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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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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