Tag Archives: christian victorious living

When Self-Pity Becomes Toxic

I must admit that, in the course of my life, I have had more than my fair share of pity parties. Life has not always been easy, and people have not always been kind. I could say that nearly everyone in my life has let me down at one time or the other. Clearly, I have had plenty of good reasons to feel sorry for myself, and on many occasions I have done just that. In fact, I spent several years doing it so much that I slipped in and out of depression on a regular basis. I even became suicidal a few times, but thankfully God intervened in my life, and I found a way to escape the negative thoughts and feelings that consumed me. Jesus said the truth will set you free, and that is what happened. I realized that my feelings were contrary to truths in his Word, and I had to choose to allow those truths to transform my mind. It was a choice plain and simple.

As a counselor, I run across people who refuse to ever make the choice to believe God over their feelings. Among my own personal acquaintances there are those who seem to believe that their situations are not included in God’s promises, and they continue to wallow in misery. By nature, I am an encourager, but I’ve learned that people like this cannot be encouraged. It makes no sense, but it seems as though they enjoy being miserable. And if that were not enough, they also seem to love dragging everyone else into their wretched state. They like to blame others for their misery, and try to make them responsible for improving their lot in life. In fact, over my years of working with victims of domestic violence, I’ve found that most abusers are consumed with self-pity. They manage to use it to control their victims. The problem is you can never please someone like this. Nothing you do is ever enough.

In scripture we see an example of this harmful attitude in John 5:1-15. When Jesus asked the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda if he wanted to be well, he simply blamed others that he wasn’t. After Jesus healed him, he reported him the religious officials rather than thanking him. In the end, Jesus warned him to “stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” When I read this story, I am amazed that this man received such a great miracle, and yet did not show an ounce of gratitude.

At the heart of those ruled by destructive self-pity, you will usually find ingratitude. Their eyes are so focused on self that they become blind to the blessings they do have, and their lack of gratitude is like poison. It spews to everyone around them as they use their misery to try to control those who love them. They want people to feel sorry for them and bend over backwards to make them happy, but it’s nearly impossible to help someone who has decided that their pain is greater than God’s provision. They would much rather drag you into their misery than to allow you to help them out of it.

Recently, God sent two new friends into my life. If anyone has a right to self-pity these ladies do, but both have refused it, and I admire them so much. In 2013, my friend Terri passed out while standing in her kitchen, and woke up paralyzed from the neck down. As anyone would in this situation, she has struggled with depression, but she has chosen not to give in to feelings of despair. Recently, she wrote on her blog that a friend challenged her to find something to be grateful for each day, and she did. Although Terri might have good reason to feel sorry for herself, she refuses to give in to self-pity. As a result, she has become an inspiration to many people. I so admire that.

God sent another amazing woman into my life back in April. Two years ago, her estranged husband stormed into her parents’ house, shot and killed them both in front of her children, then beat and shot her—leaving her for dead. She was in a coma for a week, but after that God miraculously touched her body and raised her up. Although Latonya grieves the loss of her parents, she is the picture of gratitude. She shares God’s love and blessings with others powerfully, and the hashtag she uses on most of her social media posts is #gratefulheart. How amazing is that?

Both Latonya and Terri are victors, because they have made a choice to be grateful rather than self-centered. Their lives are making a positive impact on the world, because of that choice. The people I know who choose self-pity on a regular basis do the exact opposite. They are takers rather than givers. Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive, and to be blessed in biblical terms means to be happy. These ladies bring joy to my heart. They encourage me, and enrich my life.

There is only one difference between my new friends and my friends who wallow in self-pity. It’s simply a matter of the choices they have made. We can choose to allow misery to rule us, or we can choose to be grateful for the blessings we have. Ephesians 1:3 tells us that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing, and Romans 8:37 says that as his children we are more than conquerors. Scripture is filled with God’s good intentions towards his children. We just need to choose to believe what he says about us. It’s not always easy to do that, but with determination anyone can move from defeated to victorious, and become a blessing rather than toxic.

Something New

It seems that God is doing something new in my life lately, and I have found myself at a loss as how to proceed. Even though I am not a very structured person, I still find myself wanting to do things the way I’ve been doing them for such a long time. Change is difficult for us. Even the most flexible of us create our own traditions, and breaking out of them is HARD. This passage from Mark seemed to be exactly what I needed to read today.

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” Mark 2:21-22

Jesus came and challenged everything the religious leaders valued. He questioned their way of doing things, and even their interpretation of the law. They constantly criticized him for violating the Sabbath, but he pointed them to the heart of the Law, rather than the letter of it (see Mk. 2:23-28). As Believers, I am sure most of us see ourselves as far more spiritually savvy than the Pharisees and Scribes, but I’m not so sure we are. We get used to our traditions, and begin to see treat them as though they are the very oracles of God.

In my own case, I’ve been doing good things–even spiritual things, but I’ve come to realize that I may have been focusing on things that were not my calling. So now, I find it difficult to figure out how to order my time. Should I continue to do the good things, or should I jump out in faith? God is calling me to take some huge steps of faith, but continuing on the path of least resistance is so much easier. The problem is that it’s not so much more blessed. I know that until I am obedient, I will not be able to walk in his best for my life. So today I’m making a choice to throw out the old wine skins. I reject my own “old” way of doing things, and choose to embrace the “something new”to which he is calling me.

How about you? Have you held on to your old ways for too long? Are you willing to walk in the newness of life he calls us to live? I know it can be hard, but it is the only path to blessing. So out with the old! In with the new!

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert. Is. 43:19

BeginningIsNear

 

 

Feeling Frantic?

Do you ever feel frantic? I know I do, and I’ve learned it is a sure sign that rather than trusting God, I am seeking control. Basically, it boils down to idolatry. Idols are the things we run to for comfort so that we can keep things from getting out of hand.  Yet, from time to time, in spite of all we do, things do spin out of our control. As people of God, those times are wake up calls to help us realize only he is sovereign over everything, and our efforts are feeble. They are an illusion, because in reality, we have control over very little. The One who holds everything together could allow it to fall apart at any time, but because of his grace, he sustains us. He is good, so he can be trusted. And trusting him leads to joy (being blessed), while trusting in flesh (self and other shallow substitutes) leads to misery or being cursed. The choice is clear.

This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the LORD. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” Jer. 17:5-10

Jeremiah’s task as a young prophet was to proclaim God’s coming judgment against his people, because they had forsaken him and turned to idols. Yet, even in judgment, he was offering hope to those who would chose to trust him. It’s interesting to me that while much of Jeremiah’s warnings against the people are related to sins of commission and omission, this passage seems to get to the heart behind those sins. It’s all a matter of trust. The blatant sins were idolatry and failing to honor the Sabbath, but at the root of those sins was a lack of trust in God. As God’s people we are supposed to be different. The tendency of human flesh is to trust in self or others that we can see and touch. It it not in our nature to trust an unseen God. We want to be in control. We can control flesh, but we cannot control the unseen. It seems unnatural for flesh to trust in supernatural, but that is what God calls us to do, and if we don’t, there are consequences.

To be cursed means to be miserable, as opposed to being blessed or happy. Trusting him results in something else that is unseen—our roots are firmly established. They develop deep and tap into the fountains of living water. Being tapped into those streams of living water is the key to blessing. This is not based on activity, but trust. Trust stands still and waits. It does not feel the need for control, and it is never frantic. When we realize we have no control, and that the One who does have it is good, and wants the best for us, we can choose the blessing of trusting him.

Oh Lord, help us to trust you rather than frantically strive for control. We know you are good, and you can be trusted, but sometimes we are afraid anyway. Help us to be still and know you are God and that your love for us is everlasting. We can trust in One who loves us that much. So even though circumstances and things in this seen world try to move us, we will not be moved. We will be like trees planted by streams of living waters and have no need to fear. We choose to believe you. Amen

 

Living in Dread…

I often tell people that whatever we fear is what we serve, so that the object of our fear basically becomes our god. This morning a passage in Isaiah reminded me of that truth.

“Whom have you so dreaded and feared that you have been false to me, and have neither remembered me nor pondered this in your hearts? Is it not because I have long been silent that you do not fear me?  I will expose your righteousness and your works, and they will not benefit you. When you cry out for help, let your collection [of idols] save you! The wind will carry all of them off, a mere breath will blow them away. But the man who makes me his refuge will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain.” (Is.57:11-13).

“Whom have you so dreaded and feared that you have been false to me…” I’m not sure how much more clear that could be! At the heart of being unfaithful to God is usually a fear of something else (no matter what that something else is, I’d call it an idol). An idol is anything we meditate on, and spend our time trying to appease. For years, I did the dance of fear trying to keep an abusive husband happy so he wouldn’t lash out. I feared him much more than God, and the result was I served him rather than God. In fact, he became my god, because of the way I served him.

Another interesting thing about this passage is “I will expose your righteousness and your works…” Very often people do good works out of fear—they worry what people think and are trying to impress them rather than God. This fear of man is idolatry of the worst sort. It becomes works-based rather than love-based. God does not desire our feeble efforts; he desires our love. From that love, genuine works of righteousness will flow naturally. The ones born of fear of man are wood, hay, and stubble mentioned by Paul in 1 Cor. 3. These works may look wonderful to people, but they cannot stand before the Judge.

This passage should be a wake up call to the people of God. The warning here is not based on actions, but on misplaced fear. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and when we are more worried about pleasing him than people or unpleasant circumstances, that is wisdom. Then we will be like the man who built his house upon the rock in in Matthew 7:24-25. No matter what life brings our way, we can overcome because we know the One we fear is in control and his love casts out sinful fear. We can stand firm knowing he is in charge. Sinful fear dreads losing control, and that is why the Israelites sacrificed to idols. They believed that appeasing them would make things run smoothly, and that if they didn’t sacrifice things would go badly. When we live in fear of man, we have a similar mentality. “If I can just…” everything will be ok. We’re trying to maintain control. Yet, the Lord calls us to leave the control in his hands. That is what the fear of the Lord does. It trusts in his goodness for the outcome, and we have nothing to dread.

Lord, help me never dread anything more than I desire to love and please you. Help me to avoid the trap of misplaced fear. Nothing on this earth is more powerful than you, so I need to reserve my fear for you alone. Yet, it is a different sort of fear than dread. It is honoring you above anything else, and resting in your control rather than trying to be in control. You are worthy of all honor and praise. Nothing on earth can ever cause me to be consumed with fear as long as I am consumed with you. Amen

The Trouble with Victims

I lived over twenty five years my life as a victim. From the time I was 14 until I was nearly 40 I was involved in an abusive relationship, and breaking free was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. During those tumultuous years, I lost nearly everything I owned and barely escaped with my life and my two girls. In the years that followed, I faced great financial loss, angry children, and continued threats on my life. I had nightmares, and found myself freaking out at things that had nothing to do with me. When I heard people around me complain about everyday struggles I wanted to laugh in their faces and say, “Are you kidding me?! That’s nothing!” I wanted the world to know that I had been wronged, and somehow come and make it right.

The odd thing is the more I complained, the less people wanted to listen. They seemed to alienate themselves from me, which made my situation even more miserable. I could have stayed in that pattern forever, but as I cried out to God I began to realize I would never be an overcomer until I dropped my victim mentality. I realized that people did not know how to handle the severity of my losses. I am sure it made them uncomfortable—perhaps even guilty that they had been blessed with an easier life. I realized that I needed to stop making my unfortunate past my identity, and made a decision to pour my complaints out to God rather than people. I chose to believe his promises towards me rather than my feelings. Although that decision did not immediately change my circumstances, it did make all the difference in the world. Today I am a victor rather than a victim, because I decided to believe him.

In the years since I transitioned from victim to victor, I have many opportunities to work with other victims. I have seen some apply themselves to the truths of God’s Word, and basically blossom before my very eyes. In those cases, it has truly been like watching butterflies come out of their cocoons. From all outward appearances their situations have seemed hopeless, but God has performed miracles for those who have learned to trust him. Trust like this involves a decision to believe God rather than emotions and past experience. I have never seen God disappoint those who have chosen to really trust him. The outcome has always been beautiful.

On the other hand, some of the women I have tried to help have refused to let go of that victim mentality. When I direct them to God’s promises, they give me a thousand reasons not to believe them. Their attitude reminds me of the man Jesus healed at the pool in Bethesda in John 5. Even though he stationed himself in the place where the angel stirred the water to be healed, he basically told Jesus it was impossible, because somebody always beat him to the water. He was full of bitterness and excuses. When Jesus healed him in spite of his negativity, he showed no joy, nor did he stop to thank Jesus. Instead, when the religious leaders rebuked him for carrying his pallet, he blamed Jesus. Jesus knew his heart and came to him later with a warning, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (5:14).  But he simply went out and reported Jesus to the leaders. Jesus set him free, but he chose to remain bitter.

That’s the problem with so many victims, they fail to see and appreciate God’s provision in their lives. Instead, they choose to remain bitter, and make excuses for hanging on to their anger. They basically cut themselves off from God’s blessings and blame everyone around them (even God) for their negative circumstances. I love to contrast the story of the man at the pool with the healing of the man born blind in John 9. When Jesus healed him his life was changed immediately. He became a believer, and was willing to profess his faith in spite of harsh opposition. As far as outward circumstances go, he probably fared worse than the man healed at the pool. Yet, he was filled with joy over what Jesus had done for him. Like King David (who spent years running for his life) he chose to praise God in the presence of his enemies rather than cling to bitterness.

The truth is that bad things happen in this world. Many of us end up at victims at some point, and it grieves God’s heart. We suffer unjustly and it isn’t fair, but God knows exactly how that feels (Heb. 4:15). Our God is a redeemer, and nothing is wasted when we know him. He can turn our mourning into dancing (Ps. 30:11), and use tribulation to mold us into the image of his son (Rom. 8:29). But in the midst of our troubles we must choose to trust him. We must choose to let go of the bitterness that poisons every relationship in our lives and keeps us in bondage (Heb. 12:15). The problem with victims is they are often not willing to make this choice. Instead, they hold tenaciously to their right to be miserable and angry, and unwittingly finish the job their enemies began.

The Blessing of an Undivided Heart

Teach me your way, LORD, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. Ps. 86:11

It’s interesting that David talks about an undivided heart in relation to fearing God. I believe this is because fear is one of the best tactics of the enemy to destroy our spiritual walk. I’ve always said that whatever we fear will control us—that is why is is so important to fear the Lord. For so long I lived in fear of a man, and as a result he became the god of my life. I knew God was there, and I prayed to him regularly, but my heart was very divided. My first thought when deciding on an action was usually how my husband would respond to it. If it was something I wanted to do, and didn’t think he would like it, I might do it anyway and hide it from him. Still, the bottom line was that my life revolved around him rather than God. My divided heart put God second by default. Unhealthy fear enslaved me. An undivided heart is one that is fully surrendered to the Lord, and fears him more than anything or anyone else.

For many years the phrase “fear of the Lord” was an enigma to me, but it really shouldn’t have been. The type of fear that ruled my life with my ex husband was basically one that filtered nearly every thought through his possible reation. I feared his wrath. Although I have been redeemed from God’s wrath, a healthy fear of him would basically do the same. I would be more concerned about pleasing God than anyone else (including myself).  It is not so much a dread-based fear, but a love-based one. My love for him should far outweigh my love for anything or anyone else, and when it does I will give him control over my life. My heart is undivided, because there is no question that God comes first in every decision I make. He is in control rather than fleeting circumstances or unpredictable people. The wonderful thing about fearing God first is that it leads to peace. He is unchanging and all-loving, which means when I place my life in his hands I don’t need to fear anything else. I am surrendered and he is in control, so whatever happens I can trust him for the outcome. That is the blessing of an undivided heart.

Prayer:

Lord, I pray that my heart will be always undivided — that nothing on this earth will be more important to me than you! You are worthy of my praise, worthy of my fear, and so very good. I can trust you completely. Human nature tends towards fearing circumstances and even people, but Lord I know what a trap that is. That is like building a house on the sand. When the storms of life come, “great is the destruction” of that house. Father I ask that my life will be built upon the rock, because I put you first in everything. “All other ground is sinking sand.” Amen

What Defines You?

As I look back on my life, I realize that the most trying times have turned into the biggest spiritual triumphs for me, but I believe I could still be living in defeat if I had made different choices. It would have been easy for me to take on a victim mentality and remain stuck. As I was reading the first chapter of Ruth today, I recognized that all-too-familiar victim dynamic in Naomi. She had been through a long set of tragic circumstances, and when she returned to her hometown she was so bitter people barely recognized her. When they called her Naomi (which means pleasantness), she corrected everyone and told them to call her Mara (which means bitterness). Naomi defined herself as a victim.

When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?” “Don’t call me Naomi, ” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning (Ruth 1:18-22).

Isn’t it interesting that Naomi wanted to be defined by her circumstances? Rather than choosing to cling to her faith in God as Job did when he lost everything (Job. 13:15), she chose to make tragedy her identity. Ruth had also suffered loss, but she chose to love God and love others. She took action and did not profess bitterness as Naomi did. I love the way this passage ends. Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem just as the barley harvest was beginning. Hopeless and bitter Naomi was too consumed with her pain to see that God was at work, but Ruth took action. She walked in the little provision afforded her by the law, and arrived just in time to do it.  As a result, God blessed her by sending her to the field of the very person who could change their circumstances—their kinsman redeemer.

Without Ruth, Naomi could have very likely perished in her bitterness. At the end of this story the women of Bethlehem said to Naomi, “Praise the Lord, who has not left you without a family redeemer. May his name become well known in Israel. He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. Indeed, your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, had given birth to him.” (Ru. 4:14-15) Boaz and Ruth’s child did become well known in Israel. Through his line would come both King David and our Messiah. Truly Ruth was better than seven sons, because she did not allow her circumstances to define her. She chose to follow God, and to love others. As a result, history was changed forever.

We all have tragedy and unpleasant circumstances at some point, but we also all have choices. We can choose to be defined by our circumstances, or we can look for God’s provision in the midst of it. We can choose to follow God and love others, or we can choose to be bitter and self-centered. Our choices will determine the outcome. God will make a way for those who refuse to allow calamity to define their lives. Our Lord always has redemptive purposes in mind for those who love him and are called by him (Rom. 8:28). Our job is to simply choose to believe and follow him daily. Those who belong to him are his heirs (Gal. 3:29). That is who we are, and that is how we are defined. Circumstances do not define us, unless we choose to let them. All things are possible to those who believe (Mk. 9:23). Will you choose to believe?

Missing God’s Best

For years I lived in a state of divided worship. My main goal in life was to secure God’s blessing on my agenda. Sure, I loved him, but I’m afraid I loved myself more. Worship was all about me, and what I could get from him, rather than surrendering myself to him. Funny thing is that my agenda kept me in complete bondage, because idolatry leads us to a state of total fear. When we direct our worship to anything other than him, our peace and joy are totally dependent on the temporary circumstances we desire. We constantly fear losing the objects of our affection, and that fear controls our actions. True freedom is only found in true worship. When we surrender all to God, we have nothing to fear. He is never changing and eternal. He is all loving, and has a good plan for us, so when we learn to rest in that knowledge, we no longer feel threatened or afraid. We are free. God does not merely demand true worship for his sake, but for ours. He knows that all other forms of worship will lead us back into bondage. His ways are so much higher than ours, and following them is the path to blessing.

The passage that stood out in my reading this morning stressed that truth. Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings anywhere you please. Offer them only at the place the Lord will choose in one of your tribes, and there observe everything I command you. (Dt. 12:13-14)

 As the Israelites took possession of the land, it wouldn’t be a lack of worship that would be their downfall; instead it would be improper worship. The Lord gave specific instructions on how they should worship, but they had their own ideas of how it should look. God warned them not to take on the practices of the nations surrounding them, but it did not take long for them to follow their detestable practices. Within generations they would even be sacrificing their children in the fire.

God calls us to surrender all to him—that means giving up our own agendas. However, far too often our worship becomes an effort to convince God to bless our selfish plans. We sacrifice our children to idols of convenience and pleasure, and there is very little self-surrender involved. To the contrary, we end up surrendering everything good and holy to our desires for comfort and blessing. Basically, we are worshipping, but we are not worshipping God. Our idolatrous desires steal our affections away from him, and rob our lives of his blessings. We reach out for what we think we need, and all the while are throwing away his best for our lives.

Lord, I have wasted too many years focused on false gods, and worshipping in my own way. Help me to be fully surrendered to you, and to worship in spirit and truth. Do not let me be deceived into thinking that anything in this world can offer true satisfaction. Only you are the Living Water that can satisfy the thirst in my soul. Forgive me for ever trying to replace you by digging my own broken cistern that won’t hold water (Jer. 2:13). You are worthy and good. I choose your ways over my own. Amen

 

 

When All is Stripped Away

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you. (Dt. 8:2-5)

 God delivers us from bondage, but there is a stripping away of earthly comforts that needs to occur for us to understand that he is our source. We are free, but we are still far too self-reliant. I know that has been the case for me. For the first 20 years of my walk with him, I tried to control circumstances, and even to get him to bless my agenda. Things were much the same for the children of Israel. They wanted freedom as long as it was accompanied by worldly comforts, but as soon as they became uncomfortable they began to complain and doubt God. They were led out into a barren wilderness, and even though God provided, the manna was not nearly as satisfying as what they had eaten in Egypt. Here God explains that there was a reason for the way he led them. He allowed comforts to be stripped away in order to humble them, and teach them that their trust was to be in him rather than earthly resources. Hebrews 12:6 tells us that the Lord disciplines those he loves. Even though those who equate victory with pleasant circumstances might question God for leading his children into a wilderness, this passage shows that he had a good agenda for his people. His intention was to humble them and to teach them to trust so that he could bless them. It was to burn out their pride and sense of entitlement. We tell ourselves that we deserve blessing. However, the human heart is wicked and deserves nothing but the wrath of our holy and perfect God. Still, we get his mercy. In his mercy he disciplines us and leads us as his very own children. In his mercy he transfers us out of darkness to light, and from wrath to favor. What an amazing honor! We can certainly trust his good plan for our lives.

Lord, I have been stripped and humbled time and again. I suppose I am slow to learn, but I appreciate that you love me and have a good plan. You are lovingly using these humbling circumstances to teach me to trust you and to recognize that you are my source. You are stripping away my self-reliance and teaching me that I can live by every word that proceeds from your mouth. Thank you for loving me so much. Help me to live in a manner worthy of that calling. Amen

Where is God When I’m Suffering?

No matter what we suffer in this life, God is for us and actively involved. Psalm 56:11 tells us that God collects our tears in his bottle. This always reminds me of the memory books I kept for my children when they were young. I saved a lock of hair from their first haircuts, saved the armbands we wore in the hospital, and even took a picture of one’s first Band-Aid for her baby book. I wasn’t able to shield them from all the insults of life, but I do remember that those bad experiences were often useful in teaching them lessons. If they fell down because they were doing something dangerous, they were more careful the next time. Although God does have the power to shield us from all harm, we live in a fallen world and he does not always do it. I believe that is because there are precious lessons to be learned from suffering. How would we understand or appreciate his goodness if we did not have pain and sorrow? We would take it all for granted. As much as I hate trials and tribulation, I have to say that they have been amazing tutors. I have learned so much about his faithfulness, and so much about my weaknesses. I have learned that no matter what happens, he is with me, just as any loving parent would be. He collects my tears in his bottle, and records my sorrows in his memory book. They are precious to him, as I am. He is for me! Many people see suffering as a sign that God doesn’t care, or that he has abandoned them, but it is quite the opposite. When you seek him, you will find he is closest to the brokenhearted (Ps. 34:18). Trouble is not a sign of an uncaring God, but a chance to prove his love.

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. On the very day I call to you for help, my enemies will retreat. This I know: God is on my side. O God, I praise your word. Yes, LORD, I praise your word. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me? Ps. 56:8-11 NLT

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom. 8:32-39

Lord, thank you for caring so deeply for us. Even when things are difficult, you lovingly hold us and save our tears. I remember hearing that in ancient times, tears were used to make perfume. The maker would add fragrance to the tears to make something beautiful. That’s exactly what you do. You take our pains and sorrows and turn them into something beautiful. Thank you Lord that nothing is wasted in your kingdom, and that you have good intentions even when bad things happen. I appreciate that so much. Thank you for your tender loving care. Amen

Camping in the Wilderness

Sometimes it seems as though my whole life has been a wilderness experience. My mother once told me she had never known anyone who had suffered as much as I had. Her statement was made after I had gone through several years of intense tribulation, and I must admit that God certainly gave me some years of respite soon after that. However, the old adage that in this life you’re either in a trial, coming out of one, or going into one seems to be extremely characteristic of my life. No one is exempt. Jesus assured us that in this world we would have trouble, and even came to earth and experienced it firsthand. Thankfully, he does not leave us as orphans to try and muddle through without assistance.

Scripture has much to say about suffering and God. He is our “very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1), he uses trials to mold our character (Rom. 5:3-4), he comforts us in the midst of tribulation (2 Co. 1:4), and he promises to deliver us from all trouble (Ps. 34:19, 50:15). The good news is that no trial on this earth will last forever. Paul calls the troubles of this life “light and momentary” when viewed in the light of eternity, and claims that they have the ability to work “an eternal weight of glory” in us (2 Co. 4:17). While there are many who espouse a gospel that guarantees a trouble-free life of health and wealth, I cannot find biblical grounds for such doctrine. When I read scripture, I see trouble as inevitable and even useful in God’s agenda for our lives. None of us enjoy it, but when I look back on my life I realize that, undeniably, suffering has been a highly effective tutor in my life.

This past year has been yet another wilderness experience for me. I have to say that after all these years, I’ve grown accustomed to it and have learned to look for the lessons in each trial. Still, nobody enjoys the heat of the wilderness, and I have found myself feeling weary beyond words. I stand before God with a willing spirit, but I am a tired and have told him that many times. This morning as I was reading through Numbers, the above passages stood out.

On the day the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant law, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire… Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the LORD’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp… Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out.   (Nu. 9:15, 17-18, 22)

Apparently, the Spirit led the children of Israel to camp out in the wilderness for long periods of time. Last year, I went to Israel, and was able to visit the wilderness where the children of Israel camped. I visited Timna Valley and the replica of the wilderness tabernacle there. As we stood outside the tabernacle, I found myself feeling very uncomfortable in the desert heat, but as soon as we entered the tent there was immediate relief from the unpleasant temperature. For the Israelites, the presence of God hovered over the tabernacle in the form of a cloud by day that provided even more relief from the hot sun. Nighttime temperatures in the desert are usually pretty chilly, because of the lack of humidity, so the Spirit of God hovered over the tent in a cloud of fire at night. Living in the wilderness had to be uncomfortable for many reasons. Yet, God provided relief in the midst of it, especially for the priests who ministered in the temple.

Those of us who have been grafted into God’s family through Messiah (Rom. 11:17) have also been given the privilege of being part of God’s royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:9). We can come boldly into God’s presence (Heb. 4:16), and that is where we can find relief from the extremes of wilderness life. In his presence there is fullness of joy (Ps. 16:11)—even in the midst of trouble. Just imagine what would happen to those who decided to wander away from the tabernacle. It would be very difficult to survive at all. As far as I could see in Timna, there were very few food and water sources for miles on end. Even so, those of us who try to force our way out of the wilderness before God leads, usually find ourselves much worse off than if we had waited patiently. The answer to victorious life, even in the midst of the wilderness, is to wait and to worship. We cannot force circumstances to change, but we can find joy and rest for our weary souls (Mt. 11:29) when we run to him. Eventually, he will lead us out of the wilderness, and the day is coming when we will be free of all earthly pain and sorrow. Until that day, he alone is enough.

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. (Ps. 27:4-5)

Lord, thank you that I am your child! Thank you that I can live victoriously even in the midst of hardship. You are my provider, my peace, and my shelter. I do not have to look frantically about for a way of escape, but I can wait on you and stand under the cloud of your presence. Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere (Ps. 84:10). Forgive me for becoming so impatient about life in the wilderness. I know you are good, and that you have a good plan for my life. Help me to remember that truth always. You are good, and it is so good to be able to come into your presence. I choose to worship you now. Amen

Letting Bitterness Go

We’ve all met people who are clearly bitter. They usually don’t even realize it, but it spills out like poison in nearly every conversation they have. They have been wronged, and usually have good reason to be upset. The problem is that the anger they harbor ends up destroying them rather than the ones who offended them. Jesus told us to love our enemies, and to pray for those who persecute us, but that is so difficult to do! When I was going through my divorce, I rehearsed his offenses in my head like a well-worn record. The more I thought about it, the angrier I became until I was completely miserable. I was so stressed and depressed that my physical health began to decline. I knew I was supposed to forgive, but the offenses continued and it just seemed impossible. In my flesh it certainly would have been, but God was so gentle and kind in dealing with my heart. The bible study group I was in just happened to choose to study Kay Arthur’s book, Lord, Heal my Hurts. As I browsed through the chapters I could see that it dealt with forgiving those who have wronged you. I asked, “Lord, how can I forgive him after all he has done?” As much as I hated the thought of just “letting him off the hook,” I knew that holding onto my bitterness would only prolong my misery. Perhaps the book would provide some wisdom that would make it easier.

As I plunged into Arthur’s study of Jeremiah and Matthew 18, God was so faithful to remind me that he was my healer. My anger had made sick emotionally and physically, and I knew I had to be free. Somehow as I surrendered to his Spirit and the truths in his Word, my heart began to change. When I recognized God’s amazing grace lavished on me, I began to realize that the sins in my heart were far more numerous than the sins that had been committed against me, and yet Jesus had willingly laid his life down for me. By the time I finished that book, the question I asked God was “How can I not forgive him?” It was powerful and completely liberating. It seemed as though the weight of the entire world was lifted off my shoulders, and even the physical ills I had been experiencing cleared up. I was free! I also learned that I really hadn’t “let him off the hook” either. I had merely entrusted him to God, who was much more able to handle it.

When I was angry, I was wishing that somehow he could hurt as much as I hurt. I wanted him to pay the penalty for his offenses, but when I let go of that desire, and began to pray God’s best for him, something very odd happened. God seemed to step in. There had been one situation that seemed completely unfair to me, but one day shortly after I let it all go I received some news. It seemed as if God had repaid my husband for what he had done. He suffered consequences that I never could have caused, and I feel almost completely sure God waited until I let go to allow those consequences to occur. Rather than feeling vindicated or happy about my husband’s loss, I felt a sense of complete awe that my God would go to battle on my behalf. I knew I could continue to trust him for the outcome, and even though things remained difficult for some time, I learned so much from that experience. I learned that my amazing God was for me, and that he hated the things that happened to my children and me as much as I did. He could deal with my husband with perfect love that would include consequences. I realized that he willingly came down and suffered the greatest injustice of all so that he could enter into my suffering. He forgave his offenders at the cross, and asked the Father to forgive them as well.

Knowing we have a God who has experienced the worst of human suffering is a powerful thing. It means we can run to him and find compassion. “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” (Heb. 4:15). He knows betrayal firsthand. He knows abuse, and he knows excruciating pain. He experienced it all, but never harbored bitterness and hatred in his heart. I ran across this passage in my quiet time today, and it reminded me of how Jesus handled persecution. “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:17-18). Jesus loved those who offended him enough to try and “reason frankly” with them. He never sugarcoated his messages to the religious leaders, but he never wished them harm either. Instead he mourned over them (Mt. 23:37), and continued to speak directly to all who would listen.

Think about the difference between his example and what most of us do. When someone hurts us, we tend to only look at ourselves. We fail to consider the loss our offenders are experiencing. Obviously, they have chosen to break their relationship with us, but even worse, they have broken relationship with God. As his children, we should encourage others to be reconciled to God, even as Jesus did. Yet, most of us lash out at those who hurt us. Some of us are more explosive, and others of us just harbor anger in bitterness in our hearts. Rather than following the protocol set forth in Matthew 18:15-17, and talking to the offender, we talk about him or her in the form of gossip or slander. Love can be a messy thing. The most loving action when someone sins against us is confrontation, and perhaps taking it to the church if that person refuses to listen. (Warning, in cases of abuse, this is not always possible. Still, you must choose to give it to God, and seek godly help from someone who understands the dynamics of abuse.)  When we fail to follow God’s protocol, we hurt ourselves by harboring hatred in our hearts. Psalm 37:8 indicates, that only brings harm. I love the quote, “Unforgiveness is like taking poison and hoping that the other person dies.” That is so true.

When I held onto my bitterness, every relationship in my life was affected, including my relationship with God, because underneath it all I was questioning his goodness. I was wondering why he allowed such evil to occur in our lives, and completely disregarded his ability to redeem. Hebrews 12:15 tells us that allowing a root of bitterness to grow defiles many. When I come across bitter people, I can see it all around them—like poison spilling out. Nobody enjoys being around a bitter person, so most of them end up unconsciously alienating themselves from others, and then becoming angrier because people don’t seem to want to help them. Even though the bitter person may just think they are angry with the person who hurt them only, their anger comes out at everyone. They seem angry when things go well for others, and even angrier when trials come their way. Truly it does nothing to “win friends and influence people.” It merely causes most people to feel uncomfortable, especially those who are walking in a season of blessing. Eventually, it becomes like a self-fulfilling prophecy. They carry the attitude that life has been unfair, people have been unfair, and God doesn’t seem to care. And that is where the real problem lies. Yes, life can be sorely unfair, and people can be too, but to apply that rationale to our Lord is to choose faulty thinking. It is to choose to believe a lie rather than the truth, and truth is the only thing that can make us free.

Choosing to believe God’s love and goodness towards us is crucial in overcoming bitterness. We must remember that he promises to work all things together for our good when are committed to him (Rom. 8:28). We must choose to believe he wants to even use our pain for good, and we must release the anger to him, knowing that he is far more able to handle our offender than we are. We must choose to stop “drinking the poison” of bitterness, and instead release our lives and the lives of our offenders to God, knowing that he is for us (Rom. 8:31). He held nothing back in winning our redemption.

I often direct angry people to the story of Joseph in Genesis. If anyone had a right to be bitter he did. Yet, when it was all said and done, God vindicated him, and the brothers who had abused and abandoned him stood before him trembling. He had the power to get revenge as they stood before him pleading for forgiveness and mercy. For most bitter souls that would have been sweet, but somehow in all he had suffered Joseph had refused bitterness. When his brothers pleaded for mercy, Joseph’s response was “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:19-20).

Joseph did not become bitter, because he recognized the sovereign hand of God in his difficult circumstances. He could have chosen to dwell on the bad things that had happened to him, and he probably never would have left prison. That’s exactly what happens to those who allow bitterness to rule their hearts. They remain imprisoned in the past, in the “what ifs” and even in the desire to get even. The bottom line is that those who choose bitterness choose to disregard the promises in God’s Word, and follow their feelings instead. Freedom from bitterness comes down to a choice to believe God’s Word over emotions. It basically comes down to our core beliefs. Do we believe his Word or not? If we choose to remain bitter, then apparently our belief in God is merely intellectual assent, because in reality we are living by our own reasoning. Even though we know Romans 8:28, we can’t imagine how the thing we are suffering could be used for good. I think the best answer to that can be found in Romans 8:29. His plan is to “conform us to the image of his son.”

When we choose to focus on God rather than ourselves in the midst of suffering, he will use it to change us and draw us closer to himself. Somewhere in the process our perspective changes, and we begin to recognize just how temporary the painful circumstances are. We realize that everything on this earth will disappoint at one time or another, but he is forever faithful. Suffering is a beautiful opportunity to know him better. The Apostle Paul stated that he had lost everything for the cause of the Gospel, but that he considered it all rubbish in comparison to knowing God (Phil. 3:8). Only those who have learned to release their bitterness to God can know the wonder Paul is describing here. I often tell people I am grateful for the pain and trials I have experienced, because when all I had left was him, I found out just how wonderful he is. I would not trade my relationship with him for anything this world has to offer, and experiencing great loss drove me directly into his loving arms (once I let go of the bitterness). Hallelujah I am blessed!

If you have experienced hurt that has left you angry and bitter, I pray that right now you will be willing to release it to the Lover of your soul. I pray that you will recognize this time as a time of opportunity, even as painful as it might be, and I pray that you will choose to believe God’s truths over your own emotions. I highly recommend Kay Arthur’s book, Lord, Heal My Hurts. It will help adjust your perspective to a more biblical one– if you are willing. And in the end, willingness is the key. God will meet you where you are, and enable you to forgive. I could never have done it on my own. He stands ready and willing to help you when you turn to him. He has a good plan for your life, and knowing him is the greatest treasure of all. Dear friend, I pray you will run to his loving arms right now, and lay all your burdens down before him. He loves you. He sees what has happened, and hates it as much as you do. Yet, he will not let it go to waste– he will redeem it and use it for good. Choose to trust him now.

For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.  So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen; for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  2 Cor. 4:17-18

I’m CONFIDENT!!

Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident. (Ps.27:3) I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. (Ps. 27:13)

The world teaches us that if we believe in ourselves we can do anything, but I have to say that my self-confidence levels are really not that high. I’ve lived with myself long enough to know that I can utterly blow it in the blink of an eye. Outside of the grace and Spirit of God I don’t trust myself, and I know that without confidence in his great love for me, I would be crippled by fear and anxiety. Even after I became a believer, fear was a constant struggle for me until God graciously used some trying circumstances in my life, and his Word, to help me overcome it. (Click here to learn more.)

Victory over fear is far more than just the absence of anxiety and dread; it is confidence in God’s goodness towards us even in the midst of trying circumstances. Psalm 27:10 has long been a favorite verse of mine. “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.” When I fear that people will fail me, I can trust that he will not. 1 John 4:18 says that perfect love drives out fear. It took me a while to grasp that, but now it gives my heart great confidence. I know that he loves me, and that he promises to work “all things” together for my good (Rom. 8:28), so I don’t have to freak out when bad things happen. I can remain confident that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of living! No matter what happens (even a full-scale war against me!), my heart can be confident and reject fear. So yes, I am loaded with confidence; it’s just not in myself.

In this psalm David reminds himself to seek God’s face. That is his response to fearful events, and as he turns to God his fears begin to melt. He reminds himself that the Lord has been his helper, and then boldly proclaims he will never be forsaken. Knowing his goodness, and getting into his presence will dispel every fear. There is nothing that can shake us when we are hiding in the shadow of his wing. When I am afraid, I close my eyes and imagine myself climbing up into my Heavenly Father’s lap and listen as he sings over me (Zep. 3:17). I think of the many times I held and sang over my own children and grandchildren when they were upset or afraid. As soon as they stopped struggling, rest and peace came. I chose to be still and know that he is God. He is bigger than all my troubles combined, and I can have confidence in him as I rest in his love.

Lord God, I praise you for your great love! I am so honored to be your child. That the sovereign Lord, creator of heaven and earth, cares enough to quiet me with his love is simply amazing. Today I choose not to strive, but to rest as you hold me and give me confidence to face the day. Life in this world is just hard sometimes, but you are so good, and you have overcome the world for us. Bless your holy name! I love you, and I rest in your love today. Amen

Holding Nothing Back

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me.” Ps. 22:14

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. Is. 53:12

 There are days when I think I have nothing left to give. I become so exhausted by the demands and tugs of world that I nearly shut down. Usually I try to figure out a way to pamper myself so that I can recharge, but when I think about it nothing I have faced has ever required everything I have. Even when I was experiencing the worst abuse, I was holding on to every vestige of control I could muster. When it seemed utterly hopeless, I cried out to God for help, and the comfort I received was that he completely understood what I was experiencing. He assured me that he knew what it was like to be betrayed, abandoned and abused. The thing that struck me in that moment was that he chose it! I certainly would have done anything to avoid it, but in his great love for us, he completely emptied himself (Phil. 2:7) to the point of death. He held nothing back.

In counseling it’s not uncommon to find people who are upset with God. They are angry that he is allowing them to suffer unjustly, or that he didn’t stop the latest affliction in their lives. Many have faced one horrible experience after another to the point I become heartbroken, and find myself joining them in asking God why he allowed so much misery. Yet, we often forget that our God did not merely leave us here to suffer alone. He came and entered into our suffering to the fullest extent possible. Sometimes knowing that is all we need to know, because there is great comfort in the “fellowship of his suffering” (Phil. 3:10). That is why support groups are often so helpful, because we know we are not alone in our pain. We do not have a God who abandons us and watches indifferently from heaven, but a God who loved us enough to sacrifice everything because of his love for us. When he poured himself out in pain, he was simultaneously pouring his great love onto us. Choosing gratitude for his sacrifice during difficult times can help us overcome the urge to question why and see God as unfair.

In this fallen world, there are no easy answers, and I’ve learned that going down the “why” trail can be very dangerous. It will lead us to bitterness and hopelessness. The better question to ask is “What would you have me learn in this Lord, and how would you like to use this situation for good?” We may never understand why some things have happened on this side of eternity, but we can be sure that He has a redemptive purpose. Even as Jesus endured the shame of the cross, because of the joy set before him (Heb. 12:2), we can endure knowing that he will work everything together for good, and that his plans for us are good (Rom. 8:28, Jer. 29:11). We know that we have a God who specializes in redemption. There is no pit so deep that he cannot redeem. There is nothing he cannot use for good.

After Hurricane Katrina, I went down to the Gulf on 2 separate mission trips to help with the clean up efforts. I met people who had been traumatized beyond words. Some had lost family members, and all of their worldly possessions. Their homeowners insurance did not cover their losses, because they did not have flood insurance. I went because my heart had been broken as I watched the sheer anguish of it all on television after the storm. When I arrived, I saw multitudes of children dealing with PTSD and was even more broken. Yet, over the course of that week as God’s people came in by the hundreds, I saw God’s redemption at work. Children who would have grown up in violent, poverty stricken neighborhoods were relocated to better areas. Churches adopted and helped whole families get a fresh start in life. I saw multitudes of volunteers showering traumatized children with healing love, and some of them were eternally changed as a result of that awful storm.

That is the power of our God. He can take the most horrible situations and use them for good, and the ultimate example of that is the cross. His great sacrifice on our behalf reconciled us to God when we were hopelessly alienated. Not only that, as he willingly emptied himself he experienced the worst of human suffering. The penalty for our rebellion was poured on him, and though we continue to live in a fallen world, we do not live without hope. Knowing that our creator would come down, take on vulnerable flesh and then fully pour himself out for us should change our hearts. Our response should be to surrender our all to the One who gave his all for us. It should fill us with gratitude and comfort to know that we are fully loved, and that even though we will suffer in this world, he has overcome it, so that whatever we experience here is only a shadow preparing us for his eternal joy.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor. 4:17-18)

Revolutionized Quiet Times!

I hate to admit it, but in the past few years the bible study part of my quiet time has become a chore for me. I love spending time in worship and I love writing out my prayers along with the answers I perceive in my heart (many that come straight from the Word), but I have become completely bogged down when it comes to bible study. Maybe it’s because of all my seminary training– I think I have to do a formal exegesis of every passage. Maybe it’s because of some of the intensive discipleship classes I’ve done. One even had us diagraming every sentence like I did in 9th grade English class. Bottom line is that somewhere along the line, my formal time in the Word became too formal, and lost its life. Sure I have found myself completely blessed by passages of scripture in spite of myself. He has continued to use the Word hidden in my heart to speak to me regularly, but recently I realized that I have allowed myself to become legalistic about studying the bible. God forbid! There’s nothing I hate more than legalism. I have to say that lately he has been breathing fresh grace into my life in every area, so I’m so glad that he is shining the light on this area now. Yes, there are times for intensive study, but I do not think that should the basis of our daily quiet time.

Recently, I was introduced to the book Divine Mentor by Wayne Cordeiro. It was exactly what I needed. Cordeiro says that rather than trying to analyze every verse its better to ask God to give you just one scripture or one thought that you can carry away for the day. It’s a lesson I’ve been learning in business. When I have team meetings, I realize that if I try to give my folks too much info, they seem overloaded and the meetings are not that productive. A business coach suggested I stick to one main topic, and since I started that things are much better. It makes great sense to approach scripture in a similar fashion, with the heart attitude of “What do you want to teach me today Lord?” Since I have been doing it, he has been faithful to show me something special every day. I always tell people that scripture is God’s love letter to us, and as such we need to seek something from God’s heart for us daily. Again, I am not putting down intensive study! Failing to learn about the background or context of a book can be a dangerous thing. You should study the Bible intensely, but not to the point that you lose your passion. So for me, this approach is a breath of fresh air. I am going to my Heavenly Father seeking fresh bread for the day, and I am no longer getting bogged down. It fits the idea of a quiet time much better, because it’s part of my special time with God. I no longer feel obligated to exegete every passage, but rather I am seeking my Father’s heart. I am taking the exegesis out of my quiet times unless the Lord prompts me otherwise. I can’t tell you what a blessing and a relief doing it this way has become for me.

Cordeiro uses the acronym SOAP– Scripture, Observation, Application, & Prayer as a guide for this method. He suggests you journal the lesson you get each day. Here is how mine looked today. Note: I had one main thought rather than one verse of scripture, but that happens most days for me. Hopefully, if you’re feeling the same way, this approach will help you revitalize your scripture study too.

Scripture— Genesis 41

When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream (41:1)

Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings. (41:9)

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.” (41:15-16)

So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” (41:41) 

Observation: It seemed as though Joseph’s suffering continued because of people. First, he had been betrayed and sold into slavery because of his brothers’ jealousy, and then he was falsely accused and imprisoned because of Potiphar’s wife. Even after he had proven himself by interpreting the dream of pharaoh’s cupbearer, he continued to be unjustly imprisoned, because the cupbearer got released and forgot him. It seemed as though people were in control of Joseph’s fate. However, what if Joseph had been released 2 years earlier? What if he had not been sold into slavery, and what if he had not been imprisoned? He would not have been available to pharaoh when he had his dreams. God’s timing was perfect, even though it seemed that people were jerking Joseph around. If he had never been sold, his whole family would have perished in the famine. If he had not been in pharaoh’s prison at the time of his dreams, he would not have been able to help save the whole region. The interesting thing is that during his time, he never lost his faith in God. Perhaps the trials even strengthened it. When pharaoh gave him credit for knowing how to interpret dreams, he was quick to turn the credit back to God. He could do nothing, but God would.

Application: Joseph could have easily become bitter and angry with God during this time. After all, many injustices had occurred. He had every right to be upset. His circumstances just weren’t fair, but he continued to entrust himself to God. As it turns out, God’s timing was perfect. Joseph did not get puffed up with pride about the injustices, but he turned to God. This verse comes to mind. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Pet. 5:6). God’s due time is rarely when we think it should be. One of my pastors once said, “I have never known God to be early, but I’ve also never known him to be late.” His timing is always perfect, and we must trust that in his time he will use everything for his good intentions (Gen. 50:20). Many times in my life I have questioned why bad things have happened. I have wished I could go back and do something differently so the outcome would be different. I have wished that I could control it all. I have lamented that people were jerking me around, and yet when I look back, I see very clearly how God was using it for good in my life. No, being abused was not good. Being betrayed by loved ones was not good, but as I entrusted myself to God in each situation, he was so faithful to use all the bad for good. I have a relationship with him that I wouldn’t trade for the entire world. He has been completely faithful in it all. When I look back at the worst of times, they were also the best of times spiritually. Jesus held me and spoke to my wounded heart in the most awful circumstances. Those experiences have been amazing tutors that have worked together for good in my life, and in the lives of those God sends my way (Rom. 8:28). I have learned to stop asking why these days, and instead ask, “God, what do you want to teach me in this?” He always shows me, and in due time, he always lifts me back up. What an amazing God we serve!

Prayer: Oh sweet Lord, how I thank you that your ways are higher than mine! I thank you that even when I cannot see any good in a given situation, your plans cannot be thwarted, and you will work it together for good in your perfect timing. I do not have to stress. I do not have to become indignant when people seem to be treating me unfairly, or when circumstances don’t seem fair. I can trust you! You are utterly faithful, and you see the whole picture. Thank you for always being right on time! Amen