Even If You Don’t: Holding On To Hope In Dark Times

We know God can do anything. So how do you react when He doesn’t do something that you beg him to? When your loved one isn’t healed? When your heartbreak feels unbearable and then something else piles on top of that? When you just don’t know how to go on, yet you have to anyway?

I’ve been going through a rough patch emotionally, especially over the past few weeks but really for a few months now. And I feel like God has thrown me some songs as “lifelines” in this time. First it was “I Am Not Alone” by Kari Jobe and more recently it was “Even If” by MercyMe.

I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt
Would all go away if You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

I didn’t much want to sing this when it popped into my head. Actually, I couldn’t at first since all I remembered was the “But even if you don’t” line. But I looked the song up, grasping for some hope to anchor my soul, and after playing through it a few times I could breath and pray again. I’ll admit, though, that there was still a part of me crying out, “Why?” when I thought about Him choosing not to take away the sorrow and hurt. And it’s okay to do that. As my counselor said, God is big enough to handle it when His kids are frustrated with Him.

Hope is one of the key things that gets us through the times when we’re frustrated with God and don’t understand what He’s doing. And it’s something I don’t think we talk about enough. Paul tells us “faith, hope and love remain”  (1 Cor. 13:13, WEB). They’re all three virtues that aren’t going away, but we talk about faith and love a whole lot more than hope. Which is a shame, because hope is something that’s very much needed in this world. Read more

God Won’t Let You Fight Alone

It’s easy to talk about trusting God when things in our lives are going well. It’s harder to recognize His presence when it feels like life is falling apart all around us. In times like that, we need reminders that God will not abandon us in our fights and that He will fight for us.

Several weeks ago, we talked about claiming God’s promises. There’s quite a few made in the pages of our Bibles, and that post only covered His promise to give the holy spirit, to be friends with those who love Him, and to hear when we call on Him. And even after adding another post about the promises in Psalm 91 we just barely scratched the surface of this topic.

One of the promises in Psalm 91 is about God’s protection in the midst of trials. Sometimes He doesn’t take us out of a dangerous or uncomfortable situation, but rather brings us through it. God doesn’t intend to coddle us. He wants us to be thriving and growing and overcoming. He knows we need a shelter and provides that, but He also wants to give us courage to keep going as well.God Won't Let You Fight Alone | marissabaker.wordpress.com

He Won’t Let You Down

When Moses addressed the Israelites before appointing Joshua as his successor, he reminded them that their human leader isn’t really the one who takes care of them. The Lord God is the one who fights for them and who they must obey. He then shares a promise from God:

Be strong and courageous. Don’t be afraid or scared of them; for Yahweh your God himself is who goes with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you. (Deut. 31:6, WEB)

Later, the Lord personally reiterates this promise to Joshua (Josh. 1:5). And we know the promise extends beyond Joshua and the Israelites because the writer of Hebrews tells us we can be emboldened by the Lord’s promise, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb. 13:5, KJV).

Though “leave” and “fail” seem quite different in English, the Greek word used in Hebrews is actually a perfect translation for the Hebrew word used in Deuteronomy. Both words mean “to let sink,” as if you’d been holding something up and then let it go (H7503, raphah and G447, aniemi). In modern terminology, we would say that God promises not to let you down. Read more

Grief, Guilt, and Comfort for the Saint

Today’s guest post is by Dani Fisher of A Vapor In The Wind. We met when she contacted me in response to my project about Christianity and MBTI types and I’m thrilled to have her sharing on this blog today.

There are five stages of grief—denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. Maybe you are familiar with these stages. If you have suffered any sort of traumatic life event or loss, you know these stages do not necessarily appear in this order. I would add one more stage to this whole process of grief—guilt. While in every big or small scenario of grief, guilt is not necessarily present, I would argue that when it comes to the loss of a loved one, there is always some manifestation of guilt. There is always something you regret, no matter how wonderful your relationship with your loved one might have been. This was my experience and for a long time I was unsure of what to do with my regret, how to respond to it and how to carry it.

When my brother died, one of the first things my father said was, “We have no regrets.” He was right. By all objective standards, my family had no regrets in the life and death of my younger brother. My brother was an exceptional seventeen-year-old. He had a good relationship with his parents and siblings. I would contend that “good” does not do justice to the friendship my brother and father shared. The name Benjamin means “son of my right hand” and Ben fulfilled his name in every respect – he was my father’s right hand man. My brother was full of joy and ambition. He possessed one of the greatest servant-hearted spirits and work-ethics of anyone I have ever known. He was the person you could count on in a crisis. If you needed his help, he would show up and follow through and I know so many of his friends and family can testify to the number of times he dropped everything to help someone in need.

Grief, Guilt, and Comfort for the Saint. Guest post by Dani Fisher at marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo credit: “Angel of Grief” by Cathy Baird, CC BY via Flickr

More importantly, my brother loved Jesus and he loved the church. We had the privilege and joy of hearing his personal profession of faith and witnessing the evidence of his faith and the fruit of the Spirit in his character and his works. I still envy the grace and lightheartedness with which my brother moved through life. It’s something I continually aspire to.

Ultimately, we had no regrets. My brother’s life was secured in Christ and because of that there was only glory in the blink of an eye for him the night he died. Certainly we had nothing to regret.

Nevertheless, regret is an inevitable symptom of loss in a fallen, sinful world. For me it was a multitude of little things that, when accumulated, resulted in a great weight of guilt. There were the angry, hurtful words I wish I had never said – the encouraging, supportive words I should have said more – the affection and love I wish I had demonstrated more openly, thoughtfully, and generously. There were all the things we said we would together do but never did – all the little ways I should have been a better sister and friend to him. Read more

Does God Allow Trials We Can’t Endure?

I recently read two separate articles that said this verse is inaccurate or at least grossly misinterpreted: “God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are can endure.” The example used was that Christians who commit suicide were obviously given a trial they couldn’t bear on their own, and they needed outside help. But does needing help from other people really invalidate this scripture, or is there something else going on?

Faithful to Help

The phrase quoted above is just a piece of a sentence in 1 Corinthians. Let’s look at the whole verse to get some context.

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Cor. 10:13)

First we see the idea that no matter how alone or oppressed we feel, we’re not being given trials greater than that which is common to man — someone else, somewhere, has gone through something similar. This includes other human beings, of course, but it also includes Jesus Christ.

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:15-16)

Not only are trials like ours held in common with other people, but our Lord and Savior went through similar temptation and sufferings. One of the main reasons He did that was so that He could understand what we’re going through and offer His aid. As it says in 1 Cor. 10:13, “God is faithful,” and He will do that for us.

Secondly, we see that the promise which says God won’t let us be tempted beyond our endurance comes with an explanation for how He will do that. It’s not just that God protects us from trials unless we can get through them by gritting out teeth and pushing forward on our own. He “will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

Needing Others

This “way of escape” is intriguing. The wording implies intervention by God to create “escapes” for us in our trials, and action necessary on our part to take the offered escape. I imagine this sort of thing will look very different depending on the type of trial and who is going through the trial. Sometimes it may be what we think of as a literal escape, with the trial or temptation coming to an end. Or it could be that something changes to make the trial bearable. I’m sure we’ve all known someone with a long standing trial (like illness or chronic pain) who still has peace and joy in their lives.

and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. …And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:7, 19)

Do we trust God to truly do this, to give us every thing we need in every circumstance? People will say something like, “well, that’s not true. You can’t just go through life with an ‘I don’t need anything but God” attitude. We need other people.” True to a certain extent, but where do you think those other people come from?

Does God Allow Trials We Can't Endure? marissabaker.wordpress.comGood friends — the people you can really talk with about anything and go to when you need help — are rare. We call them a blessing. So when we have people like this in our lives, I’d say that comes under God supplying all our needs, including our need for companionship. Perhaps sometimes the “way of escape” so we’re able to bear a trial comes in the form of another person. It could be a friend, or someone you barely know. Maybe it’s a therapist or a minister to offer counsel. Perhaps it’s a brutally honest sibling to knock some sense into you (hopefully not literally).

I’ve been on the receiving end of this from someone I’d only just met. I was at a church-sponsored weekend and feeling particularly vulnerable emotionally. I thought I was doing a pretty good job of hiding my heartache, but apparently not, because  a girl I’d been introduced to barley two days ago sought me out the last evening to ask what was wrong. The story spilled out and I started crying. Then she prayed aloud for me. It was incredible — I felt God’s Spirit present in a way unlike I’d ever felt before. That wasn’t the conclusion of that trial, but it did mark the escape for climbing out of it and back towards God.

When God sends us someone to help us through a trial, we should be careful not to push them away. But this works from both sides. We can also be the person who is provided by God to offer help.

Being a Blessing

Have you ever considered that? When we’re talking about trials, I think we’re more often inclined to think of how someone else can help us than how we can help other people. But if we expect that we’re going to benefit from the comfort and help of other believers, we should also expect that God wants to use us to help them.

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Phil. 2:3-4)

We’re supposed to be looking after our brethren, building them up, making sure they’re okay, and being sure to offer real encouragement and help rather than empty platitudes when they need aid.

If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? (James 2:15-16)

It is similarly un-helpful (and can even be harmful) to just slap a scripture on someone’s emotional wounds and walk away. Saying, “God will supply all your needs”  or “don’t worry, He won’t give you anything you can’t endure” isn’t any help unless we’re willing to be used by God to supply those needs by listening to them, praying with and for them, and keeping in touch with them.

Example of Love

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Love – agape – within the church is the sign that we are followers of Christ. That’s how important it is to have self-sacrificing love that seeks the good of others. Romans 12:1 talks of us presenting ourselves as “a living sacrifice.” We can look at the life of Jesus Christ to see a perfect example of what it means to live as a sacrifice in service to God. Have you ever noticed how much of His ministry involved helping other people? Pretty much all of it. And now He tells us that we and every one of our fellow believers are highly valued as His own temple and body “which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

Does God Allow Trials We Can't Endure? marissabaker.wordpress.comIf we’re going to claim that level of importance in God’s eyes, we must see others in the same light. Do we treat other people as if Christ is living in them? and we have to do this for our brethren whether or not we think it looks like Christ is in them. If we’re being honest, we know that we’ve also been seen doing things that are not Christ-like. We must be forgiving toward others if we want to be forgiven (Matt 6:12, 14-15). Really, we’re left without any good excuses for not helping others when we see them in need. If we’re following Jesus Christ, we will be loving and serving other people as much as possible. It’s as simple (and as complicated) as that.

So to answer the question that is the title of this post, I believe God does not let us go through trials or temptations that it is impossible for us to bear. They might not turn out the way we expect them to, but if we stay close to God we will turn out the way He expects us to. He will send us escapes and aid, and will open our eyes to recognize His help. And sometimes we’ll have the chance to follow Jesus’ example and be used by God to help another person.

Save

Comfort and Peace

It’s Sabbath number 2 out of 7 in our count to Pentecost (Lev. 23:15-16). As we get closer to Pentecost, I wanted to focus more of my studies on the Holy Spirit. I’ve already written about the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts, but there is so much more to cover.

This week, while reading through John 14, 15, and 16, what stood out to me was the word “comforter” (KJV) to refer to the Holy Spirit, particularly in connection with this verse:

Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:26)

I have a troubled heart. By myself, I’m worried, fearful, distracted, anxious, and would rarely leave the house. But the better my relationship with God is, the more at peace I am. This is a subject close to my heart, because I know first-hand how much worse my anxiety gets if I drift away from God and the comfort of His presence.

Comfort

The word “comforter,” or “helper” in the NKJV, is used in John 14:16, 14:26, 15:26; and 16:7. It’s from the Greek word parakletos (G3875), which is the same word used to describe Jesus Christ as our “advocate” in 1 John 2:1. According to the Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament by Dr. Spiros Zodhiates, it refers “to an aid of any kind. … one who comes forward on behalf of and as the representative of another.” It is translated “comforter” or “helper” because the root word, parakaleo (G3870), means “to aid, help, comfort, encourage.”

"Comfort and Peace" marissabaker.wordpress.com

The use of this word here in John seems to tie the work of the Holy Spirit directly to Christ’s role as our Comforter. He said the Spirit “will testify of Me” and that it was good for the disciples that He leave them so that He could send the Holy Spirit (John 15:26; 16:7). Again quoting Zodhiates’s dictionary, it says the Spirit “undertakes Christ’s office in the world while Christ is not in the world as the God-man in bodily form,” acting as “Christ’s substitute on earth.”  Perhaps this is why we are told “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Rom. 8:9).

On Our Behalf

One of the themes in the book of Hebrews is what Christ does on our behalf. He was made like us and suffered in our place so that He could be our “merciful and faithful High Priest” who makes “propitiation for the sins of the people” and “is able to aid those who are tempted” (Heb. 2:176-18).

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:15-16)

Because of what Christ did, and does, for us, we have assurance that we can obtain help from God. Our High Priest “is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). He died to obtain our “eternal redemption,” and now appears “in the presence of God for us” (Heb. 9:12, 24).

These roles Christ is filling for us should be a great comfort. Read Hebrews 10:19-25 — it is not a description of someone who is fearful or discomfited. We have boldness in Jesus, a “full assurance of faith,” and know that we can receive abundant comfort from Him and the Father through the Holy Spirit.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. (2 Cor. 1:3-5)

Peace

The assurance of having Jesus present through the Holy Spirit as our Comforter, Advocate, and Helper should work a change in the state of our hearts. In John 14, He said that He gives His peace to us. This word “peace” is from the Greek eirene (G1515), and it means “a state of untroubled, undisturbed, well-being.” It can mean an “absence or end of strife,” but that is not necessary for the inner peace which Christ is referring to here, and which is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)

In Ephesians, Jesus Christ is called “our peace” because He brought us into covenant with God and gave us “access by one Spirit to the Father”  (Eph. 2:13-18). He made peace between us and God by removing the sin which separated us from Him, and gives us inner peace as a result of this new relationship.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Tim. 1:7)

Look at what we are given. Power that makes us able and capable (G1411 dunamis). Love which actively and benevolently does good (G26 agape). Discipline, self-control and sound judgement (G4995 sophronismos). That is just part of the comfort and peace that God makes available to us through His Spirit if we remain in fellowship with Him.

 

In Sure And Certain Hope

A good friend of mine, named Kimberly, was in a fatal car accident Thursday morning. I know only a few details. She wasn’t feeling well, but drove to work any way — she wouldn’t have wanted to let her employer down by calling in sick unless she was too ill to stand. There was ice on the road, and she swerved. Someone in an oncoming car hit her (he was taken to the hospital and is expected to recover). She was killed instantly.

I had one of my regular posts all planned out, but I couldn’t write it. I couldn’t just pretend everything is normal. It’s not. This kind of accident could happen to anyone, but it didn’t. It happened to Kimberly.

Kimberly was a peacemaker who loved to help people, and she seemed to attract those who needed her. She often wondered why friends, acquaintances, and people she had never even met would seek her out to share their problems. I think I know at least part of the reason why. They knew she would listen to them. If you needed to talk, you could trust that Kimberly was listening. And once you were one of Kimberly’s friends, she wasn’t just content to listen and not do anything. She could recognize when people started rehashing grievances in an unhealthy way, and she would challenge you to change. If your life was falling apart, Kimberly would help you re-build it.

A picture of us as children. My sister, I, and Kimberly are in back. Kimberly's sister and my brother are in front.
A picture of us as children. My sister, I, and Kimberly are in back. Kimberly’s sister and my brother are in front.

I can’t really remember a time before I knew Kimberly. I know such a time existed because I vaguely remember her family moving to Ohio, but I don’t have distinct memories of a time before she was my friend. As I grew up, I lost touch with most of my childhood friends for various reasons, but not with Kimberly. If you had asked me just a few days ago who I would have as my bridesmaids in a hypothetical future wedding, Kimberly is one of only four girls who would have instantly come to mind.

In the past few years, mainly because of distance and college and work schedules, we did not see each other as much as I wish we had. I have a very fond memory of going to see Tangled with her and my sister, then eating lunch at Applebees. Why didn’t we do the same for Frozen? I’m sure we could have managed to find a day that would have worked, but everyone is so busy and we have all the time in the world, right?

She was 22 years old, and very close to graduating from college. Her degree would have been in computer science engineering. When she and my sister started talking about engineering, math, or science, I couldn’t follow even half the conversation. I’d just sit there wondering how two people could be so enthusiastic about discussing equations that would send most people into a panic if they were asked to solve it. She also wrote poetry, which I could never convince her to let me read.

There’s a phrase that keeps running through my mind: “in sure and certain hope of the resurrection into eternal life.” It’s from the funeral service in The Book of Common Prayer. I think I’ve probably heard it more in films than in real life, but for some reason that’s what keeps popping into my head.

earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be like unto his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.

On Thursday night there were three passages of scripture I turned to: “…the Father of mercies and God of all comfort…” (2 Cor. 1:3-7); “…even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus…” (1 Thes. 4:13-18); “…now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep…”(1 Cor. 15:12-56). Paul says, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Cor. 15:19, KJV). I would hate to try going through something like this without the hope and peace that God is ready to pour out in us — this is miserable enough as it is. For Kimberly, the next thing she knows will be a glorious resurrected life with God. For us still here, we hurt. And we miss her.

Please pray for Kimberly’s family — her father, mother, and younger sister, as well as aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.