Encouragement in the Fight Against Temptation

When we’ve been Christians for decades, it seems like we’d have less trouble with sin.

After all, we’ve had so many years to grow, so many times in the Word of God, prayer, church, Sunday School, good books. We know we won’t reach perfection in this life. But shouldn’t we be closer to it?

I have not found myself anywhere near sinless perfection. And I can get quite discouraged when a random thought of anger or envy flashes across my mind. I should know better. Why am I still thinking like that?

But the Bible tells us we will always have our sin nature. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:17). In fact, fighting sin is a good sign because it means we have God’s Spirit in us Who opposes sin.

And in some ways, as we grow in the Lord, we’ll be more sensitive to sin issues. I used to get convicted about angry outbursts. Now I get convicted about angry thoughts.

I don’t spend too much time wondering whether particular temptations come from Satan or from my own sin nature. Sometimes one or the other is a bigger factor, sometimes they work together.

But several years ago, I went through a situation that helped my perspective. For some period of weeks, I felt assaulted by untrue thoughts about God. I felt these thoughts came from Satan because they felt like an attack, and I normally didn’t have a problem with that kind of thing. I was discouraged, upset, fearful of blaspheming or at least dishonoring God.

Finally I thought of a tactic. I don’t normally try to address Satan personally. I leave him for God to handle. But I said, to whoever might be listening, “You know what? When I am tempted with wrong thoughts of God, I’m going to immediately turn my thoughts to His praise. I’ll sing a hymn or read a psalm or think about God’s attributes. So any temptation to wrong thoughts about God is going to result in more praise to Him and of Him and more worship of Him.”

The “thought attacks” stopped soon thereafter.

Recently it occurred to me that I could do the same thing with other temptations. Instead of just getting discouraged or irritated that I still have to fight selfishness or pride or jealousy or whatever, I can see the temptation as a call to arms. I can put on His armor and use the sword of His Spirit, His Word. I can preach His truth to myself and shore up my defenses. I can store up His Word in my heart, that I might not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11). I can pray against temptation (Luke 22:40, Matthew 6:13, Matthew 26:41). I can endeavor more closely to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). I can rejoice that God’s throne is one where we can find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16). I have His encouragement that “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). I can let God use this for good to strengthen me.

Though God offers grace, He doesn’t want us to take sin casually. Though God forgives us when we confess our sin to Him (1 John 1:9), He also tells us to “Look carefully then how you walk” (Ephesians 5:15), to put certain things away from us, to “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you” (Colossians 3:5). He warns us to “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

But “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14).

Temptation to sin isn’t sin, of course. Even Jesus was tempted.

But when I do succumb to temptation, one verse that especially means a lot to me is Micah 7:8: “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.” I love what Christina Rossetti said: “A fall is a signal not to lie wallowing, but to rise.” Instead of wallowing in discouragement over temptation, we can rise against it. And God can use even this to strengthen us, to encourage others, and to glorify Himself. So, once again, what Satan means for evil, God can turn around and use for good.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Our Responsibility to Discern False Teaching

A prophet of God sat under an oak, taking a rest from his long journey. He had come from Judah to Bethel to deliver to King Jeroboam a harsh but needed message.

God had told this prophet not to eat bread or drink water while on this mission, and to return by a different way than he had come. Perhaps the man of God thought these directives were to protect him from the possible diversion by the king, who offered him refreshment and a reward. Or they were to keep him from appearing to show any sign of compromise, as a meal together would indicate friendship and fellowship. Or he might have felt they were a form of fasting, symbolic of his dedication in doing God’s work.

Maybe he should have interpreted them as, “Don’t linger. Do your business and get back as soon as possible.”

As he rested, an older man rode up to him on a donkey, identifying himself as a prophet of God as well. Prophet 2 (let’s call him Henry to avoid confusing pronouns) invited Prophet 1 (George, let’s say) home for a meal. George repeated what he had told the king: he had been told not to eat bread or drink water in that place.

But Henry assured George it was all right. “I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord, saying, ‘Bring him back with you into your house that he may eat bread and drink water.’”

George didn’t think he had a reason to distrust Henry: he was a fellow prophet after all. And George was probably tired, hungry, and thirsty. So he accompanied Henry back to his house.

But Henry had been lying.

“As they sat at the table, the word of the Lord came to the prophet who had brought him back. And he cried to the man of God who came from Judah, ‘Thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have disobeyed the word of the Lord and have not kept the command that the Lord your God commanded you, but have come back and have eaten bread and drunk water in the place of which he said to you, ‘Eat no bread and drink no water,’ your body shall not come to the tomb of your fathers.’”

There’s no record of George’s response. But on his way home, a lion killed him. George’s body was thrown from his donkey, but the lion didn’t eat either George or the donkey. The animals just waited with the body until townspeople passed by and brought word back to the city about what had happened. Henry heard the news and rode back to pick up George, then brought him home to bury in his own tomb.

This is one of the oddest stories in the Bible (1 Kings 13). One of the first questions that comes to mind is, “Why did the second prophet lie to the first?” What earthly reason could he have had? The Bible doesn’t tell us. He didn’t hate the first prophet: he mourned him, called him brother, and confirmed his prophecy to Jeroboam. He even asked to be buried next to him when he died.

We have to remember this is not an isolated story just thrown into the narrative of Israel’s kings. This incident took place within the bigger context of Jeroboam’s awful sins of making golden calves for Israel to worship and setting up a whole different system than what God had given Israel. Perhaps this story is an OT illustration of the NT verse in 1 Peter 4:17: “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” If God would discipline his own prophet who had disobeyed a simple directive, what would He do to the likes of Jeroboam? Perhaps this story was confirmation that God would deal with Jeroboam as the prophet had said.

There are several truths and applications that could be gleaned from this passage. But the one I want to hone in on is this: Know God’s Word. Obey it. Don’t let the surrounding culture turn you away from it. Don’t let even other professing believers distract you from it.

That’s not to say we never ask counsel or receive advice. The Bible tells us to do both. The fellowship of other believers, Bible study books, commentaries, and other aids can open our understanding and point out things we missed.

But we’re to know God’s Word for ourselves so we can discern when someone is telling us something different.

False prophets don’t always look or sound like false prophets at first. They are “deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). Paul said in Galatians 1:8, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.”

Much of the OT warns against false prophets. In one place, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD'” (Jeremiah 23:16).

The NT warns of false prophets and teachers as well. In her book Another Gospel?: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity, Alisa Childers writes: “Much of the New Testament, including the entire book of Jude, is dedicated to helping Christians watch out for, recognize, and avoid these sheep-clothed wolves. In researching some of these passages, I discovered that the topic of false teachers and false teaching is addressed directly in twenty-two of twenty-seven New Testament books. Encouragement to keep the true faith and to practice discernment is mentioned in every single one.”

The Bible warns that false teachers will not only come in from the outside, but they’ll arise from within the congregation. In Paul’s farewell message to the elders at Ephesus, he warned, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert,” (Acts 20:29-31a). Peter warned about false teachers arising “among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them” (2 Peter 2:1-3). This was what happened to Alisa Childers, whose book I mentioned. Her own trusted pastor began undermining longstanding doctrines of the faith.

The Bible gives us the responsibility to watch out for false doctrine. I’ve already mentioned Paul’s admonition to “be alert” in Acts 20:31. Jesus began warnings about false teachers with the word “Beware.” Paul says elsewhere, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

I don’t think this means we need to become unduly suspicious of one another. But we study the Word of God and check whatever we’re taught against it. The Bereans in Acts were called noble because they did this with Paul’s teaching. Alisa followed their example and searched for the truth, nailing down why she believed what she did.

After Paul’s warning to the Ephesian elders, he said, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). When he wrote to the Ephesians later, he said God had given the church gifts in “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” in order “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:12-14).

So while we don’t need to get paranoid, we do need to be alert. And we remember that we don’t come to the Bible just for affirmation or comfort or warm fuzzies. We come to it to find truth about and from God. We study God’s Word for ourselves and with others, and as we grow in spiritual maturity, we won’t be deceived and tossed about.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Ministry in the Mundane

Ministry in the Mundane

“If only I didn’t have to [cook, do dishes, sweep, dust, do laundry, go to the grocery store, etc., etc. etc.], I could get something meaningful done.”

Have you ever thought something like that? Or said it out loud?

Life is full of necessary but mundane tasks.

And whatever we do today likely has to be done again in a few days, if not tomorrow.

I was struck recently by how often I have to refill things: the salt shaker, the tea pitcher, the napkin holder, the toothpick holder, the paper towel and toilet paper holders, the pantry, the refrigerator, the dishwasher, the clothes washer and dryer, the toiletry closet.

When we want to write or participate in some kind of ministry, it’s hard to make time without leaving something else undone.

Yet when I look at the “virtuous woman” of Proverbs 31, most of her day revolved around what would have been everyday tasks of her time: sewing for herself, her family, and her home (no department stores or online ordering in those days), cooking, seeking food “from afar,” buying a field, planting, working “willingly with her hands” late at night and early in the morning, making items to sell to supplement her family’s income. “She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.” She fears the Lord. “She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.” She does all of this with strength, kindness, faith, wisdom and dignity.

A couple of blog friends remind me of this lady. Sadly, they are no longer blogging. But they used to write about their everyday activities in their homes: house projects, gardening and canning, sewing, cooking, etc. They didn’t write devotionals or Bible lessons, but they shared observations in passing about God’s dealings with their lives. Their spirit shone through even in the “homey” activities. They brought a “sense of Him” in everything they did, not just the “spiritual” activities.

The one lady I count as my main mentor was the same way. We never studied through a book together. She never sat me across the table for a lesson. There is nothing wrong with those things. But she taught me plenty by how she managed her home (which she graciously invited me to) and conducted her life. She may have said a few things on purpose as a means of guidance or instruction, but if she did, they were so mild and gentle that I didn’t know I was being “taught.”

When my kids were younger, I regretted that I didn’t have more time for just playing with them. Oh, we played. We’d make Lego creations, read tons of books, go to the park, throw a blanket over the kitchen table and picnic underneath. But I felt guilty because it seemed like I never spent “enough” one-on-one time with them.

Then I thought about this Proverbs 31 lady, or Ma Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie. Laura Ingalls Wilder writes of times that her mother played with her children, and I am sure the Proverbs 31 lady played with hers as well. But they didn’t spend all day at it. They didn’t just play together: they worked together. And Mother passed on to children characteristics they would need not only by direct teaching, but by example.

1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do”—ordinary, everyday activities—“do it all to the glory of God.”

Of course, we have to be careful not to be like Martha, so busy that we neglect what Jesus called the one needful thing of spending time with Him.

And It’s fine to seek ways to do our work as efficiently as possible so we do have time for other activities. If God opens the door for writing, speaking, organizing gatherings, or whatever, great!

But we can glorify God and minister to others in those everyday activities as well.
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For those of you reading this on Mother’s Day, I hope you have a happy day honoring your Mom. If, like me, your mom is no longer living, I hope you have sweet memories.

For those who are moms, I hope your family gives you some relief from those everyday duties and pampers you today.

I realize that though this day is joyous for some, it’s painful for others—those who did not have a good relationship with their moms, who have lost children, who don’t have children but long to. My heart goes out to you, and I pray God will specially minister to your heart today.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Content . . . with Thorns?

In 1940, Isobel Kuhn found herself hitchhiking on an obscure Chinese road. She “had always thought that womanly women did not do such things,” but there was no other way to get where she needed to go. She caught a ride with a truck driver, “cringing with humiliation inside.”

She asked God why she had to be put in such situations. The verse came to mind, “For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men” (2 Corinthians 4:9). A spectacle was just what she felt like. She was a little comforted. Even though this particular incident was a small one, she felt she endured it for His sake since she was a missionary.

Isobel felt that the spectacle Paul probably had in mind was the Arena in Rome, where Christians were thrown to the lions for sport. Later, she wrote:

Through the several years which followed, years of war strain and danger, this thought kept returning to me. The different trials of us Christians of the twentieth century are like so many platforms in the world’s Arena of today. The unbeliever looks on at our struggles and is only impressed or influenced if he sees the power of God working there. The purpose of the Arena experience is not for our punishment; it is that God might be revealed.

. . . God taught me through the years to view my own trials as platforms in today’s Arena. I thought this concept was original with me, but one day my husband found that Hudson Taylor had formed the same opinion many years ago. He said, “Difficulties afford a platform upon which He can show Himself. Without them, we could never know how tender, faithful, and almighty our God is.” I found it so, too. . . It seemed that my most valuable lessons have been learned on these platforms.

Her book In the Arena was written with this idea in mind, showcasing how God manifested Himself through obstacles, frustrations, strain, necessities, danger, and illness.

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul had been praying for deliverance from a “thorn in the flesh.” Commentators offer good evidence for the different possibilities as to what that “thorn” might have been, anything from some physical ailment to actual demonic oppression. I agree with what Warren Wiersbe said in his commentary: it’s good we don’t know exactly what it was, so we can apply it to any kind of “thorn” in our lives.

Paul said God gave him this thorn in response to some special revelations He had given Paul. Paul mentioned earlier in this chapter that he had one experience in the “third heaven” that he was not even allowed to tell the details about.

We’re easily prone to pride when we hit spiritual heights, as though we had anything to do with them. So God gave this “thorn” to Paul “to keep me from becoming conceited” (verse 7). Paul asked God three times to remove the thorn. But God said no. Instead:

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 (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

The ESV Study Bible says twice that “Paul’s earthly weaknesses, not his revelations, are to be the platform for demonstrating the Lord’s power and grace” (p. 2238).

That’s just the opposite way we think it should work, isn’t it? We think some mountaintop experience, some spiritual high point, will “show off” God’s power. And God does use those moments in people’s lives. But we don’t reach those heights in our own strength. Moses spent 40 days alone with God, and his face shown afterward. David went from the depths of despair to the heights of praise in the psalms. Elijah faced off with the prophets of Baal for a showdown of their respective deities. Yet spiritual highs don’t keep us from sin. Relying on God’s power does. Each of these men had very human weaknesses for which they needed God’s grace.

Paul’s thorn not only kept him humble; it kept him dependent. God had told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” When we’re tempted to go off on our own, our weaknesses remind us we can’t: we need God’s help. When a trial is more than we can handle, we’re reminded to give it to the One who can handle it.

The ESV Study Bible points out that in 2 Corinthians 12:9, when God says His grace is sufficient for Paul, the word “sufficient” is in the present tense, “underscoring the ever-present availability and sufficiency of God’s grace” (p. 2238).

Sometimes we don’t want people to get close enough to see our weaknesses. We think our weaknesses will mar our testimony. But people see our blind spots that we’re unaware of: they know we’re not perfect. When they see God’s grace and power in our lives, they know there is hope and help for themselves as well.

Seeing those needs in people’s lives makes them more relatable. When we see them recover from a stumble or struggle with human weakness, it encourages us that we can access God’s grace and carry on.

Even our Lord Jesus, though He never sinned, experienced weakness that draws us to Him. The fact that He stooped to experience humanness for our sakes shows us how much He loves us. We know He understands our weaknesses and needs, not just from omniscience, but from experience.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. . .Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Hebrews 2:14-15, 17-18).

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Paul said he was not only content with “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities,” but he boasted in them (gloried, the KJV says). Some translations say “delight” instead of “am content.”

My first response in any trial is to pray for deliverance, and maybe secondarily to ask that I might learn what I am supposed to from it. But to be content in it? Even more, to delight in it? I can’t say I am there yet.

But maybe I’d be closer if I looked at the situation like I am supposed to, as a way for God’s power to be displayed.

One guest preacher at my college spoke of giving everything he had over to the Lord. When the car broke down, he prayed, “Lord, Your car needs help.” That’s probably a good way to look at it.

So we can be content with our thorns and even glad for them, because:

  • They keep (or make) us humble.
  • They remind us our strength is not in ourselves.
  • They keep us dependent on God’s grace and help.
  • They’re a testimony to others.
  • They make us more relatable.
  • They showcase God’s power.

How about you? Do these truths help you with your “thorns in the flesh”?

This song written by Mike Harlan and Cary Schmidt has helped me carry these truths with me:

2 Corinthians 12:9

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

“At least I’m still good for something.”

When we first moved my mother-in-law over 2,000 miles to live in an assisted living facility near us, we would have her over for dinner sometimes, take her to my youngest son’s basketball games, and take her to church and other outings.

At one dinner, a favorite family story came up. Some years ago, my mother-in-law inadvertently said something inappropriate, using a term with double meaning of which she was unaware. Everyone laughed because they knew she hadn’t meant it in the way people would take it today. The incongruity of such a thing coming from her made it all the more funny.

As we told the story to our kids, who had either not heard it before or had forgotten it, we all laughed, even my mother-in-law.

After the laughter died down, though, she quietly said, “At least I’m still good for something.”

I don’t know if anyone else heard her say it or caught the significance. But her sentence went like an arrow to my heart. She wasn’t complaining or blaming anyone, but she didn’t feel useful any more.

When we first moved her into assisted living, my husband told her, “You’ll never have to cook to clean again.” That sounded pretty good after 70 or years of those activities.

Her only hobby was reading, and she delighted in being able to read all day to her heart’s content. She had always been a homebody, and just going to meals three times a day with a room full of other people taxed her. When aides would knock on her door to see if she wanted to go see the musicians, the magicians, the church choir, or whomever, she politely declined.

I don’t think she was discontent with her circumstances. But we all want to feel we’re of use in the world. There is a feeling of satisfaction and pleasure when we’ve accomplished something, but she didn’t have anything to accomplish any more.

In “The Grace to Be Diminished,” Win Couchman wrote of turning 80 and having to give up driving, changing from their usual place in the balcony at church to a place on the main floor where they didn’t have to fear falling, her husband’s hearing loss and short-term memory loss which caused him to be “silent and isolated at social functions.” But the “diminishment” that particularly touched my heart was when “one of the women who coordinates the potlucks called me and said with winsome authority, ‘Win, enough already. You have been involved with these evenings for about twenty years now, I think. You have done your bit. We want you and Bob to be at every one, but you are not to bring any more food, you hear?'”

Only then did I realize how the slowness with which I function now, and the accompanying late afternoon fatigue, was beginning to color my anticipation with some dread.

Gladly I responded, “Okay.” It’s awkward to walk into someone’s house on potluck Saturdays empty-handed just as another couple arrives loaded with goodies. In that moment, I silently look to God for the grace to be diminished.

Win and her husband, and I am sure my mother-in-law as well, graciously accepted the decline that comes with age, knowing that:

 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Yet I think we should be careful not to diminish them unnecessarily.

In Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Happens in the End, he writes of a woman who was responsible for her father’s care when he could no longer live alone. Yet her desire to keep him safe culminated in his living in a small room with nothing to do, “safe but empty of anything [he cared] about” (p. 109). 

What touched off this train of thought today was a section in Anthony Trollope’s The Last Chronicle of Barset, the sixth and last in his Chronicles of Barsetshire series. Mr. Harding was the main character in the first book, The Warden. Now, in the last book, he has become very old and increasingly feeble. He used to love to play the violincello, but can’t manage it any more. “He had encountered some failure in the performance of the slight clerical task allotted to him, and the dean had tenderly advised him to desist.” He loved going to the cathedral every day, to listen to the organ, read a theology book, or just walk around. But his feebleness caused his fearful housekeeper to write to his daughter, who came to encourage him that perhaps his days of walking alone to the cathedral might need to come to an end. He replied, “I do not like not going;—for who can say how often I may be able to go again? There is so little left, Susan,—so very little left.”

That line was heartbreaking—that there was so little left. Eventually Mr. Harding made peace with the fact that God had given him a good life and he had a better one to look forward to. He found the “grace to be diminished” and decline.

Another line in Gawande’s book says, “Making life meaningful in old age…requires more imagination and invention than making them merely safe does” (p. 137).

Hindsight is always so much clearer, of course, but I wish I had made my mother-in-law’s life more meaningful. When she was still able, I wish I had thought of small tasks she could do to help with meals. Cooking had been her love language of sorts. Though we thought we were honoring her by doing for her, perhaps she would have felt more useful with a way to contribute. I could have made a project of putting her photos in albums with her. I did ask about her early life—high school, how she met her husband, etc.–and even learned some things I hadn’t known before. But I wish I had done that more. Although our visiting almost every day and then bringing her home for her last years showed how much we regarded her, I wish I had often told her that we loved her and were happy to have the opportunity to care for her. Though she had intrinsic value as a being created in God’s image, we should have let her know more often that she was valued and important.

As I look ahead to growing older, a couple of passages especially comfort me. One is Isaiah 46:4: “even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.”

Another is Psalm 92:12-15:

The righteous flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the Lord;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
to declare that the Lord is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

During my mother-in-law’s last years, when she slept most of the time, I wondered what kind of fruit she was bearing in that state. A few came to mind. Her godly life—not perfect, but steadily walking with God and seeking to serve Him the best she could in her circumstances. Her uncomplaining patience. Her taking things with humor. Her willingness to “go with the flow.” Her testimony of peace and joy before her caregivers.

I wish these things had come to mind when she wondered what she was “good for.” I trust her Lord’s, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” assured her that He was able to use her in many ways. And I hope that these thoughts will remind me to let others know the ways God used them in my life.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Why Is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ Important?

Why is the resurrection of Jesus Christ important

Easter Day! Time for new, springy clothes, a ham dinner, brightly colored eggs, and chocolate bunnies.

And the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.

I’m not against those other things. I enjoy them all. But I do fear that the resurrection gets lost in the shuffle except for a special church service and hymns.

Even as Christians, sometimes we’re so used to the resurrection, we forget how special, how life-changing, how dynamic it is.

Or we might be comforted by the resurrection when a loved one dies, but we don’t think it affects everyday life much.

So I thought I’d spend some time thinking about just why the resurrection of Christ is important.

The resurrection of Christ proves His deity.

Set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 1:1b-4).

He has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead (Acts 17:31).

The resurrection of Christ validated what He said. He foretold many times that He would rise after three days in the grave. Here are just a few:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised (Matthew 16:21).

As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed (Matthew 17:22-23).

And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead (Mark 9:9).

The resurrection is part of the gospel. When Paul spoke of sharing the gospel, the resurrection was an integral part of it.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification (Romans 4:22-25).

Without the resurrection, we’re still in our sins.

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).

I’ve heard some say to the unsaved, “If I’m wrong and you’re right, I’ve lost nothing. But if I’m right and you’re wrong, you’ve lost everything.” But that’s not what the Bible says. “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

Since Christ was raised, we know we will be, too.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:20-22).

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John11:25).

Since we will all be raised, we will see our loved ones again.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).

The resurrection removes death’s sting. Death is still grievous. It is still an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26). But knowing that we’ll live again afterward and can meet God forgiven, cleansed, and accepted takes away death’s sting.

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15: 54-57).

Because Jesus died and rose again, Satan is defeated.

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him (Romans 11-15).

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2:14-15).

The “rulers and authorities” mentioned in the last verse are thought to refer to Satan and his minions, the unseen “rulers of darkness.”

God’s power in the resurrection is the same power with which He works on our behalf.

That you may know . . . what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:19-23).

Because of the resurrection, we can walk in newness of life.

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:10-14).

Jesus’ resurrection gives hope and meaning to our suffering.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18).

Because He died and rose again, we come to a throne of grace.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4: 14-16).

Because Jesus rose again, He is interceding for us.

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us (Romans 8:34).

Because of the resurrection, we can be steadfast. After spending 57 verses talking about the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says, “Therefore”—because of all that he said in those 57 verses—

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).

In Isobel Kuhn’s Nests Above the Abyss, she says the Lisu “have no hope beyond the grave.” She had heard their wail “for the dead and my heart could hardly stand the hopelessness of their agony.” One five-year-old child screamed incessantly when his beloved neighbor died and he understood death for the first time. When he became a young man, he admitted, “after that awful introduction to the fact of death, he could not come upon a grave on the mountainside without getting cold all over.” This, Isobel says, is “a typical scene.” Another “cried so hard and so long he was ill for days” upon learning about death. Some who bury loved ones “sometimes weep themselves blind, and some lose their minds.” Some harden themselves by trying to forget their dead loved one.

That first five-year-old boy grew up to become an evangelist. One time he related his story, then told how he heard one of the missionaries speak on John 11:25, where Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”

“As she explained that verse, suddenly the truth of it broke in on my understanding, and the fact of eternal life, a life after death, a hope beyond the grave, shone before me. I was thrilled through and through; faith and acceptance of the Saviour were born right then in my soul. It was that verse on the resurrection that brought me to Christ; and I have a feeling that I am not the only Lisu to become a believer because of this truth. All of you who were led to become Christians by the resurrection doctrine, hold up your hands.” Ans all over the building hands shot into the air and the glowing joy on their faces told its own story (pp. 16-18).

May those of us who have heard of the resurrection all our lives be impressed anew with its truth, its hope, its victory. May we come to love and appreciate it now more than ever. May the resurrection impact us not just at Easter, but every day.

And may those who have not yet believed do so soon.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Lamb of God

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:5-6

Years ago I heard a story about a guest preacher who was just getting ready to board his train after speaking at a church. A man hurried to him, saying he had been in the meeting and was anxious about his spiritual state. Could the preacher take time to talk to him?

The preacher’s train was the last of the night, and it was about to leave. All he had time to tell the man was to read Isaiah 53:6, and then to go in and the first “all” and come out at the last “all.”

The man was puzzled, but when he went home. he looked up Isaiah 53:6: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” As the man read the passage several times, understanding dawned. He was a sheep gone astray, stubbornly following his own way. But Jesus took his iniquity. If he trusted in Jesus, he would be saved and forgiven.

I don’t know if this is a true story, but the point it makes is true.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous,
that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18).

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

Stricken, smitten, and afflicted,
see him dying on the tree!
‘Tis the Christ, by man rejected;
yes, my soul, ’tis he, ’tis he.
‘Tis the long-expected Prophet,
David’s Son, yet David’s Lord;
proofs I see sufficient of it:
’tis the true and faithful Word.

Tell me, as you hear him groaning,
was there ever grief like his,
friends through fear his cause disowning,
foes insulting his distress?
Many hands were raised to wound him,
none would intervene to save;
but the deepest stroke that pierced him
was the stroke that justice gave.

If you think of sin but lightly
nor suppose the evil great,
here you see its nature rightly,
here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed,
see who bears the awful load;
’tis the Word, the Lord’s anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God.

Here we have a firm foundation,
here the refuge of the lost:
Christ, the Rock of our salvation,
is the name of which we boast;
Lamb of God, for sinners wounded,
sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded
who on him their hope have built.

Thomas Kelly, 1804

Isaiah 53:6

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Dormant Souls

One of my least favorite parts of winter is the barrenness of the landscape. Besides a few fir trees, nothing is growing and everything looks dead and gray.

The plants and trees aren’t dead, of course. They’re just dormant, suspending their usual growth process for their protection. Life is still inside the plants and their roots, ready to spring forth when conditions are ripe again.

I think our souls sometimes go through periods of dormancy, too. We all have ups and downs, times when we “feel” more fervent and spiritual than others. We know we don’t rely on feelings, but they can sure make things easier or harder.

Grief can look like dormancy. Just like a broken leg needs time to heal, a broken heart does as well. Much of a grieving person’s energy goes towards healing. They’re still very much alive, spiritually and otherwise. Some say that their deepest periods of growth have come during their most sorrowful times. But they may not look or act like their normal selves and may not appear to be as fruitful as they usually are.

King David’s life seems to me to display dormancy after his great sin with Bathsheba and his unthinkable plot to have her husband killed. The first part of his life had gone well as he followed God closely. He wasn’t perfect, but he was “a man after God’s own heart.”

But after these sins, David tried to cover his tracks for several months. Then God’s prophet confronted him, and David broke down. He confessed his sin and repented.

Yet even forgiven sin has consequences. David’s household was in turmoil for years afterward. One son raped his half-sister. Another son killed the first and tried to take over David’s kingdom.

And David said nothing to rebuke his sons. Did he feel he had no right in light of his failures? Did he feel the events in his family were part of his punishment? It would have been better to be honest with them about his sin, to warn them about the dangers of temptation and the necessity to nip it in the bud, to point out that he didn’t “get away with it,” as perhaps they hoped to do, but he was under God’s chastening hand.

In fact, David is pretty quiet from the time of his sin until his return to the kingdom after Absalom’s rebellion. But he doesn’t seem fully himself again until 1 Kings, as he helps Solomon get ready to build the temple.

In today’s cancel culture, David’s career would be over and his esteem among his people would have been lost.

But God wasn’t done with David. David’s spiritual life wasn’t dead: just read Psalm 51, written after his repentance. According to this site, Psalms 32, 86, and 122 were also written after this time.

John Newton captured this idea of reviving in spring in a couple of poems. One, written in April of 1776, begins “Pleasing spring is here again” and goes on to capture evidences of spring. The next few stanzas say:

What a change has taken place!
Emblem of the spring of grace;
How the soul, in winter, mourns
Till the Lord, the Sun, returns;
Till the Spirit’s gentle rain,
Bids the heart revive again;
Then the stone is turned to flesh,
And each grace springs forth afresh.

Lord, afford a spring to me!
Let me feel like what I see;
Ah! my winter has been long,
Chilled my hopes, and stopped my song!
Winter threatened to destroy
Faith and love, and every joy;
If thy life was in the root,
Still I could not yield thee fruit.

Speak, and by thy gracious voice
Make my drooping soul rejoice;
O beloved Saviour, haste,
Tell me all the storms are past:
On thy garden deign to smile,
Raise the plants, enrich the soil;
Soon thy presence will restore
Life to what seemed dead before.

In the last stanza, Newton longs for his eternal home where winter will be no more.

In “Waiting for Spring,” written a couple of years later in March of 1778, Newton revisits this idea. In the first three stanzas, he talks about the change of seasons as part of God’s decree. Then he writes:

Such changes are for us decreed;
Believers have their winters too;
But spring shall certainly succeed,
And all their former life renew.

Winter and spring have each their use,
And each, in turn, his people know;
One kills the weeds their hearts produce,
The other makes their graces grow.

Though like dead trees awhile they seem,
Yet having life within their root,
The welcome spring’s reviving beam
Draws forth their blossoms, leaves, and fruit.

Then he prays in the last stanza:

Dear Lord, afford our souls a spring,
Thou know’st our winter has been long;
Shine forth, and warm our hearts to sing,
And thy rich grace shall be our song.

It’s one thing when circumstances or sorrows cause us to draw in and heal, or God’s chastening weighs us down for a while. It’s another thing if we’re dormant because we’ve neglected God’s means of growth.

Like plants, we need light.

There are many who say, “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!” (Psalm 4:6)

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace (Numbers 6:24-26).

The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. (Psalm 119:130).

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

We need water.

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word (Ephesians 5:25-26).

Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. (John 7:37).

And we need nourishment.

I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food (Job 23:12).

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts. (Jeremiah 15:16).

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35).

Whether your soul is feeling sluggish and sleepy or in full bloom, or in-between, will you turn to His light and let it warm you? Will you take in His water and let it soak down deep in your soul? Will you partake of His nourishment to strengthen your roots and bring forth fruit in your life?

After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.

Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth (Hosea 6:2-3).

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

From a Weight of Care to a Weight of Glory.

In the midst of Job’s suffering, he remarked, “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1).

We might sometimes lament, “Why does life have to be so hard?”

God didn’t originally create life to be so troublesome in Eden. But sin affected everything, from the people God created to the earth they lived in (Genesis 3). Humans had work to do before sin entered the world (Genesis 2:15). But it would have been something like working at your favorite hobby with nothing going wrong. However, after sin entered the world, part of God’s curse was that thorns and thistles would spring up and labor would cost sweat and pain (Genesis 3:16-19).

Besides daily work becoming hard, personal relationships would suffer because now everyone would have a sin nature. Misunderstandings, anger, selfishness, pride, and more would war in hearts and against others. The very first person born to Adam and Eve murdered his brother.

And human history went downhill from there.

Each of us has experienced the fallenness of the world.

From early childhood we fall and get scraped up, hear taunts, teasing, and put-downs from other children, get into trouble when we do wrong, feel misunderstood and mistreated.

As teenagers we either strive to get into the popular crowd and then not lose our place, or we lament that we’ll always be on the outside. Then there’s acne, puberty, hormones, questions about the future.

As adults we struggle to make a living against increasing prices. Workplace feuds and misunderstandings crowd out enjoyment in our jobs. Someone else gets the promotion we were due. Someone takes the credit for our idea.

We struggle against our own sin nature and lament the continual pull of selfishness.

As we get older, aches and pains take over our bodies. Sight dims, and we can’t do the things we used to.

Along the way, friends and loved ones get sick and die. Innocent little children get cancer. Car crashes maim or kill loved ones. Murders and wars increase.

We try to share our faith, but people mostly don’t want to hear it. Some will actively persecute us. There are countries where sharing Christianity and handing out Bibles is a crime and conversion is punishable by death.

We have needs. Our families have needs. Friends have needs. Our country has needs and opposite opinions about how to deal with them. Our church has needs. The world at large has needs. Orphans, widows, victims, medical research, so many needs that are more than we can even begin to manage.

When we feel the weight of a fallen world, we’re tempted to just crawl into a corner and wait for it to be over.

But thinking of that weight, Paul says, “ For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). In another place he says:

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Once when we came across this passage in a ladies’ Bible study, one of the women had been going through a terrible physical battle. She was a little hurt and angry that the Bible seemed to brush off her heavy affliction as light.

But Paul isn’t minimizing the affliction. He’s saying our glory will be greater than our affliction. Sin, tears, pain, mourning, loss, problems, as weighty as they are, will seem lightweight and short-lived compared to what we’ll experience when Jesus comes for His own. Speaking of that time, Paul tells the Thessalonians, “Therefore encourage [some translations say ‘comfort’] one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:8).

‘Well,” we might be thinking, “that will be great when we get to heaven. But is there no hope and help til then?”

There is.

Just before that section in 2 Corinthians, Paul says, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (4:16).

God gives grace and strength to meet every trial. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

God invites us to cast our care on Him (1 Peter 5:7).

God gives strength in our weakness. “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” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Jesus sympathizes with our weakness and promises grace to help in time of need. “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Okay, it’s a relief to know we have God’s help to get through this life. But what about joy? Do we just bear with life til it’s over?

No, God gives joy as well. He gives physical blessings: “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart” (Psalm 104:14-15).

He gives comfort in sorrow. “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5b).

Joy is one aspect of the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit in believers (Galatians 5:22-23).

He gives us the joy of His presence: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God” (Psalm 43:4).

When the world is too much, we can’t hide our head in the sand. But neither can we solve the world’s problems. We’re not meant to. We only need to walk in fellowship with “God our exceeding joy,” take everything to Him in prayer, and do what He calls us to within our sphere of influence.

As the hymn says:

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

From “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” by Thomas Obediah Chisholm

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Comforted by the Ways God Uses Us

We took care of my mother-in-law in our home for five years. Many of you were reading here at that time and offered much prayer, love, and encouragement.

I had a sudden realization about that period of our lives this week. It was such a jolt, and then a comfort, that I thought I’d share it with you.

We had moved my mother-in-law, Colleen, from Idaho, where she lived for 30+ years, to SC, where we then lived, to an assisted living facility. She had to move again when we moved to TN. Then she had to be moved twice when her physical state declined to the point that the facilities could no longer care for her. She ended up in a nursing home, where she declined rapidly. She was 90 lbs. and in a constant fog. We felt she was being neglected, so we brought her home, thinking we were bringing her home to die. But with one-on-one care, she gained weight and became clearer and lived for another five years. I wrote about our experiences, things I learned, challenges we faced, etc., and filed them under Adventures in Eldercare.

My biggest regret from our caregiving experience was that I chafed under most of it. I wanted her to be well cared-for. But I didn’t want to be the one to do it. Of all the things I wanted to be when I grew up, a nurse was never one of them.

Plus, our “nest” was emptying, and though I missed our kids, I had big plans for my free schedule. I was going to write a book and all sorts of things (in the three years since she passed, I still haven’t finished the book, so obviously caregiving wasn’t the main roadblock).

I had to remind myself many times over those years that if caregiving was God’s will for me at that time, that He would give grace to do it; that He doesn’t always place us in positions that use our strengths, but often He puts us where we feel totally weak, that we might find our strength in Him; that caring for one person, even a mostly unresponsive person, in a back room is as much a ministry as preaching to thousands or writing a best-selling book or whatever.

But I can’t say I ever “got” those lessons in a way that stayed with me. I had to repeat them often, sometimes daily.

For some reason, one morning this week my mind wandered to some of the caregivers both in facilities and in our home who . . . let’s say, did not do a good job. I could tell you stories . . . At first I put several of those stories here, but then decided to delete them.

You think, when you’ve researched facilities and placed a loved one in one, that they’ll get the best care possible, that everyone knows what they are doing. But that’s not the case. There are a lot of kind, caring caregivers who do their best. Our dear Jessica, who was Colleen’s main caregiver for 3 1/2 or so years, was a treasure worth her weight in gold. But there were others who were just punching the clock. There were some about whom we wondered what ever brought them into health care in the first place. Did they think it would be an easy job to prepare for or to do? Did they used to be good but then got burned out?

Some of them did a good job as far as the physical things they were responsible for. But they seemed to forget that they were dealing with a person, especially when that person didn’t speak. They’d talk over her to each other instead of to her.

So this particular morning, as my thoughts ran through some of the caregiving situations we encountered, I began to realize that maybe what Colleen had needed most from me was not my nursing care. Maybe what she needed most from me was someone to watch out for her, to advocate for her, to insist that she be cared for in not only the best physical ways, but the most humane ways.

It’s not that we griped to caregiver managers or corrected all the time. We didn’t want to come across as know-it-alls or can’t-ever-be-pleased nitpicky types. We didn’t bring up every single little thing we felt was wrong. We only chose the most vital issues to discuss with the staff at her facilities or at the home health care agency. Still, there seemed to be way too much that we needed to speak to them about.

Years ago, before there were so many personality tests and ways of classifying them as they are now, the main way of sorting personalities was the four spiritual temperaments. I remember poring over Beverly LaHaye’s The Spirit-Controlled Woman. Though no personality classification is perfect, this one made sense to me and seemed a lot simpler than many of the personality classifications today.

My personality, according to that system, was melancholic—an unfortunate name since it sounds like I’m depressed or sad or morose, which I am not. One aspect of melancholics is perfectionism, which, like most personality traits, can be good or bad. Perfectionism can drive one to do the best possible job rather than leaving things done half-hardheartedly. You’d want your brain surgeon to be a perfectionist. But perfectionism can also lead to hyper-criticism and misery when you and everyone else can’t live up to your ideals. This trait “clicked” for me when a guest preacher in our church several years ago, Jim Binney, said that melancholics see things that are wrong and want to set them right.

I felt like much of the care I provided for my mother-in-law felt outside my natural gifts. As I mentioned before, that situation cast me on the Lord like nothing else.

But this particular morning, I realized God had used me in the ways He made me by helping me see the things that were wrong in her care, helping to right them, and eventually bringing her home. It’s not just that this area was one thing I did right in the midst of so much I felt I did wrong or struggled with. But I just felt particularly known and loved and useful in God’s hands. I hope that makes sense.

Whether God uses us as we feel gifted or totally outside our gifts and personality, our sufficiency is from Him.

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