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Posts Tagged ‘miraculous provision’

girl cage freeI find myself holding grudges, though I don’t mean to.

Okay, what that really means is that I know I shouldn’t, but that doesn’t stop me.

Do you have trouble holding grudges, either consciously or unconsciously? Does it matter whether or not harm was meant?

Should it matter?

How do we judge the actions and motives of others? Do we take circumstances outside our knowledge into account, such as the person’s background or current circumstances? Or do we, without hesitation, view every offense as an intentional injury? We are wired via human nature to hold others accountable. We feel it’s our right, even our duty. After all, people shouldn’t get away with doing that, not to us or anyone else.

In my upcoming novel, Like There’s No Tomorrow, the hero, Ian, faces his longstanding mortal hatred for a man who wronged and wounded him deeply. Ian can’t let go of his bitterness, and understandably. After all, he’s human. Humans are self-preserving. We are wired for survival. This is logical. We are logical.

But God is often not logical, and is, in fact, the God of Irony, as I have learned and am reminded again and again. A few examples:

  • But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matt 5:44)
  • Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse. (Rom 12:14)
  • Vengeance is mine. (not yours) (Rom 12:19)

God’s ways are too often incomprehensible, too often unnatural to our way of thinking. Perhaps unnatural because He is supernatural. To align ourselves with the supernatural (and God-illogical) requires an uncomfortable amount of surrender and blind faith.

In this above-mentioned story, Emily, the heroine, suggests that Ian try praying for the man who wronged him. After all, she says, what can it hurt?

Is it possible to be free from bitterness and feel only compassion for the one who hurt you?

I bared my soul over a similar situation in THIS POST. No, you’re right, it’s no coincidence that a real-life experience ended up in my novel. Art has an interesting way of imitating life (or is it the other way around?).

I hope you will get a chance to read the book and keep the miracle that inspired that part of the story in mind. If you do, I’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts.

Q: Have you ever prayed for an enemy? If so, what happened?

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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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The Bible overflows with professions of God’s love for his children, like this one:

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  Psalm 103:8

But what if the reality of his love just isn’t jumping off the pages at you? What about those times you need to feel it? Take a deep breath and just lean on it?

Are there tangible ways God demonstrates his love to us? I’ve listed few, and if you think of more, please leave a comment and share.

Creation

I live in view of a gorgeous 11,000 ft mountain (sorry, not this one…but isn’t this gorgeous?).  I can gaze at the pristine, snow-capped peak and never tire of its majestic beauty. Autumn leaves bursting with fiery color take my breath away. I love the soothing sound of waves lapping at the shore. The sound and smell of a rushing river. The scent of Lily of the Valley and the taste of ripe peach. The power of a raging sea. Endless blue sky. Bird song. Music. Seasons. The list is endless! How much we appreciate the beauty of creation varies with each person, but I believe God created the amazing splendor and harmony around us because he desires to delight us. I sense his love for me in creation.

Relationships

Healthy relationships are a reflection of God’s love. We have the ability and need to love and be loved. The affection we share with friends and family, and the two-become-one bond of marriage are gifts from God. I believe close relationships we now enjoy are only a tiny sample of the mind-blowing, unfathomably fulfilling love we will enjoy when bask in God’s presence for eternity!

Provision

God has answered countless prayers for help with finances and other needs. In lean times, the exact amount needed for an expense we couldn’t cover has come in the mail, out of the blue. We’ve prayed about a broken appliance we couldn’t afford to fix or replace and were given an appliance by someone who didn’t even know we needed it. And his provision doesn’t stop at material needs. He’s answered prayers for physical healing, given peace, a shot of courage, patience, wisdom, the right words in a difficult situation. He provides through answered prayer, but he has also provided protection in situations when I didn’t even ask. These things build my faith in him. But they also speak to my heart of his amazing love.

Gifts

I’m amazed at how God sometimes steers little treats my way. I might be at the office feeling a little down and chilly and thinking a vanilla latte sure sounds good, then someone shows up bearing a vanilla latte. (Okay, I know God doesn’t deliver Starbucks, but I’d give him credit before chalking it up as a coincidence…) Or we’re crunched for time and searching for keys or something we need, toss up a prayer, and suddenly think of a place we hadn’t thought of, and find that thing we need. Or maybe we need a job that needs to earn x amount. We ask God for the job and add specific things we’d prefer, like reasonable distance and hours around the kids’ schedules and others factors that aren’t critical but would be really convenient, and God provides just such a job. (This happened to me.) I could make a long list of all the kind little bonus extras God has given me. Perhaps he has his reasons, like giving us a chance to give him credit (glory) to help a lost soul find him, or to remind us of his faithfulness to help our faith grow. But I think he also gives us special things sometimes just because he’s a loving father.

Personal Encounters

I promised to share this story in my last post. About 20 years ago, I was a young mom. I’d been following Christ since I was a teen, but the fact that I was still a believer twelve years later was a miracle. As a teen and new believer, I didn’t understand who I was in Christ and how God wanted to heal the broken stuff in me. Instead, survivor chick that I was, I worked really hard for several years to give myself a churchy-girl makeover. I didn’t mean to fool anyone initially, I just assumed I was supposed to look and act like the nice Christians I saw at church, and I desperately wanted to fit in. Unfortunately, ignorance, a warped self-image, and misconceptions about God turned my life into a dangerously dual existence. As the years progressed, the conflict and gap between my outer façade and my inner self grew until it all caved in, wounding people and nearly finishing off my teetering faith. But Jesus, in his mercy, opened my eyes to the destructive lies I’d been believing, brought me back to him, and helped me start fresh. Over time, he guided me in his truth and grace to unlearn all those misconceptions I had about myself and him.

But there was still so much work to be done in my troubled heart. Twelve years after becoming a Christian, I was now on a clumsy but steadier path to trusting daily in Christ. But the road was slow, and shoving down shame and reminders of failures and seeing crappy stuff still present in me were taking their toll. Wearing me down.

One night, I felt especially drained and discouraged. Empty. I’d been focused on caring for our 3 young kids and keeping the home running smooth for my hard-working husband. We’d recently moved to new town and were basically between friends and without a church family. About two a.m., I was rocking my baby girl back to sleep as my boys and husband slept nearby. Yet in that moment, emotionally empty and depressed, I felt incredibly alone.

I remember pouring out my pain to God, all the while wondering what he thought of me and the way I was feeling. I closed my eyes and whispered in the dark, “God, you’ve done so much for me and I’m grateful for everything you’ve done, but . . . I’m just really struggling here. I know you care, but do you love me? Do you even like me?” I laid my daughter on a blanket and stood alone in the dark. Vulnerable. “God, do you love me? Because I’m not feeling it, and I just need to know. Do you?” I stood there, heart totally bared and tears streaming, hating to be so vulnerable. Vaguely wondering if I looked and sounded as pathetic as I felt.

I expected nothing in the stillness of that chilly February night. But I stood there anyway, letting the tears fall. Knowing I was taking a huge risk, asking for rejection that would only deepen the emptiness. I could either cling to what little hope I could scrounge up and keep plugging away, or just give it up now and let the need in me quietly die. Like the widow who gave up her last bits of oil and flour for the visiting holy man, knowing it meant certain death because it was all she had left. I gave up, and left the next move up to him. Held my breath. Braced for silence.

In that silent moment, I felt something I still have a hard time describing adequately. It was like a warmth that poured down and around me. I felt a wave of peace and an unmistakable sense of his presence washing over me, surrounding and filling me. I can’t explain how, but it felt like love. I felt God’s love for me. Tears pouring, I knew he loved me. He cared. He answered my doubts…again. He was with me and wanted me to know.

I’ll never forget that night. I have sensed his presence and love since, but I think he knew I would later need that special “pile of river stones” to remind me I am loved when I need reminding. To refill my oil jar when hope begins to run out. Because hope is such a powerful thing.

I hope you are not scraping the bottom of the jar. If you are, I pray these thoughts will encourage you today.

We may not always “feel” God’s love, but we can be sure he loves us more than we can grasp. Whether or not we feel it, we can see his love demonstrated in our world and in our lives. Most importantly, we see his immense, unwavering love demonstrated at the Cross.

God’s life-giving word speaks volumes of his incredible love. And if we wait in the stillness and really listen, it may just jump off the page.

Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 103:2-5

Question: Can you share an example of a tangible way God has shown you his love?

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How much does God have to do for me before I get it into my thick head that I can trust him?

 

In Mark 6, Jesus just finished feeding thousands from a couple loaves and fillet-o-fish, then sent his disciples on ahead by boat so he could spend time praying to the Father. For his twelve guys, most likely. A little later, from the lakeshore, he saw the men out on the lake being tossed in a storm.

 

47 Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake.

Jesus watched them straining against the battering winds all night. I think he was waiting to see what they would do. (Actually, I think he prayed for God to send the storm). It wasn’t until nearly daybreak that he went ahead and crossed the lake himself.

And yet . . .

He was about to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified.

So they were in trouble and he went out to them . . . but only to pass on by?

 

Why?

 

When we’re in ship-battering, peace-stealing situations, and God doesn’t seem to be near, don’t we sometimes wonder where he is, if he’s even paying attention? Wonder what he’s doing?

 

How would our prayers change if we knew he was standing on the shore all along, just watching, waiting?

Waiting for what?

 

Immediately, he said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down.

Ahh. Look at our compassionate Savior. Jesus calmed the terrified men first, then the roaring waves.

And yet . . .

They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

Why were their hearts hardened? Hadn’t they just witnessed his miraculous provision when he fed the thousands?

 

Maybe they suffered from the same heart condition I do: a thick-skulled, hard-hearted lack of faith. They witnessed Jesus coming through every time, yet they (I) hadn’t allowed this truth to sink in, to penetrate them (me) enough to leave a permanent imprint.

 

Why did Jesus wait so long to go to them? Maybe they needed to see how helpless they were so that they would grasp his ultimate power and faithfulness. Maybe they needed to invite him into their straining boat and witness his trustworthiness in a way that would score their stony little hearts, begin the softening they were going to need for the storms to come.

 

Truth is, I know all about hard hearts. I struggle constantly to have a heart like Jesus, so I won’t criticize these guys. I’ve missed countless chances to trust God in many a situation. Taken matters into my own hands, ran my mouth, worried. Reached for chocolate or Krispy Kreme instead of surrendering and praying, seeking the Lord’s presence and his word. The more I row against the wind, the more I realize I don’t fully trust Jesus because if I did, I’d probably be slower to stress out, pig out, zone out, criticize, complain, give in to depression, etc, and maybe a little quicker to obey his nudges to do stuff I’m not comfortable doing. (eh…is comfort an idol? Ouch.)

 

Sometimes . . . I despair of ever changing.

Thank God that in his grace and love, it’s not up to me to change. I only need to trust Jesus enough to invite him into the boat.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26

 

Please, Lord  –   I’d like a

new heart — not the blood pumping

kind, but the kind that hungers for God

with an unbearable ache. A heart that

breaks over lost souls and only sees

people the way God sees them

A pure heart too blinded by

grace to criticize, too

saddened by sin to

contemplate

it—

 

(I’d like that a lot.)

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