Just Be Held

“Just Be Held” is a new song by Casting Crowns. At least it’s new to me. I heard it for the first time this past week in the Publix parking lot. Instead of driving away after shopping, I sat there and listened. And I cried.

It seems that each time I hear a new song about being held by the Lord (there are several I heard over the past several years), it brings tears to my eyes. Perhaps it’s because throughout my childhood my dad was unable to hold his children when they needed to be consoled.

It’s taken me years to realize that God is eager to hold me—even when I’ve blown it and feel discouraged by my failures.

Some days I slip back into trying to make things right myself and to comfort myself. I use food or shopping to attempt to make myself feel better when I’ve blown it or others have rejected me. I can forget that God is there with open arms any time I choose to run to Him.

The word “refuge” in Scripture goes along with this sense of being held by God. I think of Psalm 46:1, a verse that encourages me. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

What does it mean to have God as our refuge? On the website Gotquestions.org I read: “Whatever picture comes to mind, it can be agreed that a refuge is a safe place. When the Bible describes God as our refuge, it is saying that God is our safe place when we need protection from something.”

How wonderful that I can find refuge and be safe in the Lord’s arms.

Years ago when it seemed that running to the Lord was not a safe thing to do because of my fears and doubt regarding God, He whispered this little saying to me. “I want you to come to Me, not to scold you, but to hold you.”

At the time people in my life tended to scold me when I needed comfort. My wrong image of God from my childhood also caused me to think that He would do the same.

Another verse that has encouraged me to go to the Lord to be held is Hebrews 4:16. I like how this verse is spelled out in the Amplified version of the Bible.

“Let us then fearlessly and confidently and boldly draw near to the throne of grace (the throne of God’s unmerited favor to us sinners), that we may receive mercy [for our failures] and find grace to help in good time for every need [appropriate help and well-timed help, coming just when we need it].”

From both this verse and Psalm 46:1, I see that God not only wants to hold me but He then wants to help me. My part is to stop holding on to my will and my way and to embrace His. Surrender can seem difficult, but it’s essential.

This week as certain difficulties put pressure on my soul, and I feel like I’m not measuring up to God’s best in various areas of my life, I’m going to do what the group Casting Crowns says to do in their song–just be held.

Please listen carefully to the words in this song and take them deep into your heart. They are so powerful.

“Just Be Held” by Casting Crowns

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Delusions About Suffering

This past Sunday in my connection group at church, we watched a video featuring Matt Chandler, a pastor from Texas. After he had given a teaching from Philippians that centered on suffering, he faced a traumatic trial of his own, malignant brain cancer.

He spoke on the subject of suffering on previous videos, and then he lived it.

This particular video was about facing brain cancer with a godly perspective after having a life where he tended to receive blessing after blessing. The way he said it is: “Before this, everything I did turned to gold.”

We as the viewers could see the large scar on his hairless head where he had had brain surgery.

One point he brought out is that some of us think that if we’re good and do what God says, He owes us and we’ll bypass suffering.

I realized that at times I’ve given in to that kind of thinking.

Another delusion I’ve had about suffering is this: I’ve suffered enough. After surviving my childhood, I surmised that I had faced beyond my share of suffering for a lifetime, and a gracious God would surely keep me from enduring more of it.

The day I heard of my younger sister’s suicide, the thought went through my mind, Haven’t I suffered enough? That was thirtysome years ago when I was in my twenties.

Since then more trials, traumas and tragedies have come my way including the suicide of another family member three years ago, severe mental illness in other family members, loved ones turning away from the Lord and rejecting me, and the list goes on.

I can still slip into this is not fair, why me? and God, haven’t I been through enough? thinking.

As I thought this week about the first delusion in regard to suffering pointed out by Pastor Chandler—that if I’m good and do what God says, (which is the goal of my life) He owes me–a poem I wrote years ago came to mind. The theme of the poem came down to God doesn’t owe me; He owns me.

The Word of God affirms that fact in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV)

…You are not your own; you were bought at a price.

I don’t get to tell God what to do because He owns me. He’s in charge of me.

The good news that this pastor brought out is that suffering isn’t random—that God has a plan within suffering. He also stated that suffering is not punishment, coming against the third delusion I have believed.

As I look back over my life, I can see the good that God has brought from suffering. He’s drawn me closer to Himself, He’s helped me to have more compassion for others who suffer, and He’s used suffering to make me more like Christ.

Other promises in regard to suffering that have cheered me this week are:

… after you have suffered a little while, (God) will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast (1 Peter 5:10).

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Many adversities come to the one who is righteous, but the LORD delivers him from them all (Psalm 34:19 HCSB).

Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you (Hebrews 13:5 NIV).

Fear not [there is nothing to fear], for I am with you; do not look around you in terror and be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen and harden you to difficulties, yes, I will help you; yes, I will hold you up and retain you with My [victorious] right hand of rightness and justice (Isaiah 41:10 AMP—my life verse).

As I listened the past several days to a speaker on a CD that a friend gave me, he spoke these words which I applied to suffering: “There is no security in what God is doing. There is only security in who God is.”

How true I’ve found that to be. When I try to tell God what to do, how to do it, or what not to do, I feel frustrated and fearful. When I embrace all of who He is, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude and surrounded by His grace.

Thank You, Lord, for all You have allowed me to suffer and for all the good You have brought from it. Help me to know You in a deeper way and to trust You more as I face the troubles of this life. Thank You for being there, hearing my prayers, and showing You care. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Song: “Blessed be Your Name” by Matt Redman

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Distracted From Delighting

“Discouragement, distractions, and lies.”

A while ago in my Bible study class, the teacher said these were three main things that would keep us from doing what God called us to do.

The one that has been on my mind lately is distractions.

This past week I heard a speaker on Christian radio speaking about this verse:

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

My thought was that I want to delight in the Lord—to stay in that mindset and soulset–but it seems that too often I’m distracted from delighting.

When I looked up the word delight this is what I read: “Something that gives great pleasure or enjoyment.”

Some days I find great pleasure and enjoyment in my relationship with the Lord. Other days I’m distracted from that.

Not only does the Word say that I’m to delight in the Lord, but in looking up verses with that word, I’m also to delight in these which are connected to my great God, which show that I’m delighting in Him. The bolding is done by me.

–delight in revering your name. Nehemiah 1:11

–whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. Psalm 1:2 NIV

–My soul will rejoice in the LORD and delight in his salvation. Psalm 35:9

–Great are the works of the LORD; they are pondered by all who delight in them. Psalm 111:2

–I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. Psalm 119:16

Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors. Psalm 119:24

–for I delight in your commands because I love them. Psalm 119:47

–When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my delight. Jeremiah 15:16

As I looked up verses with the word delight, what struck me was how many there were that said God delighted in me. He wants me to take pleasure in Him the way He takes pleasure in me.

So as I pondered this subject of delighting in the Lord, I realized that what can keep me from it on any given day is to find more delight in the things of this world than I do in the Lord.

One of those “other delights” is food. I confess that I ponder, praise, and partake of food too much, and I’m not just talking about nourishment. At times I’m delighting in it more than in the Lord, and it even keeps me from delighting in Him.

My mind is more focused on “What can I put in my mouth that’s tasty?” than “What can I eat spiritually today that the Lord will provide that will help me through this day and draw me closer to Him and allow me to know Him better?” On too many days opening the refrigerator seems more important than opening the Word.

It’s not that God doesn’t want me to enjoy food, but He doesn’t want me to get more pleasure from it than I do from Him.

In the definition of “delight” it says “great pleasure.” I believe God wants me to find pleasure in certain things on this earth, but to find my greatest pleasure in Him.

Other distractions are TV and radio shows, reading books and magazines, time with friends and family, going on the Internet and Facebook, going shopping, exercising. At times I invite Him into these pursuits, but other times they draw me away from Him.

None of these other pleasures are evil, but when they come above the Lord and what He’s calling me to accomplish in this world, they’re hurting me and my relationship with the Lord. The main thing is that I need to put them in their proper place. We’ve all heard it before: prioritize.

I am called to be a writer. My desired goal is to write every day. I don’t. I had every intention of posting this blog days ago. I have a project that I should have sent out a while ago, but the above list of things have distracted me. When I write—because I write about spiritual matters—I am delighting in the Lord. I’m seeking Him wholeheartedly. I’m asking Him what to write and how to write it, and I’m learning new and wonderful things about Him as I search His Word. And I sense He delights in me as I’m going through the process.

The Olympic runner Eric Liddel put it this way about his running, and I could say something similar about writing: “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

Writing is one of the main calls I have on my life, but the things of this world often keep me from it.

What is your gift? What is one of the main things God has called you to do? When you do that, you are delighting in the Lord, and He delights in you at the same time. I pray that distractions of this world will not get in your way.

Today let’s embrace and live out this verse: “I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God.” Isaiah 61:10

A book connected to this subject is Desiring God by John Piper

Song: “My Delight Is In You” Christy Nockels

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Do Not Listen to Your Eyes

“Do not listen to your eyes,” said Marie, my Bible study teacher, not long ago.

Too often that’s just what I do. I believe what my eyes see rather than holding to what God says. This can cause me to sink into despair as I look at what’s happening around me. I can forget God’s promises and instead look at all the bad that’s unfolding on the premises.

Here’s the little note I wrote to myself in my journal after Marie exhorted us. “Elaine, you pay too much attention to what you see. Don’t trust your eyes. Trust your spirit and the Holy Spirit.”

Recently when I was upset by what my eyes saw on TV, God spoke these two things to my heart. “I, the Lord, am still in control,” and “I am not surprised by this.”

My Bible study teacher saw the same “news” on TV. She shared what God spoke to her, “I have not changed.”

Another way to say what Marie did– Do not listen to your eyes”–is found in 2 Corinthians 5:7 (ESV) “for we walk by faith and not by sight.”

Marie further said that listening to our eyes is part of the trap that Satan sets for us. How true. If he can get me to trust what I see rather than what God says, then he hurts my relationship with the Lord.

She also said, “If we don’t listen to our eyes, we’ll gain a teachable heart.”

Today I am determined to look at my life through spiritual eyes and by the light of His Word. I desire to trust Him and to remember that I cannot trust what I see. I don’t want to fall into Satan’s trap, and I want to maintain a teachable heart, which is a humble heart.

Years ago when certain areas of my life were falling apart, I listened again and again to an old hymn sung by Ginny Owens, who is blind. That song was “Be Thou My Vision.” Through the words of that hymn, God reminded me that I shouldn’t trust what I see, but I have to trust Him to be vision for me—to show me what things are really like in His reality because mine is unreliable.

I’m glad He used that song to remind me back then not to trust what I see, but instead to walk by faith. That reminder helped me through some hard days.

I’m also glad He used words from my Bible study teacher to remind me again in these difficult days to keep on trusting Him and not what I see.

At this moment I’m convinced He’s at work, He’s in control, and He can be trusted. That’s because right now I’m not listening to what I see. I’m listening to Him.

Song: “Be Thou My Vision” sung by Ginny Owens

Wait and listen to the video after “Be Thou My Vision” also sung by Ginny Owens titled, “If You Want Me To.” That is also a special giving-hope-and-help-in-hard-times song.

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Learning To Savor

Recently as I was thinking about how I could eat less and get my weight back under control, these words came to mind.

“Savor the flavor.”

I realized that often lately when I ate, I gulped food down quickly, not taking the time to enjoy the taste of it. This was one of the reasons I tended to eat too much and yet found minimal enjoyment or satisfaction from food.

I’ll admit I have a problem with emotional eating. People like me who turn to food searching for some kind of emotional fulfillment or comfort are looking to feel better from eating, but forget to taste the foods we consume. Too often we will even continue to eat something that doesn’t taste good.

As I’ve been savoring the flavor of food lately, I’ve lost five pounds. I eat less because I enjoy what I’m eating. Aren’t peaches amazing? I still eat sweet treats, but much less of them. Also, I’m looking to the Lord to deal with my emotional turmoil.

Yesterday I decided I needed to apply “savor the flavor” to my spiritual life. Often I consume large portions of Scripture and spend time with God in prayer, but I fail to consistently savor my experiences with the Lord.

I take Bible verses for granted instead of celebrating this fact, “Wow; that promise applies to me!”

Today I looked up “savor” in the dictionary. This is what I read: “taste (good food or drink) and enjoy it completely” and “enjoy or appreciate (something pleasant) completely, especially by dwelling on it.”

I long to dwell on a consistent basis more deeply and fully on the Lord rather than having quick or distracted times of prayer and fleeting words of worship—going through the motions of devotions.

The verse that came to mind as I thought about this is Psalm 34:8: “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” (NIV)

Am I really tasting the Lord in my present walk with Him? What does that even mean?

In the Bible Hub commentary I read this:

“in calling us to taste and see this, the psalmist means that we should seriously, thoroughly, and affectionately consider it, and make trial of it by our own experience; which is opposed to those slight and vanishing thoughts that men usually have of the divine goodness. It is not sufficient that we find him to be a bountiful benefactor to us, but we must relish and take delight in his goodness manifested in and by his gifts, and in the contemplation of his infinite perfections and boundless love; and must be so convinced and persuaded of his goodness, as thereby to be encouraged, in the worst of times, to trust in him, and cast our care upon him.”

The conclusion I have come to is that if I’m doubting His goodness or wondering if He really cares about me, I’m not “tasting” Him, which I see as being in deep union with Him. The Word and delving deeply into it is key to becoming or returning to being more vitally connected to Him.

Jeremiah 15:16 one of my favorite verses about this pursuit. “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart…”

As I let go of doubt and allow God’s Word to penetrate the deepest layers of my soul, His promise is that I will have joy and delight.

I’m going to savor that thought for a while.

Here’s a song to enter into fully and savor:

“O Taste and See” by Brian and Jenn Johnson

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Hurt By God’s People

Not long ago I attempted to become more connected to people at my church.

Because of having to work every other Sunday, working 12-hour shifts, and traveling often, I’m unable to attend church every week. I can listen to church online, but that’s not the same as being connected to people.

A while ago I was involved in a Sunday school class. The people in that class were my points of connection, and whenever I attended the class I felt connected to my church again and could find out everything that was going on. Unfortunately that class has disbanded.

So recently I decided to go to a prayer meeting that meets on Monday evenings.
I felt awkward—like an outsider—because of my disconnection.

And then something else came to my mind as I battled discomfort when I first went to the prayer meeting.

A part of me wanted to remain disconnected because of traumas I and my family had experienced at church.

I brought this up in the prayer meeting, and instead of expressing empathy and saying, “We’ll pray that you get over your traumas,” people proclaimed, “you need to move on” and other trite phrases to that effect.

When I tried to pray about something I discerned was a problem in the church—racism–certain individuals said, “That is not a problem in this church!”—even though I had seen it in action in church members.

One even said, “Racism is not a problem in our society” even though this was in the midst of videos playing repeatedly on the news showing policemen killing unarmed black citizens.

More trauma.

So I stayed away from the prayer group and felt myself moving back from being connected to church people.

Even though I knew there was power in forgiveness and felt I had forgiven, for some reason the things that had happened at my church still tormented me at times. What happened at that prayer meeting weighed on my mind.

Then I realized why God allowed the moments of torment.

There are scores of Christians who have been traumatized at their churches. God wanted me to know how they felt and reach out to them with comfort them as I write about this issue. Even though the church is doing some things right, there is much that is wrong with the church and God wanted me to be part of making things right by speaking truth and being bold in praying and saying as He led.

I had even thought of writing an article that had to do with my traumas. The title would be something like this: “Five Traumas That Made Me Want to Quit Church Life; Five Reasons I Stayed.”

One thing I know as a writer is that God allows me to have experiences that scores of others have, so I can write about them and bring hope. This is why God would not allow my hurts and heartaches to subside completely—because He wanted me to write more about this subject.

So many of the people who have been through hard times in church life have left the church and never returned. Some of have even turned away from God. I meet them on a regular basis. Some are my own relatives.

Not too long ago I read Wounded by God’s People; Discovering How God’s Love Heals Our Hearts by Anne Graham Lotz and more recently Soul Survivor; How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church by Philip Yancey. These books helped me to feel connected to others who have been hurt in the church and to know that I am not alone. My delusion that godly people like Anne Graham Lotz would never be wounded by church people evaporated.

This is what she writes, “I too have been wounded by God’s people. Some wounds have been deeper than others, some seemed to come out of nowhere, some have been provoked by my own bad behavior, yet all of the wounds have been deeply painful. And they seemed to hurt even more when the wounders wrapped their behavior in a semblance of religion or piety.”

I realized that some of my rejections from church people were based on one of the reasons they rejected her—she spoke hard truths based on the Bible when people preferred lies and living like they pleased instead of in ways that would please the Lord.

So yesterday I went back to that prayer meeting. I realized Satan was trying to get me to stay away from church life, and my feelings about what the people in the prayer group said weren’t important. What was vital was me being in the prayer meeting praying about things they could not or would not see and perhaps to help them break through denial. I could also learn from them about the spiritual condition of our church and where prayer was needed. I could repent there of how I have fallen short as a member of the body of Christ. I could grow by being with people who viewed things differently than me.

When I first joined my church, God communicated that I was to be there to pray. For quite a while I prayed for an hour each week in the prayer room for our church, its leaders, members, and attenders. Then traumas that occurred in the church and in my family life drew me away from diligent prayer for too long.

But I’m back in the prayer room, and I’m back at my church with a determination to be connected. God healed one trauma (See last week’s blog), and He’s continuing to do a work in my heart in regard to my relationship to my church as I continue to pray.

I confess the sin of neglecting to fully answer God’s call to pray diligently for my church—to pray without ceasing.

Lately I’m being reminded that healing does not come from withdrawing from church life or holding on to bitterness or even trying to fix things in my own strength. God wants to heal each of us, but a saying that someone told me years ago holds true: “If you have been hurt by church people, healing must come through church people.”

When we leave the church or our connection to church people, we lose the opportunity for healing.

I want complete healing from the effects of traumas inflicted in my church life. The church is a place where hurt people hurt people, and I know that I will be hurt again. Also, I have to confess that I may have unknowingly traumatized others in the church. But on the other side of hurt is God’s healing. What a beautiful thing that is.

What about you? Have you been hurt by people in church? Are you ready to bring your hurts and heartaches to the Lord and receive healing and spread the truth about God’s healing power?

Will you join me in looking to the Lord–“…who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20 NIV)–for hope, help, and healing?

Listen to this song by MercyMe: “The Hurt and The Healer”

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A Miracle Happened Today

A miracle happened today.

When something this special takes place, a part of me doesn’t want to write about it because I can’t adequately put into words how extraordinary it is and how spectacular God is at answering prayer.

While sitting in church listening to a sermon about prodigals this morning, sadness welled up again in my heart for a special prodigal.

Then I saw a person across the church who had been rejecting of my prodigal while she was still walking with the Lord. Once again I realized bitterness had come back into my heart toward this person.

Not long ago at my women’s Bible study, we were encouraged to go to those we still felt bitterness toward and ask for forgiveness for holding on to it.

This person had come to mind, but how could I do this without making him feel bad? I thought. What happened was years ago.

So in church I decided to do what my Bible study teacher had taught us to do when we don’t know what to do. I asked the Father.

“God, how do I pray about this continued bitterness?” I wrote in my journal.

This is what the Lord laid on my heart:

HE IS (WAS) THE PICTURE OF THE FALSE CHURCH AND THE FALSE GOD WHO SAYS, “I WILL LOVE YOU IF…” (That’s how my own father ‘loved’ me.) WRITE ABOUT THE INCIDENT, ELAINE. I WILL HEAL YOU IN THE PROCESS. GOING TO HIM WILL NOT HELP. YOU WANT HIM TO APOLOGIZE. REMEMBER THAT HE DID WHAT HE DID OUT OF HIS WRONG IMAGE OF ME AND HIS INABILITY TO RECEIVE LOVE FROM ME AND PASS IT ON. FEEL BAD FOR HIM AND NOT BAD AGAINST HIM.

After the service I ran into someone who knew my prodigal, and I poured out some of my grief which had been stirred by the sermon even though the good news was that God would welcome her back the minute she turned around.

But still her turning around seemed impossible. And so did what I’m about to write. I confess I’m still having a hard time believing what’s on the front of my present journal: “With God all things are possible (Matthew 10:26 NIV). Today’s incident is moving me closer to being convinced.

As I talked in the hallway outside the bookstore, the person I had prayed about in church was coming toward me. We rarely crossed paths in our big church, and most of the time we attended different services. Also, I don’t remember him ever coming toward me while I was standing still. If I was in motion in the past, I could just move past him with a quick “hello.” And OK, I’ll admit it, I tended to avoid him.

The thought came to mind, God told me not to go to him, but he’s coming to me. Or is God sending him?

I greeted him warmly and held out my hand and shook his. As I did, something began to melt inside of me.

“We were just talking about my prodigal,” I informed him and said her name. I shared a few details, and the incident from the past naturally came into the conversation. Somewhere in the midst, the other person hugged me goodbye and walked away. I stood face to face with “the rejecter,” and I told him I had felt bitter toward him about his rejecting actions. As I spoke the words, I suddenly saw things from his viewpoint, and I had compassion for him. I repented before him about my bitterness and my placing some blame on him for my prodigal’s rejecting God.

I could not believe my boldness.

In the past I felt this person cared nothing about my loved one, but in the conversation I heard caring and compassion. He complimented my prodigal for the strengths he had seen in her.

In those few minutes together, God had begun to complete the healing in my heart. Yes, I believe He still wants me to write about it for a magazine to help others’ hearts to be healed, and for my healing to be utterly completed, but I felt free and refreshed.

And as this person walked away, he said, “Please give me her email address, and I will write to her.”

I wanted to cry.

Way back when after “the rejection,” I had asked him to please write to her to make things right between them, and he had refused.

As I rejoiced over what God did, I thought of what my husband and I had talked about earlier today–about the difference between watching church on the computer and going to church.

“If you don’t go to church, you miss the interactions with the people there,” I insisted, even though I often felt tempted after being hurt repeatedly in church circles to just become a cyber worshipper.

But if I had, I would have missed today’s miracle.

God is so good. And prayer does work—miracles.

“Forgiveness” by Matthew West

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