Christian

Changing perspective

Have you ever looked at your circumstances and failed to see the goodness of God? You wouldn’t be alone. Things happen in life in which we can see no goodness or redemption. Sometimes we see it later, and in looking back we can see how God was at work, but not always. There are some things we will never understand or see any goodness in.

The mistake we often make is to judge God by our circumstances. When we can see no goodness, we doubt the goodness of God. When we can see no purpose, we doubt the promise of God. When we can see no plan, we doubt the sovereignty of God.

At one of the times I was most struggling, and my future looked most daunting, I cried out to God:

“I don’t know what my future holds!”

His answer came clear and immediate: “But you know who holds your future.”

This cut through my self pity and discouragement. Our confidence is in WHO HE IS.

In the times when I have struggled most, God has frequently challenged me to give thanks. I think there are always things in life that we can give thanks for, no matter how painful, but I have not always been in a place to see them. Does this mean that I cannot give thanks? No.

The root of Thanksgiving stems from WHO GOD IS. At the times when I have seen nothing to be thankful for, I have given thanks for Him, declaring His truth, his goodness, and his sovereignty.

The choice to praise God when you cannot see it does many things. One of these is to change our perspective. Instead of judging God by our circumstances, we begin to judge our circumstances by God. Despite seeing no goodness in our circumstances, we can believe by faith that it is there.

We see this at the centre of Lamentations – in the middle of probably the most depressing book in the Old Testament are these words:

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.'” – Lamentations 3:21-24

Right in the centre of all this despair, he remembers who God is and in this He finds hope. With this perspective, we can look at an uncertain future with certain hope in our certain God.

As Corrie Ten Boom said:

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God”

He is good, so I can declare that “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!” (Ps 27:13)

I have no idea what my future holds, but I know who holds my future.

This is like taking off in a plane in a heavy, overcast day, and rising up above the clouds to see glorious beauty and light… It’s the same scene, just different perspective. Focusing on who God is lifts our perspective above the darkness to see the glorious light of Christ.

Keep looking to Him beloved siblings Christ!

Hephzibah

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Bible, Christian, Digging Deeper, repentance

Struggling with sin

In my last post I shared something from some years ago in my life, now I jump to a very present struggle – sin. It’s not like this is something I’ve just started struggling with recently… it’s been a permanent problem! These last few weeks I have been remembering things God taught me through illness, and learning them again as I continue to wrestle with sin.

One of the things I have found most discouraging with illness, is the way that suffering exposes our sin. When I am tired or in pain, my patience levels plummet, I can be irritable, grumpy, joyless, selfish, struggle to pray or praise God, the allure of self pity becomes very strong, and I can be more critical of others who have “lesser problems”. This is NOT because of the illness. This is because of my sinful nature. The circumstance does not produce the sin, it merely exposes it. I just no longer have the energy to hide the sin that is in my heart.

This was incredibly depressing! I used to wonder is this the “real” Hephzibah coming out now? Maybe this selfish, prideful, irritable person is who I truly am?

Perhaps here you see the combination of truth and lie…?

Truth – I am a sinner in need of God’s grace (daily!) The sin that is exposed is really mine! It is not the fault of anyone or anything else. I sin because I am sinful. Fullstop. And suffering sometimes exposes the true state of my heart in a way nothing else does – and it’s not pretty.

Yet is this who I am?

Peter wrote about this in his first letter:

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 1:6-7

Here Peter is talking about the effect of suffering on our lives, and the way God uses it to refine and purify us. I can tell you now, that the sin exposed in me when I suffer makes me feel anything but genuine and pure. But then I started thinking about the process of refining. Very simply, it is where gold is heated and melted causing the impurities within to separate and rise to the surface… Now, hold that picture there… That sounds very much like what suffering does to us. It causes the impurity hidden within to rise to the surface. At this point the gold will look uglier than before. And if the refining process stopped there, it would only result in ruined gold. And indeed, without God’s grace, this is what suffering does – draws out the ugliness in our hearts and brings it to the surface. But with nothing to then remove it, it remains ugly. Without God’s work in us, this would be where it ends – ruined gold.

… But God!…

But God reaches into our mess and skims the dross off the top. He purifies. He does not leave us. If we will allow him to work in our lives, if we will be soft and pliable in his hands and have the humility to submit to his work in us, and if we will respond to the conviction of His Spirit with repentance, then he uses suffering to draw out, expose, and remove our sinfulness!

He sees past the dross on the surface. He sees gold. He sees precious gold worth refining and purifying. He sees all that he has made us to be, all of the image of God that He had placed in us and that he longs to see unmarred by sin.

I have shared from the perspective of physical suffering. But there are many other trials that God can use the same way. I have been incredibly challenged and inspired by a friend recently who has a difficult and hurtful family situation. It has exposed sin and weakness in her, yet she has taken responsibility for her actions, and through every challenge she has persistently sought God and His way. And from a circumstance of hurt and anger she has grown in gentleness, forgiveness, strength, and grace.

God can use anything to work in us. It does not even have to be any great trial to expose our sin… It may be an irritating child, not enough sleep last night, a morning of minor frustrations, a hurtful word or inconsiderate comment, too much noise, or a disappointment in our lives. Anything that exposes the sin in us is also an opportunity for growth.

My prayer is that, as I see Him expose the ugliness of my heart, I will both take responsibility and acknowledge that my sinful nature is the source of this ugliness, but that I will also rejoice in hope that beyond the ugliness and sin is gold that is being purified and refined to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ for all eternity!

I pray that you too will be encouraged, brothers and sisters, to look to and live for the inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you!

Because of Jesus,

Hephzibah

Illustration by Valerie Martin

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Bible, blog, Digging Deeper, Prayer

Is He worth it?

I recently found an old email I sent a while ago, and decided to put the whole thing in a post just as it was. My description of where my illness is at is not up to date, it was during a relapse over a year ago, but I felt it was the right context in which to share this topic and best left how it was…Enjoy!
“Beloved siblings in Christ,
Just thought I’d share with you some verses I’ve found helpful recently.
“I know, LORD, that our lives are not our own. We are not able to plan our own course. So correct me, LORD, but please be gentle.” – Jeremiah 10:23-24a
I love this because it expresses much of my journey with prayer in continuing to pray God’s will in my life, while at the same time praying he’ll be gentle because I have seen a little of how it can cost. It also describes the journey I’ve been on in learning my life is not my own, and just how powerless my plans are.

My prayer before this illness was “whatever you want, whatever it takes” and in response to that God gave me ME/CFS (yes, I do believe this illness was an answer to prayer! Be careful how you pray!!!). I have struggled with so many things through this. I have (and do) struggle to surrender my life to him and joyfully accept the life he gives, I struggle with not being able to plan and often having to give up my plans/hopes/dreams. 
Recently I felt God ask me, “Do you still mean it? Would you still pray that now you know a little of what it costs?” 
…I thought about this. I am struggling right now. I’m struggling with exhaustion, finding it very hard to eat, having to spend the majority of each day in bed, and to give up (again) many of the things I love. I’m wearied out, I am becoming more isolated as I am more and more housebound, I’m tired of illness, limitations, being useless, exhaustion. I’m soul weary from battling, and having to do much of it alone. I DON’T WANT ANY MORE! 
But is it worth it? Is having Jesus as LORD of my life – all of my life – worth it? Is it worth it to know him more, to grow closer to him? And if that is the only thing that comes from this illness – knowing God more – is that alone worth it? 
“When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!” – Matthew 13:46 
Jesus is that pearl – worth everything. And a pearl is created through suffering. Jesus is that pearl of great price because he suffered. Because he gave up everything. Because, somehow, through the eyes of grace, he considered us worth it. It cost him everything to make the priceless treasure of salvation, of eternity with him, and of being able to draw near to God, available to us.
How can I withhold anything from this God? O LORD, let my prayer again be:

“Whatever you want. Whatever it costs…You are worth it!”

But I am still weary, and it still hurts to pray this, and I still feel I can’t take any more. But this is what I love about Jeremiah’s prayer. He knows what he needs to pray – for God’s correction and for God’s will to be worked out in his life, but he also knows what it costs. So he prays “correct me, LORD, but please be gentle.”
So I will pray,
Lord, you know I’m tired, you know I’m weary, you know it is a battle for hope, and that my strength has run out. You know how much I can take. I want this to be over, but more than that I want your will in my life. Do whatever will honour you most. Do not let me withhold any part of my life. You are so much more than worth it! I don’t understand, but I know that you are good. I still pray Whatever you will, whatever it costs. You are worth it! But please be gentle! 
So brothers and sisters, what is your prayer? Is he worth it? Are you weary, and afraid to pray something that God might answer in a way that costs? 
I would encourage you to pray this anyway. Jesus is the greatest treasure, and worth every cost. But at the same time it’s ok to pray ‘please be gentle’. He knows we are weak. He knows our limits, and how much we can take. Sometimes it is scary to pray this because it is handing over control, and trusting that he will not allow more than we can bear. But he has promised. And he that has promised is faithful to complete everything he has said. 
Hold onto those promises brothers and sisters. We have a glorious inheritance – one worth waiting for. Let us live in hope… looking to Jesus.

He has not forsaken you.”

Praying for you, walking with you, cheering you on,

Hephzibah

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A cure for condemnation

When I first started developing CFS/ME, neither me or my family worked it out for a while. I kept falling asleep when working, forgetting things, and getting behind in all my work. My academic studies were sliding, my room was becoming a mess, and I frequently forgot things I was supposed to do. For some months, we all believed I was just lazy. I lived under this constant weight of believing I was selfish, lazy, and needed to pull myself together more. Others believed this too, and told me so. I did not feel I could talk to others or ask for prayer, as it was myself that was the problem. As things started getting rapidly worse, we recognised that I wasn’t well, and started seeking a diagnosis. There was an immediate probable diagnosis, but it took about a year to be properly diagnosed.

In realising that I was unwell, I had a legitimate reason for my behaviour, and knew that my fatigue and forgetfulness had not been laziness… I was not the horrible, ungodly, selfish person I had come to believe I was. But I still felt under a crushing weight of condemnation.

Knowing that my circumstances weren’t just a result of my own laziness, I felt able to ask for prayer. The church had just had training in prayer ministry, and were eager to put into practice what they’d learnt. One of the comments that came up during the training was that sometimes, when God is healing, someone can feel heat in a specific place. One of the two ladies praying for me had her hand resting on my back between my shoulders. As they were praying, her hand got unusually hot, and the place on my back it was resting on. She asked me if that meant anything to me. Slightly puzzled, I dismissed it saying, “no, the problem wasn’t in my back”.

After praying, I left church with my family and continued with the day, but that heat between my shoulders remained. Eventually I went to my room, and just asked God “Is there something you are saying here?” As I looked up from praying, I saw these verses (among many others) stuck on my wall:

That was what the heat was about! God wanted me to know that He was dwelling between my shoulders.

Suddenly the condemnation lifted. Despite all I couldn’t do, despite others’ opinions of me, despite my own weakness and sinfulness, God called me His Beloved. He was with me! Dwelling in me! Surrounding me! The peace of his presence, and amazing grace of his approval rested on me and calmed my soul.

God knows the healing that we need. This was only the beginning of a long road of severe chronic illness, but the healing of my heart was his priority. I needed to know that His love for me was no less for all my limitations and failings. I am his Beloved when I sin and repent. I am his Beloved when I am needy and require help from others rather than give it. I am his Beloved when I can’t string together a prayer that makes sense. I am his Beloved when I fall asleep trying to read his word. I am His Beloved when I don’t keep up with all the things I should do. I am his Beloved when my room is a mess and I’m failing at my work. None of these things can lessen his love for me, or take away my identity as His.

Neither will he give up on you. Your failings cannot take away the place you hold in his heart or the value he places on you. Your sin cannot remove you so far from God’s presence that he cannot find you and redeem you. If you are His, then nothing else defines who you are… not your memories, your experiences, your scars, your boasts, your pain or shame, failings or fears, not others’ words or opinions, not the lies of the enemy, or the worth the world places on you. You are His – the Beloved of the LORD. And you dwell in safety; for the High God surrounds you all day long and dwells between your shoulders. He is with you… always.

Your Sister In Christ,

Hephzibah

(Illustration by Valerie Martin)

Christian, Digging Deeper, identity

A cure for condemnation

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Betrayed by God?

Have you ever felt betrayed by God? When prayers you have desperately prayed, seem to go unheard and unanswered? When the promises you have clung to appear empty and without fulfilment? When the hope you have kept alive is finally dashed beyond repair…

“Has his steadfast love for ever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” – Psalm 77:8-9

Maybe your prayers have sounded like this at times… or your secret thoughts. What is it that causes that deep grief?

“This is my grief: that the right hand of the Most High has changed” – Psalm 77:10

To the psalmist’s eyes, God’s blessing had changed. The right hand signified blessing, and it seemed God had removed that or changed his character. This grieved him more than anything else. I think this is also what most deeply grieves us in any situation. It is not always the circumstances themselves that drive us to despair, but the fact that we cannot see God in them, and to us it seems that he has changed, failed, given up, or betrayed us.

God is unchangeable. He cannot lie. He cannot deny who He is. Yet there are things that we cannot and never will understand, things that we won’t be able to reconcile to a good God.

I think often our feeling of betrayal by God comes from our expectation. We read promises like “all things work together for good”, and “I will prosper the righteous”, and we imagine a life full of blessings, victories, and prayers answered how we want them. When this does not happen, we think God must be false to His promises, but maybe it is just that we never really grasped them in the first place.

I am not saying here that we should not live in expectation… of course we should! We have a great God who works to bless his people and we should have confidence in that… only that we should not define what that blessing is.

We so like to tell God what is best. Our idea of God’s best for us is health, a job or ministry we love, a happy family, good finances, and a bit of spiritual growth too. But look at the way He promises to care for us in John 15. He promises to prune us to make us grow and thrive. This means being cut back, experiencing frustration, disappointment, and loss. These may be big or little things, but He loves us enough to do whatever is necessary to make us grow, thrive, and produce an abundant harvest in Him, and that includes allowing pain and loss.

Another mistake we make is to tell God when and how. A good friend and role-model of mine said recently

When God gives you a promise, it’s because you’re going to need it.

That is so simple, but a truth very few of us grasp. If it is all going to happen now, what need is there for Him to have given a promise? When we receive God’s promises, we want to see it happen… now! But He gives us promises as hope to cling on to when it looks impossible. He gives us promises for things we are going to have to wait for. He gives us promises so we have a window into the goodness of God when we can find it nowhere else.

And this is the psalmist’s response. He cannot see it now, but he declares what he knows about God…

“I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What God is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples. You with your arm redeemed your people…” – Psalm 77:11-15

One thing I have discovered is that God fulfils every promise he has made… but the fulfilment of those is very rarely what I have expected. He answers every prayer… but his answer is not always how we want.

In the preface to her book “Joni”, Joni Eareckson Tada (a quadriplegic) wrote

“To rephrase this thought, I suggest that there are likewise only two joys. One is having God answer all your prayers; the other is not receiving the answer to all your prayers. I believe this because I have found that God knows my needs infinitely better than I know them. And He is utterly dependable, no matter which direction our circumstances take us.”

He is faithful. He is enough. He is all I need. But let’s be real about the pain and confusion that can make us question, and the times we feel God has let us down or betrayed us. May God enable us to embrace each joy He gives… through the answers we want, and the ones we don’t. And may He strengthen us to hold onto truth. To hold onto the promises He’s given us for the waiting. And to hold onto the memories of His goodness to us and the anchor of our Hope – Jesus crucified for us, and certain, glorious eternity with Him.

Press on, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Press on to receive that crown of glory He has waiting for you. It will be worth it!

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“For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” – Philippians 3:8-9

Our identity in Christ is such a wonderful and glorious thing. It is wonderful just to be made in His Image, but this goes further than that. When we are His, we receive the identity Jesus won for us.

What does this mean? The way I picture it is this: when Jesus was hanging on the cross, a divine exchange was made. In that moment every sin, shame or wrongdoing, was nailed on Him, and He received the punishment for them. All our names of “Failure”, “Unwanted”, “Unlovely”, “No belonging”, “Sinful”, “Unworthy”, “Useless”, “Ashamed”, “Worthless”… He took on himself, and as He died, these died with Him. Forever.

And then He rose – our glorious, beautiful, powerful, holy, and righteous King! And with Him, we rose. The new you.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

Jesus is Holy. In Him we are holy.

Jesus is righteous. In Him we are righteous.

Jesus is the Approved of God. In Him we are the Approved of God.

Jesus is God’s chosen one. In Him we are God’s chosen ones.

Jesus is the cornerstone. We are built on Him – living stones creating a temple, a dwelling place for God, a spiritual house.

Jesus is the head. We are His body, called to see, hear, serve, and speak, as he directs. And as He was broken and given out for many, we too are called to be broken and given, and through our wounds to minister the healing of His.

Jesus is the Beloved. In Him we too are God’s Beloved.

Jesus came as a servant. In Him our calling is as servants.

Jesus is the sacrifice that bought our salvation. In Him we are called to be living sacrifices, withholding nothing from God, and fully devoted to Him.

Jesus is the perfect high priest. In Him we are His holy priesthood.

You want to know who you are? You want to find your identity and calling? Look to Jesus.

Smash the mirror. Gaze at God.

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” – 1 Corinthians 3:18

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 2:4-5

You Are. This is not an identity you work your way to. It is not for another point in your life when you are less sinful, more useful, have brought dozens of people to know Christ, cleaned up the mess in your life, sorted those habitual sins, have learned to control your temper, be more organised, and watch your tongue. It is not for the spiritual Christians, or the mature ones. This is for all those who are In Him.

Those names we mentioned at the beginning, and any others you have earned yourself, leave them in the grave where they belong. That is not who you are. That is not who He is creating you to be.

Look to Him and receive the names He speaks over you…

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people, once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” – 1 Peter 2:9-10

Hephzibah

Illustration by Valerie Martin

Bible, Christian, Digging Deeper, identity

In Christ

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Christian, Digging Deeper, identity

The disciple Jesus Loved

Identity – part 2

“That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!'” – John 21:7

I have always found that title confusing. It seems a bit arrogant, and too much like a claim to fame. I remember asking when I was a child about why the disciple John called himself this in his gospel, and I remember always being unsatisfied with the answer. I was told that John was the closest disciple to Jesus, and this was why he called himself “the disciple Jesus loved”. But this always seemed to go against the Christ-centred, kingdom-minded humility that is so valued in scripture.

On one of my many sleepless nights, at a stage when I was really struggling with losing my identity with the illness, these words “the disciple Jesus loved” kept going round in my head. As I meditated on this, I realised how little else John said about himself. The only things he seems to say are about his relationship with Jesus, and Jesus’ love for Him.

We do know that John was the disciple closest to Jesus. I am not taking away from that in any way. I’m just not convinced that that was why he called himself the disciple Jesus loved. Considering how little else John said about himself, it seems that in calling himself “the disciple Jesus loved” that he had said everything we need to know about him. But couldn’t the same be said of any follower of Christ?

Yes! If we are His, if we believe in Him and confess He is Lord, if we are following Him, abiding in Him, and obeying Him, then we are surely His disciples. And if we are His we already know that Jesus loves us!

What if this title is not a “claim to fame” but actually a humble declaration that He is no more or less than loved by God and a follower of Him. Nothing more needs to be said. He doesn’t need to tell us about the faith he had, any great acts he did, his piety, experience or role in building the church. It is enough to know that He is the disciple Jesus loved.

Is this enough for us? When you think of your worth, your identity, your qualifications to be used by God, is it enough for you to say simply “I am the disciple Jesus loves”? Before other believers, or the world, are we able to stand on these credentials, and not grasp for our own self-made boasts.

John recognised that there is no higher status than to be the disciple Jesus loved.

In my illness, uselessness, and struggle with what felt like everything I was being stripped away, God showed me that I, too, am the Disciple Jesus Loves. That this is all I need to be. This is all others need to know of me. This is at once, my status, my identity, my calling, my credentials, and my qualifications. I cannot become – through work, experience, service, accomplishments, or good deeds -any more than this… for there is no higher accolade! And as long as He holds me, leads me and loves me (which is forever as He is eternal) I cannot become any less. Nothing can strip me of this other than a decision not to follow Him.

So let us live out this identity which cannot be snatched or dimmed. What a glorious inheritance we have in Jesus!

Hephzibah

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