Monday, June 16, 2014

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The Joy of the Lord is My Strength

          My thoughts this morning are drawn towards trying to understand the stark difference that exists between the state of happiness, as the world thinks of it, and the state of joy, as imparted by the Lord.  It is one of many of the precious jewels that God willingly teaches and imparts to all of His children as we walk through the process of maturing in the Lord.  God has His own plan and agenda for each of our lives.  He doesn’t play favorites, but He does teach us and impart things differently. Otherwise, each of us would look as if we were all cut out of the same mold, all designed for the same purpose in life.  Have you noticed how one person may be very mature in the area of having learned to live a disciplined life when things are going well, while at the same time he behaves very immature in his ability to handle affliction or disappointment in his life?  In the life of another, the abilities may seem to be entirely reversed.  Christians do not grow in maturity at the same equivalent rate of speed, nor do each of us all mature in the same areas.  I believe a great deal of that difference depends upon the individual’s willingness to cooperate and submit our will to the will of God.  At the same time, it also seems to be connected with the difference that God has built into each of our lives.  We are each created for the purpose of giving glory and honor to God, but His plan and design as to how that is to be carried out may be different for each of us.

          I’ve written on this theme before, but today He seems to be leading me to think on it in a bit of a different way.  As usual, I’m not quite sure where this is all going to lead, or where and how it will conclude for the time being. I view it as another opportunity for me to walk down a familiar path, to visit with the Lord.  As I do, I hear the words of that dear old hymn once again: “I come to the garden alone…and the time we spend as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”  It’s that same sweet time that each of us has access too when we turn our hearts to Him, and seek to spend time with the one who has first loved you and I.  As He beckons to our heart, we begin to feel the stirring of His Spirit within our own spirit.  Once again we experience that same familiar, but oh so precious remembrance of how “our hearts burn within us” each time we truly sit at His feet, or walk along the way to learn of Him and draw near to Him.

          In part, I am drawing near in a quest to learn and understand why affliction often seems to exist to a greater degree in some than it does in others, and also how our response and reaction to it can produce such drastic differences?  I know the answers I seek are not going to be comprehensive for, as always, we can not see fully but only partly as reflected in a dim mirror.  I know that on the one hand, God has and still does work miracles in the lives of some to heal them completely and instantaneously.  I know this because I have I seen it happen in close family and friends.  At other times, I have seen and experienced His hand at work to produce healing partially over a period of time, with and without a form of medical treatment.  The process of all healing comes from the Lord, the way He administers it often differs.  We can influence the process though our choice or response and actions to either obey and contribute to the process, or to disobey and hinder it.  Whether the healing is instant, complete, partial or after we go home to be with Him, whether He takes us out of it or through it, it is always a wonder as we see His hand at work in our lives.  I’m thinking about the instant death of my sister’s husband as a result of an automobile accident.  He knew Jesus as His Lord, and went home to be with the Lord when he was only in his forties.  He was such a wonderful man, and for myself, I remember asking God why He had allowed that to happen?  God gave me a scripture that helped to give me peace that alluded to the idea that some are taken out early to spare them of from what was to come.

My sister was left behind with two grown married children and one teenage son.  I remember marveling at God’s comforting hand as He led and carried her through those oh so difficult times.  There was just no other answer for how she came through all of that except for the mercy and grace of God.  For me, this was a reality experience to understand the meaning of the scripture that tells you and I that “My grace is sufficient for thee.”  The total understanding of the ‘why’ something is allowed we may not know; the ‘how’ was made visible to me through the gentle work of the Holy Spirit as He comforted and guided her through it one day at a time.    

          My focus is not meant to be on the source or form of suffering or affliction, but rather how to deal with it in our lives.  I don’t take the path, as some have done, that “if you have enough faith, you will be healed; if you’re not, it’s your own fault for lack of enough faith.”  I believe God has a reason for all things in our lives.  As we have seen in the lives of such men as Paul and Job, who at some time and in some way, had or experienced either a life long or periodic affliction of a “thorn in the flesh.”  Job was eventually healed of his, but Paul, when he asked God to remove his, was told “no, for my grace is sufficient for thee.”  On the surface, we might look at that and think that God was playing favorites and being unfair in His treatment of one over the other.  But I submit once again, you and I can see only partly and not the full picture of His plan for each of our lives.

          For the moment, I will turn the focus of my thought to my own life, simply because that is what I can speak about on a more knowledgeable level.  In the physical realm, comparatively speaking, it seems as though enduring some kind of affliction has played a considerable part in a good bit of my life.  In no way do I intend to stir up sympathy, but simply to make a factual statement. Personally, I don’t even look upon it as being any big thing.  It has always seemed to me to be a matter of “Oh well, that’s just the way it is so lets get on with it.” 

          I hope you won’t mind while I take a moment or two to give you an “organ recital.”  From as far back as I can remember, I suffered from asthma until I was about nineteen years old.  I would wheeze so loud that it could be heard from one room to another.  When I reached ninth grade it got even worse.  At times I could not walk twenty feet without turning blue around the mouth.  I can remember asking the Lord to please take me home just so I wouldn’t have to struggle so hard for each breath.  Well, He didn’t do that for me as I am seventy one and still here.  What He did do was provide a doctor who put me through the process of determining my allergies.  Eventually, I was started on a regimen of shots for a period of three years.   In time, I thought I was doing pretty good as the attacks became fewer and less severe.  Within about four years, the asthma attacks ceased entirely. Now isn’t that a Praise the Lord?

          When I was in second grade, I came down with scarlet fever and had to be quarantined to my room.  For several weeks, my fever was so high the skin on my body turned red, and then it would peel as if I were sunburned.  Of course I didn’t enjoy any of that, but in my little child’s mind, the worst of it was not being able to be around my brothers and sisters.  I could only see Mama and Daddy for brief periods as they ministered to me.  As I was beginning to improve, the final and greatest blow to me was when it was suggested that I might have to repeat second grade due to having missed so much time in school.  Oh no, to me that would have been a fate worse than death!  In the end, that did not occur and my panic at the thought of it dissipated.  What I didn’t realize until years later, was that in those days I could have died from scarlet fever.  I’m sure my parents had been made aware of it, so in reality the ordeal was probably far worse on them emotionally than it was on me physically.  Once again, each of us endured and came through to the other side.  Praise the Lord!

          Over the years, I have had several surgeries, some minor and some major, ranging over the years from age nineteen to seventy.  I experienced four miscarriages, three of which were in the first trimester, and one in the seventh month of pregnancy, in which I lost a precious baby girl due to multiple birth defects.  One major surgery in recent years revealed that I had been only one step away from developing stage one cancer of the colon, something that seems to run in our family’s medical history.  When I was 69, I had a heart attack and had a stint placed in one of my main arteries to my heart.  Praise God, there was no damage done to my heart.  Each time there was an opportunity to get hung up in the land of

“Get angry with God and blame Him.”  That’s a terrible place to go for it robs you of all the comfort and peace of the Lord, and the opportunities to draw nearer and learn from Him.  There is so much positive that God will impart to us even in and through the most difficult times of our life if we will only trust and let Him; “let go and let God” is a small phrase that packs a lot of wisdom.

          My freshman year in college was the first year of integration occurring in the fall of 1960, and the female student lived in my dorm.    One night as a riot developed, we were all put on lockdown with lights out and the doors locked.  During the event, I was the only casualty.  A rock had been thrown with such force that it burst through our third story window through screen and glass, flying the width of the room and striking just above my right eye.  Of course, I developed two beautiful black eyes, but also headaches that prevailed for a few weeks. A couple of years later I started having epileptic seizures.  It could not be definitely proven that the blow on my head had been the cause, but neither could it be ruled out.  It may even have been a genetic thing, as I found out later that my grandfather’s brother had had epilepsy.  Okay, this was going to be something that wasn’t simply going to go away.  As it has turned out, I have only had seizures during my sleep.  Others have had far worse to deal with.  My husband, then my boyfriend, had to be informed of the development.  His attitude was, “So what, I love you and we will deal with it together.”  Another cause to Praise the Lord!

          When I was sixty two, I fell at work, landing so hard on my forehead on a linoleum covered cement floor, that my head bounced up and then down for a second time resulting in a huge knot on my forehead and a bad concussion, in addition to a fracture to the upper bone of my left arm.  The bone healed in time of course.  However, the blow to my head and concussion has left me with a severe problem with light which gives me vertigo migraine headaches and, when exposed to too much or certain kinds of light, an inability to walk without holding on to something or someone to keep me steady.  My brain is first affected causing my head and neck and down into my upper spine to hurt, which then somehow causes my legs to become spastic and unable to walk properly or keep my body in proper balance.  As I understand it, the walking part is called ataxia.  Of course, as a result, I had to quit teaching, and can no longer drive or go out without a companion to hold onto for stability.  However, as inconvenient as this may sound, I have improved considerably in comparison to how severe it was in the beginning. My doctor told me it was a classic post concussion syndrome.  He could not guarantee that I would ever completely recover from it.  Thus far, eight years later, I seem to have reached a certain plateau that has remained sustained without further improvement being manifested as yet.

          All right now, what in the world has been the purpose of this “organ recital?”  Has it been to say, “O poor me, look at what I have had to suffer through?” No!  I’m sure there are plenty of others that have and do suffer through far more and far worse.  Just look at people like Joni Erickson Tada who has been a quadriplegic since she was about nineteen or younger, and yet through it all, in her weakness, the strength of God in her has been manifested to heights that many of the rest of us can only imagine.  I suggest that you read about her life and all that God has done and is still doing in her life.  Am I trying to glorify suffering? Far from it!  For what purpose then have I shared all of this with you?  I hope to convey an insight that God is greater than any and all of the adversities that life may try to throw at you.  For our good, we need to view life as a journey through which all of us must go once we are born into this world.  Because it is a corrupt world with trials and tribulations, none of us are going to come out of this unscathed and unaffected. We are all going to be confronted with hurtles and stumbling blocks, some small and some large.  We are all going to experience them along the way to one extent or another.

          This is what I submit to you.  If you and I will choose to delight ourselves in the Lord, in His word, and in His ways, He will draw near to us as we draw near to Him.  He will be your friend that sticks closer than a brother.  He will be your Comforter and Hiding Place in times of trouble.  He will be your strength when you are weak.  He will give you peace that passes all understanding even in the midst of all the storms of life.  He will never leave you nor forsake you. Even when you may turn and stray from Him, He will still keep His arm outstretched to you to receive you back into the fold.  He waits patiently for whosoever may choose to come to Him.  He will teach you of His ways that you may not be deceived by the ways of this world or by the desires of your own flesh.  With God, “surely goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life.” (Psalm 23)

          Did I learn all of this by chance?  Did I ever question Him, “Why me Lord; how could you let this happen to me or to my loved one?”  When I found myself in the depths of depression for five whole years, did I ever want to just throw in the towel, and bring it all to an end?  Yes, but He alone showed me what at terrible legacy that would be leaving to my own children.  When my daughter was lost in drug addiction, did I ever question Him and ask Him, “Where are you God, and why aren’t you doing something about this?” Yes, but He reminded me that just because I couldn’t see His hand at work did not mean that He wasn’t there.  It was all a part of learning to trust and place all in His hands, putting my trust in Him, No Matter What!  Who else was I going to turn to: myself, riches, career, my own intellect, opinions, and finite reasoning abilities?  No, thank God for the wisdom to turn to the One who knows the beginning from the end and all that is in between?

          When the afflictions and adversities of life come, and they will come, we all have a choice as to how we are going to respond and react.  We can choose to tell God, “Because you did not do what I asked you to do God, I turn my back on you to forget you and your ways entirely.  I’ll go down my own pathway without you.”

Or we can choose to have faith and believe that He knows best and has a bigger purpose in His plan for our life that we can’t presently see.  Maybe you see your child going through horrible things, and you are wondering why in the world?  We may never understand so many things that happen to us or to our loved ones until we see Him face to face.  He might choose to reveal to you even now that He allowed something to happen in your past that you might be better prepared or equipped for something in the present or something that may still lie ahead.            Within a few months of my fall at work, my life changed from being active and going out daily among people to teach and carry on in an independent manner, to that which was pretty much one of isolation and being home bound. I can remember walking down my hallway one day after all that had happened to my head.  As I did, I consciously asked Him, “This is the way it is.  What do you want me to learn in and from all this?”  I could have become angry, bitter, and resentful that He had allowed this to happen and then, on top of that, He didn’t seem to be answering my prayer for complete healing.  Thank God I did not fall into the permanent pit of the land of “Self Pity and Why Me.”  I have to admit there have been times that I visited that land for a brief period or two, but thank God I did not decide to join the ranks of those who have become its hostage.   My salvation was not based or founded in my own self will; instead, all that He had already taught me in times past was used to prepare me now for this.  I am still learning to be content in Him, no matter what my situation may be.  I am learning to be thankful for the things that I can do, and not have regret for the things I can’t do.  God can and will give us the victory if we will only let Him be in control.  It is far superior to choose to live life on purpose with the guidance and help of the Lord who never slumbers nor sleeps.

          My sister’s son, Eddie, lived such a life.  He was diagnosed with stage four cancer and given only about six months to a year to live.  He knew from the get go that his battle against it was not going to be one that He could win in the end.  However, he didn’t give into it and refused to live life as a victim.  Instead, he lived each day of the rest of his life, which turned out to be three more years, on purpose and with a plan to make the most of each and every day.  With God’s help and the loving support of his entire family, as long as he could, he got up, shaved, got dressed, and went to work even through all the chemo therapy.  He was an inspiration and a true opportunity for others to see God’s hand at work becoming his strength even as he himself became weaker.  He didn’t give into the victim attitude of poor me, why me, or blaming God.  Instead, because of what God did in him, Eddie did not only go to his regular workplace, but he also worked again in the usual summer leadership program held every year in the Blue Ridge Mtns.   I was granted the pleasure of feeling that I had contributed and helped him in some small way by loaning him my motorized wheel chair; thereby, enabling him to get around and save his energy for teaching his classes.  He made it to his daughter’s wedding, even dancing with her.  When his first grandchild was born, he was able to travel and even hold and feed her. 

          His determination to fight against the visible effects of pain and physical deterioration was an absolute wonder to all.  Was this a terrible thing to go through? Yes, without a doubt!  Yet, he did just what the bible says to do; he endured to the end and he persevered with a purpose until he no longer could.  Did I remember to tell you that at birth he had a condition that required a complete transfusion to replace his blood?  Or that he had had epilepsy since he was just a baby? Or that he was never seizure free until during the last year or so of his life?  Did I tell you about the special needs program that he developed and taught at the YMCA where he worked, or that he was so loved that that same Y named a part of it after him in his honor, and a scholarship fund in his name was established for others after his death?  Did I fail to tell you that he was only in his forties when he went home to be with the Lord?  I could go on and on about this young man.

          Though he lived a life shorter than he and his family desired I’m sure, yet even so, the one life he lived was with a purpose and to the glory of God.  Eddie’s life may have been the only bible ever ‘read’ by some.  None of us knows how many were drawn nearer to the Lord because of seeing God at work in him.  He lived out the scripture, “Having done all to stand, stand.”  With a purpose, he endured to the end.  Yes, thank God, that is the greatest news about his life.  He did know the Lord as his Savior, and now he is truly experiencing abundant life in the presence of His Lord.

          What is my main point?  Adversity, difficulties, even sufferings and afflictions do not have to define you as a victim or one who is less blessed in life.  Through it all and in spite of it, you can live a life that is filled with the joy of the Lord as your strength.  Happiness is determined and limited by conditions and situations.  The joy of the Lord is limitless and fills you with a gladness and peace that exists regardless of situations and conditions.  There are those that may have been enduring pain and unbelievable distortion and wreckage to their physical being, yet, to their last breath, they would choose to expend their last bit of energy to write, sing, or do what ever they could with joy unmentionable in their hearts testifying to the glory of God.

          If you have experienced disabilities or hardships in your life, or the life of your children or other loved ones, you too have the choice to become angry and bitter by what you perceive to be unfair and unjust.  You can choose to blame God and turn from Him.  Or you can determine to put your trust in Him, responding to Him in faith that He is able, and that He does have great plans for your life that you can not imagine.  We may never know how even one little thing that He has done in our lives may be used to bring joy into the life of another.  Many may choose to go it alone, depending entirely upon their own abilities and resources to make it through.  Some may choose to become victims and slaves to the conditions created by their own choices or circumstances.  Bitterness and anger towards God can produce no good thing, and will rob you of all the blessings that God had planned for you.  Open the door of your heart and let Him give you His joy to be your strength that you may be set free to rejoice and praise Him regardless of the trials and tribulations of this journey and temporary life on earth.  We must stop focusing on the problems and conditions of the things of this world as if they were the only and most important part of life.  Focus on self is a detractor from the higher things of life.  Focus upon God and see what blessings will be poured into your life.

          Begin now anew, and let God show you and your loved ones how to live your life with a purpose, with the view that the best part of your life is yet to come and yet to be lived now and on into eternity.  Do all that you do in the here and now as unto the Lord; thereby, you will be storing up riches in Heaven.  Don’t be deceived by the feel good false teachers of today that would have you believe that being a Christian guarantees you health and wealth in the here and now.  Any one with an ounce of sense can readily see that we do not live in a perfect world free of corruption, sin, poverty, or trials and tribulations.  If we learn to submit our will to the will of God, He will give us the desires of our heart, for we will have made His desires our own.  “Delight thyself in the Lord,” and He will take even that which seems to be for your harm and turn it around to be for your good.  Choose to trust in God!  Rejoice in the Lord always, and you shall have the joy of the Lord to be your strength, even during and regardless of the storms of life. Happiness is fleeting, but the joy of the Lord is established in and through His Holy Spirit in you.  “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.”  Take heed to the wisdom and truth in the following scripture:

“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.”  (II Corinthians 4: 8-10)



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