Friday, 23 June 2017

Does God Allow Pain?

Dear Friends,

Does God allow pain? And if so, why? The question of suffering is a huge one and one that has been debated and argued about many times. I'm aware of how contentious an issue it can be, so I want to try and be as sensitive as I can as I share from my limited understanding and my experiences.

We will never fully understand God, at least not this side of heaven. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:12 For now [in this time of imperfection] we see in a mirror dimly [a blurred reflection, a riddle, an enigma], but then [when the time of perfection comes we will see reality] face to face. Now I know in part [just in fragments], but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known [by God]. (AMP)

I've been studying Genesis and this week it was Genesis 32:22-32: 'Jacob Wrestles with God'. (The subheading in the NLT Bible) which particularly drew my attention.

This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. 25 When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 “What is your name?” the man asked.
He replied, “Jacob.”
28 “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.”
29 “Please tell me your name,” Jacob said.
“Why do you want to know my name?” the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there...
31 The sun was rising as Jacob left Peniel, and he was limping because of the injury to his hip.

God, in his power, "touched Jacob's hip and wrenched it out of its socket." Ouch! This suggests pain to me and, as I understand it, God was the one to cause it in this instance. And because of the injury Jacob, from then on, had a limp.

But why would God do this?  Does God take delight in watching people in pain? In seeing their suffering? Is he a cruel God? Is it because he is all powerful and can do as he likes to whomever he likes?

I don't believe so. In fact, the Bible teaches us that God is a God of love, of grace and mercy. God is good and kind. He does not find joy in pain and suffering.

I do believe there is always a purpose in whatever God does and I believe that what he did here, when wrestling with Jacob, was actually because he loved him. Bear with me, whilst I try to explain where I'm coming from.

Jacob was an extremely independent character, who liked to be in control, who was proud of his strength.  God wanted Jacob to learn to depend on him and allow God to be in control. God did this by making Jacob weak. As a result of God's hand on Jacob's life, Jacob, from then on, walked with a limp. It was a constant reminder of his weakness and it taught him to lean on God rather than rely on his own strength.

As a result of this painful encounter, we're told in v29 that God blessed him. God gave him a new name, or in other words, a new character. God transformed him.

From my personal experience, I believe God has allowed me to experience pain and weakness - mostly through M.E. and chronic migraines. Not to bring me down and not to destroy me. I see it as an act of love because through it he has taught me that his strength is shown in my weakness.

As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10 So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.
Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (NLT)

My weakness keeps me leaning on God. If there was a choice between choosing my own limited strength and God's strength, I know which one I would rather choose. So, I'll keep my limp if it means I get to lean on God.

Just as God changed Jacob, he is changing me too, transforming me that I might grow more and more like his Son, Jesus.

To Think About:
What painful experiences have you been through or are going through?

What has God taught you (or is teaching you) through them?

What might your limp be? (E.g., illness, divorce, financial worries, unemployment, infertility, etc.) How do you think you can glorify God as you limp?


If  what you read was of interest to you, then you may like to know that my book "Dear Friend...52 Weekly Devotions to Encourage, Challenge and Inspire" is available to buy from Amazon. (It's content is material adapted from previous blog posts.) To learn more, click on the link below:

Faithful Bloggers

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

God-Centered Dreams

Dear Friends,

Back in April I submitted an article online, entitled "God-Centred Dreams" to God-sized Dreams. I am so pleased and excited to tell you that it has now been published.

If you would like to read it, please click on the following link which will direct you to it:

To Think About:
What dreams do you have? Are they God-centred dreams?

Where is your focus as you wait - on God or others?

Are you at a place where you can hand your dreams to God for his care and keeping?


Friday, 9 June 2017

Learning To Rest

Dear Friends,

For many of us, rest does not come easily. We've bought in to the lie that we should be busy all the time. That acceptance and approval of us comes from our performance. That if we take a break we are wasting valuable time. We worry what others will think of us if we rest. And to top it all, if we do rest, we tend to then feel guilty for doing so.

Yet we need rest for our overall health and wellbeing. Rest brings refreshment and renewal and a chance to reconnect with God. We need to learn how to rest as it doesn't come naturally to many of us. God knows how essential rest is to our wellbeing, he knows it is an essential part of our lives. He is the one who brought order out of chaos, he created rhythm with day and night, weeks, months, seasons, planting and harvesting, work and rest, etc.

Jesus knew the value of rest, he demonstrated this to us by the way he lived. He lived out the rhythm of rest and activity. He also encourages us to find our rest in him. "Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.]
29 Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest (relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls.
30 For My yoke is wholesome (useful, good—not harsh, hard, sharp, or pressing, but comfortable, gracious, and pleasant), and My burden is light and easy to be borne." Matthew 11:28-30 (AMPC)

I also like how the Message paraphrases those verses: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

In my experience, if we do not make rest a part of our everyday life, then it is something that is forced on us. God will use or allow something to make us rest.

The Psalmist writes in Psalm 23:2 He [God] makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. (ESV)

More than twenty years ago, as a result of constantly pushing myself to be busy and keep working, and not resting when I should, I became ill with M.E. Even then, in the early years of diagnosis, I refused to rest when I should have. I would push myself too far and for too long, yet accomplish very little. By lunchtime I would collapse with extreme fatigue, muscle weakness and pain, and need to spend the whole afternoon sleeping in bed. I was so frustrated - my life was unfulfilling and unproductive. I wasn't living, I was merely existing.

It wasn't until I went to see a Doctor at Burrswood in Kent (a Christian Retreat Centre) that I learned how to rest and pace myself. I learned to pace myself with some activity for a couple of hours, and then have thirty minutes of bed rest before total exhaustion hit me. I would then repeat the cycle through the day. This rhythm of activity and rest made life so much better for me, my batteries were recharged before they got to empty and I was able to accomplish small tasks.  

Through illness God has taught me the value of rest. Not just physical rest, but total rest - mind, body and soul - and it has had the added blessing of drawing me into a closer relationship with him.

God knew that the Israelites needed to know rest in their journey through the desert, especially after the brutal work and conditions the Egyptians had forced upon them as their slaves. God knew how rest would bring them freedom, so he included it in his ten commandments. I believe he made it a command, not because he wanted to restrict them or us, but because he knows the necessity of rest and the benefits it brings to us.

"Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work... 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy." Exodus 20:8-11 (NLT)

I'm trying to have a day of rest once a week. A day set apart and different to the rest of my week. A day when I don't do housework or work to do with church. It's a day I look forward to and refreshes me for the other six days of the week. A day of rest needs both physical and mental rest for it to be most beneficial to us. Sundays as a day of rest don't work for me, for a number of reasons. So, my day is Monday, partly because that is also Jason's day off work. It means we can have quality time together without the pressures and responsibility of needing to do anything. We can go out for morning coffee or lunch together. It has been a way of God blessing and strengthening our marriage.

A Sabbath rest also provides us with time and space to be with God in ways that perhaps aren't always easy during the rest of the week. 

A Sabbath rest helps us to be more aware of God's presence with us in ways that perhaps we don't see when are bodies and minds are busy, rushing from one task to another.

But rest won't happen just because we know we need it. We have to be determined to make it happen and actually implement it. Sometimes this is easier said than done. For example, this Monday I opened my inbox to read some devotional emails. But I didn't just look at these, I noticed a couple of work related emails which grabbed my attention. Instead of ignoring them, I made the mistake of reading them. I answered one and left the other one for the following day. However, for the rest of the day, I found that my mind was no longer at rest, the details of the email and what I would respond were going round and round in my head. It was definitely not such a good day of rest for me.

God has taught me that rest and pacing are valuable skills that we all need for life, whether we are ill or not. Without them we will never function at our best. It will be different for each one of us, depending on our circumstances, our health, our season in life, etc. But through trial and error, and with God's help and guidance, we can all learn how it works best for us in our life.

To Think About:
Have you made rest an important part of your day? Do you find it easy or hard to rest? Why do you think this is?

Can you see the value in practicing a 'Sabbath rest'? What does this day look like to you? You may find this changes over time, so be flexible and open to God's direction.

Spend some time in the gospels reading about Jesus and the example he set when it comes to rest and activity. What do you learn from him which you can then put into practice?

Over the coming week or so meditate on Matthew 11:28-30. Use whichever Bible translation you feel drawn to. Break up the verses and meditate on one phrase at a time. If you journal, make a note of what God is teaching you.


If  what you read was of interest to you, then you may like to know that my book "Dear Friend...52 Weekly Devotions to Encourage, Challenge and Inspire" is available to buy from Amazon. (It's content is material adapted from previous blog posts.) To learn more, click on the link below:

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Enjoying The Quiet With God

Dear Friends,

Whilst on holiday with family, I am enjoying a day of peace and quiet on my own. As I sit in the stillness I can hear the breeze blowing through the leaves of the trees. Various birds in song and the occasional hum from a bee. Sometimes we are so busy and there is so much noise going on around us that we miss the beauty there is in the quiet. The beauty in God's creation. We miss the sense of peace and tranquillity given by our God who loves to give us good gifts.

At home I don't seem to have much time for stillness and quiet. My phone rings and interrupts me at the most awkward times. The washing machine or dishwasher whirl noisily. Emails shout for my attention. Housework begs to be done. Music is playing. The television is on in the background.

Despite being busy and often having people demanding his attention, Jesus often withdrew from them so that he could have time alone with God, to pray and converse with God. For example we read in Luke 5:16 But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer. (NLT)  He needed the quietness just as much as we do today.

It's in the peace, stillness and quiet that I have more room and opportunity to hear God speak to me. I look forward to my daily 'Quiet Time' with God where there is space for him to speak. I sit quietly with the Bible open before me, anticipating that he will speak just what I need to hear.

And yet, when it comes to praying within this quiet time, how often am I truly quiet before him? I confess I tend to come with my own agenda, my requests, my plans for the day. I rush through all that I want to say and forget that there may be more God wants to say to me. I wonder how much I miss out on hearing him because I'm not taking the time to listen?

Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:6 But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. (NLT)

Another translation puts it this way: Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace. (MSG)

I like how the Message paraphrases Matthew 6:6. When we come before God we don't need to pretend to be something we're not. There's no need for clever words. No particular formula is needed. We don't need to pray in the same way as somebody else. What we do need is to "Just be there" and focus on God. Then, when we do this, we will sense and experience his grace.

Recently, I've been encouraged to spend a few minutes in quiet before God, being completely still, waiting for him to speak and direct my thoughts and my words. In my heart, it's what I desire, yet how hard it seems in practice. It's not easy to have an inner quietness when my mind is occupied with other things. I set these things aside, only to take them up again in the next moment. Yet, I do believe it is possible to be quiet and still before God. It is possible with training and discipline. It will take effort, but it will be worth it, of this I'm sure. And so I persevere. I know I will get there.

Enjoying the moments of quiet on holiday has also given me the desire to grab moments of quiet during my everyday life. It won't be as easy at home, but I believe it can be done if I want it enough. It's about creating space for God to speak, not just in my morning quiet time with him, but at any time and for me to stop, pause and listen, 

As to how I do this, I'm not quite sure yet. It will require trying things out and seeing what works best for me. It may be taking a moment over my morning coffee or afternoon tea to be quiet before him. Or five minutes at the beginning of lunch. Or as I take the dog for a walk. Or soak in the bath.

Something within me is telling me that this will be good for me. That it would be good for each one of us. That it will prove to be a blessing to me in all kinds of ways - spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally.

The Psalmist writes in Psalm 62:5 Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. (NLT)

To Think About:
If you have a regular 'Quiet Time' with God will you include some time of being still and quiet before God just waiting on him (if you don't already do so)?  

How could you include moments of quiet with God during the day? (If you have any suggestions, please leave your comments for others to read.)

What hinders you from having quiet moments?


If  what you read was of interest to you, then you may like to know that my book "Dear Friend...52 Weekly Devotions to Encourage, Challenge and Inspire" is available to buy from Amazon. (It's content is material adapted from previous blog posts.) To learn more, click on the link below:

"Dear Friend..."