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Monday, August 23, 2010

Talking to Myself

Treasured friend,

Tell me you've never done it--talk to yourself, I mean. Commit me to a rubber room if you want to, but I have to confess that I do it from time to time. Mostly to bolster my courage--mostly to remind myself that this is only a season, and that grace to survive comes to those who ask.

It seems I'm in good company. Not just you, I mean. But also at least one hero of the faith: David. Don't believe me? Read it for yourself. Psalm 27. It's a passage we've examined before, but it's worth revisiting today.

It opens with David's self talk. We don't know why he wrote this psalm--what circumstance he found himself in that required him to say outloud that the Lord is still faithful--even when life conspires to make us think otherwise. But he did need this reminder, which he makes obvious right from the opening:

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1; ESV).

Tell me, soul--
you know God and His faithfulness,
His fairness,
His strength and His sustaining grace.
So, compared to Him and all His attributes,
what are these pesky little circumstances
and why are you allowing them to frighten you?

That's a question I had to ask myself this week. Because circumstances were conspiring against me. I felt I was in the enemy's crosshairs--and was being shot down from at least three directions. Amid the caregiving responsibilities that have been marking my days, I've been trying to conduct my business and personal affairs as "business as usual." If you're a caregiver you've been there, most certainly. Your loved one has been fed, medications adminstered, and you have an hour during his rest time (before the next mealtime and medication) to do what would normally take 8 hours--or 10 or 12.

It's a precarious balance. And when one element unfolds differently than expected, the scale tips--and creates a soul-toxic mess. When someone challenges, expresses disappointment, even worse falsely accuses--well I know last week I felt like changing my name to Hannah Hurnard's classic main character, "Much Afraid" (from Hinds Feet on High Places). Overwhelmed didn't even begin to describe what I was feeling. It was debilitating and abject fear. The kind that keeps you up nights, clammy, shivering, and quivering with anxious thoughts.

That's why David's self-talk spoke directly to me. The entire psalm is full of it.
When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident. One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple (Psalm 27:2-4; ESV).
Then there's the end--the last self-reminder:
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! (Psalm 27:13-14; ESV).
It is a powerful statement of faith ... I believe that something other than what I see and feel is the whole, unmitigated truth.

Reminding myself of the circumstances that might have prompted David to speak this truth aloud, I began to take courage. David was hunted down mercilessly and forced to live in deserts and caves. Anointed king by a wanted man. Betrayed by a family member. Forgiven a debt he couldn't repay. And yet, he could say, "I believe I'll be able to look at God's goodness once again in this life."

And I found myself speaking it to my own soul.

The Lord saves. The Lord delivers.
No one can challenge Him.
Oh my frightened soul, be strong and courageous.
God will work on your behalf once again.
Take refuge in His strength,
in His comfort and companionship,
in His absolute sufficiency and goodness.

My friend, if this is a message you needed to hear today--take heart. Because the Lord hasn't changed. The God of David--the faithful one, the God of salvation--He is mine and He is yours. He offers you His faithfulness, He wants to be the God of your salvation today. Remind yourself of the one who is on your side, fighting your battles beside you--for you and with you.

If you need to, give yourself a good talking to as I did to myself: This is the one you serve, so there's no reason to panic. Be strong, take courage, wait for the Lord.

Blessings and prayers,
Julie

© 2010, Julie-Allyson Ieron. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, email: orders@joymediaservices.com

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Earth-shaking Pray-ers

Treasured friend,


If you read this blog regularly, you know that I am several days delinquent in posting this devotional thought. It has been a harrowing 10 days in our household—a blur of ER cubicles, hospital wards, nurses, needles, tests, specialists, frightening words like diabetes and heart failure, and long words like cardioversion and tachycardia. At the moment, we are fully in the caregiving mode, but are seeing good results--from the meds, and more likely, from the prayers of our friends and family who once again are supporting us through these crisis moments.

Perhaps that’s one reason this Scripture passage in the book of Acts struck me in a new way this morning. It’s found in Acts 4. And I don’t think I ever read it quite this way before. The setting is that, in Jesus’ name, Peter and John have delivered God’s miraculous healing to a crippled beggar in the crowded streets of Jerusalem. Throngs of everyday people were in awe, and they praised God. But the religious elite felt their influence slipping away—and they were livid. They dragged the disciples in and rebuked them for preaching in the name of Jesus. (Yes, His name will always be an offense to the enemy—it was in New Testament times, and it is yet today.)

Peter and John responded with the classic line, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).

That’s typically where I leave off the reading—and stand in wonder at the wisdom and courage God gives to His faithful followers in a time of great challenge. And it’s true, He does give it in abundance. But that’s not the end of the scene. Just a few moments later, when the rulers can’t decide on a course of action, they release Peter and John.

Where do these godly men turn in this moment? They go back to the gathered believers and report on this frightening turn of events. And that’s where the story picks up energy:

When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. "Sovereign Lord," they said, "you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: "'Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.
Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus."

After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. Acts 4:24-31 (NIV)

When they were challenged beyond their ability, when they were frightened and maybe even quaking a bit inside, Peter and John didn’t retreat to neutral corners. Not at all. They retreated home—home where the believers were gathered—for encouragement and strength. In the communion of fellow followers of Christ, they found their first and only true refuge.

And what did the believers do? Immediately, they turned to the Father in prayer. Together. With voices “raised.” This wasn’t a timid prayer. An if-You-wanted-to-You-might-want-to-get-involved-here approach to the Holy Throne.

When they heard all about the crisis in their brothers’ lives, they prayed with authority.

God, you have the power. God, you even prepared us with King David’s words about the plots of the rulers against God’s anointed written so many millennia ago. It’s happening here and now. So, we ask You to equip us—and our brothers in Christ. Encourage us. Let us speak boldly. Confirm our words with Your blessing, even Your miracles.
In the solace of the gathered faithful and in the beauty of corporate prayer, God’s Spirit moved with power and answered their prayer by granting all of them boldness of speech they’d never have been able to conjure up on their own.

Which brings me back to the events of the week in our household. When it became apparent we needed to rush Dad to ER, I zapped a really short, crisis email to a caregiver prayer circle to which I belong. I CC’d a few select colleagues. And an inexplicable peace came over me. Sure, I prayed. We three prayed in the car on the way to the hospital. But we needed more. We needed the prayers of the saints joined with us. One friend put us on her church’s prayer chain. Others sent emails throughout the day, just letting us know they were standing with us in prayer.

And God’s hand moved—by giving Dad favor with the triage team (where other times we’ve had to wait hours to be seen by ER doctors, this day we were ushered in and cared for in the blink of an eye), by assigning the right doctors, by giving wisdom to take the right tests and know what to do with the answers. We weren’t delivered from the crisis, but we were given courage, wisdom, boldness and God’s equipping presence through it. I’m quite certain this came as a result of the united prayers of the saints.

Look back at how Luke reports God's response to the united prayers in Acts: the Spirit actually came down and shook the room where the believers were united in intercessory prayer. And He is the same, today. He moves on the scene supernaturally, in response to the prayers of His righteous ones. We saw it firsthand this week.

Where does that leave us as caregivers—as those who may often feel like we’re all alone in the crisis du jour? I think it gives us a powerful reminder of how much we need fellow believers, praying believers, those whose hotline to heaven is open on both ends all day, every day. Let’s be that praying support group for each other—and let’s turn quickly and immediately to that support when we hit our next moment of challenge.

Blessings and prayers for you today, in your moments of special challenge,

Julie



© 2010, Julie-Allyson Ieron. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, email: orders@joymediaservices.com

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Prison Praise

Treasured friend,

Today, a lovely rendition of the Selah song, "I Bless Your Name" sent me back to Scripture, to the book of Acts, chapter 16. The scene, during the early days of the church, is one where Christians were under intense persecution--particularly those Christians on the front lines of ministry who were working in the strength of the Holy Spirit to push back the gates of hell and set spiritual prisoners free.

It wasn't a pretty scene. In fact two prominent leaders, Paul and Silas had been beaten with rods, thrown into a primitive jail and bound tightly, with their feet confined to stocks.

Now, let me stop and say that most of us in the free world aren't subjected to these extremes of suffering or persecution for the cause of Christ (although some have suffered the loss of prestige, a voice in popular culture, even possibly a job or a loved one--simply because they claim the name of Christ). But, even most of us who are exhausted, overworked, underappreciated caregivers aren't in as dire a position as Paul and Silas were that night.

And so, we pick up the story at midnight ... the darkest hour, the farthest from daylight--the time when the problems of the day grow disproportionately large and loom like overwhelming shadows in the gloom ... and so at midnight, let's let the Word take us into the scene:

About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them ... (v. 25, HCSB)

Two things strike me here. For the first observation, let's look at the end of the verse--the other prisoners were paying attention to what was going on in Paul's cell. There were others, in chains. While there might have been other believers chained up for the cause of Christ, it's more likely those other prisoners were guilty of crimes against Rome that from a human perspective deserved severe punishment. And these worldly guys, I picture them rough and seething with anger--vile and smelly from their sinful ways and their grungy cells--these guys are hushed and listening to what Paul and Silas are saying and doing down the cell block.

And what are they doing? That's the amazing second observation. The situation is hopeless, right? God let them be captured by heathens and abused. They're really gonna let Him have a piece of their minds, right?

Nope!

They're praying and singing hymns. What? Oh, come on. Nobody could be that spiritual. Praising God and worshipping Him from that smelly, stinky, vile cell? Their only crime doing His work?

But that's what people attuned to God's higher purposes do. They praise Him and bless His name even when they don't understand the extreme circumstances He's allowing to unfold in their lives.

The end of the story is that while they're praising and praying, God shakes the earth to the foundation of the jail, and everything changes. Prison doors shake open--can you imagine the force of that quake?

Anyway, the doors shake open--all of them, the ones confining the guilty and the ones confining God's servants--and the chains shackeling everyone in the prison come undone. Doesn't seem like just a run-of-the-mill earthquake could do that. Kinda gives you a new appreciation for the power of the hand of God.

Paul and Silas and the other prisoners were all loosed--at the moment when God's praises were ringing out in the abject darkness.

Rather than escaping (that's what I'd have done--I'd have high-tailed it out of there and allowed myself to fade back into the midnight darkness under cover of the chaos that would certainly follow), Paul and Silas stayed around.

Acts 16:29-34 (HCSB) Then the jailer called for lights, rushed in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he escorted them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the message of the Lord to him along with everyone in his house. He took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds. Right away he and all his family were baptized. He brought them into his house, set a meal before them, and rejoiced because he had believed God with his entire household.

Because they stayed rather than running, they both saved the jailer's life and led him (and his household) to faith in Christ. The jailer who'd abused them became their brother in Christ, because they didn't bail out and save themselves. And the night they began in chains, ended in a baptismal service--with a whole household professing faith in Christ.

God orchestrated a tremendously trying set of circumstances, and He used the faithfulness of His servants despite their own suffering to move the kingdom of heaven forward--and to storm the gates of the spiritual prison holding onto the many souls who came to faith as a result.

I suppose this passage indicts me so powerfully today because I'm much more of a complainer than a praiser. I get it that the prisoners were still up at midnight--frequently I'm up at midnight and beyond, too. But usually, I'm up worrying. I might pray when my midnight circumstances (though much more cushy then Paul and Silas') seem out of control--but my prayer would likely come off more like a two-year-old's whining than a mature believer's prayer of faith and worship of the Almighty.

Yet, this passage has issued a challenge for me today. Perhaps you'll hold me accountable, so that the next time I'm awake and in trouble at the midnight hour, I'm going to make an effort to be praising instead of whining. And, while an earthquake-sized change in my circumstances might sound appealing, even if it doesn't come, I'll praise Him just the same.

May this passage of the Word challenge and encourage you today, as well.

Blessings and prayers,
Julie

© 2010, Julie-Allyson Ieron. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, email: orders@joymediaservices.com

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