Tag Archives: fear

God Leaves the Light On

My daughter has one of these cool new nightlights – the kind that projects a beam of light onto the ceiling. A flashlight stays within reach of her bed too. She’s not alone in her fear of the dark – a lot of kids and even adults say that they’re uneasy when the lights go out. In a survey of 2000 adults, 40% reported being frightened when walking around their own houses in the dark.

When asked: “Why are people scared of darkness?” a panel of Yahoo users gave these answers:

  • “That’s the stuff horror movies are made of.”
  • “People are not afraid of darkness. People are afraid of the unknown.”
  •  “When I was afraid of the dark, I used to say: It’s not the dark I’m afraid of… it’s what’s IN the dark I’m afraid of.”
  • “Because they can’t afford night vision goggles” (wise guy).
  • “Read Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness.”

The last response reminds me that as a teenager I was riveted by the depiction of spiritual warfare in This Present Darkness. Frank Peretti’s book disturbed me into the awareness that this dark domain is more active than I had imagined –

(“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this present darkness and against the spiritual forces of evil…” Ephesians 6:12).

But these days I’ve been aware of another kind of darkness. It’s not of this dark dominion. It’s not eternal darkness. I’m convinced that the Light of the world makes this darkness flee –

“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in Me should stay in darkness.” – the words of Jesus ( John 12:46).

“For (God) has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves.” (Colossians 1:13)

While this is an assuring guarantee for Christ-followers, we still have to live in a world where the shadow of sin and death is far-reaching. At times darkness falls across our paths through illness, grief, loneliness, rejection, sadness, fear, weakness, loss, and uncertainty. The way ahead is unknown. Sometimes a veil clouds our awareness of God. We can’t see Him. We wonder – does He see us?

The honest laments of the psalmists, as in Psalm 88, assure us that godly people aren’t exempt from these struggles and doubts –
“I am overwhelmed with troubles …. My eyes are dim with grief … Why do You hide Your face from me? Darkness is my closest friend” (verses 3, 9, 14, 18).

And Micah the prophet lamented, “What misery is mine! … I sit in darkness” (see Micah 7).

In his book When I Don’t Desire God (an honest title that intrigued me) Pastor John Piper reassures his readers that seasons of darkness are normal in the Christian life. Remember that most people’s discomfort with darkness is primarily a fear of what they cannot see or anticipate. While we rely heavily on our sight to navigate the physical world, this Christian journey is one of believing and not of seeing (2 Corinthians 5:7). When clouds of fear or doubt obscure our view of God, we must anchor our faith in His character, not our feelings or senses. As Piper says, “…the darkest experience for the child of God is when his faith sinks out of his own sight. Not out of God’s sight, but his.”

My faith rises and falls. God’s faithfulness does not rise and fall. I may not always see Him in my circumstances but I will trust His character:

“When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
my anchor holds within the veil.” *

What helps me in dark times is to remember that God is not absent when I can’t see Him. In fact, throughout Scripture, He shows Himself working out a glorious plan in the midst of darkness.

Exodus 14 –
“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the (Red) sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.” (verses 21 – 22).

Mark 6 –
Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn He went out to them, walking on the lake …. when they saw Him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed …” (verses 47 – 51)

Acts 12 –
The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists (verses 6 – 7).

Acts 16 –
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. (verses 25 – 33)

A dawn of deliverance and deepened faith awaited Moses and the children of Israel, the disciples, Peter, Paul, Silas, and the jailer. Whether chased by an angry army, bound by prison chains, or rocked by natural forces, these people experienced God making a way. And when morning came, they were changed. Their stories still speak of a God who moves in the darkness.

Scripture promises us that what seems dark & hidden to us is plain to Him (Psalm 139: 11 & 12). Even as He keeps dawn on the horizon, He choreographs a timetable and a plan for the midst of the night. Perhaps like Peter He will give us rest. Or like Paul and Silas He is calling us to worship and drawing those around us to the Gospel. It could be that like the disciples we will experience Him in a jaw-dropping way. Perhaps like the children of Israel, He is preparing a miraculous story that will be shared for generations to come.

And although we experience the shifting of shadows here on this earth, the Day is coming. There will be a new dawn of deliverance as the inexhaustible Light cuts through the darkness. It will be so pure that nothing will obscure it. No more shadows of sin and death. We see dimly now, but on that Day we will know and see fully.

When it comes to the dark, I don’t know what’s there but I know Who’s there. So I won’t be afraid. And as surely as the sun (Son) rises, morning is on the way!

Isaiah 60:19 – 20 – The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end.

Revelation 22: 3 – 5 – No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”

Psalm 139: 11 – 12 – If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

Isaiah 61:1 – “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners” – a prophecy fulfilled in Jesus (see Luke 4: 16 – 31).

Isaiah 42:16 – “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”

Isaiah 50:10 – Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of His servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on God.

Psalm 30:5 – …weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning.

2 Corinthians 5:7 – We walk by faith and not by sight.

Sources –
“Why Many Adults are Still Afraid of the Dark” http://www.bps.org.uk/news/many-adults-are-afraid-dark

“Why Are People Afraid of Darkness?” http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20060616005052AAZjM7U

This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti – http://frankperetti.com/

* My Hope is Built on Nothing Less (The Solid Rock) hymn lyrics by Edward Mote

When I Don’t Desire God by John Piper – http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/books/when-i-dont-desire-god

Steadfast

Just three days until our mission trip to the Dominican Republic with Joni and Friends ministries begins! I am filled with anticipation, as I have been for several weeks now. I wish I could stay that it’s an excited anticipation, but in all honesty, I have been weighed down with busy-ness, sadness, anxiety, and fatigue. Sometimes I think that anticipating must be harder than actually going. Soon I will know….

I can’t even remember the last time I posted on this blog! But hopefully soon, this will be my way to share pictures and stories from the Dominican Republic. I know that God is going to work in a mighty way.  That is the hope that carries me through these days of doing laundry, packing, taking time for last minutes details, and saying goodbyes.

Steadfast.  The much-needed encouragement that God brought to me today came through the word “steadfast.” The devotion that I read this morning from Jesus Lives reminded me:

“I am teaching you to depend on Me alone – content with whatever I provide. Relying solely on Me is a way of rich blessing, even though it may lead you along paths you would not have chosen. If you are truly content to live with my provisions for you – now and in the future – you will not be plagued by anxiety. Instead of worrying about “what-ifs” your heart will be firmly fixed….”

How I need my heart to be firmly fixed! I confess that the “what-ifs” have stolen my joy. Last night I held my little girl as she sobbed, and my heart was broken. After I left her bedroom, thinking that she had finally fallen asleep, I heard muffled cries. She is afraid. Knowing that the Dominican Republic is next to Haiti creates fears in her mind of earthquakes. What if there is an earthquake? she whispers. What if there is a tsunami? Are you coming home?

My own what-ifs don’t have me thinking about natural disasters so much. But I don’t like to fly, so sometimes my anxious thoughts wander there… Last night my what-ifs were focused on the disaster within my own heart.  The swirls of self-doubt, with strong blasts of guilt.  What if I can’t do this? What if I break down while boarding the plane? What if I am totally ineffective? What if I can’t sleep? Can’t eat? What if these sacrifices are just too much for my family?

Steadfast.

God whispers it to my heart. I can be steadfast because He is sovereign. I can be steadfast because He is sufficient. I can be steadfast because He is secure.

You will keep in perfect peace
those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in You.
Trust in the Lord forever,
for the Lord, the Lord Himself, is the Rock eternal (Isaiah 26: 3- 4)

Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.  Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear (Psalm 112: 6 – 8)

I may not feel it at the moment, but I will believe it. My heart can be steadfast. Not because I can conjure up the courage, but because peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. He is my source, my strength, my help. And not only for me, but also for my precious family.

A few days ago, I was thinking about jars of clay. The Bible tells us that we are jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4). As I studied what this means for Christ-followers, I learned that in biblical times, people sought out cracked jars of clay because they made effective lanterns.  To me, this is so comforting. It’s okay to carry some broken places in my heart to this mission trip. Through those cracks – those places that remind me that it’s not my ability that counts but the Spirit’s power – the Light shines.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)

… be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Jesus Lives is written by Sarah Young

 

 

 

 

When You Feel Weak

I’m beginning a new adventure! Yesterday was the first day of my entry-level course in spiritual caregiving and chaplaincy. The course is being offered in a very large hospital in my town, and yesterday was an overwhelming but exciting day of learning to navigate the hospital and interact with patients. It’s an amazing opportunity to explore this type of ministry and get out of my comfort zone. I awoke yesterday morning with lots of butterflies in my stomach and self-doubts rolling through my mind.

As we began the day, our chaplain presented a lesson on the holistic nature of people. Basically, a “holistic view” of persons takes all aspects of our humanity into account – physical, mental/emotional, social, and spiritual.  Effective health-care providers understand that there are multiple factors beyond the physical ones that influence a person’s healing process. The chaplain referenced Luke 2:52: “All Jesus grew in wisdom, stature, and in favor with God and with all the people.” The gospel writer Luke was also a physician, so it’s fitting that he described Jesus’ growth not just in physical terms (in stature) but also mentally (in wisdom), spiritually (in favor with God), and socially (in favor with people).

Because I was sitting closest to the chaplain, he asked me to stand for a visual illustration about the connection between what goes on in the mind/emotions and what goes on in the body. He asked me to raise my arm to shoulder level and to keep it raised as he tried to push my arm down. We did this several times, and each time I could resist his pressure against my arm.  When he let go, my arm would spring upward because of the force I was exerting into keeping it raised.

Next, he asked me to do something surprising – to say “I am weak” 15 times aloud. He counted as I stated each “I am weak.” By around the 12th time of saying this, my voice started to tremble. When I finished, we did the exercise again, and I could barely resist the downward force of the chaplain’s hands upon my arm.  When he let go, there was no spring in my arm; I couldn’t help that it just sank to my side. The “fight” had been taken away.

Anyone who lives this life of faith knows that everyday a downward force works against us. Followers of Christ truly experience spiritual resistance, and I have no doubt that it can affect every part of the persons we are. The average person, according to our chaplain, thinks about 80,000 thoughts each day, approximately 80% of which are self-questioning. That means that if I fit these approximations, I think 64,000 negative thoughts about myself every day!

“They’re not going to like me.”

“I’m wasting my time and theirs.”

“What am I doing here?”

“I’m not qualified.”

“I am weak.”

Our chaplain didn’t realize that I was truly struggling with these self-doubts. But maybe he did. The Holy Spirit did. Because when I took my seat, He whispered to my heart a sweet reminder:  “I am weak but He is strong.”

There’s been several times in my ministry journey when I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone. Counseling at the pregnancy center. Walking into the room of a dying person. Making an appointment with a counselor when my joy-tank is running low. Asking for forgiveness when remaining silent would seem far less awkward. Leading a Bible study.

Every single time, I have been very well aware of the “I can’t” thoughts. Sometimes I admit these thoughts have kept me from moving forward. And then other times I’m encouraged by the ones who have run this race before me and overcome, with the help of God’s presence, the doubts, questions, and hesitations. Even Moses, when God called him, responded with, “Who am I?…Oh Lord, I am not eloquent…I am slow of speech and tongue….Please send someone else” (Exodus 3:11; 4:10,13).

God did not reprove Moses’ honest hesitations.  Instead God assures Moses: “I will be with you.” According to the footnotes in my Bible, when the Old Testament says that God is “with” someone, the emphasis is on God’s power to perform His calling. Moses, in dependence on God, went on to lead His people prayerfully and victoriously.

The only reason I can ever take the next step is when I believe Jesus’ gentle reminder: “You are weak but I am strong.”

The “BUT” makes all the difference!

(Jesus’ promise): “You did not choose me, BUT I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit…” John 15:16

(Jesus’ promise): “In this world you will have trouble. BUT take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

(Words of Paul):

“I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, BUT with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, BUT on God’s power.” 1 Corinthians 2: 3 – 5

“Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, BUT our competence comes from God.” 2 Corinthians 3: 4 – 5

“We are hard pressed on every side, BUT not crushed; perplexed, BUT not in despair…” 2 Corinthians 4:8

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, BUT gives us power, love and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7

“…I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  BUT He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12: 7 – 10

Walking in God-confidence means that every day I need to fix my mind on the truth that Christ can walk into my places of weakness and make them avenues of His strength. I need to speak the truth that I am weak BUT He is strong.

And times may arise when I simply cannot hold my arms up. The pressure of pain, negativity, and doubt is heavy against me, and I want to give up the fight.

So as I was walking around the hospital yesterday, I observed the friends and family members gathered around their ailing loved ones, and I thought of this story from Exodus 17: 8 – 13…

While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them. Moses commanded Joshua, “Choose some men to go out and fight the army of Amalek for us. Tomorrow, I will stand at the top of the hill, holding the staff of God in my hand.”

So Joshua did what Moses had commanded and fought the army of Amalek. Meanwhile, Moses, Aaron, and Hur climbed to the top of a nearby hill.  As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage. But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage. Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset. As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle.

To me, this was a picture of what the relatives and friends were doing for their loved ones. Holding up their arms.  God often works through a friend, a neighbor, a relative, a spouse, a parent, a caregiver, a teacher, a mentor, a “Jesus-with-skin-on” to bring help and strength into the fight.

As I’ve been preparing for this new class, I’ve shared a bit of my “I’m weak” worries with my friend Rhonda who has walked this path before me. In recent days, Rhonda’s encouragement has held up my arms:

“…you will be so blessed as you bless others!!! Felt just the same way as you do but you are so equipped for the class…So excited to see how God works in and through you for His Glory!”

So, would you join me today, in lifting up our hands and surrendering those “I am weak” moments? Or lifting up someone else through your encouragement? Words are powerful. Listen carefully to the words that you speak to yourself and to others. Are they consistent with what God says? Together, with God-confidence and the power of the Holy Spirit, we can choose life, strength, and hope and rise above the discouragement that would hold us down.

Apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5), BUT through Christ we can do all things! (Philippians 4:13).

… the tongue of the wise brings healing. ~ Proverbs 12:18

The soothing tongue is a tree of life … ~ Proverbs 15:4

The Present is the Gift

Happy Thanksgiving, friends! It’s a very different Thanksgiving for my family this year as we celebrating in south Florida instead of our North Carolina home. We’re with my husband’s siblings and their families, and our days have been filled with swimming and playing on the beach with cousins. We’ve discovered live starfish and sanddollars and even happened upon an alligator this morning! This is the first Thanksgiving we’ve ever spent away from our parents, and we’ll go to a buffet instead of cooking.

Even though it doesn’t seem like a traditional Thanksgiving, I realize that we don’t need the aroma of roasting turkey or the sounds of the Macy’s parade on TV to remember thanksgiving in our hearts. We have many, many reasons to thank God for the abundance that He has provided.

And when I think about Thanksgiving this year, I am trying to stay anchored in the present – with all the gifts that this day offers. Two things often rob me of a grateful heart. They are “ifs” – as in “what if?” and “if only…” The “what ifs?” put my focus – and worries – on the unknowns of the future. As the daughter of aging parents – one with cancer – my thoughts trend this way quite often. What if there will not be any more Thanksgivings together?

And the “if onlys” put my focus on the unchangeable realities and regrets of the past. If only I had not wasted the promising years of my young marriage and early career, bound by an eating disorder….

When these big “ifs” steal my peace and joy, I have to make a choice to stay right here in today. The past can’t be changed and the future can’t be controlled. I have to fix my mind on the one “IF” that brings my heart and mind back into the right focus:

IF God is for us, who can be against us?” ~ Romans 8:31.

God is for me, and neither the if onlys of the past or the what ifs of the future can take that away. That truth anchors my heart in gratitude for today. Gratitude that my regrets and shame are wiped away in Christ. Gratitude that He promises His sufficient grace for whatever lies in the future.

My heart is free and thankful today. I like the expression “Today is a gift – that’s why it’s called the present.” May we sincerely lift up our thanks today to the Giver all of good gifts – to the One who has redeemed our past and secured our future in Christ.

I truly hope that your heart will be free and thankful in Him too.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~ Romans 8: 38 – 39