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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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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Christian, Digging Deeper, identity

The disciple Jesus Loved

Identity – part 2

“That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!'” – John 21:7

I have always found that title confusing. It seems a bit arrogant, and too much like a claim to fame. I remember asking when I was a child about why the disciple John called himself this in his gospel, and I remember always being unsatisfied with the answer. I was told that John was the closest disciple to Jesus, and this was why he called himself “the disciple Jesus loved”. But this always seemed to go against the Christ-centred, kingdom-minded humility that is so valued in scripture.

On one of my many sleepless nights, at a stage when I was really struggling with losing my identity with the illness, these words “the disciple Jesus loved” kept going round in my head. As I meditated on this, I realised how little else John said about himself. The only things he seems to say are about his relationship with Jesus, and Jesus’ love for Him.

We do know that John was the disciple closest to Jesus. I am not taking away from that in any way. I’m just not convinced that that was why he called himself the disciple Jesus loved. Considering how little else John said about himself, it seems that in calling himself “the disciple Jesus loved” that he had said everything we need to know about him. But couldn’t the same be said of any follower of Christ?

Yes! If we are His, if we believe in Him and confess He is Lord, if we are following Him, abiding in Him, and obeying Him, then we are surely His disciples. And if we are His we already know that Jesus loves us!

What if this title is not a “claim to fame” but actually a humble declaration that He is no more or less than loved by God and a follower of Him. Nothing more needs to be said. He doesn’t need to tell us about the faith he had, any great acts he did, his piety, experience or role in building the church. It is enough to know that He is the disciple Jesus loved.

Is this enough for us? When you think of your worth, your identity, your qualifications to be used by God, is it enough for you to say simply “I am the disciple Jesus loves”? Before other believers, or the world, are we able to stand on these credentials, and not grasp for our own self-made boasts.

John recognised that there is no higher status than to be the disciple Jesus loved.

In my illness, uselessness, and struggle with what felt like everything I was being stripped away, God showed me that I, too, am the Disciple Jesus Loves. That this is all I need to be. This is all others need to know of me. This is at once, my status, my identity, my calling, my credentials, and my qualifications. I cannot become – through work, experience, service, accomplishments, or good deeds -any more than this… for there is no higher accolade! And as long as He holds me, leads me and loves me (which is forever as He is eternal) I cannot become any less. Nothing can strip me of this other than a decision not to follow Him.

So let us live out this identity which cannot be snatched or dimmed. What a glorious inheritance we have in Jesus!

Hephzibah

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Song in the Night

“Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.” – Psalm 77:6

“Tuesday 23rd October 2017

I am sitting awake in bed at 04:11 having been awake for an hour. And even though (being October) it’s still a good few hours until the sun rises, there is this bird singing. Only one, but it is being beautifully persistent. The sound of it is somehow comforting and seems to speak of hope. For, though it is on its own and there is not the slightest sign of dawn, yet it’s song holds a sense of promise. There will be a time when other birds will join in singing, and there will be a whole chorus of them before the sun rises and a new day begins.”

This is a diary excerpt from a very difficult year, when, after seeming to recover, my health was very rapidly declining again. I only slept a couple of hours a night (hence the time of the entry) and was not far off being housebound again. I believed in a good God, but could not see any of his goodness to me. I was becoming more isolated, struggling with depression, and hurt by Christians. And I was having to accept the likelihood that – to some degree – this illness was permanent, and I would never fully recover. It was hard to imagine any “dawn”. But through scripture, and this crazy, persistent bird with a messed up body-clock, God wanted to teach me about the Song in the Night.

Firstly, the song in the night is a song of faith. Faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see. Well, the very nature of night is that we cannot see. But to sing in the night with certainty about that which we do not see, this is faith. When I could see no goodness, to sing of a good God. When I was not being healed, to trust my Healer. When everything was so out of control I did not know if I’d be able to eat the next meal, to have faith in the God who is sovereign.

In the passages where it speaks of the song in the night, it also speaks of remembering. (Psalm 77)

“I will remember…” v11

“You are the God who…” v14

Remember… Remember his faithfulness in the past. Remember the stars he has shown you in dark nights. Name those that you have seen, retrace the constellations of grace that you know to be there, even if you cannot see them now. Remember when he answered prayer. Remember when he saved you. And if you can remember nothing else, remember Jesus crucified for you. There is no greater love, no greater promise, no greater hope than this.

“He who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things.” (Romans 8:32)

This is a song of thankfulness to the “God who Is”.

“The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away, blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21)

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ ” (Lamentations 3:21-24)

One of the most beautiful things about the Song in the Night, is that it is a heart’s cry. It does not need words or music (though often it overflows to this) but it is the raw cry from the depths of our pain to the depths of God. I learnt it in a time when I could hardly pray any more, I had no more words, I could only cry out to Him.

“Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” (Psalm 42:7-8)

“His song is with me”. God sings over us (Zeph 3:17), and we have to learn to listen, learn to hear his song of delight. The song in the night is only a harmony to this song he continually sings, and if we can learn to hear his song, we also learn to sing. This is a song of such incredible beauty because it is eternal. All other songs will fade, but this song – this harmony of Creator rejoicing over his people, and his people rejoicing in who he is – this is a song that can be sung through life, through death, and into eternity. It is a song that is shared with all believers, although most often sung alone. It is the song of those darkest places where no person can reach, those fiercest battles no one can see, the deepest pain and loneliness that others cannot enter into. But who knows who hears, who sees, and who finds hope from our song in the night? What better witness is there – either to other people or to the heavenly realms – than to find God to be enough to sing in the night. To be able to say “God is enough for me to worship”.

” ‘I have a Christ that will do to die by; I have a religion that will make me sing in the night’. Let me hear how you can sing, ‘Victory, victory, victory!’ through Him that loved you. I tell you, we may preach fifty thousand sermons to prove the gospel, but will not prove it half so well as you will through singing in the night”. – C. Spurgeon

Yet the thing that most defines the song in the night, is that it is a song of hope and longing. We can only sing because we know there will be a day with no more tears, no more pain, no more suffering, no more fear, no more broken lives, broken families, or broken hearts. There will be a day when all this mess will be transformed to glory, and everything that has been lost will be redeemed. There will be a day when sin is no more, and we will finally meet, face to face, the One our souls long for. That day when we see Jesus, and all that is ugly is stripped away forever. This is worth singing for.

“Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” (Hosea 6:3)

There will be a day when our song in the night is transformed into a chorus of voices, a multitude of those who are His, singing for the Hope of eternity with Christ, welcoming the dawn we have longed for.

“I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.” (Psalm 130:5-6)

(Diary entry continued)…

“Father, when I am going through a time of darkness and night may I be like that bird – persistent in praising you. Even when it feels like I am alone, there is no one to join, or even see/hear, help me continue. May I live in hope, and make my life speak of hope. Make my whole life praise and worship to you. Like that bird’s song make it persistently beautiful. And, LORD, bring the time when there is a whole multitude praising you wholeheartedly regardless. A whole throng who will sing in the night, abandoned to your praise. A throng who will sing until the dawn and keep going even then. A people who wait on you, whose hope is fixed in you. Fill us with your promise, and a sense of promise as we look to you. And Lord, bring the dawn! I pray both for a revival, an outpouring of the Spirit of God, the power of your presence; and also for your final return when Jesus comes to judge the world, and we will reign with him and spend eternity in your presence! Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!

…But until then, make us, your people, persistent in praise and in prayer, filled with your promise.”

“YHWH, we have awaited you — for your name and your memorial with longing of soul. With my soul I have longed for you in the night, indeed, in my inmost spirit I look for your dawning.” (Isaiah 26:8-9)

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Treasures of darkness


“I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.” – Isaiah 45:3

In suffering, we are often given verses that promise good things – hope and future, that He’ll make your ways straight, that all things will work out together for good, but as Christians we tend to diminish the reality of suffering when we do this. We take God’s promises too lightly. We pretend that because God has said these things we shouldn’t struggle. And when we do this, we miss the whole point of a suffering Saviour entering into our brokenness – the ultimate promise of scripture fulfilled in suffering. 

If God’s promise of perfect salvation came through suffering, then could his other promises too?

Treasures of darkness is my journey of recapturing the preciousness of God’s promises where they shine brightest – in darkness. It is my attempt to share my wrestling with God through suffering. It is my heart’s cry of “Lord, show me how to live the abundant life in brokenness!”

“Hope itself is like a star – not to be seen in the sunshine of prosperity, and only to be discovered in the night of adversity.” – Charles Spurgeon 

Several years ago I entered a season of night. Within the church we were heavily involved in, things went very wrong, and for a while we lost almost every friend we ever had. At the same time my Dads business crashed, and within our family we went through a heart scare and leukaemia scare, both of which turned out to be less frightening, but had extended time of tests and uncertainty. My baby faith of just over a year (I was just turning 13), was getting quite a shaking. A few months after leaving the church, my mum became pregnant – our first ray of light. Not long after finding out, she miscarried and the baby died, and with it what seemed the last ray of hope. Had God abandoned us?

A year after leaving the church, things were slightly less drastic. We were still grieving and finding our feet, but it seemed that the worst was over. Then I started with health difficulties. I didn’t take any notice for a while, I never took time off to be ill anyway… but as time went on things grew worse. I kept pushing until I finally collapsed, unable to do anything. The diagnosis – ME/CFS. 

I knew some of what this meant – tiredness, a few years with limitations… but I had no idea what lay in store. 

Since, God has taken me through nights of incredible darkness and pain… both figuratively and literally. I went through years of sleepless nights, when the pain – physical and emotional – would become unbearable, rising up like a silent scream so I would have to cover my mouth not to wake my family. Hours of darkness every night is a very vulnerable time for spiritual attack. There have been times I have felt unable to pray, only cry out to Him. Often it seems the clouds have come and covered even the stars in those black nights. But sometimes God has cleared away those clouds, and a star has shone through of such incredible beauty that even the memory of it is enough to give hope when the clouds come back. Over the years, He has allowed me to see a whole galaxy of stars – the secret riches of suffering. These are what I want to share.

Stars cannot be seen in daylight, neither can the full preciousness of God’s promises be known in prosperity. He is not only a God who works in suffering, he is a God revealed through suffering. The God who came and suffered, who redeemed our brokenness by becoming brokenness, and who bought eternal life through death. If we are to follow this God, surely we must follow his way.

There are treasures to be found in darkness, and abundant life in brokenness. But these treasures are not just on my path, I know they can be found to anyone who looks. My prayer is that for those who are walking in darkness that this will serve as a guide to your hand to reach out and receive these treasures, discover their beauty for yourself, and add them to your crown of life for eternity. 

I pray also that the wondrous beauty of our God – a God who revealed the extent of his love and glorious redemption in a moment of utter darkness as Jesus was broken, poured out, and abandoned – would continue to reveal himself in our suffering. And that we, his people, would learn to walk the way of the cross – the broken way that leads to abundant life. 

Hephzibah

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