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.  🙂

 

Prayer: The Why February 25, 2010

One of the primary areas I’d like to work on in 2010 is prayer.  At the beginning of the year, God brought the issue of my sub-par prayer life to my attention in various ways.  One was the teaching at our church women’s meeting when the speaker asked, “Do you look forward to praying?”  Uh, no.  It’s humbling and disgusting to admit, but many days I look forward to my favorite tv show or a date with my husband more than I look forward to spending significant time in prayer.

In recent years, as I have become more and more dependent on the Holy Spirit as a mother, prayer has become a greater part of my life.  But my prayer life is mostly informal–short prayers for help, wisdom, patience or self-control during the day.  Or praying for others when God brings them to mind.  That informal prayer life is valuable and important.  But when thinking about looking forward to prayer and reading a chapter on prayer in Donna Otto’s book Secrets to Getting More Done in Less Time, I realized that I need to develop a consistent, substantial time for prayer.

Otto writes:  “Fortunately, God is generous, loving, and–most of all–full of grace . . . He does not maintain prayer meters or time clocks . . . But the Lord of our lives deserves homage and our allegiance.  If we are too busy to commune with Him regularly, we are doing a disservice to Him and to ourselves” (p. 237).  She discusses the importance with combining the informal prayer life I’ve described with a formal prayer life:  time set aside for prayer, including adoration, confession, thanksgiving and presenting our requests to God.  This part of my prayer life has been inconsistent at best.

I love how Otto describes this time she spends with God:

Personally, I think of prayer time as a specific opportunity to get down on my knees and subordinate my will to God’s will.  God has a will.  God has a perfect will.  God is sovereign.  And through prayer I try to subordinate my will to His will.  I do that by asking Him to create in me a clean heart, to create in me a sinless heart that is in line with His plan for me and to allow His desires to be my desires (p. 252).

Who wouldn’t want their will to be in line with the will of their good, sovereign Creator?  I know I want that.  But I battle against my sinful nature daily as sleep, worldly desires and my to-do list wage war against setting aside this time with God.  I’ve been talking to other women about prayer and working to improve in this area, so I look forward to sharing more about this topic soon.  In the meantime, I hope you are as convicted and encouraged as I have been to set aside time for prayer.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  I Thessalonians 5:16-18

 

Wasted Suffering February 14, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Marissa Henley @ 10:10 pm
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A few weeks ago in BSF, we studied the raising of Lazarus in John 11.  Although the miracle of raising a dead man is powerful, I found the words and actions of Christ prior to going to Bethany just as impactful.  When Jesus receives word that his beloved friend is gravely ill, He replies, “This illness does not lead to death.  It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (verse 4).  Then the Scripture says that Jesus loved Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus very much, so when He heard Lazarus was ill, He stayed where He was for two more days (verses 5-6).  From that tiny word “so,” we must infer that Jesus’ delay (and therefore Lazarus’ death) was somehow for the good of Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

In the BSF study notes for this passage, the author writes that in this miracle, God’s glory was revealed in a way that blessed all those who witnessed it.  Of course, Mary, Martha and Lazarus were blessed in a special way, and in a way they would not have experienced if Jesus had come immediately and healed Lazarus before he died.  The same is true of the suffering in our lives.  In every trial, there is a unique blessing for the believer, an opportunty for God to be glorified, and an opportunity for other believers to be encouraged by our response of trusting God even in hardship.  I learned in the BSF notes that suffering can be wasted, or it can be used to glorify God and seek the blessing He will give in that trial.

Shortly after reading this lesson, our entire family was sick.  Nothing serious, but enough to put me out of commission for three days and send us to the pediatrician multiple times in a span of 12 days.  As I lay in bed with body aches and a pounding head, my BSF lesson on wasted suffering came to mind.  Although I knew my sinus infection was a very minor hardship, I realized that not even minor suffering should be wasted.  I started to look for ways that God was blessing our family during our illness.  And God showed me several ways.  I gave thanks to God for the snow and ice that kept my husband home from work, because I never would have made it without him.  I gained renewed compassion for people who are ill.  My appreciation and love for my husband grew as I watched him take care of the kids on his own and spend quality time with them while I was sick.

I can’t tell you I spent those three days smiling toward Heaven, singing praise songs and meditating on God’s goodness.  I did plenty of complaining and feeling sorry for myself and wishing things were different.  Looking back, I can see that the difference between the moments of wasting the suffering and not wasting the suffering was a matter of my focus.  When my eyes were on myself and my misery, I moaned and groaned and complained.  When my eyes were on God and His glory, I could see the ways He was blessing and providing for me and my family.

I don’t share this out of pride.  I don’t think that having a few moments of thankfulness in the midst of a sinus infection is anything to boast about.  But I’m thankful that God provided this small test, an opportunity to apply and reinforce what I’m learning in His Word.  I want God to be glorified by my life, no matter what the circumstances.  I don’t want to waste opportunities to learn more about God’s character and draw closer to my Savior.  Even if that means seeing the good in a really, really runny nose.

 

Goals for 2010 February 5, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Marissa Henley @ 3:48 pm
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I thought I’d write a bit about my goals for 2010.  Because it’s February, and everyone knows that February is the time when you let everyone know how you’ve already failed at keeping the goals you wrote down in January.  (Even worse, I found a post I wrote in January 2008 (yes, ’08) about my goals for that year, and they are pretty much the same as my goals for this year.  Gulp.)

I recently read a book on organization by a Christian woman named Donna Otto.  The title was compelling–Secrets to Getting More Done in Less Time–and I found many helpful tips inside.  In the book, she urges women to write down their goals, which we’ve all heard before.  But she also urges women to look at their goals regularly after writing them down.  I’ve taken the first step, and I plan to put the goals inside the cover of my prayer notebook, which hopefully I’ll be opening daily (one of my goals).   So this will either go really well or really badly.

Otto suggests 8 areas to help you brainstorm your goals:  intellectual, physical, emotional, financial, social, spiritual, family and career.  Here are some of the goals I wrote down in these areas:

Intellectual–finish 3 non-fiction books (I’ve finished 2 already!)

Physical–exercise 3 times a week

Emotional–display the fruits of the Spirit to Noel and the kids (And apparently, yelling and grumpiness are not fruits of the Spirit.)

Financial–save money in areas of our budget where Noel asks me to do so

Social–have someone over for dinner once a month

Spiritual–spend time daily in God’s Word and develop a more disciplined prayer life

Family–spend time every week working with Will on pre-reading skills

Career–I don’t have one, but in this area, I’ve set the goal of writing a post on this blog every week.  Obviously, this isn’t happening yet!

Other–scrapbook at least one year’s worth of photos, start Sarah Kate’s baby book

Other than reading books to myself and to Will, none of these goals are going too well.  I’m hoping that by making them public to the 8 people who read this blog (hi, Mom!), it will provide some accountability and motivation.  I do feel like these are all areas in which I should be growing and progressing.  I don’t want to look back at this post in 2012 and be struggling with the same issues.  I want to look back on 2010 as the year that I developed a vibrant prayer life, learned huge lessons from God’s Word, applied them to my life, shared them with others, and served my family with joy.  (And if I happened to lose 5-8 pounds and finish a scrapbook along the way, that would be a bonus!)

 

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.