Seeing God More Clearly

Recently, I was looking through pictures from the past three years. And I could see in these pictures when pain and suffering came to visit us. I saw pictures from our family’s trip to Chicago. On the surface, they looked like pictures from a fun family vacation. But then I remembered we had gone to Chicago for the funeral of a beloved aunt. Then I saw a picture of me with my mom and dad taken less than ten days later. Another beautiful family shot, except we were standing graveside for the burial another well-loved aunt. Then there was the picture of Journey smiling, sitting in an ER bed with swollen lips, the result of an unexplained allergic reaction–just another incident in a string of illnesses and strange symptoms he experienced that year. And so I chronicled the beginning of our season of suffering. Things got progressively worse. There were more deaths in the family, more illnesses and the most painful blow of all–a marriage coming apart.

It was strange looking back at these pictures and reflecting on where I am today compared to then. Somehow God seems nearer now than He did then, despite the fact that the suffering, at least on paper, hasn’t lessened. I have more peace, joy and hope in my life than I had before all of this began.

How is it possible that I can see God more clearly in the suffering than I did in the pleasantness of life? The enemy of our souls designs suffering to pull us away from God. He uses it to try to convince us that God is not good and that He doesn’t have good intentions toward us. His goal has been and continues to be to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). But therein lies the beauty and the contradiction of suffering. If we allow it, we will experience a nearness of God we couldn’t know otherwise. Our Father is so present during our trials. Isaiah 43:2 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (ESV).

I have learned that God is not some far-off, distant God. He’s the Father who is orchestrating things to accomplish His good purpose for my life (Genesis 50:20). He’s the Son weeping with me at the tomb (John 11:33-35). And He’s the Spirit making intercession for me with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26).

The Victorious Life

Happy New Year! I hope your year is off to a prosperous beginning.

As a point of personal reflection, I’ve been reading through my personal journal from the last year. It’s been both encouraging and challenging to review the things God taught me in 2018.

The following is an entry I made last Good Friday (March 30, 2018). I decided to publish it here because I believe it best encapsulates what God taught me in 2018:

What does a victorious life in Christ look like? Is victory in Christ a life without trials and challenges? Is it a life where everything always works out as planned or hoped for?

That’s what I wish it looked like…all of my troubles and challenges all tied up neatly in a pretty bow. No pain, no discouragement. But that’s not victory in Christ. That’s a fairy tale. John 16:33 says, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, I have overcome the world.”

I’ve been looking at “victory in Christ” all wrong. I’ve somehow bought into the lie that because my situation hasn’t resolved itself the way I’d like, I’m not experiencing victory.

The victorious life is not a life absent of trouble. It’s one that enables me to walk forward in the challenges. It’s one that gives me crazy, ridiculous joy and peace in midst of the most heart-wrenching circumstances.

This is the victorious life: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned and the flame shall not consume you” (Isaiah 43:2-3). The victorious life is one where God is with me in all of my troubles, carrying me and not allowing them to overtake me.

I think about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the furnace. They still had to go through it. God could have prevented them from even being put in the furnace. But He had a greater victory in mind. He allowed them to walk through it, but He kept them and walked with them. As a result, King Nebuchadnezzar worshiped the one, true God (Daniel 3).

God could rescue me from my troubles. He could have kept me from going through any of this. But He has a greater victory planned. He is walking with me through this. And others will worship the one, true God when they see His hand keeping me in the midst of the flame.

Victory in Christ is not the absence of trouble, it’s the presence of God in the midst of it.

Superhuman Faith

Recently in my Bible reading, I’ve been taking a deeper look at the life of the Apostle Paul (also known as Saul). He didn’t do anything halfway. Even before his conversion, he was passionate about eliminating the new believers. In Acts 8:3 it says, “But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” Acts 9:1 says, “But Saul still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest…” He went all in!

So it’s no surprise that once Paul had an encounter with Jesus, he used this same passion to disciple the followers of Christ. But he didn’t have it easy. As a matter of fact, when the Lord appeared to Ananias in a vision about Paul, He told Ananias, “…Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16). From the outset of Paul’s ministry, he was on a path of suffering.

Even on his first ministry excursion he had to escape for his life by being lowered down the city wall in a basket (Acts 9:23-25). I’m not sure about you, but at that point I probably would have questioned if I had heard from God. But not Paul. He continued on despite constant persecution and threat of death. Not only did he continue on, but his zeal for Christ never wavered. Wow! I wish I could say that.

When he and Silas were thrown in prison, their response was to pray and sing hymns to God (Acts 16:25). I think eventually I get to the point where I’m praying and giving praise to God in the face of adversity, but it’s not usually my first response. When I’m faced with opposition or discouragement, I tend to question God’s goodness to me.

Paul almost seems superhuman to me, with an extra measure of the “Jesus gene.” But I’m reminded of James 5:17a which says, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours…” I believe the same is true of Paul. He wasn’t some extraordinary person. Yes, he was chosen by God, but so are we (see 1 Peter 2:9). I believe what sets Paul apart from me is that he found his joy in God, not his circumstances; and he took God at His word and trusted and obeyed Him.

I am far too fickle with my trust in God. I have really good moments where I’m “all in,” like Paul. But then I waver at the slightest opposition. My prayer is that as I continue to study Paul’s life, I will learn how to trust and obey God as he did. And be able to confidently say, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Share Each Other’s Burdens…

Reaching out for help is not easy for me. It’s not that I want to appear stronger than I am. I’m more concerned about inconveniencing anyone else with my problems. But sometimes the burden gets to be too much for me to bear on my own. In those moments, I’m thankful for the handful of family and friends on which I can lean.

Earlier this week was one of those moments. When I reached out for help through prayer and encouragement, the enemy of my soul tried to bring condemnation. His accusations were directed at my faith. He tried to tell me that I was somehow weak and not faith-filled enough to combat my emotional trial on my own. And I almost fell for it. I almost started to doubt my spiritual fortitude.

But then God, in His gracious love for me, reminded me of Israel’s battle against the Amalekites. “As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage. But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage. Moses’ arm soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset” (Exodus 17:11-12 NLT). The victory was dependent upon Moses being able to keep his arms lifted. But he couldn’t do it on his own. He needed help.

Galatians 6:2 says, “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ” (NLT). I am quick to offer support to someone who is walking through difficulty. But I’m more hesitant to receive support from others. However, there is no shame in needing help. As the challenges of my current circumstances begin to weigh on me, it’s okay for me to reach out for support. God has blessed me with an amazing support network. And I would be foolish not to use them to keep my hands steady.

Hope for the Future

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
– Corrie Ten Boom

I used to feel so secure in my future. I had things planned out so far in advance–to the point that I stopped asking God what His thoughts were. Then my future became uncertain, and I was forced to trust God with it. Or at least that’s what I’ve told myself. I use Matthew 6:34 almost as an excuse for why I’m not planning anything beyond the next few minutes: “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (NLT).

The truth is, the future frightens me. From one day to the next, I honestly don’t know what new pain or challenge I will face. I’ve told myself that by not planning for tomorrow I’m not worrying about it. But the reality is, I am so worried about tomorrow that I refuse to think about or plan for it. I’ve even trained my kids not to ask about anything beyond today. “Mom, can I have carrots in my lunch tomorrow?” Journey would ask. Then I’d hear Faith reply, “Remember Journey, don’t worry about tomorrow!” It sounds so spiritually stupid now as I write it. But I thought I was protecting them, along with myself, from unmet expectations of the future. If I don’t plan for it or hope for it, I won’t be disappointed.

But the other day, as I was dropping the kids off to school, Journey asked about plans for next summer. My first inclination was to give my usual caution: “We’re not going to worry about things that far in advance.” But I stopped myself before I said it. I felt so strongly that instead of shutting it down, I should encourage a hope for the future, not only for him and his sister, but for me too.

James 4:13-16 says, “Look here, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.’ How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog–it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.’ Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil” (NLT). This was another verse I used to keep myself safe. But the point of it isn’t to tell me not to plan for the future. It’s to warn me not to make my plans without God’s direct involvement. After all, He said in Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope'” (NLT).

Just as the Corrie Ten Boom quote above says, I can trust God with my future. I can remember that He’s the one in control and He has good things planned for me. And in my trust of God, I can teach my kids to embrace the future and not be afraid of it.

The Struggle for Joy

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV).

I’ve discovered the secret of living a life full of joy. Wanna know what it is? Thankfulness. Finding something for which to be thankful will always point me back to God and restore my joy. But here’s the problem: Most of the time I don’t want to be thankful. I want to complain and moan and cry and whine. Being thankful is just too much work. It’s just easier to complain, and frankly, sometimes it feels better–at least for a moment.

This weekend, my kids and I took a quick road trip to Legoland. What should’ve been a two-hour drive, stretched to nearly three hours. My kids, who are usually pretty good with long car drives, were becoming impatient. The traffic was cutting into their play time. But being the good, hypocritical mom that I am, I encouraged them to start looking for things about which they could be thankful. I even quoted scripture to them: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV).

Then Monday rolled around and all I could see was what was going wrong in my life. I complained and whined and got a sinus headache from all the crying. Then Tuesday came and more of the same. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I shake this funk I had stumbled into? But this morning, as I took a step back, I realized that in all my complaining, not once had I really taken the time to offer worship or give thanks. I had spent the better part of two days feeling sorry for myself and telling God how He was failing me. No wonder I was in a funk.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s essential for me to be honest with God–to tell Him truthfully when I’m struggling. We all need those unfiltered moments. But even in those times of “realness” with Him, something productive and life-giving has to come out of it. The only way I know how to do that is to take the focus off myself and my problems and look to Him.

So that’s what I’m doing. It’s not easy. It requires me to be intentional about what I’m thinking and talking about. But I’m choosing thankfulness and joy today.

What about you? How do you pull yourself out of a joyless funk?

Great is His Faithfulness

Earlier this year, after nearly 17 years of marriage, my husband and I separated. Whew! That was a hard sentence to write. There are a lot of people in my life that don’t know. It’s not that I’ve been trying to keep a secret or lying. But it’s really difficult to admit, out loud, such a huge failure.

From the beginning, I’ve told myself, “As soon as this resolves itself and God moves in our situation, then I’ll tell people. And what a testimony it will be!” But I’m learning that the testimony isn’t always when things are neatly resolved and put in a pretty package. Sometimes the miracle is in the process—in how a faithful God walks with me in the most difficult circumstances. As a friend aptly reminded me: “They overcame by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and did not love their lives to the death” (Revelations 12:11, emphasis mine).

Although we separated earlier this year, the whole process started nearly 18 months ago. It’s been a long season, filled with a lot of life-changing lessons—none of which have been particularly fun to walk through or learn. But there’s a passage of Scripture that God gave me early on that I remind myself of often:

“I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!'” (Lamentations 3:20-24 NLT).

I love Jeremiah’s honesty here. He doesn’t sugar coat it. He doesn’t pretend his situation is better than it is. He actually says, “I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss” (v. 20, emphasis mine). That’s real life! That’s my life! There’s no pretty way to paint this. It’s just plain awful! But the rest of the passage is the kicker: “Yet I still dare to hope…” And that is what I’m learning. No matter how dark things get (and believe me, there have been plenty of dark times), there is still hope. Not hope in the situation itself, but in a faithful God who has promised He will never leave me or forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6). It’s in a trustworthy God who also promised in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” That’s why I can say, with a confidence that only comes from experience, “Great is His faithfulness!”

Jesus Knows

Welcome back to my Incredible Faith Journey. I have not written in six years. So as you can imagine, a lot has changed. So here’s a brief update on the kids.

Journey is now nine years-old and in fourth grade. He is developing into a funny, warm, sensitive young man. Faith is a smart, bubbly seven-year-old. She reminds me of Buddy the Elf sometimes. She just can’t suppress her infectious smile.

We’ve had a rough go of things lately. And I may share more on that in future posts. But for now, I wanted to share what God is teaching me through my pain. Simply: Jesus knows! Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” That’s just fancy Bible-speak for, “Jesus knows!”

Recently, I was reading the account, in the Gospel of John, of Lazarus being raised from the dead (John 11:1-44). If I’m honest, that is one of the most frustrating stories in the Bible for me. I just can’t understand why Jesus delayed going to Bethany. I feel like Martha and Mary who say plainly, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21; 32). I don’t know how many times I’ve felt that same thing looking at my own circumstances.

But what stuck out to me when reading it this time was in verses 33 through 35:

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept.”

Jesus knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead. But he was not impervious to the pain Mary was experiencing. He was moved by her pain. And he’s moved by mine and yours. I may not understand his “delay” in coming to rescue me. But I’m comforted to know that he is “deeply moved” by my pain. He weeps with me as he did with Mary and Martha. Psalm 56:8 says, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”

I hope one day I can look back and say, “Oh that’s why!” But there’s no guarantee of that. I just have to continue to trust God in the midst and allow my heart to be comforted knowing that “Jesus knows!”

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑