Grace Like Manna

I’ve been thinking a lot about grace recently. There are a lot of commands and reminders in scripture that we are to live for today. We should take heed – we are not guaranteed tomorrow.

Do not worry about tomorrow. (Matt 6:34)
You do not know what tomorrow will bring. (James 4:14; Prov 27:1)
His mercies are new every morning. (Lam 3:22-23)
Our treasure is in heaven, not on this earth. (Luke 12:20-21)

Though I know we are refined by the fire for God’s glory (Isaiah 48:10-11), I still often wonder how some people walk through so much heartache and suffering and don’t just survive but are actually made stronger. I can’t help but think if it were me, I might just give up. The orphan living in poverty, the single mother with 5 kids, the husband who just lost his wife and only son in a car accident, the woman struggling with chronic daily pain. How do they do it? By God’s grace.

Yes, but what does that mean? Why does it seem that I would never be able to handle those things? I am often reminded that grace is given for today. God tells us tomorrow will have enough troubles and not to worry about that, but that he will give us the strength we need for today. The same is true for our friends going through trials. It is like the manna in the wilderness. God provided just enough for each day, and if the Israelites tried to store it up for later, it would rot.

But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.” But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat; but when the sun grew hot, it melted. Exodus 16:18-21

But I am also reminded that grace is particular. If you, like me, put yourself in the shoes of your neighbor or friend, you do wonder. You say, I could never handle that! How does she do it? His faith must be stronger than mine! But their faith is God-given, just like grace. We can learn much by watching our friends’ faith in action. We receive enough grace to help carry their burdens, to comfort, to encourage, to walk beside them. And they receive as much as they need, particular to their situation, to persevere through their greatest trials. And it doesn’t look the same. We do not receive their grace.

The Israelites, or their fathers, did not even know what manna was. As far as we know, God had never provided manna in that way before and he has not since. It was God’s particular grace for the trials he had them endure in the wilderness.

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Deuteronomy 8:3

So just as we only receive grace for today, we only receive grace for our specific trials. We trust that God will take care of all his children’s needs, even when we can’t comprehend how he is working, or how this could possibly work out for good, or how we would handle the same situation. We are commanded not to worry. He will supply. He will be faithful. He is enough. Both for today, and for all our tomorrows.

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Though Foes Assail Me

Have you ever looked at a picture so often, or heard a story told from your childhood so often, that it feels like you remember it, even though you were so young and probably wouldn’t remember it on your own?

If you tell a story often enough, it starts to feel real. It seems true. Even if it’s not. Have you noticed this? You can hardly tell the truth from the lie anymore.

A lot of us have lies running on repeat in our minds and don’t even realize it. Lies about ourselves, lies about what other people think about us, lies about God, lies about what God thinks about us…you get the picture. We think them so easily and so often, that we can hardly recognize them as lies anymore. They just become a part of our thinking. What are the lies you are believing? That you will never measure up? That you aren’t a good wife, husband, parent, or friend? Or at least not as good as _________? That you will never break this habit or that sin? That you will always be alone? That God could never really love you the way you are? That you will never get better? That you can’t go on another day?

Truth is reality from God’s perspective. Not ours. If we dwell on the lies, that is what will seem real. But when you tell yourself the truths of scripture, the lies will be choked out. Sometimes the darkness feels really dark. Like when you can’t see your hand in front of you when you put it up to your face. But the darkest darkness cannot survive the light of the gospel! When we are consumed with our own thoughts, God reality is still true. God says that he does not treat us as our sins deserve (Psalm 103:10), that we are made perfect by the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:17-19), that we have the power to resist temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13), that we are never alone (Joshua 1:5), that God cares for little sparrows and will take care of us, too (Matthew 10:29-31), and that nothing will separate us from His love.

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It is so easy to listen to the voices in my head, instead of remembering that I’m in a battle and fighting to know the Truth instead. And believe me, it is a fight! The voices seem relentless, but Jesus’ love for me is more so. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27-28)

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39 ESV)

4 Ways to Fight the Lies

1. Arm yourselves for battle. Be prepared before the enemy shows up so you can stand against his trickery and lies.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:10-12)

2. Take your thoughts captive. Sometimes the biggest battle is just recognizing the lies as soon as you think them, and saying No! Stop! Untrue! Go away! Maybe even out loud. Whatever it takes, however odd it sounds, however embarrassing it feels.

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:15)

3. Hide his words in your heart. There is nothing more powerful against the devil than the words of Christ. I can’t tell you how many times I have, in grief and distress, sung Jesus Loves Me or repeated one line from Psalm 23 over and over, because that was all I could remember at that moment. The more scripture we have hidden in our hearts, the better equipped we will be to fight the advance of the enemy.

“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes! With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth. In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” (Psalm 119:11-16)

4. Persevere! You are a child of God. You have a God-given purpose, and your life belongs to him. Don’t let the devil tell you otherwise. Meditate on the Word and pray for wisdom. Sometimes, all you can mutter is “God, please help me.” I do it all the time and sometimes that is as far as I get. God still hears your childlike prayers, your weak cries for help, and the Spirit intercedes for you when you have nothing left.

 

How Long, O LORD? (Psalm 6)

If you’ve ever dealt with grief or depression, the cries of this psalmist will sound familiar. I love the transparency of the psalms. The raw emotion of the heart. The honest cries of broken people fighting to trust in a God who is there, but often seems distant.

The psalmist asks to be dealt with in love, not anger, so the soul is not sent into despair. His bones are troubled. He is physically weak. Could this be an outward sign of inner soul trouble? His soul is also weary. How long, O Lord? He asks for mercy, for deliverance. Perhaps even doubting his salvation. Save me, so it will glorify you! He has no words, only tears. All of this grief is exhausting. Send a morning full of joy!

And then comes this sudden strength. Strength to fight the darkness. The confidence to believe the LORD has heard his cries and his prayers. He does not give in to the taunts of the enemy. He finds peace in the thought that it is God who triumphs, who puts his enemies to shame.

What caused this change of focus? Perhaps he came to the end of himself, to the bottom of his grief, to the emptiness, and there he found that God was still with him. That God will never leave or forsake his children. That God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. That God has won this battle. Perhaps the Lord spoke to him in his grief. Perhaps his countenance lifted because he was praying.

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:13-16)

Psalm 6

O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing;
heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O LORD—how long?

Turn, O LORD, deliver my life;
save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who will give you praise?

I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
it grows weak because of all my foes.

Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.
The LORD has heard my plea;
the LORD accepts my prayer.
All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled;
they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.

The First Hint of Spring

When I think of Spring coming, I think of chilly mornings and sunny afternoons, shedding the winter coats, and shoes without socks. I think of birds chirping and seeing a daffodil poking up before its time. I usually think, oh no, little guy! It’s too soon! You’re too early! The frost (or snow!) will kill you! Did I miss it this year? The first hint of Spring? I was probably inside shivering.

This weekend is daylight savings. Spring forward. Sure, we may lose and hour of sleep, but springing forward certainly sounds better than falling backwards. With a little bit warmer weather, it does finally feel like spring is coming. I thought it might never arrive this year. Sometimes I get so caught up in the now, that I forget to look forward. It’s true sometimes we need to just focus on today. We only have grace for today, and tomorrow will have its own troubles. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:34)

But sometimes, we need to look forward. We need to realize that today won’t always be hard, or maybe that today won’t always be joyful. We need perspective. We need to remember that heaven is real, and that this life is a fleeting breath in comparison.  When we cry “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!” and “How long, O Lord?”, we need to remember. In all of the waiting, we remember that there is so much more to look forward to. There is an eternity of beauty and worship and glory.

“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.” 
― 
C.S. LewisThe Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

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Persevering Through Suffering

In my previous post, Everything Sad is Coming Untrue, I talked about how, though no one is free from suffering, knowing what it looks like can help us love others through suffering, persevere through our own suffering, and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who loves us, knows our frame, and knows what it’s like to suffer. Romans 12:12 commands us to rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and be constant in prayer. I found this to be a helpful reminder as we endure trials of many kinds.

REJOICE IN HOPE.

How do you rejoice in suffering? How do you rejoice in hope?

  • Remember the gospel and where (who) your identity is. It was because Job did not put his identity in health or family or reputation or wealth, etc, that he was able to worship and say, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” when he lost everything. He lost everything that most people find their identity in. If we lose something we believe we need or even deserve, we become bitter. But if we have our identity anchored in Christ, then loss and suffering will drive us deeper into our source of joy, not away to something else we think will fulfill us (even good things can become idols). What we lose will be nothing compared to having Christ. Suffering does not rob us of joy, idolatry does.
  • Be thankful. Suffering is not only meant to draw us toward God in our weakness, but it is also assurance that God knows the end of our story. He would not allow us to go through something hard without giving us the strength to handle it. I have found seeking thankfulness in the midst of suffering to be so helpful to keep a right perspective.
  • Know that there is an end to suffering. Ultimately, the only final end to suffering is death. And death is not the end! Death is what God uses to ultimately bring you to life and fullness with him.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”  (Revelation 21:1-5)

  • Allow emotion. Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. (Job 1:20) I just think Job’s response is amazing. I can so often hide my emotion under the pretense of looking strong, or thinking that because this is for my good it shouldn’t hurt as much as it does. But look at the patterns of Job and the psalms…grief and anguish are so often in the same breathe as the rejoicing. Grief and worship are not opposed to one another. We can be free to experience our grief and still rejoice in the goodness of God.

BE PATIENT IN TRIBULATION.

How is suffering fruitful?

What does it look like to be patient in tribulation? Although suffering is not what we were made for, it can bring fruit in ways we could never imagine. I love Genesis 50: 19-21—But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

God meant it for good.

It is important to note that we may not see every (or any) good outcome, or all the fruit of our labors or suffering. Moses didn’t. Abraham didn’t. For me, because I know that God has a purpose in suffering, I want to know why he gives a particular trial, or how he will be glorified through this suffering — how will he use it for good??! I want to know! It seems like it would make the suffering more bearable.

But when Job asked why, God did not give an explanation; instead he reminds Job of His greatness and power. If God had explained to Job what was going to happen, and how everything was going to turn out, then Job would not have been relying on God alone in those dark trials. He would have been placing trust in the outcome in order to have strength to persevere. And God knows that the only way we will make it through the hours of darkness, through the silence and pain, is to trust him no matter what. Not in the outcome. Not in the explanation. Explanations are ultimately a substitution for trust, just like having faith in something you can see, is no faith at all. (Romans 8:24)

I always want to know the why and the how and the when…but his ways are higher than ours, and we don’t need to know them in order to trust Him. Here are a few of the ways we can see some of God’s purposes in suffering, as he shows us in his Word.

  • To rely on Christ. Suffering makes us cry out to God for help in a way we may not when life is going well. “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)
  • To learn obedience. “Although he was a son, he [Christ] learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8)
  • That the works of God may be displayed. “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.'” (John 9:1-3)
  • To produce steadfastness. “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)
  • As discipline. “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:7. 11)
  • To remind us to remember the gospel. It’s hard not to think that we’ve had our fair share of suffering and it’s time for a break. But there is no “fair” in the Christian life. Well, there is, but we don’t want it. In the past I have been told that I “deserve” certain things, and was actually encouraged in sin because of it. But the reality is we deserve hell so everything else is not only mercy, but it is actually better for us than any alternative we can think of, because God has designed our steps and he is for us. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)
  • God’s comfort enables us to comfort others. Because we have received comfort from God, we can comfort others in any affliction. We don’t have to have experienced the exact suffering they are going through, or even anything close. We are sharing the very comfort of God. Just as we carry each other’s burdens and share in each other’s sufferings, we also share in comfort. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-6)

BE CONSTANT IN PRAYER.

Plead to Father. Cry out in weakness. Sometimes all I can say is, “Oh God, please help.” At times all you may hear is silence. But He is a loving Father and hears the prayers of his children. And His purposes for you are good. Always.

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. (Psalm 55:22)

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. (James 5:13)

Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul. I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me! (Psalm 66:16-20)

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

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Everything Sad is Coming Untrue

What does it mean to suffer in this world? It could be the result of any number of things, including temptation, sin, being sinned against, unfulfilled desires, death of a loved one, physical or emotional pain, sickness, etc. Sometimes it’s sudden and unexpected. Sometimes it’s a steady ache that seems to never go away. Whatever it is, we should recognize that we all struggle, though it may look different for each person and it may not always be “visible” to you.

Sleeping for Sorrow

And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (Luke 22:45-46)

The disciples were so burdened by their sorrow, so saddened by what was taking place, they could not even stay awake. And Jesus knew that this state of sorrow could easily lead them into temptation. Sorrow can feel paralyzing. They could not see past their pain. They could not see that their sorrow would soon turn to joy. So what does he tell them to do? Watch and pray! The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Watch and pray!

Knowing what suffering looks like can help us stay awake and fix our eyes on Jesus, our only hope.

Suffering is real. I have a tendency to feel that my suffering is somehow less significant or less real than others.  Just like we might think we don’t have a good testimony if we haven’t experienced drugs or a difficult childhood, we don’t think our suffering is valid because it’s not violence or poverty or persecution, or whatever “worse” suffering you are comparing yourself to that day.

It’s easier to see suffering and have compassion when it’s something that is easily identifiable by the world as suffering: death of a loved one, cancer or other sickness, effects of violence, or natural disasters. But when you talk about what I like to call invisible suffering, like loneliness or difficult parenting or headaches or a hard marriage or past sin or guilt, or maybe just anything that seems like a daily or continuous struggle or temptation; accepting it as suffering can become more difficult. At least for me—I feel like people would look at me and wonder, “What’s so hard about your life? Why do you say you are suffering?” But often many of us suffer silently, so we must show compassion in all suffering, and know that God cares about all of it, and we too should pray for eyes to see it in others. The sufferings of the world seem endless, but we have a Savior, Jesus. There is the gospel that is sufficient for all of life’s troubles. There is hope!

So, admission of suffering should not be interpreted as a lack of faith—it is in faith that we admit our weakness and rely on the One who is strong, who will wipe away every tear in the end.

Suffering always hurts. Just because suffering isn’t dramatic or sudden or tragic, or shared publicly, doesn’t invalidate it. God is interested in every part of our lives, in all of our suffering. And he knows. He knows what it is like and he is able to sympathize.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Suffering is universal and expected. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:22-23)

So even (especially) for the Christian, it is not just a possibility that we might suffer, it is a certainty. It can come in the form of sudden hard news, or in the daily reminders that we are still on the wrong side of heaven. It can be physical or emotional, temporary or long-term. It could be something like watching someone you love suffer, or loving someone who is hard to love, who may hurt or disappoint us often.

Even if you don’t think you have ever really suffered, sin and the fight against it is a cause for suffering. If it is true that we are all sinners, then it is true that we are all sufferers. I find that a lot of my suffering comes from my own sin or the effects of sin in the world, but that is not always the case. Whatever it is though, all this suffering points to the reality that we are meant for something greater. And the truth is, Christ promises to meet us in our suffering and be with us always—he does not promise to take it away.

Since suffering is proof that the world is not as it should be, and that won’t change until heaven, we will always be experiencing some type of suffering while we’re here.

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake… (Philippians 1:29)

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Christ’s blood has already been shed and the battle is already won. He will wipe away our tears and pain will be no more. Everything sad is coming untrue.

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