  I have a grand baby on the way whom I need to prepare to ridiculously spoil!  There are writings to finish, songs to rehearse, worship events to plan, Scripture to study, and prayers to pray!  And when tomorrow becomes today, should I still be blessed with these gifts and callings, I’ll focus on them for that day, and every day thereafter that I’m given to do so.
  • I’ve been commanded to be strong and courageous, and not discouraged, not because of what I can do myself, but because God knows what He is capable of doing through a willing vessel.  And if He is with me wherever I go, then regardless of the destination, I can rest assured that being in His presence is the safest place to be.
  • The most beneficial and productive thing I can do in any circumstance is to be still.  Still in spirit.  Trusting Him to do His work and keep His Word.  Letting Him be God.  I cannot see what He sees, and I don’t know what He knows.  And all the worrying and stressing and clever manipulating won’t sway anything in my favor but could interfere with what He’s trying to accomplish for my good.  I just need to be still.

The Lord’s extravagant responses to my needs never cease to amaze me!  While He could have answered in simplicity, He chose to reply with truth in specific proportion to my need.  Yes, my God is good!

March 5th seems like forever and a day from today.  In one moment, I can hardly stand for that day to arrive and in the next, I’m hesitant for it to come at all.  But in light of God’s revealed truths from this morning, God already knows the outcome from that MRI scan and what will come to pass after March 5th.  And between now and then, there are ten days awaiting me.  Ten days to bask in His presence, trust in His providence, and rest in His peace.

I know not what awaits me; it could be surgery, it could be divine intervention and earthly healing.  One thing is for certain – God is with me, fighting for me, and going before me to pave the way.  And whatever March 5th has in store for me, God and I will brave it together, and I can say with confidence that while I’m still praying for a medical miracle, the greatest miracle He’s performed on this journey has been in my heart and in my relationship with Him.  And that, my friend, far exceeds any physical restoration He could provide.

The New Life Version of Psalm 16:8-9 that we read earlier says, “I have placed the Lord always in front of me.  Because He is at my right hand, I will not be moved.  And so my heart is glad.  My soul is full of joy.  My body also will rest without fear.”  This is my heart’s prayer.  I pray that it is yours as well.

I don’t know where you find yourself today.  Perhaps you are living in the fallout of financial hardship, the grief of losing a loved one, the devastation of a medical diagnosis, the rejection of a relationship.  Maybe you’re on the brink of changing circumstances well beyond the realm of your control, a new direction in your career, or have recently moved to a new address that simply doesn’t feel like home.  Possibly your biggest challenge right now is simply mustering the courage to take the next breath and simply make it through the present day.  Whatever your current circumstances may be, take heart in knowing that God loves you, He sees you, He desires to know you in an intimate relationship, and as one song says, “not for a moment will You forsake me.”

Not For A Moment – by Meredith Andrews

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XD0cvWImVjA

You were reaching through the storm

Walking on the water

Even when I could not see

In the middle of it all

When I thought You were a thousand miles away

Not for a moment did You forsake me

Not for a moment did You forsake me

[Chorus]

After all You are constant

After all You are only good

After all You are sovereign

Not for a moment will You forsake me

Not for a moment will You forsake me

[Verse 2]

You were singing in the dark

Whispering Your promise

Even when I could not hear

I was held in Your arms

Carried for a thousand miles to show

Not for a moment did You forsake me

[Chorus]

After all You are constant

After all You are only good

After all You are sovereign

Not for a moment will You forsake me

Not for a moment will You forsake me

And every step every breath you are there

Every tear every cry every prayer

In my hurt at my worst

When my world falls down

Not for a moment will You forsake me

Even in the dark

Even when it’s hard

You will never leave me

[Chorus]

After all You are constant

After all You are only good

After all You are sovereign

Not for a moment will You forsake me

Not for a moment will You forsake me

Not for a moment will You forsake me

Whom Shall I Fear?

It’s hard to believe that the month of January has passed, and we’re already six days into February!  More and more often I find myself asking the rhetorical question, “Where does the time go?” which segues to the more poignant question, “where did my time go?”

To say that the New Year has been anything but dull is a mild understatement!  Our year commenced with a battery of illnesses and trips to Urgent Care and the doctor’s office.  Temperatures flirted with 65 degrees one day and were cooled to negative wind chills only days later. A new boss and new job responsibilities for one of us escorted in the new year with many unknowns.  We’ve been blessed with the deepening of roots of existing friendships and the planting of new relationships.  We’ve celebrated victories, fought our way through challenges, grieved losses and praised the Lord for answered prayers.  God has continued to impress upon our hearts the necessity of seeking Him intentionally and specifically, lest we fail to miss hearing Him speak and seeing Him move in our lives and in the lives of others.  And looming circumstances that we’d have preferred to leave in 2012 when the ball dropped to ring in the New Year have inevitably followed us into 2013 and with them brought the company of questions, reservations, and fears, all to the enemy’s delight.  Many of you reading this blog post know all too well these feelings of apprehension.   Praise be to God, for the greater portion of the year to date, I (Heather) have experienced more asymptomatic days from my pineal cyst than not.  Yesterday and most of today, in fact, are the most symptomatic days I’ve experienced since late December 2012 and thankfully, this evening is ending rather asymptomatically!  And while my lengthy reprieve has been an incredible blessing and relief, the past thirty-six hours have conjured up much insecurity, memories of weeks and months in excruciating pain and debilitated daily function, and have sent me running home like a scared little girl who desperately needs the comforting words and embrace of her Daddy.  And it’s only February…and I’m already exhausted.  At this rate, if the rest of 2013 maintains the same momentum, it’s going to be a year that isn’t soon forgotten!

This month, I’ve been reading the book “Traveling Light” by Max Lucado.  This is my second trip through this simple, yet profound read, and I’m gleaning something fresh with each turn of the page as if I’ve never traveled this written journey before.   For context, the book is an exposition of the 23rd Psalm which, admittedly, has always been a passage towards which my spirit bristled and my face grimaced.  I have always associated the 23rd Psalm with pain and grief, for my only life association with this Psalm has been with loved ones during their end of life stages, their funeral, or their burial.  It has long been a go-to passage to comfort the living in the aftermath of the deceased.  Much to my surprise, however, the 23rd Psalm is a beautifully written passage that is rich in theology, and serves as a declaration of our identity in Christ, affirming the guidance, provision, peace, rest, confidence, victory, goodness, mercy, love and assurance of our faith that is ours for the taking.

The current chapter I am reading is a deep dive into verse 6 which says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…”.  As Max shares in his book, God has given us goodness and mercy:  “Goodness to supply every want.  Mercy to forgive every sin.  Goodness to provide.  Mercy to pardon.” 

Goodness and mercy aren’t mutually exclusive; they are a package deal.  We need both, and God gives us both.  All the days of our life.  Take a minute to soak that in.  Goodness and mercy, all the days of our life.  If that doesn’t make you want to stand up and shout “Glory, hallelujah!” then perhaps you should ask someone to call for an ambulance because I fear that your heart has stopped beating and you are in desperate need of resuscitation!

Perhaps some of the verbiage in that verse isn’t as noteworthy to you as it is to me.  Did you notice the words and phrases “Surely,” “shall follow me” and “all the days” in the text of verse six?  While they each possess multiple meanings, the defining of three of the words therein merely scratches the surface of the spiritual impression they have left upon my soul.

By definition, the word “surely” means “without doubt or fail,” “rare,” and “safely or securely”.  To expound further, the word “follow” is defined as “to come after in sequence or order of time, ”move behind in the same direction,” and “to attend or serve”.  Finally, the definition of the word “all” reads “the whole of, referring to quantity or duration,” the greatest possible, referring to quality or degree”, and “any and every”.  In the spirit of brevity, I’ll save the deeper dive into the original Hebrew text for a more lengthy exposition at a later time.  For now, though, let’s apply these definitions to the Scriptural text, and to our life. 

Biblical Text:  

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” 

Definition Application:

“Without a doubt, goodness and mercy will come to me at the right time, just when I need it, for the duration of my life.”

 

“Safely and securely, goodness and mercy are going with me wherever I go, in all circumstances, be they good or bad.”

 

“Like nothing else, goodness and mercy will attend to my needs at any time, in every way. ”

My goodness…excuse me while I go replenish my presently depleting supply of tissues! 

The Lord brought this entire heart lesson to completion while driving home from work yesterday.  My mind reeling faster than the speed I was driving, I was overcome with, what else, but fear.  Fear from experiencing noticeable symptoms throughout the day after more than a month’s reprieve from them.  Fear of the reality that perhaps my healing might not come divinely but surgically.  Fear of the possibility of my beloved husband having to further endure my suffering.  Fear that this resurgence of symptoms was simply the devil toying with my desire to unwaveringly abide in Christ, and I was succumbing to his distracting mental schemes.  Fear, fear, and more fear, which was dispelled by the Chris Tomlin song “Whom Shall I Fear” that came onto the radio at the very moment I needed it (listen to the song and check out the powerful lyrics here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOkImV2cJDg).  And through that song came the outpouring of God’s goodness and mercy…goodness to provide comfort and apply truth in my moment of need.  Mercy to pardon my doubt, fear and lack of faith.  Goodness to remind me of His presence.  Mercy to enable me to get back up and stand firm under my physical affliction.  Goodness to offer provision.  Mercy in proportion to my need.

As I finish this piece of writing, which has literally taken God weeks to materialize it both tangibly on paper and spiritually upon my heart, I’m awaiting a call from my doctor regarding my next MRI appointment, which will determine any changes in the size or characteristics of my cyst since the last scan in September 2012, and comparatively to my initial MRI performed almost a year ago.  To be completely candid and totally transparent, I long for physical healing.  I cannot imagine a more compelling example of the power and mystery of God than for Him to be evidenced through divine healing!  In the past week, I have witnessed God performing this very miracle in the lives of two individuals whom I personally know – one man is now cancer-free, and the other healed from a pituitary cyst on his brain.  My God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20)!  But, His ways are not our ways, and perhaps the most glorious way for God to reveal Himself to others through me is through surgical healing.  Only God knows, and only time will tell.  What I do know with absolute resolve and certainty is that the Lord has surely followed me, my health, my fears, and my spiritual adversary-the devil- from the last year into this one, and with Him came all the goodness and mercy this child of God could ever need, whenever I need it, in any circumstance, in good days and in bad.  And, dear friend, the Lord has followed you as well; rest assured that there’s more than enough of His goodness and mercy to be shared amongst those who need it.  Beloved, it’s time to receive your portion!

Forget The Former Things

Another year has been laid to rest, and a new year has dawned.  Perhaps you’re elated that the year 2012 is a thing of the past, or perchance you waved goodbye to 2012 with mixed content and a sense of anxious anticipation for what the New Year has in store for you.  The latter is where we find ourselves on this New Year’s Day of 2013.

A little over a year ago-December 12, 2011 to be exact-our world as we knew it took an unexpected turn in an unpredictable direction.  What began as an isolated, acute migraine transpired into the diagnosis of a 17mm pineal cyst that was deemed either an incidental finding on an MRI or the definite cause of my myriad of physical symptoms stemming back years prior to the December migraine, with the only viable treatment for curing the condition being invasive brain surgery, or divine intervention.

After nearly twelve months of pain, misdiagnosis, frustration and uncertainty, you can imagine the delight and surprise of experiencing nearly twenty symptom-free days last month, appearing particularly significant as the successor to perspective-altering time spent with the Lord.  You see, I’d finally reached a place of authenticity and candor in my conversation with the Lord.  I had finally moved beyond the head knowledge of knowing that He could heal my physical infirmities if He wanted, to disclosing my heart’s desire and asking Him to do so, be that His will.  I laid bare my raw emotions and pleaded with the Lord that, if it was His will, to allow my cup of suffering to pass from me.  Certainly, if Jesus could pray this very same request in the garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion, then I had permission to pray the same.  And while my greatest yearning is for God to be glorified, I desperately long for divine healing not for selfish relief from physical suffering, but for my beautiful daughters, and for Greg-the love of my life-to experience the wonder and blessing of healing this side of heaven.  Sure, I would be thrilled to no longer suffer as I have, but my family has walked a curiously similar road before with the diagnosis, treatment, and eventual home-going of Greg’s first wife to a brain tumor.  I long for them to be spared walking this similar road.  And surely divine healing would be the most influential means for displaying the mysteries of God to a world so demanding of logical explanation!  Thus, I wept bitterly, yet expectantly, and honestly presented my requests to God to the point of being filled with His peace that passes all understanding.

 And in this peace I immersed myself…until the headaches and nausea returned about three weeks later.  This was a far cry from the entrance I’d expected for the New Year.  We have jobs to perform, a business to run, a grandchild to be born, travel to plan, ministry engagements to fulfill, band rehearsals to lead, and work to do for the Kingdom…work that for a few weeks was relieved of the inclusion of brain surgery for God’s most excellent glory!

Devastated.  Discouraged.  Dismayed.  From the sudden onset of returned symptoms, the emotional pendulum had violently swung from the real possibility of healing to the reality that I was not removed from the possibility of surgery.   I relentlessly began trying my best to analyze my situation in pursuit of an explanation.  Maybe the headaches had returned as residual effects from the stomach flu my body had been subject to earlier in the week.  Maybe it was my body’s way of exhaling after the tiresome schedule my family had maintained throughout the Christmas season and God’s generous portion of grace to endure it had come to an end.  Or maybe it was God’s way of re-grounding my heart in Him and His sustenance rather than the fruits of His blessing in my life.  Only time will tell.  One thing I do know for certain, however, is that I have learned, and am still learning, the importance of not seeking the blessing, but the Blesser.  Seeking the hand of God will only temporarily change my circumstances until the next need arises.  Seeking God’s heart, however, will permanently transform my heart. 

What about you?  Will you choose to seek the Source of peace rather than peaceful solutions?  Will you pursue Him Who offers comfort and refuge rather than a safe passage through the storm?  Are you willing to chase the mystery of His plan for your life rather than the safety of your own preferences?  Will you seek out and confidently live in the provisions of His grace already afforded you rather than petitioning greater portions out of fear of its insufficiency?  Will you run swiftly after the unfolding splendor of His glory through pain and unpredictability rather than pleading for the safety and security of walking without affliction?  Are you ready to seek the Blesser, rather than the blessing?

This is the passionate prayer of my heart for me and for you in this New Year, and every day thereafter.  Together, let’s choose to forget the former things and welcome the new thing God desires to do in our lives, even if it’s through pre-existing conditions we’ve carried over from last year.  Our God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.  He knows us, He loves us, He has called us by name, and we are His!

Isaiah 43:1-2, 18-19 (NIV) 

But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

He Is Sovereign Still

Whew.

The last few weeks have been a blur, and have been off the charts physically, emotionally and spiritually with the only commonalities from one day to the next being the unpredictability of how I would feel and the consistency of God’s unfailing love.  With every passing moment, He seemed to impress upon my heart the necessity of abiding in His portion of grace as my stronghold and embracing days of pain with the same fervor I demonstrated when welcoming days of physical relief.

Job 1:21 says,

…the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.

The use of the name “LORD” in this verse is translated “Jehovah” in the original Hebrew language, meaning “the existing one”, the “one true God”, and the “supreme God”.

If God Himself is sovereign, then He is inherently sovereign in all circumstances.  Not just some.  Not only when things are going my way, suiting my preferences, or answering my prayers.  All circumstances.  Faith is founded on absolutes – God has either forgiven all sin or none at all.  He is either the Creator of all things or nothing at all.  And He is either sovereign over every circumstance or He isn’t sovereign over any.  It’s really that simple.

Accepting this truth doesn’t remove the sting of pain inflicted during challenging seasons of life, for we were created to experience life and with that privilege comes a smattering of emotions which we were created to feel.  Further, embracing this truth doesn’t minimize or invalidate our trials, nor does it imply that we deny their occurrence and adopt a superficial spirit of joy.  On the contrary, when we cling to the truth of God’s sovereignty, we can confidently rest in the assurance that our “light and momentary troubles” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17) have significant meaning and divine purpose because God reigns sovereign – undisputed – over all of them.  Yes, He is sovereign still.

Where do you find yourself today on the continuum of grace?  Do you measure God’s love and grace by your perception of the size of your struggles and circumstances, or by His unlimited and eternal dimensions?  Choose today to live confidently in the sovereignty of God’s love and grace!