Pain Precedes Purpose

Peru 2

If you could choose just one thing to change about your life, what would it be? What causes you the most discomfort or pain? What tempts you towards apathy or discouragement?

Last week while in Pulcallpa, Peru, my husband met a man named Victor. Victor contracted polio as a small child and was left paralyzed from the waist down as a result. As he got older, he became painfully aware of how much he burdened his family, both socially and physically. The cultural norm was to shame families of those with disabilities, so for years Victor was hidden away in his room as much as possible. On top of the embarrassment, his daily care was a burden to a family that was already struggling to meet their very basic needs.

When Victor’s hopelessness about his situation became more than he could bear, he decided to take his own life. He wrote his family a note, left it under his pillow, and wheeled himself to a bridge with rushing water below. He figured that this was the most selfless thing he could do. Just as he was about to drive his wheelchair off the bridge, an acquaintance from the town drove by on a brand new motorcycle. The man asked Victor if he wanted a ride. Thinking it may be a great last thrill, Victor agreed to go.

Once the ride was over, Victor worried that someone may find his note before he had actually followed through with his plan. He rushed home, hid the note, and decided to try another day. Thankfully that day never came because he and his mother turned to God in prayer. One night his mom, full of emotion, earnestly begged God to heal her son’s paralysis. After the prayer, Victor’s feet began to tingle. Through the night, the tingling increased and spread to his legs. By the next day, he told his mom he needed to stand. Not believing that was possible, she reminded him that he was paralyzed and couldn’t get out of his wheelchair. But he was insistent that he needed to walk, so she reluctantly helped him up. From that day until now, Victor has walked on his own.

So what is Victor doing now? He has founded and directs The Refuge of Hope in Pulcallpa, Peru where he and a team serve abandoned and disabled children that are walking through the same trials he experienced. God used the many years of despair that he endured to give Victor a heart for this ministry. Now hundreds of children, once rejected and without hope, have found love and healing at this center.

There are many takeaways here, but two things I want to emphasize: 1) God will not waste our pain. 2) Our situation is never beyond His mighty hand.

Sometimes in the middle of a trial, we just need to be reminded that there is purpose in our hardship. God used the years that Victor was paralyzed to give him a heart for children with disabilities; this passion eventually led him to open The Refuge of Hope that has changed hundreds of lives and brought countless children to Christ. Maybe your pain is marriage difficulties. Maybe it’s a wayward child, loneliness, infertility, financial crisis, or work issues. Whatever it is, God will redeem our stories and use it for His glory. As impossible as that may seem right now, He is more than able.

Which brings me to my second point. Our trials are never beyond the hand of God. It may feel funny, but I’d encourage you to say it out loud: My trial is not beyond the hand of God. Doesn’t it feel great to speak in faith? Now, let’s really freak out the co-worker in the cube next to us or our little people at home by saying things like this out loud all day! When we pray, we aren’t talking at the air. We are petitioning a God that heals the sick, calls out demons, opens wombs, raises the dead, parts seas, and calms storms. And not just thousands of years ago. No, he does these things today. If you find that hard to believe, I’d encourage you to buy one of these books to boost your faith in a BIG God: The Heavenly Man, Living Water, Revolution in World Missions, and Miraculous Movements (just to name a few!). These books are filled with present-day testimonies of God’s miraculous hand throughout the world.

Be encouraged! You may be in the oven, but God has his hand on the temperature dial and the door. When you’re perfectly prepared for your next assignment, He will turn off the heat and direct you into your destiny. He sees you. He hears you. His hand is on you, and it’s mighty to save!

The Danger of Unbelief, Part 2

blog pic the danger of unbeliefThe enemy loves to shake our faith in God’s promises. Sometimes we desperately want to trust God’s Word, but we just can’t seem to get there. Last week I blogged about an area of unbelief in my own life. If you haven’t read it yet, feel free to click here for the backstory. Today I want to share three biblical ways to gain victory over unbelief. As I’ve put these into practice, I’ve found my faith strengthened. My hope is that you can resonate with and find help in these, too.

  1. 1) Prayer.

Can we all admit that sometimes we read the word “prayer” and automatically feel a tinge of apathy? It is thrown around so much that it can feel cliché. But I’d encourage you to restore your belief in its God-given power over our emotions and thoughts (Phil. 4:6-7). Prayer keeps us focused on God and His ability instead of our present circumstances.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus tells his disciples to “watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). Many times Satan tempts us to stop believing God. A lack of faith is not usually something that our hearts want- it is simply something we feel we are falling into unwillingly. Prayer strengthens us by keeping us in step with God’s Spirit.

Here is a scriptural prayer that has been a regular part of my prayer life: “Lord, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). In this gospel account, a father has experienced years of disappointment with a demon-possessed son. He was struggling to have faith that God could do anything to help his child, so he cried out to God to help his unbelief. Even though this may not be our specific struggle, we can all relate to a seemingly hopeless situation. Let’s ask God to graciously help our unbelief!

2) Stand Firm.

“Stand firm” is easy to say, but how is it actually implemented? I believe part of the answer lies in 1 Peter 5:8b-9a. “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…” To stand firm, we must first resist the enemy. When he tempts us with a thought that is contrary to God’s promise to us, we don’t allow that thought to come into our minds and take up residence. We don’t entertain, analyze, or give it a platform. We immediately take the thought captive to the obedience of Christ and His Word; we cast it down and put the truth of God in its place.

One practical way to do this is by speaking God’s Word and specific promise out loud when we recognize our faith being challenged. (Warning: you may get a few crazy looks!) But faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17)!

3) Thankfulness.

I’m sure there are mounds of scriptures about the benefits of worship and thankfulness. There is one, though, that has been particularly encouraging to me. In 2 Chronicles 20, God’s people were being attacked by their enemies, so the king appointed some of the people to sing praises to God, thanking Him for His enduring love. The scripture says that “as they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against [their enemies]” (v. 22). There is power in worship and thanksgiving. Like prayer, it turns our mind’s attention to God and His power to do what He has promised. Abraham was known as a man of faith, and this is what the scripture says about him:

“Yet [Abraham] did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised” (Romans 4:20-21).

Prayer, standing firm on God’s Word, and cultivating the habit of thankfulness will throw fuel on the fire of our faith and starve the enemy of his influence.

The Danger of Unbelief

blog pic the danger of unbelief

Two years ago during a focused season of prayer for my children, God graciously gave and confirmed a specific promise to me concerning them. Lately, though, I’ve treaded dangerous ground. My thoughts, feelings, words, and actions haven’t been affirming that I truly believe what God said. What I had passed off as being an emotional female was actually masking the much deeper and more problematic issue of unbelief.

This all came to light Friday morning during my priority time in Numbers 14. Moses had sent 12 spies to explore the land of Canaan, the land that God had promised on oath to give His people. When they returned, 10 of the 12 spies brought back a report that the people living in the land were much too powerful, and their cities too large and fortified, for the Israelites to successfully take possession of it. The other two spies, Joshua and Caleb, disagreed and encouraged the people to believe in God’s power to fulfill His promise.

The Israelites’ response is a lot like mine has been lately. Their feelings, words, and actions confirmed their lack of faith. First, they raised their voices and wept aloud. I’m definitely not saying that negative emotion is wrong! Their emotion, though, was the result of unchecked thoughts that were contrary to God’s promise. God had told them that they would inherit the land, but they were weeping as if the people of the land would destroy them. Their negative emotion, in this instance, was the symptom of unbelief.

In addition to weeping, they also began to speak out loud what was contrary to God’s promise. In verse 3 they said, “Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder.” The scripture says, “We believe, therefore we speak” (2 Cor. 4:13). What comes out of our mouths is an indication of what we believe in our hearts. It was obvious from the Israelites’ words that they didn’t truly believe that God would keep His promise.

Their beliefs, feelings, and speech led them to the final sins of contempt towards God and rebellion. They conspired to return to Egypt against God’s will and threatened to stone the two men that actually desired to wholeheartedly follow God.

The consequence of their lack of faith in God’s promise is sobering. Although God forgave them, He didn’t leave them unpunished; He made an oath that not one of the unbelieving Israelites would ever experience the promise fulfilled. Oh, God still kept His promise. He cannot lie. But they were not able to see the promise come to fruition.

When we’ve undeniably heard a promise from God, we have a serious responsibility to think, speak, and act as if what He said is true. These choices have consequences- for blessing or curse. Are your thoughts in alignment with God’s promise? Are you speaking words that confirm what He has said or words that reveal unbelief? Are your actions showing that you trust God is able to accomplish what He has promised?

For me, the answer was painfully clear; it was a direct warning to change my mind and turn back to faith. I’ve asked God to show me ways to persevere in belief, and I’ll share with you on my next blog some scriptures He has laid on my heart for that. Hopefully they’ll help you, too, if you’re in a similar season.

Here’s a verse that sums it up- a loving warning from a Father who wants us to choose the blessing.

Hebrews 3:7-12

7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. 10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ 11 As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’ 12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.”