Monday, January 30, 2012

Faith to Finish

Dear Friends,

Are you a morning person? I’m not. I can stay the course at night, but I am a bear in the morning.  But I am a Christian, so in another way I am a morning person!  In fact, I am a “morning by morning” person!  If we don’t find the morning-by-morning way to live the Christian life, our faith will not survive.  We will never find faith enough to finish.  Faith that works is a faith for every moment of every daily day.

The faith I experienced to trust God yesterday when my father died may desert me today when my child gets sick.  The trust I was able to model to my children when I received some ominous medical news can fly out the window when my daughter goes out on her first date!  Why is it that faith that worked yesterday may not work today?  Is it God’s fault or mine?  Well, it’s not God’s fault, so it must be mine!

God is faithful all the time.  I am faithful some of the time. God is good all the time.  I am good occasionally. God is full of compassion all of the time.  I can get a twinge of compassion on Thanksgiving or when the Salvation Army rings their bells at Christmas.  I am good at exhibiting mercy to people who have hurt others but bad at offering the same mercy to someone who has hurt me!  So it is obvious that I am not God!  The problem is that I am me, but people expect me to be like God – loving, good, compassionate, and merciful all the time.

To be more like God and less like me, I need to stay close to Him.  The secret of faith for every moment is that I seek Him out morning by morning, evening by evening, every day.  The more I make sure He is my constant companion, the more godly, or God-like, I will become.

What can you do when you are faced with such distress that your faith becomes shaky? Maybe you are watching the destruction of your highest hopes and fondest dreams.  You need a faith that works in the face of overwhelming trouble.  Perhaps you experienced faith in the face of adversity yesterday and yet find yourself struggling with faith enough for today.  Moment by moment, morning by morning, God desires to supply you with faith enough to finish.

As we learn to draw on the faithful God who loves us and provides for us we will find that morning by morning God’s grace will be sufficient. God’s mercy will sustain us. God is God enough!  That grace is available to us by faith through prayer.  Prayer makes it possible for limited people to meet an unlimited God.  As we deepen our relationship with God through prayer, as we remain as “shadows” to Him, our Rock, we will discover faith that works!



Monday, January 23, 2012

Living Above Your Circumstances

Dear Friends,

Back when Stuart and I were missionaries, his travel schedule was painfully arduous.  For several months out of the year, he was gone, traveling all over the world teaching the Bible to others.  It would be an understatement to say it was very difficult – especially because it left me at home caring for our children on my own.


I distinctly remember kneeling down one night beside my bed and mourning my husband’s absence.  I was coming to the end of myself…bitter, defeated, unable to live well in a very difficult circumstance, and certainly not ever rising above it.  And just then, I thought of Hannah.

You see, Hannah had also come to the end of herself.  She was childless, barren, and depressed to the point that she wouldn’t eat or drink.  Her bitterness in the midst of her circumstances was so great.  Yet, even in the depths of despair, she “pour(ed) out her soul to the Lord” (1 Sam. 1:15).  Hannah lived above her circumstances!

In my situation, I wasn’t childless.  I was husbandless.  So following Hannah’s example – I said to God, “I’ve had it.  I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.  I give you permission to take my husband.  He’s yours anyway.  I’m done being bitter!”  Then I waited on God, knowing He was going to come through.  And in a few short weeks, it was done.  I woke up one morning, and my heart was singing.  So I got up and praised God for giving me this unspeakable joy!

Could I be as happy without my husband as I was with him?  Yes, but it wouldn’t happen until I was done trying to make it happen.  God worked when I relinquished the permission to write the story of my life.  My circumstances hadn’t changed, but God changed me to live above my circumstances!

As a believer in Christ, the world is watching you.  I’m not just talking about the people you work or your friends at church.  Your family is watching you.  Your spouse is watching you.  And your children are watching you.  They have difficult circumstances as well, and they learn how to respond to their problems by watching how you respond to yours.

Through tough marriages, through sickness, through financial problems, and through pain, your family is watching you.  And the greatest gift you can give your family is to live above your circumstances so they can look at you and say, “That’s how I want to live!”

If you know the story of Hannah, then you know that God did show her favor and gave her a son named Samuel.  But it took her years of living above circumstances before that happened.  So as you go about your daily life, remember that there’s no circumstance that can come your way that God has not given you the strength to live above!


Jill Briscoe

Monday, January 16, 2012

I Will Not Be Shaken

by Shelly Esser

 Every couple of years I put together a family Christmas letter to send out. While it’s meant to keep connected to our long-distance families and friends, it’s also a documentary on our family’s life over the last several years – a family history, if you will. I always look forward to sitting down and reflecting very intentionally over the many ways God has showed up in our lives.

   Of course this year’s letter couldn’t have been complete without the celebration of our 17-year-old’s health after a long medical crisis. In June we saw the surgeon for the last time and all of us rejoiced over this huge milestone. Anna’s kidney was finally completely healed! So even though, at times, I’m a little hesitant to share such victories too loudly because “you know who” might hear me, I needed to for all of us and for all those who have followed our journey these last five years. So there it was in print for all the world to see. We were beyond celebrating!  

  Now here I am a month later facing the temptation to doubt, panic, and relive that medical nightmare. Anna didn’t go to school today, because she is having kidney pain. (For the first time in almost two years!) To see that old-familiar-fear in her eyes this morning resulted in a pit in my stomach and that awful feeling of helplessness. To even write down those words sends a quick and cold chill throughout my body. When we had to drag out the heating pad last night for the first time in years (a regular ritual while she was sick) I could almost hear the enemy laughing in my face. “See, God didn’t really heal Anna. He didn’t answer your prayers. Why don’t you just get it over with and admit He didn’t work like you told everybody He did?”  

   “NO,” my heart battled. “I will trust God and keep choosing to trust Him; you will not shake my confidence in God!”

   Isn’t it just like the enemy to masterfully slide in just in time to try and steal the show ─ to steal away some major victory, some major healing, some major spiritual progress we’ve made in our lives replacing it with doubt, fear, and discouragement? “But greater is He who is in you than He who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). What happens when healing doesn’t come, or a medical condition resurfaces, or the pain doesn’t subside, or our circumstances continue for years? Each day is a new day to respond faithfully to God because faith that moves forward triumphs.

   So where am I at this moment? A part of me is trying not to go to the worst-case scenario. Like before I know I need to take a deep breath and trust God’s character and what I know to be true about Him. I am choosing with my will to put myself in the same trust mode that has held me for the last five years.

    Like all of us, I don’t know what tomorrow holds. Maybe it’s just a fluke –  Anna’s pain doesn’t mean anything –  maybe it isn’t. I don’t know at this point. Maybe, it’s God’s gentle reminder to me to never forget the years in the wilderness. Maybe God never intended for me to breathe a sigh of relief, but rather has wanted me to maintain that same kind of desperate dependence on Him that was so second nature in the wilderness. How easy it is to let go of His hand when times are good, when the pressure is off, when in reality, His plan for us is to never let go of His hand. Whether I realize it or not, I am always in desperate need of God.

   I have walked this journey long enough now to know that He is walking it with me and He knows the way ahead so I don’t have to be afraid. He sees around the corner of my tomorrow and my fearful mother’s heart and He is adequately prepared for it.

   And because of that, so am I.

   Today Psalm 16:8 has been a comfort to my soul, “I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken (some translations use moved).” In other words…I will not be shaken by fear, heartbreak, doubt, disappointment, brokenness, illness, flashbacks or any other thing that can be thrown at me. My confidence is secure. His right hand will keep me and nothing I face will ever shake me because I am setting the Lord always before me holding on in desperate dependence!    

Monday, January 9, 2012

Make a Commitment to Seek Personal Renewal All Year Long!

Dear Friends,

 My hands gripped the steering wheel as my mini-van cut through the ranch-strewn countryside of eastern Oregon.  I was escaping to a retreat center in desperate need of rest and restoration.  It had been nine months since we packed up our lives in East Asia and returned to the U.S.  After 18 years of Asian life, our move back to the States was not a return “home,” but a painful uprooting for our family.

As I drove my mind raced with doubts and guilt: “I don’t really need to do this: What kind of mother leaves her family for a week with an empty refrigerator?  I should have brought them along; they need it too.”

But as the miles passed, the rural landscape, and the quietness began to work magic.  I already felt calmer – and hope was building in me that God might use this time away to restore me.

Heading home five days later, my mind was still busy, but with thoughts of a different type.  As I thought of my husband and children, I was able to pray for them in a deeper, more trusting way than I had for a long time.  My heart for ministry, which had been numb, was waking up.  I broke the nine-month musical silence and sang praise songs in my van.  All at once, as I maneuvered curving mountain roads, I realized that I was refreshed.  Creativity and energy and praise were returning – and hope had been restored.

The road to recovery

My five days at a retreat center was just what I needed.  But how did I even know that I needed to get away?  And in all my numbness and weariness, how did I ever manage the energy and commitment it takes for a mother of three to escape?

I’d love to say that it was my wisdom that made me schedule my three recent personal retreats.  The truth is that I was weary to my core and unable to take any action to help myself.  Caring brothers and sisters saw my condition and made a diagnosis: emotional exhaustion and possible burnout.  God was gracious to give them a care plan to restore me back to emotional health ─ a personal retreat.

Rest for my soul

I wanted to quiet myself long enough to hear God’s voice, so I took my Bible down to the creek-side bench at the Inn.  My weariness was so deep that all I could do was open it up to the Psalms.  I remember how I read a few verses, only to have my eyes blur over with tears. During my three days there, I did my part by showing up on that swing with God’s Word in my lap, asking Him to restore me.  And He did!  One of the greatest burdens I carried with me on that first retreat was the deep disappointment for my daughter Claire and her college admissions process that year.

A top student, Claire nonetheless was finding one door after another closing to her, leaving just one door open at the local university.  My quiet time on that swing allowed me the chance to pour out my frustrations to God.  Later, as I dozed next to the stream, His gentle voice spoke to me – “Claire needs roots.” I was able to walk away from that three-day retreat with thankfulness for the scholarships to the local university – and feel a huge burden lifted.

Nurture from nature

I spent days full of walks, bike rides, hikes, meals out, and a good novel.  My walks were leisurely – mostly on the way to the small-town diner where I ate comfort food three times a day.  But the springtime greenness and brilliant blue skies helped me rediscover both the beauty of my home state and the value of quietness.  I cruised my van slowly down the country roads, marveling at the landscape.  On one drive down in the canyon, a bird burst into song just as I drove past; the beauty of it and a sense of God’s love brought tears to my eyes.  

This was physical restoration, after almost two decades of urban life – where instead of mountains, construction cranes rose above the horizon at every turn, and instead of the serenade of songbirds, the blare of taxi horns and yells of teaming life were what assaulted my senses.

The healing power of nature was just as important in my second and third retreats, but I felt more energetic and was able to be much more active riding more than 50 miles of bike paths.

Resolved to rest

As I climbed into the small back-country plane to leave my last retreat – feeling energetic, rested, and hopeful – I resolved not to wait until my weariness calls for emergency measures.  I am determined to make this a lifelong habit – to take time out to seek solitude, rest, and renewal.  To come to Him and let Him give me rest.  Matthew 11:28-29 days, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…. You will find rest for your souls.”  What about making personal retreats a lifelong habit as you begin this new year?  Your soul will thank you!

Denele Ivins