Spiritual Formation & the Cross

lens of the cross

       This discussion board will use the information from Wilhoit’s Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered, to evaluate this writer’s experience and dependence on the Cross, for salvation and sanctification. Secondly, it will show how the view of the necessity of the Cross has changed over time and what specifically influenced that view. Lastly, by knowing that dependence on the Cross is the fundamental factor of spiritual growth, this forum will discuss ways that church leaders can inspire greater dependence on the grace of Christ in the lives of believers?

Dependence on Cross for Salvation and Sanctification

            Ever since humanity was exiled from Eden, they lived in a state of brokenness and as James Wilhoit illustrates, “Unless the brokenness is a prominent orientation, we will not catch the truth that the church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners.”[1] Sin separates humanity from God, creating a spiritual chasm that cannot be crossed without divine influence, which came in the form of the cross, allowing humanity to bridge the gap, once they received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. When Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden, there was a constant movement to the east, and this migration away from God carries on through much of the Old Testament narrative.

       The cross can be best described as a bridge back to God and without it, there would be no salvation or sanctification. The remission of sin required the shedding of blood and Jesus Christ became the spotless lamb, thus taking on the entirety of humanity’s sins and curses. Jesus voluntarily paid the ultimate sacrifice, He lived a sinless life, and He experienced the death that every human deserved. This writer is eternally grateful for what Christ did and he lives each day with the ethos that everyday is God’s gift to us and what we choose to do with it is our gift back to Him.

How Views of the Cross Have Changed Over Time and Influences

            The history of the cross and crucifixion has deep roots that can be traced back to the Old Testament and was one of the primary reasons many Jews did not believe Jesus could possibly be the Messiah; in fact, a crucified Messiah to the majority of Jews was an impossibility. From the Dead Sea Scrolls and some other early writings, there was a precedent that the one hanged on the tree to die is a traitor or a blasphemer, so to be hung on the cross came to mean they were also accursed by God and men. In Deuteronomy 21:22-23, there is a great example of why the Jews believed a man hanged on a tree is cursed by God, as Peter C. Craigie illustrates:

To break the law of God and live as though he did not matter or exist was in effect to curse him; and he who cursed God would be accursed of God. To break the law of God and incur thereby the penalty of death was to die the worst possible kind of death, for the means of death was a formal and terminal separation from the community of God’s people. Hence the use of this verse in Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians is very forceful. Christ took upon himself the curse of the law, the penalty of death, thereby redeeming us from the curse of the law. The manner of his death, crucifixion, symbolized dramatically the meaning of his death. His separation from the family of God made possible our admission to the family of God, because the curse of the broken law—which would have permanently barred admission—had been removed.[2]

            To die by crucifixion was one of the worst ways to die and the Romans had perfected this barbaric and tortuous means of death as they conquered the known empire. It served as a compelling reason not to go against the Romans or break the law. The cross also became closely associated with immense suffering, which points to Jesus being the suffering servant.[3] In fact, John N. Oswalt, demonstrates, “It is difficult to escape the conclusion that it is not accidental that the only extended metaphor in Isaiah 53 involves sheep, the primary animals of sacrifice. The Servant is to be struck down on account of the rebellions of his people (v. 8), and he will go as a lamb to the slaughter. “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’”[4] [5] While believers are encouraged to boldly approach the throne of grace,[6] they should humbly approach the cross, because through it, Jesus became the final Passover lamb.

How Dependence on the Cross Leads to Spiritual Growth

       As Wilhoit explains, “Much of our failure in conceptualizing spiritual formation comes from our failure to keep the gospel central to our ministry.”[7] Jerry Bridges explains, “Our first problem is that our attitude toward sin is more self-centered than God-centered.” Viewing others through the lens of the cross serves as a reminder that Jesus has become the mediator between God and believers. As this perception of others and their circumstances becomes the norm, it will lead to closer fellowship with God, as well as being able to speak into the lives of the lost and hurting. As Wilhoit demonstrates, “[Dependence] on the cross seems to become a means of transportation rather than God’s means of transformation.”[8] He shows, because of our blindness and self-justifying behavior, we can only perceive a small cross. This causes the perceived need for grace to fall drastically short of one’s actual need for grace, which is infinite.[9]

       Real spiritual formation and growth is possible; the problem, as Wilhoit highlights, is “Culture and sadly many churches seek to squeeze believers into a mold of simply being nice and seeking a sensible consumer-oriented faith that meets our needs and avoids offending anyone else.”[10] Paul, in his letter to the Romans tells them not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of their mind.[11] God calls His children to be in this world, but not of it. Douglas Moo demonstrates: “For while belonging to the new realm, we continue to live, as people still in the “body,” in the old realm. Paul’s command that we “not conform to this world,” then, builds on the theology of Rom. 5-8 (and of Rom. 6 especially) and calls on us to resist the pressure to “be squeezed into the mold” of this world and the “pattern” of behavior that typifies it (see 1 Cor. 7:31).”[12]

How to Inspire Greater Dependence on the Grace of Christ

            Wilhoit contends, “From personal brokenness and reflection I have come to see that the gospel is not simply the door of faith; it must also be a compass I daily use to orient my life and a salve I apply for the healing of my soul. It is in returning again and again to the cross that we receive the grace that transforms us.”[13] Greater dependence on the grace of Christ is best explained as a transformation that is never-ending. From the moment of salvation, the believer is made new, but that is only the beginning of the metamorphosis. The longer one walks with Christ, the more they should embody His likeness. Andrew Murray said it best, “The fruit of a life in Christ is a life like Christ.”

       The local church plays a huge role in spiritual development, but over the last few decades, most have lost their way. Instead of teaching sound doctrine based on the promises of God, many churches have instead strived to become the most hip or cutting edge church focused on flair and not real life change. Instead of preaching messages that would initially convict and allow a deeper and closer relationship with God, they preach messages centered on naming and proclaiming or feel-good messages. These churches would rather their people wear smiles on their faces, so the offering plate is full, even if every part of the attender’s life is falling apart and their smile is a mere façade. Wilhoit illuminates that personal loss, tragedies, changes, and disruption can contribute to spiritual formation. He says, “We need to put structures in place that emphasize deep compassion, care, and empathy as well as formative guidance.”[14] He also says, “We are formed to serve and we are formed by serving, so cultivating the instinct to act on the gospel teaching is crucial to our transformation.”[15] David Henderson best illustrates, “As our hearts are transformed by faith, we will then move to conformity with God.”[16] The more one serves, the greater their dependence upon the grace of Christ becomes.

            All spiritual growth springs forth from God’s grace, which leads to Wilhoit’s premise that, “We are all born homesick, longing for a land and a way of life we have never directly experienced, but which we know is somewhere, or at least ought to exist.”[17] This notion rings more true as each generation emerges feeling less a part of society and being ostracized for their differences. Carol Lakey Hess illustrates: “If we are centered in ourselves, we experience the strangeness and restlessness of the homeless human spirit that yearns for God. Even if we are centered in God, we groan at the brokenness of creation and yearn for redemption.” Our brokenness leaves us empty, broken, and thirsty. Jerry Sittser then demonstrates, “[Our] brokenness forces us to find a source of love outside ourselves and that source is God.” Without God in our lives we will never find meaning or purpose in life. He is the source of all our longings.

Bibliography

Craigie, Peter C. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Deuteronomy. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Moo, Douglas J. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Oswalt, John N. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Wilhoit, James C. Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered: Growing in Christ through Community. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2008.


[1] James C. Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered: Growing in Christ through Community, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2008), 58.

[2] Peter C. Craigie, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Deuteronomy, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 284.

[3] Isaiah 53

[4] John 1:29

[5] John N. Oswalt, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 391.

[6] Hebrews 4:16

[7] Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation, 27.

[8] Ibid., 28.

[9] Ibid., 107.

[10] Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation, 33.

[11] Romans 12:2

[12] Douglas J. Moo, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 754.

[13] Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation, 29.

[14] Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation, 122..

[15] Ibid., 149.

[16] Ibid., 159.

[17] Ibid., 64.

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The Pleasure of Pain

pain-pleasure
LIBERTY UNIVERSITY BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY

Research Paper: Final Submission

Submitted to Dr. John McGinn, in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the completion of the course:

SEMI 500-B02 LUO
Introduction to Seminary Studies

By

Jeffrey Michael Davis

September 25, 2014

Contents

Introduction………………………………………………………………………………….1
How & Why Evil Entered This World…………………………………………………..…2
How God Uses Our Pain and Suffering…………………………………………….………5
Conclusion……………………………………………………………………………………9
Bibliography…………………………………………………………………………………10

Introduction

Many argue that God must not exist since there is so much evil, pain, and suffering in the world. After all, if He is omnipotent and has the power to do all things, then why does He not stop all the evil that exists? First, this paper will discuss whether pain and suffering serves a purpose outside of the torment they cause and will challenge the reader to view trials and circumstances and the pain and suffering they cause through a different lens. Secondly, this paper will also show while God can act and while nothing is impossible for Him to accomplish, it is has always been humanity’s free will which allows evil, pain, and suffering to exist.

While evil opened the door for pain and suffering to enter the world, history actually shows that pain and suffering contributes to strengthening relationships toward God, so perhaps it serves a greater purpose in God’s overall plan. Over time, Satan has discovered he can be more effective using pleasure instead of pain to separate people from God. If pain and suffering were always bad, then a loving, omnipotent, and omniscient God would stop them. Since God does not stop them, they must serve a greater purpose.

Pain and suffering are a two-edged sword and finding the pleasure in pain is a peculiar and seductive dance, one in which your partner means to destroy you. C.S. Lewis proposed, “Pain insists upon being attended to and God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” So why is there so much evil in the world, why do bad things continually happen to good people, and what purpose could they possibly serve? That purpose is to bring God’s children back to Him and to keep them righteous and pure in His eyes. However, the question still remains: if God truly loves His children, why does He allow evil to exist and why does He allow pain and suffering in His creation? If God is truly omnipotent and omniscient, why does He not act when His children are being persecuted and are being slaughtered in His name?

How & Why Evil Entered This World

To answer this question, one must first recognize the difference between a just God and a loving God. One must then understand the paradox Ravi Zacharias illuminates, “if God is just, He must punish sin. But if He is loving, He would forgive sin.” Only then can you comprehend why there is so much evil and suffering in the world. Only then can you answer the question if God is unwilling or unable to prevent evil. Zacharias goes on further explaining how humanity associates suffering with sin: “the conventional wisdom, that suffering is the result of sin, is, therefore untrue.”

Satan learned a valuable lesson when God allowed him to persecute Job and take everything, but his life. It was during his persecution, Job only drew closer to the Lord, despite his great pain and suffering. While Satan still persecutes and inflicts pain and suffering today, his tactics have changed by what he observed in Job’s trial. Satan now chooses to entice culture with the very things which bring people pleasure. In the end, what brings humanity pleasure winds up being the very things keeping them apart from God; essentially people are being imprisoned by the very things they love.

While pain and suffering entered this world in the Garden of Eden during the Fall of man, it has remained by the choices people make and by the things they place in their lives before God. Humanity’s free will opened the door to sin and created separation from God. By loving themselves more than God, peoples’ lack of gratitude opened the door to idolatry whether they knew it or not.

God does not lack goodness or power; “if you choose to say God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it, then you have not succeeded in saying anything about God.” It is during times of great need and persecution people turn back to God. Sin leads to oppression, which leads to repentance where a deliverer is found. Yet, when people are being blessed and have no needs or wants, they turn away from God. Pain and suffering, even in its horror, has the potential to draw people closer to God more than being blessed by Him does.

Pain and suffering can actually be a blessing in disguise, especially for Christians, when it illuminates their lack of self-sufficiency and turns the individual or nation back to God. Human suffering is not always a punishment if it brings someone back into communion with God. However, there is a vast difference between reading about God’s mercy and grace during times of pain and suffering versus experiencing them personally. In such an enticing culture, “one of the greatest tricks the devil has ever played was convincing the world he did not exist” and he would have everyone believe evil is nothing more than an illusion, but simply denying something’s existence does not make it any less real. Choices have consequences: some good and some bad, but all of them have the opportunity to lead back to God.

Although, in the Genesis account; “we are also told that, though the first human beings lived in a state of contentment, they disobeyed God and were punished by being placed in a world of pain.” The story of man begins with a simple act of disobedience, but it has created a common perception which still exists today. It claims if you are blessed by God, there is no sin in your life, but if you are afflicted by pain and suffering, it is because you did something to displease God or you have sin in your life. This was the council Job’s friends gave him telling him he must repent so God would forgive him. His reply to their poor advice was simply, “Shall we accept the good from God, but not the bad?”

Noah Webster defined evil in its purest form as, “anything which produces pain, distress, loss or calamity, or which in anyway disturbs the peace, impairs the happiness, or destroys the perfection of natural beings.” However, to establish what is considered evil one must have a baseline on what is considered to be good. While pain is, “the great torturer of all living things, and serves nevertheless as the preserver of life, and we could not do without it. It must therefore be regarded as a benefactor to all living things. Pain is one of those protective arrangements which exist in all organisms, and gives the alarm in times of danger,” yet its sting is unmistakable. Pain has the potential to stop more pain and even death if you identify the source and deal with it.
God is the opposite of evil and He is the only reference point which points true north towards being morally good all the time, yet many claim evil proves God does not exist, but Zacharias theorizes, “the reality of evil actually requires the existence of God rather than disproves it.” According to Genesis 1:31, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good;” so evil, pain, and suffering was not present in the beginning. Today however, one would be hard pressed not to find evil, pain, and suffering around every corner.

To give someone a choice and free will creates the opportunity to make a wrong decision and God gives everyone an opportunity to choose as Norman Geisler eloquently states, “forced love is rape; and God is not a divine rapist.” Living in a fallen world where free will exists opens the door to potentially disastrous wrong choices. Geisler also proposes, “The ultimate goal of a perfect world with free creatures will have been achieved, but the way to get there requires that those who abuse their freedom be cast out.” Some argue if God simply removed all evil life would be easier, but “suppose God were to decree that at midnight tonight all evil would be removed from the universe—who of us would still be here after midnight?” God allowed evil to enter this world, so He has a plan one day to totally defeat it. Evil, pain, and suffering attempt to shroud the light of God and while they can cause people to be broken; it is through a broken vessel God has the greatest opportunity to shine through.

How God Uses Our Pain and Suffering

The search of how God uses pain and suffering is often associated with Job who was a good person in the eyes of God. In this story, the angels are presenting themselves to God, but the interesting part of this narrative was Satan was also present. During this encounter, God tells Satan about Job’s morally good and outstanding character. It is during this dialogue, Satan proposes the only reason Job is loyal and morally good is because the Lord had blessed him with all he had. After Satan finishes his attempt to justify why Job was good, God gives Satan permission to test Job. In the end, Job, despite his friends’ bad suggestions and even worse recommendations remains faithful to God and all that was lost was restored to him. “Job was such a trusted friend of God that when God needed someone to step onto the witness stand of the universe to say what is right about God, Job was there.” It is from this account, “not only is the notion that God causes pain and suffering explicitly affirmed in Scripture, but there are additional moral reasons to embrace the idea.”

If anyone knew of suffering it was Jesus. George MacDonald once said, “The Son of God suffered unto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.” In the midst of pain and suffering, people begin to question why and how God could allow His children to endure such atrocities. During these times, one’s faith is truly tested and in the end their faith is either strengthened, built up, perfected, or it is lost. The last of these is the most tragic because in every situation God’s children walk through God can either deliver them from it, through it, or by it, but it is when people turn their back on God, they close the door to receiving His mercy and grace even in the worst of circumstances. Receiving God’s mercy is not getting what you deserve: the wrath of God, while receiving God’s grace is getting what you do not deserve: salvation and redemption.

God calls His followers to trust Him in all things. As they do, not only will they discover a new side of God’s character, but they also may become aware of a far greater circumstance He may be trying to warn them about. Pain is the body’s natural response to get your attention. It’s when you don’t listen to the warning signs; you are headed for a potential disaster. “Sometimes the ‘good’ that God brings out of our suffering involves drawing us closer to him.”

No pain no gain may sound a little cliché, but God wastes nothing; not one ounce of pain and not one tear His children shed are wasted when God is the first priority in their lives. “Pain plants the flag of truth within a rebel fortress.” Sometimes the pain you endure is used for someone else’s benefit. Joseph would be a great example for this. His brothers hated him. Just as John was the disciple whom Jesus loved most, Joseph was the son Jacob loved most and this created massive family dysfunction. His brothers plotted to kill him, but settled on selling him into slavery, but in Genesis 50:20 the true purpose is revealed: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Joseph’s pain and suffering was used by God to save an entire nation. It can be real easy in the midst of tragedy to become engrossed with your own problems, but God can always make a way where there seems to be none. The apostle Paul put it best in his letter to the Romans, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” God can use any pain and suffering you have endured to better your life and to advance His kingdom.

Faith in the midst of pain and suffering is the real issue. Trusting God has you in the palm of His hand even though it feels like He is crushing you by your trials and circumstances; it is here where you are in prime position to receive His limitless blessings. He is the master potter and you are the clay. He forms you into a masterpiece and when you fall from grace or when you become a victim of circumstance, He simply folds you over and begins again. Even when you are shattered into a million pieces, He uses the brokenness and pain in your life to bring restoration and wholeness. Your pain and suffering is one of God’s greatest gifts and in their midst it is terrifying to feel helpless, but God allows you to go through certain trials in order to bring about a greater good. Without the crucifixion there could be no resurrection. “God’s aim, through evil and suffering, was to destroy evil and suffering. This is why Jesus came to die.”

Christians are called to be Christ-like and are to consider it pure joy as assaults of evil present themselves in various forms. Daily life is a battlefield where a war between good and evil is being raged. James urges his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to persevere and have endurance through any trial or circumstance; he says these words out of compassion for them. The word joy here does not mean pleasure; it means something far greater. It means once you have stood firm, once you have shown your integrity, and once you emerge on the other side victoriously your faith is proved like gold in the fire. Fiery trials should only burn the imperfections away in your life. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were cast into the fiery furnace, but because they kept their trust in God, it kept their destiny in reach and when they emerged from the pit they did not even smell like smoke; all that was burned was the rope used to bind their arms.

One must never forget God knows the end from the beginning and has a plan in all things. Lewis, being an atheist most of his early life learned, “the hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compassion is our liberation.” Perseverance and endurance are traits which are acquired over time and are built upon by each new trial faced. “Suffering always changes us, but it does not necessarily change us for the better.” Pain and suffering can leave a void inside which if not filled by the Holy Spirit will consume you from the inside out. Pain always requires a response, tests must be taken, and circumstances must be walked out. Your trial has the potential to transform you, it has the potential to empower you, and it has the potential to bring you closer to God more than any blessing or miracle ever could. “When the pain is over, it is over, and the natural sequel is joy.”

Conclusion

God allows evil to exist, but He does not delight in His children enduring pain or suffering, but He allows them because His creation has free will. Satan attempts to counterfeit or destroy everything God stands for and if inflicting pain and suffering does not turn humanity away from God he uses pleasure instead of pain to separate people from God. If pain and suffering were always bad, then a loving, omnipotent, and omniscient God would stop them, but since God does not stop them, they serve a greater purpose. Some will never know why they had to endure pain and suffering, but in the end, regardless if it is on this side or the next, God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away and new life has come. Pain is temporary, but your salvation is eternal and whatever draws one closer to God should be cherished, even if it is pain and suffering.

Bibliography

Davies, Brian. The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil. London: Continuum, 2006. eBook Collection, EBSCOhost. Accessed August 31, 2014.
Geisler, Norman L. and Ronald M. Brooks. When Skeptics Ask. Wheaton: Victor, 1990.
Hick, John. Evil and the God of Love. Basingstoke, Hampshire, GBR: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Accessed August 31, 2014. ProQuest ebrary.
Hyman, Frieda Clark. “Job, Or the Suffering of God.” Judaism 42, no. 2 (Spring, 1993): 218, http://search.proquest.com/docview/200388648?accountid=12085.
Jennings, Timothy R.. God-Shaped Brain : How Changing Your View of God Transforms Your Life. Westmont: InterVarsity Press, 2013. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 31 August 2014.
Lewis, C.S. Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. New York: Hancourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984.
Lewis, C.S. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.
Little, Paul E. Know Why You Believe. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1975.
McQuarrie, Christopher, The Usual Suspects, DVD, Directed by Bryan Singer. Los Angeles: Sundance, 1995.
Meister, Chad V, Dew, James K. Jr. God and evil: The case for god in a world filled with pain. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books, 2013.
Ortberg, John. The Life You’ve Always Wanted. Michigan: Zondervan, 1997.
Piper, John. Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die. Illinois: Crossway Books, 2006.
Webster, Noah. 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language. California:G. & C.Merriam Company, 1995.
Zacharias, Ravi and Norman Geisler. Who Made God? Michigan: Zondervan, 2003.

My Daughter, My Miracle

1 year birthday
A year ago today was one of the happiest days of my life as I witnessed the birth of my daughter. At the time, I had no clue how much my life was going to change. Becoming a father has already provided some of the highest and lowest times of my life, but if given the chance to do it all over again, I would gladly choose to do so!
I can still remember each moment, as if it was happening right before my eyes. I can still sense the mood in the room changing as my little girl was rushed to the NICU. As days turned into weeks and weeks into months, watching people arrive at the hospital, give birth and then go home with their newborns was very hard to watch and when we had to leave the hospital without our little angel, it was even harder. No parent should ever have to leave the hospital without their child. There was such a feeling of distance between us; add to that our fear, anxiousness, nervousness and you had an emotional hot mess. It was so hard to be thankful when all I was doing was worrying. People would ask how we were doing and we would say fine, but all that really meant was we were freaked out, insecure, neurotic and emotional. It was only when I began to rely on God solely that I began to rise above my circumstances despite them. I would claim Philippians 4:19, “My God will supply all my needs” because being anxious accomplishes nothing; instead we are to be in prayer about everything.
When we bring our needs before the Lord, the God of comfort and the God who provides, He will give us peace that transcends all understanding and He will make a way where there is no way. Living with extreme pain this last year, due to a vehicle accident that broke my back, I have been a prisoner of pain. Finally though, God has brought the surgeon into my path that will bring God the glory in healing me. I will finally be able to hold my little girl again without pain coursing through my body. Walking through these seasons full of bittersweet blessings, sometimes my human nature caused me to try and think my way out of my problems, instead of relying on God solely, as I did one year ago when He healed my sweet daughter. God is with us always, but when we constantly dwell on our problems; our peace can elude us as we replay our circumstances over and over again in our minds. I can still remember as new parents, wanting to hold and nurture Sydney; instead we were subjecting her to spinal taps and other painful tests. Having her in the NICU was not part of the dream I had envisioned, but I still trusted God. There were days we had no tears left to cry, but as long as I stayed focused on God who is mighty to save, I kept it together, but when I didn’t, my sadness turned into panic, anxiety, and fear.
The longer we were in the NICU, the more I picked up on subtle things I had not previously noticed. Obviously, one of the first things we could tell was the sex of other people’s babies based on if the parent’s bracelets were pink or blue. Also, if they had multiple ID bracelets, it meant they had twins or triplets. As each day passed, my bracelet became so worn you could barely read Sydney’s name or birthday. One of the saddest things I saw during our time there was a mother who had two bracelets one day and the next day I saw her, she only had one. I later found out that one of her babies had passed away during the night. No matter how worn my bracelet got or how beat down I felt, I remember never wanting to take my bracelet off.
I can remember how weak I would feel going back and forth to the hospital and it reminded me of the story in Matthew 14:30 when Peter got out of the boat to walk on water. As long as he kept his eyes on Jesus, he was able to walk on water, but as soon as he took his eyes off of Jesus and began to look around, he began to sink. The same is true with the problems we face; if we stay focused on God, He will sustain us, but when we look to our own ways, we are sure to sink. Joel Osteen wrote, “In the natural realm we exchange money for the things we want and need, but in the spiritual realm, faith is what we exchange.” You see, our faith pleases God and it opens doors that no man can, especially when we are walking through the storm of the century. When we obey the word of God and believe His promises are true, we strengthen our faith and as it grows, God is able to do things in and through us we never could imagine. Looking back over this last year, one thing is abundantly clear: God loves us and He wants the best for us, even if that means we have to walk through painful seasons. As long as we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and trust His plan, it doesn’t matter what the world tries to throw at us. I encourage you to stop looking to the world for answers and start looking to the Great I Am, the One who made the heavens and the earth. In Him you will find peace and you will know rest as He comforts you in His outstretched arms. He will never give us more than we can handle and He will give us just enough strength, mercy and grace to make it through each new day.

Answered Prayers

Today is my birthday and it is hard to imagine wanting anything now that my daughter is home from her month long stay in the NICU.  During our time there, I saw God do some amazing things and I know that He has a plan and a purpose for everything we had to endure.  Through the pain and suffering we lived with every day, seeds were being planted in our family’s life and in the lives of those around us.  God made His goodness and mercy known to us each new day.

Now that we are home, all I can think about are all the prayers that have been answered.  A new day has dawned and it is one filled with life and new beginnings.  This chapter has been one of the hardest we have had to endure, but it is one in which we grew closer to each other and closer to God.  When I was weak, I would pray for strength and God would carry me when I could walk no more.  When I was scared, I would pray for courage and God’s power would rise up in me.  The more I hurt, the more I would seek the Lord.  When I didn’t know what to do, I would pray and even when I did know what to do, I would pray.

When we begin to look past our own circumstances and trust in God, we get a glimpse of the bigger picture and of the Master’s plan.  As we set out on this journey, we had no idea what God was going to accomplish in and through us; all we did know was that His way was the only way.  Over the last month, there were many scriptures that ministered to me, but one of the most comforting verses was Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”  There were so many times that my heart broke for my little girl, but I knew that I had to be strong for her and for those around me.  Without Jesus to carry my burden, I would have been lost and crushed by the pain I felt.  Looking back, I know that God was the only way we were able to stay strong.  Now that we are home and somehow even more sleep deprived, I still look to God because no matter our circumstance, He promises to refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.  To Him be the glory now and forever!