A word for a pilgrim’s heart …

“I love the Lord because He hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because He bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!” Do I hear shouted amens around the world? That’s from Psalm 116:1,2, a psalm with some of my favorite passages because they describe my life. I’d love to quote them all here, but I won’t … I often am brought to tears by the chapter.

Death wrapped its ropes around me…I saw only trouble and sorrow…

Then I called to Him.

How kind the Lord is! How good he is! So merciful …

Let my soul be at rest again, for the Lord has been good to me…

And so I walk in the LORD’s presence as I live here on earth!

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All of that to preface a story that fits well with our series on hope.

Five friends were vacationing in Maine back in October. One of the ladies gave each of us a gift before we ended the week. She had purchased small pewter scallop shells, each imprinted with a single inspirational word. The words were all different; we drew our shells at random.

Yes! A scallop shell. I’d just finished the edit of a book by a pilgrim who walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain (Stuck in the Weeds, by Paul Stutzman), and from his experiences I’d learned that a scallop shell is the symbol of pilgrimage on the Camino. I liked the idea of a daily reminder of who I am in this world, and so I’d been looking for a scallop charm to wear on a chain. This little pewter shell cannot be put on a chain, but it does the job of reminding me, lying on my kitchen windowsill, looking up at me each day with its Word.

Well… well. That’s about all I want to say about the last two weeks since Thanksgiving. Holidays. (When I say “holidays,” does that conjure up stress and emotional turbulence for you?) Called for jury duty. A computer that one day decided to go on strike. Illness. Oh, my. As my mom used to quote, “The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley (go often awry).”

That’s from a poem by Robert Burns, written way back in the 1700s. He was ploughing, and his plough destroyed a mouse’s nest.

Ah! doesn’t that happen to us? Just about the time we have things in life arranged comfortably … then something ploughs through. A plough breaks everything up. Turns everything upside down. The poet’s line concerns the mouse, but it could be describing us: “Oh what a panic is in your little breast!”

Yes, my plans for the whole month of December 2015 have been ploughed through…

So … as you have probably noticed … we are not yet done with our hope meditations!

But back to the scallop shell.

The word carved into it is RELAX.

Now, when I drew that shell, I was delighted it was a scallop shell since I’d been looking for one. And that word on it? Well, okay, the word was nice. But I was pretty relaxed at that time, and I didn’t think much of it. I was just happy to have a scallop shell to remind me I am a pilgrim.

Now, though, RELAX is going to be my Word of the Year.

At the end of two weeks of turmoil came a short little blurb a local businessman asked me to edit. The subject was on choosing a Word of the Year instead of making New Year’s resolutions. One word. A word that requires you to both change your thinking and your behaviors. A word to think about and put into practice every day of 2016. I’ve never been a resolution-maker or keeper…but a word of focus and action? That intrigued me.

And here’s my word on my kitchen windowsill! Looking at me every day. Carved into the symbol of who I am!

Yes, every day, this pilgrim is determined to relax. I think back over all of the hope we’ve discovered this year. All the promises given to us by our Creator, our Father, the one who saved us and saves us every day.

The one who the psalmist spoke of… This God, our God, who makes it possible for our souls to be at rest as we walk in the presence of the Lord every day.

Why would I not RELAX in the journey ahead, knowing who is walking with me and has made all these promises?

The scallop shell will stay on my windowsill for next year.

And the word is now carved on the heart of this pilgrim.

How kind the Lord is! How good He is to me!

And lest you think this is all coincidence…

Yesterday I got an email from a friend in another state. She knew nothing of the scallop shell or the suggestion of a Word of the Year. She knew only that the last two weeks a plough has gone through my life.

Her email included this line: “I will pray for both of us to relax in the Lord…”

Persecution: Opportunities, Privileges, and Rewards

How’s that for a title? Does it sound like a slick sales spiel prompting you to sign up for something you don’t really want?

The earthly life in me says, Waaaiiit a minute!—and shrinks back at the prospect of being the target of hate and trouble because I carry the name of Christ. Yet the new, heavenly life within me has set my heart on something more than my own comfort—the opportunities, privileges, and rewards that come through persecution because I am connected to Christ.

OPPORTUNITY

The words are from Jesus Himself. He doesn’t sugar coat the facts of the life He calls us to. He doesn’t have a promo that promises all glory and blessing. He tells us bluntly that those who are His disciples will encounter all kinds of trouble. But this is an opportunity! He says. On a worldly level, it’s a hard life He is calling us to … but in His kingdom, in the values and dynamics of heaven, this is opportunity!

In Luke 21, Jesus talked to His disciples about the future and His eventual return to the earth. And hard times were—ARE—ahead.

“But before all this occurs [the events preceding the “end”], there will be a time of great persecution. You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me.” (Luke 21:12-13)

Jesus’ focus is on spreading the Gospel. He reminds us that our short breath of life is but part of a much larger picture, one that is centered on God’s will for His creation. And His will for His children is that we become a part of His work here.

In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul writes about hard times (including persecution), and reminds us that our steadfastness in these times is a chance to show Christ’s life shining in ours. It’s a chance to show God’s power and faithfulness. Our steadfastness is an opportunity to spread the word of God’s grace to more and more people.

God has a plan, you see, and His children are partners with the rescuer Christ Jesus in carrying out the plan. We are called to do good and spread the Gospel, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for us. He is our example. We follow in His steps. (see 1 Peter 2:21)

PRIVILEGE

And that is the great privilege — to be partners with Christ in His rescue work. To bear His name.

I’m thinking of how proudly some wear jerseys and shirts with the names or numbers of their favorite football players. Or tee shirts with business names. In the book of Acts, we find the disciples flogged for the preaching they’ve been doing—and when they’re released, they rejoiced that God had “counted them worthy to bear disgrace for the name of Jesus.”

In our suffering for the sake of furthering the Gospel mission, we become partners with Christ.

And the wonderful thing about that partnership is that He is there, helping us. Because He went through trials and suffering Himself, He helps us now. (see Hebrews 2:18). When we’re under attack from the world, we know it also attacked Him. We’re partners.

And as such, His Spirit and power work through us. Our lives are so closely connected to Him that we are like vine and branches. Our weakness makes room for His great power. After a stroke that affected his vision and writing, Steve Fuller wrote, “Every trial is a gift of more of Christ’s presence.”

He pours Himself into us.

Becoming a part and a partner of Christ—what a privilege! To my soul, this is the ultimate good thing that comes out of hard places.

Oh, Lord Jesus, I want to be worthy of wearing your name and of being your partner in this mission.

REWARD

“Dance for joy,” Jesus said, “when people hate you because you follow me. How God will bless you now and in the future! And a great reward awaits you in heaven.” (See Luke 6:22-23 and Matthew 5:11-12).

“When people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil…” Does that situation sound familiar?

Then, says Jesus, you have a great reward awaiting you—and He talks as though it’s going to be exciting stuff!

We’ll look more at the praise, glory, and rewards awaiting us when we get into the section on Hope for the Future (later this year).

For now, those few words of Jesus are enough to plant my feet firmly and point my eyes ahead to the new city.

“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17)

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May I squeeze in a few more words?

I have to include this quote from Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest. I think it speaks to me because it describes so well how I feel at times—and my hope for those hard times.

A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, but our Lord continues to stretch and strain, and every once in a while the saint says, “I can’t take any more.” Yet God pays no attention; He goes on stretching until His purpose is in sight, and then He lets the arrow fly. Entrust yourself to God’s hands.

Peace to you, brothers and sisters, trusting yourself to God’s hands.

Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.
(Romans 12:12)

 

 

 

Psalm Prayer:

My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise renews my life.
(Psalm 119:50)

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So much MORE on hope for hard times:

Deuteronomy 8:2-15; Job 42:1-6; Psalm 23:5; Psalm 31:1-8; Psalm 32:7; Psalm 46:1-11; Psalm 66:8-12; Psalm 84:5-7; Psalm 105:16-19; Psalm 119:67-72; Psalm 126:5-6; Isaiah 27:7-9; Isaiah 48:8-11; Isaiah 61:3; Daniel 11:35; Daniel 12:10; Matthew 5:4, 10-12; John 14:16; John 15:18-21; John 16:33; John 17:13-19; Luke 6:22-23; Luke 21:12-13; Acts 5:40-42; Roman 5:3-5; Romans 8:17, 28, 35; Romans 12:12; 1 Corinthians 1:7-9; 2 Corinthians 1:3-5; 2 Corinthians 4:6-10, 15-18; 2 Corinthians 6:10; 2 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10; Colossians 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:3, 5; 2 Timothy 3:12; 2 Timothy 4:5; Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 4:14-16; Hebrews 5:8; Hebrews 10:32-38; Hebrews 12:5-13; James 1:2-4, 12; 1 Peter 1:6-7, 9; 1 Peter 2:18-21; 1 Peter 4:12-16, 19; 1 Peter 5:10, 12.

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© Elaine Starner 2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, Lana Turner, and Mary Jane Smith for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

Grace at work: Reaping joy from tears

In our sorrows and pain, are seeds being planted that will bring harvests of joy? Psalm 126:5,6 creates that picture. People who have been exiled from their homeland now return and try to rebuild their lives. There is still grief and tears, but they look forward to a harvest of joy.

What might the harvest be of our grief and tears?

I think we will be harvesting in the Lord’s fields.

In “making all things work together” for His purposes, the Almighty Father uses our hard times for the good of others, too.

Ah.

Do you remember the scene in Acts 2? The Holy Spirit has filled the disciples, and now they are speaking to crowds that have gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost, and they are speaking in many languages. Those from out of town are looking at each other and saying, “This guy speaks our language. And he’s talking about wonderful things God has done!”

Out of our hard times comes a new language, a language we now understand and speak to others who are traveling through the same barren wilderness.

Who better to speak to the grief of a lonely widow than another widow who has also walked through that valley? Who better to speak of the power of Christ to free from addiction than a person whom Christ has freed? Who better to speak the language of the hard times of divorce than one who has had to walk through that fire? Who knows the language of depression better than those who live with it?

When Paul writes about the gifts given to the church to carry out their ministry in the world, might suffering also be a gift? Can God use my trials and troubles to carry hope and comfort to another person who is experiencing the same thing I’ve been through?

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

There is so much hope in this passage! God is the source of all comfort. And not only does He comfort us, but He comforts others through us.

I’d like to introduce you to Vaneetha Rendall, whom I met a few years ago in a writing group. Vaneetha has walked through valleys I have not walked; she can speak languages I cannot. She speaks the language of a parent who has lost a child. She speaks other languages too. But most of all, she speaks words of hope and joy, even though she has walked through many fires and floods.

Here are some of her words. “Paul” is the son she lost.

That same transforming sense of purpose can arise from any loss. In sharing about Paul and subsequent sorrows, I have found others desperate for words of hope and comfort. They want to talk about their pain and fears with someone who has suffered as they have. It has been an honor to be part of their healing. To listen to them as they walk similar paths of sorrow. To offer evidence that they will heal, survive and even thrive. I hear others asking the same questions I did: Will I make it through? Will the aching ever stop? Will I ever laugh again?

God has carried me in my grief and comforted me through terrible trials. And because of His tender care, I am able to offer hope to others who are suffering. And when I do, it is like rubbing balm on my wounds. I get stronger. I gain courage. I feel joy again.

Read more of Vaneetha’s story and words of hope at her website, Dance in the Rain. (Click on the site name)

Isn’t this amazing grace?

God works in our pain so that, with joy, we can be part of others’ healing! And as we do, we grow stronger, gain more courage, and feel joy again.

Plant in tears. Reap in joy.

He brings good things from our hard places, not only for us, but also for the benefit of others. The gifts that are given to God’s children include the gift of the language of suffering. In those languages, we can speak hope to each other.

We have all been given a very special gift, writes Madeleine L’Engle in Walking on Water, a gift that enables us to serve and please God in one very special way —

And what if we find that this gift is one of suffering?

 

 

 

Psalm Prayer:

My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise renews my life.
(Psalm 119:50)

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© Elaine Starner 2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, Lana Turner, and Mary Jane Smith for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

Words of hope, our bridge to go onward

I give up. As hard as I try, I cannot stretch my calendar to include a few more days in this week. As I said at the beginning of the week, we’re tackling a subject that cannot be contained in an entire library. But I have at least two more things that I must ponder with you. And so, I’m going to break one of my own rules and carry this week’s meditations one more day into next week. I apologize if it throws your entire week into chaos.

 

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If hard times and struggles create a training ground for us, what can we hope to gain by our pain? When we go through dark days without a ray of light; when we lie awake at night because the mind will not rest; when we look everywhere and cannot find relief or answers or help; when we bleed and break and cry—yet still, the children of God have this hope: God does bring good things out of even the most terrifying wilderness.

Scripture tells us of some of these things, and there is so much here that we could go on for months. For now, I just want to point out some of the promises we have.

James 1:2. Testing produces perseverance in us. And perseverance will make us “perfect and complete.” Wow. I know I’m far from that point of completeness. I also know I want it.

1 Peter 1:6-7. When your faith remains strong through testing, it will bring you “much praise and honor” when Jesus Christ and His heavenly kingdom appear.

Psalm 66:8-12. God purifies us in hard times, but he brings us through fire and flood, to a “place of great abundance.” (I want to know that place. I want to live there.)

2 Corinthians 6:10. We have spiritual riches and joy in spite of heartache.

Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 11-18. We learn humility. We learn that it is God and God alone who brings us through the wilderness to a place of abundance. We learn to depend on Him instead of being too proud of our own resources.

Romans 5:3-4. Problems and trials help us develop endurance which in turn creates godly character in us and increases our trust and hope in God.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 and Hebrews 2:18. We have a greater experience of Christ’s presence, power, and help

Daniel 11:35. Persecution refines us. Purifies us. Even cleanses us.

Psalm 31:7-8. God cares about our anguish, our suffering opens us to see His unfailing love, and through it all, He keeps us in a safe place.

Matthew 5:4 and Isaiah 61:3. His comfort comes to those who mourn.

2 Thessalonians 3:2-3. He strengthens us and guards us.

Hebrews 10:12-13 and Romans 8:28. God uses everything that happens to develop godliness in us.

1 Peter 5:10. God does not abandon us is our hard times. He will restore, support, and strengthen us and put our feet on solid ground once again.

For every child of God going through a hard time, there’s hope in Scripture, laid out in plain words and speaking directly to your soul. I have my favorites; they’re life-lines I hold onto when I think I’m sinking. (One is the last one above, 1 Peter 5:10. Sometime, I’ll share my story about that passage.)

May you find your bridges of hope too.

Amen.

 

 

 

Psalm Prayer:

My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise renews my life.
(Psalm 119:50)

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© Elaine Starner 2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, Lana Turner, and Mary Jane Smith for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

Our eyes see Him

I puzzle about the book of Job. I’m confused by the friends’ advice. Some of it seems true, but apparently we are to reject it. Even though I’m a reader thousands of years away, I still have to ask the Lord, Why? Why would you allow all this trouble to fall on one man’s head?

But I read the end of the story, and I find, not the answer to Why, but an amazing thing that ignites a desire in my own heart.

Go back to the beginning of the story first. Meet Job. He lived an upright life. He was blameless, had complete integrity, and stayed away from evil. God called him “my servant.” Yet hear what Job says after all his suffering:

“I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes.” (Job 42:5)

These hard times Job walked through had brought him a more personal relationship with God than he had ever known before.

God uses trials and troubles to draw us closer, to teach us more about Him, to open our eyes to all He is.

We can, of course, be mad at Him and turn away and refuse to see Him. But when we look, when we open our eyes, we will see that He is here with us.

Psalm 46 is the song that starts out with earthquakes and mountains crumbling and tidal waves roaring. Yet we will not fear, the song says. Nations are in chaos and kingdoms crumble. The earth melts! But not God’s dwelling place.

God dwells in that city; it cannot be destroyed. From the very break of day, God will protect it…The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; [He] is our fortress. (Psalm 46:5, 11)

Remember that God now dwells among His people. We are His Temple here on earth. He makes His home with us. The Lord is here, in this city. In the midst of chaos and crumbling and disaster, we’ll see Him with our own eyes if we seek Him.

 

 

 

Psalm Prayer:

My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise renews my life.
(Psalm 119:50)

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© Elaine Starner 2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, Lana Turner, and Mary Jane Smith for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)