Reflections on Twenty-One: Disciplined by a Faithful Father

Saturday, August 14, 2021

It would be a challenge to accurately sum up all the events of this surprising year of my existence. New opportunities arose that felt simply wondrous, while there were also trials that brought grief. "Each strand of sorrow has a place within this tapestry of grace" [1]. Do you ever have moments where you pause to thank the Lord for the finiteness of your mind? I am grateful He is omniscient and I am not. Because this trip around the sun held challenges I would not have wished to walk through, I find myself praising for how He in no way warned me about the unexpected uncertainties to come. 

It was in year twenty that COVID first hit and my adventures of bedside nursing assistant care changed from the norm. But, thankfully, the coronavirus saved its most challenging trials--as far as my inpatient experiences go--for this year. 🙃 Before, I would have a COVID patient here and there and most of my experiences were very interesting, full of learning and curiosity to discover more about the new disease process. Then things got a bit heavier as our unit nearly maxed capacity with almost all COVID patients for an entire month in the winter. 

After watching a documentary on missionaries who fought Ebola, I had always romanticized pandemic health care--wouldn't it be amazing to be on the cutting edge of science and epidemiology, bearing the light of Christ to many people nearing death? How heroic I thought such missionaries to be...entering into the chaos and bringing a healing touch. Thus, I was enthusiastic about being a CNA in a pandemic. Let's rescue the COVID patients of the world, shall we?! The thrill did not subside until I reached a point of being unable to keep up with patient care, due to an extremely high census, and I began to see death, after death, after death. This was not what I had pictured..... Aren't we supposed to be saving the world together? A particular challenge of fighting new diseases is that there is very little information off which to base care, so health care providers have effectively been blazing new trails in the treatment of the coronavirus. So, tragically, while the cure for critically ill COVID patients remained unclear, we watched a number of patients gradually reach demise, with a few recoveries here and there. 

I will note that these experiences did not cause me to conclude that our world should be eternally locked down and masked. There are so many individual takes on how our world should have responded to COVID; there were both mistakes made and effective strides taken to fight for patients' lives. It is a bit of a challenge to work in health care during these times in the world in part because people begin to assume how I must feel about all things related to certain buzzwords like vaccines, masks, shutdowns, herd immunity and the like. As is usual for me, I did not necessarily follow the crowd in my reactions, but I deeply desired to expose the light of Christ to patients nearing death through the darkest days of COVID. I will be forever grateful for each coronavirus patient I had the honor of caring for with a remarkable team. 

If we as health care staff believe our hearts were broken over the losses of our challenging fall and winter, let us also remember that God's heart went out to our every suffering COVID patient. We have a genuinely caring God (Is. 54:8b) who indwells the life of every believer. Therefore, every Christian health care staff member never once entered a COVID patient room alone. No, Christ--who is Himself the Great Physician--entered with us. He was present when we saw slow but certain declines of health; he was present when we rushed to put on PPE for a code; He was present as our hearts ached over units that at times felt more like morgues than places of healing. 

Though it is true that some health care staff in the world burned out of this field through the challenges that abounded, others of us concluded more deeply than ever that this is where God desires for us to be--at the bedside, covered in PPE and our patient's bodily fluids, standing with vulnerable people in their most devastating or most joyful of moments. 

Aside from new frontiers of health care experience, God was also leading me through moments of testing--did I really count Him my all? Would I truly give my everything up in surrender to His purposes for my life when things became painful, uncertain and did not go as I planned? God did not allow these to be mere theological questions in my head, but real experiences of year twenty-one. It's incredible how misguided my heart can be and how tragically blind I sometimes am to my own weaknesses. Oswald Chambers once spoke these simple, convicting words: "His is the future, not mine" [2]. I can mentally know the reality that Jesus holds my entire past, present and future in His mighty hands, and yet live out my day-to-day practical experiences as though it's fine for me to go my own way without consulting His wisdom. Thankfully, He is a gracious Father who confronts the places in our lives where we know the truth in our minds, but have not so well applied it to our lives, through His grace. 

My heart chewed on personal hopes, whims and wishes in contrast with what I was convicted I must do. Reading through a book on prayer, God graciously led me to pause and examine my life: "It's not pray this much, surrender this much, and you get [the answer to prayer you desire]. Nope. God doesn't work that way. He answers prayer with what's going to glorify Him the most" [3]. We have a God who prioritizes His glory above our comfort, ease, dreams and desires. This is not because He does not care about our needs and desires. He is our faithful protector and ever provides for us perfectly, after all. In the book of Isaiah, God proclaims powerful words that help us more fully grasp how incredibly vast and omnipotent He is:

"'You are my witnesses,' declares the Lord, 'and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am He. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; you are my witnesses,' declares the Lord, 'and I am God. Also henceforth I am He; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?'" (43:10-13). 

In a self-obsessed society, it does us some good to bow our hearts before the reality that we serve a God who is so far above us. We do not fully grasp how worthy He is of our full surrender; our lives did not come to be so that we could go after our own dreams, but so that, through His enabling grace, we might walk out His eternal purposes for our lives. Elisabeth Elliot says it boldly: "Real satisfaction and joy come in response to acceptance of the will of God and nowhere else" [4]. Betty Scott Stam was a woman who would be tested on this exact reality. Prefacing the words Elisabeth Elliot would later echo in her book, Betty once prayed: 

"Lord, I give up all my own plans and purposes, all my own desires and hopes, and accept Thy will for my life. I give myself, my life, my all utterly to Thee to be Thine forever. Fill me and seal me with Thy Holy Spirit. Use me as Thou wilt, send me where Thou wilt, work out Thy whole will in my life at any cost, now and forever" [5].

She fully gave her life over to God's purposes. And God's plan for this young missionary and her husband was for them to share the Gospel in communist China, where they would both be martyred before reaching age thirty

I bet young martyrdom is not on your bucket list.

But sometimes obediently carrying out God's purposes for our lives means going uncomfortable places.

Are we willing to give up all our own plans, purposes, desires and hopes to the God of glory?

The young martyr may not have known the cost of her surrender would be so high, but she had a devoted soul that counted no cost too high for the One who had paid for her salvation with His blood: "When we consecrate ourselves to God, we think we are making a great sacrifice, and doing lots for Him, when really we are only letting go some little, bitsie trinkets we have been grabbing, and when our hands are empty, He fills them full of His treasures" [6].

When we honestly assess the state of American Christianity, there is such a grave bout of the disease of self-obsession. We want our dreams and we want to think we're spiritual for pursuing them rather than praying "Thy will be done" (Matt. 6:10). We want relaxing, comfort-inducing experiences that feel refreshing, not self-expenditure for God's purposes. We want to live by the wisdom of the world and conclude that we are yet strong Christians, glorifying God as we speak profanities and live idly just like the lost. 

Does your heart long for more? Mine does.

I'd happily be unpopular if that is a ramification of believing wholeheartedly that the entirety of this one short life is not meant to be lived by my own objectives, but radically given over to Christ for the building up of His kingdom rather than my own.

Tim Shenton gives us a peek into the cost of historical Christianity and the stark realities we often do not believe to be "necessary requirements" to live the Christian life, when in fact we must all be this devoted to Christ. To belong to Jesus means not merely to follow Him when it is easy, but on the hardest days, having full loyalty to the King of kings.

"The Gospel is the same in every generation and our faith in the unshakeable and immutable truth of Christ should be as strong now as it has ever been [...] How many of us believe Jesus Christ deeply enough to be ready to die for Him if the hour called for it. Could we take off our dancing shoes and put away our lives of merriment to take that long and lonely walk to the scaffold or be willing to lay our head on the guillotine block? [...] How deeply and firmly do I believe in Christ? Am I so embedded in Him that nothing and no one will be able to uproot me? Is Jesus Christ so important to me that if [...] I was threatened with imprisonment or death, I would be ready to take those steps down to the dungeon and to hold out my hands to the chains of my enemies? [...] There is no one but Jesus Christ who is worth following and dying for. He is the Lord of heaven and earth, waiting with open arms to welcome His saints into eternal glory, just as He waited for Stephen, the first New Testament martyr" [7].

Do we want to be haphazard Christians who reflect the world, or intentional disciples being transformed more fully into His likeness? 

"Obviously there are two kinds of greatness recognized in the Scriptures: an absolute, uncreated greatness belonging to God alone, and a relative and finite greatness achieved by or bestowed upon certain friends of God and sons of faith who by obedience and self-denial sought to become as much like God as possible" (A.W. Tozer) [8]. 

Discussions of surrender are not new to my life since God deeply pressed my heart with the cost of following Jesus the days leading up to when I gave my life fully to Him in childhood. I knew it would be difficult and joyful to live for Him. Yet, year twenty-one contained moments that did not reflect an abiding trust in the One whose ways are always higher than mine (Is. 55:9). Amy Carmichael once warned: "We cannot allow ourselves to become entangled and still believe we will have spiritual power" [9]. But even having hand-written this quote into my journal years ago, I was not so well living out its reality. 

In the depths of COVID, I struggled to push back the weight of discouragement, quickly believing my feelings rather than consulting how to apply His truth to my circumstances. In seasons of exhaustion, we need an unwavering focus upon our God who never fails. "Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil" (Proverbs 4:25-27). Perhaps knowing this reality, I yet lived as though our locked down world would be a dark and ugly place from there on out. I was not so very hopeful, but at times writhed with pain, as I wrote about here

What a gracious God we have. By January, I would be walking through particular circumstances God had set up to confront my weary soul. 

For months I had planned to photograph the March for Life at the end of January for a Michigan-based nonprofit, but sadly the trip was canceled. Eventually, I connected with another pro-life organization and agreed to capture the March for Life for them instead. One night, only days prior to the event, I stepped into the hospital parking lot as I arrived for an upcoming shift, glancing at my phone as I closed the car door, only to discover a text telling me I was now called off for capturing the March for Life for this organization as well. The March for Life's staff had decided, for the first time since Roe v. Wade, there would be no national March for Life. I grappled with this reality; how could we tell the world that just because there was a pandemic and unrest we would then cut down on our efforts to stop something with a death toll far higher than COVID deaths and local fatalities combined? But I was not in charge and it was now my job to move on.

Days later, an email popped up in my inbox. Would I still come to photograph a different pro-life event at a nearby location? 

Fast forward six days, and I was sitting in my local airport, having arrived many hours prior to the flight due to familial schedule conflicts. Here I was, much too early and not a soul in sight that I knew. What to do with this free time?....God had gone before me. 

I opened up my Bible with the intent of having a half hour of reading and prayer, with a plan to quickly move on to developmental psychology homework afterward. Instead, the book of Galatians utterly stopped me in my tracks. So much for speeding through a passage. There was too much beauty and truth before me to do so. 

A brief look at the first few chapters and some cross-references caused me to pause; am I living in step with the truth of the Gospel (2:14)? Am I living a life reflective of the truth that I have been redeemed by Jesus Christ who became a curse for me, that I might be set free (3:13)? Am I redeeming the time, knowing that the days are evil (Col. 4:5-6, Eph. 5:15-21)? I was convicted that I had been living based on the goodness or roughness of my circumstances, rather than disciplining myself to walk out each day in light of the Gospel. Ever had one of those seasons you just deeply need to be disciplined by God? I am so grateful He does not ever abandon me despite my weaknesses and sin. He is a faithful Father who uses everything--including fluctuating circumstances--to land me in an airport long before departure as to get me alone with Him. Like a parent pulls their fit-throwing toddler aside for a discussion about the needs of their heart, so God ever-graciously arranged a moment for me to be called out and called higher in following Him.

In all honesty, rather than being an example of excellence like Betty Scott Stam in my life priorities of year twenty-one, I much more so reflected a fit-throwing toddler in the depths of my heart, needing my Heavenly Father's correction. I do not deserve His patience, but when He graciously disciplines us, we have a joyful opportunity to grow closer to this Savior of ours who has such amazing grace that He yet saves and sanctifies a wretch like me. 

Hoping to not have years like twenty-one again any time soon, but if it produced opportunities to know Jesus more deeply and be corrected by His loving instruction, it was utterly worth it all. 

"The soul's deepest thirst is for God Himself, who has made us so that we can never be satisfied without Him" (F.F. Bruce). 


[1] The Perfect Wisdom of Our God by Kieth and Kristyn Getty
[2] McCasland, Dave. Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God: The Life Story of the Author of My Utmost for His Highest. Discovery House, 1998. p.55.
[3] Gunn, Robin Jones, and Tricia Goyer. Praying for Your Future Husband: Preparing Your Heart for His. Multnomah, 2011. p. 171.
[4] Elliot, Elisabeth. Let Me Be a Woman: Notes to My Daughter on the Meaning of Womanhood. Tyndale House Publishers, 2004. Forward.
[5] Ibid
[6] DeMoss Wolgemuth, Nancy. “Betty Scott Stam: A Life of Surrender.” Revive Our Hearts, 21 Apr. 2016,
[7] Shenton, Tim. John Rogers--Sealed with Blood: The Story of the First Protestant Martyr of Mary Tudor's Reign. Day One Publications, 2007. pp. 7-8.
[8] Tozer, A. W., and Gerald B. Smith. Evenings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings. Moody Publishers, 2015. October 7.
[9] Carmichael, Amy, and David Hazard. I Come Quietly to Meet You: An Intimate Journey in God's Presence: Devotional Readings. Bethany House, 2005. p. 46.

Belonging for the Nonconformist

Sunday, April 18, 2021

I recently found myself freshly in awe over the book of Galatians during a trip to Virginia in January. While seated in my quaint little hotel room, I returned to the small book that had already blessed me so greatly only hours prior in the airport. This passage stopped me in my tracks:

"I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God" (Galatians 4:1-7). 

The word for "Slave" in Greek is "Doulos" which gives the idea of someone who is a bond-slave with no rights of their own. In this passage, doulos is used in the most dignified way, describing a Christian who has voluntarily submitted themself to Jesus' authority over their life [1]. Son is the word "Huios" which signifies a person who shares the same nature as their father [2]; in Christ, this starts when a person surrenders their life to Jesus Christ--becoming a Christian. Huios also points to the importance of a similarity of likeness between the father and the child. Help's says it well:

"5207 huios - Properly, a son (by birth or by adoption); (figuratively) anyone sharing the same nature as their father. For the believer, becoming a son of God begins with being reborn (adopted) by the heavenly father - through Christ (the work of the eternal Son) [...] Hyios ("Son") emphasizes likeness of the believer to the heavenly Father, i.e. resembling His character more and more by living in faith ("God's inwrought persuasions") [...] Hyios ("Son") highlights the (legal) right to the Father's inheritance, i.e. as the believer lives in conformity with the Father's nature (purpose)" [3].

Our sonship as believers--being the children of God--began with being adopted by God when He worked in our hearts, causing us to confess our sins and believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead on the third day (Rom. 10:9, 1 Jn. 1:9, 4:15). This reality of salvation and belonging was initiated by God.

A.W. Tozer, in his powerful book "The Pursuit of God," has a remarkable insight thereon:

"Christian theology teaches the doctrine of prevenient grace, which briefly stated means this, that before a man can seek God, God must first have sought the man. Before a single man can think a right thought of God, there must have been a work of enlightenment done within him; imperfect it may be, but a true work nonetheless, and the secret cause of all desiring and seeking and praying which may follow. We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit. 'No man can come to me,' said our Lord, 'except the Father which hath sent me draw him,' and it is by this very prevenient drawing that God takes from us every vestige of credit for the act of coming. The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is our following hard after Him; and all the time we are pursuing Him we are already in His hand: 'Thy right hand upholdeth me.' In this divine 'upholding' and human 'following' there is no contradiction. All is of God, for as von Hugel teaches, God is always previous. In practice, however, (that is, where God's previous working meets man's present response) man must pursue God. On our part there must be positive reciprocation if this secret drawing of God is to eventuate in identifiable experience of the Divine. In the warm language of personal feeling this is stated in the Forty-second Psalm: 'As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?' This is deep calling unto deep, and the longing heart will understand it" [4]. 

We have a God who has gone before us, working in our hearts and drawing us to Himself. We have been specifically pursued and sought out by our Maker; part of this beautiful sonship is sanctification--becoming more like Jesus, through His work in our lives. As Tozer states, there is a vital aspect of response in our own hearts toward God. We must actively pursue our loving Savior. When the book of Galatians (4:7) describes us as Sons--no longer slaves--and heirs though God, we know walking out this faith leads to conformity. In our broken society, many of us as Christians have become used to leading lives of nonconformity to the world. This is vital, as we are called to: "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16b), and "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Rom. 12:2b). But there is one place in my life where conformity is absolutely necessary. Conforming to the image of Christ.

I want my life to be described as Help's Word-studies had put it:

"Conformity with the Father's nature" [5].

Dear fellow nonconformist, I want you to know there is a place to set down that counter-cultural living. I want you to know there is a place you belong. In an evil world, a counter-cultural lifestyle and actions are often necessary, but there is a place--with our hearts bowed before our faithful God--that the culture is right and virtuous. In quiet communion with my God, the culture there is right, because it is owned by a just God who is always Right and True. There is a place you can "walk into" that you may set aside the dread--normally feeling the discomfort of being amongst people who delight in ungodliness, thus you will have to walk against the current--not here. In the presence of God, I belong. I am at home. I am safe to conform to Him, for He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We may exit the doors of our home and enter into a society that does not reflect Him--being salt and light, through His grace, every place we walk amongst men--yet we may also be deeply comforted in the truth that there is a haven of safety for us. I have a God in heaven and He is reigning!

God created you to be conformed--not to this culture, the world at large, the peers around you, or to the pervading thoughts of the day--but to Jesus Christ. 

How freeing it is to know that in a world with so many polluting influences that often pull us away from God, we can come before Him in quiet devotion and be conformed in a wonderful way that will lead to greater closeness with Him and a more accurate representation of Jesus being made in and through our daily living. 

Tozer warns us, though, that if we are not seeking out time with our God, we should not expect to become like Him:

"The man who would know God must give time to Him! He must count no time wasted, which is spent in the cultivation of His acquaintance. He must give himself to meditation and prayer hours on end. So did the saints of old, the glorious company of the apostles, the godly fellowship of the prophets and the believing members of the holy Church in all generations. And so must we if we would follow in their train! May not the inadequacy of much of our spiritual experience be traced back to our habit of skipping through the corridors of the Kingdom like little children through the marketplace, chattering about everything but pausing to learn the true value of nothing?" [6]

We have the Holy Spirit crying in our hearts: "Abba! Father!" (Gal. 4:6), and we have been brought near to our worthy Savior who no longer counts us slaves, but sons--heirs though God. I have a belonging with Jesus Christ that far surpasses any acceptance I could experience amongst people. How many of your friends would stick around if you rebelled against them, broke every one of their laws, and murdered their son on a cross? All our friends of earth would be nowhere to be found. They would cut us out of their lives in the name of self-preservation and self-protection. Not so with our God. When we deserved eternal condemnation in hell, God made a way for us to be redeemed. Prior to the time in history in which Jesus died, God's eternal redemptive purposes were at work--the Lamb of God was slain before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). 

The same Savior who intervened for your eternity is pursuing your heart today. Will you respond to His pursuit by seeking Him above all else, or will you miss out on the one relationship that most matters in light of eternity?

"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God [...] For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die--but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:1-2, 6-7).


[1] Help's Word-studies. “Strong's Greek: 1401. Δοῦλος (DOULOS) -- a Slave.” Bible Hub, 
[2] Help's Word-studies. “Strong's Greek: 5207. Υἱός (Huios) -- a Son.” Bible Hub,
[3] Ibid
[4] Tozer, A.W. The Pursuit of God, Good Press, 2019. ch. I. 
[5] Help's Word-studies. “Strong's Greek: 5207. Υἱός (Huios) -- a Son.” Bible Hub,
[6] Tozer, A.W. “Tozer Devotional: Give Time To God.” The Alliance, 2 Dec. 2019, 

Through the Painful Path: Trusting Christ When All Seems Bleak

Monday, January 4, 2021

What words would you use to describe your experiences in 2020? Have you had moments of challenge, difficulty and pain? I have yet to meet one person whose life was not in someway changed by the pandemic, national unrest or political happenings last year included. No one gets to check off all the boxes on their to-do list this trip around the sun. 

With so much uncertainty can also come the aches and pains of a hurting soul. Everyone has been at least somewhat more isolated than normal. When away from those we love, there is less accountability on how we are actually doing. 

Some people share, "Well, it's been crazy, but this was actually the best year of my life!" 

I don't know about you, but I can't quite resonate.

2020 was possibly the most painful year of my life. It has pushed me much harder than I thought I could endure. It has overworked me and taken community away many a time. It has set me back on academic goals. It has been the time of fickle friendships. Yet, we can be confidently assured that not one pressure or pain of our lives exists outside the sovereign hand of our faithful God. 

We look at the unexpected events and feel a wave of grief. Yet, somehow, our mighty God is able to bring redemption and accomplish His purposes through all that appears to us to be bleakly uncertain. We have no way of knowing what our tomorrows will contain, but we may simply abide and rest knowing the One who sent Christ to rescue our souls for all eternity is also in control of this challenging moment of history.

Wouldn't it be lovely if there was a simple solution to the pain of this year? I wish I could offer you words here that I felt could free us from the depths of the ache many of us are feeling now, but I am not sure what would give such a freedom. I must come back to the central truth that sometimes God is most glorified in my suffering. We would like to imagine that God is most exalted in our happiness, but sometimes it is by walking with Christ through the fire that I may fulfill His will for me this day. These present events may seem like a dark storm cloud settled over us, not soon to move on. We do not know what will unfold with the virus, shut downs, or the future of our nation as a new administration takes power. Our confidence will tremble and not find security if we set it in these temporal things. But I have a powerful God in heaven and He is reigning! No matter what I am seeing now, there is a bright future ahead because no matter what unfolds in my earthly years--if it's much more suffering--I know that someday I will enter heaven and be with Christ forevermore. That is one place we may be certain pain will be no more.

"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.' And He who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.' Also He said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.' And He said to me, 'It is done! I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:3-8).

The only reason we are not named with those who will suffer for all eternity is because of the power of the Gospel, mightily setting us free from sin and making Christ the Lord of our lives. Not only did Jesus care for you on the day He set you free and made you His own, but now, through the monotonous, repetitive, sometimes heavy moments of our every day life, He cares and He is here. My Father is not far off! He is not some distant dream, but the very hope of my soul through every further thing--good and bad--that will happen to me. I have a confidence that I take with me when I walk through the fire; this present challenge cannot surprise my God. He has seen my aches and hurts through already, and sees fit in His perfect will for me to cause this day to be as it is--one of easy rejoicing, or a time that we will yet bless the name of the Lord from the dust and ashes. 

Do you find yourself easily rejoicing or dwelling in the ashes, my friend? If you feel you've been transported out into the middle of a desert, now walking through the wilderness, will you worship Him there? When you want nothing more than for the pain to relent, will you yet bless the name of the Lord? The One who is fully able to give or take anything away has provided us with challenges. Will you walk this dusty path with a faithless moan, or in the exhausted depths of your soul, will you give Him all of the little you may have, knowing your Father is worthy, present and good even when your circumstances are wearying, long, and bad?

My wildernesses of my life are graciously ordained by the God who providentially directs my life. He is an Author who may be trusted. He has already shown us the ending in His Word; we don't know all the details of how our years will unfold, but we know that at the end, if Christ is our Lord, we will indeed have our every tear wiped away. We may not feel strong or refreshed now--perhaps such things seem far off--but there will be a day all our earthly trials come to an end. And when we give a report of our lives to God, may we reflect on weary and broken seasons and see that they were offered up to Him. May the places in our journey we most feel tempted to doubt and give up instead become places we pursue our Christ harder--knowing even when all we are feeling is pain, He is yet as present with us as ever. 

Pain is a gift because it causes me to realize all in this world is empty apart from Christ. Earthly things don't fulfill us. Friends betray and gossip. Life doesn't go as planned. Our hearts ache. And it is right there that we find the world fails and Christ never does. 

"Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). 

"You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end" (Hebrews 1:10-12).

"For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him [Jesus]. That is why it is through Him that we utter our Amen to God for His glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put His seal on us and given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee" (2 Corinthians 1:20-22). 

I have a powerful God, and it is because of His strength--and not my own--that I will purpose to offer up my most painful life chapters to the One who absolutely can be glorified in my suffering. If we are to ache and hurt according to His will, may we do it with joy in our hearts; the joy that is sourced in Christ and may never be taken away by this mysterious world and its unprecedented events. There is hope not because of material things, my own successes, or current life happenings, but because Hope is a person who has suffered in my place, having died for my sin: Jesus Christ.

"Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good" (1 Peter 4:19).

"Thus says the Lord: 'Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit" (Jeremiah 17: 5-8).