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Peace in the Storm

Laurie Shoquist Miller, blogger at God-Living with Chronic Illness, founder and leader of the Facebook encouragement and support group God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness, and a dear friend, shared this post on our group’s Facebook page, where we are doing Rachel Wojo’s June study Perfect Peace: Planting My Eyes on Jesus. With her permission, I am blessed to share it with my readers.

A while back, on a particularly stormy day, I was supposed to take a plane ride for a destination which I can’t even remember today. I do, however, distinctly remember how black and thick with condensation the clouds were, and how scared I was to think of flying through a storm like this one.

I’m not really a fan of flying, but I can get the job done with a little dramamine. But when you add in thick, black clouds, lightning, and heavy turbulence, I need something far stronger than dramamine to get through it.

I’ll never forget this particular airplane ride because as we took off there was nothing we could do to avoid this storm. The plane just kept going up, up, up, right into the dark, thick clouds that soon surrounded us. The pilot continued to go up, up, up through the sporadic lightning and rain that came down in torrents upon us. I knew we were in for a bad time as the plane shifted in mid-air with the powerful turbulence.

To my amazement, within what seemed like only a few minutes, we were bursting right through those dark, heavy clouds into the airspace above them, and all I could see was sunshine floating on clouds which looked like a bed of cotton balls below us that seemed to continue on forever. The darkness, lightning, and torrential rain were gone, almost as if they had never existed.

I learned a valuable lesson that day: Even though we might be in the thick of a storm where all seems lost and fear reigns in our hearts, God lives above those storms in our lives. God looks down upon the storms, and HE REIGNS over them. Even though they seem huge, and we’re not sure how or when they will end or what damage they will do, we must always remember that the God who loves us dearly also reigns supremely over the storms in our lives.

God will give us strength and peace to get through the darkest and most difficult of times as we REMEMBER that He still reigns over the storms. To access this strength and peace, we must FIX OUR EYES ON THE TRUTHS that He is Lord of the flood, and that it is actually His glory that thunders over the mighty waters. We must REMEMBER that God’s power and strength are bigger than the biggest storm we are experiencing and that He will carry us through.

“The voice of the Lord is over the waters;

the God of glory thunders,

the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.

The voice of the Lord is powerful;

the voice of the Lord is majestic….

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;

the Lord is enthroned as King forever.

The Lord gives strength to his people;

the Lord blesses his people with peace.”

(Psalm 29:3-4, 10-11 NIV)

During the very next storm, when your child (or grandchild) is crying out in fear at the thick rain and powerful lightning, remind her that the booming sound which follows the lightning is actually the glory of God thundering majestically over the storm (see Psalm 29: 3-4). Read the above verses to her and reassure her that she does not need to be afraid because God is powerful over the storm. Have her draw a picture of the storm, and while she draws, help her memorize these verses so that these truths will help her next time, too. During future storms, make it a game to see who can be the first to correctly quote these verses.

Let this song remind you of these truths during the storms of life:

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A New Month, A New Topical Bible Reading Plan

For a couple years, I have been using the monthly topical Bible reading plans published by Rachel Wojo, and this month’s plan Perfect Peace: Planting My Eyes on Jesus is especially appropriate to where I’ve been walking in recent months. My desire is to do at least one blog post per week during June sharing some of the things I’m learning from this study. If anyone is interested in doing this study with me, here is Rachel’s June Bible reading plan.

In the midst of a time of trying to find answers to explain recent irregularities in my blood tests, walking in God’s peace has been a challenge. It’s been a daily battle not to give in to fear. Last July and again in February of this year, my alkaline phosphatase levels have been elevated. My doctor suspected this was due to a new bone problem, so she ordered a full body bone scan with contrast. The test revealed no new bone disease that would explain the lab results.

Then, she felt the next most probable problem was disease or obstruction in the liver or pancreas. So I had a barium and IV contrast CT-scan done of my liver and pancreas done last Friday. This was especially scary, because my doctor had mentioned the possibility of cancer. But again, I was given a clear report of health from this test. This was a huge relief, but at this point we still do not know what is behind the elevated levels.

Next Friday, I’ll be taking the next step in the diagnostic process, an appointment with my gastroenterologist to discuss the results of the CT-scan in more detail and to schedule a colonoscopy. And the following Friday, I’m scheduled for a bone density test, which my doctor said is due and should be done to rule out the one other possible area of trouble with my bones.

Unlike most of the health issues I’ve faced in the past, this new one isn’t causing any outward problems. But there has been a battle – a spiritual battle in my mind against fear. So this month’s topical study on the peace we find in God’s presence is especially fitting.

Day 1: Psalm 29:1-11 (I’m using ESV throughout this study unless otherwise noted)

“The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.” Psalms‬ ‭29:3-4

‭‭The voice of the Lord – and His very presence – is above the waters that threaten our lives. This reminds me of the first part of Isaiah 43:2.

“When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you…”

Psalm 29 ends with these words. They are a great reminder that God is still on His throne, that He has been and continues to be in charge.

“The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!” Psalm ‭29:10-11‬ ‭

Father, today I remind myself that these latest health problems I’m facing haven’t taken You by surprise. You are above these choppy waters I’m going through, still reigning on Your throne of grace and love. Thank You for a doctor who won’t let this go until she rules out all of the major issues that could be causing this irregularity in my blood work. Thank You that the two most likely and most serious problems have now been ruled out. Continue to teach me how to take hold of Your peace and rest in You as I walk through this storm in my life. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

Being Thankful Is a Choice

Matthew Henry, the eighteenth-century Puritan preacher and Bible scholar whose commentary is still widely used today, told a story of a time when he was attacked and his wallet taken. Knowing that it was his duty to give thanks in everything, he meditated on this incident and recorded the following in his diary:

“Let me be thankful, first, because he never robbed me before; second, because although he took my purse, he did not take my life; third, because although he took all I possessed, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”

God calls us to give thanks in every situation we face, and in these words Matthew Henry was obeying this command. The “attitude of gratitude” is a clear command and expectation of God. Intentional gratitude causes use to see even the hardest of circumstances from a God-centered perspective.

There are several benefits of expressing gratefulness.

  • It pleases the Lord, who has instructed us to give thanks in everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
  • It brings us closer to God. Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!”
  • It changes our perspective of what we are walking through.
  • It motivates us to look for God’s purpose in our circumstance.
  • It is the path that leads to joy and peace.

Are you facing one or more turbulent, unsettled situations in your life? Take time today to practice intentional gratitude. Following Matthew Henry’s example, find at least three things you can choose to give thanks to God for in the midst of your circumstances.

Thanking God in the Midst of Uncertainty

Last Friday, I had an unusually healthy day. I woke up feeling well rested and with very little pain. After spending some time reading my Bible, my husband and I left for what I expected to be a routine doctor’s appointment.

At my last appointment a month earlier, my doctor had stopped both of my high blood pressure meds, after losing a few pounds had put my blood pressure in the ideal range. Today’s appointment was to see how I was doing after a month off these meds and to go over the results of a full body bone scan she had ordered when recent blood work had shown some abnormalities which she thought were related to my bone health. I received a great report in both of these areas. My blood pressure was still in the ideal range and the bone scan ruled out the bone problems she was most concerned about.

After she went over the positive results, my doctor asked and I answered a long list of questions concerning my health. Yes, I had been purposely trying to lose weight. No, I wasn’t having any digestion problems. No, I wasn’t having a problem with bloating or abdominal pain. No unusual weakness or fatigue.

In essence, my doctor was trying to rule out all the things that could have caused the abnormality in my blood work, which she now told me was even worse with the last lab results. She ordered new blood work and talked about some possibilities of what might be going on. Basically, she had ruled out just about everything that would explain the worsening results except for major problems with my liver or pancreas, mentioning cancer as one of the very real possibilities.

I came home that day suddenly facing a future filled with unknowns. Now that I have the results of last Friday’s blood work, which didn’t show any improvement, I know the next steps, a CT-scan of my liver and pancreas and a bone density test, both scheduled for next Friday. I’m taking the steps medically that seem wise at this point. But I’m placing even greater attention on taking what I’m facing to God’s throne of grace, asking for His mercy and grace in my time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

This past week, I’ve been doing lots of praying, asking God to help me see this situation from His perspective. And God reminded me that this situation was out of my control – but it wasn’t beyond His control. Nothing could touch my life without His allowing it, and anything He allows is for my good and His glory. I heard, “Don’t be afraid. Trust Me.”

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Last week, my blog post was on giving God thanks in everything we face, and I’ve been trying to take my own advice this week. How do you give thanks for a new health crisis? For a season filled with unknowns? It all comes down to truly knowing the God we serve. As Kay Arthur said, “God is in control, and therefore in EVERYTHING I can give thanks – not because of the situation but because of the One who directs and rules over it.

One of my favorite ways to give thanks in the midst of uncertainty is by writing Scripture-based prayers of gratefulness to God for who He is. The following passage was in my scheduled Bible reading for Wednesday, May 16 (the day I was writing the first part of this article, for a Thankful Thursday post with God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness), and it was a perfect Scripture to turn into a prayer of gratefulness.

Thank You, Lord, that You are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace. In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you will answer me. (Psalms 86:5-7 ESV)

This morning, as I began my regular quiet time by reading today’s devotional in Praying God’s Word Day By Day, by Beth Moore, the two-fold message I’ve been reflecting on all week was again repeated: This situation is under God’s control, and my focus right now needs to be on God’s character, especially on His steadfast love for me.  Beth’s Scripture prayer based on Psalms 116:15 was,

“Lord, sometimes my only answer will be that You are sovereign… One day I will have all the answers. But until then, I must trust that You have power and dominion over all things and that You know best. Help me to believe this even when I don’t feel it.”

And the other half of her message, based on Psalms 119:76-77, 81 was,

“May Your unfailing love be my comfort, according to Your promise to Your servant. Let Your compassion come to me that I may live, for Your law is my delight. My soul faints with longing for Your salvation, but I have put my hope in Your Word.”

Reading this led me to a shift in my Bible study plan for the day, as I did a topical study on God’s steadfast love. Here are a few of the verses that encouraged me this morning (all verses in ESV):

  • Turn, O Lord, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love.” 3‭‭Psalms‬ ‭6:4‬
  • But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.”‭‭ Psalms‬ ‭13:5‬ ‭
  • All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.”‭‭ Psalms‬ ‭25:10‬ ‭
  • Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love,” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭33:18‬ ‭
  • But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.” Psalms‬ ‭59:16-17‬ ‭‬‬

And as the last verse above encouraged me to do, I closed my quiet time by singing aloud of God’s steadfast love, using several songs including this one.

Thanking God When You Feel Like Complaining

Some days it’s easy to give thanks to God, but what about those days when life isn’t going well? When our circumstances make us feel overwhelmed, definitely not grateful. Are we still to give thanks on those days?

For example, perhaps you are in so much pain you lose patience and yell at your children simply because they’re acting like children. Or maybe you use the pain as an excuse to indulge in a huge bowl of ice cream and blow your diet once again.

Pain – whether physical or emotional – can cause us to easily fall back into old habitual patterns. We’ve made a commitment to God to change this bad habit and we’ve failed again. At such times, complaining comes naturally and gratitude is a struggle. Are we still supposed to give thanks to God? According to 1 Thessalonians 5:18, the answer is YES.

So how do we give thanks when we simply feel like complaining? For example, if I am struggling to break a bad habit and once again I blew it, how can I give thanks? Do I say, “Thank You, God, that I’m still struggling in this area”? Does that sound as ridiculous to you as it does to me? If our repeated failures cause us distress, they certainly don’t please God.

But even in a situation such as this, there is a Scriptural way to give thanks. We can give thanks to God based on His character and the promises of His Word.

For example, in the area above, where we are struggling to overcome a persistent sin, we could pray something like this:

Father, forgive me for failing again in this area of ___________. I receive Your forgiveness. Help me not to use this pain as an excuse to sin. Thank You that You have promised to finish the good work You have begun in me in this area. Thank You for the progress I’ve already made in overcoming this besetting sin in my life. And thank You for Your mercy and grace toward me when in the weakness of my flesh I fail again. I trust You to be faithful in finishing the work You have started in this area of my life. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Is there an area where you are struggling to give God thanks? If so, find a attribute of God’s character and a promise of God’s Word that fits your situation. And use this pattern of thanking God based on His character and the promises of His word to share a prayer of thanksgiving with us.

Learning to RALLY

Life with chronic illness – or any of a variety of the many trials we face as a part of life on this fallen earth – can be difficult. And poor choices that open a door to the enemy make it even harder.

I’m currently doing a study of Rally: A Personal Growth Bible Study, written by Barb Raveling, with a Facebook group I’m a part of. I highly recommend this book.

“Do you ever wish you could escape your problems? Just jump on a ship and sail across the ocean?” If your answer to this question is yes, this study may be just what you’re looking for.

From the back cover of the book:

“The Bible tells us to count it all joy when we encounter trials, but that’s hard to do. It’s easier when we remember that trials have the potential to help us grow. Unfortunately, we’re often so busy stressing and obsessing that we miss out on growing.”

The focus of this Scripture based study is on learning to “slow down, take a deep breath, and spend some time visiting with God about your current struggles.” Barb gives five steps God’s Word teaches us, which form the acronym RALLY.

R – Renew your mind.

A – Ask Him for help and accept what you need to accept.

L – Let go of your have-to-haves.

L – Let go of “if only” and make a plan.

Y – Yay God! Thank Him in all situations.

“Walking and Leaping and Praising God”

For the last couple months, I’ve been using Rachel Wojo’s monthly Bible Reading Challenges to put together a weekly blog post, daily adding a brief reflection and graphic on that day’s passage. I still plan to continue doing this, but as I was reading today’s passage from the Everything Beautiful Bible Reading Challenge, God opened my eyes to some encouraging truths and I felt compelled to go beyond my short entry for the weekly post and do a separate blog post.

Today’s Everything Beautiful passage is found in Acts 3:1-10 and tells of one of the miracles during the early years of the church. It took place at the gate of the temple that was called the Beautiful Gate, probably so named because of it’s ornate decorations, but commentators are divided about the actual location of the gate. It was apparently one of the gates or doors through which the Jewish men who came to worship entered, but it’s exact identity is of little importance. The emphasis in this passage is on what happened here.

It was the hour of prayer, and Peter and John were on their way into the temple when they saw a man who was lame from birth being carried to the entrance where he habitually spent his days asking alms of those who were entering the holy place.

Doubtless, Peter and John had seen him many times before, but this day was different. At the man’s request for alms, Peter stopped and spoke with him. The man was hoping for silver or gold to meet his material needs, and he probably had a sense of disappointment at Peter’s first words, “I have no silver and gold.” But Peter’s next words changed his life. “But what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

If you’ve been a Christian for many years, this is probably a familiar passage. But the Holy Spirit loves to give us new insights as we spend time daily in God’s Word. This morning, the words following the actual miracle stood out to me, “and (he) entered the temple with them (Peter and John).”

As I read these words, I sensed the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart that this was of great significance to this newly-healed lame man. So I did some research to confirm what I was sensing. If the lame man had never before been allowed to enter the temple, was this somehow a case of looking down on those who had less than perfect bodies? As a woman with a long list of chronic illnesses and disability as a result of an automobile accident and actively involved in ministry to others with chronic illness, this definitely had my attention.

Were the blind and lame restricted by God from entering the temple, forced to stay outside the temple gates because of their infirmities? Scripture does tell us (in Leviticus 21:16-23) that the blind and lame were excluded from serving as altar priests, presenting sacrifices and food offerings to God. But there are no specific verses that teach the physically disabled were to be banned from the tabernacle or temple. So we know this was not God’s plan.

Yet there are extra-biblical sources that seem to indicate this was common practice by the time of Jesus. The fact that the man was at the gate, which Peter and John were about to enter, and not inside the temple, seems to confirm this. If so, it came about either through Jewish tradition or the misreading of Scriptures such as Leviticus 21 and 2 Samuel 5:8, where David is quoted as saying on the day he was anointed as king, “The ‘blind and lame’ will not enter the house.” But this could not refer to the temple, since it had not been built at that time, and in context doesn’t even appear to refer to the physically blind and lame.

We do know, according to Matthew 21:14 and other passages, that Jesus healed the lame and blind in the temple. This shows they were at least able to go into the court of the Gentiles, and it along with the many healings during His earthly ministry show us Jesus’ heart was to include those who were afflicted or disabled.

If the lame and otherwise afflicted were actually banned from the temple, as many believe, when the previously lame man who had been healed entered the temple with Peter and John he was probably as excited about this as he was about being able to walk. No wonder he was “walking and leaping and praising God!

Today, regardless of what was true at the time this miracle took place, we can be confident that chronic illness neither separates us from God’s presence not makes us unqualified for ministry. Jesus’ death and resurrection instituted a new way of life, a life described in Hebrews 10:19-20 as “the new and living way.”

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,”

We are no longer under the law. We now live by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Romans 6:14 clearly states that we are not under the law but under grace. Why is this true? Because one of the things Jesus came to do was to fulfill the law (see Matthew 5:17).

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,” (Ephesians‬ ‭2:8‬ ESV)‬‬

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Galatians‬ ‭5:18‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

And that’s such good news that we, like the once-lame man of Acts 3, should be “walking and leaping and praising God!”