My dear sister,
I’m home with my family after a lovely vacation in Virginia and at a beautiful South Carolina beach with my oldest son and his precious family. God gave us our fourth grandchild three months ago and I finally met little (big) Sammy. I’m a baby lover and it was hard to put him down. No other major events are going on in my life to make things look dark or hopeless or depressing. How thankful I am for these “easy” times in my life. To be sure, everything isn’t all rosy. My frail mama lives with us and each new day comes with various challenges, but this is a privilege, not a trial in my book. However, I am aware that you might be in need of encouragement at this very moment. I ask God to give me words of comfort and hope and am reminded of II Corinthians 1:4 where Paul tells us that God comforts us in our afflictions so that we, in turn, are able to comfort others with the same comfort that we have received from God.
In the past I’ve shared with you some of God’s dealings with me in submission. This lesson has had to be taught many times in my life and God continues to train me in His school of sanctifying trials, molding my will to His sovereign desires for me.
This leads me to reflect upon a dark time in my life when my heart was heavy, when my desires and petitions–even beggings, seemed to hit that well-known stone wall. Don’t we all know that feeling? We cry with David, “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily?” And the answer does not come.
Many of us know about infertility, miscarriages, and even sadder things. My sorrow was infertility, doctor visits too numerous to mention, hormone treatments…yielding nothing except four babies we never had the chance to meet. People tried to be helpful. Some were unintentionally cruel with thoughtless words. One year…Two years…Three years…..Six years…
All around me were women getting pregnant, wanting to be, not wanting to be. Joyful women. Complaining, grumbling women. Angry women.
“Why me? Why me?”, cried the faithless, ungrateful, thinking of myself more highly than I ought to think part of me. Like Rachel to Jacob, her husband, I felt like crying out to God, ‘Give me children or I die.’ I remember my dear husband gently taking me by the shoulders, looking me confidently and empathetically in my eyes and reminding me of God’s Sovereignty and His always goodness whether we had babies or not. God is in charge of the womb, he said. And God is good.
My sister, we all do know God is sovereign over all the events of our lives–not simply our joys, but over our losses, our sorrows, our pain, our desires, our suffering. In fact, James tells us to “count it all joy” when (not if) these trials enter our lives, for there is purpose in it, purpose for our good and for God’s glory…”knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect (spiritually mature) and complete, lacking nothing.”
These principles came alive during this stage in my life. II Corinthians 10:5 leapt off the pages of my Bible and into my faulty and anguished thinking. “Casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” My mind had been running to and fro with yearnings and envy and grumbling and disappointment. God brought me to my senses rather abruptly with His convicting Word. My mind, my thoughts needed to be harnessed, made captive, to true thoughts concerning God’s character, His love, His principles. He wanted my will to be brought under the authority of His will in all matters in that ‘glad surrender’ Elizabeth Elliot wrote about.
It was clear–again. Why am I so slow to learn, to remember His faithfulness, His trustworthiness? Desire His desires above all else. It was not about me at all in the grand scheme. Whether He gave me a baby or not no longer mattered as much, reminiscent of my struggles with this very principle before marriage. My thoughts became focused on Christ and His desires for me to trust that He does all things well, no matter what that may be, whether or not I understand or like it.
And so I prayed, once again, from the depths of my soul, nothing held back, “Oh God, may I desire you above all else. May I desire your glory to shine forth in my life with or without babies.” And, with an emotional shudder, I added, as sincerely as I could muster, “Please, my God, do not ever give me a child unless he would grow up to love you supremely.”
God indeed gives us perfect peace when our minds are stayed on Him, when we desire His will above our own. David tells us to “Trust in the Lord, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” Many use this as a proof-text for their theology of “God will give me want I want.” No, the Psalmist is telling us that if we truly delight ourselves in the Lord, He will plant His desires in our hearts. We will want what He wants. Gone is the frustration and bargaining and dissatisfaction. God’s will becomes more attractive to the soul than our own earthly demands with their imperfect motives.
God’s difficult mercy led to His gentle mercy. Jonathan Daniel, 31, walks with Christ and loves Him sincerely, telling and living the gospel before his own sons and daughter and a watching world.
Gladly surrendering, again,
To my mind and apparently the minds of many others, these are dark days for our country—politically, economically, and spiritually. It seems our way of life as well as our freedoms are threatened more and more every day. I find myself tempted to wring my hands and pull my hair, muttering, “What to do? What to do?” Don’t you?
Well, STOP (and please remind me if you see me succumb)!
First, this is not our forever home. Think about that—breathe it in. Our eternal existence is not dependent on our saving this world, this country, or this government. Remember our church fathers? Even Jesus’ very disciples existed in a world full of slavery, religious oppression, political oppression, and nonexistent or bad plumbing! They were a mess. Yet, in the midst of that mess, in fact in prison himself, Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)
Second, it is not our job to save the world! Jesus has already accomplished salvation for those whom the Father has given to Him(John 17), all we are charged with doing is sharing it, discipling those who receive Him and endeavoring to travel the path of righteousness (cross-carrying/dying to sins… NOT comfortable, but filled with His peace, His joy), for His name’s sake. (Psalm 23:3b)
Finally, remember those Israelites—the ones who were slaves in Egypt for forever, rescued by God, then living in tents in the desert for 40 years before finally managing to move into their new home (that makes my two month wait for a house in a hotel room with seven people look like an awesome vacation). That poor group of people finally got their dream home only to lose it later because they stopped following God’s heart and ended up in exile/slavery again. Well, I found it interesting that in the midst of their troubles, they finally got permission (permission from the pagan king who held them captive) that they could rebuild the house of the Lord. “And they sang, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, saying, ‘For He is good, for His lovingkindness is upon Israel forever.’ And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.” (Ezra 3:11) They were not comfortable, they were not free, they were not sure of anything really (and even the temple rebuild had setbacks); regardless of their worldly difficulties, they shouted, “God is Good! His lovingkindness is upon us forever!” Today, right here in the mess we are in, He is still faithful, good, and full of lovingkindness for us. Rejoice, dear sister, rejoice in the Lord!
Running with you,
I had to take a deep breath before typing this because I really don’t like admitting struggles: Sometimes singleness is really, really hard.
Maybe, sister, your life is really hard right now too. You’re lonely, you’re longing for a baby, someone close just died, you’re desperately praying for someone’s salvation, perhaps all your kids came down with a stomach flu at the same time and you’re just not quite sure how you’re going to survive the next few hours, much less a whole day.
These are the times that haunt us—these breathless, painful, deep, dark times where you can actually feel physical weight bringing you down. Sometimes they’re brief and you can see light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes you are pretty sure this is the cross God is asking you to bear for the rest of your time on earth.
First, have courage, dear heart! God tells us not to fear. But He doesn’t tell us to be strong. In fact, He says His strength is made perfect in our weakness. Paul wrote, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). What we do with our weakness shows Who we’re made of.
But in our weakened state we may be prone to turning our eyes from the One who provides strength. When we search for it in ourselves we start to question and want the things God has not provided. As John Calvin said, our hearts are idol factories. Always wanting to fill God’s place with other things.
This is, of course, literally the oldest sin known to man. God gave Adam and Eve paradise, fulfilled their every need, and yet told them not to eat of one tree. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:6)
It is worth making the distinction that it is not sinful to desire things God has called good. The Lord said it was not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18), and that children are a blessing from Him (Psalm 127:3), for example. It is godly to desire them. It is, however, sinful to be discontent when our holy desires are not met; when we’re coveting what others have. Let us learn from Paul, who wrote from a Roman prison “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:12-13)
When the Israelites begged Moses for things he looked at them in disbelief. He and Aaron reminded them over and over again what God had done for them—He protected them from plagues, brought them out of slavery, brought them across the Red Sea. And throughout the Old Testament this is a recurring theme—paragraphs listing what God had done for Israel, over and over, and yet they said it was not enough.
In 2 Samuel the prophet Nathan goes to rebuke David after he has slept with Bathsheba and had Uriah killed. “Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.”’” (2 Samuel 12:7-8, emphasis mine)
In similar fashion, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) God has created us. He sustains us. He provides the air in our lungs and those lungs to breathe it with. He has given us food for our bellies, sleep for our minds, water for our bodies, and shelter from the elements. He sent His Son to do what we are unable to do: live a perfect life and bear His wrath. He who knew no sin BECAME SIN FOR US that we might dwell with Him forever, washed clean by the blood of Jesus.
And yet, sister, we dare to complain.
But even in this, God shows His amazing love for us. He delights in His children. He rejoices over us with singing (Zephaniah 3:17), He collects all our tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8), He restores our souls (Psalm 23:3).
Rejoice with me, sister, that even when it feels like our desires will crush us under their weight, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined he also called, and those whom He called he also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.” (Romans 8:26-30)
What breathtaking, deep, wondrous grace is this, O my soul! Drink deeply, sister, and be satisfied.
My family has had many changes recently. Since November, we have flown to Ethiopia to bring back our 18 month old twins, said goodbye to sweet friends, packed up our lives and memories in Okinawa, Japan, flew from Seattle to Boulder to Virginia and then to Kentucky visiting friends and family, moved to Puerto Rico, and are still waiting for our household goods to land so we can move into our new home. We have lived out of 4 suitcases, 2 pack and plays, 3 car seats, and backpacks for the entire time. I’ve had shingles, we have all been sick in bed, and Barrett started his new job. I wish I could tell you we weathered all this with grace, joy, and peace while trusting in the Lord’s Providence, but that would be a lie.
I’ve been short and mean with my children, I haven’t loved my neighbor as myself and, worst of all, I did not enjoy my husband and kids…and sadly, this revealed that my hope and joy were dependent on them rather than Christ! But that is another lesson for another time.
Dear sister, your story might not look exactly like mine, but you know that you have a circumstance, relationship, or depression that has left you like me: crying out to God, begging Him to help because you hate living this hypocritical life of saying you trust Him in all things yet your life was far from showing it. Own it friend. Acknowledge the sin you are holding on to of unforgiveness, jealousy, control, anxiety, or pride that has produced its fruit in your difficult time, leaving you feeling like life is hopeless. Oh sweet sister, you need to acknowledge the weight of this sin. You need to grasp how any one of these sins can push your life into the path of hopelessness. Don’t be afraid; don’t look away. Because it’s right here, when our sin bears down so hard, that the grace Jesus won for you at the cross will restore your hope and lift up your head!
What is this grace? Grace is getting what you don’t deserve. It’s my husband buying me a cupcake on the way home when we still aren’t OK. It’s my kids waking up cheering after I blew up at them the night before. But ultimately, grace is Jesus taking my sins—trying to control my husband and kids, losing my patience, not being kind to my neighbor, being jealous of the life SHE has, and fearing that life isn’t working out the way I planned—and nailing it to the cross. He bore the weight of God’s wrath on Himself for me. For ugly, sometimes unrepentant me! And then, don’t miss this, and THEN, he gave me His righteousness. He made me perfect in God’s eyes. This is grace! When God sees me, He doesn’t see the sin that deserves his wrath, He sees His perfect son and accepts me.
This is our hope! This is the big picture we can’t forget while walking in the son-blocking path in the forest of life. This grace reminds us that we are forgiven and have the hope of heaven! We have Christ forever!
Please don’t misunderstand me that all hardship is caused by personal sin, yet His grace on us should still bring us hope. When everything falls down around us, we know that we are forgiven and righteous because of the grace of Christ. Oh Lord, as we meditate on your grace, may that give us hope in hard times and motivate us to give grace to others.
Your sister in Christ,
Do you ever struggle with a particular sin…over and over again…no seeming victory? Perhaps it’s an obsession or an unhealthy habit. Maybe it’s your tongue gossiping or showing disrespect…Or laziness, or being desensitized to unwholesome shows, or self-righteousness, or materialism, or prayerlessness, or pride…So much to repent of…Unrelenting disquiet in the soul…Embarrassment to come before the Father once more…Do I really belong to the Father? How can I be that new creation, yet still sin so much? Like The Pilgrim in Bunyan’s classic we come to Christ initially with that huge burden strapped to our backs, only to find it rolling down Calvary’s hill when the Spirit opens our spiritual eyes to understand and embrace the gospel, but it would appear we sometimes become uncomfortable without that familiar burden and we start rebuilding that unnecessary heaviness that Jesus has already and perpetually removed from us positionally. Yet, we encumber ourselves with wrong thinking, unhealthy and sinful behaviors. We live in defeat and fear, depression and anxiety. We sin those same sins over and over again wondering where the power for victory lies. We try and try and try. We become exhausted, afraid to go to the Father even though it is to Him we must go for relief and safety.
A prayer by one of the old Puritans says,
“I confess my sin, my frequent sin, my willful sin; all my powers of body and soul are defiled; a fountain of pollution is deep within my nature. There are chambers of foul images within my being; I have gone from one odious room to another, walked in a no-man’s-land of dangerous imaginations, pried into the secrets of my fallen nature. I am utterly ashamed that I am what I am in myself…” Paul speaks to this in Romans 7. He does what he doesn’t want to do and doesn’t do what he does want to do. The Puritan says, “Thou has struck a heavy blow at my pride, at the false god of self, and I lie in pieces before Thee. But Thou has given me another Master and Lord, Thy Son Jesus…” Paul says, “But I thank God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Sister, being weighed down by your sin is good in-so-far that it causes you to turn from self and idolatry and to Jesus. Bear with me as I quote the finish of the Puritan’s prayer: “Save me from the…pride of life, from everything natural to fallen man, and let Christ’s nature be seen in me day by day.” Now, get a visual of this plea. “Grant me grace to bear Thy will without repining [fretting, being discontent], and delight to be [here it is!] not only chiseled, squared, or fashioned, but separated from the old rock where I have been embedded so long, and lifted from the quarry to the upper air, where I may be built in Christ for ever.” Did you see yourself being broken away from the rock, fully hewn into Christ’s sculpture, soaring free from the depths of imprisonment–made like Christ, being freed from besetting sins, slowly but surely?
Author Matt Papa says that we worship our way into sin and so we must worship our way out of it. We need a greater thrill (than the sin). We need a more captivating beauty. We must fix our gaze on Christ and His beauties rather than fixate on our sins. As we do this and are consumed by His excellencies we find ourselves being less and less attracted to the sin. I repeat Paul: “I thank God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
God, our gentle Father, likens Himself to a mother hen or bird securing her babies under her wings. He does this for His children where He protects us from the world and sin and Satan, even from ourselves. I often think of myself in that place of protection and have composed and prayed the following prayer as a result–a prayer of holy resignation, when I finally give up the struggle, trying to conquer sin by my own willpower and run to Him.
Father, I behold your mighty greatness in Your Word and in the remembrance of a myriad acts of mercy and faithfulness to me. I see you beckon me to Yourself. Sometimes I come haltingly, ashamed and afraid. Sometimes I come running with desperation, trembling. Always I come, casting myself at Your feet, grasping them and Your clean robes. And always, You lift me up and wrap your arms around my quivering self and clasp me under your sheltering wings–so safe–and the shaking stops. I peer out from that haven. The world is still roiling, but I am forgiven and secure.