By Grace Alone

The real life struggles of a Christian mom

Thorns in the Flesh July 1, 2010

This summer I’m studying “Loving God with All Your Mind” by Elizabeth George with some wonderful friends of mine.  There are many potential blog posts coming out of this book.  This week, our study provided a fresh look at 2 Corinthians 12:7-10:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

The question asked, “What did Paul ask God to do about [the thorn in his flesh]?”  He pleaded three times for it to be removed.  (Really, just three times?)  The next question asked, “What was God’s response?”  Uh, the answer was a big fat NO.  But there’s more than that.  God’s “no” was that His grace and power were sufficient for Paul as he dealt with this struggle.

There are a few “thorns” in my life right now that I have been pleading with God to remove.  And to be honest, I’ve been a little frustrated that they are still around.  But after studying this passage, I don’t see God being silent about my trials, both self-inflicted and other-inflicted.  I know that if these trials and temptations persist, it is for my good and His glory as He is making me more like Christ.  If that were not the case, He would have removed them.  As I walk through the difficulties, He has promised that His grace is sufficient for each one.

We ask, “Lord, please heal my family member.”

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

We plead, “Lord, please fix my financial difficulties.”

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

We cry, “Lord, please save my unbelieving loved one.”

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

I find Paul’s attitude toward God’s graceful “no” to be very convicting.  As I continue in my difficulties, my attitude should not just be tolerating them and getting through them as quickly as possible so I can move on to something happier.  Following Paul’s example, I am called to be content and even boast in my weaknesses and struggles, because they showcase God’s power and goodness.  What a lofty goal . . . one that I could definitely only attain by God’s power and not my own.

 

I Don’t Wanna. May 10, 2010

Filed under: spiritual growth — Marissa Henley @ 2:59 pm
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I’ve been reading The Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers compiled by Arthur Bennett.  I highly recommend it.  They are short (perfect for a quick morning reading before the kids are up), and they have been very encouraging and challenging to me in my personal prayer life.  One of the prayers that I read weeks ago is still lingering with me.  It is a prayer that I want to pray sincerely for myself, but it’s a tough one:

“I am well pleased with thy will, whatever it is, or should be in all respects,

And if thou bidst me decide for myself in any affair, I would choose to refer all to thee,

for thou art infinitely wise and cannot do amiss, as I am in danger of doing.

I rejoice to think that all things are at thy disposal, and it delights me to leave them there.

Then prayer turns wholly into praise, and all I can do is to adore and bless thee.”

Valley of Vision, p. 4

I’ll be honest.  When I read this, I thought for a moment how wonderful it would be if God let me decide how things were going to go.  Never in a million years would I “choose to refer all to thee.”  I’d be in charge, and it would be awesome.  And rejoicing that all things are at His disposal?  Delighting to leave them there?  I’m too busy trying to yank things out of God’s hands so I can manage the situation and manipulate things according to my desires.

After typing the above paragraph, I did some strategic formatting.  As you can see, it’s all about me.  My wisdom (ha!) and my wants.  The way I think things should go.  One problem (among many) with this way of thinking is that my desires (happiness and comfort) are rarely in line with God’s desire for me (to make me more like Christ).

I want to desire what God desires for me.  I want to be more like Christ.  I want to glorify God with my life and point others to Him and His grace.  I want to so fully trust His goodness and faithfulness to me that even if he bidst me decide for myself, I would choose to refer all to the all-wise, all-loving, sovereign Creator.  But I’ve got some growing to do in this area.  So I guess it’s good that God’s in control, whether I like it or not.  🙂

 

My Complaining Heart March 2, 2009

The Israelites are at it again.  Grumbling, that is.  A recurring theme in our BSF study of the Life of Moses this year is how the Israelites continue to grumble and complain in spite of all the wonderful things God has done for them.  Last week, we studied Numbers 11, in which the Israelites once again complain about the manna God is miraculously providing for food each day.  In our lecture, our teaching leader said that we often think we have the right to tell everyone how we are feeling at all times, especially if we are unhappy about something.

She might as well have been talking directly to me.  Even with the sinfulness of complaining being pointed out to me again and again in this study, I still struggle with a complaining heart.  I definitely think everyone around me needs the full story whenever something is bothering me, and there are plenty of things that bother me.  I have to admit, one of the things I look forward to when my husband gets home from work is being able to unload on him all the hardships of my day.  The complaining heart rears its head over and over again.  And Numbers 11 reminds me that each time I complain, I am sinning and even rejecting the Lord and His provision for me (verse 20).

And then there’s the fact that I’m 31 weeks pregnant with my third child.  Those of you who have walked in my shoes know exactly how this could lead to some complaining–complaining that even seems justified until you look at it through God’s holy eyes.  When I first heard the BSF lecture on complaining last week, I thought, “People ask me how I’m feeling all the time.  How am I supposed to answer honestly without complaining?”  Our teaching leader pointed out that God desires our gratitude, regardless of our circumstances.  I need to ask God to take away my complaining heart and replace it with a grateful one.

At first, I just aimed for outward change with regard to complaining.  My husband may not have noticed much change yet–sorry, honey, I’m working on it–but I have tried to answer the “how are you feeling?” questions with less complaining and more thankfulness.   Instead of cataloging every ache and pain for everyone who asks, I try to say I am mostly feeling good and thankful to be having a healthy pregnancy.

As I’ve made this outward change, I’ve noticed that there has been an inward change going on as well.  The aches and pains don’t bother me as much anymore.  They are simply reminders that God has given me the privilege of carrying this baby girl for 31 weeks, and that she is active and growing.

I still have work to do in this area . . . it is hardest to not complain to those I am closest to and other favorite topics of complaining that I need to deal with.  There is a fine line between being honest about my struggles and complaining.  While I want to be open and honest, I also want to glorify God with my speech and not grumble about any of the gifts He has given me–including my kids, my husband, his job, our home, and our finances.

The REAL test will come in 2 months when the baby comes and people ask, “How are you doing?  Are you getting any sleep yet?”  I better start asking God now to show me how to be thankful for sleep that comes in 2 hour increments!

 

Thou shall not covet December 2, 2008

Filed under: spiritual growth — Marissa Henley @ 7:38 pm
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“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”            Exodus 20:17

We recently studied the 10 Commandments in BSF (more to come on that later), and one that I was particularly struck by is the tenth commandment.  My struggles with materialism and discontentment are well-documented on this blog, and I know covetousness is a temptation for me.  When I was studying this commandment again, I started to think about what positive thoughts or actions should replace the sinful ones.  That is, what thoughts should replace the sinful thought of coveting my neighbor’s house?  (Or shoes.  Or purse.  I manage not to covet my neighbor’s donkeys, but I do covet their cleaning leady.)

I started to wonder what it would be like if, instead of feeling envy and discontentment, I could, by the power of the Holy Spirit, actually be happy for someone who has something I wish I had.  Because to be honest with you, it has been a long time since I’ve walked into a lavish home and thought about how happy I am for the person who lives there.  I know it will not come naturally to me, but it seems like a good way to battle covetousness.

God gave me an opportunity recently to apply this new lesson.  I was visiting the home of a friend, and another friend warned me ahead of time that I should be prepared to envy her Christmas decorations.  On the way to my friend’s home, I prayed and thanked God for my home and the Christmas decorations He has provided for me.  (It sounds silly, but I really like Christmas decorations.)  I prayed that I would be able to admire my friend’s decorations and sincerely be happy for her.  And, by the power of the Holy Spirit, I had a wonderful time in her home and was able to enjoy her beautiful decorations in a much more joyful way.

So thank you to my friend who warned me about the upcoming temptation . . . and for those of you who see me regularly, could you please warn me when you have a fabulous new purse, adorable shoes, or new furniture, so I can properly prepare my heart not to envy you?  I’m on the remedial track and need advance warning!

 

Trusting God August 4, 2008

Filed under: spiritual growth — Marissa Henley @ 8:31 pm
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I was recently asked by Shane at Heart Reflections what I would say to someone who was struggling with trusting God. I thought it was an excellent question. (And was flattered that she would ask me.) It is also a timely question for me, because right now, as always, there are at least two or three areas of my life that I’m struggling to commit to God’s timing and provision.

Shane posted my response here and two other blogger’s responses here. Here’s what I wrote:

What is the basis for our trust in God? We are all trusting someone or something–random chance, ourselves (our own skills and ability to make things happen), other people, the stars, money and material possessions, relationships, or the sovereign Creator of the universe. The truth is that God is sovereign (in control, ruling) over every aspect of our lives. When we put our trust in someone or something else, we are putting our hope in a lie.

How do we trust God when He seems distant or absent from our lives? We’ve all been there–we’ve prayed and prayed, and things are still not working out like we planned. Often, when my plans don’t work out the way I hoped, I am devastated. Then I realize that I was not trusting God in the sense of wholly submitting to His plan for my life. I was merely believing that God would give me what I wanted, when I wanted it. Trusting that God will give me what I want is not trusting God. Taking whatever He gives as an expression of His love for me and knowing it is for my good–that is trusting Him. Romans 8:32 tells us: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” We have seen the lengths to which God will go to take care of His people–He sent His own Son to the cross for our salvation. So I can trust that if I have something, it is because it is for my good. If I don’t have something, it is because I don’t need it or it isn’t good for me.

The verse I cling to when I am struggling with trusting God is Proverbs 19:21: “Many are the plans in the mind of man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” I like to make plans, and I hate it when my plans don’t work out. It can be annoying, frustrating, discouraging, painful, heartbreaking, and devastating. Proverbs 19:21 reminds me that if my plan does not line up with the Lord’s purpose, it is best for me that it fails. It is better that my life be ruled by the purpose of the Sovereign Creator rather than the short-sighted, feeble mind of a sinful human. God demonstrated His love for me on the cross (see Romans 5:8 ) and continues to demonstrate His love for me by only bringing into my life that which is for my good and for His glory. He protects me by not giving me those things I ask for which would not truly be best for me. Praise the Lord!

 

More on “Calm My Anxious Heart” March 2, 2008

Filed under: spiritual growth — Marissa Henley @ 11:11 am
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I’ve been reading more of Linda Dillow’s book and really liked her chapters on being content with my role and with my relationships. It is so easy to always be looking ahead to a point in time when I think my life will be easier or better–when all my kids are dressing themselves and taking care of their own potty-related needs, when Noel cuts back on his hours, when I start to really love working out and hate eating sweets (yeah, right!). Before I was married, I wanted to be married. When I didn’t have kids, I wanted a baby. And now that I have preschoolers, I want them to go to school (and on my more insane days, I want another baby). I have a tendency to think that surely having a 2-year-old and 4-year-old is about as tough as it gets, and when they get a little older, then I will be able to pull myself together and be the kind of wife, mom, friend and Christian I want to be.

I started to realize the truth of my need to be content with what my role is right now when I had a single girlfriend over for lunch a few weeks ago. I was feeling jealous of her life–her nice clothes and car (the kind that doesn’t seat 8), her important job that brings her into contact with actual adults every single day, all the freedom that she has to do what she wants when she wants. It was the week before Will’s birthday party, and on my kitchen counter was a to-do list full of things, most of which I was dreading. Mop floors, clean bathrooms, dust living room, make treat bags, bake and decorate cake, etc. My friend looked at my to-do list and exclaimed, “I wish I had this to-do list!” I was shocked, but I shouldn’t be. It is so easy to take what we have for granted, to get weighed down by the mundane tasks — to lose sight of what a privilege it is to clean up after these little treasures God has given me and plan their birthday parties and teach them about Jesus.

In a discussion of maturity, Dillow writes: “We grow up when we see our life and our role from God’s perspective . . . when each morning we ask, ‘God, how can I glorify you today in my given role?'” She writes about Christ as an example. His role was to humble Himself, serve others, and give His life as a ransom for many. (See Mark 10:45 and Philippians 2:5-8) My role is to glorify God by serving my husband, my children, and others around me. My role is to mop floors, fix peanut butter sandwiches, change diapers and read books. My role is to train, discipline and teach my sons to love God and each other. My role is to pray for my children and about the decisions we make that impact their lives. I want to be a real grown-up and glorify God in the role He has given me today rather than waiting for Him to give me a more glamorous job.

In Dillow’s chapter on contentment in relationships, she focuses quite a bit on forgiveness. This is a fairly new topic for me, one that I’ve been thinking about more in the last year and realizing that it is something that I struggle with. (See previous post on forgiveness.) This is also a topic that came up in last week’s BSF lesson. I know God is trying to get my attention when He’s teaching me the same thing through two different avenues!

My BSF lesson and part of Dillow’s chapter on relationships examined Matthew 18:21-35, the parable of the unforgiving servant. In this parable, the king forgives his servant’s massive debt (roughly $15 million in today’s terms) and then the servant goes out and refuses to forgive another’s minuscule debt against him. Likewise, in Christ, we have been forgiven for a debt that we could never pay: the penalty for our sin. If we fail to see our need for the Cross, we will view other’s sin against us as great and difficult to forgive. If we have a proper view of our sin and how much we have been forgiven, it will be a natural reaction to forgive the much smaller offenses that others commit against us.

Studying this passage made me realize that if I’m keeping a mental list of the ways my husband has let me down or harboring resentment toward someone who has offended me, it should be a red flag for me that I need to turn my attention back to the seriousness of my own sin against God and grace I have been shown by His forgiveness. When those thoughts of “I’ve been wronged” start to trickle in, I need to consciously turn my thoughts to the Cross. This could really transform some of my relationships where I continue to hold on to past hurts and disappointments.

 

“Calm My Anxious Heart” by Linda Dillow February 4, 2008

Filed under: spiritual growth,Uncategorized — Marissa Henley @ 2:43 pm
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I highly recommend this book I’ve been reading lately–thanks to my friend Janet for recommending it to me! I’ve read the first half so far, and she has been talking about contentment. This is a constant struggle for me (see a post I wrote 7 months ago on the subject, for example). There have been several poignant words of wisdom in this book that have made me even more aware of how pervasive discontentment is in my life. She shares a “prescription for contentment” found in the journal of missionary to Africa:

“Never allow yourself to complain about anything–not even the weather. Never picture yourself in any other circumstances or someplace else. Never compare your lot with another’s. Never allow yourself to wish this or that had been otherwise. Never dwell on tomorrow–remember that [tomorrow] is God’s, not ours.” (p.13)

These words are extremely convicting and seem impossible to put into action. But keeping them in mind has brought me to repentence often for my envy of others and dissatisfaction with the day God has given me.

Dillow describes contentment as “accepting God’s sovereign control over all of life’s circumstances” (p. 18). She shares a quote from J.I. Packer that says, “Contentment is essentially a matter of accepting from God’s hand what He sends because we know that He is good and therefore it is good.” When I look at it this way, my discontentment is a matter of unbelief. I am refusing to believe the truth: God is sovereign and God is good, and therefore, if my kids are at home driving me insane instead of at mother’s day out, that is what my loving Heavenly Father has for me today. If I’m yelling at them and wishing they’d be quiet so I can go on with my pity party, I am not accepting what the Father has sent. I need to repent and joyfully accept that which He has given. God has decided that the other options (such as a day to myself) were not best–I need to put them out of my mind as well. (I’m describing myself last Thursday, in case you were wondering.)

More to come when I get a chance . . .