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.

 

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.

 

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!

 

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.

 

A couple of ideas January 13, 2009

Filed under: parenting,spiritual growth — Marissa Henley @ 3:11 pm
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Occasionally I have a good idea.  It doesn’t happen often.  In fact, I think in the past year, I have had exactly two good ideas.  The second is the reason I’m writing this post, but I’ll share the first as a bonus.

Firstly, I have friends who teach their children the “Interrupting Rule”:  when mom is talking to another adult, either in person or on the phone, and the child has something to say, the child quietly puts his hand on his mom’s arm.  The mom puts her hand on top of his in acknowledgment, and when there is an opportunity, gives the child a chance to speak.  I’ve always admired this rule.  Last fall, I decided to teach it to Christopher.  As I was explaining what I wanted him to do, I had a moment of brilliance . . . I called it our “secret signal.”  There is something intriguing to a 4-year-old boy about having a secret signal, and he caught on right away.  He is terrific at giving me the secret signal!  Sometimes he even gives it to grandparents and other adults who can’t quite figure out why he is standing there with his hand on their arm.  🙂

My recent good idea has to do with praying for my kids.  I have used a couple of different books in the past, and they have been a great help.  My struggle recently has been wanting to spend in-depth time each day praying for my children.  Last summer, I typed out topics and Scripture from “Praying the Scriptures for your Children” by Jodie Berndt.  I have used them some, but not as consistently as I’d like.

So the other night I cut and pasted the verses into a small notebook, making a flip calendar for myself.  I put it by my bathroom sink, since I spend 10-30 minutes there every morning doing mundane tasks such as brushing my teeth and drying my hair.  I realize this is not as ideal as sitting quietly, devoting myself only to praying these Scriptures for my children, but at least I am reminded of the topic and some verses that I can call to mind during the day.  I also find the verses to be edifying for my personal walk with the Lord each day.  When I’m done with Berndt’s topics, I may cut and paste my notes from “31 Days of Prayer for My Child”–another great resource about praying for your children.

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Sowing Seeds of God’s Word August 14, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Marissa Henley @ 9:32 pm
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Galatians 6:7-9: Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

One of my most important jobs as a mom is to plant seeds of God’s truth in my children’s hearts. Two great tools I have been using recently are Steve Green’s Hide ‘Em in Your Hearts CD and my new CD’s from Seeds Music. I love the Steve Green CD, but the Seeds music CD’s are FABULOUS. (Thank you, Julie, for introducing me to them!) They have adults and children singing, but it is so well done that I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself listening to them even without kids in the backseat. Honestly, the Ephesians 2:8 song brought tears to my eyes the first time I heard it. I have the Praise and Faith albums, and I plan to order the others soon.

It is such a blessing for me to watch my kids as they listen to God’s Word set to music. I pray that God will take these seeds we are planting and grow them into living, active faith in Christ. I’ll admit it, I’m becoming a bit of a fanatic. It is hard to get excited about singing about bus drivers and climbing spiders with my kids when we could be singing, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). There’s just nothing better than the Word of God.

 

Convicting and Encouraging Moments July 26, 2008

This has been a tough week.  Due to on-call scheduling that we will never do again, Daddy was at work almost all of last weekend and worked late every night this week.  It made each and every one of us tired and cranky.  Throw in hefty doses of 2-year-old tantrums and 4-year-old lying, and you have a disaster brewing.  By Friday night, I had HAD IT.  Actually, I had had it about 5 times already and was working on #6.  It was dinner time, and Daddy was not home.  As I put food in front of the kids, Christopher asked me to turn on their new Bible verse CD, Steve Green’s Hide ‘Em In Your Heart.  It is fairly new for my kids, and they LOVE it.  (Thank you, Pearce!)  Christopher has learned several verses and the Lord’s Prayer in a week–I highly recommend it.

One of the songs is based on 1 John 3:16:  By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. As I listened to my children’s sweet voices singing along about Christ laying down His life for us, I felt convicted.  I was not loving my kids well.  I was not laying my life down for them.  I felt resentful of the ways they were sinning against me and making my life difficult.  How much more have I sinned against my Savior again and again, but He still went to the cross for me.  And so I am to lay down my life for my children (and others).

In that moment of conviction and guilt and sadness for my sin, I looked up from the kitchen to see Christopher looking at me with a Cheshire-cat grin on his face.  He said, “Momma, I’m smiling at you!”  “Why?”  I asked.  “Because I like you a lot,” he answered.

Our God is so good.  He doesn’t leave us in our sin.  He convicts us, but He also doesn’t leave us wallowing in our guilt.  He graciously encourages us, letting us know that we are forgiven in Christ.  And often He provides a respite . . . soon after, Daddy arrived home from work, and everything was so much better.