Tuesday Prayer: Seasons

The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein,
(Psalms 24:1)

Awesome Creator, the earth is Yours and all it contains. From the vast expanse of the heavens which declare Your glory all the way to the tiniest details like the number of hairs on our heads, You are intimately acquainted with every bit. You have also made the world and its cycles, and You have provided the sun, moon, and stars to document the signs and seasons and days and years. All of it ultimately points to You, Lord, declaring Your glory and teaching us of Your ways.

Our lives, too, are governed by seasons. There are times of frantic activity and times of rest; seasons marked by trial and turmoil and seasons of utter peace and pure joy. As we grow in Christ and deepen our walk with You, the trials and the joys begin to overlap and become one because we begin to see how You use all of it – the good and the bad – to work together for the good of we who love You. Because of this, we can honestly rejoice in our suffering.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
(Romans 5:3)

Not only because of our trust in You to take what our enemy intends for evil and use it for good, but we can also rejoice because we do not serve a distant and impartial God. Instead, we serve a God who became a man and endured suffering as a man. You have suffered, and so we know that every moment of pain or trial is a glimpse into what You have already done for us.

So often, Lord, we turn things upside down, wondering why our amazing God would allow suffering in the world. A better understanding of You have us marvel at the wonder of a God who loves His creation so completely that He was willing to become a part of it, to suffer and die for it, so that by His priceless blood, all of creation might be redeemed.

When our life seasons bring times of darkness or hardship, remind us of Your love. Remind us that even the darkness is not dark to You, Lord, for nothing is hidden from Your light and nothing escapes Your notice. Nothing is wasted. No season is useless in the eternal economy of Your grace. Even our suffering and our blunders, even our scars and wounds are given purpose and meaning when surrendered to You.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.
(Psalms 139:11-12)

Because You are good, we can trust You even in the dark and lonely places for if we belong to You, we are never actually alone. You have promised never to leave us nor forsake us. Teach our hearts a greater trust, a more complete devotion, and an endless sense of awe at the wonder of You, the King of Glory. May our lives be lived for Your service and our days be committed to loving obedience to Your purposes, amen.

Sufferin’ Succotash

There’s an idea I hear tossed around from time to time among well-meaning Christians which goes something like this:

Christian A is speaking (texting, emailing, whatevering) with Christian B who is in the midst of a painful ordeal, possibly looking for ways out. In a sympathetic effort to console, Christian A says something to the effect that “God wouldn’t want you to suffer like this.”

But frankly, I find this concept puzzling. Why? Well, because I don’t see it reflected in God’s Word. Quite the opposite, actually.

Now before you accuse me of thinking God is a sadist or some grumpy old lightning-bolt thrower, let me state my case clearly: I don’t.

He is, was, and always has been a loving Father who is devoted to what is best for His children. And sometimes what is best for us in the long run (ie-for the next ten zillion years) us difficult or painful right now. In short, sometimes we have to suffer to be prepared for what’s next. God also happens to be the Creator, so his definitions about what is and is not “good” kinda trump ours in every single instance imaginable, but that’s a story for another day.

If I’ve learned nothing else from living half my life for me and the other half for Him, I’ve learned that suffering serves a vital role in the life of a Christian. After all, the Christ suffered, so it follows that if we are to become more Christlike, we will follow His lead.

Or as Paul put it to a young preacher named Timothy several centuries ago:

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
(2 Timothy 2:3, emphasis mine)

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  (2 Timothy 3:12-13, emphasis mine)

**Note that persecution = suffering

Again, I do not view God as an angry deity just waiting to catch me in the act of doing wrong. I do, however, understand God’s perspective is so much wider and deeper than mine. Sometimes big benefits in eternity are purchased with a few drops of blood, sweat, and tears for His sake here on earth.

But please note the “for His sake” part of my little soapbox stance. If we suffer for wrongdoing, that’s merely us getting our due. But if we suffer for His Name’s sake, well… one possible solution is to embrace it. Maybe even count ourselves lucky like these guys did:

…and when they [the Sanhedrin – Jewish council] had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name.  (Acts 5:40-41, again, emphasis mine)

But what about suffering that has nothing to do with His Name’s sake nor with our wrongdoing?  There’s a topic you and I could spend hours one.

I have learned not to trust my own judgment in discerning when I’ve done wrong because I am diabolically clever at lying to myself. Thus sometimes, my suffering is disciplinary and I need to ask my Father where I erred.

Once unintentional sin is ruled out, I’m left with the raw fact that suffering is a product of living in a fallen world.

And my friends, it’s at precisely these two points where hope comes in.

You see, if disciplinary suffering is lovingly administered by our Father, we can trust that it is for our good even if we don’t understand why.  No matter what mistakes our earthly fathers may have made, God is not earthly.  He made the thing, and believe me when I say we can trust Him with all of it. Even the pain.

As for other reasons for suffering, they may not be what we call “fair” (which is really just a monosyllabic way of saying “I don’t like this”). The crucial point about suffering for a Christian is that our suffering is not purposeless. Every single thing which happens to us, good or bad, is being used by God to mold, refine, and shape us into the Image of God as we were meant to bear it.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
(Romans 5:3-5)

Christian or not, we will all endure suffering in some measure. But for a Christian, there is a hope beyond suffering and even a reason to embrace it. This is the good news we ought to be sharing even when we are suffering. Even when we suffer for sharing it.

If you are interested in more Scripture-based thoughts about suffering (and have more time than me), feel free to select “migraine” in the drop-down box beneath the heading on the right side of the page. And let’s pray for each other, “knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” (1 Peter 5:9)

 

Tuesday Prayer: Contemplation

Father on high, you are the Name above all other names, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Apart from You, nothing else would be. As it is written in Your word:  “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11)

Today we take time to pause and reflect on Your nature. Almighty God, the Eternal One… sometimes we say these things but do not take the time to contemplate them. We invite You to invade the busy-ness of our lives and the distractions we allow to assail our senses this week. Pull us aside to simple communion You; to ponder Your glory which is without limit, Your power which is without restraint. Teach us to unplug and let our full attention be absorbed by the wonder of our God.

As we contemplate Your majesty, it is simple to see why David once wrote, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”(Psalms 8:4)

And yet, You do care. You are mindful. Not only that, but You cloaked the radiance of Your glory in the animated clay of human flesh, walked among Your creation as a part of it, and experienced all the joys and the pains of living as a man – including betrayal, suffering, and death.

O God, there truly is no one like You! What You have done for us is unthinkable; it is too wonderful for our little minds to fully grasp. When our minds and hearts become filled with resentment or bitterness; when we lose patience with one another; or when we begin to have an inflated view of our own importance, remind us of who You are.

Remind us , too, that we are Yours, bought with a precious, precious price and redeemed to bring honor to Your Name. And remind us of Your love which continues to draw us closer in and which will never leave or forsake us. To You be the power and the honor and the glory forever, amen!

On the Altar

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.
(Genesis 22:9)

Well friends, I’m back after a protracted blogging hiatus. At least, I’m partially back. There are several competitors for my time these days, most of which occur in my analog life.  But I have missed you and am trying to read a handful of posts each day.

This is a crazy season for our family. My girls are thriving – exploring who they are, growing in faith, and learning some important communication and time-management skills (because, really, this fall has been brutal schedule-wise).  It’s been insane but in a fun and exhilarating way.

Then there’s our prodigal… In his case, this life season is something less than exhilarating. Something much less.

But as I’ve prayed and prayed and prayed for him and for others who resist the Lord’s call to obedience, it’s my own resistance which I’m forced to confront.

Once again, God brings my attention back to the beginning – both the book of Genesis and the genesis of my own faith journey.

Figuratively speaking, I trek in the footsteps of Abraham as he traveled to Moriah along with Isaac, the promised son. For much of my calling is a call to sacrifice.

For perhaps the first time, I find myself more like Abraham on this trip. In the past when my King has called for me to meet with Him in the smoke of a sacrifice, I’ve hesitated. In moments I’m now ashamed of, I’ve even been guilty of begrudging Him the offering He’s asked of me.

Not today.

Today as I step up to the altar, the ashes of the past serve as reminders of the things I’ve burned here before and of what’s become of them.

The ashes of a career lays in the mix; remnants of the time I offered up my aspirations and financial comfort on these old stones. Though I barely knew my Lord back then and believed I would be staying home for 5 or 6 years, experience now superimposes the glory of God over the sooty remains.

I became a homeschool mom. The 5 or 6 year span stretched out into 17 years and counting.

Today I can say, as Abraham once did, “The Lord will provide,” because He has – far more than I would’ve guessed. My sacrifice seemed large at the time, but what God provided in the aftermath is massive. Superfluous even.

So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”
(Genesis 22:14)

Since those early years, God has called me back to the altar from time to time and other remains lay scattered in the dust; charred fragments of my time, my convenience, my preferences, many of my dreams, my sense of control – a whole lot of me, when I think of it.

Not for nothing did the old German preacher, Dietrich Bonhoeffer write, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” Much of what Christ called me to sacrifice on this altar is myself. Just as He once did. His immaculate life for me and my grubby little speck of a life for Him. Words can’t do it justice.

Today, I once more stand symbolically where Abraham, my father according to the Promise, once stood literally; feet covered in ash but a heart full of trust. For now I know that anything I offer up in obedience to His call will not die in vain. Either its death is a necessity for the better plan of the All-Knowing God, or He can and will raise it from the dead. I have not only read of this matter in the Book, I have seen it with my own eyes.

This time, I approach with a dual offering.

For the first, I lay down my goals for You, Lord. On this altar I place the writing career I’ve been trying to eke out in my spare time over the last couple of years. Do with it as You will.

And for the most profound, I give you the son of my womb whose name translates, “He gave.” You did give him to us, and you know him better than I ever could. I have done with him all I know to do and he is now nearly a man. And Lord, it grieves me immensely to say he seems to be rejecting You.

I set the life of my son on this altar before You, Lord, trusting that even if I must watch his faith in You die, You are able to raise it up from the dead.

He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
(Hebrews 11:19)

And I wait with eager expectation to see what You will do…

Tuesday Prayer: Idols

Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.
(Isaiah 44:6)

Most High, as You spoke through the prophet centuries ago, You are the first and the last and apart from You there is no God. You are the sole and supreme Authority, the One who existed before all else and in whom all things are held together. Everything is part of Your creation, made to serve Your purposes and subject to Your plans. Teach us to magnify Your name as it should be done and to serve no other God.

Lord, as we spend more time in Your word, the more we are forced to confront those areas in our lives which fall short of bringing You honor and glory. As we examine our hearts, our lives, and our loyalties through the light of Your truth, we find we are not so far removed from the faithless children of Israel as we would like to think. Like them, when You appear before us in glory we fall to our faces in awe, but also like them, when an obstacle appears or when Your promises seem delayed, we quickly fall prey to fear or turn our hearts to yearn after some other thing.

And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it…
(Exodus 32:7-8a)

Forgive us for our idolatry, subtle though it may be! Whether what we serve is our careers, our families, our pleasures, entertainments, or any other created thing, we pray that You will reveal all of them no matter how painful. And Lord, we invite You to tear down the idols, asking only that You will give us the faith and trust to work with You in removing whatever we have erected in the place of worship within our hearts.

As we submit to this process, we look forward to the freedom we will experience by walking fully and humbly in Your will. We long to see You exalted in our lives and ask for You to fill our hearts more and more with love for You.

Let us be genuine Kingdom seekers first and foremost, not serving you out of one side of our mouths and serving ourselves out of the other. Instead, Lord, make us fully Yours; a people of undivided minds and hearts loving You and serving You wholeheartedly. As we walk out our trust, use the light of Your freedom shining through our lives to set others free. May Your word speed ahead and be honored in us, in our families, and in every place we go with You, amen.

Migraine Chronicles: A Pragmatic Approach to Pain

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
(2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

A few days ago, I realized it’s been quite a while since I’ve written a migraine post.  If only I could say it’s been quite a while since I’ve had a migraine… Ah, c’est la vie!

But they have been better. And I have medication that works so there is no room for complaint. Even still, I choose not to complain (much) because of one immensely comforting truth: my life is not about me.

Although I do forget this from time to time and need reminders (which is one of the reasons I write these things down!), life isn’t lived for me. I do not exist for my own comfort or convenience. I am a created thing – a literal jar of clay for the sole use and purposes of the One who created me.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
(2 Corinthians 4:7)

So the trick, then, is not to escape pain but to use it for His glory and for encouraging others. That is why today I thought I’d share two of the most useful tips I’ve learned in my 14 or so years of dealing with chronic migraine.

  1. Find a pain scale chart that you can relate to (or make your own), print it out, and refer to it when diagnosing pain levels.
  2. Once you have a chart, stick to it when describing your pain.

That may sound simplistic, but especially considering the cognitive issues associated with migraine, it is a must. This is not just for your benefit but for the benefit of your family, your doctor, and basically anyone who’s afflicted by insane prodromal rages or the memory muddles I call migraine brain… or is that just my poor family?

From what I’ve seen, the two most common pitfalls associated with describing pain levels are a tendency to downplay the pain or a tendency to exaggerate it. It is at precisely this point where honesty and integrity are crucial.

Now my countrymen have a penchant for exaggeration. We don’t want 100% effort, we want 110%. We don’t have pain that’s a 10 on the scale of 1 to 10, we have a an 11. When we need something done, we need it done yesterday.

Or to rephrase: we deal in fictitious scenarios and impossibilities which render all useful terms meaningless. In short, we can be just plain silly.

If I’ve learned nothing else from my life with chronic migraine, I’ve learned to be honest and reasonable about pain.

Admittedly, chronic migraine can make the process dicey because of the cognitive issues involved during the prodromal and attack phases.  Another complication is when there are other types of pain. For me, the pain of arthritis in a joint does not present the same challenges as, say a Level 5 migraine. An additional muddling comes when there are no breaks in the pain and thus an 8 can sneak up on you while you’ve been studiously ignoring a milder level (which I am thankful to say is not currently true for me).

On the flip side, don’t cave into the temptation to exaggerate your pain. If the scale you choose is 1 – 10, stick with those numbers (or a zero for no pain at all). Resist the claim that your pain is a 12 if 10 means pain that renders you unconscious. Even if you could get to a 12, you’d be unconscious and wouldn’t know it!

Here’s where the importance of having a pain scale that helps define each level in a way meaningful to you, even if it means you have to tweak an existing one. With migraine, I’ve had pain which made me lose consciousness and pain which woke me from sleep. And of course, with migraine there are other factors to consider like cognition, nausea and/or vomiting, etc.

In my case, the smiley face pain scale so popular in hospitals does little but make me wonder what on earth that bald little guy is grinning or grimacing at.  Also, I don’t tend to cry because of physical pain; it’s the emotional sort which makes the salt water flow.

There are several others. Some humorous like the one below, others detailed. If you struggle with chronic pain, migraine or otherwise, I encourage you to find one that makes sense to you. Then use it. Your people will be glad.

 

 

Tuesday Prayer: Not Our Own

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
(Proverbs 9:10)

Holy One, we give thanks to Your great name today. It is because of Your great love that we have been set free from captivity to sin and self. Teach us to reverence You in an increasingly irreverent generation. Help us to prize knowledge of you that we may be wise.

Oh God, because of Your astonishing sacrifice, we now bear the righteousness of the only and unique Son of God – a righteousness we could never attain by our own merit even in a hundred lifetimes. We praise You for the priceless gifts of salvation and of freedom from sin.

As we go about our work week, keep us mindful of the immense value of salvation. Forgive us when we get caught up in the trivial and temporary concerns attractions this world has to offer and allow them to become preeminent in our attention. Lord, we confess that it is such a simple matter for us to be distracted from your grace. Life looms large, and we tend to allow worry or pleasure to hold our thoughts captive.

Knowing this, we submit to You, our King! Help us in truly taking every thought captive to obey Christ. Teach us  how to be holy as You are Holy. Open our hearts to love and forgiveness as we have been loved and forgiven by You. Wherever we need work, we invite You to do purify, prune, and sanctify all parts of us.

From the tips of our hair to the ends of our toes and every particle in between, we are Yours. As Your word reminds us, we were bought at a great price and are no longer our own. Show us how to glorify You in our bodies, and then please help us to be steadfast in our loyalty and faithfulness to You.

Let us not simply do good things, but let good things be a natural overflow of sanctified hearts. Help us to be good stewards of the bodies and minds You have given us, and guide our choices in every single aspect to bring glory to You and to represent You well to a dark and suffering world, amen.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
(1 Corinthians 6:19-20)