October 16, 2017

Peace Which Surpasses Understanding

The tiles are cold underneath me so I pull over a rug to sit on, back pressed against the wall, weary head leaned back, and a towel thrown over my legs - another attempt to keep the cold at bay. My stomach growls every other minute or so reminding me that I am hungry but normally am not up to feel it at this hour, long before dawn’s light will streak across the sky.  I can feel the tiredness through every part of me but not even so much because of the hour but because of life.  Sometimes, at every turn there is hard.  I look and all around me are people struggling under the weight of hard.  I continue to hold the phone close and listen to the tears on the other end wishing there was a way to fix it all and calm the fears but feeling powerless to do so.  

Powerless is a feeling I know well. Friends and family I love and others I don't know well at all but I know of their pain are meeting each sunrise unsure of how to take the next step forward because life isn't what they expected, planned for, or wanted.  I don't even have to leave my own home to find the struggle.  What are the answers?  How can one help?  Sometimes help and answers are far from simple. 

What happens when days turn into weeks which turn into years without solutions?  What happens when the healing is long and slow or maybe there is none? What do we do when our children ask questions we can't answer?  What do we say when the loss is excruciating, the diagnosis scary, the circumstances are overwhelming, the pain (physical or otherwise) is continual, or the darkness is heavy and there seems to be no end in sight?  What do we do when we cannot understand what God is doing and why He doesn't answer the way we ask?

I have pleaded with God in the last few years, tears streaming, asking Him for answers, for healing, for change, for redemption and found myself wondering why when I am asking for things that are good, right, and honoring to Him, does He withhold the answers I seek?  Have you begged God to act in some way, to bring change, and it seems nothing happens?

What is God doing?

The answer is, I don't know. And somehow, I have begun to find some peace in the not knowing.  I still wrestle.  I still shed many tears over unanswered questions.  I still grieve and feel weary many days.  How can there be peace without understanding? The peace comes in the recognition of who I am and who I serve. 

“'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 'For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 'For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.'”
Isaiah 55:8-13 

His thoughts are not my thoughts.  His ways are not mine.  I would write stories differently where children don't die, teens don't get hurt and struggle, peace reigns in all hearts, diseases don't take over bodies, relationships aren't broken, people aren't scarred, and peaceful sleep always comes. However, my thoughts and ways are so very limited and the honest truth is, my end goal would be ease and comfort.  God’s end goal is  SO MUCH more rich, sweet, eternal, and beautiful.  There is peace when we recognize we are finite and cannot understand the mind and ways of an infinite God.  Where we think only thorns and briers will grow, He grows the cypress and myrtle (vs.13).  Where we think only brokenness will grow, He grows faith and vessels for His glory.  In all of the hard He is working to make His name known to the world - His glory known (vs. 13).  In His grace, He is always working for our good as well (Rom. 8:28) but in ways we can't imagine (Eph. 3:20). When I bow to His greatness and sovereignty, when I relinquish the need to understand or have things answered MY way, then verse twelve is true for me and I go out not only with peace, but with joy. 

The pressure is off.  I don't have to know.  You don't have to know and understand.  We cry out and we beg God to work, to save, to redeem, to heal, and we trust that whatever answer He gives is as it should be because it is coming from Someone who can see far beyond what we can, is doing abundantly more than we can imagine, and is faithful beyond what we can comprehend. 

And there is peace.

Peace and understanding are not the same thing.  Understanding is not something we are ever promised.  The outcomes we think are good are never promised. Peace is promised if we will continually believe God (Rom. 15:13) and continually lay our burdens at His feet (Phil. 4:6-7).  

My pillow will be wet with tears again many times over before my life here is done.  God created hearts in us that care so we will rightfully grieve the brokenness of this world.  I will plead and beg of God many times over on behalf of my children in these years before they leave my home and I think even more so after.  I will cry out to Him on behalf of the pain in others I love and even those I don't know well but who are experiencing first hand the pain of this world.  However, I do not have to do any of that without peace.  I can trust the heart of the One who hears it all.  I can stand firmly on the truth that every word that goes out from His mouth will accomplish what He intended for it and all will be brought to completion (vs. 11). 

I ended the call that night when the tears on the other end had subsided, and I turned to the only thing I knew that could transform my discouraged thoughts.  I turned to truth. In God’s providence and goodness, in the hours I was sleeping, a friend had sent me something written around this truth from God’s Word:

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
Deuteronomy 29:29 

I clung to it with every fiber of my being.  They - all those things that threaten to tear my heart apart that I do not understand - they belong to God and I can leave them there. He has given me all I need.  
And there is peace. 

I brought much before the Lord on those tiles that night.  There are so many hurting and so many circumstances I do not understand and feel powerless to help. After much prayer, I got up off those cold tiles and dried the tears.   There was nothing fixed.  I had no more understanding how to move forward, how to help, how to fix,  and I still do not.  I did leave there though different than I had sat down.  I left with peace because I had laid down the need to understand - at least for that day.  I will need to repeat over and over but that's the wonderful thing about God, His supply never runs out.  Each time I come earnestly seeking peace, ready to trust Him with all that doesn't make sense to me, He lavishes me in His grace with His endless supply of peace. 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”
Proverbs 3:5

July 5, 2017

A Good God

God is good, all the time. I've been pondering this truth the last few weeks.  Good all the time?  Good no matter what happens?

Four weeks ago I thought I was driving there to sit with them while they lost their son.  Getting hit by a semi doesn't usually end well with people.  I felt physically sick.  It was the kind of drive where you pray non-stop begging God to act, to save, to work a miracle.  I had made the drive to this ER before.  I had prayed the same types of prayers only they were for my own son. I have stared death in the face, and I prayed fervently all the way there that these friends would not have to do the same. 

The grief was intense and the wait for that wonderful and awful life flight chopper was long. Though different, and though 13 years had passed, it all felt a little too familiar - the ER, the chopper, the time of year, a son. I did the only thing I knew to do - be present and pray. I stood by and sat by them in the same way they had sat by us 13 years earlier.  The weight and the wait felt too much for anyone to bear but I knew from experience, He can make anyone able.

The chopper came, the doctors went to work, and then the news came.  God had answered.  No broken bones.  No major internal trauma.  Full recovery expected. Oh the joy and relief that washed over that waiting room of so many loving, caring people!

The next day brought news that felt discouraging but following days only pointed more and more to a miracle and God was answering the prayer of not only a life saved, but full recovery.
God is good.  Many said it, myself included. 

As I drove back and forth to the hospital many times over the next several days I had to wrestle that truth out a little.  God is good.  I never stopped believing it but I throw that statement out every time God answers in the way that I think He should.  How often do I say it when He answers in a way that breaks hearts?  Is He only good when He gives me what I ask, or when He does what I think He should? When are we as believers willing to say He is good?  Is He good when we are standing over a grave, or we get a hard diagnosis, or we are still alone, or we have faced endless hurt? Is He good whether he saves a life or not even though He is always able?  Sometimes we are afraid to ask the hard questions.  The real question is, is He good all the time?

True goodness must always be good. His goodness is not based on outcomes or circumstances.  I know He is good because His Word tells me so:

“For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”
Psalms 100:5

I also know He is good because He has shown me so in loving me no matter how undeserving I am, in faithfully meeting me and carrying me through the hard circumstances life can bring, in gifts of grace and joy that I haven't earned, in laying down His life for me when I was His enemy (Romans 5:10), in bringing beauty out of the ashes of my life (Isaiah 61:3).  His steadfast love and faithfulness have been evident throughout my life and the lives of those I know.

“The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.”
Psalms 145:9

 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Romans 8:28

He is good.  He is good to all.  He is working good.

The Bible is clear on God's goodness.  How I define “good” is the real problem. In my limited thinking I always want to tie it to what I want, what I see as best, what I understand.  I know my heart and mind though, and I don't want a God who bases good on what I think or I know.  I am not good.  I have come to trust that what He sees that I can't and His very character is much better than my sight and character.  His goodness is true and constant regardless of what my feelings say and regardless of what things look like through my eyes. I see so dimly (I Corinthians 13:12).

I was challenged four weeks ago, as I celebrated God’s saving and miraculous work, to proclaim His goodness even in the hard.  I am beyond overjoyed that our friends are spending this 4th of July with all of their children.  It absolutely thrills my heart that they can walk into his room and hug him.  I love that God has things in store for that remarkable, young man and his parents can be there to celebrate the milestones in life like graduation from college and perhaps marriage and grandkids.  I am praising the Lord with them for his life and God’s goodness to them.  As I look back thirteen years though, I realize that though it may not have felt like it at the time, though I didn't immediately proclaim it, God was just as good as I held my son for the last time and as I stood over his small casket.  His goodness is not defined by my circumstances and that is something that should give me great confidence.  His goodness means something bigger and beyond what I can comprehend.  He is working in a way I can't even imagine.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
Ephesians 3:20-21

Is God good all the time?  Yes.  Yes, He is if I define it correctly and don't tie it to my desires and my limited knowledge. Then I can stare into the valley of the shadow of death in all its darkness and unknowns and know with confidence that His goodness and mercy will forever be following me until one day I am at home with Him forever (Psalm 23). I can proclaim God is good with the same joy and certainty as when He works wonders before me knowing He is still working just as remarkably but beyond my scope of vision.

Four weeks later and lots of thinking about how God answers our prayers I have definitely determined all the time, God is good. 

April 18, 2017

Faith In the Furnace

I paced in the tiny emergency room with a team of people working steadily and soberly on my 4 month old.  It is not a situation I ever expect to be in.  As I watched the surreal moments unfold, I wrestled deep within.  First, I wrestled with my own choices that evening.  Second, I wrestled with who I believed God to be and what I believed Him able to do.  

YES.  I knew I believed He could heal my baby.

  I believed He could undo what had happened.  I decided I was sure of it!  I believed and prayed with every ounce of faith I could muster amidst the sounds of beeping and voices that surrounded me. 

Later as I sat in a back seat for what seemed an endless drive to where my little man had been airlifted, I had faith that God, the Great Physician, who had brought Lazarus and others back to life, could restore life and health to that tiny body.  However, in those still moments in the darkness I also wrestled and confirmed in my heart that He was God and whatever He chose, He was still trustworthy.  I had read the whole Bible.  I knew that sometimes we believe, sometimes people long ago believed, and God healed, and God raised from the dead, and God protected or provided.  I also knew that sometimes we believe, and people long ago believed, and God answered in other ways - ways that we may never understand but somehow are just as good and right.  He worked then and works now through our faith in crushing circumstances to make people more like His Son in a way we never would be had God listened to our suggestions of how life should work out. 


What does that really mean?  When I stepped into that room in the second ER that fateful night, I had such faith that when I saw my man holding our sweet boy with not a wire or tube connected to him, I believed for an instant that God had answered in the way I wanted despite feeling all the way there that He was preparing me to never see that sweet smile or hear that deep laugh again.  My heart leapt!  Then reality crashed down on me like a giant tidal wave crashing against the rocky shore.  He was gone - that was why there were no wires, no tubes.  

In those first moments of reality taking hold in my mind and heart, my faith collided with a wall it had never before faced.  As I wrestled with what this meant and how I would move forward, my strong husband was speaking.  He told of singing "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" as our son went to be with our Father.  

Do we have faith enough to say great is His faithfulness when our whole world falls apart?  Or is it a fair weather faith that only lasts as long as God does what we think He should?  

David lost a son.  John the Baptist was beheaded.  Stephen was stoned.  Peter was crucified.  Paul had a thorn in the flesh, was thrown in prison, was ship wrecked, and was beaten - all multiple times.  And would we dare say that these men lacked faith?  Would we say they did not believe God enough and if they had, they would not have suffered so?  Had I just believed a little more, had a stronger faith, would my boy still be here to wrestle with brothers, play ball games, and celebrate birthdays?  

Faith is not telling God what we want to happen and expecting Him to do it.  Faith is trusting, believing God can do anything and will do what is good. 

Sometimes faith takes you right into the fire.  The furnace is heated up hotter than ever, and faith means stepping into it because no way out is offered.  And as we look at those flames, Satan tempts us to dismay.  Would your god do this?  "And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?" (Daniel 3:15b) 

Faith Knows.  The three men who faced the fire in Daniel Chapter 3 knew in whom they had believed.

  “If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."”
(Daniel 3:17-18)

 Our God is able, but even if He doesn't...  Sometimes he takes us into the flames and our prayers aren't answered the way we think is best but it isn't because He isn't able, or isn't good, or because we haven't believed enough.  It is because He knows what is the very best.  Faith means believing in God's power, sovereignty, and goodness when you can't see it for the flames.

Their faith was in the One true God. 

In verse 23 we are told they fell bound into the fiery furnace.  Sometimes we enter the flames bound as well.  We find ourselves in bondage to one thing or another and it holds us captive.  In the midst of those flames though, God will often set us free.  In verse 25 it says the king saw that the men were walking around unbound and that there was a fourth man with them like a son of the gods. The Bible doesn't tell us if the three men in the furnace could see that fourth man, but I like to think they could. Regardless, God made His presence known.  Very often, it is in the flames, when the furnace is heated to its hottest, that we see God the most clearly.  In those times, our faith grows, and the shackles that bind us fall away. 

For me, what bound me was fear, and it would take years but the furnace of loss is what God used to begin to set me free. 

They had faith in God's ability to keep them from the fire.  They had faith that God could save them if they had to enter the fire.  And they had faith that even if they were not saved at all, God was still God and He was good and worthy of their praise.

  That. Is. Faith. 

The king brought them out and one of the most powerful statements in the story is made about those men after they came out.  Their hair was not singed, their cloaks not burned, and they didn't even smell like smoke. 

They didn't even smell like smoke.

Faith knows God can take you right into the middle of a furnace and bring you out again without even a foul smell about you.  You will still be, and I believe even more so, "...the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”
(2 Corinthians 2:15)

No one wants to go into the furnace.  No one wants to face the flames.  I can guarantee these three men in Daniel chapter three didn't want to be thrown into that furnace.  Their faith wasn't one though that said either He saves us or He isn't God.  They had true faith that said He IS able, but even if He doesn't they were going to trust and worship the One true God. They knew the truth of Romans 8 long before it was written: 

“No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!”
Romans 8:37-39

They knew He was God and He loved them and no furnace could change that. No extreme heat could melt away the truth they stood firmly upon. 

Perhaps God has some flames He has asked you to walk in.  He is still God.  Maybe He is going to set you free through those flames, or maybe the heat will help you to see more clearly who He is and how He is working, or maybe He is going to use it to make you a sweeter fragrance to this lost and hurting world.  True faith doesn't mean we avoid the pain of the furnace if we just have enough of that faith.  True faith means that whether God chooses to rescue us before we ever enter; or allows us to go in and rescues us out of it; or allows the furnace to end our life; we still believe He is a good, faithful God because His Word tells us He is and He has shown it to be so all throughout history. 

He hasn't promised me an easy life if I trust Him.  He's promised me He will be with me whether fire, or flood, or both (Isaiah 43:2).  Standing in the ER nearly thirteen years ago, all I could see were the flames all around me but I know, He was walking around in them with me.  Thirteen years later, I know there is not even a scent of smoke.  

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Jeremiah 29:11

Not perfection and not ease, a future and a hope.  Sometimes those things come best through faith in the midst of the flames.