God Brings in Reinforcements

starsContinued from here.

One of Elijah’s concerns was that he was all alone in dealing with his problem. The truth is that none of us is alone. Not only do we have God, which is really all we need, but we also have one another – our brothers and sisters in Christ to stand shoulder to shoulder with us as we work together to accomplish the Lord’s tasks. God sent Elijah back the way he had come, not alone but with reinforcements, including a protégé and 7,000 people who had been faithful to God.

God placed heavily on my heart that I needed to ask my Christian sisters to pray for me. I sent out an email to my small group ladies (12 of them) asking for prayers and received several supportive emails and texts, reminding me that I was not alone. A few hours after this, God began the restoration process, and I credit these lovely women with providing me with the hope I needed to turn to God in my pain rather than run from Him. I needed to wait for hope, and I found that hope in the form of 12 wonderfully supportive Christian women who loved me enough to hold me in prayer and send me comforting words of encouragement when I was at the bottom of an emotional pit.

I used to be anti-“organized religion” because I had been hurt by church people. However, the Bible is very clear that we are collectively the Body of Christ and that we need one another. I might be the best eye in the world, but without legs and feet to carry me around, what I see isn’t going to change much. We need one another, and we can strengthen one another by holding out a torch of hope when others are struggling.

I began this blog series with a quote from George Matheson about waiting for hope. Last week, I learned that hope comes in the form of one another. Even though I have a close, deep, personal, and intimate relationship with my Creator, I still need my Body to help me connect with my Head, particularly when I am feeling weak and vulnerable. I used to wonder why collective prayer matters. I am beginning to appreciate how crucial intercessory prayer is to the Christian walk.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace cheering in victory while surrounded by multicolored stars. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

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Hope in Returning our Focus to God

mountainContinued from here .

God’s first response to Elijah’s misery was to nourish him physically and spiritually. This communicated God’s deep love for Elijah. God wasn’t only concerned with Elijah doing the jobs place before him – God was concerned about Elijah as a person He deeply loves.

After nourishing Elijah, God invited Elijah to unburden his heart. God’s response was to reveal himself to Elijah through a gentle whisper, inviting Elijah to join Him. In other words, Elijah needed to stop focusing on his problems and start focusing on God again.

This is the same pattern God used with me last week. First, I needed to be reassured that He still loves me, even though I had blown it in many ways. A part of me sought to run and hide from God, but He opened His outstretched and invited me to be comforted by His embrace. Only after this reassurance of His love and nourishment did He move me to the next phase of restoration, which was returning my focus to Him.

Think of the focus of a camera with a zoom lens. A panoramic focus shows the who landscape, including the trees in the valley and the mountains towering behind them. The cameraman can zoom the lens in so that one tree fills the entire frame, which removes the mountains from view. That’s how we are when we stay focused on our problems. They fill our entire focus, and we block God out of the frame. However, if we will simply zoom out by changing our perspective, we will see that while our problems (like the trees) are still big, our God (like the mountains) is much bigger.

This is what God did for Elijah. In his exhaustion, he temporarily lost sight of the enormity of His God. He detached from the spiritual reality that He is loved and protected by a mighty God and focused solely on the physical threat. God’s response was first to nourish him and then to invite him back to a more accurate perspective of the situation.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace standing in front of a mountain. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Hope Begins with Physical and Emotional Nourishment

hungryContinued from here.

When Elijah lost all hope and wanted to die, the angel responded by nourishing him:

[Elijah] prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, LORD,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’” ~ 1 Kings 19:4-5

And then the angel nourished him a second time:

The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said,’“Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’ So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he …” ~ 1 Kings 19:7-8

Notice that God’s response to Elijah’s predicament was not judgment. God did not say, “I just came through for you with the showdown with Baal. I can’t believe your faith didn’t last longer than this!” Instead, God met his physical needs by giving him food and drink and also providing him with the opportunity to rest. In other words, God knew that Elijah would be more receptive to emotional and spiritual healing after he was restored physically.

This was an issue for me last week as well. I was physically exhausted and emotionally spent, which made me susceptible to spiritual attack in areas where I have been walking in victory for years. Those old records of my not being good enough played repeatedly in my head, and I was perplexed by how I had walked in victory for so long when they now seemed to have so much power over me.

When I finally realized how far I had drifted from where I needed to be, I was ashamed and tempted to run and hide from God, but He wooed me tenderly back. He held His arms wide open and invited me to nuzzle my head against His chest and listen to the beating of His heart as He enveloped me in His arms. There was no judgment – only wave after wave of love and tenderness. God is deeply compassionate when we suffer, and He longs to nourish us so He can tenderly restore us.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking weak under the words, “Me Hungry.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Big Victories Do Not Ensure Confidence in Smaller Battles

helpContinued from here.

If you are unfamiliar with the story of the prophet Elijah’s spectacular victory against the Baal worshipers, immediately followed by depression so heavy that he wanted to die, I recommend clicking on the links and reading both stories before proceeding.

The first lesson to be gleaned is that we can be vulnerable to smaller spiritual attacks, even after big victories. I find it interesting that Elijah didn’t waver when he was the only prophet of the Lord in a showdown against 850 Baal and Asherah worshipers and yet was clearly shaken to the core over the threat of one woman. From the outside, it seems ludicrous to believe God can protect us from the big threats and yet not come through with protecting us from the smaller ones.

And yet, that’s what just happened to me this week! Now, my story isn’t nearly as dramatic as Elijah’s, but the general theme is the same. God has blessed me in amazing ways. I have recently rested in Him in several big areas of my life, even as others in the trenches with me have worried. I have been the one reassuring people that God is bigger than X and that He is going to come through. In other words, I have been the voice of hope for many people in different areas of my life. But then the enemy came after me with an old recording of things that used to rattle me, and it worked! I found my mind being pulled from one negative thought to the next, and I felt as hopeless as I did before God led me to victory in those areas. So, why was I right back in that hopeless place again?

A friend puts it this way: “I can valiantly fight off the shark attack, but I’m being nibbled to death by guppies!” Yes, that’s what I struggled with as well last week. Nothing I was dealing with was huge. Instead, I was overwhelmed that no matter where I looked in my life, I couldn’t keep up. Although I trusted God to be bigger than a shark, He seemed smaller than the sheer volume of guppies, which temporarily caused me to lose hope. I needed to wait for hope to tap into the strength to fight back.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace sinking in quicksand under the word, “Help!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Waiting for Hope

A friend gave me Sarah Young’s Jesus Today: Experience Hope Through His Presence (Jesus Calling) for Christmas. This is one of the Jesus Calling books, which Young wrote while battling a long-term illness. Interwoven into the daily devotionals are quotes about holding onto hope while suffering. This one deeply resonated with me:

Waiting with hope is very difficult, but true patience is expressed when we must even wait for hope. I will have reached the point of greatest strength once I have learned to wait for hope.” ~ George Matheson

Not surprisingly, I was immediately tested on this principle and learned that I definitely have much opportunity for improvement in this area. That being said, this quote did come to mind, so I did think to pray for God to give me hope. I had to wait on receiving that hope and did not do it gracefully. However, once the hope came (after asking the ladies in my small group to pray for me), God restored me to a place of peace within hours. So, I wasn’t in a place of waiting for hope too long (a couple of days), but I sure felt every minute of it!

As I sit and write from a place of renewed hope and peace, I am disappointed in myself for “going down the emotional hell well” again. And yet I am also cognizant of how “below the belt” the spiritual attack was that led me to a place of feeling hopeless. It’s humbling to know that even after many years of walking closely with God, I’m still vulnerable, but I’m in good company. After all, Elijah went down the “emotional hell well” immediately after God led him to a huge victory. I’d like to take a look at this story from the perspective of having to wait for hope and talk about how we can apply what we learn to our day-to-day lives.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of Jesus Today: Experience Hope Through His Presence (Jesus Calling) Courtesy Amazon.]

 

Third Purpose of Pain per C.S. Lewis

i_give_upContinued from here.

The final primary purpose of pain identified by C.S. Lewis in his book, The Problem of Pain, is harder to explain, but grasping this truth can transform you powerfully. Here’s how Lewis explains it:

We cannot therefore know that we are acting at all, or primarily, for God’s sake, unless the material of the action is contrary to our inclinations, or (in other words) painful, and what we cannot know that we are choosing, we cannot choose. The full acting out of the self’s surrender to God therefore demands pain; this action, to be perfect, must be done from the pure will to obey, in the absence, or in the teeth, of inclination.”

Let me explain this concept in another way. Jesus said that to be his disciple, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. If it feels good to follow Jesus, then we might simply be following him because it feels good. If God blesses everything we do as we follow Jesus, how does He know whether we are following Jesus because we love him versus love the blessings? When God strips away all incentive to follow Jesus – when following him results in nothing but pain – will you continue to keep following him? Or will you walk away?

Lewis says that self-surrender is achieved …

when the creature, with no desire to aid it, stripped naked to the bare willing of obedience, embraces what is contrary to its nature, and does that for which only one motive is possible.”

And that is what Jesus did, only his standard was even higher than ours. God has promised that no matter how much pain He allows into our lives, He will never leave or forsake us. However, that was not the case with Jesus:

Martyrdom always remains the supreme enacting and perfection of Christianity … initiated for us … by Christ on Calvary. There the degree of accepted Death reaches the utmost bounds of the imaginable and perhaps goes beyond them; not only all natural supports, but the presence of the very Father to whom the sacrifice was made deserts the victim, and surrender to God does not falter though God ‘forsakes’ it.”

In other words, God has promised never to leave or forsake us, so we can lean into Him as we suffer while He perfects our faith. However, Jesus stayed true to God in his self-sacrifice despite the fact that God DID “forsake” him as He separated from Christ as he carried our sins and conquered death. Jesus, who made the supreme sacrifice of self-will, is now elevated above everyone and everything, having provided us with the ultimate example. That gives me chills!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace lying down and holding a sign that says, “I give up.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Pain’s Role in Shattering the Illusion of Self-Sufficiency

break_guitarContinued from here.

I hope and pray that nobody reading this blog entry will be as stubborn as I was in letting go of the illusion of self-sufficiency. I fought God with all that I had to my own detriment, and the process was exceedingly painful, both physically and emotionally. I repeatedly threw myself against His brick wall, but He never budged. I cannot put into words how painful the process of being sifted as wheat was, but I came out on the other side with a deep fear of the Lord. I will now do whatever God tells me to do because I’m too fearful not to – not that I am “afraid” of God – I simply fear disobeying Him. I trust Him completely and know that as long as I fear Him (trust & obey Him), I need never fear anything else. He holds me in the palm of His hand.

The truth is that God created us to be dependent upon Him. Each of us has a deep yearning to fill up with Him, but most of us seek to fill that place with anything other than God. For me, some of those idols were food, friendships, and television. For others, it might be sex (pornography), drugs, alcohol, compulsive busyness, and the like. Anything we overdo is really us trying to fill the space inside that only God can fill.

Lewis said,

The creature’s illusion of self-sufficiency must, for the creature’s sake, be shattered.”

For someone like me with lots of deep emotional pain, there was plenty to work with internally to break this illusion. For people who have been blessed to grow up in safe, loving environments, God might need to allow external forms of pain, such as misfortunes, into their lives, which often leads folks to ask why God would allow such terrible things to happen in the lives of good people. One way or another, God must lead each of us to realize that only He can satisfy us, and we learn that through experiencing pain.

I share Lewis’ sentiments in revealing these realities to you:

I am only trying to show that the old Christian doctrine of being made perfect through suffering is not incredible. To prove it palatable is beyond my design.”

When I find myself in a season of suffering, I try to remember that the question I need to ask is not whether a relationship with God is too difficult. The real question is whether it’s worth it … and it is.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace breaking a guitar. Courtesy Bitmoji.]