The message of pain.

With the new year I began a read through of the Bible. We enter with a perfect world being created – a world of hope and promise and intimacy with God. But it only last until the third chapter when Satan tempts, Adam and Eve disobey God, the world is cursed and evil enters. Now there is sin, shame, and pain.

What struck me reading through this again was how necessary pain is. Pain carries a message… But what is that message?

1. Something is wrong!

The purpose of pain is to tell us that something is wrong. A doctor working with patients with leprosy (a disease that affects the nerves and removes the ability to feel pain causing rotting flesh and injuries) said this: “Pain is not the enemy, but the loyal scout announcing the enemy…Pain truly is the gift nobody wants.” – Dr. Paul Brand (p. 20)

This is a concept I could grasp, but struggled with during the years of chronic unexplained pain (you can read more of my story here). There was no obvious reason for my pain, so what was the point? What is this “enemy” that pain is announcing? The doctors may not have been able to find what was wrong with my body, but it was screaming out a message to me that something was wrong.

2. The enemy is sin.

Not only did my pain tell me that things were going wrong physically, but it spoke a deeper message… Something is wrong with this world. Pain entered the world because of our sin, and now Pain announces the enemy of sin.

Without pain, we could be quite content with our sin and brokenness. Pain makes us aware of our brokenness, aware of the need of deliverance, and grows a longing for something more.

3. We need God

Pain is a symptom of sin, and our inability to create a world without pain speaks of our inability to achieve righteousness without sin. Until we face up to this, we will continue to strive to create and define our own righteousness. Pain causes us to cry out to God for the righteousness and healing we cannot create ourselves. Pain is one of the few realities that no-one can deny, run from, hide from, or escape, that calls us to repent and cast ourselves upon God and his grace.

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” – C.S. Lewis

4. Repent!

Pain tells us that something is wrong… The enemy is sin…. We need God and cannot remedy it ourselves… So the only response is to Repent! Turn from your sin and cry out to God for the forgiveness, righteousness and healing only He can bring!

5. A deliverer is coming!

“And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed upon him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knew should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:8-11).

Pain is a path to hearing God’s voice. He speaks to us through it revealing our brokenness, and our need for a Saviour, but also revealing the depths of God’s love, because he himself entered into our pain. Right from the moment we caused it, he had a plan to deliver us from from it: “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from it’s bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” – Romans 8:19-21

6. The depths of God’s love are revealed.

It is in the depths of our pain that we begin to glimpse the depths of God. The God who humbled himself, who entered into and beyond our pain, who suffered and died to deliver us from it. If you have ever doubted the goodness of God, look again at the cross and the immeasurable pain Jesus experienced to save us. That is love!

“But He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5

Jesus was wounded for us. He knows intimately our suffering, whether that is physical or emotional. He was wounded to become our healer. The depth of His compassion and committed love and grace can sometimes only be found in the depths of our pain. Cry out to Him from those depths, and listen for an answering depth. A depth of mercy answers our sin. A depth of strength answers our weakness. A depth of healing answers our brokenness. A depth of love answers our woundedness. A depth of grace answers our failures. A depth of sovereignty answers our fear. A depth of devotion answers our loneliness. Whatever depths you are experiencing now, there are greater depths found in Him. With His stripes you are healed.

7. Look to eternity and our coming King!

He is bringing a Kingdom with no sin and no pain!

“He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.”
Isaiah 25:8

The message of pain perpetually calls to us “there is more to come!” This life cannot be all there is. It lifts our eyes to our Saviour – Jesus, and to the hope of that day when he will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

“For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Revelation 7:17

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Romans 8:18

I pray that God would reveal his glory to each one of you in your suffering. Let your pain drive you to him, and make you look to eternity. There is hope!

Because of Jesus,

Hephzibah

Please comment… Share your thoughts, encourage or challenge me to grow in Christ and in my writing. Let’s do this together!

Bible, Christian, Digging Deeper

Pain, Purpose, and Priceless Treasures. – Part 1

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Yesterday I came back from a 2 week family holiday. For me it was a time of contrast, and looking back over the last few years. We stayed in that place once before (four years ago I think) but this was near the lowest point of my illness, and I cannot remember much. When we went I was confined to the house and in a lot of pain, but I remember being amazed at gifts God had put in place even before we knew I needed them. We had booked the holiday many months in advance when my health was in decline, but we had no idea then how far it would go. By the time we went I couldn’t climb stairs, but God had provided downstairs bedrooms. I couldn’t leave the house, but there was a stunning sea view. I couldn’t maintain my body temperature without a fire or hot water bottle (often both!), and there was an open fire. In each detail, we saw that God had gone before us and seen to the needs I didn’t even realise I would have.

This year is so different! I’m not in pain, I have gone on walks, swam in the sea every day, gone paddle boarding, done handstands, joined in with my family, and (excitingly 😜) slept in an upstairs bedroom!

But some things are the same: as I look back, I am reminded of things God taught me through illness – truths that have not changed though my circumstances have. There is one in particular which I’d like to share that God taught me through my wheelchair.

During recovery, I started to be able to leave the house in a wheelchair. This was both enabling and exciting, but at the same time very humbling. I wrote this at the time:

If you have never needed a wheelchair, you probably will not know what an enabling thing it is, making the impossible possible. But it is also challenging as your mobility depends on others, and varies a lot on who is pushing.

One of the things God has been challenging me on is ‘wheelchair faith’. He has been teaching me through my wheelchair that I can not always choose where to go, and I do not do things in my own strength. There are times I’m parked up and left alone, and other times when my brothers race with me and I effortlessly speed up hills.

It made me think of how God is sometimes compared in a derogatory way to a crutch, for people who are weak. But a crutch is something you only use when you choose to, a tool to get from one place to another. A wheelchair, however, is giving the decisions to someone else. It is an acknowledgement of extreme weakness, and dependency on the one pushing. I realised I need God to be my wheelchair. I’m too weak for a crutch!

I started thinking what it would mean to be in ‘God’s wheelchair’. Would I be willing to let him ‘park me up’ and be left alone while others go to places and do things I can’t ? How about when he calls me to heights that I cannot climb, will I be willing to trust him to take me there? The promise of this also comes with a warning: when I am enjoying those high places, not to forget that it is because of the strength of the one pushing me and make the mistake of getting out of the wheelchair. I am still a weak cripple, just being ‘pushed’ by a great God.”

This is the great thing, though! There is no limit to what God can do, where He can take me, or what He can do through me. The race of my life will not be confined to a “wheelchair friendly” route. Once I realise that it all depends on Him (not me!), then the possibilities of God’s plan for my life expand. He is limitless!

This transforms the way I view my circumstances. I have felt so limited… So trapped. I know I can not accomplish anything for God, and sometimes I give in to the lie that this means He can not glorify himself in me. But once I realised that – no matter how weak I am – I am only as limited as the one pushing my wheelchair, my limitations melt away into awe at this unlimited God.

In a wheelchair (age 16)

Now (returning to my typical craziness!)

To take it further, God is showing me how, when I am in the wheelchair, people end up putting all their bags, coats, and even tired siblings on my lap… so much that I could never carry, even in perfect health, if not in the wheelchair. This is one of the weakest times in my life, but somehow I am carrying more… because it does not depend on me. I can’t take credit for it, or be proud of anything, because it is only by the strength of the one pushing me. So…

Could it be the ones in ‘God’s wheelchairs’ to whom he gives more to carry…?

Those who seem strongest are often those who lean hardest.

I’ve used the wheelchair as a picture of what faith can look like as we live by God strength. To be in ‘God’s wheelchair’ does not necessarily mean having a physical disability, but to know your weakness, and to live in obedience by faith trusting God for the strength you do not have, and letting Him decide the path you take. It is to lean hard into Him.

Recently I watched a clip (click here to view) of a father and son doing an Iron Man together . The son is severely disabled, and the father swims, cycles, and runs him the whole way. I love the way this demonstrates the truths God has taught me through my own disability and his redemption of my life. He has shown me that, as the Father sees his son as so much more than his disabilities, so God sees a value in us that goes so much further than what we can (or cannot) do. Throughout the video, you can see that their delight in each other and absolute devotion to each other is what motivates each of them. And it is this same delight and devotion that marks, motivates, and makes beautiful our journey with God. He glorifies Himself in us because he delights in us, not because of our striving.

The way the son asks to do an Iron Man with his Dad reminds me of the power and intimacy of prayer. We can ask our heavenly Father to do great things in our lives beyond our limitations, because it is His committed love for us and limitless power that will accomplish this.

And finally, I think my favourite moment is when they are running up to the finish line, the son waving his arms in exultation as the crowds cheer…. This is how we will cross the finish lines of our lives if we live by faith. Yet the beauty of it is that, though there will be a “crowd of witnesses” rejoicing in a race well run, it will be clear that it was only by our Father’s strength that it was completed.

Now I have different challenges, and different choices. As, my strength returns, my abilities increase, and my circumstances change I remember the God who has brought me through, and continues to carry me now. He has not changed, nor have his promises, nor has his ability to glorify himself in me unhindered by any weakness of mine.

I am reminded to stay in my “wheelchair of faith”, to keep depending on God, and leaning hard into Him, to delight in Him, and have confidence in the God who holds my future, to know that He can make the race of my life like that Iron Man – unlimited by my weakness, and to know that everything that He accomplishes in me will be by His strength for His glory. “For from him, and through him, and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen!” (Romans 11)

Outing with family (in wheelchair age 16)

(Now) On a walk with siblings again

I pray that each one of us would come to know the joy of running the race He has set for us in His strength and for His glory. Let us lean hard into Him!

Hephzibah

For more on living an abundant life by faith see Called to Thrive

blog, Christian, Digging Deeper, Faith

Wheelchair faith

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Bible, Christian, Digging Deeper, repentance

Struggling with sin

In my last post I shared something from some years ago in my life, now I jump to a very present struggle – sin. It’s not like this is something I’ve just started struggling with recently… it’s been a permanent problem! These last few weeks I have been remembering things God taught me through illness, and learning them again as I continue to wrestle with sin.

One of the things I have found most discouraging with illness, is the way that suffering exposes our sin. When I am tired or in pain, my patience levels plummet, I can be irritable, grumpy, joyless, selfish, struggle to pray or praise God, the allure of self pity becomes very strong, and I can be more critical of others who have “lesser problems”. This is NOT because of the illness. This is because of my sinful nature. The circumstance does not produce the sin, it merely exposes it. I just no longer have the energy to hide the sin that is in my heart.

This was incredibly depressing! I used to wonder is this the “real” Hephzibah coming out now? Maybe this selfish, prideful, irritable person is who I truly am?

Perhaps here you see the combination of truth and lie…?

Truth – I am a sinner in need of God’s grace (daily!) The sin that is exposed is really mine! It is not the fault of anyone or anything else. I sin because I am sinful. Fullstop. And suffering sometimes exposes the true state of my heart in a way nothing else does – and it’s not pretty.

Yet is this who I am?

Peter wrote about this in his first letter:

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 1:6-7

Here Peter is talking about the effect of suffering on our lives, and the way God uses it to refine and purify us. I can tell you now, that the sin exposed in me when I suffer makes me feel anything but genuine and pure. But then I started thinking about the process of refining. Very simply, it is where gold is heated and melted causing the impurities within to separate and rise to the surface… Now, hold that picture there… That sounds very much like what suffering does to us. It causes the impurity hidden within to rise to the surface. At this point the gold will look uglier than before. And if the refining process stopped there, it would only result in ruined gold. And indeed, without God’s grace, this is what suffering does – draws out the ugliness in our hearts and brings it to the surface. But with nothing to then remove it, it remains ugly. Without God’s work in us, this would be where it ends – ruined gold.

… But God!…

But God reaches into our mess and skims the dross off the top. He purifies. He does not leave us. If we will allow him to work in our lives, if we will be soft and pliable in his hands and have the humility to submit to his work in us, and if we will respond to the conviction of His Spirit with repentance, then he uses suffering to draw out, expose, and remove our sinfulness!

He sees past the dross on the surface. He sees gold. He sees precious gold worth refining and purifying. He sees all that he has made us to be, all of the image of God that He had placed in us and that he longs to see unmarred by sin.

I have shared from the perspective of physical suffering. But there are many other trials that God can use the same way. I have been incredibly challenged and inspired by a friend recently who has a difficult and hurtful family situation. It has exposed sin and weakness in her, yet she has taken responsibility for her actions, and through every challenge she has persistently sought God and His way. And from a circumstance of hurt and anger she has grown in gentleness, forgiveness, strength, and grace.

God can use anything to work in us. It does not even have to be any great trial to expose our sin… It may be an irritating child, not enough sleep last night, a morning of minor frustrations, a hurtful word or inconsiderate comment, too much noise, or a disappointment in our lives. Anything that exposes the sin in us is also an opportunity for growth.

My prayer is that, as I see Him expose the ugliness of my heart, I will both take responsibility and acknowledge that my sinful nature is the source of this ugliness, but that I will also rejoice in hope that beyond the ugliness and sin is gold that is being purified and refined to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ for all eternity!

I pray that you too will be encouraged, brothers and sisters, to look to and live for the inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you!

Because of Jesus,

Hephzibah

Illustration by Valerie Martin

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Living the abundant life

As a young teenager and young believer, I was eager to discover God’s calling on my life. I wanted to live the God-powered, fruitful, miraculous, abundant life that He promises. When I came down with an illness that meant I was housebound, could not do anything for anybody, and did not have the ability even to sing praise to him or pray a prayer more than two words, I felt like I could never experience that. How could God be honoured by my months in bed? What was God glorifying about the tears and pain, or the frequent struggle against self-pity or despair? And where, in all this, was I supposed to find and live a life of abundance? Was the promise false?

One of the scriptures God most blessed me with in wrestling through this is John 6, the feeding of the 5 thousand. As Andrew had looked at the few loaves and fish and said, “…what are those for so many?”, so I had looked at my life, and said, “it’s not enough.”

But what did Jesus do? …He gave thanks. He broke it. And he gave it out. Through this illness, I have learned that these three things are essential to living the abundant life.

Giving thanks – “Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and distributed them to the people.” V11

He took what was not enough, gave thanks for it, and not only did it become enough… but more than enough. (“So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten.”V13)

In my life of limitations and pain, I had to learn to open my hands to God and give thanks by faith trusting that He would be enough. I am a pianist, and this was the challenge God gave me the week I had to give up piano (even 5 minutes was enough to make my limbs shaky) – the challenge to give thanks even as I gave up the things I loved.

Thanksgiving can be really, REALLY hard, but God acknowledges this. He says, “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving.” (Psalm 50:14) He acknowledges that there are times that it costs to give thanks, and sometimes it has to be a choice rather than a feeling.

This is to fully live right now, to take the life of “not enough”, to hold it in open hands of grateful acceptance, and to find that, in doing so, you have received the life of “more than enough”. Thismiracle happens because, in opening our hands to receive whatever God gives, we open our hearts to receive Jesus wherever we are – and He is always more than enough. This is to live a life where nothing is wasted. To give thanks is the act of receiving – not only the things God gives, but God himself. It opens our hands to receive God in all things, acknowledging his goodness and his presence in everything… when God is let in, is when miracles happen.

Breaking – The other thing I had to learn, is that this kind of abundance comes through brokenness. As well as performing a miracle, this breaking of bread to feed thousands with baskets left over was a picture of what Jesus would become. Later in that chapter he says “I am the bread of Life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst… And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh”. He is the true bread of life who was broken and given out, and he has satisfied, and more than satisfied, all who eat of him. This is our source of life, but we could not eat of The Bread of Life until it was broken. Jesus taught this at Passover. He knew that through his suffering we would find life.

“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” V54

The first principle of this, is that we feed off Him – that we are satisfied in him, and turn our cravings toward him. We depend on him to sustain us, trusting that he is enough. He has promised that those who come to him shall not hunger, because he is enough to satisfy every need.

It is by his wounds that we are healed, and though our wounds cannot bring any healing of themselves, if we are imitating Christ, will it not be through our own wounds that we minister the Healing of His?

“To this we are called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”

Here is our calling – to suffer, to be broken, and to minister the healing of Christ’s wounds through our own. Jesus, the Bread of Life, had to be broken to bring us life, and it is through feeding on Him – satisfying ourselves in Him – that we find true, lasting, and abundant life. But it does not stop there. To bring healing, to live the miraculous, to share the abundance of Christ with others, we are called to suffer, and must follow in his steps. O God, give me the strength!

And finally, giving out… Jesus took the “not enough”, gave thanks, and gave it out, and it became “more than enough”. We are called to give out of whatever joy, encouragement, hope, strength, ability or possession we have. It is through this that God works, and his miraculous power is released in our lives. One of the things I struggle most with, is when I feel empty, broken, fighting for joy myself, and clinging onto hope, when I know I’m a mess, and have nothing left to give, how can I then give out to others? What do I have to give?

“1 Therefore if you have anyencouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” – Philippians 2:1-4

“If you have any”… it is so hard to give out when you feel you have not enough to begin with. But if we have any (not if we have enough!), we are called to give out and God will multiply.

This is a very challenging part of our calling to follow Christ, and one that should apply to our whole life – much of which I know I do not live this way. I share this very humbly, not as one who has learnt, but one who longs to. I know I need much growth in this area. My prayer is that God will continue to show me the “if anys” He has given me, and give me the faith to then give them out.

Even when we feel we have not enough strength for ourselves, may God enable us to give out of what we have so that He can work the miracle of multiplication in our lives. Lord help me to do this.

Hephzibah

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