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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A cure for condemnation

When I first started developing CFS/ME, neither me or my family worked it out for a while. I kept falling asleep when working, forgetting things, and getting behind in all my work. My academic studies were sliding, my room was becoming a mess, and I frequently forgot things I was supposed to do. For some months, we all believed I was just lazy. I lived under this constant weight of believing I was selfish, lazy, and needed to pull myself together more. Others believed this too, and told me so. I did not feel I could talk to others or ask for prayer, as it was myself that was the problem. As things started getting rapidly worse, we recognised that I wasn’t well, and started seeking a diagnosis. There was an immediate probable diagnosis, but it took about a year to be properly diagnosed.

In realising that I was unwell, I had a legitimate reason for my behaviour, and knew that my fatigue and forgetfulness had not been laziness… I was not the horrible, ungodly, selfish person I had come to believe I was. But I still felt under a crushing weight of condemnation.

Knowing that my circumstances weren’t just a result of my own laziness, I felt able to ask for prayer. The church had just had training in prayer ministry, and were eager to put into practice what they’d learnt. One of the comments that came up during the training was that sometimes, when God is healing, someone can feel heat in a specific place. One of the two ladies praying for me had her hand resting on my back between my shoulders. As they were praying, her hand got unusually hot, and the place on my back it was resting on. She asked me if that meant anything to me. Slightly puzzled, I dismissed it saying, “no, the problem wasn’t in my back”.

After praying, I left church with my family and continued with the day, but that heat between my shoulders remained. Eventually I went to my room, and just asked God “Is there something you are saying here?” As I looked up from praying, I saw these verses (among many others) stuck on my wall:

That was what the heat was about! God wanted me to know that He was dwelling between my shoulders.

Suddenly the condemnation lifted. Despite all I couldn’t do, despite others’ opinions of me, despite my own weakness and sinfulness, God called me His Beloved. He was with me! Dwelling in me! Surrounding me! The peace of his presence, and amazing grace of his approval rested on me and calmed my soul.

God knows the healing that we need. This was only the beginning of a long road of severe chronic illness, but the healing of my heart was his priority. I needed to know that His love for me was no less for all my limitations and failings. I am his Beloved when I sin and repent. I am his Beloved when I am needy and require help from others rather than give it. I am his Beloved when I can’t string together a prayer that makes sense. I am his Beloved when I fall asleep trying to read his word. I am His Beloved when I don’t keep up with all the things I should do. I am his Beloved when my room is a mess and I’m failing at my work. None of these things can lessen his love for me, or take away my identity as His.

Neither will he give up on you. Your failings cannot take away the place you hold in his heart or the value he places on you. Your sin cannot remove you so far from God’s presence that he cannot find you and redeem you. If you are His, then nothing else defines who you are… not your memories, your experiences, your scars, your boasts, your pain or shame, failings or fears, not others’ words or opinions, not the lies of the enemy, or the worth the world places on you. You are His – the Beloved of the LORD. And you dwell in safety; for the High God surrounds you all day long and dwells between your shoulders. He is with you… always.

Your Sister In Christ,

Hephzibah

(Illustration by Valerie Martin)

Christian, Digging Deeper, identity

A cure for condemnation

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“For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” – Philippians 3:8-9

Our identity in Christ is such a wonderful and glorious thing. It is wonderful just to be made in His Image, but this goes further than that. When we are His, we receive the identity Jesus won for us.

What does this mean? The way I picture it is this: when Jesus was hanging on the cross, a divine exchange was made. In that moment every sin, shame or wrongdoing, was nailed on Him, and He received the punishment for them. All our names of “Failure”, “Unwanted”, “Unlovely”, “No belonging”, “Sinful”, “Unworthy”, “Useless”, “Ashamed”, “Worthless”… He took on himself, and as He died, these died with Him. Forever.

And then He rose – our glorious, beautiful, powerful, holy, and righteous King! And with Him, we rose. The new you.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

Jesus is Holy. In Him we are holy.

Jesus is righteous. In Him we are righteous.

Jesus is the Approved of God. In Him we are the Approved of God.

Jesus is God’s chosen one. In Him we are God’s chosen ones.

Jesus is the cornerstone. We are built on Him – living stones creating a temple, a dwelling place for God, a spiritual house.

Jesus is the head. We are His body, called to see, hear, serve, and speak, as he directs. And as He was broken and given out for many, we too are called to be broken and given, and through our wounds to minister the healing of His.

Jesus is the Beloved. In Him we too are God’s Beloved.

Jesus came as a servant. In Him our calling is as servants.

Jesus is the sacrifice that bought our salvation. In Him we are called to be living sacrifices, withholding nothing from God, and fully devoted to Him.

Jesus is the perfect high priest. In Him we are His holy priesthood.

You want to know who you are? You want to find your identity and calling? Look to Jesus.

Smash the mirror. Gaze at God.

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” – 1 Corinthians 3:18

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 2:4-5

You Are. This is not an identity you work your way to. It is not for another point in your life when you are less sinful, more useful, have brought dozens of people to know Christ, cleaned up the mess in your life, sorted those habitual sins, have learned to control your temper, be more organised, and watch your tongue. It is not for the spiritual Christians, or the mature ones. This is for all those who are In Him.

Those names we mentioned at the beginning, and any others you have earned yourself, leave them in the grave where they belong. That is not who you are. That is not who He is creating you to be.

Look to Him and receive the names He speaks over you…

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people, once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” – 1 Peter 2:9-10

Hephzibah

Illustration by Valerie Martin

Bible, Christian, Digging Deeper, identity

In Christ

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The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” – Job 33:4

Breathing is something we often take for granted. Yet God brought home the truth of this verse to me during the more intense part of this illness. As I got more and more unwell, one of the symptoms I had was difficulty breathing. When seeking medical advice, I was just told, “your body is too tired to breath easily, the physical effort is too much. There’s nothing we can do.” So I would have to spend most of every day just lying down and breathing, focussing on each breath. I remember the vulnerability of this. Although I was never so I couldn’t breath, having so little energy that it took most of my strength for each breath felt too close for comfort!

But in those hours of breathing, sometimes praying for the next breath, I started to realise more and more how every breath is a gift. Knowing what it was to depend on God to give me the next breath, and the next breath, I found that each breath was precious. Every breath is a chance to live, every breath a chance to know God, every breath a chance to praise and give thanks, every breath a chance to live for him. This makes every moment worth living, even when it means chronic pain, being housebound and struggling to breath. I started to give thanks for them, one breath at a time… each one a gift of life, and an opportunity to live for him.

We are so utterly dependant on Him. Every moment is given, sustained, by Him. And when you realise this, the fragility and the preciousness of life, it begs the question: how shall we use it? It’s not enough to drift through life anymore. How will you use each breath… each day? Will you use your breath to praise or curse, encourage or criticise, to reach out and serve, or to serve yourself? Much of these daily choices are determined by your purpose. What are you living for?

The verses below describe God’s power, his gift of life to us, the way he gives each breath, and how he determines the boundaries of our lives. Then it also states what we are created for…

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is He served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God…”

Acts 17:25,27a

This should be our main purpose in life. Here I am not just talking about prayer or time alone with God (though it certainly includes this) but a constant seeking Him in everything. That every breath whether used to exercise, sing, speak to your family, communicate with others, encourage, pray, bless, challenge, serve, sustain, work, or rest is used with the one purpose of seeking God. God should not be confined to the “spiritual” part of your life. If He gives you breath for all these things, then surely He is in them. Surely the one who gives you each breath should be considered in the way you then use it?

With the purpose of seeking God with each breath, it impacts every part of our lives, changing the way we use our words, the way we spend our time, the things we count as important. Any moment spent seeking God is never wasted. Every breath is given by God, and we are free to choose how to use it… but we are created to seek Him with every breath He gives. Through so much of our day, we get on with life, and maybe touch base with God at some point, but throughout all those things we do He is supplying every breath, every moment of life. It is good to remember this… to remember in all the business and doing that even at the most basic level we are utterly dependant on the one who gives us life. That without Him we can do nothing, but with Him anything is possible.

I write this because I need this challenge as much as anybody. I would like to say God is considered in each word I say and each thing I do, but often he is not, and this is when I forget my purpose of seeking God, and live for myself. May God teach me and the rest of His church to fully live for Him, and use every breath to seek Him!

Today, as you go through life, remember the one who sustains your every breath. Give thanks for this day, this chance he has given you to love and praise him. Live with boldness using every opportunity. And seek Him as long as you have breath.

“Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!” – Psalm 150:6

Hephzibah

Illustration by Valerie Martin

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Every Breath

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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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