Verse of Encouragement: Hope

The sermon I heard today was about pouring our hearts out to God. Several years ago, when I was reading David’s story, I remember thinking, “I can’t believe he just said that to God.” But God called David “a man after his own heart.” “His” being “God’s.” David had an intimate relationship with God, in part because David knew he could be honest in his feelings toward God. Why do we think God is going to be offended by how we feel? Why do we think God is going to strike us down with a bolt of lightning if we admit to him, “God, I am angry at you!”

Our God is a big God, and, as my pastor made clear this morning, “God already knows your heart.” Why hide out of a sense of reverence, respect, or fear? He already knows, and he can handle us at our rawest, ugliest, sobbiest moments, because those moments are often when we are the most honest and unguarded.

He came to bind up the brokenhearted (Isaiah 61:1), so why do we try to hide our hearts from him? The author of Lamentations hurt so bad that there was no holding back how he felt:

He [God] pierced my heart
with arrows from his quiver.
I became the laughingstock of all my people;
they mock me in song all day long.
He has filled me with bitter herbs
and given me gall to drink.
He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust.
I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”

Lamentations 3:13-18, NIV

Wow, says I, that is a lot of blaming God for one’s circumstances. Is the author exaggerating? Is he being literal? Or is he finding the strongest metaphors possible to express his pain in the most raw, honest way he can? There is so little hope to be found in these verses, how could I possibly post them under the heading “Verse of Encouragement”?

Because the suffering is not the whole story, nor the end of the story. The author pours out his heart, then as my pastor phrased it, “pushed through the pain to find the praise.”

I remember my affliction and my wandering, (“suffering and homelessness,” NLT),
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:19-23, NIV

Who was it who pointed out to me that the verse doesn’t say, “Nothing bad will happen to you”? It says “we are not consumed.” Life throws some dirty punches, no mistake. We might not be spared the loss, the betrayal, the illness. No matter what happens, God has got our back. Without the tragedies, the set-backs, the horrible mistakes, who would I be today? Have I let bitterness dictate who I am, or hope? Sometimes it’s hard for me to tell. Would my character be on the road to refinement? Would I ever learn compassion for others? Would I grow in my faith? Would I learn to listen to that still, small voice and be able to tell the difference between God speaking and my own imagination or desires?

I hate pain. I hate having to be patient one more day and one more day. I hate it when I screw up again and hurt someone I love. I hate it when loved ones die. But because God loves me, I am not consumed. If I let him, he sustains, he strengthens, he shapes. He has endless compassion for me, even when I mess up big time. He wants this independent loner to need him, to seek him, to include him, to grow confident in him, and I’m pretty sure he finds it utterly precious when I finally break and cry out to him.

When I have unburdened myself to him, only then I can remember what he has done for me and those I love, what he promises still to do on our behalf. Then hope pours in to replace the pain.

What is burdening you? Tell him. He doesn’t need fancy language, formal reserve, or grand gestures of reverence. He wants to hear your heart poured out, honest and true and raw. He can handle it. He’s that big. He loves you that much.

Advertisements

Verse of Encouragement: Healthy Thoughts

My thought-life can get me down. It can cause me to despair over humanity. It can induce terror that has no foundation except in the rare possibility that disaster will strike. I mean, I’m a writer. I have an outstanding imagination. I can see the disaster in minute detail and feel the pain, fear, and loss involved in whatever that disaster might be. Example: I have to fly in an airplane this weekend. My imagination wants to go down the terrifying path of explosions and nose-dives and all the other horribleness of that potential reality. Another example: I read the headlines and conclude the humanity is largely short-sighted, violent, and perverse–and I know it’s going to get worse, because God said it will.

God gave human beings their amazing capacity to imagine, to empathize, to look ahead beyond the now. And he who knows my every thought, knows that this amazing capacity can be dangerous to my health, my attitude, and my outlook. I think that’s part of the reason why we are called to lead a different sort of thought-life.

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

2 Corinthians 10:5

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Philippians 4:6-8

Does this mean we are to hide our heads in the sand, wear blinders, turn a blind eye, and all the other cliched phrases for hiding from the facts? Not at all. We are called also to lift a hand when we see injustice, abuse, pain, suffering, sorrow. See it, act on it, but do not lose focus. Facts are facts, things are bad, that’s undeniable, but what is true is that God has everything in hand. We are to keep our focus on him for that very reason. He is the only lifeline that keeps me from sinking into panic and utter despair. And it’s so much easier to despair than to maintain the faith again and again and again. Having faith is hard. Questions still rise. “Why is this happening? How can you let this happen? Where is your hand in this?”

cloud-silverliningWhen I feel the terror, the anger, the despair rise, I am learning that it is better to face the future with a prayer in my mouth than to try to handle it by myself. “Every cloud has a silver lining.” I disagree. Some storms don’t have pretty edges. Some stories don’t have hopeful endings. Not that my feeble human mind can perceive, anyway. That’s when my thoughts have to turn to God. In every situation, pray and give thanks. Every situation. Not easy. But possible.

“Jesus, you are what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. I have peace only when my mind is settled on you. Thank you for blessing me more abundantly that I can ever think or imagine. You have given me friends and family who I can turn to in a crisis. You have given me a mission to keep me breathing. My body is healthy, my mind is sound, my heart can be light amid all this tragedy. And I can be your hands when a friend is hurting. Thank you for loving me, so I can love in return.”

 

Verse of Encouragement: Troubles

Sunrise view from our cabin above Twin Lakes, CO, 2014

Sunrise view from our cabin above Twin Lakes, CO, 2014

A road trip wonderfully interfered with routine, so I haven’t been in a place to read the next chapter of Becoming Myself or blog about it. Should get back into the swing of things next week. Until then, this poignant passage about God’s faithfulness and desire for restoration just sang to me.

Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the highest heavens.
You have done such wonderful things.
Who can compare with you, O God?
You have allowed me to suffer much hardship,
but you will restore me to life again
and lift me up from the depths of the earth.
You will restore me to even greater honor
and comfort me once again.

Psalm 71:19-21

I guess life’s troubles have often been compared to climbing mountains. It’s so apt a description that it’s even become a  cliche. But it was illustrated quite vividly last week when I attempted to climb Mt. Elbert, Colorado’s highest peak (its lower slope is visible on the right side of the photograph). Troubles definitely look intimidating from the ground, with all that progress still to go. Keep your head down, trudge on, one step at a time. Lungs burn, legs give out, the trail goes on and on, and there is still more mountain to climb.

Sometimes the mountains even win. For a while. But they can also cause us to realize our weaknesses, where we need God to intervene and help strengthen our faith, our character, our maturity. Then, we mount the slope again, again, again, until one day we can say, “I got this,” and suddenly the summit no longer looms overhead but lies beneath your feet.

Verse of Encouragement: Promise of Help

As a child, I was forced to memorize verses, like most kids in Sunday School. Earning cheap gold star stickers didn’t make me more enthusiastic about it. By Monday, I couldn’t remember the verse I’d quoted anyway. So for years I rolled my eyes when anyone would try to convince me of the importance of memorizing scripture. And matching the verse to its address? Forget it. Who besides preachers can remember all those numbers anyway? What was the point unless I, too, was up there sermoning away? Uh, no way.

It wasn’t until I did the study for Breaking Free that I understood the value in this practice. Beth Moore said speaking God’s word is like firing bullets at the bad guy. That’s a bad paraphrase and an extreme summary. She instructed us to memorize our bullets, so we never do life unarmed. She’s from Texas, where I was born into a hunting family, so I speak that language and jive with the comparison. It all clicked. Oh! The verses are tools to be used, not to show off in Sunday School.

Of course, verses aren’t magic spells. There’s a deal of faith involved, owning the promise and believing that God will do what he says he will do. Then resting in that promise, waiting and watching.

There are times when attack comes so suddenly and out of nowhere that it blindsides me for a while. For a few days I will chalk it up to hormones or depression, then I get smart. I had a vulnerable moment, and the Enemy pounced. These feelings, these lies I keep telling myself — that I’m not good enough, that I’m worthless, that God is so disappointed in me, that I should never leave the house again, that I should just lay down and die? They are oppression from the oppressor. They are meant to destroy me. They deserve a bullet. Sometimes fired repeatedly.

My favorite bullet for times of oppression comes from Isaiah. I still don’t know the numbers of its address, so I had to look it up. Turns out it’s Isaiah 41:12-13:

Though you search for your enemies,

you will not find them.

Those who wage war against you

will be as nothing at all.

 

For I am the Lord your God

who takes hold of your right hand

and says to you, Do not fear;

I will help you.

holding child's handI repeat this to myself over and over again, until I’m convinced yet again that it’s true. God comes for me when I’m in trouble. It might take a few days, sometimes it’s within the hour, but the lifting of the oppression is usually sudden and palpable. It’s not a magic spell. It’s believing God and letting him fight for me. It’s about trust and release. And it’s hard to remember to do. I don’t want to quote scripture when all I really want to do is curl up in a ball and sob. I don’t want to own this promise again. I want the oppression to go away for ever! Yet here it is, ruining another day. Just give up. Lay down and die. You are such a disappointment.

NO!

Those who wage war against you will come to nothing. I am God, who fights for you. Don’t be afraid. I am helping you. Get up, keep going, keep breathing. I love you.