Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Full Life

It can be easy to look at the lives of others and covet their blessings, their opportunities or their situations.  The grass being greener on the other side is a common perception error made by those who are less than content.  But godliness with contentment is great gain.  

One way to overcome discontentment is to don an attitude of gratitude.  Acknowledging the gifts God gives you is a discipline that cultivates genuine thankfulness and an honest perspective that is rooted in humility.   But it doesn't come naturally to the sinful soul.  The Christian must exercise faith and faithfulness diligently, so that he actively yields his heart to being transformed by the renewing of his mind.     

Some may feel they've gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to their circumstances in life.  But what I've found is that most unfavorable circumstances are the result of someone's poor choices.  Sometimes people settle for something less than godly, and end up reaping a less than stellar situation.  But even in those cases, a man who turns to God can be blessed and can find contentment, because even though God says that a man will reap what he sows, the God who turned water into wine can use any circumstance to bring about something for which He should be praised.   And praising God is what we were created to do.  I'm convinced that the Enemy desires nothing more than to steal God's praises and kill those He loves.  

We are told in Psalm 16:11

" your presence is fullness of joy".  

No matter how the Enemy entices a man, the joy we seek is found fully in Christ.  This is why a hungry weary mother in Africa can sing praises to Jesus as she lays on her dirt floor at night.  This is why the tortured believer in a cell of a prison can endure extreme pain and loneliness, yet end his days in songs of praise.  This is why believers who hide and worship in secret can celebrate in spite of their hardship.  This is how a Christian woman who compromised and chose her spouse poorly can remain married to him in spite of the fact that she feels alone, and passionless in her marriage.  It is not our circumstances that give us joy.  It is our God, who helps us endure the hardships and mistakes of our lives, who gives us joy.  Our enemy will try to make us feel like we can not endure.  He will try to convince us that we don't need to exercise integrity when coping with the consequences of our mistakes, by justifying for us an unsanctfied fix that in the end does not honor God.  He will try to rob us of the confidence we have in God's goodness and mercy and in His ability to redeem any one who turns to Him.  But God will and He does redeem us and He is eternally good and merciful.  That should be our first praise right there.  

A life committed to praising Jesus moment by moment, is not easily over-shadowed by unfortunate situations.  This is common knowledge to faithful believers around the world.  The reason I share this now, is that I hope that if there is even one person out there who is struggling, who by chance reads my ramblings, he will hear the truth.  In the presence of God is fullness of joy.  And one need not wait until he passes through the Pearly Gates to be in God's presence.  He is not far from anyone of us!  Praising God for His mercies and blessings is a discipline that ushers a soul into the place of worship.  And where one is worshipping God, God is there to receive it.  The weary soul will not be crushed while it is praising God.  The wounded heart will not bleed out when it is bound up by the One who holds it.  The lonely soul will find that she is not alone when she walks with God.   Even the one who feels like he is suffocating can praise the One who gives the breath of life.  

The question is, will you?  Will you praise God, in spite of your circumstance?  Will you honor Him, in spite of temptation?   

Having a thankful attitude begins with speaking praises to God for any one good thing in your life.  And once you begin looking, you will not be able to ignore all the other ways in which you are blessed.  Circumstances may not change in your life, but what changes is your heart.  And when a man's heart is praising God, his eyes are no longer on the negative things but on the good and the lovely and the right things that He tells us they should be on in Philippians 4:8.  

The Enemy would have you covet the lives of others, looking longingly at their lovers, their homes, their riches, their jobs, their families, their position or what ever he knows will be tempting to you personally.  There is no greener grass for the thankfulThe one who praises God in all circumstances is already partaking of the full life God offers, because the full life is found solely in Him.  And when all is said and done, those who have chosen to worship God over all else will be given the opportunity to worship Him forever.  And their joy will be complete.       

Monday, January 12, 2015

Set In Stone

With the way life can change so suddenly it seems plausible that those who have lived a while could lose their idealistic view of life, becoming cynical or even fearful of the future.

For most of my life I've taken literally the words of Jesus when he said;

 John 14:13-14
"Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it."

My faith in the name and power of Jesus has carried me through many things that otherwise could have destroyed me.  When I first believed, when faced with something difficult, it came naturally to ask Him to intervene and I wouldn't even hesitate.  The peace and comfort and trust I had in Jesus was immeasurable.  Then someone claiming to speak for God "re-instructed" me about His nature and willingness to make good on that promise in John 14.  I was never a bible scholar in my youth or my teens.  So, when this person bestowed upon me his ideas regarding John 14:13-14, I honestly didn't know what to think.  The end result of this person's "wisdom" was to plant the tiniest seed of doubt within my heart.  But still, my lifetime habit of asking with faith continued unhindered and unquestioned well into my late twenties.

It wasn't until I was married and became pregnant with my first child that the seed of doubt that was planted in my heart so long before was given opportunity to grow...and it grew quickly.  After a very painful and trying pregnancy, my first little one died within my womb.  The pain of never being able to hold that little one was almost unbearable at times.  There were hurdles in my grief that I had never known I would have to endure.  Things that seem like they should be simple enough were not simple at all.  For instance, packing away baby items and finding a "new home" for them was devastating.  Paying remaining hospital bills and things like that were tormenting reminders of what had happened.

Losing a child in miscarriage is a very difficult thing, especially in a society that devalues the life of an unborn child.  It's almost as if people don't really consider it a death at all, but rather, categorize the loss as one of a lesser pain when compared to the death of a "real" child someone had the privilege to hold.  The comments people would make, and their pathetic attempts to offer their  condolences was astounding.  Two of the worst comments were, "Well, you baptized the baby, right?" (as if you don't baptize your baby it would go to Hell) and, "Oh well, you can always have another one" (as if this one didn't count).  These and many other comments added to my pain in ways that are very hard to explain, and even more difficult to understand unless, of course, you've experienced this kind of loss.  But the most painful and unbelievably dismissive comment came from my ER doctor who dismissed our tears and callously tried to tell us that what we had just endured was not the death or loss of a baby.  The pathologist, however, was a Christian man who lovingly affirmed the humanity and worth of the life that we mourned.  That meant a great deal to us.                

Even though it seemed like an eternity before I could conceive again (which brought about a whole different kind of grief), Paul and I were blessed with two beautiful girls.  But then the unthinkable happened again.  God allowed me to lose my fourth baby too.  That loss became the cathartic situation that brought to the surface the doubt in my heart that God would make good on His promise.  My question at the time was, "How could God allow me to grieve so deeply again?".  It was as though I had dealt with my first loss by subconsciously considering it my "payment of dues"...that life is pain and that we all must suffer in some way or another, as if it was my moment of extreme pain and loss that God was going to allow me to go through in order for me to "really know" what it was like to "need" Him and trust Him.  And I did desperately need Him, no doubt about it.  But, with the loss of our fourth little one, my faith in the words of Jesus were really shaken.  Maybe that is too plain of a way to put it.  Maybe it was more that my faith in my understanding of His words was shaken.  Either way, I no longer believed that I could ask for anything and have it given.  Because I had asked for the life of my babies and their deaths were evidence to the contrary.

God had tested the limits of my faith and it was found severely lacking.  I cried harder and became angrier than I did with the loss of my first baby.  Not because I valued one child over the other, but because of my failed expectations.  But here I was, spiraling with grief again, and there was hardly a soul who seemed to be able to identify with me and give a comforting word.  And the most devastating loss was my faith in God's goodness and intentions toward me.  My idealism was finally shattered, and it seemed unredeemable.

Through the years, and a total of five miscarriages and seven live births, I have come to the Only Place of Rest.  In my unknowing, in my searching, in my pain and my confusion God has held me.  He has seen me through the doubt and brought me to a place of understanding.  Even when I do not understand what He is doing in allowing pain, I can trust that it is His goodness that is supreme.  It is superior to my own desire to love and hold my babies.  That means I had to realize that even my motherly love was inferior to God's will.  That was a very big and humbling pill to swallow.  I mean, what is more pure and powerful than a mother's love?  I'm here to tell you that it is God's Love.  It is unmovable, unshakeable, unwavering, never failing, unending, unquestionable, un-reproachable and limitless.  Jesus is that Love.  And it is in the name of Love that God hears and speaks to His children.      

In His mercy, God allowed me to see that my faith, though shaken by the words of a man, is not rooted in something movable and fallible.  My faith is set in the stone of God's eternal and True Love.  His word and His integrity are not subject to man's qualifications and certainly not man's limitations.

Somewhere in between the pain of my grief and the promise He gave in John 14, is a truth that harmonizes the two.  What I know is that Mercy is central to my pleas.  And though I ask for my babies, maybe Mercy was the answer that my heart was really seeking.  Maybe He took my babies early to spare them or Paul and I a hardship that was more than we could bear.  Once I came back to God and simple childlike trust in His goodness, asking in the name of Jesus was no longer a stumbling block.