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!

Formula for Living at Peace in a Troubled World ~

Whether you keep up with the news or not, the world we live in is a scary place.  At times it is tempting to stop listening; to sort of hibernate in my own little bubble.  But when I remember Jesus’ call to go out into the world to make disciples, I am convicted that I am being irresponsible.  After all, how can I “love my neighbor” and ignore what is happening to people around me?

This morning I discovered what I believe to be an answer to my quandary; a formula for living at peace in a troubled world.  I was reading I Corinthians 16 when the words of verse 14 all but jumped off the page at me:

“Be on your guard;
stand firm in the faith;
be men of courage;
be strong.  
     Do everything in love.”

As I reflected on the simple but powerful call of Paul’s words, it struck me that if we walk in wisdom and in faith there is no room for frustration, regret or fear.   Paul calls Christ’s followers to live intentionally devoted to honoring God in a fallen and many times dangerous world.  I was especially touched by the way each piece of this formula builds upon the other to make a complete package:

Be on your guard–recognizes the danger that is a constant factor.   A common struggle in the Counseling Room is coming to grips with disappointment and heartache.  One of the reasons I believe God gifted us with His Word is because He does not want His people to be naive about the power of sin.  When Jesus sent out His disciples He gave warning as He instructed them, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore, be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves.”  (Matthew 10:16)  In other words, this is not heaven!

Stand firm in the faith–is a call to stand not in self-righteousness but in Christ’s holiness.  By faith we assume the best of God in a world bent and broken by sin.

Be men and women of courage–calls us to live out our faith intentionally.  Let’s face it, it takes divinely supplied courage to live by faith!  It takes such courage to love as well as to forgive.

Be strong–don’t be blown and tossed by the winds of an opinionated world.  In the beginning of his letter to the Corinthian church Paul wrote,  “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom; the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”  (!:25)  In a letter to another church Paul clearly identified the source of the believer’s strength:  “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”  (Ephesians 6:10.11)  

Such strength requires a yieldedness of mind and heart out of which flows the final piece of the formula . . . .

Do everything in love.  Where the other pieces are strung together, this piece fittingly stands alone as the capstone of all that has been presented.  When our motivation is to honor God in all we say or do, then our actions will reflect His love.

No matter what you may be facing right now, my prayer is that the wisdom and perspective of the Scriptures will be your strength.  Stay close to the Shepherd and find comfort and assurance in the words of Christ Jesus:

“A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave Me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for My Father is with Me.  I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:32,32)

May the peace of Christ rule in your heart this day and always . . . .

All to His Glory!

“My Sheep Listen To My Voice”

I was two years old when my father was called to fight in the Korean War.  I have no memory of when he left, but I definitely remember him picking me up and hugging me over a year later when he returned to us at the Navy dock in San Diego, California.  Korea changed Dad.  He suffered severe frostbite on his legs and feet so he walked like he was walking on broken glass.  Also, he rarely slept more than four hours a night because of the nightmares that plagued him.   Early on I remember his hands shaking from what they called “nerves,” and he could not walk into a darkened movie theater for many years.  (Dad said it reminded him of the night he had to keep running along a steep ridge as he and his fellow Marines were shot at from either side.  Anyone shot had to be left, because the enemy was so close they “could hear them breathing.”)   It was rough carrying so many memories of war, but Dad worked hard and did his best to provide for our family.

My dad and I - Feb. 2013.
My dad and I – Feb. 2013.

Eventually, my parents worked to build a successful dry cleaning business.   While Dad cleaned and pressed the clothes, Mom did alterations of all sorts.  My brother and I helped Dad take care of customers, marked in clothes and put orders together when we weren’t in school.   To most people, Dad’s handwriting on their receipts was an almost indecipherable scribble, but after working together for so many years and because I loved Dad, it became as familiar to me as my own.  Almost fifty years later that proved to be an asset when I transcribed ninety-two of the letters Dad wrote to Mom during the year he was gone.  I must admit there were challenges (some letters I had to hold up to a light to make out the faded writing.)  But for me, it was a labor of love as I imagined Dad writing home from such a hostile environment.  As I carefully opened each letter, unfolded the fragile paper and started to read, it was as if I could hear his voice speaking through time.  To be honest, I believe transcribing Dad’s letters was one of the most worthwhile things I will ever do for our family.  His letters reveal the character of a young family man who wanted to be home but learned to love and care about the men he served with.  To this day, he can still tell you the names of many who “didn’t make it” back to their families.

Just as I recognized Dad’s “voice” speaking from a time when I was small, I believe Jesus was referring to a similar familial connection when He responded to the questions of some men who rejected Him as God’s Son in John 10:27-30,

“My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand.  I and the Father are one.” 

When Jesus came to this earth He knowingly stepped into enemy territory, a spiritual battle fraught with danger, to save those who would listen to His voice for eternity.  In my last post I wrote about Connecting Your Story with His.

It is as we connect our stories with His though faith, that we learn to listen and recognize the voice of the Shepherd of our souls.

Do you have such a connection?  Do you recognize His voice as He speaks to your heart?  Then embrace the miracle of a changed heart and mind; remember the battle waged that ultimately secured your redemption.  If you do not know the voice of the Shepherd but desire to, then answer His invitation given in Mark 1:15,

“The time has come,” He said.  “The Kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the Good News!”

His Sacrifice given on your behalf and mine proves He is worthy of our trust . . .

Happy Easter!

Forgiveness + God’s Gracious Hand = Freedom to Love

One of the most exhilarating Scriptures that causes my mind and heart to soar beyond the cosmos is Galatians 5:1.

“It is for FREEDOM that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do no let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

What a precious gift our Christ-won freedom from sins bondage is!  For many years, resentment and bitterness weighed deeply in my mind and heart.   What I am about to share with you is a personal story.  It is a story that impacted my spiritual growth as I was freed to live for, love and serve God (and those He puts on my path) with a glad heart.  It is a difficult story to tell because of the oddness of it, but I assure you that it is absolutely true.  I share it in the hope that it will encourage to you (or someone you know) to trust God to accomplish what seems impossible: To be free from the hurts and regrets that weigh heavy on the soul.  The formula is simple: Forgiveness + God’s Gracious Hand = Freedom to Love

The Call:  It was late one evening, my husband was away on a trip and our little girls were asleep.  I was sitting in bed reading my Bible.  I cannot tell you what I was reading, except to say that it did not have anything to so with what was about to occur.  As I read I heard a voice say, “Kathie, you must forgive.”  Startled, I looked around our bedroom but realized the voice was not really audible–I heard it in my head.   Assuming it was God speaking to me, my mind started to race, “Forgive what?  Forgive who?”  The room remained quiet, but as I thought about it I realized that I blamed my mom for many of my inadequacies.  The voice spoke again, “Kathie you must forgive, otherwise you will remain an emotional cripple.”  I sat there thinking about my options, “Emotional cripple or forgive my mom . . . emotional cripple . . . forgive my mom . . . emotional cripple . . . .”  I recognized that forgiving my mom was the only viable option so I thought, “Okay, I forgive my mom,” and promptly fell asleep.

Forgiveness applied?  The saying that “old habits die hard” is all too true.  When I said I forgave my mom I meant it.  But it was not long before I recognized the old anger and frustration overtake me when I interacted with her.  I went into a tailspin . . . devastated by the thought  that, “I lied to God!”  I struggled with depression for many months.  It was awful.

I continued to struggle with my failure to forgive until one day reading in I Samuel 13:14 where King Saul, the first king of Israel, was replaced by David, “a man after God’s own heart.”   I remember wondering why this was so, when David was by no means a perfect man.  Curious, I began to read the Psalms because so many of them were written by David.  What stood out to me was that David, more than anyone else in the Bible, exposed his heart to God.  Desiring to become a woman “after God’s own heart”, I began to pray the Psalms where David opened his heart to God.  I found the process to be helpful until the day I came to Psalm 139:23,24–

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

As I contemplated praying those words I experienced a panic attack!  Suddenly, I was in God’s operating room and I was about to come under the knife; my heart was about to be totally exposed!  Should I trust Him?  It took several minutes to decide . . . .  Finally, I moved forward in faith, scared out of my mind but determined to remove the unforgiveness that plagued my mind and heart.  I wondered, could I stand the pain?

God’s Gracious Hand:  It was a pivotal moment in my life.  What I found out was that God is far more gentle than I ever dreamed!  Where I expected the old junk of resentment and bitterness to be ripped out once and for all, He was far more gentle and thorough!  Amazing grace flooded my fearful heart in a profound way with the revelation of an all-encompassing love that ran far deeper than I ever imagined.  It was at that moment, that I knew that I could trust His divine power to finish the work of forgiveness in my heart that I desired, but had not the ability to complete.

I would love to tell you that after such an amazing encounter everything fell into place.  It did not . . . but change did come.  Rather than beat myself up when resentment reared its ugly head, I ran to God instead and said, “Take it!  I hate it!  Help me Lord to walk worthy of Your Name!”  Ephesians 5:21 took on new meaning for me:

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” 

As I reverenced Christ by surrendering and confessing my sin, He continued to cleanse and make me whole within.  It was nothing less than a miracle being worked out in my heart.  Then one day it happened . . . .

Freedom to Love:  I will not go into the details except that one day God finally broke down the last wall of resentment in my heart, replacing it with a heart of compassion for my mom.  The thought still brings tears to my eyes when I realized that I was truly free, not only to forgive but to truly love my mom!  Having just recently lost her, I cherish the twenty years of being able to love and enjoy my mom (warts and all) as one of God’s sweetest gifts to me.

How about you?  Is there an area in your life where forgiveness needs to be applied?  Perhaps you are in a place as I was, feeling like a failure as you battle within?  If that be so, then learn from my experience and go (RUN!) to God for the cleansing work that only He can work out to completion. Let’s face it, only God can accomplish the miracle of change in any of us . . . one heart at a time.   Forgiveness + God’s Gracious Hand = Freedom to Love . . . it’s totally a God-thing!

All to His Glory!

When Our Plans Seem To Go Awry ~

I have been a bit dazed this week, recovering from a planned weekend away that seemed to go horribly wrong.  I live three thousand miles from my parents who are in their eighties.  Since I saw them four months ago, my mom’s health has spiraled downward.  MY PLAN was to travel with my daughter Kara (because of my own health issues) to spend three days with them.  I especially wanted to encourage my dad and visit other family in the area.

Everything seemed to be going well as we visited my parents that first morning.  However, a quote from Allen Saunders, author of the comic strip Mary Worth, reflects my perception of what occurred when MY PLANS were dashed:

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” 

When we left my parents after lunch, we had every reason to anticipate two more days of visiting and encouraging them.  However, that is not what happened.  Hours later I got sick with something I probably picked up on the plane and never got to see them again.  I wrestled with the craziness of it all; after all, I had such good intentions!  I wonder even now, will ever see my parents alive again?

HOW we deal with disappointment and discouragement depends very much on our perception of what “LIFE” is.  The questions are straight forward:

  • Is LIFE random? a series of unrelated, quirky, circumstantial, out-of-control events?
  • Or is LIFE actually God working out His Perfect Plan in the Universe that He created? 
  • Not only that, if LIFE is actually God working out His Perfect Plan in the Universe, will we choose to trust Him more when our plans seem to go wrong?

That is the question we all face when LIFE doesn’t seem to make sense and OUR PLANS run amiss.

Are you a planner like me?  There’s nothing wrong with planning.  In fact, I believe our penchant for planning is a reflection of our Creator–the Ultimate Planner.  Planning provides order and structure to our lives as it helps to better utilize the time He has gifted us with.   But what do you do when what you planned is interrupted and goes in a totally different direction?    The cry of Job in 17:11 reflects this quandary when his perfectly ordered life was interrupted by the despair of loosing his children, his wealth and his health in quick succession:

“My days have passed, my plans are shattered,
    and so are the desires of my heart.”

For Job, a dark evil seemed to have taken over that seemed to shatter his world, robbing him of whatever hopes he had for the future.  Have you known such disappointment?  Are you wrestling with something right now that has snuffed out the hope that belongs to all who trust in the light of Christ our Savior?

Consider the insight gained from Psalm 33:8-11  regarding the motivation behind the plans God has for His people:

“Let all the earth fear the Lord;
    let all the people of the world revere Him.
 For He spoke, and it came to be;
    He commanded, and it stood firm.
 The Lord foils the plans of the nations;
    he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
 But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever,
    the purposes of His heart through all generations.”

Do you see it?  The purposes that reflect God’s HEART for His own (His Perfect Plans) are being worked out in the seeming crazy quilt of LIFE.   God’s HEART involvement assures His own that His motivation is to draw us closer to Him as our gentle Shepherd.  The thing is, this cannot happen unless we are willing to trust Him with our hearts.  I love the way this is so beautifully reflected in Jeremiah 29:11-13 as God encourages us to yield our hearts to Him as we trust in His Plan for our lives,

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.  “

As I reflect on my visit with my parents, believe it or not I marvel at God’s kind provision for us.  My mom was somewhat wakeful so she knew Kara and I were there.  It was a sweet time to talk to my dad and to share a beautiful lunch with him.  In fact, the light in the dining room was so perfect that I took pictures (when normally I save taking pictures until the end of a visit.)   Little did I know how much those pictures would mean to me when I was not able to go back!

LIFE.  Is it all random happenstance?  I think not.  Looking back with eyes of faith I see blessing that abounds from the heart of our Ultimate Planner.  How about you?

All To His Glory!

When Life Seems Complicated ~

Whether I hear it in casual conversation or in the Counseling Room, my spiritual antenna rise when I hear anyone say, “It’s complicated.”  The reason is because of a simple principle I learned early in my walk with Jesus:

When life seems complicated sin is often there.  Sin tends to complicate, but God always clarifies!

When we sin and we make excuses for our sin (placing blame on someone or something else); or when we are overwhelmed by the sin of others, we loose our spiritual objectivity.  However, when we prayerfully ask God for the clarity we are lacking, the insight may not come immediately but He always delivers according to His perfect will.  Here’s a personal example:

On the morning of September 11, 2001 I was living on the east coast of the US.  It was a beautiful day full of promise until the unthinkable happened; four planes carrying innocent men, women and children were crashed in order to snuff out the lives of even more innocent people.  Everything stopped that day, as airplanes across the country were grounded and people were riveted to watching their television screens as the magnitude of what had happened unfolded.

I remember praying throughout that day, begging God for help in processing all I saw.  As Christians, how are we to respond when overcome by such evil?  I struggled the entire day as I tried to make sense of the chaos; it all seemed so complicated . . . .  Late that night I finally turned off the television; it seemed as if all light and hope had been snuffed out as I headed upstairs to my bed.  It wasn’t until I pulled back the covers to get into bed that God’s answer penetrated my mind and heart: “‘Hate what is evil, cling to what is good.’ God is good.”   I was stunned as God’s answer penetrated my heart.  “Hate what is evil, cling to what is good”  is a verse from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans (12:9b).  The reminder that “God is good” flooded my heart and mind with hope that night, as I trusted that no matter how darkly complicated life seemed, God’s goodness would prevail.

That is why when life appears to be complicated by extenuating factors, I run to my Bible for the perspective I need.  How about you?  No matter how complicated your life is, the principle is the same:  Where sin complicates, God clarifies.  Are you unsure about where to begin?  Pray . . . ask God for clarity into what seems complicated.  Then, open up your Bible to Romans 12 as a starting point.  As you read, ask God for a teachable heart and a willingness to surrender those complications to Him.  Expect good things to happen as God grants you clarity in order to free you to serve Him better.  If you don’t find your answer there in Romans, continue to pray and entrust yourself to God as the Shepherd of your heart.  Let me know what happens!

All to His Glory!