Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Finding Grace in the Crucible

Hey Friend,

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Since the fall of man, we are all broken. Label us “damaged goods,” much like the lonely, dented can of green beans on the grocery store shelf or the scratched coffee table marked down to “clearance.” We’ve arrived at somehow being “less than.” We are broken in our affliction, and grace is what we desperately need. There’s one small problem, our pride prevents us from seeing ourselves as the truly sinful and corrupt creatures we are. Take a survey on a busy street corner and the average passerby will tell you that they’ve tried to be a good person and, therefore, are doing okay by the world’s standard.




 

God, however, doesn’t operate by the world’s standard. He is just and holy, and in order to stand before Him (even when we’re suffering) we need to be just and holy as well. Yes, we can have complete forgiveness and salvation through accepting Jesus as our Savior, but are we then free to continue in our prideful, self-sufficient ways, or does life with Jesus require change?

 

Thanks to my husband, I’ve become a fan of old war movies. One of our favorites is “Heartbreak Ridge” which stars Clint Eastwood as the hard-nosed, hard-living, burned-every-bridge Marine Gunnery Sergeant, Tom Highway. He takes command of a spoiled, undisciplined recon platoon and is charged with whipping them into shape with a sort of “bootcamp on steroids.” 

 

My husband’s father was a Marine, and so I’ve asked him if the commanding officers of bootcamp platoons are really as mean, nasty, ill-tempered, and downright ugly as they are portrayed in the movies — His answer? “They’re worse!” In one scene in Heartbreak Ridge, “Gunny,” as his men called him, tells his platoon they’d better turn in early because they’ll be getting up at 0600 for a long run with full gear. The next morning, at 0500, Gunny storms through the barracks, kicking bunks, yelling and cussing up a storm. With spittle flying from his mouth, he bellows, “FALL OUT,” as the bleary-eyed troops come to attention.

 

“Hey Sarge,” one platoon member interrupts, “I thought you said we’d be getting up at 0600…it’s only 0500!” To which Gunny barks, “So I lied. So, I can’t tell time. So, you think some commie ba$@!#rd is going to make an appointment to blow a hole through your head?”





 

I’m sure you’re wondering where I’m going with this story! Before Gunny’s bunch of misfits could be trusted in carrying out crucial recon missions, they had to be broken down completely and rebuilt with the grit, discipline, honor, and character that it takes to be a Marine. Before their transformation, these guys may have passed the world’s standard, but they certainly wouldn’t have passed muster with our country’s elite fighting unit.

 

God is known throughout Scripture as the Lord of Armies. He is the high commander of “good” in this ongoing spiritual battle between good and evil. As believers, we are recruits in the Lord’s army. For us to be trusted and reliable soldiers of the cross, we too, must go through a sort of “bootcamp.” Thankfully, God is nothing like “Gunny,” but we are no good to God if we persist in our fallen ways. God needs to subdue our flesh-life to bring forth resurrection-life in us. This might require taking a turn or two in God’s refining fire.

 

Scripture, in fact, refers to God as our Refiner. He will allow us to be held close to the red-hot flame in the crucible to cleanse and perfect us. The refining process is meant to burn away all the impurities so that what is left is metal (character) of the finest, highest, and purest quality. It’s painful, but necessary. It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love us. He can be grieved by our sin, but never — for a moment — stops loving His children. He does, however, care for us enough to want to teach us important life lessons and grow us into Christ’s image.




 

“Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.” (Isaiah 48:10 ESV)

 

Affliction has been the crucible in which I have taken many turns. Are you in the crucible of affliction right now? If so, name your affliction. Write its name on an index card. Above your affliction’s name, now, in larger letters, write the name, “Jesus.” Remember Jesus is always above — and greater than— our affliction. God, however, will engage us in a process that:

 

  • Disorients us
  • Strips us of our comforts
  • Crushes us   


God does this because He is disciplining us and transforming us into the sainted soldiers that He wants us to be, but He will never let the fire consume us because He has engraved us on the palms of His hands.

 

“But Zion said, “’The Lord has forsaken me,
    the Lord has forgotten me.’”

15 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
    and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
    I will not forget you!
16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
    your walls are ever before me.”  (Isaiah 49:14-16 NIV)

 

Though you are being refined by the fire, the Lord will NEVER let the fire consume you. His power and love are always over and above your affliction. I think of the Bible story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from my Sunday School felt board days. Though they were thrown into the fiery furnace, the dancing tongues of fire never so much as singed their eyebrows. The Lord protected them from being consumed. He is protecting you!


  

In 2 Corinthians, Paul asked God to remove an affliction in his life that he called a “thorn.”  Theologians love to debate what that thorn was, exactly, but that’s beside the point. God answered Paul by saying, “no.” Instead, God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul then responded, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  (2 Corinthians 12:7–10 ESV)




 

If God were to remove the source of our pain and suffering every time things got a little uncomfortable, we would never come to experience His all-sufficient grace. The greater the pain, the greater the degree of grace. God’s grace grows in direct proportion to the severity of our suffering. He gives sufficient grace to cover our weakness. I had to learn through my “thorn” experience that when everything I normally relied upon was either exhausted or taken away (my self-sufficiency, my lucidity, my strength), that was the exact moment I came to know that Christ truly was sufficient for my every need. Why does our prideful soul have to dangle, exhausted, over the crevasse of catastrophe before it will accept God’s grace? Are you dangling and in need of God’s grace?

 

Corrie Ten Boom summed it up this way, “You can never learn that Christ is all you need, until Christ is all you have.” I may have forsaken some of my childish ways, but I have learned that as I get older, I need to depend on my Heavenly Father more and more. He is my sufficiency, and apart from Him I can do nothing (John 15:5). 


If you would like to receive Christ into your life as Lord and Savior, pray this prayer with me:

Dear God, I know that I am a sinner. I want to turn from my sins, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe that Jesus Christ is Your Son. I believe He died for my sins and that You raised Him to life. I want Him to come into my heart and to take control of my life. I want to trust Jesus as my Savior and follow Him as my Lord from this day forward. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen. 


Be blessed...


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Sunday, November 6, 2022

Bloganniversary Post & Special Giveaway

Hi Friend,

Nine years ago, I sat in my recliner chair which felt more like being strapped into an amusement ride that was far from amusing. "No weight bearing on that knee for six weeks," ordered the surgeon stearnly. 

I don't know about you, but after about a week, I was climbing the proverbial walls. And God said (not audibly), "Ok Bev, how about you use that writing gift I gave you for my glory?" And so, the blogging journey began. I have to laugh at how completely clueless I was when I started. I even bought "Blogging for Dummies" lol.




Through my blog, I was called to start a global Christian non-profit, which is also celebrating nine years and still going. My zealousness out of the gate on these two callings finally caught up with me and left me feeling a bit weary. I clearly needed rest, refreshment, and rejuvenation as well as some long overdue selfcare. I stepped back a bit from both ministries because, frankly, I looked and felt a bit like the characters from "The Walking Dead."

Selfcare 101: I'd dabbled with acrylics and oil paints in my younger years. In an ambitious moment, I thought, why don't I try watercolors? How hard could it be? After all, as a preschool teacher, I knew kids and watercolors went together like PB&J... Right? I can do this, I coached myself.





Little did I anticipate, but watercolors kicked my butt. When you combine a recovering perfectionist, static paint, and fluid water you get a whole lot of "out-of-control-color"! I just knew God was going to teach me some Biblical, life precepts through this new hobby. 

Perfection and watercolors don't blend well: If I was going to enjoy this, I had to ditch the fear that my version of a peony wasn't going to look like the perfect peonies God creates. I learned to loosen up and go for more of a peony "impression" and that's when it started to become fun.

Complete control is not in the watercolorist's vocabulary (just like complete control is not attainable in life). Even then, the paint, when combined with water and brushed across the paper takes on a life of it's own. If you want it to bleed to the right, it will undoubtedly bleed to the left. As sure as day, the purple lavender sprigs morph with the orangish poppies to make a mud-like mess inbetween. 

Watercolors, like life, require time and patience. When I wanted to add a wet paint on top of an already dried application, I often got impatient for the first layer to dry and so when I added the wet, well...I got a color not found on the color wheel lol.

Unlike acrylics and oils -- when you make a mistake, you can easily go back an hour or a day later and simply cover over your mistake. Watercolors don't work that way. Make a mistake? You need to start with a clean slate -- kind of like how Jesus washes our sins (slates) white as snow when we mess up? I learned for every one painting that turned out well, there were at least ten others that looked like my preschoolers had painted them. God LOVES a humble and contrite heart -- I'm definitely being humbled!

I could go on and on, but we're here to celebrate, right? To celebrate nine (Wow!) wonderful years of meeting some terrifically gifted writers across the globe, I'm doing a drawing for one pack of twelve floral watercolor notecards to the "lucky" person whose name is drawn.

There are 3 each, of 4 different designs. Cards are single panel on premium linen notecard paper. Packs come decoratively wrapped for gift giving (gifting yourself or gifting another). 




Leave a COMMENT on my BLOG or the FACEBOOK or INSTAGRAM post where you read this and you'll automatically be entered in the drawing.

I'm also selling my packs of cards during the holiday season. If you'd like to purchase some, here's the scoop:




Christmas shopping anyone?

Private Message me or Email me: bevritter413@gmail.com to order.

Notecards:

$14./pack  (pack includes 12 cards, 3 each of 4 designs)
Shipping:  $5./one pack -- $5.60/2 packs -- $6./3 packs -- More? ask me.
Shipping to multiple addresses is more. Only US - sorry my International friends

Payment:

Venmo: @bevritter413
Zelle: 919 649 4454
Check: Bev Rihtarchik, 103 Silver Lining Ln., Cary, NC 27513
Cash & Credit card -- in person only

I can deliver locally in the greater Cary area.

A special thank you to all of you who have read my writing and encouraged me along this journey. I write for an audience of One, so if one earthly person is encouraged or drawn closer to Christ, then I will have attained that for which I was called.

Be blessed...



ps. If you've been enjoying what you read here, I invite you to SUBSCRIBE to my weekly blog (and nothing else). Enter your contact info in the SUBSCIBE box and then be sure to check your email inbox for a special link to confirm your subscription. You can cancel any time. Thanks for reading...


Sunday, October 30, 2022

Allowing for the Mystery of God

Hey Friend,

If I had a God around whom I could totally and completely wrap my finite brain, He wouldn’t be a God worth worshiping. Trying to comprehend the mysteries of God is like a preschooler attempting to grasp quantum physics. 

 

I asked God to heal my first marriage, to remove the “thorn” of mental illness, to turn a prodigal back toward home and God was silent. I’ve sat with friends who’ve lost children to drug overdose, illness/disease, and suicide. I still have no good answers as to Why? I can only resolve that one day, God will make clear His perfect will…and then, I will understand.





“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me completely.”  (1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT)


Prayers for loved ones or for relief from suffering, that confound our paralyzed heart, will stretch our faith. What can help, in the especially difficult times, is to remember that God’s timing is rarely our own. Things may seem to race from bad to worse, but God has complete authority over the situation. One of God’s greatest gifts to us is how He allows us to see, perhaps much later, how His timing and His plans are perfect. Can you go back in your life and think about times when, if you had received what you wanted in the moment, you would not have grown in your spiritual life? 


I got pregnant easily with my daughter. I thought the same would be true for my second child. I was heartbroken when years went by and still no baby. I believe, looking back, I needed to learn to be content with what God had blessed me and let God’s will — not my own — guide my life. When it seems like all hope is lost, it may just mean that God isn’t finished yet — and remember, His timeline is eternal. I eventually had my son and my heart overflowed with gratitude. But, I still would be called to trust in God’s inherent goodness even if my son was never born. Hope never gets lost, it is just taking another way. Doubt’s haunting voice will never have the last word.


I love Ruth Bell Graham’s mother’s heart. She prayed her children through all sorts of trials and tragedies. Prayer has always been a mother’s default setting.

 

“When I am dealing with an all-powerful, all-knowing God, I, as a mere mortal, must offer my petitions not only with persistence but also with patience. Someday I’ll know why.”  – Ruth Bell Graham




 

I have to remind myself, a lot, that His ways and His thoughts are “higher” than my own (Isaiah 55:9). God is never flummoxed or frustrated, and nothing can stop Him from carrying out His purposes — not even death. Much like a rainbow after a cloudburst, God shows up when we least expect Him. The Lord moves at His own pace and He’s never late. What we now see dimly in a mirror, we will see clearly, and God will give us complete understanding in heaven. In every mystery there is an element of truth. Often it is hidden or undetected. The author of all the mysteries will one day sit with us and will point out how what we couldn’t understand then, now overflows with His never-ending grace and wisdom.


So, how can we know the unknowable? How can we understand the mysteries of God?  Hold this thought gently in your open hands: There is no understanding of God, and His mysteries, apart from a personal relationship with His Son. Jesus said that when we have seen Him, we have seen the Father.


Would it not make great sense, then, for us to desire, with all our heart, to be in an intimate relationship with the lover of our soul? One day we will understand the word of God in its fullness, and He will reveal to us the mysteries that presently our minds just cannot understand. On our own, we can’t please God, but we can, through His Son, be part of the most holy and fulfilling relationship this life affords. I know that if I can’t be healed, then I want to be tenderly held in God’s embrace. 




 

If you are struggling with the answer to a prayer, you’ve seemingly been given, or you flat out don’t like how life’s play is unfolding, do know that God often doesn’t give us what we wish for. He gives us what we need. Bad things will happen to “good” people in this world, but take heart, this world is not the end. When our tender flesh is scraped along the concrete of life, we have a choice: Will we, or will we not, adopt a more eternal perspective?  

 

“We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 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 Corinthians 4:16–18 NIV)

  

One day we will see God’s good plan in it all. We will have a great reward on that day, and it will be glorious!


Dear Heavenly Father, I admit there are times I don't like your answers to my prayers. Help me to humbly submit myself to Your sovereign will. I take heart that my prayers are "deathless" and will definitely be answered in eternity. When I don't understand, enable me to turn my heart to what I DO know to be true about you. Give me the faith I need to believe in your goodness, mercy, and faithfulness. I praise you that you are not a God I can put in a box and fully understand. I allow for your divine mystery knowing one day I will fully understand what now I only see dimly. May your perfect love cast out the doubt and fear in my life and draw me into your loving embrace as I wait upon You. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

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Friday, October 21, 2022

A New Way of Praying


Hey Friend,

Even as a child I was a bit of a worrywart. Are you a kindred spirit? My mother would say, “There you go again, putting the cart before the horse.” I always wanted to know what was coming so that I could be prepared. Desperately seeking to control is symptomatic of living in fear and not trust. In this case, getting ahead of myself was not a good thing, but when it comes to praying and persevering, I am learning that I need to thank God, in advance, for what He is going to do.

 

Yes, we are to be grateful to God, after the fact, to thank Him for our blessings, but we are compelled to practice a new way of praying. God invites us to come boldly before His throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). We know God will answer when we call on Him. The Bible reassures us of this over and over again. Therefore, we ought to thank Him for the answer that He is going to give. God wants us to wait expectantly for His answer.




 

Maybe you have been praying and waiting patiently, i.e., enduring, suffering, persevering, and wondering if the Lord is really going to show up? Is that you today? Is it possible to wait expectantly and wait patiently? From firsthand experience, I know the answer to this question is, “yes.” Just as joy and pain can coexist, so can we wait expectantly and with patience marked with endurance and suffering. Hold fast and know His grace is more than sufficient to see you through.

 

I grew up in the South Hills of Pittsburgh and the only way to get from my home into the city was to go through a long, dark tunnel fondly referred to, by locals, as the Fort Pitt Tubes. While zooming at high speed, through the dark, claustrophobic tunnel, you get antsy to reach the light at the other side. It’s a hair-raising stretch to travel. I often found myself holding my breath wondering, how much longer until I get to the end of this blasted tunnel?




At the very moment when my knuckles grew white from clenching the steering wheel, and my face turned bluish from lack of oxygen, when my patience was spent, it was then I’d shoot out into the awesome expanse of sunlight. In a flip-of-the-switch sunrise, the glistening buildings of the city burst onto the horizon. Simultaneously I’d gulp in air, relax my clenched fingers, and see the breathtaking beauty that I thought would never come.

 

How do you know that you aren’t in that split second before the glorious end of your tunnel? Perhaps the answer to your prayer upon prayer is up ahead but just hasn’t happened yet. Maybe the pink-hewn sunrise is on the other side of the dark, moonless night. God has a way of surprising us when we least expect it. Often the answer lies just around the next bend, but we need to hang on to see what God’s love has in store for us. We need to trust Him. It’s imperative that we believe in what is unseen.

 

“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 Corinthians 4:18 NIV)

 

God answers prayers in a multitude of ways. I’ve experienced many “God-winks.” These are answers to prayers that we haven’t even prayed — like when God surprises us with a rainbow at the end of a violent storm, or the person in front of you in the coffee shop drive-through pays for your coffee. God says, “I love you and I’m for you,” even when we didn’t ask. Have you ever barely had a prayer pass over your lips and God is already answering it? It’s an answer to prayer that reinforces the fact God knew what you were going to ask even before your mind formed the words. Those are, what I call, the “instantaneous answers.”




 

More often than not, we put in endless days and nights — many, filled with tears. We are brought to the end of ourselves and to the point of giving up. We wait patiently (enduring, suffering) with virtually nothing to show for our effort. These are the prayers of the persevering heart. God loves you and longs to draw near to comfort you in the waiting.

 

“I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you.”  (John 14:18 KJB)

 

Like the Good Shepherd who goes after the lost sheep, though the way is long and hard and uphill, He’ll persevere too. He knows where His sheep are, and He will find the way to them. He will find the way to you. This gives us the hope we need to continue pressing on. Just as the lost sheep may be right over the next hill, your answer to prayer may be as well. 


What  about you? Have you ever tried thanking God, in advance, for the sovereign way He is going to answer your prayer? Do you find it hard to wait patiently and expectantly at the same time? Is there a person or a situation you'd like me to pray for -- feel free to leave a first name or initials in the Comments and I would be honored to pray for who or what is weighing on your heart.


Be blessed...





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Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Climbing My Matterhorn -- A Book Review

Hey Friend,

I recently had the pleasure of reading a book written by someone I really admire -- who has embodied perseverance and shown me how to keep putting one foot in front of the other, even when dealing with chronic pain and illness.





The full title of Lisa Aleo's book is: Climbing My Matterhorn -- My story of meningitis, migraine, and miracles. You may or may not personally suffer from migraine attacks and wonder, what's in this book for me?

My answer is, "Plenty!"

Lisa's book is so much more than a memoir detailing her journey, through more than a decade, suffering from debilitating migraine attacks. It is a field guide for anyone who is living with chronic pain or illness. 

I found her voice to be raw, honest, and sincere. This is an excellent book for fellow sojourners who are waiting, often impatiently, for the "not yet." I love how Lisa comes alongside the reader -- as if she's reading your mind -- to deliver a message of hope to the hearts who need it.





Lisa's promise is this: In her book, the reader will learn how to experience joy and peace in the midst of unpredictable pain and suffering from migraine disease (or other chronic illness). Learning to surrender anxious control, accepting each moment as it unfolds, while learning to manage the disease is key to living with a chronic illness.

The section of well-researched resources for those living with migraine disease, alone, is well worth the purchase.

Lisa bravely shares her story of living with chronic migraine through the lens of her life-long faith while embracing the glorious mystery of God's grace.





Lisa Aleo (author and friend) is a wife, mother of four grown sons, and a former R.N. She helps the reader navigate the peaks and valleys of daily living with chronic migraine. Lisa offers hope to others experiencing their own chronic illness journey. She works as a migraine advocate to reduce the stigma of this debilitating disease. You can read more from Lisa at her blog: Click here to visit Lisa's blog

Thinking about purchasing Lisa's book? Click here to view her book on Amazon


Nuggets of wisdom:

~ Accepting each moment as it was and not as I THOUGHT it should be was another lesson of survival.

~ Some days I had to say, "no for now" so that I could better enjoy a more resounding "YES" in the future.

~ Even now, on my toughest days, I utilize my breath to regain focus and ground me so as not to rise into panic mode.

"Life is hard. Life is messy. Life is beautiful." says Lisa. Her book will encourage you to never give up hope...

What about you? Do you live with chronic pain or illness? Any words of encouragement you'd like to share? Feel free to leave Lisa some lovin' in the Comments below.

Thanks and be blessed...















ps. If you've enjoyed what you've read here today, might you want to SUBSCRIBE to my blog (and nothing else)?? After you enter your email address in the SUBSCRIBE box, be sure to check YOUR email (and spam filter) for a confirmation email to which you will need to respond. Thanks for reading...

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Mountaintop Reflections for Everyday Valley Living

Hey Friend,

It's been less than a week since we packed up our SUV and bid our mountaintop retreat a sad farewell. I so wished I could pack the intangibles and bring them home with us -- the deep cerulean hues of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, the whiffs of pine that tickled our noses along peaceful paths outlining placid mountain lakes, the crescendoing hum of the cicadas's symphonic prelude to the brilliant evening stars, the cozy warmth of the suede-soft blanket which held the night chill at bay.

Maybe it was the fact our mountain home sat perched way up high on the hill, but I felt closer to God somehow. I could focus on His Creation, His precepts, and take in the beauty surrounding me without the noisy din of the wayward world tugging annoyingly on my sleeve. 

I suppose that's why they deem what I encountered, a "mountaintop experience." We need those every so often in order to have hope in our everyday valley living. 

I invite you to glean peace, truth, hope, strength, or what your soul needs from the Scriptures I've attached to the photos I snapped. In this way, I've brought some of the intangibles of my mountaintop experience back home to share with you, and to refresh my soul when it feels weary...




"Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed," says the Lord who has compassion on you. (Isaiah 54:10)


The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

he leads me beside still waters,

he refreshes my soul. 

(Psalm 23:1-2)



On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them." (John 7:37-38)



Then the angel showed me the river of water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. (Revelation 22:1)



"Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don't work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?" (Luke 12:27-28)


Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
 (Proverbs 3:5-6)


It is God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless. He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights. (Psalm 18:32-33)



“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." (John 14:1-3)

Photo credit -- Casey Horner

Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
    Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
    and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
    not one of them is missing. (Isaiah 40:26)


Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for the moments in which you take us to the mountaintop and usher us into a closeness with you. Help me to cherish these things in my heart so my soul will always be assured of your great love for me. I praise you for the hope you have given me in the gift of my salvation. No matter what my earthly days may bring, I know my eternal home and reward is safe with you. Enable me to be a Spirit-fed spring of life flowing out to others who desperately need to know you. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

What about you? Has God given you any recent mountaintop experiences? If so, how do they sustain you in everyday life? What scriptural truth do YOU cling to that gives you hope in our world today? Will you share...













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Friday, July 15, 2022

When We Don't Like God's Answers (Book Excerpt Series Part 2)

Hey Friend,

Last week, I started posting excerpts from my book proposal entitled, How Long, Oh Lord? The chapter I've started with is When We Don't Like God's Answers (to our prayers). 

This week, I'm continuing with two more segments from this chapter -- 

~ Learning to Pray Deathless Prayers &
~ Focus on What You Do Know to be True

My prayer is that my personal experiences may help you or someone you know who is experiencing pain and suffering and doesn't like what God seems to be saying.


When We Don't Like God's Answers



Learning to Pray Deathless Prayers ~

  

As you may have guessed by now, Mother’s Day looms large on my calendar. Each year it approaches, I look for any and every excuse not to go to church on Sunday. I don’t want to stand to be recognized, nor do I want anyone handing me a carnation, smiling cheerfully, and wishing me, "Happy Mother's Day!” That may sound awful, but I know I'm not alone. Maybe you are nodding in agreement?!

 

 

For many, Mother's Day is a reminder of what isn’t — women who long to be mothers and can’t, due to infertility or miscarriage, mothers who have lost children, children who've lost mothers, children of addicted mothers, mothers (like me) estranged from their children — we all might take a pass on Mother’s Day.

 

 

I know deep in my soul that everything is possible with God. Here comes the "but."  But, since I've been praying this same prayer for years now, it often feels like it falls on deaf ears. My spirit groans with the petition for my prodigal child and my estranged child to return to the Lord and be reconciled with me. What happens, I wonder, to all those prayers I've prayed? Do they simply disappear over time? Why should I continue praying when nothing seems to be happening?  

 

 

Perhaps you are an imperfect mom like me. I know I’ve made many mistakes. I could have listened more and talked less. I should have been less a friend and more a mentor. I’ve literally pulled my comforter over my head and begged God to save my kids from me, and to please fill in the gaps I’ve left open with His grace. Oh, the book I could write on “things not to do!” Still, we tire of nursing our broken hearts. We are weary in our marrow.

 

 

I trust the Lord knows what He’s doing, but why did He choose me to be the mother of my two children? Judging by the current state of our relationships, I mustn’t have done a very good job, I surmise. I’ve dangled that “why” question, before God, on many occasions with no answer forthcoming. One day, recently, He granted me some insight.

 

 

It was mid-morning on a weekday when I ducked into my “prayer closet” which doubles as the “water closet.” Sound familiar?

“Bev, God impressed upon my heart,“my children, whom I gave you to raise, have not been easy, but I entrusted them to you because I knew you’d love them with your whole heart. I also knew that you would be persistent in praying for them. You bring them before me morning, noon, and night — day after day.” Who knew my bathroom would serve as my Mt. Sinai? Maybe, the measure of a mother’s love is not in how well relationships turn out, but in how long she’ll persevere when things don’t pan out so well?

 

 

When my children were young, like Mary, I treasured these things in my heart. My desire, more than anything, was that my kids would have an intimate relationship with their heavenly Father. I want that for them, even more than I want them to have a relationship with me. 

 

 

"The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary."  (Isaiah 40:28 NIV)

 

 

Hebrews 11 is a Who’s Who of Biblical Heroes who looked forward, with faith, to what God had promised them. Sadly, they did not receive all the promises while they were living, but they welcomed them, in faith, from a distance — some from beyond the grave.

 

 

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance…”(Hebrews 11:13 NIV)

 

 

Did you know that God’s amazing strength is able to pursue our loved ones long after our earthly lives are no more? Yes, hurting soul, it’s true. My prayers are being perpetuated. Your prayers are being perpetuated. Because of God’s faithfulness, the prayers we’ve placed before our Father's throne will still be there, waiting to be answered in His perfect will and His perfect way.

 

 

Do you remember Hannah in the Old Testament? She prayed repeatedly for a son, and when Samuel was finally born to her, she then prayed he would serve God all his life (1 Samuel 1:28). God answered that prayer, and Samuel became one of the greatest men of the Old Testament. Though Hannah had long since passed, God proved faithful in answering her prayer.

 

 

E.M. Bounds, a minister and chaplain during the Civil War had this to say about prayer:

 

"God shapes the world by prayer. Prayers are deathless. The lips that utter them may be closed in death, the heart that felt them may have ceased to beat, but the prayers live before God, and God's heart is set on them. Prayers outlive the lives of those that uttered them; outlive a generation, outlive an age, outlive a world." *1

 

 

Because God holds our prayers in His heart, He can even add years to them that exceed our lives on earth. His, is an everlasting love that never fails. I want so much to see my children come back to God, even if it takes longer than my lifetime. I have to continue living by faith.

 

 

As much as I treasure my children, God treasures them more. Their worth to God is incalculable, and so I bring them before His throne once again. You can bring all your pain before God who loves you. Let’s commit, together, to being annoyingly persistent. Because we are children of God, our prayers will definitely be answered!  Some may be answered during our lifetime on earth, but certainly during our lifetime in heaven.

 

 

This gives us hope when the thought of being separated from a loved one for all eternity is more than we can bear. What “deathless” prayers are you praying? Will you jot them in the margin and pause to offer them into God’s eternal hands. If/when those prayers come to mind again, write them in a journal and beside them write the words, “covered eternally.”

 


 

Focus on What You Do Know to Be True ~ 

 

 

In my conversations with my friend after her daughter’s passing, I longed to know how she persevered. I wanted to know why anger hadn’t triumphed. I could only imagine how I’d be coping. You’d most likely find me, curled in a fetal position, in the corner. My friend maintained an amazing maturity of trust, rather than succumbing to bitterness. Yes, she had many nightmarish moments, but grudges against God fell from her heart’s hands like hot potatoes. I wondered if I could handle such pain with the same measure of grace?? I listened, amazed, as my heartbroken friend, reminded me that “God is love…He can be counted on and trusted.” 

 

We all, like my friend, will go through stages of grief when suffering manifests in the loss of a loved one or when a painful trial (illness) persists.

 

Denial and anger refuse to consider it pure joy whenever we face trials of many kinds (James 1:2). Wouldn’t you do just about anything to avoid the discomfort of sitting with the loss that overwhelms you? I know I have. It’s normal to seek to distract yourself from the pain or perhaps numb the pain away. I’m not a drinker, but I’ve tried to drown my sorrows in sugar — ice cream is my carb of choice. I’ve also succumbed to online spending benders. Stuff can’t soothe our suffering.

 

We fall prey to blaming ourselves, or we point the finger of blame at someone else. Then false guilt snatches us up in its camouflaged snare because the enemy is looking to kick us when we’re down. He prowls about seeking to destroy us with lies, false guilt, and shame. “The Creep” (as I call him) wants to render us useless, ineffective, and morally defeated. Sadly, our trials are the primary way through which the enemy seeks to lock us in his crosshairs and shoot us down.

 

And yet, our trials are the greatest tool through which God brushes on layer upon layer of our character.

 

Oh, how we want to rush the trials toward a comfortable conclusion. But sometimes God calls us to sit, albeit uncomfortably, in our pain — and here’s why:

 

Between God’s “promise” and the “payoff,” there’s a “process.” Grief and suffering are a huge part of that “process.” We can’t hurry it along. We can only trust God has a greater purpose for it — and that purpose is for our good.

 

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NIV)

 

 

Lean in closely and let me whisper truth to you. When you don’t know why God allowed this horrendous grief, as my friend would say, “You realize what you don’t know or understand, so remind yourself of what you do know.” Bind what you know to be true about God to the anchor of your soul. God doesn’t expect us to remain clueless in our grief. He invites us to come to Him with our questions.

 

 “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5 NIV)

 

I made, and keep handy, an “Emergency Kit” of scriptures that remind me of who God is and who He says that I am. I’ve written down key verses which speak truth to me on colorful 3x5 index cards. I punched holes in the corners and joined them together with a carabiner. I even laminated the cards because it’s my emergency reference to Scripture that soothes my soul. Consider creating one for meditation and memorization. It’s simple to look up verses by topic on www.biblegateway.com or www.biblehub.com.

 

 

Remember, you my friend, can go to God with anything. Don’t avoid God for fear the anger will drive a wedge between you. Instead, lean into Him. Go to Him, no, flee to Him, and crawl up into your Abba-Daddy’s lap. Let Him comfort you and then just ask. Ask for wisdom. God may not provide an immediate answer, but He always provides Himself. He will bless you in the waiting and in the asking. You will receive grace and mercy in your troubles. Let this balm of Scripture wash over you:

 

 

“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”  (2 Corinthians 4:16-17 NIV)

 

 

I can hear your skeptical voice saying, “Now wait just a minute, Bev. You mean to tell me that I’m supposed to count something as tragic as losing my loved one as ‘light and momentary.’ I can’t do that!” The only way this can happen is to ask our souls to make a humanly impossible, seismic leap to view our trials through the lens of eternity. This leap will require the enabling strength of Jesus and will need to be broken into small steps over time.

 

Our trials — now try to grasp this with your mind if your heart can’t go there yet — our trials will add to the joy we experience when we see Jesus face to face. Worthy is the Lamb. Your trials, though heartbreaking here on earth, will be redeemed with sheer joy when your eyes lock with those of your Savior. Your tears will vanish like a bad dream when your heart awakens to the presence of Jesus. God will not let your suffering be in vain.

 

 

Remember the “Stages of Suffering” outlined in Chapter 3, Wrestling With God? Now might be a good time to go back and ascertain where you are in the progression. Don’t worry if you can’t look yet through God’s eternal lens — it will come.

 

 

The uncomfortable mercies of God (trials, pain, suffering) are meant to draw you into a relationship and dependence upon Him when you get to the end of yourself. Your relationship with God can, and will, be enough; it’s sustaining. Experiencing His love is the only thing that will allow you to embrace and carry your pain. Being one with God is the only reality that will get you through. God allows what He hates in order to draw the one He furiously loves (You) unto Himself!

 

 

It’s a tough question to ask, but in our grief, can we ask ourselves, what could God be achieving through this? Perhaps the purpose of suffering is to shift our focus to the sole reason God created us to be in a loving, intimate relationship with our Him. All other relationships are an extension of this most sacred relationship. For this reason, Jesus refers to Himself as the Bridegroom and us (the believing church) as His beloved Bride! When the groom and his bride are joined together, a forever bond is formed.

 

 

In my own life, I’ve gone through seasons in which all earthly relationships were wiped off the table (husband, father, children, friends) and I was left with the only relationship that I could truly rely and depend upon. Suffering was the catalyst that forever defined my relationship with God. Everything is part of God’s equation and His equation is always for our good and His glory.

 

 

In C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the children ask Mr. and Mrs. Beaver if Aslan (the king and god of Narnia, who represents Christ) is safe. Mr. Beaver responds, “’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.’” *2

 

 

“Having confidence in God’s goodness is one of the linchpins of faith. When it is absent, our trust falters, our faith melts away like an ice cream cone on a summer’s day, and hope flickers like the wick at the end of a candle.”*3 – Pam Ecrement, blogger

 

 

God allows things to happen for a reason. Whether or not we understand His reasons, we must 

remember that God is good, just, loving, and merciful. Suffering, certainly, will test our trust in this truth. All of life is a journey in replacing the world’s lies with God’s truth. Let’s start now. Try on this truth. Declare the Lord’s goodness and begin casting out those lies:

 

 

“Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing praise to his name for that is pleasant.” (Psalm 135:3 NIV)

 

 

Bad things are bound to happen to us that we simply cannot understand. Instead of doubting God’s goodness, our reaction (for our own sake) needs to be one of trusting. When we get to the dead-end of our own understanding, we are forced to yield, to trust in God, enabled by His mercy and grace. These verses invite us to trust in God and in His character. Claim them when the lies come calling:

 

 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”  (Proverbs 3:5–6 NKJ, emphasis mine)

 

“But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth.” (Psalm 86:15 NAS)

 

 

So, what do you know to be true about God’s character? Think about those qualities and perhaps offer a breath prayer, thanking Him for His lovingkindness toward you.


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