Loneliness

Do you wrestle with loneliness?

You are not alone.

Loneliness is experienced by many people, but few admit it. Admitting to feeling lonely is difficult because we worry no one will understand.

We find the subject of loneliness in the Psalms. David shares openly of his struggle with feeling lonely. David takes his neediness to the Lord, wanting Him to be aware of his pain and to help him with it. Here are two verses where we find the Psalmist crying out.

Psalm 25:16 “Turn to me and be gracious to me for I am lonely…”

Psalm 142:4  “Look to my right and see, no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge, no one cares for my life.’

Can you relate?

There have been times in my life when I have felt lonely. I remember feeling as though there was no one I could share my present reality with. No one that I could share my feelings about all that was happening in my life. And I wanted to talk with someone.

There are many different reasons for loneliness. Loneliness can be circumstantial. It may be because of moving away to a new town, or having an empty-nest. It could be that there has been a misunderstanding between friends or within your family. Loneliness also occurs when there is a loss of a spouse or close friend through death or divorce, or a separation of some kind.

Loneliness can be because of personal fear of sharing, putting up walls of self-protection. We sometimes choose to isolate ourselves because of fear of others criticism, judgment, or their reaction. We stuff our feelings because it seems as if no one will accept us if we share with them.

I know my depression stemmed from stuffing deep grief from childhood. I felt abandoned in my grief but didn’t feel heard when I tried to express it, so I crammed it deep inside. I chose to be busy and independent as I grew up. I ran away from the painful feelings as much as possible, until at one unexpected moment much later in life all of my pain poured out in sobs. I had walled off that part of me– and chose not to feel it or look at it. But then came the time when there no longer was a choice. I had to get to the bottom of it all.

Loneliness can come about out of shame too. A choice we or a family member made, one that seemed like the only way out at the time, leaving us now feeling alone and afraid to share. What will people say? What will they think? How will they look at me if they knew? These are all questions that may go through our minds. We wonder how could I tell them about my abortion, my drug abusing teen, my affair, my alcoholic spouse, my father in prison–what will they say?

These feelings of shame can be further magnified in the community of believers. We look at those around us in the chairs or pews in our churches and they look as if their lives are perfect. We wonder how could they ever relate to what we are going through? The feelings of “I don’t belong” scream in our heads and rip apart our hearts. We need each other. We need someone to talk to. But who is safe?  Who will even want to be around us? We feel like the lepers in the Bible– isolated and surely to be ostracized.

Again I ask, can you relate?

Loneliness is a problem in all of society. The rich, the poor, and in each and every race. We all need Jesus and we all need the community of others to support us throughout life.

As believers we want to think that we can find that community, that family, in our churches. But that is not always the case. It seems that our churches are often places filled with plastic smiles and rote replies where many hearts are dying of loneliness.

So what is the answer, how do we find a better way? How do we find the connection we so desperately need? Well, the first and most important answer is to seek the Lord in prayer. I know that I have prayed at different times in my life for the Lord to provide me with community, safe-sisters, and He has in amazing and unexpected ways. I have found that He knows exactly what my heart needs.

Many deep safe friendships take years to form, but with God, He can develop depth of years in a few months. He wants us to have heart-to-heart friendships. Friendships filled with love, sharing and accountability. It is in the sharing of our hurts, our struggles, our pain, our missteps, and in our freedom to confess the reality of what life is really like, that we find community. Community is what we need to help us lift our load.

Galatians 6:2 tells us, “Carry each others burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” The Benson Commentary explains that this verse is telling us to “sympathize with and assist each other in all our weaknesses, grievances, trials.” Matthew Henry’s Concise commentary says that “The better we know our own hearts and way, the less we shall despise others and the more be disposed to help them under infirmities and afflictions.” And Barnes Notes on the Bible  explains that we are to “bear with each other; help each other in the divine life. The sense is that every man has special temptations and easily besetting sins, which constitute a heavy burden. We should aid each other in regard to these, and help one another to overcome them.”

The law of Christ is all about loving one another and love is the antidote to loneliness. Christ-like love. When we read the Word of God we see that Jesus mostly condemned the pious, proud, self-reliant people and befriended the suffering and the sinners.

I am so blessed to be a part of a church that is full of love and honesty regarding struggles, but I know that is not the norm. And it makes me incredibly sad to see so many going through life lonely and isolated because there is no place for honest sharing and confession.

We need to be the change-agents. We need to open our hearts, confess our struggles, and welcome the neediness of others. This can start with just acknowledging the emotions of another or a struggle heard in prayer. it can be followed up with a caring phone call. Or asking one to join you for coffee or for a Bible study or a book study. It takes being aware, and a willingness to be open and available. Reaching out involves risk but when connection occurs it brings great blessing. It’s helpful to remember that people have varying levels of comfort with depth of sharing, so we have to move forward carefully.

We all need acceptance and belonging in our lives and my post will delve into that topic next week. I hope that you will join me again.

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We Need the Lord and Each Other

If someone asked you to describe the Lord and your experience of Him, What would you say?

How does that influence your interactions with others and how you respond to pain and difficulties?

Shadows are the result of something blocking the light. There are many things in life that cast a shadow on our faith and make us question the Lord’s goodness, His power, His timing, or His wisdom. Roman’s 8:38-39 tells us that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Yet, Satan wants us to live in the dark places, and to have shadows cast on God’s love and faithfulness so our faith is shaken and we question God. Satan wants us to tremble with fear and feel very alone.

The Lord desires us to fully know His love and to share that love and build community. He wants us to be empathetic, authentic, transparent, and real about what we feel and need. He wants His love to touch our pain and to help us grow. He wants us to grow to know Him and His love more deeply. He wants us to pour out our hearts to Him (Psalms 62:8).  He also wants us to make confession of our sin to one another (James 5:16).  He desires us to live in a community of love.

When we as Christians are limited in our experience of knowing the reality and magnitude of God’s love, we fail to share and express it. We all need the Lord, the blessings of His love and grace, and we need each other, but how should this flow and work in life? And, more importantly, is it happening to the extent and in the way the Lord desires, or do some changes need to take place?

The Word of God is filled with people struggling with sin, pain, and fear in real life issues. We read about people who cry out to the Lord in desperation like Elijah (1 Kings 17-19), Ezra, and the Israelites (Ezra 10), and David (Psalms 42, 43, 69). People who authentically confessed their weakness, sin, and neediness. It is in those places in the Bible, in those places of authenticity and transparency, that I feel safe and not alone. I feel a level of community with them because they share their hurt,  and raw emotions with the Lord and with others.

We know that we are a sinful, rebellious people living in a world filled with pain, sickness, evil, and trouble. We know there is a cavernous emptiness within. It is in Jesus that we find grace and acceptance.

Yet, there are so many lonely Christians with dark secrets that they fear sharing. So many afraid to step into our churches because, more than being preached at or judged, they need to feel love and acceptance. There are so many hurting people; deeply wounded by abandonment, rejection, lies, betrayal, loss, grief, death, living in depression, or with another mental illnesses. There are many whose stories are walled off within because of fear, they live in self-protection. People who see plastered on smiles and hear “I’m fine” and wonder, “what’s wrong with me?” People who hear verses handed out like prescriptions, spiritual Band Aids slapped ineffectively on gaping wounds. People who hear Christian platitudes; the way it should be, but know that this isn’t their experience in life or their experience of God. These are people who desperately need to feel and know the love of Jesus in real, practical ways, but they are not finding it.

These are issues I want to discuss, issues I want to look at. You see, I have been on both sides of this problem. I have been the needy, desperate one feeling totally alone and misunderstood, as I felt when I was deep in my depression and people questioned my faith. And I have been that Christian, who has shared an unhelpful Christian platitude and walked away not hearing the pain of another. I think that most of us can probably say we have experienced both sides.

Many of us have been needy and desperate at some time. We have needed empathy, understanding, or a listening ear from a caring person, or maybe something more tangible. Yet we may have struggled to feel safe in asking to have that need met, and so have been left alone in our pain. We fear sharing the reality of our neediness, we question the safety in being fully seen and heard just as we are. Many of us know the pain of loneliness, neediness, or just wanting to know acceptance and have belonging. We feel left out, not good enough or just separate and different.

And many of us also have given out a verse when a listening ear was needed.

What can we as people and we as a part of the “Christian community” do? The change begins in us as individuals.

My next three posts will focus on loneliness, acceptance, belonging, Christian platitudes, and spiritual Band-Aids. I hope you will join me each week.

The Path of Surrender for God’s Greater Glory

Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me, yet not my will, but yours be done.”  Luke 22:42

Beautiful surrender to the will of God for the glory of God, that is what Jesus shows us there in the Garden of Gethsemane. He shares the sorrow and agony of His heart, asks for a different path, but surrenders to the wisdom of His Father’s will.

Oh, Jesus, what lessons we can learn from You there in the Garden.

1. Jesus took the pain and deep distress He felt and shared the reality of it.

Jesus took with Him His three dearest friends, His inner circle. Jesus did not hide behind a facade of “I’m fine,” or “Hey, I got this one guys, no pain, no gain.” He was real about how He felt, He didn’t hide His agony.

When you are in agony and distress what do you do? Do you go to Your Heavenly Father and speak to Him out of the place of your desperation, out of the cellar of your soul?

Our Father in Heaven wants us to freely come to Him with our pain, worry, fear, and hurt. He wants us to know His presence and to trust Him with our needs and our concerns.

2. Jesus prayed with earnestness, yet He prayed with a great desire to bring His Father glory.

His prayer was a prayer of surrender, “not my will but your’s be done.”

Jesus asked for the cup to be taken from Him, but He left the decision in His Father’s hands.

I think the difference here, at least sometimes in my prayers, is that I tell the Father how to accomplish my will. And all the fear in my heart, all of my worry, all of my inner distress shadows the light of God’s love. Jesus knows the Father’s love, He does not question it. And Jesus speaks to the Father out of a place of deepest humility. When we come in humility, it no longer is about getting our way, it’s about God getting the glory.

3. Jesus lives up to His name Prince of Peace even when He is arrested. He lives and dies to bring glory to God.

Jesus gets up from praying and soon His betrayers are at hand. He sees the army of men coming to get Him. He doesn’t become alarmed or put up a fight. He remains peaceful. In fact, when an ear is sliced off of one of the soldier’s that has come for Him, Jesus takes time to heal the man’s ear.

When I get up from prayer and I sometimes leave feeling unsure of what will happen. I leave with fear, I question my Heavenly Father’s love, I leave that place in a mode of self-protection. It still is all about me and I want to fight for what I want. But, not so with Jesus.

I am sure Jesus left His place of prayer knowing He was going to the cross, knowing He would face separation from His Father, and that He would carry the heavy burden of the sins of the world. Yet, He left empowered to bring God glory. He didn’t self-protect and fight against the coming cross. He wasn’t interested in taking revenge by fighting or hurting the soldiers. He only stood strong in His Father’s love and walked peacefully in a continued ministry toward the mission of greater grace.

4. Jesus goes with the soldiers to His trial and does not argue, He let’s Truth be truth. 

Do you want to fight for your way? As I have said, there are sometimes that I do.

Fighting with words or with power is the way of fear, but “perfect love casts out fear.” And Jesus walks in perfect love, fully trusting His Father’s will to be best. He goes to the trial, He goes to the cross as “a lamb to the slaughter.” He has no need to defend Himself. He knows Who He and Whose He is.

5. Jesus endures the agony of the cross still filled with love. 

I don’t know about you, but I have trouble dealing with pain, and my natural response when I am in pain is not often one of love.

But Jesus, even on the cross, responds with love. He sees the evil, He feels the heaviness of the sin, and He prays. He prays for His Father to forgive them, “for they know not what they do.” Jesus has sympathy and empathy, He again shows love and gives grace even there on the cross. He surrenders to the way of the Father even then. He lives out love and showers us with grace even today.

6. Jesus’ body is taken to the tomb and on the third day He rises from the dead. 

He surrendered to the point of the cross and death and then comes forth from the tomb.  HE IS RISEN!  And all glory goes to our Heavenly Father for giving us Jesus as our substitute.

Only Jesus could surrender in humility and love for the purpose of grace and glory.

Only Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, could be slaughtered for our sin, risen to give us His righteousness and hope everlasting.

All our faith and hope must be in Him for He alone is our Savior. He walked the path of surrender to give all glory to the Father. He is our perfect example. 

Lord, help us to follow in the way of our Suffering Servant. Help us to walk the path of surrender as we know the magnitude of Your love. May all glory be given to You. Amen. 

Have a blessed Resurrection Day as you remember all that Jesus has done for us. 

Growing in Grace through Watching and Praying


We are quickly approaching Easter, and now especially, we should be living mindful of what Jesus did for us and be thinking about the importance of His words.

There in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus tells His disciples to “watch and pray” as He goes on to talk to His Father. A command of three words that are so important and so easily overlooked as we read the account of the days leading up to His death. Watch and pray are not words just for the disciples there with Jesus then but they are words for all of life for each one of us.

We find those words “watch and pray” repeated in many places in the Bible, here are a few:

Matthew 26:41 “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Jesus words to the disciples.)

Luke 21:34, 36 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap… Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

Matthew 24:42 “Therefore keep watch because you don’t know on what day your Lord will come.”

1 Peter 4:7 “But the end of all things is at hand, therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. “

Jesus knew the danger for the disciples that night, and He knows the danger that lurks around us in the here-and-now. He wanted His disciples to be watchful, to be alert, with the same kind of vigilance as a guard on night-watch, and He asks the same of us.

1 Peter 5:8 tells us to be vigilant also.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.”

Jesus knows how weak we are, how easily distracted we are, how weary we become. He wants us to be disciplined and focused.

Genesis 4:7 speaks of sin waiting at our door. Temptation can so easily trap us when we are unaware. We fail to see how it lures us and holds us in bondage.

We become distracted:

  • by the things of this world, material things that flash across a screen, or items we see in magazines or even things we see that our neighbors and friends have.
  • by a job, or a relationship that attract us, maybe it’s the money or what we can get from that person.
  • by our personal neediness. We become absorbed in our thoughts and feelings, our needs and wants.

In all of these distractions we lose sight of Him and His will and desires for us.

Satan can so easily lure our attention away and draw us into temptation. It may even be something that may seem “good.” Satan helps us to believe that it can be ours and that it will satisfy us. He may lead us to believe that we deserve it and God just doesn’t love us enough to give it to us.

Jesus knows our weakness. He tells us to be alert so we don’t get caught in that trap. Don’t open the door to the sin waiting on the other side.

We need to watch and while we are being vigilant and on guard we need to also be praying.

Colossians 4:2 tells us, “Devote yourselves to prayer and be watchful.”

We need the Lord to give us strength, to help us endure, we need His presence with us, we need Him to guide us every step of the way in this life here on earth. We need to have a connection with the Lord that is constant so that we may grow in grace.

Prayer is the conduit that we use to call down His power to take effect here on earth. When we remain prayerful our faith is firmed up and we are empowered to resist the devil. Without the Lord we are weak and in grave danger. When we are in connection with the Lord we are able to see the way of right and wrong. We are better able to detect the temptations that come our way and seem so harmless.

The Lord tells us to watch and pray because He loves us and wants us:

  • to keep our hearts pure and apart from being with Him we cannot do that.
  • to wait on Him for His timing so that He can give us His best in each situation.
  • to be filled with peace, to have calmness, to have a quiet spirit.
  • to enter into quiet communion with Him, and declutter our minds so we can be fully present.
  • to give Him what is on our hearts, tell Him our neediness and our desperation.
  • to wait for Him to speak, to give guidance, to encourage, to direct, or to give answer.
  • to wait with our ears open to hear His voice, not distracted by the noise of the world.
  • to pay attention so that nothing may hinder us in our walk with Him.
  • to pray so He can give us daily victory, moment-by-moment.

We have to be intentional, growing in grace takes practice and devoted discipline.

So, once again, as we somberly remember the road to Calvary, let’s also remember to be faithful in watching and praying. It is such an important request from our Savior’s lips and the words are all the more precious because they are said for our safe-keeping and spoken in His amazing love for us.

Oh thank you, Jesus, for Your amazing grace. Empower us Lord to watch and pray. 

Growing in Grace through Celebration: Worship and Praise

Does your relationship with God cause you to celebrate?

Does knowing His presence in your life lead you to praise and worship?

What is your response to His goodness to you?  Does it go by overlooked?

Those are tough questions. And sadly enough they often do not evoke the answers we want. There are so many factors in life that seem to squelch our celebration of having such an awesome Lord. Some of the following may be what you would include in your list.

  • the mundane hours of each and every day
  • the pain, physical or emotional
  • the worry that weighs on our hearts and minds
  • the disappointment that slaps you in the face at every turn
  • the overwhelm of all there is to do
  • the expectations and obligations that come our way from others in our lives

One by one these pile up, and as the stack grows taller it blocks the light of the Lord’s shining glory. Satan wants us to get bogged down in the muck and mire of life and look out only to see our problems and frustrations.  He wants us to grow in hopelessness.

It seems that all too often our eyes focus on the temporal, we see the here and now and do not live with an eternal perspective. We see the glass half empty. We miss the reality of who God is in the midst of all that weighs us down.

Unless the Lord does some magnificent and spectacular miracles we often miss His presence. Our focus is narrow and the overload of seeming negatives keep us from having a heart of celebration.

The Word tells us that the Lord’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). Consider these:

  • a new sunrise
  • a mug of steaming hot coffee made the way you like it
  • a warm bed to sleep in
  • the chirping birds
  • the frolicking squirrels playing in the backyard
  • a safe road trip to the store or across country
  • food your fridge and pantry
  • conversation with a loved one
  • your very next breath

There are so many reasons to praise God in our everyday lives. We only need to look into the moments of our lives and allow ourselves to be led to glorify the Lord.

We can worship and glorify Him with our words of gratitude, with declarations of praise, with recognition of His goodness, and with realization of His work in our lives.

We can show our joy in Him and really celebrate the life He blesses us with by choosing to honor Him with obedience. We can respond to the truths of His Word by choosing to live fully for Him and being intentional about it. Living for Him brings Him glory!

There are many examples of praise, worship, and celebration in the Scriptures. One of my favorites is in Acts 3:8. Here we read of a man responding to God’s goodness with “walking and leaping and praising God.”

Many of the Psalms are filled with celebration and worship. Psalm 34 is filled with many reasons to praise. It is a wonderful tribute to God’s goodness. This Psalm begins:

“I will always thank the LORD, I will never stop praising Him, I will praise Him for what He has done, may all who are oppressed listen and be glad. Proclaim with me the LORD’S greatness, let us praise His name together.”

This psalm goes into describing many reasons to praise the Lord. Sometimes when my praise bank seems to be dwindling to empty, and complaining is constantly on my lips, I realize I don’t have the words of worship within me. It is then that I turn to Scripture and read aloud the praises that men and women of old have written. At times I make the Psalm my own by inserting my own words, my own reasons for praise.

Verse 8 of this Psalm tells us, “find out for yourself how good the LORD is.”  Your day may not seem good, maybe all of life seems to be disappointing, yet that does not change Who God is.

This Psalm was written by David who was constantly being chased and having his life threatened by King Saul. David was always on the run, trying to hide and find safety. He was always depending on the Lord for protection and deliverance from his troubles. He found the Lord’s goodness to be real even in the midst of all his problems.

Psalm 145 is another Psalm of praise by David which is worthy of looking at as we discuss celebration. Again, surrounded by trouble and often filled fear, David found reasons to celebrate Who God is. He praised God for:

  • His mighty acts
  • His abundant goodness
  • His righteousness
  • His grace
  • His compassion
  • His rich love
  • His trustworthiness
  • His way of satisfying desires
  • His watching over those who love Him

So many reasons to celebrate!

David is said to have worshiped God “with all his might.” In 2 Samuel 6:14, we read of how David danced before God in public. David’s worship was without reservation.

How about you? How will you celebrate God today? What reasons can you find to praise Him and give worship to His name. We grow in grace as we come to know Lord more anrow in knowing Him we find more and more reasons to celebrate Who He is!

Next week we will look at Growing in Grace through Watching and Praying. I hope you will join me again to find out why this is so important.

 

Growing in Grace through Meditation, Reflection, and Journaling

Are your growing in grace as you take time to reflect on God’s Word?

Do you see the relevance of His Word for your life as you read it?

Do you feel yourself taking it to heart and really living out the truth nuggets that stand out to you?

Last week we talked about the importance of soul friendships in our lives to help us grow in our relationship with the Lord. There is so much growth that can occur as we share with a spiritual friend about the Lord, His Word, and His work in our lives. But we need to be intentional in our daily lives to grow in grace through being in the Word and in being alone with God.

We can take time to read our Bibles, check the box on our to-do list that says “done” to us, and move on with our busy days. I sadly have to admit I have done that. And although I could say that I was reading the Bible, I took nothing into my heart and it had very little effect on my life.

So what can you do? How can you make it matter? How does this growing in grace stuff really happen?

I think it is really important to come to the Word wanting to know the Lord more, wanting the Holy Spirit to lead you and to give you awareness of what He wants to show you and teach you. I haven’t always done that. I suppose it is because it means slowing down, being quiet, and stopping to pause as He leads. All too often my mind is racing ahead to my to-do list.

The Lord knows our hearts, our minds, and our lives. He knows where we need wisdom, knowledge, conviction, and guidance. So, I am trying to slow down more and more. I am taking to time to really meditate and reflect on the Word as I read. This means I choose a portion of the Scriptures to read, read it through, and slowly take in what is being said.

I find it helpful to compare translations of the Bible as I am reading. I especially like to look at the Amplified version alongside a New International Version or an English Standard version.

Many times I take time to rewrite some of the Scripture I am studying. I may rewrite it in my own words just to help me personalize it or oftentimes I write it into a prayer. I read a few verses and realize I want the Lord to work that in my heart and life and I turn it into a prayer.

Recently I was reading in Acts 11 and came to verse 23, I read:                                                                                      “When he arrived and saw what grace (favor) God was bestowing upon them, he was full of joy; and he continuously exhorted (warned, urged, and encouraged) them to all cleave unto and remain faithful to and devoted to the Lord with [resolute and steady] purpose of heart.” (emphasis mine) 

Immediately I thought, I want that (the portion in bold in the above passage). I rewrote it into a prayer asking the Lord to help me to cleave to Him and to be faithful and devoted with a resolute and steady purpose of heart. The words of that verse perfectly declared what my heart yearns for in my relationship with the Lord. I actually didn’t write this prayer in my journal instead I just wrote it in my Bible near the verse.

As I read there are often keywords that stand out to me. Words that I need better understanding of, or words or phrases that just touch my heart and I want to know more. Sometimes I use my Concordance to compare the words in some other verses, and other times I research meanings in a Bible dictionary or other Bible helps.

There are also times when those keywords stand out, that I realize it is truly the Holy Spirit shining a light into the dark crevices of my heart where I have hidden sinful attitudes and thoughts. At those times the Spirit convicts me and leads me to repentance. I recognize that I am doing what the Lord commands me not to do, or I am not responding in the loving way I should. And once again, the Word leads me to prayer. I talk with the Lord about why I am struggling with this issue, that person, or both. I ask for forgiveness from Him, and for help with the person or issue, whether that be for help to forgive or accept or to just know what He wants me to do.

When I slow down and take time to reflect on the Word, I relate it to my own feelings, actions, behaviors, attitudes, and situations. I think about what I may need to change, what areas I need to grow in, and seek guidance as to how to go forward. There are so many lessons in the Word. We can take the key words and phrases to heart and chew on them all day long taking them with us in our minds and thinking on them as we move through our day consciously aware of what the Lord is teaching us.

Of course, since I love to write, much of this process is recorded in my journal. I want to remember what I am learning as I read the Word. I want to remember what the Holy Spirit shows me about me that I have been blind to. I want to be able to see the Lord at work on my behalf helping me to grow in grace as He answers my prayers. I write key verses, I write my thoughts and my questions. And I write my prayers.

I use to write out all of my prayers years ago, but after a while I felt like I was just repeating some of the same things and it became a chore. Yet, I knew I wanted to record my prayers. I felt stuck and was unsure what to do. I have since found that keeping a small booklet with prayer lists for the people I pray daily or frequently for works very well. As I read my Bible I find verses that seem to say exactly what I want to pray for those dear ones and I write these verses on that person’s page and pray through the verses as I bring their needs before the Lord.

I still record prayers in my journal but they are the prayers I personalize from the Word and prayers for things that I want the Lord to work on in my heart and life. I record prayers that come out of “the cellar of my soul.” I record my confessions of bad attitudes, and sinfulness, I write about my fears, my personal heartache, areas of neediness and hurt, and things relevant to that day that I want to give to the Lord.

Yes, this all takes time, and some days I get bogged down because I get frustrated but I am continuing to grow. I am learning and I am excited about the things the Lord is showing me and helping me with.

I have found a couple of books along the way that have been very helpful, I am sure there are many others you may be familiar with but these have led me in my learning.
1. Journal Keeping: Writing for Spiritual Growth by Luann Budd
2. Praying the Bible by Donald S. Whitney

The Lord desires that we come to know Him more and we do that through learning in His Word, and experiencing His presence in our daily moment-to-moment lives. I hope that you have found something here that will help you in your journey in growing in grace.

Next week we will look at Growing in Grace through Celebration: Praise and Worship.

Growing in Grace through Soul Friendships

Are you growing in grace?

Do you have friendships in your life that draw you closer to the Lord?

The most important goal in life as a believer in Jesus Christ is to grow in knowing Him more and becoming more like Him. So, if that is your goal in life, then it only stands to reason that you would desire to have friends with similar feelings and wants.

We end up with many different relationships in life, and there is a range to the depth of intimacy our relationships reach. The people you are closest to have the greatest influence on you and you on them. Their influence can be for good or for the worst. This helps us recognize why it is so important to make wise decisions or choices especially in our closest relationships. This is also why I asked if you have friendships that draw you closer to the Lord. Growing in grace should be a top priority and a soul friend can be a great help in that.

You may be wondering at this point what I mean when I say “soul friend.” Soul friend is a term I read about when I was doing a little personal studying on the spiritual disciplines. I was familiar with many of the disciplines mentioned, like meditation, prayer, study, solitude and silence, but I had not heard of that of “soul friendship.”

The following qualities are found in a soul friend, she or he:

  • has an intimate relationship with the Lord
  • lifts you up in prayer
  • shares honestly and truthfully with you
  • listens and empathises with you
  • helps you find your way to the Lord when you are distracted, frustrated, hurting, angry, or overwhelmed
  • helps you to hear and know the Lord’s truth about your situation

Mindy Caliquire says that a “spiritual friend” or “soul friend” helps us sit with God and helps us pay attention to Him.

We can be real with a soul friend, confess our problems, sins, share our needs, and be fragile enough to say ‘I need help.’ These kinds of friendships take time to form and develop, and often, I believe, they really come in answer to prayer.

I have been blessed with three soul friends in my life.  Three women who I have known varying lengths of time, but have grown deep with each because of our sharing. These friends do not know each other, they may have only heard me mention the others names. In each of these relationships our sharing with one another is all about honesty, asking probing questions, encouraging each other to seek wisdom, and praying for each other as we would pray for ourselves.

Each one of these three friends is a person I can share my deepest pain with. I can share the part of myself that I rarely tell anyone about. The pain that gets triggered at the most unexpected time, the pain that really makes no sense in the current situation but is all about the hurt of the past. I can be real and share the hurt I feel in a situation, or explain why I reacted. I can explain my reaction as it is connected to my pain, and they will know and connect with me in it. They will reassure me. And it works both ways, I know their inner conflicts and deep hurts, as well as their insecurities and I can be there for them.

Our conversations center around life, how we feel about life, what the Lord is teaching us, and where we are struggling. Our conversations always include how we can pray for each other, sharing Bible verses that touch our hearts, and giving God the glory for what He is doing.

None of us are squeaky clean, on the verge of perfection and knowing it all. We all are struggling in our own ways and we all need help for this journey called life.

We each need at least one soul friend in our lives. There are a couple of verses from God’s Word that come to mind as I share about soul friends. One is Proverbs 27:17:

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. 

A soul friend helps you grow in the things of the Lord, in learning about Him, in learning His Word, in learning about living in Christlikeness. Iron is sharpened.

The other verse is just a couple of verses further into chapter 17 of Proverbs at verse 19:

“Oil and perfume rejoice the heart; so does the sweetness of a friends counsel that comes from the heart.”

The “sweetness of a friends counsel,” words spoken in truth and with love are so sweet. Those words connect our hearts in very special ways and keep us coming back to one another for more support, encouragement, and help. And, more importantly, we find our soul friends leading us back to the love of the Lord, to His wisdom, and that is truly irresistable.

If you do not have a soul friend in your life right now, ask the Lord to show you who He desires you to have that kind of relationship with, and let Him lead you in it.  He can and will make it happen, because there is nothing He wants more than for us to be growing in knowing and loving Him as we enjoy His love in others. He wants us to be growing in grace. He answers these prayers in amazing ways! You won’t be disappointed.

Next post we will consider Growing in Grace through Meditation, Reflection, and Journaling.

A Look at Depression: Naomi

The darkness of grief and depression can smother out the light of any hope and faith we may have.

The story of Naomi and her grief and depression is found in the book of Ruth. Naomi was the wife of a man named Elimilech. Naomi and Elimilech had two sons, Mahlon and Kilion. This family lived in Bethlehem until a famine came to the land and they moved to Moab. There in Moab, the two sons married Moabite women. Mahlon married Ruth and Kilion married Orpah. In the years that followed first Naomi’s husband, Elimilech, died and then Naomi’s sons also died.

Imagine the sorrow in Naomi’s heart losing her husband and sons, and still being in a foreign country. Naomi and her daughters-in-laws lost their providers and protectors. They were suddenly vulnerable with no person to stand up for them or take care of them. Or so it seems when your faith has faded and you see no reason for hope. Naomi only knew bitterness in her heart and the hopelessness of an unknown future.

Naomi came to believe that the Lord was punishing her and blames Him for her sorrow. She grew very bitter. With nowhere else to turn she decided that she would go back to her home country. She was prepared to do the trip alone, but her daughter-in-law Ruth offered to go with. Naomi refused, but Ruth was insistent.

Reading this account of Naomi’s life made me realize how she totally missed the reality of the grief her daughters-in-law must be experiencing. She could only see and feel her own pain.

Yet, Ruth still wanted to go with Naomi, despite Naomi’s bitter attitude. And so the two women returned to Naomi’s home country and were greeted by the local women. Naomi told them not to call her by her name which means “pleasant” but instead to call her Mara which means “bitter.”

Naomi was very depressed. She couldn’t see anything but the darkness, she couldn’t feel anything but the pain within and only responded with blame towards the Lord.

Grief can bring despair and depression, and Naomi had a lot to grieve about, first losing her husband and then her two sons.

When we suffer pain and loss in life it is easy to feel tempted to blame God. It is common to question Him and ask “why.” We often don’t understand His purpose in allowing such deep sorrow in our lives.

My depression stemmed from sorrow that I had buried when I was young. The grief within was hidden away for many years until it was triggered by a friend losing her mom. Then my buried grief spilled out in endless tears and my deep depression became apparent.

The pain of loss, whether it is that of a husband, child, parent, grandparent, or close friend, can be devastating. When your heart is attached to a loved one, the separation of death feels unbearable.

I was able to work through my grief all those years later in therapy. I said goodbye and let the pain spill out for my loss. I also worked through the many issues that the loss had brought about.

My heart wanted the need for the one I lost to be filled with the nurturing love that had been taken away by death. I wanted it to be done my way. But God… yes, He had a different, better plan for me. And that was true for Naomi as well. The Lord brought a man named Boaz into Ruth’s life as she tried to get food for her and Naomi. Boaz ended up marrying Ruth and together they had a child. The Lord blessed them with new hope and new life.

The darkness of grief and depression can smother any hope and faith we may have. We just can’t see how anything good is possible in the midst of the pain. We lose sight of the Lord, the God of the impossible. But He can bring hope, He can heal our hearts and nurture us in our neediness.

Oh, I know the pain is not erased. But the Lord works in and through our pain to help us know Him and His love in greater and deeper ways.

Naomi learned of the Lord’s faithfulness. The Lord supplied her with a “kinsman”. He blessed Boaz and Ruth with a son, and so Naomi had a grandson. It is from this grandson, Obed, that the Messiah would come.

“Kinsman” in these verses of Ruth, is the Hebrew word  “goel” from the root word meaning “to redeem.” “The “goel” among the Hebrews was the nearest male blood relation alive… If anyone from poverty was unable to redeem his inheritance it was the duty of the kinsman to redeem it” (Bible Study Tools).

The Lord gave Ruth and Naomi someone to redeem their inheritance. And through the birth of Obed, God has given us a Redeemer also. Jesus has redeemed our inheritance, in Him we have eternal life and everlasting hope.

Grief and depression affect many of us during the course of our lives, but in Christ there is help and hope. We only have to turn to Him. And as Sheila Walsh says, we only need to pray to Him, to call to Him out of the “cellar of our souls” and tell Him all that we feel. He will hear us and meet us there. He will bring hope and light in the darkness. If you are going through grief and depression, I pray that you find hope in Him.

 

A Look at Depression: Hannah

A heart of desperation is what we find in Hannah when we read her story in 1 Samuel 1.

Hannah lived in her home with her husband, Elkanah, as well as with his other wife, Peninnah and her children. Hannah had to share her husband with another woman and that woman’s children who were fathered by her own husband. How hard would that be?

And as if that isn’t bad enough, as if you wouldn’t already have a tendency to feel jealousy in your heart just because of what your husband shared, even as far as feelings for his other wife, there were also the children.

Peninnah was able to have children, and Hannah was not. The Lord had closed Hannah’s womb for some reason unknown to her and Elkanah. Hannah was desperate, she wanted children more than anything else. Month after month, year after year, she waited, hoping to become pregnant, but it didn’t happen just then.

Elkanah’s love, Penninah’s having children, and Hannah’s desire for children all became points of rivalry between these women. Peninnah taunted Hannah constantly reminding her of the fact that she had children and Hannah didn’t. It was obvious to Peninnah that Elkanah loved Hannah more than herself and it pushed her to rub in the reality of Hannah’s childlessness even more, causing more and more pain to Hannah.

It seemed that there was nothing to soothe Hannah, she was desperate. The pain of her infertility and the constant taunting sent her into deep depression. Hannah cried and cried, she suffered from loss of appetite, she was brokenhearted.

Have you ever felt desperation?

It is a feeling that seems to overwhelm you fully. You can only think about the emotional pain you feel and the unmet need or desire that seems to be constantly out of reach.

Infertility is only of many situations that can lead to desperation and depression. There are many single people desperate to be loved and to be married. There are many jobless men and women desperate to find employment to support them and their family.

When desperation goes on and on for weeks, months, and into years, one begins to feel so defeated and hopeless. Life seems impossible. And that situation can only be made worse if you are constantly bombarded by another flaunting that they have what you do not.

Our personal deep inner pain only becomes bigger and deeper when we see others having what we want. Whether it be children, a good job, or health, it only hurts more to see others living our dream. It makes us wonder more why we are left without it.

Hannah’s husband saw her deep sadness. He wanted her to be happy. He loved her whether she had children or not. But she knew in her heart the disgrace of not having children and there was nothing that could comfort her. Elkanah’s is not the only one who saw Hannah’s brokenheartedness. The Lord saw her pain also.

Psalm 34:19 says,

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Yet, when we are hurting we wonder, ‘where is God?’ There are many books written on this subject, and in the books of the Bible we see many men and women suffering greatly. And at times we see the Lord change the circumstances, or answer the prayer immediately in just the way the person requests. But that is not always true. Sometimes we must wait… and wait.
There is a song that I knew years ago, but only remember one line from it right now. This line has carried me through pain and desperation because it points me in the right direction. The line I am speaking of says this, “When you can’t see His hand trust His heart.”

I know, those words do not give you what you long for right this very minute in terms of the money, the job, or a child or whatever it is. Yet, the reality of truth is that God is a God of love. His heart is full of love!  It is this exact love that made Him send Jesus into this world to die for us and give us the opportunity to believe and be saved. It may seem to us at times that God is cruel, or the things He does just do not make sense, and we wonder why He does the things He does. Why must we wait? Why don’t things turn out the way we think is best? We have to remember that God is our loving parent, our Heavenly Father, and He knows what is best. I know all too often, that is not what we want to hear. We just want Him to make life easier and give us what we want.

I have learned that when I look to Him and trust Him to give me His best, His perfect gift in His perfect timing, it is always much better than what I thought I wanted or needed at the time.

So in the midst of our brokenheartedness, our desperation, or our depression, we must turn to the Lord and say, “Lord give me Your best, I trust Your heart of love for me.” And we must wait on Him to meet us with it in His perfect timing. We must trust His heart of love to give us the best gift for us.

He is with us in our pain and knows exactly what the longings of our hearts are. He also knows that we need the Giver more than the gift, and sometimes we lose sight of that. So today look to the Giver, our God of love, and tell Him of your desperation, and ask Him to give you His best answer. Tell Him you want His best for your life and wait patiently trusting His heart of love. He will not disappoint you!

 

A Look at Depression: Elijah

DEPRESSION CAN BLIND US TO GOD’S LOVE!

Elijah is another man in the Bible who suffered with depression. 1 Kings 19:4-19 shares the details of what Elijah experienced.

Elijah’s depression struck him after he had had a mountain-top experience with the Lord. He had prayed and asked the Lord to prove Himself as God and the Lord did just that in a miraculous way. The people were in awe. You can read specifically about this highpoint in Elijah’s life in 1 Kings 19:16-39.

It was following this that a woman named Jezebel, a wicked queen of that time, began to threaten Elijah’s life and Elijah ran scared. He literally ran for more than eighty miles. He fled to Beersheba and then went deep into the wilderness. There he crawled under a broom tree, exhausted and feeling great despair. He cried out to the Lord and asked the Lord to let him die.

Often in the depths of depression, people lose hope to the point of wanting to end their life. The sadness becomes overwhelming. And all of life can weigh you down.

The feelings of not wanting to live life can consume you. It is especially important during these times to have the support of a Christian counselor, a medical doctor, or a psychiatrist to help keep you safe. But beyond that, above all, it is important to remember who God is, and to remember His love for you.

Elijah lost sight of what the Lord had just done for him and he ran in fear, not consulting God for help, direction, or protection. He forgot about God’s presence and love.

Sometimes when life feels so heavy, we become very overwhelmed and only look inward. We live consumed with our feelings; drowning in our pain, in our needs, and in our fears. We become blind to the Lord reaching to us.

I know in my depression I was consumed with the fear of not having what I needed, I never realized how a death of a loved one early in my life, the loss of that very special relationship, had affected me so deeply. I had buried the pain and loss. The fear of losing again, the fear of not having the love I needed overwhelmed me. The grief I had not dealt with buried me under its heaviness. I didn’t see how the Lord’s love could meet me and satisfy me. I only could feel the desperation of my heart.

Right now, as I look back at that time I realize how my lack of seeing God’s love propelled me into greater hopelessness. I only need to look at the Lord’s response to Elijah to realize the depth of God’s love for him to begin to know the reality of it for me.

It seems the most human reaction to Elijah’s behavior would have been frustration, like, “Are you kidding me?” It seems like the Lord could have been a bit angry with him, “how could you forget what I just did for you? How could you forget to even call on Me?”

But no, that is not God’s response at all, instead the Lord meets Elijah in his neediness, in his deep exhaustion and the Lord cares for him. He lets Elijah sleep. He gives him food and drink.

What love! I needed that kind of non-judgemental, ever-present kind, gracious love. I needed someone to see the pain and fear within as I journeyed through my depression. But I missed it for a long time.

The Lord saw Elijah’s need and met him in it. And the Lord did see my need too, and He met me in my need as well. It just took me a long time to recognize Him in the middle of my anguish, because I was looking for a different answer.

The Lord sees the deepest needs of our hearts in a very real way. He knows the pain, the loss, the emptiness, the fear, whatever we are experiencing, He knows. And He is here. He comes to us with His loving presence and the tenderness of His care. He works to restore our brokenness. He picks up the pieces of our hearts and our lives, and puts them back together with the glue of His love. He shows us the way out. He gives us guidance and purpose. He doesn’t rush us but helps us to see Who He is, He helps us to see that He is all we need. He is the One Who fills our hearts with joy, and wraps us in His peace. And above all He holds us in His love.

What more could one want or need? Yet, our hearts get set on a desire, or on something we feel we can’t live without and we miss the Lord’s love. The only love that can fill our emptiness in a perfect way.

There are so many lessons to be learned from Elijah’s story, but the one that stands out to me the most is that our God is a personal God full of tender love. And it is in that love that He meets us in our pain, despair, and anguish. He comes alongside and helps us to see. He helps us to see Who He is and that He is for us and that is one of the most important things one needs to know in the loneliness and desperation of depression.

The Lord gives our hearts a reason to hope in a time when there doesn’t seem to be any hope. We must cling to the hope of His everlasting love and to the reality of His presence. He is with us through it all and He is faithful!

Next week I will continue to look at depression in the Bible in the story of Hannah.