Free Indeed

Some people think joy is something we won’t experience until we get to heaven, but I disagree with this belief. The Lord wants us to experience joy not only in the life to come but in this lifetime as well. He sent His son Jesus to free us, to comfort us and to trade our despair and mourning for praise and gladness:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:1-3; New International Version)

In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus reads verses 1-2 of the above Isaiah Scripture in reference to Himself. He came to bring good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for captives, and release from darkness for prisoners. Jesus did not say that He would make these things happen after His followers entered heaven, but rather He proclaimed that “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21; emphasis mine).
breakthechain
Though Jesus promises freedom, Christians can still find themselves imprisoned by a multitude of oppressors – addiction, unhealthy relationships, anxiety, etc. For a long time I found myself in a prison of deep depression. In my quest to identify what was preventing me from allowing the Lord to free me from this mental tyrant, I discovered that my depression could in large part be attributed to doing things I don’t want to do that I think I should do.

In all of my extensive research on Fibromyalgia and depression, the best advice I found for rediscovering my own joy was very simply stated in a little book entitled The Bible Cure for Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia. The author, Don Colbert, suggested imagining I only have one year left to live. During that year, what would I choose to do and not do? To make answering this question easier, he recommended grouping my activities into three categories: 1) things I enjoy doing, 2) things I must do, and 3) things that I neither enjoy nor must do. It turned out that so much of my time was devoted to the third category! Colbert advised the reader to “eliminate all of the items from category three”, at least for the near future and preferably for the rest of his/her life.

Of course, we all have responsibilities that we must fulfill. Usually these are healthy activities that fulfill us, keep us accountable and make us contributing members of society. Many of us also sign up for commitments and obligations that are optional and voluntary. It’s these “extra” undertakings that can sap my energy and cause me to become resentful because they take away from the precious little time I have to do the things I enjoy and be with the people in whose company I most delight. Maintaining a balance in my Christian walk is vital.

Taking time to pray before taking on a commitment or doing something solely out of obligation helps me discern which activities the Lord wants me to participate in and which ones I’m motivated to engage in out of pride or a guilty conscience. I rely on the Holy Spirit for direction, and I usually say no when the activity proves to be something I neither want to do nor must do. When I live my life this way, I am at my happiest, I feel good physically (because I’m taking care of myself and not adding stress!), and I have more energy. Conversely, when my calendar is filled with obligations I am irritable, tired and unhappy. But this is not God’s will for me. He doesn’t load me down with a bunch of rules and “should’s”. Instead, Jesus asks me to take on His comparatively light and easy yoke:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Jesus spoke at great length against the hypocrisy and the heavy burden of tradition and laws the Pharisees and teachers of the law of His day put on the people. In Matthew 23, Jesus warned:

“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see…” (Matthew 23:2-5a; emphasis mine)

Many people perceive the Christian life as restricting and prohibitive. On the contrary, there is such freedom in following Jesus and surrendering to Him! Our great Partner, the Lord, is always there to share our burdens and do the heavy lifting. We don’t have to do anything to make Him love us. In fact, we can’t do anything to make Him love us because He already does – without condition. He welcomes us with open arms by His grace, and in return we receive the privilege of serving Him as a demonstration of our gratitude for all He is and all He has done.

Beloved warrior, it’s impossible to face and fight our battles effectively if we’re bogged down with the heavy load of legalism, societal expectations and our guilt over what we think we “should” do when it’s not something the Lord specifically calls us to. May we find true freedom in His easy yoke and rest in His unconditional love.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Corinthians 3:17)

Enjoy this Stephen Curtis Chapman song about the freedom we have in Christ!

Reference: Colbert, Don, M.D. The Bible Cure for Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia. Lake Mary: Siloam, 2000. Print.

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Faith Like a Child

My seven-year-old son Noah is a real trooper. He had a cough that wouldn’t go away, so after several trips to the pediatrician he was finally referred to an allergist. After subjecting him to a round of skin testing, the allergist confirmed that, among other things, Noah was allergic to dust mites, mold spores and pollen – ubiquitous environmental substances. We decided to start him on immunotherapy, a long-term treatment of allergy shots that hopefully results in decreased sensitivity to allergens and lasting relief from allergy symptoms.

The first few months of immunotherapy are known as “the build-up phase”, which involves giving the allergic person multiple shots per week in gradually increasing doses to build up their tolerance to the allergen. I currently take Noah to get his allergy shots three times per week. In addition, I am supposed to squirt a prescription nasal spray for his allergies into his nostrils twice daily.

Noah also has braces and an expander in his mouth, which is unusual for a kid his age. Apparently, young kids with corrective devices in their mouths is becoming a more standard orthodontic practice, but currently Noah is the only one in his entire grade with brackets on his teeth.

Never once has my brave little kiddo complained about being subjected to all of this poking, prodding and pricking by the medical and dental professionals. He just goes along with it in his happy-go-lucky way, placing his absolute trust in me for his care and protection. I am so proud of him for his courage and willingness! Though Noah certainly doesn’t enjoy these procedures, I am amazed and awed by his unquestioning faith in me that I’m only doing what’s best for him over the long haul.

Noah’s submission leads me to wonder why I so often lack the same faith and trust in my Heavenly parent, God the Father. Even after walking with the Lord for 16 years, I still question whether He’s doing what is best for me. I still sometimes doubt His love for me. And instead of going along with God’s plan in a happy-go-lucky way, I frequently whine, moan and complain when I have to do things I don’t want to do or when things don’t go the way I want. Faith Like a Child

Psalm 103 tells us that God is a tender and compassionate Father:

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
 He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve

    or repay us according to our iniquities.
 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

 As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
 for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
 The life of mortals is like grass,
    they flourish like a flower of the field;
 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more.
 But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
 and his righteousness with their children’s children—
 with those who keep his covenant
    and remember to obey his precepts. (Psalm 103:8-18; New International Version, emphasis mine)

Though I always revere the Lord, I am comfortable going to Him with the anger, frustration, disappointment and confusion I sometimes feel toward His plan for me. Thankfully, God remembers that “we are dust” and He is “slow to anger, abounding in love”, so He puts up with my sniveling.

I’ve been struggling for the past couple of months with stomach problems. I have been in pain and discomfort, and my diet has been limited to a short list of foods my stomach can tolerate. I expressed to the Lord my extreme displeasure with Him for allowing me to go through this on top of my other Fibromyalgia-related health problems. I again began to question whether God really had my best interest at heart. But then I remembered these encouraging words spoken by Jesus about the love the Father has for us:

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)

These verses reassure me that God as our Father gives us gifts far above and beyond the best gifts that the best of our earthly fathers could ever offer. The Lord’s heart toward us is not hard and cold like stone, but rather He is kind to us and provides for our needs in the best way possible when we ask Him. He never turns a deaf ear to our pleading, and He is ready to bestow blessings on us.

Warriors, our commander-in-chief leads us not like a drill sergeant waiting for us to screw up so He can make us drop and give him 50 push-ups! On the contrary, Jesus assures us of the Father’s compassion, grace and love for His children. I pray that we will experience His love to the very depths of our being, and that the knowledge of His love for us will give us the courage we need to face our battles. May our faith be like that of a child.

This awesome song by Jeremy Camp reminds me to Walk by Faith.

References:
Allergy Shots (Immunotherapy). American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Web. 15 June 2015.

Guard Your Heart

One of my character defects is being a people pleaser. You would think that wanting to make people happy is a good thing, and it can be if it’s done with pure motives. But so often my people-pleasing is a mask for fear and/or pride. Some deep soul-searching on this aspect of my personality has revealed the unhealthy reasons I’ve tried to please others to the point of making myself sick emotionally, physically and/or spiritually. For example, perhaps I’m trying to avoid conflict because I don’t want anyone to be angry with me or disappointed in me, or if I give of myself sacrificially people will think I’m so “nice” and such a good Christian. Maybe I just want everyone to like and approve of me, or I don’t want to be seen as selfish. And even though I may not realize it at the time, I might be expecting something in return from others or from God for my people-pleasing acts.

When I hit rock bottom with depression because I wasn’t being true to myself and who God created me to be, I learned that this pattern of putting others’ needs above my own to my detriment needed to change. When chronic illness became my reality, it was no longer possible for me to try to please others as I had in the past. When I couldn’t or wouldn’t say no to something I really didn’t want or need to do, my body decided to say no for me! I had no choice but to take better care of myself.

Proverbs 4:23 tells us “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (New International Version). A look at some other translations helps further clarify the meaning of this Scripture:

Guard your heart above all else,
for it determines the course of your life
. (New Living Translation)

Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance and above all that you guard, for out of it flow the springs of life. (Amplified Bible)

I interpret this Scripture to mean that I am responsible for guarding my own heart, i.e. I can’t depend on another person, the media or even the church to protect me from the negative, the impure, the unholy and the ungodly. What’s in my heart will eventually become evident in my actions, and therefore I must carefully guard what I allow to enter it. As the saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out”.

As a person with a chronic illness and a history of depression, I take this verse one step further: I must be true to my own heart, guarding it from all that is harmful to me specifically given my unique constitution and nature. For example, I’m an introvert, I like things quiet and I like connecting with people one-on-one or in small groups. This means that big parties with loud music where I have to make small talk with lots of strangers drains me of energy. Needless to say, you won’t find me at the mall on Christmas Eve!

Depleting my limited energy supply prevents me from spending it on the more meaningful and rewarding tasks the Lord gives me. These days I try to be kinder to myself by recognizing my limitations and respecting them. I no longer need to subject myself unnecessarily to uncomfortable situations in order to please others. Today I know it’s only God that I need to please. With this mindset, I am free! As Alec Hill, former President of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, explained:

“I’ve been liberated…when I remember I serve one master. When criticized, I ask if he is pleased with what I’m doing. After an often uncomfortable time of self-reflection – plucking a log out of one’s eye is never pleasant – I can move on with confidence.”

“When we serve the divine Master, we are freed from meeting others’ expectations. For people pleasers like me, this is a gift”.

Beloved Warriors, I pray for protection over our hearts and minds. May the Holy Spirit guide us and our decisions that the glory and the victory would be His. The Lord will continue to change us from the inside out as we seek Him.

Reference:
Christianity Today, July/August 2014, The Most Troubling Parable: Why Does Jesus Say we Are Like Slaves?, Alec Hill, pg. 79.