No Longer a Victim

Deep inside each of our hearts, I think there is a temptation to believe we’re a victim. There’s also a fight against being a victim.

It has caused us to be clouded from seeing those who really are the vulnerable among us, because they no longer fit the mold we’ve been persuaded to visualize: ourselves, or what’s familiar to us.

And we’re paralyzed, totally unable to help them, because we each believe our own victimization is most important.

So we draw lines in the sand of who is “good” and who is “bad” based on which “side” we agree with most. Whoever helps my cause is my friend. Whoever does not is my enemy.

But you know what Paul reminded us about our enemies…we bring them dinner.

victim and victorious

Paul would know. He was a victim. But he wasn’t.

We cannot deny the persecution he witnessed and endured. Yet in its face he declared – consider it a blessing to suffer alongside Christ.

James said to call it joy.

Expect it. Stare it down. Laugh at it. Know it does not have the power or the final say.

Victims set free, not from this world’s oppression but who have been eternally set free to be established as victorious, know how to fight.

They fight for others, not for themselves.

Because they know their eternal identity is not one of a victim.

They fight for others to see the Light of this hope and keep their sight focused on the One who will return and abolish their oppression once and for all. They fight to protect, so they can be the hands and feet of this Truth even if it is not, and cannot be yet fully realized.

So we should be able to rally around this glorious Truth – shouldn’t we? We should be able to all get behind it and push back against evil – shouldn’t we?

Until we decide the victim still kind of looks like me.

But sin does, too.

It looks like all of us.

There’s this concept that’s been at the forefront of my mind. It’s about longing: where it comes from and where we can place our hope that it is going, because I refuse to believe my soul will be forever bound by a relentless longing for both things of this world and good things that point to Christ. Longing, even godly longings, highlight our temporary separation from our permanent home, and they live and die on this earth.

It was the temptation to give into deceit that planted the seed of longing, which led Eve in the path of disobedience and sin entering the world.

She wanted to see like God. She wasn’t meant to.

Now we are left in the aftermath; longing for what was, longing for what can never be, and longing for what will eventually be in the end.

Some act on this longing by fighting for self no matter the cost. But longings redeemed are intended to point beyond ourselves, to what’s coming next.

It’s this relentless longing that also reminds us we are INHERENTLY sinful. Not only do we commit sins everyday through our conscious choices and missing the mark – failing to live the way we are called to live or be the person we are created to be – but sin is ingrained in our bones. It infects the world, the very ground we walk on. It infects our hearts, minds, bodies, souls, ideas, words, and every single element of our being.

Still, this reality is met with grace. It is by grace we have been saved.

This is GOOD NEWS for our salvation, and points to its assuredness. No matter how far we’ve strayed from the path, no matter how much we try to listen to that voice in the back of our head that makes us question our sincerity, or how much we struggle with what we do not understand, our salvation is not based on these things.

Everything our hearts and our hands touch is tainted. Whether or not we are in Christ is not tied to that time we believed we did something right, or that moment we thought we were most sincere, or the instance where we affirmed belief without thinking about that small hint of wondering how or why or what if. It is based on grace.

And it is by grace that we are no longer victims to sin in any form or shape.

We are not victims to the sin confining this world and we are not victims to the sin inherent in our brothers and sisters in Christ; even when they intentionally commit a wrong against us, or when they fight for and inadvertently hurt us all at once.

It is by grace that we can fight and maybe accomplish some good, because it’s not anything we can do on our own.

It is only by grace that we can stare at the opposite of what we know God has declared good and bring them dinner, instead of bringing more strife and drawing another line between people who were meant to live in community – even when they break our heart.

It is by grace that when someone brings us dinner, and our stomachs turn and our hearts cringe because we don’t like the sight of our own sin, we might respond with open hands and an open door to share the grace and kindness we’ve been given.

It is by grace we can keep bringing grace to those who continue to respond with insult and injury.

Grace doesn’t fit the narrative, because grace fights for there to be no more victims among us, and is only accomplished in the end.

Grace invites everyone to the table to share in the fruit of repentance and declares there is still room here. It erases lines and convicts us of the truth that when we enter into eternity we will be surrounded by the faces of those we fought for and those who fought for us, those who fought against us and those we fought against – if they are in Christ.

And what will define that moment of eternal reconciliation and community – profound joy or gut-wrenching conviction – may be determined by whether we see ourselves as a victim or victorious.

Keep Going

“Reversing the grieving process.”

When I heard this phrase for the first time, something about it didn’t sit well with me.

I’ve always been an advocate for feeling our pain. Not stifling it. Not ignoring it. Not pretending it doesn’t exist. I think we have to confront it and face it head-on to press forward toward Christ, and process it in a way that draws us closer to Him. Everything about the thought of reversing grief instead of wading through it until it begins to morph into a more comfortable companion that, through Christ’s strength, I can carry with me without being overwhelmed, seems counterintuitive to what the Lord intends for our lament.

But, sure – it sounds appealing: not feeling. Just breathing and moving, and continuing on like the pain never left its mark.

Still, that’s not how this world works. Evading pain is not an option we can choose, no matter how much we may want to.

So we keep going.

A few weeks ago I wrote about confronting the fear that I will be disappointed by being asked to let go of my plans to pursue the path the Lord wants for me. It’s a feeling so very real, but so very hard to articulate, because we’re not supposed to feel let down when our hands are held out and we receive these good and perfect plans ordained by the Creator of the entire universe – even if they’re not what we would have chosen for ourselves. We’re supposed to be filled with joy and thankfulness.

We know we are not given a spirit of fear.

It’s something I’ve fought against, reminding myself that He knows what’s best and I do not.

But as I stood in the middle of a graveyard hundreds of miles from home to say an earthly goodbye, the fear tries to loudly whisper in my ear. Nothing will go as planned. Things will break, and people will have to leave, and not much will ever seem fair.

These tragedies aren’t right. It isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. It will be made right in the end.

It doesn’t change the reality that we have to live through them in this broken and sinful world.

And we’ll have to keep going.

We’ll have to choose how we keep going.

A few days ago, I spent most of the afternoon at the hospital for a regular follow up appointment with one of my doctors. I go every once in a while so my doctors can watch for any problems or complications. All of the appointments are typically uneventful – except for one, ten years ago, when my doctor told me I almost died from a random episode where my heart didn’t beat correctly.

There have been season during those ten years where everything looked scary and confusing, and I didn’t know what was going to happen. The doctors would do test after test, and I’d just close my eyes and wait for it to be over. I couldn’t stand the feeling of knowing life was dependent on something I couldn’t control.

To me, safety equals control. When I relearn all over again that I have no control, safety feels tenuous and chancy.

I had been given the greatest gift of reassurance. The Lord whispered into my heart one late night that He was the only One who had the power to protect me, and He would.

Ever since, every test and report has shown my heart to be strong and healthy.

But even now, I hate hearing the sound of my beating heart. As the tech watches it on a screen and makes the recordings and measurements at my appointment every year or two, it still makes me uneasy. It brings back memories.

I don’t know why at times we are quick to expect disappointment and bad news, instead of trusting the assurance we’ve been given that not having any control is one of the best gifts we could ever receive.

Knowing this should help give us the strength to keep going; not paralyze us in fear.

Because there is no room for fear in the hearts of those who are in Christ.

Our hearts have been flooded with grace – filled with strength.

It keeps us going.

I can’t reverse the things I’ve seen. I can undo what has happened. Sometimes the sting still lingers a little and the desire to run away is stubborn. But in each and every moment when my heart inches toward anxiousness, I can choose to remember.

He is good. His plans are best. He will protect me. He will one day make things right. He will lead me where He desires that I go, no matter what happens along the way.

And I can keep going.

Why Won’t God End My Suffering?

I don’t remember the day I was diagnosed with a physical disability. I was only three years old. Disability is something that has always been a part of my life, and it probably always will.

Growing up, there was no doubt in my mind God created me the way he had for a reason. This disability would be present in my life for as long as he had chosen, to fulfill his mysterious, but good purposes.

Still, as I’ve grown up, I also have come to see that sickness is not what God originally intended for our bodies. Sickness is confined to this sinful world where we live for a brief time. Suffering is a sign that we’re broken, and in need of a Savior. It also points to God’s power and sovereignty. I know God can heal people, but I also know he may choose not to, for our good.

Those two things can be difficult to reconcile. If God can end our suffering on earth, why doesn’t he? Why does he allow sickness to afflict us if sickness is not what he ultimately and eternally wants for us?

There are no easy answers. But it is okay, even good, to wrestle with questions like these. The grieving and wrestling brings us back to precious truths for the suffering.

God Is Good, Not Cruel

When I see circumstances of suffering in my own life or in the lives of others, my mind immediately turns to why questions. God declares that he works all things together for the good of those who love him, “those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

But how are we supposed to interpret suffering as something good? It seems unfair that he would prolong our pain, allowing it to rob some of the quality or length of our life.

God does desire for our bodies to be whole one day. He also desires for our hearts to be drawn to him with a profound understanding of his grace and love.

C.S. Lewis summarized it well in The Problem of Pain: “On the one hand, if God is wiser than we, his judgement must differ from ours on many things, and not least on good and evil. What seems to us good may therefore not be good in his eyes, and what seems to us evil may not be evil.”

When it does seem as if God is withholding healing from us, it is not because he is cruel. Our understanding is limited, and we will never fully see things from his perspective. We may have trouble comprehending how God can use suffering for good, but we also do not have the wisdom or authority to say it cannot be true.

Desiring Healing and Embracing Suffering

When suffering enters our lives, we often feel like there are only two choices: 1) accept our circumstances will never improve, or 2) constantly wish for something to change.

But we are not limited to those choices. God has given us a unique freedom through Christ that enables us to simultaneously hope for future healing and restoration, while also embracing peace in the midst of our suffering today. This freedom allows us to engage our doubts and questions, and still cultivate the contentment to which we’ve been called. It shows us that struggling does not prove our lack of faith; it strengthens our faith as we look to God’s word for answers and apply the hope of his promises to our immediate and difficult circumstances.

It is okay to want things to be different. When we bring our requests before God, we have the opportunity to model the example Christ himself gave us in his prayer before the crucifixion (Luke 22:42). He exemplified both a genuine hope for something different as well as an acceptance of God-ordained suffering.

Jesus did not hesitate to ask the Father for another way to accomplish his plan, but his requests were ultimately presented with a heart of surrender.

Everything We Need

Feelings of insufficiency and envy are some of the hardest to fight in the midst of suffering, walking through all the overwhelming questions. But in humility, and carried along by grace, we wrestle both to rejoice with others in their healing and to walk alongside others through their pain, knowing our suffering cannot and should not be compared.

We need to remember that God’s care for us is deep, and he will always provide everything we need. He already has.

Perfect health is something I have never known in this life. But if I don’t have it, I do not need it to accomplish what God has planned for me. He didn’t make a mistake when he made me. Nothing in my life has ever happened outside of his will. My physical limitations do not disqualify me from the tasks that have been and will be assigned to me. In fact, I believe they have strangely and beautifully prepared me for those tasks. The circumstances and inconveniences have been given to me, and I trust they are part of God providing what I need for his calling on my life.

Healing in this life may come. Or we may be called to a deeper and more rewarding journey of faith through our suffering. There’s no denying that the road is hard, but God is here to walk beside us and remind us that he is working in all our circumstances.

Eventually our suffering will come to an end. If we are in Christ, it is only temporary. On that day, when faith becomes sight, we will experience glory that will not be worth comparing to every hard thing we have experienced on this earth.

This article was originally published on Desiring God.

When Things Change and Stay the Same

In the middle of things moving, changing, and transforming, some things still stay the same.

iris

This flower came from one set of grandparents and years ago went to my other set of grandparents farther away. We were with those grandparents a couple weeks ago, and they offered for us to take the plant home. We didn’t at first, but as we were driving off, we turned around, went back, and dug up this iris to make the trek home and be planted in our own yard instead.

It’s an important piece of my family’s history. It means even more now as our family has experienced a lot of changes. Some good; some difficult.

One plant. Two families. Three homes.

It amazes me how it somehow survives all the uprooting and replanting, and can bloom again, after a season of growth underneath the surface.

Sometimes something so delicate can also be strong and resilient, and it makes change full of potential instead of a treacherous risk. Even though the roots are dug up and moved all over again, they were created with the potential to dig deep into what brings life, no matter if the scenery around it looks a little different each time, and we can know it will blossom again.

But it needs space to get its footing. It needs to stay grounded in what is True and constant, unwavering and unchanging.

When we find ourselves there, we are enabled to go anywhere and flourish. We learn to love more. Bring more joy. Explore new places where we’re needed and step forward in the way we are called to go.

It mirrors the hope of new life. What was once dead will live again – of this we can be sure. No matter what changes or where we go, this hope does not change. It cannot be taken away. It will not disappoint.

So we can step forward in any direction we’re led, as everything rushes by and when we wakeup that one day where we realize today looks nothing like yesterday. Things changes, but on what remains the same is where we fix our eyes.

Turning “Why?” into “What Now?” [Guest Post]

I’m so excited to share today’s guest post with you, from Jen Weaver! She is a wonderful writer and I love what she has to say. I hope you all enjoy reading this as much as I did! You can check out her book, A Wife’s Secret to Happiness, here.
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I like to ask “why?” As a young child, I’d torment my loving parents with my favorite questions on repeat all the live long day. But why? How come?

The sky is blue. How come?

You can’t drink milk with a fork. But why?

Your sister needs a nap. How come?

Mommy needs a nap. But why? Because Mommy’s tired. How come?

As an adult with a toddler of my own, I’ve acquired a greater appreciation for my parents’ patience. And, I’ve come to realize, I still like to ask “why?”

My inquisitive nature carries perks. I’m skilled at research, and I love learning. But other times it keeps me stuck in the past. I start the how come debate because I assign blame, especially when it comes to my marriage.

  • Married life isn’t what I expected.
  • I don’t feel connected to my husband right now.
  • Why aren’t we on the same page?

Sure, I’ll have mature moments of self-inspection and repentance for the less-than-helpful roles I’ve played. But most of the time, my first thoughts turn to what Jared is doing wrong. Why are things the way they are? Him.

Or I’ll consider struggles we’ve faced, some I assume are much harder than those of my friends. How come we’re in this tough spot, and their path seems so much easier?

I can doubt God’s plan for our relationship in the midst of a cold, lonely season.

I mistrust His provision in a time of great loss.

And I’ve found the Lord is not intimidated by my messiness. He doesn’t shrink back from doubts and fears, but longs to stand there with me as I wrestle with my wonderings. Even when I’m hurt, or confused, God welcomes the discussion.

Even still, I can’t let why be my final destination. My assessment of the past and appraisal of my current circumstances must lead me to action.

What now?

  • I’m in this unwanted place/season/situation.
  • I’m experiencing less than a full, free, abundant life.
  • My relationship could use a bit more of God’s presence and favor.

What now?

Each time my dialogue with Jesus reaches that pivotal transition, I make way for Him to minister to my heart in a new way.

I may not understand why. Some of these circumstances may plague me at no fault of my own. But Lord, what do you want me to do now?

I can’t begin to tell you how much Jesus loves this new list of questions. When I turn from pointing fingers, I get to partner with Him in the next steps. If you find yourself in a prolonged season of how come inquiry, I bring encouragement. God is ready to do a new thing. He wants to stand with you, wrestle with you, as you share the reservations that burn in your heart and plague your mind. And He’s waiting to lead you to answers through a new line of questioning.

What now, Lord?

His now instruction may come with areas of obedience or rest. Of patience or perseverance. Of prayer warfare or of seeking external guidance. Some of us may continue asking why along the journey of what now baby steps. And for others, you know in your heart that it’s time to set aside those how come concerns and make room for a different conversation with Jesus.

He’s ready and waiting. What now?

Jen Weaver is the author of A Wife’s Secret to Happiness and is passionate about sharing strength with others as a Bible teacher, speaker, and blogger at thejenweaver.com. She’s also one of the hosts of The Declare Conference, a conference that equips women to walk in their calling as Christian communicators. She’s on social media as @thejenweaver and she’d love to connect with you, especially on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

jen weaver

Her recent book, A Wife’s Secret to Happiness, shares eleven powerful, practical blessings that God wants to pour into your lap like sweet spiritual confetti, and the wifestyle habits that attract or reject this divine provision. Available wherever books are sold. Click here to read a free sample chapter.

Wanted: A Spouse Willing to Suffer

Future husband wanted: A man who is compelled to live out the gospel in marriage through a willingness to embrace suffering.

You’ve probably heard of people creating a list of qualities they search for in a potential spouse. Kind, smart, funny, and attractive are characteristics people often rank at the top of their non-negotiables. But these lists usually miss one of the most important qualities in the life of one who follows God: a willingness to embrace suffering.

This is a radical call. Still, it’s critical if we want to pursue strong, Christ-centered marriages. Over the years, it has become even more important to me as I consider the possibility of being married someday.

Destined to Suffer Alone?

When I was a little girl, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness that would significantly affect and limit me physically for the rest of my life. It wasn’t until I entered my twenties that I began wondering how my condition might translate into marriage. I knew I wanted to be married eventually, but I hadn’t thought about whether my limitations, coupled with the challenges of living with a chronic illness, would make it impossible to attract a man.

Statistics show that adults not only have a decreased chance of marrying if they have a chronic illness or disability, but that those who do marry are much more likely to divorce. According to Focus on the Family, couples have a 75% chance of divorcing if a spouse is affected by chronic illness.

This speaks loudly on society’s perspective of sickness within marriage and family. It’s a sobering reminder that when it comes to seasons of difficulty, we’re not very good about coming close and sticking around. Instead, we tend to stay away from anything that could be challenging and uncomfortable.

Whenever a spouse or child is diagnosed with an illness, people are quick to declare it as something they “didn’t sign up for.”

So how do I, as a single disabled young woman, continue to look toward marriage when my life is the exact opposite of what everyone desires for their future? Someone would have to be willing to choose this life of dealing with illness and obstacles before he would ever consider marrying me. But the numbers aren’t in my favor. Most people do not willingly walk into, or stay in, circumstances of adversity.

When We Are Weak, We Are Strong

If we ever hope to radically infuse life support into marriages today, we have to transform our views of suffering and change how we respond. We must be challenged to shift our thinking away from evading adversity, and remember Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:9, as he recalls pleading with God for relief from the affliction he experienced in prison. Paul reacts to God’s words when he reminded him that Christ’s strength 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.”

A deeply intimate picture of Christ’s power is displayed in our lives through weakness and difficulty. God’s call to willingly submit to suffering for the sake of reflecting and sharing the gospel is undeniable. We often interpret this as persecution or martyrdom before writing it off as inapplicable to our daily lives. But the heart behind the message still speaks directly to our everyday afflictions, even if they seem trivial in comparison.

We’re asked to drastically alter our focus to see our trials of many kinds as pure joy while we move towards the mature and complete faith of which James speaks. God never commanded us to avoid or run away from suffering, but to understand the part it plays in the life of a Christ-follower.

Embracing Suffering Where We Are

The concept of encountering difficulties within marriage is not foreign to any couple. But these moments give us the opportunity to recognize that all of our circumstances are working together for good, and that we have been entrusted with the task of mirroring God’s Word through the process.

Sickness or disability does not have to be a part of a marriage to fully understand this poignancy. When we think about Christ’s willingness to endure ultimate suffering to be the gospel, it seems like such a small thing for him to ask us to faithfully live out any type of hardship with our spouse, so that together we could reflect his message of hope.

A man who is willing to suffer, someone worth marrying, will stand out from the crowd in the way his life and heart echoes Christ’s very own words, “Not my will, but yours” (Luke 22:42). He’ll withhold nothing from God so that his life and marriage can be used for its primary purpose of bringing God glory, not merely his own happiness. He will be armed with the attitude that present sufferings are incomparable to the glory we will experience later (Romans 8:18).

Perhaps if we better understood the great calling and gift it is to suffer for the sake of sharing and reflecting the gospel, we may be more willing to submit instead of running away — especially as we enter into the covenant of marriage with a guarantee of adversity. May we step forward joyfully to experience the fullness and goodness of Christ through our suffering.

This article first appeared on DesiringGod.org.

Dear Heart: You Are Free

Dear heart,

I can see you’re carrying around the weight of scars from your past.

Steps you shouldn’t have taken. Words you shouldn’t have said. Things you shouldn’t have done. Things you should have. Mistakes you wish weren’t still haunting you.

I can see Satan’s trying to capture you in fear and shame. He says you are nothing but your weakest moments. He says you can never be anything more.

He’s lying.

Mistakes may leave their mark, but they will never define who you are.

The evil one will pull at your soul. He does not want you to see and know and understand and accept the grace that has been poured out on you. Because, when you do – when you choose to see and believe – you will be free.

You will be free from condemnation.

You will be free from shame.

You will be free from the ultimate penalty deserved.

You will be free.

There is no sin too great to separate us from Christ’s love. No life is too messy. No burden too overbearing. No weight He cannot lift.

The Creator of the whole universe saw you before you were even formed, and He wanted you.

He wanted you to know Him. He wanted to give you life in abundance.

He knew what you would do. He knew how you would reject Him. But He would not give up until you were saved. Because there was not anything you could do that He could not redeem. He is more powerful than it all.

He sees the struggle. He understands the pain. And He will be faithful. He will relentlessly bring us back to Himself, just like He does every. single. time. we try to turn away.

He cannot go back on His word.

He is not looking for an excuse to keep you away from Him.

He is the guard and protector of your soul, and He will not let evil have you.

He will win.

Evil has no power or authority in the presence of God.

And you, my heart, are in His presence, because you have Christ in you.

You are free.

You are free.