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No advantage in life can shield us from heartaches7-15-10 (70)

Heartaches. They afflict us in every area of life: marriage, pregnancy, child rearing, family relationships, health, jobs, finances, our dealings with other Christians, our interaction with the unsaved. No one is exempt from them: the young or the old, the weak or the strong, male or female, educated or unschooled, handicapped or healthy, PhD or illiterate, debutante or derelict, virtuoso or unskilled. No advantage in life can shield us from heartaches.

There is help in God’s Word

Who among us has not felt stabs of anguish or the pangs of sorrow over certain, maybe even many, unexpected or uncontrollable events in our lives? We women are emotional creatures. God has made us that way and formed us to accomplish His unique will in our lives with full knowledge of that emotional nature. He does not give us this nature, then allow events to stir up and touch that nature, without also providing us a remedy from these troubles that so weigh us down. There is help, solace, and comfort in the Word of God.

Hannah and her heartaches

In 1 Samuel 1 we get a glimpse of Hannah and her heartaches. Hannah was one of two wives of Elkanah and grieved over her childlessness. Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, bore sons and daughters for him, but his love was directed toward Hannah. Can you imagine the tension in that home where it was known that the husband loved one wife more than the other? Day after day Hannah was taunted and mocked for her barrenness so that she was in anguish of soul.

Overwhelmed by anguish

Truly Hannah lived under great stress. As she focused on her troubles, she was dismayed and despondent. To make matters worse, Elkanah did not seem to understand the depth of her anguish. We too, find ourselves in situations where we are overwhelmed by circumstances we cannot change. Often those we turn to for comfort do not seem to understand our distress.

Hannah changed her focus

Somewhere in her grief Hannah changed her focus. She was able in the full emotion of her heart to lay her burden before the Lord in prayer. Perhaps she realized that there is no human comfort to help in the midst of certain griefs. Maybe she understood that no earthly intervention would alter her circumstances.

Pouring out our hearts before God

We do know that she poured out her heart before the Lord, laying her heart bare in all of its distress and sorrow. “And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore.” (v. 10) When Eli observed her lips moving without sound and rebuked her for being drunk, she reiterated that she was bringing her distress before the Lord. “I am a woman of sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord.” (v.15) “for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto.” (v. 16)

In the Lord there is relief

In earnestly entreating the Lord, Hannah had come to the point where she understood that with the Lord there is real relief from the deepest of troubles. We need to honestly and without reserve, entreat the Great Physician to provide remedy for our every heartache.

Peace and joy

Hannah came away from her time of prayer with peace and joy in her heart. “So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.” (v.18) God spoke through Eli to assure her that her prayer would be answered.

Casting all your care on God

God gives us assurance through the Holy Spirit that He will hold our burden for us. “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” (I Peter 5:7) Where better to leave our heartache than with the “One that inhabiteth eternity”? (Isaiah 57:15) God knows all things. He is able to sort out even the most impossible mess in our lives, change the most stubborn of hearts, soothe the distresses that cause us to turn our focus from Him to ourselves.

Fix your focus on God

In coming to a place of peace in the midst of her circumstances, Hannah gives us one of the most wonderful poems of praise recorded in the Old Testament. “My heart rejoiceth in the Lord…, I rejoice in thy salvation. There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God.” (I Samuel 2:1-2) Hannah’s focus has become fixed on the Lord and His mighty attributes. No longer is her focus on her self or her circumstances, but on the Lord and His greatness. Her focus now rests on the One who can change any circumstance, relieve any heartache.

“The world can create trouble in peace, but God can create peace in trouble.”

Unbeckoned heartaches will descend on us at many points in life. Our natural man responds by focusing on the trouble causing the heartache. Thomas Watson, seventeenth century preacher, aptly observed, “If God be our God, He will give peace in trouble. When there is a storm without, He will make peace within. The world can create trouble in peace, but God can create peace in trouble.” Only when we remove our focus from ourselves and our circumstances, as Hannah learned to do, will we be able to overcome the heartaches that are an inevitable part of the life of every Christian woman.

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20131030_132139What did I do to deserve this?

If I told you about a poor fellow who was hated by his siblings, taken captive and forced to work as a slave, falsely accused and thrown into prison, helped restore another prisoner but was forgotten by the man he helped, you might ask what he did to deserve such treatment.

When disaster, tragedy or illness strikes in our own lives we are often quick to ask, “Why me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” or “This isn’t fair!”

Quite a few of our church family have had unusual hardships lately.  We are all prone to ask, “Why?” or “Why me?” when we are faced with very hard circumstances.

God is magnified and self diminished

Yet the truth for believers is God has a purpose in all that goes on in our lives. Every single thing. And the fact is we may never know why.  God ordains everything for our good and His glory.  This process of sanctification, or changing to become more like Christ, may bring difficulties to the end that God is magnified in our lives and self is diminished.

The next few posts will deal with biblical characters who endured what we consider to be unfair treatment.  We have the advantage of seeing the results in their lives from going through the painful things they encountered.  My prayer is that as we might see the end as well as the beginning and that we would choose to trust God and rest in Him even in the middle of our most difficult experiences.

The story of Joseph is found in Genesis 39 – 50.  I encourage you to read those few chapters.  Things went from bad to worse to, “Can things get any worse than this?”  But we can lose sight of the fact that God was at work in Joseph’s life the entire time.

Joseph got on his brother’s nerves

Joseph was a well-loved son of Jacob, but Joseph got on his older brothers’ nerves.  He told his father the wrong things they were doing when they were all away from home.  God brought dreams to Joseph showing that he would rule over his brothers one day and Joseph shared all the details with his brothers. Joseph’s older brothers soon began to hate the very sight of him.

Sold into slavery

Jacob sent Joseph to check up on the brothers.  They saw him and his brightly-colored coat coming toward their camp.  Their hatred boiled up and they plotted to kill Joseph, throwing him into a pit while they worked out the details. When a caravan of traders passed by they changed their minds and sold him into slavery.

Falsely accused

Joseph worked as a slave in the home of a prominent Egyptian named Potiphar.  God blessed Potiphar’s business because of Joseph.  But Potiphar’s wife tried repeatedly to seduce Joseph to be immoral with her.  As she grabbed at him, Joseph pulled away, but his coat remained in her hands.  She was angry that this lowly servant would refuse her so used the coat to make false accusations against Joseph to her husband.

Forgotten, then finally remembered

So Joseph was thrown into prison, but God gave him favor in the sight of the warden.  Two fellow prisoners, servants in Pharaoh’s household, had dreams that God allowed Joseph to interpret.  When Pharaoh’s cupbearer was restored to his position he forgot all about the help that Joseph gave him until two years later when Pharaoh dreamed troubling dreams.  Joseph was called for and God allowed him to correctly interpret the dream.

Elevated

Suddenly Joseph was elevated to second in the land and was the most powerful person in Egypt behind Pharaoh.  God gave him Countryside 9-10-11 (6)wisdom to save up during the years of plenty and portion out food to the Egyptians during the years of drought.

Recognizing his brothers

Jacob heard there was grain for sale in Egypt and sent his sons to buy some.  Joseph recognized his brothers right away, but they had no idea this powerful leader was their long-lost younger brother.  Joseph put them through several tests over a period of time to see what kind of men they were.

Revealed

Joseph finally revealed himself to his brothers as Joseph and the brothers were afraid.  This was the brother they had hated and sold into slavery.  Now he is a very powerful person and his dreams had been accurate.  This powerful man could make them pay for their hatred and evil deeds.

God meant it for good

But Joseph by now understood the bigger picture.  In Genesis 50:20 he tells his brothers “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”  The hatred of his brothers had begun a chain of events to put Joseph in a place of honor.

Do we believe in God’s goodness?

We need to remember this when our family or employers or friends bitterly oppose us and it seems so unfair to us.  We usually cannot immediately understand God’s greater purpose in difficult events. Sometimes we never understand God’s purpose.  We need to remember Romans 8:28-29.  All things do work together for good for believers, even when we can’t see how that is true.  It’s God’s promise.  Do we believe Him?

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There was an eerie stillness in the exam room as the technician and doctor firmly moved the ultrasound transducer against my distended abdomen.  The duo pressed and prodded before exchanging a knowing look.  The doctor gently told me to get dressed Paton in Dumfries and Torthorwald (40) and that they would get my husband who was in the waiting room.

This is no longer a viable pregnancy

 “I’m so sorry but we can’t find the baby’s heartbeat. This is no longer a viable pregnancy.”  Surely this doctor was mistaken.  Wasn’t this the little boy we had prayed and hoped for?

But deep in my soul I knew.  I was 20 weeks into my pregnancy but something seemed wrong; I had not felt the little fluttering movements of the baby for several days now.

Like countless other women before and after me, I had suffered a miscarriage.

I was sent home for a few days to see if my body would expel the baby on its own, but it didn’t.  I was not given the choice of delivering the baby but was scheduled for a D & C.  God must have blocked my understanding of what that involved for it wasn’t until years later, when the sorrow was less acute, that I understood that I could have delivered the baby and maybe even held him.

Silent suffering of miscarriage

A number of friends and family have recently miscarried.  In my child-bearing years miscarriage was a topic people rarely spoke about.  A woman’s suffering was silent and personal and few dared to cross those barriers to speak with her about her loss.

But I was blessed.  My miscarriage occurred when another family was spending a few days with us.  The wife had suffered both miscarriage and an ectopic pregnancy.  She shared her grief and experiences and allowed me to share mine.  She encouraged me with kindness, sympathy, prayer and with scriptures that had helped her.

A dear friend and sister in Christ lost a daughter halfway through the pregnancy and twins later the same year.  I asked her if she would share with me things that were both helpful and not so helpful as people learned of her sorrow.  I have combined her suggestions with my own to hopefully give a few ways of ministering to a woman who has suffered a miscarriage.

Helpful things

  • Both my friend and I went to hospital alone; she delivered her daughter and I had a D & C.  I would have liked to have someone with me during that time.  I felt very alone and was still coming to grips with my loss.
  • Ask if your friend she wants company.  Some will need a time of quiet reflection to grow accustomed to no longer being pregnant while others want someone there right away so they do not isolate themselves and mentally plunge into ‘a dark place.’
  • Remember we are to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.
  • Sometimes the best thing you can do is hold your friend’s hand while she cries.
  • Reading the Psalms and crying as I read was therapeutic for me.  Gentle hymns playing quietly in the background helped keep my mind fixed on eternal things.
  • The book Safe in the Arms of God by John MacArthur is a good resource for those who lose a child through miscarriage or untimely death.  In 1 Samuel 12 King David says that he will go to his child who died.  We understand that to mean that young children go to heaven when they die and we will meet them there someday.
  • Offer to take any older children overnight so the couple can spend some time grieving together.
  • Give your friend a journal so she can record her thoughts, prayers, poems, and comforting Scriptures and hymns as she progresses through the grieving process.
  • Just because someone is a strong Christian doesn’t mean there is no pain.  We sorrow, but not as those who have no hope.
  • Remember that it takes time for the woman to return to her pre-pregnancy hormones.  Tears, sadness (but not suicidal thoughts,) extra sensitivity and soreness may be expected as the hormones regulate.  Call your doctor and ask for help if there is concern about depression, prolonged discharge, or other signs that the body is not returning to normalcy or if you have any other medical concerns.
  • Send flowers, a card, an e-card, or a note expressing your genuine sorrow for the loss.
  • Prepare a meal and ask if you can bring it by today.   Or tell them you are thinking of them and you will be stopping by at a convenient time for them with their favorite coffee etc. Arrange for some friends to clean house or run errands if your friend is supposed to be on rest for a while.  When you stop by to leave something ask if they want company then.
  • Be careful when you remind your friend of Scriptural promises.  While it is true that all things do work together for good to them that love God, your use of this or similar scriptures can come across as trite or flippant if you are not careful.

Not-so-helpful things

  • Don’t assume that the wife is the only one who feels the pain of miscarriage. Husbands grieve over miscarriage too.  They may have had hopes or dreams for the little one or begun to plan for all that’s involved in adding another member to the family.  Men may or may not want to share how the miscarriage has impacted them, but it’s good to give them an opportunity to talk out it.
  • Don’t ignore the fact that the family has suffered loss.  Platitudes such as, “You’ll get over this.” “Cheer up! You’re young and can have more.” “You already have (blank) children so it doesn’t really matter.” “You should be over this by now.”  “Well that’s not so bad.  My sister (friend, mother, etc.) had something far worse happen to her!” “Whose fault was it, yours or your husband’s?” are NOT helpful and show an insensitive spirit.
  • Don’t say, “Let me know if there is anything I can do.”  Rarely does the person feel the liberty to take you upon such a vague offer.
  • Be sensitive to your friend’s need for rest.  Don’t stay for an hour if she’s only up to a 10 minute visit.
  • Let the bereaved talk about the baby.  Use the baby’s name if the family had picked a name.  Don’t act as if the baby never existed.
  • Don’t take it personally if you learn the sad news from someone other than your friend.  This is not a popularity contest to see who gets the news first.  This is no time for hurt feelings, idle curiosity, or insensitive comments.

Gaping wounds and scars

Losing a child is like receiving a gaping wound.  At first the wound is swollen, red and tender.  You can barely touch it without pain.  Slowly the wound heals and is not as sensitive.  As time passes the pain of miscarriage subsides, but as with a wound, there will always be a scar to remind you of the painful experience.

It is well with my soul

I love the sentiment of my friend who has chosen to see the loving hand of God in the midst of her sorrow.  “The bottom line is that I’m so thankful that despite this (loss of three babies in a year) I can still have hope because of all that I have in Christ. It certainly doesn’t mean that there’s no pain. Quite the contrary is true… but it is well with my soul because I trust in His unwavering love and in His perfect plan for my life. In this world are many trials and tribulations but Christ has overcome the world. And praise God that I am in Him!!”

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Christ’s Example

I have been reading the gospels again and have been moved by Christ’s example of humility.  In the hours before His crucifixion Jesus was accused, abandoned, afflicted and abased.  When he was reviled with hateful taunts, He did not respond in kind.  When He was accused and later beaten, He remained silent.  He was provoked, pierced, prodded, and in pain, yet He did not lash out at those who so wrongfully and shamefully treated Him.  He endured this ‘contradiction of sinners against Himself’ for the far greater cause of bringing salvation to mankind through His sufferings.

The Bigger Picture

We are all guilty at times of losing sight of the bigger picture.  It’s not to our credit to love those that love us.  We are also supposed to love those who treat us unfairly.  Wow!  Is that ever hard to do!

In our society it’s considered weakness to back down from a disagreement.  After all, isn’t it important to make sure everybody knows the real facts about an incident?  Or knows who really came up with that great idea?  Or takes our side?  Or that I’m in charge?

It’s More Important to be Christlike than to Be Right

No.  It’s more important to mirror Christlikness than to be right.  Can that be true?  Sadly, we have been conditioned to plant our feet and in no uncertain terms let others around us know that we will not budge.  But that response to conflict is not God-honoring.

I want to challenge you:   Can you take the wrong – wrong behavior, wrong accusations, wrong ideas people have about you for the cause of Christ?

Church Splits

We shake our heads when we hear about churches that split because people can’t agree on the color of new carpet.   Does anyone remember the color chosen?  Do the stories praise the person who was ‘right’?  No, the reputation of Christ and His followers is diminished by this kind of insistence on having one’s own way.  People only remember that Christians can’t get along and they are not drawn to Christ by this fractious arguing.

Expectations

We are children of God and have various responsibilities in the church.  We can’t run away from this or change this.  Right or wrong, people know this about us and because of it have even higher expectations of godliness from us.

I want to challenge you to pray about and study the passages which speak of Christ’s humility and deference to the Father’s will.  I want to challenge you to study the Scriptures which tell us to take the wrong for the cause of Christ.  And then I urge you to practice on each other.

Don’t Be Known as Fighting Christians

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Don’t be known as fighting Christians.  Our testimony before a watching world should be one of love and tender deference to each other.  Our behavior toward each other may be used of God to draw a wanderer back or push a struggler farther away.

He Said, She Said

Our youngest daughter absolutely delighted to have her aunt and uncle here in May.  She particularly loved hearing her father and his sister give their individual accounts of the same childhood event.  They were both involved in the event yet had WIDELY differing versions of it.

When two believers see something differently take time to ask yourself if you might possibly have misinterpreted or gotten it wrong.  Don’t automatically think you are right and the other person is wrong.  Give the other person the benefit of the doubt.

Humility and Deference

By God’s grace let us love each other with humility and deference and allow our relationship as believers become a sweet savor of godliness to each other and to a watching world.

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No person, no hobby, no accomplishment, no possession, no status, no pleasure – nothing in this world brings lasting peace and joy.  We must continually look to the Lord, for only in Him do we find what our souls need and crave.

Temptation

When temptation pounces or when you open the door to let it in, and are sorrowful and grieved that once again you have fallen – look to the Lord!

Relationships

When your spouse or child or parent or other dear one fails you and your disappointment is sharp so that you doubt God’s goodness in relationships – look to the Lord!

Pride of Life

When you discover the emptiness of pursuing money or status or other recognition on this earth and realize the time wasted on these pursuits can never be recovered – look to the Lord!

Failures

When your soul cries out in anguish over your failures and poor influence to those around you – look to the Lord!

Pride

When your labor on behalf of others goes unnoticed so that you grow sullen and sour that your work is in vain – look to the Lord!

Our Past

When wicked or wrong choices from the past rise up to mock your desires to serve God – look to the Lord!

Wicked World

When you waver, wanting to do right, but are buffeted by waves of scorn and derision from a God-hating world – look to the Lord!

Disappointing Christians

When all around you professing Christians quarrel or sow discord or abandon the faith and you are tempted to do the same – look to the Lord!

Disability

When sickness or sorrow or disability renders you incapable of the Christian service you think you should be doing – look to the Lord!

Expectations

When your expectations are dashed and you don’t know what direction to take – look to the Lord!

Look to the Lord!

Remember – He is our Rock, our Fortress, our High Tower, our Anchor.  He has promised He will never leave us or forsake us.  When we are shaken by life, we need to cast ourselves totally on Him and not lean on our own understanding.  He can be trusted to be steadfast in every storm of life.  Look to the Lord!

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In my last post I shared that I had been struggling with physical problems which have caused some mental, emotional and spiritual Yard friend May 2013upheavals also.

Purifying and Refining Faith

I want to be clear:  this has not been a time of abandoning faith, or even doubting, but of purifying and refining…a type of clarifying borne through the instrument of pain and bringing me to a greater understanding of my own mortality.

Contrast Between Being and Doing

So what have I been learning?  The contrast between being and doing in my walk with God.

When you have been in ministry for a long time, it is easy to evaluate your worthiness by what you do.  That mental checklist of ways that you serve God, others and your community can be the measure of personal spirituality.

But as we all know, these ‘things’ can be done with absolutely no heart for God.  A poignant reminder of this type of ‘doing’ is illustrated in Matthew 7:22.  These people who have done many wonderful works are not even genuine believers!

‘Be’ Before ‘Do”

When the ability to ‘do’ much has been removed because of illness, we are forced to look at how important that aspect of our Christian lives really is.  Yes, it’s important to be doing what God directs us to do, but it’s most important to ‘be’ what God wants us to be BEFORE we do.

The most striking biblical example of this for me is the interaction of Christ with Mary and Martha.  Martha stayed busy preparing the meal while Mary sat quietly at Jesus’ feet listening to the Master.   Jesus commended Mary as taking care of the most important thing, even though what Martha was doing was necessary.

What Does It Mean to ‘Be’?

So what does it mean, practically, to ‘be’? It means taking time to read God’s Word and let the thoughts roll around in your mind throughout the day.  Sometimes in our weakened state we can only grasp a word or a phrase to meditate on throughout the day.  How much better it is to think about on of God’s attributes than focus on our own weakness!

Rehearsing hymn texts – the ones full of biblical doctrine – helps us to focus on the Lord throughout the day.  My childhood pastor used to distinguish between good doctrinal hymns and the 7-11 variety  – seven words repeated eleven times with no substance to the song!  I try and avoid the ‘junk food’ texts and fasten on the spiritually uplifting ones.

God has been teaching me that as long as I have mental capacity I can be praying – praying for peace, grace and contentment in my pain, praying for the needs and salvation of others, praying for God to strengthen and bless my family – and more.  I find as I go throughout the day that I comment to the Lord about situations and concerns much more than I used to.

Struggles Have Lead to Spiritual Growth

All of this is helping to grow me as a believer.  As Christians we have a relationship with a person – a personal relationship with Christ.  Sometimes in our busyness we can become robotic – dragging our eyeballs across the page as my former pastor’s wife used to say – in order to check off a list of spiritual duties.  Learning to ‘be’ rather than ‘do’ has helped put those priorities in order.

Next time I’ll share more of what God has been teaching me through my struggles.

 

 

 

 

 

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What in the world is UMP????????????????????????????????

It’s been an arduous few months for me.    I’ve stepped aside from writing for several weeks because I have been struggling with UMP – unidentified medical problems.  Constant painful spasms, cloudy thinking, weakness and other symptoms have escalated.  I have been poked, pricked, prodded, scanned, examined, evaluated and scrutinized by an entire cadre of health professionals with more investigating to come.

My wonderful family doctor is willing to think outside the box.  We have worked with diet, vitamins, supplements, remedies, medicines, physiotherapy, massage therapy and more to try and alleviate the problems.  I have been able to share more and more about the Lord with her as we talk and try to find solutions to my ailments.

Gluten-free for me

I’ve had arthritis for years.  One of the changes I made six months ago was to go gluten-free and it helped much more than I expected.  A couple of weeks ago test my doctor ordered showed I also had dairy and egg allergies.  Last week I had additional testing to determine if I have any other allergies or food intolerances.  Making changes to eliminate these foods can be challenging and takes time to master.

The one medication I was on seemed effective at first but grew less and less helpful.  My doctor took me off that one and after a couple of weeks put me back on a previous medication which has some possible serious side effects.  My mobility has improved and I am praying I can get in to see the rheumatologist soon.

How can I help others when I’m struggling?

All of the symptoms and changes associated with my UMP have caused me significant struggles, not only physically, but mentally and spiritually too.  Changing meds, foods, and supplements all brought physical and mental changes which my poor old body had to adjust to.  I stepped away from writing because I thought I could not be a help to others when I was struggling so.

Then the Lord brought to mind some of the missionary biographies I’ve read over the years.  Some of the greatest help to me came from those agonizingly honest passages where the missionary, in great grief, or pain, or discouragement cast themselves upon the Lord for help and deliverance.  They were willing to bare their souls for the cause of Christ; maybe God could use my experiences to help others who are also struggling.

Sharing while struggling

So I will, by God’s grace, share weekly what He is teaching me, the painful and the joyous, with the prayer that God might use my experiences to encourage someone else.  Stay tuned for the next post in a couple of days.

 

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