The Mysterous Balm of Praise: Not Meant To Be A “Quick Fix”

I still remember the wonderful relief experienced when, as a child, I had a bad cold and Vicks Vapo-Rub was rubbed onto my chest.  I remember how the strong aroma of the menthol seemed to flood my plugged sinuses and filled my lungs to provide almost instant relief.  Looking back, I can see how those instances were a balm that not only soothed my symptoms but communicated love and caring to me in an otherwise stress-filled home.  I cherish those memories.

In my Christian walk I have found that giving thanks to God for His love and mercy when in difficulty, helps clear my senses like a spiritual balm.  I know personally how overwhelming the darkness of depression and anxiety can be; I also know that offering praises large and small to God can serve to lighten my perceptions and fill me with a quiet balm of hope and peace even when nothing else has changed.

How praise works as a balm to a wounded soul remains a mystery to me; what I do know that God is consistently faithful to meet us at our point of need when we seek Him out. 

Journey Notes Praise Journaling was developed to help Clients discover this spiritual balm for themselves.  For twenty years, I have witnessed God’s faithfulness in turning simple praises into a balm that penetrates deeply into the hearts of all who seek Him.  It is nothing short of a miracle . . . but it is not a “quick fix”.  To offer up praises to God as a formula to get what we want, rather than in a spirit of humility and in faith is to court disappointment because of our impure motives.  Even so, God will remain faithful as the wisdom Psalm 73 attests:

When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before You.
~~~~~~~~
Yet I am always with You;
You hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with Your counsel,
and afterward You will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And earth has nothing I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
(Verses 21-26)

How does one move from impure motives to a heart strengthened by the mysterious balm of praise?

  1. It begins with a personal decision to trust in God more and ourselves less.
  2. Next, we surrender the bitterness and pain that would otherwise consume us to Him.
  3. Finally, we give thanks to Him for our freedom, for loving us even when we fail Him:

“Thank You God for loving me . . . for saving me from myself through the bloody and painful sacrifice of your Son.  Help me Lord to forgive as I have been forgiven . . . that I may honor you with by singing Your praises.  Thank You Lord for being the strength of my heart and my portion forever . . . “

Do you feel your senses beginning to clear as you breathe in the very breath of heaven?  Give thanks that when God works it is not a “quick fix” but has eternal consequences . . . PRAISE HIM! 

All to His Glory!

The Clarity Faith Provides on Suffering . . . .

 
” . . . though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 
These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold . . .
may be proved genuine . . .
for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 
I Peter 1:6b-7a

Fleeing the dangers of gangs and drugs pervasive in the city she grew up in, single-mom Debra moved with five of her seven children to our area about two and a half years ago.   Unable to find a job, Debra attended a Jobs for Life course offered at a local church where she not only gained job interview skills, but was touched by the spiritual caring and encouragement she received.  It was the folks at Jobs for Life who connected Debra and I to begin a Counseling relationship that has been truly special.

That she came from a rough background was apparent but from the beginning her focus was on getting her life straight with God.  As we worked together phrases such as,”I’m confused” or “I must have done something really wrong,” were expressions Debra frequently used as she tried to make sense of her upside-down world.  Week after week we met, pouring over the Scriptures together to sort out the constant challenges of Debra’s life–when one son was incarcerated, her landlord took advantage of the situation by raising her rent.  Pressure from other family and tense relationships with several of her co-workers workers seemed constant.  Still, Debra found courage and strength in Scriptures such as:

Psalms 46 and 139
Hebrews 12
I Peter
James and
Isaiah 30:15-22 . . .
became her lifeline . . . 
        to a Sovereign and Good God.

As time passed, Debra continued to express gratitude for God’s provision and protection over her and her family with a decent paying job and numerous Christians who reached out to her.  At the conclusion of every Session I asked the same question, “Are you loved?”  Every time she would look at me and smile shyly . . . “Yes, I am loved.”  It was with that assurance that Debra continued to do the best she could with what she had.

Last week when we met she had yet another story to tell.  Having moved herself and her two youngest children into the basement of a co-worker several months ago, she was hopeful that she had finally found a house to rent.  She also told me about the encouragement she received from her pastor’s sermon on suffering the previous Sunday.  As she spoke, I was awed by her thoughtful countenance as she quietly resolved, “I will never go back on my faith again.” 

To continue to broaden the scope of the beauty worked out through suffering (and discipline) in the hands of our faithful God, we read Hebrews 12:7-13.  Verses 10a-11 stood out mightily to Debra:

” . . . but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 
No discipline (or suffering) seems pleasant at the time, but painful. 
Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace
for those who have been trained by it.”

The beauty I witnessed, was the transformed outworking of that “harvest of righteousness and peace” being manifested by Debra’s faith in a Sovereign and Good God.  Ah yes, the wondrous clarity faith provides in suffering is totally out of this world!

Whatever challenge you may face, take heart as the God who loves us so completely watches over you . . . no matter what!

All to His Glory!

“The Quiet of Now . . . . “

“The quiet of now . . . .” It is a simple phrase that tumbled into my mind one morning as I was writing praises to God in my Journey Notebook.  I remember being struck by how it expressed the delight in my soul as I was aware of His Presence.  “The quiet of now . . .” is not so much about silence (although there may be a “hush” that accompanies it) but has more to do with the cessation of physical or mental busyness.  It can be experienced in times of blessing as well as in the midst of trial and heartache.  “The quiet of now . . .” refers to those rare moments when the world becomes distant as God awaits our stepping through the doorway to Him.  It is in such moments that Hope reigns supreme to both delight and comfort the soul.

Yesterday morning was one of those times when “the quiet of now” entered the forefront of my praises to God.  Our home had rocked for a week as our family of eight adults and seven children enjoyed the rare treat of spending time together.  Laughter, good food, messiness of varying degrees, old friends dropping in and a beautiful snow were the hallmarks of our week.  Several times, I found myself thinking about Mary who, after all the events that occurred around Jesus’ birth, “treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)  In like fashion, I tried to store away odd moments in my mind to be savored later:

  • The way our kids and their spouses enjoyed each other.
  • Watching how the three oldest cousins sensitively played with their younger cousins.
  • The laughter shared by the five bigger boys while sharing stories about sledding one afternoon afternoon.
  • The two youngest leaving gooey fingerprints on our den windows as they excitedly watched the squirrels and birds romp around the bird feeder in the snow.

Yesterday, with everyone gone it was quiet–almost too quiet,  It was then that I pulled out those freshly stored memories and laughed “in the quiet of now.”  (I laughed even harder last night, when I noticed those gooey fingerprints still gracing our den windows!)  It was truly lovely to share those memories with the One who ordained them from the beginning of time.

Are you yearning to experience such a moment?  Perhaps you are feeling harried by the craziness in your life or are discouraged by the seemingly quirky unfairness of how things are right now?  Psalm 46 lays out a helpful formula to lead us to “the quiet of now . . .” when life is falling apart.  It concludes with this direction:

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

Consider this breakdown–

Step One:

~ BE STILL ~

Step away from what you are doing when you can; ask Him to help you see a window in time to be with Him,  (I guarantee He will help you to do this!)

Step Two:

~ KNOW ~

 Stop focusing on your problems and discouragement.  Focus instead on the One who loves you.  Ask Him to help you to know Him more intimately than you do— He will help with this one too!

Step Three:

~ I AM GOD ~

Bow before Him as you give thanks that HE IS GOD, AND THAT YOU ARE NOT!  (It is always such a relief to set that one straight!)

Step Four:

~ I WILL BE EXALTED! ~

If you got steps one through three in order, then enter His Gates (“the quiet of now. . .”) with thanksgiving and praise!

One final thought on entering “the quiet of now . . . .”  Since the fall of man we have sought and failed to create our own heaven/peace on earth apart from God.  The Bible makes clear, we cannot enjoy such quiet/peace apart from the Peacemaker–Christ Jesus–who unabashedly pointed to Himself as the path that leads to quiet we crave:

“I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  
John 14:6

All to His Glory

Simple Anticipation . . . Profound Peace

Anticipation: to look forward to as certain; pleasurable expectation; visualization of a future event or state 

Anticipation–there is a loveliness to this word as it rolls off the tongue that delights my heart . . . especially at Christmas!  For many, the anticipation of Celebrating God’s Gift of our Savior King is the highlight of the year as we remember:

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.”  
Luke 2:8-11

Remembering God’s faithful provision of our Savior Redeemer is reason enough for our hearts to overflow with joy-filled anticipation of the Season.  Yet, there is a darker side of anticipation that can steal our joy and our peace–the dark stain of DREAD.  As the pressures of shopping, finances being pushed to the limit and a myriad of activities and social obligations threaten to overwhelm us, we lose sight of the simple joy of remembering God’s Goodness and have no peace..  

Many complain that living in convoluted times has caused DREAD to darken the door of ANTICIPATION when it comes to Celebrating God’s Amazing Gift.  We blame culture for robbing us of the PEACE that is rightfully ours in Christ. 

I accepted such arguments in years past, and felt defeated and depressed. However, I have since decided that neither the times nor the culture have power to rob Christians of the Peace that is inherently ours in celebrating Christ’s Coming.  In fact, rather than shifting blame to outside influences, we need to take responsibility for the choices we make as we reel-in the stresses and strains that can lead us to dreading Christmas.

I write this to encourage you to take an honest look at where you are one week into the Christmas Season.  On a scale from one to ten, with joyful anticipation at number ten and dread at number one, where are you?

Before going any further, let me share something very simple yet surprisingly profound that helped me to adjust my number on the anticipation scale this past week.  The insight came as I prepared to lead the Advent wreath workshop at my church.  I felt privileged to have been asked to lead the workshop, but inwardly . . . I quaked for weeks as I anticipated (dare I admit . . . I dreaded?!) blundering my way through presenting something I felt ill-equipped to do!  I repeatedly asked myself, “Who am I to instruct a group of people who already know what they are doing?”  In fear, I did what I generally do . . . I started researching everything I could that related to “Advent wreaths” on the Internet!

Not having grown up observing the Advent tradition, I understood Advent to be part of a church service–more formal. What I learned in my research was that the Advent wreath was originally meant for use in Christian homes and was not used formally in Church services (in a broad sense) until the mid-twentieth century.   What a revelation!  With that insight, I realized that, instead of placing our Advent wreath in the more formal setting of our dining room table (where it has been largely forgotten and unused in past years), it would be far more fitting to put it on our kitchen table for daily use.  So . . . that is exactly what I did.

DSC00129

The result of making this simple change?  Amazing and unexpected.  This past week when my husband and I shared our main meal (which varies with his work schedule) we lit the first candle, prayed and read the Scripture to each other as we ate. (The paperback we are using [found stuffed in amongst some Christmas dishes and decorations] is one we used when our children were young.)  After doing this three days in a row I realized how much I looked forward to sharing time with God and my husband each day.    Reflecting on it now, I marvel at how the simple shift from a formal mindset to daily use increased my level of anticipation as the days lead up to Celebrating Christ’s Birth.  Along with the higher level of anticipation, the result has been a greater inward peace as the dissonance/noise of Christmas pressures are put (essentially) on the “back burner” each day.

In the past, I looked at Advent wreaths as “one more should” to be saddled with.  However, what I discovered is the benefit of setting aside the “noise” of the many demands that surround Christmas with the simple lighting of a candle (a reminder that Jesus is the Light of the world) and savoring the Scripture over a meal–profound peace.  Wherever you are on the anticipation scale it is never too late to make adjustments to move away from dread toward joyful anticipation.  It may sound silly, but I am actually looking forward to lighting the additional candles!  Simple anticipation . . . profound peace . . . rejoicing in Him!

All to His Glory!

“Continue To Do Good . . . “

What are we to do when evil strikes and when life does not make sense?  How are we to respond to someone who slaps us hard and looks at us with eyes of hate; when there is no apparent remorse for what has been done?  It is tempting to try to hide from evil, to pull away from a world fraught with danger until things clear and we feel safe again.  Truthfully, that is my first response when life gets hard.  However, rather than curl up and hide, I have learned in my Christian walk to take a deep breath and respond to whatever challenge faced (be it my own or when helping someone else) according to the simple direction of James 1:5,

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

As the events of 9/11/2001 took place, I remember begging God for wisdom and perspective all that day and into the night.  I felt tormented and did not know how to respond to such evil.  Finally, as I was going to bed exhausted and confused these words came to me:  “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  God is good.”  (The first part is from Romans 12:9b; the second served as a reminder as to where I could safely put my trust.)  A sense of relief flooded my mind and heart as I reflected on the simple clarity imparted through those words.  As I went to sleep I remember how the words continued to work through my mind and heart: “Hate what is evil . . . cling to what is good . . . God is good . . . .”  I slept peacefully that night, finding my resting place in the hands of a loving God who is worthy of my trust despite the chaos in the world.

Since then, those words have continued to echo in my mind and heart, even as evil has continued to lurk and destroy.  I have continued to see God’s goodness still holding the upper hand.  This week though, I felt myself stumble inwardly as the tragedy in Boston took place and as I counseled three women hurt by the pain of rejection and betrayal.  What to do?  Deep down I realized I was tired of the hurting and done with the unfair suffering imposed on innocent people by the sin of others.  Even so, I had to smile when the words came to my mind, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God . . . . ”  My response was what I have learned to do, I took a deep breath and ran to the Scriptures, this time with my Clients.  Focusing on I Peter 3:8 through the end of Chapter 4, it was the final verse that settled into our minds and hearts as it rendered this simple clarity and assurance:

“So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

What would God have us do when bad things happen; when we are treated unfairly or betrayed by others?  Are you tired and feel as if you have nothing left to give?  God has cleared a simple path for you and me as He urges us to  “continue to do good” by hating what is evil and clinging to Him for the strength and mercy we need to speak and act in love.  We live in a fallen world, full of heartache and confusion; a world no different from the one two thousand years ago that rejected and betrayed its only Hope.  God was faithful then and He continues to be now so . . . continue to do good as we trust HIM to deal with the ugliness of sin in this fallen world.  Truly, HE IS WORTHY OF YOUR TRUST!  

All to His Glory!

Holy Love

Christmas morning, Love divine;

born a Savior, glory shines!

He came with purpose, to save the lost;

amazing Grace paid an awful cost.

Blessed are all who embrace the Savior,

Holy Love . . . there is none greater!

Joy-filled Love, redemption ours;

Grace-filled manger led to a Cross.

Do you know Him, can you see?

He came for sinners like you and me.

Holy Love how great the sound,

sing His praises all around!

“For to us a Child is born,
    to us a Son is given,
    and the government will be on His shoulders.
And He will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
 Of the greatness of His government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over His kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.”   (Isaiah 9:6,7)

All to His Glory!