Does the word sacrifice leave a rancid taste in your mouth? Why does that word have to be a negative connotation? What if the purpose of sacrifice was releasing something (maybe even something good) to receive what’s best?
Last month, I wanted what I wanted. What I wanted is mine to know. But oh, how I clung to it with selfish hands when a thought fluttered into my mind and hovered there. A lightbulb clicked.
Could I . . . would I give up this thing I wanted? Were there things I refused to sacrifice? I cringed to think I might have other gods before GOD!
The Lord knows I love him, I reasoned, without sacrificing something to prove I love Him. Lord, is there no other way?
“No other way.” Weren’t those the words Jesus spoke before he went to the cross?
Sweating drops of blood, Jesus knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane and begged God to remove “this cup” from him. Jesus wasn’t refusing to give up some pleasure, or vice, or “thing” that stood between him and God the Father. He asked if there was some other way to atone for people’s sins than death by crucifixion.
However, Jesus only wanted what the Father wanted. So he said, “Not my will, but Yours.”
Do I want what God wants?
I remember a woman who once sat beside me, crying buckets of anguish. Her red, puffy eyelids were squeezed shut. Tension riveted her body so that even her hands were clenched in fists as though subliminally curling herself into a fetal position.
I’d tried to soothe her with words. Then I held my tongue and stroked her knuckles, threading my fingers between her fists to gently prod her hands open so she could release the stress and sorrow. As I massaged her hands, her tears subsided. She breathed deeply and relaxed.
Is that me, Lord? Holding onto regrets? Worry gripped between my fists? Clinging to what I want instead of receiving what you want for me? Even if it feels painful in the moment?
“So often man, crying out for some blessing, has yet such tight hold on some earth-treasure that he has no hand to receive Mine, as I hold it out in love.” (God Calling)
Lord Jesus, help me open my hands, knowing your will for me is better than any “thing” I hold dear in this world.
Show me how to spread my fingers, palms up . . . the same way you stretched your arms wide when they nailed your hands to a cross . . . so I can release whatever’s inside my fists. And receive Your very best even in this moment.
Hot, excruciating pain ripped and pulsated through the young man’s weak body . . . the aftermath of an operation meant for his good. Now, the physical therapist asked the man to stand up and walk. How could he walk when he could barely breathe from the pain?
However, pain had been a constant companion for much of the young man’s life, and he wanted more than anything to convalesce at home. So he squared his shoulders and gripped the parallel bars on either side of him. Sweat oozed from his furrowed brow and rolled down his flushed cheeks as he leaned on those bars for support, and walked. One step, then another. Over and over . . . until he reached home.
My friend told me that watching her son-in-law grip the parallel bars became a visual of how she had to hold onto the Lord during that desperate week when all she could do was “cry for God’s help.”
Like my friend, I’ve had to helplessly watch loved ones suffer. I’ve begged God, “Remove this cup. Spare them!” However, even in this . . . the Lord responds, “Rest in Me.”
At first, I balked at that term because rest means to cease from activity, and I didn’t want to sit back and be idle. I wanted to do something constructive to alleviate their pain. However, I discovered the word rest also means to “be supported” and “remain confident.” And a synonym for rest is LEAN.
Perhaps you’ve heard the hymn Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.
To Rest—or lean—on the everlasting arms of God means we’re “supported” by Him, as we struggle to walk through each day . . . down every haphazard path. The same way someone leans on a cane, and relies on it to support their weight while they’re walking, we’re urged to cast all our cares on the Lord and lean on Him.
To rest and lean on the Lord also means we can “remain confident” He’s present and bringing about good from every trial, including praise and glory. (1Peter 1:7) For even my friend praised the Lord for His faithfulness, and bringing so many people to pray for her family.
Sadly, her son-in-law still needs prayer as he recovers at home because the debilitating pain remains, and the physical therapy continues. There’s no way to rest (cease from activity) if he wants to improve his mobility. He has to rise, do the hard thing, and lean on his crutches and walk even when everything in him might shout, “I can’t!”
Likewise, God calls His beloved children to stand up and walk by faith . . . one day at a time . . . leaning on the Lord for strength as well as understanding (Proverbs 3:5).
Ever been stuck in your pajamas? You wake up empty, and no amount of caffeine can rouse your spirits because you’re feeling low and haven’t got a drop of energy to face the day.
My mentor, Loretta, once said, “The year following my husband’s death, I ran on empty. I’d slide one foot out of the bedcovers and groan, ‘Lord, I can’t.’
And the Lord would nudge me out of bed by assuring me, ‘I know, but I can. My strength is made perfect in weakness.’” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Empty and weak. That’s how my other friend felt when an ongoing storm—with no end in sight—hit her family.
“Fatigue and anxiety try to take over,” she said. “Sometimes, it leaves me numb and paralyzed. Yesterday, I couldn’t get out of my pj’s. Today, I wore them till noon. I couldn’t help myself.”
Life happens, right? Personal storms, that drain us, become the new normal and threaten to crush our spirit like someone stepping on an empty soda can. We’re tired of being strong. And we’re afraid to hope because we’ve been empty so long.
So what can we do when we’re stuck in pj’s?
Put on Grace instead of Shame.
“I hate when I’m stuck in pj’s,” said my friend, “but I’ve stopped feeling ashamed. Now, I know it’s a marker to show me how I’m doing. I’ve learned to observe what’s happening and give myself grace in the storm. Knowing this too shall pass.”
Be Real and Willing to Receive
My friend cringed when someone knocked at her front door one afternoon. Dressed in her pj’s, without any makeup, and her wet hair wrapped in a towel, she said, “I didn’t want to answer the door. I wasn’t comfortable letting my friends see me this way. Vanity aside, it’s scary to share my struggles. I’d rather appear strong. But the ones who came to my door love me.”
If my friend had pretended to be strong, or refused to open the door, she would have missed out on their love and a much-needed (and appreciated) gift. “It’s awkward receiving gifts,” she said, “but it’s the perfect picture of God’s love and generosity. We’ll never deserve it. He simply gives and we accept.”
Freedom to Listen Instead of Sing
There were Sundays when my friend went to church, but she didn’t have the energy to sing during worship. So she remained quiet and listened to the people sing. “There’s freedom in letting words of praise be sung over us. Certain songs bring tears and help us stay yoked to Jesus. So I listen to praise music until I can sing.”
The storm isn’t over for my friend. She still struggles with emptiness. However, my friend knows God is present and working in ways she can’t imagine. For she told me, “I await the day when I can look back and trace God’s fingerprints all over this storm.”
What helps you in difficult times? Have you seen God’s fingerprints?
Photos: Pixabay Images
Photo credit: Jonathan Foster
Being depressed is like having a bloodsucking leech embedded in my flesh. Drains me physically. Muddles my mind. Squashes spiritual zeal. I can’t seem to detach the ugly thing. Ever been there?
If you want to get technical, the dictionary defines depression as a psychotic state of mind that entails sadness, despondency, hopelessness, inability to think or concentrate, inactivity, and the desire to sleep. The verb, depress, means to lower.
During the winter months, I often feel like I’ve been lowered into a dark hole. A lack of sun and exercise. Rainy days and long nights. Head colds and flu. These all contribute to a seasonal melancholy state of mind. But experience tells me this too shall pass. I know the Lord will lift me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He’ll set my feet on solid ground and steady me as I walk. (Psalm 40:2)
But oh, how I wish the Lord would rush to the rescue sooner, particularly for those I love. Because my ‘depressed spirit’ also resulted from concern and empathizing with so many family members and friends who are suffering far worse than me.
If they were mentioned among the heroes of faith in Hebrews chapter 11, their woes would be listed as such: experienced the death of a child, unemployment, loss of a home, financial devastation, divorce, major surgery, lack of health insurance, life-threatening illness, agonizing chronic pain.
Some of them remind me of Job. Sitting in a heap of ashes.
Begging for mercy. Pleading for answers. Waiting for the storm to pass. Trusting the Lord when everything shouts, “Give up!”
My spiritual mentor and friend, Loretta, once told me, “Trusting God is the most important ingredient in a believer’s life. Because there will be days when we’re in the desert and God appears silent. That’s when we have to trust who God is. And His promises.”
Loretta learned to trust God’s sovereignty early in her marriage. Trusting God—no matter what—proved invaluable and enabled Loretta to cope when her husband died in a plane crash. Instead of becoming a missionary with her husband, as planned, Loretta became the sole breadwinner and single mom of three young kids. Over the next twelve months, three other beloved family members died. Can you imagine the pain?
That living nightmare happened decades ago, and yet, from those ashes, grew a deeper trust in God. Here’s what she said:
“We have the opportunity to choose how we respond during adversity. We either bend and let God work in our lives in order to mold us. Or we resist and lose out on His lessons. Life is full of difficult circumstances. If we believe our circumstances are allowed by God, and that He withholds no good thing from us, then our trust grows and we’re better prepared for the next hard thing. Trust becomes—or can be—a way of life.”
Today, as I emerged from my lethargic fog, I thought about Loretta’s words when I saw the yellow daffodils preening in my yard beneath a blue sky.Last week, these flowers were bent. Beaten down by the cold, pummeling rain. Now, the daffodils stand tall. Their stems stretch heavenward as they soak up the sun. If I close my eyes, I can almost hear them sing. Heralding the coming Spring.
And a small voice whispers in the cool breeze. Trust God even in this….
Rainy Days and Mondays…and I’m sick. Don’t feel like cooking, or writing another post. So here’s one from several years ago that seems appropriate for how I’m feeling. And some of the things I’ve witnessed recently.
“What do you want for dinner?” I asked.
Tired of that question, my husband purchased me a cookbook that resembled an encyclopedia.I scanned its 800 pages and chose an easy recipe. Put softened butter under the skin of two whole chicken breasts, spread vegetable oil on top of the skin, and bake at 450 for 40 minutes.
In addition, I sliced sweet potatoes and roasted them on a cookie sheet in the lower oven while I steamed broccoli. Since I left nothing to chance and double-checked the instructions, I was aghast when I opened the oven door and a trail of smoke ascended into the air. Blackened chicken, still pink on the inside, sizzled in a pool of hot grease that dripped into the oven like lava.
My husband followed his nose to the kitchen and rescued the sweet potatoes stuck to aluminum foil as I dodged splattering grease…
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