Saturday, October 21, 2017

Help My Unbelief...

     The doctor said she probably had an enlarged uterus or a tumor of some kind inside her abdomen, that her stomach looked distended. With these words and a script for an ultrasound, the doctor unwittingly set the wheels in motion for a life lesson I will never forget!

     During the week leading up to my mom's ultrasound I prayed hard. I prayed that it wouldn't be anything serious, that it would just be something simple that could be monitored. I prayed that it wouldn't require surgery. I prayed that if there was a tumor there, it wouldn't be cancerous. I spoke often to God about how much she had been through already, the shape she is in now, and that I could not imagine how she could manage one more serious thing. I asked for mercy. We went for the ultrasound on a Wednesday. In the days that followed, as we waited for the results I prayed the same way. Friday that week, I had just finished praying when I heard God say, "You haven't prayed that nothing is wrong. You haven't prayed that the results would come back normal."  I sat there in stunned silence for a moment. I truly am in the habit of asking for normal test results and asking for miracles, so why hadn't I?  I figured that if God was bringing this to my attention it must mean I needed to pray this way, so I did. I did...but there was still a small part of me that was so battle worn from endless unfavorable diagnoses of long term illnesses...that I wondered if we might still receive another one!

     At the end of that very day, we got a phone call. No tumors. No enlarged organs. Normal results. I was dumbfounded! I felt very much like the man in Matthew 9. He brings his son to Jesus for deliverance from a demonic spirit and says, "If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." Jesus replies, " 'If you can?'  Everything is possible for one who believes." The man immediately exclaims " I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"  This man's son had been tormented since childhood. I imagine as a father, he had prayed many times for his son to be set free. He had probably tried everything he could to help his son, only to see terrible things happen over and over again. He comes to Jesus and says "If you can do anything"  not because he doubts, but because he has seen so much suffering he is not sure what Jesus will do. He must have believed that Jesus could do something or he would not have come at all. Jesus says, "If you can?" I imagine a slight smirk on Jesus' face, and understanding in His eyes as He lovingly brings the usage of the word "if" to the man's attention. Much like He lovingly reminded me, of what I did not ask Him for regarding my mom. I understand why the father responds the way he does. It's not that he does not's that his faith is tired. He has believed before and not seen his son delivered. But because of the loving nudge Jesus gives him, he exercises his faith one more time and wisely asks for help filling in the gaps "help me overcome my unbelief".  Just like that, Jesus casts out the demon and the man's son is made whole.

     I've been thinking about these things a lot lately.  How many times do we count God out? Maybe like me, you have consistently prayed for miracles for a loved one and received added suffering instead. Maybe like the man in Matthew, you believe but your faith is tired and you too need to ask for help to overcome the parts of you that harbor unbelief. Sometimes we pray so long and so hard without seeing answers, that we begin to pray smaller prayers. We trust God will see us through but we stop praying for deliverance. Some of us have been praying for the salvation of our loved ones for decades...and are still waiting. Others are faithfully pleading with God for deliverance from addictions or the return of a prodigal child...still waiting. Maybe you've been praying for changes in your church, a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a revival of sorts...and you are still waiting. Or...maybe you have been praying for yourself. You feel distant from God, haven't heard His voice in what seems like forever, and wonder when you will ever get out of the desert you are are still waiting.

  In a sense, I had counted God out. I was not counting on Him for any miracles or normal test results. Based on the prayers I was praying, I was only counting on God to see my mom through whatever was coming next. It happened subtly without me realizing it. I am so thankful that He has brought it to my attention. In the three weeks since then, I have had many opportunities to pray. There have been some more medical tests to pray through, serious illnesses, and long term prayers for freedom and healing for friends and family. Just like the man in Matthew, I don't hesitate to say "help me overcome my unbelief"  and I will continue to do this until the "if You can" in my heart turns into "when You do" because I refuse to count God out! He still heals, restores, redeems, and delivers.

Don't be like me. Don't get so worn or discouraged from consistently praying for the same impossible things, that you start praying in such a way as to just get by. Pray the big and seemingly impossible prayers for as long as it takes for them to be answered. In our finite human vision it often looks like God is doing nothing....when really He is hard at work setting things in motion. I sit here writing this...the same person who says "help me overcome my unbelief" praising God for an answer to a prayer I prayed well over a year ago...and kept praying. Never count Him out!


Monday, September 11, 2017

Under His Wings...

  Have you ever felt haunted by a passage of Scripture? Followed around by a particular verse? As if God keeps bringing it to mind because there is something incredibly important to Him that He doesn't want you to miss? I have come to the conclusion that I  have been haunted by Psalm 91 for two years now! It could be longer...but that is the earliest I can remember Him bringing it directly to my attention.

    The first time this Psalm came to mean anything to me or began to grab my attention, was on a food pantry night in 2015. One of the guests asked if he could pray for me, and he prayed this Psalm from memory. A little while later I had a disturbing encounter with a different guest (see my blog Already There) that made me realize God had gone ahead of me and protected me from harm. I believe one of the ways He did this was by sending that man to pray Psalm 91 over me. "He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust." Through this prayer I was hidden and protected in Christ.

     In the years since, I have prayed this Psalm over myself and my loved ones. I find that in times of  of uncertainty or distress, it is the first Psalm that enters my mind and exits my mouth in the form of a prayer. Yet until recently, I haven't really examined it. What does it look like to "abide under the shadow of the Almighty"? How do I duck under His wings and  "find refuge."?

   Refuge sounds wonderful right now. Refuge from crazy schedules, the weight of responsibilities, family health problems, and the national news! Anyone else? The destruction from hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and the threat of nuclear war with North Korea...are all excellent reasons to seek refuge. At times it can feel like the world is closing in on us. Sometimes it feels as though if one more thing is added to our shoulders, we are going to collapse under the weight of it all. I have felt that way. I am guilty of forgetting that there are wings I can hide under.

   I was pondering this a few weeks ago. I had "one more thing" added to my shoulders, and in a moment of exhaustion and frustration I lashed out at God. I told Him I didn't have time for this one more thing and asked why He couldn't seem to give me a break! In that moment He reminded me of Psalm 91:4, " He will cover you with His feathers and under His wings you will find refuge." Instant peace. Humbling love. Here I am being fresh with God and complaining about how He can't seem to give me a break, and He offers me one under His wings. He reminds me with these words from the Psalm, that He is always there to offer rest and refuge. I was asking for a halt to my troubles and He was offering a place to rest from them. I wanted them gone and He wanted to wrap me up and see me through them.

    Over and over again, during this intense season of mothering, care giving, and ministry He has offered me refuge and I've missed it. He's provided the shelter of Himself as a place of rest in the middle of it all, and I have chosen the harder thing. I've chosen to keep doing it all on my own until the weight of it becomes too great, and I lash out at Him. Anyone else?  God's offer of rest and refuge isn't just for me. It's for all of us. We were never meant to carry around such big burdens and independently try to handle them.

    The last part of verse four reads, "His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark." I don't believe it's a coincidence that these words follow the description of being covered with his feathers and finding refuge under His wings. They are there because this is why we can rest in Him. This is why we can always find refuge under His wings. He is ALWAYS faithful. God isn't just faithful, His faithfulness is a shield. The dictionary definition of shield is " a broad piece of metal used as protection against blows or missiles".  Isn't that awesome? God invites us to take cover and find refuge under His wings, while He shields us from whatever it is life is throwing at us. When we take refuge in Him, He takes the blows for us.

  I'm so thankful that He takes the blows for us if we will let Him! He is much more capable than we are, much stronger, and much wiser. How about you? What is overwhelming you today? What's weighing so heavy on your shoulders that you feel like you're going to collapse? Join me, let's take cover under His wings while He handles life's blows for us!