What to Do When Pain Overwhelms You

I’ve had a heavy heart the past week or so. I’ve been blaming gray winter clouds hiding the sun that I need to light me up and the beige walls of my home closing in as winter weather held our family hostage all last week.

And maybe they have something to do with it.

But the Lord brought it to my attention this morning that those things aren’t the true source of my disquieted spirit.

No, my sullen disposition lately is a product of my internalizing a lot of hard news instead of exporting it to the Lord.

I’ve struggled to get the savage murders of the 21 martyrs off my mind. The images of them in orange jumpsuits with knives to their throats are still all over the internet. And today I woke to news that at least 90 more Christians have been kidnapped. We know in our sickened guts which way that’s going to go…

A couple of high school kids drove a rural road two weeks ago and slammed into a tree. Dead. I drive by the gifts laid at the bottom of the giant oak every day. A headlight still hangs on a branch, and part of the bumper lies unclaimed a few feet away. My heart aches for those boys’ moms. My lungs burn when my imagination jumps to “What if my kids…”

Last night a 16 year old in a nearby community took to a highway I’ve driven many times and threw himself off a bridge into oncoming traffic below. Gone. Every overpass I drive under I hurt for his family… his classmates that had to digest the news this morning… his teachers who had to keep it together enough to guide teenagers through tragedy… and the driver who struck the boy as his body fell in darkness…

All of this news is devastating. Although none of it “personally” involves me, I am a person with a soul and emotions and so it goes that I am personally affected by each horrific story.

I think I may have forgotten this.

I took each piece of news as it came. I heard about it, I read about it, I saw images of it, I have tangible reminders of it. But I never processed it with the Lord because I never considered it mine. Sure, I uttered a plea for mercy, “Oh, God,” each time I learned of an event, but I never said, “Lord, this hurts my heart.” I didn’t sit with God and let Him minister to me.

So these pains piled up in my soul. I drove to a ministry this morning where I knew it was highly likely I would face more deadly news. Driving under overpasses and imagining what that boy who jumped must’ve been feeling before he leapt, God connected some dots for me.

I wasn’t even particularly thinking about Him as I drove until my heart got so heavy a sentence fell out of my mouth: “I can’t handle this!” The weight of the emotions inside had become too much. And the Lord responded in turn, “You’re not meant to. I will handle this.”

I marveled. Then I tried to decipher what, exactly, He meant. I had meant that I couldn’t handle the hurt in my heart anymore. And He knew what I had meant. So logic tells me what He meant in His response was I am not meant to handle all these emotions that are too big for me; He is supposed to handle them for me.

After giving me time to come to that conclusion, He continued, “Just bring me your heart.”

Ah. That’s all I’m supposed to do during heavy times. And I’ve known God long enough to know His solution would work. If I brought Him my battered heart, He’d tend to it.

To be honest with you, I didn’t have time to let the Lord stitch up my heart at that moment. I was walking into a war zone where Satan tries to do some of his best work by convincing women who have made mistakes that they are unlovable and that having an abortion will somehow solve their problems.

But I did have time for a quick band aid.

The Lord brought to mind a verse I had discussed with my kids a couple days earlier.

Colossians 3:15, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”

Paul was instructing the Colossians on how to live holy lives with one another. I told my girls we can learn three things from this verse.

  1. There is peace that comes from Christ, and God wants that peace to control us because
  2. God expects Christians to live at peace with one another.
  3. And when we don’t feel peace in our hearts, we can get some if we start giving thanks for things God has already done.

Although, linguistically, it doesn’t necessarily follow that thankfulness causes peace to rule in our hearts, I am certain these ideas were put next to each other for a reason. The ideas are connected in some way. And experience tells me, whether this verse does or not, that cultivating gratitude does lead to peace in my heart.

This mini lesson resurfaced in my mind this morning, and I asked myself, “Okay, am I going to do this and live this thing out or not? I have a choice right now, what’s it going to be?” Most days my heart rolls its eyes and the heaviness wins. But not today.

I started thanking God for what I knew to be true about all these tragedies. “Thank You, Lord, that You are in control of all these situations. Thank You that You are willing and ready to comfort all the hurting right now. Thank You that You care.”

That was it. That was all I had time for before I walked through the doors of my clinic and had five counseling sessions with women who were hurting in their own right. But my short act of giving thanks had birthed enough peace in my heart that I was able to offer some to them. 

Pain and suffering and grief are hard. They are big, ugly problems we can’t handle. But we’re not meant to. It’s His job to handle our hearts. We just have to let Him. 

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New Message

Hey!

I had the opportunity to speak at a church this morning and thought I’d share the recording with you all if you’re so inclined to give it a listen. The message is on intercessory prayer and focuses on Jesus’ prayer in John 17.

Happy listening,

Kelly

A Conversation within a Conversation

Have you ever prayed mid-conversation? Not out loud, but just silently in your heart? 

Have you ever been having a conversation with someone, and while they are speaking or during a pause, you start talking to God about the conversation you are having with that person?

Confused yet?

It’s a conversation between you and God within a conversation between you and another person.

There’s an example of this in the Bible that may help illustrate things.

Nehemiah, cup bearer to King Artaxerxes of Susa, was burdened that his homeland, Jerusalem, was in ruins. The sadness was so evident on Nehemiah’s face, the king noticed it immediately and asked for an explanation. Nehemiah was afraid, but he told the king about the situation in Jerusalem anyway (Nehemiah 2:1-3).

The king responded, “What is it you want?” (Nehemiah 2:4).

Up until this point, Nehemiah hadn’t expressed what he wanted to anyone in this account. Maybe he didn’t even know.

What Nehemiah did next is significant. Instead of immediately responding to the king’s question, Nehemiah “prayed to the God of heaven…” and then he “answered the king,” (Nehemiah 2:4:5).

Nehemiah stopped and had a conversation with God within his conversation with the king.  

What do you think Nehemiah said to God? Maybe he asked for favor from the king. Maybe he asked for God to order his words as he made a request of the king. Maybe he asked God what he should ask the king for. Maybe he asked for protection from the king, who, I’m sure, would’ve been well within his rights to fire, if not kill, Nehemiah for asking for time off.

At any rate, Nehemiah prayed before he responded.

And that half of a verse, when applied in our own conversations, could be a game-changer (when we remember to do it). 

I’ve experienced some “success” with this concept while witnessing.

In a ministry I work with, I do a lot of “cold” evangelism, meaning I talk to strangers about their spiritual beliefs. I don’t have a lot of time to get to know these women, so I don’t have much to go off of as far as deciding what angle to take with them.

But what I do have is the Holy Spirit. He knows these women more intimately than I ever could, and He also lives inside of me, which is convenient.

When I get to the part of the conversation that involves asking a woman to tell me about her spiritual beliefs – and when I can remember to ask the Spirit to say through me what each woman needs to hear about Jesus in that moment – some pretty cool things happen. In other words, when I remember to have a conversation with the Lord within my conversation with the woman, things usually go better than when I forget to consult Him.

I may also have tried this “praying before I respond” concept with my husband and kids on occasion with varying degrees of success, but I wonder how much better communication and conflict resolution would go with them if prayer during conversation became the norm instead of the exception.

While it’s not a formula we can manipulate God with, when done with the right heart – one of seeking wisdom from the Lord and for the Lord – I think it’s a pretty wise approach to interpersonal communication.

When We Suffer

Paul.

I can’t begin to understand the fervency of this dude’s faith. I think part of it is just his personality. He was a zealous Jew before he became a zealous Christ-follower. He seems to just be one of those people that never does anything halfway. It’s all or nothing for Paul.

As such, his vocal dedication to Jesus through every conceivable trial and tribulation makes sense… sort of.

I mean, Paul went. through. it. If ever there were a Christian who would have had reasonable cause to give up the faith, it was Paul. Beatings and imprisonments and persecution far greater than anything we could imagine – not to mention having to lead a bunch of knuckleheads in the faith who seemed to exasperate him in every city he planted a church… The whole thing sounds exhausting to me.

So what was Paul’s secret to staying the course? How did he muster up the emotional, spiritual, and physical energy to go round after round of his ridiculous life?

I think he gives us a little glimpse in 2 Corinthians.

He tells the believers at Corinth that he and Timothy suffered and had hardships in Asia. In fact, Paul says, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death,” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

Can I just tell you I am there with Paul some days?

No, there is no bounty on my head. The government isn’t after me (although folks from the Department of Defense have been reading my blog – I like to pretend it’s Jack Bauer). I don’t have a physical malady that is threatening my life like Paul seemed to have had.

But I do often share Paul’s sentiments that I am under great pressure, far beyond my ability to endure… at home… at church… in new ministry ventures… in relationships… in my walk with the Lord… and sometimes I just want to pack it all up and go Home. My mind spins, like Paul’s, and I despair, thinking to myself, “Surely, this is it. Surely, this is the end of the madness because I cannot. take. any. more.”

And that’s usually where I stop. I identify with Paul’s emotions, and I sit down in the mud and give up. I stop reading his letter to the Corinthians right there, in the middle of verse 9.

And I miss out.

I miss out on the explanation as to why hard things happen in my life.

“But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead,” (2 Corinthians 1:9). I miss out on the invitation to intimacy with the Lord – utter reliance on Him – and seeing His power displayed in a new, tangible, personal way in my life. One reason we experience hardship is because God wants us! He wants us to realize we can’t really do anything – much less anything difficult – without Him. He wants us to draw near to Him, and we simply will not do that unless circumstances force us to. The human heart is a stubborn beast that way.

As if He Himself weren’t enough reason for us to draw near, God offers us even more. He is not “empty-handed”, as it were. He gives us an invaluable gift I miss out on when I give up during hard times.

I miss out on the deliverance offered me by the Lord.

If I would just keep walking, relying on Him, “…he will deliver [me],” as Paul says (2 Corinthians 1:10). Paul recounts how God has delivered him in the past and declares his belief that God will deliver him in the future. “On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us,” (2 Corinthians 1:10).

(Side note: what deliverance looks like in your mind may be far different than the deliverance God has in mind. His version is always better, even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time.)

At this point I’m thinking, “This is all well and good, Paul, but I am not an optimist like you seem to be. You may be able to ‘set your hope‘ on God’s deliverance, but I just can’t swing that in my own power.”

And Paul says to me, “Kelly, once again, you’ve stopped reading prematurely. Look at the next verse, friend.”

“On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers,” (2 Corinthians 1:10-11).

Whoa.

Zealous Paul – superhero Christian Paul – derives help keeping his hope set on God through the prayers of fellow believers!

I feel better.

Paul needed people to pray for Him. I need people to pray for me. And I need to be praying for other people, especially those who are struggling to keep their hope set on God.

And Paul really believed that the Corinthians’ praying for him helped him. Prayer to Paul was not some obligatory, trite ritual. It was an avenue of powerful support one believer could and should offer to another.

When we are suffering, we need to remember how the Lord has delivered us in the past, and we need to believe He will do it again. And when we can’t muster up that belief on our own, we need to ask believers who love us to help us set our hope on God by praying for us. 

 

How to Grow Spiritually

Most mornings I read Oswald Chambers‘ daily devotional, My Utmost for His Highest. If you’re not familiar with him, Oswald is like a Christian superhero, right under C.S. Lewis, but well above Larry Boy.

Somehow I started reading Chambers straight out of the gate when I became a Christian almost 15 years ago. I like him because he’s not a fluffy devotional writer. (You know the kind of crap I’m talking about. Don’t make me name names.) He typically gets to the deeper heart of the believer with no sugar-coating in a few short paragraphs. He challenges. He calls you out. And he never ends his daily lesson with a, “Now go have a great day eating ice cream and playing with puppies!” kind of feel.

That being said, he doesn’t convey a holier-than-thou attitude either. A guy can’t have the kinds of insight into the depravity of man Oswald has without having experienced the depths of his own depravity first…and often.

All that to say, Chambers knocked it out of the park today. You really need to go read it. I’ll wait. In fact, you don’t even have to come back here; my thoughts won’t hold a candle to what Chambers wrote. But in case you do come back, I’ll finish the article for you below.

 

It should be pretty apparent that I am a “words” person. I like everything about words – learning new words, plays on words (but not puns – God is not a fan of puns, sir), applying one word a lot of different ways, comparing words, researching words, and taking the time to choose the perfect words to convey what I mean.

So I suppose that’s why Chambers’ opening line today blew my mind. He wrote, “Perseverance means more than endurance — more than simply holding on until the end.”

Immediately, my mind set about comparing perseverance and endurance to evaluate the validity of this statement. In English the word perseverance has a more purposeful sense of action, while the word endurance has a more passive connotation.

To persevere we put forth effort and work a plan in the hopes that we will achieve a goal. Persevering requires time and energy and often sacrifice. To persevere may be to physically do something, but it could also be the action of mentally and emotionally focusing on something (or the discipline of NOT focusing on something, as the case may be). We are active participants in this process.

To endure we hunker down and wait for the storm to pass. We don’t do anything. We let the trials and problems happen to us and hope that, in time, we will come out on the other side when the rain is gone. We are passive observers in this process.

As Chambers pointed out, perseverance is more than endurance, insinuating that endurance is part of perseverance. You have to have endurance to persevere. But the reverse is not necessarily true (although I think it can be at times). You can endure something – tolerate it, wait it out – without persevering – taking any action steps to overcome it – and be successful (for example, waiting out a tornado). But in some cases, if all we do is endure, refusing to take persevering action, we’ll never overcome our hardship (for example, if we are starving, and there is food on a plate in front of us, but we refuse to put the food on our fork and into our mouths, we will remain hungry.)

I’d venture a guess, if my definitions are correct (and that’s a big if), that there are times we ought to persevere and times we ought to endure. (Another article published today speaks more to this.)

But, to ride the coattails of Mr. Chambers, I think there is at least one aspect of our lives in which we ought never choose to endure but insist we persevere – our own spiritual growth and development.

Lest we get off on a rabbit trail about whether or not we have the power to spiritually grow ourselves, let me share the initial thought I had this morning that sparked this whole post: just holding on and riding things out is NOT spiritual growth. (I think that may have been where Oswald was going in this devotional, but I have yet to confirm with him since he’s busy being dead. In tomorrow’s devotional, however, Chambers definitely speaks to us doing our part being key to our spiritual growth.)

What I’m saying is if we are passive about our relationships with God, passive in the “growth opportunities” (otherwise known as trials) that come our way, passive in responding to the Spirit, passive in prayer, passive in being obedient (i.e., being disobedient), we aren’t going to grow spiritually. If we merely endure this life while we (im)patiently wait to get to the next life, we waste our lives and squander the opportunity to know Him intimately.

But if we persevere in our faith, actively reaching out to God through prayer and worship, actively studying the scriptures, actively responding to the Spirit’s promptings, actively focusing our emotions and thoughts on all that is lovely and true when so much around us is broken and false, we will grow closer to the One who made us to know Him and to make Him known. We will grow spiritually.

If we find ourselves spending most of our time enduring life as a Christian, all we’re doing is burying our heads in the sand. We’re fooling ourselves if we think that’s okay. Just holding on and riding things out is NOT spiritual growth. We must persevere in our personal relationships with Christ, doing whatever it takes to love Him a little bit more each day.

 

Thoughts for the Anxious Christian

Anxiety is a broad term for a lot of different psychological and physiological responses. And people use it in a myriad of ways.

Psychologically speaking, some people say they are anxious when they are mildly worried about something. Others don’t consider passing worry to be anxiety until it becomes obsessively debilitating worry – worry that’s often irrational or over the top.

Still others reserve the word anxious for when their bodies are responding to the fear in their minds – increased heart rates, feeling hot, feeling claustrophobic, feeling unable to breathe, feeling like your having a heart attack, stomachaches. When physical anxiety is at it’s worst, most people call that experience a panic attack.

The nice thing (if there is one) about anxiety is that the Bible speaks to it in more than one place. To be honest with you, I’ve always read verses about anxiety from the stand point of mild worry. But the Lord has me in a season where anxiety means more than that to me, so I am looking afresh at the “anxiety verses”. Just because I’ve limited their meaning in the past to mild worry doesn’t mean that’s the only way God intended them to be interpreted.

On that note, I read this today:

6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1Pe 5:6-11)

Verse 6: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” 
  • We should submit to the idea that our anxiety (however we experience it: mild worry, obsessive worry, depression, panic attacks, debilitating anxiety disorders, etc.) is God’s doing (either directly or indirectly); He is in control. He knows what’s best, and, as hard as it is, He has deemed this best for us right now.
  • He will deliver us from this suffering at the proper time. (The NIV isn’t a great translation here; thankfully, vs. 10 clarifies Peter’s meaning.)
Verse 7: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
  • We are to continually place our anxiety on Him, not keep it ourselves. Whether it’s worrisome thoughts or physical anxiety, we should consciously give those things to God. We can do this through prayer: “Lord, I don’t want to worry about ____. I don’t want to be afraid of ____. I don’t want to feel ____. You take these things.”
  • I have a hunch that if God tells us to cast our anxiety on Him, it’s because He is willing to take it from us. In other words, it will be a fruitful exercise. I can’t prove this. So don’t go hanging your hat on it.
  • He cares for us! As alone as we may feel in the midst of anxiety, we are not. And because He cares about us, He wants our anxiety. He wants to free us from all levels of worry, just as we long to ease our childrens’ worried minds and take their physical pain from them.   
Verse 8: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
  • Satan wants to devour us in the midst of our experiencing anxiety. This is an opportune time for him. I don’t know that he can cause our anxious symptoms (particularly physiological responses), but I am certain he tries to exacerbate them by drumming up our fears concerning them.
  • We need to say to Satan, “I will not be the one you devour!” in the midst of our anxious episodes.
  • We are not picked on by Satan because we are weak or less than; I believe we are targeted because we unashamedly identify ourselves with Jesus. We should consider Satan’s attacks an honor and not feel ashamed in anyway that we are experiencing them (1 Peter 4:12-19).
Verse 9: “Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
  • We can resist Satan by declaring truth out loud, “God is good. He only allows that which is in my best interest. I refuse to believe otherwise. He is in total control, and I am safe with Him.” (Psalm 107:1, Romans 8:28, Proverbs 19:21, Psalm 4:8)
  • We are not alone! Believers all over the world and all over our own churches are experiencing the same kinds of anxiety in all its forms. As a side note, Satan seeks to divide and conquer us by isolating us. The more we share our stories with each other, the braver we all become to get the help we need to overcome our anxiety, especially the more debilitating forms.
Verse 10: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
  • We will suffer, but not forever; only for a little while.
  • We are personally called and chosen by God, and He Himself will restore us from this season of suffering. And when He restores us to emotional health, He will make us strong, firm and steadfast. There is no mincing words here; this is a promise
Verse 11: “To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
  • It is by His power and as a testament to His power that these things will come to pass.
  • Amen is an expression of absolute confidence that it will be so. Peter is confident. We can be confident.
Whether you struggle with “normal” worrying from time to time or more intense anxiety, reread this passage of scripture the next time you feel concerned. There is power in the Word. I’d even encourage you to read it out loud. In some situations, doing so will be enough to quell the anxiety and empower you to cast all your anxiety on the Lord. Other situations warrant additional action steps. Either way, incorporating scripture will undoubtedly help us.

What do you want me to do for you?

“What do you want me to do for you?” (Matthew 20:32).

Jesus had asked this question of two blind people. And you can guess how they replied.

“Lord, we want our sight,” (Matthew 20:33).

And you know what Jesus did?

“Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him,” (Matthew 20:34).

He gave them what they wanted.

Let me tell you what that doesn’t mean. That doesn’t mean He’ll give you what you want. That doesn’t mean He always gives people whatever they ask for. So hear me loud and clear that this isn’t prosperity gospel.

For whatever reason, Jesus felt moved to give these two people what they asked for – their sight – but He gave them so much more than that. When they received their sight, they became his disciples immediately. He gave them faith.

Curiously, when Jesus asked his own disciples the same question, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:36), His response was anything but accommodating.

James and John asked for the privilege to sit right next to Jesus in Heaven (Mark 10:37), and Jesus politely responded, “You have no idea what you’re talking about,” (Mark 10:38, paraphrased).

The question begs, then, why does Jesus sometimes give people what they want and not other times?

The theological answer, I believe, has to do with asking according to God’s will (1 John 5:14-15, Matthew 7:11). If our hearts are aligned with His, we will desire for ourselves what He desires for us (Psalm 37:4). And if we desire the same thing, what we ask for we will get because we are in agreement with God (Psalm 145:19).

What was the difference between the blind guys’ asking and the disciples’ asking? Both seemed to be asking for self-centered things… Maybe Jesus had the foresight to realize the healing of the blind men would develop faith in them, which most certainly was God’s desire for them, while giving James and John seats of honor in Heaven would only promote their own self-centeredness, which is never in God’s will…

Jesus did tell James and John not only did they not understand what they were asking for, it wasn’t up to Jesus who gets to sit where in Heaven (Mark 10:40). So perhaps Jesus didn’t do what they asked because that wasn’t His department… again, their request didn’t line up with the desire of God.

What do you want Jesus to do for you?

Spend some time telling Him what you want. He cares. He wants to hear your heart. Close your eyes and picture Him asking you, personally, “What do you want me to do for you?” But don’t expect Him to give you what you ask for. It might not be in your best interest. It might not line up with His desire for you. After you tell Him what you want Him to do, ask Him how He feels about that request. He will show you if it is in line with His heart or not, and He’ll show you why. Thank Him for only giving you that which is best for you, and ask Him to help you trust Him.