blog, Digging Deeper

Called to Thrive

“Blessed is the man who trusts on the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year if drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” – Jeremiah 17:7-8

I remember the process of accepting being housebound. Each month I would give up more things hoping desperately that would be enough, but it never was. I clung onto church as long as I could, but eventually had to give that up too. In the business of others’ lives, very few noticed I was so unwell and dropping out of things, and I started becoming quite isolated. One Sunday I had been determined to make it to church, but had to go home after about 20 minutes, and was so unwell I couldn’t eat or get out of bed for most of the rest of the day. When I eventually came out of my room in the evening I found out that we’d had visitors. My closest friends at the time had come round, and I hadn’t been well enough to see them. This seemed particularly hard, as it was one thing to accept not being able to go out and see them, but after weeks of not seeing anyone it stung particularly hard to have them come round only for me still to not be able to see them.

I went to God crying “How can I live this way? You are taking so much from me!” The pain of loss and utter confusion of what goodness there could be in this felt overwhelming. I could not coherently pray, so I put on some Christian music and started worshipping Him. Then a song called Thrive by Casting Crowns came on, and there was one line in it that stood out to me. “It’s time for us to more than just survive. We were made to Thrive.” And I started praying…”God I believe this is true. I even believe that somehow, in your sovereign plan, you are going to use this illness to make me thrive. But right now I am just surviving… barely surviving. Every day is a fight to continue. Help me!”

His reply was clear, and uncompromising: “I want you to Thrive now.”

…”What? Now? Do you see what I’m going through? Do you know the constant pain I’m in, the battle for hope every night while I can’t sleep, the way everything is being taken from me, even my own personality, character and identity, my friends, my abilities? This is impossible!”

Hmm… “Do you know?” …”Do you see?” Silly questions to ask an all-knowing sovereign God. Of course he knows. …Then how does he expect me to thrive if he knows how hard life is? What does he even mean?

If I was the “tree” described in Jeremiah 17, then I was surely going through a season of drought and heat. Yet what struck me about these verses is it says it “does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit”. Even then the tree thrives… the man who trusts in the Lord. Our calling to thrive in God is not a calling to a prosperous life full of blessings, it is a calling to find God to be enough to make us grow and thrive even in drought!

This was hard though. I DID trust God ultimately, but it was just sometimes hard to do that as I lost yet another thing. Then God took me to Psalm 50. This is actually quite a condemning psalm of Israel’s hypocrisy in sacrifices, but then comes this verse

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the most High. Call upon me in the day of trouble. I will deliver you and you shall glorify me.” (Psalm 50:14-15)

Over all Israel’s sacrifices, God wanted a sacrifice of thanks. Above all I could no longer give Him, this was the one sacrifice he wanted of me.

But how are thanksgiving and trust connected? To give thanks is an act of faith. It is easy to give thanks when things are good, but when things get hard, when you are living with pain and loss, thanksgiving suddenly becomes very hard. There are times when there is very little in our circumstances that looks good or something to give thanks for, and then our thanksgiving must be rooted in who He is. This is what it means to be a tree planted by water, and to send your roots out deep into the stream that is God – that stream of living water that will never dry up, no matter how bad the drought is. It is to give thanks for Him, because we know Who he is, and that he will remain faithful to that.

…And then we get a change of perspective. Rather than judging God by our circumstances, we judge our circumstances by God. He is faithful, He is good, He is sovereign, He knows everything, His plan is perfect, He is always with us, and He is working through every circumstance… Every circumstance. That means that in this illness is God’s goodness, in fact, in this illness is God.

I want to clarify something here – illness, sickness, sin, brokenness, pain, or suffering of any kind, is not of God. These are a result of the curse, a consequence of sin, and a wage we have all earned from which God will redeem us and restore all that we, through sin, have ruined. BUT because He is sovereign, He is in everything and working redemption even now through our suffering.

If I believe in his sovereignty and goodness, then I must believe that this was allowed for my good. What had started as giving thanks for who he is, then became also giving thanks for what he gave. Many say we are only to give thanks in all things, but the Bible says we are to give thanks for all things.

“…giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20)

The example I am reminded of here is Betsy (Corrie Ten Boom’s sister) in the prison camp challenging her sister to give thanks for the fleas. At that time, there was nothing good to be seen from having bad flea infested rooms to sleep in. Betsy believed by faith that God was in that, and gave thanks for the fleas. Later it was the fleas that enabled them to start a Bible Reading and worship time with the prisoners because the guards would not enter there. Her faith was rewarded, the fleas were a gift, but she had to give thanks for them when they seemed nothing but a pain, and another toll on her already sick body.

This is faith – to give thanks even for the trials he allows, knowing that He is in them, that his goodness and faithfulness have allowed this, even – and especially – when we can see no goodness or faithfulness in our circumstances.

To do this we have to hold out our hands to God, opening them and releasing to Him all that we so desperately want to cling to, at the same time giving thanks for whatever He gives, knowing by faith that it is good. Closed fists hold nothing but darkness, open hands can receive His grace. When we close our fists our fingers point inwards, this mirrors the state of our hearts when we close our fists to God – looking to ourselves. When we open our hands our fingers point outwards, looking to God – the one we trust enough to let go of those things we want and release them to Him, trusting Him to fill our hands, and knowing that what He gives is good… because He is good.

This is why thanksgiving is an act of faith. Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see, so to give thanks for God’s goodness in everything when we cannot see it – this is faith! This is part of what it looks like to be a “man who trusts in the LORD”, and to live out our calling to Thrive in Him even through times of drought.

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A Sacrifice of Praise

In the Bible, God asks for a sacrifice of praise, but what does this look like in different circumstances. My brother put it this way: “our question when we face suffering should not be ‘Why God?’ but ‘What?’… ‘what should my response be?'”

This was a challenge to do through the years of chronic illness, pain, and being housebound. Then into my struggle to praise, God asked me a question. It was during a week of particularly intense symptoms, a real wrestle with depression, on one of many sleepless nights and when I was really longing for health, God asked me how I would respond if he healed me… and then how I would respond if He didn’t. He challenged me that his goodness is not dependent on health, or healing, or happy endings, but that I should remember who he is and hope in that. And that, whatever he allowed, he was equally worthy of praise. That night I reminded myself of who God is and wrote my response to his unchanging goodness.

“If He gives health I will thank him.

If he allows sickness I will praise Him.

When he guides I will follow.

When he stays silent I will wait.

In pain I will pursue him.

In gladness I will enjoy him.

In hope I will be confident in him.

In doubt I will fall on him.

And uncertainty I will rest in him.

In despair I will cry out to Him.

In sorrow I will reach for Him.

In loneliness I will abide with Him.

In failure I will rely on his grace.

In success I will walk humbly with Him.

In suffering I will long for Him.

In questioning I will stand on his truth.

If he gives strength, I will serve Him.

If he allows weakness I will depend on Him to use me anyway.

In my brokenness I will look to His beauty.

In wholeness I will trust in His strength.

In adoration I will dance with Him.

In hopelessness I will turn to Him.

In faith I will obey Him.

In the desert I will thirst for Him.

In fear I will fly to Him.

In love I will worship Him.

In repentance I will weep with Him.

In prayer I will seek his face… for he is the God above all, worthy of all kinds of praise, enough for every circumstance, and sufficient for every failing.

He is:

Eternally good,

Totally sovereign,

Perfectly compassionate,

Completely trustworthy,

Abounding in grace,

Freely forgiving,

Selflessly serving,

Humbly sacrificing,

Holy and righteous,

Mighty in power,

Lavish in giving,

Never forsaking,

Choosing and keeping,

Always completing,

Faithfully working,

Steadfastly saving,

Surely this God is worthy of all praise! Whatever my circumstances, feelings, or failings, He is worthy. He is enough! He is the ultimate treasure and joy. So fill me Lord! Fill this cracked pot with the treasure of knowing you – the God who is worth everything.

As I wrote this out, I was encouraged to realise that he accepts all kinds of praise from whatever place we are in. My Dad says “God’s highest praise comes from the lowest place”. We do not need to be in a good place or able to do more than cry out to Him, for even this is praise and a sacrifice that pleases him. The desperate cry out of our pain when we cannot see the goodness of God – that doesn’t understand but chooses to praise, is as glorifying to Him as the delight and wonder we express when we see his goodness.

He invites you…

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and He who has no money, come, buy and eat!… Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your souls may live.”

“Let not conscience make you linger.

Nor of fitness fondly dream.

All the fitness He requires

Is to feel your need of Him”

(Come ye sinners – Joseph Hart.)

What will your response be?

Hephzibah

Illustration by Valerie Martin

blog, Digging Deeper, Illustrated

A sacrifice of praise

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