Overcomer

My breakfast tray was placed before me but instead of presenting it with a cheerful “Good morning! Enjoy your breakfast!” as I would have loved, it was accompanied by heavy-handed remarks that plunged my heart and spirits to the floor all at once. If it’s a person close to you who does that, it’s really hard to recover from the hurt and discouragement it brings. That kind of discouragement which holds your heart like a vise grip. When your life is hard physically, you don’t need any more emotional challenges that try to snuff out what little hope you hold onto. You just want kindness and encouragement given intentionally or even sacrificially. You want compassion.

Overcomer

But then, other people have their own issues to work on, too, even if they are able-bodied. One has to consider that. They may have their own problematic attitudes and temper to deal with.  (And even if they don’t see the problem, changing people is not our job. It’s God’s. We have to leave it to Him). In my years of illness and suffering, I have learned to see outside of my situation and try to understand other people even though they are not walking the same difficult path as I am.

The wounds, my heart can absorb and forgive, and overtime, will heal and be forgotten, like a mist lifted off of the surface of the lake, making everything clear and shimmering once again. But the momentary discouragement is another thing. Although it is often momentary, it can still shake our hard-earned peace. When you’re ill, you need all the hope and encouragement you can get. But if it’s the opposite that’s thrown at you, that’s when you need to — overcome.

I stared at my breakfast tray, too sad and frustrated to make any move. Actually, it was already late for breakfast. And my breathing becomes labored and gets more difficult the longer I delay eating. But when you’re discouraged, you want to punish yourself all the more, maybe to elicit pity or stir up guilt feelings in the other person. I couldn’t eat. Didn’t want to eat. Self-pity, anger, frustration were all rising up within me. I hate being pitiful. I hate being weak and needy. I hate being miserable. But that’s what discouragement does.

Thank God the Holy Spirit within us doesn’t sleep. He’s alive! He clears up our muddled mind and emotions and speaks truth to us. Wisdom speaks: For whoever finds me finds life, And obtains favor from the Lord” (Prov. 8:35). And rebukes: “If you don’t eat, who will suffer? Does your not eating solve your problems and put into right all the wrongs?”

“Yes, I know. This wisdom is not from above and I’m being foolish,” I answered in my mind. Then I let James 3:17 land softly and settle there. I took a long, deep, cleansing breath, and as I exhaled, I released these words, squaring my shoulders: “JUST. OVERCOME.” I picked up my fork and began to eat, a smile curving my lips.

With the Holy Spirit and wisdom gained from the Word, we can command ourselves, “JUST OVERCOME”. And just like that, we are strengthened. With these two, the apostle Paul’s admonition to “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21) can squeeze itself through our confused minds and hurting hearts and we will be able to do the right thing. There’s no use analyzing the other person’s abrasive attitude or insensitivity. It’s not our problem; don’t dwell on it for so long. We’ll just have to step up our prayers for that person in our life.

But it’s not only discouragements that we need to overcome. There are other, maybe harder, things that life throws at us which need our overcoming. It’s either we overcome or accept defeat. It’s do or die. Sometimes I imagine my life like a medieval race where there are almost impossible obstacles, like a giant swinging pendulum that you need to assess its frequency to be able to pass through it without it hitting you, for if it does, you will fall into a pit of waiting, hungry crocodiles.

Didn’t the writer of Hebrews say that our faith journey is a race?

… let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us… (Heb. 12:1)

Running the race in such a way that we obtain the prize (1 Cor. 9:24) takes great courage, discipline, patience, and perseverance.

In the earlier years after my salvation, I saw how there were so many hard things I needed to overcome: my sickness and suffering, the anxieties and fears it brought, and the constant threat of hopelessness. But after reading and meditating on the first few chapters of the Book of Revelation where the Lord tells us “To him who overcomes” seven times, I understood that I had to be an overcomer. I reasoned that if there was nothing for me to overcome, how could I be called an overcomer? So, I learned to be grateful for trials. For when God sees fit to train me in this regard, then I will have to yield myself to the learning process.

Thank God we don’t overcome on our own. We can’t possibly do that even if we tried. The years when I was outside of the Lord’s presence and protection, I had let all kinds of temptations enslave me. I didn’t have the spiritual strength to stand up against them. Yielding to temptation was easier than overcoming it. But those years are gone. Even so, our life with the Savior is not without tests and temptations. And I believe they have actually intensified when we aligned our lives with God, because we have set ourselves against His arch-enemy. When we wrestle with our thoughts and emotions, we are actually wrestling with the devil’s strongholds. Pride, fears, anger, envy, and all other human emotions that draw us away from God are his territory.

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. (2 Cor. 10:3-5)

What do you need to overcome in your life right now? Temptations in all its tricky disguises? For in essence, it’s really all a kind of temptation. It all began in the Garden of Eden. The tempter put out his temptation and got Eve’s attention. Eve failed to overcome it; Adam failed to overcome Eve. Because of their failure to overcome, sin entered the world. Satan became its god (2 Cor. 4:4). But that wasn’t the end. The Lord Jesus came and has overcome the world (John 16:33).

On our own, we can never overcome the world and all its tribulations. But because Jesus has overcome it, we can, too. Our victory is in Him. Whoever is not in Christ can be the devil’s puppet. He or she will never have enough power to stand up against him and overcome his works. But those who are in Christ are given these powerful weapons to overcome their accuser:

And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. (Rev. 12:11)

I thought about that last part – “they loved not their lives unto the death” – long and hard and came to realize that most of our defeats and miseries are spawned by our self-love. It’s loving our lives more than loving God. But the Lord has already warned us about it.

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. (Mat. 16:25)

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10 Ways to Find Beauty for Ashes

As true worshipers of God, we have this fervent desire to perfect our walk before Him, to be pleasing to Him in everything we do – every thought, every intent, every word, every endeavor, every work, every interaction. We want that the entirety of our life honors God, an offering and a sacrifice to Him for a sweet-smelling aroma. A life that is in itself a worship. Even David had this deep desire in him:

I will behave wisely in a perfect way…
I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. (Ps. 101:2)

beauty_for_ashes

It is what is at the heart of our daily prayers: to bring God joy, to delight Him with our everyday lives, not only to gain His overflowing favor, but because it is what the Holy Spirit has planted in our heart of hearts. It is the very reason we exist – our lives giving glory to God.

But doing daily life has its own challenges. It’s never really smooth sailing. Stumbling stones will suddenly appear on our paths, often at times when we least expect them. A child might have disrespected us, bringing us pain and great disappointment. Another child might be being difficult and before we know it, we had come to the end of our patience, we had shouted, or spoken harshly, and we had hurt the child’s feelings and brought him/her to tears.

Or maybe a spouse’s gross insensitivity has deeply wounded us and we just want to curl up in misery and drown in our own tears. We are utterly frustrated and we don’t even know how to begin to overcome our grief. Or maybe we desperately want it to work out so we try to talk, at first calmly explaining, even pleading with tears for an open mind and heart, for understanding and a reconciliation at the end. But maybe the spouse is really being difficult, impossible even! And before you know it, you’re fighting back word for word, hurt for hurt. Your morning prayer for a perfect heart and walk before God has been ruthlessly trampled. The atmosphere of love, joy, and peace in the home that you so greatly desire has turned into a nightmare, one that you so want to banish from your memory (especially if you’re still recovering from another similar episode) and be healed of it.

What do you do when you desire beauty in your life but ugliness comes to invade instead? When peace and praise and joy are what you want ringing in your home, but instead, strifes and harsh words and weeping echo off the walls?

The following will save the day during those plowing through stormy, turbulent seas of this thing called life:

1. Pray

Do not let the ugly encounter end there: ugly. After the angry spouse or child has stormed out and slammed the door behind them, fall on your knees. Often, you don’t know what to say, where to start. You are filled with confusion, hurt, disappointment, and all other emotions whirling inside you like a hurricane. Just call out to God and tell it as it is. He has all the time in the world to listen. Tell Him all about it. Your. need. for. His. help. Unload the heavy weight that threatens to rip your chest apart. You may be discouraged about everything but NEVER BE DISCOURAGED IN PRAYING! Don’t give up on God; He will never give up on you! Pour out your heart. Confess, repent, beg.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:7).

2. Praise

Go up a few rungs higher. If you thought praise is only for those who feel like rejoicing, think again! With your heavy, grieving heart and unsettled mind, enter the Lord’s presence with solemn, soulful songs of praise. Sing even amid sobs, letting the tears flow freely. Let the lyrics be a prayer drawn from the depths of your soul. Sing until you feel the Savior’s embrace with His soothing words of acceptance and unfailing love. Sing until the clouds of ugliness is lifted off your heart and home. Sing until beauty blooms in every corner of your heart and spreads to every member of your family.

3. Intentionally Create a Reason for Thanksgiving

There was a long season in our life when my husband and I couldn’t seem to strike up harmony within our marriage. This was after we had reconciled (after more than two years of estrangement), had received the Lord’s salvation, and I was already very ill I had to stop working. It was apparent that the fruit of the Holy Spirit in either of us (though in varying magnitude) was a long time coming. We stood on different ends of the sensitivity scale. I am the kind of person who wants to talk heart-to-heart, to sort things out with hearts and minds wide open, and resolve them with words that bridge and heal. He was the kind who didn’t want to open up his heart and express himself, and when he’s prodded, the words came out wounding.

What I often did after having prayed and/or praised, I would cook a very special dish, set up the table and gather the kids around. I would lift up a prayer of thanksgiving for just… everything, then we would eat and celebrate despite the ugliness that had just occurred. Gathering around the table to partake of food especially cooked in love and celebrating with the Lord who makes it all possible will draw beauty into our lives and homes.

Banish the ugliness by intentionally creating beauty with God’s grace.

4. Witness

No, you don’t like to curl up in a corner and sulk and wallow in self-pity and misery. You are an overcomer, more than a conqueror. You will not speak anything that will dishonor God. You will not ambush a family member or a friend (or even your housekeeper or caregiver!) to catch all your bitter complaints. But this is what you will do: you will testify of the goodness, mercy, and faithfulness of God. You will talk about what He has done and continues to do in your life. You will highlight His works, not somebody’s faults and failings. Remembering God’s wondrous deeds and talking about them will take back the victory the devil has stolen.

5. Rest

Whether you were embroiled in a fight or you’re sick and waiting for healing, rest will do you a world of good. Rest will bring a lull to a stressful situation, a time to cool and calm down and steady your heart. Rest is a whisper to your spirit, “I care for you.” You may rest in different ways: sit and just be still, nap, read a psalm and meditate on it, have a tea for one, write on your journal (express your feelings on the pages or write a prayer), etc. However you choose to rest, it should bring you peace. It should push away ugly thoughts from your mind and bring in warmth and serenity to your soul like a flannel blanket in a stormy night. Rest refreshes the mind and body and enables you to think clearly.

6. Talk Heart-to-Heart

There should be a resolution to the conflict and a time for reconciliation. Communication is the key. Communicate, not to further play the blame game, but to build a bridge. “Communication translates the Greek word logos, which means to speak intelligently, to articulate a message…”*. You may invite the child involved into your room and talk heart-to-heart. If you’ve hurt their feelings, be humble enough to own up to your mistake and sincerely say sorry. Set a good example on how to humble down and honor others. With all love and gentleness, encourage them to open up their heart and talk.

If talking heart-to-heart is not a good idea (there are men who hate it, I think), write the involved party a letter. Your words should show no more of the accusations but a humbling down, an offering of peace and forgiveness or a plea for one.

7. Do Some Home Beautifying

Dwell not in the ugly thoughts and emotions. Do some “house-warming” to blow away those cobwebs from your mind. Arrange fresh flowers in a vase; light a scented candle; play praise music; plump up the throw pillows, change their cases; fix fresh fruits in a tray. Whatever you do to enliven your home, it should speak of your love to all those who live in it.

8. Do Some Gardening

This activity will surely cool your head and calm your heart. Cultivate the earth around the plants;  sprinkle fertilizer; deadhead, prune, trim; water the plants. Gardening will help you gather back joy into your life. Find refreshment and inspiration for your spirit while you’re out there: the cool breeze caressing your face, the sun’s rays seeping through the trees, the birds flitting from branch to branch, the sun-dappled grass, the spread of dandelions. All these God gives for your enjoyment. Whisper a “Thank You” toward heaven for His gifts.

9. Create Something

Dabble with watercolor, paint, draw, do origami. With your whole attention focused on your work to create something beautiful, you will not have time endlessly thinking and analyzing the ugly and hurtful events. You have prayed and placed everything in God’s hands. Now, stop fretting. You may do these activities with your kids. Craft together, laugh together. Create art, create fun, create love.

10. Take a Walk

Thank God for your strong two feet! Walking is a very rewarding activity but do it to draw closer to God. Use this quiet time to talk with Him, every step a praise, a remembrance of His loving-kindness.

Don’t fret about the troubles and trials that come, but let them bring us ever closer to our God.

*From A Word for the Day by J. D Watson, p. 76.

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Start Anew

In my life now, I often find myself “starting afresh”. Those little acts are wedged in any hour or day, all year round. They maybe interspersed in tiny moments, but for me, they could mean my very existence: my spiritual strength, restoration, and encouragement to carry on. They even restore peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, which to me are essential to living life.

I often have them mainly because of the life I’m living right now: lingering illness and physical difficulties.

start anew

One example is when I make the grave mistake of exhausting myself by talking too much. Sometimes when I’m feeling well, I get too excited to talk. I couldn’t seem to restrain myself until I realize I’m already winded. This always scares me because it often sends me frantically “recovering” for at least an hour, gasping for breath and going through excruciatingly difficult suffering in the process. I call it a gauntlet. During those “recoveries”, I always give myself a harsh scolding. Regret is a punishment in itself.

Regret because there might not be another tomorrow to do the things I was called to do. There might not be another opportunity to serve my family. To love.

Then as suffering gives way to relief (for me it’s almost heavenly), I am awash with new encouragement and inspiration to maintain a gentle and quiet spirit. When deliverance finally comes, I always know that it is another precious opportunity to be better than before, to walk on a ground higher than before. To treasure it all. Because it is all so fleeting.

That crossing over from suffering to recovery with a fresh inspiration and strong determination to be a better woman of God and walk worthy of Christ’s calling is a divine blessing drenched with grace.

But there are other crises we may find ourselves in, which are harder to “recover” from. I don’t know your specific experiences but below, I listed some of the sticky situations I usually find myself in, which send my emotions into a tailspin and my mind into confusion. They usually involve loss of self-control (you know, that fruit of the Holy Spirit).

When I resolved to truly love and honor my husband no matter what the circumstances, then find myself in the middle of a “word war” with him, earnestly contending and speaking out words I would later regret and receiving them in return, maybe twofold. The pain, confusion, regret, downright disappointment, and that loud, condemning voice of self-reproach could paralyze one from pulling oneself out of the quicksand and stepping into a broad, steady place.

In those times, I want to break down in deep anguish. I panic in fear of having offended God (I never want to do that). I fear His chastisement. I fear sliding back to deplorable sickness and suffering. So there were times that I echoed David’s desperate cries: “O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your anger, nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure!” (Ps. 6:1). (Because of my long illness and suffering, I have become fearful of offending God with even the slightest mistake. I can’t help it that that has been its effect on me :( ).

When I lose my patience with my son when he disobeys me, doesn’t listen to me or do what I say, especially with his homework. I can see these – gentleness, patience, kindness – flying out of the window and yet, couldn’t stop it from happening.

When I haven’t been spiritually productive, minding things that don’t matter eternally, not hungering enough for God’s presence and touch, but soaking up myself with pleasures like a wholesome Hallmark movie or a period drama. And when I stay up so late reading or watching or just endlessly thinking – planning what to write, what to paint or where to go when I’m finally well and fully recovered (Felix often tells me that my brain is overused 😀 ) – then sleep wouldn’t come until wee hours of the morning which could bring mental agitation. I deeply regret those, too. A sign of my lack of self-discipline.

How do you stop things from spiralling and becoming hopelessly irredeemable?

Stop

Stop even though you think you’re not yet done. Stop even though you think “it’s too late anyway so what does it matter?” Stop because the Holy Spirit is telling you to. Stop because there’s grace when you do. Stop because you’ll be rewarded with your obedience, humility, and remorse.

Just stop. Stop what you’re doing. Stop talking. Stop fighting. Stop being angry, being impatient, being unkind, being ugly. JUST. STOP. Shut the mouth. Relish the instant quietness until it extends and expands into peacefulness, reaching and calming the nerves.

Pray

Pray at once. Right in the middle of the mess. Don’t let shame or self-condemnation stop you. Confess your faults and failures, your mistakes and ugliness. Tell God every detail: the remorse, the confusion, the hurt, the not-knowing-what-to-do-and-where-to-go-from-here. Beg for His endless mercies and forgiveness. Pray for light, clarity, and wisdom. Pray (and weep) until His peace descends and envelops your whole being and wraps itself around your heart and mind. Pray until you feel His acceptance like a warm embrace.

Praise

As soon as you get the chance, sing praises to Him. This will further banish the turmoil in your heart and mind. This will make you heal and recover better.

Start Anew

No, this is not only for those who receive the Lord Jesus and His salvation for the first time. It is also for us, His children already. Sometimes we feel so discouraged with ourselves, how we could be so slow learners, repeat offenders (even foolish!), that we don’t have the courage and confidence to face our Savior with our faults – again! But there is really nothing better to do (and nowhere to go) but that: present ourselves before Him, confessing our sins, acknowledging our mistakes and failures, and asking for more strength, light, and wisdom. The One who taught us to forgive seventy times seven, will He not do it Himself?

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Mat.  18:21-22)

And Apostle John encourages us:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

All these things – stopping, praying, praising, and starting anew – may come spontaneously, in between our moments. The inspiration and resolve to start afresh begins in the mind until it lights up the whole being. People around us need not know. We need not tell God about it (though He’s aware of the transformation happening within us; it’s His doing!). It is a quiet resolve, something that sustains us to the next moment or hour or day. A new burning desire to do it right. To do it God’s way.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing [we become weak; we break down; we unravel; we become undone], yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. (2 Cor. 4:16, annotations mine)

Starting anew, then, is really a continuing process, whether we have stumbled or are walking steadily. Morning by morning, we are given that endless opportunity to do better, be better, be like the Lord Jesus Christ. Lamentations 3:22-23 is like a rock oozing with grace:

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness. 

Starting anew could happen any moment, any hour, any day all year round. Don’t be weary in doing it over and over again as the need arises. ‘Tis grace.

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Love Never Fails 2

Growing up, we learned that the opposite of love is hate. Then Joni Eareckson Tada wrote in one of her devotionals that lust is the opposite of love and went on to prove her point. But when the Lord put into my heart to write about the subject of love, this sentence hung on my mind and would not let go:

The opposite of love, agape love, is selfishness.

love never fails

In my head, I couldn’t string more than two sentences together, let alone construct a whole paragraph. I lost some sleep thinking about it. But because there was no other inspiration that came to me from the Lord, I thought He really wanted me to write about it. I’m not an expert on the subject, but I pray that you will learn from this short journey of love as much as I learned writing about it.

Agape is defined as “love as revealed in Jesus, seen as spiritual and selfless and a model for humanity.” Before the love and light of Jesus came into our lives, most if not all of us, were into all kinds of sin, not because we hated (that is, what we had known as the opposite of love), but because we were selfish. We only thought of ourselves: how to make us happy and satiated. There is no better embodiment of this than myself. Before I came into the light, I was wrapped up in my own self-love. And you know, if you only love yourself or your love for yourself is much higher than your love for others, like family, for instance, you don’t care if you shatter their hearts or ruin their lives. 

Why is there adultery, dishonesty, broken marriages and families? Is it not because we are selfish? Why  do same-sex individuals choose to couple and live together like a husband and wife and would fight to the death for their “rights”, rebelling against God’s commandment? Is it not because their love for themselves is greater than their fear of God? Materialism, covetousness, liberated lifestyle [not bound by traditional sexual and social roles] – don’t all these have their roots in selfishness?

We read the characteristics of love in the beautiful Love Chapter written by the apostle Paul:

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails. (1 Cor. 13:4-8)

A selfish person cannot always be patient and kind. He will always think about his own welfare before others’. Grumbling is his native tongue. He is never free from feelings of envy and always finds the need to brag, for he is essentially proud and wants only to believe in and admire himself. A selfish person cannot “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things,” for he will always be looking out for himself, wanting to be free of all hassles, inconveniences, and encumbrances.

There is no true freedom, or power, or victory in selfishness.

But love is entirely on a different plane. When I began to feel the tugs of guilt on the magnitude of my sin and sought the Savior’s light, He also began to strip off my selfishness. That shift from selfishness to the Lord Jesus Christ was a journey of love. A love that is wrought with power, grace, and no small miracle. We begin to learn love the moment we shift our focus from ourselves to God and others.

I believe that love is not only a verb, but it has its own mighty power that conquers. Unlike selfishness which is vain and completely futile, love is the key ingredient for a God-sized miracle. When I received Jesus in my life, I began to look into the powers of this love, His love, as the single thread that holds everything together: freedom that comes with salvation, healing, peace, joy, faith, hope. The nails, no matter how big they were, weren’t what held Jesus at the cross. This is poignantly expressed in the song What Held You on the Cross?

What held you on the cross was more than just the nails.
With all the pain and suffering and all that you have lost
Your love for me could only be what held you on the cross.

This love was so powerful it resisted to the point of shedding blood, striving against sin (Heb. 12:4). A love so encompassing it saves from the fires of hell. A love so divine it lifts the redeemed into glory.

I believe in the power of love to heal and make whole.

This was what I always implored my husband during those painful strifes between us that hurt our faith and family. And I believed, had hindered my healing. I’ve always believed that dwelling on the side of love – active, fervent love – especially so in trying times, will shift the tide of defeat into an overwhelming victory. I believe that a love that is steadfast [firmly constant, unchanging, unmovable] through all life’s seasons and vicissitudes is the kind that conquers all.

I believe that unity bound by strong cords of love could usher in a great miracle. A threefold cord is not quickly broken (Ecc. 4:12). And we know that the third strand is the Lord. When He is the third party in our marriages, we can conquer all. “For where two or three are gathered together in [His] name, there [He is] in the midst of them (Mat. 18:20).

When we gather before Him in love and peace (and not in strife) as a couple or as a family and without resentments in our hearts, He will meet us. And in His mighty presence, all things are possible.

Love is greater than faith. Apostle Paul wrote, “…And though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2). In another letter, he wrote, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6 NIV). Also, Saint James challenges us with his words, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18).

Expressing our faith through love. Showing the evidence of our faith by our works. The parable of The Good Samaritan exemplifies best these teachings. A priest, then a Levite, both came down the road where the man who was left half-dead by thieves lay. Upon seeing him, they each passed by on the other side. The priest and the Levite have a religion but not love. But the Samaritan showed his faith in God through his mercy and love.

Love that flows from our hearts into our lips and hands has the power to bind up wounds and heal broken hearts and bodies.

Do you have a sick and suffering person in your life who needs your love and care? A hurting soul who needs healing and lifting up? God put them there for you to minister in mercy with your faith working mightily through love.

Never underestimate the power of love, the love of God [that] has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Rom. 5:5). Love never fails.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13:13).

(All definitions were taken from thefreedictionary.com).

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Quiet Strength {Dealing with Hurt}

I have just been in a situation that has greatly grieved me. All my attempts at a peaceful resolution and restoration of love had failed and in return, I was verbally attacked. The words were harsh and devoid of respect (that kind which should have been due to a much older person who has been constantly helpful and supportive through the years) and seemed final. Such was the venom vented by a heart and mind controlled not by the Holy Spirit. I rested my case; I stopped replying, and with my husband’s firm advice, turned off my cellphone and removed my sim. I would change my number; I would not fight back (it will be absolutely futile). I would be unreached.

dealing with hurt

And with that final act, I murmured, “Forgive, for they know not what they do.”

I crawled into the Lord’s secret place and drenched the succeeding hours with frenetic prayers. There was a moment that I asked in my heart amid unshed tears, “Why do they easily hurl attacking words like that, Lord? Why do they hate?”

The Lord answered me, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated Me before it hated you…They hated me without a cause” (John 15:18, 25).

The Lord Jesus who was pure and sinless and who did nothing but goodness, teaching and healing wherever He went, was hated and mocked and spat upon.

I was somewhat comforted, but the heaviness and sadness remained. I prayed a lot more until I was exhausted – physically, mentally, and emotionally. Then I put the matter to rest and rested in the Lord’s love, mercy, and embrace. I recited Psalm 91:1 in my mind over and over:

[She] that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

And so, that’s what I did. I took cover in the Lord’s light and loving embrace where the arrows of the wicked one (through people he uses) couldn’t touch me. Jesus is my refuge and my fortress.

In 2014, I published my second book, Quiet Strength: And Learning from Women of the Bible Who Had ItI have found out that quiet strength amid life’s storms is both inherent to our blessedness and a spiritual practice. It is both the work of the Holy Spirit within us and an intentional effort to follow His voice and pursue peace and power through worship, prayer, God’s Word and meditation on it.

Quiet strength may not always appear triumphant, courageous, and unshakeable. It could also look sad, heavy laden, unsure, scared, and confused. These are processes it may go through as it gathers sense and meaning about things and circumstances, why they happen. With indestructible quiet strength residing in the depths of our being through the power of the Holy Spirit (sometimes it makes itself known during painfully difficult times), we understand that these are only temporary and should bring us to the Savior’s feet – spent but still throbbing with life and hope.

Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

That is the spirit and backbone of quiet strength. It draws its very life from the Fountain of Life Himself. A branch to the Vine. Quiet strength is strength that flows from the cross (our redemption) and from the everlasting life and love of Jesus. Without Him in our life, we would all be spiritually dead. Without hope and peace.

Quiet strength is choosing to dwell in humility and not to rise up in revenge. It is a readiness to forgive and relinquish all judgment to God. It is letting the Word and the Spirit be in control over all negative emotions that may ensue from the enemy’s attacks. It aligns itself with God’s Word in obtaining some kind of understanding, and in places where there is obscurity, in trusting that God is in control. He has a perfect plan and His purposes will stand.

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. (Rom. 12:19)

It is surrendering everything to God in prayer – every negative, crippling emotion, every unfruitful thought, every burden – and letting Him reign over every area of our life and our situation. It is putting Philippians 4:6-7 into practice:

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.

I almost tremble in fear as I think of the possible retaliations I could concoct when someone has unjustly attacked me and I had not known the love and mercy of the Savior. I know my ruthless potential. I know I could be downright ugly and dark in the heart and soul. Maybe I would lose hours and hours of sleep as I burn with rage, evil will, and plans of revenge. It is a suffering of the lowest, cruelest kind. For it involves the very soul.

But what quiet strength is not is it is never ugly. On the contrary, it is a portrayal of an incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God (1 Pet. 3:4).

So I thank God that I am under grace! I am treading on grace, moment by moment, day by day. I’ve been redeemed from the bondage of sin and will no longer do the lusts of the devil (John 8:44). Because of Jesus.

Because of Him whose mercy has been real in my life, I can feel and release mercy even when attacked. I remain whole even when the enemy’s arrows had poked holes around my peace and joy. I am learning to truly practice the Lord’s teaching:

“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Mat. 5:44-45)

I am doing the praying for those who hate you part diligently, but I still need tons of prayers and conversations with God and listening to His voice to be able to do the rest from the heart. If we have to love our enemies – those who have unjustly and hurtfully attacked us – we need to do it with the heart. What does that look like? How does it feel like? I’m not sure. But perhaps an outpouring of prayers towards that person, prayers for his/her redemption and salvation, is a kind of agape love which the Lord requires of us? Maybe that is one facet of love?

However this love may look like or take its form, it should bring us peace and strength. Quiet strength is relying on God and His truth to shed light on our doubts and uncertainties. It is leaning on God’s wisdom and not on our own capacities.

Learning to love those who hate us should not undo us or make us vulnerable. In fact, it is a sign of strength, not of weakness. That is, strength only in Christ (I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, remember?). For this is our assurance, that whatever the world does to us, however we are hated and attacked, however we are mocked and insulted, however we are rejected and despised, nothing and no one shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:39).

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Journey with Jesus,

The Pull of the World

In September last year when my husband arrived from a three-day prayer and fasting in our church’s fasting house in Pampanga, I asked why he didn’t go straight to work which he was wont to do in years past. In the earlier years after our salvation, whenever he came back from the fasting house, he never failed to visit the office on the same day. Except that time when he fasted for 15 days, he always came home radiant and showing perfect health and strength, like he didn’t abstain from food for three days. That last time, however, I noticed him looking emaciated and tired.

pull of the world

“I’m still feeling weak,” he answered. He just confirmed what I’d been suspecting. I told him about my observations of his fastings in previous years and the recent ones and he acknowledged that yes, it was different now. I was emboldened to tell him why it was so.

Months before he finally decided to leave for the fasting house, I was fervently praying that the Lord would speak to him and prod him to go back to his first works. And every time I did, I felt a resistance to my prayer, a struggle. The Lord was telling me that we had gone so far away from the spiritual zeal that we used to have. The gradual shift from our burning spirituality to one which was affected by secularism in recent years has somehow weakened our confidence and watered down the faith that can move mountains we used to have. I knew that and I could feel that deep within me. Because of this, I prayed the more urgently and passionately, acknowledging our faults and failings.

I put the blame on this: When we opened our doors to the Internet and social media, our focus began to shift. Ever so gradually, but it happened.

The years following our salvation, our world revolved around Church, morning and evening praise and worship, prayers, regular 3-day prayer and fasting for my husband, Bible reading (I only read the Holy Bible then, many times a day), and crusades during summer. It was rather a closed world, hedged by God’s Holy Spirit.

Then social media came to our life. In late 2010, I created my very first: Twitter. I shared encouraging tweets and verses everyday. A few months later, I created my blog, Minister of Mercy, where I wrote and shared the many amazing testimonies in our Church. Later on, I felt I wanted to write some more and share my life in the Lord and His Word to the world. So, I created Our Healing Moments and began to write in earnest. Both were gifts from heaven. My territory expanded outside the boundaries of our home. The world opened up before my eyes as the Internet broke down barriers between continents and I was introduced to the community of Christian bloggers. It was a gradual but very rewarding process. It was a time of stepping out into the world again, albeit virtually.

It was much later that I entered Facebook for the sole purpose of creating a page for my blogs and be able to share to a wider readership. There was a certain degree of apprehension on my part at first. Although I was already into blogging, I didn’t want to totally break down the walls around my private world of only God, Church, family, and a few choice neighbors. I had become used to that world, a far cry from my years of career and business. Being ill and weak, I felt safe and secure in that world.

But in the end, I had my FB account and to make the story short, I was again in the world through social media. Not long afterwards, Felix created his own FB account. Gradually (and I really observed this closely), members from our Church, from the least to the greatest, joined in. My FB community has burgeoned into proportions I didn’t quite expect. The opportunity to share my writings through my blogs has gradually increased and continues to do so. I’m really thankful for that. But somehow, we have changed, and that change is largely influenced by FB.

I now lament that instead of being soaked up with the things of God, to some degree, we are being drenched with secular things, just by lingering on that seemingly endless FB newsfeed. It is not as much as spending too much precious time there that should have been wisely spent in Bible reading and meditation, prayer and worship as it is an influencer of one’s mindset, affections, and desires.

For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. (Rom. 8:6 ESV)

I told my husband that our immersion in social media has diluted the anointing, the density of our spirituality, and has somehow doused our fiery faith. He could only agree. In the past, he offered prayer and fasting every three months. Now, eight months had passed before the last one. The Lord warns us:

Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent. (Rev. 2:4-5)

At the end of our conversation, my husband and I both agreed that complete and steadfast obedience to God and His will is always the most excellent way, for us to be in His perpetual remembrance and favor. We both saw the benefit of laying up treasures in heaven and investing on future needs being met and God’s blessings in general through fervent, faithful, intentional, and unceasing prayers now.

The Lord Jesus said that we are salt and light.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. (Mat. 5:13)

Our saltiness will lose its potency when we adopt the ways of the world instead of being a light to it. When that happens, the Master will find no use for us. But it’s never too late to purge ourselves of the pollution of this world. Apostle Paul encourages us:

 If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work. (2 Tim. 2:21)

The chameleon’s color changes according to its environment. When we linger too long in the world, like the chameleon, we will adapt its color. But when we faithfully abide in the Lord Jesus Christ, we will be conformed to His image as God has predestined us to be (see Rom. 8:29).

That night, I lay in bed in our already dim and quiet room as I listened to praise music. I still can’t sing, my diaphragm being weak. But when I don’t enter the presence of the Lord through worship, the more that weaknesses catch up on me.

We only realize how hungry we are of God when we are already being filled by Him through worship. We realize that all those times spent fretting and worrying would have been prevented by intentionally abiding in His glorious presence.

Something miraculous happens in praise and worship. Even when we are just listening and not able to sing, when we put our all into it, the Lord transforms us from inside out.

So I lay still and just let the Lord love on me, whisper words of comfort and courage, strengthen me, expand my heart and mind, feed my soul. Heaven drew near and the love of Jesus was a tangible thing. Tears escaped from the corner of my eye.

(Photo credit: Jose Luis Casti via Flickr).

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Journey with Jesus,

Encouragement for the Journey

On January 2, 18 years ago, I stood at one of the windows of Cainta Municipal Hall registering my chemical trading business. The whole place was deserted (maybe I was the only over eager person to be processing her business permit a day after New Year’s Day), but I was so full of hopes and big dreams it was hard to wipe the grin off my face or extinguish the brightness of my eyes.

encouragement for the journey

Eighteen years have come and gone since that day, I couldn’t have known then how much stuff could be squeezed into that entire length of time.

On New Year’s Day 2005, while being cooped up inside our Church’s fasting house in Pampanga (not fasting but desperately waiting for healing), depressed and uncertain of the future, the Lord spoke to me, “Go home, my child. Wherever you go, I am there with you.” This was not your ordinary “sensing” the voice of God, but it was the kind which pierced through my darkness, jolted me out of my pity party and sent us packing without delay. Within the same hour, we were leaving the sanctuary of the fasting house headed for home. Between that time and New Year’s Eve 2014, I recovered enough to be able to travel to crusades, give birth to my son Tim, start my blog, then fall ill again.

New Year’s Eve 2014 found me on the throes of death. When I knew for certain that I wouldn’t recover after hours of gasping for breath, I positioned myself in such a way that death may come not too harshly. But after turning, anticipating death to come in a matter of minutes, the struggle slackened. The powerful flow of air entered my system unobstructed. The breath of life flowed in and out of my nostrils, flooding my whole body with great relief. I didn’t know what to make of it: Was it deliverance? Was I out of danger? Has death given up on me? While confusion reigned during those few moments, a frantic voice was shouting in my mind, “Breathe! Breathe the air I freely give you!” I gave all my concentration in inhaling and exhaling. When I could finally turn over and speak, it was about half-hour to 2015.

It has been a year since that scary and glorious night, but I’m still here being held by God.

What do these things tell? Proverbs 19:21 may partly answer this question (for we can never completely unravel the mysterious workings of God):

There are many plans in a man’s heart,
Nevertheless the Lord’s counsel—that will stand. 

God’s purposes and plans, they will ultimately stand. We may never understand His ways and thoughts. That is not our part. Our part is to believe and trust. When we have finally grasped it, we would have embraced wisdom. That kind of wisdom that cannot be compared with all the things we may desire; it is in fact a tree of life (see Proverbs 3).

The path of a Christ-follower is never easy. It is strewn with trials of all kinds. After all, it is the narrow path and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God (part of Acts 14:22). But the marvelous thing is, there is enduring peace and joy even in the midst of life’s storms. That is what walking after the Spirit and in wisdom brings. We are somewhat healed of our deep longings and we carry on day after day after day. That is why the Holy Spirit is the Comforter, the Helper in all our travails. Without Him, life is like a desolate land.

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. (John 14:16-17)

How thoughtful and caring our Savior is that He wouldn’t leave us alone in this world that is full of troubles and toils! He had it all planned before the foundation of the world. He had it all covered. All we need to do is trust and obey. The Holy Spirit who dwells in us enables us, even empowers us to carry out God’s purposes and plans, even though sometimes we don’t understand. Yes, even through pain. Through Him we are constantly loved and held and kept.

David was a man who was acquainted with troubles. But he knew whom to trust and cling to. In all his tribulations (and there had been many!), he never grew weary of God. Yes, he had questions directed towards Him, strings of them. He walked so intimately with God that he knew He could very well handle them. Through deliverance or desperation, his sight was always heavenward. His praises and prayers became the psalms. Psalm 63 exquisitely expresses his dependence and awe of God:

Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips shall praise You.
Thus I will bless You while I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
And my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips. (vv. 3-5)

In the midst of David’s stark difficulties, he learned that God’s lovingkindness is better than life. Life could be cruel. But beyond all this, there is hope that never dies. It is the life in Christ in the here and now that transcends all pain and hopelessness. It is this life in Him, in His enduring lovingkindness, that life on earth becomes bearable, a little piece of heaven. It is Christ in [us], the hope of glory (Col 1:27).

But some of us are more like Asaph (I am one occasionally :D). In Psalm 73, Asaph had been downright honest of what he’d been through. He was envious of other men, the ungodly, so much so that he admitted he almost stumbled in his own faith walk. He went on to enumerate the ungodly’s perceived “blessedness”:

They are not in trouble as other men,
Nor are they plagued like other men.

…They have more than heart could wish.

…[they] are always at ease… (vv. 5,7,12)

Then he looked into his own life and saw the huge difference. He saw how he had humbly subjected himself to God’s continual correction and for what? And as he tried to assimilate it all, it pained him too much. Until he went into the sanctuary and God gave him deeper understanding. He realized his error and his heart was grieved, so much so that he goaned, “was so foolish and ignorant; I was like a beast before You” (v. 22).

God made him see that he was the one who was truly blessed, not the ones he was envious of. He then wrote these beautiful words:

Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You hold me by my right hand.
24 You will guide me with Your counsel,
And afterward receive me to glory.

25 Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
26 My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (vv. 23-26)

Oh, what truth! What great encouragement!

In our own faith journey, we were like Asaph one time or another. Isn’t it so wonderful that we have these treasures of wisdom now for our own counsel and edification? Oh, praise God for continuing to speak to us powerfully through His Word!

Like Asaph and all the other heroes of faith and early Christians that had journeyed before us, our journey of faith is peppered with lessons both painful and sweet. We have to embrace each one with humble hearts then echo Asaph’s praise (vv. 23-26).

I invite you to read and meditate on Psalm 73.

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Journey with Jesus,

The Wisdom of Proverbs 3

Before December rolled in, I stepped up my prayer life, praying at 12 noon and 6 in the evening, Monday to Saturday. I set my alarm so as not to miss my schedule. I was on a mission. My purpose was to bombard heaven with my prayers for healing, much like the widow at the beginning of Luke 18 who harassed the judge with her constant cries for help. I wanted to receive my miracle on Christmas and be able to go out with my family at last.

proverbs 3

December came and I noticed the lump on my chest (just below my collarbone), which has been dormant for years, suddenly becoming painful. Within a few days, it became inflamed, red, and seemed to be growing bigger and wider. I added a 3 o’clock prayer to my prayer regimen just for the healing of this lump that was becoming intensely painful each day.

Days before Christmas, it became so big and swollen it looked like a little apple ready to burst. It also brought terrible pain, it was hard to make the slightest movement. I couldn’t shift my position in bed and even if I lay still, intermittent pain tore at my flesh. I cried out in pain. I can’t count the times that I sat straight up, tears spurting from tightly-closed eyes while riding out the pain, and cried out to God for help, relief, and clarity. For this got me confused beyond words. One time I cried out, “Oh Lord Jesus! Do You still love me?” I realized that pain could turn a human into a beast and I determined to myself that wouldn’t happen to me. I have the Holy Spirit.

I spoke back His words to Him. You know, the son asking his father for bread and will he give him a stone? Or fish and will he give him a snake? I asked for my healing but I got another disease on my chest instead. It hurt me. It deeply hurt me that the Lord Jesus would do that to me. I thought we were very close. I thought we were friends. And if it was Satan who was doing it, why would He even allow it? These were really big, serious questions I had. In the midst of physical pain and suffering, disability, and confusion, conflicting thoughts roiled within me.

For the more than 12 years that I’ve been ill and have suffered, I had tried every spiritual and mental remedy and trick in the book that I knew of. Believe me: been there, done that. When your life is faced with difficult challenges, you want to hold onto something sturdy and stable. Generally, your faith and God’s Word ably play the part. But in the daily struggles, your mind wants to latch itself onto things that see you through moment by moment. They could be sources of inspiration and encouragement, like God’s promises.

To be able to bear life’s hard trials, the mind needs to sit on a steady flow of peace and the heart on some measure of joy.

But a very present physical pain sends everything into a tailspin. On those nights that pain stole my rest and peace, my mind refused to rise up to the occasion to fix everything as usual.

One night before Christmas, I groaned in pain, “My mind cannot absorb all this anymore. It has come to a dead-end. All this suffering is beyond me.” I sat up and cried my soul out. “Lord, in the midst of all these hardships and confusion and hurt, there is something, one last thing I’m not giving up and will never give up: my desire to get healed and live. I want to make this clear, my Lord Jesus: I. Want. To. Live. Satan can never steal that from me!” Suddenly, words stopped tumbling out of my lips. The stillness gripped me. Physical healing hadn’t come but something peaceful reigned over the turmoil in my mind and I didn’t want to utter a single word anymore.

The light in our room was dim but even with my closed eyes, I sensed a light shining around me. And there was peace and quiet. At the center of it was the Lord’s presence. Then, I just wanted to sing. Sing in my suffering! But that was what my soul yearned to do.

So, I sang. I sang the song that was most meaningful given my situation.

Ikaw ang ilaw ko sa dilim

(You are my light in the dark)

Ikaw ang gabay ko sa gabi

(You are my guide at night)

Ikaw ang pag-asa ng buhay ko

(You are the hope of my life)

Ikaw Panginoong Hesus

(You, Lord Jesus).

Copious tears came. Cleansing tears. Good tears. Tears of peace.

And the love of Jesus embraced me. It caressed my weary soul and body. I continued to sing. I sang not in desperation. I sang not because I needed healing. I sang because it was what I was created to do. I sang because the Lord Jesus Christ is worthy. I sang because I love Him, adore, and worship Him. I sang in trust, in peace, and in surrender. He owns me. He holds my life and future in His hands. There was nothing more to worry about.

I lay down to sleep, exhausted, but restored.

In the morning, I opened my Bible to Proverbs 3. Its wisdom spoke to me like it never did before. It was an affirmation of what I had experienced the night before.

For length of days, long life, and peace: Never depart from God’s commands. Hold onto them.

To find favor and good success in the sight of God: Retain steadfast love and faithfulness (do not be tempted to rebel in your heart or succumb to hopelessness).

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. (v. 5) (Trying so hard to wrap our brain around things that are for God alone to know is an exercise in futility. It is so liberating to let go and let God).

For healing of the flesh and refreshment to the bones: Be not wise in your own eyes (or rely on our own wisdom and understanding as is often the case).

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom…

nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
    in her left hand are riches and honor. (vv. 13,15,16)

To trust in the Lord with all our hearts; to hold onto His truth no matter what: That is wisdom! And if we have taken hold of this – WE ARE BLESSED! Nothing we desire can compare with it. Yes, because this wisdom will always be higher and stronger than our longings, our deep desires. It will always bring peace. It will always triumph. [We] can do all things through Christ who strengthens [us] (Phil. 4:13).

In the morning of December 27th, I woke up drenched in sticky fluid. The lump in my chest had ruptured and I didn’t even feel it!  I was instantly relieved of the intense pain and within 24 hours, the lump gradually deflated. Hallelujah! 

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Journey with Jesus,

A Life of Thankfulness

Early on my salvation, I learned to not complain about the difficulties I needed to live with which the illness that stole my health and career brought. As I began to read and study the Word of God with the light and guidance of the Holy Spirit, I learned hard lessons that I needed for the journey, the journey the Lord had set before me whether I liked it or not. I was about to embark on a new and uncharted territory. It was totally scary. But the Lord was teaching me to exercise my faith muscles so that they would become strong as we walked together down that new road.

a life of thankfulness

I would like to think how my journey of faith was very similar to that of the Israelites when God delivered them from the bondage of Pharaoh by the hand of Moses. The people didn’t know any other kind of life. God wanted to manifest Himself to them, to be in their midst, to guide them closely, be their God, the very center of their life. He wanted to be a “hands-on” God and had programmed their journey from Egypt to Canaan, the Promised Land. Even their diet was a part of His program. And of course, the giving of the laws by which the people should walk therein. That was God’s heart for them. But the people’s hearts weren’t ready for this kind of life.

They complained. They grumbled. They dishonored God by their endless murmuring instead of thanksgiving. They didn’t sanctify God who was in the midst of them. They longed for their former life though it was a life of bondage. (They got wearied of the daily dose of manna and there souls longed for the flavors of Egypt). In the process, they spurned the life God wanted for them.

Complaining was the ruin of most of them. They did not make it to the Promised Land but their carcasses were scattered in the wilderness.

Their fate terrified me. So I learned to avoid mouthing off complaints in the midst of my suffering. But learning not to complain and to give thanks in its stead are two different challenges. But by God’s grace (which is a constant in my faith journey), I learned to embrace gratefulness, not only in the place of complaints, but as a way of life.

To choose to be thankful in the presence of illness and suffering is quite a hard task. You do it not because it is what is required, but because it is what’s in your heart. Ultimately, it is all the work of God in us.

The Lord wanted to wean me of the things and pleasures of this world and to enrich my life with His presence and His Word.

This was what He purposed for the Israelites journeying from Egypt to Canaan. But most of them “missed” it, for they lusted for other things that were outside of God’s program. Because they refused to see what God was doing in their midst, they couldn’t appreciate His works. And so, they couldn’t praise and thank Him for them. God called them stiff-necked people. In Jesus’ time and even in our modern times, we call it hard-heartedness. “Because of the hardness of your hearts” (see Mat. 19:8), the Lord Jesus said.

I thank the Lord that, through His Holy Spirit, I can see the works He’s doing in my life. Though I don’t understand most of them, He’s making me learn through them. Lessons that make me know Him more intimately; trust Him steadfastly. Lessons that have eternal consequences.

One of the wonderful fruits of  learning the ways of the Kingdom is living a life of thankfulness.

Thankfulness is a part of our worship. We can never worship God fully if our hearts are full of complaints and discontent.

We can channel our soul’s bitter complaints [our deep laments due maybe to sickness and suffering, persecutions, hardships, etc.] through agonized prayers. God will receive them. But to complain incessantly of His ways and provision in our lives would be to spurn Him. This brings Him utter displeasure.

But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. Nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. (1 Cor. 10: 5, 6, 9, 10, 11)

On the other hand, thankfulness will take us from the place of discontent to a place of satisfaction and joy and enduring hope. I have learned this first-hand.

Many times in my life of illness and suffering, I am plunged into “the valley of the shadow of death” literally. My body goes through almost unbearable beating (I call it a gauntlet). In those times, I have no other option but to lie still and endure and wait out for relief. At the end of such excruciatingly difficult episode, my soul could either rant in utter bitterness or my spirit could maintain a humble stance [a gentle and quiet spirit] and let thanksgiving to God overflow. For yet another deliverance.

I always choose the latter. I thank the Lord for not leaving me alone in my suffering, for helping me and bringing me relief (though I never want nor understand those terrifying episodes). I thank Him for the breath of life

Humility with thankfulness, which is a way of honoring God no matter how hard our circumstances are, has always helped me overcome, both the urge to rise up and rebel and the strong pull of spiralling down in discouragement and hopelessness.

God said, “…those who honor Me I will honor…” (see 1 Sam. 2:30). Our thankfulness brings God joy and “the joy of the Lord is our strength” (see Neh. 8:10).

If we want to maintain strength in our life, we should bring God joy. Being thankful in everything will do the job, besides praise and worship and our complete obedience.

If you’re in a hard place (trials of different proportion and intensity), thanksgiving may not flow easily. In my life, I have learned to shift my gaze from my physical suffering to the other things where the light of Jesus shines upon and His blessings poured out. This could be the love and joys of family, of reading, writing, watercolor painting; God’s protection of our loved ones, etc.

“In everything give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:18), the apostle Paul reminds us. In the midst of difficult circumstances, we can still see glimpses of blessings when we change our perspective [a mental view or outlook].

When my husband spent hours running errands for our family’s needs (that is, outside of his office work and with a few hours of sleep the night before), I called his cellphone for it was already getting late. I asked what’s taking him so long. Instead of explaining, he grumbled. I messaged him with this: “I hope that your being tired will not be a reason to complain. Still give thanks for the strength you have.”

As the year comes to a close, may we not forget to give thanks to God for a year’s worth of His love and mercy, light, faithfulness, goodness, blessings, answered prayers, joys, and lessons hard and beautiful. Intentionally give thanks, for the easy and the hard, for the big things and the small. This will dramatically transform our lives.

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Live Loved

It’s all coming to me now, cascading like cool waterfalls and awakening every fiber of my being. As I continue to walk closely with the Lord in this hard season of my life, ever receptive to His voice speaking, guiding, teaching — He leads me through narrower paths and deeper waters of faith. As I yield myself to His ever-patient molding, re-forming, and renewing, I find myself swimming above the waters instead of drowning. He enriches my faith, my obedience, my love, my hope, and there is an abiding light in my otherwise dim world.

live_loved

I sat down at the edge of the bed maybe to switch on the lamp or reset my docked iPod (I can’t be sure now), but in that moment, His words came, and my hand, whatever it was reaching for, stopped in mid-air. He got my attention and I wondered, really wondered, how I could have missed it all this time. All these years. Maybe that’s what self-absorption does to us (or some other). It lulls us to spiritual slumberland and shuts out His voice.

Every time you wallow in envy, jealousy, comparison, covetousness, self-pity, resentment, bitterness, even unforgiveness, you have not abided in My love. As long as you abide in them, you will not know the fullness of My love. You will always feel unloved or loved less. For these things happen to one who has not My love nor has known it. This breaks My heart, for everything that I had done, I did it because of My love for you.

This, more or less, was the essence of the Lord’s message in that moment of epiphany.

The times that I had indulged myself with those negative emotions, being weak to totally fend them off, but succumbing to them time and again, had me living outside of love. More importantly, outside of the Savior’s love. And this was what really stopped me dead in my tracks: Every time I had dwelt in them, I had unconsciously spurned His love for me. For if I had been fully abiding in His love, carefully holding every drop of it safe in my bosom, there wouldn’t have been reason to feel those things, let alone revel in them like I had all the reasons in the world to do so. Whether it was done unconsciously or not, or in moments of weakness or deep anguish, it had some tinge of rebellion to it. But this isn’t the life the Lord has called me to.

In the early months after my salvation, I was euphoric. The Savior has delivered me from an adulterous life. I imagined Him thundering to the gates of hell and snatching me from its clutches before it was too late. When I thought of the many opportunities the devil could have plunged me to my death as being unsaved yet, BUT the Savior never allowed it — I was overwhelmed by His great love.

When did I begin to equate His love (or seeming lack of it in my limited understanding and vision) to sickness and suffering, to unhealing, to hardships, to misery, to sorrow, to unfulfilled dreams, to unanswered prayers? I think it was the time I didn’t receive answer to my most urgent prayer — my healing and deliverance from suffering — and countless times after that as the years flew away swiftly, like falling leaves in autumn, and still without receiving the healing I was so desperately begging for.

Then began the years that I lived like His child who was loved less, favored less, the one who wasn’t deserving of a miracle as grand as healing of a grievously broken body. More like a sooty Cinderella that tended the cinders rather than a beloved princess – daughter of the King of kings. I gravitated towards intense feelings of envy and jealousy to those whom I saw His favor heaped upon, not realizing these were already taking root in my soul.

However, I saw also that God had been faithful in other areas of my life and continues to be so to this day. That is why gratitude has not left my heart neither have my lips withheld praise and thanksgiving. I’ve lost count of the many testimonies to His enduring mercies which I hold close to my heart.

Nevertheless, the ceaseless pounding of illness and suffering on my already battered body had somehow shrouded God’s love for me. Even Apostle Paul’s exhortation on Christ’s love had not been able to appease my sorrowing heart.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:35, 37, 38, 39)

I knew and believed without a doubt that whatever happened in this life, the Lord would take me to His dwelling place, where there’s no more crying nor sickness and suffering. I believed that nothing could snatch me out of His hand as He assures His children. But I couldn’t help but see the sufferings in my life as God’s punishments, or to put it mildly, His chastisements. I don’t know when I started to develop that mindset but it had taken deep roots through the years that when my illness and suffering intensified, I cowered in fear of Him and saw only His severity.

I understand that God chastises or disciplines His children when they err or become wayward. It is another token of His love (see Heb. 12:6-7). But though it wasn’t the case for me, through the years, I felt like I lived in an atmosphere of constant chastisements and less-than love. It was hard to reconcile my harrowing reality with the truth that He loved me completely. It was a challenge to experience His love, let alone bask in it.

But He made me realize that I need not live like this.

So now, I’m coming a long way from that place of believing I was being severely punished to that place called love where my Savior dwells. There is a need for me to relearn His truths, to listen well to the Holy Spirit’s voice: God is not punishing me (the Lord Jesus Christ had already borne all that). I am relearning to see my Savior in a new light: one who loves me and delights to give me eternal life. I am making baby steps toward that love, a love that nurtures and heals and binds up and never strikes or harms (crying now).

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart… (Is. 40:11).

Live loved. What does it look like? It’s peace and quiet rest, security and confidence; untainted joy; generous kindness and gentleness. It’s a child basking in the warmth of her Father’s unfailing love.

Live loved, dear one. It’s the will of the Father for us. Anything less is from the devil. Our Savior died on the cross to prove His love for us. There’s no greater love than His. And nothing can ever separate us from it.

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Journey with Jesus,