Tag Archives: faith

Hitting the wall of Desperation (Finding Joy in the Midst of My Life)

cropped-cropped-wedding-kiss4.jpg

Psalm 107 describes 4 desperate groups of people.

  1. People wandering in the desert who are thirsting and hungering until their lives ebb away
  2. People in iron chains of bondage/labor because they rebelled against God and his counsel
  3. People who became fools and suffered affliction because of their sins
  4. People out on a fierce raging ocean, whose courage has melted away

In each situation, when “they cried out to the LORD in their trouble” “He delivered them from their distress” (vs. 6, 13, 19, 28).

  1. For the parched and hungry wanderers, God led them by a straight way; he satisfied their thirst and filled the hungry with good things (v. 7 & 9)
  2. For those in bondage, he brought them “out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains” (v. 14)
  3. For those who were foolish and suffered affliction because of their sin, “God sent forth his word and healed them; and rescued them from the grave” (v. 20)
  4. For those out on the sea, at their wit’s end, adrift on waves that seem to rise to the heavens and go down to the depths, whose courage had melted, “God stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed” (v. 29); God “guided them to their desired haven” (v. 30)

Have you ever found yourself in a desperate place?

I have. I remember the way it felt to be overweight. I weighed close to 200 pounds. I had an addiction to food. I overcame that addiction through prayer and by God’s help. At my weigh-ins, from 197 down, I wrote over the charted weight loss, the verse from Philippians 4:13, which declared my dependence upon God to help me get out of my desperate situation.

Years later, as I had gained some weight and tried to get it off again, I hit a wall. I couldn’t seem to get myself motivated enough to get back into the discipline I needed to get healthy again. Until I admitted my inability to do this on my own, and asked God for his help, I couldn’t seem to get myself motivated for the long haul and committed to the changes I needed to embrace.

I had maintained my weight loss for over a decade; I had slipped into an attitude that I could somehow do this on my own. I had grown proud and forgot that God had delivered me. I had forgotten to be thankful to God.

As I approached my need to lose weight, only when I admitted my powerlessness over it, and my need for God, did the answers start coming.

I think this is what the Psalmist is referring to here—the joy of dependence upon God, and our need to daily remember it’s not us who has gotten us out of the desperate situations. It is God. Thankfulness is the key to remembering what God has done in our lives and sustaining lifelong changes.

Today, take a long look at the pathway of victories behind you. Remember all the ways God has been faithful to you. Remember his love endures forever and is great (vs. 1-2, vs. 43). Give thanks with joyful songs (v. 22).

Are you facing another desperate situation? He will make a way. He is the same God. But first, you and I must humbly come to the end of ourselves and cry out to God for help.

Prayer: God, I know. I know your ways are mysterious. I confess my pride before you, and lay my life bare before your holy gaze. I lay down my defenses. And I humble myself. I turn from my self-interest, my thinking I can devise my way through. And I turn my empty hands toward you. You are my redeemer. God, help me. Thank you for your enduring and great love for me, and for never giving up on me. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Advertisements

Finding Joy in the Midst of my Life (A Daily Bible Study)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Day 4

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” 3 John 1:4

In a modern pop rock classic, the singer talks about how it would feel to lose every material thing. It would be a very dark and personal place the songwriter claims.

Yet as believers, we can be living a rich joy filled life, in Christ, no matter what our bank account has in it. How? I think John shows us some insights here in this verse.

  1. John had his perspective heavenward-focused on God. The LORD was his first thought and his consuming passion. He wasn’t living in denial. He was simply convinced Christ was the main thing. And John kept the main thing the main thing.
  1. John’s life-focus pointed upward to Christ and secondly, outward to his “children” in the LORD, those who God had placed in his spiritual care.

I can think back to people in my life in whom I invested, but God doesn’t want us to live in the past. When I read this passage, it challenged me to continue to engage in mentoring. God has given us a lot as Christians. We have the regular teaching in church, listening to sermons. God has given us many trying experiences through which he has comforted us with his love and wise counsel. God’s desire we share the comfort with others that he has given us is not just for the sake of giving. I believe it is for the sake of the joy!

With whom is God leading you to share your testimony? With whom is God leading you to come alongside and mentor?

It’s easy to grow inward as Christians and actually live in cocoons. But Jesus said we were to be reaching out not reaching in. Yes the experience of working with others can be challenging and take a lot of energy. Yet the joy of seeing “our children” learning to walk in Christ’s truth, and in turn see them reaching out to mentor others, is the stuff of real joy! Nothing we can possess in the material world compares to this spiritual blessing.

Jesus knew what he was talking about when he urged us to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, he knew that if we throw off self-interest, and seek his kingdom, our lives would gain joyous perspective (Matthew 6:33).

Prayer: God, when my life lacks joy, help me to reach out to someone who needs my encouragement. Help me to throw off the heavy weight of self-interest. Help me to seek your kingdom first. You see how these things are counter cultural. Culture would lead us dive in to life me first. So we need your help God. We cannot do this on our own. Give us courage to focus on you first, and then help us have an outward focus on helping those who you have placed in our lives for us to help along the way. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

9 Ways to Take Hold of Hope

sunrays blog picMy friend Amy and I caught up on our progress over dealing with our husbands’ depressions. Smiles lit our faces as we related with one anothers’ feelings of relief–our husbands’ depressions were lifting! We praised God together. We both agreed it felt like sunshine was coming back in our lives. As I have dealt with my husband Jeff’s depression and my own subsequent depression over his depression, I realized a lot. I understand depression is a very complex issue, but here are some ways I learned to take hold of hope when my husband was in his valley of depression and I felt helpless to do anything.

1. Reach for Real Comfort-A cookie fresh from the oven can bring comfort for a moment. So can two or three. But I know from experience after munching down a few too many comforting cookies, my waistband begins to pinch on those pants which used to fit so nicely. The real comfort of God’s life-giving Word makes even the most delicious cookie crumble in comparison.

Take Hold of Hope: Find a book study with lots of Bible application questions. Or try a Bible study on a favorite book of the Bible (Philippians for example). As you study, ask questions. “What does this say?” “What can I learn?” “What can I apply to my life and circumstance right now?” Write these questions down along with the answers. Keep a prayer journal where you write out your prayers like letters to God. Just be yourself, and tell God every single thing on your heart.

2. Reach for Real Friends-For a time, when Jeff’s depression was worst and it rocked my soul to the very foundations of my faith, I and several friends took part in a book study by Stormie Omartian called “Power of a Praying Wife”. I felt their support. We grew together as we studied. It helped so much to have Christians emotionally close and in tune with my struggles. It helped to pray for one another.

Take Hold of Hope: Pick up the phone and call or message one or several real Christian friends today. Schedule that time on your calendar when you can get together. Join an area Bible study. Bible Study Fellowship International offers a great support mechanism. Find a class near you at https://www.bsfinternational.org/

3. Reach for Real Discipline-It will seem counter-intuitive to fight depression with self-discipline but, from experience, God has taught me it’s important. 2 Timothy 1:7 in the NIV says “For the Spirit God gave us… gives us… self-discipline”. The KJV uses “sound mind” in place of “self-discipline”. I’ve found there is a real connection between these two. I know depression is a complex issue, but discipline does help. It helps to take my vitamin D and B12, limit sugar, and get up at the right time. Exercise also stimulates the serotonin levels in the brain. Another area of self-discipline is upkeep. This may be as simple as doing a spa day from time to time—condition your hair and wrap it in a warm towel. Do a pedicure or better yet, have your friends over for a spa night. It doesn’t have to be expensive. You can use things like brown sugar, for a revitalizing facial scrub or mayonnaise to condition your hair. Drinking enough water is also an important discipline. About 48 ounces is my goal, although I feel good to get in my 32 ounces with my morning treadmill workout. And one of the important areas I don’t want to neglect is disciplining the thought life and the mouth. Philippians 4:8 says, “… whatever is true, whatever is worthy of reverence and is honorable and seemly, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and lovable, whatever is kind and winsome and gracious, if there is any virtue and excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on and weigh and take account of these things [fix your minds on them]” (AMP). What we think flows from our mouths. But it can also work the other way around. When we say something negative, we cement it further into our minds and magnify the negative thought in the other person’s mind. Thinking faith filled thoughts takes effort. But Matthew 9:29 seems to indicate that God rewards faith when he says “according to your faith let it be done to you”.

Take Hold of Hope: Select one area discussed in this section and take action today.

4. Reach for Your Real Potential-What are your gifts? Are you using them? No? No wonder you’re depressed! I know the feeling of un-fulfillment and dis-satisfaction. Not using our gifts stems from several issues. For one thing, many don’t know what they are. If that’s you, I urge you to find and take a spiritual gifts survey. This will help you identify your gifts and boost your faith that God has indeed gifted you. Everybody has gifts. Some are behind the scenes. Some take center stage. Once you know your gifts you can start developing them.

Take Hold of Hope: Ask your pastor to administer a spiritual gifts survey to you. Then from the results, ask him where you can use your gifts in the church and beyond.

5. Reach for Real Mentors-With giftedness comes development. You may know how to sing but need to build your stage presence. You may have a lot of talents for songwriting but you may have a lot to learn and you need a better understanding of the process and discipline involved. Someone very wise once said, “When the student is ready, the teacher shows up”. Pray for mentors, not people who you admire from afar, but people who will get into the nit-grit of your life and guide you over the rough spots where they’ve already been. In my case I felt God’s strong leading into music, songwriting, and writing for publications. I had already written a drawer-full of songs and self-published CDs. I had a decent sized clip-file of published ministry materials, yet there was still much I didn’t know. As I turned my worries into prayers and asked God specifically for mentors, mentors came into my life. Talk about bright rays of sunlight! They saw my hurt, my pain of underachievement and underdeveloped gifts. Taking my hand, they led me to needful resources and organizations. My writing mentor Arlene urged me to develop my public speaking skills through joining Toastmasters International. She also supported my leading an area writers’ support group, she helped me learn new skills, she provided emotional help along the way, as well as prayer. My music mentor Laura helped me get to my first songwriting conference and this led to meeting people in the field and learning under their wise counsel and godly leadership. I actually attended my second songwriting conference, bringing CDs to sell in order to pay back Laura for hotel bills and gas. I sold a lot of CDs at the conference. I gave many away and just offered them for a donation. A leader in the music world actually bought a copy of each of my CDs. I wept as I told him my story of trying to pursue my gifts when my husband had lost his job and was uber depressed. It was so humbling to have this great leader in the Christian music holding my songs in his hands. I can’t even describe the feeling in words.

Take Hold of Hope: Pray for God to send mentors into your life.

6. Reach for Reality-Row-row-rowing your boat through life without stepping out on faith hurts. That kind of life is not a dream. It’s closer to a nightmare. Your life-span, if you’re blessed, may be ninety years. When you get halfway to that point, mid-life may seem daunting if you haven’t started to live and really started to give of your life and talents to help others. Why is realizing the brevity of life so important? Because with this understanding comes courage. You and I aren’t guaranteed one more breath, one more heartbeat, or one more welcome-home kiss for our spouse.

Take Hold of Hope: Ask yourself what’s the scariest aspect of using your gifts? Now ask yourself, “how would I want to live if this were my last opportunity?” This always gives me courage to take the stage and sing my heart out for Jesus! It can give you courage to use your gifts too.

7. Reach for a “Life’s Really not About me” Attitude-Ouch! This hurts. I knew this in my head, but my heart didn’t understand “it” wasn’t about me until later in life. Often society teaches us to be “me” centered and to look out for number one. That’s not reality. My life is not about me. My gifts aren’t about me. My words aren’t about me. They are about others, and God. When I began to learn this, the magnifying glass shifted from my needs to others’ needs. I could be happy with the blessings God had given me.

Take Hold of Hope: Find someone in need and meet that need for them by using your God-given gifts.

8. Reach for the Real God Who Loves You with an Everlasting Love-One of my favorite verses is “…We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). Depression has helped me see how fragile I can be—an “earthen vessel”. How humbling yet how beautiful to know that God’s all-surpassing power is available to me, through every moment of life, for better or for worse, God is mine and I am His!

Take Hold of Hope: I challenge you to flip to the topical index in the back of your Bible, locate several verses about God’s everlasting love. Write them out and place them on your mirror. Start memorizing them today.

9. Reach for real Hope from God, not Circumstances-Expectations are like a balloon. If you lose hold, expectations fly away, leaving you empty. Hoping in God, our Rock is solid hope. Sometimes doubts come to our faith because we expect certain things from God. We expect him to check the yes box. When he says no it can feel like he’s betrayed us. But God goes deeper than our unmet expectations. I remember praying to receive certain things that I never got. However, later down the path, I saw that when God said no, it was the best thing ever.

Take Hold of Hope: Sometimes in order to take hold of hope you need to release your expectations. Ask God for strength to let go.

10. Reach for Heaven in our Real World-The word heaven gets tossed around. I know the title promised “9 ways to take hold of hope”. Ten is a number symbolizing perfection. The world has never perfect since Eve bit the apple in the Garden of Eden. Yet fairytales seem to live in our hearts. Why? Our hearts were not made for this sin-tainted existence. We were not made for this broken world… we were made for heaven. When we feel disappointed from unmet expectations, we can choose to reach our hearts toward heaven. As we, by faith, take hold of the hope of the perfection only heaven will bring, we can let the broken pieces of our life fall into God’s hands. And the wonderful thing is, as God comforts us, he can use the most painful trials to help others find hope. This is a little bit of heaven in our real world.

Take Hold of Hope: Place scripture around the home. Hope verses are taped on my calendar, written on chalk boards in my kitchen and laundry room, even inside my bathroom cupboard. Here’s one for this one this week: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of sympathy (pity and mercy) and the God [Who is the Source] of every comfort (consolation and encouragement), Who comforts (consoles and encourages) us in every trouble (calamity and affliction), so that we may also be able to comfort (console and encourage) those who are in any kind of trouble or distress, with the comfort (consolation and encouragement) with which we ourselves are comforted (consoled and encouraged) by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, AMP).

If you reach for real hope, and take hold of it, you’ll find real hope has a name. His name, Jesus.

Perfect Love Drives Out Fear

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfraid of the Dark~ As a little girl in ponytails, I felt sure monsters glowered at me through the dark with gaping mouths and goony eyes! As I lay in my bed, one thought surged through me. What if the monsters get me? I tugged the covers over my head allowing a small opening for my mouth and nose. Sometimes I peeked into the dark with my big brown eyes staring at the corners of my room. Where my clothes once lay, a fat monster glared at me. Monsters lurked under my bed. They reached up their claws searching for little me (of all the boys and girls in the world, why they found such interest in me I’ll never know). One night as I lay hiding beneath my covers, I heard my older sister Wendy singing a Christian song. The monsters in my room disappeared for the moment. I recalled Wendy’s Sunday school memory verse, the one on the little white card. As she had repeated it I had memorized it too “When I am afraid I will trust in you” (God) (Psalm 56:3, NIV). I also knew the truth from John 3:16 about how much God loved me. However, I had not let this truth settle into my heart.
Fear Not~ In fifth grade swimming class I trembled when it came my turn to jump into the deep end for the first time. In junior high, when it came my turn to climb the rope to the gym ceiling, I felt so afraid I fled aimlessly. Only when I stopped running did I realize I had entered the boy’s locker room (Talk about scary places for a teenage girl!) I also remember feeling all the blood rush to my face when my ninth grade algebra teacher called on me for my answer. As an adult, I remember when a bear visited Jeff’s and my honeymoon cabin. I was popping some popcorn at the time. I ended up burning most of it, which the bear noisily ate from our garbage around midnight. Like popcorn, fear inflates the “what if’s” inside the heart. If not countered, it soon overcrowds faith. Someone has added up how many times the Bible said not to fear. They came up with 365 times-one for every day of the year. It’s almost as if God knew how quick the human heart could fill with fear. God also knew the stifling, paralyzing nature of fear.
Faith is~ I used to think the Bible characters never struggled with fear. Yet as I study, I realize this simply isn’t true. Hebrews 11:34 says of the great faith warriors that their weakness was turned to strength. On their own, they felt fearful like you and me. With faith in God, people like Abraham, Joseph, Joshua, and Gideon overcame. Faith is singing a song to God in the dark. Faith is taking steps into the unknown when he asks us to follow him. Hebrews 11:1 says that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. We cannot see God. That is why fear sometimes feels bigger than God. When we let fear take over, we magnify the object of our fear through the lens of imagination. On the other hand, when we think about God, we remember his attributes, his character, and the real life miracles he has already done. We realize how big he is. Fear no longer dominates. Philippians 4:6 says not to be anxious but to pray. Among other things, verse 8 of that same chapter says to think about what is … lovely. Instead of hiding beneath covers, when we choose to think about our lovely God, each fear becomes a new opportunity to gain a firmer grasp of “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18, NIV). I cannot fully grasp God’s love but I continue to strive to take hold of that perfect love which drives out fear (1 John 4:18a). Somehow, as I do, the monsters disappear.