Finding Perspective and Refreshment for Our Souls During Unrest

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Well, it's June now! We have officially survived the Coronavirus shutdown and the civil unrest occurring in our nation. Even now that we are free to do more than simply grocery shop, there is still a sense of weariness and exhaustion that seems to settle over many of us in our day-to-day living. I was at work one day, caring for a patient, when the TV in their room suddenly reported tragic, forlorn news; story after story, the media was telling me how horrible the Coronavirus is out there. And certainly it has devastated many families, individuals, countries and economies. But the media has a way of taking the tragedies that happen all over and bring them all to you; creating a strong opportunity for information overload.

Suddenly, we feel the temptation to panic. What will we do about the virus being so communicable? Is there going to be a second wave? How about this civil unrest? How long will mobs and riots continue?

There is a great blessing about being able to access so much information at the tip of our fingers, but with it can come additional opportunities to cave to fear.

Have you been feeling that at all, in your own life? Do you feel more prone to panic? Have you felt chronically exhausted, not sure when you'll ever feel refreshed again?

Here are four questions to ask when you're endlessly weary:

1. Where I am I turning for refreshment?

The age-old saying: "You are what you eat" has some truth to it. What has your mental consumption looked like lately? What are you reading? What apps do you use repeatedly? What shows are you watching? What podcasts are you listening to? Are you setting things before your eyes that lift your heart to the Savior or that cause you to question where He is? Are you taking things to heart that are Biblical?

This culture is post-modern in a number of ways, one being that there is not a belief in hope amidst uncertainty unless we can make a scientific proof for that hope (such as hand hygiene, for example, to give us hope of preventing the transmission of COVID). I'm all for taking safe measures to prevent pandemics. I'm not all for depending on the seen and the felt. I cannot see God, but He is the One I look to for hope. Rest for my soul is not found in hand sanitizer and keeping six feet away from those around me. This is a good practice for preventing the Coronavirus that we should continue for the time being, but it is not where I place my ultimate hope.

When my heart is weary, I do not look to the CDC, WHO and news channels to tell me if I should cling to a shred of hope or not. Even when the worst has come to worst--as we thought might occur at the beginning of the COVID outbreak--my heart does not have to be overwhelmed.

God knew altogether, before the foundation of the world, that we would face the challenges that have presented before us. 

So even while I continue to do my best to keep my hands washed to prevent COVID transmission, I will not look to this world to tell me if I have permission to hope or not. I have a hope that cannot die: Jesus Christ!

Just as it has been true in every other season, now, in the midst of so many challenges, our hope is in the Gospel. Our God is the One who transforms broken souls, brings redemption through the impossible, and revives people from spiritual deadness.

"For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain [...] Only let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ" (Philippians 1:21, 27a).

While we are beginning to return to normal life as much as possible, may our hearts first and foremost seek God. May we not get caught up in the hype, anger, and confusion around us, but may we set an example as the people of hope that we are. Because of the sacrifice of Christ's life, we no longer look to the events of this world to keep us optimistic or cause us to fall forlornly to the floor. No, our Savior is the One to whom we look.

While Paul was imprisioned, he wrote to Timothy:

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the Gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel, to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that day" (2 Timothy 1:7-12, emphasis added).

My future hope lies not in this life. So when current events spiral out of control, by and through God's grace, I will be anchored to true hope. I am being cared for and watched over by the God who created the immune system, upholds the universe by His powerful hand, paints the backs of ladybugs and directs each person's life story. He is intricate, He is intentional, and He is incredibly present through the uncertainties before us.

We have this ever-living encouragement for our souls:

"So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of His purpose, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable truths, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 6:17-20, emph. added).

2. Have I prayed about it?

When your heart is weighed down, where is the first place you go? To a friend? To post about it on Twitter? To the scientific studies, as an attempt to disprove your worries?

Scripture tells us where to go when this life feels like too much: "Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7, NIV). 

We are not meant to be self-reliant, but to be utterly dependent upon our mighty God, so don't be terribly surprised when the events of this world remind you how much you're insufficient to handle it all alone. You weren't created to deal with it alone; we are in desperate need of our Savior. "Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. Our God is a God of salvation, and to God, the Lord, belongs deliverances from death" (Psalm 68:19-20).

If something has bothered you enough to worry you, it's definitely time to pray about it. Are you concerned about catching COVID and going on a ventilator? Are you worried about the future of our nation? Are you uncertain about the economy? Then lift it up.

I'd recommend not just praying in passing as you drive or work (though it is great to pray as you perform your daily tasks); make an intentional effort to set your full attention on pouring out your heart before God. We know that as we cast our cares upon Him, He will sustain us; we will not be moved because God is our strength (Ps. 55:22).

Allow these troubled times to cast you more fully upon the Savior. "O you who hear prayer, to you shall all flesh come" (Psalm 65:2).

3. Am I making an effort to serve others?

It's easy to stay in our own little world when risks of illness and unrest are all around us, but what does it look like, in this season, to serve others?

Focusing on your own needs, problems, and challenges is certain to multiply the sense of stress, fear and uncertainty within. Ask yourself a few questions: what are those around me facing? Who can I serve, and what would be an appropriate way to serve them while we attempt to prevent further sickness? Can I write someone a letter? Can I pick up the phone and call a loved one? Can I meet a financial need?

It's convicting how many times I evaluate my own life--especially when I'm feeling anxious--and quickly see how much time I've spent thinking about me, and how little care I tend to truly invest in others. This is a propensity many of us have, and it will not die without intentionality.

"For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Galatians 5:13-14). 

You will have to make a purposeful decision to look into the needs of others, even while you may feel that your needs have not yet been met. Jesus delights in this kind of faith: "Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and He saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And He said, 'Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them, for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on'" (Luke 21:1-4).

4. Have I been in the Word? 

In times of highest joy and lowest grief, we need the Word of God. Whether the world seems sweet or sorrowful, our hearts must be steeped in the truth of Scripture, for there we find the guidance, refreshment, perspective and conviction our hearts so deeply need.

If you were to compare the amount of time you spend on social media, news and TV with how much time you spend in the word, which is your greatest investment? We can easily say we love the Word, but what are our lives truly declaring? Have we prioritized pursuing Christ above our daily tasks? If not, don't be shocked when an entire day has come and gone and you haven't read even one verse. Our day-to-day tasks still exist and must be accomplished, and we make sure those get done, but how strongly do we prioritize being in God's Word? Do we hold out and keep reading even when it's challenging, seemingly dry or does not make sense? Or do we quickly give in to distraction and speed-read a favorite passage instead?

Slow down. Open your Bible, and ask God to use it to transform you. Even if you don't yet see any growth or change in your own life, or haven't experienced any specific moments of inspiration in your reading, God is still working. The Bible is not a book like any other:

"For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of the soul and of spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). "Forever, O Lord, your Word is firmly fixed in the heavens" (Psalm 119:89).

You cannot expect to deeply know the Savior to whom you belong if you are not in His Word. Don't first and foremost go to the Facebook page of Christian leaders, looking for an opportunity to refresh your soul and grow in Christ; run to Scripture. "The unfolding of your Word gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple" (Ps. 119:130). It's not the same to read a book about the Bible or a Christian devotional with a few Bible verses in it. You need the real thing, for yourself, with your own two eyes.

What has to change in your life and schedule so you end up in His Word every day?

There are still uncertainties in our world. There are still questions we have not yet answered, but we know where to run with our pains, anxieties, and concerns. By God's grace, may we be people with a faith that endures challenges and grows stronger when difficulties multiply. What if we looked back at 2020 thirty years from now and saw it as a time we turned to God, looked to His Word in all things, and brought every overwhelming situation before His throne? What a testimony that could be of God's endless faithfulness to sustain us! This painful season does not have to be wasted if we will utilize it intentionally for His glory. Pour out your heart before Him and trust His ways as higher than ours. He has not left us, but gives us so many opportunities to know Him more in these post-shutdown days.

One Life Well Lived: Reflections on My Grandma

Friday, June 12, 2020

I shared these words for my grandma's funeral. She was such an amazing person that I believe her example can be an inspiration not only to my close family members who will hear this shared today, but to anyone seeking to live their life for the Lamb that was slain. So I share these words with you.

There are so many wonderful things that could be said of my grandma. From the beginning, she was a loving, present, faithful and Christ-like influence in my life.

My very first memory of grandma is of a day she had come over to our house to babysit my siblings and I. I must have been around preschool age; at the time I was known for being strong-willed and a tad fiery. I could get away with being naughty around some babysitters, but not grandma. You see, I think grandma and I had that feisty nature in common, so she knew all the tricks I'd try to pull. 

That particular morning, I had earned myself a timeout, and grandma told me: "Cassidy, you stay put in that chair; every time you get up, you will have one minute added to your timeout." Of course, she couldn't be serious, I reasoned. So I got out of my chair about ten times, and by the time I had finally learned my lesson, I had enjoyed thirty minutes in the beloved timeout chair. This might have been overdoing it for some children, but for me, it was exactly what I needed to see that, yes, I actually did have to obey. Grandma was not afraid of her passionate grandchild, and I knew it. I was quite a difficult one to tame, but grandma never gave up on investing in my life and reminding me why it is important to do what is right.

Knowing exactly what to say about grandma is such a challenge, because there were seventy-seven beautiful years, each one with special memories. I had the privilege of knowing her for twenty of those years, and during that time, I saw grandma in moments of highest joy, and valleys of lowest pain. 

Grandma was never one to sulk; she was very determined, and utilized her loving and strong-willed nature to touch others' lives. Though she might have felt most comfortable in her own little bubble--wrapped up in a blanket, reading a book on the couch--she had a wonderful ability to reach out to others. Grandma had this unique gift about her; she could sense when someone was new or did not feel welcome, and she would make her way over to that person, seek them out, and intentionally get to know them. This was true to the very end. After grandma had passed away in the hospital, the physician assistant came in to pronounce her death, and told me, "Only hours before her stroke [after which she became unresponsive], she was joking with me and making me laugh." 

Even amid her own pain and suffering with chronic pain and other health conditions, she was extremely purposeful. She thanked her nurses. She made sure to talk with the medical staff and get to know them.

Another strength clearly seen in grandma was her extreme resilience and endurance. She would never have described herself in that way, but every time something seemed to push her down, it wasn't long until she had sprung back up, ready to face a new day with abundant hopes and plans. 

Grandma had several heartbreaking things occur in her life; the most notable being when grandpa passed away of a sudden heart attack. I never met grandpa, but whenever I asked her about him, she would always say, "He was the most wonderful husband in the world." She had truly lost the love of her life, and I don't think I'll ever fully grasp how hard that must have been for her. Terms like depression always seemed foreign to grandma, because, somehow, she always stayed afloat through the pain. She had a strong faith that did not hinge on life going well from her perspective. She was devoted to "follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth" (Revelation 14:4).

She was devoted to "follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth" (Revelation 14:4).

And she meant this commitment to Christ! At one time in her life, she prepared for missions in Africa, believing God might have been leading her there. Instead, God lead her to serve in Canada for a time. But her sheer willingness to cross the ocean and enter into the unknown resounded from the surrender that dwelt deep inside her soul. Her life was not her own; she had been bought with a price. And she sought to glorify God throughout all her life.

Grandma was especially purposeful about pouring into those around her. Sometimes, if my siblings or I were really in a lot of trouble, we would be dropped off to grandma's house for several days. This was a place of certain heart-resets. Grandma was not worried about pleasing us every moment, though she was extremely loving; she was willing to have hard conversations with us kids and ask heart wrenching questions that dove to the depths of why we found ourselves in trouble. She had strong insight and always knew how to create a convicting conversation with us on why change was necessary. Don't get yourself in trouble with grandma, but if you do, she'll be certain to love you into a place of life-change.

Grandma was a soul of kindness. Her resolute thoughtfulness could be seen regularly, but especially when a holiday would roll around, only to find that she had been stitching away at a lovely quilt or handmade ornament just for the recipient. She cared about gifting and creating in a way that made a legacy; I see now in many of these beautiful gifts that there was not only the intentionality of a visionary mind, but the touch of kindness that lives on. She loved her family so well, and wanted us to know it. She was always there for us, even allowing me to live with her for several months when my family divided. She was often deep in thought, and had a glorious laugh that I long to hear again.

Her thoughtful example will not be forgotten. Her devotion to Christ will continue to inspire me. Her example of loving others as Jesus has will always remind me why I should break out of my own little world and invest into the lives of others.

I believe this poem by C.T. Studd reflects well on the life she lived:

Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life's busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in 'that day' my Lord to meet,
And stand before His judgement seat;
Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last.

Only one life, the still small voice,
Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding  me selfish aims to leave,
And to God's holy will to cleave;
Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last.

Only one life, a few brief years,
Each with its burdens, hopes and fears;
Each with its clays I must fulfill,
Living for self or in His will;
Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last.

When this bright world would tempt me sore, 
When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way,
Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last.

Give me Father, a purpose deep,
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep; 
Faithful and true what e'er the strife,
Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last.

Oh let my love with fervor burn,
And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone,
Bringing Thee pleasures on Thy throne;
Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yet only one,
Now let me say, "Thy will be done";
And when at last I'll hear the call
I know I'll say "twas worth it all";
Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last.

Only one life, t'will soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last. 
And when I'm dying, how happy I'll be,
If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee.

Grandma, you were always too humble to admit it, but your were truly a remarkable soul. I am so glad you are now in the presence of God eternally, face to face. There is no more pain where you are. And though we have tears here, deeply saddened over your departure, our faith in the same Savior gives us great hope of standing before the throne with you someday, singing together, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain."

Revelation 4:11 says: "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things; by Your will they exist, and came to be." Grandma, God created you; by His will you existed and came to be. And how you lived your one life well for your Maker. 

May we be encouraged by your example to do the same.