“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
2 Corinthians 6:21
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son …”
Romans 8:28, 29a
Do I really think that God plans good for Christians no matter what is happening to them? Perhaps you and I should ask ourselves that question periodically. Asking it out loud, no matter what I’m doing always stops me in my tracks. At least the tracks of my thinking.
I was well into my adult years when I realized that my brain was working on things constantly, without me even knowing it. When my children were young I’d go to bed exhausted – having six children running all over an acreage does that – but unable to sleep because my mind was seeing quilt designs and colors and fabrics.
I’ve since realized that my mind thinks all kinds of things, not just artistic designs. And it thinks without my permission. Easily it’s sinful thoughts living there, because I’m a sinner.
So I take care with what is in my mind; it’s one of my chief daily efforts. Memorizing Scripture and reciting it back to God, and singing hymns and praise songs when I’m busy around the house or chatting with friends are always the starting point for training my mind to think Truth.
Even so, that ole’ mind can still be pretty sloppy sometimes, when I’m not paying detailed attention to it. In Jerry Bridges’ book, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, various subjects having to do with trusting God’s sovereignty are discussed. Often he returns to Romans 8:28 and 29 as the best reason to trust and the best explanation for pain and trouble.
This is where I realized my sloppy thinking was circumventing the peace gained by trusting God. There is a ‘good’ that you and I can actually expect in our lives, even if our circumstances are horrible and continue to be horrible. I’m praising God for Bridges’ explanation because I had blindly begun to assume, without realizing it, He will work that good into my life which is copacetic to what my idea of good is.
Even though Scripture clearly shows it’s the grating pain of adversity, not comfort or ease or prosperity that is God’s instrument of choice for sanctifying His people. Even though since first century AD the Church – and the persecuted Church of today -- has gloriously impacted the world from the fires of suffering that God didn’t abateit wouldn’t apply to me. Even though somewhere Christians have always lived in want, without opportunity to better their families’ lives, and in physical sickness without remedy.
And even though the Church has suffered more in the 20th century than in all of history combined, I just slid into keeping myself unscathed.
God is God, so He doesn’t make mistakes, He knows what He is doing in usesing all things for the good of His people.
There is cosmic purpose in it all: That’s because of what ‘good’ really is. VGod predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son. And that Son is good, actually the only good of all time, ever.
This is no glib feel-good statement. It is He Who knows what is necessary … and He works adversity and blessing to fashion Christlikeness in us hard resistant sinners.
Sinners with renegade minds of our own. Sinners with the propensity for refashioning reality in our own image. But think: our story is a God-given story because it’s a story of sanctification and is tailor-made for each of us. What a blessed and challenging life we who are loved-by-God are to have!
Therefore, in light of Romans 8:28 and 29, our prayers can be three-fold: One) that we would submit to Him in all things because His purpose is for our good; and Two) that we would watch over our minds’ thinking, for this readies us to meet Him in our sufferings and difficulties rather than fighting against Him; and Three) that we would cooperate by believing and trusting God’s Word. When we’re hemmed in, pressed down, and cornered in the hard things, remember God’s Word!
But more than remembering, go further: wrap this truth around your soul and use it to guard your susceptible mind because -- what heavenly joy this is! -- He is working all things for ‘good’ – His image in you.
by Patty Morwood
I describe it as a slow glowing simmer surrounded by dark darkness but given to sparkling moments of blinding glory.
This is the Christian life in the Kingdom of God; the “already but not yet” of living as a believer whose place of citizenship is not only here but there, in a Kingdom that’s beyond our imagining.
We know His kingdom will one day be in its glorious fullness when the end of time has passed, sin and disease and suffering are banished, His people gathered in, and all tears gone for all time. And Jesus face-to-face! But meanwhile, we are sojourners while in this place, on a path that is really hard.
My friend Elizabeth lives in the hard and the glorious. Her husband Michael is a man slowly dying of stage 4 Sezary Syndrome, his cancers leeching his very life before her eyes. I watch her and listen; and I see a woman living a life of glory as she cries out for protection against fears that lurk and taint everything with darkness.
How did this woman learn to walk so strong and upright on this hard path?
She answers first with her background: “I was taught His Word by family, church, books and godly mentors. I bless His name for all the praying generations before me. I have a rich inheritance by His grace!”
And living today, every day? “I dare not go into a day without seeking His face, His words, His blessing, His will and His intervening in the lives of those I know and love. I am desperate for His Presence first thing in my day. This is my place.”
What do you mean by ‘place’? Circumstances? An actual ground on which to kneel and stand? Several answers follow.
She first says, “In this cancer journey, I see how He prepared a place for us in the fields and forests of Clinton County, Ohio. Daily we bless Him for giving us such a splendid acreage as our ‘Heaven’s Hill.’
“It soothes and restores our souls when we step out onto the front porch to watch the sun rise or sit on the back deck soaking in the beauty while the sun sets the woods aflame.
“We’re surrounded by trees, gardens and wildlife, both of us energized and healed by simply walking in the woods.”
In addition, the Lord prepared another place: the staff at the James Cancer Center at Ohio State University. Just an hour away it is their source of medical direction and care. It’s not surprising the Lord has directly addressed their need for help: at the James is one of the world’s foremost specialists in Sezary Syndrome, a rare cutaneous lymphoma, and a collection of remarkable, attentive and kind medical specialists and non-medical personnel.
Years ago God gave them a place at home for learning the skills of caring for the dying. Mike’s Uncle Bud lived his last years with Elizabeth and Michael and died in their home under hospice care. Her father sacrificially cared for her mother for ten years while a rare brain disease slowly took her life away.
“I certainly had no idea that the Lord was preparing me to spend years loving Michael in a similar fashion.”
And there is this very human place of touch: “I notice in Scripture how often God speaks of holding us by His right hand or our being upheld by His everlasting arms or sheltered under His wings.
“We have both learned the healing power of touch. Just a few minutes of gentle skin on skin massage to his neck, arms or back brings relief to both of us. Sometimes I think the person giving the touch gets more results than the one receiving.”
I asked her how Christ has met her in this hard place since Michael’s diagnosis. I had reasoned that peace must be elusive always and fears multiplying daily. That she is exhausted by the creeping power cancer has over their lives.
She says sometimes she struggles with sleeping at night, and can wake with a sick fear.
“So I start my day by looking for Him. I get up, go to my place which is a comfortable old corduroy-covered chair. Nearby is my basket of books… my Bibles and an assortment of devotionals. Due to this retired season of life, I now have the luxury of time to sit quietly and be still before my Lord.
“I ask Him to steady my mind and show me what He has for me that day in His Word. After reading and praying, I ask Him to show me His will for that very day and to help me do His will. I surrender myself and my day to Him.
“And I walk out of the room a new woman full of His assurance and His peace and His strength.
“I really do have a new solid center. Though outwardly I may be wasting away, I am strong and renewed in my inner man by His Spirit.
“This is very much a one-day-at-a-time process. When I’m scared I call myself back to the reality of His Presence right now in this place.
“This journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death with Michael has freed me to be more child-like in my absolute dependence on His daily love and provision. I need Him. And He is here.
“It’s impossible to capture my satisfaction in His goodness. I’ve tried. So I’ll close with these words from John Flavel’s tiny book, Triumphing Over Sinful Fear: ‘When will we learn to trust Him in everything? Whoever lives by faith never dies by fear. The more you trust God, the less you will torment yourself.’”
Won’t you choose the hard but glorious way described here? You can be strong.
Begin by asking God to help you remember how He has prepared you for the challenging things you are living through and has equipped you to pour yourself out for the well-being of another, as you grow in dependence on Him.
Elizabeth looked back and realized all the places God had met, trained and shaped her: her background and heritage, a rural home and acreage to share with Michael, the James Center, living with Uncle Bud and witnessing her father with her mother those last years, God’s “touch” experienced through each other and even through their doctors, the prayers of His people.
And most vividly now, the blessing of meeting Him first thing in the day. This will train your inner eyes and inner ears to hear and see how God answers when you call out for His Presence.
You too can start your days with the “first thing” every morning … time in quiet, with an open Bible on your lap or on your smart phone.
And another ask, that He would form in you what delights Him: a surrendering heart.
What a beautiful sight, this slow glowing simmer, in this not-yet full Kingdom living!
Author’s note: Michael and Elizabeth have three adult children and seven active grandchildren. They themselves are active members of First Baptist Church, where Michael is treasurer and Elizabeth is deacon of missions.
He crafts beautiful furniture out of oak, walnut and cherry trees in his studio just a few feet from their home on top of their beloved ‘Heaven’s Hill.’ And his laughing place is sometimes still the golf course, where recently he made not one but two holes in one.
Beautiful Elizabeth makes meals to Michael’s tastes and sits by his side to just share life together. She participates in a long-standing Literary Club for Christian Women of Letters and Bible studies, and drives a ’97 Dodge Dakota truck answering to the name “Black Beauty,” so she can haul manure for her gardens and rescue discarded furniture for re-finishing and a fresh new life.
By Cornel Warren Originally featured in Fall 2016 of Live with Heart & Soul Magazine
All photos Copyright Pearl Communications 2016. All rights reserved.
As I descend the earthen steps into the wild woods of Old Man’s Cave a canopy of leaves and branches envelopes me and the sun is dimmed by a haze of green. Even in steamy July, the shade seems to block out the humidity and time’s hand slows. Such magnificence deserves a second glance. I bend down low to look closer at the mossy stones, covered in a delicate dusting of tiny green life. Those white speckles are actually tiny white flowers, blooming so small that it makes you wonder why they even bother. But someone sees. God sees. And He leaves little treasures like these all around us.
Every footprint I make leaves a footprint on my being: God has hidden precious treasures here for me.
We were by nature...
In an age where every part of our identity is being called into question, and where terms like “gender spectrum” leave us scratching our heads, the tranquility of nature grounds us. Here there are no questions of identity. Here it is all nature. Ephesians 2:3-5 comes to my mind.
We “were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ.” (NIV)
Our nature was once wild; wild like the branches and vines tangled above me. Our hearts were once hard; hard like the moss-covered stone, carved and cut by hundreds of years of wind and water. We were once children of wrath, just like the world.
I look at the leafy brush growing out of the rock. Is that how we once lived, trying to sap strength and nourishment out of cold, dead stone?
Our wisdom is folly to God, and when we take a step back to examine our lives, we see our folly as well. The forest is a good place to take a step back. It’s still. Our minds can think clear and hear, absorb the wisdom that He speaks to us. There are no flashing lights, no drone of talking television sets flooding our thoughts with what is supposedly important. Yes, something happens when we get into nature.
His rich mercy
When I spend time in the wilderness, I often wonder what it would have been like to find this place as a frontiers-woman. Here I would have stood, after an arduous journey and I would have to build a home. I would have to carve out a place for myself between the rock and the trees and the bramble.
When my eyes first saw the light, I didn’t realize where I’d landed. It was all new and strange and I had to learn to understand. And the more I learned, the more I understood that I had, indeed, found myself in the thick of the forest. The wild forest was inside of me. I was by nature a child of wrath. Wild.
But God... God, who is rich in mercy and greatly in love did not leave me to fend for myself. He changed Himself to make a place for me. He found that wild child filled with thorns and brambles and He loved me.
I walk on to the Cave. It is dark, cool and damp. As part of the sanctification process, we are taught to exterminate any evil that might have taken root in us. But then all we are is empty, cold and dark. The absence of our wrathful nature is not all there is. That is not the life of abundance. Paul continues in Ephesians 2:6-8 “and [He] raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
His kindness and grace is beautiful. It is a blanket of green, peppered with miniature flowers. His love grows in us as we grow in Him. First we are hard as stone. But we see His love, and we can’t help but be transformed by it. His rich mercy doesn’t leave us in the wild. It doesn’t even leave us when the wrath is gone. It continues to press in, deeper and stronger until we burst into life like the sun bursts through the leafy canopy.
At His Word
A short drive back on the winding Route 664 and we turn once more into the wilderness where our cozy two-bedroom cabin stands almost blending in with the backdrop of trees and hazy green. We are less than an hour from Columbus, and my cell phone barely works.
I listen some more. God isn’t finished with me yet. The full life, the life of abundance, that’s His desire for us. He shows me how much life there is in the forest: tall, old oaks and maples, honeysuckle, ivy, moss and mosquitoes. There are song birds and woodpeckers and whitetail deer and yellow jackets. The nourishment God provides sustains them all, and us all.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:9-10 reveals a bit more love: we are not in our own hands, but in all-powerful Fatherly hands. Those hands bring forth life. They touch us and fill us and grow an abundant life within us. And then it starts to spill out.
I smile at my Father, and He smiles at me, and my daughter smiles as she dances around in the leaves. God’s abundance grows without bounds. He liberates us to experience it to the fullest! We are not responsible to save ourselves. We are responsible only to take God at His Word: we are His workmanship and our salvation is His precious, perfect gift to us. And He doesn’t stop there.
He fills the empty caverns of our lives with wonderful blessings: good works that He prepared for us to do, beautiful paths that He has for us to walk in.
When we visited Hocking Hills, I was eight months pregnant with a ten pound baby and I could feel life within me. The anticipation in the final month was exhilarating: Who was this little boy going to be? How much would I grow to love him, and he me?
God anticipates our love for Him the same way. He loves us first, draws us close and keeps us safe. But He also raises us. We are His workmanship. He waits eagerly for us to love Him back. He hides treasures all around us and celebrates our delight with us when we discover them. Tiny flowers blooming for almost no one to see, the grass of the field, the sparrow in flight.
Our lives in Him are full, and the more we experience of Him, the fuller we become of life. Nature helps us see, and the Word helps us hear.
Father, help me to find you more often. Quiet my heart so that it can be filled with you. Work on me some more, Lord, and fill the caverns of my heart with your abundance. Show me Your secret treasures, Lord, that I might rejoice with creation at the majesty of our Creator. Amen.
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Cornel Warren, Managing Editor of Live with Heart & Soul, shares her heart as she reaches Christian women with timeless, beautiful content to encourage and inspire their walks with God, themselves and those around them.