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Posts Tagged ‘Love Never Fails’

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Do either of these statements describe the way you see God’s love for you?

1. God loves me, but (or as long as) _______.

2. God loves me, period.

Is God’s love for us something we control by our actions or behavior? Is his love contingent on what we do or don’t do?

In the biblical parable of the Prodigal son, Jesus tells us the story of a young man who thoroughly insulted his father by asking for his inheritance or “death benefit” early and leaving home to do as he pleased—to go hog wild, so to speak. After he partied all of his inheritance away, he found himself destitute and starving. He came to his senses and realized he’d been a wretched fool and his only hope for survival was to return to his father and beg to be made a slave. But as he neared his father’s estate, his father saw him from a distance and ran to meet him, embraced and kissed him, overjoyed at his son’s return.

Was the father’s love for his son based on the condition that the son return to him? Or did he love him all along?

I wonder if some of us see God’s love as conditional, based our actions, strivings, and obedience to him. I wonder if some of us need to see that God’s love is not like human love; it is not capricious or waning like that of humans. He doesn’t give the silent treatment when insulted or hold an offense over our head. His love does not tire like a discontented mate and send him in search of someone new.

I have often despaired of ever being good or pleasing enough. I struggle with the constant challenge to do better, to be better, to try harder. Yet I fail. I am inherently flawed and prone to mistakes. I can only follow Christ and serve him with his help, and even then I fall short of my aims.

But . . . then I read the story of the prodigal son and am reminded this represents the Father heart of God. Jesus paints a very touching picture of a father’s love, and more importantly, our heavenly Father’s love. I am so moved by this story, straight from the mouth of Jesus himself, which describes the holy, righteous God of the universe as an incredibly loving father.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not moved by the fact that the son got away with reckless sin and was forgiven without question, as though I were looking for a way to justify or excuse sinfulness. I am just awed and touched by picture of the Father’s steadfast love. The father didn’t lift his chin and turn to his friends and say, “Well. At least he’s back where he belongs, that takes a load off my mind. Lucky for him he came to his senses. But he has proven himself a disappointment and won’t soon forget what he did, I can guarantee that.”

No. He celebrated his son’s return to him. Wholeheartedly, with exuberant joy. He was so moved to emotion that he ran, breaking cultural codes of propriety. He not only ran, he embraced his son and kissed him. Couldn’t contain his joy at his son’s return. Unreservedly expressed his love before his son had a chance to speak a word of remorse for his sin. Showed lavish grace and forgiveness without another word about what the son had done.

I wonder if those of us who grew up either fatherless or with dads who were unloving or abusive have a particular need to be reminded of the “Father heart” of God. I am not suggesting that we should ever forget that he is also God of the universe, the absolute holy, righteous judge. But those of us who have lived under the thumb of someone who rules by cruelty and intimidation may have a harder time understanding how so good and loving a father can be at the same time so exacting in his judgment and so thoroughly demanding of holiness. It’s simply who God is (and more than can be addressed in a blog post.)

We must do our best to keep in mind the big picture perspective of all that God is, and not pick and choose our favorite attributes. He is fierce both in his love and his holiness. His love is everlasting—to those who fear him. (Psalm 103:17) Not fear him in the same way I once feared a stepdad’s return home from work every day, but a reverence for him in all his righteousness and holiness. AND his love. Embrace the total truth of who God is and allow Him to embrace you in return.

And don’t forget: he is running to embrace you long before you’ve even arrived.

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“Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee far away
and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm.”

Psalm 55:6-8

I have heard people say, “If I could just get over this health issue,” or “If only I had more money.” If only I had less stress, more help, less pain, more support, etc, etc.

 

Have you ever been there?

If only . . .

If I could just . . .

 

Between these words, I hear a cry for relief. Not only relief from difficult circumstances, but also from hopelessness. What if I become so sick or anxious or overwhelmed or so deeply in debt that I can’t function? What if my circumstances never change? What if it gets worse?

 

Thanks to our Adamic inheritance, we live in a fallen world, full of sin, disease, dysfunction, injustice, abuse, brokenness—the list is endless. You may be dealing with something that could wreak more damage than a hurricane. Whether from external circumstances or personal struggles within, the weight of constant suffering can be unbearable and make us hopeless for a way out, no end in sight. No hope for relief.

 

I am blown away by my pastor. For too many reasons to list here, but for one in particular: He suffers terrible migraines. These are horribly painful to the point of making him physically sick. He can’t think or do anything but lie still. With a family and a loaded plate of pastoral responsibilities, he doesn’t have time to be sick, and yet he somehow presses on, with the diligence of a faithful, caring shepherd. He asks God for healing and asks others to pray, and yet the headaches continue. When a migraine strikes on a Sunday, we’ve seen God answer prayer many times by giving Pastor enough strength and relief to deliver his sermon. What amazes me is that in spite of this suffering, this man is absolutely unwavering in his faith in Christ. His life is an inspiring example of steadfast confidence in and obedience to God. The fact that God has not yet healed him doesn’t stop him from serving the Lord with his whole heart, with truth and grace, every minute of every day.

 

He continues to ask God for healing. And we should keep asking God to relieve us and others of suffering. I know he can. And many times, he does. But what if immediate relief isn’t part of his plan for us right now? What if God is more interested in how we weather a storm (or an entire hurricane season) than he is in rescuing us from it?

 

The Apostle Paul talked about his “thorn in the flesh.” I think Paul came to terms with the fact that relief for him would not be coming. I also think he became grateful for the thorn, because it drove him closer Jesus.

 

How does being closer to Jesus help when we face difficult circumstances?

 

But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.

It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.

Jeremiah 17:7-8

So I’ll never fail to bear fruit. Awesome. But what good is fruit when I’m suffering?

When we turn our lives over to Christ, his Spirit moves in and begins the work of making us more like him. God’s word and presence feed, sustain, and transform us. This transforming work is evident by such “fruit” as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Not a pretense pulled down over us like a goody-hoody, but a God-kind of gentleness and peace that springs from the place in our soul where Jesus lives and works on us. This fruit not only lets others see God in us, it reminds and assures us of his sanctifying power and love. This assurance comes from experiencing God in a way that teaches us we can trust in his goodness, his provision, and his constant faithfulness.

 

If storms feel endless and unbearable, maybe we need to stretch our roots deeper in God’s stream. When we make him our Source, nothing can destroy us. No drought, famine, wildfire, (debt, depression, cancer) can steal our love, joy and peace when we are nourished by The Stream. Yes, storms may shred our bark, and our fruit might be knocked off and crushed, but we will never wither. We will sprout new leaves and blossom again. What tremendous hope we have!

 

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  

Romans 8:35-39

We might be battered for a season, but God will be our strength and sustenance. If he is allowing us to go through difficulty, he will provide what we need. And he won’t let us weather a storm alone! He is a “friend who sticks closer than a brother” and will stay beside us all the way to the other side, whatever that may be. He will never leave or forsake us!

 

Sometimes, the response we get to “If only” or “If I could just” isn’t the relief we desperately want. I know, not very comforting, I’m sorry. Relief from suffering may come soon, later on, or it may not come at all—in this life. But even if we suffer the sting of some particular thorn for the rest of our lives, we won’t suffer forever. An entire earthly lifetime doesn’t even compare to forever. It may feel like eternity, but no matter how long our suffering lasts, God promises us it will not last forever. He also promises to be with us, strengthening and providing. Let’s set our hope in him, and look forward to a joyful forever yet to come, where all difficulty, sorrow, and suffering will be forgotten.

 

Paul could say this with full assurance, thorn and all.

 

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing
with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Romans 8:18

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. 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

 

Are you in a season of suffering? Can you share a time when circumstances felt too unbearable? Have you “reached your roots” into the stream of God’s provision and strength?

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I recently read a quietly deep, beautifully written novel called Some Wildflower In My Heart (Bethany House Publishers, 1998) by Jamie Langston Turner. The story is told by Margaret, a deeply wounded woman who has spent decades closed off to love, relationships, and especially God. She ensures distance from others by being cold and unapproachable. Yet In spite of her brusque demeanor, she finds herself the recipient of the persistently kind, friendly attentions of a woman named Birdie with an inexhaustible capacity for love.

In the real world, anyone behaving like Margaret is sure to go to their grave friendless. But because one woman’s love for Jesus flows like an underground spring and touches everyone she meets, there may be hope for Margaret.

I try to imagine myself being persistently gracious and kind to someone who continually rejects the kindness. I can’t really see it. Could you? Would anyone you know continue to show acceptance and grace to someone continually cold and unresponsive?

What’s intriguing about this story is that it is told in Margaret’s point of view. If I were only able to observe Margaret’s outward behavior, I wouldn’t be interested in her story. But her thoughts tell a very different tale. What Margaret is only telling the reader is that she was inexplicably drawn to this kind woman. And that drawing rattled her. She tells how Birdie’s gentle, persistent love eventually broke past Margaret’s cold shell and brought warmth to the painful, neglected places in her heart.

After reading about Birdie, the phrase “Love keeps no record of wrongs” keeps coming to mind. I wonder if I could be anything like her, always quick to forgive the thoughtless words or deeds of others. Why don’t I simply turn the other cheek when someone is thoughtless or unkind?

Maybe it’s an accounting mentality. We are wired to keep accounts of what others have done. This is so typically human, isn’t it?

Please tell me it’s not just me.

Love keeps no record of wrongs.

Would Jesus go to God and complain about me behind my back? Would he criticize me for the mistakes I make (which are…ahem…numerous)? Avoid me when he sees me coming?

No. And not because I don’t deserve it.

Love keeps no record of wrongs.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails . . . And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:4-13

Faith, Hope, Love.

The Bible says that without faith, it’s impossible to please God. And humans need hope in order to thrive. But according to this scripture, the greatest of all life’s needs is love. This kind of love. The selfless, unfailing, “unoffendable” kind.

Can I really love this way? I mean, is it possible?

Maybe it helps to remember that since I am in Christ, there’s no “tally sheet” or file being kept on me. God keeps no record of my sins. Because of Christ in me, when God looks at me, he sees no offense, harbors no grudges.

Perhaps likewise, because of Christ at work both in me (his life-changing power) and for me (clothing me in his righteousness), I too can look at others and forget their offenses. Hold nothing over their heads. Give them a new clean slate every day.

The love of Christ keeps no record of wrongs. With his help, we can do it. And it seems only fair, since this—the way of grace—is how God (thank you, Jesus!) deals with our offensiveness.

Just my thoughts. What are yours?

Q: Do you desire the kind of love that keeps no record of wrongs?

 

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Our baby girl is “Tying the Knot” this weekend. (Yes, I am too young to have a daughter old enough to marry, thank you for noticing.) J & M will repeat vows to one another similar to the ones you’ve heard or perhaps said yourself:

I take this man/woman to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, to love and to cherish until death do us part.

I do.

Those last two tiny words pack a wealth of promise, a lifetime of relinquishing, a commitment to ongoing surrender. It’s a vow to take on another set of sorrows and joys, victories and defeats, strengths and fears. Each person in the union lays down the right to retain his or her separate life and the whims of their previously independent (& possibly self-indulgent) soul.

And the two shall become one.

It sounds like a breaking down of the human will, this kind of surrender to another. If the vow is truly meant, it does involve some tearing down, and it can even be painful. But if endured with selfless love and truckloads of blinding grace, the two relinquished, surrendered souls shall become one, and a far stronger one combined than each one was alone. Not two weaker halves suddenly helpless without one another, but a stronger, combined force able to weather any storm.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor; If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

If two become one, what does three become?

Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

This isn’t some kind of put down. It’s truth, and it’s a warning, but it’s also a promise. Being united with Christ means he vows to be our Source, our strength, our sustenance, our safe haven.

So when Christ is woven into the center of two surrendered, entwined lives, the three form an unbreakable cord, able to weather every storm of adversity, sickness, trial, poverty, or hardship—without being destroyed.

A marriage of two cords is strong; but a three-cord marriage is indestructible.

J & M: Make Jesus the Center of your marriage. This is our prayer for you.

We love you. God bless you today and each day to come.

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I’m working on a novel in which a woman was recently jilted by a handsome young lawyer. Then when her mom suffers a life-threatening injury, she must help with her care and shoulder the burden of the family business. In the process of all this, she meets a man who shakes her world again for a disturbing reason: he likes her. For who she really is. Not the picture-perfect woman she works so hard to portray to the world, but the frizzy-haired, cosmetic-less, messy life real her. But her real problem is that she only lets people partially into her life. She loves that the new guy likes her—crazy hair and all—but realizes something’s wrong. It turns out she lost the last guy because she never fully “engaged” in the relationship out of fear of exposing an ugly part of her no one knows about.

 

Do you know without a doubt Jesus loves you? I hope so. The Cross speaks of Christ’s fierce love so completely, so beautifully. But do you, like my novel character, have trouble “engaging” in this “sacred romance”?

 

It’s great to wake up knowing I’m completely loved by God. What a wonderful, incredible, awesome feeling. But to be honest, which I must, I find it easy to soak up God’s love and go about my day with a wave and without a backwards glance.

 

 

Picture a bride getting up one morning to find her adoring Groom already awake.

Groom: Good morning, my precious. I love you so much!

Bride: Aw, thank you! You just made my day! I’m going to go post that on FaceBook right now.

Groom: Right now? But I’d like to spend some time with you, without any distractions.

Bride: Oh, right, but I gotta run, so just hold that thought. But you do love me, right? 

Groom: Yes, more than you could possibly know.

Bride: Oh! I just love hearing that! I feel so special right now. Like I could do anything. I’m going to go make plans right now to realize all my biggest dreams.

Groom: Um . . . your dreams include me, right?

Bride: (pouty frown) Well . . . some, but you don’t really expect me to include you in everything I do, do you? I mean, come on. I do have my own life. It’s not like we’re attached at the hip.

Groom: Not only the hip, but at your very core. I’m part of you. You’re part of me. I am the Vine, you are the branch. Apart from me you can do nothing.

Bride: Yikes! That sounds kind of controlling, don’t you think? I’m going to go check Pinterest for new posts about how you love me without any strings attached. I love looking at those.

Groom: Remember the day you said you were giving yourself to me? It was a very touching moment, so beautiful. You couldn’t hear it, but all of heaven broke out in spontaneous song.

Bride: Aw, that’s sweet. Yes, I gave myself to you, but that was to secure my future. You don’t actually expect me to hang around with you all day give up doing what I want to do? I thought you said you loved me. Didn’t know you were going to be so demanding.

Groom: My only “demand” is that you love me. Is . . . that a problem? This is a relationship . . .

Bride: (puffs out a slow breath) Okay, look. I don’t know what you want from me. I talk to you sometimes, don’t I? It’s not like I can spend all my time hanging around with you and talking about you. Everyone would think I’m a freak.

Groom: So you don’t want people to know about us?

Bride: Well . . . (smiling suddenly) Yes! Actually, I like telling people how much you love me. I do it all the time!

Groom: Yes, I’ve noticed . . .

Bride: Wait—you hesitated just now. You’re not having second thoughts, are you?

Groom: No. I love you so much I made the ultimate sacrifice for you. You are more precious to me than you know.

Bride: Oooo! Say it again! I just love hearing that!

Groom: Yes. I know.

Bride: In fact, I’m going to go Tweet it right now!

Groom: (sighs)

Bride: And don’t worry, I’ll be sure to tell someone how you just want me to be happy, although I hear about it everywhere. Those cute little Facebook memes, at the hairdresser’s, on book covers. So I guess most people already know that.

Groom: I want your ultimate happiness, but right now, not everything you go through is about happiness. I want what’s absolutely best for your life, the life I rescued at a tremendous cost. One day, you’ll be blown away by how much happiness I have prepared for you. I am going to knock your socks off—forever. I promise. But for now, I’m asking you to trust me. Watch my lead, follow my footsteps. Come when I call. Sit with me when I invite you. Listen to me; memorize the beat of my heart. Give yourself completely to me and to what I have planned. Will you do that for me, my beloved?

A relationship requires both parties to be fully engaged. He wants this kind of relationship with us. He wants our time, attention, devotion, and obedience – not because he’s self-centered and demanding, but because spending time with him is for our ultimate good. It’s a two-way relationship, not a one-sided, life-long pampering session.

He gives forgiveness, righteousness, love, provision, peace, blessings, wisdom, protection, help, healing, favor, strength through trials, and so much more. What am I giving him? Not out of duty, but of gratitude, of delight in him?

 

Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Q: Is your relationship with God sometimes a one-sided romance? How do you “delight yourself in the Lord”?

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The Fourth of July came and went for us this year without explosives. Not even a sparkler. My husband and I just don’t get excited about fireworks anymore since our three kids hit their 20s. (This will likely change when we get some impressionable grandkids.) But with or without explosives, I don’t know if we have ever spent Independence Day giving a lot of thought to our freedom.

In fact, I had to do a little surfing to refresh my knowledge of Independence Day and remember that our colonial ancestors were angry over taxation without representation in Parliament. It wasn’t so much about the taxes, but the principle. The tyranny. The bully who insisted on taking and giving nothing in return.

I appreciate the freedoms we enjoy in America today, and am very grateful for the many who have sacrificed family, health, and lives to make freedom possible. Freedom from tyranny is a good thing.

Freedom from condemnation is also a good thing.

Romans 8:1-2 says:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

Because of what Christ did for us, it is possible to be in right relationship with our Maker, and for that I’m very grateful.

I am proudly tyranny free,

thankfully condemnation free,

and reluctantly sugar free.

But there’s one freedom I wish I didn’t have . . .

It’s the freedom to go my own stubborn, selfish way. I often take God and his amazing grace and fresh mercies for granted. I ask, plead, seek, then get an answer and go on my way. Or worse—ignore him altogether and just wander around doing as I please.

Until something goes terribly wrong, or until I’m faced with something I can’t handle on my own . . .

The author who penned the old hymn Come Thou Fount knew exactly what I’m feeling. It’s such a beautifully honest testament to the frailty of the human heart. I’ve included the song on a video below. Take a moment to listen and let the words soak your heart with truth.

I love the last verse. In fact, I am this verse:

O to grace how great a debtor

Daily I’m constrained to be!

Let thy goodness like a fetter

Bind my wandering heart to Thee

Prone to wander Lord I feel it

Prone to leave the God I love

Here’s my heart Lord, take and seal it

Seal it for Thy courts above

Ah Jesus, how quickly I can wander off and lose sight of You. It’s not in my frail-yet-stubborn nature to stick close to Your side, not without Your Spirit’s kind, persistent help. Please bind my wandering heart to You, by Your goodness and sweet grace.

Amen.

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wildfire

WATCHING THE MONSTER INFERNO FILLING THE SKY out the window of her Colorado Springs home, my friend Beth Vogt penned the word “Trust” with a steady, deliberate hand on her blog earlier this week . Take a moment to read her post.

Many Colorado Springs residents, including Beth, were forced to evacuate their homes when the fire jumped a ridge and turned its destruction toward town, obliterating the hills and skyline in giant plumes of rolling black smoke and flames reaching hundreds, maybe thousands of feet high. I’m studying the pictures in horror, praying for rains and a swift end, praying for my agent, Rachelle, and other friends, and those battling the inferno including Rachelle’s husband. The fire both lights and blackens the sky as it bears down on the city. It’s one of the most surreal things I’ve ever seen.

If we apply my favorite “tree planted by the stream” analogy (Jer 17:7-8) to my friend Beth’s situation, then she is a perfect example of a tree threatened by heat and facing a choice. She can respond by either reaching her roots deeper into God’s sustaining stream, or holding her ground with all she’s got and hoping to God the scorching storm doesn’t reach her inner core.

I’m picturing Beth cramming her car with what treasured mementos she can. “It’s stuff,” Beth says quietly of what she leaves behind. Just stuff. I can only try to imagine how that must feel. And as she inched along the jammed traffic heading away from danger, she reminded herself This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.

Beth chooses Trust. Why? How? What gives us the hope and assurance that we really can trust God in times like this?

When good things happen, some of us are quick to say, “Hallelujah, God is good!” Yes. That’s great—he deserves credit for good things. But when we’re facing the loss of our home and livelihoods, or struggling with serious illness or some horrific situation or impossible burden, do we still shout “Praise the Lord!”?

Probably not. Not only would that look just a little bit psycho, some moments are just not Hallelujah! moments.

In those moments, do you ever doubt God’s goodness? If God is good in good times, isn’t he good all the time?

I heard a saying once and presented it to a character in one of my novels:

Faith isn’t trusting God to give us good things; Faith is believing in the goodness of God in spite of tragedy.

If I’m giving God fist-bumps when things are good and going my way, yet curl into a fetal worry-ball when things are crumbling around me, then either God or I am being really inconsistent. One of us is fickle.

I’m going to take a wild guess it isn’t God.

No matter how bad things look, God’s not fickle. So that leaves me – I’m the flip-flopper. When I cave in to worry and fear over difficult circumstances, I’m forgetting God’s goodness and ultimate love for me. I’m human (shocker!), so it’s easy to focus on the flames and forget that God always, always has my ultimate good in mind. It’s a challenge to see it. In fact, sometimes it’s impossible to see what possible good could come from suffering. But if we claim God’s goodness and faithfulness in good times, we must continue to trust him in the bad.

I like to create noble heroes in my novels – in fact, I sometimes get in trouble with critique partners who think my heroes are too perfect. So I have to give them a flaw or two. But God is the ultimate Hero, the most noble of any hero ever imagined. We can always count on him to do the right thing, even when what we see seems anything but right. Not only right, but happening for some greater good, because so great is his love for us, demonstrated on the Cross.

In the midst of tragedy, God is with us, closer than we know, and doesn’t take our suffering lightly. It has meaning. If we can claim God’s goodness in good times, we must learn to trust God in the worst of circumstances. This is the very essence of biblical Christianity.

God knows, he sees, and he cares more than we can know. For whatever reason, pain happens, but we can trust that God will use it for some greater good. He never wastes our pain.

“Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18


Do you ever find yourself fickle about trusting God?

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