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.

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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.  🙂

 

A New Life Verse July 30, 2009

I think I have found my “Life Verse.”  I’ve never had a life verse before, but I know people who do.  The verses are usually very inspirational, something along the lines of reaching the nations or future generations for God.  Good stuff, really.  My favorite verse thus far is Romans 8:1, but it didn’t seem to fall into the Life Verse category.

But a couple of weeks ago when I was doing my Bible study (an awesome study of God’s attributes which deserves many, many blog posts that I don’t currently have time to write), I came across a verse I’ve never noticed before:

2 Chronicles 20:12:  We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you.

Some context for those of you who don’t have 2 Chronicles memorized:  King Jehoshaphat and the Israelites are watching multiple nations of enemies coming against them in battle.  They know there is no way they can defeat this multitude.  Jehoshaphat calls the people together, and they cry out to the Lord, asking what they should do.  It specifically mentions that they are all standing before the Lord, along with their wives and children.   Can you imagine this picture?  Standing there, clutching your children to you, watching the enemy come, knowing you are powerless against them and crying out to the Lord for help.  (To see how it ends, see 2 Chronicles 20.)

This has definitely become my Summer Verse, if not my Life Verse.  For one thing, this verse is very easy to memorize.  It rhymes and has lots of 2’s in the reference.  And if there is one theme in my life right now, it is that I don’t know what to do.  I don’t know how to encourage my 5-year-old to not become a prideful Pharisee who craves approval and does all the right things only when someone is watching.  (It takes one to know one, and that kid is just like me.)  I don’t know how to encourage my 3-year-old to put his poop in the potty rather than in his pants.  And I certainly don’t know how to encourage my sister-in-law as she battles the most formidable enemy we’ve faced in a long time:  breast cancer.

I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on the One who is my refuge and strength, an very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).  He promises His perfect wisdom is ours for the asking. (James 1:5).  He hems me in, behind and before, and lays His hand upon me (Psalm 139:5).  When my eyes are on Him, I can choose to be overwhelmed by His love and goodness toward me, rather than being overwhelmed by my circumstances.  (With thanks to my summer Bible study leader for this last thought.)

I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on You.

 

Lessons from Leviticus February 12, 2009

Filed under: spiritual growth — Marissa Henley @ 6:30 pm
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Leviticus? Seriously?  I never thought I’d write a blog post about Leviticus.  I should have seen it coming when I started the BSF study of the life of Moses, Exodus through Deuteronomy.  (I suppose there is a post on Numbers coming soon.)  I don’t think I’ve ever studied Leviticus, other than a random reference here and there in other Bible studies.  But as always happens with God’s Word, there are great lessons there.  Here are a few that were especially meaningful to me:

In Leviticus 8, we were studying about the consecration of tabernacle and the priests.  Our lesson asked the question, “Is there some area of your life that has not been consecrated (set apart) to the Lord?”  This question was very convicting to me, and I wanted to write, “Is there an area of my life that HAS been consecrated to the Lord?”  But I tried to narrow down some key areas that have not been dedicated to God like they should and came up with my perceived control over my life and the way I spend my time and money.  I’ve been thinking lately about how I can truly consecrate these areas to the Lord.

In Leviticus 10, we read the troubling story of two of Aaron’s sons being burned up by God because they did not follow the commandments He had given them about sacrifices in the tabernacle.   Our lessons often ask us what we learned about God’s character or attributes from the passage.  This chapter showed me how serious disobedience (sin) is in God’s eyes.  We know from elsewhere in Scripture that our sin is deserving of death, and Aaron’s sons got what they deserved.  It showed me how great God’s mercy to me is–I have not gotten what I deserve.  I have done much worse things than what Aaron’s sons did.  And not only has God not burned me up on the spot, He sent His Son to take the punishment for all my sin that I might have eternal life.

In an overview of Leviticus, we read various passages where God gives the Israelites instructions about how to offer the various sacrifices He required.  The lesson talked about how each of the sacrifices cost the worshiper something.  It pointed to 2 Samuel 24:24, where David says he will not offer something to the Lord that cost him nothing.  This was another convicting point for me.  What have I sacrificed to God at a great cost?  I volunteer in the church nursery once every three months, and that costs me very little.  I am also leading the children’s choir, which carries a greater cost, and most of the time I don’t have a great attitude about that cost.  My financial giving should be more sacrificial–am I truly giving something up that I want in order to give sacrificially, or am I giving what is left over?  Contemplating the true meaning of sacrifice has changed my perspective about my service and giving to the Lord.

I also liked Leviticus 19:9-10 where God commands the Israelites not to harvest their fields all the way to the edges or strip their vineyards bare.  They are to leave some for the poor and for travellers.  This made me think about how I use my resources.  When I know we have some extra money coming, I know we will tithe on it, but I usually have the rest of it spent, at least mentally, before it hits the checking account.  And, apart from this commandment, it would be my right to use it as my husband and I decided.  But in this commandment, God is telling His people not to consume all that they have a right to consume.  I think this principle applies to me as well.  I want to be more intentional about leaving some crops  around the edges in a 21st-century sense . . . stashing some away for needs that arise so we are able to meet the needs of others.

 

Grumbling November 20, 2008

Filed under: spiritual growth — Marissa Henley @ 4:36 pm
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I am so thankful to be studying the Life of Moses with Bible Study Fellowship this year.  Now that I’ve reached the glorious second trimester, I hope to do more writing about what I’ve learned.  I had been determined not to complain about not feeling well or being tired during this pregnancy, and I have to admit, I’ve done a terrible job.

I felt especially convicted about this and all the other complaining I do when reading about the grumbling the Israelites did after being brought out of slavery in Egypt.  God had just rescued them from horrible oppression and slavery.  He had done mighty works and miracles on their behalf, such as parting an entire sea so they could escape on dry land.  Then they find themselves in the wilderness, their food begins to run out, and they start to grumble.  In the chapters of Exodus that follow the crossing of the Red Sea, the Israelites complain to Moses over and over again.

In Exodus 16:8, Moses answers their grumbling:  And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the Lord has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord.”

Ouch.  All my grumbling isn’t against the weather, my kids, my hubby’s job, my circumstances, money, etc., but against the God who made me and redeemed me??  Of course!  For God has given me each and every circumstance:  each evening my husband is delayed at work to teach me reliance on Him, each tantrum of my 2-year-old sent to teach me patience, restrictions on my spending to teach me contentment, cold weather . . . well, I haven’t figured out what that is about, but God is most definitely in control of the weather!

I know contentment is important to God, but this verse shed new light on all the “small” complaining I do each day.  It showed me how much I am like the Israelites–God has done amazing things for me, and I still grumble against Him.  He has given me a beautiful home, and I grumble about cleaning it.  He has given my husband a secure, profitable job, and I grumble that he’s not home at 5:00 each day.  He has given me two beautiful, sweet, healthy kids, and I grumble that they just won’t give me a minute to myself.  My grumbling is a sin against God, and I’m thankful for this verse pointing that out in a fresh way.

 

Broken Hearts August 17, 2008

Filed under: spiritual growth — Marissa Henley @ 8:29 pm
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My pastor had recently been asking us the question, “Does your heart break for the same things that break God’s heart?” This has been a very convicting question for me. When left to my own devices, these are some of the things that break my heart:

  • Not getting what I want
  • Not getting what I want when I want it
  • Having to struggle or suffer
  • People not liking me
  • My children inconveniencing me with their disobedience
  • My children running a fever on days I have something fun to do

The common theme: Me. My way. My comfort.

If I were going to feel brokenhearted over things that break God’s heart, the list would look more like this:

  • My sin
  • People who don’t know Christ
  • The sick, the lonely, the poor, and the outcast

Therefore, I would trade my sorrow over suffering for joy in suffering for God’s glory. My sadness over not getting my way would become trust in God’s goodness and provision. Rather than feel inconvenienced by my children’s disobedience, I would have an earnest desire to share the Gospel with them. My heart would mourn my sinfulness, ache to share Christ with those who don’t know Him, and overflow with compassion for those in need.

A month ago when I first heard our pastor ask this question, my heart had been breaking over something that I wanted and didn’t get.  And before worship, we had heard from a missionary who was trying to raise money to buy Bibles.  He wanted give to them to people who desperately wanted to read God’s Word but did not have it available to them.  God confronted me with my selfishness that morning.  It was clear to me that my heart was not breaking over the things that break God’s heart.

Emotions are tricky.  It is hard to turn off ungodly sorrow and trade it for godly sorrow.  But I am reminded of John 15:7:  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. I want to be abiding so deeply in the Father that my will is intertwined with His.  I want to trust so fully in His goodness and provision that when I don’t get my way, my immediate response is to know it wasn’t best for me.  (Even if I really, really thought it was.)

I want my heart and God’s heart to be breaking over the same things.  And I’ve got a long way to go.

 

Decreasing October 29, 2007

Filed under: spiritual growth,Uncategorized — Marissa Henley @ 10:10 pm
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It has been a long time since I’ve posted, in part because there are lots of different ideas wrestling around in my head and I’ve had trouble organizing them into coherence. I’ve also been dealing with sick children for what seems like ages, and so I’ve spent quite a bit of time feeling restless, exhausted, frustrated and full of self-pity–none of which are all that conducive to spiritual growth for me. I’m so thankful to be doing BSF, which requires me to spend time in the Word even when I want to forget it.

Last week when Christopher was feeling especially crummy, he asked me, “What is God doing to me?” I don’t know the answer for Christopher, but I know what God is doing to me–He is teaching me that I need to be decreasing so that He may increase. This idea came to me in my BSF notes a couple of weeks ago, and it needs some context, so let me back up a little.

Apparently, I am quite forgettable, and it drives me nuts. Countless people meet me, sometimes more than once, and then don’t remember me at all the next time they see me. There was one woman I knew who met me about 5 times (including one time she was in my home!) before she remembered that she knew me. But this idea of myself decreasing so that God may increase means that when people meet me and interact with me, they see Christ. It is not my reputation that increases, but God’s glory.

This is a really difficult one for me. When I meet people, I’d much rather they think how friendly or witty I am, how well-behaved my children are, or maybe even how nice I look. I want them to think I’m somebody worth knowing and to want to spend more time with me (or at least remember my name next week). If I’m going to point people to Christ, then I’d have to stop thinking about how memorable I am, how well-liked I am, how trendy my clothes are (or aren’t). And if my words and actions are those that would always bring glory to God, I could be seen as weird.

I think an idea that is closely tied to this is something our BSF teaching leader talked about last week: our citizenship in the kingdom of Heaven trumping our citizenship as Americans. (See Ephesians 2:19 and Philippians 3:20 if you’re not sure what I mean by citizenship in the kingdom of Heaven.) She said that kingdom citizens have no use for earthly gain, but only fight for eternal gain (that is, wanting others to see Jesus Christ). She also encouraged us to ask ourselves: Do my attitudes better reflect my heavenly citizenship or my American citizenship? Have I renounced the things of this world? Is Jesus more valuable to me than any earthly thing?

Honestly, I’d like to think I can hold on to earthly gain as long as Jesus is in the mix somewhere. That I don’t have to actually renounce the attitudes and priorities of our culture as long as I’m not as worldly as the person next door. That it is okay to store up earthly treasures for myself as long as I tithe.

But I suspect that if Jesus truly was more valuable to me than any earthly thing, those earthly things would be utterly without value to me. And I would boldly proclaim Christ to others without any thought of how they would remember me but with only the hope that they would remember Jesus. I would give myself daily in sacrificial service to my husband and kids because it isn’t me that is important. And I would see that God truly meets all my needs in the glorious riches of Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

I’ve got a long way to go, and I’m not 100% certain I want to take the journey. But I’m going to keep praying that God will change my heart to desire Him more than any other thing, that He would cause me to decrease so that He may increase, and that He would give me eyes to see how truly worthless are the things I’m tempted to chase after.