Friday, 26 July 2013

The Blessing Of Pain

Dear Friends,

I’ve been thinking about pain quite a bit this past week, probably because I’m in the midst of it at the moment!  My close friends and family know that I have been to the National Migraine Clinic (NMC) in London.  Before they can treat the migraines I need to take a 12 week break from all my painkillers.  This is proving difficult as I also rely on painkillers most days to manage & tolerate the muscle pain caused by M.E.  The leg pain in particular has been almost unbearable, sitting, laying on the sofa, in bed, heat treatment, massage mat; none of these things have provided me with much relief.

We all experience pain in our lives, the cause of it will be different, the intensity of it varies, but pain is still pain and it hurts!  I don’t enjoy pain and I don’t seek it out, however, God is teaching me that there is blessing in pain.  It’s my experience of this that I want to share with you today that you may be encouraged and blessed too.

Although I am learning to see there is blessing in the pain I need to be honest with you, I still pray to be released from the pain and the pain still reduces me to tears at times.

I read the following sentence from one of the factsheets from the NMC:  “Nature has provided us with the ability to feel pain so that we can protect ourselves from further injury”.  I’d like to re-phrase that, but you will need to read on to understand exactly what I mean. God has provided us with the ability to feel pain for our good.  A few years back my son, Josh, decided not to listen to me when I told him not to touch the iron because it was hot and it would hurt him.  He touched it and, of course, experienced pain.  That pain was good for him – it has stopped him from making the same mistake again by touching the iron when it is hot and causing himself more injury.

So then, here goes, the blessing of my pain:

1.    Your response to pain can either draw you away from God or draw you closer to God.  God, in his grace, is drawing me to him.  I am experiencing his presence with me in my pain in such a way which I would probably not know otherwise.  I seek him more, whereas sometimes I can have the tendency when all is well to carry out my life without that same level of awareness of him.  I am so blessed right now to have him speak to me so much through his word, giving me encouragement, comfort and hope.  All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.  He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.”  2 Corinthians 1:3-4a.  (NLT)

2.     In my pain I lean on him, I am all too aware at the moment of my weakness, my inability to do much, and because of it am all the more aware of his strength and his grace.  As I lean on him he enables me to endure.  My pain reminds me that I am not self-sufficient, that God doesn’t expect me to do things in my own strength. Whereas I would usually rely on painkillers, I now turn to him.  He is my rock and my fortress, the one I can depend on.   

3.    Experiencing pain helps me understand that earth is not my home, my time here is fleeting.  I look forward to my eternal home with God in heaven.  Hebrews 13:14 “For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.” (NLT)  We may not know a lot about heaven but I do know that there will be no pain, no sickness, no tears!  Now that is something I am definitely looking forward to!  Can you just imagine it?  Revelation 21:4 “He (God) will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”  (NLT) If everything was wonderful here and we were comfortable, we would never be interested in the heavenly home God has prepared for us.  My pain stops me from becoming too attached to the things of this world.

4.    Pain helps me realise I am blessed with some incredible friends – and I have to say God has blessed me with many (and that includes my husband).  I have friends who have sent encouraging words through facebook, emails and text messages, I’ve got friends, who, rather than “lecture” me with what they think I should hear, give me hugs and assurances of their prayers, I can’t tell you what a comfort this is!  Friends who know I don’t feel well enough to do activities with my children and so take the kids out for me and friends who don’t wait to be asked, but have said they will come and do some of my housework.

5.    Pain teaches me humility – ouch!  I don’t like to admit I need help, I don’t like being vulnerable by expressing how I’m struggling.  I like to do things myself.  Those things are because of my pride.  So in this season God is teaching me humility through pain, I’m not sure it’s a lesson I will ever fully learn!  Probably when I think I’ve got it, God will show me again that I need to review the lesson and spend time revising on it, just as Josh has to do at the moment with his GCSE lessons.

I know there are other blessings in pain, but these are the main ones for me at the moment.  I’m sure there will come a time when I will experience others and will probably be sharing more with you.

The blessing of pain may seem a contradiction to you, humanly speaking, why would anyone say that, but daily, and over the years (more than 17 of them) I am learning the truth of that statement.  I know that there are others who will be experiencing far more pain and suffering than I have ever gone through, but I believe that what I have written can be as true for you as they are for me, if you will just turn to God.

To Think About:
“God has provided us with the ability to feel pain for our good.”  What are your thoughts on this sentence?  Do you agree or disagree?

If you are in the midst of pain right now, spend some time alone with God, be honest with him.  “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”  James 4:8 (NKJV)

If you aren’t yet able to see the blessings God gives you during your trials, ask him to reveal them to you.



Friday, 19 July 2013

In God's Hands A "Cracked Pot" Can be Useful

Dear Friends,

I came across The Story of a Cracked Pot a few weeks back and it greatly encouraged me.  Have a read:

“A waterbearer in India had two large pots, one hung on each end of a pole, which she carried across her neck.

One of the pots had a crack in it. While the other pot was perfect, and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the mistress's house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.
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For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water to her master's house.

The perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream: "I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you."

Why?" asked the bearer. "What are you ashamed of?"

"I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your mistress's house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don't get full value from your efforts," the pot said.

The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in her compassion she said, "As we return to the mistress's house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path."

Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some.

But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the bearer for its failure.

The bearer said to the pot, "Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot's side?

“That's because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you've watered them.

“For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my mistress's table. Without you being just the way you are, she would not have this beauty to grace her house."  (Author Unknown)

Sometimes I can look at others and all they are accomplishing for God and then I look at myself, my poor health, my inadequacies, my weaknesses and I become discouraged that I’m not able to accomplish all that I want to for God.  This is the problem of comparing myself with others and thinking about what I WANT not what GOD WANTS.  When I focus on God, I realise that he knows me exactly as I am and he uses me for his glory when I serve him from a place of weakness.  My weaknesses and inadequacies cause me to lean on him and depend on his strength.  I’m aware that whatever I do is because of him working through me.  He uses me despite my imperfections and weaknesses. Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his letter 2 Corinthians 12:9 “But he (God) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” For me, being aware of my weakness stops me from trying to do it all in my own strength and taking pride in what I can accomplish.  It helps me take my focus off myself and onto God.

There’s no point in wasting time and energy thinking about how things could have been if it wasn’t for our ill health, or not getting the promotion we’d expected, or not being married yet, or whatever we see as the cause of the “crack” or “flaw” in our pot.  I think it’s about coming to that place of acceptance and saying to God, “Ok, God, use me as I am, with my weaknesses, and bring glory to your name.”  Then I believe God will honour that request.  Who knows all that will be achieved when we allow God to work through us.

Think about some of the people God used in the bible, such as Moses, with his stutter who led God’s people; Rahab, a prostitute who saved God’s spies, Joshua and Caleb; David, an adulterer and murderer, who was a great King and a man after God’s own heart; Mary, a virgin and a nobody until she made herself available to be the mother of Jesus; Gideon, who was timid and insignificant until God enabled him to rise up as Judge of Israel...and the list goes on.  God loves to use those who, perhaps from the world’s point of view would not be worth considering, to accomplish his will.

Most of us are “cracked pots” but this doesn’t eliminate us from being useful to God.  It may eliminate us from the world’s point of view of being worth much, but God doesn’t see things as the world does.  God says about himself in Isaiah 55:8 “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.”  God desires us to place ourselves in his hands, make ourselves available to him and allow him to use us as he sees fit.

To Think About:
Don’t allow what you perceive as your weaknesses and inadequacies to eliminate you from being available and useful to God.

Perhaps because of circumstances you aren’t able to do what you have always wanted to do for God, but is he taking you in another direction?  Does he want to use what you see as a weakness to become a strength and a blessing to others?

Are you making yourself available to God to be used by him as he sees best?

Friday, 12 July 2013

God Calls You and God Chooses You

Dear Friends,

I find so much encouragement in the following verses:

Isaiah 41:9-10 “I took you from the ends of the earth from its farthest corners I called you.  I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

God is calling each one of us into a relationship with him (v9).  More than anything he wants us to enjoy a relationship with him.  Not only does he call us to him, he also places a call on our lives – something he has created you for that only you can do.  I’ve known his call on my life for some years now and it brings me so much enjoyment and fulfilment.  Having said that, I don’t always find it easy and sometimes I get discouraged (v10a), sometimes I succumb to negative feelings and thoughts, I can begin to compare myself with others and think they’re so much better at their calling than I am.

I looked in my journal and God gave me these verses back in the summer of 2007.  They were a source of great encouragement then, and as I meditate on them again as I write this, they are once more an encouragement to me.

God says he’s with me and he’s my God.  Therefore I don’t need to be afraid or discouraged (v10a).  Then comes his wonderful promises: Vicki, I called you, and I called you to work with me, not to go it alone, in your own strength, believe what I say, believe me, I promise to give you strength, I promise to help you and I promise to hold you up (v10b).  Wow!  How much do I need to hear and hold onto that when I start to feel afraid or discouraged.  I’m guessing that I’m not very different to you, and that you too need to hold onto the promises of God as much as I do.

Now for another truth – God has chosen me, he has chosen you.  I need that reminder sometimes, that God considers me someone who is special, worthwhile, and loveable and he chooses me.  He didn’t need to, he could have decided not to, but instead he did choose me.  Please pause for a moment as you read this, allow the truth to soak into your inner being, to soothe your soul, to bless you – God chose you!

I used to dread P.E lessons at school (I was no athlete!  One bonus of having my appendix out at secondary school meant there was a legitimate reason for having a few weeks of not being allowed to take part in P.E.)  I especially disliked it when we were to be separated into two teams.  The captains were always the girls who excelled in sports and were also popular.  I would stand waiting to be chosen, feeling more and more uncomfortable, knowing that I would be last or one of the last to be picked.  If you had a similar experience growing up you’ll know how awful it was, how terrible it made you feel, how it appeared to confirm that others’ opinions of you were similar to the opinion you held of yourself.

But thank God that it’s not like that with him.  He looks at me, and when he looks at me he sees Jesus, the one who has made me righteous, he sees someone valuable, worth loving, with gifts and abilities.  He looks me in the eye, smiles and says “I choose you!  I pick you for my team!” Not because he has to, or he's run out of people to ask, or because he feels sorry for us, but because he wants to, because he loves us. He says the same to you too.  And hearing that floods my being with warmth, peace, hope, I stand a little taller, with my head held up with the assurance that the Almighty God has chosen me and I begin to see myself as God sees me.

To Think About:
Take some time to meditate on these verses, and as you do, ask God what he wants you to hear from him.

You may have experienced rejection in the past which has had an impact on how you see yourself.  How does it make you feel knowing that God has chosen you?

Have you heard God’s call on your life?  What will you do about it?  What do you think is the next step?

Friday, 5 July 2013

El-Roi: The God Who Sees Me

Dear Friends,

In my Life Group this week we looked at the account of Hagar in Genesis 16. 

Here was a woman completely broken by her circumstances.  As Sarah's servant she was told to sleep with Abraham so that she could conceive a child on  Sarah's behalf.  Then, when she's done as she's told she's mistreated and abused.  With no control over her situation, Hagar thinks her only option is to run away, rather than face it.

At this point, the lowest point in her life so far, she has an encounter with the Living God.  At the time when she feels completely on her own, deserted by everyone, with no-one on her side, God makes his presence known.  He makes it clear to her that he has heard her distress and he cares about her.

"And the angel also said, “You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael (which means ‘God hears’), for the Lord has heard your cry of distress."  Genesis 16:11. (NLT)

This will be a powerful reminder to her for the rest of her life that God hears her, that he is on her side, that he has not deserted her.

Having experienced the blessing of a relationship with God she calls him El-Roi (The God who sees me).

"Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, 'You are the God who sees me.'"  Genesis 16:13. (NLT)

What a comfort and encouragement that must have been to Hagar.  Here was someone who saw who she was and saw who she would be.  Someone who loves her, who doesn't consider her a nobody or think she's insignificant.

God then gave her the strength to face the situation, to return and submit to Sarah.  Hagar was able to do this because she knew God was with her, close enough to see and hear what was happening in her life.

I find so much encouragement from Hagar's experience.  It's so reassuring to know that when I'm struggling with a situation, when things are hard, when I feel like I'm on my own and that no-one understands, that when I cry out to God in my distress he hears me because he cares about me, he sees, he notices what I'm going through.  Let's choose to believe the truth of God's word rather than believe the lies that say it's not worth calling out to God because he's not listening, he doesn't care and doesn't think we're worth noticing. 

It's incredible to know that the Almighty God is the God who sees me - wow!  He sees just who I am and who I will be.  In those times when we feel ignored, un-noticed and unseen by those around us, it's so good to remember that God sees us as someone who is worthy of his notice because he created us and loves us.

God hears and sees and wants to be involved in every detail of our lives.  Knowing that he hears and sees us  gives us the confidence to face anything, because we know that he is with us and will give us the grace to endure.

Writing about the privilege of having such a relationship with God has caused me to consider some things.  I know that God hears and sees me, but how much do I really hear and see God?  How much of my attention do I give to him so that I can hear from him.  Do I take the time to see and notice him working in my life?  Are my eyes focused on him?

To Think About:
What encouragement and comfort do you receive from knowing God hears and sees you?

Are you in a situation right now where you need to cry out to God and receive his help, strength and grace?

Is there someone you know who would also be blessed by hearing your story of how God hears and sees?