Sometimes one must preach a sermon to his or herself. This is my day to do so.
Rather than preaching a new sermon, I think I will resurrect an old one that I wrote and added to about 9 (and 4) years ago. I hope this encourages you like it has encouraged me to proof-read.
Be blessed in all circumstances!
Mother’s Day 2015
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10)
I have learned not to decide if something is a good or bad thing, based on my reaction to it, but based on what I know of the character of God, then look for the good in the midst of it, because it’s obviously good, since my God Who rules the Universe purposed it for my good. This is where we find understanding: As we come to know Who God is and what He is all about (namely magnifying His glory throughout the world and richly blessing His precious children).
We know from reading the Word, and walking with God, Who He is, not fully, but enough to sustain us and keep us looking up, hoping to gain a fuller, clearer vision of just Who this magnificent God is, that we adore.
I find that many Christians are missing out on intimately knowing God. Often, it is because they are too preoccupied with the external, and not enough with the internal. It seems like many, many Christians neglect reading their Bibles, or else they read with wrong motives. Is it perhaps because we have failed to recognize that God shows us Who He is between it’s pages. Many believers feel as though they are failures of Christians if they have not had an hour’s worth of quiet time every morning. Why not read the Bible because you find sparkles of Jesus within it’s pages and it delights your soul? We read the Bible because it’s the “Christian thing to do”, not because it’s fantastic! Consider this: you have brothers and sisters in countries where Bibles are illegal, who would give up their right arm (or left, if they are a leftie), simply to have a copy of that book sitting on your desk or nightstand. Why? Because it’s that precious! God’s word isn’t dry, as some suppose. God’s word is alive, active and sharp. If it has not become alive to you yet, ask God for that grace. If you are feeling in the wilderness, read a Psalm and find that it breathes much needed refreshment into that dry, desperate soul of yours. Even if God’s word seems disinteresting for the moment, do not give up pursuing Him through it. His word is unfailing.
Many of us are too preoccupied with service. I do not mean to say that service is a bad thing, it’s simply that service has often crowded out those moments when we ought to be simply adoring. And why are we serving? Who are we serving? If we are serving those whom our eyes behold, we serve amiss, for truest service is service to the King. We love our neighbor as an overflow of our love for God… it is not alongside it so much as it is the natural consequence, just as we love BECAUSE He first loved us. Likewise, we love (and serve others) simply as a result of our love for Him.
Spirituality ought to flow naturally. It ought to be just as normal to us as breathing, and not because we have jumped through the right hoops, but rather because we have walked with God and found Him most lovely. “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3).
All that to be said that I hope that, as you pursue the Most High, that His Word and His Character becomes your meditation, that why trials befall you, you may cry out with conviction and confidence that your God is a mighty Rock and a Fortress, and that He is always near… and that He is not loving you despite yourself or your circumstances, but right there in the midst of them. A wise, suffering sister recently told me “People ask ‘How could a loving God allow this to happen?’, and to that I respond that God is loving me THROUGH these circumstances”. We must learn to forsake our own understandings and acknowledge Him, in all things, that He may straighten our path, for us. Peace be to you all!
“If the Lord had not been my help, My soul would soon have dwelt in the abode of silence. If I should say, ‘My foot has slipped,’ Your lovingkindness, O Lord, will hold me up. When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul.”
February 24th, 2011 A.D.
We are creatures who love comfort. I am convinced that our biggest issue with suffering is our perspective of it. God has graciously dragged me through a lot of crazy life circumstances over the decade or so, that I would learn these life-altering lessons that I now get to share with you. And I freely confess that I wouldn’t give up any of the challenges that I’ve gone through, because it would mean losing the lessons that I’ve learned and the closeness that I’ve felt with God as He carried me through them.
The Beatitudes (Matthew 5) never say “Blessed are those who get what they want”. Rather they say things like “Blessed are the poor in spirit, Blessed are those who mourn… Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
In America, and perhaps across the globe, we have this very sinful mindset that God owes us something. We demand that He gives us what we want. We even have heresy running rampant, that if we just pray with enough faith, that we are obligating God to grant us our wishes. If you look at little kids who always get what they want, they’re terrible. We are like spoiled, little brats demanding that our Father cater to our whims. But what we don’t bear in mind is that we are blessed when we submit to God’s will, not our own. We are blessed when we suffer for His name’s sake. We are blessed when we are dependant on God and not ourselves.
I often hear others say things like “Never pray for patience” (or humility, or righteousness….). I am so disappointed when I hear that, although I understand where they are coming from, because it expresses that the speaker is valuing their own comforts over an opportunity to learn holiness (and I see my own reflection far too clearly in their’s). Often folks will then turn around and praying for things like a new car or a more comfortable income. It would make me so burdened and hurt if my kids only asked me for money, and never asked for relational things like a hug or an explaination. How grieving it must be to God to have kids that just want Him for His boundless supply of stuff, and not to be their soul-sufficiency and love. Derek Webb wrote a song called “Wedding Dress” and in it, he sings “I am so easily satisfied… that I would take a little cash over your very flesh and blood”. We ought to be praying for God to bless us with eternal things, rather than physical (and so often, those greater things of the soul and eternity can ONLY be learned through suffering).
Life-change works from the inside out. Romans 12:2 says “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” In order to change our behavior, there has to first be a work of transformation in our hearts and minds. Repentance is defined, by my concordance, as a change of mind. My purpose in writing this is to change our minds, that we may understand the will of the Lord and that our works may reflect our new found understanding- unto the glory of God.
One of the great challenges of our christian walk is to see things (especially things that sacrifice our fleshly comforts) in view of God’s word. Suffering is one of the great examples of this. We tend to view suffering as the result of a sinful world, which it is, and yet when we really dig deep into God’s word, we see that it is also God’s means of refining us.
There are 2 reasons why we suffer… because of righteousness and because of sin. An example of suffering for righteousness sake can be found in James 1:2-4 where it says “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have it’s perfect result so that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing.” We also see this stated in 1 Peter 5:10, which states, “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.”
In Hebrews 12:7-11, we see the example of suffering due to our own sin. The passage reads “It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” Did you notice, as we highlighted those three passages that the end result was always the same? Enduring through and learning from suffering make us perfect and complete… holy and righteous.
God’s purposes are higher than our understandings. We tend to see things so temperally and superficially. We think that our discomfort is a legitimate excuse to complain, or that God is being unjust (or at least unmerciful). First, we have to except the fact that we are worthless creatures apart from the value that Christ places on us (even in choosing us to be His image bearers), to those of us that believe, we have been bought with a price… His blood… that gives Him the right to determine our lives and circumstances. We owe Him everything anyways. If He should so will that He be glorified through our suffering, then glory to God! He causes all things to work together for the good of His kids anyways, right? It is amazing when we step back and realize that even our suffering is God’s grace, since He is working it together to make us more holy. Holiness is far more valuable and eternal than pleasant circumstances.
And for those that do not yet trust Him, this world is full of suffering anyways. Won’t you join the ranks of those for whom it is purposeful!
So, how ought we then respond to sufferings? 1 Thessalonians is pretty clear that we ought to always be rejoicing and thanking God. Chapter 5, verses 16-18 say, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”. This is also reflected in Philippians 4:4, where we are taught to “rejoice in the Lord always” and again in vs. 6, to make our requests known to God, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving. God not only wants us to pray, He wants our prayer-life to be overflowing with thanksgiving. Ought we be spending our time with the God who gave us everything (even His own life) telling Him what more we want? No way! We ought to be spending our time telling Him how thankful we are for all He’s given us. One of the things He’s given us is a promise to cause even our suffering to be a good thing for us (Romans 8:28). Which is plenty of reason to say “Thanks” when we encounter various hardships. We are blessed, folks! If you know Jesus, that is because of His grace and compassion towards you. If you can’t find anything else to thank Him for, start there. The more we practice thanksgiving, the more natural it becomes to us. It is my experience that thanksgiving leads to contentment, which leads to joy!!! And who doesn’t want to discover joy?
Many have asked “How could a loving God allow all this suffering?” This is foolish speculation. I cannot imagine a more God-glorifying example than to see a Christ-follower have joy in the greatest of sorrows. Nor can I imagine a more satisfying and encouraging feeling than to be that believer that surprisingly has joy. This life is not about our comfort, it’s about God’s glory! I have often been treading through deep waters and felt, so richly, the everlasting Presence of God. This I far prefer to the alternative of feeling distanced from God while having easy life circumstances. I find that it is not earthly difficulties that tend to make me frantic, it’s spiritual dryness that I can hardly bear.
I know that I risk being insensitive in writing this. I know all too well how difficult it can be to apply these lessons, when the furnace of affliction lasts for years, but I also know full well that these exhortations can be life-preserving in the midst of that furnace.
During the most excruciating time of my christian walk, one particular passage brought me such extreme comfort that I must share it. It was Psalm 66:8-12, which says “Bless our God, O peoples, And sound His praise His praise abroad, Who keeps us in life And does not allow our feet to slip. For You have tried us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid an oppressive burden upon our loins. You made men ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water, Yet You brought us out into a place of abundance.” If you look closely at this passage, it is God Who brings the sufferer through his suffering and it is through the path of suffering that we are led to the place of abundance. Isaiah 43:2 also reveals that God is with us during our suffering, and both passages speak to the fact that He keeps us in the midst of it all.
Without acknowledging God’s Sovereign reign over our entire lives, we cannot truly experience this joy. We must begin by acknowledging that there is nothing on earth that is outside of God’s control, then move on to acknowledge that any amount of suffering in our lives is part of His sovereign will and was established in order that He would be glorified and we would be more holy. Yet, if we do not understand that God is also infinitely good, none of this will make any sense and will have the opposite effect that it should.
If you look at the sufferings of Job, it was God who originally drew satan’s attention to Job, then it was God who continuously established what the devil could and could not do to Job. God knew that whatever freedom He gave to satan, he would use it, so we can clearly say that God directed exactly what would happen to Job, knowing that the end result would be grand. And it was. God was so glorified in Job’s suffering and Job’s relationship with God was so much richer and more full of reverence for Him, as a result of all his suffering than we could fathom at the beginning of his story.
Romans 8:16-18 says “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” This passage clearly states that in order to partake of God’s glory, we must suffer with Him. This expresses that suffering is part of a process that leads us to heaven.
Now, do I ever think that there is a time to be sorrowful? Yes. In fact, I don’t necessarily think that joy and sorrow are antonyms. I think we ought to weep with those who weep and that our sin ought to make us sorrowful. 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 says “I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.”
I also believe that God is compassionate and understanding, and expects that often we will have to wrestle through these trials to come to a place of joy and thanksgiving. When He tells us in 1 Peter 5:7 to cast all our cares on Him, it’s because He understands that we will have to work through these things, so He tells us how. He gives us similar instruction in Philippians 4:4-8.
The other day, I had a spectacular moment. I had been ignoring God for a couple of weeks or so. I knew that I needed to be digging into God’s word, but I just had all these excuses and distractions. It was really just pathetic, but that’s what I was doing… avoiding the God who knows every speck of this whole earth and intimately knows my heart. Finally, God stopped me. The truck that I was borrowing from a friend started running weird. I knew I needed to check the oil, which meant pulling over on the side of the road and waiting for 19 min. for the engine to cool a little. Thankfully, my kids were all at home with daddy, because it was the perfect opportunity to read the word. I had no excuses, no other books to replace my precious Bible… it was just me and Jesus and I knew it. I was stuck. So, I flipped to James. “But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” Now, I know that God doesn’t call me a sinner, but I sure was sinning and I know that I am not a double-minded lady, but I sure was acting like it. I am a holy woman who was thinking only about the world… and I was caught (Praise the Lord!). I am so thankful that God doesn’t let me continue in sin for very long before He intervenes and makes me sorrowful. I had a “woe is me, I am undone” moment in the car as I poured out my guts and confessed sin to my Heavenly Father who loves me. And afterwards, I was able to worship Him for His mighty hand that reached deep into my hardening heart and granted me repentance. I rejoiced that, although it was sin for me to ignore God, even that was used by our wonderful Redeemer, who made the whole thing beautiful by giving me the freedom that comes through repentance.
Isn’t it fantastic how even in our sorrow over sin, there is still rejoicing to be found? God is so supremely loving that He has made it so even the driest of deserts are full of refreshment. Only our God is mighty enough to do something like that.
As a younger Christian, I struggled through 7 and a half years of self condemnation, which brought about immense depression. It was sin, therefore it produced much suffering. It even almost cost me my marriage. And after 7 and 1/2 years, the Lord granted me repentance, by having me read the book of Galatians over and over and over and over again, until I got it. Up until that point, I didn’t really know what God’s conviction was like because before I would never leave room for conviction. Instead, I would preoccupy myself by throwing a temper tantrum that I had expressed imperfection. Now, I rejoice that I went through those 7+ years of torture, because I now understand grace, fearing Christ and brokenness, so much more richly than I ever would’ve had I not gone through all of that anguish. Now, when I find myself truly broken (and reproved by God) over my sin, I weep with gratitude. I thank God that He produces “repentance without regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10). In fact, when God disciplines me, I love it, but I don’t think I would appreciate it nearly as much if I hadn’t suffered (because of my own sin even) for 7 and a half years. The point is that our suffering has incredibly, long term results if we are in Christ.
I firmly believe that our perspective is more significant than our circumstances. And that in all the circumstances that we could endure on this earth, there is both rejoicing or frustration that we could experience. What I mean by that is best expressed by Scripture…
Nehemiah 9:15 and 21 (this one is especially convicting) states, “You provided bread from heaven for them for their hunger, You brought forth water from a rock for them for their thirst, And You told them to enter in order to possess The land which You swore to give them… Indeed forty years You provided for them in the wilderness and they were not in want; Their clothes did not wear out, nor did their feet swell.” Every time I read this, I am reminded of how much I act and think like an Israelite, and how much better life would be if we all focused on how blessed we are. Here they were, God was totally supplying all of their needs, to the point that they were eating bread from heaven, of all places, and their clothing lasted them 40 years (anyone with little boys knows that this is a miracle). But they were frustrated because even though their food was heavenly and they were in great shape from all that walking, they were sick of it. They got bored and started complaining and turning their adoration to other things that they hoped would give them what they wanted, rather than what was best for them. They were being tested, just like we are when we go through situations that challenge us. And we can chose to look at God’s impeccable provision and have joy, or we can look at what the world tells us is good and find ourselves frustrated.
I have often discovered that even when I don’t feel like thanking God, the thing I most need to do in that moment is to thank Him. Hebrews calls praise a sacrifice (13:15). I find that the more I practice giving thanks, the more natural it becomes. Sometimes the most influential-to-my-attitude prayer that I make is the one when I thank God for the very thing that is causing me grief. The other night I got to say the dinner-prayer. I knew I needed a heart-check, so I asked if I could be the one to pray out loud. During my prayer, I found my heart being changed. It was a simple prayer of thanksgiving, but I found myself genuinely thanking God for the things that were causing me grief moments before, namely mosquitoes and a broken dining room table (silly things to grumble about, I suppose). I realized that my table being broken would help me appreciate it all the more when it’s fixed or we have a new one and that although the mosquitoes were more abundant than ever before, that I didn’t think Smiles or I had one bite and my kids haven’t complained or scratched once, that I’ve seen. My very source of frustration was a display of God’s might.
God sees things differently than we do. As I was going through some very fiery ordeals recently (and I mean VERY and scary), God gently reminded me that He only blesses His kids, He never curses us. So rather than judging my circumstances on whether or not I deem them good or bad, simply take it as a blessing. I know that the same circumstance can be seen as either good or bad. It is often my perspective that determines whether or not I’m suffering, rather than what is actually happening.
Recently, my husband was unable to work for most of a month because of health issues. We were unable to pay our own rent for the first time ever, so a friend who knows us well, called about 2/3 of the way through the month and said that he would pay our rent if we were unable. He ended up gifting us over $600. At first, I was complaining to God and beginning to call Him unfaithful, when He sharply rebuked me by reminding me that He had provided our needs in a very miraculous way, by having someone else observe, on their own, that we had a need and then step in to meet it. How beautiful was God’s provision, yet my perspective caused me to suffer, until the Holy Spirit corrected me for my wrong perspective. God is faithful, even when we are not.
I have spent the last many months meditating on Psalm 37:4, which says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart”. I thought for a long time that if we were delighting in Christ, then our desires would be for righteousness. It didn’t occur to me until recently that if we are delighting in God, then our desire won’t merely be for righteousness, but rather for Christ, who is our righteousness. If we are delighting in God, then He will be our desire. And if He fulfills that desire, then the result is that we become more righteous. When Christ increases, righteousness increases.
Another thought spurned from this one and that is that if I am desiring Christ, then I will not only be content in my sufferings, but even find great joy, since I know that suffering is a means of learning godliness and growing closer to our Lord. If we desire holiness and Jesus, above earthly comfort, we will find joy flowing forth amidst our pain, and we will even learn to embrace that pain.
The Lord is teaching me to apply these things right now as my health is declining. For many months now, I have had an almost constant headache. The pain I can tolerate. What bothers me the most is that my body is spending so much energy combating pain, that I don’t have any where near the stamina that I used to. I am almost constantly exhausted. It’s been an uphill battle, not to be depressed about these things and not to feel like an insufficient wife and mother (of 3 young children) and keeper at home. Thank God for an encouraging husband! God is growing me in this though, and teaching me to see this as an opportunity to worship and learn. I also have a couple of other health things going on… a quirky finger-thing, where I frequently lose circulation in my pinky, and this morning I woke up with severe pain in my jaw. What God keeps reminding me of, are people that I know that are suffering in similar ways (only some have much more severe cases of the same ailments). I have a friend who has spent the last many years with multiple migraines every week (talk about difficulty). Through this, I am learning more compassion, as she is almost incapable of serving her family and it is almost entirely up to her husband to serve… how hard. I have another friend who has major health issues that prevent her from leaving the house very often, and when she does it’s often to the local hospital. Another friend has Raynod’s phenomenon, which is possibly the weird finger-thing that I’ve got. And I know someone else who grinds their teeth at night and wakes up with a sore jaw every morning. It almost goes without saying that I’ve spent a lot more time praying for these specific people, and quite possibly praying in general, as a result of all these health problems.
You know, when I first began having these headaches, I was constantly complaining. After a month or so, as I was complaining, I would hear the still, small voice of God reminding me to give thanks, which I would grudgingly do… it was all lip-service at that point. Then, after months, I found praising God becoming much more natural, until now, when I find myself being exceedingly thankful for this trial. I recently wrote a journal entry that went like this…
“April 11th, 2006. I am very amazed and in awe of God’s mighty work in my heart right now. I am finding myself not only being content with my sufferings, but even have great rejoicing in them. I almost don’t want these headaches to depart (at least not right now), because what God is doing as a result of them is so much greater than the burden I carry with them.
Someone asked me (a few days ago) about how my life is going. Now there are some circumstantially wonderful things in my life right now, such as Hans and the truck and that God finally granted me repentance from worrying about money. And there are some circumstantially difficult things, such as having an almost constant, sometimes intense headache for the last 5 months. Do you know what my initial response to their inquiry was? it was “wonderful, God is really teaching me to rejoice in suffering right now, and just what a blessing it is to suffer”. How funny, huh? Here I’ve got all these amazing “things” going on, but the most exciting by far is the spiritual blessing, rather than the earthly. Oh, how that made my spirit soar to see that God has brought me and is bringing me to this place. Last night at Bible study, we were talking about Paul (Philippians 1) saying that “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”. We were all pondering this, when I had a revelation. When I was first getting these headaches, I was concerned that it might be a brain tumor and in my thinking on this, I became a little attached to the idea of having brain cancer and going to heaven in only a few years. I thought, “Hey, if Smiles is such an excellent husband, I can’t wait to find out what Christ is like!” I kind of wanted it to be a tumor, but I also knew that I had kids to raise and a husband to support. I think Paul lived his life in anticipation of being executed. Every place he went, He was likely to be taken out and he was probably kind of psyched up for it, so when he didn’t die, it might’ve been a little let-down, and he had to find joy in persevering on earth, knowing that he still had work down here.
It brings tears to my eyes when I realize that the Lord has approved me and is giving me this understanding of what it is like to truly treasure Him and desire Him more than anything else on earth. Jesus, I can’t thank You enough. This is one of the greatest gifts You’ve given me, a strong desire for You and a joy that supersedes any earthly understanding.
I am crying as I write this because I am so overwhelmed with thanksgiving! My life is not my own, but I am so thankful that it is such a good life that I get to experience. Christ alone can make all things wonderful! Christ alone can make what the world considers sorrowful, truly beloved. And Christ alone could be my Treasure!
~space welch, beloved daughter of God Most High”
As you read these things about my life, don’t come to any faulty conclusions that I’ve arrived. I can complain with the best of ’em. I am just blessed because I have this saved in my journal, so when I am having an especially difficult time giving thanks, I can sit down here and read through all of the things that I’ve learned in the last while and be encouraged. As Paul said “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” This whole contentment and continual rejoicing thing is a learning process and it is brought forth in God’s strength, by the renewing of our minds (“be transformed by the renewing of your mind”- Romans 12:2).