Lessons Learned and New Mercies Found in Hard Places

 

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Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10

God is our strength and our provision even in hard times. Hard times come in many guises: a major illness, death of a loved one, the loss at a job, the desertion of a spouse or the betrayal of a friend. In the words of Eliphaz, humans are “born for trouble as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7).

Hard times, much like sleep, are a necessary and natural part of life. I have matured because of my struggle with both hard times and sleep.

By definition, few comforts exist during hard times. Enormous energy is needed to acquire the essentials for life: food, shelter, sleep and fellowship. I have been jobless for more than six months and am definitely in the midst of hard times.

I would have never visualized myself among the long-term unemployed. Yet, here I am feeling needy, vulnerable and fully cognizant that I am “at risk.”

Into my heart comes a Rhema word. The word still rings in my spirit: “Be still and know that I am God.”

I hear and I imagine that my feelings probably mirror those of Peter as he walked on the water. Like him, in the midst of a storm, I hear a call to stillness and a call to growth.

How am I to understand stillness in the midst of my turmoil? How do I practice waiting on God when the storms of life continue raging? I found answers when I understood the similarities between stillness, or waiting on God, and sleeping.

Sleep is vital for life. It may look like inactivity but sleep is a dynamic process and is necessary for health and growth. Still, young children sometimes resist sleep and consequently experience grogginess, behavior problems, colds and impaired functioning. Caring parents counteract their child’s resistance by enforcing regular bedtimes and ensuring children have adequate sleep.

I need to sleep. During sleep energy is restored, strength is renewed and consciousness is altered allowing me to dream, problem-solve and re-create daily challenges in a safe environment.

Sleep is like stillness. As I wait on God, I am refreshed, I mature and I grow. Like the apostle James (James 1:2), I must welcome hard times with joy and redeem the time by refocusing on Him – looking attentively to Him for direction as old things, old thoughts and old ways of being become new.

Seeing things differently is uncomfortable and scary. I find myself running to His word for strength and for hope. Although my vision is changing, my situation remains the same.

Obstinately, I remain standing on what I know. God is a good and caring God. I shut down external stimuli, relax in His grace and Providence and continue to wait.

Waiting on God is an attitude of the spirit that is reflected in choices and actions. I diligently monitor my words, choosing to praise Him rather than to whine or complain. I also continue to live in obedience, persevering with my job search routine: networking, sending out resumes, scheduling interviews, sending thank you notes and doing volunteer work in the community.

I wait knowing that God is trustworthy. He is at work and will sanctify all things — even the hard things — for my good and His glory.  Amen!

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
 to guide the future, as He has the past.


Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
 All now mysterious shall be bright at last.

Words: Katharina von Schlegel, 1752. Music: Jean Sibelius, 1899

Mercy and Grace

Angry

When was the last time you were angry? Do Christians get angry?

I remember feeling angry when a co-worker, for whom I’d done a professional favor, failed to offer me the same courtesy when she later had opportunity to do so.

Years earlier I had used my influence to ensure she received strong consideration for a position for which she was applying. She accepted the position then began ignoring my phone calls.

I felt used and quite angry. I nursed those feelings until confronted by the Holy Spirit.

“What are you owed?” the Spirit of God asked. Then He led me to Jonah 4:4 where God asks Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Jonah was sent to preach repentance to a city known for its wickedness. That city was Nineveh, and Ninevites were also enemies of Israel. Jonah found the order intolerable and ran in the opposite direction until God used circumstances to teach him obedience.

Eventually Jonah returned to Nineveh and preached of a coming destruction. The Ninevites believed, repented and God had compassion and did not destroy the city.

Instead of being thrilled by their repentance, Jonah was angry with God. That’s where we find the question “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Like Jonah, I walked away from the question. I believed my anger was justified. After all, I had invested time and effort into her career. She used my kindness and then failed to offer assistance when she was able to help me.

I deserved to be treated better. The situation was definitely unfair.

That’s when the Spirit spoke grace to my heart. I realized that I was owed nothing because I had been given everything. All I had, including opportunities to bless others, was a gift. Nothing had been earned. I was a debtor to grace.

Yes, my pride had been hurt and I was focusing on myself. My anger emanated from selfishness.

“What did I have that I had not received?” (1 Corinthians 4:7) And if I received it, why was I angry?

The question re-echoed in my spirit. “Is it right for you to be angry?”

I realized that I had benefitted from grace. All I needed God, not my actions or my co-workers, would provide. Finally my anger dissolved in a torrent of thanks and praise.

To God be the glory. Amen!

Question for Discussion

  • What do we owe each other as human beings?

The storm is passing over

Lightning

I love the book of Psalm.  It was the book my Mom used to teach me how to read.  She would iron while I sat on the floor and read from the Bible that was placed on my lap.  I used to struggle through each assigned chapter systematically converting phonemes into words.  This was our weekly routine.  Eventually repetition led to the memorization of numerous chapters.

In times of extreme emotions, whether joy or weariness, I find myself returning to the book of Psalm and its familiar comforting passages.  One particular passage has provided me sustenance over the past few weeks.

“I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.” Psalm 27:13-14 (KJV)

Overwhelming trouble can take a toll on anyone.  It’s possible to feel pressed to a breaking point.  Even the apostle Paul was oppressed and afflicted to the point where he despaired of life (2 Corinthians 1:8).  Like Paul, the psalmist David also encountered the valley of despair.  He has left us direction, in the form of three stepping-stones, which will lead out of the valley.  The stepping-stones call us to: believe, wait and take courage.

Believing

For me, believing has meant a daily rehearsal of who God is, as revealed in Scripture.  It has meant reminding myself of past experiences where God proved himself to be my direction, protection and provider.  I would say to myself, my circumstances and to ‘the defeated one’ “God is good and He keeps His word.”  His word says “in due time I will see His goodness in the land of the living.”

Waiting

The flipside of believing is waiting. I choose daily to continue trusting Him. I have accepted that He led me here and He will lead me through this time of trouble. Further,  because He is leading, I will make it through.  His grace is sufficient and I will not perish in the midst of my trouble.  I will and can trust his timing.  So I can sing with the great gospel writer, James Cleveland, “This too will pass”.  I will give God time to answer.

Taking courage

Waiting takes both time and courage, and courage is rarely found in isolation.  It is cultivated within the context of relationships and honed on the edges of conflicts and struggles.  For instance, Esther went uninvited into the king’s presence only after being prodded by her uncle.  Joshua stood boldly to lead Israel only after being encouraged by God.

Relational bravery has also revealed itself in my life.  In and of myself, I can be timid and fearful.  Yet, in the midst of life challenges God has ministered to me through other believers who consistently remind me, as I remind myself, that courage is a choice.  Their hopes and expectations of God, who has promised to continue His work through me, have buoyed me up.

I will attend to Him, wait on Him and hope in Him while bearing up under the weight of this struggle. Though circumstances crush me, I will choose to do what I have been called to do.

Thinking of these loving friends I’m reminded of a Nigerian proverb: “A friend is one who knows the song of your heart and sings it to you when you forget the words.”  However, I would rewrite the proverb.  For me, a friend has been “someone who knows the song/psalms of the Lord, and who sings them to me –  and sometimes even for me – when life circumstances would have me forget the words.”

To my friends who have stood with me through this long, grueling valley I say thank you.  May God continue to bless you.

  • Are you currently in a challenging situation?  
  • What song(s) do you find yourself singing?
  • Looking back over your journey, how do you define “friend?”

Purpose in the midst of emptiness

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What do you do at the latter stage of life when the road ahead seems narrow, dark, lonely and frightening? What do you do?

Well, if you are like Naomi in the book of Ruth, you go back home. You go back to the folks who knew you ‘when.’ You go back to the place where folks have no choice but to take you in. You return to family.

Going back home can be traumatic. Folks there generally measure you against a past image. Their reference point tends to be unrealistic, outdated and wrapped up in their personal expectations of you.

That’s what happened to Naomi when she returned home after the death of both her husband and her two sons. Listen to the question the women who knew asked. They said, “Can this be Naomi?”

What do you think they saw? Was it the fact that she had aged? Could it have been the wounds left by the death of her husband, and the scars caused by the death of two sons? Perhaps they saw the fatigue from traveling and the anxiety that generally accompanies poverty and homelessness. I imagine all this must have marred her.

Listen to Naomi’s response to the women, “The Lord has brought me back empty” (Ruth 1:21). The grief, loss, anxiety and perhaps even shame are captured in her response. She is now old and empty, and old age is definitely the wrong time to be empty. Yet there she was – hungry, poured out, devastated, and possessing nothing.

Sometimes emptying out is less about our mistakes and more about stepping into God’s purpose. Naomi had not sinned, yet she was afflicted and it was painful and humiliating.

In her season of emptiness Naomi waited and hoped in the Lord. So, let me encourage you, as I encourage myself, to wait. “Wait in hope for the Lord,” (Psalm 33:20).

Just as we were born with nothing, ‘emptying out’ return us to nothingness where we are left naked, hungry, wanting and vulnerable. There, we again learn the ways of the Lord as He directs, protects, provides and preserves. He is the same God who said, “No one is to appear before Him empty-handed,” (Exodus 34:20) and so always leads us back to a place of rest and provision.

If you are empty and waiting, be encouraged. Just as Naomi’s heart, home and hands were filled, so too will our desires be fulfilled. God will not leave us empty-handed for long.

He always provides. He continues to order our steps and He will use even this time of loss, grief and perhaps even shame to perfect us and to fulfill His purpose through us.

Hope in the time of struggle

I’m looking out my bedroom window at my new patio.  It’s gorgeous!   The sand colored pavers contrasts beautifully against the brunette colored retaining wall creating an artistic pop of color within the tree covered setting.

The patio was my sister’s idea.  She started the project five years ago and got distracted midway through.  The area has remained an eyesore covered by tarp for the past five years.

My backyard used to disturb my neighbors. They kept prodding me to finish the project. However, I did not have the time, finance or know-how needed to build a patio.  So, I placed the unfinished patio on my prayer list and I fervently beseeched the Father for help.

Over this past summer He answered. He brought friendly consultants, miraculously stretched existing supplies and sent two full weeks of warm, sunny weather.  The patio was completed and my neighbors are thrilled with the results.   The finished patio is my newest symbol of hope.

Hope is quite precious in this season of unemployment.  After months of no replies, invasive interviews and disturbing rejection letters, I struggle to remain positive.

I’ve been unemployed and uncomfortable for far too long.  Friends now wonder if I somehow brought this on myself, and some fear that my circumstance might be contagious.  Others worry I may be tempted to ask for a loan!

Yes, I’ve been in this painful place way too long.  My financial resources, both the brook and bird that brought me sustenance, are drying up.  The days and months of unemployment have left bruises and scars and I’m now bone tired and discouraged.

Into this valley come a word Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord’. Ezekiel 37:4.  God is saying to the cries of my heart “My daughter, hear my Word.  Don’t just listen, hear what I’m saying.

To hear you must first give me your full attention.  I see your mind wandering during prayer. You are distracted by worries. Divided attention is the same as a divided mind.  So, while in my presence let me be the only One on your mind.  Allow my worship, my Word, my thoughts to dominate your mind.

Rehearse my Word. Repeat them over and over again in your mind until they make sense. I am your shepherd.  You will not want. Let your thoughts about joblessness, your bills and your weariness become my thoughts. I will lead.  I will restore. I will provide.”

My friends, in your days of struggle and weariness, what do you hear the Lord saying?  What Word comes to you about your struggles?